Bob and Emily tried to digest what they had seen and heard along with a garlic shrimp dinner. Emily thought she might have a mental bicarb, but it would prove to be carbolic acid instead. Bob just hated that.
"Okay--you saw this Walter O'Reilly have a duel with our meek little Mister Petersen. Bob--what does that tell you?"
Bob tried, and Bob failed.
"Tha-That there's a hidden world behind ours that invalidates about 40% of what we know about life, the universe...and pretty well just about everything?"
Emily shook her head in an Emily-way. Being Emily, she could do no less.
"Bob, what has Sidney always said about the MASH 4077th? The pastime they engaged in when the sex became stale, and the booze became flat?"
Emily raised both open palms. That meant the dismissal was getting serious.
"Nooo! Bob, these vets--are inveterate practical jokers. Add to that, so are some of our friends--the ones we've been trying to get away from? You just pushed Eliot Carlin's buttons, too. Maybe that ----long-term patient-----"
Bob gave a thumbs-up to this euphemism.
"---thanks. Maybe Carlin hired an actor to play Mister Petersen, and then the 4077th bunch threw in. Maybe even with Sidney's blessing. The rest--was all smoke and mirrors."
Bob sat down, fragile reality temporarily back on the high shelf.
"Emily, I want to laugh. But I can't. I told Sidney when I took this job how upset I was. For him to throw in with the people that are making me--making us--crazy. I-I can't--let this-let this go."
He got up, and Emily seemed concerned.
"Where are you going?"
"To speak to O'Reilly. Sidney told me that he was uneasy about practical jokes unless someone had it coming. Well, I didn't. And if I see Sherman Potter, I'll tell him to take his space vampires and bite down hard!"
As he left, Emily's face revealed that she too was upset by this. It was all very unlike Sidney Freedman. Dressing for tennis, Emily sought to work off some tension. On the court, she found Max and Soon-Lee, The Klingers, about to begin a match.
"Ok, pretty-lady. Your winning streak ends here. It ends now."
Emily was impressed by how well the Klingers had kept themselves, over the years. Max had to be in his early 50's, Soon-Lee in her early 40's. Neither remotely looked it. Certain cultures just had that way, she reasoned. She would reason wrong.
"Not so, husband. I am going to send your lovely butt all the way back to Ouijongbou. Give my family your best, please?"
Max was a 2nd Generation immigrant. Soon-Lee was an immigrant. Emily strained to hear a trace of accent on either. That is, until they each missed shots.
(You piece of...)
Max had cursed in flawless Korean. Soon-Lee in perfect Lebanese. Emily knew them slightly from the greengrocer's circuit. Again, no trace of accent. Max looked over at her.
"This lady is Sidney's pal. No one else is here, honey."
Soon-Lee twirled her racket like a sword. She smiled.
"Then lets take this downtown."
Emily's heart nearly gave out as the two began moving at speeds she'd never witnessed outside of films about cheetahs. The ball was all a yellow line, with neither combatant allowing it to leave the court. Then, they made a mistake. The ball began to bounce between their upright rackets, looking like one of those Pong games when the kids would lock the screen up by positioning their electronic paddles just so. But if the Klingers seemed heedless of the laws of physics, the ball was very mindful. It finally split apart. The pieces made a beeline for Emily. At that speed, they would hit like shrapnel.
As the Klingers stood dumbstruck, a blur that made their speed seem puny scooped up almost every piece before they hit Emily. But Margaret Houlihan howled one word as the last piece struck Emily's shoulder. Emily felt a world of pain and passed out as she heard that word.
As his wife's wound was attended to in a variety of ways, Bob Hartley wrongly sought to avenge his wounded pride.
"Mist-Mister O'Reilly! Can I speak with you?"
Walter looked at the door behind him. Erin would magick herself out before anyone from BJ to Winchester saw her.
"Uh, sure thing, Doc. What can I do for ya?"
Bob put his hands at his side.
"I'm just going to say it out, Mister O'Reilly. I-I don't approve of what you and Mister Petersen did."
Walter winced a bit.
"Ya--ya seen that?"
Even though Sidney had, to Walter's mind, told his friend everything, it was still disturbing to an Immortal to have a mortal witness to a duel.
"Yeah, yeah--I 'seen' that. How could you two do something like that? How?!"
Parallel conversations never meet, some say.
"Well, Doc, its who we are. Its what we do. I don't always like it much myself, but I got no choice. This is the way things are. Its parta the Game."
Bob frowned, and shook his head.
"A game? Is that all it is to you? Tell me, how did you get my patient to join your little game?"
"Oh, no! Petersen, he was parta the Game long before I ever showed my face."
Bob dismissed this.
"You two are about the same age."
"Huh! Don't I wish I was in my third millenium! Maybe all this stuff would just wash off my back, then. Like I say, it don't sit well with me, and sometimes, I can't talk ta Sidney about it, cause he's too much into it."
Bob felt that perhaps he had it slightly wrong. In fact, he had it enormously wrong.
"Mister O'Reilly--Walter--it doesn't matter if Sidney and all your other friends are into it. You can walk away. If you don't like it, then, then don't do it."
"That sounds good on paper, Doc. But if I tried and walked away, they'd just come after me. And its only me and Sidney that are in the Game. The others, it may look like they might be, but they ain't."
Bob tried one last time.
"Walter, this cycle of practical jokes has got to come to an end--for-forever. And this one we're in right now I don't want any part of!"
Radar stared at Bob, at first uncomprehending. Then, he did what he was always very reluctant to do.
"Oh, Geez! Doctor Hartley--you and me, we gotta talk."
And talk they did. And when this talk was all done, a shaken Bob was taken to his recuperating wife.
"Emily--Walter's skin heals like wildfire. They---your shoulder?"
She touched it.
"I saw people moving like comets, Bob. I saw a tennis ball explode. I saw the fragment taken out of my shoulder. I saw my wound stitched up the way an expensive sewing machine does. I saw a woman chant an incantation to speed its healing. Bob?"
He sat down.
"Let's say it together."
They held hands.
"Its all of it for real."
Then came the knock on the door. A knob was turned, without the person outside being told to. It wouldn't have mattered, though, if she had been told explicitly not to.
"Doctor Harmon! I brought that science fiction book of yours! I almost threw it out."
Bob took the 'science fiction' book and found that it was indeed the missing file from Sidney Freedman. Emily winced. This one document could have spared them acres of grief and misunderstanding. She looked at the older woman.
"What the hell kind of lousy secretary are you? My husband needed this file."
The lousy secretary took on a hurt look.
"Well, when I was young and cute, everyone wanted to hire me just for that. Now, I may not have the skills of some...."
Emily pushed right past the flowing tears.
"No you don't! That garbage may work on men, Missy. But not on me. By your logic, that means that women who didn't have terrific looks when you were young got hired less. Nowadays, though, people want them for their competence and skill. So the scales have to balance, and if they don't balance your way, too bad!"
The woman now looked indignant.
"Doctor Harmon! Are you going to let her talk to me this way?"
Bob nodded, now lightly smiling.
"Well! We'll see what Doctor Robinson has to say about that!"
She stalked off. Bob shook his head.
"His name, she gets right."
In the doorway, in a sea of white coats, were all the Doctors from Bob's building. His friends, in theory. Jerry spoke.
"Y'know, Bob, you are a difficult man to track down? Now, I talked to Carlin. As your friends, we're here to help you two put a final end to this nonsense about leaving Chicago. So c'mon, lets talk it all over."
Bob looked at his wife, and there found a word they had both needed to say to these people for a very long time.
"Waddya mean, No?"
Bob got up. Emily, still healing, sat on the bed but no longer lay down in it.
"I mean, No, Jerry."
"No, you don't mean no. We'll talk. C'mon. You played this childish game of not telling us where you were, and you lost."
"You're right, Jerry. It was childish."
"There you go, now....."
"It was childish because my wife and I shouldn't have to hide our movements to get a moment's peace."
"Bob, you have to...."
Hartley had had above enough.
"No, I don't have to do anything I don't want to. Look, I won't say there haven't been good times. But you make plans without me, then blame me when they fall through. You borrow money, offer or seek life advice, and somehow, I wind up on the low end. Leave. Now."
One of the others shook his head in a dismissive way.
"Okay, Hartley. This has just officially become an intervention."
The snide plastic surgeon was about to be rebuffed by the Hartleys when another voice came through.
"Um, Doctor Hartley is our guest. Since he apparently doesn't want you here--why don't you try not being here?"
Behind Hawkeye Pierce was the blessed weird bunch from the 4077th MASH. Bob correctly saw a rumble approaching.
In Chapter 5 - Confrontation Therapy!