Summary: Where there's smoke, there's fire. Or is there? And do mirrors really reflect reality? Things start happening around the A-team and the Lady Crazy crew, and the waters definitely begin to muddy.
Disclaimer: Nope, nope, nope. Still don't own the A-team, nor Ray. They belong to whoever currently owns the rights, and it ain't me. Murdock's crew still belongs to Avatar, but she gave me keys to their cages, and kicked tail when and where appropriate. Again, most gracious thanks to the 118th AHC web page. They just sound like a group Murdock & Co. would belong to. Everything else is mine, mine, mine.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
It was late before BA made it over to Hannibal's tent. Ray and that new lieutenant, Peck, were already there, and it looked like a discussion was underway when he entered. The tent shook as he pulled the door open. It always stuck, and Hannibal refused to get it fixed. He claimed it made as good a warning signal as any. The others looked at him as he entered. Stretched out on his bunk, Hannibal merely nodded. Peck stood toward the back of the tent, flashing an unsure smile in BA's direction. "Hey, BA," Ray greeted him. His feet were propped on the table that served as Hannibal's desk, blocking further entrance into the tent. "I went to your bunk, but you weren't there." He grinned at the sergeant. "Little insomnia? Out roaming the base?" BA scowled at Ray, then picked up his feet off the desk, neatly tipping the lieutenant and his chair onto the floor. Ignoring the startled look from Peck, and the grin from Hannibal, he pulled a second chair to the foot of Hannibal's bunk and sat, arms crossed. "Damn it, BA," Ray said. But there was no animosity in his voice as he picked himself off the floor and brushed at his uniform. He righted the chair, turning it, and sat with his arms folded across the back. "Nice of you to make it, BA," chided Hannibal. He looked back to Peck. "Anything else?" "Only that there are some gaps in his service time," said Peck, "Officially marked as 'TDY', but he hasn't been sighted anywhere during those times." "A little black ops?" Ray suggested. "Could be," Peck agreed, "Whatever it is, it's well covered." BA looked from one to the other. "Who you talkin' 'bout?" "That pilot who flew us the other day," Hannibal informed him. He sat up and swung his feet off the bed. "What about the rest of the crew?" BA flinched, realizing to which pilot Hannibal referred. His reaction went unnoticed by the others. He leaned forward, curious as to what the lieutenant had found. "Right," Peck said, a hint of nervousness at BA's scrutiny. "Ah, crew chief is Casper Pol- Polanczyk," he stumbled in his pronunciation, "Sergeant. Been with the 118th just over a year. Before that, he was with the 355th at Fort Sill. Advance training at Eustis. Really high mechanical rating, in top of his class there. From Wisconsin, a farm boy, big family. Football, wrestling, typical rural school stuff." He paused, with a glance at Hannibal. "Married, two little boys. Wife's apparently living with his parents while he's over here." Hannibal nodded, and pulled out a cigar. "So those two are the main course," he said, "What about the other crew positions?" Glancing at his notes, Peck sighed. "As you know," he said, "the other positions rotate, depending on who's up on the duty roster." He caught an exasperated gesture from Ray. "A couple of guys seem to go out with them pretty regular. The usual door gunner is a guy named Remy St. James. Speedy Four. He transferred to the 118th from the LRRP's. Looks like he was injured on his last patrol with them, and spent a couple months recuperating." He paused, noting again BA's interest. "The guy's got a pretty checkered past. Grew up in southern Louisiana. Seems he was given the choice of going to reform school or joining the Army." Peck grinned. "Guess what he picked? Anyway, he had trouble getting through basic. A lot of disciplinary paper." He hesitated, gaging how much more to report. "But he's got a good record in the field. Just doesn't get along too well on post." BA sat back in his chair, pondering the information. Nothing in it seemed to tie-in directly to Forsythe and his dealings. Peck had not mentioned anything about Remy's family, as he had for Polanczyk, and BA wondered if the information hadn't been there, or if the lieutenant had edited it from his report. He wished he had come in time to hear about Murdock. Musing on his thoughts, he missed a part of the lieutenant's report. BA turned his attention back to Peck. "-Peter Vincent," Peck was saying, "Opted into warrant officer school from basic, helicopter training at Wolters and Rucker. He's new in country; the 118th is his first assignment. From the Boston area. Two years of college before electing to join the Army. Single." He flipped the small notebook closed. "And that's the lot of them." He shifted his position, sitting himself on the edge of the table. Hannibal stared thoughtfully at the floor. The pilot's record was intriguing, especially if Ray's hunch about the black ops was correct. That particular combination had worked well. Once he got Morrison squared away, a meeting with the pilot would be in order. Hannibal preferred dealing directly with his men, rather than dealing through fellow commanding officers. While they did have to be placated, it was better done after the fact. And if this Murdock had that much TDY assigned to him, arrangements were probably already in place. BA mentally sorted through portions of the report. Nothing about the crew seemed a reason for Remy to be so closed-mouth about his former dealings with Forsythe. He wondered again what Peck had deleted from his report. Perhaps one of those "disciplinary papers" held the key. He looked up from his thoughts. Ray was rocking the chair back and forth in a way that had always irritated BA. The new lieutenant was watching Hannibal. Probably wonders if he passed his "test." And Hannibal, in turn, was studying BA. "Something on your mind, Sergeant?" Hannibal asked. "Don't know yet," said BA. "Something to do with you're being late?" Ray pressed. BA scowled in his direction, and Ray shrugged. Knowing the question would certainly attract Hannibal's attention, BA elected to ask it anyway. "What kind of trouble St. James been in?" Hannibal's eyebrows rose. Ray stopped rocking the chair, and Peck looked from BA to Hannibal. The colonel observed BA a moment longer, then turned to Peck. "Well?" he asked. Peck braced his hands against the table, steadying himself. "The usual kid stuff," he said. He grimaced, remembering his own record. "Truancy, poaching, petty theft stuff. In basic, ah, insubordination, uniform violations, fighting, minor AWOL." "Minor AWOL?" asked Ray, "What do you call minor AWOL?" The notebook reopened in Peck's hand. "Off-post when he wasn't supposed to be." "That's what AWOL is, Lieutenant," Hannibal said, patiently, "Absent With Out Leave." "Okay, then, " said Peck, "the I-just-went-to-town-for-a-drink kind of AWOL, not the I-gotta-go-plant-the-crops type." Hannibal raised an eyebrow at the reference, but Peck had glanced down at the notebook, and missed the silent comment. He continued. "The reprimands seem to decrease as he adjusted to military life. And like I said, he still has problems on post. Mostly with following orders." BA smiled to himself, remembering the interplay between Cass and Remy. "Something on your mind, BA?" Hannibal repeated. The sergeant shrugged, full aware of not only Hannibal's scrutiny, but that of Ray and Peck as well. He wasn't quite ready to lay out Remy's problem, not without more information, both from and on the door gunner. With no answer from BA, the two lieutenants turned back to Hannibal. "So, now what?" asked Ray. "Now, we talk to the pilot," said Hannibal, "If I can do it outside official channels, so much the better." He stood up, stretching himself. "In the meantime, Morrison's got some intel, a possible mission. I'm supposed to meet him," he glanced at his watch, "in a half-hour." He started for the door, then stopped and looked at the others. "He hinted that it was pretty big, so you guys stick around the area." He inclined his head in dismissal. "That means no insomniatic wandering, BA," said Ray, as they left Hannibal's hooch. "Ain't no such word," growled BA, without rancor. "Like t'see you all night in the motor pool." "I looked for you there," chided Ray, "where the hell were you?" BA scowled at him. "Fool clerk put the wrong package on my bench," he said, "Don't know how he made clerk if'n he can't read." "Probably knew how to put paper in a typewriter," interjected Peck. BA looked at him, mildly surprised. Ray grinned at the younger man. "It speaks," he said, "without winding." Peck looked at him in annoyance. He opened his mouth to retort, then apparently changed his mind, and closed it. Ray merely grinned back at him. BA continued to scowl at both of them. "Better get some sleep," Ray advised, "I bet Hannibal's got one hell of a mission, 'specially if Morrison wants him this late." "What odds?" asked Peck with interest, neatly changing the subject. BA snorted. The two lieutenants continued discussing odds, even after he turned off toward his own bunk. Tomorrow was soon enough, for both the mission and the bet.
"You're kidding," Ray whistled. The team had regrouped in Hannibal's hooch twelve hours later to lay out the mission. "How did Morrison get wind of this?" "He didn't say." Hannibal chewed on the cigar he had been using as a pointer. "But if the intel is good-and Morrison says it's an A-1 source-we can't pass up the chance to give Ho Ching Ming's boys one hell of a black eye." He eyed the map thoughtfully. "The POW transfer supposed to be happening here. Our best bet will be to set up," he paused and traced a circle on the map, "somewhere within this radius, then move to the transfer point. We hit 'em and retreat back to the pickup point." "That's quite a hike," Ray noted. "Yeah," said Hannibal, "We're gonna need a ride. The word we got at this point is five POW's." He looked at the others. "Chopper's the quickest way there and back, and we can squeeze in with no problem." "Aw, Hannibal," BA protested. The three officers looked at him, and he glanced at the map. Hastily amending his thoughts, he gestured at the area in question. "There ain't no place t'land a chopper." "Not much," Peck agreed, leaning forward to look at the map. "Couple of spots might work." He shrugged. "'Course some of those guys could land on a postage stamp if they had to." "Well, then, a postcard shouldn't bother them," Hannibal said. A lighter appeared in his hand, and moments later, fragrant smoke curled from the end of the cigar. "When is this transfer supposed to be happening?" Ray asked. "That's a detail Morrison didn't have," Hannibal admitted, "When it goes down, we'll be scrambling." He looked at the map again. "I'd bet within forty-eight hours, though. Anything longer than that, gives anyone a good shot at planning a rescue." He looked at each of the men in turn. "Stick around, guys. That means no tearing into any engines, BA. Get some pyro, just in case" "Great," Ray groused, "Stand-by chopper crews. Those guys are always grumpy." "No time to work on a regular crew," Hannibal said, "Ray, just alert them that we may need a chopper in a hurry. We'll take what we get." He turned to Peck, a hint of knowing in his eyes. "Stick around base, Lieutenant. Your 'extracurricular' activities can manage themselves for now." "There's a supply plane coming in," Peck protested, "Might be worth meeting." Hannibal studied the younger man, then nodded. "Okay," he said, "Meet your plane. Get the ammo squared away too." He looked around at each man once again. "When this thing goes, it's going fast. I want everything ready in two hours." The three men nodded. "Let's do it," Hannibal said.
Fortunately for Peck, the supply plane also carried one of his regular connections. The abrupt transfer to Smith's command had interrupted his network, and he was concerned about reestablishing his "extracurricular" activities, as Smith termed them. After arranging a few details and exchanges with the crewmen, he loaded a few boxes into the borrowed jeep. There'd be a few more IOU's until he could get things settled, but at least he wasn't totally shut down. Focused on packing the boxes tightly into the limited space of the jeep, he listened only casually to the conversation behind him. He glanced back, then looked again, attention caught by the shapes filling the fatigues behind him. Nurses, he thought, they gotta be nurses. Stepping up casually behind them, he studied them a moment, before interrupting the conversation. "Is there a problem, ladies?" he asked.
Two faces turned toward him, two very different-but pretty, definitely pretty-faces. The taller of the two had a tanned, surfer-girl look to her, fatigues fitting as though they had shrunk to her body. Her straight, strawberry-blonde hair was cropped in pixie-style cut, accenting blue eyes that looked back at him with frank interest. The other had hair pulled back in a French twist, with wispy curls spoiling the smoothness of the style. Her dark hair and eyes were set off by paler skin, giving her a delicate, China-doll impression which was further enhanced by her slight stature. Her fatigues were suggestive of an older brother's clothes, although they really weren't that big. Those eyes looked at him with a bit more challenge than her companion's. "Not unless you can make radio parts appear," said the redhead. "And this is private conversation, Lieutenant," the other added. Peck smiled, noting the gold bars on both uniforms. Can't hit on enlisted or superior officers, he thought, but my own rank is fair game. He looked up at the crewman and asked, "Radio parts?" "Like I told them," the crewman said, "They ain't come in. Only stuff I had was yours." Mine? said Peck's expression. He looked again at the two nurses, and his smile broadened. "Tell you what, Donny," he said to the crewman, "You get me another set, and I'll let these ladies have mine." The man grinned knowingly. "Shipping costs went up," he offered. Peck raised an eyebrow. "So have my expenses," he countered, "You know how it is. New routes, new customers." "All right, Peck," the man capitulated, "I'll have it next week." Peck's smile faltered slightly. Shaking it off, he rationalized that connecting with one or both of the nurses would be worth the kink his generosity was putting in his plans. "I'll make it worth your while," he offered, hoping the gesture would work both on the crewman and the ladies, "Half again your costs if it's here in three days." "Deal," said the man. The far engine began its revolutions, drawing the crewman back to his duties. "Oh, here's the rest of your stuff, ladies." He shoved a box to the edge of the fuselage, and touched his cap. "Allow me," Peck said, swinging the box from the plane, and moving away from the open door. He looked at the nurses. "If you ladies will lead the way to your vehicle?" he inquired. "I'll take that," said the redhead, neatly acquiring the box from him. He glanced at her nametape, but the box obscured it. "How 'bout those radio parts?" "Ah," said Peck. He walked over to the jeep, and shifted boxes before unearthing the box in question. He returned to where the women were standing. "Here they are," he said, keeping the box securely in his possession. "Lead on." They looked at each other in amusement. The smaller one shrugged, and scooped up another package from the ground. They started toward a jeep parked further from the runway, Peck following. He studied them as they walked, a part of him just enjoying their female company. When they arrived, Peck set the box in the back of the jeep. The nurses deposited their boxes on top of it, making it easier for him to read both nametapes. "Lieutenant Roland," he said with a bow to the redhead, and then turned to the brunette, "and Lieutenant Garrett. It was a pleasure." He straightened, and smiled invitingly. "I'll bet. Nametapes serve such a nice double purpose," said Lt. Roland drily, "Plastered across our boobs like that." "Tess!" protested the other. Peck grinned. "Happy to be of service," he said. With an entreating look at Roland, he added, "And if you'd be kind enough to introduce me to your companion, Tess, I'd be happy to keep you both in mind for future, ah, endeavors." "Well, that was pretty thick," the brunette commented. Tess grinned. "It's a change from what we usually get," she said. She turned back to Peck, and added pointedly, "Sorry, but we didn't catch your name either." "Ah," exclaimed Peck, "Templeton Peck, at your service." He bowed again to each, then looked expectantly at Lt. Garrett. Tess jabbed her companion with her elbow, and muttered, "He won't care." "Shut up," she hissed, jabbing Tess back. Then, with a nod to Peck, she said simply, "Renee." "Enchante," said Peck, hoping to impress them both. Their byplay was not lost on him. "Je suis heureueux de faire votre connaissance," she responded. Her pronunciation was nowhere near his one-semester-high-school-French-class attempt. Peck looked at her, startled. Her face was sober enough, but her eyes sparkled in quiet mirth. This could be interesting, he thought, and found himself wondering what she looked like with her hair down. "Show-off." Tess' comment to her partner interrupted his thoughts. She glanced down at her watch. "Oh, jeez. I'm on in an hour." She slid into the driver's seat, then looked back at Peck. "What do we owe you?" "On account," said Peck. "Oh-oh," said Renee softly. "Right," said Tess, drawling the word and smiling back at Peck. There might just be advantages to being here after all, he thought. They're definitely worth the radio parts. He returned to his own vehicle, got in, and started it, heading away from the airfield. There were a few more things he needed to take care of.
Remy strode hurriedly across the airfield. He needed to get the package Hutton had given him on the supply plane before it left. Reinhart was in one of his sadistic moods-at least as far as Remy was concerned. The colonel had Remy filing and running errands out of his office. Remy wasn't sure who got more frustrated with the filing-himself or Hutton, who probably do it over anyway. And in about half the time, I bet. He knew better than to take it out on the clerk, though. One time on burning detail was enough. Normally a job not assigned to the flight crews, Reinhart had made the exception for him with a few phone calls. Hutton had been curious about Remy's bruised face, but pretended to accept the lame excuse Remy gave him. The barracks and mess hall, however, had been another story. He had been ribbed constantly by the guys, especially about having a fight with his girlfriend. After having ice on his bruises all night, Remy had been able to make the flight. The drugs he had been given put him out completely, and he was still groggy when he was awakened. Convincing Cass he was all right had taken most of the morning prep time and the crew chief still managed to force more pills down Remy. He hadn't bothered asking what they were. It didn't matter, anyway. Arguing with Cass was almost impossible when the crew chief made up his mind. The pills had seemed to help though, he had felt almost normal by the time the chopper was ready. He had managed to keep Murdock and Pete from seeing the worst of it and hustled off the flight line as soon as he could with the excuse of the additional work. The supply plane was still there, though both engines were fired, and he handed off the package with a feeling of relief. He checked his watch as he strolled away from the bird. If he hurried, he could get a few words with some of the LRRPs. His old squad was coming off R&R and should be arriving within a few minutes. As he crossed the airfield to meet the other plane, he saw a soldier loading boxes on a jeep near the landing strip. Remy thought he looked familiar, then realized it was the same man who had been in Hutton's office when he had that little discussion with the colonel. Since when do officers make supply runs? he thought irritably. Knowing Forsythe was stalking him make him wary of anyone new hanging around. He couldn't be too careful. The other plane had landed and he greeted his old friends as they disembarked. Amid the kidding about his black eye and his "laziness" for being a door gunner rather than an LRRP, he got around to asking his questions. As they collected their gear, heading off the airfield, he sought out the squad's radio operator. If anyone would know the guy, it would be Malueg. "Faceman, huh?" Malueg laughed, hearing Remy's description of the officer. "Sounds like Peck." They moved away from the plane, and he dropped his bags next to him while he talked. "Count your fingers lately? He's one smooth operator. If you need something, he'll talk somebody out of it." Remy shrugged, he hadn't really looked at the name tag. "What would he be doing at the 118th?" Malueg shrugged back. "He's infantry, unless he's transferring to be a door gunner. Or he's found something to scam out of that office." The LLRP continued, "Runs one hell of a club--the unofficial kind." "Had butter bars," Remy objected. "Don't need officers on the guns." "I don't know what else to tell you," Malueg conceded as Remy nodded in acknowledgment. It was more information than he had previously. "Look, I gotta go," Remy apologized. "Finish the old man's busy work." He grimaced as he checked his watch, "We're on standby tonight--rather get this finished today." Malueg looked past him and commented, "Maybe you should stop by the hospital," as he watched Peck with the nurses. "Isn't that your girlfriend he's hustling?" He laughed at Remy's expression, "Just kidding." He started to walk away and then turned, "Come down for a drink some night. And bring the Polack. We'll play carrier landings." He smiled at the memory of their last visit. "Needs some sort of handicap," Remy snorted, then also smiled. "I don't think he ever fell off." It had been fun that night, although he wasn't so sure about it the next day. But a cold shower and a stiff breeze in flight did wonders for a hangover. Though he hadn't noticed Cass having any problems. Then again, with the coffee Cass usually put away, it was hard to tell. "We'll work on it," Malueg responded, lifting a hand in farewell. He turned and hustled toward the waiting jeep. Remy watched him go, then looked back at the other jeep. The lieutenant-whoever he was-had gone, but the two nurses were still there, watching him. Damn! he thought viciously. He didn't want Renee to see him looking like this. He stood indecisively for a few moments, then-realizing there was no graceful way to avoid them-- headed their way.
"Well, that was interesting," Tess said, watching Peck leave. "Easy on the eyes, too." "If you like the type," Renee shrugged. "Oh, come on," Tess protested, turning back to Renee. She got out of the jeep, leaning against the driver's side. "Tall, blond, and handsome. Who could go wrong with that?" She thumped on the parts box. "He gave us this, didn't he?" "On account," Renee reminded her, "We haven't paid for it yet." Tess grinned. "Well, I wouldn't mind," she said, "He looks like he could afford a lot. And he's an officer." "We owe him, Tess," Renee pointed out, "Not the other way 'round." "Can't blame a girl for trying," Tess parried. She nudged Renee knowingly. "He's fair game, you know. Don't have to skulk around and. . . ." She paused, shading her eyes and squinted down the field, gesturing, "Hey, isn't that Remy?" Renee followed the gesture. The two men seemed engaged in their conversation, although she had a feeling that her presence had been noted. The taller man picked up the bags setting by his feet, and walked toward a waiting jeep. The other turned and she recognized the door gunner. "Yes," she said, frowning slightly. She studied Remy as he hesitated, then walked toward them. Renee thought she knew the reason for the hesitation. The disparity in their ranks-as well as their dissimilar jobs-made the relationship difficult at best. But neither of them was ready to give up just yet. The frown deepened as Remy approached. The bruises on his face were obvious, and he made no attempt to hide them. She and Tess exchanged glances, and Tess whistled silently. "Renee. Tess," he greeted them, and waited-a hint of defiance in his expression-for the questions he knew would follow. "What happened to you?" Renee asked, looking him over with a mix of professional and personal concern. Remy shrugged. "Walked into something," he said brusquely. "Boy, I'll say," Tess interjected, seeing the annoyed expression on Renee. "I could lend you some makeup," she offered, "It would cover that up nicely. Or, how 'bout some aviator frames? Dark glasses would give you that mystery man look." She smiled brightly at his scowl. "Not funny, Tess," Remy grumbled. He had aviator sunglasses-laying on Hutton's desk. He hadn't thought to grab them in the rush to catch the plane. Sensing that Renee wasn't completely satisfied, he turned back to her, forestalling her questions. "Yes, I have seen a doctor. Yes, I have been cleared to fly. No, I'm not grounded, just in the dog house again." He smiled wryly, watching Renee blow her bangs from her face in irritation. "You forget. I ride with the Great American Boy Scout." "Well, somebody sure needs to keep an eye on you," Tess observed. "Tess!" Renee protested. The other nurse smiled innocently. Renee turned back to Remy and asked, "Are you done for the day?" Regretfully, Remy shook his head. "Stuck in the office 'till supper. Then we're on standby tonight." He would much prefer a date with Renee-all hassles included-to sleeping in the chopper with three other guys. Not that they slept much. Waiting on the possibility of an urgent call to extract a team in the dark-usually under fire-was not particularly conducive to sleep. Gesturing toward the now-vanished jeep, he asked, "New boyfriend?" The nurses looked at each other, nonplussed, before realizing to whom Remy referred. "Lieutenant Peck got us the radio parts we needed," Renee explained. Sensing something unspoken in his question, she asked, "Do you know him?" Remy shook his head again. "No, but that Faceman seems to be everywhere lately." What Renee had mentioned seemed to fit in with Malueg's portrait of a scrounger. Peck, again. It had to be the guy's name. What WAS he doing at the 118th? "Faceman?" Tess echoed, "I like that. Much better than Templeton." She smiled. "It fits him. He is kinda cute." She exchanged amused looks with Renee-both for the name, and Remy's exasperated look-then glanced again at her watch. "We'd better get going," she warned, sliding back into the driver's seat. She started the engine, leaving Renee to say good-bye.> Renee caressed the unbruised side of Remy's face, her fingers lingering on his cheek. "Take care of yourself," she said softly, smiling up into his eyes. A quick glance around the airport showed no one else in sight and Remy gave in to an impulse. He pulled Renee against him, kissing her hungrily. After a brief hesitation, she responded in kind, reaching her arms around his neck, and holding him tightly. The jeep horn blared, and Tess yelled, "Let's go, kids!" They separated, looking regretfully at each other. Then Renee smiled, and blew him a kiss, before climbing into the jeep. Remy watched them leave, then turned and headed back to the 118th's headquarters. He smiled as he walked, momentarily distracted from the stress of the last few days, as he made plans for some time together.
The jeep returned to the motor pool much later than BA expected. Even though Hannibal had given Peck the opportunity to check on his-what did Hannibal call them?-"extracurricular activities,"the lieutenant had been gone much longer than a quick run to the airfield. BA was edgy. Waiting had never been his strong point, and waiting for this particular mission to go down was just plain irritating to him. He wasn't concerned with Hannibal's whereabouts. The colonel would show up when the mission was a go. And Ray had stopped by the motor pool a few times during the day. But Peck had been missing most of that time. BA knew the transport Peck went to meet had left earlier in the day. And the man hadn't been in the area since, in spite of Hannibal's orders. The lieutenant casually tossed the log book to the dispatcher,who-in the interest of getting to the mess hall quickly-glanced briefly to see that the appropriate spaces were filled in. With a nod to Peck, the dispatcher dropped the book in its slot, turned out the lamp illuminating his table, and headed out. Peck watched him leave, then walked over to the rack of log books. He picked up the one he had used, opened it and erased a few entries. He rewrote the entries in ink, and closed the book, returning it to its slot. Satisfied, he glanced around, then left the dispatch office. "Where you been?" The growled question startled him. Baracus seemed to materialize out of the twilight, and Peck sensed he was not happy. The lieutenant moved away from the dispatch, maneuvering for an escape route. His progress was halted by the sergeant's hand clamped on his shoulder. "Careful," Peck warned, "You don't want to be seen accosting an officer in public." Baracus smiled, a rare and not particularly comforting expression. "I ain't worried," he said. The smile faded, settling into his usual scowl. "Hannibal said 'Stay in the area'," he continued, "You been gone all day." "Yeah, well," Peck said, stepping back. Baracus released his hold, but Peck knew he wasn't out of the woods yet. "If you remember, he also said I could check with the supply plane." "Plane left four hours ago." "What are you, my babysitter?" Peck retorted, avoiding the question. "This mission gonna go down fast," Baracus responded, "We ain't gonna chase all over lookin' for you." He folded his arms, glaring at the lieutenant. "Bad enough we gotta chase a chopper." "All right," said Peck, raising his hands in a conciliatory gesture, "I'm going to get my stuff out of the jeep, and I'll stick around. Happy?" He walked a few steps toward the motor pool, then stopped and looked back at BA. He shook his head, and headed for the jeep. That boy need to be put in his place, BA thought. He watched Peck unload a couple of boxes from the back of the jeep, and stuff some smaller items in his pockets. Wit' a face like that, he gonna be a real problem. He snorted, then headed for the mess. Might's well turn in early. No tellin' when this thing's goin' down.
BA was jolted out of sleep by a tugging on his shoulder. He growled and slowly opened his eyes, focusing them on a private. Highlighted in a flashlight beam, the man was eyeing him in apprehension. He retreated to the door of the tent, as BA shifted position. From the chill in the air and the lack of natural light, it had to be early in the morning. VERY early. "Colonel Smith wants you right way," the private said by way of explanation, then added, "In his hooch." The flashlight beam quivered in the darkness. "Say what he want?" BA asked gruffly. "No, Sergeant," came the quick reply, "Just something about a mission." BA grunted in acknowledgment. The private took it as a dismissal, and exited quickly. BA sat up and stretched. He ran a hand across his face, wincing at the stubble, and reached for his clothes. A shave would have to wait. He dressed quickly, and left. The air was definitely cool, and he shivered as he headed toward Hannibal's hooch. He wished he'd brought his jacket, then pushed the thought away in irritation. Hannibal was already up, judging by the light in the hooch. Or maybe he hadn't been to bed. Sometimes it was hard to tell. BA pulled open the door, and walked in. "It's going down." Hannibal spoke without preamble. "More prisoners than we thought, and a little farther north. If we get there quickly, we can liberate the whole lot." The hooch shook, and they looked up as Ray and Peck entered. Ray yawned, and Peck looked like he hadn't been to sleep at all. BA turned back to the map that Hannibal was studying, looking over the new area. There was a small break in the jungle canopy, near the area Hannibal had indicated. What did Peck call it yesterday? A postage stamp? "That's worse that the other one," he said. Hannibal passed over some reconnaissance pictures. "It's marginal," he admitted, "But if we can get into position here," he jabbed a finger at the map, "we can always use C-4 to open it up for the pickup." BA glanced at the pictures, then passed them to Ray. They were sticky, as if they'd been developed recently, and one hole looked like another, at least to him. He was no expert at shoving helicopters down rabbit holes, which was exactly what the pictures looked like. If he had to fly at all, he preferred a large landing area. Couple of square miles would do nicely. Ray studied the pictures, then passed them onto Peck. "The 118th had a chopper on stand-by for the night," he said, "But they said come daybreak, we'd have to take our chances. They couldn't promise us one." Hannibal grimaced, then shrugged. "Get your gear together, guys," he said, "I'll go over there and see what's available." He collected up the map and pictures, and headed out the door toward the 118th's area. BA fell into step beside him, and the colonel looked curiously at him. "Didn't pull the C-4 yet," BA said, by way of explanation. Hannibal nodded, as the supply depot was in the same direction. The heliport was bustling with activity as they entered, and it was apparent that a major movement was on. Many of the choppers were gone, and those left were in final preparations for take off. Hannibal hesitated, looking around in dismay. If they had to pull a chopper from another unit, they'd miss the exchange. BA also scanned the area, not sure if he was disappointed or relieved. Quiescent amid the sea of activity, one chopper drew his curiosity, and a look at the tail number confirmed his suspicions. He nudged Hannibal, directing the colonel's attention to the chopper. "That Murdock's bird," he said reluctantly. Hannibal turned toward him and grinned. Just the bird I wanted. He could only hope that her crew was also available, that they hadn't been reassigned. The colonel headed toward the command post, and BA trailed after. He hadn't seen any of the chopper crew since leaving Remy and Cass the night before last, and his curiosity was getting the best of him. Hannibal strode into the command post, causing the corporal there to jump to attention. "Colonel Reinhart in his office?" he asked, casually returning the offered salute. "Yes, sir," the man replied, "I'll announce-," but Hannibal had already brushed past him. He walked to the inner door, rapping once. The CO looked up from the reports he was perusing. His scowl at being interrupted smoothed out as he read Hannibal's uniform. "What can I do for you, Colonel Smith?" he asked. "I need a chopper, ASAP," Hannibal replied crisply, "Got word on a prisoner transfer happening this morning. If we get there in time, we can liberate the whole bunch." Reinhart frowned as he considered the situation. "All choppers are committed," he said, finally, "I don't have anything to give you." "What about 66-88892?" Hannibal said. The CO turned to the doorway, where the corporal hovered. "Hutton?" he asked. "Lieutenant Murdock's bird," came the prompt reply, "They had standby duty last night." "That's right," acknowledged Reinhart, "They didn't fly, though, did they?" He looked again to Hutton for confirmation. "No, sir." Reinhart hesitated, weighing the possible release of prisoners against having the chopper available to support the other action. Then the scales tipped. "Have Murdock report here," he ordered, "Tell his crew to stand by." "Yes, sir." The corporal disappeared from the doorway. Hannibal nodded his thanks to the CO, then turned to BA. "Have Peck and Brenner wait in the briefing room." It was a dismissal. "Yes, sir," BA responded, and left the office. Normally, Hannibal wasn't a stickler for formality. But in front of other officers, BA was careful. No need to upset someone about protocol. Not now, anyway. He wanted a chance to talk to the pilot in private, but that obviously wasn't going to happen. Might as well go get the C-4. He met the lieutenants on his way back from the supply depot. "Hannibal got a chopper," he growled, "Said for you t'wait in the briefin' room." He didn't wait for an answer, but hurried to get his gear.