An Uncapped Pen

January 21, 2008

Casual Duty – Chapter 7 – The Show That Never Ends

Filed under: Writing — cindylv @ 6:15 am

Colonel Richards’ Office
Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Sergeant Simpson turned into a gravel driveway and braked to a halt. Bridie followed him across the road into a wooden building marked with a large hand-painted sign: Colonel – Ernst M. Richards. The Installation Commander?

“Wait here.” Sergeant Simpson knocked once on the Colonel’s door and entered.

Bridie waited obediently just outside the door. When her eyes adjusted to the low light inside the building, she looked at the plaques decorating the wall. Soldier of the Month. Soldier of the Quarter. Soldier of the Year. The Civilian Employee of the Quarter looked like one of the lunchroom ladies from her high school. Framed prints on the opposite wall depicted scenes of old-fashioned soldiers battling Indians out west somewhere. She laughed to herself. Out west somewhere? She was the one who was out west somewhere! She read the caption, “B-Troop soldiers defend against Apache attack – Chiricahua Mountain Range.” Other pictures showed Indian Scouts working with soldiers to defeat Geronimo.

A row of chairs lined the wall. Sergeant Simpson told her to wait, but he hadn’t given her permission to sit down. She paced, listening to the murmur of voices in the office. Why did the Installation Commander want to see her? Something to do with the incident yesterday most likely, or was it because she’d signed in late? That wasn’t her fault, but if she’d learned one thing in Basic, she learned that it didn’t matter who’s fault it was. No excuses. She glanced back at the chairs again. Well, he hadn’t said she couldn’t sit down. How long was she going to have to wait out here? If they were going to yell at her, just call her in there and get it over with already. She yawned and stretched.

After another length of the hallway, she gave up and perched on the edge of the seat closest to the Colonel’s door. She heard snatches of conversation from inside the office.

A deep voice rumbled. “ … possible repercussions… backlash … cancel the Exercise”
Another voice, it sounded like a woman, “…turn this around … opportunity … our advantage…”
Bridie leaned toward the door trying to listen to the conversation.

“Sergeant Simpson? What’s your take on all this?” That’s gotta be the Colonel, she thought leaning closer.

“This ain’t our fight, sir. A problem for the sheriff, downtown maybe. But it ain’t on your base, so it don’t affect the Exercise. You say the word, sir, and we’re good to go.”

The main door opened and the sudden blast of sunlight blinded her again. The door closed and she saw another soldier walk toward her. She jumped to her feet when she saw the stripes on his collar. Three up and one down. A staff sergeant, E-6.

“As you were.” He chuckled at her reaction as he took the seat next to her. He settled in, opened a folder and began sorting through a stack of papers.

Out of the corner of her eye, she examined the sergeant. His uniform sleeves were rolled up above his elbows exposing well-muscled forearms, thick wrists and strong, well-shaped hands. She noticed fine blond hairs and a light sprinkling of freckles across his arms. He smelled clean, like soap. She wondered how she smelled after spending all morning out in the sun chopping grass. He glanced in her direction as if he felt her scrutiny. She closed her eyes and shifted again. Oh shit, he caught me! Her face burned with shame.

She heard murmured voices inside the office and wondered again how much longer she’d have to wait. Her stomach growled. “Excuse me,” she said, wrapping her arms around her waist to muffle the noise.
The sergeant kept his head down, continuing to shuffle through his paperwork, smiling.

“Jackson?”

The sergeant stood up, closed his file, and entered the colonel’s office. “Here, sir.”

Bridie sighed and stretched. Maybe they’d forgotten about her. She glanced down the hallway and saw an open door. A latrine? Maybe if she could splash some water on her face and wash her hands, she’d wake up a little. A quick look back toward the office where they seemed to be fully engaged in their discussion, and she decided to risk it.

Bridie flipped the Male/Female sign over, closed the door, and leaned against it, enjoying a blessed minute alone. She turned on the water and pumped a few drops of Soap, Liquid – Pink, into her hand and worked it into a lather. Her nose wrinkled at the Scent, Floral – Rose. She wondered what kind of soap Sergeant Jackson used. He smelled delicious—clean but a little spicy. She rinsed her face, dried with a handful of rough brown Towels, Paper – C Fold, and made a huge mistake. She looked in the mirror. Her face was bright red from the sun and heat. Well, there was nothing she could do about that. Her hair was another story. Tendrils escaped and curled in all directions as the elaborate configuration of bobby pins and barrettes failed to maintain control. She wondered again how much time she had to rebuild, as she began to tug, releasing the mess of damp curls and frizz.

“Trayor!”

Bridie ran down the hall securing the last of the errant curls with a bobby pin as she knocked on the door.
“Enter.”
Colonel Richards sat behind a standard US Army metal desk covered in stacks of paper. So this is what a colonel looks like, she thought. He was a short man, a little on the skinny side. He wore thick glasses with black plastic frames, typically called BCs – slang for “birth control.” He’s not too bad, she thought. Not scary like a drill sergeant.

A female lieutenant paced in front of the window, her constant stream of chatter seemed to bounce off the Colonel, making him squint. Bridie caught only an occasional phrase as she struggled to remember the protocol for entering a room with officers and senior Sergeants. She stood just inside the door, unsure if she was to formally report to the Colonel, or just salute, or what. She was indoors, and unarmed, so she didn’t need to salute. As she debated with herself, the Colonel stood and put up his hand, cutting off the stream of words.
“Sergeant Jackson, go with Sergeant Simpson and draw whatever you think you’ll need. Report back in the morning. That’ll be all.” The Colonel dismissed the two sergeants and sat down. His feet didn’t quite touch the floor, she noticed.
He looked back up at the Lieutenant. “Get it set up for 1030. Meet the crew at the gate and bring them in.”
The lieutenant began, “What do you think, sir? Brown or Chaffe? If we go with Brown, we’ll have the cannon and the flagpole in the shot. I think –“
“Not Brown. I don’t want General Myers’ house in the background,” he interrupted. “He’ll try to take over and make it his show. This one’s all mine. It’ll have to be Chaffee.”
Bridie had no idea what they were talking about. She was more worried about whether she should sit or stand how to sit, or what they expected her to do. She let their words stream past her as she kept her eyes forward and held herself as close to the position of attention as she could. So far, no one had said a word to her. The front door of the building opened and blinding sunlight flashed across the room. A tall corporal strode into the room, hung a set of keys on a hook and placed a radio handset into the charging station before walking back to a desk in the corner.
“Simpson can get us some casuals for the background. Marching. Drill and Ceremonies stuff. We’ll get about 50 or so. That’ll make it look –“ the lieutenant sketched the shot in the air with her hands.
“Chaffe’s just been re-seeded, sir,” the driver interrupted. “They got it roped off.”
“I don’t want to do the damn press conference in my office. It’s too small, and it doesn’t give the impression I’m looking for.” He looked around his office, as if confirming his own declaration, and noticed Bridie still standing. “If we can’t use one of the parade fields, what’s that leave us?” Then pointing at an empty chair against the wall, “Sit.”
Bridie unlocked her knees, started toward the chair indicated, and paused to let the Lieutenant reach the epogee of her orbit and turn. When Bridie deemed it was safe to pass, she edged her way to the chair and tucked her boots underneath, out of the Lieutenant’s path.
“Bravo Company’s out on Seven til 1330,” the driver offered as he stirred powdered cream into his mug.
“Tactical. That’s the look we want for you. Let me call Range Control, and I’ll get clearance for a three-vehicle convoy.” The lieutenant whipped back around and made another note on her pad. Her dishwater blonde hair swung as she turned just brushing the top of her collar. It reminded Bridie of that popular figure skater who’d taken the gold medal at the Olympics a few years ago.
The officers continued to hammer out a plan, for whatever it was they were planning and Bridie waited uncomfortably in the chair. She shifted her weight and recrossed her feet under the chair. After a moment, she realized that this might look too informal, and tried to get her feet straightened out. S he was stuck. Every move she made resulted in a loud protest from the vinyl seat. The driver shot her a warning glance. With a good tug, she disentangled her feet and planted them firmly on the floor. Still they didn’t talk to her. What was she supposed to do? Aside from ordering her in here and telling her to sit, they ignored her. Just sit still and keep your mouth shut and your ears open, she commanded herself.
The strange conversation continued to buzz. Sunlight warmed her back and neck, relaxing her muscles. Bridie eased back into the chair and took a deep breath. Her thoughts drifted to Mrs. Bolling and her granddaughter’s birthday party. White Asparagus.
“Don’t nobody move.”
Bridie leapt to her feet with a gasp and looked around frantically for the gun. They stood at the door, looking at her.
“Traynor, you coming?” the Colonel asked as he put on his hat. “Let’s get a move on.”

The driver stood next to the open rear door of the Colonel’s OD green sedan. Bridie jogged down the steps to catch up as the Lieutenant swung into the front seat and pulled the door shut. Bridie raced through her list of bullets on military protocol regarding entering vehicles with officers and senior enlisted personnel. The senior officer sits in the right rear seat, and the next most senior sits in the rear on the left. The junior person sits in the front, next to the driver. But with the Lieutenant clearly outranking her, a Private, sitting in the front, where was she supposed to sit? She stopped. The Colonel and the driver looked at her. The driver motioned his head almost imperceptibly, toward the back seat. She started toward the car and stopped again. Should she walk in front of the Colonel, or –“
“Just get in the damn car, Private Traynor,” said Colonel Richards.
She climbed in and slid across the seat. At the first sharp corner the Colonel leaned into her. Bridie flinched and pulled herself up as straight as she could. He’d kept talking to the Lieutenant, as if he hadn’t noticed he’d landed across her. As if she wasn’t even there, she thought. She smelled his cologne. Sort of like her Dad used to wear when he got dressed up for a special occasion. She sneaked a glance in his direction again without moving her head. His hair was cut short, high and tight, she thought. A dab of white shaving cream stuck to the back of his ear. Flecks of dried starch spotted his tailored fatigues which were bloused into perfect circles a few inches from his jump boots. How does he get his pant legs to stick out like that, she wondered.
Through the windshield, Bridie had her first glimpse of the main post area of Fort Huachuca. It had been too dark when she arrived last night to see much of the area. All the buildings she could see were painted the same color of light brown. The same color as the dust that covered everything. No grass here, just dirt and a thin layer of what looked like straw or hay. She saw a few trees in the distance, near the mountains that seemed to rise up from the back of the buildings. It’s like the moon.
Bridie’s head swirled. She felt faint from lack of sleep and hunger, maybe even a little shock. She clutched the armrest with both hands to keep from sliding into the Colonel as the driver turned off the dirt road and pulled to a stop in front of a sign announcing “Range 7 – Rifle.”
What were they doing at the rifle range? She didn’t have a rifle assigned to her. The driver shut off the engine, hopped out and ran around the back of the sedan to open the door for the commander. Before Bridie could open the door next to her, the driver offered his hand through the open door across the car. She untangled her boots and slid across, allowing him to help her crawl out.
A group of men got of the vans that followed them, and began unloading boxes of equipment. She watched as the Lieutenant took control, directing the men and the Colonel into position for the impromptu press conference. She still wasn’t sure why she was there.
“Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.”
Bridie turned. “Pardon me?’
“The press. It’s like a carnival,” the driver, Corporal Donaldson, said.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Why am I here?”
“If you don’t know, you better figure it out quick. Here they come for you,” he said.

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7 Comments »

  1. Hmm, now this is intriguing — what is the press conference for, I wonder? Your descriptions continue to be spot on — from the BC glasses (I debated about using those myself) to the anxiety about how to act indoors around senior NCOs and officers and dealing with the protocol of getting in the car. I also laughed about the mess of bobby pins and frizz — boy, does that bring back memories! I’m in for the long haul — can’t wait to find out what happens next!

    Comment by Lisa — January 21, 2008 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, Lisa!

    Hey – whaddya say we have Bridie meet Tracy somewhere down the road in about three novels? You know, a coupla drinks, some pasta…maybe even invite Dilbar? They could solve the world’s problems before dessert.

    Comment by CindyLV — January 21, 2008 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  3. What color is the hair on that guy that sat next to her? Enquiring minds want to know… :-)

    Very well done (have I said that before?) lol

    Comment by angel — January 21, 2008 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  4. Hair color? How do you feel about a reddish-blonde? Can’t slip anything past you, can I? ;*D

    Comment by CindyLV — January 21, 2008 @ 11:44 pm | Reply

  5. Ha! I thought reddish-blond. It was the freckles that clued me in.

    Yeah, sure I think they should meet on a TDY somewhere. Tracy could be a horrendously bad influence on Bridie :)

    Comment by Lisa — January 22, 2008 @ 3:45 am | Reply

  6. I’ve never been in the military, but it seems as though Amtrak has taken a lesson from the Army on the subject of internal communications. I feel like I know Tracy well enough to believe she wouldn’t knowingly corrupt another person. Dilbar, I’m not sure. His smart remarks could either charm or anger the two women. Just don’t have the meeting in the video arcade of Chicago Union Station. Who knows where or when they’d end up.

    Comment by steve — January 27, 2008 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  7. Cindy —

    This is the chapter I tried to comment on a couple of days ago, and I think it’s terrific. The descriptions, the dialogue, the internal monologue, the other characters, the way you handled time — it’s all just tremendous work. I even laughed out loud a couple of times.

    I’m going to read your newer chapters in the next few days (I really am just suicidally over-committed), but you’re actually getting better as you continue to develop the story. (As is Lisa, by the way.)

    So congratulations. This is really good work.

    Comment by Tim — January 29, 2008 @ 5:56 am | Reply


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