Disclaimer: I do not own The A-Team or any characters related to the television show or movie of the same name.

The Sucker Punch Never Came

Chapter One. The Shadow Spy

Templeton Peck was relieved when Murdock finally entered the small grove of trees on the grounds of the VA Psychiatric Hospital.

"What took you so long? I've been waiting here for close to a half hour. I thought I was going to have to come find you." Face's exasperation with Murdock's delay faded when he took in his best friend's somber mood.

"I'm bein' watched. I had to make sure he was with his shrink before I could get away. Even now . . ."

And Murdock glanced nervously around him. When he seemed assured no one was paying attention, he let out a frustrated sigh and turned back to his friend.

Face narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the pilot's demeanor. Murdock was wired and jumpy. His hands trembled.

When Murdock saw Face's attention diverted to his hands, he stuffed them in his pockets and tried to smile. The result was a ghastly, wan effort without any real warmth. Not at all like the carefree perpetually optimistic soul Face had come to know and love as a brother.

"Something wrong? Is someone threatening you?" Face's brow furrowed and he put his hand on his friend's shoulder. Murdock's barely perceptible flinch did not escape his notice. Though he was trying to mask it, the pilot's fear was so palpable, Face felt a gut twinge of it himself and dropped his hand to his side.

Then Murdock grinned. "Aw, you know me. Probably a bit of a nightmare trying to haunt me during the day." He glanced behind himself to the nearest trees, gestured with his hands and whispered, "Shoo! Go away, nightmare!"

Face brought one hand up to his head and smoothed back his hair. Was this dread he could see written all over his friend's movements and countenance the result of another figment of Murdock's imagination? Or was his friend being stalked?

When Murdock turned back to him, Face caught a fleeting glimpse of his inner struggle to squelch whatever was troubling him. Murdock squared his shoulders and planted his hands back in the pockets of his khaki pants.

"So . . ." The word hung in the uncomfortable silence between them. They had never before been unable to carry on a conversation.

Murdock closed his eyes for a second to reorder his thoughts, then cleared his throat. "How's the Colonel? Did he get that voice part? What was it now? Some commercial for an Aquamaniac kids' cereal?"

"No . . . no, that fell through. The new Aquamaniac movie is in final production, though." Face smiled.

In the distance someone laughed and Murdock's body tensed. He swiveled his head toward the sound, his eyes widening. When he determined no one was approaching, he asked, "And the Big Guy? What's B. A. up to?" He did not turn back to his friend but continued to scan the grove's perimeter.

"Busy with the youth center. Teaching some of the older boys how to defend themselves. Fitting the van out with some better speakers. The usual stuff." Murdock nodded, a quick up and down movement of his head, as if he were only half-listening.

"And you? You still takin' care of that beach house for that actress? Where'd she go? Europe? Australia?" Murdock said all of this without once looking at Face. His attention was fully engaged on whatever shadow spy was lurking outside the shade of their meeting place.

"She's on a publicity tour in England. Her place is well-equipped for any kind of entertaining I need to do. Listen, if you need to get back to the hospital . . . " Face startled when a twig snapped and leaves rustled just outside the surrounding trees.

Murdock drew himself up to his full height. He swallowed once and the fear was back in his eyes. Or had it ever left? He became very businesslike and he took one of Face's hands in his own and shook it vigorously.

"Right. Then you'll get the paperwork going to swing some of my monthly VA benefits over to that orphanage I heard about on TV? Good. Come back with the papers and I'll be waitin' to sign them. Now, you'd better scoot. It's almost time for lunch and you might not like the stewed prunes they serve." Murdock held Face's gaze for a moment, searching his eyes as if willing him to understand something he could not say out loud.

After a final firm hand clasp, Murdock turned away and strode out of the grove and across the lawn. His pace quickened as he neared the building. With one last furtive searching look around him, he threw open the door and went inside.

Face watched him, his forehead puckered with worry. Either Murdock was becoming more paranoid than he had ever been or someone was threatening him. He would talk to the guys and come back in a couple of days to visit.