Hotel room. $79.
Room service. $135.
Your credit card company calling you telling you that your fiancée's there with another guy...
"Well at least you didn't marry her."
I heard this consolation a lot over the next few years but it provided absolutely no comfort to me at all. We might not yet have stood up in front of the preacher and said "I do" but in my heart I was already tied to her and the breakup was at least as bad for me as a true divorce would have been, but I'm already starting at the wrong place in this story.
It was the early 1980's and I had just returned to 'civilization' after spending nearly two years in Japan with the Air Force and I was now stationed fairly close to home at Kelly AFB in San Antonio, Texas. I was young and enthusiastic about life and was looking forward to finishing up my last military assignment there with as little fuss and bother as possible. I liked my job as an Air Force cop but I had 'plans' for a long and successful post-USAF career which didn't include 'doing twenty', or even more.
I had always wanted to be a cop as a kid but by the time I was out of High School and ready to apply at our local city Police Academy I already knew that my odds of becoming one were pretty long. Our current Mayor was trying to trim (with a huge axe) the city budget, mostly on the backs of the Fire and Police and other service departments, and had cut the number of new cadet classes for each far beyond the bone. New candidates were also now expected to have at least 2 years of College and other outside law enforcement experience before even being possibly considered.
Needless to say they weren't accepting wet behind the ears eighteen year olds this week.
It also goes without saying that within a few years our city now suddenly developed one of the highest crime rates and poorest fire and EMS response times in the nation. The budget never did get fixed (the 'savings' got blown for other pie in the sky projects) and our city services became a national joke. I heard that new Mayors over a decade later were still trying to fix the problems their predecessor had created but that's not really related to my story.
I needed both some college and some 'practical experience'. I had no luck getting on with the local Sherriff's department either so I picked the next best thing. I joined the Air Force and was approved for my first choice LE (Law Enforcement). This certainly beat the alternative of SP (Security Police) that usually meant standing guard duty out on some airplane hanger, runway or bomb storage bunker, usually in the rain and snow.
The job wasn't too bad, but it's never really fun to be a junior enlisted person in any career field. There seemed to always be something urgent happening that would require us to work 12 hour shifts without a day off for a week or two so I didn't get much play time or get to see much of Japan off-base. I did have a very understanding NCOIC (top enlisted boss of my section) who was very pro-education and extremely supportive of young airmen that were more interested in taking night college classes than drinking beer every night at the Airman's Club. He made it clear with my supervisor that I would always be able to take a few hours off to attend my classes even if we were in the middle of a base Alert or working some long extended shift.
Returning to the states for my next assignment, I found that things were a little bit different. Kelly AFB at the time was one of the largest bases we had, but my unit was stationed in a remote annex of the base up on 'Security Hill' out in the middle of nowhere. Shuttle buses to the main part of the base ran irregularly and far between and for all practical purposes, even with a car, if you were stationed there you were pretty much trapped. Even the nearest branch of the local Community College was not close enough to be convenient. Worse, my new work schedule rotated duty shifts every month, which made taking any educational classes virtually impossible.
The new job wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as at my last base. I had been used to duties being rotated about so that everyone got to do a little of everything, disturbance calls to base housing or dorms, traffic control, admin/base ops, some of everything. But here on Security Hill, everything was 100% boring routine, I'd sit at a desk every day and check security badges going in and out of our main building — and dealing with the mountains of paperwork generated by anything else that entering or left the building.
Boring was a vast understatement. Even our enlisted dorm was usually dead quiet with usually nothing interesting ever occurring. My roommate Pat usually went clubbing every weekend but as his tastes ran to country and western music and I preferred 70's Brit Progressive, I didn't often join him at first. Eventually the boredom of either just working or staying in my dorm room gradually changed my mind and on one late weekend evening I joined Pat clubbing and met Beth. As the Beatles song goes, 'and then I saw her standing there'.
She about my age and standing in a corner of the club with a girlfriend, nursing a drink. She seemed rather out of place and not particularly into the music either. Another fellow had asked her to dance earlier and she had accepted, but plainly didn't know how the dance steps went and had to improvise, badly. He spent the remaining dances with her girlfriend instead and she began to look increasing bored and restless.
She wasn't a conventional beauty, but she had something about her that made her stand out from the other, better dressed and dolled up, women in the club. She looked like someone's lost kid sister — the proverbial girl next door who had made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up badly lost in some strange and not entirely friendly new world. Her hair was long and in my favorite auburn brown color but appeared a little lifeless, as did her cheeks. She was apparently wearing very little, if any, makeup and her skin appeared to be a little sallow and blotchy, as if maybe she hadn't been very well lately. She was quite tall and thin, but appeared to hunch her shoulders down a bit as if she were trying to become less conspicuous to hide better into the woodwork.
Still, despite the many surface defects, she had 'something'...
As her girlfriend was now busy dancing on the dance floor, I decided that I at least wanted to talk her.
"Hi, since neither of us seems likely to be dancing anytime soon, I thought I might as well try and help you hold up this part of the wall." Not particularly witty or clever, but it was vaguely original and had the obvious merit of sincerity behind it. She gave me a weak smile but didn't try to escape. We chatted for a bit about what music we 'did' like (definitely not what the C&W club was playing) and compared favorite bands. She liked heavy metal music, especially AC/DC and Ozzie and had never even heard of my favorites, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, and the Grateful Dead. We compromised on our only overlapping band, Led Zeppelin.
An hour later we were having a late dinner/early breakfast at a nearby Denny's, and traded life stories until about 4 in the morning over endless orders of English muffins, which she ate as if she hadn't had a proper meal in days. Actually, she really hadn't. She was staying with some friends sharing an apartment and none of them had the money lately for buying much in the way of groceries. She had a part time job working as a hostess at a local restaurant, but the pay was not very good at all and she didn't get a cut of the tips either.
I saw her again the next Friday night and we had intended to go out to a decent restaurant for dinner and then go see a movie, but we got badly distracted when briefly visiting my dorm room and we never made it out of bed until after 10 p.m. Sleepovers in the dorm by members of the opposite sex were a major 'no-no' and although the odds were very low on getting caught (many guys routinely did it) I didn't feel particularly lucky at the moment so we grudgingly got dressed and had another late night dinner out at Denny's.
The sex had been really good. Neither of us were virgins but we'd both been badly out of circulation for awhile. It had just felt "special" between us and the more we were with each other the harder it became to say 'goodnight'.
We started calling each other nightly and even managed a few quickies during the week until my work schedule did its monthly change and I moved from day shift to swings. Being on swings actually helped our love life. She would get off work about 10 p.m. and take the bus to our favorite Denny's and wait for me to get off of work and get there at about 12:15 a.m. I'd grab a bite to eat and we'd then go to her apartment, make love and I'd crash there most nights and only returning to my dorm room to shower, shave and put on a clean uniform before going into work the next day at 3 p.m.
It only took me about three weeks of this routine to decide that I wanted to marry her and while she was a little reluctant when I asked her, she didn't say no. I pushed for a fairly short engagement and a quick wedding, but she dragged her feet and had numerous minor excuses for why we shouldn't rush.
Her standard fallback excuse was that 'things had been a bit rough for her lately and she was still trying to get her head screwed back on straight.' I should have recognized this for the warning that it was and backed off a bit, slowing things down until she became a little more comfortable. She tended to have a very nervous disposition and she became distracted, frustrated or frazzled very easily with only minor provocation. Her mood began wildly swinging in big up and down cycles. That ought to have given me other warnings.
She also began to alternate between being hyper-affectionate and 'clingy' (which I admit liking sometimes) to being very standoff-ish and even averse to being kissed or touched at all at times. Other times she would be so jittery that she couldn't even sit down. She would talk incessantly and so fast I could hardly understand a word she was saying. In a phase like this, she would go for two to three days seemingly without stopping, let alone sleeping. That should have been yet another warning, of a different kind.
I admit I didn't know very much about women, and could figure out even less why she was suddenly acting so very odd. In the end I just attributed everything to 'engagement nerves' and decided (belatedly) to give her a little bit more space cooling things down enough so that she wouldn't have a complete breakdown before the wedding. The final date, however, remained still much under debate.
I was on my last day of swing shift when I got a strange and fateful phone call at work at about 6:30 p.m. from my Credit Union. One of the few nice things about working up on Security Hill was there was a branch of the local military credit union two buildings down from my dorm building that handled all of my military pay via direct deposit, made low interest car and house loans for military personnel (much better than the national chain banks) and even offered us an ultra-low interest rate VISA card. Since I was now back in the states and needed something for emergency use only I signed up for one, at the time when I set up my other accounts.
As a security measure, I checked the box that said this would be an 'infrequent use' card and give them the right to investigate any and all transactions made on the card and I gave them my duty phone and dorm room phone numbers for immediate contact. In those days before electronic verification and when most places took a carbon imprint of your card, stolen credit card numbers were epidemic (as they still are). At least once a week while in Japan I would have to file a stolen credit card report for other service members that had been victimized and I was determined that it wouldn't happen to me!
But apparently it had. The agent from customer service was asking me if I had just checked into the Marriott Hotel off of I-10 in San Antonio!
Definitely not! I checked my wallet and found that my VISA card was indeed gone. Also the nearly $180 I thought I had in my wallet was now missing.
The gal at Customer Service didn't have any other records of its recent use but most places didn't call or have electronic means of verification of a card, so that didn't exclude the possibility that my card had been already used in other places all over town. I asked for and received a callback number to her and got a fraud case number before hanging up on her to report the situation to the San Antonio Police.
My direct boss, a pretty useless 2nd Lieutenant (aren't they all), didn't want to excuse me from the remainder of my shift, but he couldn't prevent me from calling up our company First Sergeant to get our CO to overrule him. Fifteen minutes later I was "on a dinner break" and on my way to the Marriott Hotel where it was confirmed by the desk clerk that 'I' had checked in about an hour ago. More specifically, a young couple had checked in about an hour ago under my name and using my credit card. After I proved who I was and declared that my card had been stolen and used fraudulently, the clerk got the evening manager, who was quite helpful, and called SAPD to dispatch some officers to arrest the thieves.
The responding officer, a middle-aged Hispanic female, took down all of my information (it helped that I was a member of LE and still in uniform) and after getting another key to 'my room' we went up and I opened the door for her.
The couple we had expected to find were not in immediate sight, they were showering together in the bathroom at the moment, but they had apparently been quite busy. There were at least 6 department store shopping bags on the floor and a large bag from a local liquor store chain on the table. In clear sight in the room on dresser were some drugs and drug smoking paraphernalia. At least, I thought, the department store purchases can probably all be returned ok, so the potential financial damage didn't seem to be too bad.
The worst part was finding out who the culprits were ... Beth and my roommate Pat.
I admit now that my own life was saved by some miraculous accident. I had inexplicably left my .38 service revolver lying on my desk back at work. Technically, it was a mandatory part of my uniform that I wore it at all times and I couldn't remember ever having taken it out of my holster and just leaving anywhere, let alone on a desk. This was an unspeakably rookie mistake that no junior LE member would have ever made ... but today it saved their lives.
I swear, the second I saw them coming nude out of the shower to see what the noise and fuss was about, my hand went to my empty holster. I haven't the slightest doubt that I would have fired my weapon and killed them both on the spot. I knew at that very moment what otherwise insane urges drive husbands to shoot their wives or their lovers when caught by surprise in the fact. But for the happy accident of leaving my gun, Beth and Pat would have undoubtedly met that fate and instead it would have been me in handcuffs and awaiting murder charges.
Neither of them was very happy to see me and they were even less happy about being taken away in handcuff in the back of a squad car. Seeing Beth's look of abject shame and hearing her cry all of the way just crushed my soul even further. The arresting officer seemed to think could that I was in no mental condition to deal with the situation any further, and pretty much ordered me to back to base to do whatever reporting I needed to do there and let SAPD do their end of the job. With nothing left to do, I returned to work for the remainder of my shift.
In the morning I filed a theft report for the stolen credit card at the main LE office on the main part of the base and parked myself in a chair in front of my 1st Sergeants office at 7:59 the next morning and gave him a complete and unvarnished statement of the facts. He ground his teeth a bit but didn't find any fault with my actions (even my leaving a firearm unattended, albeit in a 'secure area') and he ordered me excused from all duties for the next 3 days and to go to the clinic and take a drug test and then "Go get some sleep."
Pat was released from Bexar County Jail after about two days but I never saw him again. He faced a nice collection of UCMJ charges, which also included cocaine and amphetamine use and dealing. AFOSI (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) tore up our dorm room and found even more drugs in his locker and in his car. He wisely pled out on the mercy of the Judge and got a slightly reduced sentence at a Fed holding pen that wasn't named Leavenworth. He also got a Dishonorable Discharge, loss of all stripes and pay, all the usual penalties. I did hear later that he successfully appealed to be allowed to remain in the service and he started all over again as an E-1, finishing up his career eventually working in the Social Actions group teaching about drug and alcohol abuse.
I spent far more time the next six months dealing with OSI than I would have liked, they tended to assume every airman was guilty unless proven innocent. I must have spent over a hundred hours being questioned and signing statements there but I was eventually cleared of any involvement with Pat's drug dealing. My service record remained clean but that was a rather weak silver lining compared to the storm cloud of my breakup with Beth.
Beth faced only civilian charges and those were mostly only misdemeanors for the theft and fraud charges but she was soon in much bigger trouble for cocaine and methamphetamine possession charges. I also soon found out that she had an existing felony check fraud warrant on her from another county. In fact the ADA handling her case told me at our first meeting that Beth had been in constant trouble with the law for at least the last five years since she became a legal adult. She had previously stolen money from her family, but those charges had been dropped shortly afterwards. There was a sealed Juvi record for her also that neither the ADA nor I ever did get to see, but the conclusion was obvious that Beth was a very screwed up young lady with a long history of drug abuse. Apparently she had tried somewhat to go clean since I had met her, but the pressure to use had become too strong for her.
I refused to pay the money for her bail on the advice of the ADA that the extra time spent in county lockup before the trial hearing would be the best thing for her right now, if she really wanted to get herself off of drugs. I didn't quite agree with her logic, but she did really seem to have her best interests at heart and wasn't just gunning for a slam-dunk conviction. Beth stayed in jail, and I tried to get on with my life.
When all of the expenses had been totaled, Beth and Pat had run up over $1400 in their drug induced wild shopping spree, but I was able to get most of the department store items returned and my VISA account fully credited, except for the $46 they spent at the liquor store, the $79 for the hotel room and a $135 room service charge for a champagne dinner. In my opinion the Hotel had done everything correctly and by the book and had actually taken the time to verify my card, so I didn't feel it was right to penalize them for being honest and I paid those bills myself. At this point, losing just a little over $500 total (including the $180 in cash) was a miracle I was more than happy to accept.
Beth pled guilty to all counts but asked if I would visit her before sentencing. I refused. I was trying desperately to cut her out of my life and memories as if she were a cancer. It didn't work, supposedly it never does. I was also very guilt stricken over the fact that I had lost so much emotional control upon finding her in that hotel room and that I could and would have killed her if I had been carrying my revolver as I should have been.
I just couldn't trust my emotions if I were to speak with her in jail. I'd probably end up doing something foolish like dropping all of the theft and fraud charges (the drug charges would still be there though) and forgiving her entirely ... until the next time she went on a wild drug binge. It was safer for me I thought to just to try and forget her entirely.
I didn't go to her sentencing, but the ADA later called me up to tell me that she accepted the offered plea and received a term of 7-12 years in a State Prison with a promise of early parole if she completed the drug treatment program and at least a year of counseling afterwards. She offered to provide me with contact information for which prison Beth had been sent to, but I declined and told her I had no further interest in her welfare.
And I didn't. Nor did I start to show much interest in my own welfare.
My last six months of duty in San Antonio were frankly nearly more than I could bear. My dickwad Lieutenant held a grudge that I had gone up the chain over his head, and tried to make my life hell in the thousand little ways that the ass pimple of a 2nd Lt boss can. I was up for automatic promotion from E-3 Senior Airman to Sergeant (also still E-3 so no pay raise — the Air Force does a number of really odd and stupid things like this that are nearly impossible to explain to civilians) but my boss would keep cancelling my schedule to attend NCO Training School (locally held on-base and theoretically immune from normal organization unit bullshit ... but not 100% so). My boss was watching me like a hawk and looking for every trivial and petty writeup on me that he could gig me for and seemed determined that he was going to ruin my career. After the third time in six months that I received a bullshit LOR (Letter of Reprimand) that I was certain that I hadn't deserved I decided that I had nothing to lose by going again to the 1st Sergeants office.
I unloaded my gripes upon him for a while, but I got the feeling that as I was 'short' (only about three months left to go in my enlistment) and had not filed plans for reup'ing, his options were fairly limited. He wasn't going to go about making trouble in the chain of command for a three striper who wasn't going to even be around much longer, but I do give him credit that he could tell that something else was wrong with me that someone else could fix.
"I can't order you to go talk to a chaplain, but I'd take it as a special favor if you would do so. Any of them — take your pick. Then come back and talk to me next week."
We didn't have a chaplain up here on Security Hill, the closest one to us in fact was a Lutheran pastor who had apparently drawn the short straw and had a small office on the ass end of the flight line and was thus marginally closer to us than the main base chapels. I liked him, however, at once. He was a huge Norse-Swede blend from somewhere in Minnesota with both psychology and divinity degrees and had the laid back northern Lutheran act down to a science. I told him of my story with Beth and he seemed to hit upon all of the significant details at once, even noticing that as I told the story of their discovery in the hotel that my hand again was on my pistol holster. Reluctantly and bit by bit, I told him about how I had actually wanted to kill them and how only luck or providence had spared them.
We ended up meeting for an hour every day for a week until I realized a great truth about myself. Since my guilt over nearly firing my weapon at the woman I had loved, I now had great trouble even putting the holster on, let alone firing it. When I had originally done my weapon qualification with the .38 I had shot a 297 out of 300, easily enough to qualify for the Small Arms Expert Badge. At my most recent trip to the range I had done far worse, barely a 140 and I had many misses. The guilt was eating deeply into me and worse things would undoubtedly start to happen unless I started to deal with them.
It was clear however, that I was no longer happy being in LE and wearing a gun that I was now psychologically nearly incapable of using, even in self-defense. My choices were clear — cross train into something else or get out of the service. Frankly, the cross —training idea sounded pretty good.
"Can you type?" My chaplain friend asked and I could. Pretty well, actually. He told me about possibly being a Chaplain Assistant and joked that I could then type up all of his paperwork for him. We had a good laugh and I admitted that there were probably worse things.
It's hard to cross-train out of LE under normal circumstances. Like the SP folks, we don't have a particularly good retention rate, and the behavior standards are a bit stricter than in most AF Skill Classifications. Also there has to be openings in your grade for the skill you want to train into. Usually, this meant a generally sucker job compared to the one you already have ... like sitting in a missile silo somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I was lucky however, and with the help of my 1st Sergeant managed to get a release from out of LE and into the Chaplain Assistant training program at Maxwell AFB, where I reenlisted for another four years.