“Lieutenant.” The captain's voice, subtle and unusually non-commanding, emerges from his office as Izzy passes by.
She stops, sighs, and backs up a few steps to the hollow plywood door. She gently pushes it open with her freshly peroxided boot. The air conditioned air hits her hard. It is a welcomed relief to the scorching 110 degrees outside.
Captain James Dixon leans back in his worn leather office chair. His blue eyes gaze at the wall ahead of him while he mindlessly flips a pencil on the desk with his left hand. Tip, eraser, tip eraser, in perfect cadence. His blonde hair is still matted to his head from being out in that same sweaty heat.
She closes the door behind her and waits further instruction.
“Sit. I need your statement on what happened this morning before I can pass this to Command.” His eyes now focus on the battered yellow pencil bearing his last name, his tone still quiet.
The lieutenant sits in the wooden chair, screeches it forward, and places her hat on the desk. When the pencil tip, eraser cadence doesn't cease, she lowers her arms to the table and rests her chin on her folded hands.
“James”, she says in an emphatic voice before knocking the pencil off the table upon its next pencil tip tap on the desk. She removes her muscular arms from the desk and sits up perfectly straight and stares at the captain.
He taps his wedding ring on the desk a few times and clears his throat before moving the computer keyboard closer to him. His blue eyes avoid all contact with the lieutenant.
Izzy begins. “At 0845 this morning while eating breakfast and meeting with Captain Dixon, we heard a commotion in the rec area that was out of the ordinary. Upon reaching the rec room, Captain Dixon and I witnessed a soldier, later to be identified as Private Ryerson, holding Sergeant Mark O'Leary around the neck with a gun pointed at his head. The private ...”
“Give me a sec.” The captain furiously types to catch up. “Okay, continue.”
“The private was shouting at the others who were trying to intercede. Saying that he would take out the sergeant if he didn't get his demands.” She pauses. “Since I was the only one trained to deal with mental health issues, I motioned for the others to back away from the private and I moved closer to him. Captain Dixon called for MP's at that point. I first asked the sergeant if he was okay. He was. So I focused on the private. I asked him what the problem was. He said that he wanted to go home. Didn't matter how he got there, he wanted to go home.” She pauses, “mind if I get a drink?”
James nods his head yes as he continues to type.Izzy stands and retrieves a blue sports drink out of the refrigerator. She sits and re-adjusts her hair that is tied up into a bun before opening the absurdly blue colored beverage.
She takes an extended drink then continues. “He was extremely agitated. My main goal was to get the sergeant away from him. I tried telling him that all of this was unnecessary and that he was actually making it harder for himself to get home. All he had to do was say something to someone. That easy. I also told him that hurting Sergeant O'Leary was not going to help him at all. He finally moved the gun away from Mark's head and loosened his grip on him. Again, I told him to just let Mark go and we could talk.”
She takes another long sip and finds herself staring at the wall. “He shoved Mark away just as the MP's arrived. They stood back as well.” She leans back in the chair, extends her legs, and crosses one ankle over the other. “Mark landed close to me and instead of trying to get away he acted on impulse...ran back towards the private. I assume he thought he could over power him.”
Izzy pauses as James taps away at the keys. He stops typing but she doesn't immediately continue.
Izzy sits up and leans forward, her arms resting on her knees and continues her report out. “As soon as Mark lunged toward the private, his gun went up. I really didn't think he was going to shoot himself. I thought he was aiming for the sergeant so I tackled Mark to get him out of the way... Then I heard the gun go off.”
They both sit, wordless, hearing the scuffle and then the gun shot echo through their minds. Silence.
“I realized that the private had shot himself when I saw the MP's rush to him. The sergeant pushed me off him and stood up.” Izzy pauses and without moving her head her green eyes peer up at the captain who is still typing. “On the record...”
James stops typing, his hands still on the keyboard, his denim colored eyes finally meet Izzy's. His forced sigh precedes his eyes returning to the screen.
Izzy continues. “The captain ran over and reprimanded the sergeant for throwing me off him.”
The typing stops leaving only the white noise of the air conditioner. James hits control S emphatically and pushes the keyboard away. He crosses his arms, sniffs, then looks up at the lieutenant, a vein pulsing in his neck. “Off the record?”
Izzy leans back in the chair, legs apart, arms on the rests with her shoulders back. “Off the record. The sergeant pushed me off him and we both stared at the MP’s checking for any sign of life from the private. From my left, I saw something move quick out of the corner of my eye. Mark had just gotten to his feet and you flashed in front of me. I was still on the ground but got up in enough time to get between the two of you.” She clasps onto the arm rests.
“And?” His eyes narrow waiting for her to answer.
“You lost your shit, James. You would have torn Mark to pieces.” Izzy says very matter of fact.
“I told you to get out of the way.” He leans forward. “You disobeyed a direct command.”
“To what? Get out of the way so you could beat up Mark?”
“He threw you to the ground. I saw that.”
“He was upset.” Izzy emphasizes each word. "Usually we risk our lives out there. We don't expect to turn on each other."
“He disobeyed you!” James leans towards Izzy.
“Maybe he really thought he could stop him. The private knew he wasn’t going home. It didn’t matter what we did.”
The captain’s chair flies back as he stands up and walks to Izzy’s side of the desk. Izzy doesn't even blink.
“You don’t know that Izzy! You could have saved him. He could have gotten help.” He sits on the desk and crosses his arms and stares straight at her.
“He left a note, James." She pauses hoping it will sink in. "We saved Mark today. That counts for something.”
Izzy gazes away from the captain who seems to be looking for a rebuttal.
“If he didn't do it he was looking for someone to do it for him today.” Izzy takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. “What is it? This isn't like you.”
James stands and walks away from her stopping at a wall only a few steps away, then turns and sits on a mustard colored couch. He runs his hands through his greasy hair. Izzy is quickly by his side, her hand on his knee.
“I saw him do it.” He says with no emotion and barely a blink. “Maybe I could have stopped him.” He puts his face in his hands as his sentence trails off.
He uncovers his faces and his eyes are in another time. He continues in his monotone reveal. “He called for my brother. Asked him if he’d seen me. I was too afraid to come out from my hiding space in the basement...I wanted to yell, say anything to him, but I just froze.”
“Your...your dad? James?” Suddenly breathless and speechless, she looks around the room as if she is trying to make it stop spinning.
He finally looks at her, no tears in his eyes, but the lines around his young eyes have already grown today.
Izzy wraps he arms around a hesitant James. His body begins to relax as he focuses on a frame across the room.
On a filing cabinet in a large frame is an old photo with soft edges. A young, skinny but muscular army lieutenant sits next to a blonde haired boy wearing a New York Yankees jersey. Next to that picture in the same oversized frame is a picture in sharp edges. The captain and the lieutenant sit with a five year old mini version of the lieutenant between them.
The first spasm of breath trying to fight tears is masked by the air conditioner trying to keep the room cool. James lowers his head into the void made by Izzy's arms. His first sobs are absorbed into their uniforms.
Before she can say anything reassuring or comforting, there is an abrupt knock on the door. James first bows and then shakes his head. He wipes both eyes with this right hand and chuckles seemingly to himself.
“Yeah.” He clears his throat and walks to the door.
Izzy stands and grabs her drink, shaking it before taking drinking half the bottle in long gulps. She sighs James talks to a private. She catches a few words: IED, casualties, choppers, rescue.
James leaves the door open as the private continues down the hallway. He leans against the desk and crosses his arms. He gazes first to the floor and then scans Izzy as she fixes her hair before placing her hat back into place.
Not realizing he was watching, Izzy seems uncharacteristically surprised at James staring at her. “How many more days?
“125 days until I can stare at you take off that little purple dress I like.” He looks at the floor. “The one with the zipper you can’t undo by yourself.” He uncrosses and then quickly recrosses his arms.
“Would you help me with that zipper, Captain Dixon?” She slowly steps closer to James until their boots almost touch.
James tucks a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. “With honor, Mrs. Dixon.”
“My mom said Jamie got her birthday gifts but she won’t open them until we Skype. I don’t think we’ll have time tonight from what I just heard you and the Private talking about.”
“Soon as we can.” He initiates the quick hug before they go off to their duties.
“Head’s good? Gotta focus on what we were able to do.” She nods her head at him. With his nod in return she makes her way to the door and back out into the heat.