CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN

After Face told Hannibal to shut up, the van was deadly quiet for a long, long time. Face slept, or pretended to. Hannibal stared in front of him, not once looking back at the others. BA rarely spoke when he was driving anyway, but Murdock noticed he kept looking in the rearview mirror.

Murdock had his own thoughts. The things Face had said made no sense, were totally without context. If Murdock had had time to think about it before, he would have understood. Now, he had to think. Make some decisions.

Should he tell Hannibal and BA what he suspected? Normally, there would have been no hesitation. They all needed to know what was going on with each other, to keep themselves safe. What threatened one, threatened them all. But this was different.

Murdock had thought Hannibal was coming around, but his reaction earlier had belied that thought. Of course, Hannibal was already on edge. And, for some reason, having the dog along only added to his discomfort. Well, actually, it was pretty obvious what the reason was.

The dog hated Hannibal.

Murdock suspected Petey was only picking up on the tension in the colonel, but still, it didn't make things any easier for Hannibal when every time he came near Face, the dog was growling at him. Funny about that. Petey seemed to pretty much accept BA, had very little interest in him and was certainly not intimidated by him. As to Murdock himself, Petey seemed to like him. Let Murdock pet him without protest, would go out on the leash when they'd make a pit stop without problem. But his seemingly permanent position was next to Face.

Murdock brought his thoughts back to Face. It was clear to Murdock that Face had been talking to someone. But who? And what were they saying to him? He thought about what Face had said, his actions. Shook his head. It just didn't make any sense to him.

One thing Murdock did know. At the next stop, he would have to find a pay phone.

He had to talk to Charlie.


*****

"Well, Cal, I really appreciate this. You, uh, do know what you're doing?" Charlie chuckled lightly.

"Yeah, Charlie. There's really nothing to it. Just a little loose wiring." Cal straightened up, lifted the receiver to Charlie's phone, and grinned. "See? Nothing to it. Dial tone's back, good as new." He handed the receiver to Charlie, as if to prove his point. Charlie obligingly listened to the newly restored dial tone.

"Thanks a bunch, Cal. I'm hoping to receive a phone call soon. I'd hate to miss it."

"Never fear, Charlie, you won't miss a thing." Cal smiled. 'And neither will I...'


*****

The leisurely drive Hannibal had envisioned had turned into something more akin to an endurance race, at least to BA's way of thinking. He, like the rest, apparently, had figured Face had accepted things, as long as he could take that dog with him. But after the little episode earlier in the morning, BA didn't think he'd accepted anything. He didn't know what all started it, but it sure ended sudden when Face told Hannibal to shut up. Man, he knew Face wasn't thinking straight, but...man.

They'd had to stop three times now, to let the dog take a run. Murdock took care of that, but after the first time, learned that he had to stay within Face's sight. He'd made the mistake of going too far a field, and Face had nearly had a fit. Which hadn't helped Hannibal's disposition any. BA knew Hannibal hadn't intended to take the dog, and every time they had to stop, he'd gotten more and more grumpy. Add to that Face's on and off mumblings over the last hour, and BA knew Hannibal was nearly at the end of his rope, patience-wise. Which wasn't like Hannibal.

BA had the definite feeling that Hannibal was no more himself than Face was.

BA sighed. It was just past noon, and although they'd stopped at a fast food place, they hadn't gotten out of the van. Face couldn't handle that, physically or otherwise. Just waiting in the driveup lane, with cars driving by and people walking close to the van to get inside, he'd been driven nearly to distraction. Hannibal decided they would find a nice, quiet park, somewhere they could all get out and stretch and relax. BA was hoping they might be able to mend some bridges. At least get a start.

It took a while to find anywhere suitable. They passed by two city parks, because there were too many people. Which meant, there were people, period. BA had finally gotten back on the highway, deciding he would just take the first turnoff that looked somewhat deserted. In the meantime, everyone was getting hungry and grumpy, and Hannibal, getting more and more stubborn, insisted they wouldn't eat until they could do it like "human beings" and not cargo.

Nearly forty minutes later, BA spotted a wayside rest that actually was empty. Not a vehicle in sight, and among the picnic tables scattered about was one that sat a good distance away from the others, under a small stand of trees. It couldn't be more perfect. It even had bathrooms and soda machines.

Perfect.

Smiling to himself, he pulled in and parked.


*****

Dr. Feist walked slowly toward Charlie's cabin. He was feeling a little guilty about giving the colonel the name of his friend in Redding. Not that he thought his friend would do a poor job; quite the contrary. He had the utmost confidence in the man's skills. No, what he was feeling guilty about was the fact that Ed had left without being able to see Charlie first. That must have been hard on both of them. It was no secret that the two had become fast friends.

At least Charlie would have friends around who would try to fill the gap. Word was apparently already spreading that Ed was gone. Cal had been at his office almost first thing that morning, inquiring about Ed and his friends. Feist had been a bit surprised; he hadn't thought Cal was that interested. But then again, Cal had always been curious about any happenings in the village. And he was one of the people in the village who spent a good deal of time around Charlie. So perhaps there was no reason Feist should be surprised at Cal's curiosity after all.

In the meantime, he intended to spend some time with Charlie, making amends in his own mind, if nothing else. He could only hope the separation would be temporary. Not only for Charlie's sake.

Dr. Feist, after meeting the members of this A-Team, felt Ed really did need to come back home.


*****

Face looked out of the van's side door with more than a little trepidation. As nervous as he was riding in the van, moving further and further from his trailer, the idea of leaving it now left him feeling defenseless and unprotected. BA's soft voice, Murdock's reasoning, even Hannibal's set look, did nothing to persuade him. In the end, it was nature calling.

The gurney had been placed where Face's seat had originally been, BA's forethought making it easier for Face to get in and out of the van. With help from BA and Hannibal, Face slid out of the van and stood, balanced between the two men, trying to steady himself. It took several minutes to convince Face that Petey would be okay alone with Murdock. After the other outings the two had had, Face was a little more willing to accept it. So, while Murdock headed for the picnic table with the food in one hand and Petey's leash in the other, the three men headed for the wayside rest's facilities. Face almost didn't touch the ground, as his supporters took most of his weight on their shoulders. It had one clear advantage, to Face's mind. He was able to look around instead of watching where he was going, and thus keep an eye out for any intruders.

He didn't like the men's room. It was small and clean, but it smelled of disinfectant, and had no windows. He took care of business and washed his hands quickly, wanting to be out of there as fast as possible. He wanted the sky over his head and his dog by his side, nothing else.

They were almost to the door, BA and Hannibal again supporting him. Before Hannibal could reach for it, the door burst open and a small boy came racing in. He pulled up short, staring quickly from one man to the next. His eyes got huge as they swept back to Face, who was trying desperately to look away.

"DADDY!!!!"


*****

Murdock was busy tying the dog to the picnic table and trying to keep him from eating their lunch. He was glad of the chance to get Face out of the van and into some fresh air. He was also hoping to get a moment alone to use the pay phone and contact Charlie. He was starting to feel a little desperate for information. Face had started talking to himself again, albeit a lot more guardedly than before. The fact that he was trying to hide it from everyone made it even more imperative that Murdock know if this had been going on for a while, or was a recent development. And then he had to figure out how to approach Face without spooking him or alerting the others. He wanted to know more of what was going on in his friend's mind before he mentioned anything to Hannibal or BA.

He was still trying to figure out a strategy when he heard a vehicle pull into the rest area. He looked up, immediately concerned. His worst fears were confirmed, when a VW van came to a stop not far from their own, and three children and two adults climbed out. Immediately, Murdock stopped his dinner preparations and headed for the building in the center of the rest stop, his route paralleling that of the smallest of the children. Even with his long legs at a near trot, he was no match for the child's urgency. He watched anxiously as the little boy ran to the bathroom door and shoved it open.

Seconds later, he heard the child's terrified yell for his father.

Damn.

He immediately slowed to a fast stroll, hoping the father would see him as a curious passer-by, and not the instigator of his son's fears. It seemed to work; Murdock received only a cursory glance as the man hurried toward the restroom. It did little to relieve Murdock's anxiety.

He arrived at the door only moments after the boy's father, and what he saw made him wish vehemently he'd stayed at the VA. Nothing this crazy had ever happened there.

The boy, who Murdock now saw was only four or five, was sobbing on his father's shoulder, obviously frightened. Hannibal was standing a couple feet from the man, impatient but maintaining a calm voice as he argued with the confused and upset parent. BA stood off to the side, both arms wrapped around Face, holding him up, while Face was apparently trying to escape from them all. Hannibal's voice echoed against the tiled walls.

"Look, buddy, I'm telling you, nothing happened. My friend was in a car accident; your kid got scared by the scars. That's all that happened."

"And I'm supposed to believe that? That he just looked at the guy and it scared the hell out of him? What else did you guys do?"

Hannibal had apparently gone over this same conversation at least once already. Spotting Murdock, he practically slammed a cigar in his mouth and turned abruptly to BA.

"BA, get him out of here. Murdock, give him a hand."

Murdock scurried around the angry father and wrapped Face's arm over his shoulder, BA doing the same. Face was caught between trying to get away from all of them and trying to keep his head down. He failed at both. The threesome had only taken a couple of steps when Face's head came up and the father caught his first good view.

"Good God!" His face went pale.

"Go, BA!" The anger in Hannibal's voice was unmistakable. Moving faster than even Murdock thought possible, BA literally lifted Face off the ground and pulled him out of the door. Murdock, his grip broken by BA's sudden bolt, hurried to catch up.

"Now, you and I have anything else to discuss?" Those were the last words Murdock heard as the door swung closed behind them.

Meanwhile, BA had stopped a couple yards outside, where he was glaring menacingly at the remainder of the family, who had now gathered around the door. Adding to the confusion was Petey, barking and straining at his leash, frustrated and angry at being tied to the table, so far from his master.

Murdock could've screamed.

BA didn't wait for anything more to happen. Still half carrying, half dragging, Face, he made a beeline for the van. Murdock raced after him, pushing past the bewildered family, and helped him get Face back inside. While BA stayed with Face, trying to calm him down, Murdock ran for the table, quickly untying the dog and grabbing most of the food. He arrived back at the van at almost the same time as Hannibal.

Hannibal motioned both BA and Murdock to wait outside as he climbed into the van beside Face and slid the door shut. Petey jumped on the door a couple of times before BA glaringly reminded Murdock what a paint job cost and the two moved further from the van.

Murdock wasn't sure what was going on inside that van. When Hannibal had stepped inside and closed the door, Face had been almost sobbing in fear or frustration or anger...it was hard to tell what his emotional state really was. He'd also been trying very hard to get up from the gurney. Where he intended to go, Murdock had no idea, and probably Face didn't either. He just wanted to get away.

Minutes ticked by. Murdock and BA watched warily as the vacationing family crept to their van and drove away. Whatever Hannibal had said to the man after Murdock left, it certainly had had an effect. Murdock could only wonder what he was saying now.

Then, as suddenly as he had closed it, Hannibal slung the door back and nodded at them, silently climbing into his normal seat. With a mutual shrug, he and BA headed to the van.

Face was silent when Murdock stepped past him, and remained so even when Petey hopped up beside him. For once, the dog was subdued and did nothing more than lick Face's hand once before lying down. Face never acknowledged any of them. Murdock did note the fresh bandage on his leg.

As BA pulled out of the rest area, Hannibal turned and looked at Murdock, a small smile on his face.

"Why don't you pass around what's left of lunch, Captain? Then we'll find ourselves a nice place to stay for the night."