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Somethin' Lost #1of 1
by Rita Ractliffe
(originally published in "Everything But The Kitchen Sink" April, 1991)
Warnings: None... mild mannered look into Hannibal's Korea past. Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, just live with them. Stevie Cannell has that fun job. Synop: Hannibal finds Christmas at Maggie's is missing something...
Christmas at Maggie's was always a special time. The guys felt a warm glow just being with her; it made up somewhat for the families they didn't have. Hannibal always seemed to perk up more this time of year when he could spend it with her.
The Christmas eve party was going full blast; after their outrageously huge dinner, the boys were toasting everything in sight with Maggie's potent eggnog brew. She'd grinned evilly when asked about its strength. "Don't worry. You're not driving anywhere tonight, boys, so enjoy," giving Hannibal a particularly meaningful glance. Dinner was superb and the vibes couldn't have been more mellow and loving. - yet Hannibal felt an unease gnawing away at him and had been vacant all evening.
Finally, he slipped out the back door into the crisp frosty air, rapidly zipping his down jacket as he did so. The snow lay on the ground, glistening in the full, silvery light of the rare Christmas "blue" moon. He wasn't quite sure what was nagging at him, but he knew he had to answer it. As he trudged away from the back of the old house, crunching the icy carpet beneath him and being pulled relentlessly toward the dark woods, he felt the feeling grow stronger and stronger within him.
* * *
Face was the first to notice Hannibal's absence. He looked around and then checked with everybody, to see whether his commander had said anything to anyone. He then noticed Hannibal's coat was gone. Wondering why the hell his friend would leave the cozy warmth of the house to face the bitter cold outside, he grabbed his own coat and followed suit quietly.
* * *
Hannibal leaned against a rickety fence, looking outward over the peaceful valley below him, yet seeing none of it. His mind was now many miles and many years away from this place...
//...He saw the small, ramshackle huts, the sturdy people bundled up in their winter rags. He adjusted the small, scraggly pine tree on his shoulder and then continued his journey down the dirty slush road into the village. He was met by many people, waving, saying hello, or shyly watching his arrival from behind their doorposts. The young Lieutenant grinned back at all of them. He was searching for his favorite however - young Kim, the brightest one of the lot, the kid with the most potential and biggest smile. He was going to teach them how to make Christmas "wreaths" tonight. Well, as much "wreath" as you could hope for in Korea in the winter. Getting the woebegone little Christmas tree had been a real test of ingenuity, but Lt. Smith was a master of that. The homemade "ornaments" would win no awards in metro Detroit, but they would win the hearts and smiles of a few children here.
His squad mates had thought he was mad - to pass on a perfectly good leave, replete with booze and broads, to come down here! Hannibal had shrugged off their initial solicitous inquiries and then their later raucous innuendoes//...
...Hannibal shook his head. The snow had begun to fall again, and he was surprised to see a light dusting of white on his jacket. He then noticed with surprise that Face was standing a few feet away from him, watching him intently.
"Face... how long have you been standing there?" he asked lamely.
"Probably as long as you have, Colonel. You okay, Hannibal?" The concern was evident in his eyes.
Smith looked at his younger cohort cautiously for a long moment. "Yeah, Face. Just had some rememberin' to do of..... other..... Christmases." His eyes grew a bit more vacant.
"Not the best ones, I would guess, judging from your expression," Peck ventured cautiously.
Hannibal smiled thinly. "No..... not what you'd call outstanding memories." He looked back out at the sea of sparkling ice crystals carpeted before him, his gaze wandering again.
"You wanna talk about it, Hannibal? or better if I leave?"
Smith didn't say anything for a long moment, then it slowly began unspooling. "Korea, Face. 1952. Winter. Cold as hell... this is warm, believe me, compared to that. A bunch of villagers, new Christian converts who were trying to eke out what living they could in the middle of both war and the bitter winter. I took whatever I could from the camp over to them -- to help out."
Face smiled bitter sweetly to himself, //how like Hannibal... //
"Well, for this trip I had managed to requisition a Christmas tree from Manila, and was taking it to them. There was one kid especially, name of Kim," Hannibal's eyes sparkled at the memory, "that I really enjoyed watching grow up. Real dynamite go-getter - you know the type." He looked at Face and smiled softly. "But when I got there, Kim wasn't around anywhere. His mom said held gone out earlier to watch for me. I didn't worry too much at first, but as it got later and colder, and the snow started up again, we all decided something was real wrong, and went to look for him. Mosta' the night, and we found zip. I had to go back to the base, couldn't stay any longer. They sent a runner to me the next afternoon..... they found him." Hannibal's throat tightened as he bowed his head. "Poor little guy had frozen to death. They found him next to a pine scrub, with a knotted branch in his hand. I'd tried for weeks to show the kids how to weave pine twigs for a wreath. ! I guess he finally got the hang of it and wanted to be the first to show me."
Face said nothing; what words were there? Here was yet another small building block in Smith's makeup - another small tragedy he'd built his character on.
"That was the hell of it. He'd known his friend was coming and couldn't wait to surprise him with his latest accomplishment. Unfortunately, he got lost in the snow and finally lay down to catch a quick nap while waitin' . . . hadta' be... Kim was too smart to just lay down in the snow... maybe he was hurt? We'll never know... but they found him, clutching one of those silly pine things I'd made for them. I just never quite got over it, I guess. And every so often, at Christmas, on a snowy night, I'll remember Kim, and have to come out and look for him... maybe this time I'll be in time. . . Silly, huh?" Hannibal raised glistening eyes to Face, the deprecating tone not able to disguise the emotion there.
//No, Colonel, not silly at all.// Fighting the catch in his voice, Face replied, "Well, then, if that's what you gotta do, Colonel, then let's do it. Maybe this time you *will* find him," he ended, thinking of the two tormented souls perhaps finally touching and making their peace.
Smith's return gaze was mixed; not entirely sure how much Face might be playing him or humoring the liquor they'd all drunk so copiously earlier. But after a moment of intense scrutiny, he decided Face was sincere. He nodded to one side and then headed off again, looking to either side of the forest, looking for that small huddled body that had waited for him so long ago.
* * *
Face saw it first. A small huddled lump, off the beaten trail by only a few feet. "Hannibal," his voice quavered as a definite chill ran up his back. Smith stopped his striding and looked over to where the Peck was pointing. He stood there, almost as if frozen in time, looking at the sight. Face got his senses back first, went bounding over to the lump. It was a small kid, looked to be about 4-5 years old; probably trying to walk home, got lost, sat down for awhile to rest, and fell asleep. Hannibal and Face got there simultaneously, although it was Smith's powerful arms that swept the child up. He began to run, with a pounding, rhythmic cadence; somehow instinctively knowing where Maggie's house was. It was all Face could do to keep up with him. They rushed through the increasingly obscure night, racing him back to Maggie for revival.
She heard them coming as they bounded onto the porch, and opened the door wide, not expecting what she saw. "Maggie, quick! Kid's been out in the snow . . . What do we need to do?" Hannibal's voice held a strident edge that surprised her. She took the small bundle from his arms, unwrapped the knitted scarf from around its head and exclaimed, "Why, Kim James! What in the hell was he doing out in all that?!"
Face did a doubletake at the name; Hannibal never noticed in his concern for the child. She took him into the surgery and lay him down on the exam table. After what seemed like an eternity to the worried Colonel, the child began to move, moaning fretfully. Maggie looked at Hannibal with liquid eyes. "He's gonna be fine, Hannibal. Probably more scared than anything. You want to stay here with him while I call his parents?" she asked, sensing some bond here she didn't understand. Hannibal nodded and took the toddler's small hand in his own large one.
Face went with Maggie as she called the distraught parents. They had been beside themselves with worry, and had no idea of where to even begin looking for their small person. Maggie hung up on their fervent promise to set new land records getting to her surgery.
As she and Face went back into the exam room, Maggie voiced her puzzlement out loud. "What I don't understand is Hannibal's need to go outside then - at that particular moment. What compelled him?"
As she entered the room she was met by Hannibal's enigmatic eyes and Mona Lisa smile. "Something was lost, Maggie..... and now it's found." He wouldn't say another word, returning his attention to the child. Maggie was left visibly wondering.
Face ventured one comment. "Some day, maybe, he'll be able to tell you, Maggie. But not tonight. I think we just had ourselves a special Christmas delivery here..... a little overdue." Face smiled enigmatically, honoring Hannibal's reticence with his own respectful silence. w
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