Sneak Peak

Ghost Soldiers

1979, Venice Beach, California

           Here he was again, staring through his binoculars checking out a potential client.  As he reflected back over his life, it wasn’t supposed to go this way.  He was a Lieutenant in the Army, well at least he had been until the government brought him home from war, and then charged him, and two of his buddies, with treason.  His best friend, Billy Baxter, went crazy and was put in the psychiatric ward of the V.A. Hospital in Los Angeles.  His commanding officer, Rick Peters, and he were felons, wanted by the U.S. Army and living on the run.  It had been nine years.  Nine years of always looking over his shoulder.  Nine years of living as a mercenary for hire, helping people.  Yes, they were picky about who they worked for.  They only helped the disadvantaged, the underdog, the ordinary person who was just trying to make it in the world and who was being harassed, bullied.  That wasn’t all they did, there was the occasional rescuing of a kidnapped person and other random assignments.  Whatever needed to be done to make money to live off of, but one day, one day he wanted to just settle down, to stop being on the run, to live a normal life, maybe have a wife and kids.

           “Do you see anything?”  His thoughts were interrupted by the Major.

           “Nope.  She’s sitting on the bench like Mrs. Jones told her to.”

          This potential client was more of an unusual case.  She had come to Billy looking for them.  He knew her as Sam.  She was a regular visitor at the V.A., knew most of the patients, and if you asked them about her, they would tell you that she was an “angel who saved their life.”  Billy didn’t know exactly what they meant, but he got the impression they would do anything for her.  Billy had talked to her on numerous occasions, said she was a sweet, loving kid.  When she had come to him asking for them, he was surprised she knew of the connection.  They couldn’t be too careful of a military plant trying to find them, so Billy told her he didn’t know them, but he’d heard rumors that Mrs. Jones could get in touch with them.

          Rick had watched as Mrs. Jones asked Sam the questions he was feeding her through an ear mic.  Sam was 22-years-old and looking for a friend of hers, Joe Simon, a Vietnam vet.  The guys had a soft spot in their hearts for vets, since they were vets themselves.  There hadn’t been a lot of information to go on.  Sam didn’t know what trouble Simon might be in, just that he hadn’t called her and she considered him missing.  Sam was very worried about him and willing to pay $10,000 to find him.  The entire story sounded suspicious.  Rick had even commented that surely Col. Walters could come up with a better story than that.  No normally, they wouldn’t consider taking a case like this, but Billy wanted to help her, to at least check into her story.

          So here they were, down by the beach, waiting and watching to see if she was being tailed by the military.

          “Rick, she’s got some company.”  Mark watched through the binoculars as four guys in their twenties walked up to the jet black-haired, white girl sitting on the bench.  She didn’t look like she belonged at the beach.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, nice and warm.  Everyone else was in swimsuits or at least shorts.  This kid was sitting on the bench in jeans and a long sleeved plaid shirt.  She wore sneakers and had a backpack strapped to her back.  “They appear to be giving her a hard time.”

          “Patience, Mark.  If she gets into serious trouble, we’ll jump in and help her.  We have to make sure she’s not a bird dog for the military.”

          Mark watched as one of the guys grabbed her by the arm.  She kneed him in the groin, causing him to let go and she ran for it.   “They’re chasing her down the beach.  She’s a pretty fast runner...  She’s run onto the pier.”

          “That’s an interesting move.”  Rick commented.

          “Yeah, maybe she thinks one of the fishermen will help her.”

          “What’s happening now?”

          “She’s come to the end of the pier.  Rick, they have her trapped.  Don’t you think we should step in and help?”

“Patience, Lieutenant.  They’ll have to bring her back down the pier to take her off.  We don’t need to get caught on the end of a pier with nowhere to go.”

           It was about an hour before she moved from her position.  She slowly made her way from piling to piling until she was at the shore.  Mark watched as she cautiously snuck her way up the beach underneath the pier.  She was looking and watching.  She was also grabbing her left shoulder, it was obvious she had hurt it.  He wanted to tell her that the guys who were chasing her were long gone; they had taken off the moment she’d jumped off the pier.

          He watched her look around again and then suddenly stand up, walk up the beach like nothing was going on, like she wasn’t fully clothed and dripping wet.  “She’s on the move.  I’m going to follow her.”  Mark handed Rick the binoculars, jumped out of the van, and followed the kid into a beach shop.

          Mark discretely spied on her.  He watched her pick out a shirt, a white cotton blouse with long sleeves.  She also picked out some jeans that were three-quarters, some sandals, and a hairdryer.  He moved over close to her and then bumped into her left shoulder.  She winced in pain and grabbed it.  He hadn’t bumped her that hard.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t see you there.”

          “Don’t worry about it.”  She looked up and her deep blue eyes caught his attention.

          “Are you okay?  You seem to be in pain.”

          “I’m fine.  I was in an accident a couple of days ago.  I’m just a bit bruised and sore.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s nothing, really.”

          “That’s an interesting fashion statement you’re making.”  Mark glanced down at her wet clothes.

          “Uh, yeah.”  She sheepishly smiled.  “I unexpectedly went swimming.”

          She then walked away from him and toward the cash register.  Mark got in line behind her.  The cashier was talking to two children, telling them they didn’t have enough money for what they were trying to buy. 

          Sam spoke up, “Here.  I have it.”  She offered to pay the difference due.  Mark watched her swing the backpack off her shoulder and pull out some money.  She then paid for her items as well.  Mark noticed, despite the fact she was dripping wet, all the bills she pulled out of the dark green backpack were dry.  She asked where the ladies room was located and proceeded to walk over to it and go inside.

          Mark watched the door and waited.  He could hear the hair dryer running and figured she was getting cleaned up.  It took her about half-an-hour, but when she finally emerged, Mark had to do a double take.  He couldn’t believe his own eyes.  A beautiful lady with golden, blonde hair came out of the bathroom.  It was the same clothes, same backpack, same five-footish frame, but she looked totally different.  Mark discretely looked into the bathroom to confirm that there was only a toilet and sink, no window, no way she could be a different person.  Mark watched from afar as she picked out a straw hat and some sunglasses.  One thing was for sure, she now looked like she belonged at the beach and would not stick out like she had before.

          Mark followed her out of the shop and watched as she walked back down the beach to sit on the bench.  He went back to the van.

          “I’m telling you, Rick; that is the girl.”

          “Mark, that girl has blonde hair, the girl we’re looking for has black hair.”

          “If I hadn’t been watching her, I wouldn’t have believed it either.  But I’m telling you, it’s the same girl.  There’s no way the military can be following her, she looks completely different.”

          “We can’t be too cautious.  Maybe Walters knows what she looks like in this disguise.  Aren’t you a bit nervous that she even has her own disguise?  It also bothers me that we ran her prints and all the computer came up with is Samantha Anderson, age 22 from Peaceville, Georgia.  Don’t you find it a bit strange that there was no information about where she was born, there are no school records?  Even the name of the town she’s from sounds suspicious.  Billy says she’s at the V.A. every couple of months.  If she lives in Georgia, then what’s she doing at the V.A. in Los Angeles every couple of months?  It doesn’t add up.  We’re going to wait and watch a bit longer.  We can’t be too careful.”

          Mark sat back in his seat and went back to watching her with his binoculars.  The afternoon wore on.  At one point, she got up, walked over to a food vendor, bought a hamburger and drink, then walked back to the bench to sit and eat.  She just stared at the ocean.  He wondered what she was thinking about.

          The sun set.  Rick was ready to test her one more time.  He was dressed in a police officer’s uniform and was wearing a microphone, so Mark could hear the conversation.  There was a big, beautiful full moon, so they could see fairly well, too.

          “Young lady, I’m going to have to ask you to leave this beach.”

          “Why?”  She looked over at him.

          “Because, it’s after dark and no one can be on the beach after dark, so move along.”  Rick motioned for her to get.

          “With all due respect, sir, it isn’t a crime to sit at the beach after dark.”

          “Well, young lady.  It seems you’re argumentative.   I’m going to need to see your ID.”

          Mark watched as she reached into the backpack and pulled out her license.  He heard Rick read.  “Samantha Anderson, age 22 from Peaceville, Georgia.  California's a long way from Georgia.  What are you doing here?”

          “Visiting some friends.”

          “I see, have you always lived in Georgia?”

          “No, sir, I’m an orphan.  I’ve moved around a lot.”  That caught Mark’s attention.  He was an orphan as well.  He knew what that life was like. 

          “So, if I call in, am I going to find out all this information?”

          “I don’t know what you’ll find or what you’re getting at.  If you’re asking if I have a criminal record, the answer is ‘no’.”

           Rick walked over to sit next to her.  “Why are you sitting on this bench?”

           “I’m waiting for some friends.”

           “When are they coming?”

           “I’m not sure, but I told them I’d wait here for them to arrive.”

           “What if they don’t come tonight?”

           She smiled.  “Then I guess I’m going to sit on this bench all night.”

           “And what mischief will you get into while you stay on the beach all night?  I can’t allow this.”

           “You don’t have to worry about me, officer.  I’ll just sit here and think.”

           “And what exactly will you be thinking about?  Causing mischief?”

           “You’re not a very trusting person, are you?”

           “I don’t trust kids.  They’re hoodlums.  They cause all sorts of trouble everyday down here at the beach.  So what are you really doing down here?  Who are these people you are meeting?”

           “Look, if you don’t mind, I would like to just sit here and think and wait for my friends.  There is no law against that.”

           “Look here, Missy.  I am the law, and if I say you can’t stay on the beach tonight, then you can’t stay.”

           “You seem like a nice man, and I understand your issue with hoodlums; I ran into some of them myself a bit earlier today.  However, I’m just sitting here, thinking while I wait.  There’s no law against that.”

           “What are you thinking about?”

           “My brother.”  Mark noticed there was a sudden distance in her tone.

           “Is your brother meeting you tonight?”

           “No sir, he died ten years ago.  He never saw a beach or ocean.  He would have loved it.  Look, I appreciate that you are doing your job, but I’m not a problem and the people I’m meeting are Vietnam veterans.  They aren’t kids or hoodlums.  They made great sacrifices to give us the freedoms we enjoy living in the U.S. like the freedom to sit on the beach at night.  I promise you there won’t be any mischief here.”

           “Aren’t you a bit young to have friends who are Vietnam vets?”

           She smiled.  “Like I said, I’m an orphan.  You could say my entire adopted family is made up of Vietnam vets.”

           “Well, Missy, in that case, I want to tell you congratulations.  You’ve found who you’re looking for.  I’m Major Rick Peters.” 

           Sam looked at Rick.  “It’s nice to finally meet you.  I need your help.”

         

         

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