Gentle swells of snow-covered ground were graced by thousands of sprouts of stone that would never grow, arranged in perfect lines, as if the dead were frozen on parade. It was a formation at parade rest. Forever. The man standing at attention was a comrade in arms, vaguely sensing his life to be a mere formality before he too joined his silent brethren. Although he couldn’t quite grasp the birth and depth of that feeling and raged like the warrior he was against the hand he’d been dealt, some of the cards still face-down. The white covering made Arlington National Cemetery look peaceful, a blanket covering the violence that had brought most of the bodies here over the years.
Colonel Paul Ducharme was uncomfortable in his Class-A uniform. A black raincoat covered the brass and accouterments, which adorned his dress jacket, and a green beret covered most of his regulation, short, thick white hair. He was one of those men who ironically lost none of their hair to age, but, alas, kept none of its color. He absently touched the twisted flesh high on his cheek, just below his right eye, not aware of the gesture. His hand slid higher, pushing back the beret and rubbing the scars that crisscrossed his skull. Finally, realizing what he was doing, he shoved the beret back in place and moved forward. Always mission first.
His spit-shined jump-boots crunched on the light snow and frozen grass underneath as he marched forward. It was after official closing time, but Ducharme had entered through Fort Myer, parking in a small, deserted field adjacent to the cemetery. His old friend, Sergeant Major Kincannon, had given him access. Kincannon was somewhere out in the night, shadowing, a dark presence full of laughter and potential, and inevitably, violence.
Ducharme checked his guide map to pinpoint his location in the 624 acres of cemetery. He considered the place full of historic irony, given that it had originally been the estate of Mary Anna Custis, a descendant of Martha Washington. Custis married US Army officer Robert E. Lee, West Point graduate—the only cadet who ever graduated the Military Academy without a single demerit, a fact so odd that Ducharme, another link in the Long Grey Line, could never forget, nor could any scion of the Long Gray Line. Through the marriage she passed the estate—and her slaves—to Lee.
Their old mansion, the Custer-Lee House, now called the Arlington House to be politically correct, dominated the grounds, looking straight down Lincoln Drive toward the Lincoln Memorial across the Potomac. Thus, General Lee’s former house now looked toward the statue of the leader of the country he’d rebelled against. And come so close to defeating. If only Lee had not ordered that last charge at Gettysburg on the 3rd of July 1863. Ducharme’s studies of that great battle had whispered to him that Lee only ordered Pickett’s Charge because he too had had trouble thinking clearly, sick from dysentery and exhaustion after years of battle. When the body failed, the mind could produce tragic results. Whether his studies were right or wrong were shrouded in the fog of history and would never be answered. As many never were.
Ducharme looked to his left and studied the mansion on top of the hill, which reminded him once more of General… Ducharme frowned and forced himself to keep from looking at the map for the name. In his mind appeared a picture of an old man with a large white beard, dressed in a grey uniform, sitting on top of a white horse. General Lee.
Good, thought Ducharme. His therapist would have been proud. But there was no statue of Lee at West Point, their mutual alma mater, even though Lee had done the most with the least in combat against the greatest odds of any Academy graduate. Such was the cost of loyalty to state and betrayal to country and institution.
West Point did not tolerate betrayal.
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