Cabin Fever

When a journey home from a mission is diverted the A-Team is forced into the company of someone they really wouldn’t choose to spend a lot of time with.

Rated: PG13

Words: 65,000

Part 1: Snake on a Plane


One

“I hate the cold.” Face muttered, hugging himself, his body made bulky by a Parka. “New rule, okay. No more cases that involve travelling to Alaska.”

“Try doing some work,” Hannibal said. “That’ll warm you up.”

“Yeah, grab some crates, man,” BA growled.

Face sighed and went to help BA and Hannibal unload the crates from the truck onto the DC3.

“Here, BA, let me give you a hand with that one…”

“No way, you stay away from me. All of you. None of you is getting close enough to stick me with no needles.”

“Paranoid.” Hannibal muttered.

“Ain’t paranoid when you really is out to get me. I’ll load these crates, then I’m taking the truck and going to catch a train.”

“You want to take a train all the way from Barrow to LA?” Hannibal shook his head. “And you say Murdock is nuts. Help me with this one, Face.”

Face and Hannibal lifted a long, almost coffin-like crate onto the plane. It bumped against the doorframe as they manoeuvred it in.

“Careful, Hannibal!” Face said. “This is the Rodin. You know what it’s worth?”

“Well if it’s worth its weight in gold, then a lot.” Hannibal puffed a bit as they put the heavy crate down. “Who the heck wants a naked guy made of bronze in their house anyway?”

He glanced into the now empty truck. Face and BA swung the last box aboard, a small trunk Hannibal knew held their rifles. “Okay, that’s everything? Let’s get them strapped down.”

“Hey, guys.” Murdock stuck his head in the door. He also wore a heavy Parka and had temporarily replaced his baseball cap with a furry hat with long earflaps. He currently had the flaps tied together on top of the hat. “Bad news. At least an hour before we get our fuel.”

“Great.” Face muttered. “If those MPs show up…”

“Ah, they’re nowhere near,” Hannibal said. “Probably still cuffing and stuffing Herr Krause.” He lit a cigar and beamed down at the crates of art works they had just loaded into the plane. Not only the pictures the client had employed them to retrieve, but at least a dozen other pieces of art, more paintings and a couple of sculptures, including the Rodin. Krause had apparently viewed the Second World War as a way to build his art collection without paying for any of it. Well now the stolen art would go back to the families it belonged to, courtesy of the A-Team.

“I thought ex-Nazis were supposed to hide out in Brazil or Argentina.” Face grumbled, hugging himself again. “You know, someplace warm?”

“Maybe he likes to ski.” Hannibal said. “Come on, let’s go to the terminal and get some food while we wait for the fuel truck. Lock up the plane, Captain.”

“I think I’ll get away for my train.” BA said.

“Aw, come eat with us, BA.” Murdock pleaded. “We missed Thanksgiving dinner. At least come get a turkey sandwich with the team.”

“I’m not eating no food around you guys.” BA scowled at them fiercely.

“Sergeant, you haven’t eaten since early this morning.” Hannibal put a stern and commanding tone into his voice. “You’re eating with us before you leave. That’s an order.”

“Okay.” BA scowled around at them. “But if you guys try anything you’re all dead meat.” He stomped off. The others followed. Hannibal leaned close to Murdock.

“Captain?”

Murdock took the glove off his right hand, reached up to his furry hat and slid a hand into the little pocket made by a tied up earflap. He pulled out a small phial of clear liquid and dropped it into Hannibal’s hand.

Hannibal grinned. “Thanks, Murdock.”

~~~~

An hour and a half later Murdock signed the fuel truck driver’s requisition forms.

“And you’ll charge that to my credit card?”

“Yes sir, Mister…” the driver glanced at the form, “Decker.” He glanced over nervously to where Face and Hannibal were heaving the semi conscious BA on board the plane. “Erm, is your passenger okay?”

“Told him to stay out of the bar.” Murdock shook his head, sounding exasperated. “Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving, friend.”

Once on board he went straight to the cockpit. Hannibal and Face were checking that the crates were secure for the flight. As he started his final pre-flight check, Murdock heard Face’s alarmed voice.

“Hannibal, he’s coming around!”

Murdock ticked items off his checklist.

“Radio master. Check.”

“Hannibal! Give him the shot!”

“Boost pumps. Check.”

“What the heck? I’m on the plane!”

“Hydraulic pressure. Check.”

“Hold him down, Face!”

“Directional gyro. Check.”

“Hold him? What are you kidding?”

“Navigation lights. Check.”

BA gave a howl of protest. Then there was a huge crash followed by silence.

“BA unconscious. Check. Altimeter. Check.”

~~~~

The driver parked his fuel truck in front of a hanger and jumped out. Time for some lunch. He heard the DC3 taking off, turned to watch it climb into the bright blue sky, and then he walked into the hanger.

The first person he met inside was naked and made of bronze. He jumped back, startled as he almost bumped into the life-sized statue right inside the hanger door then stood and stared at it baffled.

“What the hell?”

~~~~

Face carefully placed a small pillow behind BA’s head. Then he double-checked the handcuffs securing BA to the seat, one set on each wrist.

“He’s going to kill us when we set him loose.”

“Yeah, like all the other times he’s killed us, huh?” Hannibal did not look remotely worried. “Any more of those pillows?” Face handed him one. “Right, I’m getting some sleep, so try to keep it down to a dull roar okay?”

“Fine. I’ll go talk to Murdock.” Face went to the cockpit. Hannibal snuggled into his coat and rested his head on the pillow. The flight home would take hours. Might as well get some shut-eye. The job was done and done well, as usual. Time to relax. The drone of the engines faded from his consciousness as he drifted into sleep.

~~~~

He waited.

He waited until the only sound was the engines. Only then did he start to move. The lid of the crate was no longer nailed down. Once inside he had secured it with tape. Just enough to stop it moving around when the plane took off.

With a pocket-knife he slit each piece of tape, slowly, as quietly as possible. He paused after cutting each piece to make sure there was no new noise or movement outside in the cabin. At last, the lid of the crate was free. He put away his knife and pushed against the lid with hands and knees, lifting it just enough to push it to the side. It touched an obstruction, another crate, so he pushed it down instead, sliding it off towards his feet. In a second that gave him enough room to sit up. He did so, like a movie vampire sitting up in its coffin. His weapon was not fangs, but rather a semi-automatic pistol. He gripped it tightly.

He climbed out of the long crate that had held the bronze statue, carefully making sure his boots didn’t scrape on anything.

The crates were at the back of the cabin area. More than half of the space was set up for cargo; the rest had seats for passengers, two rows of them, the forward ones turned to face the ones behind. Very sociable. It was cold and he was glad of his heavy coat. Silently he moved to the passenger area, making sure he wasn’t visible through the open door to the cockpit.

Smith and Baracus were sitting in passenger seats, both fast asleep. Baracus was handcuffed to the chair. It seemed the stories about him being afraid to fly weren’t exaggerated. Peck was nowhere in sight. Must be in the cockpit. And who else might be in the cockpit? He smirked. Looked like he was batting four for four.

He slid a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and held them by one bracelet; let the other dangle loose, so the two bracelets couldn’t clink together. Slowly, silently he approached Smith.

~~~~

“Okay, Murdock, are you a woman?”

“Nope. Eighteen questions left, Face.”

“Were you born in the twentieth century?”

“Nope. Seventeen to go.”

“This better be a real person, Murdock, not… not… Queen Selena of the Mole People.”

“I said it’s not a woman.” Murdock grinned. “And Queen Selena was real. She used to visit me every night back in July ’76.” He sighed. “What a summer that -”

“Face!” Hannibal’s yell made them both jump in their seats. Face, wide eyed, leapt to his feet. There was panic in Hannibal’s voice. Face’s first thought was for BA. Did BA have some kind of adverse reaction to the knock out juice? Face had always dreaded that would happen one day. He ran into the cabin.

“What is -?”

“Look out, Face!” Hannibal shouted, squirming and struggling as if he couldn’t get out of his chair.

His warning was too late. As Face came through the door into the cabin, someone slammed into him from the left, knocking him to the floor on his stomach, and then landing heavily on top of him.

“Get off me, BA!” Face yelled. How the hell had BA got loose? Face struggled, panting for breath, winded by the fall. Why was Hannibal not coming to help?

The weight lifted off Face for a second and a knee in his side shoved him forcibly against a seat. Then he groaned as the same knee stuck in his back and pinned him to the floor again. A strong hand grabbed his right wrist. There was… there was something missing. No clanking. BA’s gold clattered and clanked when he moved around fast. Face looked up and…

And BA was sitting right there in his seat, still blissfully dead to the world. Face gaped. Who the hell was…?

He tried to twist around, but the knee in his back kept him flat. He felt the all too familiar bite of cold steel on his wrist, his arm was pulled behind him and he heard the clatter as the other bracelet of the cuffs closed around a seat support. Then that strong hand was roughly pulling out the pistol Face carried in a shoulder holster, leaving him unarmed. At last, the weight lifted from Face’s back and he could turn on his side. His attacker stood up, pointing a pistol and a smug grin at him.

For perhaps the first time in his life, Face was speechless.

“Face?” Murdock’s voice sounded from the cockpit. “Hannibal? What’s going on?” The smug grin got wider and Face and Hannibal both groaned.

“Four for four.”

~~~~

Okay, from now on, Murdock decided, only planes with autopilot fitted. Something bad was going on back there and he couldn’t do a thing about it. A movement behind him made him turn.

“Face?”

“Not quite, Captain Murdock.”

Murdock stared in horror, for a moment as speechless as Face, and then found his voice again.

“Decker?”


Two

“Turn us around,” Decker ordered Murdock. “Set course for the nearest airport back in Alaska.”

“Juno is nearest now.”

“Then set course for Juno.”

“Or what, Decker?” Murdock said, defiantly. “You’ll shoot me? Good luck learning to fly this plane if you do.”

Decker just smiled. “Well, whatever, Captain. Land wherever you like. The US, Canada. It really doesn’t matter any more does it?”

Wasn’t that the truth? Decker left the cockpit and Murdock stared out into the darkness. Screwed. They were screwed. And he specifically was very screwed.

They’d escape from Decker eventually, like they always had before. But this time it would be different. This time it meant the four of them would on the run. It had to happen one day and this was that day. How many times could he be lucky? Decker only had to be lucky once. Murdock and Decker had to look each other in the eyes only once an A-Team mission and everything ended. Murdock’s life ended up lying on the floor smashed into too many bits for even his own special brand of crazy glue to stick back together.

He glanced back over his shoulder. What was going on back there? Decker could have hurt the guys and Murdock, hands full of airplane, could do nothing to help them. He couldn’t even reach his handgun, which was hung up in its holster back in the cabin. Decker would have it by now.

He checked his position. Somewhere over the Yukon. Canada. To go back to Alaska, to the US, he’d have to head north west. But Decker had said “land anywhere.”

You asked for it, Decker.

Murdock turned east.

~~~~

“Decker,” Hannibal said. “You can’t leave Face lying on the floor. It’s too cold.”

Decker looked down at Face. Was he too cold? He’d been warm enough to try and kick Decker’s legs from under him when Decker came back into the cabin.

“If he gets hypothermia I’ll peel your skin off one layer at a time.”

Decker raised an eyebrow, wondering how Hannibal intended to achieve that while chained up.

“Of course you had to let all of the heat out,” Face said, shaking his head. “Opening the damn door at this altitude! You really are nuts.”

Decker didn’t argue. He’d actually been surprised at himself and Murdock had yelled like a protesting banshee from the cockpit when the freezing air had rushed through the plane. But the plane was built to have the door opened in flight for parachutists to jump out or for making air drops of cargo. And he’d decided he just wasn’t risking keeping any more weapons on board than own handgun. The trunk of rifles he’d pushed off and then tossed four handguns after them, hanging onto any ammunition that would fit his own pistol. As he’d dropped them it had occurred to him that perhaps he should keep one spare. But then it was too late and he tugged the door closed on a plane where he was now carrying the only weapon.

So yes it was now very cold in here. Decker eyed Face suspiciously. Face glared back at him. The way Decker had cuffed him made it impossible for Face to get up into the seat he was chained to, forcing him to stay sitting or lying on the floor. Face was rather pale and shivering despite his coat. Even so Decker wasn’t going to risk trying to move him. He grabbed a couple of blankets and approached Face, pointing his gun.

“You try to kick me again and I will shoot you.”

“You won’t leave this plane alive if you do.” Hannibal said.

Decker glanced back at the Colonel.

“You talk pretty tough for a man chained to his seat.”

Hannibal just glared at him. Decker turned back to Face.

“Lie on these and wrap one around if you get too cold.” He dropped the blankets beside Face who shook them out so he could lie on them instead of the cold metal deck.

“Where the hell did you spring from anyway?” Face groused.

“He was in one of the crates.” Hannibal nodded back at the open statue crate. “Little Trojan horse manoeuvre.”

Decker smirked in a way he hoped infuriated them both.

“Not the Rodin!” Face said looking over at the cargo. “Okay, if that goes missing from wherever you stashed it we’re sending you a bill.”

Decker smirked again. All this banter and provocation meant nothing to him. He had a good feeling this time. His Trojan horse manoeuvre, as Hannibal called it, had been a pretty insane idea, but it looked like it was paying off. Too many times over the last three years he had watched the team disappear off over the horizon, laughing. Not this time.

Could he call it a plan? He hadn’t had time to think it through, it just happened. A day ago, no not even that, less than twenty four hours ago, he’d received a call that the team were in Alaska. He was on the next flight to the frozen north. He didn’t even wait to assemble his men, half of whom were on leave for the holiday weekend, Crane included.

And he’d almost missed the team. He’d almost left the airport the as soon as he arrived. But at the last moment he decided to stop just long enough for some food. The restaurant had a good view of the airfield and he saw the DC3, saw the truck pull up to it and the four men climb out and start loading crates onto the plane. They were all bundled up in bulky coats, but even so there was no mistaking Baracus.

When he called up he found the nearest MP unit was still over an hour away. He flashed his badge and found out when the DC3 was due to leave. The MPs wouldn’t arrive before the team took off. He could try and get the Air Traffic Control to delay the plane. He could call in the local police to assist him. Or he could get on board while the team were eating their lunch and take them himself once they were in the air, when they couldn’t possibly expect it.

To Decker’s mind there really wasn’t any choice.

Within minutes a couple of grouching baggage handlers were manhandling a statue off the plane and Decker was concealing himself in the crate. The last thing he saw as the lid closed was the incredulous expression of an airport security man. Perhaps it seemed like a crazy plan to someone who didn’t know the team the way Decker did. But Decker had finally learned what it took to catch these people.

BA grunted a couple of times and his chin came up off his chest. His eyes opened and he looked around.

“I’m on a plane! I’m on a -” His eyes locked with Decker’s and went huge with shock. “Hannibal!”

“Yeah, BA, we can see him too.” Hannibal said, calmly. BA pulled in vain at the cuffs holding him down and strained against his seatbelt.

“I’m on a plane! Get me off this plane right now! Someone’s gonna pay, I mean it!” His glare suggested that person was Decker.

“Is he always like this?” Decker asked Hannibal, turning away from the raging BA.

“This is a good day.” Hannibal said. He fished in his pocket with his free hand and took out a phial of liquid. “This helps keep him quiet.” Decker moved towards Hannibal to take it. But at the last second Hannibal snatched his hand away and tossed the phial hard against the wall. It shattered. Hannibal grinned maliciously as Decker stared at him.

“Plane! Plane!”

“Um, Decker.” Decker turned to Face. “I need the bathroom.”

Hannibal smirked as Decker turned back to him.

“Don’t you just love flying, Decker?”

~~~~

“Isn’t this a no smoking flight?” Face said as Decker took out a cigarette.

Decker doubted it was ever a no smoking flight when Smith was aboard. He ignored Face and lit the cigarette. He glanced forward into the cockpit checking Murdock wasn’t up to anything he shouldn’t be.

Almost an hour had passed since he had secured the team and between the three of them they hadn’t given Decker a moment’s peace. Hannibal provoked, Face annoyed and BA threatened. But Decker ignored.

He dropped his lighter back in his pocket. Hannibal scowled at him, perhaps wanting a cigar, but unwilling to ask.

“I’m thirsty.” Face said.

“Me too.” BA chimed in at once. Decker sighed. He glared at Hannibal who was grinning again.

“Are we nearly there yet?” Hannibal asked in a sing-song voice.

“Shut up.”

“We’re your prisoners, Decker.” Hannibal reminded him. “You have to look after us. Feed and water us, bathroom breaks. Didn’t you pay any attention at West Point? Oh wait, that’s right. You didn’t go to West Point.”

“Shut up all of…”

The plane lurched and Decker was thrown against the bulkhead. His cigarette crushed itself out, burning his hand.

“What the hell?” He drew his pistol again and ran into the cockpit.

“What’s going on, Captain?”

“Bad weather.” Murdock said. “Storm. Flew right into it.” He looked pale and tense. Decker glanced out the windscreen. Snow piled against it, the wipers swept at it ineffectually.

“How far are we from Juno?”

“Um… hang on.” Murdock flicked switches, studied gauges.

“Captain, how far…” Decker suddenly had a very sick feeling. He sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “We’re not heading to Juno are we?”

Murdock looked back at him. “No.”

“Where are we?”

“Um,” Murdock looked away again. “Still in Canada. Somewhere over the Northwest Territories.”

Okay, Decker thought, stay calm, deal with what’s happening now.

“Where are you making for?”

“Yellowknife. But I…” Murdock shook his head, bit his lip. “I didn’t expect this weather.”

“You damn lunatic.” Decker growled.

“Hey, you said, ‘land anywhere.'” The plane lurched again and Murdock fought the controls. He started to sweat. “Ah, I think I might have to do just that.”

“What?”

“The wings are icing up.” Murdock turned back to look at Decker. “I’m picking up a radio beacon ahead, I’m making for that.”

“Is it an airfield?”

“No…”

Then what…?”

“I don’t know!” Murdock shouted. I don’t know what it is!” He took a breath, calmed himself. “I’m going to make an emergency landing.”

“No!” Decker was instantly suspicious. “This is a trick.”

“A trick? Are you nuts? It’s cold as hell out there. You think I’m doing this for laughs?”

“Can’t you get above the storm?”

“No, there’s too much ice on the wings, we’re already going down.”

“Parachutes?” Decker already knew the answer to that. Parachute into what?

“In this storm?” Murdock almost laughed. “You’d freeze to death before you landed. And the wind would blow you clear across to the Yukon.”

They were heading downwards. Decker could feel it. The nose was down.

“You damn fool.” Decker said. “Why the hell didn’t you do as I told you?”

“You ain’t the boss o’ me.” Murdock gave a half smile for a fraction of a second. “Decker, you have to free the others. If we crash and both of us are hurt -”

“This is a trick!” Decker snapped at once.

“A trick?” Murdock reached for a button and pushed it. He looked Decker in the eyes, spoke calmly. “I just dumped the fuel. Free the others now.”

“Well, I finally believe you’re insane.” Decker jumped out of the seat and ran back into the cabin.

“What’s going on, Decker?” Hannibal demanded. The plane was juddering now. BA was gripping the arms of his seat and moaning softly.

“We’re making an emergency landing.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

BA started to say “no, no, no” over and over.

“What’s wrong? Your pilot is a god-damn lunatic that’s what’s wrong!” Decker produced the keys for the cuffs and Hannibal stared as Decker freed him. “Try anything and I’ll shoot you. You cuffed Baracus, set him loose.”

Hannibal jumped up and ran to BA. Decker went to Face and knelt beside him. Before he unlocked the cuffs Decker looked over at Hannibal and BA, expecting to see BA start rampaging around. But BA had gone quiet and his eyes stared unseeingly straight ahead. Hannibal checked BA’s seatbelt was tight.

“Hurry up, Decker!” Face snapped, and Decker quickly unlocked the bracelet around Face’s wrist. Face scrambled up and run to the cockpit.

“Face!” Hannibal called.

“Strap in now!” Murdock yelled. Hannibal hesitated then sat down in the nearest seat. Decker sat in the seat Hannibal had recently vacated. It was still warm from the other man’s body heat and Decker wondered if this would be the last bit of warmth he would ever feel. He fastened his seatbelt tight and involuntarily grabbed the arm rests. His breath came fast.

The buffeting of the wind set every loose object on board jumping and Decker watched the handcuffs that had secured Hannibal bounce across the floor. He couldn’t take his eyes off them and only looked up when he heard Murdock yell again.

“Brace brace brace!”

Decker bent into the brace position, knowing he was about to die and in his head cursing each member of the A-Team over and over with every profanity he’d ever heard.


Three

“Er, is that it?”

Decker sounded almost disappointed, Hannibal thought. Not surprising. As crashes went it had gone pretty smoothly. Hannibal remembered having worse wipe-outs in his box cart when he was a boy. There had been a hell of jolt on impact, and the lights went out. But the plane stayed intact and slid for a while before coming to a gentle stop. The snow, he thought. A nice thick cushion of fresh snow had given them a soft landing. And now it was waiting outside to kill them all.

“Anyone hurt?” Hannibal called into the darkness. “Sound off.”

“Fine.” BA growled, apparently no longer comatose. The crash might have been a pretty easy one this time, but BA was still mad about it.

“Face? Murdock?”

“Okay, Hannibal.” Face’s voice confirmed for the two of them.

“Decker?”

There was a slight pause and then Decker answered. “Fine.”

“Nobody start walking around till we get the lights back or they find a flashlight.” Hannibal said, not wanting anyone hurting themselves by tripping over, or falling through a hole in the floor that they hadn’t seen.

A couple of flashlights came on up front. In a moment a dark figure came through slowly into the cabin, checking the floor ahead as he walked.

“Face?” Hannibal asked.

“Yeah.”

Hannibal was about to speak again when Decker’s voice sounded

“Report, Lieutenant.”

“Um…” Face sounded hesitant.

“Are you ordering my men around, Decker?” Hannibal’s voice was as cold as the weather.

“I’m ordering my prisoners around.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Do I sound like I’m laughing?”

“Ah,” Face said. “Does anyone want me to report? Or should I just read the in-flight magazine for a while?”

“Report, Face.” Hannibal said quickly, before Decker could answer.

“Murdock’s got a fix on the radio beacon he was following. It’s about a half a mile south of us.”

“The weather?” Decker asked.

“We’re still under the storm. Heavy snow, gale force winds.”

“Have we got power?” Hannibal asked. It sounded like they couldn’t go any place tonight, so needed to keep from freezing to death.

“We’ve got enough for a few hours. Murdock’s activated the distress beacon.”

The lights came back on, making Hannibal squint.

“Take out half those bulbs,” Decker ordered, standing up. Hannibal bristled again. He got to his feet too. BA got up, still scowling around at the hated plane.

“Stop ordering my men around, Decker.”

“There’s no sense in using more power than we absolutely need.” Decker said.

“That’s not what I have a problem with. If you think you’re in charge -”

“I am in charge. You’re still under arrest.” Decker said. He raised his pistol, not pointing it at anyone. “And I have the gun.”

“Well that can change real fast.” Hannibal said. “Face, BA.”

Face and BA looked at each other, neither of them moved.

“We ain’t got time.” BA said. “We got work to do. You two want to wait till we ain’t about to freeze to death ‘fore you start squarin’ up? C’mon, Face, let’s get organised. And you,” he jabbed a finger at Decker. “You start waving that gun around I’ll smack you with it. Take the light bulbs out yourself.”

Hannibal smirked at Decker’s outraged expression. BA was right, this wasn’t the time. If Decker wanted to strut around pretending he was king of the castle he was welcome to it.

Hannibal went forward to the cockpit to check on Murdock.

“How’s it going, Captain?”

Murdock looked at him. He still seemed shaken up, which surprised Hannibal. Murdock had been through much scarier crashes than this one.

“You okay, Murdock?”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m sorry, Colonel, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t hold it. I got lost and then the storm iced up the wings and… I’m sorry.” He stared out into the blizzard.

“That’s okay, Murdock, you got us down safe. And right by that beacon. There could be a nice little town out there, full of welcoming ladies with roaring fires and hot toddies.”

Murdock laughed weakly, turned back to Hannibal. “I guess we’ll find out in the morning.”

~~~~

When first light came it brought clear blue sky. The storm had finally eased.

The hatch opened and Hannibal looked out across the snow. He had to squint at the glare of the sun off the vast ocean of snow. No, not an ocean, he thought. Oceans teemed with life. This was a desert. Dead and hostile.

To the north were mountains and above them heavy, brooding clouds, promising more snow soon. Hannibal lifted a pair of binoculars and trained them south, over the plane’s tail. The DC3 had gouged out a deep furrow in the snow as it came to rest. He looked beyond that and he found what he was looking for. Hard to make out details, and covered with snow anyway, but definitely buildings. Civilisation. Antenna stuck out of the roof of a structure, still transmitting a radio beacon, telling the world it was there.

During the night they had attempted to make contact with the source of the beacon, but no answer came. Well maybe no-one was listening in the middle of the night. Time to go and knock on the door and see who was at home. He glanced behind him. The others were ready. Only size and height let him distinguish which man was which, they were so completely wrapped up. Even their faces were covered, with scarves over their mouths and tinted goggles over their eyes.

“I think we can make it no problem. Best get moving though. More bad weather is not far off.”

Decker stepped up to the door, lifted his goggles and took the binoculars from Hannibal to check out the scene. After a moment he nodded.

“Right. Let’s go.”

“Decker…” Hannibal began, and then stopped. No, it’s not the time. He smiled and waved a hand.

“Please, go ahead, oh glorious leader.” He heard BA’s giggle and a muffled laugh from Face.

Decker glowered at Hannibal and lowered himself out of the door, carefully, nervous about where he put his feet. Finally he let go and at once sank up to his waist in the snow. Hannibal smirked. Yes, Decker could lead the way if it made him happy.

He glanced back at his team.

“Let’s go.”

They all followed Decker out of the plane.

~~~~

It was the slowest half mile the team had ever travelled. They’d crossed minefields faster. The snow was unpredictable. In some places it only come up to their knees, in others a drift would swallow them up to their chests. And it was hard work pushing through even the soft fresh snowfall. Despite the cold they were all soon sweating under their many layers of clothing. The clouds from the north were creeping up. Hannibal kept looking back over his shoulder at them as if they were an approaching enemy army. Which they might as well have been.

But finally they got close enough to take a good look at their destination. It was a large one storey building, which Hannibal recognised as made of prefabricated components. The windows were small. The roof was steeply raked and even as they approached a small avalanche of snow slid off part of it. The antenna Hannibal had spotted before were clustered on the eastern end of the roof. The side they approached from the north had a couple of wings on the west and east ends of building, forming a slightly sheltered area. A couple of smaller buildings stood near to the main one. There was no sign of life.

Decker strode ahead as they spotted a door. He marched up as best he could through the snow and banged on the door. It was made of heavy wood and his gloved hand didn’t produce much noise. He drew his pistol from a pocket and banged on the door with the grip producing a more satisfactory noise but no apparent effect.

“Hello?” Decker called, uncovering his mouth.

The team joined in with that, all pulling the scarves from their mouths and yelling.

“Hello? Hello?”

No response, from inside, but there was a sudden rushing sound that made them all jump back alarmed. A huge chunk of snow came sliding off the roof and hit the ground right where Decker had been standing. Damn, missed, Hannibal thought.

“Face, can you pick the lock?” Hannibal asked.

“Not in these.” Face held up his hands encased in heavy gloves. “And not if I take them off either, because my fingers will drop off.”

“I’ll shoot the lock off.” Decker said.

“Geez, he sure loves showing off about having the gun, doesn’t he?” Face said.

Decker ignored the remark and stepped up to the door.

“Wait.” Murdock darted forward and grabbed the door handle. He fumbled it a bit, with his thick gloves, but it turned. The door opened and Murdock grinned. “Something tells me there isn’t a big burglary problem out here.”

“Nice, Murdock.” Hannibal stood aside again and let Decker take the lead. If he wanted to be leader he could take all the risks.

Turned out there were no risks. The building was very cold, the corridors dim. It was deserted but not abandoned. The rooms they looked into were neat and tidy, with a small amount of dust. As if they were waiting.

“It’s some kind of outpost.” Hannibal said, as they explored. Most of the rooms were off a long central corridor that ran east-west. “A science station maybe.” They shone their flashlights into a kitchen, a dining room, a rec room, an infirmary, bathrooms, apparent laboratories and then the place they’d been looking for.

The radio room.

“Alright!” Hannibal grinned as they piled in. “Now, power…”

“There’s a battery pack right here.” BA said. Must be powering the beacon.”

BA took off his gloves, bent over the pack and started to work on getting the power to the radio on.

“There must be a generator around here,” Hannibal said.

“Agreed,” Decker said, “We’ll find it and get it going. We might have to wait several days for rescue. I hope there’s food here.”

“We’ll take inventory after we make contact with someone. How’s it going, BA?”

BA nodded. “Getting it, man, gimme a second here.” He twisted dials and the sweet sound of static hissed out of the radio speakers.

“There’s some frequencies here,” Murdock had found a clipboard on the table by the radio transmitter. He shone his flashlight on it. “This one says RCMP. The Mounties?”

“Must be.” Hannibal said, nodding.

“Call them,” Decker ordered. BA looked at Hannibal, who nodded. Decker scowled. BA started to fiddle with the dials. He handed the microphone to Hannibal, but Decker grabbed it before Hannibal could take it.

“Decker…” Hannibal began. Okay, okay, was now the time or not? If not now when?

“Be quiet, Smith. This is Colonel Decker, United States Army, calling Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Please come in. Over.”

He repeated himself several times, glaring at Hannibal, who glared back. Hannibal was tense. Decker had put the gun back in his pocket. I could put him on his back right now and take it, Hannibal thought. Was this the time?

If not now when?

He sprang forward and shoved Decker back against the wall, pinning him. Decker dropped the microphone. The rest of the team stared at the two colonels.

“Give me the gun, Decker. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

“Back off, Smith that’s an order.” Decker struggled, trying to push Hannibal away.

“Er, do you want a hand, Hannibal?” Face asked.

“No!” Hannibal snapped.

“Hello?”

The sudden strange voice startled them all. After a second they realised it came from the radio speaker. BA, Face and Murdock turned to it and Face picked up the microphone.

Hannibal, still pinning Decker against the wall heard Face talking to what he assumed was a Mountie. Well Face could handle that, while he handled Decker. Time for Decker to understand who was giving the orders around here. Decker tried to knee Hannibal in the groin and Hannibal only just twisted away in time. He had both of Decker’s wrists in his hands, so Decker couldn’t get the gun, but neither could Hannibal.

“Yeah,” Face was saying, “it’s some kind of outpost or something.”

“Oh, I think… Have you got the co-ordinates?” The voice on the radio asked.

Hannibal let go of one wrist, and tried to rip the pocket of Decker’s coat away. But Decker grabbed his wrist.

“I’m stronger than you, Decker.”

“We’ll see.”

“Are these them?” Face read off a set of co-ordinates taped over the radio set. “Do you know where we are?”

“Oh my, you’re up at station twelve. It belongs to a couple of the universities, they do climate research and…”

Hannibal managed to rip the pocket and the pistol fell to the floor. They both lunged after it. Decker fell on his stomach, grabbed at the gun. Hannibal landed on top of him and made Decker’s arm jerk sending the gun skidding away under the table with the radio on.

“You said you were heading to Yellowknife.” The voice over the radio spoke again. “My lord, you really did go off course! You’re north of the Great Bear Lake, you’re up inside the Arctic Circle there you know?”

Murdock turned from the radio to the two men struggling on the floor.

“Do you two need to be alone?” He asked with a smirk.

“Pick up the damn gun, Murdock,” Hannibal snapped.

“Do you mind?” Face scowled at the people interrupting his conversation and turned back to the radio. “Sorry about that. So you know where we are, great. So when can you come and get us out of here?”

“Well, let’s see. Where are we now, twenty-seventh November? Mm-hm.” He went silent for a moment.

Murdock bent and picked up Decker’s handgun.

“Hello?” Face prompted over the radio.

“Ah, yes, sorry.” The Mountie’s voice came back on. “Just checking something.”

“Right, so when can you come and get us?”

“April.”


Four

Hannibal and Decker froze.

Face, Murdock and BA stared at the radio for a long time. Then Face spoke.

“Er, say again.”

“I said April. Or, well if you’re lucky mid March, but that depends on -”

“April? April as in spring? April as in spring next year?” Face sounded like he was having trouble understanding.

“It’s the weather systems you see. The storms come down off the glacier.”

Decker scrambled out from under Hannibal and stood up. Hannibal stood up too.

“And now the days are getting so short too -”

“That’s ridiculous!” Decker snapped. He took the microphone back from Face. “I have dangerous prisoners here! I demand -”

“Oh, be a man, Decker.” Hannibal sneered. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“You just attacked me!”

“Well…” Okay, he had a point, Hannibal thought, but then shrugged. He smiled, a tad smug. “Anyway, dangerous is disputable, but we’re certainly not your prisoners any more.” He nodded over to Murdock who was holding Decker’s pistol. Not pointing, just holding. Decker scowled and turned back to the radio.

“Let me speak to your supervisor.” Decker said.

“Well, okay. He’s not going to tell you any different though. I’ll go get him.”

“Helpful these Canadian folks.” Face said, dryly. He glanced over at the window. It was already growing dark again outside. Snow swirled. “Hannibal,” Face went on, “I don’t know about April, but I do know we’re going to be here tonight. I think we need to find the generator, before dark.”

Hannibal nodded. “Good idea, Face. You and BA go see what you can find, get us some heat and light.”

Decker barely noticed them go. He stood by the radio looking as if he was fuming.

Your plan slipped a cog, huh, Decker? Hannibal thought, trying to keep himself from smirking.

A new voice came over the radio.

“Captain Baker here. Are you there, Colonel Decker?”

“Yes, now listen to me, man -”

“I’m sorry, Colonel. What the constable told you is correct. It’s impossible to reach the area you’re in before the spring. The only access is by helicopter and the days are too short and the weather too unpredictable. You should never have been flying up there in the first place.”

“Yes.” Decker glared at Murdock, who looked at the floor. “We know that. But you can’t just leave us here!”

“You’ll be fine.” Baker sounded unconcerned. “Teams have stayed up there for the winter before.”

“What about food and fuel?” Decker asked.

“Well, you’ll have to check yourselves, but it’s an eight man station and only four people were there over the summer, so there should be plenty of supplies left.”

“Should be?” Hannibal said. “That’s reassuring.”

“I’ll do that inventory, Colonel,” Murdock said, a slightly forced enthusiasm in his voice.

“Good. Pay special attention to anything we can transport easily.”

The other two looked at him.

“Transport?” Decker asked.

“Yeah. If the Mounties think I’m sitting here looking at your face until the spring they’re nuts.” The face in question warred between a smile and a scowl, as if Decker agreed with the sentiment, if not the way it was expressed. Hannibal stepped up and took the microphone.

“Okay, Baker. There have to be maps here, we can plot a route out, you can help with that. There must be survival gear too. My plan is simple. We build a sled and walk out of here. You’ll need to tell me where we should make for.”

“Who is this?”

“Colonel Smith.”

“Er, two colonels? Which of you is in charge?”

“Me.” Hannibal and Decker said together and glared at each other.

“Colonel Smith is my prisoner,” Decker said. “I’m in charge.”

“What do you think of my idea?” Hannibal asked Baker, ignoring Decker.

“A sled?” Baker said, sounding dubious. “You’re going to build one?”

“We happen to be real good at that sort of thing.” Hannibal grinned at Murdock and winked. Murdock smiled back, rather wanly.

“But you have no dogs to pull it.” Baker said.

“We’ll pull it.”

“I see.” Baker was silent a moment. “Can I make one suggestion?”

“Of course,” Hannibal said. “Any advice you can give us that will help us out.”

“Could you all wear name tags?”

“Huh?” Hannibal frowned. “How will that help?”

“Well it will make it so much easier for us to identify you when we dig out your frozen corpses in the spring.”

They all heard giggling in the background. Hannibal and Decker looked at each other, frowning.

“We’ve got a real comedian here.” Hannibal said to Decker, and then turned back to the microphone. “Listen, pal, we’re all soldiers, war vets. We’re trained in survival.”

“A lot of snow in Vietnam was there?” More giggling.

Hannibal closed the microphone. “I can’t wait to meet this guy. I’m gonna pop him so hard.”

Decker looked as if he agreed. He gestured for the microphone, Hannibal handed it over.

“Look, Captain Baker, this just isn’t acceptable. What if one of us gets sick, or hurt?”

Hannibal glanced from Decker over to Murdock. Yeah, what if one of them did get sick? How likely was the infirmary here to have that kind of medication?

“The infirmary should be fully stocked. We can bring in a doctor to advise you over the radio if you don’t have one of your own there. Colonel, um, whichever of you is in charge. What you need to do now is find the station manager’s office and find the station operations manual. The manual will tell you everything you need to know about living there, all the jobs you need to do. Getting the generator running must be your priority.”

Right on cue a lamp on the desk came on. Murdock quickly ran and flicked on the overhead lights. He turned off the desk lamp.

“Yeah, looks like we got that part figured out.” Hannibal said. He got up. He was tired of talking to Baker. Tired of being told to sit tight. “Come on,” he said to Murdock. “Let’s start that inventory.” They left Decker arguing with Baker over the radio

“Hannibal,” Murdock said as they left the radio room and headed along the main corridor. Hannibal flicked light switches as he passed and the corridor was flooded in fluorescent light. “Hannibal, I feel really bad about this.” He passed Decker’s pistol to Hannibal.

“Thanks.” Hannibal put the handgun in his pocket. “It’s not your fault, Murdock.”

“Decker told me to head for Juno. I should have, but I thought I’d be smart. I wanted to land us somewhere in Canada.”

“Logical. You figured that would buy us time. The Canadians would lock us up but -”

“But then the US would have to extradite us and that kind of thing can take months and meantime -”

“We could figure out a way to escape and get home.” Hannibal nodded, following Murdock’s thinking.

Murdock nodded too, looking sad at the word ‘home’. He wasn’t going home this time, Hannibal thought. Murdock moved jerkily, uncomfortably as they walked.

“I didn’t crash on purpose, Hannibal. I swear. I just got lost.”

Hannibal frowned. On purpose? He’d never thought Murdock had crashed on purpose. Why would Murdock believe anyone thought that? He put a hand on Murdock’s shoulder.

“Captain, you were acting for the best. It’s not your fault it backfired.”

“It sure did that!” Murdock sighed hugely, shaking his head. “How the hell are we going to cope being stuck here with Decker till the spring?”

“We won’t have to. I’m not sitting on my butt for four months. We are getting out of here, Murdock. I swear that to you.”

Part 2: It’s a River in Egypt


One

“Face, you warm enough to try picking this one?” Hannibal asked.

The team had gone exploring the station, which seemed much friendlier with the lights and heat turned on. Every door was unlocked, except one at the end of a long narrow corridor, tucked away beyond the boiler room.

Face stepped up to the door and checked the lock. “No problem.” There were probably keys around somewhere, Face figured, but it was always good to practice. The lock presented no challenge and Face picked it in twenty seconds.

The room beyond it was tiny; in fact all four men couldn’t fit in. It held only a workbench and above that, fixed to the wall, a gun rack with four hunting rifles. Face checked drawers under the workbench and found ammunition and cleaning tools.

“Nice.” Hannibal took a rifle down. “All Winchesters.”

“I thought that Mountie said they was scientists who stayed here,” BA said, peering into the room, past Murdock. “Why’d they have guns?”

“Maybe there’s game around in the summer,” Hannibal said. “Caribou or something.”

“Er, Hannibal,” Murdock said. “I can’t see a bunch of professors and grad students dragging in and butchering a caribou. The rifles are probably for defence, you know against bears or wolves.”

“Wolves?” BA sounded alarmed. “There’s wolves around here?”

“Maybe. Maybe not this time of year though. What’s wrong BA?” Murdock grinned. “You afraid of the big bad wolf?”

“Shut up, fool.”

“We, um, we going to mention this little collection to Decker?” Face asked.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any hurry for that.” Hannibal put the rifle back on the rack. “Come on, let’s get out of here before he comes looking for us.”

They met up with Decker coming out of the radio room.

“Baker said he’s going to see if he can find a pilot willing to attempt the trip up here.”

“Great!” Hannibal said, grinning. Decker didn’t smile.

“He wasn’t optimistic. Presumably the local pilots aren’t insane, unlike…”

“Watch it, man,” BA snapped, scowling at Decker. Decker didn’t look intimidated, but he didn’t finish his remark. It seemed he’d already worked out that only BA got to insult Murdock.

“Have you found the station manager’s office?” Decker asked Hannibal.

“Yeah, other end of the corridor. Face and me were just going to check it out and find the operations manual. Murdock and BA are going to get some food started.”

Decker nodded. “Agreed.”

“I wasn’t asking for permission. But you can tag along if you want.”

“Tag along…”

“Let’s go, big guy, I’m hungry.” Murdock ran off to the kitchen. BA followed, grousing to himself about wolves.

The station manager’s office was really a cubicle, sectioned off in a room with four other desks.

Face wandered around the room. There were several filing cabinets and many shelves, full of books and scientific journals. He opened a tall cupboard to find it held stationery supplies. Three of the desks had electric typewriters on them, the fourth a computer terminal.

While Face explored the rest of the room Decker and Hannibal went straight for the manager’s desk. Face saw them go into the cubicle and then both spring forward fast. Now what had they found to fight over?

Decker was fastest this time and held up a large bunch of keys, making them rattle and clank. He turned to Hannibal smirking. Hannibal scowled.

Here we go again, Face thought. Fearing another scene like in the radio room when the two had struggled for the gun Face started opening and banging desk drawers, making the colonels look over.

“Everything okay there, Face?” Hannibal asked.

“Yeah, just seeing if I could find a ruler. Had an idea it might be useful about now.”

Hannibal shook his head a tiny smile on his face. Decker just frowned.

“Okay, Decker,” Hannibal said with a shrug. “You hang onto your rattle, if it makes you happy. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got your keys, I’ve got Face and his lock picks, so we’re pretty even.”

“Is the station manual there?” Face asked. If they were going to survive the night those two needed to stop bickering and get to work.

“Yes.” Decker held up a large folder.

“Better get studying then.”

~~~~

BA and Murdock made dinner, out of cans and boxes and frozen food and they ate at a long table in the dining area, a room between the kitchen and the rec room. Pages from the station’s operations manual had been removed and distributed to them all for study.

“Says here,” BA said, “that we can get some of our heat from an under floor system, using hot air created by burning stuff in the incinerator.”

“I saw cords of wood in the shack where the fuel drums are stored,” Face said.

“Eight bedrooms,” Murdock said, looking at the floor plan. “A big workshop, BA. Ah, a kennel, so at least Billy has some place to stay.” He grinned around but got no reaction from the others who were too intent on their food and studying. Murdock turned back to the floor plan. “Ooh, an indoor greenhouse! We can grow some fresh food.”

Hannibal glanced at Murdock. “I wasn’t planning on staying long enough to plant a garden.”

“Oh, I know,” Murdock said. “But, well, if we can’t get out…”

“We’ll get out.”

“Okay, Hannibal.” Murdock looked at Hannibal, looked worried. “Do you think Baker can really find a pilot willing to fly up and rescue us? Thing is I’m not sure I want him to. If it’s really that dangerous I don’t want some guy risking his neck for us.”

“Me neither,” Hannibal agreed. “That’s why I think we have to get ourselves out. We have to walk out of here.”

“You heard what Baker said,” Decker reminded him. “About frozen corpses?”

“Baker doesn’t know us,” Hannibal said. “He doesn’t know what we can do.”

“No, but he knows this country. He knows what it can do.”

“You’re welcome to stay behind,” Hannibal said. “Though how you’ll tell your CO later that you just let the A-Team walk away from you…”

“Yeah, so come along, Rod,” Murdock said, teasing. “Consider it as being in really, really close pursuit. Also if we run out of food, well you look like you could be damn tasty with some Cajun spices.”

~~~~

Hannibal jerked awake as a mug of coffee was banged down on the station manager’s desk right beside his head. He sat up as Decker sat down opposite him.

“And when exactly were you going to tell me about the rifles?”

Hannibal peered at him, and then rubbed his eyes, dislodging a Post-It note that had stuck to his cheek when his face settled onto the desk sometime during the night. The little yellow square fluttered down onto the pile of paper and maps.

“Huh?” Hannibal said thickly.

Decker tapped on a floor plan of the station. The small armoury was marked. Hannibal shrugged and picked up the mug of coffee.

“What makes you think we were even in there?” He sipped the coffee nonchalantly

Decker snorted at that. “I could smell Peck’s cologne.”

“Funny,” Hannibal said. His head was pounding from the late night and his neck was protesting about him sleeping with his head on a desk.

Decker glanced over at the papers Hannibal had been using as a pillow. “So I assume you have one of your usual foolproof plans?”

“Oh you mean like the ones that we’ve used to escape from you so many times?” Hannibal matched Decker snark for snark.

“Not any more, Smith.” Decker got out a cigarette and lit it. Hannibal wondered how many cigarettes Decker had left. He knew he himself had only two cigars left. Oh boy, he thought, we need to get out of here real fast.

~~~~

BA had been in the workshop since breakfast, building their sled. Decker, at BA’s direction gathered wooden slats from shelves in the store rooms and helped him in the workshop. They made an unlikely team, but Hannibal let them get on with it, appreciating that Decker was mucking in. Face and Murdock were gathering supplies.

Hannibal himself continued plotting the route he planned to take. Late in the afternoon he got on the radio again and explained his plans to Captain Baker. Baker stayed silent until Hannibal finished.

“So, what do you think?” Hannibal asked finally.

“You’ll make sure to wear those name tags I suggested?”

“That wasn’t funny the first time, pal.”

“All right, let me see. The journey you are describing is nearly two hundred miles. How many miles do you think you can do in a day?”

“I’ve calculated five.”

“Er, even if you could do that, which you can’t, then it would still take you over a month. Do you really think you can drag enough food for a month? And the community you’re aiming for is no more accessible than you are there. Even in the summer it can only be reached by air. Right now it’s as cut off as that station.”

Hannibal hadn’t thought of that. Still it was a town, people, plenty of food. Had to be better than just the five of them staying here.

“But…”

“Colonel, listen to me.” Baker’s voice went very serious. “I strongly advise you to stay where you are. If you attempt this journey you will die.”

“We could die here, if there’s not enough food or fuel to see us through to spring.”

“Could beats will in my book, Colonel.” His voice softened, became persuasive. “You can ration your food and fuel. I can give you advice on that. If the fuel runs low you have a lot of wood there to burn for heat.” He was appealing to Hannibal now, almost pleading. “You can burn every stick of furniture in the place and I’ll pay for it myself, if you’ll just, please, stay there.”

A sound at the doorway made Hannibal look up. Face was looking in at him, leaning against the door jamb, arms folded. How much had he heard? Hannibal wondered.

“I’ll get back to you later, Captain.” Hannibal closed the connection. He looked at Face. “Baker doesn’t know us, Face. He doesn’t know what we can do.”

“Decker knows us and what we can do. And he doesn’t think we should try it either.”

“Oh, so Decker’s in charge now?” Hannibal snapped.

Hannibal regretted his tone at once as Face pushed away from the door and turned and walked away.

“Damn.” Hannibal muttered. He should have slept properly last night. His head and neck still hurt despite pain killers and he was irritable as hell. That conversation with Baker hadn’t helped. Was Baker right? Was Decker right? Was this a suicide mission? Maybe Hannibal needed to face facts.

Murdock burst into the room.

“Hannibal, come and see!” Murdock was as excited as a kid. “BA’s finished the sled. It’s a beaut!” He ran out again. Hannibal grinned and followed Murdock out.


Two

“So I cut some empty diesel fuel barrels in half, used them as the runners. Plastic, so light, but strong. I used these wooden slats to create a platform to pile stuff on.”

“Nice, BA.” Hannibal took out his second from last cigar and lit it. BA stood proudly beside the sled in the middle of the workshop. Murdock started patting him on the back and smiling. BA shrugged him off and spoke again.

“Kept the runners pretty wide apart, distribute the weight, see, so it won’t sink into the snow as much. And the nose should work.” He pointed to the two bolted together sheets of plastic that formed a V shape on the front of the sled, to cut through the snow. Hannibal nodded, crouched down, looking it over critically.

“Let’s load it up now, test it outside. I don’t want to waste any time tomorrow. We’ll test it then leave it back in here, ready for first light. Face, get the supplies.”

No-one moved. Hannibal looked up at the group. Face and Decker were both looking down at the sled, arms folded, identical scowls on their faces.

“I’m pretty sure I just spoke.” Hannibal said coldly, straightening up. “I’m certain I heard something.”

Face looked at him, into his eyes, a blank and defiant look. Then he turned away to fetch the supplies he and Murdock had gathered. Hannibal watched Face go. Murdock gave a nervous laugh called “wait up Face” and followed him out.

BA bent over the sled again, making adjustments, tightening screws, checking bolts. Decker stayed, still frowning. Hannibal decided to make a small effort at reconciliation.

“Thanks for helping BA build this.”

“Yeah, man.” BA glanced up. “You did okay.” He turned back to his work.

That counted as high praise from BA, Hannibal supposed. And it had probably been a nice change for him to work with an assistant who didn’t ask crazy questions the whole time. Or complain about how this manual work was beneath him and would ruin his hands.

Decker hadn’t responded to either Hannibal or BA. Hannibal tried again.

“It’s a good sled.”

Decker looked at him.

“That’s not a sled, Smith. It’s a bier.”

Decker turned and walked out.

BA looked up at Hannibal.

“Beer?” He said.

“Other spelling.” Hannibal said, grimly.

He hurried after Decker, caught up with the other colonel and grabbed his arm to stop him. He made Decker face him.

“Listen, Decker, you don’t want to go, fine, stay here. But cut out that defeatist crap in front of my men.”

“Smith…” Decker took a breath, as if trying to control his anger. “I can’t stop you going, but I can’t let you go without me either.”

“Yeah, I know, because we’re your prisoners and you can’t let us escape.”

Decker stared at him. “Christ, Smith, you’re a bigger fool than your damn pilot. Yes, you’re my prisoners. So I’m responsible for you. It’s my duty to keep you alive.” He snorted in disgust. “Didn’t they teach you anything at West Point?”

Decker pulled his arm from Hannibal’s grip and marched away.

~~~~

Hannibal woke to the alarm clock in the morning and felt guilty for sleeping well. Shouldn’t he have had a sleepless night worrying? But the fact he’d managed to sleep so well just gave him confidence that he’d made the right choice.

He groped for the alarm clock and shut it off. The room was chilly, the heater turned down maybe a little too low. He lay for a while warm and cosy under the covers. The wind howled outside.

It was very tempting to snuggle under the bed clothes and go back to sleep. Did they really have to leave today? Was he rushing things? But the longer they waited the worse the weather would get, the shorter the days would be.

Did they really have to go at all? Maybe even the A-Team couldn’t beat the winter. Should they just accept reality and settle down here until spring? But that meant accepting another reality. Prison. That was very real. It was all very well to say they would escape again, but would they? Would they escape when the army knew exactly where they were and had four months to plan how to drop the net on them and keep them inside it?

And four months here? Barely able to go outside? Being stuck here with Decker was a horrible enough thought, but there was a worse one. Could Murdock deal with that kind of confinement and isolation? Sure he lived at the VA, theoretically confined and isolated, but theory and practice were two different things.

No, they had to get out, that was the reality. So it was time to get moving. Two hours to first light. They were going to be ready to go on the dot. Hannibal got up and walked out of the bedroom, the cold of the floor perceptible even through his socks.

“Okay, everybody up!”

~~~~

“Hannibal,” Face said, as they put away the dishes after breakfast. “One thing that bothers me. Leaving behind the artworks out there on the plane. It’s not just the money,” he added hastily, “they’re irreplaceable.”

“They’re not going anywhere, Face. Who’s gonna steal them out here?” Hannibal grinned. “The polar bears? They’re all packed in crates. None of the crates broke open in the crash. They’ll be fine till they can be picked up in the spring.”

“Right. Okay,” Face said. He closed the cupboard and looked around the tidy kitchen. As far as possible they intended to leave the station as they found it. That was only polite.

“Is that the only thing bothering you, Face?” Hannibal asked. “If you have doubts about this trip -”

“Hannibal, I always have doubts, about any of your plans, you know that.” Face laughed. “Still, I guess you always come through. But…” He looked away, through the window. The first hint of dawn lightened the sky.

“But what?” Hannibal prompted.

Face turned back to look at him. His expression was serious.

“You can be very stubborn, Hannibal. If you’re just doing this because Baker says you can’t and because Decker says you can’t…” He shook his head. “Well, that wouldn’t be good, Colonel. That really wouldn’t be good at all.”

Face turned and walked out of the kitchen. Hannibal stood for a moment. He got the distinct impression he’d just been given a warning.

~~~~

They didn’t make the same mistake as they had yesterday.

The day before they had tested the sled. In the workshop they stacked all the supplies on it, secured them carefully. Then they looked at the door to the outside. More specifically at the width of the door. And they’d turned back and started to unload the sled.

This morning they took it out on its side in the dim early morning light and then loaded it.

“Keep the tent where we can get at it quick,” Hannibal ordered. “We’ll have to put it up fast if bad weather comes down.”

“When.” Hannibal heard Decker mutter. He ignored that.

“Okay,” Hannibal said as they piled on the last of the supplies. “I’m going to go and call the Mounties and tell them we’re heading out. Give me the keys, Decker. I’ll put them back in the office.” He held out his hand. Decker looked at him then slowly he reached into his pocket and took out the keys, handed them to Hannibal.

“Thanks.”

Hannibal went inside. The station was dim, the generator was off again. The last of the heat was dissipating. Hannibal walked slowly up the long corridor towards the radio room. He knew what Baker was going to say. “Don’t go.” Maybe… maybe Hannibal should start listening to him. Let him give all the arguments again. Let him persuade Hannibal to change his mind.

The radio was back on the battery pack. Hannibal tuned in and called up the Mounties. As he waited for a response he chewed things over. What if he did change his mind now? What would the team think of that? What would Decker -?

“Hello, station twelve, RCMP receiving.” Hannibal blinked, taken by surprise by a female voice over the connection. He identified himself and asked. “Um, is Captain Baker there?”

“No, Colonel, he’s not in yet.”

“Oh.” Hannibal bit his lip. “Are you a constable, Miss…?”

“Barlow. No, sir, just a radio operator.”

“Okay, Miss Barlow. Well can you please tell Captain Baker that Colonel Smith’s party headed out? Thanks. We’ll call him in a month. Out.”

He broke the connection. Then he sat and waited for a few minutes. No-one was about to talk him out of it. Not Baker and definitely not Decker. They were going.

He stood up, took the keys back to the office and left them on the station manager’s desk. Then, closing doors behind him as he went, he walked back outside. It was full daylight now, sun glared off the snow and Hannibal pulled his goggles down over his eyes. The other four stood around, silent, waiting for him. Hannibal went and grabbed one of the ropes for pulling the sled.

“Let’s move out.” Three of the other men moved. One didn’t. It took Hannibal a moment to identify who.

“Lieutenant?

Face pushed his hood back and took off his goggles.

“We’re not going.”


Three

Hannibal stared at Face. Nobody else moved. The wind had dropped and for a long moment the world held its breath.

“I’m going to turn the generator back on.” Face turned and headed back inside via the workshop. Hannibal dropped the rope and ran after Face. He caught up with him part way up the west corridor. Hannibal grabbed Face’s arm and Face pulled away from him at once.

“What the hell is this, Lieutenant? A mutiny?”

“Yeah, sounds about right.” Face growled, striding onwards. They came to an interior door and Face opened it towards himself, but Hannibal slammed it closed and leant on it to stop Face going through.

“Okay, just stop! What the hell is wrong with you, Face?”

“Wrong with me?” Face sounded outraged. He turned to Hannibal. His face was hard to see in the dim light, but there was no mistaking the fury in his voice. “Oh, I’m the crazy one, am I? For not wanting to walk away from all this food and heat and shelter, into a frozen wilderness? Yeah, what the hell kind of nut am I?”

“The others are willing to give it a try…”

“Bullshit. BA is going because he’d charge the gates of hell if you ordered him to. Murdock is going because he thinks it’s his fault we’re here in the first place. Decker is…”

“Oh I wondered when we’d get to Decker.”

Face snorted, sounded disgusted. He wrenched the door open and forced his way past Hannibal. Hannibal almost had to run to keep up.

“This has nothing to do with Decker!” Face shot back over his shoulder. “I just happen to agree with him.” He stopped abruptly right outside the door to the offices and Hannibal almost collided with him. Face swung around to glare at Hannibal. “At least it has nothing to do with Decker for me. For you it has everything to do with Decker. You have to be opposite to Decker. Never mind that in this case he’s right. Never mind that it’s going to get us all killed.”

“That’s not -”

“Shut up! I’m not finished.”

Hannibal gasped. Face had never told him to shut up before. He had to fight down the urge to instantly take a swing at Face.

“I’m not gonna let you do it, Hannibal. I’m not letting you take us out there to die, just so you can prove – try to prove – that you’re cock of the walk. And maybe I can’t stop you going by myself, but I’d bet real money that I can talk Murdock and BA out of it. Decker doesn’t need any talking out of it. And then the four of us can sure as hell stop you going.”

“The four of us?” Hannibal echoed. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all.

Face passed a hand over his eyes then through his hair. His hand was shaking and he was very pale, Hannibal noticed. When Face spoke again, his voice was calmer, conciliatory.

“You get so single minded, Hannibal. And most of the time that’s good, you keep us all focused on the mission, keep us all moving forward. But some of the time it’s not so good. It makes you blinkered. You get an idea and you want to blast ahead full steam. Well usually we don’t have the time to do anything else. But now we do.” He took a deep breath and leaned back against the wall, folded his arms.

Hannibal felt his anger ebb away. He’d been ready to rip into Face for defying him in front of the others, in front of Decker – and there he went again, thinking about Decker.

“If we sit here until spring the ‘rescue’ takes us straight to jail.” Hannibal pointed out.

“Jail’s a hell of a lot easier to escape from than this place.”

They looked at each other for a long time, their faces deeply shadowed in the dim light.

“Go and turn the generator back on.” Hannibal said. Face sighed and then gave a very small, very faint smile.

“Yes, Colonel.”

“I’ll go and tell the others that I – we’ve decided we’re not going. Is that…” He hesitated a moment. “That okay by you?”

“Yes, Hannibal.” Face nodded. “That’s okay.” He turned to leave.

“Face.” Face turned back when Hannibal spoke. “Thanks.”

Face nodded and this time he gave a real smile. “I’ll make a pot of coffee. I think we all need to sit down and work a few things out.”

~~~~

When the others trooped back indoors Face was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. He was studying the station operations manual and making notes on a legal pad. The station manager’s bunch of keys sat on the table too and Face saw both Decker and Hannibal eye them as they came in.

“Hey,” Face said. “Coffee’s hot.” He waved at the coffee maker.

“Thanks, Face.” Hannibal said.

“Yeah.” The serious tone in Murdock’s voice made Face look up. “Thanks, Face.” Face nodded slightly. BA got himself a coffee, probably mostly for the heat, Face thought. He came to the table and as he passed he rested one hand on Face’s shoulder, just for a second, then sat down.

Eventually everyone had taken a seat, still bundled up in their coats. The other four sat around quiet and subdued as Face went on writing. Face wondered how much of a surprise it had been to the others when Hannibal went back outside and told them they were staying. Not that big a surprise he suspected and definitely a relief. Face hadn’t spoken to any of the others before he turned around and defied Hannibal, but he was sure they all had the same doubts as he did. But actually talking to them about disobeying the Colonel’s orders… well that really would have been mutiny. Conspiracy.

Murdock broke the long silence. He cleared his throat and spoke. “I wonder if there’s a turkey in the cold storage.” The others looked at him. “It’ll be Christmas in a month.”

They nodded slowly.

“Yeah.” BA sighed.

“How long can you keep a turkey in the deep freeze anyway?” Murdock asked.

“Pretty long time if it’s cold enough.” Hannibal said.

Murdock shook his head and sighed. “Well I must be doing something wrong. Every time I put one in there it’s dead the next day.”

Decker snorted coffee out of his nose and started to choke. BA tried to scowl and muttered “Fool”. But then he started to giggle. Hannibal laughed. He sat back in his chair and just laughed. Face looked around at them then at Murdock’s now grinning face. Murdock turned the grin to Face and got a smile in return. Looking satisfied Murdock turned and started slapping Decker on the back.

Good ‘ice breaker’ Face thought. Which was pretty appropriate after all.

“Okay.” Face said when the laughter and choking had subsided. “I’ll start.”

“Er, start what, Face?” Hannibal asked.

“The meeting.” Face said. “I’ll be the chair.”

“Can I be the table?” Murdock asked at once. BA giggled again and Hannibal grinned. Even Decker was almost smiling. Face gave a theatrical, long suffering sigh.

“Sure Murdock. Anyone else want to be pieces of furniture or can we move along?”

Murdock sat back with his arms folded and a terribly serious expression on his face. Face looked down at his legal pad for a moment. Being the chair was good. It didn’t mean you were in charge of the group, just of the meeting. He hoped like hell Hannibal was getting that. The first thing written on the paper was the word ‘keys’. Face looked up.

“I think there’s a few things we should work out. Number one is these.”

He leant forward and picked the bunch of keys up using his pen, like a cop handling evidence at a crime scene.

“It’s silly for any one person to be walking around with these keys. The key to the drugs cabinet is on there. If we need that in a hurry I don’t think we should have to be running about trying to find whoever is…” He stopped himself saying ‘strutting around carrying the keys as a macho status symbol.’ “Whoever has them.”

He glanced between Hannibal and Decker as he said it. They both looked ashamed of themselves.

“Good idea, Face,” Hannibal said. Decker nodded in agreement.

“Right.” Face let the keys slide off his pen and clatter back onto the table. He had to press on. He had to get things on the right footing before the two subdued colonels regained their confidence. “So we agree. The keys are not to be carried around by any one person. Should we take a vote on that?”

Now Hannibal frowned back at him.

“When did this become a democracy?”

Face checked his watch. “About fifteen minutes ago.” He looked back at Hannibal, steadily, held his gaze.

“Yeah, we should vote,” BA said. “I vote yes, keep the keys in one place.”

Murdock gave Hannibal a nervous look, then spoke. “I vote yes too.”

The three of them looked at Hannibal and Decker.

“Are you two voting?” Face asked.

“Well it looks like you already have a majority,” Hannibal said.

Face didn’t speak, just looked at him questioningly. Come on Colonel, he thought. This is the only way this is going to work. There’s no way to stop you and Decker fighting for command, so the best thing for everyone is to just pull that rug out from under both of you right off. Democracy is good. Voting is good. Figure it out

“Yes,” Decker said, startling Face and making him look away from Hannibal. “I vote yes.”

Face nodded, looked at Hannibal’s frowning face again. “Four yes votes and one abstention?”

“No,” Hannibal said. “I mean, yes, I’m voting. I vote yes.”

“Great. Unanimous.” Face put on his most pleased look and ticked off the first item on his sheet.

“Okay. Item two. I propose we have one of these meetings once a week? Anyone opposed?”

He smiled as he went on through the agenda he’d drawn up. This was almost surreal. But they’d never faced anything quite like this before and that meant they had to deal with it in ways they never had before

Time to move forward.

~~~~

Hannibal left the meeting wondering if Face had been reading business manuals. Everybody had what Face called ‘action items’ to work on. This wasn’t anything Hannibal was used to. He gave people orders, not action items. But it seemed to be working. If he’d attempted to order Decker to draw up a chores roster they’d still be arguing about it now.

Murdock and Face were doing a detailed inventory of the supplies, BA of the fuel and equipment. Decker had the roster and would then help out Hannibal, who was tasked with exploring the station top to bottom, to make sure they knew every inch of the place and exactly what they had and where.

First Hannibal had a personal action item to take care of though. He went to the radio room.

“Smith?” Baker sounded amazed when Hannibal came on the line. “I was told you’d set out.”

“I… changed my mind. You were right, Captain.” He glanced up. Hail was lashing against the window. He waited for the “I told you so” that he so richly deserved.

“Thank god,” Baker said, with what sounded like genuine relief. He sighed. “Thank god. Right, Colonel, what are your plans now?”

“Explore the station thoroughly, take a full inventory and estimate if our food and fuel will hold out. Then I guess we just…” he shrugged. “We just settle in and do whatever chores we have to do every day and well, catch up on a lot of sleep.”

“Good. Colonel, there’s someone manning this frequency twenty four hours a day. Whatever we can do to help we will. If you need to talk to a doctor. If you need a mechanic’s advice for any of your machinery -”

“Actually we’re pretty much covered on that one.” Hannibal said. “Just happen to have the best mechanic I ever met right here on my team. He can fix anything but the weather.”

“That’s great. I’m sure the four of you will be fine.”

“The four of…” Hannibal stopped, frowned. Surely… The realisation hit him. Decker hasn’t mentioned Murdock to Baker. He probably just forgot, in the shock of being told how long we were stuck here. Decker must have said that he had the A-Team as prisoners. And Baker had looked up the A-Team, or reported on to the US Army and they had told him that there are three members of the A-Team.

“Yeah, the four of us,” Hannibal said slowly.

“Well I suppose you don’t think of Colonel Decker as one the group.”

“No, I guess not.”

“You should work out a way to get along with him, Colonel Smith. It would be silly for you to argue all winter.”

Hannibal laughed. “You’re right there, Captain.”

“My name’s Eric, Colonel.”

“Eric. Okay, I’m Hannibal. Like the guy with the elephants.”

“Ah. Perhaps if you’d had some elephants you might have had a chance of making the journey.” Baker’s voice had just a hint of teasing in it.

“Yeah. Just my luck I left my elephants in my other pants.”

Baker laughed. “Okay, Hannibal, I’ll let you get on. But call us, any time.”

“We will. Over and out.” Hannibal shut off the radio. He smiled. Sure, we’ll call you. I’ll call you, so will BA and Face and Decker. But Murdock isn’t getting anywhere near this radio.


Four

“Tell you one thing we won’t run out of,” Murdock said. “Oatmeal. There’s a ton of it.”

“Yeah, ’cause I didn’t eat nearly enough of that when I was a boy.” Face muttered.

The five of them were in the rec room, sitting on sofas and armchairs around a coffee table which was scattered with papers.

“What’s the verdict with the food?” Hannibal asked. “Will it last?”

“Well based on my sums it’s gonna be close,” Face said. “If the spring is late, we may be in trouble. And there’s some thing we’ll have to ration anyway.”

“Rod’s looking tastier all the time.” Murdock said earning a dirty look from Decker.

“I think we should keep the food store locked up.” Face went on. “Not that I don’t trust you guys,” he added hastily, “but if we’re going to keep track of the food we need to control exactly what’s going out.” He glanced around. “So no snacking, guys.”

“Was you lookin’ at me there?” BA demanded.

“No!” Face protested, looking alarmed. “No, not at…”

“Sure he was,” Murdock said, “Because you’re the Snack Monster and you know it.”

“Me? I ain’t the one lives on Cheetoes and Twinkies and -”

“BA, what about the fuel?” Hannibal interrupted.

BA turned back from scowling at Murdock.

“I worked out how many barrels of diesel we got and how many I think the generator will use in a day and well…” He shook his head. “Like with the food. It’s gonna be close. We need to be real careful about the electricity.”

“Short showers, no electric blankets,” Face sighed.

“Be sure and switch the lights off every time you leave a room…” Hannibal said. He stopped and grinned. “I think I just turned into my dad.”

“I saw a pressure cooker in the kitchen,” Decker said. “We can use that. And the microwave and don’t leave the coffee maker on all day -”

“Keep all the doors closed as much as possible, the corridors are always cold -” Murdock suggested.

“Wait, wait,” Face said, scribbling on his legal pad. “Tell you what, everyone think about ways to save power and well make a big list later, okay?” He sighed. He just knew he was going to be cold from now until spring. “Decker, did you get the chores roster done?”

“Yes.” Decker cleared his throat. “Daily we need two people working in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. One person to refuel the generator. One person to deal with the garbage. One person to do the cleaning of the rest of the station. Sweeping, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathrooms.”

There were a few groans and Decker scowled around at their unhappy faces.

“I don’t like the idea of cleaning toilets any more than you do, but it has to be done.” He scowled some more. “And I’d suggest we all try to leave the latrines in a condition we’d like to find them.”

“Don’t worry, Roddy, we’ll aim to please.” Murdock said. BA giggled. Face tossed a pencil at Murdock.

“Please don’t call me ‘Roddy’, Captain Murdock.” Decker said in an especially low rumble.

“That it?” Hannibal asked Decker.

“No.” Decker turned away from Murdock’s teasing grin. “There’s laundry. I’ve put that down for two people, every three days. Also snow clearing.” He tapped the Station Operations manual. “Says in there we need to clear snow from the yard every few days.”

“How? With shovels?” Face sounded dismayed.

“No. With this.” Decker turned to a page in the manual that showed a picture of a tracked vehicle that looked like a miniature bulldozer. He held it up for the others to see.

“Nifty!” Murdock said. “I call first go!”

“We’ll all have to learn to drive it.” Decker said. “There’s instructions in here.” He tapped the manual and then put it down. “Right, last regular chore is maintenance of all the machinery. I thought, since Sergeant Baracus is the mechanical expert he could do that and be excused the laundry and snow clearing.”

BA nodded with approval at that idea right away. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t wanna be folding no sheets. Any objections?” He glared around.

“Carried unanimously,” Face said, quickly submitting to the voter intimidation. “Anyone got anything else?”

“I’ve got a dressing up box.” Murdock said. He grinned at their puzzled faces. “I’ve put all the clothes I could find in the bedrooms into a box.” He waved a hand towards a big plastic crate. The cuffs of a pair of pants hung over the edge. “I figure we go through them and see what fits everyone.”

“Great.” Face said. The team all had a couple of changes of clothes in their packs. Decker had none, having left his gear back at Barrow airport in his hurry to sneak aboard the team’s plane.

“I knew you’d be happy with a change in wardrobe, Face. Sorry, it’s not exactly Haute Couture. Come on.” Murdock went over to the box and the others followed him started pulling out the clothes. Murdock was right that they were not exactly Face’s usual style. Lots of denim shirts and chunky sweaters. Still, staying warm was the priority now. They hauled out the clothes and started checking sizes and sharing them out.

“Actually, I didn’t bring all of the clothes I found.” Murdock said. “I didn’t think any of you would want to wear ladies clothes, but I can go get them if you like.”

“We’re not that desperate yet.” Face said, holding a dark blue ribbed sweater against himself. Not bad. He tried it on, looking around for a mirror, but there wasn’t one in the rec room. “Didn’t I see a full length mirror on wheels in one of the bedrooms?”

“What do you want a mirror, for?” Hannibal asked. “It doesn’t matter to us what you look like.”

“Yeah, Face. We’re not that desperate yet.” Murdock grinned. Face glared at him trying to check the fit of his sweater in his reflection in the window.

Murdock finished off his own ensemble with his baseball cap. “Right, I’m going to start dinner.” He gathered up the clothes he’d claimed for himself and put them on a chair in a heap, then hurried off the kitchen.

~~~~

“Need a hand, Murdock?” Face said, following Murdock into the kitchen a few minutes later.

“Thanks. Face. I’ve been thinking,” Murdock said as he stirred a pan full of tinned stew. “I think we have to try and look at the positive aspects of this. Okay, so we’re trapped here, yeah, and that’s not good. But we need to make the most of it.”

“I’ve been thinking about how we pass the time.” Face agreed, mixing up some instant mashed potato. “We’ve got the chores to do, but what then?” He glanced at the darkness outside. “This place doesn’t just have long winter evenings; it’s got days when the sun doesn’t even rise. We have to keep occupied or we’ll go nuts.” He smiled. “No offence. I spotted a chess set. Maybe we can get Hannibal and Decker using that. If they want to fight it can be with chess pieces.”

“Good idea.” Murdock grinned. “And there’s loads of books and games and stuff in the rec room. Cards too of course, so you can bleed us all dry.” He winked at Face. “But there’s other stuff we can do. There’s a room full of books opens off from the office.”

“I saw that. It’s all scientific stuff.” Face said, as he collected plates and glasses from a cupboard.

“Yeah, so we can study. I could probably do with brushing up on my meteorology. In fact.” He shook his head, sighed, sounding rueful. “There’s no ‘probably’ about it. And – well, I’ve decided, since we’ve got all this time, and we’re not going to rush off on a mission any time – I’m gonna write a book.”

Face stared at him. “A book?”

Murdock nodded, enthusiastically. “I’ve always wanted to, so why not now? A novel.” He waved an arm, put on a grand English voice. “A sprawling epic of grandeur and glory.” He grinned and reverted to his normal voice. “And with all this time I’ll be done by Christmas.”

“Christmas? Murdock, that’s less than a month away.” Face laughed, shaking his head. “Nobody can write a novel in a month.”

~~~~

Face settled into his bed. His bed, in his room. That was how he had to think of it now. It wasn’t just a couple of night’s accommodation, it was his space. Shame it was rather bare and Spartan, but at least it gave him some privacy, which he suspected was going to be in short supply for the next few months. It wasn’t going to be the only thing in short supply and Face wondered if he could claim cold showers as his contribution to the energy saving drive.

He yawned and reached for the bedside lamp to turn it off, but then thought he’d check out the drawer of the night stand, to see if the previous occupant had left a book or anything in there, in case he couldn’t sleep.

Face opened the drawer, looked into it and gasped.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” he breathed. He lifted out the treasure he had found. With one finger he lovingly traced the very familiar letters. The P, the L, the A, the Y, and the B O Y. “Hef, you come through for me once again.”

He put the Playboy back in the drawer and turned off the light. Just knowing it was there made him feel warmer all over.

Part 3: Captain MH Murdoch and the Spiders from Mars


One

Captain Murdoch watched the figure of Count Van Nostrum grow ever smaller as the helicopter rose higher into the dusky sky. The count shook his fists after the helicopter, but it was too late, much too late.

Murdoch turned to Princess Magda Van Nostrum. Her wavy golden hair cascaded over her pearly white shoulders. She stared back at him with her large cerulean eyes, her soft pink lips slightly parted. The crisp white sheet wrapped around her only served to emphasise the voluptuous curves of her firm young body. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. And yet she belonged to another.

“Oh, sir,” Magda said, breathily, “How can I ever thank you? I thought my father would keep me locked in that attic forever!”

“Don’t thank me, thank Ludwig. He sent me to rescue you.”

She looked amazed. “Ludwig?”

“Your fiance.”

“Oh, he’s such a fool!” Magda pouted and looked sulky. This only made her appear even lovelier to Murdoch. He had a hard time keeping his eyes on the course ahead and away from her as the sheet she was wrapped in slipped a little. “I broke it off with him a year ago!”

“Really?” Now things were looking up for Murdoch. “Then why did your father take away all your clothes and lock up, if not to stop you marrying Ludwig?”

“To stop me marrying Gunther, of course!”

“Gunther? You mean Ludwig’s cousin Gunther? The astronaut?” Things were looking down again.

And then

Face looked up from the typed page he held. He frowned at Murdock who sat on the other side of the desk, in front of an electric typewriter.

“And then? What happens next?”

Murdock sipped the coffee Face had brought him. Face was very nice to him when Murdock was in the office working on his novel. Always bringing him coffee, checking he was warm enough, seeing if he needed his pencil sharpening. Murdock grinned. Who knew Face was such an avid reader?

“How do I know what happens next?” Murdock said. “I haven’t typed that bit yet.”

“Well, I can guess,” Face said. “Captain Murdoch and Magda go off to some place cosy and she shows him her – um – gratitude. Then after that he flies off to rescue some other nubile young lovely and she gets really grateful too.”

“Are you saying my book is predictable?” Murdock asked, frowning. He balled up a sketch map he’d made of the Von Nostrum castle and tossed it at the waste paper basket, missing by a long way.

“You’ve used the phrase ‘She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. And yet she belonged to another’ at least five times now.”

“Fine.” Murdock snapped and snatched back the latest page of his epic. “Next time he’s going to rescue some puppies. Or a baby bird.”

“Hey, I wasn’t complaining.” Face put his hands up, grinning. “The more grateful, nubile young lovelies the better. Especially if he offloads any onto that sidekick of his.”

Murdock smiled. Ah yes, Murdoch’s sidekick, Ace. Murdock was quite fond of Ace, even though Ace wasn’t nearly as charming, brilliant and devastatingly handsome as Murdoch. He hoped nothing awful would happen to Ace in the end.

Murdock frowned. Face had risen and started riffling through the manuscript pages. “What are you looking for?”

“Oh, um, I just want to reread that bit where Ace has to distract the Sheik’s wives so Murdoch can rescue Juliana.”

Murdock slapped Face’s hand away. “Get off! You’ll get ’em mixed up.” He drank some more coffee. Two weeks now and if his guesstimate was right, over thirty five thousand words of his novel written. Not bad, given the chores they had to do every day to keep this place running. Not bad, considering Face was restricting him to only six cups of coffee a day. He didn’t have a title yet, which was starting to bug him, but that would come.

“You know, Murdock, I love your book and everything, but isn’t it starting to get a bit, well, far fetched? You’re obviously working up to him saving the world. What about that old maxim? Write what you know?”

“Oh that’s the stupidest advice ever!” Murdock pushed away from the desk on the wheeled chair and grabbed himself more paper from the stationary closet. “If people only wrote what they knew we’d have no Lord of the Rings, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” He shoved a pencil behind his ear. “I am a tiny bit worried about one thing though. Do you think some people might be able to guess that Captain Murdoch is based on me?”

Face goggled at him. Murdock kept his face totally straight. Then he let a tiny smile sneak out. Face rolled his eyes.

“What? Captain MH Murdoch with an h?” Face laid on maximum sarcasm. “Nah, why would anyone think he’s based on you? I mean the number of women he gets for a start…”

Murdock sighed, in mock sadness “So he’s a little too thinly disguised?”

“Murdock, he’s as thinly disguised as Hannibal meeting a client with bad eyesight.”

“Okay, I’m stealing that!” Murdock said, whipping the pencil from behind his ear and scribbling on his note pad. Now he just needed to add a character that was bad at disguises. Perhaps an old mentor of Murdoch’s. A flight instructor? No, no, he’d run into five of those already. Someone who’d taught him his martial arts skills? A mystical guru, who used to ambush him, disguised as something highly unlikely, to test his reactions. And his name would be – Murdock frowned, deeply, chewed his pencil – something other than ‘Cato’.

Murdock glanced up as Face closed the door quietly behind himself. He smiled and rolled the latest page back into the electric typewriter.

And then

And then what? That was the question wasn’t it? It always was. Murdock tapped the pencil against the side of the desk. Maybe Face was right. Instead of coming up with crazy over the top ideas Murdock should be writing about what he knew. Well what did he know about? Really know? War and death and insanity. Who wanted to read about that? People had enough of their own pain. Why should he inflict his on them?

Dammit. He shouldn’t have let his thoughts go in that direction. Should have reined them in before they opened up that door. Now he wasn’t in the mood for Murdoch and Ace and Magda and Gunther any more. He put the pencil back over his ear and left the office, closing the door behind him. A second later he opened the door again, reached in and turned off the light.

On the desk, in the typewriter, Captain Murdoch waited.

~~~~

Hannibal and Decker looked up from their chess game when Murdock wandered into the rec room, hands in pockets, a disconsolate look on his face.

“Book not going well, Murdock?” Hannibal asked.

Decker went back to frowning at the chess board. BA, who was playing cards with Face, snorted.

“Book! How can the man write a book? Sucker can’t even write a check.”

“Oh, it’s going okay,” Murdock lied. “Just taking a break.”

He wandered over, studied the chess board and grimaced. Decker would have Hannibal in checkmate in six moves. He went on over to the table where Face and BA were playing Gin. Face was studying his cards very carefully. Murdock guessed Face was trying to psych BA out by making him impatient.

“Quit loitering, fool,” BA snapped. Murdock smiled. Mission accomplished, Face. Murdock found another pack of cards, sat at the same table and dealt a hand of solitaire.

“You don’t put a card down soon, Face, I’ll put you down!”

Murdock didn’t look up. And then… And then… And then MH Murdoch went to Monte Carlo and broke the bank playing blackjack? Face put a card down and smiled at BA. And then? And then? Magda fell in love with Murdoch and they eloped? But Gunther sent a squad of ninjas after them?

“Checkmate.” Hannibal’s smugness warmed the whole room, except for the area around Decker. Murdock looked up surprised then grinned. Trust Hannibal.

“What? Where did you…? Damn!” Decker stamped over to a sideboard and tapped a cigarette out of a pack. He lit up, glowering at Hannibal. While searching the place they had found a nearly full carton of cigarettes, nine packs still in it, in one of the bedrooms. And since none of them were using that particular bedroom the carton was declared common property. This effectively meant common to Hannibal and Decker.

Hannibal would smoke cigarettes if cigars weren’t available. He’d put away the one cigar he had left, saving it, he said. So the colonels had split the cigarettes between them, ninety each. Murdock knew Decker was going though them faster than Hannibal. Hannibal had a couple every day. Decker had at least six. He was saving the butts and had started re-checking every corner of the station, looking for cigarette papers. Even if he found some he would still run out of tobacco well before the end of December and well before Hannibal did. And then – Murdock smiled – things would get sticky.

And then… Murdoch is going to elope with Magda, but finds out she smokes and that’s such a turn off? Nah. With that body, you’d buy her a gallon of mouthwash and go for it anyway.

Murdock got bored with solitaire. He flipped all the cards onto their backs and then gathered all the face cards together.

And then… Murdoch seeks the help of his old friend from flight school – Murdock picked up the jack of clubs – Prince Alexei, a man believed by many experts to have the best claim to the imperial throne of Russia. Alexei helps Murdoch reunite Magda and Gunther, and Murdoch is heartbroken until he meets – Murdock picked up the queen of hearts and kissed it. Face and BA shot him odd looks. Murdock ignored them. Alexei’s sister, Tatyana. But she’s pledged to another man – he picked up the king of diamonds and made the card hop across the table to the two in his other hand – a man richer than, um, richer than most small countries.

Murdock sighed and tossed the cards down. No, that stuff was getting old. He needed a new direction, something radical. He looked up to see Decker was watching him now, frowning. Murdock smiled and waggled his eyebrows which only deepened Decker’s frown.

Okay this was no use. He needed a distraction.

“Anyone mind if I put some music on?”

“Not too loud,” BA said. No-one else objected. Murdock went to the record player, which had a rack of albums beside it. Murdock lay on the floor beside the rack and started to pull each album out by its corner.

Pink Floyd? Too heavy. Queen? Nice, but not in that mood. Supertramp? Nah, too painful a reminder that they weren’t having Breakfast in America for a long time yet. Same went for The Eagles. The words “Hotel” and “California” would probably make Face start crying.

Oh, he thought as he checked the next one, nice. He pulled the album all the way out. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. One of Murdock’s favourites of all time.

Murdock stopped suddenly. He sat up, and then he gave a whoop and kissed the album cover.

“Thank you, David, thank you so much!” He put the LP back in the rack and jumped up. Everyone was staring at him amazed, but he didn’t care. He ran out of the room.

And then…

And then a light appeared directly over the helicopter, a light as bright as day, brighter, blazing into the chopper. Magda screamed and covered her eyes. Murdoch fought to control the craft, but it was no longer responding. Yet they were not falling from the sky, they were going up, drawn inexorably towards the eye watering glare that was the source of the light. He gave up on the controls and flung an arm across his eyes. A terrible noise assailed his ears, as if the world itself were ripping apart and then all was black.

When he awoke he was lying on the floor of a cell. The walls floor and ceiling were metal. No windows, a door… that opened as he looked at it. He jumped to his feet, ready to fight, but rather than the guards he had been expecting a woman came into the room. She was the most

Murdock stopped, frowned and over typed the words “she was the most” with nonsense until they were obscured. Then he typed on.

He was stunned by her beauty and yet also disturbed, her skin was as pale as death, her hair was an unnatural shade of red. Her eyes were large and dark, completely dark, black as a shark’s. Murdoch’s skin crawled. Her incredible body was clad only in a sheer gown and yet he felt nothing but revulsion at the sight of her. He knew at once she was not human. She was

“Murdock?” Hannibal poked his head around the door. “Mind if I interrupt you a minute?”

Murdock did mind. He was just getting in the zone. But he pasted on a smile.

“Sure, Hannibal. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, your mind, actually.” Hannibal said, glancing back as he said it. He closed the door and came over to sit on the edge of Murdock’s desk. “Did you notice how Decker was looking at you just now?”

“Like he thought I was nuts, yeah.”

“Well, I was thinking it might be a good idea to make sure that’s what he keeps thinking. In fact give him plenty more reason to think that.”

“Ah, you’re thinking when we get out of here he’ll feel so sorry for me he’ll let me go quietly back to the VA without another word?”

Hannibal shrugged. “Sorry for you, or just think you’re not worth prosecuting, either works. We can’t just keep hoping he never mentions you over the radio. The Mounties are going to figure out you’re here eventually; even if it’s the day they arrive to pick us up. So we need to pursue every option.”

“Don’t you worry, Colonel.” Murdock grinned. “I’ll convince him that I’m crazier than a bag full of ferrets on acid.” He sat forward. “In fact I’ll start while we’re playing cards tonight.”

“Don’t overdo it to start,” Hannibal said. “Keep it subtle at first.”

“Yeah. Start small and build?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay,” Murdock said, nodding thoughtfully. Then he smiled. “I’m being crazy now. Can you tell?”

“Um, no.” Hannibal looked at him, puzzled.

“Well I’m sitting here taking acting advice from the king of the slime monsters.”


Two

“Murdock, where are your hole cards?” Face asked, frowning across the table at Murdock.

“In my pockets,” Murdock said, grinning. “Oops, is that kind of a giveaway?”

“So, Murdock’s got a pair.” Hannibal said.

“Last time I checked.” Murdock stuffed a handful of potato chips in his mouth and studied the cards on the table trying to decide which ones his pair of jacks would get along best with.

“Quit eating all the chips!” BA pulled the bowl away from Murdock. Then he scowled at Face. “Are these all the chips?”

“All the ones were having tonight,” Face said. BA looked disgruntled and sipped his glass of powdered milk.

“I should get more, since I don’t drink any of the beer.”

“You’re welcome to have a beer,” Face said. Murdock eyed the two of them. BA was going to be tricky over the food, he thought. Face was being pretty strict with the rationing. They weren’t going hungry, but they weren’t snacking all day either. Murdock knew BA liked his snacks, especially when he was bored and stuck some place with nothing else to do. Like now.

The last two weeks had gone by relatively harmoniously. They’d slept a lot. The team led pretty hectic lives and saw to it that Decker did too, so a chance to recharge their batteries and catch up on lost sleep had been welcome. Like a relaxing, if rather dull, vacation. But the cracks were starting to show.

BA was still glowering at Face and looked like he was about to say something. Murdock jumped in instead.

“Call.” He tossed a poker chip into the pot. “Hey are we gonna put up decorations for Christmas?” He grinned, “Or should that be ‘Decker-ations’?”

“What would be the point of that?” Decker asked.

“Well we don’t want Santa to miss us. Especially since we’re practically on his doorstep!”

“Like I said, what would be the point of that?”

“Don’t be a spoilsport, Decker.” Hannibal looked at Murdock with just a touch of concern, making sure that Decker saw the look. Murdock tried not to smile, seeing the Colonel’s game. “If Murdock wants to decorate, let him decorate.”

“Yeah, don’t be such a buzz kill, Rod,” Murdock drawled.

“Are we playing cards here, or what?” Face asked.

The game went on around the table. Murdock made sure to attempt to bet the edible chips instead of the plastic ones a couple of times.

“Wind’s getting up,” Hannibal observed, glancing at the window, though it had the shutter closed over it. They could all hear the howling outside. “I’ll contact the Mounties later; see if we can get a weather forecast. I was talking to Barlow and she said the storms can sometimes close in for several days at a time.”

“Days!” Murdock said. “Better get out to the 7-11 for more beer before that happens.”

“With the wind this strong we’d better make sure everything is fastened down tight.” Decker glanced upwards. “Hope the radio antenna holds.”

“Gotta make sure we can easily get into the generator house too,” BA added.

“Did you say ‘she’?”

Hannibal turned to Face, who was looking at him speculatively.

“Yeah. You’ve not talked to Barlow? Oh I guess she does the night shift. She goes off at seven, so the chances of you being awake are pretty small.” He grinned.

“You were keeping the lady to yourself, Colonel?” Murdock asked.

“Of course not. Face is welcome to get up at six a.m. and talk to her.”

“Erm, no. I’ll take the other end. What time does she start?”

“Midnight.”

Face sat back in his chair, grinning. “Then I guess I have a date at midnight. What’s her first name?”

“Shila.”

“Sheila?”

“No, Shila. It’s Inuit.”

“Face has always been Inuit.” Murdock waggled his eyebrows. Nobody quite seemed to understand that comment, but that was okay, even Murdock didn’t think it meant anything. He wondered if MH Murdoch had ever met any Inuit women.

“Are we playing cards here, or what?” Decker asked. “Raise twenty.”

~~~~

When the game ended it was nearly eleven thirty. Decker, Hannibal and BA went to bed. Face hung around the rec room, waiting to go on his “date”.

“I’m gonna have a couple more hours on the book,” Murdock said.

“Okay. Want me to bring you some cocoa or something later?”

“Thanks.” Murdock went back to the office. Late nights had been rather productive times for him. His imagination seemed to soar in the wee small hours. He sat down and started to type at once.

Murdoch stared in horror at the massed ranks of Queen Azaria’s Martian army. They were ten feet tall, their bodies and all eight legs were armour plated. Their compound eyes looked back at him, and if they’d had faces he knew they would be snering. Perhaps they could smell his fear.

Spiders! Murdoch had faced any number of nature’s terrors without a qualm. He had wrestled a crocodile. He had been dropped into a pit of venomous snakes. He had been thrown into a bulll ring wearing a red suit. But he still had to ask Ace to come around and deal with spiders in the bath. Spiders were his, well, his bugbear. The feaar went back to his childhood, when his father’s enemies had triedd to kill him by slipping a tarantula into his crib.

His life had been saved bt hid old nur

Murdock’s face settled gently onto the desk and he began to snore.

~~~~

“Templeton is such as unusual name,” Shila said.

“Well, I sort of made it up.” Face admitted. “I thought it sounded good at the time. Templeton Peck. What was I thinking, huh?”

She laughed. Face liked her laugh. He imagined her tossing her head back, long glossy black hair cascading around her marble white shoulders, her ample bosom quivering… He mentally slapped himself, realising he’d been reading too much of Murdock’s book.

“Well I like it.” Shila said. “It’s different.”

“Shila is a very pretty name. Though ‘Barlow’ doesn’t seem to go with it.”

“Oh, that’s my husband’s name.”

Face’s expression froze. Damn.

“Oh you’re married?”

“Well, technically I still am. But the name’s one of the only things he left me when he cleared out our bank account and ran off to Toronto.”

“That’s awful.” Face said, grinning. He kind of liked this chatting up over the radio. The only acting he had to do was with his voice. “So, how long have you been a constable?”

“Oh, I’m not. I’m just a radio operator.”

Not a cop. Face grinned again. He liked her more all the time.

“Captain Baker likes to have the radio monitored twenty four hours. You folks aren’t the only ones cut off during the winter. The Captain likes them all to be able to contact us any time in case there’s an emergency.”

She sounded pretty admiring of Baker, Face noticed. He began to wonder what Baker looked like.

“Do you get many emergencies?” A buzz of static interrupted him.

“Say again?” Shila said and he repeated himself.

“Well,” she said, “there was one late last winter. There’s a community north of here, only about twenty people. A man came on and said it was an emergency. That they needed to talk to a priest.”

“A priest? Wow, was someone dying?”

“That’s what we assumed. It was three a.m. but the Captain was here working. He called for Father Harvey to rush over and then he asked what the problem was.” Shila giggled, and then went on. “And the man says ‘we need to get married.'”

“Married?” Face laughed. “Since when is that an emergency?”

“That’s what the captain said. He started shouting at the guy, saying getting married wasn’t an emergency situation. Then this woman’s voice came on and she said ‘yes it is an emergency! My water just broke!'”

“Oops!” Face laughed with her. “Well I can safely say that’s one emergency we won’t have. And if any of us want to get married, I promise we’ll call up during the day.” She giggled again. Another burst of static drowned her voice for a moment. Face sighed as he tried to clear up the reception. At this rate he’d have to go to bed before he secured a date for the spring.

~~~~

Murdock sat up with a grunt. His cap slid off the back of his head. He rubbed his eyes. Okay, bed. He glanced at his watch in the light of the desk lamp. Nearly two. Face must have forgotten about the cocoa. Or he was still chatting up Shila.

Murdock glanced at the last few paragraphs he’d typed. God, what a load of drivel. He pulled out the sheet and was about to throw it in the waste basket, but then he put it down carefully. No. Look at it in the morning. This time of night the critical faculties were not at their best.

He got up and stretched. It was very quiet now. The wind had dropped outside. Murdock shut off the desk lamp and used his flashlight to find his way. No light on in the radio room. Face must have gone to bed. Something caught Murdock’s eye as he passed the kitchen. He went in and over to the small, un-shuttered window, turned off his flashlight and looked outside.

Murdock gasped and stared.

~~~~

Face groaned and hid his head under the pillow when someone banged on his door. Morning already? It was just five minutes surely since he’s had to give up talking to Shila as interference had finally overwhelmed the connection.

“Face! Get up! Get dressed!” Murdock’s voice was inside the room. He turned on the light, making Face groan again and he ran out.

“The building better be on fire.” Face muttered as he sat up, dragged a sweater on as he heard Murdock banging on the other bedroom doors and yelling.

“Everybody up! Get dressed. Outside now!”

“What the hell is going on, Murdock?” Hannibal didn’t sound any happier than Face felt.

“Crazy fool! People are trying to sleep!

“What is this?” Decker sounded even hoarser than normal, if that were possible.

Face dragged on his clothes and boots, put his coat on and stumbled out. He saw Murdock run off into the kitchen, pulling on a coat.

“What’s going on?” Face asked the dark shapes in the corridor. He couldn’t even tell who was who.

“He’s crazy that’s what,” BA growled. The four men followed Murdock and Face had to swallow down his shock as a spooky glow made him think for a moment that his flippant comment about the place being on fire was actually true. Where were the fire extinguishers again?

The exterior kitchen door stood open.

“Fool’s letting out the heat!” BA snapped. As strict as Face was about the food, BA was stricter about the power.

“Come on then,” Hannibal said. “Let’s see what the big deal is.” They trooped outside. BA closed the door behind them. Murdock stood in the snow, gazing up into the sky, rapt.

“Oh my.” Face whispered. Curtains and ribbons of light flickered across the sky. Rays fell like liquid, like paint against the blackness. The stars shone brilliant through sheets of glowing colours. Green and red and white shimmered and danced.

Okay, this situation has its compensations, Face thought.

“The Northern Lights.” Hannibal sighed. “Been a long time since I last saw them.” He found a couple of cigarettes in his pocket and passed one to Decker. Decker found his lighter and lit both the cigarettes. The two colonels stood smoking and watching the light show.

Face didn’t know how long they all stood there for. Only when he realised he couldn’t feel his toes any more did he touch Murdock’s shoulder gently.

“I think we’d better go inside, before we all freeze to death.”

Murdock tore his eyes away from the sky. The aurora was starting to fade. He gave a slightly sheepish smile.

“Okay.”

They went back into the kitchen, stamping snow off their boots, rubbing their hands and noses.

“Bit nippy.” Hannibal said. He turned on lights over the kitchen worktops, left the main lights off. “Better have something to warm us back up.” While the others stood or sat around the kitchen table Hannibal made hot chocolate.

“I’m sorry, guys.” Murdock said. “Dragging you all out of bed like that. Kind of silly.”

“That’s okay, Captain,” Decker said. He stubbed out his cigarette and carefully put the butt away in a tin he was carrying around in his pocket. “It was worth it.” Murdock smiled at him, surprised.

“Yeah, it was good,” BA said. “I never saw that before. It was… good.” Now Murdock was staring amazed. Then he broke into a wide smile.

“Yeah. Well, it’s kind of late in the year for them. I didn’t want you to miss them.”

Hannibal came over with the hot chocolate and passed around the cups.

“I wonder what people used to make of them, before we knew what caused them?” Face mused. Not that he knew very much about what caused them. Something to do with the sun and electromagnetism he thought. But he’d spent most of his physics classes trying to work out how his lab partner Holly Burnett’s chest managed to defy gravity so stunningly. Murdock probably knew – about the aurora, not Holly Burnett’s chest – but Face wanted to go back to bed sometime tonight so didn’t want to get him started.

“Magic, I suppose,” Hannibal said. “The gods.” He shrugged and yawned, didn’t go on, just glanced at his watch. “Okay.” His voice had a touch of the old colonel snap that he hadn’t used much over the last couple of weeks. “Let’s all go to bed.”

“We’re not that desperate yet,” Face said, unable to help himself. BA smirked. Hannibal led the way out of the kitchen shaking his head and smiling.

~~~~

Unsurprisingly they were slow starting in the morning and by the time Murdock finished his chores and got to his typewriter it was almost noon. Outside the weather was clear and the sun glittered on the crusted snow.

Murdock looked at the manuscript of MH Murdoch and the Spiders from Mars, thumbed through the pages for a few minutes, sometimes smiling, sometimes shaking his head and clicking his tongue. Then he went to the stationery cupboard, found a folder, put the manuscript into that and placed the folder on a shelf. He took out a new ream of paper, and put it on the desk. With a degree of ceremony he sat down and rolled a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter.

Murdock began to type.

My first memory is about the sky. My grandfather held my hand and we watched from the shelter of the barn as lightning licked down from the clouds to kiss the ground. After the rain stopped the sun found cracks in the gunmetal heavy clouds and a rainbow arced over the land. I learnt that day that there is nothing more beautiful on the earth than there is in the sky.

My name is HM Murdock. I was born


Part 4: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


One

“Well this is just going to be a lovely Christmas Eve, isn’t it?” Face groused, scowling down at his oatmeal. “Doing laundry with Murdock. By this time tomorrow I’ll be crazier than him.”

“No way, Face,” Murdock said. “No-one goes as crazy as me overnight. I’ve worked at it for years. My insanity is a work of art.” He passed a scrap of toast under the table. “Here ya go, Billy.”

Hannibal watched Decker glance around the table. He saw what Decker saw; a look of concern in Face’s eyes, and a scowl on BA’s face. Hannibal knew the scowl was worry not anger and wondered if Decker had figured out the difference yet.

I’m a cruel bastard, Hannibal thought. He was actually quite shocked with himself. He’d gone back to Murdock after he’d told Murdock to play up the crazy angle for Decker and asked if Murdock had told Face and BA about that request yet.

“No,” Murdock replied. The two of them had been in the bathroom, shaving at the time.

“Then don’t.” Hannibal told him. He manoeuvred the blade around his top lip, rinsed off the razor and went on. “If Decker sees them worried about you, he’ll buy your act much better.”

Murdock bit his lip, and then pulled a face as he tasted shaving cream. “Hannibal, I dunno… that’s pretty cold. I don’t know if I can scare them like that.” His razor hung loose in his fingers, dripping water onto the floor.

“They’ll get over it, Murdock. They’ll get over it a lot better if you’re safely tucked up in your bed at the VA than they will if you’re in the cell next door.”

“Can’t you just tell them to pretend to be worried?” Murdock asked with an appealing look in his eyes.

Hannibal finished shaving, splashed the last of the shaving cream off his face. He straightened up and shook his head. “Face can only act when he’s running a scam and BA isn’t likely to ever need to write himself an Oscar acceptance speech.”

“But -”

“Remember ‘Lake Charles’ and his giant Redwood tendencies?” Hannibal reminded Murdock. “And Decker’s an MP, which means he’s trained in interrogation, including spotting when people are lying to him.” He shook his head again. “It’s not worth the risk. It will work better if Face and BA’s reactions are genuine.”

“And what about your reactions?”

“Well after all…” Hannibal said as he patted his face dry with a towel. “I am an actor.” He smiled at Murdock.

Murdock hadn’t returned the smile.

“That’s not the only thing you are.” He turned his attention back to the mirror and resumed shaving.

No argument there, Murdock, Hannibal thought, bringing his attention back to the present and to Face’s complaints about doing chores on Christmas Eve.

“Work’s gotta be done, Face,” Hannibal said. “Santa’s elves won’t do it.”

“And you have to be a good boy,” Murdock said. “Or Santa won’t fill your stocking.”

“Forget my stocking,” Face said. “If Santa does visit us then I’m hitching a ride out of here.”

Hannibal chuckled at that, and then drank off his coffee. “Come on, Decker, you and me on the snow clearing.”

Decker looked up from glowering into his own coffee. He’d done a lot of glowering lately. He’d smoked his last cigarette five days ago.

“It’s still dark.”

“And it’s not gonna get light till nearly noon. You go switch on the floodlights. I’ll get the baby bulldozer out.”

Decker got up, shoving his chair back hard and strode off muttering.

“How long does nicotine withdrawal last?” Face asked.

“Oh he’s going to be this way well into the New Year,” Hannibal said grinning. BA, who had been quiet throughout the meal shook his head and got up

“Careful with my clothes,” he told the two laundrymen of the day. “You shrink anything I’ll stuff you in the dryer.” He followed Decker out of the room to start his maintenance checks on the machinery

“Of course the big guy doesn’t need a special reason to be grumpy.” Murdock said. He looked at Hannibal. “Decker thinks you’ve got some cigarettes left. He said so last night.”

Hannibal grinned. “I know he thinks that.”

“And have you?”

“That would be telling.”

Face stood up, gathering up bowls and plates. “Remind me to hide the key to the gun room.”

~~~~

Face yawned hugely as he and Murdock sorted the laundry into piles.

“Up late again?” Murdock asked. “Talking to Shila by any chance?”

“I may have checked in for a little chat,” Face said, not adding: till two a.m. He checked the pockets of a pair of pants before dropping them onto a pile of other dark coloured clothes.

“So have you managed to get her age yet?”

Face sighed and shook his head. It was starting to drive him nuts that he didn’t know how old Shila was or what she looked like. You didn’t ask a lady her age and you certainly didn’t add a follow up question of: “and what are your measurements?’

“I’ll figure it out.” Face said.

“Did you ask how long she was married?”

“Yeah. Five years. Which doesn’t help me much.”

“Hmm, and two years since the hubby ran off to Toronto with the slut?”

Face nodded. Seemed Murdock had actually been listening to Face’s reports of his conversations with Shila.

“Yeah, two years.” Face shoved a pile of clothes off the table into a basket and took the basket to a washer, started to stuff the clothes into it. Outside they could hear the mini bulldozer as Hannibal and Decker cleared drifted snow away from the building. Decker’s voice sounded faintly. “Watch where the hell you’re going, you…” The washer kicked in drowning out the yell.

“Oh well,” Face sighed. “It doesn’t matter anyway, since even if I do manage to meet her the only place I can take her for a date is my jail cell.”

“Glass half empty today, huh?” Murdock asked. Face sighed again.

“Thing is I just want to know that, well, that if I could take her on a date, she’d go.”

“Ah, a matter of pride.” Murdock nodded sagely as he gathered up an armful of thermal long johns. He tossed them into a washer and set it going.

“And I have to keep in practice. Otherwise come spring every time I meet a girl I’ll get all tongue tied and dopey. You know…” Face gave a sly smile. “Like you.”

Murdock tossed a dirty sock at him. Face batted it away, wrinkling his nose.

“Does she know what you look like yet?” Murdock asked. “Think the wanted posters have been sent on to the Mounties?” He grinned. “Maybe she smuggled it out of the office and has it pinned up over her bed. Or, or… she showed it to all her girlfriends and even now they’re gathering together a team of huskies and a sled, to bring them all out here to you.”

Face laughed. “Now that would be a nice Christmas present.”

Murdock started to pull bed sheets out of a hamper. “I’ll have to go get my sheets,” he said. “Need me to get yours?”

“Yeah, please.”

Murdock went off to the bedrooms. Face sat down with his feet up as he waited for Murdock’s return. He yawned again. He really did have to stop staying up so late. But he enjoyed taking to Shila. It wasn’t just about proving he could charm a woman he hadn’t even met yet. It was because whatever she looked like, however old she was, she was alive and breathing and talking, unlike the girls in the Playboy. Also talking to a woman was a blessed change when he was stuck here with only four other guys to talk to.

She was bored too, he felt sure. Doing the night shift, listening to lonely folks on the radio in-between some filing and typing, who wouldn’t be? He wondered what made her want to do the night shift. Was she lonely too? He got the feeling from things she’d said that her husband walking out had knocked her confidence down a bit. Maybe when he got out of here Face would look the guy up and teach him a short sharp lesson about what happened to creeps who didn’t treat a lady properly. Face shook his head, smiling at himself. Listen to me, he thought. I’ve never even met this woman!

He yawned again. Where the heck was Murdock with those sheets? How long did it take to strip a bed?

Face gasped suddenly as a memory made a direct frontal assault on his mind and left him reeling and almost falling off his chair. Last night, snuggled under the bed clothes with a flashlight just like when he was a kid. Head nodding, falling asleep. Didn’t want to reach an arm out of his warm little cave to open the night stand drawer, just slid it under the pillow instead…

Murdock walked back in as Face jumped to his feet. Murdock wasn’t carrying any sheets. He was scowling. He held up the Playboy.

“Wanna explain this?”


Two

Face had a brief vision where Murdock was replaced by Father Magill frowning sternly at thirteen year old Alvin Brenner, but then he pulled himself together.

“Explain? Well you see, Murdock, back in 1953 a man named Hefner had a really good idea -”

Murdock gestured impatiently.

“I meant where did you get it?”

“Found it in my room.”

“And you thought you’d keep it all to yourself, huh?”

“You mean there wasn’t one in your room too?” Face asked, trying to look innocent. “I thought maybe a more liberal version of the Gideon Society had been leaving them in nightstands as a public service.”

Murdock scowled and ran back out of the laundry room.

“Guys! Guys!” Face heard him shouting. Face groaned and chased after him.

“Murdock! Gimme that back!”

Face caught up to Murdock in the kitchen. A heavily bundled up BA sat at the table, warming up with a mug of hot milk after coming in from outside. Murdock paced around, waving the magazine.

“…and he’s been keeping it to himself all this time!”

BA scowled, but he seemed more bemused than annoyed.

“I thought we agreed,” Face said, trying to grab the Playboy, “that anything we found in our bedrooms was ours!”

“We never agreed that.” Murdock danced away, swatting Face’s grabbing hand. “If we’d agreed that we’d all be wearing the wrong size clothes. And you’d be wearing a dress!”

Two snowmen came into the kitchen from outside. Hannibal and Decker emerged when the snow was brushed and shaken off.

“You did that on purpose!” Decker snarled at Hannibal.

“Hey, I got nailed too.” Hannibal grinned. “Snow off the roof,” he explained to the others. “I kind of misjudged where it was gonna land. Erm, Murdock is that what I think it is?”

“Face found it in his bedroom and he’s been keeping it to himself.” Murdock passed the magazine to Hannibal who flicked through and held it up to look at the centrefold. He showed that to Decker, who just gave Hannibal a filthy look.

“Well what do you guys expect?” Face asked. “You think I’m gonna loan it out and have it come back all…” He didn’t finish, just twisted his face into a disgusted expression. “And am I the only one? There was a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the rec room book case when we arrived and I’ve not seen that for a couple of weeks.” Face was sure he saw Decker look shifty at that point. He folded his arms, scowling. “Okay, okay. You guys want to borrow it, fine.” He made a sudden move and grabbed the magazine back from Hannibal and winced as he heard something tear. “It’ll cost you. The going rate, is… is… twenty five bucks an hour!”

“You’re going to charge us?” Murdock gasped.

BA snorted and slammed down his mug. “I’m gonna go call the Mounties for the weather forecast.” He stamped out of the kitchen.

“That’s a little steep, Face,” Hannibal said. He smirked. “I could get the real thing for that back home.”

“Well we’re not back home are we? Okay, twenty. I’ll keep an account and you can all settle up when we get out of here.”

“When we get out of here you’re going to prison.” Decker reminded him.

“Well at least I’ll be able to afford a good lawyer.” Face shot back. “Right, that laundry’s not doing itself.” He strode out and heard someone hurry after him, heard Murdock’s voice.

“I’m going to check his room. Just in case he’s got a woman under the bed!”

~~~~

“Oh, Sergeant,” Baker said. “I’m glad it’s you. I’ve got something for you.”

“For me?” BA asked, surprised.

“It’s a Christmas card. Colonel Decker’s adjutant sent it on to me. It’s from your mother.”

“My mama sent me a card?” BA smiled. That was Mama. He’d never known anyone who sent so many Christmas cards. It seemed that if she knew where you lived and you’d never actually tried to kill the A-Team then Mrs. Baracus was sending you a Christmas card.

She’d told BA once that she wrote a card for him every year and put it up on the mantelpiece, since she had nowhere to send it. They were all saved up in a box for him. Well at least this year his mother actually knew where he was at Christmas to send him a card. The only problem was it couldn’t actually get all the way here.

“I can keep it somewhere safe until you can get it,” Baker said. “Or if you want, I can open it and read it to you.” Till I can get it? BA thought. On my way to prison he means. He sighed to think that there was a big chance that his mother would have an address to send a card to next year too.

“May as well open it.”

“Okay.” BA heard paper tearing and then Baker spoke again. “The picture is of the three wise men, following the star of Bethlehem. They’re riding camels.”

BA smiled and nodded. When he was a little boy he’d always liked the three wise men part of the nativity story best of all. He used to wonder how come they hadn’t actually arrived on Christmas Day. In his head he’d made up thrilling adventure stories about them fighting bandits and wild beasts as they travelled to Bethlehem.

“The message inside, the printed one that is, says ‘Wishing you a joyous Christmas’. Your mother’s message is…” Baker paused a moment, cleared his throat and went on. “‘My dear son, I’m praying for you this Christmas, as I do every day. I know the next few months and what comes after that won’t be easy for you. But I know you are strong enough to deal with it and to help your friends too. Always remember that whatever happens I will never stop being proud of you. Keep warm, baby, and pass on my love to Hannibal, Face and Murdock. Happy Christmas and all my love. Mama.’ She adds several, ah, kisses at the end of the message.”

After a pause BA managed to speak. “Thanks.” His voice was hoarse and he couldn’t say anything else for a few moments. He sat in silence for a long time. Then something he’d just heard sank into his mind. Oh no.

“Sergeant, who’s Murdock?”

BA’s heart jumped into his mouth. Baker said the army had sent the card on. Had they already opened it? He’d heard Baker tear it open, so had it still been sealed? But maybe it had been put inside another sealed envelope after being opened. If the army had read that name… His mother must have tried to contact Murdock and when she found he wasn’t at the VA she’d figured he was here with them. Of course she didn’t know that the Mounties didn’t know Murdock was here.

“Sergeant, are you -?”

“Our dog!” BA said, the words coming out in a rush. He took a breath and went on more slowly, trying to sound natural. “Yeah, ah, that’s our dog. Murdock’s our dog.” This time the long silence came from Baker.

“You have a dog there?” Baker said eventually.

“Yeah. Didn’t we mention that before?” BA grimaced. Dog? Where the heck had that come from? This place was making him crazier than the fool.

“No you didn’t. I, um, didn’t realise the A-Team had a dog.” He sounded like he wasn’t quite buying it and BA didn’t blame him. BA also figured Baker would check it out. The man was a cop after all. But now BA had said it he was committed.

“Yeah, he’s sorta our secret weapon,” BA said and almost giggled. A dog. Oh boy, Murdock had better start working on his disguise right now.

~~~~

Decker was not enjoying his Christmas Eve. There was only one other time he’d not enjoyed a Christmas Eve as much as he wasn’t enjoying this one. On that occasion he’d been waiting for a med-evac flight with a bunch of grenade shrapnel in his leg.

Taking out the garbage was his daily job today. So this is what his life had come to. Taking out the A-Team’s garbage. Cooking for them, washing their damn clothes. The idea that they were all in the same boat was no comfort. So far as he was concerned an aircraft carrier was too small a boat to share with the A-Team.

He upended the crate full of flattened cans into the bin marked for metal waste. Next the glass, already broken, so it took up less space in the bin. He had to brush a thick layer of snow off each bin. The wind whipped at him, flinging hailstones. It was almost noon and theoretically the station should be enjoying some brief daylight. But the clouds were so thick the sun might as well not have made the effort.

The only part of the garbage duty Decker liked was taking the kitchen scraps into the greenhouse, feeding them into the composting barrel and then giving it a couple of turns. Decker’s father had been a keen gardener and considered himself the king of compost. He hadn’t used any new-fangled barrel of course. His compost heap sat in the corner of the garden, being fed more carefully than the family dog. On cold mornings it steamed.

Decker thought they could have some good compost by the end of January, as long as the team didn’t mess it up. None of them had a clue about the art of composting. Well if they wanted some fresh fruit or vegetables before they left here then the compost was one thing they had to let him be in charge of.

But now he was outside in the cold, not in the warmth of the greenhouse and Decker grumbled to himself as he filled the hopper of the garbage compactor with anything that couldn’t be burned in the incinerator or saved for recycling. Nicotine cravings held him in an unshakeable grip. He still had some butts saved up, but despite searching the station high and low he’d found no cigarette papers. His plans had now turned to figuring out what he could use to improvise a pipe, a hookah or even a bong.

He went to turn on the compactor and a movement caught his eye making him look up. His hand inches from the switch, Decker froze in place.


Three

Face and BA were in the kitchen preparing lunch when Decker ran in from outside and slammed the door. He shot the bolts across it as they turned to stare at him. Decker’s eyes were wide and his face pale. He pointed at the door, mutely for a second, and then found his voice.

“There’s a wolf outside.”

“What?” Face stared at Decker.

“A wolf?” BA said.

“A wolf.” Decker’s voice was higher than usual, his words rattled out fast. “I was putting the garbage in the compactor and I looked up and it was looking right back at me. Just standing there, not fifty yards away.”

Hannibal and Murdock, drawn by the sound of the slammed door wandered in from the dining room where they’d been setting the table.

“What’s going on?” Hannibal asked, frowning at Decker. Decker pulled off his gloves and dropped them on the floor. He pushed back his hood and pulled off his knit cap, leaving his hair badly disarranged.

“Decker thinks he saw a wolf outside.” Face said. He grinned. “He’s a bit shaken up about it.”

“I don’t ‘think’ I saw it,” Decker snapped, sounding more like his old self now. “I saw it!”

“Ah, it was probably just an Arctic fox,” Murdock said. He wandered over to the window.

“Did the little doggy frighten you?” Hannibal asked, with a smirk. Decker bristled.

“I’m telling you there’s a god-damn wolf out there!”

Murdock peered out of the window. “I don’t see anything.” He looked back at Decker. “Arctic fox, Rod, I’d lay money.” He turned back towards the window. “I saw one of those a couple of weeks ba – Shit!”

Murdock leapt back at least six feet as a wolf reared up against the window, resting its paws on the glass.

The others all jumped as well, if not quite as far as Murdock. The wolf sniffed the glass for a moment and then disappeared again. Nervously Murdock went back to the window.

“I think it’s…” He didn’t need to finish, they all heard scuffling and then scratching around the bottom of the door.

“Is it trying to get in?” Face whispered.

“It can probably smell the food in here,” Hannibal said, glancing over at the oven, from which a delicious aroma of roasting chicken wafted.

“What the hell do we do now?” Face asked, looking at Hannibal.

Hannibal shrugged. “It’s probably just passing through on its way south before the weather gets too bad.”

The scratching at the door stopped. Murdock, still watching out of the window reported in.

“He’s nosing around the yard. Oh, now he’s gone to sniff around the generator shed. Can probably smell that people have been there. Wow, he’s just beautiful!”

“Did you see the size of its paws?” Face asked, worried.

“He is pretty big,” Murdock said. “Ah he’s going I think. Yeah, heading out.” In a moment he couldn’t see the wolf any more and turned back to the others. He grinned. “Well, that was a surprise guest. Think we should have invited him for Christmas dinner tomorrow?”

“I’m telling you one thing,” Decker said, bending to retrieve his gloves from the floor. “I’m not going out there again without the handgun.”

“Oh, Decker, how could you say that?” Murdock protested at once. “Don’t you know that dogs kill more people than wolves do?”

“Dogs get more opportunities,” Decker said. “I’m not about to give that animal any opportunity.” He flattened his hair down with one hand.

“Don’t wolves live in packs?” BA said. That shut most of them up for a moment, except Murdock.

“So that one could have been just an advance scout doing recon?” Murdock said, grinning, provoking a scowl from BA.

“Great,” Face muttered faintly, “just great. One minute I’m making lunch, next minute I am lunch.”

“Come on, guys.” Hannibal rescued the pressure cooker that was hissing away on the stove un-regarded. “Like I said, I’ll bet it was just passing through, we won’t see it again.”

“Still, I think we should carry guns outside.” Decker said. “Just in case.”

Hannibal shrugged. “Fair enough.” Murdock frowned, not approving, and went back to the dining room. BA went back to buttering slices of bread.

“Okay,” Face said, getting the chicken out of the oven. “But if we’re going to start waving the guns around that reminds me of something I keep meaning to ask. What’s your blood type, Decker?”

“My blood? O positive. Why?”

“Oh, just in case of emergencies.” Face put the dinner plates in the oven to warm up then started to carve the chicken. “O pos eh? Great. You can give to me, I’m B positive. BA and Murdock can give their fancy AB negative to each other. Hannibal’s O neg so can give to you and me. Works out nicely.”

“Except for me.” Hannibal sighed. “It’s all take, take, take with you people.” He carried the plate of bread BA had finished buttering into the dining room. BA followed him carrying serving bowls of vegetables.

Face finished loading a serving platter with chicken then looked up at Decker, who was peering out of the window. “Would you give me your blood in an emergency, Colonel?”

“Of course.” Decker said, scowling, turning to Face.

“And would you take blood from Hannibal?”

Decker grimaced. “That I’d have to think about,” he said and after a moment Face grinned as he saw Decker’s mouth twitch with the tiniest of tiny smiles.

“Here.” He handed Decker the plate of chicken. “Take that in. Make sure BA gets a leg.” Decker took the chicken and Face got the warmed plates out of the oven. He glanced out of the window, checking for any sign of movement in the gloom and swirling snow. Nothing. He headed into the dining room.

~~~~

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

Murdock’s yelling woke the station’s residents at a headache inducing 5:57 am.

“Come on, Face!” Murdock banged on Face’s door. Face just burrowed deeper under the covers.

“Go away! I’m still on LA time!” Face shouted back. Murdock ignored the ‘go away’ and came in instead. Most people grew out of getting up at six on Christmas morning when they were about twelve, Face thought, but not HM Murdock.

“Coffee.” Murdock said, putting a cup down beside the bed. “Breakfast in twenty, my treat. Then gifts! Santa has been!” He ran out again. In a moment Face’s arm snaked out from under the blankets and found the coffee cup. Might as well accept that with Murdock in this mood no-one was sleeping late today.

Murdock must have been up since about four, Face decided when he arrived grumbling in the kitchen at six thirty. The aroma of fresh baked bread filled the room. Murdock, wearing an apron and singing carols, happily waited on all of them, serving up bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs. The eggs were made with an uninspiring powdered mixture. Face grimaced as he took a mouthful.

“I’d kill all of you right now for just one fresh egg,” he muttered.

“Happy Christmas to you too, Face,” Hannibal said, smiling and tucking into his breakfast with enthusiasm.

“And I’d start with you.”

After breakfast they trooped through to rec room. The room was decorated with paper streamers, made from photocopier paper. Tinfoil star shapes dangled from the ceiling. Their “tree” was drawn on several pieces of paper stapled together and pinned to the wall. It was coloured in with highlighter pens, making it the most lurid green tree any of them had ever seen.

At the bottom of the tree sat a small pile of parcels, wrapped in more paper from the office that had been decorated with the same highlighter pens as the tree. It had been Murdock’s idea to have a “secret Santa” style draw so everybody got a gift and everybody only had to come up with one gift to give. The gifts he left to their imaginations. They could make them, they could give something they’d found around that they thought might be useful, or give something of their own.

Murdock sat down on the floor beside the tree, the others sat on sofas and arm chairs.

“All righty then! Let’s see what Santa Claus brought for all of the good boys. Oh and there’s one for you too, BA.” He grinned, tossed a cylindrical parcel over to BA.

“Watch it, fool.” BA tore off the paper. “Metal polish? Hey, great, my gold really needs a clean. Thanks,” he looked around, smiling, “well, whoever found it.”

“Face.” Murdock handed him a parcel that wasn’t actually wrapped in paper, but rather in a folder from the office with a paper bow on it. “I’m afraid you’ll be able to tell who this one is from.”

Face opened the folder and slid out a small sheaf of pages, perhaps fifty sheets of paper. Typed on the first page were the words Ace and the Island of Amazon Women, by HM Murdock. Face grinned in delight.

“It’s kind of a spin off.” Murdock said. “I figure every side-kick should get at least one moment in the sun.”

“Thanks, Murdock, that’s great.” Face flicked through the pages. “You did all this for me? That’s great.” He grinned. “Maybe I’ll give you a discount on the Playboy rental fee.”

“So generous.” Murdock sat by the tree again and checked the next parcel. “Oh, this one’s mine.” He tore off the paper. “Oh, neat,” he held up a hand held micro cassette recorder. “One of those little dictation machines. Hey I can be like a reporter, like Amy.”

“I found it in the office,” Decker said, “I thought you might find it useful for your book.”

“Erm, Decker, didn’t anybody explain the ‘secret’ part of Secret Santa?” Face asked. Decker shrugged, not appearing at all bothered.

“Decker, you’re up next.” Murdock skimmed Decker’s gift across to him. It was small and light and a very familiar rectangular shape. Decker tore the paper off quickly and gave a sigh. A smile the team usually only saw after he’d captured them again appeared on the Colonel’s face.

“A full pack!” He lovingly unwrapped the cellophane from the pack of cigarettes. He glanced at Hannibal. “I knew you had some left, Smith. Thanks.”

“Saved ’em up special for you.” Hannibal said.

“Great,” Face said. “So now after those are gone we get him grousing his way through nicotine withdrawal a second time. Thanks a lot, Hannibal.”

Hannibal just looked innocent, like he’d never even thought about that.

“Last, but not least.” Murdock picked up the last parcel, was about to throw it to Hannibal, but BA snapped “Don’t toss it around, fool!”

“Hmm, so I think we know who this is from.” He got up, walked slowly to Hannibal, holding the parcel with as much care as he would a ticking bomb. In front of Hannibal he gave a deep bow, then went down on one knee and held out the parcel like a man presenting tribute to a king. BA growled and Face shook his head. Decker just stared.

Hannibal took the parcel and waved a hand in an imperious manner to dismiss Murdock, who got up and walked away backwards, bowing, until he bumped into a sofa and flopped down.

Hannibal ripped the paper off with one quick flourish. He stared at the object in his hands. It was an elephant, or rather a metal container about the size of a coffee cup, made to look like an elephant. The inside was filled with a small motor, attached to tiny wheels.

“It’s a jello mould,” BA explained. “Was in the kitchen. There’s a set of ’em, all shaped like different animals. The clockwork motor was in the workshop, I guess it came out of something that broke. The wheels are just cogs I wrapped some rubber around.” He looked embarrassed as they all stared at him. “‘s just a stupid toy.”

“I love it, BA.” Hannibal wound up the key sticking out of the elephant’s back. The wheels began to turn and Hannibal put the elephant down on the floor. It ran across the carpet tiles, bumped into Face’s foot and fell on its side, wheels still whirring. Face set it upright and sent it buzzing back across to Hannibal.

“Cute.” Face said grinning.

“And appropriate,” Murdock said. “BA, you win this year’s Station Twelve best gift contest.”

“This year’s?” Face sounded worried. “I sincerely hope this year is the only year!”

“I second both those thoughts.” Hannibal said. He let the clockwork run down and put his elephant onto a table beside his chair. “Right.” He glanced at his watch. “How about we go get the chores done, then everybody in that kitchen? That Christmas lunch won’t cook itself.”


Four

“Well, of all the Christmas lunches I’ve eaten I can safely say that was one of them,” Hannibal said, flopping down onto a sofa in the rec room.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Face said. “I mean in comparison to…” He grimaced. “One or two I’ve had.”

“Note to self,” Murdock said, into his dictation recorder, “Next Christmas, don’t get trapped in a snowbound research station north of the Arctic Circle.”

Hannibal looked at Decker, who had gone to the window.

“Not gonna make a remark about where we’ll be spending next Christmas, Decker? You really must be full of the Christmas spirit.”

Decker turned away from looking outside into the darkness.

“I don’t like to gloat,” he said.

“Yes you do!”

Decker scowled at Hannibal and looked outside again. He lit one of his gift cigarettes.

“Are you still looking for that wolf? It’s gone, Decker.”

“I’m telling you I saw movement out there before.”

“Oh, you’re paranoid. And you’re not gonna see anything in the dark.”

Decker sighed, seemed to see the sense in that. He went and sat down on a sofa beside BA.

“Watch it, man.” BA snapped. He had all his gold laid out on a towel on the sofa and had started polishing it with a soft cloth.

“That’s what you’re going to do this afternoon, BA? Polish your gold?” Hannibal asked, winding up his clockwork elephant. “You should relax.”

“This is relaxing. And everyone else gets to use their gifts, why not me?”

Hannibal shrugged and ran the elephant across a table top, caught it before it charged off the edge. Face had snuggled down in his chair, pulled a blanket around himself and was reading the story Murdock had written for him. Murdock kept dictating random notes into his recorder. Decker had his cigarettes. “Fair enough, BA. Whatever floats your boat I guess.”

“That stuff stinks.” Decker said glancing at the metal polish.

“Ain’t nobody forcing you to sit there.” BA scowled at Decker. “Anyway, you shouldn’t be smoking around it.”

Decker got off the couch and went back to the window.

“Why are you still wearing all that jewellery anyway?”

BA frowned, as if he didn’t understand the question. “It’s my gold.”

“But why are you wearing it here? It takes you at least a half hour to put it all on and what’s the point? I mean I assume you wear it to impress women, and there aren’t any here.”

“Women?” BA stared at Decker. The other three were looking at him now too. “Man, how’d you get to be a colonel when you so dumb?”

Hannibal smirked at Decker’s outraged expression.

“If the gold was about impressing women it’s Face who would be wearing it.” Murdock said. Face just gave a smug grin.

“Hey, I got all the gold I need to attract women right here.” He ran a hand through his hair.

BA gave him the usual disgusted scowl. Murdock made some gagging noises, then looked thoughtful and spoke into his recorder again.

“Note to self: when we get home buy a lot of gold jewellery or dye hair.” He looked around at the others then, a frown on his face. Then he smiled a small smile. “Speaking of hair, you guys seriously need a trim.”

“Yeah, I’d noticed that,” Hannibal agreed.

“Ooh, Rod,” Murdock said, going over to Decker at the window, “Say ‘get your hair cut’ into this.” He held up the recorder. “Go on, maximum gravel.”

Decker just glared at him. Murdock sighed. “Spoilsport. Okay, fellas, I’m gonna be the barber. Wait there.” Murdock ran out and several minutes later he came back carrying a kitchen chair with a couple of folded bed sheets on the seat. A small mirror, a pair of scissors, an electric razor and a comb sat on top of the sheet. He’d found a white hospital gown from the infirmary and wore it over his plaid shirt.

Is this part of the act? Hannibal wondered. I mean he’s right we need haircuts, but to jump from that to barber Murdock in five minutes flat. That’s… crazy.

“Okay, boys, form an orderly line,” Murdock said, laying out a sheet on the floor and positioning the chair in the middle of it. No one rushed to jump into the seat.

“Guys?”

“You think I’m letting you wave a pair of scissors around my head you’re even crazier than I thought.” BA growled.

Murdock sighed. “Face?”

“Are you kidding? You think I let just anyone touch the hair?”

“Come on, please. Just a light trim? I mean think of the spring. Do you want to meet Shila looking some kind of hippie?”

Meeting Shila, huh? Hannibal thought, seeing Face’s thoughtful expression. Typical that Face was trying a remote control conquest. Oh well, if it kept his mind occupied.

“Oh, okay then.” Face got up. “But I’m telling you, a light trim, that’s all.” He sat in the chair and Murdock swathed him in a sheet.

“Of course, if we were smart,” Murdock said. “We’d do like the astronauts do and shave our heads.” A flick of his thumb and the electric razor buzzed. Face moved so fast he was across the room before anyone saw him get up.

Murdock grinned and turned off the razor. “Just kidding,” he said. Face scowled at him.

“Murdock…”

“Look, I’m putting it down! Just a joke.”

“Give it to BA.” Face said. Murdock rolled his eyes, but handed the razor to BA. Face came back and sat in the chair warily. Decker watching from the window looked as nervous as Face when Murdock raised the scissors. But as promised Murdock snipped very carefully. BA, grumbling to himself, carried on polishing.

“Did you see the match last night, sir?” Murdock asked. Hannibal grinned, Face just looked baffled.

“Huh?”

“I thought Hurst played well, sir.”

“Murdock, what the hell are you talking about?”

“I thought Hurst played well.” Murdock repeated.

“Okay, I’m done.” Face said, getting up. He gave Murdock a strange look as he pulled the sheet off. “Decker, your turn.”

Decker gave a long suffering look but replaced Face in the chair. Murdock started to snip away around the back of Decker’s neck. Decker looked very tense, Hannibal thought.

“I prefer to watch Palace nowadays,” Murdock said, mysteriously.

“Quit the jibber jabber and cut the man’s hair, fool,” BA said, as he worked on an especially intricate gold chain. Murdock at once got an offended look on his face.

“I didn’t want to be a barber anyway,” he muttered. Here we go, Hannibal thought as Murdock went on. “I wanted to be a lumberjack.”

“Oh, no, please, Murdock,” Face pleaded.

“Don’t even think about it, fool!” BA growled.

Murdock ignored them both. “Leaping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia.” He pulled off the hospital gown, revealing his red plaid shirt.

“The giant redwood, the larch, the fir, the mighty Scots pine. With my best girlie by my side. We’d sing… sing… sing!”

“I’m warning you fool, you start singin’ I start swingin’.” BA slapped a fist into the palm of his other hand.

But nothing stopped Murdock once he was in full flow. He took a deep breath.

“I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep all night and I work all day.”

BA came up off the couch roaring and Murdock ran for it. BA chased him out of the room. Murdock’s voice faded away.

“I cut down trees, I skip and jump…”

Hannibal chuckled, looking at the bemused Decker. Then he turned to Face who was watching the door Murdock and BA had run out of. “Okay, Face,” he said, with a grin. “Do you want to finish off Decker?”

“I’m not that desperate yet.” Face shot back, that response automatic now to anything with even a suggestion of a double entendre. Hannibal grinned, got up and found the scissors Murdock had discarded when he ran.

~~~~

At almost one a.m. that night Hannibal was still awake and reading ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, when he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door.

“Hannibal, it’s me. You still up?” Face called.

Hannibal put down his book. “Yeah, come in.”

Face slipped into the room and closed the door. He was still fully dressed. He looked anxious in the dim light of Hannibal’s bedside lamp.

“Hey, Hannibal. Sorry, it’s late, I know.”

“That’s okay. What’s on your mind, kid?” He smiled. “Hope you’re not here to tell me you are that desperate.”

“No.” Face summoned up a faint smile. He started to pace about. “I’m worried about Murdock.”

Hannibal wanted to swear and he wanted to smile, both at the same time.

“Worried?”

“He was pretty hyper today. Almost…” Face bit his lip, didn’t finish.

“It’s Christmas day, Face,” Hannibal said. “He gets like this every Christmas, you know that.”

“I… I guess.” Face said.

He was pretty excited and like you say, hyper. But I…” Hannibal paused. “I wouldn’t say he was manic.” And Hannibal hated himself right then as he dropped the word ‘manic’ into Face’s head.

“No, I guess not. Not actually manic. I suppose.” Face sounded doubtful.

“He’ll be fine, Face,” Hannibal said, in a reassuring voice. “Now why don’t you go get some sleep?”

“Okay, Colonel.” Face gave a ghost of a smile. “Happy Chris -” He stopped and gasped at the sound from outside. A long, lonely baying.

The howl of a wolf.

Wide-eyed, Face looked back at Hannibal who shrugged.

“Sounds like our friend didn’t leave after all.”

Part 5: Captain Obvious


One

“Happy new year, Face!” Murdock said as Face shuffled into the kitchen on the 1st of January. Decker and Murdock were already in there, Decker at a counter, making breakfast, Murdock sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Face flopped into a seat at the table and put his head down on his arms.

“Face?”

Face looked up blearily at Murdock.

“You look awful.” Murdock told him.

“Well thank you, Captain Obvious.” Face said, his voice very hoarse. He didn’t need to be told this. He’d already caught a glimpse of his pale, gaunt face and bloodshot eyes in the mirror in his bedroom. He’d looked away quickly.

“Captain Obvious?” Murdock grinned.

Decker came over and put a cup of coffee in front of Face, looked down at him with little sympathy.

“He drank too much.” Murdock said. Decker just shook his head and went back to making breakfast. Face managed to raise enough strength to pull the cup in close. He sipped the coffee. That soothed his throat, which was raw and sore. The heat made his nose start to run. He wiped it on his sleeve.

“It was a good party though.” Murdock said, smiling.

Yeah, Face thought, what he could remember of it. He remembered music. He remembered dancing. He remembered drinking a lot of the wine and beer they had carefully saved up for the holiday season.

And he remembered going into the radio room.

Face groaned and put his head down again. That’s where it had all gone wrong. He’d only wanted to say “happy new year” to Shila. He was vaguely aware at the time that he might just be a tiny bit too drunk to flirt with his usual panache. But it didn’t matter anyway, because she wasn’t there. Captain Baker was instead.

Face sure didn’t want to flirt with him, but even so he couldn’t make himself stop talking. A small, sober part of his mind began jumping up and down, waving its arms and yelling “no!” as Face’s mouth started asking Baker if Shila was cute, how old she was and if he, Baker, thought that she, Shila, would go on a date with him, Face. Baker replied that he really couldn’t comment on Shila’s age and appearance, and Face, too drunk to detect the sub zero tone in the Mountie’s voice, had chuckled a bit and asked if Baker was trying to keep her to himself.

Face groaned again. No, you dummy, he just doesn’t like the idea of a wanted criminal, a foreign one at that, trying to chat up his staff, no doubt for nefarious purposes. When he remembered it now he could hear the ice in Baker’s voice as he’d said Face should probably get to bed, that Face sounded very… tired.

Face was certainly tired this morning. Genuinely tired now, not “tired and emotional”. Garbage detail was his job today. He planned to get that out of the way fast and go back to bed. Take some damn strong painkillers first though, for his head and his aching joints. Well, if he ever got up off this chair. He wasn’t inclined to do so just yet. Maybe if he was lucky he could sleep through till spring, just hibernate. Sounds like a plan.

Decker spoke, making Face wince. Decker’s voice was too loud for Face’s sensitive head. “It’s almost ten o’clock. I’m waking Smith and Baracus up.” His voice faded away as he left, muttering about chores to do. Face managed to raise his head, and then stand up.

“I need something for this headache,” he said to Murdock. “You need anything?”

Murdock shook his head. “I’m not hung-over, even though I drank as much as you. That must be infuriating.”

“Um, yeah.” Face frowned at him. “Yeah, it is.”

He turned and dizziness washed over him, making his grab at the chair. After a second he pulled himself together. Really should eat something, he thought. Painkillers first though. That was the priority.

Walk. Infirmary is next door to the kitchen, he knew that. Need keys first though, for drugs cabinet. He rubbed a hand over his face. He was sweating. Was it too warm in here? That was unlikely. The keys were in the office. Face paused at the door, frowning. So… which way was the office again? He swayed.

“Face?” Murdock’s voice came from a long way off behind Face. The door frame tilted and bent at a crazy angle, the floor reared up and threw him backwards. And the last thing he remembered after he hit the tiles on his back was Murdock bending over him, calling his name and then turning and yelling, “Decker!”

~~~~

“He’s coming around.” BA said.

Murdock turned away from the drugs cabinet and hurried over to where Face was stirring on the examination table in the infirmary.

“Hey, buddy,” Murdock said, plastering a forced attempt at a reassuring smile on his face. “How you doing?”

“What happened?” Face said, in a whisper. He put a hand up to his throat and winced.

“You fainted,” Murdock said. “Here, pop this under your tongue.” He put a thermometer into Face’s mouth.

“I ‘idnt ‘aint.” Face took the thermometer out, tried again. “I didn’t faint.”

“Think so, Face. One second walking, next second flat on your back.”

“Then I passed out.” Face insisted, in a croak. “I didn’t faint.”

Murdock rolled his eyes. “Okay, sorry. You passed out, in a completely manly way. Now eat your lollipop.” He put the thermometer back in Face’s mouth. Face left it there this time.

“Did he hit his head?” BA asked. BA stood by the door, leaning heavily on the door frame. He had a blanket wrapped around him, and looked awful. His skin was grey and sweating. Murdock could see him shaking.

“Sit down, will you,” Murdock said. He and Decker had hauled Face up onto the table easily enough, but he didn’t fancy doing the same with BA.

BA staggered over to a chair and flopped into it.

“Did he hit his head?”

“Don’t think so.” Murdock had already felt around the back of Face’s head and found no bumps or blood.

Decker came into the infirmary from the corridor. “Smith’s sick too. Fever, aching all over, headache. I told him to stay in bed and -”

“Get outta the way, Decker.” A croaky voice came from the doorway and Hannibal pushed Decker aside to get into the infirmary. Like BA Hannibal had a blanket wrapped around him, over a red flannel union suit. He wore no shoes, his feet encased in thick woolly socks. Decker scowled.

“And of course he didn’t take any notice of me.”

Hannibal glanced at BA and went over to Face. He took out the thermometer.

“Hundred and two point six. Get him to bed, Murdock.”

“I’m not that – ” Murdock began and thought better of it. He noticed Hannibal was leaning very heavily on the examination table. “You and BA too, Colonel. Looks like you’ve all got the flu.” He smiled at Face. “And of course having a beast of a hangover doesn’t exactly help.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Hannibal said. He staggered backwards to sit on a chair. “I’ll go in a second there…”

“Come on, Face,” Murdock said, “Let’s get you to bed before you faint – sorry, I mean pass out, again. Then you two are next.” He glanced at Hannibal and BA, and then looked at Decker. “Wanna give me a hand here, Colonel?”


Two

Between the two of them Murdock and Decker got the other three men into their bedrooms and tucked up in bed. They went back to the infirmary and Murdock searched around in the drug cabinet for Tylenol.

“We’d better call the Mounties, let them know what’s going on, in case we need a doctor’s advice on short notice.” Decker said. “Are you feeling okay, Captain?”

“Yeah. They give us flu shots at the VA, hope that’ll stop me getting it. You?”

“So far.” He scowled. “Assuming it is flu how the hell did they get it out here? We’ve not been near another living thing for six weeks.”

Murdock didn’t turn around, still rummaged around in the drugs cabinet.

“You know what I think it could be?” Murdock said. “Remember last week we got those spare blankets out of that store room? They were nearly frozen stiff. When they warmed up they smelled like they’d not been washed. I’ll bet it came from them.” He turned back around. Decker didn’t look convinced, but he eventually shrugged.

“Well,” Decker said, “it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is and however they got it we just have to deal with it.”

“Yeah,” Murdock agreed. “Well we’re going to have our hands full I guess, with looking after those three and doing the chores. I guess you’d prefer the chores while I play nursemaid?”

Decker frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“Well, I just figured -”

“You figured I’m such a stony hearted bastard that I won’t take care of three sick men just because I don’t like them?”

“I never said that.” Murdock scowled back at him, Decker’s tone putting his back up at once. “Did anyone in this room hear me say that?”

“The situation hasn’t changed, Captain. You’re still my prisoners. I’m still responsible for your welfare.” He stalked off. Murdock followed, still bristling with anger.

“Hey, I wonder if we can get that doctor to give us some advice on getting the stick out of your butt, Decker!”

“Why don’t you call the Mounties and find out?” Decker growled.

“And what are you going to do, sir?”

“I’m going to find a chicken soup recipe!” Decker shot back and Murdock’s anger instantly vanished in the face of the ridiculous answer.

As he calmed down he also realised that he’d just about volunteered for something he wasn’t actually meant to do.

“Colonel.” he said, in a conciliatory tone as he followed Decker into the kitchen. “Sorry about that. I’m just tired and worried you know. Erm, could you call the Mounties? I want to take the guys some water and check they’re all comfortable.”

Decker shrugged, his anger apparently vanishing too.

“Fine. But I think you’d better go and refuel the generator first. It’s already overdue and we don’t want the heaters in their bedrooms cutting out.”

Murdock nodded, relieved. He started donning the Parka that sat on a hook by the exterior door. He zipped it up until the furred edge of the hood tickled his face then put on the gloves that were sewn to the sleeves on lengths of elastic. That had been Face’s idea and he’d put up with no end of teasing about it. No doubt a little tip from the orphanage, Murdock thought.

As Murdock put a hand on the door handle, Decker spoke again. “Captain, don’t forget.” He nodded to another hook, beside the coat hook. The handgun hung on that one.

“Oh it’s more scared of us that we are of it.” Murdock said. “Well, in most cases.”

“Take the gun, Captain.” Command voice, thought Murdock. Like that’s going to work on me.

“You giving me an order, Rod?” Murdock grinned at him, teasing defiance, but with a touch of steel behind it.

“Yes.” Decker said, with a lot more than just a touch of steel. Murdock held his gaze for a moment then took the pistol down and put it in his pocket.

Decker nodded, still grim faced. “Right. I’ll call Baker.” He strode towards the door to the hallway. Abruptly he stopped in the doorway and looked back at Murdock, a puzzled expression on his face, as if trying to work something out.

Damn, Murdock thought. Damn. He felt like he could hear Decker’s thoughts. They were going “Murdock… Radio…. Murdock…. Radio.” In return Murdock tried to project thoughts to Decker. You’ve seen me use the radio lots of times, you talk about me all the time on there. Okay, projecting thoughts probably doesn’t work, he thought, but it was worth a try.

“Anything wrong, Colonel?” Murdock asked, smiling disarmingly.

“No…” Decker said. “No.” He left frowning.

Damn, Murdock thought. Better try and keep his mind occupied. Of course with three sick men to take care of, the station to keep running and that wolf still lurking around outside that shouldn’t be a problem. Though nothing wrong with adding a little something extra to the mix. What was that Face had called Murdock earlier?

~~~~

“Captain Obvious?” Hannibal croaked. He took a couple more spoonfuls of the chicken broth Murdock had brought in for a very late lunch.

“Yep. Captain Obvious. His superpower is stating the obvious, obviously.” Murdock grinned. “Obviously it’s going to be very annoying. It’s Face’s fault.” He had felt it happen. Two snappy sarcastic words from Face and a new personality had leapt up fully formed, to join the cast of characters that lived in Murdock’s brain.

“Should drive Decker pretty crazy.” Hannibal managed to smile a tiny bit. “Guess you two are gonna be thrown together a lot over the next few days.”

“Obviously. And yeah, I know, try to remember to play up the crazy angle.”

“Good, Murdock, good.” Hannibal put the spoon back in the bowl and gave it back to Murdock. Murdock frowned at the still half full bowl.

“You have to eat, Colonel.”

“Had enough.” Hannibal started to slide back down under the covers. He just wanted to sleep when he was sick, Murdock knew. Liked to just sleep it off and wake up when he felt better. Murdock pulled away the cloth he’d been using as a bib to keep Hannibal from spilling broth all down him.

“Some water first,” Murdock insisted, pouring some. “And your Tylenol.”

“Sleep…” Hannibal said, muzzily, dropping into a doze already. Murdock sat on the bed and kept the colonel sitting up long enough to make him drink a beaker of water and swallow two pills, then let him lie down. Hannibal burrowed into the covers. Murdock stood up, frowned down at him.

“Too hot.” Murdock muttered. He stripped away a couple of the blankets. Hannibal’s fever wasn’t as high as either Face or BA’s, but he still needed to cool down. Hannibal stirred as the blankets were pulled off, but then settled under the remaining ones and started to snore quietly. Murdock watched for a while, until he was convinced Hannibal was settled, and then left the room, leaving the door open.

BA was also sleeping when Murdock checked. Murdock checked he wasn’t too hot then he went on into Face’s room, which was lit only by a bedside lamp. Decker was in there already, sitting in a chair by Face’s bed. He held a soup bowl and bent over Face, speaking quietly.

“You’re sure you can’t manage just a spoonful, Lieutenant? You’ll feel better.” He heard Murdock come in and looked up.

“His fever’s gone up to 103. He took the Tylenol, but he won’t eat.” Face was curled up and shivering. His hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. Murdock looked down at Face, unable to hide his worry. Decker spoke again.

“Do you want to sit with him?”

Murdock looked at him. “I… I was gonna clean up the kitchen.” He frowned. “I hate the damn chores.”

“I’ll do it.” Decker stood up from his chair. “You keep an eye on these three. I’ll fetch you some ice water for him.” He gestured at Face. “We’ll see if we can get the fever down.” Decker strode out.

Murdock smiled down at Face who looked back at him with hazy eyes. “Rod’s just a big softy underneath,” Murdock said with a grin. Face just looked confused.

“Murdock?”

“Yeah, it’s me.” Murdock sat on the bed. He took Face’s sweaty right hand.

“Decker…”

“Yeah, he’s around too.” Murdock said, in a soothing tone. “You should try to sleep, Face.”

“Yeah… sleep.” Like Hannibal he drifted off quickly. But unlike Hannibal he didn’t rest easily. The fever made him restless. He muttered, whether delirious or dreaming Murdock didn’t know. He kept hold of Face’s hand, to provide an anchor in the storm of fever dreams.

Most of the muttering was incoherent, until Face started saying the same word over and over. “Wolf. Wolf.” Soft at first, getting louder and more frightened.

“Easy, Face.” Murdock said. “No wolf. You’re safe.”

“Wolf!” Face gasped, sat up, grabbed at Murdock’s arm. “Wolf! It’s here!”

A shadow crossed the door and Murdock looked up alarmed, but it was only Decker, carrying a bowl and a wash cloth.

“What’s he saying?”

“He’s dreaming,” Murdock said. He put a hand on Face’s shoulder, pressing him back to lie down. “There’s no wolf here, Face.” He glanced at Decker. “Um, have you seen it lately?”

“No.” Decker handed the bowl and cloth to Murdock. “Not for a couple of days. I guess Smith was right. It must have moved on south.”

“Yeah,” Murdock said. “I… I guess.” He dipped the wash cloth in the bowl of water. Ice bobbed as he wrung the cloth out.

“Wolf.” Face whispered as Murdock laid the folded cloth on his forehead. Murdock sighed, looked at his watch. It was four thirty in the afternoon.

“We’ve got a long night ahead,” said Captain Obvious.


Three

“Murdock,” Decker said, just loud enough to rouse Murdock from the doze he’d fallen into lying across the foot of Face’s bed. Murdock sat up, rubbing his eyes and looked at Face, who was sleeping more peacefully now. They’d stripped him out of his flannel pyjamas and Murdock had sponged cold water over him till the sweating and shivering had subsided.

“Coffee,” Decker said, making Murdock look back at him. Murdock took the steaming mug gratefully.

“Thanks. Time is it?”

“Almost three.” When Murdock glanced at the window, Decker added, “In the morning. Smith and Baracus are sleeping okay too.”

Decker sat in the chair by the bed as Murdock smoothed Face’s blankets and rested a hand briefly on Face’s forehead.

“Fever’s down.” Murdock sipped his coffee, looked at Decker. “Go get some rest if you want.”

“Later.” Decker shrugged. He drank some of his coffee. “The wolf’s outside.”

“What?” Murdock said, a bit too loud and glanced at Face who stirred. “Oh, it is?” Murdock added more quietly.

“Yeah.”

Decker had glanced out the window while he made the coffee. It was dark in the kitchen, only one light over the workbench turned on. He’d seen the dark shape prowling around outside and had shivered and double checked all the bolts were closed on the exterior door.

What the hell was it still doing here? It should have moved on south. The weather was very bad now, snowing without a break for days at a time. What it was eating? Decker had seen rat traps in the food storage rooms and wondered if maybe it was feeding on any rodents lurking around the site. He just wished it would leave. It made him too damn nervous. From the way Face had been calling out before it sounded like it made him nervous too.

Decker watched the way Murdock rested his hand gently on one of Face’s hands and stroked it gently with his thumb until Face stopped stirring and relaxed again.

“Murdock, can I ask you something?” Murdock looked at him. “Which of the team walked into that ranger station and took the first aid kit from under my nose?”

Murdock grinned. “That was him.” He nodded at Face. He still had his hand over Face’s hand.

“Really?” Decker turned his sarcasm on full blast. But he couldn’t keep some amusement out of his voice. “Now however did he do that when he was the one lying on the floor of that cave with a shoulder wound and powder burns?”

Murdock just grinned some more. “That wasn’t him, obviously. Nice going on putting the homing beacon in the first aid kit though.” He winked at Decker. “You’re figuring us out.”

“Slowly.” Decker said. Would any of his men have done that for him he wondered. Walked into enemy territory? Crane maybe. He sighed. He was actually missing Crane. He wouldn’t call the man a friend, since he’d never gone in for making friends with the men under his command. But Crane was loyal. But these men, this A-Team, they seemed to go somewhere beyond loyal. Somewhere beyond friendship. Decker was almost ready to admit that he was, perhaps, a little jealous.

He’d called it a weakness when he’d pursued them that day, knowing they had a wounded man with them. But that had been a serious misjudgement. He should have looked at it differently. Not focused on one man. The team was wounded and, just like a wounded animal, was more dangerous because of that.

“How’d you explain away the bullet wound when you got back to the VA?”

“Oh that’s the beauty of being crazy; you don’t have to explain anything.”

“Right.” Decker said. He looked at Murdock’s face. The eyes, pupils huge in the dim light, were wells of total mystery. Was this man really crazy? Decker had believed otherwise. That the VA suited him and he chose to stay there. Perhaps he’d been ill once, but now he stayed there for other reasons. He’d believed Murdock belonged in prison with the rest of the team.

But lately, living with him like this… Well of course it could be faked, to evoke Decker’s sympathy. But he’d noticed even the rest of the team sometimes looked alarmed at Murdock’s behaviour. But now, with his friends sick and needing help, he was suddenly calm and efficient and reliable. He’d been trying to annoy Decker with statements of the obvious for some reason, but Decker was mostly ignoring that.

Decker shook himself. No point in speculating. He wasn’t a doctor. That’s who would determine Murdock’s mental state. For a report to the trial judge.

“Decker,” Murdock said. “You like chilli?”

“Chilli?”

“I’m going to make some tomorrow. For the guys.”

“Um, chilli? What about chicken soup?”

Murdock made a ‘pfft’ sound. “Chicken soup is for wimps. My grandmother always gave me chilli when I was sick. She said it made you sweat out the fever much faster.”

“Interesting theory.”

“Yeah, she had lots of interesting theories. And recipes to with go ’em. So you leave the cooking to me tomorrow. I’ll make Grandma Murdock’s three bean medicinal chilli.”

“Beans?” Decker snorted. “What are you, Mexican?”

“Oh and I suppose you know all about chilli?”

“As a matter of fact yes.” Decker folded his arms and let a haughty tone creep into his voice. “My father taught me. He considered himself the king of chilli.”

“King of Chile? Really? There’s a guy on my ward used to think he was the king of Lithuania, but they gave him pills and now he only thinks he’s the deputy comptroller of a small province in China.”

Murdock grinned and Decker frowned. Then Murdock looked thoughtful for a moment.

“King of chilli, huh? I thought he was the king of compost?”

“Chilli too.”

“Your dad obviously had a pretty high opinion of himself.”

Decker frowned again. Frowned deeply, making it very clear that this was a subject he didn’t want pursued.

“And we’re obviously not going there,” Murdock said after looking into Decker’s glare for a long moment. “But I still bet I’m better at making chilli than you.”

“Oh really? Well how about we let your friends judge?”

“Taste test?” Murdock grinned.

“Exactly.”

“I’m in.” Murdock held out his hand and Decker hesitated then leaned over and shook it. “Tomorrow, the all-comers Station 12 Chilli cook-off will begin. And god help us all.”

~~~~

“Good morning, Colonel Decker. How are your patients?”

“A little better this morning, Captain Baker.” Decker said, and then yawned hugely.

“Are you getting any rest yourself?”

“Not much,” Decker took a long drink of hot sweet coffee. “I don’t know how I’d manage this if I didn’t have Murdock to help out.”

There was a long pause on the radio.

“You still there, Captain?”

“Yes, sorry. So Murdock helps you out? Well, I, ah suppose he’s a comfort to them. Though I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to let him in a sick room. Not really hygienic.”

Decker frowned. Not hygienic? He was pretty sure Murdock was taking daily showers. The man smelt okay.

“Yeah. Um, I don’t think there’s a problem there. He’s a big help. He’s got some idea in his head now though about making chilli for them. Says he has a recipe from his grandmother that will make them sweat out the virus.”

This time there was such a long pause that Decker was sure Baker had gone off the transmission.

“Hello?”

“Are you… are you sure you’ve not got a fever yourself, Colonel? I, um, I really think you should get some sleep.”

~~~~

“Good morning, Hannibal. It’s a beautiful day outside. Minus 27 degrees with a wind chill cold enough to freeze your bits off. Face’s fever is 101.8. BA’s is just over 100 and Decker has some major Daddy issues.”

Hannibal struggled to sit up with Murdock’s help. He managed a small smile. “Good morning to you, Captain Obvious.”

Murdock handed Hannibal a bowl. “Oatmeal.” Murdock said, unnecessarily. There wasn’t really anything else you could mistake it for. Hannibal took a small mouthful.

“Don’t worry,” Murdock said. “I have something much more exciting planned for later. It’ll be a taste explosion.”

“That sounds interesting. What are you -”

“Murdock.” Decker’s voice came from the doorway. Hannibal and Murdock turned to see Decker scowling at Murdock.

“Captain Baker would like to have a word with you.” Decker turned and marched off. Hannibal and Murdock stared at each other.

“Well at the risk of sounding obvious,” Murdock said. “Oh crap.”


Four

“Captain! I’ve been wanting to talk to you. But man, I’ve been so busy this last month or so you just wouldn’t believe it. Hey, it’s a real nice country you’ve got here. All this snow, wow, it’s great! If only I’d brought my skis. Not that I have any skis. Ooh, I wanted to ask, do you Mounties always wear the red tunic and the hat and stuff? Are you wearing them now? I dressed as a Mountie once for a costume party. Man I had to beat the women away with a stick! Do you get the same effect? It’s really good to finally talk with you! Have you got a favourite chilli recipe?”

There was a long silence and then Baker’s voice came through.

“Captain Murdock?”

Murdock grinned. Out the corner of his eye he could see Decker lurking in the corridor nearby.

“That’s me, in the flesh. And in a couple of layers of flannel.”

“Right. I just wanted to check you were, um -”

“Not a dog?”

“Yes.” Baker’s voice got as frosty as the weather.

“I’m not. Not today anyhow. I can’t believe BA said that! But he’s pretty crazy obviously. When he’s feeling better I’m gonna put him on report and make him clean the bathroom with a toothbrush.”

“Right. Well I’m glad you’re -”

“Not a dog?”

“Okay, glad you’re okay.” He gave a soft laugh suddenly and when he spoke it was in a warmer tone. “I’m also glad I found out you’re not a dog. You see if your food there had started to run very low I would have suggested to Colonel Smith that the kindest thing was putting you to sleep before you started to suffer.”

Murdock didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked.

“Wow,” he said. “Okay, for the record. Murdock. Pretty hairy, but not, in fact, a dog.”

“I’ll make a note.”

Murdock signed off and left the radio room, passing Decker outside the door.

“Nice guy, for a cop.”

He went on past and into the kitchen. So that cat had clawed its way out of the bag. Oh well, Murdock hadn’t thought it would last this long, they’d been lucky, frankly. But his little chat with Baker had let him add another brick to Decker’s wall of wondering about Murdock. A wall of wondering? Did that make sense? A wonder wall? Never mind.

Time to put together the ingredients for the chilli. He couldn’t do it justice of course, not with all frozen, canned, dried or pickled ingredients. But he was damn sure he could still make a better chilli than Decker. He grinned. Decker, the prince of chilli.

He started searching the cupboards. No, if Decker’s father was the king of chilli, then his mom was the queen of chilli and therefore Decker was the Jack of chilli. Which made Murdock the Joker he supposed. Chillies would make a great suit for cards! A red suit of course, with little pictures of chillies on the cards. What else? Apples would make a good suit. God he could eat an apple right now. All cool and crispy and delicious. What else. Mushrooms? He liked that. One more. Lemons? Chickens? Eggs? Onions? Cups, forks, spoons. The Ace of spoons?

Decker came in, all bundled up in layers of clothes, barely able to fasten his coat over it all.

“It’s still snowing.” Murdock said.

“It’s been snowing for a week.” Decker said, scowling at him.

“I know. Just saying.”

“Right. Well I’ll take out the garbage, refuel the generator and clear away some snow.” He pulled on his gloves and picked up the full garbage bag that waited at the exterior door. Murdock watched him pick up the handgun and leave with the garbage bag in one hand and the gun in the other.

As the door closed Murdock went over to the window and watched until Decker had dumped the garbage and was inside the generator shed. He sighed and went back to his chilli.

~~~~

Murdock knew there was a reason he’d been wanting to get on the radio. And at one-fifteen the next morning he remembered what it was.

“Hi, are you Shila? I’m Murdock.”

“Oh, hello. Captain Baker told me about you.” She sounded cautious.

“Yeah, I know, lame attempt to pretend I’m not here. Even lamer attempt to pretend I’m a dog. Woof, woof. How dumb are we?” He laughed and was pleased when she did too.

“How are the patients?” Shila asked.

“Doing okay. Sleeping. You know Face is so cute when he sleeps, I wish you could see him.”

He was sure he heard her sigh.

“Your army sent us some wanted posters of the A-Team. So I do know what Templeton looks like.”

“He’s cute isn’t he, I’m right aren’t I?

“I… guess so.” She sounded embarrassed now he thought.

“So what do you get up to all night, Shila? I mean when you’re not talking to Face?”

“Oh, there’s plenty of paperwork to do. Or…” he hesitated a moment. “Well sometimes, if all the work is done, I do some writing.”

“Writing? Like stories?” Murdock smiled in delight.

“Yes.” Now she really sounded embarrassed. “Just silly really.”

“Not at all! That’s what I’ve been doing up here!” Murdock was thrilled. “A fellow writer! So what are you working on?”

“Oh, some stories. You would just think they’re silly.”

“Honey, in comparison to some of what I’ve written I’ll bet nothing you’ve done can even approach silly.”

“I’d really like to write a novel one day,” she said and sighed.

“Do it!”

“Captain, you really are crazy.” She laughed.

Hold that thought. “I sure am! So if I can write one then I know you can! Go for it. Have you got a story? Tell me all about it.” Murdock settled into his chair. The door was open so he could hear anyone shouting for him. He had his coffee. He was set for the night.

~~~~

“You were talking to Shila?” Face croaked weakly as Murdock helped him sit up and gave him a steaming bowl.

“Yeah. She’s great. We had such a laugh.” Off Face’s annoyed look he waved a hand. “Hey, don’t go all green eyed monster on me. It was just a friendly chat about writing.”

“She writes?” Face looked down at the bowl he held. “What the hell is this?”

“Chilli. Yeah, didn’t she tell you about that? But don’t worry; I totally talked you up the whole time. Kept saying how cute you were.” He grinned. “So she probably thinks I fancy you now.”

Face frowned at Murdock then tried a cautious spoonful of chilli. “How come she never mentioned her writing to me?”

“I don’t know. How’s the chilli?”

“Not half bad actually.”

Murdock’s face fell. This one was Decker’s chilli. Oh well, they had agreed to play the game and stick by the rules. He slipped a notepad out of his pocket and flipped it open.

“Ok, I need to ask you some questions about the chilli. You’ll have to give marks out of ten.”

~~~~

It might have been the chilli or it might have been jealousy, but whatever it was, in the early hours of January the fourth Face felt able to drag himself into the radio room. He was wrapped in two blankets and wearing a couple of sweaters under that. His face was unshaven and stubbly, his hair lank and greasy and his eyes red and puffy. He was glad Shila had a nice picture of him right now and not the real thing.

“Templeton! You should be in bed,” Shila said, sounding worried when she heard his voice.

“I’m fine,” Face said. He coughed a bit, sipped some water. “I’m fine.” He smiled. Perhaps the ‘brave little soldier’ thing was just the right approach here. She’d be wishing she could come and lay her cool hand on his fevered brow. “Happy new year anyway. Bit late, sorry.”

“And to you. Er… Templeton, did you talk to Captain Baker a few days ago?”

Uh-oh. Face thought.

“Yeah, I had a little chat.” He cringed. Not entirely accurate.

“It’s just, well he warned me about you.”

“Oh he did, huh?” Warned? Face didn’t like that. Okay he’d been kind of a jerk on New Year’s Eve, but there was no reason to go around warning people about him.

“He said I should be careful of you. That you’re probably only talking to me to get some information to help you later, or that…” he voice went quiet. “That you’ll try and talk me into helping you escape in the spring. You know, that you’ll charm me and… well he warned me.”

For a moment Face didn’t know how to respond. Part of him loved it. She’d been warned off, that meant he was the bad boy and Baker was like her Dad trying to keep them apart. On the other hand he didn’t want her to get into trouble over him.

“Shila, I promise. I’m not after anything from you, except just what we have now, okay?”

“Oh, okay. Good.” Was that disappointment he heard in her voice? “Now, shouldn’t you go to bed?”

What and let Murdock come in and take over? I think not.

“Tell me about your stories.”

Part 6: Major Issues


One

Face strode fast along the corridor of the VA psychiatric ward, forcing the nurse to hurry to keep up. As he buried her in a blizzard of paperwork she gasped.

“But, Colonel, can this be right? Mr. Murdock is the only compatible kidney donor? In the whole world?”

“That’s right –” He glanced at the nametag pinned to the strap of her white string bikini. “Brandi.” She was somehow familiar. Ah, yes. Page 47 of the Playboy. Brandi from Phoenix. “And Captain Murdock must -” He hesitated a moment as she tossed back her long red hair. It cascaded over her tanned and smooth shoulders. “Er… He must…” Face glanced at his faked doctors chart. “Right! Captain Murdock must be at the Vatican within the next twenty four hours or in a few days time we’ll all be watching for the white smoke, if you know what I mean?”

She didn’t, but she gazed adoringly at him anyway. They reached the door of Murdock’s room.

“Quickly, Nurse. Air Force One is gassed up and waiting at LAX.”

“Air Force One?”

“The President has kindly loaned it for this emergency.”

She opened the door to Murdock’s room.

The room was full of snow. Drifts of it lay against the furniture. Layers of it sat on top of the dresser, and the TV. The bed was clear of snow, but not empty.

A wolf sat on the bed. It turned its head to look at Face and Brandi.

And then Face was lying on a cot and reading a letter from Leslie.

Her letter was full of news about the house and how perfect it would be by the time he came home on leave. She talked about how much everyone looked forward to seeing him again, after he’d had to leave for Vietnam so soon after the wedding. He paused a moment before he read on, thinking about how beautiful she’d been on that day. Of course she was beautiful every day. Beautiful.

He sighed and looked around the ward. When he wrote back he wouldn’t tell Leslie about his leg wound. He wasn’t getting shipped home because of it, so there was no sense in worrying her. He wanted her to be as happy and relaxed as possible. Not just for her sake, but for the baby too.

His baby. His son. Well he didn’t know that yet of course. But he just had a feeling.

He was reaching the end of her letter when the first shell hit.

~~~~

Decker was working outside clearing snow when he heard the explosion.

“What the hell?” He dropped the long rake used for pulling snow from the roof and ran into the kitchen.

Murdock, looking stunned, was staring at the stove. Or rather staring at the ceiling above the stove, which now had the lid of the pressure cooker embedded in the plasterboard. All around the lid a red brown blast pattern radiated several feet. On the stove the pan of the pressure cooker lay on its side, with chilli bubbling out like lava.

Decker dashed forward and turned off the heat. He stepped back quickly as drops of red-hot chilli pattered onto his hood. Once out of range of the spiced rain he pushed his hood off and looked at Murdock.

“Are you hurt, Captain? Burned?”

“What?” Murdock said, turning to Decker. “Oh, no. I wasn’t in the room.”

“You weren’t?” Now Decker scowled. None of them were exactly experts in the kitchen but they’d agreed on one thing. “You’re not supposed to leave the pressure cooker unattended.”

“I only stepped out for a second. I thought of something really great for my book and had to go type it up.”

Decker turned away with a grunt. A second? Unlikely.

“What in god’s name was that bang?” Hannibal’s croaky voice came from the door to the corridor. He stood there hanging onto the doorframe, his face paper white.

“Nothing to worry about,” Murdock said, smiling. “Chilli got a bit lively. Rod, I told you the napalm was going too far, but would you listen?”

“You shouldn’t be out of bed, Smith,” Decker said. Hannibal’s fever had come down now, but Decker knew he was still weak. “You need to lie down, now.”

Hannibal abruptly folded up and landed in a heap on the floor. Decker and Murdock ran over to him.

“Now he does what you tell him,” Murdock said, rolling his eyes at Decker as they knelt down.

Hannibal wasn’t unconscious, but he wasn’t getting back on his feet unaided. They dragged him up and supporting him between them helped him back to the bedrooms. As they passed the doors of the other rooms BA called out.

“What the heck is going on out there?” He sounded disgruntled. “Can’t a sick man get some sleep?”

Murdock winced and said, “Hey, Decker, you want to tell him what happened? I can manage from here.”

Decker let Murdock take Hannibal alone and went into BA’s room. BA was sitting up in bed. He looked less menacing than usual, stripped of his gold and wearing blue and white striped flannel pyjamas. His hair stuck out at wild angles.

“Sorry, Sergeant, there was an accident in the kitchen. The pressure cooker exploded.”

BA looked surprised and then he frowned.

“Was it the fool’s fault?” He asked.

“Well -”

“Shoulda known,” BA said, nodding. He sighed in a long-suffering way. “You two planning on blowin’ anything else up or can I get some sleep now?”

“Do you need anything?” Decker looked at the nightstand. The water jug was full.

“Just some quiet.” BA settled down again and snuggled into the covers. Decker left the room and closed the door, leaving it open just enough to hear if BA called out.

He went on to Face’s room. Face hadn’t been yelling for an explanation. Perhaps he’d slept through the whole thing. Decker tapped on the door and looked inside.

“Lieutenant? Are you awake?”

Face’s bed was empty. Decker glanced up the hallway at the bathrooms. But he turned back as he heard a sound in the room. He flicked on the light and to his astonishment Face’s head popped up briefly from the other side of the bed.

“Get down, for Christ’s sake! They didn’t sound the all clear yet!” Face ducked back down.

What the hell? Decker walked around the bed to find Face half under it. Face stared up at him.

“Lieutenant, are you okay? Did you fall out of bed?” Decker bent to offer Face a hand up, but Face grabbed him and pulled him down to his knees.

“Are you nuts? Can’t you hear the shelling?”

“Shelling?”

A loud crash made Decker instinctively duck, before he realised it came from the kitchen and must be the pressure cooker lid falling down from the ceiling.

“Can you believe they’d shell a hospital?” Face said. “Goddamn VC bastards.”

“VC…” Decker trailed off. He glanced at the door and wondered if he should call Murdock. But was that a good idea? Was Murdock really the best person to bring anyone back to reality right now?

“Lieutenant.” Decker put a hand on Face’s shoulder and shook it. “Face. Look at me. You’re not in Vietnam. You’re only dreaming. Look at me. Do you know me?”

Face stared at him, no recognition there. He pulled away from Decker and tried to get further under the bed, muttering obscenities about the Vietcong. Decker sighed. He shuffled over to the nightstand and scooped a handful of ice cubes from the water jug. Quickly he grabbed Face’s wrist and held the ice against the inside of Face’s forearm. Face gasped and tried to pull away, but Decker held the ice there, forcing him to experience the sensation, the cold, the reality.

“Wake up, Face,” Decker said, his voice firm and commanding. “Remember where you are. Remember who I am.”

In a few seconds he was rewarded with Face blinking and shaking his head and then speaking.

“Decker?”

Decker sighed and let go of Face’s arm. Face looked at it puzzled, looked around the room and then winced.

“I was dreaming about… God, I thought… What happened?”

“The pressure cooker blew up. The bang must have triggered -” He didn’t go on as Face looked away, blushing.

“Damn,” Face muttered. He started to pull himself back out from under the bed. Decker helped him up and back into bed. Face became apparently enthralled with rearranging his bedclothes, careful not to catch Decker’s eye. Decker picked up the water jug to take it to refill.

“Can I get you anything, Lieutenant?”

Face looked up at him now. His hands had started to shake. Adrenaline rush, Decker guessed. He knew how that felt. He knew what Face had just gone through. As real as being back there.

“How about some tea?” Decker offered.

“O-okay.” Face said. “Decker, sorry I -”

Decker held up a hand to ward off the apology. “You’re still feverish. And if you were dreaming of… Just try to get some rest, Lieutenant.” He turned to leave the room.

“Thanks.”

Decker almost didn’t hear the soft word. He wasn’t supposed to react, he knew that much. He kept on walking. In the kitchen he found Murdock, with a mop propped beside him, standing over the sink filling a bucket with hot soapy water.

“Smith okay?” Decker asked.

“Yeah,” Murdock said. “Safely tucked up. BA and Face?”

Decker looked at Murdock narrowly for a moment then at the mess on the stove and the ceiling.

“Fine.”

Murdock nodded looking pleased. He looked up at the chilli coloured pattern centred around a circle of cracked and crushed plaster.

“That’s gonna leave a mark.”


Two

“How many days in a row can a man eat chilli anyway?” Hannibal asked as Murdock served them all another steaming bowl.

The three invalids sat in the rec room, dressed and showered and shaved for the first time in over a week. All three were still weak but the doctor that Decker had talked to over the radio had insisted they didn’t stay in bed any longer.

Decker and Murdock on the other hand, Hannibal thought, looked like they were about ready to take to their beds. Both were pale and had dark shadows under their eyes from several nights of broken sleep.

“We kind of made a lot of chilli,” Murdock confessed. He smiled. “Well I made a lot of my – ahem – prize winning chilli.” He smirked at Decker, who ignored him. Murdock had made a fifteen-minute acceptance speech in the bedroom block corridor after they totted up the marks and found that Murdock was the winner of the chilli cook-off.

“Does that mean this is the same chilli we were eating a week ago?” BA scowled, looking disgusted.

“Isn’t it dangerous to keep on reheating meat like that?” Face asked nervously.

“Are you dead?” Murdock asked. “Well stop complaining.”

Decker glanced over from where he stood at the window. “Ignore him. We froze it and reheated it in batches.” He went back to looking outside. Hannibal looked at him.

“Any wolves, Rod? Jackals? Lions? Woolly mammoth?”

Decker turned to look at Hannibal, eyes narrowed. “I heard it howling last night.”

“You’re paranoid.” Hannibal said.

“The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears.” Murdock said, in an ominous voice.

“What’s the fool talking about now?” BA asked.

Murdock glanced back quickly at the bookcase, then reached behind himself without looking and tossed a book from a shelf to BA, who caught it one handed. Hannibal glanced at the book.The Fellowship of the Ring. He studied BA for a moment. BA versus an orc? Where would the smart money be there? He looked at Decker again. Decker was eyeballing Murdock dubiously. And Face was doing the same.

Murdock had brought the food in on a tray. He now put the tray down on the floor, stood on it and started pretending he was on a surfboard. Arms out for balance, body leaning from side to side, humming Beach Boys tunes

“Murdock,” Face said after a moment. “I’m cold, would you get me a blanket please?”

At once Murdock jumped off his ‘board’. “Sure, Face.” He ran out of the room carrying the tray under his arm.

“We need to talk about him,” Decker said quietly.

BA shot Decker a dirty look. Face just looked at Decker and then turned to Hannibal.

“He’s right, Hannibal. If there’s -”

He shut up as Murdock came back in with a blanket. Hannibal shifted uncomfortably in his seat and put down his half-finished bowl of chilli, no appetite now. He hadn’t realised he would feel so guilty about this. And not just for Face and BA’s worrying, but even for Decker. Was Decker worried about being stuck here with a crazy man, Hannibal wondered, or did he feel actual pity for Murdock? He sighed. Well that was what Hannibal wanted, wasn’t it? Plan’s working. So why, he wondered, do I feel like taking myself outside and punching me in the mouth?

Murdock gave Face the blanket, taking his empty bowl from him then collecting BA’s too. He wandered to the stereo. “How about some music, guys? I’m in the mood for Dark Side of the Moon.”

“Dark side of the moon?” Hannibal said, glad of the distraction as the music started. “Feels like that’s where we are right now.” He glanced at the window, at the blackness outside. Decker was watching Murdock who had sat down beside Face. “Why don’t you get away from that damn window, Decker?” Hannibal snapped. “There’s no damn wolf!”

Decker scowled at Hannibal. “I’m telling you it’s still here.”

“You’re seeing things.”

“Yes. Wolves.”

“Actually, Decker is right,” Murdock said. Hannibal and Decker turned to look at him.

“You’ve seen it too, Captain?” Decker asked.

“No. But it’s still here.”

Face turned to look at him now too. BA tore his attention away from Bilbo Baggins’s eleventy-first birthday party to frown at Murdock.

“What you saying?”

Murdock looked around at them all. Then he spoke.

“I probably should have told you before. It’s in the kennel.”

Face broke the long silence that followed.

“The kennel, Murdock?” He asked quietly.

“Yeah, the one for the huskies, you know. We don’t have any huskies, so I thought I’d let him in there. So at least he’d have some place warm to sleep.”

Hannibal and BA came to their feet, their weakness forgotten. They stared at Murdock.

Decker went quite pale. “It’s in the building?” He said, rather faintly, then all in a rush. “It’s actually inside the building?”

Hannibal’s gaped at Murdock. The kennel was part of the building, but since they had no dogs none of them had been back in there since the first exploration. Well, none of them except one person apparently.

“You let it inside?” BA was too shocked even to scowl. “What if one of us had gone in there?”

“There’s no reason for any of us to go in there.” Murdock said. He frowned. He looked quite surprised by their reactions.

“When?” Hannibal asked. “How long has it been in there?”

“Day after Christmas,” Murdock said. “I just left the exterior door open. Later I was listening and I thought I could hear him in there.”

Hannibal shook his head slowly. If this was faked craziness then Murdock was doing a better job than Hannibal had ever imagined he could. But if he really had done this…

“The door into the kennel is kind of hidden by the workshop when you’re outside.” Murdock went on. “And with it being dark most of the time you wouldn’t spot it unless you were looking right at it.”

“Why, Murdock?” Face’s voice was quite soft, gentle.

“Well it’s so cold out there and there can’t be much to eat. I just wanted -” He didn’t finish because BA grabbed him and dragged him up to his feet by his shirt front. Face jumped up too, tried to pull Murdock away

“Let him go!” Face yelled at BA. Hannibal jumped in too, trying to pull BA back.

“Tell me you ain’t feeding it!” BA shook Murdock violently. “If you tell me you been giving our food to that animal then you’re dead!”

“Decker! Don’t stand there like a dummy!” Hannibal yelled. “Help me!” Decker sprang forward and he and Hannibal managed to pull BA off Murdock, probably only because BA was still below par from his fever. Decker dragged BA away and pushed him into a seat. Hannibal stood over Murdock and Face, who had both fallen back down onto the sofa when BA let go of Murdock.

“Have you been feeding it?” Hannibal demanded. Murdock didn’t speak. He put his head in his hands.

“Leave him alone!” Face glared up Hannibal.

“Be quiet, Lieutenant. I want an answer now, Captain!”

“I said leave him alone.” Face got back on his feet, stepped between Hannibal and Murdock. His voice was low. “Just leave him alone.”

Hannibal raised his hands intending to push Face to one side. But he saw the look in Face’s eyes. A look that said this time he’d go further than ‘shut up’ if he had to. Hannibal took a step back.

“It’s all his fault we’re here in the first place,” BA growled. Hannibal glanced back at BA. Decker stood ready to restrain him again. “First the fool crashes the plane. On purpose! Then he blows up the kitchen. Now we’ll end up starvin’ cause he’s giving our food away to an animal!”

“I am not!” Murdock looked up. “Bones! I gave him some bones. Left them in there when I knew he was outside. We can’t do anything else with bones, he might as well have them.”

“You crazy fool!”

“And I did not crash the plane on purpose!”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Hannibal yelled, shutting them both up.

Face sat down beside Murdock again and put an arm around him. BA looked away muttering and frowning. Hannibal rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. My god, this was insane. They had a wild animal actually on the premises.

“We can’t let it stay in there. I’m sorry Murdock.” Hannibal silenced Murdock’s protest with a raised hand. “It’s just too dangerous. If it somehow got through from the kennels to the rest of the station. We can’t risk that.”

“He’ll die out there!”

“He – it will probably move south,” Hannibal said. “That’s probably where it was heading before you let it in. Face, keep Murdock in here. BA, Decker, you come with me.”

Hannibal got them far away from the rec room so that Murdock couldn’t hear them. He stopped outside the radio room. BA was still fuming. Decker had his arms folded, eyes narrowed.

“Okay, the three of us go in there and search. If it’s there we try to chase it out and lock the door. If it won’t go, or it tries to attack…” He glanced south down the east corridor, towards the boiler room and the tiny room tucked behind that.

“The guns.” Decker said. Hannibal nodded.

“If it comes to that then we don’t tell Murdock, okay? We tell him we chased it out and last we saw it was high-tailing it for the horizon.”

“I think we should kill it anyway.” Decker said. “Even if we chase it out it might not leave. Not now it knows there’s food here.

“Yeah, and what’s to stop the fool letting it back in?” BA said.

“Because I’m locking that door and hiding the key.” Hannibal said. “I don’t think he’d let it in any of the other doors. Not actually into the parts of the station we’re living in.”

“Are you absolutely sure about that?” Decker asked.

Am I? Hannibal wondered. Murdock wouldn’t endanger their lives, surely? The kennel was one thing but he wouldn’t invite the beast into the rec room, would he? No, Hannibal was sure of that. They’d spare the animal’s life if they could and pray the damn thing got the hell out of here.

“Let’s get the guns.”


Three

“I’m not sure how useful long guns are going to be in that confined space,” Decker said as he loaded three of the hunting rifles.

“Well we only have the one handgun,” Hannibal said. “Either of you two want to take it?” He held up the pistol. Neither BA nor Decker took it, so Hannibal tucked it in the back of his waistband. Decker handed out the loaded rifles.

“Let’s go,” Hannibal said. Decker went past him out of the small armoury. Hannibal followed and locked the door carefully behind them.

The three armed men walked along the central corridor. The doors to the rec room were closed. Pink Floyd was still playing as they passed, but abruptly the music stopped. Now there was only the sound of the wind.

In a moment the party reached the door into the kennel. Hannibal listened hard, ear close to the door. No sound came from inside. If the wolf was in there it wasn’t near the door. Unless it was staying very quiet.

As he unlocked the door Hannibal wondered if the sound of the key in the lock would be enough to frighten it off. He wondered the same thing about the light as he reached a hand through the door, and felt around for the switch. Only once he’d clicked on the light did Hannibal open the door wide enough to put his head round it and peer inside.

There wasn’t much to see. Even with the lights on the kennel was pretty dim. Hannibal supposed dogs didn’t need bright lights. What were they going to do? Read? There was a short passageway immediately inside the door. Hannibal beckoned Decker and BA to follow him inside. He let them pass him and turned to lock the door behind them.

Decker didn’t seem to be showing any inclination to assert his right to lead the way Hannibal noticed. He appeared happy to let Hannibal be the one to go first into a dimly lit area that might contain a large wild animal with big teeth. He wondered if Decker had decided that since Murdock did this it was Hannibal’s problem to fix?

Hannibal led the way along the passage. At the end of it a six-foot wood and wire gate led into the dog pens. The three men moved through the gate and bolted it behind them.

The pens were now on their right, two large spaces, wire fronted, with gates that currently stood open. A wood and wire partition separated the two. The pens were very dimly lit. Hannibal could just about make out straw on the floor of the pen he could see into and what looked like a couple of piles of dog blankets. The corners of the pens were pitch black.

“It’s definitely been here,” Decker said, his voice a whisper, but startling Hannibal as it broke the silence. “You can smell it.”

He’s right, Hannibal thought. A musky, organic smell, like it had marked the territory. A gust of wind stirred the straw and Hannibal glanced at the open exterior door. It was nearly dark again out there. What little light could get through the snowy clouds illuminated only a small patch of floor inside the door. A small drift of snow had blown in through the open door.

The breath of the men made clouds in the freezing air. The kennel was sheltered, but right now it wasn’t heated and Hannibal’s hands were cold. He wore only thin gloves so he could still use the rifle.

Alongside the pens, a straight run to the exterior door was laid with wooden planks. The run was narrow, to keep over enthusiastic sled dogs in check. The footsteps of the three men on the planked walkway were noisy enough to make Hannibal wince.

“Anybody hear anything? Anything that’s not us?” Hannibal asked. Neither Decker nor BA answered, so Hannibal took that as a no.

“Okay, spread out,” Hannibal said. “Decker take the second pen, I’ll take the first. BA, you stay up here by the gate. If the wolf runs out try and encourage it towards the outside.”

Again they didn’t answer, only nodded and moved into position. Decker moved quickly down the walkway until he was by the open gate to the pen nearest the exterior door. BA stayed by the gate that led back to the door into the station, his gun ready.

Hannibal stepped through the gate into the nearest pen, readying his rifle. He stood on something soft and looked down. A dead rat. Or rather half a dead rat.

“Look out, Smith!”

Hannibal saw a blur of movement as something dark leapt straight at him from inside the pen. A shot rang out and the light above his head exploded, scattering shards of plastic and fine glass. A heavy weight rammed into Hannibal throwing him backwards, arms flung out, the rifle flying from his hands. Another shot and pain tore into Hannibal’s right arm, before he hit the floor on his back. His head struck the wooden planks and he moaned, stars exploding in darkness behind his eyes.

It was on top of him. He could feel its paws, its claws, on his chest. Terrifyingly heavy. Hannibal opened his eyes and looked right into the wolf’s face. Dark eyes stared calmly back at him. Thick fur around its head and neck glittered with tiny pieces of glass and plastic from the smashed light.

Is it like a bear? Hannibal wondered. If I play dead will it leave me alone? Or is it like a shark? Will the smell of blood on me make it go berserk? The handgun stuck into the small of his back. If he made a move for it would the wolf rip his throat out before he could use the weapon? He thought about reaching around for his rifle, but then he froze as the wolf moved.

It bent its head down, bits of glass and plastic falling from its coat to patter down onto Hannibal and to the floor. It sniffed Hannibal, snuffling around his face, breath hot on his skin. His breathing had stopped. He closed his eyes.

Then the sniffing stopped and Hannibal gasped as claws dug into his chest. Its weight forced the breath from him as the wolf pushed away. He heard it run along the walkway, claws scrabbling on the planks.

“Close the door, fool!” BA yelled. Hannibal turned onto his left side to see Decker still beside the gate of the other pen and now staring at the exterior door. He didn’t move. “Now!” BA shouted. Decker unfroze, looked back at BA then ran to the exterior door and pushed it closed, struggling against the small snowdrift.

Hannibal fell back and lay with his head spinning, panting. In a second BA was at his side pulling him up to sit against the wall. The pain in his arm that had been as frozen as the moment instantly came back and he winced and clutched at the wound. Dizziness washed over him as reaction hit.

“It ran right by me.” Decker gasped breathlessly, kneeling down on Hannibal’s right. “Its tail brushed against my legs.” He sounded awe-struck. “It ran right by me!”

“And you didn’t get its autograph?” Hannibal snapped. BA prised Hannibal’s hand away to check the wound.

“Okay.” Hannibal looked at them, first BA, then Decker. “Which of you fired second?” He saw a glance pass between the two men.

“In all the excitement I don’t remember,” Decker said.

“Me neither,” BA agreed.

Hannibal scowled at them. Covering for each other? Of course neither shot had exactly been a prize-winner. At least the one that nailed Hannibal had been nearer the intended target than the one that blew out the light. Assuming Hannibal wasn’t the intended target that is. Don’t the psychologists say ‘there are no accidents’?

“If I ever find out which of you shot me…” Hannibal groaned again at the pain.

“Quit grousin’,” BA growled. “Ain’t no more’n a scratch.”

Hannibal glanced down at the so-called scratch. There was a deep gouge in his right upper arm, not far above the elbow. But despite the blood and pain it was clearly superficial. The bullet had skimmed the arm not penetrated.

“Let’s get him to the infirmary,” Decker said and he and BA lifted Hannibal to his feet. BA picked up Hannibal’s dropped rifle and slung it on his back with his own. Then, awkward in the narrow spaces, they helped Hannibal towards the door back into the station. Decker rummaged in Hannibal’s pocket for the keys. They could all hear Murdock and Face shouting from the other side. Someone banged on the door.

“We’re okay!” Decker yelled. “Coming out now.” As Decker unlocked the door Hannibal pulled away from him and BA.

“I can manage,” Hannibal said quietly. BA nodded in understanding. Hannibal wasn’t sure if Decker got it, but he backed off and let Hannibal open the door and walk out unaided.

Face and Murdock both reacted with open mouths and wide eyes to the sight of Hannibal’s blood covered arm. Hannibal made himself keep his arms down, resisting the urge to clutch the wound.

“I’m okay,” Hannibal said, before either of them could speak. “Just a minor scratch. Bullet skimmed me. Need to get it cleaned up.”

He quickly walked up the corridor, leading the way to the infirmary. He had to get there fast, because if he didn’t he was going to fall down. The shock and blood loss, added to the weakness from his fever meant he was ready to just slide to the floor and stay there. But if he did that he wasn’t sure Murdock would be able to stand it.

In the infirmary he sat on the examination table, while BA and Decker fussed around him, cleaning the wound. Murdock stood watching, arms wrapped around himself. Face collected up all the rifles and took them away.

“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Murdock said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“It’s okay, Murdock,” Hannibal said. “Just an accident, and nothing serious.” BA and Decker were gathering up dressings, getting in each other’s way. “Come here, Murdock.” Hannibal said. Murdock hesitated then came over. Hannibal put a hand on Murdock’s shoulder, leaned closer to him. “We didn’t kill it. It ran away.” He faked up a smile. “Ran right through Decker’s legs, isn’t that right, Rod?”

Decker just scowled. He’d been disturbed by the whole wolf situation from the day it showed up, Hannibal thought. Maybe as well as Daddy issues he had doggy issues. Or maybe he just couldn’t deal with something he couldn’t arrest.

“I don’t care about that,” Murdock said, shaking his head.

“Yeah, you do, Murdock. You don’t have to pretend not to. That’s okay. Really.” Decker was standing beside Hannibal now, waiting to dress the wound. “You know right now I could do with a cup of tea, plenty of sugar. Might calm my nerves a bit. Could you get that for me?”

“Sure thing, Colonel.” Murdock smiled. “I’ll make some for all of us.” He turned and hurried out of the room.

Decker started to dress the gunshot wound and Hannibal winced.

“What would really calm my nerves about now is something morphine based.”

~~~~

“Colonel.”

Hannibal blinked, peering into the darkness. His room was lit dimly by his bedside lamp. Murdock stood by the bed. He was blurry around the edges to Hannibal’s half-asleep, half doped up brain. Murdock wore his baseball cap and leather jacket and he was pouring water from a jug into a glass.

“Murdock?”

“The effect is so much better when the reactions are genuine, isn’t it?”

Murdock’s voice was distant, like a faint and fading radio broadcast. Hannibal tried to sit up, but he couldn’t move. Murdock poured the water from the glass back into the jug.

“Everybody’s reactions.”

Murdock poured out water into the glass again.

“Why were you so surprised, Colonel? I didn’t invite the wolf in. You did.”

He poured the water from the glass back into the jug.

“What?” Hannibal’s vision got cloudy. He heard Murdock’s voice somewhere in the centre of the cloud.

“The wolf’s not gone, Colonel. It never leaves.”

Hannibal heard a clink as Murdock put the glass and jug on the nightstand. The sounds faded away. Hannibal raised a hand. He could see his hand lit by the soft glow of the lamp on his nightstand. But when he reached towards Murdock it was swallowed up into the darkness. The same darkness that swept over his head now and pulled him into its depths.

When Hannibal woke the next morning his mouth was dry as dust and he reached for the water jug Murdock had left there. He found nothing on his nightstand but the unlit lamp.

Part 7: The Other Dog


One

Hannibal’s alarm clock rang and he groaned and just burrowed deeper under the covers. He’d had set his alarm early. Kitchen duty for him today and he wanted to get an early start and get the day’s bread made. That always seemed like such a good idea the night before.

Hannibal Smith baking bread. He almost laughed. Back home if he had to fend for himself for dinner he’d more than likely head for the nearest take out. Now he could make bread from scratch. Well, come spring he should be a lock for a job in the prison kitchen.

Prison kitchen? Oh wow, he thought, if I’m even thinking about that it’s a sign I need more sleep, or failing that a bucketful of coffee. He’d slept badly for the last week, blamed the pain of his slowly healing arm for keeping him awake. The dreams didn’t help when he did sleep. Dreams of a heavy weight on his chest, hot breath sniffing around his face, teeth…

The alarm clock was still ringing. The ring was suddenly joined by a banging on the wall and BA’s voice roared though from next door.

“Shut it off, man! Some of us is tryin’ to sleep!”

Hannibal reached out from under the covers and banged his hand down on the button on top of the clock. Silence. And cold. He gasped as he pulled his arm back under the covers. What the hell? It was freezing. He sat up, grabbed at his bedside lamp in the dark and pulled the switch. The light stayed off.

“BA!”

~~~~

Hannibal and Decker stood on either side of BA holding up flashlights as BA worked on the generator. Face and Murdock were in the boiler room feeding wood into the incinerator. Only the under floor heating generated by the incinerator had kept them all from waking up as popsicles.

“Did it run out of fuel?” Hannibal asked.

“No,” BA said. “Bring that light lower will ya.” He reached deep inside the generator and fiddled around for a while, then brought out a piece of the workings. Hannibal wanted to groan. That couldn’t be good. “It’s broke.”

“Can you fix it?” Decker asked.

BA scowled and looked offended. He didn’t dignify that with an answer. Hannibal shook his head and clicked his tongue. Wrong question, Decker.

“How soon can you fix it?” Hannibal asked.

“There’s spare parts in the workshop,” BA said. “I’ll get it up and running in a couple of hours. If you want lights in the meantime you’d better get the backup hooked up.”

Hannibal glanced at the much smaller portable generator that sat in the corner. Well that would keep them going for a couple of hours. But it wasn’t a long term solution. He just hoped the workshop had the parts BA needed or they were in big, big trouble.

~~~~

“Murdock, that’s enough wood for now, don’t go – um – over the top.”

Face winced at what he’d nearly said. Don’t go nuts. A little late for that.

“Okay.” Murdock dropped the wood he’d been about to feed into the incinerator. He looked around the small gloomy room. “Oh boy, if BA doesn’t get that generator going again we’re going to have to move in here. Might be cramped but it’s nice and warm.”

“Yeah,” Face said. “Ah, good idea, Murdock.”

Murdock looked at Face, in the dim light of the electric lantern hanging on the side the incinerator.

“That was a joke, Face.”

“Oh, yeah, of course.” Face smiled broadly. “How are you feeling today anyway? Aside from cold?”

“Oh, fine.” Murdock said. “I was thinking of doing some more work on my book.”

“Great.” Face said relived. Murdock had spent a lot of the last week in the office, typing. Face had hung around in there too. He was studying, he said. There were a load of science books around the place, he might as well use the time for something useful. So he sat there and read up on meteorology and astronomy and geology and kept an eye on Murdock.

Sometimes when Murdock went to the bathroom or to get coffee Face checked the pages Murdock had typed. Just to make sure they were, well, normal. Ridiculous, he thought, wondering what he expected to find.

all work and no play makes HM a dull boy all work and no play makes HM a dull boy all work and no play makes HM a dull boy

Ridiculous.

But so far they were normal. Normal by Murdock standards anyway. So far.

Murdock was calm. He’d taken the eviction of the wolf pretty stoically, had sat up a couple of late nights with Face and talked about how worried he was for it out there in the snow. But mostly he was calm.

Much calmer than he’d been in the rec room after Hannibal’s hunting party had headed to the kennels. Even then he’d not shouted and screamed, just paced around tensely. He’d stopped by the stereo and pulled the needle roughly off the record, making Face wince. When Murdock picked up the LP Face was sure he was about to Frisbee it to smash against the wall. But instead he carefully put it away in its sleeve. Well it was Dark Side of the Moon.

After that he’d sat down next to Face and just stared straight ahead. Until they heard the shots.

But once it was all over he’d become calm. That might make you think he was okay. But Face had seen that calm before. It wasn’t okay.

They both looked up as the lights came on.

“Go, BA!” Murdock whooped, punching the air.

~~~~

BA avoided his kitchen duty for the day because he was still working to get the main generator back on line. It was taking longer than the couple of hours he’d claimed it would. Hannibal wouldn’t be surprised if he was stretching the time out because he preferred tinkering with a machine to cooking, cleaning and washing up.

As Hannibal prepared lunch alone Decker came into the kitchen.

“Smith.”

“Decker. Come to give me a hand?”

“No.” Decker looked smug. “I need the key for the armoury.”

“Our furry friend’s not back is he?”

“No, I was thinking of doing some target practice. The key.” He held out his hand.

Hannibal pulled a piece of thin leather cord over his head. There were three keys on it. Two for the exterior and interior kennel doors, one for the armoury.

“Knock yourself out,” Hannibal said, handing the keys to Decker.

Decker hadn’t objected to Hannibal hanging on those keys. Perhaps for the same reason he hadn’t objected to Hannibal leading the way in the kennel. Hannibal certainly wasn’t carrying them to score any points off Decker.

“Target practice, eh? Probably a good idea,” Hannibal said, trying to keep a smirk off his face. “After that lame display in the kennel.”

“Oh and Baracus did so much better did he?”

Hannibal lost the smirk. “At least he didn’t shoot me.” He rubbed his arm.

“I…” Decker began and stopped. Hannibal wondered if Decker and BA had come up with a little pact to never reveal which of them had fired second.

“I don’t know which of us shot you,” Decker said. “But neither of us managed to shoot the wolf.”

He strode out of the kitchen. Hannibal watched him go. Decker was right, he thought. Going into that kennel was the first time any of them had used a gun in weeks. A skill had to be practised. Or else by the time they got out of here none of them would be able to hit the broad side of a barn. Or rather, miss it in a deliberate and controlled manner. But practice was a chore and the others would surely moan and groan about it, unless they had some extra motivation. Hannibal smiled.

Decker came back in, carrying a rifle, and a box of ammo. He handed the keys back to Hannibal. Then he put the box of ammo down on the kitchen table and sat down.

Hannibal turned away from Decker, started slicing bread. He heard the rounds clicking as Decker loaded the rifle.

“So, Decker, you a good shot? When you’re in practice I mean?” Hannibal kept his tone as casual as he could, just making conversation.

“I’m rated as sharpshooter,” Decker said.

“Yeah, me too,” Hannibal said. “So’s BA.” He paused for just a heartbeat. “Of course Face is rated expert.”

The clicking sounds stopped for a moment, then resumed.

“I’m aware of that,” Decker said.

“So if we all went head to head, obviously he’d win.”

“Obviously, huh?” Decker stood up and Hannibal turned to face him.

“Yeah, obviously. Of course the real question would be who would be second between you and me.” Another tiny pause. “And BA and Murdock of course.”

You and me, Rod, Hannibal thought. Head to head. Come on, you gotta go for that.

“Care to find out?” Decker asked and Hannibal grinned.

“Oh yeah.”


Two

Face sat up in bed gasping when he heard Murdock scream. He grabbed a sweater that hung over the headboard and pulled it over his head, then ran to the door. He flicked the light switch. The light didn’t come on. Oh great. He went back to his bed, banging his shins on it in the dark and cursing. Feeling around he found the flashlight he kept on the night stand and turned it on as he ran back to the door.

He opened the door and gasped, stumbled back. Murdock was right there, bare-chested and wild eyed.

“Murdock! What’s wrong?”

“The dog!” Murdock cried, looking terrified. “The dog!”

More flashlight beams danced crazily along the hall between the bedrooms. Voices sounded, but Face paid little attention to them.

“What’s wrong?”

“Who was that screaming?”

“The damn electricity is out again.”

“The dog!” Murdock turned away from Face and ran along the hall, to the bathrooms.

“Look out!” Decker’s voice. He must have headed over from his room, which was separated from the team’s rooms by a small common area. His flashlight hit the ground and from the cursing that erupted it sounded as if he had done the same. Face ran past him, ran after Murdock, and caught up to him in the central corridor.

He grabbed Murdock’s arm, shook it, tried to make Murdock focus.

“Murdock, look at me. It was just a bad dream. You’re okay.”

“The dog, Face, it’s here. It’s here!”

“What’s he saying?” BA’s voice came from behind Face. The others had followed them out.

“Something about a dog,” Hannibal said. “Face, you know what he’s talking about?”

“He just had a bad dream,” Face snapped. “Stop pointing those damn flashlights in his eyes.”

“He can’t have… I mean, the wolf couldn’t have got back inside somehow?” Decker said, sounding alarmed.

“He just had a bad dream!” Face insisted. Dammit all this chaos couldn’t do Murdock any good, he needed to be back in bed, back in his room where it was peaceful and he could calm down. Murdock grabbed Face’s arms and held on tight as if afraid something was going to sweep him away.

“Okay,” Hannibal’s voice snapped out decisively. “BA, Decker, we need to get that generator back on. Face,” he made his voice quieter as he went on. “Take care of Murdock.”

“Right, Colonel,” Face said. He waited for a moment until the other three had moved away, and then turned to Murdock. Murdock’s face was deeply shadowed as Face carefully kept from shining his flashlight beam into it. “You wanna go back to your room, Murdock?”

“I… I guess.” Murdock said, letting go of Face’s arms. He seemed a little calmer. He wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s cold.”

“Yeah, the generator went out again, but BA will fix it.” Face suppressed his worry about the generator. That could wait. “Come on.”

He took Murdock’s arm and led him back to his bedroom. Murdock found a sweater and jumped into bed wearing it. He pulled the blankets up around himself.

“Sorry, Face, I guess I made a big ol’ fool of myself.” He gave a sheepish smile.

“We all get nightmares, Murdock.” Face put the flashlight down on the night stand and sat on the bed.

“Even Decker?”

“After all we’ve done to him? If he doesn’t have bad dreams about us I’d be insulted.” He smiled.

Murdock smiled back for a moment, and then hung his head. He shivered.

“You’re cold? You want another blanket?”

Murdock looked up and shook his head. “Don’t think that’s what’s gonna help.” He hugged himself again. Face sighed and got under the covers too. He sat with his back against the headboard so they were very close. Murdock pressed against his side, seeking more from the contact than body heat.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Can you turn off the flashlight, Face?” Murdock asked after a while.

“Okay.” Face said, sliding back the switch and plunging them into darkness.

In the dark Murdock slid one arm around Face and rested his head on Face’s shoulder. Face sighed again, and put an arm around Murdock, patted his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Murdock. Just try to sleep, I’m not going anyplace.”

Just hang onto me, Murdock, Face thought. Just hang on. There’s a long way to go yet. Just hang on

For a few minutes Murdock was silent and Face thought he’d fallen asleep.

“Face.”

“Go to sleep.”

“I want to tell you why I wanted the light off.”

“Um, okay.” Face said, mildly nervous. Murdock laughed, his body shaking against Face’s.

“Don’t worry, Face, I’m not that desperate yet.” He went silent again, and then spoke in a more serious voice. “I don’t want to be able to see the dog.”

Face got more nervous. “The dog? Um – Billy?”

“You like Billy, Face?”

“Er, sure, Murdock.”

“Billy’s great, I really like Billy. But there’s something I never told you. I don’t always see Billy. Sometimes there’s another dog.”

Face felt Murdock shiver and then shivered himself as if the tremor passed from one man to the other. He didn’t answer. He waited for Murdock to go on.

“He’s not like Billy. I see Billy when I’m feeling okay. But the other dog, well, he’s there when I’m not so okay.”

Oh hell, Face thought.

“And you’re seeing this other dog now?”

“Not now you’ve turned off the light. Well I can see his eyes. They kind of glow. He’s over there in the corner, beside the dresser.”

Face swallowed hard, involuntarily glancing in that direction. He couldn’t see any glowing eyes of course.

“This, um, other dog, does he have a name?”

“Black Shuck.”

“Right. Erm, Murdock, are you sure this isn’t just the whole thing with the wolf preying on your mind?”

Murdock laughed again and Face felt him shake his head.

“Oh, Face, the wolf’s a cute furry puppy in comparison to Shuck.”

~~~~

The longest continual line of sight inside the station was from the south end of the west corridor directly though to the workshop. There were doors in the way but with them propped open the distance was enough to make a decent firing range.

The morning after Murdock told him about the other dog Face spent a long session shooting at the target set up in the far end of the workshop. Hannibal wanted them all to practice hard, get back up to spec. Because God forbid Decker beat any of them at the shooting contest. Face’s feelings about the contest were that he couldn’t give one hoot about it never mind two. But he practised anyway because right now it felt good to shoot things.

The exterior door behind him opened and he shivered at the blast of cold air, which was quickly followed in by Decker. Decker stamped snow off his boots and took off his coat, shook the snow off that.

“Snowing is it?” Face asked, hoping to annoy.

“No,” Decker growled. “This is confetti, there’s a wedding out there.”

Despite his bad mood, Face couldn’t help but grin, especially as Decker didn’t crack a smile as he said it. Face had to admit the man could deadpan very nicely.

“You wanna get past?” Face asked.

“Maybe I’ll wait a while.”

“Check out the competition huh?” Face turned back and brought the rifle to nestle into his shoulder. He didn’t let Decker’s presence or scrutiny distract him as he lined up the shot. Slowly, never rush. He caressed the trigger and pulled it back gently. He was damn good at this and he knew it.

The shot was perfect. The rifle kicked back against his shoulder. Never be afraid of the kick he’d been taught.

He did three more before he decided to go and check out the results close up. Decker came with him. Face frowned at him. What was he up to now? Had to be more than just about the shooting. Decker couldn’t be that bored.

“How’s Murdock?” Decker asked as they walked. Face gave him a searching look. Was that anything but genuine concern? Deadpan again. No way to tell.

“He’s fine.” Face said. “Got some sleep after all that.” Face had stayed in Murdock’s room all night; to make sure that dog didn’t sneak up on him again. They woke up in the morning back to back in the narrow bed. The electricity was on, but even so BA appeared tense as he studied the generator’s technical manual over breakfast.

“Good,” Decker said. “That’s good.”

They went into the workshop and checked the target. All of Face’s shots were either inside or very close to the bull’s eye. Decker nodded, looking genuinely impressed.

“You are good.”

“My instructors said I was a natural. Said I could have gone on to be trained as a sniper if I’d wanted to.”

“Why didn’t you?”

Face shrugged, pinning up a fresh target on the wooden backing that was tied onto some spare mattresses from the unoccupied bedrooms.

“Lying in one place for days, dressed as a bush, waiting to blow some guy’s head off didn’t sound like my cup of tea. And some of the snipers I’ve met were a little… odd.”

Decker nodded. “I suppose if you had gone that route you might never have ended up on Smith’s team.”

“Yeah and right this minute I’d be sitting in a hot tub in LA with a cute blonde.” He shrugged again. “No sense on thinking about it. I mean there’s a million ways life could be different if you’d done X instead of Y. I mean -” he smirked. “I could have ended up in your unit instead of Hannibal’s.”

Decker laughed, just a short bark of a sound. “Now that could have been interesting.” Then he looked serious for a moment, studying Face. “Might have worked out.”

“Yeah, right!” Now it was Face’s turn to laugh.

Decker shook his head. “I mean it. I was always on the lookout for men with initiative who weren’t too hung up on regulations. I was no bigger on rules than Smith.”

“Yeah, Colonel, but it’s a question of which rules each of you broke.”

Decker at once went back to his usual frowning expression.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think you know, Decker.” Face said. “There were some rules that even Hannibal didn’t break. Rules involving the enemy’s field hospitals for example.”

Now Decker flushed. “I only ever hit positions I believed were harbouring Vietcong who could present an immediate threat to American forces.” He rattled the words off fast.

Face cocked an eyebrow at him. “Wow, that sounds well rehearsed. Got it all ready for an inquiry board, huh?”

Decker narrowed his eyes right down to slits and then turned and marched out of the room. Face smiled to himself.

“Touchy.”


Three

Face paused outside of Murdock’s bedroom door and listened. He heard Murdock snoring and gave a sigh of relief. He checked his watch. Three a.m. No nightmare so far, but they often came late in the night.

Worrying about Murdock sleeping was keeping Face from sleeping. He pointed his flashlight and left the bedroom area. They’d started using flashlights to move around during the night, because of the generator. BA had spent days nursing the machine, but he still wasn’t happy with it. Worst of all, he said it was now using fuel more quickly than before, throwing off their calculations about how long the fuel would last. This forced them to start thinking much harder about economising.

Face went to the radio room and settled down. He switched on the desk lamp and started tuning in the radio. In a few moments he heard a familiar voice.