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The Empty Chair - James Davis

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Chair

THE EMPTY CHAIR

by

JAMES DAVIS

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2013 by James Davis

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-640-9

Cover Artist: Angela Archer

Editor: Melanie Billings

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

To my father, who gives a new meaning to the word hero.

Prologue

The soldiers entered the classroom while Lilly tried to keep the children calm, but most of the children came from a life filled with violence and panic began. They scattered quickly when they saw the military uniforms. Cameron tried to help, but the captain of the small unit approached him to speak.

Mr. James?

Yeah. What’s going on here?

We’ve been ordered to evacuate you.

Cameron began to grow nervous, but he didn’t want the children to recognize it. I don’t understand.

Three militia groups are headed towards this village.

Cameron looked over at Lilly, who had the children huddled around her. Lilly always had such strength about her, but he noticed the fear in her eyes as she spoke. What about the children?

My men will be taking them to Srinagar until we can move them farther south.

But it looks like you apprehended the two men who were a threat to us. Why evacuate us now?

Oh, those two are just the beginning of the firestorm coming. The militants are only interested in posting your murders on their website…please!

Cameron felt uneasy. He never expected the positive things that he was doing would fall prey to evil men.

Two of my men will be leading you to the Pakistani border. There, you will be met by a US military unit that will fly you to…

The Captain was interrupted by one of the soldiers that ran into the classroom. Sir! We need to get out of this building!

What is it?

There are explosives surrounding the foundation of the building. It looks like the intelligence was correct.

Can they be diffused?

There isn’t enough time. There are too many of them.

Get everyone out of here now!

The scene was very confusing. There was an explosion toward the back of the building, and it was deafening. It had been inadvertent, probably from a faulty timing mechanism. The explosion only made the situation more frantic and other soldiers ran upstairs to help evacuate the building. The explosion blew through the cafeteria, killing the two workers inside. Smoke filled the downstairs hall, limiting visibility and causing the escape to begin a mass panic. Some of the children stampeded over each other, trying to find a place to hide. Cameron tried to push against the soldiers, who had been carrying some of the children, as he looked for Anna. However, the explosion had sent everyone in different directions. Trying to keep everyone calm became almost an impossible task.

Cameron could feel the dust that filled the hall irritate his eyes. When he rubbed them, it only made it worse. His eyes began to water, but he could still see Lilly about four feet in front of him. She looked back at him, coughing out the smoke she had inhaled on the way though the hall. The soldiers had fully extended their arms, trying to maintain a close distance, with children and adults scattered between, in order to get everyone out quickly. Cameron was worried about Anna. He couldn’t see her in front of him or behind. Yet, many of the orphans had already been taken outside.

He had to close his eyes briefly when the sunlight hit his face, after clearing the smoke-filled building. He looked to Lilly and saw her bewildered, darkened, soot-covered face.

"Are you okay, Lilly?’ he asked, as he ran forward to meet her.

I’m fine! Where is Anna?

Cameron eyed the soldiers who were trying to push the group of civilians inside the building across the street. With the militants in the area, the last thing that Captain Patel wanted was for the Americans to become open targets.

She’s probably inside with the rest of the children. He tried to console her, but it wasn’t easing her any more than it was him.

The couple searched as the rest of the orphans were brought into the room, but Anna was nowhere to be found. Where is she? Lilly said with fear in her voice. This can’t be happening! We just…

Cameron tried to reassure her before he went back down the hall to see if the other soldiers were bringing her in, but he ran into the last group as he stepped outside.

You need to get back inside, one of the soldiers yelled to Cameron. The man placed his hands on Cameron’s chest and began to push him back toward the bedroom.

One of the children is missing. I need to go back to the orphanage.

I’m sorry. That building could go at any time!

You don’t understand. I need to find her.

We can’t allow you anywhere near it.

There was no way Cameron was going let anyone keep him from finding his daughter. He pushed the soldier aside and moved toward the orphanage, but two other soldiers quickly grabbed him. He struggled with them as they tried to push him back into the doorway.

Anna! he began to yell. Anna!

Lilly heard him yelling from inside the bedroom and looked out the open window. One of the soldiers tried to make her sit in the corner with the children and other workers.

My daughter is still out there!

Cameron made one final push toward the door and managed to break free. His momentum carried him outside, forcefully, and then he fell onto the ground. Before he could get back to his feet, he was swarmed by the three soldiers. He wrestled with the soldiers, yet he was no match for three of them. The soldiers helped him back to his feet and tried to pull him back inside to safety. Cameron swung his arms at them, his elbows hitting one in the chest and another in the jaw. He broke free and began to run toward the building.

Lilly refused to sit down and ran back over to the window. By this time, the soldiers inside, not wanting to risk the chance of personal injury from flying debris, spoke to her from their quickly-made bunker. Ma’am, it’s not safe by the windows.

My daughter is in that building!

Two of us from the rear checked each room as we exited the building. There is no one in there.

Cameron and Lilly saw her at the same time. Cameron stopped midway to the building when he saw her standing by the window of his second story office. The house—she had hidden in the house that he had built for her.

He looked directly into Anna’s eyes for a moment, wanting to tell her he was coming. She waved her hand at him and smiled. Her teddy bear was in her arms. She was wearing her new dress and he could hear her faint giggle, the way she did when he would find her during their game of hide and seek.

* * * *

The mission in Pakistan proved to be nothing more than a waste of time. Jake knew there was always a chance that misinformation would lead to two or three months of emotional build-up, followed by an anti-climactic end. Jake and his team arrived late the night before and had surrounded the small village. However, in the morning when they infiltrated it, there were only elderly villagers and farmers, probably hidden from the outside world for centuries.

He sat outside the village with his group, thankful that his mission was finally coming to an end. He couldn’t wait to go home, to Wake Forest, to reunite with Drew. She was all he could think of. It had been a long journey to his saving grace and she was definitely part of it. One more month and his life would finally be complete. He smiled as he thought of her and Alyssa. For eight years, he had been surrounded by death and despair, escaping it for a short while, only to be dragged back in.

Jake heard the choppers coming close, and he had his men rally to the extraction point. What a waste of six weeks, he thought.

When the helicopters landed, he grabbed his helmet, rifle and pack and moved his men forward.

Lieutenant Shields, the pilot began, after a quick salute. I have some new orders for you and your team. Your men may need to stay an extra few hours.

What’s going on?

There’s an orphanage in Ashtoka about fifty miles from here run by an American missionary couple. They’ve come under attack—

Missionaries in Pakistan? Jake asked.

It’s across the border in India. We are waiting on permission from the Embassy to cross over. They’re trying to get word to the two Americans to evacuate. We can pick them up at the border. The pilot paused for a moment before continuing. "To tell you the truth, sir, I think it’s going to be too late. The intelligence is a day old, and if the Americans are still there, I don’t think they will make it through the morning."

There’s got to be something we can do? Jake could feel the futility begin to set in.

You know the tension between India and Pakistan, sir. It would be very hard to get too far in without their permission. Besides, you’re talking about thirty miles of dense forest before we could find some type of clearing. We could never land one of these birds in there, unless we go straight to the city.

Nigeria all over again…. You just get us as close as you can; we’ll do the rest, Jake told him.

Roger that.

Here are the Intel reports and photos of the extract targets. The pilot handed him the yellow envelope, saluted him, and headed back to his helicopter.

Gunny, we have new orders. You can brief them after we’ve had a chance to digest it. Jake handed him the envelope as the group of Marines huddled into the chopper.

Another wild goose chase, sir?

Let’s hope not, Gunny. Let’s hope not.

Gunny Vickers looked over the pictures and maps in the Intel. He noticed Jake staring at a picture of a beautiful woman.

That your girl, sir?

Jake was startled by the question. He wasn’t known for emotional attachments, and he wasn’t going to start the rumor. You got ten minutes to study that.

The Gunny noticed how uncomfortable Jake had become, and wanted to put him at ease.

We all got someone back home, sir.

Jake didn’t respond, instead he looked back to the photo. His thoughts drifted off.

Chapter 1: Jake’s Journey

Eight Years Earlier

Jake was raised by his father after his mother had died when he was six years old. His father was a career Marine. He raised Jake with strict discipline just like any other Master Gunnery Sergeant would young Marines in his charge. When Jake was old enough, he went right into the Marine Corps; not so much as a desire to serve his country as it was to move away from his father as soon as possible. Jake harbored a lot of anger from his upbringing, and he put all of this into his training. He was quickly recognized at boot camp as a Marine to keep an eye on.

The company commander, Captain James Tillman, noticed him during an exercise that, upon completion, had showcased Jake’s advanced abilities. The assault course was one of the hardest on Parris Island. Even career Marines had a difficult time negotiating the course, but Jake seemed to breeze right through it, never showing any stress or fear.

Captain Tillman called one of the colleagues with whom he had worked for years while he supported the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), Paul Joseph, and let him know about Jake. Paul was an older man, who still favored dressing like the old G-men of the 1950s.

Paul had been intrigued by what Tillman told him. He decided to head south on a recruitment trip. He was in charge of special operations and covert missions using military personnel. After the latest mission in Angola took the lives of four of his men, Paul knew he would need some replacements.

Jake was three days from graduation. He had aced everything the Corps had thrown at him. He was an expert rifleman with the highest rating on the course. His aptitude scores were through the roof, and he’d set records on the physical fitness tests, scoring a perfect three hundred.

Joseph was very impressed when he met Jake, but noticed the chip on his shoulder, especially since his first meeting with Jake was in the brig.

* * * *

It was five days before graduation, fifteen minutes from lights out. Jake had just received a call from his father; not one of congratulation, but just a reminder that he was going to have to earn his way like anyone else who came into the Corps. No special favors from the Master Gunny. When he hung up the telephone, he heard Drill Instructor Sergeant Salas barking out the command to get on line.

Thirty-two recruits, sixteen on each side of the squad bay, stood locked and cocked at attention with their toes on the line that ran in front of their racks from one side of the bay to the other. Jake quickly ran to his spot in front of his bunk in the nick of time, before Sgt. Salas made his way down the line.

Originally from Hawaii, Salas was always a little louder than the other instructors. Jake believed it was because he had to compensate for his height. Salas, who stood five foot six inches, yelled with what seemed to be a cross between a Mexican and Asian accent, and at times would use many words out of context, as if English weren’t his first language. When he would lay into a recruit, he would have to look up to eyeball the poor soul. Because of his height disadvantage, the more excited he would get when he screamed, the more the brim of his D.I. cover would hit the recruit in the chin.

Salas made his way slowly down the line checking each recruit, looking head to toe for blisters, hygiene problems, or general malfunctions that would make him look bad if they were to go overlooked. About halfway down the line, he came to Jake. Jake really wasn’t paying attention, just the same event every night for the last eleven weeks. Tonight would be no different. Besides, he could feel himself beginning to stew as he thought of his father’s one-sided conversation.

Recruit Shields! What are you trying to do to me? Salas yelled at the top of his lungs.

Sir, nothing, Sir.

Then what is this, recruit Shields? A fragment of my imagination?

Jake looked down toward his foot locker, where Sgt. Salas was pointing and realized that when he received the call from his father he had forgotten to secure his locker with the padlock. He didn’t respond to Sgt. Salas, just figuring that it was more of a rhetorical question.

So, recruit, you want to tell me why you want to ignore my requisition? You just want to disobey the rules so if we are in battle we can all get murder?

Jake wasn’t in the mood for this comical man. His temper was rising like hot water in a teapot and was just about to whistle.

You mean murdered, Jake responded, leaving out the sirs, Like what you do to the English language?

Sgt. Salas looked down the line when he heard other recruits snorting as they were trying to hold in their laughter. Suddenly Jake found Salas in his personal space, the brim of his hat bouncing off the lower part of Jake’s throat. There was a huge gasp throughout the squad bay when Sgt. Salas hit the ground, unconscious.

* * * *

So, before you throw him out of the Corps, Captain, why don’t you let me take him off your hands, Paul said, as he glanced at Jake through the jail cell door.

Have at him, Paul. Lord knows this country could use all the help it can get.

Paul smiled and nodded. Send him to Pensacola. I guess we’ll see what kind of Marine he really is.

* * * *

Jake spent the next thirteen months at a special training facility in Pensacola, Florida. The other Marines saw him as a loner. He had no interest in becoming part of a circle of friends, but also understood that he would need to be a member of the team. It must have surprised LCpl Sunday when Jake accepted the invitation to the beach. In thirteen months, not one invitation had been accepted! But Jake new the time was drawing near that he would have to count on these men for his own life.

Several of the Marines, including Jake, were sitting around a fire surrounded by bikini-clad girls. Even though he was among them, Jake remained silent and apart from his group. His gaze began to wander toward the ocean as he tried to ignore the company and the juvenile attempts at conversation. Sunday noticed Jake’s stare as a gorgeous brunette exited the water and began walking toward the group.

I ain’t a Marine for all this Semper Fi crap. Dress blues seal the deal every time, baby.

Jake ignored Sunday’s comment. He continued to watch as she wrapped herself in a towel and sat with the group across from Jake. Their eyes connected and Jake quickly turned toward Sunday, thinking he was about to embarrass himself.

Sunday leaned over to him. That’s it. Beautiful creatures want to be with Marines!

As the sun went down, the group made a fire, continuing to drink and laugh. Jake couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She seemed to be as uncomfortable as he. Despite the courage he’d shown in his training, the same didn’t hold true with relationships.

Jake grew nauseous as she approached him.

Hello. I’m Angie. Let’s go for a walk, she said with a smile.

As they made their way down the shoreline, she decided to break the silence. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why you all are here.

Then why are you here?

I’m a Corpsman. I’m allowed to have some fun. But, I’m not here to be target practice.

Who said I have my sights on you?

So you are different?

I don’t know. One minute I was punching my drill instructor in the mouth and the next I’m transferred here to Special Forces.

You must have an angel on your shoulder. Lemme guess, your dad is a Marine, too?

Jake grimaced and Angie sensed that his mood had suddenly changed to anger.

Ooooh. Touchy subject.

Let’s just say, the only quality time I spent with him was when I was carrying him out of the NCO club.

What about your mom?

She died when I was younger.

Angie stopped walking for a moment, grabbed his hand and looked deep into his eyes. It’s not life’s moments that define us. It’s how we respond.

Jake couldn’t resist that look that seemed to peer right through him. Without a second thought, he reacted to what nature was telling him. He pulled her in and kissed her. Suddenly, he wondered if that had been the right move as she pulled away from him.

I made a pledge in high school, Jake, to God. I’m going to keep it.

I understand. I wasn’t trying to—

That doesn’t mean we can’t kiss… Suddenly, she swept his legs, bringing them down onto the sand. After a small chuckle, the two kissed as the sun began to go down beyond the horizon.

* * * *

Jake was nearing the end of his training and had it all planned. He could only hope his nerves would not fail him. He sat in the old Jeep Wrangler, borrowed from his roommate; waiting outside Angie’s dorm, going over and over in his mind how tonight would play out. He knew this would be a decision for life. He reached into his khaki shorts and pulled out the small black box. When he opened it, he looked at the large stone, realizing God did have a plan for him.

Angie must have seen him sitting in the Jeep. She came running out the metal doors leading from the dormitory. You here to see somebody, or are you just a stalker? she teased.

I’m just sitting here waiting on the first girl to come out those doors. You just happen to be the lucky winner of the lottery tonight, baby girl.

He drove Angie to a popular bar that was located on the main strip outside of the Naval Air Station called TJ’s. It was very popular with the Naval Cadets of Naval Air Station on the other side of Pensacola. A large plastic shark hung from the ceiling; the walls were covered in military paraphernalia and cluttered with pictures of graduating classes from the past. The place had been around since the early fifties; many future pilots had blown off steam in that small, cozy tavern. Jake liked going there because nobody from his base would ever show up, so it allowed him to get away from the training environment he had endured for the last thirteen months.

They were there about an hour, drinking a few cold ones, dancing to the music from the jukebox. When Angie decided to serenade him with a Heart song that had just started to play, Jake put his hand over his face and slouched down in his chair.

Not wanting to suffer through the whole song, Jake quickly grabbed her hand and reached into his pocket to retrieve his surprise. He held out the box, but didn’t get a chance to ask. Angie let