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This page last viewed: 2017-06-23 and has been viewed 1925 times
Response to A Birthday Challenge
Thank you to P.K. who did a little more hand-holding on this one than usual. Sometimes they just dont want to end. Thanks.
BA stood beside the battered 62 Fleetwood as he watched the numbers turn on the gas pump.
"Check the oil?" the little man in the grimy uniform asked, paying no attention to the strange trio of men. "One of your headlights is burnt out."
"Do you got a replacement?" BA asked as he came around to check the front of the vehicle.
"Nope, but there's an auto parts store in Junction City that stays open until nine. Want I should call ahead and ask them if they got one?"
"Thatd be great, thanks."
The little man made no move to make the call, but popped the hood instead.
Face leaned against the back door of the car, which creaked a little under his weight, and crossed his arms over his chest. His gaze flicked once to the inside of the little family grocery store next door, before going back to watching BA and the gas station attendant.
The gas pump continued to clink in regular intervals as it filled the nearly empty 26-gallon tank.
After washing the windshield, the man left the two of them alone to make his call. BA leaned into the front of the car, pulled out the trash bag and squashed it into the can by the pump.
"So," Face started, looking again at the little grocery store. "What do you get a man who has nothing?"
"And nowhere to keep it?" BA finished. "I dont have any idea."
"What would you want?"
"My birthday aint for two more months, man."
"I know, just," Face paused, shaking his head. He needed a haircut. The short military cut hed gotten just days before the breakout was growing out. "Im fresh out of ideas."
BA studied a knuckle. Theyd had a close run in with Lynch just three days ago and they had left more than a few things behind in that motel room. Theyd spent the last two days camping on the Cossatot River, living off the land and laying low. "How about something he can really use like a grenade launcher?"
Face snorted out a laugh. "What would we do with a grenade launcher, BA?"
"I dont know. But Id like to launch a few things Lynchs way."
"If we cant give him something, maybe we could do something."
"I dont know. Go to the top of the Gateway Arch? A paddle boat trip up the Mississippi." Face worried a thumbnail and then glanced over to the store again. Hannibal would be coming out soon.
"Hey, what about New Orleans?"
"What about New Orleans?"
"We could go down there, see the sights, be tourists." BA was actually kind of excited about the idea.
"Stay in the French Quarter, eat at a nice restaurant, listen to some good jazz," Face joined in.
"How we gonna pay for a hotel in the French Quarter?"
"You let me worry about that." Faces eyes took on a far away quality and a tiny smile played at the corner of his mouth. A second later it broke out into a full-blown grin.
"Am I gonna like this?" BA growled.
"Yes, BA, you are definitely gonna like this. Now, Im gonna need a few minutes and a phone."
Hannibal had just pushed open the door to the market and was heading over with a brown sack in one hand and a six pack of RC Cola in the other.
"When we get to the parts store. I can keep the Colonel busy helping me," BA whispered.
Face schooled his features into a bland mask and reached for the six-pack. "RC? Man, didnt they have any Dr. Pepper?"
The attendant came back and handed Face the directions to the auto parts store, which Face promptly gave to BA. Fishing out a ten-dollar bill, he paid the man. "Keep the change."
"Thanks." The little man unhooked the pump and wiped at the sun-damaged paint with a rag, removing any overspill.
A few minutes later, they were on the road to Junction City to fix the headlight.
"We can stay here tonight, but this is kind of a one horse town. Or we can press on to Alexandria. We could be there by ten or so." Face was in the back seat of the Fleetwood, looking at a map with the help of a flashlight.
"Why, whats in Alexandria?" Hannibal fumbled in his pocket for a cigar and pushed in the dashboard lighter.
"Nothing. Nicer places to stay. Maybe a movie theater or something." Face clicked off the light and the inside of the car seemed suddenly very dark.
"I say push on," BA spoke up. "Little town like this might not " his sentence drifted off, unfinished.
Hannibal nodded. Some places still werent as integrated as they should be.
"Alexandria, here we come." The lighter popped out and Hannibal cupped his hands around it and lit his cheroot. "Anything worth seeing at the movies?"
"I dont know if its worth seeing, but "The Exorcist" might be playing."
"A horror flick?" BA groaned.
"Sounds good. I like horror flicks." Hannibal grinned and cracked his window to let the smoke out.
Two hours later, they were in the lobby of the Uptown Cinema catching the late showing of "The Exorcist."
"Hannibal, why dont you grab us some seats, me and BAll bring the popcorn."
"Dont load mine up on butter. I dont trust that yellow lard-type stuff."
"Sure thing." Face pocketed his ticket and grabbed BA by the arm and steered him into line.
"Ill need some time and the car in the morning."
"Im doing some pre-planning for the Colonels birthday."
They moved up a step in line. "Itll take me about 45 minutes to get to Fort Polk."
"Sh!" Face hissed when people in line turned to look at them.
"Yeah, I need some supplies."
"Are you nuts?" BAs tone was lower, but no less incredulous.
Face grinned. "Do you know a better place for me to get military supplies?"
"What do we need those- for?" BA lowered his voice again, but there was a nervous knot in the pit of his stomach.
"I just need some stuff. You need to buy me time."
"How am I supposed to stall Hannibal for three or four hours while you take a joy ride to a military installation?"
"Hopefully, it wont take that long," Face continued as he moved forward again in line, his eyes scanning the candy counter. "Figure an hour there and back and half an hour to do what I need to do. I plan on leaving about 5am to get there just before shift change. I should be back before 8am. You may only have to stall for an hour or so."
"And what if he gets up at six?"
"What if he wants you to go for a run with him?"
"What if he goes ape cuz youre AWOL?"
"Look BA, youre getting worked up about a lot of what ifs. If push comes to shove, just tell him you dont know where I went. Take him to breakfast and Ill come up with something by the time I get back."
"I dont like this. Not one little bit. You think you can just stroll onto a military base the special ops training base and nobodys gonna notice you?"
"Im not gonna just stroll on, BA, and besides, whod look for me there?" Face moved up and started placing his order. "Three jumbo popcorns no butter, three hot dogs, three jumbo colas and some malted milk balls. What else, BA?"
"Some junior mints and some licorice whips." When the teenager behind the counter went off to get their popcorn BA leaned in and hissed in Faces ear. "Why not get that grenade launcher while youre there."
Face laughed. "BA, dont be silly. Not this trip, anyway. Next time, Ill get equipment."
"Just dont get caught, man. This is a really dumb idea."
"Trust me." Face grinned and handed the girl a five-dollar bill and waited for the change.
The fates must have been smiling on Face that day. Just after midnight, he borrowed a typewriter from the front desk of the motel where they were staying. He set it up and balanced three pillows around it to muffle the sound of the keys from the occupants on either side of his room.
He got an early start after hanging his uniform in the bathroom and steaming out some of the wrinkles. At least that was one of the things saved when Lynch had found them last time.
It was only thirty-five minutes from Alexandria to the front gate at Fort Polk, and Face sailed through the checkpoint with a salute and a wave.
Finding his way around the facility was a breeze. Hed spent a month here when he did his special ops training.
Twenty-five minutes later, he was back on the road with a stack of papers lying on the front seat. The front gate guard waved him through, and he grinned as he hit highway 121 at only four miles per hour over the speed limit.
Hed just gotten back to his room when a knock came on the door. "Hustle your bustle, Face. Come with me on a run."
"Sure, just give me a sec." Face shouted back through the door and shucked off his uniform, stuffing it in his duffel and fishing out a pair of shorts and a tee shirt.
BA was standing on the balcony nursing a carton of milk and blinked his amazement at seeing the Lieutenant.
Face nodded, and as he moved past, just mouthed the word, "Pack?"
BA nodded back.
"BA doesnt get to run with us?" Face asked as they headed down the stairs.
"Nope, hes gonna keep an eye out for trouble and pack us up."
"I hope he leaves me something to change into, Id hate to spend the day in these clothes." The humid Arkansas air was already getting warm.
Hannibal knelt down and retied his sneakers. "Ready?" He checked his watch and they set out at an even mile-eating pace.
"Where are we going?" Hannibal asked as BA took the off ramp from the freeway into the heart of New Orleans.
"That way." Face pointed from the back seat. "We need to make one little stop."
"Face?" Hannibal growled as BA pulled smoothly into a parking space in front of a very fine clothing store.
"What are we doing here?"
"Well, I lost a whole duffle of my clothes and I thought you might like a new suit. Maybe we can even get BA out of torn shirtsleeves if we ask nice."
BA growled, but didnt agree or dissent.
"Face, this is an awfully expensive joint."
"Will you just let me take care of things?" Face jumped out to the car as soon as it rolled to a stop and pulled open the front passenger door. "After you." He gestured to the door.
BA got out and locked the door. "Do I like this?"
"Very much, BA. Very much."
The interior of the store was pleasantly cool. "Mr. Davenport" and party were expected, having been alerted by a phone call a few hours ago. Two hours later, the three of them exited the shop with boxes and packages, and headed further into town.
They pulled up in front of the Saint Louis Hotel. A classy establishment painted a pale cream color with a hand-carved oak door.
"Before we go in," Face stalled for a second and smoothed his wide white tie. "Me and BA just wanted to do something for your birthday."
Hannibal stared at BA first and then shifted to stare into the back seat. "What are you two doing?"
"Happy Birthday, Hannibal," Face said with a grin and stuck his hand over the seat back.
"Yeah, Happy Birthday," BA added, waiting his turn to shake hands.
"I've got the next couple of days all planned out, so all you need to do is sit back and enjoy."
And Face was true to his word. The hotel was also expecting Mr. Davenport and party, and his suite of rooms was ready for him. Fresh flowers filled the room and a basket of fruit was waiting on the front entry table.
Promptly at four, their car and driver arrived to take them to dinner, and then afterwards, to a jazz club.
The next day, room service brought up croissants and fresh fruit and mimosa, and then they spent the day touring the French Quarter and Jackson Square. They ate the day away, listening to street bands and poking into dozens of shops. Face bought a supply of post cards to send to Murdock back in the VA hospital.
They finished the evening on the balcony of the hotel drinking bourbon and watching the sunset. BA had iced tea and was nibbling on Cajun Pralines.
"Gentlemen, I think this is the best birthday I've ever had." Hannibal sat back in his chair and pulled off his black cowboy boots, before scooting his chair close to the rail so he could look down into the street.
"Glad you liked it."
"What made you do this?" Hannibal asked as the sky went from pink to purple to black. The lights of the city came on and an occasional horse drawn carriage passed in the lane below.
"Something BA said."
BA looked over at Face with a frown, but said nothing. He and Face had matched their commanders posture, perched with their arms on the railing.
"What did BA say?"
"We were talking about what to get you and BA said, and where would you put it?"
Hannibal nodded, acknowledging the change in status now that they had no permanent address. Even in the Army, you might have to shove everything you had into a footlocker, but you could send it home, or have it stored.
"So we decided to get you the one thing that wouldn't get left behind in a motel room. A memory."
Hannibal smiled. He wished he had a camera. Something to capture the night as it was right now. Here on this balcony in a five star hotel on a soft fall night.
"Its a nice memory, Face BA, thanks."
"Oh, he aint done yet. Tell him how were paying for all this." BA tucked his head and giggled.
Hannibal tilted his head to look at his second-in-command, an eyebrow raised in question. "Face?"
"Care to explain?"
"Well, a friend is picking up the tab." Face couldnt meet his C.O.s eyes, so he balanced his glass on the rail and pulled off his shoes.
"And what friend do we have who would be able to afford what this little side-trip has cost?" Hannibals eyes were dancing with this last bit of the mystery.
"Well, I used my skills, and um, filled out some forms, and all this is being billed "
His teammate was never usually at a loss for words, so this hesitancy was only piquing Hannibals interest.
"... to Colonel Lynchs expense account."
For half a second Hannibal stared at his comrades slack jawed, before bellowing out a laugh. "Gentlemen, we need to do this again. BA, your birthday is next. What do you want to do?"
"Guess going to Chicago is out?" BA already knew the answer and they all sat quietly as they contemplated the change in their status. "What about the Speed Equipment Show in Vegas?"
"A car-after-market-gadget show? Come on, BA, how about Broadway? Or what about dinner at the top of the Seattle Space Needle?"
"Vegas sounds nice." Hannibal fished in his pocket for a cigar and then patted his pockets searching for a lighter. The one hed gotten from the team in Nam had been confiscated by the M.Ps and there had been no time to get it back before they broke jail.
Face leaned in and struck a match, their faces lit suddenly by the flame then flickered back into the half darkness.
"Think about it, kid. Neon lights, show girls, craps tables." Hannibal grinned.
Face smiled back. "Well, I wouldnt mind trying out my card counting system on the blackjack table."
"Maybe we could see Elvis?" BA added shifting on his chair. "Or maybe therell be a jazz singer there?"
"Im sure we can find some jazz in Vegas." Hannibal grinned again and sipped at his bourbon.
"Staying in a high rollers suite. Room service." Face shifted back in his chair and propped his feet up on the railing.
"This is BAs birthday, Face. Not yours." Hannibal grinned over at BA and winked.
"I wouldnt mind a suite in a nice hotel thats got a nice gym."
"That can be arranged," Face assured.
Hannibal clapped his hands. "I love it when a plan comes together!"
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