DISCLAIMER: None, other than any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters are mine. (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is my baby and it is very long, which is why I am posting it in sections. It is a complete story but I am transferring it from paper to disk, another reason for the sectional posting. PTR is as much about the trials and tribulations of basic training as it is one woman's personal journey through this time frame, which is why there will be sometimes as many paragraphs spent on military detail as on the lead characters.
WARNING: This is a story about the military so there are a lot of bad words. There is sex (some of it is heterosexual) and violence.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Permission To Recover
By Cheyne


Part Two


Chapter Ten

Kotski reported to Sick Call at 0730 hours. She actually felt a little better when she first awoke but when she discovered that the company was scheduled to tackle the obstacle course, she quickly changed her mind. She knew there was no way her body could survive that.

The four women designated to make the complaint against the senior drill sergeant to the IG – Minty, Sherlock, Ryder and Tierni – had done so that morning and were returned to the physically stressful course near Range 28 before class started. They had been back less than ten minutes before a jeep that carried a representative from the Inspector General's office arrived. The IG aide approached Ritchie, spoke to him briefly and escorted him back to the jeep. Ritchie climbed in after the aide and the jeep drove away. The women who witnessed this wanted to cheer loudly enough for the senior drill sergeant to hear them but wisely decided against it. That didn't prevent the word from spreading like fire, though, and morale instantly improved.

When the trainees successfully completed the obstacle course, they were marched to Range 28 where they were taught how to 'overtake a city.' The range was equipped with false-front buildings that resembled an abandoned village, like a movie set. Alpha company went through the motions of learning how to get into a built-up area quickly and effectively, how to climb into second story windows and how to move within the area to surround structure access points. The exercise was played like a competitive game between the platoons, timed and evaluated for efficiency. The trainees enjoyed that.

Third Platoon won but not by much. First Platoon came in second, followed closely by Second Platoon.

They marched back to the company area, ate chow and then were bused to Raburn Hall for First Aid tests. Everyone got an easy GO. After all tests were completed, they marched halfway and double-timed the rest of the way back to Tenth Battalion. They spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning their weapons on the patios.

Word spread quickly and gleefully that Ritchie had been called before the IG and given a stern warning. Henning told Shannon, who swept Henning's office that evening, that Ritchie was advised if he pulled another stunt like the denial of chow or continued to badger the females as a group or harass individuals with sexual innuendo, he would lose his drill sergeant status. This would further trigger another investigation whereupon he could actually be busted a stripe. Both Henning and Shannon agreed that it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

After evening chow, Dale looked around for Kotski to no avail. She finally tracked down Audi. "Drill Sergeant, I was wondering if you know where I might find Kotski."

Audi motioned for Dale to walk with him to the picnic table on the north patio where no one else was around. "Did she tell you what was going on?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant, she did. Did she tell you?"

"No but the hospital did. She's going to be there for a while so that they can get the bleeding under control and treat some things that were aggravated with training. I wish she had come to me or gone to Sick Call sooner."

"I think she thought everything would be okay. She's very guarded about herself, understandably, and I don't think she wanted to spend any more time in the hospital or miss any training. Did she happen to mention anything about the senior drill sergeant?" Dale asked, cautiously.

Audi sighed in disgust. "Yes, she did tell me about that. She said you were the only other person she told. I don't think, after today, the senior drill sergeant will be pulling unforgivable stunts like that again."

"Will Kotski be able to finish training, Drill Sergeant?"

"I don't know. We'll see. A lot will depend on how much she misses." He was genuinely upset and his tone was compassionate.

"She's really smart, Drill Sergeant, I know she can make up the work. She wants to be an MP so bad."

"Understood, Oakes, and she might still be able to finish the training but I'm not sure it will be with this company. That decision won't be up to me." He started to walk away from Dale but he turned and said, "Don't say anything to the other women about this. I will let them know when the time is right."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant."

Dale returned to the bay in deep thought. Her heart went out to Kotski and she hoped everything worked out for the best. Kotski, a devout animal lover, had expressed the desire to become a dog handler and work with the K-9 unit. Only a chosen few would be selected for that assignment and since Kotski's record had been spotless so far with training and test scores at the top quarter of the company, it looked good for her. Dale prayed Kotski's hospital stay would be short and that it did not interfere with her quest to work with the puppies.

The bay was abuzz regarding Ritchie's visit to the IG but soon that was overshadowed by the news that Kotski was in the hospital. No one knew why so to stop the speculation, Dale suggested that maybe it was bronchitis or pneumonia and reminded everyone how much deep coughing Kotski had done the night before. That seemed to satisfy everyone's curiosity and the conversation drifted back to Ritchie.

Alpha Company was marched to a different range than the one where they had practiced for their Live Fire test. The trainees ran through the course once and were then paired up to do the exercise for real. Dale went through the course with Private Van Hoesan, a male trainee, who worked so well with her as a partner, the instructor who followed the path with them complimented them on the smoothness of their run.

Shannon did not fare as well. She was assigned Beltran as a partner. The first time Beltran hit the ground, she landed on her M16 and somehow caused it to fire. The bullet grazed the tree branch just above Shannon's head. At that point, the instructor lost his cockiness and fell back a few steps as opposed to running even with Beltran.

"Please, God, let me get through this course alive," Shannon prayed. "I'm surrounded by homicidal maniacs! Dizzy is over there trying to knock off Drago and now they've put Beltran behind me. I'm only trying to do my job," she mumbled in desperation as she hid behind a boulder.

"Three seconds – Go!" the instructor yelled from behind them.

Shannon jumped up and rushed for her next cover. "Pleeeeeze, God."

"Bunker Go!" The instructor hollered at them.

Both Shannon and Beltran ran toward the bunker, twenty-five feet away and fired off their last live rounds of ammunition. "Please, God, I've never been so scared in my life. Please get me to that bunker alive."

Shannon maneuvered through a slender, jagged path, ducked under a protruding branch, leapt over two bushes, tripped over a rock and fell face first into a freezing cold stream. She slowly rose and deliberately looked heavenward. "I think I could have made it from here…pushing me was not necessary."

Beltran made it to the bunker, laid against the side of it and threw her cap grenade inside. When it popped, she jumped up and down and yelled, "I did it!"

"Put that weapon on 'safe'!" The instructor screamed at her as he dove to the ground. When he saw her obey, he got up and walked back to Shannon. "Are you okay?"

"That depends…does this mean I have to do it again?"

"Hell, no!" His tone was emphatic. "Anyone who could even get halfway through that course alive with her, deserves a GO."

"Thank you, Sergeant," Shannon said, relieved.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes, Just frazzled."

"Understandable. Give me your grenade and I'll toss it. Put your weapon on 'safe' and don't forget to have it rodded."

"Yes, Sergeant. Thank you."

The Live Fire test took a majority of the morning and miraculously, no one got shot. When the exercise was over, the trainees were returned to the company area to clean their M16s.

A military coach transported the trainees to Raburn Hall after noon chow. Following a filmstrip and lecture on military intelligence, the trainees marched back to Tenth Battalion where they participated in PT.

Finally Dale gave in to the agony and fell out of the run. Henning, who monitored the exercises, approached Dale. "Hi," she said, smugly. "Problem?"

Dale looked up at her and nodded.

"I bet if you'd had that foot taken care of when I told you to, it wouldn't be so bad now."


"God, you are stubborn. Perhaps a consultation with Colonel Bishaye on this matter might bring about an attitude adjustment."

"You don't have to go that far. I can't put it off any longer. I have to go in tomorrow."

"Why didn't you go in before?"

"I might have missed something. Tomorrow all I'll miss is the seven mile hike, which I probably won't be able to complete anyway."

"I'm just glad you're doing something about it."

They were joined by Holmquist. "Everything okay here? Oakes? Ma'am?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Dale told him, sitting on the cold ground. "Old injury flaring up."

"Old football injury?" Holmquist said, kidding.

Dale nodded and smiled. She wondered if Holmquist was fishing to see if she were gay. The offhand remarks he had made recently indicated that he was. A year ago it would have bothered her to the point where she would have done something blatant to prove to him that she was not. Shannon was right, Holmquist was definitely her type – if she were still into men. In the last several weeks she had analyzed and reevaluated her feelings for Anne (and women in general) and she came to the definite conclusion that she may have always been attracted to women and buried it.

She knew the military's strict stance on homosexuality but she also knew many women, like Sharon Burke, who respected their military mission and still managed to keep their sex lives away from unwanted, prying eyes. Sharon had done the smart thing and had married a man right after she was assigned to her first permanent duty station. Her husband, David, was Spec4 in her MP unit and he was also a closeted gay. He occasionally worked dispatch when she did and they became great friends. They married for the cover and the extra money Uncle Sam allotted them for Basic Allowance for Quarters. They used their BAQ to rent a two-bedroom apartment off-post so that they could each live their own lives. Her marital status saved her from scrutiny when others fell under investigation. Both Sharon and David were happy with the arrangement and it worked very well for them.

Maybe Dale needed to find a cover like Sharon and so many other of her colleagues had, even if she weren't going to spend her life serving her country. It certainly seemed a lot easier. Oh well…thoughts for another time…

She then wondered if she came on to Holmquist if he would respond or continue to be professional. Dale had the feeling Holmquist was attracted to her. She didn't have those vibes often so when she did, she was usually on target, hence her suspicion of his fishing.

"What were you, Oakes, the QB? I mean I've seen you throw a grenade."

"No, Drill Sergeant, I was a tight end," Dale said before she could stop it from coming out. Both Henning and Holmquist stared at her, eyes wide and blinking. Then Holmquist burst out laughing. Henning looked at her as though she'd lost her mind. Dale smiled at Karen and then said as straight-faced as possible, "But I really always wanted to be a wide receiver."

"Private Oakes," Henning said, blushing uncontrollably. "I think that's inappropriate."

"Oh. I'm sorry, Ma'am. I was talking football positions. What did you think I meant?" Her question was delivered with the utmost innocence.

Holmquist stopped laughing long enough to look at Henning, who was now flustered. "I…you…nothing!" She turned and walked away. "Carry on."

Holmquist extended his hand. "Do you want help up, Private?"

"No, thank you, Drill Sergeant. I'll wait for the jeep." She referred to the vehicle that followed the hikes and runs and picked up the injured or sick along the way. When the jeep got full, the driver deposited the riders at the company area and came back for more.

"Okay, Oakes. Get that injury looked at."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant." She watched him jog away to catch up with the company. Dale, you are very bad girl.

When Dale awoke the next morning, her foot was swollen and she could barely walk on it. She could not entirely lace her boot and reported to Sick Call at 0730 with her left shoelaces dangling. Ordinarily, this would have been considered "out of uniform" and she could have been punished for it but Holmquist was in charge that morning and he understood her circumstances.

It was 0845 before anyone saw her and when she entered the office, she found herself face-to-face with an old friend. Lieutenant-Colonel Kathlynn Bell had been her physical therapist at Fort Ord when Dale had developed bilateral tendonitis. The problem reoccurred three times so Dale and Bell got to know each other well.

"Oh my God! What are you doing here? I can't believe it's you." Bell was a pleasant woman with short, salt and pepper hair. "I nearly fainted when I saw that name and, ridiculously thought after I saw the rank, that there must be two of you. Undercover, I take it?" She lowered her voice for the last question.

"Yeah. My turn came up as a cycle spy." There was no reason to lie to her. Bell knew who she was and what she did.

"An officer as a cycle spy?" Bell asked as she sat opposite Dale on a stool. She picked up Dale's left foot and gently pulled the boot off. "That's a bit unusual, isn't it?"

"Yes, but this is the Army. What's considered normal?"

She removed Dale's sock. "There's something you're not telling me."

"Yes. Only because I can't," Dale said.

"I understand. My guess is that it has something to do with the mess that's occurred at Alpha-10 the last couple of cycles."

"You know anything I might not have already heard?"

"I doubt it. Just worthless GI gossip. My only connection to Tenth Battalion is providing whatever guidance is needed for physical therapy." She smiled warmly at Dale. "I'm happy to see you."

"It's nice to see you, too."

Bell studied Dale's swollen ankle. "Well…what have we here? A sprain?"

"No. Old injury flaring up." When Bell pushed directly on Dale's heel, the pain almost made Dale black out. "Was that necessary?" Dale asked, out of breath.

Bell looked directly into Dale's eyes. "Do you want to tell me exactly what kind of 'old injury' we're dealing with here?" She began to gently knead Dale's foot as Dale unraveled the story for her. When she was done, Bell just sat there, her usually warm hands now feeling like ice. She stared at Dale, horrified. "Why the hell weren't you medically discharged?"

"I was on my way but –" Dale shrugged.

"But nothing! This foot is in no condition to endure this kind of stress."

"Come on, Ma'am, we're almost through basic training. I need a profile, that's all."

"You need extensive physical therapy, perhaps even surgery."

"I'll miss too much."

"You know all this stuff!" Bell protested.

"Colonel, I'm not here because I need retraining," Dale said quietly. "I'm here to be a spy. By spending two hours each morning in physical therapy, I could miss a lot that goes on."

"By not spending two hours in physical therapy each morning, you could permanently damage that foot! Who the hell was the idiot that put you on this assignment?"

"Anne Bishaye."

"Oh." Bell let that information settle in. "I thought you and Anne were friends."

"We are."

"What did you do to piss her off?"

Dale laughed. "Nothing. Well, nothing that I'm aware of, anyway."

"Then maybe I can appeal to her better judgment."

"Don't waste your time. She is aware of my injury and how I got it. She is also the one who personally came to Vermont to get me for this assignment. So, please, make it easier on me and forego the therapy. I'll be careful. I promise."

Bell shook her head, defeated. "It may not be good enough. I can't take responsibility for this if it becomes worse. You'll have to sign a medical waiver that you've absolutely refused physical therapy."

"Just to be put in my CID medical record, right? I can't have that going back to the company."

"If that's what you want."

"It has to be that way."

"I think you're making a grave mistake. You could end up in a wheel chair."

"I know and you may be right. But this is the last thing I have to do for the Army. I just don't want any complications."

She shook her head again and left the room to retrieve the medical forms.

Dale returned to the company area with a slip of paper signed by Bell that restricted Dale to seven days of lighter duty, which meant no running, jumping, concentrated marching or strenuous PT. She was also ordered to wear civilian shoes for seven days. At the end of her restricted period, she would return to Bell for an evaluation that would either bring her more restricted duty or a clean bill of health. Dale snickered and wondered if Bell's first phone call, after Dale left her office, was to the Tenth Battalion Commander. She would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

After she returned her Sick Call note in to Sgt, Fuscha, Dale was told she could go to the PX, by herself, to buy civilian shoes. Instead of telling Silva to drive her there, Ritchie sent word for her to walk, that the company driver could not be spared. Even though he was in the parking lot, leaning on the jeep, intently watching Tierni with the rest of the company, clean their M16s.

Dale returned a half-hour later, wearing a pair of black Converse high-tops that felt much better on her feet than the limited combat boots, which she had in a bag and took upstairs to secure in her locker. When she got back downstairs, the women were congregated on the north patio with the men nowhere in sight. She was surprised to see Henning conducting this relaxed class and wondered when MacArthur's replacement would report and if the successor would be female, also. Right now Henning was the only female liaison A-10 had.

Dale looked over the items spread out on the patio: barbells, free weights, a huge bat, a box with three steps to the top and a stationary bicycle set up in such a way that when one sat on the seat, her back was parallel to the floor and she pedaled facing the ceiling. Henning observed Dale walk into formation, wearing sneakers. She smiled triumphantly and gave Dale the option to participate or observe. The painkillers were working on her feet, so she participated.

After the women spent two hours with Henning on the patio, the rest of the day was spent cleaning. Shannon was put on a detail that designated her to clean the Battalion offices and Dale was assigned to scrub the north patio laundry room. She finished about two minutes before Lights Out, ran upstairs and changed in the dark. After Robin performed Bed Check, Dale took a long, hot shower in the one stall left open.


Chapter Eleven

The trainees spent the next morning on written make-up tests. Shannon had missed Map Reading by one point and Dale had purposely flunked the Military Intelligence test ("The title of the class confused me," Dale had told Holmquist who had expressed his surprise at her failure to get a GO the first time).

Mid-morning, after the make up tests had been completed, Alpha-10 was marched to Ashlin Gym for a PT test. Inclement weather had prevented the trainees from taking the test outdoors, where the scoring would not have been accurate.

Dale did as much as she could do without violating her profile (the restrictions imposed by Bell) so she spent most of the time scoring the others. During the push-up test, Dale was scoring a male trainee who exercised right next to Shannon. Holmquist strolled by and noticed that Shannon continued to struggle with her last sets.

The next thing Dale knew, Holmquist was in the front leaning rest position, face to face with Shannon. He matched her push-up for push-up. "Come on, Walker! Just five more," he urged. "Five more and you'll max out. Come on, I'll do them with you." She did two more with his encouragement. "Straighten your arms and get your bearings. You can do it! I'm right here with you." She slowly did one and, even more slowly, another one. "Okay. One more and you're done. Come on, Walker, don't you quit on me now, I know you've got one more in you. Take a deep breath, let it out and we'll do it together. Ready?" Shannon was beet red and her arms were shaking but somehow she managed that last push up. She dropped to the floor amid cheers and applause. She had never maxed out push-ups before. She received an 'Attaboy' pat on the back from Holmquist. She rolled over, sat up and shook his hand.

Dale watched Holmquist, admirably. What a nice man he had turned out to be. He didn't have to do what he did with Shannon. She wasn't even in his platoon. A cloud shadowed Dale's thoughts. They were probably going to have to keep a close eye on him; he was too good to be true.

While the company waited for the results of the PT test, Putnam brought out a basketball and tossed it to a group of female trainees. As they began to pass it back and forth and take shots at the basket, Ritchie appeared from nowhere and snatched it away from Ryder. He was not exactly gentle about it.

"You women even want to play men's sports," he snarled at them. "Why don't you all just fly to Sweden and have that operation?" He turned from them and threw the ball to one of the male trainees.

Henning disappeared into the equipment room and returned with another basketball. She handed it to Minty who was the closest to her. She was obviously furious at Ritchie by the expression on her face. The women formed two teams and played half-court on the side the men weren't using.

Dale sidled up to Henning, her voice quiet. "Why is he still saying shit like that? Does the man have a death wish because I am sure we can oblige him. Doesn't an IG warning mean anything to him?"

"Sure," Henning said, her arms folded tightly across her chest. "But the IG who warned him went on a thirty day leave, starting this morning. Ritchie seems to feel that all incidents will hold little validity after thirty days. Or will be forgotten about."

"Then he'll be in for a surprise, won't he?"

"I surely hope so. Until then, we're stuck with him, aren't we?"

"We'll see."

Prompted by the senior drill sergeant, a quintet of males approached the women playing basketball and challenged them to a game. The women chose who they thought would be their best five players: Verno, Creed, Michaelson, Minty and Ryder, with Sherlock on the side. She had height but not much experience in anything other than a driveway game of H.O.R.S.E.

Fifteen minutes into a vigorous workout, the game was called because the PT scores were ready. The women didn't win but neither did they roll over and play dead. The score had been forty-four to forty. The men made a mistake and thought the women were going to play 'like girls.' Instead, they played like athletes who had all lettered in high school or college basketball. After spending nearly two months with these women, the men should have known better than to underestimate their abilities.

The company froze on the north patio the next morning, after chow. They stood in formation in their dress greens (Class-A uniform) and waited for the company commander to finish his open ranks inspection. He appeared to revel in the fact that he moved slower than a tortoise. By the time he got to Dale, she was visibly shivering, as was mostly everyone else. Colton told her to stand still. She took a deep breath and tried to stop shaking as the CO examined every inch of her uniform, shoes and appearance. Dale knew he would be looking to burn her so she worked extra hard on her brass, her dress greens and spit-shining her low-quarters. Even though, no one looked sharper, with the possible exception of Shannon and the prior-service males, all Colton said to McCoy (who was next to him, keeping track) was, "Average." He moved to the GI in line next to Dale.

"Average!" Dale spit out later, "it should have been 'outstanding'. You can see yourself in my shoes. You could get a headache off my brass. How can that be average?"

"Calm down, Oakes. It's not fair but at least it's not an 'unsatisfactory.' At least you didn't fail," Ryan said.

The platoons were gathered in the individual male bays again, awaiting the results of the inspection. As Colton had moved through the troops, Henning and the First Sergeant inspected the barracks. McCoy informed the women in his platoon that he felt the results of the inspections were touch and go for them. He said they had done too much bickering and not enough cleaning and preparation.

"Excuse me, Drill Sergeant, but now you sound like the Senior Drill Sergeant," Minty told him, with a respectful grin.

McCoy did not take offense. He paused, thoughtfully. "Sergeant Ritchie has some valid points. He's just not real tactful. Or discreet. Or diplomatic. But this isn't charm school, ladies, this is the Army. Good training is more important than good manners. We wouldn't be doing our job of toughening you up if we had to walk on eggshells so that we wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings. You wouldn't have gotten as far as you have if we hadn't been tough on you."

"None of us want to argue that point, Drill Sergeant," Mroz said. "I don't think any of us enlisted with the idea that it'd be like pledging a sorority. But Rit – I mean, Drill Sergeant Ritchie's attacking us every time we blink doesn't really do much to keep us inspired."

"That's right, Drill Sergeant," Minty said. "You get your point across without being obnoxious or cutting us down. We do more for you, willingly, than we do for the Senior Drill Sergeant, reluctantly. We thought our visit to the IG would stop his war against us but it didn't even slow him down."

"It will." McCoy wore a curious smirk. Dale had heard that McCoy was tickled that the females had displayed the guts to turn Ritchie in. "These things take time."

Holmquist then entered the Second Platoon bay and announced that everyone had received a six-hour on post pass, except for the trainees who'd had unsatisfactory brass, less than spit-shined shoes, a wrinkled uniform or had done poorly on the PT test. There were eight, all totaled, who remained behind when the rest of the company raced to their lockers to get ready for six hours away from Tenth Battalion.

The three females who did not earn a pass were Dizzy, who failed the PT test and wore a stained, creased uniform to the inspection and corroded brass, Minkler for plain brass and Beltran for failing the PT test and unsatisfactory shoes. All of the other Alpha company members, minus the five restricted males, were away from the barracks as soon as they could change into their fatigues.

Dale went to the Pizza Place with a crowd of fellow trainees and Shannon, with a smaller group, scouted out the PX snack bar and then headed across the street to the bowling alley. Slowly, almost all of those trainees filtered back to the Pizza Place, so after bowling three games, Shannon also made her way back to the more popular hang out, accompanied by Private Zachary, who was clearly smitten with the blonde lieutenant.

The minute Shannon and Zachary walked inside, they could barely move, the small establishment was so jam-packed. By the time Shannon found Dale, she had run into various people wearing fatigues; GIs she did not recognize. A face she did readily identify, though, was Jane Bradbury, drill sergeant from Bravo company.

"Who the hell are these people?" Shannon shouted to Dale to be heard over the jukebox.

"Bravo. Their on a six-hour pass, too. Can you beat it? They're a week behind us in training and they get their pass privileges at the same time."

"I notice a big fan of yours is here." Shannon nodded her head toward Bradbury.

"Aw, hell, she's long lost interest in me. There's too much else to choose from. What's happening at the bowling alley?"

"Nothing. Why do you think I'm here?"

"I see you have a fan."

Shannon smiled. She knew Dale referred to Zachary. "Yeah. My protector. Or so he thinks."

"Even though you could probably kick his ass from here to kingdom come."

"Yeah, well, hopefully that won't be necessary. Anything happening here?"

Dale's throat was sore from the need to make herself heard over the music, the yelling and because of all the cigarette smoke in the air. "Let's go outside so we can breathe."

"I just got in here. Besides, we'll never get back in."

"Sure we will," Dale said and moved through the crowd to the door Once they got outside, Dale took a deep breath of fresh air.

"What's up?"

"Everybody's behaving pretty normally. I counted about thirty-six people drinking beer."

"Thirty-six of our people?"

"Yes. Do you think anyone from Bravo is going to risk drinking beer with the iron maiden standing there, burrowing holes through them?"

"They might. How many females?"

"Eleven," Dale said. "Laraway, Ryan, Troice, Sherlock, Ryder, Lehr, Caffrey, McTague, Travis, York and McKnight."

"God, I'm dying for a beer," Shannon confessed.

"So am I," Dale said, "but you know they're going to get caught." Dale smiled at Shannon. "So…is this serious with Private Zachary?"

"Please. He's cute but very young for his age. He's a nice guy. It's flattering."

"He can't keep his hands off you," Dale teased.

"I know. I'm not encouraging it but his hand on my shoulder or my back feels pretty nice. It's been a while, you know?"

"If you like him then maybe you should go in and stop him. As we were leaving, he was ordering a beer."

Shannon contemplated this. "No. He'll have to learn like everybody else."

With only an hour remaining on the pass, they went back inside. Neither was able to move very far. Shannon saw Zachary wave to her from the other side of the room. As he braved the crowd to reach her, she felt an enormous hand on her shoulder. She looked up – way up – to see the six-foot, five-inch Jimmy Judd tower over her. Dale just laughed and shook her head. Some things never changed.

Judd, who was apparently under the influence of more than just a couple of 16 ounce cups of beer, tried to converse with Shannon over the noise. Sometime during this ten minute, non-sexual exchange where every other sentence consisted of 'What?', Judd fell in love.

He excused himself to use the rest room and both lieutenants used that opportunity to escape back to the company area. As they crossed the Battalion parking lot, Zachary caught up with them and escorted them the rest of the way. The company had to be back and signed in by 1800 hours where attendance would be taken during a formation. Three-quarters of the trainees were signed in by 5:30, while the rest straggled in.

Dale, Shannon and Zachary checked in and remained on the north patio by the far picnic table and rehashed their afternoon. Mroz, who had signed in an hour earlier, joined them. Neither Dale nor Shannon had seen Judd cross the patio and enter and enter the CQ Office since their backs were to that particular door but they definitely knew when he came out.

He must have seen Zachary's hand rest on Shannon's shoulder in the course of conversation and it made him go wild. It didn't take long for legs that seemed to start at his shoulders to carry him to the group of four. He reached out and shoved Zachary and knocked him off balance. This action startled everyone more than it did anything else.

Zachary wasn't too happy to ruin his good mood by getting into a fight, especially with a wiry giant like Judd. He regained his footing, walked back and stood between Shannon and Judd. Before he could ask Judd what his problem was, Judd yelled at him to stay away from Walker, that the pretty blonde belonged to him.

This came as news to Shannon, who looked over at Dale and rolled her eyes. While the two 'suitors' verbally dueled, Dale couldn't hold back a smile. She leaned in close to Shannon. "Just what exactly did you say to him over at that passionate setting a half hour ago?"

"I know what I said but it's not obviously what he heard. Although, I'm pretty sure 'I do' didn't come into it at any time."

They returned their attention to the battle and Shannon had had enough. She took a step behind Zachary about to tell them both to grow up when Judd threw a punch. Zachary ducked and the biggest fist Shannon had ever seen connected with her face. The power of it alone sent Shannon reeling backward, across the patio where, after three or four shaky steps, fell flat on her back.

Dale wasted no time and jumped in front of Zachary to hold him back. "Knock it off!" Dale yelled at both men. She had a pretty good grip on Zachary but Mroz had a tougher time with Judd. He wouldn't stay put. When he moved toward his opponent, he took Mroz with him. "Judd, stop! You guys are going to get us all in trouble," Dale warned, as Zachary tried to break free so he could defend Shannon's honor.

Shannon had just barely made it to a sitting position, shaking the stars out of her eyes when Audi, followed closely by Holmquist, charged out of the Orderly Room to see what the commotion was.

"AT EASE!" Audi demanded in a voice that sounded more like the roar of a pissed off Grizzly Bear. He grabbed Judd away from Mroz with one hand and even though the trainee had a good five inches on the drill sergeant, Audi outweighed him by one hundred fifty pounds. With one swift motion, Audi moved Judd from standing on his feet to hugging the patio floor. "Everybody in the front leaning rest position right now!" Audi ordered.

The five trainees obeyed and assumed the position immediately. They had never seen Audi this mad.

"What the fuck is going on here?" He strolled around the five bodies. No one answered him. "Oakes? What happened here?"

"I'm not exactly sure, Drill Sergeant," Dale answered. She sounded genuinely puzzled. What she did know was that this incident would insure a restriction against the company again.

"You're not sure," he repeated, not pleased with her response. "Mroz! On your feet!" Mroz obeyed and jumped up to the position of Attention. "The rest of you stay exactly where you are. Private Mroz, come with me."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant." Mroz reluctantly followed Audi to the Orderly Room.

While the four others held their position, Holmquist sent a male and female trainee to the bays to round up the company for an emergency muster. Fifteen minutes later, Audi and Mroz came out of the CQ Office. Mroz joined the gathered troops on the south patio and Audi approached the four semi-prone trainees by the picnic table.

"On your feet!" Audi bellowed. Dale, Shannon, Zachary and Judd rose to Attention. "Get over there with your platoons!"

At the formation, Audi, Holmquist and Putnam went through the ranks and individually asked every trainee, at very close range, if they had been drinking. Once that task was completed, the company was ordered to return to their respective barracks until further notice.

The women who had no idea why the muster was called, found out very quickly as the incident spread like wildfire. Dale approached Shannon, who was lying on her bunk with a cold washcloth over her eye. "Are you okay?"

Shannon removed the washcloth to reveal a purplish-red mark on her cheekbone, below her left eye. "How does it look?"

"Like he smacked you with a redwood."

"Why do these things always happen to me?"

Dale let go with an exaggerated sigh. "You've just got to stop being such a femme fatale."

This made Shannon smile. "Hey, when you got it, it just oozes out, you know?"

"I'm so glad you can make jokes, Walker. While you're enjoying all this attention, our passes for tomorrow will probably be pulled." The crisp voice belonged to none other than Professor Snow.

"Oh, Christ, it figures," Shannon said. She pointed to her face. "Does it look like I'm enjoying this?"

"How should I know? Maybe you're into pain."

Shannon sat up. "Only if it comes out of kicking the shit out of you. Oh, my mistake. That would be classified as pleasure."

"If you ask me, you got exactly what you deserved," Snow said with a sneer.

"Nobody asked you," Dale said. Until that point, she and Snow had gotten along but maybe that was because their paths had so rarely crossed. "Since you brought it up, though, I'm interested; why did she deserve it?"

"Yeah, I'd like to know that, too," Shannon said.

"Oh, please…you let both of them paw you like animals, leading them on and now you play innocent?"

Shannon stood up and headed for the latrine so she could rinse her washcloth under more cold water. She started to pass Snow and then stopped in front of her, unthreateningly. "Now, Professor, how would you know that unless you were watching me the entire five-and-a-half hours? You wouldn't be jealous of the boys, would you?"

It was almost as if Snow could be seen sprouting talons and fangs. She clearly held herself back from lunging at Shannon. "Believe me," Snow hissed through clenched teeth, "you're nothing I'd want."

"Thank God for that," Shannon said as she continued her journey to the sinks. By this time, everyone in the bay was watching.

"You're a cockteaser!" Snow snapped at her.

Shannon stopped and turned to face her. "You're the last person to be calling anyone names like that."

"What do you mean?" Snow asked, indignantly. "I have never gone out anywhere and teased or picked anyone up or let them have free reign of my body just because I felt a little horny. You cannot make the same statement, Walker."

"Yes, I can but not with such a straight face. You're very good, Snow, but…let's not forget about your oh so virtuous behavior the night before Christmas exodus."

There was dead silence in the bay. The rest of the women wondered what apparent incriminating secret (by the stunned look on Snow's face) Shannon held over the Professor's head. As Shannon stared her opponent down, she sneaked a glance at Dale to see a tiny smirk on Dale's face. She looked back at Snow, whose mouth dropped open but no sound came out.

Dale stepped over to Snow and patted her on the back. "You're wise not to say anything. An argument Walker loses is never over. Keep that in mind." As Dale then quickened her pace to catch up with Shannon, a loud noise made everyone jump. It sounded like the barracks door had been kicked open and slammed against the wall.


Shannon and Dale exchanged glances. This was not good. It was McCoy and he sounded furious.

"At ease!" Someone called out, unnecessarily.

"Second Platoon, I want you all in my office immediately!" His voice was more of a bark than a yell.

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," a few females randomly answered. McCoy then exited the bay.

"Oh, boy," Dale mumbled to Shannon. "This is going to be like facing a strict father after coming home an hour after curfew."

"Hey, it could be worse, we could all be standing in front of Ritchie."

"I know but just when we were beginning to form a rapport with McCoy and he was expressing pride and trusting us."

"Sorry, Dale."

"Not your fault, partner. This, too, shall pass."


Chapter Twelve

McCoy's small office was near the second floor landing. When the women entered, he was at his desk. He gestured for them to find a spot and sit. They settled, most of them on the floor and awaited their lecture.

"Okay, I want to know who in this room was drinking tonight."

Laraway, Ryan, McTague, Lehr and Ryder admitted they had imbibed. McCoy nodded and scanned the rest of the women.

"I know six of you were drinking. Only five of you are being honest. I'm going to ask you again. Who was drinking?" He got the same response.

The women who knew McKnight was the sixth one, wanted to throttle her. Her silence made the situation worse.

"Look, ladies, we honestly expected some of you to drink, even though you were told not to. It happens every time. And it would have gone unmentioned if it hadn't been for the Walker incident."

"Excuse me, Drill Sergeant, may I say something?" Dale asked.

"Certainly, Private Oakes."

"Why will it hereafter be referred to as The Walker Incident when it was Private Judd who caused all the trouble?"

McCoy smiled, unexpectedly. "Are you asking this because you two have become good friends?"

"No, Drill Sergeant, I'm asking because it doesn't seem fair to me that she's getting blamed for this and, as you can ask Mroz, all she did was stand in the wrong place."

"Point well taken. I stand corrected. From now on, in our group anyway, it will be referred to as The Judd Incident."

"Thank you, Drill Sergeant."

McCoy kept the women in his office for a gab session that he hoped would help some of them talk out their aggression. While they aired their grievances, Dale wondered if the conversation would get back to McKnight's drinking and if she would finally admit it or if someone would end up reporting her. Although turning in fellow GIs for minor violations was not a wise thing to do in any close quartered military environment, McKnight had crossed the line too many times, causing grief for her barracks-mates, platoon and company and everyone was sick of it. They were tired of her never owning up to her infractions, never taking responsibility and whatever mess she got into was always someone else's fault. Dale was very interested in how this office meeting would end.

"Do you know how I feel when I am called at home by the Staff Duty NCO, a drill sergeant from another company, to tell me about the unmilitary-like goings on in my own company?"

Shannon stood at Attention in the Senior Drill Sergeant's office. She thought she had escaped this fate as Ritchie had allegedly been on a three-day leave. She faced his desk. "No, Drill Sergeant."

"You don't? You have no idea how I must feel?" He stood in front of her.

Didn't I just say No? "I can only imagine, Drill Sergeant." A massive headache had set in. An audience before the Senior Drill Prick was the last thing she needed.

"No, you can't!" Ritchie yelled at her. He began his usual tirade about how humiliated and ashamed he was and as he ranted, he roamed. His movement, mixed with his nasally bellyaching, did not make it any easier on Shannon's head. He progressed to what amounted to some kind of ritual dance while he hollered about the irresponsibility of the troops. He stopped right in front of her, nose to nose. "And it's your fault!"

"My fault?" Shannon tried hard to maintain focus but there still seemed to be at least two of him. All she really wanted was to go back upstairs and lie down.

"Yes. You're fault. Because you are a female."

"What?" Regardless of her suspected concussion and how bad her head hurt, she wanted to hear his rationalization.

"Don't you mean 'What, Drill Sergeant'?" He was still in her face.

"Yes, Drill Sergeant, that's what I meant," Shannon said. She would have blatantly rolled her eyes if it wouldn't cause her so much pain.

"If you hadn't been a female, Walker, the two men wouldn't have reacted the way they did. In fact, if the females weren't here at all, these men wouldn't have to have been restricted for as long as they have been. They would be through basic training and on to LE School. They would have focused on something other than the female anatomy and what part of them they can stick in what part of you." He walked around her and faced her back. "How did you qualify for the MP training, anyway, Walker? Open your legs for the recruiter?"

Shannon had enough. She moved out of the position of Attention and turned on her heel to face him. "What is it with you, Drill Sergeant, that you can't keep your mind out of the gutter? It seems to me that you have a problem with women and sex."

Ritchie's shock was apparent. He got very quiet and squinted at her. "What did you say to me?"

"You heard me."

"Why you disrespectful little bitch! Get in the front leaning rest position! Now!"

"Are you sure you want me in that position? I would think you would prefer me on my knees in front of you." She watched Ritchie get flustered. His expression told her that his immediate inability to speak was a mixture of not believing her defiance and wondering if she were serious about a possible blow job.

Finally, he spoke. "I told you to get into the front leaning rest position and if you are not in it in three seconds, I will put you there!"

"You lay one hand on me and I swear to God, I will scream rape but not before I kick your balls up through the third floor bay," Shannon told him through clenched teeth.

"Now you're threatening me? I think you Army experience just ended, young lady. With my report that you propositioned me and then threatened me when I didn't accept your offer, I don't see a simple trainee discharge in your future." He returned to his smug state. His sneer disappeared, however, when Shannon crossed her arms and glared at him. This was not the reaction he expected or intended.

"Drill Sergeant Ritchie, you better think really hard about what you're doing. You are out of line here, not me. Your mistake is that you think all women are stupid, inferior and subservient and that we're all afraid of you. Understand this, Drill Sergeant, I want to be a good soldier and I want to respect you but it's clear that you do not respect yourself or you wouldn't treat people – females, especially – the way you do. Now, I know I'm in a 'man's Army' but I also know I do have rights. They are limited but I do have them. And I know that you are on the IG's shit list and I think if it comes to who the IG will believe, it won't be you. Not with all the complaints against you in this unit. But I won't wait until the IG gets back from leave. I'll go to the Battalion Commander. As your boss, I don't think she'll appreciate your opinion of how she must have made her rank."

A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead. "Walker, you certainly have some brass ones." He returned to his desk and sat down. "I'm going to overlook this little display of insubordination because you obviously have a head injury. We'll keep what was said in this office between us and I won't give you a counseling statement."

You sleazy son-of-a-bitch. "Yes, Drill Sergeant. May I please go back upstairs and lie down before I pass out?"

"Do you need to be taken to the hospital? Maybe Silva should drive you over just in case." His tone was expressionless and he no longer made eye contact.

"No, please, Drill Sergeant. I'd like some aspirin and to get off my feet."

"See Sergeant Audi for the aspirin. You're dismissed, Walker."

"Thank you, Drill Sergeant." Shannon closed the door behind her and entered the CQ Office.

"Damn, Walker, look at that shiner," the male CQ runner shouted and whistled.

The piercing noise hit her like a shot. If she thought her head could not have hurt any worse, she was just proven wrong. "You do that again and we'll have matching shiners," Shannon threatened.

"You okay, Walker?" The voice belonged to Holmquist, who was seated at Sergeant Fuscha's desk. He at least had a tinge of compassion to his tone.

"I will be, Drill Sergeant, if I can just get some aspirin and go back upstairs to lie down."

Holmquist nodded, reached into one of the desk drawers and handed her a bottle filled with white pills. "New stash. Take a couple for later, too."

She took six pills from the bottle. "Thank you, Drill Sergeant."

"Next time? Duck," Holmquist said, as he returned the aspirin to the desk.

"There won't be a next time, Drill Sergeant," Shannon said. "There never should have been a this time."

"I think I made him suspicious," Shannon said. She and Dale had run into each other on her way back to the bay. She decided to smoke one last cigarette, even though her head was still throbbing, and she pulled Dale back down to the south patio with her.

"I don't think I would have done anything differently," Dale said, soothingly. "You know me, I probably would have been a lot worse. Although…it would have been interesting to see him try to drive home with his desk shoved up his ass. Shan, if I didn't blow it after Kirk's death with as blatant as that insubordination was, I am pretty sure you didn't blow it with Ritchie. In fact, you probably made him stop and think."

"I know but about what?"

Dale folded her hands together as she leaned on the railing and looked out over the parking lot. "Let's just see what happens here before we go packing our bags. If we are found out now, the sooner we can flush Ritchie's toilet and get the fuck out of here."

"Dale…what if it hasn't been a set up? What if those other drill sergeants have really been guys like Ritchie? He's been disguising himself so well that Bishaye certainly hasn't seen anything wrong with him. And Henning thinks he's an asshole but obviously she doesn't suspect him of anything else."

"That's why they have us here."

"But what if it really is the drill sergeants?" Shannon looked at Dale. "What if it's been the drill sergeants all along? God, and the way I badgered Willensky…"

"No, I don't believe that. Those girls are hiding something. Your instinct was that Willensky was holding something back."

"Yes but was that because I had already convinced myself that she was involved?"

"No, I talked to the same people you did. None of those drill sergeants had an attitude anywhere near what Ritchie has," Dale said.

"In front of us."

"Hanley said it was out of character for the last two."

"Hanley? Now there's a pillar of reliability. And you two were such good friends that you know for a fact she couldn't possibly be mistaken."

Dale arched an eyebrow. "That's my point. Hanley is as military as one can get. Do you think that if she really thought Halpin and Fransciosa were guilty that she would have so readily defended them?"

"Unless she was involved with one of them."

"Hanley? She's a freaking Army droid!" Dale sounded frustrated.

"Nothing's impossible."

"Okay, what about Carolyn Stuart?"

"I don't know!" Shannon squeezed her eyes shut as the level of her own voice echoed through her still aching head. She took a deep breath. "Maybe that's just coincidence."

Dale was momentarily silent. She chewed on her bottom lip and then said, "Shannon, I know Ritchie really threw you into a tailspin here. I'm your partner. If you want to go to Bishaye first thing in the morning and tell her you think the drill sergeants are guilty and we're wasting our time then I am right beside you. God knows, I would love to get out of here. But I know her. She will grill us until we come up with something solid enough to convince her that it was the drill sergeants and not the women. And we don't have that. We only have speculation. Ritchie's behavior is not enough."

Shannon stabbed out her cigarette, field stripped it and stuck the butt in her pocket. "I wanted to kill him. I wanted to wrap my fingers around his throat and just choke the life right out of him."

"I understand." Dale sat down on the picnic table and Shannon seated herself on the bench.

"God, remember when we got here and we were so worried about Robin? He's turned out to be no more than a flirt. And harmless, at least to my knowledge."

"Mine, too."

"I'm just stunned that with all the trouble caused by in the last three cycles, Ritchie would so freely say that stuff to me. And to Tierni."

"True. Although he never actually put himself in the situations."


"Think about it. What he said to Tierni about 'doing it with someone who matters' or any of the other things, he never actually said 'doing it with me' or 'sleeping your way to the top, starting with me'."

"He implied it."

"Maybe not. Maybe he meant exactly what he said. He seems to hold such contempt for women, maybe he was just thinking out loud. He probably believes the only way women get anywhere in life is by bartering with their bodies. I'm sure it makes him feel superior to voice that opinion any time he gets the opportunity."

"Are you sticking up for him?" Shannon glared at her.

Dale looked down at her. "You know, that would be a much more menacing expression if both eyes were open equally. You kind of look like a pirate." When Shannon didn't find that humorous, Dale said, "I'm not sticking up for him. I'm just trying to reason it out. I can't believe a man like Ritchie, smart enough to retain senior drill sergeant status for several cycles, would be stupid enough to offer up his stud services in light of everything that's been happening, especially after an IG warning."

"What about what he did to Kotski?"

"That was wrong. All of it is wrong, Shannon. He's not a boy scout. I just don't think Bishaye will go for it."

"He seemed to calm down when I brought Bishaye into it. She must have a lot of power."

"She does. She knows a lot of people. In fact, she's probably as influential as the IG on this post. You know the post commander, General Oberman? He's an old boyfriend of hers. He's the one who talked her into a military career. And it was through him, she met Jack, her husband."

"I didn't know that."

"Yep." They both got up and crossed the patio toward the staircase. "He and Jack aren't pals anymore but he and Anne are still great friends. Through him and others along the way, she has a lot of acquaintances that carry a lot of weight. And they just love to do her favors."

"I'm sure it has nothing to do with her looks," Shannon said, sarcastically. They slowly climbed the stairs. The higher they went, the more her eye ached. "Do you think we'll get that six hour pass tomorrow?"

"No. How about getting a good poker game going?"

"Sounds good. If we're going to get busted anyway, we might as well go out gambling."

"I'll bet you anything we'll still be on the case. How is Ritchie going to justify your insubordination without incriminating himself? He won't tell anyone. And even if he does tell Colton, Colton won't let it get as far as Bishaye. That would make him look too irresponsible."

"Okay, then poker it is…unless Michaelson wants to play. Then you might as well just hand her your money and leave the room."

Dale opened the barracks door. "She's that good? Better than you?"

"She makes me look like an amateur. But I love the competition and so will you." It was the first time all night Shannon managed to smile. It hurt.


Chapter Thirteen

Word was sent up early that the doubtful six-hour pass had been granted to all but the thirty-six GIs (including McKnight) who had been drinking beer the day before. Shannon was almost disappointed as she had geared herself up for really good running card game. She was also more than surprised that she was not restricted because of her unwilling involvement in the events of the night before.

Her head finally stopped pounding after Lights Out and she dozed off moments later. Judd's fist was huge and powerful and the bruise it had left covered at least a quarter of Shannon's face. The impact had been startlingly solid and she had no doubt she had a mild concussion. By the time she was ready to sleep, the blurriness was long gone, as was the lightheaded feeling that attacked her every time she stood up. Sleep may have not been safe but it certainly was welcomed.

The bruise was purple and blue; lovely shades of each if she were buying bouquets of violets. It looked even more conspicuous right out of a hot shower. In a few days, it would look like camouflage and fit right in. In a week, it will be gone, Shannon mentally chanted.

In an effort to keep each other out of petty complications, Shannon and Dale made a pact to stay together for the duration of this pass. They hit every trainee hangout: the bowling alley, the PX, the gym, the movie theater and The Pizza Place. The atmosphere in each was subdued after yesterday. Both Shannon and Dale kept their observations of A-10's GIs as discreet as possible while still participating as much as they could in the activities and not become distracted. Shannon, especially, kept her distance from any prospective amorous advances. No one drank. No one got into any trouble. It was a very quiet, boring afternoon but at least they had the semi-freedom to be bored on their own accord.

After the company signed in, it was back to the normal routine of locker maintenance, shined boots, pressed uniforms and clean laundry.

Dale reassured Shannon that since they had not been sent for, their cover was obviously still good. Neither agent trusted the senior drill sergeant, though, and agreed to be extra vigilant when he was around. Dale had talked Shannon out of advising Bishaye about what had occurred the night before. As much as she usually used any excuse she could find to talk to Anne, she thought it would be better to wait to see if Anne contacted them. When they got through the day without Henning showing up to pull them away from wherever they were, that was a good sign.

The trainees were brought to a pick up point by bus and marched to a field where they were to be transported by helicopter to the starting site of their ten-mile hike. Each soldier was outfitted with full backpack, war gear and M16, a total of seventy-five extra pounds. They were advised that they would definitely be "attacked" somewhere along the route so they attached their gas masks to their war gear. It only added another pound but after the first mile, it was going to feel like a lot more.

The troops were instructed on how to approach and exit the helicopter while the tandem rotors of the aircraft were in motion. There were three transport Chinooks that lifted the soldiers in small groups to an area in the woods that led to a dirt road starting point.

Shannon, deathly ill at the thought of riding in a helicopter again, timidly tapped the pilot on the shoulder before her group took off. "Excuse me, Sir," she asked, shakily, "what happens if someone gets sick in your helicopter?"

"We kick them out in mid-air," he said, not even cracking a smile.

"Well, can you make sure I don't miss my turn?" She moved to her seat, holding her stomach.

Shannon survived the five-minute trip but she rode with her head between her knees the entire time. Once she was back on the ground and out of the Chinook, she was fine. She could never understand why everyone around her, including Dale, seemed to get such a big thrill out of that mode of transportation.

Dale went on the hike even though she knew Colonel Bell would have considered it a violation of her profile. She persuaded Holmquist to let her go since the restriction said nothing about hiking and it technically wasn't marching and definitely wasn't running. She promised him that if it got to be too much, she would drop out, which she did after eight miles.

During the jaunt, the trainees were gassed on three different occasions to test their reaction time. They were besieged by blank gunfire several times and once, Putnam drove a jeep between the two single files of soldiers on both sides of the road, yelling, "Bomb!" McCoy, who was in a jeep about an eighth of a mile behind Putnam, evaluated how long it took the trainees to take cover. It wasn't the scramble to get down into prone positions in the ditches on the sides of the road that was difficult; it was getting up out of the ditch that was the real task.

At the conclusion of the hike, when the soldiers marched back into Tenth Battalion, five females and only one male had fallen out and needed to be transported back to the company area by vehicle. The women were afraid that Ritchie would land all over them again because of it and the collective thought of another episode with him tended to lower everyone's spirits a bit. Fortunately, completion of the ten-mile hike was not mandatory for graduating basic training.

Uncharacteristically, Ritchie said nothing derogatory to anyone, in fact, he was overheard telling McCoy that he thought everyone did a good job. When that got around, the main rumor was that the trip to the IG was finally working. Shannon was worried it was something else.

"What's he up to?" Shannon whispered.

Dale sat on the foot of her bunk frame and removed her boots. She massaged her heel and ankle before she attempted to put her sneakers back on. "I don't know but I'm sure it's not what you think. Henning would have let us know immediately."

Both agents were quiet as several females passed them on their way to their lockers, the latrine or on their way back outside. When the bay traffic became scarce, Shannon watched Dale knead her bad foot and inquired, "Why the hell did you go on the march, you dumb shit?"

"It wasn't a march, it was a hike."

"March, hike, doesn't matter; the results were the same and it wasn't that smart, Dale."

"Really, Private Blackeye?" Dale said, good-naturedly.

Shannon pushed Dale off balance and she fell backward onto her bunk. "I didn't choose to get punched in the face."

Dale bounced off the bed and immediately took the wrinkles out of her blanket. "I didn't choose to injure my foot."

"No, you chose to aggravate the injury and maybe do more damage. You're going to end back up at the TMC."

Dale slipped her sneakers on and tied them. "I can't go back to Bell. She'll put me out of commission for sure. She'll override everything and put me right into physical therapy."

"Can she do that?"

"She can."

"Then, Dale, maybe you should go," Shannon said, gently.


"Then take it easy on yourself, would you? There is nothing about why we are here that requires you to possibly make yourself crippled over it."

Dale sighed. "You're right. I should have sat this one out."

It was pouring rain when the company attended their 0700 formation after morning chow. That did not deter the drill sergeants who held the scheduled class on digging foxholes, anyway. The trainees were bused out to the field where they spent the morning up to their armpits in muck. The faster and deeper they dug, the more rapidly the water filled the space.

They returned to the company area after noon chow in the field and spread out on the patios, filthy and wet, and cleaned their M16s. With the little time left before 1700 formation, the company practiced Drill and Ceremony.

There were very few Alpha trainees in the mess hall for evening chow. A majority of them voluntarily gave up eating to stand in line for a shower. It was a wonder there was any hot water left in Alabama by the time the trainees were through.

Dale returned to the bay after she cornered Audi about Kotski. Had he heard anything? No, he was just as much in the dark as she was. Could it be arranged that Dale could go see her? He would check on it and get back to her.

"Hey, Oakes," Tramonte called out. She, Tierni and Travis were standing by Shannon's bunk. "Come here a minute."

Dale walked over to the happy looking group. "What's up?"

"We're celebrating," Travis said and then pinched Tierni's cheek. "The rabbit lived. So we thought about taking our celebration to the Atlanta Underground on our first weekend pass. We wondered if you wanted to go."

"The Atlanta Underground? I've heard about that place." Dale glanced over at Shannon, whose eyes were flashing a rapturous 'Yes'.

"I liked it. I got my feet wet there during Christmas exodus," Tierni said.

"That wasn't all you got wet there," Travis said, laughing.

"Returning to the scene of the crime," Tramonte chimed in, affectionately, and put her arm around a blushing Tierni's shoulder.

"I'm game," Dale said, smiling. She imagined partying with that little group would be fun.

"Me, too," Shannon said. "I never miss an opportunity to tie a good one on."

"Just be careful what you tie it on to," Tierni said. "It can get a little wild."

"Then it's settled," Travis said and rubbed her hands together.

It was far from settled. After the excitement of the idea and all the frivolity that surrounded the initial planning, both cycle spies instinctively knew they would not be able to go. With a handful of women off in Atlanta, there was still the rest of the company to consider and because the Atlanta group would be occupying each other's time, there was no reason either of them would be able to come up with that would convince Bishaye their presence off in another state was essential to the case. To say it would have been essential to their sanity would not have cut any ice with Bishaye; if they were sane, they wouldn't be where they were.

Dale was on her way to her locker to get ready for bed when someone called Attention. Everyone stopped what she was doing and assumed the position.

"Good Evening, Ladies." Karen Henning said.

"Good Evening, Ma'am!" the women replied.

"I thought I would stop by to let you all know that you will spend tomorrow afternoon at a GI party, preparing the barracks for the Battalion Commander's Inspection. This is a biggie, Ladies, so this place has to look better than it has ever looked before. Am I understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am!"

"Outstanding. As you were," she commanded. She turned as though she was about to leave and then she stopped. "Oh, I need a volunteer to run a few things over to Battalion." No one spoke, as was expected. "Hmmm…Private Oakes, you have running shoes on. How about you help me out?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Dale said, sounding purposely unenthusiastic. She figured something must be going on and she was anxious to find out what it was. Maybe Ritchie was suspicious, after all. She caught Shannon's eye and shrugged before she exited the bay.

"What's going on?"

"I have no idea," Henning said. "I just got a call from the colonel who said to send you over."

"Interesting." Dale said, mostly to herself. She looked at Henning. "Have you heard anything, any rumors from the cadre – Ritchie, specifically – about Shannon or I?"

"No. Should I have? Do you think you've been made?"

"It's always a possibility." Dale wasn't sure how much Henning knew about Shannon's last encounter with Ritchie. "I just can't imagine why I'm being called on the carpet, so to speak, if I have nothing to report."

"I don't know. She told me to get you and send you over and that's what I'm doing. She must have a reason." Henning stopped at the edge of the north patio. "Maybe she just wants an update."

"Maybe." Or maybe she just wants to see me. Dale left Henning and walked to Battalion. She climbed the steps while those old, familiar butterflies swirled around in her stomach. She was ambivalent about facing Anne again, especially not knowing why she was there. That kiss replayed in her head and her inner devil hoped Anne just wanted some alone time with her. Her inner angel laughed uproariously at that idea.

Dale let the door close behind her and she took a deep breath. There was no Battalion CQ in sight; the reception area was empty and dark. The only light came from Anne's office, down the hall.

"Lock the door behind you." Anne's command was clear and it came from within her office.

Dale complied and walked to Anne's office. She leaned in the doorway and watched the colonel write her signature on a few papers. Why does she have to be so damned gorgeous? "Where's your CQ?"

"I sent him on an errand." Anne looked up at her and smiled. She gestured to a chair. "Sit." She appeared relaxed in her crisply starched fatigues and boots, so well spit-shined, they looked patent leather. Her face didn't seem to have the tense lines it had the last time they had seen each other.

Dale seated herself in a chair against the wall. "Am I in some kind of trouble?"

"Aren't you always?" The tone in Anne's voice was playful. "Is that why you think you've been called in here?"

"I can't think of any other reason." Dale folded her arms. Unless you've changed your mind and want to fuck my brains out.

"I didn't know I would be staying so late, so I thought since I had the opportunity, I'd get an update on your progress."

Dale's insides caved in at the disappointment. Of course. Why do I do this to myself? I should have known better… "There is no progress. There is nothing to report. If there had been, I would have let you know."

"Are you telling me nothing has happened?" Anne pushed her chair away from her desk and turned to face Dale squarely. Her cinnamon-colored eyes temporarily imprisoned Dale's blue ones until Dale looked away.

And what really hurts is that you know what you do to me. "Plenty has happened. Just nothing that stands out as being attached to the case."

"And what about Colton and Ritchie?"

"Colton has backed off completely. Ritchie is still a prick but I think he's learning to rein in his biases about women. His conduct is unacceptable by anyone's standards except his own."

"Think he's involved?"

Dale shook her head. "It crossed my mind. I doubt it but we're keeping an eye on him, anyway. There are other infractions he can be reported for when we are done here but I honestly don't think he has anything to do with this. I wish he were involved. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see him taken down. Especially by you." Dale showed a hint of a smile and got one back from Anne. "The other drill sergeants seem to be going about their business and nothing seems suspicious about the cadre. The prior service males are acting normally, just a little more familiar with the system than the rest. The trainees are adjusting and no one is behaving in any manner that would draw suspicion."

"What happened Saturday night, after you got back from pass?" She folded her hands on her lap.

"People getting their first taste of freedom and alcohol after being incarcerated for too long. I told you we needed a pass sooner. Two months is longer than most basic training lasts. Most trainees would be on to AIT and have more freedom than two fucking hours after eight weeks. We're lucky all we had was a handful of drunks. And no, Walker instigated nothing. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Anne nodded in comprehension. "I got a call from Kathlynn Bell. She's not happy about your foot."

"I had to tell her why I was here. She would have blown it otherwise."

Anne blew out a small chuckle. "She's not too happy with me, either."

"Like me, she doesn't understand why I'm here."

"Your still angry. I can hear it in your voice, see it in your demeanor."

"What difference does it make?" Dale snapped. "It won't get me out of this assignment and it…won't get me you." She looked back up into Anne's eyes.

"Dale…I…don't know what to tell you –"

"That's my point. I don't want you to tell me anything." She stood up and broke eye contact. "It's my problem. I'll deal with it." She turned to leave the office.

Anne also rose out of her chair. "Where are you going? You haven't been dismissed yet."

Dale stopped, did an About Face and stood at Attention. She refused to look at her. "Yes, Ma'am."

The colonel ran her fingers through her hair, exasperated. "What exactly do you want to happen between us?"

"Are you really that blind?" Dale glared at her.

Anne stepped closer to her and pulled Dale back into the office. She shut off the light, took Dale into her arms and pressed her against the wall. Her voice was low and sexy. "You want this again, don't you?" She bent her head and captured Dale's lips with her own.

The softness of Anne's lips and the intensity of the sexual charge that sizzled between them was almost too much for Dale; that and the fact that she was actually kissing her again. The kiss became immediately aggressive and hungry and Dale tasted whiskey on Anne's tongue. When she tried to break the contact, Anne became more forceful in her desire to stay physically connected. Dale finally was able to get out the words, "need to breathe." Both women were panting heavily when Anne rested her cheek on Dale's forehead.

"Are you drunk?" Dale asked, her breath still gasps.

"What?" Anne immediately seized Dale's lips again.

Dale's head was spinning. Anne's mouth felt so wonderful moving against her own and she told herself to just enjoy the moment while it lasted. Her common sense screamed something else. She reached up and separated their faces from each other. "You've been drinking."

"I had a couple shots. It isn't important."

"It isn't like you. You're still on duty. In your office. You're acting irresponsibly…with me in your office."

Anne sighed and pushed herself away from the wall and away from Dale. "You're right." She turned away from Dale. "And you should go…before I do something we will both regret."

"I won't regret it." Dale's tone was quiet.

"Yes, you will. And so will I." She returned to her chair and switched on her desk lamp. "I won't leave Jack. Even if I wanted to be with you full-time, Dale, I wouldn't do it. My career would be over. And I can't see you hanging around, feeling okay about being my dirty little secret." She watched Dale wince at that. "Sorry but I won't lie to you."

"May I go now?" Dale felt as though her insides were imploding.

"Make sure your barracks are really squared away. I won't take it easy on them just because of you."

"I know that," Dale snapped. "Did you kiss me because you're drunk?"

"I'm not drunk." Anne went back to studying the paperwork on her desk. "You're dismissed."

Dale shook her head, confused. "Do me a favor; next time you get the urge to kiss me, just walk away, okay? I can't go through this again with you. It's hurt too fucking much."

Anne watched Dale leave her office. "You have no idea," Anne said, under her breath, as she heard the door to Battalion close.

Dale still reeled as she climbed the stairs to the barracks. What the fuck was Anne doing? Dale was less concerned about the kissing than she was about Anne drinking while still at work. Although the kisses were once again everything Dale dreamed they'd be and more, she could understand Anne's confusion in regard to the urge for the physical contact. After all, Dale was experiencing the same upheaval of emotions. The difference between them was Anne wanted to fight them while Dale wanted to embrace them.

Was it Anne's feelings for Dale that provoked her to drink? Perhaps she wasn't drunk but she was certainly intoxicated to the point of allowing her defenses to be down. Or was it something else? Maybe she should have taken Anne more seriously back in Vermont when Anne told Dale she had no idea what it was like, being a female at her rank, running a battalion. Anne was so strong, Dale just couldn't see it as being too much of a challenge but maybe the good ol' boys, who thought like Ritchie, were actively trying to sabotage her.

The idea of that made Dale angry. Anne was as good as, if not better than, most men her rank and position. She should've been allowed to do her job without interference from a misogynist bunch who still thought women had no place in the military, unless it was nursing, supply, clerical or food service, areas that were considered subservient to the 'warrior' or leadership positions a majority of men held. If that's what was driving Anne close to the edge, Dale could understand Anne's breach of protocol. She didn't necessarily agree with it but she could understand it. If only Anne would talk to her, share with her like she used to…

Now it seemed that nothing between them would ever be the same. Dale cursed herself for allowing her crush to develop into something more and cursed Anne for her own, rare vulnerabilities lending to the confusion.

As much as Dale tried not to, she fell asleep with that kiss on her mind.


Chapter Fourteen

The trainees practiced for G-3 testing the next morning and occupied the rest of the day by preparing for the Battalion Commander's inspection.

As Shannon was one of the lucky few who got to strip the floor, Dale helped Ryan scrub the showers, brasso the drains, clean the tiles with a toothbrush and disinfect the shower curtains. Only two showers, two toilets and two sinks were allowed to be used until after the inspection. It was a long, hard day. The earliest anyone got to bed was 2230.

Alpha Company, Tenth Battalion was informed at 0520 formation that this was their last day of Basic Combat Training. They were advised that there would be no official graduation ceremony and that upset most of the group, especially the two lieutenants. Personally, they didn't need the ritual but they both felt badly for their fellow trainees. This would be the only time these members of A-10 would go through this particular phase of the Army and they should have been awarded for their accomplishment. Making it to this point had been a difficult road to travel and the undercover lieutenants felt the trainees deserved some emotional compensation for this distinct feat. No one suffered from overstuffed egos and a little positive reinforcement would have been nice and, maybe just the motivation these soldiers needed to go on.

When one of the male trainees questioned Audi about the reasoning behind no graduation, he was told that Captain Colton and Sergeant Ritchie had decided that because the course continued straight through to Law Enforcement School, a ceremony would defeat the purpose of uninterrupted training. Dale and Shannon could not have disagreed more.

The first order of business that morning was the PT test. To make it fair, there was no peer scoring. Drill sergeants and instructors from other companies kept track of all the repetitions and exercises and, even despite that, everyone got a Go. The next half of the morning was spent at Raburn Hall got G-3 testing.

Dale, for one, got the impression that the testing was just a formality. Her first task was to answer questions on how to clean an M16 and then to demonstrate to the tester whatever he requested concerning the same. This, as Dale discovered, was all hypothetical. He only asked Dale one question: "How much oil do you put in the bore?" Her correct answer was: "Two drops." Then he asked her to show him, to which she put the required amount in and proceeded to get the bore brush jammed tight in the bore. She got a Go.

She moved on, amazed, to her test in Drill and Ceremony, where she performed "Inspection Arms". She always had trouble with the precision and sharpness that was needed to make the drill what it was supposed to be. She learned along the way, however, that if she couldn't do it to the exact standards of the inspecting officer or NCO, doing it with a lot of enthusiasm and emphasis seemed to make up for it. That morning, she slapped the butt of that rifle so hard that her palm still stung an hour later. She may not have looked like she knew what she was doing but she sure sounded as though she did. It was enough to get her a Go. A few more tests later, Dale had (again) graduated from Basic Combat Training. The company had also passed the Battalion Commander's inspection that had been performed while the company was being tested elsewhere.

Regardless of the fact that the company had successfully completed basic training, it was handled like another training night. No special treatment was given and no restrictions were lifted. The trainees (as they were still called) remained in the company area and were only allowed in the normal places that still didn't include the dayroom. The only laugh Dale and Shannon had that day was the G-3 fiasco. Some of the others agreed that those activities were a bit absurd but they didn't seem to be in the mood to laugh. They voiced a unanimous opinion that it had begun to feel like a sentence as opposed to an enlistment.

The next morning, after chow and before 0700 formation, an argument broke out between Mroz and Saunders that almost came to blows. If Lehr and Mackey hadn't jumped between them, it might have turned into a free-for-all. With all the unreleased tension up in the bay, any provocation would have been enough.

It started when Saunders conveniently disappeared into the latrine, claiming the food was "taking its toll" on her digestive tract. This was the fourth day that Private Saunders had done this and used the same excuse. She and Mroz were tasked with splitting the detail of policing up the company area, removing and dumping trash from the female bay, laundry rooms, CQ office and washing out the garbage cans. Four days in a row, the entire assignment was left to Mroz.

Finally, Mroz confronted Saunders and told her to stop shirking her responsibilities, that she was fed up with doing the job for both of them. Saunders, indignant, retaliated by calling Mroz a snitch. Mroz countered by yelling if she were a snitch, Saunders certainly would have been written up by now and she was sick and tired of Saunders' laziness. Mroz told her that she was barely getting the detail done on time and she refused to run the risk of getting a counseling statement just because Saunders thought she was too good to clean garbage cans. Saunders pushed Mroz and Mroz pushed back. Saunders shoved harder and accompanied her action with some extremely unflattering name-calling. Mroz was about to take a swing when Mackey and Lehr came to the rescue. No one had any doubt that if the incident had become any more physical, Saunders, who had height and weight in her favor, may have put Mroz in the hospital. The yelling peaked just when Holmquist walked in and he immediately ordered everyone into the front leaning rest position. The silence in the bay was deafening. Holmquist let first and third platoons return to what they were doing and told the second platoon women to recover and follow him downstairs to the north laundry room.

"I'd really like to know why you ladies can't seem to get along," Holmquist said. The women sat haphazardly in the laundry room, either on the floor or on the concrete bar that was used to fold clothes. "What was the particular problem today?" No one spoke. "Private Mroz?"

MJ Mroz was on the verge of tears, out of anger and frustration more than anything else. She shook her head. "I have no problem, Drill Sergeant."

"Is that so?" He was not convinced. "How about you, Private Saunders?"

"I have no problem, either, Drill Sergeant."

Holmquist nodded. "I assumed as much. Mackey? Lehr? I suppose you two suddenly also have amnesia?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," they chorused.

He loudly sighed. "I understand what you're doing but it's got to stop. You are adult women; you are not catty high school girls. Now, I don't know what the problem is but if it doesn't straighten itself out, passes are going to start being pulled. I know it has been threatened before but this time we'll do it. If you think you're at each other's throats now, think of what you'll be like when the males get their evenings free and weekend passes and you'll all be stuck right here doing details." He paused to let that sink in. "I want some answers before you leave this laundry room. I want to know why this is a recurring problem that seems to be affecting second platoon females more than any other. You're making Sergeant McCoy and make me look bad. If you talk openly and frankly to me right now, I promise you I will work with you to try and straighten it all out right here and now."

None of the women looked persuaded and he expected that. They didn't completely trust them, he was a drill sergeant and still 'the enemy'. He studied them all, looking for which one he would choose to open the discussion. He picked the one female he felt would not be afraid to speak her mind and, at the same time, probably not point a finger at anyone.

"Private Oakes, let's start with you," he said.

Dale stared up at him, startled, and he smiled patiently at her. She looked around at the other women and was greeted by stony, silent glares. She returned her attention to Holmquist. "Do we have to, Drill Sergeant?"

"I'll get to you sooner or later, it might as well be now."

She cleared her throat. "Well, Drill Sergeant, I think half of our problem is that we don't have enough time away from each other. I think this specific platoon has the majority of the explosive personalities and taking into consideration our different backgrounds, upbringings and opinions, we have the biggest unity problem. To me, it seems to be a case of too much individuality and not enough team work."

Holmquist looked like he was trying not to smile. "You think that's the brunt of it, Oakes?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant."

Holmquist scanned the other faces in the room. "Anyone agree with that? Disagree? Have anything to add?"

Minty finally spoke up. "No, Drill Sergeant. Oakes 'bout said it all."

He waited for anyone else to make their opinions known. No one did. "If anyone wants to say anything, now is the time to do it. You won't have another chance." There was more silence. "Okay. Consider this fair warning. Next time I walk into a fight, I start handing out restrictions. The more times you get written up, the more it goes on your record. As a possible future MP, you do not want it following you around that you have disciplinary problems. Just being female will be problem enough in this MOS, you really don't need a spotted record to go with it. You need to start readjusting your attitudes because if you don't, I can guarantee Uncle Sam will do it for you and not in a way that will make any of you easier to live with. Believe me when I say that you have made it through the worst end of it and, for the most part, you've all made it through with flying colors. Do not fuck it up now. You've come too far, so if you let me down, I will get even." He checked his watch. "Fall In on the north patio."

Dale thought about the way Holmquist had handled the situation with strictness and patience, in a calm but firm manner. She believed he had their best interests at heart and that he was sincere about wanting them to make it the rest of the way. She thought about this as she posed for her graduation photograph that was taken that morning. After Holmquist's lecture, the company was marched to the PT field where they did enough grass drills to make them appear dusty and unkempt and then they were run back to the company area where they were immortalized on film.

One by one the trainees were brought into the dayroom directly from the field where they were denied the request to return to the bay to towel up their appearance. Before they were perched in front of the camera, they were instructed to go behind a partition and change the top-half only of their uniform.

When the future MPs stepped out from behind the screen, he or she was attired in filthy fatigue bottoms and soiled combat boots but above the waist, the GI sported the crisp, clean dress uniform of a Military Police officer that included the white dress cap. Although with what they had just put themselves through on the PT field, they still looked like what Wachsman phrased as a "turd struck with a club." It was with great difficulty that anyone kept a straight face so that they could look like dignified soldiers in the photographs.

After noon chow, they all marched to a wooden building and were seated at desks inside where they were given a brief introduction and then a driving battery test. The first part was a written questionnaire with common sense, multiple-choice answers. The second phase consisted of picking out words that got smaller and smaller until they looked like a speck of dirt on the paper.

The class was then divided into two groups where they were given eye tests and color blindness tests. The fourth phase found the trainees individually pulling a string to straighten pegs for judgment. Next, the trainees had to step on a specifically designed brake, to test for quickness.

When that class was over, the trainees were marched back to the company area where they were herded over to the gym. This class, conducted by four LE School instructors, explained what the trainees would face in AIT. The attitude of the teachers was offensive and condescending and suddenly felt as though the next eight weeks were going to be a harder version of what they had all just spent the last eight weeks doing.

Back in the company area, after mail call, Shannon caught up with Dale. "Wow. We made through basic training." Then she leaned in close to Dale and mumbled, "Again."

"Those asshole instructors at the gym today certainly did not make it feel like it."

"Yeah but you know they're all bluster," Shannon said. She gestured for Dale to follow her outside. Once they reached the patio, they strolled to an area where they were alone and Shannon lit a cigarette. "You never got to tell me what Bishaye wanted the other night."

"Oh. That." Dale had tried her best to put that little meeting out of her mind. It hadn't worked. "She was working late and called me over to get an update."

"What'd you tell her?"

"Told her we didn't have anything to tell her."

"And she didn't have anything for us?"

Dale shook her head. "Nope."

"Is she as frustrated as we are?"

"Oh yeah, she's frustrated, all right," Dale said and decided not to elaborate.

"How's your foot?"

"Better. Standing down on the tri-daily PT has helped a lot."

"You're not standing down." Shannon said and laughed.

"Well, I'm only doing the ones that aren't strenuous on my feet."

"Which is none of them."

Dale looked out over the parking lot. "I hope something happens soon, Shan. I can't wait to wrap this up and get the hell out of here."

"No shit. Right now, I'd be grateful for an off-post weekend pass."

"Hell, we won't even get that if second platoon doesn't smarten up."

"Is that what Holmquist threatened you all with?"

"Uh huh."

"Trust me, when it comes to their freedom, I bet you'll find perfect angels until it's granted."

"I'll tell you what, if we don't start getting weekend passes soon, Bishaye won't have to worry because she'll have a mass murder on her hands to fret about. These bitches will kill each other." Dale watched as Shannon field-stripped the rest of her cigarette. "I told Holmquist that we all needed to get away from each other, that being cooped up was what was causing the flare-ups."

Shannon had a silly grin on her face. "And just when did you tell him that?"

"This morning in the laundry room when –" She looked at the expression on Shannon's face. "Don't even start."

"C'mon," Shannon playfully poked Dale in the ribs. "You can't tell me you don't think he's a cutie."

"I think he's adorable but I am not going after him. I'm not even thinking in that direction. Good God, Shan! The last thing I'm going to do. You do remember why we're here, right?"

"Of course I do. I'm just teasing you."

"Why? I mean, why about him?"

"Because I see the way his eyes twinkle when he looks at you."

"You – you what? He does what?" Dale stared at Shannon, incredulously.

"You haven't noticed the way he looks at you?"


"You should." She smirked and Dale crossed her arms.

"You know I don't fraternize and…why are we even talking about this?"

"I was hoping you weren't as uptight as you used to be."

"Uptight?" Dale was now defensive. "I am not uptight. I'm just…focused. I've had my share of flings and I haven't always been discreet but, God, Shannon, the last thing I'm going to do is sleep with a drill sergeant, especially on this case."

"No matter how hung on you he might be?"

"You're reading an awfully lot into a few looks."

"It's my job."

Dale tapped Shannon's forehead. "You were hit too hard. It's affected your brain."

Shannon nodded. "Probably. I need sleep and I have fireguard tonight, 0300 to 0500."

"I hate that shift. It makes for too long of a day."

"I agree. So after chow, I'm going to try and get some sleep."

"You do that. Maybe it will help calm that overactive imagination of yours."

"It's not overactive. I bet if you were a civilian and you met him in a bar, you'd go for him."

"And you'd be wrong." She wished she could confide in Shannon but she wasn't sure she was ready to say it out loud and she was less sure Shannon was ready to hear it.

Shannon was about to debate her again when someone announced to line up for chow.

Part 15

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