In Search Of
(Author's Note: Based on events in "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.")
The whole thing started, oddly enough, with a postage stamp.
Sitting in his study on a bright, beautiful Saturday morning, B.J. signed and sealed a birthday card for his cousin Tim, and then began rummaging around in his desk for a postage stamp. Six pennies, numerous rubber bands, and eight old cash register receipts later, he came to the realization that there were no stamps to be found.
Frustrated, he called out, "Peg? We're out of stamps? Did you know that?"
She called back (presumably from the bedroom, where she was hanging up freshly laundered clothes), "Oh I'm sorry, B.J., I forgot. I used the last one a couple days ago, to send off the car payment."
He growled to himself, because this meant he was going to have to pay a visit to the post office. This birthday card needed to get into the mail today or it would almost certainly get to Texas too late.
He grabbed the card and strode out of his study and into the kitchen, picking up his car keys, before heading for the front door. "I'm running to the post office!" he called as he closed the door behind him.
The line at the post office was long, adding to his already foul mood. He tried to pull himself out of his little funk, telling himself it was only an unexpected, slightly inconvenient errand and not a big deal… which was all true. It's just that on such a beautiful Saturday in July, the last thing he wanted to do was spend time standing in line to buy stamps.
But the line did move (however slowly) and eventually he bought his stamps, then promptly put cousin Tim's birthday card into the mail slot. His chore finished, he headed out of the post office and began to meander down the street, opting to do a little walking and window-shopping before heading back home. Before long, he was standing outside a bookstore, looking at the window display and thinking, There ya go. I'll buy myself a book and go home and lie out in the backyard in my hammock… now that sounds like the ideal way to spend a beautiful Saturday.
Inside the store, B.J. browsed the Mystery section, looking for something by Abigail Porterfield (back at the 4077th, they'd all enjoyed her book The Rooster Crowed at Midnight, and he was certain she'd written a few more books in her time), but he came up empty. Not finding anything that caught his fancy in the Mystery section, he wandered in the direction of the Biography section… but as he passed Psychology, a familiar face peered at him from a book jacket. Hypnosis: Unlocking the Past, by Dr. Sidney Freedman. B.J. stared, not quite believing at first, but eventually breaking out in a huge grin at the sight of his dear friend and colleague from Korea.
He plucked the book off the shelf and went directly to the checkout, and he was whistling as he drove home, anxious to begin reading (he wouldn't normally be interested in such subjects, but damn, this book was written by a friend, and after all, he'd seen hypnosis in action in Korea… had even participated in one very memorable case himself).
Once home, and having declared to Peg that his day was now officially one of leisure, he lounged in his hammock in the backyard, cracked open the book, and began to read. It was as if Sidney were next to him, talking to him. He smiled as he read, fascinated, and incidentally proud of what his friend had accomplished since the war ended. The dust jacket informed B.J. that Dr. Freedman was already at work on a second book.
He devoured nearly 200 pages before he finally headed inside the house, and he sat at the dinner table telling Peg what a truly interesting book it was, and he would say that even if it'd been written by a total stranger.
As she wiped mashed potatoes off of Erin's forehead, of all places, Peg replied, "You should call him and tell him you bought his book. I'll bet he'd love to hear from you."
And so, once dinner was done and he had helped Peg with the dishes, he went back into his study and pulled out his address book. He did have Sidney's phone number, but it was entirely possible it was no longer current. The war had ended nearly a year ago, and he hadn't spoken to Sidney more than once in that whole time.
But he decided what the hell, and he gave the number a try. For some reason, he was almost surprised when Sidney picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Sidney!" he exclaimed, delighted. "It's B.J. Hunnicutt! How the hell are ya?"
A short silence on the other end, and B.J. wondered fleetingly if Sidney didn't recognize the name. Hell, that was possible, he supposed. But then Sidney finally spoke, and what he said made B.J.'s blood run cold. "You've heard from him, B.J.? Is he all right?"
Although B.J. had no idea what Sidney was talking about, there was no doubt in his mind that the "him" was referring to Hawkeye.
"Sidney, what are you—? Is something wrong? You sound odd. Do you mean Hawkeye? Has something happened?" And those were only a few of the dozens of questions swirling around in his head.
Sidney said, "You don't know? I thought that's why you were calling. I thought maybe you'd heard from him."
"What are you talking about? Is he all right?"
Sidney took a breath, probably trying to sort out his thoughts. "I can't believe he didn't tell you. I thought he was going to…"
"Sidney, dammit, you're scaring me. Tell me what's going on. I haven't heard anything from Hawkeye since…" he struggled to remember… "the end of May. We chatted on the phone for a while. He seemed fine. Is he not all right?"
"He's back in Korea, B.J.," Sidney said, and B.J.'s legs suddenly went weak. He had been pacing a little, but now he sank into a chair.
"What? Why the hell would he be there?"
"Against my advice, against his father's wishes, against common sense, he's gone back to Korea. He said he needed to find that woman… you know the one. The mother of the baby who…"
B.J. closed his eyes and nodded his head. Then he realized he was on the phone and Sidney couldn't see him, so he spoke up, "Yes, I know who you mean. The mother of the baby… the one from the bus." It was still so hard for him, and apparently for Sidney as well, to articulate what had happened on that bus, with that woman.
Sidney sighed. "B.J., there's no way in hell he's going to find that woman. I told him that again and again. How's he going to track her down? It's not possible." He paused for a second, then seemed to switch gears a little, trying to explain, "He's been… well, he was falling back into depression. His father called me and I went up to Maine, I spent a few days in their house… we had some sessions. Tomorrow it'll be a year, you know… a year since it happened."
And B.J., who didn't think it was possible to feel any more blindsided, nearly whimpered. Of course. Tomorrow was July 4th… one year since the bus incident. Hawkeye would have been acutely aware of the tragic anniversary.
"You let him go?" he heard himself asking in an accusatory tone.
"I nearly begged him not to go, B.J. But what control do I have over him? None. His father didn't want him to go either. But we couldn't talk him out of it. He said he needed this woman's forgiveness. He said he had to go find her. He was in pretty bad shape… nightmares again, bouts of depression, all that guilt coming back to him full-force. Our initial sessions, back there in Korea, they'd worked, or they had seemed to. I guess I didn't think that the despair would resurface."
"Sidney, it's not your fault. You helped him through it. We all thought he was going to be OK. For a long time, he was OK."
"Well right now, he's in Korea, trying to track down a woman that he believes can alleviate his pain. Even if by some miracle he actually found her… well, I would hope he'd get closure, but I'm just not sure. B.J., I'm worried."
"You and me both, Sid." B.J. ran a hand through his hair. He realized he was gripping the phone tightly. "I don't even know what to think right now. It's insane. How long has he been gone? Nobody's heard from him, not even his dad?"
"It's been four days. I spoke to his father last night… not a word from Hawkeye. Not a thing since the day he left."
B.J.'s mind was spinning. He couldn't think clearly.
Sidney said, "I thought for sure when I heard your voice… Well, I keep hoping for some news."
All of a sudden B.J. was at a loss for words. The situation was gradually sinking into his muddled brain, and he felt thrown and lost. His utterly mundane day had taken a very bizarre turn.
And all because he'd needed a postage stamp.