The Mission

"Her only hope, and that's slim at best, would be sanctuary in one of the old Catholic missions. There's one not too far off. The nuns will keep her cloistered, educate her, and in 15 or 20 years, working with their other monasteries abroad, perhaps they can get her out of Korea." -adapted from "Yessir, That's our Baby" 8x15.

...

It's Thanksgiving 1953 and the food isn't as good as he was anticipating. He supposes it's only to be expected; he's been building up the taste of home for three years and nothing could come close to the ideal he's manufactured in his head. That, and he and his dad have never been the world's best cooks.

His dad invites the Kirks from next door. They own Crabapple Cove's only grocery store and have known him since before he was a twinkle in his father's eye. They bring the green bean casserole-canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, pallid bacon crisscrossing the top. There are mashed potatoes slick with butter, perfect maroon rounds of cranberry sauce, a turkey cooked dry as sawdust, pumpkin pie with the edges crinkly and burnt. He doesn't sniff his food. He doesn't compare the lumpy gravy to the substance that extrudes from the back of a cement truck. He takes seconds when his father encourages him to do so.

After dinner, when the Kirks have gone home, his dad makes the same joke he always does, which is that business will be good the next day, what with all the indigestion. It's not really funny, but Hawkeye laughs anyway, just like he always does. He recalls that his father's Thanksgiving letters, received around Christmas, made the same joke.

"I thought about inviting the Gillises," his dad says abruptly.

Hawkeye sips his Scotch. "Yeah?" he says.

"They're moving to Augusta at the new year" his dad says. "Might be nice to see them again before they go."

Hawkeye knows what he's really trying to say, which is that it's a little embarrassing that Hawkeye hasn't been to see the parents of his dead best friend, when the whole town knows Hawkeye was with Tommy when he died. That's what happens when you write your dad about it, and your dad tells the Gillises, and everyone involved lives in a town small enough to fit on a postcard.

So he goes to see the Gillises, and it's every bit as awful as he thought it would be. They are effusively, almost desperately, glad to see him. They wrote him, after, and he wrote back, but now they want to hear about it from his own mouth. In his own words. He does what he can to gentle it, but there's only so far you can sugarcoat a brutal death in an pointless war. They tell him Tommy's publisher is sitting on the manuscript because they're not sure a novel about the Korean conflict will sell.

After he hears that, he goes to the Kirk's store and buys the cheapest rotgut on the shelf. There's folks in the hills who make moonshine potent enough to strip paint, and that's what he really wants. But there's no time for that. When he wakes up the next morning, he's on the couch with a blanket over him. There's a note in his dad's handwriting that says "take the day off." This is not the first time this has happened.

...

It's 1954 and he's quit drinking. Well, almost. Well, mostly almost. He doesn't quit out of revulsion to the alcohol itself. There is no point, morning, noon, or night, that he wouldn't be open to the possibility of a drink, and no form of alcohol that he'd turn down. But it's embarrassing to drink as much as he really wants to in front of his dad; even more embarrassing to buy alcohol in such quantity and at such frequency from the Kirks; most embarrassing of all to drink alone on his bed, hiding the empties at the bottom of his closet.

He has privileges at Portland General, taking out the extraneous tonsils and appendices that trouble the citizens of Crabapple Cove. He removes a benign tumor from Mr. Godwin's colon and while following up overhears a conversation about AA. He goes to a few meetings and it helps a little, although he finds the meetings almost as embarrassing as sneaking bottles of gin up the stairs like a high school senior. But they help him marshal his thoughts, force him to think about certain things, and even though he still falls off the wagon sometimes, he no longer wakes up to find himself excused from work.

He can tell his dad wants to ask, but he never does. Instead, he hands more and more of his practice over to Hawkeye. By the end of the year, just about the only people Daniel Pierce still sees are the children. They don't talk about this. It's just understood that Hawkeye doesn't give vaccines, doesn't see the baby with the measles or the boy with the broken ankle. He doesn't attend births. The townspeople notice, and sometimes they ask. Hawkeye deals with their questions by pretending he did not hear them.

He thought he'd have to contend with questions a lot more than he does, honestly. He thought people would pin him down, want to ask him what it was really like, expect him to regale them with stories. But they don't, not really. He shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, practically every male in Crabapple Cove is a veteran of one war or another; it was only by virtue of being in medical school that he wasn't drafted into World War II himself. Some of the guys want to talk about their times in the war and some don't. He's one of the ones that don't. Mostly, people don't press.

Every once in a while someone will mention that he's a lot quieter these days. He tells them he's making up for lost time and listening to the sea. It's almost the truth.

...

It's 1957 and he's lost touch with Margaret.

Despite all her declarations that what she really wanted to do was settle down somewhere and have a hometown, there's too much nomad in her to stick around in one place for long. The last he hears she's moved to Denver, but when Hawkeye tries to call her up a few months later, the operator can't find a listing. She's moved again, or she doesn't have a phone, or maybe she got married. He could ask Father Mulcahy, who keeps careful tabs on his former flock, or Radar, who has a preternatural ability to know where everyone is, and he keeps intending to write one or the other of them and ask. Tomorrow. Next week. After he looks at the spots in Mrs. Travers's throat.

He still sees Charles sometimes. It's almost difficult not to. He travels to Boston fairly regularly, sometimes for conferences and lectures, sometimes to observe a new technique, sometimes just to go. He likes Boston. He likes the drive, alone in his car on the leafy highway. And while Boston is a big city, it's also a club, especially in the medical world. And Charles Emerson Winchester the Third is a big deal in that club, and not for no reason, either.

So he sees Charles, sometimes even in person. He exchanges the occasional letter with Sherman Potter, finally retired. He hears from Father Mulcahy and Radar the most. He gets Christmas cards from the Klingers. He talks regularly with BJ, driving up the phone bills on both ends. They've managed to visit each other once each, but it's hard. They're both busy, and being located on opposite oceans doesn't help.

The person he sees the most is Trapper John.

They'd heard from each other a time or two, back when Trapper was home and Hawkeye was still stuck in Korea. But there was something in Trapper's letters, something strained and forced. "Glad to be out of that hellhole and moving on with life," Trapper wrote, but Hawkeye got the feeling that he was less moving on and more dragging himself forward. And writing letters back to "that hellhole" wasn't really helping.

At first he expects to run into Trapper at a conference or at least encounter some mention of him at the teaching hospital. Then when he bites the bullet and actually starts poking around, he discovers that Trapper doesn't practice medicine anymore, at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, he's a medical examiner for the Boston PD.

Hawkeye presents himself at the Morgue and tells the attendant that there's a Dr. Jonathan Tuttle here to consult with Dr. McIntyre. Trapper comes out with that million-watt smile. "Dr. Tuttle, so glad to finally put a face to the name!" he says, and the attendant gawps while they clap each other on the back and laugh like hyenas.

They go to a diner. "Trap, haven't you seen enough stiffs?" Hawkeye asks. "What's with the autopsy game?"

Trapper doesn't shy away from the question, but he doesn't answer right away. He tilts his coffee cup this way and that. Finally, he says, "Dead people don't need anything. They don't expect anything. There's no race against the clock with an autopsy. Sure, it's sad sometimes. I see murder victims, accident victims. Kids sometimes, you know? But there's nothing more I can do for them. I gotta tell ya, Hawk, that's a relief. It's a relief every day."

He's still married. "I've turned over a new leaf, honest. You wouldn't recognize me. I promised Louise. No more women."

"You?" Hawkeye says, like he doesn't believe him. But he does. It's eight o'clock on a Friday night and they're at a diner, not a bar; they're drinking coffee and eating pie, not getting drunk and picking up women. In a way it's like they've never been apart; in another way it's like they're two entirely different people from the ones who met in Korea.

One cold night in November, Trapper asks if they can go back to his place. Hawkeye has been there before, of course, met Louise and the girls. But this time they are not home. "Visiting her mom for the weekend," Trapper explains. He pours himself a drink, the first time Hawkeye has seen him do so since they renewed their friendship.

"Rough day?" Hawkeye asks.

"Rough as it gets in a line of work where the patients are already dead," Trapper says. He drops into a kitchen chair and rubs his face tiredly. "Kid comes in, a little girl. Couldn't be more'n five. I'm pulling cotton fibers out of her nose and mouth. The detectives come down, ask for cause of death. I tell them she's been suffocated, probably with a pillow. Turns out, her own mom did it. Her own mother! Jesus, Hawk, the things people do to each other-"

Trapper goes on in this vein, but Hawkeye doesn't hear him. Everything is underwater. He can't get a good breath. He can't breathe at all. He sees it, the mother pressing down with the pillow, small legs kicking, small arms grasping at nothing; he sees it, the mother opening her calloused hand, enveloping the baby's face, small legs kicking, small arms grasping at nothing.

He feels cold air on his face and realizes that he's outside. Through the gray haze that spiderwebs across his vision he recognizes the park at the end of the block. He doesn't remember leaving Trapper's apartment. He barks his shins on a bench and sits down on it. His hands are shaking. He can hear his own breathing, loud and uneven in the winter quiet. A car passes, transmission squeaking, and the sound grates hard against his nerves. It occurs to him that he should be cold. But he isn't.

"Hawk!"

Trapper is there, his coat flapping open in the wind. He eyes Hawkeye warily and with concern.

"Sorry," Hawkeye gasps. "Sorry, I'm sorry." He hasn't had a panic attack in a long time. He's never told Trapper what happened in Korea, what happened on the bus. He tells him now. Not everything. Just the basics. The refugees. The wounded. The North Korean patrol. The baby. The mother. His words and her actions.

Trapper is quiet a long time when he finishes. Finally, he says, "you wanna know the real reason why I stopped practicing medicine?"

Hawkeye looks up at him. He's always suspected there's a single reason, something Trapper could point to and say, "there. That's where it all changed."

"You remember that North Korean who went berserk in OR? Attacked that nurse? Broke the bottle of whole blood my patient was using?"

"You lost that patient," Hawkeye says.

"And I almost killed him for it," Trapper says. "Me, a doctor. Looked a living man in the eye and reached out my hand to kill him. I think I would have done it. I think I would have done it if you hadn't come in."

Hawkeye isn't sure about that. But Trapper clearly is. "Come on," Trapper says. "You must be freezing."

He's a different man than he was in Korea.

But sometimes he's still on the bus.