The death was unexpected. He was seven years old when the Chicago winter roads took the life of his father. At seven, parents were god like and lived forever. But suddenly he was faced with a world where him mom had to work two jobs just to feed him, and trusted neighbors looked in on him after school. At thirteen he was self-sufficient; a young adult who collected odd jobs. At fifteen he got his first full time job at a grocery store; determine to reduce his mom’s work load. He maintained A’s and B’s throughout school, but never fooled himself into thinking he could go the college. College was for rich people who already had money and all the scholarships went to people with nothing better to do than demonstrate leadership skills; however a high schooler managed to do that.
For as long as he could remember he had divided his free time between repairing cars and working out. One was a labor of love, the other a necessity. People might laugh if your car broke down, but they did much worse to a skinny boy with no father and second hand clothes. By the time his muscles got big enough to rip through traditionally made sleeves, they had stopped picking on him. Most of the neighborhood considered him an expert on automobiles and engines, but he had no formal training and couldn’t get a job in a repair shop. Besides, he graduated into a war. His honor would only allow him one way to avoid the draft, and that was to sign up the Monday after graduation. This way he was allowed to choose his field, Special Forces, and the recruiter signed him up to get formal training in mechanics.
Basic training was not exactly a physical challenge for him. The hard part was learning to ignore the insults and threats hurled at him. Nobody had dared to talk to him that way for years, or had severely regretted doing so. He did his share of time on kitchen patrol, but eventually got through basic. The extra training required for Special Forces was far more interesting and they kept him busy enough that his temper was held in check.
Vietnam was not the same as training, and he cried the night after he saw a bullet he fired rip a hole in another human being. But he survived it, it made him tougher. Once the men at base camp accepted him as one of their own, after a little bit of hazing and a couple of bloody lessons on respect, he felt he was no longer just a black man but a soldier to most of them.
Prejudice had been present in his life but had never been more than background noise, until Colonel Dean. The man was constantly giving him the dirtiest assignments, but that was easy enough to put down to being the new guy. Until Colonel Dean selected a team for the mission and left Private Baracus in charge of digging the new latrine.
Turning to him, Dean said for the benefit of all his men. “Some people are too scared to take into battle. They put up a good show, but bad blood will out. At the first shot the average Jew or Ni…”
Whatever he had intended to finish that sentence with had been lost in the meaty pop of a quick jab in the face. The single blow shattered his nose and blackened both his eyes. The private responsible thought he was justified but went quietly with the M.P.’s. He got a month in solitary for that little stunt. In retrospect it was all right with him, as two good things happened while he was in there.
Later he learned that Colonel Dean’s nose healed wrong and the doctors had to re-break it. But most importantly, on the first full morning of his confinement, something else happened that turned out to be very good. Someone dropped a comic book through the bars of his cell window. Confused and curious, he had read the comic but found no name or handwriting to trace back to the owner. Each morning for thirty days, a new comic came souring through his window. He stood on his bunk and watched but couldn’t see anyone through the unusually high window.
He was rather nervous as he left the building at the end of the month, sweaty hands grasping his precious comic books to him. Strange how those little bits of paper had come to symbolize a special friend he had not met yet. Waiting outside the compound was a tall, lanky man sprawled over the hood and windshield of a jeep. He was reading a comic book. Baracus made a beeline for him, but walked slowly as if afraid that the new friend would not live up to his imagination. Without looking up the stranger spoke, in a Texas accent so thick it had to be put on.
“Howdy, handsome! Need a ride back to Shangri-La?”
Ignoring the handsome comment, as the stranger probably just liked alliteration; Baracus took the Shangri-La comment to be code for base camp. Slowly he settled into the passenger side of the jeep. The lanky man slithered off the top of the jeep and placed his comic book in a strange wooden contraption in the back seat. His best guess was the thing kept the comics nice and flat in the jungle humidity. He took a moment to evaluate that. They were in a foreign country, in a jungle, in a war zone and this guy was worried about preserving his comic book collection?
Baracus suddenly had doubts about letting this guy drive. But before he could voice them in a polite way, the man was driving away from the compound. He drove rather slowly but often swerved to avoid road hazards that Baracus couldn’t see. He introduced himself as Murdock, not bothering with a full name. His Texan accent disappeared as he talked, and he kept calling Baracus B.A. Eventually Baracus got a chance to interject some carefully chosen words.
“Why do you keep calling me B.A.?”
Murdock laughed. “You haven’t heard?”
After a quick head shake, Murdock continued. “After the MP’s hauled you away one of the other officers came over to hear the story. He said, and I quote, ‘That Baracus is a walking bad attitude.’ Bad attitude is a great little nickname, and you know how a nickname can follow you around in the army. So better a good one than a bad one. Just look at me. I have been tagged Howling Mad Murdock. I mean seriously, does that express my personality in any way?”
The newly christened B.A. did not respond, as at the time he said this Murdock was staring avidly at the sky, his hands slack on the wheel of the car he was ‘driving’. Eventually they pulled into the motor pool of base camp. Murdock tossed him a smile, grabbed his stuff and disappeared before B.A. climbed out of the jeep. By the time he had his gear stored in his hooch, B.A. had made up his mind to find Howling Mad. He might be crazy, but it was a crazy time and you needed all the friends you could get. Besides, he had never thanked him for the comic books.
When he found Murdock hanging out with the other pilots, B.A. was greeted with the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. Soon all his free time was spent trying to elicit that smile from Murdock. Not that it was hard, as Murdock was a genuinely happy person who regarded all of life as a great adventure. The only time B.A. had felt more welcome and appreciated for who he was had been in his mother’s arms.
With Murdock around, B.A. was somehow calmer despite the fact that nobody could push his buttons as well as Murdock. He managed to avoid hitting any more officers and got promoted to sergeant, about the time July rolled around. A big celebration was planned for the fourth, with officers turning a blind eye to moonshine and beer. Real steaks were brought in, though they would no doubt be ruined by the mess hall. B.A. didn’t drink, but was planning on giving the steaks a go, but first he had to finish repairing a jeep. He had hoisted himself up on the bumper and tire, and was bent over the engine when he heard the door to the repair shop close.
“Hey, Silent Bill. I’ll be done in just a minute.”
No answer. That was strange as Silent Bill was, of course, the most talkative person B.A. had ever known. Then the big doors that let the jeeps in closed. B.A. wasn’t concerned; it wasn’t like the Viet Cong were going to come after the broken jeeps. So he kept at the engine, until he felt a warm hand slide up his butt. Surprised, he jumped, hit his head on the hood, landed and turned to face his attacker. Murdock took the opportunity to sidle between B.A.’s spread legs and place a hand on each muscular thigh.
“Howdy, handsome. “ The drawl was back, sending B.A. the strong scent of alcohol. B.A. had never known Murdock to drink before.
“Man, you’re drunk.”
Murdock shrugged. “Just a couple shots of liquid courage.”
B.A. had seen and heard of Murdock flying into situations that most pilots would have backed away from, so he didn’t see Murdock as lacking in courage.
“Courage to do what?” B .A. voice trembled as he spoke, as if it knew what Murdock wanted even if he didn’t.
“There is something I have wanted to do since I first saw you walk off the plane. You were so strong and confident. You walked like you knew you could take whatever this world threw at you. Now that I have gotten to know you, I understand why you could walk that way. You really can handle anything. Your strength of character far surpasses your muscles. Not that I am opposed to your gorgeous physic. “
With a grin B.A. had never seen before, Murdock broke eye contact and looked down at what his hands had been doing. B.A. followed the look. He had been peripherally aware that something was happening, but had been too lost in Murdock’s words to pay it much attention. So he was only somewhat surprised to see his pants were open. What really surprised him was how big he was already. It must be because it had been so long since someone else had touched him there. He had almost convinced himself of that when Murdock bent his head and licked the tip.
Just that one little touch was almost enough to send him over the edge. His hands grasped the engine beneath him and he tried to identify the parts through touch, as his vision was focused on the top of Murdock’s head. B.A. had no idea how long he sat there, at some point it felt like forever but yet it didn’t last long enough. His vision blurred and he was lost in the sensation.
When his eyes focused again, it was on Murdock’s smiling face. His mouth was closed and his cheeks were puffed out, as if he had a mouthful of something. A dribble leaked from the corner of his mouth. It was white and B.A. had only just mentally identified the fluid when Murdock swallowed it, his Adam’s apple bobbing along. A tongue snaked out to catch the dribble and B.A. felt himself trying to grow hard again.
Murdock stepped back and the loss of physical contact made B.A. gasp. B.A. found his way to the floor and tried to siphon blood from his penis to the other body parts that had lost feeling sitting on the engine. Murdock turned and talked to the door.
“If you want to beat me up or denounce me to the world as a fag, I will understand. But desire for you has filled my life since I first saw you.” Murdock bowed his head and took a couple tentative steps toward the door.
B.A. covered the distance between them, grabbed his arm and spun him around. Murdock’s eyes were closed and he braced himself for a beating. B.A. had not been sure of what he was going to do until he saw the sadness etched on Murdock’s face. His soul cried out that Murdock should never be that sad, it was a crime against nature. Leaning forward, B.A. placed a gentle kiss on those soft lips.
Murdock’s eyes flew open and joy filled them once again. He returned the kiss. Soon B.A. couldn’t tell how much of what he tasted was Murdock and how much was his own seed. Soon their bodies were so close B.A. couldn’t tell which ram-rod stiff penis was his. Soon, they were on the floor of the garage, clothes scattered around them. Murdock produced a small tube and pressed it into B.A.’s hand.
“Take me.” He whispered.
B.A. hesitated, and Murdock understood his confusion. He showed him how to use the lube and whispered instructions on prepping your partner as he rode B.A.’s fingers. Finally he settled over B.A. and howled his pleasure as they met.
Sated, B.A. could have lain on that tool strewn, oily floor all night, but a passing voice brought him back to reality. The windows showed it was fully dark and Murdock hadn’t needed to turn on lights when he started this. If someone passing by wondered why the doors were closed they could be caught like this! Just the rumor of homosexuality would be enough for a dishonorable discharge and time in the stockade.
Murdock was spent and languid, happy enough to lay on the floor forever. After prodding and poking, B.A. managed to get most of his clothes back on him. His boxers got shoved into a pocket. Murdock managed to walk, but only by leaning on B.A. Hoping anyone who saw them would just think Murdock had celebrated too much, B.A. eased out into the night and to Murdock’s hooch. B.A. had never had reason before to be glad that Murdock had the rank to have private quarters, but if this night was any indication B.A. would be very glad of that shortly.
By the time they reached the hooch, a despairing voice in B.A.’s head had informed him that this only happened because Murdock was drunk and it would never happen again. Another voice chided him for wanting it to happen again. An isolated incident with a drunken partner didn’t make you gay, right? He dumped Murdock on his cot and was headed for the door when a voice whispered in the darkness.
B.A. didn’t speak Spanish and turned to ask what he meant. Murdock was out of his pants and erect, glistening in the moonlight. B.A. was on him in moments, all insecurities forgotten.
They still spent time together in public, careful not to touch or look too long at each other. It was hard on them both, as neither of them were used to subterfuge. B.A. was tough enough to back up his opinions with force when necessary and so was pretty honest. Murdock was on open person who did not understand why he was not allowed to feel what he felt. He wanted to write his feelings across the sky, but instead learned to choke back the howls he emitted when B.A. entered him.
The sex was good, it was important but it wasn’t all there was. After a particularly harrowing fight or when forced to do something against their better natures, they would find solace in just holding the other. B.A. could work his way through something disturbing and move on. Murdock took his experiences and held on to them and all the pain they brought him. B.A. could only hold him so long, before his practical nature forced him to walk back to his own hooch just before dawn.
Part of B.A. began to fear what would happen if he was not there to hold Murdock. He chided himself when these thoughts happened. Murdock was a strong man who could more than take care of himself, despite his lanky frame. Still, B.A. took extra care not to wind up in the stockade. Kept his nose clean, stayed out of trouble; until trouble found him.
Rounding a corner on his way back to his hooch, his mind on what he was going to do to Murdock when he got back from his mission, he ran into trouble. Two newly minted officers were harassing a boy with blonde hair and a duffle over his shoulder. New recruit from the looks of things, trying to find his assigned space and running into two of the biggest jerks in camp. B.A. could only see the boy’s back but he must have been good looking from the comments he was hearing.
“Tell you what, if you get down on your knees and polish my knob, I’ll pretend you’re a girl. Then you’ll be the only fag here.”
Tweedledum offered his two cents. “Or you could just bend over and spread your ass. Then your pretty little face won’t even matter.”
B.A.’s protective instincts warred within him. If he protected the kid, he would wind up in the stockade. But if somebody tried that with Murdock he would rip off their limbs. Then the idiots reached out and grabbed the kid. They were trying to force the kid to his knees and he locked his knees and tensed his shoulders. He was not going down without a fight, but B.A. was there before he could do anything else.
The officer’s eyes widened when they recognized who was beating them into pulp. They got in a few punches but wound up with a fractured jaw, six broken ribs and two broken arms between them. As they moaned at his feet, B.A. turned to the kid. He was beautiful, with a soft face and ancient eyes. B.A. decided he much preferred the wide eyed innocence of Murdock’s eyes. A whistle sounded somewhere; the MP’s were on their way. B.A. glanced down and noticed the Special Forces beret held in the kid’s left hand.
B.A. gestured. “If I had seen that, I might have left them to you.”
The kid smiled. “I appreciate the assist anyway. Shouldn’t you be running from the MP’s?”
B.A. shrugged and gestured at the bodies. “They know who I am.”
“Yes, I could see where you would be a recognizable figure.” The kid ran an appreciative gaze over B.A.’s form. “My name is Templeton Peck.”
B.A. shook the proffered hand and said. “Man, I thought my name was weird. Bosco Andronicus Baracus. Call me Bad Attitude. “
MPs rounded the corner B.A. had been at just moments before. They approached cautiously. B.A. turned back to Templeton. “Find a pilot named Murdock and tell him what happened.”
Templeton was let go, as he had never raised a hand. The officers were sent to the infirmary. B.A. found himself with another month of solitary. Peck’s statement was the only thing that prevented B.A. from losing his stripes. A month without touching Murdock would be torture, but the thought of their reunion sustained him that first night. He spent the next two days staring at the window, waiting for comic books to fall through. Nothing came. Sleep was hard to come by and often punctuated by dreams of flying comics just beyond his reach. He lost track of the days, and was trying to figure out an escape plan when a scrap of paper was delivered with his meal.
“Howling Mad is safe. Just delayed.”
No words on the back, just the cryptic message hastily scrawled. It didn’t use Murdock’s real name, just in case the message was confiscated. But safe? That implied Murdock had been not safe at some point. Now his dreams were full of images of Murdock in situations he would not allow his waking mind to contemplate.
Time straggled by, and after an eternity, B.A. found his way to the jeep parked outside the stockade. The Stars and Stripes newspaper flipped aside to reveal the worried face of Templeton Peck. He jumped out of the jeep and walked to meet B.A. His fatigues were neatly pressed and showed no signs of the sweat that permeated all other army clothes. Even as distraught as he was, B.A. noticed this oddity.
“B.A., the day we met, Murdock was the head of a six helicopters flying in to pick up some grunts. The newbie behind him got overexcited and slammed into his tail. Murdock did his best to control the crash; his skill saved the lives of his copilot and gunner. But he hit a small hut hidden in the trees. The helicopter blades tore through the hut and everyone in it, before it caught fire.”
Peck paused to take a deep breath before continuing in a hurried voice. “Murdock cracked two ribs and dislocated his left shoulder in the crash, but they had to knock him out to keep him from running into the burning hut. He made several trips before the other helicopters could land and get to him. Apparently he was bringing out chunks of body parts and trying to fit them together. Later they determined there was a woman and four kids in there.”
B.A. couldn’t digest this. Dead civilians, dead kids, bad enough but no doubt Murdock felt responsible. And B.A. had not been there to help him through it. He forced himself to breath. “Where is he?”
“After they fixed his wounds they sent him to mental facility for a ‘rest’. B.A. could hear the quotes around rest. “You can’t get in to see him.”
Peck’s words suddenly took on a rushed quality. “I tried! They are only letting doctors see him. Same thing with you, the note was the best I could do. Anything more required medical credentials, which I didn’t have. Trust me, that’s something that is never going to happen again.”
B.A. was too busy breathing to ask what that last sentence meant. His left arm was unusually heavy, so he focused on it. Peck’s impeccable uniform was gathered in his fist. Slowly he lowered Peck back to the ground. “How long until he is out?”
Peck focused on straightening his uniform, while surreptitiously backing away. “I call, posing as his C.O. and they tell me two weeks. They have told me that every week since he went in.”
B.A. found his way to the jeep and settled into the passenger seat. Peck drove back to base camp in total silence. They had passed security and were heading for the motor pool when B.A. broke the silence. “Can I write to him?”
Peck considered while he parked the jeep. Turning off the ignition, Peck leaned over and whispered. “Many people will read the letter before Murdock does, so make sure what you say is appropriate.”
B.A. threw a surprised look at Peck. The secret he had kept for this long had been found out by a guy he had met twice. He supposed his reactions had been a bit much for the ‘just friends’ line. Still, it didn’t seem like Peck was going to turn on him for it. Curious. “I don’t need the warning, but I appreciate it.”
They exited the motor pool and paused to salute a colonel walking by. B.A. didn’t recognize him, brown hair going slightly white around the edges, eyes behind mirrored sunglasses and a big black cigar. But in the process of returning their mandatory salutes, he stopped and faced them.
“I wasn’t aware that you two were acquainted but it will make this briefing a lot simpler.” B.A. wanted to see Peck’s reaction to this, but military training overrode the impulse to turn and look. “I’m Colonel Smith. I have been given permission to form a special team for, let’s say, unusual assignments. Peck, you have the best sniper record I have ever seen, and your other talents will make you a wonderful supply officer.”
This time B.A. did look at the kid. He could see the lithe kid as a sniper, but what were these other talents that had caused the kid to blush a little? Did it have something to do with his comment about not having medical credentials? The sound of his name brought his attention back to the colonel.
“Sergeant Baracus, though I intend to use mostly brains on these missions, I am sure your brawn will be useful.” A smile played around the corners of his mouth, like he knew more about B.A. than most people did. He broke out into a full grin as he continued. “That is, if you can refrain from breaking my face. Also, I understand you know your way around engines and munitions, so you will be in charge of both. The pilot I wanted is currently unavailable, but the mission must go on. Meet me at the supply hut at 0600. Dismissed.”
B.A. shrugged at his new friend and teammate after the officer was gone. Peck returned the shrug, and offered. “I’ll get that address for you and bring it to your hooch.”
B.A. wrote a carefully worded letter to his mother, and then settled down to write something ‘appropriate’ to Murdock. He wanted to say things like, I love you, I need you to come back to me, I want to feel our bodies entwined in silken sheets. Instead his letter was almost as short and free of information as the letter Peck had slipped him.
“Murdock, how are you? We miss you here. I was in the stockade for a fight, which is why I didn’t write sooner. Hope to see you soon. B.A.”
It would be a month of almost daily pointless letter such as these, interspaced between increasingly creative missions, before anything happened. B.A. was returning from a mission, which hadn’t gone exactly according to plan. He was tired and wanted his rickety cot, but his feet automatically took him on the circuitous route that took him by Murdock’s empty hooch. There had been no reply to his letters, so when he saw the light on in the hooch, his first thought was robbery. He practically ripped the door off the hinges, determined to beat the tar out of anyone going through Murdock’s precious comic books.
Instead he found Murdock sitting on his cot, staring aimlessly at the opposing wall, oblivious to B.A.’s abrupt entrance. B.A. crept in, calling his name softly. When no reply seemed forthcoming, he knelt directly in front him and placed a gentle hand on his leg. Murdock registered the hand, looked at it for a moment before following the arm to the body it was attached to. He reached B.A.’s face, and it was if something turned on his switch.
“B.A.?” He whispered, and flung himself on the figure before him. He then proceeded to fuck B.A. so vigorously that B.A. feared he might hurt himself. He fell into a deep sleep almost immediately afterward, and B.A. held him until he had to report for duty. On this occasion, he didn’t care if anybody saw him leaving Murdock’s hut in the daylight.
A couple of days later, Murdock reported at the same time as B.A. and Peck. He had been primarily assigned to Colonel Smith but had not bothered to tell B.A. Wanted to surprise him, he said. Murdock was careful to pay just as much attention to Peck as he did to B.A. Soon Peck and Murdock were best friends but the things whispered in the night kept B.A. from getting jealous.
The name Hannibal was whispered among the men associated with Colonel Smith, it had followed him from his previous assignment, but Murdock was the first one to dare use it to his face. The man had paused to think about it, before laughing for a solid five minutes. His wacky humor was as unpredictable as jazz, but soon he was introducing himself as Hannibal.
Murdock’s contagious joy somehow turned them into a team and the months that followed were almost happy. Occasionally, B.A. would find Murdock alone and unoccupied, staring into space. He would not talk about these times, though B.A. was sure he was trying to assemble mangled bodies. He found time to discuss this with Peck, and together they contrived to keep him as occupied as possible and away from the eyes of officers and medical professionals. It was exhausting work, but B.A. would have kept it up forever if it would have prevented the crash.
The mission had succeeded, in that their target was eliminated but they had failed to get away clean. So the three of them made their way to the rendezvous with Murdock and his helicopter, with close to fifty Vietcong on their collective tail. Any other pilot would have left them to their own devices when he saw what came out of the woods behind them. They made it on board and took to the sky in a hail of gunfire. Someone must have brought something bigger than a machine gun with them, because something powerful slammed into the helicopter, seconds before it slammed into the ground. Dazed, confused and wounded, the team could not put up much of a fight and were rather easily captured.
After endless marching and interrogation, they found themselves in a prison camp. It was new camp with very few prisoners already in it, so they were given their own cages. Hannibal was between B.A. and Murdock, so they couldn’t even touch through the bamboo bars. Their first night there, B.A. almost succeeded in breaking through the bamboo before the guards heard the noise. He was beaten severely and tossed back into his newly strengthened cage. He kept at it and they occasionally changed out weakening bars or added more. They were careful never to be alone with him. They looked scared of him, a reaction he encouraged whenever possible.
Hannibal was a particular target for interrogation, as he was obviously in charge. If their captors had paid attention, they would have seen the best way to get information from his was through his men. When they took Peck, Hannibal seethed. When they brought him back and the team realized what had happened to him, Hannibal was apocalyptical.
There was almost a routine to it after a while. They would spend the day torturing Hannibal, occasionally B.A. After a bit of rice, they would come for Peck and Murdock. His non-regulation sun blonde hair getting longer every day, Peck was passed among the ranking officers. Murdock was given to the junior officers and enlisted men who earned a special treat. Hannibal plotted and planned, whenever his mind was not on his team’s pain. The diet and lack of exercise made B.A. ever weaker, but Hannibal got craftier with each failed escape attempt. Their successful escape was legendary, and gory enough to satisfy the bloodlust B.A. felt each time they led his teammates away.
They traipsed through the jungle for almost a week before hooking up with some grunts awaiting transport. Hannibal saw to it that they were not separated, not even in the hospital. The doctors noted the injuries and wrote down their own conclusions as to how they got there, but the team did not feel the need to divulge specifics of what had happened in the field. With careful coaching, they got Murdock through the cursory psychological evaluations. After a well deserved rest, they got back to work.
Work was easy, compared to the emotional tangle left of their lives. Peck was edgy and angry for a while, but one evening Hannibal steered the young man into the jungle. B.A. saw them go, and wondered when Hannibal’s hair had gone completely white, but never learned what was said. Hannibal came out calling Peck “Face.” The name fit perfectly, and stuck. The anger had dissipated into the jungle, but the edgy took a while longer to wear off.
Hannibal’s plans, which had always come from left field, took on a creative quality that was brilliant, but scary. Having lost so much control in that crash and resulting imprisonment, he began trying to control aspects of the plan that he should not have logically been able to control. Yet somehow, things seemed to work out. Each success gave him such a rush, that he had to make the next plan even more complex to get that high.
B.A. found himself developing nervousness about flying that he tried to barrel through, figuring he could overcome it. Anger seemed to lurk under every thought and feeling B.A. had. He could not explain it or find a source for it. Suddenly, everyone was fool, and only the presence of his teammates kept him out of fights. Hannibal would order him to calm down, Face would talk him out of hitting people, and Murdock would distract him with some off the wall comment.
Even his mother notice the changes, as her letters starting asking if he was getting enough sleep and couldn’t he spend more time with his friend Murdock, who seemed to be such a calming influence. In loving words she also reminded him that he always had a quick temper, which was beast that needed constant watching. Sometimes, as he forced himself to let go of Murdock and creep back to his hooch before dawn, he wondered if the anger was a result of lying to the world about his feelings.
B.A. also began to wonder if they had done Murdock such a favor in keeping him out of psychiatric care. Murdock’s behavior became increasingly erratic and the slightest lull in activity would find him staring into space. Their first night back at base camp, Murdock had tried to force himself on B.A. Even still weak from the camps, B.A. was more than match for Murdock, and easily subdued the pilot. Instinctively, B.A. knew that special care was needed with a rape victim, even if he claimed he was ready.
That first night was devoted to sleep, bodies intertwined. A week of talking and light caresses before mutual masturbation that left Murdock sobbing in his arms. A few nights of that before B.A. went down on his partner, and didn’t allow him to reciprocate. A week of only giving blow jobs, and B.A. almost cried with relief when he finally allowed Murdock to give him pleasure. Even with tears in his eyes, B.A. watched Murdock as best as he could, making sure that Murdock took pleasure in the activity. As slowly as teenagers learning that real sex came from both parties getting pleasure, B.A. made Murdock remember how good sex could feel.
The first night he allowed Murdock in his backdoor, Murdock was violent and angry. B.A. accepted it and tried to imagine how it would feel to have an enemy do this to you. That night was his turn to cry. Not from the physical pain, but from the pain he would have taken in Murdock’s place if he could. Intellectually, he knew their captors had not wanted him that way because they considered light skin beautiful. He had been an ugly beast to them, but even the dumbest beast will find a way to protect its mate, and he had not.
Soothing fingers had found their way inside Murdock, but nothing else, when they were told to rob a bank. No problem, they had been on harder missions. It was a simple job and Murdock flew them back to base camp, talking nonstop, while B.A. tried to squash the fear of flying he had not told anyone about yet. The blaze was noticeable long before they got to camp and they landed to look for survivors. Instead they found confusion and the total loss of all their personal possessions. While evacuating, they found themselves in the center of a bunch of MP’s.
Detained became arrested and suddenly the three of them were in the stockade. Murdock was questioned and released, considered to be a glorified chauffer. Their advocate told them that between the backlog and the army pulling out of Vietnam, it could be a year or more before they went to trial.
A couple of lewd remarks from fellow prisoners could be ignored, but not the way so many eyes turned to follow Face as he walked. A group decided to make a play for Face, thinking they could bribe or beat their way past B.A. and Hannibal. The stockade guards ignored the whole fight, which only angered Hannibal. He planned and executed their escape so fast Murdock didn’t even have a chance to visit.
B.A. was very relieved to find that going back to the states involved working their way across on a freighter instead of stowing away on a plane. They never really discussed it; it just seemed natural to them to go back to the states; that was home after all. B.A. spent the time at sea trying to get ideas from Hannibal and Face as to how they would find Murdock again. He didn’t know what Hannibal knew or suspected about their relationship, but he was finding it hard to care. If the army caught him, they might execute him as traitor, what was a dishonorable discharge compared to that?
When they docked in Virginia, they exited the boat with the illegal immigrants. They had the distinct advantage of speaking the language and blending into the general population, but theirs were the faces that gathered the most attention. As unpopular as the war had been back home, the idea that the hated army had found people even more disgraceful than themselves took hold with the media. Their faces were everywhere, on T.V., posters, and under scary headlines like ‘Could the A-team be in the USA?’
They felt marked, especially when together, but the idea of separating was abhorrent. They found their way into a closed theater company where Hannibal surprised them all with knowledge of rubber noses and makeup. He made up easy to apply disguises for himself and Face, but B.A.’s body stood out in most any crowd. Alterations to his face were therefore basically pointless and he refused to wear makeup in public. In a sudden Murdock moment he seized a nearby pair of clippers and mutilated the regulation army haircut.
“Now they will stare at my muscles or my hair. Nobody will even notice my face.” Hannibal and Face thought it over for a moment before shrugging at each other. He was probably right. How much time did anybody spend looking at the face of the guy beating them to a pulp?
Driven crazy by B.A.’s muttering and his own concern, a disguised Face spent an entire morning in a phone booth with two rolls of quarters. B.A. acquired a car and Hannibal was on supplies. They met up after lunch and left Virginia behind them. After a campfire cooked supper, Face forced himself to share what he had found out in his morning of calls.
“The army has this idea that we are back in the states, but no proof. They are highly embarrassed by our crime and escape, so they are setting up a special task force to find us. They have not yet decided who will head it up, but they are throwing around some names you will find interesting, Hannibal.” Here he paused to pass Hannibal a list, who pocketed it to look at later. This part was harder to say and Face took a deep breath before beginning.
“Murdock was flying diplomats, soldiers and certain civilians out of Vietnam. There was chaos on the landing pad, and Murdock was forced to leave people, including children. The army wouldn’t let him go back. But it gets worse. They flew the civilians to a small beach to load them onto a boat. Someone took it upon himself to machine gun them down while they were on the beach. The army wouldn’t let anybody go to the beach to help the wounded. Murdock was on the boat and witnessed it all. He freaked out. They had to lock him in the brig until they reached the next base. The doctors finally got around to taking a look at him, and then they shipped him to a loony bin in Texas.”
“Texas?” B.A. was on his feet, stomping around the small camp. “He hated Texas! After his grandparents died he never wanted to go back there. Something bad happened there that he never talked about it. We have to get him out of there!”
“Think, B.A.” Hannibal interjected. B.A. whirled on him, ready to hit anything that asked for it. “If the army doesn’t have that place staked out now, they will as soon as they choose a leader for their task force.”
“B.A.?” Face’s voice was soft but his body was tense. He stood and laid a calming hand on B.A.’s arm. “You have to consider that Murdock might need professional help.”
B.A. jerked away like he had been branded. They only caught a glimpse of the wild look on his face before he turned and fled into the woods. Face sat next to Hannibal, and they began discussing the logistics of visiting Murdock.
Dawn light was filtering through the trees when B.A. returned to camp. He remembered a knocking that had started in the engine as they rolled up to camp, so he popped the hood and started work. The noise must have woken Face, who stumbled out of the tent, soothing his hair.
“B.A.?” He asked worriedly.
“Hey Face. I think we should start keeping watch, ya’ know?”
“Are you,” Face hesitated and changed his question. “Hungry?”
B.A. shrugged. “Yeah.”
A quiet breakfast and the battered old car headed for Texas. Face had the address and room number, so he only had to get the plans for the asylum before they were ready for their visit. With disguises and credentials, Face and Hannibal made their way to Murdock’s second story room. Once they found him, they held a hushed debate on whether or not they should continue with the plan. Agreeing B.A. would do something drastic if they didn’t follow the plan and let him see Murdock; they disengaged the alarm and opened the window.
A moment or two and B.A. had freehand climbed the side of the ancient building. He passed four guys before he got to Murdock. Between him and the door was another five guys. The metal hospital beds were lined up like units in a warehouse, with each patient labeled by his chart on the foot of the bed. All the patients were in a drug induced sleep. Face and Hannibal turned to the door, guarding it and giving B.A. as much privacy as they could.
B.A. knelt by Murdock’s bed and tried to match his breathing, an exercise to squash the anger he felt at seeing these soldiers this way. Finally he reached out and began gently trying to wake Murdock. When Murdock started muttering his protest, B.A. began talking to him.
“Murdock, come’ on, wake up! Please, baby, ya’ have to!”
“Why?” The response was soft and infinitely sad, Murdock not even bothering to open his eyes.
“Why?” B.A. was thrown by Murdock’s question. Why what? What did he mean? He glanced at Hannibal’s back, but it held no answers.
“Because it’s me, B.A.”
Murdock sighed but his eyes half opened. “Not my B.A. He’s in jail. Everyone I care about is in jail.”
“No! We broke out and came to see you. I made ‘em, because I love you!” B.A. tried not to hear the pleading in his own voice.
“Nope, not my B.A. He would never say he loves me.”
B.A. froze, his eyes wide. Was Murdock right? All this time they had been together and he had never once managed to say those three little words? Come to that, he hadn’t even pressed for Murdock’s real first name. Murdock continued in B.A.’s silence, eyes now open and glaring at B.A.
“He would call me a fool. No, now he would call me a crazy fool! And I would know that he meant he loved me. I would call him something silly, like a mudsucker and he would know that he completes me. I love him so much that when they execute the A-team, I will die too. So, you, fake B.A. can take your sexy haircut and leave me to it.” With that, he flipped over on his squeaky bed and returned to the drugged out coma that had become his existence.
B.A. began shaking Murdock again, determined to wake him back up. His calling must have gotten loud, because suddenly Hannibal and Face were there, trying to hold his arms away from Murdock and whispering at him to calm down. Their words didn’t penetrate, but he did feel the shaft of despair in his heart. He stopped struggling with his teammates and shuffled to the end of the bed. Did Murdock really deserve this? No, nobody did. He wanted to hunt down the staff and hurt them. Instead he climbed out the window and made his way to the car. When Hannibal and Face rejoined him in the car they got on the nearest highway and drove.
They were in Galveston before they talked him into pulling over, though what finally caused him to stop was that only ocean lay in front of them. By silent agreement, nobody talked about Murdock or the conditions he was kept in. They arrived so late that they decided to risk staying the next night in the same campsite, just to try and get some sleep. The campsite was deep in vegetation on one of the few stretches of the beach not given over to high rises and tourist traps.
They spent the day enjoying the weather and the beautiful location. Face had spent the day flirting with girls, but returned only with an ice cream cone. He plopped down on the log next to Hannibal, across the fire pit and out of B.A.’s reach. The ice cream, the way-to-casual tone of voice pretty much screamed that he was desperate for approval of his plan. While he talked, Face alternated between licking his cone and using it to gesture with.
“The army is trying to improve their image, so a clever man could figure out how to use that to his advantage. It turns out I am a clever man. All I have to do is invent some relatives of Murdock’s. I can even build on the characters we assumed the other day. I find the right sympathetic ear in the right place in the army bureaucracy; tell him we can’t afford to go all the way to Texas every time we want to see Murdock. They will put him on a plane to any VA hospital I name. When you think about quality mental health care, you think New York City and California. The weather is way better in California, and I know L.A. like the back of my hand. I bet I could have him in L.A. inside a week! What do you think?”
Face stared intently at B.A., waiting for an answer. Hannibal used this opportunity to lean over and bite the tip off the ice cream. Hannibal was innocently staring the other way when Face noticed. With fake annoyance Face moved the cone to his other hand. B.A. had been running on autopilot since seeing Murdock, but now the familiar anger came back to him. He welcomed it even while trying to understand the source, as Face’s plan was good. Fake innocence, fake anger, hidden desires, flirting that lead nowhere. Maybe it distracted or relaxed them, it just irritated B.A. If Hannibal had really wanted ice cream he would have gone and gotten some, not made a playful grab for a half eaten one. Before Face could mock react, B.A. was on his feet and yelling.
“Knock it off, you foolish cowards!”
They stared at him in shock a long moment before recovering, loudly, at the same time.
“We’re not cowards! The situation demanded a tactical retreat!” Hannibal responded to the coward remark, not even wondering about the foolish bit.
“It’s a good plan, which gets Murdock the care he needs!” Face certainly did not consider himself a fool.
“That’s not what I am talking about!” B.A. shouted them both down. He was seething but forced himself to pace rather than shout anymore. “I accept that we are on the run from the country we would have died to defend. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, but I wish it on Murdock. Do you realize how much easier it would be if Murdock was here and whole? You two have the opportunity to know joy in the midst of all this pain, and you fight over ice cream.”
He stepped around the fire and peered into Hannibal’s shocked face. “No, you cannot order the lieutenant to love you. But you can ask.”
Now Face fell under his scrutiny. “Mortal sin? Maybe. But I hear you go to hell for the thought as well as the deed. ‘Sides, if it’s really that big a deal, you will probably wind up in hell for knowing and not condemning Murdock and me.”
Turning to study the fire, B.A. continued. “I figure supper will wait two hours, so I am taking a walk. When I get back, you had better have made up your minds.”
With those words heavy in the air, B.A. disappeared into the woods. He did not go far, he wanted to see what they would do. He circled around for a better vantage point while they sat like lumps on a log. Just when he was beginning to worry they would sit there for two hours, Face’s ice cream slid off its cone. He grunted at the sticky mess and threw the cone into the fire. When his tongue licked at his fingers, Hannibal’s eyes got very wide before he forced himself to look away. He pointedly didn’t look as Face stood and walked over to the canteen hung over a convenient tree branch.
Hannibal finally spoke clearly and calmly to the fire. “I think B.A. is projecting his desires onto us. But I think it would be better to discuss it in the privacy of the tent, should anybody who heard the shouting come to investigate. “
Face fixed Hannibal with a look B.A. could not interpret. Finally Face muttered an acknowledgment and ducked into the tent. Hannibal got to his feet and trudged his way to the tent. At the flap he paused to stare at the sky and sigh heavily. B.A. echoed a much softer sigh. Hannibal was going into the darkness of the tent so he could hide his real emotions from Face as he gave up on his desires for the good of the team. Hannibal ducked under the flap and stopped, his butt still exposed.
A husky voice issued out of the tent. “There was sand in my shorts.”
That voice sent shiver’s up B.A.’s spine, forcefully reminding him of that Fourth of July so long ago. Murdock alert and erect, whispering ‘once more’ in Spanish. Apparently Hannibal responded as eagerly as B.A. had, if the resulting sounds were any indication. At any rate, they weren’t discussing B.A.’s mental health.
B.A. moved through the trees, as happy as he could be without Murdock. His anger had done a good deed today, helping them get together. Emerging from the trees to the beach proper, B.A. wondered at the number of bonfires he saw. He realized they were celebrating the last official day of summer. Winters in Texas were very different than Chicago or Vietnam. Here only the calendar and state of mind made a difference. He found he liked that thought and followed it for a while.
State of mind mattered when dealing with any situation, good or bad. So why not put himself in a state of happiness? He needed Murdock to be complete, but planning on the happiness they would have when Murdock was well would get him through the lonely nights. The anger would always be with him, simmering just below the surface, but this would be the last day he would let it completely control him. This was the last day he was going to let despair rob him of the comfort of his friends while waiting for his lover.
Murdock would get transferred, he would get better care, and he would get better. This might not be his last day alone, but it would be the last day he let his loneliness define him. He would make his way in this crazy world as best as he could, finding joy and hope where he could. Murdock was a creature of joy, he would applaud B.A.’s decision to be happy.
He lost track of how long he looked out on the ocean, but when he returned to the campsite he felt as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. B.A. settled down to tend the supper for his friends. Just like the meal, he would be ready when they needed him.