This is part of the draft for the book I’m writing, “The Crucible Experiment.” I’ll continue to post excerpts as I continue to write.
The crowd dissolved into complaints and speculation over who had ratted out the fight. Our tight throng scattered like spilled paper clips in a race to make it back to VMA in time. I later learned that some cadet—still unknown who exactly— had called the Officer of the Day from the Foxhole and reported the fight.
But I had Edwin deal with. I went over and helped him to his feet as everyone around me ran off. Mel pulled at my shoulder.
“Carla, we’ve got to get back to the academy, they’re going to shut the gate. Get him up and let’s go.”
Edwin lagged, filled with self loathing. Mel and I had one of his arms over each of our shoulders and hauled him across the grassy field and onto the hard ball road that led straight to the academy. Edwin shuffled his feet beneath him; he was concussed and, for the moment, out of sorts. The three of us struggled to keep pace with the cadets running up ahead.
Edwin said “Come on leave me alone get lost.” The comment expended the final ounce of Mel’s good will and patience.
“I can’t do this. I can’t get in trouble. Edwin you’re so selfish and now we’re all going to end up in trouble.” She looked at me. “Are you going to stay with him? I have to go.”
“Fine. I understand. I’ll get him to move faster. Don’t worry about it.”
Mel grunted and took off running.
I looked at my brother. “Seriously, hurry up.” He faced me as if to say something, but instead turned away and vomited. He turned back at in my direction looking sheepish. “Okay.”
I picked up our pace careful not to get too far ahead of Edwin; I even got behind and pushed him for a ways. As we approached the VMA gate I could tell it had already closed. A few cadets stood in front, thinking about out what to do next.
We approached Cadets Desmund, Turner, and Cohn; their eyes glassy and heads in a cloud of booze. Desmund turned our way.
The VMA grounds were dark and empty with two weak street lamps illuminating the space directly in front of the main VMA building and barracks, Butler Hall. The vacant shed at the gate entry point that normally housed a military policeman encouraged us. We knew an MP would be somewhere patrolling VMA. Each of us stood at the gate internally deliberating, weighing what to do.
“We just need to get over. I’m going.”
Cohn started his silent climb over the gate. We watched him expectantly, but when nothing happened the rest of us followed. We scaled the gate laying down flat at the top to keep a low profile. Cohn had reached the ground inside when the rest of us were nearly halfway down.
“Military Police— hands behind your head!”
I jumped down landing hard on the bottom. I splayed myself onto the cold concrete while jittery hands— either from the cold or my nerves— on the back of my head. Cohn made a run for it with Desmund following. A second MP appeared with his flashlight in pursuit of the culprits.
Edwin laying some distance to my left with his face pressed into the pavement. The MP exited his idling vehicle and walked toward us; his left hand held a flashlight, his right rested on his holstered pistol.
“You cadets never learn.”
His colleague soon returned with Desmund and Cohn; the MP pushed them onto the ground.
By just after zero one thirty and a long time shivering on the pavement, VMA Executive Officer Major Lewis appeared. He had a rumpled appearance and wore the duty officer arm band, barracks cover, and a holstered pistol. Major Lewis escorted us around the Sergeant Major’s parade field to the large double doors of Butler Hall. Inside, the building slept. Its corridor glowed with a third of the overhead lights turned on. Major Lewis diverted us past the stair well and away from the cadet barracks on the third into the duty office for processing.
The five of us stood in a mini formation at attention in front of his desk. He clacked away on his desktop computer with its massive monitor. The olive drab cot and heavy black sleeping bag fanned my thoughts of sleep and warmth and peace.
“Female Castillo. Go to the head and get some water on your face. Last thing I need is you nodding off splitting your head on the floor.”
I made my way to the far end of the hallway to the only women’s restroom on the first floor. The sound of my destroyed leather shoes echoed all around me and I had the unsettling feeling of being exposed and vulnerable in the empty space. I approached the restroom and heard the water running.
I didn’t expect anyone to be there. I pressed my ear against the crack of the door and listened. Behind the sound of the faucet I heard someone’s voice. I listened more, trying to make out the words. I thought it most plausible to be a pair of cadets hooking up in the female head. But that’s not what this sounded like. I stood there for a while listening when the talking stopped.
With no where for me to turn and hide I stood for a moment, paralyzed, when I heard the water turn off. The footsteps from inside the inched closer to the door.
I had no where to turn. I squeezed myself at the hinge of the door hoping that whomever came out would walk the opposite direction so I could stay hidden behind the door.
The door swung open and Colonel Zemsta exited the head wearing a grey military issue track suit, a duffle bag slung cross-body carried. She held a grey Motorola cellular phone, flipped shut, antenna down. She surreptitiously slipped the phone into her duffle bag, careful not to let it thump against whatever else she held inside.
I remained hidden behind the door, lucky that she did not turn around once the door returned to its position flush against the door frame. Had she turned her head 45 degrees, she would have discovered me doing my best to blend in with the wall. Instead, I watched her walk to the end of the corridor, listening to the swooshing of her track suit pant legs before she disappearing through the emergency exit.
Major Lewis stood in the middle of the hall waiting for me. I walked in his direction and followed him back into the office. He stopped short of walking inside, outside of earshot from the other guys. “Don’t screw yourself by sticking your neck out for your brother. You have a lot at stake Cadet.”