An Uncapped Pen

January 2, 2008

CASUAL DUTY – Chapter Four – Reporting In

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 12:10 am

May 4, 1981
Riley Barracks
Fort Huachuca, Arizona

“Private Traynor reporting, sir.” Bridie held her salute, right hand rigid, tip of her middle finger just touching her eyebrow, eyes straight ahead, focused but not seeing anything in the glare cast by the security light mounted above the door to Building 51005, Riley Barracks. Moths swarmed with their wings abuzz, attacking the light. Squadrons of birds darted, dove and escaped with a load of bugs, a reverse bombing run. Crickets sang hidden in the juniper bushes outlining the sidewalk and at the base of a large statue that remind her of the stone lions guarding Brookfield Zoo. She resisted the temptation to flinch when a stray moth struck, or duck to avoid the crazy birds. What kind of birds fly at night, she wondered. The dry night air baked the layers of sweat and grime into an itchy crust that covered her body. The thermometer on the wall outside the MP station told her it was 93 degrees.
Two men sat on the edge of the planter box shadowed by the lion statue. It looked like a lion, but different. Maybe it was Egyptian, or . . . Bridie blinked to clear her vision and gave up trying to think. Beyond hungry, bone-tired and achy, she stood fast. A shower. Clean bed. Lasagna with . . .
“Roberts, you gotta watch?”
“Yes, Sergeant Simpson.”
“Would you be so kind, Specialist Roberts, as to tell me what time it is?”
At the edge of the glare, Bridie saw one of the men check his wrist with a grand sweep of his arm. “Ah, twenty three forty seven hours, Sergeant Simpson.”
“Twenty three forty seven? Why, that’s almost midnight, innit Roberts?”
“It surely is.”
“You see that soldier standing here in my yard, disgracing the uniform of those who served with distinction and honor? What’d you suppose this soldier is doing in my yard at twenty three forty seven hours on this fine Sunday night, Roberts?”
“I’d say the soldier was reporting in, Sergeant.”
“Reportin’ in to a nonexistent officer? You see any officers loiterin’ around here?”
Roberts turned his head looking for nonexistent officers. “No, Sergeant. I do not.”
Bridie felt her blood retreat from the surface of her skin in an attempt to hide behind her internal organs. She held her salute. Was she supposed to drop her salute, and then re-salute this sergeant, or should she just stand still and let the punishing blast wash over her? Her brain struggle to form a corrective strategy, but before she developed any conclusions, her tingling fingers decided she should drop her hand and try again. What difference did it make anyway? Once a sergeant got riled up, they just had to unload. Besides, this was no different than the drill sergeants in Basic. And she knew the secret to surviving a first class ass chewing. Settle into a comfortable stance, unlock her knees, hold perfectly still, and zone out with a neutral expression. And no crying — ever.
She dropped her arm and gave it a quick shake to force a little blood back into her fingers and resumed her stance. With a deep breath, she executed another snappy salute. “Private Traynor reporting, Sergeant Simpson.”
The sergeant boosted himself off the edge of the planter, hitched up his pants, and removed a toothpick from the corner of his mouth, flicking it into the junipers. He halted in position with his gleaming jump boots merely inches from her scuffed low quarters, the top of his headgear an inch below her nose. Just like Sergeant Trump, a little guy. He walks like his boots pinch, she thought as he circled around behind her, scrutinizing her appearance, cataloguing her list of sins against AR 670-1. Without warning, he snapped to attention and tossed off a precision salute worthy of a Marine Guard. As he dropped his arm, he rocked back slightly on his heels.
Too tired to flinch, Bridie covered her reaction by stretching herself just a smidge taller and dropping her arm.
“Twenty three forty seven hours. Sure am glad you could arrange your busy press schedule to drop by and take care of the formalities of signing into our unit, soldier. If that’s what you are.”
His stale coffee and cigarette breath bounced off her chin as she exhaled through her nose in an attempt to redirect its path. Another trick from Basic. Do not react she thought. He didn’t ask a direct question, so don’t respond. She risked taking a quick breath through her clenched teeth.
“You gotta copy of your orders?”
“My orders were in my bag, on the bus,” she started. She hadn’t sent her luggage since early afternoon when she left it behind on the bus at the Quick Mart. “I don’t know where—“
“Excuses! Do I look like a fuckin’ bellhop to you? You want me to find your luggage for you?” His eyes bugged underneath his bushy eyebrows, and his mustache crawled across his upper lip like a giant black caterpillar when he yelled. “I asked you a question, soldier. Do you or do you not have a copy of your orders?”
Bridie blinked and mentally formed her face into a steel mask, willing the droplets of his saliva to bounce off and land back on his face. “No, Sergeant. I just . . .” Stop floundering! Just shut up and take whatever he’s got and get it over with. The sooner he’s done, the sooner you can get to bed.
“Roberts?” He held out his hand behind him without looking.
“Here you go,” Specialist Roberts said, winking at Bridie as he handed the Sergeant a clipboard. He stepped back a few feet and adopted a casual “at ease” posture.
Sergeant Simpson unbuttoned his breast pocket, extracted a pair of reading glasses and perched them on the tip of his nose. He read, “You are directed to report for duty to the Welcome Station at Riley Barracks, Building 51005, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona no later than 2400 hours on 4 May 1981.” Pausing, he raised his glance over his shoulder. “Time, Roberts?”
“Twenty three fifty eight hours,” Roberts replied without looking at his watch. He wiggled his eyebrows imitating the Sergeant’s overly dramatic expressions.
“You’re late.” Sergeant Simpson declared.
“Well, technically speaking, she’s. . .” Roberts began.
“Haven’t I told you when you begin your argument with ‘technically’ you better pack up your kit and withdraw from the fight? You know you already lost if that’s your argument, don’t you?”
“Yes, Sergeant.” Roberts nodded, rolling his eyes.
Bridie wondered, not for the first time today, if any of this was real or if she’d wake up tomorrow in her bunk back at Fort Leonard Wood facing a 15-mile forced march.
“Overlooking for just a moment, your flagrant disregard for your reporting time and the fact that I missed my anniversary dinner with my wife in anticipation of your grand arrival. . . “ He paused and dropped his gaze to her uniform. “. . . and your obvious disdain for the requirements of Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, I am required to read the following statement per Fort Huachuca Policy. ‘Welcome to Fort Huachuca, home of the historic Buffalo Soldier. You are assigned to the United States Army Intelligence Center and School (USAICS), Delta Company, in anticipation of your eventual selection for advanced training as an Intelligence Analyst. It is my . . . ‘ Roberts, what’s this here word?” He held out the clipboard and pointed.
“Fervent, Sergeant. FUR-vent. It means burning or glowing, as in -–“
“Shut up. “ Directing his attention back to the letter, “’fervent hope that you will find your assignment to USAICS personally rewarding and professionally challenging.” He pronounced the acronym as a single word ‘You-SAYks’. “At Delta company. . .”
Bridie settled in, unlocked her knees and let the jargon drift past her and dissipate into the night air. She gave up any hope of dinner and considered the possibility of finding a cookie.
“. . . make the most of your assignment by. . . “
A long blink. She fought to reopen her eyes and mentally scratched the saliva drying on her face.
“. . . an environment that is welcoming and encouraging . . .”
Doo-dah, doo-dah, she sang to herself. OK, forget the cookie, maybe just a sip of water? Focus! What is he going on about now? She waited for the key phrase that usually signaled the big finish “it is incumbent upon you. . . “
“. . . training that is demanding and rigorous . . “
He’s gearing up for a second wind. Doesn’t he want to go home to his wife? He wasn’t making that up about his anniversary, was he? Who’d marry that troll? Another long blink.
“. . . and to ensure compliance with AR 600-9 Army Weight Control Program.“ He stopped and looked her up and down again. “That gonna be a problem for you, Traynor?”
Bridie shriveled. Her constant struggle. In Basic, she’d dropped maybe 15 pounds, but she’d never be called thin. Don’t let it get to you, she thought, rubbing her thumb along the seam of her uniform trousers. “No, Sergeant!” Dear God, please let me pass the weigh-in, she prayed.
“Un-huh.” He thumbed down the page to find his spot and resumed reading about the Commander’s Open Door Policy. “. . . it is incumbent upon you to bring the matter to the attention of the Chain of Command.”
Thank you, God. Blink.
“’I hope you will make the most of your time during your assignment here by exploring the richness and majesty of the surrounding area, steeped in the history of . . .’”
Bridie’s eyes slammed shut, squeezing back her frustration and losing her battle to maintain focus. She swayed from her strict posture. What was that? He’d stopped reading. She opened her eyes.
“You may consider yourself welcomed.”
Shit! What did he say? Had she fallen asleep? “Thank you, Sergeant?” she offered.
“Uh, Sergeant Simpson? The supplement?” Roberts stepped forward and took the clipboard. He sorted through the pages. “Here it is.”
“Ah, yes. ‘Supplemental Attachment 1 to Fort Huachuca Welcome Letter. Distribution: All personnel upon reporting for duty will initial they have received this supplemental briefing. On 17 June 1981, Fort Huachuca will host the annual desert training exercise on the western range. All personnel not specifically assigned to an active training slot will be attached to the Casual Platoon to support preparations for the exercise. Specific duties will be assigned as required. Effective immediately, all leaves, except those categorized as emergency leave, are hereby canceled until the conclusion of the Exercise and its attendant clean up activities. Anticipated personnel release date: 17 August 1981. . .”
Bridie drifted again with the singsong delivery.
“. . . desert tortoise training. . .”
She blinked slowly, her eyes resisting reopening. What was that about a porpoise?
“. . .You have been trained. Sign here,” he said and clicked his black government pen, thrusting the clipboard and official form at her. His ragged fingernails looked chewed as he pointed to the acknowledgement line.
Training Certificate? “Service member acknowledges. . .” What was this? “What training?” she asked.
Sergeant Simpson turned to look over his shoulder. “Roberts? Desert Tortoise Training?”
“Don’t touch ‘em.”
“Any questions?” Sergeant Simpson tapped the form.
She scrawled her name in the vicinity of the signature block.
He grabbed the clipboard and slipped the pen in his pocket with his glasses, and buttoned the flap. “PT formation at 0500. Selection at 0700. Chow, if you got time before Selection. If that don’t interfere with your busy press schedule, that is.” He snapped into position. “Atten-shun!”
Bridie and Specialist Roberts snapped.
“Roberts, get this sorry excuse for a soldier outta my yard, so I can go home and begin the process of apologizing to my wife.”
“Yes, Sergeant.”
“Dismissed!”

Advertisements

3 Comments »

  1. This is a great scene and oh my God does it take me back. I have a vivid recollection of getting screamed at in basic one time by a guy with the heavy duty coffee and cigarette breath. Do they make people on Army training posts salute NCOs? That’s something we never did in the Air Force, but it sounds like she’s somewhere that’s an extension of training so that’s why it still sounds like basic. There are two things I wonder about with this. I’m a little surprised that even if she doesn’t say anything about having just come from an armed robbery, that she isn’t thinking about it at all, or even that the police didn’t drop her off at the gate. The other thing about this is that the dialogue and the detail are just great, but this is the first chapter where you didn’t leave us with a question or a hook to lead to the next one. It’s a very strong scene, but it seems like there would be something planted that would make us wonder what’s next, or maybe a name of someone she has to report to or some kind of follow up she’ll need to do as a result of being a witness to a crime. This is very, very real and I’m buying this scene entirely. Happy New Year!

    Comment by Lisa — January 2, 2008 @ 2:13 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for your enthusiasm! As far as this scene ending without a question, that’s a good point and I’ll see what I can come up with. Maybe a question about “selection” which I see as an ominous word (along the lines of Selection in the concentration camps).

    Regarding Bridie not even thinking about the hostage situation, hmmmm…. good point. I do give her a few flashbacks in the next “current time” scene, but I’ll see where I can work something into this scene. Great idea!

    Comment by CindyLV — January 2, 2008 @ 5:10 am | Reply

  3. Cindy —

    It is SO NICE to be able to say that this is wonderful without stretching the truth even the teensiest bit. You have caught completely the tension, absurdity, anxiety, and complexity of this scene, and you made me laugh out loud a couple of times as you did it.

    I started having some trouble with the hopping back and forth in time and then realized it was because I was reading the pieces a week or so apart and that none of it would give me a moment’s pause if thie were a book and I could just wade on through at my own rate.

    This chapter is absolutely fine. That is not damning with faint praise; I don’t see how you could make it much better. I just hope the Sergeant hangs around, because he’s one of the fullest characters any of us has created thus far.

    Give yourself a pat on the back.

    Comment by Tim — January 5, 2008 @ 10:45 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: