Airman Wilkins hustled across the parade ground toward the Communications Center. Three weeks in the hospital with pneumonia, failing the tests that would allow him to keep up with the airmen he’d started the Ground Radio Repair course put him in limbo. He was no longer an electronics repair student and he had nowhere to go. It was November and there were no classes starting until January. Right now he was on Temporary Duty assigned to Capt. Rasberger, Head of Base Communications. He’d begun to sweat through his starched fatigue. When he approached the door he tripped over one of the ubiquitous bumps in the pavement. He fell, catching himself, but ripping his left uniform leg. He straightened up and tried to regain his composure. He pulled the door open and stepped into an office filled with desks and copiers. In front of him was a Staff Sergeant sitting behind a military issue desk. He looked Wilkins up and down with a bemused look on his face.
“They usually look this bad when she gets done with them.”
“Sir?” Wilkins hadn’t lost the habit of calling everyone of superior rank “Sir”
“I’m Ssgt. Barnes. I work the front desk and serve as a filter for the Dominator. You’re flight called and gave us a heads-up. They told you to walk, idiots. I’ll get you a schedule. Take a seat by her office door. She’s busy right now talking to Airman Sands.”
Wilkins sat in a chair that was uncomfortable and on display to everyone that moved through the office. He became self conscious of the tear in his pant leg, the sweat stains under his arms and the general feeling of being unkempt. After an eternity a crestfallen female airman emerged from the office. Her colleagues looked at her with sympathy but didn’t approach her. Wilkins could see she was a step away from breaking into tears. A beat. “Wilkins?” The sound of his name came out of the office and curled around the wall to settle in his lap. Ssgt. Barnes made shooing motions with his hands. Wilkins got up and went in. He saluted. Behind the desk was an attractive woman. She was dressed in light weight blues. She had the look of a woman who was used to being in charge.
“Wilkins, close the door.” She said returning the salute. “I’ve got a problem.” She got up from behind her desk and walked to a map on the wall. She had a trim figure and her skirt might have been an inch or so shorter than regs. Her hand swept over the whole map. “I’ve got a problem. I have to get unclassified information everyone on this base. My problem is I’m a woman and a commissioned officer in the Air Force. The only one who runs a crucial operation. The men aren’t happy. They’d rather I work under some general as an aide, arm candy at meetings. I won’t do that. Why am I telling you this? I’ve read your file. Pneumonia is awful and trying to get out of here as quickly as possible is commendable. But I’m not going to cut you any slack. Until you get orders out of her you’re mine. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir, I mean Ma’am”
“Airman Sanchez, who you probably saw leaving my office will show you the ropes. Please, no fraternizing. There’s enough intrigue going on outside this office.”
“Yes Ma’am.”
“Out.”
Wilkins saluted and she gave him a weary wave toward the door. Airman Sanchez had a desk near a bank of copiers. He sat next to her desk and listened to Gloria Sanchez give him a run down of the Center’s function.
“They call her The Dominator?” Wilkins asked.
“Yeah, she runs this place with an iron hand. Barnes is the only one she listens to, and then only when it’s to her advantage. She thinks the men are trying to get her.”
“I got that idea.” Wilkins really wished he’d passed those tests.
Wilkins and Sanchez spent the day sorting, copying and bundling various documents ranging from Mess Hall menus to bulletins from the Air Police in regard to beer cans littering the base. After lunch the loaded a van and ran the documents to the various orderly rooms. They got back close to 1500 hours. They were settling in Sanchez doing paperwork and Wilkins trying to get up enough nerve to ask her to the Airman’s Club. “Wilkins, Sanchez, in here.” The voice snaked out, insistent. The walked into the office, saluted and stood at ease. The Dominator was in full mode. It was the first time Wilkins had seen it but it wasn’t good. The captain was sitting back from her desk, hands in her lap. She looked at them back and forth.
“Do you intentionally screw up to make me look bad Sanchez?” The voice was level, measured through clenched teeth.
“No Ma’am.”
“Wilkins, can you follow simple orders?” She was looking straight at him.
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Then explain to me why Lieutenant Christoph in the Fifty third called me complaining that his delivery was crumpled and dirty.”
“Ma’am,” Sanchez began “everything was in excellent condition when it was put together and loaded into the van.”
“Shut up.” Captain Rasberger was staring at Wilkins but Sanchez was losing it.
“Wilkins are you capable of delivering a three pound package of paper without dragging it through the mud?”
“Yes Ma.am”
“Sanchez apparently you are incapable of supervising Airman Wilkins and Airman Wilkins you seem to be unable to walk from a van to an orderly room. Therefore,” Her voice lowered into the tone of a parent chastising a child “Airman Sanchez, you’ll make deliveries alone. Airman Wilkins, you will be my personal assistant. Dismissed.”
When they got back to the desk everyone was watching. Sanchez sat, head down.
“She’s going to really screw me over on my performance report.”
Wilkins reached for Sanchez’s hand and held it. People in the office looked away.
Sanchez went back on the road, Wilkins sat in a chair more or less at attention awaiting her call. He delivered personal messages to both male and female friends. He made runs to the base laundry to pick up her uniforms. He polished her shoes. He did it politely and with a smile. The others in the office took him out for beers and tried to persuade him to file a report of abuse. He refused. He didn’t explain either. It went on until late January. He got orders to Chanute Air Force Base to study Jet Engine Repair. Captain Rasberger handed the orders to him herself. she had a half-smile on her face. Wilkins expected her to come out from behind the desk and kiss him.
Ten near beers in the Airman’s Club and some coaxing from Sanchez opened him up.
“I was the second of six kids. My older sister ran away at sixteen. My parents were religious and strict. Somebody had to protect the younger ones. It was my job. When I came here I saw the same job. I took it.” He had his arm around Sanchez and she was looking into his eyes.
“How did you deal with the abuse?” Sanchez moved closer.
“I read. After a session I’d read. It was my escape. Hell, I was lousy in High School but what I picked up from books got me into Electronics.”
“Why the Air Force?”
“I wore them down. I made them too tired to bother the ones I left at home, anyway my sister can handle them. And, he said taking Sanchez by the hand It’s dominatrix not dominator.”
And they walked out the door to applause from their office mates.