Title: Permission To Recover (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
Name: Cheyne Curry
Story Type: Original Novel
Disclaimer: None, other than any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters are mine.
Teaser: (tag line) In 1977, women thought they joined the peacetime Army. They were dead wrong.
Description: Two military undercover agents infiltrate the first male/female integrated basic training/law enforcement school program in hope of finding a murderer in a race against time. The two women unveil a lot more than is intended during their stint as 'trainees', encountering blatant sexism, harassment, discrimination, dead-ends, betrayals and love as the boundaries of friendship, obligation, loyalty and honor are tested to the limit.
Content 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.
Other Information: 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.
The two able bodies moved swiftly and silently up the hill toward the enemy bunker, cautiously giving each other hand signals. The ominous sounds of combat surrounded the two soldiers, wearing steel pots, web gear and carrying M16A1 rifles as they closed in on the small, reinforced, camouflaged shelter.
Down in the village, soldiers were soundlessly overtaking the enemy ground. A young captain led a group of twenty to surround two buildings. They carefully stepped over basement windows and discreetly ducked under first story casements until they were precisely positioned to storm the inside. They anxiously awaited their captain's signal.
On the hill, there were a total of five bunkers and each one was being charged by at least two soldiers. They gave each other visual signs as they utilized their three-to-five second rush to cover. They communicated by hand gestures - tapping the steel pot on top twice meant the soldier was ready to move. An extension of an arm toward that previously signaling soldier meant that GI was "covered." They had almost made it all the way to the bunker quietly when, by chance, an enemy soldier stuck his head above the barricade to scout the area just in time to see Private Oakes dive down for concealment. Landing next to Private Bradshaw, as gunfire besieged them, Oakes mumbled, "He saw us, Shan, should we try to make it look good?"
"Yeah, we might as well go for it. They've probably got us on closed circuit TV somewhere." Bradshaw rolled over, hiding behind a tree. She was in position to run. She nodded at Oakes.
"Ready!!" Oakes yelled.
"Cover me!!" Bradshaw screamed back.
"Moving!" Bradshaw leaped up, ran and hit the ground again in five seconds. Noticing the closeness of the bunker, Bradshaw looked back at Oakes. "Bunker go!!"
"Moving!!" Oakes got up and moved rapidly and easily through the trees up to the hill fortress and leaned against the side wall.
"You lost, ladies, we saw you fifteen feet ago," the GI said, triumphantly, as Bradshaw joined her partner on the hill, pushing back her helmet.
"Sacrificial lambs, boys," Oakes replied, catching her breath, smiling. "You couldn't have done anything about seeing us, anyway. Your objective was to shoot us. And you were too late."
"Bullshit. We did shoot you. Fifteen feet ago."
"That's exactly my point." Oakes gestured behind them. "Revell and Schwartz had their rifles pointed down your necks when we were twenty feet away."
The two men turned to see two other women standing behind them, holding their M16's, aimed right between the young men's eyes, about eighteen inches away. "So how come you didn't shoot?"
"We said 'bang'," Revell said.
"Bang? Bang," he grinned at his fellow GI. "Big deal. What - are you afraid to fire the big bad gun?"
Bradshaw fired off one of her blank rounds at a sandbag from a distance of about twenty inches. The sound made the two men jump and look back at Bradshaw as if she were a lunatic. They then looked at the olive green sandbag, which was now singed black and smoking. "I didn't know you were into pain," Bradshaw commented, amused.
The male GIs exchanged glares, then broke into laughter. Shaking his head in clear disbelief, one of them said, "Lieutenant Wilder's gonna shit."
Schwartz, who had since relaxed her grip on the M16, offered them one of her cap grenades. "You could always blow yourselves up now and save yourselves a worse death later."
Dale Oakes snapped out of her dream when her cat, Bojangles, jumped on her bed in front of her face. She had been reliving the Army again, this time a situation early on in her training that occurred between her unit and a male basic training company at Fort McCullough.
After the cat stopped treading and curled up on the pillow next to her, Dale almost immediately fell back to sleep.
The vehicle sped around the corner of the unpaved road, the car tires grinding against the gravel, a sound that split the silence of the late night. Headlights cast back dust and dirt loosened by the chassis that fishtailed but, nonetheless, stayed on the isolated trail over berms and sand hills, in its attempt to get where it was going fast.
The erratic path of the car reflected the struggle going on inside the vehicle. Three people occupied the backseat of the large sedan: two men flanking an individual in the middle, whose face and body were being struck by open and closed-handed blows. The man behind the driver was using the butt of a pistol to viciously assault the victim.
Suddenly, it all seemed like it was in torturous slow motion.
The sedan screeched to a halt at the most secluded part of the rifle range training area on the darkened military reservation. The back door flew open and a bloodied body hit the ground, motionless.
The door slammed shut and wheels spun on the dry, soft soil in an effort to gain traction. The rear tires slid laterally enough to alter the position of the car. As the victim's foot was crushed under the tire, everything went black.
Dale awoke again, startled out of a fitful sleep and bolted upright. She could not catch her breath and was deafened by her own heartbeat. She was drenched with sweat. The panic and terror that surged through her was just as real as it had been in her dream. It took her a moment to realize that she was still home and safe in her own bed.
She threw back the covers, got out of bed and sat on the edge. She held her stomach tightly as though that would ward off the waves of nausea that threatened to come to fruition. She breathed deeply and knew that sleep would elude her for the rest of the night.
Dale got up and ambled into the kitchen. She wondered if she would ever stop having this recurring nightmare and ruefully laughed to herself. Maybe if it hadn't actually happened. Maybe if she could only recall all of the details.
Maybe she was better off with the amnesia.
Ever since the department of the Army had sent Dale Oakes home to Vermont on convalescent leave to recuperate and await her medical discharge, it had taken her no adjusting at all to being a civilian on the United States Army's time and money. And, if the Army tried to get in touch with her for one reason or another, she left specific instructions with whoever answered her phone to tell them that she had passed away and had no intention of returning from the dead - even to haunt them - so there was no way they could even try to repossess her soul for more active time.
Her military superiors, being the crafty people they were, knew exactly how to get a response from her - send Lieutenant-Colonel Anne Bishaye. Bishaye used to be Dale's commander, way back when, and the Army considered Bishaye the Frankenstein responsible for creating this monster, so it was Bishaye they always sent to deal with her. Dale knew whenever Bishaye appeared anywhere near her it was due to something Dale had done, hadn't done or was going to have to do and Dale had spent many a time sliding down drainage pipes or climbing out windows just to avoid confrontations with this woman.
She didn't dislike Lieutenant-Colonel Bishaye. Quite the contrary, she held an enormous amount of respect for her, not only because of her accomplishments, her commanding personality and her enchanting looks but also because Anne Bishaye could probably give orders for Dale to fry in hell and have them carried out. There was also that little thing about her dormant infatuation with her former commanding officer.
Dale suspected something must have been brewing when she got the message to meet LTC Bishaye at the Rutland Airport at 1400 hours. She considered ignoring the call but Dale knew the Rutland Airport was no place to abandon a stranger, in fact just being at that airport was like being stranded. It was a small airfield with one hangar, two runways and its traffic consisted of nothing larger than an eighteen-seat commuter plane (where, Dale liked to comment, a window seat was also an aisle seat). Not only that, the airport wasn't even in Rutland; it was located in a bouncing metropolis of scattered residential homes, one restaurant, one gas station, several farms and an infinite number of churches called North Clarendon. If one sneezed after the sign that said "Welcome To...," one missed the town completely.
The main thing that compelled Dale Oakes to meet Anne Bishaye at the airport that day, other than curiosity and a heart-hammering need to see the woman again, was the reassuring thought that she had done nothing lately to earn the colonel's wrath. And that her forthcoming discharge prohibited her to work.
The colonel was easily recognizable in her Class-A uniform with silver oak leaves on her epaulets and crossed pistols on her lapels as she stepped off her husband's privately owned jet. Dale automatically smiled at the sight of this striking woman approaching her. She had hoped her former company commander had lost some of her appeal since the last time they had seen each other. No such luck. Dale's pulse sped up as the colonel got closer. Several deep breaths brought her heartbeat under control.
Anne Bishaye was a woman who, at forty-two years of age, had obviously missed her vocation. She carried herself like a graceful dancer in command of her every movement and she looked like a movie star. She was a slender but extremely fit woman, whose healthy complexion always seemed tanned, regardless of her location or the time of year. She had short, deep burgundy-colored hair that framed astonishingly chiseled features and dusky, brown eyes that brimmed with intelligence. She was, sometimes to her disadvantage, naturally and breathtakingly beautiful. Approaching the fence, the colonel studied her young friend.
Dale, at five feet, five inches tall, stood a little over four inches shorter than Anne and she always became aware of that height difference when the colonel stood in front of her. Dale knew Anne closed the space between them on purpose in an effort to be daunting. It only half worked as intimidation was the last thing Dale felt at the proximity of Anne Bishaye.
"So, like, am I supposed to salute you or what?" Dale was the first to speak. She swept her long, dark brown hair off her neck with her hand.
Bishaye's smile immediately bubbled into a contagious laugh. "Why bother? Military courtesy was never a strong point of yours before. Don't go getting formal on me now, I don't think I could handle it."
"Well, then, you'll forgive me if I'm just a little bit careful until I find out why you're here. If you had arrived in civilian clothes, you might have gotten away with making me think you were in the area and just dropped in to say hi but since you're strutting around like a decorated pine tree, embarrassing me to death, something tells me to proceed with extreme caution." Dressed in a uniform that, I'm sure, hides an amazing body, Dale chose to keep that thought to herself. They silently appraised each other, eyes revealing nothing. Dale didn't know if that was unfortunate or not, at this point.
"I'm surprised you showed up at all. This is one of the first times I haven't had to go looking for you. Or are you really changing on me and trying your hand at diplomacy."
"I don't have to be diplomatic when I'm with you," Dale teased, as they walked toward her car.
Anne's arm slipped around Dale's shoulder and she pulled the younger woman close, briefly executing a binding hold as they walked, contact that made the younger woman shiver. "You're impossible. You haven't changed." Releasing her, Bishaye fell a half step behind Dale, observing her. "You're walking well, Dale. I'm very pleased. How's your foot?"
Turning to face her superior officer, Dale said, "Why do I feel that question is like a hangman asking me on the durability of my throat?" The position of the sun in her eyes made it impossible to focus on Anne's expression.
"You're talking as though you don't trust me."
"I trust you. I just don't trust me. Especially when you're around. You do strange things to my head. You can talk me into doing the most insane things because you make them sound plausible. You could make the Spanish Inquisition sound like a trip to Disneyland, expenses paid."
"I didn't know I was that good."
"Yes you did," Dale said, smiling. They stopped walking when they reached Dale's old, dusty, brown Datsun 240Z. "What are we doing now, anyway? Are you hungry or anything?"
"I'm a little hungry," Anne admitted.
Dale pointed to a restaurant at the top of the driveway that led to the airport. "We can get something there, if you'd like." She looked back at the jet Anne had arrived in. "Where's Jack?"
"He's got a ton of phone calls to make while we're here," she said, referring to her husband. "He won't be joining us."
"How long are you staying?"
Anne looked at her watch. "About another hour or so. I've got to be back at McCullough by twenty hundred hours. That's eight o'clock in case you've lost your military bearings already."
Dale's suspicions were now confirmed. Anne Bishaye didn't take a day off to go sky hopping from Alabama to Vermont just because she missed her young colleague and had the sudden desire to reconnect with her. Although that would have been nice, sadly, Dale knew it wasn't true.
After they were seated at a booth inside the small country restaurant attached to the terminal and their orders were taken, Anne seemed to relax. However, Dale was understandably reluctant to let her guard down.
"So...how is your foot?" Anne asked again.
Dale watched her, pensively. "You already know. You have too many spies - I'm sorry, I mean connections not to know. Who do you think you're kidding?"
"I want to hear it from you." They locked stares. Anne broke the sudden intense gaze when the glass of iced tea she ordered was brought to the table. She waited for the man to leave. "Why did you stop working out with that physical therapist I hired for you?"
Dale's deep blue eyes continued to study the colonel, breaking into a grin. Why does she have to be so fucking gorgeous? "You know, I hate to put this thought into your head but I actually think you've gotten better looking in your old age. If that's possible. If I didn't like you so much, I really wouldn't like you much." Dale looked down at the table and played with her folded napkin. One word that was rarely used to describe Dale was shy - unless she was under the concentrated examination of Anne Bishaye. Although it usually remained unspoken, both women were intensely aware of the effect the older woman had on the younger one.
Obviously suppressing a smile, Anne said, "Old age, huh?" She dipped her fingers into her water glass and flicked them at Dale. "Stop trying to change the subject. Answer me."
"He was a puke. I worked it out on my own."
"Dr. Solberg is one of the best in the state of Vermont, if not the entire VA system in all of New England. You're supposed to be working out with him every day," Anne softly reprimanded.
"For what?" Dale was irritated. "He's a retired Army doctor. He gave me ultrasound, made me do some circular exercises, put me in a whirlpool, then made me do push-ups against a wall - not to mention the fifteen times across the floor with the tippy-toe-to-heel bullshit. I did that exact same thing when I had tendonitis and it didn't help that, either. I don't need him. It's a lot better. I'm fine. I'm not even limping anymore," she protested. Then, without missing a beat, she leaned back in her chair and said, "Did I just tighten my own noose?"
If nothing else, Dale could always make Anne laugh. The colonel took a sip of tea and paused, thoughtfully. "Is your foot fine enough for you to go back to work?"
"I knew it." Dale made a gesture like she was hanging herself.
"It's important, Dale, I need you for a job." Anne's tone was gentle yet firm.
Eyes flashing in premonition, Dale sat up, crossing her arms. "I don't do jobs anymore. I'm being discharged, remember?"
"You're not out yet, Lieutenant Oakes," the colonel unnecessarily reminded her. Clearly seeing the instant recognition of betrayal in Dale's expression, Anne glanced down at the table, briefly.
"Are you pulling rank on me, Colonel Bishaye? Because if you are, you'll forgive me if I tell you exactly where to stick your oak leaves."
"Sure I'll forgive you," Anne responded, looking back up at her. "Just like I forgave you for sealing me into that portable latrine out in the field and letting the truck haul me halfway to Los Angeles before telling my driver where I was. I needed a Goddamned respirator by the time they got me out."
"You still have no proof that it was me who did that."
Anne rolled her eyes, chuckling. "As if anyone else would have had the balls."
"Well, at least I chose the one with the least amount of flies around the top," Dale said, in her own defense.
"And just like I forgave you for getting drunk on funeral detail and falling into the open grave at General Howard's services. I know that was you. I was there and I saw it with my own eyes."
"Hey, that was about six feet down. I'm lucky I wasn't hurt."
"You're even luckier I didn't hurt you."
"You don't think that Article 15 hurt? Man, two weeks without pay at that rank? And then having to listen to you bitch every day of that two weeks of extra duty about how I had disgraced the detail and you? You'd have thought I caused a war."
"You nearly did. You're lucky I didn't bust you down to slick sleeve." Anne held her hand up before Dale could respond. "Yes, I know. You drank all the guys under the table the night before in the name of female GIs everywhere and obviously I am the only one ungrateful for that." Her tone dripped with sarcasm.
Dale shook her head. "Man! I thought your recollection of events was supposed to get worse as you got older. Yours just seems to get sharper."
Arching a perfectly-shaped, dark eyebrow, Anne said, "If you keep slamming my age, my disposition is going to get worse. How's your recollection of that event?"
"When it comes to how nasty your disposition can get, refer to said Article 15," Dale grimaced.
Anne leaned her elbows on the table, resting her chin on her folded hands. "We do have some memories, don't we, Dale?"
Carefully thinking about her response before she continued to open an old, long thought buried, personal can of worms, Dale drew a deep breath, tilted her head to the side and smiled. "Yeah. Some of them are even good ones."
Anne's pleasant expression didn't waiver. That confused Dale, who was subconsciously fighting between being desperately angry at the woman sitting across from her and fulfilling the fantasy of crawling across the table and taking her right there in the booth. Yeah, like I'd ever have the balls to do that. Instead, she opted for a neutral silence.
Snapping back to reality, Dale had to remember and come to terms with whom she was dealing. This was not a total stranger or one of the new drinking buddies she had acquired since her arrival home and with whom she could either dazzle with her "war stories" or intimidate with her incomparable experiences. This was the woman who started it all, the one who overlooked Dale's mischievous side, saw Dale's potential as a good undercover police officer and gave her a positive push in the right direction. This was the woman who ignored the military's fraternization rule between officers and enlisted personnel and became Dale's friend at a time when she needed one the most, sparking an unrequited crush Dale went to great lengths to hide and deny and which Anne used to her advantage. This was the woman who encouraged her to complete her college education and the one who came to her rescue when Dale's life was being threatened by hiding her away in Officer's Candidate School.
This was the first person Dale saw when she awoke at the hospital after the unfortunate mishap that was resulting in Dale's impending discharge. This was a woman who knew and understood Dale better than anyone, a woman Dale honestly idolized, all sexual confusion aside.
And Dale was still struggling with her impulse to draw the colonel into an argument.
As usual, Anne saw right through her and did not take the bait. Smirking in amusement, Anne said, "You want to piss me off, don't you? You want to yell and scream and provoke me into yelling and screaming back." Taking in Dale's quiet restraint, the colonel continued. "Don't waste your energy. You know it won't work. I don't have much time and I have something important to talk to you about."
"If it involves the Army, save your breath because I'm not interested."
"Actually…you don't have much of a choice," Anne advised Dale, her sensuous smile disappearing.
"Yeah, huh? I'm coming to that conclusion," the younger woman said quietly.
"Hey," Anne said, softly, "look at me." She waited until Dale's eyes met hers. "Do you honestly think I would involve you in anything that would get you hurt again? Do you?"
Breaking the gaze, Dale looked away from the table, shaking her head. "I guess not. I don't know. I don't know what to think anymore."
"If this was something bigger, I wouldn't have the authority to ask you to do it. But it's personal, so to speak, it just affects my immediate area and they have given me the choice of several CID agents. I chose you."
"But I'm not available. I'm medically unfit." Dale scrutinized her, a feeling of dread washing over her. "Aren't I?"
Anne leaned back and waited while the owner of the restaurant set her salad order before her. When he left, the colonel shook her head at Dale. "No. Not anymore. CID has been keeping close tabs on you. They have reports - not confirmed by any doctors - but reports, nonetheless, that you've recuperated. You're rehabilitated. Which makes you available until the Department of the Army comes through with your discharge," Anne sighed, apprehensively, "which could be months."
Dale leaned forward. "That's not fair!"
"Uncle Sam usually isn't fair, dear, you should be used to that by now."
"But this isn't Uncle Sam, dear, this is you. What is going on here?" Dale's question was greeted with silence. "Don't do this to me, Anne. I want to get out. I have to get out. I have had it."
"Look, Dale," Anne began, calmly, "if you don't agree to this job, they'll be calling you back for something else. This way we can work together. I can keep an eye on things. This job was handed to me, I didn't go looking for it. If you're working on this case, at least I know the job will get done. It's idiotic of me, I know, but I trust you. You've proved yourself time and time again on much more dangerous assignments. Besides, I've already taken some of the pressure off. You'll be working with a partner, another female." Anne was obviously waiting for a reaction and Dale did not disappoint her. The twenty-four-year-old second lieutenant shot the older officer a sharp look.
Eyeing Anne dubiously, Dale looked around the restaurant with exaggerated vigilance. She leaned in even closer and, barely above a whisper, said, "I don't know about you but I feel an attack of the Green Weenie coming on here."
Anne smiled at the familiar expression. "Oh, it's just a small attack, you'll get over it."
"One of us will, I'm sure." Dale's curiosity was getting the better of her. "Just what is this job, anyway?"
Anne seemed visibly relieved at Dale's inquisitiveness. "You'll love it, it's cut out for you."
"Really? Well, if it's not a very tough job and it's cut out just for me, how come I wouldn't be working alone? You know how I feel about partners."
Anne smiled and Dale mentally smacked her forehead. Of course Anne knew. She knew everything about Dale.
"We've been having trouble with one of out training companies at McCullough. For the past three AIT cycles we have been losing respected drill sergeants because they've been getting burned by females we think have been setting them up. Alpha-10 -"
"Alpha-10? That's my old AIT unit. I didn't know you'd been given command of Tenth Battalion."
"Yes, I know," the colonel smirked. "Try calling me sometime. That way you won't be surprised as much."
"The phone rings both ways, you know."
"Not at your end. You rarely answer your phone, remember?"
"And with good reason." Dale finished her coffee. "Okay. What's going on?"
"Tenth Battalion has always had some of the best MP and Law Enforcement training companies on post, you know that, and their drill sergeants have been some of the finest. Sure, you get a bad one every now and then, you can't avoid it, but -"
Dale rolled her eyes and said, "Please. Spare me the commercial. This is me you're talking to."
Anne nodded and grinned at the younger woman's usual cut-to-the-chase approach. "All right. Women have been pressing charges against at least two drill sergeants every cycle. I was a little shocked the first time it happened, disgusted the second and very suspicious by the third. It's the opinion of Battalion Headquarters and the Provost Marshal that somebody's got a grudge against the unit and is setting these men up. These drill sergeants, whose entire lives are the military in most cases, might as well kiss their careers goodbye after these charges are brought against them...not to mention what it does to their personal lives."
"So...you would want me - and this other female - to go through AIT again to find out what's going on, right?"
"Basic and AIT," Anne corrected.
"We have this new program called OSUT. It stands for One Station Unit Training. It starts with basic training and goes right through to the end of Advanced Individual Training."
Dale moaned. "What about coming in as an insert after basic?"
"Dale, you couldn't possibly get to know these people as well as you'd need to if you came in after basic training. Not only that, since we're training males and females together for the first time, it's essential you get in there from the beginning. We're expecting some of this bullshit to start the last few weeks of basic training when these females gain a little more freedom."
"Wait, wait - what? You're going to train men and women together? Side by side? No separation through basic?"
"The only separation will be billeting. The company will be integrated and platoons will be arranged by alphabetical order." Anne saw the transformation as suddenly Dale's competitive nature was awakened. "Oh - now you're interested?"
She hated the fact that Bishaye could read her so well. She attempted to act indifferent. "It still doesn't sound to me as if it couldn't be handled by one agent. Preferably the other one."
"The drills know we put spies in certain cycles, they just don't know who or when. But this time, if they make one of you, there's still the other one."
"What appropriate phrasing under the circumstances."
"I'm not trying to be clever. I'm serious. We had two 'plants' in there last cycle, a man and a woman, and they didn't catch anything."
"Well," Dale laughed, "they're luckier than most trainees."
"Dale..." Anne's tone warned the younger woman she was starting to become annoyed with her.
"Maybe there isn't anything to catch."
"Yes, there is," the colonel mildly argued. "The incidents slipped by us because we weren't looking for anything in particular. We didn't suspect a set up then. However, since the problem seems mainly with the females, we figured we'd put two female spies in there this time."
"We? You have fleas?"
She ignored Dale's sarcasm. "Me, Alpha-10's training officer and Colonel Sedakis, the regional CID commander. The post commander also agrees with us."
"I'd need a hell of a lot more evidence than coincidence to make me sit up and take any notice."
Anne looked across the table at Dale and, in a teasing tone, said, "I'm surprised you didn't sit up and take any notice at the mention of Sedakis' name. He sure remembered yours."
"Sedakis...Sedakis..." Dale concentrated. "That does sound familiar. Do I know him?"
"Oh, you've met him. Colonel Sedakis used to work in cooperation with the Provost Marshal's office at Fort Ord. One night when he was coming through Main Gate, he was late for an appointment and he didn't slow down enough for your liking. You somehow managed to let his left headlight run into your nightstick and then you cited him for speeding and having a headlight out."
"Oh, yeah, him," Dale nodded. "Now I remember. That was Sedakis?"
"Yes and, at the time, that was his brand new Mercedes, too."
"Well, he should have slowed down like everyone else has to. Just because he's a high ranking officer doesn't give him special privileges and just because he's high up in CID doesn't mean he can break post rules. He should be setting an example for the rest of us, not making himself an exception. That's what used to irk me about that place...you were burned if you didn't do your job and burned if you did it to the wrong people. So old concrete foot remembered me, huh?"
"He certainly did and not too fondly, either. But I sold him on all your good qualities and reminded him of how STRAC you used to look. Especially on Main Gate."
"How would you know? You used to go so Goddamn fast through Main Gate yourself, I'm surprised you saw me at all."
"I don't recall that," Anne grinned.
"Of course not."
"I told Sedakis I would find out if you were physically able to handle this. I know what the reports say. I want to know what you say. I want an honest answer from you. Is your foot really up to it?"
"And you say I'm impossible. Would you even believe me if I said no?" Dale shook her head, pausing. "I honestly don't know if I could get through something as physically stressful as basic training again." She looked back over at her superior officer. "Would this positively be the last thing I had to do?"
"Let me put it this way. According to my sources, your discharge should be coming through right around the time your AIT ends."
Dale closed her eyes, frustrated. "How convenient," she commented. She pinched the bridge of her nose and focused back on the colonel.
"And then you'll be free. I promise."
"My, but the shit's getting deep in here."
"You think I'm lying to you?"
"Your lips are moving, aren't they?" Dale knew she needed to stop herself before she crossed a line. She drew a deep breath before she continued. "Boy, this last promotion really must have gone to your head. You've gone real military on me."
"It's all politics at this rank."
"It's politics at every rank. It's just you never got involved before. You always seemed to be able to rise above it."
"Things are different now." She sat back and looked as though she were patiently trying to read Dale's mind. "I understand your hostility -"
"The hell you do!" Dale snapped.
"Okay," Anne's voice was soothing, plainly an effort to ease the sudden tension between them. "I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. You were hurt, badly hurt, and I will always feel partially responsible for that because I started the whole thing by not kicking your ass out of the Army when you first came to my company. But I know you. And I know how you work. I'd like to have you work for me one more time before the government releases you. Humor me, show me you can do it. Don't let me think that oddly brilliant mind of yours is going to waste by just sitting around, feeling sorry for yourself and collecting a pension."
Dale sat in thoughtful silence. She didn't want to part company with her new found freedom but she was simply, indisputably, bored. Not only that, the woman telling her that she didn't really have a choice was also the woman Dale would do absolutely anything for.
Anne Bishaye had a confusingly potent hold on Dale and the young lieutenant wasn't sure if it stemmed from the professional respect she had for this woman or the fact that she occupied many of Dale's closeted sexual fantasies. It was most likely the latter.
Furthermore, Dale was kidding herself if she really believed she wasn't itching to get back in the game. She wouldn't let Anne or anyone else know that she desperately wanted to play Army again because the fear of her getting too deeply involved, like before, almost outweighed her adventurous nature. At any rate, up until that point, Dale figured her only future entanglements dealing with undercover assignments would be by reading about them or going to the movies. Anne's mission did have its extreme disadvantages, but the bait was just too inviting to ignore.
"Why did you even come and ask me? Why didn't you just send me one of those official government letters telling me where I had to be and when? This was all just a formality and it stinks. I'll do it because obviously I have to but if anything happens to my foot now after I've practically got it back to normal, I will sue Uncle Sam for every red cent he has."
"Oh, come on, Dale. Sue Uncle Sam? You're being ridiculous."
"Am I? This is my life you're fucking around with here." Dale could no longer hide her resentment, regardless of her strong but guarded affection for the beautiful colonel. She thought about her discharge - so close, so far. "I knew it was too good to be true. Some discharge. You guys are terrific at making promises and not so terrific at carrying them out. When did you get so loyal, anyway? You're supposed to be my friend."
"I am your friend! I'm doing you a favor, believe me."
"So I see," Dale said.
"You think sending you one of those official letters would have made me more of a friend? That would have been a lot easier for me."
Silently fuming, Dale wouldn't look at Anne. She tapped her fingers heavily on the table in an unconscious rhythm before she spoke. "When do I have to be there?"
"The cycle doesn't start until the fifth of December but you'll be going in with the first group of females on twenty-two November."
"That's only a month away!"
"You're lucky we gave you that much time. Actually, I'd like you to fly down next Monday and meet with the training officer, Lieutenant Henning. She can give you more details on what's been happening and what's to come. Lieutenant Henning is responsible for two special agents being placed in the next cycle. Basically, it was her idea."
"Remind me to thank her," Dale responded, still not looking at the colonel.
"The company commander, Captain Colton, has been on leave and he'll be informed when he returns. Lieutenant Henning is a good person and I think after you've met her, you'll feel a little happier about this assignment."
"Lizzie Borden's nanny was told that, too."
"Oh, Dale, stop it, for Christ's sake," Anne responded, finally giving in to her exasperation. "There aren't too many people - especially women - who are hand selected to do these little jobs for us unless their reputation is excellent. Someone like you, who is still so young and still has so much to offer is too valuable for us to lose. I wish there was something I could personally do to keep you in. We could really use you."
"Yeah, well, I've been used by the Army enough, thank you," Dale said, seriously, finally looking at Anne.
The colonel studied Dale, thoughtfully. "You've done more in six years of service than most men do in thirty. You should be proud of your accomplishments."
"I can't take pride in stupidity. I'm lucky to still be breathing much less walking and you know it. The next phase for me if I stayed in would, no doubt, be death. I've stepped on too many people's toes."
Anne nodded in reluctant concurrence. "Don't expect me to argue with you on that. I know there is too much truth in that statement and don't think it doesn't frighten me. This is why I think it would be beneficial for you to finish out you obligation on these terms. On my watch." She glanced up at the wall clock. "I need to get going or I'm never going to get back to Alabama in time." She looked at her half-eaten salad then signaled for the owner to bring her check. "Dale," Anne sighed, reaching over and seizing Dale's wrist, "don't be angry with me. My goal today was not to come here to trap you or make your life worse."
Dale tried hard to ignore the heat and tingling that blazed through her body just from Anne's simple touch. She cleared her throat before she spoke and tried to collect her thoughts. "I know. I know. You wouldn't be pressuring me if someone weren't pressuring you. But, Goddamn it, I just feel like I'm never going to get out of the clutches of Uncle Sam."
"You will," Anne said in a gentle, reassuring voice. "You will."
They strolled down toward the small terminal entrance, through the gate and walked in the direction of the small plane. Jack Bishaye was pointing to his watch and waving his wife toward him, signaling for her to hurry.
"I think Jack would like you to haul your ass, although I can't understand why. It's not like there's so much traffic he won't be able to get a clearance," Dale said, dryly.
Anne looked around. "Yes…we are a little isolated, aren't we?"
"This is populated. You sure can tell you're a flatlander."
"Flatlander. That kills me. When you leave this Green Hill State and come back into the real world, you'll remember what actual mountains look like. Especially when you have to climb one of them, oh, about your fourth or fifth week of basic training."
"You just continue to make this whole assignment so appealing." Dale said. "So, I have to be there on Monday. Fucking great. When does the other agent get there?"
"In the beginning, I wanted you both to be there on Monday but we couldn't clear her TDY that soon, so she won't be available to meet with Henning until Friday. Plus, it's better this way. I'd rather not take the chance of having you two seen together before training starts. Averill, Alabama is only so big, remember?"
"Oh," Dale said, disappointed. "I would have liked to have met her beforehand, you know, to get to know her, how she works. What if we hate each other? It's not easy working with someone you hate."
"You're both down there to do a job and your only concern should be to get that job done. Besides, I've met her and I think you two will get along just fine."
"What's her name?"
"Walker. She's a second louie just like you." As they reached the jet, Anne grinned and put her hand on Dale's shoulder. "It's going to be good knowing you're around again, giving my ulcer a reason for acting up." She leaned in to her young colleague's side, fondly, giving her a half-hug.
Turning into the contact, hardly ever allowing herself to be touched without reservation, Dale reveled in the sensation of the nearness of Anne Bishaye. If only… No, she had to stop thinking that. Anne was married and Dale had a boyfriend. And neither of them were lesbians. All she had were fantasies and that was supposed to be healthy and normal. Heh, Dale thought, define normal.
Jack Bishaye descended the plane's inherent stairway, bent over and gave Dale a kiss on the cheek, bringing her out of her short-lived daydream. "How are you, kiddo?" He spoke in a warm, Texas drawl that, regardless of his mood, always sounded friendly. She wondered how jovial he'd be if he was aware of the pounding crush Dale had on his wife. "You're looking pretty good…considering." Anne had always told her if Jack didn't pick on her, it meant he didn't like her.
"You don't look so bad yourself," Dale said, truthfully, then added, "considering." She studied the two people before her. Jack and Anne were a discriminating, striking couple. Dale had always referred to them as Barbie and Ken.
Jack was one of the most attractive, personable men she'd ever met. He was formerly a flight instructor for an international airline but he now taught at a private school. He was an easy-going gentleman of forty-five, tall, muscular and tanned. He had a full head of thick brown hair, light green eyes, a wide enthusiastic smile and a very alluring quality about him. Anne and Jack had been married for fifteen years and Dale knew they most likely had a pretty active sex life. The vision of the colonel and her husband in bed together automatically segued into an almost whimsical incarnation of Dale and Anne rolling around between the sheets and it made Dale blush suddenly, an event, which so rarely happened, both Jack and his wife noticed.
"You okay there, Lieutenant?" Jack asked. Dale was hoping he incorrectly assumed her sudden embarrassment was caused by a secret attraction to him.
"Yeah, fine, couldn't be better," Dale answered, quickly, silently admonishing herself. She had to rein in these surreptitious feelings toward her superior officer, especially now that they would be working together again. Since Dale had yet to fully acknowledge her preference toward the fairer sex and Anne was so obviously straight, nothing was going to come of it except anguish and she'd had more than her fill of that.
"Dale, I hate to be rude but, Anne, we have got to move," Jack was now addressing his wife. "We're late now." He turned back to Dale. "Take care of yourself, kiddo, and come see us in Alabama."
"I don't think I'll have much of a choice in that, either. I'll have to look at her mug whether I want to or not. You," she said, smiling at Jack, "I will come visit freely." Jack playfully punched her shoulder and disappeared back inside the plane. Watching him, Dale then turned to Anne and said, strictly for her benefit, "I wouldn't kick his sandals out from under my caravan, I'll tell you that."
"You can't kick with two broken legs," Anne countered, good-naturedly.
"Yeah? You and what battalion?" Dale deflected, just as teasingly.
Anne laughed as she climbed two steps and turned around to face Dale. "Look, I've really got to go. It was great seeing you again. I wish it could have been under different circumstances but I'm glad I had an excuse."
Regarding Dale seriously, Anne then confessed, "I've really missed you. More than you'll ever know or I want to admit. I need you near me, Dale, I can't lose you again."
The two women locked meaningful stares and Dale's throat went dry. There was something different in Anne's expression, in her voice that the lieutenant could not quite identify. Was Dale misinterpreting the sentiment? Was Anne implying what Dale thought she was or was it just wishful thinking on the lieutenant's part? Feeling as though her heart had stopped beating momentarily, Dale's capricious musings were once again interrupted by the impatient voice of Jack Bishaye.
"Anne, let's go! Finish your goodbyes and get in here, we've got to leave. Sorry, Dale." Jack once again returned to the cockpit.
Yeah, me too, Dale thought, as Anne shrugged, waved, and stepped into the plane, pulling the hatch closed behind her.
Dale watched silently from behind the fence as the small jet taxied down the runway and lifted off, vanishing into a multitude of clouds. "What the fuck just happened?" Dale mumbled to herself, perplexed, as she made her way back to the parking lot toward her car.
My last Goddamned working day on that post before I go on an unsolicited and unwanted temporary duty assignment and I have to pull Military Police Duty Officer? Fuck! She remembered the phone call over and over again and became more agitated at every recollection. "Lieutenant Walker? Captain Rosenberg is ill and Captain Alvarez cannot be reached. Being that you were available and haven't cleared your gear yet, we have scheduled you for duty officer this evening. Can you comply?" No, I cannot comply, I have an inflamed hangnail that is killing me and would definitely prevent me from performing my duties in a normal military manner. Can I comply? Are they joking?
If it hadn't been a request directly from the MP Battalion Commander himself, she might have put up a bigger fight. She cussed vehemently at the couch, the wall and anything else that had the misfortune of being in the same room with her, as she broke starch and donned her MP gear.
She swore passionately every time she had to shift gears on her short drive to the Military Police station and she hoped she'd gotten it out of her system by the time she locked up her red and black Trans Am. She took a deep breath and reached for the doors that said 'MPs ONLY.'
The night forged on. No one had bothered to get any coffee and all the commissaries - main and branch - were closed. Fighting off a caffeine fit, she distracted herself by lighting up three cigarettes and smoking them all at once. She had promised herself that she would, without a doubt this time, give up smoking by 2400 hours and, suddenly, at approximately 2130 hours, she found two forgotten packs of cigarettes in one of the pockets of her fatigue jacket. In accordance with the vow to herself, she either had to smoke them all by midnight or give them all away (in which case, she would rather have given away her first born male child - if she'd had one). So, she figured she'd better smoke them all or die in the process...and the way she was feeling after sitting inside that station averaging twelve cigarettes an hour, dying wouldn't have been a bad idea.
When the green of her fatigues started to clash violently with the shade of green on her face, she decided to get out into the nippy night air and make the rounds.
Why, why, why do I always seem to get a dirtball dipshit for a driver? The boy's uniform alone probably could drive the vehicle and provide me with just as much intelligent conversation. When a call finally came to break the monotony, it was a Code Two run and the soldier scored no points by driving with no regard for life - animal, vegetable or mineral. When they reached the location, ten seconds later, she pried her fingernails out of the dashboard and hoped, as she got out of the sedan, that the whole evening had been a mistake, a false alarm, everybody go back to bed.
In my dreams, maybe.
A young MP approached her, saluted, and waited for her to return the courtesy, which she did as quickly as possible to get it over with.
"Ma'am, we've got a problem here," the GI told her, nervously.
She wanted to reply with, 'No shit, Sherlock,' but decided to hold back. Nobody likes a smart ass butterbar.
She glanced around at the two military police sedans, Ford Mavericks painted olive drab green and white, with their lightbars lit and revolving, and the two men standing near the patrol cars with handcuffs on. The female with them was also sporting restraints.
Lieutenant Shannon Walker strolled over to the three suspects with Private First Class Prauss, the MP who greeted her at the scene. "What have we got?"
"We pulled them over for deuce but when we got the driver out of the vehicle for a field sobriety test, the female and the other dude came out, too. Swinging."
Observing the casual street attire of their detainees and the late 60's model Chevy that had been modified into a low-rider with furry dice dangling over the rear view mirror and sported no visible military decal, Walker stopped and turned to Prauss. "They're civilians?"
"What are they doing on post?"
"As much as Aguilar can get out of them, which is next to nothing, they were just taking a drive."
"They never should have been allowed on without a pass or specific purpose. Which gate did they come in?"
"Tonio Gate, Ma'am."
"Who's working that gate?"
"I want to see him at the end of shift. You'll give him that message, won't you, Private?"
"Outstanding," Lieutenant Walker responded absently. Prauss' compliance really wasn't 'outstanding;' that was just a standard military response she used when she wanted to be encouraging but not go over the top. She then looked back at the three civilians. "Why is that woman looking at me like a psychopath?"
"Because I think she is. She's causing the most trouble. She claims to be an active member of the Nuestra Familia."
Active member? An inactive member was no doubt a dead member, Walker thought, referring to the one time Mexican equivalent of the Mafia. "I doubt she really is," Walker said. "If she was, the last way you'd find out is by her telling you. She's trying to scare you." At closer scrutiny, the lieutenant noted that the woman didn't need to say anything menacing as her appearance was terrifying enough. She guessed the female to be in her mid-to-late twenties, but unlike her two male companions, she did not look to be of Hispanic descent. She appeared to be the leader.
The woman stood defiantly, more than a few inches taller than the lieutenant and outweighed her by a good fifty pounds, which looked to be all muscle. Her face may have even been considered pretty if her eye makeup wasn't so alarmingly dark, heavy and pronounced. Her clothing was all black leather adorned by chains and her demeanor matched her tough wardrobe, as she appeared less than pleased to be in the position she was in. Join the club, Walker thought.
"Well, whoever or whatever she is, she's really raising some hell. That's why we put her in cuffs, Ma'am."
"Call a female out here to search her and let's get them back to the station."
"You're the only female on the road tonight, Ma'am. The two women we have - one's TDY at Lackland and the other one's on leave."
Of course. Naturally. She hated this. Searching someone always made her feel so butch whether it be a frisk or a strip search. But she had to face facts that hers was not a lady-like job and femininity was something she had to save for her off duty time. Walker sized up this hostile Amazon she was about to explore for weapons, and decided, for her own safety, to leave the shackles on her. The lieutenant nodded toward the two men and asked, "Have you searched those two?"
"Yes, Ma'am. They've also been read their rights in English and Spanish."
"Outstanding." Walker had to force the woman to lean forward against the squad car. All during the lieutenant's search, the female screamed what Walker assumed to be, by the tone of her voice, obscenities in Spanish, but the lieutenant continued to probe, unperturbed. She started to emit a sigh of relief being that she was down to the final part of the search, the woman's left leg, when she felt a long, hard object on the woman's calf. She reluctantly lifted the woman's leather pant leg, where she discovered an ice pick, secured there by masking tape.
"Jesus," Walker whispered. She removed the object, leaving a majority of the tape on the woman's leg. She called her duty driver over and gingerly handed him the weapon. Walker stood back up, studied the woman and then assisted her to an upright position. "Get them out of here. I'll meet you back at the station," she instructed PFC Prauss. "And don't forget to radio in your starting mileage."
Walker began to shake a little bit when she got back to the car. She called in to dispatch and cleared them from the scene and then informed her driver that if he drove back in the same manner he drove to, she would not hesitate to use the ice pick on him.
The trio was inside the rear of the station by the back of the MP desk being processed when Walker arrived, with three police officers guarding them. All restraints had been removed and the female had seated herself on a bench with her two buddies in chairs, flanking her. When she kept trying to converse in Spanish and kept being told in English and Spanish not to talk to each other, Walker finally decided to order the three MPs guarding them to separate the prisoners. The woman had not lost that cold, hard glare that had given the Walker an unsettling feeling back when she arrived at the traffic stop site.
"Can I have a cigarette?" the female asked, breaking the short silence.
"No, you can't," Walker answered, signing her incident report, then looking up at the woman.
"I wasn't asking you, puta, I was asking my boyfriend," the animosity in her voice matched her expression.
"Fine. You still can't have one," Walker stated firmly, noticing out of the corner of her eye that the guys guarding the prisoners began to fidget. They sensed trouble.
"Why can't I have a cigarette?" she persisted.
"Are you asking me or your boyfriend?"
The woman's eyes narrowed as she glowered at Walker. "Why can't I have a cigarette?"
"Because, numero uno, you were told not to talk to him and, numero dos, people under apprehension at this station are not allowed to smoke, drink coffee, eat cake or eat shit," Walker told her, matter-of-factly, easing out of her chair and tossing the report up on the desk. It was beginning to be obvious to her co-workers that the usually amiable duty officer was not in the best of moods.
"Puta," the woman spit out again, as she stood up. The callousness in her eyes had grown worse. The tense atmosphere suddenly seemed to ratchet up a few notches as Walker stood before her.
"Miss Villard, please sit back down," Walker directed the prisoner, forcing politeness, remaining calm.
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
"I'm asking you. Don't make me have to tell you."
Rose Villard stood there, obstinately, immovable, her arms folded across her ample chest. The look on her face just dared the young lieutenant to try something, anything. Walker's right leg started to shake involuntarily, as if her nervous system perceived calamity but she knew it was too late to back down. Villard looked over and shouted something to her boyfriend in Spanish, causing the three detainees to look at the young lieutenant and laugh.
"Miss Villard, I strongly suggest you sit back down and if you're going to talk about me, please do it in English. I like to keep up on all the latest gossip and rumors," Walker said, her voice unruffled.
"I told them only a woman who wanted to be a man would do this kind of a job to prove what kind of a man she really is."
"If that's true, what does that make a woman who wants to prove she's tougher than me?"
"You go take a flying fuck!!" Villard roared, her rage apparent.
Shifting her weight from one foot to another, Walker addressed the desk sergeant but never took her eyes off Rose Villard. "Hey, Sergeant Lenihan, isn't there a regulation against airborne copulation on this post?"
As the desk crew laughed, Walker casually took a step closer to Villard, who read that as an invitation to rumble and took a swing at the lieutenant. It's not that she didn't foresee it, Villard just did it sooner than Walker expected she would. However, since Villard had telegraphed the punch, Walker was able to avoid it connecting with any part of her body. With split second timing, Walker put her right hand on Villard's left shoulder and brought her left arm under Villa's chin and sat her down by force.
Returning a similar cold, hard look, Walker peripherally observed everyone in the MP station stop dead in their tracks, completely astounded by the swift action. Rose Villard was quite startled herself, taking a moment to regain her momentum. As soon as Walker hinted at turning back toward the desk, Villard rose up, arms flailing in ever direction. The woman grabbed a chair out from under one of her companions, unexpectedly dumping him on the floor and heaved the object at Walker, just missing her.
The lieutenant ducked as two MPs grabbed the two male detainees to make sure they didn't get involved. The third MP, who was supposed to be guarding Villard, just stood there, looking as if he'd been struck by lightening. This was the peacetime Army, he had said later. He had joined to see the world, not to fight. So what if he was an MP. This shit only happened on television.
Villard charged Walker and before the lieutenant had time to react, Villard swung her fist around and caught Walker directly in the chest, knocking her against the MP desk. Trying to get her breath back, Walker realized that even being tapped by this woman seemed to have the same impact as being kicked by a Clydesdale, so she was not about to let herself get hit again.
Spinning, the lieutenant quickly swept Villard's feet out from under her, knocking the aggressive woman to the floor, face first. Walker's initial instinct being to put this woman back in shackles, she straddled Villard's hips in an effort to subdue her long enough to restrain her but Villard bucked like a bronco with a burr under its saddle, making the undertaking very difficult until MPs appeared from everywhere to assist their struggling duty officer. They held Villard down while Walker slapped metal cuffs on her wrists and flexicuffs on her ankles. Leaving Villard on the floor, Walker composed herself and decided to guard her prisoner from behind the duty officer's desk.
Taking a deep breath, sitting down and propping her feet up, Walker watched as Villard immediately started smashing her chin on the floor, repeatedly screaming, "I'm going to tell them you beat me up! I'm going to show them my bruises and tell them you did it!"
"Make sure you get the name right, then," Walker told her, still calming down. "It's Walker, Shannon B., O-1, second lieutenant."
"Fuck you, bitch!!"
"Sorry. You're just not my type and, besides, I'd probably get frostbite."
"I'm going to kill you, pendeja! My family is going to get you, coño y madre!! Don't set your motherfucking ass in town, 'cause I'll have it blown away!!"
Walker's face lit up. "Blown away, huh? Kinky," she commented, almost blandly, which provoked Villard even more.
"I'm going to kill you! Do you hear me? You're going to die!"
Leaning forward, Walker held out the gold bar on her collar. "Could you speak a little louder into my butterbar, please? I want to make sure they're getting all this in the back."
"Don't make fun of me, you fucking white whore!"
"Sweetheart, I've got news for you. According to your civilian police records, the only Latin in you is by injection," Walker smirked.
They continued bantering back and forth for the rest of the shift and beyond until the three detainees were ordered released to off-post authorities. Because they were civilians, the trio would probably get off with a proverbial slap on the wrist but Rose Villard did end up being charged with carrying a concealed weapon, communicating a threat on a military reservation, trespassing and one count of battery. Her boyfriend was cited with trespassing and driving under the influence and the third member of the group was just charged with trespassing. However, Shannon Walker doubted she would ever see them in a courtroom, military or civilian.
After Villard and her companions were hustled out the door and escorted off post, Private McCarthy was disciplined for allowing the trio on the reservation in the first place. Following McCarthy's ass chewing, Walker breathed a little easier knowing she had proved herself once again and subsequently became incensed that she had to continue to prove herself at all. Then she thought about being away from it all within a few hours, convincing herself that it really didn't matter anyway.
She looked at the clock. 0230 hours. Outstanding. Walker contemplated her last half-filled pack of cigarettes crushed in the scuffle, took out a broken one, removed the bent filter, stuck it in her mouth, lit it and went back to work. Three and a half more hours to go and suddenly she felt very sick to her stomach.
The tall, good-looking, slender young man jogged along side of Dale quietly. He had dark blond hair which he wore not too short but conservatively nonetheless, green eyes, a mustache and a look Dale described to everyone as latently animalistic. His name was Keith, he was British and he co-owned one of the town's more popular hangouts called CK's Tavern. He and Dale had met at a softball game just before she had gone into the Army and there had been an intense attraction to each other but it took nearly a year for anything to develop because distance and complications kept them apart.
The initial chemistry between them had been undeniable and the relationship had been very physical from the beginning, only later evolving into something remotely resembling love. In reality, even Dale hadn't realized she was using him to assuage her guilt over not really being sexually attracted to men at all. She wasn't quite ready to give up on guys and definitely not ready to admit it, especially for fear of military retribution. Keith was comfortable and a good excuse not to have to get involved with anyone else.
"God, you're running well," he commented. If nothing else, she loved to hear the thirty-year-old talk. Even after five years of a very strenuous affair, she never tired of listening to his accent.
"I think so, too. It hurts less and less each time."
They strolled in silence, cooling down, until he finally said, "I still can't believe you're leaving again. You just barely got back."
"Keith, let's not get into this again, okay? It's only fifteen weeks or so, maybe less. We made it through a separation of almost two years once, so three months should be no problem."
"But that defines our entire relationship. Separated. I thought it would be different now. It makes me mad. What happens if you die this time?"
"This isn't that dangerous," she advised him, wiping beads of sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. At least not the assignment. My being around Anne Bishaye again is another matter.
"Neither was your last mission. Supposedly."
"I'm just going down there to try to find out what's going on with these drill sergeants. If I die, it will be because I'm killing myself going through another basic training and AIT, that's all. Then, when I'm done, I'm going to politely excuse myself from the Army."
"I've just gotten used to having you around again. I don't want you to leave, Dale."
Smiling wryly at him, Dale said, "I have no doubt you'll find good company while I'm away. You always do."
"I knew you were going to bring this up. You just said yourself that sometimes you're away for years at a time. What do you want from me? And I never flaunted anything in front of you."
"That's very true. You are very discreet. It's just your gossipy little drinking buddies who feel it's their undying duty to inform me you took Mary Jo Shmoe to Atlantic City or Dena Douchebag to Maine."
"So what you're telling me is that you can go out on me but I can't go out on you then, eh?" Keith stopped to face her, placing his hands on his hips.
"Going out is one thing. To me, going out with someone is going to a movie or to dinner or…or bowling. To me, going out with someone because you want companionship and the someone you really want to be with you can't be with at that particular time is a lot different than spending a week or two in another state with women whose reputations would make the Happy Hooker blush. Do you get what I'm saying here?"
"And you're being a hypocrite. You've slept with other men since our relationship started."
"If you expect me to deny that, I won't. But even when I've done it here in town, it's been where no one can throw it up in your face and with the understanding that nothing else would come of it."
Keith was gaping at her. "You've slept with other guys…here, in Rutland?" He could not hide his astonishment. "I knew you'd had a few flings in places where you had been stationed but I am bloody amazed that you've done it right under my nose!"
"Not other guys. Other guy. Just one. And that's not my point, Keith…"
"Just what is your bloody point, Dale? Huh?" He was agitated.
"Okay - I'm considered your girlfriend and you won't even take me to West Rutland, let alone Atlantic City or Maine. I'm good enough to fuck six ways from Sunday but not good enough to openly claim. I've been back here how many months, Keith? Everything you and I have done together with the exception of running or drinking at your bar has been inside and usually involves a bed. I am not something to be ashamed of and I'm tired of being hidden."
"Then stop hiding."
"What? What does that mean?" Dale asked, defensively. He couldn't know…could he?
"What do you think it means?" He countered, just as defensively.
"Oh, no. No, no, no. You said it, you explain it."
Keith heaved a sigh and ran his hand through his hair. "You don't think I figured it out? About you and Anne Bishaye? Do you honestly think I'm that stupid?"
It took Dale a moment to find her voice. She had to make sure, when she responded, that she didn't sound too culpable or too blasé. She was certainly not ready to personally confront this issue yet, how was she supposed to meet it head-on with Keith? And if he had 'figured it out', there was not a slim chance in hell that Anne hadn't, especially after the colonel's parting remarks. Calmly, she said, "I can honestly tell you that there is nothing other than professional going on between Colonel Bishaye and me."
"If that's true, which I highly doubt, then it's only a matter of time."
Exasperated but, more than that, curious, Dale looked up at the sky then back at her boyfriend. "Why are you saying this, Keith? Because once again I have to choose my job over you? You knew going into this relationship that my work required me to be away. Is your ego so fragile that rather than just accepting that, you have to accuse me of being in love with someone else?" It was a low blow but Dale was trying to deflect the allegation.
"In love? Who said anything about being in love?" His comeback hit even further below the belt.
"You inferred it, okay?" She argued. "We always go through this, Keith. Every time I'm here and then have to go back. Why make it so personal this time?"
"Because you were supposed to be discharged. That was supposed to be final. At last, I was going to have you full time, all to myself, and then that fucking Anne Bishaye snaps her fingers - as usual - and nothing else matters except pleasing her!"
"I am still under government contract! I have to do it. They could get very nasty with me and force me to go up before another physical evaluation board, who I'm sure, seeing the condition I am in now, would consider me at least fit for reclassification or make me resign. Which means I would owe them money because I didn't fulfill my contract. I was told if I play along, I will get my discharge when this is through. Fifteen weeks and I'm done with it forever."
"Yeah, as told by Anne Bishaye..." he threw in.
"Because I am going to be working for her!" Dale argued, infuriated. "What is it that you'd like me to do? Tell the Army to go fuck themselves and just accept the consequences? I would think you would rather see me as Anne Bishaye's bitch than someone's at Leavenworth." Under the circumstances, that probably isn't the best visual to put in his head, she thought, immediately. Dale closed her eyes, took a deep breath and looked at him again, composing herself. "Fifteen weeks. I promise."
"Don't! Don't you dare make a promise you can't or won't keep! You won't be back in fifteen weeks. You'll get this crap back in your system again and that's all the reason you'll need. Cut you and you'll bleed O.D. green. You will never commit to me because you're already committed to the Goddamn Army...and your precious colonel."
"Commit? Who said anything about commitment? I just said it would be nice to be recognized as your girlfriend, nice to know that you're proud to be my boyfriend. Then you go and create a diversion about Colonel Bishaye and me to take the focus off the real issue. God, Keith, that's just pathetic. Maybe it's good all this came up. We'll save a lot of time not wasting it on each other."
"Wait a minute…! You are not going to turn this around and make this about me. But, you know what, Dale? You're right. It is good all this came up. Nice to know you can give me up so easily." Keith began stomping away, then stopped and turned back toward his now ex-girlfriend. "Fuck you, Dale! Fuck you and your colonel and the broom she rode in on yesterday!"
Dale kept her temper in check, watched him walk away, get into his car and drive off. For the second time in two days, Dale scratched her head, wondering what the hell just happened. Hurricane Anne had swept into town again, rapidly and skillfully destroying anything that threatened to get in the path of her mesmeric control over Dale. Tears filled Dale's eyes as she watched Keith's jeep drive out of her field of vision. It wasn't that she mourned the sudden loss of the relationship; she was very disturbed by the fact that she really didn't care.