Death Waits In the Wings

Disclaimer: I do not own The A Team movie or television series or any of the delightful characters found on The A Team.

Chapter 128 Taking Care of Pa

"They're watchin' me pretty close, Pa. Don' know if I'm gonna be able t' pull it off Sunday night 'r not." Murdock straddled the chair in the root cellar, his arms folded along the chair top, waiting for McKeever to finish the coddled eggs and buttered bread.

"You've been good t' me, son. Better 'n I shoulda been treated. If it don' happen, it don' happen. Ain' like I'm gonna live fer even 'nother ten years anyway." He pushed aside the tray, only half of the food eaten.

No wonder Pa's so thin. He ain' eatin' 'nough t' keep a hamster 'live.

The pilot rested his forehead on his folded arms and sighed. When he raised his head again, his eyes burned with desperation. "Can't ya eat more 'n that?"

"Ya did a good job with this. Don' get me wrong. I jus' know my limits. Eat much more . . . well, I tol' ya what happens. Sometimes happens anyways." He gave Murdock a feeble smile. "Sorry. I know yer tryin' yer damnedest."

Why'd he hafta wait 'til now t' start treatin' me halfway decent?

The pilot's vision blurred. "Ain' good 'nough," he muttered to himself and swiped the sleeve of his flannel shirt across his eyes. He took in a deep breath and stood.

"Gotta special treat for ya. Ever had Irish coffee?" Murdock carried the tray with its plate and coffee cups to the shelf where he set the whiskey bottle. "Ya take some strong coffee, the stronger the better." He lifted one of the cups to show his father. "See? Then ya add sugar. Should be brown sugar but we'll make do with this." Tearing the tops off two packets, he dumped the contents into one cup and stirred with a spoon. "Then ya pour in yer whiskey to taste . . . couple a shots good for you?"

McKeever nodded, sweat breaking out across his forehead.

With his attention on what he was doing, Murdock didn't see the nod. "You 'kay, Pa?" The pilot frowned as he turned to look at McKeever.

Stupid question. He's not okay. I can see that.

The older man shook his head and swallowed. His face had paled. As Murdock watched, he clutched his belly and hunched over.

"Gotta lay down. Bad burn in my guts."

Murdock stopped what he was doing and hurried toward the cot. "Here, let me help ya." He lifted his father's legs onto the canvas as McKeever let the upper half of his body sink back. "Yer gonna be okay, Pa. Jus' ride it out." Sitting on the edge of the cot, he grasped McKeever's hand in his own and tightened his grip.

How many times did someone do this fer me when I was livin' on the streets? Least I can do fer Pa.

McKeever's face distorted with a spasm of pain and he gestured toward the head of the bed. Turning onto his side, he let his head dangle over the edge of the cot and vomited into the bucket Murdock held for him.

Everythin' he ate 'n' then some. Don' know how much more he's gonna be able t' take.

"That's a lotta blood, Pa," the younger man observed as McKeever collapsed onto his back again and closed his eyes. "How long'd you say you'd been doin' this?"

His father snorted. "Long 'nough t' know the doc was right. Nothin' can be done 'bout it. Medical bills'd bury me 'n' wouldn' guarantee a much longer life."

He's right 'n' I know it. Least I got vet benefits comin' t' me. He's got nothin'.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. McKeever's breathing returned to normal and color crept back into his face. Murdock thought his father had fallen asleep. He carefully moved to get to his feet.

McKeever opened his eyes to half slits and propped himself up on one elbow. "Help me up, 'kay?"

"Sure, Pa." Murdock braced his father's back with his arm and lifted him to a sitting position. He winced with the pain that shot through his injured arm. Standing up, Murdock turned away and gripped the bandaged area, shivering slightly.

Not gonna let 'im see my pain. He's got too much o' it himself, he don' need t' see mine.

"Yer hurtin'." McKeever said to the pilot's back.

The younger man shrugged, still facing away from his father. "This's nothin'. I've been through worse and lived."

"Why don'tcha make us both up some o' that Irish coffee? I think my belly's settled down 'gain 'n' it'd take the edge off yer pain." McKeever drew a hand across his mouth.

Murdock hesitated. "Hannibal's waitin' outside right now for me. My girl's inside the house. Made me promise not t' drink anythin'."

"Ain' that like womenfolk? They don' understan'." McKeever smirked. "The coffee smell'l cover up the whiskey. Ain' that the idea?"

The pilot's arm ached with the movement he had done onstage the previous night and from helping his father to sit up. His ribs were still hurting and he knew from previous experience that pain could last for up to six weeks or more.

He's right. Makes the pain manageable. 'N' Dani won't know if I slip a shot o' whiskey in my coffee. I jus' won' drink anymore 'n that. Jus' so Pa don' drink 'lone.

"That's my boy." McKeever grinned encouragingly as Murdock opened two more sugar packets and dumped the contents into the other coffee cup.

oooooo

As soon as the curtain dropped on the final lines by King Henry IV alias Doctor Freedman, Murdock scrambled to his feet from his death pose on the stage and cast furtive glances for Cyndy. Swaying slightly with the lingering effects of the whiskey he had shared with his father over their supper, he waited until the stage stopped spinning before taking a step.

Control's everythin'. 'N' even when I was on Skid Row I knew how t' pretend t' be sober. Least I never got 'rrested fer disorderly conduct anyways.

She stood alone in the same dark corner of the backstage area like the night before. He was surprised to see her attention was focused on him. Even from that distance, he knew she had been crying.

What'd I do now?

The audience was once again applauding wildly and awaiting the players to appear in front to take their bows. Nodding absently at his fellow actors as they patted him on the back and congratulated him on his performance, he sidestepped small groups of crew and cast members until he stood directly in front of Cyndy.

Gesturing with his head toward the closed curtain, he reached for her hand. "It's almost time for our curtain call, milady." He bowed and kissed her hand in an exaggerated formal manner. As she shrank back from him, he frowned.

Whatever I did, musta been somethin' big fer her t' act this way.

Cyndy hugged herself. "Something was different about you tonight, H. M. I don't know what it was but it made me uncomfortable. It was like you were someone else."

Puzzled, Murdock dropped his hand to his side. It felt like a lead weight on the end of his arm anyway. "I'm still the same ol' H. M."

Don' know what she means 'bout different. How do I prove it to 'er?

Giving her a mischievous grin, he moved closer and dipped his head down to kiss her. The old familiar memories flooded his mind and he snaked his arms around her waist to hold her tighter. Surprised, he realized her hands were up against his chest and pushing him away.

She was breathless as she stammered, "Wh . . . what about Dani?"

As he looked into her eyes, he scowled with frustration. "C'mon, Buttercup. I haven' changed. Jus' provin' it to ya. 'Sides, las' night ya seemed t' not think anythin' 'bout temptin' me."

"You're confusing me, H. M. Please, I said we could still be friends. Isn't that enough?" She pushed against his chest again and broke his hold on her.

Staggering back two steps, he sneered, "Talk 'bout confusin' someone, you take the cake, sweetheart." His accusing glare was too much for Cyndy.

Covering her face with both hands, she trembled.

He tried to control his temper as he watched her.

She's been hustlin' me ever since I got back home. 'N' she's been hustlin' my best frien' at the same time. 'N' now she jus' wants t' be friends?

He knew he wasn't thinking rationally. Shaking his head to clear his mind, he heard voices clamoring for attention instead.

Billy's voice whispered in his mind, "Don't be like Pa. Cyndy don' mean ya no harm. She's not that way 'n' you know it."

Another voice interrupted. "Ain' that like womenfolk? Playin' ya, then dumpin' ya fer someone else."

The second voice sounded so bitter, he wondered if the drinks he shared with his father were calling the shots with his emotions.

I got it under control. But I ain' gonna be played with anymore.

"Time for your curtain call, guys." Evan Dunlow interrupted, patting Murdock on the shoulder and casting a curious look at Cyndy as he passed.

"Hear that, Buttercup? Our audience wants t' see us." He gripped her elbow and forced her to look at him. Her eyes filled with fear and made him pause for a moment. Anger clouded his mind as he snapped, "One more performance 'n' then ya can wash yer hands o' me fer the res' o' yer life. That is, if that's what ya want. But fer now, let's preten', 'kay?"

Without waiting for an answer, he half-dragged her toward the side curtain and the applause waiting for them.

And the voice in his mind laughed. See? Yer more like yer Pa than ya think.