21 October 1959; New England Tavern; Boston, Massachusetts
Trapper John McIntyre slowed the car as he circled the block for the second time, searching for a parking space. "This is why I moved to the suburbs. Damn Boston traffic," he muttered.
"Don't use that language, John," admonished Louise McIntyre from the passenger seat. "Look, there's a spot!"
Quickly McIntyre claimed the empty space. "Good eye, honey." Turning off the engine, he said, "Well, time to face the big guns!"
Louise smiled politely, but without real interest. She was a short woman with curly brown hair who had obviously once been very pretty. From her high school days as a cheerleader she had always been a socialite, and had dedicated the better part of her adult life to keeping up with the Jones next door, in addition to pleasing her husband and daughters. She wasn't thrilled to be here tonight as it meant missing the weekly bridge tournament at the country club, but had agreed in order to humor her husband. "It will be nice to finally meet some of your old friends from the army, John. They are bringing their wives, aren't they?"
"Yes, Louise. Otherwise I would have let you stay home and play bridge." McIntyre answered distractedly.
"Well I couldn't very well have played without you there to be my partner! You do know that missing tonight is going to make us fall down to sixth place." Sensing her husband wasn't listening she tried another tactic to claim his attention. "Now, is Dr. Winchester or Dr. Pierce the one you used to talk about all the time when you were in Korea?"
"Pierce. Winchester works at the hospital with me now, but we weren't in Korea at the same time." He cast a quick glance toward the nervous woman at his heels. "Don't worry sweetheart, they'll love you, I promise. And hey, if things work out, this'll be two new couples you can wow with your chicken kiev and lemon meringue pie."
"That's true, isn't it? I hadn't thought of that." Louise was distracted at the thought of the new social opportunities and the chance to show off her cooking prowess.
This allowed Trapper a brief moment to gather his thoughts before they stepped inside the bar. Although he acted as calm and collected as ever, he couldn't help but feel a little nervous at the thought of seeing Hawkeye again after all these years. He still felt guilty for never having written or called after leaving Korea, but it had been so easy to let himself get caught up in life back home, shutting Korea and all it entailed from his mind. A week had passed, then two weeks, then a month, then six months, and before he knew it he was reading in the papers that an armistice had been signed. And by then it was far too late to get in touch with anyone, so he hadn't. "After you, my dear." He held the door open for Louise.
"Thank you, John. Does my hair look alright?"
"You're a goddess, my dear." McIntyre was appropriately flattering, knowing just what his wife wanted to hear after almost more than fifteen years of marriage. He scanned the room, spotting Winchester sitting across the table from a nicely rounded brunette. Gritting his teeth, he headed over. "He-ey Winchester! How's it going?"
"Ah, McIntyre. Abrasive and infantile as usual I see. So glad you could make it." Charles glared at his wife, who merely suppressed a smile. "McIntyre, this is my wife, Isabelle. Isabelle, this is my colleague about whom I have told you so much, John McIntyre."
"Pleased to meet you, Isabelle." He bent to kiss her hand, turning on the charm. "And I would like the two of you to meet my wife, Louise. Louise, Chuck and Isabelle Winchester."
"That's Charles, and it is a pleasure to meet you, Louise."
"The same goes for me," Isabelle smiled warmly. "Won't you sit down? Hawkeye and Margaret should be here momentarily."
Winchester stood to switch to the other side of the table next to his wife, and the McIntyres seated themselves opposite. "That is of the Boston Winchesters, isn't it?" asked Louise.
"It is," confirmed Isabelle. "Charles has some very blue blood running through his veins."
"But you've just got plain old red like the rest of us mortals?" Trapper wasn't especially interested but asked anyway.
"I do have to admit to having a bit of blue in my own veins, but I try not to let it go to my head." She smiled, only half serious.
"Oh? What family are you from?" Louise was very curious.
Isabelle regarded the woman, a little taken aback at the question. But nothing if not diplomatic, she didn't call attention to the other's forwardness and simply replied, "My maiden name was Brighton."
Louise opened her mouth to be awed at the connections and family of the people she shared the table with, but was interrupted by Charles' sudden exclamation. "Pierce! Margaret! Here at last!"
Everyone looked up, different emotions playing across each person's visage: Charles exasperated, Isabelle polite, Louise curious, Trapper, Hawkeye and Margaret all tense. As the newcomers approached the table everyone hesitated, waiting the briefest of moments too long before speaking. Standing up, Trapper took the initiative. "Hawkeye, ol' buddy! How's it going?"
"Trapper!" Hawkeye forgot his doubts in the rush of joy at seeing his friend. The two men hugged.
"What is all this white stuff up here?" asked Trapper, playfully whacking the other man on the head. "Getting to be an old geezer, I see!"
"Hey, I wouldn't be talking considering the size of those widow's peaks! At least I've got all my hair." The men grinned, Hawkeye slapping Trapper on the back. "We're getting old, my friend."
"Speak for yourself, I'm as young as ever." Regarding his friend, he half sighed, half laughed. "It's been too long, Hawk."
"That it has."
Remembering the other four who were watching the little reunion play out, Trapper turned to his wife, introducing her, "Louise, this is my old buddy Hawkeye Pierce. Hawk, this is my wife, Louise. You remember hearing about the little woman back in Korea?"
"Of course, the one with the private detective fund! Good to meet you, Louise."
"I'm happy to finally meet you, Hawkeye." Louise batted her eyelashes at him.
"Trapper, I believe you already know my wife." Hawkeye gestured to the woman with him, carefully observing as he was well aware that this could be a touchy reunion.
Up to this point, Margaret had been standing a little to the rear, wanting to let her husband meet his friend first. Now she stepped forward. "Hello Trapper. It's been a long time."
Momentarily nonplused, Trapper gawked at Margaret, looked back at Hawkeye then switched his gaze to Margaret again. Finally recovering a little of his equanimity, he said, "Well I'll be damned. If it isn't Major Margaret Houlihan! Winchester tried to tell me, but I never guessed he was telling the truth."
"You got one out of three," replied Margaret, smiling. "It's still Margaret, but I go by Pierce now, and it's either Nurse or Mrs. since I gave up the army title years ago."
"Is that right? Gotta hand it to you, Hawk, you knocked my socks off with this one. You, my dear, are looking as lovely as ever, but Hawkeye, I think you're gonna owe me an explanation." Trapper was stunned to find that his friend's wife really was their old nemesis from their M*A*S*H days. He shook his head in disbelief. The woman was oozing with sex appeal, even now, but that was a reason to sleep with a chick, not to marry her.
Hawkeye clapped the other man on the shoulder. "What can I say? You leave the game early, you're bound to miss a few plays. C'mon, let's sit down and order those drinks we're here for."
"Now that is a brilliant idea," agreed Trapper as they settled into their seats. "Remember all that liver massacring hooch we used to brew up back at the 4077th? You keep that up after I left?"
"Keep it up?" Charles couldn't resist the urge to insert his two cents. "Why, we couldn't have pried Pierce or Hunnicutt away from that still with a ten foot pole. My digestive system is permanently scarred from drinking the swill that thing produced!"
"Hunnicutt, eh? That's the unlucky surgeon who replaced me? Not a bad guy then, I take it?"
"Yeah, that's BJ. One of the best guys you'll ever meet." Suddenly Hawkeye's doubts about being here came back, and he was very glad Margaret had insisted on bringing the Winchesters as a buffer. As they received their drinks, he noticed the three women becoming engrossed in their own conversation, and was anxious to keep Charles here and not get drawn into a one on one conversation with Trapper quite yet. "So, you wanted to hear about how Margaret and I ended up together?"
"Yeah, have to admit I was kind of wondering about that. You sure this isn't just some prank? You know, you dug up Hot Lips from wherever she's been storing her broom and convinced her to help you play a trick on your old pal? I would've said hell would freeze over before you'd have anything to do with that woman."
Hawkeye bristled, first glancing at his wife to make sure she hadn't heard the comment, and then carefully reined in his temper. He had once shattered a retired general's nose for saying less. They had been in a restaurant when the man, an ex-paramour of Margaret's from her Tokyo days, had come up to the table. Margaret had been civil but when she didn't want to talk to him, he had gotten angry and demanded to know how much Hawkeye was paying her so he could up the price. Hawkeye had decked him right then and there, not about to let anyone talk about his wife that way and only chance had gotten his punch in before Margaret's fist headed for the man's face. The only way he'd escaped being brought up on assault charges was that they had had plenty of witnesses willing to say that the general had provoked it. Being army brass, the man wasn't about to let himself be humiliated in a trial.
Now, Hawkeye reminded himself that back then he probably wouldn't have had many nice things to say about Margaret either. Lowering his voice so the others wouldn't overhear, he hissed, "Trapper, first of all, however strange it may seem to you, Margaret is my wife. Five years next April, two children, and very happy. Second, no one has called her Hot Lips in years, and I would appreciate it if you didn't either. Third, if you call her a witch again I won't be responsible for the consequences. If I don't deck you, she will."
Trapper was taken aback at the intensity in Hawkeye's eyes and realized that he had stepped over the line with his last comment. "Jeez, sorry Hawk. It was just a joke. You caught me off guard, that's all. So, why don't you tell me the story of how you and Margaret got together."
Hawkeye relaxed, and started in on the story. "That I can do, although I will need a little help from Charles. He had a bit of a hand in bringing us together. The story starts back at the 4077. Margaret softened up a lot after you left and Henry was killed..." He continued with the tale, aided by occasional wry remarks from Charles, going through becoming friends in Korea, then lovers, separating when the war ended, and their reunification in Boston through the machinations of two concerned friends. Trapper was appropriately amazed by the developments. Gradually the dialogue shifted, swinging back and forth from reminiscing over old times to catching up on everything that had happened in the past eight years.
The three women were carrying on a much simpler conversation. Margaret and Isabelle were old friends by now, and Louise was an expert on small talk. "Do you have children, Louise?" asked Isabelle.
"Oh my, yes. We have two daughters, Becky and Kathy. Becky is a junior in high school now, and Kathy is a freshman. John wanted to try for more after he came back from the war, but I put my foot down. Just between you and me, it would've been all right if it had worked out to adopt that little Korean boy, but I wasn't about to go through pregnancy again!" She settled back in her chair, taking a sip of her cocktail.
"I remember when McIntyre was going to adopt that little boy, Kim was his name." Margaret reminisced a bit. "He was a real cutie, that one." She shuddered. "If something had happened to him in that minefield, I don't think I would've been able to forgive myself."
"Forgive yourself? Why?" Isabelle hadn't heard this story before.
"Because it was my fault he wandered in there. I was supposed to be watching him, but was...distracted, and he ended up on a rock in the middle of a bunch of mines. Thank God it turned out alright."
"You must have had to go really far from the hospital to find a minefield!" observed Louise.
"No, actually not. There was one right behind the camp. We were in a war zone and as much as we all hated it, weapons and destruction were facts of life."
"My goodness! John never told me you all we're that close to the fighting. I would have worried more than I did!"
"Oh, usually it wasn't so bad. We were a couple miles from the front where the real action was, but sometimes the shelling came right to us, and then things did get interesting."
Isabelle listened with half an ear to what Margaret and Louise were saying, and half monitored the conversation the men were having. She intercepted another of the plaintive looks Charles had been shooting at her for the past hour, and decided it was time to take pity on him. Waiting for a lull in the talk, she briskly stated, "It's been lovely, but I'm afraid we really do have to be going." She stood up. "John, Louise, it was nice to meet you. You'll have to come over for dinner soon. Hawkeye, Margaret, until next time."
"I'll phone you tomorrow, Isabelle," said Margaret, and the others chorused their farewells.
Charles eagerly followed his wife's lead out of the tavern. "Thank you! I thought we would never escape that dreadful place. Did you see the horrendous décor? And having to listen to Pierce and McIntyre prattle on! I don't know about McIntyre, but Pierce acted like he was negotiating a hostage situation."
"It was barely an hour, Charles. Although I have to admit, I'm not sorry to leave. If you think McIntyre was bad, you should have tried listening to his wife! A complete airhead, and such a sycophant! So dazzled by sitting with a Winchester and a Brighton I thought she was going to offer to shine my shoes." She chuckled. "Besides, we may have served as the buffer Margaret wanted, but I never did like being the third wheel." The two headed back for their home, commiserating and laughing over the experience.