"Speedy Trial for A-Team"
"A-Team Court-Martial Not Looking Good"
"A-Team To Be Executed At Dawn"
Not even presidential election headlines take up so much room. Big, dramatic, larger than life. Just like the A-Team.
Can't say as I approve.
I shake my head and fold it back up. Newspapers can't even muster a few paragraphs of good news these days. Why go hunting for it?
Robbie takes the paper from me but doesn't open it. Just stares, as if he could read through the pages. Headlines can do that to you. Sometimes you skip right over them as if they never existed.
Sometimes they jump out and grab you. Make you want to read or want to throw the paper away. Make you want to go out and celebrate or zap all your energy away.
I lean back in my chair and listen to my wife. Me, I have no energy. Carrie, she hasn't been able to sit still for days. Seems like she's moved into the kitchen. She likes to cook. Says it helps keep her mind off things. Sometimes things refuse to stay off her mind. When she's upset, Carrie drops things. She's very noisy in the kitchen today. That is already the third crash, but the first thing to break.
Robbie tears his gaze from the still folded paper to try to see through the closed kitchen door. "Mom," he calls, "are you okay?"
"I'm all right, dear," Carrie's voice drifts in, quiet and steady. Just like Carrie. Except when she's cooking. "I'm just being clumsy."
Robbie frowns at the door. He looks at the paper, then at me, pleading. I close my eyes and heave a long sigh. What does he want me to do? I can't change those damn headlines. I can't stop tomorrow from happening. I can't stop Carrie from doing something she feels she needs to do.
I don't know how she gets any cooking done with everything falling in there. But the house is filled with the smell of cookies. Chocolate chip, oatmeal, sugar cookies, something with raisins and nuts. Good smells. The kind that make you feel better even when you know things are hopeless. The kind that says someone cares, that someone is thinking of you. Carrie made cookies for me when I was in the service. She sent them to Robbie when he was in the Army. She even sent tins of them off to the A-Team, after they helped Robbie out of Venezuela. Now my wife's doing all this cooking and has no one to give all those cookies to.
What a waste.
"Time Running Out for the A-Team"
I wrinkle my nose at this smelly bit of news. Not new news, even, so I drop the scrap into the trash bin, where it belongs.
Room done, I push my bin with all the cleaning supplies down the hall to the next office. The boardroom. My favorite room of the whole building.
I met the leader of the A-Team here, once. Actually, I was *mistaken* for him. Can you believe it, me Clara Dickerson, taken for Hannibal Smith of the A-Team?
Neither does my sister. Wish I had a picture. She still thinks I made the whole thing up.
That had to top the most interesting workday in my life. Some company bigwigs tried to give me a heart attack, first by sitting in this room in the dark until I opened the door, ready to pull my cleaning bin in. Then by telling me of their plans to send me down to San Marcos to "clean up" a mining town they were having troubles with. They sat me down right here - okay, so maybe not this same chair, but at this spot at the table. They offered me a cigar (whew, now, there was a nice treat), and preceded to tell me their problems. I probably should have said something, but I'm the type to go with the flow, you know? And my sister always said I was a good listener. Besides, I never could pass up the chance for a good cigar.
So I takE a short break to sit at 'my' spot and reminisce. I notice a scrap of paper by the cigar box. I reach for it, ready to crumple it up for a hook shot to the trash bin when I see my name on it. It's from the bossman, offering me a cigar 'for old time's sake'. He's is an okay sort, for a company bigwig. He didn't take too well to confusing me for Hannibal Smith, and since then had started to take the time to get to know those who worked for him. Much to my relief.
'Old time's sake', huh?
I take out one of the good cigars and take a deep sniff of it. Hhmm. Maybe I'll take my lunch break now. I make myself comfortable in 'my' spot at the table and have a smoke in honor a memorable moment. This cigar's for you, Hannibal Smith of the A-Team.
I should've at least gotten your signature.
"Group Petitions for Stay of Execution"
The article came with a picture of my shop window and its notice. Now they reside on the window, next to the hand made sign telling people they could 'Sign the A-Team Petition Here'. Not exactly the kind of advertisement I'd have looked for. But the article did get more people into our stores than usual. Just not enough. I wonder how many would be enough to get the attention the government. A half filled form was all it took to get the attention of the press.
In a few hours it won't matter anymore.
Habit had me in my shop early. Today is D-day, and I don't know if I should open early hours now as I have since the petitioning began. So I piddle around cleaning up, stocking boxes of sweets, straightening displays. I'm not even doing good with that. My eyes keep straying back to the early morning paper on the pay counter. There on the front page, about a third of the way down, is the reminder of our soon-to-be-missed deadline.
The bell over the door rings. I guess my decision has been made for me. I turn to greet my customer, to find young Nicky approaching the counter.
"Why doesn't it say 'Open'?" he demands the moment he knows he has my attention. "How're people gonna know they can come in if you don't turn the sign over?"
Guess I've been sending messages as mixed as my feelings: the lights are on, but just below the sign letting people know they can sign petitions here, a second sign apologizes and asks them to come back another time.
"I think I'm going to open at my usual time," I tell him. Nicky looks at me as if I just spoke Greek to him.
"But it'll be too late then."
Nothing I can say to that.
"You're giving up." It comes out half question, half accusation.
I sigh heavily, look away from the betrayal in his eyes. My eyes automatically find the hated headline. It thumbs its nose at me, proof we'll never make it. It fully expects the execution to pass without interruption, despite the massing of demonstrators. Even the news has given up any hope for them.
Yesterday, one of the local cab drivers, came over to drop off their collections. Many cabbies were glad to take petition sheets with them on their rounds. New York is a big city and cab drivers see a lot of people. Which means a lot of signatures. Still not enough. After he left, Mrs. Rickman gave me hers and told me she was going to close up and take the weekend off. She didn't like the A-Team much, at first. But once we old people take a shine to someone, it's hard for us to let go.
When we first started the petitioning, Tracy Rickman came over to help while I spent most of the afternoon on the phone. Somehow I had managed to head the local chapter of signature-protesters. My talk to the governor started with him asking me if I hired the A-Team, as if that were an instant disqualifier and put me somewhere in the realm of common jackpots. For what felt like the thousandth time in the last three days alone, I had to say yes, I was among a group that hired them, and go through a lengthy explanation as to why. They returned to us the freedom to do business when no one else would. They taught us how to work together where we had been a fractured group before they arrived. The A-Team gave us our dignity. That's worth more than anything we could ever have paid them.
"BA wouldn't give up!" Nicky tells me angrily.
I remember when I had such pride in my heroes. They had also been outlaws, as I recall. When I was small, I read everything I could on them, pretended I was one of them. Nicky has it better than I: he actually got to meet his hero. To see that the man he emulated was worthy of looking up to.
And BA and the others are about to become another fond memory. No wonder Nicky's angry.
"No, he wouldn't," I agree.
Nicky relaxes slightly. "I need more," he says, holding up the clipboard he brought in with him.
"You filled all those up?"
In answer, Nicky hands me a few sheets of signatures. Not old enough to do the signing himself, Nicky diligently solicited others to do so for him. I glance through the papers. I notice one name scribbled twice on the same sheet. It's an easy fix, so I don't mention it. Nicky worked hard for these, harder even than at his shoe-shine box. BA would proud of him.
"Here." I take his clipboard and hand him mine. The top page only has three names on it. Yesterday was a slow day all around.
"Thanks!" He flashes me a smile and rushes out of the shop, nearly running into Tracy and her mother as they enter.
"Here's what we have left," Mrs. Rickman says, handing me her petition forms. I guess the pastry shop had more customers yesterday.
"Want more?" I ask as I fold up the paper to get it out of the way.
The ladies frown at each other. "But. it happens today," Mrs. Rickman says, confused. Then her brows go up. "That's what young Nicky was in here for?"
"They're his heroes. The young never give up on their heroes."
Mrs. Rickman watches as I put out a fresh clip board next to the cash register, where it can't be missed. She grins.
"Neither do the old."
"Protesters Gather on Coast"
I look from the paper to the crowd around me. It's hard to tell who has been here over night, like the article says, and who arrived this morning. Everyone looks rumpled, walking, and standing, and sitting around in the sand and the restless wind. Ricky, Speed and I just got here an hour and a half ago. Already, Ricky can't sit still; he's entertaining people with his mime routine. I've been reading the paper the best I can while trying to maintain the chant the crowd has taken up. Considering what we're here for, I feel bad for feeling bored.
"So-someone is coming." Speed jabs me in the side to get my attention. The speech problems are one reminder of the troubles with his recovery from the coma. But he's alive, thank heavens, and his artistic talents haven't suffered from the beating which prompted Ricky and I to seek out the A-Team.
A car slowly, carefully, inches its way through the crowd. Someone on the far side decided to let it in, and with the mentality of a group mind, people move out of its way as one. I have to squint at the sunlight reflecting from the windows, and squint harder to try to see who is inside.
"It's a priest," Speed says. Finally, I see the dark clothing. Then a familiar face. I grin, and can't stop myself from chuckling.
"Why are you l-l-laughing?"
I glance around our fellow protesters, all of them strangers. I doubt more than a handful have actually met or had occasion to hire the A-Team. Some of them I know disagree with the death penalty and the A-Team are just a tool for them. Some, I'm sure, just make a habit of protesting everything. Many are here to show support for the famous. Which means most here don't know there are really four members to the team.
"I think the A-Team's about to pull a fast one," I say vaguely. I don't want to give Murdock away, or spoil any plans he might have.
Speed looks at me quizzically. I wish he had the chance to meet them.
I pat him on the back. "I'll explain later. Let's go find Ricky."
A little while later another car comes through, headed for the dock off limits to anyone but 'authorized personnel'. Which is why we're here and not on the island. Again, people on the outskirts of the group let it in, and again the rest of the mass acts without knowing why and follows suit. It is another priest, a young one. I watch the crowd close in behind the car.
"Oh, no," I whisper.
"What's wrong?" Ricky breaks his mime-silence.
"A real priest just passed." That means a real last rites. Whatever Murdock had planned, I hope he accomplishes it before the boat gets to the island.
This place is jumping. First nothing happens, then its full of vehicular visitors. The third one is shiny black, has tinted windows, and fairly screams 'authority'. People on the far side of the crowd scream back. The horn blares almost constantly. Still the bumper practically touches legs before anyone moves out of its way. Though there are a lot of shouting and chanting, the only evidence of violence I see someone kicking at the tires.
The vehicle crawls its way to the gates, and this time I can see the guards surrounding it. Oddly, the gap provided by the passing car is slow to fill in. It's eerie, like some gaping wound slow to heal.
Not much longer. The chanting reaches a crescendo and starts to die down before the appointed hour. Then, silence.
"Wake Held at Local Bar"
It looks more like a party.
I double check the little advertisement I'd found hidden in the back pages of the paper to make sure we are in the right place. This isn't exactly the somber affair I expected. The jukebox is blaring, the bar is crowded, the dance floor is occupied and the tables are full. You would think it was a Friday night or that it was someone's birthday. Then I see the streamers posthumously telling the A-Team 'thank you' and 'you are missed'.
I am instantly given room to maneuver my wheelchair. I'm not the only chair-bound person about, and our disabilities are hardly given a second look. I'd bet there are a lot of regular visitors to the VA hospital here.
The three of us are readily welcomed to an already crowded table. One old gentleman man sheepishly pushes a tin of homemade cookies towards us. Les and I exchange amused looks as we take a few.
This is definitely a warmer reception than what we received at the VA earlier today. There, they were as cordial as ever, so long as we had 'business' there. But they were unusually restrictive on visitors to any part of the hospital, the psychiatric unit in particular, and one HM Murdock specifically. When I asked, I was rudely told the hospital didn't want "this A-Team fiasco to bother the patients and staff anymore than necessary." Considering the reporters I saw hanging around the grounds, I guess I can understand their reasoning. More so if they really had any clue there was one man missing from the A-Team's trial and execution. I just can't see them knowingly or willingly harboring and protecting a fugitive, even an unofficial one.
It seems no one has been able to get in to see Murdock. Seeing as how the news has only mentioned Murdock in passing in their coverage of the A-Team, those of us who have met or hired the Team since 'Nam carefully talk around his involvement. Just in case. But it soon becomes clear no one has heard from him, and we all wonder how he's taking the loss.
Meanwhile, we spend the night in this noisy place, and we cope in company. Some tears, some laughter, sometimes at the same time, as we swap stories and reminisce. Some braggarts who've obviously never met them, tell truly oddball stories of a friend of a friend of a friend who supposedly hired the A-Team. Bump laughs a little too loud at them.
One group of drunkards have taken up position near the jukebox and sing - badly - with every song it plays. Then "God Bless the USA" comes on, and it seems as if everyone in the bar joins in. It felt almost hypocritical, considering the reasons for this informal wake, but it also felt right. We are all here for four men who stood up for their country and lost everything but each other. Then they chose to serve their country by working directly for the people. They had more belief in the sentiments of the song than half the veterans here.
I wish Murdock was here to see that we haven't forgotten.
"Yet More Comments on the A-Team"
It's been a long weekend. The standard number of days, no holidays to celebrate. Yet for many Americans, it was a weekend to be commemorated. Saturday saw the passing of legends.
The profuse headlines chronicling the A-Team's downfall provided a steady backdrop, a constant reminder for we who needed no reminding. They hindered us not in honoring these intrepid, illegal heroes in whatever way we could. Petitioners gathered signatures for a stay of execution right up to the last minute. Demonstrators gathered on the California coast to peacefully offer their moral support. In a bar in Westwood, veterans, friends and strangers alike, drank, sang and reminisced. Some gave quiet, private tribute, away from the news and media. And all over the world, the A-Team were in our prayers.
Why the homage? How did the A-Team touch the hearts of so many Americans? The media had a great part in it, certainly, even before the wild coverage of their court-martial and execution. But the news does not cover what there is no interest in. Recently, there have been debates, the mingled issues of their trial and the means in which they have lived their lives since declining to be imprisoned. Americans have always had a romantic view of vigilanteism. So who better to cheer for than the outcasts who refused to take the fall. The survivors who stuck to their beliefs while going around the system. The ones who would assist you, if you needed them enough to find them, and if you could pay. If you needed them enough, sometimes they found you, and often money wasn't an issue.
It is no surprise the A-Team earned the devotion as if they were icons. But there is more to it than that. They were living reminders of what it meant to help your neighbors, and so, ourselves. They reminded us what it means to hope.
- Reverend Taylor, US Army, Ret.
"A-Team Bodies Missing"