"Down at the End of Lonely Street"
by HBF (MizHowlinMad) 2008
Disclaimer: H.M. Murdock and the A-Team belong to SJC and Universal; the special guest star belongs to Disney. I'm just borrowing them for a little while. Timelines have been tweaked just a little to make this one work.
Rating: PG for some angsty thoughts.
Summary: Murdock finally gets his super-deluxe Hawaiian vacation from Wheel of Fortune, but, like all things in his life, it doesn't work out the way he anticipated. With special crossover guest-star.
I really thought Waikiki would be less painful.
It sure was a lot of fun the first couple days. There were the surfing lessons with that Hawaiian guy, Tony, and the poi (what is that stuff, anyway?), and the narrated chopper ride, which, even if he wouldn't let me fly, was kinda neat, and the luau party, and Jodi Joy on that huge comfy bed up in the Kamehameha Suite wearing only her…
I sigh. I think she's mad at me right now.
At dinner earlier, at that Japanese steakhouse, Jodi seemed fine. She even told me I looked handsome. She's one strange chickla. First she's all happy and giggling and cute, then she's yelling at me. Okay, so I wanted to play Samurai for a little bit. Big deal.
Heck, she's almost like a female Faceman.
Now I'm smiling, just a little. I can't help myself. Face even drove me down to LAX in the Vette, wearin' that stupid flowery shirt, like I was gonna change my mind. Maybe he was right after all. Maybe I shoulda brought him. It was his scam that got me out here in the first place.
I think he's still mad at me too.
My feet are getting wet now. The tide's coming in. Maybe I should take off my shoes. The sand feels squishy, like mutant Play-Doh mixed with sandpaper. I sling my hightops, tied together, over my shoulder and walk a few tentative steps. Squish, squish. Weird, but I like it.
A week ago I was flyin' around in that Russian bucket of bolts, havin' fun, doin' good stuff. Now I'm here, in paradise. It's starting to get boring. I already finished the Batman book I started on the plane. Maybe I shoulda brought War and Peace after all.
Nobody's out this time of night, just the moon, and the waves, and a few gulls, and me. I couldn't even bring Billy. He hates long plane trips. So I asked Faceman to take care of him.
Faceman. I talked to him the first day, called him up the first chance I got. The phone in the Vette just rang and rang. So I tried him on the big guy's line.
"Aloooooha, big fella, ya miss me yet?"
A grunt. "You only been gone six hours, foo'."
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You guys doin' okay without my specialness and unique areas of expertise?"
"Shut up! We'd be doin' jus' fine if you never came back…" He missed me, all right. It was good to know.
"B.A., give me the phone." Face was sitting in the front seat, I could tell. "I guess you got in all right. How's Jodi Joy?" Even I couldn't miss the sarcasm.
"Oh, she's dandy. You guys'd love it here, the weather's perfect and…" I hesitated. Should I tell him? "Heard from the Colonel recently?" Instead, I just changed the subject.
There was a pause. I could almost hear him thinking. Then he sighed. "He's on his way back from Rio, finally. That gum commercial of his was an 'extended shoot.'" Meaning he was still gone.
"Well, when he gets back, tell him I said hi, okay?" It's all I could think of to say. I cleared my throat and held the receiver closer, like that'd somehow bring me a few thousand miles back. "Um, I'll, uh, send you guys a postcard? We're supposed to be goin' down to the Kona Lua Cocktail Hour in a few, and…"
I didn't say it. But I should have.
And Face is definitely still mad at me.
Squish, squish, squish. I have a vague memory about a poem from somewhere (I think it was a plaque in somebody's bathroom) about footprints on the beach. They never mentioned the squishy sound that goes with the footprints. They never mentioned a lot of things. Like how on one side, there's a long row of hotels and highrises, lit up like a big flashy diamond necklace, and on the other, just a silent, black sea of emptiness and waves that probably goes all the way back to L.A.
I miss them so much. Even if they are mad at me.
"Um, 'scuse me?"
The voice is so soft, like the waves and the moonlight. I probably just need some sleep, 'cause I'm hearing things again. I just pull my cap down farther over my hair.
"'Scuse me? Mister?" There's a tug on my jacket now.
I'm not hearing things. Someone's actually talking to me. "Where are you?" I say, looking around. Then I look down and see a little girl in a flowered dress and flip-flops. She's got a backpack with her that looks heavy. She's so tiny, she barely comes up to my knees. Her eyes are darker than mine, and glisten with tears. She's alone too.
"Hi." She waves. "Are you a pilot?"
I feel myself do a double-take. How would she know that? "Yeah, but…" What am I supposed to do? "Sweetie, are you out here all by yourself?" I kneel down to look at her. We're almost eye to eye now. "Where's your mommy and daddy?"
She smiles bravely. "Dunno. But I'll be okay, as long as Thwap is here."
"Uh-huh. Thwap the polar bear. He's normally nice, but when he gets mad, that's the noise he makes," she explains.
"Thwap." Okay, I get it now. Thwap or not, poor little thing's still alone on a beach at three in the morning! I take her tiny hand in mine. "Do your parents know you're out here with Thwap, little muchacha?"
"Little what?" Her nose wrinkles, like a bunny's.
"Oh, nothin.'" She's probably just scared. "Where you goin' with that rucksack, anyway?"
"Away. I've decided to run away, I think to Helsinki. That's where Thwap's from," she says, casually. "I just need a pilot, and you must be a pilot, 'cause they all have neat jackets like yours. Do you know where there's a plane? I need a big one, 'cause it's a long way, and Thwap gets air sickness."
Not even five yet, and she already goes off on weird tangents like I do. I'm sure Billy and Thwap would appreciate each other, but I don't say that. I keep pressing her. "I know a lot about planes, and helicopters too. But you gotta tell me where your parents are first, honey. Okay?"
She puts her hands behind her back and looks at her purple flip-flops. "Okay. They're at the hotel with my rotten sister, I think. We went to Sunny's Mongolian Barbeque tonight instead of Emerald of Thailand, which is my favorite, all 'cause it was my stupid sister's 17th birthday and she got to pick the restaurant. When we got there the waiters wanted to sing her a song and put a flower in her hair and let her have a fake Mai Tai, and all I got was some crayons and a boring picture of a sunset to color. I could tolerate that," she says, a twinkle in her dark eyes, "then they brought her the main course, which was roasted pig, and…" A tear slides down one dusky cheek. "Oh, it was awful!" She's like a miniature Vivien Leigh.
"What's awful, hon?" I've just gotta know.
"The pig. I mean, I know they get killed and everything, but he still had his birthday hat on! Did they have to kill him on his birthday?" she sobs.
I want to laugh, but somehow I don't. I just gently stroke her hair, which looks and feels like black satin. "Well, it coulda been worse, I guess. Ever try to shoot a buffalo on his birthday, or any other day? I did once, down in Texas, and he sure wasn't happy about it."
"Mister, you're silly," she giggles, tears forgotten for a moment.
That's what everyone tells me. "Do you know which hotel it is where your parents are? I bet they're worried about you. How'd you get out, anyway?"
"They were just about asleep in their room, and I snuck out and said I wanted some ice, then I went down the elevator." Just like that. Her face scrunches up as she tries to think."The hotel's tall, and pink and green and white, and there's a dolphin statue with a fountain, and…" She pauses, then whispers, "the bellhop's name is Freddie, and he kinda looks like a young Elvis."
"Elvis? Didn't he die a few years back?" I think my memory loss may be getting worse, or maybe I'm just tired and sad and lonely.
Little Muchacha stares at me the same way some of the nurses at the VA do sometimes. It's the well, if you say so look. "That's what the man on TV said. But I don't think so. He's The King, right?"
I never liked Elvis the same way I love the Beatles or the Stones, but she's right. "Yep. He was one amazing guy. Even if he liked peanut butter and bananas."
"How do I know you're not him? You know, in disguise or something?"
Now I have to laugh. I tug at the brim of my cap again. "Elvis always had a full head of hair, sweetie. I sure don't. But I can sing a little."
She shakes her head solemnly. "It's okay. I mean, if you're not really Elvis. You're nice, I can tell."
Try telling that to my friends, little muchacha.
"C'mon, hon, I'll take you back. We've gotta get you back to your family. They'll be worried about you."
"Do you think so? Thwap says they don't understand me," she says. Her big, dark eyes are shiny with tears.
I bend down and look right at her. "They may not always understand you. Sometimes you might feel like you're from a different planet, even. You might yell at each other, and fight, and even say you hate them, and…" There's a funny feeling in my throat, like somebody squeezing. It's hard to finish. "But they'll always love you."
For the first time, I see light, and hope, in her face. I guess that's satisfactory for her, 'cause she nods. "Okay." She puts her hand in mine, and we start squishing together, back towards Waikiki. "Even my rotten sister?"
She looks up at me. She's still so little, so helpless.
I swallow hard. "Yeah, her too."
"You sound like you know a lot 'bout this kinda thing, mister."
I wonder if my family is worried about me, too.
It's hard for me to find anybody on the street to ask for directions. Finally I ask a lady walking her Pekingese about a hotel that's tall and pink and green and white, with a dolphin statue and a fountain. I leave out the part about the Elvis-lookalike bellboy. She points down the street and mentions a hotel called the Kakaulani, about three blocks down from the Kona Lua.
The sun is almost up now, and the sky is pastel pink and blue and green instead of black.
As hotels go, the Kakaulani is comfortable, but not a luxury place. There's the statue of the dolphin that Little Muchacha mentioned, but the fountain is turned off. Inside, there's a guy sitting at the desk, reading a Louis L'Amour book. I ring the bell and he jumps.
I point down at the girl, who's barely said a word since we left the beach. She's trembling. She stands on her tiptoes so the clerk can see her. "This little one is lost. Her parents and sister are guests here. She's due for a family reunion, I think."
The clerk's eyes widen. "You're Lilo, right? Lilo Pelekai?"
She nods, then holds one little chubby hand to her lips. "But don't tell anyone, 'cause I'm actually the secret identity of Comet Girl."
"Your family's been out looking for you. Stay right here and I'll call security and the Honolulu PD, let 'em know you're safe. They'll be so glad to see you. Would you like some juice?"
"Papaya," we both say at once. Her grin matches mine.
"Thank you so much for bringing her in, sir. Aren't enough good people left anymore." He picks up the phone and dials.
There's a big comfy couch in the lobby, the color of sea foam. The girl…Lilo…runs over and jumps up on it in one flying leap. Her legs are tucked under her little body and she grabs for the first thing she can find. It's an old, battered issue of Spider-Man. It's upside-down but she doesn't seem to care.
"You know, I usually read 'em the other way, but it kinda makes sense, doesn't it?" I sit on the opposite cushion.
"Well, since Spider-Man spends so much of his time hangin' on walls, and everything. Right?"
She giggles again. "Yeah. That's why I do it. I mean, Comet Girl."
Billy could hang out with Thwap, and Captain Cab (and Sockie) could have a new friend, too. What was that word? Serendipitious.
The clerk comes with two plastic tumblers of papaya nectar. "Yum!" Lilo exclaims, then downs it in one gulp. I hold mine thoughtfully. "What's the matter?" She's got a papaya-colored mustache.
"You're a little sweetie, and I'll probably never see you again." The truth hurts.
Her brows knit together. "Why not?"
"Well, I don't live here, and my family lives a long way away. Plus we, ah, travel a lot. Do you know where California is?"
She nods. If she knows where Helsinki is, that's probably a stupid question.
"I have to go back to my family. Just like you have to go back to yours." There's that squeezing feeling again.
"Can I at least take your picture? So I'll remember you?"
"Of course. Where would you like me to stand?"
From her backpack, Lilo pulls out a plastic camera, then looks around for the perfect spot. She points. "How 'bout by the dolphin?"
So I stand over by the statue, and assume what I think is a heroic stance. "How's this?"
"Perfect!" she squeals. "Now smile! One…two…"
"Oh, my God! Lilo!"
Before she can take the picture, she's wrapped up tightly in a woman's arms. A man and a teenage girl aren't far behind. I wonder if she can breathe with all the people bunched around her.
I stand by, shyly, hearing only snatches of what they say. "So worried…looking everywhere…scared to death…so glad you're okay…"
The man and the woman, Lilo's parents, finally pull away. They look tired, and worried. The teenage girl is still cradling her sister like a doll.
"How can we ever thank you?" It's her dad, who thrusts his hand out to me for a handshake.
"Aw, shucks, warn't nothin'," I drawl, accepting the handshake and doing my best Gary Cooper.
Her mom smiles at me. In another twenty-five years or so, Lilo will look just like her. "We're so grateful to you for finding our daughter. Is there anything at all we can do for you?"
"Yeah, mister, you're really somethin'," says Lilo's sister.
I look at the four of them. Mom and Dad, and two sisters. They're together, and they're happy.
They'll always love you.
"No, I appreciate it, but I gotta be goin'. My lady friend's probably wonderin' if her Prince Charming didn't turn into a pumpkin by now." I try and be funny, but it doesn't come across that way.
"Okay. We understand," says her dad. "But can we at least know the name of Lilo's rescuer?" He smiles. She has her dad's smile.
If Decker's using a happy Hawaiian family as bird dogs, he's really desperate. "I'm H.M. Murdock. It's an honor to meet you." I shake hands with each of the Pelekais, saving Lilo for last. I have to bend down again.
"Will I ever see you again?" she asks.
"I dunno, Little Muchacha. But you'll always have your memories, right?" My heart beats in my chest like a funeral dirge.
"Oh, I almost forgot!" She thrusts the camera into her sister's hands. "Nani, can you take our picture?"
I pick Lilo up. She's like a little barrel of molasses. We both look at the camera.
"One, two, three! Smile!"
One Week Later
My suitcase feels a lot lighter. I guess it is. I'm pretty sure Jodi Joy threw one of my suits out the ninth-story window, but I don't remember.
LAX is like it always is. People going somewhere, coming somewhere, never stopping, always in a hurry. They don't give me a second look.
The guys should be here. I called on the phone in the van. Aloha Air, Flight 79. Fourteen-hundred sharp.
Outside, the weather is still beautiful. When I got on the plane it was 72 and sunny. It's like déjà vu all over again. There's a long line of taxis, buses, hotel shuttles…but no van.
Maybe I should break out the new Spider-Man I bought in Honolulu now. The Big Guy hates it when I read 'em when we're driving. So I unzip my carry-on, and pull it out. He's there, slinging his webs against the Green Goblin. A classic.
Maybe Comet Girl managed to grab a copy, too.
"Hey, Murdock! Earth to Murdock!" I know that voice.
"Faceman!" I jump over my big suitcase, hurdler-style, and all but tackle him in a hug. To my surprise, he doesn't wince.
"It's good to see you, too. Grab your stuff, okay?" He doesn't sound mad.
B.A. looks like he always does, behind the wheel, like he'd rather strangle me than even think of carrying my luggage. "Hey, big guy, whatcha been up to?"
"I been gettin' some peace and quiet fo' a change, not havin' to listen to yo' crazy rap!" He never changes, but that's okay.
"Welcome back, Captain. Looks like you had a chance to work on your tan." It's Hannibal, fresh cigar lit, gloved hand extended for a handshake. I almost tackle him too.
"Yeah, so did you. How was Rio?" I roll my "R" dramatically. "I always wanted to go to Rio…"
He laughs. "Fine, but it sure can't beat L.A."
"We burnin' daylight, here, Hannibal, let's ride."
"C'mon, get in. We can talk about it on the way," says the Colonel, opening the passenger door.
"Yeah?" I turn to Face. He's definitely not mad at me. Maybe 'cause Jodi's not hanging on my arm anymore.
"Well, we thought it would be a good idea just to watch for any more Soviet spies, Decker bugs, wacko cultists, and the like at the Wheel of Fortune studio. Seems we're not the only ones." He tosses me a little brown envelope. "That's for you."
"What…" I turn it over. It's covered in stamps with jungle animals, and has my name written painstakingly on it, in crayon, care of Wheel of Fortune. There's a postmark from Honolulu.
With shaky fingers, I rip it open. There's a piece of white school paper covered in the same blocky writing.
Dear Mr. Murdock,
Thanks for saving me. It was really brave and noble of you. Thwap decided not to go to Helsinki, but Mom says he can stay if he lives in the doghouse and eats leftovers. Nani is still rotten but it's okay because she's my sister. We had a good time in Honolulu and now we're going home so I can go to school and learn how to hula dance. I hope you got to fly your plane home. I miss you. I really liked you on Wheel of Fortune too but you look kind of different without your hat. Dad says I should stop writing now, because it's dinner time and I'm almost out of paper. Say Aloha to your family for me, all right?
Lilo Pelekai (Comet Girl)
On the back there was a photo. There I was, a real smile on my face, and Little Muchacha on my shoulder, laughing.
"Murdock? You coming?" Face holds the door open for me.
"Yeah. I am."
And I'm not taking another vacation for a long time.