BEIRUT FILE: Shake Davis #4

Excerpted from Dale Dye’s award-winning Shake Davis series.

Quantico, Virginia
If there’s a common denominator in the experience of virtually every Marine Corps officer,it’s here, he thought. The enlisted folks remember the grinders at San Diego or Parris Island, but the officers always think back on these gently rolling hills and piney woods shot through with creeks and streams where they first got acquainted with life in the field, the uncomfortable — often miserable — milieu of Marine infantrymen. Here’s where potential generals all discover the realities of the life they’ve chosen to live for four years or a full career. Some sweat through the muggy summer heat these woods capture like a Louisiana swamp. Others shiver and shake through the frigid winters when the snow blankets the ground and turns the creeks into icy baths for the unwary who — despite constant warnings — insist on using the rickety beaver dams to attempt a dry crossing of a little blue line on their maps. No matter when a candidate first encounters the back woods of the Quantico Marine Corps base, the primary lesson is unchanging and indelible: Much of their experience as officers will be driven and directed by things they cannot control like mud, muck, wind, weather, and terrain.

Marine Gunner Shake Davis dropped onto a pine stump and gave his dog the hand signal to sit. The big Golden Pyrenees whined a bit and eyed the beaver dam across a creek to their front. “Bear, you’re just gonna have to learn not to be such a big sissy.” He smiled back at the dog’s goofy grin and shoved three rounds of light bird-shot into his pump shotgun. Leaning the gun up against a length of deadfall, he watched as Bear sniffed and snorted at the unfamiliar scent and thought about his own experiences at Quantico. He’d been based here a number of times in his 30-year active duty career, including a stint as an officer candidate when he’d gotten his commission from the enlisted ranks and a twilight tour as an instructor at The Basic School just before he retired. These woods were familiar and Shake still knew enough influential people to get permission for a little training excursion with a neurotic dog.

Jerry Shelton, the Base Game Warden, took one look at the monster animal tugging Shake around like a pull-toy and laughed. “Damn, boy! Do you walk him? Or is it the other way around?” Davis finally succeeded in distracting Bear from the squirrel he’d barked up a tree outside the warden’s office and made him sit. “Seems pretty docile once you get his attention.” Shelton, an old friend who had been in the same Warrant Officer OCS class with Shake back when they were both Staff NCOs newly-arrived at Quantico and trying to decide if they’d made a big mistake, squatted and gave Bear’s ears a scratch. “But Pyrenees ain’t hunters are they?”

“Nope, they’re bred mostly as stock guards. I don’t want to hunt with him, but I need to introduce him to the real world. He’s skittish as hell around loud noises and things like that. He’s a hundred pounds, strong as an ox, and thinks he’s a lapdog. It’s embarrassing.”

“Probably thank Chan for that.” Shake hoped his old friend didn’t notice his pained reaction to the mention of his wife. “Last time I was over to your place for drinks Bear just sat there and drooled on her lap. Wasn’t a doubt in my military mind about who ruled that roost. You’re back in the rear rank, boy. Chan is the CO…” He stood and fed Bear a chunk of beef jerky. “And this here is the XO.”

Steering the conversation away from his missing spouse, Shake pulled a Stevens 12-gauge out of its case, jacked open the bolt, and handed it to his friend. “Got this last year and haven’t had a chance to use it much.”

Shelton looked over the compact scatter-gun with professional interest in the ghost-ring sights, flat black finish, and shell-rack on the polymer stock. “I’d hope not. This thing’s all tricked out for combat. Won’t have much luck wing shooting with it, I’d expect.” “I don’t want birds, Jerry. I want a dog that won’t piss himself every time a car backfires. I’m just gonna take him out in the woods on a leash and crank off a few rounds so he can see the world won’t end.”

Shelton chuckled, handed back the shotgun, and pulled a Quantico map out of his back pocket. He unfolded it and showed Shake an area cross-hatched in red. “This patch is about ten acres that we usually reserve for deer hunters. It’s out of season, so there won’t be any armed idiots wandering around, and it’s off limits for OCS or TBS training. You can let her rip at will anywhere out there.” He handed Shake the map and watched the big dog pull his friend toward the woods. “Guess I don’t have to remind you to stay off the beaver dams. They wouldn’t hold our weight way back when — and they still won’t.”

Shake Davis jerked Bear’s leash and shouted over his shoulder. “Thanks, Jerry. There’s a guy I’m supposed to meet while I’m here. I gave him your name and number. If he shows up or calls, tell him to call me on my cell. Name’s Bayer.”

Shake was feeling more like the Marquis de Sade than the Dog Whisperer as he watched Bear closely and fired a sixth round toward a nicely-peppered pine tree. The big mutt still startled and tensed as the shotgun fired, but at least he wasn’t strangling himself pulling on the leash and trying to un-ass the area at high speed. “It’s all right, buddy. It’s OK to be alert.” Shake put down the shotgun and wrapped an arm around Bear. He was relieved to notice the dog wasn’t shivering in sheer panic as he’d been when they started. “You’ll learn, big boy. These things are only scary when someone’s pointing them at you.”

He was standing next to a beaver dam watching Bear lap up clear, cold water and sniff around for something to chase when Shake’s cell phone vibrated. The number showing on the screen was unfamiliar, but he was fairly certain it would be the man who calls himself Bayer. His old mentor and senior intelligence operative changed numbers like most people changed underwear, almost as often as he changed agencies or assignments in the shadowy world of counter-terrorist activities.

“Your game warden buddy tells me you’re here at Quantico.” As usual, Bayer’s voice sounded jocular and carefree as if it was nothing but a social call, just a chat with an old friend to catch up on life and times. Shake listened and thought of the times a similar innocuous call had led him into dangerous, off-the-books, under-the-radar excursions — and recently dumped some serious ice into his marriage to Chan Dwyer Davis who also worked in the nether regions of the Intel business. “I’d call it just a pleasant coincidence,” Bayer continued, “but my service said you’ve been looking for me.”

“A guy I know told me there’s some high-level CT conference happening out at the FBI Academy. When I couldn’t get you on the phone, I figured you’d be here, so I took a shot. I need to talk to you.”

“I’m not much of a hand at dog training, Shake. Maybe we could arrange…”

“Don’t give me that shit!” Shake cut him off abruptly. “And this is no joke, Bayer. I need to talk to you — in person and right now. You can afford a half-hour away from the spooks. You owe me that much after the Korea deal and all the other stuff.”

“Is that what this is about, Shake? Mike is OK, believe me. He’s home from Korea and drawing a retirement check. I’ve got his contact information.”

“It’s not about Mike. I spoke to him yesterday. I want to talk about Chan.”

“What about Chan?”

“She’s gone. I got a note saying she was on assignment just before I left Korea. She didn’t say shit about the assignment or where she was going. I think you probably know.”

“I assure you I don’t know, Shake.”

“Say that to my face. Just tell me where you are. I’ll be there in under an hour.” There was a long pause. Shake thought Bayer might be checking with someone or just thinking about what he should or shouldn’t say. He was convinced Bayer knew something.

“Twenty minutes…out by the Game Warden’s office. We can take a little walk in the woods.”

The man who calls himself Bayer crawled stiffly out of a black Chevy Tahoe with tinted windows and government license plates. Shake watched him approach and noted the slight limp from the hip replacement surgery done shortly after they’d all returned from South Korea. Except for the gimpy gait, Bayer hadn’t changed much since the first time Shake met him just before the MIA thing in Vietnam. Bayer was involved up to his creaky hips in clandestine activities all over the world — some of the most serious threats ever conceived by some of the most evil bastards on the planet. He was a serious player in the convoluted, ever-shifting sand castle of worldwide counter-terrorism, and yet he looked like a mild-mannered CPA or a seedy back-room newspaper editor. The man had a habit of reaching outside the system for dangerous favors when the right cards weren’t in the devious deck he played.

For retired Tier One Special Operator Gunner Shake Davis, so far that included the bio-war threat in the South Pacific and the most recent North Korean WMD craziness. Shake watched and wondered as Bayer approached wearing an innocuous grin. Was there a weapon tucked somewhere beneath the well-cut camel-hair blazer? If so, what would it be: a little whorehouse belly-gun with fancy grips or something big and intimidating with a muzzle that looked like the Holland Tunnel? With Bayer you never knew. His looks were intentionally deceiving.

They shook hands, and by mutual inclination of two old clandestine service vets, headed out into the woods before speaking. When they finally stopped in a shaded clearing, Bayer knelt and ran his hands over the dog’s neck and back. Probably looking for bugs or tracking devices, Shake thought, and then decided that was unfair. Bayer was a devious bastard, but he’d always played straight with Shake and he’d been around to help when the defecation hit the oscillation.

“Like I said on the phone, Chan’s gone. She’s on some kind of mission for the DIA is my guess. There was just one short, very cold note over in Korea. She just said she was called away on another job. No details and no word since. Nothing when I got back home. I need to know where she is. We had some…uh, some disagreements. So I want to know what you know. Let’s have it.”

“You weren’t the only one feeling the heat.” Bayer found a stump and stretched his game leg. “Before she left Korea, Chan tore a fairly large chunk out of my butt. It was a full tirade, complete with some nasty aspersions about my ancestry, and a warning that if I ever again ask you to get involved in anything she would — I believe the expression was — feed me my balls on a brass platter.”

Despite the apprehensions that had been robbing him of rest for weeks since he returned from Korea, Shake couldn’t hide the smile. That was so like the woman he’d fallen in love with and married after the serious fight with terrorists out on Peleliu. She was nearly 20 years his junior and often acted like his mother, especially when he refused to quit doing the things she thought might get him crippled or killed. She was willing to put up with a lot, including his frequent absences when he was invited to visit active units and share his wisdom based on years of experience, but Chan had drawn an indelible line in their personal sandbox during the Korea deal where he was supposed to simply ferret out information to help find an old buddy in trouble. When that turned into an infiltration into North Korea and wound up with a full-blown combat confrontation in the Sea of Japan with Shake and his best friend Mike Stokey out on the pointy end of a very sharp bayonet, Chan took off for parts unknown and no word since of when — or even if — he might see her again.

“I know she was pissed.” Shake leashed Bear to a tree and sat beside Bayer on the stump. “My fault. I never should have taken off with that boarding party. It was a bad move; I knew she’d be furious — but somehow I just couldn’t help it. Something like that.”

“Yes; something like that. The old Dalmatian that can’t resist the fire bell or the warhorse that charges at the sound of the guns. I share some of the blame for asking you to go after Mike in the first place. I would never do it if I didn’t feel you were the right person to get it done when others couldn’t. It’s the nature of my beast these days. Way too often, it’s the PC Nazis that write the rules and those rules just won’t cut it outside a courthouse. I’m sorry, Shake. And I’m sure Chan will get in contact before long.”

“I’d feel a hell of a lot better if I knew where she was. Maybe if I could just talk to her on the phone or trade emails or something. I tried all the numbers and email addresses. No response either route. She’s off the grid and that means she’s operating dark — and that means you likely know where she is and what she’s doing.”

“But I assure you I don’t know, Shake. I called my usual contacts in DIA. They slammed the classified door in my face, so I called the Director personally. He says only that she’s working on something to do with the situation in Syria. They’ve got a task force monitoring that and apparently Chan is involved. Where and to what extent, I honestly do not know.”

“And you’d tell me if you did know.” It was a statement rather than a question and Shake stared hard at Bayer’s face while waiting for a response. If the man was lying or covering, he was fairly certain he’d spot the dodge.

“I absolutely would, Shake. I promise you that.” Bayer paused for a few moments staring at Bear who had now decided it was safe to take a nap. “I’ll keep digging to see what I can turn up, but whatever she’s involved in, it’s highly compartmentalized. It may take me a while to peel the onion.”

“Even if she’s deep and dark on something sensitive, couldn’t she use her personal phone or email on private accounts?”

“Tradecraft, Shake. She might be receiving but not sending.” The man who calls himself Bayer stood and held out a hand to shake. “Or she might just be teaching you a lesson. You know, giving you a little taste of your own medicine and letting you know how she feels when you disappear somewhere on a job that might get dicey. I’d just wait it out for a little while. Let me do some further research.”

They were halfway back to Bayer’s vehicle before he spoke again. “You said you talked to Mike?”

“Yeah, yesterday. He’s OK; out in Vegas making the bars and spending like he hit a jackpot on the dollar slots. Said I was lucky to catch him in the fifteen minutes every day when he’s sober.”

“Why not ask him to make a few calls? Mike Stokey is wired six ways from Sunday in the clandestine service with field operators everywhere in the alphabet soup. He might turn up something at his level that I can’t reach from mine.”

Marine officer Dale A. Dye rose through the ranks to retire as a captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, and upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors, Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. Dye has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows, including several Oscar- and Emmy-winning productions. He is a novelist, actor, director, and showbusiness innovator who wanders between Los Angeles and Lockhart, Texas. Beirut File is available wherever books and ebooks are sold.

Look for Dye’s next installment in the Shake Davis series, Havana File, May 2016. Until then. . . #LetsShakeItUp