Tuxedo Junction


He'd always believed that you could tell everything you needed to know about a bar just from its name. This bar had none.

Hunched over his drink (a dry martini, like liquid sand) Hawkeye's sharp gaze flicked back and forth from his own reflection -- a jaded character in a new tuxedo, bow tie undone -- to the bar behind. The dinner crowd had moved down to Broadway and the bar had begun to fill up again; men and women jostled for tables by the dance floor and nursed cocktails in all the colors of summer.

Anticipation hummed in the air. The sun had gone down in an orange blaze and the evening was born in the ashes of dusk. The night was still fresh and exciting, ready to be tasted anew. He'd gotten drunk of the promise of summer evenings many times before only to upchuck by dawn. The jubilance of the throng splashed over him like a cocktail do-dah in a sea of liquor, but never soaked through.

As he'd strolled along the Manhattan sidewalk, a fashionable woman he'd casually been watching flitted down a staircase from the street as a man and a woman emerged, their raucous laughter ringing out over the hubbub of mid-town traffic. Following the strain of a jazz number he recognized but couldn't name, Hawkeye plunged down the stairs ready to cajole and smooth talk his way inside the unnamed club. A bored bouncer let him pass unchallenged and he charged the bar with the laconic step of sun-crazed desert wanderer drawing near a tropical mirage.

An hour passed in the company of several dry, glassy martinis and he spent the time watching the reflection of other drinkers as they glided through the bar behind him. A table to the left, two women watched the door waiting for others. One beat a tattoo rhythm on the table top while surveying the crowd shrewdly with an eye for trouble. The other played idly with her dyed blonde hair, bored and disinterested where her companion was edgy and suspicious, and tried to meet his eye in the mirror behind the bar. Further back in a booth against the wall, a veil of smoke covered two middle-aged suits deep in conversation. The namelessness, the shady characters and the never ending flow of liquor reminded him of a speakeasy from the twenties, or how he had imagined they were back in the day, having been in short pants at the time.

"Another martini, Sir?"

A woman's voice flowed over his shoulder, familiar and warm like decade-old scotch. "Splash that Vermouth. He'll have it drier than the Sahara."

A stunning blonde perched on the barstool beside him and offered a brilliant smile. He grinned stupidly, lost in the infinitesimal chance of her finding him in a nameless bar in a large city where he was staying only for the night. He wondered if it was chance at all, maybe they were just fated to meet in the most unlikely situations.

He smiled wickedly. "And for the lady, a whisky old fashioned but only by name."

It was a test and Margaret surprised him by laughing and brushing her soft lips against the rough stubble of his cheek. She more than passed.

"God," she sighed. "It's been almost a year."

"Uh huh. Still feels like yesterday."

He blinked, surprised. The war followed him like a shadow but he'd gotten good at hiding it, deflecting light with perky jokes and a silly smile. He saw it though, ever dark and trailing in his instep. A specter peering over his shoulder into normalcy and smirking like the devil. He moved forward but the wraith followed, waiting, wanting, knowing eventually, he'd fall back.

"Don't I know it." Margaret paused and changed the subject, smiling again. "I didn't think you'd ever leave Maine again once you were home. What are you doing in New York?"

"There was a convention up in Westchester this week. It ended with a big dinner in a hotel down the street."

She arched an eyebrow.

"You went to a surgical convention?"

He shrugged, "Well, you know, my golf swing really needs improving."

She rolled her eyes, fondly he thought, and looked away.

Their drinks had arrived and he sipped his martini, the dry liquid sliding down his throat with a slow burn. "What are you doing now? Working here in the city?"

"Yeah, I've taken a furlough from the army. I'm working in a civilian hospital."

"That's big. I never really pictured you out of olive drab, you know."

"Pierce," she said, his name rolling off her tongue slowly, as if she were speaking to a small child. "I'm wearing a fire-engine red dress."

He'd noticed. So much so he'd spent the last two minutes fighting the urge to avoid staring at her cleavage. One quick sneak early on had been like giving a thirsty man an ice cube from a coke and then drinking the rest of the soda in front of him; it was all he could think about. As they had talked one thought had been circling his brain, flashing in ten-foot neon lights behind his eyes. She was the most beautiful woman in the room.

But he didn't say that. Instead, he took the opportunity so artlessly offered, looking her up and down slowly with an exaggerated leer.

"Oh Margaret," he growled. "You've got my motor running."

"Ha! Hawkeye, you start faster than my mother's brand new Studebaker."

"Yeah, but can you get the same mileage? Thirty-four years, still waiting for a first owner, can go four hours-"

She held up her hand. "Stop there, thank you. I've test driven both and I'll take the Studebaker. Though my mother has been dating men from her bridge club. I'll give her your number, if you like."

"Yeah, but then you'd have to call me Dad and that's a little too weird to hear from a woman who's older than me."

Appalled, she whacked him on the arm. "I am NOT older than you! You're older!"

"By how much?"

"It doesn't matter," she said stiffly, struggling not to smile.

He bent down, leaning in close to her ear. "I heard three weeks."

She turned her head and their faces were only inches apart. "Months, at least."

"Weeks," he replied, smirking.

He could smell her perfume lingering over the stench of hot smoke and the wet heat of the summer night. He'd forgotten the scent of the fragrance she'd used in Korea and only recalled that he hadn't liked it. She'd worn too much too often, but now she'd changed it from when they'd last been together. It was lighter, softer maybe. Less like a florist's van broadsided by a pick-up and more like a natural womanly scent with undertones of a musk engineered to drive men nuts. He should know, because it was working.

He swallowed and sat back. "Radar was like a pet, son and dirty little snitch to me."

"That little fink," she said with good humor. "What's his story now? What are the headlines of Ottumwa screaming these days?"

"At the ripe old age of twenty-three Walter Eugene O'Reilly has bought bonds in the matrimonial state."

She eyed him strangely. "Say again?"

"Margaret, Radar got hitched."

She laughed. "That's what I thought you said. God, Radar as a husband. That's too cute. He is lovable though, I bet he's making his girl very happy."

"Yeah, I think they will be happy together."

"Did you go to the wedding?"

"Uh, no. I know Colonel Potter did," he said quickly, looking anywhere but at her. "Radar and Patty, the new Mrs. O'Reilly, sent me some photos. They looked really sweet together."

"That's wonderful."

"Apparently, our little Radar worked up the nerve to date an officer. Patty was an army nurse stationed in Tokyo, I think. He met her on R&R just before he was shipped home. Turns out she was from like the next town over from Ottumwa or something."

She nudged him and lent in again, her hot breath tickling his cheek. "I have a scoop for you; another army nurse will be getting married soon."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah, you're looking at the bride to be."

She smiled again, wide and bursting with all the teeth she had and engulfed him in a hug. His arms hung frozen by his side and his stomach rolled over, threatening to eject five martinis all down the back of her dress. She squeezed him against her and he brought his arms up stiffly around her back.

"Hey, that's great!" he said, extricating himself from her as soon as she'd allow it.

"You look surprised."

"Only that you didn't tell me straight away. Congratulations, Margaret."

He knew from her careful sidelong glance he hadn't fooled her. Tactfully, she led it slide. "Thank you."

"Where's the lucky guy now?"

"We had a dinner date. I was meeting him at a restaurant just down the street but he had to cancel."

Hawkeye arched a brow, "Oh yeah?"

"He had a patient."

"Uh huh."

"Stop it," she said, not unkindly. And then she smiled, a little smugly he thought. "He's a cardiologist."

"Ahhhh, a heart doctor. How appropriate."

"You think you're funny?"

"No, I think he's funny for standing you up."

"He didn't stand me up, he cancelled."

"I've never stood you up."

She gave him a look, the same he'd seen a hundred times before back in Korea. The one where she couldn't decide whether he deserved to be slapped or strangled.

"Hawkeye, we've never been on a date. You've never asked me and I certainly never agreed to one."

"Sure we have, we're on one now."

"What?" she exclaimed. "In your dreams."

Strangled he thought, definitely strangled.

"Come on, this isn't a date? A beautiful woman sits down next to me in a bar and feeds me an opening line. I buy her a drink and then I take her out on the dance floor and she falls in love with my charm and debonair moves."

She smirked. "Oh, so that's how it works, huh?"

"We'll see, I'm a little out of practice," he offered her his hand and a smile. "Wanna dance, lady?"

"I've got news for you Mister. You don't look like Cary Grant, you don't dance like Fred Astaire and--"

"And Sir Walter Raleigh I ain't. I've got it tattooed right here on my heart. Know anyone who could help me with that?"

She scowled and grabbed his hand.

"Do me a favor, Pierce?" she tossed over her shoulder as she led them to the floor. "Just try to keep up."

The hot jazz segued into a soulful slow number and Hawkeye pulled Margaret close against him. Too close for anyone except lovers and he grinned unashamedly. She wet her lips and instead of the token rebuke he expected, the corners of her mouth drew up into an indulgent smile.

"How am I doing so far, Ginger?" he asked.

"Your lindy still needs work but your jitterbug is more than passable."

"Passable? My jitterbug is fantastic! All the beetles, bugs, Lepidoptera and locusts are jealous of me. They swarm off in a huff whenever I fly by."

"It's a moot point, regardless," she said archly, somehow stepping in a little closer. "All that matters to a girl are the slow dances."

He twirled her then and she laughed as she returned to his arms. The languid sea of couples on the floor flowed and ebbed, shuffling circles to the slow and dreamy music. He smoothed his hand over the dip of her back and relaxed, letting the night wash over him.

It was a long time since been out at night, danced with a beautiful woman and enjoyed himself. It didn't matter that it wasn't quite a date, that he and Margaret were only friends or that he hadn't stepped into the bar looking for an enjoyable evening but to get so drunk the bouncer would have to pour him into a taxi. Hawkeye had always lived for the moment until the year just gone where he had constantly found himself in the past. With Margaret folded in his arms they moved effortlessly to the cool, fluid lament of the jazz singer and the shadow of Korea seemed distant again, dulled with memory and painted over with the numbing brush of time.

"You smell great, you know that?"

A cryptic expression settled over her features and he wondered if he was out of line.

An intense friction had existed between them since they first met and looked down their noses at one another. Prim, pressed and not a hair out of place, she was military and he wasn't, reporting for duty unkempt, unshaven and sporting an attitude more offensive than his beatnik Hawaiian shirt. They rubbed each other the wrong way and vicious barbs had sparked off him for a time until the intensity of their contempt dulled and a friendship of sorts emerged. A physical attraction had always smoldered beneath their relationship, set afire one night and soon doused, but it still glowed on he felt, never quite extinguished.

She looked neither mad nor upset, but not happy either.

"You know, I think that's the only spontaneous compliment you've ever given me," said Margaret.

"What are you talking about? I was always showing you my appreciation."

She looked to the heavens for either patience or salvation, he wasn't sure.

"Hawkeye, wolf whistles and lewd remarks are not compliments."

He groaned theatrically. "There's just no pleasing some women."

"I can't believe I'm bothering to ask this after what you just said, but are you seeing anyone?"

He made a face. "No one special. Most of the single women of Crabapple Cove are out of my age bracket."

She smirked at him and he had the sudden urge to kiss her smarminess away. He didn't.

"They're not all enamored with the young Doctor Pierce?"

"Not so young."

"Speak for yourself. Still, they're not enamored?"

"Yes, but it's irritating when fifteen years ago you dated their mothers in high school and their fathers on the football squad thought you were a pansy-ass then and still do now."

She laughed and he smiled, replying. "So no date tonight, no."

"Then you were just drinking here, in a room full of people by yourself? That's a little depressing."

"I like to watch."

She gave him a squinty-eyed look, instantly suspicious. "Watch what?"

He turned them around. "Look over my shoulder. See those two suits, in the dark booth by the pay phones?"


"They're reliving their glory days. They fixed the 1919 World Series."

She snorted. "They did not."

"Come on, Margaret," he said, excitement speeding along his words. "The bar with no name, the shady characters, the heavies by the door. And the way everyone seems like they've got something to hide. This place doesn't remind you of a speakeasy?"

She laughed, "Are you drunk already?"

"Mahhhhrgaret, doesn't it remind you? See those two women at that table, behind where we were sitting?"


"The dark haired one keeps checking her watch. They're waiting for someone."

She smiled blandly. "Their dates?"

"Gee, and to think I once heard this rumor that you were no fun at all. Play along."

"Okay, okay," she said, rolling her eyes. "They're underworld floozies waiting for a drop off. Drugs maybe."

Pleased, he smiled. "Could be."

"And her handbag is a machine-gun once owned by John Dillinger. Watch she doesn't point the zipper tab at you or it could be lights out buster." Margaret poked a finger into his ribs mimicking the barrel of a gun and giggled.

He squirmed away. "Oh, so now you wanna play, huh?"

They picked out people in the bar and invented stories for them, each tale growing wilder than the one before. A man in trench coat was selling Louis XVI gold plated ash trays inside his coat; the shifty bartender was a deep throat for the cops, ratting out customers who couldn't pay their tab; a wooden leg concealed a million dollars in uncut diamonds and beneath the bar a tunnel for smuggling hooch into the city stretched all the way to Canada.

They laughed and she smiled at him, sidelong and indulgent. He felt a stupid grin stretch across his face and it took a full second for his brain to click over, interpreting a feeling as foreign to him as Dutch or Greek. He was happy, he realized.

A canned recording of Rosemary Clooney's smooth voice piped out from a jukebox and the band announced a break. Reluctantly, he led her from the floor.

Margaret ordered fresh drinks and turned to him, smiling still with that funny half-grin. He smiled back, unsure of what he'd done and with some difficulty, bit back the empty-headed comment he'd been searching for to fill the quiet moment.

A booth had opened up and somehow he managed to follow her with their two martinis, not spilling a drop despite his eyes being firmly trained on her ass the entire way.

They clinked glasses across the table and he enjoyed the cool burn of the alcohol. He needed to relax.

"So, what's the verdict Ginger?"

She played idly with the tooth-picked olive in the cocktail, swirling it about the glass before finally bringing it to her lips.

Hawkeye shifted in his seat. God help him, he needed to relax.

"Well, you don't dance like Fred Astaire, you're not as easy on the eyes as Cary Grant and I know you don't sing like Sinatra. But then none of them have ever held a man's heart in their hands or stolen a life back from death."

It was a strange compliment and it fit uncomfortably.

"You know, if my tap lessons hadn't clashed with the Saturday double feature at the movies, I'd have made millions. Fred Astaire would be weeping into his cummerbund right this minute."

She laughed so hard he swore martini came out her nose.

"Tap dancing lessons?"

"My mother was a tough woman. Dancing or piano. Dancing seemed manlier when I was eight."

"Sure, there's nothing sissy about that," she smirked. "What happened?"

"She died two years later and my Dad threw the shoes out. I, of course, was devastated and then somehow wound up being taught how to dance by a decrepit spinster aunt."

"Well, she knew what she was about. My toes have been stepped on many times but you're in the clear so far."

"You're not so bad yourself. I guess with two pairs of left feet we must be doing something right."

"Oh, Pierce. I need another drink if you're going to start the bad puns."

He knew his line. "You want me to get you drunk, Major?"

"You don't need any more encouragement."

She smiled just a little and studied him for a long moment. Her blue eyes glittered like the sea and he thought of the way the ocean gleamed in August when sunlight stroked the cool water off Crabapple Cove.

"So," he said in a slow drawl. "How come you let a nearly a year go by and you never once called me?"

"Hawkeye ..."

"BJ calls me. I hear all about mittens and booties and rocking horses and high chairs. Peg, Erin, the new job, the new dog, but nothing from you."

"You never called me either, you know. You should have."

Hawkeye felt a slow smile slide into place. "Why, what would you have said?"

"What would you have asked?" she countered easily, lifting her chin.

He ran his thumb over the embossed edge of a cocktail napkin, taking time to divine the truth from the impulse to grab the cheap laugh. He felt her eyes on him and when he looked up, he knew.

"Everything but what I really wanted to know: 'Hello, how are you? How's the wacky khaki? Are you wearing Chantilly lace? What's that elephant doing in the corner? Do you think of me when you see a loud Hawaiian shirt? Have you ever seen Maine in the fall?"

He paused; Margaret was giving him her poker face. If she tightened her jaw she was weighing her chances with two pair, wondering whether to stay in or fold early and wait for a better hand. A tiny pout meant she was game to raise the stakes with three of a kind or maybe a straight. A blank steady gaze, like the one she was giving him now, always made him uneasy. She could fold at moment's notice or to bite down and ride out her luck to the end, scooping the pool.

He looked aside gathering resolve, and then back at her. Sucking a deep breath, he reached across the table and stroked two fingers along the back of her hand. God help him if she was planning on bluffing.

"Margaret, if I'd had the guts I would have said, 'Have you ever wondered how a turtle would feel if he lost his shell? I miss you twice that much.' Of course, I'm more of a chicken than turtle, but a chicken has you know, feathers instead of a shell and loosing feathers wouldn't have had the panache I was going for. I'm not completely sold on the turtle analogy either though," he rambled on desperately. "Actually, it's kinda lousy so I guess I'm glad I would have been to chicken to say it anyway."

His stomach rolled as she stared at him blinking with surprise, maybe shock. A waitress bustled by with two more martinis and his gut twisted into a three-oh silk knot while he fished cash from his pocket.

One hand now busy worrying the knuckles on the other, he watched as she took a large gulp of her drink and set it down with a grimace. She wiped her mouth with her fingers and leveled her gaze at him.

"I think of you when I see cowboy hats and dogs sniffing their food. I think of you when I smell antiseptic soap and cheap booze on someone's breath." Her voice was lilting and emboldened by the liquor, but clear without a trace of a slur. "Sometimes," she said, a challenge rising in her eye. "I think of you for no reason at all."

He swallowed and looked down at his martini. He wished he was drunk. Being drunk would make this easy. Drunk or frightened out of his skin, it didn't matter which. He could grab her and kiss her and go on without bothering with words. Sex was easy. Words were dangerous, pushing them along a road they couldn't turn back on until they reached a fork where they either walked on together or split up, permanently apart.

"Margaret, I know I'm an ass-–"

"Yes, you are," she broke in. "Actually, I have a problem of being highly attracted to arrogant jackasses. I'm trying to break that with my fiancé. He's dull, safe, worships the ground I walk on. Sturdy isn't so bad, you know."

"But without love you're only worth eighty-nine cents," he said, smiling easily.

"I hate the turtle analogy," she said suddenly. "You know what a chicken does without any feathers?"

"Catch cabs?"

"If a chicken doesn't have any feathers he can't fly," she said thoughtfully, her gaze lingering with his.

He looked away first. "Chickens don't fly very well with feathers."

"Excuse me," she huffed. "At least as feathers I was something useful. You had me as just a big, dumb ol' shell. That's not romance."

"You can talk! I'm just a big, naked bird!" Heads from nearby tables spun in their direction and they laughed.

Margaret wiped her eyes and smiled. "You know what? Sometimes in Korea, I thought I could love you, and other days I knew I hated you. Or maybe I hated that I might love you, who knows," she shrugged, still smiling.

She raised her glass, taking a swill and setting it down again. Her tongue poked out, tasting the alcohol left on her lips, licking them clean.

"And now?" he asked.

"Oh right now, I hate you," she said, a wry grin curving her lips.


"Yeah, because it's only taken an hour or more for me to realize how easy it would be to love you again. And that ticks me off."

"You shouldn't stand for that."

"I don't plan to."

"Good, because I'm gonna kiss you now so get ready to slap me. Though I should warn you there's a strong chance it might excite me."

She arched her neck and their lips met as he slid in on her side of the booth. She pressed her mouth on his, hot and eager, and slipped a hand around his neck as he pulled her closer to him.


The night air was stifling. Hot city smog blew through the open window, skirting around faded drapes and cooling sweat across his back. He fell into a dazed half-awareness, watching through slitted eyes as she shimmied back into her dress.

"Maine is beautiful in the fall," he drawled.

She turned, her blonde hair spilling off her shoulder as she leant down, sliding on her heels. "Chilly though, isn't it?"

"Freezing. Indoor sports are popular."

"I'd get a warm welcome?"

He smiled languidly. "Hot, sticky and sweaty. Anytime of year."

"Crabapple Cove, huh?"

"Yeah, Crabapple Cove. It's beautiful. You'll fall in love and never want to leave."

She looked down and he wondered if she was blushing. "I think I'd like that."

"Great. I know the perfect guy I can set you up with. Complete jackass, more arrogance than Dougie Mac playing a round of Battleship and a right royal pain in the butt: Hank -- you'll love him."

"Maybe for my friend Darlene. She's a bit of straight arrow but she loves a good challenge. This Hank sounds like one."

"Yeah, though he might teach your friend a thing or two as well. To relax, get rumpled and let down her hair."

Margaret smiled. "It's worth a shot. It might even work out if they don't kill each other first."

"Sounds like a deal."

"A compromise," she decided and lent down kissing him hard and hot, leaving him hungry but with a promise for more.

"Don't be long," he said, sleepily. "I'll only wait forever."

Her lips brushed his again and he closed his eyes. Long after the door snicked shut the scent of her, him and them lingered in the air. He breathed deeply and the sound of traffic far below rocked him to sleep.


He couldn't find the bar again in the hard sunshine between lunch and mid-afternoon. A coiffed woman and poodle tottered down the stairs he was sure he tripped up in the early hours of the morning; he remembered grabbing hold of Margaret's waist as he went down and almost pulling her along, the pair of them cackling like jackals. Hawkeye turned away from the pet palace sign emblazoned in black and pink above the doorway and back onto the street.

He walked slow and measured strides under the heat of the day. One arm stuck out like a maimed scarecrow, he flagged down a cab going against traffic.

When he crossed the street no shadow fell behind him.