Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Nineteen

 
Rating: PG-13 (for questionable language and adult situations)

Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.

Summary: A new doctor reports to Camp Barnett and complicates Doc Hockenburyís life.

Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)


Dear Doc,

Well, Iíve been here 2 days now and this is the first chance Iíve had to sit down. Had an uneventful flight other than when McKay practically flew upside down evading somebody who thought weíd make good target practice. They donít call those birds Slicks for nothing! Fortunately the gunner caught me before I slid out the door.

We are busy almost 24 hours a day. I was in the OR before Iíd unpacked my bags. Itís different from Tan Son Nhut, though. Most of these guys are straight out of the field, no stops in between. Some still have bits and pieces of their uniforms on. Itís hard, Doc, now that Iíve been to Barnett. I feel like I KNOW these kids. Iím glad you guys arenít in this AO. I donít think I could maintain my objectivity ifÖwell, you know.

All Iíve done so far is work, eat and try to sleep. Food is about the same here as Barnett, although Iíve yet to see a cinnamon bun. Sleep? Last night I slept under my rack because we had a mortar attack. They told me they have those once in awhile but wouldnít tell me how long a while was. We have Quonset huts here, as well as tents. The wards are inflatable units. Canít wait to see what happens if a sniper shoots one. I got this picture in my head of it flying off into the sky like a balloon when you stick a pin in it.

Well, I have to get to the OR. Sorry about the coffee stain on the corner of the paper.

I miss you very much.

Until tomorrow,

Caz

*************************************************************************************

Caz,

Thanks very much for the report on your new home. Now I canít sleep with the thought of you lying UNDER your rack while the mortars are falling.

Nothing new here. Same old grind as usual. Taylor and Ruiz got into an argument over nothing, broke the hootch door off its hinges. Sarge sent them both to fill sandbags, although I donít think giving either one of them a shovel was a good idea.

Sgt Hall is moping around the clinic, chewing out everybody. Pughís been in the doghouse for the last few days. Well, I guess really since you left. The new guy is a real stickler for the rules. Nobody likes him much.

I hear weíre gonna get some new replacements in the next few weeks. That should be fun. Goldmanís been talking more to Sarge. Mostly about ways to torture us until our next mission.

McKay sends his regards. He said he didnít get into TOO much trouble for flying you to where you are. Said it was worth it. I felt better he did and told him so.

Well, gotta go, I miss you, too.

Until tomorrow.

Doc

************************************************************************************

Doc,

Watch out for those cherries. I swear every guy we see gets wounded his first time out. Or was wounded because of some idiot FNG. See? Iím picking up the lingo. Probably not such a good thing.

No rockets since I last wrote, although we did have a sniper. And he DID hit one of the MUST units, despite the walls they were building around them, revetments I think they call them. It did not go flying off into space as I predicted, instead just developed a slow leak that somebody patched just like youíd patch a bicycle tire.

Heard from my brother Mike. He and his wife just had a baby girl, 8 pounds! They named her after me. Yes, they named her J. HAHAHA You thought Iíd tell you my first name, didnít you?

Well, duty calls. Keep your head down.

Missing you more each day.

Until tomorrow,

Caz

********************************************************************************

Hey Caz!

Itís me, Johnny! I ran into that skinny medic you like to hang around with. He was sitting on the hootch steps writing some letter so I offered to drop it in the mail for him. Seeing as I was going that way. And Iím such a nice guy and all. Anyway, I just happened to notice that your name and address was right there on the front! I thought I should write it down and keep it in a safe place, in case that skinny medic forgets it. And then I thought, well, maybe Iíll drop you a line. Cause Iím such a nice guy, remember?

The old man made me fly all the ass and trash runs for a week when he found out where I flew you. Not to worry. Maybe Iíll make another trip out there, now I know where it is! Can you have lunch ready for an ole chopper jock?

Sincerely yours,

Johnny

***************************************************************************************

Dear Caz (or the mysterious J),

Did Lt. McKay write to you? He offered to drop my letter to you in the mail and I saw him copying the address off the front. All he had to do was ask! Ha ha.

Heavy things going on around here. Some big mission. A lot of outside elements involved if you know what I mean. Thatís not good. At least we havenít got the newbies yet. I just got a bad feeling about it.

I try to picture you in your rack (or lying under it), while I lie in mine at night. Same stars overhead, Caz, same moon. Sometimes I sit on the steps and just look at the sky, on nights when I canít sleep. Or donít want to. Been having bad dreams a lot. When Iím awake I can think of you.

I have to get my kit in order, Iíll write more later.

Until tomorrow Iíll be missing you more and more,

Doc

*****************************************************************************************

Dear Doc,

Keeping my fingers crossed that you are reading this and therefore back from your mission. I worry about you, you know, as I know you worry about me (writing this by flashlight under my rack). Weíve all got a job to do, I guess nobody has it safe. Youíre out there with people hunting you, patching up kids and sending them to places like here, where I am, where the mortarsí red glare is seen on a fairly regular basis. (Not tonight, Iíve just gotten used to sleeping on the floor)

I keep having this dream that Iím in a strange land where I donít speak the language and the people donít want me here and I donít want to be here. Wait, thatís when Iím awake. Iím sorry youíre not sleeping well. I donít get much opportunity to sleep. Just when I think Iím gonna get a few hours, in come the choppers. Or the damn mortars.

But when I do sleep, Doc? I dream of splashing in a stream filled with silver fish. And youíre there, too. So Iím gonna close here, put this letter down and shut my eyes, just for a moment. And dream of being home, home with you.

Keep your head down.

Until tomorrow.

Caz

**************************************************************************************

Dearest Caz,

I knew something was going to go wrong, I knew it. Marcus Taylor and Alberto Ruiz are missing. We got the mission done but there were more VC there than anybody thought. They chased us all the way back to the PZ. Goldman forced me on the first chopper and we left before I knew what happened. Sarge told me later that Taylor and his team got separated and didnít get back in time for the pick up. Theyíve been looking for them, but itís not the friendliest of places.

I canít get my head clear on this, Caz. Guys get killed all the time. But being missingÖ Sarge told us they were probably roasting marshmallows over a little fire. I know he was trying to help, but nothing does. I never thought I could care about guys who spend their days killing people. Hell, the first day I met Taylor he tried to take my head off. But I do. I care a lot. Iím scared, Caz. Really scared.

Goldmanís scared, too. Heís blaming himself, spending his time in his hootch alone after chasing McKay off. He keeps chasing Sarge, off, too. I wish he wouldnít. Some days I think the Sarge is the only thing keeping him from going nuts.

We got two replacements, an old guy named Scarlet whoís still a buck private and a kid named Kuslits. I thought Danny was going to pound Scarlet when he saw him lying on Taylorís bunk. They arenít such bad guys. But they arenít Taylor and Ruiz.

Weíre going out again tomorrow to look for them. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thinking of you always and wishing I could hold you in my arms,

Until tomorrow,

Doc

****************************************************************************************

Doc,

Iím so sorry about Taylor and Ruiz. I canít imagine how difficult it must be to go out in the jungle not only without them, but looking for them. Just keep hope in your heart. Taylorís got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. If anybody can come out of this, it will be Marcus and heíll drag Alberto along kicking and screaming. I guess Suzanna has been notified. How hard this must be for her, not knowing and not able to be a part of the search. At least you have that Ė the knowledge that you are doing something.

The bodies keep rolling through here. Pretty much if they are alive when they get here, they stay that way. Iíve stopped looking at the names on the charts. There are just too many. Iím so tired.

No mortars last night, I sat on the hootch steps and saw a falling star. I closed my eyes and thought about you sitting there next to me, blowing smoke rings in the dark. What I wouldnít give for it to have been true.

We just need to go home, Doc.

Until tomorrow,

Caz

************************************************************************************

Darling Caz,

No news on Taylor and Ruiz. Nobody is actively searching anymore. Itís been three weeks. But Percell and I arenít ready to give up. Sarge and L-T arenít either. I think McKay keeps making side trips whenever heís out.

We got a bunch of replacements. Almost all cherries, just a few with any brains. We were out with them and this journalist, Bennett. This guy was something else. Heíd take pictures of anything. Guys hurt, guys dead. I know how the articles are going to come out. Look at all the American atrocities. Look at the GIs torching a ville. Look at all these innocent Vietnamese women and kids and old men. I wish theyíd tell the truth.

I just re-read what I wrote. Itís funny, but Bennett is just like all my old friends in college. War protesters. Thinking all the guys are baby-killers. I thought that, too, before I got here. But I was wrong. So much of whatís written about this place is lies. And thereís always somebody willing to believe it.

I canít go back to what I was. So I guess Iíll just have to come home to you and see what we can make of it. Deal?

Until Tomorrow,

Doc

***********************************************************************************

Dear Doc,

Deal!

I have to get back in surgery. Iíll write more later.

Until Tomorrow!

Caz

************************************************************************************

Caz,

I have bad news. NO, Doc is not dead. Damn, I should have started this off differently. Yesterday Doc was on a patrol with Percell and some new kid. They were ahead of the rest of the guys. I got this all second- and third-hand, by the way, so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. They captured a VC and somehow Percell got jumped by another VC and the first one ended up with the new guyís weapon, oh, Kuslits is his name. Doc grabbed up Percellís M-16 and they had a standoff. From what I understand, Doc refused to pull the trigger and the VC ended up shooting and killing Kuslits.

Doc is a mess, Caz. Goldman yanked him from the team and the other guys are giving him a hard time. Percell is really riding him.

I canít get in the middle of it, I wasnít there. But he did what he said. He told them he wouldnít kill anybody and he meant it. I donít think he realized that decision could GET somebody killed, though. Which is what would have happened in the dispensary that day.

Doc moved out of the team hootch, I think heís bunking in the storeroom of the clinic. Him and that monkey. I wish you were here, maybe you could help.

Goldman isnít saying anything, just sitting at his desk nursing that whiskey of his.

Itís a mess, Caz, but I thought you needed to know. I know youíd WANT to know.

Yours always,

Johnny

PS Taylor and Ruiz made it back alive.

*************************************************************************************

Caz,

I know Lt. McKay already told you about the incident. With Kuslits. I canít begin to tell you how ashamed I am for the things I said to you after you shot that man in the clinic. I know now that you were right. That even though you didnít want to kill anybody, you had the courage to do it. To save me. To save all of us. It was the RIGHT thing to do. And I couldnít do it. Canít do it. Because it would destroy me to do it. Even though it IS the right thing.

Thereís no way out for me, Caz. You know I never thought Iíd see home again. And you gave me the hope that I was wrong. That there WAS a home for me, waiting for me, with you. I really tried to see it, to believe it. I think I did believe it there for awhile, right up until I couldnít pull that trigger.

You wouldnít want me now, Caz, I donít have anything left to offer you. I want you to know that your love has been the greatest gift Iíve ever known. You have been the one thing I knew I could always count on. And I know I can now. But I canít stand that I let everybody down and I donít want to look into your sweet face and see pity.

Know that I always loved you.

Until forever.

Doc

**************************************************************************************

Fall, 1969 Ė Camp Barnett, Republic of Vietnam

The rain fell in sheets, straight down in an impenetrable curtain, running off the canvas of the CPT in torrents. Sergeant Anderson glanced involuntarily over his shoulder at the cascading water, his arms cradling his weapon against his chest and shivering slightly. Heíd been in the bush over a week and was tired and filthy, his wet fatigues sticking uncomfortably to him in places heíd rather they not.

Goldman forced himself to keep his attention on the map under Colonel Stringerís nicotine-stained fingers. He felt his mind wandering, hypnotized by the pounding of the rain. A drop of water worked its way beneath his collar and slid down his back, distracting him from his COís question.

"Lieutenant? Are you still with us?" Stringer scowled at Goldman, momentarily shoving his cigar between his teeth.

"Ah, yes, sir. Yes. No, we saw no enemy activity anywhere other than what we marked there." Goldman leaned forward and tapped his index finger on the map, smearing the ink in the process.

Stringer sighed, rolling his eyes as he carefully blotted the paper. "That is all, gentleman. Dismissed." He turned his back on the two, ignoring their salutes.

Anderson shrugged and dropped his arm, sheepishly smiling through the grime on his face at Goldman. He followed the young lieutenant as they moved away toward the end of the tent.

"Guess the colonel wasnít too happy with our report, L-T?"

Goldman pulled a cigarette from his pocket, quickly lighting up and drawing the smoke deep into his lungs. He stared out at the rain, the camp beyond blurred into a thousand shades of gray.

"No, I guess not, Sergeant."

Zeke dropped his damp poncho over his head, shaking it out to cover his broad shoulders. He showered Myron inadvertently with droplets trapped in the folds of the garment and grinned as the lieutenant glanced down at his already sodden uniform.

"Sorry, L-T." Anderson replaced the grin with a look of innocent contrition.

"Lieutenant Goldman?" The skinny kid sitting behind the communications equipment stood up, holding out a piece of folded paper. "Lieutenant Goldman? The hospital in Tan Son Nhut wants you to call them. Something about somebodyís personal effects?"

Goldman and Anderson looked at each other, confusion rising in both sets of eyes.

"We havenít lost anybody recently. Did they give you a name?" Goldman held Andersonís gaze, shaking his head as he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling.

Anderson pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Nah, L-T. Weíve been doing okay."

The aide looked at the paper. "No, sir. Just a number for you to call. I can connect it if you want." He looked up, one hand already reaching for the field phone.

Goldman glanced at the kid. "Do that." He turned to Anderson. "Sergeant, go on. Iíll get this cleared up." He shook his head and waved off the manís protests, bringing his cigarette to his lips once again.

It had been a long week. The first few days had been ungodly hot and theyíd had to stop frequently to make sure every man was drinking enough water and not dehydrating. The reported VC activity they were hunting had failed to materialize and Goldman had been forced to deal with the menís boredom and subsequent irritation with each other. And then the rain had started.

I just want to be clean and dry. And eat something other than c-rats.

"Sir?" The aide held out the handset.

Goldman took another quick drag from the cigarette and then held it loosely between two fingers, curled into the protective cup of his palm. He snugged the phone between his ear and shoulder, blowing the smoke out explosively.

"Lieutenant Goldman."

The aide went back to his work, pulling his headphones over his ears and tuning his radio. He kept an eye on the tiger stripe-clad figure leaning on his desk and waited to retrieve the handset.

"Whatís the name?"

Goldman sagged against the bank of radios, his knees suddenly incapable of supporting him. His cigarette dropped from his nerveless fingers and rolled, hissing, into a puddle on the muddy floor of the CPT. Grabbing at the edge of the table, he just barely caught his balance, hauling himself upright and handing the phone to the aide without a word.

I canítÖI canítÖ

Face gray under his camouflage paint, Lieutenant Goldman slowly turned from the questioning gaze of the aide and walked out of the CPT into the driving rain, his poncho tucked forgotten under his arm.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

The darkness of the impending night was barely noticeable against the heavy cloud cover of the storm. The rain had continued all afternoon, turning the packed dirt walkways of Camp Barnett into a quagmire. Those crazy enough to venture out risked twisted ankles or worse in the slippery mud. Only the chow hall seemed to be doing much business and its wooden floor was slick as a skating rink.

Goldman was in no danger. Upon leaving the CPT, heíd walked with single-minded determination directly to his hootch and hadnít left it since. After dumping his gear in a dripping heap on the floor, heíd tossed his wet and muddy weapons on McKayís old bunk, not caring much about the dirt cascading everywhere. Not caring much about cleaning them, for that matter.

Pulling open his desk drawer, Goldman had removed a bottle of whiskey and a glass, setting them on the desk with studied care.

Now, three hours later, the level in the bottle had dropped considerably and the young lieutenant, still dressed in his soggy uniform, lay sprawled on his rack, one arm thrown over his eyes. His fingers were curled loosely around the glass, balancing it on his chest. It rose with each of his inhalations, the liquor sloshing about and threatening to overflow. Goldman solved that problem by lifting his head and taking a swig, holding the whiskey in his mouth for a moment, then swallowing it with a grimace.

Not enough, not enough, I can still feelÖ

The sharp rap of knuckles on the door penetrated his alcohol- befuddled brain and he blinked, momentarily wondering what the sound was. Awareness dawned as Andersonís voice called out, hesitantly at first.

"L-T?"

If I donít move, donít BREATHE, maybe heíll go away.

"L-T?" Anderson tentatively pushed open the door, squinting in the dimness. The pile of gear on the floor caught his eye and he paused, puzzled that his normally fastidious lieutenant would have left his stuff in a wet, stinking heap. He took a step into the room, trying to remember where the lamps had been moved since McKay left.

"L-T?"

"If I told you to go away, would you?"

The Sergeant froze, the open raw pain in Goldmanís voice setting all his internal alarms abuzz. "L-T, why aintcha got a light on? You been here ever since we got back?" He moved to the desk and reached for the small lamp as his eyes adjusted enough so he could maneuver.

"Donít touch that."

Anderson straightened up, shaking his head and running his fingers through his damp hair. Grabbing the spare desk chair, he turned it around backwards and straddled it, peering toward Goldman in the failing light. 

Myron levered himself up on one elbow, gingerly holding the glass as he raised his dark eyes. "I know no matter what I say you wonít go away so you might as well sit down and have a drink." He blinked, forcing himself to focus on the sergeant. "Youíre already sitting. Okay, have a drink."

Swinging his muddy boots over the side of his cot, Goldman hauled himself to his feet, the hand not holding the glass coming up to gently massage his temple. He quickly set the tumbler on the desk and steadied himself, palm flat on the blotter. The rain thundered on the roof briefly before settling back into a constant mind-numbing cadence.

Anderson watched him with growing apprehension. It took a few moments for him to remember - "Something about somebodyís personal effects?" Dear Lord. Who now? He slid his hand into the lieutenantís desk drawer, as familiar with the manís belongings as his own. Removing another glass, he set it next to Goldmanís on the blotter.

"L-T, who was it?" His voice sounded funny in his ears, fear tightening his vocal cords and swelling his throat.

Goldman carefully poured the two tumblers full of whiskey, ignoring Andersonís shocked expression. Handing one to the sergeant with trembling fingers, he picked up his own and tossed back a healthy slug of it, coughing as it went down and swiping at his mouth with his grimy sleeve.

He gestured at Andersonís glass. "Drink up, Sergeant, I wish Iíd had a little under my belt back at the CPT." He sat back down on the edge of his rack, his knees almost buckling out from under him. "Come on, Zeke, drink up."

Anderson stared helplessly at Goldmanís glittering eyes, eyes on the edge of madness. Heíd been to hell and back with this man, why is this so hard? "Okay, L-T. Cheers." He took a sip, then another, draining the glass while the lieutenant watched him with intense concentration. The whiskey burned his windpipe as it went down, sloshing around in his stomach and reminding him that he hadnít eaten anything in hours. Not since that c-rat breakfast at oídark hundred.

Goldmanís eyes filled with tears, no longer looking at Anderson but through him. Seeing not the burly sergeant but a lanky medic, glasses glinting in the sun, peace sign flying as he ran to downed soldiers, dodging bullets as he saved lives. Setting his glass down on the nightstand, Myron pressed the heels of each hand over his eyes, not wanting to see what his mind was showing him.

Anderson shifted in his chair, clearing his throat noisily. "L-T, please. Who was it?" Fear cut through him, a cold, icy hand twisting his guts. Goldman had been coming out of his self-imposed exile recently, poking his nose here and there. But now Zeke could see the walls almost re-building themselves, ever higher and ever thicker.

"It wasÖHE wasÖZekeÖ" Goldman lowered his hands abruptly into his lap and brought those dark eyes to bear on Anderson, pleading with him to make it not be true, his liquor-impaired mind almost believing that as long as he didnít say it, it couldnít be true, didnít happen.

"It was Doc Hockenbury." His voice broke on the last syllable, trailing off into a moan that he tried to bite back, his eyes squeezing shut as he wrapped his arms around himself, rocking on the edge of the cot.

Anderson felt his heart stop, then continue thumping painfully behind his breastbone. "Oh, Lord. What happened?" He instantly regretted the words at the stricken expression that flashed across Goldmanís face. Dammit!

The young lieutenant took a deep breath, then another, trying to calm his racing pulse. "I donít have theÖthe details. All they said wasÖa rocket attackÖin Saigon two nights ago." Two nights ago. How could I have not known, not felt it? He reached for the glass, almost knocking it to the floor in his anxiety and clutched it, bringing it to his lips where it clunked painfully against his teeth. Somehow he managed to swallow some, the rest spilling down his jaw and soaking into his fatigues.

The sergeant studied his boots, wondering what in Sam Hill Hockenbury was doing in Saigon at night. And then realizing it didnít matter. The medic was dead. And Goldman was devastated. AndÖ

"Oh, Lord, what about Dr. Cassidy?"

Goldman froze, his knuckles white as he gripped his glass. Abruptly he set it down, reaching for his ever-present pack of smokes lying on the nightstand. He shook the pack, sending several cigarettes flying, tumbling to the floor. Sighing, Goldman retrieved one and shoved it between his lips, trying to ignore Andersonís wide, anxious eyes.

"Yes, what about Dr. Cassidy?" To his horror, Myron found himself on the verge of laughter. He plucked the cigarette from his mouth and stared at the floor. "She asked me to send him safely home to her. I promised I would." He took a deep breath, holding it for a second. "I donít think this is quite what she meant."

Goldman glanced up at Anderson, the corners of his lips twitching in a grotesque grin. "Not at all what she meant." His voice trailed off and he stood, snatching up his glass and draining it in one long swallow. He walked on unsteady legs to the door, raising one arm to the frame and resting his forehead against it. The rain continued to pour down, the screen dappled with drops of water blown by from the gusting wind, sliding slowly to the floor and puddling there. 

Suddenly wheeling around, Goldman flung his glass at the far wall, dark eyes wide with unflinching shock as it shattered into a thousand shards. "I thought he was safe! I got him out of the field!" He lowered his face into his hands, scrubbing his palms over his cheeks and shoving his fingers through his short hair, over and over again.

I thought he was safe.

Anderson sat on the chair, unmoving, watching his lieutenant spin out his grief in a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of emotions.

"L-T, there was no place in Vietnam safe for that boy, you know that as well as I do."

The lieutenant swayed on his feet a moment longer, held captive by his tumbling thoughts. I thought he was safe! He was out of the fieldÖout of the field. Safe. He was SAFE! I justÖI justÖthought..but he wasnít. He wasnítÖsafe.

Rising rapidly to his feet, Anderson caught Goldmanís elbow as the younger man faltered, almost stumbling in the darkness of the hootch. He steered him to his rack, shoving the desk chair out of the way as Goldman gingerly sat on the edge of the dirty blanket, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

"L-T, I think mayÖ"

Goldman raised one hand, effectively shutting off the sergeantís words, and closed his eyes. He slowly lay down on the rack, his body rigid with the guilt that heíd killed the medic. As surely as if heíd put a gun to Docís head and pulled the trigger, as surely as ifÖ

"L-T?"

Anderson looked down at his friend and watched his breathing even out, Goldmanís muscles reluctantly unwinding in spite of his determination to hang onto his grief. Turning away, Zeke carefully capped the whisky bottle, setting the liquor in the desk drawer and sliding it silently closed. He glanced at the ceiling, suddenly realizing that the storm had passed and the fearsome tattoo that had resounded from the tin roof for the last twenty minutes was gone, already a fleeting memory.

Crossing to the door, Anderson looked back at the sleeping Goldman, wishing he could do something about the muddy boots on the cot, but there was no way he would disturb the man now. He eased open the door and slipped through, closing it softly.

The camp was quiet, as if nobody had quite realized that the rain had stopped. Or maybe they felt, too, that this calm wasnít real and wouldnít last. Anderson sighed and sat down on the top step, leaning his broad back on the screen door, prepared to stay there forever.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Goldman leaned wearily on the counter, forcing himself to swallow down his impatience while the corpsman on the other side shuffled his papers. The lieutenant was dying to throw a fist through the kidís bored expression and he turned his back in an effort to control his escalating temper. The barely controlled chaos of the huge hospital did nothing to calm Goldmanís nerves as medical personnel shoved past him in the narrow hallway.

The kid looked up, eyebrows raised in exaggerated annoyance. "What was the name again, Lieutenant?"

Goldman stared at the man, trying hard to ignore the pounding in his head and the raw, gritty sensation he experienced every time he blinked. He cleared his throat. "Hockenbury. Francis. T."

"Hockenbury?"

Both Goldman and the young corpsmen jumped, turning as one to face the tall, dark-haired man standing at the end of the counter. He looked up at them, holding his place in the chart before him with one long finger.

"Hockenburyís dead." The doctor dropped his gaze back to his work, scribbling furiously with a ballpoint pen in barely legible handwriting. Closing the chart jacket, he tossed it to the kid. "File that will ya?" He turned his attention to Goldman, shoving the pen into the breast pocket of his scrubs. "Iím Dr. Striner. What did you want with that screw-up?"

"Excuse me?" Goldman frowned at the man, certain that he had misunderstood. All that whiskey last night, I could NOT have heard that right.

Striner pulled a stethoscope from a pocket in his baggy fatigue pants and looped it around his neck. He ran a professional gaze from Goldmanís bloodshot eyes to his scuffed and muddy boots. "Youíre a little the worse for wear, Lieutenant. Just in from the boonies, are you?" The sarcasm lay heavy in Strinerís voice. "And just what did you need with the biggest screw-up medic this Army has ever known?"

His hung-over fatigue falling from him in an instant, Goldman found himself in the manís face, fingers reaching for a handful of faded olive drab scrub shirt. Catching himself a heartbeat from impropriety, he closed his hand into a fist, laying his arm along the counter with barely disguised fury.

"He was the best medic I ever knew." Myron felt the sorrow slip into his words, the anger ebbing slowly away. "The best." He blinked, looking away for an instant.

Striner raised a mocking eyebrow. "And thatís why you kept him in your unit, then? I know what happened, Lieutenant Goldman." Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heel, striding off down the hallway.

Goldman stood stock still, the shame and guilt that he thought heíd drowned the night before flooding back into him, filling him up until there was no room left at all, barely enough room to take a breath. He realized he was trembling, visibly shaking, and crossed his arms hard across his chest, trying to force order into his muscles.

"Sir? I don't know if they took his stuff to the Supply Room yet. It might be in the Barracks. Just follow the corridor to the end and third set of doors on the right." The corpsman pointed helpfully, hoping like hell the boonie-rat would take the hint.

Goldman turned his neck to look at the man, feeling every tendon pop and stretch with the motion. The muscles in his jaw bulged as he struggled to speak.

"Thank you."

*** *** *** *** *** ***

 

Goldman slouched in his desk chair, elbows resting loosely on the armrests, his ashtray within easy reach. A cigarette burned between the fingers of his right hand, the smoke wafting sluggishly in the stale air that had followed the storms of the night before. He felt headachy, his thoughts drifting with the smoke, refusing to settle into any sort of order.

The box sat before him on the blotter, the uneven strips of tape curling at the ends in the hellish humidity. Goldman had been furious to discover that the paperwork stuck to the side had only been partially finished. Nobody had seemed to care enough about the medic to even ensure that his personal effects be properly dispatched. The lieutenant sighed, lifting his right arm and bringing the cigarette to his mouth, inhaling deeply. Not even me, Goldman considered, realizing that the forms for Hockenbury's transfer to Tan Son Nhut had not been properly filed. He sighed again.

The dorm room had been empty, no medics lounging on their racks during the duty day. Goldman had known instantly which cot had been Hockenburyís, would have known even without the mattress stockaded and pushed into an "S" against the headboard. It was in the far corner. A dark corner. A corner for brooding and smoking alone, not risking rejection. Like that handed to him by Percell. And Goldman himself.

Goldman stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray, holding the last nicotine-laden lungful as long as he could. He stood, rolling his shoulders to relieve the tension and slid open his desk drawer, retrieving the pocketknife he kept there for opening letters. Flicking it open, Myron easily slit the tape on the box and pulled the flaps open.

He wasnít sure just what heíd find. Alex, ALEX, had left behind a legacy of articles, both published and in draft form. And notes, photographs, a small camera in a battered leather case. All the tools of her trade, of her life.

Goldman shoved those thoughts away. Heíd never know now if heíd had a place in that life. Cassidy had inadvertently made him question that, her love for Hockenbury so sure, so real! Now that was shattered, too. The lieutenant closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to see what Hockenbury had felt important, had chosen to carry with him in his forced exile from Barnett.

He reached in, pulling out a tangle of leather and fine chains - Docís beloved peace sign necklace and his love beads. All had been sliced through in the back, no doubt cut from his body in the hospital. Goldman let them slide through the fingers of one hand to the other, feeling the smooth suede and the slick coolness of the beads against his calloused skin. A balm against his aching heart.

Extending his fingers into the box again, he retrieved a thick stack of envelopes, neatly rubber-banded together and wrapped in plastic against the ever-present dampness. Goldman sat back down in his creaking desk chair, holding the packet in his lap. He didnít need to read the return address to know who had sent them, he knew from the care Hockenbury had taken in protecting them. Protecting Caz and what they had the only way he could.

Setting the letters aside, Goldman tipped the box forward and looked in. All that was left was a small stack of official paperwork, Hockenburyís medals and a small, leather-bound book. The lieutenant raised an eyebrow, furrowing his forehead. He picked up the book, surprised by the softness of the cover as he ran his fingers gently over it. It was bloodstained, Goldman knew, heíd seen that color a hundred times.

A couple of snapshots were tucked into the book and Goldman slid them out, studying the faces smiling back at him in shades of grey. Hall, Kaminski and Cassidy, looking over their shoulders from the coffee urn in the dispensary, Kaminskiís cheeks full of cinnamon bun, the remains of which he held clutched in his hand. The young doctorís face was blurred as sheíd looked back at the photographer in surprise.

Goldman lit another cigarette as he pulled out the second photo, loss and guilt tugging at him like McKayís orphans looking for candy. McKay himself grinned as he posed on the steps of the clinic and Myron suddenly remembered the pilot bragging about the deal heíd gotten on a camera. For a few days afterward, Johnny had done nothing but take pictures, annoying the hell out of his roommate and just about everyone in the camp. But not, apparently, Doc and Caz, who stood next to him in the photo, arms looped around each other, ostensibly hamming it up for the lens, but Goldman could almost feel what was between them.

Thumbing his way through the little book, Goldman was surprised to see that it was about Emergency Medicine and not a bible as heíd expected. He knew as well as Anderson that Hockenbury had been carrying something with him everywhere; bringing his hand to his chest pocket when things got hairy, checking to make sure the flap was buttoned. Whatever it had been, THIS book, it had helped center the medic and Goldman hadnít questioned it.

He flipped to the flyleaf and felt his heart stop. Beneath the name J. Cassidy was Hockenburyís familiar scrawl. Goldman looked away, his hands trembling as they cradled the small book. He forced himself to turn back, to read the words.

Caz, you were right. Iíll always love you. FTH

Goldman lowered his forehead to his desk, the smooth leather cover of the book cool on his skin. He knew he had no tears left. The day before had drained him. But this was asking too much. He hadnít been able to speak at Alexís memorial. He couldnít write this letter to Caz. The rest of the stuff he could ship back to Hockenburyís anonymous family, the parents who had not known or understood their rebellious son. But not this.

The letters, the photos and the book Ė they belonged to Caz and he knew it was up to him to make sure she got them. Goldman just wasnít sure how he could possibly summon the energy to climb from his well of grief to do it.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

The soft rap of knuckles on the doorframe was not altogether unexpected. Myron stretched his legs out, resting his boots on top of the opened bottom drawer of his desk. A cigarette was burning away in the ashtray and he picked it up, taking a quick puff.

"Come."

If Anderson was surprised, he didnít show it. He nodded once to himself and shoved the door open, stepping into the lieutenantís hootch as if the last twenty-four hours hadnít happened. Zeke hadnít seen Myron since heíd arrived back at Camp Barnett with Hockenburyís effects, didnít know what sort of mood he might encounter. Just play Ďem as they lie.

"L-T." The sergeantís voice was low, hesitant. Anderson was aware that he knew Goldman better than anyone in the Camp. Hell, in the whole damn country! He sighed, crossing his arms across his broad chest. Right now Zeke had no idea what the young man was thinking. All he knew for sure was that Goldman and Hockenbury had shared something, some way of knowing, that this big dumb sergeant was never gonna understand. And that the loss of the young medic had torn Goldman apart.

Myron dropped his feet to the floor and sat up, grinding out his cigarette butt with a deceptively steady hand.

"Sergeant. Have a seat." He nodded toward the other desk chair as he reached for the leather book, picking it up and holding it flat between his palms, his thumbs rubbing gently over the soft cover.

"SergeantÖZeke, did you ever know what Doc had in his pocket? You know, he used toÖ" Goldman brushed the front of his shirt, his hand pausing over the breast pocket and one finger slipping under the flap. He shrugged, his dark eyes intent on his friend.

Anderson leaned forward on his chair, his elbows coming to rest on his knees. "Yeah, L-T, like he had somethiní in there he didnít wanna lose."

Didnít want to lose. The words echoed in the lieutenantís head a moment and he blinked, not trusting his voice for a moment. "It was this." Goldman surrendered the book, his hands feeling suddenly empty, and he tucked them into his armpits, arms crossed securely across his chest.

Zeke held the little volume reverently, his blue eyes softening as he stroked the blood-stained leather. "Been bled on a time or two, L-T." He turned it, reading the letters stamped into the spine. "Emergency Medicine Pocketbook? I thought it was a bible or somethiní."

Goldman nodded, picking up his pack of cigarettes and shaking out another. "Me, too." He lit up, watching Anderson pull the photos from between the pages.

"Nice picture of Sergeant Hall, here." He started to turn the snapshot to Goldman, realizing as he did so that the lieutenant had already seen them. "I guess Lieutenant McKay took these with his new camera. Ah, there he is, withÖwith Doc and Dr. Cassidy." Andersonís voice trailed off and he carefully traced the images with his index finger, refusing to meet Goldmanís gaze.

"I, ah, I wrote a letter to Dr. Seymour last night, after I heard theÖnews. Tole her I guess she knew what she was doiní after all." Zeke opened the book then, his eyes drawn to the spiky writing. "Oh, lord."

Goldman shoved himself to his feet, walking past the sergeant to the door. "Yeah." He stood there, silently smoking as he watched the foot traffic pass by.

"Whatcha gonna say to her, L-T?"

Andersonís voice was edged with something Goldman had never heard before from the man and he was hard put to identify it. Fear? Anxiety? Suddenly he realized what Zeke was really asking. What would you say to Dr. Seymour? THAT was a question for which he had no answer, and hoped that heíd never have to find out.

"Here, read this." Myron crossed back to the desk, picking up the single sheet of writing paper and handing it to Anderson. He sat down on his rack, facing the sergeant and shoving his free hand through his hair. "Zeke, please read it and tell me if itís all right."

Anderson stared at the paper a moment, knowing what Goldman had said, but hearing something else entirely. Please tell me itís all right. Please let it be all right. Help me make it all right. Help me make it.

With a sigh, Anderson began to read.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

45th Surgical Hospital, Tah Ninh, Republic of Vietnam

Dear Captain Cassidy,

I regret to inform you of the death of Francis T. Hockenbury during a rocket attack in the city of Saigon. I also regret that I cannot be there in person to tell you this. A letter doesnít seem to be enough. Iíve written so many of these letters now and this one has to be the hardest.

I know I promised Iíd send him home to you, Caz. I tried. I thought Iíd found a way to keep him safe. I know now I was wrong. I think it didnít matter what I did, where I sent him because I couldnít save him.

McKay told me he wrote to you about Kuslits. I think Doc lost himself at that moment, Caz. He lost himself and couldnít find a way back. I think he finally understood how you could do what you did that day in the dispensary and it hurt him to find that what he believed wasnít enough to keep them all alive. And a man died because of his misplaced faith.

I believe he felt like he was drowning and he had only one life preserver to hang on to. And that was you, Caz. He loved you, I know he did. And he never stopped, not even after the shooting. He carried that book of yours with him everywhere. I remember seeing him pat his pocket out in the bush after a firefight, touching that only piece of you he had left. He was fighting his way back to you, right up until Kuslits.

I know Iím not the best example. What I do know is this: Doc loved you with all he had and I know you loved him just as much. I know you still do. He wouldnít want you to quit living, Caz. You have to find a way to keep him in your heart and move on. Itís what he wanted. For you to have a life full of love and joy and laughter. I know he wanted to be a part of that. Iím so sorry, Caz, so sorry.

Iím afraid my words are inadequate. If there is ever anything at all I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.

Sincerely yours,

Myron Goldman, 1LT, US Army

Caz slowly closed her eyes, the fingers of one hand curling into a fist and crushing Goldmanís letter, the other clutching the small book to her chest. She felt the blood rushing in her ears, a tidal wave that threatened to take her under, drowning her in an ocean of grief.

She sat there for a long time, unseeing, unhearing, aware only of the soft leather against her palm. The book had spilled into her lap as sheíd torn open the envelope and she had known in that instant that all hope was lost. All the careful words theyíd exchanged in their letters, healing words, had been for nothing. Doc was gone forever.

Cassidy ran gentle fingers over his last message to her, lingering over the word "love", knowing heíd meant it with all of his being. And felt the response of her own aching, wounded heart as a knife in her chest. Lying down carefully on the cot, Caz wrapped her arms around herself, desperate to relieve the pain, desperate to feel nothing at all.

Night fell over the compound as she lay there, eyes wide open and staring into the darkness, acutely aware of the tinny sounds of a nearby radio and the growling roll of distant thunder, the indistinct voices of people passing in the alleyway.

The rain came sweeping in with an impressive display of lightning, bringing the momentary illusion of fresh air in its wake. By midnight the radio had long been silenced and no one walked by except the occasional sentry, footsteps light on the wooden boardwalk.

And still Caz lay there. Eyes wide open and staring. Afraid to fall asleep and wake to find it wasnít a dream.

 

Epilog

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