The Soldier

It was incredibly detailed. Jake could smell, feel…sense the intricacies around him. Until he tried to remember what had happened. There were people around him that seemed familiar but were gone before he could recognize them. He felt steel and tasted bile. He was moving but he wasn’t walking. He seemed to know where he was, yet having no idea how or why he was “there.” Wherever it was, he didn’t want to be there. He needed to go, but he was waiting for someone or something. There was an urgency. He needed to get back. Then one of the faces turned and looked directly into his eyes. The stranger passed, brushed by his left shoulder and spoke, “Stop running.” Jake stopped to face him. “We’re looking for a recruit. Someone we can trust. Someone on the inside. Let me know if that’s you.”

~

Before he could process it all, Jake sat bolt upright in the bed like his sweaty back was on a spring. What was that? he thought. A beret a few bunks down inquired, “You okay? What’s up?” Jake was reeling. A moment later, the lunch horn sounded from the corner of the chow hall calling the men to eat. Jake enjoyed the tex-mex in the cafeteria; he wondered if he was truly a cowboy at heart. After his meal, Jake endured the dreaded debrief about his last mission, then they were given the list of key objectives as he and his unit were sent out into town for patrol.

Patrol was a bi-weekly exercise in bait and switch. The ride in the HumVEE was a public demonstration of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations to the people – but it also provided them the necessary cover to be in the Lahore area doing special ops. Back in 2012, Obama called home all the formal US military exercises, but a few US Army Special Forces were tasked with high-level security operations and remained in hostile territories. Jake was part of one such unit based in the small town of Muridke, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, just a few klicks north of Lahore. Lahore was a thriving, multicultural city of over ten million people, recently dubbed as a ‘beta-world city’ because of its importance as a globally-economic superpower.

As they approached the open-air souk (market), Jake caught a glimpse of his father standing in an alleyway under a colorful canvas. “Stop!” he shouted. Jake jumped out and ran back to find no trace of his dad. Not even footprints in the sandy street. He stepped back to make sure that he’s looking in the right shop and assured himself that this is exactly where he was. The second shop on the right. This was it, he was sure. The only thing in this tiny space – only 8’ by 8’ – was an old collapsible card-table covered in handmade crosses.

A small child with dark, leathery skin, probably not more than 7 or 8 years old, stepped out from the dark curtain-wall in the back of the booth. “Karausa,” he said. Jake hadn’t come for jewelry so he turned back to the HumVEE, but the plea of the little boy, “Only 300 rupees!” tugged at his heart. Handmade crosses for less than three dollars. He looked again at the table as he dug out his wallet and chose a cross that was unlike all the others. All four of its sides were equal, unlike the crosses of America. At the end of each ‘arm’ of the cross was a diamond shape. He didn’t know it, but it was a coptic cross with Egyptian origins. When he picked it up, it felt unique. Though perfectly balanced, its weight didn’t seem to match its size. A thin leather strap was handwoven around the cross to form a masculine necklace. He knew that he had wasted too much time here and had kept his unit waiting, so he made a quick exchange, dangled the cross under his uniform with his dog tags, and took off. For the rest of the day, Jake’s mind was in a fog. Why had he seen his father… 10,000 miles from home, after all these years?

Back at Headquarters, Jake’s memories of his Dad took hold. Today, after all, was the anniversary of his dad’s death. He remembered why he joined the military to begin with. As far back as he could really remember, growing up in the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plains, it was just him, his little brother, and his dad. Breast cancer had stolen their mom when he was only in 1st grade. He had very few choice memories of his mother. One in particular was the vivid sound of his sweet mother’s laughter. He heard it above all the other moms at his school Kindergarten play and at bedtime. That sound calmed any fear that young Jake ever had – enough that it stayed with him long after her tragic passing. But since he had been deployed, that sound seemed to have faded away.

His dad was so broken, he never did remarry. He was a Christian man who depended a lot on the school and the church to help raise his sons. He was a well-respected, hard-working man, the embodiment of classic tall, dark and handsome. His features were distinct: long, thin legs, a dark tan complexion, a sharp chin below a bright smile, deep set blue eyes, topped with a salt and pepper comb-over.

But on April 15, 2013, terrorists took his father away forever. The Marathon Bombers targeted the runners and fans – but a Boston business-man who was handing out waters near the finish line at Copley Square was collateral damage. Since that day, Jake vowed that he would give his life – if necessary – to keep that from ever happening again on American soil. He hated terrorism – he hated terrorists.

He joined the Army a few years later and became an all star recruit at Fort Bragg, NC, obtaining the coveted Expert Marksmanship Badge. Jake Leavey was an exception soldier. He was built for it – standing nearly 6’6″ and weighing in at a solid 275 lbs. His square jaw and high and tight flat-top accented his chiseled features. After graduating boot camp top of his class, he was offered an elite position with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a Green Beret.

After their dad’s death, Jake’s little brother took a different path. Aaron got more religious and drew into the church – which made Jake even more angry. Aaron grew in his faith and wanted to become a counselor, especially for those dealing with tragedy. Growing up, the brothers were inseparable. With only eleven months between them, they were often mistaken for twins. But what their mother’s death had done to bring them closer, their father’s death had done the exact opposite and more. Grief drove a deep wedge of isolation between them. Throughout the years, Aaron had tried to give Jake some advice, but it was never welcomed and only pushed them further apart. Jake hadn’t kept up with him, only knowing that he was starting a practice in Colorado.

This was Jake’s fourth deployment. Any excuse to escape the reality of loneliness back home in the Northeast. Any excuse to waste some ISIS dogs. After all, since his dad’s death, this was all the family he needed.

Back at HQ, the internet was down, so Jake joined in the barrack’s card game where he gambled away the evening hours with the help of some cheap beer and crude laughs. Spades would be the game for the night. At one point, when the game was on the line and Jake wanted to take Clint’s bank, he floated some cards and dealt from the bottom of the deck. It gave Jake the edge and he took the game – and, with it, all the winnings.

Time flew as they enjoyed the moment, never knowing if or when they would get another chance to really be themselves. Curfew came as an unwelcome interruption to the laughter and tightening brotherhood. But when the lights went down, a voice from a nearby bunk let the cat out of the bag, “Hey Clint, you know you got gypped, right!? Jake totally scammed you, bro.”

Clint heard him. Jake did, too, but neither said anything. The silence was enough, for now. Within just minutes, the weariness of the day took over and they were all out getting the rest they would need for another day that could be their last.

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