As the cab pulled away and headed back down the driveway, Major Robert Church hefted his overstuffed flight bag and walked toward the front door. The house, as usual, looked neat and well-kept, so his feeling of unease seemed misplaced.
“Just the usual post-mission jitters,” he thought. “But she’s going to be really pissed this time.”
He paused for a moment to take in the scene. He’d never really liked this house, in fact, he hated it. But Angie loved it, and it was free … an oversized, ostentatious, colonial replica that her father thought was a great wedding gift. Too bad he hadn’t thrown in the upkeep.
“Good old rich, snobby, overbearing, cheap dad. And his rich, snobby, overbearing … beautiful, intelligent daughter.”
He sighed and reached for the doorknob, but turned at the sound of a vehicle coming up the drive. A military staff car pulled to a stop in front of him, and General Larkin emerged from the back. Tall and greying at the temples, the crisply uniformed Larkin was the very epitome of a ranking Space Command officer. In fact, he was the ranking Space Command officer, head of the whole organization.
“Glad I caught you, Rob,” he said. “Thought you might need a little backup for reentry.”
“Appreciate it, sir,” he said, “but some things I probably ought to do solo.”
Church tried the doorknob. It was unlocked and the door swung open. There were no lights, no sounds, and … no furniture. He stood for a few moments waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Stacked in the middle of the foyer was just about everything he owned, at least what she had allowed him to keep.
“Shit,” said Larkin, peering over Church’s shoulder. “Didn’t see that coming.”
“I did,” Church replied quietly.
He approached the stack and stood for a moment taking it in. On the top was a large envelope addressed to “Major Robert J. Church, USAF.” The return address read “Shuster, Kline, and Shuster, Attorneys-at-Law.” He didn’t bother to open it; just folded it and stuffed it in his flight bag.
Larkin looked around as he moved past Church and into the house.
“Looks like she took everything, including the dog,” he said.
Church slumped down on a box that sank down slightly and crunched under him.
“Fuck that!” he said, a rising tinge of anger in his voice. “She took Robbie!”
– Two months and a lot of alcohol later –
“You are a major piece of work, Colonel! Just what, exactly, were you thinking?”
General Larkin leaned forward, slapping his hands on the desk, but pausing long enough to move his coffee cup out of range.
“Or more precisely, what were you thinking with?”
Standing at wavering attention on the other side of the General’s desk, newly-promoted Colonel Robert J. Church smiled slightly, and began to relax.
“Aw come on, Myles, you know . . .”
“General! And this isn’t funny, Rob . . . Colonel!” He peered closely at Church. “Are you still drunk? Or just totally clueless? Do you have any idea the position you’ve put me in?”
“Pretty sure it was her position . . . can I sit down?”
“Negative! Stand there and sweat!”
With a burp, Colonel Church placed a hand over his mouth. Larkin hastily grabbed the trash can from beside his desk and thrust it at Church.
“Crap! Here, stick your damn head in it if you have to!”
Larkin pointedly examined the ceiling as Church bent double, head in the trash can, and retched. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, the Colonel straightened up the best he could.
“Really think I should shit, sir. Sit, shir.,” he said, giggling.
“Oh Christ!” Larkin waved him to a chair. “You’re hopeless! Sit! And do it at attention!”
Church plopped down in a chair, trying to keep his back straight and his face serious, and failing at both. Fingers peaked and eyes closed, the General took a slow, deep breath before continuing.
“Senator Jackson is . . . is . . . “
“That’s a polite way of putting it,” Larkin replied.
“He’s a fat, loud-mouthed, prickless . . . prick!”
“But a fat, loud-mouthed prickless prick who also happens to be Chairman of a certain Oversight Committee,” Larkin said, glaring at Church. “And can you guess which one that is?”
“Shit! Look, Myles . . . General. It just sort of happened. You know how these parties go. I didn’t know I was boinking his wife.”
“And his daughter. Let’s not forget her, shall we?”
“Not a chance! Good thing she takes after her mother! What I can’t figure out is how someone who looks like . . .”
Larkin waved his hands, stopping Church before he could say more.
“That has nothing to do with it, Colonel! Fact of the matter is, the good Senator from Texas wants your head! Both of them! And if I don’t hand it over, he wants mine!”
Church looked at his hands, the floor, anywhere but at Larkin.
“Guess I fucked up good this time,” he said quietly.
“That’s a true understatement, Rob,” Larkin replied, just as quietly. “A true understatement.”
“So what’s the next move, Myles?” Church said, looking up.
General Larkin stood, came around from behind the desk, and placed a hand on Church’s shoulder.
“He wants you sacked. If he had his way, he’d have you drummed out of the service, sword broken, buttons torn off, the whole thing. And public flogging! But, he wants this entire matter kept quiet.”
“So I’m fired,” Church said, bluntly.
“No. You’re going to resign for . . . well, we’ll come up with a plausible reason. No recriminations, no black marks. But either way, I’m afraid you career is over.”
“And then what? The military is all I’ve ever known. When Angie left, I . . . Robbie . . .” He heaved a sigh, stifling a sob.
Larkin squeezed his shoulder, looking away for a moment before continuing.
“Rob, we’ve been friends for a long time. I’m not going to leave you dangling in the wind. You’re a damn fine officer, and it just happens that I may have a place for you, if you want it. It’s a little out of the ordinary, but . . .”