"Mornin', Father. Enjoying the weather?"
Father Mulcahy glanced up from his garden to see Radar O'Reilly, the company clerk.
"Hello, Radar," Mulcahy said rising. "Indeed I am. We had so much rain that I was beginning to worry about having to build an ark." Both Radar and Mulcahy chuckled at the priest's joke. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Not for me, Father. It's Col. Potter. He wants to see you."
"Oh, dear!" Mulcahy exclaimed, jumping up and dusting himself off. "When?"
"Whenever I found you, which would be, uh, now."
"Ah," replied the chaplain. He noticed that Radar seemed to be a little distant now and Mulcahy had a hunch he knew why.
"It still bothers you, Radar, doesn't it?" The 'it' to which Mulcahy referred was the death of Colonel Blake, the unit's first CO who had been killed a few months back. Blake had been like a father to Radar.
"I don't think that it'll ever go away."
"It's not supposed to, Radar," Mulcahy explained placing a comforting hand on the grieved clerk's shoulder. "But it will lessen over time; rest assured."
"Thank you, Father."
"You're welcome, son."
Radar went off to track down some missing forms. Mulcahy paused just long enough to toss his gloves into his tent and rub the dirt off his face before heading to Colonel Potter's office, where the priest's knock was met with a gruff, "Come in!"
"Radar said that you wanted to see me, Colonel."
"Oh, Padré. Forgive the tone; too much paperwork. Still, I shoulda known that it was you. You're the only one who would knock on my office door." Mulcahy blushed slightly at this remark. Potter had repeatedly told the officers that they needn't knock on his office door unless they knew him to be busy. Father Mulcahy was the only one who still knocked on the office door. Once he had caught Colonel Blake and one of the nurses in the middle of a rather intimate moment inside of that office. Ever since that escapade, he had knocked on the door before entering. While there was no danger of such an encore with Colonel Potter, the habit had seemed to stick.
"Sorry, Colonel Potter. Old habits die hard."
"That's understandable, Padré. Once Mildred went out to milk a dead cow out of force of habit. Mighty powerful stuff, if you ask me."
"Well, I'm sure you're wonderin' why I wanted to see you, so I'll give it to you straight. The chaplain down at the Eighty Double Nickle is sick. There's mostly Catholics down that way, and they were looking forward to a Mass come Sunday. The CO was wonderin' if you'd mind obligin' them."
"Of course not, Colonel. I must admit that it will be pleasant to be saying Mass again. What time were they hoping for?"
"Didn't say. What's best for you?"
"If I left right after services here, I could probably be there by one o'clock."
"Okey-dokey. I'll tell them you'll be there for thirteen hundred hours."
"Yes, sir." That taken care of, Potter returned to his paperwork and Mulcahy returned to his tent. There he encountered Hawkeye Pierce.
"Hi, Father. Do you have some spare time?"
"Of course, Hawk. Come in." Mulcahy was slightly apprehensive. He sensed that something was troubling the surgeon.
"Have a seat," Mulcahy offered, pulling one for Hawkeye and one for himself.
"Father, do you think that I'm an alcoholic?"
The question sliced through the still air like a scalpel and caught Mulcahy off guard. Hawkeye's wanting to see him seemed strange enough, but never could he have seen this coming. With the exception of the late Colonel Blake, Pierce was the camp's biggest boozer.
"Do you think that you are?"
"I'm not sure. All I know is that I always seem to drink. It helps me to forget what goes on around here."
"Doctors all over this war drink to forget, Hawkeye. Many other people do too - including chaplains. The question is: could you not have a drink if you chose to?"
"Sure. Sometimes following a quiet day I may have only one martini, if even that."
"Then my bet would be no. There's little to do here to keep sane. Really, all that there is is gambling, booze, or, in many cases, nurse-chasing. Indulging to keep sanity is understandable."
"Thank you, Father."
"Any time, Hawkeye. If you ever have any spare time, you should consider a trip to the orphanage. It can be quite rewarding and it won't give you a hangover."
"I'm not quite that desperate, Father."
"I had to try," Mulcahy replied chuckling. Hawkeye bid the chaplain farewell and left him to quiet thought. Mulcahy looked up the Gospel reading for Sunday. It was one he knew well; The Parable of the Unforgiving Sower was the reading of the Sunday that a newly-ordained and quite nervous Father Mulcahy had said his first Mass. It was also an easier one to use in a sermon.
"Colonel, I need that R and R. I'm going nuts and need a few days to recover," wailed Hawkeye Pierce, the chief surgeon. "If I can't my surgical skills are bound to suffer. All I ask is two days. Two days, when I've been here for more than three hundred, sixty-five! It's really not much, when you put things into perspective."
"If you'll just let me get one word in edge-wise. . ." said Potter, letting the sentence trail off. "I've gone over your files and while you're definitely a rabble-rouser, you're one damn fine surgeon. Since there's a lull on, I don't see why you can't have the two days R and R. You can leave on Sunday."
Hawkeye was surprised. He had come expecting a hard time, but Potter had given him leave just like that. He was turning out to be quite different than the Regular Army Clown that Hawkeye had expected him to be. It was a pleasant surprise.
Saturday, being the second nice day of the lull, passed quickly. Hawkeye and BJ spent the day in a football game with some of the enlisted men. Colonel Potter set up his easel and began a painting of the nearby mountains. Majors Burns and Houlihan, as might be expected, spent the day together, having a picnic in a field near the unit. Radar and Klinger spent their day in a baseball game. Father Mulcahy had offered his services as umpire for this game. It was actually a pleasant day for the 4077th.
Sunday morning was perfectly normal. As had been the case with Blake before him, Colonel Potter did not require Revelarie to be blown at o-five-fifteen, nor did he require the regimented morning roll call. Instead, he just asked all personnel to be somewhat awake by fourteen-hundred hours and to check in with him so that he would know no one was AWOL.
Father Mulcahy had risen early and was seated in the Mess Tent, which was converted into a church for Sunday services. It was ten o'clock and no one was there yet. Ideally, services were to begin at ten, but practically they began anytime from ten o'clock until noon or later - if anyone showed up at all.
At ten-thirty Colonel Potter arrived, followed closely by Radar O'Reilly. By quarter to eleven four of the nurses had come. This was the usual church crowd. Mulcahy waited a few more minutes and then began the service.
"On the road again," sang Hawkeye Pierce while shaving. "I can't wait to get on the road again. . ." BJ, who was trying to sleep, decided that he had had enough and promptly hurled his pillow at his noisy tentmate.
"Hey, Beej! I'm trying to shave."
"And I'm trying to sleep."
"At two in the afternoon?"
"I tell you, you're no fun. It's a beautiful day." Hawkeye paused here to mix two martinis. "Here, Beej, this'll improve your disposition."
"I don't want it."
"You can't let this martini go to waste."
"You have it." Hawkeye did just that, They were his second and third that day.
"I sure hope you're not driving."
"Who else would?"
"Hawk. . ."
"Beej, I know about drinking and driving. You shouldn't do it. I'm not drunk." Hawkeye was offended by what he saw as BJ's implication. He might drink and/or get drunk, but he would never drive while in such a state. As a doctor, he knew better.
"Sorry, Hawk," said BJ, realizing how offensive his remark was and the fact that Hawkeye was a responsible individual.
"You seen Father Mulcahy around?"
"He's down at the 8055th. Probably'll be back soon." Then he impishly added, "Turning religions, Beej?"
"No. Just need some advice. Nothing life-threatening. I'll catch him when he comes back."
BJ sat up and Hawkeye finished combing his hair.
"Well, Beej, I'm off. Remember to pester Frank for me."
"Will do. Enjoy your R and R, and be careful."
"Always am. See you in a few."
Captain Pierce reported to Colonel Potter and climbed into an Army jeep.
"Thank you for coming, Father," said the CO of the 8055th.
"It was a pleasure, Colonel," returned Mulcahy.
"That was the best Mass I've been to in a year. Nothing against our chaplain, but he's stuck in the olden days." The CO chuckled and Mulcahy cracked a small smile. He knew a few priests whose Masses people dreaded. He always hoped that he wasn't one of them.
"Would you care for a cup of coffee, Father?"
"Thank you, Colonel, but I must decline. I have some scheduled confessions back at the 4077th and if I leave now I'll make it back just in time."
"No problem, Father. Thank you, once again, for coming. It was a real blessing."
"It was a blessing for me, too," added Mulcahy. They walked to the jeep together and the chaplain and the CO said their farewells.
Hawkeye had never even seen him coming. He was cruising along singing and mentally planning his leave. Father Mulcahy, coming from the opposite direction, did not see anything until it was too late to do much. He swerved to avoid hitting Hawkeye and instead hit a tree, being thrown, headfirst from the jeep in the process.
"Oh my God!" cried Hawkeye. He slammed on the break and jumped from the jeep.
He knelt down beside the injured priest and began a cursory examination. From what he could tell, Father Mulcahy had sustained a concussion. He had to get him back to the hospital, but he would need help to move Mulcahy. He went over to his jeep.
"Captain Pierce calling MASH 4077," he said into the two-way radio.
"MASH 4077, Radar here. What is it, Hawkeye?"
"Radar, I'm about five miles south of the compound. Send a corpsman and an ambulance - and hurry."
"Are you. . ."
"No, it's not me. Just do as I ask. It could mean life or death."
A huge crowd greeted the ambulance as it pulled into the camp. When it came to a stop, Hawkeye jumped out. Colonel Potter came forward.
"Mind explainin' this, Pierce? Last I heard you were on leave headed for Seoul."
"Colonel, help me back here and I'll explain." The two doctors walked around to the rear of the ambulance. Hawkeye yanked the doors open, revealing an unconscious Father Mulcahy.
"What in the name of Hannah's hell is all this about?" exclaimed Potter. "First my chief surgeon, who's supposed to be on leave, comes back to camp. To complicate things even more, he brings back my chaplain - in an ambulance. What happened?"
"I was driving down the road on my way to Seoul. Father Mulcahy must have been coming the other way, but I didn't see him until after. His jeep must have swerved and he hit a tree. He was thrown out of the jeep and hit his head. I think that he has a concussion."
During this explanation, Hawkeye and Potter took the injured chaplain into Pre-Op. Potter examined him and affirmed Hawkeye's initial observation. Father Mulcahy had indeed suffered a concussion.
"It appears to be a mild concussion," stated Hawkeye.
"Yes, but his unconsciousness has me apprehensive. All that's left to do now is wait."
"No, Colonel. We can do more than just wait. As Father Mulcahy would say, we can pray," he reprimanded, and to the surprise of everyone there, Hawkeye Pierce knelt down to pray.
"Hey, Hawk," said BJ that evening. "Your relief is here. You sure look like you could use some rest."
Hawkeye had been working as chief of the day shift. After tending to his patients and leaving instructions with the nurses, Hawkeye would pull up a chair and sit down by Father Mulcahy.
"I'd rather stay - just a little longer, Beej."
"Hawk," said BJ gently, "it wasn't your fault."
"It was, Beej. I wasn't paying attention. Hell, I was probably half-drunk. Father Mulcahy must have swerved to avoid me." It was a situation for which BJ was totally unprepared. Not knowing what to say, BJ crossed the ward to discuss the patients with Major Houlihan, the Charge Nurse for that evening. Hawkeye continued to stare blankly into space. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Hawkeye caught some faint movement."
"Come, on. Come on," he prompted.
Father Mulcahy slowly opened his eyes. He appeared slightly confused.
"Hawkeye, what are you doing here?"
"They drafted me. I work here."
"They transferred you to the 8055th?" Some of Hawkeye's hopes fell.
"No, Father. This is the 4077th."
"Oh, yes. I recognize the staff. Funny, I don't remember returning."
"Father," said Hawkeye, "on your way back from the 8055th you were in an accident. Your jeep swerved and hit a tree. You were thrown from the jeep and sustained a concussion."
"Oh, I see," replied a still confused Mulcahy. The priest placed his hand over one eye in order to shield it from the light. When he did so, everything went black.
"Did the generators go out?" he queried.
"No, Father. What makes you think that they did?"
"It went dark in here - didn't it?" Mulcahy endeavored to sit up and in doing so, uncovered his eye. "Oh, I . . .Hawkeye is there something wrong?"
"There may be, Father. Hold on a moment, I'll be right back." Hawkeye went over by BJ ad asked him to come over by Father Mulcahy for a minute.
"You were right, Hawk," BJ told him. "The pressure caused by the concussion damaged the optic nerves."
"It's not serious, is it?" questioned an apprehensive Father Mulcahy.
"Probably not, Father. Most likely it will only be temporary," Hawkeye assured the priest.
"How long before I can resume my duties?"
"Well, I'd like to keep you here for a couple of days, just to make sure of a few things. After that, if all goes well, you'll be outta here."
"How many fingers am I holding up, Father?"
"Nope. Four fingers and a thumb." It had now been four days since the accident. Father Mulcahy had made a complete recovery, excepting that he could not remember any events after leaving the 8055th and waking up at the 4077th. Everyone thought it best that way. Everyone except Hawkeye Pierce.
"Father, I just want to apologize."
"Whatever for, my son?" replied Mulcahy, adjusting his hat.
"I'm sure you don't remember, but I caused your accident. When you swerved, it was to avoid hitting me."
The priest sat silent for a moment, taking in Hawkeye's revelation. After a few minutes, he spoke.
"Hawkeye, you deserve my gratitude for this."
"I don't understand. I nearly killed you and you're thanking me?"
"For some time now, I've been hoping for a promotion. When I was passed over a few weeks ago I took it personally - thought I wasn't doing a good enough job. In short, I forgot what really mattered. I needed to have my eyes opened, so to speak."
"Father, I don't understand."
"A few weeks ago when the captain's list was published, I found out that for the third time I had been passed over. I'm afraid that I took it personally. I forgot that what matters is the actual job, not the rank. Our Lord showed us that at the Last Supper, where He washed the feet of His Apostles. We are supposed to serve. I'm ashamed to admit that I forgot that for a minute."
"So you believe that this was some kind of sign from God?"
"Yes. Something had to happen to make me realize just how lucky I am, a sign from God, and you just happened to be there at the time. In all actuality, you saved my life. You're something like my guardian angel, Hawkeye."
"You know what, Father?"
"I need a drink."