By Curtis C. Chen
"You can't smoke in here, sir."
Rodney sighed. "So where can I smoke?"
"The east wing patio." The nurse pointed to a map.
"That's the other side of the hospital."
He grumbled and shoved the cigarettes back into his pocket.
"Have you tried the patch?" the nurse asked.
He squinted at her. "Great idea. I'll ask my physician."
"Of course," the nurse said. "Best to make sure there won't be any adverse interactions with your current medication. Sir."
Another voice behind him said, "Lieutenant Geyerson? You can go in now."
Private Jeremy Dean and his squad had been patrolling the Hindu Kush mountains when they found a cave filled with prehistoric wall paintings and heavily armed Taliban. Dean had returned to the US last week for surgery.
"Do you know why I'm here, Private?" Rodney asked.
Dean nodded. "The cave paintings, right?"
Dean had been taking pictures before the ambush. Gunfire had gouged away most of the painted rock, and Dean's photos were the only remaining record.
"You don't think they're prehistoric," Dean continued, "because it doesn't fit archaeological theory or something."
Rodney flipped through his case file. He noticed Dean folding his arms when one particular photo went by.
"Actually," Rodney said, "I'm wondering why your squadmates have all killed themselves."
Dean blinked. "What?"
Rodney fanned out the crime scene and autopsy photos. "Hallmark. Cheng. Barron. They're all dead."
Dean stared at the photos. "How? Why?"
"You tell me," Rodney said. "These men didn't show any signs of depression or PTSD, but they all committed suicide within the last week."
Dean shook his head in silence.
Rodney sighed. "Look, no one would blame you. Maybe you found some drugs in that cave. Maybe it was cash. You decide a few dead terrorists aren't going to miss their loot, so you kill them and bury the treasure. Am I getting warm here?"
Dean glared at him. "I want a lawyer. Sir."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I am your lawyer."
"So your winning personality didn't get him to talk. I'm shocked."
Colonel James MacAllister exhaled into Rodney's face. There were more smokers than there was elbow room on the fourth floor balcony.
"He's hiding something. Dean took one look at this photo and clammed up. It's probably where they found the loot." Rodney thumbed through his file, but couldn't find the photo. He turned over the folder and drew on the back. "It was a circular symbol--like this."
It took no effort at all to remember the image. It loomed large and clear in his mind, as if it wanted out.
The next thing Rodney knew, he was lying on the ground, being held down by MacAllister and two other officers.
"What the hell!" Rodney shouted.
MacAllister frowned at him. "You just tried to climb over the railing!"
Rodney looked at the symbol he'd drawn on the folder, and he felt it again, pressing against his consciousness.
"I need to get back to the VA," he said.
"Good idea," MacAllister said. "It's about time you had your head examined."