Face walked into a dark warehouse. He carried a guitar case in one hand and a violin case in the other and took them to where two high stools and an amplifier stood under a pair of spotlights.
“I know you’re showbiz to the core, Hannibal, but what the hell?” he said. “Are we auditioning potential clients now?”
“Got to be sure they are who they say they are,” Hannibal said, stepping out of the shadows. “Don’t forget those two ringers Decker sent in last month. They came much too close to fooling us.”
“Oh, I won’t forget them,” Face said, wearing a dreamy expression, as he opened the guitar case and plugged the instrument into the amplifier. “Not Christina anyway. Those legs…”
“She outranked you,” Hannibal pointed out.
“I’ve always taken my orders like a man.” Face checked his watch. “But these folks came via Amy. She said Al Massey knows them.”
“No, she said he knew the wife’s father. I’m not taking chances.”
Their radios crackled and BA’s voice came through. “They’re here.”
“Send ’em in,” Hannibal said.
Amy and Murdock appeared with a nervous-looking man and woman, both in their early forties. They were holding hands and staying close to each other. Hannibal had already seen them several times – not that they knew that.
“What’s going on?” Amy said, clearly taken aback by the strange set-up. Murdock grinned.
“Just a little sound check,” Hannibal said. He smiled to himself. After all the auditions he’d been to in his acting career, it felt rather good to be on this side of the equation. “You come over here, Amy. Murdock, cover the door. Mr and Mrs Cooper, if you are who you say you are, I think you know what to do.”
The couple looked at each other and shrugged. They went to the stools and Mrs Cooper lifted the violin from its case. Mr Cooper picked up the guitar.
“That’s on loan,” Face said, “so handle with care, please.”
“Of course.” Mr Cooper sat on the high stool and started fiddling with the tuning pegs, his other hand strumming chords as he tuned the instrument. Mrs Cooper did the same with the violin. A good show so far, Hannibal thought. But anyone could pick up a guitar or violin and pretend to tune it.
“Hannibal, this is silly,” Amy said. “Aren’t you convinced yet?”
“Scott Cooper,” Hannibal said, making the potential clients look up. “Former session musician. Eleanor Cooper. Played with a number of orchestras and chamber music groups. For the last ten years you’ve been running a small radio station in southern Arizona, which a man named Laidler is now trying to take away from you.”
“That’s right,” Scott said. “We told Mr Lee at the laundry all about it. He’s a friend of yours?”
“You could call him our booking agent,” Hannibal said and felt sure he could actually hear Face roll his eyes. “Now, I just need to be one hundred percent sure that you are who you appear to be. Play.”
The Coopers looked at each other, then Scott smiled at Hannibal. “Any requests?”
“‘Money for Nothing’!” Murdock called from his position by the door.
Hannibal waved a hand. “No, none of that modern rubbish. Can you play ‘House of the Rising Sun’?” When Amy and Face turned to look at him, he shrugged. “What? I like it.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Face said.
“I could hear him not saying anything from over here,” Murdock said.
“The Animals’ version?” Scott said. “I think we can manage that. Ellie? You ready?”
“Hang on.” She pushed her long brown hair back and tucked the violin under her chin. “Okay, you lead, I’ll follow.” Scott played a couple of chords and adjusted the volume on the amp.
“When you’re ready,” Hannibal said, folding his arms. He wasn’t expecting a concert, just something to prove they weren’t fakes. Tension knotted his stomach, because if they were fake, then about now, the moment their ringers were about to be exposed, is when Decker’s men would kick the door down and the team would have to put Plan B into effect.
The tension whooshed out of him as Scott played the familiar opening bars of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. The cavernous space and concrete walls and floor of the warehouse made the sound echo, and Hannibal saw Scott grimace, clearly unhappy with the acoustics. Eleanor’s violin joined in, the instrument taking what would have been the vocalist’s part.
He let them play for a moment, then said, “Okay, that’s fine.” Scott and Eleanor didn’t seem to hear him. “Uh, thanks,” he said, louder as they continued. “Thanks, that’s enough now…” He raised a hand. “If you could just… stop…”
They stuttered to a halt. “Sorry,” Scott said. He glanced at his wife. “That was nice, Ellie. We should work that one up.”
“I was enjoying that,” Amy said, sounding peeved.
“Buzzkill,” Hannibal heard from near the door.
“Sorry,” Hannibal said. “That was great. But we can’t hang around in one place too long. Okay, you check out. Now convince me that you need our help.”
“It’s like you said,” Scott said. “Tom Laidler is trying to buy our radio station and he doesn’t want to take no for an answer.”
“Why does he want it?” Hannibal asked. According to Amy’s research, the small AM station was just a family-run business. Its audience didn’t even extend outside of the valley in which it sat.
“His son – well, step-son – became a volunteer disk jockey for us. But we had to fire him. And apparently he’s persuaded his father to buy the station so he can fire us in revenge.”
“You had to fire him from a volunteer DJ slot on a barely profitable family-run station?” Face said.
“Ah, yeah, you can imagine how bad he’d have to be,” Scott said with a sheepish grin. “Don’t get me wrong – I love the station. But we’re not exactly turning away top DJs looking for work.”
“He swore,” Eleanor said. “He actually swore on air! I thought Dad was going to have a stroke!” She folded her arms, scowling. “We had to fire him. He was a bad example to Josh.”
Josh was their son, Hannibal recalled from the background check. ‘Dad’ was her father, and they needed to discuss him.
“Yeah, about your father… Warrant Officer Mitchell.”
“You’re worried about that? But he’s been retired from the Navy since 1960!” Eleanor protested.
“Colonel Smith,” she said, “my father does have some reservations about hiring you. But the station is his life. I mean that. He’ll be in his grave before he lets anyone take it from him. It’s not about money for him, it’s… well, it’s long story.”
Talking of money… “Face, can they pay our fee?”
“They’re good for it. Got some savings and an insurance policy to cash in if they have to. But I don’t foresee our expenses running too high on this.”
“If it helps, you can stay at our house,” Scott said. “We’ve got room. Old musician buddies of ours are always coming to stay. In fact if people ask, you could say that’s who you are.”
“Okay,” Hannibal said. “Speaking of money, I’m assuming this Laidler has plenty of it. And that he’s got local law enforcement in his pocket.”
“I’m afraid so,” Scott said. “He owns the largest farm in the valley, so he employs a lot of people, especially at harvest time. It’s hard to get anyone to go against him. People don’t want him to take over the station, but they’re afraid to stand up and say it. If he took his business away from local suppliers and stores, they’d be in trouble.”
“We need allies,” Eleanor said, “so Dad got in touch with Al Massey,”
“Mr Mitchell knew Al back in the early seventies,” Amy said, when Hannibal prompted her with a glance. “He was using his station to campaign against toxic waste the mines at the north end of the valley were dumping in the river.”
“The mine owners tried to shut him up,” Eleanor said. “But Dad… he’s not one for shutting up.”
“It sounds to me like your little station, and Mr Mitchell, both punch above their weight,” Hannibal said. “Okay, go home. We’ll meet you there in a couple of days. Face.” He put out his hand and Face placed a cigar in it. “Mr and Mrs Cooper, you’ve hired…” he stopped and changed that. “You’ve booked the A-Team.”
“What the heck was going on in there?” BA asked as they drove through the LA streets in the van. Amy had taken the Coopers back to their motel. “What was that music?”
“That was ‘House of the Rising Sun’,” Murdock said. BA growled his annoyance.
“I know that. So? Are we taking the case?”
“Yeah. They’re nice people,” Hannibal said. “You’ll like them. And a radio station, BA. All that electronics gear. You’ll be in hog heaven.”
“Who you calling a hog?”
“So what’s the name of our band?” Murdock said.
“What?” BA said. “What band?”
“Mr Cooper said that if any of the locals ask, we should say that we’re old musician friends of theirs. So we must be a band right?”
“Good point, Captain,” Hannibal said.
“It ain’t a good point,” BA said. “It’s stupid.”
“Hey, if we’re going to have a cover we need to know the details! Write this down, Face,” Murdock said, seeing Face already had his notepad out. “You obviously have to be lead singer.”
“I didn’t realise you liked my voice so much.”
“Ah, I was thinking the best looking guy in the band is usually the lead singer – even if he can’t really sing.”
“Which you can’t,” Hannibal said.
Face took a second to decide if Murdock had complimented or insulted him. One from column A and one from column B. Hannibal on the other hand had definitely insulted him.
“I’ll be bass guitar,” Hannibal said.
“I wanted to be that!” Murdock protested. “The smart girls go for the bassist.”
“Shouldn’t I be keyboards?” Face asked, writing on his notepad. Not a list of roles in their band, but rather a shopping list of items he needed to procure before they left for the job. “After all I can actually play the piano.”
“It’s all synthesisers these days,” Murdock said, shaking his head. “We’re going to be proper rock and roll. Not that electronic nonsense. You don’t want to be fiddling with buttons and knobs.”
“I’ve always enjoyed fiddling with buttons,” Face said. “And zippers and hooks and snaps and…”
“What’s Amy’s job?” Hannibal asked.
“She’s the hot backup singer. You know, the chick who nobody really knows why she’s on stage, but they don’t want her to leave.”
“I can’t wait to tell her,” Hannibal said grinning. “She’ll be thrilled to hear that she’s an imaginary backup singer.”
“I’m getting a picture of her imaginary stage costume now,” Face said. “Murdock, you need those details?”
“Maybe later. So, that leaves…”
“No,” BA said, voice sharp.
“No, I ain’t the drummer.”
“What’s wrong with being the drummer?” Murdock asked. “You’ve got drummer written all over you.”
“Are you calling me dumb?”
“Drummers are always the dumb guy in the band.”
“Uh, BA,” Face said, “the band isn’t actually, you know, real.”
“I know that. And I still ain’t being the dumb drummer of your imaginary band.”
“Who says drummers are dumb?” Murdock asked. “Remember that guy Lassiter from the mess? He was a drummer, and he could speak four languages!”
“Yeah, I remember him swearing in all four of ’em that time he bet you fifty bucks that he could eat a beer bottle.”
“Aw, c’mon, BA,” Murdock said. “You’d love being a drummer. Beating the hell outta things is your specialty.” BA only growled in reply. Murdock nodded at Face and mouthed “drummer”.
“So, do we have a recording contract?” Face asked.
“Of course we have!” Murdock said. Hannibal nodded too. Of course, Face thought, Hannibal would insist their imaginary band had a recording contract. It was a matter of pride.
“In fact,” Murdock said, “we’re currently working on our second album and we’ve come to visit our dear old friends in their remote country home to get some peace and inspiration.”
“The second album is always difficult,” Hannibal said. “How well did our first one do?”
“Not bad. Charted at number sixteen and we released two singles.”
“Right,” BA said. “If you don’t all shut the heck up with this band stuff I’m gonna pound you all flat. Face, this your stop?”
“Yeah, thanks, BA. My car’s right around the corner.” Face gathered up the guitar and violin case.
“You don’t want to come get some dinner with us?” Hannibal said.
“Sorry, gotta get the guitar back before Keith wakes up and realises it’s missing.” He slid open the side door. “See you tomorrow.”
“Keith?” Hannibal called as Face climbed out.
“Nobody you’ve met.”