Green Eggs and Scam
by Invisible Ranger (HBF), 2011
Disclaimer: TAT belongs to Universal and SJC. I do not own then with a goat, I do not own them on a boat.
Dedicated: As always, to my fellow Murdockians.
He has so many names other than his own.
There's the garden variety nut or loony or psycho, the more exotic paranoid delusional and anxiety-prone, occasionally the almost stuffy-sounding personality disorder, otherwise classified. There's even whispers that they might name an entirely new condition after him.
That, he's decided, is pretty groovy. Not as groovy as having, say, a comet or a new species of beetle named after you, but groovy nonetheless. Being confined to a 20 by 20 foot room day and night? Not so much.
Like a thoroughbred waiting to be loaded into the starting gate at Santa Anita, he is a ball of nervous energy. Whether this is from the red and blue tablets they force him to swallow, or the sheer ennui and institutional drabness of the place, he cannot say for sure. During the hours he is confined to his white room, there are ways he has found to burn off the energy. Back when he was an honored guest of Ho Chi Minh, another continent away and what seems like eons ago, this was not the case. Perhaps he is making up for lost time.
There is singing, which he likes to do but which drives the whitecoats berserk, playing with the Super Ball he managed to smuggle in from the day room, and of course, reading. Occasionally all three at once.
Today, which is a rare rainy Southern California afternoon, Murdock only sings softly (it's One Toke Over the Line, God, I remember hearing that one for the first time somewhere outside Da Nang, he thinks) and reads. Because the hospital's library is slim pickings, and they refuse to trust the loonies with hardcovers, his book is a dogeared paperback. Its cover has a picture of a lady in a poofy pink dress in the arms of a built guy wearing only a pair of riding pants. Something called "How to Seduce a British Lord."
Murdock reads the words but forgets them seconds later. There isn't enough to make him laugh in this one. Besides, there aren't any fairies or elves or, most importantly, whirlybirds in it.
He misses, longs for, the feel of the cockpit. The near-orgasmic rush he gets whenever he flies. Soaring above the clouds like some kind of modern Icarus. He always tells the doc about this during their hour-long sessions. Always asks when he can get his license back. The doc, a tall vulture of a man, always smiles, shakes his head, and writes on that yellow legal pad.
You need to get better first, Mr. Murdock. There's a long road ahead and we don't want to rush things. Small steps.
And then, the pills. Always the pills. Oblivion. Three hours of wandering in the Wild Wood only to wonder later how he got there in the first place.
Murdock wonders what else he's forgotten. How to do long division, perhaps. The right way to tie a clove hitch, or the right way to aim an M16, or …
He knows he hasn't forgotten them. They are etched into his memory as surely as the Ten Commandments were carved into those tablets that Charlton Heston carried in that movie. Part of his soul. But how long since he's seen them…that, he can't remember. Days? Months? A year?
Everything at this place is a bad dream. A purgatory. It's a place for him to be cleansed of sins that he may never have committed.
Committed. How long? When do I leave and taste freedom again?
He knows Face has been to see him at least twice. He also knos, from various newspapers left around the ward, that the A-Team is about as hot as a box of chili peppers left in an oven on "high." Maybe there's a good reason for them to avoid coming to see him. There had been MPs crawling even here, like rats looking for choice pieces of cheese. They'd taken one look at him and scampered away.
This actually makes Murdock grin. He'd never exactly had to work at looking crazy. What he sees every time he looks in the mirror is a pale face set with two dark, gleaming eyes, brown hair that's finally starting to grow back and in all directions, a coyote's half-smile. When the door to his room opens, he's so busy trying on a forty-seventh variation of Batshit Crazy that he doesn't notice.
"Mr. Murdock? Time for lunch."
It's one of the nurses…the cute little blonde with the button nose. Behind her is a mountain of an orderly. They look like King Kong and Fay Wray.
During his sojourn here, Murdock has learned the hard way that resistance is not just futile, but painful. He nods, picks up his baseball cap from the nightstand, follows Blondie like a wayward puppy.
Down the long hallway they go, first the nurse, then him, the big orderly right behind. There are many other men in this place too, fellow patients. He sees them at mealtimes, mostly, and during the short times they let him out. He sees them now…a few in wheelchairs, most shuffling along in the wake of staff members.
Will I be like them? Dribbling spit like babies? Looking at the world through glazed eyes? Being led from place to place like feedlot steers? Worse, am I already like them?
The feisty colt in him rears its head. He is not a dumb animal, some slavering half-wit to be fed mush and pap. He is a pilot, goddammit. He must fly. The only question is how.
He's thinking this over when a bit of color catches his eye. Almost everything here is white or varying shades or grey…or, in some rooms, bubble-gum pink. Whatever this is, it's none of those hues. It's orange, sitting on the counter at the nurses' station. As he tries to crane his neck for a closer look, Murdock sees what it is. A hardback book bearing a familiar title. Maybe some visiting child left it behind. Inspiration, like a bolt of lightning, strikes him. He knows exactly what to do. It might even be fun.
"Mr. Murdock? Is there a problem?" asks little Blondie. She's kind of cute when she frowns. She's probably just worried he's going to Cause a Disturbance.
"I do not like fried eggs and mush. I will not eat them like a lush," he says, improvising wildly. Then he folds his arms, defiant.
The nurse and the orderly share one of those looks of exasperation. "It's macaroni today, Mr. Murdock. You were fine with that last Friday," she says.
"I will not eat my mac and cheese. I would like a steak, yes please." He wants to grin, but he can't. Not right now. Instead, he starts gesturing wildly, as if he were playing Hamlet instead of strolling the hallways of a VA hospital. It's not flying…not even close…but he feels some of the old adrenaline starting to course through his veins like white heat.
Behind him, the orderly grunts. He probably doesn't get paid nearly enough. "I've had it with this guy. Can't we just have the doc give him another shot?"
"He's already had one today," the nurse says. "That stuff's potent."
"I do not like this tasteless food, I do not like it baked or stewed!" Murdock doesn't need to reach for the words; they come to him like butterflies. He is in his element now; an actor pacing a linoleum stage for maximum effect. "I will not eat it here or there, I will not eat it anywhere!" he crows.
"I better call Dr. Bowman and see if he's good with another shot. Mike, make sure he doesn't try anything, okay? I'll be right back…"
Mike's back, and that of the nurse, have been turned for just an instant. For an ex-soldier like Murdock, it is all the time he needs to slip away. He's seen the opening he needs and intends to take it.
To think that such a simple thing stands between him, and freedom!
But nothing is simple in this place. There are bars on this window, just like there are bars on the window in his own room, and the ones in the dayroom. These bars just aren't obvious.
"Where do you think you're goin', huh?" Mike pins his arms behind him. He's not nearly as rough as some of the others, more like a bear admonishing its cub. But Murdock can't move. He hates not being able to move. He thrashes, as if he were a salmon caught in the bear's jaws rather than a cub.
The nurse is walking back now, a syringe in one latex-covered hand.
Game over. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 from the nice little top hat man. Good night, sweet prince.
"Excuse me. Ah, I was hoping you might direct me to H.M. Murdock's room?"
If this were a movie, Murdock knows, it would be one of those movies where the governor calls the prison warden at the last minute. He knows that voice, even though it's overlaid with a gentle Irish lilt today. And he knows that…
Face! It is you!
"I'm afraid this isn't a good time," the nurse says without looking up. Behind her, Murdock thrashes still, helpless to do anything else. "Can't you call the hospital administrator and make an appointment?"
His old friend is wearing a conservative grey suit, a Roman collar, and an artificially serious expression. When the blonde finally sees him, Murdock notices that she's speechless. Face always did have that knack.
"Oh, I'm afraid I can't, miss. Y'see, the good Lord has called one of his own home, and the service is this afternoon," explains Face, never dropping his accent or his priestly manner.
Face always dressed as a priest…back in Nam…to get what he wanted. Murdock remembers now. Like the time they once got the ice machine from that crooked major for their camp. Or the time the Colonel had needed two ostriches to carry out one of his plans.
He's tempted more than ever to grin. Instead, he just spouts more rhyming stanzas.
"I will not eat it with a horse! I cannot eat bland meals, of course!"
"You see?" the nurse says, shrugging. "This really isn't a good time, Father. I have to give Mr. Murdock his shot so he can get some rest." Then, she looks at him again. Like she's seeing him for the first time. "Are you sure you're in the right place? Not looking for some other H.M. Murdock?"
"With a cat, with a rat, on a plane, in the raaaain…"
Face removes his glasses, clearly going for the kill. "Nurse, Miss Henrietta Kennedy, second cousin once removed of the late President Kennedy, is tragically gone. The Kennedy family personally requested this man at the funeral service."
Murdock keens in between stanzas, listening to every word. Meanwhile, the nurse looks more confused than ever.
"The…Kennedys? Wanted Murdock? At this funeral service?"
"That's right. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Often he speaks through the mouths of the mad. Besides, I'm only the messenger. I even have the invitation here, if you'd care to see it."
It's printed up on some kind of cream-colored fancy stationery. No doubt Face made it to order. She looks at it, and it seems to pass her scrutiny.
Murdock can feel his heart pounding, all eight cylinders, like a powerful engine. Just when he thought he was going to be stuck here for weeks, locked up with no way out, rescue is in sight. Clear and bright and beautiful. That was always Face back in Vietnam. He has not changed.
"I'll have to sign for him," she finally sighs. She, like Mike, is tired and overworked. There are so many feedlot steers and so few cowboys. If one is gone, it is no great loss. Murdock knows this after his short time here, as he already knows many things. But there are still so many things he doesn't know.
Am I nuts, crazy, bonkers? Psychotic? Are those just fancy words the docs toss around? Am I really hearing those sounds late at night, hearing the walls talk back? What is the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything…?
Captain, we'll always be here for you.
When he opens his eyes again, it is not Hannibal he sees. It's Face. Still dressed in that ridiculous priest's raiment, smiling, offering a wheelchair.
"C'mon, m'boy. Time waits for no man. We've a plane to catch." That ridiculous Irish accent. Murdock knows he can do a better one.
"Well, please say hello to the Kennedys for me, Mr. Murdock," the nurse, whose name he still does not know, says, waving. "You take care of yourself and we'll see you in 48 hours."
As he sits in the wheelchair, he feels betrayed. 48 hours is nothing. It is the blink of Time's eye, nothing more. 2 sunsets, and he will be back in this place. A prisoner again.
"I do not like these rooms with bars, I'd rather fly to Planet Mars!" Murdock howls, startling another nurse and her patient. His fists are balled and his entire body shakes.
"Murdock. It's all right. I could only get a 48 hour pass for you. You have no idea how hard even that was," Face says softly, in his regular voice, pushing the wheelchair down the hall. "Give me more time. I just need to get to know the right people. Besides, I know a couple guys who are pretty eager to see you. We've been pretty worried, you know."
He closes his eyes again. Rhymes dance through his mind like ghosts, but he's done rhyming for now. The white and grey of the hospital give way to a soft blue waiting room, and then a door whooshes open, and there is more blue. Gaps of clear sky behind a low cloud cover.
Soon I'll be up there again. I gotta admit, Face is right about the time.
"Hey…Faceman?" It's the first thing he says. "Can I ask you something?"
"What are friends for?" He turns the wheelchair. They start down the sidewalk, passing more people. Nobody notices them.
"Is there really a Miss Henrietta Kennedy who wants me at her funeral?"
And Face laughs. A real laugh, not his nervous little laugh. "Of course not. It was the first thing that came to me. You think I did okay?"
"It was brilliant, it was great, worthy of a silver plate…"
"Murdock, you haven't changed a bit. I've really missed you," Face says. They're almost at the edge of the hospital grounds now.
I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
"One more thing?" Murdock asks, enjoying the taste of the air and the soft touch of the breeze for the first time in weeks.
"Can we stop by a bookstore? I wanna pick up some Dr. Seuss." He feels slightly ashamed, but anything is better than reading I'm OK, You're OK for the 38th time.
That smile. That beautiful, kind smile. "You got it. My treat. Now let's get outta here before they figure out that there isn't really any Father Philip Tuohy, all right?"
Murdock nods. And smiles.
At least for two days, he is a free man. That's good enough for now.