Postwar fic. Written for the Short-Story Speed Writing Challenge. Enjoy!
In the hall, he sat down his suitcase...
Peter Newkirk grimaced, then sat the book down on the counter. What his wife saw in the book was beyond him; the opening line sounded like something out of a cheap third-rate novel.
Well, that's what I get for being bored, he thought. Nearly all of his guests were at the convention, although a few were lazing around in the sitting room. Just then, the bell sitting above the entryway jangled noisily as the front door opened. The bed and breakfast owner looked up...
...and felt his heart catch for a moment when he saw the green uniform there.
He blinked several times, then felt his hopes sink. The young man - who was definitely not his son, though there was a resemblance - standing in the foyer wore a United States Army uniform. A duffel bag of some sort dangled loosely from his left hand. Four rows of colored ribbons decorated the pocket above his left chest. Above that was a pair of wings with a shield in the middle; Newkirk recognized them instantly as Army Aviator wings.
Even the uniform was different. Instead of enlisted men's stripes, a single rank pin rested on each shoulder. As the Englishman rose up from his seat and moved to greet the new arrival, he noted that they weren't officer's bars, as he expected. Instead, the insignia was brown, with two gold stripes. After a moment, he identified the man as a warrant officer.
Well, that's interesting...
More fascinating was his gut reaction. For some reason, the new arrival strongly reminded him of someone he knew. It was an odd feeling, but still... He shrugged it away, then smiled broadly at his guest.
"And how can I help you today, sir?" Newkirk said cheerfully. The younger man gave a hopeful grin in return.
"A guy down at the bus station said you might have a room available," the kid - man, Newkirk corrected himself - said. "He said something about there was a convention in town, and all the hotel rooms were booked up."
"That they are," Newkirk confirmed. "A convention, and parents day at the university. Tends to make things a bit crowded. However," he added, "you're in luck. I have one room left."
Technically, it wasn't a lie. He was booked solid, but his son's old room was empty. And he wasn't about to turn away anyone in uniform, not if he could help it.
"That's great!" the other man replied before pulling a battered leather wallet out of his pocket. "How much?"
Gets right to the point, Newkirk thought admiringly. "No charge," he said flatly.
Surprise showed in the warrant officer's eyes. "You don't have to do that," he said. "I can pay..."
"The booze is free, too," Newkirk interrupted.
"In that case, I'm all yours," the man said eagerly, if not gratefully. The owner laughed.
"Never knew a soldier to turn down free beer," he joked, then held out his right hand. "Peter Newkirk," he announced. "Owner and operator of this fine establishment."
The other man grasped the hand in a firm grip. "Jack Marks," he said, introducing himself. "Chief Warrant Officer, United States Army." Oddly, the feeling of familiarity returned to Newkirk again. Without a doubt, he had the strangest sense of deja vu. Why, he didn't know.
Just one of those things, I suppose...
As before, he put it aside. "Right, then," he said. "Let me show you the way." As he led Jack to his room, several random thoughts flitted through his head.
Lord, I thought it was Andrew there for a moment. Ninety-two more days...
And I thought going out on missions was hard! Now I know what Kinch felt like when he had to wait at camp. This wondering if he'll come back is about to eat me alive.
Once Jack was settled in his room, Newkirk walked to the door and paused for a moment. "Breakfast is at eight o'clock in the morning," he informed his guest. "Just let me or my wife know if you want anything special. We usually serve pancakes, eggs, and sausage."
"Sounds great to me," Jack said.
"And if you want something now, come on down to the kitchen," Newkirk offered. "We'll whip up something for you."
"Even better," the warrant officer blurted. "I'm starving. It was a helluva long bus ride..."
"I'll be down the hall in the kitchen when you're ready," the owner said, smiling as he closed the door behind him. As he walked back to the main part of the Victorian-era house, he chuckled to himself.
Soldiers and food. Some things never change!
Some thirty minutes later, a somewhat refreshed - and squeaky clean - young man, now dressed in civilian clothes, walked down the hallway towards the front of the house. He followed the smell of cooking food until he arrived at a large kitchen. To his great surprise, a plate with steak and eggs was quickly served at the table. Without a further word, Jack wolfed both items up before he washed them down with a nearby bottle of beer. He sighed contentedly.
"Long ride?" Newkirk asked.
"Yeah," Jack said. "Lousy restaurants along the way, if you could call them that. This steak is really good, sir," he complimented. "Thanks."
"No problem," the owner said. "Would you believe that I had to go to a prisoner of war camp to learn how to cook?"
The warrant officer looked up, surprised again. "You were in a POW camp, sir?" he asked.
"Five years," he replied, watching as the other man winced. "RAF. They got me when France threw it in."
"Were you a pilot, sir?" Jack inquired, curiosity in his eyes.
"God, no," Newkirk said; a dry laugh escaped his lips. "Serviced them, never flew them. I was a corporal then. Wasn't able to make it to Dunkirk in time before I was caught by the Krauts."
Unbidden, a image of Barracks Two - and the men who lived there - came to mind.
Best bunch of mates I ever had...
"Wow," the younger man said, clearly impressed. "You must have some stories to tell."
"So do you, I wager," Newkirk said pointedly. "Vietnam?"
Jack nodded. "Rotated home about two weeks ago," he explained. "Somehow, the Army screwed up and gave me an extra week of leave before I go on to my next post." As he said the last statement, he winked; Newkirk suspected that the additional leave was arranged somehow. "So," the warrant officer went on, "I've just been bumming around. I was actually on my way to Boston to catch a flight for Germany when the bus broke down. And so..."
"...You're stuck here," Newkirk finished.
"By choice," Jack said. "The driver said they were getting another bus in a few hours, but I wanted to check out the town."
"When do you have to be in Germany?" Newkirk asked.
"Three days. Figured I'd just catch another bus in the morning."
Newkirk thought for a moment. The convention did end tomorrow...and Boston was only an hour's drive from here...
"You'd do better to cash in your ticket," he said. "I'm actually going to Boston day after tomorrow. You're welcome to ride with me, if you want."
"Gee, thanks!" Jack said, then his face turned serious. "If it's no trouble..."
"I'm going anyway; might as well have some company." Peter took the empty dish and washed it before putting it in the rack.
"So," Marks asked, curious, "how the hell did you learn to cook in a POW camp? If you don't mind me asking, sir."
Newkirk produced another bottle of beer and slid it over towards the aviator. "One of my mates taught me, actually," he said. "Frenchman; name of Louis LeBeau..."
Marie Newkirk was surprised to find her husband talking with a young man in the kitchen. Like her husband, the slim figure reminded her of her son. The blonde smiled at the thought as she walked into the large room.
"Evening, dear," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "And who is this?" she asked.
"Jack Marks, love," Newkirk answered. "One of our guests. I put him in the back bedroom."
"Oh?" she said, eyebrow raised, before she turned to the other man. "Welcome to Pleasantville, Mr. Marks," she said, greeting him with a warm smile before looking over at her husband. "Rosalinda's finished with the bathrooms," she said. "The convention will probably let out about five or so; Jake should be here by then..."
"I'll be ready," he promised. As his wife left, Newkirk shrugged his shoulders. "Been married for nearly twenty years to that one," the owner confided. "Both of us have been running this bed and breakfast for the last five. Promised I'd take her to dinner tonight." He smiled, then changed the subject. "So, what's your story? How'd you end up in the Army?"
"Not much to tell," Jack said. "My mother and father divorced when I was a kid. We moved in with my grandpa." The man paused for a moment, then continued. "He and my mom were killed in a car crash during my senior year of high school."
Newkirk winced. "Sorry..." he murmured sympathetically.
Jack shook his head, then went on. "After that...I went into the Army. Sounds weird, but its been home ever since."
"No other family?"
"Just my pop, and I haven't seen him in years. Don't want to see him," the younger man said, a hard edge to his voice. Newkirk, once again, had the same feeling as earlier. He just didn't know why.
"I saw your wings earlier," he said, changing the subject again. "What did you fly over there?"
"Hueys, mostly," Jack said. "Nothing really special. Fly the grunts in, take them out. Occasionally, we'd fly gunships and throw a lot of lead into the jungle." He smiled, an odd grin crossing his face. "We sure did rack up a lot of hours that way..."
And I doubt 'just flying around' got you that DSC, Newkirk thought. I saw that, too.
"The TV usually shows helicopters landing in a clearing. Was it like that?" He looked at Jack curiously. "My son's over there," he blurted out. "Army Infantry. Sometimes, I see the men jumping out of those helicopters..."
For a moment, his voice choked up as a image of his son came to mind. Unbidden, a hope came forth.
Newkirk quickly recovered; Jack was staring at him intently. After a long moment of silence, he spoke.
"Mostly," he said, his voice quiet. "We had someone covering us up above. Sometimes, we'd get in and out clean; most times we'd come under fire. We had this steel plate mounted on the forward doors - you know, where the plexiglass would go? - that we hoped would protect us. The door gunners would shoot into the treeline. Me, I had to fly and pray we didn't get hit too bad."
He took in a deep breath. "Mostly, I prayed more for the guys going on the ground and hoped they came out alive. But...that's over now," Jack said flatly before his face brightened. "Of course, the best stuff happened after we got back..."
For the next hour, he regaled Newkirk with tales of his buddies, the hijinks they pulled, and the infamous R&R he and several friends took in Hong Kong. By the end of it all, Peter was impressed.
And here I thought we had all the fun at Stalag 13!
The next day, Newkirk was surprised when Jack offered to help him with some minor house repairs. Although he initially said no - his guest was still on leave, after all - the warrant officer finally wore him down.
What truly amazed the owner was the speed at which Jack performed the repairs. All of the small jobs were professionally done in no time at all. Even the bottom of the staircase banister - damaged several days ago by a piece of Samsonite luggage - was flawlessly repaired. As he promised, the Englishman kept the beers coming before curiosity overcame him.
"My grandpa was a carpenter," Jack explained as he completed the last repair. "I'd tag along behind him and watch how he did stuff. As for the appliances..." He raised his finger for a moment, picked up his bottle of beer, and took a long swig before continuing. "...I did odd jobs in a repair shop when I was in high school. After I got in the Army, I worked on helicopters."
Finished, Jack stood up before putting the tools away; he looked at Newkirk and grinned. "Never got paid in beer before," he chuckled. The other man laughed.
"There's always a first time for anything," the former POW observed. "At least you've got a good start for whenever you get out."
"Maybe so," the younger man admitted. "Where do you want me to put these?" he asked, indicating the tools.
"You can just leave them in the kitchen; I'll get them later." Another thought suddenly struck Newkirk. "Would you like some lunch?" he offered. "I'll cook you another steak, if you want. Or anything else. I owe you that at least for the work you did."
Jack shook his head. "No, thanks," he said. "I was actually going to walk around town for a while. Be my last chance before I leave."
The Englishman snorted, then smiled. "Well, whenever you want to eat, just let me know. I'll be around." Jack nodded, then walked back to the kitchen, tools in hand. As he left, Newkirk felt a twinge of sadness. He remembered what it was like to be single and all alone in the world. The death of Mavis, his sister, was a hard blow to return to after the war. Fortunately, his friends - as well as meeting his new wife - helped him through that bad time.
I wonder how Jack deals with it?
"I wonder where your friend is?"
Newkirk smiled knowingly at his wife's offhand comment. On a whim, he voiced his opinion.
"He's probably spreading goodwill among the female natives, love," he said cheerfully.
The Englishman chuckled. "Well, it's probably the truth..." Just then, a movement outside the window caught his attention. As he and his wife watched, a man and woman passed by on the far side of the street. Newkirk was unsurprised to see the now-familiar form of his guest.
"He looks a lot like Andrew, doesn't he?" Marie remarked. "That's Sara; she works in the department store downtown. She's nice." Her face then grew worried. "You don't think...?"
"I think he's a good kid," her husband said flatly, wondering why he still used the word kid. Maybe I'm just getting old. "Personally, I wish him the best. From the look of things, he could give the Colonel - General, I mean - some lessons."
"Oh, I don't know," she said. "I can think of someone else who's good at what he does." Her voice trailed seductively around his senses before her lips met his; an instant later, they were gone as their owner walked out of the kitchen.
Newkirk shook his head in wonder before getting back to work. He still ran a bed and breakfast, after all; there were guests to be taken care of.
And they're not the only ones keeping you on your toes! he amusedly thought, thinking of his wife. An image of her in her birthday suit came to mind; he smiled wickedly.
And I'd be a poor innkeeper if I didn't take care of all of my residents...
The dawn, as always, was beautiful.
Never thought I'd see the likes of this when I was growing up, Newkirk thought. Back then, I was always working; I never had time to watch the sunrise.
Things have certainly changed, haven't they?
He broke away from the delightful vista and walked back to the house. A few of the guests were trickling out and leaving for home; most would wait until later in the morning.
Jack, the owner noted unsurprisingly, was awake. If anything, the breakfast Peter made him only added to his youthful energy. The owner chuckled to himself. I could use a bit of that right now.
"As soon as Jake - he's my helper, by the way - gets here, and my wife wakes up, we can go. Anything you need along the way?" the Englishman asked.
"Can't think of anything," Jack said. Peter threw him the morning paper; the other man caught it.
"Not much going on in there today," the older man said. "Unless you happen to like the funnies..."
The warrant officer snorted. "Better than the real news," he said, rolling his eyes.. Newkirk smiled.
"I'll let you know when I'm ready," he promised.
Newkirk grinned as he kissed his wife goodbye. Unseen, his right hand found her bum and gave it a quick squeeze. Her muffled protest was music to his ears. With reluctance, she pulled away.
"You..." she mockingly spluttered. "Taking advantage of a woman like that!"
"All's fair in love and war, or so I've heard," he joked. "I should be back later this afternoon. I've got your list."
"I'll be waiting for you," she promised. The sparkle in her eye tickled his soul as he kissed her again. At that moment, Jack came out through the front door. Marie broke away and walked to the other side of the car. As she did so, she smiled warmly at the warrant officer.
"It was nice meeting you, Mr. Marks," her voice said cheerfully. "If you're ever this way, let us know. We'd love to have you again!"
"Thank you, ma'am," Jack said politely. With a graceful motion, his right hand reached out and smoothly grasped Marie's. As he kissed her hand, she laughed delightedly. Newkirk groaned.
"Now that's all I need," he groused, though his tone said otherwise. "Competition..."
"Oh, hush," his wife said, turning towards her husband. "He's just being a gentleman. And you need to get on the road if you want to be back in time..."
Peter laughed. "You'd better enjoy the single life while you can, Jack," he joked before his tone turned serious. "We'd better go ahead and get on the road."
Jack slung his duffel back into the back of the Ford Galaxie and climbed into the passenger seat. Newkirk threw a warm smile at his wife before he got into the car, started it, and took off down the drive.
For once, the traffic was light on the way into Boston. Newkirk glanced over at his riding partner before speaking.
"So, tell me," he inquired. "Are you going to stick with the Army, or get out eventually? Seems to me you'd have a good job on ciivy street, if you wanted it."
"I think I'm going to stick with it, at least for a while," Jack said. "Like I said before, the Army is home. Besides," he added, giving the bed & breakfast owner a sly glance, "they pay me to fly. Can't beat that."
Both men laughed.
"Actually," Jack said, going on, "I put in for a Regular Army commission before I left Vietnam. I've got a pretty good shot at it, I think." He grinned at Newkirk's surprised look. "Even if they turn me down, I'll still get to fly, so it's win-win for me."
Peter merely shook his head. "I'm going to have to change my opinion of you," he growled smilingly. "Here I was, thinking you were smart, and you want to be a bloody officer?"
Jack shrugged. "I always had delusions of grandeur," he said formally before throwing his nose up into the air.. Newkirk laughed again.
"You're right," he agreed. "You'd be perfect for it then..."
The rest of the drive, as well as the conversation, was pleasant. Eventually, the two men were surprised when Logan International Airport loomed in the distance. Peter actually found himself regretting the drive back; for once, the silence would be somewhat depressing.
"You can drop me off at the terminal, Mr. Newkirk," Jack said. "I hate to put you out of your way..."
"I'm going to park and go in," the driver announced. "And it's Peter. When you say Mr. Newkirk, it makes me feel old."
"You don't have to come in with me," the warrant officer protested. The other man shook his head.
"Why not?" he challenged. "Besides, I need to stretch my legs anyway." And I can see you off, he thought, pleased. I know what its like to have someone there to see you off; Mavis did that when I went to France in '39. No one was there to see me go when I left England in '46; I know what that's like, too.
He parked the car and escorted Jack into the terminal. Once there, he waited as Jack made his travel arrangements. Fortunately, a flight was leaving in less than an hour. As Peter walked with the younger man, the question that had nagged at him finally gave way.
"Jack," he began, "do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
The other man turned and raised an eyebrow. "What's that?" he asked.
"Well, you know I told you that I was a Prisoner of War, right?"
The warrant officer nodded.
"For some reason, you remind me of someone," Newkirk explained. "Don't know who; it's just a feeling. Was your father a Prisoner of War, by any chance?"
Jack stopped abruptly. As he turned to face the Englishman, his eyes probed Newkirk's with a piercing look. For a long moment, there was silence before he spoke, his voice low.
"Yeah," he said. "He was a Prisoner of War, I think. I doubt you knew him, though."
"Why's that?" Newkirk asked, curious.
"Same reason Mom divorced him," Jack said, his voice now tinged with hate. "He lied and said he was someone else; she found out the truth. Turned out he was in the Gestapo. A Major..."
Newkirk went absolutely still, not daring to breathe.
"...by the name of Wolfgang Hochstetter. Some Nazi bastard," he spat in disgust. "I was born in Argentina," he went on. "Mom took me, came to the States, and we moved in with my Grandpa. I took his name for mine. Never knew what happened to my dad, and I don't care to know. That answer your question?" Jack finished angrily before blushing in embarassment.
"Sorry..." he mumbled, his voice trailing off as the anger faded. "Didn't mean to..."
It took all of Newkirk's self-control to keep a blank face. Inwardly, he was shocked.
Hochstetter's son! he thought, stunned.
Wondered where that bastard had gotten off to...
After a moment, Newkirk shrugged. "Doesn't matter to me," his voice said, surprising even him. "Sounds like you turned out better than he ever did."
Jack nodded, relieved. "I never said anything about it when I applied for my commission," he confided. "If they knew, the Army would probably deep-six it. My mom raised me as an American, and I'm a citizen now. You're the only other person I've ever told."
"It'll stay with me," Peter promised.
And that's the truth. So help me God!
Just then, the loudspeaker announced Jack's flight. "I've gotta go, Mr. Newkirk...Peter," he said.
Newkirk grasped the other man's arm for a moment before he broke away to pull a piece of paper and a pen out of his pocket. The Englishman then scribbled some lines on the scrap sheet before he handed it to the warrant officer. "It's our address," he explained. "If you want, you can drop us a line. Let us know what you're up to."
"I'll do that," Jack promised, then shook Peter's hand. "See 'ya," he said with a small grin.
"Take care," Peter said, a smile on his own face. Within a minute, Jack was swallowed up by the nearby crowd. Newkirk, not minding, continued to stare in the direction the Warrant Officer had gone.
Hochstetter's son, he mused. Well, if that isn't a kick!
Nice kid. And in Army Aviation, too...
A mental image of his friends swam in his head; he was glad he had given his word to Jack. Otherwise...
They'd never believe me...