CHAPTER THIRTEEN

November, 1969

For Peck, the following weeks were nearly an idyll. Other than Dao Quy acting like a drill sergeant when it came to the exercises and doctor appointments, that is. But as the knee healed, and he was finally able to trade crutches for a distinguished-looking cane, he found he had more and more energy and enthusiasm for the other activities she planned. And with each day that went by without any sign or sound from Tuan or Wrenn, he relaxed his paranoia more and more.

He'd gotten one call from Smith, warning him of the formal investigation into his 'activities' at the camp. Peck had been interviewed by CID, at their headquarters in Saigon. Asked a lot of questions about things that he didn't think had anything to do with the camp - like his current living arrangements. That got a little dicey, but he stuck to the fact that Dao Quy was, after all, a trained physical therapist, recommended by a mutual friend. He didn't know if the CID guy believed him, but as it was essentially the truth, he stuck to it.

Smith's call had been awkward, formal, and they'd stuck to the business at hand. The only positive thing was Smith had spoken as if he assumed Peck would be rejoining the unit when he got back.

That was the other fly in the ointment.

Peck knew that the sooner he healed, the sooner he would have to leave Saigon and the life - and people - he had come to claim as his own. That it was all a lie was something he chose to ignore. It was the life he wanted, and the life he decided he was going to keep.

At least, part of it.

Some three weeks after Colonel Smith's visit, Dao Quy and Pin had gone to the market. Peck had given her some extra spending money, and told her to find something special for herself. Knowing how Dao Quy loved fine clothes, and was very picky about what she wore, he felt confident he would have several hours to himself.

He called Lam Thanh, who agreed to meet him at a local restaurant.

Peck was nervous as he sat waiting. Although he knew this would be no more than a business deal to Lam Thanh, he felt as if he were meeting the father of the bride for the first time. He mentally went over his bank balance one more time, knowing Lam Thanh wouldn't cheat him, but recognizing, again, that this was business. And it would be expensive.

To put it bluntly, Dao Quy was quality goods.

It hadn't been a conscious decision, but it seemed to have happened, just the same. It scared the hell out of him, while at the same time, it just seemed...natural.

Amazing, actually.

He'd been watching her bustle about the villa one day, and suddenly it wasn't the villa, but a small house. Not Saigon, but California.

Not...rented.

At the same time, he was well aware of the roadblocks. First of all, "buying" her away from Lam Thanh's contact. Then forging through all the red tape to get Dao Quy approved so she could actually go home with him.

He smiled softly. Home. That sounded a lot nicer now.

So, while nervous, he still felt confident he could pull it off. If he couldn't, no one could. He was a little worried about Dao Quy's recent history, but he had their relationship solidified with the CID report. He was sure he could find a way of discreetly skirting any other issues. If possible, without his usual slight-of-hand. He'd like this to be completely on the up-and-up. But if that didn't work...

One way or another, he'd do it. He was confident of that. Maybe too confident; he'd already sent a message to Smith, requesting permission for him and Dao Quy to have their own place in Nha Trang. It was a bit of a peace offering, actually - Smith knew he normally wouldn't care about getting permission.

There was really only one thing that could nix the entire project. And it was the one reason he hadn't mentioned it to Dao Quy in advance.

What if she said no?


*****

"Well?"

Darnell shook his head, dropping the pen on his desk and leaning back in his chair. "Don't you ever knock?"

"Look, it's been almost a month. Surely CID's made their report by now."

"They don't work on a timetable, John. They take as..."

"As long as they take, I know. But they must have given you some idea of what they're findings will be."

"They have given me their preliminary report. That's preliminary, John."

"And?"

"And, they haven't found any proof that Peck did anything he shouldn't have. Just as we figured would happen."

"Nothing he shouldn't have done - what about what he did? Like getting us out of there?"

"That's not what they do. The only thing they'll put in their report is whether or not there's enough evidence to charge him with a crime. If they don't find anything, that's it."

"You know that's not good enough. There are a lot of people who want to string him up - CID has to do more than just say they can't prove anything. They have to say..."

"They don't, John. Get that through your head. Now, you put him in for a commendation, and I approved it. If that's not proof enough for those jarheads, there's nothing more I can do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some work to do - recons to plan, men to train - war stuff, you know."

Hannibal glared, but left the office without saying another word.

He marched through the camp to his own hootch, stopping abruptly in the doorway when he saw BA, Wiley and Murdock seated inside. All three men stood up, looking guilty.

"Now what?" Hannibal normally didn't start out snapping at the guys, but after the morning he'd had...

Murdock looked up, trying to smile. He'd become the unofficial spokesman for the team, at least whenever there was anything awkward happening. Hannibal had a lot more patience with him.

"You got a message from Peck, Colonel. The radio guy left it on your desk."

"Out in plain sight, right? Hard to miss, hard not to catch a glimpse of it?"

"Uh, well..."

"So what did our lieutenant have to say, Murdock?" Hannibal had also made it a habit to refer to Peck as "our lieutenant" when talking to the guys; a little reminder never hurt.

"He wants permission to live off base again, Hannibal." Wiley's voice had an edge to it. "With someone named Dao Quy."

"Oh."

"Yeah, so who's Dao Quy?" BA was glaring again. Not the good glare, either.

Hannibal hadn't had a drink since he'd gotten back from Saigon. He really wished he had one now.


*****

Colonel Darnell pulled the file after Smith left, and continued reading. He wasn't happy. The report, while still officially 'preliminary', exonerated Peck of any wrongdoing at the POW camp. At least, it stated they could find no evidence of wrongdoing, and recommended dropping any further investigation.

All well and good, at least as far as the bureaucracy was concerned. But Peck's folder was full of such reports. And Darnell knew as well as Hannibal did that it wouldn't satisfy the Marines. They'd have to live with it, of course, but they wouldn't be happy.

What Darnell didn't like was the personal information included as a matter of course in the report. Peck's current status, where he was living - and with who. He had to wonder if that had been the situation when Hannibal went down there, and if so, why Hannibal had kept quiet about it. His only consolation was knowing that information would not be in the copy released to the Marines.

It would remain in the official record only, strictly confidential.


*****

Peck stepped out into the bright sun. He always hated dealing with the banks over here. They had as much red tape as the Army did, maybe more. But it didn't matter now. It had taken several days, but finally the transfer of funds was complete, and he had his money secure in his pocket.

Right next to the pistol.

He glanced at his watch. He had to meet Lam Thanh in twenty minutes, and the two of them would then meet with Dao Quy's...manager. Peck refused to call him a pimp; another of those little lies he told himself. That didn't matter either. Not after today.

He caught a cyclo and sat back, allowing himself to enjoy the scenery as they pedaled through the busy streets. After he finished his business with Lam Thanh, he had to check in with the doc at the Third Field Hospital; one more check-in after that and they'd be ready to go back to Nha Trang.

They.

He grinned, deciding to pick up some flowers on the way home...


*****

"I hate filing reports." The young corporal disgustedly dropped several files on his desk. "You'd think one copy in-country would be enough, but no...every damn office has to get their own copy. And yours truly gets to file them away."

"Aw, it's not that bad. I mean, you could be out in the boonies instead of shuffling papers around."

"Saigon ain't that safe, man." The corporal stretched, looked longingly out into the rare sunshine. "Hey, how about you file these for me?"

"In your dreams, man. 'Sides, you're the only one sposed to see those CID files."

"No, really, you file these while I run some errands, and, uh, I'll get you that phone number you've been pestering me about. C'mon, no one will know."

His companion shrugged. He wasn't due back at the Embassy for an hour, not enough time to do anything except get bored. He chuckled as his buddy took off out the door. Errands, right. That was Army boys for you.

Leave the dirty work for the Marines.

He grabbed a handful of files, and started casually filing them away, whistling softly.

The whistling stopped abruptly when he picked up the next file.

Peck.

Why did that name sound familiar?


*****

He sank back into the pillows, content. Dao Quy next to him, soft, warm, the small diamond on her finger sparkling up at him. It was an extravagance, he knew, but he didn't care.

She'd said yes.

He smiled, thinking the look on her face when he'd asked her was probably no different than his when she finally answered.

Amazing.

Two people who had each planned their future based on cheating the devil, never expecting to win in the long run, just playing the game as long as they could...What were the odds they would have found each other, in this place, at this time? What the hell were the odds?

Amazing.


*****

"Ain't right, man." BA stared out at the rows of choppers on the airstrip. It was hot today, and muggy. Like always. And like always, it irritated him.

Wiley spat. "You imagine - guy takes off like that, finds himself some gook nookie and then expects to bring her back here? Live with her? Geez..."

"Hey, don't matter she's gook or not. Ain't right, living like that 'fore they's married."

Murdock frowned. He just wanted to sit in the sun, not bitch about Peck. "It's none of our business anyway, guys."

"Hell it isn't, Murdock! Wait'll we get out in the boonies - you think he's gonna be covering our asses, or worrying about getting his back to her?"

"Hey, there's lots of married guys here."

"Yeah, but their wives aren't."

"Ain't his wife. Just shackin up with her..."

"We got that, BA. But Hannibal's okay with it."

"You sure about that? He didn't look very happy when he got the message."

"Spose he met her, when he was down there? I mean, how long they been together, y'spose?"

"If he did, he hasn't said anything. Probably figured it was none of our business." Murdock shook his head and stared out at the choppers.

"If he was okay with it, he would have told us. We don't hide stuff about our families, so he must not like it."

"Ain't family, man. I keep tellin ya..."

"Yeah, yeah, we know, BA! 'They're just shacking up'...geez!"

Murdock hopped off the stack of tires he'd been sitting on and headed back to the base. Wiley and BA watched him until he disappeared around the corner, then stared out at the rows of choppers on the airstrip.

"Ain't right, man."

"Nope. Ain't right, BA."


*****

"You sure this is the place?"

"Yeah, man, this is it. I double-checked."

"Any sign of him?"

"Some guy's there, walks with a cane. Seen him with some bitch. Got a handyman livin there, too. Just like that report said."

"Anybody else know you saw that?"

"Nobody that'll say anything."

"Good. That's real good..."


*****

"You must hurry now. You cannot be late. You know the doctor is busy."

Peck smiled to himself. "You're getting to be a real nag, you know that?"

"Oh, no! No, am I? I'm sorry, I..." Dao Quy stopped as Peck turned and grinned at her. "Oh, you! More of that American humor!" She muttered something more, and Peck grabbed her around the waist.

"You better watch that tongue of yours, Błn - you'll embarrass BA!"

Dao Quy sobered, staring up at him. "These men - you are sure..."

"It'll be okay. They may hate your husband, but they'll love you. How could they not?" He hugged her closely, not letting her see the frown. He wasn't sure what the reception would be, but he hoped they would at least be polite. Yeah. The colonel would make sure of that much.

"Okay. I have to get moving - like you said, can't be late. At least we won't have much packing to do when I get back."

"I have some shopping to do before we go." She smiled quickly at his look. "Only a little, and yes, I will take Pin with me. He will be so glad it will be the last time, maybe he won't grumble so much."

They laughed, and kissed, and Peck jogged down the steps. Dao Quy watched as he hailed a taxi and was driven away. Smiling, she grabbed a notepad and pen, chewing on the end as she gathered her thoughts. Contrary to what she had told Peck, she had a lot of shopping to do.

She had a very special surprise planned for their last supper in Saigon. And for after. She wanted him to always remember this night.


*****

The two men watched as Peck stepped through the gate and hopped into the cab. Inside, they could see the caretaker start to sweep the courtyard.

They looked at each other, nodding. Smiling.

"Go get the others."


*****

Forty-five minutes later, Dao Quy was ready. She glanced one more time in the mirror, blushing at how vain she'd become. But her Faceman liked her to look her best, no matter where she was going, market or theater. She tucked in a stray hair, and hurried to the kitchen, where she grabbed her shopping list. She shook her head when she saw the clock. They would have to hurry if she was going to have time to fix that wonderful supper she'd planned.

Hurrying down the stairs to the courtyard, she called to Pin. Almost immediately he came out of his own apartment, and scurried ahead to unlock the gates. Dao Quy waited impatiently as he stopped to lock up again behind them, and the two moved quickly down the street.

The five Marines stayed about a block behind them.


*****

Peck was a little surprised that the gates were still locked, and no sign of Pin. Then he grinned. He could just see Dao Quy running Pin's bandy little legs off with her shopping. She liked to pretend she was very practical, but she could shop with the fervor of a Beverly Hills maven.

He pulled out his own key, and carefully locked the gates again behind him. Pin was very particular about that, and Peck didn't blame him. Whistling softly, he strode up the stairs and into the apartment, making a quick stop in the kitchen to grab an apple. He tossed it twirling in the air on his way to the bedroom, trying - and failing - to catch it behind his back. Chuckling at himself, he swung down and grabbed it up and continued on into the bedroom, unabashed.

The doc had given him a clean bill of health, and he was surprised at how good that felt. It meant going back to the boonies, but he was feeling invincible. He was short now -less than five months Two months ago he'd planned on extending his tour. The World had nothing to offer him so why not?

Now...

Now he was picturing a nice apartment, maybe a small house. Tarzana, Pasadena...anywhere, really. Go back to school, finish that degree on the GI Bill. Maybe they could start a business. He couldn't see himself working for someone else the rest of his life. Not after the Army.

Enough woolgathering. He glanced at their suitcases, sitting by the bedroom door. Everything but the last minute items ready to go. And no long hours spent on the road, either. No sir. He'd gotten them decent seats on a transport to Cam Ranh Bay the next morning. From there, a cab ride to the hotel in Nha Trang, where he'd already booked a room for Dao Quy. She'd stay there until he could find them a decent house to live in.

He frowned then. He hadn't heard back from Smith about the living arrangements yet. Not that it mattered. But it would've been nice to know how Smith had reacted.

Determined not to let anything bring him down, he bit into the apple and headed for the shower.