by Rob Morris
Premise: This story is set shortly after Colonel Potter and BJ's arrival in late February, 1952. All seems well, after Potter's birthday party and Radar's gift of Sophie. But under the surface, the tragedy of Henry's death eats at them all.
Prologue - The Potter, The General, And The Knight
Sergeant Sherman T. Potter would miss Paris, The City Of Lights. But dearer to his heart were the folks back home. He wanted to see them all, even if his mother was playing future matchmaker for him with a filly named Millie.
"Mother and her blind dates---heh. With some of them, it might help if I was blind!"
With his field knife in hand, Potter was cutting another piece of thick, rich, French cheese to put on another piece of lightly-oiled baguette. It wasn't toasted cheese, but it was so damn good, to him it was like wine without the hangover. The salt buzz stayed with him for days.
There weren't quite as many mademoiselles about, since the Armistice was signed. Their men were coming home, and Potter couldn't blame them for ditching him and his buddies - at least not entirely. After all, the Frenchies were just doing what he'd be doing very shortly--when he arrived home in Missoura.
But Sherm's gluttonous reverie was not to last as far into the night as he had hoped. He heard shouts. Past the little cafe ran a group of people, all wielding a hammer and stake. Sergeant Potter knew a gathering lynch mob when he saw it - and he had seen several. As he readied his sidearm, he remembered one that would never leave him.
The boy swinging at the end of the rope that night was Sherman's own cousin, Jeremiah Russell. But young Sherman couldn't plead for mercy on his behalf. He couldn't even call him cousin. Jeremiah and Sherman you see, had the same grandfather---but while Sherman's grandmother was called 'Mrs. Potter - Jeremiah's was called 'Auntie'.
The loveless marriage between his grandfather and grandmother was unsurprising. Sherman loved, but could not bring himself to like, the cold woman who remembered fondly an aristocratic childhood on a real antebellum plantation. That she looked down upon 'Mrs. Russell' - her family's 'Negro' maid - was also unsurprising, given the fact that it was 1910.
But everyone knew that she also looked down upon her husband, who was One-Half Cherokee. Now, this man was not a drinker, sinner or beater. But Horace Potter was a man who needed to feel like he had some worth. And if he could have divorced the landed woman and married the landless, he would have. But again, it was 1910. So the genteel lady of quiet strength washed and cleaned while the phony aristocrat drank herself sillier and sillier at parties. Horace would put the drunk to bed and then rub the sore shoulders of his silent wife. When the noblewoman died, he put on a dignified face and buried her on her family's plot. But when his noble woman died, Sherm saw his shrieking, grieving giant of a grandfather dragged off to the madhouse, accused of 'miscegenation'.
As he made his way through the crowd, Sherm remembered sobbing, apologizing to his 'Auntie' for not saving Jeremiah by standing up to the bullies who cried 'rapist' as they hung him. The dear woman handed him a small slice of apple pie and held his hand as she spoke.
"Now, if you had spoken up, I would not only have lost my Jeremiah, but my Sherman, too. For me, there is no 'other family'. Your Auntie loves you--best of all."
He remembered those words whenever times were bad, and he needed courage. He needed it now, as the mob's leader attempted to stare him down.
"On your way, Doughboy. Your pistol will not slay two of their kind, anyway. These animals are none of your concern."
If the man had not used the term, 'animals' to describe the two men on the ground, Potter might have done the smart thing and left. But the earlier lynch mob had called Jeremiah an animal. Later, when Jere's older sister Anita had been raped and murdered, some in town had called her a 'worthless animal'. The murderer, a 'good boy', never saw a day in prison. So it was that Sherman Potter demonstrated his dislike of that pejorative by firing twice loudly into the air. At that, the crowd dispersed. Only their leader lingered for a moment.
"Damn You, American. For you have no idea what it is you've allowed to live--if live is even the proper term. You served with Kronoupolis, no? You were one of 'The Boys From Golgotha'. It makes sense that a monster like you would wish to protect monsters--like them."
While keeping an eye on the mob-leader's withdrawal, Potter helped the older of the two men up. Sherm reasoned that he must have been beaten, for he looked as white as a sheet.
"Whoa! Monsieur, forgive me, but you sure are ripe."
The man's stare held gratitude, but it was of the coldest variety the rescuer had ever seen. Sherm felt like the mouse who pulled the thorn from the lion's paw, then wondered if he would be rewarded or made a meal of. This analogy was an apt one. The man seemed to be regarding a lesser being, amused by its antics. Finally, he spoke.
"What is your name, young man?"
"Sergeant Sherman Potter, sir. US Cavalry."
"Ah. Well. Sherman--I think you, too, would smell 'ripe' as you put it if you had been doused with boiling oil, heavily laced with garlic flowers."
Now the older man disregarded Sherman entirely, as he spoke to the younger man.
"Nicholas, do I give him some sort of boon, give myself some sort of boon--or give him the one true gift?"
The younger man seemed not at all amused by his elder's light tone.
"Only you could discuss taking the life of a man who prevented our destruction. Let him be. No funny talk, or insinuations. He walks away. If the garlic weren't inhibiting me, I'd even cause him to forget, for his own sake."
The older man actually grinned, slightly.
"No, Nicholas, I think not. Rather, I shall do this. Sherman, what state are you from?"
Again, Potter felt like a deer in a trap, with hunters discussing whether to let him go free.
"Mmm. The state that demands actions, rather than words. Proof, rather than promises. Very well. Nicholas, you shall tell your sister Jeanette, and all our extended clan--Missouri is inviolate, as are those who bear the name Potter. You see, my son? I have, in the name of gratitude, let untold humans off the hook, as it were. We are better beings, capable of magnanimity, when the mood strikes us."
"To you, he is an example of your strained generosity, 'Father'. To me, young Sherman is the ideal : What I was, what I will be again, despite your best efforts at thwarting me. You cannot control or contain my true nature. I am uniquely my own, and always have been, Lacroix."
The man called Lacroix turned to Potter.
"Ah, Sherman. You have called me sir, and shown me courtesy, but I cannot gain the same from one I brought over. Oh, by the way. Did I hear that mewling peasant say that you know Stavros Kronopoulis?"
Potter nodded yes, but his face made it clear that Kronopoulis was not his favorite subject.
"Good. Tell Krono---heh-Kronopoulis--that if I see him again, I will pop that scarred pimple he calls a head right off his neck."
"Will do, Mister Lacroix. But if you want to kill Kronny......"
Lacroix interrupted in a snide manner.
"Let me guess. I'll have to go through you?"
Potter shook his head.
"I was going to say, you'll have to stand in line."
Lacroix chuckled, and turned back to Nicholas.
"You could stand to make a joke or two. You redefine the word stiff."
"Its my existence that is a joke, Lacroix."
"No, my boy. It is your quest that is a joke. Oh, well. Sherman, I wish you well. Now, I'm one for the clouds. A good rain should wash this stench away."
With that, Lacroix levitated and rose like a shot, til he was out of sight. Nicholas gulped.
"I...suppose you want an explanation for all that."
"Nah. I've seen stranger. Saw a Kraut officer and a British medic duke it out with swords. Brit cuts off the German's head, and guess what happens? Gwan, guess."
"Uh--bolts of lightning poured out of him?"
"Hmm. Well, at least we're in the same weird world."
"The same? No, sorry. Not even close. But weird? That I'll grant you."
MASH 4077th, March 3, 1952
I wish I could tell you that everything's as hunkey and dorey as it was just a week ago. But I could never successfully lie to you, and I wouldn't ever want to if I could. Here's how it is. I may be coming home early. I can't stand this place, and it can't stand me.
First off, there's something about the late Colonel Blake's death that no one's telling me. You know how I hate secrets. Surprise parties, snap inspections--I prefer to know what I'm facing, no matter how bad it might be. But this--this seems bad. But no one's talking.
There's Hawkeye Pierce again. The man doesn't know how to stop resisting authority. He does it, even when that's not his aim. I need what this bird is supposed to give me, Mildred. Otherwise, what the hell am I doing here?
Pierce and Houlihan seem to know about that Blake business. She's got her own means of resistance. Its just done by the book. But in its own way, its irks me just as bad as Pierce's.
BJ Hunnicutt does not belong here. He may beat that wacko Klinger to a Section 8, if he's not careful. A good, likeable man, but not exactly strong that I can see.
As soon as it struck Frank Burns that I am no tin-plated martinet, he seemed to regard me with some kind of contempt. The twit has started making age comments. In his file is a letter from poor Colonel Blake, explaining how to handle him. If what he says is true--and it seems to be--Burns had better NOT do what I think he's about to.
Lastly, there's Corporal O'Reilly. I thought certain his gift--a beautiful mare named Sophie--meant he was warming to me. I need a clerk who is comfortable with me, and will pull that extra duty without flinching. But Blake was like his father, so Pierce tells me. I sincerely doubt the lad will ever see me just that way.
Honey, I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker. This bunch may be ungovernable. I love my country--but should I whittle away these months doing a job I will grow to hate that keeps me away from you?"
Sherm stopped, determined to add an upbeat ending to the morbid missive before him, if only for Mildred's sake. All late-night correspondence ended, though, when The Colonel saw an exhausted man sitting opposite from him. He had not heard the man enter.
"Hello, Sherm. Sorry to barge in unannounced. Some local healers claimed they had a cure for my---condition."
"Uh-huh. Lemme guess. It was a stake through the heart. Nick, when oh when are you gonna stop and think? Half these cures come from folk who hunt your breed. Be realistic, man!"
Nick shook his head.
"When I am a Man, then I will be realistic. Look, I'm not trying to impose. But--can you---?"
"We're a medical unit, Nick. That stuff almost means more to us than you. But I'll see."
Potter walked out of his office, and returned with Hawkeye. Radar was dead asleep, and Potter hadn't wished to disturb him. They spoke softly outside the CO building.
"Pierce, your blood's a common type, right? We've got plenty of it?"
A tired Pierce yawned and responded.
"Sure. Why do you ask?"
Potter's eyes darted around.
"Can you drain yourself out a pint? I need it."
"I'll do it, but why do you need it?"
The Colonel bid him be quiet, and showed him the weakened, sleeping Nick.
"For him, Pierce. He needs it."
"Why? Internal bleeding? Cause I don't see any wounds or marks."
Sherman decided he would have to trust the maverick surgeon. It was a decision he would never regret.
"No, Hawkeye. He needs it as food. Nick, you see----is a Vampire."
"A-----Colonel, if this is a a-aa---this isn't a a-aa, is it?"
As Potter helped Hawkeye prepare, a reeling Pierce mentally composed a letter to an old friend back home.
"Dear Connor: I think I finally found someone who can top you."