"Want me to try talking to her?" Margaret offered, "Not that she's likely to take any notice - she doesn't like me either! But I could give it a try?"
"No - no thanks. I'll work it out myself, somehow," said Lorraine. "You could do me a different sort of favour though?"
"Of course, anything."
"Would you tell Charles I'd like to see him later?" said Lorraine, "I daren't go tell him myself - if Parker sees me talking to him, she'll change the duty roster and I'll find myself working the midnight shift tonight." She smiled. "She's probably got her sights set on him herself!"
"Reckon you're right there," smiled Margaret, "You should have seen her oozing all over him when he stepped out of the jeep! And before you ask, no, I'm pretty sure he's not interested in pursuing that option! In fact, the last time I saw him looking that terrified, we were in the middle of an artillery bombardment!"
Lorraine giggled. "So you'll tell him?"
"Sure I'll tell him," said Margaret, "I think you're crazy, mind you, but I'll tell him. What are friends for?"
"Um, Colonel," said Charles, poking dubiously at the contents of the tray on the table in front of him, "What exactly is this?"
"Why that's our Thanksgiving Special, Major," said Wheatley, an unmistakable note of pride creeping into his voice, "Glazed Spam."
"Glazed..." Charles choked on the words, "...spam?"
"Well," put in Dupree, from his seat opposite the Colonel, "It was s'posed to be glazed ham - but the durned hog done broke out of her pen last week and we ain't seed her since."
Charles nodded, as though this all made perfect sense. "I... I see," he managed, faintly, trying not to think about the Turkey that the 4077th would be sitting down to right about now.
"Anyhows, 'sall pig ain't it?" said Dupree, tucking into his own repast with a cheerfulness that appeared to be genuine, "Ham, spam - whatever."
"Oh, and here's Stevens with the wine," cried Wheatley, as the corporal struggled into the tent, lugging a crate. "I hear you're something of a connoisseur, Major? Stevens - serve Doctor Winchester first!"
"Yes, sir." Stevens took one of the bottles out of the crate and produced a corkscrew from his top pocket. A moment later, he poured a measure of white wine into the tin cup in front of Charles, and stood back.
Charles realised everyone was waiting for him to taste it, and with trepidation he picked up his cup and sniffed the contents. The oily aroma that assailed his nostrils almost made him gag, but he remembered he was a guest, but back the comment he was about to make on serving it warm, and took the tiniest possible sip.
"Ah. Liebfraumilch," he said, feigning a smile. "Please, corporal, do pass it round." Adding, in an undertone, "Share the burden, for God's sake!"
"How bad is it?" muttered Margaret, who was seated on his left.
"I'd rather drink from the Still in the Swamp," he muttered back, wondering whether he would ever be rid of the taste.
"Ouch!" she said, making a face to show she'd got the message.
"So, Major," said Parker, who had sat down opposite him, "You're a wine lover."
It seemed to Charles that she had put more emphasis on the word 'lover' than was strictly necessary, and he found himself wishing he wasn't trapped between Margaret and the Colonel. "I prefer the term 'connoisseur'," he said, pretending an interest in what was on his tray.
"Of course," said Parker, smoothly, leaning across the table toward him, "And... what else are you interested in?"
Charles glanced at Margaret, hoping she might help, but to judge from the smirk on her face, she was enjoying his discomfort far too much to come to his rescue. Besides, if the plan they'd discussed when she'd brought him Lorraine's message was to work, he had to try not to recoil from the attentions of the Praying Mantis opposite.
"Why, the Major likes that there classical music," said Dupree, pointing his knife at Charles, "Listens to it all the time, doncha Chas?"
"Charles," growled Charles.
"Really, Charles?" said Parker, propping her chin on a hand, and smiling across at him, "I adore that Rachmaninov piece - you know, the variation on... something-or-other. They use it in films a lot?"
Charles sighed. "Variation on a Theme of Paganini," he offered.
"That's the one!" said Parker, clapping her hands, "They used it in Brief Encounter."
He opened his mouth to correct her, decided it wasn't worth the effort. Besides, he was supposed to be making nice, wasn't he?
"How gratifying to meet someone who appreciates good music," he said, as sincerely as he could manage. "Of course, you really need to go a live concert to truly appreciate the richness of such compositions, but that's an impossibility out here, where there isn't so much as a decent piano."
"Oh, the one we've got in the OC isn't too bad," said Parker. She gave him another one of her predatory smiles. "So... do you play at all, Charles?" she asked. As she spoke, he felt the pressure of her foot against his leg, and he had to will himself not to move it away.
"Not..." he started. It came out as a rather distressed squeak, and he cleared his throat and started again. "Not as well as I would like," he replied adding, "Besides, if I'm playing the piano, I can't dance."
"Oh, you dance?" She sounded pleased.
"Dance? I taught St Vitus," he retorted.
Parker laughed. "I hope you'll join us in the Officers' Club then?" she said, getting to her feet.
"Why not?" said Charles, "Especially if you can guarantee that your prettiest nurses will be there too."
He gave Margaret his best 'take the hint' look and, as he exited the tent, he heard her seize on the opening he'd just handed her:
"You know, you should get some of the competition transferred out," she said, quietly, linking an arm through Judy's as they followed him outside. "I mean - not to suggest that you're not attractive, but why make life more difficult for yourself?"
As they reached the Officers' Club, Charles stopped, ushered the women ahead of him, and jerked a thumb in the direction of the latrines. "I'll be with you in a minute," he said, "You go right ahead."
"Hey, I'll have a drink waiting for you, Charles" said Parker, "What'll you have?"
"My usual," he replied, "A grape ne-hi." Out the corner of his eye he could see Margaret smother a grin with her hand, and gave her a warning glance as he added, firmly, "With ice."
Margaret nodded, obviously having got the message. "See you later then, Charles," she said and, to his relief, drew Major Parker into the OC with her.
Dodging Dupree, whom he spotted weaving toward the club from the direction of the Mess Tent, Charles finally reached his quarters, and closed the door behind him with a sigh of relief. It was dark, but before he could find the light switch, someone soft and warm put her arms around him and kissed him, and he recognised Lorraine's perfume.
"Mmm, hello," he murmured, returning the kiss.
"I've been wanting to do that all day," she said, "I thought you were never going to get rid of her!"
"You mean the inestimable Major Parker?" he said, grinning, "For a while there, I didn't think I was ever going to get rid of her either."
His eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and he could see Lorraine now as she went across to the little table in the corner and picked up a bottle.
"Bordeaux," she said, pouring it into two glasses, "Only bottle I could lay my hands on at short notice, and I won't tell you what it cost me in exchange, but I knew you'd like it."
"Thanks!" He moved across the tent to take his glass, clinked it gently against hers. "Happy Thanksgiving."
"Hey Major?" The knock on the door was accompanied by Major Parker's unmistakable voice. "Charles, you in there? Where the hell'd you disappear to?"
"I don't believe it," muttered Charles, who was in the process of unlacing Lorraine's boots while she sat with her legs across his lap and nuzzled his right ear.
"Keep quiet, she'll go away," she whispered.
"Yes, but..." It was no use, the doctor in him had to know: "Is there a problem with my patient, Major?" he called.
"Oh, you are in there! No - no, 'sno problem. I just - uh - I've still got your ne-hi, y'know? Course, it's a little warm..."
"Tell her I've got a bit higher than your knee," Lorraine giggled in his ear, "And it's a lot more than warm!"
"Shh!" he warned her, laughing, "She'll hear you!"
"What was that, Major?" called Parker.
"Nothing! I...uh...had a headache," he called back, "So I decided I'd better lie down."
Lorraine snorted with suppressed laughter, and buried her face against his shoulder in a vain attempt to remain quiet.
Parker though had obviously heard. "Well, if that's Captain Anderson you're lying down with, you can tell her from me that she'll be shipping out of here day after tomorrow."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he shouted, gallantly, "But if I see her, I'll tell her."
"You do that!"
Footsteps marched off, stumbled, resumed, and retreated across the compound in the direction of Parker's own tent.
"Aha! It worked!" said Charles, gleefully, giving Lorraine a hug before resuming his unlacings where he had left off.
"Worked? What worked?"
"The little plot Margaret and I hatched," he said, "Parker's approving your transfer because she doesn't like the competition."
"You angel," she sighed, kissing his cheek, and starting on a few unfastenings of her own, "You know I put in for the military hospital in Seoul?"
"Margaret told me," he murmured, dropping her boots to the floor and drawing her back onto the cot with him as he lay back, "And I have to tell you that I get over to Seoul occasionally too."
"Good," she murmured, "Now, how can I ever thank you for getting me re-assigned?"
He grinned, and tangled his fingers in her hair. "I'll think of something," he said.
"Well, Major," said Colonel Wheatley, shaking Charles' hand as they stood by the jeep in the compound, "I'd like to thank you very much on behalf of our entire medical staff. It's been an education."
Margaret heard Lorraine, behind her, mutter, "Sure has!" and bit down hard on her lip to keep her giggles at bay.
"Major Houlihan - always a pleasure," said the Colonel.
"So they say." The snide whisper was Parker's, Margaret knew, but she chose to ignore it. After all, she'd already had the fun of seeing Parker's barely-concealed fury over Lorraine's smug expression at breakfast, and that alone had been worth the trip.
With a last wave at her smiling friend, Margaret climbed into the jeep and settled herself into the passenger seat. "Home, James," she quipped, lightly.
"When I am home, that's my line," Charles replied, stifling a yawn behind his hand and starting the engine. "Do you think they'll have saved us a turkey sandwich?"
"Those vultures? We'll be lucky if there's so much as a wishbone left!" she said. A moment later she was almost pitched out of her seat as he let out the clutch and stepped on the accelerator. Cursing, she straightened her helmet and braced a foot against the dashboard.
"Sorry." Charles changed gear, yawned again, and glanced across at her, "Sticky clutch."
"Really?" she said, unable to resist adding, with a knowing smile, "No wonder you're so tired!"
He was actually blushing, and she realised he was not going to come back at her with the sort of brash response she'd have expected from Pierce. She found it quite refreshing - endearing even, not that she was likely to let him know that. "Charles, you are an officer and a gentleman," she conceded, "But if this jeep gives one more kangaroo hop, I'm going to forget I'm a lady. Clear?"
"Do you want to drive?" he suggested, wrestling with the wheel as the jeep hit a pothole, "I can ride in back and take a nap."
"Oh, keep going," she said, realising that she'd probably get her wrists broken if she tried to steer over the ruts, "You can rest all you like when we get back. It's not as though there's anything happening at the 4077th - is it?"