Title: Permission To Recover (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
For disclaimers, see Part I, Chapters 1 – 5, Part II, Chapters 1 – 2 for details
Time now seemed to be going so fast, it was hard to believe it was Friday again, although since Shannon faced eight hours of CQ at 2200, she wasn't really in a TGIF sort of mood.
The partners passed Questioning A Witness on the first try. Shannon moved on to the Apprehension class and spent the rest of the day covering the definition of procedures, requirements, resistance of and persons not subject to the UCMJ. Dale ended up in Approaching the Scene of an Incident class that entailed learning how to properly approach an individual, group and building. The class also dealt with how to estimate a situation and how to execute a plan of operation. Those classes lasted until the end of the day.
Dale and Shannon showered and changed and walked to the EC so that Shannon could relax a bit before she had to report to her post in the Orderly Room. Her CQ runner was scheduled to be Chillemi, so she felt that was a good enough reason to knock back a few alcoholic beverages before her shift began.
“Are you sure you don't want me to go back with you and hang around, just in case?” Dale asked, sincerely.
“No, it'll be okay. I have no problem with Chillemi, really. She's got the problem with me. If she can't get over it then there are plenty of ways it can be taken care of. I still don't get it; the other marine women haven't been like her. Navarrette and I worked together in Apprehension this afternoon and she was very pleasant. The others have integrated very well. Chillemi just doesn't want to blend in, especially not with me, even after she's been witness to and victim of my resourcefulness. I can handle her, though. Besides, if you're here babysitting me, who's babysitting the other women?”
“The bad part about that is they are now too spread out for even both of us to cover the territory. I can try to stay centrally located but, at this point, what does that mean?”
“I know. I wonder when Bishaye is going to get back to us about Stubby.”
“I'll call her some time this weekend and see what she wants us to do. If there's a chance on us being able to get out of here, then I want to do what we have to do and be gone ASAP.”
“Roger that. So…what are your plans for the rest of the night?”
Dale shrugged. “I'm not sure. I guess I'll know when I get there. Tomorrow night, though, I will meet you at the Journey Inn. The room is already reserved in our names.”
“Why not go there tonight?”
“I couldn't get a room, they were booked.”
“You could crash with somebody, I'm sure,” Shannon assured her.
“I haven't made up my mind yet.”
Shannon looked at the bar wall clock. “Shit. My time is up.” She stood up and put a five-dollar bill on the counter. “I'll see you tomorrow in Averill, if not sooner.”
Dale ended up in Franklin , which was the next county over from Averill. It was an expensive cab ride but something compelled her to make the trip. She wasn't up to the usual trainee chasing and after the EC started to fill up, she didn't want to stay there and deal with the type of crap she and Shannon had confronted the week earlier. The Pizza Place held no interest for her, nor did hanging around the barracks or partying in Averill.
Without Shannon and on her own for the night, she'd had just enough to drink to give her the courage to check out a place called Gems. She knew about the club because of Sharon Burke and that it was a place with a reputation for being rowdy, fun and discreet. It was a casual drinking and dancing establishment that catered to lesbians and even though one took her chances going there, Gems was not usually frequented by military women since it was so far away from the post. There were two other such women's bars much closer but for her purposes of just being curious, Dale thought the pricey taxi fare was worth the distance.
She entered the crowded bar cautiously, as was her nature regardless of her circumstances. She pretended to search for someone and observed the women as unobtrusively as possible. Much to her relief she saw no familiar faces. Her biggest concern would have been Bradbury, but she knew the Bravo drill sergeant was stuck at her company area for all-night guard duty training. As Dale made her way to the bar to order a beer, she noticed that a majority of the women did look like what she understood to be the stereotypical dyke: short mannish hairstyles, heavyset, men's jeans or slacks, flannel shirts, biker boots. It was as though a certain group had their own uniformed code. The women who didn't suit the cliché looked like they could have fit in anywhere from a farm to the Cloud Club's wives lounge.
It was a busy night, as Fridays were in most bars so she wasn't surprised she couldn't get the cute, boyish bartender's attention right away. She had almost succeeded when she heard a familiar voice behind her, say her last name. She quickly turned to face Jennifer Jane Cassidy.
Oh, fuck, I'm busted, Dale thought. She's a fucking shoofly! I should have known better. Goddamn it all to hell! A shoofly, in this case, was an operative working on behalf of Uncle Sam to try and weed out lesbian and gay soldiers by going to places patronized by homosexuals and catching them there. If the GIs couldn't legitimately explain their way out of it, they could kiss their military days goodbye. Usually after basic training, unless the soldier had a particularly accommodating company commander, there was no “cover” discharge like “Unsuitability.” It was a Bad Conduct offense that usually went hand-in-hand with a General or Dishonorable Discharge. Anything other than an Honorable Discharge meant the individual would have a nearly impossible time securing a decent job in the future.
Dale knew she didn't have to worry because a phone call to Bishaye would (hopefully) sweep this under the rug but it was just her luck, her very first time doing this, she would get caught. Well, Dale thought, I can always play ignorant and see if she buys I had no idea I just walked into a lesbian bar and gee, drill sergeant, while we're on the subject, what are you doing in here?
“It took me a few minutes to recognize you out of uniform,” Cassidy said, in that sexy, husky voice that zipped right to Dale's libido. Cassidy smiled, as her eyes seemed to appreciatively roam over Dale's attire before they rested on her face. “What in the world are you doing in here?”
Dale's mouth lost moisture at the blatant scrutiny. It was most unexpected. Cassidy was really playing up her part. She wanted to be as openly brazen and appraise the drill sergeant in the same manner but that would not help her case any. “I was hoping to get a drink but…” Dale looked at the bartender wistfully as she sped by her once more.
Cassidy studied Dale and tilted her head in a confused manner. “This…um, isn't exactly a usual trainee hangout.” She gestured around the interior as if that should have prompted Dale to look and realization to strike.
Dale looked at Cassidy just as confused. “I don't understand. Is it a drill sergeant hang out?” Jesus Christ, she is too damned gorgeous for words.
“No, no, I think you're missing my point. Look around, Oakes,” she said, slowly. “Notice anything missing in this place?”
Dale made a point of scanning the club. She then looked at Cassidy as innocently as she could. “Style? A disco ball? Sacrificial virgins?”
“No. Men! There are no men here,” Cassidy said, exasperated. Then she looked around again. “And don't be too sure about the sacrificial virgin part,” she muttered, almost too quietly for Dale to hear.
“Oh! Men. Is that a bad thing?”
Cassidy peered at her. “You knew that before you came in here, didn't you?”
There was something about the eagerness in Cassidy's eyes that told Dale she was not trying to warn her as much as she was trying to gauge her. This epiphany sent a flood of relief through the lieutenant and then she was immediately presented with the other hard fact: Cassidy was a lesbian. Her brain repeated that piece of information until it finally clicked.
Oh my God! Cassidy is a lesbian! Or at least bisexual. Dale wanted to dance around the room singing, “Oh Happy Day.” Her horrible luck just changed…or had it? Now, what?
“Uh, yes, actually I did.” Dale admitted, with a mischievous little grin.
Cassidy shook her head and glanced at the floor before she returned her attention to Dale, matching her grin. “Is this your first time here?”
“Yes. Is this yours?” Dale asked.
Cassidy squeezed in and leaned her forearms on the bar. “No. Actually, this is a regular hang out for me. And if you repeat that to anyone, just remember, you'll have to explain just how you know.”
Dale put her right hand up. “They'll have to torture it out of me.”
“Really? And just how difficult would that be?” Cassidy looked at her in a way that Dale could only describe as smoldering.
“Um…uh…listen, if my being here is going to ruin your evening, I can leave…” Dale was prepared for Cassidy to agree to her going and, in a way, almost hoped she told her to leave. The proximity of Cassidy affected her greatly. Dale really needed a drink and searched for the bartender again, who was at the other end of the bar.
Cassidy ignored Dale's suggestion. “How did you know about this place?”
“I'm afraid you'll have to torture that out of me,” Dale said. When Cassidy laughed, Dale lost her breath. She again attempted to get the bartender's attention as she moved by but it seemed like a lost cause. I'm thinking a shot or two of Jack Daniels would be good right about now. Dale cleared her throat. “Can I ask you something, since we're kind of off the record here, anyway?”
“I thought you were with Drill Sergeant Robin.”
“Ted?” Cassidy laughed again. “Boy, that barracks really is rumor central, isn't it?”
“Aren't they all?” Dale asked.
“I suppose. Where did you get that idea?”
“One of the A-10 women saw you in Mobile at a romantic Italian restaurant with him.”
“Ah. I knew we shouldn't have sat at that window table. Ted and I are good friends. We went to drill sergeant school together. We were celebrating my transference into Alpha-10. There is nothing romantic happening between Ted and me, I assure you.”
She assures me. Why is she assuring me? Does she want me to know this for a reason or just to establish her allegiance to the fairer sex? Oh, good Lord, forget the Jack, I need a bottle of Cuervo, all to myself, with the worm. Then Dale's practical, skeptical side kicked in. Don't kid yourself, Dale, she is way out of your league. The only reason she is paying attention to you like this is because she's still trying to evaluate whether or not you can be trusted. Just relax and have a nice time with the stunning sergeant as long as she allows you to.
“I still can't believe someone from my company found this place,” Cassidy repeated and finished the contents of her beer bottle.
“Is that why you hang out here? Because it's so far from McCullough?” Dale asked.
“That and it's convenient to where I live. My apartment is a half-block away. It's a long drive to work but it's worth it to keep my privacy intact.” She looked at Dale. “It will remain intact, right?”
“Like you said, I can't tell on you without telling on myself.” Dale was finally able to ogle Cassidy when the drill sergeant momentarily turned away. Cassidy's hair was long, silky and flowing loosely. The length was halfway down her back, which was a bit longer than Dale had initially guessed. She was dressed in a plaid, cotton shirt tucked into tight blue jeans that accented her perfectly shaped behind and slender waist. She wore cowboy boots as opposed to the motorcycle footwear or earth shoes the other women in the bar seemed to be fond of. When Dale moved her way back up to Cassidy's face, she was met with two seductive, dark brown eyes that, at the very least, were amused. There was something else there, too…a hint of interest, maybe? Was the sizzling attraction Dale felt for this woman next to her reciprocated? Or was that too much to hope for?
Cassidy held Dale's gaze then released it with a shadow of a smile on her face. “You are the last person I expected to see here.”
“And may I say ditto?”
“How's that temper of yours?”
“Fine as long as you don't make me mad,” Dale joked. “Actually being on self-pace helps a lot.” The bartender flew by Dale again, ignoring her. “What do you have to do to get a drink around here? Dance naked on the bar?”
Cassidy leaned closer to Dale's ear and said, “Why don't you try it and we'll see if it works.” Her tone was suggestive and her breath was hot on Dale's skin. While Dale remained speechless and glued to her spot, Cassidy signaled the bartender who stopped and approached her instantly.
“How did you do that?” Dale asked, not sure whether to be impressed or annoyed.
“Hey, Cokie, another one for me and a –“ Cassidy looked at Dale.
“Bud draft,” Dale said.
“A Bud draft for my friend.”
“You got it, J.J.,” the bartender said and left to fill the order.
“I certainly hope you call her Cokie because of her love for cola,” Dale said.
“It's a nickname. Her last name is Cocatello. Where's Walker ?” Cassidy asked, suddenly.
“She's on CQ. And she doesn't know this about me.”
Cassidy nodded in comprehension. “So she's straight.”
“Yes, but hopefully not narrow.”
“Guess you'll never know until you tell her.”
“If I tell her.”
Cokie set a bottle in front of Cassidy and a huge, frosty, beer mug in front of Dale. “On your tab, J.J.?”
“Yes, that and whatever else my friend wants to drink,” Cassidy told her.
“No, you don't have to do that,” Dale said quickly.
“I know that but I'd like to. Relax, will you?” Cassidy looked back at Cokie. “Give us both a shot. Maker's Mark.”
Cokie glanced at Dale for the first time, then smiled at Cassidy. “Coming right up.”
“How do you know I even do shots?” Dale asked.
“Someone as full of hell as you are? It would shock me much more if you didn't.” The bartender handed Cassidy the two shot glasses filled with dark amber liquid. Cassidy gave Dale her glass. “To keeping secrets,” Cassidy toasted. She downed the shot and chased it with her beer.
“Amen,” Dale responded and swallowed her small container of Kentucky bourbon. She expected bitter and strong and, instead got sweet and smooth, with an aftertaste of caramel and molasses. “That's not bad.” She took a sip of her beer. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome. Do you want to try and find a table?”
Dale hesitated. “Do you think that's a good idea? I mean, I appreciate the drinks but doesn't sitting at a table kind of insinuate that we are in here together, as opposed to standing at a bar next to each other?” Dale saw a trace of hurt in Cassidy's expression. “No, I don't mean it like that. I have no problem being in here with you, I'm just concerned that someone from the company might walk in here, see us together, get the wrong impression and get you in trouble.”
Cassidy appeared relieved by Dale's explanation. “I appreciate your concern but, again, anyone who came in here would be here for the same reason we are and –“
“If they tell on us, they tell on themselves,” Dale finished with her.
“Right. Except for you, tonight, I have never run into a female from any of my training companies. Occasionally, I'll see a permanent party soldier that I recognize in here but nothing has ever come of it. Now,” she pointed to a table whose patrons were just leaving, “I've been on my feet all day and I'm tired. Would you like to join me?”
“Yes, I would, thank you.” Dale followed Cassidy to the empty table. Don't do this. Do go any further. Thank her for the beer and the shot and get the hell out of here. Forget how sultry and desirable she is! She's a sergeant, you're a lieutenant and she thinks you're a trainee. All the way around it is fraternizing and you're just asking for trouble. On the other hand, despite what you think you might have felt from her, it befits her to be nice to you. She's got nothing to lose by being friendly and making you feel like a friend so you won't betray her trust on this issue. So why don't you just enjoy her company while she's willing to treat you like a peer? Dale sighed. It was just silly of her to wish for anything more. She couldn't see Cassidy being that careless.
Every individual, couple or group they passed said hi to Cassidy and then eyeballed Dale. The scrutiny made Dale wonder if they thought she was Cassidy's new girlfriend and immediately was envious of any woman who was in the past, currently or would be her girlfriend in the future. As she sat at the table, she took a long drink of her beer and speculated on Cassidy's current status. Did she have a lover? Of course, she had to have at least one. A woman as luscious as Cassidy? There was no way she was alone.
While Dale had been momentarily staring into space and hypothesizing, Cassidy had gone back to the bar and returned with two more shots. “Thank you again, Drill Sergeant,” Dale said as Cassidy sat down.
They clinked glasses together and drank the shots. “You're welcome under one condition. You drop the drill sergeant and call me J.J. Just for tonight.” She saw the skeptical expression on Dale's face. “We can keep this formal if you'd like but I would think having to say ‘drill sergeant' after every sentence has to uncomfortable. Especially this far away from post. The other, more important reason is I don't know everybody in here and you calling me drill sergeant might alert a shoofly.”
“Understood. It's just awkward.”
“It's awkward for me, too, but I'm pretty sure you're not going to run back to the company and spread it around that I bought you a drink or two in a gay bar.”
“You're right.” Dale looked over at her and added, “J.J.”
Cassidy grinned. “Much better, Dale.”
“You know my first name?” Dale was genuinely surprised. Cassidy winked at her, a gesture that caused Dale's heart to race and a blush to crawl up her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “Do you have a girlfriend?” Dale blurted out, then realized how it sounded. “Never mind, it's none of my business.”
“No, that's fine. I've been single about seven months. Do you?” Cassidy asked, her eyebrow arched in curiosity.
“No. Seriously? Someone who looks like you is single?”
“I was thinking the same thing about you.”
Dale flushed again and Cassidy smiled radiantly at her. I am in so much trouble…
Several drafts and a few shots later and both women were quite comfortable and relaxed with each other. They got past the small talk, discussed many varied subjects and, one time, even got into a heated debate about Viet Nam . Just before the bartender announced Last Call, Cassidy took Dale's hand and lightly tugged her to the dance floor. It was a slow song and suddenly Dale was terrified. She knew she should have said goodnight before the evening got to this point but the second she was in Cassidy's arms, she felt helpless to do anything but stay there and savor the sensation.
The song, Close The Door by Teddy Pendergrass, did nothing to deter the intensity of feelings that surged like a current through and between the women. Cassidy pulled Dale as close to her as two bodies could get and moved against her so sensually that Dale thought she might pass out from the sheer bliss of it. She rested her head on Cassidy's shoulder and Cassidy's cheek touched Dale's forehead. When the music stopped and Dale slowly let go of Cassidy, the drill sergeant tightened her grip on the lieutenant. Dale looked up at her in question and was answered with a kiss.
Cassidy bent her head gradually toward Dale's, giving Dale a chance to stop the action but Dale was paralyzed and couldn't have prevented the kiss at that point, under any condition. The drill sergeant didn't close her eyes until her lips were touching Dale's.
There was nothing timid about the action. It was long and tender and thorough. When the women parted, both knew they had definitely been kissed. Without another word, Cassidy grabbed Dale's hand, led her to the rear hallway, backed her against the wall and kissed her again. Dale's body was trapped between Cassidy and the wooden divider that separated the storage room from the bathrooms. Cassidy captured Dale's lips in another passionate kiss. As their mouths and tongues pressed and played against each other, Dale prayed the kiss would never end. She had never melted into a kiss before, not even with Bishaye, and the feeling was devilishly divine.
Making out with Cassidy was different than kissing Bishaye. It was hard to explain, other than to say the incidents with Bishaye felt almost desperate as opposed to the pure desire she detected from Cassidy. Time seemed to stand still as they stood in that one place, explored each other's mouths and stirred themselves into a sexual frenzy. It wasn't until the sound of a throat clearing behind them brought them to consciousness of the real world around them.
“J.J.? Sorry to disturb you but we have to lock the doors.” It was Cokie, the bartender, who spoke.
“Right.” Cassidy rested her chin against Dale's forehead. “Can you give me a minute?”
“Sure.” Cokie walked to the storage room and left them alone.
“Come home with me.” It wasn't a question, it wasn't a demand, it was a simple statement that Cassidy put to Dale. She stroked the side of Dale's face and lifted Dale's chin to give her a quick kiss.
Every ounce of inherent prudence that should have screamed ‘No!' fled Dale's system the second Dale looked into Cassidy's revealing eyes. Dale's body's needs double-crossed her common sense. “Yes. I'd like that,” she whispered to the enticing beauty in her embrace.
Dale did not remember much about the short walk to Cassidy's apartment, other than the binding hand-holding. Neither spoke and Dale thought that was for fear that either might change her mind before they reached their destination.
Once Cassidy shut and locked the door, she reached for the light switch but Dale's hand grabbed her wrist and stopped her. “Please, don't.” She brought Cassidy's fingers to her lips and kissed them.
“You like the dark. I don't blame you, so do I.” She brought Dale to her and kissed her deeply.
Dale reluctantly broke the kiss and sighed. “I shouldn't be here,” she said, quietly.
Cassidy locked her hands together behind Dale's back. They began to sway, like they were moving to a leisurely waltz. “I know. It's not too late. Do you want to call a cab?”
“I should. Do I want to?” She looked up into Cassidy's eyes, making sure Cassidy understood her intent. “No, I don't.”
Cassidy smiled, relieved. “Good.” She kissed Dale again and guided her backward, into the bedroom. “How is it you haven't picked yourself a little playmate while you've been here?”
“How do you know I haven't?” Dale asked, slyly.
Cassidy let her go while she removed her jacket. “Do you think this is the first time I've seen you? I watch you constantly. I know you haven't paired off with anyone except Walker and I know she has.” She helped Dale off with her coat.
“You watch me?”
Cassidy smiled. “Ever since I laid eyes on you that first time in the WAC dining hall.”
“You remember that?” Dale was shocked.
“I couldn't get you out of my mind. When Ted told me about the vacancy in the company, I knew I had to try for it.”
“You…you came to A-10 because of me?” Dale blinked in astonishment.
Cassidy steered Dale onto the bed and joined her. She propped herself up on her elbow. “Yeah. You affected me that much.”
“What made you think I was a lesbian?”
“I didn't think you were but I'm a hopeless romantic and wanted to look at you every day.”
“Wow.” Dale sincerely couldn't believe someone as tantalizing and physically perfect as Cassidy would be that attracted to her. But here she was, lying on Cassidy's bed with her, soon to be engaging in the most intimate act two people could share. Then a different thought crossed her mind. She was careful in the tone she used to ask the next question. “You sure you didn't secretly have a crush on Lieutenant Henning and that's why you wanted Alpha-10?”
“Henning?” Cassidy appeared sincerely surprised by the question and not evasive in the least. “No. She's cute, don't get me wrong, but she's very straight and even if she wasn't, she's not my type.”
“I'm your type?” Dale was flattered.
Cassidy gestured to the bed they were face to face on. “Evidently.” She placed herself on top of Dale and kissed her breathless again.
“J.J., I have to tell you something…”
Cassidy was busy kissing Dale's neck and nipping at her earlobe. “What's that?”
“It's a little embarrassing…but…I've never, well…tonight was my first time, ever, at a lesbian bar.”
Cassidy stopped nuzzling the nape of her neck, raised her head and studied Dale's expression. “Oooo-kay? And – what are you saying? First time ever with a lesbian, too?”
Dale nodded, not sure what to say next. She was sure she could have made moves up as she went along but she was scared shitless and felt that Cassidy should know the truth.
“Am I just an experiment?”
“No. I've suspected for a long time that this is my orientation and you can prove to me what I've known all along.”
“And what's that?”
“That sex with you will be so much more satisfying than I've previously experienced.” Dale smiled at her.
Cassidy smiled back. “That's a lot to live up to.”
“Somehow I don't think you'll have a problem.” Dale gasped as Cassidy dipped her tongue into the hollow of Dale's neck. “So, I guess you're okay with this?”
Cassidy began to unbutton Dale's denim shirt, kissing bare skin as she proceeded. “What do you think?”
The pleasure in the undivided attention Cassidy gave Dale's body as she undressed her had already demonstrated Dale's theory. No man had ever produced the exciting, shivering effect in her Cassidy had and this was only foreplay.
Her experience with men was always more of a means to an end. She was hot and bothered, she needed release and she wanted to share it with another person. The men she knew were always willing, including Keith. Sex with him was always comfortable and fun but never fulfilling. Dale had been with more men than she wanted to admit to and not one of them had ever, truly satisfied her sexually. There were a few clumsy attempts at oral sex but none of her partners were ever really fond of the act and always stopped before Dale could get there. She had always believed that she was the one with the problem and that maybe her expectations were too high in the sexual arena.
Yet here she was with J.J. Cassidy who had done nothing more than kiss her bare skin – no probing, no stroking, no sucking, just the touching of lips to flesh and Dale was so aroused, she could barely breathe. She had never felt as though every nerve ending in her body was on high alert.
Cassidy undressed herself as Dale watched. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the bedroom so seeing her was not an issue. The differences in their bodies were noticeable; Dale was light complexioned and Cassidy's tone was olive, Dale's build was trim and athletic and Cassidy's was slender but sinewy, Dale's breasts were full with pink nipples while Cassidy's were small with brown nipples, etc. It's not like Dale had never seen another woman's body before, but never one that elicited a fire in her like Cassidy's did.
When Cassidy joined her on the bed again, she covered them in a puffy quilt. It felt nice for a moment but Dale knew within minutes, they'd be kicking it away as they'd generate their own heat. She kissed Dale passionately and moved down her body to concentrate on Dale's breasts. The solicitous reverence with which she treated them was unlike anything Dale had ever been exposed to. Who knew that kind of attention would cause her nipples to be so sensitive? Cassidy suckled, licked and nipped her to the edge of madness and then moved south. If Dale had been able to speak, she would have cursed soundly at her.
Dale was more than ready for Cassidy to settle between her legs. She anticipated this experience by not only someone who knew what she was doing but enjoyed it, as well. Dale was not disappointed.
The fact that her body was already in a heightened state of arousal didn't hurt and the sensations that blazed through her, especially in her lower anatomy led to the most powerful orgasm she could ever remember having. Cassidy didn't stop her ministrations while Dale climaxed and whatever magic Cassidy created with her tongue brought Dale right back to gratification. Dale looked down at the woman pleasuring her and watched her as she proceeded to feast. When Cassidy opened her eyes and looked up at Dale while she continued to indulge her, Cassidy's wanton expression propelled Dale over the edge again.
Dale was convinced at that point that Cassidy must have sucked all the moisture out of her body. She felt weak and spent. Yet when Cassidy inserted a finger and then added another, there was no dryness anywhere if the sound from down there was any indication. Cassidy slid back up Dale's body and maintained a rhythmic thrust with her hand. She straddled Dale's thigh and rocked her body to match the cadence of her fingers. Cassidy's center was hot and she was dripping wet, a realization that turned Dale on even more than she thought was humanly possible.
The friction was deliciously feverish and less than a minute after Dale crested, Cassidy matched her fervor and cried out Dale's name in ecstasy. She took Dale's hand and brought it to her center while panting, “Go inside me, Dale. Go inside.” She guided Dale's fingers to her need and slid them in. Cassidy rode them to a second climax then collapsed on top of Dale, trying to catch her breath.
Dale didn't mention that her fingers were still inside Cassidy as she was sure she knew. With her free hand, Dale stroked Cassidy's back as Cassidy's respiration returned to normal. “That was amazing,” Dale said, the awe clear in her voice.
Cassidy chuckled. “Yeah? Which part?”
“All of it but especially being inside you.”
Cassidy brushed her sweaty hair away from their faces and she answered Dale with a searing kiss. “You're amazing,” Cassidy told her.
Dale suddenly felt like weeping. First, Cassidy had given Dale her first honest-to-God vaginal orgasm and second, Cassidy made love to her like she meant it. That was also an alien experience for her and it touched her. She pulled Cassidy down for another torrid kiss then said, “Tell me what to do to please you.”
The heavy drapes kept the bedroom dark but when Dale awoke, she instinctively knew it was light outside. She guessed it to be late afternoon. She felt disoriented and slightly hungover. Her eyes finally focused and she tried to get her bearings and recall where she was. She was naked and her entire body ached. She started to turn over to see whose tanned arm was draped over her middle and in mid-turn, she remembered.
She looked at the sleeping form to confirm her fears. Her head fell back on the pillow and she stared at the ceiling. Bishaye is going to have my head. And well she should. I've probably just blown the impartiality of the whole case.
Dale gently took Cassidy's hand and tried to move her arm without disturbing her. She had almost accomplished that feat when Cassidy stirred, then awoke. Cassidy seemed to be a lot more enthusiastic about Dale's presence in her bed than Dale was. If only I could have met you under different circumstances, Dale thought.
“Morning,” Cassidy said. Her voice was raspier and definitely sexier than usual. She interlaced her fingers with Dale's and placed a lingering kiss on Dale's temple.
“Afternoon, you mean,” Dale said, quietly. “Do you mind if I take a shower?”
Dale's demeanor was restrained, much different than the night before and Cassidy noticed. “No, of course I don't mind. Clean towels are in the closet by the bathroom door.”
“Thanks.” Dale attempted to rise but Cassidy pulled her back down.
“Do you have to run into the shower right now?”
Dale glanced at the alarm clock on Cassidy's nightstand, then looked at the disheveled woman whose bed she shared. Even first thing in the morning Cassidy was a stunner. “Um…yeah…I have to meet some friends in a couple hours.”
“Can't you call them and cancel?” Cassidy sounded calm but almost wounded.
Dale avoided her gaze. “No. I wish I could.”
“Dale? Hey, please look at me,” Cassidy requested, softly. When Dale's eyes met hers, she said, “What's going on? Are you okay?”
“I'm not sure.”
Cassidy sat up and leaned her back against the headboard. “Is it our situation?”
Dale nodded and looked down at the sheet that covered her, avoiding Cassidy's bare breasts.
“I would love to tell you that we didn't do anything wrong but, according to regulations, we did. On more levels than just the glaring one. Do I feel like we did anything wrong? No. In fact, nothing has felt this right for me in a very long time. It's not that I needed you, Dale, I wanted you and have from about the very first time I saw you. I don't want you to leave here thinking it was anything else, okay? If all I'd wanted was a quick fuck, I could have gotten that anywhere. I wanted to be with you, Dale, and it was fate that you walked into Gems last night. And I know you felt something for me. It was obvious.” She studied Dale and her voice broke into a whisper. “Please tell me you felt something for me.”
“I did. I do…but…it never should have happened, J.J. You're my drill sergeant! It's unethical.”
“You're almost out of here,” Cassidy protested. “You're already on self-pace. I really have no influence on you anymore, other than you possibly having to corral you in occasionally. You're not in my platoon. Dale –“
“If we get found out, no one else will look at this like you are.”
“If we don't say anything to anyone, no one will know.”
“We'll know.” Dale wanted to kick herself for this. There was no way she would be able to keep this to herself. If Cassidy only knew…
Cassidy watched Dale trying to process the events of last night. “Come on, I wasn't that bad was I?” Cassidy's smile was impish and it coaxed a smile out of Dale.
“Bad? Uh, no. I can think of a lot of words to describe last night and ‘bad' isn't anywhere close to any of them.”
Cassidy arched an eyebrow. “Want to do it again?”
Dale looked at her for any hint of kidding in her expression. “Jesus, no! I'm raw as a radish now. We had continuous sex for nearly four hours, how can you even sit comfortably?” She laughed as she spoke.
“Because I can't get enough of you and if this is the only time I'm going to have with you, I want to make the most of it.” Cassidy reached over and took hold of Dale's wrist. To her amazement and delight, Dale didn't resist.
She pulled Dale on top of her and brought their lips together for a kiss. “Sorry,” Dale said, “for the morning mouth.”
“Me, too. In a moment, it will be the least of our worries.” The promise in Cassidy's voice mixed with the touch of her hands all over Dale's body electrified her again.
“You're hard to resist, you know that?” Dale said. “Could you be a little gentle on the lower half? I'm going to have trouble walking as it is.”
“Good. If I had my way, you'd be on permanent bed rest.”
Dale allowed Cassidy to start stroking her, feeling a radiating tingle in her groin almost immediately. She was sober now and she knew the consequences of her actions. She couldn't use intoxication as an excuse. As Cassidy sealed her lips around an overly responsive nipple, Dale cast aside any lingering guilt.
Over coffee, Cassidy offered to drive Dale into town but she declined. She needed time alone, to think. She called a cab and while she waited at the window, Cassidy silently stood behind her with her arms wrapped around Dale's waist. When the taxi pulled up, Cassidy turned Dale around and kissed her goodbye with such feeling behind it, Dale's knees nearly buckled. It was not just hormones and physical attraction that drew her to Cassidy, it was her emotions, as well. It was as if all her senses were trying to tell her something about this woman – something she really wanted and needed to hear but protocol wouldn't allow her to accept.
She sat in the back of the cab and silently wept, tears streaming down her face all the way into Averill. On her instruction, the driver dropped her at the first bar they came to, where she stayed for the next hour and drank straight shots of Southern Comfort.
Shannon was a pacer by nature. She had always been one and chances were she would never stop being one. When Dale hadn't shown up and was now three hours late, Shannon was wearing a path in the carpeted room and with good reason. Dale was many things, but inconsiderate was not one of them. If she were all right, she would have phoned to let Shannon know. Something was wrong. Dale hadn't returned to the barracks last night and no one at the Inn had seen her. She wasn't at the EC, the Pizza Place or any of the other frequented hangouts. None of the people she socialized with, when Shannon wasn't available, had been with her. It was as though she'd disappeared off the face of the earth. If she didn't show up in another hour, Shannon was going to have to contact Bishaye, which was not an appealing thought, especially if Dale hadn't shown up at Bishaye's, either. Still concerned, Shannon called McCullough yet again.
“Alpha Company, Tenth Battalion, Private Almstead speaking, may I help you, Sir?”
“Lex, it's Walker .”
“No, Walker , she hasn't showed up yet.”
“Has anybody seen her?”
“York and that guy she's dating said they thought they saw her getting out of a cab in town a couple of hours ago but they weren't positive,” Almstead said.
There was a knock on the door. “Somebody's here. I'll talk to you later,” Shannon said.
“Maybe it's her. If not and she shows up here, I'll have her call you.”
“Thanks.” Shannon hung up the phone and walked over to the door. “Who is it?”
“Shhmeee,” a familiar sounding voice slurred.
Shannon slammed the locks back, opened the door and Dale stumbled into the room. Shannon gaped and said, “You're drunk!”
“So am I,” Dale said, barely coherent. She tried to focus on Shannon . “Stand still, would ya?” After three attempts, Dale's hand found the wall. “God help me, I've got the whirlies.”
Shannon slammed the door shut. She was so angry she could hardly speak. “I'll kill you, Dale, you shit!” She grabbed her inebriated buddy and walked her into the bathroom where she pushed Dale into the shower and turned on the cold water full blast. Shannon shut the shower door and leaned against it, holding Dale hostage. Shannon folded her arms angrily across her chest and started to yell unflattering things at Dale in a very un-ladylike tone of voice. She ended her tirade with, “We're supposed to be doing a job here. While I'm frantic thinking you've been butchered and used to fertilize someone's garden, you're out getting totally shitfaced! How could you do this to me? This was so irresponsible. You could have at least called me to let me know you were okay or invited me to join you. God, I am so pissed at you right now! I'm your partner, for Christ's sake! If I can't depend on you to even let me know where you are –“
“All right, all right already! Okay! You're right,” Dale managed to say, intelligibly. “I was wrong, okay? I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I am sorry. Now would you please let me in? It's raining like a bitch out here!”
Shannon shook her head and walked away from the shower door. “Wrinkle, Goddamn it.”
“Shan? Shannon ? Well, shit.”
Dale slowly became aware of her surroundings and realized she was not outside during one of Alabama 's monsoons and, instead, in a shower where she could control the water temperature. She finally was able to adjust the hot water and regulated the degree of heat.
When the water warmed up, Dale removed her wet clothes and began to slowly sober up as the hot water opened her pores and helped steam the toxins out. Thirty minutes later, she stepped out of the stall, stuck her finger down her throat and threw up whatever liquor was still rolling around in her stomach. She scooped some cold faucet water into her mouth, rinsed it around and spit it out, the taste of vomit going with it. She dried off with a towel and cracked the door open. “Do you have a robe I can borrow?”
Shannon brought Dale a terrycloth robe. Dale accepted it and put it on. She mumbled a ‘thank you' to Shannon and bowed her head.
“Are you okay?” Shannon 's voice was minus the agitation it held an hour before.
“No. Not really.” Dale sounded vulnerable and that made Shannon all the more curious.
Shannon reached out, took hold of Dale's sleeve and led her out of the bathroom. They both sat on one of the double beds. “What happened?”
It took Dale a minute to speak. She was at a loss but she knew she had to tell Shannon because Shannon had to help her figure out what to do. “I think I may have done something damaging to the objectivity of our case.”
“What do you think you did?” Shannon literally held her breath.
“I…uh…I spent last night with a drill sergeant.”
Shannon tried to cover her obvious shock but her tone was panicky. “Spent, as in slept with?”
“One of our drill sergeants?” At Dale's nod, Shannon said, “Which one? Who was it? It was Holmquist, wasn't it? I knew it! I knew –“
“No. It wasn't Holmquist.”
Shannon was stumped. “It wasn't Holmquist? Then which one?”
Shannon looked at Dale as if she hadn't heard her correctly. “What? Cassidy? Cassidy? Dale, Cassidy is a woman.”
“Yeah…I noticed that…when I was in bed, naked, with her.”
Shannon still looked perplexed. “You had sex with a woman?”
“Not just any woman. Drill Sergeant Cassidy.” Dale reiterated. The visual of their lovemaking replayed in Dale's head.
Shannon saw the smirk form on Dale's face and swatted her. “Cassidy is supposed to be having an affair with Robin.”
“Don't believe everything you see. They're just friends.”
“I can't believe this. You're a dyke?”
Dale immediately wanted to recoil and protest Shannon's words and get defensive like she would have six months ago but six months ago, Dale wasn't as conscious of her inclinations as she was now. “I have discovered that I am more attracted to women than I am to men,” Dale confessed.
“Since a while, I think.”
“You think?” Shannon was still gaping at her. “Dale, how could you not tell me?”
“I wasn't positive about myself. I didn't want to say anything until I was sure. If nothing else, last night made me sure.”
“Last night was your first time with a woman?”
“So you've never…you know…with Bishaye?”
“No. I have a wild crush on her but that's all. Why would you ask that?”
“That would explain the strange tension between you two. Does she know you have a crush on her?”
“Unfortunately, she does.”
“So she knows you're a dyke?”
“No. And could you stop calling me that?” Dale asked.
“Why? It's not like this will be the only time you'll be called that. You'd better get used to it. Now, you want to tell me how you ended up with Cassidy last night?”
Dale couldn't read Shannon 's expression. Her tone still sounded somewhat appalled but Dale couldn't tell if it was from shock that Dale may have blown the case or disgust from Dale sleeping with Cassidy. “I took a taxi to Franklin last night after I left the EC.”
“ Franklin ! Jesus, Dale, that's over an hour away. And then what? You just happen to walk into a bar in Franklin and coincidently met up with Cassidy?”
“Actually? Yes. I knew of a particular bar and since I was alone, I went in. I didn't see Cassidy but she saw me.”
“A particular bar? You mean a gay bar?”
“How did you know about this place?”
“I'd heard about it a long time ago. I looked in the phone book to see if it was still listed and when I saw it was, I decided to go. Just to see what it was like. I never thought I'd run into anyone I knew…especially not Cassidy.”
“Yeah, I bet that was a shock. So let's get to the bigger shock: how did you end up in bed with her?”
“Like I said, she recognized me. We chatted a little bit; I think we both wanted to make sure that neither of us were there to cause any problems.”
“You know what a shoofly is, don't you Shan?”
“An undercover snitch.”
“Pretty much. So when we both decided the other was safe, she bought me a beer and a shot.”
“Why didn't you refuse her?”
“It was just a beer and a shot,” Dale repeated. “I asked her if I should leave and she ignored the question. Then we just started to talk. We sat at a table and we drank more and talked more and…we danced. Then…we kissed. She asked me to come home with her and…I did.”
“Jesus, Dale! You should have left if you were feeling that vulnerable.”
Dale shot a sharp look at Shannon . “Why? Because she's a woman? Would you be saying the same thing if it had been Holmquist? Weren't you the one who just said to me I needed to get laid?”
“Yes, but –“
“But what? It doesn't count if it's another woman?” Dale was livid. “It counted for me! I felt – I feel something for her. It wasn't just sex. I apologize if she wasn't who you would have picked for me.”
Shannon stood up and started to pace. “This is not about that. Dale, I have nothing against gays and don't turn this into that. I am upset because you didn't tell me about you and what you were feeling. I thought you trusted me!”
“I do trust you, Shan.”
“Really? Then why, when I teased you about Buckman and that sergeant at the EC, didn't you say something then? When you said you were waiting for something special, you weren't kidding.”
“So, what you're saying is that you're not mad that I'm a lesbian, you're mad because you think I didn't trust you enough to tell you.”
“It doesn't bother you in the least that I had sex with a woman?”
Shannon hesitated. “I just need to get used to the idea.” She stopped and looked at Dale. “Your first time, huh? You could have done a hell of a lot worse than Cassidy. I'm not gay and even I think she's gorgeous.” She sat down next to Dale again. “I never, not in a million years, guessed that she's a lesbian.”
“You didn't suspect me, either.”
“True but I know you. Well, I thought I did.”
“You still know me, Shannon. I'm the exact same person I was before you found out. The only thing that has changed is your knowledge of my orientation. It wasn't about not trusting you…I just needed to be sure about myself before I said anything and, frankly, I wasn't exactly sure about where you stood on the issue. We've never really talked about it and I needed to make sure that you weren't one of those people who would suddenly hate me because of who choose to share my bed with.”
Shannon nodded. “Too bad she has to be one of our drill sergeants, huh?”
“Did you get drunk today because you slept with a woman?”
“No. I got drunk because I slept with a drill sergeant and I realize all the negative consequences that could come with that. With that one decision, I could have blown this whole case.”
“Further proof that guys aren't the only ones guilty of thinking with their lower anatomy. Do you think she has anything to do with the case?” Shannon asked.
“I don't think so.”
“You don't think so or you don't want her to be?”
“Both. My gut tells me that she's not involved but she told me that she transferred to the company because of me.”
“What does that mean?”
“When we first got here in November, I got nailed in WacVille for staring at a drill sergeant. It was her. She was such a fox that I was mesmerized. She said she couldn't stop thinking about me and when Robin told her there would be a vacancy at A-10, she put in for it. With Robin's help, she got it.”
“You know what that sounds like to me? Like she targeted you.”
“It does but Shannon , that would mean that she knew who I was and what I was doing here and I didn't get that from her. The only way she would have access to that information would be through Bishaye or Henning.”
“Or Colton .”
“Well, we know Bishaye wouldn't plant Cassidy and Colton is too much of an idiot and we're not sure what is going on with Henning. I'm sorry but I really don't believe she is a part of it.”
“ Shannon , I know how it looks but I did ask questions and I didn't get any feeling whatsoever from her that she had anything to do with this.”
“You interrogated her in bed?”
“No, of course not. I joked around about her really wanting to be in our company because Henning was such a cutie and she said Henning was straight and not her type. I brought up the fact that according to rumors, other A-10 drill sergeants had fried for what we were doing. She told me she wasn't sure what was going on with that. I asked her why she would take the risk with me and she told me that I was different and that she had wanted me from the moment she saw me.”
“Dale, I can see how that would flatter the hell right out of you but if you listen to that from my point of view? It doesn't sound good.”
“We talked for a long time at the bar. It wasn't like ‘Can I buy you a drink, let's fuck,' okay? And, remember, she had no idea I was going to walk into that bar because I didn't even know I was going there until I got into the cab. Neither of us could have known the other one was a lesbian before last night. It wasn't planned and if she was one of the bad guys and knew who I was, she would have certainly targeted me in a different setting before last night.”
“That does make sense.” Shannon took a deep breath and blew it out. “What about the case now?”
“I think we stay on track and just play it through to the end. We're looking for set-up trainees, not drill sergeants, yes?”
“That was before we knew that it has something to do with Henning. And how do you know you're not the only trainee Cassidy has messed around with?”
“I…I don't know that.” The sudden thought devastated her. “I don't think a drill sergeant with a reputation would have been allowed anywhere near Alpha-10.”
“Doesn't it make you wonder now about the other women who pressed charges? Maybe they were as vulnerable as you and couldn't handle it when it was over and pressed charges.”
“The reports didn't read that way and Stuart wouldn't have willingly slept with a male drill sergeant and…Jesus, Shannon , don't do this.”
“I have to play the devil's advocate, Dale, because you're a little biased now. This is our sixteenth week here and nothing has happened except for the bite with Henning and now your situation. As far as we know, no one has gone anywhere near Henning and we've kept a pretty good eye on the other women. The only one we haven't felt the need to check on is Michaelson because we know where she is and why and she doesn't go near the drill sergeants or Henning.”
“I know. Honestly, Shan, if I had any suspicious feelings about Cassidy, I would have gotten out of the bar. I think she's okay and I think what happened last night was sincere.”
Shannon sat in silence for a moment. “I hope so, for your sake.” She put her hand on Dale's shoulder. “And now for the most important question of all. How was she?”
Dale's blush and smile told Shannon a lot. “Why is that so important?”
“I want to make sure all the anguish you're going through is worth it.”
“She was incredible. The best sex I've ever had.”
“Really? The best?”
“Without question. And no, I am not going into details.”
“Don't want them. Are you going to see her again? Romantically, I mean?”
“No. I made that very clear.”
“Does she want to see you again?”
“Man, that's going to be difficult, isn't it? You still have to see her professionally and take orders from her and –“
“We agreed it won't be a problem.”
“Let's hope not. Now, what are you going to tell Bishaye?”
“Why do I have to tell her anything?” Dale immediately became flustered.
“Dale, you have to tell her. If Cassidy is involved in this in any way –“
“ If she is, Bishaye needs to look into her background. You have to give her a head's up. I don't want us to have gone through this to be screwed in the end by someone who screwed you, all puns intended.”
“But that will kill Cassidy's military career, either way.”
“Look, Bishaye's your friend, right? If Cassidy is innocent, talk Bishaye out of bringing her up on charges. It's not like Cassidy is the only lesbo drill sergeant. If Bradbury can get away with her shenanigans, Cassidy should be fine.” Shannon noticed the funny look on Dale's face. “What's the matter?”
Dale took off for the bathroom. “I'm going to throw up again.”
“Is that because of the liquor or because you have to tell this to Bishaye?” Shannon yelled after her.
Dale rested the remainder of the evening while Shannon partied with some other members of the company in town. Dale couldn't get Cassidy out of her mind; the way she looked, her expressions while they made love, her scent, her feel, her taste. When she woke up the next morning, she wasn't sure if it had really happened or if she'd dreamt it. When Shannon reminded her that she needed to tell Bishaye, Dale remembered sex with the impressive Staff-Sergeant Cassidy was a reality. And, so would be getting her ass chewed out by Bishaye.
After the two lieutenants went out for coffee, they returned to the room and Shannon began to bug Dale about calling their boss. Dale procrastinated and watched cartoons until Shannon turned off the television. “ Now , Dale, before we check out of the motel and leave Averill.”
Dale picked up the phone, hovered her finger over the O and then hung up. She picked up the receiver again and dialed the motel operator. She was connected to an outside line and dialed Bishaye's number. As the phone began to ring on the other end, Dale looked up at Shannon and mumbled, “I don't think she's home.”
“How many times has it rung?”
Shannon gave Dale a tolerant stare. “You want to give her a chance to get to the phone?”
“It's a small house, she would have answered by – Hi, Anne, it's Dale.” Dale's expression was, at the least, apprehensive. The look on Shannon's face told Dale that Shannon wouldn't have traded places with Dale for any amount of money.
“Well, it if isn't my favorite lieutenant,” Bishaye said, jovially.
“You're in a good mood,” Dale commented and knew that would be short-lived.
“Any reason I shouldn't be?” Bishaye asked.
Dale ignored the question. “Anything on the lead we gave you?”
“Not yet. Why? Do you have something more for me?”
“No, we've been waiting on you.”
After an awkward momentary silence, Bishaye asked, “What's going on, Dale?”
Dale swallowed hard and closed her eyes. “I need to see you. Today, if possible. I need to talk to you about something.”
“Sounds urgent. Is it the case?”
Anne sighed. “Is it you and me personal or something else? Because if it's about you and me –“
“It's something else.”
“Can you give me a hint?”
“I'd rather not. I really should discuss this with you in person.”
“Can you come here?”
“No. Can we find a halfway point?” Dale definitely wanted a public and neutral location where she knew Bishaye would be hesitant to cause a scene.
“We are not going to the Cloud Club again.”
“It's the perfect place, Anne. We won't run into anyone we know there.”
“All right. But it better be worth it this time and not something you could have told me over the phone in one sentence.” The annoyance left Bishaye's tone, “Are you okay?”
“I am right now,” Dale said, unconvincingly.
“This doesn't sound good.”
“Cloud Club in thirty minutes?” Dale asked.
“I'll be there before then. I'll leave your name at the door.”
Dale hung up the phone and looked at Shannon . “Please kill me now.”
“Hey, they're supposed to have excellent food there. The least she can do is buy you a last meal,” Shannon said.
Dale entered the lounge after being cleared at the front door. She spotted Bishaye at a booth in the corner and made her way there. The women seated at the bar and at the tables paid no attention to the undercover lieutenant as she passed and, as expected, she recognized no one.
“Hi,” Bishaye said, the interest clear in her voice. She waited until Dale sat down opposite her before she said, “I took the liberty of ordering you a beer. I got the impression you needed one.”
“Thanks.” Dale folded her hands on the table like an obedient schoolgirl.
Bishaye scanned Dale's face before speaking again. She sounded concerned. “Okay. Out with it. What happened?”
The waitress appeared at the table with a bottle of beer for Dale and a half-carafe of wine and a glass for Bishaye. “Menus?” she asked.
Bishaye looked at Dale in question. When Dale shook her head, Bishaye smiled at their server. “Not yet. Can you check back when the drinks are gone?”
When she was gone, Bishaye reached over and patted Dale's hand. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
“Can I? Really?” Dale looked into her eyes, knowing how easy this was not going to be.
“I certainly hope so.” Bishaye poured the wine in her glass and set the carafe back down.
Dale took a long swallow of her beer. “I think you're most likely going to make more of this than you should. I want you to keep in mind that I'm telling you this as a friend, okay? Not as employee to boss or as it relates to the case. This is a private conversation between Dale and Anne.”
“I don't like the way this is beginning. Why do I feel this is about the case?” Bishaye's eyes didn't leave Dale's face. When Dale finished her beer in four more swallows, Bishaye chuckled. “My, aren't we thirsty? I should have known better than to have had anything less than a keg at the table waiting for you. Do you want another one?” She didn't wait for Dale to answer. “What am I saying? Of course you want another one.” She signaled the waitress and pointed to Dale's bottle. When Dale had a fresh beer in her hand and they were alone again, Bishaye said, “Don't drink too much of that. I want you to remember the reason you dragged me here. Again.”
“Don't worry. I won't get drunk. That's what got me into this mess in the first place.”
“And what…mess…is that?” Bishaye asked cautiously.
When Dale finally spoke, she looked everywhere but at Bishaye. “I…uh…I…slept…with one of my drill sergeants two nights ago.”
“What did you say?” Bishaye clipped off every word. There was no doubt she'd heard what Dale said. She leaned over the table.
“You heard me.” Dale still could not look at her.
“Who was it?” Bishaye didn't yell. Her voice was controlled and that made Dale happy she had insisted on meeting in a public place.
“Let's wait on that,” Dale said, “until you calm down.”
“Calm down? This is the calmest I've ever been when I've been furious. Why should I be upset? I call in several favors to arrange to get you and your partner on this case, promising everyone I asked that you are the best person for the job, that you can be implicitly trusted. I get you here to specifically find out why these women are lying about having sex with their drill sergeants and what do you do, of all thing? Have sex with your drill sergeant! When I said undercover work, I didn't think you'd take me quite so literally. Just what, exactly, is your fucking problem, Dale?”
When Bishaye said the word ‘fuck,' it was never a good sign. In fact, in recent years, most of the situations where Bishaye resorted to a salty vocabulary were usually incidents where Dale was directly involved. “I don't have a problem,” Dale said, quietly, “and would you please calm down?”
Bishaye took several deep breaths and tried to collect herself. “Just tell me what happened, how about if we start with that?” When Dale didn't answer right away, Bishaye took a sip of wine and then anxiously asked, “What aren't you telling me? Did something…bad…happen?”
Dale finally made eye contact with her. “Yes. I slept with a drill sergeant.”
“Yes, you said that. What I meant was, did he force you?”
Dale noticed the word ‘he' in her question. Of course Bishaye would think ‘he'. She was sure as far as Bishaye was concerned, she was the only female Dale had feelings for. This confession just got harder. “No, I was not forced. It was mutual.”
“Mutual?” The alarm in her voice disappeared and the irritation returned. “How the hell did this happen?”
“It wasn't planned. It just, you know, happened.” Dale took a drink of her beer.
“No, I don't know. Explain it to me.”
“Do you believe in fate?” Dale asked.
“I believe yours will be negative in about another minute if you don't stop leading me in circles and tell me what happened. Circumstances and the conditions shouldn't have been that right, despite the alcohol I'm assuming was involved. You're supposed to be a trainee. He's a drill sergeant. Does anything about that scenario ring a bell?”
“If we had not met up, by accident,” Dale emphasized, “at this particular place, it never would have happened. That's the truth. This person is a good drill sergeant, Anne. Strictly a professional when on duty. No flirting, no innuendo, no unmilitary-like behavior.”
“You're protecting him.” It was an accusation.
“Only from you. And it's not a him.” Dale held her breath.
Bishaye sat back and looked as though she'd just been slapped. “You had sex with Sergeant Cassidy?”
“Yes.” She was surprised that Bishaye looked almost… hurt .
“Did you do it just to get back at me?” Bishaye's voice was barely audible.
“I know it will shock you to discover that my world doesn't revolve around you. This had nothing to do with you.”
“Oh, but it does, Dale. Do you realize the position you have just put me in?”
“I hope the position of having knowledge of my indiscretion and keeping it to yourself. Other than the obvious, we didn't do anything wrong.”
“It's the obvious that worries me. You've just served me up her career on two counts. I have her for fraternization and homosexuality.”
“Then you'll have to get rid of me, too. On the same two counts.” Dale glared at her defiantly.
Bishaye studied Dale. “Do you…Are you saying that you have feelings for her?”
“When did this little affair start anyway?” Bishaye folded her arms across her chest.
“It's not an affair. It happened once and it won't happen again. It's because I do have feelings for her that I won't let it happen again. She's not a sleaze, Anne. This is the first time she's ever been involved with a trainee.”
“To your knowledge.”
“I believe her.”
“That's your libido talking,” Bishaye snapped.
“No. What happened between us has nothing to do with the case. We were just two people who got caught up in a moment.”
“Two consenting adults.”
“How many other women have you been caught up in a moment with?”
“Just her.” Dale sat back and played with the label on her beer bottle. “Are you upset because you weren't my first?”
Bishaye appeared to consider Dale's question carefully. “You enjoyed asking me that question, didn't you?”
“Anne, I am not enjoying any part of this conversation. If Shannon hadn't pushed me into it, you wouldn't have known.”
“And what does your partner say about all this?”
“She says you needed to know and that you should probably look into Cassidy's background just to be sure and that she trusts my judgment. As should you.” Dale glared at her.
Bishaye refilled her wine glass. Her voice was calm again. “In light of the reason why I brought you here, couldn't you have put her off? At least until training was over or the case was solved?”
“Obviously not.” Dale sipped at her beer. “I know it's hard for you to understand but it wasn't a case of a drill sergeant seducing a trainee. I'm not a trainee, I know what I'm doing. It was me, the woman, not the trainee or the CID agent, with her, the woman, not the drill sergeant. Don't pursue this, Anne, please. She is an excellent drill sergeant and she loves it. She's highly motivated and she gets great results from the troops.”
“Especially the women.”
“Absolutely but not in that way. She did not go after me. And if she was a hound, we would have heard about it.”
“That isn't the point. Your actions may have compromised the entire case! Why don't you understand that? And what do I do if it has been compromised? Bring you both up on violations of the UCMJ? I think you both could qualify under a few of the many sections of Article 134. But threatening you with charges doesn't change the fact that if she is involved in any of this, when she finds out you're CID and were sent here specifically to see who is setting up the company by accusing drill sergeants of forcing sex on the trainees? She can come right back on you and me, as your superior, for Article 133 - Conduct Unbecoming, not to mention entrapment, maybe even conspiracy.”
“She won't do that. She's not involved in this crap.”
“You don't know that! You don't know her, Dale. I don't even know her other than she transferred to A-10 on the recommendation of Sergeant Robin and she has a clean jacket. She could be anybody. She could even know who you are.”
“You think she doesn't. You don't know for sure because the only way you'll know for sure is when the case is solved. I am so damned pissed off at you right now, I can barely think,” Anne said through clenched teeth.
“I think the reason you're that pissed off is because I had sex with a woman other than you. You refused to let things go further between us but you wanted to be the only woman I had that kind of feeling for. You wanted to continue to be the one in my life.”
Bishaye looked away from her. “Dale…you're obsessed. It's not healthy.”
“What wasn't healthy was waiting for you to come around.” She paused for Bishaye to focus on her again. “If you weren't with Jack, things might have been different.”
“So…did you sleep with Cassidy just to prove a point to me?”
“No. I slept with her to prove a point to me. That's why I'm positive she has nothing to do with this case.”
“You used her?”
“Would you sleep with her again if you weren't bound by regulations or in the middle of a case?”
“In a heartbeat,” Dale said, without hesitation. She watched Bishaye closely. The colonel appeared lost for a brief moment. “Anne, I've been wrong to push you toward something you may never be ready for. I know we have feelings for each other. I wanted more from you than you wanted or were able to give me. I understand that now. Until Cassidy, I thought you would be the only woman I'd wait for. You see, that would give me an excuse not to act on my sexuality and come to grips with who I really am. I thought the only woman I'd ever feel safe with was you. J.J. made me realize that wasn't true. You should be grateful,” Dale smiled.
Bishaye nodded slowly as she took in Dale's words. “Tell me, if Walker has CQ and you're off screwing Cassidy's brains out, who is keeping an eye on the women in the company?”
“They're too scattered to watch them all now. They've got too much freedom, too much knowledge of the post and Averill and too much access to get anywhere they want to go.”
“What does that mean? Unless something obvious happens that your spying days for this cycle has been completed? It's all fun and games now? Don't you think you should be concentrating on which women are the most suspect and don't let them out of your sight? We're at a very crucial point here.”
“I thought everything was on hold because of Henning.”
“I never told you to put anything on hold, Dale, and last I remember, Henning was not a suspect, she was a possible target. I didn't want you planting that idea in her head because she might panic. I want you and your partner to keep an eye on what goes on around her when she is in the company area. While she's at school and at home, I have other agents on her.” Bishaye signaled the waitress for another round. “Now where did this meeting between you and Sergeant Cassidy take place? In a bar, out in the open, where anyone could have seen you?”
“You don't need to know that.”
Bishaye turned an ear toward Dale as though she hadn't heard her correctly. “I…what?”
“We ran into each other at a bar. I'm not going to tell you which one or where to find it. If you're mad at me, take it out on me, not on Cassidy or other gay military women who need a place to go.”
“It's against regulations.”
“Then catch them doing something in the line of duty that violates the UCMJ and shows them to be bad soldiers. Don't go after them for what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. If Cassidy is a bad drill sergeant or uses a sexual quid pro quo to help females get through, then yes, you should do what's appropriate. You know if you kicked all the gay and lesbian soldiers out of the military, Uncle Sam would be shit out of luck if a war suddenly came along. And you'd also be hypocritical because you know you're as sexually attracted to me as I am to you. In different circumstances, it would have been your bed I was in Friday night, not Cassidy's.”
Their drinks were brought to the table and the server left them alone again. “You have a one-track mind, you know that?”
Dale smiled. “You didn't deny it.”
Bishaye sipped her wine. “I will pull Cassidy's jacket and find out everything I can about her. Of course, I can't do anything overt without drawing attention to you so I guess I have to leave her alone. However, if I find out she baited you and is setting you up. You both are in shit so deep, the stain and smell will never wash away.”
They sat in silence, both digesting the conversation. Finally, Bishaye said, “How about some supper? I hear they have good food here.”
“Only if we've stopped fighting. I want to enjoy my meal.”
“Fine. I officially call a truce.”
Dale laughed. “You know that won't last.”
The trainees were awakened an hour earlier than usual the next morning for a surprise locker inspection, conducted by Ritchie. On Friday, the drill sergeants had dropped a hint to their individual platoons so everyone made sure their personal areas were squared away before lights out on Sunday night.
Dale was nervous about her first encounter with Cassidy after Friday night but when she saw her accompany Ritchie through First Platoon's lockers, Cassidy made no attempt to look at or treat Dale any differently than she had before their night together. Between the two of them, Dale was sure she was more obvious about the oddity of pretending nothing happened, as she watched Cassidy, transfixed, during her participation in the inspection. Dale still couldn't believe the passion and intensity she experienced with the drill sergeant that was unlike anything she had ever known before and now had to feign indifference when the breathtaking woman was anywhere near her. She wanted to be with Cassidy again as much as she wanted anything and knew she had to stay away from her when out of the company area because it would be just too tempting, otherwise.
Dale knew that there would be no future for them when she left Alpha-10 because once Cassidy found out who Dale really was, the deception would most likely be unforgivable. Sometimes life just wasn't fair. Dale had found a reality to take the place of the Bishaye fantasy and couldn't do anything about it. Suddenly she was very depressed.
After the trainees were told they had passed the locker inspection, they were marched to the motor pool, where they were assigned MP sedans to drive to specific spots on post. One location was the parking lot of the LE School.
The vehicles in the parking lot of the school were made available for trainees for graduation. The sedans were used for role-playing. Once a week, usually a Friday night, all the MP trainees who had successfully completed all the required courses, dressed up like real military police officers and went out on “patrol.” Everything was handled just as if the group were really MPs. Roll call was taken, guardmount was conducted, a briefing was given and patrol assignments were decided by the patrol supervisor (usually a designated drill sergeant from another company). There were two partners assigned to one vehicle and the future MPs treated the rest of the evening as though this was their first actual time on patrol.
They were evaluated on everything: radio procedures, correctly filling out all logs and reports, vehicle maintenance, attitude, appearance, the handling of any given situation, etc. Unfortunately, a majority of the trainees knew what they were in for because a week before this test, they would be assigned to play the perpetrators; the speeders, the brawlers, the domestically disturbed, the potential cop killers, the drug addicts, etc. There were NCOs provided as supervisors to make sure that the trainees played their roles to the hilt because they were being evaluated on that, too.
At the motor pool, while she handed out trip tickets that designated destinations, Cassidy stopped when she handed Dale and Shannon her last two. A tiny smirk played on the edge of Cassidy's lips as she barely looked at Dale. It was enough to cause Dale's stomach to flutter and for her to blush. If Shannon noticed, she did not let on.
“Which one of you is the better driver?” Cassidy asked them.
Dale and Shannon instantly pointed at the other and proclaimed, “she is.” Then they looked at each other, surprised. Again their responses were simultaneous. “She is. No, you are!”
Cassidy took a step back and observed them. “Do you two rehearse this stuff?”
“Really, Drill Sergeant, neither one of us are good drivers, we're just fast,” Shannon said.
Dale wanted to slap her partner as Cassidy turned away to wipe the smile off her face. She turned back to Dale. “Where are you taking your vehicle?”
“OLEV,” Dale said, reading it off her trip ticket.
“You're going to the driving range.” Cassidy turned to Shannon . “What does yours say?”
“CPO,” Shannon answered.
“You're going to the LE School parking lot. I'll ride with you,” Cassidy said.
Shannon pasted a smile on her face. “Yes, Drill Sergeant.” As Cassidy walked around to the passenger side of the sedan, Shannon looked at Dale with the same stupid grin still adorning her face. “Great.”
Dale watched them drive away, not sure whether to be relieved or upset.
On the short trip to the LE School, Shannon and Cassidy had a nice, pleasant chat. Shannon was concerned that Cassidy might try to fish for what Dale may have said about them and was pleasantly surprised when the drill sergeant never went near that subject.
Cassidy related a story to Shannon about a morning when she was in training and misread her trip ticket. “I thought I was supposed to go to the parking lot, so I did. When I got there, I discovered that I was supposed to have gone to the driving range. I thought no one would notice until everyone began looking for my car because a vehicle was missing. When my drill sergeant checked all our trip tickets and saw what mine said…well, let's put it this way, it was already zero eight hundred, my first class had started and we were on a flying trip to the driving range. I ended up being AWOL from two places at the same time.” Cassidy chuckled at the memory.
“Did you get disciplined for it?” Shannon asked. She could certainly understand Dale's attraction. Cassidy was enchanting without trying to be.
“No paperwork but because I was already late for class, my drill sergeant made me double-time all the way back to LE School from the driving range while he drove behind me the whole way, beeping his horn.”
Shannon later told Dale the story and then said, “The entire time I was with her, all I could picture was you and her in bed.”
“Pervert,” Dale said.
“It wasn't because I was enjoying it, I just couldn't get it out of my head,” Shannon said and glared at her.
Dale grinned. “I can't get it out of my head, either.”
Dale passed her Approaching The Scene of an Incident test and Shannon passed her Apprehension class. They teamed up again for Collecting and Processing Evidence.
Later that evening, as they sat in the smaller bar of the EC, Dale and Shannon discussed Dale's meeting with Bishaye the night before.
“What about Cassidy? Is Bishaye going to do anything to her?” Shannon asked.
“She can't, not without blowing our cover.”
“That much I know. I meant after we're out of here.”
“I have no idea. As long as she's not involved in any of this, I doubt Bishaye will do anything.”
Shannon reached over and patted Dale's shoulder. “And…how are you doing?”
Dale smiled, warmly. “I'll be fine.” She took a swallow of her beer. “I've got to tell you, though, one night with that woman and I'm still going through withdrawal.”
“You sure you're not going to see her again?”
“As much as I'd like to, no. It'll just make things more confusing.”
“What about after we're done here?”
“Do you think she's going to want anything to do with me after she finds out who I am and that I deceived her?”
“I don't think that'll count.” Dale glanced at Shannon . “Look at you, all Yenta. I didn't think you were going to be this into my choice of lover.”
“I like Cassidy. Like I said, you could have done a hell of a lot worse.”
“For the record? I liked Matt. I'm sorry he turned out to be such a dick.”
“Me, too. I wonder if women are any better…”
Dale shrugged. “Can't say for sure. I have no doubt that women can be dicks, too.” She finished her beer. “I forgot my watch in my locker. What time is it?”
Shannon looked around for a wall clock, to no avail. “Well, it can't be nine-thirty because we're supposed to be back in the barracks at nine-thirty and we aren't there yet.” She stopped the bartender and looked at his wrist. “Ha! I was right. It's only nine-fifteen.”
They stared at each other. “Oh, shit, we did it again,” Dale said. She followed Shannon at a dead-run out the door. If they were lucky and moved at a sprinter's speed, they'd just beat whoever was going to conduct bed check.
The morning started at the motor pool again, Dale and Shannon each driving their individual sedans to the OLEV training area. They were returned to LE School in the back of a deuce-and-a-half.
Dale stayed in Collecting and Processing Evidence as Shannon took her test, passed it and went on to MP Reports. By noon chow, both lieutenants were done with those classes.
The afternoon found them together in TIA (Traffic Accident Investigation). This was a long class, three days being the average time spent learning the complexities. Most of the class took place outside, on pre-set up “accident” scenes and put to use what had been taught inside in the classroom by a Marine Gunnery Sergeant with an abominable attitude.
One of the most confusing requirements of TAI was an animal called “triangulation.” The trainees had to figure out what were considered and acceptable as permanent structures (such as fire hydrants, lampposts, manhole covers, etc.) and measure distances between the damaged vehicle(s), point of impact and these immovable objects. Once calculated, a diagram was drawn depicting the position of the vehicles at the time of impact and where the structures were in reference to that. A key and a legend also had to be provided in the lower right hand corner of the sketch and the completed drawing, when handed in, had to be exact or the trainee was given an entirely different scenario to illustrate. If the trainee didn't do that diagram correctly, that trainee would be given one more chance to do it right or bolo out of the school.
The reason for the precision diagrams were simple. In an actual accident, if the case didn't get settled right away, the lawyers could return to the scene years later and perfectly recreate the incident by using the sketches and measurements made by the original investigating MP. It was a valuable class despite it being so annoyingly drawn out.
Both lieutenants hit the major hangout spots frequented by their barracks-mates. The weeknights were not as popular with the future MPs as they were with the two CID agents. Of course, Dale and Shannon didn't need to study and only a rare few opted for partying, instead, and usually those were prior service. An hour at the Pizza Place or the bowling alley was usually the most time an average trainee would spend away from the barracks during the week.
Dale and Shannon did a mental headcount in the bay and then moved on to other locations to find who was missing. There were certain people they knew they didn't have to check up on; Creed and Almstead always played basketball at the gym and Michaelson worked out over at the WacVille recreation center. Since LE School put a lot of pressure on the trainees to get high marks, to have as few No Gos on their records as possible and to complete the courses swiftly, there was little frivolity during those precious studying hours of 1700 to 2130. Dale and Shannon were always the last two to make it back to the barracks (barely) before bed check.
Some of the women thought Dale and Shannon's bravery of pushing their luck to the limit was amusing; others, saw their narrow escapes as irresponsible. The possibility of being discovered in bed, with all their clothes on, ran the risk of group punishment and another black eye for the women and no one wanted any more of that.
The climate lately had been quite accommodating. With Spring less than a month away, the winter chill and dampness was being replaced by much more pleasant weather. Since the trainees were stuck in classrooms the entire day, excluding food breaks, cigarette breaks and PT, no one was able to appreciate it. Unfortunately, the day the partners were outside, measuring and sketching, they were drenched by torrential rains.
Toni Sherlock, who had been selected to work with Shannon on her TIA problem, had that same silly look on her face she had worn since the weekend. Shannon wondered why Sherlock behaved so oddly and was beaming.
“What's the matter with you, Toni? I barely need the flashlight when you're around,” Shannon said.
Sherlock moved closer to Shannon . “Can you keep a secret?”
Shannon wrote down a measurement. “Of course not. You should know that by now. There are no secrets in the Alpha-10 women's bay. So…what is it?”
They stood, huddled together, and hoped they looked like they were discussing the vehicle damage of the car in front of them. The rain came down so hard, it was difficult to keep their eyes open. If they stood in one spot too long, the pounding rain created small ditches in the dirt around their feet.
“I got married,” Toni announced, proudly.
“To whom?” Shannon asked. She was more than mildly surprised.
“Well, uh, congratulations,” Shannon said. She wanted to reach over and shake some sense into her. Mancini was a GI Sherlock met two weeks earlier at the EC. He was assigned to Headquarters Company and was hanging around, waiting on orders that would send him elsewhere. “That must've been some two weeks you two spent together.”
“It was,” Sherlock answered, wistfully.
Shannon pulled Sherlock with her as she walked around to the front of the vehicle. “Does Robin or Putnam know?”
“I'm going to tell them tomorrow when he's gone. He came down on orders today. He's going to Korea .”
She was still glowing as Shannon looked at her, sympathetically. “Where in Korea , did he say?”
“Um…South Korea ?”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Something that begins with a U?” Sherlock looked puzzled.
Sherlock stared at Shannon , still perplexed. “That's not the way Doug pronounced it.”
I'm sure not. It won't take him long to pronounce it correctly. “Second Division?”
“I think that's what he said.”
Shannon shivered due to more than just the chilly rain. “By the DMZ?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I don't know but wherever he's going, I'm going with him.”
Don't count on it, Shannon thought. She wanted to tell Sherlock to be grateful if they laughed her out of the office. She wanted to sit Sherlock right down in the pouring rain, and tell her to get used to the mud and muck if they allowed her to join her husband in Korea . She wanted to also tell her to get used to the feeling of having to close her eyes because she was going to have to ignore things that would morally outrage her because they morally outraged Shannon, incidents the public didn't know about because the western press wasn't aware of them. Shannon wanted to slap that silly smile right off Sherlock's face and replace the obvious lust that had gotten her in this situation with common sense. As disappointed in Sherlock as Shannon was, she still felt the need to try and prepare her for a crash landing.
“Audi and McCoy were talking about assignments in Korea the last time I was on CQ. They said something about spouses not being allowed to go, that the military won't pay the transportation costs of moving the husband or the wife because it's usually only a twelve month assignment.”
The smile faded from Sherlock's face. “But I'm not just a spouse, I'm a female MP who came in with no definite assignment. I heard the units in Korea are begging for female MPs.”
“That may be true but, Toni, you haven't graduated yet. You still may bolo out.”
“I have two weeks left, tops. I've been doing great in all my classes. I only have one No Go to my name. I'll make it,” Sherlock said, indignantly.
“That brings up another point. They may have already cut your orders and they may be sitting there, waiting for you to complete LE School. You may already be assigned somewhere.”
“You're just a bundle of encouragement,” Sherlock said, dryly.
“I just don't want you to be caught unaware when you go in tomorrow and talk to Robin or Putnam. They're going to be plenty pissed because you got married while still in training and didn't go through the proper procedure. Look at the shit they put Travis through and the stuff they're still doing to Minkler and Jaffe. They won't be very happy. I wouldn't go in there counting on any favors.”
Sherlock's bubble had definitely burst. “Well, that was a short honeymoon.”
Shannon handed Sherlock the end of the measuring tape. “Are you going to see Doug later?” She watched Sherlock nod as Sherlock walked away from her to a fire hydrant fifteen feet from them. “Hold it tight,” Shannon reminded Sherlock. Shannon read the measurement and wrote it on a dry spot on her hand. The sheet of paper she had originally had was saturated and unreadable. “Then, if I were you,” Shannon said as Sherlock walked back to her, “I'd make the most of it.”
Dale and Shannon discussed Sherlock's surprise “good news” later that evening at the EC. They had been witness to these abrupt marriages before and held out little hope for the union to be successful. They didn't know much about Sherlock's new husband but knowing Sherlock the way they did, they gave her two months at a new installation, away from Mancini, before she found someone else.
As usual, lately, there weren't that many people to follow around. Most of the company was inside their respective bays either studying or just staying warm and dry. In fact, both Dale and Shannon returned to the bay earlier than normal, so much so that Tierni led several others in making a big deal out of it.
“I don't believe it! You can usually set your watches by you two. When you come busting through the doors, it's time for bed check. What happened tonight?”
“The EC closed early,” Dale said.
The partners played along with the good-natured ribbing until it got old and the participants got bored and dropped it. It was actually nice for Dale and Shannon to be able to change into their sleep attire with the rest of women for a change.
The last one in the barracks that night was Toni Sherlock.
The rain persisted and poured down as it had the day before, making the ground even messier and being outdoors more wretched. The drill sergeants still made their troops do PT once before breakfast, once before lunch and once before dinner. The thought of venturing out anywhere that evening was not an inviting one to anybody, even though it was Friday night.
Sherlock, who had told her “secret” to more than just Shannon , had requested to speak to Robin to break the news about her new status. She didn't know he's already heard through the grapevine, which was one of the reasons he denied her permission to see him. Another reason was that he was busy getting smashed at the NCO club; another one of his buddies bit the trainee dust.
At 1700 hours, immediately following the command of Fall Out, Audi and Cassidy walked into the bay, both very serious. They ordered the women to sit on the floor in front of them. When the subject of the impromptu meeting turned out to be fraternization, Dale's stomach knotted. How ironic that Cassidy was standing before her, looking guilty because she was about to assist Audi in lecturing Dale and the others regarding cadre consorting with trainees.
Cassidy seemed unusually tongue-tied as she danced around the issue. Audi finally took pity on her and came right out and told the women that an NCO had been caught the night before with a trainee in his office, in a compromising situation. Dale stopped staring at Cassidy, who never once glanced Dale's way and, and sought out Shannon . When she spotted her, a row over, Shannon was looking back at her.
What had they missed? Who was involved? Did Bishaye already know? Was it one of their drill sergeants? Dale looked around at the other women in the room and could not see anyone absent from the group, except for Wachsman and she was on CQ duty. If one of the Alpha women had been directly involved she would not have been present during the discussion. By the time Cassidy and Audi left, everyone knew someone had fraternized with someone and got caught but the drill sergeants didn't say who the culprits were.
The bay was abuzz with speculation. The odds were on Bradbury and a Bravo female. Dale hoped it wasn't Holmquist and was grateful it wasn't Cassidy. When Wachsman returned upstairs after her shift, she put an end to the conjecture.
“The trainee was a girl named Resington from Charlie. The NCO was Casey, the Supply Sergeant. I guess he wanted her to dirty up his sheets.” Wachsman had been in the Orderly Room when the details came in.
The piece of news made the lieutenants breathe a little easier but they agreed they needed to start splitting up again. Even though it hadn't been Alpha Company this time, it was still Tenth Battalion that was involved and Dale wondered how Bishaye was handling it.
Shannon took off to the Pizza Place with Wachsman and a few others and then they went to Averill to stay at the Journey Inn.
Dale spent the night in the barracks with a majority of the others but not before closing down the EC.
“Good morning, ladies,” Cassidy's voice drifted down from the ceiling of the bay. She had just begun her shift as the Staff Duty NCO. “I need volunteers for police call, to empty trash and to sweep the patios. Those of you with hangovers – like Walker and Oakes - try not to fall down the stairs this morning and please come fully clothed. Oh…and watch that sun…it's awfully bright.” The bitch box clicked off and Cassidy's sweetly sarcastic voice was gone.
Dale looked at her watch and chuckled. It was 0830 hours. Too bad Shannon wasn't there to hear Cassidy. She would have enjoyed that. Dale proceeded to haul trash with Beltran and sweep the north patio. Had it not been Cassidy, she never would have volunteered.
She knew she needed to get information about the latest fraternization incident and her best bet would be Tierni, who was the CQ. She could have cornered Cassidy at some point but she didn't know how to ask specific questions without it coming back around to the two of them and Dale knew she was still vulnerable, still very much drawn to Cassidy's magnetism . One of the ways Dale could keep herself away from pursuing Cassidy was to find excuses not to be alone with her. Had she known Cassidy was going to be Staff Duty NCO, she would have volunteered to go to town and asked Shannon to stay on post.
She waited until she saw Cassidy leave the Orderly Room to, hopefully, make the rounds to all the Battalion CQ offices, which should keep her away a while. Dale carried her broom back to the Orderly Room, put it away and sat down near Tierni. After they got all niceties out of the way, Dale said, “Heard anything else about Casey and the Charlie female?”
“Nope. They've been very careful about what they've said in this office.”
Dale nodded in comprehension. “I like Sergeant Casey.”
“Me, too, but bringing her up to his office? That was just stupid,” Tierni said.
“You know how it is when you get caught up in that passionate urge,” Dale said, almost wistfully.
“Yeah, I know how it is but he's supposed to know better.”
“Has anyone said what might happen to him?”
“Not that I've heard,” Tierni said. Dale was about to ask Tierni if she knew what happened to the female caught with Casey when the door opened and Cassidy walked back in.
Both Dale and Cassidy acted surprised to see each other. It was Cassidy who recovered first. She picked up some papers from Sergeant Fuscha's desk. “Private Oakes. You're
up and about. I am impressed.”
“Thank you, Drill Sergeant. I'm not even hungover,” Dale announced and then wondered why.
“That's not normal for you, is it?” It was clear Cassidy was joking with her.
“Not on a weekend, Drill Sergeant.” Tierni said.
“Where's your partner in crime?” Cassidy asked. She appeared to be checking items on one paper against a list on another, so she was not looking at Dale.
“In town somewhere, probably where everyone else is.”
“The Journey Inn, I presume. Ah, the memories. How come you didn't go?” Cassidy looked up at Dale.
“I didn't feel up to it, Drill Sergeant.”
“Are you okay now?” Cassidy asked, with just the right amount of concern to her voice.
“Yes, I'm fine, thank you.”
One of the male trainees opened the Orderly Room door and stepped halfway inside. “Drill Sergeant, the Dayroom is locked.”
“Yes and it will stay that way,” Cassidy said. “Whoever was in there last night made a mess of it and left it that way. Until it gets cleaned up, it will be off-limits.” She turned to the trainee. “You want to volunteer to get it squared away?”
He shook his head. “Not really…”
Cassidy went back to inspecting her documents. “Then it stays locked. Use of the Dayroom is a privilege, not a right. If you abuse it, you lose it.”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” He closed the door.
Cassidy looked up at Dale. “Private Oakes, have you volunteered for any details today?”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant, I did trash and swept the north patio.”
“Very good. Now you can do more service to your country and clean up the Dayroom.”
“But I wasn't in the dayroom last night,” Dale protested.
Cassidy squinted at her. “I never said you were. What does that have to do with me giving you an order?”
“Nothing, Drill Sergeant, I'll get to it right away.”
“Thank you, Private Oakes.” Cassidy held her clipboard at her side. “Private Tierni, I will be in the XO's office, working on some pressing paperwork. I don't want to be disturbed unless it is an emergency. If I get a phone call, take a message.”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Tierni answered. After Cassidy had closed the door behind her to the other office, Tierni said, “What'd you do to piss her off?”
“Nothing that I know of,” Dale said. Except reject her desire for further trysts .
Tierni handed her the key to the Dayroom. “Have fun. Run that back to me when you're done.”
Dale took the key and headed out the door. “Will do.”
Dale entered the Dayroom, shut and locked the door behind her. When she flipped the light switch on, she looked around to find that the room was spotless and everything was in its place. She put her hands on her hips. “What the –“
Just as the realization hit her, she heard the door open from the back hallway that led to the A-10 offices. The lights were switched off and Dale was backed up against the wall.
As much as Dale wanted to resist Cassidy, she could not. The drill sergeant put her hand to the side of Dale's face before she leaned in and pressed her lips against Dale's.
The kiss was as fiery as the others they had shared. It was long and heated and elicited immediate excitement in both women. When their lips parted, Dale was panting. “I thought we decided that –“
“No, you decided,” Cassidy whispered and kissed down the side of Dale's neck. “I never agreed to anything.”
“This is crazy, J.J.,” Dale said, her voice hushed. “This is too risky.”
“You and I have the only two keys.” She swooped in for another kiss. Dale tightened her hold as she dissolved into Cassidy's touch.
Dale knew she should have balked, should have pushed her away but her body responded to the beautiful woman kissing her, not to the sensible thoughts rapidly fleeing her brain. She was surprised at how out of control she became in Cassidy's embrace.
“God, I want you.” Cassidy's declaration and hot breath on Dale's ear made Dale even more defenseless. Cassidy lifted Dale's sweater over her head and dropped it on the floor by their feet. She caressed Dale's breasts through her bra.
Dale's body thrummed with arousal. It felt as though every inch of her body tingled. “We can't…do this…again…” That's just heavenly, I hope she never stops.
“Yeah, we can.” Cassidy reached around and unhooked Dale's bra. It joined her sweater. Cassidy appeared to enjoy Dale's reaction to her attention almost as much as Dale did.
“We're going to smell like sex,” Dale panted as Cassidy kissed one nipple, then the other.
“I have a clean uniform, underwear and shower in the First Platoon office upstairs.” She unbuttoned and unzipped Dale's jeans. “And you can go upstairs and shower.” She pushed Dale's trousers and panties down so that they pooled around her ankles. Cassidy dropped to her knees, parted Dale and began to feast.
In no time at all, Dale's legs began to quiver and the trembling shot through her entire body. The potency of her climax took her by surprise, as did the weakness in her lower body afterward. She had been able to keep her orgasm quiet, which shocked her as much as pleased her.
Cassidy kissed her way back up Dale's body and lavished attention once more on Dale's breasts as her fingers entered Dale. Three different times during this blissful act, the door handle rattled but neither woman could stop the momentum of the thrusting or the suckling. Cassidy was certainly good at what she did and knew exactly where to touch Dale to get her to react.
Dale felt herself ready to peak as the current of electricity surged to every nerve ending and back to her center. She knew she was going to cry out this time so she muffled her vocalization into the curve of Cassidy's neck. For several minutes, she held onto Cassidy just to let her breathing regulate.
Cassidy stroked Dale's back and held her. She kissed Dale's shoulder and looked into her eyes. “I'm sorry.”
“I know you didn't want to be with me again and saying I couldn't help myself may be the truth but it wasn't right that I did what I just did.”
“J.J., it's not that I didn't want to be with you again. I wanted it very much. As you can see, I really didn't resist you. I just don't want us to get caught. In fact, with what just happened to Sergeant Casey, I'm just really surprised you took this chance.”
“You are worth it.”
Dale wanted to cry. “No. I'm not. I'm not worth what would happen to you.”
“If we keep quite about this, nothing will happen. Look, Dale, this is just as shocking to me as it is to you. I have never fraternized with a trainee before. I would never, not in my wildest dreams, risk my career for a score. I've never been anything less than professional and I didn't get to where I am by doing stupid things but I can't stay away from you,” Cassidy said.
“I'm not here for much longer, why would you risk your career for something as temporary as this?”
Cassidy bent to pick up Dale's bra and sweater and handed them to her. “I was hoping you wouldn't consider this temporary, that maybe when they cut your orders, I could put in for where they send you.”
Dale pulled up her pants and refastened her jeans. The shock of Cassidy's confession was evident on Dale's face. “You what? Are you saying you want to be with me?”
“I told you this wasn't just sex to me, Dale. I don't do that, I thought I made that clear. I would never take a chance like I'm taking on someone who I'm just casually drawn to.” Cassidy was defensive and Dale's eyes filled up. Cassidy reached over and wiped a tear away. “What's wrong?”
Dale was so strong except when in came to matters of the heart. “I've never had anyone say something like that to me and actually mean it. I'm the girl who's always the other woman, the other girlfriend, the one in the background. I'm always the one who is good enough to fuck but never to openly date or marry. So…I just thought –“
“That I was just like the men in your life? Well, I'm not. And why anyone would not cherish you is beyond me.”
Dale finished dressing. “You don't really know me.”
“I want to.” Cassidy pulled Dale close again and kissed her passionately. “I want to know everything about you because I'm attracted to everything about you.” She kissed Dale's forehead. “I got the feeling that it was the same for you. If you tell me I'm wrong and I was just a conquest then I'll leave you alone.”
“You're the first woman I've ever been with, J.J. Doesn't that scare you?”
“It scares me.”
Cassidy took a step back. “Oh. Okay.” She looked devastated. “I thought, well, I…I guess I was a fool.” She reached for the back door handle. “I'm sorry, Private Oakes, it won't happen again.”
“J.J., wait.” Dale said. Cassidy didn't turn around. “I…I do want to be with you. I like being with you…but this is moving way too fast.” She moved up behind Cassidy. “I am not scared that I'll want to see what else is out there, I'm scared that I won't be who or what you want me to be and we'll both get hurt.” And that's the least of my worries . Dale was still stunned that Cassidy admitted to being that into her. Either there was something wrong with Cassidy or Dale's luck had really changed.
“You'll never know until you try, will you?” Cassidy turned around. She pulled Dale into a hug. “I know this is unusually fast but there is just something about you that I can't let go of. I have never been like this with anyone. My last relationship was more of a convenience than anything else. The one I had before her was really good…until it wasn't anymore. There are never any guarantees, especially in the military, especially for a couple like you and me. I'm not asking you for any promises or commitments; all I'm asking is that you give us a chance to see where we can go.”
Dale squeezed her tighter. “You are so jaw-dropping gorgeous, it's just hard to believe you want me.” She broke the embrace and held Cassidy's face in her hands. “You can have anybody you want.”
“I have what I want right here in front of me.” Cassidy kissed her, this time with more admiration than passion.
Dale's knees weakened again. “God, J.J., you make it very hard to fight you.”
“Make love not war,” Cassidy said and winked.
“Maybe we should hold off on our, um, meetings until I at least graduate LE School and get my orders.”
I can probably abstain until you get out of school but when your orders get cut, you'll be gone as soon as the next day. So, how about if we make a date for the night after your final class.”
“I think I can do that.” Dale smiled. “What if I get stationed Greenland or something? You'd still want to pull a tour there?”
“Somebody would have to keep you warm,” Cassidy said.
“We wouldn't be able to openly live together, though.”
“It's a lot easier than you think. You just have to be discreet.”
Dale chuckled and gestured around the Dayroom. “Oh, you mean like this?”
Cassidy laughed. “Maybe a little more careful than this.” She opened the door to the hallway. “Don't hang around with anyone too long before showering. You do have that distinct scent about you.”
“Thanks to you. Don't you want -?”
“Raincheck,” Cassidy said. She closed the door behind her and locked it.
Dale leaned against the door. Her mind went back to Cassidy devouring her and her heart fluttered. She sighed and walked to the door that led outside and stopped, burying her head in her hands. What the fuck do I do now?
Dale returned the Dayroom key to Tierni and made it upstairs to shower before she got close enough to anyone that they could guess what she had been doing. The encounter with Cassidy left her adrenalized yet empty. What she really wanted to do was get back together with Cassidy and spend the rest of the weekend in bed with her. She knew that was impossible.
She did accept an offer to attend a company party at a motel other than the Journey Inn on the outskirts of Averill. The Red Clay Motor Rest was a small establishment made up of twelve individual cabins and certain members of Alpha-10 had reserved them all a week earlier. Most of the troops from the company planned to be there at some point, during the night.
Dale shelled out a percentage of the money to share a cabin with Tierni, Tramonte and one of the marine females, Endres. Endres learned during Bivouac that she would not get any special treatment or privileges because she was in a different branch of service so she jumped right in and pulled her own weight. She tried to make friends her second or third day in Alpha-10 but she was slow to be accepted because of the initial actions of her sister marines. Endres persevered and it didn't take her long to finally be accepted. Neither Dale nor Shannon had spent much time with her but Tierni and Tramonte had spoken very highly of her.
The party at the Red Clay grew rapidly and the darker the sky got, the wilder the party became. Even though Shannon had to report to CQ at 0600 the next morning, she planned to show up and hang out for a few hours before heading back to the barracks. She had planned to accompany a group of five over to the party as soon as they finished their pizza at the Pizza Place . She never got the chance.
The six Alpha trainees had just finished their pizza and a pitcher of beer and were about to walk back to the company area to call a taxi to take them to the Red Clay when Steele and Mark Morse, the A-10 male she was dating, burst through the door of the Pizza Place.
“Any fucking Bravo-10 douche bags in here?” Morse yelled. He was livid. If there were any members of Bravo there, no one spoke up and admitted it.
Shannon stopped Steele. “What's the matter with him?”
“Wotek's in the hospital. He got the shit kicked out of him from four Bravo guys.”
“What?” and “Why?” were the questions that came from everyone in the group.
“The only information we have is that three Bravo guys held him and one beat him up on the track over behind the EC, supposedly because he danced with a Bravo girl who was dating one of the four guys,” Steele said.
“They beat him up for a dance?” Bigfoot was incensed.
“That's what we heard,” Morse said.
Shannon then saw the meaning of ‘all hell breaking loose.' With few exceptions, the twenty-seven Alpha men and six Alpha women left in the company, were out for blood. They wanted to find these guys and do to them what they had done to one of their own.
Bigfoot appointed himself the leader and sounded as though he were heading up a posse. If the rumored story was true, Shannon did think the Bravo boys deserved what they got but if Bigfoot got the current, willing group as stirred up as he was, the results might be more than they deserved. Revenge was certainly sweet but not if the payback resulted in the dismissal from LE School of everyone involved. Shannon was happy to see Cassidy walk out of the CQ office at that precise moment as the attitude of the Alpha trainees had taken on a mob mentality.
“AT EASE!” Cassidy commanded and, even as furious as they all were, they all quickly assumed the position and stopped talking. “Okay, listen up. I just got back from the hospital. Private Wotek is in good condition. He has some bruising, minor lacerations but no internal injuries. He does have a mild concussion so he will be at the hospital for another day or two for observation. There is no reason Private Wotek can't continue training, uninterrupted, once he is released.”
“What about the guys who put him in the hospital, Drill Sergeant?” Morse asked.
“When we find them, we will deal with them. I want you all to stay out of it. I know you're pissed off. I'm pissed off. If one guy is going to go this nuts just because a girl he has the hots for danced with someone else and three other boneheads don't have the presence of mind to make individual choices to either stop it or walk away and report it then these are not the people we want as military police officers. The knowledge that they're going to be kicked out of LE School when they are so close to graduating should be rewarding enough. Especially since Wotek will be fine.”
“What if you don't find out who they are, Drill Sergeant? People can stick together and get pretty tight-lipped about stuff like this,” Bigfoot said.
“Sergeant Jessup and Sergeant Bradbury are with the female who was allegedly the cause of all this stupidity now. If she doesn't tell them anything then when Wotek gets out of the hospital, we will walk him through the Bravo ranks and he can personally pick them out.”
“Wotek is our friend, Drill Sergeant,” Steele said. “Somehow I feel like we're letting these Bravo guys off the hook.”
“You're not, believe me, Private Steele.” Amid the grumbling, Cassidy raised her voice until it was quiet again. “Let me put it to you this way: anyone who goes out looking for these guys and lays one hand on them will also be immediately cycled out of LE School. You people are almost at the end of training! When are you going to start thinking like cops?”
Bradbury jogged up the stairs to the north patio, followed by Jessup. Jessup said something to Cassidy that only she could hear. She nodded and then addressed the trainees. “Why don't all of you go on to your party now and leave this mess to us. Be careful in town. Don't get too rowdy and do not get arrested! We don't need our entire company eliminated from LE School. Dismissed!”
The trainees dispersed as Cassidy, Bradbury and Jessup walked into the Orderly Room. When Shannon followed them in, Cassidy looked at her, curiously.
“What do you need in here, Walker ?”
“I was designated to call the taxi, Drill Sergeant,” Shannon responded.
Cassidy motioned for her to use the phone on the CQ's desk. As Shannon dialed the number by heart, she also turned her head so that the ear that wasn't on the phone, faced the drill sergeants. Their voices were hushed but Shannon could still hear them.
“She didn't tell us anything,” Bradbury said. “She said the males involved threatened to shut her up permanently if she opened her mouth.”
“Nice bunch you got there, Jane.” Cassidy sighed. She looked back and forth from Bradbury to Walter Jessup. “Any idea at all who these goons might be? Or are all your guys aggressive, uncivilized thugs?”
“And what were you doing with the crowd you just dismissed? Organizing a church choir?” Bradbury's eyebrow arched in sarcasm.
“I have a good idea who it might be,” Jessup said. “There's a male in my platoon who can't stop the wisecracks and has an entourage of three parrots. He needs a serious Kiwi injection.”
“Why haven't you given him one?” Cassidy asked.
“If he can drop the attitude, he'll make a fine MP.”
“Not with his obvious issues. He'll be nothing but a bully with a badge. The MP Corps doesn't need any more of those,” Cassidy said.
“Who is it, Walt?” Bradbury asked.
“That redneck? I should have known,” Bradbury said.
“I'm not positive it's him, I'm just making a calculated guess,” Jessup said.
Shannon knew who Paulsen was and would have bet her next paycheck it was him. She had been in the vicinity when he'd made an absolute nuisance of himself with Pam Ryan, who told him to ‘fuck off' in no uncertain terms. She recalled him telling Ryan that he would ‘get her' before he PCS'd out of there and show her what she was turning down. Paulsen was flanked by three jerks who agreed with everything he said. A week later, he apparently forgot all about Ryan and set his sights on Navarrette, who just pretended he didn't exist. That did not set well, either and after punching out a pinball machine, he left the Pizza Place .
“Did she give you any indication at all as to where those guys might have gone?” Cassidy asked. She crossed her arms. “Private Walker, how much longer are you going to be on that phone?”
“Just until I get confirmation that the taxi is on its way, Drill Sergeant,” Shannon answered. The dispatcher had already confirmed and hung up but Shannon didn't want to miss the drill sergeants' conversation.
“She was scared to death, J.J., she didn't say much of anything. She was close to being hysterical,” Bradbury explained.
“Then I guess we just wait until they sign in Sunday night and nail them then.”
“Don't count on it, J.J.,” Jessup said. “If the only witnesses are our girl and your boy, I doubt it will go anywhere. These guys will be thick as thieves and the more time that kid spends in the hospital to think about it, the more I bet you'll find him with sudden amnesia.”
“No. I have no doubt Wotek will identify them.” Cassidy sighed. “I don't believe this; less than a month to go before my company is all graduated from LE School and not only do we have an incident like this but I'm probably going to have to go into Averill tomorrow and bail half my company out of jail.” At the quizzical stares of Bradbury and Jessup, she said, “They are on the outskirts of town where they took over an entire motel to throw a company party. It's to celebrate making it so far. Why'd this crap have to happen on my duty night?”
When Shannon saw Bradbury and Jessup leave, she walked back into the Orderly Room. The taxi had arrived and picked up the last of the Alpha trainees who were going to the party and the CQ and CQ runner were out of the office. She spotted Cassidy seated at Sergeant Fuscha's desk.
“I thought you were going to the party,” Cassidy said.
“I was but I had a better idea. I took a quick run over to the EC and Paulsen and his friends have gone back there.”
“You were listening to our conversation earlier?”
“I spent a lot of time on hold, I couldn't help it.”
Cassidy nodded. “Well, thanks for the tip, Private Walker. I'll send the MPs around to pick them up.”
“Drill Sergeant, if I may…won't it be Wotek's word against their word?”
“What if I can get them to admit they did it?”
“Absolutely not, Walker . I don't want you or the others involved in this.”
“We're already involved, Drill Sergeant. If the MPs pick them up and Wotek IDs them, they'll get kicked out of LE School but can't they come back and say there's no real proof and really make this a headache for everyone?”
“It's a possibility.” Cassidy scrutinized her. “What are you suggesting?”
“Let me try to get them on tape, outright admitting that they did it.”
“No. You are not trained for undercover work and I will not allow one of my trainees to be put in that kind of danger.”
“Drill Sergeant, you asked when we were going to start thinking like cops. Well, I'm thinking like a cop. If you won't let me do it, does McCullough have any female MPs?”
“Not at the moment, at least that I'm aware of.”
“Then why can't we call the MPs, have them put a tape recorder on me and agree on a signal for when I have the confession and they can then come in and do all the dirty work? At least then, there is no question of whether or not Paulsen did it.”
Cassidy was silent as she thought about Walker 's offer. “What if Paulsen recognizes you?”
“All the better. He knows I'm just another trainee.”
“But he wouldn't admit to thumping an Alpha trainee to another Alpha trainee.”
“He would if the circumstances were right.”
Cassidy was quiet again as she contemplated Shannon 's suggestion. She picked up the phone and placed a call to Captain Colton.
Colton 's abrupt authorization surprised both Cassidy and Shannon but then Shannon realized Colton probably hoped she got the hell beat out of her, as well. He made sure Cassidy had Shannon sign a waiver that she would not hold the company responsible for any injuries she might sustain while performing this task. Cassidy assured Shannon that they would do everything possible not to let her get hurt but if she was, the Army would still take care of her. Shannon signed it and hoped that Colton wouldn't contact Bishaye who would definitely put a halt to what Shannon was about to do.
MPI investigators came to the company area and affixed a small tape recorder and microphone to Shannon 's mid-section. They explained to her what she needed to get the perpetrators to say before she gave them the approved gesture to let them know it was time to move in.
They sent Shannon back in to the EC and a plain clothed MPI investigator followed her in a minute later and stayed at the bar.
The four men had just ordered another large pitcher of beer that indicated they planned to stay a little while longer. Shannon decided to test the water first. The main disco room was packed so Shannon nonchalantly strolled up to their table and stood, appearing as though she were watching the dance floor. Not even a minute passed before Paulsen took notice of her.
Paulsen and his cohorts shouted out raunchy come-ons to Shannon and she responded with flirty smiles and winks. By the next song, Paulsen had motioned for her to sit down and join them. The conversation was mostly overpowered by music so everyone had to shout to each other to be heard. Shannon hoped the recorder was able to pick up their dialogue. The adhesive that held the instrument to her body had already started to irritate the area it was affixed to and her skin itched. Hopefully she could hold out until she got them to say something incriminating. She had already politely refused the invitation to dance twice. The last thing she needed to do was jar the tape recorder loose. She told them she'd much rather sit there and drink with them.
“Just how drunk do you want to get?” one of the men at the table asked her.
She parted her lips and licked them slowly. “Drunk enough.”
Paulsen and his group hooted and hollered like a tribe of pleased barbarians at Shannon 's words and gesture. Then the young man seated next to Paulsen said, “Hey…aren't you in Alpha-10?”
The table discussion stopped abruptly and all eyes were on the blonde lieutenant. Shannon looked at the male who asked the question and ever-so-innocently and said, “Yes, I am. Why?”
The boys eyed each other apprehensively. Paulsen spoke up, his tone cautious, “Didn't you hear?”
“Hear what?” Shannon batted her long eyelashes, trying her best to look demure. “Did something happen?” She leaned in closer to Paulsen.
“When was the last time you were back in your company area?” Paulsen asked.
“1700 on Friday. What is this? Twenty questions? What's with you guys? Lighten up, would you? If you guys don't want to have fun then I'll find some guys who do.” She flashed a dazzling, promising smile. It was enough to make four horny men drop their collective guard.
“What kind of fun did you have in mind, babe?” Paulsen asked. He reached over and started to stroke her arm.
Shannon acted her most seductive. “You seem like a smart boy. What kind of fun do you think?” She noticed the scrapes and swelling on Paulsen's knuckles.
More cheers came from the men at the table. Paulsen's hands suddenly went to his lap to cover his reaction. “This must be my night.”
The young man on the other side of Shannon looked at Paulsen and said, “Yeah! Why don't we teach those smart-ass Alphas a real lesson and fuck with one of their girls?”
Paulsen shut him up with a sharp stare and Shannon looked at Paulsen and smiled, sweetly. “And just how do you boys plan on fucking with me?”
“In a good way, believe me. I guarantee you'll love it,” Paulsen said. He put his face close to Shannon 's. “What do you say we have ourselves a little party here and now?”
“My favorite two ways to have a party: here and now,” Shannon said, wantonly. “Right here at this table?”
“No, the green grass motel, outside, behind the club. You know where the track is?” Paulsen asked.
Shannon nodded. The scene of the crime. Perfect.
“Behind the bleachers, near the woods. It's a real quiet time of night. No one to bother us.” He looked up at his friends at the table. “I go first. Anyone have a problem with that?” No one admitted to having a problem with it. He returned his attention to Shannon . “You don't have a problem with that, do you?”
Shannon knew she had to be careful of how she chose her words, to avoid entrapment. “A problem with what?” She smiled at him, knowingly.
“A problem with this.” He took her hand and placed it on the hard bulge in his pants. He moved her hand over as much of his erection as the material holding it in would allow.
Shannon removed her hand. “Oh my.” She reluctantly admitted to herself that she was rather impressed with what she had felt. Too bad he was such a narcissistic asshole. “You'll excuse me while I hit the ladies room first? I should get rid of all this beer.” She stood up and he grabbed her wrist.
“I'll wait for you outside the bathroom,” Paulsen said. “I want to make sure you don't get distracted along the way.”
“Suit yourself,” Shannon said, pleasantly. She wanted to give the MPI investigator a head's up that they were taking the situation outside. She hoped, when he would see them all walk out the door together, he would be astute enough to get the word to his co-workers in the parking lot and not just assume she had botched the case. She wished she were partnered off with Dale. They could read each other's mind. Dale would know what to do and if things quickly went to shit, Dale could fight like ninja.
Shannon saw the agent watch her walk to the bathroom. She prayed he was still there when she came back out. Regardless, she knew Cassidy, who was in the unmarked MPI van in the parking lot, would not allow anyone to leave until either Shannon gave the investigators the sign or was back in the van. Cassidy was responsible for Shannon's welfare on this little endeavor, there was no way Shannon would be off anyone's radar for too long.
Once in the stall, Shannon checked the tape recorder to make sure it was still working and that it still had enough room to catch another half hour or so of conversation. When everything checked out okay, Shannon buttoned back up and put her jacket back on, leaving it open in the front.
Paulsen put his arm around Shannon when she exited the ladies room and escorted her out the door. She was relieved to see the investigator still at the bar. Shannon and Paulsen walked around to the back of the building, across an access road, a dirt track and a field to a set of bleachers with a thicket of trees behind it, which led to dense woods. Shannon asked if anyone had sneaked out anything to drink and two of the four men produced bottles of beer. Shannon asked to take a drink out of one so that she could ‘wet her whistle.' She really wanted to waste a little time so that everyone could, fingers crossed, sneak in place for when she gave the signal.
“Drink that up, babe, we got us some partying to do,” Paulsen told her as he finished a cigarette.
“You know, I overheard some girls talking in the ladies room about a fight earlier that took place right here, right where we're standing. Damn, wish I'd been here earlier. I hate to miss a good fight,” Shannon said.
“You are my kind of chick,” Paulsen said, as the other guys laughed. “You would have loved this fight. It involved one of your Alpha boys.”
“Oh, really? Were you there?” Shannon looked around at the group.
“Yeah, you could say that,” one of the males said.
“Wait a minute…you didn't beat up one of the guys in my company, did you?” Shannon asked.
Paulsen stepped forward threateningly. “What if we did? That's not going to change our plans.”
“Maybe it will,” Shannon challenged. “Tell me who it was. I might be glad, even more grateful, that you did.”
“I think his name was Wotek,” Paulsen said. “A Polock. No great loss.”
“Wotek, huh?” Shannon repeated. “I know him. He's a nice guy. What'd he do to you?”
“How about we stop the questions and start the action.” The others agreed with Paulsen as he closed in on Shannon . Fortunately, as he moved in, he couldn't resist the urge to brag. “You see, your buddy, Wotek, couldn't keep his hands off my girl. I told him to stay away from her but he just had to dance with her one more time. So we taught him a lesson, didn't we guys?” The other three men agreed with him.
“What did you do to him?” Shannon asked.
“We beat him to a pulp and put him in the hospital,” Paulsen said. His patience with waiting had clearly run out. He grabbed Shannon and pushed her to her knees as he unzipped his fly. “Now, shut up and blow me.”
“I'll blow you all right,” Shannon said and punched him in the crotch. She watched him double over and fall to the ground. She stood up as the three others started toward her. Before Shannon had a chance to give the investigators a sign to close in, the area was lit up by three vehicle spotlights and MPs surrounded the group. Two MPs helped Paulsen up as Shannon walked away toward Cassidy who walked in with one of the investigators.
“Hey! This is entrapment!” Paulsen protested. “She enticed us here with promises of sex!”
“No, you just assumed you were going to get sex,” Shannon said.
“Fucking bitch!” Paulsen spat out.
“Shut up, Paulsen, that's not what you're getting busted for and you know it,” Cassidy said. She looked at Shannon . “How are you doing?”
“I'm okay, Drill Sergeant. I need to get this tape recorder off me, though. It's itching like crazy.”
“I think that can be arranged.” Cassidy called one of the investigators over. They walked Shannon back to the van and removed the recording device. The tape was played back to see if they got what they needed. The first part was partially muffled and distorted because of the noise in the EC but they still could decipher the pertinent dialogue. Everything said outside was clear and damning.
Cassidy drove Shannon back to the company area. “You took quite a chance, Walker . What made you think those guys would talk?”
“I've been around Paulsen a couple times before. He hasn't noticed me but I've noticed him because he's an obnoxious braggart. I knew he wouldn't resist a chance to boast. He'd had enough to drink and I was pretty sure he'd gloat. I really like Wotek, Drill Sergeant. He's a sweetheart and he didn't deserve what those assholes did to him. I wanted to do something because I know Wotek and he would have let it go.”
“You really think he would have?”
“Yes. I think he will just want to forget it and get out of here ASAP and that would leave them free to do it again.”
“You did a fine job, Walker . I will definitely write up a recommendation based on your performance and initiative tonight to accompany your records to your first permanent duty station.”
“Thank you, Drill Sergeant.” Shannon thought that was nice of Cassidy, even though she didn't need it.
Cassidy parked in the Alpha Company lot. “What were you before you enlisted? A vigilante? All I can say is that I'm glad you're on our side.” They got out of the car. “If I wouldn't be accused of fraternizing, I'd buy you a drink.”
“And I'd take it,” Shannon said. They walked toward the Battalion Orderly Room. “Now what?”
“Oh, now you get to see the real heart of police work; the endless filing of reports. We have some paper to write, Private Walker.”
By the time Shannon finished writing her statements, it was two-thirty in the morning. Cassidy bet Shannon she'd never make it up in time for CQ duty at 0600. Cassidy didn't know Shannon well enough to never bet her on anything.
Bleary-eyed and cranky as all get out, Shannon was up, awake, in uniform and in the A-10 Orderly Room at six o'clock A.M. At 0601, Cassidy walked in the office, holding two huge Styrofoam cups of hot coffee. She set one down on the desk Shannon was sitting behind.
“I brought an extra cup of mud, just in case, but I still can't believe you're here,” Cassidy said.
“If I could have gotten out of this, I would have,” Shannon told her.
Cassidy pulled up a chair and sat across from the undercover lieutenant. “You remind me a lot of me when I was going through basic and LE School.”
“Oh, no,” Shannon said. She let the steam from the coffee drift up into her face. “I hope that doesn't mean I'm going to grow up to be a drill sergeant.”
Cassidy smiled. “I like you, Walker. I don't know why. There's something about you. You've got balls, my friend. Big ones. Both you and your buddy, Oakes, and that's good because you're going to need them.”
Shannon just nodded. “I don't know about that. I just have never been able to tolerate bullies very well.”
Cassidy looked around and lowered her voice. “That's probably why you and Sergeant Ritchie used to lock horns.”
Shannon glanced at Cassidy, mid-sip. She swallowed. “How did you know about that?”
“Sergeant Ritchie. There aren't a lot of secrets in a basic training company. Anyway, Sergeant Ritchie said he thought you were going to make one hell of an MP. He said you really seemed to know right from wrong and that you didn't take shit off anybody.”
“Ritchie said that?” Shannon was astounded.
“Drill Sergeant Ritchie,” Cassidy corrected her. “Yes, he did.”
Shannon went back to sipping her coffee. She looked at her watch. “Where the hell is Beltran? She supposed to be my runner.”
“Private Beltran is at the MP Station, trying to explain to them why she finds it necessary to carry a concealed switchblade on her person,” Cassidy said.
“No kidding. When did this happen?”
“About ten minutes ago. I was on my way to get the coffee and she was on her way downstairs, I guess to report for duty, when she tripped and the knife came flying out of her shirt. She wouldn't give me a reason for possessing the weapon so I hauled her back to battalion and called a patrol in to question her.”
Shannon shook her head. “That girl…” She placed the brassard on her upper arm that alerted everyone to the fact that she was the A-10 CQ. “I didn't think she was going to make it here this morning because she was sick. Last night at the Pizza Place , she kept complaining of throat trouble.”
“Knowing Beltran, several people are probably trying to cut it.”
Shannon laughed. She genuinely liked Cassidy and wished the E-6 had been there from the beginning. It may not have bode well for Dale, seeing the relationship that developed between them but Cassidy would have definitely been better for the morale of the women. She sat back and studied the drill sergeant. Yes, she could see Dale and Cassidy together and then she was amazed at how smoothly she had transitioned Dale from men to women. Maybe that really was where Dale was meant to be.
Dale was back in the company area just in time to meet her partner coming off CQ. She followed Shannon upstairs to the nearly empty bay, where Shannon collapsed, face down, on her bunk. Dale sat on the floor and leaned her back against Shannon 's locker.
“I hear congratulations are in order. Good job.”
“Thank you,” came the muffled response.
“So much for keeping a low profile.”
Shannon raised her head slightly off the pillow and looked at Dale. “It's too late for that. You blew it with Kirk, we both blew it at the EC that night and you aggravated it further in self-defense class. So I figured, what the hell? I knew I could get those little bastards and I did.” She rested her head back down on the pillow, still facing Dale. “No one suspects a thing and I would have done the same thing six years ago if the same thing happened. No big deal.”
“Hey, I didn't have a choice in self-defense class, you know that,” Dale said defensively. “You should have called me at the motel. I would have come back and helped you out.”
“I didn't have time. Besides, it was good for me. It relieved the boredom and got those old survival juices flowing. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm exhausted. I'll probably sleep right through until tomorrow morning.”
“The party was great, thanks for asking,” Dale said, sarcastically.
“How was Cassidy through it all?”
“I'm her new hero,” Shannon mumbled.
“Oh, man, don't say that, you'll make me jealous.”
“Dale, please, can we save this oh so interesting conversation for another time?”
Dale stood up and lightly slapped Shannon 's foot. “Of course. Sleep well, hero. I'll talk to you in the morning.”
Dale mastered Ticket Writing class the next day and Shannon easily got through Processing A Drunk Driver class.
After 1700 formation, they spent most of their evening at the EC, playing pool. They held the table most of the night as partners. There was not a lot of competition and that left them easily bored, so they left the club early and started walking back toward the barracks.
“Did you ever notice that going to the EC is always a lot straighter than coming back?” Dale observed.
“Some nights are more crooked than others,” Shannon agreed. “Weekend nights are definitely the worst.” She stopped to light a cigarette. They strolled in silence until Shannon said, “Have you thought about calling her when we're finished here?”
Dale looked at the ground. “Who?”
“You know damned well who. Cassidy.”
“I don't know.”
“Yeah, I guess it might be awkward. You know how flings in training environments are.”
“She told me Saturday again that she didn't feel that way about us. You know, casual.”
“Saturday? When did you two get time alone to talk on Saturday?” Shannon asked.
Dale smiled and blushed. “Um…we, uh…”
Shannon grabbed Dale's arm and stopped. “You didn't!” At Dale's silly smirk, Shannon said, “You did! Where? When?”
“She sent me to the Dayroom to clean it and met me there.”
“Something tells me no cleaning got done.”
“No cleaning was needed. It was already squared away.”
“I can't believe she took the chance with you after Casey just getting caught.”
“It's probably the best time. The cadre would think no one would be stupid enough to do the same thing the day after that.”
“How was it? The sex?”
“Unbelievable. Jesus, Shannon , I honestly never knew it could feel as good as she makes it.”
“Dale, you should see how you light up when you talk about her.”
“She wants more, Shannon . She wants to put in for wherever I'm assigned after I leave here.”
“Wow. Dale, she's really serious about you,” Shannon said, shocked.
Dale chucked at Shannon 's incredulity. “Yeah, I'm stunned, too.”
Shannon swatted her partner. “Stop that. I'm not surprised because she likes you that much, it's just that, well, it's awfully soon.”
“I know. It scares me.”
“Scares you how?”
“In a good way. I could get used to waking up next to her. That scares the hell out of me.” They began walking again. “She's so sincere and I hate lying to her. When she finds out everything, I know she's not going to want anything to do with me.”
“How do you know? You're getting out. You'll be a civilian so you don't have to worry about fraternizing with an enlisted soldier.”
“Even if she does forgive me for not being able to be up front with her, we're both women. Uncle Sam doesn't exactly welcome that with open arms.”
“True but obviously she has managed so far. Something tells me she could manage with you, too.”
“Why are you so hot to get us together?” Dale asked, curiously.
“I don't know,” Shannon said and shrugged. “I like you, I like her, I think you two would be good together and you should give it a chance. You have nothing to lose at this point. Let something nice come from your Army experience for a change.”
“Some nice things have come from it, like my friendship with you and my friendship with Anne.”
“Yes,” Shannon said, slyly, “but our interaction with you doesn't satisfy you the way Cassidy's does.”
“It does…just in a different way.”
Shannon was suddenly alert and she touched Dale's arm and pointed. Dale looked in the direction Shannon indicated. “There's Casey. Let's go see if he'll talk to us.”
The two agents jogged up to Sergeant Casey, who seemed to be headed toward the Tenth Battalion barracks. Casey turned around when he heard the running and his name being called. Casey stopped to let them catch up. He liked these two; they were the subject of many amusing stories over beer at the NCO club. They knew how to have a good time and, at the same time, not lose sight of what they were at McCullough for.
“Hi, girls,” Casey said. “On your way in for bed check?”
They both nodded as they caught their breath. “Sorry to hear about your problems,” Shannon said, as the three of them started to walk again.
Casey shook his head. “What can I say? It happens all the time around here. I was just stupid enough to be caught.”
“Did she come on to you?” Dale asked.
“We sort of came on to each other,” Casey answered. “She always flirted with me and I flirted back. Normal stuff. Then we had an opportunity to take it further. I should have taken her off-post, that's all.”
“Do you think you were set up?” Shannon wanted to get right to the point. She lit up another cigarette.
Casey lit his cigarette off Shannon 's. “No. Not by her, anyway. Hell, no. This has been going on between us almost every night for three weeks. If it was a set up, it wouldn't have gone on that long. Every cycle, members of the cadre of each company usually nails a trainee or two. It's kind of like a game of Russian Roulette. Take Bradbury for instance. She normally never nails less than two trainees per cycle. She's very lucky, almost a Goddamned legend around here. They're always female but, hey, she get what she wants.”
“What about our company?” Dale asked. She prayed he wouldn't say anything bubble-bursting about Cassidy. “I heard we were jinxed but no one's been doing shit this cycle.”
Casey snickered. “That's what you think. I know for a fact one of your girls is doing someone and it's not a drill sergeant, either. This chick is going for the brass. I saw them together two Wednesday nights in a row at Clancy's, a bar in town that's usually not populated by military personnel.”
Dale and Shannon looked at each other, then back at Casey. “Who's the girl?” Shannon asked.
Casey seemed hesitant. “You've got to promise me you won't say anything.”
“Why?” Dale asked. “What difference does it make now? You're already burned, why not bring an officer down with you, especially for the same infraction?”
“I suppose you have a point,” Casey said. “Except I don't know if I want to ruin this girl's chance to get wherever it is she wants to go.”
“Come on, Sergeant Casey, who's the girl?” Shannon persisted. “If it ever comes out that we know, we'll never say it came from you. Promise.”
Casey studied them both. It was evident the anticipation was eating them both alive. “Well…alright. I don't remember her name but you sure can't forget a face and a body like hers. You know, that knock-out blonde who's always so quiet.”
Dale and Shannon looked at him, speechless, then looked at each other with the same stunned, indignant and disappointed expressions. “Michaelson?” Dale asked, weakly.
“That's it!” He snapped his fingers. “Yes. Michaelson.”
“Are you sure?” Shannon pressed him.
“Oh, I'm sure. She's the one who was in the barracks with that black chick who killed herself early in the cycle, right? The one CID took all the statements from?”
“That's definitely her,” Dale said. “Who was she with?”
“Now that's a little more difficult to pinpoint. This guy is a full-bird colonel, I know that. At the angle I saw them from, I only saw his rank, not his nametag.”
“He was in there in uniform?” Dale asked.
“In his fatigues. You know the high brass. They're so cocky, they think they're untouchable. I've seen him before but I don't remember where. He's an old dude, though, too old for a stone fox like her. Funny what attracts some people, huh?”
“Hilarious,” Dale muttered. She looked at Shannon . They both felt they'd been had.
“Hey, Walker , by the way, great job on that thing you did two nights ago,” Casey said.
“Okay, girls, this is my stop,” Casey said. They hadn't realized they had arrived at Tenth Battalion already. “Thanks for the escort.”
“Anytime,” Shannon told him. Dale was too preoccupied to speak. Shannon grabbed Dale's upper arm and pulled her up the street, toward the LE School. “Let's walk a bit.”
“Michaelson? It's fucking Michaelson?” Dale kept her voice controlled even though she felt anything but in control. I can't believe it. Of all people. And who was the officer?”
“Maybe someone who doesn't know she's a GI. At first, even a second glance, if she's out of uniform, it wouldn't be my guess.”
“But she lied to us, Shan. She told us she went to the rec center on Wednesdays.”
“Maybe she does. Maybe she goes to Clancy's afterward.”
Dale went on as though she hadn't heard her. “You know, it actually crossed my mind to follow her but I really believed her, especially after she asked me to help her and spar with her.” Dale shook her head in doubt. “I knew she was ambitious but I didn't think it would be this way. The power of rank can be so seductive, though.”
“I still wonder who the colonel is.”
“He could be anybody. Do you know how many full-birds are running around on this post?”
“Then I guess we'll have to go see for ourselves Wednesday night. I have fireguard from five to seven. I'll have to meet you there,” Shannon said.
Dale glared at her. “No, no, Shan, this could be our big break. Fuck fireguard!”
“If I can get someone to switch with me, I will, but you know how difficult that is.”
“ Shannon –“
“Dale, what if neither shows up? Then I have been AWOL from duty and nothing to show for it. We don't know what's going on here and we'd better play it safe. You get there, plant yourself and wait. On the chance they may have already gotten there, I'll just wait outside for you. I agree, this could be it but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'll leave it to you to get in touch with Bishaye.”
“Something isn't adding up here, Shannon . She doesn't tie in to Henning.”
“Not yet, anyway, but this is the first solid bite we've had. Michaelson has obviously been deceiving everyone.”
“Maybe this old colonel came on to Henning once and she turned him down.”
“I suppose that could be it, Dale, but an officer as high-ranking as a colonel wouldn't have to go through all this to get even. He would just use his rank against her to retaliate and not have to bother with this garbage. It's got to be something more.” Shannon noticed the troubled expression on Dale's face. “It could be anything. Hell, we know nothing about Deborah Michaelson and the bottom line is, it could be nothing more than what Casey thought it was: a girl who is gold digging.”
“It could be but I don't buy it.” She looked directly into Shannon 's eyes. “I've got a real bad feeling about this and I can't shake it.”
Dale tried to call Anne Bishaye five different times the next day but could not reach her. She was out of the office all day on business and no one answered her home number later on.
The two CID agents attended their classes but it was nothing more than going through the motions. They kept as close an eye on Michaelson as they could without raising suspicion. If anyone noticed anything, it was that both Dale and Shannon were peculiarly serious the entire day.
For some unexplainable reason, both undercover lieutenants felt they had hit onto something big, something that may have been totally unrelated to the reasons they had been brought there. It only complicated matters when they ran into Casey later in the mess hall and he supplied them with the name he couldn't come up with the night before.
“Sedakis,” Dale repeated later in disbelief. It was fifteen minutes before bed check and they stood on the far end of the north patio, keeping this conversation quiet. “I can't believe this. This is becoming a can of worms right before our eyes. What has she been doing meeting with him once a week? Shannon , what is really going on here?”
“I don't know. Didn't you say you had a run-in with Sedakis in the past?”
“Not really. He was some kind of adjutant to the Provost Marshal's office at Fort Ord when I was there. He sped through the main gate, nearly running me down one night and I ticketed him for it. It was just that one incident. I did bust the headlight out of his new car, accidentally on purpose, though. He and Anne got into it over that but she stuck by me. She was a little annoyed with my procedure but my citation was solid so he dropped it. Honestly, I'd never even seen the guy before that night and the only thing I had against him was that he thought he was exempt from following post rules. Soon after, I heard he had PCS'd to Fort Sam in Texas . The next time I heard his name was when Anne brought it up to me in October.”
“And now he's the regional CID commander here. This doesn't make sense. Isn't he the one who's ultimately responsible for bringing us here?”
Shannon watched Dale, curiously. The look on Dale's face was deeply contemplative. The gears were turning and Shannon knew Dale was working hard to connect the dots. Suddenly, a look of sheer panic struck Dale's thoughtful features and she started to hyperventilate. “Dale, what's the matter?”
Dale dropped to her knees as though she had been punched in the gut and the wind had been knocked out of her.
“Dale! What -?”
“Oh my God. Shannon . It can't be.”
“What?” Shannon was trying hard not to panic at the behavior of her partner.
“It's a set up.” Dale's voice was flat.
“No shit,” Shannon said.
Dale grabbed Shannon and pulled her down to the cold, hard, concrete patio floor with her. “No! We have been set up! I'm the lieutenant Carolyn Stuart was talking about! Not Henning, me. Revenge against me and Sedakis is behind it.”
Shannon had never seen Dale look so terrified. “Why? Because of a citation? Dale, don't be ridiculous.”
“No, listen to me,” Dale said as they moved over to the picnic table, “It just hit me what's happening here. I was on an assignment in Texas called the Eagle Project. It had a longer name than that but we called it the Eagle Project. I was sent to Fort Sam Houston to infiltrate this group the military suspected of dealing arms to South America . There's been this little civil war going on there for years and –“
“Yes, I know all that. Get to the point.”
“This particular South American group was paying our particular group beaucoup bucks to transport all kinds of new, state-of-the-art combat weapons down to them by helicopter. There had been a few minor sales before I hooked up with the group but this deal was major. Big time. We were going to supply them with unmarked M16s, grenade launchers, claymores and ammunition up the ying-yang. Well…I was the one who led that bust. I was the one responsible for that expensive deal falling through but because we had to move in on it so fast or risk losing it, we went in before the mastermind and the guy flying the helicopter showed up. They were both reputed to be military and they got away.”
“And you think Sedakis was the mastermind?”
“I know he was, Shannon , I know it in here,” Dale said and tapped her chest. “That was a major, major setback for him, that deal going belly up like that. I'm sure he not only lost a lot of credibility with the bad guys but he lost a lot of money, too.”
“Aren't you overlooking something important here? Bishaye brought us down here and supposedly, it was all Henning's idea.”
“No, that was all very clever on Sedakis' part. He knew Henning would have to eventually think about suggesting using trained people to find out what was going on. It was all too suspicious not to. He knew she would have to run it by Bishaye and he had to know Bishaye would look for people she could trust. He makes sure I'm on the available list, maybe even suggests my name to her, I don't know. Let's say, for argument's sake, he goes ahead and sets up this elaborate scheme, establishing a pattern, enough times for the higher ups to think it's not a coincidence and –“
“You actually think he would just randomly ruin innocent men's lives like that?” Shannon asked.
“An officer as ruthless as Sedakis? Yes, I do. Enlisted men – and women – are expendable when you are working toward a specific goal. In this case, I'm the goal. Okay, so then, he gets Anne involved by putting my name out there as still available. He knows she's going to request me. She does, he protests slightly, she insists and he relents. Here, we are.”
“Dale, that's just too out there. I need more. The investigation will need more.”
“No, Shannon , I remember now. I remember everything about the night I was attacked and the car ride where they thought they killed me. It just surged into my memory at the realization that Sedakis was behind it. Those men were hitting me with the butt of the pistol and, before I lost consciousness, one of them said, ‘Sedakis wants her body dumped out here.' It's as if it was yesterday.”
“You just remembered that tonight?”
“Just now. When I was sharing my theory about Sedakis, it was like the block cracked and it all came flooding back. You know, the past two weeks, the word ‘dock' kept coming into my head and I didn't know why. And now it makes sense. My brain was trying to work through the trauma. SeDOCKis. It had to be that.”
“Okay. So, we're here. What do you think he planned to do?”
“Kill us,” Dale stated, blankly. “Maybe not you but definitely me. I bet if we did a little research, we would find that Ms. Michaelson is probably a professional he hired to get rid of me.”
“Dale, do you realize how paranoid this all sounds?”
“I do. But I've earned the right to be paranoid.”
“Why go to all this trouble? Why not just pick you off in Vermont ?”
“I don't know. Maybe so he could have the pleasure of watching it done. Or knowing for a fact it had been done. I haven't figured that part out yet.”
Shannon was reeling from Dale's revelation but her watch said they had to get upstairs for bed check. “We've got to get to the bay.”
“Or what?” Dale smiled, wryly. “They'll write us up?”
“Look, as it stands right now, this is all great in supposition but we need proof. I think we should keep our mouths shut, go to Clancy's tomorrow night, catch them in act and take it from there. Try to get Bishaye to sit there with you to witness it.”
“If I can get in touch with her. She's been in a ton of meetings lately.”
“It's getting to the end of Tenth Battalion's cycle. She's got to be swamped in paperwork. If she can't get free, we'll have to do it ourselves.”
Dale sat in a dark corner of Clancy's bar. She tried to stay calm but found herself fidgeting, nonetheless. She felt emotionally prepared for what the evening would bring yet, at the same time, still had not come to grips with the revelation of the night before. She wanted this episode of her life finished and wanted Sedakis to pay, if he really was behind it all. And she knew, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was. Shannon was right, though; Dale's gut instinct wouldn't cut it, they needed irrefutable proof.
She had arrived early enough to get herself well hidden. She ordered a beer but didn't drink it and hoped, by some miracle, that Shannon had found someone to trade fireguard duty with and she would show up soon.
Dale thought about taking a drink from her beer, torn between needing something to calm her down and feeling the need to keep a clear head. She still hadn't decided which need was greater when Deborah Michaelson walked into the bar. The part of her that hoped Sergeant Casey was mistaken died a very quick death.
The development of Michaelson and Sedakis was strange enough but within minutes of Michaelson's arrival, Anne Bishaye walked through the door, clearly searching for someone. Dale wondered if Shannon had been able to contact Bishaye at the last minute. She thought about trying to signal Bishaye to let her know where she was but the possibility of revealing her presence to Michaelson was too risky, so Dale stayed concealed.
She nearly fell over when she saw Bishaye recognize and then approach Michaelson. They stood close to each other and conversed as though they were well acquainted. Whatever was going on, Bishaye had an urgent expression as she spoke and Michaelson kept nodding.
Dale continued to watch, speechless, consciously making sure she remained out of plain view. Just before the meeting ended, Dale's eyes followed Bishaye's hands as they took an envelope out of her jacket and handed it to Michaelson. Michaelson looked at it, skeptically, but then put it away, inside her own coat. The entire exchange took less than five minutes, then Bishaye left Clancy's.
Taken completely by surprise, Dale had no idea what to do. Her first instinct was to run after Bishaye but she decided, instead, to wait and see what Michaelson did.
Deborah Michaelson finished her drink and walked out the door. Dale left her corner table with the speed of a bullet. She pushed through the crowd until she was outside and spotted Michaelson in the parking lot. Dale sprinted up behind her. “Michaelson!”
Michaelson whirled to see Dale approaching her and looked as shocked to see the undercover lieutenant as Dale had been to Bishaye. Her reflective expression then turned suspicious. “Oakes…where did you come from?”
“Inside. What's going on with you and the Battalion Commander, Deb?” Dale sounded angry and confused.
“What do you mean?”
“Don't fuck with me, Michaelson, this is too important. What did she give you? What's in that envelope?”
Michaelson's voice and attitude became chilling. “That's none of your business.” The look on her face stopped Dale cold. Dale had seen that look before; it was worn by the men who tried to kill her at Fort Jackson .
Dale swallowed the instantaneous fear she suddenly felt. “It is my business, it is very much my business.” Her mind raced wildly as she scanned the parking lot.
“What's the matter, Oakes,” Michaelson taunted, “can't stand the thought of Bishaye being involved with anyone but you?”
Dale took a step back and scrutinized her. “Who are you?” There were traces of genuine panic in her voice.
A slight smile crossed Michaelson's lips. “Rest assured, you will never know, Lieutenant Oakes.” She started to walk away from Dale but Dale grabbed her arm and turned her around. Michaelson shook her off.
“How do you know I'm working with Bishaye? How do you know my rank? What the hell is going on here?”
Michaelson shoved Dale away from her. “Don't you ever put your hands on me again. I know all about you, Oakes, I know all about you and why you're here. I know your reputation and I know you're nobody to mess with. Guess what? You've met your match in me.”
Dale didn't back down. “Who the hell are you working for?”
Michaelson smile came back. “Don't like this, do you, Oakes? You don't like not knowing anything, do you?” Michaelson leaned in close. “I love it.”
Dale had lived seventeen weeks with this woman and now she was looking at a total stranger. Michaelson's hostility was strong and Dale wasn't quite sure how to handle her. She made an attempt at being rational. “Deborah, all I want to know is why you're meeting with Anne Bishaye. You obviously accepted something of importance from her. I have a professional interest in anything the colonel does since you know I work for her.”
“Fuck off, Oakes. This is between Bishaye and me. If she'd wanted you in on this, she would have told you.”
“Then where does Sedakis come in?”
“Oh, so you know about him, too. Gee, Oakes, you are good.”
“Since I apparently wasn't clear the first time, I'll ask you again: Who the hell are you working for?”
Michaelson tapped the space in her jacket where she had placed the envelope. “Right now I'm working for the highest bidder.” She turned from Dale and started to walk away but Dale wasn't about to let her get too far.
She took a step closer to Michaelson who, with split-second timing, whirled and grabbed Dale's hand, pulled Dale to her and spun Dale around, trapping Dale up against a car. A little taken aback by Michaelson's undeniable strength, Dale did her best to maintain a calm exterior. Dale's voice was coolly even. “Now it's your turn to take your hands off me.” When Michaelson tightened her grip, Dale said, “Come on, Deborah, I don't want to fight with you. I'm not that foolish. I just want to find out what's going on here.”
“Why do you think I'd tell you?”
“What do you have to hide from me?”
“Nothing. I just don't feel what I do, no matter who it's with, is any of your business.” They had started to attract minor attention. Michaelson relaxed her grip and positioned herself against Dale so that it appeared they were getting intimately physical as opposed to dangerously physical. Michaelson chuckled. “You like this, don't you, Oakes? My hands on your body. Too bad I don't like women like that, although, if I had been asked to do you, I might have been able to manage it very well.”
How does she know about my orientation? Just what, exactly, has Anne told her and why? “If you say this is none of my business, then why are you baiting me?”
“Because I like it, Oakes. It's what I do.” Michaelson ran her hands over Dale's body in a cursory search for weapons.
“I'm clean,” Dale assured her, then mustered up all her strength and pushed herself away from the car, in turn, knocking Michaelson off-balance. In an admirable display of speed and fluidity, Dale had Michaelson trapped on the ground. They were now hidden behind several parked cars and out of view of the entrance to Clancy's, so the incoming and outgoing patrons could no longer see them. Dale's voice was now tight. “Cut the bullshit, Michaelson. I want answers and I want them now!”
Michaelson struggled and tried to get up but Dale smashed her back down to the pavement. “Get off me, Oakes.”
“Not until you give me some answers.”
“Go ask Bishaye,” Michaelson spit out. “I've got nothing to say to you.”
“Then I guess I'll just hold you here until my partner arrives and go ask her myself.”
“The hell you will,” Michaelson said. She brought her knee up, caught Dale off-guard and hit Dale in the back. Dale fell forward and the wrestling match had begun. As they tussled away from their unnoticeable spot, they started to draw a small crowd again. Michaelson had connected a few solid punches to Dale's face and body but not as many as Dale had deflected.
What neither Dale nor Michaelson were aware of was that one of the patrons had called the police. The gentleman thought he had witnessed a perverse public display of affection earlier when he had seen them up against the car. He had told the dispatcher that if those queers wanted to do that , they should have stayed on the Army post, where they belonged.
Dale and Michaelson were still fighting for control when a civilian black and white squad car drove into the parking lot. A taxi with Shannon in it pulled in right behind the patrol unit. The police officer and Shannon exited their respective vehicles at the same time.
Shannon was automatically curious as to what was going on to involve the police and a crowd. She circled the perimeter and wondered at the same time what was happening inside with Dale, Michaelson and Sedakis.
“All right, girls, break it up,” the cop announced, as he moved through the crowd.
He reached the inner line of spectators just in time to see Dale take down Michaelson. Michaelson then kicked Dale away from her, which caused Dale to fall backward. When Michaelson got to her feet, she looked over and saw the officer.
“I said break it up!” He stepped between two people, out into the open, taking this scene much too lightly. He stood there with his hands on his hips. “I enjoy a good catfight as much as anyone else but you girls really need to break it up.”
“Goddamn it!” Michaelson cried, desperately. She reached down, underneath her bell bottomed blue jeans where her boots were and came back up with a .22 Beretta in her hand.
Shannon broke through the crowd and into the clearing just as all this was taking place. She recognized the woman holding the gun and the woman it was aimed at. “Michaelson, no!” Shannon shouted.
Several cries of ‘she's got a gun' went through the now scattering crowd. If the people had not panicked, pushing Shannon backward with their movement, she might have been able to lunge for Michaelson.
Michaelson fired off a round at Dale, who rolled out of the way as soon as she saw a glint of metal. By this time, the patrol officer had unholstered his .38 and had drawn down on Michaelson. “Drop it!” He ordered her.
She turned toward him and brought the weapon with her. She did not look ready to surrender and the officer took no chances. He fired off a round and the impact of the bullet sent Michaelson sprawling backward onto the hood of a car.
Dale and Shannon ran to her from different directions. Shannon kicked the Beretta toward the officer and they helped her to the ground.
“Back away from her! Now!” The officer's gun was still pointed at Michaelson.
“We're CID agents!” Shannon shouted to him “This is military business. Call an ambulance. Now!”
The cop kept his .38 trained on the group of three but he used his portable, hand-held radio to request back-up and medical help. When that was done, he returned his radio to its pouch and stepped closer to them. “Let me see some badges and ID.”
“We don't have any on us,” Dale said. She cradled Michaelson with her own body. She held direct pressure to Michaelson's wound. It didn't seem to help. “We're undercover.”
“Call Colonel Anne Bishaye at –“
“No!” Dale cut Shannon off. She told the officer to have his station contact Karen Henning at home and have her meet them at the scene with their badges and IDs.
His weapon was still out but he did as Dale asked.
“What the fuck happened here, Dale?” Shannon asked. Her partner had a wild look on her face.
Dale ignored her. “Deborah, you've got to tell me what's going on here. What is worth getting shot over?”
“Oh, God. God, it hurts,” Michaelson said. Her breaths were coming in short gasps and she had already lost what looked to be an unhealthy amount of blood. “Maybe…you didn't…meet your…match.”
“Deb, what were you doing in there with Bishaye?” Dale's tone was gentle. There was no need to scream at her, it wouldn't do any good now.
Shannon stared at Dale. “Bishaye?”
“She…she was giving…giving me money.” Michaelson was now clammy and very pale.
“I…was…hired to kill…you before…the…cycle ended.” The pain was obviously becoming unbearable. “Kirk…was a…a…part of it…too…but she…was too young…couldn't handle it…not after…she…got…to know…you. So I…I had…to carry it…out…by myself.”
“Kirk?” This was too much for Dale, Tears welled up in her eyes. “Bishaye hired you? Why would Bishaye want me dead?”
“I don't…know. Sedakis…was running…the…show but…Bishaye was always….the one I got…the money…from. Sedakis would say…do it this week…and Bishaye…would…show up with more…money…and…say ‘Wait'.” Michaelson was getting weaker.
“Where is that fucking ambulance?” Shannon yelled to the cop.
“It's on its way.” He still had his weapon aimed at them.
“Hang in there, Deb, you're going to be okay,” Dale told her, unrealistically, as she smoothed her hair. “Did they tell you why they wanted me dead?”
“I..didn't…ask. All…my…concerns…were…monetary. It…wasn't…personal, Oakes. I…kind…of…liked…you…”
They heard the sounds of sirens in the distance.
One of the paramedics walked up behind Dale and put his hand on her shoulder. They had given their statement to a group who included two MPs, two CID agents, four civilian police officers and Karen Heniing who was still in a state of shock.
“Yes?” Dale turned to the paramedic.
“I'm sorry, Lieutenant. She just died.”
Dale nodded and bowed her head. She turned back to the group and Henning touched Dale's arm, supportively.
Shannon looked at Dale. “I need to speak to Lieutenant Oakes, privately.”
“Sure,” one of the CID agents said.
Shannon escorted her partner far enough away from cluster of authorities so that they could talk without being overheard. They stopped by an unmarked police car and Dale leaned against it. “I can't believe it, Shan. I can't believe she would do this to me…”
“Don't you find it curious that in Michaelson's official statement, she never mentioned Bishaye's name once? Just Sedakis.”
“Curious, yes, but it sure as fuck doesn't leave her off the hook. I know what I saw and what I heard Michaelson say,” Dale said.
“Look, why don't I tell them and go with them to pick up Bishaye?” Shannon offered.
“No,” Dale said and shook her head, adamantly. “No. I will get her. It's only right. I want to know why she was involved in all this. I still need answers. You go with them to get Sedakis and I'll get Anne.”
“By yourself? I'm not so sure that's a good idea.”
“Then bring the cavalry with you after you pick up Sedakis. I have to face her alone.”
Anne Bishaye unlocked her door and walked inside her house. She removed the keys from the lock, shut the door and turned on the kitchen light. She put the carton of milk she was carrying in the refrigerator and headed toward the hallway. Her eyes suddenly focused on a figure standing in her living room. Her hand instinctively went to the light switch but the intruder's voice broke the silence before she could turn the light on.
Bishaye recognized Dale's voice and proceeded to turn on the light. Her hand was still in the vicinity of her chest and throat. “You frightened me, Dale. How did you get in…” She stopped at the sight of Dale's bruised face and then her eyes fell to the large stain of blood on Dale's shirt and jacket. “Oh, my God, Dale what happened?” The alarm in her voice was genuine. She moved to Dale quickly with the clear intent of embracing her.
“Stop!” Dale barked. Dale shut her eyes and with tears welling up caused by anger and betrayal, she stepped back, out of Bishaye's reach. “Don't do this to me. Don't lie to me anymore and don't pretend you care about me.” Dale's voice was shaking.
“What are you talking about? Of course I care about you. For Christ's sake, Dale, what happened?”
“Stop it! I know everything! I was there at Clancy's tonight. I saw you with Michaelson. I know what's going on.”
Bishaye looked dazed. “Michaelson?”
“Yes. Michaelson. She's dead, by the way…but she was expendable. Isn't that right, Eagle?”
The words ‘she's dead' came out and hit Bishaye like a slap but when Dale used the code word that was the root of the revenge set up, she turned sheet white.
“Yeah.” Dale watched her closely. “You should get nervous because Michaelson made a deathbed confession. You're in some pretty deep shit, Eagle.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“Why?” Dale winced in pain. Grappling with Michaelson had re-injured her bad foot and it was now throbbing. She shifted her weight, babying the ankle. “I'm so sick of having my body battered because of you,” Dale said. Bishaye took a step closer to her and Dale put her hand up to halt her. “Don't push your luck, Colonel Bishaye.”
“You won't hurt me,” Anne said, in a whisper.
“Just like you weren't going to hurt me? Of course, you already tried once and failed.”
“What does that mean?”
“Memory loss? That was my problem, not yours. Silver Lincoln Continental? Florida plates? The officer's club at Jackson ?”
“Have you lost your mind? I wasn't anywhere near there. Why would you think I would try to kill you?”
“Stop lying to me!” Dale yelled, agonizingly. “Why, Anne? Why you and why me? I idolized you, I loved you! You could have made me into anything, I was a fucking puppet for you!”
“A puppet with a mind of her own, I'm afraid.” Anne appeared to have resigned herself to no longer deny her involvement. “What happened to Michaelson?”
“She tried to shoot me. She missed. Of course, I didn't have my gun, so an Averill cop did me the honor.” Dale shifted her weight again. “I think, at the very least, you owe me an explanation.”
Bishaye reluctantly stood still. “This Eagle thing was so much bigger than you can imagine…”
“I know. Sedakis should be filling his pants right about now. Jesus. Why didn't you just leave me in Vermont ? I never would have figured it out. It would have been so much better, especially for you and me.”
“No. No, they were going to kill you, regardless. They wanted you dead. You knew too much. They knew at some point your mental block would crack and you'd remember all the numbers on that Florida license plate or conversations in the car that could come back to them. You never would have left it alone then, Dale. You would have investigated everything and exposed them. They were going to arrange an accident in Vermont and because you weren't on active duty, no one would have suspected them. So I talked them into this situation. I was so insane about it that I think they did it just to humor me. We had to set it up first but, in developing the plan and having you brought here, I figured I was buying you time.”
“Why was Michaelson here?”
“She wasn't my idea. She was hired by Sedakis, originally, just to keep an eye on you.”
“Like she kept an eye on Carolyn Stuart?”
“Stuart panicked. She was going to blow the whole thing but her death was a surprise to me, too.”
“Just like Kirk?” Dale shook her head, disgusted. “You recruited a child to do your dirty work! You ruined the careers of six innocent men!”
“Some of them weren't that innocent. It was just a matter of time before they got caught for fraternizing.”
“That's no excuse! And, believe me, knowing their lives were wrecked so you could allegedly save mine? You've put that on my shoulders. Sorry, but I'm not grateful to you for that.”
Bishaye's jaw shifted. “I never expected any of this to get so out of hand.”
“That's it? That's all you have to say?” Dale wiped a tear away from her eye as Bishaye stayed silent. “Why? Why did it have to be you?”
“Why did it have to be you who made the bust on that damned Eagle project?” Anne countered.
“I'm a cop, Anne! That's what I do, remember? I work for Uncle Sam on the side of the good guys. You used to work for the good guys, too. What happened? What were you doing mixed up in that shit, anyway? You were always one of the most, law-abiding, honest people I've ever known.”
“It was Jack! It was his involvement! I didn't know he was going to pilot that helicopter until after everything came down. I was still at Ord when all this happened and he was supposed to have been in Texas on business for his school. He's my husband, for God's sake! I love him. I felt I had to protect him.”
“And who's supposed to protect you?” Dale asked her, sincerely curious.
“Dale…I grew up in the fifties. I grew up in an Ozzie and Harriet/Father Knows Best home. I was raised in a traditional setting. You marry for life and you stand by the man you marry.”
“Oh, bullshit, Anne! Nothing about your marriage is traditional. You're in the military; you run a battalion. You make more money than Jack does. You have no kids. Stop me when the tradition peeks in here…”
“You're right, I didn't do everything just like my parents did but I do love my husband and I am loyal to him.”
“He betrayed his country and because you didn't turn him in, knowing what he and Sedakis were involved in, you're just as guilty.” Dale took a deep breath, let it out and studied Bishaye. “You should have left him, Anne.”
“There were circumstances –“
“Circumstances that override being a traitor and treason?” Dale was incredulous.
“Not everything is black and white, Dale. If anyone should know that by now, it's you.” Bishaye's tone held a hint of bitterness.
“Anne - nothing, nothing is this gray! It's one thing when you sell out on yourself but you had no right to sell out on me!”
Bishaye could see that even if Dale did intend to take her into custody, she'd have to be able to focus on her first, an impossibility considering the amount of tears in Dale's eyes. She had never seen Dale this hurt or this vulnerable. She reached over, took Dale's hand and pulled her into an embrace. Bishaye held her tightly. “I am so sorry. I wanted to warn you so many times. I know you will never understand and I'm not trying to excuse myself but I was doing everything I possibly could to get you to come out of this alive. I just didn't know what to do. I was caught in the middle of an impossible situation.” She kissed the top of Dale's head. “You know how I feel about you.”
“I thought I did.”
Bishaye leaned back, lifted Dale's chin to kissed her. Dale fiercely pushed her away.
“No! You can't do this to me anymore! I will not allow you to manipulate me any longer. Two weeks ago, you might have gotten away with it but not now. Things have changed. I changed! Everything's changed.” Dale was surprised at how relieved she was that she no longer felt the intense craving for the colonel. She still loved Bishaye, despite everything and that was confusing for her, because at this moment, love was the furthest thing on her mind. How could a successful outcome of catching the criminals feel like such a failure? Instead of the festive debriefing she had pictured and counted on with a woman she cherished and idolized, Dale now had to deal with mourning that loss and coping with the duplicitously flawed human being Bishaye really was.
Dale wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She looked at her watch. “Okay, this is what you're going to do. Pack a bag, just the necessities and get the fuck out of here.”
“What? Wait –“
“Do it,” Dale commanded. “As soon as they pick up Sedakis they are coming over here. You don't have much time.”
Bishaye stood still, bewildered. “You're serious.”
“Do I look like I'm joking? Move, Anne, before I change my mind.”
“Where am I going to go?”
“How the hell should I know? You've proven to be very resourceful. Anywhere is better than Leavenworth , isn't it?”
“Sedakis will fry me, you know that.”
“Not if he can't find you. And he'll be in prison.”
“What about Jack?”
“Fuck Jack. I know you love him. Up until ten minutes ago, I loved him, too, but he didn't consider you when he got tangled up in this Eagle bullshit, did he? Come on, come on, you're wasting time you don't have.”
Dale followed Bishaye into the bedroom. “What about Walker ?” Bishaye asked.
“Leave her to me. I can handle her,” Dale said and then hoped it was true.
“What about CID?”
“I will tell them all you were gone when I got here, that someone must have tipped you off because it looked like you left in a hurry.” She watched as Bishaye rummaged through drawers. “I just want to know – somehow – when you get settled somewhere, that you're safe. That's all I want from you.”
“It may take a while,” Bishaye said. She threw undergarments in a small track bag.
Dale folded her arms and leaned against the doorway. “I cannot believe the anguish you put me through over Cassidy when all the time you know she wasn't a part of this.”
“Your sleeping with Cassidy was unethical. I wasn't wrong about that. Besides, if I hadn't reamed you about it, you might have gotten suspicious. You expected me to act exactly the way I acted.”
“You're lecturing me on ethics? That has to be an all-time irony,” Dale said.
“It was an irresponsible thing to do, under the circumstances.” She stopped packing and looked into Dale's eyes. “And, if you must know the truth, I was jealous.”
Dale sighed. “You really fucked with my head in so many different ways.” She watched Bishaye finish her packing and zip up the bag. “One more thing: where's Jack?”
“Don't make me do that, Dale. Please.”
“If he is at his office at the airport, don't meet him there. That will be the next place they look when they don't find you here.”
They stood at the door that led to the garage. “I suppose I shouldn't take my car, either.”
“They'll put a bolo out on it, if they haven't already but that choice is yours. However you get to where you're going, I don't want to know.”
“I don't know what to say to you.” Bishaye looked lost.
“Don't say anything. Just get out of here.”
Bishaye went to hug Dale, then stopped. She looked at Dale skeptically, her expression now asking permission. Dale sighed and pulled her into a hug. “Take care of yourself,” Bishaye said.
“I'll be fine. You're the one who'll be looking over your shoulder the rest of your life. You take care of you .”
They looked at each other for a moment, without speaking. Their eyes expressed what words could not. Bishaye reluctantly released Dale and went to the garage. She started her car and drove away from her house. Dale heard the sound of the vehicle's motor fade into the distance. Dale went out to the front porch, sat and waited.
“I never should have let you come here alone,” Shannon whispered, harshly to Dale. She paced in front of her while Bishaye's house was searched. “I should have come here myself. I knew something like this would happen.”
“She was gone when I got here,” Dale insisted.
“How? How could she have known, Dale?”
“I don't know, Shannon ,” Dale snapped. “She's a very smart woman.”
“Smart enough to get over on you, that's for sure.”
“ Shannon , please. Don't you think this whole thing has been hard enough on me?”
“I just don't get it, that's all. This woman was involved in a plot to kill you and you let her walk. Did you lie to me about your relationship? Were you sleeping with her, too?”
“No. I was not sleeping with her. Can't we just drop it?”
“Drop it? Forgive me but I can't help listening to that little voice in my head that says had their plan worked, I'd be dead, too.”
“But it didn't happen that way, did it? I was responsible for a girl getting shot and killed tonight and, indirectly, for Kirk's death, too. I don't need a lecture from you.”
“Michaelson would have shot and killed you if the cop had not gotten to her first.” Shannon lit up a cigarette. “Where is your head on this one? Why are you protecting Bishaye? She conspired to kill you.”
“No, it wasn't her, it was her husband. She was protecting him…”
Shannon hauled off and slapped Dale's shoulder as hard as she could. “She was here! You did lie to me. You never would have known that if she hadn't told you!”
“Technically, I didn't lie. She was not home when I got here. She came home later.”
“Tell me what happened,” Shannon said through clenched teeth.
Three hours later, after all the statements had been taken, all the stories had been told and retold and all the secrets – except one – were out in the open, Dale and Shannon were transported back to the barracks where they were to collect their belongings and leave Tenth Battalion.
Henning was waiting for them at the Orderly Room when they walked in. Since there was such confusion at the crime scene, she waited to turn over their badges, IDs and personal weapons until they got back to A-10. This action happened in front of a dumbfounded Minty, the CQ.
Henning hadn't had the chance to converse with either Shannon or Dale privately yet. She had showed up after the incident to confirm the identity of the two agents to the police. She had tried to phone the Battalion Commander before she left her apartment. Now she was relieved there had been no answer.
“I'm really sorry,” was all Henning could say to Dale regarding Bishaye. “I had no idea.”
“I know.” Dale was subdued. She glanced over at Minty, who was clearly mystified by the activity in the CQ office. MInty also focused quite intently on the blood in Dale's clothes.
“What happens now?” Henning asked.
“We pack, we leave, we're out of here, goodbye and good luck. Or is that good riddance.” Shannon put her ID and badge away. She opened the cylinder of her .38 and checked to make sure it was loaded. After she closed it, she looked at Dale.
“I have to take a shower and get out of these clothes before I go anywhere,” Dale said, despondently.
It had just hit midnight by the time they got upstairs to the bay. When they walked in, they saw that everyone was wide awake and waiting for them. The lights were on and there were gasps at the sight of Dale's shirt.
“What in Christ's name is going on with you two?” Belinda Ryder asked them. “An hour ago, Holmquist comes up here with the MPs, cuts Michaelson's lock off, clears her locker out, strips her bunk and doesn't say a word. Then you two don't show up for lights out or bed check…what's happening? And where the hell is Michaelson?”
Both agents were quiet as they opened their lockers and started packing their belongings. As Dale went to take a shower, Shannon stripped her bunk and separated her civilian and military items.
“This isn't fair, Walker . Talk to us. No one can believe you'd wait until the end of LE School to mess up like this.” It was Chrissie Wachsman who asked this time. “Why'd they come and take all of Michaelson's stuff?”
“Michaelson won't be coming back,” Shannon said, finally.
“Did she go AWOL?” Sherlock asked.
“Sort of,” Shannon answered.
“What does that mean? Either she did or she didn't.”
Shannon hesitated. She wondered just how much she was supposed to say. “Okay, listen up. Michaelson wasn't who she pretended to be and she got caught. She went a little nuts and was shot by an Averill cop.” There were several gasps.
“Shot? How is she?” Wachsman asked.
“She's, uh…she died.”
While the women reacted to this, Dale emerged from the shower in her robe and toweling off her hair. Her bruised face was quite colorful now.
“Are you going to pack up your military shit?” Shannon hollered over to her.
“Not only no but hell, no,” Dale said. She reopened her locker. “I hope I never see any of it again and I don't care what they do with it.”
Shannon finished packing and brought her suitcase down to Dale's bunk. Kotski walked next to Shannon . “Where are you two going? Are they kicking you out? What did you two do?”
Dale had just finished tucking her shirt into a clean pair of jeans when they heard the barracks door slam open and a cry of “Man on the floor!” went out. The trainees assumed the position of Parade Rest and Holmquist walked over to Dale and Shannon. He stood face to face with them, stood at Attention and saluted them.
“At ease,” Dale said.
He relaxed and looked at the trainees. “You heard her. At ease.” Everyone took up their previous informal stance but now they were even more curious about what was going on. Why had Holmquist just saluted two soon-to-be ex-trainees? “Do they know yet?”
“About Michaelson, yes. About us? No,” Shannon answered.
“What about you?” Snow asked, just as Dale put her badge and ID in her breast pocket. She then donned a shoulder holster and put her .38 in it. More gasps. “Why do you have a gun?”
Shannon displayed her ID and Badge to everyone. “We're lieutenants and CID agents. We've been here on assignment since 22 November. The assignment was officially terminated at 2224 this evening. We are leaving here now and moving on to our next assignment.” She looked at Dale. “For one of us that means freedom as a civilian.”
The look of astonishment on the faces of their barracks-mates was expected. Some looked at the two lieutenants with a new admiration while a few others – Kotski, Mroz Wachsman, Tierni and Tramonte – looked as though they had been deceived.
“We couldn't say anything,” Dale explained. “We didn't know who to trust. This situation was very delicate. Even the drill sergeants didn't know. Dale slipped on her jacket, which hid her gun nicely. They both picked up their suitcases.
“You've all been wonderful to go through training with,” Shannon said. “You've all got great potential. I'd be proud to be partnered off with any one of you.” She turned and looked directly at Snow. “Even you. I'll tell you up front: I don't like you but despite that, I think you're going to make a hell of a cop.”
Snow smiled. She extended her hand to Shannon, who shook it. “Thank you.”
Shannon looked over the women to zero in on Chillemi. “You need to work on your people skills.”
When the hugging was over, Holmquist escorted them downstairs to the Orderly Room. Henning was still there and so was Minty who grinned and shook her head.
“Y'all are lieutenants working undercover? I should have known with all that you two got away with,” Minty said.
Dale and Shannon smiled back at her and both wished her good luck. They shook hands with Henning. Shannon said, I'm going to have one more smoke and then we'll come back in and call a cab.”
“Certainly,” Henning said.
They left their suitcases in the CQ office and walked outside for one last cigarette, one last time in the Alpha-10 company area. “Where are you going now?” Shannon asked.
“Back to Vermont . If CID needs anything else, they can call me there. What about you?”
“I have to go back to Texas and wait to see if I'm going to stay there or be cut new orders.”
“What about tonight? We could get a room in town and wind down.”
“Maybe another time,” Shannon said.
“Why? Do you have plans?”
“No,” Shannon answered. “But you do.” She nodded her head toward the A-10 parking lot where they saw a vehicle race up to the front. It was Cassidy's car.
Dale looked at Shannon . “What? How did she find out -?”
“I called her.”
“About 90 minutes ago, when you were giving a statement. She knows everything now. And, look, Dale…she came anyway.”
Dale's attention was drawn to Cassidy who ran up to her. Cassidy looked like she wanted to wrap Dale up in her arms but she obviously wasn't sure of the protocol in the new situation. She stopped just short of invading Dale's space. Shannon nodded to Cassidy and left them alone.
“Hi,” Dale said.
“Hi,” Cassidy said back. “You look like hell.”
“I feel worse.” Dale smirked.
“Were you just going to leave?” Cassidy looked frantic but she kept her voice calm.
“I wasn't sure you'd want anything to do with me.”
“Dale, I mean, Ma'am –“
“You can still call me Dale. If the rank didn't make a difference one way, it shouldn't make a difference the other.”
Cassidy stared at the patio floor. “How much trouble am I in?” She looked up at Dale.
“You aren't. Did you think you were part of my assignment?”
“I'd hoped not. Walker …I mean, Lieutenant Walker indicated I was not.”
Dale shook her head. “Everything that happened between us on my part was genuine.”
Cassidy looked relieved and managed a smile. “Mine, too. Dale, I understand why you had to stay quiet, why you had to keep your cover. I don't blame you.”
“Really. Would you…could we go get a cup of coffee and talk?”
Dale hesitated, not because she had doubts about the woman standing before her, but because she wasn't sure if she wanted coffee or a good, stiff, drink. “I would love to go have coffee with you. We have a lot to discuss.” Dale paused, then said, “My whole life was turned upside down tonight. Everything I thought to be true and just, turned out to be a lie and…I'm not sure about anything anymore.”
“Just coffee, Dale. I think we both need to figure some things out,” Cassidy said.
Dale was pensive, then she nodded. She had let go of so much tonight; she was not willing to let go of the only real thing she may have had left. “Sure. Where do you want to go?”
“How about my place? You said you liked my coffee…”
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