The Striker – 8

Unit Four.” The speaker crackled as if to add an exclamation.

Jones grabbed the microphone. “Unit Four—over.”

Where ever you are, beat feet for Folly Beach.”

Jones mopped sweat from his face and leaned back. Wade prepared to stop and turn. “What-the-fuck—over,” said Jones.

Look for a group on the beach headed by …” The radio crackled again.

Say again,” prompted Jones.

Sorry, had to find the note. Look for a group on the beach headed by some Lieutenant Commander called Daniels.”

Wade pulled up next to a couple of hitch-hikers. “That’s a top heavy amount of brass on the beach. Can’t be for a hootenanny. Ask him what it’s about, Will.”

Watcha doin’ now, Wade?” Jones didn’t wait for Wade’s explanation, but pressed the talk button on the microphone. “Jarvis wonders what all the brass is for.”

DB on the beach—maybe.”

Sailor’s dead body? Why maybe?”

No, some teeny-bopper. They think she’s one of the missing girls. No, let me start again. There came a report of a suspected missing girl. There have been others. At least one found in a shallow grave on the beach.”

Jones looked to Wade for a reaction as he added into the microphone: “Is this another them’s do-gooder civic shit jobs?” Then to Wade he opened a new line on the hitchhikers. “You think somethin’s on with these two?”

One of them looks familiar, even in civvies.” To Wade, it was so much more than familiar, more like an old injury. The mismatched civvies couldn’t mask these two weren’t locals. Their hair was too short for their age, and they wore Navy issue black oxford shoes.

The hitchhikers were definitely uncomfortable with the slow approach of their drab black 64 Rambler American with its white stenciled Shore Patrol markings. As Wade pulled to a stop, one of the two bolted over the short fence that separated the dry gray ribbon of the Savanna Highway from untilled lush-green farmland. “Get that sucker.” said Wade.

On him like stink on shit,” said Jones. He was older than Wade by ten years, but he liked to game the runners they came across.

Jones had been holding down the mike key, and when he released it for the chase, the radio crackled, Mind yo’ talk. Miss Manners could be a-listenin’, Brother.”

Wade approached the small sailor who wore a rumpled short sleeve dress shirt with too long Levis. “You got an ID, sailor?” Wade looked at the shirt closer. It was standard issue too, but with the faint trace of lost stitching that had once held stripes on the sleeve.

The boy’s trembling thin hand held out a cheap wallet for Wade to examine. Wade noticed that his eyes never left Wade’s face. Wade waved off the offer. “Just your ID, not the wallet.” The boy nervously drew out the ID from its cracked plastic holder. There were no photos to accompany it, and probably no bills in it either.

Howard Hoover, is that right?” Wade looked for the tell-tale sign of a cassette in his pocket. He tapped at the pocket and it was firm. “Still listening to Vivaldi?”

The young boy nodded with the nervous twitch of a deer’s tail—his doe-like eyes still fixed on Wade.

Got your Liberty Card, Dusty?” Wade knew how that would turn out, too. In front of him stood the answer to a nearly forgotten question.

The boy fumbled with his wallet for a moment, and then froze. “What do you mean … How do you … Oh, yea. No. No Liberty … Shit. Vivaldi? You’re that guy.”

Wade nodded as he filled Dusty’s proper name into his report. “Yeah, that guy. Haven’t seen you in a coupla weeks, but you are still in the neighborhood, I see. Going to Savanna? Atlanta? Home?”

Why do you say that?”

Wade recognized this run-away was different from a sailor that was AWOL. He felt relieved that Dusty was within reach again, and that this was a typical bust.

About home? You probably have something to say to your folks before you pay your debt to Uncle Sam.”

Jones and the other man approached. The other man, handcuffed from behind, was finding it hard to negotiate the fence. “Jump it like you did a minute ago, prisoner,” said Jones.

He got ID?” Wade looked at the new prisoner. He was Dusty’s age, but had more maturity.

Jones waved the laminated green identification with its mug-shot. “Add Robert Mathews—Bob is it?—to your report. This one’s a brig lawyer. He know the value of keeping it with him for Hallmark moments like this.”

What’s he mean?” said Dusty.

Mean he not gonna be charged with desertion. So he think, boy.” Jones didn’t suffer fools well.

Bob attempted to shake his shoulders free from Jones’ guiding hand. It’s there in Article 85 of the UCMJ. Intent to remain away therefrom permanently. We don’t have that intent if we keep our Ids. Who would keep them if—”

Jones pushed him forward to join his uncuffed buddy. “He know the Uniform Code like quotin’ the Bible, and I got my fill of Bible thumping at my last command. Your kid look familiar.”

Dusty ignored Jones and made his plea to Wade. “And having an ID card changes things?”

Talk about it to your lawyer, if it comes to that.” He pulled open a door to the back seat and waved them both in.

Where next, Jarvis? We got these two, and the Day Duty Officer, Daniels, who normally would be at lunch bending his elbow while scouting out his retirement opportunities.”

Wade nodded. He recognized Jones’ faint formality being due to their responsibility for these two. Jones had had never asked about Wade’s change in rate and rank that served as cover for the job they shared in Bermuda. Wade was now a Radioman Second-class Petty Officer. He still outranked Jones, but now by only one stripe. The masquerade continued without question, comment, or explanation.

Jones’ where next reminded him that they were in a bind. Their duty led them back to Charleston Naval Station with prisoners, but their orders were toward Folly Beach on Folly Island. There was a saying about right and wrong ways that went back to Noah. The Navy way would work. We got brass waiting for us on the beach and the last command is the one we follow.”

I seen that movie when I was a kid,” mumbled Dusty. “I feel like one of those radiation poisoned crewmen.”

Jarvis, what’s that boy talkin’ ‘bout?” said Jones with some irritation. “Is he the missing cook? You seem to have a handle on lookin’ afta these bucks.”

He’s talking about the movie On The Beach,” said the sulky sailor that Jones called Bob.

Of course,” said Jones without a hint of empathy. “He feel like Fred Astaire. Let’s get this over with, Jarvis. It be a long day waitin’ for us.”

Sometimes, Jones, I feel like a truant officer rounding up kids playing hooky from school.” That would have been simpler to live with, but truancy wasn’t normally buddied up to a serial killing.

That’s what made the Navy different … but was that enough to ship over? Sign on for another two years?

It hardly made sense to think it, and even less to say it, but no one ever challenged him, except to dangle carrots like school and bonuses that would channel him deep into the crevasses of the system. Those who got his signature to the least of commitments—the two year reenlistment—had been the Office of Naval Investigation with their bizarre assignments.

His being a Shore Patrolman wasn’t part of their plan, but it was part of their facade, a necessary illusion, and Wade had shown convincing performances in his aggressive Shore Patrol busts in WestPac liberty ports. Doing Shore Patrol was nominally a service provided by ships in the harbor to police their own crews ashore. The only training the Shore Patrolman got came through living with men for years. It wasn’t enough for the subtleties of law or shifting cultures, but no one cared about the subtleties except for those at the initial arrest like this one. That’s where brig-lawyers like this Bob made noise.

The traditional Shore Patrolman had heard those same appeals since Noah. Jones listened, shrugged, and then forgot. Wade had to admit Jones was very traditional, and he was not. He had two kids to take care of, and already, a side trip had every prospect of turning it toward failure.

continue

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