Chapter 22: Banana Popsicle
Face strained to keep his grin as he waited for BA to load into the van, but as the seconds ticked by, he was getting apprehensive. If they couldn't get the Sergeant to go willingly, this was going to be a challenging getaway. Worst of all, they couldn't sedate him if he had a concussion.
"Hey, BA..." Hannibal's shoulders slumped as he glanced into the van. "Where's Murdock? Didn't you say you left the Captain here?"
A cold flush of panic spread through Face as he peered into the vehicle. No one was there. He turned back toward BA; the big guy almost looked ready to cry.
"Hey," Face said, managing to keep a reassuring tone even though his stomach was tied in knots. "We'll find him. He can't have gotten far. I'll bet he just…"
"Quiet," Hannibal hissed. "Do you hear that?"
Sure enough, Face heard it, and he had never heard anything more beautiful in his entire life.
Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak…
From around the far side of the van, Murdock emerged.
"Hey guys, did ya miss me? I went to check out all the big booms. I didn't know it was the fourth already, but I think someone messed up with the fireworks."
BA rushed forward and offered a shoulder for the Captain to lean on. Face felt his smile falter momentarily as he saw how battered Murdock was, but then he quickly secured his grin in place.
The Captain grinned back; his eyes sparkling. The conman looked into that pale face, with its blackened eye, bruised jaw and bloody temple, and felt an uncomfortable anger growing inside him. This was why BA had been so adamant about finding Sarah. He understood now, and he really started to wish they hadn't stopped the Sergeant. Maybe she deserved it.
Still leaning on BA, Murdock limped forward, his face contorting in pain as he brought a hand to his ribs. Before he could stop himself, Face gasped. The hand was a swollen mess of purple flesh. What had happened? Who could have given him such a beating?
"Load up," Hannibal's voice was soft, his eyes never straying from his Captain as he spoke. "It's time to go."
Face jumped into the driver's seat. From the back he could hear BA helping Murdock into the van.
"Fool, I told you to stay here. What you doing going out there like that? Gonna get yourself killed."
A satisfied sigh sounded from the Murdock. "I know big guy. You care. I know. I'm sorry I went off like that. Won't do it again. Scout's honor."
The passenger door slammed as Hannibal settled into the front seat. "Hit it, Face."
Sirens coming nearer, Face turned the key and spun out of the parking lot. Within seconds, he was dropping BA and Hannibal off at the GMC van. The Sergeant was reluctant to leave Murdock behind, but, eventually, he obeyed Hannibal's orders.
Face felt a wash of relief as they drove away. It seemed that everyone was far too concerned with the two blazing buildings to give much notice to the vans. He reached up and angled the rear-view mirror so he could watch Murdock. The Captain was hunkered down in his seat with his head flopped to one side, eyes fluttering open and closed as he fought to stay awake.
Suddenly, a fire truck raced by, nearly running Face off the road. He veered and cursed silently. Glancing in his side-view mirror at the red glow behind him, he shrugged. They were so not getting paid for this last mission.
Officer Jones was trying to secure the area when the fire truck arrived. Being the first on the scene had been more than a little overwhelming. The school itself was a devastating loss, but at least there hadn't been anyone inside. The warehouse was a different story. He wasn't sure what had taken place, but he could already see a few bodies sprawled out by the blaze. With the heat, he couldn't get to them, and there would be no saving them even if they were accessible. What a horrific way to go.
Thankfully, backup arrived quickly, but so did the reporters. In fact, it was a photographer that first drew him to the flag pole. Camera flashes caught his attention and he hurried over to ensure that no evidence was being damaged.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" He yelled, and instantly the photographer dashed off.
He paused for a moment as he realized someone else was still at the pole. They stood, but in an awkward, stiff position. Moving closer, he saw it was a woman. With her head sunk to one side, her eyes were closed as if she was in a peaceful sleep. A layer of duct tape held her to the flag pole. Whoever had done it had done a sloppy job. The tape bunched and wove in odd directions, and, judging by the thickness of the cocoon, they must have used an entire roll.
The scrawled note attached to her chest intrigued Officer Jones though. In sloppy handwriting, like a child's, the words 'I'm a bad person' were written, and below that, somewhat smaller, was added 'I blew up the buildings.'
Beside the woman, on the ground, a satchel sat; on it was a note that simply read 'Evidence.'
"Hey, Jones, what you got over there?"
He turned and grinned at a fellow officer. "I don't know, but it looks promising."
Face paced nervously in the waiting room. Murdock had insisted on going back without him which was odd. Usually the Captain was a bit leery of doctors and would beg one of the guys to go with him. Face almost started to shove his way into the back when a nurse wheeled Murdock out. The Captain was happily eating a grape lollipop. His hat and left sneaker sat in his lap, as a white square of gauze was taped to his forehead and a brace was on his ankle. Absentmindedly, he almost reached for the lollipop with his left hand, but the finger splints and ice pack quickly reminded him not to.
"Ok, he's ready to go," the nurse said with a smile.
Before he even knew it, Face had given her the once over. Thin, blond, young and tall, oh yeah, she was pretty.
Face leaned forward and grinned back at her. "Um, is the doctor going to come out and talk with me, or can you fill me in on all the details?"
The nurse frowned. "Details?"
"You know, his injuries."
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I was under the impression that Mr. Murdock didn't want…"
"That's ok, Muchacha, I'll fill him in." Murdock almost managed to get out of the chair before she forced him back down.
"I told you already." Her voice was soft, playful. "You have to stay off that ankle if you want it to heal properly."
"Oh yeah, I forgot." The Captain flashed a sly smile
Face groaned. "Murdock, I really need to know…"
"Ok," he sighed as he glanced back at the nurse. "You can tell him."
She didn't start off right away; instead, she placed a hand on Murdock's shoulder, as if waiting for him to change his mind. Finally, she began.
"He's got a severely sprained my ankle, meaning he tore ligaments. He needs to keep it iced, elevated and…" she paused to smile wickedly down at him. "He needs to stay off of it! His left hand has two broken fingers, both of which had, at some point, multiple dislocated joints. Also, he has two cracked ribs on his right side. They should heal well enough on their own, but he'll need to be on medication to help manage the pain. Also, wrapping them will ease some of the discomfort, but be careful that they aren't wrapped too tightly and the tape should be removed every so often so he can draw in deeper breaths to prevent pneumonia. He sustained multiple bruises in various locations and a laceration to his forehead which has closed on its own and no longer will require stitches. The doctor gave him a prescription to fill out for pain medication and antibiotics."
Sheepishly, Murdock handed the paper up to Face.
Face smiled at the nurse. "Thank you, I'll take him from here."
Fighting the temptation to ask her for her telephone number, he wheeled Murdock out of the hospital. It was already late morning and Hannibal would be worried. BA certainly wouldn't have let a hospital contain him for very long; they had probably been back at the safe house for hours.
Back in the van, he wanted to ask Murdock if everything was ok, but the Captain instantly started dozing. It had been a long day, and he did need sleep. Whatever answers the conman wanted, he'd have to wait until later to get them.
Face took a few back alleys and a side roads before heading to the hideout; it wouldn't hurt to be a little on the safe side. He pulled up behind the house, worried that BA's van was nowhere in sight, but then he remembered that the Sergeant liked to park it in the garage.
He nudged Murdock awake, sorry to cut the man's sleep short. With a little groan, the Captain opened his eyes.
"We're there already?"
"Yeah, buddy, you conked out the moment we took off. Let's get you inside so you can get some more rest."
"Naw." He yawned. "I want a shower first and food."
Face reached over and undid Murdock's seatbelt before helping him up. "Whatever you want, ok, but let's just do like the nurse said and take it easy for a while."
Their progress was excruciatingly slow as they made their way into the house, and Face was thoroughly kicking himself for not stopping at the pharmacy and picking up Murdock's pain prescription. Once inside, the Captain had to sit down to catch his breath. No matter how much Face protested though, Murdock wouldn't give up on his shower, and he didn't want any help.
Face was allowed to bring him a fresh set of clothes and escort him to the bathroom, but that was all. Murdock quickly banished him from the room. Nervously, he waited in the hall for the next fifteen minutes, listening to his friend struggle out of his clothes, bandages and braces.
After one particularly loud clatter, he knocked on the door. "Are you ok in there? Do you need any help?"
There was a moment of silence before he could hear Murdock chuckle. "Faceman, are you still out there? I'm ok; I just knocked over Hannibal's aftershave lotion. Maybe you could, um, not keep waiting out there though…I might be awhile, and… I'll be fine. I promise."
Face frowned. "Ok, but I'm going to come back to check on you in a bit."
The water started as Murdock answered. "Okay, Facey. I'll be here."
Wandering down the hall, Face could hear Murdock break out into an opera solo. He couldn't tell which it was, but the Captain was certainly giving it his all. That couldn't be good for his cracked ribs. He almost turned around, ready to tell the man he had to stay quiet, but he stopped himself. If it really hurt, Murdock would stop on his own, he hoped.
Ahead, a door to the garage swung open and Hannibal stepped inside.
"Face, how's Murdock?"
Face shrugged. He told Hannibal about Murdock wanting to see the doctor alone and not wanting Face to hear the list of injuries. Verbatim, he repeated what the nurse had said and finally he took out the prescription and showed it to the Colonel. In return, Hannibal filled him in on BA's checkup. The man had a slight concussion, nothing more. He'd have to stay up for twenty-four hours as a precaution, but that should be the extent of his injury. What had been worrying Hannibal the most was BA's sulking.
"I know he's never been that talkative, but still, I can tell something's wrong." Hannibal took a cigar out of his pocket and lit it. "He won't even look me in the face. I can't tell what's eating him, but it's something big."
"Yeah." Face stared down at the prescription. "Murdock's still hurting pretty badly. I think I'll go get this filled. There's a pharmacy down the street. Can you go check on him in like ten minutes?"
"Sure, I'll bounce back and forth between the two. BA refuses to leave the garage. He just keeps tweaking the engine on his van." Hannibal laughed. "That's got to be the best maintained vehicle in the states."
Face gave a warm smile, but his heart really wasn't in it. Ducking away, he headed outside. He took the vette and hurried to the pharmacy and back in record time; he was only gone about thirty minutes. At the door, a worried Hannibal met him.
"Listen, he says he's ok, but he still hasn't come out." The Colonel motioned toward the bathroom. "I tried to get him to unlock the door, but he wouldn't. I thought maybe you could talk to him."
Face didn't answer, he just rushed back. That was stupid; He shouldn't have left. He should have stayed to help. Softly, he knocked on the door.
"Murdock, can you hear me? We're getting a bit worried about you out here. Can I come in and give you a hand?"
There was a little gasp before the Captain spoke. "N-no, I'm ok, Muchacho. Just having a bit of trouble with this tape for my ribs. I almost got it." A little yelp of pain sounded.
"Geez, Murdock, you don't have to do that yourself. Let me help."
No answer. He pressed his ear to the door and could hear stifled cries of pain.
"I'm going to come in, and you can't stop me. Do you hear me Murdock? I'm going to…"
Slowly the door swung open. Murdock sat on the edge of the tub, panting. His hair was still wet and slicked back against his head. He had managed to pull on his pants, finger splints and ankle brace, but he still had his shirt off. He sat awkwardly, with his right side turned away from Face's view. On the floor, wastes clumps of tape sat wadded up. His right hand tightly grasped the dwindling roll of tape.
"Don't be mad..." The Captain whimpered.
Face sighed. "I'm not mad Murdock. I just want you to ask for help when you need it."
"No, not about that…" He frowned and bit his lower lip, slowly turning to reveal his right side.
"What would I be mad about? You haven't done…"
And then Face's eyes settled on the huge yellow and purple bruise marking were Murdock's cracked ribs were. Distinct red lines appeared on the Captain's skin.
It took Face a moment to understand what he was staring at, but even as he figured it out, he could hardly believe it. He glanced in the mirror, his horror confirmed. In the reflection, clear as day, he could see 'BA' imprinted into Murdock's side. Face stepped back. That was from BA's ring, the largest one, with his initials brazenly written out in gold. But Why? Frowning, he turned, ready to storm down the hall and demand an answer, but as he moved away, Murdock leapt up.
The single sharp yelp of pain froze Face in his tracks. He spun around, horrified to see Murdock on his hands and knees, shaking. Quickly, he crouched down and tried to assess the damage.
"S'okay," Murdock wheezed. "Just got up too fast." He glanced up, his eyes searching his friend's face. "Don't be mad at him, she was hurting kids." His voice faded to a whisper. "He had to…"
"It's alright," Face cooed as he gently rubbed the Captain's back. "I promise I'm not mad, ok? Not at you and not at BA." And it was true. However, if Face ever saw Sarah, he was afraid of what he might do to her, because he could pretty much guarantee it wasn't going to be pleasant.
Hannibal rubbed his temples, his head hurt, especially after what Face just told him.
Murdock had eaten some soup and animal crackers before they had finally gotten him to bed. Only after they were sure he was asleep would the Lieutenant tell Hannibal anything.
The methods Sarah used disgusted Hannibal beyond all measure. He chewed on his cigar as he thought of how she forced his men to hurt each other. Plus, she had endangered children as well. What kind of woman was she? Killing wasn't his kind of justice, but she was making it hard not to abandon the moral highroad.
Face sighed causing Hannibal to glance over. They had taken to using the living room as their meeting place as they took turns checking on BA and Murdock. The Lieutenant was rather uncomfortable perched in an overstuffed chair; his expression was an odd mixture of boredom and concern which actually seemed to suit his handsome features somehow. Grabbing the TV remote, Face flipped the set on.
"…prices will drop. And in other news, two major explosions rocked the southern section of Los Angeles early this morning. A school and a warehouse were reported as being total losses. No lives were lost in the school, but officials are still trying to get a rough estimate of the number of casualties in the second blast. The warehouse, which was not supposed to have been occupied, had an elaborate setup established inside. There has been no word yet on what took place in the warehouse, but speculation points toward illegal drug processing and distribution. This woman…"
A still photo of an unconscious Sarah duct taped to a flag pole with an 'I'm a bad person' sign stuck to her chest flashed across the screen.
"…is believed to have been behind the explosions. No statements have been officially released, but it appears this woman is the infamous Sarah Chiang. She is wanted by at least thirty nations for crimes such as murder, kidnapping, espionage, embezzling, racketeering, involvement with drug cartels and assassination of political officials. Her capture, although somewhat bizarre, comes as great triumphant for law enforcement…"
Face clicked the TV off. "Do you think that was…"
"Murdock's doing?" Hannibal smiled. He was sure of it.
BA frowned. The air pressure was low on the rear passenger side tire again. He had just checked it and filled it when they had gotten back. Must be something stuck in it somewhere; maybe it was a nail or piece of metal. He'd have to take the tire off and look it over. He grabbed a jack and wheeled it over to the van.
"Hey BA, whatcha doin?"
Taken by surprise, the Sergeant let the jack's handle clank to the ground. He spun and stared at Murdock. What was the fool doing up? He was supposed to be getting some rest. BA shrugged; he didn't want to talk to the crazy man right now. He didn't want to look at him and see all the hurt. He turned away, reaching for his jack.
"Workin' on the van, huh? Need any help?"
Why wouldn't the fool just leave him alone? Murdock needed to go away, to stop being so damn much like his usually self. Didn't he remember how much pain BA had caused him? Why did he insist on coming out and talking?
"I guess you don't, do you?"
BA cringed. There was a softness to the Captain's voice; it echoed with a hurt that wasn't physical.
"Maybe I'll just sit out here with you for a bit and watch you work. Ok, BA?"
He couldn't take it anymore. Facing Murdock, he frowned as the man limped across the shop, looking for a place to sit.
"Fool, I don't want you out here. Go back inside and stay away from me."
There was a moment of silence. The fool's large brown eyes were wide with surprise. BA was sure the man would turn and leave, but instead he smiled sadly and reached for a stool. The seat was too high and as he tried to get up on it, he grimaced with pain.
"I told you to go away," BA growled, but the crazy man continued to struggle.
Shaky and pale, he finally shimmied onto the seat, seemingly very pleased with himself.
Murdock laughed. "I know." Putting on his best BA impersonation, he added, "Go away, fool. You gonna drive me crazy with your jibber-jabber."
BA swallowed down a lump in his throat. He couldn't deal with this, not now.
"Why are you mad at me, big guy?"
He shook his head, not daring to look Murdock in the eyes. "Not mad at you. I'm mad at me."
Murdock sighed. "You know, this reminds me of a story."
BA glanced up; the Captain was staring off into the distance, his eyes glossy with memories.
"When I was nine…" The fool smiled. "…there was an old widow living at the end of our street. Her house was enormous, but all alone, she couldn't tend the yard. She lured all the neighborhood kids in with popsicles. The deal was, we did the yard work and then we got the goodies. Her tight little pocket book never had to see the light of day and we…" He chuckled. "We got the most delectable popsicles to ever exist. You see, she made them herself."
Murdock paused to grin over at BA, and the Sergeant quickly turned away. The fool was talking nonsense again.
"Well, since she made them herself, they were somewhat quirky. Whatever was in season was what we got, but there was one flavor that was a year-round treat, banana. It had a different consistency though. Unlike the other popsicles, it melted in a rather slimy, oozing way. With the way its yellowy mucus kind of dripped down it, all the kids started calling it the snotsicle."
BA stepped over to the van and put the jack in place. He was still listening, but he was doing his best to pretend like he wasn't.
"I loved the snotsicles, but everyone else hated them. I don't think it was because of the flavor. If they would have given it half a chance, I know they would have loved it too. It was just the look of the thing. Anyway, no matter what, even if Mrs. Middle, the widow, ran out of popsicles, I always got one, because no one would touch the banana ones but me."
The Sergeant started cranking the jack, hoping Murdock would take the hint and head back inside.
"Well, after a while, she started making mostly banana popsicles. I think they were the easiest to make, or maybe it was because she seemed to like me the best. Needless to say, the other kids were not pleased. Every day, after we left Mrs. Middle's house, everyone would throw their banana popsicles at me. I'm not talking about just handing them over for me to have. I had to run, flat out, fear for my life, run. Those kids were out for blood, and a few times they got it. I'd get home all sticky with snotsicle and covered in bruises. It was horrible, but I never stopped going to Mrs. Middle's house. I loved those snotsicles too much for that."
BA finished cranking the jack and glanced back at the Captain.
"Do you understand?" The fool asked; his grin painfully wide.
Frowning, the Sergeant shook his head. He had no clue as to what the crazy man was talking about.
Murdock's smile fell a little, but didn't fade entirely. "I never blamed the popsicle," he said softly. "You're just like those snotsicles. I don't blame you. Someone just happened to throw you at me, but it wasn't your fault."
BA blinked. He was not going to cry, not in front of the fool. Hell, not in front of anyone. But what he would do was…
In three strides, BA reached the Captain and, ever so gentle, encased him in a hug.
Murdock laughed. "I always knew you were a big softie."
BA noticed Face and Hannibal standing in the doorway, watching Murdock and him, but he didn't care. Just this once, he didn't care.
Sorry for the long chapter. I had myself convinced that I could cram it all into one. Silly me. I would like to thank all of you who have read this story and all of you who have reviewed this story. I only hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks!