After we landed in California, we all were ready for a good meal and some sack time. Trying to accomplish that took a bit of doing. We finally got to eat at the Air Force mess, which again turned out to be pretty good. Boy, those Zoomies have it rough. We still needed some sack time as sleep on the Transport wasn’t conducive to rest. It was more akin to what I called ‘zoning’, which meant I might have been snoring but my mind hadn’t shut off and wasn’t ignoring the cold nor the rumbling which came through the frame of the aircraft up into our seats and transferred to us. I bundled us off to the office which supposedly held the officer we were directed to see by those helpful Air Force types who had tried to direct us in the same direction as everyone else, at least until they saw our expedite orders.
After showing them a copy of those orders they then began running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to intercept our duffles before they were transported to the wrong place. Probably ninety-five percent of those who had just arrived were headed for the outfit which treated everyone like cattle, pushing them along as they decided who was being mustered out and who was moving on to a new location. Due to our ranks we wouldn’t have been there long but the replacement holding and mustering out detachment would have delayed us a bit, most of the guys working there had a tendency not to read paperwork. Especially if someone said it was important.
Fine. Nearly 24 hours after leaving Nam we still weren’t being given a chance to rest. Faster than you could blink an eye, we and our duffles were on another plane going to Denver. Maybe we could get some decent sleep there, we barely had time for the chow I mentioned earlier.
By now the guys were beginning to become crabby and we were all wishing for a shower, change and a shave... Well, most of us anyway. I still didn’t need to shave. That’s really great in the mornings, by the way, because it saved me some time getting myself together which translated into an extra ten minutes sack time. Thinking about that reminded me of the greenie who was sleeping when we wound up on the receiving end of a rocket attack. He got up and went to the latrine, then started shaving before he dressed. I warned him and headed for shelter. If he wanted to get killed that was his business. I couldn’t get him to leave. By the time he was shaved and dressed it was all over so he just wandered over to where the mess had been and stood gaping at the wreckage. Thankfully he was some other NCOs responsibility since I saw him later with an E-7 haranguing at him. I couldn’t believe it at the time since the marks on his uniform blouse and his pants looked like they lined up perfectly as though they had been pressed while he was wearing them. I don’t know if he ever made it or not, but I would have my doubts unless he made some serious adjustments. Who takes the time to shave when rockets are dropping? Maybe he was one of those ones the shrinks said just shut down their mental processes when they arrived over there.
We finally arrived in Maryland and managed to obtain some decent quarters at a motel, rest and food almost two and a half days before we were expected to report. Hell, today was Friday and the sun hadn’t even set so we had two whole days to ourselves. God, this was great. So this was what a real bed looked like? It’s been so long I could barely remember.
The next morning Ralph seized upon this God given opportunity to remind me of my agreement to let him have a ‘date’ with Lynnette on the economy, which he would like to redeem at some restaurant he happened to know about from when he was in the Baltimore area once before. Since even he admitted he hadn’t been in this area for at least six years, how the hell would he remember one particular restaurant?
“Aw come on, Lyon. The chances of meeting someone who knows us are slim to none here, so it would be safe. The guys pretty much know and they don’t care one way or the other, if they’re not outright supportive. Besides if we’re out with one girl who’ll dance with us then usually a couple of others will come along and dance too. We could go out to the restaurant and then have some more dancing and with the guys there what’s going to happen?”
He kept badgering at me until the guys came by the room and heard him. At first they knocked lightly on the door then they became a little noisier. I let them in just so management wouldn’t think we were trying to tear the place apart.
Once in the room, Frenchy took the opportunity to jump in with both left feet, “Hey. Did Lynnette come along too? That’d be great. We could go out dancing. I’ve discovered a club just down the street that looks respectable. Maybe we could have a little fun and remember what girls look like. With any luck we might even get a dance or two.”
That figured. If anyone would discover a club this early in our arrival here, it would be Frenchy; at least it wasn’t a bar. At least I hoped not.
They began to all keep at me until I gave up, “All right guys. But you protect Lynnette, and no girls come back to your rooms. There’ll be no funny business. Keep it to supper, dancing and talking. Then we all return here together without the girls. Got it?”
They hastily agreed and I drew sixty bucks from each of them, kicking in sixty or so of my own. That allowed me to go out and pick up the stuff I needed which took me longer than I expected since I didn’t know where things were around here. This was a bad idea and I made certain they knew it, especially so since neither Blade nor Larry knew about this little... diversion I had. By 1300 I’d been exceptionally lucky and had picked up everything I could think of. By 1700 we were all on our way to the club... it seemed a bit strange to me since I hadn’t done this for a couple of years give or take six months and seldom, if ever, with so many guys around me who knew. It was a huge cluster-fuck waiting to happen. This was still a bit like being surrounded by a barracks full of men and I never did this in that venue. I knew I had my own quarters there, so to speak, but they weren’t isolated and there really was no privacy. The other slight worry I had was that neither Larry nor Blade had ever been in on me doing this sort of thing and they were an unknown which could end up stabbing me in the back, probably literally knowing Blade’s penchant for sharp pointy things.
Anyway we voted on the order things were to occur then ended up going to the club to dance first in the hopes the guys could pick up a few girls to go along to the restaurant. Afterward we would bring them back to the club for some more dancing before retiring here to our rooms again.
“Monday we report to that Colonel, and I want you all bright eyed and bushy tailed. The first one of you who tries anything with the girls will think that the world fell in on him. And keep the number of drinks to two or less. Got that? Tomorrow we just relax here. Anybody checked out the pool yet?”
“It seems to be fairly clean, boss.”
“Yeah. Not that we could eat off the tiles but there’s no scum growing in it.”
I was overjoyed to hear that...
My overgrown children once again agreed to all my conditions before we were off to the club. Despite my trepidation over the potential for some really serious fallout from our little excursion the guys behaved themselves quite well... Even Trank. Blade and Larry were a surprise, too. Although Larry and Blade had been a bit - reluctant, when they first figured out my masquerade even they had admitted I looked good and Blade brought up the conversation we had back in Nam as we brought out that Zoomie officer. Blade seemed to adopt me as his little sister and was faster to discourage other male interests than Ralph happened to be. At least he got between me and two of the more... belligerent half drunks who were in the club. Maybe he was just using me as bait so he could knife someone. Although he didn’t resort to that either so I wasn’t certain where he was going.
The guys were right, by the way, with one girl dancing with them, in turns, others began to show up until we were all paired up and it was time to go to supper. I was duly appreciative of that since if we had kept at it I doubt I would have been able to walk after a few more hours. As I said, it wasn’t long before girls began to gravitate to our little party so our two previously uninformed comrades began to think the deception was actually pretty ‘cool’. Or at least that’s what they said. They didn’t behave badly toward me nor toward the real girls so I guess they meant it.
The girls accepted the idea of going to supper with us so we rushed off. Our reservation was for 1930 and we just made it in the doors when a pair of people were about to push out past us. The guy seemed vaguely familiar to me but Ralph spotted him and stepped right into it dragging me along with him.
“Hello, Sir. Remember us?”
“Hello, uh... Lyon... no, Ralph isn’t it? You remember me? We met a couple of weeks ago but it wasn’t under the best of circumstances.”
I suddenly recognised the man and tried my best not to make myself noticeable to him.
Larry got a good look at him for a second or two before his face flashed recognition and he responded, “Yeah, I guess you weren’t at your best the last time we met.”
“No, not really. Allow me to introduce my fiancee, Lucy. Lucy this is.. I believe you’re a master sergeant??? Ralph... Sorry don’t know your last name.”
“Ralph’s okay, Sir. Everyone calls me that anyway. Pleased to meet you Lucy. My date this evening is Lynnette. Lynnette, this is a guy I met overseas while we were conducting a little communication business, and this is his fiancee, Lucy.”
We girls greeted each other as I hoped and prayed this Lucy didn’t twig to me. I latched onto Ralph’s arm in the hopes I could pressure him a little and guide him away quietly, which was actually a bit like trying to move a brick outhouse when it was fastened to the ground with rebar and about five feet of underground concrete. I could see Houdini’s fiancee giving me some serious thought. Oh man, I hoped she didn’t peg I was a guy, or if she did – she didn’t let on about it. I’d never live it down and it might just ruin an otherwise nice afternoon and evening. This was one bad idea. Finally we said our goodbye’s as Lucy suggested to me “try the lobster” before they wished us a pleasant evening then vanished out the door. I was considering fainting in relief.
A few minutes later we were being seated and fifteen minutes after that my panic had been nearly forgotten. The rest of the evening turned out to be much calmer so by the time we finished supper and went back to the club to dance some more my ordeal had been thoroughly dismissed from my mind. We left the girls about eleven, made our way back to our accommodations, where we all settled in for the night. By the way, the lobster was pretty good. More than a bit pricey, but good.
Sunday, we spent most of the day hanging around the pool. Some of the guys had suits while others rushed off to buy some. Blade tried to convince me to go buy one and swim as Lynnette, with the idea that a bunch of guys hanging around the pool might discourage females from using it. I told him I appreciated the thought but this was a day for me to relax too so... thanks, but no thanks. I hoped he wouldn’t take it the wrong way, besides, I still wasn’t sure where he was coming from in all this.
Management only got after us a couple of times and that was because we were a little loud and they had some day sleepers in some rooms near the pool. I spent a little time wondering if we could somehow con our Colonel into installing a pool near our billet? We could always claim it helped relax our muscles as well as giving us a way to wind down after a long tough day instead of going out on the town and creating trouble. Well, a guy can dream can’t he?
Monday morning I rousted everyone about six and we took our time getting ourselves together then wandered out for a late breakfast. Well... when in Rome - relax. We had great accommodations, good chow a short walk away, relative peace, and no crazies shooting at us or trying to drop rockets on our heads. It was still difficult to comprehend that the acka, acka, clack, clack sounds we were hearing were due to the jackhammers the street repair guys were using a block away. The first time I heard it I was half asleep and woke up searching for my weapons. Breakfast was good and we still had more than an hour to find our way to the building and that Colonel who would ‘chew us up and spit us out’ if we fucked up while we were here. No biggie. I intended to enjoy this to the fullest.
We copped a ride to the main gate but they wouldn’t let the cabs on the base so I guessed we would need to hoof it from there. Not my idea of a good time but... The MP at the gate took a look at our orders before he told us to wait. He called them in and fifteen minutes later we had a ride. I wonder if he would have done that for an officer? I wasn’t about to argue. Ten minutes after that we were at the building going through another security check. Yep. These people have got to be spooks. No one else would put security inside of security inside of yet more security. I was willing to bet the Pentagon wasn’t this bad. This time the MP was an AP. I guess that meant the building was joint-services. Seemed a little funny to me since this was an Army base... Ft. Meade, remember?
Anyway the guy with the greatest number of those funny little stripes got on the phone and after a minute told us, “You’re at the wrong building. Oh, it’s the right building as far as your orders go but Colonel Jackson will be over at another building all day today. Your little pow-wow has been moved.
“Great, no one informed us.”
“I guess it’s a good thing you guys are thirty minutes early,” the AP commented dryly before adding: “Go back out and down about a hundred paces that’a way.” he pointed back down the street from within the building. “Down there, you’ll find a bus stop. Get on the bus and tell the driver you need to know when you’re at annex number four... I’d get a move-on if I were you. The bus should be along any minute.”
This wasn’t our fault. We left as early as we could since we didn’t know how far it was to the Fort from where we were staying. Only took fifteen minutes so even with the delay at the gate that still put us here half an hour early. We hustled down to the bus stop where we had another short wait before a small bus driven by a civilian pulled up. He took us all on board along with an SP who showed up a few seconds before the bus. Great, so the Navy’s involved in this mess, too. We managed to fit in with nearly a dozen empty seats remaining before we were off again. We rode back out the gate where we had abandoned our taxis immediately after taking on four more passengers at the bus stop at the gate then after a forty minute ride and several more stops round Robin Hood’s barn we re-entered what I thought was more of the same place. Again it was through another guarded gate and less than three minutes later we were told we were supposed to get off.
“The building you want is that one about fifty feet back from the street and one building up. Good Luck.” He pointed toward a building which had two rows of potted trees in front of it.
I was right when I figured the SP was our escort since he got off at the same stop and walked with us into the same building. Once there, he escorted us in and handed us off to some more MPs before he disappeared deeper into the building. I made certain Colonel Jackson was in the building before we signed in. We were issued visitors badges then were collectively shown to a small conference room just fifty feet from a canteen filled with vending machines. Now we were given the opportunity to hurry up and wait once again. Typical. At least there was coffee at the counter in the corner so we didn’t need to buy some at that canteen.
Checking my watch for about the tenth time, caused me some concern since we arrived twenty minutes past our time to report. Now it was nearly half an hour after that. Three minutes later the doors opened and a Captain and a Major entered the room. I called attention and we all stood, with the Major telling us almost immediately to relax.
That’s what she said, “Relax, guys.” Like we were embarrassing her or something.
“When Colonel Jackson shows up, please just stay seated. We don’t want to be playing officer and enlisted all day long and you’re likely to be seeing a lot of different people both enlisted and officers during the week. Here’s an important clue. If they have the same patch as mine on their sleeve or pocket then they are part of our group and we don’t play military while we’re indoors working. Anyone else, feel free to give them a hard time.”
I was beginning to think I liked this Major, what was her name? Delheim, I think she said. Yes, I did notice that there were no name tags on their uniforms.
A couple of minutes of easy chat went by before the doors opened again. This time it was the Colonel and a couple of enlisted weinies. You can tell they’re intelligence types... all spit and polish and... HOLY SHIT!
There is a God and He hates me.
I gave another careful glance at the Colonel hoping my eyes were lying to me when at about the same point in time Ralph finally came to; “Oh shit.”
I nudged him with my elbow.
“Lyon, that’s the fiancee of the spook...” I nudged him a little harder.
“Wha??? Uhh!” I had unobtrusively poked my finger in his ribs before he finally caught on.
“Gentlemen,” the Major began the meeting, “I would like to introduce Colonel Jackson, code name ‘magician’.
The Colonel’s aides placed a set of folders in front of her which were nearly a duplicate of those which were in front of the Major. The only difference that I could see between them was the Colonel’s folders each had a sheet or two of yellow writing tablet covered with information attached to the face of each folder by paperclips, and... they were thicker. Obviously this Colonel read her material prior to entering into an engagement. I began to worry a little. Her folders actually did look pretty thick. Somehow I thought she might have a lot more information about each of us than the Army usually manages to stuff into the jackets of their personnel. I had caught a glimpse of the jacket the Major had on Trank and it looked like it had two to three times as much paper in it as the ones they had at SOG - and they were pretty full. The Colonel’s folder on him made the one the major had look like an empty book.
The Colonel’s entire pile was at least half again deeper than the one the Major had. At a guess they had pulled our entire military history prior to inviting us here. Now I was becoming curious as well as apprehensive. Just how much did they know about each of us and... did it go back further than our military careers? Spooks don’t spook on the citizens of their own country, do they? Wait a minute, the FBI gets involved whenever a security clearance is being considered so, now that I think about it, maybe they do.
“Gentlemen.” Colonel Jackson was getting right to it, “We will only have you here for seven to ten days dependent upon several things. Before you ask it; yes, I intend to use each and every one of them. I believe I met most if not all of you last night when Colonel Scott and I were leaving the restaurant and you were coming in. I’m sorry, but you are unlikely to have the time to visit it again until we have finished these meetings - if then.
I’m going to outline these first few days for you. Today and tomorrow we will be speaking with each of you individually. The following day will be spent in a conference room once again where we hope to have the opportunity to nudge your memories a bit during a group session. Sometimes we can obtain additional information that way which no one remembers when they are alone. The purpose of the solitary discussions is to allow us to weed out the information which each of you thinks is pertinent but which actually has little value to our work. That isn’t your fault nor anyone else’s; that’s just the way the human mind works. You each have your own interests and background and that plays a large part in what you consider to be important and that which you remember as a result. The final days will be a bit more fluid with the actual events of those days having been dictated or, possibly, directed by the results of these first three.
The team interviewing you will be those of us here plus a half dozen others. Each of you will be interviewed by each of us so please don’t be distressed when we ask you the same questions over and over. Sometimes little details show up when we least expect them and those little details can lead to some very big conclusions which can go a long way toward helping the war effort.”
It was about this point in her lecture that the doors opened again allowing six more people to enter the room. After some quick introductions, the Colonel assigned each of us to either one of those other people or one of the ones who were already at the table with us. The Major handed off the appropriate jacket and a notepad to each interviewer before we all traipsed out to be led to smaller rooms where the questions began. Once we were all gone that left only the Colonel and the Major in the conference room.
At my first interview, my mind was half concentrating on the questions and half on that Colonel. I continued to wonder if she figured out that Ralph’s ‘date’ last night and myself were one and the same. My next little bit of insecurity was in wondering exactly what she would do about it once she figured it out. Talk about walking into the lion’s den. I wonder if this is what Colonel Benjamin had in mind when he told us not to fuck up?
The interviews each lasted a bit over an hour with a break of about twenty minutes between them. Each of us saw four interviewers that first day. The Colonel had turned invisible, off who knows where, and at the end of the day we were returned to the conference room where a Captain gave us our tasking orders before releasing us. Every one of the officers with whom we talked had some sort of ‘code’ name since others from the same group, as noted by those little patches the major mentioned to us, referred to our interviewers by those names. The one Captain was “Cypher” but someone else had called him Bellamy. I kept wondering if we should be noting who was who by their names or by their monikers. The whole thing still smelled of some kind of set up. I couldn’t see the purpose behind it all. Then again, maybe there wasn’t one. They could have debriefed us in Nam and sent the info to this unit. One other ‘little’ thing that was bothering me was how they seem to already know the answers to many of the questions they were putting to us. There was a whole lot more to this than they were letting on and they asked a lot of questions which didn’t seem to have anything to do with the rescue. Or at least, nothing that I could see. The other little thing which took me a day to figure out but had been nagging at me since this all began; they seemed to know more about each of us than I would have thought would have been in our records or that SOG would have let on. That meant they had someone do some very fast research through all our prior units even back into our civilian life. They just seemed to know an awful lot about those civilian lives prior to our each winding up in the Army.
That much became more apparent to me during our second day of ‘interviews.’ I hadn’t seen the Colonel at all the second day until I was blind-sided while halfway through my fourth interview of the day. I was answering a question when the door opened behind me and a slender hand and arm reached past me to accept the notepad and folder my interviewer had before him only a few seconds previously.
A voice told me, “Come with me and bring your cover with you. We won’t be returning to this location today.”
I recognized the voice as belonging to that Colonel. This wasn’t looking so good to me. I also wasn’t comfortable with trying E&E in this setting either. Her voice didn’t sound like I was in trouble but then again since she was a Colonel that meant that she’d had enough time in the service to learn to hide whatever it was she intended to do from showing up in her speech, not to mention she was probably a spook and that just compounded everything.
Following her as she led me to the front lobby, she waited impatiently as I turned in my visitor’s badge and was signed out then we were out of the building and down to a staff car which just happened to be waiting there for no apparent reason other than to perhaps wait for some wandering Colonel dragging a worried Sergeant behind her who might just happen by and want transport to some other location. I was becoming more concerned that the next destination might be the stockade. We entered the car and were whisked off eventually ending up at the building I and my team had first seen Monday morning. She got out leading me into the building, pausing only long enough to get me signed in and badged once more then we were off again.
Less than five minutes later we entered an office area which had one of those emblems etched down in the lower outer corner of the frosted glass which was embedded in the door and which matched those our interviewers had been wearing. They didn’t like to advertise very much. The first words I heard her say since we left that little interview room were when the Colonel checked with a civilian who was seated at a desk just inside that door. A few moments later we proceeded on through another door and into what I figured was her office. Sure enough, she went around behind the desk even as she pointed to one of the two chairs located before it.
“Sit,” she said. Somewhat like you would do with a well trained puppy. I sat, figuring if I played the part well enough she might pat me on the head, give me a bone, and let me go. I wasn’t looking forward to learning what it was that caused her to interrupt my debrief and to bring me all the way over here. I was still trying to decide exactly what was going on as she gave me a good once over. If she had been an X-ray machine I would have started to be worried about my future ability to father children as well as possibly asking her how many cavities I had in my teeth, and how well the break I had in my arm last year had mended. Plopping the jacket she carried with us down on a corner of her desk, she opened yet another, which was one of several, that had been sitting prominently on her desk centered before her chair. The one she brought with her from the interviewer was ignored almost as though she had dropped it into a trash basket. Inside this new folder were a number of photographs and papers which I couldn’t quite make out from my less advantageous location. Eventually she spread the photos before her glancing repeatedly between them and myself. I was finally able to recognise two of them. My heart jumped into my throat and believe me, it took a lot to get it to do that.
“I can explain, Ma’am.”
She looked up at me with one eyebrow raised, “I didn’t ask for an explanation.”
“Yes Ma’am. I mean, No Ma’am.” I shut up, remembering something about discretion being the better part of valor, figuring that silence in this case was about as close to that golden discretion as I was likely to get.
She continued to look through the photos while reading some of the papers then opened a drawer and pulled out another jacket which she opened as well, moving the first one slightly to one side to make room for the second. The new one had a number of pages of those yellow note tablet sheets on top of everything else. She spent a couple of minutes glancing through them before frowning then searching deeper into the pile of papers held within.
“SFC...” she said sort of under her breath.
“Oh. You passed the board for SFC sixteen months ago.” she replied matter of factly.
“Yes, Ma’am. Something like that.”
“When you dress, has anyone ever detected you?”
I decide to play dumb for the moment, “Dress?”
Her eyes looked up with a ‘don’t fuck with me’ look while her head remained positioned as though it was still reading the papers in the folder.
She continued to look at me until I stammered out, “Uh... No, Ma’am. At least not until you did, Ma’am.”
She nodded, “You’re very good at it. By the way, we have your missing man being air-lifted in. He should be here tomorrow. Staff Sergeant Benjamin, I believe?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Benny. He was in the base hospital.”
“I know.” She said cryptically. Did I mention that I was now pretty certain she was a spook, too?
She continued to read my files, glancing at me every now and then, obviously thinking. At this point I wasn’t certain if this was a good or a bad thing and I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary for me to find out.
“Do you have any identification in your female personae?”
I nearly choked.
“Uh... No, Ma’am. That’s the reason I needed to be really careful about it. Am I going to be thrown out of the Army over this Ma’am?”
She looked at me with what I took to be surprise on her face.
“Not as far as I’m concerned. I had something else in mind. Do all of your guys know about this? I suppose they do, but to what extent?”
“Yes, Ma’am. The guys who are here know about Lynnette. The two LRRPs, Blade and Larry whom we rescued along with Houdini, didn’t until Saturday but they’ve only been involved with us for a very short time. They play out of a different team.”
“Not any more. They’re all going to be a part of your new team.”
My new team? What was all this?
“Uh. My new team, Ma’am? What ‘new team’?”
She looked up at me with her eyes but not her head once again, ignoring my question as she quickly looked back down without saying anything.
Ask a silly question, I suppose.
L. J. STEVENS, Vol. One
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story begins it’s evolution.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
All rights reserved.
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