HUNTING THE TIGER'S EYE
Chapter 1: Seeking Unusual Help
Are you sure about this guy, Murdock?" Face asked staring at the name and title written in gold lettering on the dirty glass of one of the twin doors of the place they were about to enter. It simply said, "Harry Dresden, Wizard" and nothing more.
The building was an old brownstone that had definitely seen better days. Next door was another brownstone but it was unoccupied and appeared to have been so for a long time but there were other businesses further down the sidewalk and across the street so the area wasn't completely barren of life though it didn't seem to draw many customers as there was no foot traffic to speak of and few cars passing by. B.A. had parked their black van behind the most decrepit looking VW Beetle, they had ever seen. Already, Colonel Smith was having second thoughts about seeing this guy.
"Trust me Faceman, I checked him out and he's the real deal. He'll be able to find that piece of ice before the deadline," the wild-eyed pilot assured his team mates.
"He better! Fool! Stacy ain't going to last long in those creeps hands," BA growled threateningly.
Murdock held his hands up in self defense and opened the left hand door for them. They all trooped inside and stared around the odd looking place. The main area before them was an office with a rather homey touch. Though a desk sat prominently near the doors, behind this was a living area that had a couch and two comfortable chairs. Behind these and covering nearly all the walls shelves laden with books with odd titles and other weird bric-a-brac. A huge fireplace was on one wall with more books and stuff on it plus a huge gray cat watching them with green eyes, tail swishing gently. The desk held an old fashioned style phone, a stack of mail, more books and still more strange objects. Through a nearby doorway they could see a tiny kitchen beside that was a short hall with no doors and an open stairwell that led to a loft bedroom and bathroom.
As they finished their inspection of the place, from the hall a very tall lean, hard looking man suddenly appeared. None of them had seen the man walk down the stairs which was the only thing they could see down that hall so where had he come from?
The man wore a grunge band t-shirt and a pair of worn blue jeans, his feet were clad in simple brown pull ons. There were multiple scars on his arms and the right hand was covered with burn scars that looked really nasty.
Colonel Hannibal Smith eyed Dresden critically. The hair on the back of his neck had risen the moment the guy entered the room. He wasn't given to flights of fancy like Murdock. His feet were firmly on the ground as were his beliefs but he could easily believe this guy was a real wizard.
Something about the guy set Hannibal's internal alarms off but not in a bad way. The guy was powerful but not dangerous to those who sought him out, he realized, though he wasn't certain how he'd come to that conclusion.
Hannibal lived by the sharpness of his instincts and his ability to judge people fairly accurately... he had to, being on the run from the military. But this guy just didn't fit into any profile he was used to. Besides that, he was freakin' tall and none of them were short in the first place. He must have been at least six foot seven.
Feeling leery about this whole affair, Hannibal had no choice but to move forward with this option as they desperately needed this guy's help since their usual avenues hadn't worked and time was running out. Murdock had suggested this man after hearing of him from a fellow VA patient.
'Hope the guy isn't as out of it like Murdock is most times,' he mused as he lighted his cigar.
His team had spread out in a defensive line when they'd first entered the room and now waited for the man to make the first move. The gray cat hadn't moved from his comfortable spot among the junk on the fireplace mantle. Seeing him, Murdock made a bee line for the cat, wanting to make its acquaintance. He loved all animals with a passion.
The man's deep voice spoke suddenly with a warning, "I'd be careful of touching him. Mister is rather particular of who he'll allow close."
"Oh, animals love me," Murdock assured him, not deterred in the slightest by the possible danger as he reached out and scratched the cat between its ears.
The man seemed stunned as he shook his head and stared. Apparently the cat was a very real threat but its reaction to Murdock was only one of pleasure. "You must be something special for him to allow that kind of familiarity."
Murdock just grinned manically and continued to pet the cat who was just beginning to purr in pleasure.
Not knowing how to take his pet's response, the man turned away and addressed his guests instead. "So what can I do for you guys?"
When the group of strangers first entered and looked around, Dresden had decided to monitor them for a bit while he finished cleaning his laboratory. They looked like trouble and he wasn't eager to run out and meet them without observing them first.
The leader was white haired, tall, lean, and fit, possibly in his late 50's, with a clean shaven face that looked calm and in command though Dresden did note a look of worry in those sharp, intelligent eyes. He was dressed in a lightweight cotton shirt, no tie, topped by a safari style jacket of the same tan color, black work pants, and brown hiking boots. Standing, seemingly at ease, as his men scoped out the place, the man presented a relaxed attitude. Dresden wasn't fooled. The man's eyes missed nothing and his body remained alert, ready for any danger and he was, most certainly, armed.
To the leader's left was a big, beefy black man with a mohawk and close cropped, wrap-around beard and mustache. He dressed as if he'd come from a flea market. Starting at his head, he wore an earring with feathers in one ear. Around his neck were enough heavy gold necklaces to make a thief drool and women die of envy. His massive chest was covered in the necklaces and a fringed jean vest that didn't hide how well built and muscular he was. Finishing off his appearance were a pair of camouflage, cargo pants and black combat boots. He had a mean and aggressive look about him, his dark eyes scanning the area like a hawk hunting for prey and definitely armed though it wasn't in view.
On the leader's right a lean built man of average height and with a too pretty face stood nonchalantly, though Dresden felt that was an act. Nervous energy poured from the man who was dressed the most conservatively of all of them in a light, blue business suit. He looked and acted harmless which the wizard had a suspicion was deliberate, the better to throw an enemy off. Since he was obviously part of this group, Dresden had no doubts the man was just as efficient a warrior as his companions and that he was armed under that nice suit. At the moment, his blue eyes roved the room ceaselessly while staying close to his leader, obviously guarding him.
The last member of this odd team, for such they were by the way they moved and behaved with each other, was a nervous bundle of energy, his eyes wild and unfocused at times and wearing a baseball cap and leather jacket. There was something rather child-like about him but Dresden didn't think he was any less deadlier than the others and even though the man appeared to be oblivious to what was going on around him, he had a feeling he was hyper aware as only someone not quite sane would be. He was actually the greater threat here to due being unpredictable.
A team of fighters, possibly military? he thought, finishing his quick evaluation of his visitors. Now what could they possibly want with me? Well I'm not going to get any answers hiding in here. The men froze when he entered and eyed him warily but it was Dresden who was surprised first by what the odd man did. Mister accepted the oddly behaving man's attentions with casual ease, something the tom hadn't ever done with Murphy, someone he knew well. This could only mean, Mister felt no threat from any of them but especially the odd man. That made this whole affair even stranger. Off balanced and on guard, Dresden waited to see what they wanted from him.
The leader spoke briskly, "we've heard you can find things..."
"Face," the leader snapped. The dapper man, Face, apparently, handed over a folder.
Dresden opened it and stared at a photograph of a weird yellow cut jewel with black striations throughout it laying on a bed of white velvet. Someone's expensive bauble, no doubt. So, a simple search, perhaps. "I see, so do you happen to have anything that it touched for me to use in finding it?"
Face immediately produced the small pillow from the picture. "We were told you needed something like that so will this do?"
"Perfect. This will definitely make things easier. If you'll just give me a number where I can reach you when I've located the jewel..."
"No!" The black man cut him off abruptly causing Dresden to eye him questioningly.
"B.A.," the leader soothed before addressing the wizard. "I'm sorry, he's just concerned is all. There's some urgency attached with finding this jewel so we need to wait here while you do your thing," Hannibal said, apologetically. No need to get the man upset at this point.
"Really, can you tell me why? It might have some effect on my ability to finding the jewel."
The leader, Hannibal (what an odd name) eyed him for a long moment. Dresden was careful not to stare too long into the man's eyes but that seemed to be the wrong thing to do as the man frowned and tensed his body.
That immediately caused the rest of the team to tense up...soo not good. Need to defuse this immediately.
Not making any threatening moves, Dresden said, in a conciliatory tone, "Don't spook on me now. I know you don't believe but its obvious to me you've run out of options which is why you came to me. The sign says wizard ... that doesn't mean I'm some entertainer who does parties and magic tricks for shows ... it means I'm a real wizard with real magical abilities and if you had stared too long in my gaze you and I would not be very happy with the results, trust me. Now, either you want my help or you don't. The choice is yours but understand, it must be on my terms. This is my field of expertise."
Hannibal's frown deepened. 'Was this guy serious?' He badly wanted to just give this a pass as he was growing increasingly uneasy in the strange man's company but he just didn't have any other options, much as he hated to admit it.
Well this can't get any weirder..."As you surmised, we don't have a choice. The skinny is a young girl will die if we don't get that jewel and deliver it to the bad guys soon. So as you can see, time is against us. We need you to find that jewel and fast. That good enough for you?"
It wasn't but Dresden wasn't about to say so...not yet anyway. He frowned in thought then flicked an eye toward Mister a moment. The tom seemed to sense his attention as he pulled away from the odd man's hand and returned the stare. The shared gaze lasted only seconds before Mister blinked his yellow eyes then turned back for more caresses from the man. Dresden accepted Mister's reassurance that he still felt safe with these men. The only thing he needed now was to find out who the heck were these guys and why would the kidnappers trust them to retrieve the jewel?
"I'd like to help you, really I would but I have to have a little more to go on here. First of all, who are you guys?"
"We're the A-Team and we only work for people who ask for our help. We do get paid but sometimes we take jobs without recompense because it's the right thing to do. I'm Hannibal Smith, that big guy is B.A. Barracus, Faceman is Templeton Peck and that's our pilot H.M. Murdock."
Dresden's mouth dropped open in shocked surprise. Oh yeah, he'd heard of them alright. "Hell's bells! I never dreamed I'd ever run into you guys. Aren't your stomping grounds in LA?"
Hannibal relaxed a bit. Perhaps things wouldn't be a problem after all. "Normally, but this is a special case that's taken us a lot of places and ending up here."
Dresden nodded his head. "You're supposed to be some kind of Robin Hood-like gang."
"Yeah, that's us, just one merry band!" Murdock sang out, a dopey grin on his face.
Giving Murdock a leery look, Dresden turned back to Hannibal. "Seems like we're in the same business only my job is to deal with the supernatural when they harm or interfere with normal humans. Finding things is what pays my rent...sometimes."
Hannibal looked askance at the mention of the supernatural but didn't say anything. "Uh...does that mean you'll help us?"
"Yes...that is, if you don't have lingering issues with me..."
"There's a whole lot of things about this that I have issues with but as we said, we're out of time. None of our usual methods have worked so the unusual is what we're left with. A girl's life is on the line so you're our last hope here."
"I'm not a miracle worker," Dresden cautioned, "But, I'll do my best with what you've brought me. I hate to say this but I can't do this for free so my fee is $500 a day, two days minimum..."
"$500!" Face blurted, shocked.
Dresden just eyed him. He couldn't afford to back down. He had expenses that needed paying.
Hannibal nodded, "Done. How soon can you start?"
Relief washed through Dresden that they didn't quibble on the money then got briskly down to business. "I'll do it right now but I do this in private so just have a seat." He raised a hand to stave off the immediate objection he saw in Hannibal's eyes. "I'm sorry but your disbelief of what I do can seriously interfere with my magic so you must be patient, wait here, and believe I can do this." As he started to walk away, he said over his shoulder, "A word of warning, don't touch anything or you'll get a nasty surprise." With that, he hurried down the hall carrying the pillow then turned into his lab, appearing to vanish from view.
B.A. made a noise of exclamation, Face hissed in shock, while Murdoch clapped his hands with glee at seeing the wizard appeared to vanish into a solid wall.
"See...see...I told you he was a wizard!" Murdoch crowed making the cat startle and hiss then leap down to disappear quickly from sight as cats were wont to do.
"Now Murdoch, there must be some kind of hidden panel there..." Hannibal began to say but Murdoch was having none of it.
"It's magic, Colonel." The pilot smirked, feeling vindicated. "And I have no doubt that lovely cat was his familiar. Did you see them giving each other the eye before he made his decision to help? That proves he's more than he seems."
Hannibal could only sigh. "Whatever you say, Murdoch."
"You're crazy! And I want out of here. I'll wait near the van!" With that B.A stormed out the door.
"I can hardly blame him, Hannibal. This whole thing gives me the creeps," Face muttered, staying close to his leader while eyeing the hall Dresden had disappeared in. "You know, $500 a day is a bit high don't you think, I mean we're kinda lean in the first place..." he said, changing the subject a little to something he understood better.
"If he can pull this off, Face, then it's money well spent," Hannibal said, blithely, though he wasn't really feeling that emotion right now. Face sighed, rolling his eyes in defeat. He wandered over to the couch and sat, careful to touch nothing.
While they waited, Hannibal smoked and thought about how strange this case was. They'd been forced to leave California, their normal haunt, for Detroit where BA had family. After visiting for a few weeks, their friend and reporter, Amy, called them to say the military had ended the hunt and left for Virginia so it was safe for them to return home. They were enroute when she called them again to relay this plea for help.
The call came from the parents of a kidnapped girl. A band of truly strange people had done the snatch and were demanding the father find a jewel that had been taken from from some small, museum in LA where her father worked as a paint restorer.
He hadn't liked the sound of the case in the first place but Murdock and, surprisingly, BA had insisted they look into it. That was how they managed to be in Chicago in the first place. After meeting with the frightened and anguished parents and hearing their story, he liked it even less.
For reasons the parents still didn't understand, these thugs apparently thought the father had the jewel but it was purely coincidental that the jewel had disappeared the same night the father happened to be working late. He'd heard the alarms and had hidden while calling the cops. The police later determined that someone had found entry through an employee only entrance point and from there had managed to steal the odd gem from its secure case. The father had been cleared: his fingerprints weren't in the area of the jewel case, the 911 call showed his location, and he'd still been in his office when the police had arrived.
This other group, however, didn't believe the father when he told them that someone else unknown, had taken the jewel. They insisted the poor frightened man get the jewel and stole his daughter to insure his compliance. No amount of pleading from the parents would convince the kidnappers that the father had no way of knowing where the jewel was.
Though they had been warned not to call the FBI, the father had wanted to do it anyway but before he could, their family dog was killed brutally. Terrified and feeling very alone and helpless, they didn't know where to turn. It looked like their daughter would die. The only one they dared confide in was his mother and it was she who showed them an article about the A-Team and pressed them to call. With no other recourse, the poor man did as she urged him to and that's how the A-Team came into the picture.
But from the start, things had gone sour quickly. The trail to the kidnappers was ridiculously easy which made Hannibal suspicious and the fact it took them to Chicago, nearly all the way back where they'd started from, also didn't make him happy. But find the child they did and that's when things went truly fubar. Every tried and true scheme they'd tried, failed spectacularly. Not one to believe in things he couldn't prove or see, Hannibal just thought the group they were after was cannier than most thugs they dealt with. However, Murdoch was adamant that something more unusual was going on.
When they'd picked him up from the VA Hospital to go east with them, the three more normal members of the team were disheartened to learn Murdoch was on a supernatural kick. He drove them absolutely buggy the whole trip about things that bumped in the night being real. B.A. nearly dumped the man's ass out of the van on several occasions. By the time they'd reached Detroit, B.A. was hardily fed up with the man. Wisely, Murdoch went off on his own, digging up more creepy nonsense.
So when they took this mission, B.A. wanted to do it to help save the little girl while Murdoch saw it as a step into the supernatural zone especially when they began to run into problems rescuing the girl for reasons none of them could figure out but that their less than sane member insisted was because the kidnappers had the help of some member of the supernatural set. B.A. was furious but when confronted by the evidence that something strange was going on, he backed off but still didn't buy into what he called the 'fool's nonsense'.
Despite what Murdoch was spouting, Hannibal was still trying to figure out a way to get the girl safely out when the leader of the kidnappers contacted him and gave the A-Team an ultimatum...find the jewel or the girl would die most horribly. It seemed they weren't surprised by the team's appearance, which he swore should have been impossible as this wasn't their normal hunting grounds, and even weirder, the creeps were perfectly happy to have this unknown group of soldiers get what they sought. It all felt soo wrong! He was beginning to think they were dealing with lunatics or some kind of psycho cult. Either way, they were left with no choice but to comply.
Putting a tracking device on the group so they could find them again if they moved location, the A-Team retreated to a discrete motel so they could plan their next move. But, despite the network assistance of their friend, Amy the reporter, they still couldn't determine who the original robbers were nor why they'd taken the stone in the first place. They had learned it had no real value except for some obscure legend which Hannibal paid no attention to but was the reason it had been on display in the first place.
Frustrated and angry, with time seriously running out on them, Hannibal was desperate for a solution but wasn't prepared for the one Murdoch threw at them. He apparently had been snooping around all the haunted places of the city then had gone to Illinois to check out someone a fellow inmate at the VA had told him about. He did some discrete snooping and had learned Dresden had a good track record finding things no one else could. If they were willing to listen to him now, he could lead them to the guy.
No one liked the idea, especially B.A. or Face but they had no other ideas and the girl was getting closer to death. So here they were meeting a guy who made the hair on his arms stand up. Hannibal hoped they weren't wasting their time here. He hated feeling helpless but that was the emotion wrenching at his heart right now. It wasn't that the A-Team didn't have failures from time to time, they did, but the cost of this failure would be far too high.
Sighing heavily, he stared out the dirty windows and prayed this guy, Dresden, wasn't a fake...they really needed a win this time.