tagMind ControlSecret Sins Ch. 01

Secret Sins Ch. 01

byAmeaner©

Commencement

It's expected that I tell my little tale, at least my side of it, and I suppose I have a responsibility to do so. At least it's a chance to explain myself. Maybe, like the Roman Catholics, I have a need to confess my transgressions, and there have been many, both great and small, all of them avoidable, yet so unavoidable. Perhaps you've been there.

My name is Tara Watts and, at the time of these events, I was twenty years of age. Taking into consideration the law of cause and effect, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where this story begins, so I suppose the most sensible beginning is to add a little background information to my name.

I was born in Toronto, but that's not my hometown. My parents were Salvationists, so they were moved around a lot, posted wherever Territorial HQ decided to ship them off to and me along with them so, as a result, I've also lived in Kelowna, Bermuda, Singapore and Iqaluit.

At the time, my parents were still posted in Iqaluit, still Captains and, because they tended to be outspoken critics of how they feel the Army has been losing its way, they'd have probably remain Captains, stationed in Iqaluit until they choose to retire or were forced to do so. Don't get me wrong, they're both dedicated Christians doing the Lord's work and always have been, and I think HQ sees that as well, but my parents see a more political, self-serving side to the Salvation Army which, in their opinion, 'taints' its works and HQ wishes they'd be a lot less vocal about it.

I was a lifer, a proud Junior Soldier when I was ten years old, a Soldier when I was fourteen, and even prouder when I enrolled at CFOT (College for Officer Training) at age eighteen. My parents were also proud of the decision I'd made to follow in their vocational and spiritual footsteps, but they (mostly my father) never stopped cautioning me about what they called 'the taint', that growing interest of the Army's upper echelons in hoarding more and more money, property and power while, at all costs, protecting its image. They warned me again and again, ingraining into my consciousness how easy it could be to unknowingly end up turning my back on The Lord and His Holy works through the deceptions of pride, glorifying self and the organization instead of Him. We are not to be glorified, these are not our works, but His.

Another thing they often cautioned me about was the uniform itself, advising me to wear it as little as possible as it promotes pride, especially when others see it. There's a reaction to it, an instant respect no matter how small, that people in our society are subconsciously conditioned to have when they see a uniform. No matter what organisation that uniform represents, no matter the individual wearing it, a uniform commands a strange deference that, according to my parents, often builds a spiritually destructive pride within its wearer. According to them, the uniform makes it too easy to begin seeing oneself as spiritually above others, separated from and somehow better than others and, as we in the Army often deal with society's most unfortunate, this danger of pride, any Christian's worst enemy next to Satan himself, is all the more real for us.

All that said, I loved my uniform. And, while I did harbour pride, it was a pride that I felt in my accomplishments, in graduating CFOT with flying colours to become an Officer, in being part of something bigger than myself, a pride in doing the Lord's work. My uniform represented these things and the lifelong commitment I'd made to them.

I love my parents, I value their wisdom and I was sure that their criticisms of the Army were, to some extent, true, but I myself had never seen evidence of these things they'd warned me about. Yes, I've met some upper ranking Officers who know of my parents and their opinions and who treated me a little differently than the other soldiers and cadets because of it. Often, especially at CFOT, I felt a certain amount of subtle pressure. Though I'd never felt any outright malice directed at me, my instructors would periodically ask me if this was really what I wanted for myself, if I was truly prepared to make the commitments required of a Salvation Army Officer, exerting a mild form of intimidation that my fellow cadets never received. For the most part, the other cadets themselves tended to leave me alone, though I don't think I could go so far as to say that they shunned me. But, no matter how I was treated within the ranks, I never took any of it personally. I knew that I had my parents' reputations to overcome, a familiar albatross around my neck that was to be expected but, in truth, it only made me study all the harder. And, apart from these personal examples, I'd never experienced any darker political side of the Army that my parents had always spoken of, certainly nothing that would make me feel anything but the righteous pride I did when I donned the uniform.

However, I do have to admit to another form of pride that the uniform brought, another reason, an admittedly shameful one, for why I loved my uniform.

I looked great in it. Really great.

At the risk of sounding vain, I'm quite attractive and, obviously, I know it. At five foot seven inches and one hundred seventeen pounds, my fit, well-proportioned body measures out at 34D-26-34. I hear a lot of comments about my tushie and boobs, always have and I suspect that they, along with my pretty face, long blonde hair and blue eyes, spared me from any more disapproval than I received at CFOT, at least from the male instructors. Attractive people tend to get further in life and that's not something I'm ashamed of. I can't help what God gave me any more than how people treat me on account of it. Besides, it wasn't like I was actively using my 'assets' for personal advantage. It's more like other people were doing that for me, and the way I look in my uniform only helplessly encouraged them all the more.

I graduated from CFOT on June twenty-fourth, twenty-sixteen and, upon commencement, was given my marching orders, so to speak. By Monday, the twenty-seventh, I found myself outside the Salvation Army Center of Hope in Regina, Saskatchewan, and I was presented with the first real-world example of how my uniform affects others. Two bedraggled looking men, undoubtedly patrons of the centre, sitting on the sidewalk with their backs against the building looked me up and down as I left my car, Bible in hand, and approached the front door. They were impressed with what they saw, but afraid to react, unable to decide how to out of fear that even a simple courtesy towards the pretty girl in the uniform could be misinterpreted as something that could land them in trouble and back on the street. With my hair neatly done up under the cute little bowler hat, my three inch regulation heels sounding like The Lord's purpose on the cement, I showed them a distant smile, one that respected them by acknowledging their existence while easily brushing aside their obvious lust for my body.

Inside, I ascended a short flight of steps and was about to address the man in the security booth when the remote, electronic lock of the door to my right was deactivated with a "Clack!" and a short buzzing sound. Like the two poor souls outside, the fifty-something man behind the plexiglass seemed unsure of how to treat me, letting the uniform in without a word exchanged and saying nothing from a neutral expression as he waited for me to proceed as though I'd been there before. There was nothing else to do but continue on so, pulling the heavy red door open, I left the outer security area.

I found myself at the end of a long corridor. Though this was obviously a staff area, the white cinderblock interior construction, despite efforts to warm it with inspirational pictures, had an underlying institutional feel that the freshly mopped, tiled floor reinforced. I could even smell the detergent, experiencing a sudden, inexplicable dislike for the place as I stood there. Not having been given any details of my posting, I only knew that I would be working under a Major Brian Hurdle, Executive Officer there, and that I was to report to him. Getting over my initial impressions, I turned to my left and walked through the open doorway, just inside what I correctly assumed was the security booth.

The attendant, a mustached man in his fifties with a slightly grown out, salt and pepper brush cut, looked up at me, his eyes doing a helpless 'up and down' of my body before his face showed a careful smile. This gesture showed his respect for me, his automatic superior. Above all others, Salvation Army Staff have respect for we Officers because they know who we are. We are ordained pastors, their uniformed, spiritual and vocational authority, and they know that their place is to facilitate our work, the Lord's work. If I told him to tell me what he was doing, he'd tell me. If I'd told him to give me his logbook, he'd give it to me. If I told him I wanted his chair, he'd give it to me and, if I'd then told him to leave the security booth, he'd do that too. This wasn't in question, and I didn't need his deferential expression to tell me as much.

"Lieutenant Watts," I greeted with a polite smile, transferring my Bible to my left hand so I could step forward and offer him my right.

He took it, shaking as his smile became a little more relaxed, eyes ever so briefly checking me out again as I decided that I didn't like this person. His visual survey of me wasn't just a chauvinistic expression, which I'd come to expect to a degree, but also suggestive of someone looking for some personal advantage. On his shirt, he wore one of those magnetic nametags, shiny gold with the Salvation Army shield and his name in black letters, identifying him as Bob Marshall, Booth Attendant. He backed up this claim with a verbal introduction of himself, striving to impress me with a strong, professional tone which, at the same time, pridefully and ineffectually attempted to pave over his necessary deference to me.

"I'm here to see a Major Hurdle," I explained, heroically battling the sudden need to laugh at how that sounded. "Can you direct me to his office?"

"Yes I can, Lieutenant," he affirmed, his smile barely hiding the same humour I fought back. "Just keep going straight down this hallway to the open door at the end. That's the reception area; his office is to the far left."

"Thank you," I replied with the same polite smile.

I've always had a talent for reading people and I'm usually right, mentally stamping this person with 'UNTRUSTWORTHY' before leaving the confines of the security booth.

The air conditioned reception area had a warmer atmosphere than the hallway did, its floor covered with a rich, deep maroon carpet, walls painted a dark beige with five connecting doors painted to match the carpet. The large fish tank bubbling away in one corner provided something to look at from the comfortable looking brown leather couch, aside from more inspirational pictures and the large Salvation Army promotional that covered one wall. It featured a pair of praying hands against a backdrop of sunset red clouds with the words, 'One Army, One Mission, One Message' printed on it.

I didn't have to wait. The door with the nameplate, 'Major Brian Hurdle' stood open, so I walked to it, knocking as I peeked inside. In the nicely appointed office, a good looking, uniformed man in his early forties sat behind a modern style wooden desk. He'd been working at his computer, busily typing something out until I knocked. Looking up, he did a double take and his eyes widened before performing the same visual survey of my body that his Booth Attendant's had, though without any deference or fear of reprisal, before showing a sudden smile.

"Lieutenant Watts," he presumed, his eyes going back for a second helping at my bust line as I entered to approach his desk. Standing to a height of well over six feet, he offered his hand, continuing with, "I'm Major Hurdle. Pleased to meet you."

I reached over his desk, shaking hands with him. He looked fit with an average build, neat, dark hair and sharp brown eyes. I returned a polite smile, slightly nervous now because of an instant, undeniable attraction to him, but also because, without having been given any details of my posting, it seemed he had an advantage over me. As far as the way he checked me out goes, I wasn't overly bothered by it. As I've indicated, I was and am used to that from men, and I even kind of liked it, one reason being that it made me feel good about myself. Besides that, since I found myself attracted to him, I certainly didn't mind the same reaction from him.

"Have a seat," he invited, gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk as he retook his own. "So, how was the trip from Winnipeg? I take it you drove?"

"Yes," I replied, settling into the comfortable chair. "I was a little surprised at how... open the prairies are, though."

"You've never been to the prairies?" he asked.

"No, never."

"It does take a little getting used to," he said, adding, "Like you, I'm second generation Army, so I've been here, there and everywhere, but the prairies are certainly unique."

"Tell me about it," I agreed. "It was the abrupt change that really got me, though. I mean, there I am, driving west through Manitoba, only half noticing how the terrain has flattened out, and then, all of a sudden, the trees are gone and it seems the whole world becomes this great field with a few trees here and there. The change was so abrupt and... it's actually a little unnerving."

He chuckled at this, telling me, "As long as you stay in the city, you never really notice it until you go towards the outskirts, where the new housing developments are. Then you experience that awe all over again. Have you seen the tumbleweeds?"

"Tumbleweeds? No, I haven't."

"Don't touch them," he warned, "They're covered with very sharp little thorns. The first time I saw one, I was amazed. The person I was with didn't warn me so, when I grabbed one for a closer look, I found out myself the painful way."

"Like the wild west," I commented.

With a wry smile, he returned, "In more ways than one. Have you been told why you've been posted to Regina?"

"No."

"Okay," he said, nodding his head with a more serious expression before getting down to business. "Within Regina is a neighbourhood known as 'North Central'. If you look on the city map, it's the area between the north and south CPR tracks and, from east to west, between Albert Street and Lewvan Drive. In two-thousand-seven, MacLean's Magazine called it Canada's worst neighbourhood. I'm sure there are worse areas in the country to find yourself, but this is judged per capita. Per person and square mile, you'll find more drugs, prostitution, poverty, suicide and violence in North Central than anywhere else in Canada. Since that article was published, the situation there has gotten worse, and the discontinuance of rags didn't help."

"Rags?" I asked.

"R.A.G.S.," Hurdle elaborated. "An acronym for 'Regina Anti-Gang Services'. While it ran, it was the most effective program in North America for providing exit strategies for those who wanted to escape the gangland lifestyle but, because of government funding cuts... Anyway, as I've said, the situation there is bad and getting worse by the day. People are afraid to walk the streets at night. To give you just one example, a man was recently stabbed to death while out walking because he was wearing a red shirt, the colour of a rival gang. Of course, he wasn't a member of any gang at all, he just happened to be wearing a red shirt."

Appalled, I asked, "Did his murderer know this?"

With a shrug, Hurdle answered, "Who can say? Even if he did, it mightn't have made any difference anyway. But it has to be remembered that North Central is a low income/low rent area. Not everyone who lives there are directly involved in gang related activity. Some are just forced to live there because they can't afford to live anywhere better, but it can't be said that they're not involved because they're subject to the criminal element there. See, some think that the problems there are caused by a lot of drugged up, crazy Indians running around with guns, but it's poverty that's at the root of all the problems. Studies have shown that its poverty, especially multiple generations of poverty, that breed gangs and all the problems that stem from them. A law abiding citizen whose financial situation forces him and his family to live there will quite likely end up seeing his children getting involved with a youth gang in much the same way they come home from school with a cold they've caught from some other kid there."

"Sort of an exponential problem" I observed, impressed with Hurdle as an intelligent man, despite his ogling of my body.

"Exactly," he agreed. "I've got some reading material for you that I think will usefully fill in the details- mostly case studies and statistics- but I think you get the picture. Now, as I say, the situation there has only gotten worse since two-thousand-seven. Lately, City Hall has offered some pretty impressive financial incentives for people with higher incomes, people who can afford better, to move there. No land taxes for their first several years of residency, healthy rebates on home improvements, so on and so forth. This is an attempt to slowly fill the neighbourhood with an upper class of people, eventually forcing the lower income families and the problems that come with them out. They basically want to transform the area without giving thought to the fact that the impoverished still exist and that they need to have somewhere to live, the fact that it's their neighborhood."

"They're trying to pave over the symptoms," I said, "rather than actually addressing the real source of the problems."

"Yes, Lieutenant, and I'm glad to see that you understand that. Of course, we in the ranks are trained to see such people as victims of their problems rather than sources of other people's problems and, obviously, those helpless citizens within North Central also see it that way. Lately, a number of initiatives have been undertaken, including neighbourhood watch groups and other organisations committed to making sure those with the most dire need are properly fed and such. They're sick and tired of the way things are, sick and tired of waiting for the municipality to do something, so they're trying to take on the problems themselves. They want to transform their community for the decent people who already live there, not for an uncaring, higher tax bracket that would eventually push them out. And I think they have a fair chance. As I'm sure you know, poverty does not discriminate and the most encouraging thing to come from this private initiative is the aspect of cooperation within the wide diversity of multiculturalism that lives there. So, the situation is getting a lot of press lately and the Salvation Army wants to support them by finding its own niche-"

He interrupted himself, suddenly looking over my shoulder towards the door with a smile. Turning around, I found myself being inspected by an attractive, uniformed woman with the same politely appraising smile as the Major's.

"Lieutenant Watts, this is my wife, Alessa. Alessa, Tara Watts."

I rose from my chair as he did, smiling through sudden disappointment as I offered my hand to the woman in her white, short sleeved uniform blouse. She was as tall as I was, maybe taller, a little younger than her husband and her medium, curvy build featured nicely rounded hips and an impressive bust line that only her strikingly bright blue eyes could draw attention from. Her long blonde hair was currently up like mine and, in her regulation skirt and heels, she looked every bit as good as I do, just in different ways. Older ways.

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