The Green Room
(2008) No infringement upon the rightful owners of "Combat!" and the characters thereof, is intended. Any resemblance between real people and the characters in this story is purely coincidental and no insult is intended. This piece of fan fiction is for enjoyment only, and in no way will the author gain monetary profit from its existence.
"Words, Words, Words"
by White Queen and Thompson Girl
Saunders wandered out of the barracks, yawning. Why he woke up so early on a perfectly good Saturday, he would never know. He paused mid-stretch, surprised to see Billy sitting on the couch. "Why're you up already?" Saunders yawned again.
"Can I ask you a serious question, Sarge?"
"Uh, can it wait a minute?"
"I guess so."
"Okay." Saunders padded barefoot into the kitchen, fired up the Mr. Coffee he and Caje had recently 'borrowed' from the Green Crypt, then returned to the living room. He sat down beside Billy and said, "What's on your mind?"
"It's like this." Billy took a deep breath. "How do you always get the writers to, well, write?"
Saunders smiled. "I think I understand." He shrugged. "It's not that hard. I just take them aside, look them in the eye, and tell them how great I think the story is going to be. Then I run through bits of a few unwritten scenes to remind them what's ahead, and off they go." He patted Billy on the knee. "Don't worry, it works for her every time."
"White Queen. This is about her taking a day off from working on 'Unforgiven,' isn't it."
Billy shook his head. "No, I know she's almost done with that. Besides, she lets me have pretty good roles in lots of her stories. It's Thompson Girl I'm worried about. She's got some nice stuff for me coming up in 'Murder's Melody' and she won't work on it at all."
Saunders closed his eyes and ran a hand over his face. "I'm sorry, Billy." He stood up and headed toward the kitchen.
"Whaddaya mean, you're sorry?" Billy jumped up and followed him.
"I can't help you there -- find Dana Andrews, maybe he can give you some advice." Saunders poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Billy. "But I have a feeling you're just going to have to wait it out. I think she has to get that other story out of her system first."
Billy sipped his coffee and made a face. "Okay. You're probably right." He opened the sugar bowl and shoveled sugar into his coffee.
Saunders headed for the front door. "There's one other person you could talk to, but no guarantees how helpful he'll be." He left the Green Room, closing the door softly behind him.
Billy looked at the door to the barracks and a gleam came into his eye. "It's worth a try," he said aloud.
"Out of the question," Brockmeyer said.
Billy glanced around the darkened barracks to make sure no one else was stirring and said quietly, "But if you could just talk to her--"
"But, she listens to you--"
"Not right now she's not. I'm in 'Murder's Melody' too, you know. In some serious trouble, no less! It's not making her move any faster."
Billy stared at him in dismay. Brock stared back a moment, then rolled over and pulled the blankets up, clearly dismissing Billy in favor of another hour of Saturday morning sleep.
"But..." Billy said softly, despairingly. This wasn't going as planned.
From under the covers, Brockmeyer offered one muffled suggestion. "Look, why don't you run along and talk with one of those movie stars she likes so much. She listens to them."
Billy's eyes narrowed. He didn't want to admit it, but it was true. What had she done last weekend? Instead of working on 'Murder's Melody,' Thompson Girl had gone off and written a brand new story. Not only had she started it but she'd finished it! All because some movie star had flashed her a smirky smile. Billy was sure the guy hadn't even said please. But no, it hadn't mattered to Thompson Girl. She'd written the story in record time anyway. And Billy rudely had not been given a part it in. Kirby, yes, but not Billy. No, he was starting to think "movie star" was a bad word. Particularly when used around Thompson Girl. They just weren't good for her! They distracted her, made her forget her true priorities, which should have been to the squad.
He wandered back out toward the living room, lost in thought.
"No luck, huh?" Saunders was leeeeeaaaaaannning against the wall near the kitchen, his cup of coffee cradled in his hands.
"No," Billy said morosely.
"I warned you."
"Look on the bright side," Saunders said. "White Queen's nearly done with hers."
Billy grimaced. "Yeah, in which I get to be Mister Observer who gets to watch the action and comment on it, but not be the point of the story. Again."
"Better than nothing, though, right?"
"You don't care about 'Murder's Melody' cuz you're barely in it."
Saunders drained the last of his coffee and gave Billy a Look. Without a word, he took the empty cup to the kitchen, rinsed it out, and set it beside the sink. Then he went back outside, where he figured he should have stayed instead of mysteriously reappearing inside.
Billy sighed. Now not only was Thompson Girl not finishing her story, but he'd gotten on Saunders' bad side. Never good. The front door opened again, and Billy looked at it apprehensively, sure it was Saunders returning with some onerous chore that would ruin his whole Saturday. Ruin it more, anyway.
But it wasn't Saunders, it was a sandy-haired, mustached man wearing a cavalry uniform.
"Hey!" Billy said. "You! Not you, not again. Go away, she doesn't need any more new ideas, okay? Go play cowboys and Indians somewhere else!"
Ralph Meeker closed the door and looked around warily. "Have you seen Dana Andrews?" he whispered.
"Have you seen Dana Andrews? He's not hiding in here waiting to ambush me, is he?"
"Andrews? No, haven't seen him for weeks. Why?"
Meeker relaxed. "Oh, nothing. What was that you were saying about ideas?"
"Um...." Billy took a sip of coffee from the almost-forgotten mug in his hands. Maybe if they threw this guy in some random bit role, Thompson Girl would be interested in 'Murder's Melody' again. It was worth a try, at least, because he wasn't getting anywhere on his own. "How'd you like to play detective?" he asked.
But Meeker grimaced. "Are you kidding me? Been there, done that, got the bullet scars."
Saunders cut in, "Billy, how many more detectives does 'Murder's Melody' need, anyway?"
Billy jumped at the sudden voice behind him. "Sarge! I thought you, uh, went outside?" His voice curled the words into a question.
"I did," Saunders said. "I'm beginning to hate that front door."
Meeker glanced at it curiously. Looked like an ordinary wooden door to him. "Why?"
"Because I can't seem to get through it and stay through it. You'd almost think two people were writing this story and one of them can't keep track of where I'm supposed to be." He shook his head and decided to try heading out one more time.
"Sounds like you don't need a detective," Meeker said as the door shut behind Saunders. "Sounds like you need a WTF ray."
"A what?" Billy asked.
"A Writer Thought Focus ray. You know. Zaps distracted authors until they concentrate on the story you want them to be working on."
"Is that how you got Thompson Girl to write that story for you last weekend?" Billy eyed the movie star suspiciously. "I thought you just smiled at her."
"I did," Meeker said and grinned at Billy, not in the least bit sympathetically. "You just gotta have the right smile with her."
Billy didn't see why this guy's smile had inspired Thompson Girl -- he thought it was annoying. "Don't you have somewhere to be? Like chasing Indians or something?"
Meeker shuddered. "No thanks. They got it in for me. Dana Andrews can't get on a plane without it crashing; Saunders can't get near fire; I can't get near Indians without them trying to kill me." His look suddenly turned envious. "It must be nice to be young and not typecast."
"I don't know. I get awfully nervous around garden club meetings, does that count?"
Meeker gave him a look that clearly meant it did not count. But before he could say anything, someone pounded loudly on the front door and hollered, "Open up in the name of the law!"
Meeker jumped. "Hide me!" he hissed.
"That doesn't sound like Andrews," Billy said.
"I don't care! Hide me anyway!"
The pounding on the door continued as Billy shoved Meeker in the direction of the shower room. When the rogue cavalry officer was safely out of sight, Billy hurried to open the front door.
"Took you long enough," growled William Holden. He was dressed in his cavalry uniform, sword clanking at his side.
"Hey," Billy protested, "you're not the law." He frowned. "Come to think of it, we don't really have any law around here."
"Today, I'm the law." Holden pushed his way into the Green Room and looked around. "Andrews and I are looking for a renegade horse soldier who's been wreaking all kinds of havoc."
Billy wrinkled his nose. "Reeking?"
Holden ignored the pun. Like White Queen, he was not so much a fan of puns, but sometimes they just naturally happened, and the best thing to do was ignore them. "Have you seen a no-good, low-down, cowardly snake-in-the-grass around here?"
"Uh...." Billy was saved from having to lie by the re-entrance of Saunders.
The sergeant gave the front door a baleful glare, then said to someone behind him, "He's in here."
In walked Glenn Ford, covered in dust from the crown of his sweat-stained Stetson to the soles of his scuffed black boots. On his vest was what may once have been a shiny tin star, but it was now layered with dust as well. "Well?" he said to Holden.
Saunders leeeeeeeeeeeeeaned against the wall and asked, "What's this guy done, anyway?"
Holden snorted. "What hasn't he done?" He held up one gloved hand and ticked things off on his fingers. "Insubordination, striking an officer, resisting arrest, stealing a horse, and setting fire to the commissary."
Billy gasped. "Setting fire to the commissary? How? Why?"
Ford shook his head. "Don't ask." He hooked his thumbs in his gun belt and said, "Well, if you see him, will you let us know?"
"No!" Billy said.
Ford and Holden exchanged glances. Billy couldn't tell if they were amused or annoyed, but when Holden purred, "No?" Billy was pretty sure it was the latter.
"No," Billy said firmly, and gathered his confidence. "Look, I'm just trying to get Thompson Girl working on 'Murder's Melody' again and... well, you guys aren't helping any."
"We aren't?" Holden asked sweetly.
"No, you aren't. Not one bit."
Ford took a step forward, as if suddenly interested. "Well, how can we help, Private...?"
"Nelson," Holden supplied helpfully. "This is Private William Nelson. Good name, William."
Billy glared at him. "It's--"
"So, what's this story about?" Ford asked.
"Need us to take over some roles?" Holden asked. He snapped his fingers. "I know. You're looking to sit this one out, right?"
Holden cut him off. "Those writers been working you too hard again? Feet sore and tired? Stuck in the same foxhole for thirteen months of writer's block? Need some R&R? Well, never fear. We'll rescue you."
"No," Billy said, frustrated. These guys weren't letting him get a word in edgewise. "No, exact opposite. I want to work on this, I've got a really nice, big, important part--"
"Oh," Holden said. "It's like that."
"Too big for his britches," Ford said.
"Hogging the spotlight," Holden agreed.
Ford nodded sagely, "Next thing you know, he'll want to quit the squad and join us making movies."
"The last thing we need around here is another movie star!" Billy said, exasperated. "The place is getting overrun with you people! I mean, Mr. Ford, what are you even doing here? You've never guest-starred in one of the stories."
Glenn Ford nodded. "But that don't mean I might not be in line for a juicy role real soon. Besides, Holden invited me. Needed someone else to help form his posses."
Billy rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Look, I'll make a bargain with you. I'll tell you if I see this Meeker guy if you'll help me get my hands on a WTF ray."
"Billy!" Saunders sounded shocked.
"A Writer Thought Focus ray," Billy explained. "If I can get Thompson Girl to focus on 'Murder's Melody,' I know she could finish it really quickly. Then she could play cowboys all she wanted."
Ford looked at Holden. "Maybe she'd help finish building our Green Fort."
Holden nodded. "That's a thought." He turned to Billy. "What's this WTF ray look like?"
Billy admitted, "I don't know. I've never seen one. Just heard about them."
Ford tapped Holden on the shoulder. "Bet it's that gizmo Meeker swiped from the Green Crypt a couple weeks ago. Remember Angel warning us it was more powerful than we could imagine?"
Holden nodded. "He was even more upset over that than their missing coffeemaker. I bet that's it. Trouble is, we don't know where Meeker hid it."
"Oh, that's no problem," Billy said. "We'll just ask him. He's in the shower room."
Meeker burst out of the shower room, gun drawn. "You filthy rat!" he snarled. "I shoulda known better than to trust a snot-nosed kid like you!"
"Just hold it right there," Ford said, coolly, his own gun in his hand so fast no one saw him draw it.
"Whoa!" Billy said and jumped between them. "No shooting in here! This is our Green Room! Where we relax! What's wrong with you guys? You take everything so seriously!"
"Yeah," Meeker said. "You oughta listen to the kid."
"Shut up!" Holden told him. "Where's the WTF ray?"
"I don't have it."
"We'll see about that," Holden said and drew his own gun.
Billy looked around frantically for Saunders, but he was strangely missing. Billy was alone in the middle of three armed and angry movie stars. He was suddenly wishing he'd just stayed in bed that fine Saturday morning and enjoyed the downtime instead of--
"Out of the way, Billy," Ford said. "You're harboring a fugitive."
"But I didn't take it, I tell you," Meeker protested. "You got the wrong guy--"
Holden suddenly tried to jump Meeker and in the scuffle someone's gun went off. The reaction was immediate. The rest of the squad came pouring out of the barracks, most only in their underwear, all of them shouting and yelling. Littlejohn grabbed a hold of Meeker while Kirby and Doc yanked Holden back so Billy could pull himself free of the middle of the fray.
Hanley burst into the center of the crowd and shouted them down with typical self-back-patting ease. "Just what is going on around here?!"
About four people tried to answer him at once and Hanley had to yell for silence again.
Billy pointed at Meeker. "He stole the WTF ray and...."
Hanley cut him off with a great big sigh and said, "Littlejohn, let him go, he didn't do it."
"Ah, see?" Meeker said. "I was trying to tell them that, but they wouldn't believe me. You play one or two bad guys and they forget all the other times you played good guys." He shook his head woefully.
"Well, who took it then?" Holden demanded.
Hanley looked surprised at the question. "I did, of course."
Billy's eyes grew wide. "You?"
"Of course," Hanley said. "Thompson Girl's not working on 'Murder's Melody' like she should be and I have a nice part in that one. You don't think I'm going to sit idly by while she decides on a whim to give my role to Saunders, do you? Or worse, some smirking movie star." He glared at Meeker.
Meeker just grinned at him. Ford and Holden looked rather cross.
"Well," Billy said, "where is it now?"
"In use, of course," Hanley said.
"But Thompson Girl's not writing...."
"No," Hanley said impatiently. He looked around the room, wondering if he was dealing with a bunch of idiots. "But who is? White Queen! That's right! That ray works like a charm. She's so close to finishing hers, I've got it trained on her right now. You watch -- she'll be done with the first draft of 'Unforgiven' within the week."
Hanley waved a hand. "Don't worry, Billy, Thompson Girl's next, but there's only one WTF ray and too many writers around here to use on all of them at once."
"Yes, sir," Billy said, softly, disappointed. He was quite confused as to why Hanley wanted White Queen to finish 'Unforgiven,' when the lieutenant had zero page time in it, but he'd learned better than to question the officer's motives. Maybe Hanley was angling for a juicy role in her next story, whatever that might be.
"Cheer up," Hanley said. "Why don't you try the old-fashioned method? Have Saunders talk to her."
The crowd broke up and the squad, yawning, headed back toward the barracks, Meeker mysteriously disappearing while they blocked Holden and Ford's view. Littlejohn looked down at Billy and shook his head. "You never learn, do you?"
"You do realize how many words this story just took up, don't you? How much time it took to write? While you asked questions and tried to find answers that would help you, you hogged up the time of not one but two writers, Billy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Littlejohn shook his head solemnly and headed back to bed, leaving Billy alone in the living room, feeling very small and, well, alone.
Billy kicked at the carpet and said, "I was only trying to help."
"You did," Saunders said.
Billy jumped and turned to see Saunders leeeeeaaaaaannning against the wall near the kitchen, his second cup of coffee cradled in his hands.
"Trust me, Nelson," Saunders said. "Sometimes it takes words to make words. You did good. Now, why don't you go back to bed? It's still early."
"What about you?"
"Me?" Saunders grinned and unleaned himself. "I'm going out the front door to enjoy the morning. Again."