THIRTY-ONE

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Bruce pulled out the penlight he had borrowed from the clinic as he turned down the darkened hallway. It was close to midnight and the abandoned offices were shrouded in a thick blackness commonplace in these buildings of no windows when the lights were off.

After only two weeks, he had reacclimated to the sounds of war: the comings and goings of patrols, the high pitched wail of sirens warning of rocket attacks in the area, the loud boom from the base's own artillery pits as they returned fire or shot off illumination rounds. Sometimes it disturbed his sleep, but more often it was the nightmares that awoke him in the middle of the night. He had expected that, his surroundings triggering the vivid flashbacks.

Bruce stopped in front of the administrative office and pulled out his key. The only reason he and Claire had each been given one was to gain access to medical records stored within. He stepped inside the large rectangular room, its walls lined by chest-high filing cabinets, three of which belonged to the medical team.

Morris's office was located at the back. His door was always open, but during the day his secretary ruled that entrance like a headmistress at a boarding school. Two men and four women worked at the other cubicles arranged throughout the open space. Bruce had made a point of getting to know each and every one of them over lunch. With such close working conditions, there was always the possibility that someone knew something about Morris's extracurricular activities, even if they weren't aware of the relevance.

So far, he had come up empty.

He had sent the copy of Morris's hard drive to the Nest. From there it had gone to HQMC for review, but everything on it turned out to be part of standard operations. The news had been disappointing, but Bruce wasn't giving up. He had learned a few things about Morris—things he was using to his advantage.

For starters, the man was an excellent chess player. They got together for a few hours each night over the checkered game board. Luckily, Bruce was good enough to provide a challenge and hold Morris's interest, although he had yet to win a game.

He'd also discovered that the major general was a misogynistic bastard, his opinion on women in combat—or anywhere outside the kitchen and bedroom for that matter—made clear in conversations. Few people saw that side of the man. He was a con, an expert at reflecting back opinions to make people believe he was just like them. But Bruce knew how to play that game too. Certainly, his sexual history gave him a vast pool of women to objectify. Only problem was, the stories he told Morris started a tally on the one-night stands in his past. And as the count grew higher and higher, Bruce couldn't help but wonder if he, too, was a misogynistic bastard.

Nevertheless, it was working. For Morris, those shared interests and beliefs, along with his private stock of Hennessy cognac, which he poured liberally each night, provided a false sense of fellowship that made the major general carefree.

In Bruce's experience, carefree was but one step away from careless.

It hadn't taken long to gain access to the storage room located inside Morris's office. The second night into their game, Morris had been locking it up just as Bruce arrived. The keys were then tossed into a pocket of the jacket hanging off the back of his chair. When Morris excused himself later for a bathroom break, Bruce dug out the keys and unlocked the door, hoping Morris wouldn't notice. It was risky, but the guy didn't seem like the neurotic type. Sure enough, after a few drinks and some well thought out moves, the last thing on Morris's mind was double-checking locks. The jacket was thrown over his shoulder, lights extinguished, and the two of them walked the hall side-by-side before going off to their respective quarters.

Once his roomies had fallen asleep, Bruce had returned.

It had become his nightly routine.

With the tiny beam from his penlight leading the way, Bruce navigated the outer room and made a left upon entering Morris's office. Putting a hand on the knob of the storage room door, he hesitated, anticipating what was coming next. None of the prefab buildings on base were known for their perfect assembly, but this particular door and frame combo was an abomination. Giving it a nudge, hinges creaked their way through the first few inches of opening like an old, rusted-out pickup. His heart raced, as it did every night, while he stood motionless in the dark, listening for the sound of footfalls. Satisfied that nobody was running in to secure the premises, he pushed the door all the way open and slipped inside.

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