Frank and Marka almost make it. They’re SO CLOSE! Until there’s a knock at the door and his former commanding officer, Colonel Shay, appears accompanied by two junior officers. Their presences isn’t at all welcome, which Frank makes readily apparent.
“We talked about this extensively, Arnold. I’m not coming back.”
“Not even if your country needs you?” Lieutenant-Colonel Anonymous said.
“Sir, my country needs all the help it can get, but I gave already. Got the scars to prove it. Now, what’s so goddamn important you scope me out in the middle of the night and interrupt my private time with my lady?”
Shay stood, offering Marka his chair. She smiled, but stood near Frank, taking his arm. The Colonel sat once more, frowning slightly.
“You’ve become of interest. . . .”
“To whom?” Frank demanded. “And why am I just finding this out?”
“We’ve had you under surveillance. . . .” The Major interjected. Shay shot him a look and he clammed up.
“And you didn’t think it was important to tell me this, Arnold? Thanks. I love being unwitting bait.”
“That’s an ugly accusation,” Shay replied, sipping his coffee.
“But an accurate one. Who’s interested in me and why?”
“I really can’t tell you that. . . .”
“Look,” Frank said, stepping forward aggressively. “My life’s in shambles at the moment. My office, my car and my home have been violated. Someone died. . . .”
“Who was that, by the way?” Marka asked.
The three officers gave her a gimlet eye expecting her to be quiet. She didn’t let it stop her. “Frank has a right to know who’s coming after him. He has a right to know why someone broke into his house. And don’t you think it matters to someone—other than us, how that a man died?”
“Miss Ventimiglia,” Lieutenant-Colonel began.
“Doctor,” she interrupted. “I worked hard for my title, just as you worked hard for yours. I expect to be treated with respect and addressed appropriately.”
“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Colonel Shay said calmly.
“Do you think so?” Frank said with a grin. “And here I thought we were all getting along so well. Enough with the cloak and dagger shit, Arnold! Just tell me plain.”
“With all due respect,” the Major began. “We don’t know the lady’s clearance.”
The Lieutenant-Colonel flashed him a look that could have meant anything. Marka interpreted it as saying that he did know and the other guy needed to shut up.
“He knows,” she nodded at the Lieutenant-Colonel. “You know I’ve worked with the State Department and Veteran’s Administration. Part of my research for my doctorate pertained to memory loss in soldiers who’d experienced physical or emotional trauma. In fact, it’s possible that my clearance exceeds yours,” she said pointedly to the Major.
The Lieutenant-Colonel smiled. “Good guess. It doesn’t exceed mine.”
“I wouldn’t expect it to since I’m guessing that the uniform and the rank are bogus. I think you outrank everyone in this room—or, if you don’t outrank Shay, you’re in a line of work where you know about all there is to know.”
He shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny.
Marka continued. “You don’t like me. You think I’m dangerous and I hit way to close to the truth. Did you think because I’m a girl I wasn’t smart enough to suss you out?” She rolled her eyes. “Would you guys get a new shtick, please? This one’s old and says very little about the progressive attitude of the modern Army.”
She took her coffee cup to the kitchen and put it in the sink. The men stared at one another. Frank was less shocked than the others, but not much.
Marka continued to surprise him. That she’d caught the Lieutenant-Colonel and Shay by surprise as well, pleased him.
“Well?” Shay addressed the Lieutenant-Colonel. “Clark, this is crazy. We’re dancing in circles. Be straight with them.”
The Lieutenant-Colonel reddened. Lips pursed, he stood abruptly. “Fine. You’re wrong, Doctor, I don’t outrank Colonel Shay.”
“But you do out-spook him,” Marka said with a decisive nod. “Thought so.”
“Out-spook?” The Major was still trying to catch up.
“Get on board, would you, Phil? Jesus, it’s like talking to a stump,” Clark snapped.
“No need to be insulting,” Phil rejoined. “Just tell them, already. This is ridiculous. We’ve been here ten minutes and all we’ve succeeded in doing is piss each other off.” He stood, advancing with his hand extended to Marka. “Doctor Ventimiglia, I’m Major Phillip. Lieutenant-Colonel Clark and I work with Colonel Shay. Frank was part of our team, though we never met directly.”
“Who mined the road?” Marka asked, taking the Major’s hand.
“Don’t be coy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Does all this have anything to do with the death of Frank’s brother-in-law?”
Phil blinked at her, wide eyed.
“Can we start over?” Frank said. “Like at the beginning without the hedging?”
“Good idea,” Shay said. “He’s Phil, he’s Clark. Now that we all know who we are, let’s talk about this. Marka, good guess. This does have to do with that incident.”
© Dellani Oakes