Off the Wal

by Mizhowlinmad (HBF), 2010

Rating: PG

Summary: A quick stopover at a boring big box store turns into a grand adventure for a certain couple of Team members. ATSB quick pick "Wall." (If you want the full fun list, it can be found at .com/2006/03/29/101-fun-things-to-do-at-wal-mart/)

Disclaimer: TAT belongs to SJC and Universal. This is not written for profit, just for an off-the-wall, Face-and-Murdock bit of fun. Price check on Aisle 6!

"Don't look at me like that," Face rolled his eyes.

Hannibal's expression was somewhere between gently bridled amusement and utter disbelief. B.A., at the wheel, was actually giggling.

"What, you guys? I need it. I'm all out. This qualifies as a bona-fide emergency."

Giggle, giggle. "Faceman, only you would look for an all-night store just to buy hair gel."

"Hair gel, Lieutenant?" Hannibal asked, milking it for all it was worth.

"Yes, hair gel. What do you expect me to use, Crisco? I gotta look good for these clients this morning."

Murdock barely looked up from his seat, where he was deep into Catch-22. "That stuff's terrific, Face. Even tastes good with pickles and sauerkraut."

"We still have 200 miles to go, at least. Can't we at least stop for a minute? Look, there's got to be someplace," Face begged, gesturing to the exit sign for Alameda Place. "I'll grab some drinks, snacks, whatever you guys want."

"All right. B.A., pull over. I think we could all use a break," Hannibal conceded as the van swerved into the right-hand lane, then turned onto the main road and into the sprawling parking lot.

The store would have been impossible to miss even from outer space. A huge, bland concrete block job with a nearly full lot even in this pre-dawn hour. Atop it, a huge, illuminated sign that read WAL-MART. It looked big enough to park a 737 inside.

"These places keep gettin' bigger and bigger," B.A. muttered as he swung the van into a darkened patch of the parking lot away from the eyes of the security cameras.

"I'll just be a minute. Any requests?" Face asked wearily, knowing they'd ridicule him after he left. Hannibal, oddly enough, asked for a red Hawaiian Punch; B.A. predictably requested a quart of milk.

"Ooh, Faceman, can I come inside with you? Pretty pretty please with caramel and kiwis on top?"

Face sighed. Some things in his life were just inevitable.

"All right, Murdock. But I'm only going in for a minute or two."

The van door slid open, and they exited. Murdock whooped joyfully. And Face sighed again. Nothing with Murdock was ever just a "quick stop."

"Oh, c'mon, Face, just lemme have a quarter?"

"Murdock, you'd break that thing," Face murmured, frog-marching his friend forcefully past the 'Sparks the Wonder Horse' coin-operated toy in the entry foyer. "I'm just going to the hair care aisle. Hang out up here by the arcade games and I'll meet you in ten, okay?"

"You got it." The manic, Crazy Man gleam in Murdock's brown eyes was unmistakable.

And suddenly, locating the hair care products in this cavernous place was the least of his worries.

"Ten minutes…."

Face was in the midst of weighing the benefits of 24 ounces of Dep to 20 ounces of Poma Select when he heard the hysterical, feminine shrieks.

"Oh, no…"

He dropped the little plastic containers like hot potatoes and sprinted in the direction of the distress calls.

When Face reached them, one of the female employees was sobbing uncontrollably while her supervisor, a bulldog of an older gal, was consoling her.

"Did either of you see a guy come by here? Lanky, dark hair, ballcap, kinda wild-looking?

"Th-that might have b-been him," the younger girl stuttered in between sobs. "Some weirdo just jumped me next to the jewelry counter with, like, a roll of wrapping paper, and challenged me to, like, a Jedi duel. It all happened so fast…"

"It'll be all right, hon," said her co-worker, patting her on the back. "You think we should we call Security?"

Face quickly vetoed that idea in his head. Even store security rent-a-cops were still, sort of, cops. "Ladies, I have things fully under control. Which way did this guy go? I'll track him down."

They both pointed, with trembling hands, towards the sporting goods department.

As Face loped up and down the aisles, he couldn't help but notice a few things. Like the trail of Froot Loops that might have been left by a modern-day Hansel and Gretel (although he knew better,) the male mannequins who were all now wearing matching ballcaps and cheap T-shirts with slogans such as "I'm With Stupid" and "Kiss My Bass," and the two rows of little plastic green army men on the floor, neatly lined up in ranks, looking ready to go to war against the evil power lawn mowers.

Murdock was going to be in serious trouble. If Face could even find him. This place was a labyrinth of linoleum and fluorescent lighting. It had no soul. No wonder Murdock went so bonkers living at the VA.

When he arrived in Sporting Goods, Face nearly bowled over a short, plump man in a blue apron who looked seriously peeved.

"Where'd he go?" fumed the employee. No need to ask who "he" was.

Face repeated the description of Murdock he'd given the two women employees. The man lit up, and not with good humor. "How'd you know? He just took off on one of our bicycles. Is he some kind of nutcase?"

"Um…" Face wanted to elaborate, but thought better of it. "I guess you could say that."

"You better tell him this is NOT the appropriate behavior in a Wal-Mart store, mister," said the little man haughtily. "Otherwise I'll have to call the authorities."

Face took off again, following the black rubber tire marks on the linoleum this time.

Every employee Face passed had a story to tell. He only caught bits and pieces in his haste, all of which were part of the same crazy Murdockian puzzle:

"Tall skinny fella? Real crazy-lookin'? He rode by me, sprayed me with perfume, I swear he asked me 'New in town, sailor?'…"

"I think he was trying to watch cartoons on the TVs back in Electronics…"

"Oh, yeah, he took two metal funnels and put them on his chest like Madonna, man! Far out!"

"He claimed he conducting a 'secret national security taste test' on the mint chip ice cream…is he with the CIA or something?"

In fact, Face considered that it was damn lucky that the place wasn't crawling with rent-a-cops by now. Probably it was just a stroke of good fortune that they happened to be here at 4 AM, when there were a lot of very dull-witted, very clueless employees and not many customers. They were probably secretly glad for a bit of entertainment.

Then he realized what his main fallacy was. He could almost hear the Colonel's voice gently chiding him in his mind.

To find your quarry, Lieutenant, you must think like your quarry.

If I were Murdock, where would I go? What would I do?

That was about to figure out as hard as nailing Jell-O to a tree trunk, but Face had at least some idea after over ten years together with Murdock and his zaniness.

He only hoped that after this whole unplanned escapade was over, he'd remember to swing by the hair care aisle for a tube of gel like he'd meant to.

Back to Sporting Goods he went. When he got there, he was relieved to see that the portly clerk was gone and that none of the guns in the locked case behind the counter had been taken out.

Under the display tent that had been set up in the far corner, Face could hear soft singing. Sounded like one of the campfire ditties they used to sing at his orphanage summer camp.

"Just a boy and a girl in a little canoe , And the moon is shining all around

As they dipped their paddles they didn't even make a sound…"

Murdock was sprawled underneath the tent on his back. Around him was gathered what looked like half the population of the store's stuffed animals, along with several boxes of Oreo cookies and a gallon of milk.

"Hey, muchacho! Grab a seat and a cookie, and sing along…"

That was one thing Face had reluctantly come to realize about Murdock, after so many years knowing the man. No matter how much chaos he caused, or how many toes he stepped on, or how many impossible situations he created for the rest of the Team sometimes…

I love him like my own brother. How could I not? He's like a big kid. But I wouldn't have him any other way.

"I would, Murdock, but I think we've gotta get out of here pretty quick," Face said. "You know how B.A. is if he's kept waiting on his milk."

Murdock extracted himself from the tent, shrugging, acting like he hadn't just singlehandedly traumatized a major retail establishment and its employees. "Yeah, that big mudsucker and his milk. You find any hair gel, Faceman?"

"Let's just grab some before the Keystone Kops get here."

"Can I take Cutie Pie here with me?" Murdock cooed, clutching a gaudy pink plush unicorn to his T-shirt.

"That's a negative."

"Aw, man…"

"That'll be four fifty-nine, sir." The cashier, bored, hardly looked up as Face handed her a ten.

Murdock, meanwhile, had been eyeballing the selection of candy, gum, and other edibles at the register with undisguised glee. He suddenly perked up.

"Face, can I have that quarter?"

After everything else that had happened, Face was spent. He flipped the coin over to his friend.

"Just be sure not to ride Sparks too hard, okay?"

A howl of delight, and Murdock sprinted away.

"Please come back to Wal-Mart soon, sir." The cashier shoved Face's bag at him.

"Thank you."

Next time I need hair gel, I might just have to try K-Mart…

Fini