Summary: A chance meeting in the skies of Vietnam between two people who are not yet friends. Second in "The Vietnam Chronicles" series. Thanks to I'mpeckable for editing, posting, and generally kicking tails where appropriate.
Rating: PG-some swearing
Episode Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: I don't own the A-team. They belong to Stephan Cannell. I just play with them. I do own Cass, Pete, and the unnamed soldiers running around in this story. "You Were on My Mind" recorded in 1965 by We Five. "Hazy Shade of Winter" recorded in 1968 by Simon & Garfunkel
WINGED WINDS OF WAR
The next day held surprises for them both, canceling the planned trip to the illicit club. Hannibal was yanked into a meeting with Morrison. And what they were discussing was of little concern to BA at the moment. He had a bigger problems to worry about. First, that damned clerk, that garret trooper, had put BA in for a patrol that day. The little weasel wouldn't stand up to him. Nah, not that Speedy Five. If he wasn't running to the CO with his complaints, he pulled garbage like this on the people who gave him grief. Ray'd left earlier on another patrol. BA considered "discussing" the assignment with the clerk, but shelved that option. The motor pool work was falling behind as is, and that'd get worse, if Hannibal got his way. Easier to just pull the patrol and get it done with. The patrol leader was some fresh-off-the-plane ROTC who couldn't find his backside with both hands. Ignoring the advice of both BA and another master sergeant, the fool had managed not only to get the patrol lost, but had walked them into an ambush. The PL had lost it, and they lost him. Charlie took him out early in the firefight. The rest had pulled together under the two senior sergeants, and held their position. But now they were wedged in the area, and the first attempt at retreating had cost them. In addition to minor injuries, they had a man down-seriously wounded. Hauling him out at a patrol's pace-providing they got out at all-would gain him nothing and would most likely mean there'd be more men down. Their best bet would be a dustoff. The two sergeants conferred quickly. They agreed that if one man could make it out of there--with cover fire from the rest-and get back to the command post, that man might direct a chopper back to the patrol. "You lose, Baracus," the master sergeant had said, "I'll radio back for a dustoff." BA nodded, and after they determined their position, he headed in the direction of LZ while the patrol laid down a barrage of fire. His run through the jungle was tempered with caution for Charlie and his booby traps. BA had no desire to find himself stuck in one of Charlie's pride-'n'-joys. If their figures were right, the LZ should be about three klicks east of where the patrol was. Three kilometers sounded like long way, and yet the run seemed short to BA. He remembered little of it. The perimeter of the LZ appeared, and yet he wondered why he hadn't found the thing sooner. BA raced through the jungle, his breath coming hard. He could hear the distinctive wop-wop sounds of the Hueys at the landing zone ahead. He slowed as he reached the perimeter. Don't need to be shot by no friendly fire. "Where is the LT?" he asked one of the defenders. The soldier waved his hand toward a large termite hill. BA made his way to the command post, still breathing hard. The lieutenant was on the radio, trying to arrange fire support. BA grabbed the man's sleeve to get his attention. "Need a dustoff, three klicks west. Got a man wounded, can't move him." "There's a weather front moving in," countered the LT, distracted. "And the dustoff has already refused to land here in an unsecured Landing Zone. We're sending the wounded back on the slicks." He looked up sharply at the sound of automatic fire from the jungle, answered by an M-60. The incoming fire fell silent. "Evacuate your entire team, if one of the slicks will go. I doubt you'll get another chopper in tonight." The radio squawked again, commanding his attention. BA desperately ran for the nearest chopper. "Can you do another pickup?" he begged. The pilot shook his head. "Not a chance," he responded. "We'll barely make it back before the storm hits as is." BA raced to the next, afraid to spend the time arguing. If he couldn't get his people evacuated, he was going to lose them. As each chopper unloaded fresh troops and ammunition, they loaded wounded, then lifted to a hover and prepared to head back to base. As the trail chopper landed, BA jumped in the back, pushing his way past the sergeant supervising the unloading. This one wasn't going to get away. He made his way to the front and stood between the pilot's seats. "Need you t'make a pickup in a LZ, three klicks west," BA growled. Startled, both crewmen turned to him. The peter pilot looked extremely young and very nervous as he stared up at BA. His uniform was fairly crisp and new with Warrant One patches. He obviously hadn't been in country long. "But . . . ," he started. The pilot, lifting a hand to stop him, interrupted "Sure, no problem-o muchacho." He glanced at BA then turned back to the instrument panel. "Can you handle a door gun?" he asked, offhandedly, "We're a little shorthanded right now." His attention shifted to the radio, listening intently before acknowledging the transmission. "But, Murdock, uh, sir," the copilot protested, "What about the storm? We were ordered back to base." BA studied the pilot, holding his breath. He had little recourse in forcing the pilot to go. Large brown eyes scrutinized him in return. BA was startled by their intensity. Nondescript in his helmet and flightsuit, the pilot wore a first lieutenant's, rather than warrant officer patches "Aw now, what's a little weather?" the pilot said. The sudden grin lit up his entire face. His eyes flicked to the other seat. "Buckle up or get out, boy. This bird is leaving now." The peter pilot swallowed hard, but settled himself in his seat and commenced checking the instruments. He concentrated on his job, not wanting to know if the AC was serious about putting him off. Murdock shifted in his seat, looking to the back. His crew chief gave him the thumbs up sign; they were unloaded. "Cass!" he called. The door gunner paused. "We have a new recruit. Give him the thirty-second crash course on being a door gunner." Without waiting for an acknowledgment, he turned back to BA. "You have the coordinates?" BA grabbed the map, scanned it briefly and stabbed a finger at a spot. "Here." He shoved the map at the pilot and made his way to the back. The sergeant (Cass?) settled BA in his lifeline and smiled confidently. "Welcome aboard . . . Baracus?" BA nodded and the man continued, "Cass Polanczyk. The job's not too difficult. Shoot anything that shoots at you." He turned to the other side of the chopper, then looked back at BA. The smile turned into a cocky grin. "Oh, and don't fall out of the bird." He handed BA the headset and waved a hand indicating the ammunition as he went to get himself settled. BA snorted. He could handle any weapon. He was impatient to get underway. His team was in a bad spot and needed to be extracted now. He heard the pilot radio that he was leaving formation and gave a small sigh of relief. The Huey lifted, a gust of wind pushing it dangerously near the trees. BA could hear the pinging sound of automatic weapons fire hitting the sides. He lifted the weapon, scanning for a target. He was on the right side of the chopper behind the pilot; the crew chief to the left. Unconcerned, Murdock straightened his bird, checking his map and compass for the coordinates BA had given him. He left the LZ just as the snakes made their final run. They headed due west, flying just above the trees. BA could see branches--damn near touch them--out the open door. The skids brushed against them from time to time; tearing off leaves and small twigs. He looked around at the flight crew, gauging their reactions. The crew chief noted this and shrugged as he shifted in his seat. "Harder for Charlie to see us in the trees." "What happens you hit a big enough branch?" BA asked. This wasn't his idea of fun. He had never liked flying; it was just part of the job. "Guess we would go down; but it hasn't happened yet." Cass hesitated briefly, then shook his head before continuing. "Murdock knows what he's doing." He resumed his watch out the door. BA looked ahead. He could see the front approaching. They flew into the storm, the Huey lifting to a higher altitude and bouncing madly with the wind gusts. He scanned the terrain below, looking for landmarks, when an incongruous sound caught his attention. It took several minutes for him to locate and identify the sound. It was Murdock, humming "You are on my Mind." Startled, he glanced at the crew chief, who looked back in amusement and commented, "Sometimes he sings opera." The temptation was too much. "Any requests?" BA rolled his eyes in disbelief, and continued looking for his markers. Murdock's hum changed to words, "When I woke up this morning, you were on my mind. And you were on my mind." The pilot's voice was smooth and easy to listen to. BA just couldn't understand how Murdock could sing while flying in this mess. This ain't no Sunday drive. Cass joined on the refrain, "I've got troubles, oh-oh. I've got worries, oh-oh. I've got wounds to bind." At BA's incredulous look, the door gunner laughed silently. He leaned back in his seat, stretching out his legs. Kids on a joy ride, BA thought. The PP chewed his lip as he watched the storm, the instrument panel and the pilot in turn. "Oil pressure is dropping again" he reported. Murdock nodded. Interrupting his song, he commented, "Should be coming up on the LZ. See anything, Petey?" He glanced over, double checking the instruments as he made an adjustment. "Nothing but rain," was the reply. "Maybe we should head back. How can you land in this? We can't see anything." He shifted uneasily in his seat. "If we hit a tree, it won't do anyone any good." BA was scanning the ground. The choppy ride wasn't doing his stomach any good. Damned if I puke out the door like a FNG. Anyway, they couldn't turn back now. He looked again, then spied the small clearing. "There" he said. "No smoke" said the PP. He leaned forward in his seat, intently looking for a sign. "Wouldn't see it in this rain" retorted BA. "They're here." Murdock studied the LZ, small and vertical with almost no room to maneuver. He shrugged mentally. No use wishing for what he didn't have. "Hang on, muchachos" he warned. The chopper hovered directly overhead and then dropped like a rock; turning on its side and spiraling down. BA had a dizzying view of the ground spinning below him. It straightened at the last moment, flaring out.
As it settled to the ground, BA could see the men racing toward them. He counted them as they climbed aboard. When all were accounted for, he yelled to the cockpit. "Go!" The chopper lifted slightly. It bounced down hard on its skids as the pilot tried to spring it into the air, using the kinetic energy of the skids. The maneuver elicited groans from the passengers. Murdock ignored them, changing his tune to "Hazy Shade of Winter." There was an edge to his version that BA hadn't heard before. He backed the chopper slightly to give himself more room, and slammed it down again. This time the bird lifted higher, giving it slightly more room to maneuver. It lifted reluctantly over the trees, slashing several branches on the way up. As they lifted off, intense automatic fire spurted from the far side of the clearing. The chopper lurched as a volley shattered the front windshield, spraying the crew with broken Plexiglas. BA "walked" the area with the door gun, watching the tracers as they marked the weapon's path. He heard the gun on the other side firing and risked a glance. Cass was halfway out of the door; kneeling on the skid. He was firing his weapon between the body of the bird and the skid to reach the targets on the other side. BA turned back, stomach churning. It made him nervous to watch. I shouldn't fall out? he thought incredulously. The chopper climbed slowly, and he could feel automatic weapons fire strike the underside. Murdock cranked the chopper through an evasive pattern, banking sharply as he turned for home. The cold rain poured through the remains of the missing windshield, soaking both the pilots. BA wasn't much better; the open side door offered little shelter. Cass settled himself in his seat, ignoring the rain and still watching out the open door. The men from the LZ huddled on the floor or in the seats; grabbing for what support they could. "Welcome to Miracle Airlines, on your sightseeing tour of hell," Murdock joked as he glanced back. The lieutenant sat relaxed and easy in his seat; a sharp contrast to the tense postures of the rest. Thunder cracked louder and BA could see the lightning in the distance. It would be close on making it back to the base. The chopper sputtered and coughed. "Murdock" said the copilot worriedly. "Yeah, I see it" came the reply. "Don't worry, we'll hold together." He glanced over, flashing a quick, preoccupied smile. "C'mon, Pete, you don't think I'd walk home in this?" A perceptible vibration started, thunder cracked again and the lightning struck closer. "Get on the radio, tell them we're coming in," Murdock ordered. "And see if there's another chopper available. This one's had it." Astonished, the copilot looked at Murdock. BA had the same thought. Another chopper for what? Only a fool would be flying in this weather. He growled softly to himself, then asked grimly, And what does that make you? Pete duly made the call, which BA could hear over his door gunner's headset. The CO came on the line, "Vincent? Tell Murdock to get that bird back here. All flights are grounded. What is he doing up anyway?" He paused. "No, don't answer that," he corrected himself, aware of radio protocol. "Lieutenant, I want you in my office when you land." This was not a request. "Guess that means he's tearing up my vacation request," quipped Murdock. His worried eyes were at odds with his light tone of voice. As BA looked to the front, he noticed a reddish tinge to the water running through the cabin. He followed it back to the source. "You bleeding, man," he stated to the pilot. Murdock shifted slightly and BA could see the shard of Plexiglas embedded in his left forearm. His sleeve was soaked with blood and rain, dripping down his hand and trickling over the collective. "Yeah, caught a piece of the windshield when it blew," agreed the pilot, who shrugged again. "It's nothing." The copilot glanced over, and his eyes widened at the sight. The chopper dipped again, rotor sounding uneven. It rolled sharply to one side as they closed on the airfield. The lieutenant struggled to straighten the Huey. The engine skipped and reluctantly started again. The ship was shaking badly now, but they were almost home. BA sent up a prayer, Land safely, man. The landing itself was almost anticlimactic. The Huey flared down, landing lightly, but then listed heavily to the right. Smoke poured from the engine and he could smell burning oil. The carriage was riddled with bullet holes. As the men jumped out the medics were there to triage the injured.
The crew shut down the chopper, the crew chief shaking his head. "This baby will be down for a few days," he said, then added to BA, "nice job on the guns." He stepped down from the chopper, stretching his cramped muscles. "Cass? Um, Sgt. Polanczyk?" came hesitantly from the front of the bird. Pete fidgeted by the open right-hand door. Obviously frustrated, he glanced back into the chopper. BA followed the crew chief to the door, looking in over his shoulder. The pilot was still sitting in his chair; eyes closed and head back against the support. He looked totally exhausted, whatever had kept him going in the air was gone. "Murdock?" Cass asked gently.
"In a minute" was the almost inaudible whisper. He still didn't move. Cass studied Murdock, considering. Then he turned to Pete, "Tell the CO we're taking him to the hospital. Check the chopper in, too." The young warrant officer nodded and left. He turned to BA, requesting, "Give me a hand." They lifted the pilot down out of his seat, his thin body limp with fatigue. He seemed much younger than BA had originally thought. They set him on his feet, still holding him upright. His eyes opened blankly as he sagged between them. "He hurt bad?" BA questioned, concerned. He owed this pilot. "No, just burned out," was the answer. "We've been flying most of the last week, without much of a break. He pushes himself too hard." Cass eyed the blood-soaked sleeve, turning Murdock's wrist to get a better look. The Plexiglas protruded from both sides of his forearm. It was still bleeding, fresh blood making darker streaks in the fabric. "Just needs to have those cuts cleaned up and some rest. He'll be fine." His lips tightened, his grim expression belying the confidence in his words. At that point, Murdock roused, and straightened himself. "I am fine," he emphasized. He pulled his wrist out of the sergeant's grasp and continued, "If you don't mind, I need to see the CO." Unfastening his helmet, he removed it, shooting Cass an annoyed look. "I do mind," was the flat reply, "and you're going to the hospital. Now." Cass took the helmet from Murdock's hands, tossing it back through the open chopper door without looking. "The CO will wait. I sent Pete to let him know." He stared at the officer, not backing down. Glancing toward the operations shack, Murdock took a breath to disagree. His hands automatically moved to unbuckle and remove his chicken plate laying it on his seat in the chopper. He turned back, swaying slightly. BA scowled ferociously, as he and Cass grabbed for the pilot. Murdock's eyes widened in surprise-seeing BA's expression--and the pilot stumbled against the chopper in instinctive retreat. Cass caught his elbow, restraining him as Murdock caught his balance. When Murdock turned to him, he pointed a finger toward the hospital, eyebrow lifted. The pilot looked cautiously back to BA. No help there, not with that scowl. Realizing he couldn't win this argument; he reluctantly turned and started down the path. The sergeants fell in on either side. The lieutenant sulked, staring at the ground and scuffling his feet as he walked. He shoved his hands in his pockets; doing his best to ignore the enlisted men flanking him. BA looked from him to Cass, amused. This wasn't your typical officer to enlisted behavior. Besides, Murdock's reaction to his scowl was priceless. Cass broke the silence with a smile, "Besides, if you keep bleeding in my chopper, I'm going to make you scrub it out with your toothbrush." Murdock's mouth fell open. "What? I'm the AC. A toothbrush? Mine? Since when is it your chopper?" he sputtered, interrupting himself several times. He came to a standstill. Cass's grin widened to include BA. He shook his head in mock sadness and sighed dramatically. "Typical officer talk. Let them fly and they think they own the bird." Murdock looked from sergeant to sergeant, totally at a loss. Both shared a grin at his expense. Cass nudged the pilot's arm and tipped his head to indicate the path. The pilot started walking again. He shook his head, not sure how he lost this verbal battle. One of those days, he mentally sighed. They had reached the hospital door. Murdock stopped briefly and smiled, back in control. "Well what can you expect from a polack and a mud sucker." He turned and slid through the door gracefully. BA looked after him in confusion, "A what?" Cass smiled again. "Well, I'm the polack," he said indicating his name tag. He sat on some boxes outside the door, under the overhang of the roof. He dug in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. "So, you must be the mud sucker." BA joined him, shaking his head in amazement, "He get away with that? Don't nobody object?" The crew chief shook out a cigarette, offering them to BA. "Why?" He shrugged, not concerned. BA shook his head again, refusing the cigarettes, thinking. The pilot apparently didn't care BA was black or enlisted. Nor was he in awe of BA's physical appearance. Not much anyway, BA amended, smiling inwardly. And it was one heck of a job he did today on that flight. The door gunner lit his cigarette, watching BA. He leaned back, relaxed, and blew out a stream of smoke. The rain continued to fall, turning the ground into a muddy mess. "Man's a crazy fool," BA finally stated incredulously after several minutes. He looked back at the door gunner. The other sergeant also looked very tired. He couldn't imagine spending that much time in an aircraft. Cass chuckled quietly. "It makes life interesting." His eyes met BA's, serious again. With a shrug, he added "Sometimes he needs looking after." There was a long silence. He finished his cigarette; stepping it out as he stood. "I've some people to see. I'll walk him back when he's through. Thanks again for your help." BA nodded, still thinking. He had his own people to check on. Anyway, he wouldn't be dealing with the unpredictable pilot again soon. With that he walked quickly away, glad for an ending to a busy day.
Fini (for now)
Author's Notes--for those not of a military persuasion.
A Huey (UH-1 Iroquois) slick is a troop-carrying helicopter, as opposed to a snake which is a gunship (carries machine guns and rockets for escort duty). The slick normally carries a four-man crew, the Aircraft Commander (AC) who as the pilot in charge does most of the flying; a Copilot or Peter Pilot whose responsibilities include monitoring the instrument panel so the pilot can concentrate on visuals. The third person is the crew chief, who besides acting as a door gunner while in flight, is responsible for the day to day maintenance of the aircraft. The fourth person is a second door gunner. (Where is Murdock's? I don't know; they didn't tell me.)
A dustoff is a medevac (medical evacuation) chopper. Chicken plate is the protective ceramic armor aircrew wore. A CO is a commanding officer, LT is a lieutenant.
A "garret trooper" is a soldier who spends most of his time in the rear area, (usually an office-type job) with little to do beyond his job but eat, sleep, and get into unsanctioned activities. The term is not a complement.
A polack is a slang term for a dumb Polish person (reflecting the eastern European prejudice against the Poles). Not politically correct today, but commonly used in the '60's.