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First the following brief introduction to establish the context: Duty is a novel about Navy Lieutenant Mark Palmer's dilemma and actions when ordered by his ship's commanding officer to prosecute a veteran petty officer, Marion Arthur Lamm, on charges of homosexual activity charges made by a young seaman, Randy Overmiller, but regarded by Palmer as suspect.
"This board is convened for the purpose of considering the pertinent facts relating to the case of Marion Arthur Lamm, a thirty-four-year-old Machinist's Mate First Class, for alleged homosexuality. The following rights apply: to appear before the board, to challenge any voting member for cause, to submit an oral or written statement..."
Mark followed his own copy of the format as Commander Sam Penny read the text. Everyone else in the borrowed classroom at Fleet Training Center followed as well, except Chief Brown, who stood by the door acting as bailiff....
Across the gap between the tables he watched Lamm sit quietly, fingers busy with each other, rubbing at rough spots, tugging cuticles. Red eyes and a darkness around them suggested he hadn't slept. The petty officer clearly struggled to project a confident demeanor but looked drawn, as if he would like to rest his head on the table and sleep through the ordeal ahead.
Beside Lamm, Lieutenant Templeman, counsel for the respondent, sat sideways in his chair, one arm slung over the back and the other sprawled across the table. He clutched a pencil lightly at one end, let his fingers slide down to the yellow pad beneath, turned the pencil over and began again. The motion hypnotized Mark, drawing his attention to the regular rhythm of taps each time the pencil touched the pad.
Though Templeman's format book was open and he faced the board, his eyes were focused elsewhere, not quite concealing his disdain for the proceedings. His almost-blond hair had been combed and carefully held in place. Hair spray? A little long for regulations, but the lawyers seemed to belong to their own Navy. Like the medical officers. Mark caught himself spending his thoughts on these trivial irritations and searched the page for the spot Penny had reached.
"...no formal ruling on objections will be made by the senior member, but all objections and reasons for them will be made part of the official record for consideration by the review authorities."
Commander Samuel Penny looked the part of senior member. His haircut would pass a Marine inspection. In silhouette against the white projection screen behind him, his head seemed to have solid corners at the top as though his crown had been sliced off cleanly to keep him under some height restriction. On his tailored khaki shirt he wore five rows of ribbons fruit salad campaign and personal decorations. Above the ribbons a gold Surface Warfare pin that bespoke his qualifications for naval combat shone dully under the fluorescent lights.
He spoke slowly, clearly, with a hint of accent. Alabama, Mark guessed. Penny projected the image of a thinker who could keep a ship off the rocks.
...."Fireman Rambo," Mark started, "please tell the board what you know that may shed light on the case at hand."
"'Bout a year ago when I checked in I got assigned to Lamm's division. He tol' me that he usually takes the new guys to his place and give 'em a dinner and some drinks and gets to know 'em and he asked me to come over. He made some fried chicken and gravy and we had some beers. We talked 'bout where I come from, down 'round Mobile. He said he was stationed in Pensacola for a while and knowed the area. We had some more beer and got pretty drunk. We wasn't worried 'bout gettin' back in the mornin' 'cause it was Friday night and neither of us had the duty the next day. Anyways, I started feelin' pretty woozy and he tol' me to lay down on the bed. So I went inta the bedroom and flopped down on top of the covers."
Mark watched Lamm during the testimony. His hands were now still, spread before him on the table, jaw tight, clearly on the edge of losing control
"Later I woke up and his arm was over my shoulder. He was on the bed with me, sorta' behind me, ya' know. I pushed him off and tried to go back to sleep. I figgered he was asleep, too, and didn't know what he was doin'. But he come up close again pushin' into me, sorta' and runnin' his fingers down my side real slow like. I knowed he weren't asleep then. So I tol' him I din't want nothing like that. He kep' at it, talkin', you know, like I was a girl. Kep' pushin'. Finally I got pissed an' got outta' there. Got a taxi back to the ship."
Mark listened to Rambo as he spoke, the trace of nervousness in his voice gradually decreasing. He hadn't believed Lamm to be guilty until now, but his doubts began to melt away as Rambo continued his testimony.
"Do you remember the date this happened?" he asked the sailor.
"Yassuh, March the sixth."
"You seem pretty certain about that, a day over a year ago."
"I remember exactly 'cause it was Gramma Rambo's birthday that Sunday and I called her. I allus call her then." He smiled up at Mark as if he had a reward coming.
"What happened in the passageway outside this room earlier today?"
"Objection. What happened today has no bearing on this case," Templeman interrupted.
"Noted for the record," Penny said, "Continue with your direct examination, Lieutenant Palmer. Witness, answer the question."
"Well, when Lamm come out of here this mornin' he saw me and started swingin'." He held out the material of his chambray shirt. "Still got some blood here."
"Why do you suppose Lamm hit you?"
"Objection. Calls for speculation by the witness."
"I guess he figured I was gonna tell you 'bout what happened when at his place."
"Why did you wait until today to come forward? You knew about this board and the investigation earlier, didn't you?"
"Well, I was scared. What happened to Overmiller and all, and I was afraid Lamm would throw me overboard..."
"Objection!" Templeman was on his feet. "I object to this whole line of questioning. Petty Officer Lamm was cleared of responsibility in Overmiller's death. This is nothing but innuendo."
"Noted for the record, Lieutenant Templeman."
"Fireman Rambo, did you know Lamm's been cleared in Overmiller's death?" asked Mark
"So you feared for your own safety?"
"I have nothing further at this time, sir." Mark dropped into the chair, his heart pumping. Progress. The objections were valid, he conceded, but they would go before a review board in Washington. They had the final say. They'd sort it out.
"Counsel for the respondent, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?"
"Yes, sir, I do." Color flushed Templeman's face as he stood. He tugged his shirt front straight and tucked it tightly under his belt. "Fireman Rambo, it took a lot of courage for you to come forward as you did today, in fear for your life, as you say, to testify. Are you aware that whatever the outcome of this board, Petty Officer Lamm will return to the ship for, oh, at a minimum,two or three months?" Rambo shot a worried look at Mark, pleading with his eyes.
"Objection. Counsel is threatening the witness."
"Yes, it's true," Templeman said. "Even in the unlikely case this board finds Petty Officer Lamm to be a homosexual he will have to be retained aboard Modoc until the Navy Military Personnel Command has ruled on the recommendation." He lifted a sheaf of papers from the table and pointed them at Rambo. "That's what it says here in the SECNAV Instruction. Just thought you'd like to know."
"What are you getting at, Lieutenant?" said Penny. "I won't allow you to continue to intimidate the witness."
"Sir, I am trying to establish the witness's motivation for testifying. Fireman Rambo is obviously very courageous, not fearful as he would have us believe. It seems it would have been much safer for him to remain silent."
"Why did you come forward?" Templeman asked the sailor.
"It was the right thing to do."
"That's very admirable, Fireman Rambo, as is your recall of the date you spent the night rather part of the night at Petty Officer Lamm's apartment. What was it again?"
"March the sixth."
"Last year? You're sure about that? No question?"
"Yassuh," Rambo said quietly.
"Petty Officer Lamm tells me he was on leave during the entire month of March, and that he spent that particular evening visiting his parents in Beloit, Wisconsin."
Rambo lurched in the chair, glanced at Mark, then at the board.
"If the board wishes to verify what I've just said, the endorsed leave papers are on the left side of the respondent's service record."....
"Please call Mister Ronald Kintner."
Chief Brown leaned into the passageway. "Mister Ronald Kintner." He stepped back, and a well-built man wearing a security guard uniform walked into the room, paused, waiting for instructions.
Blue Skivvies! The man at the apartment during the search. The uniforms, Agent Berquist's supposed ace in the hole.
Mark's mind raced back to his investigation. He had assumed that because the pair of civilians in Lamm's apartment hadn't talked during the search that they never would. He hadn't followed up and gotten the whole story. In the turmoil of Overmiller's loss, Mark hadn't even asked Lamm about the men. And this is the payoff. Surprise, idiot!
Templeman stood quickly. His chair tipped backward and clonked to the floor. He ignored it and leaned forward, placing his extended fingers on the table like a pair of spiders. "What is your relationship to Petty Officer Lamm?"
"We're roommates, share an apartment together."
"We heard in earlier testimony that on the day the apartment was searched there were two men there. Were you one of the men?"
"And the other?"
"My brother. He got in from San Francisco the night before and needed a place to stay until he could get a job."
"So he stayed with you and Petty Officer Lamm. What were the sleeping arrangements in the apartment?"
"Well, there's a double bed and a couch."
"Do you share the double bed with Petty Officer Lamm?"
"Oh no. That was part of the deal when I moved in. See, I mostly work nights so I sleep during the day when he's at work. When we're both there together I get the couch. He said he can't sleep with someone else in the bed. It's his apartment and I agreed to take the couch. It ain't so bad."
"What is your usual occupation, Mister Kintner?"
"As we can see by your uniform. What other jobs have you held that require a uniform?"
"Gas station attendant. I worked at McDonald's for a while, still do sometimes when they're short."
"Where do you keep your uniforms?"
"In a closet at the apartment."
"Forgive me, Mister Kintner, but I have to ask a personal question. Are you a homosexual?"
"No," he said firmly.
"To your knowledge, is Petty Officer Lamm a homosexual?"
"Thank you. No further questions."
"Please, Mister Kintner, remain seated." Penny stopped him. "The recorder, Lieutenant Palmer, may have some questions."...
Mark tried to recall the questions Templeman asked Kintner: shared apartment, brother from San Francisco, sleeping arrangements, usual occupation, uniforms, you homo? Lamm homo? The words stared back at him from the yellow pad. He let his eyes cross, blur; the letters he had written became fuzzy, then watery, sloshing together in a yellow bathtub. He let them spill into his mind as he searched for the significant one that would stick crosswise in the drain as the rest flowed out.
"Lieutenant Palmer! I asked whether you wished to cross-examine the witness."
Kintner was back in the witness chair, staring at him. Templeman scribbled away, seemingly uninterested.
"Yes, sir. Permission to approach the witness, sir?"
It had worked for Templeman with Vega. Why not give it a try, he thought. He walked around the table and stood at Kintner's side. The man had to look up at him.
"Thanks for electing to stay for my questions."
"Ah, it's okay."
"Are you on your way to work this evening?"
"Oh, I see, you must have just gotten off work before coming here and didn't have time to change from your uniform. Is that right?"
"Let's see, you're not going to work and you haven't just gotten off work. That must mean that you normally wear your uniform during the day instead of civilian clothing. That right?"
Kintner lowered his head. "No."
"Well, then why are you wearing that uniform today?"
"Mr. Templeman told me to."
"When was the last time you worked as a security guard?"
"Over four months ago. Where are you working now?"
"Not even at McDonald's when they're short?"
"They haven't been short."
"Are you collecting unemployment benefits?"
"No. They say I don't qualify, that I haven't worked enough." Kintner was angry now. "What about when you can't get work? What about that? They don't ever think about that."
"I object. I see no point to this line of questioning," Templeman shouted.
"I do, Lieutenant," Penny snapped. "Your objection is noted for the record."
"Well, I get little jobs here and there, you know, sticking flyers under windshield wipers outside shopping centers, delivering papers, that kind of stuff."
"Doesn't pay much, does it?"
"No, don't even make my share of the rent."
"So you are more or less dependent on Petty Officer Lamm for your living?"
Kintner lowered his eyes. "Yeah, and he's been real good about it, too. I owe him a lot."
"Yes, I'd say you do. Your loyalty is evident. How did you meet Petty Officer Lamm?"
"I seen him in a bar a couple of times. One night we got to talking. I had just lost my pad. Well, it wasn't mine, really. I had a girlfriend but she kicked me out. Anyways, he wanted to cut expenses and said I could live with him if I followed his rules and paid half the rent and food."
"So you moved in with him."
"When was that?"
"You were working steady then?"
"Were you ever there when he brought home new men from the ship for his welcome aboard dinners?"
"No. I had to stay away. That was his rule."
"That certainly seems rude of him. Did he explain why he wanted you out?"
Kintner waved his hand, dismissing Mark's observation. "Ah, it wasn't no big thing. Anyways, he said it was for the sleeping. Not enough room for three."
"But there was enough room for three when your brother came by, wasn't there?"
"Well, yeah, I didn't think about that."
"And since you weren't working that night..."
"Objection. It hasn't been established the witness wasn't working that night."
"Let's clear up that point. Were you working the night your brother arrived, the day before the search?"
"Well then, where did you sleep that night if your brother was on the couch?"
"In the double bed."
"With Petty Officer Lamm?"
"With Petty Officer Lamm?"
"Yeah, but we didn't do nothing."
"Thank you, Mister Kintner. No further questions."
"Can I go now?" Kintner gripped the arms of the chair, ready to sprint for the door.
"Very well, it's past 1600. This board stands in recess until tomorrow morning at 0900."
They filed into the passageway. Mark walked alongside Templeman. "Sorry your witness turned sour, Larry. I know how you must feel."
"It's not over yet, Markie boy."
"I'm sure it's not, Larry baby. Can't wait to see how you dress Lamm for tomorrow. Let's see, what's the most macho thing we can think of? Cowboy? Policeman no, you used that one today. How about a football player? No pansies on the gridiron."
Templeman stopped, faced Mark. "Look, snipe, when I'm through with you and your bullshit charges you'll be lucky if Lamm doesn't charge you and your commanding officer with Article 138 for redress of wrongs. And it's not inconceivable he could sue you both in civil court for damages. It already happened once remember the sailors who got tired of always being assigned lousy jobs? Didn't win but they gave their officers a wild ride. So hang onto your ass, Lieutenant, it may be the last you see of it."
Mark watched the lawyer walk away. The son of a bitch was right.
What People are Saying About This
A lively slice of life in today's Navy in the honorable naval literary tradition of Patrick O'Brian and Herman Wouk. The reader can almost taste the salt air and bad coffee.
(Thomas E. Ricks, author of Making the Corps; Pentagon Correspondent, The Wall Street Journal)
Duty has everything. The plot is riveting. The setting rings true with the authenticity that can only be achieved by an insider. The villain is alarmingly nasty and the minor characters are engaging and sympathetic. Best of all, this novel has a genuine hero, a man who fumbles and falters but ultimately triumphs. It is a memorable read. I enjoyed it from page one and was gripped until the last word.
(Rosemary Aubert, author of the mysteries Free Reign and The Feast of Stephen)
Duty is a salty and provocative work in the tradition of The Caine Mutiny that authentically exposes a skeleton in the U.S. Navy's judicial closet. The tension between an intimidating captain, who has violated the rights of an accused sailor, and the USS Modoc's self-searching legal officer is palpable. Add to this boiling pot the centerpiece trial in which novelist Lane explores the full range of Navy attitudes toward homosexuality and you have an engrossing psychological drama. Powerful stuff.