Title: Permission To Recover (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
Story Type: Original Novel
Disclaimer: None, other than any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters are mine.
Teaser: (tag line) In 1977, women thought they joined the peacetime Army. They were dead wrong.
Description: Two military undercover agents infiltrate the first male/female integrated basic training/law enforcement school program in hope of finding a murderer in a race against time. The two women unveil a lot more than is intended during their stint as 'trainees', encountering blatant sexism, harassment, discrimination, dead-ends, betrayals and love as the boundaries of friendship, obligation, loyalty and honor are tested to the limit.
Content Warning: This is a story about the military. There is bad language, sex (some of it is heterosexual) and violence.
Other Information: This story is my baby and it is very long, which is why I am posting it in sections. It is a complete story but I am transferring it from paper to disk, another reason for the sectional posting. PTR is as much about the trials and tribulations of basic training as it is one woman's personal journey through this time frame, which is why there will be sometimes as many paragraphs spent on military detail as on the lead characters.
It was unfortunate that Anne had not been available to discuss this new development before Dale took off but she knew Sharon would pass the information along to Bishaye as soon as she could get her on the phone. That was if she wasn't already in possession of this news and, if she was, why in hell hadn't she passed it along to Dale? Of course, it could have had something to do with the fact that Dale had not been home the previous week but, in her frenzied mind, Dale hadn't thought of that.
This definitely changed things, Dale reflected, as the United 727 taxied down the runway of the small Manchester airport. Exactly how it changed things she wasn't quite sure yet but she knew that Carolyn Stuart's murder altered circumstances immensely. There was no doubt in her mind now that it had to be some sort of plot. Too many related events were happening for it all to be coincidental. Somebody was quite a bit more dedicated to the cause than even Anne Bishaye had originally suspected.
But it was November 22, 1977 - Dooms Day. She had no more free time. Not for a while, anyway. She was on her way to Alabama to get right in the middle of it where she was going to be kept practically under lock, key and guard. She and this Lt. Walker person, with the help of Karen Henning as the intermediary between them and Anne Bishaye, were going to try and figure it out from the inside now under close watch and hopefully be able to keep themselves above suspicion. This situation had become more serious than anyone had imagined and it was imperative that the fewer people aware of Dale and Lt. Walker's mission, the better.
Atlanta Airport . The USO room was located on the lower level of the main terminal and seeing it again brought on an almost overwhelming sense of deja vu. The past flashed before Dale's eyes so suddenly and vividly, it almost made her physically ill, which sent a momentary wave of panic through her. She paused at the doorway, composed herself and made a quick, visual search of the room.
It seemed as though every USO room in every airport was generally the same. There was always one or two terminal employees monitoring behavior or protecting equipment in case someone became rambunctious. The rooms usually included couches, chairs, shelves of not-so-current reading material, some sort of game tables (pool, card, chess, backgammon, a raised shuffleboard, foosball, etc.), soda and candy machines and always a television set which, ironically, always seemed to be showing something military. That evening, everyone was entertained by reruns of "Gomer Pyle, USMC," "M.A.S.H." and "GI Blues."
Dale moved to an empty seat among the assemblage of many recruits and a few permanent party soldiers. There was a lot of getting acquainted, nervous laughter and paranoia going on and, for the time being, she chose to sit in the back of the room and observe. Helen Zerby, a little chatterbox who had enlisted for a communications slot and had taken her oath in New Hampshire with Dale, had already made some new friends so Dale didn't have to worry about that distraction for a while. Helen had talked non-stop from New England to Georgia and Dale got hoarse just listening to her.
However, sooner than Dale had expected, her concentration was broken and her interest was drawn back in Helen's direction when a rather athletic, masculine-looking female began verbalizing her opinion about the Elvis Presley movie that was playing. Her remarks were heavily sexual in content and a great deal louder than they needed to be and immediate attention was cast upon her, which Dale believed was what the woman wanted or perhaps needed in the first place since she had been sitting alone when Dale came in. The various conversations resumed after the initial curiosity wore off and the female's powerfully foul mouth just seemed to blend in with the rest of the noise.
Feeling an abrupt rush of claustrophobia, Dale left the room and went outside the terminal for a breath of fresh air. When a uniformed employee passed her, Dale asked him how long it would be before the bus got there.
"Well, they said it would be here in two hours. That was four hours ago."
Dale thanked him. The waiting game had begun already. No more than ten minutes later, a young man carrying a track bag came outside to the loading area.
"They just announced the bus," he told her. Dale nodded. The fellow looked at her, a little bewildered, and said, "Can I ask you something?"
"What are you down here for? What field are you going into?"
"I just heard that the guys and girls will be training together for basic. Do you know anything about that?"
"Yeah. I heard that we'll all be together straight through until the end of Law Enforcement School ."
"Shit," the boy said, unable to hide his disappointment. "What a joke."
His reaction didn't really surprise Dale but it did frustrate her. She shrugged at him. "Time to come out of the dark ages. It's almost 1978. Things change. Besides," she added with a smile, "maybe you'll learn something."
Dale could tell by his expression that he was about to respond in a cynical manner but never got the chance because the capacity of the USO room came spilling outside to join them and he got swallowed up in the crowd. She took her time going back inside and getting her suitcase out of the locker she had stored it in. When she returned outside, the bus was present and being loaded. Her body automatically followed commands to board but her subconscious kept sending her very negative feelings about even leaving the airport.
Once she was settled in a seat and the bus was underway, she tried to decipher these sudden rebellious feelings. At first she thought it was nothing more than a mild case of dread caused by the months to come but when she finally focused on the ride out of Atlanta , she realized that the whole thing was probably a premonition of the next two hours to come.
The bus driver was, without a doubt, a homicidal maniac who must have obtained his license from the Kamikaze School of Driving. Not only did he appear to be trying to break all land-speed records, he also had an obsession with bridges. Every time a black and white striped road sign would appear that indicated a bridge was ahead, the driver would accelerate to lift-off speed, frightening everyone on the bus into total silence. At least until the crisis of crossing the bridge had passed. Just to make sure she wasn't imagining it, when Dale spotted a trestle in the distance, she turned around and watched as gravity held everyone to their seats and, in almost perfect unison, the occupants behind her seemed to be doing involuntary Al Jolson eye impressions. At one point, someone even shouted up and asked if the little girl from "The Exorcist" was driving the bus but no one dared to actually look up at the driver, thinking he might turn his head all the way around in answer to that question.
Yet, even that didn't scare Dale as much as when she looked out her window, down at the road to see absolutely nothing for a shoulder but a ditch. Alabama was doing construction, trying to widen some of the more frequently traveled highways and, for some reason, in the pitch black darkness, the continuing hole on the side of the road looked more like an abyss. The driver was taking full advantage of this and playing "chicken" with the crevice to see how close he could bring the tires without losing it and flipping the bus.
Dale suddenly wished she were in possession of a voodoo doll with a general resemblance of Anne Bishaye. As the bus reached the limits of one small city and the driver slowed down to warp speed, Dale relaxed her grip on the seat only to find that her arms were shaking from holding on so tightly. "This is ridiculous," she mumbled. She stretched out as much as she could without disturbing the dozing young man next to her and tried to eavesdrop on bits and pieces of conversation.
She heard laughter in the back of the bus and the loud voice of that one female again but Dale really couldn't make out what she was saying nor did she much care. If this woman were going into MP training, Dale's first instinct would be to eliminate her as a suspect because of her blatancy. On the other hand, Stuart had been obvious, too, but then common sense should make a drill sergeant steer clear of a trainee with similar characteristics. Dale did find an interest, however, in the discussion going on directly behind her and she put her ear to the space that divided the two seats.
"So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm getting out. As soon as I get there. I ain't puttin' up with any of their bullshit. I'm getting out."
"Why didn't you get out at AFEES before you took the oath? They give you the chance."
"My parents were standing right there and the career counselor told me they'd have to handle it at McCullough anyway. But he said not to worry, there wouldn't be any problem."
Dale smiled, sympathetically, and shook her head. She knew that old trick and getting out was not going to be that easy. One of the biggest games in the military was called "pass the buck." She knew many a confused soldier who ran into unnecessary difficulty by a supposedly qualified individual's 'I can't do anything for you, your next station will have to take care of it' attitude, which only compounded the GI's problems. By the time the soldier got to the 'next station' and got anyone else to listen, it was usually too late to help him. It was this kind of impersonal behavior that prompted bad attitude charges and AWOL offenses.
The conversation behind her dwindled into silence and Dale stared sullenly out the window at the black hole.
"Everybody off the bus, let's go, we've got a lot to do!" It wasn't a drill sergeant shouting those words and that surprised Dale. Usually, as soon as the bus pulled to a stop (and sometimes before) at the Reception Station, a drill instructor stomped onto the bus and scared the living feces out of everyone. But this guy was just your normal every day, hen-pecked staff sergeant who wanted to hurry this whole mess up so he could go home and go to bed.
The new recruits lined up in the hallway, luggage and all, awaiting their next command.
"Okay, listen up. There are forms laid out on top of the individual desks inside and after I divide you up into groups and send you into the lecture hall, I want you to be seated at those desks. Also, when you get inside, I want you to remain in the groups I've put you in until further instructions. Don't worry about your suitcases. Just push them up against the wall and leave them there, they will be guarded. Men, when I call off your name, please give me a copy of your orders and go inside."
The sergeant began alphabetically yelling names and when he reached the end of the list on his clipboard, he looked up. "Is there any male whose name I did not call?" There was no reply so he continued. "All right, you women are going to be divided into two groups - Delta-2's and Alpha-10's. The Delta-2's are regular WACs and the Alpha-10's are MPs. Deltas, after I call your name, give me a copy of your orders and go inside where the specialist will show you where to sit. Alphas, the same will go for you when I get to you." He proceeded to call off more names until the crowd had shrunk to just seven women. "You must be the MP recruits," he said, almost managing a smile as the seven females silently appraised each other.
"Hey, Sarge," the foul-mouthed girl from the USO called out, "are we the only females going to be training with all those men?" There was an anticipating smile lingering on her lips. This attitude definitely contradicted her appearance.
Dale waited for the non-commissioned officer to react with hostility at being referred to by a nickname only Beetle Bailey was stupid enough to use. Instead, the obviously too-weary NCO sighed and came back with, "Number one, my name is not Sarge, it's Sergeant Pulaski, and number two, I'm sorry to disappoint you but you are just the first group of several to come in. Please answer when I call your name. Almstead, Alexis."
He collected a copy of her orders as she went inside. "Caffrey, Michelle."
"That's me," the loud female acknowledged, following the same procedure as the recruit before her.
"Ferrence, Debbie." There was no answer. "Ferrence, Debbie?" He looked around, scowled and then scribbled something on his notes. "Kirk, Jascelle."
"Here. I have to talk to somebody about a problem, can -"
"All problems will be discussed at your designated unit, there is nothing we can do about it here except hold everybody up and it's late enough as it is, don't you think?" He and the cute young woman of African-American heritage stared at each other until Kirk just shrugged helplessly and went inside. Dale recognized her voice as the one coming from the seat behind her on the bus.
"Kramer, Brigitte." Again, there was no response. He focused on the four females left. "None of you is Brigitte Kramer?" The women all exchanged glances. If one of them was, no one was admitting it. "Damn computers," he mumbled. “Wave of the future, my ass.” He scrawled something on his clipboard, then he smiled. "Well...there are only four names left so we should come out even here. Kotski, Laurel."
"Here," a woman with the face, body and height of a model, spoke up.
"Here." She fought the instinct to respond with the proper 'Here, Sergeant' but since he had failed to instruct anyone on military courtesy, she certainly did not want to sound any more knowledgeable than the rest. The undercover lieutenant followed Kotski inside and took a seat next to her, where the other female MP recruits were isolated in a section way up in the back.
"We must have cooties or something," Caffrey sneered, as they were joined by Marilyn Segore and Renee Troice.
The badgered little sergeant hopped up on the stage and began to explain how to fill out tax forms, insurance forms and allotment information. It seemed to take an eternity before everyone was finished. When they were finally through, SSG Pulaski dove into his required speech, said to supposedly put everyone more at ease about what was probably going through their minds at that point of the process.
"If he knew what was going through my mind," Caffrey commented, "I'd probably be arrested."
Dale looked down the row at her, then briefly studied the rest of the women. If they were nervous, they hid it well. The only one who showed any signs of agitation was the Kirk girl who, at a closer glance, looked very young.
The sergeant then talked about this one last little detail each recruit must do before they moved on to another room to await the bus that would take them to their respective barracks. He told them about the notorious "amnesty box." (which, in reality, was a trash barrel in the passage way behind the stage) and informed them that this was their last chance to get rid of their "contraband" (books, magazines, candy, gum, weapons, drugs, marijuana - basically anything that kept them occupied and happy as a civilian). Whether a person had anything to dispose of or not, he or she still had to walk through the corridor before they were allowed into a classroom that provided bag lunches on a metal table in the back.
The men, who were to be billeted at the Reception Station until actual training was ready to start, were sent upstairs for a good night's rest. Most of them wouldn't sleep, though. They would sit up half the night worrying about - or for some, anxiously awaiting - the changes starting immediately the next day. The shots, the uniforms, the exams, the exhausting paperwork and the most dreaded of all - the haircut. Some men felt that when they were stripped of their hair, they were also stripped of their individuality. And, rightly so, because after the shearing, they looked like everyone else and soon they would be forced to act like everyone else. Ninety-nine percent of them were there by choice but even for them, the emotional adjustment would be considerable. At least the females could keep their hair the same length as long as they wore it up off their collar. And in civilian clothes, it was much easier to spot a male GI than a female GI because she could let her hair down and blend in with the other civilians while the men continued to look like a GI.
Downstairs, in the classroom with the bag lunches, the women sat in groups or by themselves to put their heads down on their desks to nap. Dale took a seat near Helen Zerby and found herself sitting beside Alexis Almstead and in front of Michelle Caffrey.
"What's up?" Dale asked Helen, who had finally stopped gabbing and looked like she was ready to collapse.
She shook her head. "I think I made a mistake. I wish I was home with my boyfriend."
"Yeah, I'm horny as hell, too," Caffrey stated, as she opened up one of the bag lunches. It consisted of a stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a green hard-boiled egg, which she didn't know was green until she peeled off the shell and it poured onto her sandwich.
Dale wanted to tell her that it was an insight to the gourmet cooking that was to come. "Look at this! It's green!"
"They're just trying to get you used to the color, Caffrey," Almstead laughed.
"I can't eat this shit," she protested and stuffed everything back into the bag, crushing it into ball form. "I'd rather be eating something else," she said, eyeballing an oblivious Kotski with a lewd smile and a sarcastic lift of the eyebrow. Dale blinked at that statement...evidently gender wasn't an issue when it came to fulfilling Caffrey's sexual needs.
"Oh, Christ, is that all you can think about? Sex?" Kirk mumbled. She was sitting in back of Caffrey. Her head was down on her desk, resting on her folded arms.
"Is there anything else?" Caffrey turned around, slowly. "Besides, it's better than thinking up ways to cause trouble."
Kirk raised her head and looked at Caffrey, amused. She broke into a grin. "Caffrey, I'm not going to be here long enough to cause trouble. Especially with you."
Caffrey mirrored her expression. "That's good, Kirk, 'cause I don't want to fight with you, either." She turned to face Helen Zerby again and then said loud enough for everyone to hear, "I happen to like sex. And the more it hurts, the better I like it. I'm just being honest. And I don't particularly care if I offend anyone. I'm the type of girl who says what's on her mind."
"If you really said what was on your mind, you'd be speechless," Kirk commented. Caffrey ignored her and concentrated on Zerby.
"You didn't offend me," Helen told her, but the startled look in her eyes contradicted that statement. She wasn't used to this kind of candidness.
"Hey, Caffrey, why don't you tone it down a little, huh?" Almstead advised, soothingly.
"Yeah, Caffrey, most of us don't give two shits if you like it between two sheets or two slices of bread. Some of us are trying to sleep," Kirk growled, her face buried in her arms.
"You wimps," Caffrey said, scoffing. She tried to make a hook shot from her seat to the wastebasket in the corner with her balled up paper bag but she missed. She stood up and walked over to throw it away.
"Do you two know each other?" Dale asked Almstead.
"Not really. We're both from Wisconsin , though. So is Kotski. We all met in the USO room. We were the first girls here, so we started to talk," Almstead explained, as Caffrey returned to her seat. "What was your name again?" the young, tomboyish blonde asked Dale.
Almstead introduced herself and shook Dale's hand. "My friends call me Lex."
"Sexy Lexy," Caffrey intoned, soulfully. Almstead rolled her eyes and looked away, shaking her head. "I'm Michelle Caffrey," she told Dale, shaking her hand, "and my friends call me a lot of things. Some of them are even nice. But my nickname is Mitch." Caffrey openly ogled Dale as though she were next on the menu.
Good God, she's obnoxious, Dale thought.
"Mitch the bitch," Kirk muttered, barely audible.
Caffrey swung her body around, threateningly. "If you know what's good for you, you'll knock it off, Kirk the jerk."
Kirk lifted her head up not at all fazed by Caffrey's attitude. "Kirk the jerk?" she repeated, almost incredulously. "Oooh, that stings so bad I can't barely stand it. See me shaking in my high tops?” Kirk was trying not to laugh. “Where are you from, Caffrey?"
"Lacrosse, Wisconsin ," she answered, defensively.
"Well, listen, Miss Cheesehead of 1977, I'm from the Dee-troit ghet-to. Do not fuck with me."
"Then don't call me names."
"No problem, Butch," Kirk taunted, putting her head back down.
"It's Mitch," Caffrey said, sharply.
"Sure it is," Kirk burrowed her face in the crook of her arm.
"You're not my type."
Dale was actually beginning to enjoy the exchange. Caffrey, the one who obviously thought she was, and pretended to be, the bully, talked the talk but wouldn't walk the walk. Kirk, clearly the younger and smaller of the two, refused to back down to her and verbally handled her like a pro.
"And you guys are our future MPs?" a Delta female spoke up, breaking the tension. "Great."
"Hey," Almstead jumped in, almost protectively, "don't let that toughness or nickname fool you. She gave every last man who walked through that USO room door a one-to-ten rating. Most of them rated an eleven. Including the janitor."
"Jesus," Dale commented, "he was four days younger than God. Not very discriminating, are you?"
"I'm not proud. You get to a point where anyone who looks back, looks good," Caffrey disclosed.
She could almost be likable, Dale thought, if she wasn't just so damn determined to be the center of attention. As Dale stood up to walk outside the classroom, she looked at Jascelle Kirk again, wondering what her story was. She was on her way to the water fountain when she saw the statuesque Laurel Kotski in front of her.
"Is it me or is that room overly hot?" Kotski asked Dale.
"It's you," Dale responded, with a straight face. The tall woman stopped and studied the undercover lieutenant, not quite knowing whether she was serious or not until Dale cracked a smile. "It probably isn't the classroom as much as it is the tension. Let's face it, we're all strangers thrown together in an even stranger environment. It's tiring, it's lonely and for the next few weeks it will probably get worse before it gets better."
"Is this supposed to be a pep talk?" Kotski looked at her, skeptically, and took a sip of water. "I mean, I understand it won't get easier."
"They say after a while it does." Especially if you've been through it a couple of times before , Dale thought, as she bent down to take a drink. "I wish that stupid bus would get here. This waiting is for the birds."
"I know." Kotski lingered as Dale took another drink. "Didn't they say we could go outside if we wanted a cigarette?"
"I'm sure I heard someone say that."
"Good. I need a cigarette."
"I don't smoke but I sure could use some fresh air." They walked outside and Kotski immediately lit up a cigarette. After they introduced themselves, Dale asked, "What's going on with Kirk? Do you know?"
"Oh, that. All I know is what she told me on the bus, which is she is only seventeen and her parents made her sign up. The recruiter and her father were good friends and they forced her to enlist. I guess she got kicked out of high school and her folks said it was the last straw. She said there are thirteen kids in her family, she's the youngest and her parents just didn't want her around anymore, especially after getting expelled. She said they gave her a choice of enlisting or juvenile hall. Or something like that. Anyway, she said they altered her test scores and everything."
"Does she have proof of that?" Dale asked, reminding herself to stop talking like an investigator.
"I don't know. I doubt it. She's determined not to stay here, though. Do you think she'll get out?"
"I don't know," Dale lied. If nothing else, she expected Kirk's immediate future to be interesting, if not exasperating. She knew the system well enough to know that they didn't give up on anybody without a fight. She knew that the military couldn't easily accept someone who was intelligent enough to realize early on that he had simply made a mistake and that he and Uncle Sam would not be compatible. However, these circumstances were different. Kirk was coming forward before the training even started with what Dale believed to be a valid reason for being released from her contract - an illegality called fraudulent enlistment. There were a few kinks in the story but then Dale was hearing it secondhand, too. If Kirk was telling the truth and was there against her will, it was more than likely she had no evidence to prove it. Recruiters who used outright deception to enlist a civilian were usually clever enough to cover their tracks. Having worked months on that type of case, Dale knew from personal experience just how tricky those certain individuals could be.
Dale had forgotten how easily one got sucked into other people's personal problems when in basic training and somehow knew, instinctively, she was going to get herself tangled up in this one. She silently promised herself to remain neutral this time because if she didn't and wasn't careful, it would only be a matter of time before her true identity was revealed and she really didn't care about having to face an irate Anne Bishaye. She would rather face a firing squad.
She was sure it was psychosomatic but suddenly her foot started to ache.
At 12:45 AM, the bus finally arrived. It was not like the plush coach that had dropped them off, however. This poor excuse for transportation looked like a dilapidated school bus that had been painted an unattractive shade of green - olive drab, to be exact. The women loaded up and took a five minute ride from the newer steel reinforced concrete constructed Reception Center to the older white with green trim wooden firetraps used as housing for the trainees who were to become members of the Women's Army Corps. This section of Fort McCullough was nicknamed "WacVille" because it catered almost exclusively to the females with their own dispensary, PX, churches, recreation areas, classrooms and PT sections, not to mention the battalions that were made up of just women alone. At that particular time, McCullough was one of the three Army basic training posts in the United States where the women greatly outnumbered the men.
The bus, groaning as the driver shifted it into a lower gear, coughed its way into the parking lot of Second Battalion, where only for a minute, the atmosphere seemed almost transcendental. The abstract mood was shattered all too quickly when the vehicle jerked to a complete halt, the door squeaked open with a bang and this humanoid ogre in a Smokey the Bear hat materialized from nowhere next to the driver.
" All you no good, lazy excuses for females who have been assigned to Delta Company, Second Battalion, you have just thirty seconds to get your lazy, fat asses off this bus and twenty-nine of them are already gone!!!" It bellowed in one thunderous breath.
There was mass confusion as all the Delta women tried to exit the bus at the same time. Once outside, the creature immediately ordered the women who, by that hour, barely knew their own names, much less anyone else's, to line up in alphabetical order. " What?? You ain't finished yet??" It had only been five seconds since the command. " My grandma's slow but she's old!! This will not do, ladies!! Get down and knock me out some push-ups!! Hit it!!" Twenty-three females reacted as if they had just entered the Twilight Zone.
Inside the bus, the silence was deafening. Even Caffrey was too stunned to comment. Out of the corner of her eye, Dale spotted two women, armed with suitcases, fleeing the barracks toward the bus, almost as if they were prisoners running for their lives from The Big House.
" Are you the two Alpha females??" the voice boomed at them. Two heads bobbed up and down. They boarded the bus, barely touching a step, ran to the back of the vehicle and sank down into a seat.
"What is going on out there?" Renee Troice, the only one who dared to speak, asked.
"I don't want to talk about it," the girl with the short, blonde hair and glasses answered, dazed. "I keep hoping Scotty will beam me up."
"You guys wouldn't be...uh...Kramer and Ferris, would you?" Almstead wondered.
"Ferrence," the other blonde woman corrected. "That's us. Why? Oh my God, don't tell me we're in trouble already."
"No, it's just that they called your names off back at that reception place and you weren't there."
"We got here early this afternoon so they told us to process in with the others. I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and find myself home in my nice, soft bed and this will all have been a very bad dream. But I've dozed off and woke up three times already and I'm still here," Ferrence moaned.
"Yeah," Kramer agreed, gazing off into nowhere. "I was always under the impression that you had to die before you went to hell."
"It's that bad?" Marilyn Segore asked, her voice laced with panic.
"This isn't even the beginning," someone else said.
Ferrence shook her head. "I have never heard anyone give an entire speech in italics before tonight."
The bus started up and moved away from the group of females who were trying unsuccessfully to maintain some sort of orderly fashion to the commanded exercise. If it didn't seem like such a forewarning to the rest of them, the women on the bus would have gotten a good laugh out of it. Dale remembered back to the time she got down and knocked out her first set of push-ups for Uncle Sam. Her arms shook for days.
The Alpha women dreaded the short journey's end and rode to their destination in speechless horror. No one seemed to have trouble staying awake now and Dale tried very hard to suppress a smile.
For those who had never known the species, they were about to have a close encounter with an alien being the Army fondly referred to as the Drill Sergeant. A drill sergeant was, questionably at times, a human male or female who had spent weeks at a special school of instruction, being humiliated by teachers, who sometimes held a lower rank, who showed them (somewhat gleefully) what they had been doing incorrectly throughout their military life. The instructors were stuck with the thankless task of breaking bad habits and retraining these usually career-oriented GIs by making them repetitiously practice what they would eventually preach. Hours, days and weeks were spent screaming cadences and executing to perfection movements with such precision and unison that it would have rivaled a Broadway chorus line.
Yet, somehow, even those they asked for the privilege of being a drill sergeant, these pupils felt rather degraded and demoted by being put back into a situation where they were subjected to severe inspections and disciplinary action. The resentment silently built because most of the military personnel undergoing training held the pay grade of E-4 and above and were, themselves, in most cases, already in a position to conduct such inspections and administer harsh discipline. Unable to completely cope with once again being treated like a brainless wonder, but having to conceal the hostility in order to graduate, by the time they were assigned to a training unit, these superior soldiers were ripe for revenge. This feeling closely reflected what both Dale and Shannon would soon feel.
The broken down military coach rasped and ground its way into another parking lot, nearly stalling out on the slight hill that wound around to a steel and concrete quad structure called "the new barracks."
The bus ceased to move and the women sat tensely, not breathing, staring apprehensively toward the front of the coach, ready for a repeat of what they saw at Delta Company. When the vehicle's doors slammed open, the sound nearly made everyone jump out of their skin but no one boarded the bus.
"This is it, ladies," the Private First Class behind the wheel announced. "The end of the line. Everybody gets out here."
Slowly, each woman stepped off the bus, almost disappointed by this inhospitality. They had prepared themselves for a few indignities but being ignored was not one of them.
"I'll go tell the CQ that you're here," the young man in olive drab green fatigues stated as he hopped off the bus behind the last female, who was Kotski. He walked backward, staring appreciatively at the tall brunette most of the way across the patio to the Charge of Quarters office. When he returned, he was with another young man in an identical uniform.
"Are you sure you're supposed to be here tonight? Is that what your orders say? Twenty-two November?" The soldier standing next to the bus driver inquired. He was wearing a black felt armband with the white felt letters "A CO CQ" sewn to it.
"Yes," Caffrey answered, seriously. "All of us couldn't have made the same mistake." It was the first chaste sentence she had uttered all evening.
"That's true," the CQ agreed. "One of you maybe but not nine of you." He sighed, disgusted, then looked at the bus driver. "Naughton, you stay with them and I'll go get the staff duty NCO." He ran across the open area, over the south patio and disappeared around the corner of the building. He had been gone only a moment when one of those creatures they had seen earlier in one of those funny looking hats came into sight, flanked by the CQ and they walked directly to the CQ office. Seconds later, the PFC dashed down to the confused group of women. "Get your gear and follow me." They picked up their luggage and walked behind him to the Orderly Room door.
"Put your suitcases down and listen up," he told them. "Line up in alphabetical order here to the left side of the door and get a copy of your orders ready. Now, Drill Sergeant Boyle will be out in a second to talk to you. If he asks or tells you anything, answer with 'Yes, Drill Sergeant,' 'No, Drill Sergeant' - whatever you say to him, make sure you add 'Drill Sergeant' to the end of it."
The women nodded at him and again exchanged names with each other, so that they were in proper order. As the CQ raced to another destination, the Orderly Room door opened and there IT stood. He looked very menacing and the dimly lit patio did nothing to improve his appearance. He strolled back and forth, his fists resting on his belt, reminding Dale of Darth Vader in a pickle suit, as he carefully scrutinized each of them. With the temperament of Attila the Hun, he addressed them all as if they were deaf.
"OBVIOUSLY THERE HAVE BEEN SOME CROSSED WIRES HERE!!! TRAINING ISN'T EVEN SUPPOSED TO START UNTIL THE SECOND OF DECEMBER, SO WHAT YOU'RE ALL DOING HERE NOW, I DON'T KNOW!!! WE'LL HAVE TO FIND OUT IN THE MORNING, WON'T WE??!!" It was more of a statement than a question, so the women continued to listen and quake. "WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO IS THIS! AFTER I GO BACK INSIDE THE ORDERLY ROOM - WHICH IS THIS DOOR HERE," he pointed to the CQ office, "I WANT YOU TO COME IN ONE BY ONE, GIVE ME YOUR FULL NAME, RANK - WHICH YOU SHOULD KNOW BY NOW - AND SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER!! I WILL THEN ASSIGN YOU A MEAL CARD, SO THAT YOU CAN ALL EAT TOMORROW! I KNOW YOU'RE ALL ANXIOUS TO START YOUR DAILY REGIMEN OF BREAD AND WATER!!!" He picked Brigitte Kramer out of the crowd and stuck his face right in hers. "DO I SCARE YOU??"
"No, not at all," Kramer gasped, in a tiny frightened little voice.
The CQ approached him, accompanied by a young woman in fatigues. Her nametag read Lanigan, and she had no rank on her cap and collar. "Lanigan was fireguard, Drill Sergeant," the CQ told him.
"You stay outside and keep these ladies in order," Boyle instructed Lanigan, in a normal tone of voice. "Send them in individually in about a minute."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Lanigan responded as he disappeared inside the office.
There was a brief silence, then Kramer spoke up, timidly. "Why are they so mean?"
"They castrate them," Dale deadpanned. "I hear it's a requirement."
Kramer leaned forward and stared at her in wide-eyed gullibility. Ferrence and Segore regarded Dale as if they were ready to believe her, too.
"They're not so bad," Lanigan smiled. "He's just putting on a show. They all will until you get used to them."
"Do they have to shout like that?" Ferrence asked.
"I told you, he's just trying to make an impression."
"Well, he can stop already. I'm impressed," Kotski stated.
Lanigan looked inside the office. "He's ready for you now," she pointed to Almstead. "You can go in."
Alexis Almstead shook her short, blonde hair out of her eyes, looked back at the rest of her group, then bravely went inside. Less than a minute later, she came back outside, still intact - something that surprised a couple of the other women. She was holding a small, rectangular, laminated white card that had a serial number already printed on it. Instead of the soldier's name and unit in the space provided were the two letters RA, standing for Regular Army, stamped in red, and at the bottom, it was pre-signed by the company commander. This was her meal card. It was the first military document a trainee was issued when he arrived and the last thing he turned in before he left his basic training post.
When Dale's turn came, she entered the Orderly Room quietly and walked to the far desk where Drill Sergeant Boyle was sitting. She thought back to the night she met Henning there and took a quick glance up to the company roster to see if Shufeld's name was listed. It was not. Neither was Specialist Eastman's. Linda Hanley's name was still there, though, and that didn't particularly cheer Dale up. She could sense Hanley didn't like her but in all fairness, she wasn't crazy about Hanley, either. She was relieved that Hanley wasn't going to be working with her on this case but then, not having met Lt. Walker yet, for all she knew, the rapport between them might even be worse.
"Oakes, Dale, Drill Sergeant," she said, handing him a copy of her orders.
"Is that O-A-K-E-S?" He asked, checking it with the spelling on the sheet of paper she had just given him.
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
He wrote it down and looked up at her. "Any relation to Robert Oakes? He's an E-7 at Fort Sam ."
She responded as though he were speaking a foreign language. "No, I don't believe so, Drill Sergeant."
When Dale rattled off her social security number, he handed her a meal card and instructed her to go outside and wait. After she joined the others, she looked over the plastic coated piece of cardboard. Her number was 6427 and it was signed by Rory D. Colton, CPT, MPC, Commanding, someone she was very eager to see.
Drill Sergeant Boyle dismissed Lanigan when he came outside, then he led the recruits out of the company area and around the corner of the building to the Tenth Battalion Headquarters where he was on twenty-four hour duty. Dale wished Anne Bishaye was running around her office just so she could permeate her with dirty looks. Boyle brought them inside the Headquarters Orderly Room, which was nothing more than an outer office, where he told his runner to call Sergeant Carey, who was in charge of Supply. The private behind the desk picked up the phone and dialed.
"While we're waiting for Sergeant. Carey to wake up so he can open the Supply Room, are there any questions?" Boyle asked, almost civilly.
"Yes, sir -"
"Sir means officer," he snapped at Kirk. "I am not an officer. I work for a living."
Dale rolled her eyes at his originality. If she heard that statement one more time from someone enlisted, she was going to retch.
"What was your question?" The drill sergeant looked at Kirk.
"How do I get out of this prison?" Kirk asked. The women laughed, nervously, hoping the inquiry wouldn't be considered proper military motivation for justifiable multiple homicide.
Boyle wasn't amused. In fact, his unpleasant expression turned even more disagreeable. He glared at Kirk long and hard enough to bore holes through her and the other women immediately shut up.
"I don't play favorites," he said. "I'll drop you as fast as any man." He looked at the others coldly, individually. "Or any one of you who thinks this is a joke." His gaze fell back on Kirk. "I didn't make you raise your right hand, young lady."
"No, my parents did."
"That's something you should have corrected at AFEES before you left."
"They told me that you would handle it at this end."
"I can't help you, young lady. I'm not even in your company. You'll have to take it up with your company commander." He almost sounded sympathetic but Dale knew it was only because he was tired, bored and annoyed with these undisciplined civilians.
The women caught their first glimpse of Sgt. Carey as they rounded the corner and paraded into Delta-10's company area at the bottom of the hill on the other side of the quad. Sgt. Terian Carey was half-asleep and as Boyle approached with his nine shadows, Carey belted his baby blue terrycloth robe around him tightly.
Carey was obviously a personable man, even after he had been dragged out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. He eyed the ladies carefully as he unlocked the Supply Room doors and with the help of Delta 10's CQ runner, he started issuing bedding.
"Listen up, ladies," Carey announced, as they stood around the Supply Room, "I want you to get this right so that we don't have to stay up any longer than necessary. These drill sergeants have no mercy." He winked at Kotski, then flashed a grin to Boyle who didn't even acknowledge him. During his explanation of the linen issue to the new trainees, he cracked a few jokes to ease the nervousness but the women always looked to Boyle for a reaction. When he didn't display any, they all kept straight faces. None of them wanted to be "dropped" - whatever that meant. Each woman signed for and carried back to the Alpha company area two wool US Army blankets, two sheets, one pillow and one pillowcase and were then sent up to the second floor. There, Private Lanigan took them inside the barracks ("It's called a bay. Don't ask me why," she told them) and showed them an empty row of bunks.
Dale tossed her linen on a bunk and went downstairs to retrieve her suitcase. When she was back upstairs, she looked over at the women in bed on the left side of the bay. She counted seven lumps in their bunks, so she estimated there were eight female holdovers, including Lanigan, but then it was dark going toward the back so there could have been more bodies up further. At that point, however, she was too tired to care and she knew she would find out within a few hours when they would more than likely be rudely awakened by five o'clock at the latest. As she threw her bedding together on her bunk carelessly, she heard her eight comrades, who sometime within the last four hours, had been jolted into eternal consciousness, bombard Lanigan with questions.
Already knowing most of the questions and, more importantly, all of the answers, Dale didn't feel like participating in the quiz, so she settled down and dozed off in no time. Even when eight more females came in an hour later, she only vaguely heard the commotion. She knew in the months to come she was not going to be getting much sleep, so she was going to take advantage of every available opportunity to close her eyes and nothing, except possibly an act of God, was going to rob her of it.
Five o'clock AM. 0500 hours. The silence was broken by a strange male voice coming out of the speaker in the ceiling. "Wake up, ladies! It's time to get your lazy asses out of bed! You have to be downstairs to fall-in twenty minutes! Is everybody up?" the deep voice asked in a sickeningly sweet tone.
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," someone answered. The voice sounded like Linda Hanley's.
The small, red, blinking light on the speaker went off and, in between moans, groans and mild swearing, everybody crawled out of their bunks, some with little more than two hours sleep behind them.
"The Goddamn sun ain't even up yet, why should I have to be?" someone yelled.
"What does 'fall in' mean? What do we have to fall into?" another voice said.
"Why aren't I home in bed like a normal person?" Ferrence wailed.
"I didn't make you raise your right hand, young lady," Kirk recited, as she walked by Ferrence's bunk toward the bathroom.
"It was a moment of insanity, I should be pardoned at least. Where's Gerald Ford when you need him?" Ferrence countered, as her eyes fought to stay open against the assaulting brightness of the florescent ceiling lights.
Most of the new recruits said nothing as they made their way to the latrine. Any unnecessary conversation would just take up time they didn't have to shower, dress, clean up, make their bunks and be downstairs in less than fifteen minutes.
The women also learned in that short quarter hour that the plumbing left a lot to be desired. If someone had the audacity to use the toilet while someone else was in the shower and not yell the warning, "flushing!" when through, the person unfortunate enough to be practicing good hygiene was either scarred for life by a body covered with seared flesh or became an instant ice sculpture. The barracks may have been new but the pipes and fixtures worked as though they had been installed by the original plumber in 1916.
The drill sergeant they had been greeted by the night before was not the same drill sergeant who was now standing before them, holding a sheet of paper. This non-commissioned officer's name was Ted Robin and, though he was strict, he appeared to be much better natured than Boyle.
He called off all their names and made sure they had all been issued a meal card, put them in groups of two and marched them down a flight of ten steps to the mess hall for morning chow. The modern mess hall was located in the middle of the four companies - Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta - that made up Tenth Battalion and it had a reputation for being one of the better eating facilities on post.
The group waited in line inside the building where they were to wolf down mostly all their meals for the next five or six weeks. Individually, they signed their name, rank, company and meal card number on a mess hall roster, grabbed a heavy, plastic tray and pointed out what they wanted for breakfast. They had a choice of sausage, bacon, eggs (fried, scrambled or omelet), grits, oatmeal, coffee cakes, donuts, toast, creamed beef, pancakes, waffles, home fries or hash browns. It was nice greasy, starchy food, a perfect morning booster for anyone not trying to stay healthy or thin. However, most of the women were too nervous to consume anything other than a cup of coffee and their own fingernails.
Cautiously, Dale looked around at the tables, and with much relief, recognized no one except Linda Hanley. She then scanned the room, picking out the eight new females who had come in a few hours ago and also really took a good look at the eight women she had arrived with. The new trainees would have been easy to spot, even if they hadn't been the only females in the mess hall in civilian clothes.
Most of the sixteen other women were quite a comely bunch, much to Dale's distress. It's not that she had anything personally against pretty women but she recalled that more than a few of the last group of females she took training with - especially AIT - looked like ex-beauty contestants. She was hoping she would be more fortunate this cycle. It was easier to get the right people to notice her when a majority of the others weren't quite so attractive. Dale had never been that confident of her appearance, even though she knew for a fact that she had secured some assignments because of her looks. Nevertheless, her spasmodic bouts with narcissism usually sailed right down the drain when she was in the presence of obvious beauty. The closer she studied the new inmates, the more she prayed that Lieutenant Walker was a Farrah Fawcett clone. They would need that advantage. But with Dale's luck, Walker probably looked like the Phantom of the Opera without his mask.
There were four Alpha women sitting at a table in front of Dale and she noticed them trying to converse inconspicuously but they were caught by a patrolling drill sergeant named Bradbury. The only difference between a male and a female drill sergeant other than sex was uniform. They dressed in identical attire but the women's fatigue shirts were worn outside the pants instead of being tucked in. Also, instead of the brown ranger hat the men wore, the females sported an off-white Australian bush hat.
"INHALE IT AND GET OUT!!" she thundered. Bending over the table, she continued, "If you're finished, get out! If you're not, eat and shut up! This is not a gossip area! You're in the Army now, ladies, there are no special rules for you!" She pointed to one of the trays. "You will finish everything on that plate! Take what you want but eat what you take!"
The four women looked embarrassed at being made examples of and they became instantly aware of Drill Sergeant Bradbury from that point on. As time in basic training progressed, the trainees would learn to alert on certain voices and be able to read certain tones so that they would be pretty sure as to how much or how little they could get away with.
After chow, all the women returned upstairs to "square away their areas" and then they were ordered back downstairs to wait. A lot of the women were getting better acquainted with each other and some were catching holdovers before they were assigned details or went to class to ask them more questions.
Dale strolled over to one of the picnic tables that sat on the north patio, where Linda Hanley was surrounded by three females. Kramer had asked her if the combat training was hard.
"No, it's all attitude. If you say you can't do it, you won't. If you push yourself and say you believe you can, you will."
Dale yawned loudly, deliberately, if not somewhat immaturely, and walked away as Hanley attacked her with icy glares. The undercover lieutenant then moved over to where Jascelle Kirk was standing with Renee Troice and Marilyn Segore.
"Hey, Kirk, how's it going?" Dale asked.
"It's going, I'm not," Kirk answered.
"Have they let you talk to anybody yet?"
"No. The company commander is on leave and they said I have to talk to the senior drill sergeant, somebody named Ritchie. But he won't be here until tonight or tomorrow. This whole thing is such a mess."
"Listen, hang on," Dale urged. "They'll get you out."
"How can you be so sure? I've never felt so trapped in my life."
Dale couldn't be so sure, so she decided not to commit herself to any further speculation. She smiled at the worried girl. "Just stand your ground. If it'll help, I'm behind you."
"Yeah, me too," Segore courageously agreed.
"I really appreciate it but you guys want to be here, I don't. It doesn't matter how much I get yelled at or get into trouble because their rules and regulations don't mean anything to me and, besides, I ain't staying around that long. But you two have to stay here after I'm gone and it wouldn't be fair to fuck it up for either of you."
"Kirk, what is happening to you is not right," Dale said.
"I know," she sighed, distressed. "It's just a mistake, though. I don't want anyone else getting involved in it. For all I know, it might make things worse."
"Well, you could have a point there," Dale conceded. "But if you need someone to talk to, don't hesitate. I'm a good listener."
Kirk searched Dale's face for a hint of sarcasm or insincerity but found none. "Thanks, Oakes," she said, seriously.
Kotski came up on the conversation. "Anyone see that wench in the mess hall this morning yelling at us? Wasn't she something? She sounded like a fishwife."
Troice shrugged. "That probably isn't anything compared to what we will all be in for once we get in uniform."
"I heard that," Kirk said, "that's why this kid's going to be long gone when uniform time comes around."
Dale, Troice and Segore fixed their gazes on this anguished young woman. None of them wanted to be in her shoes. She was clearly miserable and her fight hadn't even begun yet.
Four hours after they had been awakened, Drill Sergeant Robin loaded them onto an Army bus similar to the vehicle that had dropped them off the night before only this one was in a little better condition.
They were again on their way to the Reception Center under the supervision of a female specialist fourth class named Harriman who, after careful observation was, no doubt, in training to be a shrew. The specialist, an unattractive creature, was not the friendliest person they had met since they had been there. One could tell she found her job of escorting new trainees to specific points on post about as enjoyable as cleaning up elephant waste and she made each female feel solely responsible for her being appointed to that particular detail. Once she got them to their destination, the poker-faced specialist couldn't deposit them or disappear fast enough.
"Just what I needed to see," a tall, slender, brunette beauty named Antoinetta Sherlock said, as they stood in line, "someone who is enthusiastic about their job."
"This is a little ridiculous," commented the redhead behind Toni Sherlock, after forty-five minutes had crawled by. "What does the Army train us for? Standing in line?"
Ten minutes later, they were reunited with the Delta women and the young men who were eventually, after processing and orientation, going to be in Alpha-10. They were all seated in the lecture hall and once again bored to death by instructions on how to fill out more forms on legal assistance, religious persuasion, postal service, service benefits, dependent allotments, life insurance, medical benefits, leave policies, pass policies, recreational facility information, correspondence, policies on civilian clothing, pay and allowances.
When lunchtime approached, Sp4 Harriman boarded the new MP female recruits onto the bus and made them disembark at a WAC facility for lunch. She led them all inside and instructed them to sign in. Then she left them on their own to line up, go inside and eat whenever the headcount told them there was room.
As they stood in the hallway, waiting, they had a chance to observe some actual uniformed female basic trainees maneuver through the chow line. The WACs stood in line at the position of Parade Rest (feet ten inches apart, hands placed in the small of the back centered on the belt with fingers of both hands extended and joined, interlocking thumbs, right hand palm outward, eyes to the front). Every time they were ready to move up in line, each pair followed the same procedure, waiting until the two ahead of them were completed with their drill or holding their trays, ready to be served. The pair would snap to the position of Attention in perfect unison, take one step forward with their left foot, come back to the position of Attention, then resume the position of Parade Rest. This exercise was repeated until everyone was in the serving line.
"Show offs," Diane Tierni, a petite woman with medium-length brown hair, noted.
"We don't have to do that, do we?" Ferrence asked.
"Not yet," the male headcount answered. "How come youse girls ain't in uniform yet?"
"Oh, we'll never be in uniform," another recruit, Tracy Travis, drolly informed him, immediately baiting him. "Because we're training for plainclothes and undercover work."
He stared at her, believing it. "That must be the new experiment they've been tellin' us about, goin' on over at the new barracks."
"That's the one," Travis continued, "so don't mess with us, okay? Because if we're provoked, we can't be responsible for our actions. We have been given the divine right to kill without question."
A few of the women started to snicker and then he realized that Travis was attempting to make a fool of him, which he did not appreciate. His glare did not ruffle Travis in the least, in fact, she was the one who pointed out to him that the chow line was now empty. Stiffly, he allowed them to go inside.
This mess hall wasn't quite as modern as the Tenth Battalion facility. The food was neither as tasty or as warm. Some of the chow in the MP mess hall wasn't recognizable but at least it was hot. The only plus at the WAC building was that they could at least converse with each other openly.
There were a lot of drill sergeants running around, mostly female, but they paid little attention to the seventeen women in civilian clothes. Their main concern was their own platoons and that's where they kept their focus. Until one female drill sergeant caught Dale's eye and the undercover lieutenant couldn't stop herself from staring.
It wasn't that Dale knew her and feared blowing her cover, it was just that she was possibly the most stunning woman Dale had ever seen and that included Anne Bishaye. The uniform and hat did absolutely nothing complimentary to a female's appearance and if this drill sergeant was that gorgeous in that get-up, Dale was just mesmerized at what she must look like in civvies. She was slender and obviously physically fit. Dale guessed her to be, maybe, five foot nine or ten, late twenties to very early thirties at the most. She had jet black hair, pulled back tightly into a bun, dark expressive eyes, a flawlessly smooth complexion, a skin tone that seemed naturally tanned and the most perfect, whitest teeth she had ever seen. Which she only got a good glimpse of when she realized the woman was now staring back at her.
Shit, shit shit!! Dale thought, as the drill sergeant made a beeline toward her. What the hell was the matter with her? Wasn't her hammering lust for Anne Bishaye perplexing and chaotic enough, she was now moving on to openly leering at other women? Well, honestly, this woman was too riveting not to stare at...wasn't she? Dale looked around quickly. Obviously, no one else thought so or if they had, they were able to control it a hell of a lot better than the soon to be mortified Lt. Oakes. Shit, shit, shit!!!
Before Dale could react, the drill sergeant was standing rigidly in front of her. "Stand up," she commanded in a direct but restrained 'don't even think about fucking with me' tone of voice. "Now."
All conversation stopped and all eyes were now on Dale and the drill sergeant, as Dale rose to her feet. She peripherally saw she was the center of attention, much to her dismay. Glancing quickly, she read the woman's name tag. Cassidy. Snapping her eyes back to the female's face, Dale thought she didn't look Irish...she looked more...Greek. With some Native American thrown in. She was even more breathtaking up close and personal. Way to go, Oakes, she reprimanded herself silently, way to keep yourself inconspicuous.
"Keep your eyes straight ahead, do not look at me," Staff Sergeant Cassidy's voice was firm. It was also low and husky with a hint of an accent. Texas , Dale recognized. All this did was add to her allure. "What's your name, Private?"
"Oakes, Drill Sergeant," Dale responded.
"What were you staring at, Private Oakes?" Cassidy's face was now mere inches from Dale's. One flustering phrase continued to cross Dale's mind: ' extremely fuckable.' It was torture as suddenly Dale couldn't find any saliva with which to respond. Instead of this tactic intimidating her, it was turning her on. What the hell was happening to her? "Well?" Cassidy waited for an answer.
Dale cleared her throat. "Nothing, Drill Sergeant."
Cassidy didn't move. "Nothing? You were staring right at me, Private, are you calling me nothing?"
Damn it! Dale knew better than to set herself up like that. All she really wanted to do at this point was gaze deeply into this woman's eyes and plead insanity. But she knew better than to look at her - not only because it would probably result in, at the very least, a dime in push-ups but also she didn't trust what she might convey with that visual connection. "No, Drill Sergeant. I didn't mean to stare at you, I was just...staring...at air...I didn't get a lot of sleep last night..."
"So, what you're saying is you were staring at air and I got in your way..."
Oh, that voice. .."Yes, Drill Sergeant." Thank God, Cassidy wasn't a member of Alpha-10's cadre. She would be much too distracting.
Cassidy took a step back. Dale could have sworn the drill sergeant gave her a once-over but it was probably just wishful thinking. "A suggestion, Private Oakes? Always be conscious of your surroundings. And always be prepared to defend your position. You may sit back down now.”
Wow, Dale thought, that was astonishing - useful advice given with apparent sincerity.
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Dale acknowledged and took her seat again as Cassidy walked away, immediately zeroing in on her own platoon of trainees. Well...it could have been much worse. Returning her attention to the other three women at her table who were still holding their breath, Dale looked at them. "What?"
"Nothing," Tracy Travis answered, "other than we're O for two. I wonder which one of us will piss off a drill sergeant for dinner."
Back at the Reception Center , the women were lined up, single file outside an office where they were to be blood-typed and immunized against Tuberculosis, Mononucleosis and Rubella. That morning, they had each been given a yellow document that was folded into book form with their name, rank and social security number stamped on it. It was an international certificate of vaccination and throughout their military career, any shots they received were recorded in this booklet and stamped, signed and/or initialed by the physician administering the inoculation.
"Look at this!" Kirk announced, displaying both arms, complete with bandages and cotton. "I look like a junkie with bad aim."
While the Delta and Alpha women sat and waited for more instruction, the men were taking their first step into the process of military cloning. They were getting their heads shaved. Personally, Dale liked seeing men with nice, thick, neatly-styled, moderately-long hair and the thought of seeing regulation haircuts, exclusively, for the next six weeks or so, depressed her almost as much as basic training again.
Most of the women engaged in trivial conversation, with Dale nonchalantly trying to pick up anything sounding even remotely suspicious. There was too much being said at the same time, however, to take on any significant form. That afternoon was mainly spent sitting around gabbing, laughing and biding time, mostly wondering if this was what they were going to spend the rest of basic training doing. Some of the women were under the impression that training began the second they stepped onto US Army territory and others had no idea what to expect. The videotape that their recruiters had shown them that had been documented on television's "60 Minutes" really didn't emotionally prepare them for much.
Later, when they were standing outside the Reception Center , waiting for the bus that was to take them back to the barracks, two platoons of WACs were marched by them. The recruits watched, soundlessly, as two drill instructors (one of each gender) decided to make an example out of their troops in front of the impressionable Alpha women. The uniformed trainees were verbally abused, degraded and made to do push-ups, even though they were all equipped with sixty-five pound back packs, war gear, steel helmets and rifles. The WACs were put in the front leaning rest position (body prone, arms locked straight out in front to support the body), their weapons resting on the backs of the hands - definite hell to pay if the M16s touched the ground - as a drill sergeant slowly counted the cadence of the four-count push-up and the trainees responded with the repetitions.
This illustration gave the women in civilian clothes a better look at what they had gotten themselves into. When the bus came, the seventeen Alpha women silently boarded, returning to the barracks in a catatonic state, contemplating suicide.
After chow, the mood still hadn't returned to normal. The gloomy atmosphere had spread to the fifteen new females who had arrived that day. Several women took their showers early and went to bed, some talked to Hanley and other AIT graduates, some read mail, some wrote letters, some took cigarette breaks but no one was as jovial as they had been before the demonstration that had taken place that afternoon. Especially not Kirk who had been called down to the Orderly Room to meet with the senior drill sergeant. From Kirk's description of the Sergeant First Class named Ritchie, who did nothing but belittle her, Dale was not looking forward to meeting him. He sounded like trouble and just exactly what they didn't need at this point and time.
The next day was Thanksgiving. Everyone was permitted to sleep until six-thirty AM, when they were awakened for morning chow where, surprisingly enough, they were even allowed to take their time and engage in conversation while they ate. After mess, they were all assigned company details such as cleaning the latrine, tidying up the barracks, sweeping and mopping the floors and patios, straightening up the laundry room and putting the CQ office in order.
When the details had been completed, the trainees were summoned back outside to learn about "Police Call" which had nothing whatsoever to do with law enforcement. The women lined up, arms length apart, at a specific point (usually the parking lot) and walked forward, scanning the ground in front of them, picking up anything that wasn't indigenous, namely cigarette butts and litter ("If it doesn't grow there, remove it!" Robin yelled at them).
After fifteen minutes, everyone reassembled back on the second floor. The metal door swung open with a bang and a deep, male voice roared, "MAN ON THE FLOOR!"
"At ease!" One of the AIT females yelled.
"Carry on," the drill sergeant said before anyone had a chance to move. He silently walked up one aisle and down the other. There was something foreboding about this man, something tough and unyielding that made it obvious he was imposing, strict and quite professional before he even opened his mouth. He was a tall man, with a thick, brown mustache and that's all anyone noticed about him at first because no one had the nerve to look at him long enough to see anything else.
Even though he had given the command of Carry On, nobody dared to move or speak. Some didn't even dare to breathe. He studied each bunk and personal area around it during his stroll, slowing down a few times, lingering long enough to scare certain women into thinking it was their turn to be singled out and chastised for something as devastating as a microscopic fuzz ball on the blanket.
"I am Drill Sergeant McCoy and whose bunk is this?" he asked, pointing to a random bed.
Son-of-a-bitch , Dale thought, almost incredulously, Am I sending out a scent or something? "Mine, Drill Sergeant," she spoke up.
"Who are you, young lady?" His gaze of steel seemed to go right through her.
"Private Oakes, Drill Sergeant."
"Do you know how to make a military bed, Private Oakes?" his voice boomed.
"No, Drill Sergeant," Dale lied. The thought of folding another ninety degree angled corner made her want to cry. She had done it so many times, she could have willed it into precision.
"All right, ladies, I want you to gather around Private Oakes' bunk. I'm going to show you how to make a military bed and then you are all going to remake your bunks that way." His manner of speaking was immediately grating and somewhat insulting. He spoke in a loud monotone, dividing each word into deliberate syllables and described the procedure to them as if they were all mentally deficient.
Yet, despite that, there was something about him that Dale had instantly picked up on and she respected him for it. He did not introduce himself to the new recruits by promptly selecting anyone to personally degrade nor did he put them down as a group, such as telling them they were the worst looking bunch of females he had ever seen, which was a favorite ploy of most drill sergeants.
Becoming immediately tyrannical was a quick way to establish power, to demonstrate who was in charge. But McCoy was different. He didn't appear to be into those kind of head games, which pleased Dale to no end. He seemed to be the type of man who hung around just long enough to tend to the matters at hand and that was it. It appeared that Sergeant First Class Sam McCoy had better things to do with his time than to amuse himself by playing unnecessary mental sports with new recruits. They had enough on their minds as it was and clearly, for him, it was a waste of time, energy and emotion that could be channeled into other, more productive areas.
When he was finished, they all stripped their beds and redid them military style. McCoy went around to check and instead of reprimanding when someone hadn't done it exactly right, he pointed out what her mistake was and showed her how to correct it, telling her to do it again, until she got it right. His voice and temperament were still quite gruff and everyone secretly hoped they didn't get him as a platoon sergeant. Everyone except Dale. She admired the no-nonsense type. They were less sneaky.
Ted Robin was waiting for all thirty-two females down on the north patio after Sam McCoy had released them. Robin separated them into two groups, then put them into ranks and began to patiently instruct them on Drill and Ceremony. Dale didn't want to jump to conclusions this early but Drill Sergeant Robin was going to have to be watched carefully. His unconventional good looks, charming personality and tolerant manner made him a perfect target for a set up, if there was to be one.
Dale's eyes persistently probed as unobtrusively as possible, gathering visual information to store in her memory banks for the future. She looked for insignificant, picayune little things right now, such as how the other women looked at Robin and what she could read into those expressions, which ones made it a point to establish some kind of contact and who pushed to be noticed by him.
Staff Sergeant Robin explained about the two-part command, which most drills had, the preparatory command and the command of execution. The preparatory command was the movement that was to be carried out. The command of execution was when to carry out that movement. For example, in the command, "About Face," the preparatory command was About and the command of execution was Face. He also told them about combined commands where the preparatory command and the command of execution were joined, such as the commands of Rest, At Ease and Attention.
He showed them Attention and Fall In first.
"When you assume the position of Attention or are told to Fall In, you should bring your heels together so that they are in line with your toes. Your toes should be pointed out, equally, forming a forty-five degree angle. Your legs should be straight, not stiff - do not lock your knees, you'll be able to hold the position longer. Your body will be straight and your shoulders will be even. The weight of your body will be distributed equally on each foot. Keep your head erect and your eyes should look directly to the front. Your arms should hang straight down at your sides with the back of your hands facing outward, fingers curled and joined, your thumbs touching the seam of your trousers. This is what it should look like," he demonstrated. "Now, when I call you to Attention or tell you to Fall In, I want you to do what I did. Think you can handle that, ladies?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," the women answered in unison.
"I can't hear you!"
"YES, DRILL SERGEANT!!"
"That's better. Okay. Company...AH - TAN - HAUN!!!"
"What's he say?" Someone asked from the back.
Eventually they all got to the position of Attention but not fast enough for Drill Sergeant Robin. "What do you think this is, ladies? Bingo night at St. Peter's? You're slower than a gaggle of prostitutes walking into a paddy wagon. Get your lead asses in gear, you're in the Army now! When I call you to Attention, if you're not in the position in one second, you've taken too long. Let's try it again. Company...AH - TAN - HAUN!"
They did it five times before he was even remotely satisfied with their speed. He also went over several other drills with them - At Ease, Stand At Ease, Parade Rest, Rest, Right Face, Left Face and Fall Out.
"Now we're going to cover a few simple rules. When a drill sergeant enters your area, the first person to see him or her will say immediately, if not sooner, 'At Ease' loud enough for everyone to hear and God help those who don't jump to that position. If you choose to ignore the command, you will be chosen to knock out a couple dozen push-ups. We are very fond of push-ups here in the Army. Some of you will find out just how much.
“You will not leave the position of At Ease until the drill sergeant has told you to Carry On or has left your area. The same goes for when a drill sergeant enters the bay. If he is male, you will be forewarned by his yelling 'man on the floor' as soon as he opens the door. The minute you hear that, somebody better call At Ease and you better drop what you're doing and be At Ease.
“Also, when you see that little red light flashing on the intercom in the ceiling, that generally means somebody down in the Orderly Room wants your undivided attention, so someone up in the bay better yell At Ease. And it better be in a tone of voice that everyone can hear. A word of warning about the female drill sergeants. They're luckier. They can sneak right in on you upstairs in the barracks...but the rules still don't change. The first one to see her still yells At Ease.
"One last little item of importance. We have a lieutenant running around here today. She is our training officer and her name is Lieutenant Henning. You can recognize her by the little gold bar on her collar and cap. You're not in uniform so you don't have to worry about saluting just yet, however, if you see her and she talks to you or you talk to her, anything you say to her will be preceded or followed by the word, 'Ma'am.' Female officers are addressed as Ma'am and male officers as 'Sir.' Everybody follow me on that? Do you understand everything I have just told you?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," came the dazed, collective response.
"I can't hear you!"
"YES, DRILL SERGEANT!"
"Any questions?" Robin inquired.
"Identify yourself, young lady."
"Private Minty, Drill Sergeant."
"Yes, Private Minty?"
"Drill Sergeant, how do you respond when we see a drill sergeant in our area and there is no one to say At Ease to? We don't scream it at ourselves, do we?"
"Good point, Private Minty. No, you do not. You just automatically assume the position of At Ease until he or she tells you to Carry On or leaves your area. Any other questions? Remember - the only stupid question is the one that isn't asked."
Dale side glanced at Katherine Minty. She was a tall eyeful from Oklahoma who had the brains to match her looks. Her questions didn't put her on Dale's suspicious list, because she had asked frequent ones since her arrival and they all brought up valid points instead of just making aimless conversation. Furthermore, if her intentions were directed personally at Robin, she would have made her inquiries in as private a situation as she could manage.
Katherine Minty, as Dale would soon discover, was not a brownnoser by any means; in fact, Minty took an intense dislike to anybody who even hinted at being one. On the other hand, she did have a chip on her shoulder about being an Army brat. She had been brought up on military installations all over the world and had been around the Army all her life, therefore, she instinctively knew more about the Army's rules and regulations than the average recruit. She also knew pretty much what the drill sergeants would or wouldn't tolerate which gave her an obvious advantage over most of the other women and she had a tendency to get very cocky about it at times. Yet intuition told Dale this was not one of the people they were looking for.
"No more questions? All right, ladies. AH-TAN-HAUN!"
They all snapped to Attention, some a little slow, but they looked pretty good in the long run. Dale once again reminded herself to keep her reflexes in slow motion. She needed to blend and look no better or worse than anyone else in the learning process.
"That's right. Eyes straight ahead. Don't look at me. Don't lock your knees, they'll buckle faster if you do. Okay. At Ease." They switched positions a lot more efficiently than Robin had obviously expected. He looked mildly surprised but did not comment on the group's fluidity. "Before I give you the command to Fall Out, I need a few volunteers to help Lt. Henning decorate the mess hall." No one moved. "I see someone has already warned you about volunteering for anything...which is redundant being that you're all here. I guess I'll have to select volunteers." He scanned his personnel roster. "Almstead...Jaffe...Minty...Oakes...and Sherlock. Report to the mess hall directly after I dismiss the others. The rest of you are free until noon chow, which gives you about an hour and a half. You can hang around on either patio, the laundry room, the bay or the concrete walkway in between the two patios. We will be setting up the nets and your welcome, in fact, you're encouraged to play volleyball. The dayroom is off-limits to you. The AIT graduates may use it but don't any of you get caught in there. Am I understood?"
"YES, DRILL SERGEANT!"
"Good. One last thing. We have a motto here at A-10. We say, 'Alpha-10, First and Best of the LE School, Sir!' because Alpha is the first of the four companies that make up Tenth Battalion and Tenth Battalion is the first of the three battalions that make up the Law Enforcement School. Now it takes on a new meaning because this experimental cycle you'll be going through is also a first. So that's our motto: 'Alpha-10, First and Best of the LE School, Sir!' Everybody say it."
"Alpha-10, First and Best of the LE School, Sir!" the women chorused, awkwardly.
"ALPHA-10, FIRST AND BEST OF THE LE SCHOOL, SIR!!"
"Outstanding." He had them repeat it several times and told them that whenever they were called together for Attention as a group and given the command of At Ease or Parade Rest, he wanted them to come back with that motto as loud and as proud as they could and then snap to whichever position was commanded. He practiced with them a few more times. It definitely needed work.
Robin then called them to Attention and commanded them to Fall Out. They relaxed and moved away quietly except for the five women he had selected to help Henning. As that group headed down the steps toward the dining facility, Dale looked back and, much to her disappointment, saw no one seize the opportunity to monopolize Drill Sergeant Ted Robin as he stood in the middle of the patio alone. He watched all the women for several seconds, then shook his head, smiling, and walked back to the CQ office.
The five women waited in the dining area of the mess hall, sitting in two booths between them.
"I don't know what I expected it to look like but it sure wasn't this," Dale said, trying to start a conversation.
"This is really nice," Minty said. "They never used to look like this. I mean, look around, this is more like a small restaurant with all these tables and booths. We're lucky, girls, we could have one like the one we ate in over at the WAC side of the post."
"That wasn't so bad," Lex Almstead said and yawned.
"Speak for yourself," Dale commented, her encounter with Drill Sergeant Cassidy still a fresh wound, for more reasons than just embarrassment.
"Look, a military mess hall is still a military mess hall no matter what they look like. The only difference is in a basic training mess hall, the alphabet soup only has four letters," Toni Sherlock, another woman with some sort of southern accent, remarked. "Hey, Minty, how come you know so much about the Army?"
"My daddy is a sergeant major. I grew up around it," she beamed, grabbing a chance to boast.
"If you grew up all around it, then you know what it's like. What'd you do a dumb thing like enlist for?" Lesley Jaffe, a sweet-faced redhead asked.
"I am going to prove to my father that not just the men in our family can make it in the military. I'm going to move right up through the ranks like he did," Minty assured.
No matter who it burns along the way, Dale thought. Well, fortunately for Minty, she was ambitious and Dale secretly wished her the best of luck because there were two obstacles that were going to frequently cross her path to the top that her father didn't have to worry about and that was harassment and discrimination all because of her gender. They had been the deciding factor in many originally career-oriented women's premature resignations. Minty seemed to have that ruthless determination now but Dale wondered what her attitude would be three months from now.
"Well, you can have it," Dale said, tiredly. "We've been here -" she turned to Almstead. "How long have we been here?"
"A day and a half."
"That's all? It feels like a month. Anyway," Dale continued, "I've never wasted so much time in my life. The only thing that breaks the monotony is the Kirk thing."
"I hope she doesn't ruin it for the rest of us," Almstead said.
"If they get her out of here like she wants, she won't," Sherlock said, almost defensively.
"They never should have let her leave AFEES in Detroit ," Jaffe said.
"But, other than that, I'm bored," Dale told them.
"You won't be, believe me," Minty drawled.
"I'm sure I'll regret saying that in two weeks but right now this whole thing is such a yawn. All we do is wait and sit around and stand around. Why aren't we more organized? Shouldn't we all be in uniform by now? Somebody said that all next week will be spent processing in, too, and they also said that what we do in that amount of time could actually be accomplished in one day," Dale whined, hoping to sound like an impatient, inexperienced trainee. "This is ridiculous. I'd rather get into it as soon as possible instead of all this...whatever it is we're doing." Even Minty nodded in agreement.
"Boy, I sure hear that," Sherlock growled. "The longer they draw this out, the worse my attitude is going to get. I wasn't too keen on this decision in the first place and I'm getting less keen on it by the hour."
"Hello, ladies," a new voice broke in and they all looked in its direction. She withheld a smile at seeing Dale with the group and approached the two tables where the women were seated. "I'm Lieutenant Henning. Ready to get to work?" Her attitude was pleasant but her voice wasn't without it's authoritative edge.
"Yes, Ma'am," they answered, not all at the same time. They stood up just as randomly and followed her over to a table that had a cardboard box on it.
"Come on, ladies, surely you can show me a little more enthusiasm than that," she laughed as she opened the box.
"Ma'am? I don't mean to be disrespectful, like I'm trying to pry or anything like that but you don't look any older than the rest of us," Jaffe said. "Out of curiosity, can I ask how long you've been in?"
"Sure you can. I've been in...oh, let's see, it'll be a year in January. And I don't look any older than the rest of you because I'm not. Not really. I'm twenty-four. Now, let's get to work." She took out a handful of decorations and looked up at the 5'8" Minty on one side of her and the 5'10" Sherlock on the other side of her. "Spotted any land on the horizon?" she kidded, dividing her handful between them. "You two can start at this end and work around. Strategically place them as best you can." She reached inside the box and pulled out rolls of orange and brown crepe paper, masking tape and two pair of scissors and gave them to Jaffe and Almstead. "I don't think you can reach the corners by standing on the tables, so there are a couple of ladders in the kitchen. Just knock on that door over there and tell them you're helping me decorate." She showed them where she wanted the streamers to go. "And you," she looked at Dale, "come with me. We have to put paper tablecloths on every table and I forgot to bring them down. They're in the Supply Room. Let's go."
"Yes, Ma'am." They walked upstairs toward Alpha Company's personal supply room, which was located on the south patio.
"You don't look happy at all, Private Oakes," Henning said, laughing, not being able to contain it any longer.
"Oh, you're wrong, Lieutenant Henning, I'm just enjoying the shit right out of this," Dale answered her, sarcastically.
"No, not yet but I haven't been here that long and not everyone is here yet including Walker . And, anyway, everyone is still too Goddamn horrified to do anything obvious. So far, everyone is acting like a normal, fucked up civilian who has no idea what she has gotten herself into. This is all going to take a while to unfold. Unfortunately."
"How does it feel to really be back?"
"Let's put it this way...do you want to trade places?"
"Not on your life."
"That's exactly how it feels. Tough break about Stuart, huh?"
Henning shook her head, grimacing. "Horrible. I honestly hope it wasn't related to this case."
"Yeah, me too." But Dale really didn't hold out much hope of the murder just being a coincidence. She was pretty sure Henning didn't, either.
"What do you think of the drill sergeants so far?" They entered the stock room and retrieved the box containing the tablecloths. Dale waited until we got back outside to answer. They headed back toward the mess hall.
"I've only met two. Robin and McCoy. It's just too early yet." She didn't want to go into her speculation of Robin being a ladies' man. She could have been wrong about him, after all, it was only a first impression. "When does Colton get back?"
"As far as I know, he's already back and signed in. He just hasn't been around here."
Dale was about to bring up the Kirk situation when another young woman approximately their age, in civilian clothes, approached them from the front. "Hi, Karen, what's going on?"
"Hi, Connie, did you just get back?"
Dale waited, politely, and held the box of tablecloths as Henning and this lady chatted in a very friendly manner. Dale later learned that Second Lieutenant Connie Clarke was Tenth Battalion's Operations Officer and worked under the command of Anne Bishaye, whom Dale would have gleefully strangled if she could have gotten her hands on her. Henning instructed Dale to take the box to the mess hall and wait for her while she continued to catch up with Lieutenant Clarke. She rejoined the five recruits moments later, where it was business as usual
It couldn't have been a more beautiful Thanksgiving Day. The temperature was a steady seventy-six degrees, rarely fluctuating, which was unusual but not unwelcome. The last Thanksgiving Dale had spent at Fort McCullough wasn't quite as memorable. It was forty-nine degrees and it misted so, it chilled her straight to the bone. Thinking about it made Dale shudder because even though she had been through it before, she still wasn't used to these type of winters. She had grown up learning how to fight the dry, bitter cold of the northeast and just wasn't prepared for the damp, unpredictable winters of the south.
The volleyball nets were set up in the open area between the patios but not everyone participated in the games. Some women remained upstairs in their depression, writing letters or just getting acquainted. Dale had talked Kirk into going downstairs and getting involved in the game and, as Dale had expected, it took Kirk's mind off her problems for a while and she almost enjoyed herself.
Just as the women were really beginning to get into the game, they were ordered to Fall In on the north patio. A majority of the women came to the position as best they remembered but Drill Sergeant Robin, who had returned to the company area in his dress blue uniform, didn't push it.
The dining facility was handsomely decorated and offered the closest thing to a home cooked meal the women would get while they were at McCullough. Again, as in breakfast, conversation was permitted and everyone talked freely. Dale was seated at a table with Laurel Kotski, Margaret Jane (MJ) Mroz and Diane Tierni, women who were all Dale's age. Kotski seemed a bit more settled now but the other two were still going through their "second thought" stage. They discussed the upcoming weeks as though they were a prison sentence ("I feel like I've been forced to do time for a crime I didn't commit," Tierni commented). They also showed a genuine curiosity about Lieutenant Henning.
"What's she like?" Mroz inquired, skeptically, as if she were going to be told that Henning had the temperament of the Red Queen from 'Alice In Wonderland.'
Dale shrugged. "She seems okay. We couldn't really be sociable, of course, but she seems pretty on the level. Her disposition is nice enough. Time will tell, I guess."
"Minty said you two had to go to the stock room together. Didn't she even talk to you?" Dee Tierni asked.
"Sure. Worthless conversation, questions like 'Why'd you join?' and 'Why'd you pick MP'? that kind of stuff. We've been asked it a hundred times since we've been here and are likely to be asked it a hundred more."
"Did you remember to say 'Ma'am' after everything?" Kotski inquired.
"I said it when I thought of it but she wasn't too pushy about it. I think she knows we're all confused right now, it didn't seem like that big of a deal."
"You all did a nice job here," Tierni observed.
The women wandered back upstairs to the Alpha Company area on their own whenever they were finished eating and eventually picked up where they left off before dinner. The AIT graduates escaped constant questions by taking refuge in the dayroom. They knew they were safe from pesky trainees there and also didn't risk getting snagged by a roving drill sergeant who had repeatedly warned them not to be telling unsuspecting recruits things they would be finding out for themselves sooner or later, anyway. So, whenever a holdover spotted a confused looking female in civilian clothes heading in his or her direction, they ducked into the dayroom.
The Dayroom was the military's answer to a relaxation area. Every barracks usually came equipped with one. Most resembled the holding area at the local bus terminal. Several rows of chairs and couches faced one object (in this case, a wall mounted television) or each other, however, there still never seemed to be enough seats to accommodate the entire company, if they desired to all congregate there at once. The Alpha Company dayroom also came equipped with a foosball game against the far wall and a round wooden table in the corner for playing cards and board games. The snack and soda machines were located outside on the patio but the contents of each were usually brought inside where there was either a candy bar or a can of carbonated syrup in every hand at one time or another. But the new Alphas hadn't earned those privileges yet, therefore, the vending machines and the dayroom were off-limits at this point and would unjustly remain so throughout at least half the cycle.
Later, after Dale had taken a shower and relaxed on her bed, she looked around at the cluster of young women who were going to be undergoing phenomenal changes within the next couple of months and she was curious about who was going to make it through and who wasn't. Most of the women she had already met seemed strong-willed and stubborn but sometimes that just wasn't enough. She also wondered if the 'set up' women had been planted yet and, if so, who they were. This early in the game, it would have been foolish to try to pick out anyone in particular with abnormal or suspicious behavior. For the first couple of weeks, while adjusting to military life, everyone's behavior was abnormal and suspicious. And if Hanley had spotted or heard anything worth mentioning, she had yet to relay it to Dale or Henning.
She wondered again about Lieutenant Walker and hoped against hope that she wasn't the type of woman who was strictly hardcore military. Dale did want a good agent on the case with her but she also prayed for someone with a sense of humor, and who knew how to raise a little hell but with enough discretion that she wouldn't draw unnecessary attention to either one of them. It was probably too much to ask for, Dale thought. Suddenly, for no reason, she pictured herself back home, driving up Route 4 toward Killington to party at one of the ski lodges. The vision only made her acutely aware of her definite loss of freedom and that very lonely feeling of emptiness and abandonment stayed with her until she drifted off to sleep.
Bay details were posted and assigned the next day and the women were directed to the list after morning chow. Dale was given the latrine and the showers to do along with Kirk, Kramer, a girl from Pennsylvania named Melanie Mackey and a six foot tall Hawaiian named Kay Verno. They split the job so that three of them cleaned the cubicles and sinks while Dale and Verno wiped down the showers and swept and mopped the floor.
Kay Verno was the youngest of all the females there, other than Kirk, being eighteen and a recent high school graduate. In the ten minutes Dale spoke with her, the undercover lieutenant found her to be quite impressionable, trustful and gentle-natured despite her intimidating size. As Dale swept the floor, she just marveled at how Verno could reach the top tiles in the shower stalls without a boost and three times Verno turned around and caught Dale staring at her.
"What's the matter with you, Oakes? You keep looking at me funny. You're not a lezzie, are you?"
Nothing like putting it right out there . "No, no, it's not that. I'm sorry for staring, it's just...tell me, does anyone ever yell 'timber' when you fall?"
Verno laughed. "No one has so far."
"I'm not making fun of your height, Verno, don't get me wrong, I wish I was that tall. I would have been the most popular girl on my basketball team. It probably would have been a bitch getting dates, though."
"Tell me about it," Verno responded with a slight grimace.
Well, naturally it would be a sensitive subject, you twit , Dale admonished herself, and began asking questions about Hawaii . The last person she wanted to offend was anyone six feet tall, no matter how kindly. That bottled up frustration eventually had to be vented on someone and Dale did not want to be the target.
At the Reception Center later on, the women lined up at a window outside the lecture hall and each got an advanced pay of one hundred dollars, then the original seventeen women were driven to WacVille to get measured for their dress uniforms, fatigues and combat boots. They would not receive their actual issue until the following Monday.
“Well, at least we'll finally be in uniform in a couple days,” Jaffe said, while they were taking advantage of the smoke break, outside the building. “Maybe that will make a difference in our morale.”
“Maybe not. Specialist Harriman doesn't look so motivated and she's obviously been in a while,” Minty said.
"I'll be glad when all this 'processing in' bullshit is over with," Sherlock said. "Looking at Specialist Harriman's mustache every hour on the hour is making me lonesome for my boyfriend"
“Looking at Specialist Harriman's mustache is giving me nightmares,” Minty said, joining in.
“Looking at Specialist Harriman's mustache reminds me that I need to shave my underarms,” Jaffe said.
“Specialist Harriman is right behind you,” Specialist Harriman announced to the mortified trio. “Get back inside! Smoke break is over!”
The three recruits, now united in matching shades of red, could not get back inside fast enough.
After noon chow, they were escorted back to the Reception Center to have their military identification cards made up. That specific document included a photograph that made everyone look like a member of San Quentin's inmate file and, unfortunately, unless a soldier lost it or was promoted to a rank above E-3, his military ID followed him around, haunting him for the entire period of his first enlistment.
To say the pictures were unflattering would have been a gross understatement. The photographic equipment was obsolete and the lights were so bright that one either had to squint to protect himself from going blind or his eyes grew twice as wide from the shock of what seemed like a nuclear blast. Hair was not allowed to be combed or touched up; after all, this was still a man's Army and most men by this time had no hair to comb or touch up, so the effects of the sixty mile an hour windstorm the ladies had just come inside from never would have shown up on the men anyway. And make-up, of course, was supposedly forbidden ("You're in the Army now, young lady, you don't have to impress anyone with your looks anymore," McCoy had told Sherlock when was asking around for lip gloss). Consequently, the outcome of the pictures made the entire bunch look as if they had been tossed into a dungeon for a month.
A very feminine, petite woman with classically structured facial features named Tanya Swinegar almost went into cardiac arrest when she saw ID picture. "This doesn't look anything at all like me!" she gasped.
"Give it a few weeks, it will," the woman in charge of handing out the cards assured her.
"I don't know about the rest of you but I look like I just stepped out of 'Rocky Horror'," Tracy Travis said, not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed.
When they returned to the Alpha Company area, they were greeted by another non-commissioned officer. This NCO's name was Lenny Kathan, a staff sergeant, and though he was addressed as drill sergeant, he had yet to complete Drill Sergeant School . Instead of the ranger hat, he wore a helmet liner with his rank decaled on the front and, to his peers, what he wore was affectionately called a 'turtle shell' and he was their trainee. But to MP recruits, he was just as dangerous as the real thing.
Kathan was a tall, dark, handsome man who had obviously gone through Dale's theory of the castration process prematurely. Every word that left his lips had a razor sharpness to them, warning the trainees that he was not a man to mess with. His formidable quality eroded some, however, when he marched some of the females to the PX to pick up essentials and it was discovered that not only was he tone deaf but he had no rhythm, either. He sang the cadences flatly and he threw the count off so that nobody's right foot hit the ground at the same time. At this point, it didn't mean much to any of the others but if it was one thing Dale did enjoy about basic training, it was marching to cadence and looking good when she did. Kathan drove her crazy and Dale prayed he wouldn't be there long enough to get assigned as an assistant platoon sergeant.
In the forty-five minutes the women were released to run loose at Fort McCullough 's Main Post Exchange, most of the thirty-two females lined up at the pay phone to put a call in to their parents, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or friends. They were restricted to buy only military requirements (soap holders, soap, shower shoes, toothbrush container, toothpaste, towels - white in color only - shampoo, etc.) and dire 'female' necessities. No contraband such as candy, gum, munchies of any sort or civilian reading material was allowed, although cigarettes were begrudgingly permitted as long as the buyer limited herself to one carton. That was to last her until her next visit to the PX.
Dale strolled around the store, which closely resembled a K-Mart, with JC Kirk, who was falling every day into a deeper depression. Twice Kirk tried to get to the phone but it was just too crowded and, in no time, Kathan was calling them all back into a formation.
That evening in the bay, an open argument broke out first involving Kirk, Caffrey, Almstead and a new female, Shelley Creed, who had quickly become Lex's ally, pertaining to Kirk's dilemma. They told Kirk to knock off her crybaby act and settle in with the rest of them or she was going to spoil it for the ones who were really serious about the Army. Kirk defended herself by saying it wasn't her fault and she wasn't going to ruin her life by committing herself unwillingly to three years of this kind of mindless bullshit. Sherlock then jumped in, aided by Troice and Travis, charging that it was the screwed up system that was involving all of them, not Kirk, that Kirk shouldn't be blamed, none of them were perfect, get off her case.
Caffrey then led a verbal assault against Sherlock and Minty, who had been repeatedly warned by Robin and McCoy not to flirt with the AIT males and holdovers from Alpha and Bravo Companies and had, that very evening, been caught at it again by Kathan. Caffrey told them that in one form, they were just as bad as Kirk because they were proving the women couldn't be trusted and she didn't know about the rest of them but her main purpose for joining the Army was not to hunt men.
Minty, who did not respond well to personal attacks, fired back that she and half the other women up there were aware of what Caffrey had joined the Army to hunt and if she came near any one of them that she would, without a doubt, be the first recipient of a blanket party.
Basic training units were notorious for their blanket parties. They were given for various reasons but usually to troublemakers who lived in the barracks, the kind who repeatedly informed the cadre on the other trainees or constantly were responsible for more mental or physical agony than usual being thrust upon a platoon or an entire company. They were also given to individuals who could, but stubbornly would not, conform to the Army's way of life, which resulted, one way or another, in even more misery among barracks life.
The only blanket party Dale ever witnessed was her first time in basic training. The beneficiary was a female who had diarrhea of the mouth and the others knew she was responsible for severe punishment being inflicted on them all by the drill sergeants. One night when this woman was asleep, ten females wrapped her in a wool US Army blanket, dragged her - kicking and screaming - into the showers, turned steaming hot water on her and then, with the blanket still securely around her, punched and kicked her senseless. It was a hard lesson but it worked. Humiliation and fear of it happening again made her stay quiet for the rest of training.
Quinn Brewer, so far the oldest woman there at twenty-nine, stepped in and in a cool, professional manner, calmed the mood. She told the other women that the last thing they needed right now, when training hadn't even started yet, was to be at odds with each other. She went on to say that this many women confined to such a small area together were bound to bring on problems, but if they were going to make it, they were at least going to have to try to stick together.
It didn't make any of them instant friends but the small amount of truth to her words did pacify tempers for the time being.
Watching them from her bunk, Dale had not taken sides as most of the other women had not. She knew that this cease-fire would not last long with such exact opposites living in the barracks and she also knew next time the blow up would be bigger and include more people. Quinn Brewer was going to be good to have around but she couldn't perform miracles. The hostility was just going to have to work itself out.
Dale went to sleep troubled that evening. There was still at least one more group to come in and already the women weren't getting along. It wasn't unusual for antagonism to arise among females who were virtual strangers, thrown together and forced to cohabit for a considerable period of time but in Dale's experience, the opposition didn't ordinarily occur quite so soon in the cycle. Dale wondered what Linda Hanley would have said or done about the incident, had she been there instead of off somewhere in Averill on a four-day pass, that lucky shit. This was perhaps the only time in the duration of their short acquaintance where Dale actually envied her.
Saturday night might as well have not bothered to come. After details had been completed, the day ceased to exist for most of the women. They were restricted to the company area and once again forbidden to use the dayroom.
Another series of volleyball games broke some of the monotony but even that got old after a while and, growing restless, Dale returned to the bay to scratch off a letter to Keith, not really sure why she felt the need to stay connected. The relationship was clearly over and she was pretty sure the friendship was, too. But old habits obviously died hard and she addressed the envelope that enclosed a casual but comical commentary on her past week. She made no reference to their last meeting nor did she feel she owed him any kind of an explanation or apology. As the recollection of that defining moment grew in Dale's mind, she got angry all over again and ripped up the correspondence, much happier with that decision. She was about ready to roll off her bunk to toss out what was now confetti in her hand when a shadow crossed over her blanket. Glancing up, Dale saw Kirk who looked ready to climb the walls.
"JC. What's up?"
"Can we go downstairs and talk?"
"Sure. Just let me secure this stuff and throw this away."
Downstairs, they leaned against the picnic table closest to the laundry room. Dale had been observing Kirk with increasing concern, trying very hard to stay neutral. She looked upon what was happening to the frightened girl with almost as much dismay as Kirk herself.
"They're not going to let me out, Oakes, I know it," Kirk told her, almost bursting into tears. "They're just going to keep stringing me along, aren't they?"
"Don't ask me. I don't have the answer to that. If I knew what to tell you to make it any easier, you certainly would have heard it by now."
"Everyone upstairs hates my guts. They don't understand."
"Sherlock fights for you."
"She fights for me but she never talks to me about it. It's like she'll jump on anything to sound righteous but she doesn't know or even care what she's yelling about just as long as it gets her the attention she wants."
"Oh, I don't know about that, JC. I don't think you're being quite fair. She doesn't have anything to gain by defending you, in fact, just the opposite. I'm sure there are a lot of women up there who are on your side but they don't know all the facts and they're a bit apprehensive about speaking up. This is still America but it's also the Army and freedom of speech has limitations now."
"How come you didn't come to my defense last night?"
"As I recall," Dale began, patiently, "you told me and two others to stay out of it because it might makes things worse, remember?" Kirk nodded. "And, by the time I knew what was going on, the focus of the argument had shifted from you to Sherlock and Minty. Besides, do you really think I could have said or done anything to make a difference?"
"Brewer said something that made a difference."
"Well, Brewer was probably a diplomat in another life," Dale said and smiled. Kirk was not in the mood to smile back. "Look, like I said, I don't have any answers or foolproof ideas to get you out of here but I'm sure if you stand your ground, eventually they'll give in. I would think if you were going to fight them every step of the way, they would want you out of here as much as you want to get out. It's obvious to me they just want to see how much crap you can put up with. After a while, they'll get tired and let you out."
"If they don't drive me to suicide first." There was no trace of humor in Kirk's voice or expression.
"Then they'll have won, won't they?" Dale responded, sharply. "Just chalk up another casualty to old Uncle Sam, right? Who the hell cares, right?"
"What are you getting so pissed off about?" Kirk asked, defensively, regarding Dale's agitated tone. She looked at Dale for the first time since their conversation started.
"Because you sounded so serious about them driving you to suicide and you said it so calmly, like it would be no big deal."
"Well..." Kirk shrugged and looked off into nowhere.
"JC!" Dale exclaimed, exasperated. She drew a deep breath and calmed down. "We shouldn't even be discussing this. You - listen to me -" she said it in a tone of voice that prompted Kirk to greet her eyes. "You will get out of here and then you can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before you got here. Suicide is a little extreme, don't you think? Death is forever, my friend. You're talking about something you cannot remedy later, when this temporary situation goes away. I'm pretty sure you can put up with a few weeks of head games if it means your freedom in the end."
"I just got myself into something I had no business getting into. I shouldn't be going through this at all."
"That's very true. But you're here so you are just going to have to ride it through. Just hang on, okay? I'll give whatever support I can but remember, I'm just a lowly peon like you."
That did make Kirk smile. Dale watched her light up a cigarette and Dale hoped that Kirk's remarks about suicide were just passing thoughts and had been replaced by a determination to make it through this trial so that she could regain her independence as a civilian.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, Dale reflected on the Kirk situation and wondered if something similar had driven the person she was after to get revenge on the company. Desperation was an unpredictable emotion. Dale knew that first hand.
To Be Continued
Return to the Academy