What I Learnt in Kindygarten by H. M. Murdock

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

AN: The book Biggles Learns to Fly was written in 1935 by Captain W. E. Johns. It is one of a series of 98 books about fictional British pilot, hero and adventurer Captain James Bigglesworth and his exploits during both world wars. I could picture a very young Murdock being enthralled by the Biggles stories. Prequel to "Every Thought Captive." Hollis Latreque and Cynthia Berquon also appear in "Death Waits in the Wings" and "Murdock's Christmas Dozen."

oooooo

No. Th' sky ain' right. Not yet.

H. M. Murdock sighed and reached forward as far as he could across the low table. The thick blue crayon was just out of range of his fingertips. He would have to stand to get it.

But Miss Dalton don' like it when we stan' up without askin'.

He glanced across the table at Hollis Latreque who had one of every color in front of him. Murdock lifted himself from his seat just enough to touch the crayon he wanted. The other boy was using a black crayon to draw a stick figure in the doorway of a house.

To make sure he didn't cause trouble, Murdock whispered, "Could ya pass me th' blue one, Hollis? Please?"

"That's mine. I wasn' done with it." Hollis flashed his lanky classmate a smug look and stuck out his tongue at him.

Murdock frowned back and cocked his head to one side as he looked at the other kindergartener's picture. "You a'ready did all th' sky on yer picture. What else do ya need th' blue fer?"

"I dunno. Maybe a blue truck fer in front o' th' garage." He moved all the crayons in front of him closer and further out of the other boy's reach. Bending his head back over his work, he smirked and continued to draw.

Shrugging, Murdock turned his gaze back to his own half-finished picture. There wasn't much time before Miss Dalton would tell them she needed them to be done with their artwork. Then she would have them take out their rugs and gather around her for storytime.

He hoped Miss Dalton would read out of the book he brought to school from home, the one his Grampa read to him over the last summer. It was something they did to ease the pain they both felt over the death of Murdock's mother from pneumonia.

He loved that book so much, his Gramma helped him learn how to read for himself just so he could read the book for himself over and over again.

Maybe someday I'll be like Cap'n Biggles, flyin' all those planes, havin' all those adventures. Yeah, someday . . .

His coloring assignment forgotten, Murdock stared hard at the clouds and partly finished sky on the sheet of manila paper in front of him. If he imagined hard enough, he could almost see the wings of his biplane pierce the wisps of white as the breeze blew his white aviator's scarf away from his face. In his mind, he made as dashing a pilot as the World War I ace did in the books.

He looked carefully at the open area and clutched the nearest brown crayon in his slender fingers. If he couldn't fill in that section of sky with blue, he knew what he could do instead.

Busying himself with drawing propellers, wings and fuselage, he tried to ignore Hollis.

"Thought you were s'posed t' be drawin' a picture o' yer house." The other boy's whisper carried with it the mocking tone that Murdock had come to expect from Hollis Latreque.

"I did a'ready."

"So what's that?" Hollis pointed to the dark brown object in the blue sky on the page.

"Somethin' t' fill in a spot," Murdock muttered as he sketched in the finishing touches. Leaning back and admiring his work, he smiled.

It really looks like Cap'n Biggles' plane.

"He wouldn' o' had t' think o' somethin' else if you hadn' been such a selfish pig 'bout the color crayons, Hollis," Cynthia Berquon hissed from where she sat at the table.

Murdock blushed at the defensive sound of her voice. He was good friends with Cyndy and he knew she would stick up for him. But he had to grow up a little more now that Mama was gone. Gramma and Grampa had enough of their own grief to handle without him getting into trouble in school.

He couldn't have any girl fight his fights for him either.

Before he could respond, there was a knock at the classroom door. Miss Dalton pressed her thin lips together in disapproval at the three children sitting at the table and went to answer the knock.

Murdock watched in curiosity as the teacher spoke with a young man dressed in a dark blue suit and tie. The stranger stared directly at him.

The penetrating look made him uncomfortable and fidgety. Something was wrong with the way the man continued to analyze him as he talked to Miss Dalton.

The teacher nodded her head and looked at Murdock. Beckoning to him, she said, "Come on over here, H. M." Giving the rest of the class a stern glare, she added, "We'll have our storytime as soon as I'm finished here. Leave your pictures at your tables and go sit on your rugs in the story corner. I'll be with you in a second."

Murdock got to his feet and slowly shuffled toward the open door and the two adults. Whatever the young man wanted with him, he was sure it wasn't good. The cold scrutinizing stare told him that much.

"This is Mister Jackson, H. M. He wants to talk to you for a while and ask you some questions. That would be alright, wouldn't it?" Without waiting for Murdock's answer, she smiled at Jackson. "He's all yours."

"Thank you, Miss Dalton." Mister Jackson ushered him out of the classroom, a hand pressed firmly between the boy's shoulder blades. As the door closed behind them, Murdock heard his teacher address the class.

"Today we'll start reading a book called Biggles Learns to Fly. If you're all ready, I'll begin."

Murdock sighed.

Hope this don' las' very long. Gonna miss mos' o' today's story if it does. Wonder what Mister Jackson wants with me anyway.

"Let's sit down here in the hallway and talk, H. M. Like Miss Dalton said, I have a few questions and then you can go back to your classroom. You don't mind, do you?" The man's tone suggested that Murdock didn't have any choice so he shrugged in reply. He sank down with his back to the wall and his legs crossed in front of him.

Jackson did the same.

Murdock flinched as the man turned his gaze on him. Picking at his fingernails, the boy avoided the cold scrutinizing eyes.

"I'm sorry about your mother's death. It must have been hard for you."

It wasn't the words the boy wanted to hear. Certainly not from this stranger who made him so uncomfortable. He felt hot tears spring to his eyes and heavy pressure in his throat as the thick lump of grief prevented him from responding.

He nodded and bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from crying. His fingernails gouged out a small bit of skin from around his thumb. When it bled, he watched, fascinated, when the dark red droplet grew in size and pooled in the nail bed.

Anything to avoid Mister Jackson's eyes.

"Miss Dalton tells me she's spoken to your grandparents about letting you skip first grade and start next year in second grade. Do you know why she suggested that?"

Of course, he knew why. His Gramma taught him to read so well, the other kids were far behind him. She also taught him to count and do some simple adding. And anything Gramma read to him, he remembered to the smallest detail. He could almost quote word for word some of the pages of the book Miss Dalton was reading to the class. Until he got to kindergarten, he didn't realize he was so far ahead. If it wasn't for Cynthia, he'd be bored out of his mind.

I ain' stupid.

"I know you aren't stupid, H. M. You're an extremely intelligent boy. Someone who will go far when he grows up to be a man."

The boy startled at the words. Flashing a fearful glance at the stranger beside him, Murdock felt the hairs at the back of his neck bristle.

How'd he know what I was thinkin'?

He looked up and down the hallway, hoping to see someone to rescue him from . . . he didn't know exactly what.

I jus' know this Mister Jackson ain' a nice man. Don' know how I know. I jus' know.

"How do you know I'm not a nice man?" The stranger cupped Murdock's chin in one hand and turned his face so they could make eye contact. "Hmmm? How do you know?" The voice may have sounded gentle but the expression was cunning and cold.

Murdock's chocolate-brown eyes flickered across the man's face. Billy spoke to him in his mind. Yer right, brother. He ain' up t' no good. Be careful what ya say 'round 'im.

"I . . . I didn' say . . . " the boy stammered, his lower jaw clamped firmly in Jackson's hand.

"But you just know things, don't you, H. M.? You know what your grandparents want you to do sometimes before they ask you. Am I right?" Jackson seemed to realize his hold was making Murdock even more frightened than he already was. He released the boy's chin and patted him on the shoulder before folding his hands together in his lap and turning his gaze toward the classroom door.

Without warning, a sniffle escaped from the kindergartener. He felt his whole body shiver uncontrollably.

"Please, Mister Jackson. Can' I go back t' class?" Something was going on inside his head. He wasn't sure but it felt like someone was rummaging around his thoughts like an explorer searching with a dim flashlight in a dark attic.

"I know something else. You don't want Miss Dalton to promote you to second grade next year. You want to stay in the same class as your friend Cyndy."

Murdock's eyes widened and he took in a sharp breath.

How'd he know 'bout Cyndy?

With every passing minute, the boy grew more scared. His body was paralyzed with the thought that this stranger not only knew about his life. Jackson knew everything in his mind as well.

"How about I do this? I'll persuade Miss Dalton to let you stay with the rest of your class. But you have to make sure you study hard and get very good grades." Jackson peered at him.

Murdock swallowed and nodded. He still couldn't speak. Something happened then in his head and he felt like his thoughts were no longer being examined. All of a sudden, he was a little tired.

"Now I'm going to come back here once in a while to check on you, H. M. Special kids like you need to have someone who knows how smart they are to guide them." Jackson got to his feet and held out his hand to the boy.

Murdock refused the help. As he got to his feet unassisted, he mumbled, "I ain' retarded, Mister Jackson." The boy stared fervently at the classroom door and stuck his hands in his pants pockets.

"Now did I say you were retarded, H. M.? No. I said you're special. That can mean many things. For now, I'm going to let you get back to your class. I just wanted to meet you and talk to you a little." Jackson smiled and patted the boy on the shoulder again. "You don't want to miss that book Miss Dalton's reading. Do you, Captain?"

Murdock edged back, his eyes still meeting those of the stranger. As he felt the door behind him, he turned and quickly scooted inside.

The last thing he heard was the stranger's voice in his mind saying, Remember to study hard. I'll be back soon.

oooooo

As soon as he knew Murdock found a place sitting on the floor beside the Berquon girl, Jackson strolled down the hallway to the school's main entrance.

He smiled to himself at the success of his fact-finding mission. The young Texan kindergartener was intelligent, almost genius, and had abilities he wasn't aware he had . . . at least not yet.

There would be time when the boy became a man to develop those abilities to their full potential.

Jackson left the building, looking forward to giving his report to his superiors at the CIA.

oooooo

That afternoon as Murdock burst in the door of the farmhouse, he smelled the comforting aroma of his Gramma's freshly baked sugar cookies. She turned from the oven, a quilted mitt protecting her hand from the cookie sheet she held.

"Slow down, H. M. Slow down now." Her eyes twinkled with amusement as she noted the boy's longing glances at the fresh treats on the pan. "Sit down 'n' tell me 'bout yer day. What'd ya learn t'day in school?" She poured two glasses of milk and set them on the table along with a plate of cooled sugar cookies.

Murdock drew the chair back from the kitchen table and sat down. Reaching in his pocket, he unfolded his picture of the farmhouse and Captain Biggles' biplane hovering overhead. "Miss Dalton had us draw where we live."

Emma Murdock smiled and ruffled his head as she gazed at his artwork. "That's a real good likeness o' this house. 'N' I see ya put a airplane up there in th' sky. Almost looks real. Ya sure do draw good. What else'd ya learn?"

The boy wiped crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve as he thought about what to tell her. Should he tell her about the man who came to see him? He decided that maybe Gramma would be worried about him if she knew.

"Well . . . " He thought a moment longer. "I guess I learnt ya don' always hafta have all the colors t' make a good picture. 'N' someone said I was special t'day."

Gramma scrutinized his serious expression for a second before smiling. "O' course ya are, H. M. Yer very special t' me 'n' yer Grampa." She watched for him to smile back but got no response except a frowning thoughtful look. Sighing, she pushed the plate of cookies closer to him.

"H. M., yer th' mos' special person in yer Grampa 'n' my world. 'N' don' ferget that. Ya hear?" She put her wrinkled hand on his and gazed at him lovingly.

Murdock bobbed his head up and down in a quick nod. "I won', Gramma." He decided right then to try to forget about the mysterious Mister Jackson.

B'sides, I prob'ly won' ever see him 'gain.

He grabbed another sugar cookie and dipped it in his milk as his Gramma admired his picture once more.