Authors: Bob Mayer
Tags: #Military Fiction, #Thriller, #Men's Adventure, #Action Adventure, #suspense
Chasing the Son
THE GREEN BERET SERIES
A Horace Chase Novel
By Bob Mayer
Comrade-in-Arms: David Boltz, USA Special Forces, Team Sergeant ODA 055, B Company, 2d Battalion, 10
Special Forces Group (Airborne). May Valhalla Welcome You.
It was three in the morning when Lilly Chase pulled her battered Chevy into the trailer park. She was upset with herself because once again she’d allowed the manager of the Foxhole to foist off some of his closing duties onto her, therefore making her an hour late. Jenny, the sweet girl who lived two trailers down, had a not so equally sweet mother, who didn’t appreciate her daughter being left to such late hours attending to Lilly’s not quite two month son.
Lilly’s head was full of what lie would suffice to explain, instead of admitting the truth. That she could lose track of Jenny and little Horace long enough to make things that shouldn’t be important, but simply because someone asked, matter more.
It was Horace’s father’s only real complaint about her. The fact that ‘no’ was such an unfamiliar word to Lilly, that she’d put the very people she loved the most in the sad reality of her absence rather than say one little word, that was actually her right as a human being.
Closing up wasn’t even in her job description. She was exhausted after a long evening of dancing for money in the Foxhole. She wasn’t a stripper, the Officer’s Club did have some limits, but the gaze of desperate second lieutenants going through Infantry Officer Basic at Fort Benning stripped her as effectively as if she took everything off. The Foxhole was a small bar off from the main bar, which was where higher rank ruled. The Foxhole was where the fresh meat came to blow off steam. Lieutenants to be sent to Vietnam.
Lilly was so busy pondering shameful truths about herself that she nearly hit the car filling her allocated parking space. For the briefest of moments she felt the flash of righteous anger that came over her every time she came home late and had to drive around and find somewhere else to park. But it lasted only for a moment, not just because righteous anger wasn’t a weapon in her repertoire of emotion, but because she was registering the fact that no one living in this trailer park had a car so new. Or with government issue plates.
She put her car in park and turned off the engine. It sputtered for a few more seconds, the way any car that’s never seen a service has to in order to wheeze itself through the rattling gasp between on and off.
While the car died, she sat there, willing herself to believe the possibility that her husband hadn’t just died at the same moment. He could be wounded or missing. He could be in jail, awaiting a court martial, because, really, she’d already seen the soul of her impatient husband in their equally impatient son, Horace Junior.
What a ridiculous name for a baby. She had tried to fight it, but most women newly pregnant will make some promises, especially to a husband shipping out to war. She thought of the fact that his father had never seen him and now never would. She wondered what it was going to be like to be as a widow at nineteen. She thought all this in the few seconds it took to jump out of the car and run to the concrete block steps. And the door was already opening as she reached for it. A uniformed officer, a captain, was cradling her baby in his other hand. She could see Horace’s tiny fingers reaching up, searching for the breast that wasn’t there, instead fumbling over rows of ribbons and a Combat Infantry Badge. He had a green beret on his head, cocked at that same angle all those men her husband served with wore that little piece of cloth that mattered so much to them.
For the rest of her life she’d always remember that hand searching for what wasn’t there and she’d feel the rush of grief all over again.
Another officer, a first lieutenant, aged beyond his years by the ribbons on his chest, helped her in and to the couch, where Jenny should be sleeping. But he was explaining in odd words that made no sense that they’d sent Jenny home.
They hadn’t delivered the punch line yet, but she knew it absolutely, as sure as she’d ever known anything, so the words were hardly worth listening to.
Lilly began to cry, because no one sends the babysitter home, except to spare even the babysitter the bad thing these two men needed to tell her. The captain didn’t even hand Horace Junior to her, so she knew that this was her time to dissolve, to disintegrate emotionally for the time they could allow her, because soon they would be gone and she’d be alone with the feeling which she’d imagined so often.
This new explosion in her chest, doubling in size every second could continue to grow and eat her alive, except for the fact that her dead husband had left her the one part of himself that would keep her from sliding down the hole of her own grief—their son.
For a few minutes she didn’t hear their words, but allowed the feeling free rein to pulsate. And when it was a tiny fraction from ripping through her ribs and devouring her, she reached out for her baby. Through sheer force of will she stopped that feeling right there and then. She didn’t care about the officers who were being so kind. She pulled up her shirt and the bra beneath it and Horace’s fingers clasped on her and his tiny mouth nuzzled against her until he found the realness of all the mattered to him right now.
These men, these Green Berets, did not look at her like the naïve lieutenants in the Foxhole. If she’d bothered, she’d have seen tears in the captain’s eyes and the fear in the lieutenant’s who probably had his own wife at home with their own baby.
All she knew in the moment was that she was
feeding her baby her pain and never would. All the doubts she’d had about herself as a mother, which she’d written to her husband about for so many months, were as easily vanquished from her soul, as she allowed in all the words he had written back to try to reassure her about herself. That he believed in her. In fact, she realized now, they were not even close to the truest part of herself. Sometimes life shows you the truth in ways that aren’t so easy.
The men asked if there was anyone to stay with her and she wanted to laugh. Of course there was. She was holding him in her arms.
After they went out, not really reassured but relieved by her new resolve, she heard them start her car. Move it. Pull their car out. Pull her old car into its righteous slot.
She moved Horace to her other breast and thought that for just this moment everything was in its rightful place. For now, everything was as it should be.
A little while later, when he was sleeping in the bassinet next to her bed, the bed where he’d been conceived, Lilly went to the built-in drawers made of the same cheap wood that filled the entirety of the trailer. She found the letter that Horace Sr. had enclosed inside his most recent letter. Maybe some part of him knew that he needed to write some words that weren’t meant just for her. Impart something directly. She had gripped the thin envelope with such force, that even now, weeks later, it still bore the marks of her fingers.
She carried it to the kitchen, not a long walk, and used her sharpest knife to carefully slit open this most precious thing, marked on the outside simply:
To My Son
He’d told her so much in the few weeks they were together, and written even more words after deployment, enough for a lifetime. They would have to be. So she didn’t even glance at the page as she carried it back to her room. She moved the few stuffed animals off her bed that were still there, because until now she’d been a girl who needed the matted bunny and worn teddy bear of her own childhood. She carefully set them on top of the dresser for when they would become her son’s, because in the space of an hour she’d fully become the woman whom Horace Sr. had loved from the second he met her.
If being in love makes you stronger and better and more than you could ever hope for on your own, then her brief time with Horace Sr. had fulfilled all of love’s obligations. It would have to be. A lifetime’s worth.
She sat on the edge of the bed. Careful not to let one single tear stain the paper. And she never would in the years that followed as she read it to her son every night. She began to read to her son his father’s words, actually her father quoting another poet, something she completely understood, which would forever belong only to their son.
’If you can keep your head . . .
Twelve Years Ago
She exited the Combat Talon at 30,000 feet altitude and offset from the border eighteen miles. Arms and legs akimbo, she became stable in the night air as her mind counted down as she’d been drilled.
She pulled the ripcord and the parachute deployed at an altitude greater than that of Mount Everest. She was on oxygen, and had been on it for forty-five minutes prior to exiting the aircraft. The ground, and objective, were over five miles below vertically and over three times that horizontally, leaving no time at the moment for her to enjoy the view.
She had a long way to fly.
She checked her board, noting the glow of the GPS and then double-checking against the compass. She began tracking to the north and east. Then she looked about. She was high enough to see the curvature of the Earth. To the west, there was a dim glow from the sun, racing away from her, leaving her a long night of fell deeds ahead. Far below there were clusters of lights: towns, not many, spread about the countryside. She remembered the nighttime satellite imagery and aligned the light clusters into a pattern to confirm both the GPS and the compass. While she was reasonably certain the aircraft had dropped her in the correct place, mistakes had been known to happen and it was on her, not the crew racing back to the safety of the airfield. She also had to factor in the wind, which would shift directions as she descended through various altitudes.
Her hands were on the toggles attached to the risers of the wing parachute, specially designed for this type of operation. Despite the thick gloves, the minus-forty temperature at altitude was biting into her fingers.
It would get warmer as she got lower.
Hopefully, not too warm.
She’d trained for two weeks to be able to do just this jump. The normal time to fully train a Military Free Fall candidate was four weeks: one in the vertical wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, then three out at Yuma Training Ground, in the clear Arizona weather. Like all her training, hers was quicker, harder and compressed. She’d been assigned individual instructors, hard-core Special Ops veterans who knew better than to ask what the female ‘civilian’ was doing in their school. She didn’t even have a name, just a number.
They followed orders, just as she was following orders.
She shook her head. Too much time to think as she descended. The time was necessary as she was crossing from a neutral airspace into not-so-friendly airspace. She’d already passed the border, the ‘point of no return’.
It did not occur to her it was only the point of no return as long as she didn’t turn the chute around and fly in the opposite direction. If it had occurred to her, she wouldn’t be here in the first place, as such people were not recruited into her unit.
Which also had no name. It didn’t even have a number. It just was what it was. Those in it, knew they were in it. Those outside of it, didn’t know it existed. A simple concept but profound in its implementation and implications.
Her chute did have a slight radar signature, but not a significant enough one to bring an alert, definitely less than that of a plane or a helicopter; more along the lines of a large bird. And she was silent as she flew through the air, a factor that would come into play as she got close to the ground.
She checked her altimeter, checked the GPS, checked the compass for heading, confirmed location by lining up the towns against the imagery she’d memorized.
Halfway there; both vertically and horizontally.
She was making good distance, almost too good. But better to overshoot and track back than fall short. She dumped a little air, to descend faster.