“ - And that’s where we stand as far as resources, sir.”
Colonel Nelson nodded. Overall, he was impressed. They had taken very little and turned it into a lot. These houses, for instance, were a clever use of under-utilized property.
Just then, he heard a whine from the bed. A puppy had just accidentally rolled off of the body pillow she had been sleeping on, disturbing her slumber. He smiled at the scene. Then, the body pillow started to move.
“What the - ?”
“Is that a person in bed over there?”
“You realize how inappropriate her presence is?”
“It’s irregular, I admit, but – ”
“You can’t have a civilian here! It’s against all sorts of regs. And a hell of a security risk – we were discussing classified material!”
“Sir, please don’t wake her.” Beck noticed her face. Too late, she was coming around. Angry voices always triggered nightmares. Dammit.
“Good, then I can ask her to leave.” The colonel moved towards her, as if to shake her shoulder – and was immediately intercepted by Major Beck, who grabbed his wrist.
“Touch her and I’ll break your arm.” The flat threat was backed up by a bark from the bed – and the major’s entire staff had placed themselves between them and Heather. Nelson blinked, wondering what the hell had just happened. He outranked everyone in that room, but rank didn’t matter right now. He decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stepped back. Beck released him and went to the woman in the bed, putting his arms around her. Beck, looking over Heather’s shoulder, addressed him one more time.
“You should go now.” He turned to the door. “Private Morales!”
The door opened.
“Please escort Colonel Nelson to the visiting officer’s quarters.”
“Yes, sir. Uh, where would that be, exactly?”
“Not in this house.”
Morales took in that clipped reply – and the defensive positions of the others – before addressing the colonel in a classic “I’m not even going to ask” tone.
“Right this way, sir.”
Once safely out of the house, he asked the question.
“Who is she?”
“That’s Heather, sir.”
“Why is she there? And why - ?”
“I don’t know if you noticed her injuries – ” he shook his head “but she’s in a bad space right now.” she fought off her own memories of the incident. “She was beaten and raped, sir. We found her chained to a bed.”
“Oh.” He shook himself. “But shouldn’t she be someplace where they can take better care of her?”
“This is that ‘better place’. It’s irregular as all hell, I’ll grant, but it’s the best solution we could come up with.”
“Really? A military barracks is the best place?”
“It’s more of a person than a place. She won’t be separated from Major Beck. Not for any length of time.”
“I could say that it’s because he’s all she has - her family was gone before the nukes - or that they were covert lovers, or that she’s carrying his child. But – it’s more than that.” She sought an explanation, finally settling on one. “It’s as if she had just enough trust left in her to trust one person completely – and she chose him.” She paused. “Honestly, sir, if he weren’t the CO of this outfit, he’d be on compassionate leave. As it is, he’s on limited duty.”
The colonel paused to digest this. The reasoning was sound, but he still had one more concern.
“She’s not really a security risk, sir.”
“But if she’s as fragile as you say – she would break if - ”
“Sir, she won’t break.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“Because she didn’t.” He looked at her. “She’s our local liaison. That’s why she was tortured, sir. And, well, we all feel a little responsible. I don’t know if Beck will ever forgive himself for putting her in that position.” She paused. “And even if that weren’t true, she’s not alone at all, ever. Beck does his best not to leave her. When he has to, Emily or Mrs. Green stay with her. And there’s always a guard on her door as well. Nobody’s going to hurt her again. Not if we have anything to say about it.”
They walked on in silence; the colonel returned the salutes that he received walking into the house next door.
“This is it, sir.”
He sighed as he dropped his things inside the door of the bedroom.
“Private…would you mind taking me back over there? I need to apologize.”
“Sir, if I may…I would wait. Let them both calm down. Apologize in the morning. Would you like some dinner in the meantime?”
The last thing Colonel Nelson expected when he reached for the bowl of macaroni and cheese was to be swatted by a spatula.
“Uh, sorry sir. Didn’t realize that was a colonel’s hand.” But when Nelson reached for it again, the private pulled it away. “It’s Heather’s dinner, sir.” When Nelson looked askance at him, he explained. “It’s hard to eat spaghetti with two fractured wrists.”
“Ah. Carry on.”
Colonel Nelson knocked on Beck’s door at city hall. He knew Beck had noticed him when he walked in, because he’d immediately closed the set of blinds closest to his desk. As he waited for the major to acknowledge him, he noticed a cot sticking out from behind the major’s desk. From the indentations in the carpet, things had been moved to create an alcove for Heather to sleep in. Her cot was in the corner; his desk was directly in front of it. Closing the furthest set of blinds gave her three ‘walls’ for a measure of privacy and a sense of security. And Major Beck is the fourth. He’d heard more stories the night before, including how Beck had assaulted Jake Green for intruding on her hospital room. A furry head lifted itself to look over the desk at him. And now she’s got an actual guard dog, too. He suppressed a sigh as Beck opened the door. He did not, however, move aside to invite his visitor in. Nelson was not surprised.
“Major, I – may I come in?” Beck didn’t say anything out loud, but the answer was clearly ‘no’. “I would like to apologize. To both of you.”
Beck finally relaxed a little bit.
“Maybe later. She just got to sleep.”