Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
Mossy Creek Farm, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains
Thanksgiving Day, 1982
Porky Barksdale cradled his sleeping nine-month-old granddaughter Quinn in his arms as he gently stroked her fine red hair. Curled in a ball on one side of him, Daria, Quinn's two year-old sister slept also, tuckered by the early start to her day. His eldest grandchild, Erin, sat mutely on his other side.
Porky looked curiously at her. While Erin was not an overly exuberant child, neither was she normally subdued. "Is something wrong, sweetie?" he asked with concern.
Erin fidgeted a bit before finally looking up. "You know Colonel Bonnejean, right?"
"Bonnejean, Bonnejean," her grandfather repeated absently as he rubbed his chin. "Hmmm, let me see. Oh, you mean the man that came down here with you, the one that your Uncle Jake introduced to your mother, and the one that asked her to marry him."
"Yes," Erin answered exasperatedly.
"What about him?" asked Porky.
"Do you like him?" she asked.
"Yes, I do but do you?" he asked in return.
Erin's brow puckered in thought. "Sorta," she said. "Mom is happy when he's around which makes me happy but he doesn't like me."
Porky patted Erin's hand. "You're wrong about that, child. I happen to know that he likes you very, very much." he told her.
"Really?" Erin exclaimed. "But he doesn't say so."
Porky thought back on his first meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Rafe Bonnejean, Jr. (US Army, Ret.) in August after he proposed to his daughter. "Getting married for the first time when you're forty-five is one thing but how the hell do I become a father at this age?" he asked Porky almost plaintively when they had a moment alone. "Erin's a doll. I don't want to mess up the kid's life."
Porky smiled at her. "The thing is, sweetie, Colonel Bonnejean has never had any children in his life. He likes you but he doesn't know how to talk to young girls. Give him time."
"He really likes me?" Erin again asked peering intently into his face.
"Yes, he does," Porky repeated. "He told me so. You have my word on that."
Grinning broadly, Erin slipped her arms around as much of her grandfather as she could, and hugged him tightly. "I think I'll go help cook now," she announced hopping from the couch. In a flash, she was gone.
Daria rolled over. Her eyes fluttered open. Briefly, she smiled at her grandfather before sitting up. Switching Quinn to his other side, Porky wrapped an arm around Daria as she leaned against him.
"Welcome back to the world, sleepyhead," he said to her in a jovial manner.
Rafe and Jake entered the room as Daria snuggled closer to her grandfather.
"Hello, Ambrose," Rafe Bonnejean said quickly moderating his tone when he saw the sleeping Quinn.
"Hi, Dad," Jake said, fast on his heels. "How are they doing?"
"Little angels," Porky replied.
Daria scampered from the couch and trotted awkwardly to her father who lifted her into his arms. "Hey, Kiddo," he said planting a kiss on her forehead. She giggled.
"Would one of you pour some brandy?" Porky asked. "I've been wanting a drink but didn't want to disturb the baby."
"A brandy would be good," Rafe said opening the sidebar. "Drive the chill from the bones. Jake?"
"So, how did it go?" Porky asked as Rafe poured a drinks.
"I'm more than half embarrassed, to tell the truth," the retired soldier said jokingly from across the room. "I got four squirrels but this civilian bagged the limit and added a couple of rabbits to boot. They're skinned and cleaned and sitting in your freezer as we speak."
"Good, good, good, "Porky said with a gleam in his eye. "We'll fix some squirrel and dumplings before you leave, a delicacy that I doubt Jake has ever had the supreme fortune of tasting. Moreover, on the subject of Jake, you have been holding out on me. I didn't know you could shoot. I was actually a little shy about loaning you a shotgun."
Jake shrugged as he eased down onto a chair parking Daria on his lap. "My marksmanship was about the only thing that didn't get me yelled at in Buxton Ridge. I guess I haven't lost much of it. Anyway, you ought to have come with us. Get away from the pandemonium."
Porky patted his ample belly. "My doctor would probably approve of me getting some exercise. He seems to think that I don't realize that I'm fat."
"It was a good morning to be out," Rafe said. "Crisp but no wind blowing to make the temperature uncomfortable or to drive the game into hiding."
"No doubt," Porky replied. "But I was needed here. I'm the official taster and settler of culinary disputes. Me playing Solomon in the kitchen keeps the arguments to a minimum and trust me on this one, the Barksdale women like to argue."
"Ain't that the truth," Jake muttered as he sniffed his drink, took a sip, frowned, and then sniffed again. "This is brandy?"
"Calvados," Porky replied. "Apple brandy from Normandy. I acquired a taste for it during the war. Do you like it?"
Jake took another sip. "Yes, I do," he said. He took still another sip before setting the glass down. "I got something to run by you, Dad," he continued. "Rafe had an interesting suggestion and I'd like to know what you think about it."
"Oh," Porky said glancing over at Rafe. "What is it?"
"Just a notion I had to help Jake and Helen out," Rafe replied.
"Help us out how?" Helen asked entering the den.
"Another dispute in the kitchen?" Porky asked.
"No, Daddy, I'm just checking on the girls," she replied. "So, help us out how?"
"Rafe thought that we might want to give the Army JAG corps a look," Jake said.
"JAG," Helen disdainfully exclaimed. "Are you kidding me?"
"Interesting idea," Porky quickly said noting Rafe's suddenly tight jaw.
"Interesting idea, my ass," Helen snapped. "I was the salutatorian of my class. I didn't bust my hump to get that just to play soldier."
"JAG officers don't play soldier," LTC Bonnejean said evenly. "They are soldiers."
"What do you think, Jake," Porky asked trying to avert an argument.
Jake looked at Helen as he answered. "Actually, the idea has a lot of merit, Dad."
Helen narrowed he eyes dangerously. "Are you trying to get rid of some latent guilt being the only man here that didn't join the military?" she asked spitefully.
"No, Helen," he replied calmly. "I'm trying to get a job as a lawyer. You know, that occupation we just spent three hard, exhausting years training for, the one for which neither of us has gotten so much as a nibble."
"It takes time, Jake," Helen replied.
"Helen, we have to face the facts," Jake returned. "At the moment we're poison. No firm is going to hire us. Even four dozen different government agencies haven't given us so much as a second interview."
"We're in a recession, Jake," she answered. "A lot of people are looking for work."
"Why dance around the obvious," Jake said forcefully. "Despite the fact we can both now point to some very high bar exam scores, all firms see when they look at us is a man who graduated from a fourth tier law school in the bottom third of his class."
"While working full time," Helen interrupted.
"They don't care about the surrounding circumstances," Jake continued. "And in you all they see is a woman with a toddler and an infant who won't be able to give them the long days a lot of them expect from their new associates."
Helen started to speak but her father interrupted her. "Sit down beside me, daughter," he kindly said patting the spot Erin so recently vacated. "Give the idea some thought before reflexively rejecting it."
She obediently sat but not before she gave him a flinty look that amused him. Porky tenderly extended Quinn to her. She sighed as she cradled her daughter. She could not deny the truth of Jake's words. While no interviewer came out and said so (thereby inviting a possible lawsuit) the way several of them lingered on the subject of her young children left no doubt in Helen that it was a red flag in their minds; still, the army of all things.
"JAG will give us time for the girls to reach school age," Jake said. "And give us experience. Four or five years down the line, we can have something more to offer than just class rankings and test scores."
"I don't think the army would be thrilled to have us if they took a look at our past," Helen replied.
Porky arched an eyebrow. "Just how...colorful are we talking about here?" he asked.
Helen shrugged. "Some drug use, anti-war protests," she said. "Member of Students for a Democratic Society and the Worker Student Alliance. One arrest."
"We were arrested but in the end never charged," Jake pointed out.
"You were arrested?" Porky asked his daughter. "When? For what?"
Helen laughed lightly. "Ironically enough, for getting into a brawl with some National Guardsmen."
"I don't recall the Guard being called out to Middleton," Porky said.
"It wasn't at Middleton," Jake began. "Helen, I and a couple of friends of ours were in Boulder, Colorado back in the summer of 1970. The Guardsmen were doing their weekend warrior bit and feeling like John Wayne, I guess. All they saw was long hair so they yelled a couple of insults at us. We responded. It escalated. Long story short, we got our butts kicked and tossed into jail for our trouble while the cops let the other guys walk."
"The D.A. had us released the next morning. As I said, no charges were ever filed so I don't think that it'll be an issue at all."
Porky chuckled. "Let me guess," he said. "My spitfire daughter here was the one that first yelled back at the troops."
"They were idiots," Helen snorted. "And I wasn't going to take crap from morons pretending they were heroic figures defending the ski slopes of Colorado from the Viet Cong."
"What do you think, Rafe," Porky asked.
"As Jake said," Rafe replied. "I don't think that'll be an issue. As for the rest of it, I think it'll pale beside their high bar exam scores. After all, it's not like they were bombing recruiting stations and the service isn't naïve enough to think that no one but a few reprobates have every tried dope. Hell, a doobie or two might have found its way into my hands back in Viet Nam. As long as they're clean now and will stay that way, I think that the army would be more than glad to have them."
"Well, Helen?" asked Jake. "Do we give it a shot?"
Helen ruminated for a moment. "Maybe," she said. "I'll need more information first."
"Dinner's ready," Amy said appearing at the doorway.
"Let's eat," Porky said as he and everyone but Helen rose.
Helen waited until the others had filed from the room before sighing. "Geez, she said. "The army. Has it actually come to that?"
Quinn only gurgled in reply.