Created by Webmaster on 16 Jul 2011 - 7:30. Pageviews : 2347
The Face Man adjusted his clerical collar, stepped out of the swamp, and approached the lonely cabin. To his right, dead fish were drying over a fire. As he neared the cabin the canvas over the doorway was pulled to one side and the face of a toothless old woman appeared.
Face grinned his best travelling salesman's grin.
"Do you feel life is passing you by?" he asked.
The woman's expression didn't waver.
"Do you feel somehow 'different' to other people? Do some folks think you're strange?"
Face was now close enough to smell the piles of animal skins by the doorway. He cranked up his smile a notch or two and persevered.
"You see, we believe that if you are what other, less enlightened folk might call abnormal, you might be onto something - it could be because you are actually better than others. And we at the Self Help Hypno School - dedicated to better living through positive thought - are prepared to offer you one year's free subscription to our very own magazine, and all we require in return is...." Here Face checked a small piece of paper in his trouser pocket, "...about twenty feet of tubular aluminium piping, a large sheet of industrial silk, and some snake bite serum. What do you say? A deal?"
Face heard some clicking noises inside the cabin and the woman drew the canvas further back to reveal a very small, heavily bearded man loading the second barrel of a double-barrelled shotgun. As he snapped it and took aim, Face turned and ran, splashing through the murky swamp waters as shotgun pellets peppered the huge cottonwood trees around him.
It had been that kind of day. Only two hours previously, after springing a bishop held by South American terrorists, they had been relaxing on board a Dakota provided by Howling Mad Murdock. They were somewhere over Louisiana when Sue noticed smoke pouring from the engine on the port wing. When the propeller stopped, Face checked out with Murdock.
"Where did you get this bus anyway?" Face asked. Murdock took his harmonica out of his mouth and wiped it on his trousers. "From a film lot," he said. "Some World War II movie. 'Frankenstein Joins The Army' is the working title."
"Didn't you check out the plan?"
"Let's say this one's been modified," said Murdock. "For a start, there's extra buttons and switches and things. Like this thing here." Murdock flipped a switch on the controls, there was a huge explosion from the starboard engine and the ancient plane began losing height rapidly.
"This plane's rigged, dummy," said Face. "It's a prop for the film, wired to explode!"
"How would I know that?" asked Murdock. "Don't forget, I'm crazy. Where are we?"
Face looked down at the endless forest of cottonwood trees below. "Swamp land," he said grimly.
"Then get back in there and strap down. This might tickle a bit."
An eerie silence settled on the A-Team as the Dakota glided over the tops of the cottonwood trees. When Murdock spotted an open stretch of water he tried to put her down.
In a flurry of dirty spray and tearing metal, the Dakota aquaplaned across the water while Murdock wrestled with the controls. The water slowed the Dakota but didn't stop it, and suddenly the space ran out and they were plunging through the trees.
Within seconds, both wings had been ripped off. The fuselage bounced once, rolled, broke open, then stopped.
They were shaken, but no bones were broken. Hannibal had dragged B.A. out of the wreckage and was beginning to revive him when Sue screamed. They turned to see Sue clutching a small wound on her calf, while a deadly moccasin snake slithered into a tangle of roots at the bottom of a nearby tree.
A search of the plane revealed plenty of stage and film props - including a giant wind machine - but no serum. It was then that the Face Man had gone on his woefully unsuccessful mission to the cabin.
Back at the wreck, B.A. was muttering angrily to himself as he placed a metal rod in the cleft of a tree and bent it into shape. Murdock was removing the engine from a flat bottomed boat he had found nearby.
"Wouldn't it be better just taking the boat?" Face asked, on his return.
Hannibal shook his head. "Sue's getting worse and it could take us months to find our way out in a boat."
"Won't anybody mind?"
As if in answer to the Face's question there was a sharp crack, followed by a creaking sound, and as a cottonwood toppled down towards them, a fusillade of rifle fire opened up from the forest. As he dived out of the way of the crashing tree Hannibal saw several shadowy figures fanning out in the thickening mist. Grabbing his machine gun and several pistols from the wreck, he told the others of his intentions.
"They're hunters - I'm going to be the game. I'll buy you some time - so use it."
"Who are those guys?" Asked B.A.
"Hasn't anyone told them I've got a low threshold of death?" said Murdock indignantly.
Hannibal put two clips of ammunition in his belt and shrugged.
"Maybe they think we're tax collectors," he said. "Or maybe we busted their still. Who knows? Maybe they think the war's still going on."
Hannibal smiled briefly and then, running quickly from side to side at a crouch, he set off to present a tempting target to his pursuers.
While Hannibal was using up a good deal of many tricks he had learned for staying alive, B.A. was bolting and taping a frame together, using fuel and water pipes from the wreck. Face was measuring out strips of cloth he had cut from a parachute, and Murdock was fixing up the boat's outboard motor to the wind machine. Sue sat slumped against a piece of the fuselage, shivering violently.
"You think this is going to work?" asked Face, when they finally carried the completed craft to the water's edge. B.A. glared at him as they placed it in the boat and strapped Sue into her seat. There was a slight bluish tinge round her mouth and her breathing was becoming increasingly irregular. Murdock switched the motor on and the giant blades of the wind machine whirred into action.
"If we can get up the speed on the water we're home free," he said.
Face and B.A. gave the boat a shove.
After taxiing round the edge of the stretch of water, Murdock gave it full power and the flat-bottomed boat picked up speed. As the trees on the other side loomed closer, Murdock saw a rifle in the bushes aimed directly at him. He pulled hard on the controls and the motorised hand-glider lifted agonizingly slowly from the speeding boat, dipped once across the surface of the thick green water, then soared high above the treetops and into the sky, leaving only the echo of lunatic laughter, and the tiny drone of the engine as it carried them away.
Back on the ground, the Face Man's elation was interrupted by a shuffling in the undergrowth beside him and the hooting of an owl. Hannibal appeared, smiling but dirty.
"You bin watching too many cowboy films, Hannibal," said B.A.
"I know it," Hannibal agreed, "and right now we should be circling the wagons. I reckon they'll try and hit us again before dark. If we can scare 'em off till the sun goes down we can slip away."
"Slip away where?" asked B.A.
"You remember that time when we hid out near here, when we had to bust out?"
"You mean when I got shot in the hand?" asked Face.
"And I got the clothes burned off my back?" B.A. chipped in.
Hannibal nodded and smiled into his friends' worried faces.
"We'll use the same plan," he said. "We should get the hang of it this time. Come nightfall we'll be safe."
"How can you be so sure?" the Face Man queried.
"Why, didn't you know...." said Hannibal, re-lighting his cigar, "Indians never attack at night."
It was dusk when the attack came and B.A., Face and Hannibal had spent the time well, preparing for it. Further investigation of the crashed plane's cargo had brought to light several explosive flares, gas-guns that fired red paint balls designed to burst on target, a thousand rounds of blank ammunition, two rubber knifes, a machine that made a noise like a ricochet, a box full of stick-on scars, and a gorilla mask. B.A. was putting some leaves over one of several holes he had dug when the leading attackers triggered a flare charge with a trip wire to signal the beginning of the fight.
Hannibal immediately opened up with a barrage of blanks and Murdock loosed off some paint balls, causing a great deal of confusion among the men he hit.
B.A. cut a rope that held a small tree bent double, and a shower of sharpened sticks rained on the attackers. Carefully placed flares exploded with ear-splitting bangs and the ricochet machine worked overtime. To the hunters, who were expecting minimal resistance, it all came quite a shock. When a spiked weight on a rope was swung among them, they began to scatter.
"Come back!" yelled one of the men, standing firm. As he stepped resolutely forward his foot caught in a concealed noose, and he was swung high into the air where he remained, hanging upside down. Two others rushing to rescue him disappeared down one of the holes B.A. had dug.
More flares exploded, Murdock scored three consecutive direct hits with his paint balls, and when Hannibal rushed forward, firing continuously from the hip, the rest of the attackers scattered.
Hannibal cut the man down from the tree, and after checking that the men in the hole couldn't get out, demanded an explanation.
"You don't know?" asked the man, genuinely surprised. He stood around 5 feet 10 inches, wore a beard and a black wool cap. He looked like he was peering through a hedge.
"We don't know," said Hannibal.
"My son got shot this morning. The girl with him said a bunch of men did it. "We figured it was you."
"Is he dead?" asked Hannibal.
The man shook his head. "Nope. Not yet, anyhow. We daren't move him, though - he's weak."
Hannibal drew his pistol and placed it at the base of the man's spine.
"Take us to him," he said.
"You're crazier than Murdock, man!" snarled B.A. "We're talking survival here!"
"You got it," smiled Hannibal. "But didn't you see the film where the army doctor saves the chief's sun?"
"I was it," said the Face Man. "But we're not in the army any more - this guy's no chief - and you aren't a doctor."
"Hey," said Hannibal, pushing the man ahead of him, "why can't you guys think positive?"
They reached the man's village around midnight. With Hannibal keeping his pistol pressed in the man's back, they walked slowly down a corridor of heavily armed men to the shack where the wounded boy lay ill. A quick examination by Hannibal told him the bullet was lodged near the spine. Any sudden movement could paralyse the boy for ever.
The door burst open and a skinny little man, with a large cowboy hat came in, dragging a young girl with him.
"Are these the men?" he barked.
The girl's frightened eyes studied the three members of the A-Team. Face smiled uneasily. B.A. winked quickly then continued glaring. Hannibal smiled.
"Tell the truth now, girl" he said kindly. "Nobody's been killed yet and we can save the boy's life if you let us."
The girl's eyes filled with tears as she looked at the boy in the bed.
"I didn't mean anyone to get hurt," she said. "It was an accident. The gun went off when he was showing me how it should be loaded. I knew if he died I'd be to blame. I didn't expect them to find anybody else round here. I'm sorry - really sorry."
She put her hands to her face and burst out crying. Hannibal knelt and stroked her hair.
"It's ok," he said.
"No it isn't."
The voice was cold, hard and firm. It came from behind the beard of a tall fat man in a coonskin cap. Hannibal rose to face him. On tiptoe he was level with the necklace of animal bones the man wore on his chest. The man carried a big club.
"Ever thought of taking up wrestling?" Hannibal asked. The man grabbed him by the front of his clothes and lifted him into the air with one hand.
"I don't like jokes," he said simply. Hannibal chewed his cigar. "And this thing has gone too far. You killed two of our men."
"No, they're not dead," interrupted the Face Man eagerly. "They're in a hole back near the plane. They'll be a bit wet but they're alive.
As B.A. stepped forward, the man felled him with one tremendous blow of his club.
There were murmurs of admiration and assent from the crowd that had gathered.
"What about the boy?" asked Hannibal.
"You won't be alive to worry about that."
In the distance, Hannibal heard the faint buzz of an approaching helicopter. He lifted his gun and placed it to his captor's temple.
"Listen good, death-breath," he said, still smiling. "When that chopper lands we're gonna take that boy to hospital and we're going too. Nobody's been killed yet, but you try and stop us and you'll get the big cigar and somewhere new to put it."
The man in the coonskin cap looked round the room. The thick night air grew more tense as the helicopter came closer and closer. Eventually, the boy's father broke the silence.
"Put him down," he said. "We'll do as he says."
Hannibal was lowered gently to the ground and he went outside to wave Murdock down. Standing in the helicopter's spotlight as the wind sent piles of dead leaves flying around him. Hannibal could hear Murdock's voice shouting above the roar of the engines.
"Sue's ok," he yelled. "She's a tough old bird. So tough, buddy, that the doctor sent me back to see how the snake is!"
They loaded the boy carefully onto the chopper and made room for his father to sit down. B.A. still unconscious was laid alongside him. Hannibal and Face Man climbed aboard and signalled Murdock to take off.
"Where did you get this one?" asked Face as the chopper rose noisily into the night skies. "It's not another flying joke shop, is it?"
"I'm crazy, not stupid," Murdock replied. "This here's a mean machine. A numero uno."
"Where did you get it?" Face persisted.
"At the airport. Some bigwig was coming around. I just told the pilot I wanted to clear his chopper for security reasons. Did you notice the seal on the door?"
"The seal! Murdock, you're crazy!"
As Murdock and the Face Man argued, the wounded boy's father drew Hannibal's attention to the pistol he was still holding.
"Would you have used it?" he asked.
Hannibal pointed the pistol at the back of Murdock's head. "I don't see why not," he said, pulling the trigger.
The man stiffened as the hammer came down, but instead of a bullet, a wooden stick came racing out of the barrel, stopped, and a small flag unfurled beneath. In big red letters on a yellow background the word BANG had been written.
The man laughed and Hannibal joined in. When Face and Murdock saw what had happened they joined in too. Even the boy managed a smile, and though none of the others ever thought to mention it to him, B.A.'s body shook a little, and Hannibal could have sworn he heard the sound of suppressed laughter coming from his supposedly unconscious friend.
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