Keller descended to the flight deck, and as the hook on her F-16's tail snagged the wire, she was yanked to a five-G stop. She taxied off to the side. No sooner was she parked than her crew chief, Billy Larabee, helped her pull back her canopy. Visibly shaken, he said, "Captain Keller, Alison Mervik is dead. It looks like she killed herself."
Billy took Keller's helmet, and she lifted herself from the cockpit.
When she was on the deck, she said to Larabee, "Have the MPs been alerted?"
Larabee looked afraid. "I haven't told anyone. Maybe someone has found her since I was down there, but I doubt it. I was supposed to meet her in her quarters at 1700 hours."
"You were good friends with Mervik?"
Larabee looked surprised, "Sir? Harold Nance and I worked with her and Alezio on Balkan Watch. We were all very close."
Larabee stopped and said, "I'm sorry, Sir. I assumed Alezio told you . . . Harold and I . . . it's not important. I just can't believe Alezio crashed and Mervik killed herself."
The two walked through the endless hallways, down to the small rooms of the crew six levels below deck. Since Alison Mervik bunked above the engines, she had a single room. The door was ajar, and Billy looked at it and said, "I left it shut." Keller pushed open the door. The room had been torn apart. The mattress was torn open, the drawers had been yanked out of the steel dresser and left flipped over on the floor. Uniforms were shredded. Photos had their backings ripped off. Littered across the floor were copies of the yellow Balkan Watch memo that Captain Meredith had given her the day before.
Alison Mervik was behind the door, hanging from the ventilation grillwork. She had one leg of a pair of dress white's tied around her neck, the other end was locked into the grillwork. Larabee ran his hand up and down her back, and as tears ran down his cheek he said, "She was such a good person. I should have made her talk to me. But she was so sad, and so afraid of something."
Captain Keller fingered the dress whites. She reached behind the body and pulled open the waistband.
There she read on the name tag in red letters: CAPTAIN ANN MARIE ALEZIO.
After completing his tour of Bosnian airspace with Captain Keller as his wingman, Captain Romny checked his watch and saw he was late.
Romny took the commissary elevator down eight levels to the engine room. He nodded to one of the seamen engine mechanics, who kept the club room clean and vigilantly controlled access in return for a few bottles of Jack Daniels, and made his way alongside the massive nuclear-powered engines of the USS Eisenhower. He dropped down two more levels, slipped behind a backup turbine, moved aside a couple of sheets of plywood left against a back wall, and knocked using the three long and three short taps of the SOS call.
The door opened and the room was black. Romny heard muffled laughter, felt a drink placed in his hand. A flashlight held aloft near the ceiling flipped on, and he could see her arm and her face. He laughed as the pilot's helmet with the tinted visor was placed on his head.
The woman was dressed in a green sheet by Martinez, like she was the Statue of Liberty. She looked scared, and the ten pilots, three warrant officers, and four marines were on their knees with their arms stretched out before them as if worshiping a pagan goddess.
Martinez tapped her on the ass with an officer's sword, and she jumped down off the box, threw her arms around Captain Romny, and shoved her tongue down his throat. She was already shitfaced. The men outside cheered, Romny slipped an arm around her, and into his outstretched hand Martinez placed another glass of Kentucky bourbon. He gulped it down, and led her through a fake door made from cardboard to look like that of a beach shack in the tropics. THE LOVE SHACK was spray-painted over the door.
Once inside, he pushed her down on the bed and told her that she was about to be inducted into the Minotaur Club. The men outside cheered again, and Martinez put on the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." He heard Nelson adjusting the video camera hidden in the fake plywood wall of the Love Shack.
Captain Romny said to her, "What's your name, Seaman?"
"Seaman Laine Barton."
"Are you a lesbian?"
"No, Sir," she said.
Captain Romny pulled the sheet off her body, and said, "Then prove it, bitch."
As Captain Romny entered Seaman Barton he imagined he was entering Captain Keller and came almost immediately, although for the sake of form he kept up a steady banging for a few minutes. He finally stepped out of the Love Shack, and after doing the traditional dick wave with a spin of his hips, he ceremoniously placed the helmet on the head of Lieutenant Sprague, intoning, "My son, be the Minotaur."
Handed another glass of hootch, Romny gagged it down and pretended to howl, throwing back his head, exhibiting a mouthful of gold molars. The men of the Minotaur Club slapped him on the back. Most then returned to watching a porn flick on the TV in the corner. Corporal Martinez handed Captain Romny an open Budweiser. Exaggerated cries of pleasure came from the Love Shack, and a few seconds later Lieutenant Sprague emerged with both fists raised as if in victory, handed the helmet to the next officer, and said, "Be the Minotaur." Sprague took the bottle of scotch and a glass, and handing them to a sailor said, "Give the lady a drink."
Martinez gave Captain Romny a serious look and said, "Let's go outside, Sir."
Romny looked around and said, "We have no secrets here in the Minotaur Club." He took a swig from his bottle and pointing toward the Love Shack said, "What's her story? Somebody catch her in bed with some other bitch?"
Martinez shook his head and said, "Third time her piss test came back positive. We let her off the first few times, and told her there'd be some unbelievably serious shit if it turned up positive again. She's got four kids back stateside with her mother and her second old man's gone AWOL, so she can't afford a dishonorable discharge. We gave her the Minotaur option out, and she thought it over for about ten seconds before she said she'd do fucking anything."
"Fucking anything," said Romny. "Didn't even have to call her a dyke?"
"Didn't come to that, Sir."
Captain Romny nodded and said, "Better not let anyone else in her sloppy hole. Get her fucked up good, and then show her we have the video of her as a movie star. Let her sleep it off here. Get someone to baby-sit her, and let her know we only expect her to socialize once a month or so. We're not cruel about it. And point out we take care of our girls."
Romny started to turn away, but Martinez grabbed his arm.
"What the fuck else, Martinez?"
"We might have a little problem, Sir, and I really think we need to step outside." Romny looked closely at Martinez's face, and then nodded. The two stepped into the corridor. Once outside, Martinez said, "Something happened while you were on patrol."
"We went to pay a visit to Mervik, the dyke who was doing Captain Alezio."
"So? I told you to warn her to keep her mouth shut. I would have taken her out permanently, but the Admiral liked to watch Mervik in action. He liked her big tits."
"Sir? Alison Mervik's dead. She hung herself by Alezio's dress whites."
Romny leaned back against the wall, and then laughed and said, "Mervik must have fucking loved Alezio, huh? Can you beat that shit?"
"Sir, she threatened to kill herself a week ago and told some people she'd leave a suicide note. She knew Captain Alezio had told Admiral Warren about our operation down here and how the Admiral had promised to call in the naval investigators. When Alezio died, Mervik probably put two and two together. You know she could identify all of us from her months in the Minotaur Club, not to mention all the women sailors she knew we'd forced to participate. She called it an 'organized sex ring.'"
Romny grabbed Martinez by the collar, threw him up against the wall and said, "Why the fuck didn't you tell me about this right away, you stupid shit? She threatened a fucking letter?"
Martinez said, "We tore the room apart, Sir. There was no letter. Maybe she was bluffing."
"Yeah, like she was bluffing about killing herself?"
"But there was nothing there."
"So? How do you know you were the first to get in that room? Somebody else got there before you, you stupid shit."
"We'll do whatever you say, Sir."
"Take a couple of those jarhead MPs. Do your own investigation. Find out who was friends with Mervik. Probably some other dyke or faggot, they all know each other."
The next morning, Captain Keller sat in the dispensary.
She sat bent over with her head in her hands. She felt the hand of Medic Harold Nance stroking her hair as he said, "There are a lot of people worried about you, Captain. When Billy Larabee told me you said you were throwing up, I thought right away: that'll make thirty-four."
"That's how many have gotten pregnant on this cruise. Thirty-four, including you. But it was worse in the Gulf War, you know?"
"Are you sure?"
Nance shook his head and laughed. "No, I can't be sure. The test is only 99.7 percent accurate. So there is a chance you're not pregnant. But if you are pregnant, you might lose the baby if you keep flying."
Captain Keller shook her head, and under her breath said, "Now Warren will have to leave his wife."
"Admiral Warren? Jesus."
"I know," said Captain Keller. "Don't say it."
"You've never done this sort of thing before?"
"I never really dated at Annapolis. And afterward, I loved my jets, I guess."
"You don't do things half way, huh?"
"Mach 2 all the way," said Captain Keller. "Can't help it. I always have to be pushing the envelope."
There was a knock at the door, and Captain Keller wiped her eyes. Captain Meredith entered, and asked Harold Nance if he would leave them alone. Nance looked to Keller, and when she nodded, he slipped out.
Keller said, "What are you doing here Meredith, is it that fucking Balkan Watch thing again? I've got my own problems."
Closing the door behind him, Meredith said, "I'll cut to the chase here, Keller. Although there are those who still have doubts about you, myself and some others are convinced it's time you joined us."
"What do you mean 'us'?"
"I think you know or at least suspect what I mean when I say 'us,'" said Meredith. "We want you to join us, but first I want to show you something. One of our friends works with the intelligence team and has access to high-level documents in the operations room." Meredith opened a folder and said, "Admiral Warren was aware of the dip you took from your vul time flyover yesterday. Warren is also aware of what you saw down there."
"All those refugees?" said Keller. "Warren knows about them?"
"Those were refugees from Srebrenica," said Meredith. "Two days ago the Serbs mounted a full-scale assault on the designated NATO safe haven and its 36,000 Muslim civilians. Look at this photo. It was taken while you were flying in circles up there."
Captain Keller took the black-and-white satellite photo. It was a soccer stadium filled with thousands of people. Meredith handed over a second photo. In this photo the stadium was empty, but outside four large areas of freshly dug earth were visible. Between the dug earth and the empty stadium were dozens of truck tracks. Another photo showed the streams of refugees she saw fleeing Srebrenica.
"Those were 12,000 refugees, Muslim men, trying to make it to the UN safe haven of Tuzla. According to reports from a variety of sources, less than half made it to safety. They were butchered by General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander."
"Why wouldn't Admiral Warren let us do anything?" said Captain Keller. "He knew a slaughter was going on, and kept us circling?"
"You were up there with Romny and could have taken out those Serb MiGs, and maybe saved hundreds of lives, by slowing down the fall of Srebrenica and keeping Mladic's troops concentrated on taking the city, instead of slaughtering civilians." Meredith handed over a final series of satellite photos of fields covered with bodies and said, "That's at Kravica and Nova Kasaba. All along the refugees' route there are fields like those, littered with fresh bodies."
Captain Keller said, "And what do you want me to do?"
"We want you to join us. Eight officers and over two hundred enlisted sailors. There are apparently another twelve at Aviano in Italy, and seventy-five soldiers there. We have overt and covert sympathizers all the way up the chain of command."
"Join you to do what? Mutiny?"
Captain Meredith stood up and said, "We plan to resign our commissions in a few days over the years of inaction in Bosnia, and the sailors plan a work stoppage. Are you with us, Captain Keller?"
"Your careers will be over," said Keller. "That's all that will happen."
"You have any better suggestions?"
"Do I have any better suggestions?" said Keller. "I was up there. All we need is enough pilots on the next full scramble who don't turn around when the run is called off again."
"Without orders?" said Captain Meredith. "I think we're better off sticking to mass resignation. You can't expect not to be fired upon when you go rogue with live ammunition."
"But if the rogue pilots make it to Sarajevo and prove we can take out the Serb guns, what happens next?"
"I don't know," said Captain Meredith. "I think if you have serious problems with official policy, you resign your commission."
"And I think if the rogue pilots finally took out the guns around Sarajevo," said Captain Keller, "if they showed it could be done in the face of all this bullshit that our hands are tied . . ."
"It would still be open mutiny," said Captain Meredith. "It would take a lot to make me sanction mutiny."
"Maybe Alison Mervik could have convinced you."
"What did she tell you?"
"She said Admiral Warren and Captain Romny killed Alezio."
"Why the hell would they do that?"
"She didn't trust me enough to tell me," said Captain Keller. "But I'm going to find out."
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