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
It was a five hour ordeal by plane from Albany, New York to Averill, Alabama, via stops in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia. Dale tried to pretend she was asleep most of the way so that the miscreants who always seemed to be assigned seats next to her would leave her alone. She found she was reminiscing more than she usually allowed herself to do. Certain memories of the past six years of her life flashed before her several times during the annoyingly turbulent trip.
She remembered during what she could only describe as a bout with momentary insanity, her decision to go into police work for the military. It sounded so much more alluring and exciting than it really was. At least in the beginning, anyway.
Dale went through what she considered a relatively easy all-female basic training and then moved across post to a new barracks to start Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in Military Law Enforcement School, where she trained side by side with the men. She considered the classes they gave a big joke but took the job a little more seriously when she arrived at her first permanent duty station.
During the day, she went about her MP responsibilities and at night she was allowed to attend college on post during her duty hours, permission granted by (then) Captain Anne Bishaye, because the courses Dale studied were job-related. After she received sixty college credits and was promoted to private first class, Dale spent approximately six months on the road - getting shot at once, threatened several times and actually given a black eye twice (once by an agitated patrol partner). She then requested to go to Military Police Investigator School, was recommended by Bishaye, went before the MPI Board and was accepted.
After returning to the Law Enforcement School in Alabama for her training, she had been assigned some interesting jobs following her graduation, especially since Bishaye, now a pay grade of O-4, knew Dale's potential and influenced Dale's superiors with it. The undercover police units needed females and even though Dale was not an officer, the Criminal Investigation Division authorized her to work with them for a while after an appropriate time of on-the-job training. Major Bishaye had emphasized Dale's ability to fall into manure and come up smelling like flowers, so to prove to the major that nobody was that lucky, they sent Dale out on her first assignment alone.
It was a simple job, a personal request from the post commander to the CID chief to tail his wife. He suspected her of being unfaithful. She had, as a matter of fact, cheated on him with a captain, who was entangled with two lieutenant-colonels who were involved in an extortion racket on a neighboring city's officials. CID called it a chance bust until she solely caught four staff sergeants, one sergeant first class, two lieutenants - first and second - and one major all working at one big city Armed Forces Entrance Examination Station, lying about enlistment quotas to collect thousands of dollars illegally from the government. Then, when she single-handedly broke up a huge narcotics ring on one military installation that involved a brigadier general, fifteen other commissioned officers, nine NCOs and God only knew how many other enlisted personnel, they decided to start taking her seriously. They felt without a partner she would never be as successful as she turned out to be. But, she proved, as a solo act, she could handle herself much better than as a team.
There was more - a lot more - as she followed leads from post to post across the United States, and she began to get threatened. For example, she was informed the distinct possibility existed that if she ever set a toe through the main gate of a certain post in the south again, she would be executed by a firing squad on the parade field and they made it clear they would sell tickets. That resulted from her being a central figure in the stopping of a major drug connection that supplied a good portion of a reputed airborne division. At another installation in Kansas, she infiltrated and helped break up a military white supremacy group. If CID had not gotten her out of the state that night, they never would have found her alive, perhaps never even found a body. In fact, just thinking of Kansas made the little hairs on the back of Dale's neck stand up.
There was believed to be a contract out on her life in the state of Texas pertaining to the time she interfered with a slew of non-commissioned officers and local civilian authorities who were about to sell a helicopter filled with expensive, new-age technology weapons to foreign agents. Her presence had been a joyful welcome until she brought half the MP Battalion, along with the FBI, CIA and ATF down on the group the night they intended to carry out the crime. She led the bust, catching the offenders with the arsenal, a damaging amount of paperwork and other incriminating evidence. She was commended for her achievement on this one but she knew she had jumped the gun and gone in too soon. The mastermind and the pilot who was to fly the helicopter were still anonymous and at large. Yet, had she waited any longer, the plans would have been destroyed. The Army applauded her choice. Dale regretted it.
On the phone to Anne Bishaye late one evening, Dale casually informed her of the threats and frightened her former C.O. to the point where Anne called Dale's current commanding officer and together they decided to keep Dale out of commission until things cooled down. He sent her back to Anne, who arranged for a reluctant Dale to go to Officer's Candidate School and to re-enlist indefinitely. She breezed through an OCS basic training and a ten week period of instruction and then was assigned to Fort Jackson in South Carolina as a training officer, which she hated passionately because it took her out of the action. But she knew, for her own safety, she had to keep a low profile and try to stay out of trouble.
Trouble found her anyway.
Dale exited the Officer's Club one evening and was on her way to her car when she was approached from behind and jabbed in the back by a barrel of a .357 Magnum. She was ordered to get into a silver Lincoln Continental with Florida license plates, where she was driven into the wilderness and pistol whipped into unconsciousness by two men she did not recognize. They threw her out of the car, leaving her for dead, and the right back tire ran over Dale's left foot, crushing it, as they drove away. She was found early the next morning by a platoon of basic trainees marching with their drill sergeant to one of the rifle ranges.
Her bruises healed in time but she was told she would never be able to walk again without a pronounced limp - if she could walk at all. Anne Bishaye, who had flown in to see her, got her the best physical therapist the Army could provide to come work with Dale. With the help of the therapist and Dale's own determination, she managed to narrow it down to a slight, painful hobble. By then, the Physical Evaluation Board had decided to award Dale a medical discharge and even though she had quite a bit of time left to serve, they sent her home to Vermont to recuperate on her own and wait for the final papers. A civilian doctor was hired at the military's expense to work with her at home but Dale considered the man incompetent, dismissed him and worked her foot out by herself. She had gotten most of her athletic ability back. She could run pretty well, softball was effortless, tennis was slightly strenuous and long-distance jogging still gave her some problems but she had eliminated the limp and that had to count for something.
It was now clear that she had done herself no favors.
Welcome to Fort McCullough, Alabama, Home of the United States Army Law Enforcement School, Training Center and Fort McCullough.
At nine-thirty at night, it was as dark and, in certain places, as desolate as it had seemed the very first night she had spent there, where, if she could have seen into the future, she would have purposely died in her sleep right then. The post taxi swung Dale by Raburn Hall, by the post theater and down toward the Main Exchange.
"Building 1801 South, right?" the driver drawled.
"Yes, sir, that's right," Dale replied, quietly. The cab made a right turn at the corner where the bowling alley was. She didn't see too many people wandering around as the taxi pulled up to the sidewalk of Alpha Company, Tenth Battalion.
"Four twenty-five," the driver told her, and Dale handed him a five dollar bill. She grabbed her overnight bag and stepped out of the vehicle, stretching the boredom out of her bones. Walking to the Orderly Room, Dale looked around, remembering her days there. She opened the door and walked inside the office without knocking and was immediately glared at by the CQ and the CQ runner. They didn't recognize her as one of the trainees but they had no idea she was an officer, either. She was attired in faded, patched jeans, a navy blue pullover with a hood and torn Adidas sneakers that looked like they may have been white at one time - before she apparently traveled through a mile of slush. Her hair hadn't been combed since she left Albany and it gave her a somewhat wild appearance, sort of like she had just gotten out of bed and was ready to crawl back in at any given moment. She addressed the young man in fatigues sitting behind the first desk.
"Hi. Lieutenant Henning wouldn't be around by any chance, would she?" Dale inquired, wearily. She was tired from traveling and hoped this wouldn't take long.
"Who should I say is asking?" His tone was suspicious and not very civil.
"Well, to get her attention, you probably should say it's one of the Hardy Boys or President Carter. But I'm afraid I'm just a friend of hers. If she's here, I need to see her, please." You pompous little shit, Dale thought. She was not in the mood for attitude. At least not someone else's.
He looked at Dale, suspiciously, and then he looked toward the closed door that led to the First Sergeant's office. Standing up, he wandered over to the door, knocked and stuck his head inside. "Ma'am? There's a lady out here who says she's a friend of yours."
She was surprised to find Lieutenant Henning at the company, working so late. Dale rarely did at Jackson and when she did, she usually had to be bribed somehow to do it. The sooner she could leave, the better. Dale stepped around behind the desk to look at the personnel rosters that hung on the walls that showed AWOLs, eliminations, and people who were not in training for one reason or another.
Second Lieutenant Karen D. Henning opened the door and stared at the back of the stranger in the room. She looked up at the CQ, a bit confused, then looked back at the stranger. "I'm Lieutenant Henning. Can I help you?" she asked, in a thick, Texas accent.
Dale turned around, quickly. Lt. Henning stood about five feet, one inch tall - if that - weighing in at maybe one hundred pounds, if she were soaking wet, in a snowsuit, holding an anchor. She was an unmistakably pretty woman with big, expressive brown eyes and a very bright smile.
"Lieutenant Henning, I think you're expecting me," Dale stated, handing Henning her military identification and badge.
Henning studied the small document and nodded at her. She reached over and shook Dale's hand with the grip of someone used to doing a lot of PT. Not a good sign. "Nice to meet you. Please, come in," she gestured into the First Sergeant's office. "Thank you, Private Shufeld," she addressed the Charge of Quarters. "If you need me for anything, I'll be in Captain Colton's office."
"Yes, Ma'am," he responded, shutting the door behind him. Dale followed Henning into the company commander's office.
"I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow," Henning said, closing the second door.
"The colonel told me to be here tonight. I probably shouldn't have come to the company area. God knows who will see me who's not supposed to but I tried to call your home number, the one Colonel Bishaye gave me and I couldn't get an answer so I took a chance on your being here."
"It shouldn't be a problem. If it does come up, which I doubt, we can always say you were checking things out before you enlisted," Henning said, amiably.
Dale glanced at her watch. "Do you always work this late?" she asked, sitting down on the edge of Captain Colton's desk.
"Sometimes. As a matter of fact, I'm here tonight because I'm preparing for you. I'm reviewing all your paperwork and getting it ready." Henning unabashedly visually inspected her. "I hope you don't take this wrong but you weren't at all what I was expecting."
Dale smiled, shrugging it off. As much as she hated to be scrutinized, she had gotten used to it. "I can imagine. The way Bishaye most likely described me, you were probably expecting Quasimodo."
Henning returned Dale's smile. "Close." She studied Dale for a moment. "How's your foot?"
"Oh. You know about that."
"Yes. Colonel Bishaye and I had a long talk. She seems to have a lot of faith in you."
"Yeah, I know. Maybe too much," Dale said, vaguely, as she checked out the office.
"Really? She speaks very highly of you. Are you sure your foot is up to it?"
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't."
"Somehow I doubt that. Colonel Bishaye says you're pretty hardcore."
"I may be hardcore in the colonel's opinion but I'm not an idiot. This foot's got to last me the rest of my life, I'm not about to take a chance on ruining it."
"No, I suppose you wouldn't." A knowing smile crossed Henning's face. "She also said you're pretty good at making up excuses. She said since you've been in the Army, you're father has died eight times."
"Yeah, well, he was a pretty sick man," Dale told her, dryly. "And sometimes the colonel talks too much."
"She was just warning me in case you received any alleged phone calls from home." Henning opened the file in her hand. "How much did Colonel Bishaye tell you?"
"She skimmed the surface of what's been going on around here and that it was your idea to call in some snitches." Dale drew a deep breath. "I have to be truthful with you, Lieutenant Henning, I'm not all that overjoyed about being here, although I'm not sure if that's due to personal or professional reasons. I think that we might be wasting our time. But Colonel Bishaye is a friend of mine and she believes something is out of line. She's not often wrong and I respect her opinion. So what happens now?"
Karen Henning had been warned that Dale would be stubborn at first so she tried not to let her personal feelings get in the way. "You will be coming in on the twenty-second of this month with about eight other females. You will be in the first set. Lieutenant. Walker will be in the last set. The rest will arrive the four days in between. You'll be a private, E-nothing, so will Walker and your hometown will be the same since according to today's readouts, no one else will be entering the company from there. Here," she handed Dale the folder, "this is your personal and medical file."
Dale glanced over it. "It seems pretty accurate up to what I've been doing for the past six years. It won't take long to memorize this other information."
Henning watched Dale read over the file and decided to speak up about Dale's attitude toward the case. "I have to say I disagree with you, Lieutenant Oakes. This set up is very important to me and I hope it works. I've been here since January of last year and I've seen some exceptional, dedicated men get burned. I've felt helpless. Now, at least, we might find out what's going on."
"All I'm trying to say is what if these men really did prompt the fraternization?" Dale suggested, receiving a sharp look from Henning. "I've been in your shoes. And I've seen drill sergeants at work. Some of these guys treat female trainees as if trading sexual favors is part of the program."
"Not in my company," Henning responded, crisply.
"Okay, maybe not all of them but there is a possibility that at least one of them wanted to fool around, right?"
"Naturally there's a possibility. But only once, while I've been here, anyway, did we have an incident with a drill sergeant who was obviously on the constant make. And he wasn't even one of the ones accused. These men have had spotless records. I know these men. They wouldn't let something like this happen to them."
"How do you know?" Dale countered, quickly. "They're human. They have weaknesses. It did happen to them, which means that - as hard as it is to believe - they had a flaw in their systems somewhere. My job is to find out where and how. And why. What about the female drills? Haven't they been bothered?"
"Not to my knowledge. Not in this company. Why do you ask?"
"Six years ago, when I was in training, there were a few incidents with female drill sergeants and trainees. Female trainees."
"No. Incidents around the post." Dale then read over the investigative report on the events and copies of the blotter entries. She looked up at Henning halfway through the paperwork. "What the military needs is to build the perfect soldier who would never become disobedient, damaged or amorous and then they should clone them."
"For sure. Unfortunately," she leaned back against the filing cabinet, "even the most experienced soldiers aren't immune."
"They're probably the worst because they know the boundaries of regulation and they get bored and test it anyway." Dale nodded toward the door, changing the subject. "Is Private Shufeld out there going to be around when I get here as a 'trainee'?"
"No. He's waiting on orders now. I'll inform the colonel that he and the CQ runner have seen you and knowing that I'm sure she will arrange to have them both out of here very shortly."
"How many females do you have upstairs right now?"
"Twelve, I think."
"All waiting on orders?"
"And I believe Bishaye told me there was a female spy in the last cycle?"
"Yes. She's still here. That would be Linda Hanley and she's an E-5. The C.O. and I never would have known who she was if this situation hadn't come up again. She had to come forward and give MPI everything she knew. The drill sergeants still think she's a trainee."
"They didn't suspect her at all?"
"No. Well, if they did, I never heard about it. The people they did suspect are already gone."
"Could you call Sergeant Hanley down?"
"You bet. Hold on a second." Henning went outside to the intercom system, which sat on the First Sergeant's desk. It was nicknamed the 'bitch box' and through this device, the drill sergeants bitched at the trainees and, when they thought the drill sergeants could no longer hear them, the trainees returned the courtesy. The box connected with a speaker up in the ceiling of all the bays. Supposedly when the little red light on the amplifier was flashing, it meant someone in the vicinity of the box was either talking or listening. When the little red bulb in the ceiling was dark, it indicated communications had been shut off. However, Dale knew from using one herself that the intercom could be activated without the red light working, therefore, the trainees could be eavesdropped on. It was a very sneaky way the cadre used to find out information that the new recruits would rather have kept among their friends or to themselves.
Within a minute, Karen Henning returned. "She'll be down shortly."
Dale's feet were propped up on the desk and she was again studying the MPI reports. "These last two females sure seemed to know what they were doing. They got these guys right where they wanted them. I mean, damn, look at this stuff. One has no alibi, the other was in a car with one of the girls and each case has witnesses who've signed sworn statements that they and heard these drill sergeants openly flirting with the two victims. They've got their bases covered."
"That's what I mean. Maybe with you two looking out for it, we can avoid it this time and break this thing wide open."
Dale noticed the hope in Henning's voice and shook her head. She seemed convinced it was some kind of conspiracy. Dale had learned sooner than she wanted to never take anything at face value. She had been disappointed too many times by believing in something the same optimistic way Karen Henning was doing then. "Am I correct in assuming that Private Stuart and Private Willensky and their witnesses are gone?"
"Yes, you are correct. Battalion arranged to get them out of here as soon as possible."
Dale looked disgusted. "I wonder why Battalion did that. I really needed to talk to those women."
"Private Stuart, of course, was discharged."
Jesus, Dale thought, Anne didn't really tell me anything. She was about to ask why Stuart was discharged when there was a knock on the door.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," Shufeld said, opening the door. "Hanley is here."
A woman in civilian clothes, about the same height and weight as Dale, entered the office. She closed the door behind her, turned and stood before both women at the position of At Ease. She was dressed in sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt with 'Tenth Battalion' emblazoned across the front. Linda Hanley, her posture defiant, was a plain woman with a hardened expression that belied her twenty-four years. "You wanted to see me, Ma'am?"
"As you were, Sgt. Hanley," Henning commanded, waiting for the woman to relax, something the sergeant never seemed to do completely. "I'd like you to meet Lieutenant Oakes."
"Sergeant," Dale acknowledged, shaking Hanley's hand.
"Ma'am." She regarded Dale cautiously.
Dale smiled. "She's your Ma'am," she indicated Henning. "You can call me Dale. Sit down, please."
Hanley sat down in a chair in front of the desk. "What can I do for you, Ma'am?"
"Dale." Dale corrected patiently, annoyed with the snitch already. There was something in this woman's demeanor that sandpapered the lieutenant immediately, something in her bearing she couldn't quite put her finger on.
"Dale." Hanley said it not so much uneasily as suspiciously.
"Look, Sergeant Hanley, we both know military courtesy ordinarily forbids my being this informal with you, which is bullshit, but I don't make the rules, okay? You're going to be seeing me again and when you do, you'll either be calling me Dale or Oakes or something you might not want to say in front of Lieutenant Henning, so I need you to get out of the habit of calling me Ma'am now." Dale looked into Hanley's confused and distrustful eyes and tossed the closed file onto the desk. "Tell me everything you know about this drill sergeant business."
"You mean the fraternization thing? Now??" Hanley looked at her watch.
"That's why I'm here. I'm one of your replacements as snitch. So I need you to tell me anything that might help us - things the women did, things they said, anything that might have made you think these drill sergeants were about to be set up."
Hanley sat back and looked at her. "I told all this to MPI."
"Tell me. I wasn't there and I want to know what didn't go into those reports."
She sighed, annoyed. "I didn't know them super well. I never hung around them that much. One was a real flirt and the other was very pretty but a very unlikely candidate for the charge." Hanley snickered to herself.
"What is it?" Dale asked, picking up on it.
"Well, Carolyn Stuart was always bragging that she wanted to make it with a drill sergeant if it was the last thing she did here. Which it was."
Dale's head snapped to Henning. "If she was always bragging and everyone heard her, how come you couldn't call the charge on that?"
"Because," Henning said, tiredly, "Carolyn Stuart admitted she was a lesbian, Dale. She was bragging about wanting to make it with a female drill sergeant. That's why her accusations seemed so believable. Why would a lesbian go after a male drill sergeant?"
Dale sat silently for a few minutes, blinking back this new information. "Is that why she was discharged? Because she was admittedly gay?"
"Yes. Some of the other females had been grumbling about her for some time - not that she openly tried anything with anybody - she was just so verbal about it. It made some of the younger women nervous. When we questioned her about it mid-cycle, she denied it all. However, after the fraternization incident, she gave us a written confession that was backed up by several other women in her platoon and she was dismissed," Henning offered.
"Honorable trainee discharge?" Dale asked. Henning nodded. Dale shook her head. "I don't know. Something is weird here. Most of the lesbians I know, especially in the military, almost have this secret code of honor to keep their mouths shut about their sexuality. They travel in their own little circles and leave everybody else alone. It's too dangerous not to. Hmmm. Well...some have to learn the hard way I guess." She looked at Hanley and then at Henning. "These experiences happened within a week of each other, didn't they?"
"The first one was three weeks apart. The cycle before this one was longer than that. Week two and week six, I think," Henning volunteered.
"Well, there's no set pattern there," Dale sighed. "What about the other female...Willensky?"
Hanley lit a cigarette. "Drill Sgt. Halpin was always around her, although I never heard him say anything suggestive to her and then suddenly they're found together up on one of the range roads."
Dale thought for a moment and then said, "According to the investigator's report, when the MP sedan assigned to that area that night approached Halpin's vehicle from behind with their headlights off and the moonlight shining down on them, it appeared that she and Halpin were just sitting there, talking, she on one side of the car, he on the other. As soon as the MPs turned their spotlight on, she was all over him. She told the investigators that Halpin brought her up there to seduce her. The way this report was written, it sounds to me like they definitely think it was a set up."
"They do," Henning confirmed, "but she cried attempted rape, insisted he was about to force himself on her. She even had his skin under her fingernails in an apparent effort to fight him off. They tried to break her by telling her what they had witnessed but she was so adamant, they had no other choice but to take action against Halpin. Before the incident, he had just had a couple of beers at the NCO club, which seemed to make him a prime target. He claimed he was on his way home when he stopped by the main post exchange and ran into a very distraught Willensky."
"Could he be guilty?" Dale asked, simply.
"Sure. But I doubt it seriously," Karen said, quietly.
"Then what was he doing on an isolated range road with her? He must know those roads are off-limits after the hours of darkness. I knew that even as a trainee. He should have known better."
"He didn't know how to handle her, she threatened suicide if he didn't take her somewhere to talk," Henning said, exasperated. "I would have done the same thing, especially when she never gave him any time to think about it."
Dale leaned back. "I agree."
Henning and Hanley stared at each other, clearly wondering if Dale realized she had just contradicted herself. Henning seemed to relax, giving Dale a smile she might have reserved for those suspected of being one sandwich short of a picnic.
Knowing what was going through both their minds, Dale chuckled softly to herself. "I would have taken her somewhere to talk but not up to an isolated range road. That was just stupid - if he is innocent. Look, all you have is his word against hers and the speculation of everybody who wants to cover his ass. Before I go condemning either one of these women, I want to make Goddamn sure they're guilty. I am sure if it were either one of you, you would want me to do the same thing. Women always seem to get such raw deals in situations like this. So I need to look at every detail I can as objectively as I can. I don't want you, me or Uncle Sam to be wasting our time or the taxpayer's money." She looked at Hanley. "What do you remember?"
"Everything happened so fast that it surprised me, especially with Stuart and Franciosa."
"But you weren't surprised with Willensky and Halpin?" Dale wondered.
"Yes, of course I was. I always had the deepest respect for Sergeant Halpin. He was my platoon sergeant and I got to know him quite well," Hanley told her.
"Then you would say what he was accused of didn't sound to you like something he would do."
"That's right. For him to take her up on a range road alone in a car would have been way out of character."
"Did Willensky have a boyfriend in the company, or any male in particular that she hung around with?"
"No," Hanley answered. "She was popular with everybody. She spread herself out pretty evenly. There never seemed to be anyone special."
"Sexually popular or just plain friendly?"
"Just friendly. From what I know, anyway."
"What about Stuart? Anyone in particular with her?"
"No. Not that I knew about."
"Could Franciosa have been one of those men who threateningly pursue lesbians because they feel it is their calling in life to convert them?" Dale challenged.
"No," Hanley said, firmly.
Dale rubbed her forehead. For some reason, Sgt. Hanley was beginning to give her a headache. "I sure hope this turns out the way you want it to." Dale sat up and straightened out the various paperwork she had been using as references. "Sergeant Hanley, since you're going to be classified as a 'holdover' for a few weeks, I would like you to study each one of the new females that come in carefully. Talk to as many as you can discreetly and if you start to notice any similarities at all to the two other females, report it to Lieutenant Henning so that she can bring it to Lieutenant Walker or me. We'll want to hear anything that either sounds out of place or familiar to you." Dale looked back at Henning. "Anything you want to add to that?"
"No. I think you covered it all."
Linda Hanley stood up almost the same time as Dale. "I'll do what I can, Lieutenant Oakes, but I don't feel I should have to do your job for you and Lieutenant Walker."
Pushed to an edge by Hanley's attitude, Dale's voice suddenly became cool and professional. "I'm not asking you to, Sergeant. Hanley. I'm just asking for a little assistance on this. Do you have a problem with that?"
Hanley did not lose eye contact with her. "No, Ma'am."
"Fine. You may go now."
Hanley nodded. She looked over at Henning. "Goodnight, Ma'am." Without acknowledging Dale again, she left the room.
"I don't think she likes me too much," Dale said.
"I don't think it's that so much as I think she's just upset and a little defensive because she failed at her task."
"What was her task?" Dale countered. "Nobody suspected a set up when she started, so her task was to be a normal cycle spy, right? Obviously she did that very well. So what could she have failed at? I know the military expects you to be clairvoyant upon entry but very few people are. What's her real problem?"
Henning began to pace a little. "What's yours?" They looked directly at each other. "You talk a good game about being objective but you're quick to point out that you don't think these drill sergeants were set up."
"I never said that," Dale protested, a little taken aback but yet impressed with the tiny Texan's cheekiness. "Nor do I mean to imply that. I'm just trying to be fair. Besides, it's not what I think that matters. I need to investigate this case thoroughly and properly and in order to do that every angle has to be explored. Listen, Alpha-10 is special to me, too. I took AIT with this company six years ago. Bad things are going to come up...they always do during an investigation, which is why I need to know everything about this case so that there are no surprises. Or let's just say the fewer the better." Dale let it sink in. "Trust me."
Henning hesitated, then shrugged. "You know this business better than I do."
"Well, I'm sure if Lieutenant Walker is worth her badge, she'll be saying relatively the same thing." Dale gathered up her file and information. "Is this everything?"
"Thanks. I'll go over it all again tonight. I may have some other questions in the morning." Dale yawned. "Now I'll let you go home and get some sleep."
"Where are you going now?"
"I was going to stay at the Bishaye's but they are conveniently out of town. Not that I am accusing it of being anything other than a coincidence," Dale added, dryly. "So it's either the post Guest House or the Journey Inn in Averill. At this late hour, I'm sure it will end up being the Guest House. Would it be too much trouble to get a lift over there? If you're finished here, that is."
Henning nodded. "I'm done. Listen...Dale..." she hesitated, almost coyly, "...Um...why don't you come stay with me? I've got a couch that makes into a very comfortable bed and I'd really like to get to know you better..." Seeing the look on Dale's face, Henning immediately knew what Dale was thinking. "No, no, it's a spare bed, I have my own room. I'm sorry, I should be more specific." She smiled, embarrassed. "I should know better."
Dale put up her hand in a halting motion, grinning. "No, it's cool...I need to lighten up a little more. I'm suspicious of everything - nature of the beast, I guess. I don't want to put you out. I appreciate the offer, but -"
"So you'd rather go to the post Guest House, normally over run with screaming, spoiled dependents and you can never get a decent night's sleep?"
Once again, Dale started to resist. There was tension between them and Dale wasn't exactly comfortable opening up to strangers but the statement about the dependents hit home. And, Henning was obviously trying to make an effort. "Sure. I'd love to, if it's really no trouble."
Dale moved behind Henning to exit the C.O.'s office, realizing for the first time how short she really was. Dale vocalized her sardonic observation and received a playful swat on the arm. Apologizing as they left the room, Dale looked around curiously as they headed toward Henning's brown and beige Malibu. She checked the place out one last time as a free woman, shaking her head, mumbling, "I must be fucking nuts." Dale got into the car and Karen Henning drove them away.
By the time they had reached her quarters, Karen Henning had revealed quite a bit about herself. There were the usual 'Why'd you join the Army?' questions and in her answers, she exposed herself to be a woman with a very charming, winning personality who could be quite engagingly persuasive when she wanted to be. She appeared to be easy-going but Dale got the impression she could be one tough little customer, too. Certain subjects - not always military oriented - were brought up which proved her to be outspoken, standing firmly for what she believed in, her eyes defying anyone to tell her she was wrong. She did possess a substantial amount of tenacity; a persistence that, if properly developed, could rival Anne Bishaye's and it was a trait Dale felt Karen would need to cope in the Army.
There was something unambiguous about Henning that impressed Dale greatly. Probably it was that she lacked the usual vanity attached to new officers and she did not try to conceal her innocence or vulnerability, which displayed a rare amount of honesty in her thoughts and actions. Dale found that uncommon since most officers she had met just out of OCS, brand new to the service, had an infallible and arrogant way about them. Most were reluctant to admit a fear of not knowing everything that was happening around them in the military and especially around their own company. Henning was not.
Karen was apprehensive about being new and holding an authoritative rank, even if it was 'low man' on the officer totem pole. She was aware that the drill sergeants and other cadre compared her military knowledge as a second lieutenant to that of a basic trainee and it bothered her that they found it so amusing when she made mistakes. She feared that she was trying so hard to fit in sometimes that she might be making a fool of herself, even though she knew she had the potential of becoming a good officer. She had the distinct feeling that sometimes she was resented for being a female who held a higher rank and was younger than most members of her company. Or maybe it was just for being a female, period.
Dale had several of the same misgivings and encountered many of the same frustrations and prejudices that Karen had been talking about when Dale had been a training officer at Fort Jackson. The difference was that she did know more about the Army when she became an officer and a majority of the cadre still treated her as if she were an exceptionally slow-witted trainee. Her job at Jackson had to have been her least favorite assignment thus far. It was, in more ways than one, a step backward. She enjoyed the challenge of undercover work and was doing well in it and to suddenly be thrown back into a basic training environment, whether as an officer or a recruit, seemed almost parallel to punishment. Her only advantage over a trainee, aside from rank, was a little bit more freedom and that was all.
Dale helped the lieutenant make up the couch and while Henning was out in her kitchenette, pouring two cups of mint tea, Dale thumbed through some new military field manuals. She wasn't really concentrating on what she was doing. She had been thinking about how cute Karen Henning was and was tormenting herself as to why she was starting to so frequently have these thoughts about women.
Returning to the living room, interrupting Dale's introspection, Karen handed Dale her cup of tea. "Thank you," Dale said, "maybe now I can relax and stop being such a bear."
"Oh, that's okay," Karen smiled. "I understand, really. With your discharge so close, you probably hate this. I don't blame you. It would be nice to be able to rest. If somebody threw another couple of months of training in my face, I don't think I could handle it."
"At least it'll be better than before, I'll know more this time. I won't be as intimidated as I was the first time."
Karen, who had changed out of her fatigues into ratty old blue jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, sat in a chair, curling her legs underneath her. Dale sat down opposite her in an overstuffed easy chair and slowly sipped her hot beverage.
"Do you remember your first night at McCullough? Clearly?" the adorable Lieutenant Henning drawled.
"Oh, yeah." Dale thought back. "It was complete culture shock, different than anything I'd ever known. And I couldn't believe how nasty the drill sergeants were. It was as if they had been tortured at one time and they were trying to settle their grievances with me, personally. It was frightening. I was just out of high school and somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that I knew everything. That thought sure didn't stick around for long. The Army taught me a lot - probably more than I needed to know - and a lot of reality hit me in the face between the time I stepped off that bus in WacVille and the time I stepped off that plane to my first permanent duty station. I grew up a lot. Which is maybe why Bishaye is insisting I go back...so that I can grow up again."
"Just don't be too hard on my drill sergeants," Karen smiled. "They've been through enough as it is."
"Come on, drill sergeants need some lively trainees to keep them on their toes. Besides, I want to fu...play with their minds a little, the way they did to me and my fellow newbies in my first cycle." She was going to say she wanted to fuck with them as they had so enjoyed doing with her but she refrained from using that profanity in the presence of her future training officer. Dale knew that a female using obscenities like the ones she let fly ever so freely could sometimes turn a person off and she needed at least a decent working relationship with Karen Henning. Offending her would not be conducive to that. However, Dale realized once she got in with the other trainees, she wouldn't be able to control herself. 'Fuck' was a word everybody used loosely, especially in the military because it was a good fallback word that covered every situation.
She saw Karen smile at her sudden verbal detour. She was pretty sure Anne had warned her about Dale's earthy vocabulary. Dale then thought it was a big waste of time trying to spare her from hearing foul language. Unless Karen spent her entire active duty time in a sound proof booth, she had to have heard just about everything, especially in a police training company.
"Tell me, out of curiosity, do you get a lot of flack from civilians about being a woman in the Army? Do they usually try to label you as either a whore or a lesbian?"
"You get that, too, huh?" Dale smiled, not at all surprised by the question, however uncomfortable she was feeling with the concept of it lately, because it was a common inquiry she was used to. "I just chalk it up to ignorance. I really don't pay attention to it anymore but it used to bother me. Being from a small town and all, the thought of being categorized as either horrified me. Then, of course, I got to know the women I was in with and I realized that they were no different than I was regardless of their hobby or lifestyle." Especially since those lines have become so personally blurred lately, Dale thought.
"I'm just starting to get to that place myself," Karen acknowledged.
"I soon discovered that being a female in the military is a fight all in its own and that the women as a whole have to stick together and support each other in a battle against harassment, discrimination and stereotyping that is rarely made public. I think that civilians who really aren't familiar with today's Army think that every female who signs up becomes a grunt. The picture of a woman in full war gear ready to go into sole battle with the Middle East doesn't exactly help our image any. We're either portrayed that way or as if we're ready to take on the Los Angeles Rams in the sack in record time. I just reached a point where I said, 'what difference does it make.' People are going to believe what they want to anyway. We're dealing with stubborn, old-fashioned ideals that probably won't be changed in my lifetime, regardless of the strides women make. Especially the old fart, hardcore, career military men. Getting them to alter that opinion would be like asking the KKK to support the United Negro College Fund."
Nodding, Karen sipped on her tea, absorbing Dale's words. "What about relationships?"
"What about them?" Dale asked, immediately wondering if the lieutenant was fishing, then silently reprimanded herself for being so paranoid.
"I find it very difficult to maintain relationships with military men because their frame of mind is, well...let's just say, different. And, civilian men just don't understand my frame of mind. Plus it is a nomadic life. The colonel told me that you have a boyfriend, someone you have been dating for about five or six years. How have you made that work?"
Smirking, Dale shook her head. That must have been some conversation these two had about her. "It doesn't work. Not any more. We broke up last week."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I'm not," Dale assured her. "It ran its course and there was no secret to maintaining a relationship like the one we had. We weren't faithful and both our priorities were messed up as far as ourselves and each other were concerned." Now it was Dale's turn to change the subject. The wound of not having Keith to fall back on was still fresh, regardless of the fact that she knew she was being more honest with herself by having let him walk away. "So how is the PT now? I remember when I went through AIT here, they had a couple of exercises that defied human potential."
"The physical training is pretty mild or at least it has been. A lot of running, though. Think that'll bother your foot?"
"I hope not. If it does, I'll see what I can do about getting a profile."
"Think our wonderful Alabama winter weather will have any effect on it?"
"That much I am betting on. I trained during the same season six years ago and I was told by my recruiter, Brooklyn Bridge Barney...who I have since gotten even with, about how nice it was going to be here, you know, south for the winter and all. I had psyched myself up for a really warm December and a terrific tan. He must have seen me coming a mile away."
"No color to you at all, huh?"
"Oh, I had color, all right. It fluctuated from frostbite blue to rust from all the rain."
Karen couldn't help but chuckle at Dale's tone of voice, which just oozed with sarcasm regarding her naiveté. Dale joined her laughter and shook her head. "Dale..." she hesitated, "I'm not sure I should broach this subject but I really want to know what happened to you. Colonel Bishaye touched on it briefly but never went into any detail. Would it bother you to talk about your accident?"
"Well, first of all, it was no accident," Dale told her, pragmatically.
"We don't have to talk about it," Karen said, quickly.
"No, I don't mind, really. I've talked about it to so many people about it already there's no point in stopping with you."
"Why so many people?"
Oh, you know - investigators - military and civilian, like CID, FBI -"
"Sure. And they were just the tip of the iceberg. You see, nobody knows who tried to kill me. And since I've been involved in so much covert stuff that involved both military and civilian personnel, the FBI, among other agencies, had to check it out."
"And there are still no leads?"
"If there are, no one is telling me about it."
"What were you thinking when you got into that car with those men?"
"Just how much did she tell you, anyway?" Dale asked, a little surprised that Anne would be so forthcoming regarding this section of Dale's life that was still very guarded.
"She was brief. But it obviously frightened her."
"Scared the shit out of me, too. What frightens me more is that I still don't remember a hell of a lot. It's just been recently that any of it has started to come back to me. I was totally blank for a long time. I do recall being unusually calm, though...like my time was up and I knew it and absolutely nothing I said or did was going to change it. When that .357 was stuck in my back, all I could think of was, 'God, don't prolong it, just do it'."
"Did anyone say anything to you to give you a clue as to who they were or why they were doing it?"
"Not that I can recall. A lot of that is still blocked out. I can vaguely picture that there were two men and a driver, that the car was a Continental and that the license plate was from Florida. I didn't think I had pissed anyone off in Florida."
"You were pretty lucky."
"Lucky? Does what happened to me sound lucky to you?"
"At least you weren't killed," Karen said, gently. "You could have ended up maimed or crippled, but you didn't."
"And I'm able to come back into the Army, out in the open, ready to give whoever it was another shot at me. Hey, you only live once, right? Unless you're James Bond." Dale yawned. "I should have taken some good advice when I was seventeen years old, standing in a phone booth and saw these great words of wisdom etched in the door: 'If you want a really good screwing, call 885-2434. It's your Army recruiter'."
Second Lieutenant Shannon B. Walker strolled into the downtown Averill, Alabama bar and stopped to let her eyes adjust to the dim, smoky, colored lights. Her light blonde hair reflected green, blue, red and yellow as she stood in the doorway. She surveyed the room quietly, taking a long drag from her cigarette and resting her free hand on her hip. It had been a while since she had traveled this turf and, although the place was exactly as she had remembered it, it was somehow different. But to the regulars, she was a stranger and because she was new, because she was beautiful and because she seemed in such control, every eye in the place was on her. She dropped her hand to her side and moved casually through the room to the bar, ignoring the attention she was getting.
Karen Henning instinctively knew who she was the minute she walked in the door.
Shannon confidently made eye contact with the obviously interested bartender. He wiped off a section of the counter directly in front of her, then leaned in closely and grinned. She counted at least two teeth missing before she wisely decided to stop studying his mouth. Shannon returned a very non-committal smile.
"And what would y'all like this fine evening?" he asked.
"I all would like a million dollars. But I'll settle for a brandy on the rocks. And easy on the rocks, please."
The bartender attempted a sly, sexy laugh that got caught in his throat and sounded more like he was clearing away an impure substance. "So you're on of them brandy girls."
Shannon looked at him blankly. What did that mean? Then she had to remember the species she was dealing with - a horny, deep-woods, good ol' boy who was no doubt the Missing Link. Or very closely related. "Yep. That's me. One of them notorious brandy girls." She waited, patiently, as he just stood there, leering at her. Finally, she looked at her watch and said, "Am I going to get it tonight?"
"If you want it, baby."
"I meant my drink."
"Sure, darlin,' comin' right up."
As he left to make her drink, Shannon glanced around the bar again. When she turned back, the bartender was there with her glass of brandy. "How much?" she asked, digging into her pocket.
"It's on me."
"No, I insist," she insisted.
"No, honey, I insist."
Shannon backed down and shrugged. Okay, asshole, if you really insist, she thought.
He leaned in closely again and his density was starting to get on her nerves. All she wanted was a damn drink. Why couldn't men read signals that said 'just because I walked in here by myself does not mean I also don't intend to leave by myself. Or at least not with you.' And sometimes it was just too difficult to be diplomatic.
"What would you say if I asked you to meet me here after work tonight?" he asked her, giving her body a glaring once-over.
"Probably nothing." She picked up her glass. "I can't talk and laugh at the same time."
The bartender did not seem fazed. "That was cold, darlin.' Come on, baby, let me take you home tonight after I get off shift. I got somethin' special for you." He looked downward in the direction of his fly and gyrated his hips at her.
Shannon leaned over the bar, stared directly at his crotch, then blandly looked back up at him, smiling ever-so-sweetly. "Oh goody. I'll be sure to bring a magnifying glass and some tweezers."
His ever-so-dashing smile was replaced by a most disagreeable frown. "It's a buck twenty-five for the drink."
Shannon placed two dollars on the counter. "Keep the change. The way you try to sell yourself, you probably need it." Her smile never faded and his never returned. She spun away from him, sipping her drink, looking for a young female sitting alone, wearing a sweatshirt that had 'Property of Fort McCullough' printed on it. Her eyes reached Karen Henning's and the lieutenant smiled.
Seeing the exchange, the bartender grumbled, "No wonder you didn't want me. Goddamn Army women."
Ignoring him, Shannon approached Henning's table. "Karen Henning - I hope?" Shannon suddenly thought if this wasn't the lady she was supposed to meet, she might have to get real creative to get out of it, without offending this obviously lovely young woman, especially the way their eyes met, they smiled at each other and Shannon took the invitation. Anywhere near a military installation, that could have gotten complicated.
Still grinning, Karen held up her hand. "Relax. I'm Henning. You must be Lieutenant Walker. How was your trip?"
"Terrible. It was an open flight and I had to change seats five times."
"Why? Did some man bother you?"
"Yes, finally," Shannon said, laughing. "You're a great straight man." She took a swallow of her brandy. "So, how are things at wonderful Fort McCowlick?"
"Does the term FUBAR ring a bell?"
"Ah - Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. So, nothing has changed." Shannon sat down opposite Henning.
"Has Colonel Bishaye told you anything?"
"Other than to be here tonight and the basic stuff? No. She said you'd brief me on the rest."
"Okay, great. I really don't want to get into it here, though. You never know who's listening."
"Roger that," Shannon agreed, finishing her brandy and standing up next to Henning. "Damn, you're short. Stand up."
Karen looked at her, surprised. "That's amazing."
"What? That I'm so observant? I can't help it, I'm an MP," Shannon said, dryly.
"No. The night I met Lieutenant Oakes, she made that exact same comment to me."
"Lieutenant...Oakes? Is she the other agent working on this case?"
"Yes. I met with her on Monday. She's a very interesting person."
"It's a shame we both couldn't have met with you at the same time. It would have been nice to spend some time with her beforehand so I could gauge how we might work together."
"She said the same thing about you."
Shannon associated the name with one from her past. "Just out of curiosity, what's her first name?"
Shannon whirled to face Henning squarely. "Dale? Dale Oakes?"
"Yes. Why?" Henning asked, as she and Shannon dropped their glasses off at the bar. Shannon winked at the sour bartender, as the two women walked outside.
"It's just that I knew a Dale Oakes long ago and far away. I never thought there could be two of them. The Dale Oakes I knew was enlisted, an E-3, when I last heard from her. She's most likely out by now. She wasn't very military-oriented...but then, neither was I. What does this Dale Oakes look like?"
"Tall, slender, athletic, long brown hair, blue eyes, very attractive...very cynical. Of course, that's understandable with what she's been through."
"Sounds like her, too." Shannon shook her head. "Dale Oakes. Boy, does that name bring back memories."
Karen Henning began to smile again. "Tell me, when you knew your Dale Oakes, were you enlisted also?"
"And did you go through AIT together six years ago?"
"Yes." Now she sounded suspicious. "Why?"
"Maybe you'd better sit back down."
Shannon's eyes snapped wide open. "Are you serious? Lieutenant Dale Oakes??" They stopped in the middle of the parking lot. This was incomprehensible to Shannon. "Impossible. You'd have to know my Dale Oakes. There's no way. It couldn't be."
"It surely is. Why didn't she recognize your name?"
"Because the last time she heard from me, my last name was Bradshaw. I got married. And divorced almost as quickly. Do me a favor. Don't tell her when you see her again. Colonel Bishaye obviously did this on purpose. I'd like to keep the surprise."
Henning responded with a skeptical look to Shannon's mischievous expression. "I'm not so sure she's the type of woman I'd want to surprise."
"Oh, she ain't so tough," Shannon assured, as they got into Henning's car and left.
Dale peeked around the corner of the career counselor's office at the Armed Forces Entrance Examination Station, or AFEES as it was commonly referred to, building in Manchester, New Hampshire. She saw a woman sitting at her desk, appearing to be diligently working and Dale smiled.
Sergeant Sharon Burke helped new recruits decide what they were going to spend their time committed to Uncle Sam doing. She aided them in selecting their Military Occupational Specialty according to their qualifications, desires, test scores, occupational availability and what the military needed. An MOS was referred to by number, such as when one enlisted as an MP, that meant a recruit would have an MOS of 95B10.
She was also the same Sharon Burke who locked Dale out of the latrine at three o'clock in the morning after she had just come in from a night of drinking when they were both privates stationed at Fort Ord. Dale vividly remembered dancing in the corridor of the barracks with an overabundance of fluid streaming out from behind her eye sockets while Burke made her promise to never drink and drive again. At that point, Dale would have promised to become a geranium if it had meant relief for her bladder.
"Hey," Dale entered the office, breaking the silence.
Sharon Burke looked up from her work and grinned, cheerfully. "Hey, slick! I've been waiting for you to get here. Getting close to zero hour, huh?" She stood up, rounded her desk and met Dale halfway as Dale came forward and gave her a hug.
"How are you doing, Shar-rone?" Dale observed the short-haired, green eyed blonde at arms length. "You look great. You know, I never knew you were down here until the recruiter in Rutland mentioned your name. I would have been here to party long before now."
"Oh, that's okay. I haven't been in the partying mood much," she said, as Dale sat down on the edge of her desk. Sgt. Burke sat down in her chair. "All I'm doing is marking time, really. I'm a two-digit midget. I'm getting out in ninety-two days."
Dale was stunned. "That can't be your decision. Are you being forced?"
"Not officially forced. But ever since they froze my rank and sent me out of Fort Bragg and here to this spot in the sticks, I've felt forced."
"Why did they freeze you at E-5 and why did you get sent out of Bragg?"
"Oh, some bullshit came down after I dropped a dime on my company commander for misconduct."
"What kind of misconduct?"
"The usual. The 'good ol' boy' attitude of not wanting females anywhere near the MP Corps and feeling threatened because I did my job and he didn't do his. So he dangled sex as a condition to my making any rank or promotions while in his command. And you know that wasn't about to happen."
"Did you press charges?"
"Yes," she answered, wearily. "I took it to the IG, got a JAG lawyer, the whole nine yards."
"And the charges stuck?" Dale asked, hopefully, regardless of how unrealistically. Knowing Burke the way she did, Dale was sure it had to have been bad for her to have gone as far as pressing charges.
"Get serious. They sent me back to training to learn career counseling, exiled me here and they slapped him on the wrists. Then they reassigned him to the battalion across the street and promoted him to major. Fuck up and move up."
"He commits the crime and you pay for it. Wonderful system we have here. Just lovely. So you're getting out. That makes me very sad. If anyone was ever meant to be in the Army, it was you. Don't take that as an insult. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to be a juvenile counselor."
"Well, you're certainly juvenile enough," Dale laughed. "Seriously though, I thought you didn't like dealing with kids."
"I don't but it's a lateral pay move with many chances for advancement and I already have an in. Plus it beats playing strip solitaire." She shook some of her hair away from her forehead, then picked up some papers and waved them at Dale. "I've got your contracts here." She set them back down. "Are you ready to let Uncle Sam exorcise the civilian life out of you again?"
"Shall I open a vein?"
"Not good enough." She became serious and pushed the paperwork toward Dale. "This is a Meddac form - it's an affidavit, really, and a sworn statement that's been co-signed by the doctor about your foot. Read it before you sign it to make sure you are not waiving any of your disability rights. I read it over, it looks on the level but you'd better look it over just in case." Sharon Burke studied Dale as she read over the paperwork. "I got a letter from Cindy a couple of months ago," she said, referring to a mutual friend.
"Oh, geez, I've got to write to her. How is she?" Dale asked, as she signed the sworn statement and passed it back to Burke to witness.
"She's fine. She said you really got hurt."
"Yeah, I did. She was in my unit at Jackson when they found me." Dale changed the subject. "Anne Bishaye called you and explained about this job, didn't she?"
"Yes. Technically. She didn't go into any detail. It was good talking to her. I'm glad she's doing so well. Is she still as unbelievably gorgeous as she was at Ord?"
"Nah. She's a dog." She wished they would move on from this subject before she inadvertently revealed her feelings for the colonel to an uncommonly observant Sharon Burke.
"Yeah? If that's the case, I'd gladly be her chew toy."
Dale laughed. "She's a dog and you're a fucking hound. Actually, she's even more gorgeous, if you can believe that. Time definitely agrees with her."
"It wouldn't dare not to."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't mind waking up one morning looking like Anne Bishaye."
"I wouldn't mind waking up one morning looking at Anne Bishaye," Burke grinned.
Dale thought, hell, yeah, me too, but instead, smiled back and answered, "At least you dream big, Sharon."
Burke reached over and took the signed form as Dale started reading over her contracts. "Even as close as you two have always been, I'm really surprised she picked you for this. According to Cindy, you were pretty mangled but...you look worse than she said." She flinched just in time as Dale swatted at her. "Are you sure it wasn't a pissed off drill sergeant that nearly killed you? I mean, I know you..."
Dale laughed again, signing the contracts. "You're warped, you know that?" She handed the career counselor back her pen. "I bet if you completely lost your mind nobody here would know the difference."
"That's probably true but I'd still have more common sense than anyone else in this building." Sgt. Burke looked over Dale's paperwork to make sure everything was complete. "How's that new doctor, by the way?"
"Oh," Dale paused, adjusting her sitting position, "you mean Dr. Hitler? Or 'Old Ironfist' as he must fondly be referred to by his more intimate patients. I think he keeps his examining hand in the deep freeze."
"So I've been told. He's brand new and I've heard a few females comment on how smooth he is. 'You vill mahch to ze taybel und you vill lay down and you VILL spret your leks!! Now, young laydee, are you a firgin?? Hmmm??' The women wonder if it's a requirement, the way he asks. With that look and tone of voice of his, even if you've had fifty children and a different father for each, you still say that you're a virgin with such conviction that you could pass a polygraph."
"I know, I know," Dale said, laughing incredulously. "I was never too fond of walking around barefoot up to my eyeballs, and having those idiots who have the gall to call themselves medics, following me around, just praying for me to take a wrong turn into a broom closet. And they're always so anxious for you to get naked, too. 'All right, take off your clothes' - for the written test? The minute you walk in the door, 'Okay, off with the clothing, move it!!'. I don't get it. This is the Army, for God's sake! Do they want us to fight the enemy or tempt them to death?"
Burke shook her head, chuckling. "From what I can gather, the physical hasn't changed much."
"Are you kidding? You know as well as I do that you could have two fingers on one hand, one chartreuse leg, no left foot, an ear in the middle of your forehead and hobble around spouting the only words you know, which have something to do with ringing the bells of Notre Dame and they will still waive you in a heartbeat to make their quota."
"That's not true. You're exaggerating," Burke corrected. "You don't have to know all those words." She pretended to be indignant. "Besides, that's not the way it works."
"Oh, please...enlighten me."
She lowered her voice to a sexy whisper, "If you give me what I want, I can guarantee you an MOS." She winked and then comically pointed to her winking eye.
"Unfortunately, That is too true," Dale said.
"Don't I know it," Burke said, nodding.
Dale leaned in toward Burke, holding out her hand. "Give me the can opener."
Opening one of her desk drawers, Sgt. Burke reached in, took out the key to the ladies bathroom and gave it to Dale. "Haven't you fixed your bladder yet?"
Dale shook her head. "Why do you still have a fetish about locking bathroom doors?"
"The building super ordered it because someone was writing erotic things about me on the walls and in the cubicles."
"And then they caught you and started locking the door, right?" Dale cracked. She stood up. "That's what you get for being such a femme fatale." Dale winked at her and sprinted off to the latrine. When she came back, she tossed the key to Burke and stretched on the couch opposite her friend.
The career counselor put the key away. "So...you're off to Fort McCullough, the happy hunting ground. Oh, that's right it's not a happy hunting ground for you. I keep forgetting how disgustingly straight you are."
Dale shifted, uncomfortably at first. Should she admit to Sharon Burke, someone she considered a close friend and confidant, her sudden realization that she may not be as heterosexual as originally thought? If she could talk to anyone about it, Sharon would be the one to disclose these nagging feelings to. She would trust Sgt. Burke with her life, but...she wasn't ready to trust her with this yet. Dale grinned at her. "Well, we all have our faults."
"And one of them is you can be so close to someone like Bishaye and not have any desire to take advantage of it. That just floors me," Burke shook her head.
"Want to trade jobs?"
"Gladly." Burke sighed, turning pensive. "I don't know. Maybe it's time to get out. It doesn't seem to be fun anymore. Example: look what happened to me. Do you believe it? My attitude and they make me a career counselor? Remember how I used to say military intelligence was a contradiction of terms? Do you know that they were talking about giving me - me, the one who was the victim - an Article 91 for insubordinate conduct. Nothing has turned out the way I thought it would. Not only that, people seem to be playing for keeps now. With what happened to you and I just found out that a girl I sent down four months ago, got murdered last week."
"Really? At McCullough?" Dale perked up.
"No. Here. She got kicked out of AIT."
Dale blinked in bewilderment. "Why?"
"I'm not sure. It was a Chapter Five discharge. Which could mean any number of things. She was in A-10. Isn't that where you're going?"
Dale's eyes darkened in suspicion. "Yes. What was her name?"
Dale reacted as though the sky had fallen and hit her on the head. "Carolyn Stuart was murdered?"
Noticing the strange look on Dale's face, Burke asked, "Did you know her?"
"No. But she's one of the reasons I'm going back to McCullough. What happened?" Dale couldn't locate Stuart when she had tried to look her up for questioning two weeks before. Nobody seemed to know where she was and, even if Dale had found her, rumor had it that Stuart wasn't talking. Now she really wasn't talking. She was dead. Why didn't anyone ever tell her anything?
"I really don't know what happened, the newspaper wasn't too clear about it. It was all very odd. We used to frequent some of the same bars and I'd run into her occasionally after her discharge and we'd talk but never about her being kicked out of the Army. She'd avoid the issue altogether. And she had definitely changed. She acted so jittery all the time, so...nervous, as if - well, as if somebody was out to get her and she knew it. She couldn't even look at me when we talked, which was unusual for Carolyn because she was always such a flirt. Eye contact was her thing. Instead, I noticed she looked everywhere else, especially at doorways and she was insistent about always sitting with her back up against a wall."
"Oooh, not a good sign."
"No. Then five days ago they found her body inside one of the condemned buildings in the south end. She had been shot three times, twice in the back and once in the back of the head."
"Glad civilian cops found her. The Army would have ruled that a suicide," Dale said, preoccupied. This complicated matters a great deal. "What kind of person was she?"
"She was immature. But she was fun. Her GT score was high enough so that when she requested MP, we gave it to her. I thought it was an odd choice for her and I told her so but she really seemed desperate to get in. She qualified so we sent her down for it."
"Why was it an odd choice?"
"Because I could never see her concentrating that hard or getting that serious. I liked Carolyn but she doesn't...didn't have a lot of morals."
"Then why was she accepted into the Army at all?"
"I guess we all thought basic and MP training would change her. She seemed determined and she was a bright girl. I was hoping she would realize her potential and straighten out. So to speak."
"You know, according to the people I spoke with at McCullough, she was real...open...about her lesbianism. Didn't you warn her about that before you sent her down there?"
"Yes and I thought she understood. But, like I said, there was really something bizarre about the whole thing."
"Do they have any suspects? Any clues? A ballistics report? Anything?"
"I don't know about a ballistics report. The police around here wouldn't give that information out, anyway. And, according to today's newspaper, there is still no solid lead. When they located Carolyn's lover, she said that sometimes a female would drive Carolyn home from her night art class but the lover never actually saw this woman. She told the police that Carolyn was extremely upset on the evenings this mystery woman would drive her home. Carolyn never discussed the woman with her lover, in fact, her lover said she never would have known this woman existed if she hadn't seen her drive away once. Then, I guess, it was discovered that Carolyn never took any art class. The lover thought Carolyn might have been having an affair and, if so, brings up at least one possible motive for murder."
"Yeah, I thought so, too," Burke agreed. "Regardless, paranoia wasn't normal behavior for her and that's all she seemed to display after her escapade at McCullough."
"No one has any idea who this woman was? And what about the car? Did she get a good look at the car?"
"They're still checking into it. They're not giving out any info. And I haven't been able to find out anything through my sources, either, except that she seemed to be spending a lot of money for someone with no visible sign of income." Burke sighed. "Wish I could be more help."
"Believe it or not, you just told me a lot." Dale checked her watch and stood up. "Do me a favor. Keep track of all this and send me the information. I don't think it's too wise for you to send me the newspaper clippings, though. If I get caught with them, my cover is as good as blown. Better yet, send everything to Karen Henning, the training officer. She's in on all this."
"Karen Henning?" Burke wrote it down. "Same address? A Company, Tenth Battalion?"
"Yes. She's a second lieutenant. And try to get Anne Bishaye on the phone. She never mentioned any of this to me, so she might not know. I'd like to talk to her."
"Me, too," Burke smiled. "Do you have an autovon number for her?"
"No. Not with me. I have her home phone number, though."
"As much as I'd really love to have that, I would feel very awkward about calling her at home. I'll call the post locator and get her office number." Burke glanced at the wall clock. "You have to go get sworn in. In fact, you're late."
"I know. Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back." Dale hurried out of the office and down the hallway to the Ceremony Room, where an Air Force lieutenant was about to administer the enlistment oath.
"You're off to a fine start, young lady," Lieutenant Rodgers scowled at her as she took her place in line in the back of the room.
"Sorry, Sir. I was in with the career counselor," Dale offered.
The lieutenant grumbled something inaudible, then asked the eighteen assorted people in the room if anyone wanted to change their mind and leave and, if so, now was the time to cry 'uncle' and make their move. Even though she and everyone else remained silent, Dale's mind suddenly screamed out that she didn't want to go. This so-called "piece of cake" assignment was getting more complicated by the minute. She didn't care for this case to begin with but now that murder was involved, she looked forward to it even less.
"Raise your right hand and repeat after me:" Seventeen right hands shot into the air except Dale, who, not paying attention, unconsciously stuck her left hand up. "You're other right," the lieutenant corrected her. When she switched and muttered another string of apologies, he continued. "I...state your full name...do solemnly swear...that I will support and defend...the Constitution of the United States...against all enemies, foreign and domestic...that I will bear true faith...and allegiance to the same...and that I will obey the orders...of the President of the United States...and the orders of the officers appointed over me...according to regulations...and the Uniform Code of Military Justice...so help me God."
Shannon Walker wasn't having a lot of luck, either. So far, she had tracked down and cornered two ex-drill sergeants and three former trainees included in the questionable fraternization charges. The two non-commissioned officers were still incensed and confused and their stories echoed the investigation reports. The three females stuck to their initial accounts unless Shannon threw in a trick question. Then they played stupid or just didn't talk at all. Later that week, Shannon, who used the false surname of Robertson, for security purposes, decided to employ a different approach after hearing about Carolyn Stuart's death from Bishaye. She went back to see Andrea Willensky and tried to intimidate her into talking.
"You again?" Willensky observed, annoyed, as she closed the door behind her to the privacy of the MPI office at Fort Mead, Maryland.
"Sit down, Private!" Shannon ordered. "I'm not fooling around this time."
"Look, Lieutenant Robertson, I told you -"
"And I don't believe you!" Shannon matched Willensky's defiant glare. "I told you to sit down. If I have to tell you again, you will be facing an Article 15 for disobeying a direct order." She watched as Willensky reluctantly pulled out a metal chair and sat in it. "You're in serious trouble, Private, very serious trouble. Who paid you to set up Rick Halpin?"
"Nobody! I didn't set him up, damn it, he tried to rape me!" Willensly stood up again and leaned her hands on the table in front of her. The look on Shannon's face commanded her to quickly take her seat again.
"That's bullshit. Why don't you just stop playing games with me? Look, I'll give you one more chance. You tell me everything right now - and I mean everything - and when we pick this guy up, you'll be given consideration for a much lesser charge."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Ma'am. Hey, I want a JAG lawyer here or something. There are laws against this kind of harassment. Drill Sergeant Halpin was in the wrong! The man tried to rape me and I reported him for it and now I'm being tormented about it. And by another women, too. I would think, as a woman, you'd understand it. But you're just as bad as the rest of them. It was a traumatic experience, so with all due respect, Lieutenant, get off my fucking back! I am trying hard to forget it, why won't you let me?" There were tears in her eyes.
Shannon leaned up against the wall and glared at her. She clapped her hands together slowly, deliberately. "Sensational performance. Who are you auditioning for? No one is here, dear, not even Allen Funt and his candid camera. Just me. No two-way mirrors, hidden microphones, nothing. So if you're done acting, I'd like you to listen to me very carefully. Your AIT buddy, Stuart, the other party to this little snow job, didn't make it. She's dead. She was murdered. Shot three times - twice in the back and the third shot almost took her head clean off." Shannon watched Willensky's eyes close and tighten on that one. "I don't know if you really realized what you got yourself into but this person means business. So, go ahead...sit there and play innocent all you want but let me tell you something, Andrea, he knows we're onto him," she lied, hoping the person they were after was, indeed, male, "and he's scared. We're just waiting for him to make another mistake. His first one was having Carolyn Stuart murdered. His second one might be having you killed. If we're lucky enough to catch him before that happens, you'll be busted right along with him and the other women under nice little charges like conspiracy and withholding evidence. If you are as smart as you're supposed to be, you'll talk before somebody else gets hurt. Somebody like you." Shannon let her words sink in, which they were obviously doing. "So I hope, whatever you were promised or whatever amount you were paid, it was worth it and whoever you're protecting appreciates it."
After approximately a minute of deep thought, Willensky looked up and ran her hand through her hair. Her expression and attitude had definitely changed but she tried to cover it. Her gaze was level, fixed on Shannon and her voice was cool and even. "I have nothing more to say to you except you're wrong. I'm sorry for what happened to Stuart. I don't know what she was into but it didn't include me," Willensky responded. "May I go now, Ma'am?"
Well...she tried. This man, whoever he was, knew how to choose his accomplices. They might have made excellent prisoners of war. Even under duress, they remained calm - although Shannon had yet to resort to torture but it was beginning to be a thought. "Okay, Willensky," Shannon sighed, somewhat defeated. "I still don't believe you and I sincerely fear for your safety. I also urge you to think over everything I have told you today. If you do change your mind, get in touch with Specialist Lancer here at this office. He'll know how to reach me." As Shannon watched Willensky leave the room, she suddenly wished she had been gifted with the ability to read minds.
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