It Was A Night Like This.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to GI Joe, or to the song in this story. And I admit that I have taken a few liberties with Beachhead, especially in regards to his family life.
Christmas was only 4 days away, and the few Joes that still remained in the PIT were really getting into the spirit of things.
Lights and decorations adorned almost every square inch of the base, except for the outside of course. One couldn't put an elaborate light show over a top-secret military instillation after all.
A huge tree with dozens of colorfully wrapped presents underneath it sat waiting for the big day to arrive, and the skeleton crew on the base was determined to make it a memorable occasion. It had been a long hard year, with seemingly more tragedy than triumph, but every one of the Joes was looking forward to Christmas.
Except for Beachhead of course.
The Joe's Command Sgt. Major regarded the holiday as a major waste of time and effort. A few of the Joes who knew him well suspected the reason was that his family had been so poor, while several others thought it was because he was a Scrooge. Beachhead did little to disprove either notion.
He normally volunteered for extra duty around the holidays, stating that he didn't have much family left to worry about. Hawk and a few others knew the truth though.
Beachhead's younger brother Robert, and his wife Keiko had a 13-year old daughter named Cassandra, or Cassie as she liked to be called. She was a bright and spirited young girl and Beachhead doted on her, and she idolized him in return. The problem was that Beachhead and his brother and sister-in-law didn't get along very well. Beachhead usually sent her a gift every year and called her on Christmas Day.
After that particular morning's PT session and breakfast, Beachhead was heading for his office when his Joe-Comm beeped.
"Yeah?" He growled tersely. He hated interruptions, especially when he had a pile of paperwork waiting for him.
General Hawk's worried voice issued from the speaker. Beachhead, could you come to my office please? It's urgent."
"On my way sir." Beachhead replied and double-timed it to Hawk's office, wondering what the old man had so worried. He reached the door to the outer office and rang the buzzer. An aide let him in and ushered him to Hawk's inner office. The aide gave Beachhead a concerned look before he pressed the intercom button.
"General? Beachhead is here as you requested." The aide said. A buzzer went off and the door was unlocked. Beachhead nodded curtly to the concerned looking aide as he strode in. He saw Hawk sitting behind his desk and Duke seated in a chair in front of it. Both of them wore grim expressions on their faces as they stood to greet him.
"We have some bad news for you Beachhead; you'll want to sit down for this." Hawk said without preamble as he gestured towards a chair. Beachhead noticed from his tone that he wasn't making a request but giving an order. He sat down in the chair next to Duke.
"We don't know how to tell you this exactly…" Duke began but faltered his voice nearly cracking.
"Just tell me straight out. I can handle it." Beachhead replied.
Hawk nodded and took a deep breath. "Your brother Robert called from a hospital in Chicago. Your niece Cassandra was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. She is currently in a coma. I'm sorry."
Beachhead looked as though someone had shot him. He suddenly felt that he couldn't breathe under the balaclava he habitually wore, so he tore it off. Duke handed him a glass of water, which he drank in one swallow. His hand shook as he set the glass down.
Hawk offered Beachhead a glass of scotch that he accepted. The General watched in concern as his Command Sgt. Major brought the glass to his lips with a trembling hand and drank the scotch in one gulp. Beachhead then turned the glass over and set it on the desk.
"We have Ace standing by to fly you to Chicago now." Hawk said. "Heavy Duty and Cover Girl are waiting for you to arrive. Is there anything else you need?"
"No sir." Beachhead replied as he stood up. "Just let me grab my 'go' bag and my Class-A's and I'll be on the flight line in 20 minutes."
"We'll all be there with you in spirit. Let us know if you need anything else." Duke told him as they shook hands.
"I will Duke, General." Beachhead saluted Hawk then shook hands with him.
"Good luck, son." Hawk replied. Beachhead nodded, grabbed his balaclava and left, almost at a run. He didn't break stride until he reached his quarters where he went inside and slammed the door behind him.
"Shit! Goddamn it to hell!" He shouted angrily as he grabbed his 'go' bag that he always kept packed in case he had to leave in an emergency like this and the garment bag containing his Class-A uniform. As he was leaving his eyes fell on the portrait of his niece on his dresser. He paused in his tracks and picked it up.
Cassie was a beautiful young girl with shoulder-length hair the color of a raven's wing and almond shaped green eyes. His younger brother Robert had married a Japanese-American woman named Keiko Han nearly 15 years ago. Cassie was their only daughter.
"I'll be there soon sweetheart, don't you worry about a thing." Beachhead told her picture. He slipped the picture into his bag before heading for the flight deck.
During the flight, Beachhead sat in the rear seat of the Sky Striker and began to reflect on his past in Auburn, Alabama and his family. Life had been hard for the Sneeden family, Wayne's mother and father worked 2 jobs each just so Wayne and Robert could survive. Wayne threw himself into his schoolwork and athletics just to escape the constant tormenting from his so-called peers. He drew no small satisfaction when he graduated as his high school's valedictorian. Two days after graduation, he went into the nearest Army recruiting office and never looked back.
Robert, four years Wayne's junior, managed to graduate as an honor student. He was often held up to his older brother's standards and chafed a bit. But he managed to persevere and after he graduated, he took a different path, first college then law school. Soon after law school, he was asked to join a prominent Chicago law firm and he eagerly accepted. A few years later he met and married Keiko, a legal assistant.
Both brothers rose quickly in their respective carriers. Robert was a partner in his law firm, while Wayne was an E-9 Sgt. Major and the Command Sgt. Major for GI Joe.
A few short, but interminable hours, at least to Beachhead, later, the Sky Striker landed at an AFB outside Chicago. He retrieved his belongings from the wing mounted cargo pod and started to head for the hanger when Ace called out to him.
"Yo, Beachhead!" Ace shouted.
"Good luck bro. Give your niece my best." Ace replied giving him thumbs up.
"I will." Beachhead called back as he sprinted for the hanger. Cover Girl and Heavy Duty were waiting there beside an army issue Humvee. He gave both of them a curt greeting as he tossed his belongings into the back and climbed in.
They drove in silence for a few minutes until Beachhead asked a question. "I thought that you'd be in Peoria with your Mom?" He asked Cover Girl.
"Yeah, I'll be heading there on Christmas Eve. Her tone indicated that she wasn't looking forward to it either. "But this took priority. Besides, if you knew my Mom, you wouldn't enjoy spending much time with her either."
Beachhead mulled her words over. "She still pissed that you joined the Army?"
"Yep, she still thinks I'm throwing my life away and all that. I really don't want to talk about it." Cover Girl replied.
"I understand." Beachhead said and lapsed into silence.
Heavy Duty kept his own counsel during the discussion and concentrated on driving the Hummer through the snow-covered Chicago streets to their bureau. He was looking forward to seeing his folks at Christmas, but he didn't want to say anything to upset either of his passengers further.
The trio drove in silence the rest of the way until they reached the entrance to the Joe's Chicago bureau. Heavy Duty called ahead to announce their arrival and they were granted access.
"After you change, I'll drive you to the hospital." Heavy Duty offered.
"No, that's okay. You head home to your folks I can handle things from here." Beachhead replied.
"You sure man?" Heavy Duty asked.
"I'm sure. Now get on home, that's an order." Beachhead said firmly. Heavy Duty nodded and handed over the car keys.
"Okay, good luck Beach. My folks and I will say a prayer for you and your niece at mass." They shook hands and Heavy Duty turned and left. Cover Girl was still standing there.
"Why are you still here?" Beachhead demanded, his ire rising.
"Hawk's orders, he told us that one of us should stick with you at all times." She replied.
"I'll be fine. I know where the hospital is and…" Beachhead began, but was cut off by a slightly angry Cover Girl.
"Hawk gave us an order. Besides you are way too keyed up to go anywhere on your own, much less drive. And don't even think about trying to argue with me or pull rank either." She stared right into his eyes and held out her hand making the universal gesture for 'hand 'em over.' Beachhead was about to argue with her but realized that she, and Hawk, were absolutely right. With a reluctant sigh, he handed her the keys.
"Good choice. I'll see you in your quarters in thirty minutes." She turned to leave. "Oh, and try putting some deodorant and aftershave on this time?" With that she turned on her heel and left the garage leaving a surprised Beachhead in her wake.
"Women, can't live with 'em, can't bind and gag 'em and toss them in a closet." He grumbled.
"I heard that!" Cover Girl shouted from down the hall. Beachhead snorted derisively and went to change.
Thirty minutes later, after a quick shower and change of clothes, Beachhead was putting on his tie when Cover Girl knocked on the door.
"Come in!" He growled.
Cover Girl walked in wearing her Class-A uniform and watched with a bit of amusement as Beachhead tried and failed to tie his tie successfully. "Here, let me." She said as she went up to him. He stood quietly as she tied the offending accessory into a respectable half-Windsor. After grunting his thanks, Beachhead went to get his jacket while Cover Girl waited.
As he was slipping on his uniform jacket and making sure everything was spit and polished, Cover Girl's eyes fell on Cassie's picture on the dresser.
"My God, Wayne, she's beautiful!" Courtney exclaimed, addressing Beachhead by his given name for the first time.
"Yeah, that she is." Wayne replied with a sad smile as he slipped a winter coat over his uniform. "Ready to go Courtney?"
"Yeah I am. Let's go." Courtney replied, slightly surprised that he called her by her real name. She thought about making a joke about Wayne actually using deodorant and after shave, but realized that it wouldn't be well received under the circumstances. They quit the Spartan quarters and headed for the garage.
They drove the short journey to the hospital in silence, each keeping their own counsel. Courtney occasionally cast a glance at her passenger and watched him silently fidget in his seat and brush a tear away. Damn you Wayne! She screamed at him in her mind. Why can't you let the tough guy act go and let yourself open up for once? It broke her heart to see him like this, but she said nothing and drove.
Wayne sat in the passenger seat staring out the window at the people scurrying around trying to do their last minute shopping. With Firewall's help, he had purchased a gift for Cassie online and sent it to her, hoping that it would get there in time. Now he thought that she wouldn't ever get to see it. The thought nearly made him break down right then and there. He wanted to, but wouldn't allow himself to, not in front of a subordinate, no matter how much it hurt him.
They reached the hospital and managed to find a parking spot in the crowded visitor's lot. Even though it was Christmas, people still got sick and hurt and needed to be cared for. After donning jackets and gloves to protect them from winter's chill, Courtney and Wayne headed for the doors.
They flashed their military ID's to the receptionist at the front desk and asked where Cassie's room was. She told them which floor she was on and the room number and even called ahead to have her attending Doctor waiting to meet them. They thanked her and headed for the elevator to the 8th floor.
A female Doctor named Andrews a few minutes after their arrival. She was a short, austere looking woman in her mid 40's with her graying blonde hair tied in a bun. Dr. Andrews looked over them critically through her thick glasses as she approached. She seemed a bit surprised at their uniforms, especially at the rack of medals adorning their chests as they had removed their winter coats on the ride up.
"Sgt. Major Sneeden?" Dr. Andrews asked in a polite, but cool voice.
"Yeah, that's me." Wayne replied, not intimidated in the least by her manner. "This is my associate, Sgt. Courtney Krieger." Courtney smiled and extended her hand, receiving a curt nod in return. Dr. Andrews turned on her heel and beckoned them to follow her. As they walked she told them about Cassie's condition.
"Your niece was struck by a car traveling roughly 60 MPH while she was crossing the street near her home." Dr. Andrews began. "The car only clipped her and fractured her leg, but the impact sent her flying head first into the curb, knocking her out. She hasn't woken up since."
"Dear Lord." Courtney breathed her eyes full of tears. Wayne kept quiet and nodded at Dr. Andrews to continue.
"Our CAT scan indicated some swelling on the brain and a skull fracture. All we can do now is wait and hope." Dr. Andrews stated. Wayne thanked her while resisting the urge to scream and drive his fists through the wall. He swore that if the police didn't catch the driver, he'd do it himself.
They reached Cassie's room and peered in. Cassie lay on her back and looked like she was in a deep sleep. Her head was swathed in bandages, and her face was pale. Her left leg was in a knee-length cast and was raised a bit.
Robert and Keiko stood as the trio entered the room. Robert resembled his older brother in a lot of ways, same hair, eyes and facial features, but while athletic, he wasn't nearly as powerfully built as his older brother.
Keiko stiffened a bit as Wayne entered the room. She was 5" 2' and slim, but her features left little doubt where Cassie got her looks from. She was never fond of the military in. general and Wayne in particular, his blunt, aggressive manner always rubbed her the wrong way.
"Hello Wayne." Robert said as he stood up and extended his hand.
"Hey Bob." Wayne replied as they shook hands. "Keiko." He smiled at her and extended his hand. Reluctantly she smiled a bit and took it.
Wayne introduced Courtney as a friend and teammate. She smiled warmly and shook hands with both of them. Dr. Andrews left, not wishing to intrude on the family's private grief.
"Thanks for coming so quickly." Bob said after the doctor had left.
"Yeah, thanks for calling me." Wayne replied as he went over to Cassie's side. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the cheek. "Hey sweetheart, it's your old Uncle Wayne." He sat down beside her bed and took her hand in his.
Keiko smiled at the sight and began to relax a bit. "Dr. Andrews told us to try to talk to her so that she knows that we're here for her."
Wayne nodded as he kept his attention focused on Cassie's face. He smiled and brushed an errant strand of hair from her face. "Don't you worry none angel. We're all here to make sure that you get better." He said as he kissed her again. Wayne turned and looked up at Bob and Keiko who stood there smiling a bit. Both of them were tired and careworn and were nearly out on their feet.
"Why don't the two of you go and get a meal and some rest?" Wayne suggested. "Courtney and I can look after Cassie while you're gone."
Bob looked as though he might object, but his exhaustion and common sense took over and he nodded in agreement. Keiko was thankful that her daughter would be in good hands.
Courtney smiled at both of them. "Don't worry, we'll look after her." She assured them.
Keiko smiled at her. "Thank you Sgt. Krieger."
"It's no problem, and please call me Courtney." Courtney escorted Keiko and Bob out of the room and told Wayne that she'd bring back some coffee. Wayne replied with a grunt so Courtney shook her head and left.
Several minutes later Courtney returned with two large cups of steaming hot coffee and a bag of assorted muffins from a shop across the street. "Bob and Keiko are in the lounge down the hall. I bought them a few sandwiches and some coffee." She remarked as she handed Wayne one of the cups and sat in a chair that Wayne offered her. Wayne nodded his thanks as he turned his attention back to Cassie.
"Hey angel, I'd like to introduce a friend of mine. This is Courtney Krieger, but we call her Cover Girl because she used to be a model in all of those fashion magazines you're always reading." Wayne said. Courtney smiled a bit more and touched Cassie's hand.
"Hi Cassie, this is Courtney. You're Uncle Wayne is right I used to be a fashion model years ago before I joined the Army. I still have a few of my old photos from that time that I could show you when you get better."
Over the next few hours, Wayne and Courtney told Cassie about anything and everything, modeling, army life, their friends and family, anything. Occasionally they thought they could see a reaction from Cassie, but not much of one. Courtney felt herself starting to drift off a bit and looked at her watch. She was startled to discover that it was nearly 0130 but Wayne was still going strong, telling Cassie about a recent adventure in the middle-east with a few new recruits. Finally though his smile dissolved and his mood grew somber again.
"I'm so sorry that I wasn't there with you last Christmas or the one before that, but I'll make it up to you somehow." Wayne promised. Inspiration struck Courtney at that moment.
"Hey Wayne, here's an idea, why don't you sing Cassie her favorite Christmas Carol? I'm sure that will cheer her up." Courtney asked. Wayne looked at her like she was off her nut, but then he smiled.
"Yeah, I like the sound of that." Wayne replied. Then he took Cassie's hands in his, drew a deep breath, and began to sing.
It was a night like this
It was a long time ago
It might have been a little chilly
They might have had a little snow.
There was a man named Joseph
There was Mary his wife
She was carrying a baby
She was bursting with life.
There was a wind in the willows
There was a wind in the ferns
They had one little burro
And the burro was hers.
Yes her name was Mary
And she was bathed in grace
She said 'It's time for the baby
I want to see his face.'
Nothing's going to be the same in this old world
Everything changes tonight.
All the sheep in the meadows
All the cows in the corn
Were telling one another
That the child was born
First the sky got quiet
Then the songs began
They were singing across the heavens
About the son of man
Nothings ever going to be the same in this old world
Everything changes tonight.
Tears streamed down Courtney's face as she listened in rapt attention. She knew that Wayne could sing well, hell every Joe who's made a parachute jump with him knew that. But she had never heard him sing with this much passion before. She found herself singing the rest of the song with him even though she hadn't heard this song in years.
So light up the windows
Ring on the bells
We're going to call this baby, Emmanuel
We're going to call him Jesus
We're going to call him Christ
We're going to call him savior
We're going to call him life.
Wayne was in tears as he finished singing the song. He was emotionally and physically drained but he leaned over and kissed Cassie on more time. "Sleep well little angel Merry Christmas. I love you." With that, he allowed himself to drift off to sleep. Courtney took one of his hands in hers as she leaned on him and fell asleep as well.
Several hours later just after dawn.
"Uncle Wayne?" A soft voice called to Wayne in the distance as he slept. He stirred and mumbled a bit but didn't wake.
"Uncle Wayne?" The voice grew closer and more insistent, but Wayne still didn't stir. Courtney murmured something about turning the light off, but remained sound asleep as well.
"UNCLE WAYNE!" The voice was shouting at parade-ground volume now. Wayne awoke with a jolt, which caused him to jostle Courtney awake. Both looked for the source of the voice.
"Jesus! What…?" Wayne's voice trailed off as he stared in amazement at the source. Beside him Courtney's jaw hit the floor.
"Hi, Uncle Wayne!" Cassie smiled at them from her bed. She was more than a little amused at their shocked expressions.
"Cassie!" Wayne shouted with joy as he reached out and hugged her tightly. Courtney ran from the room to find her parents and Dr. Andrews.
"Ow! Uncle Wayne, not so hard!" Cassie cried as Wayne hugged her a bit too hard.
"Sorry about that kiddo." Wayne said as he loosened his grip, but he still grinned from ear to ear. Cassie grinned and planted a kiss on his cheek. They were holding onto each other as Courtney returned with the others in tow.
"Cassie!" Both Bob and Keiko cried as they entered the room and saw that their daughter was awake. Wayne vacated his seat as they ran over to embrace their daughter. A crying, but relieved Courtney stood beside an equally relieved and perplexed Dr. Andrews.
"I don't understand." Dr. Andrews said as she shook her head in wonder. "How is this possible?" Courtney smiled and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Faith, Doctor. It's called faith." Courtney replied. Dr. Andrews looked up at her surprised then she smiled in understanding.
After the pandemonium died down a bit, Keiko formally introduced Cassie to Courtney and Dr. Andrews. Cassie greeted them warmly and asked if they were two of the voices she had heard in her dreams.
"Yes we were honey." Courtney replied. Dr. Andrews just smiled and nodded.
"Thank you, all of you." Cassie said. "Don't worry I'll be better soon and we can celebrate Christmas together." She said with conviction and everyone laughed, relieved that the ordeal was over.
"Can she come home for Christmas with us?" Bob asked. Dr. Andrews smiled.
"Well, as long as she doesn't over exert herself and keeps that leg elevated, I don't see why not. I'll have to run a few tests first." Keiko, Bob, and Wayne each thanked her. Wayne even picked her off the floor in a bear hug and kissed her on the cheek. Everyone laughed as Wayne set the flustered Doctor down. She excused herself and fled the room.
After awhile Cassie had drifted off to a deep, natural, sleep and so her family and Courtney left her in Dr. Andrew's care. "Let her get her rest and she'll be ready to be released tomorrow." Dr. Andrews said as she shooed them from the room. "I don't understand exactly what happened here, but I'm glad it did. Maybe Christmas is a time for miracles after all." She shrugged as she absently took of her glasses, tears streaming down her face.
"You're welcome to join us for dinner." Keiko offered.
"Thank you. I'd like that." Dr. Andrews replied. "My name is Claire by the way." They exchanged farewells and phone numbers and the foursome left the hospital. As they were leaving, Bob placed a hand on Wayne's shoulder.
"So, Wayne." He began. "What were your plans for Christmas Day?"
"Well uh…" Wayne started to say but Keiko cut him off.
"He is coming to have Christmas dinner with his family for once, and I will not take no for an answer!" Keiko stated firmly.
Wayne snapped to attention and saluted. "Yes sir! Reporting to dinner as ordered sir!" He said, then laughed and embraced his laughing sister-in-law.
"Are you going to join us as well Courtney?" Bob asked.
"I'd love to. If Wayne doesn't mind?" Courtney replied.
"Not at all." Wayne said. The group hugged and kissed each other then went their separate ways.
As soon as they were back at the Joe's Chicago bureau, Wayne changed back into his more comfortable clothes, complete with balaclava, and called Hawk with the good news. He also told Hawk that he would be staying on until the New Year.
"Take as much time as you need, son. We'll still be here when you get back." Hawk replied.
"You'd all better not get soft on me while I'm gone!" Beachhead growled. Hawk laughed as he signed off.
"Now there's the Beachhead we all know and love." Cover Girl said as she entered the room.
"You'd better believe it Barbie doll." Beachhead replied with a grin and a wink. The two friends shared a laugh then Beachhead's expression turned serious as he removed his balaclava.
"Do you have any idea what happened here today Courtney?" Wayne asked softly as he sat down.
A bit surprised, Courtney sat beside him. "I'm not sure, but if old Doc Greer was still with us, I'm sure that he'd say that we had witnessed a genuine Christmas miracle." Wayne nodded, tears falling from his face.
"Oh yeah, I have some news. They caught the bastard who hit Cassie. With all the other charges, drug possession and such, he'll be going away for a long time." Courtney stated.
"I don't care about that. All I care about is that my little angel is alive and well and safe. That's all that matters to me right now." Wayne said. Courtney reached out and drew him into a warm embrace as he began to weep softly.
"Promise me you won't tell anyone about this." He told Courtney.
"I promise Wayne. I won't tell another soul, you have my word." She replied as she tenderly kissed him on the forehead. Wayne nodded as he rested his head on her shoulder and began to cry openly and without shame.
Courtney held him and gently rocked him back and forth, whispering words of comfort in his ear. She felt as though she had witnessed two miracles that day. As she sat there, Courtney recalled some words that Doc told her years ago during similar family emergency years ago. Everything worked out then as it did now, and Courtney thanked Doc and told him that he was right.
AN: The song, It Was A Night Like This, appears on the Irish Rovers album by the same name (1982, Potato Records).