No Trumpets, No Drums
By Elisabeth Blair
It was nearly midnight. The young woman in the wheelchair could hear the low hum of people and activity from elsewhere in the airport, but here at the gates used by the small commuter airline it was almost deserted. A trickle of passengers were loading for a flight, two attendants passed with a curious glance in her direction, a maintenance man hauled trash from the restroom.
Lord, it was cold. She was wearing a sweater under her fatigues, but her head was bare and she'd lost her field jacket and gloves somewhere between Dahran and Germany. She tucked her fingers into her armpits to keep them warm, tipped her head back, and settled herself with the practiced air of someone used to grabbing sleep when she can.
She opened one eye. A man stood in front of her, bulky and intimidating in a dark leather coat and a five o'clock shadow. She straightened and gave him her hardest don't-mess-with-me stare. "Yeah?"
"Something wrong here? You look...abandoned." He seemed genuinely concerned.
Her sense of the ridiculous surfaced and she chuckled. "Are you calling me an abandoned woman?"
He didn't smile back. "Is anybody taking care of you?"
He wasn't bad-looking, for a civilian. His dark hair was too long, of course, and he was a bit beefy for her taste, but he had a nice voice, deep and warm. She explained, "I was supposed to be put on a flight for Norfolk. It got cancelled. Next plane's not until tomorrow morning."
"So you're going to sit here all night?"
"I asked the attendant to find someone to take me over to the USO. She said she'd see. That was two hours ago." She grinned wryly. "She was wearing one of those stupid yellow ribbons, too. "
"Were you in the Gulf?" She nodded. He pointed to the cast on her leg. "How were you wounded?"
She chuckled again. "I fell off the back of a truck yesterday morning and broke my leg. It's what they call an NBI, Non-Battle Injury. I was medevac'd to the Army hospital in Wiesbaden. They slapped some plaster on it and decided to ship me back here."
He shook his head in disbelief. "What was their big hurry?" She opened her mouth to tell him that all the military hospitals in Europe were prepping for the flood of casualties they expected once the bombing stopped and the ground campaign started-and remembered that was probably classified information. She shrugged.
"I'm a Marine. I'm not the Army's problem."
He leaned forward and tapped the silver bars pinned to her collar. "You're a lieutenant. Don't they treat officers any better than that?"
"Rule Number One in the Corps is 'Take care of the mission.' Rule Number Two is 'Take care of your troops.' There is no Rule Number Three. Officers are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. By the way, were you in the service? Most people can't tell one rank from another."
"I'm a cop. We use the same insignia." Suddenly he smiled and put out a large, capable-looking hand. "The name's Logan, by the way. Detective Mike Logan, NYPD."
"First Lieutenant Colleen Kennedy, Tenth Marine Regiment." They shook hands.
"Listen, Lieutenant...can I find you a cab? You could at least spend the night in a hotel."
"Only if you want to spot me some cash. Someone swiped my pack in Germany. It had my wallet in it." She shifted in the chair and winced as the ache in her broken tibia flared into a sharp hot flash of pain.
He asked gently, "Is your leg bothering you?"
She shrugged. "Damned Army nurses. Wouldn't give me a shot of morphine, said I didn't need it." Then, seeing the angry look cross his face, "It's no big deal. I'm offering it up for the poor souls in Purgatory."
The familiar Catholic reference made him grin and she asked diffidently, "Listen, if you wouldn't mind dragging me to the USO, they'll take good care of me. They've got racks and heads over there."
"They've got what?"
"Racks and heads...sorry. Marine slang for beds and bathrooms."
The USO was in the main terminal, a room wedged in between Sammy Ko's Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant and an American Express office. It was locked and a sign on the door read, "Closed for Renovations."
They looked at the sign and then at each other. The tough leatherneck disappeared for a moment, leaving a bone-tired young woman with lines of pain etched on her pale face. "I don't suppose I can get you to take me back to my gate?"
"I've got a better idea. I'm taking you home with me." He grabbed the wheelchair handles and headed for the parking exit.
She threw back her head and laughed. "That's the best offer I've had in four months. Am I supposed to ask if your intentions are honorable?"
"They couldn't be anything else, Lieutenant...not with that cast on your leg." As they passed a fast-food place a thought struck him. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Yesterday. Breakfast, just before I fell off that truck." He stopped.
They continued their journey with a bag of sandwiches in her lap, which she devoured so fast he was afraid that she might choke. By the time they reached his car she was sound asleep, not waking even when he picked her up and slid her deftly into the passenger seat.
As he drove he glanced at her, sleeping beside him like a trusting child. Her uniform was filthy, with the ground-in dirt of many days, and her hands were cracked and raw. He remembered the news footage he'd seen on CNN of troops sleeping in tents in the bitter Saudi Arabian winter, eating tasteless food from little brown plastic packages, taking their cold water showers once a week. He couldn't imagine what that must be like, living in the mud, dodging SCUDs and waiting for the next move from a madman with the largest chemical weapons arsenal in the Middle East at his fingertips.
A billboard advertisement for Whitman's caught his eye and he realized what day it was. February 14th. "Happy Valentine's Day, Lieutenant," he murmured. "You're young and pretty, and you're not wearing a ring. Is there some guy out in the Persian Gulf right now wishing he could give you a kiss and a box of candy?"
The thought came to him--he'd put her on that plane tomorrow with a big bunch of red roses in her arms. Somehow it didn't seem like enough, but it was all he could do. He pulled her closer until her head was snugged against his shoulder and drove over the bridge to Manhattan.