Thursday, March 5, 2015

TIDBITS From Tough Cookie

Welcome to a new feature called TIDBITS. A tidbit is an extra scene from one of my titles. I may be a deleted scene or something that just didn't fit in the story but was fun. It may also be something I came up afterwards that dug its way into my mind and I had to get down on paper.

The first TIDBIT is a short piece about what happened to Marie "Tough Cookie" Kessel four years after the novel ended. Rated M.

Life at U.S Coast Guard Station Charleston was good for BM1 PO1 Marie Lingley. Over the four years that she had served there, her units performed admirably and, without exception, she was thought of as a model Guardian by her commanders and her unit members. Her duties expanded, and she took on more units and greater responsibilities, particularly in environmental protection where she was frequently dispatched to other stations and sectors up and down the eastern seaboard. She was important and always performed her duties magnificently.
Even though she had expanded duties, they let her hang onto her first unit, her small command of patrolling the Ditch; the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. They still plowed up and down the channel to the north and south of Charleston, but they did finally get newer boats. But she only had to watch over them at arm’s length since PO3 Shonda Wilkins ably took over day-to-day command of the unit.
And to make her life even sweeter, being Mrs. Mark Lingley was something that she cherished and loved. He was still a top performer at Flashworld, but still just as the top inside sales representative for the company. He turned down several promotion opportunities since he knew that orders for Marie would eventually come that would push them to make a move away from Charleston. It was only a matter of time. And she loved him all the more for his deference to her. Everyone else knew it too. Gina Elliot (General Manager at Flashworld) and Danny Backes (Sales Manager) had everything worked out so that Mark could work remotely from anywhere the Coast Guard sent them. Just like how Marie was valuable to the Coast Guard, Mark was valuable to Flashworld.
Tough Cookie Lingley always believed that humility was something important to her and she never liked to swagger, but she didn’t mind making an entrance. She rolled into the station’s gate in her bright, Coast Guard red Fiat, stopped with a bit of screech, and handed her credentials to the guard.
“Good morning, Johansson.”
“Good morning, ma’am. Did you have a good weekend?”
“Yes, I did. You?”
“Yes, ma’am. Was that you I saw out on that SeaRay on Saturday? Nice boat. When did you get that?”
“Where the heck did you see us?”
“The Charleston Megadock. I was fishing and stopped for fuel. You were going a bit over idle speed, if you don’t’ mind me saying, ma’am.”
“It’s my brother-in-law’s 410 Sundancer. Damn thing really plows, even at idle speed. Sorry if I waked you. God, even on my day off I’m still on the water. But it’s a sweet boat.”
“Yes, ma’am. Looked nice. Wait a second … This is for you.”
Johansson handed an envelope to Marie. When she opened it, she read the brief message that ordered her to report to HQ. 
“Would you call ahead to Wilkins and Carmichael and tell them I’m diverted to HQ, and to go ahead and get out there?” she asked Johannson.
“Aye, sir. Will do. Have a good day.”
“You too, oh, and call Tat’jana at extension 455 and tell her to go ahead and get the stuff ready for our presentation this afternoon.” Shonda Wilkins and Sean Carmichael were both in charge of patrol units; Wilkins patrolled the Ditch, Carmichael in the bay and out in the Atlantic on a Defender class boat. Tat’jana Carmichael, then a civilian, was Marie’s assistant, and they were going to make a presentation at a luncheon of a local business association about the Coast Guard’s efforts to mitigate accidental waste dumped into the Charleston River.
When she talked to the receptionist at the sector office, she was surprised that she had been ordered to see Sector Commander Sachs, by then a familiar and friendly colleague. She couldn’t think of anything that she was up to that necessarily involved his level of command. But, she proceeded promptly to his office and was let in to see him.
“BM1 Lingley reporting, sir.”
“At ease, Marie. It’s been awhile. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee?”
“No thank you, sir. I’m good.”
“You went down to that retirement party for John Howell, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir; down in Key West. It was great to see him and Gladys again. He did his time and did it well. He told me that they were thinking of moving back to Tulsa, but by the end of the evening, Gladys told me that she seriously doubted that he would let himself get stuck back on land again. She was thinking they would end up in some place like Vero Beach.”
While she and Mark were in Key West, they, of course, saw Mary and Brad Bonk. They surprised everyone when they got married shortly after Marie and Mark’s wedding. They didn’t re-up with the Coast Guard though, but they liked living in the Keys. They both went into law enforcement. She became a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy, and he joined the City of Key West Police.
“You still in contact with Mack McGee?”
“Yes, sir. They’re good friends of Mark and I. We see them every couple of weeks. Last month he did tell me something that kind of shocked me.”
“What was that?”
“Remember Marshal Culver? The guy that attacked us?”
“Apparently, he really pissed somebody off in the brig. They found him dead in his cell. Somebody broke his neck and, um, castrated him. It was pretty gruesome. McGee said that the brig couldn’t ever figure out who did it.”
“Or they wouldn’t figure out who did it. Justice is a funny thing sometimes. How do you feel about that, Marie?”
“I feel sorry for his family. It’s sad.” 
“I don’t know if I would feel as compassionate about that, like you. But, that is you, isn’t it?”
“That whole experience taught me a lot, sir. Life is important, no matter who’s it is.”
“Well, that’s what makes you an excellent member of the Coast Guard. And that’s kind of the reason why I asked you here. Do you remember when I talked to you at the gym when you first reported here, and I told you that I was unofficially tasked with helping you to advance to officer?”
“Yes, sir.”
“And by the way, how many 70-pound bags have you, as Chief Howell so eloquently put it, ‘killed’?”
“I think three, sir.”
“You know, that always made us laugh during budgeting. ‘Well, there’s another three-hundred bucks for the gym’. We all joked that that should have been a morale expense.”
“Sorry, sir, but it got pretty easy,” she wryly replied. Her workouts at the gym had always been a bit of spectacle to see, and she still drew crowds whenever she worked out. There was little Tough Cookie wreaking havoc on the gym gear again.
“Marie, The reason I wanted to see you this morning was to talk about your application to the Officer Candidate School. When did you submit that? About a month ago?”
“Six weeks, three days, sir. But who’s counting?”
“I guess you know that there have been a lot of eyes on you. You have done it all. You’ve had commands, you’ve taken every kind of training there is, you maintained a spotless record, been promoted, and you’re getting a marine biology degree on top of all that? You’re shooting for a Marine Science rating, huh?”
“It’s been a lot of work, sir. But I like it.”
“Well, that’s pretty damn obvious. Ha! I can’t even figure out how you have the energy to do it all.”
“My family helps a lot. My sister, Monica, pushes the hell out of me. And her husband, Gabe, has helped me too. But mostly, it’s Mark. He’s always kept me on course and never let me down, sir.”
“Have you taken any vacation time at all during the last four years?”
“I took the times, sir, but I always had something to do. I like all the work. But Mark and I always make time for each other, and I stick pretty close to my family.”
Sachs sat at his desk and just kind of stared at Marie, like he was studying her and maybe trying to figure out if he could clone her and fill his command with a whole bunch of Tough Cookie Lingleys. He then shook his head a bit and laughed.
“You know, I remember when you first came here with your nickname—Tough Cookie. It was easy to think it only meant what had happened to you with Culver—that it meant you were a fighter; tough, strong, fearless. But, right now, finally, I know what it really means. It takes a tough cookie to be as complete and accomplished a person like you are. Tell me why you applied to the Officer Candidate School.”
“I really do believe I have a lot more to give to not only the Coast Guard, but to the nation. I want to advance. I think I can make a difference. When I signed up, I thought I would come in, do my three years, and get out. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to set myself up for my civilian life, But after I was in, I saw that I fit in so well. It became part of me. I love being in the Coast Guard. Mark and I have talked a lot about it. I’m a lifer, sir. This is my career. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, and to everyone that has helped me.”
“Marie, like I said, a lot of people in the Coast Guard, very important and high ranking people, have been watching you. You exemplify exactly the kind of characteristics that we all wish every member of the United States Coast Guard had.” He reached into a file folder on his desk and handed it to her. “Here are your orders to report in three weeks to the Officer Candidate School at Yorktown, Virginia. Congratulations, Marie.”
Marie may have acted restrained, but Sachs easily saw how excited she was. And she deserved to be. All of her dedication, her character and integrity, her hard work, her perseverance, her energy, her concentration, and her rock-solid toughness had paid off.
Tough Cookie was going to be an officer.

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