The Truth About Mudsuckers

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

The beach house door slid open and hit the jam with a thud. Murdock scurried in, darted a furtive glance behind his shoulder, turned and snapped the sliding door shut again.

His eyes open wide with panic, he hurried to where Face leaned with his back to the sink. Clutching both of his friend's jacket lapels, he gasped in a quick breath and stole another look at the door.

Face barely kept his orange juice in the glass he held. "Hey, watch it, Murdock!"

What now?

"Face . . . muchacho . . . buddy o' mine . . . hide me, pronto! I got a big angry mudsucker hot on mah trail 'n' lookin' fer blood!"

Hannibal rested the newspaper in his hands on the kitchen table in front of him. His lips twitched in a small smirk as he scrutinized the frightened pilot. Sighing, he asked, "What did you do to B. A. this time, Captain? Did you draw funny faces on his socks again?"

Murdock gulped as he remembered the last time he did that. The nice thing was he got to keep all of the socks he decorated. The bad thing was he had to buy B. A. a few new pairs of socks.

"Not this time, Colonel. Nuh uh. I learned my lesson."

"So what did you do?" Face watched as Murdock, hearing an angry bellow outside, dove behind the couch in the living room to hide.

Must have been something big. No wonder my buddy's terrified.

"Shhhh!" came the anguished hiss from the sofa.

The Sergeant slammed the sliding door open, glaring at both of his team mates in turn even as an enraged rumble rose in his chest.

Face's eyes took in the book B. A. gripped in his hand. He dared a smile. "Marine Fishes of Coastal California? Planning a fishing trip?"

Maybe a bit of humor will calm him down.

The black man's angry gaze settled on the con man. "Where is he? I'm gonna kill him."

Then again . . .

"Who, Sergeant?" Hannibal raised his eyebrows in an attempt at innocent ignorance.

"Th' fool! That's who!" B. A. slapped the book on the kitchen table directly in front of the Colonel. "He got some explainin' ta do!"

"Explaining about what?" Hannibal reluctantly folded the newspaper and set it aside. He analyzed the book's cover before turning quizzical eyes to the enraged Sergeant.

Face sauntered over to stand behind the Colonel. He hoped somehow Murdock was well hidden and B. A. wouldn't locate him. The Big Guy was so angry that this time he might actually injure the pilot.

And this time, both Hannibal and me combined might not be able to stop him.

"Why don't you tell us what he did?" The Colonel's attempt to soothe over the big man's temper wasn't working. B. A. growled as he pushed past both men and started looking through the living room.

And then they all heard it. A loud sneeze from the coat closet announced the pilot's presence. How Murdock had managed to go from behind the couch to the closet without either Hannibal or him noticing, Face didn't know.

Snarling in victory, B. A. stormed to the door and tossed it open, nearly breaking the hinges in his fury.

Face sucked in a quick breath. "Watch the hardware. This is a rental, you know."

As the Sergeant began shoving coats aside on the right side, looking for Murdock, the Captain slipped out from the other end of the closet and scurried to the kitchen table.

Murdock turned anxious eyes on his best friend. "Did you know ya got a bunch o' dust bunnies in yer closet?" He spied the book on the table and groaned. "I never thought th' Big Guy'd be int'rested in what I was readin'."

Wait a minute. This is all over a book?

The pilot ducked behind the Colonel and peeked at his furious team mate as he stomped toward the kitchen table.

Hannibal put up a hand to silence Murdock and calmly stared at B. A. "I think some explanations are in order."

"Page 52," Murdock murmured, flinching at the murderous look the Sergeant gave him.

Face picked up the book, riffling through the pages. His eyebrows shut up as he glanced at the page the pilot had mentioned. Something that sounded like a choked laugh or a snort escaped him. Putting one fist up to his mouth, he handed the open book to Hannibal.

No wonder B. A.'s furious.

The con man stifled several coughs that could have been mistaken for attempts to control a fit of laughter. His skin tone changed to a flushed red. If Murdock hadn't been standing behind Hannibal, relying on the older man as his protector, he would have slapped his friend on the back to help him catch his breath.

The Colonel silently scanned the words on the page. His gaze lingered on the photo before he looked up to meet B. A.'s scowl.

"Okay." The word was more a question than anything else.

"Okay nothin'. All this time he's been callin' me that . . . " B. A. stopped to send another withering glare at the pilot.

Face drew in a breath to keep from laughing. He managed to stammer, "The photo really doesn't look like you at all." The black man swung his head toward the Lieutenant and growled, silencing any further comments.

"Well, I don' know. Your hair does kind o' look like a dorsal fin . . . " Murdock stopped and pushed a startled and reluctant Face in front of him as a shield when an even deeper growl came out of B. A.'s mouth.

Hey! Wait a minute! I've got a date tonight. I don't want to explain bruises, cuts and black eyes to Felicia.

"You been sayin' I'm a big angry bottom-feedin' fish all this time!"

The corners of Hannibal's mouth twitched slightly but he composed himself before speaking. "I agree it's not a very complimentary thing to say. What do you have to say for yourself, Captain?"

After loosening the pilot's death grip on his shoulders, Face sat down opposite Hannibal at the table. He picked up the book again and silently read the description on the page.

Without anyone standing between B. A. and him, Murdock swallowed uncomfortably. Keeping his eyes averted to the floor, he stuffed his hands in his pants pockets. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he thought about it.

"Uh, okay. I guess it wasn' very nice . . . or true. I mean, 'cept for th' fin part . . ." B. A. tightened his fists so hard the knuckles cracked. Swallowing again, Murdock hurried on. " . . . ya don' really look like a mudsucker . . . well . . . " He squinted at the Sergeant's face. " . . . maybe 'round the mouth."

"Captain!"

"That does it! I'm gonna kill th' fool!" B. A.'s roar drowned out the Colonel's cautionary warning.

Suddenly, Murdock straightened and jabbed his finger at the Sergeant. His voice changed from uncertain to angry. "Now see! Ya don' like it when I call ya somethin' that b'fore t'day ya didn' even know what it was. But ya think nothin' of it ta call me a fool all th' time. My Gramma 'n' Grampa didn' raise no fool!"

"Then stop doin' an' sayin' fool things!" B. A. spat back. For several seconds the two men glared at each other.

Face cleared his throat. "Uh, B. A.? Did you actually read what the book said about mudsuckers?"

The Sergeant snorted but his eyes betrayed him. Crossing his massive arms over his chest he huffed, "Didn' hafta. Picture says it all."

"Not quite." The con man kept reading to himself but he could tell both Murdock and B. A. were curious about what he meant. The tension in the atmosphere lessened as the pilot leaned over his friend's shoulder to peer at the page.

And that's one of the most important things to do when pulling off a con. Drop hints and make them so curious they stop and have to listen. Just hope I can make mudsuckers sound better than this book does.

"Well, Lieutenant?" Hannibal glanced at B. A. to make sure he wasn't going to go for Murdock's throat. Satisfied, he leaned forward and focused on Face. "What does it say?"

The con man whistled long and low as he scanned the page one last time. "You shouldn't take it as such an insult, B. A."

One last little hook. Then reel him in.

"Yeah, B. A. Like he said," Murdock hastily agreed, then stopped, puzzled, and asked, "Why not?"

"It says here that even though mudsuckers do stay on the bottom in the mud, they can survive for quite a few days out of water by gulping air, burrowing in or moving small distances across land until they find water." Face looked up at the Sergeant.

"So what?" B. A. was frowning now, unsure of what Face meant.

"They're survivors, B. A.! Even in the worst conditions, they know how to survive!" Face added, just to make his point, "Just like you." He could see from B. A.'s posture and his open hands that the anger was just about gone.

"Yeah, Big Guy." Murdock agreed again, not yet sure if the Sergeant was going to accept Face's answer. "If it wasn' for you, I wouldn' o' made it after we escaped from th' NVA. Ya survived th' POW camp 'n' ya made sure I did, too. 'N' I wouldn' want no one else t' have my back in a fist fight."

There was silence in the room for a few minutes. A fly buzzed in one of the kitchen windows but no one noticed.

The pilot took a deep breath and walked toward B. A., his hand outstretched. "So . . . we good? Wanna call a truce?"

The Sergeant hesitated for only a moment, then nodded his head and turned to the door leading to the garage. "Yeah . . . we're good," he muttered. He moved away before Murdock could make physical contact. "I got a engine I gotta tune. See ya all at dinner." The door didn't even slam behind him as he left the house.

The pilot let out a long slow breath of relief and returned to his friend's side.

"Nice, Face." Hannibal grinned as he felt in his pockets for a cigar. Lighting it, he positioned it in his mouth and picked up his newspaper again.

"Here's your book, Murdock." The Lieutenant handed it to his friend. "If I were you, I'd make sure B. A. doesn't see it again."

"Oh, don' worry 'bout that. It b'longs t' th' VA lendin' library." He paused. "So ya think I should tell 'im mudsuckers make mighty fine fishin' bait?"

Face winced before answering. "Trust me, I think that's a fact best kept to yourself."