Murdock's Christmas Dozen

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

Around our pillows golden ladders rise,
And up and down the skies,
With winged sandals shod,
The angels come, and go, the Messengers of God!
~Richard Henry Stoddard

1 Hark!

"'N' there were in th' same country shepherds abidin' in th' field, keepin' watch over their flock by night. 'N', lo, th' angel o' th' Lord came 'pon 'em . . . " The high school senior reading the lines paused, waiting for the makeshift white drape to rise from where it hid part of the stage from view.

"Watch yer step, Buttercup," fifteen-year-old H. M. Murdock whispered to Cynthia Berquon as she put her foot on the first rung of the ladder. "Don' wanna see if ya can fly fer real."

"Jus' catch me if I fall, H. M. Don' let me break my halo." She gave him a light kiss on the cheek and smiled.

Standing beside her, Murdock placed his hand on the small of her back as she ascended to take her place as the angel of the Lord. One of her glittered feathery wings brushed his face as she stepped higher. It left gold sparkles on his cheek.

He held his breath watching her. If it was up to him, they wouldn't be using a rickety old ladder for this scene. But he wasn't sure what they would replace it with.

It's gotta be somethin' Mrs. Bartleman'll agree to. 'N' it's gotta be safer 'n this.

The ladder creaked several times before she got to the top.

As soon as he saw she was ready, he ducked behind the heavy board backdrop painted to look like hills and sky and gave Hollis Latreque the signal. The white drape floated up to reveal the scene. An offstage guitarist plunked the notes to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" as the narrator continued.

". . . 'n' th' glory o' th' Lord shone . . . " The four elementary school-aged children dressed in their white choir robes and tinsel haloes waited offstage, two on each side, for their cue.

Mrs. Bartleman shook her head in annoyed dissatisfaction.

"Cut!" she called. "Cynthia, dear, you have to be quieter when you get up on that stepladder. The angel of the Lord does not squeak."

Before Cyndy could say anything, Murdock poked his head around the backdrop and coughed to get their church play director's attention. "Beg pardon, Missus Bartleman, but there ain' no way in Heaven anyone's gonna climb that ladder without it makin' noise. Cyndy's 'bout the lightest gal in th' entire church 'n' if she can' do it . . . "

The director's face reddened, not a very nice accompaniment to the dye she used to color her hair. He hesitated to say anything more. Besides being the church play director, Mrs. Bartleman taught Murdock, Cynthia and Hollis in her eleventh grade English class at the Sour Lake public school.

Here comes my failin' grade.

From offstage, Hollis snickered. In a barely audible whisper, he mocked Murdock. "Boy're you stupid. Ya never question th' boss lady."

Murdock couldn't pay attention to his high school nemesis and his taunts. He stood at the base of the ladder, anxiously looking up as Cyndy backed down toward him.

A heel on her gold-colored sandal slipped on a middle rung and she lost her grip on the ladder. Falling backwards, she found herself in Murdock's arms.

Surprised, he blurted, "Oopsy. Careful, darlin'."

Embracing her waist, he blew feathers from one wing away from his face as he lifted her off the ladder.

"That was close," he breathed. He set her down facing him and brushed the hair out of her eyes. "Ya okay, Buttercup?" Placing his hands on her slender shoulders he searched her face for any sign she was in pain.

Her gold-sequined halo tipped precariously to one side. She took two shaky breaths before repositioning it and nodding. Trembling slightly at the near fall, she murmured, "Nice catch."

Murdock shook his head, his mouth in a firm line as he glared at the ladder. He emerged from behind the backdrop to argue with his English teacher. "This ain' safe, Missus Bartleman. Ya a'most lost yer angel o' th' Lord on th' stage floor."

Even though the director was frustrated with the interruption to the program rehearsal, he could see she would accept a good alternative to the ladder. The reddish tinge to her facial features had grown noticeably pale as she eyed the ladder and her lead angel standing behind Murdock, clutching his sleeve.

She don' wanna make Cyndy climb that ladder either. She knows Cyndy almost got hurt.

"Then what exactly do you suggest, Mister Murdock?" The director bristled back at him.

He gulped several times.

Now I did it. I gotta come up with somethin' quick.

"Let me think on that, Missus Bartleman, 'n' I'll see what I can come up with."

'N' now I committed myself t' figurin' somethin' out.

"Let me know by tomorrow's rehearsal, Mister Murdock. Places, angels. We'll rehearse your song."

He needed to find a place to think. Somewhere where dim lighting would keep him from being distracted. Leaping from the stage, he slowly made his way to the back of the hall the church had rented and plopped into a crushed red velvet theater seat.

Cyndy peeked at him as she stood at the center of the four angelic cherubs. The guitar plinked its tune and the five angels sang.

Murdock gazed at Cyndy and thought about how much like a real angel she was to him.

Who else'd stick 'round 'n' take care o' me when Pa beats me up? I'm one lucky guy.

Then his eyes landed on Hollis Latreque who seemed to take special satisfaction in making his school days hell on Earth. Murdock lowered his gaze and picked at his fingernails, trying to figure out a better way for Cyndy to appear center stage. Latreque gave her a leering glance before sauntering toward Murdock.

"Hark! Th' herald angels sing.
'Glory to th' newborn King!
Peace on earth 'n' mercy mild,
God 'n' sinners reconciled.'
Joyful, all ye nations rise . . . "

It was then that Murdock had a glimmer of an idea. "Rise?" he muttered. He dug in the pockets of his blue denim work jacket and found the stub of a pencil and a folded piece of notebook paper. Remembering the 1960 television production of "Peter Pan" and what he read about how Mary Martin flew through the air, he began to sketch something.

All Cyndy's gotta do is t' be lifted up 'n' hover over th' shepherds. A harness 'n' a rope 'n' a strong guy t' lift 'er . . .

He felt Hollis's warm breath on his neck as he leaned over his shoulder and peered at Murdock's sketch. "Figures ya'd have somethin' where she'd be up in th' air. How's that any safer?"

The next second, Hollis tore the paper from his hands and squinted at it. "'N' is that Snoopy ya got hangin' up there 'bove stage? Can't tell." He moved toward the exit with Murdock's sketch, taking out his cigarette lighter as he did. "I'm gonna hafta look at this with some better light."

The last thing Murdock heard was Hollis's amused chuckle as the door shut after him.

"I saw what Hollis did, H. M." Cyndy stood in front of him, looking for all the world like the angel she was portraying in the program. She crossed her arms and frowned at the door where Hollis left. "You put in all that work 'n' he ruins it for you."

Angels ain' s'posed t' frown, specially not my Buttercup.

Murdock shrugged and gave her a half-hearted smile. "It's okay. I got th' plan up here already where he can' touch it." He tapped his temple with one finger and sprang to his feet. "Let's go talk t' Missus Bartleman. I think she'll like it."

To Be Continued.

The next chapter is not from Murdock's youth.