As promised, the air conditioner had been repaired once I returned to the barracks. After a good period of rest, I returned to work. I was feeling a little better about everything, and I was hoping that all of the parties had learned their lesson. Our dysfunction had been seen by others. I was hoping that everybody had finally gotten the hint just do leave me alone.
I did a few more errands and articles. I still did what Capt. Dickless told me to do. There was no point in screwing it up. He was still an officer. I didn’t need to show any open insubordination in front of a night shift who all saw me as a hard-working guy. There was, after all, our country’s largest natural disaster in recent memory right outside of our office.
But I was coming unglued. As much as things had changed since the colonel stepped in, I was too stressed out and my sleep once again began to suffer. A little at a time, I began talking with the chaplain’s assistant. It’s always nice to have a dose of wisdom in times of trouble, and she was indeed a wellspring of that wisdom. However, she was also becoming suspicious of the things I was telling her. She specifically wanted to know about the people in charge, especially why our commander was not present for such a high-profile, high-visibility event.
So I broke it down for her. Everything. After listening for a few days to bits and pieces of the story, the told me that I needed to inform JAG what was going on.
An excellent idea.
I was able to get in touch with my lawyer from the previous ‘incident’ on the phone, and she wanted me to put everything in writing and fax it over to her. For the next several nights, I took time in between assignments to put it all together, and then discreetly began to print everything out. It was time to end this stupid game. I was going to try and withdraw from this stupid exercise and from the unit as well.
One evening, I noticed that my letters were missing. I looked around to office for a minute and quickly realized that they were not missing. Somebody had absconded with them. I looked up to see Capt. Dickless standing outside the office door. He ordered me to follow him outside.
He took me to the parking lot, and ordered me to lock up at the position of attention. I knew what was going on, so I complied. Then, as if scripted, he began waving the ‘missing’ papers in front of me.
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you, McCollum?” said Dickless, smugly.
I said nothing.
“What were you going to do with these, McCollum?” he pressed.
I still said nothing.
“Do you have any idea-“
“Sir,” I interrupted, “with all due respect, I’ve been on the phone with JAG all week. I’ve told them everything. I’ve also told the chaplain’s assistant.”
That’s when he stopped smiling. I waited for him to process everything. I waited to see if he had any more empty threats in the chamber.
“This was never any of your business, sir. You could have just left it alone.” He was not confident any more. It looked like he was thinking it all over, but not quite putting it all together. Keep the pages, don’t keep the pages. Stand here until the sun comes up. I could care less.
“This isn’t over McCollum,” he said, predictably, with about as much conviction as you would imagine. I allowed him that last word, remaining at the position of attention until he re-entered the building.
That was the last I ever heard from Capt. Dickless.
A day or two later, I was ordered to return to Fort Campbell. It wasn’t from JAG, either. SSG McDonald was perfectly convinced that she had created a big enough case against me to finally take me down. She ordered Randell to take me back to Fort Campbell to prepare for punishment. Randell and I had a nice, quiet drive home, listening to music and talking about our next vacation.
I only reported to HHC once. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be doing, but I came in only to see if anybody knew why I was there. It was clear that they did not, so I made myself scarce, as did Randell. I did, however, talk to Ron Milton because he happened to be on his way out along with me. I told him what had gone on. He smiled, though it looked as though he felt sorry for me. He told me that he had always hated Struck, and that I needed to stand my ground. This was the most he had ever said to me, and it was unusual to have a person taking my side like this.
A few days later, Struck returned to take me to JAG. He was just as smug as he had been for the past few months, but that didn’t surprise me. He still couldn’t see the writing on the wall, so I wasn’t going to ruin it for him. I was going to let him watch it all play out and realize that he and everyone else was bested by a nobody. As we pulled up to the JAG office, I told him it was not going to end the way he thought it would.
He scoffed. “Peter, if I were you, I would be-”
“Whatever it is you think you’re going to accomplish,” I interrupted, “I can promise you it’s not going to work.” I exited his car and proceeded into the building.