Code Of Conduct

Code Of Conduct

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by Rich Merritt
     
 

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You've gotten away with it for so long, you think you're immune to the danger. . .

At thirty-three, Don Hawkins has spent the better part of his life, in every sense, as a U.S. Marine. Enlisting to escape an alcoholic father and stepmother, he became the unofficial leader of a group of gay servicemen and women, all compelled to guard their sexual identity as

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Overview

You've gotten away with it for so long, you think you're immune to the danger. . .

At thirty-three, Don Hawkins has spent the better part of his life, in every sense, as a U.S. Marine. Enlisting to escape an alcoholic father and stepmother, he became the unofficial leader of a group of gay servicemen and women, all compelled to guard their sexual identity as faithfully as they serve their country. But with newly inaugurated President Clinton's promise to lift the ban on gays in the military, Don is optimistic that a brighter era is dawning--and not just politically.

Ten years now since his lover died in Beirut, Don is finally ready to love again, and falls headlong for Patrick, a handsome young helicopter pilot. As their relationship develops, Don lets his guard down--in potentially dangerous ways. Because forces are at work in the Naval Investigative Service, in Congress, and even in the bars and clubs that Don views as his turf, with a vicious agenda that will have unforeseen consequences. . .

Drawing on his own experiences as a Marine, Rich Merritt has crafted an extraordinary story of love, loss, duty, betrayal, and hope. Most of all, Code of Conduct is a deeply compelling exploration of the power of loyalty--to friends, lovers, country, and the unwavering dictates of our own hearts.

Praise for Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star

"Rich Merritt writes an honest, inspiring, sexy, funny, and courageous story." --William J. Mann, author of Men Who Love Men

"Inspiring, thought-provoking, and brutally honest." --Michael Thomas Ford, author of Changing Tides

"A gripping memoir." --Gay & Lesbian Review

"Merritt has written a powerfully honest and compelling story of living two lives." --David Mixner, author of Stranger Among Friends

Rich Merritt served in the Marines from 1985 until 1998, attaining the rank of Captain. The same year he was honorably discharged, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in an article by Jennifer Egan titled "Uniforms in the Closet: The Shadow Life of a Gay Marine." He tells his life story in his memoir Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star (Kensington, 2005).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Memoirist Merritt (Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star) delivers a thought-provoking fiction on the problem of being gay in the military. As Clinton begins putting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy into place in the early 1990s, closeted and disturbed Naval Investigative Service Agent Jay Gared goes on a mission to catch violators of Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice-i.e., the rule that states sodomy is a criminal act. Chief Petty Officer Eddie L. Johnson, who has been switching blood test vials for six years to get around the service's mandatory HIV test, gets into Jay's sights. When Eddie catches Jay snooping in his home, Jay shoots Eddie and fakes Eddie's suicide. Shocked friends and family know better, and for a group of close-knit gay and lesbian military personnel, the "suicide" is a call to arms. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Donald A. Hawkins, a gay rights advocate, vows to learn the truth. Merritt raises provocative questions and delivers a graphic crime tale. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Memoirist Merritt (Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star) delivers a thought-provoking fiction on the problem of being gay in the military. As Clinton begins putting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy into place in the early 1990s, closeted and disturbed Naval Investigative Service Agent Jay Gared goes on a mission to catch violators of Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice-i.e., the rule that states sodomy is a criminal act. Chief Petty Officer Eddie L. Johnson, who has been switching blood test vials for six years to get around the service's mandatory HIV test, gets into Jay's sights. When Eddie catches Jay snooping in his home, Jay shoots Eddie and fakes Eddie's suicide. Shocked friends and family know better, and for a group of close-knit gay and lesbian military personnel, the "suicide" is a call to arms. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Donald A. Hawkins, a gay rights advocate, vows to learn the truth. Merritt raises provocative questions and delivers a graphic crime tale. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A novel of romance and intrigue from former Marine Merritt (Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star, 2005). Don, a Marine, and his best friend Eddie, a sailor, are part of a closely knit group of gay men and women in uniform. These individuals have made careers for themselves in the military, and the life they have chosen means they must keep an essential part of themselves a secret from all but their closest friends who share that secret. But it's 1993, and there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Bill Clinton has just been inaugurated, and he's promised to end the ban on gays in the military. Don's circle of friends has other reasons to be optimistic, too. Eddie is just beginning to emerge from the despair that overwhelmed him when he lost his lover to AIDS, and Don has embarked on an exciting new relationship with the sweet and handsome young Patrick, a marine eager to finally embrace his sexuality. But the happiness Don and his friends experience is short-lived. Clinton's promise turns into the compromise of "Don't ask, don't tell." And the gay marines and sailors of San Diego face a more immediate threat in the form of Jay Gared, an agent for the Naval Investigative Service who will do anything-anything-to expose homosexuals in the military. Merritt makes a persuasive case when he argues that a policy meant to foster cohesiveness actually creates a class of servicemen and servicewomen who can never wholly trust their brothers and sisters in arms. And his depiction of the crushing disappointment and sense of betrayal felt by many gays in the military when Clinton was unable to deliver on his pledge is poignant. But the narrative is a mess. The main characters are flimsy and Agent Gared,the villain, is a cartoon. The plot is both overblown and underdeveloped. The dialogue is, more often than not, painfully stilted, and the pace is frequently excruciating. Intriguing subject, terrible execution.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780758222749
Publisher:
Kensington
Publication date:
01/01/2008
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.04(d)

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Read an Excerpt

CODE OF CONDUCT


By RICH MERRITT

KENSINGTON BOOKS

Copyright © 2008 Rich Merritt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-2274-9


Chapter One

"You goddamned lying son of a bitch!"

Don Hawkins showered Giles's face with spittle but the hospital corpsman made no move to wipe it away. Don's glare was pure rage. He waited. The stench of fear overpowered the Balboa Naval Hospital's pungent odors of antiseptic, fresh paint and linoleum wax. "Spineless motherfucker! How many jams have Eddie and I helped you out of when you had nowhere else to go?"

Retreating, Giles sideswiped a roller cart and knocked over a stack of empty urine cups. "Look, y-y-you can't-"

"I should drag you in that utility closet and beat your ass."

"Easy, killer." Eddie stepped in, putting his hand on the tall Marine's shoulder. "Our boy Giles here, he's just following his orders."

A bead of sweat dripped from Giles's nose, splattering his scrubs. "That's r-r-right. I-I-I'm just following orders."

"My ass." Don lowered his voice, spying a high-ranking officer entering the opposite corridor. "You followin' orders when you light up a joint? Huh, Sailor? How 'bout when you hand in somebody else's piss and tell the Navy it's your own?"

"It's the new executive officer," Giles hissed. "She's triple-checking everyone's work. We're not talking about a slap on the wrist. If I get caught, it's a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge."

Eddie hooked Don's coiled bicep. "Come on. We asked nice. If Giles doesn't value our friendship, we'll go to Plan B."

Don shook him off. "He doesn't get off that easy. He promised he'd take care of this. He owes us."

"It's a felony offense," Giles whispered. "Yeah, you've helped me out-a lot-but not enough to get thrown in the brig at Fort Leavenworth. Doin' hard labor."

Eddie smiled at the trembling Sailor. "I been in the Navy fifteen years. Don's got that much time in the Marine Corps. We understand how the military works, okay? You got a new hospital XO who wants to show everyone she's the boss. It'll all blow over in a week or so. Besides, Clinton just became the president two days ago! Soon, none of this will matter."

"Why don't you just wait on Clinton? Why do I gotta stick my neck out now?"

"Because, asshole," Don said, "this is the military and deadlines matter. Eddie's got one more week to submit his sample. It's pretty fucking simple-even for a squid like you. Draw my blood, 'accidentally' label it with Eddie's name and social, and turn it in."

The high-ranking officer at the opposite end of the hall looked impatiently at her watch, calling out: "Petty Officer Giles, you were supposed to be at the ER ten minutes ago. I assume you'll conclude your business here and report there immediately!"

"Yes, ma'am," Giles replied. He turned back to Don and Eddie. "Friday. Payday. Everyone in the military will be out in San Diego. It's gonna be a long fucking night."

Giles started to walk way, but Don grabbed him by the arm one last time. "Hey, 'Doc.' Think you're gonna show up on the battlefield, taking care of my Marines? Think again-or you're gonna be the one needin' a corpsman."

Chapter Two

"You seen enough?" Oliver Tolson asked his trainee. "I don't want to waste my whole Saturday watching other people have fun on their day off."

From his boss's car, Agent Jay Gared viewed the homosexuals playing in Balboa Park. Perverts cared nothing for nature and proper gender roles. They wasted their lives chasing pleasure; Jay's dad had called them "hedonists." They failed to contribute to society and they corrupted young people, poisoning tomorrow's citizens. Jay couldn't show his true feelings too strongly, though, because Director Tolson had commented that he seemed obsessed with the military's homosexual problem.

"Not yet, sir." Jay watched a shirtless young man rub sunscreen on the back of a larger guy. The younger man joined a volleyball game across the field while two other men-one black, one white-sat at a picnic table. The black man had a dachshund, reminding Jay of his grandmother's Porky, and the few happy memories of his teenage years. The volleyball player shouted, bringing Jay out of his reverie. The man was short, muscular and handsome, and didn't display the telltale effeminate characteristics of a homosexual. "The most dangerous kind."

"What're you looking for, Jay?" Ollie asked. "What're you trying to show me? Naval Investigative Service resources are scarce and the political climate is too volatile for us to chase gays out of the service. These 'witch hunts'-a phrase I hate because it was legitimate work-used to pay off. Homos were an easy target. We caught one, they turned on each other like jackals and NIS achievement records looked good. That's not the case anymore. They stick together. Times are different and NIS reports all the way up the chain to the friggin' president. We know his story. He got elected because of the gays. I'm telling you, Gared, leave them alone! If they admit they're queer, we got them, but if they don't, proving it's too much trouble." Ollie paused and shook his head. "Besides, we have enough problems in San Diego with drugs and gang activity near-hell, even on-the bases. Keeps us busy twenty-four/seven."

"With all due respect, sir, sodomy is still a criminal act under Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I intend to be the best damn agent you ever had and I plan to catch, prosecute, and lock up as many violators of every article of the UCMJ as possible."

"I got six months till retirement. No way in hell will you be the best damn agent I ever had. I've worked with the best and they end up fired, in jail-or dead. Just do what I tell you."

Jay hoped Ollie would think his silence was consent. Drugs and gang-related activity were problems anyone could handle. Only the most dedicated agent would do the unspeakable things Jay was willing to do in order to nab his villains. Jay saw the big picture. America was great only because her military was great. America's military had been in trouble for twenty years-since the fall of Saigon-and the pro-military heyday of the Reagan years was over. Clinton and his unacceptable elements threatened to erode the military; if they succeeded, they would ruin America. The military was the last stand; if its leaders caved, America would no longer be the world's greatest nation. And God intended America to remain great. NIS Agent Jay Gared was determined to do his part to ensure that America never fell from greatness.

"Enemy missile positions! Straight ahead!"

"Damn it!" said Colonel Leonard Spencer. Intelligence had briefed the pilots that these scruffy desert mountains were friendly territory. "What kind? How many? How far?" He fired the questions into his mouthpiece. He pushed the helicopter's stick forward, dropping the Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra close to the ground where the earth's heat and light sources would interfere with the hostile detection systems.

"Looks like two-shit-three shoulder-fired missile teams. First is over the ridgeline nine clicks," came the low, gravelly voice of the pilot in the Cobra ahead to Leonard's right.

"Nine kilometers." Leonard instantly performed the calculations in his head. "Good, we're still out of range. We have just enough time. Sledge, bypass team one to the south. Fly in low through the saddle. Take out team two. We'll hit team one and search for team three. Copy?"

The voice hesitated. "We should go toward the sun, Royal. The glare will defeat the heat-seeking guidance systems in the missile warheads."

"Negative. Your mission is to go low. Take out the second missile pos. Copy?"

Another hesitation. "Roger." Lieutenant Colonel Melvin "Sledge" Hammer's Cobra veered low and disappeared from sight.

Leonard couldn't be distracted by his suspicion that his subordinate commander was about to disobey his order. He'd already spent too much time, a deadly extravagance in the face of this grave enemy threat. He turned his attention to his copilot. "Jungle, you copy?"

"Roger, Colonel-I mean Royal."

"How many rounds in the one-niner-seven?"

"Seven-fifty, sir-a full load. We firing the gun?"

"Roger." Leonard liked Jungle's attitude. Some pilots felt safer using the Cobra's rockets or missiles but Jungle eagerly faced the enemy from behind the barrel of the airborne machine gun.

Leonard sighted the first missile team. His mind went into high-speed mode. Jink hard left then fast right toward the large rock formation jutting from the mountain at two o'clock. Shift direction. Pop over the edge. Jungle will have two seconds to-

"Royal! Incoming missile! Eight o'clock! Fired from three clicks-two point five-two!"

"Sledge! We missed a team," Leonard shouted. "Double back from behind. Take him out before he gets off a second shot." Leonard and Jungle had stumbled into an angry hornets' nest of enemy missiles and the only way they could defeat them was to pull Sledge back into the area. "Sledge! Do you read? Sledge?" Silence.

"One point five-one-first team in sight."

"Fire when ready!"

"Ready to fire-fire!"

Leonard watched as his forward-seated copilot began the rapid-fire assault against the enemy on the ground. But it was too late. Because they'd failed to see a missile team, Leonard and Jungle were seconds away from death and there was nothing they could do about it.

"You Marines never miss a chance to show off your naked bodies, do you?" Eddie asked.

Karl Steiger tossed his shirt onto Eddie's head. "Americans have a constitutional right to see who's protecting them." The twenty-three-year-old Marine flexed his pecs and kissed his bulging biceps. "Their tax dollars at work, right here, baby!" He winked at Eddie. "They catch you Navy boys without your shirts, they'll demand a refund."

"Hell, I actually work for a living, else I could spend three hours a day in the gym." Eddie fished in his glove compartment for his Ray-Ban sunglasses and put them on.

"Don't you squids burn off any calories walking to and from the vending machine all day?"

"Ladies, please don't make me referee," said Don.

"Here, Don, take this before he leaves it behind." Eddie tossed Karl's shirt and opened his car door to put the leash on his dog. "Give me any more lip and I'll sic Rocky on you!" They laughed at the idea of a twelve-pound dachshund attacking a Marine.

Karl turned to a volleyball game in progress. "Go ahead, Karl. We'll rotate in later."

Rocky yanked on his leash as Karl took off across the small field in San Diego's Balboa Park. "No, Rocky, over here, boy!" Eddie said. Karl joined the team in formation facing their opponents. The eleven men-allies and foes alike-gawked at Karl's physique. When Karl wore baggy shorts and nothing else, everyone-gay, straight or bi-stared at his chiseled body.

"Where'd he get that tan?" Eddie asked. "Today's January twenty-third, not July fourth."

Don grabbed two beers from the cooler. "That tan cost the boy a big chunk of his paycheck, so just admire like everyone else." He passed one to Eddie.

"Marines in tanning beds," Eddie grunted. "We're in the Clinton era for sure."

"About the fuck-up at the hospital yesterday-a buddy at Miramar can help us." Don popped the top off his Miller Genuine Draft. "Shoulda gone to him first. He's straight, but more reliable than that shitbird Giles. Says he can meet us at Balboa Tuesday morning."

Rocky found a piece of real estate to his liking and did his business. "This HIV test is a lot of trouble." Eddie pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and cleaned up after his pet. "You gotta be away from your battalion. Your friend's gotta come all the way to Balboa."

"Let me worry about that. Besides, we didn't make these fucked-up rules. You're healthy. You've got every right to keep doing your job until you reach your twenty and retire."

"If I make it to retirement," Eddie said as they turned to walk back toward their cars.

"Prepare to get creamed! Zero serving zero." Karl put the ball cleanly over the net.

"They'll find a cure soon," Don said. "You're gonna make it way beyond retirement."

"Yeah right. Some politician's tryin' to pass a law discharging everyone with HIV."

"Not gonna happen. Clinton's the president, not that asshole Coughlin. Besides, no one's gonna know you have HIV, so it won't matter," Don said. "That's so fucked up-there's a lot of jobs positive people can do where it won't make a bit of difference, even in wartime."

Eddie tied Rocky's leash around a picnic table and the two men sat across from each other. "Next time there's a real war-not just a Kuwaiti skirmish-they'll take anyone they can get. I don't care who's got AIDS, leprosy, a criminal record-nymphomania-whatever, they'll take 'em. They discriminate in peacetime 'cause they ain't got nothing better to do." He drank his beer and Rocky jumped into his lap to get a taste. "You don't need that." Eddie laughed. "Got enough alcoholic friends and Sailors to tend to. Don't need no drunken dog." Turning serious, he asked, "What if they find out? We got the same blood type, not the same blood."

"How long we been doing this? Six years? Ever since they started requiring these goddamned HIV tests. All the lab does is check the blood for antibodies. That's it. When they see it's negative, they look at the name on the vial and enter it into the computer as negative."

"I was thinking about what Giles said. You could get in a lot of trouble."

"Damn it, Eddie, we have this conversation every year!" Don lowered his voice. "Not another word about it. This is what we're doing."

Eddie scratched Rocky between his ears. "I'm glad I picked out an old dog 'cause I sure as hell don't got the energy to chase a young one all over the park."

"Like you told Giles yesterday, Clinton's changing things for the better. This might be the last year we have to do this."

Eddie smirked. "Don Don Don. I love that you're still the same naïve teenager from Missouri I met on ship in the Arabian Sea. But man, get real! I said all that bullshit about Clinton just to get Giles to go along with us. You read the paper this morning? Bill Clinton ain't gonna change a thing. If he tries, he'll only make it worse."

"In fifteen years, you ever known me to read a paper?"

"I know, stupid question. The new Defense Secretary met with the Joint Chiefs Thursday. All they did for two hours was bitch about Clinton's promise to lift the gay ban."

Don faked surprise. "Well, yippie ki yea, mothafucka! I guess that means we fixed all the other problems, you know the ones in Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq."

"That's what I'm sayin'. We can all pack up and go home."

"What about the general running the Pentagon?" Don asked. "He's black. Don't he understand the ban is just another way to discriminate?"

Eddie almost laughed. "You mean 'Uncle Colin'? Hell, he's the main man against Clinton. If he had a set a balls, he'd stand up to the rest of the generals and support the president." Eddie shook his head and drank more of his beer. "All he's doing is gearing up to run against Clinton in four years. What better way to do that than lead the lynch mob against the fags?"

"Guess we shouldn't expect anything better from an Army general. Someday, we'll get a Marine general as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and he'll have a backbone." Don enjoyed the last of his beer as his temper cooled. "I disagree with you about Clinton. I think he's going to change things. Maybe not as fast as he-or we-would like. So what if he's a pot-smoking draft dodger and none of the generals respect him. He's committed to helping gays and lesbians. He knows he wouldn't be president without our votes." Seeing Eddie's continued look of disbelief, Don said, "Have a little bit of hope, man. Clinton's the man from Hope!"

"I lost my hope on April 4, 1968. I was eight."

"What happened? I don't know-"

"Of course you don't, white boy." Eddie's usually gentle tone was tinged with bitterness. "That's the day they killed Martin Luther King. If they'll kill a man who preaches peace just 'cause of the color of his skin, things ain't never gonna get better for gay men or lesbians. Especially not for gay men with a deadly, incurable, infectious disease."

Don believed his optimism was merited but he respected Eddie's pessimism. "Want another beer?" Don tossed his can into a trash bin as he walked to his jeep.

"I'm good, but if you have any water, Rocky could use a drink, couldn't ya, boy."

Don smiled at the sight of his friend petting his little companion. "Aren't you glad I talked you into getting a dog? How long has it been, a year?"

"Let's see now. Ray died in November of 'ninety-one and I rescued Rocky from that nasty shelter four months later, so yeah, almost a year. How could anyone give up a sweet handsome fella like you, Rocky? Their loss is my gain."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from CODE OF CONDUCT by RICH MERRITT Copyright © 2008 by Rich Merritt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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