As the guests were revealed and the champagne corks popped, Hannibal reached a hand towards his chest. BA and Murdock frowned warnings at him, but he was only reaching for a cigar.
“Nice, Face,” Hannibal said, grinning, putting an arm around Face. “Nice.”
“Happy birthday, Hannibal.” Face said lighting the Colonel’s cigar.
Murdock pushed a glass of champagne into Hannibal’s hand and pulled him over to greet his guests as music started up.
“Amy, you look great, I thought you were in Tokyo! Tawnia! Frankie, my man!” He hugged all three former temporary members of the A-Team. “Lynch! Interesting suit, Colonel.”
“My invitation clearly said…” Lynch began to protest. He had discarded the hat, mask and cloak from his Zorro outfit, but was hanging onto the sword; presumably in the hope he might find out who had marked his invitation ‘fancy dress’.
“Looks good. Could be a whole new trend.”
“Oh well, erm, thank you, but…” Lynch blustered.
“Dougie, great to see you.”
“Happy birthday, Colonel.” Kyle handed Hannibal a gift. Hannibal unwrapped it to find a book entitled. ‘It’s Never Too Late: Finding God in Later Life.’
“Wow, great, I’ve been wanting to get this,” Hannibal said with enthusiasm, demonstrating his acting skills. “This is going right on my nightstand.” He suffered from insomnia sometimes.
“I inscribed it with your favourite Bible verse on the title page.” Hannibal opened the book.
“Nice, Dougie, nice.” Hannibal said, grinning. “Great to have you here. Have fun.”
As Kyle went off to find someone who looked at if they needed to hear the good news about Jesus, Face glanced at the inscription in the book.
“‘Be sure your sin will find you out. Numbers 32:23′. What, is that a threat?” He looked worried.
“Relax, Face. Right, who else is here? Oh, Faris! Kahil! You wily Arabs, you’re in on this too?” He grinned at Face. “This isn’t a party, it’s an international conspiracy. Nice tuxes, guys.” Actually Kahil’s made him look rather like a bouncer, but Hannibal didn’t mention that.
“Sergeant Wallace! Oh boy, I never met a marine who looked that good in a dress. Though I’ve met plenty who wear ’em.”
“You’ve met a lot of female marines?” Becky asked surprised.
“No, you’re the first.” Hannibal said, moved on quickly, smirking.
“Maggie.” Hannibal went serious suddenly and stared at her. She wore a long, elegant white dress that left one shoulder bare. Her hair was up and pinned in place with jewelled clips that glittered as they caught the light. She smiled at him and just for a moment there was no one else in the room.
“Happy birthday, John.” She stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. Not only was there no one else in the room; there was no one else in the world.
“Maggie, honey! You look gorgeous!” It was Tawnia. “Oh come and chat, I haven’t seen you for ages. Amy wants to see you too, let’s have some girly gossip!” Tawnia pulled Maggie away and the rest of the world came crashing back for Hannibal. He sighed.
“Don’t worry, Hannibal,” Face said. “The night is young. Come on, let’s mingle.”
Murdock was severely disappointed. As he feared Colonel Decker had completely ignored the words ‘fancy dress’ on the invitation and was wearing a tuxedo. Damn, the guy was too like Hannibal, neither of them played by the rules. But Murdock could still have some fun.
“You never met, Colonel Lynch? Really?”
“No.” Decker said, sounding as if this was something he was very glad about.
“Well let’s change that right now.” Murdock led the reluctant Decker across the room and snagged Faris on the way, as he looked as if he needed rescuing from a conversation with a very young, very blonde, actress friend of Hannibal’s. She had just asked him how many camels he owned.
“Colonel Decker, Colonel Lynch, Colonel Madari.” Murdock introduced the three men to each other and they shook hands.
Hannibal couldn’t have timed his appearance better.
“Colonel.” Murdock said, grinning. “Wow. Word has no meaning any more. I’m getting a drink.” He left the four baffled colonels and headed for the bar for a cold one. The room was starting to heat up.
Face found BA raiding the buffet table.
“BA, stop taking stuff! Food isn’t on until nine. People are still arriving.”
“I’m getting some food for mama, okay, she’s hungry.” Face decided not to argue. “Pass me some of those pigs in a blanket…” BA stopped suddenly. He was looking over Face’s shoulder with a look of total horror. Before Face could turn round a shattering blow to his back almost knocked him down.
“What the…?” Face gasped out.
“Why-aye, Lawrence, how’s it hanging?”
“S… Slater?” Face gasped, still recovering from the slap on the back. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Well ah was in LA on holiday like, and ah ran into the crazy fella, ya flyer. And he sez to come along. He said there was free beer, so ah wasn’t gonna turn that doon.” He laughed uproariously for no obvious reason.
“Slater.” BA growled.
“Baracus.” Slater said in a friendly way, entirely oblivious. “Must say, there’s some bloody canny looking lasses at this do. And a nice bit of bait there.” He eyed the buffet hungrily. Face hastily pulled the cloth back over it.
“It’s open at nine.” He said.
“Canny.” Slater finished his drink. “Hey, it’s me favourite Ay-rabs. Al Batman and Bin Robin. Better say hello to the lads.” He wandered off.
“I’m gonna kill Murdock.” Face said.
“Get in line.” BA said.
“Hey, Tawnia, where did Maggie go?” Hannibal asked.
“Oh, she saw someone she had to talk to.”
“Ah. So, how are you? Sorry Brian isn’t here.” Hannibal tried his best not to talk to her chest; her dress was alarmingly low cut.
“He’s in Peru, or it might be Venezuela. So hard to keep track.”
“I’ll bet. You must miss him.”
“Of course, but I have my sweet darling to keep me company.”
“Sorry, who?” Hannibal asked puzzled.
“Lucas of course, silly.” She slapped him playfully on the arm.
“Oh, yes of course.” Hannibal had been understandably confused. The words “sweet darling” were not the first ones that came to mind when thinking about Tawnia’s seven-year-old son. More likely the words “spoilt brat” or “evil hellion”. And after five minutes in his company most people were thinking of the words “severe thrashing”.
“Oh he did the cutest thing last week…” Hannibal doubted that.
“Can you tell me later, I’ve just seen someone I really need to talk to…”
Hannibal escaped from Tawnia’s sphere of influence and went over to sit on a sofa beside a very short man whose feet didn’t reach the floor.
“Hey, Mike, glad you came.”
“Well, I don’t normally like parties, but I couldn’t miss this one. Happy birthday.” He raised his glass and Hannibal clinked his against it.
“Great. Where’s David? I saw him earlier.”
“We’ve been here almost twenty minutes, so he’s probably in one the bedrooms by now.”
Hannibal grinned. David Harper had, as Hannibal had predicted, grown up real good looking. When Hannibal saw him earlier he had been at the centre of a throng of women.
“So how come you don’t like parties?” Hannibal asked Mike.
“People are always resting their drinks on my head…”
BA took a drink to his mother. He frowned as he approached, seeing Sergeant Slater taking his leave of her.
“Thank you, Scooter.” Mrs Baracus said, taking the drink.
“What did he want? BA asked, glaring after the retreating SAS man. “He weren’t swearing was he?”
“Malcolm?” Mrs Baracus looked surprised at BA’s hostile tone. “Of course not. What a nice man. I didn’t realise you and he were such good friends.”
“We ain’t.” BA growled. “What was he talkin’ about?”
“He was telling me all about how to improvise something he called a Claymore mine using an ice cream tub, plastic explosive and a few handfuls of nuts and bolts.”
BA stared at her. “Oh. Er… great.”
“He thought it was very funny when I told him about why we call you ‘Scooter’.”
“I’m sorry, darling, shouldn’t I have mentioned it?”
“No, mama, I don’t think you should.” BA hoped that for the rest of his life he never met another member of the SAS.
Hannibal made his way towards the bar. He passed by Frankie, who was talking to Kyle.
“You found Jesus in prison?” Frankie said. “Wow.” He paused. “What was he in for?”
Hannibal was still grinning when he met Murdock by the bar.
“Great party, Murdock.”
“Well, Face did all the work really.”
“He always takes too much on himself.” Hannibal said, reflecting on the self-sacrificing nobility of his friend.
“Meh, it was more that BA and me couldn’t be bothered.” Murdock admitted. He looked at a table piled high with gifts for Hannibal. “So, about five years supply of cigars there do you think?”
“I was planning on giving up this year too.” Hannibal lied. He sipped his drink, looking around the heaving room, searching for a white dress in the throng of dark suits and bright colours. “Oh, Stevie Faith came, great.” He said, noticing the singer. She looked rather pale and unhealthy.
“Yeah, she just got out of rehab,” Murdock said. “Whatever you do don’t let her start telling you about the acoustic album she’s planning.”
“And isn’t that Face’s friend Barry, the marine biologist guy? Is his sister here too?”
“I think she’s outside ticketing everyone’s cars.”
“Well, as long as she’s having fun.” Hannibal said, happily. He frowned. “I hope Face doesn’t get drunk and start yelling at Barry for ‘stealing his life’ like he did at our pardons party.” Murdock winced at the memory. Good thing Barry was a forgiving sort of guy.
“Hey, there’s Abid Hassan and Evie Miller.” Hannibal said, giving them a wave. “Ever noticed how those two are always together?”
“Er, well yeah. They’re married.” Murdock said, giving Hannibal a strange look.
“Since when? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things?”
“Since last year. And you knew, Hannibal. You sent them a wedding gift.”
“I did?” Hannibal looked totally blank. “Oh yeah. A cappuccino maker…”
“Waffle iron.” Murdock corrected.
Hannibal shook his head. “Murdock, tell me something honestly. Am I getting old?”