Ralph Peters The Officers' Club

ISBN 13: 9780765365538

The Officers' Club

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9780765365538: The Officers' Club
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Spring, 1981.  Vietnam is over, but the repercussions linger.  The military strives to recover as society reels from the excesses of the 1970s...

A sinister beauty and a dutiful soldier... a Hollywood lawyer running from a dirty past and a cast-off vet who seems to have no future...  dueling drug gangs along the Mexican border... and the mutilated remains of a female lieutenant. 

Stunning, promiscuous, and brilliant at spotting the weaknesses in others, Jessie Lamoureaux may have been killed by a jealous lover, a drug smuggler—or a ghost from a life she hoped she had left behind. 

Was her murderer the Green Beret she betrayed?  The captain whose marriage she shattered?  The senior officer hoping to save her from herself?  A female sergeant fighting for dignity in a man’s world?  Or a fellow lieutenant with a secret of his own?

In this gritty tale of young men and women torn between the laws of the land and the laws of the heart, a dark journey leads from a moonlit beach in Mexico to mayhem in Iran—then back to a country looking for its soul.

The Officers’ Club captures the passions and confusion of the times, the reckoning due after a decade of indulgence—and the commitment of those who stayed in uniform through the bad years.

As the military and society struggle to right themselves, their conflicts are embodied in the question:  

Who killed Lieutenant Jessie Lamoureux? 

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About the Author:

Ralph Peters is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former enlisted man, a controversial strategist and veteran of the intelligence world; a bestselling, prize-winning novelist; a journalist who has covered multiple conflicts and appears frequently in the broadcast media; and a lifelong traveler with experience in over seventy countries on six continents. A widely read columnist, Ralph Peters' journalism has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and web-zines, including The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Harpers, and Armchair General Magazine. His books include The War After Armageddon, Endless War, and Red Army. Peters grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and studied writing at Pennsylvania State University. He lives and writes in the Washington, D.C. area.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
The guy flashing the badge at my door that morning looked like a Mormon missionary. His double-knit sport coat was a sweat machine, his cheap tie a noose. He glanced at the can of Tecate in my hand: wanton violation of the Sabbath.
We were off to a bad start.
“Special Agent Tompkins. CID. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Sure.” I pushed open the screen door. He had the look of an NCO eager to be mistaken for an officer. “Want a beer?”
I couldn’t help teasing him. I was screwed, anyway. A fitting end to the affair. Now that Nikki was gone, after reducing my heart to shit, somebody must have gone running to the chain of command, whining about a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: adultery, a cold word for a conflagration. Probably her husband, whining from afar.
“Have a seat.”
Tompkins sat on the couch, ignoring the stains. He glanced around, in search of evidence. Nikki was everywhere. But nowhere he could see.
His eyes settled on the unread Sunday paper. An Abscam conviction shared headline space with the Fed’s 14 percent interest rate.
I leaned against the wall. Varnished knotty pine met bare flesh. The air conditioner grumped at the desert heat.
“Would you mind turning off the music?”
I flipped up the tonearm and stopped the record. Steve Winwood. Arc of a Diver. Not my life’s usual soundtrack. One of Nikki’s favorites. My self-flagellation.
“Did you just take a shower?” Tompkins asked. It wasn’t great sleuthing: My hair was wet, and I wore nothing but a pair of cut-off jeans.
“Dropped the towel when you rang the bell.”
Why did you take a shower just now?”
I made a what the fuck? face. I’d been on a long suicidal run out in the proving grounds. Me against the Arizona sun. Stupidity, vanity and heartbreak, calves, thighs and lungs. I liked to jump the wire and run forbidden trails, just me and the rattlesnakes. The adjudicating authority could add that to the score.
“I stank.”
“From what?”
“I was out running.”
“How long were you gone?”
I shrugged. “About an hour. What’s this all about?”
“Where were you were last night? Start at six in the evening and talk me forward.”
I didn’t see what my lonesome Saturday night had to do with Nikki and a conduct-unbecoming charge. Although it had everything to do with Nikki.
“I was here. All evening. All night.”
“Alone?”
“Yes. Alone.”
“That doesn’t sound like you. The way people describe you.” Then he added, “Lieutenant.”
“Look, would you tell me what this is about?” I was no longer so sure that I knew. “And aren’t you supposed to read me my rights or something?”
“Do you want me to read you your rights? Are you guilty of something?”
“You tell me.”
“Do you consider yourself a suspect?”
“A suspect for what?”
“Where were you last night, Lieutenant Banks? Let’s narrow it down. Where were you between midnight and six A.M.?”
“Here. I told you. I was in bed by midnight.”
“Asleep?”
“I don’t know when I fell asleep. But I was in bed.”
“Were you alone?”
“I told you that, too.” Alone. And sick at heart. Unable to read. Unable to bear any music I had played when we were together. Unable to jerk off without feeling puking sick at the thought of her gone.
“But you have no witnesses?”
“How could I have witnesses? I was alone.”
He canted his head toward the wall behind him. Cinder block, painted white, on that side of the room. My apartment sat in the middle of a building that looked like a one-story motel bypassed by a new highway. Junk decorated the yards across the street; an abandoned Airstream lurked behind the back fence. Huachuca City, USA, model desert slum.
“Neighbors?”
“They might’ve heard me. I don’t know. I didn’t have the stereo on very long.”
“So ... you have no proof that you were where you say you were between midnight and six A.M.? Are you sure you didn’t have any visitors? A female? Are you protecting someone’s reputation? As a gentleman?”
I hadn’t felt very gentlemanly of late. I didn’t answer, didn’t need to.
“What about your civilian friend from Bisbee, the homosexual?”
He spoke the last word as if fearing infection.
“He wasn’t here. No female, either. For Christ’s sake. Can’t you tell me what this is all about?”
It couldn’t be about Nikki. Even though everything in my life was about her now. Casual sex exploded into a wrecking passion. I fell in love with a slut as worthless as I was. Then watched, helplessly, as she walked away.
“Describe your relationship with First Lieutenant Jessica Lamoureaux.”
The penny dropped. Partway. Jessie Lamoureaux was born for trouble. This was all about her. Nikki was just plain gone. Not even the CID was going to bring her back to me.
“I don’t know what to call it, exactly. Not really friendship. Acquaintances? We’ve been on the outs.”
“Did you ever have sexual relations with Lieutenant Lamoureaux?”
“No.”
“You’re certain of that?”
“I’d remember.”
Was she the one facing charges? There was plenty of sleep-around, emotional bloodshed to raise a stink about. And the jealous wives to do it. Then there was the darker stuff. Much darker.
“Could you pass a polygraph on that? Swearing that you never had sexual relations with First Lieutenant Jessica Lamoureaux?”
“If the polygraph works. Yeah.”
“Did you ever attempt to have sexual relations with her?”
“Jessie isn’t my type.”
He looked at me skeptically. To the average male observer, Jessie was everybody’s type. “She never rebuffed you?”
I couldn’t help smirking. I remembered Jessie naked, wet and cold, a gorgeous serpent, coiling around me. Waist-deep in the Sea of Cortez at two A.M. In one of the few wise actions of my life, I had broken her grip and waded back to the beach. That had been the beginning, not the end, of our relationship.
“She never ‘rebuffed’ me.”
“Would you describe Lieutenant Lamoureaux as promiscuous?”
I killed the smile. “I’d describe her as socially energetic.”
Then he slipped. An NCO, not an officer. “She was a very attractive woman, wouldn’t you say?”
The chill hit me. It had nothing to do with the struggling air conditioner. “Has something happened to her?”
“Why do you say that?”
“You just used the past tense. You said she was an attractive woman.”
That miffed him. He recalibrated his deadpan expression.
“Lieutenant Lamoureaux was murdered. Early this morning.”
I sat down. On the floor. Right where I had been standing. I parked the empty beer can so clumsily that it fell on its side and rolled.
“Did you kill her?” Tompkins asked me.
I shook my head. Then I raised my hand: Wait a minute, give me a minute.
Dinwiddie? Had she driven the poor bastard crazy? Crazy enough to kill her? Or Jerry? He had the skills. And, in his mind, the reason. Gene? Earnest, silly Pete? The Kraut? Another broken lover, or his spouse? Jessie left plenty of casualties in her wake. Or had it been one of her murky Tucson pals? Or the Mexicans? Jessie played with so many different kinds of fire that getting burned was inevitable. But she never seemed the kind who wound up at the stake. Jessie got away with things, with everything. She might end up scorched, but not dead.
I thought of her shocking, reptilian beauty. Blue black hair and perfect skin that gleamed pale through a tan. Full lips and ruthless cheekbones. Arctic eyes so blue, they were almost gray. Torso slightly too long, legs faintly too short, but who cared? She could have been the damsel of a Deep South trailer court, or born to the best suite in a Geneva hotel. We had buried pasts in common.
“How did she die?” I asked.
Tompkins had been looking at me hard.
“No tears, Lieutenant Banks?”
I shook my head again. “Jessie wasn’t the kind of woman I’d cry over. She would’ve laughed, if she saw me crying. How was she ... how did it happen?”
“Are you sure you can’t shed some light on that?”
I lost it. Scrambling to my feet. Knocking over a shelf of books and records. Barking. Snarling. Shouting.
“What the fuck, man? Read me my rights. Or stop playing asshole games. Just tell me how she died, for Christ’s sake. Just tell me how she died.”
He looked at me. Impassive. The master, after all. The bureaucrats always win, in the end.
“If you don’t know how she died,” he told me, “you don’t want to know.”
*   *   *
Exhibitionists pose for others, but narcissists pose for themselves. I was minding my own business. Alone with a half-empty can of beer, doing my existentialist riff on a Mex beach after midnight. It was March and the nights got cold, but I was the coolest living thing under that full moon. I sat on my ass on the sand and watched the water.
Puerto Peñasco was just a run-down fishing ville in those days, with one rathole motel that had rooms for roisterers down from Arizona for the weekend. At night, the town slept. If you hadn’t brought along anybody to fuck, there was nothing to do.
I was soloing that weekend. I’d loaned my car to my current bed-filler so she could drive up to Scottsdale to visit her husband’s family. Neither of us wanted them popping up at Fort Huachuca to see the sights.
So I was the odd man out in the little cabal we mockingly called the Officers’ Club, our answer to the impossibly dreary O-club on the fort. To which we were forced to pay dues to keep the bar open for the walking dead who lived above the parade field.
I had come down to the beach to get away from the sexual vandalism in the next room. Jerry was banging his DD-cup date against the wall. To needle me. She made barnyard sounds. I could picture him grinning. Nor did I want to think about the scene between the other two officers who’d tagged along.
When I stretched out my hand, the sand felt startlingly cold. My denim shirt didn’t keep me warm. But I was Mr. Zen, telling myself the chill was an illusion.
I didn’t even want the beer, really. It was just part of the role.
The world refused to respond to my profundity. The moonlit sea just stayed the same, no matter how long you stared at it. I shifted from pondering infinity to think about the girl who’d borrowed my car. Tight little lieutenant, married to her ROTC sweetheart right after graduation. We could’ve made some noise, had she come along. Although that was all she was good for. Nicole Weaver, second lieutenant, United States Army. I didn’t even know her maiden name. Didn’t want to.
I stopped thinking about her, too.
I didn’t hear Jessie Lamoureaux’s approach. She could’ve been watching me for an hour. Although Jessie wasn’t the kind of girl to wait that long for anything.
Bare feet, bare calves. Pale on the pale sand.
“I could’ve robbed you,” she said. “I could’ve murdered you.”
I shrugged. She sat down beside me. We stared at the so what? sea.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Isn’t it? And so quiet.”
“It was. Quiet.”
She laughed. Jessie put more of a southern accent into her laugh than into her speech. And her speech was theatrical enough.
“Got another beer there, Mr. Serious?”
“Nope.”
I couldn’t really see her. But I’m sure she shook her head.
“Where I come from, no self-respecting gentleman would go wandering off from his friends in the dead of night with less than a six-pack. You Yankees aren’t drinking men, are you?”
“We try not to puke on our dates.”
“That girl you’ve been seeing’s a terrible little slut. You must know that.”
“Here. You can have what’s left. It’s warm.”
She took the can. “I’m just sorry you and I haven’t been able to have a heart-to-heart before this.”
“Are we having a heart-to-heart?”
She drained the can and flung it. That was within the Mex rules. The poor bugger with whom she’d come down—a permanent-party major who wasn’t supposed to be sneaking off with transient junior officers—had cut his foot on broken glass on the beach early in the evening. Before anybody had downed enough beer and tequila to have an excuse for bleeding.
“Where’s the major?”
“How would I know? Asleep, I suppose.”
“I thought you were together? That was the impression he gave. When he thrust himself on Jerry and me. His big date.”
“We’re just friends. Separate rooms—I’m surprised you didn’t notice, Mr. Intelligence Officer. Oh, he’s nice enough, I suppose. But not my type at all.”
That explained why Major Leon Dinwiddie, a balding character battling a weight problem, had drunk more than a lacerated foot excused. Back at the fort, his nickname was Major Dim-witted. Even his fellow staff officers called him that. The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School was a small town: Peyton Place without the moral restraint.
“So we’re both alone,” Jessie added. “You and me.”
“I’m spoken for, ma’am.”
She snickered. “You’re fucking another officer’s wife.”
“That’s putting it bluntly.”
“I don’t mind shocking people. When they need it.”
“And I need it?”
“I think so. You’re just playing at life. I’ve been watching you. For a while now. You don’t have any future with that little tramp.”
“Maybe I’m not looking for a future.”
“Then why do you always walk around looking so serious when you’re in uniform? And acting so hush-hush about that project they’ve got you on?”
The project was “hush-hush.” In a doesn’t-really-matter Fort Huachuca kind of way.
“What else have you found out, Inspector?”
“That you’ve got more walls around you than Parchman Farm.”
“Keeps the little girls intrigued. Case in point. Watch out for the scorpions, by the way. They sneak up on you.”
“The way I did? On you?” She granted me another stage laugh. “I should have been born a Scorpio. But I’m just a poor little Capricorn. What’s your sign, Roy?”
It was the first time she’d used my name.
“ ‘Dead end.’ ”
“See what I mean? Well, I’ve done a little research into Second Lieutenant Roy Banks, I’ll have you know.”
“And?”
“You’re twenty-eight years old. That’s old, for a second lieutenant. Even for a first lieutenant.”
“I’m former-enlisted.”
“I know that, too. Four years.”
“Major Dinwiddie show you my personnel file? Shame on him.”
“He didn’t do any such thing. The poor man. But you’re flattered. Aren’t you? That I went to so much trouble?”
“Depends on why.” Two gulls strafed the moon.
“I’ve got my reasons.”
“So now you know all there is to know. Case closed.”
She kept her silence for a moment, picking up a fistful of sand to strew across the darkness.
“Southern girls do the math,” she told me. “You’re twenty-eight. Allow a year for OCS and the course you just finished out here, and that gets us down to twenty-seven. Subtract four years enlisted time. That brings us down to twenty-three. You didn’t join the Army until you were twenty-three. Either that’s pathetic and you were a complete failure at something else ... or you’ve got something to hide.”
“Maybe I’m hiding my failure?”
“Where were you between college and the day you joined the Army?”
“This an interrogation? Am I a prisoner?”
“I could make you my prisoner. If I wanted. Tell me about those missing years, Man of Mystery.”
“I was a riverboat gambler. And a carnival barker. Then I did a short stint as an astronaut. After which I became a Zen monk.” I turned my torso, examining her profile: 1940s Hollywood, back whe...

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