"Dad, hold still!" Em Possible scolded. She struggled with the bright purple tie covered with Snoopys wearing aqua scrubs. "It's been a while since I've had to do this."
"Not long enough," Hawkeye growled. "How great an honor is it when I have to be choked to death to receive it?"
"Hold your chin up," Em ordered. "You can't go to the banquet without a tie."
"Why not? Just because Winchester is running the show?" Hawkeye grabbed the tail of the tie and glared at it. "Are you sure this is the ugliest one they had?"
"They were hiding it under the counter to give away, that's how ugly it is," Em assured her father. "If it were any uglier, they'd have paid us to take it."
"Go back and get that one!" Hawkeye snapped. "If I've gotta suffer, everyone suffers!" There was a tap at the door. "Are you decent?" Margaret Houlihan called.
"NO! I'm putting on a tie!" Hawkeye retorted.
Margaret swept in and took the tie from Em with her usual efficient manner. "Here, let me do that. Can't you even tie your own tie?" She knotted it swiftly. "Or can't you look at it long enough for that?"
"I'd be more than happy to remove it," Hawkeye huffed. "I hate ties! Margaret, you're strangling me!"
Margaret stepped back and surveyed her handiwork. "Charles Schulz should sue the company that made that monstrosity. I hope they paid you to take it."
Em breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Aunt Margaret. Dad, get your hands off it. The tie has to stay on."
"Remind me to give it to your boyfriend, Donald, after the banquet," Hawkeye jibed at Margaret. "It should liven up his press conferences - and something should. He could wear it to tour the prisons. That would be real torture."
"Donald Rumsfeld is not my boyfriend," Margaret replied in frost-covered tones. "He's a stupid old geezer who knows even less about personnel than he does about defense."
Em sighed. "Have you been trying to get transferred to Iraq again?"
"Who would you rather have in Iraq - me or Kim?" Major General Houlihan shot back. "I should be there now! I could straighten this whole mess out! But will Rumsfeld listen to a mere woman? HAH!"
Hawkeye grinned. "I love seeing your feminist side. Margaret, why haven't you rammed your dainty little army boot up his backside?"
"Dad, don't encourage Aunt Margaret to do something rash," Em pleaded.
"Oh, don't think I haven't thought about it! Do you know what that man had the GALL to say to me?" Margaret raged. She aped the Secretary of Defense's pompous tones, "But Maggie, sweetie, you're not exactly a spring chicken, you know!"
Hawkeye cackled raucously. "He's either got all the nerve of a bad tooth or he's suicidal!"
"If I didn't respect my commander-in-chief so darn much, I'd have busted Rummy right in the chops!" Margaret fumed. "Like he didn't serve in the Ford administration!"
Em went over and towed the indignant Houlihan to a chair. "Aunt Margaret, I told you to stop taking those hormones." She took the older woman's wrist. "And if you don't stay away from men named Donald, I'll have to prescribe something to control your blood pressure. Your pulse is jumping like Kim's team of cheerleaders."
"How is Kim?" Margaret asked more calmly. "I haven't had a chance to see her yet."
On cue, there was a knock on the connecting door and Kim swept in to model her new evening dress. "So, what do you think?" She pirouetted in front of her audience.
"Very nice, honey. That green brings out your eyes," Em commented.
"Nice? You look good enough to eat!" Hawkeye seized his granddaughter around the waist and mimed gnawing on her neck while Kim giggled wildly.
Margaret smiled and stood up. "I'm glad I wasn't able to send my gift before now." She pulled a small white box out of her pocket. "Happy birthday, Kimmie."
"Thank you, Aunt Margaret." Kim opened the box and gasped when she saw the thin silver chain and the sleek pendant with the sparkly green stone. "Oh, it's beautiful!"
"I saw it the window of the jewelry store and I knew I had to get it for you, Peridot is your birthstone," Margaret said happily. "And it matches your dress."
"Here, let me put it on for you." Hawkeye reached over and plucked the necklace out of the box. He placed it around Kim's neck and fastened the clasp. "There! Gorgeous!"
"Aunt Margaret, you didn't have to do that," Emily said softly.
"Don't be silly, I wanted to," Margaret returned crisply. "Even more than I wanted to belt Rumsfeld." Em didn't feel like continuing with that subject so she let it drop.
There was another tap on the door and Trapper John McIntyre burst in, followed closely by BJ and Peg Hunnicutt. "Are we ready to go downstairs and have a drink before we face the music?" He looked over at Hawkeye and Kim and raised his eyebrows. "WOW! Who is this gorgeous young thing? That can't be little Kimmie, can it?"
Hawkeye clasped Kim to his breast and hissed, "Sir! Take your lecherous eyes off my granddaughter! Mine! All mine!"
"Certainly takes after her mother and grandmother," BJ commented. He put his arm around Em. "You and Kimball have outdone yourselves, dear."
"Thanks, Uncle Beej." Em reached up and pecked him on the cheek. "I understand you and Aunt Peg haven't done so bad either."
Peg also put an arm around Em and hugged her. "That's right. Jay and Marta's baby boy is due in just a few weeks."
"Congratulations!" Margaret said. "Is Erin excited about being a grandmother for the first time?"
"So excited that she's thrown caution to the wind and agreed to let me deliver the baby." BJ grinned. "You can help me brush up on my technique, Margaret."
"What a handsome group of people!" Father Mulcahy called from the doorway. "May Radar and I join you?"
"Come on in," Hawkeye called. "I'd like to place a takeout order for five pounds of fresh Iowa chevre."
Radar blinked. "Five pounds? Oh, oh, sure. I'll send it as soon as I get back. Gee, you liked it that much?" "Radar, you and Ednafresh are single-handedly destroying the economy of the state of Wisconsin," BJ told him, keeping a perfectly straight face.
"I - I am?" Radar mumbled.
"Worse than that, you're threatening the cheese industry out in California," Trapper put in, just as gravely. "Our new governor frowns on that sort of thing."
"Aw, oh geez, I didn't know -" Radar began, blushing hotly.
Kim broke away from Hawkeye and went to comfort her date. "They're teasing you, Uncle Radar. It's no big - they're just saying how much they like your cheese."
Radar relaxed. "Oh, yeah, yeah sure. No big." He smiled nervously at her. "You sure do look swell, Kim. All grown up and everything." Kim smiled back. "You look swell too, Uncle Radar. Did I tell you how glad I am for you to be here?"
"Uh, yeah, but that's all right, mama," Radar replied with a very credible Elvis impression.
Peg whipped out her camera and announced, "Okay, you two, I have got to get a picture of you!"
BJ's groan was completely drowned out by half a dozen shouts of "I want a copy!"
"I've got everyone's e-mail address and I can send out as many pictures as you want," Peg promised. "Father, I'll send yours to General Pershing."
"That would be very nice, Peg, but let me give you my new e-mail address," Father Mulcahy replied proudly. "I think I have it written down in my wallet."
"About time you gave up being a Luddite, Father," Hawkeye joked.
Father Mulcahy beamed. "You can thank my sister, the Sister, for that. She got so frustrated at not being able to e-mail me, she sent me a laptop for my birthday. And do you know, it's the handiest thing for typing my homilies on? I'll have to send her some cheese."
"The computer revolution has definitely caught up with us old fogies," BJ grumbled. "The kids gave Peg that digital camera last Christmas and I thought we were going to spend New Year's having it surgically removed from her hand. We have pictures of every last bloom in our garden and the grandkids come prepared to duck. The dog just hides under the bed when he sees it."
"At least I can turn on a computer without Jim and Tim's help," Hawkeye said. "I still can't program that damned VCR without one or both of them helping."
"VCR? Grandpa, you are so not up to date. Everything comes out on DVD now," Trapper told him. "The other night I watched one and I swear Humphrey Bogart had an earring."
"Could've been Harrison Ford," BJ suggested.
"No, the picture was in black and white," Trapper replied. "And the really strange thing about it, he kept putting his hand up to his mouth with nothing in it, and these curls of smoke kept popping up and hanging there. It finally dawned on me that they'd taken out Bogie's cigarettes."
BJ nodded. "UCLA Film School."
Hawkeye cackled. "You'll have to send me a copy of that one! God forbid anyone in America should have to admit to a mistake, even if it's already killed him."
Peg had posed Kim and Radar arm in arm in front of the door. She raised the camera to her face and coaxed, "Say Ednafresh!"
There was a sharp rap on the door and Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester strode in, just as Peg snapped the picture. "I thought - ARGH!" He covered his eyes. "Forgive me, I had no idea I was bursting in on a photo session."
"Talk about getting in the picture!" Hawkeye wisecracked. BJ and Trapper snickered.
"Oh, Charles, I am sorry!" Peg apologized. "I was trying to get a picture of Radar and Kim and then we were coming down."
"On the contrary, it is I who should apologize for ruining your shot," Charles returned gallantly. "It must have been delightful. I trust you have my e-mail address and I can look forward to copies."
"I'll be more than happy to exchange pictures," Peg promised. "Actually, I was hoping you could make them into a slide show like the CD you sent us for Christmas."
"Yeah, I really enjoyed the one of your cats," Radar said. "Sally did too, but I think Sassy was kinda jealous. Well, you know how cats can be."
"The one you did of all our pictures from the 4077 was brilliant," Father Mulcahy said softly. "Mildred and Soon-Lee both cried when we all watched it together."
"I sent a copy to Louise Burns - I hope you don't mind, Charles, but it did have several pictures of Frank in it and I thought she'd like to have them," Margaret said defensively.
"That's quite all right, Margaret," Charles assured her. "I should've sent one myself."
"How is Mrs. Burns?" Em asked. "That was the saddest funeral I've ever been to. There was practically no one there."
Margaret shook her head. "She's talking about moving away from Fort Wayne and starting a new life. I hope she does. The way she's being ostracized, you'd think Frank had died of - of bubonic plague." Her voice broke and she dabbed at her eyes. Trapper patted her shoulder. "Hon, for that closed-minded bunch, prostate cancer is probably the same thing. They probably think he got it fooling around."
"We should include Mrs. Burns in some of our activities," Father Mulcahy added.
"I - I tried to get her to come tonight," Margaret confessed. "She was afraid she would cramp our style. But she told me the CD I had sent was the most precious thing she had. And she wanted to thank all of us for being there at - at Frank's funeral."
Radar fumbled in his pocket and found a clean handkerchief that he passed to Margaret. "Write down the address and I'll send her some cheese." Kim gave his arm a affectionate squeeze.
"I think my plane has a stopover near Fort Wayne," Father Mulcahy murmured. "Perhaps I could call on Mrs. Burns then."
"I shall certainly see that she gets a record of our activities tonight," Charles put in. "Which reminds me, it's almost time to leave."
"Have we time to read Colonel Potter's letter?" Father Mulcahy asked. "He was so disappointed that he couldn't come and it'll be the first thing he asks about when I return."
"Well, it's nearly seven-thirty," Charles protested.
"Ahh, c'mon Charles, they can't start the show without us," Hawkeye overrode him. "Go ahead, Father."
Father Mulcahy took out a sheet of yellow legal paper and adjusted his glasses. "Dear Gang, Sure do wish I could make it to this wingding. What I wouldn't give to see all of you again. But I'm sorta stuck here at General Pershing. When you're the 'oldest living surgeon', you have to live up to your billing in case that damned jackass from the Today show pops in. Well, Mildred says hello and so do Max and Soon-Lee. They all wanted to be there as much as I did, but this is the only week Matthew could get leave. Kinda ironic, Klinger's grandson turning out to be regular army, don't you think?"
"Ironic? It's hilarious!" Margaret snapped. "He'll probably get to Iraq before I do!"
"Don't start that again, Aunt Margaret," Em warned. "Go on, Father."
Father Mulcahy read, "Don't want to get long-winded or sappy with this, but I have to tell you how damn proud I am of each and every one of you. Especially the Small Town Doctor of the Twentieth Century. Mildred, Max and Soon-Lee send their love, as I do. I'm honored to be your good friend, Sherman T. Potter."
There was a moment's silence before Peg asked, "How is Mildred doing now?"
"Better," Father Mulcahy answered. "On her best days, she knows everyone and is aware of what's going on. It was a good day when we watched the CD you sent, Charles, and she knew all of you and your families."
BJ nodded. "Then the medicine she's on is helping?"
"Actually, what's helped the most has been little Army Boots," Father Mulcahy said. "Getting that cat from the shelter was a wonderful idea, Radar. With Boots there, Mildred's a lot calmer. She hasn't wandered off again. That scared us all half to death."
"Cats are good for people," Radar said shyly. "Ranger's a great herder and I couldn't not have him, but Sally gets in my lap and purrs. And Sassy talks to me."
Charles put his hand on Radar's shoulder. "They are wonderful company. I don't know what I'd do without my Beethoven and Bach and little Mozart greeting me at the door so he can untie my shoelaces."
"I hate to break the mood, but if we get any more sentimental, I'm gonna bust out crying," Hawkeye announced.
Not to be outdone, Trapper put in, "I'm gonna end up with a cat and my allergies will hate me even more. Don't we have to be getting to the hospital? We're carpooling right?"
"Plenty of room in our van," BJ offered. "We can take six."
"Fine. The rest can ride in my Cavalier," Charles said firmly. "We really should be going or the committee will think the host and the guest of honor have decamped."
"Well, c'mon, let's roll!" Margaret called over her shoulder.