Chapter 1

I approached the Chinese laundomat, squinting at the building through the morning's light rainfall as traffic buzzed behind me on the busy L.A. streets. I was tired, hungry, and had been on an emotional trainwreck for about a month leading up to today, but I was here. I paused a few feet from the door, reaching into my faded green army fatigue jacket in search of a certain scrap of paper. No, I wasn't in the service. Heck, I was barely old enough to vote. It had once belonged to my father, and my mother had kept it all these years. Sixteen to be exact. My fingers grasped the paper they sought, and I held it up to see, trying to shield the writing from the raindrops, but one drop got through, making the ink run.

Quickly I shoved it back into my pocket and took a breath before moving to open the laundromat door, the bell above it ringing upon my enterance.. The musty smell that reached my nose wasn't something you quite want to smell at a laundromat. But then again, I wasn't there to wash anything.

"Hello!"

My breath caught as a voice right next to me surprised me. I turned towards it, seeing a stocky Chinese man with a hunchback right next to me, waving a cane in gesture. Had he been standing right next to the enterance?

"You come, you wash clothes?" He asked loudly.

"No, I - " I began.

"No laundry - no service! Have good day!"

Abruptly he turned on his heel and hobbled away faster than he looked capable of.

"No wait! I'm looking for someone."

I hurredly searched for the paper in the deep pockets yet again while trying to keep up with him.

"Here! This is the address I was given. I'm hoping to find my father."

He stopped so suddenly I almost collided with him, and slowly he turned around, peering at me over his glasses. I offered the crumpled paper, and caught a glimpse of myself in a dirty mirror on the wall next to me. My brown hair was fraying out of its loose braid, and in my emotional and hungry physical state I looked positively dreadful and small in the large army jacket. My blue eyes appeared extra large and my hands trembled slightly as I extended the paper.

He must think I'm a homeless begger, I realized, then rerouted my attention back to him. He was looking closely at the writing on the paper, showing the address of his establishment, but he shook his head.

"No, no father here. Only I, and I no have children!" He waved a hand at me in a shooing motion. "Best of luck!"

"No! You don't understand!"

All of a sudden I felt like I wanted to cry, which was unusual for me. At least, before this past month it was. I was always the strong one, a steady positive attitude in the face of trouble. Now I wanted to crumble onto this scuffed-up floor before a Chinese stranger.

"Please... I just lost my mother... I never knew my father, but Mom left me this address and the hope that you, or... the A-Team?... would help me find him. Please!?"

Suddenly the room seemed to move in a warped motion, and I wavered off-balance, my right hand flying out to grasp a nearby table to steady myself. The Chinese man nearly lept forward as I nearly fainted, and in that moment it seemed as though his hunch had disappeared. As soon as I was steady though, his huchback posture returned, his face staying expressionless through it all.

"These men you seek, you sure they are safe? You are so young." His voice went a little lower, and I sensed concern in it.

I looked back down at the paper, my lifeline in the past few weeks as I felt so alone in the days of travel across the country to L.A.. I had had no idea who the address would lead me to, but I had traveled across the country to find out, and there was no way I was giving up now. I straightened myself, feeling a new determination within me and I met his gaze as steady as I could.

"I can take care of myself. I'm a little tired now from traveling but when I do meet them, I'll be ready. Do you know where they are?"

The Chinese man held my gaze for a minute without speaking, and it seemed to me that in the dim lighting his eyes almost seemed a blue color behind his thick-rimmed glasses, which was strange for an Asian. I brushed it off as a weird light angle and blinked impatiently for his response. Finally, he humphed and scurried past me rather quickly towards a back door, probably leading into an office I figured.

"Hey! Where are you going?!"

I chased after him, only to have the door shut in my face.

Frustrated, I raised my fist to pound on the door, but it reopened and the man appeared inches from my face. His breath smelled lightly of cigar smoke and teriyaki, making me cough and take a step back out of range of the odor.

"Here." He held out a small index card. "Go here. The A-Team will find you."

I took the card. Another address. Great. I looked up to ask him more questions, but found he had disappeared. I whirled around, eyes searching the laundromat but finding it empty. Feeling another paper layered under the card, I flipped it over to find a coupon to Captain Belly Buster's Burgers and the word "EAT" scrawled under it on the back of the index card.

As if on cue, my stomach let out a monstrous growl, and I realized how famished I really was. I hitched up my faded jeans and left the building, determined to find the burger place, eat, and head straight to the address the Chinese man have given me.

I scooted further back on the picnic table for the fourth time that afternoon, trying to avoid the sunlight moving around the tree above me. My fair skin burned easily, and I hadn't brought any sunblock with me. The address the Chinaman gave me was to a park in the city, and I had been sitting here for hours. I kept glancing around the park for any sign of... well, I wasn't sure who I was looking for. Someone looking for me, I guess. I saw mothers and their children, college students killing time between classes, a jogger or two, people walking their dogs, some businessmen probably just getting off work. I breathed in the somewhat-cleaner air that was in this part of the big city, wishing I was back home on the farm with my mom.

No, Mom's not there anymore. She's gone.

I frowned at the reminder, and instinctively reached under myself and pulled out my burger wrapper which I had folded into a hat. Mom and I always had Captain Belly Buster dinner dates once a month, and we would save our wrappers and fold them into hats for each other to wear while we went to Dairy Queen for dessert. The cashier would always laugh at us and ring up our usual before we even ordered. Those were the best times. I missed her dreadfully.

I sighed and folded it flat and smaller, so it would fit into my jacket pocket, blinking away the smarting feeling in my eyes...

"Hi there, beautiful day isn't it? Are you by yourself?"

I snapped my head up to see a middle-aged man in a gray suit standing a couple yards away from me, smiling.

Where did he come from? Nobody was near me.

His well-kept hair was combed over one side of his head, layering back into a shorter cut, and though he smiled broadly, I felt an immediate surge of distrust towards the stranger. I stiffened on the bench.

"My friend is coming back any minute now," I answered. "He's grabbing me ice cream."

My momma always taught me to be careful with strangers, and never answer one honestly if it put you in a compromising situation. In this instance, it was better to make him think I was with a boyfriend on a date in the park, so he wouldn't know I was here alone.

"Ah." He said, glancing around. "Well, you don't mind if I sit down a while, do you? My feet are killing me. Hard day at the office..." His tone took on a whine as he spoke.

He moved towards the picnic table, so I quickly hopped off it and stepped away. He looked at me with a strange, somewhat perplexed expression, then he sat and proceeded to put one foot up over the other knee. His soles looked very worn for a desk job, and I didn't buy his wincing in pain as he massaged his ankle. It seemed too exaggerated.

"Tough day at your desk, huh?" I tried to sound friendly and engaging.

"Oh yeah, corporate is cutting their whips over us," he whined, "I thought I wouldn't last till lunch break, so soon as my shift ended I came down here to walk, clear my head."

"To walk." I stated more than asked. "In your dress shoes."

"Yeah, I..." His voice trailed off as he noticed my eyes on his well-worn shoes, then cut a glance at me that told me I had found him out.

"Looks like you've got a lot of miles in those shoes sitting behind a desk, huh?" I met his blue eyes straight on. "Why are you really here?"

I was never one to beat around the bush, especially when I felt like someone was trying to take advantage of me. It made me mad, so I pushed harder.

"You don't work at an office, you're trying to manipulate me for something! What is it?"

"And you don't have a boyfriend here with you," he retaliated, all appearance of hurting feet gone and his voice changing to one of annoyance. "You lied to me too!"

We glared at eachother, and I opened my mouth to tell him off with another comment when a tall man in a light gray trenchcoat stepped out from behind the tree nearby. He addressed the man on the bench with a commanding tone.

"Easy, Lieutenant."

Immediately I tensed at the knowledge that the two were in cahoots with each other.

"Stay back. Leave me alone." I warned them, trying to look as stern as possible.

"But, I thought you wanted to find us?" The trenchcoat man said quizzically with a boyish grin. His short white hair was combed to one side, and his blue eyes sparkled with a clever expression.

"I... did?" I asked tentatively, then a gruff voice directly behind me nearly made me leap as high as the tree branches above us.

"Yeah, sister! You lookin' for us?!"

I whipped around and was momentarily blinded by the sunlight reflecting off of a mass of gold chains, then realized that gold was hanging around the neck of an African American man who was built like a tank. His dark eyes focused on me with an intense gaze below his thick eyebrows and sculped mowhawk.

Is this how I die?!

I stumbled backward and turned to run but instead ran into yet a fourth man, who was hanging upside-down from a low branch. I exclaimed in surprise as I nearly collided with his head that hung down at the same height as mine.

"HI!" He exclaimed with a wide grin.

"AHHH!"

Out of instinct to protect myself, I lashed out with a shove of both arms into the man's torso, causing him to fall out of the tree. Suddenly I felt my arms gripped tightly to my sides and I realized I couldn't move. The black man had me in a bear hug hold! I began kicking for all I was worth, but my feet just struck air.

"She's a quick one, Hannibal!" The man with the gold said, his grip tightening around me as I struggled in vain to be free. The man in the trenchcoat named Hannibal grinned.

"I'll say. Now, Miss, please settle down. We don't need the public to think you're being kidnapped by a group of strange men."

I paused in my struggle briefly to glare at Hannibal. His voice wasn't unkind, but sort of sarcastic, wagging an unlit cigar in the air at me.

"Isn't that what you're doing?" I demanded.

"No, no, not at all." The man with nice hair said from where he still sat on the bench. "You see, we're who you were waiting for."

"Huh?" I stared at them, not sure I trusted his answer.

"Let her go, B.A." Hannibal ordered.

I felt the strong arms that gripped me loosen slowly and gently set me down onto the ground. I stood stiffly, still wary, and glanced over my shoulder at him. His intense gaze had softened some.

"We're not gonna hurt you, mama. We're the A-Team and we came to help you. I'm B.A. Baracas, that's Hannibal, Faceman, and the crazy tree-swingin' dude is Murdock."

I looked at the other three men in shock. I had heard of the A-Team. Heck, they were kind of like heroes to me! My mother was a fan of the renegades for hire and she kept a collection of newspaper clippings of all of their good deeds that were reported in the newspaper. I didn't recognize the man named Murdock, since he was never mentioned in the articles, but judging by his brown leather pilot's jacket, I wondered if he flew them around when need be. The articles did sometimes mention the team using a helicopter or plane as means of escape.

"Why on earth didn't you just come out and say it?!" I nearly shouted at the suited man, waving my arms in the air, once again my temper flaring.

"Well, you didn't give me much chance!" He replied defensively. "You were too busy accusing me of being some kinda pervert!"

"You said that, not me." I retorted.
"Hey!" Their leader shouted. "Enough!"

He turned Mr. Slick.

"Face, you've been better. She saw right through your ruse."

He looked at me and the mischievous eyes were now stern.

"And you Miss, you better control that attitude if you want to hire us. We don't work for unruly children!"

"I'm not a child." I growled, trying to make my five-foot six self look taller before the larger men around me.

"And I came all the way across the country to find you. I scrimped and saved for my plane ticket, I've barely eaten or slept, and my only priority is to find my father."

The suit-and-tie man called Face looked as equally annoyed as his leader, but with a touch of sympathy.

"Isn't a missing person something the police normally handle? Why didn't you go to them? I mean, we appreciate all you've been through to get here, but..."

All eyes were now one me, and I sighed. Here is where I had to share the uncomfortable truth my grandfather had told me after Mom's funeral, when he had handed me the address:

"Grandpa said my dad was always in trouble with the law, and to not go to the police to find him. He said the only way to find my dad was to reach whoever was at the address I have that Mom left for me. Grandpa found it while going through her things. He said she had planned on her and I seaching for my father together once I was an adult, but... she didn't plan on... on..."

I felt a lump in my throat as I remembered my mother's death, and sensing my emotion B.A. put a gentle hand on my shoulder. Hannibal spoke up then, distracting me from the tears that threatened to spill over.

"Yes, Mr. Lee said you were quite desperate, and he felt strongly that we should meet you and see what we could do."

Hannibal reached into his pocket as he talked, pulling out a match, lighting his cigar and discarding the match to the dirt to be stepped on.

I coughed slightly as the smoke smell reached me, then paused and stared at him. Cigar smoke, blue eyes...

"It's you! You're the Chinese man!" I pointed at him, both pleased with myself for figuring it out but also irritated that he had played a role and tricked me that morning at the laundromat.

Hannibal shrugged and gave me a crooked grin, cigar hanging out of his mouth.

"Now who's slipping, Hannibal?" Commented Face with sarcasm, but Hannibal ignored it. He removed the cigar from his mouth to address me.

"Alright, Miss...?"

"Mae Finnegan."

"Miss Finnegan, one problem I noticed straight away, is that you don't have much money. We... aren't cheap," he shrugged.

I nodded. I had already thought of that, since whoever I found to help me would probably need compensation.

"My mother left me a bank account with savings in it. She wanted me to use it for the most important things in my life, and I believe this counts."

I handed him a wrinkly bank statement from another pocket, which he studied and Face peered at over his shoulder.

"I think that about covers our fee, don't you think, Hannibal?"

"I couldn't agree more." He extended a gloved hand towards me. "Miss Finnegan, you've just hired the A-Team."

I took the hand with my smaller one, giving the best firm grip I could, and felt both nervous and excited at the same time. I had hired my childhood heroes!

"So, tell us about your father," Face said before taking a bite of his hamburger.

We were still at the park where I found them - or rather, where they found me - but B.A. and Murdock had gone and bought us a late lunch. I think they had heard my stomach growling.

I swallowed a big bite before answering him, reminding myself of my mental note to eat slower.

"The thing is, I don't know much about him. Just little things, like quirks and personality traits, stories from when he and Mom were dating, and that he was in the army in the Vietnam War."

"Well, that could any number of thousands of people. I mean, we were all in 'Nam too." Face said, looking over at Hannibal who was listening intently to me while chewing his own burger.

I put my last bite in my mouth, chewing while my hands pressed the wrapper out of habit, smoothing edges and folding it this way and that. I swallowed my bite and before answered Face's comment.

"I know, but maybe he was connected with you guys in some way? Maybe that's why Mom left me the address to find you guys?"

"Uhh, I can't think of anyone with a long lost daughter," Murdock spoke up through a mouthful. He swallowed and turned to B.A. with a wide grin. "You got a kid out there, you big angry mudsucker?"

"Shut up fool!" B.A. shook off the elbow Murdock nudged him with. "You're crazy. Just look at how different she and I are!"

"Stranger things have happened." Murdock said coyly before scooting out of reach of the big guy, and bumping into me. He looked down and noticed my half-folded wrapper hat.

"Hey! You do that too?! I thought I was the only one!"

I laughed a bit out of embarassment, since I felt childish to still be folding my wrappers, especially in public. But I was nervous to be out here in L.A. with a group of wanted men, so I guess I fidgeted with it out of a need for comfort.

"Yeah, my mom taught me how to do it. It was something we always did together when we had dinner dates once a month."

I stopped folding, crumpling the unfinished hat into a ball and tossed it into the burger bag next to me. I clasped my hands together to keep them still and shook my head sadly.

"I'm sorry I don't have much for you to go on. Any physical clues i have would be at home and I didn't think to bring them. I know it's nearly impossible, but I had to come here and try to find him."

B.A. balled up his wrapper and was about to speak to me when he noticed Murdock also folding his wrapper into a hat. The bigger man snatched the wrapper away from his surprised teammate, and crumpled it up before tossing it past me towards the bag, his gold jingling from the motion. Murdock made a protesting gesture, but a challenging look from B.A. shut him down. I watched the situation with amusement and a little confusion, then B.A. turned his attention away from Murdock to address me as he had tried to previously.

"Do you know where your daddy lived, or where he worked? Gotta be somethin'."

I shook my head again.

"Mom met him before the war at a college party, and they were together for about a year before he got shipped off. She always said he survived it, just that he never came back to her, and she never knew why."

I picked a loose thread from my jacket cuff, realizing just how scarce my information really was, and it seemed even more impossible that I would ever find my dad.

"They wrote eachother here and there during the war, but then suddenly he stopped writing. The last thing she heard was that he thought he had an opportunity to get home sooner, but..." I sighed. "She never found out what happened to him. Grandpa said he was probably killed over in Vietnam, but Mom never believed that, and she never let me believe it either."

"Your mom had a lot of faith." Hannibal commented, sounding respecful of my mother. "A lot of people would have written him off, like your grandpa. I can't promise you we'll find him, because we don't know for sure what happened to him, but I can promise you we'll do the best we can."

"Thanks Hannibal." I smiled gratefully, a glimmer of hope rising within me. Maybe I would find my father!