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.
Dale awoke to the sound of Tracy Travis shrieking Streisand in the shower. When she was fully conscious, tiny horizontal rays of actual sunlight attacked her eyes and she knew, instinctively, it was well past five A.M., or even seven o'clock. She checked her watch and moved toward the latrine to shower. She suddenly remembered no new females had come in yesterday and wondered if anyone would arrive today. She glanced at her watch again and still couldn't believe it was going for nine A.M. The blinds hadn't even been opened yet and most of the women were still in bed. Dale shook her head, a little bewildered and made a mental note to ask Anne why the first few days had been so slack. This was usually the time the cadre used their most awesome Gestapo tactics.
Shannon awoke to the sound of her own head slamming against a desk after a specialist with a mustache named Harriman had knocked her supporting arm out from under her chin. It wasn't her fault that a prosaic little staff sergeant, who had bored her to sleep twice already since she arrived at the Reception Station an hour ago, had caused her to doze again. After Shannon and Harriman drenched each other with icy glares, Shannon looked around at the ten other women she was grouped with, who would accompany her to Alpha-10 and it was obvious that with the exception of one or two, most of them would rather have been home in bed, also.
She had been seated next to a woman named Christine Wachsman, who was just going to be there for basic training and Law Enforcement School and then would return to her home in Pennsylvania. She was one of eight females in the upcoming cycle who were either in the National Guard or Army Reserve and whose enlistment requirement was one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer for three years, sometimes four.
Chrissie Wachsman had a very wry sense of humor. She cared about the military and getting her proper training but she was not above picking out its immediate faults and commenting on them in a satirical way. Her patriotism only went so far and, impulsively, Shannon knew they were going to get along well.
The busload of females arrived in the company area almost exactly at chow time. The staff duty NCO, a drill sergeant from Charlie Company, assigned them all meal cards and sent them upstairs to find an empty bunk and locker. Shannon looked around for Dale but the only women on the second floor were the ones who had just returned from or skipped noon mess. She rushed to claim a bed near the rear exit door, put her suitcase away and hurried downstairs with Wachsman so they wouldn't be last in line.
Inside the mess hall, Dale took a seat opposite Deborah Michaelson, a quiet blonde with an understated beauty, the type of startling looks that shined through despite the fact that she only wore a minimal amount of make-up. She had the kind of smooth, clear complexion that made her envy of just about every female in the bay and sky blue eyes that would surely send most of the male trainees, not to mention a few drill sergeants, into hot flashes just by making visual contact. Dale also guessed that a few female trainees would be eyeballing her, too, but she would not be one of them. Even if the CID agent did decide to quench a newly curious thirst, it would not be with a trainee, regardless of how beautiful or willing. But she certainly was pleasant to look at.
The aloof Deborah Michaelson didn't appear to be aware that she possessed that kind of power nor did she really seem to care and, being perhaps the most attractive woman there did not, apparently, have any effect on her, either. Dale tagged her as a loner because she kept to herself unless someone directly involved her in a conversation and she smiled shyly and politely, denying it if someone happened to make a complimentary reference to her appearance. She had yet to attach herself to any one person in the barracks or seek out anyone's friendship as Kirk had with Dale, or Creed had with Almstead or Sherlock had with Minty. Dale admired her unpretentiousness but wondered what really went on inside Michaelson's head because she really didn't trust people she couldn't interpret and Michaelson was about as readable as hieroglyphics.
The undercover lieutenant had barely taken her first bite of lunch when Hanley, just back from her pass, put her tray down next to Dale's and slid in beside her. Casually scanning the dining room, Dale saw several near-empty booths and figured Hanley was sitting next to her to purposely annoy her.
"The last bunch of females are in," Hanley commented, off-hand.
"Which brings us to how many?" Dale asked, with the same amount of indifference in her voice. She was borderline apprehensive now because she knew that Hanley had met with Lieutenant Walker already. If Michaelson hadn't been seated with them, Hanley would have been able to point Walker out so that Dale could have at least had a little time to observe her before the inevitable meeting.
"Forty, I think, but I'm not sure. Have you kept count?" Hanley addressed Michaelson, who shook her head negatively.
"How many came in?" Michaelson inquired. She didn't really sound interested but she also, clearly, did not want to be discourteous, either.
Hanley looked toward the ceiling and counted from memory. "Eleven."
"Then I think that brings us to forty-four," Dale estimated and thought, Who the hell cares? "Great. Now that everyone is finally here, maybe we can get down to business and start some actual tr-" She stopped in mid-sentence, shocked by what surely must have been an apparition approaching the table. Dale's mouth automatically dropped open and a sudden wave of sweat rushed through her entire body. Both Hanley and Michaelson noticed her abnormal behavior and they followed the direction of her gaze.
Michaelson went back to her meal but Hanley felt she now had a legitimate reason to slap Dale silly. This whole encounter between the two agents was supposed to be nonchalant - two trainees meeting for the first time, no big deal. How could this idiot, this stupid...officer...carry off this assignment until the end without anyone finding out her mission when she was fucking it up royally from the beginning? Reacting like this with someone she was conveniently supposed to have never met. What next, Hanley thought, an eighty-year-old retired command sergeant major to bunk in with the boys disguised as a trainee to unobtrusively keep an eye on them? Hanley looked at Dale again. Why was she being so obvious? What the hell was the matter with her?
"Oakes, what's wrong with you?" Hanley asked, perhaps a little more desperately than she should have.
But Dale didn't, couldn't answer her right away. She studied the approaching woman in detail. The resemblance was uncanny. She was the spitting image of Shannon Bradshaw, her best buddy from long ago. The closer this person got, the more phenomenal the likeness. Finally Dale managed to get back to Hanley but she still kept her eyes on the blonde heading toward the table. "She looks incredibly like someone I used to know."
"Maybe she is," Michaelson spoke up, sipping her tea. "Wouldn't that be a coincidence?"
Dale nodded as Hanley nudged her roughly under the table, finally getting the lieutenant's attention. "What'd you poke me for?" Dale grabbed her rib and glared at Hanley.
Hanley looked at her, incredulously, then buried her face in her hands, shaking her head, hopelessly.
The woman sat next to Michaelson and smiled a friendly but noncommittal smile at both Hanley and Dale and started to eat.
Dale cocked her head to one side and looked over every inch of this woman's face. She wasn't sure if she could go through four months of hell with someone who looked so much like Shannon. There would be too much of a temptation to make military references this woman wouldn't understand and that could eventually expose Dale as a spy. She just couldn't get over the similarity, it was amazing.
Shannon, after four or five minutes of Dale's rude staring, decided to speak to her ex-partner in crime. Her eyes met Dale's tilted ones. "Did anyone ever tell you that you do a wonderful impersonation of the RCA Victor dog?"
Oh my God, Dale thought and broke out into a huge grin. That voice had given her away. Only one person had a delivery and a compromised New England accent like that. This was too good to be true. "That's cute. I didn't mean to stare like that, it's just...you look like a friend of mine."
"Really? A close friend?" Shannon continued to eat.
"She used to be. I'd like to think she still is," Dale said.
"Oh, I'll bet she still is," Shannon responded.
"What's your name, by the way?" Dale asked, still sporting a goofy smile.
"Shannon. Shannon Walker. What's yours?"
"Dale Oakes." She must have gotten married. "And this is Deborah Michaelson and Linda Hanley, who is waiting on orders to leave here."
Shannon picked up the cue and directed her conversation to Hanley. Dale lifted her tray and Hanley let her out, sitting back down to answer some of Shannon's questions.
"Hey, it was nice meeting you, Oats," Shannon said, dryly.
"It's Oakes. Yeah, maybe I'll see you upstairs, Welker."
"Right, sorry." Dale disposed of her tray and headed up to the picnic table to wait for her long, lost friend. She was definitely going to string up Anne Bishaye when she saw her for not telling her who Lieutenant Walker really was. And sweet little Karen Henning was going to get blasted, too, because she must have known all along. What a moron she must have looked like, especially in front of Hanley, who was more than likely having a mental field day with what just happened.
"I must say, you carried that off remarkably well," Hanley's sarcastic voice interrupted Dale's train of thought. "If I hadn't known that you two were who you were supposed to be, I never would have suspected a thing."
"I realize what it must have looked like. What you don't understand is that I know her."
"I know you know her. That's Walker," Hanley argued, treating Dale as if she were suffering from some sort of breakdown.
Dale looked around to make sure that no one was within listening distance. "Let me clear something up for you before you talk yourself into a counseling statement, Sergeant," Dale began, quietly, pulling rank on Hanley, a practice she really wasn't fond of doing. "They told me I'd be working on this thing with a Lieutenant Walker. Lieutenant Walker I'd never heard of. That woman downstairs is formerly PFC Bradshaw and we went through basic training and LE School together six years ago. I have neither seen nor heard from her in three years. Now, apparently, she acquired a gold bar and a new name along the way and nobody bothered to tell me. We used to be best friends. She was the last person I expected to see today and until she opened her mouth, I was convinced she was just someone who looked incredibly like her. Now do you understand a little bit of my indiscretion?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't know. I just thought..."
"You just thought that a couple of airheads were assigned to take over for you and it just confirmed your faith in officers...or maybe it's just lieutenants."
Hanley didn't particularly like Dale Oakes, or any officer for that matter, but in all honesty and fairness, she couldn't deny that the CID agent was astute. Her recollection of that night in Henning's office was marred by private feelings. When she really stopped and thought about the way Oakes handled herself, trying to stay impartial instead of immediately believing or disbelieving the charges was smart and professional. Anyway, Oakes and Walker were both enlisted before they became officers and that had to count for something. Hanley pondered if her resentment stemmed from a guilt over a feeling of personal failure on the case but, regardless, she'd be damned if she'd apologize. Embarrassment burned in her cheeks as Hanley walked away.
Dale watched Hanley leave and waited for Shannon to come upstairs. There was a lot of inconspicuous catching up to do and urgent questions to be asked that made Dale a little anxious but, overall, she was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief. All her anticipated fears about this Lt. Walker stranger were replaced by an almost intimate feeling, as if the next four months were going to be one continuous private joke between Dale and Shannon.
Anne Bishaye had done all this on purpose, Dale knew it. More than once in their casual conversations, Dale had mentioned in passing her and Shannon's misadventures and her curiosity as to Shannon's whereabouts. How Bishaye had located her and set this partnership up had to be a case of who knew whom and probably a couple repayments of favors. Regardless, Dale didn't care how she did it or what her motivation was, just that it had been done and was irreversible.
She spotted Shannon ascending the stairs and a smile crossed Dale's face as her mind and body suddenly relaxed at the same time. She knew now that no matter how difficult or complicated this case might become, at least she would have some fun with it.
Holding her two index fingers in the shape of a cross, Dale put them up in front of Shannon.
"What in hell are you doing?" Shannon asked her.
"Isn't that what one is supposed to do when one confronts a ghost?"
"Cut it out, Dale." Shannon lit a cigarette.
"Where have you been, you shithead?"
"I missed you, too."
"If I wasn't so damned happy and relieved to see you, I wouldn't be speaking to you right now," Dale told her, a little annoyed. "I know America is technologically progressive but the last time I heard, they had invented pens and papers in Korea."
"I left Korea three years ago."
"Oh, really? Well, you never would have known by me."
"What are you so snippy about, anyway? Why should I keep in contact with someone who only writes every other eon?"
"That happened once," Dale protested, "when I was starting classes and my line duty schedule was heavy. Try again."
"Look, it wasn't intentional. I got sidetracked and time just flew. Are you still pissed off?"
"Doesn't it sound like I'm still pissed off?"
"Well, with you, Dale, one never knows. Fine," Shannon shrugged, knowing better. "I'll just go and tell the Light Bird to take me off the case and we won't have any more problems over it."
"You do and I'll break your arm."
Shannon looked at her and grinned. "So, you did miss me."
"Shan, I was worried about you. Things weren't too friendly in Korea when you were over there. And with you up there by the DMZ with Second Division? How the hell did I know what happened? And where did Walker come from?"
"Oooh, you're so quick. You should become a detective."
Dale ignored her sarcasm. "So what happened?"
"He turned out to be a real dog. He was a rock musician, you know, local cover band type, one hell of a guitar player, though. His name is Richard Walker and he was so Goddamn gorgeous, I can't even begin to describe him. It was really insane. He relentlessly chased me, which impressed me to death. All the time we were going out, he played it really straight. I had to marry him to find out what a lunatic he was."
"You should have known the minute he asked you to marry him."
Shannon smirked. "You haven't changed one bit."
"I seem to be hearing that a lot lately. Go on."
"He started running from the day we were married."
"No, not at first."
"Then how did you know?"
"Every time he would play out of town with the band, he would come back and show me a new position."
"Old joke, Shannon," Dale snickered.
"Yes but very close to being true. After a while he wasn't even discreet. He cheated with everybody...our neighbor, my ex-roommate, my cousin when she came to visit, every groupie who approached him, it was disgusting. His little black book looked like the Manhattan phone directory."
"I can't believe with a fucking firecracker like you at home that he would look elsewhere."
"It was about notches in the belt, Dale. It had nothing to do with me. Or, at least, that's what I keep telling myself. So I decided I didn't need his companionship, or anyone else's, that badly. Or the humiliation, or the aggravation, so I got rid of him."
"Sounds like a wise move. How long ago was this?"
"Eight months, two weeks, four days and five minutes. Not that I'm counting."
"Are you over him?"
"I don't know...I don't think anyone ever really gets over a bad marriage. You just kind of adjust. I've adjusted. It still hurts, though, that someone could be as insensitive as he was and I am angry at myself that I stood back and took it for so long. And I occasionally think about him and I occasionally get lonely for the good times we had but no matter how lonely I get, I would never take him back."
"You'd never even consider it?"
"No, I think way too much of myself. No man is worth bringing your standards down that much."
"Do you still keep in contact?"
"No. It was a nice, clean break. Can we get off this subject? He really is a waste of my breath."
"No problem. Walker, huh? It's going to be real hard not to call you Bradshaw."
"Just keep reading my name tag." Shannon studied her long, lost friend. "What about you? Did you ever marry that Limey?"
"My name is still Oakes, isn't it?"
"You could have kept your maiden name."
"True. But no, I didn't marry him. In fact, we broke up last month."
"Oh. Sorry to hear that. How are you doing otherwise?"
Dale made a face that indicated indifference. "I could be better but I could be worse, too."
"Yeah, a lot worse from what I heard."
"She blows things out of proportion," Dale said and waved it off. The last thing she wanted Shannon to think was that she wasn't up to pulling her weight on this assignment.
"Don't tell me that. I was almost getting a respectful opinion of you."
"Yeah, well, don't. You'll be disappointed." Dale smiled at her again. "God, Shan, this is great."
"What's great? I think this whole situation sucks."
"Oh, me, too. I'm talking about you and I working together again in this capacity. Have you stopped and actually thought about the fun we can have?"
Shannon smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Now that you mention it, I guess the only thing to do is sit back and make the most of it."
"When did you get your butterbar?"
"About a month before you did, according to Bishaye. So, tell me, what's going on around here anyway? Brief me on the drill sergeants and the other females."
"Not right now. Someone's coming." Dale nodded her head toward the stairway and Shannon turned to see Chrissie Wachsman walking their way.
"Oh, that's Wachsman. We met at Reception. She's going to be fun to have around here, I can tell."
"Hey, Walker, where'd you go?" Wachsman asked, reaching them. "One minute I'm in line with you and the next, you've completely vanished."
"I wanted to sit with someone who's been here a while to find out what it's been like so far. I thought you were right behind me."
"I was. Then suddenly you pulled this Casper act and you're gone. Did you find out anything useful? We've been here twenty minutes already and I sure don't feel any different," Wachsman said and shoved her hands into her pockets. "Hi," she said to Dale. "How long have you been here?"
"Too long. Since the twenty-second."
Dale shrugged. "It's not what I expected but I guess I really didn't know what to expect. We haven't really done anything except process in. A lot of paperwork, lectures, rules and regulations. They showed us a few military drills but don't ask me how they're done," Dale laughed.
Wachsman and Dale introduced themselves and they remained on the patio and gabbed until 1300 formation. Drill Sergeant Robin popped in to take attendance and to supervise the afternoon's activities. Dale, Shannon and Wachsman played volleyball with about fifteen other women rotating in until it felt as if their feet were going to fall off. Shannon and Dale didn't get anymore time together to talk until right after the evening meal and then it wasn't for very long. They knew they had to be careful, that spending too much time together, especially in the beginning, would put them in a suspicious light among the cadre and most likely spark unwanted rumors among the women in the barracks.
In their second conversation, Dale informed her partner of the tension in the bay but, before she could get down to specifics, they were joined by several others. Unfortunately, even Dale didn't realize just how tense things really were.
Women had various reasons for joining the Army and no one's motives were exactly the same. Sometimes, however, even after the reasons were explained, the female in question's psychological whereabouts was still about as clear as tar.
Such was the case with one Emily Zelman. She had arrived with the second group of women, promptly earned the nickname "Dizzy" and was continuously living up to it.
If it was just her little epigrams of "Two's company, three's a menage a trois" and such, her personality might have been bearable. But even her tone of voice was irritating. She sounded like a tape player running on low batteries and she looked like a character in a movie that was a little out of focus.
So far, most of her short time at McCullough was spent shocking the daylights out of youngsters like Creed and Almstead (if their eyes got any wider, they would not have had any face left) by telling them wonderful little tales of her past, such as being kicked out of college for V.D. (she gave it to the Dean). But her porno queen act wasn't amusing the hardcore bunch, like Hanley and Lanigan. They were deeply disturbed by her explanation of how she became an MP recruit being that it had nothing whatsoever to do with test scores or previous police experience. Unless that included bedding down an entire precinct in a week to insure not getting arrested, something else she had freely admitted to doing.
Zelman was quickly becoming the topic of conversation over Kirk with her loose morals, tight clothes and empty head. Several times, Shannon had been up and down stairs on a cigarette break and each group of women she approached had one comment or another about the bleached blonde upstairs who descended from the ozones only long enough to get herself back in orbit. Most of the women passed her off as a dirty joke, with the possible exception of Creed and Almstead, who both appeared to be suffering from an acute case of gullibility. Shannon, on the other hand, was more worried about Zelman than she was angry or shocked. Not only were they going to assign this bimbo a lethal weapon, they were actually going to place it in her hot little hands and teach her how to use it, too. She was obviously not the sincerest of recruits and was hardly about to dedicate herself to any cause that took away from her freedom to do sex, drugs and rock and roll whenever and however she pleased. No recruiter should have been that desperate to make a quota.
Yet, when both Shannon and Dale stopped and thought about it, they instinctively knew that Zelman had been sent there to be made an example of. Certain recruiters sometimes altered records and enlisted men and women who were not up to a specific military standard. Basic training units used these poor, unsuspecting hot shots to show the other, more serious trainees was NOT to do their first eight weeks with Uncle Sam. Then these misfits, as if they hadn't been through enough already by sometimes (and sometimes not) earning themselves several counseling statements and one or two Article 15s (a military offense which stayed on a company level, issued by the company commander and punishment could not exceed fourteen days restriction, seven days loss of pay and demotion to the next lowest rank, which for a trainee, was more than likely civilian status), and usually a discharge (AR 635-212, Unsuitability) before making it to AIT.
All in all, they had wasted anywhere from two weeks to two months in an environment they never should have been exposed to in the first place. Even though they were gone, they were not forgotten. The cadre used them as training exercises. Any recruit starting to turn sour usually got threatened with punishment equal to whoever had just returned to civilian life before he or she had been bounced out.
It was also not necessary for Dale and Shannon to confer about Zelman as a suspect. They had to laugh at the thought of any drill sergeant who would seriously consider an encounter with the consummate dizzy blonde. Most men preferred women from their own planet. True, a majority of members of the male persuasion couldn't resist a flirtatious female laying a free evening in the sack in front of them, especially men of the military faith, but not only was the packaging of this deal all wrong, who could have stomached the idea of snuggling in bed with someone while visions of nasty sexually transmitted diseases danced in their heads? If a drill sergeant even remotely entertained the thought of getting any closer to Zelman than necessary, he or she deserved to get caught and punished and a trip to the clinic. She was too obvious and anyone who pursued her with any unmilitary-like ideas (cadre or trainee) was just begging for trouble.
Down on the north patio by the laundry room, Dale sat at the picnic table listening to a discussion on Private Zelman.
"She and Hanley almost got into it, too," a short, curly-haired brunette name Charlene Keival was saying.
"What happened?" a soft-spoken woman with long, red hair and glasses asked. "I didn't hear anything. I must have been in the bath - pardon me - the latrine." Her name was Bonnie Kramer, no relation to Brigitte and she was, thus far, the only married woman in the barracks. Dale and Bonnie immediately hit it off because Bonnie was the only one who admitted to being able to play one of Dale's favorite card games, Cribbage. That excluded Shannon, who played cutthroat Cribbage, not particularly one of Dale's favorite card games, being that when Shannon played, Dale's throat was usually the one bleeding profusely.
"I really don't know. Hanley came charging over from the other side of the bay, telling Dizzy she wasn't suited for the military, that she shouldn't be here and it was one or two like her that gave men an excuse to call any woman who enlisted a tramp."
"God...what did Dizzy say?"
"She just kind of smiled at her and said something like, 'If the shoe fits...'. Hanley just got madder and told her she was a bad influence on all of us."
Who, Dale thought, Hanley or Dizzy?
"Yeah," Donna Guierrierre, a pale girl, sporting shoulder-length black hair with a noticeable white streak at her temple, said, "then Zelman said that anyone who wanted to die in a blaze of glory by being shot to death in combat couldn't be wrapped too tightly."
Well, Dale mused silently, that was certainly the pot calling the kettle black.
"She definitely gives new meaning to the term 'busy body,' doesn't she?" Bonnie Kramer mumbled, more as a statement than a question.
"Have you seen how tight her clothes are? I don't think she has worn one pair of jeans that's even come close to being her size since she's been here," Keival brought up. "How the hell does anyone get into those pants?"
"Probably by buying her a drink first," Dale said, imitating Groucho Marx.
"I'm sure they don't even have to make that gesture," Kramer added. "Foreplay for her is probably, 'Hey, ya wanna?'."
Dale would have laughed, except she knew that, most likely, it wasn't a joke.
Upstairs, Shannon was sitting on the floor by her bunk, filing her nails, when Wachsman came back from taking a shower. She sat on her bed, next to Shannon's.
"I couldn't take it anymore," Wachsman admitted. "After listening to that filth, I just had to run in and cleanse myself. I feel much better now. How in hell are we going to live up here with her for three or four months? She's going to drive us all nuts. If she doesn't straighten out and become a nun like the rest of us, I'll never make it. I'll be so hot and bothered from her stories, I'll be attacking the first male who walks through that door...which could be dangerous because what I've seen so far, the pickins ain't too great."
"She told Minty that being confined up here with us isn't going to be a problem for her -"
"Meaning what?" Wachsman interrupted. "She doesn't care about gender, just a warm body? We all need to be prepared to sleep with one eye open? What?"
"God, I hope that's not what she meant. Getting adequate sleep is going to be difficult enough without having to be constantly worried about unwanted company. Minty said that Dizzy told her that she'll adjust soon and settle in with the rest of us virgins and we'll never know she's here. She told Minty she's basically a simple girl -"
"And Minty kept a straight face?" Wachsman asked.
"Yes. And Dizzy also said she adapted well to sharing space and all she really needs is enough room to lay her head."
"And anyone else who stumbles in her path, I'm sure."
From the landing outside the second floor bay door, a specialist fourth class named Ingersol watched the new Alpha women with more than mild interest. He had participated in their volleyball game earlier and had watched them come and go out of the barracks during the last hour and as far as he was concerned, there wasn't an unattractive one in the bunch - physically, that was. Even that foul-mouthed, boyish one, Mitch, had an adorable smile. He had studied every one of them in detail and he wanted to get at least one or two of them in bed before actual training started. Tonight would have been perfect. The patrol of drill sergeants was few and far in between and it would have been to his advantage to see which women could be easily swayed. After all, these ladies were going to be without 'it' for quite a while and it was the least he felt he could do to service as many as possible until their first weekend pass.
His prime target had been that blonde called Dizzy but after talking with her, she seemed too easy. He wasn't that desperate. Well...not yet, anyway. He wanted more of a challenge. Looking over toward the stairway, the young man assigned to Alpha Company's Supply Room saw one approaching.
Dale had gotten chilly so she left the patio to go upstairs alone. Folding her arms across her chest, she spotted the good-looking Sp4 leaning against the steel railing and pegged him immediately for the obnoxious parasite he was. He had been too free with his sexually-laced comments during the afternoon and hadn't left that choice spot by the women's door since the last volleyball game had ended.
"Hey, Beautiful, why don't you come over here and lean with me a second?"
Dale stopped and looked at him momentarily. "You're kidding, right?"
"Hell, no...kidding about what?"
Shaking her head, Dale started to walk by him and he stepped in her way. "Come on, man, I have work to do inside."
"Yeah, but this is important, baby. Come here."
"So is getting my assigned details done before bedcheck. And I'm not your baby."
"Not yet you ain't," he laughed. "Come here." He motioned for her to stand next to him.
Okay, Dale thought, I'll play your silly little game for a while. She shrugged and took a step closer to him.
"Look at you. You're way too tense. You need something to help you relax."
"And I'll just bet you think you have that something, don't you?" Dale smiled insincerely at him.
"Yes I do, baby, that's a fact." He leaned in really close, his face possibly a centimeter away from hers, his hand dropping to cup his crotch. "Guess what I'm stroking in my hand for you."
Dale returned his lewd glare and matched his low, throaty, suggestive tone of voice. "Dude...if it takes only one hand to stroke it, why the hell do you think I'd be interested?"
"Oh, a feisty one. I like that," he responded, flicking his tongue almost obscenely across his lips. "So why don't you come upstairs to my room and let me get in your pants?"
"Gee, that's a real tempting, not to mention suave and debonair offer," Dale told him, 'but one asshole in my pants is quite enough, thanks."
He watched her, speechless, as she disappeared inside the barracks. He should have been mad but he found himself grinning. He really didn't like easy women, even if it seemed like that was the only kind he ended up with. She was probably really attracted to him, he thought, but with all the craziness going on, she wasn't aware of it yet. He'd definitely work on her again.
Inside the bay, Dale spotted Shannon conversing with Wachsman by her bunk and decided not to disturb her for a while. Instead, she looked around for Kirk but could not find her so she ventured into the latrine and then the shower room to see if she was there. Walking back into the bay, Dale was about to ask if anyone had seen Kirk when she noticed that everyone was standing At Ease. Suddenly, alert, she slowed down, making a quick visual search and saw no man on the floor.
From the corner of her eye she spotted an unfamiliar, scowling face stomping toward her. It belonged to a female dressed in civilian clothes. Dale immediately assumed what was, apparently, the required commanded position but it was too late.
"What's the matter with you, soldier? Can't you follow orders? Didn't you hear the call of 'At Ease'?"
"No, I -"
"No, Drill Sergeant." It was only a guess that she was a member of the cadre. This abrasive, thick-bodied, masculine-looking woman wasn't wearing any kind of uniform or insignia. Dale's thumb pointed toward the latrine. "I was in -"
"I don't care where you were and get your hands back into the proper position!"
Dale returned to At Ease, thinking of a few positions she'd like her hands in right then, as the two women exchanged glares.
"You're off to a fine start, young lady." The woman turned to face the other recruits. "Good evening, ladies. My name is Drill Sergeant MacArthur and I am going to assign you all details for tonight." She pulled out a list of names. "When I call your name, I want you to answer me so that I know I have covered everyone."
Dale listened and watched as MacArthur handed out tasks. Her appearance and manner of speaking were cold and direct. She sounded unfriendly and unapproachable, the type who took her job a little too seriously as if, regardless of anything else, she were always on duty.
When she placed Dale with a group of females to clean up the Orderly Room, MacArthur seemed to be memorizing her face with her name. The undercover lieutenant figured that sometime in the near future she would have to purposely mess up to put herself out of the running of any drill sergeant's suspicion as a possible cycle spy but she hadn't intended to get on anyone's bad side quite this early. Especially anyone with MacArthur's obvious disposition.
The drill sergeant left as quickly and as abruptly as she had entered and other than being a little surprised by her sudden appearance, no one seemed really impressed. In fact, the general outlook on Virginia MacArthur was that she was going to be more of a pain in the ass than anything else. Even though she tried to be authoritative, she came off sounding more intimidated by the female recruits than they did of her. There was just enough quiver in her voice to knock down any idea that she was any real threat as a disciplinarian.
Wynda Laraway had not been inside the laundry room until this particular point. Shannon had seen many of them before but Laraway, the other female assigned to the detail with her could not easily disguise her mild shock at the huge concrete cubicle which stored exactly three washing machines and three dryers.
"Look at this! It's so...so...gray..." Laraway observed, stuck in her tracks.
Shannon pretended to be just as surprised. "Well, gee, Wilma, don't you kind of feel like we've been transported back to Bedrock?"
The room was semi-divided in the middle by a long cement table used for various activities such as folding clothes, sorting laundry, ironing fatigues and greens and polishing boots. The walls were concrete and the floors were cement. There was a small window near the ceiling used for ventilation, a deep double cement sink and a small, open closet area where a broom, mop and a bucket were kept.
"Walker, there are only three washers and dryers in here," Laraway said, astonished.
"I know. I see them."
"That must mean there are only three apiece in the other laundry room."
"That seems like a reasonable guess."
"Do you mean to tell me that for a hundred and some-odd people who are going to be in this company, there are only six washers and six dryers?"
The door swung open with a powerful thrust. "What are you waiting for, ladies? This place doesn't clean itself, you know. Now, move it!" It was little Lt. Henning with the tall Texas voice. As Laraway nearly jumped out of her skin trying to get the mop and bucket, a small grin curled the corner of Shannon's mouth. "What are you smiling about, soldier?"
"Glad to hear it. Have either of you seen Private Kirk?"
"No, Ma'am," they chorused.
"I'm coming back here in fifteen minutes. I want this laundry room spotless. Understood, ladies?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Laraway answered, bringing the bucket to the sink.
As she reached around to close the door, Henning's eyes caught Shannon's and she winked.
Laurel Kotski, Gina Tramonte and Dale had been assigned to sweep, mop and straighten up the Orderly Room and the Senior Drill Sergeant's office. It was then that they met Sergeant First Class Fuscha, who had stayed after hours to help the senior drill sergeant get the paperwork prepared for the beginning of training.
Martin Fuscha was a big man, well over six feet tall and weighed approximately two hundred fifty pounds. He had thick black hair and a thick black mustache and he talked with a thick New York accent, sounding like a person who never got beyond the eighth grade in a south Bronx school. He spoke gruffly, but deep down inside, he was as gentle as he was big. He only had to act tough for the benefit of the newbies.
He showed the trio where the cleaning equipment was and returned behind his desk to continue his paperwork. When Kotski entered SFC Ritchie's office to sweep, Fuscha uttered, "Yeah and don't forget to wipe off the glass case in there. And, youse girls," he pointed to Tramonte and Dale, "don't forget the corners here."
"Okay," Gina said, not thinking.
"Okay? Okay?" He looked up, sharply.
"Yes, Sergeant," she corrected herself.
"Sergeant what? I don't got a name here?" He pointed to the nameplate on his desk.
"What's it say?" Dale looked over at Gina.
"Fuscha. Call me Sergeant Fuscha."
"Is that what it says? Fuscha? Like the color?" the undercover lieutenant asked.
"Yeah, Fuscha like the col- what's your name?" he asked, suddenly realizing that he should be annoyed by all this.
"You're a smart ass, Oakes."
"Yes, Sgt. Fuscha," Dale said and grinned.
Her expression was infectious and Fuscha returned her smile. "Get to work, smart ass."
The mood was broken all too quickly when Drill Sgt. MacArthur came storming in, ushering Kirk through the first sergeant's office, into the captain's office, slamming the door shut behind her. Henning followed seconds later.
The muted voices rose at a steady pace until they sounded as though they were yelling at Dale instead of Kirk. Even Fuscha looked toward the door when the shouting continued after fifteen minutes. His attention then focused on Tramonte and Oakes, who had stopped working and were listening, also. He then noticed Kotski at the senior drill sergeant's office door, leaning on her broom, looking at the closed door on the opposite end of the room.
"All right, youse girls never mind what's going on in there. Get back to work."
"It's hard to never mind it, Sgt. Fuscha," Kotski spoke up. "They're so loud and distracting."
"It's military business," he snapped. "Now hurry up with your detail or it'll be you in there! Haul it. I don't want to be here all night!"
"Yes, Sgt. Fuscha."
It was difficult to concentrate on anything other than what was being said in the next room but within ten minutes, the women were done. Dale noticed before she left the Orderly Room to return to the bay that Kirk was definitely holding up her end of the hollering until the voices hushed in controlled anger to a level where most of the conversation was lost. There was no doubting the gist of the situation, though, and it was clear that Kirk was in for the fight of her young life.
Less than twenty minutes had passed and Dale had emerged from the shower. She was engaged in casual conversation with Pamela Ryan, whose bunk was next to hers, when they heard the sound of the barracks door swinging open and slamming against the wall. A voice called out the command of At Ease and most of the women jumped to it.
A crying Kirk was followed in close pursuit by a snarling MacArthur, who then stood over Kirk as the young woman completely stripped her bunk. When this task was finished, MacArthur told everyone to Carry On and then searched the lines of women for one in particular.
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," the holdover responded.
"Get over here," MacArthur growled. When Lanigan reached her, the drill sergeant spoke in a low tone to the new MP, who then returned to her locker and began changing back into her fatigues.
Passing by the undercover lieutenant, Kirk tried to talk to Dale. "Hey, Oakes, don't -"
"Shut up, Kirk, no one told you to speak!" MacArthur shouted at her.
"No on has to, I'm not a Goddamned dog!" Kirk screamed back.
"I said shut your mouth! You don't need to tell her anything!"
Now the attention became focused on Dale, who smiled sheepishly at some of her cellmates. When her eyes went back to Kirk's, they were intercepted by MacArthur, who looked anything but pleased. Dale's smile disappeared quickly.
"Well, you certainly are keeping yourself inconspicuous to a T," Shannon mumbled, after the drill sergeant and her ward had left the floor. She was on her way outside for her last cigarette break of the evening.
Dale shrugged. "She trusts me."
"Lucky you. Do you know what's going on?" Shannon glanced around them to make sure they were alone.
"I'm not sure. There was a lot of hollering downstairs when I was there."
"Is there a reason you find that unusual in a basic training environment?"
"They're making her sleep in the senior drill sergeants's office tonight and Lanigan has to guard her...or that's what I heard Lanigan just tell Hanley. I don't know. I don't like this shit."
The blonde lieutenant waved it off and made a face. "I wouldn't worry too much about it. They're just trying to show her she's not in the neighborhood anymore. She's playing with the big boys here."
"Oh, come on, Shan, there are other ways."
"Of course there are other ways but we're not talking about trained psychologists here, either."
"Well...exactly my point."
Deborah Michaelson came out of the latrine, nearly bumping into both CID agents. "You two still trying to figure out which life you met in?"
It was the first time either lieutenant had seen the woman really smile and it was disgustingly dazzling. It also had some mischief behind it. However, both Dale and Shannon took it as a cue to move apart.
"I'm going to bed," Dale yawned.
"I need a smoke," Shannon laughed and moved outside where she was almost immediately confronted by the same GI Dale had encountered earlier. Shannon lit a cigarette and tried to ignore him. She looked out into the clear, starry Alabama sky but his incessant staring caused her to break out into a grin.
"Hey, baby, where'd you get that smile?"
"From my orthodontist. And I paid plenty for it."
"Yeah? Well, smiley, how 'bout if you and I head up to my room and have some fun?"
"No, thanks. If nothing better comes along though, maybe I'll look you up." She still had yet to look at him.
His lascivious little snicker told Shannon that her attitude was not putting him off. Oh, if he only knew that she was not a naive, confused little trainee... The Sp4, leaning on the railing, inched closer. "Now, that was just cold."
"I never was known for my tact." The CID agent was halfway through her cigarette and if he made it impossible for her to finish it, she was going to kick his huge ego all the way down to the Orderly Room and report him.
"Come on, baby, let's go up to my room right now. No one will ever know."
"I'll know," Shannon told him.
"Darlin', if you just got to know me..."
Shannon looked at him for the first time and her expression was not one of interest. "Oh, please. I know all about you. You were a nookie bookie before you go caught and the cops said 'Army or prison'."
He stared at her, speechless. "Now how could you have known that?"
Stabbing her cigarette out on the railing, Shannon brushed the black mark it left off the metal. "It's written all over you."
Seconds later, she returned inside the bay and it was more than obvious that 'smiley' was not very happy.
"What happened to you?" Wachsman asked.
"A moron named Ingersol."
"Oh, Christ, he tried you, too?"
Nodding, Shannon opened her locker and removed her nightshirt. "Has he been there all night?"
"Yeah. He stopped me on my way up from mopping the patio. Told me something like he'd be my last chance for a while and don't worry he'd use protection."
"How considerate. What did you say?"
"I told him if he didn't leave me alone he'd need all the protection he could get. He's got to be about the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I've ever run across. Forty women have turned him down flat and he's still out there. Wouldn't you have gotten the idea after about oh, say, the tenth or so rejection?"
"I'm surprised Dizzy hasn't hopped his bones."
"She's the only one he's ignored."
"Men. I'll never understand them."
"Yeah. I think we're going to find that military men are in a league all by themselves," Wachsman added, rather prophetically.
Nobody liked shots. It didn't matter how big, how brave or how strong someone was, or how well they tried to disguise their cringing, nobody liked the thought of that little hypodermic pinch. Especially after one had just had one's arm punctured several times five days earlier and had to have three more holes put into one's body so soon.
The women lined up as one medical specialist stood to their left and started to shoot away at bare upper arms, quickly and impersonally, with no regard for soreness or people's feelings.
Tracy Travis strolled toward the plastic chairs in the back section of the Reception Center by the soda and candy machines. She was reading her shot record with interest. "What does 'A Vic/B-HK-Flu' mean?" she asked MJ Mroz.
"I'm not sure. Sounds like some time of flu shot."
"That part I figured out. What do all these letters before it mean?"
"God knows, Travis, it's probably something for VD. I hear it runs rampant in the military."
Travis gave Mroz a sobering look, then scanned the room for Zelman. If those letters did represent a serum that protected against venereal disease, an expert would know. But Dizzy was nowhere to be seen. Either she was still being innoculated or she was off somewhere with an overanxious medic, in which case, Travis hoped whoever Dizzy's partner was would have enough sense to stand in line for his shot afterward. It was just Travis' luck, if he didn't, that he'd be the first man she'd meet on her first weekend pass. She went back to studying her shot record. "Hmmm...what does 'Meningoccal 0.5CC' mean?"
"I don't know that, either," Mroz responded. "Why don't you ask one of the medics?"
Travis laughed. "Have you seen them? They don't know. They look stoned. Probably from snorting too much meningoccal fluid. Whatever the hell that is."
"What's happening next, does anybody know?" Dee Tierni asked and yawned. A majority of the women still weren't in the habit of being awake at that time of the morning. Most of them were used to just going to bed.
Kay Verno, who was stretched out in a chair, resting, spoke up. "Someone said they've got to set up again and give us a polio shot and then we're going to be vaccinated in the corridor."
"I will be vaccinated in the arm or not at all!" Travis joked, with mock indignation.
"Well, somebody informed you wrong," Deirdre Snow announced, not looking up from her shot record. "The polio serum is taken orally."
Travis was about to respond with something crude but thought better of it and snapped her mouth shut. Snow was not her favorite person at this point. She had such a direct, stern way of speaking and always, it seemed, in facts. She was quickly earning the nickname of "Prof" which came close to what she was as a civilian - a teacher. But her tone of voice was unreasonably condescending and she had an arrogance she wore on her sleeve toward what she clearly felt about being surrounded by people she considered of inferior intelligence.
Travis wasn't the only one this attitude rubbed the wrong way. Shannon hated being patronized by anybody and twice already, Snow had spoken to the blonde lieutenant as though she had just fallen off the turnip truck. Shannon could have corrected her both times but decided against it. Sounding too knowledgeable at this stage of training would have consequently come back and slapped her in the face, especially with someone as sharp as Prof. The CID agent's time would come with Snow, there was no doubt in the lieutenant's mind, she just hoped the mounting aggravation could be held off until the end of the cycle.
The day seemed to last forever. As if shots first thing in the morning weren't bad enough, immediately following that, the new recruits were confronted with their first military dentist. The fact that he had food particles stuck between his crooked, yellow teeth and breath that smelled remotely like Georgia pig farm did not frighten them as much as the dental x-ray machine.
One after the other, the recruits were fastened into a chair, their faces pressed into an unyielding chin strap, forcing them into a paralyzing position that defied human design and then they were told not to move. The scanner started at their left ear and moved very slowly around their jaw to their right ear, the imaging device coming so close to their skin it was obviously chasing an amoeba. It was truly a traumatic experience.
"We should have enlisted back in the days of George Washington," Almstead mumbled, as they waited in line to see the eye doctor. "We wouldn't have had to worry about dentists."
"Right. Just termites and knotholes," Travis commented.
There conversation was interrupted by a deep, male voice in the eye examination room. "You're not supposed to pronounce the words, young lady! It's an eye chart!"
The women were allowed a break in the rear of the building while they awaited the bus that was to take them back to Alpha company for noon chow. Shannon had just finished her session with the optician and was buying a Dr. Pepper for Dale. As she passed the room she just left, from within, a voice boomed out, "Read the chart, please," and then she heard Dizzy's midwestern drawl reply with, "What chart?"
Handing the soda can to her partner, Shannon stood behind Dale, as the dark haired lieutenant spoke with Kirk. It was hard not to hang around her close friend and renewed colleague, especially when her curiosity was heightened. Shannon felt it would do no harm to unobtrusively listen in, as she stretched out in a chair, directly behind Kirk, pretending to be bored.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Dale stopped JC who, the more she got into the story, the faster she talked. "They wouldn't let you speak to your sister?"
"They handed me the phone," she said, slowing down, "and I had it to my ear just long enough to hear hysterical crying and they told me to 'terminate' my conversation and then they hung up for me. I had the phone in my hand exactly five seconds. I don't even know who the hell I was terminating my conversation with. Shit, man, I wasn't even conversing."
"Why did they do that? Did they say?"
"They told me that I had pre-arranged the call. Remember that day we all went to the PX?"
Dale nodded, noticing for the first time that, after handing her the Dr. Pepper, Shannon had not joined a majority of the others outside and was, instead, within listening distance. Her eyes were closed and she appeared to be resting but Dale knew better. There's no way her blonde counterpart would have given up chain smoking outside when given the chance to take a brief nap. Shannon was just as interested as Dale to find out what had happened the night before.
"They thought I had called home and told someone to call me here and act like there was some sort of emergency in the family. But, Oakes, you were with me! I didn't even get near the damn phones!"
"Did you tell them that? That someone was with you who could verify that?"
"Yes but they didn't believe me. They're not even being sensible, Oakes. My family forced me to enlist in the first place, why would they do me any favors? Especially try to get me home. I don't even know which one of my sisters tried to call me. I didn't get a chance to recognize her voice. In fact, I had to take their word for it that it even was one of my sisters."
"How many sisters do you have?"
"Do you have one named Marva?"
"How do you know that?"
"I don't. Do you?"
"It was her."
Kirk immediately got visibly upset. "How did you find that out?"
Shannon opened one eye and looked at Dale inquisitively. How did she find that out?
"I was cleaning the office last night...well, me and Tramonte and Kotski. I saw it written down on a phone message pad. It said 'Kirk' and that was circled. Then underneath that was written 'Marva called, will call back' and that's it."
"I haven't seen Marva since I was eleven years old." Tears began streaming down her face.
"Calm down," Dale soothed. "Maybe Marva heard about what your folks did to you to and tried to call you to see if you were okay."
"Crying like that?"
Dale shrugged. "Maybe she was upset that your own parents could do that to you."
Kirk considered this possibility as she took a sip from her can of soda.
"How's MacArthur about this whole thing?"
"A fucking bitch."
"What about Henning?"
"She's trying, I guess, but she keeps telling me her hands are tied. I think she's just too fucking scared to buck the system. But she did finally get me in to see the chaplain. He wasn't any help, though. He seemed to close his ears to anything I had to tell him and he kept telling me God would help me through this. I told him the only God I know is freedom. Then they took me to mental health but those freaks are worse than MacArthur.."
Dale glanced at Shannon quickly, then returned her attention to Kirk. "You know what I would do if I were you, JC?"
"Request - no, demand to see the senior drill sergeant or the company commander. Tell them you're gay."
"I'm not gay!" Kirk stated, defensively.
"I didn't say you were. Just tell someone in charge you are."
"I'm not going to do that," Kirk was shaking her head, stubbornly.
"JC...you want out, don't you? It won't go on your record. If you're released in the first levels of basic training, unless you've murdered someone, you're going to get a simple trainee discharge. You're a thousand miles from home. No one will ever know."
"How do you know all that?"
"I read up on that kind of stuff before I came in. Just in case."
"What about my recruiter? Wouldn't he get a reason for my discharge? He'd say something to everybody, I know him."
"I believe the only reason he'll get is that you were unsuitable. That you couldn't adjust to military life. So tell whomever it may concern that you're gay and you don't trust yourself upstairs with all us beauties. I know there would be a couple of our barracks-mates willing to come forward and make statements if it will help you get out. I know I will."
Kirk skeptically contemplated the thought. "You really think it'll work?"
"Well...I can't guarantee it but really, JC, what have you go to lose?"
Following chow, the women filed back on the bus, all except Kirk, who stayed behind to pitch her coached confession to the phantom Captain Colton.
The bus wheezed its way into the parking lot of the Central Issue Facility. The recruits stepped off the vehicle and moved to the entrance, waiting for Sp4 Harriman to lead them in, as if they were fifth graders being taken to the museum by their teacher. Shannon took one final look at everyone in their civilian clothes. It would be the last time they would all be dressed as individuals for a long time and she almost wished there was a way she could have hugged her jeans goodbye without appearing a tad insane.
After finally being escorted inside, Dale sat in the waiting area with the other females, listening to a middle age woman's instructions as she handed out nametags that were to be sewn over the right breast pocket of their fatigue shirts, plastic name plates that were to be worn with the Class-A uniforms, two round pieces of brass about the size of a quarter - one with the letters US on it and the other with the head of Pallas Athena on it. Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom, skills and warfare and she was the official symbol of the Women's Army Corps. The female military police trainees would wear the Athena insignia on their dress uniform until they graduated from Law Enforcement School, whereupon they would receive an identical circle of brass with crossed pistols on it, which was the emblem of an MP. They were also handed two dog tags and two chains. One tag went on the long chain and the other went on the short one. The information on the small, metal plate included last name on the first line, first name and middle initial on the second line, social security number below that, blood type on the next line and religious affiliation on the last line. They were told that these dog tags were to be worn at all times.
The women were then directed to another room where they were issued four sets of female fatigues, one ball cap, three white undershirts, two sets of winter underwear, five pairs of socks, one female fatigue jacket, two leather glove shells, four wool glove inserts and one wool knit scarf. No one laughed when Caffrey asked if chastity belts, one each, olive drab green in color, were to be handed out also. The issuers did not find it amusing and the new Alpha trainees did not want her to give them any ideas.
Dale mechanically accepted it all, recording what she did or did not get on her personal clothing request sheet, DA Form 3078, which she was handed in the first room. Instead of paying attention, her mind was on Kirk's plight. If the company commander and/or the senior drill sergeant went for Kirk's lie, it wouldn't be long before the young woman would be on her way back to Detroit.
The controversy of all Armed Forces females being lesbians was still a universal rumor, supported by the fact that an ample fraction of service women were. The military seemed to be a common meeting ground, especially for women who believed in career first, family second and it was still perplexing whether they were in the Army because they were gay or turned to other women after encountering and enduring the undefeatable sexism a man's Army continually dished out. But the service didn't make it easy. Women and men got discharged for the indiscretion of not concealing their orientation and though the military had relaxed some of the pressure, they still would not tolerate blatant physical or verbal displays. Caution was an excellent exercise to practice unless, of course, someone wanted it known for the reason of getting out and then even dropping a subtle hint spread like wildfire. Dale hoped it worked for Kirk, however, not knowing or never even having met the CO or senior drill sergeant, she wasn't sure how they'd react or even if they'd react. She guessed she would find out when they go back to the Alpha company area.
In the next section of CIF, the women were measured for their dress green Class-A uniform and their summer dress uniform, which was referred to as Cords. Both garments had to be altered before being issued and given out at a later date. The trainees also received dress gloves, hats, one raincoat, one dress winter coat, one black leather handbag and one white scarf.
The women shoved all of their new wardrobe into their duffel bags, except for one set of fatigues, which they now wore. They dragged the heavy, cylindrical, canvas case into the next and final room, where they were to be fitted for combat boots and one pair of dress oxfords or low-quarters (granny shoes).
On the bus back, Dale was silently lamenting about her not being given a second pair of combat boots, as CIF advised her they only had one pair of her size in stock. Knowing how that worked, the undercover lieutenant figured she most likely would not see her other pair of boots until it was time for her to leave McCullough for good. It was imperative that a trainee have two pair of boots to switch off and on every other day. The average foot, new to such footgear, lasted much longer by alternating boots and Dale's tender left ankle would tolerate more stress by doing the same.
Dale did not see Kirk anywhere, either upstairs when she and the other trainees secured their gear in their lockers, or downstairs on the north patio, where all the women were told to wait for further instruction.
Both undercover lieutenants looked around at the other women in their brand new uniforms and boots. Shannon remembered how she felt wearing fatigues for the first time - a complete loss of identity, like a clone. The main comment, though, which is what Dale remembered the most, was how comfortable the fatigues were.
The women would not appreciate them as much after they washed a set. The female uniform, which differed from the permanent press male uniform in every way except color, was not a very welcome sight just out of the dryer. It looked as if it had been balled up in a corner of someone's closet with an anvil resting on it for about three years and even with spray starch, it never ironed out the way a drill sergeant liked to see it at morning formation. The women would soon learn to hate their required clothing, especially after a long training day and not being able to get a washing machine until close to bed check and then having to cautiously stay up long passed 'lights out' to iron them. What was worse was that no matter how good one made her fatigues look, the uniform never returned the compliment.
The pants buttoned on the left side and also sported two droopy utility pockets with flaps that buttoned over each side of the leg that made the women look like they were wearing saddlebags. The shirts had two buttoning breast pockets and one small pocket on the left sleeve, just below the shoulder. Also, the tops of the female uniform were required to be worn outside the trousers, as opposed to the male fatigue shirt, which was worn tucked in.
Menial activities and conversations peppered mostly with statements like they finally felt like they were really in the Army, were sidetracked by the sound of two military buses entering the company area. Speechless, the women watched as ninety-eight men raced off the vehicles as if they were on fire. The males stood at Parade Rest, looking scared to death, as the buses then pulled away from Tenth Battalion. Some of the men were almost recognizable from that first day at the Reception Center, even with their lack of hair and identical clothes.
It seemed like the men stood there for hours, not moving, not flinching, but it was only, in fact, ten minutes or so before someone came out to help them. In the meantime, Drill Sergeant Robin continued to go in and out of the Orderly Room and stroll by the females, ignoring the new male trainees. Every time he walked within ten feet of the women, the group of fifteen standing or sitting by the picnic table jumped to Parade Rest after they all took turns yelling, 'At Ease!' Also, every time Linda Hanley walked by they were at Parade Rest, waiting for a drill sergeant to tell them to Carry On. A smirk crossed her face, knowing she could have told the women they did not need to remain in that rigid position when no drill sergeant was around but she decided they needed to learn on their own just like she did.
Finally, Robin came back out to help the men but he was not alone. With him was another drill instructor, a sergeant first class the women had not seen before. Word spread quickly that this was the company Senior Drill Sergeant, James Ritchie, and he was a force to be reckoned with, even though he was a physical contradiction of his reputation. Ritchie was a man just barely qualifying for the military height regulation at five feet, six inches tall, stocky in build but very much in shape. He reminded Shannon of a bulldog, not just in appearance but in temperament, also, with his beady little eyes that snapped when he growled instead of spoke. He had dark brown hair cut in a strict, short, regulation style and a square face that had an almost cherubic quality to it. He wore thick, black-framed military-issued glasses and when he smiled, he bared tiny little teeth, straight though they were, that had more than likely been worn down through plenty of gritting and grinding in aggravation over new soldiers.
Both Dale and Shannon disliked him immediately and they each hoped their impression of him as a little Hitler was wrong. Yet, from the moment he opened his mouth, he was proving to them their instincts were sharper than ever.
"Okay, you mealy-mouthed, sorry bunch of dirtbag fuck-ups, listen up! You sissies have been pajama partying for a few days now, you should know each other intimately by now. Everybody A through D line up here," he pointed to an area in the parking lot, "E through Mc here," he indicated another place, "and ME through Z over here....What are you standing around for? Fall out! Double-time into those lines, you scumbrain asswipes!!!"
The men nearly trampled each other getting into alphabetical ranks. Ritchie made them stand at Attention until he got their names in order and then he proceeded to go from man to man, making sure that everyone was present and accounted for and all his information was correct. The whole process took at least forty-five minutes and by the time he was through, the males were ready to drop. It was obvious that Ritchie deliberately took his time and even Robin looked a bit annoyed with him because he finally left the Senior Drill Sergeant alone with the group and walked back toward the CQ Office.
"At Ease!" Mroz screamed, so loudly even Ritchie jumped, as Robin reached them.
"Carry on," the drill sergeant told them, preoccupied, and disappeared inside the Orderly Room. Seconds later, as Hanley walked by the group again, Robin stepped back outside the office and somebody else yelled, 'At Ease' with almost as much vigor as Mroz.
"Look, ladies, if a drill sergeant is going to be constantly in your immediate area, like Sergeant Ritchie or myself, you don't have to keep jumping up like this, okay?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," the group of women answered.
"Carry on," Robin told them and they all returned to their former positions of either standing or sitting.
"Drill Sergeant Robin," Ritchie yelled, "take these lowly recruits upstairs and get them squared away."
"Yes, Sergeant Ritchie," Robin smiled. He ordered the men to follow him, which they did, promptly and gratefully.
Ritchie walked back by the females who, honoring Robin's instruction, did not respond to his presence. Infuriated, Ritchie slammed his fist down on the picnic table and said in a tightly controlled voice, "You'd better get up off your lazy, fat asses when a drill sergeant walks by you! Am I understood, trainees!?"
Everyone jumped to Parade Rest. "Yes, Drill Sergeant," they chorused.
"I can't hear you!" he told them, his pointy little nostrils flaring.
"YES, DRILL SERGEANT!!!"
"Drill Sergeant?" MJ Mroz spoke up.
"Identify yourself, young lady," he snapped, stepping closer to her, standing less than an inch away from her, fulfilling his wish of intimidating her.
"P-Private M-Mroz, D-Drill S-Sergeant."
"What is it, P-Private M-Mroz?" He actually thought he was being comical. Unfortunately for the women, none of them found him humorous, only obnoxious. This made him angry that nobody even cracked a smile because now he had no one else to yell at.
"Drill Sergeant Robin said -"
"I don't give a good Goddamn what Drill Sergeant Robin said. I said you'd better stand or your ass is mine, Mroz. You got that?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"You all got that, you sorry excuses for women?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"I can't -"
"YES, DRILL SERGEANT!" They cut him off.
A smile curled the right side of his mouth and he walked away from them, never telling them to Carry On and they were too inexperienced to know they did not have to stay at Parade Rest, something Hanley could have told them a half hour earlier which would have saved them a lot aching and anxiety. Thirty minutes later, with some of the women near tears from holding the inflexible position, Ritchie walked back by them with MacArthur in tow, scoffing.
"They're almost as stupid as that weepy, wimpy Kirk, don't you think, Sergeant MacArthur? They're the worst looking bunch of candy-assed females I have ever seen. They'll never make MPs. I think they should give it up and go home right now." By that time, most of the women would have gladly obliged. "Carry on, men. That's obviously what you want to be," Ritchie said, and went inside the Orderly Room. MacArthur followed, like an attention-starved puppy, shaking her head.
It was then Ritchie earned the deserved nickname of Senior Drill Prick
The women spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening learning how to arrange their lockers under the supervision of the holdovers with an occasional visit or two from the individual platoon sergeants. The female trainees had already met MacArthur, McCoy, Kathan, Robin and Ritchie and had come to recognize certain voices over the bitch box. They had also seen another one of those drill instructor creatures running around the company area who kept his hair sheared closer than Kojak's. They had heard through the grapevine that his name was Putnam but he was new to 10th Battalion and because of that, there was very little else known about him. If he was anything like the rest, with the possible exception of Robin (whom they had felt completely betrayed by that afternoon, so even he was skating on thin ice), they hoped he would be content to just continue running around the company area and leave them alone. The women also seemed to be taking numerous cigarette breaks, including the ones who didn't smoke, just as an excuse to get outside to the downstairs patio to become better aquatinted with the males and the bay was predictably abuzz about prospective romances.
After a quick, quiet chow, the women filed back upstairs to finish their lockers, hang around and await further browbeating. Some used the latrine, some were in the shower, some were sitting on their bunks (a future no-no) writing letters or playing cards while others got involved in conversations about their past or the new male recruits. Regardless of what they were occupied with, when that bitch box light came on and somebody saw it and shouted "At ease," those women, all except the holdovers, immediately jumped to the position of Parade Rest. Both undercover lieutenants eyed each other, wondering if either one of them should speak up and say something but both decided to play ignorant. They were relieved when, after the announcement was made over the intercom and the red light went dark, Hanley walked through the relaxing ranks and asked, incredulously, "It's a Goddamn light, what are you doing?"
Lesley Minkler, a dark haired woman who seemed in a constant state of muddle, in all her natural eloquence, said, "Huh?"
"The bitch box light, every time it comes on, everybody snaps to a position. It's only a light, it's not a camera. All somebody has to say is 'at ease' and listen. Nobody has to move."
"Usually when somebody says 'at ease,' it means there is a drill sergeant in the bay," Christine Steele, a slender woman from Michigan, brought up. "I think I'd rather play it safe and look stupid instead of taking it for granted and end up humiliated and deaf from being screamed at."
There was a chorus of agreement with Steele and Hanley shook her head, sauntering back to her bunk. "I guess you'll just get to a point where you'll be able to tell the difference in the tone of voice of whoever calls it out."
"You could have been as forthcoming this morning when our backs were breaking down on the patio!" Travis called after Hanley, who just laughed and turned to look at her. "As much as I hate to admit it, I have to, at least, partially agree with Hanley. I can see what Steele is saying but that doesn't mean we have to stay in that position once we find out it's only the bitch box."
"Exactly," Hanley said, smugly.
Travis was about to stick her tongue out and make a very rude noise at the former cycle spy when the door opened with a bang and the words "man on the floor!" were called out by a deep, male voice. The command 'At Ease' was hollered by Hanley, which had to mean business.
This drill sergeant was a big man, slightly overweight but not the least bit flabby. There was something gentle about this man who wore crisply starched fatigues, military-issued glasses and a thick mustache. He possessed a speaking voice somewhat more delicate than the others as it only would have registered a six on the Richter Scale.
"Good evening, ladies, my name is Drill Sergeant Audi. I would like you all to come over to the left side of the bay. I have a few announcements to make. You holdovers can go on with whatever you're doing." He waited until everyone had gathered around him. "I'm going to divide you into platoons. After I do that, you will change to the bunk and locker that is in accordance with your platoon. You will be placed alphabetically."
"But, Drill Sergeant, we just barely got our lockers straightened out," Minty drawled.
"Are you whining at me, Private..." he leaned in to read her nametag, "Minty?"
"No, Drill Sergeant," she sighed, defeated, "I was just -"
"Don't 'just' anything, Private Minty, because whatever it was you were 'just' going to say or do, bear in mind, you do not have that privilege yet."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"All right. I would prefer not to be interrupted again unless it's an emergency...and that better be an act of God. First Platoon is mine and Sergeant MacArthur's. Sound off and go stand by your new bunk when I call your name. Almstead." He pointed to the first bunk on the left side of the bay entrance. "Beltran." He pointed to the second bunk. "Brewer," he continued, checking their names off as they answered with, 'Here, Drill Sergeant" and went to stand beside the following bed in the row. "Caffrey. Creed. DeAmelia. Ferrence. Guerrierre. Hewett. Jaffe. Keival. Kirk..." He looked up when no one answered. "KIRK!"
"She's still downstairs, Drill Sergeant," Quinn Brewer volunteered.
He made a notation on his sheet and moved on to the next bunk. "Kramer, Bonnie. Kramer, Brigitte. And Kotski, you're all in my platoon." He walked back down between the beds until he reached the entrance again. "Second Platoon is Sergeant McCoy and Sergeant Kathan's." He pointed to the first bunk opposite Alexis Almstead's newly assigned one. "Laraway. Lehr. Mackey. McKnight. McTague. Michaelson. Minkler. Minty. Mroz. Newcomb. Oakes. Ryan. Ryder. Sager. Saunders."
Audi walked around the lockers and moved to the right side of the bay, leading a dwindling group back down to the entrance and started with the left group of beds. "Third Platoon will be Sergeant Robin and Sergeant Putnam's. Segore. Sherlock. Snow. Steele. Swinegar. Tierni. Tramonte. Travis. Troice. Verno. Wachsman," he pronounced it 'Washman, "Walker. York. and Zelman. Did I miss anyone?" No one spoke. "I want you to change bedding and lockers now and have it done and in order before lights out at 2130 hours. You holdovers will be placed in the remaining bunks in the fourth row. Any other questions, I'll be downstairs."
Drill Sergeant Audi left the women standing there a little dumbstruck by the amount of work facing them, confident there would be a fair amount of bitching taking place after the trainees heard the barracks door shut. There always was. That's why drill sergeants always waited until the end of the evening when they knew the new soldiers had spent all day neatly squaring away their lockers according to regulation to come upstairs and rearrange bunk assignments. It was all a part of the game.
Prepared for it though they were, Dale and Shannon did not welcome another hour's work. They were tired and, along with everyone else, they had hoped for an early night.
Shannon, eager for a last cigarette before lights out, headed downstairs while Dale was putting the finishing touches on her locker. When someone tapped Dale on the shoulder, she turned around to see JC Kirk, who had clearly been crying.
"They didn't believe me," Kirk began, her eyes welling up again. "I sat there all afternoon and when I got the chance to see the Senior Drill Sergeant, all I got to say was 'yes, Drill Sergeant,' and 'no, Drill Sergeant.' What a fucking son-of-a-bitch that Ritchie is!"
"Yeah, we kind of got that impression this afternoon. So, did you at least get to tell them?"
"Yes. For what it was worth. But I told you they didn't believe me."
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm still here."
Dale smiled, patiently. "Did you actually expect to walk in and say, 'hey, guys, I'm a lesbian' and have them back up in horror and hand you your discharge?" Kirk's expression told Dale that was exactly what she had assumed would happen. "I'm telling you, this is a macho shithead organization. It's still a man's Army, JC, they don't even like women here, much less women who openly desire other women."
"How can you say that? There are more dykes in this room than in the Netherlands."
"You don't know that for a fact. And neither does Uncle Sam. But a female who is admittedly gay is usually booted out, one way or another."
"I don't know," Kirk said, skeptically.
"Don't give up. Stick to that story, it will get you out of here in the end, I'm sure of it. It'll take a while but it will work. Cheer up. At least they didn't make you sleep in the office again."
"Hey, I'm not knocking that. At least I had some privacy there."
"Kirk! Get over here and clean out your locker, would ya?" the voice shouting across the bay belonged to Toni Sherlock. "It's my locker now and I want to get my shit in it and get to bed."
Responding to Kirk's look of confusion, Dale said, "Oh, yeah...a new drill sergeant, Audi, was up here earlier and he switched everyone around alphabetically, according to platoons. You're in First Platoon, by the way."
"Oh joy, oh bliss," Kirk mumbled, mirthlessly.
"Come on," Dale grinned, "I'll help you transfer everything and get it in order."
"Nah, it's okay, I need something to concentrate on. But I appreciate it."
Nodding, the undercover lieutenant decided to head downstairs for some fresh air before lights out. Reaching the north patio which was directly under the women's bay, Dale ambled up to a small group of women that included Verno, Laraway, Hanley and Shannon just in time to hear the young Hawaiian ask Hanley, "Is it Attention we stand at when a drill sergeant walks by?"
Verno heard three adamant "NO"s.
"Good God, we have to stand at Attention for enough as it is," the ex-cycle spy told her. "You'll find out that your back can handle more when it is in a little more relaxed position, so don't go giving the Department of the Army any ideas that we might possibly like standing at Attention any more than we already do," Hanley laughed. She really did laugh. Shannon and Dale were so shocked that they laughed, too, and they knew for a fact standing at Attention unnecessarily for long periods of time was no joke.
Laraway brought up that afternoon. "I'll tell you, for the length of time Ritchie had us standing Parade Rest, I'm not so sure that's any better."
"It is, though, you'll see."
Dale yawned intentionally and stretched. "Man, it's almost time for lights out."
Verno glanced at her watch. "I'm glad. I'm bushed." As if on cue, Laraway and Verno said their goodnights and headed for the stairway.
Shannon pretended to start another conversation with Hanley while the two were still in hearing range. "What did you mean when you said the drills try to be hardcore in the beginning?" When the area was clear of traffic, the party of three moved into the laundry room where their presence together and conversation could not easily be detected or eavesdropped on. "Anything?" the blonde lieutenant asked Hanley, getting right to business.
"No, not really. The big topic of conversation is this Kirk thing. Did you know she's a dyke?"
"You say that like none exist in the military," Shannon said.
"I told her to say that," Dale spoke up.
"Why?" Hanley looked surprised, if not somewhat annoyed.
"Because she wants out. She was trapped into enlisting and she shouldn't be here. As an ex-training officer, I know the last thing other troops need for morale is someone who's an instigator. If she's forced to stay here, there's going to be problems."
"Right," Shannon agreed. "If she pushes the gay thing and some of the girls back her, she should be out in no time."
"You hope," Hanley intoned.
"Well, let's just say in any normal training company that's how it would be but it seems to me like they're putting her through a lot of unnecessary bullshit here," Dale stated.
"Oh, come on," Hanley began, a little provoked, "you mean to tell me in all the training companies you put through, you never had the cadre mess with a trainee who decided they didn't like it and wanted to go home to Mommy? I can't believe that."
"We had plenty of trainees who never dealt with any form of discipline and changed their minds about wanting to be a soldier after a taste of Army life. Yes, the cadre played games before the trainee was sent home. This is not what I find questionable here. This girl said, before she even got off the bus, that she shouldn't be here. It has nothing to do with being a little baby who can't take it after she tastes it. She hasn't even tasted it and she hardly wants to go home to mommy when mommy is responsible for her predicament. Her being here is a direct result of fraudulent enlistment." Dale was worked up. "And then you have morons like Ritchie..." She let her sentence trail off.
"Yeah, what's Ritchie really like anyway? He seems like the type who eats trainees for breakfast," Shannon commented, picking a stray string off her fatigue shirt.
The laundry room door opened, slamming against the wall and the term, 'speak of the devil' took on a literal meaning as they really weren't sure if Ritchie were possessed or not. The senior drill sergeant and MacArthur stood in the doorway wearing identical smirks.
"AT EASE!" Hanley called out, unnecessarily, as the three had already snapped to Parade Rest. It was a good thing that military movement was instinct because an authentic first week trainee would have frozen from unmitigated fear at being caught with an off-limits person while one of them was committing an infraction. At that point, any improper response to any command would have iced the cake. The two cycle spies could have played dumb but neither felt like taking on the extra misery that would have caused them.
They were waiting for either drill sergeant to tell them to carry on. Fortunately, the women did not hold their breath. Ritchie approached them, as if in slow motion, followed closely by his smug little shadow. He circled them and a long two minutes passed before he spoke.
"Hanley, what did I tell you about openly talking to the new trainees?"
"You told me not to, Drill Sergeant."
"Get out of here, Hanley I'll deal with you later."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," she answered, hastily and wasted no time leaving.
Ritchie made another circle around Shannon and Dale, watching to make sure their eyes stared straight ahead. He spoke, finally, when he stepped in front of them. "You both reacted very fast. That would tell me that you both pick up quick. And talking to Hanley out here in the open when you were repeatedly told not to and when you could easily converse with her up in the barracks unobserved would show me that you are incredibly pig-headed and blatant in your disregard of obeying orders or very eager to learn all you can about the military. And learn it before we can teach it to you." He stepped closer to Shannon than Dale, reading her nametag. "Are you that interested in the Army, Private Walker?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"So interested that you also ignored the rule about smoking in the laundry room?" His voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"You are? Well, good. Now I'll let you learn discipline. Field strip that butt and get down and knock me out fifteen, Walker."
"Fifteen what, Drill Sergeant?" Shannon knew very well what his statement meant and she faced it with dread. She equated doing push-ups with being vaporized. She extinguished the cigarette and forced the tobacco out of it with her thumb and forefinger.
"Fifteen push-ups, you idiot!" MacArthur yelled, in a burst of confidence. "Hit it, Walker."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Shannon responded, with not much enthusiasm. She assumed the position and started pushing up.
Ritchie waited until she got at least five done. "I don't hear you counting them off, Walker."
Having to play stupid was getting a little hard on her muscles. "One...two..."
"One, Drill Sergeant. Two, Drill Sergeant," Ritchie corrected her.
Shannon held a front leaning rest position to get her bearings and started again. "One, Drill Sergeant, two, Drill Sergeant..."
MacArthur monitored Shannon's slow progress while Ritchie's attention moved to Dale. "You find this funny, Oakes?"
"I wasn't laughing, Drill Sergeant."
"You shouldn't be, Oakes. I understand that you and Kirk are real close. Is that true, Private?"
"Yes, Drill Sergeant."
"Are you queer, too, Oakes?"
"Well, I've been told that I can be a bit odd at times but -"
Ritchie stepped up to Dale, his face barely an inch away from hers. "Don't you ever fucking get smart with me again, Private! Do you understand me?"
"I apologize, Drill Sergeant. I thought it was a legitimate question."
"That's what you get for thinking. Now get down and knock me out twenty-five for having a smart mouth and another ten for being late for lights out, which was two minutes ago. Walker, give me five more and I want to hear you both count off."
While Shannon struggled to do five more push-ups, Dale knocked out thirty.
"Now do you know what to say?" Ritchie asked them both.
"No, Drill Sergeant," they both lied.
"Isn't this exciting? Next time you'll know so you won't have to corner Hanley about it. You say, 'Drill Sergeant, thank you for conditioning my mind and body. Private Walker and Private Oakes request permission to recover'." He waited while the two women repeated it, about to lose the use of their arms.
Ritchie and MacArthur exchanged the type of smiles that made Dale and Shannon feel like Hansel and Gretel being prepared for the oven.
"I think we should leave them like that, Sergeant Ritchie."
"It's a thought, isn't it, Sergeant MacArthur? Nah, let them up."
She hesitated, then shrugged. "Recover!"
Shannon and Dale jumped to their feet and stood at Attention.
"Dismissed," Ritchie commanded. "Get your worthless asses upstairs and don't let me catch either one of you walking."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," they said together and ran out the door. They double-timed across the patio and neither said a word until they reached the stairway.
"Boy, that was close," Dale said, taking two steps at a time.
"A little too close for me, thank you," Shannon let her know, keeping up with her. "We're going to have to be more careful, Dale."
"I do not like him one bit," Dale stated, reaching the landing.
"She doesn't thrill me, either," Shannon said, referring to MacArthur. "I never met anyone suffering from such a terminal case of irregularity before. She better get herself to a doctor. Nobody is that openly miserable all the time without a reason." She opened the barracks door. "Christ, I cannot do push-ups! I hate them! Son-of-a-bitch..."
Behind the closing barracks door, the voice of Drill Sergeant Kathan could be heard saying, "Late for lights out, ladies? Get down and knock me out twenty-five..."