Episode 49 - I remember more dearly autumn afternoons in bottoms that lay intensely silent over old great Jeeps

- What exactly are we doing here? - Malloy asked me right after I parked the Jeep in the middle of the Valley. - We are supposed to pick up a spare part for Argo3. Dr. “smarty” Johnson wants to change a few of its circuits around. - I responded. We sat in front of the Jeep, waiting for Captain Schneider and the helicopter. The afternoon breeze made the tall grass wave like a peaceful green ocean. Every once in a while, a flock of Canadian geese would fly above us; honking away, like saying goodbye to the summer weather. The silence between Malloy and I was starting to make me uncomfortable. - So… what kind of name is Dalton James? Isn’t that a boy’s name? - I asked her, almost regretting it. Malloy looked at me annoyed, like she had answered the question a million times. - I have 8 siblings, all boys. My dad thought it was appropriate. I actually like it. - she replied as she made herself cozy on the Jeep’s front bumper. - So…how was it like… I mean, growing up with all your brothers? I bet it was hard for you to get a boyfriend, right? - I asked her. Her normally red cheeks got even redder. - Well, not necessarily. I’m gay. You’re so naive sometimes, Harris! - she replied. If the silence before was uncomfortable, the silence right then was more than awkward. I lit a cigarette. For a moment we just watched the wind tenderly touch the prairie. - What kind of cigarette is that, Harris? It stinks! You know… you should quit it. - she told me with an angry look, almost sounding like my mother. It wasn’t that I cared about her being gay. In fact, I could care less. But that she was gay in the military. - Isn’t it hard for you? With all the harassment and hate from other soldiers? - I asked Malloy. - Well, it wasn’t a problem for you, till I told you, right? - she told me. - Wait! I don’t have a problem with it. I’m just asking… - I replied, trying not to sound too insensitive. - “Don't ask; don't tell”. That’s the policy. But please don’t make it official to the others. You know the Marines don’t allow an openly gay service member to remain on duty. I figured you should know a little about me, since I’m under your command now. - she finished, looking away. I felt flattered. I got up and leaned against the Jeep. - Listen, I’m sorry for taking your position as Fire Team Leader. I think the sarge can be a little harsh on women sometimes. You’re a good soldier Malloy, gay, straight, I don’t care. - I told her, as the distinctive sound of a helicopter echoed across the Valley. - Blue 6 Oscar, this is Little Bird 1, I got a visual, do you copy? - said Captain Schneider through the radio. I picked up my RT. Malloy was already waving to the chopper. - Loud and clear, Captain! Standing by for dust-off! - I replied to the transmission. Within minutes, the helicopter landed a few yards in front of us. Malloy walked to the chopper, while I checked the safety on my Thompson. Jill looked lovely as usual; unlike Malloy and I, who were without a bath for almost two weeks now. But she seemed a little stressed out. - Oh, boy…I hit a pocket of air a few minutes ago and plummeted thirty feet down. Then I made a sharp turn to the right to gain altitude, skimming the tops of mulberry trees and what not. The chopper shook really hard as I pulled back, but it finally shot up, meters away from crashing onto Wolf Rock. It was a close one. Sometimes I hate coming this way. Oh, your stuff is in the back John. - she told Malloy and I, using her hands to describe her bad flight. - I’m glad you’re alright! - I said, pretending not to care much about it. But Malloy showed some interest. They kept talking about the chopper incident as I retrieved the silver briefcase out of the back of the helicopter. - Alright, we’re good. - I said while dangling the briefcase on my side. - Ok, then. I guess I better get going. - said Jill disappointed. I felt really rude, but by the looks of the briefcase, that was no spare part for Argo3. It was just a hunch, but I wanted to open it as soon as I could. Jill got in the cockpit, gave me the sweetest look and I closed the door. The helicopter rotor blades spun once again and Little Bird 1 hovered above us for a second or two, before flying away to the east. Malloy and I walked back to the Jeep. - You like her, don’t you? I saw the way you looked at her - said Malloy, punching me in the arm. I didn’t respond. My mind was elsewhere. - Harris! What are you doing? - Malloy asked me as I tried to prop the briefcase open. - That’s a Defense Courier Service briefcase! They Court Martial people for tempering with it. - continued Malloy. But I didn’t cared. My pocket knife grabbed the upper half of the hook which kept the briefcase locked. The lower half hook popped back down. - Click! - The locking mechanism came open without damaging its closing properties. I lift the briefcase’s top. Inside, I found a few folders and some instruction manuals, together, there was a metallic box. - Humm…Let’s see what Dr. Johnson is up to. - I said out loud while opening the metal box. Lined with black foam, the box contained a tiny screen and a strange looking panel on the bottom. I pressed the red button right underneath the quartz visor and the screen above came to life. - Some sort of a map. - said Malloy, now getting a little more interested. Then a red dot started to flash on the screen. - It’s the pond! It’s a map of the pond! Look! - I said as I pointed to the screen. - Malloy was over my shoulder by now. Suddenly the red dot started to move. We watched carefully as it exited the pond and started to make its way towards Penn’s Cave. - It’s not Argo3 or the bomb! Look…it’s out of the water. It could be the turtle or even Ben! I knew it! That rat bastard …! - I screamed. Malloy seemed a bit confused. - Listen, this is a tracking device. I’m not sure what it is tracking right now. I’m gonna close the briefcase and we should pretend we didn’t see anything. If Dr. Johnson doesn’t come forward with this apparatus, it could be the proof that I need to hold him responsible for the deaths of Dan and Willis or even Ben. Are you with me Malloy? - I asked her, staring straight in her eyes. She nodded. We got in the Jeep and I drove back to Base Camp. I drove slow, real slow. It was my turn to tell her a few secrets of mine.

by Corporal John Harris, September 07, 2006