A Cold Night For Carolling, Part One
Dr. Richter was in his office, behind his desk and thinking
that he ought to be able to focus on status reports. The
hospital was quiet at night and experience had taught him that
there would be very few distractions. Holidays were like
that around the hospital; staff requested time off and a
portion of those denied the official blessing to miss work
would call in sick.
Similarly, many patients had been released on furlow. Those with
families in the vicinity, or wealthy enough to fly home, would
spend the holiday with their loved ones. Of the patients who
remained, some were too ill to travel while others had no living
relatives and no where else to go. For these, the staff would
do their best. The common rooms had been decorated and both
a holiday dinner and a gift exchange had been arranged. There
was nothing more he could do, so he sat at his desk and
tried to concentrate on the work before him.
Richter reread the instructions for the newest form he was supposed
to keep on file for each patient. Helping his patients learn to
cope with their problems was hard enough, was it really necessary
for him to spend hours filling out paperwork that would do nothing
more than sit in a filing cabinet for the next fifty years? With
a sigh, Richter admitted it was necessary, if he wanted to continue
to receive funding. He sighed again, picked up his pen, and
read the instructions for a third time.
He was on page 6 of Form IC-2063, revision B, when the phone rang.
"It's Doris. You asked me to forward any calls for Murdock."
"Well?" Was there one?"
"No, but there's an old gent here asking see him. Thought
you'd want to know."
"I'll be right there," Richter said, his tone not unfriendly but
nevertheless conveying the message that she was not only correct
in her assumption but that she'd better keep the man at her
Standing before her was a dapper old man dressed in a beautifully
cut white suit. The man was a little unsteady on his orthopedically
shod feet, and held a thick rubber-tipped wooden cane for balance.
Doris asked if he'd like to have a seat while he waited, and and
man agreed, thanking her in Italian accented English and explaining
that he wasn't as young as he once was.
It was only a minute or two before Richter appeared. "Hello, I'm
Dr. Richter," he said by means of introduction. "I understand you've
asked to see one of our patients?"
"Yes, HM Murdock, if it wouldn't be too much trouble. I promised his
family that I would look in on him if I ever came to Westwood. I'm
here visiting my son and daughter-in-law."
"I see," said Richter. "We don't usually allow visitors at this hour,
but why don't you come to my office and I'll see what I can do." He
smiled at Doris, the duty nurse. "Thanks for calling me. I'll take
over from here."
Richter lead the way to his office, listening carefully as the old man
explained that he was Mr. Alphonse Picollo and how he'd come to know
Murdock when Murdock was a small boy and Mr. Picollo was new arrival
to this country. He said he'd a friend of the family after a group
of boys accidentally broke one of his windows during a backyard
baseball game. Mrs. Murdock had overheard the boys discussing the
damage, and insisted that her son walk to his house to apologize and
to offer to pay for the damages. When he balked, Mr. Picollo continued
with a laugh, his mother dragged him there by his ear.
Entering the office, Richter indicated one of the two chairs situated
before his desk and asked Mr. Picollo to be seated. He then carefully
and quietly closed his door behind them and rounded his desk.
"You must have many interesting stories to tell about Mr. Murdock,"
Richter said, smiling, as he stacked the forms that had been spread
across his desk and placed them in the uppermost drawer.
"Yes, I'm sure that's true," said the old man with his accented English.
"So where are the other two?"
The old man looked confused. "I beg your pardon?"
"Baracus and Peck. Where are they are?"
"Baracus and Peck?"
Richter's smile widened and his eyes sparkled. "You can cut the bull,
Colonel Smith. He paused. Or may I call you Hannibal?"
Hannibal's hands spasmed on the cane in spite of his effort to appear
relaxed and confident. "Hannibal will be fine. How did you know?"
"Considering that one of -- or perhaps all three of you -- liberate
Murdock about this time every year, your presence was not as
unexpected as I'm sure you'd like to think. Also, your hands are
not what I'd expect from a man as ancient as the one you are trying
to portray. I'd expect enlarged joints and prominent veins. You
have the hands of a much younger man."
"Ah. You're more observant than I gave you credit for, Dr. Richter."
Richter smiled wryly. "Dare I ask what you think of the treatment
Murdock receives here? You are aware I'm his primary therapist."
Hannibal gave Richter a thoughtful look. "You care?"
"About your opinion?"
"No, about Murdock."
Richter nodded. "I care about all my patients," he stated flatly.
"And that's as far as it goes?," Hannibal asked, anger rising.
Richter looked at him calmly. "You didn't answer my question."
He paused, not afraid of the silence that followed. When Hannibal
declined to say anything, Richter tried again. "Haven't you
asked yourself why the MPs aren't here yet?"
Hannibal considered. "They're either on their way, or waiting
outside the door."
Richter shook his head. "I didn't call them."
"Because I wanted to talk to you."
"Murdock." Richter watched Hannibal closely. He has amazing
control over himself, he noted. He was undoubtedly feeling angry
and trapped, but other than the tight grip on the cane, there was
no outward sign.
For his part, Hannibal was observing Richter closely, needing
to assess the man's sincerity and trustworthiness. To his
knowledge, Richter had never acted to contrary to Decker's
orders, but perhaps, just perhaps, there was more going on
than met the eye.
They sat in silence for some time. Richter, familiar and
comfortable with the power of silence as a motivating force,
waited calmly. "Murdock. I'd like to see him."
Richter smiled gently. "And so you shall." He rose to his
feet, saying in the same friendly tone, "We'll return here
afterwards. I'd advise against making a break for it or doing
anything to call attention to yourself," he said opening the door,
Mr. Picollo nodded and walked his unsteady walk all the way
to the ward and then another few hundred yards, stopping in
front of a large sturdy door. "I'm sorry, but I can't open
it. Please look through this window, Mr. Picollo. I'm
afraid that at the moment this is a close to Mr. Murdock as
anyone can be allowed."
Hannibal stepped slowly forward and peered through the safety
glass. He saw Murdock sitting on a small, bare cot, rocking
back and forth. Hannibal couldn't see his face, as Murdock
was looking at the floor, his head drooped under his ever-
present baseball cap.
"The straitjacket, she is necessary?" he asked in his Italian
Richter nodded. "It must be troubling to see your friend in
this condition. Would you like to accompany me back to my
office? I can offer you a cup of coffee before you go on
"Yes, please," said Hannibal, still in character. And he
hobbled along side Richter as they made their slow way back
to Richter's desk.
In Richter's office, alone and with the door once again closed,
Richter measured coffee. "I've been on the night shift lately,
so this won't bother me. You won't hurt my feelings if
having some will prevent you from sleeping tonight."
"What I just saw will prevent me from sleeping."
"Murdock you mean," Richter said, nodding.
"Is the straitjacket necessary? Or was that just for show?
To scare me into cooperating with you."
"Not for show. And not to scare you, although if your cooperation
is a side effect, I won't complain." He paused, wondering how
much he could say. He had heard about the A-Team through
what he read in the newspapers and directly from Decker. The other
members of the team were said to be traitors. Dangerous,
foolhardy, mercenary sociopaths who cared nothing about
anyone but themselves. However, from the thousands of hours he'd
wracked up in sessions with Murdock, he'd come to believe that
the official version might not be what it was cracked up to be.
Murdock may be disturbed, but, and this was difficult to translate
into psychological terms, the man had a good heart. Richter didn't
know how else to put it. Murdock cared. He wouldn't be able to
reconcile his loyalty to his friends if their behavior matched
Decker's description, not without being completely crazy. And
Richter was convinced Murdock was far from that.
"Murdock needs help," he said, finally.
"I thought that's what you've been giving him."
"So did I," he said taking a sip of his freshly brewed coffee.
"Would you like some?"
"No, coffee. He paused again. "Although psychological help too,
if you're so inclined."
"Why would I need help?"
"You went through Korea and 'Nam, and you've been on the
run how many years now? Ten? Twelve? The psychological stress
must be quite a burden." He paused again, then went on with a shrug.
"It's an offer. My primary concern is Murdock."
"So help him."
"We've been trying. And he was making good progress. Then, about
a week ago, this started." An earnest expression took over Richter's
face. "Would you please tell me what you know? Believe it or not,
I take Doctor-Patient confidentiality seriously. But if I'm not
revealing new information...." his voice trailed off.
Hannibal sunk farther back into his chair. "I'll take that cup of coffee
if the offer's still open." Richter turned to pour and as he did,
Hannibal spoke again. "No MPs?"
"No MPs." Richter replied, one hand holding the cup and the other
pouring the hot black liquid. He handed the cup to Hannibal, who
noted his hands had not shook.
"All right then, you have a deal. What do you want to know?"
"I'd like to know everything," he said, with heavy emphasis on
the everything. "But we don't have time for that. Not if we're
to get you out of here without your getting caught. Tell me
what you know of Murdock's diagnosis."
"He's a manic-depressive. You have him on something that helps
control the mood swings, so the highs aren't so high and the lows
aren't so low."
"Right, bi-polar disorder, although Murdock does not seem to reach
the truly manic phase."
"You mean it could be worse?"
"Oh certainly. He's a creative guy, but his ideas don't come as
fast and as furious as most patients with his diagnosis. I have
a hunch that he may be intentionally exaggerating his symptoms.
"Psychologically, you mean?" Responding to Richter's nod,
Hannibal shook his head. "No, not really."
"Ah. I wondered if you'd mention Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,
"It's hard to say. He refuses to reveal much about his 'missions,'"
Richter said, drawing quotation marks in the air around the word.
"What do you do when you break him out of here?"
Hannibal gave him a look. "It depends. Usually whatever the job
"Who hires you?"
"People in trouble."
"So you're on the side of the angels?," Richter asked, a hint of
sarcasm in his voice.
"That's right, if they have the money."
"And if they're on the other side?"
"We don't need the money that bad."
"I see," said Richter, who believed he did. "Do you only use
Murdock when you're off on one of these missions?"
"Sorry, poor choice of words. I'm aware he goes willingly. What
I want to know is whether he's on a," the imaginary quotes were
again drawn through the air, "'mission' every time he's AWOL.
It's always business?"
"He's our friend and we can't come during visiting hours."
Richter grinned. Now he was getting somewhere. "So you're saying
there's a social component."
"Yes. We always try to have at least a day or two of time together
after a 'mission', Hannibal said, drawing the quotes himself in
a sardonic manner. "And we have gotten him out for our version of
the family vacation."
"Interesting choice of word, 'family.'"
Hannibal shrugged. "I've been their commanding officer for a long time.
They're like sons to me."
"And what are they to each other?"
"Fuckbuddies?" Richter interjected.
Hannibal shook his head. "I don't think so. BA wouldn't consider
it, and Peck has had a string of women. Murdock doesn't know many
women, at least of the non-nurse variety. He's had girlfriends
though, I know he fell for a couple of our clients pretty hard."
Richter considered. "What about group dynamics? You're obviously
the boss, what roles do the others play?"
"I'd say they're equals. Each has specialized skills of course, but
no one of them is more important or better treated than the other
members of the team."
"Do you think he's closer to one team mate verses another?"
"We're all friends."
Richter shook his head. "We're running out of time." He looked at
the clock. "I'd like to continue this, but not here and not today.
Would you be willing to meet with me tomorrow at Herman's?
Say 9:30 p.m.?"
Hannibal thought it over. He was mindful it might be trap, but
he'd always found a way out, and if it would help Murdock, the risk
would be worthwhile. "Your treat. I'll be there."
"I'll walk you to the door, Mr. Picollo."
At the house, Hannibal was greeted by an anxious Face and BA
"What took so long?" asked Face, as Hannibal removed his key from
the lock and stepped in the door. BA added in his deep voice,
"Any trouble?" Seeing him close the door the look of concern
on Face's features hardened. "Where's Murdock?"
"Back at the hospital," replied Hannibal as he sunk into a chair.
"He isn't well."
Face didn't know what to say. He slumped into the chair across
from Hannibal. BA took over, "You be gone a long time."
"Yes, I was. I talked to Richter."
"Bust him over the head?"
"No, nothing like that. He recognized me, or guessed who I was,
and invited me into his office to talk for a while."
"Then he called the MPs and you had to bust all their heads?"
"No, we just talked. Then he walked me to the door and said
good night." Face and BA looked at him incredulously. "Let
you walk out, just like that?"
"Worse, he wants me to meet with him tomorrow."
"It's a trap."
The next few hours were spent arguing. Was it a trap? If it
was, would it be better for all three of them be there or should
Hannibal go alone? They operated best as team, but if it was
a trap, would finding a way out be easier together?
In the end, they decided that Face would watch the front door
for signs of trouble while BA kept an eye on the back. They
would remain out of sight as long as things remained quiet. If they
saw trouble approaching they'd send a signal to Hannibal
one way or another, and if Hannibal was forced from the building,
they'd trail him until they could figure out a means of rescue.
Face and BA were in their respective positions by 8:00. At
9:05, Face caught sight of Richter. He appeared to be alone
and in no particular hurry, a businessman on his way to a late
dinner, still carrying his briefcase. He stepped inside the
building and disappeared from view. Face found himself wondering
why the doctor was carrying a briefcase. How often did he
carry home papers? What was in there?
A few minutes later, Face's keen eyes followed Hannibal as he
made his way to the entrance.
"You made it," Richter said with a smile.
"I'm here, but I don't know why."
"Admit it, you're intrigued," Richter replied with a laugh. But
then a serious expression stole over his features. We'll sit
at the booth near the rear. No one will disturb us and we'll
be able to talk in private."
Once they were seated, Richter suggested they postpone serious
conversation until after they'd placed their order. A waiter
came by with two menus and gave his spiel about the day's
specials and how the chef would prepare them. "Everything
here is excellent," Richter opined. "You can't go wrong no
matter what you order."
Hannibal gave Richter a grim smile. "If only that were true."
"It is here," he said kindly.
The orders placed and the waiter gone, Richter began. "Tell me
about yesterday. You saw Peck and Baracas after you left the
Hannibal looked at him. "What do you want to know?"
"I'm not sure, exactly. Do you ever have the feeling that if you
could just find one small piece of a puzzle, the rest would fall
into place? I've got that feeling. I want to know what their
reactions were when you appeared without Murdock."
"They weren't happy."
"I imagine not. Please try to describe what you saw."
Hannibal repeated the events of the night before, omitting only
their decision to keep the restaurant under surveillance.
Richter nodded. "Let me ask you a different question. When you
came to the hospital last night, did you anticipate leaving with
"Yes, and barring leaving with him, I was hopeful that I'd be
able to come up with a plan to free him within the next couple
"As you pointed out yesterday, we always try to get him out in time
"Yes, but I don't know what you do once you have him.
"Often we need his skills on the current job, but it's more than
that. Murdock likes children, did you know that?"
"He has a childlike sense of wonder, so I don't find it surprising.
What makes you mention it now?"
"Because he likes to spend Christmas with us, and with the kids."
"The kids at the orphanage."
"Ah." Richter waited, but Hannibal didn't elaborate. "Here comes
the food." Once the waiter was gone, Richter asked "What about this
Hannibal picked up his fork. "This year it's just us." He looked
unhappy. "Decker's been a real pain. We put the funds together
but it's too dangerous for us to go." Richter murmured "Mmmm,"
and took another mouthful of food. Hannibal continued. "The kids
will have their Christmas, but we won't be there to see it."
"That's too bad, Richter said with sincerity.
"So why all this?"
"In his present state, Murdock can't afford extra stress."
Richter made a face. "In short, Murdock's been working
through some stuff and I think he's reached a point
where he needs to spend time with his family in order to
figure out what comes next. You're his family, but he needs
a safe environment. If one of your missions were in the
works, I'd do whatever it took to prevent him from leaving
the hospital. But since you say there won't be one, and
since I happen to believe you, I'm going to give you an
early Christmas present. Richter indicated the briefcase.
Take this when you go. I'd rather like the case back, but
if you're worried it's been bugged, I'll understand.
"What's in there?"
"Two hospital orderly uniforms, one should fit either yourself
or Peck, the other will fit Baracus. Also name-tags that will
permit access to the psychiatric wing, and a parking pass for the
staff parking lot. Your men should be able to get in and out
without any problem. I don't anticipate Murdock will put up any
resistance to going with them. The only thing lacking is a
convincing reason for Murdock's to leave," Richter admitted.
Sometimes patients have to leave for visits with medical
specialists that aren't represented at the hospital or for
court appearances. Although in that case, they're usually
escorted by law enforcement officers. I'll leave that part
up to you."
"Won't he be missed?"
"Yes, eventually. But it's a big hospital and it's under-staffed.
It's unlikely that anyone will notice anything amiss before
New Year's, and the staff seems to spend their first week back
catching up with their co-workers and exchanging holiday stories
rather than focusing on the patients.
"What if Decker comes sniffing around?"
Richter smiled impishly. "One fellow in a straitjacket with
a black baseball cap looks very much like another, wouldn't you
Richter grinned wider, shaking his head. "No, that was Murdock.
But you see my point. Even you weren't sure and you saw the
real article." He glanced at his watch. "I have to leave soon.
A couple of points before I go. First, and it goes without
saying, we've never met, we've never had this conversation and
I would never even dream of helping you. This is very likely
a one-of, done for Murdock's sake, so don't start thinking I'm
on your side or that I'm in your pocket. Second, have Baracus
shave his head and leave his jewelry behind. Everyone knows
orderlies don't make much, and with the shaved head he'll
look a lot like the photo ID's real owner.
"He won't like it."
"I know," he said, grinning again. The grin was replaced by
a serious expression as Richter prepared to stand. "Any time
after 6:00 a.m. tomorrow will be fine. Merry Christmas, Colonel."
And with that, he turned, walked to the front of the restaurant
and strolled out the door at the same leisurely pace he'd arrived.
Hannibal watched him go, then noticed the unpaid bill on the
table. He'd been stiffed!
Murdock's rescue had gone off without a hitch. They prepared
a cover story, but as it turned out, it wasn't needed. Richter
was right about understaffing, there simply weren't many
people on duty and those that were there were too busy to pay
any attention to the two orderlies.
They'd found Murdock in the room Hannibal described, and in
much the same state. When they entered the room, Murdock
didn't appear to notice. His face was still oriented toward
the floor and he was slowly rocking back and forth. Face crouched
down to look into Murdock's eyes, but they were closed. "Wake up,
sleeping beauty," he said softly.
Murdock's eyes flew open and he stared uncomprehendingly. "Ffff-face?"
He shook his head, trying to clear it and blinking rapidly. "Face?"
"I'm here buddy, I'm here. And so's BA," he said, tilting his head
toward the black man with the shining scalp.
Murdock blinked some more. "Are you sure I'm not dreaming?"
Face reached out gently and touched Murdock's cheek. "I'm sure."
The younger man's touch burned through Murdock, the way strong
whiskey burns. He stopped breathing for a moment, then felt
relief and happiness swirling through his body as his heart
and lungs reset. "I didn't think you'd come."
Face smiled up at him. "We're here. Are you ready to go?"
"Do I get out of this?, he asked, trying to indicate the
straitjacket with a shrug.
"Not yet. We'd better wait until we get you out of this building
and out of sight."
"Okay. Hey, is that really BA? He don't look right."
"It's me, Fool".
The man may not have looked like BA, but he sure had his voice.
It was good enough. "I've got my hat. Let's go."
The ride to the house was uneventful. Face drove, while BA
sat in the back of the borrowed car, helping Murdock out of
the straitjacket. "What you starin' at?"
"What happened to your hair, BA?"
"Don't ask," the big man said morosely. "Jus' don't ask."
- tbc -
A Cold Night for Carolling, Part 2
Title: A Cold Night for Carolling, Part One
Fandom: The A-Team
Rating: nc17 m/m for Cold Night as whole. This part would be rated G except for one word
Disclaimer: I don't know who owns The A-Team, but it isn't me
Special Thanks to: Cath and Karo who beta'd this
Archive: Upon request
Comments: Takes place after Evensong. Comments are welcome.
Email for Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Written: December 25, 2001
Haven's Slash Archive
I can be reached at email@example.com