"I tell you, Murdock. This is the biggest and best scam I've ever pulled." Lt. Templeton Peck threw the baseball at his friend, jogged out to catch the return throw. "All I had to do was pull a little switcharoo."
Murdock leaned back, put a little heat on the pitch. "I'm not so sure about this, Faceman. I mean, don't you think we're going to get caught?"
Face looked at the lanky pilot, smiled. "I doubt it. I never get caught. Besides, you have nothing to do with it."
"It was my idea."
"So it was. But no one knows that but you and me."
Murdock had complained that he didn't have any friends going with him on leave. Face decided he would go with him, by hook or by crook. Being a bit of con artist he chose the crook route. So when Hannibal announced to the company which men were going on leave in four days, Face glanced over at his best friend and smiled.
Face could no longer remember when Murdock wasn't part of his life. They had been through firefights, monsoons, food poisoning, burrowing insect bites, and quiet nights together listening to the wind rustle through the jungle. They had been together through the deaths of friends and colleagues. The death of Murdock's grandfather three months before. They were best friends in every sense of the word, and now they would experience six days of R&R in beautiful, bomb free Hawaii.
The happiness was momentary when the Colonel announced all the names of the soldiers going on the trip with them, including Trenton, Murdock's mortal enemy. No one could pronounce the beefy Polish man's last name, but he hailed from New Jersey. Murdock had nothing against the man, really; Trenton hated Murdock with a burning passion and went out of his way to make his life miserable.
"Captain, he won't ruin our fun, I promise."
"If you say so, muchacho."
Face started packing three nights before, checking his list of clothing and toiletries three times. He was positively giddy with excitement. He'd never been to Hawaii before and to this boy from the orphanage it seemed like a dream come true. Murdock, on the other hand, seemed indifferent. When Face asked him what he was bringing, he replied, "My gym shoes, my pants, some t-shirts, my lucky ball cap, clean britches and a pack of gum."
"C'mon, Murdock. Bring your dress greens."
"Oh, I have some ideas."
"Fine, Faceman. But I don't have to like it."
The officer's club was packed and buzzing with excitement. All the men who were going to Hawaii were toasting to their good fortune. Trenton stood at the back of the room, glaring at Murdock. Murdock looked up and saw him. He nodded to him and smiled. Trenton frowned.
"What's his problem?"
"Oh, you know, Face, the usual. Irrational hate, jealousy over my good looks."
Face grinned. "Was he nasty to you again?"
"He's always nasty to me."
B.A. came up to the guys. He asked for a glass of milk from the bar, then found a seat and sat down next to Murdock. "Hey, fool. You gonna let him stare at you like that?" he said, cocking his head towards Trenton.
Murdock took a deep swig of his beer. "Let him stare. It don't bother me."
B.A. cracked his knuckles. "It bothers me, Murdock. Someone ought to wipe that stupid, inbred look off his face. I should do it."
Murdock put his hand on B.A.'s shoulder. "Come on now, Big Guy. You know that ain't gonna happen. Now just settle down and forget about Trenton."
B.A. took his glass of milk and walked away. Face took his seat. "He's not going to bother us in Hawaii."
"Kid, you can't guarantee that."
"Yeah, but I know that we won't let him spoil our good time."
Murdock smiled, clinked his beer bottle against Face's. "I'll drink to that."
It was two nights before they were to go to Hawaii. Face and Murdock walked towards the mess hall, and saw Jonesy, Murdock's fellow helicopter pilot, getting ready to leave.
"Hey, hey, man! Better wish me luck, I'm going out into the wild blue yonder."
Murdock ran over to his friend, slapped him on the back. "We better do this quickly, then."
They had a ritual - they would sing an old cowboy song together, and Jonesy and Murdock would both yodel and howl at the same time. To Face, it seemed like something old friends would do. He was pretty sure that they were old friends. Or it could be they were both nuts. Chopper jockeys were a special breed of crazy, anyway. Especially here in Vietnam.
The two pilots howled and slapped hands.
"See ya, Howlin'. Dinky dau!"
"See ya, Jonesy."
The next morning, Face made his rounds, making sure that Hannibal had all the goods he needed before he left camp. He had packed again that morning, making sure that he had enough underwear and clean socks. Walking into his hooch, he ran into his bunkmate, Opie.
"Hey, Peck. Got word that Jonesy's been shot down."
Face's heart fell to his stomach. "Jonesy Jonesy?"
"You know any other Jonesys?" Opie cleaned his glasses with a dirty handkerchief.
"I think so."
Face knew there was only one place he had to be at this moment. "Do you know where Captain Murdock might be?"
"Prob'ly in the club. He's got a run this afternoon, you know, 'fore ya'll go off to leave."
Face ran into the stifling hot Quonset hut that doubled as the officer's club. Murdock was there, sitting alone at the bar. In front of him was an untouched bottle of Dr. Pepper.
"Murdock? Hey, Murdock, I just heard..."
Murdock didn't say a word, just sat there.
"Hey, I'm sorry."
His voice was low and husky. "There's nothing to be sorry about, Lieutenant. You live. You die. Did you know that Ned had a little girl at home?"
Face had never heard Murdock refer to his friend and fellow pilot as anything other than Jonesy. He knew that this had hit him hard. "I didn't know him as well as you did."
Murdock sighed, his eyes unfocused. "We went to flight school together. I have to write Carolyn, tell her. Send her Ned's stuff. Her little girl ought to be proud of her daddy."
"Murdock. I'm... I'm sorry."
He watched as a lone tear tracked down his friend's cheek. "Jonesy was... He... Face, I'm tired of losing friends. I don't have that many in the first place."
Face reached out to touch Murdock's shoulder, thought better of it. "I promise you. You'll never lose me," he said quietly.
Murdock stared straight ahead, then wiped his eyes. "I better go. Duty calls."
The day dragged on. Briefings and talks of new LZs and unceasing hell. Face could hardly concentrate. It didn't seem fair that on the eve of their leave, this would happen to Jonesy, of all people. All he wanted was to go away. All he wanted was six days alone, with no orders, no cares, his best friend. The love of his life.
It was the biggest surprise of a life filled with surprises - the only thing he was certain of in a world full of uncertainty. That he would even be attracted to a man, let alone this one. But the proof was undeniable. He never felt more complete than he did when he was with Murdock. Just once he wanted to make Murdock feel as good as he did when he was with him. So he maneuvered this leave for them both. Besides, he was aching to know what Murdock was like under more normal circumstances. Only, who would know if anything could ever be normal again?
The first day in Hawaii, they sat alone in their shared hotel room. Face had unpacked his duffel and carrying case, stowed everything neat as a pin in the bedside tables and closets. Murdock, on the other hand, dug around in his suitcases. The only thing he hung up were his dress greens.
"So, Murdock. What do you want to do first?"
The pilot laid back on the bed, his hat low on his forehead. "Sleep."
"Other than that."
Face smiled. "I'm working on it."
They walked around the hotel, finding the pool area. Lots of pretty ladies in sarongs and bikinis stared at them. Murdock smiled that goofy, friendly smile at all of them, charming them. Face wondered how a guy who looked the way Murdock did didn't have mobs of girls around him. But there was a darker side to the court jester, and maybe that scared them away. It didn't scare him. It intrigued him.
"Look, Faceman. A tiki bar! Let's go in and have one of those fruity drinks with the umbrellas in them."
They walked in, snagged a table in the corner. Murdock insisted on something called a Singapore Sling served in a giant pineapple. They drank, listening to the music blaring out of the speakers. The Doors. It flooded Face with memories, good and bad.
"Murdock? You know if you grew your hair out a little bit and wore a pair of leather pants, you'd look like Jim Morrison."
Murdock arched an eyebrow, took a sip out of the pineapple. "I think you've had too much to drink, kid. Everyone knows I'd look more like Colonel Morrison."
Face started to laugh, choked on his beer. Murdock howled with delight and slapped his leg.
Later that evening, Murdock took a shower and went straight to bed, complaining of a buzzing headache. Face stayed up, reading a pilfered Wall Street Journal from the lobby and writing to Father O'Malley at the orphanage. He looked over at his friend, who was already tossing and turning.
He was having a nightmare. Face recalled how the kids at the orphanage would scream in the night, and the nuns would run in to hold their hands while they shrieked in terror. He wasn't sure what to do when it was a grown man having a nightmare.
Dammit, pull up!
Face slowly walked to the bed, wondered if he should wake him up.
Ned. Don't go! Ray, you've got to stop him. Jonesy… He sat up, sweat pouring off of his brow.
"Murdock! Murdock, are you all right?" Face sat on the side of Murdock's bed, his hand on his back.
Breathing heavily, Murdock shook his head. "Just a dream, that's all, buddy. That's all. Sorry to bother you, kid."
"Not a bother at all." Face squeezed his friend's shoulder, smiled.
The sun crept into their room. Face threw the covers over his head, groaned. "Murdock, close the curtains. We're on leave. There's no reason to be up at the crack of dawn."
He looked out of a small opening he left at the top of the blanket. Murdock was already dressed in a pair of too big khaki pants and a white t-shirt. "C'mon, Faceman, up and at 'em. We're going to miss breakfast if you don't hurry up. I heard they have real eggs here, out of real chickens."
Face whined a little. "I am hungry, but, for the love of God, man. Why are you so chipper in the morning?"
Murdock smiled. "Why are you such a baby?"
He got dressed, then he and Murdock walked down to the hotel lobby. There was a small cafe across the street filled with servicemen. In the far back, they saw Trenton. He was arguing with a man wearing a boonie hat.
"Looks like our friend's got a problem with a Marine now."
"Maybe he'll kill him and spare us the misery," Murdock said.
Face chuckled. "You don't mean that."
"That's for me to know and you to find out."
They asked for two menus to look at while they waited for a table. Murdock put it down almost immediately. Face peeked over his menu at his friend. "Murdock. You already know what you want?"
"Yep. Scrambled eggs, bacon, wheat toast and a bottle of Coke."
Face shook his head. "We have scrambled eggs every day. And you don't want a steak? And coffee? Real, genuine coffee? What is wrong with you?"
"Breakfast of champions, Face."
Meanwhile, Trenton and the Marine's conversation got louder and louder. Face would make out words like "you promised" and "sham".
"I wonder what they are arguing about?"
Murdock smiled. "Who cares? Oh, good, there's an open table."
They started to walk towards their table when the Marine barged past them. Trenton stormed towards them, bumping into Face. "Move it, Butterbar."
"Hey, Trenton. Don't you think you ought to apologize? I mean, that's awful rude," Murdock drawled.
"Sorry, Frances," Trenton scoffed, and continued to chase after the Marine.
Murdock sat down, frowning. "He called you Frances."
Face put his napkin in his lap. "It doesn't matter. I wonder what's eating him?"
"I know what I'll be eating. Real eggs."
Later that afternoon, they were sitting in the hotel room, enjoying the cool breezes that blew through the open windows. Murdock was laying on his stomach, reading a comic book that he had picked up on the newsstand. Face stood by the sliding glass door, staring out at the impossibly blue sky. He saw airplanes, he saw birds, and he thought of Jonesy.
"Teach me the song."
Murdock rolled over, sat up on the edge of his bed. "Which song?"
Face turned to look at his friend. "You know. The song. The one you sang with Jonesy."
"What brought this on?"
Face looked at his feet, picked an invisible piece of lint off of his pants. "Well, I figured you'd need someone to sing the song with you when we got back to Vietnam, and it might as well be me."
Murdock was quiet for what seemed like an eternity. He stood up, walked towards Face, and put his hands on Face's shoulders. He moved closer until they were almost nose to nose. Face held his breath for a moment. He silently prayed to whatever saints and angels that watched over him that he wouldn't betray himself.
Then Murdock gave him a strange look, smiled, took a step back, and softly started to hum. Face hummed along with him, and then when they were both in the same key, Murdock began to sing.
Now, yippee-oh, yippee-aye, at the break of the day
I ride along with a song in my heart all the way
I find an open range, a land that is free
Out where the skies of blue keep smiling down on me
And when the sun goes to rest on the rim of the west
The moon above will return and the campfires burn
To the stars above I sing of my love
With a sagebrush symphony.
Face knew the yodeling howl, having heard it clearly when Jonesy and Murdock would sing the song. He raised his voice and sang along with Murdock. The two men started laughing, and then, just as suddenly as he began laughing, Murdock started to cry. Face didn't think, he only reacted. He grabbed Murdock and crushed him in a hug. Murdock sniffled a little. "I'm sorry, Face. I'm sorry."
Face rubbed his back, in what he hoped was a comforting way. "It's all right. That's what I'm here for."
Murdock pulled himself away. Face went back to his bed and sat down. "Why that song, anyway?"
Murdock sort of belly flopped onto his own bed, feet sticking straight up in the air. "Well, Ned was from Wyoming. And me being from Texas, we just sorta gravitated towards each other in flight school. We were the cowboys, so to speak. I mean, you knew Jonesy a little, he was a little bit of a lone wolf, you know?"
Face nodded. "So you picked a cowboy song to go with your cowboy status?"
"No. It was because there weren't any words to "Misirlou" that I know of. And Jonesy only listened to surf music or old cowboy songs. Stuff like that."
"I always wondered. I thought it was because everyone called you Howlin' Mad."
"Nah, that was way after I got to 'Nam. 'sides, we're all a little crazy here, right?"
Face shook his head. "If you say so."
Murdock chuckled. Face hummed the song softly under his breath, then Murdock cleared his throat slightly. "Uh, Face?"
"You need voice lessons." He started laughing again. Face knew that his friend would hurt, might always hurt, but he would get through it. He'd be okay.
He woke up with a painful erection. He had forgotten for a moment where he was, and when he looked over he saw Murdock in the other bed. It didn't help in the least. Murdock had thrashed himself out from under the covers, as naked as the day he came into this world.
Think about Leslie. Think about Leslie. She got you into this mess in the first place, skipping out like that. Joining the Army, a desperate act of a stupid nineteen year old boy-man. Twenty when he set foot in the camp that became his home; twenty years old when he met Murdock for the first time. Twenty when his whole life changed.
Fuck! Not working! Think about baseball. Baseball! Yes, think about throwing the ball. Catching it. Murdock leaping to catch it, throwing and moving with catlike grace, his lean, ropey muscles flexing, gleaming in the sun.
Not helping! Oh... oh, shit. Think about Father Magill, think about Ray, think about that stupid asshole Trenton. No use. All roads lead to Murdock.
He quietly stepped out of bed and walked quickly to the bathroom. He shut the door, and slid down the door to the floor of the room. He had to relieve the tension, he had to master his rebel flesh, he had to stop this madness. Furiously. Immediately. He bit his lip, picking up speed and caught himself almost moaning Murdock's name.
He cleaned himself up, flushed the toilet as a cover story, and walked back to his bed. He climbed back under the sheets, and fluffed his pillow.
"Face? Ya'llright? In there awhile," asked a groggy Murdock.
Face froze. Oh, shit. He heard me! "Uh, yeah, Murdock. I'm fine. Just a little problem. It's taken care of."
Face didn't dare look over at the other side of the room. Sleep couldn't come soon enough.
The second day of leave, they made their way to the other side of the island. Face was transfixed by Murdock's happiness; his smile was so bright and cheerful. He had never seen his friend so happy.
"Hey, Face," Murdock said. "Why did you decide to join the Army?"
Face frowned a little. "Huh. Why did you?"
"It was either that or go crazy on the farm."
Face knew very little about Murdock's early years. What he did know, he pieced together from the odd conversations and a few small conversations they had. He knew that Murdock had grown up in Texas, that his grandparents raised him, that his mom had died when he was a small boy, and that he didn't like to talk about it much.
"I didn't know you were raised on a farm, Murdock."
"Yep." He kicked the sand beneath his feet. "Gran and Grandpa had a hardscrabble place, and I helped out a lot, with the chickens and such."
Murdock smiled, sat down on a bench. "Oh, I had a few dogs, an old barn cat, named most of the chickens before we killed them and plucked them. How about you, Faceman? Did they allow the orphans to actually own anything?"
Face shook his head, then sat next to his friend. "No. The nuns didn't think that a lot of shiftless children could take care of a goldfish, much less a dog or cat or anything like that."
"That's too bad. All children should have a pet or two."
Face only shrugged his shoulders. "I did all right. But you didn't really answer my question. Why did you join the Army?"
Murdock sighed. "I guess I wanted to go away, be my own man. Get the fuck out of Texas. Be free to fly."
"I understand that. That's one reason why I signed up."
The pilot smiled, took his hat off and tossed it in the air, playing catch with himself. "Who was she?"
"How did you..."
Murdock put his hat back on, put his hand on Face's shoulder. "I know you. I know how you think. Who was she?"
Face groaned, rubbed his temples gingerly. "Her name was Leslie. She was the first girl I ever thought I could settle down with. We dated for a while in college, I asked her to marry me, she refused, and then she refused to see me ever again. She had her roommate come to the door and tell me that she was seeing another man."
They sat for a moment, wordless. Murdock asked softly, "But why?"
"I don't know, Murdock."
"Did you love her?"
Face's voice was faint. "I loved her as much as I've loved anyone in my life. And she left me. Like everyone else has left me." As soon as he said it, he realized that what he said was true. He did love Leslie as much as he had loved anyone in his life at the time. But he knew it wasn't that way any longer. The knowledge both thrilled and terrified him.
Murdock's hand was heavy, yet gentle and warm, on Face's hand. He squeezed gently. "Not everyone, Faceman. Not me."
Face felt as thought he had been scalded by an iron. Murdock's hand felt like electricity, shocking and hot, the tingles coursed up his arm and into his heart. Face slid his hand away, shook it a little. "Yeah. Well," he said, inhaling sharply, "You can't leave because we're stuck together." As soon as he said it, he knew he had made a huge mistake. He and his big, dumb mouth.
"I'm not Leslie. I'm not your parents. And I'm not fucking leaving. The only people in my life I've ever cared about are all dead except for you, and you're going to have a hard time getting rid of me, even if you wanted to."
Minutes seemed to crawl by. Face smiled, feeling shy and nervous for some strange reason, as if he were sitting on the bench naked. He looked Murdock in the eye. "I'm sorry, Murdock."
"I'm sorry, too. I'm sorry that someone made you feel that way. I know how that is." Murdock's eyes were dark, turbulent.
"Let's just say, I know how it feels to not be wanted." Murdock rose to his feet, started to walk back toward the hotel. Face followed behind. The time for talking was over. The best thing to do, the only thing to do, was to show. He grabbed Murdock by the arm, slowed his momentum.
Murdock stopped, turned toward his friend. Face knew that using his given name would cause a little confusion. Murdock always seemed to work well with chaos, and he thought that, maybe, this might work.
"Hey, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
"It's okay, Faceman. You always hurt the ones you love, you know?"
Face winced, a little. If only you knew… "I guess so. I don't know about you, but I'd like a beer." Because if I don't have a drink soon, I think I might end up telling you how much I love you.
The fourth day of leave, they decided to go back to the beach and swim in the wild surf. The sun was high and hot, the beach choked with beautiful women in bikinis. Murdock was dressed in a pair of striped shorts that he bought at a beachside shack. Face wore a pair of cutoff jean shorts. Both were shirtless, both wore their dog tags. A few women stared at them, one or two brave girls giggled and pointed.
Murdock ran headlong into the white, foamy surf, leaping up like a dolphin and howling with delight. Face lagged behind, laughing at his friend while allowing the waves to crash over him. He never thought he could ever have this feeling, the feeling that his heart would expand and swell and burst when he heard his friend's laughter, saw the pure joy on his face, watched as the dark shadows under his eyes faded away with a moment's happiness. If he could bottle this feeling and keep it close to his heart forever, he would do it.
His best friend, his closest ally. The person he trusted more than almost anyone. He kept him safe in the air, he kept him sane in the camp. He would do anything for him, but he wasn't sure that Murdock knew. Those brown eyes saw everything, knew so much, but never saw how much Face loved him. Face couldn't let him know. He was content with crumbs from Murdock's table.
"Come on, Faceman!"
Face dove into the water.
Murdock swam for hours. Sometimes he would swim behind Face, leap on his shoulders and dunk his head under the waves. He finally dragged himself onto shore, collapsed on his back, spread out like a starfish. Face sat down next to him. Two girls, who had been watching them all day, walked up to the two men.
One of the girls, a tall, willowy blonde, started talking. "Hi there. Are you two soldiers?"
Murdock squinted up at her. "Yep."
The other girl, a compact little redhead, openly stared at Face, giggling. The blonde continued, "Well, Gloria and I were wondering if you'd like to go dancing later on this evening?"
Face looked down at his feet, where he'd buried his own toes in the sand. He looked over at Murdock. "What do you think?"
Murdock sat up, dusted the sand off his shoulders. "I think that'd be okay. Should we meet you ladies there?"
Gloria, the redhead, continued to giggle. The blonde looked Murdock up and down, and smiled. "Well, Gloria and I will meet you down in the lobby of the Hilton. That's where we're staying. Maybe around seven?"
Murdock nodded. Face smiled at the girls, waved at them when they walked away. Then he turned and smacked Murdock on the shoulder. "I'd think that'd be okay," Face mocked. "Where did you learn to talk to girls, Murdock?"
"Same place you did, Faceman."
"St. Mary's Orphanage?"
"No. School. Only I didn't do a lot of talking to them there. What are you complaining about, anyway? Apparently, Gloria there thinks you're awful cute. Have at her, buddy. I don't think I'd be able to handle her stupid laugh." He looked over and grinned.
"You're a real pal, Murdock, you know that?"
Seven o'clock in the Hilton lobby, two soldiers dressed in immaculate dress greens stood waiting for two women. Face saw the tall blonde first. Gloria followed close behind.
"Oh, look at you two! So handsome," said the blonde, who grabbed Murdock by the arm and started walking out the door. Face offered his arm to Gloria and caught up with their friends.
They walked into the dance, which was almost depressing. The decorations were poorly hung, and the music was just as bad. Murdock looked behind his shoulder at Face, who was silently pleading with him to get him away from the now chattering Gloria. The blonde moved closer to Murdock, put her hands on his shoulders. "C'mon, soldier. Let's dance."
They went to the dance floor. It was a slow, sensuous beat. Face sat on the sidelines with Gloria, who kept talking. He stared at Murdock, knew that the pilot was uncomfortable but trying to be a gentleman. He looked towards the back of the room. He saw a tall, solidly built man arguing with a rather homely woman.
"Fuck. It's Trenton," he said softly.
"Huh?" Gloria said, smacking her gum.
"Let's dance, babe." He grabbed Gloria by the hand and went to the dance floor next to Murdock and his date.
Murdock caught Face's eye, stuck his tongue out.
"Don't look now, but we're going to have company real soon."
Murdock swung the blonde around, peered over her shoulder. Dipped her, looked Face right in the eye and mouthed the words "Oh shit."
The song ended, and Murdock released his partner. Face did the same.
"Uh, ladies? Lt. Peck and I are going to grab some punch. Would you like some?"
Gloria snorted with laughter. The blonde rolled her eyes. "Well, Gloria and I would love some. Come back real soon, you two."
Murdock and Face walked to the punch table. Face looked back toward the two girls. "Well, Gloria and I would love to suck all the fun out of your life," he mocked, mimicking the blonde's high pitched voice.
"These two are dull as dirt," Murdock said. "Why'd you agree to go to the dance with them?"
"Me?" Face said, incredulously. "You're the one who opened his big mouth!"
"We've got to ditch them somehow."
"No, no. We're here, we might as well dance with them a little bit. We don't have anything else happening tonight, unless Trenton has a different idea."
"Fine! Fine. But just two dances. Then I'm going to say I have a stomachache and leave."
"What do I do then?"
Murdock smiled, handed Face a cup of punch. "Just say you're my nursemaid."
They returned to their dates, gave them their cups. Just then, Trenton approached them. He had a nasty leer on his face. Trenton stared at Face for a few minutes, then turned his attention to Murdock. "Well, well. Howler Monkey. Still with your skirt, I see."
"Excuse me?" Face said.
Murdock frowned. He slowly walked away from the two women, glaring at Trenton the entire time. "His name ain't Frances. It's Templeton Peck. And you better remember it."
Trenton moved closer to Murdock. "Yeah? Or what, you'll fight for his honor?"
Face knew that Murdock was angry. The man was slow to anger, but when it finally exploded, it was a dangerous thing. "Captain... I don't think he's worth it."
"Oh, shut up, you pansy ass."
Murdock reached out, grabbed Trenton by his collar. His eyes narrowed, his pupils turned a deep shade of brown. He pulled Trenton closer. His voice was soft, low, and heavy with West Texas. "Whatever your problem is, pal, it's between me and you. Lieutenant Peck has nothing to do with it."
Trenton responded by spitting. Murdock countered by bashing him hard in the mouth with his forehead.
"Ow, goddammit! You busted my lip!"
"I'll bust more if you don't leave my friend alone."
"Murdock... there's a cop on the corner..."
Trenton's eyes narrowed. He staggered to his feet. "This isn't over, man. Not by a long shot," he wheezed.
"I think it is."
Murdock walked closer to the door. Face knew that he needed to go outside, into the open, to calm down. Unfortunately, Trenton didn't see the danger. He ran up to the pilot, poked his finger in Murdock's chest. "Motherfucker, I'm not done. And if your precious boyfriend wasn't here..."
Murdock threw a wicked left hook, hitting Trenton in the face. The big man cursed, doubled over in pain. The pilot kneed him in the stomach, causing Trenton to gasp. He grabbed him by the neck, dragged him to eye level.
"You fucking broke my nose!" Trenton howled in pain, blood pouring from his lips and nostrils.
"I didn't hit you hard enough to break your nose, idiot. Like I told you, Trenton. His name is Templeton Peck. And you didn't remember that. You'll remember it now, won't you?"
Face grabbed Murdock by the arm. "Let's go."
Murdock let go of Trenton, who crumpled to the ground. Strangely, no one in the place ran to his rescue. Face wondered what kind of neighborhood they were in that ignored street fights.
Murdock walked past silently, shrugging Face's hand off of him. His anger radiated off of him in waves.
"Why did you do that? Why didn't you just ignore him?" Face asked when they reached their room.
The pilot frowned, looked down at his dress shirt and saw a small drop of Trenton's blood, crimson glowing against the white.
Face stared at him. "Murdock. Fuck, man. Why?"
"Trenton can say all he wants about me. He already does, and I don't give a shit. But I'll be damned if he paints you as anything other than a man. You are not fucking Frances. You are..." Murdock looked down at his hands, his breathing uneven and shallow. "You're not Frances."
The two men were quiet for a while. Face waited until he could tell that Murdock had calmed down, then, in a hushed tone said, "Thank you. And I think we've lost our dates."
"Oh, my god. I hope so." Then he laughed.
"I can't sleep. Gonna head to the beach."
"Wait up, man. I'll go with you. I don't feel like being alone anyway."
They walked to the beach. It was peaceful; a small group of beachcombers sat next to a fire. Otherwise, it was just them, alone in the dark.
"You're too quiet tonight, Murdock. Don't let that asshole Trenton bother you. Is that the problem?"
"No. Today was my gran's birthday."
Face sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "So that's what's going on."
Murdock stopped walked. He looked over at Face, started to say something, then hesitated. He picked up a few rocks from the beach and started to throw them into the sea. "I didn't make any friends in basic."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Why, because I'm the gorgeous and gregarious type?" He threw another rock.
"I'll admit you're a tough nut to crack, Murdock, but you warmed up to me quickly."
Murdock grinned. "You're special, Faceman."
They listened to the sound of the waves crashing ashore. "So, it was you and Jonesy in flight school, then?"
"Yep. So it was great when we met up again in camp during my first tour of duty. I had someone to talk to. Then I made a friend and lost him within twenty days."
"Licht. Nice guy, got blown up by the VC."
"When did you meet the other guys?"
He scooped up more rocks, threw handfuls into the ocean. "Met the Colonel during my first tour, too. Ray, Opie, the Big Guy... all of them my second go-round. I'm not really friends with anyone else."
Face was speechless for a moment. He noticed that Murdock didn't include him in his litany of friends. "I, uh... I guess it's hard to lose the best friend you ever had."
Murdock stopped throwing his rocks, turned toward Face. Looked him right in the eye. "I haven't."
"You haven't what?"
"I haven't lost my best friend yet."
"But Jonesy is dead."
"Yeah, but he ain't my best friend. You are."
Face's grin stretched from ear to ear. "But I thought..."
"That's your trouble, Faceman. Always thinking. You're going to burn out your pretty brain with all that heavy lifting," Murdock said, chuckling.
The hippies left the campfire, leaving the soldiers alone on the beach. The only light was the warm glow of the dying fire, and the stars in the sky.
It was the day before leave was over and they would ship out, back to the hell they left behind. Murdock insisted that they attempt to surf, but Face declined.
"Oh, I don't know, Murdock. I don't think it's a good idea to die before you have to go back to a war zone."
Murdock snorted. "Big ol' chicken." He was sitting on a towel.
"You said it, not me. Let's just lay on the beach and enjoy the sun."
They lay there, flipping every thirty minutes, enjoying doing nothing. Face would occasionally look over at Murdock, who had pulled his hat far over his eyes, covering most of his face.
"Hey. What did you want to do, before?"
Murdock sat up, burying his feet in the sand of the beach. "I don't know. Never thought about it. I just wanted to get as far away from where I was as possible. Why?"
"I don't know. I was just thinking about what will happen to us all when we're free to pursue the rest of our lives."
"I can't even think that far, Face. I'm just trying to get through today, and tomorrow. Seems a little premature to think about the future."
"Oh, ye of little faith."
"You were the altar boy, kid, not me." Murdock grinned. "So, what did you want to do? What did you study in college?"
"My god, that feels like a hundred years ago. I was going toward pre-med, but I don't think I could do that now. I've seen enough blood to last me a lifetime."
Murdock was quiet for a moment, listening to the sound of the waves crashing to shore. "You would have made a great doctor, Faceman. You have impeccable bedside manner."
Face laughed. "So what do you want to do when we're all done?"
"You mean, with the war?"
"No, dummy, with dinner," Face rolled his eyes. "Yes, after we're sprung."
Murdock fell onto his back, shoved his hands into the sand. "I do know that I'm not going back home. I'm never going back to Texas. Ever, if I can help it."
Face turned to look at his friend. "What's there that you hate so much?"
"What's not there? I mean, it would be nice to be able to visit my momma's grave, and Gran and Grandpa, but they are with me wherever I go anyway. I don't have to go to some cold graveyard to visit them."
"What about your friends? The rest of your family?"
"The rest of my family? Where were they when I was five years old and my dad dumped me on my Gran's front porch, and threw my ratty Montgomery Ward cardboard suitcase out of the back of his Dodge Coronet and drove off? Where were they when I got the shit beat out of me every week in high school, and called a queer because I didn't have a girlfriend?" Murdock's hand trembled slightly. "Well, I didn't want a girlfriend because love ties you down, Peck. Love ties you down and I wanted to fly the hell out of there. I didn't want anything or anyone to stand in my way, to keep me from my freedom. And if that meant being called a queer or a nancy boy, or having my underwear flushed down the toilet, then so be it."
West Texas was full and ripe in his throat. "I ain't ever going back, Temp. Never again. I ain't having that."
"Where would you go?"
"Anywhere that will have me. Anywhere I can fly."
It was Face's turn to be quiet. He rolled over closer to Murdock and put his hand on his shoulder. "I don't want to sound weird or anything, but why not come to California with me, when it's all said and done?"
Murdock chuckled softly. "To visit between trips to various homeless shelters?"
"No. We can set up a bachelor pad! It'll be just like it is now, without all those pesky bombings and Viet Cong and everything. You can get a job as an airline pilot and I can go to school for business or something. Or we can just live on the beach like Moondoggie and surf or something," Face grinned. "What do you say?"
"I'd say where the hell did you hear about Moondoggie?"
Face laughed. "I grew up in an orphanage, not a cave. We did sometimes go to the movies."
Murdock flung his arm around his friend's shoulder. "That sounds like the best thing I've ever heard. Me and you, Face, knocking the world dead."
"Should we shake on it?"
Murdock shook his head. "If we were back home, Texas, I mean, I would have taken my grandpa's pocket knife and pricked our fingers to make a blood oath."
"Don't want to do that."
"I'll tell you what. Why don't we just promise each other? No matter what, we'll end up in California together after the war. It'll be you and me."
"Should I trust a guy who is the best liar I've ever known?" Murdock asked jokingly.
Face looked his friend in the eyes. "Murdock, I never have, and never will, break a promise. Especially not to you."
Murdock only smiled.