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Falling In Love With A Lie
Rated M for explicit (but tasteful) heterosexual content. No warnings other than that for this installment of the series.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH A LIE
By the time morning rolled around, Sheila had mentally reviewed everything she had learned about Murdock. She picked apart the more pertinent parts of their conversation, looking for hints to his possible involvement in drug smuggling. His responses led her to believe he might have been involved at one time, but it certainly didn't sound like he was any longer.
on what he had said about his work schedule, it also didn't sound like he had
time to do anything but work. But since she only had Murdock's own assertion
that he had been on the duty roster a lot lately, she decided that she needed
to check it out. She knew from their talk the night before that he essentially
reported to two
Doing her job had the benefit of allowing her to avoid paying too much attention to Vi, though it was impossible to totally tune her out. The woman should write smut books, and Sheila hated to admit it, but it made her horny and frustrated to listen to her.
After breakfast, she managed to get assigned to the group handing out boxes near the SF command post, which she knew might present a bit of a problem, since security clearance was required to enter. She hoped a refreshment break, with feigned ignorance about the entry requirements would get her the in she needed.
She wandered past the Aviation group command post, and checked the duty roster there on her way to the USO tent. Sure enough, Murdock had been on the roster for most of the last three weeks for at least one shift. Some days, he had even pulled a double. She was surprised to see he was penciled in for the late afternoon shift for today. That would put a crimp in their swimming plans.
She made her way to the USO tent to help load the boxes they would be handing out later that morning. Willie Leighton was directing the work, and Sheila was careful to find a spot near the end of the loading line, farthest away from Willie. He was a stick-thin, thirty-something man who worked behind the scenes on the tour, making sure everyone had what they needed to carry out the troop support work. His work sounded noble, but the man himself gave Sheila the creeps. Viola had warned her the first day to stay away from Willie, and she was more than happy to oblige.
Unfortunately, Willie apparently had other ideas, and cornered Sheila when she went back in the tent to pick up the flyers they were supposed to hand out with the boxes. "Sheila Downey. You're new."
She smiled at him. "Yes, I just joined the tour down
"You got time, baby, just slow down. I been meaning to talk to you."
Willie hadn't given her the time of day since she joined the tour, and she wondered what was prompting the sudden change. "To me?"
"You been hanging out with that dinky dau pilot, Lieutenant Murdock."
"Captain Murdock," Sheila corrected.
"Lieutenant, Captain, don't make no difference, he's still nuts."
Sheila reluctantly decided she was going to have to stay and talk to the man. "How do you know him?"
Willie smirked, exposing
nicotine-yellowed teeth. "He came to
Sheila adopted an innocent attitude. "Well, he's been real nice. What do you know different?"
"He was involved in some shady deals at
"What kind of shady deals?"
"The kind that can get a man in a lot of trouble with a lot of powerful people. You don't wanna get caught up in that, baby."
"What kind of people?"
"Listen, baby, you should just trust me. Murdock ain't someone you want to be associated with. He's trouble."
Sheila shrugged. Willie was being purposely vague, and she didn't feel like prodding anymore. She doubted it would do her any good anyway. "I'll be careful."
"You do that, baby."
She forced her lips into a smile. "Thanks for the heads up, Willie."
Sheila raised a hand to wave goodbye as she turned and hurried out of the tent. She remembered seeing in Murdock's file about losing a peter pilot. In fact, as she recalled, he had been hit himself, but managed to get the chopper back to base with the peter pilot the only casualty. It wasn't like it was unusual for chopper pilots to sustain injury during an ambush, routine dust-off or not.
what did Willie mean by shady deals? Maybe she should
chance a call to her supervisor. Quinn might have information
about what went on with Murdock at
Distributing the care packages was more fun than Sheila expected. She and Vi worked with several of the other girls, and spent time talking and listening to the soldiers who came to pick them up. It also took far more time than she anticipated. During a mid-morning lull, she leaned in to Vi and told her she was taking a quick break.
She made for the SF command post, and managed to duck inside without anyone seeing her through a door that was propped open. Aside from the clicking of typewriters and murmur of voices from behind closed office doors, the main hall was quiet. She had picked a good time to visit.
She found Colonel Smith's Team roster, and compared Murdock's schedule to the mental image of his aviation duty roster. When he wasn't on duty for aviation, he was on duty for SF, with very little down time, at least for the last week. She had no reason to believe the weeks before that had been much different. He had been telling the truth.
"Sheila, what the hell are you doing in here?"
She jumped and spun around to find Face gaping at her.
"Just a water break, then I saw the duty rosters and was curious –"
"Sheila, this building requires security clearance. You shouldn't be in here."
She feigned shock. "Oh my God, does that mean I'm going to get in trouble?"
"Only if you're caught. C'mon, let's get you outta here."
Face took her by the elbow, but before they could make the exit, a man rounded the corner up ahead of them. Face muttered 'shit' under his breath, and opened the nearest door, shoving Sheila into what amounted to a closet. He put a finger to his lips, before closing the door on her. A minute later, she heard Face address the man.
"Colonel Morrison, sir."
"At ease, Peck. Which briefing room are we in?"
"Right here, sir. Colonel Smith is already in there."
"Are Captain Murdock and SA Lewis back, yet?"
"Yes, sir. They just got back from the recon flight. I was told they'd be in shortly."
"Very good. Let Smith know I'm on my way. I want to check in with my secretary before we get started."
Sheila let out a pent up breath when she heard a door open and close, heralding the Colonel's exit. The closet opened and Face motioned her out and ran her down the hall to the door, pushing her out and coming through with her. "That was close."
"Thanks, Face. I'm sorry about that."
"Pay closer attention to the signs, Shy. You can't be going into secured locations."
"I will, I promise."
He smiled at her. "It's alright. There are signs everywhere around here. A lot of people don't see them. Just be more careful."
Sheila took a deep breath, her heart rate finally returning to normal. "You and HM are still coming to the show this afternoon, right?"
"Yeah, we'll be there with bells on!" He motioned behind her. "Here's Murdock now."
Sheila turned to find Murdock striding toward them, his flight suit unzipped, and she had to consciously drag her eyes up to his face. His brown eyes were tight and stormy, until he caught sight of her. Her own mood lifted as a broad smile broke across his face. He jogged to join them. "Hey, Shy. This is a nice surprise. Whatcha doin' over here?"
She smiled at him. "We're passing out care packages this morning. After lunch, we have one last practice before the show this afternoon. Are we still going swimming later?"
Murdock's face fell. "Actually, I think I'm going to have to cancel on you. I was just told I'm on duty for aviation this afternoon. Maybe we could get together later, after I'm done . . . probably won't be until after ten tonight, though."
"Oh." The disappointment in her tone was genuine.
"I'm sorry, Shy. I wish I could get out of it –"
"Don't apologize, HM, it's not your fault. I'll be in my quarters. When you get off just come get me."
Murdock pursed his lips. "I'm not real sure how late I'll be . . ."
Sheila smiled at him warmly. "I'll be in my quarters waiting for you."
She stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek before hurrying away to rejoin Vi and the other girls.
Murdock turned and watched her leave. "Damn, I was really looking forward to that swim."
"You're doing it again, Murdock. You didn't make it with her last night, did you?"
"Don't push it, Face." He turned weary eyes on his friend.
Face shook his head, but did change the subject. "You're pulling another double? Why?"
Murdock shrugged. "Vickers says he has a couple new pilots due in, but he needs to fill in the schedule until they arrive. I told him I'd help out, but it's been over three weeks now."
"You should talk to
"I'm not bothering the Colonel with this."
Murdock still worried that
Face glanced at his watch and nodded toward the building. "We better get into briefing. Hannibal's waiting. Where's Lewis? I thought he was coming with you."
"He's on his way. He's pissed at me. Should be an interesting briefing."
"What happened?" Face asked as they pushed into the building.
"I made an extra fly over. Glad I did, too. That insert he selected was crawling with gooks when we took another look. We scouted another LZ that I think is better, but Lewis doesn't agree. We argued about it all the way back. Don't know what his hang up is. I'm the fucking pilot."
"Hannibal will back you up."
Murdock's expression was black again. "He shouldn't have to."
It was almost midnight, and Murdock practically sleep-walked out of the showers. What he had really wanted to do was just fall into his bunk, but even he couldn't stand his own stink after nearly 18 hours on duty. He knew he should stop and get something to eat, but he hadn't eaten in so long, he wasn't even hungry.
Face met him part way back to the barracks and shoved a sandwich into one of his hands and tried to push a large cup of coffee into the other. Murdock shook his head and refused the cup. "I can't drink anymore coffee." Just the thought of it made his stomach churn.
Face refused to take back the sandwich, and held the coffee out temptingly. "You gotta eat. And you might want this. Remember, Miss Downey is awaiting your presence."
Murdock groaned around a bite of the sandwich. "Shit, my date with Shy."
"You promised you'd come get her as soon as you got off, remember?"
Murdock grunted in response, as he took another large bite of sandwich. Now that he had started eating, he realized just how hungry he was.
"Too bad you missed the show. Viola actually convinced Shy to sing a song that she wrote. It was really good, and it sure did get her noticed. There were a lot of guys hanging around her afterwards, but I managed to hold them off for you." Face grinned at him. "You'll have to ask for a private performance."
Another groan escaped his lips. Other guys hanging around Shy? The thought made his blood start a slow boil, but it didn't change the facts. "I'm a walking zombie, Faceman. I'm not even sure I could hold a coherent conversation."
"You can say 'coherent conversation', you're already one up on most of the grunts around here." Face flashed him an encouraging smile. "You stood her up once already, Murdock, and she leaves in just a couple days. It's now or never."
"Where am I supposed to meet her?"
"You told her you'd come to her quarters."
Murdock shoved the rest of the sandwich in his mouth, and chewed a few times. Around the wad of partially-masticated meat and stale bread, he muttered, "Gimme the coffee."
Ten minutes later he was knocking on Shy's door. Viola opened it, wide-awake and grinning. "'Bout time you showed up, flyboy. I'd have been awful upset with you if you stood her up." Vi looked over her shoulder. "Shy, get your ass out of bed. He finally showed."
Murdock wished he was half as awake as Vi. "I'll just wait out here."
He paced to keep himself alert. It was only a minute later that the door opened and Shy walked out. He grinned at the sight of her, thick honey gold hair tousled, blue eyes crinkled at the corners by the smile on her full lips. He could just stare at her for the next couple hours and be happy. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Glad you could make it."
"Sorry I'm so late. We ended up flying ash and trash all evening. We're running so short on pilots right now. They're putting petey's behind the stick that really shouldn't even be there . . ."
"It's alright, HM. I know you're busy." She searched his face. "You look all in, you sure you don't want to get some sleep?"
"I'm kinda strung out, but I want to spend some time with you, and the schedule isn't looking like it's gonna let up any time soon. So this is it." He took her hand. "Let's take a walk down at the beach. We'll find a place to sit and relax."
Shy searched his face, but hesitated only a moment. "Ok."
They walked toward the beach in silence, joined hands swinging between them. A breeze blew in off the bay, and he felt her shiver next to him. It was a clear night and the humidity was at an almost-comfortable level. It was hardly cold, but once you got used to the usual heat and humidity, a night like this felt cool. He shrugged out of his jacket and slipped it around her, keeping an arm wrapped firmly about her shoulders as they walked. He smiled when he felt her arm slide around his waist.
Murdock led her to a place where kids had obviously been digging through the day. "This looks like a good spot." He dropped in the slight depression and shimmied until he'd formed himself into the sand, then leaned his head back on the rounded pile there.
"Have to thank those kids – this is perfect." He held out a hand to Shy. "C'mon, the sand isn't wet. It's almost like sittin' in an easy chair at home."
She sat next to him, following his example. Her eyes were closed as she lay back with a contented sigh. "This is pretty comfy." Her eyes opened and she gasped. "Wow, look at all those stars."
Murdock tore his eyes away from Shy to look up at the sky. "Yeah. Reminds me of home."
never saw a sky like that in
"Too much ambient light from the city. Never can see the stars real well someplace like that." His eyes drifted shut, and he forced them back open. Maybe this was a little too comfortable. If he'd kept walking at least he wouldn't fall asleep. Maybe if he talked. "Actually, we picked a good night. There's a new moon, and it's really clear. This is the best kind of night for star gazing."
"Mom and I used to go up on the roof of the apartment buildings sometimes and she would tell me about the constellations. My favorite was the story of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. But I don't see any constellations I recognize, here."
"Can't see Cassiopeia down here. But there's Chiron, the wisest centaur."
"I don't remember Chiron."
Murdock shrugged. "Most folks call that constellation Saggitarius, Babylon's God of War. I guess that's more appropriate to the setting, but I always preferred thinking of it as Chiron."
"Seems strange to look at the sky and not see the big dipper. It's the one I could always find back home."
"Stranger in a strange land," He murmured, and met her eyes with a tired smile. He wasn't sure he was making much sense, but when she smiled back, he decided he didn't care. He jerked awake a moment later to find Shy leaning over him, a rueful smile on her face. "You should go to bed, HM."
He grinned at her. "Only if you come with me."
"I am not that kind of girl, Captain Murdock." But the look on her face was amused, not insulted.
His smile softened. "I didn't think you were. C'mon, Shy, indulge me. Let me fall asleep next to a beautiful woman."
She looked around. "Beautiful woman? Where?"
"While I appreciate that you ain't no Cassiopeia, I know you know who I'm talking about."
She pointed a finger at herself and gave him a doubtful look. He took her arm and pulled her down to his chest. "Yeah, you. C'mere." He buried his face in her mop of hair. The already-familiar scent of her lavender shampoo lulled him into a dream where he lay in a field of lavender with Shy by his side.
Sheila slipped her arm around his waist and settled against him, her head resting on his chest. His breathing quickly deepened, and she sighed. Obviously, she wasn't getting anywhere on her investigation tonight. He was asleep on his feet before they even got to the beach. He barely found time to sleep; how in the hell could he be running drugs?
Her thoughts began to wander as she listened to the slow thudding of his heart. Everything she had seen of HM Murdock led her to believe he was a nice guy, and nice guys were not smugglers. She knew that was a snap judgment, but the impetuous part of her was hoping that it was correct. It was the pesky, logical part that kept dragging her back to reality. Quinn and Stockwell were never going to accept the 'he's a nice guy' argument as proof that Murdock wasn't involved in drug running or gun smuggling.
Like it or not, she had to complete her investigation. The thought brought her full circle. She wasn't getting anywhere with the investigation now – not with him asleep on the beach. And beside, she was so comfortable and warm. She nestled down into his leather jacket and her eyes drifted shut as the scent of leather and HM Murdock surrounded her.
Murdock opened his eyes and looked up at the purple sky in confusion. There was a pleasant weight on his arm and chest, and he let his eyes drift closed again, until the voice that had roused him repeated his name, much closer this time. "Murdock, get up. The Colonel is pissed that you weren't in your bunk."
Murdock opened his eyes again, and this time when he looked up, Face was staring back down at him. "What time is it?"
"0500. You were supposed to be at the field half an hour ago. Hey Sheila."
Shy sat up and flashed Face an absent hello before looking down at him. "I'm sorry, HM. I must have fallen asleep, too."
"Nothin' to be sorry about, sugar." Ignoring Face, Murdock stared at her, imprinting her image in his brain so he could carry it with him the rest of the day. He thought about how nice it had been to sleep with his arms wrapped around her. Yes, that was an experience he would like to repeat.
"Murdock, you gotta move."
He heaved a sigh and rolled himself to his feet, then held out a hand to Shy. She took it and he pulled her up.
"C'mon, Murdock, we have to go."
He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Thanks, Shy. I'll see ya later."
He turned slowly, wishing like hell he hadn't slept through his time with her. She stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Don't forget your jacket."
He took the jacket from her hand and wrapped it back around her shoulders. "You keep it until I see you later." He leaned down and brushed her cheek with his lips, then turned and strode after Face.
The spot where his lips had touched her cheek flamed, and the warmth radiated out, enveloping her whole body in a soft glow, as she watched the pilot walk away. She physically shook herself. She couldn't deny the attraction she felt, but he was her target. Unfortunately, even reminding herself of that didn't seem to change her primal reaction to him.
Back at the barracks, Murdock changed into his flight
suit. He was just tying his boots when
"Where the hell have you been, Captain? We were supposed to be in the air by now."
Murdock finished tying his boot and tucked the laces in with a deliberate slowness. When he stood up, he shrugged. "Fell asleep down at the beach."
"It's fucking hilarious. If you're gonna ream me, Colonel, have at it. If not, I'll go get the bird ready."
Hannibal's jaw worked for several seconds before he jabbed a finger into Murdock's chest. "When we get back, you and I are going to have a talk, Captain."
"I can't wait." Murdock shoved past
Face stared after his best friend in shock.
"Lieutenant." The rage in Hannibal's voice was barely controlled.
Face stared at
"No goddam excuse. Bseides, Murdock's duty roster hasn't been that full . . ."
"Not for you, maybe." Face crossed his arms. "If you cared to check, I think you'd find that Vickers has him running ash and trash when he's not humping for you or sleeping . . . and lately sleep seems to be optional."
"Yeah, you know, Murdock's official CO?" Face knew that would hit a nerve. "You and Vickers are gonna burn him out. And you and I both know Murdock burns a little too bright as it is."
The op was a success, but Murdock was feeling the effects of the lack of sleep on the flight home. It didn't help that he played an active role in this mission – one that required more than just flying the bird. It was those missions that made him feel most a part of the Team. He set down at the field and felt his energy dissipate with the slowing speed of the rotors. They were home.
It was a minute before he gathered the energy to begin post-flight. He looked over at his co-pilot, Kyle Wright. They had found each other during a day of dicey flying, and now, when the Team needed a crew, Murdock took over Kyle's, while the usual AC flew shotgun. That way, it didn't matter who the peter pilot was. Murdock had his preferred crew nearly any time he flew mission for the Team: Harris, Cahill, and Kyle Wright.
Kyle's blue-gray eyes were sympathetic. "You look all in, Murdock. Let me wrap this up."
"Captain Murdock, Captain Wright, sirs?" Corporal Crane stood outside Murdock's open cockpit door.
Kyle answered for both of them. "What do you need, Corporal?"
"Colonel Vickers asked that you report to his office as soon as you're done here. He's short for the afternoon roster, and needs you to fill in –"
"Shit." Murdock laid his head back and closed his eyes.
"Tell Vickers I'll be in to see him shortly, Corporal."
Murdock raised his head to watch as Crane snapped a salute at Colonel Smith, who stood behind him, teeth locked on a glowing cigar.
"Sir? Colonel Vickers asked to see Captains Murdock and Wright."
"What's that all about?" Kyle was looking at him curiously.
"Nothing." Murdock picked up the clip board that held the flight paperwork. "I'm just in trouble, again. Let's take our time with this, huh?"
Kyle shook his head and chuckled. "Whatever you say, Murdock."
Murdock knocked on the door of Hannibal's hootch an hour later. He had managed to stretch out the usual post flight work, but eventually, Kyle had rebelled and enlisted Face, who told him it was time to face the music.
Hannibal's 'enter' was almost immediate, and Murdock took a deep, bracing breath before pushing into the hootch.
He saluted. "Captain Murdock, reporting as ordered, sir."
Murdock hardly felt at ease, with those ice-blue eyes glaring at him. Truth be told, he couldn't see the eyes, but he knew what they looked like.
pressed his lips into a thin line. Was that it?
"If Vickers ever tries an end-run around me like that, again, I expect you to come see me first thing, not wait for weeks for me to notice."
Murdock registered that he was supposed to respond with a start. "Yes sir?"
"Yes, sir!" Murdock grinned as he turned to walk out of the hootch. Leave – just in time to spend it with Shy.
"One more thing, Captain . . ."
Murdock stopped at the door and looked back. "Sir?"
"Have fun, son."
Vickers was proving a bit of a problem where Murdock was
concerned, too. He steadfastly refused to allow a transfer.
Unfortunately, the change he was contemplating would mean
Murdock would have to spend more time with their recon
agent, Jeremy Lewis. The two had nearly come to blows
over the recon results the previous morning.
In the barracks, Murdock found Face and Gravy lounging on
their bunks. Face grinned at him. "Told you you
wanted to go see
"Forty-eight heavenly hours and Shy should be here for all of 'em. Timing is everything, Faceman." Murdock paced the length of the barracks a couple times, murmuring to himself. Then he stopped at the end of Face's bed. "I gotta find Shy. Face, do you know where she's working today? Never mind, I'll find her."
He strode out of the barracks without waiting for a response.
Gravy turned to Face, who was staring after his friend. "Wanna wager when ti gason gonna crash?"
Face snorted. "You might be surprised. I swear that guy could live on caffeine and sugar. Besides, I'd wager he's gonna be real reluctant to waste any of his time with Sheila on something as commonplace as sleep."
"He got it bad, huh?"
Face nodded. "She doesn't know it yet, but she's in audition as his life-time mate."
Gravy snorted. "Howlin' don' do nothin' half assed, do he?"
Murdock found Vi first, but then, the flamboyant woman was hard to miss. The USO had put up a tent near the stage and several of the performers were gathered there, talking to soldiers and doing some impromptu entertaining.
Vi wiggled her fingers at him, and broke away from the group she was with to meet him in the middle of the tent. "Hey there, handsome. I thought you were flying this afternoon?"
"Actually, my schedule freed up and I was looking for Shy. Do you know where she is?"
Vi pouted, then a wicked smile curved her lips. "I think she's up on stage at the piano. You probably couldn't see her for the throng of men."
"You are an evil, evil woman Viola." Murdock turned and shoved his way out of the tent.
As he neared the stage he could hear the piano playing, and a group of male voices rose in The Star Spangled Banner. Above the basses and tenors, a sweet alto rang out in harmony, and Murdock smiled. He hadn't gotten to see the show yesterday, but he'd still get to hear Shy perform. She was the only person he was really interested in, anyway.
He jumped up on the stage, and moved to the back of the group behind the piano. Over the heads of the other men, he could see Shy, fingers dancing over piano keys and face flush as she sang the National Anthem with at least a dozen men. He joined in, following her on harmony.
Sheila looked up when she heard another voice join in and she smiled when she saw Murdock. He grinned at her, and her heart kicked up in involuntary response. As the last line faded, she started the applause, and the group joined in.
"That was great. Does anyone have any other requests?"
There were murmurs through the group, but Murdock's voice carried above them. "I want to hear the song you sang yesterday."
"How did you . . ." Sheila's protest was drowned out by the chorus of 'yeah's that greeted his request. He stood in the back, his grinning, handsome face visible over the heads of the men in front of him.
"Alright, alright. One more time, then that's it."
She had vague ideas of smacking Viola for roping her into that solo performance. It was Vi who had insisted she sing the song for the stage manager, Dean Steiger, at yesterday's final rehearsal. They had a set change that was dead space, and after hearing it Dean had agreed that it should be added there as an interlude. That was all it was, just a filler while some things were being moved around up on stage.
The tune was reminiscent of Gershwin's Lullaby, the words a poem Sheila had written years ago, when her mother first became ill. It was hardly in keeping with the psychedelic flavor of the rest of the show, but to Sheila's surprise the crowd had reacted enthusiastically. Still, she wondered how Murdock knew about it. He hadn't been at the show.
She played an opening interlude, and then sang:
I keep your smile as a beacon in my heart
To carry me through the darkness of life
Until I can see you.
Be home again with you
You are my home, my soul, my sanity
Away from you I flounder and flail
Praying to God not to fail
But then I remember
Your strength in adversity and …
I keep your smile as a beacon in my heart
To carry me through the darkness of life
Until I can see you.
Be home again with you
I know I must go my own separate way
Live my life, following Destiny's vagaries.
Never knowing what's around the bend
So until our lives twine together again …
I keep your smile as a beacon in my heart
To carry me through the darkness of life
Until I can see you.
Be home again with you
If you get tired and the angels call you home
Know that you will forever live inside of me
From this life, into the next
I will always …
Keep your smile as a beacon in my heart
To carry me through the darkness of life without you
Until I can join you.
Come home again to you
Forever with you.
Murdock swallowed. The song had a haunting quality about it, hopeful, but sad, and every man standing around the piano was impacted by it on some level. He could see the glisten of tears in Shy's wide, blue eyes. He wondered what the song meant to her. He clapped, slow and loud, and was quickly joined by the others.
Shy smiled her thanks. "I think I'm about done for the day, guys. Thanks for hanging around. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow."
Murdock hung back as the men dispersed; some stopped to offer personal thanks for her time. He moved forward as one of the last hangers-on took her hand in both of his. "Hi, Sheila, I'm Jim. I just wanted to say, that song is really incredible. I mean, it's one of those that grabs you right by the heart strings and holds on."
"Thank you, Jim. That's really nice of you to say."
Jim didn't let go of her hand. "I was just wondering, you know, if you weren't doing anything later. I thought maybe we could get a drink, or maybe just take a walk …"
Murdock moved so he was standing beside Shy. "She's busy."
"I was here first, man."
Sheila smiled at Jim and squeezed his hands before extracting hers. "I really can't, Jim. But thanks for the offer."
"If you change your mind, I'll be at the bar tonight." Jim gave Murdock a brief glare before turning on his heel and walking away.
Sheila turned and crossed her arms, looking at Murdock narrowly. "She's busy? What the hell was that?"
Murdock shifted uncomfortably. "Well, how do you expect me to react when I find my girl in the middle of a throng of men?"
Her eyes widened. "Your girl?"
Murdock ground his teeth, trying to read Shy's expression. "I, well, maybe that was a little, um, presumptuous . . ."
Shy's gaze remained indecipherable. "I wasn't going to go out with him."
"Even if I hadn't been here?" He could have kicked himself. Why was he pushing this?
"Even if you hadn't been here. I thought you had duty this afternoon?"
Murdock remembered why he had been so anxious to find her. "I'm on leave. Forty-eight hours starting now, and I was hoping that you would be able to, um … would want to spend some of it with me." He ended haltingly, unsure of her reaction.
The slight smile that curved her lips made his heart take to the sky. "I can't think of anything else I'd rather do, though I do have a few USO commitments . . ."
He grinned. "I could help. I don't really care what we do, I just wanna be with you."
Her cheeks flamed, and his smile widened, then his jaw tensed, and he covered his mouth as a huge yawn escaped, refusing to be stifled. That must be why his head was so fuzzy and he was acting weird with Shy, he needed caffeine.
She laughed. "I think maybe you should take the first afternoon and evening of your 48 hours and catch up on some sleep."
He put an arm around her shoulders and guided her in the general direction of the mess hall. "All I need is some caffeine. And food – I could really use some food."
They stopped, and Sheila turned. She grimaced at the sight of Willie's reproachful gaze. What was he doing here? "Do you need something, Willie?"
She felt Murdock tense next to her, and glanced over at him. His expression was similar to the one he had worn yesterday when she first saw him outside the SF command post, wary and angry. He was usually so easy-going, that the change was extreme, and disturbing. His arm had tightened around her shoulders, his voice a low growl. "Leighton."
"Murdock. What you think you're doin', boy?"
Sheila hooked her fingers through one of Murdock's belt loops as she felt the pilot tug forward. She rushed to answer Willie's question. "We're just headed to the mess hall to grab some lunch."
Willie looked at her darkly. "Sheila, I told you . . ."
"We're just having lunch, Willie."
She turned away, pulling Murdock with her. She waved at Viola, hoping her roomy caught the hint. She sighed in relief when she saw Vi hurrying their way.
Willie jerked Murdock's arm off her shoulders, and they both turned to find him glaring at the pilot. "You keep your hands to yourself, boy."
Sheila untangled her fingers from his belt loop, and took a firm grip on his arm hoping to keep him from launching on Willie. Vi grabbed his other arm as she ran up, breathless.
Vi blew out a breath. "Wow, I'm glad I caught you two. They're waiting for us. See ya, Willie!"
It took both of them to drag Murdock away from Willie Leighton.
They pulled Murdock behind the tent, where he broke away.
"Alright, alright, you can let go. What the hell is Willie
Leighton doing here? When did he leave
Viola looked at Sheila questioningly. Sheila shrugged. Obviously the two men knew each other.
Vi took a deep breath and answered, "Our stage manager, Dean Steiger, and Willie were good friends, and Dean pulled Willie into our traveling show last year to handle acquisitions and logistics."
"Dean Steiger . . .," Murdock murmured under
his breath. Then he looked at Sheila, and his face cleared a bit. "I'm
sorry, Shy. I knew Willie when I was at
Sheila suspected it was more then a simple falling out
among former friends, besides, what would Murdock have to do with the USO – he
was aviation. She was beginning to suspect the key to Murdock's involvement in
any drug or gun smuggling would include figuring out what the hell happened at
She reached out and took Murdock's hand. "Let's just forget it. C'mon, let's go get something to eat." His face finally relaxed into a smile.
Vi chuckled, and they both turned to look at her. "You two are just a tad sickening, you know that. Go, get the hell outta here. I'll watch your back and make sure Willie leaves you alone. Then maybe I'll find the handsome Lieutenant and we'll come join you."
In the mess hall, Murdock groaned as Sheila steered him away from the coffee and toward the food. "You really need to sleep, and coffee is just going to delay the inevitable crash."
They sat across from each other, and ate in relative silence, until Face and Vi showed up.
"What, no coffee?" Face set his tray down and took a seat next to Sheila.
"Shy said I needed to sleep. She won't let me have any caffeine."
Murdock glanced up at Sheila. She was watching him with wide eyes as he ate. He looked down at his tray. He had taken quite a bit of food.
Face must have noticed the look, too. He patted Shy's hand. "Don't worry, I've watched him inhale a lot of things, but he usually stops at the edge of his tray."
Murdock made a face at his friend. "I haven't eaten yet, today. I'm hungry."
Vi set her tray down close to Murdock, edging herself closer once she was on the bench. She smiled at him. "Feeling better now that you've eaten?"
"Sit that close, your food is fair game," Murdock muttered.
Sheila snorted, and Vi stuck out her tongue at her. "It's not nice to gloat, Sheila." But she did move away.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Vi. I was just laughing because you have ketchup on your chin."
Vi grabbed a napkin and wiped her chin, then looked down at the clean napkin. "Very funny, Sheila." She hooked a thumb at Murdock. "I think Willie's right, you're hanging out with this smart ass too much."
Murdock raised an eyebrow at Sheila and they both laughed.
Vi ignored the laughter at her expense. "So, HM, what's up between you and Willie, anyway?
"Old business," Murdock said flatly, hoping his tone ended the topic. He really didn't want to talk about it, especially with the girls.
He was grateful when Face steered the conversation another direction. "So, what are we doing this afternoon?"
Sheila smiled at Murdock. "We never did take that swim you promised. We could do that, grab supper, and then you can turn in early."
He looked up at her in dismay. "Turn in early?"
Her gaze was uncompromising. "Yes, turn in early."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you turning in with me?"
Sheila shook her head and laughed. He chuckled weakly with her, and made a mental note to work more seriously on that front.
At the beach they spread out blankets and towels to claim an open spot.
Murdock eyed Face and Vi laying on the blanket, eyes closed, soaking up the sun. They looked way too comfortable, and he recalled the previous night when he passed out laying on the beach with Shy. As good as that sounded, right now, he was reluctant to give her any more ammunition to push for an early bed time.
Nearby, a group of children were playing in the sand, and Murdock grinned. He could go for some castle-building. He grabbed Shy's hand and pulled her along. "Let's go play in the sand."
He was relieved when she followed happily. There were half a dozen kids digging in the sand, ranging in age from 5 or 6 to barely-pre-teen. None spoke English, and Murdock greeted them in Vietnamese, asking if they wanted to help build a big castle. They all responded enthusiastically in the affirmative. One little girl, in particular seemed taken with Shy, and took her hand, talking to her rapidly in Vietnamese. He was stunned when Shy responded fluently. There was way more to this girl than he first thought, and as he got to know her, he was finding himself more and more intrigued by her.
There were three older children in the group that Murdock organized to build the main structure of what developed into a haphazard castle. Sheila worked with the younger children, collecting items along the beach to decorate the walls. More children joined in as the afternoon wore on, and by the time they were done the castle took up a large section of beach with about a dozen contributing architects.
Murdock dropped into the cool sand in the borrow pit and sighed as he laid his head back. His energy was starting to fade, and he was really wishing Shy had let him have coffee at lunch. His eyes closed for a few seconds, until he felt a bucket-full of sand fall on his stomach. He heard the giggles first, and squinted into the sun to find one of the castle architects laughing down at him. Soon, the instigator was joined by Shy and the other children, burying Murdock up to his chin in sand.
Face was standing, and poked Vi with a toe. "You gotta see this."
Vi propped herself up on her elbows and shaded her eyes. "That's quite the fortified castle they have there. Where did Murdock and Sheila go?"
"You have to stand up, they're on the other side of the castle."
"Make me get up …" Vi grumbled as she pushed herself to her feet. "Oh, my God, is that Murdock?"
Face laughed. "I have to get a picture. Shit, I left the camera back at the barracks. I'll be right back."
When Murdock broke out of his sand cocoon, he rose like an earthen monster and chased the kids, growling while they giggled and darted around him. Shy stood back and watched. By the time she realized that Murdock had shifted his target from the kids to her, he was already wrapping her in a sandy bear hug. That was when Face appeared and took a picture of the two of them, laughing and covered in sand.
"Now you have to go swimming with me, Shy."
She looked up into Murdock's laughing brown eyes, and smiled. "Was that your plan all along, HM?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "And if it was?"
She pursed her lips. "I think I'd be disappointed if it wasn't."
Sheila had to mentally shake herself to break the spell he cast over her when he looked at her like that. Unfortunately, the more time she spent with him, the quicker she found herself enchanted by the quirky pilot.
The water was pleasant, and they stayed in for awhile playing in the waves. Face and Vi came out and joined them, but by then Murdock and Sheila were worn out. They left the other couple and came ashore.
They collapsed on their towels. It was late afternoon and the beach was emptying. Sheila caught sight of the little girl that had latched onto her earlier in the day and waved.
The girl came running over, and caught Sheila around the neck. "Tam biet!"
Shy kissed the girl on the cheek. "Tam biet, em yeu."
She waved as she ran off to her waiting mother.
Shy sighed. "So young and innocent. How long will it last?"
"Not long enough." Murdock gazed after the smiling little girl for several seconds, then looked up at Shy. Her expression was sad. "It's alright, sugar. You gave that little girl an afternoon she'll remember for a good long time. You'll help carry her through the darkness of life, as you will many of the men you sang to yesterday and today. And me."
Shy looked at him, and smiled. "I guess that's something."
"Mind if I ask you a question?"
She leaned back on her elbows. "Ask away."
"How do you know Vietnamese?"
He could practically see the wheels turning in her head as she considered how to answer the simple question. Curious.
"I talked to the woman at the USO table at a career day during my last year of college, and she said if I was interested, she would recommend that I learn Vietnamese, so I did. I've always had a knack for languages. I know several. Where did you learn it?"
"Cultural immersion program." He watched for her reaction.
Shy nodded in acceptance. Either she was afraid to betray her ignorance or she knew what cultural immersion was. Somehow, he felt certain it was the latter. Seemed strange for a fine arts major. Shy was one surprise after another.
"My turn to ask a question. How do you know Willie?"
Murdock turned and leaned on an elbow so he faced her. "Willie and I kinda worked together for awhile. He didn't take my departure real well."
"What were you doing with the USO at
"Uh-uh. My turn to ask a question. Why did you join the USO and come to this God-forsaken place?"
He could see the muscles working in her jaw. "I thought I could make a difference. Maybe make the war a little shorter."
"You think the USO is gonna shorten this war?"
She chuckled. "Well, maybe make it seem shorter, and that's two questions. Now it's your turn to answer mine –"
"I wasn't working with the USO at
"That doesn't answer my question."
"Surely does, you asked me what I was doing with the
"Well then, what were you doing with Willie at
Murdock snorted. "As little as humanly possible. You ever smell that guy?"
Sheila shook her head. "Vi's right, you are a smart ass. And you didn't answer the question."
Her voice echoed his as he said, "Surely did."
He grinned at her. "My turn."
"I'm not playing anymore. You don't play fair."
"What do you consider fair play, sugar?"
He caught and held Shy's gaze. "My answers have been entirely truthful. What about yours?"
The flicker of guilt in those sky blue eyes was fleeting but unmistakable. He lay back on the blanket. "You're right. The game is over."
It was a few seconds before she leaned over him. "Ok, it's your turn."
He couldn't help but smile as he looked up into her determined face. "Alright, but only the truth from here on out, deal?" Her jaw tensed, but she nodded. He smiled. "Alright, here's an easy one, were you angry when I told that guy, Jim, you were busy earlier?"
She nodded her head 'yes' and said, "No. I was actually kind of flattered, and maybe a little perplexed."
Shy shrugged. "I really enjoy spending time with you, HM. We've had a lot of fun, but . . . I really didn't think you were that interested in me."
"Huh?" He sat up, surprised. "I follow you around like a love-sick puppy. What more do you want?"
She hugged her knees to her chest and shrugged. "If you were interested, I'd expect you to want . . . to do more than talk."
"You're the one keeps refusing every time I ask you to come to bed with me. Besides, you told me you're not that kind of girl – I'm trying to respect that."
Shy was gazing out at the ocean and laughed. "Is that why you've never even tried to kiss me? C'mon, HM, even I am not that naive."
Murdock leaned toward her, so his lips were close to her ear. "Is that what you want – for me to kiss you?"
He felt the tremor run through her body, and she turned and looked at him. "What I want and what is right are two different things."
He moved away, eyes narrowed. "I'm not sure how to respond to that."
She shrugged the tense moment off. "So don't. I
think it's my turn, anyway." She took a deep breath. "Did you do couriering for Willie at
That seemed like a rather pointed question, but he decided to answer it, albeit vaguely. "Yeah, I used to pick some things up for him."
"What kinds of things, HM?"
So much for vague. He decided to stall, trying to figure out what to tell her. "That's two questions."
"Technicality. You were the one that said only the truth from here on out, remember?"
He met her gaze. "Why do I get the feeling you know more about this than I'd like?"
"I don't know anything, but having worked with Willie for almost a month, I have my suspicions."
'Fuck me' flitted through his mind and he decided there was
no avoiding the truth this time. "I'm not proud of what I did at
The raw pain in his eyes tore at her. Whatever had happened, it had obviously affected him deeply. There was no way in hell this man was part of any drug running, of that she was now certain. Unfortunately, she didn't have any proof, other than Murdock's word. Willie's animosity toward the pilot could be construed as a strong indicator; if Willie was the smuggler - that had been a total shot in the dark on her part.
"How involved to you think Willie is in smuggling?" Sheila asked.
Murdock shrugged. "Don't know, don't care. S'long as he and his friends stay away from me . . . and you."
"Willie didn't work alone. Hell, he was just a grunt in the network, like I was. I'd bet Willie's buddy Steiger is more intimately involved – though I never saw him get his hands dirty."
"Dean Steiger? The stage manager?"
"Like I said, I never saw, so I can't swear to it, but it would explain why he's the one brought Willie into the traveling circus. Ideally positioned for distribution, don't you agree?"
"Definitely." Sheila bit her thumb in thought. "And being in procurement, no one thinks twice when Willie's wheeling and dealing. It's his job."
"You sound way too interested in this, Shy. You gotta promise me you're gonna keep as far away from those two as possible."
She turned to find worried brown eyes fixed on her. She consciously smoothed her furrowed brow, and offered him a light smile. "I'll do my best, but it could be difficult. Willie's kind of omnipresent on the tour. And he's marginally easier to avoid than Dean."
Murdock didn't look happy but he allowed the subject to
drop. Sheila's brain was working overtime as she considered what he had told
her. Maybe she could convince Quinn to allow her to
travel with the tour as they made their way back up the coast to
Murdock kept delaying their trip to the mess hall. Shy finally stood up and picked up her towel with a frustrated grunt. "Oh, for Christ's sake, that is the fourth time your stomach has rumbled in the last five minutes. Admit it – you're hungry."
She stood over him, hands on hips. "How old are you?"
Face snorted, and Shy cast an irritated glare his direction. "No comments from the peanut gallery. You have done nothing but enable his avoidance of the inevitable for the last hour." Turning back to Murdock, she jerked a thumb up. "Come on, let's go get ready for dinner."
Murdock sighed and stood up. "Fine, but I want coffee with dinner."
She grinned at him. "Fine. It'll just have to be decaf."
"Decaf still has caffeine – just have to drink more."
"Heck of a lot more."
Vi shook her head. "You two sound like an old married couple."
"What do you say, Shy? Wanna get married?" Murdock's grin widened when Shy's cheeks flushed.
"Don't encourage him, Viola."
"Honestly, sugar, it's less about encouraging and more about baiting. Vi's just learning what makes me tick."
Vi laughed. "Old fashioned boy meets old fashioned girl and they live happily ever after. Am I close? To be honest, you are both totally beyond me. Have you even had sex, yet?"
Murdock took Shy's hand, and they both said. "We're going to dinner."
As they walked away, Murdock heard Vi say, "They haven't done it yet. Can you fucking believe that?"
Face's voice was resigned. "I told you he wasn't your type, Vi."
"No shit. Of course, the challenge is intriguing."
To be continued . . . Please send a comment card!
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