Murder: Almost Perfect
Note and Disclaimer: Obviously, I still don't own M*A*S*H and its characters, plots and storylines (CBS and 20th Century Fox do) and have picked up its characters, as everybody else has done, and write aplenty. However, this story will not include my first OC (has new characters though), but will be a mystery with some Margaret/Hawkeye overtones. Of course, everything can't be perfect and sometimes, people aren't always as they seem…
She had been a pain in everybody's behind, as Colonel Potter always said many times over, ever since she was transferred from Tokyo General to the 4077th in war torn Uijongbu, South Korea. First Lieutenant Winifred Curtis was picked up (after many units requested that she not come to theirs) by Major Margaret Houlihan, following her report on an urgent request for more nurses. Much to everybody's utter surprise, however, instead of peace and working order, this particular nurse turned the unit upside-down. While people thought that the Swamp was full of pranksters and insane and merry troublemakers, they had not seen Nurse Curtis in action.
Tokyo General, in charge of many things (one of them not being unprofessional and disgusting nurses) had given up on Nurse Curtis after a run-in with the law without a word as to which law was broken (as her records have indicated). They had then politely given the nurse a boot to the door without much comment on the matter. However, with the 4077th short a few nurses, the Army happily picked Nurse Curtis up and planted her where she was needed: Korea.
Although, for Major Margaret Houlihan, the Regular Army nurse, this nurse was much too much for her to handle. Even with gossiping and selfish nurses, Winifred Curtis was one nurse she could have no control over.
Calming down greatly after the departure of Major Frank Burns and from her divorce from Colonel Donald Penobscott, Margaret could barely believe that she had another problem to deal with, and it wasn't just the "immature" surgeons of the Swamp, Captains Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt (not counting the insufferable and snobbish Major Charles Winchester). Nurse Curtis was coarse, unethical and a danger to the camp, she found out quickly. Even as soon as the jeep rolled into the compound, carrying this particular nurse without a salute and a soft sniffle of snobbery, Margaret found another challenge, as well as a woman with lunacy on her mind, on her hands.
First, small things began to happen, much like the pranks Hawkeye and BJ pull. Little things, like personal objects, papers and even Radar's teddy bear, disappeared and reappeared. Lunch was spilled on the officers and even tents fell apart without reason. Naturally, Margaret found blame on the captains and yelled at them fiercely (they denied everything with a smile and a drink), but when surgical instruments were hanging mockingly on the Post-Op ceiling, spelling out obscene words and depicting wild gestures, the major knew she had another menace on her hands. The finger pointing was unanimous, even from Colonel Potter down the lowliest private. It had to be the new nurse who sneered at the staff and stabbed the patients brutally.
Of course, it was obvious. Winifred Curtis did not take her duties quite seriously, but did them well enough that even Margaret could not complain. However, she out drank everybody and was intoxicated on-duty sometimes. She showed disrespect to her fellow officers and even to the enlisted men, showing how dangerous and violent she could be anywhere when she was ordered to stop. It was to the point where Hawkeye even pulled his rank on her, refusing to even ask her out on a date.
Nurse Curtis' past life and military duties became mysterious and the talk of the camp for a while, but that was silenced when Colonel Potter came up with nothing to quiet the rumors and suggested everybody do the same: forget about it. She was here to stay and to spread more gossip about her would be adding fuel to the fire.
Even Nurse Curtis' quiet romance with the new corpsman, Sergeant Aaron Church, didn't endear her to many either. He was just as bad as she was, most said in the Mess Tent, and everybody tended to stay away from them, leaving them their own table in a dark, forlorn corner when meals were served. He, as well, had a blank record, but he also did his duties without complaint, although Corporal Klinger had claimed he had stolen from his infamous and glorious "Klinger Collection" and sold it on the Black Market. After no evidence had come up after the preliminary searches, the clothes were finally found in the latrine and dutifully given the proper funeral by Klinger himself.
"I don't know what to do with her, Colonel," Margaret confessed quietly to Colonel Potter in the Mess Tent about three weeks after Nurse Curtis had arrived to the 4077th, the heat bringing out the worst in everybody. "I've threatened to punish her in every way if she ever showed up to the OR drunk again. I've asked her to stop joking around because the doctors in the Swamp do it enough. I've even asked her to stop using the OR instruments in a mocking way!"
"It's more like she's a bully and not a jokester though," Nurse Kellye added, coming with Margaret to provide back up.
"Furthermore," Margaret continued, with a fast pace to her own words, "I would like to know the true reason as to why Tokyo General got rid of her and the Army transferred her here instead of some more competent nurses. Colonel, there seem to be holes in her records, things that the Army is not telling us. Lines are blacked out. Personal information is not provided. And I need answers and I need them now. Who is Nurse Winifred Curtis and what is she doing here in Korea?"
"I'll do what I can, Major," Colonel Potter replied, putting his hands up to slow her down, quiet her down before she grew more agitated. "However, you need to hold your horses. Calm down. Sit down with the lieutenant. Try to talk with her about what's eating her. Maybe she's upset about something and that's why she's acting out."
However, even Colonel Potter doubted his own words.
"Or maybe she needs a psychiatrist," Kellye suggested quietly, looking over at the corner table where the nurse and Sergeant Church were, giggling behind their hands.
"If nothing is accomplished, maybe we can put Sidney on the horn," the colonel mended quickly. "It's possible she has a problem that nobody can figure out. She might even need to talk to somebody. Hell, if she was another Hawkeye and was only behaving the way she is because she can't stand it here like the rest of us, then we can breathe easier."
Margaret sighed with frustration at the lack of action, but, as always, agreed with the colonel on the course of action. Ever since Henry Blake had left the 4077th, there has been less call for discipline in the camp and everybody usually didn't do anything that merited them being sent to Seoul for a trial or having a black mark on their records. However, Margaret did not like her new nurse one bit and did not think she needed to be talked to. She thought that her new charge was plain rude and needed serious discipline unlike the black-haired Hawkeye, whose jokes were usually harmless and unmilitary enough.
In any case, Margaret needed to try what Colonel Potter advised and attempted to talk to Winifred Curtis. That night seemed like a good idea, since Nurse Curtis was often with the other nurses in their tent reading a book (and scowling if somebody tried talking to her, so all left her alone), and it was when the both of them were off-duty. Margaret knew the duty rooster well and used it to her advantage.
With a nervous flicker in her stomach and a slight irritation buzzing in her ears as the Korean summer evening bore down on her, Margaret walked over to the nurses' tent later that evening after dinner was served in the Mess Tent. Knowing that there would perhaps be witnesses did not make the head nurse any less annoyed. She only wanted to get that talk over with, hoping that the other nurses would not be too hard on her afterward. She also wished that her tough personality would soften when she saw the reasons why Nurse Curtis was behaving the way she did.
Knocking on the door and being let in by Nurse Cain, Margaret went to that one corner of the tent she needed to be at, where Winifred Curtis was sitting. As usual, she was reading a book, her smile of pleasure turning into a frown of disdain as soon as she saw the major stand before her as shadow overlooked light. Margaret's hands were even trembling as she tried not to put them on her hips in a display of authority and stubbornness.
"What now, Major?" Curtis sneered as she threw her book to one side on top of a footlocker to the left of her. "Were the bedpans cleaned out to your satisfaction? Or did I miss giving a man his sponge bath during my shift?"
Margaret held back her temper, instead sitting next to the nurse as she put a friendly arm around the nurse's shoulders. "Listen please, Lieutenant. I want to be your friend here –"
From across the tent, another nurse snickered and almost laughed.
"– and I just want to know what's wrong. Is there something Colonel Potter or I need to know? Are you happy here? Because you know, I am here for you, as well as our CO."
"You can cut out the sympathetic talk here, Major, because I don't need it here." Curtis crudely pushed Margaret's arm off her shoulders in a defiant shove. "I'm here in Korea and that's it. I don't care where I am or the people I'm assigned to work with. It's all just another place this stupid Army wants me in. Who gives a damn anyway? People here are making me sick!"
"Who?" Margaret asked softly, her temper still in check.
"The wounded, that's who! Men who go to war and have to get blown up. Jesus Christ, it's like a circus show here. They whine and complain and ask us to do the simplest things, just like little children. Well, Major, I didn't come all the way to Korea to be a nurse. I came here –"
"I don't care what the hell you came here for!" The head nurse finally heard enough and got up, staring down at the nurse before her as her arms reached their usual destination on her hips. "You were picked to work at the finest M*A*S*H unit in Korea. I don't know who you think you are when you say that it's a 'circus show', but it most certainly isn't. We're here in Korea for a reason, Lieutenant, and if you don't like it, you can get your little behind out of here and sulk someplace else like some sad sack. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in my nurses!"
There was silence in the tent. Even the other nurses were stunned into it.
"Fine, Major Houlihan," Curtis replied quietly, almost shocked into total silence as she was reprimanded by her superior officer. "I'll go. I'll go and get transferred out of here. Go ahead. Get the paperwork. I dare you. You'll be sorry that you did. You'll regret it."
"I don't think so, Lieutenant. You've caused enough trouble here as it is and this place has been putting its affairs on hold since you came here. I'll soon be kicking your little behind if you don't get it in gear."
Curtis got up, obviously disgusted. "Move out of my way then, Major. I'll help you get that paperwork all settled."
"I don't need it. I can get it from Corporal O'Reilly myself." Margaret's voice had become oddly cold, stiff even as she finally agreed to this nurse getting out of here. She wanted to scream even more at the nurse, but declined the invitation, however tempting it was to do it again.
"Then, you can wish me dead," Curtis hissed in her ear as she passed the major to head outside. "You can only say that you want me dead and I'll get on my very way."
"What an awful thing to think!" Margaret screeched. "I wouldn't wish you dead, Lieutenant. I wouldn't wish that for anyone. I do wish that you'd cut off your own nasty words with your mouth though!"
"As you wish," Curtis replied, bowing her head sardonically to the major and then leaving the nurses' tent as her superior officer fumed and felt the humiliation of the argument, all on front of the other nurses.
Fine. We don't need her here. It's too much of a nuisance, much more so than Hawkeye Pierce.
Margaret's thoughts then made her smile as she thought another transfer sweet, a balm on the unit's sweaty bodies as they hear of their troublemaker's disappearance. It even made the major feel better inside as she, too, exited the tent and went to the office where Radar was, intent on filling out those papers quickly. He happily gave them to her, also knowing that the tension in the camp would die down significantly when Nurse Curtis was gone.
However, it was the last Margaret Houlihan saw of Winifred Curtis. It was said that the nurse headed to the minefields to be alone, but nobody could be so sure, not even Sergeant Church, who did not see her after dinner in the Mess Tent. By morning, though, when the wounded came in from the front lines, the nurses could not find their horrendous tentmate. Her belongings were still scattered where they were the night before.