I wish I could claim credit for the A-Team and Sentinel Universes, but alas, I cannot. This endeavor is not for profit but to entertain a small minority. :-)
Rating: PG (Some minor use of language)
Author's Note: This story was first written as a challenge for my best friend on her birthday. The characters of Sharon and Cathy are characters that have been present in numerous stories and have a history and background all their own. (See future postings for those stories.) Also, this story uses the premise that the A-Team NEVER got caught and are, in effect, still 'on the lam' and Murdock is still in the V.A. (Sorry, Murd.)
* * * Oh, and one more thing...the author is TOO lazy to have this Alpha or Beta read and so eagerly accepts any typos, plot problems, or general errors that may be found. After all, if this were a perfect world, it'd be boring! :-D
* * * * *
"Good morning, Mister Murdock," The nurse smiled as she entered the room. "Ready for your trip today?"
Murdock grinned and gestured toward the duffel bag that rested on the bed nearby. "Locked and loaded," he replied. "Only the most essential tools to our troop's mission." Casually he grabbed the bag and hefted it over one shoulder, taking one last glance around the room that had been his for the past few years. "I hope I'm not forgetting anything," he murmured, frowning slightly. "Cascade is so far away."
"Only a couple of hours by plane," The nurse assured him. "And it's not like you're going to be alone."
He said nothing as she led him out into the corridor where the other five members of the trip traveling party were gathered in the corridor, milling about in varying states of anticipation and (in one case) outright fear.
"I've never flown before, Doc!" Manic Mike exclaimed as he paced in a circle, as he was wont to do under stressful circumstances. "My feet need to stay on the ground!"
"Heh. His head sure isn't." Murdock heard an orderly mutter sarcastically from his position in a doorway nearby. Murdock had no love lost for the guy since he joined the staff at the V.A. center almost three months earlier. In that short amount of time, the six-foot, two-hundred plus pound bully had ridiculed patients, come within an inch of abusing another couple, and made himself just a general pain in the ass to all. As the nurse made a not so discreet exit, leaving the group alone with the orderly in lieu of the arrival of their accompanying staff, Dr. Nim, the orderly stepped forward, his arms crossed over his bulky chest as he stepped in front of Manic Mike.
"Y'know something, Mikey," he began after a moment, making a point of towering over the slender, almost frail, patient. "I'm beginning to think that maybe you need an increase in your medication before you go." He reached for Mike's arm but was surprised when Murdock quickly stepped in between the men. "Murdock, what do you think you're doing, man? Get out of the way. This ain't your business."
Murdock's expression was deadly serious. He motioned for Mike to join the others as he turned to the orderly, anger flashing in his dark eyes. "I'm making it my business, Baker," he said, his voice unnervingly even, decidedly sane. "Mike gets his medication from the doctors, not you."
"You know something, Murdock? You're a real pain in the..."
"Okay everybody!" A familiar voice enthused suddenly as a nearby door opened and allowed for the arrival of Dr. Va Chin Nim, the staff member who volunteered to lead this experimental trip. He smiled, then frowned when he saw Murdock and Baker. "Something wrong here?" he questioned carefully.
For a tense moment, no one said a word. The other patients all looked skittish and looked to Murdock for some cue as to how to react to this confrontational situation. He was, after all, their unofficial leader...at least when it came to situations like this. Mike, especially, held no interest in talking and shuffled toward the heart of the gathering, well away from Baker who glowered at the psychiatrist.
"No, Doc," The orderly grumbled after a moment as Murdock turned and joined the rest of his group. "Not a thing."
"That's good. Because I'd really hate to have to write you up a third time, Baker. Three times and you're outta here, you know that, don't you?"
The doctor watched as the hulking man walked away, throwing Murdock a look of fury before disappearing around the corner. Breathing a sigh of relief, the doctor turned back to the patients, eyeing Murdock and Mike with special interest. "All right, you two. I'm not even going to ask about what went on here just now, since we've got a schedule to keep if we plan on making our flight to Cascade. However, if you want to tell me about it on the plane..."
"Yeah, sure Doc," Murdock replied half-truthfully, knowing full well that the doctor, well intentioned as he was, would more than likely forget about the entire scene the moment they left the building. And as he and the others followed the doctor to the main desk, he couldn't help but wonder why he had a really bad feeling about that Baker guy.
* * * * *
Jim Ellison bolted upright in bed as obnoxious music suddenly flooded the loft. He screamed, his hands instantly flying to the sides of his head that was now throbbing in time to the strains of 'Trigger Happy' by Weird Al Yankovic. The pain in Ellison's temples was beyond tolerable and it was all he could do not to scream out his roommate's name as he fell to his knees, crippled in blinding agony.
"Sandburg!" He shouted, his own voice shooting through the miasma of pain and intensifying it dramatically.
Still, the Hell that was Weird Al Yankovic played on.
Jim groaned and fell onto his stomach, still keeping his hands pressed firmly to his ears as he fought to regain some semblance of balance. Closing his eyes he fought the pain and steadied himself before yelling one more time, "SANDBURG!!!"
Just then, the music stopped and the only sound to fill his head was his own voice, at three times the normal decibel level.
He opened his eyes and gasped in realization and when he looked up he saw a figure standing above him that was definitely not his roommate. "Hiya Jim," the perky, petite female enthused, her pale grey-blue eyes dramatically wide. "I, uh...I didn't know you were here..."
For a moment he glared up at her, catching his breath and waiting for the waves of pain to recede. "Sharon," he muttered after a time. "I should've known. Where the hell is Sandburg? And why in god's name were you playing your music up so damned loud?!"
She paled slightly, visibly uncomfortable beneath the weight of his glare. "Um, Blair had to...uh...well, he had to go to the University. Something about looking up some microfiche for one of his associates, I think. And the stereo was on 3, Jim."
Slowly crawling to his knees, he sighed. "Well...well, what's wrong with the stereo in your apartment? Huh? Don't tell me Cathy threw you out or something." He carefully climbed back into bed just enough to throw the blankets over his boxer-short clad torso and legs.
"Not this time. Actually, our stereo's at the shop. Blair said I could use yours to do my taping. Say, um...since you're here, do you think I could ask you a little favor?"
"A little favor? The last time either you or Cathy asked me for a little favor it nearly got Sandburg and me killed!" He paused, realizing that his foul wakening was coloring his objectivity just a wee bit much. He shook his head slightly. "What is it?"
He watched as she ran a hand through her shoulder-length mane of red-tinted hair and shifted position slightly. Great, he thought. She's doing everything but biting her damn nails. Whatever it is she wants to ask, I DON'T think I'm going to like it.
"Well, uh...see, um...I have this friend, who...uh...who works down at the local V.A. hospital and...well, they're sponsoring a group of patients from Los Angeles to come up here for a week and...well, I thought that you and Blair could join Cath and me and act as kind of ambassadors of goodwill."
"Ambassadors of goodwill?" Jim didn't know whether to laugh or explode. "Sharon, what the devil are you talking about?"
The apprehension that had been apparent in her posture and expression were now gone and Sharon stiffened, crossing her arms over her chest and lifting an eyebrow defiantly as she eyed Jim. "Don't patronize me, Jim. You know Cath's and my involvement with the POW-MIA Project. Interacting with residents of the local hospital is one of the community activities we try to do and..."
"I know, I know. You don't have to remind me. You and Cathy have helped a lot of people in Cascade. I found that out first hand when I went through those flashbacks."
"Which is why I think it's so important that more people of this community reach out a hand to each other! With the arrival of the vets from Los Angeles, I think this is a perfect opportunity for that...not that you really need a special occasion or anything." She paused. "Look Jim, all I'm saying is that Cath and I could really use the extra Welcome Wagon hands. If you're not willing to, just say the word and I'll back off." A wry smile upturned her lips slightly. "I still have Rafe's number."
Jim hesitated. He knew he was caught between the proverbial rock and the equally proverbial hard place. Being a vet himself, he couldn't very well say no to this without looking like a heel. And yet, acquiescing to her somehow felt...well, wrong...somehow.
"All right," he relented after another moment's hesitation. "All right. I can't speak for Sandburg, but you can count me in."
Sharon's face lit up immediately. "Thanks, Jim. Somehow I had a feeling we could count on you!" She started to walk back downstairs when Jim's voice stopped her.
"Just one thing though, okay, Red?"
She smirked, her eyes twinkling mischeviously. "Yes, Elli?"
He grimaced, which was just the reaction she had hoped for. "Don't call me...never mind. The next time you borrow someone else's stereo, could you at least find something decent to play? Like an 8-track tape of Creedence Clearwater Revival?"
She laughed and disappeared downstairs as Jim suddenly realized he'd just had that entire conversation while sitting in bed in his skivvies.
Talk about pillow talk!
* * * * *
"Murdock?" A voice asked, carefully lulling him back from a restful slumber.
He opened his eyes and saw Mike seated in what had been an empty seat beside him, studying the A-Team member's face in concern. "Murdock...you awake, man?"
Murdock saw the terror on the man's face, knew that Mike hadn't been in the air since Nam and that this excursion was practically killing the poor guy. Sitting up and fighting the urge to yawn, he nodded. "As awake as I'm gonna be, compadre. What's up? You okay, man? You wanna, you know, have it out? Talk the talk? Spill the guts, kinda thing? Hmm?"
Mike shook his head. "The doc...I think someone killed him."
Murdock stared at the man. Mike was a good guy, but sometimes had a tendency to blow things way out of proportion. Like the one time in therapy when he accused one of the other patients of being a Communist spy. Or the time when he ratted to staff that Murdock was working with the A-Team. (It look a lot of time and effort to worm his way out of THAT one. Thankfully no one believed Mike.) Now Mike was saying that Dr. Nim was dead? Murdock knew this man's fear of flying had been intense but not this intense so as to produce another misperception of reality.
"You hear me, Murdock? I said, I think someone killed Dr. Nim!"
Murdock shook himself back to the reality of the moment and sat up even further, letting his eyes travel around the cabin of the private jet at the sleeping people, including (near the aft section), Dr. Nim himself. "Mike, listen, man...you gotta get a hold of yourself here. Doc Nim's sleeping back there, just like everybody else. Now calm down and take some deep breaths. I told you, I got those funky little aspirins if you want 'em. Keep a good supply on hand in case I meet big, ugly mudsuckers."
Mike vehemently shook his head, his bloodshot eyes and twitching hands betraying his fear quite easily. "I'm not seeing things, Murdock! Come on back here if you don't believe me!"
Murdock groaned inwardly. He was a sucker for emotional entreaties. "Okay, okay," he sighed, eager to keep the man as calm as possible. Reluctantly and so as not to disturb the others, he followed Mike to the rear of the cabin and knelt beside the inert form of Dr. Nim.
Murdock glanced again at Mike, who gestured for Murdock to try to rouse the doctor. "Man, I hope I don't get docked my video game credits for this," he murmured as he reached out to gently shake Dr. Nim. "Doc...," he said, then recoiled when the doctor's head lolled at an unnatural angle and Murdock could easily see that the man's neck was broken. He gasped and fell backward in surprise, nearly knocking over Mike in the process as his jaw fell open in astonishment.
"Oh my god," he exclaimed, his eyes wide. "You're right! He is dead!"
And one of us on board killed him, he added as an apprehensive afterthought as he looked warily at Mike.
* * * * *
An hour later found Jim dressed, shaved, and gulping down a cup of coffee when Blair arrived home. Noticing the loft was decidedly absent of a female, he stopped just inside the doorway and eyed Jim, who sat at the kitchenette glancing at the paper with the coffee cup wedged firmly in hand. "Hey, Jim."
Not looking up, Jim grunted a barely audible greeting and took another swig of coffee.
"Hmm. You, uh...you didn't happen to see Sharon this morning by any chance, did you?"
Now Jim looked up. "Sharon?" He mocked. "Sharon who? Oh, you mean the cute little redhead who woke me out of a sound sleep by blasting, of all things, Weird Al Yankovic, on our stereo?! That Sharon?"
Blair chuckled, setting his bakcpack down on a nearby chair and settling himself on a stool beside his friend. "Somehow, man, I doubt she was blasting the music. Given everything that happened to you last night, it was probably just your senses kicking into overdrive. Besides, I told her she could use the stereo. She and Cat had to take theirs to the shop yesterday."
"Hmph. I can see why." Jim downed the last of his coffee and stood. "Okay Chief, let's go."
"Go? Go where? I just got home..."
Jim grinned sarcastically as he yanked on the younger man's coat sleeve and dragged him toward the door, deftly using his free hand to grab his own coat off the coat rack in the process. "Oh come on, Sandburg. Don't tell me your little galpal didn't tell you about the thing down at the V.A. hospital?! I mean, the two of you are as close as two peas in a pod..."
Blair shot Jim a look of disbelief as he allowed himself to be led back toward the door. "What thing at the hospital? I haven't talked to Sharon since this morning, man...and she's not my galpal! Would you stop calling her that?!"
And with that, Jim closed the door firmly behind them.
* * * * *
For several moments, Murdock stared at the doctor's body, his mind reeling. Oh damn, NOW what?!, he thought. He watched as Mike shifted uncomfortably in place, his cerulean blue eyes dark. "They're gonna blame me for this, Murdock," he groaned. "Just like Sailor Jupiter on yesterday's episode of Sailor Moon. I know it, man. I feel it! I..."
"Mike, calm down!" Murdock breathed, keeping his voice under control and glancing anxiously around the cabin as he grasped the man's arm. "We've got to keep our heads here. Look, I need to use the phone back here. I've got some friends who can...who can help. I need you...I need you to try and act calm, like everything is hunky dory and the doc's just sleeping. Can you do that, man? this is really, really important..."
Murdock hated talking down to his fellow patients, fully believing that they were all fully capable of understanding what many of the staff of the V.A. hospital thought was beyond their mental faculties. Mike, especially. Mike had been transferred to Murdock's hospital nearly six years ago and Murdock had taken him under his wing like a little brother. So when the crap with Baker had started up, it was only natural for Murdock to rush to Mike's defense.
Now, however, would be a true test of how much their friendship could withstand as Murdock, in all honesty, had to admit Mike could have been capable of committing such an act, especially considering the man's animosity toward Dr. Nim. "Okay, sit here and make sure nobody else tries to talk to the Doc. I'll call my friends." He glanced at his watch. "Damn. We're almost to Cascade. Brace yourself, kid. From now on things are gonna be movin' awfully quickly." He gave Mike what he hoped passed for a reassuring pat on the shoulder before quickly clamboring to his feet and making his way toward an alcove nearby where he knew a courtesy phone was installed.
Quickly dialing, he leaned against a wall and looked back toward the cabin where he could see Mike starting to get antsy. Come on, fellas, Murdock thought impatiently as a familiar voice resounded on the other end of the connection:
"Hannibal! Thank god..."
"Well I'm happy to hear from you too, Captain, but..."
"Colonel, listen to me. I'm in some serious donkey doo here. Actually, some friends and I are. And we could really use you guys right now."
There was a pause before the voice of Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith returned, sounding decidedly more concerned. "What is it, Murdock?"
"No time to go into details, Colonel, but I need you guys to get up to Cascade, Washington...to the V.A. Hospital there. That's where we're going to have to hook up. Well, uh, that or the jail there."
"Washington? Jail? Captain, you're making even less sense than usual! At least give me some idea of the kind of trouble you're in!"
Murdock swallowed. "Well sir, in all honesty...I'm not sure just yet. But the Doc from the hospital in L.A. who planned this trip we're taking...well, he's turned up dead, and we're about 15 minutes from landing in Cascade. I've got this really nasty tingling at the back of my neck. The kind that usually means I'm in for a heck of a ride."
Hannibal paused. Murdock could almost see the leader of the A-Team nodding slightly before replying, "Okay, Murdock. Cascade, Washington. We'll be there as soon as we can."
Murdock hung up the phone and drew in a deep breath as the pilot announced the beginning of landing procedures. This was the one time he actually wished he were back in Dr. Lawry's Arts and Crafts therapy class. Even creating lace doilies sounded better than being caught up in the middle of some murder investigation.
Especially when that investigation would no doubt center around the one person who had last been seen talking with Dr. Nim.
* * * * *
As Jim parked the truck in the V.A. lot, he glanced at Blair and noticed a strange expression on Sandburg's face. "What is it, Chief?" He asked with a smirk. "Don't tell me you've got cold feet about this all of a sudden! I mean, from the way Sharon was talking to me, I kinda gathered that this whole thing was partly your idea."
Blair seemed suddenly wary as he looked at the V.A. building. He shifted position slightly and for a moment looked as if he were in another world, of sorts. "Something's not right here, Jim. I...I'm not sure what it is. But something's not right."
Jim wasn't sure what to say to that.
"Where did Sharon say to meet them?"
Jim frowned. "Right here in the truck, in the lot. You wanna tell me what this is about?"
He watched as Blair started to open his door, his cornflower blue eyes glistening with sudden concern. "Dammit! I should have known..."
Before Jim had a chance to question him, the younger man was out of the truck. Muttering a few choice curses at the bizarre and sudden behavior change, Jim followed suit, having to practically run to keep up with the grad sutdent as Blair headed toward the building. Outside the front doors, Jim angrily seized Blair's arm and whirled him around to face him.
"Okay, Sandburg...enough is enough! All the way here you've been acting strange and I want to know why!"
"Jim, let go of me! We don't have time for this..."
"Time for what?! Sandburg, for god's sake..." Jim's words were drowned out as a sudden explosion suddenly sent the two men sailing through the air amid a sea of flame, smoke, and debris. Dazed, Jim lay immobile, on his side, as pieces of debris rained on and around him.
What the hell?,he thought even as his burning eyes managed to make out an inert form a few yards away.
"Sandburg!"he rasped before everything went completely black.
* * * * *
The plane taxied to a stop at Cascade Airport and as the rest of the psychiatric patients roused and began talking amongst themselves, Murdock and Mike, who sat in the back trying to make Dr. Nim look anything but deceased, tried to ready themselves for the inevitable.
"I can't do this, Murdock!" Mike whispered fearfully, his face ashen and hands trembling worse than before. "They're gonna know...they're gonna know...they are gonna know!"
"Lieutenant," Murdock snapped under his breath, shooting Mike a stern look as he held Nim's head back in a slumbering position. "Now is NOT the time to fold, you hear me? What we need is..."
"Okay folks," The pilot grinned as he entered the cabin from the cockpit. "Welcome to the beautifully overcast city of Cascade, Washington. The tower just informed me that there's a van for you, just across the tarmac, so Dr. Nim if you'd be so kind as to..."
"Uh, with all due respect there, good pilot, sir," Murdock began, gesturing for Mike to take control of Nim's limp form. Standing up, Murdock cleared his throat and made his way to the front of the cabin amid the stares and muttered comments of his fellow passengers. "The, uh, the doctor's had a bit of a hard flight and, uh, asked me to kind of see to handling our group's travel arrangements."
The pilot was confused, then concerned, when he looked at Mike, who held Nim protectively. Looking back at Murdock, he frowned. "Are you another member of the staff, sir?" He questioned dubiously.
"Uh yes...yes, I am," Murdock replied, quickly taking the pilot into his confidence and turning their backs from the perplexed expressions of the other travelers. "Dr. Murdock. You see, Dr. Nim has a terrible case of agoraphobia. Cramped spaces, such as this cabin, make him pass out. Nasty little illness, that one."
"Agoraphobia?" The pilot boggled. "But I fly him to conferences all the time and he hasn't passed out before..."
"Ah yes, well, it's just developed recently. Or it could be the horrendous crepes we had at breakfast this morning. I and my patient Michael shall escort him off the plane, personally, and have him looked at right away, I assure you. Would it be possible to arrange transportation from...?"
"I'll have a tram take you to your van right away," The pilot nodded, glancing back at Mike and Nim. "Tell the Doc I hope he feels better. He sure doesn't look very good."
Murdock watched as the pilot returned to the cabin and when the door was closed, he turned to the others, who were all staring at him.
"Murdock, what the heck was that all about?" Karl Zimmer, the only African-American among the group, asked as he stood.
"Yeah, you're nuttier than the rest of us. This proves it." Jack Harris, a veteran of the Philippine battles, shook his head as he glanced back at Mike. "I don't know what you and Gonzo have cooked up with the Doc back there, but I for one ain't gonna stand for your suddenly taking charge of this little expedition."
"Listen to me, Jack," Murdock growled, keeping his voice decidedly low as he confronted the oldest member of the entourage. "I don't know what it is you have against me and Mike and right now I frankly don't care. Something serious has happened, okay? And it's going to take all of us together to get through this." He looked around at the others, his eyes dark with sincerity. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in this case, I don't have much choice. Something's happened to Dr. Zim, and if we have any hope of finding out what that was and who was behind it, we have to stick together and play this out ourway."
"Our way?" Harris laughed sarcastically. "Well thank you, Captain, but I don't..."
"What happened to Doc?" Derek Samuelson asked. Standing beside Harris, the veteran of the Gulf War was the youngest member of the entourage and looked to Murdock as if he were some kind of John Wayne cult figure. (Something Murdock semi-enjoyed most of the time.) Looking back at Mike and Nim, the young man looked absolutely terrified all of a sudden.
"I'll explain everything once we get in the van," Murdock sighed as the pilot emerged from the cabin.
"It's all arranged, Dr. Murdock. The tram will be here in a minute to shuttle you all to the van. Are you certain you wouldn't rather have me call an ambulance?!"
"No!" Murdock exclaimed. "Uh, I mean...no, thank you. That's quite all right. You see, uh, we've been through this before and...well, frankly, what Dr. Nim needs is just a little rest." Putting an arm around the pilot's shoulders, Murdock escorted him back toward the cockpit. "Trust me, sir. We've done this before and I'm sure we'll do this again. But thank you for your concern and we will definitely call you when we're ready to come home."
The others watched in astonishment as Murdock shoved the pilot into the cockpit and leaned his back against the door. "Now Mike!" He urged, then to Derek added, "Derek, open the door, son."
"Murdock, what in the name of Eisenhower are you doing, boy?!" Harris exploded as the others instinctively pitched in to help Mike bring the doctor's body toward the front of the cabin. "You can't just..."
"Jack, either put up or shut up!" Zimmer snarled as he surged forth to take over Murdock's place at the cabin door while Samuelson opened the door.
"By god," Harris cried as Mike drew closer and he got a look at the doctor. "The man's neck is broken!" Harris recoiled and looked around at the others, his eyes immediately wide with distrust and disbelief. "One of you crazy bastards broke his damn neck!"
"What?" Samuelson cried as he paled and fell against a nearby wall.
Murdock wanted to throttle Harris, but instead glanced out the open door to where a loud barrage of lights and sirens seemed to be advancing across the tarmac.
Damn. The pilot must've called the cops.
"Is the tram here, Murdock?" Mike asked nervously as he set Nim's body down in a nearby seat.
"Oh shit!" Karl cried as he leaned forward and peered out the window, his dark eyes widening. "The damn cops are here, man!"
"Why?" Samuelson frowned, looking to Murdock for answers. "Why is it bad that the cops are here, Murdock? Did we do something wrong?"
Harris scoffed. "Don't be a jackass, kid! Of course one of us did something wrong! One of us broke Doc Nim's neck and tried to get away with it!" He glared at Murdock. "And I've got a pretty damn good idea of which sucker it is, too."
Murdock drew in a breath and exhaled carefully as a small squad of police cars surrounded the jet.
This was not the welcoming party he'd hoped they'd receive.
Welcome to Cascade, he thought sarcastically.
* * * * *
That was all he heard. His name. Weak. barely audible in his psychic auditory register.
He opened his eyes and watched as the grey skies stopped spinning and a sea of faces hovered above and around him with disturbing frequency. A mask was on his face, covering his nose and mouth, and his lungs felt as if they were on fire. He tried to turn his head to look around more, to see how Blair was, but he couldn't move a muscle. His entire body felt separate from his mind.
What's happening to me? Blair? What happened?
Jim closed his eyes to block out the spinning, suddenly aware he couldn't feel anything; not his arms, not his legs...nothing. He vaguely recalled the explosion and being thrown a good distance through the air and landing...well, somewhere. Everything had gone black before he hit the ground.
Jim, can you hear me?
Sandburg's voice invaded his mind once more, this time sounding a bit stronger, but with a note of near panic.
I hear you, Blair. I hear you. Where are you? Are you okay? What's going on?
There was another disturbing pause before Sandburg's 'voice' replied:
Dammit Jim, I can barely hear you! Hang on! Don't give up! You hear me? Do NOT give up!
Give up? Who was giving up?! Blair was the one in trouble, right? Jim just...well, he just had the wind knocked out of him. That was all. Concern was all well and good, but Blair sounded downright scared.
Jim? Where'd you go, man? Jim?!
Sandburg's voice was fading. He tried to open his eyes again but he couldn't. All of a sudden, he couldn't even do that much. Blackness was rapidly consuming his thoughts and just before he lost all sensory awareness he thought he felt a sob of anguish.
Blair, he thought weakly, then expired.
* * * * *
"You don't understand!" Murdock protested as he and the other patients were hustled toward an awaiting police van. "Mike, man, come on! Tell these guys what happened, will you?!"
Mike, wide-eyed with terror as he looked around the sea of uniforms that surrounded the group, swallowed anxoiusly, unable to reply.
"Good ol' Mike," Harris wisecracked as he turned to one of the plainclothed officers nearby. "Listen, I'll be more than happy to tell you guys what happened. That guy did it. Snapped the poor Doc's neck in two. I saw the whole thing." Harris naturally pointed to Murdock.
"You liar!" Karl grumbled, launching himself toward Harris even as a trio of men restrained him. "Murdock had nothing to do with this, you slimy..."
"Hey, Rafe!" A uniformed officer called to the plainclothed officer who stood near Murdock and appeared to be in charge. "Just got a call. There's been an explosion at the V.A. hospital, man. Nasty scene. Cap'n wants us there, pronto."
Rafe sighed, running a hand over his face. "Great. Just great. This is turning out to be one hell of a day."
Murdock looked at the other patients, then back at Rafe. "The V.A. hospital?" He exclaimed, furrowing his brows intensely. "That...that's exactly where we were supposed to be today! Doc Nim arranged for us to...to come here as a kind of 'sister hospital' type arrangement." He paused and looked away thoughtfully. "Somebody obviously didn't want us here."
Rafe sighed and looked around the scene. "Okay...looks like the van it is. Henry and I'll take these guys downtown." He glanced at Harris in particular. "All of them...until we can figure out what the hell to do with 'em."
Murdock drew in a sharp breath as he and the others were handcuffed and placed into the back of the van, secured and readied for transport within moments.
Samuelson looked to Murdock as the van got under way. "Now what do we do, Murdock?" He stage whispered, eyes wide.
"Yeah, Murdock," Harris sneered. "Now what do we do?!"
Murdock shot Harris a withering look, then a sympathetic one at the faces of Derek, Mike, and Karl. "I'm sorry, fellas. I'm sure Doc Nim didn't exactly have this on his itinerary of things to see and do in Cascade."
"No sweat, Murdock," Karl smiled slightly, sarcastically. "I don't think Doc Nim planned on getting offed on his first day of his experimental field trip program either."
Murdock didn't respond to that. That was a good point. Doc Nim hadn't exactly been the most traditional of psychiatrists the L.A. V.A. hospital had ever employed, and his methods had often times been lambasted by both the hospital staff/administration and the community at large. Especially, as recent weeks had shown, this idea of 'sister communication' between V.A. hospitals. Field trips of five or six patients going to visit other hospitals up and down the West Coast, to start, expanding nationwide if the program proved to be a success. Murdock thought it was a terrific idea to foster patient interaction and community activities and had high hopes for the program.
Someone obviously wanted to make sure it never got off the ground.
He sighed and leaned his head back against the metal van wall behind him. Okay Colonel, I hope you've got some REAL good ideas for THIS one, he thought glumly.
* * * * *
"Thanks, Brown. Keep me informed."
Simon returned the cellphone to his jacket pocket and looked to where Blair stood nearby, leaning against the window staring out at nothing in particular. Carefully, the Cascade Police Captain approached, making sure to keep his steps loud so as not to startle the emotionally as well as physically battered Sandburg.
Sandburg didn't move. Didn't even blink as he cradled his splinted right arm and continued gazing out into the burgeoning darkness.
"Blair, talk to me, man." He reached out to touch Sandburg's shoulder but was startled when the young man turned around with a sudden burst of anger that Simon didn't expect.
"Dammit, Simon...how much more of this is going to happen in this city? Huh? How many more times do Jim and I have to go someplace for completely innocent, normal reasons and end up getting our asses blown up, or taken hostage by some maniac, or beaten within an inch of our lives?! How much more of this are we supposed to take?!"
Simon's eyes widened and his jaw slackened slightly. He knew the kid had been through a hell of a lot since hooking up with Jim...more than any person should have ever had to withstood. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, it never entered Simon's mind that Blair would actually reach a breaking point.
"No...just, don't touch me. Okay, Simon? Just...leave me alone. I...I need to be alone."
"Blair!" Simon watched as Sandburg suddenly started for the exit, stopping when he saw another stretcher being rushed inside. Quickly Simon rushed to the young man's side as he watched the medics take the petite female figure itno the treatment area and out of his immediate field of vision.
Moments later another female appeared, staggering in the Emergency entrance doors, covered in blood and visibly shell shocked.
"Oh god," Blair exclaimed, immediately forgetting himself for a moment as he rushed to help the woman into a nearby chair before she literally collapsed. "Simon..."
"I'll go get a doctor," Banks replied and rushed off.
Blair, meanwhile, knelt before the dark-haired female who sat trembling in wide-eyed astonishment. "Cath, it's me...it's Blair. Oh god, I forgot we were supposed to meet you at the V.A..." He took her trembling hands, could all too well understand her devastation and horrified helplessness. "Cath, look at me..."
Reluctantly she did, her lower lip quivering as her arms continued to tremble violently. "Blair...?" She whispered. "Blair...Sharon...she...I couldn't..."
"I know, Cath. I know." He wrapped his hands around hers, swallowing his own anxieties about Jim by helping Cathy with hers about Sharon. Wordlessly they remained like that for several minutes, until Simon returned with a physician and nurse in tow.
"Blair..."He said gently, reluctant to interrupt what was obviously a bonding moment.
Blair swallowed and painfully stood, his arm giving him shockwaves of pain from overuse. "She's gonna be all right, Cath,"he said as she was led toward the treatment area. "They both will be." As she disappeared, Blair felt a sudden sense of overwhelming fatigue wash over him and he fell backward into Simon's arms, in a crumpled heap.
* * * * *
"So, this is Cascade. Lovely little place." Face frowned as he studied the exterior of the police station. Leaning forward between Hannibal and B.A., he studied the building warily. "I don't know, Hannibal. Isn't there any other way we could do this? I hate the front door plan."
Groggily sitting up in the passenger seat of the rented car, B.A. looked around and scowled deeply. "What the..." He glared daggers at Hannibal. "You did it to me again, Hannibal! I told you, no planes and..."
Hannibal held up a hand. "B.A., there wasn't any time to debate the issue. Murdock needed us and by the time we would've driven up here, at least a day or so would have passed."
B.A. growled, but didn't respond as he crossed his burly arms over his chest and pouted.
"Now then," Hannibal began, grateful Baracus wasn't going to press the issue. "It's time we find out what the hell exactly is going on here. Lieutenant..."
Face sighed. "I know, I know. Don't worry, Hannibal. I know the routine." Reaching for an opaquely colored clothing bag, he exited the car.
Within minutes, Face was on his way inside the Cascade Police Department, wired for sound and nervous as a cat in a dog pound. As he made his way toward an Information desk, he felt a decidedly annoying tingling sensation at the back of his neck. The kind of sensation he usually got when he was about to do something incredibly stupid.
Murdock, so help me, if we get you out of this one...
"May I help you?" The receptionist asked, immediately aware of Face's arrival.
"I hope so." Reaching into one of the pockets of the Army officer's uniform he now wore, he extracted a wallet which he flipped open to a faux identification card and showed to her rather nonchalantly, despite his inner anxieties about the entire Cascade charade. "Colonel Decker, United States Army. I believe your Department has one Captain H.M. Murdock in custody, does it not?"
The woman, rather unremarkable in appearance, stared at him a moment. "Um...one moment please and I'll check on that, Colonel...Decker, you said?"
"Yes, m'am. Colonel Roderick Decker."
"One moment, please."
"One moment, please."
He smiled, pretended to seem at ease with the entire procedure as she placed a call to some faceless, voiceless Department official. This was hardly the first time he had impersonated a military official, and using Decker's name for the perfect touch. It wasn't even the first time he'd done so and gone into a police station to bail out one or more of the Team. But for some reason, the Cascade Police Department seemed...well, different.
He wasn't sure why or how, and wasn't sure he wanted to find out. But as he looked around at the strangely sparse decorations and noticed the seemingly gross lack of personnel milling about, he had a feeling he'd find out the difference all too soon.
He watched as the receptionist hung up the phone and started to make a notation on a Post-it, which she handed to Face a moment later. "Colonel, if you just take the elevator right at the end of the corridor, the floor listing for Major Crimes is on the board there. Go to Major Crimes and at the reception desk there ask for a Detective named Rafe."
"Rafe?!" Face half-laughed, then remembered his own moniker and sobered immediately. "Ah, I see."
"Please forgive the impersonal attention, sir, but...um...well, we've been a little busy today and most of our staff is out of the office and..."
"Not a problem, miss." Now his grin was genuine as he clutched the Post-it like a life preserver. "Thank you for your assistance. You've been...most helpful."
Okay. Score one for the good guys.
Practically whistling at his good fortune, he headed toward the elevator. An uneventful trip upstairs later, he found Major Crimes without difficulty. (He could, after all, read doors labeled in large print.) He also found himself nearly run over by an African-American detective who was in the midst of carrying a fair number of file folders.
He staggered backward as the detective bade him a harried, "Sorry, man," before disappearing around a corner. Great. They need a traffic cop for their own precinct, he mused sarcastically to himself.
"Colonel Decker?" A voice asked from behind and Face whirled around, barely able to keep from attaining a defensive position as he found himeslf facing a dark-haired man similar in height and looking more than a little worn around the edges. Oooh, someone's had a bad day.
"Yes...I'm Colonel Decker. You must be Detective Rafe."
The detective watched as Face offered his hand then returned the gesture, warily. "You'll have to forgive my mood, Colonel. This has been the day from Hell around here and, unfortunately, you showed up just in time to receive the brunt of it."
"I've had those kinds of days myself, Detective," Face replied, resisting the urge to grin slyly. "And once we get this little matter of Captain Murdock's release straightened out, that will be one less thing for you to worry about..."
The detective frowned. "Release? I'm sorry, Colonel. That guy Murdock isn't going anyplace until we finish our investigation."
Face glanced briefly around the eerily empty squad room. "Detective, perhaps you dont' understand that I have written documentation..." He reached into the jacket and produced a set of papers. "Written documentation that Captain H.M. Murdock, as well as the five other residents of the L.A. Veterans' Administration Hospital are to be remanded into my custody. This, of course, supercedes any and all jurisdiction your police investigation has." He handed the papers to Rafe and watched as the detective started to read them, his eyes widening visibly.
"You've gotta be kidding me!" Rafe exclaimed after a minute, then looked up at Face, suspicion darkening his eyes. "With all due respect, Colonel...like you guys, we've got a chain of command and procedures we have to follow. I've gotta let my Captain know about this."
"Very well, Detective. But, um, I must tell you that I am on a tight schedule here, so if you could make it quick..."
Rafe shot him a withering look before disappearing to a nearby desk and angrily reaching for a phone. Hmm. Testy people around here, Face thought wryly as he smugly let his gaze travel around the squad room. He let his eyes linger on one particularly fetching female who approached, then walked past, seemingly oblivious to his perusal. I'd like to test that one out, he mused as Rafe returned. "Uh, Colonel...would you come with me a sec?" he asked, startling Face out of his reverie.
"Huh? Oh, certainly, Detective. Certainly. Lead away." Easily masking any apprehensions he might have had, Face found himself being led down a maze of corridors that weren't exactly remarkable in their decor. Within a matter of minutes the two men were entering an interrogation room where Murdock and his fellow travelers were ensconced. (Apparently, Face thought, they were suspect enough to be arrested but not to be thrown in cells. Strange town.)
"Our Captain's on his way in to seal this thing, Colonel Decker," Rafe added. "Thought you might want to at least see these guys in the meantime."
As Murdock watched in visible relief, Face nodded. He was about to speak when a voice outside caught the detective's attention and he sighed heavily. "Damn...what else could happen?! With all due respect, Colonel, I've gotta go for a minute."
"That's all right, Detective. Crime doesn't stop for military visits. I understand." Damn, that was a lame line. Oh well, it's hard to be witty when you're completely at a loss about what you're getting yourself into.
The moment the door was closed and locked behind him, Face turned to Murdock, who had approached. "Okay Murdock, this had better be good! What the hell is going on here?!"
Murdock glanced to where the others were seated, conversing amongst themselves, except for Mike who seemed content to watch what he was doing. "There's no time to get into it now, Faceman. You've gotta get us out of here. And I mean all of us. Not just me."
"Are you nuts, Murdock?! Wait, strike that. I know you are, but that's beside the point right now. There's no way I can get five...people...out of here." Face cleared his throat, struggling to keep his voice low.
"Gimme a break, Face," Murdock snapped, his own voice deliberately low as well. "I've seen you get twice that many people out of much more hostile environments. Does the word Vietnam mean anything to you?!"
"Murdock, why...at least give me some idea why I should even consider getting all of you out of this...whatever it is...you've gotten yourselves into!"
Murdock hesitated a moment. "Remember Doc Nim?"
"Nim? Oh...oh yeah, the guy that everybody but the patients seemed to hate. That Doc Nim?"
"The one and only. Well, somehow...don't ask me how...he managed to get his exchange program launched. In fact, this was supposed to be our first exchange. Five patients from the L.A. hospital, escorted by staff (Doc Nim) to the Cascade V.A. hospital for a couple of days. Just to, y'know, check out the vibes, maybe shoot a few games of pool, I don't know. The thing is...the thing is, that on the way here...on the way here, somebody broke Doc's neck."
"What?!" Face's eyes widened visibly.
"Yeah...and since there were just the five of us, plus the pilot, on board..guess who's being held on suspicion of murder?!"
Face hesitated a moment. "Well Murdock, I...I'm sorry to hear about Doc Nim. I really am...but if one of these guys...if one of these guys killed him, don't you think it'd be better to just play along with this until..."
"No!" Murdock exclaimed, then tugged on Face's jacket sleeve and turned him around conspiratorily. "No way, Face. These guys...we've been through a lot together. Whoever it is that's responsible for Doc's death, I betcha buttons to bows that the guy won't last a week in jail. Do you get my meaning, amigo? I don't care if it's Cascade, Washington or Los Angeles, California...the system has ways of making sure that guys like us, who've seen more than their fair share of action, don't last in it."
"Murdock..." Face eyed his friend sympathetically, pain flickering in his eyes. "Even if you do manage to weed out the killer..."
"I willfind that out, Face. I promise you that."
"Even if you do manage to find out who's behind it...what are you going to do, Murdock? Dammit, I'm just as disenchanted with the justice system as you are, but..."
"No, Face! No, you're not. You've seen one side of it, but you don't know the mental health system. These guys need help, man. They need help. Rehabilitation."
Face stared at Murdock for several long moments as if suddenly really looking at his friend for the first time. "Murdock...one of these guys is a killer."
"Aren't we all, Faceman?"
Face's expression paled as he immediately grasped the meaning. Only too well. He looked away a moment.
How the hell could he argue with that one?!
Reluctantly he turned back to Murdock. "Okay, Murdock. Okay. I don't know if Hannibal and B.A. will like this, but okay. But you'd better tell those guys to accept whatever I have to say and/or do to get us out of this."
"No need, Faceman," Murdock grinned, looking much more animated than when Face had first spotted him. "I already knew the guys would send you in here. Front door plan. Hannibal's so predictable sometimes."
Face returned the grin, knowing Hannibal was listening in living stereo on the other end of the mic.
* * * * *
"Man, what happened?" Blair exclaimed, blinking and looking around at the sea of concerned faces that now hovered around him.
"You passed out, Blair," Simon explained sympathetically. "The attendants were nice enough to bring you into one of the empty beds until you came around and Cathy and I have been by your side every second. Although I have to admit, I'm glad you came around when you did because I have to go. Something's come up at the station that I just can't get out of any longer. You gonna be okay?"
Blair nodded slightly. "How are Jim and Sharon?"
"No word yet," The woman beside Simon replied. From her appearance, she'd gone through a good share of crying but now found some semblance of composure that Blair hadn't been able to provide her due to his own stress and anxiety. "But Captain Banks says they should be letting us know pretty soon."
Simon sighed. "I told the nurse at the desk where you were. Look, I'll be back as soon as I can..."
"I know, SImon. It's okay, man. Really. You've got a precinct to run. One that's having one hell of a bad week, I might add."
"Tell me about it. Take care of yourself, kid."
After Simon left the room, the woman smiled slightly and seated herself in a chair that Simon had kept pulled up alongside the bed. "Blair, can I ask you a question that...well, it might sound absolutely ridiculous?"
"Sure. I'm all ears. I could use something absolutely ridiculous right now." Inwardly he continued to assure himself that just because Jim didn't answer his telepathic pleas, did not mean his friend was beyond saving.
Cathy chuckled slightly and brushed back a lock of unruly hair that insisted on falling in front of her eyes. "If I told you that Sharon and I could...that we have a..." She paused, her cheeks reddening.
"What? It's okay, Cath. Go ahead. Speak to me, babe."
She laughed slightly, unable to resist the urge. "Sharon said you were pretty open minded..."
"I like to think I am. Jim, though, thinks I'm a space case sometimes."
Another look of pain flashed in Cathy's eyes for a moment. "That's just what I say to Sharon sometimes." She choked and looked away, once more bordering on tears.
Sitting up, Blair motioned for her to sit beside him on the bed. When he was able to put his arm around her shoulders, he swallowed back his own tears and said, "They're going to be okay, Cath. They've got to be. They're strong people. It's not that easy to take out those two." He frowned and looked away. "Goodness knows enough people have tried."
They shared a moment of genuine laughter before Cathy wiped her eyes and drew in a breath. "As I was saying, Blair...do you think it's strange for two friends to have so strong a friendship that they form a...a link of sorts? Kind of a telepathic thing? A mind link, I guess some people call it?"
Blair fell back slightly in astonishment, his cornflower blue eyes widening dramatically as he stared at her. He couldn't believe she'd just said that.
"Blair? Are you okay? Oh no, are you going to pass out again? Lie back down..."
"No, no. I'm...I'm okay. With that, any way. Did you say...let me see if I heard you right. Did you say that you and Sharon had some sort of...telepathic bond? That...that your friendship has kind of enhanced some...some latent psychic abilities you both had, to...to communicate via thoughts?!"
Cathy stared at him, at the sudden excitement that seemed to enshroud him. "Uh...yeah, I guess so."
"No way! I mean...this is amazing! Do you know that the instances of such a...no, I guess you wouldn't. Sorry, I let myself get a little carried away sometimes. Look, I've gotta be straight with you, now that you mentioned that." He paused and glanced at the doorway of the room to make sure noone else was in listening range before he leaned closer, taking her hands inhis as if for some sort of emphasis. "Jim and I have the same thing. I mean...we can hear each other sometimes. I...I can't go into details right now, but..." He paused a moment.
"You and Jim?" Cathy frowned, visibly confused and surprised. "You...know what I'm talking about?"
"yes, yes...and have you...have you 'heard' from Sharon lately? I mean, since the explosion?"
Cathy continued to stare at him. "No. That's why I'm even more concerned than ever. I heard her, at first, and then it was like she just kind of..." She paused and broke from his embrace and stood, turning around and running a hand through her tangled hair, still disheveled from the harried events of the day. "This is insane! What are we talking about?! We're both..we're both upset about today and..."
"No! Don't...don't pull back on me now, Cath." Practically leaping off the bed, he went to her and turned her around to face him. "Don't do what Jim does and shut me out. Not now. Jim and Sharon's lives depend on us working through this."
"Working through what ?! Blair, I..." She stopped suddenly, jolting. "Are you about to tell me you think there's a way we can communicate with these two?!"
"I don't know. I don't know, Cath. But isn't it worth exploring?! I mean, with the two of us, there's a double chance of success. Besides...it'll keep us from sitting around here on our thumbs."
Cathy shook her head, completely baffled by this entire encounter. "Blair, this sounds so ludicrous..." She drew in a breath and straightened. "But for Jim and for Sharon, I'm willing to try anything at this point. How do we go about attempting this grand experiment of yours?"
"Start at the scene, I think. Maybe...maybe something there can help trigger something in our synaptic pathways that might be blocked."
"Just...trust me. Let's go."
She shook her head, but allowed him to lead her out of the room, unable to shake the doubt that wrapped itself around her like a wet blanket.
Hang on, Sharon. Hang on, Jim, she thought. Just PLEASE hang on!
* * * * *
"At what point in this week did I lose control of my station?!" Simon Banks growled as he burst through the door to Major Crimes, looking as if he hadn't slept in days. In the matter of less of a week he'd had three hostage situations, a gang war, and now this murder case. With the explosion at the V.A. hospital that left more than 17 people, including Jim Ellison, in critical condition (not to mention killing five more), and the discovery of the dead psychiatrist on the plane from Seattle...well, just made this even better. Rafe's call about this Colonel Decker guy from the Army wanting to take away one of the patients being held in lieu of the investigation did nothing to help Banks' foul demeanor any.
"They're in Interrogation Room One, sir," A nervous voice called from somewhere off to the side of Banks' peripheral. Not even bothering to stop at his office to drop off his overcoat, let alone acknowledge or thank the helpful employee who had guided him in the direction, he stormed into the interrogation room and stopped, looking around in horror.
"RAFE!" He yelled, his voice thundering in his own head.
"Captain!" A nervous voice resounded suddenly from behind. Simon whirled around hotly to face the embarassed face of one of his detectives. "Um, sir, I can explain..."
"You'd better do just that, mister!" Simon exploded. "I came all the way back here to..." He stopped when Rafe handed him a computer printout and watched his face as Simon studied the paper oddly. "What's this?"
"Information from the real Colonel Decker, sir. I thought something was fishy about this Army guy, so I thought I'd run a check of his prints, kinda on the sly, you know...and this is what turned up."
"Templeton Peck...member of the A-Team?!" Simon looked up, scowling even further. "I've heard of these guys. Didn't they break out of a military stockade back in '72 and formed a kind of gun-for-hire type operation down around L.A.'s underground?"
"Yes, sir. Apparently this Peck guy had the rest of his Team nearby because I left the room to, uh...well, to run the prints...when I came back, somehow they were all gone."
"Somehow...somehow...from a locked room?!"
"Yeah, uh...sir, I'm not...I'm still not sure how they managed that..." Rafe's face reddened further and he shifted uncomfortably beneath the weight of Banks' intense stare.
For a moment Simon was silent, looking around the room again until he noticed something strange about one of the ceiling panels. Taking in a deep breath he walked over and stood below, looking up at the tile that lay only slightly askew only a few feet above him. "That's how," he sighed as he looked back to Rafe. "Hope you brought your jammies, Detective. It's going to be a long night for all of us."
"Yes sir," Rafe groaned, inwardly astounded at the swiftness and fortitude with which this Peck character had managed to get five mentally questionable men to climb out of a locked room. Rafe couldn't stand to be humiliated, especially by a character as blatant and arrogant as this Peck guy.
I'm going to get the guy...I swear it!
* * * * *
Eight people in a sedan was not a pleasant experience under normal circumstances.
This time it was ten times as bad, given the fact that now they were all being hunted (or so they assumed) by the Cascade Police. With B.A. now in place behind the wheel, and Hannibal and Face crammed in the front beside him, Murdock and the others were jammed into the back like sardines...but, Murdock thought, it was worth it even though one of them was a killer. There was a kind of unspoken code between them that called for a meting out of justice by their own. Murdock knew this and was doing his damndest to observe it, even if the others of the Team didn't quite understand it yet.
"You guys have gotta be crazier than Murdock!" Harris grumbled from his position jammed between the door and Zimmer. "You don't seriously expect to get away with this scheme, do you?!"
"Harris, don't start..." Zimmer grumbled, his voice muffled because of Mike's elbow perched precariously near his mouth.
"Don't mind him, Hannibal," Murdock grumbled, throwing Harris a warning look. "Harris just hasn't done this in a long time."
"Long time? Murdock, I've never been a fugitive from the law. But look who I'm talking to." He looked up front. "And look who we're riding with! A bunch of cowards who disgraced the good name of the United States Army!"
B.A. started growling and Hannibal quickly put a hand on the burly man's arm. "Easy, B.A." Glancing behind him at the oldest occupant of the car, Hannibal's blue eyes sparked dangerously. "Mr. Harris, with all due respect, if I were you, I would really not rush to judge those things you don't know anything about."
That was all that was said, but Harris was silenced, at least for the moment, and the trip toward the edge of town went relatively uneventfully. Doubly odd considering the rather odd nature of their traveling environment.
"Face," Hannibal sighed after a minute. "We've got to get another vehicle."
Face sighed. "Why did I know you were going to say that, Hannibal?"
Hannibal grinned. "Because you're starting to know me, kid."
"I know. That's what scares me."
Hannibal laughed. "B.A., pull into that gas station right there. I see just the vehicle we need in order to leave this little slice of Northwestern paradise."
As he pulled the sedan into the parking lot of a rather desolate-looking gas station, B.A.'s scowl deepened. "Hannibal, there ain't nothin' here but an old movin' truck."
"Exactly, Sargent! Exactly!"
"Um, how are you going to convince the owner to let us use it, sir?" Derek questioned warily, ignoring the boot pressing against his sternum, at least for the moment.
As the car stopped and Face struggled to open the passenger door, he shot the young man a wry look. "Take it from me...don't ask, and we won't tell."
As Face closed the door and straightened his uniform jacket, Hannibal slid over and gave B.A. some more room. They watched as Face drew in a breath and headed for the open garage where a man was huddled over the hood of a '57 Chevy.
"I don't like it, Hannibal," B.A. grumbled. "I don't like none of this. That crazy fool's gonna get us behind bars."
"B.A.," Murdock grumbled. "If anybody gets us behind bars it'll be you for being such a...a crybaby about this."
B.A. growled and started to launch himself backward when Hannibal shoved a hand against Baracus' chest and shot both him and Murdock withering looks. "Guys, cool it. You're both going to blow this for us if you start that. Here comes Face."
Everyone watched with tense anticipation as Face smiled and thanked the service attendant and approached B.A.'s now open window. Leaning forward, he beamed as he held out a set of keys. "All right, gentlemen. One slightly used but fully functioning U-Haul truck is at your service. I even took the liberty of asking that kind gentleman over there to return the rental, which he agreed to, without question." As the assemblage started emerging from the car, most groaning and complaining about twisted and/or pulled muscles, Hannibal walked around and put an approving arm around Face's shoulders. "Lieutenant, you never cease to amaze me."
"Well, Colonel, what can I say? It's simply a matter of..."
"It's a matter of luck, fool." B.A. commented, shaking his head as he opened the door of the U-Haul and scowled deeper. "This thing ain't big enough, Face! How am I supposed to drive if I can't fit behind the wheel?!"
Face swallowed as Hannibal went around to open up the back door to usher Murdock and the others inside. "Um...well, uh...listen. B.A., I know you...you like to drive usually, but under these rather, ah, unique circumstances...maybe Hannibal or I could..."
"What?!" Baracus exploded, grabbing the collar of Face's uniform and hefting him the air a good couple of inches as Hannibal walked around the side. "B.A.!" he scolded. "Put him down and get back here! This cab isn't big enough for the three of us, so one of us is going to have to ride back here with Murdock and the others. Sargent, looks like that's going to have to be you."
B.A. drew in a deep breath, knowing better than to give Smith a hard time. Glaring daggers at Face he reluctantly let the uniformed man down then huffily made his way around the back of the truck.
"Whew," Face swallowed, anxiously straightening his collar. "Thanks, Hannibal. I thought he was going to kill me for a second there."
"He still might. He still has the keys."
Face stared at Hannibal as if he had suddenly sprouted wings. "You want me to get them from him?!" he exclaimed in horror.
"The door has to be secured back there anyway, Lieutenant," Hannibal grinned as he climbed in and seated himself behind the wheel, eyeing the younger man expectantly.
Face stared at Smith for several moments, his blue eyes widening in disbelief. He forced himself to swallow the acerbic comment that had threatened to spill from his tongue and warily made his way around to the back of the truck where Murdock was seated on the floor nearest the door, dangling the keys.
"Forget something, amigo?" he quipped mischeviously.
"Give me those!" Quickly Face yanked the keys from his friend's grasp then quickly shut the door as a roar from B.A. filled his ears.
* * * * *
Cathy blinked and looked around the yellow-flagged area in confusion. "Blair, I still don't understand what it is we're supposed to find here." Clutching the flashlight like a life preserver, she watched as her companion knelt and sifted through piles of debris. "And how in the heck did you clear this through the Department, anyway?"
"Well, uh...I didn't...I didn't exactly clear this per se..." He started weakly.
"What?!" Cathy rushed over to him. "You didn't clear this?! For god's sake, Blair! There are cops all over here! How could you NOT..."
He stood, motioning frantically for her to lower her voice. "Will you cool it? Just...I KNOW these guys, okay? I didn't exactly say I was working for the Department. But then again, I didn't exactly say I wasn't either." He grimaced slightly as a twinge in his broken arm caused him to shift position slightly.
"What exactlyDID you say then?!"
"Well, I...look, is that really important right now? Come here. you've got two good arms. Helmp me look for a...a piece of metal. Something, anything that either Jim or Sharon might have touched."
Cathy stared at him for several moments. "Are you sure you didn't get hit on the head? Blair! Look at this place! It's a bloody disaster area! How in the world are we..."
Suddenly, the cavalcade of police that had been surrounding the area seemed to clatter to life and a majority of them suddenly rushed for their cars and sped away from the scene.
"What in the heck is that all about, I wonder?" Cathy mused curiously.
"I don't even want to know, personally. You wouldn't believe the week the guys in the Department have had. C'mon, give me a hand, would ya?"
Deciding that she didn't have anything better to do, Cathy carefully knelt beside Blair and started rummaging around in the rubble. "How will I know when I've found something?" She frowned, her flashlight starting to dim a bit.
"Trust me. You'll know."
They continued digging around in silence for several moments, each losing themselves in their own private world of thought, until suddenly Cathy jerked backward, her eyes flipping open and dropping the flashlight.
"Cath?" Blair exclaimed, somehow managing to set his own flashlight down as he reached for her.
She jerked from his touch, her jaw flapping open for a moment. "Oh my god..." She managed after a couple of minutes. "Blair, I...she..." She looked down at the small fragment of silver chain that occupied her left palm.
"It's okay. Okay, just...calm down and take deep breaths. That's it. Now slowly..."
"I heard her, Blair! This chain...she was wearing this necklace! I heard her..."
"Good! Great! That's...that's great! What...what did she say? What'd she say?"
"Um...something about...something about balance...I'm not sure!" Tears filled her eyes and she grumbled in frustration. "Dammit Blair! I don't understand what she's trying to tell me!"
"Take it easy, Cath. Just take it easy. Don't sweat it, okay? We'll...we'll figure it out. We'll work through this. Um...okay, we'll..."
"Okay folks. What's going on here?" An unfamiliar voice said suddenly.
Looking up, Blair and Cathy found themselves facing a burly uniformed man, someone Blair didn't recognize from his time as an Observer with Major Crimes. Damn, a new one, he thought. Or else from another precinct...
Awkwardly, the two stood, Blair quickly taking the bit of chain from Cathy's hand and deftly depositing it in the pocket of his jacket. "Um, hello Officer...uh listen, my name is Blair Sandburg and I'm..."
"I've heard of you, kid," the officer grumbled. "The whole town's heard of you. You're the one that wrote that crazy paper, aren't you?"
Blair grimaced inwardly. He still had yet to live down much of the controversy his little press conference had stirred up. Even Jim's own admission hadn't killed all the mockery the grad student had to be subjected to. Here was living proof.
"If, uh, you're referring to my thesis..."
"Whatever. What the hell are you two doing here? This is a sealed area, or can't a genius like you read ?"
"Hey!" Cathy exclaimed. "That was uncalled for!"
"Cath, it's okay ." Blair shot her a warning look. "I'm used to it."
"Listen, the cops in this town got enough crap to deal with right now without kids like you two adding to it. You've got one warning to get the hell away from here and stay away. After that, I'll run you in myself, for interfering with a police investigation. This is a crime scene, y'know."
Cathy scowled. "Thank you, Columbo," she muttered under her breath as Blair quickly led her away back toward where Jim's truck was parked.
Once inside, he threw her a sharp look. "What the hell were you doing? Were you trying to antagonize that guy?"
"What? Blair, I was trying to stick up for you! I..." She paused and sank back in her seat, yanking the door closed beside her. "Oh screw it! We're both stressed big time. I also am getting one hell of a headache. Can we GO now?"
He sighed, reaching for the keys, then noticing a slip of paper on the floor. He reached for it, and the moment his fingers touched the small document, his mind was assaulted with a wave of sound...Jim's voice, practically screaming:
Blair, where the hell ARE you?!
Gasping, his eyes widening, he fell back in his seat as Cathy sat up, immediately recognizing the look on his face as he sought to sort through the confusing melee that was taking place inside his own mind at the moment.
"Blair?" She asked gently.
He couldn't reply. Hell, he couldn't even move. Jim's panic was literally paralyzing him and it was all he could do to force himeslf to breathe.
Blair! Help me, Chief! Please! I...I can't see anything...
Blair's jaw slackened and his eyes widened but he couldn't see anything in front of him, nor did he realize Cathy was gripping his free arm carefully, but with enough tension to register increasing concern.
Blair, I can't hear anything. Can't sense anything. I'm scared, man. More scared than I've ever been in my life. I'm so alone. I can't...
Suddenly, Blair's eyes rolled heavenward and he fell backward in a dead faint.
* * * * *
"I don't give a damn how many people it takes, man, just get those men!" Simon slammed the phone down and glared around the desolate interior of the squad room. This was a nightmare. Worse than that, it was HIS nightmare. His best friend was in the hospital, literally on his death bed, half the city was blown to hell, and every available officer was being worked double and triple overtime trying to cover four or five major events. It was like something out of a bad movie.
Or a bad television show.
He sighed and ran a hand over his face, completely unaware of the figures that were now standing in the doorway behind him.
"captain Simon Banks?"
A gruff voice asked suddenly.
Quickly Simon whirled around, his eyes widening at the sight of a small posse of armed men in Army uniforms. "Oh great, now what?!" he exclaimed.
"I'm Colonel Decker, US Army. I spoke with you on the phone earlier...about the A-Team?"
"Oh. Oh yes, Colonel. You'll have to forgive the reception."
"Quite understandable, Captain, given everything your city has been through lately. I read the papers on my way here and it sounds like quite a few things have been happening lately."
Simon scoffed. "That's an understatement."
"Well sir, I've brought enough men to assist you until things settle down a bit; maybe help round out your forces temporarily if need be. Whenever the A-Team comes to town chaos erupts, but I have to be honest with you, this is the worst case I've seen yet."
Simon laughed sarcastically. "I think you're mistaken, Colonel. I know for a fact that the majority of these disasters were not caused by your A-Team."
"Really?" Decker crossed his arms over his chest, raising an eyebrow skeptically. "With all due respect, Captain, just how exactly do you know that? These guys are the military's finest. Years of training, Covert Ops, and skills honed traipsing through the undergrounds of society have made them a formidable force to reckon with. I assure you, sir, this is not some rinky dink little outfit you're dealing with here."
Simon frowned. "Colonel Decker, I..." He paused. "Oh hell, never mind. It's not worth it. Look, witnesses have identified suspects to every single crime that's happened here this week, except for the V.A. bombing, which is the ONLY one that is even remotely linked to your A-Team and that's only because of that guy Murdock."
"Murdock?! What the hell does Murdock have to do with this?! He's in the V.A. in Los Angeles."
Simon smiled gleefully. "That's where you're mistaken, Colonel." So much for the military being briefed. "Murdock was one of the five passengers aboard a private jet that arrived at Cascade Airport bearing a dead body."
Decker was silent, looking genuinely astonished. "What?!" He exclaimed after a moment. "Murdock? What the hell was he doing up here?! How..."
"Relax, Colonel. The information I received said he was on a hospital-approved exchange program. Five patients from L.A. were supposed to visit Cascade for a few days and then if that worked out well enough, the reverse would be true next month." He paused, a dark look passing over his face. "Unfortunately, both the originator of the program AND the V.A. hospital they were set to visit have been taken out of the picture. Permanently."
"That's a bit of a coincidence, don't you think, Captain?" Decker frowned.
"Coincidence, hell. It's damn suspicious, Colonel. Problem is, my best detective and several of his peers were injured in the hospital explosion and the rest of the precinct is divided between that scene and looking for Murdock and his cronies who escaped, by the way, at the hands of one Templeton Peck."
"It figures," Decker laughed bitterly. "Smith and his men wouldn't let one of theirs linger in jail any longer than necessary. It doesn't sound like them to take all five men with them, though."
"I don't have time to ponder theories, Colonel. Were you serious about lending me a few of your men for a time? 'Cause I'll be honest with you...at this point, I could REALLY use them."
Decker nodded. "They're at your disposal, Captain. I'll have them brought up and instructed to follow your orders to the letter." Decker turned and started to walk out of the room, but stopped and turned around. "Oh, and Captain?"
"Consider me a volunteer as well."
Simon was flabbergasted as he watched the military entourage disappear. Well, he thought with a half laugh of disbelief. Maybe this won't be so bad after all.
* * * * *
"I think Murdock's banging on the wall, Hannibal," Face noted warily after dawn broke on the horizon.
"You sure it's Murdock?"
"I...does it matter? Let's pull over someplace."
Hannibal frowned, keeping a vigilant eye out for any sign of law enforcement officials. Much to his relief, and surprise, there didn't appear to be any. This is one WEIRD experience, he mused as he pulled off onto what appeared to be a remote dirt road.
As he and Face climbed out of the cabin they heard a mild ruckus going on inside the rear of the truck. "Oh no, B.A.'s finally lost it and is killing Murdock!" Face exclaimed, wide-eyed, as he rushed to the door.
Hannibal, of course, knew better and stood back, arms over his chest, chomping on his cigar and watching as Face threw open the door and stopped in his tracks.
"Murdock!" He gasped after a minute. "What the...what's going on here?" He stared at the scene that greeted him: a tangle of arms and legs that were Murdock and Derek Samuelson. "B.A.?"
B.A., like the other patients, sat back and watched the scene. "We found out who killed the Doc," he growled, glaring at the quivering man who Murdock roughly shoved to a sitting position, barely able to keep a handle on his seemingly uncharacteristic display of anger.
"Wait a minute," Hannibal interjected, carefully removing the cigar from his mouth and stepping forward for a closer look at the proceedings. "Wait a second. Guys, how did this start? Would somebody please fill us in here?"
"I need some air anyway," Murdock practically snarled as he climbed out of the truck. "B.A...."
"Don't worry. I'll watch him. He ain't goin' no place." B.A. shot Derek a fierce glance that made the young man quiver and back away a good foot or so.
Closing the door behind him, Murdock sat on the rear bumper, looking emotionally drained and pale as he leaned his head back and gulped in air.
Carefully Hannibal and Face seated themselves on either side of the grief-stricken man, patiently waiting for their comrade to begin his tale. After a few moments, Murdock sighed, his eyes drifting out toward the burgeoning sunrise as if seeing it for the first time in his life. "He told us himself," he choked after a few minutes, his voice dry. "I guess his conscience finally got the better of him. Heh. Can you imagine? Here I was, going all through this song and dance about brothers sticking by each other and...dammit, I was sure it was..." His voice trailed off and he lowered his head. "I even suspected Mike!" His voice quivered dangerously as he slammed a fist onto his thigh, not even noticing if it caused any semblance of pain to cascade from the spot.
"MUrdock, don't be so tough on yourself," Hannibal sighed, carefully putting a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "You couldn't possibly have seen. I mean, I don't know the entire story here, but...from what I can tell, this kid pulled the wool over everybody's eyes. Not just yours. And don't knock yourself for believing in a code. The four of us have a code, right? You were right to go with your gut on this one, Murdock."
"Hannibal's right," Face nodded. "His conscience may have been enough among his peers, but facing jail I seriously doubt he would have cracked. I don't know why I have that feeling, but..."
Murdock sighed. "He's just a kid, guys. hell, he's like a younger brother to me. Him and Mike...well, I kinda tried to take 'em under my wing, y'know? Group therapy was always a bear for both of them and so I..." His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes. "You know why and how he did it?" he quipped sarcastically after a minute, opening his eyes and studying the dirt road nearby for a moment.
Face and Hannibal glanced at each other briefly but remained silent, easily sensing that Murdock just needed to vent.
Drawing in a deep breath once more, Murdock rasped, "Apparently, during the flight, while everybody else was sacked out...uh, some of us get these meds that just wipe us out early on in the day y'know...uh, well good ol' Derek went back to have a talk with Doc Nim about his participation in the program."
"What, he didn't want to be in it?"
"No, Face. Just the opposite. I guess he'd somehow switched records with another guy and Nim didn't notice until he was sitting back there going over records. Ah hell, this isn't making much sense, is it?"
"Just...take your time, Murdock. We're not going anyplace," Hannibal assured him.
"Uh, unless we see Decker or these Cascade yokels," Face amended.
Murdock smiled slightly and glanced briefly at Face before continuing.
"Well, uh...so anyway, from what I understand, he was awake and saw Nim going through the records and decided to talk to him about it...and apparently Doc was pretty upset because Derek said he threatened to have the plane turn around and go back to L.A....and then, according to him, he just 'lost control' and...that was it. Doc was dead." He paused, his voice thickening once more with bitterness. "Killed because one person got caught trying to cheat the very system I was going on about earlier."
Cursing, he got to his feet and started restlessly pacing. "It was all the others could do to keep me from doing the same thing to Derek that he did to Doc,"he sighed, stopping and running a hand over his face. "Even Harris stopped me. I don't know how I can look them in the face after this..."
Hannibal stood and approached Murdock. "It's simple, Captain," he replied. "You just do it. You look them in the eye. If your code with them is anything like your code with us, you'll get through this. It'll be rough going, but you'll get through it. Brothers do that, you know." Murdock was silent a moment, his brown eyes turning hopeful. "Brothers, Colonel?" He smiled.
Grinning, Hannibal put his arm around Murdock's shoulders. "Brothers."
"Hey!" B.A.'s voice boomed as the truck started to rock ominously. So hard, in fact, Face suddenly found himself thrown to his feet, backing away and staring at the truck in apprehension. "There's something to be said for orphans," he muttered, straightening his uniform jacket absently.
Unable to resist the urge, Hannibal and Murdock chuckled slightly before their expression sobered once again. "Okay, well...I guess we know what has to be done then, don't we, Murdock?"
Murdock hesitated a moment. "Yeah, Colonel. We sure do."
Time to bring a killer to justice, he thought bitterly.
* * * * *
"Whoa," Blair groaned as he regained consciousness, blinking rapidly as he fought to reacquaint himself with his surroundings.
"My god, Blair...you scared the daylights out of me!" Cathy exclaimed as she helped him ease himself upright.
"I didn't do too much for myself either," he commented, then looked at her. "The phenomenon with the chain...I just...I just had the same sort of experience with Jim!"
"Uh, I kinda figured."
"Well? Wh...what did he 'say'?"
Blair drew in a breath, struggling to recollect the specfics of the experience as best he could. "Um...well, uh...not...not much, really. Just...it was like...he couldn't find me...he couldn't...he couldn't hear me, no matter how hard I tried to let him know I was there and, uh, listening. He's scared. Terrified. I...I don't think I've ever seen, uh...heard him so frightened." He paused, running a hand over hisface and grimacing as a bolt of pain shot up his splinted arm. "Oh man. I wish I wouldn't forget about that," he groaned. "I wonder why we can only 'hear' them when we're holding the paper and the necklace," Cathy frowned, scratching her head and shivering in the cool confines of the truck cab.
Blair frowned also, looking out the windshield at the remnants of what had been the V.A. hospital earlier in the day. "I don't know," he mused after a moment. "Maybe our emotions were so...we were so overwhelmed by our concern for them, that we just sort of 'blocked' out those pathways psychologically. Maybe...maybe these links are emotionally driven." He sat up and carefully but excitedly turned to look at Cathy. "Maybe this is our form of a heightened sense, Cath! I mean, maybe we need to work on this like Jim has to his Sentinel abilities...huh? I mean, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it?"
"Nooo...not really, Blair. But it's been a long and emotionally draining day, so maybe tomorrow morning..." She paused and glanced at the burgeoning sunrise. "Correction, maybe later this morning it will."
He looked crestfallen but started the truck and proceeded to drive them both back to Prospect Ave.
* * * * *
The dawn of another day did nothing to lessen Simon's anxieties. Gradually sipping on his umpteenth cup of coffee, he hung up the phone after still another update from the hospital, then allowed himself a moment to sit back in his chair, just as the door to his office opened and Colonel Decker walked in, completely oblivious to any sort of protocol and looking like a cat about to pounce on a helpless canary.
"Captain Banks," he began in his usual gruff manner, remaining stiffly at attention as if he were more comfortable doing that than relaxing.
"Colonel...with all due respect, there's a little bit of protocol we observe up here. Whenever we're about to enter a room, we generally knock if the door isn't open."
Decker seemed unfazed by the sharp tone of Banks' acerbic comment. "No need for that in the military, Captain. Every door is open, where I come from." He paused a moment. "I just thought that I should tell you...we just received word of a group of people matching the suspects' identities, heading out of Cascade, south along the Interstate."
Simon sighed and sat back, wishing he hadn't run out of cigars several hours ago. "Let me guess. This means, of course, that you'll be pulling back the men you so generously provided to patrol the downtown streets of Cascade as if the city was under Martial Law. Correct?"
Decker's scowl deepened. "I don't expect praise, Captain Banks. But a little gratitude would be appreciated."
Simon sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Colonel. It's been...a trying time. And your generosity has been appreciated. Really."
Decker seemed satisfied with the response. "Well then, sir. I have managed to obtain clearance to leave a small contingent of men at the station for your use until things settle down a bit more. I wish I could have had a chance to see more of your fine city and in better times."
Standing, Simon nodded. "I wish you could have too, Colonel. Thank your men for me. Words can't express how grateful we are for all you've done."
"All in the line of duty, Captain. All in the line of duty."
Simon watched as Decker left the room, then slowly sat back down. A brief glance out the window as the run rose higher into the morning sky gave Banks a strange feeling of new optimism that things were going to get better.
After all, that little voice within himself chided sarcastically. They can't get much worse than they have already, can they?
* * * * *
Blair staggered into the cavernous loft, weary from the events of the previous day and the injuries that were now starting to get his attention. Grimacing as he closed the door behind him, he glanced to where a red light was flashing on the answering machine. How many times had Jim warned him about that machine? That it was ultra sensitive (Like Jim himself, Blair had thought wryly at the time) and had to be handled very gently (Again, often like Jim.)
Jim wasn't here, though.
Drawing in a painful breath, Blair made his way over to the electronic wunderkind and gingerly pressed the 'play' button. Suddenly he felt a wave of nausea overpower him and he staggered, falling backward so his back leaned against the door as a voice inside his head, familiar, was screaming.
Gasping, Blair quickly struggled to find some semblance of balance. Jim was making a breakthrough...but...obviously it was one that was taking a huge toll on the Sentinel. He thought about going to wake up Cathy, but realized, suddenly, that he could barely stand and as his legs buckled, he managed to silently assure his friend he was there. He'd always been there. He always would be there.
And then silence.
Blair opened his eyes. Jim?! he thought as his mind regained some clarity and focus. Jim, man, are you there? Are you okay? Jim?! JIM?!
For god's sake, Chief, will you quit shouting, already?! My head's sore enough as it is!
Blair jolted again at the distinct sound of his friend's 'voice.'
Jim...geez, man, I...Jim? Jim, are you listening?
This time, however, a strange sense of calm washed over Blair and he was surprised to find himself suddenly 'aware' that his friend was out of his coma and now merely...asleep. He remained in place for several moments, jaw dropping in absolute, complete astonishment. "What the hell just happened?!" He murmured, then realized he was questioning a gift horse.
Ignoring the pain in his arm and other appendages, he scrambled to his feet and wasted no time in opening the door and racing to wake Cathy up to drive her to the hospital.
In a few minutes he was dragging a sloppily dressed and bleary eyed female along behind him, down the hall and out into the sharply brisk Cascade day, ignoring her pleas of mercy as he opened the passenger door of the truck and all but literally shoved her inside.
"Blair, what in the name of all that's sacred is this all ABOUT?!" She cried as he climbed in and slammed the door behind him, his hand trembling as he reached to turn the key in the ignition.
"You'll see! You'll see!" Was all he'd tell her as he started driving like a bat out of hell, seemingly oblivious to his female companion's hands being firmly clenched on the dashboard in front of her, knuckles turning white from the amount of pressure she was putting on them.
By the time they reached the hospital and Blair was turning off the truck engine, Cathy was out the door, staring at Blair as if he'd suddenly sprouted wings. "Blair!" She practically screamed as he rushed over and grabbed her hands again and tried to lead her toward the building entrance. This time she dug her heels in and refused to move.
He stopped abruptly and turned to her.
"I'm not going any place until you tell me what the hell is going on here!" she snapped, her stormcloud-blue eyes flashing daggers, all the while looking bloodshot.
Reluctantly he released her arms and took a breath, struggling to contain his overwhelming enthusiasm that seemed to easily override any pain or fatigue he might have otherwise been experiencing. "I had a breakthrough, is what's happening, Cath! A breakthrough! Jim...he's gonna be okay! He's gonna be okay!!"
Cathy's eyes widened. She was, of course, pleased if Blair's suspicions were true and Jim were indeed coming out of his coma. But she couldn't help but simultaneously feel her concern for Sharon's well being intensify immensely. Okay GF, Jim's coming around, she thought. Now where on god's green Earth are YOU?
"Cath," Blair said seriously, as if reading her thoughts. This time when he took her hands it was gently, with an understanding that few could convey. "She'll be all right. Don't you see? Apparently, Jim was the first to lapse into the coma, so naturally he'll be the first to awaken from it. But Sharon...she'll be right behind." He paused, his blue eyes misting over for a moment. "She has to."
"I hope so, Blair. I really hope so. If anything happens to her...I swear, I don't know what I'll do. I mean, I know for a fact I haven't told her nearly enough how important her friendship is to me and how much I depend on her smiles, occasional kidding and teasing, and even her tantrums to balance me." She paused and laughed slightly. "Sounds silly, doesn't it?"
"Silly? Not a bit. Come on."
She nodded and started to follow him as he headed for the Main Entrance to the hospital when suddenly everything around her seemed to coalesce into a blur of colors and images and a voice inside her mind returned with a loud cry, followed by a familiar phrase:
Daaaaang, girlfriend! We depend on EACH OTHER to balance EACH OTHER! It's not a one-way street, y'know!
"Cath?" Blair's voice vaguely reached her ears as she felt her knees give way and a muscle-relaxing rush of tension flowed from her like a body of water during a flood. She felt strong arms supporting her and as her vision cleared she looked up at Blair and started to laugh and cry at the same time.
"Cath, what is it?!" He asked, then stopped as he realized exactly what 'it' was. Kneeling before her, he also shared in the rush of exultation at the mutual realization of their friends' amazing recovery.
* * * * *
"Okay Chief," Jim asked as he leaned forward and reached for the beer that rested on the coffeetable not two feet away. "You've explained to me everything except what I want to know."
Seated comfortably with an arm around Sharon's shoulders, ensconced on the sofa, Blair grinned wolfishly. "What's that, man?"
"Okay, this...'link' thing."
"Uh oh. Here comes Mr. Uncomfortability," Sharon chuckled as she saw the look on Jim's face, then noticed Cathy (seated on the floor beside Jim's legs), wearing a mirroring expression. "And his wife, MRS. Uncomfortability! Guys, come on! If you'd just let your minds accept what obviously was successful..."
"It's nonsense is what it is," Jim sighed as he leaned back and took a deep drought of beer. "Absolute nonsense."
"Jim's right," Cathy said, not surprising anyone with her mirroring reply. "And before you say anything, Blair, my reaction was...well, I was hysterical. Worried about Jim." As if for emphasis she leaned against his legs, smiling as his fingers stroked the back of her hair with intimate familiarity.
Blair and Sharon exchanged knowing looks as a knock resounded upon the door.
"That must be Simon," Jim grinned, then called, "Come on in, Simon!"
Sure enough, through the door walked Simon Banks, looking decidedly more refreshed and cheerful than he had a week earlier, with the withdrawal of Decker's troops and the gradual calming of the city's chaos. As he closed the door behind him, he glanced at the gathering.
"Hey everybody..." Hanging his overcoat up on a nearby coatrack, Simon smiled. "Enjoying a bit of the bubbly I see. By the way Sharon, let me take a sec to wish you a belated Happy Birthday."
"Thanks," she grinned even as Jim piped up:
"You mean the champagne the guys got together and bought? Yes, sir. Thought we'd give it a test run. Come on over and sit down and I'll pour you a glass." Jim started to reach for a large bottle but stopped when Simon held up his hands.
"No! I mean...no thanks, Jim. Gotta keep my wits about me tonight. Getting debriefed by the Feds about the bombing." Seating himself on the other side of Blair, the Captain leaned back and stretched.
"Say, that's right..."Blair exclaimed. "Did they ever find out who was behind that?"
"Well, it wasn't who they originally thought it was," Simon half-laughed. "Turns out some quasi-military hate group just happened to pick that day to make a statement against some of the 'ethnically different' residents of the V.A. hospital."
"Oh great," Sharon murmured, noting a strange shudder rippling down Blair's spine even as she held his hand fast.
"My thoughts exactly," Simon nodded.
"So who'd the Feds think did it?" Jim pondered, wrinkling his brow in curiousity.
Simon hesitated, chuckling uneasily. "You'll never believe it." He paused and drew in a breath. "Anyone here ever hear of the A-Team?"
A palpable silence flooded the room for several moments. Cathy and Sharon looked at each other and straightened.
"The A-Team ?!" They exclaimed in unison, surprising the males in attendance.
"But how...?" Cathy continued, then stopped when she realized Jim's eyes were practically boring through the back of her head. She turned around quickly, laughing nervously. "It's a long story, Jim. A long story."
He eyed her dubiously a moment, then returned his attention to Simon as Blair studied Sharon with amusement.
"What's this A-Team? You two...you two knew these guys or something?
"You could say that," Sharon replied quietly as her left leg habitually started twitching slightly.
Jim shook his head. "I...I don't even want to know right now. Simon, these guys have been on the lam since '72. What makes the Feds think they'd show up in Cascade of all places? I mean, is there some kind of weird connection here you're not telling me about?"
Simon was silent a moment, his eyes traveling around the gathering briefly before he leaned forward. "Hand me that bottle and I'll explain it."
* * * * *
"I can't believe this has happened," Baker grumbled as he angrily thrust his mop into the bucket kindly provided for him by Murdock and Mike. "You two are dead meat, you hear me?! Dead meat !"
Murdock chuckled as he threw an arm around a visibly nervous Mike's shoulders. "Come, my young friend. Getting our buddy Baker moved to janitorial duty has been a taxing strain on my digestive track. I think you and I could both use some nourishment from the wonderful caterers inthe dining room, eh?"
As they started to walk away, Baker growled and started to launch himself at Murdock but suddenly found himself in the arms of two burly orderlies. Shouting a string of obscenities, he found himself dragged away, followed by an anxious looking nurse and a med student.
"Murdock...one of these days he IS going to kill you!" Mike gasped, amazed at his friend's audacity.
"Nah," Murdock chuckled. "He's just a big ugly mudsucker. And trust me, son, I've had more than my fair share of dealing with those."
As the two men started down the corridor toward the dining hall, Mike shook his head. "I wonder what's gonna happen to Derek, Murdock. Y'think he'll ever be let out?"
They paused and Murdock's expression sobered. "I don't know, Mike," he answered honestly, but quietly. "He did kill a man. Criminal psychiatric hospitals are a hell of a lot different than the V.A. ones. All I know is that he had to pay for what he did to Doc and...he's paying. Maybe not the way I would have chosen, but he IS paying." He paused a moment, studying Mike's expression. "Which reminds me, man...you, uh, still good with that agreement we made, huh?"
Mike smiled broadly. "Sure am, Murdock. I won't say a thing about the Team. You, uh, still wanna take me for a plane ride? I haven't been in one in..." His voice trailed off.
Murdock clasped the man's arm supportively, his own expression breaking into a wide smile. "Count on it, my friend. We'll take that flight, or my name isn't Howling Mad Murdock."
The two embraced a moment, each understanding the deeper questions involved without verbalizing them.