Crabapple Cove Ch. 04byNigel Debonnaire©
It was an unusually hot day for Mill Valley; the temperature was well over 90 and looked to stay that way for several days. Maggie McIntyre was sitting on the back porch in a wicker chair wearing a pair of cutoffs and a white halter top, her bare feet propped on the railing, sipping a martini. B. J. Hunnicutt sat by the door in his wheelchair, sipping a martini, wearing only a pair of bermuda shorts and a straw hat, his skin bronzed in contrast to his bright, white mustache. "I must say, Maggie," he said out of the blue, "you surely have your grandmother's legs."
"Thanks, Uncle B. J," she said, giving him a warm smile. "You say the nicest things."
". . .and she's probably wondering when she'll get them back."
Maggie had a thought to throw her drink at him, and reconsidered quickly with an elegant bluff. "I should have known. Maybe someday I'll learn to wait before I say something stupid like that around you. And how often did you get to see my grandmother's legs?"
"Many times in Korea, especially when it was hot. She had the best legs in camp, according to the enlisted men, but they'd never say it to her face because they were sacred of her."
She nodded and looked out at the view. "I can believe that. And what about the officers?"
B. J. took a thoughtful sip of his martini. "I'd say they agreed with the enlisted men. Even Colonel Potter made a comment about it during happy hour one night when she was away on leave."
"And what about you?"
He looked from one side to the other solemnly, then took a peek through the window. "I'd say I'd agree with Colonel Potter."
She smirked and took another sip from her drink. "And I would say, Uncle B. J., you make the best martinis, even better than Hawkeye."
"A dry martini is the greatest drink ever made, best thing on a hot summer's day. A drink dying of thirst."
"What's your recipe?"
A conspiratorial grin filled his face as he took another sip. "I'll never tell."
Fidgeting, she wiped some sweat off her brow and looked around. B. J. Hunnicutt lived in the same house he built just after he returned from Korea. The neighborhood grew around him, and redeveloped as more affluent gentry moved in, but the spacious, well built wooden house remained as a testament to the respect Dr. B. J. Hunnicutt had with his neighbors.
She held out her empty glass. "I need some more to drink, please. Pour me another."
He shuddered out of his reverie and refilled her glass, then topped off his own. "Peg's been gone for six years. Doesn't seem like yesterday we were walking down the aisle, saying goodbye at the airport when I was drafted, breaking ground here. . ."
"How's your family doing?" she cut in, hoping to sidetrack him from sad memories. "Seven girls are a lot to keep up with."
"They're all fine. Erin's a grandmother again, a boy this time. Sooner or later I'll have enough male descendants to make a quorum. Don't see them often, none of them live around here since Betsy moved away a couple of years ago. Erin's youngest girl Casey's going to school at USF and comes out on the weekends."
"Aren't you worried living here by yourself, especially since. . ."
"My cancer's in remission, and I can get around all right, even in this thing. Home Health Care sends someone out every morning to check on me, and my neighbors take turns bringing supper by. Got a cell phone right here with help #1 on the speed dial, and a life alert necklace. Don't need to be in a nursing home yet." The last lines were delivered in an irritated tone.
Maggie held her hands up and a puzzled look appeared on her face. "I wasn't saying anything like that, Uncle B. J. No need to get upset. Sheesh, it's none of my business how you're set up here, just wanted to know. Just curious, the Major will want to know in detail. Good grief."
B. J. shook her head. "Sorry, Maggie. People ask me if I want to move to assisted living from time to time, and I get impatient with them. Comes with getting older. Bet Hawkeye would have had none of that."
"Of course not, nor would the Major. He was lucky to have gone as quickly as he did." They sat and looked as a plane passed overhead and another breeze played with the tree branches nearby. "Who did the Major's medical checkups in Korea? I know it would have been Frank Burns at first, but after she broke up with him I can't figure out who would have. Unless she had them done in Tokyo. "
"Why do you ask?"
"Just morbid curiosity."
B. J. thought for a moment, a small smile on his face. "I did her examinations. Hawkeye was always got a little too excited, and Potter was usually too busy. After she broke up with Burns, I was it; I did her exam just before she married the Lieutenant Colonel."
Maggie sat up in her chair, putting her feet on the deck. "Lieutenant Colonel? Wait a minute, I thought she was only married once in Korea. Lieutenant Colonel who?"
"Penobscot. Come to think of it, I helped Hawkeye put him into the body cast when we all got drunk at the bachelor party. . ."
"Hold on, I need to work this out," she said, putting her drink on the rail. "The Major told me Donald Penobscot was a Major and Grandpa Trapper helped Hawkeye put him in the body cast."
"Really?" he replied, a sad look coming over his face. "I assure you, Penobscot was a Lieutenant Colonel, and that really made Frank Burns livid with envy. Trapper was gone by the time she met Penobscot. You can look it up in the service records if you want to, I'm sure you could find the Major's without too much trouble."
Maggie took a few moments to ponder, her eyebrows scrunched together. "Oh. I see. Yeah, I'll double check that. . ."
There was an awkward pause before he continued: "How's the Major doing these days?"
"Pretty well, I guess." She sighed. "Well, she has these moments, since Hawkeye died. Confuses people she's known forever, gets the kid's names mixed up. Calls me by my mother's name."
"Oh. Has she had a checkup lately?" Maggie shook her head no. "Well, that's always an awkward topic to bring up. It was like that for Peg's dad in Oklahoma: if they'd confronted him about his mental deterioration sooner, he might not have had that accident. Keep an eye on her, Maggie. These old folks can be good at hiding their true state."
"Yes, I'm sure." There was another awkward pause, and she sipped her drink again. "So tell me about the pranks you used to pull."
"How could you ever think I'd pull a prank on anyone?" A devious grin spread across his face and his eyes twinkled. "Don't I look like a trustworthy guy?"
"Hawkeye told me too much. There was one prank he wouldn't talk about: the last one. Do you remember?"
"Oh yes, I sure do. Wasn't that long ago, back in 1990, the last time they traveled cross country. You were staying with your friend Justine in Martha's Vinyard and they were in South Dakota. . ."
There were lots of people bustling around the Wall Drug store in South Dakota on a late July morning in 1990. Hawkeye and Margaret Pierce sat in the dining room eating their lunch as the hubbub played around them. "I don't get what you see in this place," she complained.
"It's Americana, Margaret. Look at all this, only in this country could all this panorama of Western Civilization be here as a pilgrimage place for all to experience."
"It's a dump, full of useless stuff, paying tribute to place where people came to hide from civilization."
"Wait until you see the stuffed bear."
Margaret shook her head. "You're still just a kid at heart. We should have brought Maggie and Justine with us."
"It would have been fun, but not as much fun as we've had without them." He waggled his eyebrows flirtatiously. "The only time we've had to behave is when we stayed with Radar and Patty. Although they've had a lot of fun over the years; who'd of thought shy, meek little Radar would father nine children?"
She hit her husband on the arm hard enough to make him wince. "You're incorrigible. I was glad they found each other after the war and settled down together. It was a romantic story of them meeting in the Tokyo airport when he was on his way back to the 4077 and she was on her way back to Lancaster, Missouri. Love stories don't happen like that often enough."
Hawkeye smiled as he rubbed his arm. "Yeah, just like our little love story. Hey, I think there's going to be a welt"
"Oh, how I love you." A small boy zoomed by, with an older brother and parents in hot pursuit. "Radar was disappointed we didn't bring Maggie and Justine, but he understood; it was good to see him, his farm and family. The long trip to Iowa would have bored the girls to tears." They took a few more bites of their meal and people watched. "The girls would have found Music Man museum in Mason City fun, but it was nice to dance the night away at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake and not worry about the time. Why the hell we had to drive to those two little towns of Manly and Fertile late at night I'll never know."
Haweye smiled: "It seemed like the thing to do. Why would anybody put two little towns like that in northern Iowa? Good thing they're separated by about fifteen miles."
"Yeah, they might have grown more together. At least we could have seen them in the daylight." They chuckled and ate a little more. Margaret looked wistfully at the children and continued. "It'll be good to see Mount Rushmore again, I haven't been there since I was in high school."
"I'm sure Maggie's having a great time with the Winchesters; she always does. She hardly said goodbye when she trooped out the door with Justine, and she's hardly said hello every time we've called her."
Margaret laughed. "All right, we'll continue this little adventure without her. What'cha got in mind for tonight, big boy?"
"A night under the stars in the beautiful Black Hills. We've got a campground all to ourselves, as well as a tent and sleeping bags."
"What about bears?"
"I'll chase them off. I'm not sharing you."
They found their campground south of Rapid City in the early afternoon, and hiked around after setting their tent up. A nice fire under the stars worked a special magic, and when the embers died, they shared a sleeping bag.
The early dawn was broken by the sound of a helicopter. As it approached the site, a loudspeaker boomed out: "Rise and whine, 4077. Choppers on both upper and lower pads, plenty for everybody. Up and at 'em."
As the chopper set down, Hawkeye bounded naked from the tent, his penis at full staff and bouncing wildly as he ran forward. Margaret followed at his heels, pulling a flimsy floral robe around her to hide her bare form. They looked around confused as the chopper discharged one figure before leaping back into the heavens, adeptly dodging the spiny hills as it rose out of sight.
"Hawkeye, Margaret. How good to see you again, and so much of you!" B. J. Hunnicutt chortled as he sprinted up to the campsite.
Margaret fumbled the robe around her and Hawkeye's face turned red as his erection quickly faded. "You son of a bitch!" he shouted. "You son of a bitch! How the hell did you find us up here?"
"Would you believe I'm psychic?"
"No," Margaret said sullenly. "Someone must have snitched."
"Yes, you've been keeping your wereabouts pretty well known in certain places. I've been keeping up with Charles, and it just so happened I was able to come ahead and join you."
"You wish," Margaret said.
"So to speak." He chortled, a broad grin on his face. "Aren't you getting cold, Hawk?"
He looked down and remembered his nudity. "I'll be back," he snarled as he dove back into the tent.
"So does Peg know you're out invading people's privacy?" Margaret said with a blank look on her face.
"She's over in Custer, probably still asleep. It took everything I could muster to get here and hire that helicopter yesterday to fly in here at daybreak."
"And how did you know we'd be here?"
"A few phone calls, a few contacts. An old buddy of mine runs a campground over by Deadwood, so it was pretty easy to find you here. I knew you'd be in this area, and you couldn't resist stopping at Mount Rushmore, so it wasn't too hard."
Hawkeye emerged from the tent wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. "I give it to you, B. J., this is bigger than anything you pulled in Korea. Better than the prank that never came."
B. J. scratched his chin. "I don't know, I rather think that was my finest moment, although I didn't see as much of you that night in the Mess tent." Margaret turned sharply and went back into her tent. "Let me make it up to you. We'll have breakfast in Custer, and I'll give you a helicopter ride around the area, including a view of Mount Rushmore you won't see from the park."
"You think you can talk that pilot into two trips? He'll take us up again after you talked him into this dangerous stunt this morning?"
"I've always been persuasive."
"We had a great time in South Dakota," B. J. continued. "Peg always enjoyed being around Hawkeye and Margaret, and after they got over their anger at my coitus interruptus, things went well. Hawk even won a poker tournament in Deadwood, which I'm sure he never forgot. When they got to the coast, we had a glorious two weeks together."
"He bragged about that tournament all the way up to the end. That stupid little trophy's still sitting on the mantlepiece in Maine. He was still talking about it the last time I saw him. Before the end."
Maggie finished her drink and sat back in her chair, thoughtful. Her phone made a noise, and she picked it up to look at the screen. "Penny for your thoughts," B. J. asked.
"Text from the Major. Wondered how we're doing. I told her I was coming over here this afternoon."
"Tell her we're doing fine."
She chuckled and typed a few characters. "I told her we're laying low and having a drink. Benny's out fishing with his uncle Alvin this afternoon. Must run in the family, he never wanted to fish before he came to Maine."
"I guess some things run deep in a family. All my kids are in the medical profession, and most of my grandchildren. They also play tricks on each other, and I have to keep my eyes open when they come to visit."
"Oh? And what have they done to you?"
"Oh, nothing as dramatic as the night Hawk put me in a cot in the Nurses' tent, stapled the sheets to the frame, and had the announcer call an emergency the next morning."
"Oh that's pretty good, I never heard that one before. So you weren't always the perpetrator?"
"What can I say? I had Hawkeye and Charles at each other's throats before they figured it out. Boy, they got back at me."
Maggie quaked and jiggled as she giggled, and B. J. smiled to himself. "I need to hear some more of these stories," Maggie said after her spasm of glee passed. "Hawkeye told me bits and pieces and the Major said less. I imagine if someone put my groom in a body cast on my wedding day, I'd be a bit reluctant to say much about it." An airplane buzzed overhead, and a bird stirred nearby. "I remember spending a summer in Iowa, either '94 or '95, Justine and I. We had a great time with the O'Reilly clan; it was like we were part of the huge family for two months. Can't believe Radar was ever shy, he still treated Patty like a high school girlfriend. Their kids just rolled their eyes at the public displays of affection and ignored it."
B. J. chuckled, and said: "Did he ever say what you were going to say just before you said it?"
B. J. looked down at the floor for a few long moments, and Maggie stood up to put a hand on his shoulder. "What are you thinking, Uncle B. J.?"
He looked down. "I'm thinking we need to make another pitcher of Martinis."
She stood up and collected the pitcher. "Agreed. I'll take care of it."
"Can I trust you? I haven't met anyone other than Hawkeye who knew how to mix a martini in my league."
Maggie put her hands to her side, like she was reciting in a classroom: "I'd like a dry martini, Mr. Quoc, a very dry martini. A very dry, arid, barren, desiccated, veritable dustbowl of a martini. I want a martini that could be declared a disaster area. Mix me just such a martini."
He smiled. "Good. You're close."
"I'm pursuing my lifelong quest for the perfect, the absolutely driest martini to be found in this or any other world. And I think I may have hit upon the perfect formula. You pour six jiggers of gin, and you drink it while staring at a picture of Lorenzo Schwartz, the inventor of vermouth."
He laughed and nodded. "All right, you pass the Martini Catechism. Hawkeye trained you well. Of course you may make us a pitcher of martinis. Glad to see the tradition's being carried on."