Disclaimer: The A-Team is the property of Stephen J. Cannell and my writing is not to make money or to obtain fame. I write to show my appreciation of a show that in my opinion is one of the classics in time.
Originally penned under my nic: Murdock's Doc
A high pitched scream preceded the appearance of a tightly fitted formation of F-14's flying 10 feet over the dry lake beds of Edwards Air Force Base in Sunny California.
"Thunderbird one, you sure you wanna do this?" The pilot in the rear of the formation called out over the private com channel that all in the group shared.
The lead pilot grinned as he mentally reviewed what the next formation would look like to observers on the ground. "That's a big affirmative Thunderbird Two."
"Call it Thunderbird One!" Called the pilot from the right wing.
"Roger that Thunderbird three." The lead pilot chirped, "Vertical on three - One - Two - Three!"
The humming scream of the jets seemed to suddenly change to a rumbling roar that sounded like thunder across the Mojave Desert. The swift moving jets readjusted their positions until they formed a rising square. Seconds passed and the walls of the square began to move as the planes began to spiral clockwise.
"Ground Doggie, what's the view?" Thunderbird One called out with excitement.
"Hot Damn Thunderbird One this one's gonna give the General a real hard on!" came the reply.
The lead pilot laughed at Ground Doggies comparison and imagined the teasing his fellow pilots would be giving him for the comment, "Okay boy's let's sparkle this fountain! One - Two - Three!"
As the lead pilot sounded three the four jets arched away from the box formation. As they gracefully arched into an aerial circle, each jet continued to spin. When the jet's reached the bottom of their arch, they each leveled out and began what seemed to be a collision course into a center point.
From the ground, the school children who had gathered to observe the practice session of the famed Thunderbirds held their breaths and watched without blinking. The less brave covered their eyes, unable to watch the impending crash.
During the maneuver, the pilots remained silent in concentration as they each guided their plane to their crossing point. From the ground it appeared as if it were a head on collision, but from the air the skilled aerial masters saw the 1 foot gap between planes as a piece of cake to be savored.
"That's it kiddies, I think we're ready for the show." Thunderbird One called out to the others. "Let's form up and bring em home."
"Roger that," Thunder bird Three and Four called out in unison.
"Roger that Howlin Mad" Thunderbird Two called back, teasing his friend. "Do ya think that last move will give the General relief from his hard on?"
"Hey Snoopster I'm a gonna send you over to check." The lead pilot snickered back. "Maybe you'll get a different kinda solo on our last performance."
"Hell, don't even tease about that buddy, not with the youngin's listening." The rear pilot teased.
The lead pilot chuckled, "What, like they don't know ol' Snoopster is the squads resident kissup?"
Hidden in the shade just inside the hanger doors, a petite figure stood watching the group of pilots as they walked towards the driver of a jeep waiting just inside the hanger. The way they laughed and joked with each other, it was apparent that they were unaware of their observer.
When the uniformed driver stepped forward to greet the pilots, the hidden figure stepped out. "Excuse me." She called out. When all heads turned to her direction, she continued, "Lt. Murdock, may I please speak with you a moment?"
"Got yourself a fan HM?" whispered the number two pilot of the group.
"About damn time don't ya think Snoopster?" Lt. Murdock whispered back with a grin, "Up till now they been lickin at your heels." The lanky pilot added.
"Hey HM, I don't think the kennel club this guy's got counts" One of the junior pilots whispered as he poked Snoopster in the ribs. "This chick's a hot number."
Snoopster glared back, "You jealous Tornado? Gotta be hard for a married guy to watch longingly at the pro's in action."
Tornado snorted and raised up his left hand and wiggled his ring finger, "Know what this means." He laughed, "Means I get it every time I want it."
Snoopster dramatically placed the back of his hand against his forehead, "Oh Tornado, I can't tonight I have this awful headache." The pilot said with a mock feminine voice. The act caused each of the pilots and the driver to chuckle.
Lt. Murdock glanced over at the visitor who seemed to be patiently waiting for some acknowledgment. "Time for me to see if my destiny awaits." He said as he headed over to the woman. When he reached her, he reached out and took her hand then gracefully bowed and planted a light kiss on the back of her hand. "You callith me fair lady?" He said with a heavy English accent. "Tis an honor to come to the aid of a damsel in distress." He added with a grin, "By chance are you in distress?"
The woman smiled a bit. She had heard that the famed Thunderbird pilots were cocky, but this wasn't what she had expected. "Depends." She said briefly.
Lt. Murdock flashed her an ear to ear smile as he stepped closer and drew her hand to his chest. "Oh please fair lady, speak. Let me slay your dragon's, defend your honor." He said, continuing with his English accent. "Speak and I shall gladly crusade for you."
For an instant the woman forgot why she had asked to speak with the pilot and laughed, "Do you always talk like that?"
Again the pilot grinned, "Awww shucks, just playin with ya." He said slipping into his Texas accent. "What can I do for ya?"
The woman pulled her hand out of the pilot's grasp and slipped it into the pocket of her windbreaker. "I'm Donna Litton, with the Dallas Herald." She said pulling her press badge out of the pocket.
"Oh. . . " Lt. Murdock said as his grin turned to a frown.
"I've been sent here to do an interview with you," she said still smiling. "Since you're from the great state of Texas, I figured you'd be interested in sharing some of your thoughts with your fellow Texans."
"Ah" Lt. Murdock said with a cooling tone, "The Thunderbirds have a Public Relations Group that handles all the interviews and information requests, If ya give me your name and some way for them to contact you then I can make sure they git ya what ya need."
The woman sighed, "I'm not looking for Air Force stuff, I'm looking for an interview with a Texan." She reached out and laid a hand on his arm, "Look, give me a chance. Let's go to the club, I'll buy ya dinner and we can talk. If your still not interested then I'll back off." She looked up at him with pleading green eyes. "Please."
Lt. Murdock opened the door to the Officer's club and was greeted by the loud blasting sound of an Elvis Presley song. On impulse he began to sing, "You ain't nuthing but a hound dog.." As Donna Litton stepped through the open door being held for her, she gave the pilot a curious look, and he immediately clamped his mouth shut.
"Sorry," he said following her into the club, "It's one of my favs."
The reporter didn't say a word, but as she walked ahead of the pilot she smiled. When she had been given the assignment, Donna had expected to find someone older, grayer, and with fewer childlike qualities. Spotting a vacant table in the back corner of the dining area of the club, Donna headed for it without looking back. When she reached the table she slipped into the seat that faced the room. As Lt. Murdock sat down another song began to play, and he looked longingly over his shoulder at the dance floor.
"Let me guess, another favorite?" She asked as she listened to the lyrics of Satisfaction by the Rolling Stone's.
The pilot looked back from the dance floor and flashed a bright smile. "Yep, great beat and I can really dig the words."
Donna raised an eyebrow, "How old are you?" she asked on impulse.
The lanky Texan pursed his lips and looked at her suspiciously. "Old enough." He said coyly.
Donna pressed her lips together, realizing that she had treaded into a touchy subject. Holding up her hands in defensively, "Sorry, that wasn't an interview question. I only asked cuz you seem to act so youthful."
Lt. Murdock visibly relaxed. "Reporters make me nervous." He said with a pout. "They always seem to be tryin' to get in your head."
"Hey, if it makes ya feel better, think of me as a fellow Texan." She said with a smile.
"Where abouts you from?" Lt. Murdock asked as he started to play with the salt and pepper shakers.
"Rocksprings." She offered quickly. "Ever hear of it?"
"That's near the Rio isn't it?" Lt. Murdock asked.
Donna smiled brightly, "Sure is. Hardly anyone's heard of it at all. Where are you from?"
The pilot's brows knitted together slightly as he debated telling her anything about his personal life. Finally he figured that there was no harm. "I'm not from any town really. I guess the closest town would be Gray Mule."
The reporter's eyes brightened up. "Did you live on a ranch?" When he nodded lightly, Donna continued. "How the heck would a cowboy get into flying."
"Is that an official question?" he asked.
Donna placed her hands on the table, took a deep breath and then glanced up at the pilot across the table. "Look, I didn't mean anything. Questions are a habit with me."
"Do you really wanna know?" The Lieutenant said staring that salt shaker.
"What, about how you got into flying." The reporter asked, "Sure I do, officially or unofficially."
For almost a full minute the pilot remained silent. When he began to speak it was almost a whisper, and Donna had to lean forward to hear.
"It all started when my pa and my gramps took me to an air show for my ninth birthday." A hint of a smile crossed the pilots lips as he thought back to the day that had made the greatest impact on his life. As he spoke he felt as if were stepping back in time.
"Gramps! Did ya see em gramps?" The young HM Murdock squealed with excitement as the aerial show came to a Thunderous end.
The older Murdock looked down at his young grandson and placed a hand upon his head, hoping to stop the boy's excited bouncing. "Land sakes, your gonna tear my arm right off if ya don't stop bouncin', and if that happens how the hell are we gonna take a look at all these fancy planes."
A hand reached across the table and gently touched the pilot's arm, breaking his trip into the past. "The air show you went to. . . . was it the Thunderbirds?" Donna asked softly.
Lt. Murdock nodded. "Yep, watchin the Thunderbirds baited me, but what happened after the show hooked me for life."
The Murdock family spent the next hour wandering through the plane's set out for display. The young HM was filled with wonder and curiosity as he drilled each guide of every plane for details about the planes workings and flight abilities.
"Come on HM, we got a surprise for ya." The boy's father said with a wink to his own father.
The grandfather winked back, "I don't know Harry, do you think the boy can handle it?" He teased.
"Tell me!" The young HM said quickly, eyeing both his father and his grandfather. "Are we gonna eat now?"
HM's father rubbed his chin, "If it's food ya want, you'll miss out on our surprise."
Grandpa Murdock began rubbing his belly, "Ya know I'm a bit hungry myself. Now that ya mention it boy, I think I'd rather eat than take ya to the big surprise."
"Awwwww pa." The young boy said wrapping his arms around his father's arm. "Please, I wanna do the surprise first." He grinned at his grandfather, "Then eat."
"You sure boy?" His grandfather said with a twinkle in his eye.
Both adults began to laugh as the boy bobbed his head vigorously.
A short time later HM Murdock stood in front of a olive green vehicle with large blades on the top. "Whatcha call it again pa?"
"It's a Helicopter." His father said with a grin.
Silently the young boy mouthed the word before looking up at his grandfather. "Are we really going to get a ride on it?"
"Come on folks, climb in." Called out a man dressed in blue coveralls. In one hand he held a helmet as he waved them to come closer with his other hand.
Without hesitation, the young HM stepped forward, approaching the Helicopter with awe. "Are you really really gonna take us up in the air Mister?" He asked in disbelief.
The man bent down slightly to look eye to eye with the boy. "Sure thing Kiddo." He reached out and plopped the helmet on the boy's head. "I understand it's your birthday today." The pilot smiled when the boy nodded. "Ya know what that mean's don't ya. It mean's you're my co-pilot this trip."
The boy's face lit up and he put a hand up to feel the helmet as he turned to his elders. "Did ya hear . . . did ya? I get to be the co-pilot."
It took only a few minutes for the pilot to buckle everyone up and climb into his own seat. After pulling on his own helmet the pilot reached over and flipped down the microphone on the boy's helmet and plug in a wire from the console. After checking the connections on the boy's helmet, the pilot repeated the actions with his own helmet.
"You talk to the mic and there are speakers in the helmet." The pilot said once he was hooked up. When the boy's eyes grew wide with surprise then even wider with excitement the pilot held a fist up the flipped up his thumb.
"Here we go." The pilot called out as he reached towards the console to flip the ignition switch.
By the time Lt. Murdock paused, Donna Litton had her elbows on the table with her chin resting on her open palms. "So your first ride in the air hooked you?"
"Not exactly." He said with a lopsided grin.
Donna looked a bit confused. "Then what?"
Murdock leaned closer, and his face took on a look of pure pleasure. "I got to fly her." He whispered in a husky voice.
The S-51 Dragonfly lifted into the air and the pilot looked over to find the birthday boy staring at the controls rather than out the window. "Want me to tell you something about how this thing works?" The pilot offered.
HM pointed to the stick and then the lever between the seats. "Those things control the big blades on the top don't they?" When the young boy looked up to find a look of surprise on the pilots face he continued. "I saw ya use that thing there to make the blades flat on top to take off," he said pointing at the lever, "It was kinda like how a big puff of wind blows a paper into the air. And when ya moved that stick like this" He reached out into thin air and began to mimic the pilots moves right and left. "Ya make it move one way or another."
"Hey, you're pretty smart for a kid." The pilot teased. When the boy shrugged his shoulders the pilot decided to see just how observant the kid actually was. With his free hand he pointed to the pedals on the floor in front of him. "What are these for?"
For a moment HM pushed his lower lip out and pushed it up over his upper lip, taking on a look of concentration. Finally he looked up at the pilot with a serious expression. "I can't see what it does, but I can feel it. They make this machine turn around."
"That's pretty good kid," the pilot said with a big smile. "Want to learn more?" After HM's enthusiastic nod, they spent the next half-hour discussing the details of the helicopter, and its controls. The boy absorbed the information so quickly that there were times the pilot forgot he was dealing with a 9-year-old boy. The pilot was so impressed with the kid's natural abilities that he found himself offering to let him fly. "So you wanna try this baby out kid?"
"That was it for me, I was hooked." Lt. Murdock explained with his eyes still twinkling with the memory, "Ten minutes in complete control of that bird and flying became my life's obsession."
"I can just imagine you're excitement." Donna commented. "I bet it took your dad and grandpa a month to calm you down."
Suddenly the Lieutenant frowned and his eyes misted over. "Naw, it didn't take that long." He said in a hauntingly sad voice. Memories of his dad's sudden disappearance two weeks after that memorable air show still weighed heavily on his soul. Even after all this time, it was something that he couldn't bring himself to talk about.
Donna was curious by the pilot's sudden shift in mood, but after all he had shared with her the information was secondary. Glancing into the room, she caught the attention of a waitress. When the waitress started towards them, Donna turned back to Murdock. "I'm getting kind of hungry, how about you."
The pilot took a deep breath and released it slowly, "If ya don't mind, I think I'll skip dinner." He said with sadness still lingering in his voice, "We got a practice session in the morning, and a show to do tomorrow afternoon. I should be getting back to the barracks to get some rest."
Donna nodded, "I understand." Tilting her head slightly in order to be able to get him to look at her she added, "Can I see ya after the show to find out if you'd be willing to do the interview?"
Murdock pushed his chair away from the table as the waitress arrived, "I'll think about it Miss Litton." As the pilot stood up, he nodded to the waitress then left.
"Fair enough," Donna said with a nod. As the Lieutenant walk away, she turned to the waitress, "I'm sorry, it seems we've changed our minds." She stood up and looked around, "Can you tell me where I can find a phone?"
The waitress pointed in the direction of the restrooms, "There are three public phone booth's down that hall Miss."
A few moments later, Donna Litton stood outside the center phone booth. After carefully scanned the area to assure that she was alone, Donna stepped inside and quickly dialed the phone. As the phone rang, she glanced around again to confirm that she was still alone. Someone picked up on the other end and waited. "Tango, Alpha, Eight, Eight, Five, Romeo" Donna said quickly.
"Report Able Scout" a deep male voice responded.
"I've made contact with the subject and recommendation is to recruit." The woman whispered into the phone.
"Proceed as planned."
As Lieutenant Murdock stepped out of the club, he deeply inhaled the dry desert air to clear his thoughts. As he began to walk along the path that connected the barracks with the clubs, he slipped his hands into his pockets. What had started out as an innocent story about his introduction to flying had turned into a painful memory of his dad's disappearance.
Sighing deeply he stopped and glanced up at the stars, just as he did the night his gramps had told him that his dad hadn't made it to his business appointment. Somewhere between home and the meeting place Harry Michael Murdock had disappeared without a trace.
Kicking a tumbleweed that had rolled into his path, HM remembered his grandfathers desperate attempts to find is son, and his grandson's father. Folks in the area whispered that Harry had deserted his family because he had been unable to bear the responsibility of raising a son on his own. HM and his grandfather knew better, and never gave up the hope that he would return.
Stopping again, HM watched a horny toad dart in a zig zag pattern across the sidewalk and into the street. When darkness claimed the little creature, Murdock resumed his walk. Sighing again, he realized that his dad had disappeared as quickly and completely as that creature had. He and his gramps had searched for a year, before finally retreating home with nothing but hope. "Never give up hopin' boy." His grandpa had said, but sometimes the hoping didn't help with the pain. In reality Hope and Pain walked hand in hand.
Taking another deep breath, the lanky Lieutenant pushed the depressing thoughts of his father's disappearance from his mind and headed to the BOQ. The walk had been a short one, but it had given him time to put his past into perspective.
After entering the BOQ, Lt. Murdock stepped into the room that he shared with one of his teammates. Looking into the dark room, he noticed that the curtains were drawn and it looked as if someone was asleep in his bed. Scratching his head in confusion, Murdock wondered why there was a change in the sleeping arrangements. Moving silently as possible, he made his way across the room to the bathroom, where he switched on the light. When he noticed the long red hair stretched out over his pillow the young Lieutenant furrowed his brow and crept over to his bed.
Several thoughts crossed his mind as he reached out to shake the shoulder of the long-haired woman in his bed. He figured that the guys were setting him up for a laugh, but what concerned him was what would happen if the General stopped in to check on his demonstration pilots. "Lady, I don't know what you're doing..." When Murdock touched the shoulder of the "person" in his bed he noticed that it bounced at his touch.
"Awww for crying out loud." The Lieutenant said in disgust as he pulled back the covers and stood back to watch a helium filled blow up doll rise awkwardly to the ceiling. "You'd think they would try something original."
He watched the life sized blow up doll jiggle and bounce against the ceiling and suddenly, Lt. Howlin Mad Murdock developed a amused smile. Quickly he reached for the phone in the room and rang the other two rooms shared by the demonstration pilots. When neither rooms picked up he called the front desk, and asked for a clerk to come to his room to unlock the door. Grabbing the key to his own room he hurried out into the hallway to stand at the door next to his own.
When the clerk arrived, she found the Thunderbird pilot rocking back and forth on this heels while he whistled an peppy tune. "Sir, are you the one that called about locking yourself out of your room?"
"Yep that's me." The rangy Texan said with a chuckle. "Kinda embarrassed about it so I would appreciate ya not sayin anything to my friends."
The curly haired clerk smiled, "Sure no problem, it happens all the time around here." She said as she opened the door. "Staying at a place away from home seems to mess most people up."
Stepping inside the room, Murdock grinned from ear to ear, "Well darlin' I still appreciate it."
"Your most welcome sir, and have a pleasant stay." She said as she left.
Inside the room, the Lieutenant waited a few moments then peeked out the door to make sure she was gone. Chuckling at his resourcefulness, Murdock unlocked his team mates door and hurried back to his own room.
A few moments later, Murdock returned with the blow up doll tucked under his arm. Slipping silently into the room he searched around to find a pair of boots and a discarded uniform shirt. With everything gathered, he went to the window and opened the curtains.
Snickering as he worked, the pilot tucked the big vinyl dolls feet into the boots and then tied the laces around the legs to anchor the floating doll in place. Standing back he let go of the doll and grinned mischievously as the doll stood straight up, swaying lightly with the movement of the air in the room. Next he slipped the dirty shirt over the dolls shoulders and stuffed her arms in the sleeves. After buttoning the top button to keep the shirt on the doll he anchored the right front tail of the shirt on the dolls thumb.
After quickly glancing around the room, Murdock spotted a coffee table. Moving as quick as possible he dragged the table in front of the window, then placed the booted doll on top of it. Once the doll was in place he reached over and clicked the room fan on low, then turned to watch the doll sway in the breeze. "Perfect." He whispered into the empty room.
Standing up he went to the opposite side of the room and turned the desk lamp on low, knowing that it would cast enough light to give anyone who looked a view of what looked like a dancing woman in the males barracks.
Walking to the door, Murdock took one last look around the room and grinned. "Now that's original." He said as he slipped into the hallway.
When the pilots met the next morning at the airfield, nothing was said about the doll, the loud confrontation with the MP's in the hallway, or the hysterical laughter as the MP's left the BOQ. Several of the pilot's looked as if they wanted to bring the subject up, but that would have to wait until after practice.
Due to public appearances the Thunderbird pilots had, the team had for the most part been separated since their arrival at Edwards Air Force Base. The practice session the morning of the show would be the first real chance that all six pilots had to practice the maneuvers for that afternoon's performance. This particular show was difficult for all of them. It was the last show of the performance season, and it signaled an end to a Thunderbird career for half of the team.
Two hours after the morning take off, the six planes returned from a successful practice session. Unlike other sessions, they were greeted by what seemed to be an army of mechanics and ground crew. By the time the crowds arrived in four hours, all six planes would be washed and buffed till they gleamed. Once they had been cleaned the crew would mount the exhaust catalysts that would produce the spectacular trails as they planes flew.
One by one, the pilot's exited their planes and headed towards a waiting mini bus. As Lt. Murdock walked past the ground chief he pointed his thumb at his plane. "Hey Micky, give ol' Snapdragon an extra special buff. I want her to look good for our last outing together."
"Sure thing sir." The white haired Master Sgt. replied with a salute and a smile. Unlike the others in the crew, Micky didn't think the Lieutenant was weird for naming his plane. When the pilot had first referred to his plane by name, the ground chief had asked him why. The pilot had smiled and explained "If you know something well enough to call it by name then just maybe it wouldn't let you down in a pinch." To the old Sgt. who had seen stranger things in his time, he couldn't argue with Lt. Murdock's logic.
Murdock was the last to step onto the bus. When he did he found five sets of eyes staring at him. Better to take the bull by the horn, the Texan thought to himself as he stepped into the passageway between the seats. "So Snoopster, ya like your date last night?"
Four guys burst out laughing and the fifth just shook his head. "I almost got arrested last night." Snoopster complained, which only served to cause the laughing to get louder.
"You should have seen it HM, we walked in the door and before we could even register what the heck was giggling in the window the MP's show up." Snorted Lt. "Phantom" Carlin.
Murdock chuckled as he sat down, then turned around to face his friends. "What was all the yelling about in the hallway." He asked with a devilish grin.
Lt. "Dragon" Hall slapped his knee and spoke through his laughter. "I stuck my head out into the hall to see what the heck was going on." He said, laughing harder as he continued, "And Snoopster here was tryin to convince the MP's that the girl was in the room next door."
"It didn't help any when Phantom started whooping and hollering inside the room," Snoopster said looking sternly at his roommate.
"Yeah Phantom, what was that you were saying," Murdock said holding back his own laughter, "sounded like "Shake it baby shake it."
"All but one of the pilots roared with laughter. "Well, even with that I probably could have got them to leave," Snoopster said with a slight smile, "but when you yelled out "Take it off baby", the MP's damn near broke the door down."
A few minutes later, the bus stopped at the BOQ and six laughing pilots stumbled out onto the sidewalk. After a few more chuckles Snoopster reached out and placed a hand on Murdock's shoulder. "Man, even though it happened to me, that was priceless." The pilot said honestly, "I gotta say Murdock, you are one crazy amigo."
Murdock grinned, "Thanks man, and I got one more thing to say."
"What's that?" Snoopster asked.
Lt. Murdock glanced at each of the pilots who were waiting expectantly for what he had to say. His grin broadened, then he leaned back and let loose with an earsplitting howl. As the pitch of the howl got louder, five pilots covered their ears and ran for the BOQ.
Less than an hour, the bus carrying the pride and joy of the United States Air Force arrived back at the airfield. One by one, the pilots stepped off the bus with their heads held high and their faces wearing a mask of stiff professionalism. Dressed in brilliant white flight suits trimmed in red and blue they stood out against the drab green bus and the gray concrete deck. After forming up into a squad, they began to march towards the gathering of brass in front of the jets.
After the Thunderbirds lined up in front of the lead jet, the base Commanding Officer and his staff was introduced to each of the pilots. Strangely, when the introductions ended, the brass formed up in a line facing the pilots.
"Lt. Murdock front and center." General Griffin said staring at the team lead pilot. As Murdock took one step out of line and made a crisp turn, the General glanced over at the rest of his special team.
"Gentleman, as you well know, this is the last performance for three of our team." He said with a neutral expression. He turned his glance to Lt. Murdock as he came to attention in front of the brass.
"Lt. Murdock, I want to personally thank you for your creative leadership while performing as the lead pilot over the last year." The General stepped forward. "I want you to know that I will not have a Lieutenant leading the Thunderbirds in today's performance." He paused briefly when he looked up and noted Murdocks pained expression.
The General's words echoed through HM's mind. He had to bite his tongue to keep from blurting out "WHY!" Visions of running to his plane and riding off into the sunset suddenly flashed before his eyes.
Another officer stepped forward and held out a hand to the General. "Lt. Murdock, two days ago, I received notice of your advancement to the rank of Captain." He reached out and took a collar device from the outstretched hand of his aide. "Considering your exceptional record I felt it was highly appropriate that you fly your final performance as a Captain."
The General quickly removed Murdock's gold bars and quickly replaced them with the double silver bars of a Captain. Once completed, the General reached out a hand. "Congratulations Captain Murdock."
On automatic, Murdock accepted the Generals hand, "Sir, that means I get to fly today right?" He asked quickly.
General Griffin grinned, "Of course it does son, now get back in line so we can finish this dog and pony show." Captain Murdock snapped off a salute and quickly returned to his place in line.
The publicity shots continued as the pilots loaded into their planes. As the ground crews worked around the photographers to strap the pilot's in, the sound of the gathering crowd was deafening. One by one, the pilots received their helmets and had their canopy's lowered and locked.
"About damn time," Snoopster called out once they were on a private com channel. "What do you think Cap-Tan."
"Ya owe us a couple rounds of beer tonight to celebrate your promotion Cappy-tan." Phantom teased.
"Nope, ya'll get orange juice to help build healthy mind," the newly promoted captain quipped back. "You can kiss my bars later guy's, we got a show to do now. Systems Check," Murdock called out. In response, one by one the Thunderbirds called out that they were ready to go. "Roger that. Ground Doggie Thunderbirds are ready to launch. Call it."
"I copy Thunderbird One," The Ground Crew Chief responded. "Begin taxi to launch point."
"Copy that Ground Doggie," Murdock replied. "All right Thunderbirds, it's time to thrill the multitude."
Ten minutes later, the jets were positioned in formation at the end of the runway. As the announcer prepped the crowd, the pilots began to increase their jets power levels to a high pitched whine.
"Thunderbird, ready on three." The Ground Chief called out.
From the announcers box, "Ladies and Gentlemen…."
"Thunderbird, count is one."
"The United States Air Force is proud to present. . ."
"Thunderbird, count is two."
"The Thunderbirds . . . "
"Thunderbirds, THREE." The Ground Chief yelled, "GO GO GO!"
In tight formation, six jets screamed down the runway, lifting in unison and passing the stands while cruising eight-foot off the ground.
For the next twenty minutes the jets soared from one daredevil move to the next. The performance was flawless but it was over too soon for both the crowd and the pilots. Ending the show with the fountain maneuver, they landed to a standing ovation from the crowd.
Captain Howlin Mad Murdock left his jet with a touch of sadness. The Thunderbirds had appreciated his flying creativity. The team had been supportive of his other than normal patterns in both the air and on the ground. If anything, eccentric patterns were expected from the group of pilots classified the best of the best. Knowing that anything out of the norm would not be appreciated in the regular service, he sighed deeply and walked away from his jet.
Before he could reach his gathering friends and teammates, the Ground Chief stopped him. "Good show today sir."
"Thanks Doggie," Murdock said with a smile.
"Ah sir. . . ." The Chief said quickly, "The General is in the upstairs hanger office, and he wants to see ya right away."
Captain Murdock waved to his teammates as he passed them on his way to meet with the General. Each of the departing pilots had been expecting a "solo" flight to their CO's office to receive their orders, but that wasn't supposed to happen until they got back to Nevada. He and the other two guys transferring out had talked about their upcoming orders and they all figured that they would be going to Vietnam.
Reaching the stairs inside the hanger, Murdock took them two at a time. At the top landing he knocked on the door. After hearing the curt "Enter," the Captain entered the room. The room was dimly lit, but Murdock spotted the General sitting behind the desk. Stepping into the room and closing the door behind him, the Captain crossed the room quickly and stood at attention in front of the desk.
"Captain Murdock reporting as ordered sir." He reported.
"Thank you for coming Captain," a distinctly feminine voice said from behind.
Recognition flashed through Murdock's eyes as he stood at attention before the General. As the Captain remained silent, he noted the scowl that appeared on his Commanding Officer's face and for the first time since entering the room he noted the tension that radiated from behind the desk. 'What the heck is going on,' the pilot thought to himself as the woman that was behind him moved into his field of vision.
The woman that had introduced herself as Donna Litton the night before, stopped when she reached the side of the desk. She glared at the General with contempt. "General Griffins, you are dismissed."
Murdock broke his military stance as his jaw dropped to his chin. The General reluctantly stood up and glanced at the pilot apologetically before leaving the room with a slam of the door. Left alone with the woman, Murdock turned and glared at her with suspicion, "You ain't no reporter." He said accusingly.
The woman slid around the desk and took the seat that the General had occupied only a few minutes before. "No Mr. Murdock, I am not a reporter." She said coolly as she leaned back in the chair.
"You lied to me." Murdock said flatly.
"Lying is such a harsh accusation." She said with an amused tilt to corner of her mouth. "I prefer to call it an adjustment of the facts." She leaned forward in the chair and placed a manila file folder in the center of the desk. "But then again, you are quite familiar with adjusting facts as well," She said calmly as she opened the folder. She glanced up with a look that dared him to deny her statement. "Aren't you Captain Murdock?"
"Look lady, I don't have . . . " Murdock started.
"H.M. Murdock, enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1961." She said reading the documentation in front of her. She lifted a document from the folder and peered at it intently, "The birth certificate in your induction paperwork indicates that you were born on November 24th 1941." She laid the document down then lifted another one. "Strange, the official birth certificate on file in your family doctors office indicates that you were in fact born on November 24th 1947."
"Ol' Doc Kelly never knew what year it was, 1941 is the correct year." Murdock said quickly.
"Really?" Ms. Litton said sarcastically as she lifted another paper. "According to your academic record you began school in September of 1951, and this is confirmed by a waiver request filed by your parents to permit you to attend kindergarten at the age of 3 years, 10 months." She glanced up at the Captain and cocked her head to the side. "You were tested both psychologically and academically in August of 1951 and were found to be rather advanced for your age. You were placed in the first grade."
The pilot pursed his lips and refused to look at her, instead he stared at a point on the back wall.
"Your official academic record is quite impressive Captain." She said with genuine appreciation of his abilities. "You graduated high school in 1958, and spent three years at Texas A&M, where you obtained a dual major in Aeronautical Engineering and Philosophy." She leaned back in the chair. "It's quite amazing that you were able to keep your accomplishments out of the newspapers Mr. Murdock."
"Knock off the games, and get to the point." Murdock said in disgust.
Ms. Litton smiled and laughed, "I'm getting there Captain. I just wanted to make sure that we were both working with the same set of facts." Leaning forward in the chair she looked him straight in the eye. "In addition to what I have here, you yourself slipped up with the story you told me last night."
Murdock's gaze lowered until he was looking back at her. Mentally he was reviewing what he had said the night before, but he couldn't figure out his slip. "Explain."
"You said that you saw the Thunderbirds when you were nine." She explained. "The Thunderbirds didn't form into a group until June 1st 1953. The only time they performed in Texas on November 24th was in 1956. And . . . " She said rising to her feet. "Official police records list the missing persons report for your father as December 8th, 1956. Based upon the facts present and your own admission, you turned 9 on November 24th 1956, therefore you could not have been born in 1941."
"What do you want?" Murdock asked in a low voice.
"You've willingly and knowingly submitted false documentation to the United States Air Force." She accused as she walked around the desk to stand beside the Captain. "You entered the Air Force in December 1961 at the age of 15. What do you think your superiors would say about that Captain? How do you think they would feel about their precious rising star once they learned of your deception?"
The veins in the pilot's neck stood out, and he began clenching and unclenching his fists. He was angry with her for finding out the truth, and he was even angrier with himself for not covering the facts as well as he should have. "I asked you before, what do you want?" He said with barely contained hostility.
"It's quite simple, Captain." She said with a wave of her hand. "As you are aware the United States is at war with North Vietnam. . . ."
"Police action." Murdock corrected.
"Whatever you want to call it, it's still war." She countered. "Now, as I was saying" She said as she leaned back against the edge of the desk in front of him. "My organization would be willing to completely burying your lies and deception, in return for your services in Vietnam."
"I am a patriot lady, I work for the United States alone." Murdock said with conviction.
She smiled, "Of course, I would expect nothing less from you." She reached into her jacket pocket and withdrew a leather bi-fold. After flipping it open, she raised it up for the Captain to see. "I work for the Central Intelligence Agency, and the services that will be asked of you are intended to save American lives and resources."
Murdock took the bi-fold and inspected the badge until satisfied that she was in fact who she claimed to be. "If you work for the CIA then why the elaborate set up?" He said nodding at the open folder on the desk. "Why not just come out and ask me to serve my country?"
Litton took the badge back and tucked it back into her pocket. "My organization has discovered that our operatives are a tad more willing to perform their duties when there is an incentive involved." She said flatly as she crossed her arms over her chest. "When things get rough in the field, the incentive we dig up tends to keep people from walking away from their tasks when their lives are at risk."
Murdock lowered his head and reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't really have a choice do I?"
She smiled cruelly "Not really Captain."
Lowering his hand, he looks at her with eyes burning with hatred. "I may not have a choice, but I don't have to like it." He took a step closer, "And in case you're not clear on how I feel about it, I don't like it." He closed the remaining distance until they faced off with only a few inches separating them. "Mark my word lady, I won't forget."
Feeling uncomfortable with the fire of hatred in the pilot's eyes, Litton slipped away from him. "Save it Captain, I am just doing my job, just as you will be expected to do yours." She walked over to the door and opened it. "There is a car outside waiting for you. Your orders, transportation and personal effects have all been taken care of." When she received no response she continued. "For the sake of this country, I wish you luck Captain."
Facts and Fiction in Rising Star that I thought should be pointed out in order to keep fact and fiction straight:
(Fiction) In 1964-64 the Thunderbirds flew the F-100D Super Sabre
(Fiction) The minimum rank to the considered for a seat with the Thunderbirds is Captain
(Fact) Every year half of the team rotates out.
(Fact) The AF Demonstration team was called the "Stardusters" for the first few weeks of their existence. A contest was held to name the team. Thunderbirds won the contest due to the fact that 25% of all names suggested was in fact "Thunderbirds"
(Fact) In 1964-65 time frame the Thunderbirds were (and still are) homebased at Nellis AFB, Nevada (A few miles from Las Vegas in fact)