The Best-Laid Plans

Chapter Nineteen: Can't Stay Forgotten

Margaret was smiling to herself as she walked out towards her car. Hawkeye had just called to inform her that the books she'd ordered to study for her medical aptitude tests had arrived. Potter had been right; the man had wholeheartedly supported her desire to go back to school and become a doctor. They'd both burst out laughing when she'd admitted that he'd cut her off before she'd gotten to the list of reasons she'd prepared why this would be a good idea to tell her that he supported her all the way.

I love him.

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and then something hard was jammed into her back - probably a gun, her Army-trained mind supplied. A voice spoke in her ear. "Don't turn around. Scream and it'll be the last sound you ever make, got that?"

Margaret nodded. Something about the hissed voice seemed familiar, but she just couldn't place it, even though she had a nagging feeling she should be able to.

"You have a car in the lot?" the voice asked.

"Yes," she whispered back. Okay, all he wants is the car. Just let him have it.

"Walk to it. And I can pull this trigger faster than you can get away, so don't even try it."

Margaret obligingly walked him to her car. Her heart was pounding. All the logical analysis in the word suggested that this was a simple robbery, in which case complying with the man's demands was the obvious course of action, but something in her was saying that this was more, that she should fight. She shut down that part firmly. Her Army training was still in full force; logic had to take precedence over some undefined feeling.

She'd reached her car, and he pushed the gun harder into her back, as if she could forget it was there. "Get out your keys."

She slid them out of her purse. He pushed her forward. "Open the front passenger's door."

She complied, trying not to let her hands shake.

"Now open it," he ordered. When she did, he shoved her forward roughly, pushing her into the seat. As he did, she got a look at him in the wing mirror, and suddenly, horribly, the elusive pieces clicked together. That feeling of dread, and the voice - distorted by the whispering just enough that she hadn't recognized it, helped along by the fact that she'd tried to forget everything about him. "Donald."

"Very good," he replied mockingly, still holding the gun on her with one hand as he pulled off the button that let the person in the passenger's seat lock unlock the door from the inside. "Now give me the keys. And remember, there's no way out except past me, and you'll never get past me before I fire."

For a moment, Margaret considered fighting anyway. Donald wasn't the world's greatest shot, and in any case, dying might be better than whatever he had planned for her. For the first time, she truly understood what Hawkeye had told her about how he'd considered doing something to cause himself to be killed rather than continue to suffer through a horrific assault. She'd been through horrible things before, but not situations in which death was actually something that was presented as an option, even in the form of a threat. The old Margaret Houlihan might have fought him.

But the new Margaret Houlihan wasn't just out for herself. The woman she was now had a child who depended on her. If there was even a chance of surviving to be around for her daughter, she had to take it. So even though every instinct in her resisted, she held the keys out to him. He snatched them from her and slammed the car door closed. She swallowed hard. She would not cry in front of him.


Daniel Pierce set aside the report he was reading to pick up the phone. "Crabapple Cove clinic."


"Hey, Hawkeye, what's up?"

"Are you swamped out there or something?"

"No, why?"

"I was wondering why Margaret's still there. I have to leave for Portland in half an hour."

"Margaret? I sent her home two hours ago. You're saying she's not there?"

"She's not here. But in five minutes, I'm going to be there. Something's going on, and I need to figure out what it is."



"Dad, something's wrong. Margaret wouldn't just disappear like this."

"I know that, Hawk. But there's nothing we can do here and now. She had her car; by now, she could be anywhere."

"You're still talking like she'd just get in her car and drive off somewhere. I'm telling you, there's no way. And not just because I'm some amazing guy. Not even because of Alaina. But because Margaret Houlihan doesn't deal with her problems by just up and leaving. She talks - sometimes she yells, but just disappearing into the night doesn't fit the woman I know, and I know her better than anyone."

"Ben, I am not disputing that you're right! I'm just asking what you expect to do about it."

He didn't know whether it was his father's tone that got his attention, or whether it was the use of his legal name, but Hawkeye finally stopped and listened. "I know what you're saying. There's nothing we can do. I'm just not ready to accept that. We don't know what's happened to her - she could be back tomorrow, or it could be months." He left off the final or that he was not yet ready to face. "If I give up and go home now, especially if it does take months, I'll spend every minute until I see her again wondering if there wasn't something else I could have done to bring her back more quickly, if walking away didn't constitute giving up on her. Maybe it's pointless, but I have to run through every other option, even the absurd ones, or I'll never accept that I did everything I could."

"Okay," Daniel sighed. "At least let me take Alaina home."

Hawkeye handed his daughter off to his father. "Thanks, Dad. Thanks for understanding."


The moment Donald opened Margaret's car door, he had the gun on her. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out of the car, keeping the gun in her back. If it had been only his grip, or only the gun, she might have had a chance to get away, but he'd pull the trigger before she'd be able to get her arm free, and she couldn't get out of the way of the shot as long as that grip kept her in place.

"What - what do you want from me, Donald?" she whispered, hoping she could reach him somehow. He once cared enough about me to marry me. Some part of him must still care, right? It was the only hope she had left in that moment.

He struck her across the back of the head with the gun; she was momentarily dazed, but she didn't miss his response. "You'll speak only when you're spoken to."

"Okay," she said quickly, trying to come off as submissive as she could, sickened as it made her. "I'm sorry."

"That's better." He shoved her forward, causing her to lose her balance and fall forward against the side of the car. "You should have been with me all this time, Margaret. You owe me, and now I'm going to take what I should have had all along."

As the meaning of his words sunk in, her stomach threatened to revolt. She fought for control. He could take this from her without her consent, but he couldn't take her pride or her dignity unless she let him. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against the car, trying to ignore what she knew he was about to do.


"If she finds out I did this, she'll kill me," Hawkeye murmured, even though he doubted the room's other occupant could understand a word of what he was saying as she sat in her playpen. "But I have to."

"Have to what?"

Apparently, there was someone in hearing range that could understand him. The younger Pierce looked up at his father. "Call her parents."

"Are you sure? I overheard her telling Sherman Potter that she hadn't spoken to her parents since before she quit the Army. What good would it do?"

"I don't know. But maybe they know something I don't, something to clue me in to what might have happened here. Like I said, every possible option."

"Which brings up another question."

"Right. How do I reach him? I did have a thought." Hawkeye quickly flipped through the book Margaret had left by the phone until he came upon the number he was looking for. He dialed quickly and put the phone to his ear.


"Colonel Potter? It's Hawkeye. I need your help. It's about Margaret."


The old Colonel picked up his phone. "Hello?"

"Colonel Houlihan?"

"Speaking." The voice sounded sort of familiar but he couldn't figure out from where. "Who is this?"

"Doctor Pierce. We met at the 4077th MASH in Korea."

"Ah, yes, I remember." He remembered the younger man taking him to task. He also remembered the realization that Pierce had been right. "What are you doing calling me now?"

"It's about your daughter, Margaret."

"I haven't spoken to Margaret in close to a year."

"I know that. And I know this is going to be hard for you, but I need you to listen to me. I think she's in trouble."

"Okay, you've got my attention. Fire away."

"First off, would I be right to assume that the last time you spoke to Margaret was about October of last year?"

"Yes, that sounds right. I found out she resigned from the Army, but from there, I don't know where she went."

"I do. She came here."

"Okay. Where's here?"

"Crabapple Cove, Maine. I don't know what she'd think of me telling you, but since I'm asking for your help, I think it's only fair I tell you the whole story. She resigned because she was pregnant. She decided to resign voluntarily so it wouldn't be on a record."

"Pregnant," he repeated, half-expecting the former Captain to laugh and tell him it was all a joke. When he didn't, Houlihan continued. "The father?"

"Didn't want to know her or the baby."

"So how did she end up in Maine?" he asked, trying desperately to follow what he was being told while also working on wrapping his head around it.

"Margaret and I were friends in Korea - you must have figured that out. She didn't know where to go so she came to me."

"Wait a minute," he said as he managed to make another connection through the jumble of his thoughts. "If she was pregnant in November -"

"Yes. You have a beautiful five-month-old granddaughter. Her name is Alaina."

The older man actually had to stop for a moment to process what he'd just been told. "You said Margaret's in trouble. What's going on?"

"I don't know, and that's the problem. She just disappeared yesterday. She left the clinic where she works and no one's seen her since. You've known her longer than I have - even if she had a problem, would it be normal for her to just vanish without a word?"

"No," he answered immediately. "If she had a problem, she'd stick around to make sure it was addressed."

"Which tells me something more is going on. I know it's been awhile, but if you or Margaret's mother knows anything that might help us figure out where she is, please..."

"Crabapple Cove, huh? Where in Maine is that?"

"Near Portland."

"Portland. Ah, Portland has an airport, doesn't it?"

"Yes?" The statement had clearly confused him.

"I think it's time I see my daughter's new hometown for myself."


Hawkeye waited anxiously as the passengers began to disembark from the plane, bouncing Alaina in his arms so she wouldn't pick up on her daddy's distress and start crying. He almost felt bad about bringing her along, knowing that his reason was selfish, to hopefully help bridge some of the gap between him and the father of the woman he loved.

He recognized Alvin Houlihan the moment he stepped off the plane, and judging by the look on the man's face, the old Colonel recognized him too. He stepped forward. "Hello, sir."

"Pierce," was the curt reply, but the man's face softened a little as he saw who was in Hawkeye's arms. "And this must be Alaina."

As she often did, Alaina responded to the mention of her name with a sound that might have been an attempt at a word. Hawkeye smiled despite the weight on his shoulders. "I think that means 'yes'."

"Both my children were babies once," he pointed out. "I'm familiar with their forms of communication." A moment of silence passed before he added, "That was meant as a joke."

"Sorry. Would, um, would you like to hold her?"

Houlihan tentatively held out his arms and Hawkeye placed Alaina in them, noticing that his expression seemed to soften even further as he regarded her. "Hello, Alaina," he said softly, in much the same tone that both Sherman Potter and Daniel Pierce had used when they met the little girl for the first time. "I'm your grandfather."

Always the social baby, Alaina let out another string of baby babble and reached up to play with the knot of his tie. The older man actually smiled, a full-on grin, but his expression turned serious quickly. "Any news on my daughter?"

"No. I'm sorry. Listen, I'll drive you back to Crabapple Cove and on the way I'll fill you in on what little we have."


Margaret had long ago lost track of how long it had been since she'd been grabbed in the parking lot. After he'd raped her against the car, he'd thrown her into the trunk and just driven her around, stopping every so often to pull her out, rape her again, and then beat her. Her head was swimming from the dehydration and the pain. She lay still, not trying to fight her way out. If she was going to escape, she'd have to save all her strength until the perfect opportunity came around.

She felt the car stop again, and then the trunk opened. It was dark, but, she noted with an oddly disconnected interest, she could see the stars. As Donald dragged her out of the trunk and climbed on top of her, she focused on the stars. Having something else to capture her attention helped her block out what he was doing to her.

He got up after he finished and she braced her body for the blows that had followed every sexual assault. But this time, none were forthcoming. He just stood there.

"It's been fun, Margaret," he said softly. "But we can't go on like this forever. And I'm not leaving you around to fall into bed with the next man who comes along."

He brought his gun around to point at her, and she knew this was the moment she'd been waiting for. It was now or never.

"No, Donald," she whispered as she rolled onto her left side and drew her knees to her chest, keeping her left arm underneath her body where he wouldn't see it. "You don't have to kill me. I'll do anything. Please." God, if he doesn't believe me...

But he clearly did. "Look at you, sniveling on the ground like a pathetic child," he sneered. "I can't fathom why I ever thought you'd be a good wife."


With a strength she'd barely believed her battered body still possessed, she moved. Pressing her left arm into the ground, she propelled herself to roll over so her legs were under her body. Another firm push against the ground and she was on her feet, running across the rough, unfamiliar terrain, ready to go anywhere so long as it wasn't where Donald was.

She heard him screaming, cursing her but didn't turn. Then she heard a loud pop, a sound she was very, very familiar with after her experience in the Army. Before she had a chance to react, she felt a burning sensation in her side.

I've been shot.

But she didn't stop running. She couldn't. To stop would be to die.

She heard more shots, and then felt intense pain in her right leg and hip. The leg buckled, unable to support her, and she fell to the ground.

She heard him coming and knew she couldn't run anymore. She let herself lie there; it was all she could do. The footsteps grew closer until she could tell he was right there, but she didn't look. She didn't move, didn't even breathe.

He kicked her forcefully. It hurt, but she didn't react. He kicked her again, one, two, three times, but still she lay limp. Then he stopped.

"You thought you could outsmart me," he said, "but you were just like all women, weak and pathetic. Goodbye, Margaret."

Then he walked away.

Margaret almost sobbed with relief. But she didn't let herself give up her act until she heard him start her car and drive away. Then she finally let herself believe. It worked.

She lay on her back, seeing the stars again, marveling that she was alive and free to see them. Hold on, they seemed to say to her. Hold on.

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