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 Fifteen

Fireguard duty was usually uneventful; the required two hours was normally spent reading or catching up on personal details.

Shannon knew, not even five minutes into her shift, that 'boring' was going to be the last word to describe it. She had been awakened at 0300 by off-going fireguard McKnight, who (by the way she looked) was most likely asleep before she even hit her bunk. Shannon made her way to the latrine and planned to occupy the rest of her shift by polishing her brass. She stopped at the sink to wash her hands and contemplated smoking a cigarette when she heard what sounded like the barracks door close.

When she stepped into the hallway between the latrine and the open bay, she spotted Holmquist. He seemed to be searching for something and when he saw her, he approached her quietly.

"How long have you been on duty?" Holmquist asked her, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I just got on, Drill Sergeant. 0300 hours."

"Let me ask you something…what's one of the first things you do when you take over as fireguard?"

Shannon blinked in bewilderment before she answered him. This certainly was a weird time to give her a spot quiz, even for a drill sergeant. "Well, honestly, the first thing I do is relieve my bladder. And then I walk through the bay to make sure everyone's accounted for and that nothing is plugged in or –"

Holmquist crooked his finger at her. "Come with me."

She followed him through the bay and they stopped at Dizzy's bunk, which was obviously empty. Dizzy hadn't even attempted to disguise the fact that she wasn't there by arranging pillows under the covers to look like a sleeping form. Shannon then shadowed Holmquist back out into the hall. She made a quick, visual search as she walked behind him and made sure everyone else was present.

"Would you have noticed that?" He asked as they stopped in the hallway.

"Yes, of course, Drill Sergeant," Shannon answered.

"Then what would you have done?"

"I would have checked the stalls and the showers to see if she were there."

"And if she wasn't?"

"Then…" Should I be honest with him? She decided she would take the chance. "Knowing Private Zelman, I'd go to the other three bay doors and check with the other fireguards to see if she was in any of them."

"And what if she was?"

"Then I'd tell the fireguard I would give her exactly five minutes to get back in her own bunk or I'd report her."

"Would you have actually reported her?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant, because if I don't, I run the risk of getting in trouble myself if, say, the Staff Duty NCO decides to pop in for a surprise bed check…like, um, now."

"I assure you that is not why I am here. Bear with me for another minute or so, Private Walker. What would you do if you didn't find her in the other three bays?"

"I would check the laundry rooms, the day room and, as a last resort, the CQ office."

"And if she wasn't in any of those places?"

"Then I am awfully afraid I would have to report her missing."

Holmquist nodded. "Who did you relieve?"

"McKnight, Drill Sergeant."

"Get her up and have her wake up whoever she relieved and bring them here."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant." Shannon disappeared into the darkness of the bay. On her way to rouse McKnight and then Creed, she wondered where Dizzy was and what the hell was going on. Within a minute, all three of the night's fireguards stood before Holmquist. After a few quick questions, he sent Creed back to her bunk and he repeated the same questions to McKnight, who gave all the wrong answers. It was apparent to both Shannon and Holmquist that McKnight had fallen asleep during fireguard and that's when Dizzy left the bay.

"Walker, you come with me. McKnight, you'll take over the remainder of Walker's shift and I'll deal with you later."

McKnight saved her tantrum for after their departure.

Shannon stayed downstairs in the First Sergeant's office and guarded an extremely doped up Dizzy until Colton arrived forty-five minutes later. He seemed even less pleased to see Shannon than he did Zelman, a reaction both women shrugged off without much care. While Shannon waited in the Orderly Room for further instructions from Holmquist, she persuaded Joseph Elnicki, the CQ, by bartering with cigarettes, candy bars, a beer and a dance at the Pizza Place when they got their next pass, to let her read the CQ log and a copy of Holmquist's report. With Shannon at her most charming, Elnicki was putty in her hands.

By the time first formation had been called, rumors of the incident had already spread but Shannon was able to tell Dale what she read herself and overheard in the course of the two hours she had spent downstairs.

Sometime between 0115 hours, the last time McKnight remembered being awake, and 0225 hours, when the laundry room gang was discovered, Dizzy walked right by a snoring McKnight and continued downstairs to the south patio laundry room, where she had a pre-arranged rendezvous with Tom Court from First Platoon. The deal was, for a gram of cocaine, Dizzy would do anything he wanted.

Court kept his part of the bargain (no doubt purchased through Ingersol, which made both lieutenants wonder why she didn't directly go through Ingersol herself) and was bound and determined to make Dizzy keep hers. She was greeted when she arrived by Court and two other First Platoon males, Canfield and Brooks, who had cameras. After Court and Dizzy evenly split the gram (the other two declined; the thought of a naked woman was stimulating enough for them), she began to strip for the three of them while Canfield and Brooks captured the whole thing on film.

Dizzy then lay back on the washing machine and dryer and provided the boys with shots a gynecologist could appreciate. Court fed the machines quarters so they would vibrate while going through their normal cycles, then he removed his fatigue pants and climbed on the appliances with her. The performed oral sex on each other and several different positions of intercourse while the two photographers took turns masturbating. It was during a frenzied exercise where Dizzy was accommodating all three men when Holmquist walked in. This shocked everyone, including Holmquist. They had timed their activity around Holmquist's last patrol, which meant he should not have been back for at least two hours.

Holmquist, who had been assigned Battalion CQ, had forgotten something and was on his way back to the company Orderly Room when he saw light coming from under the door of the laundry room. The light hadn't been on when he had patrolled the area earlier, so he automatically investigated. Shannon overheard him tell McCoy later that he was sure all he would find was the CQ or CQ Runner doing their laundry. Then he opened the door.

Dizzy provided Shannon with other, blurry details. Dizzy said that, even for her, the look on Holmquist's face was unbearable. She told Shannon she was used to people being disappointed in her and, until that moment, she thought she had reached a point where it didn't bother her anymore. She said that Holmquist turned away from her, told her to get dressed while he grabbed the cameras from Canfield and Brooks. He ordered them all over to Battalion Headquarters, where he took them inside an office a good distance from the hearing range of his runner. He then demanded all the rolls of film and advised them to give them up freely now because he still had not decided whether he would call the MPs. If any additional film was found on them, they'd be in worse trouble than they already were. Dizzy said after Holmquist had the six rolls of film, he put them in his fatigue jacket pocket and told them that he would turn them over to the Battalion Commander first thing in the morning. He said he was sure they would be secure and remain unexploited in her possession.

Holmquist then informed them that the least of their problems would begin with all of them receiving Article 15s and then he verbally ripped them apart. He spoke to the males first for their participation in the ordeal and then started in on Dizzy. He chastised her for not only the lack of respect for herself but also disrespecting the oath she took when she was sworn into the Army. He leveled this attack at the men, too, and when Court protested by calling Dizzy an 'obvious slut,' Holmquist countered angrily with, "So what does that make you? You willingly had sex with her and arranged to have it photographed. Stop me when your sterling character starts to shine through here, Court."

He kept his mouth shut the rest of the time he was with Holmquist.

Holmquist's recommendation was that all of them be released from their contracts but, in the end, as both Shannon and Dale figured would happen, only Dizzy would be forced to leave. The three males would be written up, verbally reprimanded, given two weeks restriction and recycled to Bravo Company. All that meant was Court, Canfield and Brooks would still be still in MP training, except now they would be a week behind Alpha Company. The two lieutenants had to admit, as unfair as it was, maybe Dizzy was the lucky one.

There were jokes passed around the company, such as: 'Dizzy has a speech impediment. She can't say No' and 'Every time she hears the word drugs, her legs automatically snap open.' Even though some of the females joined in the frivolity, they all felt stung by the incident. It was something else that would reflect on them as a whole, whereas the three males involved were blamed individually for their behavior.

The only good thing that happened that day was that Kotski returned. She was relaxed, refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things. Several women, including Dale and Shannon, offered to help her make up what she had missed as she had been given a week to catch up to everyone else or be recycled to another MP company behind them in training. Kotski was determined to catch up.

That evening, Henning gathered the women together in the dayroom and gave them a mandatory speech on morals. Henning told them that the talk was just an afterthought and she knew that Private Zelman was not an accurate representation of the rest of them. With weekend passes soon to be upon them, however, she needed them to remember that how they acted when they were away from the company area still reflected on Alpha-10. She said that if she didn't address the subject with them then the Battalion Commander would and it would most likely not be a comfortable lecture to sit through.

Henning advised the women that Bishaye had seen the developed photographs and the colonel took it personally when a female had such little regard for herself and degraded herself the way Zelman had. The training officer added that both she and Bishaye realized that the three men were just as culpable but the other males didn't look at it that way. Men were perceived as "cool" when they did things like this and the only "uncool" part was getting caught. Women were always considered the ones at fault and the ones who were tramps and the bad reputations followed the females around for the rest of their lives. Henning told them that Bishaye had hoped the women in this cycle of Alpha-10 would be remembered for all they had accomplished, not for the best French postcards in the south.

The thought of Anne looking at those pictures of Dizzy brought a smirk to Dale's face. If Henning had been the only one to notice it, Dale was sure Henning would have ignored her but at least five other women clearly saw Dale sitting there with a smug smile on her face, which is probably why Henning spoke up.

"You find this situation amusing, Private Oakes?"

Dale snapped out of her preoccupation to see that everyone was staring at her. She sat up and cleared her throat as Henning's question registered with her. "No, Ma'am. May I speak freely?"

"Go ahead."

"What I really resent, Ma'am, is the fact that we have to be subjected to a lecture on morals and the men don't. None of us here would go behind the door to say that Dizzy – I mean Private Zelman – was a model soldier. I'm sure I also speak for everyone here by saying none of us want to be categorized with her, either. But one woman fucks up and all of us have to be treated as though we're guilty? Just by association of gender? Three men run circles around her actions and they're upstairs slapping each other on the backs. So, no, I find nothing about this situation amusing, Ma'am."

"I fully understand and agree with your complaint, Private, and as I said before, it isn't fair. The fact still remains that this is very much a man's Army and that is going to be thrown up in our faces every chance they get. We have to work twice as hard for half the recognition, especially as an MP. What we don't need to do is give them any reason, no matter how small it may seem to you, to make them feel validated in their claim that women shouldn't be here. Yes, it's wrong but get used to it."

Dale found out later that while Henning was reluctantly meeting with the women in the dayroom, Bishaye was was dealing with Court, Canfield, Brooks and Dizzy in her office. Dale was sure the term, "Wrath of God," took on a whole new meeting for them. Especially when she heard they had been in Bishaye's office a little more than two hours.

The next morning at 0730, the trainees attended an informal graduation ceremony on the south patio. It was conducted by Colton who, with certificates, gave recognition to Outstanding Overall Trainee (Haviland), Outstanding Trainee in PT (Lasher) and Highest M16 Score (Oakes). It just about killed Colton to have to recognize Dale in anything. In fact, when he shook her hand, he nearly crushed every bone in it.

The trainees were then 'rewarded' with the traditional company commander speech of what a good job they'd done and how proud he was at all of them for making it through. Not a word was mentioned about the laundry room scandal, which Dale was sure must have been at the insistence of Bishaye. The women were grateful because they had heard enough.

Before he dismissed them from formation, Colton introduced the company to eight Marines. Five males and three females would join them for LE School.

The Marine Corps sent their trainees to the Army Law Enforcement School because the Marine Corps didn't have one. Any Corps trainee who chose or was chosen to be in police work received his or her schooling from the Army. The merging of the two military cultures was always interesting. Especially the female culture.

Female marines didn't get the type of extensive combat training Army women did or so the female members of Alpha-10 were immediately informed by the three new inserts. Marine women were taught to be ladies not grunts and they began their integration by playing that to the hilt. The trio of women in camouflaged fatigues were named Saundra Navarrete, Pamela Chellemi and Denise Endres and they entered the bay with a chip on their respective shoulders and their noses held high in the air.

Dale found this amusing. She couldn't wait to watch these femme fatales when they were ordered to do a little low-crawling in the mud, to match prowess on the obstacle course or to accompany everyone else to a week of Bivouac that had been postponed from basic training. They would change their tune extremely fast.

The five marine males seemed to adapt just fine. They were named Briere, Cadwallader, Parisi, Raye and Waylon. Nick Parisi had the chiseled features and well-fit appearance of a movie star and it was a good bet he was going to be very popular among the Alpha women. He stood out from the group of eight not so much due to his looks but that he just exuded confidence. Of the three women, Navarette, who was a mixture of French and Spanish, appeared to capture the attention of the Alpha men. She had the dark, European beauty one expected to find in exotic women overseas. With her particular attitude, however, it was evident she wasn't going to waste her time on common trainees or drill sergeants, either, for that matter.

The locker assignments were once again rearranged to incorporate the marines alphabetically into the platoons. After that annoying task was completed, as the marines were being individually oriented, Alpha-10 was set free for the entire weekend. This came as a shock as they were sure they would all be restricted once more because of the laundry room incident.

Before they were released from formation, the trainees were told a list of seven establishments that were off-limits because they had a reputation as hot-beds of trouble. Three names on the list were on-post and the other four were off-post. The trainees were warned that MPs patrolled all of these places frequently and took names of GIs on the property. If any trainee's name came back on any of the lists or if any of the trainees were picked up for breaking any rules and regulations, they were going to be severely dealt with.

Dale and Shannon showered and changed into civilian clothes and split up the duties, agreeing to meet back at the Pizza Place at 2000 hours. Each agent hit the usual hangouts the trainees had frequented on their other limited passes, only to find very few members of Alpha-10. When they walked into the Pizza Place at 8:00, it was a different story.

The first area both lieutenants made their way to was the counter to order a beer, which they both knocked back as easily as drawing a breath. Dale and Shannon each ordered another and calmly observed the members of their company closely. By the time forty-five minutes had passed, the two lieutenants had danced with a few different males and Shannon had paid off her debt to Elnicki. Even though they relaxed and had a good time, they took particular notice of who left the Pizza Place and which trainees had paired off. When nine o'clock arrived, Shannon suggested to the female group that was left to hit The Enlisted Club.

"Isn't that place off-limits?" Segore asked as fear registered in her eyes.

"Yes it is," Travis said. She clearly liked the idea instantly. "Come on, Segore, get real. It's a club for enlisted people like us. We have every right to be there. How's an MP going to tell us apart from anyone else who goes in there?"

"But they'll take our names," Segore protested.

"I hear it's always packed. I hear it's like being in a nightclub. What MP patrol in their right minds is going to spend the night in there taking names?" Dale threw in. She knew if a patrol came in there at all, it was because they were specifically called or just for a visual scare tactic. "Do you really think a drill sergeant is going to go over a list of, maybe, a hundred people or more who might be there when the MPs get there?"

"And that's just one place." Travis picked up Dale's momentum. "If they have to go over names of hundreds of people…"

"Still, I don't want to take that chance," Segore said.

"Well, I do," Tramonte said. Tierni stood behind her and nodded her head vigorously.

"We'll walk you back to the barracks," Shannon said to Segore. "I have to get some money out of my locker. And we have to call a taxi."

Shannon didn't really need to get money out of her locker, she just wanted to check on who had returned to the barracks. She discovered, happily, that the women who had not stayed at the Pizza Place were safely back in the bay. If they had been granted dayroom privileges, she was sure a lot of people would have been in there, watching television, but the dayroom wasn't available to them until tomorrow.

The Enlisted Club was a nightclub not too far from the A-10 company area, whose patrons consisted of soldiers who held the rank of specialist 4th class and below. Dale and Shannon knew the club and the location well and they also knew they could have walked there faster than the cab could get them there. The building itself was the size of a normal barracks, big enough to house two bars. One room had a long bar, a huge dance floor, a disc jockey with an immense sound system and about seventy tables. The other room was smaller with a shorter bar, twenty-five tables, two pool tables and a game room.

When the group of five walked in, each paid a two dollar cover charge and were immediately overcome with a sense of freedom they hadn't had since Christmas exodus. There was a loud, pulsating beat that they could feel in the floor and there were people everywhere. Some of the crowd was in fatigues but most were wearing civilian clothes.

Dale and Shannon let the three "T"s go in first. They walked through a hallway that led to restrooms, the offices, the smaller bar and their main objective: the source of the music. They stood in the doorway of the big bar and knew they had found a new home. The type of establishment that would have been considered a "dive" in their native territories now looked like heaven to them. The room was dimly lit, illuminated by colored lights and occasionally a strobe light or a spotlight focused on two suspended silver balls that hung from the ceiling.

As Travis, Tierni and Tramonte went to get drinks, the two lieutenants found a recently vacated table near the dance floor. The DJ played songs by Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, The Ritchie Family, KC and the Sunshine Band, Peter Brown, Foxy, George McCrae and everyone else on the top 100 who had a hit that was danceable. Disco music was making an overwhelming debut and hearing that beat pound was just the release the Alpha women needed. By the time everybody congregated at the table with the alcohol, Shannon and Dale had already been up to dance twice and the other three had been asked several times on the way back to the table with drinks in their hands.

"This place is great!" Tierni shouted over the music. Her smile was wide and enthusiastic. "You two crack me up," she said to Dale and Shannon. "You're so brave."

"I just don't like being told I can't do something or I can't go somewhere," Dale said and sipped her beer.

"Then what are you doing in the Army, ya bozo," Travis said and laughed. She took a swallow of her rum and cola and looked immediately as though she were breathing fire. She stood up and started to jump up and down.

"What are you doing?" Tramonte asked her.

"Either the bartender forgot to mix my drink or he put the cola in with an eyedropper. Jesus Christ, this is strong," Travis explained as her eyes watered profusely.

"You need to dance," a voice behind Travis said. They all turned to see a very handsome young man in fatigues who gestured her to the dance floor. Amid jokes of adultery, Travis set her drink down and let herself be escorted to a spot near the empty bandstand. That was the last the others saw of her until the club was ready to close; not that the others suffered from being ignored. Once they got up on the dance floor, they rarely sat down. Dale's second beer had exactly two sips taken out of it and Tramonte got only four swallows out of her first drink. They all had such a wonderful time, they ended up closing the place.

"So who's not here on the right side?" Dale asked her partner. They had returned to the barracks, taken a personal headcount and wandered down to the patio.

"Swinegar, Sherlock, Troice and McTague. How about the left side?" Shannon said and yawned. She was almost done with her cigarette.

"Laraway and Ferrence. Everyone else is accounted for, including Dizzy and the marines."

"Okay, let's narrow it down. Ferrence is probably in Averill with Brownell, McTague is probably with Halliday and Swinegar is probably with whoever she happens to be engaged to at the moment."

"Unless she's with Robin," Dale said, arching an eyebrow.

"If she is, we'll find out as soon as she comes back to the barracks. She tells Tierni everything and I'm sure one of is can get it from Tierni."

"Then it looks like the real guessing is with Troice, Sherlock and Laraway."

Shannon shrugged. "I'd be surprised if we'd have to worry about those three. If one of them is secretive about her whereabouts then one of us will follow her next time. Who's Staff Duty NCO tonight?"

Dale looked skyward as though that would help her remember. "Uh…Lederman from Charlie."

"All our drills are free as the wind tonight, eh?"

"Yeah, scary thought, isn't it? What if one of them had popped into the EC tonight?" Dale asked.

"If I had seen him first, I would have tried to alert you or the others and then I would have sneaked out the back but you know as well as I do that most of the drills hate the enlisted clubs. They don't want to go anywhere near them unless they're called."

"Or you get a particularly sadistic one."

Shannon grinned. "A sadistic drill sergeant? Surely, you jest." She put the cigarette butt in her pocket. "What do you want to do tomorrow?"

"Hop a plane home but I guess that's out of the question. I'd really like for you and I to be able to take off by ourselves and have some real fun away from watchful eyes. I feel like I'm going nuts here."

"You're going nuts? At least you got to get out of here for two weeks," Shannon reminded her.

"Listen, by all rights, we should get weekend passes from now on. Why don't we just take off to Averill next weekend? I'm sure some of the others will be doing the same. If Bishaye asks, we'll just tell her that a majority of the company headed to town. Friday night we can party by ourselves and Saturday, it will be business as usual. What do you think?"

"I think it sounds pretty good as long as nothing major is happening with our three unaccounted for females." Shannon stretched. "You know, I would like to have seen how Bishaye handled the laundry room crew. I bet she's impressive when she's really mad."

"Impressive isn't exactly the word I'd use. I've been on her bad side in the past. I swear to God, it's like she sucks all the oxygen out of the room and you are in pure agony until you can get back outside and breathe again." Dale instantly wanted to get off the topic of Anne Bishaye. She still felt wounded. Not enough time had passed yet.

"That's what I mean. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in her office. She's not a person to mess with, is she?"


"I saw her briefly in the Orderly Room before she went back to her office to deal with that mess. She looks really frazzled. Don't you think so? You know her better than I do but she doesn't seem as calm and collected as when I first met with her."

So much for dropping the subject of Anne. "I know. She's changed. She says it's the position. Rank does have its privileges but I guess it can have its headaches, too. We talked about it a little bit after exodus. I'm sure once this fraternization thing is cleared up, she'll relax some. She seems to be under a lot of pressure and this kind of bullshit does reflect on her." It made sense and the more Dale said that, the more she felt she understood Anne's behavior.

"I would liked to have gotten to know her under different circumstances." Shannon stopped Dale by grabbing hold of her sleeve. "Hey, wouldn't it be great if after this, she got charge of her own CID unit and they put us under her command?"

Dale looked at Shannon as though she'd just grown another head. "Are you kidding me?" She removed Shannon's hand. "No, it wouldn't be great." It would be torture. "I want to go home when this is over. I'm sick of Uncle Sam."

"Even if it meant working partners with me?"

"Shan, that concept is very inviting but I still have one clear thought in my head. Somebody tried to kill me. That somebody may try it again if they know I didn't die. Now what is going to happen to me is going to happen but I don't want to be responsible for anyone else who, by circumstance, might be with me. Especially not you. Or Anne."

"Dale, if somebody wants you that bad, wouldn't you rather they try and get at you when you're away from your family and loved ones? When you're maybe in a position to defend yourself because you're armed or with other people who are trained to defend themselves and maybe help protect you?"

"No. I think as long as I steer clear of the military, this person or these people will leave me alone. If I just live a quiet life, minding my own business in small town, Vermont, what harm can I possibly do anyone?"

"You? Live a quiet life? Mind your own business? Then why are you here? And don't give me that garbage of Bishaye not giving you another option. I know you. And we both know that's a crock. If you really didn't want to get back into this kind of life, you'd be in Vermont right now, sucking back beer every night and running the pool tables. This is me you're talking to, remember? It's not in your nature to live a quiet life."

There was a brief silence as Dale stared out over the open area between patios. "I guess I really thought she needed me." Wanted me.

"And -?"

"And I was bored, okay? Happy? But I'm not kidding about wanting to get out of here."

"That I can believe."


Chapter Sixteen

Dale woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. She finally gave in to consciousness, got up, got dressed and went downstairs to see who was on CQ.

She passed McNulty on the way out of the Orderly Room and saw Michaelson behind the desk. "Aw, man! You got stuck with CQ on our first weekend pass? That rots," Dale said.

"I didn't mind. I didn't plan on doing much anyway. So where'd you end up last night?"

Dale looked around the office to ensure there was no one in authority around. "The Enlisted Club."

"I thought that place was off-limits."

"It is. That's what made it so much fun."

"Weren't you afraid you'd get caught?" Michaelson asked.

"It was a thought. We just figured it was an idle threat. If I were an MP, I wouldn't want to go anywhere near that place on a weekend."

"Good point."

"Did I miss anything exciting last night?" Dale casually asked.

"With all the action everywhere but here?" Michaelson smiled. "It was pretty boring here last night."

"Did you happen to see Laraway, Sherlock or Troice anywhere?"

"No. Why? Are they missing?"

"No, no. I mean, not that I know of. It's just…they were supposed to meet us last night and they didn't show up," Dale lied.

"I didn't see them but honestly, I wasn't paying attention to them, either."

Dale studied Michaelson momentarily. The trainee was so unpretentiously lovely, Dale wondered who, if anyone, was paying attention to her. "So, Deb, have you been beating them away with a stick?"

"Who?" Michaelson looked genuinely perplexed.

"The guys?"

"Oh. Well, there have been a few persistent ones but I'm not really interested in dating while I'm here. There'll be plenty of time for that after I get assigned after I get out of here. How about you?"

"Nah. I've never had to beat anyone away with anything."

"Seriously?" Michaelson seemed truly surprised.

"Never had that kind of appeal, I guess." Dale didn't want the subject to become herself, so she quickly said, "Any drill sergeants show interest in you?"

Michaelson laughed. "Other than Bradbury from Bravo?"

"Well, not that I'm trying to insult your appeal but –"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I've heard she's a good drill sergeant, though."

"I'm sure she is but she's clearly not real good with boundaries."

"Other than her few failed attempts at flirting, there's been nothing else. The male drill sergeants have shown no interest." Both Michaelson and Dale turned to see her relief CQ enter the office. "Finally," she said. She stood up and stretched. "Why do you ask? Is one of them bothering you?"

"No. I just heard a lot of rumors about last cycle and was curious."

Michaelson nodded. "I'm going to brief Renaldi and then go to bed. What do you have going on for today?"

"I don't know yet. Breakfast and then I'll decide."

Michaelson glanced at her watch. "You'd better hurry. Chow stops in about eleven minutes."

"I'll pick up something at the PX."

"Why pay for something you can get here for free?" Michaelson asked.

Dale smirked. "Because I take what little freedom of choice we get seriously."

She waited and walked Michaelson to the second floor bay to her bunk, then moved on and woke up Shannon.

"Get up," Dale urged.

"Go away," Shannon mumbled.

"Come on, get up. Let's go over to the PX for breakfast."

"No. I am asleep. Can't you see my eyes closed?"

"If we stay here too long, we're going to get tagged for details, so get up."

"I hate you."

Dale and Shannon chose a booth near the window at the PX restaurant/snack bar and sat down with their trays of coffee, eggs and toast. They had just begun to eat when they both saw a civilian taxi pull into the parking lot and stop. An MP sedan moved up slowly behind it with its lights revolving. Two military police officers emerged from their vehicle and opened the back doors of the taxi. Out of the back popped Sherlock, Troice and Laraway with Ray Wotek, Jeffrey Souther and Perry Sargent. Dale and Shannon watched with interest.

Sherlock was the first one to enter the snack bar. She spotted Dale and Shannon, grabbed a cup of coffee and proceeded to their table where she sat down.

"What'd you get stopped for?" Dale asked.

"Something called 'overloading a civilian taxi.' I didn't know there was such a regulation," Sherlock said.

"Are you going to get reported?" Shannon asked.

"No. They didn't take anybody's name. I guess it was just a warning."

"Where'd you go? Anywhere good?" Shannon wondered.

"Not really. We rented a room at a motel in Averill, bought some booze and passed out."

"You mean to tell me the three of you were in a motel room with three of the hottest guys in A-10 and nothing happened?" Dale asked.

"Who are you, my mother?" Sherlock stole a slice of Dale's toast and took a bite. "I guess it's going to take a while for all of us to get back onto the party-hearty habit again. I was the last one to fall asleep and the first one to wake up. Everyone was just as I left them so I can pretty much say nothing happened. Unfortunately. I'm about due, myself."

"Hell, you and the entire company," Shannon said.

"I'll tell you who I'd like a first crack at – that marine," Sherlock said as she finished the toast.

"Which one? Navarrete?" Dale said in a kidding tone.

Sherlock glared at her and pretended to stick her finger down her throat. "Here's your toast back."

"Kidding. I knew you meant Parisi. If his ego is as big as his…fan club, there's going to be problems in the bay," Dale said.

"Oh, you mean, like there aren't problems now?" Sherlock asked.

"Not boyfriend problems."

"Shit, I don't want to be his girlfriend. I just want him for an hour or two," Sherlock said and waggled her eyebrows.

"So the height difference doesn't bother you?" Dale asked her.

"Why should it," Shannon said. "A slow dance would put his head right between your boobs."

"In case you haven't noticed – and you better not have – I don't have any boobs so he'll be out of luck there. He'll have to be satisfied with putting his head between something else. And, no, the height difference doesn't bother me as long as he's tall in the right place. If the way he wears his fatigue pants is any indication, he is." Sherlock's expression was quite bawdy.

"Never heard you like this, Toni. You must be needy," Dale said.

"I am, you knucklehead," Sherlock said and smacked Dale's forehead playfully with the palm of her hand.

"I thought McTague and Swinegar would've been with you," Dale said, slipping that in. "Did you run into either one of them anywhere?"

"They were in the same motel. McTague was with Halliday. They argued the entire night; their room was next to ours. He sounds like a little crybaby and she sounds like a real bitch to be in a relationship with. I wouldn't give you two cents for either one of them. Swinegar was a few rooms down with Doug Lasher."

"Lasher? What happened to -?"

"Bachelor number four? Who knows and really, who cares?" Sherlock said. "What did you two do last night?"

"We were at the Pizza Place for a while and then we went to the EC," Shannon said.

"What's the EC?"

"You know, the Enlisted Club."

"So you were brave and went anyway, huh? We talked about going but didn't want to take the chance of getting caught by the MPs," Sherlock said.

"Unlike overloading a civilian taxi," Shannon said, dryly.

Sherlock shrugged. "At least no names got taken. So how was the EC?"

"Fun. Tierni, Tramonte, Travis, Oakes and I went," Shannon said. "We didn't have time to drink because we were too busy dancing."

"Maybe I'll hang out with you guys next weekend. Sounds like it was a lot more fun. I'm exhausted and I didn't even do anything to earn it. I'm going to head back to the barracks and take a hot shower. Maybe it'll perk me up." She stood up and finished her coffee. "See ya."

They watched Sherlock leave. "Toni's a good source of information," Shannon said.

"Yes and she loves to talk. Good combination."

Everyone who left the barracks for some kind of recreation the day and night before now appeared to be quite burnt out and wandered around all day Sunday as though they were in need of new batteries.

Shannon hit the Pizza Place again toward early afternoon to hang around and see who'd show up.

Dale was at the bowling alley snack bar, drinking a beer, searching for more of her company members to show up. She and Kotski spotted each other at the same time and Kotski, with two third platoon males, VanHoesan and Tetrault, made a beeline right to her. Kotski invited Dale to join them. At first, Dale wasn't sure she should accept and be in one place too long but then she decided an hour of bowling wouldn't hurt. She had planned to stay there a while anyway because the barracks buzz was the trainees were either going to be there or where Shannon was.

Three games went quickly with Kotski scoring the highest every time. She had been on a bowling league back home and her style and form showed it. Dale's score was the lowest and Tetrault kept saying it was a good thing she didn't bowl like she shot because being beat by one female was enough.

Dale looked around the interior of the building to see how many from Alpha-10 were there. She estimated about twenty and dwindling and wondered if other trainees had drifted back to the Pizza Place.

"Why don't we go roller skating?" Kotski suggested, a little too enthusiastically. "Doesn't that sound like fun?"

"I'm really good on roller skates," Tetrault said, bragging.

Dale finished her last swallow of beer. "I didn't know it was possible on roller skates. Don't you get, like, motion sickness or something?"

Tetrault laughed. "I wasn't talking about sex, Oakes. Unless you want me to."

He picked up his beer glass. "Anyone up for one more?"

Both Dale and Kotski waved him off but VanHoesan also stood up. "I'll get another one with you."

As the two men walked away, Kotski tapped Dale's forearm. "What do you think of Tetrault?"

"I think he'll make a fine MP," Dale said. She knew what Kotski was asking and she hoped the conversation in that area would go no further. No such luck.

"Do you like him?" Kotski asked.

"I don't know him, Laurel. I suppose he's okay."

"What do you think about maybe going out with him?"

"I'm not interested, Yenta, but I appreciate the thought," Dale told her.

Kotski was disappointed. "What's wrong with him?"

"Nothing. I'm sure he's a nice guy but I've got myself a nice guy back home," Dale lied. "I want to be a good girl."

"It's not like I'm asking you to screw his brains out…he just really likes you and I thought, maybe, while you both were here…"

"Thanks but no, thanks. Can we close this discussion now?"

"Fine. Are you going to spend the next eight weeks by yourself while everyone else is hooking up with people?"

"No, of course not. I've got you," Dale said, teasing.

"And Walker," Kotski said and grinned. "By the way, where is Walker?"

"No idea." Dale shrugged. "What about you? VanHoesan seems interested."

"No. We're just friends. He's married and he loves his wife. I'm terrified of getting involved with anyone and he doesn't want to be tempted so we talked in out and we're going to be non-sexual companions. He wants to stay faithful to his wife and I want to stay faithful to myself. Constantly being around each other will hopefully keep others at bay."

"You know the rumors will spread that you're sleeping together anyway, right?"

"Yes but that's okay. We both know we aren't and that's all that matters."

"To thine own self be true," Dale said, quoting Shakespeare. She wondered if she'd have the courage to follow the bard's advice.

When Dale arrived at the Pizza Place, she could barely get through the door. She had taken about three steps inside when she was grabbed for a dance by Gilbert Fanuele. Ordinarily Dale wouldn't have minded because Fanuele was an excellent dancer and the music was a slow song she liked called "Don't Ask My Neighbor" by the Emotions. Dale soon found out that she could have been any warm female body as Fanuele danced exceptionally close to her in a ploy to make Melanie Mackey jealous while Mackey danced in cheek-to-cheek oblivion with Richard Snead. Fanuele's tactic wasn't working and that made Fanuele mad. He then turned and dipped Dale with such force, he almost wrenched every muscle in her back and the 'sweet nothings' one expected to be whispered in one's ear during a slow dance should not have been words like 'pendejo' or 'maricon.' When the song ended, Fanuele was in the midst of spinning Dale around when Mackey moved away from Snead. Fanuele abruptly let Dale go and she nearly bowled over an entire line of people. When her dizziness went away, Dale focused on Shannon, who was standing next to her. She handed Dale a beer.

"Hey, a dance with Gil, eh?" Shannon asked.

"Is that what that was? I thought I was playing the victim in a self-defense class. Boy, he's really pissed that Mackey is with Snead. I didn't know he and Mackey had anything going."

"They don't. They were here together on our first pass. He considered it a date; she considered it company. She told me he was too possessive, even after just two hours, that he got upset if she even spoke to anyone else."

"Huh." Dale took a sip of beer. "She's smart to get away from him now. So what else have I missed?" Dale rubbed her shoulder. "Any other soap operas going on?"

"Nope. Same old shit as far as I can tell. What about your neck of the woods?"

"Boring. Kotski tried to fix me up with Tetrault."

"Yeah? Tetrault's cute. Are you going to go out with him?"

"Even if I thought that was a good idea to date another trainee to keep my cover, the answer is no. He picks his nose in public. He picks other parts of his anatomy, too. I didn't say anything to Kotski because her intentions seemed so sincere but…yuck."

At eighteen hundred hours, everyone from A-10 was signed back in to the company area. Sometime during the day, no one was really sure when, Dizzy packed up and moved to another company to start processing out. The news was she was being discharged for Unsuitability (and the men probably got scholarships to the Army's photography school, Dale thought). The three males were resituated in Bravo where their restrictions would carry over. It wasn't fair and it wasn't enough as far as Dale was concerned but she couldn't dwell on it. Eventually the partiality would balance out but she wondered if she would ever see it in her lifetime.


Chapter Seventeen

The next morning was the first official day of AIT. The company was marched to Raburn Hall to have a lengthy class in Military Law. The afternoon class was the familiarization with the .45 caliber pistol. The class was taught the weapon's history, capabilities and how to take it apart for cleaning. As usual, reassembling the weapon was always more difficult. After approximately six attempts at a measured reassembly, the class finally got it done in the required time.

When everyone was settled back into the barracks after evening chow, news came up from the CQ and spread quickly that Ingersol was in trouble. Rumor had it that he attacked a female from Bravo company in the Supply Room. Ingersol's defense was that he was set up, that he walked in on Bradbury and the female 'going at it.' Ingersol complained that Bradbury got the physically sound female on profile and started working her in the supply room so that they could have their liaisons there. Bradbury's story was that she walked in on Ingersol right when he forced himself on the young woman who was clearly trying to fight him off. And Anne thought her headaches ended with Dizzy's departure, Dale thought.

This explained why when Dale was in the mess hall earlier, she saw Bradbury at a table alone with a trainee, having an intense discussion. The female looked rattled and Bradbury looked as solemn as either of the lieutenants had ever seen her. Of course, Shannon couldn't possibly let the news slip by without saying something derogatory to Snow. Snow's one time indiscretion with Bradbury was plainly not worth the grief she was still getting from Shannon.

"Personally, I hope Bradbury is innocent this time," Dale said.

"You do?" Shannon was surprised.

"Sure because if Ingersol isn't guilty of this, he's guilty of plenty of other things, including indirectly causing Kirk's death. I'd like to see him go down before he gets away with anything else."

"But Bradbury is a predator."

"Maybe. It seems to me that the women she hooks up with don't seem to really mind."

"Regardless, she's a drill sergeant and it's wrong."

"Agreed, but she doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, as far as we know. Ingersol is a different story."

An investigation into the charges and accusations Ingersol and Bradbury leveled at each other began the next morning as the trainees marched back to Raburn Hall for another four hour class on Military Law. Before they were released for noon chow, the company was tested and everyone got a Go.

The weather had warmed up and was milder so the drill sergeants took advantage of that and spent the afternoon conducting PT and Drill and Ceremony outside in a PT field in WacVille.

That afternoon, Alpha-10 caught the first glimpse of the drill sergeant finally sent over to replace MacArthur. Her name was Jennifer J. Cassidy, JJ to her friends, and when Dale got a good look at her, she nearly fell over. This was the same Drill Sergeant Cassidy who confronted Dale in the WacVille mess hall her first week there. The same Drill Sergeant Cassidy who nearly took her breath away at first glance. Dale briefly studied her to see she was still as sultry and gorgeous as she was that day and Dale just knew she was in deep trouble. If anyone else remembered her, they didn't mention it.

Cassidy was somewhere around the same age as MacArthur but in much better physical condition. She wore crisply starched fatigues, highly spit-shined boots, hair pulled back into a tight bun and everything about her looked meticulously tidy. She was tall and slender with coal-black hair and dark brown eyes. Her skin tone was tanned and Dale wondered if it was her natural coloring if is she'd maybe just returned from a sunny vacation.

Nobody, including Dale, dared to stare at her too long because, at that point, they had no idea what her temperament was. Even though she barely said a word to anyone, her disposition seemed better than MacArthur's but then Dale thought a pit viper had a better disposition than MacArthur. Cassidy maintained a serious, no-nonsense expression as she walked amongst the exercising troops, apparently memorizing everyone's face and matching it with his or her nametag. When Cassidy got to Dale, if she recognized her or her name from their brief encounter, she didn't let on. Dale was a little disappointed by that. She then wondered when Cassidy would be officially introduced to the company.

The next morning the trainees waited two hours at the corner of Bravo Company area for the military buses to pick them up. When the buses didn't show, the drill sergeants marched the troops six miles to the pistol range.

Once at the range, the males were issued .45 automatic pistols and the females were marched down to another range, where they were told they were going to familiarize with a twelve-gauge shotgun. The women were told they would be given a twenty minute time limit to load and fire five cartridges, reduce stoppage and completely unload the weapon.

Dale noticed that Cassidy had arrived at the range by jeep after the company had been there a while and now stood behind her, monitoring her procedure. She had not turned to look at Cassidy directly because just the thought of Cassidy's presence made her stomach jittery. Dale was suddenly nervous and wanted to make sure she did everything by the book because she wanted to impress her. Dale mentally chastised herself as she tried to get control of her emotions. This was crazy. She didn't even know this woman, why was she reacting like this? Before she could answer herself, she heard the preparation command come from the tower.

Dale checked the bore and chamber prior to loading the shotgun to ensure it was empty. She pushed the safety lever to the 'on' position and kept the fore end forward while she loaded four cartridges. She released the disconnector assembly and cycled the fore end, which chambered one cartridge. She loaded the fifth cartridge, placed the lever on 'off' and waited for her instruction to fire.

Upon the command, Dale pulled the trigger and shot all five rounds, pumping the slide between each shot to eject all spent rounds and load the next cartridge into the chamber. She repeated the action until the shotgun was empty. It was letter perfect and Dale controlled the kick as opposed to letting the kick control her. She smirked, knowing she had given Cassidy a good show even though Cassidy said nothing and moved on to the next lane to where Ferrence had just completed the same ritual.

Ferrence was flat on her back in Cassidy's path. Ferrence had never fired a shotgun before and had not expected nor anticipated the kick that knocked the slight-of-build Ferrence a good three feet backward, nearly taking her shoulder off in the process. She flew back with such force, Audi and a range commander had to scramble out of her way. It looked as though she were a bowling ball heading for a seven-ten split. Ferrence looked up to see Cassidy staring back down at her.

Cassidy glanced at her watch and then back down at Ferrence. "If I were you, I'd get back up on that firing line, soldier. You have exactly eight minutes to lose those four other rounds." The newest member of the cadre then stepped over Ferrence and moved onto the next in line. Dale stifled a laugh. At the very least, Cassidy was going to be entertaining. Unlike MacArthur, Cassidy did not seem like the type who was easily flustered or unnerved.

Dale moved to the group who had already fired and thought about Drill Sergeant Cassidy. She was not only going to be most delightful to look at every day but Dale had no doubt the staff sergeant would keep them on their toes.

As soon as the women completed their requirement with the shotgun, they were herded down to a muddier range where they were issued .38 caliber revolvers. This really irked Dale. She felt, with the progress of training men and women together, they should have been trained in and allowed to carry on duty the same weapon; the .45. The Army's argument was that the .45 was too heavy for a female's delicate wrist and the accuracy of the shot would be severely hindered. Both lieutenants knew this assumption was untrue. Dale could max out her score every time with a .45. The .38 gave her more difficulty. Dale's wrist may not have been delicate but it was small and her score was preferable with an automatic than a revolver every time. The .45 was a more accurate weapon, had stronger stopping power and, with a clip as opposed to a cylinder, it was easier to load and reload. Regardless of her preference to the automatic, Dale still hit forty targets out of fifty whereas Shannon dead-eyed all of them and maxed out at fifty.

They waited for everyone to get through the firing orders and in the meantime, Dale was told by Robin to help Ryan, McTague and Laraway clean off oily magazines while Shannon's group was ordered to police up spent rounds. When everyone was done on the range, they were called into formation. They were surprised to see MacArthur standing there, chatting with Cassidy and Robin.

"Pssst, Snow," Travis whispered as she got into her squad, "look! Frigid Bardot's back."

"Fuck you, Travis," Snow growled back.

"Not in your wildest dreams, baby," Travis said.

"Travis! Drop and give me ten," Putnam said. He had been standing behind her and she hadn't seen him. Reluctantly, Travis dropped and started counting out the ten push-ups. This put a huge smile on Snow's face, which Travis didn't see but Putnam did. "Snow, you drop and give me ten for finding this funny." Snow's smile quickly disappeared and she assumed the front leaning rest position and copied Travis' movements.

MacArthur received permission to march the women back to the barracks with Cassidy accompanying them. She put them into a separate formation and moved them out. There was something different about her; she seemed rested and relaxed and she had a smile on her face. She was actually very pleasant and some of the females admitted later that they were almost happy to see her.

MacArthur began a cadence the female trainees had never heard before. It was called The Lady Dressed In Red and it was Shannon's favorite. MacArthur started them out singing about three colors, rhyming the activity with the shade and invited the women to participate. The female trainees came up with all kinds of interesting verses once MacArthur got "See the lady dressed in red, she likes to do it in a bed," "See the lady dressed in black, she likes to do it on her back," and "See the lady dressed in green, she thinks she is a sex machine" out of the way. They had six miles to sing it in so they got to try different rhymes with repeated colors. The women had a ball and even Cassidy laughed at the way some of the women used their imaginations. It was a nice moment for all of them, including both drill sergeants. Dale thought that if MacArthur had been more like that when she was assigned to Alpha-10, things might have been different.

Shannon qualified Expert on the range the next day with another score of knocking down all fifty targets. Dale made Sharpshooter by qualifying shooting the best she ever had with a .38 at knocking down forty-five targets out of fifty. Almost everyone, with very few exceptions, needed two tries to finally qualify. This was usually the time when the company began to eliminate trainees to weed out the best of law enforcement training. Helping the recruits through basic training was one thing; assisting them through LE School was quite another. It simply wasn't done. If they couldn't make it on their own ability then they were not fit to be MPs. Fortunately, everyone made it through the first round of elimination.

The afternoon class was called OLEV, which stood for Operating a Law Enforcement Vehicle. The company gathered at Raburn Hall and were shown a film on how to mount and talk on a jeep radio (AN/VRC-47), a film on the quarter-ton truck (jeep) and the military police sedan. After that, they were given a class on the military ten-series and prowords.

It was a lot of information to retain in just one afternoon and that night everyone studied from the notes they had taken in class and the fact sheets that had been passed out. As the women paired off and formed groups to quiz each other, Dale went downstairs for some fresh air. On her way back upstairs, she ran into Holmquist on the landing. She stopped dead in her tracks and moved into the position of Parade Rest.

"At Ease, Oakes," he told her. She relaxed. "Who had garbage detail tonight and over the weekend?"

"I believe it was Minkler, Drill Sergeant."

"Minkler. I see we still can't break her of her slovenly habits. I will have to talk to her in the morning. In the mean time, someone better get that trashed emptied of that contraband. If the senior drill sergeant ever walked in and saw those beer cans in there, you'd all be restricted until you left here. Carry on, Oakes."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant. It will be taken care of, thank you, Drill Sergeant.

Dale walked inside and wasted no time finding Ryder, the squad leader, and relayed Holmquist's message. Ryder, in turn, went directly to the culprit and said something in Minkler's ear that put an absolute look of horror on her face and gave her incentive to race that trash right out the door. Whatever those inspiring words were would forever remain a secret between the two of them but it did the trick. Ryder returned to her bunk, smiled and thanked Dale.

Dale and Shannon discussed Cassidy later on as Shannon finished laundry. Dale neglected to mention her prior encounter with the comely drill sergeant or her instant attraction to the woman who might possibly be the only one to take Dale's mind off Anne Bishaye. Shannon stated that she would refrain from passing judgment until she'd actually seen her in actions as a drill sergeant. Dale told her, even from the little bit she'd seen, she was sure Cassidy was much more professional than MacArthur. The subject eventually came around to Holmquist and Dale once again praised him for his militarily ethical conduct. Shannon teased Dale regarding having a crush on him and the more Dale protested, the more Shannon believed it was true. Dale felt she was between a rock and a hard place, so she just stayed silent on the matter.

What Shannon didn't know shouldn't hurt her.

The radio code test was administered the next morning and couldn't have been any easier if the answers had been sitting right in front of the trainees. Everyone got a Go.

The next class taught the trainees how to direct traffic. The company was divided into groups of approximately twenty-five, instructed in what to do, shown a filmstrip and then taken out to a busy intersection on post to demonstrate what they had just learned. Their demonstration was also their test.

In Dale's group was Shannon, Minty, Snow, Caffrey, Chillemi, Navarrette and the rest were assorted males from each platoon. The practical application of what they had learned was confusing, even with the instructor right there with them. They stood on a box that raised them about eighteen inches off the road and directed traffic to the regulations of their class. Shannon had Audi and Cassidy drive through her test and the usually level-headed Minty got so flustered when a lengthy wedding party drove through her test, she almost caused a four-car pile up. Minty recovered and everyone got a Go in that class.

The group of traffic directors were brought back to the school and then given a class on how to properly fill out vehicle maintenance forms and how to read a trip ticket. Trip tickets were small sheets of paper issued to the driver of a specific vehicle, along with a set of keys; the information the driver wrote on this document included starting and ending mileage and on whose authority the driver was making the trip. Before they were dismissed from class, the trainees were told that the test that would qualify them for a military driver's license would be on Monday.

It was hard to believe it was Friday already. At 1700 formation, the company was once again set free for the entire weekend. Except for Minkler who had been restricted to the barracks by Holmquist for one night only because of the garbage detail, all the females, including the three marines, started their weekend pass at five o'clock.

With everything going on around the company area, Dale and Shannon discussed whether or not they should postpone taking off to Averill by themselves. There was a new drill sergeant to consider (and one Dale almost hoped needed to be watched), the Bradbury-Ingersol case and three new females to consider. Shannon suggested they take it a day at a time and monitor as many activities as they could. If something specific bore watching, the lieutenants would put their personal time aside and zero in on whatever the issue was. If not, they would strike out on their own and just hang out for a night, as irresponsible as that may have been. They couldn't be everywhere at once and would take advantage of that adage sooner than later.

The Pizza Place was predictably packed, even by the time Dale and Shannon got there. Shannon immediately hooked up with Renaldi, who had been the CQ when the Bradbury-Ingersol incident went down. At first he told her he shouldn't talk about it but after several beers courtesy of Shannon, his memory became vivid and his tongue became loose. By the end of their flirtatious encounter, Shannon had plied Renaldi with enough alcohol that he was not capable of pursuing her any further; he could barely stand up.

"I love to watch you work." Dale leaned over to Shannon after Renaldi left to use the men's room. "Did you get anything useful?"

"Well, that depends. It's useful for a military tabloid but nothing at all to do with why we're here. He talks as if Bradbury is guilty but from everything we already know and the few facts he added, my money's on Ingersol."

"Couldn't happen to a nicer guy," Dale said. She felt no remorse for Ingersol, nor Bradbury for that matter. She watched Rutledge, another male in Shannon's platoon, watch Shannon; he was obviously a man in lust. When Rutledge saw Renaldi stagger out of the Pizza Place, he made his move. "You're going to have company," Dale said to Shannon.


"Rutledge." She saw Shannon's face light up.

"Really? I can't see him, he's coming over here?"

"Yup. You interested?"

"A little. He's a pretty nice guy."

"Hell, he's just plain pretty." Dale smiled. "He hasn't been able to take his eyes off you since we got here."

"Hi, Walker," Rutledge said. He barely looked at Dale. "Oakes," He said, politely acknowledging Dale.

"Rutledge," Dale answered. Rutledge asked Shannon to dance and Dale stopped her before she joined him on the dance floor. "If you want to keep an eye on things here, I'll head over to the EC."

Shannon nodded. "No problem." She and Rutledge moved closer to the jukebox as Dale finished her beer and headed toward the exit.

Dale was stopped by Fanuele, who was on his way out, also with two other males from Second Platoon. "Oakes, where are you off to?"

"The EC."

"Us, too. Why don't we all go over together?"

"Sure. Uh…are you going to dance with me over there?"


"Are you going to pin me to the mat this time or body slam me up against the ropes?" Dale asked.

Fanuele bowed his head, embarrassed. "Sorry about that."

"I guess I've recovered." Dale playfully pushed him.

"Are we going to walk or take a cab?" One of the other males asked.

"Walk," Dale said. "We can beat a cab by at least thirty minutes."

They left the Pizza Place and nearly knocked down Cassidy, who was about to enter to check on things.

"Hey, slow down gang," she said, good-naturedly. She looked the four of them over, then directed her attention to Dale. "Y'all sure look different out of uniform." Her voice was low, smoky, sexy as hell. Cassidy's observation returned to the males. "Where is this happy crew off to?"

"We're going somewhere else for a change of scenery, Drill Sergeant," Fanuele offered.

"Yeah, um, somewhere not so loud and crowded," Kreiger, one of the other males, lied.

The men fidgeted while Dale seemed totally relaxed. In reality, she was the most nervous of the quartet. Something about Cassidy heated up Dale's blood to an intensity that nearly boiled her brain and rendered her stupid. Especially when Cassidy looked into her eyes, like she was doing right now. "Three escorts, Private Oakes?"

Huh. She remembered my name. Interesting. Dale bet Cassidy couldn't recall the names of her three 'escorts.' "Yes, Drill Sergeant, I figured these boys needed a female influence."

"Really? Female influence for what? Y'all wouldn't be heading over to the Enlisted Club, now would you?" Cassidy's tone was less accusing and more playful.

While her cohorts looked guilty and immediately found interest in the Alabama clay, Dale met Cassidy's penetrating gaze. "Why, Drill Sergeant, that place is off-limits. Why would we go there?" She punctuated her question with an indulgent smile.

Cassidy visibly swallowed, recovered from Dale's coy response and smirked. She was tough to read and Dale wondered if she overstepped her trainee boundaries. That smirk, as sultry as it came across, could have given way to a nasty 'are you flirting with me, soldier?' tirade; instead, Cassidy broke into a grin. "Go on, get out of here."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Kreiger answered for the rest. They watched Cassidy disappear inside the noisy Pizza Place and close the door. "Oh, man, she is such a fox!" The other two men enthusiastically agreed. "Hey, Oakes, how come she knows your name already?"

"I'm going to guess it's because she monitored me at the shotgun class and stared at the name on the back of my steel pot for fifteen minutes." As the words left her mouth, Dale realized that was exactly how Cassidy could have remembered her name and she felt her stomach flip in disappointment. Careful. Don't be pulling another Bishaye on yourself. You don't even know if Cassidy is gay and even if she is, she is totally off-limits. Dale sighed in chagrin but her companions did not hear her amidst their fantasies of what they would do if they got Cassidy alone. It was all boastful man talk and Dale finally joined in, teasing them that they wouldn't know how to handle such a woman. That started a whole new round of boasting.

Dale and the three males she went with closed the EC. Quite a few company members were there but once again no drill sergeant or MPs showed up to take any names. She took turns and danced almost every dance with her companions. They seemed like really good guys, serious about being MPs and not at all bothered – anymore - by taking training with females. Dale enjoyed this small group.

On their way back to the barracks, Fanuele whispered suggestively in Dale's ear that they go somewhere else, just the two of them.

"Gil," she said, softly, "I'm very flattered but let's be honest here. I'm not who you want and I'm not going to pretend I am just because we're both a little intoxicated and horny. I love being around you guys, we have a good time, but that's where it starts and ends. If it's Mackey you want then go get her."

"She doesn't want me, she wants Snead."

"Then stop wasting your time on her, Gil," she said, gently. "You're handsome, you're nice, you can dance…a lot of women would be thrilled with that."

"But I want Melanie."

"Then why do you want to get me alone?" Dale asked him. When he was silent, Dale answered for him. "Because you're horny."

"Aren't you?"

"Yes but I have someone at home," Dale lied. "And he deserves my loyalty."

"You sure he's being loyal to you?"

"I can only have faith that he is."

"Hey! No secrets back there," Kreiger called to them.

"It's nothing like that," Fanuele said. "She's playing 'Dear Abby'."

Kreiger and the other male with them looked at each other and chorused, "Mackey attack."

They parted ways once back in the company area. Dale walked by the Oderly Room door to see who was on CQ duty. It was Minkler and Freddie Swan. Dale rolled her eyes. As one of her first drill sergeants used to say, those two were, individually, about as useless as tits on a bull. Together, on CQ, they were a disaster waiting to happen. When she got to the female bay, she did a quiet walk-through and noticed several more empty bunks than last weekend, including Shannon's. Dale smiled, wondering if her partner got lucky or just decided to follow the rest into town. She would find out tomorrow and went to bed.


Chapter Eighteen

Shannon paid Dale back for last week and roused her out of a sound sleep early Saturday morning. Dale showered, dressed, packed a few things for overnight and they took a taxi into Averill to the room Shannon had booked the night before at the Journey Inn.

The Journey Inn was the most popular motel in Averill for the members of Alpha-10, the same as it had been six years earlier when Dale and Shannon had gone through training the first time. It was inexpensive, had a military discount, clean and centrally located in town.

Dale bounced down on the unused bed in the room. She was happy to recline on something larger and comfier than a regulation cot. "So how was your night?" Dale asked Shannon. They had discussed Dale's evening and who was on CQ on their taxi ride. Dale wanted to get into the dirt.

"It was interesting. I can honestly say I slept with Rutledge and I mean slept. What's with these GIs? They have a few drops of alcohol and they're dead to the world. I don't get it."

"They're just not old, grizzled veterans like us. What about this morning? No action either?"

"He was sick this morning. That's why we came back early. He went to the barracks and I got you."

Dale sat up, scooted down to the edge of the bed and turned on the TV to cartoons. "Thanks. You make me feel so wanted." She switched channels. "Cool, Rocky and Bullwinkle." She looked over at Shannon, who sat down on the other bed. "It's probably good nothing happened between you two. No ethics to think about."

"True but I could really use a good fuck," Shannon admitted. "This is the longest I've gone without any action since, well, the first time we were here."

Dale laughed. "It's so tough being you."

Shannon threw a slipper at her, which Dale deflected with her forearm. "I'm hungry. Let's see what's still in town for restaurants."

The two lieutenants found a breakfast café, ate heartily and leisurely, and then wandered around downtown Averill to see if they could find any of their fellow A-10 trainees. They were surprised they didn't spot anyone after a few hours of circling the usually popular and frequented section of the city. Finally, they gave up and decided to see a matinee of a new movie release called "Saturday Night Fever."

"I am in the mood to dance, aren't you?" Shannon asked Dale as they split a pizza and a pitcher of beer at The Stop, the same bar where Shannon met Henning a month before training started. It was Happy Hour and people had begun to file in, which caused the noise level to rise and the jukebox to be turned up. Most of the music was country-western until Dale fed money into the machine and the new sound of disco filled the room.

"Now I definitely have to dance," Shannon said and smiled.

Two men, civilians by the length of their hair, approached Dale and Shannon's table. They introduced themselves as Matt and Warren and sat down with another large, full pitcher of beer. The men seemed pleasant enough but acted as though their company was automatically wanted and welcome. That irked Dale because, in her opinion, it said a lot about their attitude toward women; that women couldn't be out just to have a good time by themselves, that the only way their night would be complete is by adding the company of men.

Dale considered their presence an intrusion and then wondered why. It wasn't as though she had feelings for Shannon other than friendship or that they had anything specifically planned but Dale had hoped for some uninterrupted time between them for one evening so they could just be themselves. She also felt if they'd wanted company, they would have invited some.

On the other hand, Shannon appeared fine with it and embraced the male companionship. Dale had to admit that Matt seemed adorable. He had shaggy blond hair, bright, green eyes and a dazzling smile and he clearly only had eyes for the other green-eyed, shaggy blonde with the dazzling smile. If either of them were to pair off, it would be Shannon and Matt.

Warren wasn't unattractive by any physical means but the chip on his shoulder about military women was, particularly military women from the north. It was also quite clear that he would have rather have had the first crack at Shannon. What bothered Dale was not that fact because she wasn't interested in him anyway but his conduct toward her as 'second choice'.

After their third shared pitcher of beer, Shannon suggested they leave The Stop and find a disco so they could dance. Dale was the first one to jump up from the table. Maybe they could salvage what was left of the night.

The group of four piled into Matt's car, drove a couple of miles north to the outskirts of town to another bar, one on the 'off-limits' list. This club had three different dance floors and an uncanny resemblance to the disco John Travolta had been king of in the movie they had seen that afternoon. The foursome found one of the last available tables in the bar, sat, ordered drinks, then instantly got up to dance. They caught the tail end of a fast song and stayed on the floor for the next song, which was a ballad. Shannon and Matt, who seemed completely infatuated with each other, easily moved into each other's arms and swayed to the music. Warren stepped toward Dale, expectantly, and Dale excused herself to use the ladies room.

On her way to the bathroom, Dale's path was blocked by an outstretched arm. The owner of the arm belonged to Sherlock who was seated at a table with, surprise of all surprises, that handsome new marine, Parisi. Also at the table were Troice and McTague with their respective dates from Alpha-10.

"Figured if we ran into anybody from the company here, it would be you two," Sherlock shouted over the music and grinned. She nodded toward the dance floor. "Nabbed yourselves some civilians, I see."

Dale shrugged. She leaned down, close to Sherlock's ear. "I see you might just get to find out if he's tall in the right place."

Sherlock broke out in a huge smile. "I found that out last night. He is more than 'tall' enough for me," she said in Dale's ear.

Dale patted Sherlock's shoulder and put up her hand in greeting to the rest as she continued on her way. When she returned from the bathroom, she wanted to warn Sherlock and the rest that MPs really did check this place, or they used to when it was a live band bar called Hayseed's. Then she remembered she wasn't supposed to have that information, so she walked by the table unnoticed by McTague who was kissing Halliday and had her hand stuck under a coat draped over his lap. From the motion underneath, it wasn't hard to figure out what she was doing. Dale ignored them, though it bothered her that neither cared enough about their self-respect to indulge each other in private. You're one to talk, she then chided herself. If Anne had pushed you just enough, you would have let her do you right in her office and you know it. That thought sent a wave of butterflies fluttering around her insides as the fantasy picked up where the reality left off. Well…at least it wouldn't have been in front of others.

Sherlock, Troice and their dates were up dancing, as were Shannon and Matt. Before Dale could even reach her seat, Warren grabbed her hand and pushed his way onto the dance floor so that they were close to Shannon and Matt. Dale got Shannon's attention and mouthed the words "MP check soon" to which Shannon reluctantly nodded. She held up her hand, indicating she wanted to wait out at least five more songs. Dale was fine with that as long as they were out of there before 10 PM; staying longer was just taunting fate.

Warren became more obnoxious as the evening progressed. Before they got to the disco, all he could talk about was what an exceptional dancer he was and that he could do anything Travolta did in "that stupid movie." His wild, uncontrollable movements, however, plainly contradicted his boasting. What he made up for in rhythm, he lacked in coordination and he danced as though there were no other bodies on the crowded dance floor. When he would knock into people, he would glare angrily at them, ready for a fight if anyone looked like they wanted to make something of it. Finally, gratefully, Shannon suggested they leave.

On the way back to the motel, Matt drove with Shannon in the front seat and Warren in the back with Dale. Intoxicated, pompous and rambunctious, Warren finally lunged at Dale just before the car pulled into the parking lot. He kissed Dale so forcefully, she thought he'd given her a fat lip. His big, rough hands grabbed at her breasts, painfully squeezing them and when the car slowed, Dale wrestled her way out from under him, opened the door and escaped before the car even came to a complete stop.

Shannon sprang out of the car right behind her. "What happened? Are you all right?"

Dale took a deep breath and turned to face her friend. "I am now. Look, Shan, that asshole is clearly fucked up. You and Matt can do what you want but Warren's not coming anywhere near me. Literally and figuratively."

"Okay. No problem. How do you want to handle it?" Shannon asked, as both Matt and Warren got out of the car.

Dale studied Shannon. "You really like this guy, don't you?"

"So far. He's not a trainee or a drill sergeant or even in the Army so no ethics to consider." She glanced over at him. "And he's cute as hell." She looked back at Dale. "Sorry Warren turned out to be such a prick."

Dale wasn't sorry. It saved her from an awkward situation if he'd turned out to be as nice as Matt. She fleetingly wondered if she had subconsciously provoked Warren's behavior so that she wouldn't have to be confronted with the decision to sleep with him to save face with Shannon and then she dismissed that thought. No, Warren had been a jerk from the beginning with no pretext from her.

As the boys started toward them, Dale said, "Who's here who isn't with somebody?"

"Uh…Travis, I believe, is in 204," Shannon said.

"I wonder if she'd mind company?" Dale asked.

"Probably not yours," Shannon said, smiling. "You two get along well. Thanks, pal, I owe you one." She walked back over to Matt, spoke quietly with them and they headed upstairs. Dale walked toward the opposite stairway.

"Hey! Where are you going?" Warren yelled at Dale.

"Away from you."

"But they're going up to the room," he protested.

"No shit. I'm sure they'll have a great time."

Warren reached the bottom step. "What about us?"

Dale whirled on the stair and glared at him. "This was not a packaged deal, Warren. You don't like me and I don't like you. Nowhere in my book does that add up to sex. You want a piece of ass? Go get one. Unless it's changed, the corner of Fourth and Knight is a good place to start." She pointed to herself. "This is one piece of ass you won't be getting."

"Hey, what about all that beer I bought for you and we took you to the disco? Don't I get anything for that?"

"You got my company and you didn't even deserve that and, excuse me, but I paid for my own cover charge and you got free beer because Matt's brother-in-law is the bartender."

"You bitch!" He spat.

He started up the stairs after her. Dale braced her hands on the railings, bent her knees and kicked out, connecting both feet with Warren's shoulders, which propelled him backward. He fell on his behind at the bottom of the stairs, the impact knocking the wind out of him.

"Fucking dyke," Warren sputtered as he regained his breath.

Now you've got the picture. "That's the nicest thing you've said to me all evening."

"How the hell am I supposed to get home?"

"That's not my problem. Take that up with Matt. He was your date before Shannon came along."

"Fuck you!"

"You'll never get that lucky." She reached the second landing and knocked on the door of room 204. Dale looked at her watch. It was almost eleven; hopefully Travis wasn't asleep yet. She knocked again and a very tousled-looking Travis opened the door. "Hi, Travis. Can I come in?"

"Sure." She yawned and closed the door after Dale was inside. "Where's Walker?"

"She's busy," Dale said and then related the whole story to her. "So that's why I'm here. Why'd you want a room by yourself?"

"I didn't. I got it with Tierni."

"Like I said: Why'd you want a room by yourself?" Dale smiled. "Why didn't you invite your husband down, Mrs. Novak?"

"We can't afford it just yet. He usually works weekends anyway and, besides, the way Ritchie is, I wasn't sure we'd get this weekend off."

"That's true. Nothing ever seems definite in the Army, does it?" Dale sighed.

"Watch TV or whatever you want. I'm going back to bed," Travis said.

"Nah, I'm beat," Dale admitted. She stripped down to her shirt and panties and crawled into the other bed that was supposed to be Tierni's. "I hope she doesn't pop back during the night," Dale said.

Travis turned out the light. "Well, if she does, it will be interesting to hear just how lucky someone is to fuck you."

Heard that, did you?" Dale said and chuckled.

"I'm sure half of Averill heard it."

"Well, my secret will still be safe because Tierni just isn't my type," Dale said and meant it. Tierni wasn't tall, dark and brooding.

Shannon knocked on Travis' door early. She gave Dale the room keys and told her to check out whenever she was ready because she wouldn't be going back to the room. While Travis was in the shower, Dale stepped outside in the cold, crisp morning air.

"Where are you going?" She kept her voice low.

"Matt and I are going to spend the day together."

"Wait a minute, I think it's great you found Matt and I'm thrilled you got laid but I'm not going to track everyone down by myself."

"I don't want you to," Shannon said, defensively. "Look, Dale, this guy is a great cover for me. One day away from all this is not going to hurt anything. Give me a break, would you? You got two weeks away from this crap. Six hours, in the grand scheme of things, isn't that long."

Dale looked down at the keys in her hand and nodded. "You're right. Go. Have a good time. Just don't get used to him. We've got work to do."

"Yes, mother." Shannon grinned. She walked downstairs to Matt's idling car, got in and they left.

Dale and Travis returned to McCullough early. Travis went back to the barracks and Dale walked over to the Pizza Place, accompanied by Caffrey, Creed and Almstead.

Caffrey had toned down a lot since that first week and other than being a little klutzy, she was turning out to be a pretty good soldier. Her test scores were average but her enthusiasm was high and she tried extremely hard.

Creed was just naturally good at everything she attempted and Almstead put forth the extra effort because she was so enamored with Creed and wanted to impress her. Dale had seen a close relationship develop between the two women, supportive of each other and, although discreet, physically affectionate, too, wisely stopping short of openly behaving like lovers. Almstead came across as being convinced they were fooling their barracks-mates and seemed to think everyone believed she and Creed had become great friends, like Shannon and Dale or the three T's. Creed knew that Dale, among a few others, was onto them and appeared happy and surprised that Dale regarded them no differently. Dale felt no need. She was all about duty and mission and, so far, their actions weren't interfering with hers. She wasn't there to be barracks snitch, especially not a hypocritical one.

After the four of them split a pizza and Dale table-hopped to get the lowdown on everybody's weekend. No one mentioned a drill sergeant, no one alluded to anything covert, no one suggested that anything remotely suspicious went on over the weekend. Dale finished her beer and went outside to find an isolated pay phone. It was time to check in with her boss.

She let the phone ring eight or nine times and was about to hang up when the Bishaye picked up. "I didn't think you were home," Dale said. As usual, the lieutenant's heart began to pound.

"I just walked in," Bishaye said, out of breath. "I was in town, buying groceries. What's going on?"

"Nothing you don't already know," Dale said, nonchalantly. All she could think about was that she wanted to be the cause of Bishaye being breathless. She could hear full paper sacks being set down on the counter. She pictured Bishaye in her kitchen, balancing the phone between her ear and shoulder, putting groceries away.

"Really? Are you sure?" Bishaye asked.

Dale almost stared at the phone. "Am I -? Of course I'm sure." She didn't disguise her annoyance.

"Okay, then where is your partner?"

"Shannon?" Dale asked, surprised, then felt an impending dread.

"You have another partner I don't know about?" Anne's tone was still neutral.

"Funny," Dale said, humorlessly. "Shannon's back at the Pizza Place. Eating pizza."

"Better check your nose, my friend, I do believe it may be growing."

Fuck. Now Dale's heart was pounding for a different reason. She hated getting caught in a lie with Bishaye.

"I just saw her in Averill."

Fuck, fuck, fuck! "Did she see you?"

"No. I made sure of that. Why'd you lie to me? What's going on?" Now Bishaye's tone was a little stronger.

"Nothing is going on."

"If nothing is going on, why did you lie to me?"

"Anne, come on, it's not a big deal," Dale said and sighed.

"Nothing's going on, it's not a big deal…" Bishaye repeated. "Fine. Who's the young man she was with?"

"Matt." Dale said.

"Dale – do not make me drag it out of you!"

"He's some guy we met last night. He's a civilian, which I'm sure you guessed already by the length of his hair. She was just spending the day with him. It didn't hurt anything. Nothing is happening. She needed it. Nothing's been happening."

"Yes, you said that."

"It hasn't been. You saw him; he's an attractive guy. Everybody's been pairing off. We can't pair off with male trainees and we really need to pair off with somebody other than each other. Wouldn't you prefer she be with someone totally removed from all this?"

"Are you sure he is removed? How did you meet him? Did he approach you or did you two approach him? What do you know about him?"

"Uh…well…he can dance," Dale said, knowing that's not what Bishaye wanted to hear. "I'm sure at this point Shannon knows much more about him, but –"

"He can dance. I'm so glad for him. Look, Dale, I don't care if Shannon picked someone up as long as she's cautious. I'm sure she's in need of company other than you and a hundred forty-four of her closest friends. It's none of my business who she goes to bed with as long as she knows who is slipping between the sheets with her. Now the fact that nothing is happening within the company – that you know about – is making me a little nervous and then this guy, Matt, just pops in out of nowhere."

"Well, not really nowhere, Matt and a friend picked us up at The Stop. They were there first so they didn't follow us in. I dumped the friend. He was a dick."

"Did you sleep with him first?"

The question surprised Dale. "I thought you said it was none of your business who we went to bed with."

"No, I said it was none of my business who Shannon went to bed with."

Dale took a deep breath and blew it out. "Since you so obviously don't want to join the club and would rather play cruel head games with me, it's none of your business who I go to bed with, either."

Her words had evidently stunned Bishaye as there was dead silence on the other end of the line. Bishaye cleared her throat. "Just because I won't betray my husband doesn't mean I don't have feelings…in that area…for you. I just can't act on them any more than I already have." Her tone was sincerely apologetic. "Is it just me or do you have feelings for other women, too?"

Dale closed her eyes and took another deep breath, letting it out slowly. This was torture. "It's none of your business who I go to bed with."

Finally, with resignation, Bishaye said, "You're right." There was another awkward silence and then she said, "What were two doing at The Stop? You know that place is off-limits."

Dale was both relieved and sad the subject had changed. "I know. I went to off-limits places when I actually was a trainee. I figured if I did it then, some of my barracks-mates might do it now."

"Why did you both have to go in there together? What happened to splitting up and covering twice the territory?"

"We have been splitting up but sometimes it also looks better when we travel together."

"Not so sure I buy that one, Dale," Anne said, wisely. "Anything unusual about the people pairing off?"

"No. Not so far. The coupling is a little odd at times but not a damned thing suspicious."

"And the cadre?"

"The drill sergeants have backed off completely. Ritchie hardly comes around at all anymore which is no great loss."

"I told Colton to back him off, to involve him in other projects that would occupy his time and keep him away from the company area. I felt he was working you two into such a frenzy, one of you would blow your cover over him."

"That's not so far-fetched. He was out of control. Everything else is running like a normal cycle, considering, although, the laundry room incident broke the monotony."

"I don't want to talk about that," Bishaye said, flatly. "Except…you two had no idea any of this was going on?"

"We thought she might be slipping out at night, we were pretty sure she was buying drugs from Ingersol but we couldn't prove it and after our daily rituals, neither of us had the energy to sit up all night, spying on her."

"You suspected all this and you never said anything?"

"I believe I did say something to Henning. Not my fault if she didn't pass it on to you. And Dizzy, I mean, Zelman had already been caught once with drugs in a surprise inspection. We knew she wasn't going to be here for the duration and it was just a matter of time before she got kicked out. I'm curious, though; why did she get booted out and not the guys? They were all caught doing the same thing. I thought you, of all people, would be fairer than that."

"I wanted to release them all from their contracts but Sergeant Audi begged me not to. So they got recycled and a second chance but that's all they get. Private Zelman requested a discharge. She admitted she is not now and would probably never be military-oriented and the last thing she wanted to be was a cop. We agreed it would be better all around for everyone if she left. I have to tell you, I felt no guilt in accommodating her as quickly as possible."

"She never should have been recruited or enlisted, in the first place. Just like Kirk."

"Water under the bridge, Dale, we are not going there."

"Fine. What's happening with Ingersol and Bradbury?"

"Ingersol's luck ran out. Two of the men he works with signed sworn statements saying Ingersol told them both he was planning on nailing that female that afternoon and for both of them to stay out of the Supply Room. One went on an errand and the other felt guilty and went to Sergeant Bradbury. You know the rest. Ingersol will be gone within the week."

"Discharged or to confinement?"


"Anne! It was attempted rape!" Dale was outraged.

"The victim requested it not go any further. She prefers her military career not be stigmatized by the incident. Dale, you know as well as I do, she's right. She would be tainted forever in this good ol' boys club."

"I don't know how you've stuck it out for so long," Dale admitted. It suddenly hit her like a blow to the stomach that Bishaye had been right; life as a woman of rank in the military was not a picnic and that it wasn't the system that had changed her, it was the politics. She was clearly a David up against many Goliaths. It really wasn't personal. Dale felt chagrined and it came through in her voice. "Shit. Anne, I –"

"Forget it. Listen, you probably need to get back to sign in."

Dale checked her watch. "I do, yeah."

"Get back to me when you can."

"I will." Dale paused. "Are we okay?"

"We have to be."

"Yeah," Dale said, quietly and hung up.

Dale waited outside the CQ Office for Shannon. She showed up exactly three minutes before the sign in time of 1800 hours.

"How was your day?" Dale asked, after Shannon exited the Orderly Room.

"Nice. We had a great time. He's a really sweet guy."

"Think you'll see him again?"

"Probably." Shannon noticed Dale's odd demeanor. "What?"

"Bishaye saw you in town this afternoon with Matt."

"When did you talk to her?"

"About thirty minutes ago."

"Christ. Is she really hot?"

"No. She was just concerned because she didn't think we were doing our job and because neither of us know him and he might not be who he says he is or, at the very least, he will interfere with your work. Other than that, she was fine."

Shannon was visibly relieved. "I think he's who he says he is. Before we went for a drive, he stopped at his house to change his clothes. I met his family. He's just a local guy out to have some fun and that's all I want. He won't cloud the investigation, I promise."

"That's good enough for me." Dale told Shannon the other pertinent parts of her conversation with Bishaye. They also talked about Dale's day, Shannon's day, the previous week and the week to come. They speculated about Cassidy, suspecting she was going to be tough but fair and would hopefully work with the females and not against them like MacArthur.

"I've got to say, she is one of the most attractive female drill sergeants I have ever seen," Shannon said, stubbing out, then field stripping her cigarette.

"You think so?" Dale asked her with perfect nonchalance.

"You haven't noticed?"

Dale shrugged. "I guess I haven't."

"Come on, I'm bushed. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night," Shannon said and headed toward the stairway.

"Braggart," Dale said, kidding.

"Hey, you could've had some loving, too, it's just that you're too picky."

You have no idea. If only she could confess to Shannon just how dangerously attractive she thought Drill Sergeant Cassidy was.


Chapter Nineteen

The first order of the morning was a test on jeep upkeep. The procedure was called First Echelon Maintenance and it was a necessary policy for all military personnel before they operated any military vehicle.

An instructor had a checklist and marked off all the required series of steps as the trainee explained it to him. The trainee was not expected to actually perform the maintenance, just to indicate what he or she was describing on the parked jeep.

"Okay, Private Oakes, tell me how you'd check your vehicle," the instructor asked.

Dale pointed to all the applicable areas as she spoke. "I'd check the cooling system and oil levels. I'd check the engine compartment for any leaks or foreign objects. I'd look for bent fan blades, faulty wiring connections or loose fan belts. I'd make sure, if the canvas top wasn't intact, that it was stored under the seat, that all the correct tools were in the driver's compartment and that the map compartment contained all the proper forms and logs. I'd check tire pressure. I'd check the safety belts for serviceability or damage…"

The instructor scribbled notes and crossed off numbers on his list as Dale eliminated everyone without hesitation. "Excellent, Oakes."

"Thank you, Sergeant."

"I take it you've owned a jeep."

"No, Sergeant, I just studied really hard over the weekend." Dale blinked at him, innocently.

The instructor chuckled. "If that's true, you'd be the first. Okay, Mr. Peabody, just one last question. If you discover any deficiencies, what form would you fill out?"

"That would be DA Form 2404, Sergeant."

The instructor wrote another note on the sheet of paper at the top of his folder. "Very good, Oakes. You've got yourself a Go."

That afternoon, the company was transported to the vehicle driving range to learn how to operate a four-speed jeep. The trainees who already knew how to drive a standard shift, like Dale and Shannon, could easily breeze through the course but, for others, it was not that simple.

The company had to pass four stations. Station #1 was where they had to successfully start the jeep and put it into first gear. Station #2 was learning how to shift from first to second gear and then second to third gear. Station #3 was learning how to stop and start on a hill without rolling backward and Station #4 was learning how to shift into reverse and how to parallel park.

Shannon was paired off with Travis who effortlessly 'taught' the lieutenant how to manage Station One while Dale was peer instructed by Tramonte. The two partners decided to feign ignorance on stick shift driving. Neither wanted to get stuck with instructing their peers, a thankless, hair-raising task, especially on the driving range. Whiplash and an excessive case of nerves were usually the result of that particular class, which was probably the reason there were peer instructors in the first place. No military person in his or her right mind would ever be able to handle a permanent position on educating a GI to drive a standard vehicle. Not without hazard pay, anyway.

Before the afternoon ended, Dale and Shannon had successfully completed Station Two with two males as peer instructors. The next morning, after 0700 formation, they would immediately report to Station Three.

Dale was fortunate enough to hook up with Tramonte again and they practiced how to stop and start correctly on a hill. They repeated this exercise for at least forty minutes before Tramonte reluctantly gave Dale a Go and sent her on to Station Four. Tramonte's reluctance was not reflective of Dale's ability for Dale had accomplished the task perfectly the second time around. Tramonte just didn't want to risk getting the likes of Freddie Swan and Kramer, who she'd had at Station One. They were both so afraid of the damned vehicle, they could barely start it and when they did, the violent jerking motion of trying to put the stick shift into first gear without stalling nearly put poor Tramonte in the hospital. She kept Dale as long as possible until Audi came over and told her that Station Three was backed up.

Shannon ended up on Station Three with Private Pamela Chillemi, USMC, as a peer instructor. This was the first time Shannon really had a solo chance to speak with the marine insert, so she greeted her pleasantly with the thought if there was no rapport between them, at least there would be civility. She grossly misjudged the marine.

The lieutenant barely got out, "Hi, I'm Walker," before Chillemi snapped, "Just get in the jeep, will you? I haven't got all day!"

Shannon swallowed her smile and the urge to remind her that she really did have all day. She also resisted the initial desire to slap the facial features off her new peer instructor. In the one lap around the course that it took Chillemi to show Shannon what to do, the marine berated her for not knowing how to drive a standard vehicle before she enlisted. She let Shannon know, in no uncertain terms, that she detested and felt above Army women and made it obvious she'd only wanted to get male GIs to instruct.

They switched places and Shannon demonstrated the perfect stop and start on an incline. She didn't want to spend any more time with Chillemi than she absolutely had to. Chillemi told it was wrong and made her do it again. They went around the course several times and the marine yelled at Shannon for her 'inability to grasp instructions,' each verbal attack worse with each lap. When Shannon did interrupt her to mention that she couldn't correct a mistake if she didn't know what the mistake was, Chillemi's tantrum became worse.

Shannon finally had enough of the obnoxious marine's tirade and picked up speed around the sharp curve just before the hill and purposely hit a pothole in the middle of the road, which caused the jeep to go slightly airborne. When the tires touched the ground again, the jolt bounced Chillemi completely out of the jeep and onto her behind on the dirt track. Except for her jaw slamming shut with such force all her teeth nearly cracked, Chillemi was more surprised than bruised.

The lieutenant jumped on the brakes and kicked up a tornado of dirt, gravel and dust into her new enemy's face. Shannon let the jeep roll back a meter or two, making Chillemi scramble to her feet and get out of the vehicle's path. Shannon looked at her and said, "What are you doing out there? Get in, I don't have all day!"

This provoked Chillemi into an even more vicious attack on the undercover lieutenant. Chillemi stomped toward the driver's side of the vehicle and demanded that Shannon get out.

Shannon shrugged, put the jeep in neutral and obliged. She exited before Chillemi was even close to being in the driver's seat. "I can't deal with you, man, you've got problems." Shannon walked over to the Station Three pick up point to wait for another peer instructor.

A horrified Chillemi watched helplessly as the jeep rolled backward down the hill, unoccupied, passed Drill Sergeant Cassidy and into a ditch. Chillemi chased after it screaming, "The brake! You forgot to set the emergency brake!"

Cassidy had showed up at morning formation and stood in front of First Platoon with Audi. She had slowly begun her integration into Tenth Battalion. She had still not made any special effort to speak to the women as a group yet nor had her appointment to the company been made official by any announcement or introduction. Still, as short as the encounters with her had been, it was quite obvious Cassidy was not going to be a clone of MacArthur.

She made herself quite visible on the driving range and made her strong but silent presence known by mostly observing. She had heard most of the one-sided conversation and witnessed Chillemi's unplanned departure from the vehicle. She looked over at Shannon who was getting into a jeep driven by Wachsman.

"I'll deal with you later, Walker," Cassidy said, authoritatively, for the benefit of the others. Since no one got hurt and many a jeep ended up in that particular ditch and survived, Cassidy probably wouldn't discipline Shannon. In fact, after seeing Chillemi's ego was the only thing damaged, Cassidy had to bite back a smirk at how Shannon had handled the situation.

The new Alpha-10 drill sergeant approached the still-sputtering marine and commanded her into the position of Attention. Then she tore into Chillemi about abandoning her post. When Chillemi tried to respectfully argue the point, Cassidy reminded her that, as a peer instructor, whoever was in her vehicle was her responsibility and if she couldn't handle the situation, she should not have accepted the assignment. Chillemi steamed and continued to point at Shannon and affix all the blame on her. Cassidy then put Chillemi down for twenty-five push-ups for breaking the position of Attention while the jeep continued to idle. Finally Cassidy told Chillemi to recover and to get the jeep out of the ditch and back on course. This was a task only the most experienced of drivers could do and Cassidy knew it. Thirty minutes later, as Chillemi triumphantly maneuvered the two front tires to the top of the ditch, the jeep ran out of gas.

Both Dale and Shannon reached the parallel parking phase of Station Four at the same time and Dale noticed there was no one waiting at Station One. She shouted that over to Shannon as their jeeps passed. They both flew through the steps of Station Four, got their respective Go and hurried back to Station One to be peer instructors, each receiving their own jeeps. As was common practice with the two friends, they did not have to confer on the idea they both got at the same time; they just gave each other a look and drove their jeeps to the deserted figure eight course in the back and began to drag race.

The sight of plumes of dust and dirt and the sound of grinding and groaning gears caught Cassidy's attention. She jogged toward the commotion in disbelief that a trainee would actually have the guts to race on an unauthorized course. If nothing else, she certainly seemed to have gotten involved with a…spirited…cycle.

The two females were clearly having the time of their lives and were oblivious to her presence. She looked back to see that almost everyone else had finished the learning stations and had moved on to the driving obstacle course. She returned her attention to the drag racers and recognized Walker, then Oakes. Once again, she had to bite back a smile.

Cassidy was amused, impressed and pissed off at the same time by the actions of the two trainees. It was a pretty ballsy thing to do and she might have even written them up if she hadn't been caught doing the exact same thing herself when she was a trainee. She knew well the urge that pushed them over the edge. Still…

Oakes, who trailed Walker by less than a couple feet, spotted Cassidy first. It only took Walker another second to notice her, too, since Cassidy stood directly in their path. Walker was the only one to audibly comment. "Oh, shit."

They brought their jeeps to a halt by downshifting instead of breaking to stir up as little dust as possible. That action made Cassidy conclude they knew more about driving a standard vehicle than they let on. She certainly couldn't discipline them for that; peer instruction never felt like a privilege and if she knew then what she knew now, she wouldn't have zipped through the course, either.

When the jeeps came to a complete halt, Cassidy watched the two trainees frozen in place, not even breathing. Cassidy just stood there and glared at them, her arms folded across her chest. She never said a word to either one of them, she just stared at them and pointed to the direction of the driving obstacle course. They both nodded and while Oakes said, "Thank you, Drill Sergeant," Walker responded with, "Yes, Drill Sergeant."

She spun and followed them, shaking her head in mild amusement the rest of the way. She was going to have to keep her eye on those two.

Dale didn't dare to breathe at the sight of Drill Sergeant Cassidy. Cassidy just stood there, silently inviting them to make a move and, of course, they would have been idiots to take her up on it. Shannon had already pushed her luck once with the new cadre member and had been given a reprieve, to think there was a second one in there was too much to hope for. When she let them go without a word, both Dale and Shannon looked upward and wondered how they could have possibly earned such a favor.

Cassidy's denial of discipline didn't mean she was weak or intimidated, on the contrary, her expression and bearing told them that they were, indeed, lucky she elected to send them on their way. Dale had seen how Cassidy handled Chillemi so there was no doubt that the new drill sergeant had the grit needed to deal with the trainees.

No, it wasn't that; it was her posture that oozed with attitude, that look that caused Dale's heart to jump to the vicinity of her throat. Cassidy's dark eyes blazed with an intelligence and intensity she had only previously seen in Anne Bishaye. To say she missed the aura of raw, smoldering sensuality that surrounded Cassidy would have been a lie. No, Shannon, she's not one of the most attractive drill sergeants I've ever seen, she is one of the most attractive women I've ever seen, period. Dale knew she had to pull the reins back. Cassidy was going to be a pleasure to look at and an alluring diversion to the monotony of this case but it had to be hands off, even if Cassidy did prefer women (which Dale doubted). The last thing Dale needed in her life right now was another complication that involved the military. Just concentrate on the case and get the fuck away from Uncle Sam. Sure, like she was going to be able to concentrate on much of anything with Cassidy around.

Dale and Shannon felt sorry for the trained instructors at the driving obstacle course. Only a lobotomy could have reduced the stress of that job.

It looked so easy when they maneuvered around the pylons on Charlie's Angels, a majority of the trainees voiced later. It turned out to be not as easy viewing it from behind the wheel.

There were two stations in the class, the second being the more difficult of the two. The first station had the pylons set up in a circle that became smaller as it wound around in a spiral. At the end of that track, the driver was required to stop the jeep by a tree, where he or she would get a score and either move on to the second station or have to repeat the test.

The second station had the pylons set up in half-circles and at intervals where the driver would maneuver the vehicle in and out and between the orange cones. The objective was to leave all the pylons standing. If more than three cones were knocked down during the test, the driver was required to do it again, three tries being the limit.

Both lieutenants knew the secret of this little game was to forget how Mario Andretti would do it and not to build up any speed. The second someone got cocky and decided to accelerate was the second they lost control of the situation.

There were always trainees who, like Vanessa McKnight, panicked and plowed over every single pylon in the circle. McKnight hit a few at such an angle that the little plastic cones turned into missiles and beaned two instructors who stood off to the side and then she ran the jeep into the tree at the end of the track. McKnight did no damage to herself but put a substantial dent in the fender of the jeep. She was assigned another jeep and instructed to try the station again. Although she missed the tree on her second attempt, she still left no cone untouched. The instructors gave her a third and final chance and even after patiently being talked through the track, McKnight still failed to leave most of the cones upright.

She was the first female to receive a No Go. She was driven back to the company area to await instruction on reclassification. It was a sad moment for McKnight and a disappointment for the females, as a whole. After the loss of Kirk to death, Barbara Kramer to AWOL and Zelman to discharge, the Alpha women were hoping the rest of them could make it through to the end of LE School, a dream both lieutenants knew was unrealistic.

McKnight joined eight males who had also flunked out (or as it was referred to in LE School, "bolo-ing" out). Reclassification was a long process and the people who didn't make it through MP training would most likely be still hanging around when most of the others had graduated and been sent to their first permanent duty stations.

Later, after Chillemi confronted Shannon in the barracks and the two had it out regarding the former's attitude and they reached an agreement to stay out of each other's way, she and Dale stopped by McKnight's bunk and offered their condolences. None of the females really cared for McKnight but that didn't mean they wished her to fail.

McKnight tried to shrug it off in the pretense of not caring. She told the two lieutenants she was glad it happened because now she could hopefully get an MOS that was a little more "nine-to-five." When Shannon got up in the middle of the night to use the latrine, she heard crying from the direction of the showers. She knew McKnight had fireguard duty but she was nowhere in sight. If it had been anyone else, Shannon might have gone in and tried to comfort her, someone else who may have been more suited to continue the training and become an asset to the job. She decided to leave McKnight alone. Shannon had told her earlier that she was sorry and she meant it but she did not think the elimination of McKnight as an MP was unfair. McKnight had been given every chance to succeed, more actually than she deserved, and her not making it was her own responsibility. Shannon would've had more sympathy for someone else but not McKnight.

The next morning after formation, PT, chow and details, the trainees were marched to the vehicle driving range and divided into two groups. While one group took their road test in the jeeps, the other half took their road test in the sedans. Those who finished the test with the jeep would then cycle over to take their test in the sedan and vice versa. Everybody got a Go and qualified for their military driver's license, a process that took most of the morning.

The company was marched back to Tenth Battalion for noon chow and then remained in the company area the rest of the afternoon. Dale, Shannon and Wachsman were sent to the Supply Room for details but when they got there, there was nothing for them to do. No one had advised the GIs assigned to the Supply Room that trainees were being sent to do their cleaning for them so after hearing rumors of an inspection, they squared the room away that morning.

They now looked at a couple of boring hours ahead of them. PFC Singleterry, a GI who had been temporarily assigned to run the Supply Room since Ingersol's impending discharge, told them to just hang out and if they needed anything, he'd be in the front room with the M16s.

After he was gone, the three women looked at each other blankly. Finally, Shannon said, "Anyone for poker?"

The two others readily agreed and Shannon rummaged around what used to be Ingersol's desk, not surprised when she found a deck of cards. Shannon loved poker and she was good at it, something Dale knew from past experience; she'd almost lost her life savings to her partner the very first time they played.

Two and a half hours later, Wachsman barely held her own and Dale was just twenty dollars in the hole. The game was really one-sided but it was passing the time and even though Shannon was thirty dollars up, they were all having fun.

Shannon was bluffing her way to winning another hand when the cry of Attention came from a fearful sounding Singleterry in the other room. Cards flew everywhere, chairs were thrown back and the women were on their feet.

"Well, well, well, what have we here?"

Even though they didn't show it, Dale and Shannon were relieved to hear Henning's twang. They hoped she was alone.

"Do I see money and cards on this table? Whose money is this?"

"Not mine, Ma'am," three voices chorused.

"Does anyone know the regulations about gambling on post?" She stepped up, nose to chin with Dale. "Private Oakes?"

"No, Ma'am."

"I didn't think so or you wouldn't be this stupid. At least not openly," Henning added, rather dryly. She gathered up the money left lying on the table, one hundred fifty dollars, all totaled. "Looks like you were winning, Private Walker." Shannon said nothing as the training officer paced in front of them. She stopped in front of Dale again. "Were you gambling, Private Oakes?"

"No, Ma'am," Dale said. She looked straight ahead.

Her response should have angered Henning but the training officer appeared to take it in stride. She stepped in front of Shannon. "Were you gambling, Private Walker?"

"No, Ma'am," Shannon said. She hoped Wachsman would follow their lead.

"Hmmm." Henning then stepped in front of the rookie, certain the petrified private would be the undoing of the dynamic duo. "Were you gambling, Private Wachsman?"

Without hesitation, Wachsman looked Henning squarely in the eye and said, "With whom, Ma'am?"

Both undercover lieutenants, unable to contain themselves, revealed tiny smiles of triumph that didn't go unnoticed by Henning. The training officer smiled, too, as she folded up the money and stuck it into her right breast pocket. "If no one was gambling then I guess there was never any money on the table, was there?"

"No, Ma'am," the three women answered, not quite as enthusiastically.

"I didn't think so." She circled them once more, slowly, then walked toward the door. "As you were."

"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." Dale spoke for the group as Henning left the Supply Room.

Singleterry bounded around the corner. "I'm sorry. She was just suddenly here and I didn't have time to warn you. Of course, I had no idea you were playing poker, either. How come you didn't invite me to play?"

"You're lucky we didn't," Wachsman said. "She confiscated all the money. Fifty bucks apiece. That was my spending money for the weekend."

"Listen, it's better than an Article 15," Singleterry said. "At least this way it's over and nobody's the wiser. If she'd done it by the book, you three would be in some really deep shit."

"I wonder why she didn't rake us over the coals," Wachsman asked, curiously.

Dale and Shannon just looked at each other.

Part 20

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