Chris went to his office after his meeting with Carter; he had not originally intended to back to the office but he wanted to read her report, and it was still on his desk. He picked up the phone and dialed Frank’s number. After three rings the call connected, “Are you busy Frank?”
“Yeah but I will talk to you – how are things on the battle lines with Gray?”
“Well, I confronted her about her report to Quantico before I read it. That argument was intense and then in the afternoon, I drew down on her. So it has been a tad rocky.”
“Drew down on her, please tell me you are using that as a euphemism for sex Chris? You don’t actually mean you had a gun on her face.”
“No, not a euphemism; I was at the firing range, she tapped me on the shoulder, and I acted instinctively.”
“Jesus Christ and the holy saints! Do you know how much trouble you could be in if she files a report on you? Man, you need to end this feud with her, and you need to do it now!”
“We have talked Frank, and the air is cleared. She understands that walking on to the firing range and sneaking up behind someone is going to end with her getting shot. The only reason I didn’t fire when I turned around is that the clip was empty.”
“So you two kissed and made up?”
“No, we didn’t kiss. Will you get that thought out of your mind? I am not going to kiss her or sleep with her. I will tell you, though, she is damaged and beautiful.”
“See, you have picked up on the two things that are your biggest weakness, beautiful but damaged women! You are going to end up being Captain Save-The-Day when this is all said and done.”
Chris began to laugh, “Captain Save-The-Day, Frank? Ok, that is a new one, but I do like being the hero. But I am not trying to be her hero; I did listen to what she had to say about her report, and I am getting ready to read it. I am going to open myself up the chance that she might have some ideas.”
“Well, that is an improvement over what you were saying the last time we talked. Maybe if you collaborate with her, she will finish up her work and leave sooner, then your problems are solved.”
“Well, I am not sure about collaboration, but I am going to turn on the charm.”
“Good luck with that and keep me posted.”
Chris disconnected the call and propped his boots up on his desk and opened Carter’s report. Two paragraphs in and he realized he had indeed underestimated her.
~ * ~
Carter was restless; the confrontation and subsequent conversation with Chris had taken their toll on her. Unfortunately, sleep would not come to her. She began pacing in her barracks and realized it was not helping her at all. The camp was quiet; everyone was turned in except the men on patrol. She decided to head over to her workspace and, at least, try to do something productive.
She changed into a long sleeve shirt; the heat of the day had given way to cooler temperatures in the evening. She quietly exited her barracks and began making her way across the camp. Walking alone at night didn’t bother her; she knew she should be guarded and in some sense scared, but she never let it consume her. She was just at the door of her work space when she heard what sounded like hushed voices. She looked around carefully and figured it was just her imagination and gave it no further thought.
Carter began working on the stack of reports and maps that were in front of her. She wanted to get through as much of the data as she could; knowing that if she stayed focused on the tasks ahead, she might be able to get out of the camp ahead of schedule. She felt her eyes begin to get heavy but did not willingly give into the sleep that was coming over her.
She was startled awake when the door to her workspace opened forcefully. “What are you doing in here in the middle of the night?” The voice bellowed. Carter rubbed at her eyes and tried to focus on the figure in the doorway. “You should have Marines with you at all times Carter; in case, something goes wrong. As a civilian, you have to have protection with you.”
“First, thanks for waking me up; I shouldn’t have fallen asleep in here. Second, I can take care of myself – it was ok walking over here alone.” She stood up and tried to smooth out her hair and then her clothes. “Third, were you worried about me Chris?” She began to softly laugh at the notion. “Oh, and fourth, what are you doing being out in the middle of the night?”
“I was heading to my barracks and saw the light on in here. I also knew that you had no guards with you since you let them all leave early.” She tilted her head and looked at him quizzically, “Oh, I know everything around her Carter; you told them you had a headache, yet you showed up on the range with me. That is beside the point; you are a civilian and should have protection at all times.”
“Well, you have me covered now! Now that I am awake, I need to work, and you are free to go.”
“Come on it is late; let me walk you back across the base and you can get some rest and be back at this in a few hours.”
“Where were you that you were going back to your barracks? Were you burning the midnight oil as well?”
“Yeah, I had to get real familiar, real fast with a report that was on my desk. By the way, you did have some interesting insights in your report. I think maybe I was too quick to dismiss your visit.”
“Pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the floor because that almost sounded like a compliment.”
He began to blush and if he didn’t know any better the two of them seem to be flirting, “Yeah, well it was meant to be. I think I had been quick to jump to the conclusion that you were here on some sort of witch hunt and after reading your first report I see that is not the case. So color me wrong – for once.”
Carter let loose with a hearty laugh, “Oh that is rich Evans! But thank you for realizing I am just trying to help. Sometimes you do something over and over, and it is routine, and you think it is fine because nothing has gone wrong. But sometimes you just need someone to confirm that you haven’t missed something.”
“Yeah well you need to sleep and so do I. Let me walk you back to your barracks and we can continue this conversation tomorrow.”
Carter knew he was right, she could barely keep her eyes open, and she needed to give in and try to sleep. The thing was she didn’t want to give in; for some reason, it felt like a defeat to admit he was right. Who said that men were the only ones with fragile egos? “Fine, but no funny business as we walk back to the barracks,” she stated in a mocking tone.
Chris put his hands up, “No funny business – got it!”
As they walked towards her barracks, Carter could swear she heard those voices again. Evidently it must have been in her head because Chris didn’t react at all. He was vigilant in watching the surroundings as they walked but he never mentioned hearing the voices. She could never make out what they were saying; they could have been speaking in Dari or Pashto – languages she did not speak or understand.
As they approached her barracks, the voices stopped, and she turned to Chris. Again, his face did not register that he heard anything. “Thank you for making sure I got here safe. Although, I do think you were overreacting a bit. I will see you in a few hours,” She turned away and entered her tent. There was an uneasy feeling in her stomach, and she did not want to tell him.
Chris walked away and headed right towards the command center on post. He walked in and addressed the team on duty, “Increase the patrol units on our perimeter immediately. Do it without a major announcement and fanfare as I want an element of surprise.”
“Sir? Is something going on?
“I just escorted Ms. Gray back to her barracks from her workspace, and I heard voices in the dark on the backside of the camp. It could be rebels or friendlies – they were speaking in Dari, and their voices were too low for me to make out what they were saying. Find them and make sure there is no immediate threat.” He turned and began to walk out of the command center; after a few steps, he turned back around. “Put a guard on Ms. Gray’s tent. The last thing I need is for something to happen to a civilian in our camp.”
~ * * * ~
Carter woke and realized she never actually rested. She could not get it out of her head that she had heard voices and couldn’t understand why Chris didn’t. Now she was afraid if she mentioned them to him that he would think she was nuts and would lose any trust that she was starting to build. She had to admit that even though they started off on the wrong foot; Chris was not that bad of a guy; he just needed to see what the end game was and that it didn’t include him being removed from his camp. She decided to get her things and head over to the showers – maybe a nice hot shower would clear the fog in her brain.
As she exited the barracks, she noticed there was an armed guard on duty. This was odd as she never had a guard at her door before. “Good Morning,” she offered; the guard didn’t move or respond. As she began to walk, she noticed the guard moved with her. She spun to face him; he had been walking just a few paces behind her. “I can walk to the showers on my own, I don’t need an escort.”
Again, the guard did not respond or react to her comments. She entered the shower and noticed he took a position just outside the door. When she completed her shower and dressed, she walked out and saw the guard who had escorted her there had been replaced with a new man on duty. This was ridiculous; Evans was in for an earful.
She huffed over to his office and walked in without announcing herself. The guard did not enter the building and instead stood just outside the door. “By all means, Carter, come on in,” Chris said without looking up.
“What is with the bodyguard? Are you that upset that I went to my work quarters so late that you have to keep me under constant surveillance?” She paced back and forth in front of his desk while she waited for a response. “I am being treated like a prisoner. I thought we were making headway in being friendly and non-combative, and then you go and pull a stunt like this.” She turned to see that Chris had folded his hands on his desk and was just watching her. “Say something; defend yourself…something for heaven’s sake!”
“Well I was waiting for you to finish; heaven help me if I had interrupted,” He pushed himself away from his desk and walked around to stand in front of Carter. “I do trust you, and we have made headway in being friendly to one another. I do not have a guard with you because I do not trust you; I have a guard with you to keep you safe. I can’t risk something happening to you in this camp and as a civilian, you should have an escort.”
“Oh, so now you are worried about me?”
“Don’t let it go to your head Carter but yes!”
A smile came across her lips as she realized that he was genuine in his response. There was no spite or nasty connotation to his remarks – he was, in all sincerity, being nice. “I guess I am just surprised – I didn’t expect that.”
“Well it is protocol, and if I have an analyst on base to see how we are doing with rules, I find it best to follow them. Can I ask you something?” Carter nodded in response. “When I was walking you back to your barracks did you hear anything out of the ordinary?”
Carter’s eyes grew wide; so she had not been imaging it. “Yes, I thought I heard hushed voices. I actually thought I heard them when I was walking to my workspace last night, but I was not sure. I didn’t want to take the time to look around; at least not without a weapon or something to defend myself just in case.” She put her hands in her pockets and took a few steps away from him and then turned back to face him. “I heard them going to the barracks but when you didn’t react to them; well I thought I was losing my mind.”
“I heard them, I didn’t want to react and startle you in case you didn’t hear them. I increased patrols last night, and that is when I posted a guard at your door. I didn’t know if someone was waiting to attack and I didn’t want to leave you vulnerable. I also didn’t want to alarm you by telling you I had someone on you for protection.”
“I didn’t notice him until this morning. I am actually touched that you were concerned.”
“Don’t be, I would have done it for any civilian who was here.”
The words stung Carter; she knew that he was doing his job in ordering the guard, but she had hoped that some of it were actually out of concern for her. She knew it was ridiculous to even consider. Save for one brief moment yesterday, they had done nothing but fight since she landed at his base. While her brain knew she should not get involved with Evans; her heart was starting to challenge that.
“Right, well I am going to get to work.” Carter walked out of his office and into the bright sun and heat of the day. She decided to ignore the detail and just go about her business. When she got to her office, she did make a request, “Please don’t let anyone in today – I mean it. I want to be completely alone today, no liaison officer and no one from command.” The guard nodded in agreement with her statement and didn’t let anyone in all day.
Late in the afternoon, Evans approached the door, and the guard moved to block his entrance. “Sorry sir, she made it clear, no one was to go in today. She wants to be alone and work.”
“I am your commanding officer and I am telling you to move out of my way, son.”
“Sir, I appreciate that you are my commanding officer, but her instructions were clear.” The guard did not budge.
Carter could hear that there was an argument going on outside the door; she quietly walked over to listen to the exchange.
“You will move away from this door right now. She is a civilian, and she does not have the authority to give you orders. I, however, do, and I am telling you step to the side or risk a court martial for insubordination. Am I clear?”
The guard swallowed hard, he was not willing to throw his military career away for this woman. He wanted to do what she asked but when the CO commands you to move; well you do it. He gingerly stepped to the side and as Chris reached for the door knob the door flung open.
“Is there a problem out here?”
“Hello Carter, can I come in and talk to you for a minute?”
“No, Captain Evans you cannot.” She crossed her arms and looked at him defiantly.
“Please, Carter; I want to talk to you. It is about your work and your report. And are we back to formal names now?”
“Sorry, I don’t have time right now to talk to you.” She slammed the door and went back to her desk and tried to ignore him. She knew he was still on the other side of the door. He might not be talking, but she knew he had to be there. For that reason alone she was going to stay put for a little longer.
Chris was beside himself; what in the hell happened that she had locked herself away and wouldn’t talk to him. He finally gave up and walked away; deciding that he had to release his frustration and today it would be at the gym. Frankly, he wanted to go to the gun range, but he couldn’t get the image of aiming his weapon at Carter out of his head.
~ * ~
Carter worked through most of the night; she skipped dinner and frankly had not even given it any thought. When she got in the zone, work is all that she thought of and the world around her disappeared. She hoped the guard on duty had been offered some relief and had been able to eat or, at least, get something to drink. For a moment or two, she felt guilt but shook it from her mind and kept pressing through.
Her laptop began buzzing, and she realized she was getting a Skype call. She reached for the laptop and answered the call; it was her friend Roxie. “Hey, you look a little tired. Are you not getting any rest?”
“Roxie, I am in a war zone you know – not like I am on a vacation or anything.”
“Well I know, but you don’t see action – the base isn’t seeing action, right? I mean the teams go out on patrol, but you don’t see action in the spot where you are.”
“True, but there is a lot of commotion around and activity – it isn’t like this place is dead quiet. Actually, if it were that would be scary.”
“I heard that your first report is in and that several of the top brass are surprised with your findings and intrigued with your work.”
“Great, well I have more to give them. Will probably have my next report done early this week, and I think I might find a way to come on home. I don’t think I can do much more around here.”
“How is the hot Captain Evans? Is he still difficult to get along with?”
“Roxie so much has happened since I talked to you last. I don’t want to go into all of it right now but suffice to say that he is indeed still difficult to get along with.” Carter ran her fingers through her hair; her international sign for being nervous and rattled. “I thought we had a breakthrough, I really did. But this morning he made a comment when I was in his office, and it seemed to have negated any ground I thought I had gained. He is insufferable!” She stood from her chair and began pacing around the laptop, still within view of the webcam.
“How much sleep have you had in the last few days?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Carter, you are pacing and running your fingers through your hair. Hell, you look horrible, and I do realize that your webcam is not necessarily the greatest. You said you don’t want to talk about it, but you look bloody awful.”
“I have had maybe 5 hours sleep – I haven’t eaten today, and I am barely functioning. I am exhausted, and my emotions are my fuel to keep me going. Don’t judge me, Roxie – not over Skype. Judge me when I get back and I tell you all of the stories.”
“Okay, I will drop it for now, but you need to go and get some sleep. Stop torturing yourself because you know that working on little sleep will impact the quality of your work. “
Carter smiled, gave her best wishes to Roxie and disconnected the call. She was right, she needed to go to sleep and get the thoughts of Chris out of her head. How had she gone from disliking the man to letting his comments eat at her in such a short time? She closed her laptop and headed for the door. She opened the door to leave her space and noticed that the guard on duty was none other than Captain Evans.
“I was wondering how long I was going to have to stand here; I was starting to worry about you.”
“How long have you been out here?” Carter stammered; she was shocked and a bit terrified. She had no idea if her conversation could be heard through the door. It wasn’t like these buildings at the camp were sturdy and soundproof.
“About an hour, I would guess. I was walking by after chow and asked the guard if you had come out at all and he said you hadn’t. I figured if you had been squirreled away all day you would need to get out sooner or later. I was hoping it would be sooner.”
“Well, here I am. I am going to my barracks and getting some sleep; this brings an end to our conversation for the day.” She pulled her shoulders back and started walking for her barracks. She could feel that he had fallen in step with her and was following her. He didn’t say a word the entire time they walked.
When they reached the barracks, he jumped out in front of her to block her entrance. “Why are you avoiding me? And why am I insufferable?”
She froze; it meant he had heard what she had said. She couldn’t speak; no words could be formed or come out. After a few moments, she tried her voice, “I am not avoiding you; I have been working, and I found that being locked in the room alone gave me an opportunity to fly through things and to focus.” She could not look him in the face; her resolve would break if she did. “You should not have been eavesdropping; it is rude and unprofessional.”
“I didn’t hear your entire conversation, but that portion was rather loud and emphatic.” Chris ran his fingers through his hair; the messed up look was, even more attractive. “Carter I thought we had moved past this. I don’t want to fight with you – I really don’t. Please tell me what I did wrong to make us lose ground on that.”
“Nothing Chris, I am just tired that is all. I guess things are bothering me that do not actually exist. I think I just need some sleep to get my brain back to functioning properly, and I will be all right.” She tried to smile and hoped that he was buying what she was selling. It appeared to work as he relaxed and moved away from the door. She stepped forward and opened the door; stopping to look over her shoulder for a moment. “Good night Chris.”
“I still think you are hiding something from me Carter, and we will continue this conversation. Good night.” He turned and walked away, and she gently closed the door behind her. She was actually feeling guilty and considered for a moment to go after him. Instead, she kicked off her shoes and crawled into her bed.