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Gee, Ma, I Wanna Go Home

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They treat us all like monkeys / And make us stand in line, They give you fifty dollars a month / And take back forty-nine. Oh, I don't want no more of Army life / Gee, Ma, I wanna go home.

-- from "Army Life," Traditional, World War II

 

"Ma!" Doggett rubbed his forehead and swapped the phone to his other ear. "Would you just relax, Ma?"

"I worry about you, Jackie," she said. "And you like it when I worry."

"I like it when you worry," he agreed. "Makes me feel loved. I don't like it when you...have those little freakouts, is all."

"It's Mother's Day," she said, and he could hear her walk across the room and turn on the sink. "You'll cut me a break because you love your Mama."

"You doin' dishes, there, Ma?"

"Just from supper."

"Can't you leave it till tomorrow? Let Carlotta do it?"

"When are you gonna settle down with a nice girl again, Jackie?" she said, just to piss him off.

He laughed. "Fine," he said. "So I gotta get some sleep, I'm beat."

"Are you eating okay? You need me to send you anything? I made pecan cookies."

"Absolutely," he said. "Would you? That'd be real nice."

"If you tell me why every time you call me you been running around because some lunatic's trying to kill you."

"Ah," he said, standing up and heading for the bathroom. "Comes with the job."

"I hate your job," she said.

He exhaled, staring at himself in the medicine chest mirror. "Me too," he said. "But at least the pay's crappy."

"You're looking for other work?"

He squirted Dial antibacterial soap into his hands and turned on the faucet with his wrist. "I got some resumes out," he joked. "Was thinking I'd try accounting. Bookkeeping's a thrillride, I hear."

"Jackie --"

"Happy Mother's Day," he said. "Go to bed. It's late."

"You too," she said. "Who loves you, baby?"

"Yeah, love you too, Ma."

She hung up, and he wedged the phone against his shoulder and dried his hands on a towel hanging over the shower bar.

Phone rang again, just as he was hanging it up. "Yeah?"

"John?"

"Who's this?"

"Agent Doggett, I'm sorry to bother you at home on a Sunday. This is Walter Skinner."

Doggett collapsed on the couch again and found "All in the Family" on TV. He muted it. "What's up, Skinner?"

"You know, it's not important," Skinner said. "It can wait."

Doggett read Archie Bunker's lips -- "MEATHEAD!"

"Awright," Doggett said. "You sure? I ain't doing anything important, I mean, you didn't interrupt anything. Just got off the phone from wishing Ma a happy Mother's Day."

Skinner coughed. Edith Bunker shook her head and ran out of the room, waving her hands in the air. "My mother's dead," Skinner said.

"Sorry to hear that," Doggett said, wondering where his beer had gone. "Mine's alive and well and living in Oyster Bay."

"Very swank," Skinner said.

"Dad left some money," Doggett said. He found his beer on top of the TV. "Uh, Skinner? There anything I can help you with?"

"She just died a year ago, little more than that," Skinner said. "I didn't even make it down for the funeral. We were too busy dealing with the death of Agent Mulder's mother."

"Goddamn that Mulder," Doggett chuckled.

"If you're really not busy, you want to go grab a beer?"

Doggett grabbed his beer off the top of the television and finished it. "Sure," he said. "I haven't had much luck getting to sleep lately anyway."

&&&&&

"She was a great lady," Skinner said. "Lived alone for twenty years in Wilmington, North Carolina and worked right up to her dying day."

"Your dad ain't around, then?"

"He walked out on us when I was ten," Skinner said. "He was a consummate drunk, if you believe my mom."

"Always believe your mama," Doggett said.

"Good advice," Skinner said, knocking back most of a neat Jim Beam. "Angela Skinner was the best woman I ever knew."

"Rosalind Doggett bakes a mean batch of pecan cookies," Doggett said, waggling his eyebrows and tipping up his bottle of Bud.

"I wonder if Mulder's doing anything for Scully for Mother's Day," Skinner said.

"Ah, you know, I was gonna get her something, and I totally forgot," Doggett said. "Thought I'd get her some of that bath stuff they like."

"I sent a card," Skinner said.

"That was awful nice of you. I got this thing where the minute I step out the door I forget about work entirely. Helps me get through the night, but at the same time, I forget about stuff like buying presents."

"I'd trade in a minute," Skinner said, and for the first time Doggett thought Walter looked his age, little and old and bald and sad. "Those two will suck the life out of you if you let 'em."

"It's a job," Doggett said, same words he'd repeated to himself when he'd first gotten involved with the X-Files, gotten a taste of just how broad and deep this stuff ran. "You gotta look at it that way. Pay the bills, live your life."

"I can't do that," Skinner shook his head. "I worry about Agent Scully. I worry about Mulder too."

"Ten to one they ain't worrying about you," Doggett said.

"I'm not part of a global alien conspiracy."

Doggett raised his hand, palm up. "Who knows?" he said. "They're good people. I mean, they mean well. I've gotten to know Agent Scully pretty well these last couple'a months --"

"You've been attached to the x-files for almost a year," Skinner said.

Doggett laughed. "Jesus Christ, really? I definitely haven't slept enough, then."

"I told you," Skinner said. "It sucks the life out of a person."

Doggett stood up. "Not me," he said. "I been a cop, I been a Marine. There isn't that much that can knock my socks off anymore. You want another round? I'm buying."

"Yeah," Skinner said. "Thanks."

In another life, he'd have been friends with this man anyway, Doggett thought, nodding at the twentysomething bartender who flashed him a smile and then ignored him. Skinner had been around, he'd been in country, he'd come back to the world after a tour of duty that didn't kill him, hung onto enough sanity to serve his country again in the Bureau.

"Yeah?" the bartender called over her shoulder.

"Two shots of Jim Beam, neat, and a couple bottles of Bud," Doggett said.

"Yep," the bartender said. She turned to get the bottle of bourbon down and when she stood on tiptoe he could see she had a tattoo sprawled across her back.

In the Corps, he'd fucked men like Skinner, to remind himself he was still alive. They'd been his COs, his infantrymen -- his drill sergeant at boot had been a wiry little warhorse himself. They'd grunted like Marines and fucked like men, and they'd gotten out of the Mideast and home to their wives only cracked, not broken.

He brought the booze back to the table and sat down again. "When were you in Parris Island?"

Skinner downed the bourbon and slapped the table twice. "Sixty-eight," he said. "You?"

"Nineteen-eighty," Doggett said. "You know a drill sarge name of Perry? Jackson Perry?"

Skinner gave him a funny look. "I met Jackson Perry in country," he said. "We posted together at Nha Trang."

"Tough old bastard, he was," Doggett said.

Skinner grinned. "He was," he agreed. "He was a good guy, Perry."

"Yeah, when he wasn't kicking my ass," Doggett said.

"I wonder what he's doing these days?"

"Beats me," Doggett said. "I ain't heard from him since boot."

"Yeah," Skinner said, looking faraway for a minute. "Jackson Perry. I haven't thought about him in a long time."

"Me neither," Doggett said. "Don't even know what reminded me."

Skinner had reminded him. It was war on a different front now, flighty and absurd, but sleep was still expensive and elusive, and still he spent every day with his hand on the butt of a gun. And like there was stuff he didn't want to know when he served in the Gulf, there was stuff he didn't want to know now, didn't want to believe. Back then, he'd come back to camp, smoked a joint, gotten laid by some tight-assed new recruit or some Babylonian whore, but the climate in Washington DC in the twenty-first century wouldn't let him get away with that anymore. So he had to find new ways to forget.

"We've seen worse than this, John," Skinner said. "Worse than what's happening to Mulder and Scully now. You and I have been in worse places."

"You been in worse places than me," Doggett said. "Here and in country. I don't know I'd've survived if I had to go to 'Nam."

"Nah," Skinner said, beer bottle clinking against his teeth. "You survive. You find ways."

Doggett nodded. "You do." It came back to him in a flash, terrorist bomb in a school bus in Jordan, kids running in nine directions, running straight into the fire. Women screaming in Arabic, bleeding from their heads, prayer shawls soaked in blood.

"Were you married?" Skinner asked.

"Yeah," Doggett said. "Twice. Kathleen and I got hitched in college, which was just stupid. We broke up as soon as I got back to the world. And then Jane and I was married for like fifteen minutes -- she had a kid, it was just a disaster. I was a whole lot of dumb, a whole lot of times."

"I know the feeling," Skinner smiled. "I know it well."

"You were married?"

Skinner nodded. "Yeah." He didn't seem inclined to elaborate.

"Okay," Doggett said.

"Jackson Perry, huh?" Skinner said, and then it was clear Skinner'd known Perry too, he'd had his own tight recruit's ass rammed full of Perry's cock in some tent somewhere in the rice fields.

"Yeah," Doggett said, slowly. "I knew him pretty well."

Skinner nodded. "Me too. I was a second looie when I shipped off to An Khe. He was a private, then, I think. Stayed in Nha Trang till he went home."

"Never made it past sergeant, myself," Doggett said. "I was a regular enlisted man, a career grunt."

"We filled foxholes with kids like you."

Doggett shook his head. "In my day it was electronics and control rooms. We were an amphibious unit, so I spent half my time in the Gulf on the Hurricane."

"Patrol ship?"

Doggett nodded, taking a draw off his beer.

Skinner took off his glasses and looked worlds younger. "It's nice to talk with someone who gets it," he said.

"Yeah, it is," Doggett said.

"Man, I'm tired," Skinner said. "I mean, tired of all this."

"Me too," Doggett said. "So I can only imagine. You having been at this, what, eight years now?"

"Longer than that," Skinner said. "Mulder was working on the x-files for a couple of years before Scully came along. Though if you want to know the truth, it didn't get weird till she signed on."

"They're a dangerous pair," Doggett said. "They're a couple of human lightning rods."

Skinner nodded. "They really are."

"And I don't mean to sound like I could know half of what you been through with them and with the x-files," Doggett said. "It was weird like this before?"

"Oh, John," Skinner said, and laughed, and Doggett laughed too because he liked the way Skinner said his name. "It's been so much weirder. You've read the case reports. This thing with Scully and her baby, this is a walk in the park."

"And this guy Krycek?"

Skinner finished his beer. "Who knows? He's been lurking in the shadows for years now. He shows up when he wants something. He's like an alley cat."

"He's tough," Doggett said, carefully. "I don't trust him as far as I can throw him, but you gotta respect a guy like that."

"I don't," Skinner said. "I don't have to respect anyone."

"Well, Deputy Director Kersh --"

Skinner held up a hand. "Let's just stop right here, Agent Doggett," he said. "I'd rather we don't talk shop anymore."

Doggett nodded. "Fair enough," he said.

They drank a little in silence. The waitress came, took their empties away, came back with a couple more shots and two more bottles of Bud. They drank some more.

"Hey, uh, Skinner?"

"Walter," Skinner said, putting his glasses back on.

"Okay, Walter," Doggett said. "Why'd you, uh, want to go out with me tonight?"

"I was getting broody," Skinner said. "It's Mother's Day, that's hard. And I like you, John Doggett."

"Yeah?"

"Like I said before. It's nice to talk to someone who gets it."

"Yeah," Doggett said.

"Anybody ever call you Jack? Johnny? Something?"

"My ma calls me Jackie," Doggett said.

"You don't look like a Jackie to me."

Doggett laughed. "I haven't looked like a Jackie since I was ten years old and playing street hockey," he said. "They call you Walt? As in Disney?"

"Not really."

"You're a geek, there, Mr. Skinner."

Skinner slammed his beer bottle on the table. "I am," he said. "I'm a real pussy."

"You're a Marine," Doggett said.

"Full Lieutenant before I got out."

"It's an honor to share a cold one with you, sir," Doggett said.

But it had been too many drinks, now, and it was too late, and it was too much like the little bars in Beirut that closed at sundown and Doggett and his boys'd come in just before midnight, knock on the window and Mr. Subaho would let them in because they paid American dollars and they checked their weapons at the door. Mostly. And when they'd stumble back to the compound before dawn, Doggett would steer a private up the stairs with his hand on the private's ass, and he'd fuck him in the shower and their grunts would echo off the wet tile like a hundred thousand Marines before.

It was a grand tradition, a thematic rescue, the cult of brotherhood that reached back farther than Jackson Perry. Farther than John Doggett or Walter Skinner, but they'd both been there and they knew what happened next.

"You know a place near here?" Doggett said, because was drunk and he didn't care anymore.

"Yeah," Skinner said. "Upstairs, actually."

"You come here a lot?"

Skinner shook his head. "Not for years," he said. "Not for a whole lot of years."

Doggett paid for the rest of the bottle of Jim Beam even though he knew another shot would probably kill him. Up the stairs there was a narrow concrete corridor, doors and whores and a beat-up brown velour couch where a half-naked guy with Marine tattoos was passed out in a prostitute's lap. The walls were tacked up half-assedly with gun magazine centerfolds and peeling yellowed newsclippings, and Skinner led the way up a couple more stairs, around the corner, another hall.

A hooker straddled a wooden chair next to a door, and even though she was white Doggett half imagined her saying "GI? Want good ass? I give good ass to American GI." Instead she just nodded at them, picking at a peeling cuticle. They slipped by her and pushed open the door.

The bed was GI too, green wool blanket and a couple silk pillows embroidered with pinup girls and states' names. Hawaii. Idaho. Alabama.

"This a Marine bar, then?" Doggett asked.

"Mostly," Skinner said. "Caters to us idiots suffering from Stockholm Syndrome."

"Sick that we miss it," Doggett said. "Just that we can't forget it."

"No," Skinner said, unbuttoning his shirt, taking off his glasses and setting them carefully on a plastic milk crate next to the bed. "And guys like you and me, we're still at war. All the time."

Doggett sat on the edge of the bed and watched Skinner undress, the tight expanse of his chest, the tattoo on his bicep. The room reeked of sex and booze and urine, and somehow, behind it all, it smelled like Beirut. Probably Saigon too. Seoul. Berlin. Paris, France. Parris Island.

He thought about Mother's Day, 1983. Just a couple months before the bastards had shot him and he'd gone in for surgery and come out a grown up asshole whose wife would leave him within the year.

He wondered if he'd sent his mom a card.