"So what you got for us this time, General?" Hannibal asked.
"Nasty one I'm afraid. Anti-aircraft facility. We need it closed down but a full scale attack's out of the question. It'd take far too much firepower that's needed elsewhere. But in the meantime we're losing aircraft over it. Three Huey's just this week."
"So a small team and a bit of sabotage is called for, yes?" Hannibal's mind was already turning over plans and possibilities. "Well it'll have to be a night time run. We'll never get in by daylight."
need a pilot."
"We're flying in to take out an anti-aircraft facility?"
"It's pretty far out."
"Well, then I want someone who knows the area. Someone used to night flying. And I want a volunteer. This could turn nasty and I don't want to drag in some conscript straight out of flight school."
"Very well, Colonel. Brief your team. I'll find you your pilot."
Hannibal saluted and left.
Face and B.A. were waiting outside.
"So? What miracle do they want us to pull off this time."
Hannibal grinned, feeling the prickle of adrenaline creep
down his spine.
"You're going to love this…"
Hannibal leaned over the map and tapped a spot.
"Here. This is where intel think the base is. We've had aircraft go down here," He pointed. "Here, and here. All this side of the base. We going to circle around and come in from the opposite direction."
"Sir?" A young soldier entered. Hannibal waved for him to go ahead.
"Colonel, the General wants to see you."
Hannibal grinned. "He must have our pilot."
"Well, Colonel, there was a grand total of one volunteer who met your specifications."
"I only need one."
The General shook his head dubiously. "Well he's waiting outside, Colonel. Good luck."
"Thank you, sir."
He headed out into the waiting area adjoining the General's office and looked around. A row of plastic seats stood along one wall and a lanky young man was sitting at the far end, leaning against the wall with his legs stretched out along the rest of the chairs. He was wearing combats and a t-shirt and had a non-regulation blue baseball cap jammed on his head. He squinted up at Hannibal as he entered. Hannibal wondered how he'd failed to spot him on the way in.
"You my pilot?" he asked.
"You Colonel Smith?" the man returned in answer.
"Yes." Hannibal strode over to him and swatted his feet with his hand, knocking them off the seat.
"You want to give me your name, son?" he demanded with more irritation than he actually felt. He didn't really like his team too cowed by the chain of command but there had to be some authority maintained.
The man looked startled, then unfolded himself and stood up.
"Lieutenant H.M. Murdock, sir." He offered a sloppy salute. Hannibal eyed him appraisingly. There was a slight southern drawl to his voice, which radiated casual confidence. Over-confidence possibly, and a definite lack of respect for authority. Hannibal didn't automatically mark him down for that. He prided himself on encouraging the more unusual elements on his team and his judgment had been proved right so far. Face and B.A. were both superb assets though not generally approved of by the military hierarchy.
"All right, Lieutenant. So why were you the only volunteer for this mission?"
"I wasn't. There were two others. I'm the only one who scored full marks on the General's tick-list though."
"My tick-list," Hannibal corrected.
"Yeah?" The young man gave him a thoughtful look before continuing. "Well I flew with the Nighthawks, and your target area has been my patrol for the past 4 months. I did the rescue runs on the birds that went down there." His expression darkened for a moment. "Well, salvage runs, as they turned out. There were no survivors."
"Is that why you volunteered? I don't need someone with a personal vendetta on this mission."
"No, sir. No vendetta. I just don't want to fly anymore of those pick-ups, sir."
Hannibal nodded, satisfied.
"Okay, Lieutenant. You've got the assignment. We'll want to head out at 1900 tomorrow."
Murdock tossed off another sloppy salute and slouched out. Hannibal grinned after him.
"Who?" Face demanded for the second time.
"Lieutenant H.M. Murdock," Hannibal repeated calmly.
"Howlin' Mad Murdock. That's who you've found to fly us out there?" Face sounded incredulous.
"Man, he's crazy!" B.A. growled. "He'll get us all killed."
"I don't think so. His record does indicate that he's considered a bit…eccentric, but his flying has never been anything but exceptional. He's been commended twice."
"Yeah, for flying in to situations when anyone with the slightest sense of self preservation wouldn't even have considered it!" Face exclaimed. "The man's reckless, Colonel. Dangerous. I think it's a mistake to rely on him."
"I disagree. He may not be the model soldier but every team he's taken into combat he's brought back out again. What he does, he does well. He's willing to take risks. He's loyal to his team. Those are qualities I value, Face."
"You trust this guy, Colonel?" B.A. asked.
"Yes. I do."
"All right then."
"Face?" Hannibal asked.
"I guess we'll have to trust your judgement on this one."
"I'm touched. Okay. Be ready to go at 1900 tomorrow."
Face finished his drink and pushed his glass away. The bar was quiet. The only person who'd come in for the past half hour had been a tall man who'd sat down next to him and promptly turned his back and bent over his drink, his face lost underneath the peak of his cap. Face sighed, he really ought to get some sleep but he was always keyed up the night before a mission and couldn’t help playing over in his mind where he'd be this time tomorrow.
Face looked up to see Lieutenant John Gibson reeling towards him. He sighed. Gibson was a sometime acquaintance with a talent for making himself a right nuisance when he was tanked up.
"I hear you're flying out with Howling' Mad tomorrow."
"So I hear," Face replied neutrally, really not wanting to get into a long discussion.
"Hee, you gonna want more to drink than that then. You ever lifted with him before?"
"I have. Thought we was gonna crash and burn. He's not all there, man. Never mind a screw loose, he's got a few missing!"
"Well, you're still here, Johnny-boy so you obviously got back in one piece."
Obviously disappointed with the lack of reaction, Gibson sloped away. Face sighed again and stood to leave. The tall man who'd sat nursing a beer in the next seat stood as well and caught his arm.
"Hey, Faceyman. You don't want to listen to him. I promise if I crash, I'll do it gently enough that we won't burn."
The man's voice was soft, tinged with an accent that Face wasn't convinced was real and which made it difficult to tell whether or not he was joking. Face stared at him.
"S'me. Gibson there doesn't pay real good attention does he?" Murdock looked at Gibson's retreating back. "He wasn't complaining about my flying when it was the jungle burning around him and I singed my birdie fetching him back here."
Murdock flashed Face a brilliant grin.
"See you tomorrow."
Face watched the pilot's long stride carry him bouncing out of the bar and shook his head.
When he reported to the chopper pad the following morning Face still hadn't decided whether the late night encounter had made him feel more or less confident about their pilot. Murdock didn’t mention it when he arrived, just gave Face a wink and started checking over the craft.
B.A. and Hannibal arrived almost simultaneously and Hannibal gave Face a broad smile.
"Ah, Lieutenant, you've already met our pilot?" He turned to B.A. "Sergeant Baracus, this is Lieutenant Murdock."
Murdock looked up and waved, as instantly casual as he'd been with Face in the bar the previous night. "Hi, big guy. Ready to fly?"
"I don't want to see none of your aerobatics, Murdock," B.A. growled, with his customary disregard for rank.
Murdock pointed to his chest with both hands.
"Me?" he asked, wide-eyed. "Sergeant, you've been listening to alarmist, unfounded rumours. I assure you H.M. Murdock is the very model of sober, sedate flying."
Hannibal watched the byplay and smiled. Face groaned under his breath, recognising the adrenalin-fuelled gleam in his C.O.'s eyes.
They managed to evade any whisper of anti-aircraft fire on their way in and put down without incident.
"Nice, Murdock," Hannibal said as they climbed out. "You want to take off and do a few sweeps of the area in case we were spotted? We'll call when we're ready for pick-up."
"Sure thing, Colonel." Murdock confirmed with another of his sloppy salutes. "See y'soon."
"Well that went well," Hannibal grinned.
"Yeah, if you call nearly getting blown up by our own charges 'going well'," Face complained. "Where's Murdock?"
"I put in the call. He said he'd be here any minute."
B.A. looked up at a sound. "Here comes a chopper."
Hannibal followed his gaze then snapped his attention back as gunfire raked their position.
" Get down!" He shoved Face, who was the nearest to him, to the ground.
Suddenly the loud thwacking of rotors overhead drowned out the noise of the gunfire. "Ah," said Hannibal. "There's Murdock now."
Murdock's chopper dropped like a stone, nearly clipping the trees.
"What the hell's he doing?" Face asked. "Are we in that much of a hurry?"
"He is crazy," B.A. stated. "He better not pull that stunt once we're on board."
Murdock landed a few yards away from them.
"Quite an entrance, Lieutenant," Hannibal commented as he followed BA and Face aboard the helicopter.
"Yeah well it's the exit I'm worried about. Our friends there with the machine guns have got some pals coming. I saw them on the way in
"Let's move it then."
Murdock wasted no time in obeying. He took off with a whoop and climbed steeply.
Once they levelled off he twisted in his seat.
Adopting a cultured British accent he asked, "Went the day well?"
Hannibal gave him a grin.
"Mission accomplished. They won't me taking out any more of ours from that particular base."
Murdock let out another delighted yell, which made B.A. jump in his seat and snap, "Just shut up and fly will you!"
The sky was starting to lighten by the time they arrived back at base.
"Home again, home again, jiggetty jig," Murdock muttered as he gently settled the helicopter on the ground. "This concludes your flight with Howlin' Mad Airlines. You may now commence spreading horror stories about the trip and assuring the bar-flies that you never want to lift with that idiot pilot again."
His voice had turned suddenly sharp and he jumped from the helicopter and strode quickly away, leaving the team glancing at each other in confusion.
"Something we said?" Face asked the empty cockpit.
B.A stared in the direction the pilot had taken.
"Man, he got us out okay didn't he? What's his problem?"
"Amazing bit of flying," Face agreed. "We'd have been toast."
Hannibal had a speculative look on his face.
"Well we're not the first team he's pulled out from under fire. You don't hear about those occasions though do you? It's always 'Murdock nearly got me killed', not 'Murdock hauled me out from where I was about to get killed'. Looks like our pilot takes base gossip more personally than he'd like to."
Face frowned as he remembered Gibson's remarks the previous night.
The following night Face was again sitting in the bar. He'd spotted Murdock slipping quietly in and taking up the same spot as the previous night, nursing a glass and keeping his head down. Shoulders slumped forward, disguising his height and his face hidden by the peak of his cap he clearly wasn't interested in being recognised. Face considered whether or not to approach him, then groaned as he saw Gibson enter and scan the bar. He bent over his drink but too late. Gibson spotted him and reeled over.
"Ha! You made it! How are your nerves?"
From the corner of his eye Face saw Murdock slide off his bar stool and head for the door. Angrily Face spun to confront Gibson, the vehemence in his voice silencing most of the bar.
"Yes, we made it. We were lucky--we had a pilot willing to fly into the firing line to pick us up and skilled enough to survive it and get us out of there." He stopped, to glare at the bar in general. Murdock had stopped at the doorway, one hand on the doorframe, but hadn't turned around. Face continued, "Unlike some, I feel no particular urge to complain about or laugh at someone who saved my life out there."
He downed his drink, slapped the glass back on the bar and headed for the door. Murdock had disappeared by the time he got there.
Outside, Face leaned against the side of the building trying to regain control of his temper. It had been a long time since he'd blown up like that and he wasn't even certain why he'd done it. The ingratitude of the snarky, derogatory remarks were nothing he hadn't heard before but after actually meeting Murdock they'd infuriated him. The man might not be entirely normal but there was something likeable about him nevertheless. The careless, amused attitude and the adrenaline-bright grin reminded Face irresistibly of Hannibal and he wondered if Colonel had recognised the similarity too.
After a moment he sighed and pushed away from the wall, feeling slightly more collected. He took two steps away and suddenly jumped in alarm as without warning someone dropped into step beside him.
"Jesus, Murdock! You nearly scared me to death!" he said, recognising the tall figure.
"'Least I didn't drop you out of the sky, eh?"
Face laughed, this time recognising the sly teasing in the soft tone.
"No. You didn't."
"You don't sound surprised."
It was Face's turn to shrug.
"I don't like to listen to gossip."
"Or spread it?"
"Or spread it."
Face glanced sideways at Murdock who was looking straight ahead with a thoughtful expression.
"Thanks," he said abruptly. "What you said in the bar… You didn't have to do that."
"Well, it was the truth."
Murdock shrugged again.
"When has that ever made any difference in gossip? Anyway. I just wanted to say thanks. See you 'round, Faceman."
As suddenly as he'd arrived, Murdock peeled off and was lost in the darkness before Face could stop him. He looked at the darkness in the direction he'd taken.
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