Actions

Work Header

Film Noir

Work Text:

The night is dark, dark like the inside of a totally covered peanut butter jar filled with the crumbs of a late night snack in the cover of darkness.

It’s midnight here in the old City of Angels, my partners and I roaming the street for some real bad news, some real bad joes, some real bad-

“Murdock!”

The hiss from my companion bring me back to my surroundings. Oh, he’s a looker, all right. Could charm the pope out of his hat, those bright eyes shining those devilishly handsome features, always the femme fatale…male version. Duplicitous, conniving, underhanded, gorgeous, manipulative…it was enough to make a super secret private eye go for broke.

“What’s the rush sweetheart?” I ask, taking in his profile.

He stares at me for a moment, those wheels turning in his head. Then he smiles at me and says, “Hannibal’s gonna kill us if we’re late.”

Ah, Hannibal. The leader of the A-Team detective agency. He was a military man…a hard man. Struggling to survive against the weight of false accusations and the lowlifes of a dark, cruel world. He was a cynical man, watching everyone, always with a plan to spring into action when the world went, inevitably, against him…

“Come on Murdock!” My pretty fatale is exasperated, which all things considered, isn’t a bad look.

We walk across the street into the abandoned building beside the garish golden arches of some Scottish steak house and wait.

Inside the building is my dear old friend, Bosco. Dutiful, trustworthy, and reliable, he keeps me anchored when the inner demons just become to much. I can see him in the future, with his big home, white picket fence, his little kids with identical milk mustaches and Mohawks, even on the little girl and-

“What in the hell is he talking about?” Bosco is staring at me now, wondering. Has he seen into my heart, my desire for the simple life, my needs-

“I think he’s caught in a Sam Spade book.” Or did I speak out loud?

“Dashiell Hammett.” I swiftly correct, because in our business, precision is everything.

He rolls his eyes. It looks wonderful on him. Everything looks nice on a man who’s name is Face.

“All right, settle down, our contact is almost here.” The strong voice cuts through our banter and I take my place next to Bosco as I hear clicks coming toward us. High heels. Must be a Dame. Or a really secure man, or-

Well damn.

“Charissa.” My partner, Face, breathes.

Of all the gin joints and the bars, she has to walk into my abandoned building.

“I have a problem, and I think the A-Team might be able to help.”

I bet you do sister.

“Is he okay?” She’s pointing at me. My inner monologue must have popped out of my mouth again. Or maybe due to the amnesia that I’m sure I’ll have later, I have no inner monologue.

“He’s fine.” Face waves her on. “What’s the problem?”

She beholds me again, with those piercing eyes and that desire to probe, but she leaves off. “You guys aren’t going to like this, but there’s an old friend in town.”

“Yours or ours?” The bossman chuckles. Always cynical, the man.

“Both. His name is Brock Pike.”

There is dead silence in the room now, as that dark revelation is made. He can’t say he’s surprised though. After all, in this crazy, mixed up world, who really lives or dies?

Especially if you’re evil?

*^*^*^*^*^*^**^

It always rains in Chicago when the angels are crying.

Actually, it rains in Chicago quite often, which can’t always be angels crying, because really, why would they cry that often? They have wings and everything, fly whenever they want.

I‘m brooding, I know. It’s because of the dame. She wasn’t called El Diablo for nothing. She stamped on the heart of my partner, for what? A meteoric rise to the top, the respect of her associates, the knowledge that she could be the top dog she always wanted. Was that really worth leaving my pal, my best friend, in the guttah?

Maybe to her it was. But now she was back, with those brimstone smiles and conniving eyes, drawing my Faceman back into her clutches while I sit back, the voice of sanity and reason lost on his ears.

The world has gone crazy.

“Murdock, why are you standing in the sprinklers? It’s freezing out here man!”

Yep. Absolutely nuts.

But the dame would have to wait-there were bigger fish to fry. Speaking of which, the Scottish steakhouse next door smelt like fried fish.

“Murdock!” This one was the Boss’s yell. I had better go, and catalogue all of these so-called coincidences in my mind for a later time.

As I climb into the back of the procured ride of one Bosco Baracus, I allow my mind to wander to one Brock Pike. Brock Pike was bad news with a side of social dysfunction. He was crazy, that was for sure. Maybe that was why the Boss continually labeled his as being short on Brains and Guts. Brains and Guts were the Boss’s favorite side dishes, and if someone skimped on them, well, he lost respect for the chef entirely.

But I wasn’t sure about that. Brains? Maybe. It was hard to operate on the boss’s level. But that didn’t mean old Pike was stupid, oh no. There was cunning, like a snake, or a weasel, or a snail underneath that feigned not…Brains-ness.

He was definitely a Snail. Snails carry their body armor wherever they go, which tells a guy exactly what the kind of a guy that Pike was.

And Guts…well…very few people will throw themselves out of a window holding onto a rappelling rope using only their suit jacket as protection and slide down some ten stories. No net, no safety line. Yeah, that was Guts. Or just crazy.

I know crazy. Pike has a good helping of that too.

As I tick off these thoughts in my head, I turn to my old partner. His eyes are lost in thought and something that looks like old desires burned to a crisp and then resurrected to hint at old relationships and pain. I could tell him the dame wasn’t worth it, that he’d just end up getting hurt again. She may not want to turn us in for those crimes for which we are innocent for, but there are still rungs to climb on her life’s ladder, and she just wants one more step up. I’ve seen this broad’s type before. She may care…for a little while. But then its back to her life, her career, and her ambition.

She’s bad news, and while I want to tell this to my old partner Face, I can’t. He won’t listen.

Damn shame.

“This information Sosa has given us is spotty at best. These pictures are time stamped, but that could be faked.”

Hannibal is checking every angle now, looking at every flaw. The meeting had taken all of about fifteen minutes, after the screaming and shouting had been over. It was to be expected. No one liked to hear about old enemies coming back from the dead, and they had been so sure Pike was gone. Bosco and Face especially, what with having seen it and all. Their worldview is shaken.

I pull out my notebook and begin writing down my “coincidences”. My suspicions about fish in general went on the first page. My second page was written more hesitantly.

I had my doubts about her sincerity. After all, she was El Diablo. And they had seen Pike die.

I write her name and her moniker down. And then I write down Brock Pike write beside her.

Somehow I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Devil asks us to find the Damned.

*^*^*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^**^*^*

 

July 10, 1930.

I haven’t been born yet.

The flashback is over as soon as it starts. Perhaps the next one will be more relevant.

“Where did he get that hat? I like that hat.” the Faceman is talking away, trying to keep his mind focused on the situation while his mouth focused on nothing in particular. I adjusted my hat, focusing my attention to the street below.

It’s been three days since the dame told us about the low down dirty scoundrel, Mr. Brock Pike. Mr. Pike had been caught on several cameras around town, or so she said. We were up here on this high rise doing surveillance, waiting for the evil bastard to show. Bosco is beside me, taking pictures through one of those fancy cameras.

The Boss is standing beside Face by the window, going over the plans in his head while my Faceman yammers on and on. He knows Face is nervous, full of inner turmoil, desperate to see the Dame who trod on him once before, just to come back and hand him escape later. She was a smooth operator.

I honestly didn’t know why I allowed my thoughts to rest on her so often. Maybe it was the way she so easily reached out to claim what I wanted. Maybe it was because this all sounded just a little too…hinky. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I didn’t trust her as far as I could throw a Boeing.

I could feel my mood souring. Pity. It had been shaping up to be a bright day. Only half as much rain was falling and I could see the sun popping out among the clouds every once and awhile.

Depressing.

I need a walk.

“Boss, I’m gonna walk around this joint for a bit.”

“Stay on this floor, the others are occupied.” He reminds me absently.

“No problem, chief.”

As I walked down those halls with the sound of my own muffled footsteps for company, I thought of two things. One, I may have been rough on the Dame in my assessment. After all, she did help us escape, though for Face or for something else, I couldn’t tell. She couldn’t be all bad, I guess. She just came close, in my opinion.

And two, it was real quiet. Really quiet, drop a pin on the carpet and hear noise. No one above, nobody below…

Shit.

I turn fast, get ready to run back, to shout to my companions, but a door opens suddenly in front of me and my reflexes are quick, I back up and dash down an adjacent hallway, hop through a side door and close it as what seems to be thirty DOD soldiers began to fill up the hall. I was quick enough, they didn’t see me. I take quick stock of my surroundings.

A closet. I have just run myself into a closet, dead-endsville.

Another panicked look around and I find a grate. An air duct.

Wordlessly I offer up a prayer to whomever might be listening as I yank off the grate as hard as I can. It makes noise, yes, but time is of the essence. I have to get back to Hannibal and the others, inform them of the traitorous turn this all has taken.

I wriggle down inside and move fast as the doorknob begins to rattle. That door won’t hold them, but by the time they’ve got it open, I’m already gone.

Pity those DOD guys are so big. They won’t be nearly as fast moving through these ducts as I am.

I’ve already taken a few turns in the duct system when I hear the curses echoing through the metal enclosure. From the sound of it, he got stuck. Too bad, I thought to myself with a grin. That’s life for you. Think you caught somebody and fate sticks out one of her legs and-

And the floor miraculously turns to air and fate makes you fall down an air duct for several floors until you come to a rather abrupt and painful stop.

Mother of God, is this the end of Murdock?

^*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

As I drag myself out of the vent, I know two things.

One. That really hurt. I was definitely not going to use that method of moving between floors again. A cursory wiggle of my appendages shows that I managed to break nothing as of yet, but those bruises are gonna be sunrises tomorrow. My shoulder is dislocated, but I pop it back into place with a ruthless efficiency that I know I’m gonna be hurting for later.

Two. That dame Sosa has a lot of explaining to do.

I’m too far away to help now. I’ve gotta get outta this joint before the DOD coppers catch me. I’m no good to help my team escape if I’m caught.

Taking a glance around, I find myself in an office, the same kind poor nine-to-five schmucks live their lives away in. Of course, at the moment, my situation ain’t too much better. I slip out into the hall-it’s empty, no DOD, no nothing. But I don’t trust it. Sosa is a smart girl-she’ll post guards on every floor, because she knows how we operate. We specialize in getting the Hell out of Dodge when we need too. She’ll plan for it, if I know her.

As I walk through the halls, I find myself meeting a little more and more of the same old nobody. Funny. I know I pulled a pretty devious stunt, moving down those floors so fast, but I’m standing at the stairwell doors, and there ain’t nobody here.

Not like that Dame. Maybe there was another player.

Getting out of the building is easier than I thought. A few DOD boys tried to come down the stairs, searching the floors to find out where I fell, but I was long gone. I could hear their curses and echoes as they searched above floors to no success as I fled down the stairs to sweet freedom.

Out the door, sidling down an alley as I reach up to adjust my hat down across my eyes---

Damn. I musta lost it in the vents. No worries, I always carry an extra.

I pull out another fedora from inside my rain jacket and set it on my head, tugging the brim down as I try to blend into the city landscape. Just another hopeless joe in the city of angels.

I walk and blend until I find a safe place among the winos and the dirt in an alley across the street with a vantage point, and look over at the building where my team and I had been safe not an hour before.

And she’s there. Just stepping out the front doors. Her face is blank, unreadable. Behind her, a squad of DOD escort my cuffed team.

Hannibal is saying something to her. I can’t hear what it is, but judging by the look in his eyes, it ain’t good to be Sosa. Bosco is quiet, but he must be growling every now and then by the way the DOD boys are so hesitant. And Face…

Aw, Face…she broke your heart again, didn’t she. I’m sorry Facey.

It’ll be difficult to break them out. Sosa won’t give them the chance. I’ll have to think of something…crazy. Insane. Luckily, I hold a PhD in that field, and…

A car drives up slowly in the alley across the street. Normally I wouldn’t care. Cars have been driving and honking their horns at DOD squad cars ever since they started coming out of the building. But this car…this car is different. I can feel it in my bones. This car is a clue.

The back window rolls down. Out comes a hand, tapping a cigarette. My sharp eyes pick up a bracelet, shining as a ray of repressed sun hits it. The cigarette taps, one, two, three times before it and the hand returns to the solid dark confines of the vehicle. And then the car slides smoothly into the street, does a perfectly legal turn, and oozes away South.

It opens up questions to me as I watch it drive away.

Did Sosa really betray us? If she did, then why leave such a large hole for someone to possibly escape through?

If she didn’t, who called them and why was she running the op?

Who was the person in the car? Why were they here? What brand of smokes did they have? Why the secrecy?

Were they even really part of this at all, or was my mind, paranoid with the recent events, making up bogeymen?

And perhaps the most interesting question…the one that brought all of this together in the first place…

Where was Brock Pike?

This plot was thickening like left out gravy, and by god, Detective Murdock was going to get to the bottom of it.

*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*
I am a man without a chance. But not without hope.

And I have a lead.

Not on how to spring the boys, oh no. But on my mystery driver.

It’s funny, everybody knows me as being the crazy pilot. They don’t realize there’s a few other things I’m good at. I can’t fix cars from scrap to showroom. I can’t plan two hundred steps ahead of the enemy. I certainly can’t bat my eyes and have members of both sexes following me with the belief that I’m a prince, playboy, and oil sheik, or even all three.

But I can schmooze my way past the not so tight security at the local DMV and have them check on the license plate suspected in a major chinchilla moving operation.

They were only too happy to assist Detective Ryan Skipper (per the name on the fake ID) after they discovered that the electricity to the police station computers had gone down. Anything to help the poor defenseless animals, I’m sure.

After passing the usual trivial niceties, I walked out of the DMV with a printout of the car specs, the owner, and the ticket record. A block away from the DMV I pull some clippers out of my pocket and threw them in the trash. They were heavy and unbalancing my raincoat. Next time I have to get the ones with the rubber handles.

I quickly move in and out of soaked alleyways. The rain started to really pour about an ten minutes after my chance meeting with the mystery car. I had to move fast. The DOD knew they missed a member of the A-Team in that raid, and I had taken a big risk going to the DMV. Good thing the police computers were down, or they might have gotten an alert. Not that I’m not sure they don’t have my ugly mug next to Bosco’s by the water cooler.

The call of sirens makes me pick up my pace. I have to be in the safe house Facey got us soon, or its curtains on me and this mystery.

It takes me twenty minutes of winding through back alleys and rain soaked passages until I come up behind a run down apartment building. I take the rickety fire escape steps two at a time to the third floor, and open the window after carefully disarming the booby trap. It’s a rough world when you can’t trust your neighbors.

It ain’t much, but Boss turned down Face’s request for penthouse suite after discovering Pike was in town. He wanted a place easier to get to if things went wrong. I’d say his worries are well-founded.

A quick look around the apartment reveals that nobody has been in it. I close the window tight against the wind that has just picked up.

I set the file of purloined information on the coffee table and begin to yank off rain soaked clothing. I was already going to be in pain for a couple of weeks. No need to add pneumonia to the list of things that would eventually do Detective Murdock in.

My shoulder ached, but there was no time for that now. I stripped down to my pants and opened up the packet of information.

The car is a dark blue Oldsmobile Ciera. 1996. Not James Bond, for sure. I’m sure if Bosco were here he’d tell me all about the superiority of the 1996 to the 1989 or whatever it is. I almost turn to tell him that if it isn’t a plane then it’s just a car, but I can’t, because he’s with Face and the Boss.

And the world is a little fuzzier at the edges.

I shake my head and continue. Owner?

Ian Burvers. Though I don’t trust it. If this is some set up, you don’t use your real name. That’s a rookie mistake. I put that information in my mind and file it away. There’s also an address…I don’t know if it will be of any use.

And ticket record…no tickets. Exactly what I’d expect from an owner who makes perfectly legal turns.

I sit back onto the dingy couch and let the thoughts run like racehorses round and round, waiting for one to hit the finish line.

Oldsmobile Ciera. Probably a couple hundred of those around. Old car, not flashy at all. Strange car to sit in and watch your enemies get towed away like so much garbage on Tuesday morning. Unless…

Anonymity.

I sit up.

Anonymity is the main feature of this information. Totally legal car, totally clean, no record of wrong doing. Won’t show up in police searches. Someone very careful to make sure they don’t raise red flags.

Why would someone go through that much trouble? Simple. They didn’t want to be found.

I start piecing together a hypothetical situation in my mind. It starts with the car.

Say the owner of the car, a downright nasty mobster or an angry gunrunner or a jilted housewife/husband from Face’s dalliances, was who was in the car. Say they wanted to see the A-Team get busted. They’d have to know that the A-Team would be in the building. We were good about sneaking in, so that means…surveillance. They had to be watching us from a vantage point we hadn’t thought of. The only place we got out of disguise was the rented floor. Which means that they would have had to have surveillance we didn’t know about on that floor. Good enough that we missed on our sweep.

That cuts down on the normal crooks. But if that was true, then they would have to know which floor we’d set up on. There were five floors we could have used. That means that if they did bug the floor, they had to know which one we were going for. Or they bugged all of them. Which cuts out another group of possible suspects, because bugs, good bugs, cost money.

Enter the DOD. Suppose the mystery car owner tipped them off due to the bugs. That would explain why they busted in. Sosa may have hired us to find Pike, but she can’t be seen associating with known felons. That would ruin her career and land her in jail. If the DOD gets a report of the A-Team, they have to roll on it.

An anonymous call to the DOD might get them rolling, but not in the numbers I saw. More than likely, an anonymous tip on a hotline would get one or two scouts. No, the call would have to be directed to a high up at the DOD, believable enough so they send all the King’s horses, men, and riot gear…

So…an anonymous person with money, connections, and a grudge against the A-Team.

An Anonymous person with perfect records.

I sort through the papers to find Mr. Ian Burvers’s address. It was in a part of town I could get into, so long as I didn’t run into the Dame and her DOD boys.

And if my hunch proved correct, I may be able to put a face to this fake name.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^**^*^*^

My watch tells me that is has been exactly two hours and twenty-seven minutes since my team has been taken hostage by the law. It feels more like four hours and sixteen minutes, which is far more likely because my watch is only correct twice a day.

It’s dark out now. The rain is still coming down. I’ve switched out my detective’s raincoat for something a little more…blendy. A dark heavy jacket, some old raggedy clothes, and one of my least conspicuous ball caps, and I was indistinguishable from the masses. Granted, the masses are currently hurrying home or to shelters from the rain, but I don’t have that luxury.

The thing about blending in see…it’s all about how you carry yourself. Eyes cast down, shuffling walk, drawn face…everyone automatically assumes that person is tired, untalkative. An energetic, happy person is an approachable person. The slow moving, cautious, no eye contact person standing next to a dinghy wall with dinghy clothes? Invisible.

That’s who I am right now.

As to where I am…

On the other side of town from our rundown safe house, a more moderate and humble set of rent houses rose. Here lived a better class of streetwalker, a better class of wino and pickpocket. It wasn’t suburbia, but it wasn’t the slums. It was populated by harassed minimum wage families and the type of people that didn’t care for real ID, just that you paid on time and shut the hell up. Great place to set up shop for a long term operation.

Mr. Burvers, with his 1996 Ciera, lived in 903 Southward Lane. It was a tacky, rundown affair with some flowers hanging out wall planters, looking like weeping Greek maidens. The lights on the street are spotty at best, some flickering out, some making valiant attempts to flicker to life.

As I stand in a half shadow caused by a dying streetlamp, I take the time to observe the renthouse fully. The Ciera isn’t out front. There is no garage, so the likelihood of the person being home…well, unlikely. I’ll wait. Dark and raining or no, to try to break in to that house could be suicide. I had no backup, and I had no idea what was in that house.

I don’t like sitting in one spot and waiting. Too much time, not enough action. But for the chance of solving this mystery, I’ll do it. Taking one for the team, as it were.

An hour later in the same spot, I find myself humming old show tunes and replaying musicals in my head as I keep up my silent vigil. I don’t allow old doubts and new fears to seep into my psyche-that’s the first step to going crazy, and I hate to retrace steps.

Instead, I allow my mind to recall all I knew about the insidious Mr. Burvers. There was a tickling in my medulla that told me I knew this man, perhaps…Of course, I would have to know this man, regardless, if he had a grudge against me and my team. The anonymous man. And the invisible man. We were both unknown entities right now, screaming silently towards each other in a black void, and when we confronted each other, it would be a flash of recognition, like a brilliant light shining…shining like…

Like repressed sunlight off a bracelet.

I didn’t know anyone that wore a bracelet. And yet…it stuck in my mind now. I fixated on it. The bracelet…shining in the sun, practically screaming, ‘Look at me! I can solve your case, ask me how!’

 

That bright light dims and becomes two equidistant orbs and I slowly shift deeper in shadow as a dark car…a 1996 Ciera, slides into the sloped driveway.

The driver steps out, a weasely looking man with glasses. He peers about for a moment, not seeing me in the shadows. He then pulls out an umbrella, opens it to shield him from the nature’s elements…no, it’s not for him.

He opens the passenger door and lets out the occupant. It is a fairly tall, lean man. This must be the reclusive Mr. Burvers.

Burvers does not look my way, and the umbrella ducks down, hiding him from view as he brushes past his driver and enters the rent house. A jingle of keys, and the door locks behind the two of them.

I wait until lights begin to turn on inside the house, and I make my move.

I have to be careful as I approach. A man that spends money on bugs to catch the A-Team is unlikely to have shirked on his home security. As I get nearer, I sight a set of security cameras. I keep my face shielded behind the cap, but if this person is against the A-Team, they’ll probably know who I am regardless. Skirting them the best I can, I close in on a lighted window on the side of the house.

Within the house there is the murmur of voices. One is apologetic, the other sharp and annoyed. The cadence is familiar. There are other voices interjecting…at least two, making four people in the house so far.

I tip back my cap to peer into the window. The curtains are drawn, I can only see through a sliver. Burvers is showing his back to me. The murmuring voices are still unintelligible, but judging by the agitated movements of Burvers, it was probably about the A-Team. The conversation carries on in slightly louder tones. Burvers appears to be angry with one of his associates. His tone gets louder and his hands fly up in the universal ‘I can’t believe you’re that stupid/incompetent/frustrating/etc’ gesture.

There on his left wrist is the bracelet. It’s a Figaro chain…but with a charm. This is what must have reflected the light…and I can see what it is. And suddenly, it all makes very terrifying sense.

Someone slips on a wet puddle not ten feet from my position, but I’ve already started to move. I had thought they might have seen me approach. Faceman is much better at picking out all the cameras with his sniper training.

They won’t catch me. After all, I am invisible.

Hurrying and hopping over a fence, slipping through back walkways and eventually slipping back into rain soaked streets, I disappear back into the city of angels unmolested. They’ll come in cars looking for me, but they can’t catch what they can’t find.

 

I am invisible…and I need a plan. Luckily, I think I already have one.

An oldie…but such a goodie.

*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^**^*^*^*^*^

“I can give you Pike.”

“You found him?!”

“No, I just make false promises.” I told her sarcastically.

“Where are you, Captain Murdock?”

“If I told you I was right behind you, would you jump sweetheart?”

A huff of annoyance. The devil never did like to be kept waiting.

“Alight, I’ll bite. Where is he?”

“First I want you to release the A-Team.”

“You know I can’t do that James.”

“That’s Captain Murdock to you.” My voice comes out sharper than intended. I don’t want this woman to be so familiar with me. She doesn’t have the right.

“Alright. You know I can’t do that Captain Murdock.”

“Work with me here Sweetheart. What’s better for your resume, the capture of a group whose only true crime is escaping from prison after bein’ wrongly accused, or a man presumed dead with a ticket as tall as I am?”

“I’m not entering negotiations with you, Captain Murdock. The DOD has strict guidelines, and until you give me proof, I can’t help you. But I want to help you, Captain.” The tone has changed, wheedling, sympathetic.

I twitch a bit. There’s something fundamentally wrong about receiving sympathy from the devil.

“I know you miss them. I know you want to see them. I can help you, we can all have a good end to this. You know what you did is wrong, and we can start fixing that and we’ll take down Pike too. What do you say?”

“How?”

“Turn yourself in. We’ll take it from there.” Words of honey.

“I…I’m not sure. NO, Hannibal won’t want me to turn myself in.”

“You can know for sure if you come in. Hannibal cares about you, he’d rather see you safe then out there by yourself…alone.”

The word ‘alone’ makes me panic slightly.

“Alright…Alright. But I’m not going to headquarters. There’s an abandoned factory on Mills Street. Right next to a McDonalds. Meet me there at five thirty-seven tonight. I’ll turn myself in.” I pause. “Do you promise to take me to Hannibal?”

“I promise. I have something to ask you-”

Click. Splash. I check my watch. Still dead. But my inner clock tells me I was on for twenty-two seconds. Good enough for government work.

I glance around. Still no one. I slunk away from the pool no one was in at this time of night and proceeded with phase two.

Phase one is always the easiest. Poor, broken Captain Murdock. Needs his team to anchor him, keep him sane. No, don’t stare.

They never consider I held my own pretty well when they weren’t around. Sometimes, it is way too easy to manipulate the emotions of people in ivory towers.

But I’m still a little rattled. After all, she knows the buttons to push that really get me going. Saying things like ‘alone’, repeating ‘Hannibal’, talking about how my team cared…

Now if only she hadn’t fucked that up by talking about how she wanted to ‘help me’ she might have actually swayed my opinion.

I shake it off. After all, destiny is waiting for me tomorrow. A dark, cruel destiny if I don’t play my cards right.

Phase two.

Getting to the street where the factory is isn’t a great feat. It’s late at night, streetlamps are barely illuminating the paths. Everyone awake at this hour sees nothing.

So nobody sees that health inspector until he’s in the building, inspecting the fish.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t be in here!”

I turn to face the young man. He looks good, not the usual stereotypical fast food worker.

“Do you know what this badge says son?!” I flash the badge at him.

“N-no, you showed it too fast.”

“Failure to be aware of surroundings. Shoddy kitchen work. It’s a good thing I got here when I did. I am Health Inspector Six, and this surprise inspection isn’t going well for you, young man.”

“We just got inspected last week!”

“If you were expecting me it wouldn’t be a surprise! We’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about this restaurant, from bad food to angry customers to…what is that smell?!”

“Well…” The boy looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“Speake up son, this will go badly for you if you don’t tell me all you know.”

“Johnny was having a bad day so he grilled some barbies on the grill. You know, Barbie on the barby?”

I can understand the juvenile humor, but really, plastic melting next to the burgers? I don’t feel nearly as bad as I was going to about this.

“Son, is your manager here?”

“Yeah, Johnny’s in the bathroom.”

For the love of god.

“Tell him to call corporate. You boys are getting shut down.”

He bolted. Phase Two half over.

After convincing Johnny to call corporate and screaming down the phone line about mice, rats, cockroaches and female effigies burning, I got them to agree to close down the restaurant for a week. I told them any work crews they sent in would have to be two days from now so that I could finish a thorough inspection. They agreed with the vehemence of any company about to face massive repercussions.

After the employees were sent home, I finished Phase two and put a sign on the door, closed for inspection.

Phase three was done by remote, and the trap was in place.

 

^****^^**^**^^**^**^*^^**^*^*^*^^**^*^*^

Five thirty pm.

The world is darkening rapidly.

It’s the eleventh hour, the last few minutes before the great shoot out. I wait with bated breath as the minutes tick away in my mind.

Five thirty-five. Not long now.

A few more minutes and screeching tires signal the arrival of my belle fatale.

Almost right on time. Perfect.

She walks in, just her and her two bodyguards. The rest are outside, just as I planned. That’s alright. It will make the big reveal even better.

“Captain Murdock?”

“I’m here.” But still hidden in the shadows of the upper catwalk of the factory.

“Will you come down?”

“Nah. Like it up here. Besides, up here, it’s so clear now.”

“What do you mean? I thought you wanted to see your team.”

“Oh, I’ll see them soon enough. No, I’m more interested in this case right now. How it all went down.”

There is a pause. “Where’s Pike, Captain?”

“Isn’t that the question everyone’s been asking? Pike, Pike, where is Pike. You know, for the man that started all of this, I haven’t seen hide not coiled shell of the man.”

I hear one of her bodyguards express confusion. Maybe the DOD doesn’t warn people about snails.

“What do you mean you haven’t seen him? You said you could give me Pike!”

“Not so fast. First, let me walk you through this.”

She makes an aggravated noise, but I ignore it.

“First, we get an anonymous tip, with an anonymous set of photographs. I won’t tell you where.” I supplied for her benefit, in the chance she was wired. Let her know I was willing to do a favor. “In these photos, miraculously, a dead man brought to life, one Brock Pike, known for his brutality and overall evil. Hannibal can’t tell if the pictures are faked, and the team has two worried members, because in their account, Brock Pike was killed when his back was broken from injuries sustained from blowing up a black market ship.”

“And so, the pictures are traced back to a security camera feed from a high-rise building. It takes a short amount of time, maybe a day, to pack up our belongings, find a vantage point from several lucrative positions, and scam the floor. We set up shop, try to catch our elusive and until then very much dead Mr. Brock Pike. Imagine our surprise when the DOD crashes in and nabs three of our four party. And it’s not just a search party, no, the entire DOD is raining down upon us, and only the combined luck and wit of one of them didn’t catch you the whole set.”

“According to my men you fell down a vent shaft. They found your hat on the seventeenth floor.”

“I’d like that back. My spare isn’t as good.”

“You have a spare fedora?”

“And while this one person, namely I, watched as the DOD took away my friends, I was able to notice what you would have missed. It was innocuous. Harmless. A car taking a detour. Understandable considering how you were blocking traffic. But this car was different. For one, it was too legal.”

“…What?”

“Sosa, how many times have you been going somewhere and found your path blocked? Have you ever politely just turned around and went the other way? Without anger or frustration? Without cutting a tight U-turn and offering a helpful opinion?”

My bets were one never.

“Maybe they were just nice drivers.” Came the exasperated reply.

“In Los Angeles? On a busy street? In the middle of rush hour traffic? How did you get to be a Captain, anyway?”

“I turned in your friends.” The retort is sharp, angry. Good.

“Good for you,” I say patronizingly. Time to get going, not much time left.

“So I track down my mystery vehicle, and I find myself looking at a man named Ian Burvers. Burvers is clean, so clean you could eat your lunch off him, though I doubt you’d want to when you figure out who he is. Tell me, Sosa…who would have the knowledge, the expertise, and the experience to trick the A-team?”

“Don’t tell me…Brock Pike?”

“Yes. But that’s not who I found.”

“How long are we going to play this stupid game?” She demanded.

“Five more minutes. Maybe less. No, I found someone that could fit that description, only with money, technology, and a thirst for vengeance. Think about it Sosa. Who would have access to bugs that can’t be detected easily? Who would have the money to place bugs like that in every possible place we could go in order to make sure they caught us? It’s a waste of resources-Pike would plan better, he’s more practical. Who would have access to make pictures and then be able to send it to your desk, alerting everyone that Brock Pike may be alive? Pike wouldn’t be that stupid. He knows he’s still well known, even dead. Who would have the power to manipulate security cameras? And who would have the connections to get the entire DOD squad strength in the city mobilized after a rumor?”

She furrows her brow, trying to piece together what I told her with her own suspicions.

“Burvers. It’s in the name Sosa. Because when you took away the things that you thought made him dangerous, that got left behind.”

She looks more confused now than ever. It’s time.

“Let me give you more proof.”

A press of the button, and the wall adjoining the restaurant next door blew. Immediately, swarms of men came in while the sound of DOD soldiers running to assist came from outside.

**^^*^**^*^*^*

Thirty-three seconds after the explosion.

Sosa has found cover and she and her minions and firing back at the suited men. The suited men are unprepared to meet with such resistance.

Forty-five seconds after the breach.

The suited men are retreating, back through the damaged wall and into the adjacent restaurant.

One minute after the reveal.

DOD soldiers are streaming through the gap, intent on catching their prey.

They catch some, others escape down the alleys, hounded by fast running agents in riot gear. There is a massive amount of confusion, and the smoke bombs set off by the explosion help nothing.

Five minutes after the reveal, Sosa is probably screaming at her underlings for letting me out. She won’t figure out how I did it until much later, when questioning the cabbies in the area. They’ll proudly tell her how they gave a DOD agent a ride after a suspicious vehicle.

A 1996 Ciera.

Let her try to recover from this one.

The cabbie screams down a side street at my discretion. This part is easy. We just have to get there first. Fate is waiting.

Ahead, the traffic is slowing as a massive convoy moves the A-Team. The DOD takes no chances.

We reach the convoy a few moments before my prey does. I hop out of the car, jam the bulletproof riot helmet over my eyes, barely missing my moustache. I nonchalantly slide in beside a slow moving jeep, quickly jumping up to hitch a ride in their blind spot. I pull out my phone, shoot off a quick text that had been saved in memory.

The Ciera moves into traffic behind the convoy, just three cars away. Just as I suspected. Learning. A dangerous habit in enemies.

I stick my hand down a vest pocket, and come out with a Bosco Special, a nasty piece of work. Just a metal ball until you hit the switch, tough enough to withstand being run over, light enough to lob. Old Bosco made them for a mission involving drug runners awhile back, we liked them so much we kept them as arsenal.

I roll it down the street, under the first car. I count in my head, then I hit the button on the tiny single use remote.

The explosion of tires is rather impressive. The Ciera loses several inches of height as the tires blow. Beside it, several other cars spontaneously generate flats. If they had been on the highway, I would never have dared use such devices, but here when the DOD was slowing everyone to a crawl? Perfect.

When DOD soldiers jump out of the convoy to see what happened, I follow and enter into the group seamlessly.

Just as Captain Charissa Sosa enters the scene.

The dame looks at the car, like it was a puzzle. No, more like a gift. I practically wrapped this for her. With any luck, her curiosity and ambition would make this next step possible.

She taps on the car door. “Open up.”

No response, but who could blame them? They were caught, and their futures were decidedly bleak.

The lamplights overhead flickered.

“By order of the DOD, open up, and identify yourselves.”

The car door opens. The look on Sosa’s face is priceless, and I want to laugh.
“Well…hello Mr. Burvers. Or should I say Vance Burris?”

“It’s always so good to see someone from my past.”

He looked different, hair a little longer, nose a bit crooked from whatever prison doctor had fixed it when he was sent home to the CIA. The pale light shining from streetlight above do nothing for him.

“I thought the CIA took care of you.”

“Oh. They did. I’m back. Heard you had the A-team, wanted a look.”

“You don’t get one. And regardless of whether or not the CIA brought you back, you are still under arrest.”

“And why is that?”

“Mostly? Because I really don’t like you. And somehow I don’t think you are working for the CIA anymore.”

“How do you figure?” He sneers.

“A little bird told me. It also told me where to find your safe house, in which it informed me I would find a few other interesting things.”

“None of the things you collect will be of any use to you. Fruit of the poisonous tree.”

“Hardly. You are under arrest for attempting to free the A-Team.”

I crow on the inside. This is going even better than I hoped.

“Excuse me?!” He hissed, barely able to control rage.

“Men who have admitted to being affiliated with your alias Mr. Burvers attacked DOD agents while we were attempting to secure one Captain H.M. Murdock. He escaped, because of their interference. Or assistance. I don’t know which yet. And here you are. Following the A-team. The timetable on which they were supposed to be moved was changed last second. And yet, here you are. Mr. Burvers…Burris, have you been illegally wiretapping the DOD?”

Phase Three.

He doesn’t say anything. A wise move.

“Get him out of my sight.” She signals her lieutenants, and they take Burris into custody. When he gets handcuffed, a sparkle catch her eye and she pulls on it, revealing a bracelet with a charm on it.

A fish.

“Interesting jewelry.”

“Interesting man.”

“Get him out of here. I want you three to check the convoy drivers. Make sure the driver for the prisoners is who’s actually supposed to be there.”

I turns and runs alongside two other DOD soldiers. They skip the obvious prison transport, instead opting for the van second in the convoy. Not bad.

I knew the dame would check. She’s a sharp cookie. So sharp, she cuts herself.

When the identity of the driver is confirmed, I tell the others I’m riding with him. After all, can’t be too careful.

I inform the driver I want to check the cargo. The A-team won’t escape this time.

Checking inside, my heart soars at the dirty look Bosco gives me, the cool indifference of Hannibal, and the cheeky quip from Face. I shut the doors hard in his namesake. He informs me of something rude through the door.

As I slide up into the passenger seat, the convoy starts again.

The driver is stoic, serious, and totally humorless. I believe that he could have at least cracked a smile when I pulled off the helmet and disguise in one motion. Instead, he just stared until I punched him and secured the wheel.

Four minutes of easy driving, still at a crawl, the convoy reached an intersection. I took the opportunity to shove my driver out onto the sidewalk and appropriate his spot. Before the other cars could get over the shock, I threw the last of the Bosco Specials we had in our arsenals under my van.

Then I gunned it, broke out of the convoy. I counted to two, then started flicking switches on the belt of remotes I had hidden under my vest.

The convoy was decimated in seconds. The first car in the convoy had tried to come after my van, but got hit by the third car losing control when the tires blew.

We got away clean. But that was only a temporary victory. Tires squealed as I took side streets and slid into darkened alleys.

I park in an alley devoid of people, hop out and run around to the back. I yank the doors open.

Face leaps out and tackles me.

“Ow! Face! It’s me!”

“Holy…shit! Murdock?!”

“The one and only, sweetheart. I got your picks in my left chest pocket.

He routes around in my clothes for a moment, which I would have loved to enjoy if we weren’t in dire need of escape. It was just like life, to give you what you want in the wrong context.

He gets off of me, breaks out of his cuffs in record time, starts on the others. Bosco is grinning. Hannibal is smiling.

“Good job, Murdock.”

My heart swells in pride, and I sorta duck my head, then I gesture for them to follow. Bosco’s girl is sitting under the dirty brown tarp, and we gotta get outta this joint.

“Everybody in. We need to get outta here before the Dame can catch us.”

“What about Pike?” Bosco rumbles as he gets in. I have never been so happy to see the man.

“I already solved this case. Let’s move out, I’ll tell you how it went down when we’re safely out of this place.”

Face looks at me. “You solved the case?”

“I’m not just another pretty face, kid.” I wink and chuck him on the chin.

We make it out of the city safely, leaving the angels behind and heading North, then East. It won’t be safe to enter our old haunts for a couple…weeks, at least.

We end up in forest country, hiding down a back road. Bosco parks the van out of sight of the road, and turns to me.

“Spill. What happened while you was out and we were in?”

“It’s a long, drawn out story of hatred and deception-”

“Start with Pike, Captain.”

“Yeah, where is Pike?” Face growled.

“He was never there. This was a setup from the beginning. We were never supposed to find Pike, because he wasn’t there, except in spirit. Or maybe intellect.”

“What do you mean?”

“It all started with the photos. They were doctored, using extremely high end computer systems. We couldn’t tell the difference, so we take a leap of faith that they are real, and set up surveillance.”

“And then Charissa rats us out and betrays us.”

“I though so too, Faceman. For awhile. Then I found holes in her security. I’m fairly sure she left them so we would have a chance to escape. She just didn’t count on it being me. No, someone called the Dame’s boss, and with enough clout to get the whole DOD rollin’ on us.”

“They would have had to know where we were.”

“Exactly. And Bosco swept for bugs, but my guess? They were in the floor. We always search the walls and ceiling, because bugs in the floor are almost useless, all the voices are muffled by carpet and electrical wires. Can only really indicate if someone happens to be on the floor.”

“Which was all they needed to know.” Hannibal is watching me with a hawk’s gaze.

“All hope would have been lost, had our third party not showed.”

“Who was it?”

“Pike’s intellect and experience.”

“Excuse me?” Face looks incredulous. I take pity on him.

“Pike isn’t so stupid as to merely take everyone else’s say on what happens. He want’s to make sure things are done. Our third party starts off showing many of Pike’s characteristics. Carefulness. Attention to detail. A desire to make sure things are done right. He oversees, he plans ahead. This is Pike’s intellect and experience.”

Hannibal makes a face, but doesn’t say anything.

“But then the third party exhibits something not Pike. Which clues me to the fact that the third party is, indeed, not Pike.”

“Which is?” Bosco leans in.

“He acts totally legal in a place where that behavior sticks out.” I told them about the car and the legal turns. “Pike would have at least offered an opinion, regardless of his standing with them. So I looked into it. And then I paid them a visit.”

“You went to his house?!”

“If you call it that. It was a bit on the shoddy side and he needs to water his plants.”

“Murdock.” I quickly filled in a bit about the DMV and his identity.

“Right, I look into his house, and I discover that Mr. Burvers is none other than our former agent Lynch.”

“…VANCE BURRIS?”

“Yes Bosco. Next time try to leave the eardrum. And who else? Who else could have the money? The know how with technology to make the pictures? The connections that could set the DOD on us? He had all of these in the CIA, and I know those guys, Hannibal. They give themselves plenty for their nest eggs when they retire. More than likely, our former Lynch cashed in early to get a crack at us.”

“Then what?”

“I made a plan. I just had to make Burris be more prominent than Pike. I used an old trick-I called Sosa because I figured Burris would have tapped her phones. I set up a meeting cleared out the restaurant next door so he could use it to kill me and Sosa. Then I changed the timetable so you guys would get moved early. Then I let him hang himself. I rigged the wall of the restaurant so that it blew early. I ran out of the building in disguise, hailed a cabby, and beat him to the convoy.”

“How did you know he’d do it?” Bosco asks.

“Because he was acting more like Lynch than Pike. That was why I used the electronic means of communication. That was Lynch. Trying to kill me and Sosa? In a meeting place I had designated? That was Lynch. He needed it to be dramatic. But it happened before his boys were ready, and they got their asses handed to them by the DOD. Him rushing off to the convoy? Lynch again. Lynch jumps the gun.”

“Then what?” Hannibal prompts.

“I blow his tires and Sosa, after getting an interesting text, arrests him for attempting to rescue the A-team. Then I scam my way onto your van, Face says something interesting about my sister, and then I punch out the driver and we escape.”

“You keep on saying Pike and Lynch, but Pike didn’t know Lynch for very long before the shipyard. How could he be rubbing off on him?”

“Because Pike is still alive. But he can’t make an attempt on us until his injuries have healed, so instead he’s using Burris, teaching him to be a better enemy. And on top of that, I think they may be involved.”

The dead silence sits in the cab for a moment until Hannibal clears his throat. “ How do you figure, Murdock?”

“I don’t know too many men that wear a bracelet with a fish, more specifically a Pike, on their wrists. Something is going on there. And like Face said, Lynch would need to be closer to Pike than he was.”

“Great. Just great.” Face rubs a palm against his face. “Our enemies are still alive and well and trying to take us down. Great.”

“Look at it this way, Face.”

He looks at me over slender fingers.

“You still have your health.” I smile at him. He smiles back. It’s a beautiful sight. They ask me more questions, but I find myself nodding off as time goes on. It’s been a rough couple of days for this detective, but I can forgive them for it when I find myself curled against my pretty fatale.

The future is undecided. It’s full of twists and turns and dark alleys and nasty fish monsters. So much, one may never see the light of day again. But there are tiny beacons. His smile is one. This mystery was finished, and the evil Burris and his hidden counterpart are knocked back on their heels. But these sagas of good versus evil are never over. Just dormant. But we will perservere.

We are…the A-team.

*^*^*^*^*^*^**^*^*^*^*^**^^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^