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November Fourth

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"An actor!" Face shakes his head in bemusement. "I still can't believe it."

"This world keeps gettin' crazier and crazier, man," BA agrees.

"Hey, I resemble that comment!" Murdock flashes BA a mock glare.

I just smile and listen and try not to date myself by saying anything. I can remember Reagan's old Brass Brancroft movies. They were fun. I hadn't thought Face even knew Reagan had a history beyond being the governor of California a few years back.

The television keeps us company with recaps and discussions of the presidential campaign debates. The quiet, steady noise is interrupted occasionally by comments and sneers about the fanfare in general, always careful to avoid the specific politics.

At some point we've talk, argued, and joked about nearly everything. Sports, family, plans, women, weather, vacation spots, what we would do when we allowed ourselves to dream of an exoneration. Discussions and company are a few of the ways we keep each other sane.

Even among the four of us, there are a few subjects we've only briefly touched on. An occasional, tentative feeling out about death, religion, politics, war, old memories and nightmares. Mostly there is an unspoken agreement not to bring them up. Each of us is afraid in our own way of breaking the bonds we've established if there was ever a misstep. I don't like the pussyfooting around when it happens, but it is understandable. I've seen friendships forged and lost over less - like who roots for which ball team.

Outside, the rain has subsided to a drizzle. The beat-up van we've been using is almost lost in the greyness. We're going to have to get a new one soon. BA has his heart set on something bigger, black maybe, with some detailing for color. We can use some color in here, too. Somehow the weather's melancholy has found its way inside.

The on-air discussion turns toward foreign policy. Someone brings up the Iranian hostage crisis and what Carter has and has not been doing about it over the last year. The mood in the room turns positively somber.

It has been almost a decade, and the mere mention of words like 'hostage' and 'capture' and 'prisoners' makes the back of my neck grow cold. We have been there before. More than once. The last time, and possibly again if we're not careful, to our own government.

God, '72 was a terrible year! The only bright side was being home. But home had us in a prison - Fort Bragg for the three of us, the VA for Murdock. Face, BA and I were held hostage against an order no one would admit to giving. The only person who could clear us was dead. And Murdock was lost to us, at the time we didn't know where. Though we were treated better than we had been in the prison camps of Vietnam, freedom is freedom and we wanted it back. We still do. We escaped Fort Bragg, and have been hunted ever since.

In all the excitement and worry of the time, November had come and gone before I even noticed. That was the first year I didn't vote. I believe in duty, especially when the loyalty is freely given. And I gave freely. I've voted since I was old enough to have my say. During all my time in the Service, whether I was stationed in the States or over seas, I had never missed a vote. When I let myself to think about it, the oversight - no, the neglect - really disturbs me.

BA finds his plate empty and gets up for a snack refill. Murdock moves from a too rigid chair to a more comfortable position on the floor. Face chides him for sticking his head in the way before readjusting himself to see better.

The commentators drone on about the state of the world and what the Republicans and Democrats each intend to do about it. A panel of political 'experts' come on to debate what the candidates really meant by their speeches. They flash a clip of Reagan softly asking, "Are you better off than you were fours years ago? Is it easier for you to buy things in the stores?" They cut it off before he gets more than two words into the next question to discuss the hidden meanings behind his words.

I flinch slightly. The mention of that time period doesn't go by unnoticed by the others, either. BA returns from his foray into the kitchen with a shake of his head. He carefully steps over Murdock, who lies staring at the ceiling. Face gives a soft snort, as if wondering why the candidate asked questions with obvious answers.

'76 was one of the roughest years we've had since our escape. Face, BA, and I had each been caught at separate times between jobs. Our trial and error process of learning to screen clients had been riddled with too many errors. We only narrowly escaped the traps set for us. Trying to keep him out of the line of fire, we were forced to leave Murdock behind at the VA for four straight months during the middle of the year. It was the longest stretch he'd been alone there since we discovered where he had gone after the war.

It was the second time I didn't vote, and it was intentional that time. Had it just been me, I might have risked registering. However, I didn't know what kind of checks they do with the registrants. The fake identity might have been caught. I couldn't use my own name. We are still hot enough that I would have set off every bell and whistle that comes with having a red flag attached to your name and numbers. And I wasn't about to risk the team's freedom by letting the government know I was officially still around.

Not that it would have done me a lot of good. Lynch spotted us on Election Day. We hid out at a cheap movie house showing films that had been out for months. I don't know how many showings of King Kong we sat through. I guess I should thank Lynch. After we all calmed down a little, we had a grand time. That was where I got the idea I could still try my hand at acting without getting caught, by hiding on-screen behind a monster costume. Murdock had been with us for the ride. By the time we left, he could - and did - recite every line and much of the action of the movie.

Yes, I suppose we are better off than we were four years ago. We've been on the run for eight years now. I think we have even become comfortable in our status as outlaws. As a team, we are the best at what we do. Face's complaining about the difficulties of screening so many new clients is proof of that. We've learned how to keep ourselves under wraps, so to speak, and avoid the authorities. We have become very skilled at eluding Lynch and his MPs. So much so that we've been springing Murdock just for a visit when we don't have jobs.

Usually our down times together go better than today. The joking, taunting and oddball antics are normally louder and much more active. I think I know the reason for the difference now.

When I was a young man, my father explained the power behind voting to me. America speaks English instead of German, he said, and Texas joined the Union, both because of one vote. More recently, and much closer to home, it was a single vote which passed the selective services act. I saw too many kids die because of the draft who would not have otherwise been in the war.

As the A-Team we have done a lot of good. We have made a difference in people's lives. All four of us know this. Still, we are a small group, and it is not the same as being a part of something greater.

I regard the glowing end of my cigar. We've long since been ineligible to cast the one vote that makes a difference to that same something greater. Our right to vote was denied to us when we were convicted. Murdock was denied this simple liberty when he was declared mentally incompetent. It's past time we find a way to make ourselves "legal".

I go and turn the TV off.

That gets Face's attention. "Hey!"

"Whatcha do that for?" BA puts his plate down. Murdock sits up.

"We've got a job to do."

"Since when?" Face asks warily.

"Since I came up with a Plan."

Murdock grins.

This time BA has the wary expression. "What're you plannin', Hannibal?"

"Don't worry, BA, nothing hard. We'll even have nice, easy disguises. 'Cept I don't think gold will exactly go with three-piece suits. It'll ruin the image." He scowls at me but says nothing. I have no doubt he'll figure a way to keep the gold on and still keep the image of a professional.

"Murdock, locate some clipboards. No decorating with stickers this time."

"Aw, Hannibal."

"Face, we're going to need a questionnaire made up. Something with a letter head, nice and official looking."

"No problem. Why?"

"We're going to get the public to do us a little favor."

A * A * A * A

"That scam was so easy it's almost scary," Face comments after our fourth and final stop for the day. We each filled out the important forms at a different locations just to be on the safe side.

"Yes." It was easier than I thought it would be.

I am constantly amazed at the gullibility in the world. The survey we made up for the "Voting and Elections Census Commission" was greeted with hardly a blink. I only had one door slammed on my face. The hardest part was combing through the results to eliminate those who were registered, those who planned on registering, and those who, like us, were for some reason ineligible to register. This left the people who the survey said they could, but had no intention to, vote. We whittled the list down by getting rid of the female names, people who were significantly younger or older than us, and names that just didn't fit.

"But it was well worth it," I add, accepting the congratulatory cigar from Face.

"Hannibal, what happens if these people change their minds?"

"We got there first, Murdock," I say with a shrug. I'm not worried. I doubted the true owners of our temporarily assumed identities would change their minds and apply to vote so late in the game. There are only a couple of days left.

"Man, why didn't you think of this sooner?"

"Wish I had, BA," I admit with a sigh. I wish I had. "But now we know what to do for next time."

"Piece of cake." Face grins.

"Right." I fold the registration card and carefully tuck it away. The hard part will come November fourth.