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I'll Take You There

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I’ll Take You There

[An Excerpt of the Christian Crime Novel,
**]Bye Bye, Miss American Pie

[Published by Jon J. Cardwell & P. K. Vandcast
at Shakespir]

Copyright 2015 Jon J. Cardwell

Shakespir Edition, License Notes.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Thank You

Bye Bye, Miss American Pie

Newsletter

Back to Top

Chapter 1 | I’LL TAKE YOU THERE

Harvey Christmas?

Hugh thought the term odd as he walked through the crowd of orange-robed young people: girls of different sizes and shapes; some pretty and others not so, yet all without make-up; and boys, most of them barely old enough to shave, yet having shaved heads. “What y’all call ‘em again?” Hugh asked the soldier behind him.

“Hare Krishnas,” said the sergeant wearing a green beret. His Brooklyn accent betrayed his east coast roots.

“What’s that mean?”

The sergeant shrugged. “Don’t know. Shiksa one, half dozen of the other.”

One of them, a pretty strawberry blonde with light freckles on her nose, tried to give Hugh a flower. He shook his head and moved straight through the concourse. A throng of people, which seemed to Hugh, an overwhelming tsunami of undistinguishable flesh and blood and bones. The terminal chatter amplified the smells of stale cigarettes and cheap military aftershave.

The airport morphed into another scene: a crowded marketplace in Saigon. He heard Willie Paugh’s voice in his ear, We could double date in Frisco when this is over. Turning to his right, Hugh saw Willie smiling. He was dressed in a light blue shirt and khaki trousers. Hugh was dressed in civilian clothes as well. Eastern music played loudly from a stall vending spices while American, British and Australian rock and roll blared from a clothing stall across the aisle. When the report of gunfire fractured the atmosphere in the midst of the music, Hugh could not have foreseen the first stray round ripping through a board and finding a home anywhere near them. They had come this far without a scratch.

When the projectile pierced Paugh’s neck, everything moved in slow motion.

A middle-aged Hare Krishna man with glasses gently grabbed Hugh’s upper arm; while Willie Paugh’s death was still running through his mind, however. Hugh turned in a moment and drove his forearm right into the man’s neck, dropping the monk to the ground like a stone. The monk clutched his throat and gasped for air from the injury Hugh inflicted.

Hugh, disoriented a bit. He was out of Saigon and in San Francisco. He was no longer in civilian clothes, but instead, in his Navy dress blues. Hugh found himself back in the airport instead of Saigon.

“’S’go, sailor. Move it!” The Green Beret sergeant ushered Hugh forward.

“What happened?”

“Don’t know. Di di mao!”

  • * *

On the bus ride across the bay, Hugh analyzed what had just happened. At Tripler Army Medical Hospital in Hawaii, a couple of servicemen warned him about landing in San Francisco— how hippies would hate him and call him “baby killer.” And though they didn’t spit on him, hurl insults at him, or throw fresh, rotten or canned fruit, he proved to be exactly what they should have called him— a killer. He may have murdered a monk, or at least hurt him pretty badly… and worse, he didn’t feel the least bit remorseful about it. He’d become a killing machine in Vietnam and death was nothing more to him than a business transaction.

It was a small price to pay… to keep from spending the rest of his life mining coal and living in a patch town in eastern Kentucky. Hugh joined the Navy and graduated from dive school at Coronado in June 1969. He didn’t remain a garden variety deep sea diver for very long, however. Due to manning shortages from the war— as well as attrition from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training— in December 1969, Hugh was issued orders to report to the Commander of SEAL Team One at Da Nang, Vietnam.

An airman sitting in the seat behind Hugh owned a transistor radio and he found a local radio station, KRVD, FM. The DJ had a voice that reminded Hugh of some of the disc jockeys he heard in Saigon while he was with the Phoenix Program. It was a smooth voice with a soothing quality: like warm butter on a hot biscuit, Hugh thought.

“And here it is,” said the radio jock, “posting at number nineteen for all of 1972. Written and produced by Al Bell. You asked for it. Dance your socks off, San Francisco. The Staple Singers.”

Hugh listened to the lyrics. He smiled. Servicemen were singing parts of the backup and clapping along with the song. Although the song hadn’t come out at the time, it reminded Hugh of his first meeting with Willie Paugh.

Paugh was a SEAL assigned to Team One in Da Nang. He was a Second Class Engineman, though you couldn’t tell that day. No rank. No insignia. Paugh relaxed on a reclining lawn chair with a can of Bud in his hand and wearing nothing but a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers and UDT diving shorts.

“Y’all know where I can find the CO?”

“You’re blocking my sun, son.”

“Oh. Beg your pardon.” Hugh stepped to the side and his shadow followed.

“Straight on back through Cannery Row and it’s the last hooch on your right. Should find skip inside— wait a minute, what time is it?”

“Thirteen fifteen.”

“Might be in the galley. In that case, you want to go down Desolation Row to the end. The big tent’s the chow hall— wait a minute— message from I Corps or reporting for duty?”

“Duty.”

Paugh bolted upright. “Hooyah. We could use some more boots on the ground.” He stands up. “Let me slip on my rice paddy racers and I’ll take you there.” Paugh jammed his feet into his rubber shower shoes. “Let’s go… I’m Willie.”

“Hugh.”

“I’m Willie.” They stopped. “Didn’t you hear me the first time?”

“I heard y’all awright. My name is Hugh. Hugh Hunter, Boatswain’s Mate Third Class.”

Paugh smiled. “Yeah, I figured. I was just messing with you, BM3 Hugh Hunter. Willie Paugh, EN2.” Paugh extended his hand. “Go ahead, put her there and take Paugh’s paw.”

Hugh shook Paugh’s hand.

“Got to have a sense of humor in the Nam, kid, or else you’ll go nuts. Ready to meet the skipper?”

Hugh nodded.

“Mmm. I’ll take you there.”

Hugh and Paugh walked in the direction of the little tent city on the far side of the compound.

“Hugh? Like Hugh Beaumont, right? And ‘Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.’ Ever watch that show, Leave It to Beaver? Hilarious.”

This sure ain’t Kentucky. Not by a far sight.

Hugh followed a half a step behind Paugh in silence. He was already embarrassed and he wasn’t quite sure what to think of EN2 Willie Paugh. He certainly didn’t feel like confessing that he was just a seventeen-year-old hayseed from Breathitt County, Kentucky… who had never even seen a television show until just a few months ago.

The first TV show he had ever seen was at the MAC terminal in Miramar after graduating from dive school. He was waiting for his flight to the Philippines. His orders were to report to his fist command, Harbor Clearance Unit One, in Subic Bay. Although he found a few of the commercials interesting, the show that was on in the terminal was a rerun from the last season of Gomer Pyle, USMC. Hugh wasn’t impressed with television as entertainment. As far as he was concerned, if Gomer Pyle was a general sample of what TV had in store for young minds like his, he wanted no part of it.

The song, “I’ll Take You There,” ended and all the GIs on the bus were in good spirits.

Hugh pulled a small, green military memorandum notebook from the waistband of his dress blues. He pulled off the rubber band holding the short pencil to the book. Hugh wrote down some of the lyrics to the song they’d just heard.

  • * *

The atmosphere in the processing center at Treasure Island was cold and clinical. An honorable discharge issued at Alcatraz would have been more spirited. Vietnam was an unpopular war in many ways, not only to civilians, but to service members as well. The mood was somber with angry, bitter, sorrowful, frustrated and even zealous highlights. There were those who were as angry and bitter with the war as any radical university student. They, too, lost brothers, fathers and friends. Some were sad and frustrated with the lack of success in the war effort. They couldn’t understand why our troops were failing so miserably. Still, there was a contingent of members there who were still zealous for the cause; those who were proud to serve, who felt like they understood, and desired to encourage their comrades in arms to endure and persevere. Finally, there were those who didn’t want to be in the military at all, and seeing all these soldiers, sailors and airmen come in from Vietnam to receive their discharges was disheartening. This mish-mash of attitudes and perspectives turned the processing center into an emotional cesspool of anguish at its best, listless insanity at its worse.

Normally, the discharge paperwork was finished in under two hours. It took longer for Hugh because he didn’t want to return to his hometown— Jackson, Kentucky.

“Sure about that, BM2?” said the yeoman serving Hugh at the counter.

Hugh nodded shyly. The yeoman was pretty. Her nametag read, “Volger” and although she was the same rank as Hugh, YN2 Volger was six years Hugh’s senior. She had walnut brown hair pulled back in a bun and when she looked down to read his personnel record, Hugh soaked it in. What he liked best was her smell. It was smooth and soothing; not acrid or pungent, as some perfumes tend to be. She smelled— well— nice.

“You’re only twenty-one years old?”

“Yes, ma’am. Twenty-one last January. Enlisted at sixteen.”

“Don’t call me, ma’am. I work for a living. Besides,” she whispered, leaning against the counter to get close, “I’m not that much older than you.”

“No ma’am.”

“BM2, what did I just tell you.”

“Yes ma’am… uh, I mean… reckon I’ll…” Hugh shut his mouth and smiled timidly.

“I guess you can take the boy out of the south but you can’t take the south out the boy.”

“No ma’am.”

YN2 Volger smiled. “This is your DD-214, your actual discharge. You can use this as a form of official ID; and I’m sure you got all this through your discharge orientation in Pearl Harbor.”

Hugh nodded.

“Look it over. Make sure everything’s correct and sign it at the bottom if it is; or let me know if it needs to be changed.” She looked down at his record again and flipped through the pages while Hugh looked over his form, DD-214.

Hugh looked behind the pretty yeoman to see a Chief Petty Officer in his khaki uniform at a desk against the wall. Hugh estimated the chief was in his mid to late thirties. The chief was glaring at him. He supposed it was because Volger was being nice. He’d seen that look before from two senior enlisted men; once in Subic Bay from a Navy senior chief and once in Saigon from an Army sergeant major— never directed to him in those cases, however.

Volger had been flirting with Hugh, although Hugh didn’t have a clue; and she was genuinely surprised at his age. Hugh did look older than twenty-one. War can age you like that— and Hugh received advanced aging courtesy of Uncle Sam, and then some. Twelve months in the bush with the Teams can put years on a young sailor’s mind and body. A few weeks with the Operation Phoenix can make a human being downright ancient— and Hugh spent more than a year with the program.

Hugh signed the paperwork.

Volger looked up and grabbed the form. “Says here that you haven’t been paid for forty paydays.”

“Really? That long?”

“Twenty months. It happens so that won’t be a problem. What’s going to take a while is the adjustment to your travel pay. You’re entitled to a ticket to your home of record so if you’re not going to use it, you should get the pay. Hope you don’t mind sitting for a little bit longer.”

“No ma’am. Ain’t no mind for me. Y’all do what you need to do. Leastways, ain’t no one trying to kill me— ‘cept maybe the chief over there ‘cause he’s been looking at me like I was Charlie or something.”

Volger turned around.

The chief fumbled with a personnel record and looked away— but not quite in time.

“You hate VC, chief? Reckon I been in-country so long I’m starting to look like Charlie. I ain’t Charlie though, chief. Ain’t Charlie.”

“I’m sorry.” Volger closed his service jacket.

Hugh turned toward the uncomfortable molded chairs to sit for a while.

After another hour and a half Petty Officer Volger called Hugh to the counter. She handed him a large yellow envelope with his records inside: medical, dental, and service jacket. She also handed him a white, business-letter-sized envelope with two checks inside, one with his pay of $9,102.40. The other check was his travel pay, made out to him for $101.36. There was also another small, folded sheet of paper behind the checks in the envelope. Hugh opened it, looked at it briefly, folded it and returned it to the envelope. It was her name, Andrea Volger, and her phone number. He smiled but looked puzzled.

Volger leaned in and whispered, “The chief’s married and he’s been… well— I just don’t need that in my life. Call me.”

“Yes, ma’am. I will.”

“Good.”

“Do you have any questions?” she said, no longer whispering.

“Actually, I do have one. Where can I get this cashed?”

“They’ve got a cashier’s window at the PX. You know where that is?”

“Yes, ma’am. Think I saw it on the way in.”

“Congratulations, Mr. Hunter. You’re officially a civilian again.”

Hugh shook her outstretched hand across the counter. “Thank you kindly, ma’am.”

“See you around.”

Hugh smiled and nodded. He turned around and only took two steps before Volger called his name.

She pointed to the gold Trident above the ribbons on the left side of his chest. “You’re UDT, right?”

Hugh walked to the counter. He was glad to get another whiff of her pleasing odor. He leaned against the counter until his face was only few inches from hers. “Yes ma’am. Operated in the new SEAL Teams.”

“Most of you, frogs, well… most of you guys ship over. Why’re you getting out?”

Hugh was raised to tell the truth whenever possible, especially with people he liked; and he liked Andrea Volger. “I been killing a lot of people the past couple years; and I was getting real good at it. Reckon I thought I’d stop for a while before I started liking it too much.”

Volger turned fifty shades of pale.

“Thanks again, ma’am.” He whispered, “I’ll call you.”

The shiver that traveled up the timbers of her spine shook her with such alarm she nearly fainted. She wished she could get her phone number back… but for several moments, it’s all she could do to breath.

  • * *

Hugh was warned at Terminal Island to beware of certain areas in Oakland and San Francisco. He was also warned that it was inadvisable to travel alone— especially in uniform. Hugh didn’t give it a single consideration. Nothing, no place or deed, however dangerous Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Citizen might believe they were, could ever compare with the places Hugh had been, the things he had seen… or the things he had done.

After cashing his check at the Post Exchange and grabbing a quick burger and fries, Hugh, still in his dress blues, boarded a military bus headed to Fisherman’s Wharf. At the wharf, Hugh walked through San Francisco with his sea bag in one hand and his AWOL bag in another.

Traversing San Francisco’s hills with a sixty-pound sea bag and a ten pound AWOL bag wasn’t a problem for Hugh. He was young and in great shape. His problem was he just didn’t know exactly where to go. He hailed a cab.

“Where you going, bud?”

“Need a place to stay. Any recommendations?”

“Depends on how much you want to spend.”

“Reckon something I can pay weekly. Something cheap, but where the cockroaches ain’t as big as me.”

“I know a place. Get in. I’ll take you there.”

Back to Top

Chapter 2 | NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN

Hugh woke up in his hotel room at 5 a.m. He wasted no time and started his Navy diver physical training regimen: pushups, sit ups, and other calisthenics. He completed his routine in forty minutes and was out the door for a five-mile run at 5:34. Hugh finished his run and in the door at 6:10. He took a quick shower.

In Vietnam, he threw away his only set of civilian clothes. They were the clothes he wore when Willie Paugh was killed. They had Paugh’s blood all over them. After dressing in his liberty whites, he looked into the middle drawer of the bureau where he had placed his tightly rolled socks and sharply folded skivvies. A brown paper bag sat neatly on top of the rolled socks on the right side of the drawer. The bag was shaped like a thin break; inside was $8,500 in cash. To the left of the cash was a neatly folded handkerchief. It was bone white and arranged so the embroidered blue monogram was visible in the top left corner as you looked down on it. WP were the initials on the hanky.

Hugh picked up the handkerchief and carefully, almost reverently, unfolded it. Inside the hanky were Paugh’s trident, gedunk medals and dog tags.

His mind raced back to the Mekong Delta and a special reconnaissance mission. Their conversation was as vivid as if they had it yesterday.

They stopped so the JG could check his map and compass again; a five minute break for water and bearings was all they needed. Paugh pulled out his handkerchief.

“What ya’ll got there, Willie?”

“Anita embroidered this for me. Said as long as I have it with me, I’ll be coming home.” Paugh put the material to his nose. “That’s what she smells like, my man. Want a whiff?”

“Aw, that’s, uh, kind of personal, Will. ‘Tween y’all, you know?”

Lieutenant Junior Grade Falstaff folded his map and stuffed it and his compass in his pocket. “Alright. Fall in. Let’s move out.”

Paugh stuffed the handkerchief in his pocket with a big grin. “Suit yourself, amigo.”

Hugh looked at himself in the mirror. He had two rows of campaign ribbons and his Budweiser above that. He shook his head and looked at the handkerchief lying open on top of his bureau. “Shoulda had it with you in Saigon, you big dummy.”

I know, but we weren’t in the bush,” Paugh said; “Thought we were safe in Saigon.”

“You lunkhead, no one’s ever safe in the Nam. Y’all taught me that.” When he looked up from the handkerchief, Hugh went white and did a double-take. His heart went boom and dropped to his groin. “What!” Hugh spun around to look behind him. No one. He turned again to look in the mirror. Nothing but his own reflection.

He could have sworn he saw Willie Paugh dressed in his civvies, the clothes he wore the day he was killed in Vietnam— full stature and all six-foot-four, two-hundred-thirty pounds of him. Am I… Hugh wondered whether he was crossing the border that separated the dawn of reason from the twilight of insanity.

He folded the handkerchief with the same military care and precision he exercised with old glory at morning or evening colors. Before he closed the drawer, he pulled the paper bag of cash out and tossed it into his AWOL bag. Hugh closed the drawer, picked up his AWOL bag and was out of the door at exactly 6:40.

Hugh’s runs were more than just exercise. He wanted a lay of the land, which he got, having plotted out the neighborhood in his mind. He also found the bus station and a quaint 24-hour diner just a few blocks from the hotel. His first stop: the bus station.

Hugh remembered an alley near the bus station and took it as a shortcut. He got there in a block and a half and as soon as he turned up the path, a rustle behind a trash dumpster got his attention, followed by a moan. It was a vagrant who looked to be in his mid-fifties. He had a long, unkempt, salt and pepper beard. The top of his head was covered with a 49ers knit cap. The lines in his face were filled with years of California dirt and ran from fissures extending from the San Andreas fault of his rugged profile. His cheeks shined with a bronzed grime glow and he reeked like a halitosis hurricane rising from a scat storm. The old man wore a ragged Army field jacket and Hugh wondered if he had served and fallen onto hard times.

“Sir? Sir?”

The man tried to ignored him but finally looked up and locked glances for a moment.

“Sir, are you a vet? Did you serve?”

The man tried to answer but his jaw only jutted out and then up and down a few times like a ventriloquist dummy operated by a mime.

Hugh pulled the wallet from his hip pocket and grabbed a twenty. He put his wallet away and handed the bill to the man.

The vagrant scowled and tried to refuse it. A tear emerged from his right eye and ran down his cheek to form a little mud river that spilled into his unkempt beard.

“Sir, please take it. I mean it. Y’all take it. I want you to have it.” Hugh practically put it in the vagrant’s face as the old man sat on the ground.

Leaning against the building and the trash dumpster, the man mustered some strength and courage to lean forward. With a slight lunge, he reach out with his left hand and grabbed the bill. He tried to say thank you but the words just didn’t come. He wept. With his boney finger he pointed to Hugh, then to his own chest, and finally, clumsily, clasped his hands together with the twenty clutched between his two hands. He bowed his head and raised his clutched hands toward Hugh to say thanks.

“Welcome, sir. My pleasure…. Sir, look, I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. I’ve got to do this thing. Just take a couple minutes and we’ll go get some breakfast. Will y’all have breakfast with me?”

The man was sobbing uncontrollably now. He mustered up the strength that had eluded him for years. He brought his hand up and saluted Hugh. It was a horrible, pathetic attempt.

Hugh snapped to attention and gave the vagrant his best salute. “Awright, sir. Y’all just sit tight and I’ll be right back. We’ll get us some victuals somewheres when I come back. Y’hear?”

The man clasped his hands again and tried to nod through his sobs.

Hugh walked down the alley with a bit more spring in his step. The alley narrowed a bit toward the end and formed a soft dog leg in the last ten feet, so there was a blind spot as the alley spilled into the street. Hugh was met by two young men when he turned the corner.

One was square and squat with shoulder-length blonde hair. He was clearly the muscle of this operation. The other was tall and slim, wearing a loose fitting, light blue tank top with a smudge of mustard in the middle of his shirt, just below the sternum. The tall delinquent had long, stringy red hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“What’s in the bag, man?” said Skinny.

Stocky edged forward until he was only an arm’s length from Hugh. “He said, ‘What’s in the bag?’”

Skinny lifted his shirt to reveal the glint of the nickel plating from a .38 caliber revolver tucked in his waistband.

“Reckon, y’all must be one of them there quick draws or something.”

Startled and angered by the statement, Skinny reached for his pistol at the same time Hugh dropped his AWOL bag.

Stocky stepped toward Hugh but Hugh caught him in the right ear with his cupped left hand. The immediate and momentary rush of air volume and pressure invading Stocky’s tiny ear canal from Hugh’s cupped hand ruptured the blonde tough’s tympanic membrane. The small amount of fluid entering Stocky’s middle ear dropped him to the ground with vertigo so violent he began to vomit.

In the split second that was accomplished, Hugh took two quick steps into Skinny’s path. Hugh’s right leg rose with force and intent straight into Skinny’s groin. Hugh’s full one-hundred-seventy pounds was concentrated into his leg just below his knee. Skinny’s testicles didn’t have a chance. Both Skinny’s testes burst like rockets’ red glare. Contact was made just as Skinny pulled the pistol fully from his waist band, but it was too late. Lightning bolts shot through his arms until his fingertips were as drunk as little leprechauns. He lost all muscular control, doubled over with a gasp, and fell to the ground.

Hugh picked up the gun. He placed the barrel between two thick steel security stanchions supporting an anti-theft grate covering the window of the building beside them. He bent the barrel so the business end of the pistol was turned ninety degrees to the left. Hugh opened the cylinder and dumped the bullets into a drain grate on the alley floor, just a few feet from where Stocky had fallen. With the cylinder still rolled out and open, he walked back to the stanchions, which were quite effective in bending the six-inch barrel, and beat the cylinder on one of the stanchions to break the whole piece from the gun. Three good smacks was all it took and Hugh tossed the cylinder into the drainage grate. Finally, using the stanchion again, he busted the walnut pistol grip, as well as the grip frame, so there was nothing useful or redeeming in this piece of metal. He tossed it into the drain.

Hugh stood over the two delinquents. From their vantage, he looked bigger than life… or at least much larger than his six-foot stature. “Can y’all hear me? Moan if’n you can hear me.” He nudged both of them gently in the midsections with the tip of his shoe. “Moan if’n you can hear me?”

They both moaned.

“I’ll talk loud so the big feller can hear me. I got a real good memory. If’n I ever see you with a gun, attempting to mug someone else, or just getting into mischief in general, I’m going to track you down, find you, and kill you. And believe me, I’m good at it. If’n you boys paid taxes— and I don’t reckon y’all do— all my training was y’all’s tax dollars at work.” He nudged each one in the midsection with his toe again. “We clear, big man? We clear, skinny man?”

They both moaned again.

“Now, y’all caught me in a charitable mood. I’m going into the bus station and I’ll have someone call an ambulance for y’all. Now, you fellers stay out of mischief, y’hear.”

As soon as he entered the bus station, he found the security guard and mentioned that two young men were injured in the alley.

He placed the money and the bag in a locker and put the key to the locker on his dog tags. He tucked his dog tags beneath his skivvy tee-shirt, grabbed a local map from the information desk, and headed out.

  • * *

In the alley, paramedics were already examining the injuries of the young thugs. Hugh walked by without a word.

When he turned the soft corner and saw the vagrant by the dumpster, he sensed something wrong. Hugh quickened his pace and arrived only to find the man had died. He was still clutching the twenty dollar bill in two hands. Though his eyes were red from crying, there was a smile on his face.

In the diner, Hugh received a few stares from some of the patrons. San Francisco was a “sailor town” because of the military bases and Navy presence, yet, the people in that particular neighborhood didn’t typically see servicemen in the area, especially those in uniform. Most of the customers in the diner were older, retired couples. Hugh studied the local map while he ate a breakfast of eggs over medium, pancakes and bacon. He also had coffee and orange juice.

Music was piped into the speakers from the local radio station; and it was the same disc jockey Hugh had heard on the radio in the bus the morning before, “All the hits from Big Jim Pitts on KRVD, FM. This little number was written by Hoyt Axton and covered by Cher, Waylon Jennings, and the King of Rock and Roll himself— that’s right, Elvis Presley. It was Three Dog Night, however, who took it to the Billboard #73 spot for 1972: ‘Never Been to Spain’.”

Hugh pulled out the memo notebook from his back pocket and wrote down some of the lyrics.

  • * *

In the Mission District of central San Francisco, Hugh stood in front of the apartment where the Caballero’s lived. He lingered on the sidewalk, staring at the front door of the building for five long minutes.

When Hugh finally worked up the nerve to walk up the twelve steps and knock on the door, Lorenza Caballero answered with an innocent, yet quizzical smile. She had no idea who stood on her doorstep, but since he was in uniform, and a Navy man like Willie had been, she did not feel threatened in the least. Mrs. Caballero extended Hispanic courtesy to the sailor by inviting him in. “Entra por favor.”

“Beg your pardon, ma’am. I don’t understand. I just wanted to leave this with you.” He held out Paugh’s folded handkerchief. “These were Willie’s.”

“Willie?” She was more excited hearing his name. “You come.”

“No ma’am. Thank you. Is Mr. Caballero in or Anita.”

“Señor Caballero, no here. Anita, no here.”

“Ma’am, I just… want… ma’am…” The communication gap couldn’t be wider. “Ma’am, I’ll just come back later.”

“Sí, sí. Ven a cenar…. Eh, you come… dinner.”

  • * *

Hugh walked up and down the streets of San Francisco. He decided to do a little sightseeing. At Fisherman’s Wharf, U.S. Naval warships, a destroyer and a guided missile cruiser, were moored to Pier 35 South. An amphibious assault ship was tied up to Piers 30-32. The sailors on liberty during “Fleet Week” allowed Hugh to blend in easily as he took in the sights.

He stopped to grab a bite of lunch from a little Mexican restaurant near Telegraph Hill called Conchita’s. He ordered the special: chiles rellenos, rice and frijoles.

His waitress was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. Her shoulder-length ebony hair shimmered in the light. Her green eyes twinkled like emeralds. Oh, and her fragrance— she smelled nice, nicer than Petty Officer Volger.

Three sailors, who had already finished their meals, were harassing the pretty waitress. Hugh went to their table, “Y’all ain’t representin’ the uniform rightly. Shore patrol comes along, y’all actin’ like that, an’ there goes your liberty.”

“Shove off, boats,” said the biggest one, a Third Class Machinist’s Mate.

“Ain’t going to do that, fellers, unless y’all apologize to the lady.”

Posturing as toughs, the three sailors suggested they take it outside, to which Hugh obliged. On their way out, the waitress carried Hugh’s plate to his table.

“Ma’am, I’ll be right back,” Hugh said.

Outside, the three sailors spat curses and expletives.

An episode like this happened once in Da Nang. Seven river rats from Special Boat Unit were drunk and took offense to something Paugh said in his typical jovial tone while cutting up with Hugh.

“Look, shipmate, I wasn’t even talking to you, so shove off,” said Paugh.

The river rats were fired up with Paugh’s words so they got ready to rumble.

“Remember, they’re U.S. Navy so don’t kill ‘em.”

“Awright. I’ll just show ‘em what manners are.”

“Who you talking to?” said the MM3.

“He’s drunk,” said the HT3.

“He’s crazy,” said the BT2.

Hugh saw Shore Patrol, a Chief Petty Officer and First Class Quartermaster, walking toward them. They approached behind the three sailors and Hugh threw his hands up as if to surrender.

“Not good enough, boats,” said the MM3. He took a big swing at Hugh, which missed when Hugh sidestepped the huge haymaking punch.

The shore patrol rushed in with billy clubs in hand and stopped the three. “What’s going on here?” asked the chief.

“These fellers was actin’ up an’ treatin’ the waitress disrespectful.”

The sailors denied it.

“Alright, alright. Pipe down or I’ll have you all thrown in the brig.”

The three shut up.

“Let’s see your ID card, boats,” the chief said to Hugh.

Hugh handed him a folded copy of his DD-214.

The chief looked it over. “Where you coming from?”

“Saigon.”

The chief handed Hugh his paperwork. “Thanks, boats. You can shove off.” Hugh returned to the restaurant, hearing the objections of the sailors behind him.

“You’d better square yourselves away or I’m securing your liberty today.”

“Aw, chief, come on.”

“Way I figure it, you idiots owe me. You’ve heard of UDT right?”

“Underwater Demolition Teams?” said the BT2.

“Yeah, we know who they are,” said the EN2.

“They’re the frogmen, right?” said the MM3.

“Yeah. Ever hear of the SEAL Teams? They’ve only been around for ten years. They’re trained killers, especially if they were in Nam; and this one was in Saigon which means he was probably in some nasty—”

“Chief, they’re calling us back to the pier,” said the First Class Quartermaster. He held up the walkie-talkie.

“Anyway, you’re all lucky I came along when I did; and be grateful I don’t want to do the paperwork on you scallywags. Now, shove off and stay out of trouble.”

Hugh finished his meal.

“Would you care for some dessert, sir?”

“Where’s the other waitress?”

“She’s on her break, sir.”

“Dessert?”

“No. No, thank you. Wait…. Here.” Hugh handed the waitress a twenty for the meal. “Keep the change.” He pulled out another twenty and handed it to her. “Would y’all please give this to the other waitress with my apologies, for the embarrassment the U.S. Navy caused her.”

  • * *

Hugh stopped into a local store near his hotel. He bought civilian clothing, seven pairs of khaki trousers and some Hawaiian shirts. The shirts were on sale for a dollar and a half so he bought the same hibiscus pattern in seven different colors. He also bought a radio alarm clock.

  • * *

Hugh knocked on the door of the Caballero residence. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and khaki trousers with the jungle boots he wore in Vietnam. Angela Caballero, the beautiful waitress from the restaurant, opened the door, surprising them both.

After dinner, Hugh gave the handkerchief to Anita and let them all know how sorry he was for their loss.

“Were you close?” asked Anita.

Hugh nodded.

“You were with him when…”

He nodded again.

Willie Paugh’s head rested in Hugh’s lap. He was getting weak but could still talk. Hugh screamed for help while applying pressure to the side of Paugh’s neck. Bright arterial blood attempted to spurt through Hugh’s palm with every heart beat. The blood oozed between his fingers.

“Thought we were safe in Saigon.”

“No one’s ever safe in the Nam. Y’all taught me that.”

“Tell Anita how much I love her. We had plans of going to Spain when I got out. She’s never been to Spain. Me neither.”

“Y’all better keep those plans then, y’hear.”

“Tell them all how grateful I am for the whole family.”

“You can tell them yourself.”

“You look after them, Hugh.”

“I can’t.”

“Please. Promise me you’ll look after them.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Can’t what?” asked Angela.

“Uh… stay too much longer. It’s getting late and I’ll need to get going.”

Romeo Caballero asked Hugh about his plans. He told them he was going to look for a job.

“So you’re staying in San Francisco?” asked Angela.

Hugh nodded.

“You don’t have any family in…”

“Jackson, Kentucky. No, ma’am. They passed away while I was in the Nam.”

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Chapter 3 | A COWBOY’S WORK IS NEVER DONE

Only after one day, Hugh’s routine was set. He was awake at a minute before the alarm went off at five in the morning. He worked out and was out the door at 5:45 for his five-mile run.

He returned, a little winded but refreshed. As he dressed, Hugh listened to the clock radio. It was set to the morning show, “All the Hits with Big Jim Pitts.”

“I got you, bay area; you got me; and the ‘I Got You, Babe’ pop icon, Sonny Bono wrote this little number in 1972 for the All I Ever Need Is You album. ‘A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’ peaked at #8 in the Billboard Hot 100 last year and rounded out Billboard’s year-end singles at #70. Here you go, San Francisco. This morning, it’s all for you: Sonny and Cher.”

Hugh wrote down some of the lyrics in his memorandum and was out the door at 6:40.

  • * *

“I don’t take a recommendation from Romeo Caballero lightly.” Gertrude “Kitty” Katz was a thirty-four-year-old, no-nonsense private investigator with a teaming mane of auburn hair about her head. The youngest of five children, she inherited Katz Investigations from her late father, Walter, a retired inspector with the SFPD. “If he vouches for you, you must be okay. How long have you known him?”

“Just met, yesterday, ma’am.”

“Yesterday, huh? Got a resume?”

Hugh unfolded his DD-214 and handed it to her across her sprawling oak desk.

She took the government form and picked up her reading glasses from the desk. “This isn’t a resume.”

“No ma’am. My discharge from the Navy.”

It didn’t matter to her that Hugh only knew Romeo Caballero for a day. She already got the scoop on young Mr. Hunter, at least as much as she needed in order to make a decision on hiring him. He was honest and she liked that. He didn’t attempt to embellish and she liked that even more. She knew Willie Paugh before he shipped out to Vietnam and she thought, if this was Willie’s best friend in the war, he must be okay. She liked Willie Paugh but she’d never want to work with him. Too jovial. Too cavalier. This one, however, young as he was, might just work out nicely. He seemed to possess the temperament for her line of work. “Ever do any investigations or interviews in the Navy?”

While working in four-, five-, and six-man fire teams, Hugh’s skills in the craft of killing were honed to straight razor efficiency. His talents, and those of Paugh’s, had not gone unnoticed by I Corps. Operations in the brown water Navy, at least the best and most classified ones, were seldom awarded publicly with accolades and high visibility medals. Nevertheless, good, hard work often leads to positions of greater responsibility. It worked out that way for Hugh and Paugh.

They spent Christmas Day in Saigon as they were both assigned to Operation Phoenix on December 1, 1970. Hugh’s mind dredged up a memory from the past— of his first weeks in the Phoenix Program…

A thin stream of acid chowder flew straight out from the pursed lips of the small brown figure tied to the metal folding chair in the middle of the dimly lit grass hut.

Manfred smiled at the splatter of vomit on his trousers. He attempted to jump back but he was caught nonetheless. It didn’t bother him. Just business as usual.

Symmetrically, Manfred was a square; a solid block of a man. He stood five foot ten with a square jaw, square hands and a solid, square block of a body. The beard stubble on his square head was dark and thick, like little square tree stumps dotting his chin, cheeks and neck.

The little man who threw up moaned softly. He looked at the man sitting next to him, who was also tied up in the same manner; his hands were tied in back behind the chair and his ankles were tied to the front legs.

“Hey!” Manfred kicked the first man in the knee with his booted right foot. “Didn’t say you could look around!” Although Manfred was an American, his Australian accent gave him away as a naturalized citizen.

The Vietnamese interpreter shouted at the man even though Manfred’s kick already got him to face forward.

There were seven people in the little, single-room shack: Willem Manfred, Bành Lâm, the interpreter, the two Vietnamese men, each tied to a chair, Du Trân and Co Bùi, and three Navy SEAL operators, Jose “Joe” Crews, William “Willie” Lee Paugh and Hugh Hunter.

The prisoners sat side by side, both wearing light khaki trousers and short-sleeved khaki shirts with epilates, the uniform of local law enforcement in South Vietnam. Although there were distinct differences in their physical features, they both possessed a skin color Hugh found rather striking, even beautiful; like the color of rich milk chocolate. Their skin glowed pleasantly under the 60-watt incandescent bulb powered by the small gas generator running outside.

Co Bùi wore the rank of police chief and was gagged. Manfred taunted the local cop, calling him “cowboy” now and then. The chief continued to look straight ahead with a disinterested, thousand-yard stare.

“Mark my words, mates,” Manfred said to the three sailors, “cowboy’s going to talk.” Smiling at Bùi, he spoke gently, “Ban hieu khong?”

Bùi stared straight ahead silently.

Manfred smiled at his three students.

Hugh knew Bùi spoke English and French, as well as his own native Vietnamese.

Manfred slapped Du Trân in the face with his open hand. “This would be faster,” he said to Crews, “but you three need to be trained the right way. First soften up your subject but don’t go overboard. Save your time and your strength. You follow?”

“Not quite,” said Crews.

“Take Hadley. He thinks wailing on these blokes with fisticuffs for ten minutes will win hearts and minds. Personally, I think he’s just an egotistical S.O.B. and wants to prove how tough he is. There’s a better way. Help me move the chair.”

Manfred moves to the back of the chair while Crews moves to the front.

“Where you want it?” asked Crews.

“Right in front of the cowboy.”

Once the chair was positioned, Manfred pulled a straight razor from his right pants pocket. He opened the blade and inserted the razor between Trân’s waistband and thin leather belt holding up his pants. Manfred cut the belt, removed it and tossed it on the floor. He closed his razor and returned it to his pocket.

“Now… you mates… pay real close attention. I don’t use gloves. Let your prisoner identify the methods with the interrogator.” Manfred grabbed the khaki waistband of Trân’s trousers and yanked firmly. The pants button popped off and the zipper burst open as Manfred jerked Trân’s trousers down to his knees. “Humiliation,” he said to the three. Turning again to Trân, he jerked Trâns’ briefs down to mid-thigh.

Manfred stood upright and glanced at Bùi to ensure he was watching. Bùi no longer owned a thousand-yard stare. Manfred had his attention.

The square Aussie interrogator walked to the rattan table just a few feet from where they worked. He picked up a pair of channel lock pliers. “I’m as patriotic as the next fella, mates, and I do see the big picture. But the devil’s in the details.”

Manfred turned to Bùi. “You’re going to talk or worse than this will happen to you.” Turning to Lâm, he said, “I know he understood me, but tell him again for effect.”

The interpreter relayed the message again in Vietnamese while Manfred positioned the jaws of the pliers around Trân’s right testes. Bùi’s muffled yelling from under his gag could not be heard from Trân’s Vietnamese objecting screams.

Trân gave one last screaming shrill before his body went limp and he slumped forward in the chair, unconscious.

The interpreter removed the gag and gathered intelligence from Co Bùi.

Manfred tossed the bloody pliers on the rattan table. “Efficiency is key, mates. Minimum effort yielding maximum results.” He grabbed the red mechanic’s rag next to the pliers and wiped his hands clean. “You follow?”

The three nodded.

“Because for me, you see, it’s all about the work.”

“Interviews and investigations?” Hugh said to Kitty. “Yes, ma’am. Quite a few.”

“Alright. Good. One last question.”

“Ma’am?”

“Do you smoke?”

“No ma’am, I don’t.”

“Alright. Good. When can you start?”

The question caught Hugh off guard. He never imagined being hired on the spot. He looked at his watch. “Right now, ma’am, if’n you need me.”

“Excellent. Saddle up, cowboy. Let’s ride.”

  • * *

Hugh liked Kitty’s car, a 1972 Plymouth Barracuda painted Formal Black.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am. Y’all smoke?”

“No. That is, not any more. I quit and that’s why I asked if you smoked in our interview. Didn’t want a smoker around to tempt me to start again. Why’d you ask? —You can smell it— in the car, I mean— you can smell it, can’t you.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ve tried everything to deodorize…. You know something that’d work?”

“Yes ma’am. Reckon I know something that might could work.”

“What is it?”

“Just let me give it a try first, ma’am, and if’n it don’t work, y’all ain’t out nothing.”

“Alright. Good. And…”

“Ma’am?”

“You keep calling me ma’am. Makes me feel… old.”

“Upbringing, ma’am. Want me to stop?”

“No. I guess not…. You’re polite; it’s actually one of the things I like about you.”

At the McTavish General Store Kitty briefed the staff on procedures for spotting shoplifters. Vernon “Mac” McTavish hired Kitty’s agency to provide a security course for his employees as well as security consultation for his managers. She would run two lectures per day for four days in order to train all of his employees, including cashiers, stockers, office personnel, department managers, department specialists, and security personnel.

It was Friday. After this class, there would be three more the following week, starting Monday.

The classes took place in the early afternoon so the oncoming shift could be briefed prior to assuming their roles, while the off-going shift received their training as soon as the first class was over.

Mac’s store was a family-owned store in the neighborhood, and Mac bought as much of his produce and as many of his other grocery items locally in order to truly be a community store. A sixty-year-old World War Two vet, Mac was also good friends with Romeo Caballero. They were both deacons at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in the Mission District.

Kitty covered everything she could in a half-hour class. She told the cashiers and office personnel not to turn their backs on open tills; always count money back to the customer; not to make change in the middle of another transaction; that is, to complete the initial transaction first. She addressed the importance of vigilance— that it was everyone’s duty; to watch for women with very large purses coming in, and leaving small, empty boxes, or crumpled up paper in their shopping carts; how to address issues and suspicious activity so security personnel could be alerted and get involved. At the end of her talk, Kitty introduced Hugh.

“The is my associate, Mr. Hunter. He will be in the store occasionally. Feel free to use him when he’s in. Any questions?”

The group was dismissed. Kitty and Hugh sat at a lunch bench. She told Hugh she wanted him to give the next lecture, assuring him that she would fill in any gaps if he got stuck. Kitty felt just a bit badly that she hadn’t given him prior warning, but she also wanted to see how he’d hold up under pressure. That was important. She was ninety-nine percent sure she would have to start bailing him out right from the beginning.

When the morning shift entered the employee lounge, Kitty gave a brief introduction to the course and told them who she was. Then she introduced Hugh.

He gave the lecture and, to Kitty’s surprise and pleasure, he delivered the instruction almost verbatim, Hugh’s drawl, idioms and poor grammar notwithstanding.

“As Miss Kitty said, I’m Hugh Hunter. Y’all can call me Hugh. If’n y’all need any assistance in any way, let me know. Any questions?”

“I’ve got one,” said a middle-aged man wearing a long white smock. “I’m the meat manager. Why do I need to know all of this stuff.”

Kitty was about to field the question, but before she could, Hugh spoke up.

“Well, you see, mister…”

“Jayne. Curtis Jayne.”

“You see, Mr. Jayne, when I was in the Nam, I’d go out on missions with a fire-team of four, five or six men. First, we watched out for each other. Second, we didn’t just know our own job, we knew what the other fellers’ jobs was too. We trusted each other to do the job well, but having a backup who knew my job, helped me do my job even better. It promoted trust in the team and courage for what we had to get done. My team had my six and I had theirs. See, when y’all see the big picture, everything’s connected for the good for everyone. Y’all might not always be in the meat department. Y’all might come out and see something someone else missed. Safety and security is everyone’s business. If’n folks steal so much your boss has got to raise the prices; that might lead to less customers; and that might lead to fewer jobs. Some folks might have to be let go just ‘cause the store’d be losing too much money. Miss Kitty, y’all might have more to say about that.”

“No, I think that pretty well covered it.”

  • * *

Kitty leaned upon the quarter panel of her Barracuda while she waited for Hugh to come out of the store. When he finally emerged, he had two seven-and-a-half pound bags of charcoal, one in each hand.

“Is that the deodorizer you were talking about?”

Hugh nodded as he set the bags down on the asphalt. He pulled a pocket knife from his trousers and cut a straight line down the length of both bags and spread the opening out to expose the charcoal. He placed both bags on the floor behind the front seat, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger’s side. They both got in the car and Kitty drove back to the office.

“Mr. Hunter, I’m not easily impressed; but I have to tell you, today I was impressed.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“And where’d you get Miss Kitty from? You a fan of Gunsmoke?

“Beg your pardon, ma’am?”

Gunsmoke… Come on, you never heard of Gunsmoke? Matt Dillon. Festus. Miss Kitty. You know, the TV show.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Never owned a TV set.”

“Well, you’re probably much better off without one. I don’t really watch that much television myself. Really, who has the time? What do think of the Caballeros?”

“Very nice people. All of them.”

“Willie used to take care of the Caballeros; and they took care of him. You’re here for a reason, cowboy.”

  • * *

That evening, Hugh went to the Caballero residence. Angela answered the door. “Please, come in.”

“No thank you, ma’am. I’ll just wait right here. Is your father home?”

“Yes, he is. I’ll get him.”

Angela didn’t close the door all the way and Hugh could hear her call to her father in Spanish.

Mr. Caballero came to the door and invited Hugh in. Hugh declined.

“Sir, ain’t good manners to drop by at dinner time unannounced. Just want to say thanks for the job.”

“I’m glad to help. I hope it works out. Kitty’s a very good friend.”

“You and your family have a very nice evening, sir.”

“Gracias.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

Hugh was halfway down the steps when the door opened again behind him.

Angela ran down and stopped two steps above Hugh so that she looked him in the eye.

Hugh’s heart raced. He never felt like this before. She smelled like heaven, and the way the streetlights cast their beams upon her jet black hair and enchanting green eyes, the sight of her seized Hugh so that he desired nothing more than to stand there and bask in her beauty.

“I never thanked you for the tip you left me the other day.”

“No one ought to be treated like that; and sailors, especially, oughtn’t treat folks that way.”

“Maybe I’ll see you again?”

Hugh blushed and nodded. “Goodnight.”

Back to Top

Chapter 4 | JUST MY IMAGINATION

Kitty trusted Hugh to take care of the training at the McTavish General Store by himself on the following Saturday. It was her Sabbath and she wouldn’t be there. There were still four more sessions of training to be conducted, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The following Monday, Hugh helped Mac by taking the deposit to the bank so the operation would not be without security personnel.

Hugh checked on Tony, one of the plainclothes security team and walked up and down the aisles. He monitored cashier transactions and checked in with department managers.

He liked the atmosphere in the little local store. Most of the employees were young and the subtle music piped in from the overhead speakers came from the stereo in the utility closet beside the employee lounge. The stereo was tuned to KRVD and Hugh enjoyed listening to the Billboard hits, many of them from songs released while he was still in Da Nang and Saigon. Some were played by the military disc jockeys with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network, AFVN. Some were not.

“Well, it’s almost ten o’clock, my friends, and that means ‘All the Hits with Big Jim Pitts’ is coming to a close this morning. But don’t you dare touch that dial. Right after the news with Diane Day and the traffic report with KRVD’s eye in the sky, Al B., stay tuned to the Sweet Marla Sweet Show.

“I’m going to exit with this Billboard hit from 1971. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1970, the Temptations took this song to #1 for two weeks from March 27th 1971 to April 10th, making ‘Just My Imagination’ #9 overall for 1971.”

At half past ten in the morning Hugh was called to the front to accept a phone call. It was Kitty. She reminded him how important it was for him to return to the office as soon as he took the noon deposit to the bank.

Angela and her mother entered the store just moments after Hugh hung up the phone. Angela had the day off so she was able to do the shopping with her mother.

While Mrs. Caballero wandered off to inspect melons, Angela waited patiently by the shopping cart at the end of the produce aisle.

Hugh walked up behind her. “Hi.”

“Oh hi. What are you doing here?”

“Kitty’s agency supervises security for the store. It’s good to see you. How y’all doing?”

“Good. It’s good to see you, too.”

“I was wondering….”

“Yes.”

“If’n maybe y’all weren’t busy sometime…”

“Uh huh.”

“If I can take you to dinner.”

Before she could answer, her mother arrived with a cantaloupe and a honey dew melon. Mrs. Caballero was overjoyed to see Hugh. She still couldn’t pronounce his name so she called him either Alto or Guapo; and more often the latter than the former.

Mrs. Caballero still had difficulty communicating in English. With Angela translating, Mrs. Caballero invited Hugh to family dinner with them later that evening. Hugh agreed. Mrs. Caballero started walking down the aisle to find the next item for her shopping cart.

“I’d love to have dinner with you,” Angela whispered.

  • * *

After making the store’s deposit at the bank, Hugh walked down the street in the direction of Kitty’s office. Six choppers rumbled by. One of the bikers threw a beer bottle at the curb, shattering near Hugh’s feet. Hugh ignored it and kept walking.

The lead biker gestured with his right arm and took the next right. The other bikers followed. They circled around the block and stopped just in front of Hugh at the curb. A six-foot-six, two-hundred-seventy-five-pound biker got off his Harley trike and stood on the sidewalk to block Hugh’s path. The big man had a tattoo across his forehead, which read:

MONSTRUO

He had other tattoos on his body— his neck, arms, and elsewhere, to be sure; however, his forehead tat was the most obvious and stuck out like a country bumpkin in the big city. Hugh found humor in the decoration, yet his composure remained unmoved. Hugh read the patches on the left breast of Monstruo’s leather vest. They were dark green patches with a goldenrod border and goldenrod embroidered letters. At the top, it read: VATOS; below that, MONSTRUO; and below that, SGT AT ARMS.

“Hey, Pendejo,” said de Juarez, “Ju too stupid to get scared when you almost get heet wid a bottle?” Like Monstruo, he had tattoos covering his neck and arms.

Hugh was reminded of a situation when a Viet Cong soldier was taunting him behind cover across a rice paddy. When Charlie rose with his AK-47, Hugh squeezed off a single round from his M-16 and hit his heckler right between the eyes. The force knocked Charlie’s head back with such force that his grass coolie hat flew off his head. Hugh remembered how utterly idiotic it was for this man to heckle him under cover and give away his location.

Poor old, stupid, untrained Victor Charlie soldier— never more.

Although this VC shooter was trying to kill him, Hugh smiled again at the humor of his stupidity.

“Ju tink dat’s funny? eh, Pendejo?”

A SFPD patrol car stopped at the corner behind Hugh. De Juarez smiled and waved. Hugh turned to see the squad car.

“Vamonos, Vatos.”

The outlaw motorcycle club started their engines and rode off down the road.

Hugh continued on his way.

The squad car pulled up beside Hugh at the curb. The officer on the passenger side asked Hugh if he was having any trouble with the bikers.

“No, sir. They just wanted to know the way to San Jose.”

“Did you tell them?”

“No, sir. I ain’t from around here. I told them they’d have to ask Dionne Warwick.”

The cops laugh. “Got some ID?”

Hugh handed him a copy of his DD-214.

The cop looked it over while the driver called it in on his radio.

“Hunter, Hugh, BM2 (DV). I was in the Air Force myself. What’s the DV stand for?”

“Diver, sir.”

“A diver, huh? Like the frogmen or with those big suits?”

“Both, sir.”

“Lexington, Kentucky? You’re a long way from home.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’re you doing around here?”

“I work for Miss Kitty Katz.”

“Katz Investigations?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Check that out too.”

The driver radioed the new info on Kitty Katz. After four minutes, dispatch reported that everything checked out.

The officer handed the DD-214 back to Hugh. “You should get yourself a driver’s license, or at least a state ID card. Don’t want that getting all torn up…. Oh, and watch out for those bikers. They’ve been here a little over a year— from southern California— trying to form a chapter of their outlaw club up here. They’re bad news so steer clear.”

Hugh nodded.

  • * *

“Criminals and crime fighters. You attract them all, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. Reckon so.”

“I wanted you here because we may be getting some real PI work. Missing persons.” Kitty looked at the clock on her wall. “And if they’re prompt, they’ll be here in five minutes.”

The intercom buzzed and Veronica Newcomb, Kitty’s secretary and receptionist, told her that the Browns were waiting. Kitty directed Hugh to the chair in the corner. Veronica escorted George and Abigail Brown into Kitty’s Office. They sat in the leather arm chairs in front of Kitty’s desk. Veronica served tea. Mr. Brown declined and asked for water instead. Veronica brought him a glass. When Veronica departed, the interview began.

“Colonel Brown?” said Hugh.

“Yes, er, retired. Do I know you?”

“No, sir. We only just met briefly in Saigon. Y’all was working CORDS, if’n I reckon right.”

“And you know this because?”

“SEAL Teams, and later assigned to Phụng Hoàng.”

Mr. Brown nodded curtly. Turning to Kitty, “Do you think this could have anything to do with my prior military career?”

“Probably not; but at this stage we don’t rule out anything.”

Mr. Brown acknowledged that Kitty had come highly recommended; no ransom demands ever surfaced for their daughter, Sarah; local law enforcement could find nothing; and they were writing it off as a runaway.

Kitty asked for the most recent photo.

Mrs. Brown handed two photos over.

“Pretty girl. Tell me more about, Sarah,” said Kitty.

“She’s very bright,” said Mrs. Brown. “She was accepted to UCLA with an academic scholarship when she graduated from high school last year; but she wanted to stay nearby so she enrolled at San Francisco City College.”

“That’s why I retired,” said Mr. Brown. “I’d spent so much time away from home, I didn’t want to miss anymore of my family’s lives.”

“Did you bring a list?”

Mrs. Brown pulled two sheets of paper from her purse.

Kitty donned her reading glasses and gave the list a quick glance. “This is everyone you can think of who might know Sarah?”

“Yes.”

“Home, college, synagogue and the community center on Presidio are the only places of regular frequency?”

“Yes, the Jewish Community Center had a singles group she liked to attend.”

“Did she ever go to any local grocery stores or shopping malls, either with you or by herself.”

“Yes, there are.”

“Please add them to the list.” She handed the second sheet of paper back to Mrs. Brown with a pen from her desk.

“Mr. Brown, as I told your wife on the phone, my fee is $250 per day plus expenses.”

“Whatever it takes,” said Mr. Brown. “I just want my baby girl back.”

Brown’s lip quivered. He fought back the emotion in delivering those words.

Hugh felt sad for the burly, balding Air Force retiree.

“We’ll begin canvassing the school and the synagogue,” said Kitty. “I won’t be able to tell you much right now, not until we lay some initial groundwork.”

Hugh stood up as Kitty and the Browns rose from their chairs. Kitty walked them to the door, but Mr. Brown stopped at Hugh.

“Phụng Hoàng?”

“Yes, sir.”

Placing his thick paw on Hugh’s shoulder and squeezing, he said with a trembling voice, preventing the tears, “Use those skills, if you must, to find my baby. Just find her.”

Hugh nodded.

After the Browns left, Kitty asked Veronica to make three copies of the two sheets and file the original under the Brown’s case. She turned to Hugh; “Feng what?”

“Phụng Hoàng. It’s Vietnamese, a mythical Chinese rooster we Americans think of as the phoenix. It was an op, I mean, a program in South Vietnam I was assigned to.”

“Do I want to know about this?”

“No, ma’am. Probably not.”

“Alright. Good. Ronnie, you work your magic and get the addresses for everyone and every place on the list. Oh, but first on your list, call Inspector Calhoun and see if he can throw any information our way.

“Hugh, go to SFCC to talk to the Dean of Students. Her name is Jane Storey. She’ll like you. Let her know you work for me and get the class schedules for all the students on the list. You can start your interviews from there…. I know, normally, I’d take you under my wing for awhile before I sent you out on interviews, but we need to move. Twelve days since Sarah went missing so time is of the essence.

“Myself, I’ll go to the synagogue and Jewish Community Center on Presidio.” Mimicking a stereotypical east coast Yiddish accent, she said, “A goy like you, they wouldn’t give two kosher shakes of a lamb’s tail; to me, eh, they’ll talk.

“Alright. Got it? Good. Let’s get to work.”

Veronica picked up the phone and began making phone calls.

Kitty and Hugh left the office.

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Bye Bye, Miss American Pie

A LONG, LONG TIME AGO, I CAN STILL REMEMBER

Having witnessed enough death in Vietnam, much of it by his own hands as a Navy SEAL, Hugh Hunter returns to the United States in 1973. Having fled to the U.S. Navy to escape a life in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky, upon his discharge from active duty, he decides to settle in San Francisco, the hometown of his best friend and fallen comrade-in-arms, Willie Paugh.

Without a plan, except to give Willie’s SEAL trident and medals to Anita Caballero, Willie’s girl, Hugh meets Angela, Anita’s sister, and is immediately smitten. Hugh and Angela could not be more different, however. She’s a devout Christian with a college education. He’s a country bumpkin whose only talent is how to kill effectively and extract information efficiently.

When the leader of an outlaw motorcycle club has an obsessive fascination for Anita Caballero, Hugh feels an obligation, for his buddy’ sake, to intercede on behalf of the Caballero family, a family his deceased best friend cherished.

Through the Caballero patriarch, Romeo, Hugh gets a job at a detective agency, Katz Investigations, owned and operated by Gertrude “Kitty” Katz, a no-nonsense Stanford graduate and attorney whom the SFPD inspectors have dubbed “Miss Marple” for her sleuthing skills.

  • ..THE MUSIC USED TO MAKE ME SMILE*

Hugh joined the Navy at 16, and one of the comforting influences of his life is music. He’d listen to the pop and rock hits broadcasted in Da Nang and Saigon. It also helps him transition to life stateside after the war. When a serial killer surfaces and leaves a clue tied into the 1972 Don McLean hit, “American Pie,” it may prove to be a clue to a missing person case gone cold.

AND THEM GOOD OL’ BOYS WERE DRINKING WHISKEY AND RYE SINGINTHIS’LL BE THE DAY THAT I DIE

In the meantime, the leader of the outlaw motorcycle wants Hugh dead, an incompetent police inspector suspects Hugh of murder, and the first girl he’s ever liked wants him to become a Christian.

A Christian conversion doesn’t seem to make sense when Hugh himself realizes he may be as bad, if not worse, than the killer he’s trying to track down.

Will Hugh and Kitty find their missing person? Can they help the police track down the serial killer? Is becoming a Christian even possible for a trained killer like Hugh?

DID YOU WRITE THE BOOK OF LOVE AND DO YOU HAVE FAITH IN GOD ABOVE IF THE BIBLE TELLS YOU SO?

Fiction author, P. K. Vandcast, has teamed up with pastor and author, Jon J. Cardwell, to embark on a series of books in the Christian fiction, Christian historical fiction, Christian suspense, Christian mystery, Christian thriller and Christian crime genres.

Are you ready to chase down leads in San Francisco with a Navy SEAL and a Jewish attorney as a psychotic serial killer spins a song from the Billboard Hits of 1972? Can Katz and Hunter hunt him down before he murders again at the next full moon? If Christian fiction is your genre, don’t wait a moment longer. Grab your copy right now!

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I'll Take You There

Death and killing in war-torn Vietnam is all Hugh Hunter has ever known in his adult life. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 16 years of age to escape a life of eking out a living in the coal mines of eastern Kentucky. Receiving his honorable discharge in 1973, he would need to employ all the skills he has attained with the SEAL Teams and Operation Phoenix in Saigon to negotiate a daily existence in San Francisco, California. Read the first four chapters of the Christian crime novel... Bye Bye, Miss American Pie.

  • ISBN: 9781310957901
  • Author: Jon J. Cardwell
  • Published: 2015-12-02 12:05:40
  • Words: 11635
I'll Take You There I'll Take You There