Summary: Face joins the team, with a little persuasion. Third in the "Vietnam Chronicles" series.
Rating: PG, some swearing, and one unpleasant reference
Episode Spoilers: None. Well, maybe a little bit of "Holiday in the Hills" A very little bit. And the same size bit of "Labor Pains"
Disclaimer: I don't own the A-team. They belong to Stephan J. Cannell. I just play with them. However, if I ever find them discarded anywhere, I'll take them in and never give them up (Okay, Avatar, maybe I'll share.)
The Patron Saint of Con Men
Several days later than they'd planned, Hannibal and BA checked the personnel records of Lieutenant Peck, then headed out to inspect the DMZ Tennis and Racquetball Club. The lieutenant's personnel records were intriguing. Peck had gone through a "shake 'n' bake" NCO course after basic training and somehow managed jump school before being shipped out. A little OJT, thought Hannibal, and this guy might be useful. Then, three months ago, a battlefield commission. And there were several Article 15's posted that caused Hannibal to grin and BA to shake his head in amusement. They had thoroughly interrogated the sergeant at the door of the club as to Peck's whereabouts. BA-still edgy from the patrol and flight with the helicopter crew-had "encouraged" the man to describe Peck and tell them where to locate the lieutenant. They knew that he would contact Peck as soon as they left the club. As they left the club and headed toward their jeep, Hannibal removed the borrowed insignia from his collar and handed them back to BA. He chewed thoughtfully on his cigar for a few moments, sorting through the options as he saw them. Ray hadn't been as lucky with his patrol yesterday as BA. He'd caught a round that'd landed him in the hospital. The team was down one man before it was even formed. Peck seemed to be a logical solution. Hannibal grinned, and BA knew that he had settled on a plan. "Let's go, BA," he said, "We gotta get dressed up for this visit." BA looked at Hannibal. Then--realizing what the colonel had in mind--a rare grin spread across his face.
One of the unspoken rules of the military, and the Army especially, was that if a person could write a neat hand (or--in this modern age--type with more than two fingers), he was almost guaranteed not to see the front lines of battles. His days would be spent in a field office, managing the paperwork created to prove that his superior officers were doing their job. In spite of his recent battlefield commission to second lieutenant, Templeton Peck found himself more often than not dealing with that paperwork for his commander. Captain Anderson had not been pleased with Peck's commissioning. Not that it wasn't deserved. Out on a "routine" patrol commanded by the previous platoon leader, Peck had taken over the platoon when the PL had bought the farm, and brought back not only the rest of the platoon, but several VC prisoners as well. No, Captain Anderson's displeasure stemmed from other things. Since Sergeant Peck's arrival in the unit, Second Platoon had acquired several unauthorized "perks," courtesy of the former sergeant. His platoon sergeant-involved in schemes of his own-had winked and looked the other way, as had the late platoon leader. And while Anderson himself had enjoyed the results of Peck's schemes on more than one occasion, the fact that the man regularly circumvented Army rules and regulations chafed Anderson's sense of military righteousness. After the incident in which the platoon leader had been killed, Peck's former platoon sergeant-annoyed by Anderson's commandeering of the sergeant and his skills, and with more than a little help from Peck himself-had neatly circumvented the captain with the paperwork. The commissioning of Second Lieutenant Peck was presented as a fait accompli to Captain Anderson, and there was little he could do about it. Nothing, that is, except make Peck's job as difficult as possible. Under the excuse of training the original company clerk, Anderson pulled the lieutenant back to HQ as often as he could. Not that it bothered Peck all that much. He had garnered several useful contacts while taking care of Anderson's work, and managed to juggle his official duties with his private deals to almost everyone's satisfaction. The phone rang, and the clerk picked it up. After listening briefly, he said, "Hold on," and held it out to Peck. "Yeah, Peck here." "Hey, Peck," the agitated voice of Sergeant Roberts, one of his squad leaders, said, "There's been some guys down here at the club asking 'bout you. I think they were IG." "Hang on," said Peck. He turned to the clerk. "Hey, why don't you head out for chow? I'm sure the captain won't mind." The clerk left, and Peck turned his attention back to the phone. "IG?" he said incredulously, "No way. What would the IG be doing at the club?" He thought a minute, then asked, "What'd they look like?" "One of 'em was a big black son-of-a-bitch," said Roberts, "He's been here before. The other guy was an officer, or I'll eat my shorts. I seen him around. Not as big as the black guy, but big enough and going gray." "Okay, okay," soothed Peck, "It's probably just our reputation is spreading." He glanced out the window at his latest scam, a 1953 Cadillac convertible parked alongside the HQ. It was another of the reasons why Anderson was on his case again. Two soldiers were looking it over, one white, one black. Peck's eyes widened as Roberts' words sunk in. "Peck," Roberts said, "I really think you'd better-" "Listen, Jamie," Peck interrupted, "I got a little problem to take care of. I'll get back to you." Robert's voice squawked back at him until he replaced the receiver in the cradle. He glanced out of the window again. The two soldiers were out of sight, and an MP jeep had pulled up. Oh-oh, thought Peck, make that problems. He looked nervously at the closed door to the CO's office, then to the window again. The MP's had left their jeep, and odds were that they were heading this way. He moved to the opposite wall, and opened the window there. Cautiously, he let himself out through the window. He paused to listen as the MP's walked through the office and knocked at the CO's door. Anderson opened it, and the MP's were ushered into the office. The door closed. Peck whistled silently. He moved alongside the building, heading toward the CO's office. He hoped the window there was open. Anderson was up to something, and Peck sensed it would be not beneficial to him. As he got to the corner of the building, his way was blocked. Peck cursed and stepped back, looking up at the person standing there. The man was slightly taller than him, with graying hair. Dressed in jungle fatigues with subdued colonel's insignia and a green beret on his head, the man smiled as he leaned against the building. "Lieutenant Peck?" he asked. "Who wants to know?" Peck responded, guardedly. He was getting a bad feeling about this. The colonel raised an eyebrow. "'Who wants to know', SIR," he corrected. He pulled out a cigar and lit it, studying Peck as he did so. The lieutenant was much younger than Hannibal expected. The kid-and kid was an apt description of him-looked as though he ought to still be in high school. He was good-looking, with a lean and agile build. His haircut was a fraction too long, and there was a certain charm about him. Give him another year or two, Hannibal mentally grinned, and he'll be hell with the ladies. He sensed an aura of innocence about the kid. Whether actual or affected, he was sure Peck was also aware of it, and used it to his advantage. "Yeah, well," Peck hedged, uncomfortable with the other's scrutiny. "Look, colonel, I don't think I'm the one you're looking for." He backed up another step, his eyes belying the confidence of his smile. "I've got some business to take care of, so, uh, I'll just be on my way." He turned to leave, and found himself facing another soldier, dressed in the same uniform as the colonel, but wearing the chevrons and rockers of a sergeant first class. "You ain't leavin' yet." The sergeant's hand closed on his shoulder. Peck winced and looked up at the man's face. The scowl there caused him to instinctively step away from the sergeant. Unfortunately, the move backed him against the building. The sergeant moved with him, keeping his hold on the lieutenant. The colonel also stepped forward, leaving Peck little space in which to maneuver. "Hey, hey, guys," Peck wheedled, frantically searching his brain for something he had done to offend Special Forces. He couldn't remember ever dealing with those guys. "Look, can't we talk this over. Uh, over a case, maybe?" There was no response. "Okay, name your price," he said, sounding more confident than he felt, "I can get it." Hannibal looked at BA, and saw the barest twitch of a smile on the other. He looked back at Peck, then smiled again. "Sure, Lieutenant," he said, "Let's go talk to your commander." Not good, thought Peck, remembering the MP's. The sergeant let go of him long enough to turn him toward the door of the headquarters. Then his hand clamped down on Peck's shoulder again, pushing him forward. The colonel took up a position on his other side, leaving him no choice but to go with them. When they got to the door, the sergeant held him back, allowing the colonel to precede them through the door. The clerk-returning from his chow run-blanched when he saw who accompanied Peck. "Get Mac, will ya?" Peck said as the sergeant shoved him toward the door. The clerk nodded and took off running. Once inside the building, the three men paused. Hannibal and BA looked at each other, a conversation without words passing between them. Peck saw this, and it made him even more uncomfortable, for he sensed that it was about him. Keeping his hold on Peck, the sergeant pushed him into a chair. The colonel headed for the CO's office and knocked sharply on the closed door.
"Enter!" came the response. Someone inside-probably one of the MP's-opened the door. The colonel strode into the office. Peck allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction as both the MP's and Captain Anderson jumped to their feet and saluted. The door closed. He glanced back toward the outside door--hoping to see his platoon sergeant-he noted a similar smile on the sergeant behind him. It disappeared once the man saw Peck looking at him, and the scowl returned. Footsteps pounded outside, and his platoon sergeant, Rudy "Mac" MacDonnell, burst through the door, followed by the other squad leader-Gerry Cordaro-and the clerk. Peck sighed with relief. MacDonnell was almost as big as this sergeant behind him, and Cordaro had been a street fighter before getting drafted.
Mac looked first to Peck, then at the sergeant standing behind him. "What's going on?" he demanded. "Ain't your business," BA replied calmly. Although the two sergeants held the same rank, BA had the psychological advantage, and he knew it. Special Forces regalia, on occasion, could be intimidating to regular soldiers. Hannibal had known this and insisted that they use that advantage while dealing with Peck and his unit. It was working. Peck was nervous, and BA sensed this newcomer-even with backup-was cautious about tangling with him. "My platoon leader is my business," Mac challenged. He didn't like Special Forces, and his contempt showed. Impassively, BA looked at the other. "Then you better go talk t' my commander," he said, jerking his free hand toward the office. The other hand stayed on Peck's shoulder, a warning to both men. "Cordaro," said Mac, indicating that the squad leader was to stay with Peck. He headed for the office. BA watched him go, then his eyes shifted to the clerk. "Ain't you got someplace t' be?" he asked. Awed by both BA's size and uniform, the clerk shook his head. "I, uh, um . . . ," he stuttered. "He's the clerk," Peck offered, "He's supposed to be here." Despite feeling like a bone argued over by several dogs, the situation was beginning to amuse him. "Go eat lunch," BA growled. The clerk looked helplessly at Peck, who grinned in spite of himself. "He's already been there," he said. He twisted slightly in the chair and looked up at BA. "However, I haven't. Would you mind if I just ran to the mess while you guys straighten this out?" The hand tightened painfully on his shoulder. "Okay, okay," he said, hands raised fractionally in surrender, "It was just a suggestion." The sergeant's grip relaxed slightly. Peck didn't dare rub his aching shoulder, for fear that the man would mistake his intent. He wondered what was going on behind Anderson's door.
Mac hadn't bothered knocking on the CO's door. He usually didn't, and saw no reason to begin now. Nor did he close it completely behind him. Whatever was going on with Peck-and he sensed the lieutenant knew as little as he did-Mac figured that having a few witnesses outside might just tip the balance against Anderson. He threw a hasty salute at Anderson, who frowned and answered it crisply. Belatedly noting the colonel alongside the desk, the sergeant offered a fractionally more correct salute to that officer. It was returned with the same degree of formality. Mac leaned across Anderson's desk. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded. "Sergeant MacDonnell," Anderson said stiffly, "I did not request your presence." "You got it anyway," Mac retorted, "What's up with Peck?" Anderson sniffed. "Charges have been made against Lt. Peck," he said, a brief smile of satisfaction as the sergeant straightened in protest, "I'm turning him over to military police." The colonel-a bemused smile on his face-drew a cigar from his pocket and lit it as he watched them. "Bullshit," said Mac. He leaned into the desk, causing it to slide back a few inches. Anderson shifted his chair in the same direction, putting distance between himself and the irate NCO. He glanced down at the sergeant's hands, splayed on his desk, and his face paled. The sergeant wore the ring from a grenade-pin still dangling from it-on one finger. Mac glared knowingly at the commander and added, "Unless . . . ?" The captain looked sharply at him, a faint tremble in hand and voice. He understood the precise nature of the sergeant's threat. "MacDonnell," he said. It came out as a plea rather than a warning.
"Try me," growled Mac. Anderson looked from Mac to the MP's, then back to Mac. He glanced quickly at the colonel next to him, who was watching Anderson's humiliation with interest. The captain looked back at the MP's and said, "Gentlemen, excuse us. I don't believe we need you at this time." The MP's saluted and left, one nudging the one as they walked out the door. Anderson seethed quietly at his desk as they left, convinced that they were laughing at him. As they passed Peck in the outer office, the captain saw him sag slightly in relief, and it only added to his irritation. Mac straightened, stepped back from the desk and turned toward the door. Noting that the Special Forces sergeant remained by Peck, he stopped in the doorway and glanced back at Anderson. "You wanna tell that beanie out there to let go of my officer?" he snapped. Anderson's face darkened. Then he remembered the colonel's request. Hannibal watched him and his grin broadened. He waited expectantly as the sergeant's insolence prodded Anderson to a decision in Hannibal's favor. Anderson stood, and walked to the doorway, pushing Mac out of the way. He looked sharply at the clerk and said, "Prepare orders transferring Lt. Peck to Colonel Smith's command." He glanced at Hannibal's shoulder for confirmation, and added, "Fifth Special Forces." "What?" Mac spun back, glaring at the captain. Cordaro spat something in Spanish, and Peck's jaw dropped. The clerk looked from Anderson to Peck, then sidled toward his desk.
BA grinned. Hannibal done it again. He let go of Peck and crossed his arms, keeping a wary eye on the platoon sergeant and squad leader. Hannibal dropped the remains of his cigar on the floor, and stepped it out. He walked up behind Anderson and slapped him on the shoulder, causing him to stagger. "Nice doing business with you, Captain," he said. He nodded to BA and Peck. "Let's go, Lieutenant. By the time you're packed up, your orders will be ready." Peck sat in stunned disbelief. He considered himself a quick operator, a necessary skill developed through the years. But the speed at which this had moved surprised even him. He ventured a look at Mac, who appeared as shocked as Peck felt. Anderson watched them from his doorway, a satisfied smile on his face. Mac walked over to Peck. "Man, I don't know what happened," he said apologetically, "I thought we had 'em." "'S all right," said Peck. He was surprised to find himself shaking, and drew a deep breath to steady himself. The restraining hand was gone (of course, else Mac wouldn't have come over here), and he stood, hoping he wouldn't do something stupid (like faint?). "Lieutenant." The Special Forces guys were at the door, waiting for him. Anderson had gone back into his office and closed the door. Peck looked at Mac and Cordaro, and shrugged. He walked to the door, feeling as though all eyes were on him. Once outside, the colonel gestured to Peck. "Lead the way," he said. They fell in, one on either side. It made him feel like an escorted prisoner. Well, maybe he was. Maybe this was Anderson's idea of a joke. He knew the captain disliked him, but the MP's were more Anderson's line. Contempt for the Special Forces was the only thing Anderson and Mac had in common. He stopped abruptly. Hannibal and BA paused a few feet in front of him, waiting expectantly.
"Problems, Lieutenant?" the colonel asked. "You could say that," Peck answered shortly. He looked directly at Hannibal "I'd ask 'what's the punch line,' but this is a little beyond Anderson's capability to arrange." "It's no joke," Hannibal agreed, "You've been transferred to my team." "Your team?" Hannibal didn't answer immediately. He studied Peck, noting that the lieutenant met his gaze defiantly, challenging him to respond. The kid's got a bit of backbone after all. "How old are you?" he asked, knowing what Peck's 201 file said. The question caught Peck off guard. "Twenty-one," he answered warily. Hannibal and BA exchanged glances. "If he's twenty-one," BA snorted, "I'm Lee Marvin." Hannibal laughed. The comment had even drawn a fleeting, genuine smile from Peck, the first they'd seen. "Try again," suggested Hannibal. Peck raked his fingers through his hair, stalling. He glanced from Hannibal to BA, gauging them. Sensing no quarter from either, he said, "I don't know."
"Whatcha mean, you don' know?" BA exclaimed. "I don't." Peck looked down at the ground, and sighed. Then he looked at Hannibal. "I grew up in an orphanage," he said, "One of the priests who ran it found me wandering in the streets, and brought me there. The nuns figured I was about five then." He glanced at BA, then back to Hannibal, and his chin lifted slightly, daring Hannibal to contradict him. "So that makes me twenty-one." Seventeen, eighteen at most, thought Hannibal, That part of his record was honestly fudged. He pulled another cigar from his pocket and lit it, then gestured--invitation mixed with command-for Peck to join up with them. They walked without speaking, Peck studying the ground. Hannibal broke the silence. "What was that MP business back there?" he asked. Peck shrugged. "Could've been a couple of things," he said, "Anderson gets his back up once in a while." He looked up at Hannibal. "He took a dislike to me soon as he got here. But he's scared of Mac and his boys." A wry smile crossed his face. "They'd frag him if he steps wrong." His words stopped abruptly, as if a door closed on his thoughts. "Stockade's not a pleasant place to wait out the war," Hannibal observed. "There's worse places," Peck retorted. "They don' leave no record, neither," BA said, "Court-martial gonna stick wi' you." "Who said anything about a court martial?" said Peck. "They don' call MP's for a Article 15," said BA. Peck looked sharply at him, but didn't respond. Hannibal grinned. "You ought to know," he said. BA snorted. They stopped beside a hooch. It reminded Hannibal that he had a few arrangements to make back at his area. He glanced at his watch, then looked directly at Peck, all humor gone. "I'm releasing you on your honor, Lieutenant," he said, "You got two hours to report to my hooch, orders in hand." Peck returned the gaze. "I'll be there," he said levelly. A sardonic smile appeared as he added, "Unless Charlie has other ideas."
"He won't," Hannibal assured him. He slapped BA on the shoulder. "BA, you get to run him through his paces later. I've got a few things to settle with Morrison yet."
Peck wasn't sure he liked the look the sergeant gave him. His hand moved unconsciously to his shoulder, then dropped as he watched as Hannibal and BA leave. He turned, ducked and went into his hooch.
More author's notes:
First: the definitions, for those not of the military persuasion:
Article 15 - a reference to the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Offenses committed under this article are punished administratively by the unit (company, battalion, etc.) commander. In contrast, a court martial is convened by a higher military command.
"Shake 'n' bake" NCO-because of a shortage of noncommissioned officers (NCOs or the sergeant-types) during Vietnam, the Army would pick basic training candidates with leadership potential and run them through a "quicky" course in being an NCO. Likely recruits could-after about twenty-nine weeks (eight weeks Basic and twenty-one for the NCO part)-come out of that course as a sergeant (which usually takes two to four years) rather than a private. They were referred to as "shake 'n' bake" NCOs.
OJT- on the job training. Learning your job as you do it
"Bought the farm" - a six foot by four foot piece, to be exact. Big enough for a coffin.
IG - Inspector General, the internal investigators for the Army. If you have a problem/complaint not solved within your unit, you can appeal to the IG.
201 file - an individual's personnel file. Officially the DA-201 form, which is a folder that holds all one's military paperwork
Frag/fragging - incidents in which enlisted personnel harassed officers. Occasionally resulting in the deaths of the officer, usually by fragmentation grenade. Hence the name.
Second: This series is being written by Avatar and me. Each is a stand-alone story, but woven together they tell the story (our version) of the A-team's beginnings.