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June 18, 2023

Episode One: Night Watch

My first day at military canine school had been a disaster.

From morning PT where my shorts had ripped and showed my paw print undies to every other recruit, to the introductions with my new partner where she bit the ankle of the kennel attendant and peed on a Sergeant’s foot, nothing had gone smoothly.

Then we’d been volun-told for Night Watch.

My gaze traveled to the C. Sharp tape sewn onto my ACU jacket and my finger absently picked at a corner.

Cynthia Sharp, gate guard extraordinaire.

I sighed softly and expected that if guard duty didn’t get me out of PT in the morning, I’d be gifted the reflective vest of road guards.

“Road guards in and road guards out,” I started singing softly, wondering who came up with all the Army cadence calls. “Road guards running all about. If you had a low IQ, you could be a road guard too.”

Probably not a white guy…

Though Shakespeare knew his way around a rhyme.

A loud rumbling snore came from the beast beside me and I blinked at the exposed white belly of Sgt. Winnifred Pupperson, the half German Shepherd, half Belgian Malinois I’d been partnered with.

After our initial meeting where I ferreted her out of the kennel before the sergeant realized she peed on him, it had been six hours of nipping and soft woofs of discontent. Then she’d stolen a ham sandwich and evacuated a classroom with a noxious gas fart that could be weaponized if it wasn’t a violation of biological warfare standards.

Out on “the field”, also known as the canine training ring, we worked on basic canine obedience drills. The smug looks evaporated when Winnie stood at my side, leash relaxed between us. When I said sit, she sat. When I said lay down, she laid down.

When I asked for her paw, the trainer acted as though I performed witchcraft to get her to listen to me.

Considering the dog’s name, any witchcraft would be on her.

My skills scale more toward snacking, shooting and drinking coffee like it was a full-time job.

Witchcraft would have required far too much talking for my comfort.

At a size 16 and just under six feet, I was used to being stared at when I walked into a room. Plus-size tall women with or without lavender eyes were freaks all over the great nation of America, and I hadn’t assumed the military would be different.

In a way I was right.

In another way I had grossly underestimated the level of insecurity muscled macho men were capable of.

To them, I was a hairless sasquatch come to crush their already fragile egos.

When they had a similar reaction to seeing Winnie trot out from her kennel, I wanted to believe we’d work as a team. Together, we could show them that we were the best there ever was, like Ash Ketchum and Pikachu. A fact that was reinforced when I overheard a conversation that our partnership was a plan to rid the US Army of both of us.

As if, I thought. They can gawk and plot all they want, Winnie and I will take them all on.

With another long drink of coffee, I looked back at the floof log beside me.

“What do you think, Winnie? Should we show these men what it means to be a boss witch?”

A long snore shook the guard shack and I decided to take that as a yes.

It beat the alternative.

Based on the stories I’d overheard and the hefty three-ring binder in my lap, Winnie’s alternative involved a level of punishment that made her gas look pedestrian. Between the bodily dragging of a handler across a barbed wire spool and the mysterious allusions to rattlesnake baiting, being farted at was construed as a sign of approval.

A sign no one with bars had wanted to see.

Between my size and her personality, no one wanted us to succeed.

Once you added in my personality and her teeth, base leadership acted like we were half the horsemen of the apocalypse.

I personally preferred the theory that I’d summoned the demon Winnie with black magic and had finally come to claim the hound of hell.

The dog snored again and I rolled my eyes at her form.

“Yeah, you’re a Hell Hound… More like a sandman. Sleeping on night watch is frowned upon,” I told her, nudging a black boot under her side and wiggling my toes so she’d rock back and forth.

Winnifred Pupperson slept on.

I let out a sigh and went back to scanning the horizon.

It was a typical night in southern Texas, dry and hot with a wide-open view of gas stations and restaurants just beyond the secured perimeter. Having grown up in the middle-of-nowhere Midwest, the small suburb of San Antonio was a bustling enterprise compared to Sweet Pea, Ohio.

It was also a mild relief that Lackland was easily accessible to the outside world of bars, coffee shops and excellent tacos.

If I was forced to socialize with only these narrow-minded misogynists, I’d end up being Court Martialed for murder before they could discharge me. As long as I fulfilled every duty, there was always an option to escape into the city and lose myself in the culture.

An option not available on all Air Force bases.

A few airmen had mentioned a base in south central California that was in the middle of a desert, Edwards Air Force Base, surrounded by flat land and phallic looking plants with leaves at the base sharp enough to impale a human.

A fact taught to school children in the surrounding area.

Though I wasn’t opposed to teaching children self-defense, “murder by Yucca plant” crossed a line.

A Lord of the Flies line that put some place called the Antelope Valley squarely into the “You must never go there, Simba” category.

Flipping through the binder again, I studied the bruise imprints on one Specialist Howardson. They’d been incurred during introductions, not official bite work training and had resulted in a prompt departure of the soldier.

Not just from the program, from the service entirely.

“You really hated that one, huh?”

She didn’t answer but I flipped through the inflammatory accusations made by the gender unidentified soldier and decided their medical resignation from the service was for the best. Anyone who could turn a nip of distrust into a four act play of character assassination didn’t belong in the service.

They belonged on the internet making soap operas where the hard workers were villains out to destroy their YouTube watching laziness.

A crunch of gravel with the low rumble of a diesel engine had me tossing aside the binder and standing. From the roadway, I could see a large vehicle with headlights at waist level trundling down the lesser used road. The bright full moon gave it a gray hue that I couldn’t immediately place and sent tingles of apprehension through my nerve endings.

Slinging the AR over my shoulder, I rested my hand on the butt of the gun and moved into the doorway.

“Winnie, place,” I ordered, surprised when the dog hauled herself up to sit beside me on full alert.

The truck slowed to a stop in front of us and the window rolled down a few inches.

“We’re here for ordnance disposal,” the top half of a man’s head of white hair spoke and I tightened the rear grip on my rifle.

“ID, sir,” I ordered, and the window slid down a few more inches. The white hair was on top of a pale face half in shadow. Contours were dramatically defined, trapping the darkness in creases that swallowed them whole in a mask of melted flesh.

“Captain, private. And I don’t have it on me. Suze knows we’re coming,” he gestured at me like a fly buzzing in his ear.

“Specialist, sir,” I corrected, though I wasn’t sure that was right. This MOS came with the designation but I wasn’t sure it took effect until I actually passed the training.

The man scoffed and I dubbed him Captain Scrotum.

“Like there’s a difference. I don’t have all day, just let us take the old ammo and get back to your nap, private,” he sneered at the last and Winnie let out a low growl beside me. “Lift the gate and get on with it.”

“No one gets in without an ID, sir. I’ll take expired, I’ll take your name to run through the database, or hell, I’ll even take prints and a pint of your blood. There’s no scenario where I let you take something off this base without following protocol. Now, ID?”

His eyes widened slightly before settling into a narrowed derision.

Captain Scrotum might be too kind for this butt wipe.

“Call Captain Corduroy, he’ll vouch for me. Then fry your ass for waking him up,” his cackle was at odds with the beads of sweat running down his passenger’s face.

“Great! Who should I tell him is asking him for access?” I raised an eyebrow at him but was dismissed with another wave. I looked around the captain to the soldier occupying the passenger seat.

“Do you have an ID?”

“N-no,” he whispered, eyes darting from my rifle to the driver and then straight ahead.

“Out of the vehicle, both of you,” I said, grabbing the handle of the truck and preparing to use force to open it if necessary.

Before I could get a sure grip, the engine revved and lurched forward.

I jumped back, grabbing Winnie’s collar and getting her tail clear just as the truck barreled through the gate arm. Curling over, I let the plastic pieces hit the back of my jacket while protecting the little monster at my side.

Turning back, I prepared to shout after the truck but I knew my voice wouldn’t carry. My rifle was raised and ready, but it was pointless to fire.

The truck was already a mile away and getting farther.

“South Gate Guard to all units, Perimeter breach, south entrance. Armored truck claiming to be enroute to the munitions bunker for ordnance disposal. Two in the cab,” I spoke into the microphone at my shirt collar.

The night remained quiet around me, Winnie offering me an eyebrow wiggle of concern.

“South Guard Shack, does anyone copy?”


The still night showed no approaching vehicles, but the gate was my responsibility. With the gate arm shattered on the ground, the boundary was compromised.

The nan driving around without being identified who’d breached the gate was a present threat, but subsequent entries would compound on the hazards presented by the first.

It was like a word problem in calculus and I’d never been great at word problems.

“Damn it,” I groaned, eyeing the two patrol Jeeps parked in line with the guard shack. Neither looked like they had moved in the past two years, but the keys were hanging just inside the door and one of them provided the same amount of security as the shattered gate arm.

Grabbing the keys, I slid behind the wheel of one Jeep and pulled it forward, parking it just inside the perimeter. Running to the second, I maneuvered it until it faced sideways, blocking the entrance. Pulling up the parking brake , I got out and checked the roadway.

Pedestrians and bicycles could probably get in, but no vehicles could manage it without wrecking the front end of their car.

“Come on,” I whistled to Winnie, holding open the passenger door of the first Jeep. She jumped in with little effort and I slammed the door shut before running around to the other side and getting behind the wheel.

Just in case, I tried the radio again.

“Perimeter breach, south gate. One armored truck. Heading northwest. Does anyone copy?”

The only sound was Winnie’s soft panting from the passenger seat.

“Damn. Hang on!”

Flooring the accelerator, the Jeep jumped forward. After a second of confused jerking, the engine revved and sent us barreling after the receding taillights that had slowed. The base was a maze of unlabeled darkness, and I wasn’t sure where they were headed, but they were definitely searching.

“Searching for what?” I asked Winnie, but she was scenting the air.

I slowed down, thinking maybe the man’s burst through the gate had been an accident. Gripping the radio transmitter, I pressed the talk button.

“If anyone’s awake,” I began before the truck roared to life and took a sharp left. Left?

“Vehicle is headed out toward…” I looked to Winnie who had spent more than 24 hours at this base. Her nose worked through the open window and she sat pointedly.


I knew the munitions bunker was the other way. The only other option was…

“They’re headed to the shooting range.”

I flicked on the strobe light and sirens, wailing after the truck as it headed toward the barracks.

“Is this where the shooting range is?” I asked the dog, watching as she thumped her tail with a sideways tongue loll. “Are you sure?”

Ahead of us was more Lego block brick buildings of military rest, lights flickering on as my Jeep sped past at full volume. We took a left turn on two wheels, following the truck out and backward toward the slightly elevated hill on the eastern side of the base.

“Is it the hill?” I asked her, tapping the brakes when an all-white chicken fluttered into the road and started pecking the grass growing in the un-maintained roadway.

“Move, bird!” I shouted, swerving around it while it squawked in anger. The bird’s wings fluttered and a thud sound came from somewhere to the front of the Jeep. In the rearview mirror an explosion of white feathers filled my view.

“Stupid chicken!”

We picked up speed again, but I’d lost sight of the truck.

“Which way?” I asked, watching Winnie as she once again worked her nose. The sirens and lights drowned out any potential sounds we could get from the other vehicle, it was all up to Winnie.

Or I could just turn off the siren.

Flicking the switch, I watched her head point in a quarter left direction and her much more powerful ears followed. A feeling of absolute trust turned the wheel, and we barreled through a barren desert, the uneven terrain indicating we’d gone off the road.

Jostling loose every brain cell in my head.

Two of which suggested turning off the light show and getting in the element of surprise.

The rest of them screaming WALL as we reached the side of a building, and I slammed on the brakes just in time to keep the front end of the car intact.

Before the keys stopped swinging in the ignition, the door was open. Jumping out of the car, I positioned my rifle in front of me and took off toward the truck just as the door opened and men dressed in all black exited both sides and two more popped out of the rear compartment.

“Freeze! Get on the ground!” I shouted, holding my rifle out toward Captain Scrotum, the once driver of the vehicle. “Get on the ground!”

The man from the passenger side, now sporting a ski mask, started toward the ground. Behind the truck, his two fellows followed suit, sending the old Captain into a shouting rant.

“Get up, you idiots! She can’t shoot us!”

Hesitating between lying down and standing, the driver’s back-up looked between us for an answer.

“Get on the ground,” I tried to make my voice on par with Kindergarten teacher levels of stern. “It’ll be OK if you…”

Red and blue strobes lit up the night sky behind me, pulling my attention for the half second it took one of the men to rise up and pull a crate from the back of the truck.

A gentle clinking indicated the contents were glass, but my eyes remained fixed on Captain Scrotum. Whatever his actual status and rank, he was clearly the leader.

“Everyone’s coming. There’s no way out of this. Just get on the…”

His hand moved faster than I thought possible, a handgun materializing just as a metal lighter flicked to life beside the crate now resting on the ground.

“Why don’t you…”

Winnie moved first, taking a leap toward the man holding a lit rag dangling from a glass bottle. He tried to dodge, but he was too big and not quite coordinated. Like a football player who’d taken too many headshots, he wasn’t a match for her.

“What the…”

The Linebacker dropped his bottle just as Winnie’s teeth closed around his leg.

A scream slipped from his lips, and I blinked harder, trying to spot blood or carnage on the ground. Instead, a loud rip of fabric cut through the chaos.

“Hey! Dog, that’s my jerky!” He kicked out his leg even as she danced away, his leg colliding with the lit bottle and sending it rocketing forward while the two remaining men froze in their forward movement toward the door.

The bottle fell off the top of the box, lighting the cardboard before arcing up and smashing against the tin siding of what I assumed was a gun range. I waited anxiously, but the building didn’t catch.

“Captain?” A man stuck his head out, took in the sight and tried to pull his door closed again.

“Don’t hide! Do something!” I shouted, but the old man beat me to it. Hefting the lit box he shoved it against the chest of Sweaty, the former passenger, who outweighed and out lifted him by at least a hundred pounds.

“Finish the job!”

Gun in hand, he turned back to me as Sweaty fumbled with the cardboard box, lining it up to shotput toward the building. The muscles in his arms bunched and the box was airborne, the trajectory perfect for an upper window.

Repositioning my rifle, I fired at the box. Instead of messing up the arc, the friction ignited the explosives within. In a matter of seconds, it was raining fire and glass down onto the ground. All around the vehicle, men in black ski masks were attempting to get clear of the debris, except the captain.

He stood, gun poised to fire, at…

“Winnie! Place!” I shouted, seeing her charge toward the fourth man. Scrambling like Scooby Doo, she stutter stepped but it was all I needed to throw off his aim and line up a shot of my own.

“Get on the ground!”

He turned slightly, repositioning his gun on Winnie.

Hot glass landed on my arm, singeing the flesh just as I squeezed my trigger toward the man in black. The shot went wide, catching him in the butt cheek.

A piercing scream filled the night air, either his or mine when a strip of gas-soaked fabric landed on my foot, setting my pants ablaze.

There was nowhere to stop drop and roll.

“Sharp!” A man shouted and I blinked at the lights filling the space beside the blazing inferno of what had once been firearm storage. “Sharp!”

A warm liquid coated my leg, ending the burning and offering sweet relief until the smell reached my nose.

Beside me was Winnie, foot held up to pee on my leg and put out the fire.

The scent of jerky wafting from her mouth.

“What the hell Sharp?”

I turned to see a Latin American man in just boxers, muscles carved out of marble above untied boots. He had to have been either a mirage or a trauma induced hallucination.

One that was yelling at me.

Not that uncommon for hot men, real or imagined.

“What?” I started, but two men fled the building, chased by the sounds of gunfire.

“The ammo! It’s gonna blow!” One shouted, even as the heat reached its peak and projectiles punctured the wall. “Everyone run for your lives!”

Winnie and I didn’t need telling twice, racing back to the Jeep I’d parked on the far side and sliding behind the wheel while she hauled over my lap to get into the back.

The passenger door opened and the man in his skivvies slid in beside me.

I gawked at his mostly naked butt on the seat.

Not a hallucination…

Is it legal for a man to be that hot?

Should we try to touch him?

“You gonna drive or wait to get shot, chica?” He asked, and I jumped, flooring the gas pedal with the car in reverse. We made it to the end of the wall and I K-turned, sending the whole car forward at top speed away from the now warzone level destruction spread out behind me.

“Crap,” I whispered, refusing to slow down until the light show was only a dim glow. “Crap crap crap.”

“Problem?” The man beside me asked and I jumped slightly, having already forgotten he was there.

Hottest man you’ve seen almost naked in a year and you forgot he existed… Smooth Sharp.

“Yeah… do you know how much paperwork that is going to be?” I whined, laughing a little when Winnie’s sandpaper tongue scraped the side of my face. “And you, we don’t steal snacks. I’ll buy you snacks. Don’t get yourself shot or blown up for snacks. You understand?”

She gave me another lick and I took that to mean she was done putting her life in jeopardy.

Hopefully we both were.

Or at least done blowing things up.

The man beside me rubbed my partner’s ears and she melted into a puddle of goo between us.

“Seems like you two are really hitting it off. I look forward to seeing what else you two can do at training tomorrow,” he motioned with his head to pull up alongside the barracks and I complied on impulse.

The Jeep lurched to a stop and his words registered with alarm bells in my head.

“Training? But I did night watch and I have paperwork if I’m not arrested. There’s no training after night watch and paperwork! I get to sleep in! Ask my sergeant!”

“Chica,” the man leaned his face over Winnies head and gave me a smile that made all my good spots warm and tingly.

“I am your sergeant. Sgt. Ian Cruz,” he pushed a Winnie ear down, our noses nearly rubbing against one another. “You can have tomorrow morning off, for paperwork and rest, but you’ll be at afternoon agility and scent work. Though it’ll be a shame not to see you at PT. Heard you put on a good show.”

“Fine, whatever,” I sighed and blew a strand of hair away from my face. “Though her nose is incredible. I have no idea what you want her to work on. Winnie tracked a truck from a car window across half a base.”

“Oh, I already know Winnie’s capabilities. I plan on training you to be more than capable, chica,” he said with a wink and climbed out of the car. “I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot of time together. You don’t look easy to train.”

He left after a double tap on the door frame.

Watching him walk away, I decided the burn on my leg wasn’t the only thing that would be needing a cold shower.

“What do you think he meant by that?” I asked my partner in the rearview mirror.

Her head pushed between the seats, Winnie’s jerky breath warming my face and I rubbed it against her.

“Yeah… let’s get to bed. I’m sure someone will tell us what happened with that,” I gestured behind the Jeep and drove back to the guard shack, surprised to see a replacement already in place.

“What the hell happened to you?” His panicked eyes and pimple covered face made guessing his age easier than normal. If he was over nineteen, his body hadn’t caught on to it.

“Night watch,” I answered, passing him the rifle and the keys to the second Jeep. “Might want to put in a maintenance request for that gate.”

Winnie and I turned back toward the barracks and started walking, the gentle tap of her claws on pavement the only applause I needed for foiling a gun heist.

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One Comment

  1. Ishara Ishara

    I enjoyed this episode very much and laughed a lot. You have perfectly caught the humor where it belongs. Can’t wait to read more!

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