Winter, 2000

Isla Dulce Hogar

in the Caribbean

Templeton Peck stretched lazily and adjusted his sunglasses as he sat watching the waves. The tropical breeze washed over him like a balm, the scent heady and tangy with the promise of romance and adventure… or maybe just the promise of another cold beer. He grinned as he watched a girl wander by wearing not a lot of bikini. Paradise, right?

He sighed as he looked down at his hands. Age spots and wrinkles marred them now, a stark reminder that he was no longer the young, handsome, suave "Faceman" who could turn on the charm and get the team anything they needed with just his looks and his silver tongue. Hadn't needed to for a long time now. Sometimes, he missed those days…

Hannibal glanced over at Face, knowing full well what he was thinking. He chuckled, and Face shot him a look. "What?"

"You're feeling sorry for yourself again, right? About getting old? You're not all that old, Face. Hell, you're still in your fifties! What are you whining about?" Hannibal laughed outright then, his blue eyes still bright, though age had taken a toll on his face and body as well. "Me, I'm the old fart of the bunch."

Face smiled. "Yeah, you are that." They had recently celebrated Hannibal's 65th birthday, and the man had insisted there was nothing in the world he needed. He had his friends, his memories and finally, a place to call home… A place where no one could touch them. What more could a man want? Well, he thought sadly, there was one thing...

Hannibal glanced over to where B. A. sat at a picnic table with the parts to a small engine spread out in front of him. He looked as if all his concentration was centered on his task. Hannibal knew that was not the case. B. A. was keeping a close eye on Murdock who was sitting down by the water, playing with his collection of shells. Picking up one, handling it for a while, then carefully placing it on his other side before picking up the next one. Over and over. Hannibal knew Murdock would do that all day if given half a chance. It seemed to calm him on his bad days, though today had been pretty good. Hannibal scrutinized the tide and knew almost to the second what B. A.'s next move would be.

Within a minute or so, B. A. stood and crouched down next to Murdock. His voice was gruff, but his eyes were full of pain as he watched his little brother for a moment. "Come on, Fool, you need to move. Tide's comin' in."

Murdock smiled and lifted sightless eyes to his brother as he picked up his shells. "Yeah, I heard it."

B. A waited for Murdock to put his things together and stand. "You wanna go inside or stay out here?"

Murdock considered the question. He pulled off his ball cap and ran a hand through his silvering hair. "Inside I think. Wanna work on my model. It's almost done."

B. A. nodded. "Okay, come on. They headed into a building that was set back far enough from the beach that only the fiercest waves ever threatened it. It was built of native stone and served as the islander's storm shelter on the rare occasions that Mother Nature's temper got totally out of control. Most of the time it served as the island's only bar and sported the appropriate moniker "Headquarters" and was simply known as "HQ."

The bar was the social center and watering hole for the island's inhabitants on this part of the island. They were combat veterans from a variety of campaigns, mostly American, some of who were disabled, who had chosen for various reasons, to call this island home. Most had nowhere else to go, a few simply preferred to live amongst their own. For all, it was a welcome refuge. It was financed mostly by the A-Team's "Retirement Plan." though each vet did contribute what they could to the cause. Some of the vets brought family with them. The natives had a thriving village on the other end of the island, and relations with them were generally good. Adding to the non-native population were a bunch of cats and dogs, the first of which had come with some of the first vets, and gleefully reproduced ever since.

B. A. and Murdock moved inside the bar, which was still closed at the moment. On one of the back tables, a model of an F4U-1D Corsair was in its final stages. Murdock sat down and began checking things out, making sure nothing had been moved since he had last worked on the plane. B. A. chuckled as he watched, knowing what Murdock was doing. Nobody had touched Murdock's stuff. They knew better.

B. A. asked, "You want somethin'?"

"Coke would be good, Big Guy. Thanks."

B. A. poured milk for himself and opened a coke for Murdock and handed it to him, watching his friend in amazement. His movements were precise and sure. Airplanes were still in his blood, no matter the size.

The big man glanced around the room, taking in the hundred or so airplane models that hung from the ceiling or sat on shelves on the walls. Murdock had built them all since coming to the island and they were beautiful. B. A. couldn't figure out how he did it, but more especially how he could do it… when not being able to fly himself had to hurt so much.

B. A. looked at the plane. "You ever flown one of those?"

Murdock grinned "A Corsair? You bet! One time at an airshow in Indiana, a buddy of mine was flyin' one of these babies. He busted his arm falling out of a bar window, and couldn't fly, so he asked me to take over his part in the show. I did and had a ball."

Face and Hannibal had wandered in during the tale. "Did the plane survive?" Hannibal asked with a grin.

"Of course it did." There was a trace of indignation in Murdock's tone that made the others laugh. "I'm not sure the judges were thrilled, because I didn't follow the program exactly… because my buddy forgot to tell me what it was."

Face snickered. "Not the first time you've flown without a flight plan, Murdock."

Murdock's eyebrow raised, and he smiled. "That's affirmative, brother."

The bartender, Dink, an irascible old man of truly indiscernible age walked in from the back room. Dink was carrying a couple of cases of beer and some bags of pretzels in one arm, and a giant jar of pickles in the other. He was probably somewhere in his sixties, built like a tank, and rough as a cob. He ran the bar the same way he had lived as a soldier back in the day: honest, tough, and fair. He tolerated a certain number of shenanigans, and fights, but if any furniture got broken, the combatants had better be prepared to pay with a bit of blood along with their cash. And God help anyone who broke one of Murdock's models.

Hannibal looked up as Dink walked in. "Hey there. You need a hand?"

Dink nodded. "Yeah, and if any of you clowns start applauding, I'll throw a case of beer at you."

Face grinned as he took the jar. "No you won't. You love us, and you know it."

Dink rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. About as much as a dog loves fleas. Put those down on the back bar. The rest of the stuff is still in the jeep."

All four men, including Murdock headed for the jeep. Murdock was grinning. "Did you pick up my package, Dink?" he hollered.

"Yeah, I got it, and you owe me twenty bucks! You never said it was COD, you pirate!" He carefully pulled a FedEx box from the back of the jeep and handed it to Murdock.

Murdock grinned and headed inside. "Thanks. If this is the one I think it is, I've been waiting for this one for a while."

He took the package in and opened it. On top was a business sized envelope, a large manilla envelope, and underneath, a model kit. He set the envelopes aside and pulled out the kit. On top was taped an index card embossed in Braille. He ran his hands lightly over the words and grinned. "I had to wait for my buddy to translate all the instructions into Braille. These were kind of complicated. This one is actually two balsa wood models."

He pulled out the box to show them. "Montgolfier's Balloon, and The Spirit of St. Louis. I already did the Wright Flyer I." He absently waved a hand towards the ceiling, where his model of the Flyer floated on the breeze at the end of the string tethering it to a support beam, the only balsa wood model on display.

As he reached for the envelopes, Dink snapped his fingers. "Pay up Murdock. Don't think I've forgotten you owe me twenty!"

Murdock chuckled, pulled out his beat-up old wallet and handed Dink the money. "I wouldn't do that, Dink. You know that."

Dink nodded. "I know it." He took a good look at the wallet, which was severely worn and falling apart. "You need a new wallet, mate."

Face chuckled at the Australian's words. "He likes that one. I tried giving him a new wallet once. It didn't work out so well."

Dink began to wipe down the bar as a few vets trickled in and took up residence at the bar and a few of the tables. He chuckled. It seemed Face was in the mood to tell a story or two. They wouldn't be open for business for an hour or so yet, but somehow, many of the residents seemed to have some sort of radar. He grinned and settled back to listen...