An Uncapped Pen

December 19, 2007

CASUAL DUTY – Chapter One

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 8:36 am

Chapter One
Lydia’s Quick Mart, May 1981
Outside the Main Gate, Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Rattlesnake eggs? Bridie picked up the small brown envelope and read. CAUTION: Do not expose to direct sunlight. Do not allow package to get wet. Not intended for use by children under the age of three. What would someone do with a package of rattlesnake eggs, she wondered. Eat them? Raise them as pets?
She turned the package over. The top of the envelope flapped open. Curious, she pinched the sides and…BRATATATATATATATAT!
The envelope flew from her hands as she jumped backward into a display of breakfast cereal, scattering the boxes in all directions. “They’re alive!” she yelled, pointing at the envelope flitting across the shelf. “The rattlesnakes are alive.”
The other soldiers laughed at her surrounded by the mess of cereal boxes. Julia, the petite blonde, tossed her hair and turned her back to Bridie as she whispered to one of the guys. More laughter. “Dumb-ass. You see her jump?”
Bridie’s face burned crimson with the sound of their jeers. She looked at the mess she’d made and rubbed her thumb against the inside of her ring finger. One, two, three, four, five, ….Stop it! She commanded herself. It was just some kind of joke. She stared at the envelope, unable to move toward it.
“They’re not real. Everyone who comes in here does the same thing,” said the clerk as she fished the envelope out of a display of scorpion paperweights. “See, it’s just a rubber band and a paperclip inside.” She pulled out the clip to show Bridie, twisted the band several times to reload it, and tucked it back into the envelope. “It was funny the first hundred times I saw it. I just wish Lydia would let me move it away from these displays.” She placed the loaded envelope back on top of the stack with the flap down, ready for the next unsuspecting victim.
Bridie’s heart raced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I thought…” She didn’t want to say what she had thought. She’d thought she was going to die. She knelt beside the woman to help her restack the boxes of cereal, hiding her face. The strand of bells hanging from the front door jangled as the noisy group from the bus left. Bridie blinked back the sting of tears as she watched them cross the street and disappear into the bar on the corner. She knew they were still laughing at her, especially Julia and Tracy, the girls from the hotel room last night. She shook her head and finished straightening the last box. The bells jangled again and Bridie looked up to see an older woman enter.

“Hello, Mrs. Bolling.” The clerk stood and greeted her new customer. “How’s your granddaughter doing? She coming to visit you this summer?”

Bridie pushed herself up, tugged her uniform jacket into place and twisted her arms to settle her sleeves. Sweat dripped down the back of her neck and dampened her blouse, despite the artificially-frigid air. Her hands ran a quick check of her gigline to make sure all her buttons were still buttoned, and then straightened her collar. Searching around on the floor for her handbag, she noticed the scuffs on the toes of her low quarters. How could she report in to her new base with her shoes looking like this? She retreated to the back of the store and pulled a few inches of nylon stocking out of her pocket to quickly buff the polish back into shape. Uniform restored, she checked her watch. The bus driver told them to be back at ten till one. She still had fifteen minutes to wait. He had also told them not to go into The Outlaw, but that hadn’t stopped the others. She glanced out the window where she had seen them disappear. ”You got enough to worry about taking care of yourself, Private Traynor.” Isn’t that what Sergeant Barrett used to yell at her?
Bridie took a deep breath and turned down the first aisle, toward the door. Maybe she could run…just slip away and disappear. Then she’d never have to face them again. Hear them laughing….One, two, three….Stop it! Stop counting! One foot in front of the other. Just keep walking, she told herself. Tide, Clorox, Downy. She concentrated on reading the names as she passed the shelves. Shampoo, conditioner, cleansing cream. Picking up speed, she turned to go up the next aisle past the rack of postcards. She paused and selected one with a picture of a giant statute: “Welcome to Fort Huachuca, Arizona! Home of the Buffalo Soldier.” Buffalo Soldier? Like the cowboy song, “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam?” That kind of buffalo? The next one read, “Sierra Vista, Arizona – Where visits last a lifetime!” I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. She replaced the card in its slot and spun the rack. More cards depicting the local critters – tarantulas, scorpions, desert tortoises and something called a jack-a-lope? We’re not in Wisconsin anymore, Toto.
On the television set behind the front counter, she saw the hourglass depicting the sands of time. She hadn’t watched the soap opera in months. She wondered what catastrophe Tom and Alice Horton faced today. Another glance at her watch, ten minutes. On her way down the next aisle she overhead the clerk discussing with Mrs. Bolling the menu for her party next week. Real people, she thought. How long had it been since she’d been around real people, wearing normal clothes, talking about everyday things like granddaughters and spaghetti sauce and bread crumbs?
A newscaster’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Coming up next, preparations continue for the annual desert warfare training exercise at Fort Huachuca. We’ll have Police Chief Schrader with us in the studio to talk about possible road closures and other issues that may impact local business owners near the base. We’ll be back after these messages from our sponsor.”
A woman singing a happy jingle about her shiny kitchen floors replaced the newscaster’s voice. Bridie made her way past the rack of fancy skin care products and stopped in front of the soap display. Ivory, Palmolive…there it is. Tone soap. She picked up a box and sniffed, closing her eyes. Home. Her own bathroom. Fluffy yellow towels. Butterflies on her shower curtain…
“Excuse me, please?”
Bridie snapped back and opened her eyes. It was Mrs. Bolling, the woman who was making veal parmigiana for dinner next week.
“Could you please…I cannot reach the asparagus. Up there…the white,” she pointed, her fingernails flawlessly polished red. “I need two cans.”
As Bridie passed her the asparagus, she caught a flash of the woman’s diamond ring and her gaze traveled up her arm past her gold bracelets, to her sparkly diamond earrings.
“Thank you. It’s for my granddaughter. She’s….”

The steel door at the rear of the store burst open and slammed into the back wall. A man in a gray suit stumbled in and tripped over the duffle bag he dragged. Two men wearing dark clothes pushed in behind him, kicked the door shut, and slid the security bar into place. One man rested against the wall, gulping air. The other turned, pointing his gun at Bridie and Mrs. Bolling. “Nobody move.”
Bridie stood frozen, her hand suspended halfway between herself and Mrs. Bolling. She had never seen a gun up close before she’d gone to Basic, and didn’t know what kind this one was. It wasn’t an M16. It was some kind of handgun and the barrel looked like a cannon pointed at her chest. She dropped her arm to her side, forced herself to take a breath keeping as still as possible. One, two, three…She rubbed her thumb.
The only sound came from the air conditioning unit dripping condensation into a bucket, and the man on the floor whimpering with his hands over his face. Two days ago at her graduation ceremony, she stood with her classmates confident and ready to take on an entire Soviet Infantry Division armed with just her M16 and a bayonet. Standing here in her Class A uniform armed with her purse and beret, she just wanted to pee.
Jangling bells broke the spell. Every head turned to the front of the store as they watched the clerk run off down the street, the front door swinging shut behind her back. The gunman pointed to the door and barked an order in Spanish. The second man ran forward, twisted the lock and shoved a stack of boxes in front of the glass. Satisfied with his makeshift barricade, he returned to the back where Bridie still stood next to Mrs. Bolling holding the asparagus.
“El dinero,” the gunman pointed the barrel at the man on the floor. “Traigemelo.” The man on the floor recoiled, curling himself into a tight ball. The gunman’s partner pulled the bag across the aisle as ordered, and then helped his friend to an open area near the coffee counter. From this position, they could see both the front and rear door.
Bridie watched as the gunman slid to the floor next to the duffle bag leaving a bloody smear down the length of the wall. He’s bleeding. A leg wound? she wondered. Bright red blood. The two men huddled together, whispering in Spanish, ignoring the hostages for a moment. One, two, three, four, five, six… The sound of the cans hitting the floor startled her out of her comforting ritual.
Mrs. Bolling slumped over. Bridie lunged and caught her just before she hit her head. She eased her down into in a crumpled heap on the floor. “What are we going to do?” she whispered to the man in the suit.
No answer.
“We need to do something! She’s unconscious!” Again, no response.
What had Sergeant Barrett taught them about treatment for fainting? Bridie knew what to do for a compound fracture, sprained ankle or a sucking chest wound, but fainting? She searched her memory for the first aid checklist.
‘Remember your ABCs…A is for airway.’ Bridie straightened the woman’s neck and head. Airway is good. Check.
‘B is for breathing.’ She lowered her ear to just above the woman’s nose and mouth and felt a tiny puff of breath against her cheek. Barely, but she is breathing. Check.
C is for circulation. Bridie fumbled for the woman’s wrist and felt ….. nothing. She shifted her position and reached up, placing her fingers on the side of her neck….There it was, a faint pulse. She heard her drill sergeant’s voice. “Once you’ve established your ABCs, always treat for shock.”
“Help me lay her down,” Bridie said to the man in the suit. “We need to elevate her legs.” Ignoring the gunman, Bridie rolled the woman onto her back and scooted down to straighten out her legs. The man still cowered against the wall.

She glanced at the name tag pinned to his lapel and raised her voice. “David?  Your name is David?”  No response.

“Listen to me, David! We need to get some blood flowing back up into her head, now!  I need you to get me a couple of those boxes.” She pointed at the display of detergent behind his head. “She may be going into shock.”
Loosen any restrictive clothing, she remembered, untying the woman’s laces and slipping off her shoes. “Put the box on its side, right here. Good.” She raised the woman’s feet and placed them on the carton.
The two intruders remained huddled against the back wall. It sounded to Bridie like they were arguing. The gunman pressed one hand against the wound on his upper thigh. He looked like he was in a lot of pain.
“We’re back with Police Chief Schrader in the studio this afternoon. Chief, what can you tell us about preparations for…” A loud squawk and burst of static interrupted the newscaster’s polished delivery. “Chief?”
Bridie watched as the policeman stood up, disconnected his microphone and left without an explanation, radio pressed against his ear. The newscaster shuffled her notes and recovered her composure. “Chief Schrader has apparently received some sort of an emergency call. We’ll see if we can’t catch up with him later to finish our interview.” She looked back at the camera and pushed out a smile. “In other news this afternoon,” she started and then immediately paused. “Wait a minute.” She pressed her finger to her earpiece.
“I’ve just been informed about a developing situation. Two men entered the Cochise Bank and Trust moments ago and robbed the bank. Shots were fired. One guard was hit by gunfire. His condition is unknown. The gunmen have escaped and are on the loose. We have a news crew enroute, responding to the scene. That’s all the information we ….” She strained to hear through her earpiece, then added “The two men are armed and considered to be dangerous.”
No shit, thought Bridie.



  1. Cindy —

    I somehow let your prologue and first chapter get past me, but now I’ve read them, and your second chapter as well.

    You can really write. You’ve got me hooked — I loved the prologue, the first chapter had terrific tension, and the second is almost heartbreaking. And you have so many balls in the air.

    You should be proud of this. If I picked it up in a bookstore and flipped through it, as I do all the time, I’d take it home with me.

    Also love the little meter that shows where you are on the 100,000 word scale.


    Comment by Tim — December 22, 2007 @ 12:21 am | Reply

  2. Wow! Coming from you, this is high praise. Okay, I’m not so scared to post my work anymore! Thank you for your kind words, Tim. I’m overwhelmed!

    Comment by CindyLV — December 22, 2007 @ 4:43 am | Reply

  3. Loved this chapter…..totally hooking and loved your main character – strength and vulernability :-)

    Comment by liz fenwick — January 21, 2008 @ 4:52 am | Reply

  4. My favorite line was “Two days ago at her graduation ceremony, she stood with her classmates confident and ready to take on an entire Soviet Infantry Division armed with just her M16 and a bayonet. Standing here in her Class A uniform armed with her purse and beret, she just wanted to pee.” So real. Love it!

    Comment by Tracy in NC — February 1, 2008 @ 9:45 pm | Reply

  5. I was pulled in by the vivid storytelling here from the first sentence, and it just carried me right along. There’s a lot of action, boatloads of conflict already, and I how you choose just the right kinds of detail to describe things and also reveal quite a lot about them. The Tone soap bit is just one example. We can see how much Bridie misses the familiar objects of home, but we also learn something about what home must be like from what those objects are.

    She’s an intriguing character–very “grace-under-pressure,” but not hard or cold. (The compulsive finger-rubbing/counting is a nice inclusion. One of the things that shows her vulnerability.) Looking forward to reading more!

    Comment by Jennifer — February 5, 2008 @ 4:00 am | Reply

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