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This page last viewed: 2017-12-13 and has been viewed 2745 times
Date: February, 2003
Rating: R, language, implied m/m sex, death (not of main characters)
Summary: A different interpretation of how the team might have come together.
Colonel John Smith leaned back in his chair and contemplated his situation. Two months ago he was lounging in a stuffy office, pushing papers and watching mistake after mistake being made by those who supposedly knew better. Body counts were up, on our side. Kill ratios were being invented to satisfy whoever the idiot was who decided we would win this war if more of them died than us. If that same idiot believed those numbers, then we were not just winning this damn war, we were wiping out an entire population of Vietnamese-- on a daily basis! But none of that was reason enough to be shipped off to Delta Region E, he knew exactly why he was here: Lt. Colonel Roderick Decker.
Smith smiled at the memory of Decker's beady eyes glaring up at him on a face of busted teeth, bloodied cheeks and swollen lips. It wasn't until Decker conceded the fight that Smith saw the rage and anger, expertly controlled but not expertly concealed. Unfortunately, his smile didn't last long because in the end, Decker won, and Smith hadn't seen that one coming. After all, being his third tour, he had connections. Evidently so did Decker, and his were better.
And so for the past six weeks, he had to deal with a base full of mavericks, or as the upper brass liked to refer to them, ABDsAll But Dead soldiers. Everyone in camp knew why he was there: the army had deemed you expendable. In war, there was definitely a need for that type of soldier; and the US Military fighting against the North Vietnamese knew exactly what to do with them: ship them to Delta Region E and give them those missions that no one else wanted: suicide missions.
But to most soldiers, Delta Region E was a myth, known by few as a real place, and considered by many to be fictitious, like the famed General Mingh who supposedly tortured his own mother because he grew tired of her. But the camp was real, the oppressive heat and the wet and muddy walkways were a constant reminder of the hell he was in.
The silence broke him from his thoughts and he perked his head up, listening to the quiet of the camp, too quiet to be normal. He replaced his pencil with his side arm and quietly left his hut.
The crowd gathered around the makeshift basketball court. The minute they saw Colonel Eugene Harding coming around the corner, the pickup game lost momentum and the players lost interest. Harding had a reputation for being mean and nasty, and if he came looking for you, you'd better watch out; there wasn't much anyone could do.
"Peck!" Harding quietly seethed.
Lt. Templeton Peck glared at his colonel, but he made no move to approach him. He had played hard and was breathing heavy, but now he was sweating for another reason. The other players stopped and waited, wondering if the new kid was going to be able to talk his way out of this one.
Harding pursed his lips and took in a breath, "Peck! Come here!"
Lt. Peck walked off the court, aware of the crowd gathering at the other end to witness the confrontation. If he thought he could talk his way out of this one, he might have tried. But the fact of the matter was he wasn't going to be able to do that, and he knew it. Just like growing up, he'd take his due, and hope it didn't last too long.
Harding always calculated his moves and he planned it so that they would be out of hearing range from all the other men. When his subordinate approached, Harding turned his back to the crowd. Peck was forced to walk around him to face him, and then salute him.
Harding never saluted back so that's how Peck stood.
"What in the hell are you doing?" Colonel Harding jeered.
Peck held his salute, not answering the question.
Remaining unnervingly calm, Harding continued, "I told you to order those cigarettes. When I open the crates, I find medical supplies. You mind telling me what happened?"
Peck knew that his colonel knew exactly what he had done, and Harding wasn't looking for an explanation. Contemplating what he might say, he was taken by surprise by the meaty fist that connected with his face. The fierce punch snapped his head back and made him see stars. He felt the warm blood ooze down his check, and he shook his head in an effort to assuage the aftereffects of the blow. It didn't seem to help him as he regained his composure and continued to hold his salute through blurred vision and a pounding headache.
This show of defiance irritated the colonel even more, and he glared into Peck's unfocused pupils.
Peck had no intention of annoying his colonel, and angering him further was not what he wanted to be doing; he simply didn't know what else to do at that moment, and as much as he didn't want to be in his current predicament, Peck knew this confrontation was inevitable. Since he first stepped foot onto Delta Region E's muddy banks and met his new commander, exactly one week ago, he knew this meeting was going take place. He just didn't think it would occur so soon.
"I asked you a question boy, and I expect an answer!"
Harding wasn't tall, or hugely built, but he was stocky and strong and outweighed Peck by a good 50 pounds, so receiving another blow just might be the one to land the young lieutenant in the medical hut. Peck saw his arm rise and he braced himself for it.
"Maybe what you need to learn is some respect! And I know just how to teach it!" Harding brought his fist around, and with full force, he slammed it forward. But instead of connecting with his subordinate's jaw, it landed squarely in the palm of a hand that barely moved under the impact.
Harding turned and stared directly into the deep furrowed brows of a mean looking black man. The colonel's lips were pursed together so tightly that his round face resembled that of a bulldog, and when he spoke, the only thing he could utter was, "What in the hell are you doing?!"
Colonel Smith stepped forward into his line of vision. Before giving Harding his full attention, Smith saw the blonde boy still standing and saluting, his eye swollen and bruised and bleeding. He offered a quick salute and returned his gaze back to Harding, "More importantly, what in the hell are you doing?"
Peck dropped his arm and watched the encounter.
"Smith! I should have figured you'd butt in where you don't belong!" Harding yanked his hand back and took a small step backwards, giving all three men an eerie once over. "I'll have your stripes, Sergeant Baracus!"
"And what'll you do with them?" Smith added sarcastically. "Ship him off to some hellhole like Delta Region E?"
"Stay out of this Smith! This has nothing to do with you!"
Smith couldn't help but look at the boy again. He'd not seen him before and he was certain he'd remember a mug like that. Faces like his don't often make their way into camps like these. "Can't do that, Harding. There's just something about interfering with scum like you that appeals to me."
Harding gave Smith a long hard stare before he stomped away. Smith nodded to his sergeant who grumbled something inaudible before he too marched away. Turning his attention to Peck, Smith stared into those eyes a moment, and then said, "Go take care of that eye."
Smith leaned back in his chair again, only this time instead of reminiscing about Decker, he was thinking about the blonde kid. Specifically, he was trying to understand the look in the kid's eyes. It wasn't often that Smith couldn't read a facial expression and know immediately what was going on inside a person's head. But this kid was different. His expressions changed quickly, minutely. If they say the eyes are the windows into the soul, then Peck must not have one because there wasn't anything behind those blue eyes. But that's impossible, everyone has a soul; the question is, just what kind of a soul does that boy have?
Smith pondered the kid he wasn't scared; he wasn't angry, nor was he sad. The boy wore an expression that he couldn't place, and he prided himself on reading people and judging their character before a single word had been uttered. But he couldn't get an accurate read on this kid, and that thought pre-occupied his mind.
A rap on his door brought him back to the present and he said, "Come in."
Two men approached the small desk; as unorthodox as it was, they both managed to offer their version of a salute, which Smith returned. The black man stood by the door while the taller skinnier man sat in the only chair. "You sent for us?"
Smith nodded. "What do you know about Lt. Templeton Peck?"
"Who?" the black man grunted.
"That kid we pulled out from under Harding. What have you heard about him?"
"Don't know nuthin' 'bout him," Baracus replied.
"How 'bout you Captain," Smith asked, "what do you know?"
Captain Murdock shook his head, but added, "I saw him arrive last week but there wasn't anything unusual about him. Why do you ask?"
Smith shook his head, "Just curious."
"Why don't you pull his file?"
Smith reached behind him and picked up a thin folder and tossed it on the desk. Before it stopped spinning, he said, "Everything in there has been doctored. It's hard to tell what's true and what's not."
Baracus asked, "You think he conned his way here?"
"Nobody cons their way into this hell hole, Sergeant, but I wouldn't mind knowing a little more about him."
Understanding the request, the two men nodded and left his office.
Peck sat alone at the table watching the other soldiers in the smoke filled room. At Delta Region E, there wasn't a need for protocol, which meant there wasn't a separate mess for officers. The thinking was that you weren't going to be around for long.
There were clusters of men everywhere he looked; some were telling stories, some were whispering, others were showing off photographs, and still others were just drinking and smoking cigarettes. If you can call drinking hooch made by a native from a nearby village drinking. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything else except maybe some luke-warm flat soda, but this far into a war zone didn't allow for many luxuries.
Peck's mind drifted to Colonel Smith. Why would a complete stranger come to his aid? And a Colonel no less! Nobody had ever tried to help him, EVER. To be honest, there had been people who had helped him, but that was a lifetime ago and best forgotten. He wanted to do something for Smith but what could a nineteen-year-old who had been in-country for less than five months do for a colonel? His sources told him that Smith liked cigars. If he'd been in L.A., he would have gotten a box of Havana's finest within the week. But he wasn't in California, he was in Vietnam, and he had no idea how to go about getting those forbidden items this far around the world. Hell, he barely understood the inner-workings of the military; much less know how to manipulate a system that as far as he could figure, very few people actually did understand. And that made his job of creating a custom tailored 'file' for himself damn near impossible. After suddenly being transferred, he decided that his file would have to wait to be completed until later, and that thought slightly depressed him.
Suddenly, an idea came to him. If he could get a call stateside, he might be able to contact Tegar, the Cegar man; the name now amused him and he allowed the slightest of smiles to curl his lips. Setting aside his amusement, he nurtured his idea along. He'd have to call Corporal Leigh and cash in on a favor. That would require approval from Colonel Harding, and he knew that would never happen. But if Harding were sent off grounds for a day, then he could make the call and wait for a reply. The plan was beginning to form and he calculated in his head how long it would take. He didn't hear the question being asked, but he felt the hand on his shoulder and he about jumped out of his skin.
"Calm down! We asked if we could join you but you obviously didn't hear us."
Peck didn't recognize the man speaking, but he did recognize the one standing next to him. Having had too many bad experiences so far, he wasn't too anxious to respond. But they didn't wait for his answer, instead, they sat down and waved for the bartender to deliver two more drinks.
"Where're you from?" drawled the taller of the two men who sat down beside him.
"L.A." There was a pause, then Peck asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm Captain HM Murdock, pilot extraordinaire. That's Sergeant BA Baracus, mechanic extraordinaire."
"I'm Lt. Templeton Peck." The silence begged for more so he continued, "nothing extraordinaire."
"You were sent here to do nothing? Cushy gig."
Peck looked sideways at these two unwelcome guests. He was quite satisfied to drink alone, and he didn't need to go into his history. He already figured out why Baracus would be at a hell hole like Delta Region E, and he had a pretty good idea why Smith was here too, but aside from needing air support, why would a highly trained pilot be hanging out here, in DRE, or if you said it slow enough, it could sound like "DiarRHEa".
Baracus took a sip of his beer and crunched his nose and distorted his mouth. Angrily, he slammed the glass to the floor and growled, "I've tasted battery acid better than this!"
Non-chalantly, Murdock used the back of his hand to smack Peck's chest and quipped, "He's a milkman, but don't tell nobody." Neither the noise of the shattering glass nor the outburst from the sergeant caused so much as a glance from any of the other soldiers in the room.
Peck found it hard to believe that the burly sergeant preferred milk over hooch, but in the schema of things, he decided he didn't care what the man preferred; he just wanted to be by himself and think his latest idea through. He drank his last swallow and initiated leaving, "Well, if you'll excuse" As he looked up, he saw Harding at the bar, staring at him, more accurately, leering at him. Experience told him that alcohol and frustrated men didn't bode well for him, and this was something he didn't want to deal with right now. His expression almost gave his thoughts away. Looking at his situation, he decided that the better choice was to stay exactly where he was, so he slapped on a smile, clapped Captain Murdock on the back and, ignoring the pilot's last statement, said, "Why don't I buy the next round of drinks?"
While Peck waved to the bartender, both Murdock and Baracus looked discreetly in the direction that Peck had just looked, seeing Harding's expression and understanding the sudden change in heart of their new acquaintance. Not being one to mince words, Baracus grumbled, "What'd you do to him?"
Peck looked across the room again, then mumbled, "It's what I won't do." Not wanting to give them time to respond, he changed the subject and asked, "What do you do around here for excitement?"
"You're seeing it," the pilot responded.
Smith leaned back and listened to Captain Murdock. "We don't know one more bit of information about that kid that we didn't already know and we still don't know nothing. But I can tell you one thing, he can talk."
Baracus growled his thoughts, "An' say nothin'!"
The pilot continued, "He controlled our conversation, Colonel. We talked about those things that he wanted to talk about. He skirted our questions, avoided saying anything too specific, and spoke in generalities." Remembering what he read in the file, he added, "And he ain't twenty-three."
Colonel Smith took it all in; after a moment's pause, he mused, "So how does a smooth talking kid with a face like that get sent here?" The men shrugged. After another pause, Smith put all four feet of his chair on the floor and stated, "Keep an eye on him."
Long after the two left, Smith sat contemplating the boy's fate; he was going to be dead within the month. That's just the way it was in Delta Region E; if the enemy didn't kill you, one of your own would.
Prior to Smith's arrival, the average life expectancy of a recruit sent to DRE was less than 25 days. Since his arrival, not a single kid under his command had been killed in action, or otherwise; and that meant that statistic was improving. Everyone was happy. The powers to be were happy because the soldiers were completing missions AND living to go on more dangerous ones. The soldiers were happy because it gave them a second chance. Delta Region E had a way of humbling even the worst of attitudes. Save for a few, those who lived long enough to get a reprieve were sent back to a normal base with normal missions if you can call anything about a war normal.
Unfortunately, that kid wasn't under his command, and Colonel Harding couldn't claim the same success rate. Frustrated, Smith tried to concentrate on his paperwork; after all, that kid wasn't his problem. It was all he could do to keep his own boys alive, he couldn't be worried about the whole damn camp.
He signed a few papers and pushed around some others, but his thoughts just wouldn't let go of the kid he couldn't seem to understand.
Lt. Templeton Peck kept to himself for the most part. He studied the other soldiers, learned who was who, and exploited those who had something to offer. He made friends easily but didn't hang around any one too long. After re-routing the cigarettes and acquiring the medical supplies for the camp, he felt good, he felt like he used to feel in LA when he'd get something for the orphanage or one of the nuns. The unfortunate fallout was Harding missing his cigarettes, but it was necessary to sacrifice the smokes in order to get Corporal Leigh to ship the supplies, badly needed supplies that were already half gone. When the soldiers came back from the field, those that weren't already dead were usually in need of immediate medical attention. And Peck liked to think that maybe one or two of them survived because of what he managed to acquire.
In his travels around the small base, he learned about Delta Region E, reading anything and everything on the base camp. If he were lucky, he'd get to walk through the General's office where most of the information was kept. The general pinned everything up on his wall, so if you knew where to look, you could see exactly what the future held. At least once a day, he made sure he had a reason to go there. Sometimes he was lucky and actually had time to look around.
Harding had been busy with several new recruits who seemed destined for the brig; but in usual army fashion, why let a body rot in prison when it could perform one last patriotic duty for its country. Getting these boys mission ready was taking all of Harding's time and that was fine with Peck. It gave him the necessary time to make those phone calls on his latest challenge. He didn't notice the man standing behind him.
Peck spun around and glared; in this man's army, you didn't let anyone sneak up behind you. But when he recognized the man, Peck lost his apprehension and offered a smart salute.
Colonel Smith saluted back, "At Ease, Lieutenant. I noticed a shipment of penicillin and surgical wrap in the supply hut and was wondering if you had anything to do with it?"
"Yes sir. I exchanged a carton of cigarettes for them. I noticed the base was low on medical supplies."
"You work fast."
"It wasn't hard; two calls and it was a done deal."
Nodding his head, Smith meandered around, taking in the scenery and forming his next comment, "I see your eye is healing nicely."
Peck raised his hand and touched the still sore cheek.
Once again Smith saw the look that he couldn't place. He didn't understand this boy and he wanted to. "So what brings a scammer from LA to this place?"
'A scammer!' Peck thought. He never considered himself a scammer, everything he ever acquired he did so legitimately. He never took anything that wasn't needed, and he always made sure no one was left accounting for his deals.
"I asked you a question, lieutenant."
Peck smiled wide and began, "This base could use a good supply officer and Colonel Harding thought I'd make a nice addition to the unit."
Smith studied the boy, then shook his head slowly and stated, "Don't con me, lieutenant. This base does without for a reason."
Peck started to respond, but Smith cut him off and asked, "Why were you sent here?"
"Well um," Peck stuttered, not being able to think too clearly because he had a strong suspicion that Smith wasn't someone who could be easily misled. Avoiding the penetrating gaze of the older man, Peck relinquished and softly replied, "I'm not too sure why I'm here, Sir." And that was the truth, one minute he was running obstacle courses in Khe Sanh, the next he was getting orders to report here. His snooping around told him this wasn't exactly the best place to be; only the scum of the military was sent here, but that didn't explain why he was here, unless the military thought he was scum. But you had to do something to get that label and to his knowledge, he hadn't done anything.
Smith sized him up. For someone who had a silver tongue, he sure wasn't using it very well. "Did you steal anything?"
"No Sir!" To himself he though, 'Everything I do is above board.'
"How do you explain your personnel file?"
'Everything but that,' Peck groaned inwardly.
Smith caught the look and grinned, 'All right! Finally an expression he could read.' "You don't look old enough to be an officer. I know we're recruiting young, but you don't look much out of school. So how old are you?"
Peck thought quickly, the age in his folder was a lie, but he couldn't tell him the truth, not yet anyway. "Twenty-One."
Recognizing another lie, Smith countered, "No you're not." But Peck didn't continue and since Smith confirmed what he wanted to know, he didn't pursue it. "Watch your back Lt.," and then he disappeared out the door.
Peck stood still awhile, thinking about the unexpected visit from Colonel Smith; in particular he kept seeing the satisfied look of recognition on the colonel's face but couldn't figure out what it had meant. It must have had something to do with his file, and the fact that it was very thin. But that couldn't be helped as Peck was in the middle of building a nice career for himself through forged documents and such when the orders came through for him to report to DRE. The idea behind the file was that he would be acknowledged for the resourceful soldier he was without having to step foot onto the battlefield; at least not very often. But, the military wasn't like the open streets of LA, and he had to learn 'militarese' before he understood exactly what was needed to make his career shine, resulting in a salary that could benefit The Sacred Hearts Orphanage. It was all very simple and logical and natural, or so he thought.
Another hot muggy day slid into another hot muggy night and with the unusual inactivity on the base, the men were restless. Peck walked into the mess expecting to take his usual seat when he noticed Captain Murdock in a situation that did not favor him; he looked around in search of Sergeant Baracus. It was a well-known fact that pilots and grunts don't mix, but on a base like Delta Region E, there weren't many options if you wanted to drink and relax a bit.
Pilots didn't take that risk too often, but then pilots didn't end up at DRE, and Peck wondered what Murdock did to get here, just like he wondered what he had done to get here. He took a glass of luke warm beer from the bartender and sat down, observing the situation. He recognized one of the soldiers who seemed to be giving the pilot the most trouble. The guy was a jerk and Peck steered clear of him most of the time, but while he kept his distance, he also pulled some files and asked some questions, skills he learned in the orphanage that paid off more times than he cared to admit. Growing up, he realized that a little piece of information on someone could change that person's behavior on a dime. And although very small, Peck did have a tiny piece of information on the jerk.
The situation was drastically turning sour for the pilot and Peck pondered his involvement. He liked Captain Murdock. The tall guy with a slight southern drawl put him at ease, but even more than that, there was something genuine about him that he was drawn to. The pilot was obviously friends with Sergeant Baracus, and Baracus was loyal to Smith, and Smith seemed well, Peck wasn't sure what the deal was with Smith, but he intuitively felt that there was something unique about the officer, very different from Harding at least. Maybe having an ally in Smith, Baracus and Murdock wouldn't be so bad; perhaps it might even be essential if he were going to survive this hellhole.
Putting his glass down and searching unsuccessfully one last time for Baracus, Peck stood up and took a deep breath, mumbling to himself, "Here's goes nothing."
"HEY, Donaldson!" Peck yelled above the noise in the room.
Lieutenant Donaldson heard his name but the fight was just about ready to begin and he didn't want this part of his evening interrupted.
Pushing through the people, Peck approached the small crowd and yelled again, "Lt. Donaldson! I've got some information for you that you'll like!"
"Shutup Peck!" the large man annoyingly seethed. "Can't you see I'm busy?!"
Peck was in the midst of the gathered crowd now and just needed to say one more sentence, "I got to see your orders this afternoon!"
Donaldson stopped and turned; he had been waiting for orders out of this hell and with each passing day, the odds of living to see those orders grew slimmer.
'Gotcha!' Peck mused. "Yeah, I saw them today when I had to deliver some supplies to the general."
"What'd they say?!" he demanded.
"I think it's what you wanted," Peck stalled, glancing at the pilot whose eyes seemed a tad maniacal, but who didn't stand a chance against these guys. "Maybe it's not exactly the cushiest of duties, but at least you'll have some women to look at again."
Donaldson furrowed his brow; Peck was thankful the man wasn't too bright. Reaching his arm up, Peck placed it around Donaldson's shoulder and gently turned him away from his target. "Yeah, you see it's like this. The General got word today that headquarters need some of our best guys to train some greenies." The tension in Donaldson's body flowed away and his face displayed curious excitement. "I'm not sure who General Hess is going to pick, but I heard your name come up several times. Apparently, you've made quite an impression here at DRE."
Without Donaldson, the other soldiers weren't really interested in messing up some chopper jockey, so feigning everything from having to pee to needing another drink, the crowd slowly dispersed.
Donaldson smiled and arrogantly agreed, "Yeah! I can see them wanting ME to train those guys! I'm the best soldier in this hole!"
"That's right," Peck quickly nodded. "And Hess and some of the others must know that. But if you go messing up their pilots, they just might look elsewhere."
Donaldson gave that some thought. Peck patted him on the chest and said, "Go get yourself a drink and relax with your buddies. If I hear anything, I'll let you know."
Coming back to reality, the giant idiot turned slowly, narrowing his eyes and poking a finger at Peck, "You'd better! And if I find out you're lying to me, I'll frag you right here on this base! You got that!?"
"Don't you worry 'bout a thing," Peck smoozed some more, and wondered why it was so easy to deceive his fellow soldier. He watched the no-neck return to this friends and then he looked around for Captain Murdock and caught a glimpse of him leaving. He thought about catching up to him, but then decided against it. Instead, he finished his drink and left before Donaldson could verify that story.
Peck lay in the dark on his cot, thinking about the events of the day as well as the past couple of weeks. He was restless and feeling alone. Unseen by anyone else in the small room, he rolled his eyes; by now, he should be painfully used to loneliness. He kept busy enough, trying to keep the likes of Harding as far away as possible while still working the system in his favor. It was slow going though, the paper trail was killing him and preventing him from making the kind of progress he thought he should be making. He was learning the real meaning behind the phrase "red tape", but he wasn't deterred. It just meant that he had to keep asking questions and forging documents and smiling and sweet talking people to get what he needed.
And he almost laughed out loud thinking back on the way Captain Murdock was trying to talk his way out of the mess he got himself into earlier with Donaldson. Peck didn't know if Murdock was capable of talking his way out of a situation like that, but he sure as hell knew the pilot was more than capable of stalling for time and confusing his would-be attackers. Heaven help the NVA if they get a hold of him; they're likely to perceive him a liability to our side and throw him back at us. Maybe that's why Captain Murdock was at DRE; maybe that maniacal look said more than it should have. With the comforting thoughts of Captain Murdock on his mind, he drifted into another shallow sleep.
"I'm telling you Colonel, he talked his way out of it. And there was something about his face that had Donaldson eating out of his hand," Murdock said after retelling the story. "It was as good as being with Baracus, only Peck didn't leave the place--or the people-- all busted up."
Sergeant Baracus covered up his concern for the pilot by growling his displeasure at the comment. But even he knew there was something different about this new kid with the face that nobody can seem to say no to, and if he was going to risk it for some pilot he barely new, then the kid was okay with him.
Colonel Smith leaned back against the sandbags and watched the pick-up game of basketball. For once, the sun was shining and although it was muggy, it felt good to squint after so many days of rain. A grin crossed his mouth and he mused, "So you're telling me the boy who scams medical supplies is also a conman."
"For all I know, what he told Donaldson was true, so I can't say that he was conning him. But he sure is a smooth talker."
"Maybe that's why he's here, " Baracus offered. "He conned the wrong person."
Smith shook his head and replied, "I doubt it. I have an idea why he's here." After a moment's pause, he continued, "Do you know why Colonel Harding is here?"
Both men shrugged.
Smith answered his own question, "He's a damn good soldier, completing more missions successfully than most. But he's a homosexual with a penchant for young men."
The news didn't come as a shock to anyone; there were lots of gays in the military. What was shocking was that he was still alive. The lifespan of a gay soldier was shorter than that of a DRE soldier. "How come he hasn't been fragged yet?" Captain Murdock asked.
"Like I said, he's good. He's damn good and he picks his men carefully."
That was understandable because that was just what you did in Nam. No commander worth anything went into the field with soldiers he didn't already know. Even Colonel John Smith handpicked his men, which is how he, Baracus and Murdock came to be. These three men didn't meet for the first time at Delta Region E, they knew of each other long before they were shipped here. Smith knew that Baracus held little respect for authority and Murdock teetered on the brink of sanity; and both Baracus and Murdock knew that Smith was unorthodox in his command, somehow knowing what most officers didn't: it was easier to run a tight ship if you didn't burden everyone with rules.
Baracus grumbled, "So how'd he end up here?"
"He picked the wrong boy to proposition. Rumor has it he tried to proposition the son of a decorated Korean War general, not knowing just how much influence the boy had. Next thing Harding knew, he was holding orders to report here."
"So how does Peck fit in?" Murdock asked.
"The way I figure it is, Harding must have seen Peck on one of his trips to Khe Sahn. Not being able to get what he wants from anyone here, he recruited this young kid. You have to admit that someone like Peck probably has more propositions than he can civilly refuse. And I'm guessing that the boy IS refusing them and NOT putting out."
"You can bet on that," Baracus growled. "He all but said so that night we drank together."
Perplexed, Smith looked around and asked, "Speaking of Lt. Peck, where is he?" The men looked towards the court because when he wasn't working that's where Peck spent most of his free time, playing pick-up games of basketball. There, and on the telephone, but they had just come from the supply hut and he hadn't been there.
An uneasy feeling settled in and Smith asked another question, "Have either of you seen Colonel Harding?"
The silence said volumes and a queasy feeling landed in Smith's gut. He threw down his cigarette and walked away.
The base was small so it didn't take long to get to his destination. Smith rapped on the General's door and waited. He rapped a second time and when no answer came, he entered. It wasn't unusual for the General to be gone since most of the COs at DRE didn't want to be there and therefore took advantage of every opportunity to leave. So on this bright and sunny day, Colonel Smith helped himself to the information tacked up neatly to the wall. On standard military form, complete with Hess' forged signature, was Harding's mission, to be carried out today with his choice of soldiers.
"Damn!" Smith exclaimed.
Peck was still bleary eyed from being roused out of bed, and the bright sun and heat didn't help any. There had been no talk of a mission, and no orders requesting one had come through; he knew this because he now checked the general's office daily. He was particularly annoyed because today was the day when one of his special shipments was to arrive and he wanted to be on hand to see if all his planning and preparation had actually worked.
It was mid morning and they'd been walking for hours. Harding assigned him point, followed by Donaldson, who was followed by Fitz; Harding took up the rear. Peck had no idea what they were looking for and when he asked, he was curtly ignored. Donaldson didn't seem to harbor any ill feelings regarding their encounter the previous night, and Fitz was another no-thinker, following whatever orders came his way. Peck mentally compared Fitz, Donaldson and Harding to that of Murdock, Baracus and Smith, and concluded there were very few similarities, if any. Smith commanded respect; Harding did not. And Donaldson and Fitz were just too stupid to be considered in the same intellectual league as the mechanic and the pilot.
But he had more important things to consider right now, and primary among them was his current location. They were nearing the Cambodian border. Peck pulled up and waited for the others to join him.
In a hushed whisper, Harding demanded, "What is it?"
"Cambodia is just across the river, Sir."
"I know where Cambodia is!" Harding hissed forcefully, then caught himself. He didn't want Peck suspecting anything. In fact, he wasn't prepared for Peck to know their exact position; Donaldson and Fitz were too stupid to know which country they were in, evidently, he misjudged Peck. Now that Peck knew where the border was, he had to alter his plans.
Peck remained calm and whispered, "Which way are we going?"
"I'll take point from here. Donaldson and Fitz, drop back one. Peck, stay close behind."
The men nodded in agreement and took off again.
Captain Murdock had to yell above the noise of the helicopter, "We'll be at the drop zone in ten minutes."
Smith nodded and replied, "Pick us up at 1400 hours." The pilot gave him the thumbs up signal. He sat back and observed his men, hand picked from a bunch of malcontents. The pilot chewing gum and grinning like he knew something nobody else did, Baracus sitting calmly at the edge of the door next to the gunner, watching the ground race underway, and Brenner seated beside him, holding his St. Christopher like he always did before a mission. The other two men, Clancy and Rodriquez, were swaying with the movement of the chopper, quietly waiting. These men might be losers in the eyes of the army, but they were the best men he'd seen in several tours. They were damn good at what Smith needed them to be good at. And from what he'd been learning about a certain lieutenant, Peck was going to be a better conman than he was. That last thought put a smile on his face, but not for long.
As the chopper descended slowly, the men didn't wait for it to land before jumping off and disappearing into the trees.
Peck wondered why they were pulling up on a small bluff near the riverbed. He didn't have long to ponder it as Harding spoke softly and smugly, "Peck, do you know what this is?" he asked pointing to the black plastic case that he'd been carrying with him.
Thinking it was a trick question, Peck didn't answer right away. Then he slowly whispered, "It looks like a rifle case."
Smiling, Harding whispered back, "That's exactly what it is. Now, do you know what you're going to do with it?"
Peck furrowed his brow. 'Me?' he thought. Then shook his head.
"You're going to give General Phong a third eye."
Peck was stunned. He'd never shot anyone before, at least no one that he knew of. He'd been in the field, but mostly he went on reconnaissance missions, rarely, if ever having to use his weapon. In the five months he'd been in country, he could count on one hand the number of times he'd actually been in a firefight.
"I saw you shoot in Khe Sahn, and I've read your marksman scores. You seem to have an eye for this sort of thing." Harding clicked open the case and exposed the shiny sections of the rifle.
"But Sir, I've never done this before," Peck protested, knowing his words were futile.
Harding's stare turned deadly and he toned, "You don't have a choice. You're my ticket out of this God forsaken hole. Once Phong is dead, I'll take the credit for the kill and General Hess can't help but give me the assignment at headquarters " lustily he added, "training all those young boys."
Donaldson picked his head up and harshly whispered, "Hey, Hess had me pegged for that assignment."
"Shutup! Hess had you pegged all right, but not for that assignment! You're being shipped to some shithole to peel potatoes! That's IF you live through this mission," Harding's voice was deadly.
Donaldson glared at Peck, somehow knowing that Peck knew the truth all along.
Peck hesitated, but as Harding's gaze fixed back on him, he realized just how determined his colonel was. Slowly, Peck picked up each piece of the rifle and assembled it, carefully locking them together. The last piece he connected was the scope. He had shot this particular rifle several times, and he was deadly accurate each time. But he wasn't a sniper; he'd declined that offer minutes after it had been proposed.
The jungle suddenly became quiet. Donaldson and Fitz dug into a hole 20 feet away from the others. Harding pulled out his handgun and held it, more as a reminder to Peck to do the job than as a source of protection from the enemy. They waited in silence.
Within thirty minutes, a small group of NVA came into site. They were too far away for conventional weapons, but not for the high-powered rifle resting lazily across Peck's lap. He let his hand run down the shaft and easily wrap around the trigger. This wasn't a feeling he liked, but it was one that was strangely comfortable.
Harding ignited the plan with a nod, and then he glanced back at Donaldson and Fitz. Only one shot would be taken, and they'd better make tracks after they heard the shot. Donaldson and Fitz readied for their retreat.
With a numbing fluidity, Peck raised the rifle and adjusted the scope. Donaldson watched with envy; marksmanship was his weakest area. He couldn't be sure he could hit a man at point blank range. Peck positioned the butt of the rifle firmly against his shoulder, shimmying it slightly for the perfect fit.
Harding's brow began to sweat as his adrenaline coursed through his body. The boy before him carefully fondling the rifle, combined with the excitement of the mission, was affecting him the same way he'd been affected when he learned for the first time that he was attracted to boys, many years earlier. His reward was coming; he just had to be patient.
Peck adjusted his head, finding the perfect point at which to rest his cheek while he peered through the scope. Slowly, he took aim. Deadly aim. The moment had come when he had to make a decision. Was he going to kill a man in cold blood?
This was war, and you killed the enemy.
But like this? With a perverted lunatic holding a gun to his side? Even if he did manage to kill the NVA General, then what? Was he naïve enough to believe that Harding was just going to let him walk away? Donaldson and Fitz were hand picked for this assignment because they could be persuaded to keep their mouths shut, but Harding knew he never would. The fact of the matter was Harding had no intention of returning with him; perhaps not even the other two.
On that last thought, Peck pulled the trigger and waited. It wasn't immediate, the distance between the rifle and its target being too far, but what he was waiting for happenedthe NVA General crumbled to the ground. Peck felt nothing; he had no way of knowing that that moment would haunt him the rest of his life.
Harding stared, perhaps a second too long, most probably because he was in a state of disbelief. He did it! He actually killed him! His plan was going to work. "Break it down and move!" he ordered. Peck quickly dismantled the gun in record time and threw the pieces into the case. Harding grabbed it and the four were off, running quickly into the dense vegetation.
They re-traced their tracks, following the riverbed while keeping low, and moving very fast. Peck replayed the shot in his head; he was reasonably sure he had killed him. The many trips into General Hess' office had already made Peck aware of the notorious General Phong, and the sooner Phong was taken out of the picture, the sooner US soldiers would stop dying at his hand. Peck didn't judge people, he left that for another; but at that particular moment, he wondered how he would be judged come his time.
An hour and a half later, Harding pulled his men up and rested, obviously reveling in the success of his mission because he picked a place less than secure from enemy threat. Donaldson and Fitz wouldn't know a good place to stop if a sign were posted, but Peck kept low, wondering how far behind Charlie was. And he knew they were behind them.
"Do you think we should stop in this clearing, Colonel?" Peck asked. "It's doesn't seem very secure."
"They aren't following us," Harding stated. "They're too busy mourning the general's death to organize and come after us. Besides, trying to find a sniper out here is damn near impossible."
'A sniper.' Peck hadn't thought of himself as a sniper, and he still didn't. But there were more pressing issues at hand and Peck looked around, making mental notes of everything from tree limbs to clumps of grass. Putting himself in the enemy's shoes, he knew exactly where he'd go if he wanted to ambush an unsuspecting American unit.
Harding picked up on his expression and soothed, "Don't worry Peck," his voice sounding distant and luring, "although I'm pretty impressed with your shooting abilities, no one else will be. In fact, no one else is even going to know that you made the shot."
Peck noticed the muzzle of his handgun pointing at him.
"I'm afraid I can't trust that you won't say anything, and since most people don't come back from these missions alive, I don't think too many questions will be asked."
Donaldson furrowed his brow, "What are you gonna do?" Slowly he understood, and his eyes widened, "You're gonna kill your own man?"
"Shut up Lieutenant! The way I see it, unless you want to spend the rest of your short life at DRE, you'll just look the other way. If you keep your mouth shut, I may have a place for you at headquarters. If not, I can always arrange another mission. That goes for you too Fitz!"
Donaldson and Fitz swallowed and nodded quickly, hoping this lunatic colonel didn't turn on them.
"Get the hell out of here, I'll meet you at the LZ!" Harding glared at the backs of his soldiers as they hurried across the clearing and disappeared into the jungle.
Then, he turned his attention back to Peck. He'd waited two months for this moment; from the time he first laid eyes on that kid, he knew what he wanted. He just didn't expect to be rebuffed at every turn. But now, there would be no rejecting him. "How 'bout if you show me some of what's under that uniform?"
Peck made no move, appearing calm, like he knew something.
Harding inhaled, allowing the long audible sound of his breath to make his point. Controlling his impatience, he urged, "Come on, Peck. I know you want to try it. Have you ever even been with another man before? I can make it a really good experience for you."
The recurring nightmare fleeted across his brain, but Peck remained impassive to the question.
Losing his patience, Harding stepped forward and demanded, "Either you take them off, or I will!" He waved his gun as affirmation of his objective.
Peck didn't stand a chance in hand-to-hand combat. It didn't matter anyway because the colonel was pointing a gun directly at him. He had gathered information on Harding that would have been useful had they been any other place but alone in the jungles of Nam with Charlie somewhere behind them. Peck would figure a way out of this, if given enough time; but at this very moment, things weren't looking good. Slowly, he dropped his pack, and began unbuttoning his shirt, waiting patiently for an opportunity.
Musing at the way the events were unfolding, Harding dropped his gear and grinned, "I'm going to have me some fun." Impatiently, he reached out and ripped the rest of the buttons off, which gave Peck the opportunity he needed; if nothing else, he might be able to wrestle away and outrun him.
Smith had seen enough, and it wasn't likely Peck was going to outfight Harding. He motioned for Baracus to take two men and flank right, and Brenner to take two and flank left. Clancy remained where he was, holding his gun on Donaldson and Fitz, who were more than obliging in showing Smith where they had left Harding and Peck. When he received the signal from Baracus, Smith stood up silently and in a deep but quiet voice, demanded, "Get off of him, Harding!"
The voice came as a surprise and Harding pushed off the struggling lieutenant and turned defiantly, glaring at Smith. The irritation in his voice was laced with annoyance, and he quietly hushed his retort, "Smith! I'm gonna have to do something about you!" Before any weapon could be "accidentally" discharged, Sergeant Baracus made his presence known by stepping forward, his rifle steadied on Harding. Each one of Smith's men followed suite and soon, six AK-47s were aimed chest high at the colonel.
With his anger barely controlled, Harding jeered, "You'd better have orders to be out here, Smith, because if you don't, you're gonna lose your commission!"
"In the same way that boy's gonna lose his innocence?!" Smith retorted. "What's to stop me from laying you out right here and now? Isn't that what you told these boys you were going to do to them? After all, Colonel," Smith sneered, "these ARE suicide missions."
Harding approached Smith, stopping a few feet in front of him. Smith never wavered and returned the glare with intensity more dangerous than Peck ever saw on anyone. Before Harding could formulate his words, a pop was heard from the distance, and all 220 pounds of the Colonel plummeted to the earth, the back of his head having been blown off.
"Get down!" Smith ordered unnecessarily to his men who had already found cover behind natural vegetation. Peck was the most vulnerable, only being able to leap behind a small cluster of shrubs. "How far?" Smith shouted to Baracus.
"Too far for our weapons!" came the reply.
"Damn!" Smith exclaimed. "Brenner, how much time do we have?"
"Less than an hour, 'bout 50 minutes!"
Smith did a quick calculation; they could make it to the LZ if they left now and took turns carrying Harding's body. Another pop sounded. "Stay down!" Smith shouted. After a minute passed, he continued, "Donaldson! Get over here!"
Lt. Donaldson crawled on his belly over to his new commander, "Yes sir!"
"You're carrying Harding first! On the count of three"
"No way, man! Just leave him! He was going to kill us, and you know what he was going to do to Peck!"
"That's an order Lieutenant! Move!"
Donaldson threw his gear to Fitz and moved into position so he could pull Harding out of the clearing and into the brush. He counted to three silently, and then rushed. Another pop was heard, and Donaldson fell face forward into the mud, inches from his former commander.
Smith swore again. "Do you see where they're coming from?" he shouted to anyone who would answer.
"The tree line over there," Peck yelled over his shoulder. He had been eyeing the black case but knew the odds at getting to it were slim to none based on the snipers' current rate of success.
"How many do you count?"
"At least four."
Smith looked at Baracus, then to Brenner. What he wouldn't give to have Captain Murdock flying in low spraying the tree line with fire. He figured his options: If he retreated, the NVA would pick them off as they crossed the clearing; and if he stayed, the NVA would surround them and pick them off from behind. He was going to lose his men as well as his own life before this was over, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. He looked over at the kid, crouched low behind the tall grass. Something caught his eye and he leaned closer.
"Give me a distraction," Peck spoke in a tone that betrayed his confidence.
Not sure what he was up to, Smith obliged and nodded towards his Sergeant who had also heard the request. Baracus growled at Fitz to give him his helmet, which he reluctantly did. He placed the helmet on the end of his rifle and lifted it slowly into the air. Another pop was heard, only this time, Peck rushed to the black case, and returned to his position just as a second pop was unloaded. This time, they missed.
The men watched as Peck opened the case and removed its contents. Smith mused, "You always pack a spare high powered rifle when you come out here?"
Peck glanced up and nodded towards his dead colonel, "It's his; he packs it." He clicked on the scope, made a final adjustment and lay prone on the ground. Going through the motions for a second time, he positioned the gun against his shoulder and cheek, and gently placed his finger against the trigger. The minute he pulled, his position would be overrun with bullets. 'At least,' he concluded, 'that's where he would shoot if he were sitting up in the trees right now.' "Colonel?" Peck shouted, never taking his eyes off the target he was seeing through the scope. "Get ready to retreat."
Smith gave the order to his men and waited. With deadly accuracy, Peck fired three consecutive shots, killing three snipers perched high in tree limbs down the river. Moving instinctively, he quickly changed his position and made the next shot from his knees. His fourth discharge sounded like it had an echo, but Smith realized too late that it was not an echo, it was the sound of the fourth NVA sniper firing back. Both bullets found their targets.
As if in slow motion, Smith watched Peck spin around and fall backwards. "LIEUTENANT!" he yelled.
Smith leaped out of his position and raced to the boy's side, thinking he was going to find him dead. Instead, he heard Peck's shaky voice say, "We'd better get the hell out of here. There'll be more coming."
"You son of a bitch!" Smith proudly whispered. "Sergeant! Take Peck. You other men, carry those bodies. Let's get outa here!"
It wasn't until after they were safely loaded onto the chopper that Smith pulled Peck's shirt back and surveyed the wound. "You're lucky, kid, it's only a graze." Peck remained silent, only acknowledging the comment with a slight flinch from the pain caused by the gauze the colonel was packing around it. "You did good out there, Lt.," Smith quietly added.
Peck smiled, but there wasn't anything in it. It was a blank smile, void of everything that was needed for a smile except the muscles. To Smith, it appeared that he was going to remain silent the entire flight. And once again, Smith found himself trying to understand this kid. He couldn't read his expressions and he swore to himself that he'd never get suckered into a game of poker with him.
After a few minutes of silence, Peck quietly stated, "If I hadn't changed positions, I'd be dead now."
Just as quietly, Smith responded, "I was wondering why you did that."
With an analysis beyond his young years, Smith listened to Peck explain his action, "The fourth sniper is who took out Donaldson, which meant he didn't have a clear shot at me; that's why I saved him for last. But after the second shot, I heard one of his bullets whiz by. I really thought I was a dead man, but for some reason, he didn't fire again. If he had fired after my third shot, I'd probably would be dead now."
"You damn near bought the farm as it was," Baracus grumbled. Then he smiled appreciatively, knowing that the white kid had most likely saved them all from certain death.
Peck didn't smile back, and once again Smith couldnt read what he was thinking.
Captain Murdock yelled back over the noise, "Hey, Kid!"
Smith looked around at the bay full of boys and answered, "You have to be more specific! Which kid?"
Murdock replied, "You know which one the one with the Face!"
There wasn't a man on board who didn't know exactly who the pilot was referring to.
To Peck, he'd been called many things in his life, but he'd never been called a face. Now when he smiled, there was more to it, but not much more. "Yeah!"
"A shipment of boxes arrived today. DRE hasn't seen that many supplies in months!"
Peck's mind was grateful for the distraction, as he was becoming consumed with his actions of earlier. And with Harding and Donaldson in the rear of the helicopter, their deaths kept creeping into his mind as well. Even though the news was good, all he said was, "Thanks."
Peck looked at his hands; they wouldn't stop shaking.
He had managed to keep it together on the flight back, and even managed to maintain control while the medic washed and cleaned the bullet wound. It was only when the medic asked about the deep bruises around his neck and chest and commented how they resembled finger imprints that the trembling began.
Alone on his cot and trying to rest, he felt the trepidation growing, it started in his gut, and grew a little bit each time he'd let his mind go where he knew it shouldn't be going. Whether his eyes were open or shut, he was able to see the NVA general plummet to the ground. He was able to smell Harding's breath and feel his hands as he fell on top of him in the jungle. He remembered the piercing stare of Colonel Smith just before his fatigues were splattered with Harding's brains; and he kept hearing Donaldson's loud grunt as the air was expelled from his lungs when he hit the mud.
He was never going to survive Nam; at least not this way by himself, and with the likes of Harding everywhere he turned. He should be used to being alone, but he wasn't. And he should be used to other men propositioning him, but he wasn't that either.
Peck drew in a long slow breath and exhaled, considering his options. He kept thinking about Colonel Smith and why he had come out into the field today. There were no orders for him to be there, and there was no reason for him to be in the same quadrant as Harding.
Then a thought occurred to him, and he wondered if Smith had come after Harding. Did Smith know what Harding was doing, did he know about all the propositions? Thinking back on his evening with Captain Murdock and Sergeant Baracus, he saw things in a different light. Then, a sudden realization dawned on him and he wondered, 'Did Smith come out after him?'
That thought changed his mood. It gave him a feeling that he'd not experienced since before he'd left the orphanage and had to say goodbye to some of his favorite nuns. He actually began to believe that someone cared about him.
He didn't let that thought linger too long; it was presumptuous of him to think that way, and there was absolutely no evidence to support his thinking. But as he looked down at his hands, he saw that they had stopped shaking.
"What'd you think, Colonel?" Captain Murdock asked over a warm beer. Brenner had already filled the pilot in on what happened in the field and what Peck had done.
Colonel Smith was thinking a lot lately. Just a few short hours ago, they had returned. Peck didn't wait around for a debriefing and Smith didn't push it; he figured he'd get the information he needed from Sergeant Fitz, and he did.
"I think," Baracus growled, "that we owe that kid our lives."
Smith nodded in agreement. "Do you know that General Phong was killed today?"
Both Murdock and Baracus raised their eyebrows, wanting to hear more.
"According to Fitz, Peck took him out with one shot, and Harding was going to take credit for the kill. The scuttle over the waves all but confirms it."
"The many faces of Lt. Templeton Peck," Murdock mused. Setting his glass down slowly, he added, "Speaking of which "
Smith looked across the room and saw what the pilot saw. He couldn't help but be pleased that Peck had entered the mess, even happier when he approached them. "Sit down, Lieutenant."
Peck sat down and acknowledged the others with a nod.
"You did good out there today. You saved our butts," Smith praised.
Peck shrugged it off, then handed over a box wrapped in brown paper. Smith furrowed his brow and asked, "What's this?"
"I thought you might like these," he smiled, still not allowing anyone to read his true feelings.
Smith blew out a low whistle at its contents.
"There're not from Cuba," Peck clarified, "but they are from North Carolina and I've been told they're almost as good." Anticipating the next question, he shrugged, " last week at the basketball court with Harding." Then he quietly added, "And again today " his voice trailing off.
Cutting across the awkward silence at the table, a loud voice boomed inside the mess, "Colonel Smith!" Seemingly unfazed by such a demanding call, Smith closed the lid on the box and smirked. The rest of the men in the mess were soon quiet; it wasn't often that General Hess visited.
Smith looked up quizzically but dispensed with the formalities and just acknowledged, "General."
Hess hurried up to the table of four men and gruffly stated, "I guess you heard the news, Phong was killed today by a sniper."
Peck scratched his head and looked away.
Smith observed the kid's reactions and then answered, "I heard."
"You were out there today, what happened?"
"It's in my report, sir."
Peck looked sharply up, forgetting that a written report was standard.
"I know," Hess impatiently said, "you said you werent there. So who killed him?"
"Harding did, sir," Peck answered before anyone else could.
"Who are you?" the general growled, already knowing the answer.
Lt. Templeton Peck, Sir. I went out this morning with Colonel Harding and Lt. Donaldson and Sergeant Fitz."
General Hess stood staring at the men; something wasn't adding up. He knew Harding was a good soldier, but marksmanship wasn't his strong point. It wasn't Donaldson's either, but he wasn't around to corroborate any story, and Fitz's record of lying and filing false documents made anything he might say suspect. That left this lieutenant, and the file on him was paper-thin. Hess sneered, "I don't believe Harding shot Phong." He watched the men for signs of uneasiness, but saw nothing. At first, Hess had thought Smith had done it, given his record and penchant for the more unorthodox missions. But after examining the facts, Hess had his doubts. "In fact, I'm beginning to think that someone at this table might have done it."
"Didn't you hear him, sucka!" Baracus growled at the general. "L-T said Harding shot him!"
Captain Murdock put a soothing hand on the big guy and said, "Don't mind him, General, his attitude hasn't improved any since being shipped here."
Colonel Smith remained passive, keeping one hand firmly on the box, and the other wrapped around a beer glass.
Frustrated, the general knew a stand off when he was in one, and he knew Smith well enough to know he couldn't be bullied into supplying further information. He despised what he was about to say, but he had been given little input into the discussion before a decision was made, "Evidently, someone of importance thinks that you orchestrated the assassination," Hess grumbled towards Smith, while still glaring at Peck, "because of that, I'm holding in my hand your orders to report to Special Forces training in Saigon. It further requests that you pick your men to accompany you. Your stay here, Colonel Smith, has come to an end." Hess tossed the orders on the table and left.
Smith opened the paper and read it. Then he refolded it and smiled, "I think I'm going to like this new assignment." Baracus and Murdock smiled, knowing that Smith was their ticket out of DRE.
Peck shifted uncomfortably, then started to leave. A hand on his arm stopped him and he looked at the colonel.
"Where're you going?" Smith asked.
"I have a few more things to deliver."
"I saw those so-called supplies. How in the hell did you get condiments shipped here?"
Matter of factly, Peck replied, "I heard the guys talk about not having things like salt and pepper, or ketchup or mustard, and I remembered that when I was in Khe Sahn, I did a favor for the cook. So I called him up and asked him to send some of his stuff here." Then he lifted his shoulders like it was no big deal.
Smith smiled broadly; this kid was exactly what he needed to complete his team. "How would you like to join us in Saigon?"
Peck's eyes grew wide. But like most things in his life, he didn't trust what he'd heard. Quickly, he shook his head no.
"That's not a request, Lieutenant," Smith toned, allowing a twinge of paternal authority to fill the air.
Peck looked at each person, looking for the joke to be up, or trying to read an ulterior motive.
Understanding what Peck was doing, Smith assured, "Don't worry, kid, we could use someone with your talents." As if reading his mind, he quickly clarified, "And I don't mean your sniping abilities. I need a good supply officer. And with a little coaching from the best, I might have found the best one the army has to offer." He smiled and clapped Peck on the back.
It was slow, but Peck finally smiled. And what a smile he had.
It was at that moment that Smith realized something; he was going about trying to read Peck all wrong. It wasn't that Smith couldnt read what was IN Peck's expression, it was that he couldn't read what was MISSING from his expression. And a sense of belonging seemed to have been missing, but not any longer.
Sergeant Baracus leaned back and smiled, appreciating the significance of having an officer who could get him things. Spare parts for vehicles were always in demand, and this kid appeared to have connections, which meant good things for a mechanic.
Captain Murdock also saw the benefit of having a resident conman at his disposal. Raising his hand to the bartender, he yelled, "Hey, Roy! Refill the Faceman's glass, we might be here a while!"
Colonel Smith leaned forward and in all seriousness, he added, "Now, about your file, kid You did good eliminating most of the paper trail, but the army keeps duplicate records in five places, not four ."
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