The problem with this hearing, as Candice explained during strategy sessions back home, comes from divergent agendas. Usually, she recounted, one party favors the witness while the other attacks it. Unfortunately for me, I’ll likely get it from both sides.
On the one hand, those on the left, not too keen on the nasty behind-the-scenes details of the war on terror, may wish to score points by drawing out factoids that show the bankruptcy of war strategy and the abundance of less than nice practices on the ground. One of those things I fear them bringing up? How dogs were used on the natives, in particular during interrogations. Which brings me up to the second concern, namely my own involvement in said interrogations, even if for a short stint, and mostly in an observer’s or assistant’s capacity, depending on how you spin it.
Then we got the right-handed folks who haven’t seen a budget they can’t slash. Oh, they like their tanks and planes, so long as they’re bolted together in their home districts and states. But helping vets with expensive gadgets so they can walk again? Nah. The VA is broken, so we need to fix it by starving it into efficiency. All of which leaves us wondering how far they’re willing to dumpster-dive into a project for fancy legs and neuro-transplants. How much of Devon Smith’s project will they expose, in particular after he went on TV and spilled the beans?
Add all that up, and there I sit, pinned, bracing myself to draw fire from two nasty flanks. If I had any doubt of that, one senator and representative after another confirms our worst fears. Oh, they don’t do it by asking the tough questions themselves. Rather, one after the other they “yield” their time back to senator Bowers, the gentleman from South Carolina—a former state prosecutor, as they keep proclaiming on the news. With him in the lead, we should get us some juicy facts, more than one talking head claims.
In that lead role, Bowers asks all the questions. Keeps lavishing me with that venomous southern charm of his. He drips me with enough of it that I start getting visions of me and Tahoe jumping over two tables to go wipe off that condescending grandfather-knows-best smile off his face.
Since this is a wide open hearing, with cameras rolling and all, coming in we pinned scant hope on the classified nature of some of the facts in question. But as luck would have it, many areas have been declassified. To clear up what’s fair game—a good deal of it, as we learned—they’ve provided us with an updated classification guide.
Candice has a redacted copy of said guide, in case we need to consult it on the fly, like we do now. With tight lips, she gives me a curt nod. Yup, this last question is fair game, too.
“Yes, senator,” I reply. “Joe— excuse me, Major Joseph Brenner and I served together in a Special Ops unit along the Iraq-Iran border.”
“Oh, that’s alright. You can refer to him as Joe, if you prefer.” His lips curl into yet one more smile. “You two were close.” He gives me a one shoulder shrug. “Good friends.”
“He was a mentor.”
He nods. “Alright. We’ll go with mentor.” His lips curl some more. “Now, you weren’t part of the Special Ops unit yourself, were you?”
I eye the lady from California. “No, women were not allowed.”
“But… yet… you were with them.”
“In a support role.”
For a second, he falters a bit, no doubt surprised at my short answer. Coming in, Candice coached me on ways to keep running down the clock. Say truth, but take your time about it. But I don’t have much use for loquacious speech, do I?
“A support role?” he says, finally. “Or something more?”
“I’m sure you have my service papers somewhere in that stack of documents on your desk. As best I recall, they say support role.”
He smiles. “But… it turned into something more. You were more active than simply supporting the unit, weren’t you?”
“When the bullets start flying and things start going boom around you, you do what you have to. Support, bleed, die. Pick your term. It all boils down to survive as best you can.”
Next to me, Candice shifts in her seat. For a second I wonder if I’ve let her down. Then I decide I don’t care.
“Wasn’t there another reason you were able to ride along that unit?” the senator asks. He pauses to let those blues of his twinkle at me again, in the way someone does when they’re about to slam you down on the mat. “Isn’t it true that you were being prepped and groomed for a special project?”
Not feeling good about it, I apply another piece of advice from Candice. Whenever possible, play dumb. “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“The project. Don’t quite know what you mean. As part of our duties, we had many proj—”
“Oh, I think you know which project I mean. The one with Energetix, headed by your commanding officer…” He scans his papers, like he needs the memory aid. “Lieutenant Colonel Brady, and of course, Devon Smith, owner of Energetix.”
Once more, I play dumb. I ain’t about to admit to anything he doesn’t come out and state first. “I believe those two will have likely also had many projects, so again, I need you to get specific.” I wave my hand. “So as I can give you a precisely honest answer.”
His face lengthens a bit. For a moment, I bask in that small slice of victory. He’s getting it now. He should’ve gotten it when he reviewed my military paperwork and saw what I did—all that I did while stationed with Joe. It ain’t so easy to interrogate an interrogator, is it?
But his political leanings won’t let him dive too hard into the interrogator part. Best leave that untouched. Too messy. Too fraught with murky details. Too much blowback.
He recovers with, “You are wearing them today, aren’t you?” Before I can say I’m wearing many things, please be more specific, he points at my table. “Your prosthetic legs.”
“Yes.” The one word response jolts him a bit. Again, I’ve failed to run down the clock. I can hear Candice coaching me. Turn even the simplest yes-no question into a dissertation. Talk them to death. Keep talking when they cut you off. Run down that clock so they have less time to hound you with all their questions.
But someone I admire said let your yes be yes and your no be no, and I suppose I’m tired enough of this show I’ll start applying His advice.
“Well,” he stammers. “What can you tell us about them?”
I smile. He’s getting tired, too. State prosecutor and all, his scalpel is getting dull. And as unkind as it may be to point it out, he’s old, and I got that on him. I can run a marathon, and he’s stuck at eight hundred meters.
“They come in handy,” I reply.
To be continued…
Thank you for reading this installment of Wounded Honor. Leading up to and following it’s release on April 21, I will be sharing preview samples for my readers. Keep checking in, and don’t forget to join my Reader’s Club if you haven’t already to stay up to date on future announcements and giveaways.