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Posted: Aug 29 2007, 04:54 AM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 12-May 06
Originally composed during the year following the initial 1975 airing of the M*A*S*H episode Abyssinia, Henry, as an ode to the one character in all fiction I thought was most like me, this story's been revised approximately decadely as I retyped it into new data formats. This version was reproduced from memory and embellished in 1998, as I had no copy of it except in data formats for which I had no access to the required reading hardware.
The next thing Henry knew he was standing in a line. The other passengers in the plane were there with him, the pilot just in front of him. They seemed to be standing in a thick, white low-lying fog, but Henry couldn't see - or for that matter feel - the ground beneath it on which they were standing. It extended all the way to the horizon under a clear blue sky. Henry craned his neck with everyone else, trying to see where the line led.
It led up to and through what could only be the Pearly Gates.
Henry poked the plane's pilot. "What happened?"
"We got shot down and died, sir." Henry had deduced that much himself already.
Just inside the Gates there was a small building to the side like a guardhouse, and into this led the line. Above the building's entrance was a sign that read OFFICE OF THE ADMITTANCE OFFICER - SAINT PETER. The outer office, when Henry had advanced that far in line, looked like a dentist's office; except that everything was done over in white. Come to think of it, it looked exactly like a dentist's office. When a seat opened up Henry paged through an issue of LIFE magazine that wouldn't be printed for two years.
Eventually when the haloed receptionist's intercom barked, "Next!", it was Henry's name she called. Henry got up, took the file she handed him from the top of her pile, and went to the inner office door, his knees wobbling.
"Come in, sit down, take a load off," came the voice from the desk. Saint Peter was a large man in a white robe with a neatly-trimmed white beard and the glow from his halo shining off his bald head. He wore spectacles, like Radar's. "Here, lemme have your file."
Henry handed the file over while taking in the office. It continued the white motif. On the wall Saint Peter faced while sitting at the desk - behind Henry's chair - was an unadorned crucifix (another had been the only decoration outside); on the opposite wall over Saint Peter's chair (a fancy leather-upholstered job like Henry often saw in hospital administrators' offices) was a copy of the Ten Commandments carved into stone tablets. Henry wondered whether it was the original manuscript.
"Buncha broken Commandments here, Henry," said Saint Peter; "minor Stealings, 1915 on - cookies from the cupboard, things like that, but a Commandment's a Commandment. Sprinkling of Sabbath-Breaking, but doctors get blanket dispensation for that one. ..." Saint Peter whistled. "You've done all right with your Adulteries."
Saint Peter started shuffling back and forth between the middle of the file and the end. "How did you die, Blake?"
"Shot down on the way home, sir."
"On the way home?" Saint Peter dropped the open file on the desk and leaned back in his chair. "That's a damn shame."
"Yeah." Henry had been feeling rather numb and incomprehensive of his situation until now, but at Saint Peter's remark he began to get angry. "Yeah! Whose idea was that? Was that planned?"
"Planned? No," said Saint Peter. Leaning forward he looked again at the the back of Henry's file. "If you'da died of natural causes it'da been on or about August 9, 2002."
"Then how the hell does something like this happen?"
"Exactly. You got your Satan out stumping for everyone to do things his way. People listen. Seems like there's always gotta be one smart guy abusing the system, don't it? The Boss don't like it, but free will is part of the contract." He was offhand about it. Later Henry would think that was a little crummy of him. Still later Henry would think again and realize that, after most of two millenia, Saint Peter must see things like this all the time.
Now, though, Henry was just angry. "Well, what can be done to fix it?"
"Nothing, now. The Boss works in mysterious ways. Prolly get you a break on your Purgatory sentence though." Saint Peter made a few notes in the file, added a six five forty-two stroke H Unscheduled Death form, and dropped it in a box marked OUT. "Well, you've got a few days before they'll get to your Purgatory trial. Wars really back'em up. They'll come and get you then. Till then your time is all yours. There's an information booth just outside if you have any questions." Saint Peter was thumbing the intercom. "Next!" He waved Henry toward a door marked EXIT, under which some graffitist had written Sarte was here.
"I wish my induction went that quickly," thought Henry, the abrupt dismissal reducing him to familiar, comfortable confusion.
There was a haloed and winged angel browsing through the Good Book at the information booth when Henry walked up to it. "What happens next?"
The angel seemed used to this direct approach. "You're on your own till your Purgatory trial. After the trial, depending on the severity of your sins, you may be given a Purgatory sentence. Alternatively you may get mandatory service as an angel - we're the workforce around here, but you get the wings and the halo and the state of grace, and a divine benefits package. You may get mandatory reincarnation. Of course, with the baby boom they've got on now, you may get drafted into reincarnation anyway."
"I got drafted once before, and look where it got me," said Henry. "Okay, what about till then - what do you do for fun around here?"
"We have an extensive print and screen library, anything ever been or ever will be published. There's live feed from the real universe to watch. Or you can actually visit your world as a spirit."
"Visit?" Spend some time with my family before spending twenty eons on hard labor for a joker in a red union suit, for checking into a few hotels without baggage? "How do I do that?"
"Cabs over there." The angel motioned to a row of clouds with haloed guys smoking cigarettes and reading newspapers leaning against them. "Here's a pamphlet on being a spirit in a material world."
"Thanks," said Henry, taking the pamphlet and heading off. The angel went back to his reading.
The driver Henry chose had been with the Pony Express. Henry learned that a corporeal body wasn't a prerequisite for motion sickness.
"Anything else I kin do fer ya?" the driver asked.
"Um," said Henry, weaving out of the cab onto the ground of the 4077th compound. He'd elected to stop here first, realizing that they'd hear of his death before Lorraine. "Can I be informed when my wife's about to get the telegram?"
"Shore thing. You'll know lickety split." The driver managed to make a cloud burn rubber.
Henry had been paging through the pamphlet during the short ride. According to it, he ought to've been able to bend forks and everything, if he concentrated hard enough. He'd decided to start simple, with walking through walls. He hadn't expected to have the principle demonstrated to him immediately on his arrival by other people walking through him, which they were doing a lot because there was triage wrapping up. But it saved him embarrassing himself by forgetting and talking to them as if they could see and hear him.
He decided to go through with the wall experiment anyway. He'd disembarked the cab right next to the hospital Quonset hut, where the O.R. was housed, about two paces away. He shut his eyes and took three paces toward it.
He could tell when he'd passed through, not because he felt it, but from the difference in the ambient sound quality. It was quieter in the O.R. than it'd been outside. Which, come to think about it, was pretty strange. Opening his eyes, Henry found the room not just unusually quiet but unusually still. Everyone was looking over at Radar, who was standing by the door to post-op without a mask on.
"... into the Sea of Japan," Radar was saying.
Hell. Goddam army. Couldn't get your mail to you inside six months, but bad news gets a rocket up its butt.
"It spun in," Radar went on - he looked and sounded like he'd been punched in the gut - "... there weren't no survivors." Then he turned and stumbled out.
Motion started up again, but none of the usual chatter. Someone dropped something, a tray or bowl that clattered. There were quiet sobs. Henry happened to be standing next to the table where Hawkeye and Trapper John were working; by the time Klinger whispered to the surgeons, "I'm going after the kid," Henry had had enough and followed him.
Radar was over by his menagerie. The casualty who'd arrived on Henry's chopper out must have been the first of a wave still going on; otherwise Frank'd have banished the animals from the post by now. Radar was feeding the turtle.
"Hey, kid," said Klinger, sitting on a nearby crate. Henry settled onto the same crate where Radar was sitting. "You gonna be okay?"
If Radar made a response it wasn't audible, even to Henry, who was right next to him and could hear better now than for years. Interesting how death seemed to improve the health.
"Look, kid," said Klinger, "we're all gonna miss him, but I'm worried about you. Hey, I bet the colonel wouldn't want to see you like this."
"Hell no," Henry murmured.
Radar spoke. "I can still hear him," he said. "Like he was sitting right next to me."
He was sitting right next to Radar.
"Radar?" Henry said experimentally.
"Yes, sir?" said Radar reflexively. Klinger looked around to see who'd walked up.
"Radar, can you hear me?"
"Oh my gosh," said Radar, beginning to catch on.
"Radar, you son of a gun, you always were tuned in on me!"
"What is it?" Klinger asked.
"I can hear Colonel Blake!"
"Sure you can," said Klinger. "We'd all like to hear Colonel Blake."
"I'm serious! It's his ghost or something and I can hear him. Aaah!" Radar jumped up from his seat. Apparently he'd scared himself with the ghost concept.
"I'm not going to hurt anyone, Radar."
Klinger, who also stood, was still skeptical. "When's the last time you saw a doctor?"
"I dunno, but I'm hearing one right now!"
"Look, Radar," said Henry, moving behind Klinger, "tell him I'll tell you how many fingers he's holding behind his back."
"Colonel Blake says to hold out your fingers behind your back and he'll tell me how many fingers you're holding out behind your back."
"You've cracked," said Klinger. "You need that Section Eight more than I do."
"Just humor me a minute before the MPs come, huh?"
"All right, all right." Klinger put one hand behind his back. "How many?"
"Three fingers," Henry reported.
"Three," Radar said.
Klinger put both hands behind his back. "Now?"
"Colonel," Klinger said, confusedly addressing the air, "is it really you?"
"I'm standing right behind him."
"He's standing right behind you."
Klinger spun around. "Where?"
"Close enough to smell his breath."
"Close enough to ... about two feet away."
"Colonel!" Klinger threw his arms wide. "It's good to see y... Good to ... What do you say to a spirit?"
"Klinger, what are you looking so happy about?" Surgery seemed to be letting out; Hawkeye called out as he and Trapper John passed by.
"It's Colonel Blake!" shouted Radar joyfully. "He's come back to us!"
Hawkeye and Trapper John stopped in their tracks. "Radar," said Trapper John, "you're taking this 'I shall return' gag too far."
"It's true!" Klinger exclaimed. "He counted my fingers."
"Henry couldn't do that when he was alive," Hawkeye said.
"Bad taste," said Trapper John.
Henry was paging through the pamphlet again. "Radar, find some candles, and -"
"- and Majors Burns and Houlihan, and maybe Father Mulcahy should be there, and some candles, and all meet in the mess tent."
"- the mess tent."
"What for?" Trapper John demanded.
"We're going to have a seance," Radar repeated.
"We're going to have a seance," Henry said.
"We'll need something that used to belong to me," said Henry, reading the pamphlet.
"We still have that toilet paper your wife sent you for your anniversary."
"No we don't," said Trapper John, "and don't ask me how I know."
"What's going on?" Father Mulcahy entered the mess tent while Radar, Hawkeye and Trapper John were putting the flaps down. Henry could tell the surgeons thought they were just humoring the corporals, but that'd be taken care of soon enough.
"He's come back, Father!" said Radar.
"The Lord's come back?" Father Mulchay asked.
"Not quite, Father," said Trapper John, "it's Henry."
"His ghost decided not to give up," said Hawkeye.
"We're trying to hold a seance, Father," Radar said. "We need something that used to belong to him."
"Oh. Ah," said Father Mulcahy. "He gave me a pair of socks when he was packing to leave. Would that do?"
"Perfect," said Henry.
"Colonel Blake says perfect," said Radar.
"I'll go get them," said Father Mulcahy.
"That's the spirit!" said Trapper John.
Father Mulcahy left for the socks unquestioningly, as Klinger entered with candles from the supply tent. "Majors Burns and Houlihan refuse to come."
"If this doesn't work," said Hawkeye, "Frank'll have us all in the looney bin."
"You mean if it does work, don't you?" said Trapper John drily.
"It's going to work," said Radar simply as they set up the candles.
"I didn't get a chance to say what we wanted them for," said Klinger. "They seemed to be occupied."
Father Mulcahy returned. "Here are the socks," he said, holding them up for all to see. "... Um, where should I put them?"
"Here on the table," Radar passed along, "and we should all sit down around them."
"Father," Trapper John asked, "have you worn them?"
"Then either Henry didn't have them washed before he gave them to you," Trapper John continued, "or not only Radar can attest to his presence here."
"Very funny, McIntyre," said Henry.
"I can attest to his presents here," said Hawkeye pointing to the socks.
"Huh?" said Radar helpfully.
"What next, Radar?" Hawkeye asked.
"What next? Oh! ...Colonel Blake says we all have to hold hands."
"I hardly know these people," Trapper John objected.
"Just take hands!"
"This is my first time," Trapper John said, giving one hand to Father Mulcahy; "please be gentle."
"Now we have to sort of concentrate on the socks."
"I'd rather contemplate a bikini," said Hawkeye, "with someone in it."
"Hopefully not Henry Blake," said Trapper John.
"Speak for yourself."
"I suspect this is going to take some quiet," said Father Mulcahy gently.
Everyone fell silent. After a moment even Trapper John seemed to be feeling something going on that couldn't be seen or properly touched.
"Can you hear me now?"
"Henry!" Hawkeye called.
"It's really you!" Trapper John was astounded.
"It's good to hear you, sir." Father Mulcahy was joyful but didn't seem surprised.
"Ditto here, Colonel," Klinger said.
"How's this working?" Radar asked.
"We're using the socks as a sort of relay," Henry explained. Each of them thought they heard paper rustling. "They're 'attuned to my vibrations', whatever that means. I guess it's like a radio."
"I don't believe this," said Trapper John.
"What is it like, Colonel?" Father Mulcahy asked. "Are you in the presence of the Lord?"
"Uh," said Henry, "no more or less than before."
"Klinger," said Hawkeye, "go get Frank and Hot Lips. Tell'em the Father asked and maybe they'll come."
"Don't break the circle," Radar cautioned. He and Father Mulcahy closed the gap between them before Klinger let go of them and, a little unsteadily, made his way out of the darkened mess tent.
"God, Henry," said Trapper John, "how the hell are you? Oops - maybe I shouldn't put it that way."
"I'm all right, I guess. For being dead. You know, I think that's the first time I've admitted that I'm dead. To myself, I mean."
"We're really going to miss you," Hawkeye said.
"Oh, come on, guys, cut it out. We went over all this last night."
"Yeah," said Trapper John, "but that was when we thought you were headed across the Pacific Ocean instead of across the River Jordan."
"Well, you'll be able to visit us like this more, too, won't you, sir?" Radar asked.
"I don't know," Henry said. "I've got this Purgatory trial coming up -"
"Purgatory trial?" said Father Mulcahy.
"- and I don't know -" Suddenly Henry's voice cut off.
"Henry, are you still there?"
"Don't break the circle!" Radar was panicking.
"I'm here," came Henry's voice, "but I just got a message. Lorraine's about to get the telegram, and I wanted to be there."
"Go!" said Hawkeye.
"What about Frank?"
"Never mind about Frank!" said Trapper John.
"Hardly anyone does," said Hawkeye.
"Go be with your family," said Father Mulcahy.
"All right. I'll be back." Then Henry was gone, and the candlelight didn't seem quite as bright.
The men withdrew their hands from each other and sat quietly until Klinger returned with Frank and Hot Lips. "All right," said Frank loudly upon entering, "what's all this hooey?"
"Frank, Margaret." Hawkeye, still subdued with the enormity of what they'd experienced, stood with the others and motioned for the majors to sit down. Frank only eyed him warily.
"What are you up to?" Hot Lips wanted to know.
Hot Lips snorted. "No jokes? Manners? An actual semblance of respect?"
"You're up to something, mister!"
"Siddown, Frank," said Trapper John. "Siddown, Hot Lips."
"That's better!" Satisfied, Frank and Hot Lips took seats.
"What we're going to tell you, you're going to have trouble believing," Hawkeye said.
"And we won't blame you," Trapper John added.
"Colonel Blake's come back to us," Radar blurted.
"What?" Frank and Hot Lips both looked confused - though Hot Lips looked as if she wanted to believe it.
"His ghost," said Trapper John.
"His spirit," said Klinger.
"His soul," said Father Mulcahy.
Frank frowned that new-ideas-are-bad frown. "Are you serious?"
"You've seen him?" Hot Lips asked.
"I can hear him when he talks," said Radar.
"We all heard him," Father Mulcahy insisted.
"We listened to his socks," said Hawkeye.
The non-sequitur was too much for Frank's attention span. "Do you expect me to believe this?"
"Yes!" said Trapper John.
"What kind of a fool do you think I am?"
"Well," Radar began.
"I've had enough of this shoegum! Come on, Major." Frank led Hot Lips out of the mess tent.
"Damn!" Hawkeye slammed his palm on the table. "Damn damn damn! Screwed it up."
"Don't punish yourself, Hawkeye," said Father Mulcahy.
"Frank would have found a way to ruin it somehow, even if we did convince him," said Trapper John. "I mean, you know him."
"What'll he do?" Radar asked.
Frank Burns wasn't having a good day. Repressed guilt over assuming command on what turned out to be Henry's death was driving him even harder to be the model MASH commander than Margaret was trying to drive him. In a week the unit would be awarded to someone else, and his issues never resolved during his stay at the MASH. "They're looney tunes! They're hearing voices!"
"All of them?" Margaret asked as they entered Henry's office. Their office. His office. "All with the same delusion, all at the same time?"
"You don't believe them, do you?"
"Of course not! But they can't all be crazy."
"Margaret, everywhere I go on this post there's insanity. That can't be coincidence!"
"Then what are we going to do? We can't ship them out, we'd have lost three out of four surgeons in the space of a day."
"We'll call headquarters for a psychiatrist," said Frank. It was a brilliant plan: since psychiatry was worthless, it could only show how worthless Pierce and McIntyre really were, and headquarters would have no choice but to allow Frank to build his own MASH from the grave up. From the ground up. "How do you work this phone?"
When Henry returned they reestablished the circle. "I never saw Scott," Henry said. "He was born while I was over here, you know. He's almost one."
"I'm real sorry, sir," said Radar.
"Henry," said Trapper John, "he'll never lack for anything Hawk and I can provide."
"Which leaves out good sense," Hawkeye observed. He told Henry what had happened with Frank and Hot Lips. "We'll never get them to sit for another demonstration. He's probably filling out our Section Eight applications right now."
"Hey, you think?" said Klinger.
"Command isn't going to believe we all overdosed on ectoplasm at once," said Trapper John, "no matter what Frank says."
"They're not going to go for the truth either," said Hawkeye.
Trapper John nodded. "We need a cover story."
"I've been thinking about that," offered Father Mulcahy. "One of us - went over the edge, shall we say -"
"Lost his marbles," said Hawkeye.
"Wigged out," Trapper John said.
"Around the bend," said Hawkeye.
"- and the others played along until we decided what to do."
"All right," said Trapper John. "Now we just need a volunteer recruit for the rubber room."
The question hung over them like a pendulum over a pit. So did the obvious answer. Klinger rose to his feet. "Sirs, I volunteer for this hazardous, self-sacrificing duty, for Colonel Blake, for truth and justice, but mostly for the trip home."
"N.G.," said Trapper John. "If Klinger did genuinely go nuts we wouldn't be able to tell."
"Thanks a lot," said Klinger, but he took the point and sat down.
Radar cleared his throat. "I'd consider it an honor to go crazy for Colonel Blake."
"Oh, Radar," said Henry.
"It has to be me," said Hawkeye. "They both said I was behaving unusually. And I came out with the boner that blew it for us." He looked around the table for reaction. No one argued. "Then it's settled: I'm the loopy one."
"We knew that," Trapper John said.
"Sorry I got you into this, Pierce," Henry said.
"Sorry, schmorry. I already had my tailor measure me for a new straight jacket," said Hawkeye.
Fortunately the psychiatrist sent by Command was Sidney Freedman. They staged a seance for him, and he took their cover story to Frank with a recommendation for a three-day pass to Tokyo for Hawkeye. S.O.P., Frank never quite figured out how he'd been out-maneuvered.
"I'm going to find you a girl to love," Hawkeye said to Radar as he packed. "I'm going to look in all the best places - or, depending on your point of view, the worst places - and if I don't return in three days, get some bloodhounds, and love them till I get back."
Hawkeye hadn't been gone for three hours before Radar let out a whoop while going through the mail and rushed to the Swamp, Henry right behind him. (As much as Henry would have liked to be with his family, it was surprisingly comforting to be with someone who heard when you spoke.)
"Trapper," Radar said, "you won't believe what this is." He held an official envelope out.
Trapper John didn't take it, occupying himself instead with mixing a "martini" at the still. "I don't believe this whole situation. One morning I'll wake up at home and it'll all have been a dream."
"You're going to wake up at home morning after morning after morning after morning after next," said Radar.
Trapper John stared at him a moment, then set his drink down and tore the letter and envelope away from Radar. "Radar, do you know what this says?"
"I just told you!"
"I'm going home!" Trapper John kissed his orders, then kissed Radar.
"Oh, ick!" Radar wiped his mouth with his dirty sleeve. "Don't do that!"
"Congratulations, McIntyre," said Henry.
"Colonel Blake says congratulations McIntyre," said Radar.
"This calls for a drink," said Trapper John. "Hey, we gotta tell Hawkeye."
"He just left for Tokyo!"
"We'll call around. I'll tell you which bathhouses."
"Why are you making three drinks?"
"One for me, one for you, one for Henry."
"That's dumb, McIntyre," said Henry.
"But he can't drink," objected Radar, "and I don't."
Trapper John shrugged. "So I'll have yours."
Over the next twelve hours Radar called all the Swamp men's regular Tokyo hangouts, to no success. Henry, on the other hand, inquiring spirtedly around, didn't find Hawkeye either. Trapper John was no help, for after he emptied the still he broke into Henry's liquor cache which he and Hawkeye had squirrelled away before Frank could confiscate it. Once again Henry was in awe of his stamina.
But just as Radar was about to go to bed an angel showed up in his office. "Blake?" it asked Henry.
"Yes, what, sir?" Radar asked.
"There's someone here for me. ... Radar, it's my Purgatory trial."
"You have to go?"
"Yeah. Right now. I don't know when I'll be back. I don't know if I'll be back."
"Yes sir." Radar was inaudible. Henry hated making this goodbye again too.
The angel brought Henry to an open-air courtroom in the clouds. "Why's it look funny?" Henry asked.
"Funny how?" the angel asked.
Henry found it hard to describe. "It looks like a radio signal sounds when you're losing it. Staticky," he finally said.
"Oh! What you think you're seeing isn't real," the angel explained, "it's only how your mind interprets what's happening to you into familiar concepts. Not everyone here was raised in the same religion or afterlife belief as you, and that 'staticky' feeling is everyone else's expectations interfering with yours. Your radio signal analogy's actually pretty good." This revelation distracted Henry enough to keep his nervousness at bay while waiting for the Judge to show up.
Everyone craned their necks to see Him when He entered. Henry was hard pressed to say how He had "entered" an open-air courtroom, but He had. Henry also would have had difficulty describing Him; not old, not young, with an incredible strength and charm. Like Clark Gable, maybe, in a white beard and robe.
With no ceremony He pounded a gavel at His judge's bench. "This court is now in session. First case: Creation vs. Kim Luk."
There were many soldiers from both sides of the line, but there were civilians too: a Sunday school teacher sentenced to ten decades in Purgatory, a thief to two, a pygmy let off scot-free, an Indian woman granted reincarnation as a sacred cow.
"Creation vs. Henry Blake," He finally called.
Henry stumbled forward. That wondrous deep voice symbolically pitting the universe against him on account of his human frailties was the most intimidating experience of Henry's entire intimidating combination life and afterlife. And Henry had been intimidated by experts.
Up close, however, it was obvious that there wasn't the slightest possibility of maliciousness, for He radiated goodness - though in such an awe-inspiring manner that Henry was just as tongue-tied anyway.
"Lots of Adulteries here, Henry," He said.
"Yes, Lord," said Henry.
"Bad luck, this Unscheduled Death. You should've made it past the next sexual revolution. We'll be Judging on a curve then."
"I think a light sentence is called for. Five decades mandatory service as an angel. I've assigned you to be a Good Deed Angel - you'll work in the field, meet people, grant wishes and so forth."
"Yes, Lord," said Henry.
"Very well." He pounded his gavel. "Next ..."
Trapper John had a ten-minute layover at the base in Hawaii and spent it in the o-club. When he ordered his second drink within sixty seconds of his first, the crusty-looking colonel two seats down said, "You're putting those away pretty fast, soldier."
Trapper John felt an unexpected jolt of culture shock. "Maybe I am. I sort of don't know any better."
"Yeah, really." Who was this guy to judge him? "I'm on my way home after more than a year on the front lines. And I'm not a soldier, either, I'm a doctor."
"I've been on the front lines, as a doctor and a soldier. A non-com," added the colonel with pride. "And I'll be there again when I get my new command."
"Well, do yourself and your unit a favor," Trapper John said, trying to sound less defensive than persuasive, "remember when you get there what it's like being the little guy." He left money for his untouched drink and ran for his plane.
When Sherman Potter got up from the bar, he found he'd drunk the other doctor's drink.
Walter O'Reilly, gentleman farmer of Ottumwa, Iowa, awoke with his nose in his accounting books to a voice he hadn't heard in eight years.
"Radar! Radar, it's me, Henry Blake!"
"Colonel?" Radar scrabbled to get his glasses on; not that there was anything to see. "Colonel Blake, is that really you?"
"Ssh! You'll wake your wife."
"Yeah - I'll go in the living room."
Radar had come home from Korea on a hardship discharge to run his mother's farm when her brother died. Farming tends to be profitable only in wartime, though, and when the farm and a marriage failed on him Radar had spent a few years working as a cop in Saint Louis, saving up and studying both agriculture and economics. Now he had the farm back, and was running both it and a second marriage successfully. He had become the kind of class secretary for the 4077th staff.
Hawkeye had returned to Maine and never again willingly left. Trapper John's failing marriage had broken up when he took a job at a hospital in San Francisco. His replacement at the 4077th, B.J. Hunnicutt, had a thriving private practice also in the Bay area. Sherman Potter had reacted to his retirement at the end of the war by signing up at the VA hospital in his hometown Hannibal, Missouri, and Klinger - who'd taken a Korean bride before the war was over, and was now a father of three - and Father Mulcahy had joined him there. Hot Lips - rarely known by that epithet any more - had suffered a bad marriage during the war; she was still single and was chief nurse at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. Frank had suffered a breakdown when Hot Lips got married, and was sent home from the MASH to finish his tour of duty at a local VA hospital. His replacement, Charles Emerson Winchester, after the war had acheived his dream of becoming chief of surgery at Boston General, where to his fellow MASH alumnae's surprise he remained instead of going into more lucrative private practice (not that he - or more specifically his family - needed the money). There had been a few reunions - one, organized by B.J., for their families before the war'd even ended - and usually everyone but Frank showed; even Lorraine, and Henry's children, for whom Hawkeye and Trapper John had set up trust funds for college.
Even all these years later Radar couldn't shake the name-and-rank habit. "Major Houlihan knew there was something going on and eventually we told her and Captain Huinnicutt and Colonel Potter and they believed us cuz Father Mulcahy and Dr. Freedman backed us up. We all hoped we'd hear from you again."
"I got sentenced into angelhood. I grant wishes to people who do good deeds."
"Is that why you're here now?"
"No. If it had been, you could see me. No, I'm here now because I've been drafted into reincarnation, and I asked for an hour first."
Radar looked at the clock. It was nearly one a.m.; they'd already been talking almost an hour. "So who are you going to be? Someone who lives here?"
"No. Looks like I'll live in Detroit most of the sixties, Omaha most of the seventies, Chicago most of the eighties, and Louisville most of the nineties."
"Omaha's only a few hundred miles from here. Chicago too!" Farm people think in different distances than city people.
"Yeah. I'll look for you."
"Well ... it's time for me to go."
"Have a good life, sir."
"Thanks. You too. And Radar?"
"Thanks for listening."
"You're welcome, sir."
Radar sighed, wiped his glasses and his face, and went to sleep.
HOW TO STOP PEOPLE FROM BUGGING YOU ABOUT GETTING MARRIED
Old aunts used to come up to me at weddings, poking me in the ribs and cackling, telling me, "You're next." They stopped after I started doing the same thing to them at funerals