SALVATION, is an original story, inspired by the U.S. T.V. series AIRWOLF.
Copyright refers to the author of this original material, and is not meant to supersede any copyrights held by Donald P Bellisario or any other persons or corporations holding rights to the television series AIRWOLF and its characters.
This story is purely a figment of my imagination, and apart from the usual ensemble of characters, borrowed for the occasion from Mr Bellisario and company, any and all resemblance to any real person or place is purely coincidental, accidental and downright bad luck on my part!
Santini Air Hangar, Van Nuys Airport, Los Angeles, California
The teeth clenching screech of tyres from just outside the Santini Air hangar immediately caught the attention of the two men working on separate helicopters.
One, a slightly older and heavier set man was working on an engine suspended on a block and tackle type of set up, coveralls smeared in fresh grease and oil, smudges of the stuff clinging to his cheek and brow where he had been scratching his head in puzzlement trying to find out what was wrong with the engine, the other, younger man, slight and trim, yet muscular, was lying on the ground underneath a Bell Jet Ranger and he slid out from under the belly of the chopper and looked up at the older man.
"Expecting someone?" Stringfellow Hawke asked in a low, deep voice.
"No …. Gotta be for you. I don't know anyone who drives like that!" Dominic Santini quipped, nudging his baseball cap further back on the top of his head, frowning and scratching his brow.
Both men glanced toward the open hangar door as they heard the slam of a car door and a few moments later a familiar figure appeared.
"Oh terrific …." Dominic Santini let out a low sigh as he recognised the man, clad in faded, tattered jeans, grubby sneakers, a black T-shirt and shades. "I shoulda known …."
"Hi Mr Santini ….. Hey Hawke …. How's it hanging?" The new arrival greeted the younger man with a big cheesy grin, hand extended out to him in a friendly greeting as he sauntered across the hangar.
"Hey Jimmy …." Hawke grinned back, accepting the other man's handshake then pulling him to him in a quick, rough bear hug. "Long time no see."
It warmed Dominic Santini's heart to see the expression on his young friend's face. Stringfellow Hawke was a serious and often solemn young man, but when he smiled, it lit up the room around him. In Santini's opinion, Hawke didn't smile nearly enough.
It was also good to see Jimmy Roscoe, former pilot and veteran of Vietnam. He and Hawke had flown together many times over there and had shared many experiences that Dominic Santini could not even begin to imagine.
It had been a while since Jimmy had turned up at the hangar, but Santini knew that it signalled his need to talk ….
And drink ….
And that meant that he had come looking for his favourite old drinking buddy.
Hawke wasn't much of a drinker, but whenever he spent an evening with Jimmy Roscoe, he always came back a little the worse for wear.
The pair hadn't been on a bender for a long time, so Dominic didn't think it would do either of them much harm to let their hair down a little.
String was a sensible guy. He wouldn't do anything to jeopardise his pilots licence, it was too precious to him.
Especially now ….
As for Jimmy, the fact that when he turned up out of the blue like this it usually meant that he was temporarily out of work, or 'between jobs' as he so quaintly put it, it didn't really matter how drunk he got or how bad he felt the next morning.
"You doing anything tonight, String?" Jimmy asked, digging his hands into the pockets of his jeans now and watched as Hawke and Santini exchanged knowing glances.
"Go on, get outta here …." Santini grinned. "And sink a couple for me while you're at it," he chuckled.
"You could always come with us …." Hawke suggested then noticed the wary look Jimmy Roscoe was giving him. Dominic noticed it too and waved his hand at Hawke with a grin.
"I'll have to take a rain check this time …. Stuff to do around here …. But thanks for the offer …."
"Maybe I should stay …." Hawke offered.
"Nah …. You go and have a nice evening out with your buddy. Choppers will still be here tomorrow …."
"If you're sure …." Santini nodded. "Okay then …. I'll just be a minute …. Get out of this …." He indicated to the oil and grease stained beige coverall that he was wearing. "And wash up …."
"Okay …." Jimmy Roscoe looked relieved and plonked himself down in a chair beside Dominic Santini's workstation as Hawke sauntered across the hangar toward the office and the small washroom out back where his clean clothes were neatly folded in his locker.
Dominic Santini tried to engage Jimmy in conversation while String was gone, but he merely shrugged in answer to the older man's query about his work situation and family, and so Dominic quickly gave up and returned his attention to the engine suspended before him, frowning and scratching his head once more.
Stringfellow Hawke returned a little while later, clad in jeans and a shirt with a sweater over it and his battered old brown flying jacket, and slipping on his shades he followed Jimmy Roscoe out of the hangar, waving back at Dominic before disappearing outside.
Sitting in a dimly lit bar nursing a beer he did not really want, Stringfellow Hawke watched Jimmy Roscoe take three large gulps from his own mug of ice cold beer and then followed it with a bourbon chaser.
Roscoe always had had a greater capacity for alcohol than Hawke, and Hawke had learned pretty early on that he had no tolerance for alcohol anyway.
As a general rule of thumb he didn't touch spirits. He could tolerate a glass or two of wine or a couple of beers but that was his limit. No bad thing either for a working pilot who treasured his ticket. He hadn't actually been the worse for drink since he turned eighteen, when he had got blind stinking drunk with his older brother, St John, to celebrate his unofficial coming of age. The younger Hawke brother had felt so wretched the next day, he had made a vow to himself that he would never feel that way again.
And he never had.
Occasionally, when he knew that it was what Dominic Santini expected, he had made a show of feeling a little the worse for wear, keeping his shades on and feigning a headache, especially after one of his escapades with Jimmy, but the truth was, he really didn't care for alcohol and avoided it whenever he could, especially now he could be called upon to fly The Lady at any time.
"Hey man, I needed that …." Roscoe said, letting out a loud belch and grinning at his old friend.
"How ya been, Jimmy?" Hawke asked with genuine interest.
"Okay …. Not brilliant, but hanging in there. You?"
"So, so," Hawke sighed softly. "You working?" It was a dumb question, but Hawke wasn't big on conversation and didn't know what else to say. Usually Jimmy was the one who did all the talking.
"You're kidding, right?" Jimmy laughed harshly. "Who would want to hire a screw up like me?"
"Then quit being a screw up, Jimmy …." Hawke sighed. "I know you don't want to fly anymore, but you were always one helluva mechanic. Somebody could use you."
"Don't sweat it Hawke …. That's not what I came to see you about." Roscoe pushed his half empty beer mug away from him. "You still looking for information on your brother?"
This made Stringfellow Hawke sit up and take notice.
"St John …."
"Yeah …. You still looking for him?"
"Could be," Hawke confirmed warily.
"He is still MIA, right?" Roscoe probed.
"You know something?" Hawke asked, trying to sound casual despite the adrenalin suddenly pumping through his veins.
"Nothing specific buddy …." Roscoe said by way of an apology. "But I got friends, in the VA Hospital, I visit from time to time, and the last time I dropped by, your name was mentioned."
"I'm flattered …."
Hawke didn't need reminding that he hadn't been out to visit some of his old comrades for a while.
"Don't be, it wasn't all complimentary," Roscoe chuckled and Hawke forced a grin, silently willing the other man to get to the point about St John. "Do you remember that time …."
"What about St John, Jimmy?" Hawke said softly, wanting to halt Roscoe before he wandered off too far down memory lane.
"Oh yeah …. Well the guys were sitting around, shooting the breeze like they usually do …." Hawke nodded.
He knew how these visits went, had done more than his fair share over the years.
"Then they got to talking about a new intake of guys, MIA's fished out of Laos a month or so back, and one of the guys, Joel Ashman …. You remember Ole' Ace Ashman …. " Roscoe grinned and Hawke nodded.
Indeed he did remember Ashman from Nam, and his own occasional visits to the VA Hospital.
Captain Joel Ashman had been a good, reliable pilot, trustworthy and honest, someone you could trust to cover your six in a fight. He had been shot down some time in '71 just after Hawke had finished his second tour and was sent back to the States for a little R & R. Ashman's mangled chopper had been trapped in enemy territory under constant sniper fire for three days before they fished him out of the twisted wreckage, barely alive, bleeding heavily, racked with fever and paralysed from the waist down.
"Well Joel swears he recognised St John …. except this guy didn't even know what day of the week it was when Joel went to say hi, no memory, but Joel swears it was him alright. Same height, thinner now of course, had a beard on him too, great bushy thing it was, made him look like one of those hilly billies mad on moonshine …. Didn't know left from right or up from down, what time of day it was, much less him name, poor bastard …." Hawke could feel a knot of tension tightening in his gut.
St John, back in the US ….
If that was the case, surely Archangel would know ….
Surely Archangel would have come to tell him ….
Then again ….
Maybe it wasn't in Archangel's best interest to tell him ….
Maybe it didn't suit the man in white's agenda ….
Jimmy took another half hearted slurp of his beer before continuing. "No ID, no dog tags, no way to know who the hell he was …. Just a big hole where his memory used to be …. Those little weasels sure did work him over good and proper …." Jimmy's voice suddenly trailed away as he realised what he was saying.
"Is this man still at the VA Hospital, Jimmy?"
"Nah …. Not much they could do for the poor sucker …." Jimmy grimaced again, by way of an apology, and Hawke nodded in understanding.
Tact and diplomacy had never been Roscoe's strongest attributes, and Hawke didn't want to get hung up on sentiment right now. He just wanted facts that he could verify or dismiss.
"Guys said that the doctors made sure that he was physically Okay. Got him cleaned up, got him cleared by the top head shrinker and after three square meals a day for a couple of week or so, I guess they figured he was strong enough, so they released him."
"Couple of days ago," Roscoe shrugged non commitally.
"Any idea where he went?" Hawke pressed, not wanting Roscoe to see the anger and disappointment he suddenly felt, that his friend hadn't brought this information to him sooner.
Roscoe merely shrugged again.
"You got a name for me?" Hawke asked with as much patience as he could muster. "He has to have had a name, Jimmy. Couldn't cut him loose without a name …."
"Oh c'mon Hawke, you know how it is with some of those guys …. They can remember every detail of every mission they ever went on in 'Nam but ask them what they had for breakfast yesterday and they can't answer …."
"Yeah, I know, Jimmy …." Hawke let out a soft sigh. "But they had to have called him something. For hospital records."
"John …. John Doe, I guess," again Roscoe shrugged.
Hawke nodded sagely.
Not very imaginative or original for that matter, but it was as good as any name ….
And it gave him a place to start.
"I'm sorry I don't know more. "
"Its okay, Jimmy," Hawke assured.
"The guys kinda got sidetracked, and I should have paid more attention. I thought I was helping …." Roscoe stared morosely into his beer mug, fingers strumming nervously against the table top.
"You are," Hawke laid a gentle hand atop the strumming fingers and stilled them. "You did good, Jimmy."
"Hawke …. If it turns out this guy …. If he is your brother …. I'm sorry, man …." Roscoe's voice trailed away then, and he dropped his gaze, no longer able to face looking at his old comrade.
Hawke hated the hint of sympathy in Roscoe's voice and the pained expression on his face and surmised that the gossip Roscoe had been exposed to at the VA Hospital had not painted a very good picture ….
Had most likely indicated that the man who might or might not be St John Hawke had not faired well and he sensed that Jimmy was trying to get his friend to understand that he should be prepared for the worst.
Hawke knew that it would not be easy.
After more than fifteen years as a prisoner in a VC POW camp, it would take a really strong personality to be able to settle back into civilian life ….
After fifteen years as a prisoner of war, Hawke was also aware that a man's physical condition and state of mind might not be at their best.
No matter what ….
If this man really was St John, he would do whatever it took to bring him home, and take care of him. He would lavish all the care and attention and love on his brother that he needed, and be proud to do it.
God knows he still had his own hang ups over Vietnam ….
The nightmares still tormented him….
From time to time ….
So he could relate in a small way to how St John might feel.
But even so, having him home with failing health and a fragile mental state was much better than the limbo of not knowing his brother's fate.
Or worse, having Archangel come to him and tell him that St John was dead and his body was being shipped home in a casket.
"It's okay, Jimmy, I understand. You want another beer?"
"Nah, somehow my heart's just not in it today," Roscoe grinned. "Besides, I got a date …." The grin grew wider and Hawke found himself smiling back. "Crazy broad, must be, 'cos she seems to like me. Thinks she can rehabilitate me …. Still, we're having fun …." The grin grew conspiratorial now and Hawke chuckled.
"You dirty dog …" He drawled.
"Don't knock it, hot shot. You should give it a try. If I can find someone willing to take me on, a law abiding, card carrying, fully paid up man of the 80's, a caring, sharing new age kinda guy like you should have no problems finding someone to fool around with."
"Ya think?" Hawke chuckled again.
"A guy like you, hanging out with all those sexy, babe magnet helicopters should have no trouble at all," Roscoe winked suggestively.
"Till you get a little engine oil on their blouse …." Hawke quipped.
If the truth be told, he wasn't just looking to 'fool around' as Roscoe had put it. He was of an age now where he had begun to think seriously about settling down ….
But he still couldn't get over the notion that he was somehow a jinx.
That everyone he ever cared for ….
Every woman he cared for …. Really cared for …. Ended up dead.
Dominic Santini was the only notable exception ….
And he had tried over and over to get Hawke to see that his thinking was flawed.
But Stringfellow Hawke was not the kind of man to put an innocent life at risk, just by falling in love with them.
He would rather live out the rest of his life alone than put the life of someone he cared for in danger.
Now that his circumstances had changed, danger was never far away, he lived with the very real possibility, every day, that he might die ….
Not that that bothered him. His own life meant little to him ….
But, those he left behind, like Dominic Santini …. He could not bear to think of the pain and grief and emptiness that the older man would be left to face alone.
And because of the nature of the work that he was doing for Archangel, anyone he truly cared for would automatically become a target ….
Because of him.
To get to him.
Stringfellow Hawke was not prepared to allow that to happen.
Even if it meant he died a lonely old hermit.
"I'm not talking marriage here, String, but let me tell you, it sure does a man a power of good to wake up next to a warm, soft, willing body now and again. We all need a little comfortin' from time to time, man, and just because you act like you don't, don't make it true," Roscoe nodded sagely.
"Maybe I'm looking for something a little deeper than just fooling around now and then …." Hawke sighed softly.
"Well, all I'm saying buddy is, you ain't gonna find it in the engine of a helicopter," Roscoe grinned. "You hear what I'm saying, man?"
"Yeah, Jimmy, I hear ya …."
There was an awkward silence then Hawke added,
"I'd better get going …."
"Yeah, me too. Look, let me know how it goes with your brother. I sure hope it works out for ya, Hawke. I know how long you've been looking for him."
Both men slid out of their seats and rose to embrace each other in a quick, hard bear hug.
"Don't be a stranger now, Jimmy …."
"And don't you forget what I said …. We all need a little lovin', pal, even you. Whatever way we can get it, whenever we can get it. You ain't no different to anybody else, String, and you deserve it, ya hear."
After he left the bar, Hawke walked a little way down the street to a telephone booth and dialled a familiar number. The line rang for several seconds before being answered by a brusque, businesslike female voice.
"Hi, can you tell me if Meredith Cook is on duty today?" He asked, calling up an image of the young nurse who worked on the psychiatric ward of the VA Hospital, and whom he had dated briefly a couple of years before.
Their fierce, passionate, mutual attraction had, regrettably, fizzled out very quickly, but they had remained friends and each would call the other from time to time to catch up and treat each other to dinner.
Hawke had never met anyone who suited her name as well as Merrie. Tall, slender, always cheerful and able to smile even in the face of life's worst adversities. Always pleasant and reasonable and able to look on the bright side, she had been the perfect foil for his broody silence and tendency to look on the darker side.
Their love had been incandescent ….
But had burned its self out in record time.
After only six weeks, her hectic duties at the hospital and his flying commitments had put more distance between them than they could deal with, and things had just ground to a halt.
They cared for each other, and their physical attraction still blew his mind ….
But they just couldn't find enough other reasons to be together.
Sex and friendship just wasn't enough, for either of them.
Merrie was devoted to her nursing career, and String was devoted to his flying career, and never the twain shall meet ….
If anyone could corroborate what Jimmy Roscoe had just told him, Hawke knew Merrie could. She would find out all that she could, and she would lay it on the line for him, sparing no blushes and pulling no punches. He could trust her to be completely honest with him no matter how difficult the news was to take.
That was one of the main reasons they had remained friends.
She was one of the few people who understood what made him tick and didn't let him get away with his brooding silences.
Now the voice on the other end of the line was telling him that Meredith Cook would not be on duty until ten o'clock that evening and Hawke thanked her for her assistance and hung up the telephone only to pick up the handset again almost immediately and dialled another number.
Her familiar voice answered on the third ring, cheerful and bright as ever and Hawke found himself smiling in response to her cheery greeting.
"Hey Merrie …. Hawke …. How are you?"
"Hawke, how lovely to hear from you …. I'm just great!" She sounded genuinely pleased to hear his voice. "It's been too long. When are you going to make good on your promise to buy me the dinner you owe me?" She giggled.
"How about right now? You got time for a bite before you go on duty?"
"Sure do. Why don't you come on over?" She invited breathlessly. "That's if you can remember the way …."
"I remember," he chuckled softly. "Be there in about twenty minutes."
"I'll put some fresh coffee on."
He ended the call and was amazed to find himself grinning like a schoolboy as he strode back down the street to where he had parked his Jeep after following Roscoe to the bar.
It would be good to spend a couple of hours with the ever positive and charming Merrie Cook.
Just what the doctor ordered in fact, he acknowledged silently to himself as he slid inside the Jeep and gunned the engine.
Meredith Cook's apartment was just as Hawke remembered it, light and bright and comfortable, cheerfully decorated in soft pastel colours, and Merrie too was just as he remembered, tall, slender, long ebony hair falling in a dead straight curtain past her shoulders and almost down to her hips, shiny and lustrous.
She greeted him at the door with a soft peck to his rugged cheek and quickly pulled him inside, where she immediately wrapped her strong, slender, tanned arms around him and gave him a powerful hug, then pulled away and grabbing his hand guided him over to the couch, pushing him down into the seat at one end then took up position at the other end, smiling at him radiantly.
Hawke could not help but smile back.
She took his breath away.
In more ways than one.
She was a very pretty girl, with a sweet nature, loving and affectionate and genuinely caring, and he had learned that she had a big and beautiful heart.
She was tough too.
She had to be in her line of work.
In her kind of nursing she had to be both physically and mentally tough to cope with the long hours of caring for those who had been psychologically damaged by the war in Vietnam.
Seeing her now, Hawke also knew that he had missed her more than he realised.
"So?" She grinned and fixed her beautiful big blue eyes on him knowingly. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"Can't a guy look up an old friend now and then?" He drawled sardonically.
"Sure Hawke …. Except you're not that kind of guy," she chuckled. "What do you need?" She reached out and flicked a strand of his hair back behind his ear and he smiled at her.
She had always loved fiddling with his hair, running her fingers through it when they kissed …. Fascinated with it.
At first he had been a little disconcerted by it but soon he had grown to love the way she stroked his hair and dug her fingers into it when they made love, had deliberately kept it a little longer than normal to please her, knowing that she was unable to resist touching its fine, downy softness.
He also realised that she knew him much better than he thought.
"Oh come on, out with String …. We both know you wouldn't be here if it wasn't important," she reached out and stroked the back of his hand then. "That's what friends are for," she reminded him.
"Okay," he sighed softly, releasing some of the tension he felt. "You remember me telling you about my brother? St John? About how he's MIA?"
Merrie nodded gently, setting the fine shimmering blue/black curtain of her hair swishing about her narrow shoulders, understanding dawning in her luminous blue eyes.
"A guy I know says he visited the VA Hospital and the guys down there were telling him about some new admissions …."
"And he thinks that your brother might have been one of them?" She finished for him, sensing that he was finding it difficult to tell her what was truly on his mind. "And you want me to check it out?" Hawke nodded.
Merrie let out a long breath before continuing.
"Well String, to be honest, I didn't have much to do with the new intake. I had some vacation time owing, so some friends and I went to San Francisco for a couple of weeks. Only been back a few days and tonight will be my first time back on duty," she explained breathlessly.
"But, I did hear that they were mostly allocated to internal medicine, initially. I heard from some of my colleagues that most of them needed surgery on septic wounds, or to break and reset badly broken bones. All of them needed antibiotics of some kind and intravenous feeding until their systems could tolerate solid foods again because they were half starved …."
She paused then, noting the pained expression on his beloved face and recalling that he had been there too, once, a long time ago.
"But I guess I'm not telling you anything new, am I String?"
She reached out and trailed slender fingers down his rugged cheek tenderly.
"I'm not likely to see any of them until their physically in better shape," she told him honestly. "They still tend to look after the body first, and then the mind …."
This drew a wry smile from her.
"Most of them are still so shocked and traumatised they don't even realise that they are home, and until they are stronger, they keep them well sedated. But, eventually, when the truth finally hits home, that's when we get them as psych referrals because the general wards can't cope with them."
She regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then.
"I don't know if your brother was amongst the new intake, String. I do remember you telling me that you were sure that he was still alive, and I did promise you that I would look out for him when any new admissions came in. And I have been. And I swear to you, String, if I had thought for one moment that one of them was your St John, I would have called you."
"I know. I don't doubt that Merrie," Hawke assured in a low, gruff voice.
She moved up next to him on the couch, kneeling up now so that she could slide her arms around him, burying her face in his neck, nuzzling him gently with her nose, her lips, holding him tightly, comfortingly.
"I'm sorry Hawke. If only I hadn't been on vacation …." She whispered against his neck.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, Merrie," he assured as she moved back slightly so that she could look at his face, although she did not let go of him, one hand rubbing up and down his back soothingly.
"I'm not even sure it was St John. Only that someone thought this one guy bore a passing resemblance to him. It's a long shot, but I can't just let it go. Not without checking …."
"Okay, when I go on duty tonight, I'll try to find out what I can from my friend, Connie. She switches between surgical and internal medicine. Tell me whatever you can about your brother and I'll see if she can recognise him from your description."