The day before Thanksgiving, Paige had Henrik, Sabine and Andrea out at the small test firing range she had in the back of the compound. She ran them through assorted firing drills, stances, cleaning and handling of the Glocks. When they were finished, she had them clean them and holster them under their uniform shirts again, just like they practiced. The next part Andrea and Henrik were not suspecting. Paige gave them their Official Government issued Concealed Carry card. Now the four musketeers were armed.
Henrik was a little surprised at the concealed pistol certification. He was even more surprised Paige had kept the fact she and Sabine had been carrying for a couple months now, ever since the attack. Part of him was a bit pissed Paige hadn’t told him. Part of him was surprised at how well she had hidden it. He expected that sort of sneaky stuff out of Sabine. He still thought she was a bit of an ‘Ice Queen’ at times.
Andrea was having fun on the range. Shooting with Paige wasn’t nearly as stressful as standard Marine Weapons qualification. Not that she didn’t take it serious. Everybody could see the intensity in Page when she was running them through drills. Andrea did have to admit, she felt a bit better being armed. This place was getting more and more like downrange. There was concern driving around, head on a swivel, nobody going anywhere alone, and now armed whenever you’re out of bed. She needed to start thinking about some other aspects. If this place was starting to feel like a deployment, then she needed to get them some tactical communications assets, especially since the cellphones were becoming less reliable.
Paige had another meeting with the Sergeant Major out at one of the ammo bunkers to ’countersign’ an on-hand ammunition inventory. They were fairly quiet on the way out there. Once inside, they were able to speak freely. Paige had pulled up the specifications on the bunker’s construction. Like most older ‘Cold War’ era structures, it was Tempest hardened. There could be no transmitters inside to leak their conversation.
“So Paige, what’s your update?”
“Sergeant Major, there are currently enough M4s for all the remaining personnel, plus some. The pistol situation is close. If we keep losing bodies at this rate, by your earlier deadline of post-Christmas, we will have enough pistols for everyone as well. I have the long range school plotted to take those assets. If we have more rifles there than remaining staff, I’ll pull the extras back to the overflow pool. This brings me to my next question. After the parting gifts are distributed, what do we do with what’s left?”
The Sergeant Major thought for a few minutes. He didn’t expect to have enough for everyone, much less excess when he and the Commander hatched this plan. Part of him was greedy and didn’t want the locals to get a thing, especially after some of the crap they were pulling lately once they found out the base was closing. A lot of anti-military resentment boiled to the surface recently.
“OK, Paige. First, how are we doing for shotguns?”
“We have a mixed bag of pump and semi. We could let the base security guys go with a patrol rifle and a shotgun as well as their pistols and still have some left over. What do you think?”
“Pull a set of semi-autos for us, then all the security personnel who want them, then any of the others who want one. Start with the semis, then move to the pumps. Those are the only weapons I am willing to turn over excess to the locals, and I figure to find the ones who are helping us and not screwing with us.”
“And the excess M4s and pistols?”
“I’ve been working on a plan with the camera guy over in the PA shop for a little subterfuge to make it look like we destroyed all the M4s. After we do that, we add a couple to our own stack and stash any excess for a rainy day. Oh, I also had an idea last night. Since the people who are staying are the over ten year people, they will be technically retired and subject to recall. I figure to do CIF hand receipts for the weapons to them. They will all be signed by Capt. Frickel, the temporary Central Supply Officer. With two different chains with conflicting info, it will muddy the waters on accountability even farther.”
“How do you want to split up the ammo?”
“If we have the ammo to do it, a double combat load of ammo for each weapon for all involved. You work the distro of any excess.”
Paige got quiet for a moment. The Sergeant Major saw the concern on her face.
“What is it, Paige?”
“You know, this is all great for a theoretical exercise, but it’s illegal as all hell!”
The Sergeant Major snapped back at her fast when she said it.
“What they are doing to them, us, is criminal. We all signed a contract, payable with up to our lives, and they can and do change their end of the contract all the time, but we can’t! They are pitching us all out on our ears, Paige! We’ve gone to war for them! Multiple times! Well this whole thing is coming apart faster and messier than a Hollywood marriage! Our retirements probably won’t be worth the paper their printed on in six months!”
Paige could see the Sergeant Major was spooled up on this. He continued, not letting her get a word in.
“The fat cats protect their positions at the cost of the troops really doing the mission! Well, the Commander and I are trying to do something for them instead of just a boot out the door. It’s becoming the Wild West out there again. I’m arming our guys instead of giving the precious few in local power here another windfall to maintain a stranglehold on the area! They can have the buildings only because I don’t want to waste the resources to destroy them! I have the couple of IT guys left pulling all the hard drives out of the computers being left behind and pitching them in a burn barrel. They also have instructions to cut all the cables in half. I had to watch this type of turnover in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve learned a few lessons. We are moving all the final assets to the clinic for use by the last people here providing support to the families of the TDY guys. Then the clinic is converting to a VA clinic so it will still be federal.”
The Sergeant Major kept ranting several minutes about some of the things he saw in those other turnovers. Paige could tell he was very passionate about what he saw was a systemic betrayal. He then talked about his father seeing the same thing happen in the hills of Laos when the US pulled out of Viet Nam. Finally, he slowed down some, then stopped.
“I’m sorry, Paige. You didn’t need to hear that tirade. I have a stack of paperwork I can have you sign making me solely responsible for all of this. I don’t want your conscious to be burdened by it. I just need you to know and believe me when I say it’s not primarily about personal gain. I’m not looking to sell it off or grab power with it. I truly want to do this to help my troops. If you want nothing to do with it, I can process your paperwork early and relieve you of the whole thing. Nothing has been given away at this point so everything is legal. Just give me the word and I will make it happen.” He stood there looking chastised, but sincere and passionate.
“No, Sergeant Major. I’m still in. I just needed to express my concerns and reservations. I’ll start packaging up the stuff right after Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to come early tomorrow.”
“Trust me, after Andrea talking up the Jambalaya, I won’t miss it for the world! Veronica and violet will be in later tonight. They are braving the trip down here for Thanksgiving at your place!”
Sabine had spent the past day and a half baking. Andrea was working the main dish, a pot of jambalaya, but Sabine was working desserts. She had several different pies. She was disappointed she couldn’t find the fresh ingredients she preferred and had to resort to frozen fruit. She made several of her favorites. She hoped they were good enough for everyone. She was even able to find a small enough pie tin to make a little personal sized one like she used to do with her and her brother, a strawberry-rhubarb cheesecake. This she hid in the back of the fridge. She figured she would go off later by herself and eat it by the campfire so no one saw her cry. She still missed him after all these years.
Andrea had gotten a large pot from the Base MWR. She wanted something big enough to do all the jambalaya the right way. She started with basically a seafood boil with several different components from crawfish and crab to clams and mussels, ears of corn and sweet onions. After all this was cooked, she dumped and processed them into bite sized components out of their respective shells or off the cob. All of this went into the pot again with the rice and broth. Next came the peppers, tomatoes and other elements. All of this would simmer until dinner.
Andrea had the plate toppers seasoned and ready for the broiler. Her family would serve a Red Snapper filet on top of the bed of jambalaya. She thought this was a great merging of the traditions. She then prepared the garlic cheese bread to go with everything. Homemade French bread loaves heaped with a paste of roasted garlic cloves, mayo, cheddar cheese and green onions all would go under the broiler until it was melted and delicious. The amount of time begging for the recipe would be worth it when the group got a hold of the bread!
While Andrea and Sabine were hard at work in the kitchen, Paige and Henrik were hard at work in the barn. Paige was taking the break to do a long delayed modification to her Cherokee. She was shortening the cargo deck she had built in the back to accommodate some changes and some weight savings.
The two of them tore out the old system and were replacing the wood slat deck with a couple of sheets of aluminum diamond plate she had found in the back of one of the connexes. There wasn’t one long enough to go the whole length by itself so she would have to piece together a couple. She decided to incorporate her latest upgrade as part of the project.
Truth be told, Paige was a packrat for some things. She had an old fuel transfer tank she came across several years ago she couldn’t pass up for the price it was. She hung on to it for a truck build project she had in mind that didn’t materialize. Now she was putting it into the Cherokee right behind the driver and passenger seats. She would have to open the driver’s door and tip the seat back forward to fill it, but it would let her carry a great deal of extra fuel without strapping cans to the roof like she used to do off-roading. With it right behind the seat, it would also help the center of gravity compared to a bunch of cans strapped to the ass. Besides, she was plumbing it right into the fuel system. This 96 gallons would about double her fuel capacity when added to the primary and axillary tank she had installed when she rebuilt it with the diesel engine.
Henrik always loved to watch her design and fabricate with the 4x4s. She was a wizard. It was like watching Jordan play basketball or Liberace play the piano. The combination of talent and joy was a sight to behold. He was helping move stuff in place, tear stuff out, hold stuff and generally be a second set of hands.
Henrik knew she had some good ideas they could do to his Jeep next. The first project he asked her about was fixing the electrical bird’s nest of his supplemental lighting and power system. He also figured they could do some spray insulation to the hard top before putting it back onto his Jeep. It was too cold now to run around with just the soft top. He shouldn’t have to wear a parka, ski goggles and bunny boots just to drive to work.
Paige and Henrik were more back to normal with each other now. They were working hard at fixing things between them. They both knew relationships weren’t easy, they took work sometimes. Anything worthwhile did. Even the Glock tucked in the back of her waistband was no longer jarring to Henrik. It looked right, and maybe even a little sexy.
Paige and Henrik were just cleaning up their mess some when they heard the sound of crunching gravel. Paige’s hand went immediately to the pistol in her waist band as Henrik moved to separate himself from her to spread the potential targets out. It was too early for their guests to arrive.
Around the corner of the driveway came a very square boxy SUV, festooned with little bits here and there. The details were a little hard to make out. The surface of the thing was either grey with lots of tan splashed on it, or tan and grey primer panted. The shape was a little indistinct because of it. It took another few tense moments for the occupants of the SUV to become recognizable.
Paige was ready to draw when the front doors swung open. Henrik and Paige immediately relaxed as the people came out. Veronica exited the driver’s door and Violet came out the passenger door.
All four started walking towards one another. Paige was split between staring at the Vs and the SUV. It was a G-Wagon, but it looked more distinct and something was pushing at the corners of her memory. She squinted harder. It was an Entdecker clone!
The Entdecker G Wagon was a pseudo-factory Mercedes Expedition SUV, with a ton of quirky design elements. Paige would love to have something like this, but with a price tag of $200,000, she had to suffice with drooling at them online.
“I take it this was what you were talking about not needing his clunky old SUV?” Paige said as she walked up to Veronica.
Veronica grinned but before she could say anything, Violet cut her off.
“Yeah, that’s her baby. It took her three years to get it and she can’t stop bragging about it and showing it off.” Violet paused to give Henrik a big hug then continued. “I think she gave the Mercedes dealer a heart attack when she brought it in for the custom paint job.”
Paige took another look at it up close. It was kinda tan, kinda grey, and just a hint of pink or mauve. It softened the lines some and made the corners a bit muted.
“So, how hard was it to get everything to set it up like an Entdecker?” Paige had to ask.
“Not that hard when you order it from the factory that way.” was Veronica’s smirking reply.
“It’s a real Entdecker? Those aren’t legal to register in the states. How did you get it here?”
Veronica pointed to the license plate. It was a foreign plate design she didn’t recognize.
“It costs me several hundred dollars extra a year to keep a Post Office box in South Africa, and it’s registered there. It’s just visiting this country, officially.”
“You have to give me the nickel tour!”
Henrik watched Veronica show every inch of her toy off to Paige. It was like taking a five year old to a petting zoo and turning them loose. She was grinning from ear to ear. Violet was standing next to him watching the other two go on and on.
“What do you think, Henrik? Give me a hand carrying stuff in while we let the kids play?”
“Sounds like the smart move. We should come back out in an hour or two and remind them to come inside.” Henrik and Violet carried some boxes into the house, behind them they heard Veronica spitting specs and answering questions.
Veronica sounded like she was in a commercial or reading a brochure.
“230 Liter fuel capacity, three locking differentials, 1500 Km range, 86 Liters of water, external shower and wash station, spare windscreen, spare shocks, carbon fiber shell rooftop tent, sand recovery plates, titanium shovel, hi-lift jack, snorkel, refrigerator, freezer, air compressors, all in a package that fits more places than people can imagine.” Veronica loved showing off her biggest splurge. This was her escape vehicle. This is what took her hunting and fishing to the four corners of the continent. She was always saving money and living on base, so she didn’t spend on a house of the other things like most people. She spent most her money on her hunting gear and her hobby stuff. This was what she did to get away from people.
She had found out Tim was only giving lip service to the ‘I like camping too’ line he told her when they were dating and when they first got married. He rarely went and always seemed uncomfortable out in the woods. She was glad she was finally rid of him. The dumbass had signed the paperwork without even reading it. By the time the lawyer told him what he signed it was too late.
Veronica loved having her childhood best friend around in these troubled times. She also liked how close they were to their parents instead of all the way across the country like some times in their respective careers.
Her new friends were also special. If things kept coming apart, Veronica was seriously considering moving down here to be with her parents. With the six of them, and the four new friends, they might make it through to the other side of these troubles.
Paige and Veronica were still talking about her SUV when they walked into the house. Violet jumped into the middle of their conversation.
“Don’t let her bullshit you. She didn’t order it from the factory, her Kuwaiti exchange officer she was working with in Germany had her help him spec it out for him. He used it for a year until he went back home. He didn’t take it with him. He told her to hang on to it until he sent for it and feel free to use it in the meantime. After a while back home, he decided he wanted a newer one in a different color because this one was already three years old. He sent her the pink slip in the mail.”
Paige was flabbergasted! He just gave it to her? Then again, she had some guys just give her a crate of rifles.
Paige excused herself and went down to the master bedroom to shower and change. This left Veronica and Violet in the kitchen area with Sabine and Andrea. Andrea was working hard, and Sabine was working as her sous chef by peeling crayfish.
“So, the guy just gave it to you?” Andre was surprised.
Veronica wasn’t expecting this turn of conversation. Leave it to Violet to spoil her mysteriousness!
“Yeah, he was the kind of guy who would wear his clothes two or three times, then donate them because he was bored. He had more money than he knew what to do with. I still had to pay a shit ton to register it and then set everything up to bring it into the states.”
“But he just gave the thing to you? It still sounds incredible!”
“Well, he also found out it was a bit more work to drive off-road in the forest than in the desert like he was used to. I think he was just bored with it. He was more enthralled with its exclusivity than actually using any of the features. I don’t know if he ever bought his newer one. I’m not going to bitch, though. I got the one I wanted that I could never afford to order.”
Violet had heard the story before. When they were alone, she teased Veronica about wanting to know how many times she had to sleep with him before he gave it to her. She always denied it. She was married at the time and wouldn’t have done it. One day Violet had teased her a touch too far and Veronica snapped back at her. ‘None! He is gay!’ which, Veronica revealed, was potentially one of the reasons for the extravagant gift. He would bring her to embassy parties as his smokescreen. She got to go to nice parties, didn’t have to worry about any pressure to break her marriage vows, and she could help her friend. She would have done it anyway. She never asked him for anything, which also set her apart from the others there that knew him.
Sabine was quiet while Violet and Veronica were talking about her Kuwaiti friend. It made sense to her. She had grown up around people like that. Hell, her and her brother could have become people like that! Fortunately, both of them had seen at an early age how destructive it could be. Her brother turned to the military and the study of history. She had loved him fiercely and wanted to be just like him. She joined the military as well, but instead of history, she studied medicine and the body. She was on a pre-med track through school, then she shocked her parents and went into the military as a medic rather than continuing on to doctor as expected by someone of her station.
Sabine realized she had finished all the kitchen help Andrea needed. She needed some time alone, she was thinking too much today.
“Guys, I’m going to go get things ready outside for this evening, then clean up. You guys got here too early.” Sabine went out the back door to the backyard where the fire pit awaited her attention.