Christmas 1969: After Cam Ranh

Chapter 1 Man Missing

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

"Where d'ya think the fool is, Faceman? He's gonna miss out on Christmas dinner if he don' get his scrawny ass over ta the mess hall." B. A. grumbled more to himself than to the blonde Lieutenant as he slammed the door to their hootch.

For the third time in an hour, he peered around their living quarters as if the pilot might be hiding under a cot or in one of their lockers. He growled when he noted nothing had changed since the last time he checked. Face was in the same place doing the same thing he had been doing the last two times.

Even if the crazy pilot drove him nuts most of the time, the black Sergeant had to wonder why Murdock wasn't hovering around them, urging them to move faster toward the feast that awaited them. Days before, they had all received a copy of the menu along with the message General W. C. Westmoreland himself had penned to be printed on the bulletin. The meal would be as complete as the United States Army could provide in this godforsaken land.

It was a sorry substitute for being with his Momma for Christmas and gorging himself on her home-cooking. But it was better than nothing at all.

Murdock and Christmas Day were a toxic combination. It was a day when the Sergeant knew he would have to try his best to be halfway tolerant of the crazy man's antics if just because it was Christmas and his Momma taught him to be charitable toward fools on that day.

But he couldn't practice his more charitable nature if the pilot wasn't to be found on Christmas Day.

"He might not be very hungry." Face set aside the Playboy magazine he had been enjoying and let his gaze wander around the immediate environs. To be truthful, he was worried about the manic pilot as much as B. A. seemed to be. Ever since Murdock landed his chopper yesterday with its load of wounded, dying and dead soldiers, he had been quiet.

Quiet? The conman scoffed silently at his word choice. Hell, Murdock's been almost catatonic. How was yesterday's extraction any different from all of the others he's done since he's been over here?

B. A. continued to growl under his breath. "It ain' like he don' need the meal. He still ain' up ta fightin' weight. It's like he wasn't at Cam Ranh with us at all."

Cam Ranh. Face frowned in remembrance. The convalescent center was an oasis compared to the POW camp they had so recently come from. Something inside Murdock had changed since the events that led to their escape and eventual rescue from that nightmarish hell. All the medical care and good food in the world wouldn't heal the internal wounds Face knew both of them carried from their captivity.

Changed? Hell, the Lieutenant thought bitterly, let's face it. My buddy hasn't been right since the third or fourth time the guards took him for interrogation.

And when they left the Cam Ranh Bay Convalescent Center, they came back to a hootch as empty as if they were arriving in Nam for the very first time. All of their belongings had been sent home because no one believed they would be returning.

For Face, it wasn't such a big deal. There was no one to receive his personal effects except maybe Father Maghill. And being an orphan, he had few, if any, personal effects to deal with.

It was heartbreaking to watch Murdock open his locker only to find nothing in it. Even though the Captain wrote long letters to both his grandparents and the girl who was waiting for him back home as soon as he could, he moped around for a week or longer. It was as if he had left a big part of himself behind in the POW camp.

Thank God the military was quick to let the folks back home know they were no longer POWs. He couldn't imagine how miserable the holidays would be for his team mates' loved ones otherwise. Despite the humidity of the day, the con man shivered.

Once they knew the men were safe, B. A.'s Momma and Murdock's grandparents must have worked extra quickly to get together Christmas parcels for the two soldiers. Even though he had no one to do the same for him, the Lieutenant was happy for his friends. And the package had seemed to lift Murdock's spirits for a moment even if B. A. had to pressure him into going to mail call to get it.

But then the cloud of whatever happened on the last dust-off the pilot completed settled back on him like a funeral shroud and silenced him again.

Face looked over at B. A.'s cot and glimpsed the opened care package he had received from home. Where the pilot's package was, the Lieutenant had no way of knowing. Maybe Murdock was sharing what he got from his grandparents and his girl back home with his flight crew.

Yeah, I bet that's it.

Even though he thought that might be the reason for the pilot's absence, he wasn't sure.

Today is no time for my buddy to be down in the dumps. Even if I have to get him stinking drunk to make him forget what happened, he's not going to miss Christmas by moping around.

The Lieutenant took one last longing look at the Miss September centerfold, tossed his magazine on his cot and stood up.

"Look, B. A. I'm going over to see if his crew chief's seen him. Wanna tag along?" Face didn't wait for B. A.'s answer but heard the grumbled words, "Crazy fool" as the Sergeant followed, slamming the door shut behind them.

The Lieutenant wasn't sure if Murdock's new crew chief would know where the pilot was. Murdock was still getting used to him and might not have told him anything. It took time to build trust.

B. A. caught up to him halfway to the airfield. "He better have a good reason for us havin' ta look for him."

Face gritted his teeth against the frustrated tone in the other man's voice. Better not to answer. At least, not until we find out exactly where Murdock is and what he's doing.

When they got to the hangar where the flight crew would ordinarily be, they found no one. "They're probably celebrating somewhere." Face glanced at B. A. and continued to walk toward the airfield.

"Like we should be, man." B. A. clenched a fist and smacked it into the palm of his open hand.

The Lieutenant felt his temper rise. His face reddened as he spun suddenly and faced the black man. "Look! I didn't order you to come along. I asked if you wanted to. You can go have your Christmas dinner with my blessings. I'm going to find my buddy."

B. A. froze where he was and tightened both hands into fists. His scowl normally would have made Face back down.

Then B. A. moved past him toward the airfield and the rows of blast walls that shielded aircraft from rockets and mortars.

"Where are you going?" Face shouted after him. "You're going to miss your dinner." He waited for an answer, then sneered, "Isn't Christmas dinner what you wanted?"

The Sergeant growled something over his shoulder but continued to walk.

The Lieutenant had no choice but to sprint after him to keep up. "What'd you say?"

"I said," the Sergeant huffed, "the fool's prob'ly polishing his chopper an' talkin' to it like it's his girlfriend."

Face couldn't argue against that. They all witnessed how much time and care the pilot took with the chopper he was assigned.

He knew every detail of the machine, maybe even more than his crew chief did. He rejoiced when it operated better than usual and mourned when a bullet wounded it. To Murdock, the Huey was like an organic being working as one with him to perform whatever duties the Army chose for him to do. So for the pilot to be talking to the machine wasn't so hard to believe.

It makes sense. But God help Murdock if that's what he's doing. B. A's in the right mood to kill him if he is. You don't dare get between B. A. and his food.

The Sergeant became more sullen with each revetment bay that they passed. "Where is that fool?"

"Well, here's Murdock's chopper." Face pointed, then put a forefinger to his lips as B. A. started to grumble.

From somewhere within the three walls of the revetment bay they both heard the sound of sloshing water and what could be described as a scrub brush on metal. What was missing was the hearty singing that usually accompanied most of what Murdock did when he was with his slick. And that fact alone worried Face even more.

"Told ya," the Sergeant muttered as he pushed his way past Face and toward the chopper.