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A Little May-hem (Goes A Long Way)

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No, Garrison and Rawlins had NOT been looking forward to May - the 'Merry Month of May-hem' from that monthly challenge Actor had initiated. Of course, the guys were, and working together AND individually, had some great ideas and were busy making plans (in between dodging bullets and jumping off trains) to really do it up right.

Goniff was watching in cautious optimism to see if Garrison would join in with THIS month's festivities. The others, not really, but then the pickpocket was the only one who knew of Garrison's occasional forays into the challenge. Even though it wasn't EVERY month, and even though he was pretty sure it hadn't started out being intentional, not in the beginning anyway, now Goniff was beginning to wonder. There was a deep, mostly-hidden look of sly amusement in Garrison's eyes sometimes that pointed in the direction of a deliberate act. Goniff figured if that was the case, the man would eventually outdo the whole lot of them. Certainly the young officer seemed to have a natural knack for the game.

Seems like Garrison, much like Kevin Richards, had started to relax a little, maybe have a little fun outside of the very serious business of war - getting the job done, yes, giving it their full effort, but not letting the war consume their ENTIRE being. Well, Goniff knew that in SOME ways, Garrison had relaxed a lot, at least in the right surroundings, the right company, but he WAS wondering if the others would ever catch on to just how much. Maybe, maybe not, at least not yet. Still, he found it all amusing as hell to watch as the 'new' Craig Garrison made his cautious mark on the scene. And in HIS opinion, if ruddy HQ thought the young officer a challenge before, they were really headed for an awakening once the man hit his natural stride! Well, this 'Merry Month of May-hem' proved that!

So, earlier in the month, they'd been handed a mission where they had been ordered to kidnap a scientist engaged in developing a chemical weapon that could tilt the entire outcome of the war. Intel said he was close to a breakthrough, this Dr. Klaus Berger, and Garrison, after an intense study of all the details HQ had provided, had come up with the perfect plan to grab him AND his research, leaving nothing in place to let someone else take up the work. It was different than the plan Major Johns had handed them, but considering what they knew of Major Johns and his strategical capabilities, that was a given. Letting Johns lay out the play was just asking to get themselves in front of a firing squad at best! If Garrison tended to overthink a problem, Johns tended to 'underthink' a problem to a remarkable level.

According to Major Johns, it was just a simple thing, that mission, one they should really be thanking him for assigning them to. "A piece of cake, really - look at it as a favor, since you complained so much after that last job, Lieutenant, and since you all, somehow, though I still fail to see quite how, managed to take some damage during that one. That really should have been pretty much a walk in the park, you know, if you'd just followed instructions. It was all laid out quite carefully. Why you can't simply do as you're directed, I never will understand."

That left Goniff muttering to himself "yeah, 'walk in the park' my ruddy arse! Follow instructions, right! And, gotta tell you, getting tired of all that 'piece of cake' rubbish; like to tell them to take all their ruddy 'cake' and . . ."

"Goniff!" Garrison chided, though obviously the other guys agreed with the pickpocket's as yet unspoken plans.

An injured look, and a quick, "just going to say "like to tell them to take all their ruddy 'cake' and drop it on their tea plate so's they can 'ave themselves a nice little snack, Lieutenant. Amazing 'ow your mind jumps to the wrong conclusion sometimes, it is! Sad, w'en you think about it, really. Think it's all that military training, maybe?"

 

Well, Garrison had to agree, (if not out loud), about whether that latest mission had been 'a piece of cake', and who he'd liked to have served it up to for tea. Yes, it had had its amusing aspects, surprisingly so, but 'piece of cake'? Not so much.

Oh, it should have been easy, sure, but there were a few snags along the way (just as there almost always were). Poor intel regarding the city, the surroundings, the level of German activity, to begin with. VERY poor intel regarding the doctor's female assistant. A last-minute change of venue dictated by the doctor heading out on vacation to a health-spa. And, last, but certainly not least, the monkey-wrench the doctor HIMSELF threw into the mix at the last minute! And whether they were 'successful' depended a lot on your definition of the term in conjunction with the various zig-zags and hairpin curves the job had given them.

Yeah, a real 'piece of cake', as he'd assured the bewildered Major Johns in the debriefing, not quite masking his derision at the idea.

Still it was over and done, and he'd hoped to get on to something more productive. That wasn't to be.

 

Right now, heading toward the end of the month, Lieutenant Craig Garrison was trying to deal with the newest bright idea from HQ - Reduce the team to Garrison and three men, not four, that was the plan. Well, not just Garrison and his team, but perhaps ALL the Special Forces teams! Damn those so-called 'experts'!!

And just why did they think that was such a super idea? Maybe just because 'four' was such a nice even number. Or because the teams HAD managed to run short-handed at times when one of the team was injured past going out on the job. Not always successfully, no, but success wasn't a given even with a full team. Still, managing it short-handed on even a few missions was enough to get this latest group of busy-bodies to thinking, something each of the team leaders had learned to dread.

"So, according to THEIR thinking, if it could be done successfully a few times, it should be able to be done ALL the time," Garrison had fumed to Ainsley and the others, them no more happy about the idea than HE was.

So far nothing Garrison had said had convinced the new panel of so-called Efficiency Experts up at HQ that that was a piss-poor plan. Yes, they'd managed short-handed, each of the teams, but it had changed the odds to an uncomfortable level, reduced the chances greatly of getting the job done, coming back alive. Caused additional injuries to each of them. It sure as hell wasn't something they wanted to make a practice of.

And besides that, who would be the one to leave, and to what end? Back to prison, moved to a different team? What? And who would be the one to decide? He hadn't even broached THAT part of the equation with the experts; he was pretty sure they would have just looked blank, not really considering that something very important, the human factor, certainly not important enough to be focusing on. Well, to HIM, to the other team leaders, it WAS important, and he, they, were determined to figure out a way to make this latest problem go away.

That wasn't going to be easy, and Micah Davis' idea about enlisting a few of the crocodiles at the London zoo for some 'useless rubbish removal', while appealing at one level, just didn't seem practical, and even might be considered unacceptable cruelty to animals. Well, weren't there signs all over the place, about not feeding the animals??

No, Garrison had to find a way to convince, really convince the experts that the team set-up, as it was now, was the way to go. And there was a hint of a way, something the redhead at the Cottage had suggested when he'd stormed in and threw himself down at the kitchen table in sheer disgust after that last meeting.

"What will it take to get those idiots to truly understand???" he'd fumed.

That he was spending his energy on this instead of that last nonsense from Casino showed just how annoyed, even worried, he really was.

Well, Casino's latest entry into 'The Merry Month of May-hem' HAD been something else. Garrison couldn't imagine how he (or possibly THEY) had managed to get nearly the entire liquor inventory of the local pub (excluding the beer barrels and a reserve bottle or two of the hard stuff Jake insisted on hanging on to for any unexpected drop-ins) into the Rectory, just in time for an unexpected visit from Reverend Standish's superior.

Luckily for everyone, the man had been highly amused, at least once matters had been explained to him, although vocally disappointed at the lack of beer. Goniff, watching the fun from the side window along with the rest of the team, ever willing to be helpful, made a quick dash to the pub to get a couple of buckets from a patient and colluding Jake, and by the time Garrison, alerted by a concerned passerby, arrived to lower the boom on the miscreants, things had gotten quite merry indeed. Who knew a bishop knew that many bawdy songs??! Or had that large a capacity for strong beer??

And Garrison had, with a shudder, set aside any thoughts of Actor's foray into the month. The con man had busied himself with sending carefully-worded invitations to several of Casino's female acquaintances, both the man's sometimes-bedpartners and those thinking they'd maybe like to give him a try. All, of course, for the same place and same time - a place and time the con man made sure he and the rest of the team, including Garrison, would arrive once the gathering was complete.

That little project had resulted in an oblivious Casino walking into a storm of quarrelling, demanding women, each convinced the others were intruding on a private invitation, every one of them drinking away the contents of Marchant's bar - all on Casino's tab! Well, the big sign inside the door, unveiled only when the team walked in, said it all, pretty much - 'Casino's Wonderful Adventures In Womanland - Open Bar - Clothing Optional'.

Garrison had watched with horror as one tall busty blonde had taken a swing at a similarly-endowed brunette, it taking Garrison AND Actor together to get them apart. In the meantime, a slight redhead had cornered Casino with a loud and very shrill demand "and I want to know just w'at you 'ad in mind, Mr. 'Aint-We-All-Just-Bloody-Sure-Of-Ourselves' Casino? There are some 'ere who are just fine with it, maybe, but I can tell YOU, I don't even do three-somes, not with another female anyroad, not to mention w'at you 'ave set up ere! You thinking you can satisfy the w'ole bloody lot of us, now? Maybe thinking your mates 'ere will join in? Or were you and your mates just gonna sit back and watch w'ile WE went at it, eh? Well, I aint strippin' and laying it all out over a table in a bar room, not even one as nice as this, so just put THAT in your bloody pipe and smoke it!"

She had flounced away and out the door, followed by three or four more obviously of a similar mind, but that still left enough to have Casino wide-eyed and ready to run for the hills. Garrison had found it all very amusing, once the shouting had stopped and he could stop dodging flying objects, and after the next group left in a huff, the women remaining had proved good company, joining him and the guys for another couple of drinks before Casino wandered away to find a room, accompanied by the blonde and the brunette who'd come to blows over him. Garrison made his excuses, not really wanting to know how the rest fared.

No, Garrison had more important things to discuss with Meghada, though he was sure he'd get around to telling her about the current month's entries sooner or later.

Though he wasn't sure how to even start with Chief's contribution. While he'd been happy the young man had started to grow so much more at ease, he really hadn't anticipated this latest turn. Gil Rawlins hadn't said much, other than a despairing "was Chief! Never expected it of 'im, I didn't!", only pointed to his jeep, then demonstrated, before going back into the Mansion, straight to his room and firmly closing the door. The Sergeant Major grabbing a bottle of strong liquor on the way had pretty much said it all.

Something told Garrison that the non-com didn't much appreciate his jeep now playing the first notes of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" whenever the man tapped the horn, not to mention those big pink and red hearts and arrows stenciled on the doors of that military vehicle. Yeah, the hearts would have just taken a little time, a little paint, but how the Chief had managed the sound effects would have to wait for another time! And possibly another bottle!

And Goniff? Garrison refused to let his mind drift in that direction. He just COULDN'T!! He'd seen what the man had dreamed up for Casino and Actor, though Chief hadn't been targeted yet and might not be, considering, but from that sly twinkle in those blue eyes, he just KNEW he was in for it too, sooner or later.

 

She'd heard him out, but encouraged him, told him she knew he would be able to work around this. According to Meghada, it would just involve rethinking the concept, going at it from another angle.

"You have been trying to convince them using what you've learned since taking control of the team, Craig. I don't see that working so well. From what I have heard of them, they don't have the capacity for understanding what you are trying to explain. Their mindset is far from there. Still, remember all those little trust-building exercise, logic exercises, and all the rest they put you through; the ones that made you wonder if they'd been smoking cigarettes of the non-tobacco sort? No, your minds simply work too differently, you have too many different experiences on which to base your beliefs. They have their 'advanced studies'; you have real life experiences, highly dangerous ones in many cases.

"Remember, THEY are methodical, and their vectors don't waver - A-B-C, all the way to Z, never changing. Two plus three always equals five. Red and yellow combined always makes orange. They are a very absolute sort of people. They think of it as, oh, perhaps like building a bookcase - a stack of materials, a set of tools, a set of instructions, and voila! A bookcase.

"Somehow, you have to show them it is NOT like that - that the 'materials' you are involved with are almost always in constant movement, and sometimes not what you'd been told or were expecting. That as to 'tools', sometimes you were expecting to need a hammer and a saw, but due to changes in the 'materials', you also needed a level or a screwdriver or a prybar. And that a set of 'instructions' is only valid as long as all else remains static. Perhaps that expanse of wall indicated a need for lumber of a certain dimension, but someone had measured the wrong wall!

"They have not been behind enemy lines, dealing with a situation that changes moment to moment. They do not, as of yet, see even the basic reality of that, much less the nuances.

"Remember the complaints, the arguments you get sometimes, when you are in a debriefing after a mission? Questioning from those who don't understand why, when the plan was 'so simple, so clearcut', it ended up not being possible to proceed with the plan as given, not and make it succeed? Sometimes not able to make it succeed at all?

"You are going to have to pull a con, one of your best, Craig. They seem to like games, especially mind games, these men. Well, indulge them. Even sweeten it up, letting them it believe it was THEIR 'ever-so-instructive and enlightening' games that made you realize you were 'explaining it wrong', that you'd realized you needed to 'follow their example'. Remember, the best con is where you tell the truth, but in such a way as to make them think THEY were the ones with the bright idea, the ones with such masterful insight."

Garrison looked at her and shook his head ruefully. "You really did use your time with Gabrielle to good advantage, Meghada. Are you sure, when you're not here, you're REALLY on a mission? NOT off pulling a con of some sort? If the crown jewels go missing, do I need to start looking in YOUR direction, not my guys?"

She grinned in rueful acknowledgement of that twisted compliment, and continued.

"Look at what changed how you thought about the men. What changed your mind about how their talents could be used to accomplish the missions. What made you realize the nuances, the things not right out there on the surface. It was actually being IN the field, having the plan crash to splinters on a rock no one could have seen buried in the path.

"Well, you obviously can't go so far as taking them on a run across the Channel; more than likely they'd not survive, and even if they did, they probably would be so busy whimpering they wouldn't pick up on what you needed them to anyway.

"Still, giving them a taste for the quickness of the changes, how the situation is one thing, then another, within a breath. How one change in the situation requires a change in the plan, which changes the situation which - well, you see, you KNOW. But you do it in language, a format they can GRASP."

Now, he sat, thinking. Well, that was pretty much how his guys had gotten through to him, more than once.

One thing that came to his mind now was the time he'd first heard Frank Keeler's name, aboard that sub when he was explaining their next mission involving that German general. The men were sort of half-listening, as was their wont, until Goniff did a double-take at the photograph Garrison was passing around.

He'd thought about it afterwards, found it disturbing, that Goniff and then the others had noticed the resemblance right off. Especially Goniff. Later, during the job, after Keeler had overcome Goniff's hesitant objections, had gotten half-way drunk, Garrison had been furious at Goniff for not taking control, stopping the man. But other than a brisk and impatient "sober him up!", he hadn't really dealt with the issue til they were back, after Keeler was dead and that headstone in place.

"How did you know that was Frank Keeler?" Garrison had asked his pickpocket, wanting to understand better all that had happened. "Or at least that the German looked enough like him to be his twin brother? You told me you didn't run with the heavy hitters."

He really didn't like to think that Goniff had been lying to him about that. It was hard enough figuring out the slender Englishman, all the layers, all the contradictions, without the spector of someday discovering that even those layers, the new things Garrison was discovering about the man, were just as much lies or misdirection as what lay at the surface.

Goniff looked at him like he'd lost his mind, or was just flat out stupid, though that look lasted for only the space of time that allowed a flicker of those blue eyes, changed immediately to something approaching a restrained patience that was somehow even more insulting, though Garrison was sure Goniff didn't mean it that way, any of it. It was just, as the one in charge, for Garrison to be reminded, even in that small way, that he was the younger of the two, in some ways far the less-experienced, still took him aback sometimes

He'd struggled to hear what he was being told, to understand. He had so MUCH he needed to understand, he'd realized; maybe that would help keep him from jumping to conclusions, the wrong ones as often as not where his men were concerned. Especially where THIS man was concerned.

"You don't get it, Warden. That's okay, maybe you shouldn't - you come from a different world. In our world, even if you don't play the game, ya gotta know who the players are. Ain't safe otherwise. End up getting crosswise of someone a 'ell of a lot 'igher in the food chain than you are - you being a minnow that a shark might not otherwise even notice, but you put yourself flat out in 'is face, spit up at 'im, not knowing no better, e'll notice you enough to chew you up and swallow you, right enough.

"Ain't like in your military, you know, everyone wearing all that bird trot, the little stripes and such, name tags even mostly. Out there, 'dangerous', 'powerful', can be dressed in just pants and shirt, or in a thousand dollar suit, sometimes in a dress, even - can talk rough or talk 'igh-class. You just can't tell as easy, so you gotta KNOW, gotta pay attention right up front. You LEARN who the players are, and you ruddy well remember!

"And Keeler and the booze? Sure, I knew you'd be pissed; couldn't blame you for being. But - "

And there was a long pause before the pickpocket admitted with a flushed face, "was scared to try and stop 'im. Not so much for then, though 'e could 'ave bashed me good even then. But - see, the war's not the only thing me and the guys 'ave to think of.

"You - you 'ave the war, the military, your family, w'atever. Me and the guys - we 'ave the war, the military - at least for now. We got family, me an Casino anyways - people we know. And we got a w'ole different world that you don't 'ave, least you didn't before all this mess started. We've got the world the Frank Keelers and 'is sort run.

"Never mind my own miserable 'ide if someone like that decides 'e wants me at the bottom of the river for pissing 'im off. That's my own lookout. But I got my mum and aunt to think of, a few friends, too - 'e gets royally pissed at me, 'e gonna put out the word for them? And that's all it would take, afore they couldn't buy food at the local shops for those being afraid to sell it to them, afore the coppers pull the plug on mum's little bookmaking operation - maybe even that newstand she runs that lets 'er pay the rent. Maybe the shop w'ere my aunt works the counter, maybe they decide they don't need 'er anymore, not if it's gonna bring trouble down. And at their age, they don't need to be shoved off the curb or down the steps or w'atever else might come to mind for some thinking to make the big man 'appy. Casino would be the same; 'is family lives in that world - a word from Keller could cause them all sorts of grief. Chief and Actor might not 'ave family, not that we know of, but someone like Keeler could do a lot of damage there, too, especially with Chief. And who'd be the one standing there, telling 'im 'no'?"

Garrison had wanted, more than anything, to promise "I will be, Goniff. I will be standing there, telling whoever it is 'no'." But he knew he couldn't; there was every chance he wouldn't walk away from this war - had come close to not walking away from a mission, many a time. That he had, that they ALL had, that was because they had each other - the five of them.

Now, sitting at the kitchen table with Meghada, running that through his head once again, he thought back to all the times when the individuals, the skills he thought he would be needing turned sideways, when he was more than happy he had someone along who could pull a rabbit out of their hat, someone he'd never even intended would play a key role. {"Well, that was why I wanted a diverse team in the first place. I just didn't know HOW important it was going to be."}

"Alright, give me an example, from your point of view," he suggested, lighting a cigarette and sitting back to listen.

And she had several, where the mission was clear-cut, the plan was ever-so-simple, truly what HQ termed 'a walk in the park' or something similar. A mission where Garrison would be relying on one or two of his specialists, the others there more as a just-in-case, or as extra hands and eyes. Only, somehow, in each of those cases, the plan went belly-up, sometimes even before they arrived; in each of those case, getting the job done required dropping one or more of the 'side-liners' deep into the action - where, if those 'non-essentials' had not been there, it would have been a total bust.

And, considering the tunnel vision of the efficiency experts he'd had contact with, the sheer linear, simplistic vision they each seemed to have as an innate part of their mindset, part of him craved the challenge of trying to get them to broaden their scope. Well, at least enough to scrap that really stupid idea of putting limitations on his team, on the other teams. Enough to protect the men of his team, the men who were his responsibility.

Together they came up with a possible method, and Garrison had to admit it was intriguing, had considerable potential. Still, it was a major undertaking, involving skills and resources he didn't have at his disposal, certainly couldn't develop in the time needed.

"And you think we can get this ready in time?" he asked.

She'd nodded confidently.

"Oh, I have the resources, certainly, once you decide on which examples to use. Pick one, we'll start. The rest will come easier once we get a format in place. I'll get the notebooks and colored pens, as well as the bourbon and glasses. I expect we'll need plenty of each!"

He gave her a dry look. "So, in addition to having resources in the 'color cartoon film' industry, you also have resources in the illustration and publication industry. Well, I suppose THAT makes sense, what with your own writing. But this would be technical stuff. Would they . . . Ah, scratch that. Of course they would, knowing you."

 

That second meeting was one the efficiency experts had thought was completely unnecessary. The first one had been totally non-productive, resulting only in frustration on both sides. And in their opinion, if this Lieutenant Garrison couldn't make himself understood in plain words, well enough to bring them around to his side of the argument, then it was obvious he hadn't a very strong case.

Still, it was intriguing, that invitation, especially the part about 'interactive exercises to illustrate the points involved'. The odd designation of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was even more so, as it was something they'd not heard of before, and in their field you'd have thought they would have if it were frequently used. Hmmmmm.

So there they sat, at first in chairs gathered in front of the center podium. They thumbed through the multiple paper booklets they were handed, noting with approval the professional typesetting and illustrations, the way the booklets opened to each page easily, making them easy to handle. There were tables and chairs scattered along the walls, a cup of pencils on each table; it had been explained that was where they would actually engage in the exercises.

Major Kevin Richards did the introduction, leaving the team leaders, Garrison, Ainsley, and Reynolds only to nod amiably and smile at those gathered.

"While I am here as an observer primarily, I was asked to give a little background. Some of our best team leaders were involved in preparing this little exercise. Other than taking you into the field, and gentlemen, while that might be effective, frankly, you are each far too valuable to risk in such a manner, it was deemed this might give you some added insight into what our teams, our team leaders face each time they head out.

"A great deal of effort was put into this, to make each exercise realistic. And before anyone suggests these were somehow manipulated to cast a favorable light one way or the other, I can assure you EACH exercise was taken directly from one or other of the missions these men and their compatriots have undertaken, as well as the events that followed, the variables that presented themselves within that scope. I think you will find them of interest."

Well, the booklets certainly were interesting. Each expert received three totally different ones, to be completed by the middle of the afternoon - three for each of the four men, twelve cases in all.

Each, a mission, the situation, the 'lay of the land' so to speak. The initial plan, carefully laid out - the men available to be involved, the talents they each possessed.

Then, just as each participant was getting very confident, knowing just which answer to select of the multiple-choice questions at the end of a section, something would throw a bar into the works. In one case, the team leader himself (the one with the plan securely in his head - in ONLY HIS head, not shared with the others out of insistence on strict 'need to know' criteria) is injured, unconscious, catching a bullet from a sniper, as soon as his parachute landed. In another, perhaps the expert doing the 'ride-along' is found to be reluctant or unable to live up to his end of the bargain; in another, perhaps their contact simply didn't appear. Perhaps the exit was fouled by weather or troop movements; perhaps the target wasn't where intel had claimed he would be. Oh, any myriad of things!

Sometimes, it was their ANSWER to the questions that would change the equation, as the puzzled frowns and occasional 'hmmmm!' played witness to. {" 'If your answer was A, the result would be . . . . Turn to Page 7 to continue. If your answer was B, the result would be . . . . Turn to page 12 to continue.' Good grief, how complicated! Quite intriguing, though!"}.

In some cases, their answer to a question required them to pull a card from a deck placed on a central table; in others, it required the casting of a pair of dice. For as Teamleader Reynolds explained, after the first complaint, "a mission is like that, you know. You aren't solely in control; there are any number of factors, and not just the enemy. The civilian noncombatants, the physical damage caused to the scene from bombing or artillery - the weather, the phase of the moon, whether a river is placid or raging - a river, by the way, you had no intention of being anywhere near until circumstances changed to make it necessary. Things you can never know going in, and each of them can pull the rug out from under you, make you have to reassess, reformulate your plan."

Garrison had carefully edited some of his 'lessons' based on actual missions, leaving out some of the details that would not help the experts understand - well, perhaps the details would have helped the experts understand far too much about his men, and that was to be avoided as well. The goal was to keep his men here, on the team, not locked up in the stockade awaiting charges or a swift return to prison!

And, while the other booklets were distinct, no two men being given the same 'mission' in any of the others, the last one was the same across the board. And was it a doozy!!! For that one, each participant could select which three men he thought should be sent, along with the team leader, on that particular mission - three, not four, though all four had full descriptions of their skills, their talents.

"The last one, gentlemen, gives you each the SAME mission. On that one, you have to select which three men from the four listed as possibles you will take with you. Think, consider, make wise choices, as you are always encouraging us to do. I think we'll give you a full two hours for this one. Feel free to go back and rework the study if you decide you are on the wrong track, as long as you have come to a successful conclusion by the end of the period," Ainsley said with a congenial smile.

{"And a freaking lot of luck to each of you in doing that!"}. He'd been involved in talking Garrison down from the results of that mission; he remembered quite well all the quite-colorful cursing, almost outdoing Micah Davis in intensity.

The four participants smiled back, confident that this one, at least, would be simple. Well, from the beginning description, it was hardly worth breaking a sweat on any of the men going on that hypothetical mission. Surely deciding on who best to go would be easy enough, probably even inconsequential.

Reynolds whispered to Garrison, "was that quite fair? You almost got yourselves sliced and diced and fed to the dogs on that one, and that was with your entire team there!"

"Perhaps not fair, but I want them to see how we almost ended up very dead, even WITH the full team. The way the challenge is laid out, leaving any ONE of the guys behind would have ensured that end!!"

Richards noted the smug, confident looks on the four efficiency experts changed to more puzzled ones, then to frustration, as they flipped back and forth among the pages. There certainly was a lot of impatient erasing going on! And at the end, they all came to the same conclusion - the team wasn't coming back, not one man Jack of them.

When they'd acknowledged that fact, Garrison handed out one last booklet. "This, gentlemen, is how that mission actually went down, not two months ago. Except that I HAD my full team with me. Every man played a part in getting the job done, as they always do, in some manner or other. Every man was responsible for the team, all of us, getting home again, as they always are. Perhaps this mission was more illustrative of that than some of the others, but it is TRUE of all of them."

He then proceeded to schmooze them beautifully, Richards and Ainsley and Reynolds joining in, aided by the excellent whiskey Meghada had provided as her contribution to the con.

By the time the team leaders were finished, they'd almost had even Kevin Richards convinced that the success of that mission, of many others, could be laid directly at the feet of these four efficiency experts, and others of their sort, for their wise instruction.

Almost. Well, HE'D seen, recognized those quick side glances the team leaders gave each other, the harsh restraint needed to keep those placating smiles on their faces. There was a REASON Micah Davis was not one of the team leaders present; the man was just too stubbornly-direct to pull THAT off!

 

In the end, the members of the task force were well pleased with themselves, as well as with Lieutenant Garrison and the other team leaders. AND, more importantly, they decided changing the makeup of the teams, the numbers involved, the individuals involved, was not only unnecessary but really counterproductive.

As Richard Means, one of those experts, said to his colleagues later with a smug look, "well, I think they've all learned something to their benefit from our efforts. And I find it highly encouraging that the team leaders, particularly Garrison, were paying such close attention, enough they could extrapolate from our lectures and exercises so handily. And I do like the exercises Garrison came up with, building off the ones we offered, of course - those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' game books in particular, even the cards and dice; I think we might adapt that idea to our own lectures. They certainly do keep one's interest."

Major Kevin Richards, the Handler who'd been asked to sit in on that follow-up session, listened and fought to keep his expression strictly neutral. Actually, he was extremely impressed that Garrison and Ainsley and Reynolds had been able to carry this off. {"I don't know that I've ever seen a more masterful con!"}

For a moment he thought it might end up going sideways when Lewis Burman frowned and offered, "odd, in a way. That they could have taken our meetings, what we were offering, and give them that particular twist. If I didn't know better . . ." but then the moustached man shrugged. "Well, probably a natural progression of our own exercises, I suppose, nuanced by actually applying them in the field. Yes, the right men can take what we offer and obtain the essence, no matter how counterintuitive it might seem."

 

Later - "My congratulations, Lieutenant. Your team will remain intact, as will the other teams. Thanks to you, our four 'experts' each consider themselves even MORE gifted than before. I'm not sure the other team leaders will be extending their thanks, however. Be prepared for additional meetings," Richards informed Garrison dryly.

Garrison shuddered, sipping his drink. "I certainly hope not. But maybe, if there are, they will be a little more beneficial."

He got a thoughtful look on his face, then a slight smile rivaling Goniff's, maybe Meghada's, in slyness crossed his face. "If they aren't, perhaps with a little help from the participants, they COULD be."

He frowned then, in frustration, "those case booklets - it would perhaps be fun, prime entertainment, you know, Major, figuring out all the different scenarios, if it were all a game. You know, something to occupy your time while sitting safe and warm and dry in front of the fire sipping a drink. But it's not a game!"

Richards sighed a deep sigh of agreement. "Quite. Only a game, hmmmm. A toast, then, Lieutenant Garrison. To the day when that's all it will be, an amusing game, a game at the end of which we sweep the counters and tallies into a drawer and go about our regular business. Only a game - no longer a matter of life and death."

And Garrison silently raised his glass in return, the two of them drinking to the day when 'war games' might be just that and no more.

And then Garrison remembered, just as he swallowed the last of the whiskey, he still had tomorrow to look forward to. Tomorrow, when he had to deal with the repercussions of that last bit of 'May-hem', the entry from Chief, of all people! Who would ever have thought the reserved young man would have thought of something like THAT???!!! Gil Rawlins was probably still banging his head against a wall over that bit of mischief! The Sergeant Major DID have a heavy and frequent hand on the horn of that jeep, and to have THAT piping out every time he forgot and slammed his hand down - well, that truly was groan-worthy!

And Goniff? From him there had already been two entries, and the pickpocket had sworn that was the last of the lot, though there had been something about that knowing smirk, and his added "for the guys, anyway". One bit of 'May-hem' had consisted of replacing Casino's 'library' with copies of various learned journals, slips of paper marking the cautionary articles about the dangers of said safecracker's 'yin and yang' approach to life. The resultant howls of outrage had near shaken the building, til Goniff had laughingly reassured the man that his 'library' was still intact and would (eventually) be returned to him.

"After you 'ave a good read of w'at was left for you. Just for your own good, you see. Worried about you, I am, Casino; don't want you wearing yourself out before you reach Actor's age, you know!"

Along with that, Actor's prized and expensive pipe tobacco had developed a very intense aroma of strawberries and violets. Though that hadn't created nearly as much of an uproar as expected, since, much to the con man's surprise, it had been a rather delightful combination, one he wouldn't mind replicating on occasion. A delighted Goniff promised to give the details of that mixture to the con man, or at least the name of the genius who'd come up with the formula.

 

Once Garrison returned from that successful foray to London, there had been that last one little bit of 'May-hem, one that had been dreamed up just for Garrison, one far more private. Or at least a variation of 'May-hem'.

The smirking Englishman had explained when Garrison walked in the door of the Cottage and stopped, a little apprehensive at that sly look and laugh with which he was being greeted, not to mention his pickpocket's unusual (but not unappealing) appearance.

"Well, 'ad to 'ave something for the guys, you know, at least Casino and Actor, or they'd 'ave gone wondering w'at was wrong with me. But can't leave YOU out of the mix, Craig, not anymore. 'Eard you got in your own bit of 'May-'em' up in London with those ruddy experts. Figured it was your turn, cept 'Gaida said the only may'em she allows around 'ere is w'at she puts out, so she suggested I come up with something else. So I figured this would do the trick. Think of it as a little 'may-'mmmm-mmmm!'".

That was all offered with a highly-suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.

Garrison had looked at that perky grin, that slender body now decorated with light blue groupings of finely-scripted writing, some disappearing under the edges of blue denim fabric.{"Quotes?"}

Well, some were quotes, with the attribution line left blank but with a question mark. Others were questions - 'Which would you prefer?' - with two or three choices being given, oddly thought-provoking questions at that. Others were instructions -'Sing the first verse of . . .'. That some involved food only made sense, this being Goniff, one being 'With anything you want on the table, what meal would you choose - breakfast, lunch or dinner?'

He spotted a couple of 'Best ways to spend a lazy afternoon' - the choices there quite thought-provoking as well, even eyebrow-raising from what he could read at first glance of the parts that weren't disappearing under the unbuttoned sleeveless denim shirt and denim cutoffs his pickpocket was wearing. Obviously, ALL would require careful study and consideration. After all, he was a careful, cautious man; he wouldn't want to be making any hasty decisions, go about answering important questions too quickly! He would certainly have to consider all the options, perhaps re-read the questions a few times!

The redhead who'd just entered the room, similarly attired and 'decorated', but with gold writing, just put the cherry on the sundae!

Garrison was reminded of his mother's embroidery pens, and hoped these markings came off more easily with application of a little soap and water. A quick assurance from Meghada caused him to heave a sigh of relief, especially after the pickpocket's next words.

"Even got a spare marking pen, green, just for you, Craig!" Goniff enthused while Meghada gave an indulgent chuckle. "Now, w'ere do we start?"

{"Yes, 'May-hmmmm-mmmm!' really says it all!"}

{"'Choose Your Own Adventure.' Meghada just might have something there; might want to talk to her publisher - maybe for after the war?"}

Frankly, giving it due consideration, he thought it was a damned good idea. Stimulating. Thought-provoking. Educational, even. Especially considering what the next several hours seemed to promise. Even more so than what he'd delivered to the experts as his part of the 'Merry Month of May-hem'.

{"May-hmmmm-mmmm!"}.

He'd really have to remember to thank Meghada. Eventually. But later - much, much later.