Major-General Emmanuel Corbett was the one person least likely to sway a vote in Nicholas’s direction, even in the best circumstances. At least not since his sanction. So why Nicholas had been ordered here two hours before he left for his new post baffled him. Frankly, he got the feeling Corbett knew the ill-timed summons would cause him to miss his flight to the Kingston.
He straddled a silver maple leaf centring the navy carpet in the middle of the office. In desert tan camouflage, the general circled him. A slow glide that resembled a coyote stalking a wounded prey. His injured eye batted feverishly and seemed to look in an opposite direction than the healthy one.
“Do you think you’re the only man in this army to bury a friend?” Corbett asked.
Nicholas’s eighteen-year military career rested on Corbett’s opinion, but MacBride’s coffin still haunted him. He tightened his jaw and fought the urge to tell Corbett what he really thought. “With all due respect, sir,” he said. “This isn’t about a single soldier. The epidemic pervades all ranks, and now three men are dead.”
“Their deaths have nothing to do with the army.”
If Corbett believed that a soldier killing two fellow soldiers and then turning the gun on himself wasn’t an army problem, then there was something weird going on here that Nicholas couldn’t understand.
“I respectfully disagree, sir,” he said. “An incident of this magnitude is abnormal among Canadian soldiers and even more bizarre for Second Lieutenant McBride. I believe that this incident was the result of the abuse of neuro-stimulating drugs unofficially endorsed by certain divisions.”
“You are wrong about this, Lieutenant-Colonel Wade.”
“I don’t believe I am. It’s devastating when—”
“May I remind you that this is not why you are here in Ottawa? You are on my team to investigate why our soldiers are dying on the battlefield. You are here to use your specialized medical skills to analyze our current battle-ready gear, to address the weaknesses and to develop solutions to combat those weaknesses. You are not a neuroscientist, and you’re certainly not a spokesperson for the army.”
Nicholas and Corbett never agreed on much, so no one was more surprised than Nicholas when the Major-General chose him for the team of scientists and specialists he handpicked for his task force eight months ago.
“I am aware of my assignment, sir. But when soldiers are forced to run for cover from their own troop members because of mental impairment, it deals an unconscionable blow to trust and morale.”
“Regardless, you are not responsible for the press releases issued from these headquarters.”
“Turning a blind eye to soldiers operating while staving off mental health issues and sleep deprivation with amphetamines and other drugs isn’t an issue that we can hide behind. The issue needs to be addressed, sir.”
“Lieutenant-Colonel, are you overlooking the fact that Second Lieutenant McBride violated the Canadian military’s drug-free protocols? That killing two men from his squadron while hopped-up on drugs is his fault and his fault alone?”
“The fault is… was McBride’s, but certainly not all the blame. As such, his contribution and service to this country should not be forgotten, sir.”
Corbett halted and squared himself to his full height just under Nicholas’s chin. “First of all, no one in this army is forgotten,” he said. “Dead or alive. It would do you good to remember that when you’re shooting your mouth off in the media.”
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