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The Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps: A novel-in-progress

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THE CORPS, AND THE CORPS, AND THE CORPS
a novel-in-progress
A THESIS IN
Creative Writing and Media Arts
Presented to the Faculty of the University
of Missouri-Kansas City in partial fulfillment of
the requirements for the degree
MASTER OF FINE ARTS
by
ZACHARY D. GALL
Kansas City, Missouri
2010
UMI Number: 1485345
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 1485345
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
789 East Eisenhower Parkway
P.O. Box 1346
Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346
THE CORPS, AND THE CORPS, AND THE CORPS
Zachary D. Gall, Candidate for the Master of Fine Arts Degree
University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2010
ABSTRACT
This thesis is an unfinished work of fiction that examines from multiple perspectives the
culture at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where the author attended school from
2001-2002. It explores the ways in which tradition and ritual construct the identities and mark the
bodies of young men and women who enter the military. This work also examines the principles on
which West Point, otherwise known as The Corps, defines itself—Gen. Douglas MacArthur
identified them in his 1962 address as "Duty, Honor, Country"—and how they become devalued
during times of war. Under these thematic concerns, the author considers how these certainties of
prior generations collapsed after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
This abstract of 116 words is approved as to form and content.
Michael Pritchett
Associate Professor
Department of English
n
The undersigned, appointed by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, have examined a thesis
titled "The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps," presented by Zachary D. Gall, candidate for the
Master of Fine Arts degree, and hereby certify that in their opinion it is worthy of acceptance.
Whitney Terrell
Department of English
Date
Christie Hodgen
Department of English
Date
&A/
Clancy Martin
Department of Philosophy
Date
iii
CONTENTS
ABSTRACT
Part I
1.
25 Aug 2001
2.
26 Aug 2001
3.
27 Aug 2001
4.
30 Aug 2001
5.
31 Aug 2001
6.
3 Sept 2001
7.
4 Sept 2001
8.
7 Sept 2001
9.
8 Sept 2001
1
10.
11 Sept 2001
1
11.
17 Sept 2001
1
Part II
1.
14 Oct 2001
1
2.
13 Oct 2001
1
3.
15 Oct 2001
1
4.
17 Oct 2001
1
5.
25 Oct 2001
2
APPENDIX
2
VITA
2
iv
Parti
1.
25 Aug 2001
Bailey Benedict sat with his temple against the cool glass of the passenger train as it
chugged through the heart of Sing Sing, heading north along the banks of the Hudson from
the city. The prison walls shrouded the car until the train emerged again into the flat light of
the overcast morning. Beads of rain clung to the glass, rocking with the sway of the train,
and stretched and broke apart as it picked up speed. Bailey's flesh bristled as the air
conditioning kicked on overhead and breezed through the car. He hadn't anticipated the
need for a jacket on such a short trip into the city and, as a result, hadn't found sleep in
Grand Central the night before. It wouldn't come to him now.
The folded corner of a piece of newsprint protruded from the unzipped backpack at
his feet—a charcoal portrait of himself he'd paid a Vietnamese woman to draw in Times
Square. A group had gathered around the artist and her easel as if witnessing a magic trick,
watching the paper as the lines began to resemble the uniformed subject in front of them.
As the crowd around him grew, Bailey's cheeks flushed at the attention, but he remained
stoic and allowed the woman to continue. They clapped when she sprayed finish over the
paper, but Bailey felt the end result was hardly a realistic depiction. While handsome, she'd
made the eyelids too dark and rendered too straight the nose he'd broken twice in high
school football games. Perhaps those who sought a portrait of themselves in Times Square
1
wanted to see glamorous renditions of themselves, but Bailey had wanted a souvenir of that
moment—enclosed by the civilian world, one of the busiest places on earth, yet still alone.
He paid for the work, though, and the other tourists smiled with him as he examined it,
though they, too, noticed the poor quality of the drawing. An elderly couple approached
Bailey and thanked him for his service to the country. Bailey wanted to explain—he'd only
just finished Cadet Basic Training. He wasn't so different from them. But the uniform he
knew deceived them and separated him from them and would continue to always.
More than anything, that weekend he'd wanted simple conversation away from the
jargon of the academy, a conversation with a normal human being—his first jaunt away
from West Point since he entered that July. National Geographic had set up an interview to
take place at the Museum of Modern Art as part of his contract with them for a reality show
titled "Life at West Point." His parents were to meet him there in the city on Saturday
morning, but his father had called earlier in the week and explained they'd have to cancel,
that he had to work over the weekend. His mother refused to fly alone, so she couldn't make
it either. When they learned of his parents' cancellation, National Geographic set up an
interview with, they'd said, more reliable subjects. Instead of holing up in his room, Bailey
took the trip into the city by himself, one of only a few opportunities he'd have permission to
leave all year. He'd tried to speak to the Vietnamese woman before the crowd had gathered
around them.
"How long have you lived here?" he asked.
"No talk, please." she said. "You keep your mouth shut. I draw it now."
The contour of the lips—too sharp.
2
After the drawing, Bailey retreated to a McDonald's restroom and changed into a tshirt and jeans, stuffed his uniform down into the backpack with the folded portrait, walked
down to Wall Street and Battery Park, then back up to Grant's Tomb. He changed back into
his uniform at Grand Central and found a bench to sleep with the other homeless.
His eyes felt swollen and dry, only aggravated by the air in the train. And, in fear he
might miss his stop and end up past Poughkeepsie, he couldn't close them. So he listened
for the name of each town, each platform, and when the train pulled into Garrison, a group
of cadets in civilian clothes shuffled through the car. First-class cadets. Cadet Captains.
Firsties. Before the academy he wouldn't have noticed them, but even in civilian clothes the
sight of them filled him with dread. They tucked their polo shirts into high-waist jeans.
Vinyl tubes filled with water dangled from their backpacks. Neat patches of hair lay slicked
down on top of their heads and the sides were shorn nearly to the scalp. High and tight.
Bailey followed them from a safe distance as they left the train and plodded across the dewy
grass to the dock at the Garrison Yacht Club to ferry back to the academy. The buildings
towered over you from across the Hudson, great stone structures—barracks, halls, and the
cadet chapel—surrounded by lush oaks and maples just starting to lose their vigor. Bailey
saw it for the first time with his father as they descended into the valley from Highland
Falls, and as they drove through post he saw in the facades of the castle-like structures a
grave and admirable opportunity. And now, Bailey saw it from a distance for the first time
since he'd occupied a room within its walls the entire summer. He hadn't had a chance to
enjoy his surroundings throughout basic training, and now the post didn't present itself as
something that could be enjoyed. They told him it would grow on him. They told him it
3
would eventually feel like home. Told him that, no matter what it feels like now, someday
you'll actually dream about it. You'll miss it.
The firsties filled in the bench seats at the bow of the ferry and glowered at Bailey as
he stood on the deck, his backpack clasped between his ankles.
"You'll want to sit down before this thing starts," one of them said.
They wore sweatshirts and windbreakers—civilian clothes. It would be a year until
Bailey had the same privilege. Until then he'd stick out, as his squad leader said during
basic training, like a diamond in a goat's ass. Bailey sat, clutched his backpack to his chest.
"Yes, sir," said Bailey. "Good morning, gentlemen."
"Don't talk to us," said another. "Sit the fuck down."
Once across the river, Bailey hiked up the hill ahead of them and jogged toward the
cadet area, slowing his pace only to salute a captain on his way to chapel, a camouflage covered Bible in his hand. Eight barracks and the Washington mess enclosed the cadet area
and created four concrete plains for drill and corrective training. Bradley Barracks housed
Bailey's Echo Company, 2nd Regiment and the regimental headquarters—a long L-shaped
structure that composed the south and west barriers of the central area. Twice each day the
regimental commander and his staff would saunter down the steps from the oak doors of the
west barracks, sabers often fastened to their belts and plumage jutting boldly from their tarbucket hats, and they would address the 1,000 cadets of the 2nd regiment assembled on the
concrete plain. Echoes of the same address could be heard from the North area (MacArthur
Barracks), the Old South (Grant), and the New South beyond it (Lee). A group of
upperclassmen sat on the wall in front of Bradley now, smoking meat in a barbecue pit. The
4
odor wafted toward him and brought with it the aroma of the previous year's autumn.
Homecoming parades through his Missouri town square. The boyish charm of his high
school crush. The heavy dark of her pubic hair, the muscle of her chest. Even thinking of
her in, say, College Algebra, would excite him. Since entering West Point, though, Bailey
had yet to wake with an erection. Rumors of saltpeter in the food. They didn't want you
thinking of anything but war.
Bailey ducked into the doors at the south entrance and ran up the stairs.
His roommate, David Lathrom, was stuffing a pile of brown t-shirts into a duffle bag.
His sheets were heaped on his desk, and his trunk had been pulled away from the foot of the
bed. Rumors, too, that upperclassmen would tear apart the plebes' rooms when away,
ejaculate into their Army-green comforters. Their green girls—the only thing comforting
away from home. Bailey's side of the room, though—a metal-framed bed, a trunk, a desk—
appeared as he had left it. He set his backpack on his comforter, seemingly unsullied.
David wore a white t-shirt tucked into blue jeans. The clothes from his neighboring
wardrobe had been stripped from the wooden hangers, which were now pushed to one side
in contrast to the three-inch spacing of Bailey's uniforms. Cadet Basic Training complete
and only a week into the academic year, Lathrom had given up.
"What's this?" Bailey asked.
"Shipping out," said Lathrom. "Back to Leonard Wood, I think. A shithole itself,
but at least it's not here."
Bailey sighed.
"You're kidding," he said.
5
"Nope. I talked to the TAC last night. Could hardly sleep thinking about leaving
this place. Was hoping to get out of here before you got back, actually. I knew you'd
disapprove. It's been nice knowing you, Benedict, but this shit isn't me. This isn't the
Army."
Bailey's throat clenched at the thought of a potential conflict with his roommate.
Why else would he not want Bailey around while he packed his things unless he felt shame
in quitting? David had come from two years of non-commissioned service into the United
States Military Academy Prep School at Fort Monmouth and had his act together more than
any other plebe in the company. He'd taken charge the first day of reorganization week,
established order in their required laundry service and, hell, delivered half of it himself,
upperclassmen screaming at them as they attempted to traverse the foreign halls. David
Lathrom was calm in the face of terror. He seemed the candidate least likely to separate
from the academy.
"Why now? What about the prep school?"
"That was a nice vacation," said Lathrom. He stuffed his boots on top of the clothes
in his bag. "I just don't belong here. I'm regular Army, that's all."
"This is the Army. We're enlisted. David, for Christ's sake they're paying us to go to
school here. You're just going to give up on this?"
"No, I'm going back to the Army," said Lathrom. "I can tell you're gonna make a go
of it here, and I respect that. But I'm not quitting. I'm going back to a real job. This? For
me? This is Leavenworth."
"Just like that."
6
"Just like that."
He nodded and offered his hand to Bailey. Not only was he quitting the academy,
but he was giving up on the company, on Bailey. They'd be lost without him.
"Come on," said David. "No hard feelings."
Bailey shook his hand and sighed.
"Hey, think of it," said Lathrom. "You'll get to boss me around some day. Come to
think of it, you outrank me right now."
The thought made Bailey laugh. It was true: Officers-in-training at West Point
outranked all Non-Commissioned Officers in the regular Army. That David would give that
up was sign of his ignorance. Bailey hadn't agreed to West Point because he wanted a career
in the Army. Service to the country looked good, sure, but it was the education. Gone in as
mere boys, they would be men when they left the Army. Men with careers on Wall Street,
as future presidents of companies, or event the United States. It was no pipe dream—a
tradition of success stretched before them and beckoned them forward. Who was David
Lathrom to refuse it?
"You can send me out into the trenches someday," said Lathrom.
"Sure," said Bailey. "That sounds good. Get your head blown off for me."
"That's what we do, Benedict. Officers don't need to do that. They're too expensive,
and expensive just isn't my style."
"Still," said Bailey. "I think it's a poor decision."
7
He lay down on his bunk, his back to Lathrom. David would miss it someday. He
would regret the decision. Wouldn't he? Back at Leonard Wood, or wherever, he would
convince himself that he could have beaten West Point, and he would regret it.
Bailey awoke to the bright light of the afternoon and found Dean Sullivan unpacking
his things onto Lathrom's bunk, his former roommate's possessions already gone. If the
Army lacked efficiency in daily operations, it made up for it in the exorcising of excess fat.
Dean's roommate must have quit, too, for him to make this move. It took a moment for
Bailey to even remember Dean's roommate's name. Weatherford? Though Dean belonged
to a different platoon, he and Bailey sat across from one another during breakfast and lunch,
which meant they'd never spoken to one another. It also meant Bailey had never really had
the chance to look at him, at least not directly. Obliquely, the sides of his face, his cheeks as
he chewed. Bailey watched him now, head still awash with sleep. Dean wore the brown
plastic combat frames from Basic—Army birth control—even though they'd been out of
training now for two weeks. The way the glasses overwhelmed his face lent him an austere
quality that in basic training must have left him utterly forgettable. With the beginning of
the academic year, though, Bailey found in his appearance an unlikely threat. The hair on
the top of Dean's head had already grown longer than Bailey's, a soft tuft of black. He wore
a gold-linked watch on his wrist, an unexpected flair and an assured target for
upperclassmen. By this point Dean should have known better than to wear that thing
around.
8
Bailey undressed and tossed his clothes into the hamper as Dean folded some bath
towels. He stood naked in front of Dean and after a moment offered a handshake to his new
roommate.
"Are you going to quit too?" he said.
"No," said Dean. He shook Bailey's hand.
Bailey stared at Dean, smiling, forcing his new roommate to look away first. Dean
did, casting his stare to the neat stack of towels in his lap, and pulled his hand away from
Bailey's grasp. Bailey snatched one of the towels from him and wrapped it around his waist.
"Welcome to the room," said Bailey. "Glad to have you. I was about to get real
lonely."
"Go take a shower," said Dean. "You smell like shit."
Bailey laughed.
After his shower, Bailey entered the room to find Dean asleep, his glasses set aside
on his desk. Bailey lay down across from him and sighed.
"Pingrey, too, huh?" he asked. "Quit?"
"Yes," said Dean. "Lathrom?"
"Yep." Bailey rolled over on his side to observe his new roommate. From a bird's
eye view of the room, the only noticeable difference would have been the two roommates—
two beds exactly 62 inches from the door, two desks, two chairs, two dressers, two
wardrobes, two parade rifles, two mirrors. Yet Bailey saw himself opposed in nearly every
way to Dean.
"Why do you still wear those glasses?" he asked. "Are you trying not to get laid?"
9
"Not with academy girls. Not with trou."
"What about your team leader?"
"Corporal Dellatorre?" asked Dean. "Well, maybe. Something about an ass in gray
trousers, though, can't be sexy. Not even hers."
Bailey laughed.
"My mother's supposed to be sending my contacts," said Dean. "Haven't arrived yet.
What about you? Heard you got a pass into the city. Your parents came in."
"No," said Bailey. "They had to cancel."
"Get used to it. They say they're going to send letters every day, right? A week,
maybe, but not even your best friends remember you. Out of sight, I guess. Out of mind."
"I don't know," said Bailey. "It's not like them."
"I'm telling you," said Dean. "Get used to it. At least you got into the city. The rest
of us were stuck here with our dicks in our hands, can't leave our rooms. Perks of being a
TV star, I guess."
Bailey turned to the windows. The sun had passed the barracks and cast the room in
shades of gray.
"I didn't mean to sound harsh," said Dean.
"No," said Bailey. "I was just thinking. Getting away from here wasn't what I
thought it would be. There was nothing there for me. You know?"
"Better than you might think. I'm from there."
"Where?"
"Long Island. You?"
10
"Kansas City."
"Kansas or Missouri?"
"Missouri."
"Ah," said Dean. "The skeptical state. Show-Me, right? The Middle West.
National Geographic presents—Bailey Benedict: All-American Boy."
Bailey lay on his back and his hands tucked behind his head. The base of his neck
had grown too long and would soon attract the attention of upperclassmen. As a kid he'd
had nightmares about the barber cutting his hair too short. He could recall glimpses of those
dreams. A playground. The bare skin above his ear. His friends would laugh at him. Your
mother wears Army boots. And the first time he'd looked in the mirror after they'd done it,
finally alone in his room—he laughed at pale-headed stranger until he thought he would cry.
It felt like a wrongful arrest. They had the wrong guy. It was all a big mistake.
"You're in for the long haul, aren't you Bailey," said Dean. "I can tell."
"Of course," said Bailey. "Aren't you?"
"Of course."
11
2.
26 Aug 2001
Christian's leg began to twitch after Scarborough, where the Hudson really opened
up and instilled in him the inevitability of his final destination, and when the train had
started again after Ossining he realized he'd never before taken the ride at night. His gut
wrenched at him at the realization he'd never seen it like that, the moon pulling at the water,
at his insides like a magnet. Four years riding the train up and down the river all those years
ago, and he'd never taken the damn thing at night. There was something in that, the
paranoid notion of some veiled plot to keep this spectacle a secret. To deny him of it. More
likely, though, that his superiors had simply followed the wisdom of vigilant parents:
nothing good happens after midnight. Assemblies after leave took place in the waning light
of a Sunday evening, 1800 hours, so cadets had to be back in uniform well before dusk. As
a young cadet, Christian would linger in the cavern of Grand Central for the last possible
train back to post, stomach churning, while fantasies played out in his mind—ditching his
uniform in a waste bin and trolling the streets of Manhattan like Holden Caulfield as his
peers moped back toward the academy. But those were the first years. He'd eventually find
himself pulled back along the Hudson, watching the hard names pass so not to fall asleep:
Scarborough, Ossining, Croton-Harmon, Cortlandt, Peekskill, Manitou, Garrsion.
It got easier as the years passed, though, and he eventually learned to call home the
place he once thought of as a punishment. He learned to love it, and after graduation he
12
actually missed it. A long time ago. And, still, the leg: It continued to shake as he
approached Garrison, slight but persistent, the cuff of his pant leg bouncing like the throw of
the water below.
The Superintendant, Lieutenant General LeBoeuf, had called him that morning with
his orders, get up here ASAP we've got something in store for you after all, 2200 at the
Thayer Hotel—though he hadn't been inclined to tell him over the phone exactly what they
had planned. "Yes, sir," Christian had said, and waited until the general had killed the call
before dispatching his end. He called his ex-wife in Atlanta to tell her his plans and to say
hello to Orion, but the boy hadn't yet woken. Having long ago given up hope on his
application for a position at West Point, Christian had purchased airfare to Atlanta for his
leave that would last until Labor Day; of course he'd had to cancel. Helen sighed at that bit
of news, and though he knew she didn't expect fulfillment on any further promises, Christian
told her he would fly down to see their son the first chance he got. Sure, she'd said. Okay.
Darkness had nearly taken over the train by the time the train reached Garrison, and
as he watched it part from the platform, Christian realized he hadn't planned on
transportation to the Thayer Hotel. He hadn't told LeBoeuf he would arrive by train, so the
general had no way of knowing he required a car.
A young man dressed in civvies sat against a wall on the opposite platform, head
freshly shaved. A quitter, this kid, and after only the first week of academics. Processed
over the weekend, probably, and back on the streets as if he'd never been there. Enough
time to get back home and register late at some community college where he could get
13
wasted with high school dropouts, chase tail. Forget about duty, honor. Christian knew the
attraction, of course, but was wise enough even at 18 to know the limits of that kind of fun.
But what had kept this kid from leaving during basic training, only to quit after the first
week of the academic year? Some case of upper-class abuse, no doubt, though Christian had
heard that through something they called the Cadet Leadership System, the uppers of the
academy kept that in much greater check than they had in his days, or the days before he
went through. The humiliation could be unbearable, he knew this—he'd suffered it as well
as doled it out. During the first week of his Beast, 1978, still an unassuming kid from smalltown Indiana, he whistled "The Toreador Song" from Carmen while folding laundry and
gazing out of his barracks room window at the monument of George Washington on
horseback, the hint of a military march in the tune arousing his tired mind to the grandeur of
his surroundings. There were trees in the distance and great vistas of the Hudson beyond,
but the austerity of the academy and its seemingly endless parade fields stirred in him so
much more. A cadre member caught Christian there in his idyllic trance and berated him for
slacking on his duties. The upperclassman informed Christian's platoon sergeant, who then
issued a quiet order on Christian's squad for an entire week. Handwritten messages between
roommates as they prepped for an assault-course mission: What are we supposed to pack?
Response: Go fuck yourself, Whistler. And while he despised that cadet enough to
remember his name 20 years later, when it came time for Christian to inherit the role of
disciplinarian, he'd played it, he knew, to perfection. He understood the purpose of
obedience and instilled in his subordinates the desire for the purest form of it. Young men
despise rules, they despise discipline, but one can teach them to want it, to need it. To long
14
for it. Christian never whistled at West Point again. He led, to the best of his abilities, by
example.
Christian peered at the civillian, the quitter, across the platform from him. The
young man stared back, eyeing the insignia on his cap, the golden bars on his lapels of his
Class-A uniform. He stood then, and to Christian's surprise, saluted him. Christian smiled
at the young man and, shaking his head, he laughed. He descended the steps that led to the
street, and the kid sat back down against the wall and continued his wait for the southbound
train back to Grand Central, LaGuardia, civilian life, home.
A taxi pulled up to the station only a few minutes after Christian called from a
payphone, and as they rattled on the bridge over the Hudson, he grinned at the possibility of
claiming some small part of West Point again—in whatever way they had planned for him.
Tactical officer over of a company of cadets. Military consultant. Instructor. Due to the
urgency of the call, he didn't assume would take up as a professor. He simply didn't have
much to offer in an academic classroom. In the military arena, though, he had something.
After Ranger school immediately following his graduation from West Point, Christian led
intelligence teams in the strikes accompanying the invasion of Grenada and, later, Operation
Desert Storm during the Gulf War. For two years in Bosnia he befriended the local Croats
and helped them gather intel in their attack strategies on Zagreb. Nineteen years had passed
since he last set foot on the grounds at West Point, and though it would always be his home,
he was unsure how he fit in anymore.
A sense of some unknown shame swept over Christian, the adolescent fear he'd done
something wrong, that they'd brought him back to take something away. He twisted his
15
class ring around his finger, the one he'd worn like a wedding band since graduation. Best of
the Corps. Class of 1984. Etched into the sides below the ruby, a constant reminder of his
burning devotion. Duty, Honor, Country. But West Point and its believers, unlike the
people who made up the civilian world, would never take that away. The institution gave
you purpose, a sole reason of being. Another person could never give you that.
At the bar at the Hotel Thayer, Christian ordered a lime rickey while he waited for
sign of General LeBoeuf. A throng of parents surrounded him in the lounge, polo shirts and
khaki shorts, cameras slung around their necks, toasting one another on a job well done—
kid in his last year of college, paid for, taken care of for the rest of his life. Ring Weekend
for the Class of 2005. It amazed him that parents still swarmed the academy three full years
after their entrance. After his own acceptance, Christian had insisted his parents, workingclass people without much time on their hands, simply buy him a train ticket and send him
on his way like he'd seen in the movies—like Cagney in The West Point Story. This
extended hand-holding, the desire to live vicariously in their child's adventures, worked
against the development of the cadets. They weren't their children anymore, after all. They
were children reborn, broken down, and after extensive training and corrections, would
become soldiers committed to a lifelong service to their country.
Had he the need to check in for the night, Christian wasn't sure there would be a
room available.
A hand slapped down and clinched Christian's shoulder as he sipped from his glass.
He coughed spittle and soda onto his pants. LeBoeuf laughed when Christian stood, a
scrawny, red-nosed figure. He appeared older than in the pictures Christian had seen in the
16
profiles featured in issues of Soldier and Pointer View, though lean and tan like a retired
surfer longing for a return to his youth in waves and women. The general struck the fingers
of Christian's handshake in a vicious grip and grinned the rows of his veneers as he squeezed
them. Liver spots freckled his scalp where his white hair had years ago retreated, the
hairline united now in an efficient V. An officer and a cadet rested respectfully to the left of
the general like bodyguards.
"Welcome back, son," said LeBoeuf. "The train ride treat you well?"
"Yes, sir," said Christian. "Beautiful."
"Seven years as the Super, Christian, and I never get tired of that. Gives me a hardon for the old corps, if you know what I mean. Of course you do."
LeBoeuf introduced the two men, Colonel Joseph Dyer, Master of the Sword, and
Cadet Command Sergeant Major Jonathan Hooke.
"Captain," said Colonel Dyer as he shook Christian's hand. "Class of'68."
"Pleasure, Colonel," said Christian. "Class of '84."
"Captain," said the cadet. "Class of'03."
"Pleased to meet you," said Christian. '"84."
LeBoeuf boasted of Cadet Hooke's 195-lb. belt at the 2000 National Collegiate
Boxing championships. Aside from some acne scarring around the jowls, Hooke's face
looked as if he'd never set foot in a ring. It was a requirement, of course, for all male cadets
to box their first year, and Christian had taken more beatings than he delivered. Hooke must
have been one of those who always delivered.
"He'll make a fine First Captain," said LeBoeuf. "I'm sure of it."
17
LeBoeuf clamped a hand on the cadet's shoulder. Hooke winced, but forced a smile.
He struggled, it seemed, to keep his chin up.
"Our request of you, of course, is highly irregular," said LeBoeuf. "We know that
and we're glad you could make it out on such short notice. Colonel Dyer's wife has
promised us a party this evening, so we'll keep this as brief as possible. Let's get a move on.
Leslie makes a knockout martini."
Christian followed the officers through the lobby to the elevator. The general
explained Colonel Dyer's position of Master of the Sword as the official title for the head of
the physical education department. Dyer doubled as LeBoeuf s personal trainer. A real ball
buster, the general explained, just what he needed. PT with the troops in the summer,
intramural football in the fall. Skiing in winter. There's no place like home. The elevator
doors opened then, and three boys in wet swimming trunks slipped past.
"Oh, the ignorance of youth," said LeBoeuf. His men laughed, so Christian laughed
as well.
When the elevator shut them in, the general inserted a key into the terminal and
pressed the button for the top floor. After their ascent, the doors opened to a dim foyer. A
flag from the American Revolution was framed in a thick pane of glass in front of them.
Christian followed the men into the penthouse where Dyer and Hooke waited next to some
red leather furniture. An imperial chandelier lighted the room above a black-stained table.
On the table lay an olive-green towel folded in half. Oil paintings of past superintendents
lined the wall above a Civil War-era dining set. Sylvanus Thayer, father of the academy,
Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, William Westmoreland, Samuel William Koster. In the
18
center of them all resided a generously sized portrait of a first-class cadet posed in front of
the cadet chapel with a saber in his hand. A single light at the top of the gilded frame shone
onto the painting of an austere and stony-eyed Cadet First Captain—LeBoeuf, class of'55.
"You like the collection," he said. LeBoeuf rattled a steel shaker behind the bar and
poured its contents into three martini glasses. "Have a seat, please, Christian," he said and
nodded at the leather chair nearest to the table.
Christian followed the general's order.
"You'll sleep here tonight," said LeBoeuf, "should there be any. Take whatever you
need. That's all I'll say now, as you're bound to forget everything else."
"Thank you, sir," said Christian. He caught himself circling his thumbs behind his
interlocked fingers. He rubbed his hands on the front of his pants and left them there near
the knee.
LeBoeuf smiled at Christian, then nodded to the Colonel. Dyer then leaned over the
table and unfolded the towel. On it lay a syringe and an unmarked bottle. Christian's
temples throbbed. He looked at LeBoeuf for an explanation.
"What is this?" he asked. It was a silly question, though—of course he knew. A
barbiturate of some kind, probably sodium thiopental. Truth serum. Used in interrogations
with reticent suspects. Considered torture in terms of international law, though Christian
had seen his share in work with the CIA. Lethal in large doses. Less reliable than a lie
detector, but you don't necessarily even need to ask the right questions. Christian would be
talking tonight, but that these men didn't trust him, a fellow West Point grad, angered him.
"You know what it is," said the Colonel.
19
"What happened to the Cadet Honor Code?" asked Christian. He thought he heard
the colonel chuckle. His face blushed.
"Let's be adults here," said LeBoeuf. "A nice principle for the cadets, sure, and while
I know you're not clear on why we brought you here, I assure you it has nothing to do with
your re-admittance to the academy. Or do you still carry that card in your wallet?"
A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. Christian patted his front
pocket. It was still tucked in his wallet, a laminated card with those words they'd engrained
in him. The words were a code. They were a cadet's bond.
"You do," said LeBoeuf. "Jesus Christ, I was being figurative. That's heartwarming, really, and I'm sure you're the Jefferson Smith of the whole damn Army, but we're
after something here, and you'll please oblige us to expedite this process by sticking that
fucking needle in your arm. God damnit, we have a party to get to."
Gin sloshed out of the general's glass as he slammed his hand on the bar. It
embarrassed him to acknowledge it, but Christian understood the drug's purpose: get him to
talk without much coaxing. Though Christian felt as if he'd never left the Army, he'd only
been back in the service for five years. Off record for the five years before that, though the
work was basically the same, just no medals, no ribbons. They wanted to know what he'd
been up to. Christian rolled up his sleeve.
The general passed the martinis to his bodyguards.
"Do you have anything I can tie my arm off with?" asked Christian.
"Oh, for Christ's sake," said LeBoeuf. "Use the towel."
20
Dyer and Hooke watched Christian as he pierced the taut flesh of his arm with the
needle. LeBoeuf cringed and averted his eyes. The familiarity of the drug settled in
immediately, and he appreciated how quickly a man's blood traveled into his heart and out to
his brain. He greeted it like an old friend—it was easiest that way, no reason to fight it—
and he relaxed into the chair. No one spoke to him. And while it seemed like only seconds
had passed, Christian could hear a record playing in another room—"The Night Has a
Thousand Eyes." Bobby Vee. Christian wondered whether, if he had something to hide, was
there a way to store it in the far reaches of his mind so even he couldn't access it if they
asked him, and what would he keep there for safekeeping, for himself? He could only think
of one thing—Orion, his son. Christian would keep Rion there. He would keep the boy
there, though they wouldn't ask about him.
"Do you have any children?" asked Colonel Dyer.
Christian burst with laughter.
"I think it's working."
"Tell us, Christian—"
'Cause the night has a thousand eyes—
And a thousand eyes can't help but see if you are true to me—
So remember when you tell those little white lies,
That the night has a thousand eyes.
Captain. It's a drug. Control it. Con-cen-trate.
Yes, Christian had a son. Orion, four years of age. No, Christian was no longer
married. Divorced four years. No, he didn't like his desk job at Bragg, the boredom of it all,
21
logging in and storing old typewriters and filing cabinets. Yes, he felt like he deserved it.
Christian knew that when he reenlisted in the regular Army he'd take a cut in pay; the private
sector paid well beyond what the government could ever afford. He knew he would even
step down in rank, a Major when he'd left in 1991, bumped to Captain when he returned on
the condition of maximum promotion to colonel. Doubtful he would ever get there.
You can never be a general, someone said... You're a mercenary and you always
will be... You're not a career man... Please sit back in your chair, Captain...
Yes, Christian had joined Professional Military Personnel after the Gulf War and
worked for them through 1995, gathering intel in Zagreb for the CIA. Identifying targets
throughout Bosnia for strategic bombings. He stalked the city at night and in the blue hours
before dawn, boots crunching down unpaved roads, crouched in the doors of friends,
enemies. With a Delta Force squad and the team of Croatian soldiers he'd trained, Christian
kicked in the doors of Serbs and helped purge them of the area. He watched from a rooftop
as United Nations jets cut across the Dinaric Alps, through the star-blanketed night, and felt
the growl of their bombs as they destroyed the homes and buildings he'd identified as critical
to the success of the mission. He helped sift through rubble for confirmation of a kill, pulled
away the limbs of collateral damage. The greatest good for the greatest number of
Americans. By definition, mercenary described that work, but Christian was first a patriot,
and always.
It was the boy, Orion, who brought him back stateside, desk job. West Point taught
Christian to lead by example, and the one thing he could never do was betray his calling.
Christian could never settle for anything civilian. Though he despised the menial work at
22
Bragg, at least in doing it he supported the Army, his country. Yes, he wished he could be
closer to his son, but how could Christian look him in the eyes after a commute home from,
what, the Coca-Cola plant? Orion deserved better than that, and though he would resent
Christian for his inherited childhood, the boy would someday understand. When he realized
his father had done his duty to his country faithfully, he would understand. For Christian to
die would be best, to be killed in the line of duty—a legacy of uncomplicated appreciation.
From the look of LeBoeuf, his kids most likely hated him. Superintendent of West Point—
what time would he have for them?
Christian closed his eyes. He could see his son's blond hair, his mother's. Another
song then, another record. LeBoeuf sang along: ... I'm on my way. For I b'long to the
reg'lars, I'm proud to say. And I'll do my duty-uty night or day. I don't know where I'm
going, but I'm on my way.
"Glee Club," he was saying. He sat on the couch across the table from Christian,
another martini in his hand. Cadet Hooke stood on the wall that led back to other rooms.
"Heldentenor from 1953 to 1955. I could make Wagner hard in his casket. Could make a
woman come with a simple serenade. German lyrics worked best. Mit list und gewalt
gelang das werk. Always remember, though, young Hooke, with great power comes great
responsibility."
They laughed. On the table in front of Christian, a disassembled set of Matryoshka
dolls sat in descending order like a cadet's boots under his bed—tallest to shortest, left to
right. Crafted in terms of the significance, perhaps, to the United States' global efforts. The
largest one, a cartoonish rendering of Hitler, glared at Christian, a cocked pistol in his hand.
23
Mussolini, Hirohito, an elusive and miniscule Castro. And the littlest, a solid peg shaped
like a bowling pin, a thick black mustache under his drooping nose. Saddam Hussein, the
source of so many American regrets.
Christian rushed to the kitchen sink and vomited there. How pathetic he must have
appeared to these men. Cadet Hooke handed him a handkerchief and left Christian to clean
up for himself. Christian flushed his mouth with water from the faucet. LeBoeuf cracked
the windows above Christian's seat.
The General buckled at the waist and heaved, a violent defenestration of his stomach
into the black night.
"Ah, fuck," he said as he stood again.
Hooke handed a handkerchief to the general.
"All right, sir?" asked the cadet.
"Take the car back on home, Jonathan," said LeBoeuf. "But don't close the garage—
I don't want to wake the old man."
"Yes, sir."
A breeze blew the cool night air into the room. A quiet night except for the distant
chirping of crickets and the faint sound of voices outside.
"I'm queasier than a bitch on R-Day," said the general. "Shakier than a butter bar in
"Nam."
Christian nodded, but could not muster a smile. The lingering dregs of the serum
still swam in his head. Afraid he might vomit again at any moment, Christian leaned against
the counter near the sink.
24
"Jonathan's a good boy," said the general. "Family as good as they come. He'll
make a fine officer some day. If that's not the American dream, I don't know what is." He
hacked phlegm from his throat and expelled it out the window. "You can't find it out there,
that's for sure. Which brings me to why I brought you all the way up here today. Christian,
you're a loyal son of a bitch and you don't mind getting your hands dirty. We need more of
that around here."
Christian stumbled into the room and fell into the first couch he could find. In the
most extreme circumstances—should one find himself, say, without a week of sleep or
missing a crucial limb—he must focus his attention directly in front of him. Find balance
and move forward, always. Drunk driving follows the same principal. Stay within the lines.
"Are you with us?" asked LeBoeuf. "Your head, I mean. Has the medication worn
off?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good," said the general.
"Colonel Dyer?"
"He went ahead. I don't think you'll be joining us tonight after all. Another time, I'm
sure." General LeBoeuf sat on the arm of the sofa and folded his hands together over a
knee. "We have a bit of a situation here, Christian, and as far as we're concerned, you're the
man for the job."
The general paused then and peered through the windows where he had just thrown
up. He extended his hand against the glass and rolled his tongue in his mouth. Perhaps he'd
seen something outside, Christian wasn't sure.
25
"Thank you, sir," he said.
"We're real impressed with what you've done inside and outside of the Army," said
LeBoeuf, "and while this may seem like it's a bullshit assignment, believe me when I say it's
maybe the most fragile situation this post has seen since the cheating mess in '51."
Christian straightened up in his seat. He felt nauseous, but kept his eyes fixed on the
general, which seemed to keep the room from tilting.
"You know as well as any of the men on this post," said LeBoeuf, "that America is
walking into a major shit storm. Pakistan, Iraq, Iran. I'm hoping North Korea to be honest.
Communism is the most recognizable enemy—we need that again. Either way, we're
looking at a year, maybe two. West Point has its fingers gripped on this nation's pulse, and
she's beating like a fucking lab rat. The people of this country look to us, depend on us to
protect and preserve her good name, which is why we cannot have it tarnished in the public
sphere."
LeBoeuf stood from his chair and paced along the wall of paintings of the
superintendents, and except for the Class-A uniform, LeBoeuf looked like Nixon walking
along the corridors of the White House, head bowed in consternation. The general may have
considered this situation, whatever it might be, the defining moment of his career, and he
was reaching out to him, a point that coursed adrenaline through Christian's veins.
"Before I can give you the specifics," said LeBoeuf, "you must accept your position
at West Point. I need your full cooperation."
"I accept, sir," said Christian. "I understand."
26
"Good," said LeBoeuf. He stopped then. "I knew you would. A girl went blind
yesterday."
Christian removed a pad and pen from his coat and scrawled the notes as LeBoeuf
delivered them.
"Cadet Private Cate Dellatorre," said the general. "She was being corrected.
Walking around without her hands un-cupped. At 0700 hours, an upperclassman stood her
in front of the windows of Washington hall and ordered her to stare at it.
She's at Walter
Reed now."
"Permanent?"
"We don't know," said LeBoeuf. "This kind of injury is typically reversible. But if
she's not correctible to 20/20 after this injury we can't keep her in the Army."
Christian made a note of it. During his cadet years, minor injuries occurred
regularly, and while severe cases did occur, they usually took place outside the academy
walls—some drunk kid behind the wheel of his cherished pickup on Christmas Eve, trolling
the streets of his former life. Aside from the hazing, the West Point Christian knew was
generally a safe place, a training ground for men who would one day command and care for
a platoon of soldiers. General LeBoeuf was right—this looked bad.
"What exacerbates the situation—and it pains me to admit this—is that most of the
goddamn thing is on videotape. Cate Dellatorre is one of five plebes we agreed to allow
National Geographic to follow for a documentary. A publicity maneuver I permitted to
show the work we do here as significant and honorable and patriotic. A PR nightmare now,
I'm afraid. If they get word that one of their subjects was injured here, the ramifications
27
would be severely detrimental. They've been filming since the cadets signed their letters,
but nothing has aired yet."
"The names of the others?"
The general spelled out the names for Christian: Bailey Benedict, male. Samuel
Freitag. Dieudonne Ngassa, an African exchange student, male. Shannon Bridegroom,
female. LeBoeuf gave Christian the contact information for the National Geographic crew
and an untraceable cellular phone he could use during his assignment. The room, too, was
his to maintain for the duration of his assignment; any other accommodations he'd have to
make on his own. LeBoeuf would have his things shipped over from Bragg.
"And another thing," said LeBoeuf. "This girl, Cate. She has a sister here. A thirdclass cadet. Portia Dellatorre."
"Has she been informed?"
"Yes," said LeBoeuf, "in a way. But not to the potential consequences. A top
priority. Academics take precedence for these cadets, but you have the authority to escort
her off post for a small duration. She'll understand that—she's a good cadet. She could
prove very persuasive if given some time with her sister."
"Yes, sir," said Christian. "I understand."
"You are to report directly to me," said LeBoeuf. "This a classified and paperless
assignment. Officially, you're hired as the Deputy of Morale and Welfare. Colonel Dyer
will set you up with an office in Washington Hall."
"Thank you, sir," said Christian.
28
General LeBoeuf sighed and eased down onto the couch at the bank of windows,
hands braced against his knees as if it any moment they might fail him. Fluorescent light
from the kitchen streamed across the room and settled below his eyes. Crow's feet creased
out toward his temples, and his eyes glistened in the light—the general hadn't slept recently.
Christian sensed he was keeping something from him.
"May I ask a question?" he asked.
The general stared at him, neither discouraging him nor imploring him to continue.
"You hadn't mentioned the cadet responsible for the hazing."
"I see," said LeBoeuf. '"An omission is just like telling a lie.' A direct violation of
the Honor Code."
"I wasn't suggesting that, sir."
"Honestly," said LeBoeuf, "I assumed it would go unsaid. Never mind. Before the
end of the week this whole damn corps will know."
LeBoeuf rocked his heel against the floor.
"Cadet Hooke was responsible for the corrective training," he said. "But he's in my
charge now. And let's rid the word 'hazing' from our lexicon, do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," said Christian.
"Get some rest," said LeBoeuf.
Ten minutes later, as he lay in bed, Christian heard the elevator's bell as LeBoeuf left
the penthouse. Alone then, the dull light of the early morning washed over and welcomed
him. He, too, knew he was the man for this job. That he could do what needed to be done.
Though he knew he wouldn't spend much time in it, this bed was his bed, and he was home.
29
2.
27 Aug 2001
On Monday night, Bailey returned from the voluntary dinner to find stacks of shrinkwrapped clothes and racks of hanging uniforms suffocating his room. Several of the other
plebes in his company sat on the radiator at the back wall. They banged their feet against its
metal frame, either indifferent or unsure of what to do. Dean sat on his bed, piles of plastic
bundles at his sides. They had three hours to finish delivery and prepare for the next day's
classwork, and every upperclassman in the company expected to have his laundry before
Taps. Though the operation hadn't gone well last time, at least in having Lathrom around
there was order.
The National Geographic crew that had followed Bailey since his arrival at the
academy was missing as well. In April, a card had arrived in the green envelope that carried
his acceptance letter, instructing him to call director Daniel Schuler before signing and
returning his commitment to attend the United States Military Academy. He did, and the
crew filmed the signing and mailing of his pledge; the high school graduation where the
superintendent honored him in front of the congregation of attendees; the departure from
Missouri to New York, his friends and family waving goodbye from the terminal; leaving
his parents in the theater at Ike Hall; R-Day. They would follow him occasionally
throughout his first year. $10,000—a down payment on a car once permitted to keep one on
post. $2,500 for each year following, a set of follow-up interviews to see how he held up
30
under the stress of cadet life. The other plebes in Bailey's company ragged on him for this
small celebrity, but they enjoyed its presence as it allowed them their own notoriety, a call
home to family and friends to watch for them on the television premier in October. What
they were doing was important. They warranted national attention.
Bailey noticed a shrink-wrapped stack of the company commander's underpants at
the top of the pile. An attached note said they needed to be delivered ASAP. The plebes
didn't warrant national attention. They were being used.
"Where is everybody?" Bailey asked Dean.
"Where were you?" asked Dean.
"Eating."
"There you have it."
"Gammon, Meyer, Williamson," Bailey said to the cadets sitting in the back, "go find
your squad mates and round up the other plebes. Let's get this thing moving."
The plebes shuffled toward the door, but braced up and quickened their pace as they
hit the hall. Bailey and Dean organized the stacks into the categories (1) hallways and (2)
roommates. They hid the plebe laundry under Bailey's desk to pick up after they completed
the job. Also, that way they knew who had helped deliver the laundry to upperclassmen,
many of whom enjoyed inviting plebes inside their rooms to test the knowledge they had
learned over the summer. Should a cadet not know the lyrics to the second verse of "The
Star Spangled Banner," she might be subject to singing the entire first verse several times
while marching around the company's halls. After the previous week's hazing, Bailey
suspected that several of his peers would attempt to skip the evening's duties.
31
They posted a map of the company's rectangular hallways that Lathrom had drawn,
and when Bailey loaded someone's arms with folded laundry, he shouted the room number
and the names of the cadets occupying the room for Dean to find the corresponding hanging
clothes to drape over the cadet's arms. Several cadets lined up to leave the room at once to
decrease their chances of a run-in with an upper-class cadet. The "New Cadet Handbook"
outlined the standard operating procedure once a cadet left the designated laundry room. On
the doors of more exacting cadets, a plebe (1) knocked three times to identify himself as
inferior, and when the upperclassman invited him in, he (2) opened the door, (3) stopped the
door at a ninety-degree angle with a wedge, (4) greeted the upperclassman politely—"Good
evening, sir/ma'am/sergeant/corporal"—(5) set each cadet's laundry at the foot of his or her
bed, and (6) placed the hanging uniforms in the appropriate wardrobe. Any misstep invited
the upperclassman to interrogate the plebe. Other cadets, should one find them asleep or
studying, preferred the plebe to place all items at the foot of the bed and to exit the room as
quickly as possible. Any misstep invited the upperclassman to wake from his nap or break
from his study and interrogate the plebe.
The door swung shut behind the first four plebes to exit the room, and in the silence
of their departure, the remaining cadets waited for the inevitable onslaught from the
upperclassmen. They stared at the door, and then at one another.
"Let's keep it moving," said Dean. "Next."
"Golding, Hartfelter, Poli," called Bailey. "First-class cadets. Room 422."
Bailey's fellow plebes filed out the door and all but a few made it back to finish the
job. Gammon, who hadn't cut his hair since the last week of basic training yet had evaded
the ire of the upperclassmen, brought back news that the company's first sergeant caught
Clarissa, one of the company's few female plebes, when she accidentally knocked twice on
his door. As he passed First Sergeant Rosnick's room Clarissa stared at him pleadingly from
her pushup position, back slumped in a pathetic valley. Of course, there was nothing he
could do.
Dean tossed the returning plebes their laundry and stacked the rest in the closet near
the door. After the room cleared, Bailey made a note of who had skipped out on delivery
and who had been caught. As he looked at the tags on the hanging clothes, though, he
noticed a familiar name that didn't belong to one of his peers. Inside the plastic cover hung a
gray uniform and a pressed cap. Bailey removed it from the pile.
"Who is Jonathan Hooke?" he asked Dean.
"Why?"
"We have his clothes."
Dean stared at Bailey. "No," he said. "You have his clothes. I'll go around and find
the plebes who didn't help out, but you're taking that one."
"Not the Command Sergeant Major Hooke."
"Yes," said Dean. He laughed. "That one. The boxer."
"He's regimental staff. Why do we have to deliver his laundry?"
"We don't," said Dean. "You do. He may be regimental staff, but he's technically
still in our company."
Bailey sighed. Every morning CSM Hooke accompanied the Regimental
Commander and his staff as they descended the steps from Bradley's short barracks to
33
formation. His voice boomed within the stone walls that bordered Central Area as he called
the regiment to attention each day, but it was his uniform that Bailey remembered—the
material stretched taut across his biceps, his chest pulling at the placket. It was rumored that
Hooke had given up a modeling contract with Calvin Klein to enlist in the Army, and that he
had finished first in his Ranger class before they pulled him out for officer training at West
Point. Supposedly a direct descendent of the actor Douglas Fairbanks, The Thief of
Baghdad.
Others said Snitz Edwards. Either way, he hadn't inherited an actor's charm.
"Have fun," said Dean. "He's supposed to be a real dick."
"Thanks."
With the uniform folded across his arm, Bailey crossed the hall and rushed down the
stairwell. Lamps lighted the main area on the concrete plain. In a prison film a spotlight
from the garrets would swing down on the lone prisoner as he dashed along the edge of the
yard. A cut to the guard beading him with his rifle and he'd go down with its crack, a
thwarted escape. And there's blood—the crooked warden had switched the rubber bullets
out with live ammunition. Bailey quickened his pace as he crossed the plain along the
windows of the barracks.
The bottom floor of the Bradley short barracks comprised the 2nd regiment's
headquarters. The hallway broke to the right at its end, and tucked in the corner stood
Hooke's room, the Regimental Command Sergeant Major, his title etched into a bronze
placard that hung in the middle of the door. Bailey stopped in front of it. The best of
possible scenarios: No light peeked underneath the door. If the Sergeant Major was out of
34
his room, Bailey could simply hang his clothes in the wardrobe and leave without any
altercations. Bailey knocked three times on the door.
"Enter," a voice returned on the other side.
Bailey's hand trembled as he opened the door. Hooke stood up from the chair behind
his desk and clicked off his computer monitor. The rough stone walls were unpainted,
without windows and bare except for a single poster at eyelevel next to his desk. A small
lamp illuminated Hooke's face and a poster for the film "The Thief of Bagdad"—either the
source of the rumor about Fairbanks, or evidence of it.
With his hands behind his back,
Hooke's shoulders swelled even further underneath his shirt. The acrid stench of brass
polish and a chemical-based cleaner stiffened the air. Bailey scrambled to find a doorstop in
the corner, then in the utility closet at the right.
"Forget it," said Hooke. "Get on with it."
Bailey nodded. His throat felt coarse and dry. "Yes, sir," he managed to say, but
only articulated the last word. He walked the clothes to the wardrobe and opened it. Inside,
the sergeant major's uniforms hung at a slight angle, all spaced evenly apart on the bar.
There was no room for Bailey to place the laundered clothes.
"Just put it on the door, Cadet," said Hooke. "Hurry."
Bailey placed the hanger on the open wardrobe door, then closed the other. He
wheeled around to face Hooke again.
"Beat Cincinnati, sergeant," he said.
"Is that how you greet a member of your own company?" asked Hooke.
Bailey didn't know Hooke belonged to Echo Company. "No, sergeant," he said.
35
"I didn't think so. How do you greet a member of your company?"
"Go Dawgs, sergeant."
"And while I appreciate the respect," he said, "you don't have to stand at attention.
I'm not an officer, Cadet"—Hooke inspected the name printed on Bailey's t-shirt—
"Benedict."
Bailey spread his feet and flattened his hands together behind his back.
"I didn't give you the permission to move," said Hooke. Bailey watched as his eyes
scoured across his face, searching for some imperfection. A plebe's hair must always be
trimmed. His face must always be shaved. "Don't look at me," he said.
An excess of saliva had built in the back of Bailey's throat—he swallowed slowly to
disguise it. Surely Hooke had caught some whiff of his fear, like a wild dog in the
quickened step of a child. One had dragged Bailey from his bike when he was 11. The
dog's teenage owner and his friends laughed from their parents' porch as it shook his leg in
its tight jaws. "Cadet Bailed," yelled Hooke. "Attention."
Bailey snapped back into position.
"You're one of those National Geographic kids," said Hooke.
"Yes, sergeant," Bailey replied.
Hooke huffed through his nose. While the cameras implored Bailey's peers to dog
him playfully, they also drew excess attention from the upperclassmen. For their own
potential glorification, they sought out the cameras, sought Bailey, which resulted in a
spattering of insults and demands in his face.
36
"Do you know the other cadets they're following for the documentary?" asked
Hooke. "Are you all friends?"
"No, sergeant," said Bailey.
"Where are the cameras now?"
"Sergeant," said Bailey, "I do not understand."
Hooke smiled. He stepped toward him slowly, closing the space between them.
"The cameras," he said. "Where are they?"
"I haven't seen them today, sergeant."
"You must be a solid cadet for them to select you from so many," said Hooke. "Are
you, Cadet Private Benedict?"
Bailey had sensed the inevitability of this kind of questioning, and he knew what
would follow—a random test of his knowledge until he failed to deliver. Some of the longer
passages of speeches from MacArthur and Worth he still knew, but since the beginning of
the academic year he had given up on memorizing how many days were left until the ArmyNavy game or Christmas or graduation. Pointless facts that, should someone demand them,
would result in some minor punishment. A few pushups. A stern warning.
"Sergeant," said Bailey, "I do not understand."
"It's a yes or no question," said Hooke. "Either you believe they considered you to
have great potential, or they you believe it was random. I'll repeat my question: Do you
agree that you are a solid cadet?"
"Yes, sergeant."
"What is the definition of 'Respect'?" asked Hooke.
37
"Sergeant," said Bailey, "the definition of'Respect' is, 'Treat people as they should
be treated.'"
"How interesting. I find that to be open to interpretation, don't you?"
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey.
"A bit subjective, isn't it? When we founded this country, we had a different attitude
about how certain people should be treated. We didn't have respect for everyone. Slaves
made this country a world power. The Chinese built our railroads. A country must exploit
those they don't respect in order to gain power. And now that we have that power, those
same people can enter our most sacred schools and serve as officers in the strongest military
power in the world. I would say attitudes can shift rather easily. I have friends from North
Korea. I have black friends. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish here, Cadet
Benedict, with even the slightest change in attitude."
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey.
"Do not attempt to placate me," said Hooke. "This isn't done yet. What's for lunch
on Thursday?"
"Sergeant, I do not know."
Bailey fixed his gaze to the left of Hooke's face, but could see the sergeant's eyes
trained on his. Hooke stepped back and walked to his desk. He lifted his gray cloth cap and
carried it back to Bailey, opened it in front of him.
"Spit," he said.
38
Bailey looked down at the open cap. Hooke had printed his name in capital letters
on the tag inside. They wore these caps to class every day. He didn't really want Bailey to
spit in it.
"Sergeant," he said, "I do not understand."
"Big fucking surprise," said Hooke. "Spit in it. Now."
Bailey worked some saliva from the back of his throat and gathered it at the front of
his mouth. Hook held the cap underneath Bailey's chin. Bailey leaned his head forward and
let the lump fall from his lips. Hooke closed the cap and walked it over to his hamper,
stuffed it inside an olive laundry bag. It hadn't felt as satisfying as it should have to spit in
Hooke's hat, but Bailey knew that his own satisfaction was far from the point. Hooke passed
him and grabbed the laundry hanging from the door. He lifted Bailey's arm and draped the
clothes across it. On top sat the freshly laundered cap.
"When you know what's for lunch on Thursday," said Hooke, "deliver my laundry
again. I'll need that cap before breakfast formation. Don't make me come looking for you
five minutes beforehand."
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey.
"You are excused."
Bailey fled Hooke's room and the headquarters, and as he broke into the quiet
concrete plain he let the hanging clothes fall to his side. He read the four-faced clock on the
far side of the quad. Taps would play in half an hour, and then all lights would have to go
out. He could memorize the meals tonight, but would have to wake up early—0500 hours—
to prepare for class. Bailey trudged up the stairs to his room.
39
Dean sat in front of his computer with his headphones covering his ears, his Discrete
Dynamical Systems textbook facedown next to the keyboard. A game of chess set frozen on
the computer screen—Dean had already finished his homework. Bailey hung the clothes in
the coat closet and moved to his desk. As he rolled forward in his chair, his foot wedged
underneath a plastic-wrapped bundle, and his knee swung into a corner of the desk. The
tags on the laundry read Tammy Booth, a female plebe in their company. Someone knocked
on the door three times.
"Come in," said Dean.
Tammy opened the door and let it close behind her, a violation of Standard
Operating Procedures. She glanced around the room until she noticed the lone package on
Bailey's desk.
"How'd everything go tonight?" she asked.
"Thanks for asking," Bailey said.
He stood from his chair and hurled the bundle at her chest. She caught it against her
body, but stumbled back from the blow. She looked at Dean, face contorted in her
confusion. Dean removed his headphones.
"What was that?" he asked Bailey.
"Thanks so much for your help tonight," Bailey said to the girl.
"I was at basketball practice," she said. "There's nothing I can do about that."
"So you're going to be skipping out on us all the time," said Bailey. "Very
convenient. I suppose you'd like us to deliver your laundry to your room while we're at it.
Might as well. Anything else?"
40
"Hey, man," said Dean. "Relax."
Tammy stormed out of the room.
"What was that about?" asked Dean. "She didn't do anything."
"Exactly," said Bailey. "Forget about it."
Bailey kicked his chair so it swung around to him. He sat down and the computer
and looked up the meals for the next three days, paying special attention to Thursday.
Lunch: Cog nuggets, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, green beans. Side of horseradish
saucs. Choice of fruit punch or water.
41
2.
30 Aug 2001
The early morning sun glared against the windows of Washington Hall, glistened on
the lead soldering between the glass. Christian squinted as he stared at them, imagining how
long it must have taken for Cate Dellatorre to have lost her vision. Two hours? One? Dark
orbs floated in front of his eyes as he looked away. For her not to have fled, or at least to
have looked away, it showed audacity, sure, but stupidity, too. Jonathan Hooke must have
instilled in her an absolute fear. Yet she followed through with her orders until some other
upperclassman found her, eyes searching uselessly, blind. Anyway, it was outside
Christian's authority to assign blame. Whether or not Hooke intended to harm her or not
wasn't his concern, though he could not imagine Hooke's motivation for such carelessness.
The separation of the upper and lower classes mimicked the relationship between officer and
enlisted personnel. Hooke would one day care for soldiers like Cadet Dellatorre. Sure, he
hadn't tried to hurt her. But were his corrections truly sincere?
Christian entered the large doors of the mess hall, the sun still warm on his back.
The few things Christian kept at Bragg had arrived on Tuesday—two trunks, books,
computer, the rest of his uniforms, a few articles of civilian clothes. Later that afternoon,
however, another shipment of uniforms arrived at the Thayer Hotel—battle dress, ClassAs—a West Point insignia on the sleeve and a long strip of Velcro where his last name
should have appeared above the breast pocket. A plastic bag contained ten name plates for
42
Christian to press onto the uniforms, none of which were his own. Bellevue, Graves,
Shepherd, Rinehart, March, Marvel, Justice, Zuniga, Zaius. Today he was Captain Christian
Ballard, though he didn't know whether or not to give a phony first name should someone
ask. As a child he hated the name Christian. It mean nothing to him. He remembered
naming his military action figures, but couldn't think of another name for himself. His
bearded G.I. Joe became "Joey." Others he named "Nick," "Jack," "Wolf," and "Hank." But
what if he could rename himself?
Christian climbed the stairs of the garret at the center of Washington Hall. Outside
he could hear the commanders calling their companies to attention. Soon they would flood
the mess hall for breakfast. A door at the top of the stairs led to the floor for the Department
of Military Instruction. Glass cases of relics from wars past lined the hallways, illustrations
and histories of battles. Maps of the movements at New Orleans and Shiloh. Christian
poured himself a cup of coffee at the secretary's station and entered his office at the end of
the hall.
The windows of his office overlooked the concrete plain of the second regiment.
The cadets marched toward the mess hall now, breaking from their companies as they
crossed into the alley between Bradley and Washington. According to Christian's records,
two cadets from the second regiment were involved in the National Geographic
documentary and had been followed from the day of their signings through cadet basic
training—Cadets Bailey Benedict and Dieudonne Ngassa. As Christian surveyed the cadets
below, he could see the companies as they collapsed toward the alleyway, flag bearers
leading the charge. Bailey Benedict belonged to Echo Company, third platoon, fourth
43
squad. If Christian could find Bailey's company, he could see Bailey's squad. In a squad of
ten people, a plebe was easy enough to discern. He could watch Bailey and Dieudonne each
morning from these high windows. Also in Echo Company: Cate Dellatorre's sister, Portia.
Immediately following Hooke's incident, LeBoeuf had ordered all the National
Geographic video to be turned over for review—a stipulation in the contract—which now
sat stacked in small boxes on Christian's desk. On Monday, Col. Dyer helped Christian
install the various electronics to his new office. A new computer and television he could use
to play and digitize VHS and mini-DV tapes, DVDs. Unsure of how to use any of the
equipment, though, Christian had ordered the footage to be transferred for him. The
package of DVDs, sorted by cadet, had arrived from his contact in IT. Captain Justice, read
the inter-post address label, 419 Washington Hall. It reminded him of a lame superhero—a
poor man's Captain America.
Christian viewed the incident from the raw footage. The video showed Cate's
platoon as they marched toward Washington Hall on the morning of August 24. From the
front steps of Bradley, Hooke rushed toward her and marched alongside the platoon for a
moment before shouting at her to break from the formation. As the cameras tightened in on
the scene, Hooke bore down on Cate Dellatorre—face reddened with anger and tendons
bulging from his neck—then marched her to the front of Washington Hall and ordered her to
study the windows while her fellow cadets ate breakfast. The film crew had witnessed his
orders, but the video stopped shortly thereafter. They had gone inside with Hooke, it
seemed, to eat breakfast, and filmed elsewhere the rest of the day. General LeBoeuf issued
the crew a restriction order until told otherwise. Christian would need to interview them as
44
soon as possible. The incident had not yet leaked into the media, and Christian needed to
keep it that way.
He opened the package of DVDs on his desk. In the footage he hoped to see a group
of select cadets who, should the superintendent agree to allow the film crew back on post,
would continue to represent the good of the academy. Journalists, though, could not be
trusted, so Christian needed to observe the content recorded so far—to see what, exactly,
they were after. The discs were labeled with each cadet's name in permanent marker.
Christian inserted the first one into his computer. A sprawling suburban house, red brick. A
dining room—Bailey sits between his parents around a large table. Windows behind them
show the front lawn of the first shot.
MR. BENEDICT:
My father was in the Army during World War II, stationed in
Okinawa. Japan. He was married to my mother, but I wasn 't yet part of the picture.
He
didn't see any action there, but was on the ship headed toward the invasion of Japan.
Which
of course never happened. Thank Godfor the A-bomb. My cousin, Frank, went to the Naval
Academy.
So, the military culture has never been far from Bailey.
DIRETOR:
And you, Debra?
MRS. BENEDICT:
Yeah. A parent worries, of course, for the welfare of her child.
I had my reservations about all of this. My biggest fear was all the yelling that you see in
thefilms about West Point. The hazing that used to go on. You don't think about...war.
But
if it were to happen, it's best, I think, that he's there. Learning to become a great officer and
a soldier who can take care of himself. Take care of his troops.
45
MR. BENEDICT:
enough.
That's right. We're incredibly proud of him. I can't say it
What he'll do there will be invaluable to his career, whatever he decides to do
afterward. It's hard to have that perspective, you know, as a kid on the brink of young
adulthood. But I think he knows he's doing the right thing.
DIRECTOR:
BAILEY:
Bailey?
Yeah. I know that. I wouldn't be signing this now, you know, if I didn't
believe I was doing the right thing. For me. I applied to a lot of prestigious schools, and
West Point was it. And it's more than that. I want to serve my countiy. I've always had the
desire to...fulfill my duty as an American.
And the honor that comes with that is
unparalleled.
Christian paused the video. The frame froze on Cadet Benedict and his family, the
boy's head lowered since he'd begun regurgitating the last three lines. Duty, Honor,
Country. He'd probably written the same thing in the essay of his application. Not that
Bailey had lied, of course. Or, at least he didn't know he was lying. Christian himself hadn't
known what lay ahead of him when he committed to West Point. What else could you do
but act? Yet something in Bailey's response unsettled Christian. For me ... prestigious
best... the right thing ... A sense of selfishness saturated his response and reminded
Christian of his own adolescent attitudes. The public, though—the overweight and
undernourished of America—would not perceive these nuances. They would hear in
Bailey's response what West Point wanted them to hear, and they would never know the
difference.
46
...
Christian knew a quitter when he saw one. The sadness in his posture denoted the
inevitability of his departure. The shot took place days, perhaps, before he left. At that
point Bailey had already grown nostalgic for the only surroundings he'd ever known,
grinding his teeth in anxiety over the only place he would know for the next four years. Its
outline was blurry at best, and would persist that way.
The cursor on Christian's computer moved across the screen and clicked on the play
button. The video started. Cadet Benedict watched from the side of the trampoline as a peer
bounced gaily on the elastic surface. Christian stood from his desk, still watching the
screen. His hand had been nowhere near the computer's mouse. The cursor continued to
move free from Christian's control. It collapsed the video and opened a blank document.
On the screen, words began to appear as if someone were there with him, typing, but the
keys of the computer were still.
"I'm ready for you in BIdg. 720," it read. "Room 207. Can you meet now?"
"Remote access," Len explained. Len, the IT contact who had accessed Christian's
computer. "I enabled you this morning. Let me show you."
A local man, Christian assumed. They worked all over post—tailors and clerks,
postal workers and guards in the armory. Len sat forward in an aluminum chair, elbows on
his thighs, his stomach bulging impossibly into a faded polo. His wiry hair lay unevenly
over his ears and nape, a gray helmet that showed no evidence of recent wash. He hummed
pathetically as he breathed, as if he'd taken on the sounds of his office—towers of computer
terminals in rows of aluminum shelving. Christian worried that, at any moment, this man
47
might stop breathing altogether. Despite the repulsive mess of him, the stacks and the floors
were free of dust and debris. A cadet's job, maybe, but not his.
Len showed him the folder to open in order to access the local area network. Four
folders opened from there—the four regiments that contained every cadet in the corps. The
icons resembled water pipes, and as Len clicked further into the system, Christian
understood its framework. He could click on a cadet specific to any platoon in the entire
corps, pull up the cadet's computer and inspect his activity. This privilege pleased Christian
immensely. If only the Serbs would have had a LAN in Zagreb. Len clicked on the alias for
some unknown cadet. An error message appeared.
"Of course," he said, "it won't work if the computer is asleep or if it's turned off.
Gotta keep in mind, too, that they'll see you messing around with their computer if they're in
the room. Like I did with you earlier. Let's try another."
Len clicked on another random cadet's username—amber.martinez. The computer
screen flickered to black for a moment and then the simulacrum of the cadet's screen
appeared before them. A cursor dragged across an already-running program. It clicked on a
search toolbar. Letters began to form a title, a name—Dr. Dre. The results:
1. Nuthin but a G Thang
2. still D.R.E.
3. keep their heads ringin
4. forgot about Dre
5. The Watcher
6. fuck you
48
7. car bomb
The cadet clicked on several of the tracks, which began to download onto her
computer. A cadet does not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. Yet, right here, this
kid was stealing the copyright of some musician—forget the quality.
"The phones run through a similar network," Len said, obviously unconcerned with
this cadet's current thieving. "Voice-activated through Jaws. You don't even have to be in
your office for the program to pick up whatever phone you need to listen in on."
"What a little shit," said Christian.
"Who?"
He pointed to the screen. "This kid."
"Want to fuck with her?" asked Len. He reached for the mouse.
"No," said Christian. "I don't want to give anything away. Word can't get out that
we can do this. It would compromise the mission."
Len held up his hands in surrender. On the screen, the cadet continued to download
music.
"All right," said Christian. "Just once."
Len took control of the cadet's computer. He disabled the tracks set up for
download, cancelled them, and clicked on the program's search bar.
He typed: Rockwell.
Christian didn't understand the reference. Norman Rockwell?
He had never used this media-sharing program, but maybe you could download images as
well. Prints from The Saturday Evening Post, of the small-town life Christian knew as a
49
boy. Boys gathered around a Philco, rayguns in holsters around their waists as they leaned
into the latest "Buck Rogers" program.
"Rockwell," said Len. "You know. The R&B artist. Watch."
The results of Len's search:
1. Somebody's Watching Me
2. I always feel like somebody's watching me (w/ Michael Jackson)
3. Peeping Tom
50
2.
31 Aug 2001
The entire corps congregated daily for breakfast and for lunch in Washington Hall,
sat at tables draped in white linen, from fourth-class cadets at one end—responsible for
gathering boxes of cereal and miscellaneous accoutrements as per the upper class's
request—to the highest-ranking cadet at the other, the table commandant. Service girls,
black and Latina youths from Highland Falls, delivered entrees in deep aluminum tins.
Bailey's position at the table angled toward the main entrance of the mess hall.
Diffused sunlight filtered through the rows high stained glass windows, cathedral-shaped
and brilliantly colored. In the sanctuary of his childhood church, the stained glass showed
the stages of Christ's resurrection, blood welling from the nails in his hands and feet. The
windows of the mess hall illustrate America's wars. Green helicopters beat over a burning
field in Vietnam. Gray-fleshed soldiers trample their dead as they fight for position on the
beaches of Normandy. The appalled recognition of a fatal wound distorts the face of a
Lakota after a bullet pierces his chest. The same look marks the face of one of Custer's
cavalrymen as a tomahawk arcs inexorably toward his skull. The red of these windows
seemed deeper than in Bailey's church, the palette more expansive. Translucent oranges and
reds detailed an explosion of napalm. Scarlet, crimson and cardinal in broken bits of glass.
The table commandant, Cadet Captain Rory Lovell, looped his saber onto the arm of
his chair at the head of the table. Lovell served as a kind of mentor to Dean on the
51
equestrian team. When the company shuffled tables after reorgy week, Lovell ensured Dean
sat at his table. Bailey was simply lucky enough to have landed a seat at one of the more
relaxed tables at the company. Lovell demanded very little from his plebes, asking only that
they bring some trivia for the upper class's entertainment. Other commandants required
their plebes to regurgitate verbatim pieces of West Point ritual—"Scott's Fixed Opinion,"
what constitutes "Date Rape," or "The Days," a countdown to several events of vague
notoriety that ends with the year's graduation of first-class cadets. While other plebes'
knowledge of such seemingly useless knowledge remained sharp, Bailey and Dean enjoyed
quizzing the captain's table with concerns like the top batting average in 1982 (Willie
Wilson, .332) or the year Playboy first featured a playmate with shaved pubic hair (1991,
Wendy Hamilton).
"What do you have for us today, gentlemen?" asked Captain Lovell.
Cadet Sergeant Casey Sparks, a former tackle for the Army football team who had in
the last year failed two courses and was demoted to second-class status, flanked Lovell and
dwarfed him with his formidable size. It was apparent, too, that his weight could someday
result in his dismissal from not only West Point, but from the United States Army. Lovell's
narrow shoulders hunched forward to make room on the table for Sparks' forearms. He
removed his glasses and buffed them with the inside of his shirt.
"Sir," said Dean, "which horse won the Triple Crown in 1937?"
"No more horse questions," said Sparks. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his
face with his hands. "Movies, literature. Anything else."
52
"War Admiral," said Lovell. He set the glasses on the ridge at the top of his nose.
"Ridden by Charley Kurtsinger."
"Jesus Christ," said Sparks in a comically high pitch. He pounded the table with his
fist. The upperclassmen at the table laughed. "Enough with the goddamn horses. Bailey,
help me out here."
"Sir," said Bailey, "what are the names of the three Army mules?"
The table erupted with laughter. Sparks, too, could not help but to laugh. He
wagged his finger at Bailey in warning.
"Watch it," he said. "Don't think you can go around here bullshitting everybody.
That's a dangerous move, Private Benedict."
"No excuse, sir," said Bailey, laughing.
The waitresses delivered the tins of cod nuggets and mashed potatoes. The
upperclassmen dished the food onto their plates and passed the containers down toward the
plebes. As Bailey spooned a portion of the fish, he raised his head to see Sergeant Hooke
standing directly behind Dean, calmly surveying his end of the table. Bailey and Dean had
committed an intolerable sin—they had enjoyed themselves. Bailey's breath stopped in his
chest. He set the tin on the table and placed his hands in his lap. Hooke smiled broadly at
the table.
"Everything in order here, Captain Lovell?" he asked.
"Tip-top shape, Sergeant," said the captain. "Thanks for asking."
"My pleasure," he said. "In fact, this looks like such a fun-loving table that I'd like to
join you for lunch. May I?"
53
"We're all full," said Lovell. "As you can see."
"Sergeant Sparks," said Hooke. "The Regimental Commander has requested your
presence at his table. I assume he'd like a word with you about your progress this semester.
I'll be happy to keep your seat warm until your return."
Sparks turned to Lovell, but the captain shook his head slightly—there was nothing
he could do. Sparks stood from his chair, launching it behind him, and it whined and
bleated as it skated across the smooth floor. He lumbered past Hooke without pushing it
back in.
Hooke raised the chair as he walked it back to the table to sit down. He examined
Sparks' utensils and, deciding they had not yet been used, began to eat his food. The table
remained silent in Hooke's presence, though the upperclassmen joined him in eating. Bailey
stared across the table at Dean, hands still under the table. Dean hadn't received any food
yet at all, and Lovell hadn't given them the order to eat. While Hooke hadn't given the
plebes any explicit order to stop what they were doing, Bailey feared that the slightest
movement would rile the sergeant's attention. Still, they had to eat. Bailey served himself
his intended portion of the fried fish and passed the dish to Dean. A reasonable share of
potatoes remained for Bailey in the next tin Dean passed to him. He scooped out the
remainder and placed his hands underneath the table to wait for Lovell's signal.
"All fourth-class cadets may eat," said Lovell.
"Before that," said Hooke, "I have a couple of questions."
"I've already asked tested them on their daily knowledge," said Lovell. "I am the
table commandant, Sergeant Hooke, and on my authority I give them the right to eat."
54
Hooke smiled, his lips pursed as he chewed. "As much as I'm sure you'd like me to
report your lack of control of this table to the TAC," he said, "I assume you'd like it better if
instead I took control of this table today."
Lovell stared at Hooke, then sighed and lowered his gaze toward his plate. He
speared a piece of fish with his fork. As Lovell chewed, he nodded toward Hooke, defeated.
"Thank you," said Hooke. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and turned toward the
fourth-class end of the table. "Cadet Private Benedict," he said, "if you would: 'The
Soldier's Creed.'"
Aside from the "Code of Conduct," "The Soldier's Creed" had proven for Bailey the
most challenging piece of knowledge to memorize, in part because of its length, but also due
to the diction of the first-person pledge that, when said aloud, acted as his own. Only he
hadn't written those words, and to Bailey they didn't sound like something he would have
ever said. As he sat rigid in his chair, he recalled particular phrases—"creditable to the
military service ... proud of my organization ... carry out orders and instructions ...
principles of freedom ... never do anything for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which
will disgrace my uniform"—but knew as soon as Hooke asked that he couldn't recall it in its
entirety. Hooke would forbid them from eating, and it was Bailey's fault.
"Cadet Private Dean," said Sergeant Hooke. "Care to save the table?"
"Yes, Sergeant," said Dean. Dean angled his body to address Hooke, and delivered
the pledge to him. Bailey stared at him across the table. "I am an American soldier," said
Dean. "I am a member of the United States Army—a protector of the greatest nation on
55
earth. Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the
military service and the nation it is sworn to guard."
Dean spoke mechanically, but with a military bearing Bailey felt Hooke would
certainly admire. He enunciated each syllable in a confident monotone with only a brief
pause between each sentence. Though they had never been asked to recite this piece of
knowledge at Lovell's table, Dean had it down cold. A sharp pang of disgust turned Bailey's
stomach as he finished. He clenched his teeth as he stared at Dean, and he felt the welling in
his throat and his eyes that always accompanied his bouts of rage. In schoolyard fistfights
Bailey would often wail as he swung at the bodies of his friends. His senior year of football
he'd suffered three concussions, and his teammates later recalled how he'd retreated to the
grassy hill at the side of the stadium and, head in his hands, cried. He wanted to punch Dean
now, his hands cupped dutifully under the table. He wanted to cry and spit and jam his fists
into Dean's cheeks.
"Cadet Benedict," said Sergeant Hooke, "you will report to my room at 1800 hours.
Bring 'The Soldier's Creed,' and give me a conversant report on Hooke's Law. Lastly, quote
me a scripture of your own choosing. Make it good. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey.
"All fourth-class cadets may eat," said Hooke.
Bailey picked up the fork from his plate and studied his food. The potatoes had
cooled and felt pliant in his mouth, like lump of wet paper.
All first-class cadets are excused, boomed the loudspeakers.
He could feel Dean staring at him, but Bailey kept his eyes down.
56
"Good day, Captain Lovell," said Hooke as the table commandant gathered his saber
from his chair. "I look forward to joining you all again tomorrow. Cadet Sparks will be
joining the regiment's table for the foreseeable future."
Lovell nodded and walked away.
All second-class cadets are excused.
"Have a fine Army day, plebes," said Hooke. He pushed in his chair. "Make the
most of it."
THE SOLDIER'S CREED: " . . . I am proud of my country and its flag. I will try to
make the people of its nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American soldier."
HOOKE'S LAW: "Hooke's Law: Hooke's law of elasticity is an approximation that
states the amount by which a material body is deformed—the strain—is linearly related to
the force causing the deformation—the stress. Materials for which Hooke's law is a useful
approximation are known as linear-elastic or Hookean materials."
"Cadet Benedict," said Hooke, "are you a Hookean material?"
"Yes, sergeant."
PSALM 57, VERSE 4: "I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Break out the
teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lions."
57
2.
3 Sept 2001
Portia sat in the passenger seat in Captain Zaius's car, an unmarked Mercury, on their
way to visit Cate at the Army hospital. He had called her the day before with instructions to
meet him in the officer's parking lot by Lee Barracks, to wear civilian clothes. He would be
wearing battle dress uniform—standard Woodland pattern—and they would travel together
to visit her sister. Zaius waited for Portia by his car, the only man in the parking lot, and
waved to her as she approached, an open hand telling her not to salute him. Portia wore her
hair in an unflattering bun wrapped tightly at the top of her nape, and tucked a plain gray tshirt into a pair of worn jeans. Sunken down into the seat next to him now, she felt more
like his puerile daughter than a fellow West Pointer. Zaius projected a severity in his
manner that his slender nose, soft blue eyes betrayed. He looked nothing like her own
father, a retired warrant officer in the transportation corps who now co-managed a repair
shop in Camden. But, then again, neither did she. Portia resembled her mother the most,
light hair and olive skin. Green eyes. New friends were always amazed to learn that she
and Cate were sisters—only a year separated them, and Cate shared more in common with
their round-faced father who, because of his grease-streaked overalls and thick black
mustache, earned the affectionate nickname "Mario," which led many of her friends to
believe he worked as a plumber. Cate, the tomboy of the two, tall and slender with their
father's dark hair, became the subject of relentless taunts at school. "Luigi," they would
58
refer to her, and in her ambiguous fear she would shave her body of all its natural hair—her
upper lip, her arms.
They were best friends, and when Portia told Cate of her decision to attend West
Point and play soccer, she saw in her younger sister's eyes her own exhilaration and anxiety.
Only one year separated them, so when Cate fixed her aim on the academy as well, both
girls knew they would never be long without one another. Three more years together, one
more apart. Then, who knew, they could spend their careers together in the military, in the
transportation corps where they could find husbands, have children, retire while some
glimmer of their youth still remained. In the Army and in retirement they could do what
would have never been possible otherwise, to travel, to see the world. Nothing could keep
them apart.
Only now Cate lay in a hospital bed, injured somehow, somewhere, and would likely
have to discharge from the Army forever. The company tactical officer had given Portia the
news. Her sister Cate had been injured that day and was transferred to the Army hospital in
Washington, D.C. They didn't know the extent of her injury or injuries, but they did not
appear to be life-threatening. The details? Unclear. She was in stable condition, and they
would continue to receive updates from Walter Reed on a regular basis. Portia had cried.
The TAC said he understood. He'd received word of his own mother's death while deployed
in Operation Desert Storm. Sometimes the only thing you can do is call and give your
condolences. The Army goes beyond life and death. You're after something bigger. There's
real work to do, and while people in the civilian world fail to always understand that, you
59
can only express your sympathy and move on. Of all people, Cate Dellatorre would surely
understand.
But he didn't know Cate Dellatorre. Portia imagined her young sister terrified and
alone. The vagueness of reports even from her parents aggravated her worry. They're still
running tests, they wrote in e-mails, we don't yet know the extent of her injuries. Don't
worry yourself over it. Concentrate on your studies. She's resting, doing fine, a real trooper.
Soldiering on. Cate's a warrior. Fighting the good fight.
Though Portia could protect her sister from taunts in high school, she could do little
as a cadet corporal at West Point. Most of the school outranked her and, anyway, Cate
needed to grow as a cadet in her own way. Yet Portia could not escape the guilt that she
had somehow allowed this, had failed in defending her own sister. Corrective training?
From the first day at West Point you were the subject of it, subjected to it, in constant fear of
it, attempting to escape it. You walked down mean hallways, you yourself who is not mean.
Who is untarnished. Who is afraid. And men and women long without sex waited behind
their doors like horny dogs, ready to pounce on young flesh. It happened at Annapolis and
at the Air Force Academy. Of course it could happen at West Point. They watched Portia in
the shower, these bulldykes, rubbing soap between their legs as she rinsed the shampoo from
her hair.
Front-office fuck. Butch. Troll. Trou.
Commandant's cunt. Rosie. Eunuch.
The Superintendant's slut. The
Cocktease.
Come dodger. Corps whore. Hop
whore. Glory whore. Bouncing Betty. Blueball Betty. Strap-on Sally. Crab chaser.
skank. Slug. Bitch. Snitch. Gray lay. Ikette.
Succubus.
60
Squid
This, her second year, they called her a yuk. Next year, a cow.
What had they done to Cate?
A dense row of deciduous trees flanked both sides of the highway, descended on the
east side toward the Atlantic, and as Portia watched them pass she began to cry. Silently at
first, holding her breath, red in the face, but then came the sniffling as she had to breathe
again. She faced the window and shut her eyes. In these street clothes, crying, she felt like
the teenage girl Zaius had made her. She could feel his stare, this hard captain unsure how
to pacify a hysterical woman. As far as Portia knew, they hadn't updated Army Manual of
Standard Operating Procedures to include the proper steps in consoling a weeping 20-yearold.
"Hey," he said, and maybe because of her civilian clothes he had forgotten she was a
cadet, because he placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "We'll be there soon.
You'll see. Cate's not in any trouble, okay?"
Portia nodded her head, stupidly. Of course Cate wasn't in trouble. The thought that
Cate had done something wrong hadn't even entered her mind. She'd slipped, maybe, in her
duties. Mistaken a cadet officer for a sergeant. ("Are you trying to demote me, Cadet
Private Dellatorre?") Mistaken a cadet sergeant for an officer. ("Are you trying to promote
me, Cadet Private Dellatorre?) Failed to iron her trousers. ("Did your electricity go out last
night, Dellatorre?") Or to shine her shoes. ("Do you have carpal tunnel syndrome, Cadet
Dellatorre?") There were a thousand things you could do wrong in one day, but none of
them deserved this.
"What happened to Cate?" she asked, her throat stiff.
61
"What?" he asked.
"What happened to my sister? What did they do to her?"
"You mean you don't know?"
She shook her head and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
"They should have told you," said Zaius. "Christ. I'm sorry."
He explained Cate's injury. How some upperclassmen had stood her in front of the
windows at Washington Hall, had forgotten about her. Zaius said he was sorry. Someone
had really dropped the ball on this one. They should have told her.
"Do they know who did it?" asked Portia.
Zaius pulled into the parking lot for the hospital.
"Yes," he said. "They do. The appropriate steps have been taken to reprimand the
cadet, and that person is regretful of the incident. The punishment is currently in place."
He parked the car and shut off the engine.
"It's not going to be easy for your sister," he said. "Looking forward. There won't be
a future for her in the United States Army. She'll be able to function and have a normal
civilian life. The Army will take care of her. These are the facts."
Portia stared at the dashboard. A veneer of dust had settled across the maroon vinyl.
A bank of hot air seemed to drop from the roof. She didn't know what to say. If she knew
where they were keeping her sister she would flee the car, run to her. Zaius just stared at her
as if her interrogator. Except she knew nothing. Torture her all he wanted, she could only
offer him what he wanted to hear. Lies. Fabrications. Sure, everything was going to be Aokay.
62
"The Army will provide," he said. "A better life than she could have had otherwise.
But only if Cate understands that this was an accident. The cadet in charge did not have any
malicious intent. The cadet did not mean her any harm."
"Was it an accident?" asked Portia.
"Yes," he said. "You may need to reinforce that. Do you understand?"
Without thinking, as if out of some habit she just realized she'd had for some time,
Portia found herself nodding her head. "Yes, sir," she said.
Zaius grasped the lever of the door handle and opened it slightly. "Cate's head will
be partially bandaged. She won't be able to see you. There may be some interference from
the medication. You'll need to show the bravery we know you have when you speak to her.
The doctors here are doing their best to reverse the damage, but at this early stage there are
no guarantees."
A platoon of soldiers ran in formation on the grassy field adjacent to the hospital. As
Portia crossed the street she picked out their cadence:
Doctor, Doctor can you see,
What the Army did to me?
Took me from my mom and dad—
Got me feeling really sad.
Shipped me off to the Gulf war zone—
Healing cuts and broken bones.
Movin-on—
Ev'ry-day—
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Doin-good—
In-the-sun—
Hard Corps— Hard Corps— Hard Corps—
She felt like a child kept out of school, too sick to go to class but wanting very much
to return to familiar surroundings. On sick days she could hear her classmates' laughter on
the playground during recess and she longed to join them as she struggled to sit upright at
the kitchen table. She could tough it out, make it through the day. And Cate would bring
her homework after school, deliver gossip and well-wishes from their friends.
Captain Zaius signed them in at the nurse's station, handed the head nurse a form
which she glanced at and returned to him. She'd been expecting them.
The patient had
showed improvement today. Follow the adjacent hallway down to room 217. She would be
in shortly to check up on Ms. Dellatorre. Portia followed Zaius to the room, past open doors
with patients lying prone in beds, a cast leg suspended in the air, a body turned on its side.
Cate's door stood open.
The captain knocked on the door as he entered. Cate sat upright on the hospital bed,
her head craned back on the crest of an elevated pillow. Bright light flooded the room from
the large plate-glass windows that opened to a grassy area that resembled a park—benches,
trellised archway, gazebo, gravel track—and then the parking lot beyond. Someone had
drawn the curtains for Cate, but her head was wrapped in gauze on top of two cotton pads
that covered her eyes. She couldn't see any of this. The local morning news played on the
elevated television across from her.
"Hello?" she said.
64
"Hello, Ms. Dellatorre," he said.
"Captain Ballard?" asked Cate.
"I'm Captain Zaius. Deputy of Morale and Warfare..." He paused. "Welfare. At
the United States Military Academy. I have a special visitor with me today. 1 have your
sister here—Portia."
Cate turned her head toward the door where Portia stood, as if she could see her.
"Portia?" she said. She held out her hands.
Portia joined her sister on the bed, wrapped her arms around her. She took her
sister's head in her hands and inspected the bandages. They appeared clean—no signs of
seepage or blood or fluids of any kind. A quiet wound.
"How are you?" asked Portia. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," said Cate. "The people here are very nice. The doctors are all very
handsome."
Portia laughed.
"Or I assume so, anyway. You know how weak I am for a man in uniform."
Portia glanced at Zaius. He had found a chair in the corner of the room and was in
the process of opening his briefcase.
"They think I'll get most of it back," Cate was saying. "The tests have come back
mostly positive. I can see forms. Movement. When they run tests, my eyes are sensitive to
the light. But it's mostly blurry." She sighed. "It will come back."
"If the blind prophet says it's true," said Portia, "it must be."
65
Cate forced a smile that, despite her attempt, ended up a frown. Her arms felt cold to
the touch.
"I'm sorry," said Portia.
"It's okay."
Their parents had visited her for several days, but had to return home Sunday for the
work week. Their mother would come back on Friday, their father on Saturday. Cate told
her of impending surgeries, of cataracts, and her hope that she might make it back to West
Point next year. One year missed wasn't the end of the world. She could make up the time.
Zaius had removed a legal pad from his briefcase and was taking notes. He stopped
when Portia looked at him.
"Of course," she told Cate. "We'll get all that figured out. Are you comfortable
now? Is everything all right?"
"I'm okay," said Cate.
She squeezed Portia's hands, also cold. Even with the bandages covering her face,
Portia could tell Cate was crying.
"Captain Zaius," she said. "Will you excuse us? My sister needs to use the
restroom."
"I'll call for the attendant," said the captain. He stood from his chair.
"Sir," said Cate. "I'd like my sister to help me. Could you excuse us, please?"
Zaius studied Portia's face. She nodded to him. She would take care of her. Zaius
left them alone in the room and closed the door behind him.
Portia helped Cate stand and led her into the adjoining restroom.
66
"This officer," said Cate. "He's been here before."
"Captain Zaius?" said Portia.
"Yes, but he gave a different name. Ballard. I recognize his voice. He interviewed
me last week, about what happened and if the National Geographic people had tried to
contact me."
"What happened? What did they do to you?"
Cate told her about the upperclassman, a cow, she was pretty sure, a second-class
cadet. How he stood her in front of the stained glass windows before breakfast and never
returned. How she waited there, watching the glass, too scared to look away. She was
convinced he watched her the entire time, waiting for her to close her eyes or to glance
away. How she could feel her sight leave her, begin to blur and distance. How stupid she
felt when another cadet helped her up from the ground. Only she hadn't remembered sitting
down. She didn't know who had done this to her, but it happened on their way to breakfast.
He'd dragged her out of formation. A big guy, muscular.
"Regimental staff?" asked Portia.
"Maybe," said Cate. "But don't do anything. Nothing good can come out of this. It
doesn't feel right." She flushed the toilet.
"They don't want you to say anything about this," said Portia. "To National
Geographic, to the news. You may not make it back to West Point, or be able to serve in the
Army anymore. But there could be a settlement of some kind. Captain Zaius said they
would take care of you."
"That's good," said Cate. She shook her head. "I don't want to go back."
67
"You don't have to."
"I said those things before, about coming back next year... I don't want anyone to
think I'm abandoning—"
Cate collapsed into her sister then, her bandaged head on Portia's shoulder.
"You're not," said Portia. "No one thinks that. No one blames you. This wasn't your
fault."
The captain knocked on the exterior door. Portia helped Cate back into the bed and
called for Zaius to enter. He sat back in his chair and packed his belongings back into the
briefcase. Portia sat next to her sister on the bed and held her hand as they listened to a few
minutes of the local news. A body was discovered at Prospect and M streets early that
morning. Georgetown authorities were interviewing neighbors in the surrounding area for
leads. Temperatures expected to rise early next week. An Indian summer in the works.
"We should get going," said Captain Zaius. "Can't keep you too long from your
studies."
In the car, Portia turned toward the window and shut her eyes. In Cadet Field
Training that summer, she had participated in a night land navigation exercise. Dark-blue
clouds glowed underneath the moon, and they only had her partner's dim flashlight to see the
elevation map, to guide them down cliffs and up hills in the darkness. When she stopped to
rest, her partner wandered away, left her to search the dense woods for help, blind, hands
searching in front of her to keep the stray branches from her face. In the distance, other
teams shuffling through the wild grass, and they sounded like the enemy stalking her. She
had failed her own side, her gender, had fouled it all up, given them proof of the
68
incompetency of the female officer. Stopped to piss in the woods and got herself lost. What
are you going to do in battle? they would say. Ivan is far less sensitive than Sam. Ivan will
rape. Ivan will plunder. Ivan will kill. In the wet morning Portia ended up on Highway 293
by Listening Hill and flagged down a car for a ride back to Buckner. She had failed.
"We're not going to say anything to anyone," Portia told Captain Zaius. "So long as
Cate's taken care of. We won't take this to court."
"Of course," said the captain. "A wise decision. In that case, Ms. Dellatorre's injury
will be proven to have been caused by a preexisting medical condition. No foul play. No
harm done to your sister, no harm done to West Point. Do you understand? Consider it a
binding verbal contract."
"I understand."
"Any contact with National Geographic or any other media outlet will result in a
charge of conduct unbecoming an officer and your parents and your sister will get stuck with
a bill for all training, educational and medical expenses incurred during your service." Zaius
looked her over, assessing the impact of these statements. "Dishonorable discharges, too. I
doubt that's any kind of legacy your family would want to leave behind. Your dad a military
man, yes?"
Portia nodded.
Zaius raised the volume on the radio. End of discussion. A long road ahead of them
until New York, but with her eyes closed Portia could feel the steady hum of the pavement
passing underneath and, in the shifting dark behind her eyelids, she felt closer to Cate
despite the miles mounting between them. Behind her eyelids, a cosmic darkness only
69
amplified by the sharp wrench of her chest in knowing that everything had changed. Shapes
shifted. Blood-dark forms merged and dissolved. Nothing was fixed. Everything was
fixed.
70
7.
4 Sept 2001
Bailey shivered as he awoke, his body taut and cold, the whole of the room still
without form. His jaw ached, his bones, and as he rolled to his side he felt the source of his
chill—a broad area of his sheets and his bed saturated with urine. Bailey had pissed the bed.
An acrid stench filled the air and, with it, the vague impression of childhood, the gentle
caress of his mother's hand across his hair as he clutched her leg through a cotton
nightgown. And high school nights drunk at a house party, jarred awake, entombed in a wet
sleeping bag. Sweat was always the first thought—a high fever, night chills. But, then, the
smell. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, set his feet on top of the cool
tile. Underneath, the excess urine gathered in a neat pool, having easily seeped through the
shallow stuffing of the mattress. Its area reached toward the heels of his boots and shoes.
Bailey lifted one of them to reveal a hidden puddle. Dean's desk clock read 0545. Other
rooms would begin to stir, but Dean rarely awoke before 0600. He slept with his back
turned to Bailey's bunk, so far undisturbed. It occurred to Bailey again: He hadn't spoken to
his mother since July.
Only once he stood from the bunk did Bailey realize the gravity of the situation.
Should anyone learn of this mistake, it would follow him for the rest of his time not only
with the company, but perhaps with the entire corps. As he slept—not uncomfortably—in
his own bed, he'd pissed himself. Not in the trenches. Not in a foxhole. Not in some
71
humid, fetid jungle. What would he do in time of war? In Vietnam they fragged the
incompetent officers. Tossed grenades into their tents while they slept. Shot them in the
back.
The damp underwear sent shivers over his body as they dragged across his legs. He
removed the shirt, placed all the soiled clothes in the hamper at the right of the sink. With a
drab olive towel he dried himself, used it to soak the seepage on the floor, stripped the bed,
and piled all the contents into his laundry bag. The crumpled sheets flared from its top, and
as Bailey tried to cinch it shut the drawstrings threatened to tear the worn cloth of the
opening. A bloated, fucked, ate-up mess. It went out the next day, but until then would sit
inside its box collecting stink and suspicion. Anyone who wandered in would know, and
there was nowhere else to place it. The cleaners, wherever they were, whoever they were,
they would reach into this bag and discover his shame. Poor bastard. They would see his
name on the laundry card. They, too, would judge.
Bailey cracked the window in hope that some air might help dry the mattress. It
opened from the top, maybe six inches, enough to reach your hand through and feel the
morning wind across your hand. There were three others, none of which opened far enough
to encourage regular thoughts of a freefall from the fourth floor. Just that one wall with
windows, too, painted a canary yellow to ease the stress of academy life. To keep them
from killing themselves.
"What are you doing?"
Bailey's elbow jammed against the open window as he jerked it back inside. Dean
was sitting up in bed, his torso curled over his knees, sheets still covering his lower body.
72
He looked even smaller in that position, scrawny and underdeveloped. A featherweight
boxer first awake from a coma, one side of his face puffy and striated from such heavy
sleep.
"Nothing," said Bailey, covering himself with his hands. "Go back to bed."
"You pissed yourself," said Dean.
Bailey shuffled across the room to the wardrobe and yanked out his robe, tied it
firmly at the waist. He found his flip-flops in the arc of shoes beside his bed. Dean watched
him.
"What are you gonna do for a blanket?" he asked.
"I don't know. Use my green girl, I guess."
"That's dangerous."
"I know," said Bailey.
The first day of basic training they'd marched to buildings all over post, were issued
all uniforms, equipment, and bedding. Rumors circulated quickly about the large green
comforters—green girls—the only woman they'd be sleeping with on a regular basis the next
four years. Even an inanimate blanket was unfaithful, it seemed. The mission of many
upperclassmen: To find a plebe who left his green girl unattended, and to ejaculate on it.
Desecrations in assembly were especially prized, a figurative gangbang. All the other male
plebes Bailey knew kept their green girls padlocked inside their trunks. In order to pass
daily inspections, though, Bailey would have to cover his bed with something. He couldn't
afford more demerits.
73
Bailey grabbed a towel from his rack, and before he crossed the hall to the showers,
turned back to Dean who had curled back into his sheets.
"This is between you and me," he said.
"Yeah," said Dean. "Don't worry. I'm not gonna say anything."
The Bradley Barracks baths occupied the interior of each floor, each with two
flanking locker rooms to each gender-specific shower. Plebes and yuks to one side, for the
most part, cows and firsties on the other. Small square tiles covered the brightly lit floors
and walls of the room, a cavern with showerheads spread out evenly overhead. Though
unwise to linger inside, Standard Operating Procedures limited the exercise of upper-class
rule within the shower—aside from the academic halls, the only safe haven for plebes. That
hadn't stopped them, though, during Cadet Basic Training. After each morning's run, entire
platoons of new cadets fought for position in the showers, huddled together and covering
their crotches with their hands as the cadre screamed at those fortunate enough to find a
showerhead to hurry the fuck up we don't have all day. You don't have hair anymore what's
taking you so long, Sally? Bailey struggled to imagine the hazing that could have occurred
there in the days of the old Corps. Scalding water. Soap beatings. Supposedly they had it
easy now. The running gag of their class during Cadet Basic Training: Why walk when you
can drive? (Class
of2005.)
Steam spilled into the side room from the showers along with the boisterous laughter
allowed only to the upper class. Bailey showered at night, for the most part, given the
gamut of duties required of him each morning, but he was still surprised at the number of
cadets up so early. As he disrobed, the cold air pulled his wrinkled skin toward his flesh and
74
carried from the shower room the unmistakable voice of Cadet Sergeant Hooke. His
raucous laughter boomed inside. If only Bailey's body wasn't soaked with urine, he would
have gone back to his room, dressed, and delayed an inevitable encounter with Hooke until
breakfast. But he couldn't wait; he had other things to do that morning. Scrub the sinks
after the upperclassmen had shaved. Wipe the spittle from the mirrors after they brushed
their teeth. Wipe the urine from the toilet seats after they went to the bathroom. Even after
a shower he could never get clean, but he couldn't go to breakfast smelling this way. Bailey
grabbed his soap and shampoo and went inside.
The room had gone quiet by the time Bailey entered, though he could only find a
place in the corner. He kept his eyes forward, unsure of Hooke's place in the room. In his
peripheral vision he could see that most of the showers were taken. The pipes shot a stream
of cold water from the head first, but turned hot immediately. The stench poured off
Bailey's body in waves. He rubbed the soap vigorously around his crotch and his legs in
attempt to cover the smell. The shower room itself smelled of chemicals and the stink of
their collective bodies that festered in the drain at the center of the room, which Bailey
hoped would mask his own.
"Cadet Private Benedict," said Hooke. "How many showers do you take in one
day?"
Bailey wiped the water from his eyes. Hooke stood in the opposite corner, facing the
center of the room.
"Two, Sergeant Major," said Bailey.
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"You don't have to address me in here," said Hooke. "Though I appreciate your
respect for authority, I don't want to feel too dominant in the shower with you. I might just
end up raping you."
"Leave him alone," said a cadet behind Bailey. Cadet Sergeant Michaels, one of the
company's platoon leaders.
"He knows I'm messing with him. And mind your own fucking business, by the
way. You could learn something from good ol' Bailey here," said Hooke. He threw his bar
of soap into the center of the room. It landed at the edge of the drain. "Respect for
authority."
Michaels stepped over to the drain, squatted down to pick it up, and tossed it back to
Hooke without saying anything.
"Who's got the bigger dick, Sergeant Michaels?" said Hooke.
"You do."
"You do, what?"
"You do, Big Dick Daddy."
Bailey worked a daub of shampoo into his scalp. The exchange between Michaels
and Hooke suggested a deeper and more sinister relationship than he cared to believe existed
between any two people at the academy. They had been in the same company for only two
years. It sickened him he may have already enacted, unwittingly, some similar relationship.
That in another year someone might use something against him to gain leverage, to gain
advantage. To threaten him with humiliation. With dishonor. And that just that morning he
had given that power to Dean.
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"Benedict," said Hooke. "How many gallons in the Lusk Reservoir?"
Another regurgitation: "78 million gallons when the water is flowing over the
spillway, Sergeant Major."
"Don't address me in here," said Hooke.
"Yes, Sergeant Major."
Bailey thought he heard someone laugh. Michaels's showerhead squealed as he shut
it off, and he exited now toward the plebe/yuk locker room—a diminished role, indeed.
Sparks passed him on his way in, silently, hair matted, lips still white-capped from sleep, the
bulk of his body slack and tired. He stood next to a shower while the water warmed, testing
it with the back of his hand every few seconds.
"You think there's enough water in the Lusk to support two showers per day, Cadet
Private Benedict?" said Hooke.
Bailey didn't know whether or not West Point drew water from the Lusk Reservoir at
all and, furthermore, did not care. This, though, was surely beside the point. The question
didn't matter, nor did Bailey's response.
"No, Sergeant Major," said Bailey. "I do not."
"Rhetorical question, Benedict," said Hooke. "You don't have to answer. But I get
it—you want to smell nice for the females. Want to look good for that trou. Set yourself up
with some of that cadet meat."
Bailey lifted his feet to rinse the soap from his shower shoes.
"Which one are you after?" asked Hooke. "Wehmeyer? Carlson? Sanders? Or
maybe some upper-class trou. Dellatorre?"
77
"Will you shut the fuck up?" said Sparks. "Shut up. Shut. The fuck. Up."
He faced Hooke across the drain. They stared at one another, Hooke smiling.
"Good morning, Sergeant Sparks," said Hooke. "A good night's sleep last night?
Must have hit the sack hard after all those walking hours. By my calculations you'll
probably finish those about this time next year. I'd hate to add any to that list."
"Fuck you," said Sparks. "Why are you even in here?"
"The showers in the short barracks are out," said Hooke. "What, Sergeant Sparks?
You don't want me here?"
Bailey crossed between them to exit the shower.
"Of course, Cadet Benedict," said Hooke, "you have cadets like Sergeant Sparks here
who have gone soft enough to resemble a female adequately."
"Yes, Sergeant Major," said Bailey. "I understand your longing."
The shower room erupted with laughter. Bailey blushed.
"Report to my room at 1800 hours, Private Benedict," yelled Hooke. "Your ass is
smoked tonight."
Bailey had been smoked before. It was inevitable; this was the plight of the plebe.
Since his arrival, Bailey had been smoked after switching hands between pulling the pin
from a grenade and tossing it over a concrete wall, after spilling his urine sample onto an
upperclassman's shoes, and while walking at a casual pace during laundry delivery. Though
he had never participated, he had marched past a room during a smokehouse session in the
third regiment—the Third Reich. A relentless session of pushups and sit-ups in a pitchblack room punctuated by a strobe light, death metal blaring from speakers, an onslaught of
78
screaming upperclassmen. As far as he knew, the academy prohibited these activities, but
the Third Reich went about their business as usual. No one complained.
The lights were on in the barracks room, and Dean had already dressed. He sat on
his trunk while he touched up the shine on his shoes.
"I sprayed some cleaner on your shoes," he said. "To help with the smell."
"All right," said Bailey. "Thanks."
Bailey shaved at the sink and when he finished wiped away the excess hair. He
sprayed it with Windex, the bowl and the faucet and mirrors, then wiped them down with a
paper towel. Partly dressed, he unlocked his trunk and removed the green girl. The mattress
stain appeared wider after Dean's attempt at concealing the smell, but Bailey couldn't leave
his bed unmade during breakfast. Doors were to be left open for inspection by the Cadet on
Duty. The green girl stretched over the bed and pillows gave the impression of a made
bunk, but without it turned down over the sheets the COD would probably still issue some
form of punishment, especially if Dean's bed looked different. Failure to comply with SOP.
Bailey sighed.
"Dress me off?" asked Dean.
He turned around and rolled down the waist of his trousers. Bailey grasped the sides
of Dean's shirt so it lay flat against his back and stomach, then folded the two sections back
and pinned them with his thumbs while Dean flipped up the waist again. He tightened his
belt and buffed the bronze buckle with a strip of cloth. The placket front of his shirt aligned
perfectly with the edge of the buckle and the fly of his trousers. Bailey still needed to get
dressed.
79
"Thanks," said Dean. "You need it?"
T i l be all right."
Dean opened the door and stood next to it in the hallway. The digital clock across
from him showed just over ten minutes until breakfast. French toast sticks with maple
syrup. Potato coins. Choice offruit juice or water. Bailey still needed to wipe down the
sinks and mirrors in the locker room. He still needed to dress. He tied his shoes and tucked
in his shirt. Dean yelled from the hallway, and down the corridor echoed other voices
yelling the same alarm:
"ATTENTION ALL CADETS. THERE ARE. TEN MINUTES REMAINING
UNTIL BREAKFAST FORMATION. THE UNIFORM IS CADET GRAY WITH
JACKET. THEN MINUTES REMAINING."
Always counting down, but nowhere, it seemed, to go.
Hurry up. Wait.
Hooke hadn't shown up at breakfast, so Bailey and Dean stuffed themselves on the
scraps from the upper class, which proved substantial considering Sparks' as-yet-indefmite
absence. Afterward, Bailey marched happily alongside his platoon leader, Sergeant
Ruckman, who accompanied Dean's TL, Corporal Dellatorre, toward the barracks. He
addressed them with the company's greeting—Go Dawgs, sergeant; Go Dawgs,
corporal—
and asked Ruckman for advice on the day's Psychology exam. Because Sergeant Ruchman
performed Bailey's quarterly progress reports, Bailey approached him at least once a week
with questions and updates about his courses.
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"I nearly failed Psychology," said Ruckman. "You don't want my advice."
"Your Dean Sullivan's roommate, right?" said Dellatorre.
"Yes, Corporal," said Bailey.
"You don't have to call me that," she said. She smirked as she looked him over.
"Not now, anyway. A National Geographic guy, too, right?"
Bailey nodded. Of course—he'd met her sister Cate in a meeting with the rest of the
subjects and had often seen the crew following her on Central Area. Corporal Dellatorre
carried herself with the confidence that only an upperclassman could, and allowed her a
certain charm absent in her sister. Despite the supposed disgust in dating a female cadet,
Bailey felt overcome with nervousness as he walked near her. His tongue felt thick in his
mouth.
"On the first Psych exam you should know the difference between positive and
negative reinforcement," she said. "Positive reinforcement is when you give something to
encourage a behavior—could be a reward or a punishment. Negative reinforcement is when
you take something away."
"Right," said Bailey. "When the Command Sergeant Major doesn't allow me to eat
breakfast because I don't know Worth's Battalion Orders, that's negative reinforcement."
"Yes," said Dellatorre.
"But when he makes me eat the bread that soaks up all the bacon fat and grease, that
would be positive reinforcement."
"Hooke's an asshole," said Ruckman. He laughed.
"Hooke?" said Dellatorre. "He makes you do that?"
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"Well," said Bailey. "The first one. He doesn't make us eat anything. He wouldn't
want to risk satisfying our hunger, even with bacon bread. But that's usually all that's left at
the table by the time we get to eat."
"But you're at Lovell's table," said Dellatorre. "He seems okay."
"Not when Hooke's horned in there," said Bailey. He felt Corporal Dellatorre drift
behind him as they approached the door. "I haven't seen your sister in a while," he said,
attempting to bring her back into the conversation. "How is she?"
Sergeant Ruckman opened the door to the barracks. Bailey stopped to allow
Corporal Dellatorre entrance first, but she had stopped at the bottom of the stairs. She stared
across Central Area as the last cadets crossed it from the mess hall, plebes hurrying back to
their rooms to prepare for the day's slate of duties.
"Good luck on your test," she said. "You'll do fine."
She walked away then, toward the west end of the barracks. Ruckman held the door
open. Bailey watched Dellatorre march away, but if he stood there any longer even the
apathetic Ruckman would feel obliged to chastise him.
"You always this good with girls?" he asked as they started up the first flight of
stairs.
"What do you mean, corporal?" asked Bailey. "What did 1 do?"
"Her sister. Cate. Somebody blinded her, you fuck nut. She's out."
Bailey followed him to their company's floor, slightly out of breath. Blinded.
hadn't anyone told him?
"I'm sorry," said Ruckman. "I shouldn't have called you a fuck nut."
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Why
Bailey nodded. "Go Dawgs, corporal," he said.
"Go Dawgs indeed," said Ruckman. He smacked Bailey on the seat of his pants as
he turned to leave. The pop echoed down the hall. He laughed. Bailey had to keep
walking.
He threw open the door to the barracks room. Dean was asleep there, fully dressed,
on his bed. This had become a routine for his roommate, the thirty-minute power nap before
class. Bailey, on the other hand, always had to cram for the first day's class in order to
participate at all. A slip of paper lay at the foot of his bed. Bailey picked it up. Three hours
of walking tour on the concrete plain, Central Area. Rack not SOP, it read. Three hours he
could use to study. Not that it would help.
Col. Sylvanus Thayer was making Bailey's life hell. Long dead, Thayer—the
unofficial "Father of the Academy"—had over 100 years ago instituted a method that
required cadets to teach themselves material the day before class, which, in Bailey's opinion,
relegated the position of his instructors to little more than police. Guards. Interrogators.
His literature instructor, Capt. Kubelik, performed regular inspections of the plebes'
paperback copies of The Odyssey—examined
the spines for cracks to ensure close reading,
the margins for insightful notes, the text for the underlining of key passages. Bailey had,
however, always protected his books, had treated them as personal property. If we buy you
something, his mother would say, you need to take care of it. He never cracked a spine or
dog-eared a page or marked anything in the margins. So, when Bailey arrived for the first
class period with no evidence he had read anything—though he had, in fact, read past the
assigned pages—the captain kicked him out of class and marked him as absent, which
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resulted in demerits, which resulted in three hours of marching with his rifle and bayonet on
the concrete plain of Central Area. Which provided him even less time to read.
On his bunk after lights out, while Dean slept peacefully across the room, Bailey
would thumb through his copy and scribble generalities in the margins:
Masterful use of hyperbole. Fores hado win g. Interesting translation here.
Good.
And when the HQ duty officer burst into their room to check if he and Dean were
asleep, Bailey would drop the book on his chest and close his eyes.
The end of basic training had, at first, suggested a shift into a more relaxed role, the
end of ritualistic nonsense. Though he shouldn't have been surprised, the beginning of the
academic year only brought about further disquiet for the scores of unfortunate plebes. The
powers deliberately heaped on classes, activities, duties, so that no one could ever finish
anything. General Chemistry I. Delivery of Laundry. Intramural football. Survival
Swimming. Drill. Discrete Dynamical Systems. History of the World. General
Psychology. Scrub the sinks. Clean the mirrors. Announce the countdown to breakfast, to
lunch formations. Memorize the meals, the days, the honor code. What is Excalibur?
It is the two-handed sword of King Arthur and is depicted over the door of the Cadet
Chapel. Go Black Knights. Go Army. Beat... whomever. Hoo-ah.
Jacks of all trivia. Masters of drivel.
And if Dean was feeling any of this stress, he showed no hint of it. Given his
roommate's reticence and wiry frame, Bailey assumed Dean's acceptance into the academy
was either through some political connection—Long Island, in Bailey's mind, suggested an
affluent society replete with congress persons, titans of various industries, alcoholic
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concoctions—or because of his incomparable intellect. Perhaps both. But, if he was so
smart, why West Point? Why not Harvard or Princeton or Columbia? Supposedly West
Point was much harder to get into, but the Ivy Leagues had rejected Bailey's applications.
And, anyway, it's not like thousands of high school graduates battled to go into the military,
to get shipped off to war. West Point seemed perfectly suited to maintain a cache of officers
of slightly above-average intelligence: smart enough to win Rhodes and Truman
scholarships, and audacious enough to risk the lives of hundreds—and possibly their own—
for potentially anything. Their country.
Bailey stared at the cover of the Psychology textbook in front of him. He thought of
Corporal Dellatorre, the regrettably high waist of her gray trousers.
Eight weeks since his entrance and Bailey still hadn't managed an erection.
Saltpeter, supposedly. They'd used it in the American Revolution. He remembered the song
from 1776, the musical. To keep the ranks of lusting male soldiers in line and—perhaps of
more consequence—to keep them from screwing one another, they spiked the rations with
saltpeter. Gun powder. The same chemical used to propel a wad of metal, to pierce flesh,
was keeping the men flaccid. John Adams, away from Abigail, sang for it in a letter to her.
Saltpeter...
John...
He thought of Kelly Birdsong, the girl who'd broken his heart. The last girl he'd
been fortunate enough to sleep with. The girl whose name now belonged to his M-14.
Name it after the girl you hated the most in high school, they'd told him. That cold, hard
bitch who wouldn't give you the time of day. Well, Kelly had given it, but she'd also slept
with the captain of the football team their sophomore year, who also happened to be Bailey's
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unofficial mentor. But, after the captain's departure to play football at a second-rate junior
college, some state military school, Bailey and Kelly's casual romance flared up once
again—a series of Thursday night dinners at her parents' house where they let the kids have
a glass of wine with dinner. And after dinner, soaring from the wine and tension of an
inevitable tryst, the two would retreat to the basement with another bottle stolen from her
father's cabinet, under the pretense they needed to be alone in order to study for a big test the
next day. And they would drink and flirt until one of them leapt at the other behind the bar.
Only a matter of weeks before she went off and fucked his friend James. But she had such a
supple body and they were so far removed from one another now. At that very moment,
while Bailey groped at himself over his pants, she was probably walking back to the dorms
in shame from some fraternity house. No, not in shame. She was enjoying herself. Of
course. Who could blame her?
And while Bailey sat at his desk, Dean still asleep, no matter, it occurred to him: It
had been Kelly's father who had first encouraged him to apply to West Point. A guidance
counselor at their school, Rob Birdsong also chaired the Jackson County Republican Party
and scheduled a meeting for Bailey with his district's Representative, Cindy Gamble. After
her nomination of Bailey to the academy, Mr. Birdsong invited him back to his home as a
celebration for his inevitable departure. By that time, however, Bailey's affair with Kelly
had cooled, and her place at the table remained empty during the dinner. They told Bailey
she would be home any moment, that she was supposed to have been back from track
practice by then, but Bailey knew she and their friend James were parked in some
convenient cul-de-sac. Hands tearing at one another. If Mr. Birdsong had encouraged
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James to apply to an academy, too, or to enlist, he hadn't fallen for it. Surely not, though.
Surely Mr. Birdsong saw in Bailey, like in his football captain mentor, the potential for
leadership in the armed forces—a quality unmatched among his peers. Or was this some
scheme to keep his daughter away from the most obvious of sexual hazards in their high
school? The football team captains. The presidents of the student council. However
unlikely, as Bailey stared blankly onto the concrete plain outside his window, he couldn't
avoid the thought that this had indeed been some design. Bailey didn't deserve to be there.
They could have found someone else far more capable than he. Someone else like Dean.
Dean sprang from his bed as his alarm sounded. He switched it off and sat at his
desk, dazed.
"What are you up to?" he asked.
"Psych test," said Bailey. "The COD gave me walking hours."
"I saw," said Dean. He paused for a moment and turned his head slightly to Bailey.
"Sorry, man. You know, Custer saw his share of punishment here."
"And he turned out well," said Bailey.
Dean mumbled some affirmation. Bailey watched as he gathered his books into a
backpack. So nonchalant, so routine. This military academy thing presented no obstacle for
Dean Sullivan, and a career in the Army wouldn't either. He'd scored in the highest group
on the Advanced Placement test in Composition and Literature, and was taking French in
place of literature, and even for that course he rarely had to study. He'd be in Intelligence
some day, no doubt, far removed from the theater of war. A cabinet member. An advisor.
No sweat.
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Bailey's future: Benedict's Last Stand.
"Good luck today," said Dean.
"You, too," said Bailey, and with the flick of a two-fingered salute from his brow,
Dean braced himself and entered the hallway, the stairwell, ahead of the rest of the corps.
The door closed slowly behind him, then slammed when it neared the jamb.
As was his routine, Bailey switched on the monitor to his computer to check his email before class. With his approaching the mouse, he watched as the cursor moved down
the list of mail in his inbox. It confused and startled him, this false sense of motion he had
somehow enacted. Yet he hadn't touched it, had he? It still moved—the cursor across the
screen, and his hand nowhere the mouse. When he reached out and touched it, the screen
flickered and froze. Then Bailey regained control of the computer. His mind felt sluggish
and heavy. He felt broken. He took the mouse in his hand and shook it as if some internal
mechanism had come unhinged.
The clouds lifted before lunch so that bright light shone off the cadet officer's sabers
raised high in salute, and it shone through the high cathedral windows of the cadet mess.
Bailey and Dean delivered scores from the previous night's baseball games to Lovell and the
other officers. Lovell allowed the plebes to eat without objection from Hooke, who Bailey
realized at the end of the meal had not said a word throughout it. Still, Bailey ladled his
soup in careful servings, as if any sound from his spoon might awake Hooke from this
unusual stupor.
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Hooke remained at the table with the plebes even after the third-class cadets had
been excused. He leaned over his bowl of clam chowder, forearms against the table, and
stared into it as he ate. Plebes at other tables began to talk amongst one another, free from
the constraints of the upper class. Hooke lifted his head from the bowl and listened to them,
a slight smile on his face, remembering, perhaps, the small pleasures of life as a fourthclassman. He spooned another helping of soup then and resumed his place above the bowl,
but after a moment he rotated his wrist slowly so that the thick cream spilled back in. The
spoon fell, too, and splashed into the bowl, and Hooke stood from his chair.
"Dean," he said. "Take my weapon back to my room."
"Yes, sergeant," said Dean.
It made sense that Hooke would ask Dean to take care of his saber. Dean's military
bearing, the quality in a cadet Hooke surely prized over all others, far surpassed Bailey's in
practice at the lunch table. And while Bailey recognized this and, furthermore, had told
himself that it didn't matter what Hooke thought, it still irked him that the sergeant major
had chosen his physically inferior roommate.
Hooke stood and stared past Bailey and Dean at the mural on the far wall. There, a
chaotic cluster of various figures of war throughout history, all grand in size and stature, all
brandishing the weapons of their times against unseen foes. Richard Coeur-de-Lion.
William the Conqueror. Arminius at Teutoburg Forest. Claudius Nero at Metaurus. Joan of
Arc. Charles Martel at Tours.
"Look at Martel," said Hooke, pointing to the right-hand panel of the mural. "They
gave him the nickname 'The Hammer' because of his relentless punishment of the enemy.
Schlegel praised his military prowess. Martel did what no one else would do, and he did it
faster. Drove back hordes of Muslims from Europe. Did it without hesitation. But more
importantly, he did it with conviction."
Bailey found Martel in the mural, a white-robed crusader holding a shield with a
bold, red cross. His sword hung in the air mid-strike.
"If not for him," said Hooke, "we may have lost Christianity as we know it. Europe
would have been controlled by Islam."
Underneath the depiction of Martel, a shirtless worker pushed the wheels of a cannon
at Ulysses S. Grant's direction who, if clothed in the same robes, bore an obvious
resemblance to Martel.
"General Grant dealt in the same methods of warfare," said Hooke. "Attrition.
Against his former countrymen, no less, against his former classmates. Can you imagine
fighting men who sit at the same table as you?"
Bailey smirked at Dean.
"Do what your enemy cannot bring themselves to do," Hooke continued. "It's what
has kept our people and our religion alive for centuries. It's how the Vietcong won in their
homeland, and it's what Americans have forgotten. No one wants to die for his country
anymore."
Bailey and Dean exchanged glances, unsure how to react to Hooke's rant, though he
probably didn't want them to. He swiveled his hips around to face Bailey, his face newly
bright, enthusiastic.
"Why did you come here?" he asked. "To West Point."
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"To serve my country," said Bailey.
Hooke weighed this, nodding his head. He pointed to Dean, his hand in the shape of
a pistol.
"The same sir," said Dean.
"I don't know whether you're telling the truth," said Hooke. "I certainly didn't know
that at your age. It took me two years to figure out the dead end of civilian life. To see that
there was so much more in the world to accomplish."
He walked in the direction of the mural again, one hand on his hip and the other
gesturing broadly as he spoke. "This?" he said. "This mural is deceiving. We can't all be
great figures in history. Each one of us is insignificant alone. But, then again, we didn't
come here to accomplish the ordinary. We might one day be great men. Our own portraits
may someday hang in Grant Hall, but if that's your purpose you're in the wrong place.
These men did not fight for themselves. They fought for something greater. For God. For
country. You begin as plebes to test your capability to lead men with your same ideals and,
someday, if you're lucky, you're venerated in the annals of history. But that man pushing the
wheels of that cannon is just as important. And you'll direct him to do that someday. And
he will believe in you. And some of them will be left behind. And some of them will die.
But their death, and yours, will be for the greater good."
Hooke walked away then, his saber still looped around his chair. Bailey and Dean
sat for a moment after he'd gone, the soup now cold. Bailey tore a piece of bread from what
remained of his loaf and chewed it quietly.
Dean held the saber close to him as he and Bailey exited the mess.
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"Why did you really come here?" he asked.
"I forget," said Bailey.
Dean nodded. They walked back to the barracks room in mandatory silence.
The sun had begun to set as Bailey double-timed up the hill from intramural football
practice. It hung behind the spurs of the hills on both sides of the Hudson so that they stood
in silhouette and the water glistened in a narrow column below. It would be dark before
dinner and then sleep, a brief but much desired relief. Though he didn't have to run, Bailey
found solace within himself, away from the others of his company's team whose raucous
laughter he could still hear behind him. On the opposite sidewalk, outside of Eisenhower
Hall, there was a small bus stop shelter with three seats. He'd never seen a public bus of any
kind loop through post, though he could see a map of some kind pasted to the shelter's wall.
Bailey wondered how long it would take a bus to get back to Kansas City and how much the
ticket would cost. How long would it take them to notice if he left? Not long, he guessed.
If he was lucky, only until the morning's formation, though the evening COD would
probably report it when he discovered an empty bed after taps. He dismissed the thought,
but the bus stop reassured him and gave him comfort. An outlet, an alternative. Though he
looked away from it as he continued back toward the barracks, he kept that map in his mind,
and pictured on it a route away from post. Any direction. It wouldn't matter.
Bailey greeted a cadet officer underneath the sally port between the wings of Bradley
Barracks where a pile of laundry bags had begun to collect for the next day's pickup. He
could place his own there that night and hope to get it back by Friday. If the COD checked
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his and Dean's room each day, that would bring the walking tours to only twelve hours.
Which he would have to finish by the end of the month.
Dean was asleep again when Bailey entered the room—a hard afternoon of horse
riding, no doubt. He lay on his stomach with his face to the wall, and Bailey kept the lights
out so as not to disturb him. Bailey needed to return to his equipment to the locker room,
and to take a shower, so he snuck back out of the room with his robe. He showered alone
and returned, but Dean still slept, so Bailey sat in the dark on the edge of his bed while he
dressed, his body still wet from the shower. He could feel the excess water collect
underneath him, now cold as it began to evaporate on his skin. But he felt something else,
something malleable, something slick. On his lower back where he had stretched back to
pull on his underwear, a runny substance. He touched it with his fingers and brought it to
his nose, knowing exactly what it was before he lifted them, why hadn't he thought of it
before—someone had ejaculated on his green girl. Its stink made him gag, the stuff of
another man, rotten.
Bailey ran to the sink and rinsed his hand of it, threw off his underwear and wiped
his back, wet a towel and scrubbed where it had touched him, wet it again, scrubbed again.
He threw on a robe, then, and turned on the lights, and now Dean sat up in bed, awake.
"So sorry to wake you," said Bailey. "It seems someone has jizzed on my bed."
Dean sighed. "You're kidding," he said.
"Smell for yourself."
"Yeah," said Dean, nodding. "I thought I'd smelled something. Then again, that
Korean exchange student was using his hot plate again down the hall."
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Bailey glared at Dean.
"Sorry," said Dean. "It's terrible. I'm really sorry."
Some of the semen had dried at the edges, a white-crusted stain, while darker pools
on the comforter remained wet. Bailey lifted the tucked corner of the bed and checked for
places where the stain may have bled through. It appeared clean, mostly, as well as the
mattress itself. Bailey scoured the topside with the towel.
"Did you see anyone in the room?" asked Bailey. "Or did you sleep through this
jerk-off?"
"It must have been like that when I got here," said Dean.
"But you didn't smell it? You didn't see it?"
"I said I smelled it," said Dean. "Honestly, though, I didn't see anything."
"You thought it was food."
"I guess so."
"You like to eat come? Is that a delicacy on Long Island?"
"Fuck you."
"Yeah. You, too."
Dean had fallen asleep with his glasses on so that his nose and cheeks and eyebrows
had smudged the oversized lenses considerably as he tossed. He flinched as Bailey stepped
toward him. Bailey snatched the frames from Dean's face and buffed the lenses with his
robe.
"There," he said, and handed them back to Dean. "Still no contacts?"
Dean shook his head.
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"Well," said Bailey, "at least you don't have any prospects."
"Right," said Dean. He laughed. "You're green girl isn't healing very well."
Bailey inspected his bed. The stains had dried the cotton material so that it appeared
flattened and rough where the substance had seeped in. A small thing, but the staunch
critics of the academy sought out these very details. They fingered their white gloves into
the smallest of crevices to find dirt and dust to punish even the most meticulous cadets.
They wouldn't overlook a come stain.
"You'll need to take mine."
"You don't have to do that."
Dean bent down at the foot of his bed to unlock his trunk. Bailey turned away as
Dean spiraled through the combination.
"Of course I don't," said Dean. "But I want to. It's only right."
Bailey ripped away his soiled bedding—more telling laundry to send out—and
together he and Dean tucked the new girl tightly over the mattress. Bailey watched his
roommate fold a tighter hospital corner than he had previously been able to do, then
attempted to perform it himself while Dean held firm the opposite side. As Dean pushed the
frame back against the wall, Bailey found himself disappointed that it was over, and he
checked to Dean's bunk to see if they could readjust his own—more layers, more work. It
didn't appear necessary, though, so he didn't propose it.
"What do you call her?" asked Bailey.
"Who?"
"Your green girl."
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Dean blushed. "You can't tell anyone," he said. "I never had a girlfriend at home. I
call her Portia."
Bailey shook his head. He didn't understand.
"Dellatorre," said Dean.
Bailey laughed.
"Well, then, I look forward to hitting the sack hard tonight," he
said.
"Take a cold shower, Bailey. I forbid that you fuck my green girl."
Bailey laughed. He pulled on a pair of shorts underneath the robe.
"You interested in Dellatorre?" he asked Dean.
"It would never happen."
"That's true."
Dean lay back down on his bed. He stared at the ceiling.
"Because she's an upperclassmen," said Dean.
"No," said Bailey. "Of course."
Bailey slipped on his shower shoes. Only an hour left for dinner.
"I snapped at you earlier," he said.
"That's all right," said Dean. "To be expected. I just can't believe someone would do
something like that." Then: "Do you have any idea who it was?"
Bailey shrugged. "No idea," he said. "A lot of dickheads in this company, but only
one of them has ever had it out for me."
Dean nodded and yawned, then stretched out on the bed like a child reaching back
into an elusive dream, his head toward the wall. Bailey clicked out the light for him.
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7.
7 Sept 2001
On Friday morning, Christian invited the cadet subjects of the National Geographic
series on West Point called, at least temporarily, unimaginatively, "Life at West Point." The
date National Geographic had picked to air its first episode was to pass by the end of the
month, with subsequent episodes to follow weekly, which did not give the channel enough
time for both editing of canned film and filming of future episodes—especially given
Christian's current control of stock footage. The producers had left twelve messages on
Christian's machine hoping to speak with him about the causes of their interrupted filming,
only one of which he had the department secretary respond for him. He had them informed
that filming would continue only when certain perspectives had been realigned, and that the
company should not pull their funding for the project. On the contrary, West Point and its
cadre appreciated their interest in one of the country's oldest institutions and understood
their fascination with its traditions. Once all participants of said program found mutual
ground again, filming would surely resume. It was the academy's sincere hope that the
project would redeploy in the immediate future.
First, though he did not tell the National Geographic people this, he needed firsthand persuasion from the cadet subjects that they would maintain their bearing for the
cameras given the details of Cadet Catherine Dellatorre' mishap. They gathered together in
the quarters of a recently fired officer. The nameplate remained, however, on the mahogany
97
desk—Lt. Col. Curtis Wheelbarger. Stacks of sandbags gathered at the sides of the desk
which Christian now occupied, as if a fortification on the beaches of Normandy. Barbed
wire ran along the trim. In his battle dress uniform—the woodland camouflage he preferred
to the stuffy garrison ensemble worn by the faculty and support staff—he felt like a
commander inside a warzone bunker, planning the next move to stub out his enemy. He
reminded himself of the nametag he'd worn for the occasion—the name which he would
have to remember to wear each time he encountered these same cadets. Turned it over in his
mind: Captain Christian Rinehart. Captain Christian Rinehart. Captain Christian Rinehart.
Dieudonne Ngassa arrived first, and Christian stood from his desk to greet the young
cadet, the exchange student from—he checked his file—Cameroon. Ngassa saluted
Christian when he saw the captain's insignia on his lapel and puffed an overloud report from
deep within his chest.
"Morning, sir," he boomed. "Cadet Ngassa reports for duty."
Christian waved off the unnecessary gesture, which confused the cadet even further.
Ngassa stood with his hand fixed to his brow until Christian offered a perfunctory salute in
return.
"Please," said Christian. "Have a seat."
"Thank you, sir."
Ngassa perched on the edge of a chair as Christian flipped through a file, waiting for
the next cadet to arrive. These cadets had likely heard of the incident concerning Cate
Dellatorre; idle chitchat would only build the tension of what Christian hoped to dissolve
into a non-issue. Samuel Freitag entered next, an ineffectual plebe from the third
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regiment—the Third Reich they called it now. The hint of a bruise traced along his brow to
the corner of his eye like a bit of smeared makeup. He forced a smile for Christian as he
greeted him. Where this cadet might end up someday bewildered him. Unless Freitag had
some singular mental dexterity, for most of the graduating cadets it was a future in the
infantry, the front lines. With the modern military academy's appearance of an ivy league
school, one could enter with the hope of some clerical job, but with the influx of women at
West Point—a situation bemoaned by so many of the old Corps—no male had a shot at that,
which in Christian's mind created an ideal scenario. When she entered the room, Christian
could see in Shannon Bridegroom's demeanor the hope for a Hollywood, G.I. Jane sort of
potential in the Army. The personal statement in her application: "I want to fight for my
country." More likely, however, as Christian found in his demotion upon his return to the
Army, she might lug equipment up and down the stairs of surplus offices at Bragg, but the
equipment would likely take the form of typewriters and filing cabinets—not assault
weapons or injured bodies. As much as he admired her spunk—unmatched in her male
cohorts—Bridegroom would find her place in support of the Army abroad. Ordnance, if she
was lucky. Transportation, but not in a warzone. Quartermaster. Judge Advocate General.
Finance. Still, one of the best educations around. At some point she'd stop kidding
herself—women aren't lifers. Send the men to war.
When Bailey Benedict arrived, he filled in the last of the four seats Christian had
placed in front of his desk. A fifth chair remained empty in the corner of the room; he
would need to address the issue straight away. Don't leave them any time to ask questions.
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"Welcome," he said. "I'm Captain Rinehart, the Deputy of Morale and Warfare.
Welfare," he corrected. "Deputy of Morale and Welfare. Consider me your contact for all
things related to your wellbeing at the academy. I'm here as your counsel. Your navigator,
if you will. Should you ever have a question about the direction you should take here, I
want you to contact me immediately."
Christian handed each of them a business card with the phone number to his office,
the previous officer's name scratched through with a pen. He had scrawled above the name,
Capt. Rinehart.
"I wanted to team with you today so we could reorient ourselves and solve a few
issues pertaining to recent events of which you may have caught rumors circulating
throughout your companies. Cate Dellatorre, your peer in the filming of this documentary,
was involved in an accident recently that resulted in her no longer being able to perform her
duties as a cadet at the United States Military Academy. It is with great displeasure that she
had to separate from the academy because of this accident, but I assure you that it was, in
fact, an accident, and that Ms. Dellatorre is on her way to making a solid recovery and will
live a decent life in the civilian world."
Christian studied their faces. Not one of them appeared upset at the news; they'd
heard of this already, of course. They wanted something else. More information. The cadet
Benedict looked past Christian to the wall behind him. Christian followed his gaze, the dark
rectangles where degrees had fixed to the wall of the previous tenant.
"Sir?" asked Freitag. "May I ask a question?"
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Christian resisted the urge to point out he had just asked one. He nodded to the
cadet.
"When will National Geographic be back?" asked Freitag. He looked to his fellow
cadets for support of this line of questioning. "Will we still get paid?"
"Will you still get paid?" said Christian. "Need I remind you that, as a member of
the United States Army you are paid a monthly salary for your support of the nation's
military? Need I remind you, Cadet Freitag, that you are paid in your education, one worth
over $100,000? That, more importantly, you have committed the next nine years of your
life to selfless service? That thousands of men before you have paid their lives to be in the
position you now hold? Which, Cadet Freitag, is of greater concern?"
Now, Christian saw, at least one of the cadets appeared upset. Freitag sat speechless,
his eyes searching, mouth agape. In making an example of him, Christian had also done
what he intended not to—he had already lost control.
"National Geographic," he said, softly. "Though suspended indefinitely as of this
moment... We're in current negotiations to, we're in talks to bring them back. When is the
right time? We're unsure at this point. We're analyzing the risks associated with Ms.
Dellatorre' departure, but hope to reengage with National Geographic in the near future. We
want what you want, and that is..."
Christian paused, his lips pursed. The language he had adopted felt suddenly foreign
to him, and he'd run out of words.
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"To represent West Point in the way it should be represented," said Cadet Benedict.
"To show everyone what this institution stands for—a lifetime of selfless service for the
country. Duty and honor. Respect," he said. "Sir."
"Exactly," said Christian. "Yes. Thank you. What each of us knows in our core,
what each of us undoubtedly feels inside. That insistent tug of duty. Part of the reason why
General LeBoeuf allowed this television program in the first place. A unique opportunity
for you to inspire this country. To pull the civilian world out of its relative stupor. Through
your performance you have the opportunity to inspire in others a call to the service, and to
garner support for our cause. So, I understand why you want the cameras back on post."
Cadet Freitag nodded along.
"I want that as soon as possible," said Christian. "And I know you do as well. And
when the time comes for that to happen, I know that you'll represent this institution the way
it deserves to be represented. A beacon of knowledge, of might, and of hope. Do you
understand?"
The cadets grunted their affirmation: Huuh, sir. Christian excused them, said he
would be in contact with them in the coming days. And they left the fortified office to him,
the adrenaline in Christian's body still alive, which along with the excitement of a small
victory allowed him a small, private smile. Christian kicked his feet up on the desk for a
moment, satisfied that he'd played his part of the scheming general well. Despite an early
slip in his lines, the reviews would read, Rinehart eventually devoured the role in a stirring
and inspired performance. He'd boosted the morale of his troops, sent them out into the
theatre with clear purpose and vision. Project '84 was underway.
The late summer nights on post were silent as you strolled along its streets and fields,
intermittently lit by fluorescent lamps—Flirtation Walk along the bluffs of the river, Ruger
Road down to the Hudson, Washington Road uphill to the West Point Cemetery. Boisterous
chatter rattled from the Firstie Club as you walked past on a humid Friday night, the upper
class drinking to their eagerness and drowning the anxiety of a graduation they both yearned
for and hoped would never come. They stumbled back to the barracks before lights out and
sang Army songs to plebes who stood guard with their rifles underneath the sally ports and
in front of the barracks doors. The Army line you'll ever find a terror in the fray.
On Colonel's Row, LeBoeuf s officers gathered at Dyer's house, a three-story
Colonial at the top of a stone walkway that cut through a steep terrace from the street. The
officers and their dates mixed drinks inside and went out to mingle on the veranda where the
stale breath of the river beaded condensation on their glasses, their brows. They dabbed
their lips, their foreheads with spare napkins and added ice to their perpetually empty
glasses, and the atmosphere was soon imbued with a sense of unease in the increasing
volume of their voices as conversations amassed and began to bleed. Dyer passed around
flutes of champagne, offered to Christian as a "sparkler," and they toasted to another year at
West Point. He referenced LeBoeuf, the founder of the feast, who Christian had yet to see.
He was eager to inform the general of his progress with the young cadets and reminded
himself to slow his drinking so that he might still have an ounce of annunciation left when
the time came.
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"Everything going well, then?" asked Dyer. "Sorry to have had such a strange
introduction before. I hope we can put that behind us."
"Of course," said Christian. "I understood, given the gravity of the situation."
The men shook hands then, a wet, sticky exchange.
"I had my doubts about you," said Dyer, "but we learned an awful lot in our
interview. You really won us over."
The details of their interrogation had blurred considerably in Christian's memory
since that night. He smiled politely for the Colonel. Christian allowed Dyer to top off his
glass, and they raised their glasses instinctively to one another. Christian toasted privately
to an anniversary. Four years since his son was born. Three years since his divorce from his
wife. He and Dyer drank from their flutes while eyeing one another, tipping them
continually upward, refusing to put it down before the other. Dyer finished first and belched
into his sleeve. He poured them another round.
"Don't feel bad," said Dyer. "I've got a few years on you."
He left Christian there to socialize, to get to know the officers and staff who, if he
was lucky, would continue to accept him into their homes for years to come:
Colonel Dyer's wife, Leslie, the Mistress of the Sword. Brigadier General Sickman,
Deputy of Military Training. Janet, his secretary. Lieutenant Colonel Battleson, Head of
the English Department. Major Adolf Pettigrew, Chair of Character Development in the
Center for Professional Military Ethic. His wife, Gretl. Colonel Lori Song, Professor of
American History and author of Robert E. Lee: Profile in Courage and Command.
Her
husband, Nathan, head librarian at the USMA Library. Brigadier General "Old Tar &
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Feathers" Frisbee, Commandant of Cadets. His wife, "Full Bird," Colonel Frisbee. Fritz
Worstel, Professor of Nuclear Physics. Brigadier General Ernest Hacker, Dean of the
Academy. His Vice-Dean, Colonel Andrew Straw.
Christian floated inside in hopes of spying LeBoeuf. There, a few of the generals
had opened their collars, though not all of them, leaving the rest of the subordinate officers
to fan themselves with whatever they could find. It had escaped Christian the sheer number
of high-ranking officers who ambled along the fringes of the academy, a kind of retirement
community for the living long gray line still toting the ideals of the Corps. As he needled
his way into conversations, he stammered among them like a boy trying to find his among
men.
Colonel Frank "Earthworm" Kilgore, owner of five purple hearts and Head of
Morale and Welfare, introduced himself to Christian.
"Three during the "Nam conflict," said Colonel Kilgore. "One bullet, one shrapnel.
The other, some North-sympathizing prostitute poisoned my General Braxton Bragg. Four
weeks in the infirmary, incessantly shitting the bed. Worst month my life. These other two
I don't want to talk about."
The colonel walked into the kitchen and left Christian to linger along the walls of the
living room. Mrs. Dyer opened some windows at the front of the house, and a cool breeze
swept through the room to the relief of the officers. Colonel Kilgore rushed through the
swinging door from the kitchen, a napkin raised high above his head as if delivering an
urgent wire from the Pentagon. He handed the folded paper to Christian. On it, the recipe
for a drink:
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General Braxton Brass (oldfamily tradition—don't tell anyone):
3 parts bourbon or rye
2-3 parts sugar
1 parts water
5 peach slices
sprig of mint
lots of ice
Combine ingredients in glass. Stir occasionally.
Enjoy.
Yours, Gen. Earthworm Kilgore III
Christian looked up from the recipe to thank the colonel, but he'd slipped away.
General Sickman waved Christian over to the couch.
"Do you remember being here?" said the general as Christian settled in next to him.
"Your first West Point summer? It rained all day during our field exercise. This was
nineteen hundred and fifty-nine. And this cow, Sergeant Wesley Tanner, shoved my face in
the mud near a latrine where, I come to find out later, he and his cronies had all pissed in. A
week in the sickbay, well, I have to do Beast again the next summer."
"That's terrible, sir," said Christian.
The general shrugged. "I didn't hold it against him for long. Went home with him
for Thanksgiving the next year, knocked up his sister. It's all part of it, Calvert. It all adds
up."
Christian nodded politely.
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"We didn't have it, of course," said Sickman. "Aborted it. Otherwise I wouldn't be
here today. You ever marry?"
"Divorced."
"That happens."
Sickman's secretary beckoned him from the landing at the top of stairs, her index
finger trailing a groove in the oak banister.
"Duty calls," he said. He patted Christian's knee and scurried up the stairs after her.
Christian had another drink in his hand when he noticed LeBoeuf in the kitchen
through the rotating door. He felt drunk. It worried him he would be unable to defend
himself properly should one of the upper-echelons attack him. To test him. Christian felt
confident he could whip anyone one of them in a sober fight, but alcohol only ever increased
old-man strength. And these men of the greatest generation had more guts than his. More
swagger. Miss piss and vinegar. More zeal. Or did it come with age? Was this shift in
generational fortitude all some illusion? They had the Depression, sure. They fought Hitler
and Mussolini and Hirohito. The fights of Christian's time failed to reach an entire
generation. At least with the war in Vietnam they had instituted a draft so that everyone was
eligible to participate. To stand up. Upon his return from Bosnia, few understood there had
been conflict there at all. And even when the country clamored for war in the Gulf, few
volunteered their lives to serve for it. Modern warfare promised strikes from afar; hand-tohand combat seemed barbaric. Still, the vast majority of the country sat at home and
watched television, risked nothing.
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Christian started for the kitchen when another officer caught him by the waist and
pulled him back down onto the couch. General Pettigrew leaned in toward him as he spoke,
a finger nearly under Christian's chin.
"Do you listen to rap music?" asked General Pettigrew. "A lot of the shit these kids
listen to today, you know? Vacuous. My son is into The Beatles now, which he thinks will
please me, as if everyone who endured the '60s were in love with the faggots. But our black
soldiers, our black cadets are onto something, I believe. Murder. Money. Sex. I could do
without the drugs, but the essentials are all there. Country music works on a similar
premise, though more explicitly patriotic. That's not to say, though, that rappers aren't
patriots. Don't confuse that or you've made a huge mistake. You won't find a group more
xenophobic and adherent to the principles of Christian heterosexuality than rap artists. It's
the same with country music. The two are really not dissimilar. I recommend to the cadets
who enter my office a strict and diverse offering of rousing music. I can set you up with a
mixed tape if you'd like."
General Sickman's girl rushed down the stairs and fled the house, huffing, and the
screen door banged rhythmically against the jamb as the party watched her descend the
stone steps of the terrace. Sickman remained on the staircase, leaning against the banister as
he labored toward the ground floor, a cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth and, as the
room turned their attention to him, he suggested it had come time the officers to part from
trivial matters. It was time they made their date with the cemetery.
They piled into cars and jeeps to make the pilgrimage. Christian attempted to locate
LeBoeuf in the crowd and, in failing that, followed Dyer to an Army-issue humvee in hopes
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the general may have already climbed in. Dyer squeezed into the back of the vehicle,
leaving no room for Christian but on the laps of the two generals in front. He waved off
their insistence to push in and began his walk back to the room at the Thayer Hotel. His
eyes were dry and swollen. He could call LeBoeuf tomorrow. A Lincoln pulled up beside
him before he managed to walk 100 feet, though, and a tinted window rolled down to reveal
LeBoeuf.
"Get in," he said. "You're going the wrong way."
"Thank you, sir," he said as they turned around. "I've been meaning to speak with
you."
"I met with the Dellatorre family," said the general. "We outlined the benefits for the
girl, and they seemed generally pleased with the agreement."
Christian nodded. He hadn't known of LeBoeuf s contact with the family. In fact, he
had spoken with them briefly himself and promised to meet with them soon to go over those
very plans. They hadn't said anything of discussion with any other personnel. If the general
was disappointed in the pace of his investigation, he hadn't mentioned it.
"So long as the cadet is on board," said LeBoeuf, "the situation appears to be
resolved. To my knowledge, those who know about the incident assume it was a prior
medical condition. A freak occurrence, if you will."
"Yes, sir," said Christian. "I think you're right."
"Is the girl with us?"
"Sir?"
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"Cadet Dellatorre," said LeBoeuf. "You've spent time with her. Will she
cooperate?"
"Yes, sir," said Christian.
"Good."
The general pulled the car into a parking space outside the cemetery. The officers
unloaded from the other cars and entered through the main gates. Christian sat in the
passenger seat and waited for LeBoeuf. He waited for the inevitable word that his services
would no longer be required at the United States Military Academy.
"I'd like you to stick around for another week," said LeBoeuf. "You've done us a
great service here, but I'm confident the damage has been well contained. Thanks, of course,
to you."
"Thank you, sir," said Christian. He shifted on the bench seat, angling his body
toward LeBouef. A sudden gesture with his hand seemed to startle the general, who eyed
Christian suspiciously, wondering, no doubt, why the conversation had not yet ended. "I
spoke with the National Geographic subjects today," Christian said, "and I'd like to make a
tentative proposal for bringing the television crew back to post. I'm highly impressed with
the cadets' demeanor, and think that—"
LeBoeuf waved him off.
"That won't be necessary," he said. "It was a mistake on my part in the first place,
and we can do without any further damage to our reputation. We have the tapes and can buy
them out for their time. I'm not allowing the crew back into West Point to poke around in
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our affairs. We've pissed them off now and I don't want them seeking some kind of revenge.
Let them go to Annapolis, ruin that godforsaken place."
"The advantage, sir," said Christian, but the general stopped him again.
"I know the advantages, and I know the risks. I've seen the latter firsthand."
He paused then, and put his fingers on Christian's wrist.
"One week," he said. "Continue your work and contact me should anything arise,
God forbid. You will finish your duties here on Friday. We appreciate your service, son.
Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," said Christian.
He waited in the car for a moment after LeBoeuf exited, his heart still racing, and he
waited there to prevent himself from chasing the general down and making an even bigger
fool of himself than he already had. He'd come off as desperate and, given his intoxicated
state, would only embarrass himself further by hunting the general down to talk business on
hallowed ground.
Inside the cemetery walls, the officers paced among the headstones and tombs,
monuments and unmarked graves. Christian wandered underneath the branches of a row of
elm trees. He leaned his forehead against the cool marble of an obelisk for George A.
Custer, closed his eyes there. The alcohol had begun to wear a bit, leaving his head aching
and his throat dry. Christian slouched into the stone, and allowed his body to sink toward
the ground in front of the monument. Lt. Col. George A. Custer, KILLED WITH HIS
ENTIRE COMMAND IN THE BATTLE OF LITTLE BIG HORN
Not even a full colonel,
and look what he accomplished. Here was irrefutable proof of the veneration an officer
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could earn even without the rank of general. Christian would be all right on his own, with or
without the eligibility of full promotion. He could carve his own path, so long as it didn't
lead back to Bragg. Back into the infantry, maybe. Overseas, a company commander.
Germany. Italy. Belgium. Christian tucked his legs beneath him, Indian-style, leaned his
head against Custer's stone, and slept.
He awoke to a familiar song, surrounded by the officers from the party. Their collars
were buttoned again and their caps back on top of their heads. They held hands and sang
toward the obelisk, toward Christian.:
E'er may that line of gray
Increase from day to day
Live, serve, and die, we pray,
West Point, for thee.
Christian stood and entered the circle between Colonel Dyer and Major Pettigrew.
They took his hands in theirs. General LeBoeuf smiled at him from the opposite side.
"The Corps! The Corps! The Corps!" he shouted.
The rest joined him in the Chaplain Bishop Shipman's hymn they had all memorized
as young cadets, yelled as loud as they could with their shoulder blades pinched in toward
their spines, their chins tucked into their necks.
They are here in ghostly
assemblage,
The Men of the Corps long dead,
And our hearts are standing
attention
While we wait for their passing tread.
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Christian shouted with them now, shouted as if he could reach his voice all the way
back to wake the dead in Indiana, or to Georgia, to his son. Christian had told them about
his son that first night. He didn't remember what else he had told them, assumed he'd told
them everything they wanted to know, but he remembered telling them about his son.
Christian yelled with the officers to reach him, to fill the night air with his voice, to confirm
his allegiance to them, to West Point. To carry the words back to the barracks, to the shake
the sleeping new cadets from their dreams. This was their heritage now, the whole corps,
and Christian was back home with them. He could guide them still, could help them,
whatever LeBoeuf wanted him to do. He would have to leave them soon, but in that
moment he felt his heart never would.
Grip hands tho' it be from the shadows—
While we swear, as you did of yore,
Or living, or dying to honor
The Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.
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7.
8 Sept 2001
Portia knocked on the door of room 407 after the football game on Saturday
afternoon, her hair still wet from the shower. She doubted anyone would reprimand her for
lack of professionalism on the weekend, but she scanned both ends of the hall in case
someone were to take issue with her appearance. A few showers still ran across the hall, but
everyone else seemed to have retreated to their rooms for a nap. She rested her hand on the
doorknob in anticipation of the response to allow her in.
"Room," shouted a voice on the other side of the door. "Attention." Then, after a
moment: "Enter sir, or ma'am."
Dean stood at attention behind his desk, alone. Why he had called attention to an
empty room, she wasn't sure. She chuckled at the sight of him as she searched for the
doorstop, this short cadet in a velvet bathrobe that would make Hugh Heftier envious. He
didn't weigh 120 pounds, she thought, as her father was often heard to say, dripping wet.
"You know," she said, "you can tell someone not to enter if you're not dressed."
"Yes, corporal," he replied.
"And you can relax, by the way. Have a seat."
Dean appeared flustered, unsure of himself as he sat back behind his desk. As his
team leader, Portia had only visited him once after reorganization week, though her duties
required her to check in with him a few times a week to cover new knowledge from the
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Cadet Handbook and to ensure he was keeping up with his grades. The first week she told
him to contact her if anything came up, but with everything that had happened with Cate she
had neglected her work somewhat, which she hoped the company would understand should
anything have arisen.
Portia sat on the edge of the bed opposite Dean's. Bailey Benedict's, the person she
had wanted to see when she entered. She asked about Dean's grades and how much time he
was putting into his studies. Dean admitted he hadn't studied much at all, but his grades
were fine. As he spoke about himself he acquired a quiet confidence in contrast with the
shaky cadet who stood as she entered. Hooke came to her mind, and she visualized his
random entrance through their door, dealing out fear and anxiety. How many plebes did he
terrorize on a regular basis? How far did his influence reach in the regiment? In the Corps?
"Were you expecting someone else?" she asked Dean.
"No, corporal," he said.
"My name is Portia." She straightened a pair of boots underneath Bailey's bed.
"Maybe you shouldn't call me that. But you don't have to call me 'corporal.' At least not
when we're talking, just the two of us."
"Okay," said Dean. He laughed. "Sorry."
"It's all right," said Portia. "You know, a guy in my company last year was about
your size. They put him on hGH to help him grow. That might be something for you to
look into, if you're interested."
"No," said Dean. "My father grew four inches in college."
"Oh, of course." Portia could feel her face flush. "What does he do?"
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"He owns a drugstore, actually. He still holds the record for the two-mile at
Columbia."
"That's neat. Listen, when Bailey comes back will you tell that I came by? Tell him
to give me a call."
"Sure," said Dean. "I'll let him know."
He crossed his legs as Portia walked behind Bailey's desk, placed his hands over the
fold of his robe. She lifted a sheet of paper from Bailey's printer and jotted her phone
number on it with her name; she couldn't help but think of middle school and the incessant
note-passing that went on between her and countless boys, folded pieces of college-ruled
paper with her name on the outside, a heart substituted for the dot over the "i." Silly,
insignificant flirtations that at the time carried an immense weight, the simple passing of
which required hours of contemplation. That thrill of uncertainty returned to her while she
stood over Bailey's desk as Dean watched. She folded the paper in half and slid it
underneath Bailey's keyboard.
"Not that I don't trust you'll deliver the message," she told Dean.
"Yes," he said. "Of course, corporal."
Portia knocked on Bailey's desk like she had at the door, winked at Dean, and went
back to her room. She lifted the windows near her desk and watched a flock of sparrows
flutter among the branches of a large oak. They seemed to hide themselves behind the
leaves, cover from the wind that blew in broken gusts off the Hudson. And with each knock
of the branches one bird would flee the group and send the entire flock into the air in a
terrific show of their beating wings. They dashed around the tree, hovering closely, until
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another reclaimed its branch, and seeing it was safe again they would all settle back into
their temporary home.
The phone rang. Bailey addressed her as Corporal Dellatorre, the innocent boy. And
as she spoke to him over the phone, her own voice returned to her in the receiver, though
tinny and distant. The misconnection disrupted her speech so that she had to blurt phrases as
she thought them just to get the words out of her mouth. The voice—and even the way she
spoke—it sounded more like Cate than it did herself, as if she were delivering lines for her
sister to repeat. As if it were Cate speaking to Bailey. Despite the awkward exchange,
Bailey agreed to meet her in the Beat Navy tunnel where they would then walk together to
Eisenhower Hall for a movie.
She lay a while on her bed as the light began to dim outside her window. The dark
bureaus across the room lost the detail of their cuts. The walls lost their color, the shine of
their coats, and took on the matte gray that was everywhere and pervasive inside the
academy. Cate lay in bed in the hospital, in perpetual darkness, in perpetual gray. The
perspective probably didn't seem like much of a change. But, no, Portia couldn't think like
that. Her sister would do anything to have her sight back. She just wanted it all to have
never happened. She wanted it all to go away.
And while she knew that couldn't happen, they would have Cate's retribution. Portia
would see to it.
*
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A sharp wind whipped through the Beat Navy tunnel as Bailey strode through, now
on his third circuit from Trophy Point, through the tunnel, past the bus stop, down the
walkway toward the Firstie Club, then back up the hill to Trophy Point again. As it neared
1900 hours, upperclassmen began to flock in greater numbers to their club, and Bailey
greeted them as they past—"Good evening, sir," or, "Good evening, ma'am." It had struck
him soon after his call to Dellatorre that it may not be the best idea to walk into Ike Hall
together. As a plebe and unable to stand anywhere on post without explicit instructions to
do so, he had to continue double-timing until Dellatorre arrived. Or maybe he had read too
much into it. Maybe their meeting wasn't a date after all. In that case, he could wait in the
tunnel and, should anyone question, could say he had been directed to do so. But he had no
real purpose, and any upperclassman would nail him for it. Anyone could accuse them of
fraternization if they were seen together, a charge that would cause more damage for
Dellatorre than he. At best, Bailey was ignorant of the boundaries between the classes,
though he had never imagined he would be in the situation he would have to mind them.
Such risk would have usually excited him, but after marching all week to make up for his
demerits, the risk proved more stressful than arousing. Before he left the barracks he'd
attempted an erection to no avail; though his imagination could provide no scenario in which
he and Dellatorre were to have sex, he'd still wanted to know if it was physically possible. If
the test were any indication, it seemed unlikely, though further research was needed.
Each time Bailey walked through the tunnel it seemed darker than before. He'd
marched through it the first day on post, R-Day, the Fourth of July. After a fireworks show
that night, the parents lined the sidewalks after the tunnel and clapped for them as they
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emerged from it chanting in call and response, "Beat Navy! Beat Navy!" In the soft light of
the street lamps he searched for his parents, found them at the top of the steps. The cadre
had taught the new cadets to march that day, had yelled at them to keep their eyes forward at
all time, to keep their hands clenched. Bailey turned his head to his parents, though, to smile
at them, to let them know everything was going to be all right, but his mother looked past
him. She didn't recognize him in the crowd of white uniforms, shaved heads, glasses. When
the academy processed him in, they'd stripped him of his clothes and locked them away with
his personal belongings, shaved his head, smooth like the cold tile floor, swept the clippings
into the trash with the others. Goodbye to his hair, goodbye to his parents, but he could pick
up his civilian clothes at the end of the training. They would, of course, be no use to him for
the next several years. Bailey had closed his eyes then and let the crowd of new cadets lead
him back to the barracks, and found himself in bed across the room from someone he had
only just met, unsure he was in the correct room, but he'd closed his eyes and fallen asleep
all the same.
Ten minutes past their agreed meeting time, Bailey broke away from the asphalt path
and marched down to Eisenhower Hall. Maybe she had thought the same thing, that their
meeting in the tunnel was not such a good idea, and would meet him there. A few cadets
milled in the lobby of the theater before the film, so Bailey ducked into a stairwell that led to
the balcony. He watched them enter and fill in the middle rows of the main auditorium, and
could see from this perspective that Dellatorre hadn't yet arrived. The lights dimmed and
rose again three times to signal the film was about to begin. A cadet at the front of the
auditorium addressed the congregation about the remaining dates of the West Point Film
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Series. A Traitor in Our Midst. Bouncing Betty Leads the Fray. Cadet Danger and the Hell
Cats. The Searchers.
Having decided that Dellatorre wouldn't show, Bailey contemplated
walking back to the barracks, but had nothing there to do but homework, which on the
weekend nights he easily discarded from his mind. The lights dimmed on the theater, and
the film began.
Dumb John Goes to West Point (1951) begins with the title character entering a
secured weapons research facility. A sign next to the main gate reads: "What you see here /
What you do here / What you hear here / When you leave here / Let it stay here." And as
Dumb John passes through the gates, to the security guard he yells, "Here, here!" With a
shtick not unlike Jerry Lewis', Dumb John foils a couple of anarchists—white truck drivers
with oil stains on their coveralls—who intend to detonate the facility with a palette of nitro
glycerin disguised as a load of water jugs. The radicals' motive goes untold because a thirsty
Dumb John takes a swig from one of the containers and goes twitching around the guard
booth like his insides are barely containing a thousand tiny explosions. A close-up of his
abdomen uncovers the inner workings of a pinball machine as a silver ball slams around his
ribcage and sternum. The shot tracks to his eyes, which roll back and reveal the words
"TILT." The anarchists try to flee the scene, but the guards shoot up and explode their truck.
The officers in charge of the plant recommend Mr. Dumb John to West Point for his
superior military intellect. He was an American hero primed for grooming to be the next
great Army general.
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Bailey had gained admittance to the academy, like all the other cadets he knew,
through strong academic and athletic performance. And through family connections.
Except, perhaps, for Hooke. Dumb Jonathan Hooke.
A figure appeared at the end of Bailey's row. A cadet waving at him, he assumed, to
force him out of the balcony. He'd done something wrong again and would be punished.
Before he could stand, though, he could see her walking toward him and finally recognized
Cadet Dellatorre. He sighed in relief that he was, for the moment, not in trouble, though his
pulse still raced all the same. She sat next to him and placed her hand on his knee. With a
gentle smile she directed his eyes to hers, and mouthed the word: "Sorry."
Bailey shook his head. It was okay. He felt comforted in both her presence and that
they had avoided an awkward situation in the future. Stumbling over excuses and so on, not
that she needed one. Cadet Corporal Dellatorre was his superior, and Bailey was still
unconvinced that she wanted anything more than a friend to join her at the movies. He
looked back at the door from which she had entered, then the entrance at the opposite side.
As silent as she had entered the balcony, anyone else could just as easily.
"How is it?" she whispered with a nod at the screen.
"Okay," said Bailey. "Something I would have never seen had I not landed at West
Point."
Dellatorre laughed.
"What?" said Bailey.
"We didn't land on West Point," she said. "West Point landed on us."
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Bailey smiled at her. The cadets below laughed at the screen as New Cadet Dumb
John threw a grenade inside a tall stack of tires and rushed onto the range to retrieve it when
it failed to detonate. Other grenades exploded around him as he dove headfirst into the tires.
When he returned to the line, his face and uniform smeared black with gunpowder, the range
instructor scolded Dumb John for his stupidity.
"Before you leave," he said, "I'm going to take your name down and report you to the
Superintendent. We have no place for mongoloids in this Army."
"Yes, sir," said Dumb John. "But before I go, can I throw one grenade? It's been my
life-long dream, sir."
"Oh, shoot. All right, son."
The range instructor showed Dumb John how to pull the pin to the grenade properly,
then stepped back to allow him to toss it. With a flailing windup, Dumb John hit the range
instructor in the head, out cold, and dropped the grenade at his feet. Fingers plugging his
ears, Dumb John waited for an explosion and his imminent death, but a close-up of the
grenade showed it broken on the ground, candy spilled out of its casing. Dumb John
shrugged at the camera before zipping away.
Dellatorre slouched in her chair, her hips turned slight toward Bailey. Their elbows
touched on the partition between them. A hint of perfume stole his attention away from the
screen, drew his head closer to hers. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
"They show this every year," said Dellatorre. "I sat up here last year and slept
through the whole thing."
"Yeah?" asked Bailey.
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"What are you thinking about?"
The question amused him—the one thing a girl wants to know when a relationship is
about to fail. A little too early for such musings. He laughed.
"I'm still just a little surprised to see you here," he said.
"Because of my sister." Dellatorre sighed, sat up in her chair.
"No," said Bailey. "I didn't mean that. How is she? I'm sorry I didn't ask."
"She's okay. Better." She settled back into her seat, though her arms still crossed.
She seemed considerably further away from him. "You know her pretty well?" she asked.
"We met a few times," said Bailey. "She seemed like a great person. She was
always very nice to me. I heard what happened."
Dellatorre wiped a finger underneath her eye, an itch maybe. Or she was crying.
Bailey placed his hand on her forearm, and she loosened her arms then so her elbow sat on
the armrest again. Her skin was soft, though Bailey tried only to keep a comforting,
ambiguous clasp on her. He fought the urge to stroke her arm, to feel more of her.
"You heard about Hooke?" asked Dellatorre.
"Hooke?"
"He's the one that did this to Cate," she said. "He's the one who blinded her."
"Jesus," said Bailey. "Have they done anything about it? Have they punished him?"
Dellatorre shook her head and shrugged; she didn't know. Unless Hooke's sitting at a
company table during lunch and dinner was punishment, he hadn't been. At least not yet.
Bailey had certainly never seen him on central area for walking tours. Something sinister
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lurked behind this bit of news from Dellatorre. Bailey wasn't sure he wanted to know about
it. He didn't know what to do with the information.
"She's going to be fine," said Dellatorre. "They're taking very good care of her."
"Hooke's walking around a free man," said Bailey. "This is ridiculous."
"Still messing with plebes, it sounds like."
"Why your sister?" asked Bailey. "She's not even in our company."
"She was in the regiment. And, anyway, I think Hooke assumes his power exceeds
the confines of even that."
"Of classes."
"She was in the brigade."
"She was in the corps."
Dellatorre leaned into Bailey, slid her hand underneath his arm and hooked it around
his elbow. She rested her head against him.
On the screen, Dumb John attended his first day of French class. The instructor was
pressing the new cadet to pronounce a phrase correctly.
"I am a soldier," said the instructor. "Je suis un soldat."
"Je suis un sold-out," said Dumb John.
"Je suis un soldat," the instructor yelled.
"Je suis un sold-out."
"Soldat!"
"Sold out!"
"Sold out!" the instructor screamed.
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"Soldat!" yelled Dumb John.
Bailey laughed and looked down at Dellatorre. She gazed up at him and smiled.
Bailey bent to her over the armrest that divided them. He kissed her. She brought her head
up to his so they both sat upright in their chairs, Bailey's arms on her sides. The spring of a
chair behind them pulled Bailey away from her. The seat closest to the exit of the balcony
rocked against its back. A burst of light from the door showed the silhouette of a figure as it
passed through, then footsteps down the stairwell. His skin bristled and his stomach sank
with the feeling he had, again, been caught.
"Who was it?" asked Dellatorre.
"I couldn't see," said Bailey.
"I'd better go."
Bailey nodded. "Okay," he said.
"I feel like I need to go."
"Sure."
Dellatorre kissed him again, quickly, and she hurried up the steps and was gone. She
must have feared the worst, as Bailey had when he'd heard the chair snap up into position
like his heart had been trained to do upon the glimpse of a senior cadet. But he had
recognized the figure in the light of the closing door, the same one he was now used to
seeing leave his room each day, his frame still limp with sleep. Dean had sat behind them.
It was Dean who'd watched them.
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Dumb John somehow scored the winning touchdown in the Army/Navy football
game. The cadets hoisted him up on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room. A
hero.
When Bailey returned to the barracks, Dean lay with his face to the wall in the
darkness, covered to his ears in blankets. Bailey undressed quietly and slid into the cold
sheets of his bunk. He stared at the ceiling, exhausted from the day but too excited about the
prospect of Portia to fall asleep.
"You knew I liked her," said Dean. He still lay toward the wall, and Bailey let the
words die in the air as if he'd never heard them. As if they'd never been spoken.
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10.
11 Sept 2001
Video and news reports streamed on the cadets' computers all morning. Smoke
spewed from one of the fractured buildings and the anchors of the morning news gasped at
the image of a second plane as it crashed into the South Tower. Instant replays of a jet
entering one side of the glass tower intact, out on the other side in a cloud of fire. The top
halves seemed to crumble in a shower of dirt and stone, and then a nebulous column
occupied the space where the forms had stood, as if shrouded in a blanket of dust. The void
they left did not seem possible, did not make sense, did not add up. The New York skyline
had only ever grown, buildings rising in front of other buildings, obscuring the views of
tenants who paid to see the Hudson every morning before they ate breakfast in their warm
apartments and then went to work, safe, free from thoughts of planes disturbing their
workspace. These towers had, after all, proven themselves. They had been bombed before,
at the base, the foundation of Wall Street: unshakable, resolute. And then the whole south
end of Manhattan was cloaked as the debris crawled out like some nefarious B-movie
monster. It climbed upward, dogged, an attack on New York. An Attack on America, they
would say later that night. The enemy would soon have a face. A name.
The phones went down at 1013 and didn't come back up until 1135. Christian
booted Jaws after lunch, plugged into random lines to get a feel for morale:
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[external call to Cadet George Wheeler, 13:01]
UNKNOWN
George? Is everything all right? We saw the news. Is everything alright there?
[external call to Cadet Josiah Friedman, 13:03]
UNKNOWN
They made an announcement at the grocery store and everyone just left. Left their
shopping right in the aisles for the clerks to clean up. Fresh fish. What do they
think, the
grocery store is next?
[Cadet Ethan Tackaberry, call to Cadet Shannon Bridegroom, 13:10]
BRIDEGROOM
The plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was supposedly headed for us.
TACKABERRY
For West Point? Bullshit. Why would they want to hit West Point?
BRIDEGROOM
They hit the Pentagon, Ethan.
[external call to Cadet Nicholie Ralston, 13:12]
UNKNOWN
Can you see the smoke from where you are? How many miles is that? They're
saying you can see the smoke from miles away. Awful. Awful.
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[external call to Cadet Nathan Palmer, 13:15]
UNKNOWN
Have you heard anything from your father? I still haven't been able to get through.
Cell
phones are all down.
[Cadet Vidas Pranckus to Cadet Jeffrey Lungstrum, 13:22]
PRANCKUS
Are they going to cut into Seinfeld!
[Cadet Tracy Sedivy to Cadet Julie Luff, 13:25]
LUFF
They posted sign-up sheets in the halls already. They need volunteers. To help
clean up.
[Cadet Jacob Saunders to external, 13:28]
SAUNDERS
Our TAC-NCO said we may not be able to go home until Christmas—if we're lucky.
When there's a job to be done, sometimes we can't do the things civilians do. If
there's a
funeral, even if it's your father, sometimes all you can do is send your
regards. No, that's
what he said.
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[external call to Cadet Bailey Benedict, 13:30]
BENEDICT
Everything's fine, Dad. Is mom freaking out? I couldn't get a hold of her.
FATHER
A lot of cell phones are down, I think. She'll be okay. What's the mood like there,
generally?
BENEDICT
Not good. But people are rallying. There's a chance they might need us down there.
People are signing up. Should I sign up? Should I go?
FATHER
Sure. Do what you think is right.
BENEDICT
Okay. That's what I was thinking. I'll sign up. I should be down there.
Christian would soon rid himself of his duty to the academy, and while he regretted
this swift departure, the prospect of the United States seeking out retribution for the terrorist
attacks instilled in him further hope he might once again see battle. That he might fulfill
what he'd once seen as his destiny. Back at Bragg he would request a move to infantry, to
lead troops again in what would indisputably be a quick strike to eradicate the responsible
terrorist factions. They would not deny him this. He knew the job too well.
At 1400 hours, Gen. LeBoeuf ordered Christian to meet him at the Cadet Chapel.
The air had warmed considerably since the brisk morning. A few wisps of cloud overhead
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like broken contrails and then only the sky, bright blue. Cadets just released from classes
scurried toward the barracks. As Christian climbed the stairs toward the chapel he could see
one standing at the cusp of the hill, a hand at his brow to shield the sun, pointed southward
toward the city. He saluted Christian with that hand, still blocking the sun, then started
down the stairs toward the barracks. Hills dense with evergreens stood between them and
the carnage in New York. Only a greater sense of helplessness would crop up within them if
they could see the smoke from Manhattan. It wouldn't do any good. The images on
television did enough, if not more. It sufficed.
LeBoeuf sat at the far left of the last pew of the chapel. Head craned, he glared at the
buttressed ceiling overhead as if tracking a fly. Both cadets and civilians filled the front half
of the nave. Christian stalled at the door until the chaplain finished leading them in a
recitation of the Cadet Prayer:
Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content
with a half-truth when the whole can be won.
Christian left a seat between himself and the general, who in his trance appeared
either pensive or bored. Given his experience with the general to that point, Christian ruled
out neither. He waited for LeBoeuf to recognize his presence.
"No peace around this place today," said LeBoeuf.
"No, sir," said Christian.
LeBoeuf stood and pointed to the door. The men left the sanctuary as the
congregation began a hymn.
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"Tuesdays," he said in the narthex. "Go to church on a Tuesday and you expect a
little peace."
They walked to the parking lot then all the while Christian mulled over the
possibility that perhaps the general hadn't heard of the attack. Maybe he'd woken up late,
didn't have a television in his quarters.
"Quite a day," said Christian.
The general looked at the sky.
"I suppose it is a little bright," he said. "I'm sorry to have made you hike all the way
up here, but at least you could enjoy the weather. Better off meeting at the temple, I'd
venture. At least in a different tongue you can still think in your own language. Or, hell, the
Interfaith Center, a-k-a the mosque. Probably a little quiet in there today, do you think?"
"Yes, sir," said Christian. "That's probably accurate."
"This is a time of allegiance. Separate our compatriots from the culpable."
LeBoeuf drove down the hill back toward the main area. Several groups of cadets
marched toward the chapel, all saluting the car as it passed. Larger groups halted
completely and turned toward the street.
"God damnit," said LeBoeuf.
He stopped the car in the middle of the road and threw open the door. The cadets
remained rigid on the sides of the streets next to the car, braced and awaiting a returned
salute from their superintendent. The group grew as LeBoeuf struggled to pull the general's
flag from the hood of his car. Christian saluted the cadets from the passenger window to get
them to move along, but seemed to only confuse them even further. LeBoeuf finally gave
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up and returned to the car, sped down the hill, red in the face from his excitement and his
embarrassment.
"I beg your pardon," he said to Christian, "but this is driving me fucking insane."
He clicked on the radio.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"Sir?"
"Music? No music? A world without music, even today? I don't think so."
Christian hadn't paid attention to the radio. The commentators spoke in low tones
about the current events, about the terrorist attacks, apparently.
"This is my favorite jazz station," said LeBoeuf. "And here we are talking about
terrorism. Why?"
To Christian the answer seemed obvious, but he waited for LeBouef to continue. He
seemed upset and did not want to aggravate him beyond what the terrorists had already
accomplished. They'd taken away the Pentagon. They'd taken away jazz.
"The world still spins, right?" he was saying. "Why should the records stop? Put
yourself in their shoes. What would they have us do?"
"Who, sir?" asked Christian.
"The dead, of course. Who did you think I meant? The suicide bombers? I think we
know what they'd have us do."
LeBoeuf pulled into the driveway of Quarters 100, the general's residence, the oldest
building on post. He'd stopped speaking about the lack of music, though the engine still ran,
and he waited there for something, a response from Christian, maybe, though Christian did
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not know and chose not to pursue how he might go about putting himself in a dead person's
shoes. LeBoeuf blotted his head with a handkerchief, his face red as if he'd just run down
the hill.
"They caught us today," he said. "They caught us with our pants down."
"Have you heard from your friends at the Pentagon?" asked Christian.
"No," said LeBoeuf. "I'm not expecting to."
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Okay," said LeBoeuf. "Brass tacks now. Response time is the key in this situation.
The President will address the country tonight and, depending on the kind of shape you're in,
you could probably hold your breath until we're involved in hunting down the motherfuckers
responsible for this catastrophe. Which places West Point in the unique position of having
an immediate outlet to show the country what courage and drive our young soldiers have in
the face of unquestionable evil."
The general placed his hand on Christian's shoulder.
"Christian," he said, "I want you back in the field with our boys. I'm extending your
stay to oversee the filming of our series. Life at West Point is back on."
"You're bringing the crew back to post?"
"You bet your ass we are," said LeBoeuf. "Though I think we need to change the
name of that title. We need a hook there, I think, something to reel them in. Let me know
what you brainstorm. It could use something more specific, some driving force. Some
cachet. That's your creative assignment. Contacting the Nat-Geo crew is your priority now.
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We need to get them back onto post while this experience still has some visceral response
with our subjects."
"How long do you expect this assignment to last, sir?" asked Christian. "If you don't
mind me asking."
"Of course not," said LeBoeuf. "Barring any unforeseen events, we'll need you here
through the graduation of this class. There may be an opportunity to, I don't know, pick up
new subjects in order to really string this thing along. You're the Deputy of Morale and
Welfare, Christian. Indefinitely."
He unlocked the doors.
"Welcome back," he said.
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10.
17 Sept 2001
The days. And the days. And the days.
Sir, The Days:
Today is Friday, 14 September 2001. There are eight-and-a-butt days until Army
beats Alabama-Birmingham
at Michie Stadium in football.
until Army beats the hell out of Navy in football.
There are 78-and-a-butt days
There are 99-and-a-butt days until
Christmas leave for the United States Corps of Cadets. There are 124-and-a-butt days until
500th Night. There are 131-and-a-butt days until Yearling Winter Weekend. There are 138and-a-butt days until 100th Night. There are 161-and-a-butt days until Spring Leave.
There
are 225-and-a-butt days until Graduation and Graduation Leave for the Class of2001,
Sir.
There are 1,320-and-a-butt days until Graduation and Graduation Leave for the Class
of2005.
Dean was gone. His father was dead. They assumed his father was dead.
Ribbons and medals for the entire Corps arrived in the mail on Friday morning, red
and yellow and blue thread wound tightly around a black plastic mounting. For service
during the terrorist attacks on the soil of the United States of America, Sept. 11, 2001. For
watching the buildings crumble on television. For delivering laundry that night. For doing
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their homework. For turning his lights out and tucking themselves into bed before the COD
came to check in on him. The National Defenseless Service Medal.
But the COD hadn't checked for Dean. They'd sent Dean home.
They also gave Bailey a gold coin at Eisenhower Hall after he'd given blood. A gold
coin he could trade in for another vacation, a trip into the city, perhaps. They'd given him a
gold coin and a chocolate chip cookie and a Dixie cup of Dr. Pepper. Three days after the
damage and they were still taking blood. Where did they intend for it to go? The blood
festering underneath the rubble, the bedrock, did not need to be replaced.
There are one-and-a-butt days until Dean buries his father, Sir.
Gammon told Bailey that Dean had rushed into their Chemistry class, out of breath,
stammering, he'd just been on the phone with his mother. She couldn't get Dean's father on
the phone, he worked in Tower 1. And Major Salter scolded Dean for interrupting class.
Today, said the Major, is like any other day. As a soldier in the United States Army we
follow direct orders from our command. Our duties here, unless otherwise noted, are fixed
on a schedule, and we are to adhere to that schedule. That includes classes, and a timely
arrival to class goes unsaid but is strictly enforced. Constant observance of these principles,
which is constant observance of your duty, will guide us to victory when the time comes. It
will come. But today, the discussion is Chemistry.
He issued Dean a demerit for his malingering.
College campuses across America, banks, churches, the White House, Disney World.
They shut down that day, but West Point kept its doors open for business. You can hang
your hat on that, said Major Salter. The Army remains. West Point remains.
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Dean suffered through class, through discussions of free radicals and antibonding
orbitals. Diagrams of the decomposition of potassium chlorate. Lab: Measure the amount
of oxygen in potassium chlorate when burned to decomposition. Use the principle of
conservation of mass to make calculations related to chemical reactions.
Three days later, Bailey still had no word about Dean. No news, it seemed, was bad
news.
He pinned the ribbon to the breast of his cadet grays. An e-mail from Capt. Reinhart
that morning instructed him to wear it to the Nat-Geo interview at McClellan Gym, the first
time the crew had been allowed on post since Dellatorre's accident. Other instructions: Be
candid in your response to questions about the terrorist attacks. Be firm. This may be the
first glimpse civilians have of the soldiers who will take command and positively snuff out
the terrorist threat. Al-Qaeda. Jihad. Startling, alien, new words for the general public.
Your role is to assuage them, to show them they are in reliable hands. They are safe and
will continue to be. This is your duty.
Bailey marched along the ramparts of Eisenhower Barracks, Washington Hall,
MacArthur Barracks, wall tower, gate tower, watch tower. Tower 2. Tower 1. The South
falls. Then the North. Tower 2, then Tower 1, like the countdown to the launch of a rocket,
or to the controlled detonation of a building. Flayed, reduced to steel and spilth, ash and
paper, zero-vector. Negative space. Relegated to numbers. No cardinal direction, no
physical address.
A plaque outside the front doors of the gymnasium—massive, oak, always—featured
a bust of George Brinton McClellan. Graduated second in his class, 1864, only 18 years old.
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A Civil War failure to many, but noted for his great ability to train soldiers. Removed from
his command by President Lincoln. The portrait had him with his right hand slipped into the
placket of his coat, searching for something, his allegiance maybe. His heart. Bailey had no
time for that.
The circular hallway of McClellan surrounded the balcony of the main gym, polished
concrete floors with stairwells on the sides like arteries that led down into the dark
extremities of the building. Stone pillars exposed its architecture, the skeletal structure, and
the sharp click of the heels of Bailey's shoes echoed around them down the empty corridor.
Like the hallways and rooms of the barracks, a whiff of ammonia and lacquer hung in the
dank air. Great arched windows once fitted for opening were now welded shut at the hinges.
Bailey stopped near an open passage to the balcony that overlooked the floor and a
performance stage on the far side. The velvet curtains had been drawn back there and the
National Geographic crew was busy setting up the shoot. The Army and West Point and
American flags hung idly behind an aluminum work stool where they would have Bailey sit.
Captain Rinehart was speaking to Dan, the director, on the floor of the basketball court as
the support crew worked on the stage above. The captain leaned into Dan, a finger thrusting
at the man's chest. High-key lighting, Bailey heard him say. Hero lighting. Fill him up with
it. We're here for the truth. Rinehart climbed the stairs to the stage then and disappeared
behind the curtain, into the darkness, backstage. Bailey checked his watch. He was still a
few minutes early.
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NAT-GEO
Time magazine came out with their first issue since the attacks today. They've called
the Class of 2001 the "Golden Children." You guys are being called "The Class of
9/11." You were here, fresh-faced before what they say is an unavoidable war. How
do you respond to that?
BAILEY
That seems logical, to name something after the events that shape it. I don't know.
We shared that experience here, I guess. The Class of 9/11. We've really just gotten
here, haven't we? Now this. A new sense of purpose than before. They won't call
the dummies on firing range "Ivan" anymore, will they? What will they call them?
Al-Jihad? I don't know. Ivan's red. What will they paint him now? What color?
NAT-GEO
Right. Tell us how these events have affected your life at West Point. What have
you gone through these last few days? What have you been thinking?
BAILEY
I know a lot of guys are anxious to get out there and fight, to be on the front lines
already. The country is hungry for our response, too. We all want vengeance. In
wartime they used to graduate cadets early, so of course the rumor mill started to
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turn after these attacks. Guys wanted out, you know, to swing into action. But, like
the officers say, you know, this is our place right now. This is what we signed on to
do. We all want to get out there and do our part. But you're looking at it. We go to
class, we study. We're preparing to become officers, to lead soldiers when we're
ready. Those officers already in the field now, they're the ones who will lead.
NAT-GEO
Some cadets have, in fact, dropped out this week to enlist in the Army. What do you
feel about their actions?
BAILEY
I understand it. I get it. But we have no right to betray our duty any more than the
enlisted man who pushes the cannon up to the front line. We must, as cadets, we
must fulfill our duties so we can effectively support and lead those men. The Army
selected us for this. To leave the academy now, I feel, is short-sighted. I admire
their enthusiasm. We all feel that. But unless the President asks us to abandon our
post to fight, I think it's the wrong thing to do. We're needed here, and this is where
we should stay.
NAT-GEO
And how have these events affected your personal feelings? How have you reacted
to this personally?
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A rustling backstage, behind the curtains, and Bailey peered into the darkness. The intense
lights by the cameras, though, had blinded him from the darker tones.
NAT-GEO
Right. Okay. Never mind, Bailey. Never mind that. Let's move on.
After laundry that night, Bailey sat in his room and tried to study, but the silence in
the room distracted him. He'd grown accustomed to Dean's presence there, had often
checked to see what Dean was doing to validate his own actions. If Dean studied, Bailey
studied. If Dean polished his shoes, it reminded Bailey he needed to do the same. When
Dean slept, it reminded Bailey he needed to stay up later, to work harder. To catch up to
him. Without Dean he second-guessed himself. Bailey tried to deny himself the fact, but
without Dean it felt like the first day at West Point all over again. He felt disoriented. He
felt lost.
Two shrink-wrapped bundles of laundry rested on Dean's trunk. Bailey unwrapped
them and organized them into piles on the bed. He folded them and placed them neatly into
the stacks in Dean's bureau. The layout in his dresser was haphazard at best, once-folded
pairs of underwear, t-shirts, socks, strewn across the drawers. It resembled more a high
school student's bureau than a cadet's, and Bailey imagined Dean's hasty departure, shoving
the necessities into a green duffel, news of his father's absence wrecking his usually steady
hand. Bailey rearranged the clothes and slid the drawers carefully back into place.
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Bailey's own sheets and comforter had returned clean, so he folded Dean's green girl
and stuffed it into the storage space above his wardrobe. Morning and afternoon inspections
had increased since September 11, as if the Cadets-on-Duty had specific instruction to root
out terrorist factions and seize weapons and jihadist contraband in the Bradley Barracks.
Fortunately, the COD had only issued a warning regarding Bailey's bunk the first day, and
Dean's lacking presence seemed to stanch the flow of Bailey's demerits. How could they
issue demerits concerning uniformity of dress as a result of a missing cadet? Bailey would
finish his walking tour at the end of the next week.
Taps sounded as Bailey lay in bed, having already extinguished his lights, and he
closed his eyes and imagined Dean across the room from him, breathing quietly. They
hadn't moved his things yet, so certainly he would return. The prospect both excited and
frightened Bailey. He wanted Dean back, of course, but he wanted the same Dean. He
wanted the same world, before the complication. Before Dean's father had been crushed
under the weight of the collapsing floors, or burned by the jet fuel, or before he'd leapt from
the window of his office. They would never know what his father had done in those final
moments of his life. They would never find him, and that would haunt Dean for the rest of
his life. Bailey didn't know how even he would act in those circumstances. Betrayed by a
false sense of security—Go back to work, they said, everything's fine—then a plane smashes
into the side of your building. To scale down stairs into black smoke and fire, or to dive into
the clean air toward the asphalt below? What was the courageous thing to do?
Bailey kept his eyes closed as the COD cracked open the door, later that night than
usual, a peek into the room to catch any ambitious cadet attempting to finish his homework.
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The door closed again then, but a presence remained in the room. Bailey imagined it was
Dean back from his father's funeral. To open his eyes would only complicate matters, would
keep Dean from sleep he was undoubtedly deprived of after days of grief and incessant
consolation. He didn't need Bailey, too.
But he could feel the person approach his bed, a soft and timorous sigh. His body
tensed with the fear of an intruder, and he rolled away from the wall as he opened his eyes.
It was Portia, only a foot from the bed, a clipboard in her hand. She managed a small,
apologetic smile. Her camouflage uniform fit her loosely, like an ill-fitting Halloween
costume or a tacky set of pajamas. A child in adults' clothes. She set the clipboard on the
sink and leaned against the post of the bunk near his feet. Bailey opened his sheets for her,
and she lay down inside with him.
"I only have a few minutes," she said.
Bailey nodded. A few minutes, he thought. The perfect phrase to hear the first time
with a new woman. She reached inside the sheets and unbuckled her belt, slid down her
pants until they bunched up around her boots. Bailey removed his shorts and wedged
himself into the space between her legs. She'd put on some makeup before she'd come into
the room, across the hall, maybe, and he recoiled from the metallic tang of fresh perfume on
her neck; she'd planned this meeting. As she rubbed against him, Bailey finally felt
confident that they had not, in fact, been poisoning him with salt peter. He was free of that
now and she buried her head into his chest as he grabbed her and clapped against her, and he
pulled her hair back and went after the buttons on her coat.
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"There's not enough time," she said, and he tried to see her mouth move. In the dark,
pressed against this flat uniform, he could have been with anybody. Bailey clasped his
hands behind her head, braided with thick locks of her hair, and thrust his face against her
jacket—DELLATORRE, and U.S. ARMY. She rocked harder into him until he tried to
squirm away, but his ankles caught on her pants and he fell back to her. She covered his
mouth with a hand and they lay there heaving against one another. A moment of dread and
uncertainty he'd felt before. A delicate question to ask, but one he didn't want to leave
unsaid.
"You came inside of me," she whispered.
"I didn't mean to," said Bailey. "You're on the pill?"
"As much as you just put inside me, I'm not sure it would matter." She lifted her legs
so Bailey could step out from between them, and hiked her pants back up to her hips.
"You're being funny," said Bailey.
"Yes," she said. "I'm on the pill."
Bailey sat next to her on the bed, naked. She put a hand on his thigh and kissed him
on the cheek. Then she stood and walked to the door.
"Do you have to go?" he asked.
"Any longer," she said, "and my roommate will start to wonder where I've been. I
don't need a search team out looking for me in places I shouldn't be in the first place."
"But you don't regret it."
"Of course I regret it," she said. "But if you're asking if you were particularly bad or
not, I would say not. Anyway, it was our first time together."
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"And we only had a few minutes."
"Right. And we only had a few minutes."
She grabbed her clipboard and scrawled something on the page. Her initials, maybe,
everything was in tip-top shape. Cadet Private Benedict was tucked into his bed, his lights
out. A good boy.
"Good night, Bailey," she said.
"Good night, corporal," said Bailey.
While he regulated his breathing, Bailey stared at the dark ceiling and tried to bury a
tinge of disappointment he did not wish to extrapolate. The thought wouldn't stay down: he
was frustrated less with the failures of his love-making than with the fact that Dean had not
caught them this time.
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Part II
1.
14 Oct 2001
Bailey spent the morning in a hotel room, the rent of which cost nearly the whole of
his $250 monthly pay from the academy, half-asleep inside the narrow walls while the
muted television beamed images of a familiar movie. He'd have more money coming in
from National Geographic at the end of the month. The Class of 9/11. The first episode had
premiered the Sunday after the attacks, an introduction to the main characters and their back
stories. The plebes in his company huddled around a computer to watch, to catch a glimpse
of Bailey and of themselves as the company gathered in the cadet area for its first official
parade. Bailey Benedict, 19 years old, Kansas City, Mo., loves his parents and his country.
An insatiable desire to serve. The answers to the interviewer's questions came easily. It was
no struggle to stay off-book. He never had to call for a line. Bailey said what they wanted
to hear, and a check arrived at the end of the month.
The movie came back from a commercial break: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Sunday afternoon and Bailey would have to be back on the Hudson Line to Garrison
by 4:00. He checked out and, his uniform stuffed inside his backpack, stepped out into the
quiet streets of Chelsea. The sky was overcast, but even if the sun were shining Bailey didn't
know which direction to travel to hit Penn Station. He found the corner of 5th Avenue and
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25th Street, all numbers, no directions. He turned left on 25th and the first signs of rain
touched his scalp. He ducked under overhangs and edged along the sides of buildings,
underneath the eaves. In an alcove between two brownstones someone had spray-painted
two massive blocks in black nearly four stories high. The forms of the towers hovered like
giant monoliths. They stood at odds to many of the illustrations he'd witnessed in other
parts of the city, around Ground Zero and Times Square, where hundreds gathered to
memorialize the lives lost. They were murals with American flags, the Statue of Liberty, a
fireman's hat, a police badge—obvious symbols of New York's resilience in garish
Technicolor. These blocks said something else, the vacancy left, profound loss. They both
exuded and absorbed authentic feeling.
The rain picked up. The brown stones around the paint darkened, and the dirt and
grime seemed to wash away. The weather would eventually wash it all away, into the
Hudson and the East River, down into the silt and sediment where the dregs of the murdered
decomposed, wrists and ankles shackled together, concrete blocks about their feet.
Bailey moved along the sidewalk, skirting past umbrellas, and crossed the street
before the intersection at 10th Avenue. He ran through the green light and down 25th until
another gap opened up, a trellis-covered porch that led to a small line of people in front of a
door. They waited there quietly as the rain seeped through the tangled vines overhead. As
Bailey waited near the street, a woman passed him, a card in her hand that she compared to
the numbers on the wall for confirmation she had the right place. She approached a window
near the door and, having secured a ticket, joined the back of the line. An art gallery,
maybe, though the building couldn't have contained more than a couple of rooms. A
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restaurant occupied its front half at least, a dance studio above. Though he had only ever
entertained a vague interest in art, Bailey approached the window himself. A man with a
shabby beard sat inside, leaned back into a metal chair with a book in his hands. He pushed
a ticket past the slot at the bottom of the window while he read. Admit One. A poster
tacked up to the glass read "Free Sunday. Final Weekend." Bailey got in line.
Once inside the door, they passed through a black curtain and inched down a dim
hallway lit overhead by a single bulb. The light was lost in the stone walls, and it felt like
the first leg of tour into the passages of a crypt. Bailey had seen photos of them from his
father's trips through Europe—femurs and fibulae and skulls arranged into intricate designs.
The United States, though, unlike Paris, had no need for catacombs. The country buried its
dead in the earth. A nation of landmarks, memorials.
The line had stopped with Bailey, and he could see now to the end of the hallway
where it branched only to the right. After the turn there was yet another door, and the line
crept carefully through it. Above its entrance, a set of rules:
1. Do not talk to the prisoner.
2. Do not talk at all.
3. Do not hand the prisoner anything.
4. Turn off all cellular devices.
5. No photography permitted.
6. Keep your visit to no more than one minute.
7. Please do not disturb the prisoner.
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Bailey entered the room. At the far wall maybe twenty feet from the door, a short man sat
on a bed, the sheets pulled tautly across the mattress. His head was shorn close to the scalp,
and he moved a finger across his lips, apparently deep in some thought, while the guests to
his exhibit stalked quietly across the room. Bailey hadn't made it far from the door, and he
leaned against the wall near it now, opposite the man, and watched him lick his lips in the
same deliberate manner he had just ran his finger across them. When Bailey had read the
word "prisoner," he imagined bars between them, though he wasn't alarmed to find the cell
open and unadorned, empty except for the man and the bed. The other visitors cleared out,
sticking to the wall as they left. Too close, it seemed, too personal. The man wore dark
denim pants and a gray worker's shirt, buttoned to the collar. Faint chalk lines on the brick
wall behind him checked off the days, perhaps, since he had occupied the room. Too many
to count. 300. 350. A year, maybe more. He stared at Bailey's feet, but he wasn't looking
at them. He stared past them, his hands folded innocently in his lap.
Sunday. Final weekend. Today was the end of the exhibit. He would go home
tonight, wherever that might be. Even in the dusk, his eyes would sting from the light, the
news that the city he had known had changed forever. Had they told him? How could
anyone deliver that news? Maybe they didn't have to. He'd lived through that day just as
any other, tucked away in a cell, blind and deaf to the attacks not three miles away. Of
course, the man couldn't walk past a newsstand, a month later, without seeing reports of
what had transpired. But without having lived that day, without having gone to sleep with
those images of flame and debris droning in his mind, he was saved from it. He could have
been the only conscious person in the entire world who still did not know. It wasn't fair.
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The news of that day, the whole of his experience, balled inside the pit of his stomach to
expel into the prisoner's face. Bailey wanted to spoil it for him. Bailey wanted to wake him
up, to shake him loose of his ignorance.
He found himself alone in the room with the prisoner, who now sat back against the
wall. Bailey took a step toward him.
"Hey," he whispered. "How long have you been here?"
The man shook his head, a warning, maybe. Or perhaps he didn't understand.
"Has anyone told you what happened?" asked Bailey. "About what's going on out
there?" He took another step toward the bed.
The man closed his eyes. He reached a hand into his pants pocket.
"Have they told you about 9/11?"
Another man entered the room through the curtains at the exit—the man from the
ticket window. He rushed at Bailey and grabbed him by the arm.
"Let's go," he said. "You're out of here."
Bailey shrugged him away easily as the man tried to escort him out of the room.
"They killed us," Bailey yelled. "They killed us all."
"That's enough."
"You need to tell him. Tell him what happened."
"No," said the man. "He doesn't want to know. Get out of here right now or I'm
going to call the police."
He was pointing a finger at Bailey's face. Shorter than Bailey, and skinny, an art
student, probably. Full beard, thick plastic frames, the Walt Whitman type after some
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elusive truth about America. His face was red with resentment. Bailey laughed. The man
glared at him, as surprised with his reaction as Bailey was.
"Okay," said Bailey. "I'll go."
The man followed him out of the room through the back door that fed into a back
alley. He watched with his arms crossed as Bailey made his way to 25th. He'd been so
adamant about concealing the truth. And only hours, it seemed, until the man was released.
What was the point?
Bailey entered the restaurant and took a seat at the bar. He needed to eat something,
probably, irritated from hunger. He replayed the incident in his mind, baffled by his
decision to act on his impulses. Baffled by the impulse itself. For the past few months the
academy had ingrained in him the want to repress spontaneous feeling. The priority of an
officer is to keep a level head, to keep one's initial impressions at an arm's lengths, the
appropriate distance from which he can analyze and measure them, stifle them. Gen
William Worth's Battalion Orders: soldiers should be inflexible and unwavering in the
fulfillment of their orders, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings.
There is no place for them in the Army. If you showed anything but support you were
acting out, you were in the wrong. Ate up, fouled up, an eyesore on the whole damn Army.
Bailey's stomach turned with hunger, or maybe with dissatisfaction with himself.
The bartender delivered his sandwich, then a pint of beer.
"I didn't order this," said Bailey.
"It's on the house," said the bartender.
"I don't understand."
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"You're in the Army, right?" he said.
Bailey looked at his clothes for some indication he'd left a piece of his uniform on
by accident. Nothing. The hair, he thought. It must be the hair.
"Is it so obvious?"
"I just wanted to say 'thanks,' friend," he said. "That's all. Keep up the good fight.
Let me know when you want another one."
Bailey drank the beer slowly at first, and before each sip he checked the mirror
behind the bar and then the door. If it was so obvious he belonged to the Army, any other
cadet or officer or enlisted man would spot him that much faster. And they would be less
enthusiastic about his selfless service to the country. They would not offer him a beer.
They would not call him "friend." His glass half empty, Bailey checked the door before
another swig to find the Whitman warden, the art student from the prison exhibit. The man
saw him as well, smirked, and approached the bar. Bailey took a drink as the man set up
next to him and flagged the bartender for another round, what he's having.
"You gave me quite a scare in there," he said. "You know, you would have been
more successful had you not said 9/11."
The bartender set two more pints in front of them.
"Like, 'Terrorists knocked down the World Trade Center,' or 'Suicide bombers just
killed thousands of people down the street.' 9/11 doesn't mean anything to him."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Bailey.
"Obviously," he said. '"A plane flew into the Twin Towers.' Something along these
lines would have done the job."
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"I can't say I had any idea that I was going to act out like that. I didn't even know
what I was going in to see. I was escaping the rain. I just wanted to go inside."
"Is that right?"
Bailey finished the first glass, pushed it toward the end of the bar, and then took a sip
from the next. He nodded.
"I have to say, though," said the man. "He wouldn't have understood you anyway.
He doesn't speak English."
He laughed and drank from his mug. Bailey felt the tension release in his shoulders.
He laughed, too.
"I'm Victor," the man said. "The director of that gallery, the 'Art Cube' we call it."
"Bailey."
"Pleasure to meet you, Bailey. You'll be happy to know that our subject will be on
his way to the hospital in a matter of hours. A checkup on his mental welfare. By this time
tomorrow he'll surely be on his way to catching up with recent events and goings-on about
the town."
"If he couldn't speak English, then why were you so upset about me talking to him?"
"Well, I think he knows some English," said Victor. "We couldn't have people just
spouting off whatever they wanted to say in front of him. And, anyway, that was the goal—
to create a space for him of complete silence—uninterrupted thought for the entire duration
of his confinement. No news from the outside world, especially. To capture the
development of man's state of mind without the fragmentation of consciousness so typical
of our daily lives. A man alone with his thoughts."
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"From what I saw he had no way of recording his thoughts or feelings," said Bailey.
"Anyway," said Victor, "it was more about the relationship between the subject and
the spectator, the impact that resulted from that union of consciousness. You take that
experience home with you, essentially. It doesn't leave you. Why? Because the subject
does what we are all doing every day."
"That's fairly pessimistic."
"But don't you agree?" said Victor. "It's less pessimism, I'd say, than a stab at truth.
You felt something in there, and you couldn't deny it. But the truth you were trying to
deliver was superficial. Current events. Trivia. And we weren't keeping him from it; his
goal was to be free from the rattle of the everyday. We worked for him. He could have
walked out of that room anytime. It was his choice to stay inside. Pointless, you might say,
and many critics did, obvious even. Cowardly. I say courageous. I say brave. I say
inspired."
Bailey checked the door again before he drank. A couple of uniformed men passed
the window and stopped near the door to study the menu. They crumpled their brows as
they studied, then entered the bar together. The bartender noticed them and he clapped
loudly so the entire restaurant would see them, and within seconds the whole place was
brash with applause. They were enlisted men from some local division. 10th Mountain.
Victor watched them as they sat at a table near the window. Bailey leaned toward the bar.
"But definitions can be subjective," said Victor.
"He didn't leave one time?" asked Bailey.
"An entire year," said Victor. "Not something I could do. Could you have?"
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Victor smirked at Bailey from behind his thick frames. He wore a black t-shirt
underneath an almost mustard corduroy jacket that had gone threadbare around the elbows.
Bailey attempted to imagine this man's life, where he lived and how he earned any money.
Free Sunday showings didn't make him any money, but he could lean back in a chair and
read a secondhand novel at work even if he, too, was stuck inside a box. Bailey found his
existence both appealing and repulsive. It seemed almost perverted, that amount of control
he exercised in his own life. It thrilled him, though, to entertain the idea of himself in that
chair, an outsider. But what good did it do? Bailey was in no place to consider it. It should
have been of no value to him. It shouldn't have been so attractive.
"I can see it in you," said Victor. "There's a bit of a wild man in there."
"I didn't want to just tell him about 9/11," said Bailey. "Well, I did. But it was more
than that. I wanted him to know what I know. I was jealous of what he didn't know."
Victor nodded. "Yes," he said.
"That sounds ridiculous," said Bailey. "I can't believe what I'm saying."
"It sounds perfectly sane to me. You know, you weren't the first one to try to tell
him something. For Christ's sake, look at what's gone on this year. Foot and mouth. An
earthquake in Peru. Terrorist attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center. The
Pentagon. A field in Pennsylvania. Anthrax. The Nepalese royal massacre. The Ravens
beat the Giants in the Super Bowl. We elected George W. Bush as our president. People,
they shouted all kinds of things. We've been conditioned to believe that we'll find some
kind of truth out there if we sift through the garbage enough. Or maybe we feel like we can
prevent the truth by blanketing ourselves with this shit. Or delay it at least. This is the Era
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of Celebrity, of Trivia, of Trash. We've built a wall of it around ourselves and are trying
desperately to sort through it all to find something significant. We're afraid to look into
ourselves. Afraid that what we'll find inside ourselves will be alien. Will be ugly."
"What do you think your prisoner saw?"
"It doesn't matter," said Victor. "It's what I saw. It's what you saw. And it's
terrifying, but necessary, I would say."
Bailey finished the beer in front of him. He checked his watch.
"Another one?" asked Victor.
"No," said Bailey. "I'd better start heading back to my cell."
"Well, come check us out again soon." Victor handed Bailey his card. Victor
Darien. Art Cube Gallery. "We'll have another exhibit up next month. They'll be
paintings, so when you yell at them, don't expect them to respond. They don't speak
English."
At Penn Station, Bailey sat alone on a wooden bench outside of a food court while
the subway trains paused at the platforms for folks on their way to Grand Central,
connections to the Hudson Line, back to Garrison. A display hung in the hallway and listed
arrivals and departures: Boston, Charlotte, Miami, Trenton. He needed to change back into
his uniform before the train. If anyone saw him in civilian clothes they would nail him
immediately. Plebes have that look to them, starved from Cadet Basic Training, too feeble
to pass for anything else. And he was alone; upperclassmen tended to travel in packs. Like
wolves. Bailey was a sheep shorn of his coat, wandering outside the gates of his normal
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pasture, cold and afraid, but reluctant to return to the place that had contained him. A trash
barrel stood outside the restroom, its opening large enough for Bailey to throw his entire bag
inside. Or he could just leave it on the bench and board a train some other direction, it
wouldn't matter. Do not leave luggage unattended.
security personnel immediately.
Report any abandoned belongings to
He could hear it, the controlled explosion of his uniform as
he hopped a train to Philadelphia.
But there was nothing there waiting for him. Nothing in Philadelphia or New York
or Kansas City. Even if he went home, everything he had known would seem foreign and
changed. His friends were scattered across the state and, like him, attempting to stake some
yet formless claim for their futures. And in striking out for some other, lesser land than
West Point, Bailey would be admitting his failure. His defeat.
Bailey would buy a ticket to Grand Central, then the Hudson Line. Back through
Sing-Sing, then Scarborough, Ossining, Croton-Harmon, Cortlandt, Peekskill, Manitou.
Before Garrison, the Bear Mountain Bridge would tower over the train, stretched elegantly
across the river between verdant hills, the last signpost of civilian life before the train
approached the craggy face of West Point.
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10.
13 Oct 2001
Christian's ex-wife answered the door in a bathrobe cinched tightly around her waist,
though the torso hung open and revealed an ivory slip he'd never seen before. Not that he'd
often bought lingerie for her when they'd been together. Was it a negligee? He didn't know.
He looked past her into the hallway where Rion stood, still in his pajamas, a knotted slip
protruding from his mouth. A tuft of hair spiked outward from one side of his head. He
eyed Christian uncertainly. The boy was obviously tired; it hadn't been that long since his
father had visited. Christian checked his watch. Still early, he thought, at least for a
civilian. Helen opened the door for him to enter, and he passed her there with a smile and
leaned his ruck up against the landing at the bottom of the stairs. Rion allowed Christian to
pick him up, and he raised the little boy high above his head. Once straddled against his hip,
Christian plucked the slip from the boy's mouth. Rion reached out for the thing, but
Christian held it away from his reach. The boy cried then, a short shriek before a long and
pitiful moan.
"Christian," said Helen, "give it back to him."
"What's the boy doing with a pacifier?" he said. "For crying out loud, he's three
years old."
"He's only four," she said. "Give the child what he wants."
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Christian handed it back to him. The knot at the top of the slip stank with dried
saliva. The boy shoved it back in his mouth. Tucked to one side of his mouth it looked like
an abnormal growth. A tumor. He'd stopped crying.
'"Give the child what he wants,'" said Christian. "There's something I don't like
about that phrase."
"What are you doing here?" Helen asked him.
"Visiting my family," said Christian.
"You should have called."
Orion wriggled in his arms. He reached out for his mother, and she leaned in to take
him. A necklace dangled out from her cleavage, a green stone as its pendant. A piece he'd
never seen before.
"He doesn't recognize you," she said.
Christian took a deep breath. Of course she would react like this. Helen knew what
to say to hurt. And she had numerous targets in her life—Christian wasn't the only one.
He'd often stepped between spats between her and her mother or her sister, sometimes both,
people she had once considered her best friends. She knew how to use words. She knew
how best to cut deep, to wound. They weren't so different, he thought, the two of them.
Only Christian didn't have anyone to spar with.
"I don't recognize you either," she said. "Is that a mustache?"
Christian stopped himself from raising a hand to brush it. A sign of weakness, an
opportunity only for further ridicule.
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"That's a little rebellious for you, don't you think?" she said. "And what's this
uniform? Who's Bellevue?"
The nameplate on his uniform—he'd forgotten to change it.
"Okay," she said. "Nevermind. Top secret."
Helen put Orion down in front of the television with a sandwich bag full of cookies
and a spill-proof cup of milk. Christian sat at the kitchen table and flipped the pages of the
morning's copy of The Journal.
Things had changed. The last time he'd set foot in Atlanta
she took The Constitution, a subscription he'd started for them.
The ends of things, he thought, are launched by a thousand small betrayals.
Helen put a pot of coffee on for him like she had done when they were married.
Four short years, though he'd grown accustomed to living with her rather easily. It was
Helen who had ended the marriage despite how forward he had been about his intentions.
He would remain in the Army. He would marry her so long as she was okay with that and
all it entailed. She was, she'd said, but it hadn't taken long for all the signs to manifest. He
didn't know what she had expected. Major Dad, a sit-com life with only the smallest of
problems neatly resolved by the time they climbed into bed? The reality had it that they
were rarely in bed at the same time. After Rion was born it didn't take Christian long to
finish off the slow death of their marriage. How did it go? His son, his executioner. But it
wasn't the boy's fault. No, Christian placed the blame squarely on Helen.
She brought him a cup of coffee.
"Do you want me to make you some breakfast?" she asked.
"No," he said. "I'll be fine for a while."
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Helen shivered. Her skin pulled taut across her chest. She held her robe together
with one hand, a cup of coffee with the other. She yawned.
"How is West Point?" she asked.
"It's fine," he said. "Thank you for asking."
"Is that all I get out of that conversation? Let me guess—top secret."
Christian smiled at her pleadingly. He wanted to see his son. That was all.
"I really wish you would have called," she said.
"You said that already."
"We're not always here, you know. What made you think you could just walk right
up to the door and we'd be here?"
"Where else would you be?"
"Out," she said. "Anywhere. We plan for things around here. We planned on you
coming in August, Christian. Before that it was the Fourth of July. You thought you could
take leave for your birthday. For Orion's birthday. Christian, your son hasn't seen you in
five months. What do you think that does to a child?"
"You have plans today?"
"Maybe we do," she said. "Is that what you got from all that?"
"You're seeing someone," said Christian. "You're going to take my son over to some
other man's house."
Helen laughed. "You're really impossible."
"Don't talk to me like that in front of my son."
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She slammed her mug onto the table. The coffee sloshed over the rim and ran down
her hand, her arm. She cursed and rushed into the kitchen. Rion looked in at them from his
place on the carpet. Christian couldn't tell if he'd been watching them this whole time or if
he'd only sensed his mother's departure, scared to be alone in the same room as this
apparently strange man. It would be good to remain at West Point for a few years, he
thought. If Christian sought battle right away, if Rion would grow up without some personal
memory of his father, he would have to rely on Helen to deliver his legacy to his son.
Someone else, a counterfeit father, might replace him, and Rion would be raised with only
the vaguest notion that he'd had at one point been different. That he, too, could live a life of
loyalty, of honor.
Christian smiled at the boy.
"It's all right," he said. "I'm going to check on your mother. We'll be right back,
Rion."
The boy nodded his head. He still recognized the name. Helen only referred to him
as Orion, an astrological reference Christian refused to call him. He'd wanted something
simple and traditional. Joe or Jeff or Jim. People who sought new and increasingly strange
names for their children were ushering in a new age of narcissistic sops. They were all over
the place—a y where an i should have been. Boys with girls' names. Kelly, Jamie, Ashley.
Bailey. Christian didn't understand it, so he'd called the boy Rion, a tiny protest.
He joined Helen in the kitchen. She stood next to the sink with a wet rag draped
across her hand. Christian stood next to her, but she wouldn't look at him.
"Believe it or not," he said, "this isn't what I'd intended."
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"What did you intend?" she asked.
"To make up for the time I missed. It's not that I wanted to miss coming down here
in August."
"You made a choice."
Helen cooled the rag under the faucet. The skin of her hand was raw from the burn.
She draped the rag over it again.
"You'll need to put some ointment on that."
Helen sighed.
"I'm seeing someone," she said. "He's coming over this afternoon. To stay the night
with me and Orion."
"Cancel," said Christian.
She shook her head. "No. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to mess this up.
Not this one."
Christian slicked down his mustache with his fingers. He couldn't help it. He could
stay in a hotel tonight. Or he could go to the airport and try to get a standby. She was right.
He should have called.
"What's he like?" he asked. "What's he do?"
"I don't want to get into this."
"I'll leave," he said. After a deep sigh he could feel it pent up, a tightening deep
inside him that to shake free would result in the loss of his control of the situation. He'd
already lost control here. Helen had rendered him defenseless. "Just answer the one
goddamn question. What kind of hero did you bag this time?"
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"He's a supervisor with Lockheed Martin," said Helen. "In Marietta."
Christian laughed. She said it with such confidence. She knew he would ask. Did
she think it would impress him?
"Of course," said Christian. "That makes perfect sense. In support of the military
without any real threat of danger. Working in support of the war but will always be home
for dinner."
"Stop it."
"If he's into making weapons it looks like he'll be bringing home the bacon for some
time. Business is gonna pick up real quick."
"I think you know something about the private sector yourself," she said. "You think
you're so innocent."
"I never said that," said Christian. "But this one? He sounds like he has the right
stuff. Unless a weapon were to accidentally detonate inside his building. You never know.
A round goes off and that place lights up like a fireworks stand. And a supervisor on top of
that. Hell, these days it wouldn't be all that unlikely if some disgruntled worker were to
come in and cut him down right there on the floor. Or maybe he gets an anthrax letter in the
mail. Or maybe it's the disgruntled husband of a lover he's shacked up with."
"We're not married," said Helen.
"I know we're not," said Christian. "I just don't want you to go thinking you're the
only one for this guy."
"You have no idea what you're talking about. I want you to leave."
"I'm not going anywhere."
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"Get out," she yelled.
She threw the rag at Christian's face. It slapped his neck and blotched the collar of
his uniform. He grabbed her by the wrist of her injured hand.
"Don't you ever act like that in front of my son," he said.
She was looking past him at the doorway. Rion stood there with the slip in his hand,
his mouth agape where the knot had been. Christian released Helen's wrist. She moved past
him and picked up the child, rushed into the hallway that led to the foyer. He didn't move
from the kitchen until he heard the door open and he crossed through the living room to the
bay windows at the front of the house to see Helen scurrying across the front lawn to the
neighbor's house. Rion looked back at him there, the pacifier in his mouth again. Christian
would remain the true military man in his son's life. The one he wanted to be. The one he
wanted his son to know.
He sat on the stairs for a moment before he found the number for the house next
door. The neighbor answered the phone. Christian explained that he would leave and catch
a standby that afternoon. He wouldn't come back, so there was no need to call the police or
do anything drastic like that.
"Go to hell," said the woman on the other end.
"Okay," said Christian. "Give me five minutes."
Christian climbed the stairs with the support of the banister, its familiar creak as he
used it to lift his weight. When his family moved to a two-story home, Christian would sail
down the staircase, three steps, four steps at a time, weightless as he cut through the air. In
those moments it was his greatest ambition to fly. He wondered if Rion passed these with
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the same enthusiasm, or if for himself it was the product of his family's rise in the town's
social hierarchy. If one might only appreciate stairs after being without them.
The door to the master bedroom was closed. Helen had been inside when Christian
arrived, shut the door behind her to prevent any ideas of movement in its direction. He
opened it now, his body bladed toward the room in case her lover stood inside ready to
pounce on an intruder. It wouldn't have surprised him, some yellow-bellied prick too afraid
to answer to his own girlfriend's distress. He wouldn't have minded. The room, regrettably,
was empty.
A photo of Rion and Helen stood on her dresser. They were in a park, her arms
around him as he tried to run away from her, both laughing wildly. Their actions blurred the
image slightly, though the background was, too. Anyone could have taken the picture—her
sister, her mother, the new man. Anyone but him.
Socks filled the first drawer, piles of them strewn and unfurled. Shirts in the second
drawer. In the last one Christian found her slips, silky pieces of material bordered with lace.
He picked one up and felt it in his hands. Ivory again. It felt smooth against his cheek, his
mustache, and gave off the slightest hint of acridity, like a coat of sour milk dried inside a
cup. Christian tied it in a simple overhand knot and shoved it into his pocket.
Downstairs, Christian shouldered his rucksack. Rion's slip lay in the foyer.
Christian picked it up, soaked through at the knot, and draped it over the banister. He
wouldn't deny his son. What had she said? 'Let the boy have what he wants.'
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3.
15 Oct 2001
A message from Hooke was waiting at the COD's desk when Portia and Sparks
reported late from the weekend's leave. As the regimental command sergeant major, it said,
he was required to call their company's tactical officer and inform him of their truancy
during the evening formation. He didn't ask whether they'd been in Washington D.C.
visiting the girl he'd blinded not two months ago. He didn't care.
The TAG issued Portia demerits on Monday morning before anyone had a chance to
think about breakfast, in what must have been a special trip to post. Punishments at West
Point were swift, she gave them that, the TAC out the door of his assigned house before his
wife could hand him a piece of toast. He appraised her over the top of his wire frames, brow
wrinkled in even lines underneath a tidy crew cut. These officers were all the same. Even
the female officers tended to look like this eventually: colorless, grave. Dull, like the fileddown blade of a bayonet at the end of a parade rifle. They appeared harmless, but would
still run you through if provoked.
"I can't spare you even given your circumstances," he said. "You understand I can't
show the slightest bit of prejudice."
"Yes, sir," said Portia.
"Things are so ..."—he said, and he groped for a word in the air in front of him—
"touchy these days. Do you follow?"
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Portia said that she did.
No one but Bailey and Sparks had spoken to her about Cate. Her roommate tolerated
her, though barely, if Portia was to interpret the various grunts and sighs she emitted when
returning to their room to find Portia there. Things were touchy, yes. On edge. Only the
first- and seond-class cadets—those poor souls who had endured two or three years of the
academy conflict-free to spend their last, most commanding years worrying about the onset
of war—resembled the officers around post. Dull. Gray. The yuks and plebes were the
fortunate ones free from this anxiety, those too far away from the reality of their
circumstances to acknowledge its potential gravity, those who still had the opportunity to
opt out of it all—if anyone really believed that was a possibility. They had the advantage to
watch the nation's anger accumulate from a unique perspective, not yet its knights. Or
pawns.
"Don't let it happen again," said the TAC, and he excused her from his office with a
weary salute. He yawned. His wife hadn't the chance to hand him a cup of coffee.
Sparks was slumped over the COD's desk outside.
"He only gave me three hours of walking tour," Portia told him. "He seems to be in
a decent mood."
"Until I get in there," said Sparks. He picked his hat up from the desk and plodded
toward the office door. "Wish me luck."
Portia nodded. His gloom was warranted—Sparks' punishment would be more
severe. After all, they'd already stripped him of his rank. His only hope might have been
another demotion, to a yuk this time, and a rescinding of his commitment to the academy
169
that he'd taken at the end of that second year. Then he could leave. But that was a pipe
dream. Any demotion and they'd expel him and send him to the regulars, which was the last
thing anyone at the academy wanted—to suffer under the command of a Hooke someday.
The best reason to train most future officers in one place: to keep the enlisted men from
witnessing the education of fools who would one day lead them into battle.
Yet there were good people who could lead soldiers, who could actually relate to
them. Like Bailey. Like Sparks. Like Cate. Hooke and everyone else like him would run
their troops into the ground like they were trying to bury everyone else at the academy.
They were attempting single-handedly to rid the Army of its good. The chain of command
was a food chain to them.
Sparks landed nine hours plus a night-watch shift generally rotated among the
regiment's plebes.
Portia walked her hours with him on the concrete plain that afternoon, a slight smile
shared as they passed one another on their direct lines between Bradley Barracks and
Nininger Hall, only a brief pause before an about-face at the end of the line. Sweat escaped
from the rim of her tar-bucket hat, soaked into the white blouse and gloves—dress that
heaped on humiliation as their peers walked freely past in standard gray. Though she kept
her eyes forward, Portia could watch them skirt along the edges of the detainees' imaginary
yard. She could sense the Guard on Duty watching her there, paused at the end of the line.
The stern brigade sergeant major in his perfectly ironed shirt who, like so many others,
hounded his inferiors to prove his loyalty to the Corps alive and the Corps dead. Portia spun
around and resumed her tour before he could reprimand her. She'd never heard an acronym
170
used for Guard on Duty. Maybe they found it sacrilegious. Or maybe they didn't want to
give that much power to someone still low on the chain. Guard on Duty. G-O-D. He
scrutinized her march from underneath his white cap.
Power would eventually find its way into the wrong hands.
Strangely, Sparks' uniform relieved him of his more unpleasant features—in its
absurd height, his tar bucket seemed to offset the suggestion of a potbelly, and the gloves
lent an elegance to his laborious stride. Portia had never considered Sparks a candidate for
her affection, though she knew the idea—as in most of the academy's males—had occurred
to him, but he'd held off enough for theirs to remain a platonic relationship. As she walked
near him, though, for the first time it didn't seem out of the question. There was still Bailey,
of course, but they'd only had the one encounter. And it was a mistake—she'd made that
much clear. If they left it alone for the rest of the year they could pick it back up once he
scrambled to a different company. Then it would be much easier to navigate their romance.
That easiness, unfortunately, worried her. There was something thrilling in breaking the
rules, the supposed dishonor of her conduct—unbecoming of an officer-in-training. No
matter how furtive, though, with Dean back in her charge it proved nearly impossible to see
Bailey now. She had to give him up.
At 1700 the GOD called them to attention and had them fall into a platoon
formation. He checked off the hours of punishment paid toward their collected debt and
allowed them to return to their rooms. Sparks invited Portia to his room for a bottle of
water. She sat at his roommate's desk and drank across from him, out of breath from the
tour and the climb up the stairs. Sparks opened a window. The sun had passed overhead
171
and the evening's breeze was cooler than it had been all semester. Portia quivered, nearly
nauseous from the exercise, from hunger maybe. But it was the movement of the year, too,
how badly things had gone already, how quickly it all gone awry. By the spring she'd have
to pick a summer training program and by this time the next year she would sign her
commitment to the Army. She would hand over to them the next seven years of her life, all
without her sister.
"If you had to do it all over again," she asked Sparks, "would you sign that
commitment?"
"Shit," he said. He drank from the bottle of water and wiped the sweat from his
brow. "It's hard to believe that was less than two months ago. And look where I am now—
back to a yuk again."
"So, would you?"
"We'll see how the rest of the year goes," he said. "So long as I can get Hooke off
my back. I think I could stand an extra semester here. Another year? I'm not sure."
Portia nodded.
"You gonna leave me?" he asked.
"I don't think so," she said. "I always think like this when something goes wrong. In
high school I nearly quit the basketball team when the coach yelled at me. He the basketball
from my hands and threw it against the backboard, tossed me out of practice. At the time I
thought that was the end of the world. I thought that was bad."
"No one really knows what they're getting into when they come here," said Sparks.
"Except maybe the Hookes of the world. But what kind of a fucked-up childhood prepares
172
you for a place like this? My parents never yelled at me, never disciplined me. One of my
squad mates in Beast nearly broke down in tears the first day. It took him all day to get out
the correct responses. Then this past summer he's ripping into these kids, and I'm thinking,
'what snapped in this guy'?"
"They feel like it's their turn."
"It's a vicious fucking cycle."
"It's sick."
Sparks finished his bottle, crushed it, and tossed it across the room in the general
area of a trash bin.
"A squad mate of yours, huh?" asked Portia.
"Well," said Sparks. He laughed. "I felt terrible about it. Does that count for
anything?"
"You're sick."
Sparks shrugged. "I could see it in this kids' eyes. Another little Hooke waiting for
his call to arms. I tried to put him in his place, I guess. I doubt he got the message. I'm
sorry to bring up that name so much."
"Don't worry about it."
"I can't believe he's gone unpunished."
"Yeah," said Portia. "Isn't violence supposed to beget violence?"
"The best revenge is killing well."
An eye for an eye, thought Portia. Sure. And then it occurred to her: During the
previous academic year the regiment had placed a ban on "birthday parties," the
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underclassmen's only way of retribution against their superiors. Allowed only on the
upperclassman's birthday, the plebes could kidnap him and humiliate him in front of the
company, which usually meant a blindfolded trip around the halls in a laundry cart, then
shoved into the showers where the plebes would pour soured milk over his head and smear
cake in his face. Happy birthday.
Portia proposed it to Sparks. It would break the rules, but if any company could get
away with it, it would be theirs—Easy Company. The just deserts: Hooke was the principal
force behind the banishment of the birthday party ritual.
Sparks had a calendar of the company members' birthdays on his computer. Hooke's
wasn't until January.
"That's too far off," said Portia.
"I agree," he said. "No sense in delayed justice. The impact won't be the same. But
if we were to elect a couple of plebes to do the job, they would never know if, say, his
birthday was next week. You could point to any plebe in the company and he would jump at
the chance to get back at Hooke."
"Yeah," said Portia. "You have anyone in mind?"
"Yes," he said. "The same as you."
Portia nodded. She knew just the ones.
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3.
17 Oct 2001
TO: [Tilley, Lucas (Second-Class, USMA)]
FROM: Justice, Christian (Capt.)
8:43 a.m.
RE: A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow...
Cadet Sergeant Tilley:
Please be aware of your misuse of the United States Military Academy's policy
regarding mass electronic mailings and the corps-wide listserv. These services are available
to you for educational purposes only and should not be used to promote activities
unsanctioned by the commanding officers of the United States Corps of Cadets. Further
misuse of military property will result in punishment or termination of your appointment.
Respectfully,
Capt. Christian Justice (Class of'84)
Deputy of Morale and Welfare
175
FROM: Tilley, Lucas (Second-Class,
USMA)
TO: United States Corps of Cadets (listserv)
7:55 a.m.
SUBJ.: A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow...
Unleash the BEAST tonight. 2100 hours. In front of the mess next to the
Washington Monument.
Make Martha proud andfight for her honor. Every man for
himself battle royal. Unshackle those restless pillows.
LT
*
"Beat the Christians," could be heard booming down the halls of E-2. The football
team, everyone agreed, would beat Texas Christian University that weekend, and as a
reward for that assured victory, the entire upper class could take leave from post the
following weekend. To celebrate this guaranteed vacation, the entire Corps would
congregate in front of Washington Hall for a pillow fight at 2100 hours. Every man for
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himself. It was time, they said, to shake free the doldrums of cabin fever—to borrow a term
from their subordinates at the Naval Academy.
Bailey saw the e-mail before the day's first class, and by lunch the superintendent
must have gotten word about it because the upperclassmen were passing down the details of
a revised agenda along with the tins of mashed potatoes: the fight was still on, but the time
and place had changed. 2200 hours. The Central Area. Bailey rolled his eyes at Dean to
express his disinterest in such childishness, but he could see in Dean's smirk a sense of
enthusiasm that, since his father's death, he'd kept hidden behind a veil of stoic industry—
needlework mostly. During the pillow fight, Dean would finally set free his anger on the
upper class.
Since the attacks, the only cadets granted leave—aside from the cast of "The Class of
9/11"—had been those of the upper-echelon given access to Ground Zero for a photo op.
On the front page of the New York Times the Brigade Commander, Cadet First Captain Nick
March, stood with Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki as they assessed the organized
wasteland. "A Modern Holocaust," it read. Several others from the brigade staff had joined
him there, but all they could do was hand out bottles of water and energy bars to the men
and women hauling out loads of melted I-beam and various debris. The upper classes were
itchy for leave and would take out their frustrations on anyone. Bailey, on the other hand,
would keep as much distance from the fray as he could. He didn't have confidence in a fair
fight.
"What trivia do you have for us today?" asked Lovell.
177
Bailey knew he wouldn't call on Dean; he hadn't since Dean had returned. Lovell
felt sorry for him. Everyone did, so Bailey absorbed the brunt of abuse at the table. Today,
though, he decided to wait. He kept his hands in his lap and stared across the table. Of
course it wouldn't work. They would call on Bailey eventually. Sergeant Ruckman cleared
his throat.
Dean stared past Bailey to the door, the stairs that led back to the barracks, to his
project. He'd returned late on the night of the 25th, two weeks after his father's death, a
plastic sack full of cloth and yarn—squares and strings in shades of terra firma. He went
without sleep that night as he sewed them to the jacket of his BDUs with only an infrared
flashlight clenched between his teeth. He went at it doggedly, an hour at night and then
another in the morning, during the break between classes. When he finished it had begun to
resemble, at least from a distance when hung in the corner, a neglected household plant.
Over the weekend he began work on the pants. It was a ghillie suit, he said. Camouflage.
Dean wanted to kill his enemy from long distances, to become one with his environment, to
inhabit it like his enemy never could. Dean would use the ghillie suit to this end—to watch
his enemy, to study him, and on a cool morning when he stepped out of his home having just
checked on his sleeping children so innocent with their dreams, he would to explode his
enemy's guilty head. Dean was through sleeping, he said. He had a purpose now.
Draped across his bed, the ghillie looked more like an afghan—full of holes.
The Commandant allowed Dean to drop an English course to study Arabic. He
would petition to skip Cadet Field Training the next summer for Jump School. He planned
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to be a Ranger before graduation. This would be no trouble for him. His mind, he said, was
already in a perpetual Desert Phase.
"Bailey?" said Lovell.
"Sir," said Bailey, "which team has the chance to break the 'Balboni Curse' if they
win the World Series?"
Lovell conferred with his fellow cadet officers.
"What the fuck is the 'Balboni Curse'?" asked Ruckman.
"Sergeant, no team since the '85 Kansas City Royals has won the World Series with a
player that hit 36 or more homeruns in the regular season," said Bailey. "That year it was
Steve Balboni. Which team has the chance to accomplish that this year?"
"I get it," said Lovell. "A player hits that many homeruns and he's alone on the team
in terms of talent."
"Tito Martinez hit a lot of homeruns," said Ruckman.
"Not 36," said Lovell. "I doubt it. Yankees don't hit that many homeruns."
"Don't talk about my Yankees that way," said Ruckman. "Mickey Mantle? Babe
Ruth? Gehrig? DiMaggio? Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Luis Gonzalez hit more."
"The Arizona Diamondbacks win the World Series," said Ruckman, "and I'll piss on
my mother's grave. This is New York's year. If they lose, it'll be like the United States
getting kicked in the fucking teeth."
"That's not the question," said Lovell. "The Diamondbacks are still in the running.
It doesn't matter if they lose. How many homeruns has Gonzalez hit?"
179
"I don't know. 40? 50? More?"
"We'll go with Diamondbacks," Lovell said to Bailey.
"Yes, sir," said Bailey. "That is correct."
"All the luck to them," said Ruckman. "Ain't gonna happen. Not on my watch."
"How many homeruns does Gonzalez have?" asked Lovell.
"I don't know, sir," said Bailey.
Lovell sighed. "Come with the facts, Bailey," he said.
Hooke set his fork down on the table. He eyed Lovell as he chewed, and after
wiping his mouth with a napkin, set it down next to his plate.
"It's okay, Cadet Private Benedict," said Lovell. "Good question."
"Moving on to something related, though of more consequence," said Hooke. "Cadet
Private Sullivan," he said, "give me 'MacArthur's Opinion of Athletes.'"
Dean set down the tin of baked chicken that had finally made its way to the plebes'
end of the table. He cleared his throat.
"Sergeant," he said, "MacArthur's Opinion of Athletes: I give it as my fixed opinion,
that but for our graduated cadets, the war between the United States and Mexico might, and
probably would have lasted some four or five years—"
"Let me stop you there," said Hooke.
Captain Lovell and the other cadet officers broke into laughter, napkins to their faces
to block the spray of peas and potatoes. Bailey bit his cheek to stop himself from laughing.
Hooke glared at them.
180
"You've given us a fine rendition of'Scott's Fixed Opinion,'" he said, "but I asked for
Mac Arthur's. The subjects of their opinions are substantially different. Let's try again."
"Sergeant," said Dean. '"MacArthur's Fixed Opinion.'"
"I believe it's his opinion of athletes," said Hooke. "Fixed or otherwise."
"Oh, Christ," said Ruckman. "Leave the kid alone."
"You'll want to watch your language in front of your subordinates, Cadet Sergeant
Ruckman," said Hooke.
Ruckman shook his head.
"Cadet Benedict," said Hooke. "Care to save the table?"
Bailey stared at Dean as he recited the quote, but Dean looked away:
Upon the fields offriendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields, on other
days, will bear the fruits of victoiy.
Hooke rubbed an apple with his sleeve and ripped a chunk from it with his teeth. He
set it on his plate, toweled his hands with his napkin, and stood from the table.
"Cadet Private Sullivan," he said, "I know you don't feel sorry for yourself, so I'm
not going to make any point to feel sorry for you either. If I were you I'd take offense to
those who expect less of you now. I wouldn't do that to you. I have a meeting with the
TAC now. Carry my saber back to the barracks and wait for me outside his office. You
might want to go over 'MacArthur's Opinion' a few times in your head between now and
then. Good day to the rest of you."
"Beat the Christians, Sergeant," said Bailey.
Hooke stared at him a moment while he gathered his saber and his belt.
181
"Yes," he said. "Beat Texas Christian, Cadet Benedict."
"Fuck," said Ruckman after Hooke had gone, "that guy."
The commandant of the mess dismissed the plebes last, as usual, and Bailey exited
while Dean gathered Hooke's belongings. He crossed the plain alone and entered Bradley
Barracks at the west entrance to find the men from his table huddled together at the recess
behind the stairwell, which their battalion referred to as the "rape space." It was a dark and
unwelcoming corner of the barracks, but like all other rooms on post, immaculately clean.
Area enough to store a small body. As good a place as any to sit a plebe in solitary
confinement. A good place to take someone's green girl and defile her there.
"Beat the Christians, gentlemen," said Bailey as he passed them there toward the
steps. He gunned the words in a low, rapid succession he hoped would prove masculine and
anonymous enough for them to ignore him, strangled the words into a voice not quite his
own. Most members of his company, though, didn't care enough to cut down a miserable
plebe—that is, unless they'd been deprived of leave or, given leave, been deprived of sex
from their girlfriends.
"Hey, Bailey," said one of them. "Get over here."
The flesh of his neck bristled; he'd almost made it. A group of cadets was always
worse than one—men or women, it didn't matter. In groups they were like lions picking
apart fresh prey, after the most sapid piece in attempt to assert their dominance. At least
they were cadets he knew. And they weren't Hooke.
Lovell stood from the other men bent over at the waist, all mesmerized by something
on the floor. Bailey didn't want to know what they would have him do with whatever they'd
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found there. Knowing the group, it had to have been something of profane interest—
cockroaches, he ventured, dueling over a used condom.
They opened the circle to allow Bailey inside. He squeezed between the hips of
Ruckman and Lovell. Sparks waved at him from the wall nearest the rape space. In the
dark recess a pyramidal form of a vague substance began to take shape. As Bailey's eyes
adjusted he began to recognize its characteristics—white and loose like sugar. Or maybe
baking soda or some kind of detergent.
"Anthrax?" said Lovell.
"You idiot," said Ruckman. "You were supposed to get his honest opinion. You've
tainted the experiment. Asshole."
"You can't talk to me like that," said Lovell. "I outrank you."
"Sorry, sir," he said, and extended his arm toward Lovell to shake his hand. Lovell
smiled and reached toward him, but Ruckman swung his hand up into Lovell's crotch. "Get
the fuck out of here with that talk," he said.
A band of brothers—the idea terrified Bailey. From his friends who had siblings,
brothers were always the worst. Conniving jerks who would test the borders of safety at
your expense. Jump off of my mother's van, the one with the ladder on the back—why else
would they put that there? Touch your penis to this light bulb. It's dry, but it's warm.
Bailey's history teacher told him that West Point was considered one of the nation's oldest
fraternities.
A brotherhood. Bailey ignored the analogy.
"Should we call someone?" said Sparks.
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"I think we would have broken out in sores by now if this was actually anthrax," said
Ruckman. "Anyway, who's gonna put anthrax in Bradley Barracks?"
"Terrorists," said Lovell.
"No one's touched it," said Sparks. "We can't break out in sores unless we touch it."
"Are you a doctor?"
"Permission to speak freely, gentlemen?" asked Bailey.
"It's fucking absorbent powder. Some plebe probably puked back there. Clean-up in
the rape space," said Ruckman as if over an intercom. "Clean-up in the rape space, please."
"This isn't elementary school. I don't see any janitors around here."
"Gentlemen?" said Bailey.
"Did you ever puke in the hallway at school?" asked Sparks. "I did at church one
time. All over the altar. Choir boy. And I would have been embarrassed except that the
church already smelled like piss and vomit. What is that?"
"Church of Islam?"
"Gentlemen," said Bailey.
"Go ahead already," said Ruckman. "Jesus, Benedict."
"You get anthrax poisoning when you inhale the spores from the powder. Spores are
invisible. People are dying from this. I agree—we need to call someone."
"I don't know," said Ruckman. "It smelled like detergent to me. Spring Sensations.
Floral Bouquet. Like my mother uses."
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"You're the only one I know whose mother would try to kill him with anthrax," said
Lovell. "Frankly I'm not that surprised." He tapped Bailey on the shoulder. "All right. You
can get out of here, Benedict."
They continued to mill around there as Bailey started up the stairwell, Ruckman with
Lovell in a headlock, strutting around the rape space like it was an end zone, Lovell's head
the football. He mimicked that he was going to spike it into the chalky substance. Bailey
wanted away from it, from them, so he began to take the stairs two at a time. The click of
his heels returned to him in an echo; he was alone there. He allowed himself to smile, and
the air that filled his lungs ballooned his head as well. At each landing the doors to the other
companies of the battalion were shut, and it surprised him that he wanted someone to burst
through them and to catch him—smiling, skipping stairs. The upperclassmen hadn't let up
on them since Sept. 11. In fact, they'd tightened their grip on the plebes. Somehow, Bailey
had managed to pass their inspections, their interrogations, their interruptions. A part of him
wanted someone to catch him slip. To punish him. Someone to hate, someone to make him
hate this place again.
At the top of the stairs Bailey crossed the hall toward his room, and in his peripheral
vision he could see Dean at the far end of the hall near the desk of the COD. He was braced
up against the wall there with Hooke's saber in his hand. Bailey shut the door to their room
behind him and leaned against it, out of breath from the climb. Dean's ghillie suit lay across
his rack, supine, as if someone were stretched out and sleeping. For a moment he thought
Dean might be inside it, that his mind had deceived him. But, Dean didn't sleep anymore.
He'd nearly finished with the pants, only a foot left on one of the legs. Maybe he'd make
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another one after that—one for the mountains of Afghanistan. Then one for the deserts of
the Middle East. It wouldn't stop for him. There was something admirable about his
mission, but something equally depressing as well. Bailey wanted to snap him out of it. He
wanted his old roommate back.
He opened the door and turned left toward where Dean stood at the end of the hall.
It was quiet there except for a shower running in the women's room. Bailey glanced behind
him and then back at Dean, whose eyes were now wide with disbelief at Bailey's actions—
that he had done anything but stare straight ahead. Bailey waved at him then, with the full
extension of his arm and a wagging hand, a real presidential show of confidence.
Everything is okay in the world, Mr. Sullivan. Nice to see you today. Dean pretended not
to see him, snapped back against the wall, his eyes distant and inflexible. About twenty feet
separated them then, and as Bailey closed the space he realized why Dean had straightened
up—Sergeant Hooke had opened the door to the TAC's office and was marching toward him
to retrieve his saber. Bailey clenched his fists again and strode past them, a sharp right at
the corner and down the cadet officers' hall.
"Beat the Christians, sergeant," said Bailey as he walked by.
"Cadet Benedict," said Hooke. "Halt."
Bailey planted his left foot and swung his right heel into the other with the flourish
of an overzealous drill sergeant.
"About. Face," yelled Hooke.
Bailey spun around to face him. Hooke strutted toward him, his shoulders shrugged
over so that his arms ballooned from the sides and gave the impression of a chest inflated
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more than his already was. In high school they had a name for the disease that caused this
condition—Imaginary Muscles Syndrome. IMS. Some of his teammates would walk the
halls this way, chin tucked in toward the chest. In his manner, Hooke resembled more the
statues of men scattered about the post than a real human being. His posture predicted he
would join them someday—revered by the innocent, but stone-like and, regrettably, dead.
"What kind of a greeting was that, Cadet Private Benedict?"
"Beat the Christians, sergeant," said Bailey.
"I didn't ask you to repeat yourself," said Hooke. "I thought I heard you correctly in
the mess hall. I believe the correct greeting is 'Beat Texas Christian.' Are you a Christian,
Cadet Benedict?"
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey.
"May I touch you?"
Bailey narrowed his eyes at Hooke.
"Don't look at me, Cadet. Do I have permission to touch you?"
"Yes, sergeant," said Bailey. He glanced away. Dean still froze with his heels
against the wall.
Hooke ran his fingers along the base of Bailey's neck, then inside the collar of his
shirt. Bailey's flesh prickled underneath his cold touch. The clinical manner of Hooke's
movement made him want to squirm away. He lifted the chain of Bailey's dog tags out of
his shirt and inspected them closely, leaving no slack on the rope. Bailey had to shift his
weight to keep from falling over. Hooke wanted proof of his allegiance not to their country,
but to their God. To him, perhaps, they were one in the same. No matter—it was all laid
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out for him there. Name, Social Security number, blood type, religion. An artifact for
future generations or, more pragmatically, for the identification or salvation of his body.
Bailey's father was a deacon at their Southern Baptist church. Unless Hooke was Catholic,
he wouldn't find any problems.
"Says here you're on the fence about this question of religion," said Hooke. The
sergeant raised the tags for Bailey to see. UNKNOWN, read the last line. "What do you
have to say for yourself, Cadet Benedict?"
"Sergeant, I do not understand."
Bailey had never noticed it before. He remembered completing the questionnaire at
the dining room table while his father filed his taxes. He'd written "Southern Baptist." It
pleased his father when he showed him the form. Bailey was baffled he'd never seen this on
his tags before, but it didn't upset him like he expected it to. UNKNOWN.
It seemed a fine
answer to an inquisition.
"What don't you understand?"
"I thought it said 'Southern Baptist,' sergeant. That's what I wrote on the card."
Hooke lifted the chain from Bailey's neck, unlocked the clasp and then pocketed the
tags. He poked at Bailey's chest where they would have hung had he still had them on.
"Prove yourself," said Hooke. "Give me your favorite scripture." He was smiling.
This was fun for him.
Bailey knew very little of The Bible outside of what he'd learned for Hooke earlier in
the semester, and even that escaped him now. As a child he would study the maps of the
ancient world in the pew bibles instead of enduring their pastor's sonorous sermons. The
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other kids in his classes were elitist bootlickers who wore their memorization of the good
book in charms around their wrists. Bailey never wanted any of it, but always tried to be a
good son for his parents. Quietly, he endured, and on the car ride home would recite one
thing he learned from the week's sermon, which he would glean from the pastor's final notes.
"Sergeant," said Bailey, "John 3:16. For God so loved the world, he gave his only
son—that's Jesus Christ, sergeant. And whoever believes in him shall never perish, but shall
have eternal life."
"Be careful with your words," said Hooke. He lowered his voice so only Bailey
could hear. "You can fool a man what's in your heart, but you can't fool God. Go back to
your room. You're making me sick."
Bailey spun back around and as he turned the corner:
"Beat Texas Christians, sergeant."
But Hooke did not reply.
That afternoon, as he awoke briefly from a nap before intramurals, Bailey forced his
eyes open long enough to see Dean as he sewed some the final pieces into the ghillie suit.
He wore the top as he sewed, and Bailey felt wild with Dean's appearance knowing full well
his subconscious would work this absurd image into the dreams of his tenuous sleep—a
feral boy had reclaimed the space of his former roommate, and it was now his responsibility
to tame him. He would show him the ropes of the academy. He would teach him to speak
again. He would teach him to march.
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Again, Bailey awoke—what time, he didn't know—and again Dean was dressed in
the ghillie suit. The pants this time. Bailey sat up in bed, the side of his head sharp with
pain as if someone had just screamed in his ear. He'd been clenching his teeth while he
slept. One of the windows has cracked and sucking in the cold October air. Bailey wrapped
his comforter around his shoulders, still warn from his body. He'd taken it out for the nap,
but would need to return it to the trunk before dinner. He folded it and stuffed inside the
trunk next to his lockbox, a gunmetal storage unit in which he kept his military ID. Cadets
were required to keep one on them at all times, and now that Hooke had Bailey's tags, he
would have to carry around the card with him. He retrieved it from the box and locked it
back up with the comforter.
"It's freezing in here," he said.
"No," said Dean, and that was all. He adjusted a piece on the top of the suit, some
yarn that had tangled where the headpiece would latch onto jacket. Dean was a taxidermist
now, fixing the matted fur of some slain, emptied animal. "Somebody tossed a computer out
into central area," he said. "Opened his window and just let it drop on the ground out there."
"A plebe?
"A cow, I think. Or maybe a firstie. And the club was closed tonight. He wasn't
even drunk."
The upper classes had gone crazy.
Bailey walked to the sink and stuck his head underneath the faucet. The cold water
stung his teeth. It felt cool in his dry throat, though, so he continued to slurp it into his
mouth. In the mirror, he watched himself as he yawned. His hair was getting longer. They
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called the second-class cadets yuks because they finally had the freedom to grow their hair
long, and most of them took advantage of this liberty. Bailey would, too. Call him what
they would: hippie, Yankee, yuk. It didn't matter so long as he didn't have to shave his head
every day like the Hitler Youth plebes in the third regiment—the Third Reich.
"You're really going to go out there and fight?" Bailey asked, still looking in the
mirror.
"Yes," said Dean.
"Wearing that Halloween costume?"
"Yes."
Bailey sat on the sink and stretched his legs. He couldn't quite reach his trunk to rest
his legs there, so he dangled them from the knee as if he were a child in a barber's chair.
"You know they're going to target anyone so foolish as to wear a Halloween costume
down to a pillow fight. You have companies full of rabid upperclassmen just waiting to pick
out some plebe by himself, and they're going to beat the shit out of him. Or her. They'd
probably prefer a girl, now that I think of it. And with that costume on, to be honest, they're
not going to know the difference. It's a fantasy come true for them, you go out there like
that."
"What are you saying?"
"That you're bound to get your ass kicked," said Bailey. "That's all. I'm not trying to
dishonor you here. I'm telling you this as a friend."
"It's a pillow fight, Bailey. It's fun."
"It's war. We didn't sign up for this."
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Dean scoffed. "Help me put this on," he said. He handed Bailey the hood, which
he'd modified to snap onto the collar of the jacket of his BDUs. They worked together to get
the thing on. Only Dean's face was visible through the hood. He opened the sink and
retrieved from it a green stick of camo paint. The makeup marked his nose and cheeks as he
dragged it across his face. He worked it into his eyelids and ears so that no skin would
show. It didn't matter; anyone in the company could pick him out of the crowd. Maybe
anyone in the regiment. They wouldn't take pity on him tonight.
"Are you ever going to tell me about Dellatorre?" he asked.
Bailey's throat tightened. His voice cracked as he spoke:
"What do you mean?"
"You must have been seeing her when I was gone," said Dean. "She hasn't been
checking up on me since I came back. Either she's afraid to discuss my father's death with
me or she's avoiding you. And I don't think she's afraid of much, to tell you the truth."
"I don't know what to tell you," said Bailey. "There's nothing to tell."
"Those are two very different things. You fucked her. That's okay. I'm jealous, but
I'm not angry. Not anymore. Not over something so stupid as Portia Dellatorre."
"It was just once," said Bailey. "Right before you came back. I haven't seen her
since."
'"A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do,'" said Dean. "You didn't
expect her to fall in love with you."
"No, of course not."
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"Consider yourself lucky. Who gets away with a one-night stand like that? Bailey
Benedict, All-American Boy. I couldn't think of anyone better."
"You look incredibly stupid," said Bailey. "And you're going to get your ass kicked
tonight."
"Wish me luck. It's probably about time. Hand me my pillow?"
Bailey fetched it for him. The side of the case that Dean slept on was crusted with
tears and snot and blood—edges that could cut, could wound.
"Good luck," said Bailey.
Dean nodded, twisted the doorknob, and disappeared into the stairwell before the
door shut behind him. When the door closed, Bailey noticed a streak of green on the bronze
knob where Dean had gripped it. He wouldn't harm anyone, but at least he would smudge
their pillows when they hit him in the face.
From the windows of Bradley and Washington, you could see upperclassmen
underneath the sally ports and against the walls of the alleyways that led to the areas of other
regiments. They shifted eagerly as they waited for the first signs of the fight. Some held
their cases behind them, sacks too swollen to hold only a feather pillow. They wore paint as
well, black shoe polish, and their ranks shone brightly on their camouflage caps—bronze
pins shaped like shields. When the clock in central area struck 2200 hours, several cadets
burst through the doors of the barracks on opposite sides of the plain, screaming, circling
their weapons above their heads like flails. They met in the area and pelted one another with
sharp, but harmless, blows to the torso and arms. These were plebes, and they laughed as
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they swung at the bodies of their peers. It was a smaller affair than advertised—a playful
escape at the end of another long day.
Dean wasn't drawing the attention that Bailey thought he would, and for a moment
he wished he'd gone down, too. It looked like fun. He'd surely hear it from Dean when he
returned. Bailey should lighten up. Relax a little, it would be good for him. Except then,
Bailey remembered the upperclassmen milling in the wings of the area—they hadn't yet
made their move. He remembered the assault course in basic training, the cadre that would
lurk behind the trees with their pugilist sticks, grunting, waiting to attack a weakened new
cadet. It was the classic rope-a-dope: allow your enemy to tire, then go in for the easy kill.
They swarmed the plebes en masse. In twos or threes they assaulted them, a
blitzkrieg from the entire corps. Bailey lost track of Dean in the mix. Yes, he had warned
him, yet his stomach still wrenched at the sight of the ambush. He felt like a general who
had just sent his troops to their demise, on a horse at a safe distance from the carnage, high
and helpless. Lee at Pickett's Charge. You hoped there was a way for them to win despite
the odds, but these were boys outnumbered on unknown terrain, in a foreign land against
men starved of the violence they were conditioned to crave. They would win at any cost
while you backpedalled to save your own life. You weren't like them. You didn't belong
there, and they didn't want you.
A few minutes later, while a few cadets still raced around the area, Dean stumbled
into the room with the support of Sergeant Ruckman. Portia followed. The door slammed
shut behind them, and Dean braced himself against the sink. He whimpered as he struggled
to breathe. The green paint from his face was smudged and creased with lines from where
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he had been struck, and sweat clung to his skin like blisters. His nose leaked steadily as he
could barely stop huffing to manage to sniff it back up. He leaned into the sink and
vomited.
"Jesus," said Bailey. "What happened?"
"Somebody clocked him for real," said Ruckman. "Somebody got his number."
"Who did this to you?" Bailey asked Dean.
"I don't think he's gonna answer that," said Ruckman. "He doesn't even know where
he is right now."
He helped Dean over to the bed and sat him up against the wall. He cried, his eyes
closed. They loosened the buttons of his jacket so his chest was open to the air. Bailey
unsnapped the hood from the back of the collar, and when he pulled it over Dean's head he
saw the welt—red and white where the skin had broken, and a lump at the hairline above his
eye. A groove split the welt in two, the site of impact. It extended a few inches on each
side, darker than the skin around it.
Portia had a hand to her face and was biting her nails. She'd cut her hair since the
last time he'd seen her. It surprised him he liked it as short as it had already been. In the
hallways, in formation, and in the mess hall, Bailey could never look at her directly. He saw
Portia from the side, always askew—the plebe's perspective.
"I'll go get some ice," said Ruckman.
He rushed from the room. Bailey kneeled in front of bed while Portia stood behind
him. He snapped his fingers in front of Dean's face and pried his eyes open with his fingers.
His flesh was soft and rubbery from the makeup, eyes red and dilated.
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"Dean," said Bailey, "you need to stay awake. Keep your eyes open."
"He's in shock," said Portia.
"I don't know."
Dean batted Bailey's hands away.
"What happened?" asked Bailey. "What did they do to you?"
"They hit him over the head," said Portia. "They had something in the pillowcases.
The lockboxes, I think. I don't know what else it would have been."
Dean continued to pant, through his nose now, rapid breaths. He sounded like he
might pass out. His head sunk into his chest. Bailey pushed him back up against the wall.
"We need to get him on his feet," said Portia.
They stood him up together and held him there with their arms grasped behind his
back. Dean walked with their help from one end of the room to the other. His eyes stayed
open now. A bruise had begun to color his forehead at the wound, and his eyebrow
slouched lazily over the lid of the left eye. He sighed and set a hand down on the sink as he
passed. They stood him there as Dean surveyed the damage in the mirror.
"When will they send the purple heart?" he said.
Bailey and Portia laughed. She stepped away from Bailey, her arms crossed.
Ruckman returned with a bag of ice. Sparks followed him into the room.
"Star man okay?" he asked. "Hey, Dean. You all right?"
"Diesel," said Dean. "Just fine."
They laughed.
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"I don't know," said Sparks. "I think we ought to cool him off. We're gonna need to
cool you off, Sullivan."
Sparks and Ruckman carried Dean across the hall. Star man. Sullivan. Though
nicer, maybe, than the other upperclassmen, it struck Bailey as odd they had spoken to Dean
with such familiarity. His vulnerability, maybe. Child-like.
Portia started for the door as it swung shut.
"You were there?" Bailey said.
"No," she said. She turned back toward Bailey. "I wasn't there. But I saw it
happen."
"You saw who did it."
"Yes," she said.
"Who?"
"It was Hooke."
She said this without looking at him, as if embarrassed. Maybe she felt that same
guilt—that she hadn't done something. But it didn't make sense to Bailey. How could
someone feel such burning hate toward another person, a fellow cadet? Everyone else in the
regiment, maybe even the corps, knew about Dean's father. They took pity on him. His
grief was also theirs—it was easy enough to imagine. For everyone, that is, but Hooke.
Bailey shook his head.
"Why would he do that?" he said.
"Or better," said Portia, "what can be done to stop him?"
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She had been so eager to leave before, to avoid any interaction, but now she leaned
against his bureau and casually inspected the uniforms that hung there. In addition to their
wardrobes, every now and then the COD or a team leader would come through and force
them to open their trunks, their lockboxes, the drawers in the desks. Everything was to be in
order, arranged neatly inside. There was to be efficiency in every aspect of a job that dealt
ultimately in chaos. In Bailey's trunk: a comforter stained with the excretions of his fellow
men, and of Portia. In Dean's: a comforter named after her. Bailey wondered how many
other men dreamed of her as they writhed in their sheets at night. How many other men did
she visit on her rounds? He'd fooled himself into believing that they shared some deeper
connection, but she was like all the other women he'd ever known.
She yawned, and Bailey could see back into her throat, into the cavities in her teeth.
"They call you meat," he said to her. "And trou. They talk about you in the shower."
"I've heard those things before," she said. "You don't have to tell me. I know you're
angry with me. We can talk about this later."
"Dean named his comforter after you. He's in love with you. You didn't do anything
for him, corporal."
"Don't," she said. She scowled. Angry. Ugly.
"You didn't do anything for your sister," he said. "And I don't love you."
Portia bit her lip as her eyes began to well. She dabbed them with the sleeve of her
camouflage jacket.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Excuse me. Have a great Army night, Private Benedict."
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They had Dean stood up against the wall in the shower. He took sharp breaths under
the cold water, and his legs shook underneath him. They had shed him of the ghillie suit,
which lay in a wet pile in the corner of the room. Some of the yarn had come loose and now
washed toward the center drain in languorous strands. Bailey leaned against the doorframe
and watched them circle the drain. He said he could stay with Dean, so Ruckman and
Sparks left them there alone. Dean sat on the tile then and let the water run over him.
"You were right about the suit," said Dean.
"You don't have to do that," said Bailey. "Do you want to wash? Want me to get
you some soap or anything?"
"No," said Dean. "I don't need you to take care of me."
"Portia seems to think she knows who did this to you."
"First name basis now," said Dean. He pounded the floor with his fist. "I'm sorry,"
he said. "I don't mean to act this way. I'm not the jealous kind. Or, I don't want to be. I'm
happy for you, Bailey."
"There's nothing to be happy about. I told you the truth earlier." The spray of the
water beaded on the tips of Bailey's shoes. He wiped them on the back of his pant leg and
stepped away from the door. "Do you want to know what she thinks?" he asked.
Dean nodded.
"Portia seems to think that Hooke did this to you."
Dean nodded again as if he'd known all along.
"You saw him?" asked Bailey. "Did you see him do this to you?"
"No," said Dean.
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"Then what?"
"I'm sorry. I'm the one," he said. He looked up into the water and opened his mouth.
He collected a pool of it there and spit it back against the wall. "I'm the one who jerked off
on your comforter. It was me."
"I don't understand."
"Hooke ordered me to."
Bailey stood there and listened to the water pelt Dean's scalp and shoulders. His
whole body convulsed in short bursts. Bailey reached underneath the showerhead and
turned the dial for warmer water. It came instantly and Dean uttered quietly his relief. He
was out of the woods now in terms of a coma. He'd sustained a concussion, probably, but
Bailey could observe him overnight. There was nothing much else anyone could do. Other
than to terrorize them, Bailey could not grasp Hooke's purpose. To test them? If so, for
what? While others went out their way to bully plebes, they did so mostly with the belief
they were developing character. Hooke's malevolence came off as simple psychopathy.
"I'm ready to get out," said Dean. "Will you get me a towel?"
"Sure," said Bailey.
He checked Dean's locker, but it was empty except for a pair of riding boots he'd
brought back from the stables for polish. When he opened the door to the room across the
hall, he stepped on an envelope that someone had slid underneath. Bailey's name was
written on the front, and through the tucked flap on the opposite side he could see the dog
tags Hooke had confiscated earlier that day. On the last line of text, Hooke had flattened out
the UNKNOWN and beveled in new letters—CHRISTIAN.
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3.
25 Oct 2001
Bailey watched from his bed, a hand towel covering his nose and mouth, as Dean
filled his lockbox with items that for over the past week they had stowed in the panel
underneath the room's radiator:
•
four pints of milk,
•
five packages of Italian dressing (15 oz. ea.),
•
the juice from two squeezed lemons,
•
1/2 cup of mustard,
•
one jar of salsa
Combine all ingredients. Pour over the head of the guest of honor: Hooke. Lemon juice
works well if it dares contact with the eyes. Dean had to squeeze the cartons to force out a
substance that now resembled cottage cheese. He topped it off with several scoops of a
talcum powder and mixed it with a plastic knife to curdle the concoction, which would,
theoretically, minimize blowback. Localize the blast at the target area.
With a bandana tied around his neck and his lab goggles cinched to his face, Dean
looked more like a gangbanger from Highland Falls cooking meth than a plebe at the United
States Military Academy. Sparks visited their room on the Monday after his concussion,
and they had lifted all the required materials he suggested from the mess hall. Dean went
about the preparations with a quiet but clear enthusiasm, a more immediate goal to achieve
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before his plans for Ranger school and the subsequent executions of countless terrorist cells.
Bailey admired Dean's effort, but he found it difficult to agree with something for which he
did not share the same passion. His promise to help Dean, though, was implied. Dean may
have suffered the brunt of Hooke's abuse, but they shared its effects equally. He wouldn't
abandon his roommate now, and while he hated to admit it, Portia was right—what else
could be done to stop him? And while he feared that this public embarrassment may
provoke Hooke even further, since Dean's incident Bailey had decided that he would not
allow himself to become the sort of man who would stand by and do nothing.
The plan for the birthday party was fairly simple. They would escort the lockbox
down to the regimental headquarters and knock on Hooke's door three times, alerting him to
the presence of an underclassman. Hooke would order them inside, but to get him out from
behind his desk they would continue to knock until they forced Hooke to open the door
himself. This would allow them to knock him down and secure his ankles and wrists with
tactical tape. They would complete the job in the room, a quiet affair, and then call Sparks,
who was manning the COD desk that night. Sparks would go down and untie him.
If Hooke didn't make a stink about it by the weekend, Sparks would take great
pleasure in passing the word around. It would be the talk of the company, and Bailey and
Dean would secretly savor their success; Sparks had guaranteed them anonymity. After he'd
told them about Hooke's birthday, he said no one else knew. He would keep it that way.
Dean closed the lid on the lockbox, removed his goggles, and lowered the
handkerchief from his face. He looked more like a cowboy now, or a cavalryman. The
stench of the sour milk had pervaded the room so that when Bailey uncovered his mouth and
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nose, the air stung his nostrils. They cracked all the windows as far as they would go and
tried to waft the stale air from the room. If anyone were to smell the mixture from the
hallway, they would enter for an inspection or, worse, remember the stench emanating from
their room when word of Hooke's party got around. Bailey gagged as he gathered the empty
containers and sealed them in a plastic bag. Dean sprayed the tile around the door with
Clorox in hopes to mask the smell should anyone enter. He stashed the lockbox underneath
his desk, and they went about their homework until the trumpet sounded for Taps.
At 2245, Sparks peeked into the room, made a note on his clipboard, and closed the
door. Bailey could make out Dean's form across the room, but couldn't tell if Dean was
looking back at him. He laughed loud enough for Dean to hear, and Dean replied with a
softer laugh through his nose, nervous maybe. Bailey's chest tightened. They would still go
through with it. It felt as if someone were pushing on his chest, like in that game his
babysitter used to play with him. Bailey would puff out all the air from his lungs and she
would press him against the wall until his mind went dark and he would stagger across the
living room while silver stars coasted across his eyes. Those moments just after the air had
gone always felt like a dream he wanted to explain, but he couldn't quite find his voice.
A half-hour later the springs of Dean's bed moaned quietly under his weight. It was
time to go. They dressed in their BDUs with a strip of electrical tape over their names.
Bailey slipped on their black, issued sneakers and waited at the door for Dean to make the
first move. Dean handed him a ski mask to cover his face and in the darkness he struggled
to arrange it to see out the correct holes. Dean tapped him on the shoulder and opened the
door, the lights in the hallway brighter than they had ever seemed before. Sparks stood near
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the COD desk at the end of the hall. He waved them down with a confident flick of his
wrist.
"Downstairs," he mouthed, and gave them a thumbs up. The only ones still awake at
this point were the other companies' CODs. If they exited the barracks at the ground level of
the stairwell, no one would see them. From there it was only a quick jog down to the short
barracks, and once inside, Hooke's room was isolated enough for them to carry out their plan
without interruption from other upperclassmen.
Bailey followed Dean into the stairwell. Having descended one flight, the door
clicked loudly behind, and Dean rushed down the remaining floors two at a time. Bailey
pursued him, and once at the bottom peered back up the stairwell to see if anyone followed.
With a weekend of leave on their minds, no one seemed to notice a thing.
Streetlamps lit patches of the concrete plain, but the sides managed to stay dim until
the sally port that connected the short and long barracks—where Hooke had stalked Dean
with the weighted pillow. They trotted along the building, ducked low to avoid the firstfloor windows. Inside the short barracks, Bailey led them past the doors of the regimental
command. Their nameplates read titles like Executive Officer, Adjutant, Regimental
Commander, Color Lieutenant, Spirit Officer. The hallway jogged to the right and then to
the left again before it led to a short hallway of shower rooms and utility closets. Hooke's
door was the last before an exit that led to the alley between the barracks and Washington
Hall—their escape. They stood in front of it for a moment, looking at one another. Bailey
couldn't catch his breath, but there was no time for that. Dean nodded at him. They hadn't
discussed who would knock on the door. Bailey didn't want to do it, but Dean had his hands
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full with the lockbox, which presented another problem: Was Bailey going to have to tackle
Hooke by himself? Dean held the lockbox by the handle and rapped on the door three times.
Bailey turned sideways, ready to burst into the room. His mouth had gone completely dry.
Dean knocked again. A shower started down the hall. A thin band of light arced from
underneath Hooke's door. He wasn't asleep; he was taking a shower. Bailey widened his
eyes at Dean. They would have to abort. Dean, though, had moved his hand from the
middle of the door to the knob. He thrust the door open, and they scrambled inside. Dean
pressed the door shut behind them.
"Stand in front of his desk," he said to Bailey. "I'll hide behind the wardrobe." He
switched off the lights.
"I think we should go," said Bailey. He found his place in front of Hooke's desk, his
heels against it like Dean had been up against the wall that day. He said it again: "We
shouldn't be here."
The light now beamed from the fluorescent tubes overhead in the hallway. Bailey
could make out a shoe near the wardrobe where Dean said he would stand, but he couldn't
see the leg it was attached to. It could have been Hooke's shoe, kicked off there as he
changed into slippers for the shower. Most likely it was Dean there, but beyond this Bailey
had no idea what they would do now. Ambush Hooke, he supposed, but from where or
when he didn't know.
As Bailey stood there in the dark, the room seemed to close in around him. It was
like falling asleep—the dark took on its own life, its own breath, swelling in fits as it
collapsed. He could touch both walls if he raised his arms from the sides. He felt like he
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had when he was a child, rolled off the wrong side of the bed, against the wall, unable to
orient himself in the room. He'd called out to his father for help, ashamed at his failure to
make it through the night without incident.
The light would disorient them when Hooke returned, and would ruin the advantage
of their surprise—Dean hadn't thought of this. Bailey clenched his teeth and tried to slow
his breathing. The shower went off down the hall.
Bailey's thoughts had wandered when the door opened—to Portia and what he'd said
to her. Hooke's silhouette filled the doorframe. He stood there for a moment as he stared
into the dark room, assuming the lights had burned out, through a blown fuse, maybe, and he
flicked the switch a few times like a strobe light. Through the flashes, Bailey watched as
Hooke's eyes enlarged at the recognition of his presence in the room. Hooke's hand finished
what his mind had told it to do, one last time down into the darkness before he let the switch
back up and, the other hand gripped at the knotted towel at his waist, he started toward
Bailey—this unknown intruder. Hooke's dog tags dangled loosely from his neck. As he
passed the bureau, his mouth began to address Bailey, but he'd barely uttered a sound before
Dean crashed the lockbox into the side of his head. Hooke's body sailed into the frame of
his bed and then twisted backward onto the trunk. He collapsed there on the ground
between it and the cabinet that held his parade rifle. The door swung quietly shut.
Dean advanced on him, one hand still clutching the lockbox, and kicked at his face
as Hooke raised his guard in attempt to glance the blows. Dean struck him the chest and
neck and throttled his head back against the wall. Blood sprung from a split at the knot at
the top of Hooke's nose and spilled down his face from his nostrils. He reached for the rifle,
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but it was locked into the case. Dean grabbed Hooke's legs and dragged him into the middle
of the room, his towel hiked up around his waist. Dean unlatched the lockbox and tipped
out the contents over Hooke's face and chest and shook it free of the solid milk and various
chunks over his genitals and his legs. Hooke choked and spewed the cloudy substance onto
Dean's pants, and he grabbed Dean's jacket then, his muscles taut with anger, and pulled
himself onto his knees. Hooke clenched Dean's throat and tried to drag him down to the
ground. Dean's face went red.
Bailey didn't want to be involved, but Dean looked at him pleadingly. Bailey
stepped toward them and thrust his knee into Hooke's side. Hooke kept his grip on Dean's
jacket, so Bailey kneed him again in the ribs. They snapped, more than one, like so many
twigs underfoot on a cold day. Hooke fell to the floor and rolled over into more of the milk
as he clutched his side. Dean secured the box again and walked to the door.
"Come on," he said to Bailey. "Let's go."
Hooke grabbed at Bailey's leg as he tried to step over him, but Bailey kicked it away.
His tags fell over his shoulder and rested on the ground behind him. Bailey picked them up,
broke them from his neck, and pocketed them. Hooke / Jonathan /A POS / Christian. The
listing of a religion: for proper last rites, for the correct services.
In the dark of their room, Bailey buried his uniform deep inside his hamper,
underneath all the soiled clothes from that week. He wiped his boots clean of any sign of
the substance and the blood while Dean washed his lockbox out in the sink. They lay
quietly after they'd finished and listened for any noise in the hall. They'd failed to call
207
Sparks, but Bailey didn't know what to do. They could still trust him, he hoped, though they
probably didn't deserve it. They'd implicated him now.
"We did the right thing," Dean whispered. "Wouldn't you say? I can count on you,
right?"
Bailey shook his head, no. He rubbed Hooke's tags together in his hands.
"Yes," he said. "Of course you can."
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APPENDIX
May 24, 2010
Dr. Michael Pritchett
Department of English
Dear Dr. Pritchett:
Because his thesis consists primarily of novel, Zachary Gall may depart somewhat from the
campus standards for formatting his thesis. The following exceptions will be allowed:
1. Bibliographic references may be omitted.
2. No introductory text or narrative will be required beyond that included in his Abstract.
He must, however, meet all other formatting guidelines and include this letter authorizing the
above exceptions as an appendix within his thesis.
Sincerely,
Ronald A. MacQuarrie
Dean, School of Graduate Studies
RM:nh
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VITA
Zac Gall was born in Independence, Mo., in 1982. He graduated magna cum laude
with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he held the
Ben Nelms Scholarship for achievement in English Education. He taught English at
Bamberg American High School on a military base in Bamberg, Germany, and at Hallsville
High School in Hallsville, Mo. From 2007-2010, he studied fiction at the University of
Missouri-Kansas City. While there, he held a Graduate Teaching Assistantship, and in 2009
won the Jo Anna Dale Scholarship for creative writing. His book reviews, author interviews
and articles have appeared in the Kansas City Star.
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