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 One


Chapter Twenty-Two

The next morning at 0520 hours, Alpha Company, Tenth Battalion, learned how to get into morning formation.

The company's six drill sergeants stood before their respective platoons, alphabetizing them and setting them up in ranks. The NCOs then showed the trainees what the drill 'Dress Right, Dress, At Close Interval' meant.

"You place your left hand here," Robin showed his platoon by putting the heel of his left hand on his hip at the top of his belt line, his fingers and thumb joined and extended downward. His elbow was in line with his body and it touched the arm of Putnam, who was standing to his left. Robin and Putnam went through the ranks, demonstrating and correcting, and after they had everyone At Close Interval, they gave the command, 'Ready, Front.' On those words, everyone dropped their arms sharply to their sides, at the same time, turning their heads and eyes to the front, returning to the position of Attention.

The trainees were then taught how to count off and how to align the squad. After several practices, trial runs were made with the individual platoons.

"Fall in!" each platoon sergeant yelled. "At close interval, dress right dress!" They waited five seconds. "Ready, front!" It wasn't too bad for amateurs. The drill sergeants went on to show them Dress Right Dress at Normal Interval and then at Double Interval. When that was completed, they tried to master 'Open Ranks.'

On an individual basis and at a closer range, the drill sergeants looked friendlier but not entirely harmless. One still approached with extreme caution, especially those with a fear of the unknown. Some, after a trainee got used to their presence, became less overwhelming than when they had made their first brutish entrance. Nevertheless, it would be a while, if at all, when the drill instructors dropped their defenses completely and there was a good reason for that. What, with all those fraternization charges so freely flying around, anyone who valued his or her career could not be too careful about the company he or she chose to keep or even converse with. Then there was the problem with the discussion remaining in neutral territory. Most of the recruits had not been in long enough to decide whether or not they liked the Army so their dialogue was flecked mainly with civilian chit chat, whereas the drill sergeants felt uncomfortable when not talking about anything military to a trainee, unless they were talking about sex which, under any circumstances, was very, very unwise.

At 0600 hours, the senior drill sergeant stepped up to the platform in front of the company. The platoon sergeants put their troops to work and it wasn't half-bad the first eighteen times they did it for Ritchie. But with his barking insults at them, it wasn't easy to find the inspiration to continue.

Ritchie made an intimidating little speech to the new Alpha trainees about them being the most laughable bunch he'd seen to date and more than half of them, females mostly, wouldn't make it even to AIT, then he giggled himself off the podium.

The drill sergeants then took charge of their platoons and marched them to different locations for PT. One platoon stayed on the patio, another platoon moved to the open area between the patios and the third platoon, nicknamed 'Third Herd' by Robin, assembled in the parking lot. Once in formation and the open ranks command was given, the front rank took two steps forward, the second rank took one step forward, the third rank stood fast and the fourth rank took one step backward. The next command was At Double Interval, Dress Right, Dress. The soldiers extended both arms until their fingertips touched those of the person standing next to him. The following action was to remove their fatigue shirts and ball caps.

The first exercise was some animal called the side-straddle hop. Dale always wondered why they just didn't call the exercise by its slang name or at least tell the trainee that it was a simple jumping jack.

"This is a two count exercise. The starting position is the position of Attention. On the first count, jump into the air, swinging your arms out to the sides and up to a vertical position, hands touching. At the same time, spread your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. On the count of two, jump up into the air, returning to the starting position by swinging your arms back down to your sides." The junior platoon sergeant then demonstrated at the command of the senior platoon sergeant.

"I'll call the cadence, you call the repetitions. We'll do twenty repetitions of this exercise. Starting positions, move!" Everybody assumed the position of Attention.

Within the next twenty minutes, the new trainees had tackled bent-leg sit ups, squat thrusts, the bend and reach, the knee bender, the high jumper and the four count push-up. There was a reason that they saved the push-up for last because after that one was correctly done, most of the women couldn't move their arms, with the possible exception of Shelley Creed, who knocked them out as if she had springs for elbows. Each platoon went on to do a half-mile run, singing cadence with the drill sergeant for the first time, feeling an odd sense of belonging. Everyone kept up, mainly because the first day wasn't that strenuous and nobody would have had the nerve to fall out, regardless of cramps from improper breathing habits or turned ankles from setting a foot down unexpectedly on a stone or into a pot hole.

The company was taken to morning chow directly after PT. Following that, the trainees did their assigned details and then returned to the bay to make sure their lockers and the barracks were flawless for an inspection that never took place. It was not unusual for a rumor of an inspection to be planted by a drill sergeant to keep everyone on their toes, just in case the company commander decided to conduct one on his own without forewarning.

Looking over her clothing issue form again, Dale decided to tell Kathan what she had not been provided at CIF. Longjohn tops were a necessity and Alabama winters were so unpredictable, she didn't know how soon she'd need them. Kathan instructed her to wait downstairs on the patio and they'd get the company driver to take her to WacVille's Central Issue Facility. Dale wanted to protest that she did not have the proper paperwork to request what they had neglected to give her but because she wasn't supposed to be familiar with any of that, she had to keep her mouth shut. Incompetence annoyed her and if Kathan had checked her clothing document, he would have realized that CIF wasn't going to give her the time of day. Kathan, however, never seemed to swim into consciousness until at least noon and Dale was perturbed that she would have to unnecessarily miss whatever was going to happen or be taught not only during her absence that morning but also whatever day she'd have to return to CIF when Kathan (or whoever) removed his head from his rectum and saw to it that her paperwork was properly taken care of.

Also waiting downstairs for the jeep was Kotski, who had not been issued any longjohns at all nor was she heading off to WacVille with any appropriate documentation. Disgusted, Dale shrugged it off. If nothing else, at least she'd get a chance to visit with Kotski, something she hadn't had an opportunity to do since the first two processing days.

"Nobody told you yet?" Bonnie Kramer said, as she pegged two points on the cribbage board,

"Told me what?" Dale moved her peg up one notch for last card.

"Oh, that's right. You and Kotski were gone all morning. Did you get your stuff?"

"No. Neither did Kotski. We didn't have the right paperwork. Told me what?"

"It's your crib," she pointed to the four cards left face down on the floor. "That Kirk tried to run."

"What? When?" Uh oh...this can't be good...

"This morning. But they caught her and brought her back."

"Well, where is she?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen her. Maybe they locked her up for attempting to go AWOL."

"Who caught her?"

"Some MPs. The captain sent them after her. Boy, he's really nice looking."

"Fifteen two, fifteen four and a three card run for seven," Dale said and pegged out. "Who's nice looking?"

"Colton." Kramer put away the cribbage board and cards. "The company commander. We caught a glimpse of him today standing outside the Orderly Room."

"What does he look like?" Dale asked, with mild interest.

"Oh, he's tall, nice body, black hair, mustache, beautiful blue eyes, perfect white smile, gorgeous long eyelashes, straight nose, hair nicely styled for its length..."

"Boy, that was some glimpse."

"I was the closest."

"The only married lady in the bunch and you get to stand the closest to someone who looks like that? That figures," Dale said and laughed. "What was he doing outside the Orderly Room? Catching a glimpse of you?"

"No. Talking with Ritchie about Christmas Company. Then Ritchie had Audi explain it to us."

"What is...Christmas Company?"

"It's for those of us who don't want to or can't, for some reason, go home for Christmas."

"They're sending us home for Christmas?" Dale asked, incredulously.

"Oh. Yeah. Gee, you missed that, too. They're sending us home on the fourteenth of December and we have to be back on the second of January. Practically the whole post is leaving except for certain permanent party. They're calling it Christmas Exodus. Those who aren't going will be moved over to the Delta-12 barracks for the duration of the leave and then be brought back on January second with everybody else.

"God, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to leave if they have the chance," Dale made a face. "What will they do here?"

"I don't know. Probably work. You know, details and stuff."

"Well, that certainly sounds exciting." Christmas Company also more than likely meant that one of the two cycle spies would have to remain behind with the few who decided to stay. Oh, goody. Dale looked at her watch. Snoopy indicated it was almost time for noon chow. "Did we have that inspection today?" She stood up and stretched.

"No. Not yet, anyway."

"Good. Probably none of us would have passed anyway."

"Why do you say that? We all worked very hard on our lockers and I think they looked great."

"Somehow on a first inspection, I don't think that would have made a difference. We couldn't be good the first time no matter how perfect our lockers were."

"I don't believe that," Kramer said.

"No, think about it, Bonnie, really. What would they have to yell at us about if we did things right the first time?"

Kramer contemplated Dale's words. She shrugged. "I suppose you've got a point, although I would hope they would give credit where credit is due."

"I have a sneaking suspicion that things don't work that way. I don't think they're paid to give us credit. I think they're paid to be a pain in the ass."

"Well, they certainly do that well," Kramer agreed, smiling.

"At ease!" someone in the bay shouted.

"Fall in downstairs for PT," stated a disembodied voice from the ceiling.

After lunch, off-key and off-time, Kathan again marched those who wanted to go, to a forty-five minute visit to the Main Post Exchange, which was approximately ten minutes marching distance from the company area. Unless a female had incredibly long legs, she usually had to put it into fifth gear just to keep up with the normal thirty-inch steps the males took. The women usually marched in fifteen-inch steps but since they were training with the men, they marched to the standard set for the males. It was not easy at first.

Dale lined up, waiting to use one of the pay phones. When it was her turn, she made sure that the people around her were engaged in conversation, inserted her dime and then dialed the number to LTC Anne Bishaye's office. Her back to her peers, she asked for Bishaye in a barely audible, yet clearly understandable voice. After being informed that the Battalion Commander was in, Dale turned around to keep an eye on things. Her stomach fluttered a little knowing that Bishaye was literally right around the corner from her at A-10 but it really started to tremble when she heard the honey-rich voice of the colonel on the other end of the line.

"Colonel Bishaye," Anne announced, sounding very relaxed.

Closing her eyes, Dale imagined Bishaye sitting at her desk, that sexy grin splitting her face, those cocoa eyes burning up whatever they fell upon in that room. The undercover lieutenant then remembered the colonel's last words to her before she left Vermont. Again, dare she hope...? She had to stop this! Taking a deep breath, in the sweetest tone of voice she could muster, she said, "Hello, Mother."

"Hello, dear." Anne had always enjoyed their bantering.

"If I ever get through this, I will never speak to you again."

"Promises, promises." There was a definite smile in her voice and it thrilled Dale to know that it was just for her.

"Anything up?"

"Nothing yet. Nothing on Carolyn Stuart's murder, anyway."

"Hmmm. Too bad. Hey, I've made some friends here."

"Congratulations! I'm impressed. I guess there's a first time for everything."

This made Dale snicker. "You're not funny."

"Yes I am. You're laughing."

"Yeah? Not for long. One of my friend's is from Detroit. Her name is Jascelle Kirk."

"Yes, I already know this. Why are you telling me?"

"Because she is having real problems here."

"Is she connected with this case?"

"No. I mean, I highly doubt it."

There was a distinct change in Bishaye's tone. She was unexpectedly very professional. "Then what is your interest in her, Dale?"

Suddenly defensive, Dale responded with, "Nothing other than I believe she's unnecessarily being given a hard time."

"I met with her today. I have my eye on it."

"Thank you."

"Look, Dale, she's not your concern. Back off from her. She's our worry and we'll deal with it. I feel she is distracting you from your mission."

"Wait a minute -"

"I mean it, Dale. I said I've got my eye on it," Bishaye cut her off, sternly. "We are looking into Articles 83 and 84, Fraudulent and Unlawful Enlistment. She should be out by the middle of the month. However, for you," she emphasized, "the Kirk case is closed. I do not want you involved any more than you already are. Are we clear on this?"

Dale hesitated, then sighed. "No, I think you need to bludgeon me over the head with it a little more." She bit the inside of her cheek in thought, wondering why the shift in attitude but, regardless, felt it was wise to change the subject. Having Anne Bishaye annoyed with her was never pleasant. "Give me some news about the old man."

"You mean Colton? Hasn't he talked to you yet?"


"Well, be patient. He will."

"I can't wait," Dale said, unenthusiastically. "So far I don't have such a hot opinion of him. Neither does my friend."


"No. My other friend."

"You have two friends?" Bishaye gasped, feigning shock.

The smirk returned to Dale's face. "Heh...you're cute for a bit-"

"Ah! Don't say it," Bishaye warned, playfully. "I gather you mean Lt. Walker."

"That's the one. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I did. I distinctly remember telling you Lieutenant Walker would be on this case with you," Anne told her.

Yeah, you told me a lot of things that day, little of which I understood. Focus, Dale, focus. "I looked like an idiot when I spotted her."

"I told you to act normally...you were just following orders."

"Why do I feel like a straight man to you today? Look, seriously, it wasn't funny, this whole thing was almost history right then and there."

"I thought she would be a pleasant surprise."

"After the initial shock, it was."

"Good. You two still get along, yes?"

"Better than ever, it seems. That reminds me, we learned about this thing called Christmas company today."

"One of you will have to stay."

"I figured that. I'll talk it over with my friend."

"I hope you're referring to Lieutenant Walker. I couldn't handle it if you told me you'd made three friends."

"Fuck you."

"Hey...watch your language. You're supposed to be talking to your mother. You're beginning to sound like a grunt."

"I can't help it. It's all that low-crawling in the mud I have to look forward to. I'm going to feel like one. I'm just getting in practice. Also, you need to know that the natives are getting restless."

"Does that surprise you?"

"This soon? A little." She glanced up at the people waiting in line to use the phone. A few were pointing to their watches. "Okay, well, my time's up. I'll check in again soon. Any words of wisdom before I go?"

"Yes. Remember you only get out of it what you put into it."


"What was that?"

"I said: Is that it?"

"Yes. Call me again soon."

"Sure. Whenever the master gets out our leash and takes us for another walk."

"Be a good little puppy and he will."

Dale growled and then said, "Take care, Mother. Anything comes up, let me know."

"Yes, dear. Goodbye, Dale."

"Bye," the CID agent said, quietly as she hung up the phone. Anne Bishaye. So close, so far.

Dale and Kirk were sitting on the floor, leaning up against Kirk's bunk. "So what happened after they got you to Mental Health?"

"Some major interviewed me and then told me to behave myself and go back to the barracks."

"Well, that certainly was therapeutic. So where did you go when you left there?"

"They brought me back here and sent me to see Colton and he told me he was sick of my crybaby routine and if I wanted to run to go ahead."

"He actually told you to run?"

"He sure did. Then the son-of-a-bitch came after me with the MPs, o'er the hills we go, laughing all the way. He acts like this is all a big joke."

"Yeah, I heard he was pretty smug. So then what did you do?"

"They took me to see the battalion commander."

"No kidding? Did he rake you over the coals too?" Dale asked, pretending she had no knowledge of who Anne Bishaye was.

"He is a she and no, she didn't. In fact, I liked her a lot. She made everyone get out of her office and we just sat and talked. She made me feel like she was really interested in what I had to say, not like these clowns around here."

"How long were you in there?"

"I'm not sure. It seemed like a long time because we talked about everything from my life in Detroit to my hobbies to my problems here. She didn't make me call her ma'am and she never even brought up the gay thing," Kirk said, sounding really hopeful since the first time she landed at McCullough. "She asked me if I thought I'd gotten anything out of being here so far."

"Did she laugh when you told her a terminal headache?"

"I thought of saying something like that but she seemed so on the level with me that I didn't want to be a smart ass with her. She also wanted to know if I felt like I'd made any friends here and, I hope you don't mind, but I told her about you and that you seemed to be the only one here who even tried to understand my side."

"No, I don't mind, unless she asked for my description and social security number, too," Dale smiled. She was pleased that the colonel had impressed Kirk but she was also confused because Anne had been so adamant about Dale keeping her distance from the situation. "So is she going to resolve this?"

Kirk nodded. "When she was called to another meeting, she got up off the edge of her desk and said - and I quote -" she modified her voice to try and imitate Bishaye, "'young lady, if you don't want to be here, I don't want you here, either. These things take time and until I can cut through the red tape, I would appreciate it if you would try to act like a soldier, if nothing else, for the benefit of the others who want to be here. Your situation isn't any easier on them, you know, but I am going to do my best to have you out of here by Christmas Exodus on the fifteenth of December.' She walked over to me, shook my hand and that was it."

Dale's smile broadened. "Seriously? She said you were going home?"

"Within the next three weeks!" Kirk said, excitedly. "Why didn't they send me to her the first day I got here?"

"I don't know, JC, it probably has something to do with going up the chain of command."

"I'd like to shove it up the chain of command."

"Wait until December fifteenth. By then I'm sure you can find a lot of people to help you."

Karen Henning may have looked fragile because of her size but her presence was strong and her confidence seemed unshakable at times.

She was personable yet firm when she called the Alpha women over to the far picnic table that afternoon. She introduced herself as the company training officer and then proceeded to establish her merit with them.

In her speech, which could have been considered a woman-to-woman pep talk, she stressed the importance of them being the first females to take basic training with the males and the first company to make it continuous training through the end of LE School. She emphasized the purpose of the women pushing for each other and sticking together and she assured them that she was behind them all the way. She warned them against playing delicate during 'that time of month,' or any time, for that matter, because it would result in contradicting their bid for equal training. She then laughed, breaking what had turned into a somber mood and said if she had to play soldier then they had to play soldier then. She instructed them to make sure from that point on they refer to themselves as MPs and not WACs because there was indeed a difference. She further let them know that they had her total support as long as they continued to make an effort.

The meeting itself had come off favorably, to the extent of several positive attitude changes. The Alpha women felt that they definitely had an ally in Henning now and because of her professed allegiance to them, they must reciprocate loyalty. The women had found a mentor and several silently vowed to drive themselves to their maximum potential so as not to disappoint her because at least she gave them an objective, which was their first positive motivation since they had arrived there.


Chapter Twenty-Three

Picking a vacant spot on the hard, damp laundry room floor, Dale planked herself down next to a rather pale, irritatingly thin, young man named Gilbert Hibbon. She took out her Kiwi shoe polish, cotton balls and a diaper, then unlaced her combat boots and removed them. She stood back up and walked over to the sink, filling the top section of the Kiwi can with water and then returned to her place on the cement.

Gil Hibbon had been selected as their squad leader by McCoy because of his ROTC training in high school so Dale felt she should get to know him, which was why she chose to spit shine her boots next to him.

During basic training, as the new Alpha members would discover, when there were any free moments, trainees could usually be found reading their smart books, brassoing insignias, doing laundry, ironing fatigues or polishing boots. Especially polishing boots, which is what five other people were doing in the laundry room, not including Dale and Hibbon. There were two men doing laundry, two people waiting to do laundry and one man ironing fatigues.

One of the people waiting for an available washing machine was an rather immense person named Robert Gauthier, who was also in Dale's platoon. He didn't have to worry about polishing his footgear because there was really no way to spit shine canvas. Gauthier, or Bigfoot as he was not-so-affectionately nicknamed at Clothing Issue, couldn't be fitted to a pair of combat boots because there wasn't one his size in existence. His boots had to be specially ordered and until they came in, Bigfoot opted to wear an unusually large pair of sneakers. Knowing how boots were going to affect her feet, Dale almost envied him.

"What'd you think of MacArthur this afternoon?" Hibbon asked Bigfoot, grinning.

"Jesus, that bitch," the tall man shook his head. "How much longer you gonna be?" He asked Thomas Lark, who had been using one washer for what seemed like way too long.

"I'm on my last load."

"Good. I'm sick of waiting. You never should have sneaked that second load in there."

"What'd MacArthur do now?" Dale asked Hibbon.

"She walked into the barracks, unannounced, caught Bigfoot coming out of the shower and dropped him for ten."

"No shit." Dale looked up at Bigfoot. If she'd craned her neck any further, it might have snapped off. "Were you naked?"

"No, I had a towel around me when I came out into the open but it fell off when I was on my fifth or sixth push-up."

"That must have thrilled her," Dale commented, shamelessly wondering if everything on his body was in proportion to his size and build.

Hibbon couldn't contain himself and was almost to the point of giggling. "MacArthur told him he shouldn't be a GI, he's too feminine."

"Compared to her, I am," Bigfoot groused.

"I thought that, as a female, she couldn't go into the male bay without announcing 'female on the floor'," Dale brought up.

"She's not supposed to but she can get away with it on a technicality, which is we're not sure whether she's a female and neither is she."

Dale shook her head. "Aw, guys, that's not nice."

"As if she's any better to you women," Hibbon said.

"She probably is," Bigfoot commented. "She likes women."

"Is that so? She doesn't sneak into our barracks and try to catch us naked," Dale told them, looking directly at Bigfoot. "I mean, you don't know that for sure. Maybe she's just got an attitude because she's been fucked over by too many men," the undercover lieutenant defended and then wondered why. She couldn't stand MacArthur, either.

"That's strong talk. You sound like one of those women's libbers or something," Bigfoot said.

"Yeah, I have feminist tendencies," Dale admitted. She hated labels, however, she had to admit, the older she got the more feminist she became. "But I'm not radical about it, okay? I know my limitations. On the other hand, I'm not here so that I can learn to cook and clean while I'm standing barefoot and pregnant in some man's kitchen."

"That sounds radical to me," Hibbon kidded.

"Come on, guys, don't pick on me. You're just upset because you have to train with women."

"Sure that's upsetting. You women being with us means they're gonna bring our standard of training down so that you can keep up," Bigfoot told her.

"That's an unfair assumption. Hopefully, most of us were accepted into this program because they felt we could keep up. Anyway, what makes you so sure they're not going to be twice as hard on us?"

"Please. Don't make me laugh," Bigfoot said.

"Look, there's no point in arguing this until training actually starts," Lark stated. "So far, I don't see them taking it any easier on the women or bringing down the standard for the men. So far, I don't see them doing much at all. I've never wasted so much time in my life."

Dale stopped polishing and looked at Lark quickly. His words echoed hers a week ago and she felt that was an odd statement for someone to make who was supposed to have no previous knowledge of what training should be like at this point. "Why do you say that?"

"He was in the Navy for four years," Hibbon explained. "He and a few other prior service guys are trying to fill our heads with horror stories."

"How many prior service in our company?" Dale inquired. The thought of prior service members gave her new ideas. She'd have to kick her thoughts around with Shannon to see if there might be some basis for suspicion in that area.

Shannon had scarcely picked up bits and pieces of conversation, nothing that meant much, except for Minty (who had since informed everyone that her nickname was Koko and would appreciate it if her fellow WACs, excuse her, MPs, would remember that, since she had always hated her given name, Katherine), who took a poll on whether or not any of the other women had experienced a bowel movement since their arrival.

"I don't know about the rest of y'all," she drawled to anyone who would listen to her, "but I haven't taken a shit since I've been here. How's everybody else doin'?"

"Oh, come on, Koko, we have very little privacy and dignity left, must you insist on our making public how often we move our bowels?" Belinda Ryder asked.

"No, I'm just curious. I'm just wonderin' if it's the food they're feeding us. All that starch and all? I'm bound up or somethin' but I'm not in pain. Is it just me? Come on, girls, am I the only one?"

After several exchanged glances and unintelligible mumbling, almost every female spoke up and agreed with the tall Oklahoman.

"You happy now, Minty? You've finally exposed us all, " Quinn Brewer commented. "Do me a favor, ladies? When you do take that first shit of the cycle, I, for one, do not want to know about it."

"Does that mean you don't give a shit, Brewer?" Travis hollered over to her, receiving groans and a few pillows tossed at her head.

Shannon's bunk was opposite Lanigan's, so she used that placement to now strike up a conversation. "Hey, Lanigan, is that normal? Did your cycle have a problem with that?"

"I really don't remember," Lanigan answered and yawned. She was getting ready for bed. The holdover had just emerged from the shower and was wearing a yellow terrycloth bathrobe with a hood and a white bath towel wrapped around her head.

"Was your cycle this slow in getting started?" Shannon asked, off-handedly, removing her jacket and putting it into her locker.

"You writing a book?" Lanigan snapped, regarding her curiously.

"You taking courtesy lessons from Hanley? Lighten up, I just want to know how come we seem to be wasting so much time or if this is normal."

Lanigan smiled apologetically and unwrapped the towel from around her head. "I didn't mean to jump at you. I'm just nervous about talking to any of you. Hanley's been caught twice and yelled at. I've got a good record and I'd rather not have Ritchie on me when I have so little time left here."

Shannon nodded, looking around the bay, then back at Lanigan. "I think you're clear to talk."

"I'll give you two weeks. You won't be kidding around like that. These drill sergeants find out everything that goes on in these bays."

"How do they do that? Eavesdropping through the bitch box?"

Lanigan was shaking her head negatively before Shannon had even stopped speaking. She leaned in closely and whispered, "spies."

Shannon took in a sharp breath, covered her mouth and looked utterly horrified. "Up here?" Shannon whispered back. "With us?"

Lanigan nodded, seriously. "You'd be amazed. It's the only way the cadre can find out all that they do."

"Who does the spying?" Shannon was keeping her voice low and hoped desperately that Lanigan hadn't planted this notion in anyone else's head and wondered who the hell had planted it in hers.

"It could be anyone. All these girls are supposed to be new recruits, right? Well, one of them is assigned. It's the same with the guys. One of them was assigned, too."

"Assigned from where?"

"Okay, it might be different now because you're in this Oshit training program and you're all starting out together, that's why your spies are probably here already. With us, a lot of us came to LE School from different basic training companies, so our spies didn't come in until AIT began and they were people who were already in the Army, prior service or inserts from another MOS."

"This all sounds a little James Bond-ish to me. How do you know all this?"

"Hanley found out. She overheard it one night when she was on CQ and came up and told me. It made sense. There's no other way that the drills can find out all they know."

Shannon was stuck between bewildered and furious. What the hell was Hanley up to? She tried to cover her confusion by shrugging off Lanigan's suggestion. "We're talking about Hanley here. This sounds like something she'd think up."

"I've spent two and a half months with Hanley. I think I know her a little better than you."

"Do you? You spent two and a half months with all the other women, too. Do you know which one was the spy?"

"No." Lanigan hesitated, thoughtfully. "But why would Hanley make up something like that?"

"Why does Hanley do anything?" Shannon moved over to Lanigan's area and leaned against her locker, making sure her back was to a majority of the bay. She wanted no one to hear this conversation. "We're talking about a girl with a real sense of the dramatic here. I'm fully convinced that she does not have both oars in the water, anyway. I mean, did she or did she not stand right about here the second night we were all here and announce that she wanted to die young by being shot to death in combat? Let's face it, Hanley is a little extreme. Nobody should be that dedicated. She should be a marine, for Christ's sake. Think about it...what do we need to be spied on for? We're basic trainees not prisoners of war. We don't have any secrets that could be of any possible value to the U.S. Army. I can't believe Hanley would even suggest something about spies and I can't believe that you would actually believe her."

"It just sounded logical," Lanigan mumbled, now feeling the sting of Shannon's reasoning. "So how come the cadre knows so much? How do they find out what they do if there are no spies?"

"It's just a guess," Shannon began, trying not to sound too sarcastic, "But I would assume that they don't enlist and automatically become drill sergeants. They had to go through basic training and AIT and when they graduated and met other people who'd been through AIT, I'm sure they compared and collected stories. They've probably heard it all and done most of it. I'm sure the charming ones can always get the na•ve recruits to inform for them, especially with a promise that such a service can further one's military career. To me that makes much more sense than some wild story about...spies." She practically spit that last word out as if it left a bitter taste in her mouth. She then laughed, shaking her head. "I don't know about that Hanley."

The holdover looked as though she felt had been made a fool of and Shannon couldn't tell if she were more angry at herself or Hanley.

"Listen, Lanigan, you didn't say anything about this spy business to any of the other girls, did you?"

Lanigan told her that she had not. "You're the first one I've felt like I'm not going to get caught talking to."

"Good, because we're having enough problems getting along as it is being cooped up for as long as we're going to be with each other, the last thing we need is some crazy rumor floating around that one of us can't be trusted. You know what I'm saying?"

Nodding, Lanigan put her robe away. "I won't say anything. But I think I'm going to kill Hanley."

Stand in line, Shannon thought. "She probably can't help saying things like that and, what's worse, she probably believes what she says. Let's not talk about Hanley anymore."


Relaxing now, the blonde lieutenant turned so that her back was resting against the locker. "I know you can't tell me what basic training with the guys is like, so what's LE School like?"

"It's interesting if you're into learning a lot in a short period of time. You've really got to stay alert because some of the classes are very complicated and they expect you to learn that material in a one or two day period."

"Like what?"

"Like triangulation." Lanigan made a face.

"What's that?" Shannon asked, mildly surprised that Lanigan had found that particular course difficult as she had never had a problem with it.

"It has something to do with measuring at traffic accidents, distance of vehicles from fixed objects. I thought I'd never get through that class. But on the whole, I felt I had to cram a year's worth of learning into seven and a half weeks and I'm not sure I'll remember everything when I get to my permanent duty station."

You won't, Shannon wanted to assure her, and it wouldn't matter even if you did because your first month on the road will be like school all over again. "As long as you don't believe everything you hear, you should do okay." She winked and decided to change the subject again. "There are a lot of male drill sergeants here. I'm surprised it's not more balanced out. MacArthur must be in her glory."

"Would we recognize it if she was?" Lanigan said and laughed.

"Probably not," Shannon agreed, thinking a full-blown smile from the dour female buck sergeant might actually burn her retinas. "What about male drills? Do we have some harassment or being hit on to look forward to with them?"

"I seriously doubt it. Two girls in my cycle pressed charges against two drill sergeants for that kind of stuff. I guess it's not the first time it's happened, either, so these drill sergeants are real careful about what they do, what they say and how they behave."

"Which drills were they?" Shannon inquired, leaning in close, as if she were about to receive a juicy tidbit of forbidden gossip.

"Oh, they're not here anymore. They left or were sent away. I'm not sure. All I know is that it was really hushed up."

"God, they must have really pushed those girls. I certainly wouldn't bring a drill sergeant up on any kind of charges my first few months with the Army and then expect to have any kind of successful military future...especially if it wasn't true."

"Me, either. One of the girls graduated immediately afterward and was stationed in Maryland and the other was discharged and sent home. If it hadn't been for Stuart, I would have thought they might've exaggerated but Stuart was gay so it didn't make sense."

"Sounds like your cycle had some excitement."

Lanigan sighed. "Yeah, we sure did. If you're lucky, though, you won't have to go through anything like that. The drill sergeants were unbearable afterward. Forget possible fraternization, they weren't even civil. I don't wish those last couple of weeks on anyone."

"They seem okay now."

"That's because most of the drills are new. Ritchie, McCoy and MacArthur are the only ones left from last cycle. The rest are either brand new or transferred in from other companies."

"Robin is new?"

"Well, he came in after Halpin left. There were only about three weeks left in the cycle, so he's relatively new."

"He seems like a flirt."

"I don't know about that. They all acted pretty much the same especially after the second incident with Halpin. If he's a flirt, he just started, and if he just started, either he'll be sorry or your cycle will."

Shannon was seated at the far picnic table, facing the laundry room, looking out over the parking lot. The nights were getting damper and cooler and though the temperature was hovering around the upper forties, there was no doubt winter was on its way. That was a thought neither Shannon nor Dale welcomed with much enthusiasm.

She had just lit up her second cigarette when Dale exited the laundry room in her stocking feet, holding her freshly spit shined boots in her hand. Spotting her partner, Dale padded over to her, scanning the area, making sure they were alone.

"What a coincidence you're out here. I've got to talk to you," Dale told her.

"I've got to talk to you, too," Shannon responded, exhaling smoke. She stood up and they both walked over to the railing that was the farthest from hearing range. As Dale glanced at her watch, Shannon said, "We've got ten minutes before lights out. Keep your eyes open for Ritchie."

"Boy, winter's really beginning to make its presence known, isn't it? I can feel it in my foot."

Nodding, the blonde lieutenant blew out another long stream of smoke. "What's your news?"

"What do you think about prior service?"

"They give me indigestion if they're not cooked long enough," Shannon cracked. "Prior service pertaining to what?"

"This case."

Pondering this, Shannon said, "Hmmm, well, prior service would know their way around and that would make it easier to set things up but we don't have any prior service females."

"I thought of that. What about prior service males using the females to set up the drill sergeants? They could be more mobile within the company and a lot of obvious things they could do would go unnoticed because they are not as closely watched."

"The same could be said for inserts."

"Right. If this is a grudge thing, whoever has the grudge could be finding prior service guys and getting them to work with him on this. Why don't we see if we can get a list of prior service members from Henning and watch them. Which prior service male takes up with which female could prove to be very interesting. What do you say we start monitoring their behavior."

"Can't hurt. I mean, we're sort of grasping at straws right now, anyway. It's a start," Shannon agreed, with renewed interest.

Dale, who had her back to the railing, saw the laundry room door open. Bigfoot and Hibbon emerged, nodding in the direction of the two CID agents, said goodnight and headed upstairs. "So what did you want to tell me?" She checked her watch again.

"Don't trust Hanley."

Blinking at her, Dale was at a momentary loss for words. Hopefully she had something better than that as not trusting the ex-cycle spy was already a given in her book. The dark haired lieutenant folded her arms and waited.

"I don't know what she's up to and I haven't had a chance to ask her yet but something prompted her to fill Lanigan's head with tales of cycle spies and barracks espionage."

"WHAT?" Dale was sure her voice must have echoed through all of Tenth Battalion.

"Yeah. My reaction exactly. I'm striking up a casual conversation with Lanigan and she gets all secretive and tells me we have spies in the bay. She said Hanley told her."

"Oh my God. Has she told this to anyone else?"

"I have no idea if Hanley has or not but Lanigan told me that she had not and I finally talked her into thinking it was a ridiculous idea. I don't know how you want to handle it but as far as I'm concerned, Hanley is the enemy."

"You won't be twisting my arm to see things your way. Why the fuck would she do something like that? We need to go find her and ask her."

As Dale started to push herself away from the railing, Shannon stubbed her cigarette out and stuck the butt in her pocket. "Wait. Let's think about this. Confronting her might not be a good idea. I know you'd like to do it to watch her squirm but that might be counterproductive."

"You better have a good reason for spoiling all my fun..."

"Hanley was really pissed off when we were brought in. I don't think it really has anything to do with us, personally, I think Hanley is angry she didn't get her job done and found out she was being replaced in the same company for, well, practically the same assignment. And look at some of the stuff she's done since we've been her - for example - that insane statement about dying in combat..."

"That was said for shock value."

"Was it? She's been acting like GI Jody ever since we've been here. You know, the ideal soldier, everybody look up to me, and obviously she must have been acting that way long before we got here because Lanigan hasn't mentioned anything about a drastic personality change."

"So what are you saying?"

Arching an eyebrow, Shannon almost grinned. "Too many Kiwi fumes or what? You're usually right on top of things. A normal cycle spy is supposed to blend in, not draw unnecessary attention. Who has consistently been the center of attention since we have been here?"

"Kirk and Zelman."

"Well, yes, them, too, but then who?"

"Hanley. Naturally she's going to draw a little more attention. She's a holdover and the women are curious."

"Agreed. But, think, Dale. It's just Hanley. Lanigan, St. John, Rossi and Cornish are holdovers, too and hardly anybody knows their names. Everybody...even a lot of the guys...know Hanley. She just doesn't draw attention, she demands it."

Dale cocked her head. "My goodness, Miss Marple, you're right."

"My point is, if we hit her with this incriminating little piece of information, will she crack a little more than she already has and blow our cover out of resentment, therefore setting this investigation back about six months?"

For a brief moment, the two undercover lieutenants exchanged knowing glances. Hanley snapping could also mean the end of this case for them and Dale's freedom. Taking a deep breath, shaking it off, the dark haired lieutenant said, "Good point. I'd like to tell Anne, I mean, Bishaye, and have her get it out of Hanley the day she leaves. And I'd like to be a fly on the wall when she does. Let's just hope she hasn't said anything to anyone else."

"I don't think she has. I'm sure we would have heard a rumor like that flying around. These women are not the height of discretion when it comes to gossip."

"Ah...true soldiers already," Dale smiled. "Let's drop a dime to Henning and let her make the decision as to whether to tell Bishaye or not."

"That sounds like a plan to me. Come on, let's get upstairs. I'm not taking any chances tonight."


Chapter Twenty-Four

It must have been fate for Dee Tierni that Lt. Henning had decided to make the morning run. The women were making a special effort to excel and they were succeeding but Pvt. Tierni had to fall out with not even an eighth of the run left because she was too queasy. When Dale passed her, Henning had just reached the trainee and was attempting to get Tierni to breathe properly after she had just deposited last night's meal at the base of the parking lot.

Upset enough, the last thing Tierni needed was the senior drill prick running up one side of her and down the other. "You get that fat ass moving, Private, or you'll really know what it's like to be tired, you candy-assed -"

Henning snapped upright, turned around and glared at him. "Lay off her, Sergeant Ritchie, I mean it!"

Ritchie's face registered more than mild shock. First, all he saw in his approach was another GI's body bending over next to Tierni's, so he naturally assumed it belonged to another trainee and second, he was embarrassed because that dumb little female lieutenant not only stuck up for a lowly trainee, she reprimanded him in front of one on top of it. CPT Colton would be informed of this immediately.

When Henning and Tierni returned to the south patio, they observed that everyone was in formation, sweating and panting, standing at rigid Attention. The company's concentration was devoted to Ritchie, who was standing on the podium before them. Henning wisely decided to keep Tierni next to her until Ritchie's speech was over. Seeing the trainee walk alone into the already formed ranks would have probably drawn a more focused humiliating personal attack against the already mortified private.

"What I saw this morning was absolutely pathetic! I cannot think of enough words to describe how disgraced I was to have passing troops know that you belonged to my company. You're nauseating! Those other companies we passed were laughing at us and they will probably use us as a bad training example. You men run like a bunch of sissies! And you women -" He paused and shook his head, dramatically, "at this pace, you'll never be good enough. Now...I would hate to have it on my conscience that I held these men back. Do you understand what I'm saying, ladies?"

Everybody understood. It was very clear from that point on that Ritchie did not approve of female MPs and resented being a part of a unit that had to train them. In fact, Ritchie rebelled against females being in the Army, period. A woman's place was in the home, not in the barracks and the more females he could personally eliminate, the better he would feel.

"If you ladies cannot keep up, you will be placed in a special class. If you cannot keep up with that, you will be recycled to another MP training unit. If you fail there, you will be put into a slot where you can handle the job and I guarantee it won't be your choice this time. Your performance today was way too far below standard. It was unacceptable for this unit and I will tolerate it no further. I will not have you dragging down A-10! Maybe you ladies better think seriously about being MPs because you'll never make it at the rate you're going. We're supposed to be the cream of the crop not the bottom of the barrel. I'm very disappointed, ladies, very disappointed." He left the podium abruptly and stomped into the Orderly Room.

Each sergeant turned to face their troops, a little dazed. It was customary for someone in a position of authority to deliver a severe speech to let the trainees know that they needed a lot more work but such an agitated assault that mostly singled out the women took the cadre by surprise, especially considering how obvious it was that most of the women had put out one hundred percent on the run.

The command of At Ease was called for all three platoons and then the somewhat provoked trainees were told to attend to their assigned details until they were called down for chow. After Attention and Fall Out were commanded, the soldiers returned to their respective bays.

After the noon chow was over, the women were give free time but they were restricted to the barracks because one by one they were meeting with their platoon sergeants and they had to be available to go to the drill sergeant's office when the female before them, alphabetically, had completed her personal interview.

The women were still ruffled about being degraded that morning and were determined to bring that matter up with their drill instructors, one way or another. They had discussed it as a group and, even with Tierni falling out, they didn't feel they deserved that kind of verbal abuse.

Everyone was also understandably nervous about how to act, including Shannon and Dale, hoping they could play up their alleged military na•vetŽ to the hilt and not say anything that might give them away.

Two questions that would be asked were obvious even to the people who had never been through this before and they were: "Why did you enlist?" and "Why did you want to become an MP?" The women sat around in clusters repeating their 'spontaneous responses' to each other. Some of the women practiced their 'natural' and 'dedicated' answers so much that their replies began to sound as if they were reciting to Bert Parks why they wanted to be Miss America.

"Hey, I've got an idea," Travis said, suddenly, breaking the monotony of the same questions being thrown back and forth. "Let's turn the tables. Let's go in there and say, 'why did you become a drill sergeant?' and 'why did you enlist?' or how about, 'what concentration camp did you find Ritchie running and why didn't you leave him there?'"

Tierni spoke up, calmly, breaking her silence from that morning. "Ritchie's the type of man who has to be handled with extreme care. Obviously we're dealing with a insensitive, high-strung, fucked up little jerk."

The women were still too wounded themselves not to nod in agreement with Tierni.

If Ritchie was listening to them downstairs, he would have to have been a bigger fool than they had given him credit for to come upstairs and confront them on any of their remarks. He would have to have been a complete idiot not to realize that if he set one foot in the barracks that afternoon, a justifiable lynching may have taken place in the shower.

Drill Sergeant Edward Thomas Robin had been in the Army for ten years. His first eighteen months had been spent as an MP in Viet Nam. Then he came down on orders to go to Italy for a year. The following eighteen months after that had been spent stateside as a patrol supervisor at Fort Riley, Kansas. The next four years had been spent as a desk sergeant in Germany and his last two years had taken him back to Fort McCullough for training and then, as a drill instructor.

Robin had always had an eye for the ladies and a reputation for being successful at getting whomever he set his sights on. While in Italy, he met and married a local-national named Talia, a stunning woman, who was a translator at the MP station and was the object of affection of a majority of the men in the military police detachment there. Robin had no problem getting her. He brought her back to the United States with him where, within three years, she bore him two sons.

Family man though he was, Robin still had a wandering eye and still got his rendezvous in whenever he felt the need. Unfortunately, he was getting that itch again and the female trainees were always a perfect target. However, to follow up on any advances this cycle would be career suicide. He had to bear in mind that Nick Franciosa had been a good friend of his in Germany and look what happened to him and that Robin himself had been sent to replace a drill sergeant named Halpin who had been kicked out of the company for allegedly doing what Robin was very adept at and most fond of - fraternizing. Regardless, it was still going to be very difficult to look and not touch.

The new female trainees, on the other hand, with the exception of a select few, had no idea about the incidents of the past three cycles and wouldn't have completely understood even if they had known. So, some of these pretty ladies were eager to capture the attention of this charismatic senior platoon sergeant. Little did they know that some of them already had.

If he'd had his pick of any female in the company, it would have been Deborah Michaelson, hands down. Despite her obvious captivating looks, there was something about her, a downplayed sexuality he would have loved to see exposed. Unfortunately, she was not in his platoon, she was in Sam McCoy's, which was a total waste, because McCoy was strictly a by-the-book man, even in the privacy of his own home.

Robin had a good-looking platoon, though. He wouldn't have kicked Tanya Swinegar out of bed and the signals she sent seemed to say the feeling was mutual. He wouldn't mind Sherlock, either. He liked a woman he could look eye to eye, especially when she had eyes like this lofty Southern belle did, and it wasn't often he found a cutie as tall as he was. Then there was always Zelman. She was attractive in a sluttish sort of way. Every time he thought about her, he always pictured her naked and tattooed, sitting on a motorcycle. Then he shuddered, knowing she'd be his easiest choice, but he couldn't take the chance of bringing home something viral and unidentifiable to Talia.

And last but definitely not least, there was the trainee sitting before him, Shannon Walker. He liked her attitude. He also liked the fact that she was very lovely to look at with a smile that seemed to light up everything around her. Robin thought of her as reserved but engaging. He had observed her several times before this meeting when he thought she had not been aware and he definitely was pleased with what he saw. He had found her cautious...he had found all the women cautious, none of them wanting to say anything that might possibly put them in his disfavor, but Walker seemed more heedful than wary. He had also noticed a sophistication in Shannon that was rare among women her age. Another thing that intrigued him was when he tried to read her, he came up blank. She sent out no signals - positive or negative. It spelled 'experience' in his book and he absolutely adored a woman he had to win over, especially if he thought she would be worth the fight in the sack.

At the beginning of their meeting that afternoon, Shannon smiled inwardly at Robin trying to be his most charming but her amusement soon turned to frustration as their little powwow continued. He couldn't have cared less how she answered his questions, he never even heard her answers because he was trying so hard to impress and flirt with her. On anyone else, it might have worked but Shannon was all too prepared for it and was very disappointed that Robin had fulfilled her expectations. It was times like this she wanted to expose her true rank and reason for being there.

Dale's interview with McCoy was a different story. She knew instinctively going in that there would be no danger of her senior platoon sergeant being on the make. Sergeant First Class Sam McCoy was a military machine. He was a career soldier, there was no doubt about that, and Dale expected this visit to be nothing more than a robotic pep talk. She was mildly astonished to find him mortal after all. He was genial and very open to questions as long as they pertained to the Army. He never completely let his defenses down but that was understandable.

McCoy enjoyed his meeting with Dale. She handled herself very well with him, not intimidated at all but careful enough not to blatantly let him know it, unlike Minty. He liked her answers but more importantly, he liked her questions. And he would never tell her but she won him over when she told him she was one-quarter Algonquin. McCoy was three-quarters Peyute and with that Native American link between them, they relaxed the barriers and conversed with each other like two normal adults instead of drill sergeant to trainee. The subject, nevertheless, remained military and Dale hit a nerve when she asked him to compare the differences of the Army now, when she had (supposedly) enlisted, to then, when he had.

He was distressed enough by what he had observed lately to say disparaging things about the Army and its decline in discipline and morale. He was discouraged by the people who were above him or beside him in command who exercised their authority by thriving on rumor control. McCoy, a proud American with an almost overwhelming sense of patriotism, a devoted military man by upbringing and by choice, was not as frustrated as he was alarmed by what he called a serious breakdown in the system somewhere. With a disturbing sense of defeat in his expression, he told her, sadly, that the worst damage was already done and it was irreparable. To make the Army inviting to today's able young person, Uncle Sam had to lower his measure of eligibility, therefore accepting individuals way below standard. The freedoms of the 'New Army' made them virtually untrainable and that was not now, nor ever would be, like it used to be, that if they went to war with the caliber of people presently being inducted that they would never get to the front line.

Dale silently agreed with him but could not openly comfort him for she was only a trainee, not knowledgeable about such things yet. What really bothered her was that it was, unfortunately, her peers he referred to.

McCoy then realized he'd probably said too much and the last thing he needed was for a member of his platoon running around, spreading the word that he had lost faith in the Army. Yet, somehow he felt in his soul that this particular trainee would not and from that day forward, they felt a silent bond, one that she knew would be helpful but one she could never take advantage of. The soldier part of her liked and respected him. The cop part of her wondered if he was so discouraged that he might try to send a misguided message to Battalion.

"I'm just wondering if he acted the same way with the other women as he did with me," Shannon said, exasperated, her voice as quiet as possible, but not without its conviction. They were sitting on the picnic table on the north patio. "I could have told him that I was a Russian spy and that I enlisted to learn any and every American secret I could get my hands on and he would have said, 'That's wonderful, young lady, you have such initiative.' I like him but really, Dale, we're going to have to watch him. He's inviting trouble with a capital T."

"Right here in River City," Dale finished, smirking.

"It's not funny. I wanted to smack him."

Dale swallowed her smile as her partner was obviously not in the mood to play. "Sorry. I didn't have that problem with McCoy. He's here to put a cycle through and he's strictly business, there is no mistaking that." She decided not to openly speculate yet on her fleeting thoughts of his disappointment in the Army prompting conspiratorial behavior. Although it was in her nature to think that way, she really did not get that feeling from him. "He's going to be strict but he's going to be good. Who knows? Maybe Robin's just looking over the crops."

The blonde lieutenant threw a look at Dale. "Crops? You're calling me a crop?"

"You know what I mean. And just don't take him up on any invitation to do squats in his cucumber patch."

Rolling her eyes, Shannon lit a cigarette. "What do you think we should do about him?"

Shrugging, Dale said, "I don't know. Maybe he's all insinuation. I think we should just monitor him for the time being. Maybe tell Henning about him, too."

"Oh, speaking of Stubby, I ran into her before I went in to see Robin and I had a chance to tell her about Hanley. She said she would tell Bishaye and not to worry about it, she'd take care of it."


"Like I'm sure she hasn't heard that before. Anyway, she was a tad pissed off and I somehow imagine that sooner than later, the strange Sergeant Hanley will have deep teeth marks on her butt."

Instead of taking that in the context in which it was intended, Dale had to fight to keep a lewd smile off her face as the visual of Anne Bishaye playfully biting her on the ass danced in her head. Then she pictured the colonel chewing on Hanley and it shrouded her with an entirely different mental picture. She shook that imagery from her memory banks. "Regardless, it won't be a pleasant experience. I've been there. Hanley is in for a real treat."

They sat in silence for a while, actually enjoying the noticeably mild November night. "Were you in the bay when MacArthur was telling everyone about fireguard, KP and CQ?" Shannon inquired.

"No but I heard about it. Everyone's confused. Probably because they've never done any of it before. When does it start?"

"Fireguard starts tonight. There's a list of names posted for the next two weeks. I believe I saw your name up there somewhere within the next couple of days."

"If MacArthur made up that list, I'm surprised it's not Kirk and I every other night. What about KP?"

"That starts tomorrow. There's a list up for that, too and I believe your name is on that for the very near future. And CQ starts tomorrow night at five...excuse me, I mean seventeen hundred hours."

CQ stood for Charge of Quarters and it was pretty much self-explanatory. The soldier designated to work that time slot was in charge of the company and all four bays. In reality, he or she was the representative for the commanding officer after he signed out for the day and left the company area. The CQ and CQ runner's job was primarily to insure that the unit stayed safe and sound and that any problems be taken care of or reported immediately to the Staff Duty NCO who was the CQ on a battalion level. The soldiers worked out of the Orderly Room (CQ office) where their immediate priority was to answer the telephone, keep a log, perform several checks of the company area and conduct reveille. For a basic trainee, CQ was a royal pain. It took away four hours of precious sleep time, eight hours on weekends, that could not be compensated for the next day.

KP, or Kitchen Police, had changed over the years. Privates didn't spend hours peeling potatoes anymore. In fact, the last Dale had heard, the kitchens had been invaded and captured by civilian cooks and trainees weren't even allowed to touch the food anymore. All they were expected and assigned to do now was to be a clean up crew. They washed dishes, pots and pans, swept and mopped floors, cleaned tables, made sure there were enough trays and silverware and they helped to take in food deliveries, if there were any while they were on duty. It made for a very long day but it usually wasn't a hard day anymore.

Fireguard was exactly what the name implied. A trainee guarded the barracks against fire and kept his or her fellow trainees safe from any such impending disaster. It occurred from nine o'clock at night until five o'clock in the morning. It was an eight hour shift divided into two hour time slots with four trainees working as fireguard a night. Again, it took away valuable sleep time but a lot of people made good use of that two hours they were supposed to stay awake. They polished boots, ironed fatigues, shined brass, studied or practiced what they had learned during the day together with making sure that no threatening flames popped up anywhere.

The one thing that wasn't allowed was sleeping. If a fireguard was caught sleeping on her shift by a fellow trainee, she was at the mercy of her buddy who had the choice of keeping it to herself or reporting the violation to her superior. If the fireguard was caught taking a snooze by a roving drill sergeant, being sent to the gallows may have been quicker and less painful. An Article 15 would definitely ensue, meaning a temporary absence of one type of green that a trainee would sorely miss, not to mention the ridicule that would accompany the punishment which would, no doubt, include extra duty. To discipline a fireguard who had fallen asleep while on duty with extra detail was redundant. If she wasn't so exhausted from everything else she had to do during the day, she wouldn't have been so apt to nod off. Giving the worn out fireguard more to do wouldn't solve the problem, it would just compound it. However, fining her a couple weeks' pay might better underline the importance of the mistake.

A fireguard had to be constantly on her toes anyway because a drill sergeant always appeared unannounced some time during the night. It was inevitable. It wasn't bad enough that the trainee had to see him or her the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night and every waking hour of the day but even in a few of the unwaking ones, too. The drill sergeants got all bent out of shape, or so they claimed, when the females were caught in various stages of undress yet if nature had felt it urgent enough to wake one up in the middle of the night, that was hardly the time to stop and fiddle with opening one's locker to get a bathrobe. It never seemed to fail, though, if a female trainee got up to use the latrine improperly attired, she was guaranteed to run into a drill sergeant who was pulling a surprise bed check and she was dropped for disciplinary action before she could relieve her bladder ("Are you crying, Private?" "No, Drill Sergeant, my urinary tract backed up."). If she wanted to be prepared and draped a robe or something 'proper' to slip into across the bottom of her bunk, she was written up for having a security violation. Most of the time, being in basic training was a no-win situation.


Chapter Twenty-Five

The weekly weigh-in, which was initiated that evening (since a majority of the trainees had been there a full week) was, at the very least, a humiliating experience, especially for most of the women. The drill instructors didn't let a single female pass without emitting some devastatingly sarcastic remark about her weight and that ranged from the slightest of build (Debbie Ferrence) to the heaviest (Dizzy Zelman), from the most physically fit (Deborah Michaelson, Shelley Creed) to the most out of shape (Dizzy Zelman).

Stepping on the scale and the wit and wisdom of the platoon sergeants didn't put the women in the best of spirits. They moped around their last hour before lights out, taking care of last minute details like locker neatness, spit-shining boots, ironing fatigues and shining brass. Some of the females had already forgotten about the remarks and had gone to bed. Some felt they didn't need this kind of harassment and still secretly wished they could go home.

"Ritchie told me that if I didn't go on a diet they'd have to let out the mess hall," Dizzy drawled to Verno and Linda York, who regarded her blankly. "You know, like you let out a dress?"

"Oh. Funny," York responded, yawning. "Well, maybe they have Army diet doctors they can send you to."

"Well...I really don't see myself as being that fat. Although a diet doctor could maybe give me some of those nice little black capsules that keep your eyes open...for days. My metabolism really seems to like those. You know what I mean?" She shrugged. "Oh, well, if they can't, I know where I can get some but I'd rather not have to pay for them." It didn't surprise anyone that she had already located a company pusher.

"Aw, Dizzy, don't feel so bad," Bonnie Kramer strolled over from the other side of the bay and said. She had also been chastised for being eleven pounds overweight. "We've only been here a week and just barely started any physical training. They've got to give us a chance to get in shape. Just think of it this way," Kramer soothed, "when there's a universal famine, you and I will be the only two prepared for it." She patted her tummy. "We could live off the land for a while."

"Personally," York said, "I don't think any of us should be criticized for our appearances when we've got MacArthur as a role model." There was an overwhelming chrorus of agreement.

"Drill Sergeant MacArthur isn't that big," Prof spoke up, sternly, never bothering to look up from studying her ranks and insignias.

"She's not?" Travis challenged. "I swear Captain Ahab came through here last night after bed check, looking for her."

Snow shook her head. "You're insensitive, Travis."

"And you're an open nerve ending, aren't you, Snow?" Travis shot back.

The former teacher looked up from her reading material with a very shocked look on her face. Recovering quickly from this attack of insolence, she said, "You may take this whole thing as a joke but some of us feel that this phase of our life is extremely important and I, for one, don't feel I have to be barracks clown at someone else's expense." Her voice was coolly even. "I believe Drill Sergeant MacArthur is doing her best. It cannot be easy for her. I caution you not to ridicule her in from of me again."

The silence in the bay was deafening.

Travis approached Snow's bunk. She was not a very physical person, rarely getting into fights even in her worst tomboy stage but neither was she one to back down from bullying, whether it be verbal or physical. "You caution me? What's going to happen if I do?" Her fists rested on her hips as she leaned in close. "Are you going to make me write, 'I will not insult MacArthur in front of Snow' five hundred times?"

"Very funny, Travis." Snow did not act very threatened by Travis' looming.

"Sounds to me like you've got a crush on her, Prof," Travis stated, amused.

Snow bounded off her bunk and right into Travis' face. "Shut up, Travis!"

"Ooooh, I think I just might have hit one of them thar open nerves. Well, for what it's worth, if you do have the hots for her, I think your taste is in your mouth." This comment drew several obscene sounding snickers from a few of the women around them.

Snow then pushed Travis who pushed back. Tramonte and Tierni, who were the closest, grabbed Travis and held her back as Sherlock got a firm grip on the former teacher.

"Knock it off, both of you!!!" Belinda Ryder, the fireguard, yelled. "If a drill sergeant comes up here because of a fight, I'm going to kick the living shit out of both of you and I am not, by nature, a violent person!" She stomped over to Snow. "Tone down that attitude of yours. We all had to be smart to get here and just because you have a degree doesn't make you any better than any of us here, so stop acting as if this is all so beneath you." She then turned to Travis. "And you stop your instigating. This infighting has got to stop or we are going to be proving that son-of-a-bitch Ritchie right when he says we shouldn't be here. Let's stop acting like a bunch of high school girls and start acting like soldiers."

The battling women let Ryder's words sink in and when they were let go, they quietly returned to their areas. Soon, the atmosphere in the bay had gone back to normal.

Downstairs, as new trainee John Urso entered the Orderly Room to ask questions about the responsibilities he was to undertake as CQ tomorrow night, Pvt. MJ Mroz couldn't have left the Orderly Room any faster if she'd been shot out of a cannon. She had overheard Colton and Henning tell Ritchie that they were going to have a surprise fire drill later on in the evening and she had to get upstairs and warn the females. She hit a dead run two steps beyond the CQ office but was collared by Lt. Henning, who was waiting for her at the door of the First Sergeant's office, which was ten steps beyond the Orderly Room.

"Private Mroz, I believe?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Mroz stared at the ground.

"Private Mroz, you were in the Orderly Room when Captain Colton and I were discussing something with Sergeant Ritchie?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"And you heard something about a fire drill, is that right?"

"Uh..." Her hesitation confirmed that she had.

"Look at me, Private Mroz."

MJ's eyes met Henning's. "Ma'am?"

"You heard nothing, isn't that right?"

"About what, Ma'am?"

"Exactly. You learn fast." She let go of the young woman's arm. "Carry on, Private Mroz."

"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am."

Mroz threw the barracks door open five seconds later. The sound of it slamming against the wall startled everyone but it wasn't quite as alarming as Mroz' behavior. She silently ran up the aisle of one side of the bay and down the other, looking in every nook and cranny, even eyeballing the underside of a few beds. She then stopped abruptly, craned her neck and stared at every inch of the bitch box. Satisfied with its darkened stillness, she then took off for the latrine, checking each cubicle and shower stall individually. By this time, she had drawn a curious crowd of twelve. Chris Steele was the first to speak.

"Mroz...what are you doing?"

"Checking for drill sergeants."

"I'm sure we don't have any. We sprayed for them an hour ago," Travis said. "Pesky little buggers."

"Why would you be checking for drill sergeants as if they were hiding?" Hanley asked.

"They're really very good about letting you know that they are around."

"I'm not supposed to say anything but I think you should know," she addressed them all. "I overheard the captain and the lieutenant tell Ritchie that we're going to have a fire drill later tonight."

"Oh, no. When?" Diane DeAmelia asked.

"I don't know. Some time after lights out and bed check."

"Then you'd better be prepared," Hanley warned. "Wear something warm because you don't know how long they'll keep you out once you get out there. I suggest sleeping in your longjohns. Don't sleep with your fatigues on, that will look too suspicious. When the fire bell rings, wrap your dust cover around you and the women on the right side of the bay should run out that fire exit door," she pointed, "the one located by Zelman and Walker's bunks. The women on the left side of the bay should go out the regular door and save time and avoid a major clusterfuck. Try to remain calm and as orderly as possible because they'll be looking for that."

"Do we have a lot of these fire drills?" Lesley Jaffe asked.

Hanley shook her head. "My cycle only had one."

The word spread as quickly as if the barracks really had been in flames and everyone suddenly became preoccupied with trying to remember Hanley's instructions.

At almost exactly midnight, a horrible noise that could have only been described as a fire alarm went off and, even though they were prepared for it, the silence broken suddenly by the screaming alarm, caused palpitations in just about everyone.

Downstairs in the parking lot, every platoon sergeant, senior and junior, was there to monitor the behavior and quickness of their troops. In the open area between patios, Ritchie stood, barking orders and standing next to the north and south fire exits were Henning and Fuscha, respectively, in civies, directing traffic. All of the cadre thought it was odd that the females seemed to be wise enough to be warmly attired and wrapped in one of their wool Army blankets and Henning gave Mroz an intimidating glare when the private passed her.

While running into line behind their platoon sergeants, several men, who figured the women must be scantily dressed if they were wrapped in their dust covers, tried to step on the blankets the females wore to see what the women were (and hopefully, were not) wearing underneath their o.d. green wool capes. Once everyone ended up where they were supposed to be, Ritchie lumbered around, while Henning paced behind him, screaming that what he had just seen was the most disorderly exercise he had ever witnessed and in a real situation, a lot of lives would have been in grave danger or lost. He again found a way to blame the non-success of the drill on the women and proceeded to make the entire company stand in the parking lot (some in bare feet) in thirty degree weather for close to twenty minutes. After he felt he'd proved his point and made sure they were wide awake, chilled to the bone and wired from anger, he allowed them all to return to their bunks for, hopefully, the rest of the night.

After PT, morning chow and details, the trainees were issued steel pots, helmet liners, a male fatigue jacket (for the women, because they were lined and heavier than the female fatigue jacket), web gear (or LBJs as they were more commonly referred to), a canteen and holder, a first aid pouch, an ammo pouch and a pistol holder.

The trainees were instructed to wear their LBJs over their fatigue jacket and to place all of the equipment on the designated places of the heavily constructed suspenders connected to a belt woven with nylon and canvas. The web gear was restricting and heavy but it had to be adjusted to quickly.

The drill sergeants from that point on continually reminded their troops that they were not celluloid soldiers. When Cassey was caught wearing her helmet improperly, she was immediately reprimanded in front of the entire company and told, "Don't wear that steel pot on the back of your head like that! Who do you think you are? Jane Wayne?"

The trainees were then marched to an empty classroom in the LE School. The company stood at Attention next to what resembled school desks until Lt. Henning, dressed in her Class-A uniform and looking very pretty, entered and walked up to a dais in the front of the room.

"TAKE YOUR SEATS!" Drill Sergeant Kathan yelled.

Everybody simultaneously sat in the desk next to them. It wasn't good enough so they did it again. And again. It wasn't fast enough so they did it faster. Then faster yet. The drill sergeants didn't seem to care that every time the trainees sat down, this new, bulky, awkward equipment they were wearing would get caught on the desk or the attached chair and prevent them from a smooth and quick descent. When they finally did it to someone's satisfaction (probably Henning, who was getting impatient, standing up front in uncomfortable pumps), they were able to listen attentively as the lieutenant passed around leave request forms and explained again about Christmas exodus.

It was boring and hot with all that gear on but Henning was amusing. She put the trainees at ease which put the drill sergeants on edge. They immediately resented the rapport that was forming between the company training officer and the new soldiers. This was basic training, not summer camp, the trainees weren't supposed to feel like anyone was on their side. It didn't matter that the new members of Alpha company really tried their best for her sake. It didn't matter that she motivated them, gave them support and consciously improved their morale. As far as a majority of the drill sergeants were concerned, she was just another uppity little female who had better watch her step because she was interfering with their carefully laid plans of molding new GIs by degradation and terrorization.

They had broken for noon chow and some o.d. green clad figures were now haphazardly on the north patio about fifteen feet from the Orderly Room door, nervously awaiting one o'clock formation. The trainees had been forewarned that the commanding officer would be addressing them that afternoon and everyone was a little anxious. The men wanted him to be their answer to Lt. Henning. The women were getting to the point where they just wanted him to be fair.

At 1300 hours, everyone was called into formation on the south patio where each platoon faced the podium, with second platoon directly in front of it. First platoon stood perpendicular to second platoon's right, facing the podium's left side and third platoon stood opposite first platoon.

There were a little less than fifty soldiers in each platoon but together it added up to almost one hundred fifty wide-eyed 'cherries,' a nickname experienced soldiers called virgin trainees. This was the kind of crowd Rory Colton loved to make speeches to.

"Company!" Ritchie called out.

"PLATOON!" Each drill sergeant screamed in unison, over their shoulders as they stood in front of their respective squads.

"Ah-ten-hon!" Ritchie commanded.

Everybody, including all of the drill sergeants, snapped to the position. An extremely handsome man in his late twenties appeared from nowhere, followed closely by Henning and a very tall, distinguished-looking, silver-haired gentleman wearing a set of crisply starched fatigues with a lot of stripes on his upper arms. As the captain stepped onto the platform, the trainees studied him as much as looking ahead would allow.

He had jet black hair, militarily cut but fashionably styled, a full black mustache that just barely passed regulation, a bronzed complexion that made his straight white teeth seem even brighter and his aquamarine eyes a deeper color. His muscular build teamed with his obvious good looks captured every female's attention (including the ones who normally would not look at men that way) and his youthful quality and the way he appeared to command respect from the older snakes, like Ritchie, caught the awareness and envy of most of the males.

Colton was saluted by the senior drill sergeant who dropped his hand when the captain returned the gesture. Ritchie did an About Face so that he was staring straight ahead between McCoy, Kathan and second platoon.

"Company!" the senior drill sergeant yelled.

"PLATOON!" The three senior platoon sergeants responded.

"Stand at -!"

"STAND AT...!"


"ALPHA-10, FIRST AND BEST OF THE LE SCHOOL, SIR!!!" Voices thundered and echoed around the south patio. The company snapped quickly to the commanded position.

"Thank you, Sergeant Ritchie," Captain Colton said, in a well-modulated voice. He turned to look over the entire company. "Good afternoon."

"GOOD AFTERNOON, SIR!" The floor almost vibrated.

"Did you hear something, Sergeant Ritchie? I didn't." Colton addressed the crowd.

"The captain can't hear you!"

"GOOD AFTERNOON, SIR!" It really wasn't any louder but the cadre could never let the first time be acceptable.

"Better. Not great but it will have to do for today. My name is Captain Rory Colton. Welcome to Alpha Company, Tenth Battalion. I am your company commander. I know you've already met Lieutenant Henning, your training officer," he nodded toward Karen to his left. "And this is your top sergeant, First Sergeant Fleece," he indicated the silver-haired gentleman standing behind Henning. "I know you've met Sergeant First Class Ritchie, who is your senior drill sergeant and your individual platoon sergeants.

"First of all, I'd like to welcome you to Fort McCullough, Alabama, home of the United States Army Law Enforcement School and Training Center. For most of you, this will also be your home for approximately the next four months, where you will be taking your basic training and MP training.

"I'd to explain to you what the Army says basic training is. Army Regulation - AR dash three-fifty dash one states the purpose of basic training is to convert 'non-prior service enlisted personnel into well disciplined, highly motivated and physically conditioned soldiers who are qualified in their basic weapon and drilled in the fundamentals of soldiery.' What I say about basic training is this: we intend to work you physically and mentally to the point where you know right from wrong. Right is anything we tell you. Wrong is anything you think outside of that. You cannot become disciplined soldiers if you think like a civilian." He paused to let what he was saying sink in, watching the crowd absorb his words.

"Let me tell you a little bit about OSUT. It stands for One Station Unit Training and it means instead of taking your basic training at one installation or in another company here on post and then moving here for your AIT, you'll do it all in one shot right here in A-10. So get used to those handsome, smiling faces and sunny dispositions standing in front of your platoon. You're going to be with them for a while.

"I'm sure you've already been informed that you are participating in a first. This is the first time we have attempted training men and women together in a basic training environment and then continued it into AIT. It's only experimental and we're not sure how good a plan it is yet. The company and the following Tenth Battalion cycles of Bravo, Charlie and Delta will give us a pretty good idea if it'll work out or not. We hope it will. We hope you women will prove to the outside world that you can be as good as the men because we will not take it easy on you. This is what the women's movement is all about and equality is what you are going to get. If you buckle, you are out. It's as simple as that. Same with you men. Don't think you can kick back just because there are women in this unit.

"This is the first and we are going to make it the best. We are going to work you and run you so that by the time you leave basic training you are a soldier and by the time you leave AIT you are an MP. Not everybody here is going to make it and you won't make it because you won't try hard enough and then you'll give up, which is unfortunate. Your failure is our failure and we don't like to fail but we also don't like people who give up when the going gets a little tough. We don't like losers. We are going to work our hardest and do everything we can to make you the best soldiers possible

"You have seven weeks of Basic Combat Training and seven weeks of Advanced Individual Training. Now, fourteen weeks may not seem like a long time but after your first full week of actual training, it's going to feel like an eternity. Yet, when you get to the last week, it'll have felt like it took no time at all. You won't think so now but you'll look back on this moment and realize that time in basic training really flies." His smile was almost convincing.

Of the average four million, two hundred thirty-three thousand, six hundred seconds one spends in basic training, time is the last thing that flies, Dale thought.

"Think we're going to be rough on you? Damn right we are. I don't want any babies in my company. You get out of it what you put into it. You put in one hundred percent, that's what you'll get out of it and that's what we'll expect from you. Yes, it will be a challenge. Your mind and your body will experience things you've never experienced before but you're not alone. The person next to you is going through it with you. And these drill sergeants have all been through it, too. So let's work together and make this the best cycle Alpha-10 ever put through. Okay, troops?"

"Yes, Sir!!!" Everyone answered in unison.

"I can't hear them, Sergeant Ritchie, are they talking to me?"

"The captain can't hear you!"

"Yes, Sir!!!"

"What was that?" Colton asked, again.


"Outstanding. Okay, Sergeant Ritchie, you can have them back now."

"Company!" Ritchie bellowed.

"PLATOON!" the drill sergeants yelled.


Colton turned the command over to the senior drill sergeant as he, Henning and Bobby Fleece left the south patio for the Orderly Room.

After Colton's speech, which Dale found capriciously disappointing, the trainees were marched to Raburn Hall, a building on the WAC side of McCullough where a lot of the non-physical basic training courses would be taught. It was an old, three story brick building which housed several classrooms and one small lecture hall. Their very first class was delivered by Ritchie, who gave a spiel on the 'dos' and 'don'ts' of basic training which, more or less, reiterated what the company commander had just told them. The senior drill sergeant tried extremely hard to be comical and he did make an occasional witty remark but if he hadn't already been so widely despised, his jokes might have been more appreciated, even laughed at. Saying James Ritchie was not a popular man was an understatement and his attempt at humor and to finally try to be congenial failed miserably. It left him in a very bad mood.

That evening, the women's floor was all excited about the dashing captain. A majority of the females were romanticizing about him and it made Dale want to stick her finger down her throat.

"Don't you think you're overreacting a little?" Shannon laughed, shaking her head at her partner's grousing. "Just because he looks like a Playgirl centerfold doesn't mean he's a bad C.O."

"Until he proves otherwise, I have no reason to believe he is a good one, either. That speech was an unimaginative, standard crock of shit. The recruiters told everybody the same thing he said before the trainees even got here. And how many times have you heard that exact same prattle?"

"That's you and I. How many times have we been down this road before? I am sure that speech was inspiring to those who have never done this before. I mean, did you see them up there? Pretty soon, these women are going to be fighting over him like Cinderella's ugly stepsisters."

"That's not inspiration, that's horniness." Sitting on the picnic table while Shannon finished her cigarette, Dale said, "Where the hell has he been, Shan? That fire drill last night? He should have been there. If this new, experimental program is supposedly so important to him, why hasn't he been around?"

"Maybe he's had things to do."

"Yeah...ten to one it was a blonde named Ariel or something equally as...cosmic."

"You're not picking on us blondes, are you?" Shannon teased. "Look, let's reserve judgment on him for now, okay? We've got enough facing us. I don't want to have to think about dealing with an irresponsible C.O. on top of everything else. Let's give him a chance first."

"You give him a chance. I've got a bad feeling."

"It's probably just gas. Why do they feed us all that starch anyway?"

Sighing, Dale decided that Shannon's deflection of the subject was probably wise. They did have enough to deal with without the added complication of an indifferent commanding officer. Following the blonde lieutenant upstairs, Dale knew she'd have to turn in right at bedcheck as she had KP first thing in the morning. Maybe that's what her nasty mood was all about.


Chapter Twenty-Six

Vanessa McKnight, who was fireguard, woke Dale up, along with Gina Traberto, Renee Troice, Pam Ryan and JC Kirk at 0415 hours so that they could be down at the mess hall by five o' clock.

When they got there, they met three sleepy males, Matt McKeighan, Scott McNulty and Joey Overton, who were assigned KP duty with them. They all stood outside the kitchen, yawning and stretching, too tired to really converse, until the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge unlocked the door and let them inside. He was a hefty African-American man, average looking, in his early thirties, named Melvin Crosby. He was an E-6, staff sergeant, and he made it clear that he was their boss for the day but he also let them know that he was a lot more relaxed than everyone else had been lately.

Crosby showed them around the mess hall, explaining to them that they had to wear their ballcaps any time they were in the kitchen area because heads were to be covered at all times and they were not allowed to touch the food with the exception of emptying the trays into the trash cans, dividing the contents into 'edible' and 'non-edible' garbage. The cooks were all busily at work, making breakfast and the smell of it was beginning to wake everybody up.

"One good thing about working KP," Crosby told them, smiling, "you get to eat a hot meal before everyone else." That perked everyone up. "So you two," he pointed to Traberto and Ryan, "get two brooms and start in the kitchen and work your way out here to the dining area. You two," he pointed to Troice and Overton, "get a bucket and two mops and follow them," he nodded toward Traberto and Ryan. "You two," he indicated Dale and Kirk, "wipe off all the tables and make sure they're set up with napkins and salt and pepper shakers and you two," he said to McKeighan and McNulty, "come with me. There's last night's trash to haul."

Dale and JC got sponges from the supply closet and started cleaning the tables and booths.

"How did it feel spending another night upstairs, in your bunk, with the rest of us? You're on a streak. What does this make, the second or third night in a row?" The CID agent asked.

"I'm not knocking it. Ever since I talked to that lieutenant-colonel, things have gotten better. These tables aren't even dirty."

"We'd better keep wiping. He'll just find something else for us to do." Dale studied the young woman working with her. "JC, did you ever think that things have gotten better because your attitude has changed?"

Kirk gave a non-committal shrug.

"Maybe now that things are going more your way, you've relaxed and it's really not so bad, huh?"

"Hey, whose side are you on? It's still bad. It's just that I know I'm leaving and that's what I was fighting for. I don't need to fight anymore."

At 0530, all eight trainees sat down with a tray of hot food and ate. They had to be finished and cleaned up by ten minutes before six, where the guys were to wait in the kitchen to empty trays and the women were to wait in the room with the sinks for the dirty trays, pots and pans and utensils. That took them from 0615 until 0800 hours. Then they had to redo everything they had done before chow had been served, only switching details so that everybody got a chance to do everything. After those chores were completed, Crosby brought them through the kitchen to an outside delivery door where they stood on a dock, awaiting a bread truck.

The econoline rolled in moments later and backed up to the platform as close as possible. Overton and McKeighan jumped off the dock to start unloading the racks but Overton's foot turned on landing with a resounding crack and he crumpled to the ground in pain. Crosby jumped down to the injured GI and ordered Traberto to get help.

Gina Traberto returned moments later followed in hot pursuit by MacArthur, who amazed everyone by hoisting Overton up into her arms and carrying him upstairs so that the duty driver could transport him to the hospital.

After the bread was taken care of, the remaining trainees followed Crosby into the kitchen, each grabbing a cup of coffee, and proceeded into the dining area where they congregated in two adjoining booths.

"What do you think will happen to Overton?" McNulty asked. "Do you think they'll discharge him?"

Crosby shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee. "I don't know. Maybe. Depends on the extent of his injury, I guess."

"Maybe I should have thought of jumping off the dock," Kirk mumbled.

"I can't get over MacArthur just lifting Overton up like he was a loaf of bread himself.. I didn't know she was that strong," Troice stated. "I'm going to have to be more careful around her."

Crosby snickered. "Honey, you'd better be careful around her anyway. She likes your type."

Troice looked at him, cautiously. "What's my type?"


McKeighan turned to McNulty with a triumphant laugh. "Pay up."

Groaning, McNulty shook his head and looked at the NCOIC pleadingly. "Is that true? I mean, some of the guys -" he looked pointedly at McKeighan, "thought that she was but..."

"But now you know," Crosby clarified.

"Do you know that for sure?" Dale questioned.

"Do you mean has she ever done anything in front of me? No. I just know, that's all." The staff sergeant then looked over at the undercover lieutenant intently. "Do I look like the type of man who goes around spreading rumors, Private?"

Dale returned his probing stare. "I don't know, Sergeant. I don't particularly care for Drill Sergeant MacArthur. Personally, I keep looking for her to fly around Tenth Battalion, writing 'Surrender Dorothy' with her broom but in all fairness to her, something like that shouldn't be spread about her if it isn't true. Rumors like that can ruin careers."

While the others held their breath, surprised by Dale's boldness, expecting a severe reprimand because of it, Crosby said nothing. This female's candidness impressed him. He admired a woman who said what was on her mind...diplomatically and respectfully of course. He sat back and smiled. "It's true. I've met some of her 'friends'."

Everyone exhaled and then nodded in comprehension.

"What about Bradbury?" Tramonte inquired, referring to Bravo company's female drill sergeant, the one who nailed them for talking their first day in the mess hall.

"I thought she was obvious," the NCOIC laughed, shaking his head. "She walks a fine line, that one. At least MacArthur messes with consenting adults. Bradbury goes after trainees. She used to be permanent party over in WacVille. Then she got caught last year during Bivowac with about four female trainees and it wasn't the first time she'd done that. It's just the first time she got caught. She has a habit of sending females to the Arms Room and meeting them there, whether they want to be met or not...if you get my drift."

"You mean she forces herself on them?" Troice asked, horrified by the thought.

"Not really," Crosby admitted. "In the end, the females she targets really don't seem to mind. She kind of has this uncanny radar about them."

"How does she get away with it?" Ryan asked. "How come she's still a drill sergeant?"

"Because she never gets turned in. Just turned on," Crosby told them.

"Is it ever a case where the trainee comes on to her?" Dale wondered.

Smiling the staff sergeant focused on Dale again. This female definitely had chosen the right MOS. "It's possible. But it's mostly her."

"What about our company? Does she ever stray into our territory?" Troice was still looking a little spooked about the thought of possibly being attacked by Drill Sergeant Bradbury in the Arms Room.

"No. Well, she hasn't yet, anyway."

"What about the other drill sergeants? From our company?" Ryan wondered. "Do they ever do anything like that? You know, go after trainees?"

Dale leaned in closer, very curious to hear his answer to this.

"I don't think you're going to have that problem this cycle. Your drill sergeants will be too scared."

"Why is that?" the CID agent asked, innocently.

"Because it seems your company has a jinx on it. A couple of drill sergeants got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and the cookies came forward and pressed charges."

"Did they really put the make on them or was it just a case of a few women with overactive imaginations?" the dark haired lieutenant asked, hoping she wasn't sounding too much like an investigator. Obviously she didn't as Crosby did not seem at all surprised by the question.

"Well, it's like this, since you seem to be so stuck on fairness, Private Oakes. A lot of the stuff is hearsay and, by the time word got around, everybody involved had been cleared out. But I knew a couple of the NCOs accused and, as far as I'm concerned, it was cut and dried. The drill sergeants were careless. No question about it."

Dale liked Crosby but for the life of her she could not understand why he was not only telling these stories to trainees but also talking to them as if they were drinking buddies, sitting around the NCO Club, having a beer. She also found it interesting that he was the only one, so far, who did not think it was all a set up.

Shannon had been assigned Orderly Room detail that afternoon to cover for Tramonte and Dale. She had finished sweeping the deserted First Sergeant's office and knocked on the door to the C.O.'s office, ready to clean in there. It was Saturday but she waited for Colton's voice to tell her to come in anyway. When she heard nothing she figured he was probably out somewhere, charming leaves off trees.

She had been quick to jump on Dale about not giving Colton a chance, which wasn't quite fair, due to the fact that she found his appearance annoying, also. That was an unusual reaction for Shannon who normally liked to wait and see before she formed an opinion whereas Dale often spoke out impulsively before she thought.

Although, the blonde lieutenant did quietly find everyone threatening in one way or another. She, like her partner, had a knowledge of caution that well surpassed her chronological age. It was in her nature, like Dale's, to expect the worst and she recognized this fault and tried very hard to control it. It wasn't always easy.

Entering the hallway, she swept the doorway and then closed the door behind her, keeping her head down and moving the broom to the far corner.

"Please, come in," a smooth voice broke the silence.

Nearly jumping out of her skin, Shannon whirled to see Colton sitting behind his desk, smiling at her. "Don't do that!" the blonde admonished him, her hand up near her throat. If her heart didn't fall back to its normal resting place within the next few seconds, she was going to have to push it down manually.

His tone of voice immediately became indignant. "I beg your pardon, Private..." he squinted to read her name tag, "...Walker. Oh. Walker. I've been wanting to see you."

"How come I didn't see you when I came in?"

"I was bent down, looking in my bottom drawer for a file."

"Why? Are you going to try and escape?" she laughed, amused by her own quirky sense of humor.

Colton looked puzzled. "Huh?" Even with that moronic expression, he was incredibly handsome. At closer inspection, Shannon could feel the magnetic pull of his charisma and alerted on that, wondering just how he used that gift.

"Forget it," she cleared her throat. She looked away, then glanced back up at him to catch him openly scanning various parts of her anatomy.

"So...where's the other one?" he asked her, finally meeting her eyes.

Shannon immediately dropped her head and focused briefly on her chest. "They're both here. I know they're small but Jesus..."

He shook his head. "No, no, no, I meant Oakes."

"Oh," she nodded in comprehension. "KP."

"So what have you and Oakes come up with?" he asked. There was a smugness to his tone that set Shannon's teeth on edge.

"Well, Sir, I think -"

"Don't think," he snapped, "answer my question."

Now it was Shannon's turn to get indignant. "Hey, I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be enlisted, not an officer, remember? I just can't talk without thinking anymore," she told him.

"Well, I'll tell you what I think," he said, not even realizing she had insulted him. "I think your being here is a waste of time and a waste of money and a waste of, if you'll pardon the expression, manpower. This is not a conspiracy, Walker. Frat charges come up every cycle in every company. They're just not reported. Lonely women without it for six weeks or so...they get hungry. And when the drills don't respond or respond a little too enthusiastically, the trainees get embarrassed or scared or whatever it is that propels them and they report the incident. It's called looking out for number one in my book. It's human nature. Lieutenant Henning jumped the gun."

Seething, she barely held her temper. His arrogance was astounding. Through gritted teeth, she said, "Colonel Bishaye agrees with Lieutenant Henning."

Colton smirked, patronizingly, and shrugged it off. "That's the way you women think. Life is like a Harlequin Romance. You have this wild imagination and thing for adventure. If you didn't, you wouldn't have joined the Army."

Bristling even more, Shannon approached his desk almost threateningly. So much so that Colton slid his chair back against the wall in anticipation of her crawling over the desk and strangling him. "Is that so? Well, Captain," she spit out each word, "my wild imagination and thing for adventure would like to inform you that Carolyn Stuart was murdered a couple of weeks ago. I bet she just had a ball getting her head shot off for having such a wild, adventurous time here in your company." Walking to the door, placing her hand on the knob before exiting, she paused to look back at his startled expression. "Put that in your Harlequin Romance and smoke it!"

The thing that disturbed Rory Colton the most was not that his theory had just been trounced on by a brutal truth but that Shannon Walker ignored military courtesy and did not address him as 'sir' and did not request permission to be dismissed.

Later on, still incensed, Shannon pulled Dale out to the landing and relayed the incident to her in an exasperated whisper. Dale was too exhausted from KP to look up at her partner and say, 'I told you so.'

"I couldn't believe him! What a fucking asshole!" the irate blonde continued. "How does someone like that get to run a company and someone like you or me doesn't even get considered?"

"Because that thing between our ears will never compensate for that thing missing between our legs."

"You need to talk to Bishaye about him."

"I will. You should have heard Crosby today. He was saying shit that never should have been said in front of trainees."

"You said he didn't think it was a set up?"

"Yes but his opinion doesn't hold any water for me. He sounds like a man who just likes to hear himself talk."

"What do you make of what he said about Bradbury?"

"I think he's jealous of her sexual prowess and the fact that she probably gets more women than he does. And I think Bradbury should be watched on a peripheral level but only if she decides to expand her stable into our area."

"And MacArthur?"

"MacArthur's odd but I really don't get the feeling that she's involved in any of this. She's too easily intimidated. Hey, I'm ready to go inside, how about you?"

Shannon stabbed the butt of her cigarette out on the railing and wiped away the black residue with her thumb. "Me, too. Dale...thanks for not saying I told you so about Colton."

Sighing, Dale said, "I was kind of hoping I was wrong about him." The dark haired lieutenant waved it off, dragging herself back into the bay and falling into bed, unconscious. Doing a whole lot of nothing for fourteen hours under such regulated conditions sure did tire her out.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Sunday was another unproductive day and, more or less, a repeat of Saturday. Heavy PT was conducted in the morning and even though it took place an hour later than usual, it still didn't make it any easier. After the morning exercise and chow, the trainees milled around the barracks and voluntarily tested each other on enlisted grades, commissioned officer grades, military time and the phonetic alphabet. Only a rare few had already memorized them as the rest held tight to their little laminated booklets marked GTA 21-2-26, April 1973, which also explained about saluting, general orders and special orders.

Later in the afternoon, any female who wanted to go was marched to the PX by Audi. They were given one hour to do whatever they had to do as long as they steered clear of the snack bar. Some women got their hair cut and others replenished their personal items and cigarette supply. Dale tried to phone Anne Bishaye at home and was disappointed to find no answer.

That evening an informal inspection was performed by the individual senior platoon sergeants. It was quite relaxed and mistakes were pointed out then constructively corrected. The drill sergeants explained to their troops what the inspecting officer or NCO would look for and what the trainees should expect if they didn't comply.

Following that, there was plenty of free time before lights out and bed check but with being restricted to the barracks, the north patio or the laundry room, most of the women decided to do their boots, laundry or brass or just hit the showers and go to bed.

Monday morning officially became known as 'sheets day.' The trainees stripped their bunks and stood in formation on the south patio. Single file, by platoon, they carried their dirty linen to Sergeant Casey to exchange for clean sheets.

Down on Delta company's north patio, Dale threw her dirty linen into a pile and moved slowly in line toward two young privates who were handing out freshly laundered, folded sheets. She heard her name being called and looked around, searching for the source of the voice.

"Oakes? Private Oakes?"

The CID agent saw MacArthur strolling up the ranks of trainees, dangling on her fingers the metal tag that the Alpha women had hung on the foot of their bunks so that their personal areas could be identified when the trainee was not present for one reason or another.

"Private Oakes?"

"Here, Drill Sergeant." Dale reluctantly stepped out of line and faced MacArthur, assuming the position of Parade Rest.

A tiny smirk curled the corner of the drill instructor's mouth when her eyes met Dale's. "Is this your name tag, Private Oakes?"

"Yes, Drill Sergeant." The dark haired lieutenant observed the plate carefully. It was definitely her handwriting on the cardboard square in the middle of the tag.

"You left your locker open, Private Oakes," MacArthur told her, almost too pleasantly.

No way, Dale thought, she was too conditioned to securing her personal items. "Are you sure it was my locker, Drill Sergeant?"

"Your name is Oakes, isn't it?!" she yelled, all geniality now gone, MacArthur furious at being questioned.

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Dale nodded, now looking straight ahead. The mindfuck continues, she sighed inwardly, neither rain nor snow nor dark of night...

"Do you realize leaving your locker unlocked is a security violation?" Everyone had stopped what they were doing and all focus was on the drill sergeant and the 'trainee.' MacArthur so enjoyed being the center of attention as long as she was in control.

"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Dale answered. It was difficult enough being made an example of in front of one's own company, but Bravo-10 had gotten in line also which made it twice as humiliating. The frustrating part was that Dale knew she had not forgotten to secure her locker and this was obviously MacArthur's way of singling her out for her association with Kirk. It was nice to see MacArthur finally acting like a drill sergeant but not at the lieutenant's expense.

"You realize, of course, that I could give you a counseling statement...or...I could do any number of things to make you understand the significance of not letting this happen again."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant."

"What do you think I should do, Private Oakes?"

"I don't know, Drill Sergeant."

"I'll let you off easy, Oakes. Hopefully, this will be the only time we'll have to go through this. Get down and knock me out twenty-five."

"Yes, Drill Sergeant." Dale proceeded to assume the front leaning rest position and began pushing up, counting off as she completed each repetition. When she was done, she said, "Drill Sergeant, thank you for conditioning my mind and body. Private Oakes requests permission to recover."

"Recover, Oakes," MacArthur allowed. "Get back in line. I just want you to know I locked your locker back up."

Dale stood up, stepping back in line. "Yes, Drill Sergeant. Thank you, Drill Sergeant." She knew everyone was looking at her but no one spoke. The undercover lieutenant didn't know whether to be proud of MacArthur or hire a hit man. If she had actually done something wrong, she could have accepted being disciplined but she knew beyond any doubt that she had shut and locked her locker before she even stripped her bunk. She tried to forget the incident. She may have been the first one to be put down before the entire company but she knew for a fact that she would not be the last.

They returned to the barracks, remade their bunks and then they lined back up in formation, ready for PT. The calisthenics were unusually heavy again and as basic training had officially started at 0520 hours that morning, a majority of the soldiers had made up their minds that from then on the exercises were going to be more strenuous.

It had been a cold morning, so far the coldest they had spent there and, after PT and chow and before 0700 formation, most of the trainees made sure they dressed warmer. They wore longjohns, fatigues, a male utility jacket, wool glove liners, leather glove shells, a steel pot and liner and their LBJs and though it caused limited mobility, it did help ward off some of the chill.

The trainees were marched to Raburn Hall where they sat and listened to Audi tell them about the history of the U.S. Army. They were given a ten minute cigarette break which they took outside then they reassembled in the auditorium where they watched MacArthur explain about and give a demonstration of military uniforms.

They returned to Tenth Battalion for noon chow and then they were marched back to Raburn Hall where they were treated to a film strip and lecture on MP duties by Ritchie. Following that ninety minute class, the trainees were marched to the PT field where they removed everything but their longjohns, fatigue pants and boots (which made it uncomfortably chilly for Dale and Kotski, who still had no long underwear tops). All clothing was folded and placed neatly on the ground in front of them.

Led by the senior drill sergeant and supervised by the company commander, the trainees were put through the most vigorous exercises they had experienced to date. Rolling around in the cold, moist, damp Alabama clay for two hours did nothing for morale and Ritchie appeared to be playing a game to see how long it would taken everyone to get soaked and frozen. He also had to let them know how badly everyone was doing and how they were all shaming him.

Ritchie's brand of motivation was, at the very least, provoking. It motivated the trainees to the point of wanting to poke his eyes out. One could not be inspired to drive himself to do better by being called a 'filthy maggot whose mother was a slut and whose father was a faggot' and who would never get anywhere in life because he or she 'looked like such a fucking scumbag' ("gee, thanks, Sarge, how uplifting, now let's go win the war!" Travis cracked about it later). Ritchie liked to brag that he got to be such a good drill sergeant by being sarcastic, contemptible and insensitive. He did for the motivation of troops what Attila the Hun did for universal charm.

"My God," Wachsman exclaimed, standing by her bunk, peeling her fatigue pants away from her longjohn bottoms. The red clay had soaked through both materials straight to the skin and some of it had semi-dried and was caked on. "We'll be lucky if we don't all catch pneumonia. That man should sue his brains for non-support."

"How come they're called 'grass drills' when there's no grass?" Esperanza Beltran wondered out loud.

That evening everyone stood in line for a shower. It wasn't so much that they wanted to clean the dirt off them, they had been chilled to the bone and the hot water felt great. Some of the women even skipped chow so that they could get into the showers first and then go to bed. The PT had completely worn them out.

Later on, the women who didn't pass out, relaxed and discussed the day's events. The biggest topic of conversation, other than MacArthur's singling out Dale that morning, was the female drill sergeant's fashion show.

"Coco Chanel would be so jealous!" Wachsman stated in a mock serious tone, to which Travis grabbed the sheet off her bunk and wrapped it around herself, strutting down the aisle like a runway model. "And here comes Drill Sergeant Virginia MacArthur now, looking quite sensible in percale..."

Wachsman then began hopping around Travis, pretending to be a photographer snapping pictures. "Ginger! Oh, Ginger, over here! Look this way, Ginger!"

"Very funny, ladies. Very mature." The icy voice belonged to none other than the sensible one herself, who had sneaked in, unannounced. "I will be sure to remember this in tomorrow's details."

"At ease!" Snow yelled, a little belatedly. Some had wondered if she had held back on purpose, since she was fireguard and had obviously seen MacArthur enter the barracks. Everyone who was conscious, responded. Most of the women stared at the floor, embarrassed, except for Travis and Wachsman, who glared daggers at Snow. Prof could not hide her smirk.

A good drill sergeant would have had everyone out of bed and into the front leaning rest position or something equally as punishable. Dale was wondering if MacArthur would act as bravely as she had that morning. One didn't make fun of a drill sergeant when they were anywhere in the immediate area. However, MacArthur appeared to be living in a state of continual frustration and confusion and never seemed quite sure as to how to deal with the trainees on a consistent level.

"Oh, lay off them, for Christ's sake, they were only having a little fun," Kirk spoke up. She had been sitting on her bunk, blowing her nose. She was obviously coming down with a bad cold and felt miserable. "Maybe if you went out and got yourself laid, you could relax and loosen up."

"You shut your filthy mouth, Kirk!" was all a stunned MacArthur could manage to say.

Standing up, Kirk walked toward her in a casual fashion. "Make me, Bitch."

"At ease, Private Kirk!" MacArthur commanded.

The women stopped looking at the floor and total focus was on Kirk and MacArthur, until Dale jumped in Kirk's way, facing her. "Drop it, JC," Dale urged. "Don't even think about taking a swing at her."

"Get back to the position, Oakes," MacArthur ordered. "Let her spend the next two weeks in the stockade before she leaves."

Kirk started to walk around Dale. "You know, punching you out just might be worth two weeks in the stockade. At least I wouldn't have to look at your ugly puss every day."

"Your ass is mine, Kirk!" the female drill sergeant spit out.

"In your wildest dreams."

"JC!" Dale said, sharply, to get her young friend's attention.

MacArthur walked around Kirk. "Oakes, I suggest you take your buddy into the latrine and calm her down before the whole bay gets disciplined."

As the drill sergeant exited the barracks, Kirk reluctantly allowed Dale to push her into the stall area. "Oooooh, I really want a piece of her!"

"What the hell is the matter with you? Do not fuck with MacArthur, JC, I'm telling you. Not only can she postpone your getting out but she can make your life even more of a living hell than it has already been for the rest of the time you are here."

"I can take anything that bitch can dish out."

"You think so? You think she's an amateur at this and you're the first trainee she's ever messed with?" Regardless that she might act like it, Dale thought. "I wouldn't want to test her. Now cool off, okay? Because if you hit her, you'd better have your walking papers in your hand and your running shoes on your feet. Battery is still battery and it is still a punishable crime and you can kiss your discharge and your freedom goodbye."

"Is that true?"

"Yes. And as pissed as MacArthur is right now, she'd have you strung up over an open fire...if she could get somebody else to do it. I understand she gets under your skin but you should have never confronted her like that with an audience. She's probably on her way downstairs right now to cry to Ritchie."

"Oh, shit..."

"Yeah, oh shit is right. Look, JC, you're getting out. That's what you want. Don't make it any harder on the rest of us. Just play the game and keep counting the days until the fifteenth."

Kirk exhaled and shook her head then looked back up at the CID agent, almost desperately. "Oakes, what are you doing here? You're too smart for this."

Just then Minty stuck her head around the corner. "She's gone. Thanks a lot, Kirk. We'll be lucky if she doesn't get Ritchie up here and we're up working all night."

"Hey, I wasn't the one making fun of her," Kirk countered.

"No, but you did threaten her." Minty then stepped fully around the corner. "You've got what you want now, okay? Do us a favor and keep your mouth shut so that the rest of us can get what we want. If you don't, you're headed for a blanket party."

"Oh, now who's threatening?"

"I'm not threatening, I'm promising. And I don't I'll have any problem finding a party crew. So keep that in mind, the next time you think about opening that big mouth of yours."

Dale sat on the floor in the hallway between the bay and the latrine. She massaged her foot and ankle and rested her head on her knee. She was extremely tired and pulling fireguard from 0100 to 0300 did nothing to improve her state of exhaustion. She thought fireguard duty was an important job until it came to her turn and then she thought it was bullshit. Get with it, Army, she thought, install smoke detectors. They do the job just as well and will allow me at least twenty more hours of sleep in basic training.

Shannon appeared around the corner and watched Dale rubbing her foot. "The dampness in the weather beginning to bother it?" the voice of the blonde lieutenant, though barely a whisper, shattered the stillness and startled Dale a bit.

"Hey. What are you doing up?" She raised her head to look up at her partner.

Shrugging, Shannon smiled and said, "Nature called. I don't care how unconscious one gets, one cannot sleep on one's stomach with a full bladder. You weren't nodding off, were you? I'd have to report you."

Laughing, Dale stood up slowly. "And you would, too." She accompanied Shannon into the latrine. "Was anyone else up?"

Checking all the stalls to make sure they were empty, Shannon entered one and locked the door. "Are you crazy? Everyone is comatose after Ritchie's workout."

"I know. My body's running on remote control. Not only that, it's just barely thawing out."

"Jesus, you and Kotski must have been like popsicles without your longjohn tops. Speaking of that, did you see those Neanderthals in our company during PT yesterday when Stubby walked out in her t-shirt?"

Rolling her eyes, Dale said, "I know it. I haven't see behavior like that since the eighth grade." Although she did look quite...nice in that revealing little t-shirt.

There was the sound of a toilet flushing and a door unlocking. The blonde CID agent exited the stall and leaned against the sink with Dale. "I mean, what are we? Dog food? Look at some of the women in our company and the boys get orgasmic over her?" Shannon had brought a cigarette with her and stuck it in her mouth and lit it. Smoking was prohibited anywhere in the barracks but trainees often took chances and smoked in the latrine anyway. The lieutenant doubted any drill sergeant would be in at that time so she felt it was safe to fire one up.

"You say that as if you don't like her."

Shannon waved her hand as she inhaled. "Stubby's a good shit. I like her and all, it's just why do men always desire things that are inaccessible?"

"Don't we all, though?" Boy, isn't that an understatement? Dale thought. Especially lately.

"Yeah, but we women have a way of getting what we want." She exhaled a stream of smoke. "Maybe our goals are more realistic so that our dreams aren't so unattainable."

Dale smiled. "How profound. And what do you do with all this midmorning logic?"

"I sell it to fortune cookie factories."

"Why, you must be worth a mint. How is that you come to grace us lowlifes with your wealthy and worthy presence?"

"I felt like slumming it for a while."

"Christ, now you sound like Ritchie."

"Hey - don't ever use that sniveling little snotrag's name and mine in the same paragraph, even jokingly. At least I have a conscience. He had his removed...minor surgery and all that."

Dale started to laugh, remembering a quote from the first time she and Shannon had traveled this military path together. "...whereupon a butterfly kicked him in the head..."

"...and he completely lost his mind," the two undercover lieutenants finished together. "Did you talk any sense into Kirk tonight? We're very lucky Ritchie wasn't up here with his whip and chair." Shannon shook her head.

"She's a kid. She's not used to being treated like she's been treated here."

"Doesn't sound like she had it too good before here, either. She's got to remember she's not in the neighborhood anymore. Let's just hope she keeps her mouth shut for the rest of the time she's here. It's not that I don't sympathize with her but enough already."

"As long as she doesn't get provoked again, she should be fine."

"What Army do you belong to? You don't honestly think she'll be left alone, do you? Besides, this time she did the provoking."

"I know. I spoke to her about that. Oh God, I wish I weren't here," Dale sighed.

"And you think I do?" Shannon took a long drag off her cigarette.

The dark haired CID agent looked at her partner seriously. "Yes. I thought you did."

"They said they ran over your foot, not your head. What person in their right mind would enjoy going through this shit more than once?"

"Hanley would."

"Operative phrase was 'right mind.' Listen, I don't know if it means anything or not but I don't think it should be ignored, either. Standing in formation today, I overheard Perry Sargent say that while he was on CQ last night, Beltran, who was his CQ runner, used the autovon line to call Fort Devens." Shannon stated, referring to the Department of Defense's long distance phone system.

"Fort Devens? That's interesting. Isn't Beltran from L.A.?"

"Yeah, that's the one. Walks around here like she's stumbling in her own personal smog bank."

"Why would she be calling Massachusetts, a post three thousand miles from her home town and the post closest to where Carolyn Stuart was murdered? Why is a trainee using something that she is not supposed to know anything about yet, number one, and number two, she's awfully bold to do something like that so openly when we've been told again and again we haven't earned any privileges yet."

"Using the autovon line is a privilege we won't earn anyway until we get to our first permanent duty station, remember? There could be a very reasonable explanation for it all. I just think it should be questioned."

"If you get the chance, tell Henning and if I get the chance, I will."

"I'd rather not have Private Sargent -" Shannon stopped and thought about that name. "If he makes it and gets promoted to E-5, his troops are going to have a ball with calling him 'Sergeant Sargent.' Anyway, I rather not have him made out to be a snitch and the only way Henning would be able to find out is through word of mouth through Sargent."

"But Beltran doesn't know that."

"We hope."

"Well, how Beltran learned to use the autovon line is her secret for now. I'm sure it is in the CQ instruction book somewhere so let's say, for argument's sake, she just got real studious last night. Let's count on her being na•ve. Henning could tell her that all basic training unit phone lines have to be cleared by a code and the ones that aren't are automatically logged through Battalion as a violation."

"And Stubby could let her off with a warning if Beltran tells her who she made the call to and why and how she learned to use the autovon line."

"It would be too good to be true to crack this wide open this soon." Dale had a hint of anticipation in her voice.

"Yeah, well, I've dealt with the women who have been tied up in this thing. I've talked to them at great length and although Beltran is sneaky, she doesn't even come close to being in their caliber of deception so don't even get your hopes up."

Dale yawned. "That's a shame." She checked her watch. "I have to go wake up Segore." She started to leave and stopped, looking back at Shannon. "Put that cigarette out or I'll have to report you."

Smiling, the blonde agent took her last puff and flushed the butt down the toilet. "No problem. I was finished, anyway."

Part 28

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