Welcome To Utica
A novel by Joe Harwell
© 2014 by Joe Harwell Publishing
9023 E. 46th St. #54213 Tulsa, OK 74155-0231
No part of this material may be reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Although names of actual persons and businesses are used with permission, all other characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.
I owe grateful appreciation to my street team of fans, proofreaders, editors and other writers who make my writing better.
Welcome to Utica contains 32,512 words in 20 chapters.
Chapter 1. Afghanistan 2010
Chapter 2. Not out of danger
Chapter 3. A window to the soul
Chapter 4. Utica, present day
Chapter 5. The investigation
Chapter 6. Animal or human
Chapter 7. Tell me the truth
Chapter 8. Missing pieces
Chapter 9. The clinic
Chapter 10. More trouble
Chapter 11. Who to trust
Chapter 12. Voices from the past
Chapter 13. Looking at the face of evil
Chapter 14. The worm has turned
Chapter 15. Two can play this game
Chapter 16. What next
Chapter 17. Bold moves
Chapter 18. Secrets and lies
Chapter 19. All hell breaks loose
Chapter 20. Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Chapter 1. Afghanistan 2010
“Say again Whiskey Tango Three.”
“We spotted remains.”
“From Rouge Seven?”
“There’s no sign of uniforms or equipment, just body parts, everywhere.”
“Taliban devils,” cursed Colonel Jacobs.
“It has to be them,” said Corporal Clark the twenty-four-old radio operator.
Removing his hat while rubbing his close-cropped hair, Jacobs mumbled, “Not again.”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
Ignoring Clark’s question, Jacobs said, “Pull the file on Rogue Seven. I have death notices to write.”
“Yes Sir.” As Clark retrieved the personnel records, several bursts of static, then an intermittent voice transmission came through the overhead speaker.
“One alive, but …”
Jacobs listened for ten seconds, then keyed the microphone and said, “One of ours?”
More long seconds passed and Jacobs was about to call again when the broken transmission continued. “No ID … what’s left … barely …. trying to …. language … can’t understand … ”
“Don’t wait for medevac,” said Jacobs. “Bring him in now. We’ll have a translator standing by.”
After two minutes of silence, Whiskey Tango Three replied, “Not sure a translator will help. She’s not Afghan. She’s one of ours, but I don’t understand the language.”
When the Corporal’s eyes met the Colonels, Clark said, “There were no women …”
Jacobs cut him off, keyed the mic again and said, “No more chatter until you arrive. Is that clear?”
Glaring at Clark, Jacobs said, “That goes for you too. Not a word to anyone. Understand?”
Jacobs stepped outside the communication center into the chill of a mid-winter afternoon with the sun sinking below distant mountaintops. Observing the eighteen structures surrounded by a twelve foot, three-stage security barrier comprising this forward outpost in Nimruz province, the veteran commander looked skyward for a moment, and then went back inside to call central command.
The beat of rotors pierced the silence of darkening skies twenty minutes later. Three medics, one male and two females stood by the landing pad in a corner of the base to receive the patient. When the aircraft touched down, the copilot stepped out and opened the side door. As the medics moved forward, he pushed in front of them and took the woman from the arms of the gunner. Her fair skinned arms and legs dangled limp as her dark hair was blown in all directions by the rotor wash.
As the gurney passed through the med center doors, Jacobs saw a flight jacket covered her and he took hold of the copilot’s arm.
He looked at Jacobs and said, “She tried to talk, but it was gibberish. I speak Pashto and Russian and couldn’t understand any of it.”
“We’ve got her, son. Take the crew to my quarters and don’t say a word to anyone until I get there.”
“Yes Sir,” he replied, saluting, then hustling back to the chopper.
Chief medical officer Stan Kinnerson placed his stethoscope on the woman’s chest. After a few seconds he said, “Breathing is shallow and unrestricted. Trauma one.”
Jacobs said, “Keep the staff treating her to a minimum and I need a quick assessment of her condition.”
“Yes sir, Colonel.”
The three medics accompanied Kinnerson into the trauma room as other members of the staff stared briefly before returning to their duties. Kinnerson returned in five minutes and said, “She’s stable, but still unconscious. Do you know her?”
“No. What else?”
“She has bruising all over her body, but not from fists, a gun barrel or anything I recognize. The most serious injuries are deep gashes on her upper back, but there’s virtually no bleeding. It’s almost like something was, well, I’m not going to speculate. I took the required DNA sample and we’re doing a head CT and x-rays of her body. Nothing seems broken, which is a miracle given all the bruising. Did I hear the chopper crewman say she was talking?”
“I’m sure she’ll need something for pain, although I’m reluctant to give her anything until she wakes up. We’ll finish the exam, clean her up and keep a close eye on her. What’s our next move, Colonel?”
“Command is sending someone.” Looking at his watch, Jacobs continued, “I’m going to debrief the chopper crew. Send for me if she wakes up before I come back.”
“Will do, Sir.”
Chapter 2. Not out of danger
Jacobs reviewed digital photos taken by the chopper crew. The gruesome sight of guts strewn in the sand, along with severed arms, legs, hands, and heads with smashed in faces sickened him. Although shaken by what they’d seen, the crew was extremely curious about the unclothed woman.
Copilot Paul Juno from New Orleans said, “We’ve seen IED casualties and Taliban revenge killings, but this was different. We didn’t think anyone survived until her hair blowing in the rotor wash caught our attention. She started coming around when I put my jacket over her and looked at me like … like she looked right into my soul.”
Jacobs thought the others would chide him for what he said, but they all sat silent, almost stoic. Patting Juno’s arm, Jacobs said, “You boys go to your quarters and don’t breathe a word about this to anyone. Command is sending someone who will talk to you later this evening.”
“Yes Sir,” they all said, standing and saluting.
Juno hesitated as the others left, then pointed to the camera and said, “There’s some video.”
“You did a good job out there.”
“Sir, if it’s possible, could I see her if she recovers? It’s probably not allowed, but the way she looked at me, well, I can’t explain it.”
“It’s okay. You saw something that won’t be easy to shake. I can’t promise anything about seeing her again.”
“I understand, Sir.”
Jacobs headed back to the medical facility. He stopped just before entering and flipped on the camera and switched it to video. Cradled by the gunner, the woman struggled to move, then looked directly into the lens and began mumbling. Jacobs didn’t understand the language either, but understood why Juno felt she looked into his soul.
“Colonel Jacobs,” a strong male voice spoke from behind him.
Turning to see who called his name he replied, “Yes.”
“I’m Major Wingford from command,” said the tall, stout looking officer as he handed Jacobs an envelope. “This gives me operational control of the base while I’m here, which will be less than twenty-four hours. I’ll need your complete cooperation.”
Taking the envelope marked CLASSIFIED, Jacobs opened it and moved under a light. The top sheet was a one-paragraph, four-sentence note typed on Department of Defense letterhead and signed by the regional commander introducing Major Gabriel Wingford and confirming his orders. The next two sheets were also marked CLASSIFIED, which he quickly scanned before placing them back in the envelope.
Handing the camera to him, Jacobs said, “This way.”
As they entered the medical facility, voices and the sound of a struggle were coming from the area where the female patient was being treated. Doctor Kinnerson shouted, “Restrain her.”
An ear-piercing scream filled the air. Wingford quickened his pace and yanked back the curtain around the patient. The male nurse lost his footing and fell backwards onto the floor. The female nurses attempted to hold the woman down as Kinnerson drew liquid from a vial with a needle.
“Stop!” Wingford boomed. The doctor and nurses momentarily looked at him, allowing the struggling female to push them away. When Wingford reached for her, she looked frightened, then fell into his arms. He motioned the doctor and nurses to leave, then turned to lay her on the bed revealing bandaging across her back.
“What do you need?” Jacobs asked.
“Close the curtain and step out for a minute.”
Jacobs complied and he and Kinnerson assisted the male nurse who’d been shoved to the floor.
Kinnerson said, “She woke up quietly, then reached for the bandages and began struggling to get up. We tried talking to her, but she pushed us away. She’s unusually strong.”
Pulling the doctor aside, Jacobs held up the envelope and said, “The Major has control of the base, including the patient. It’s all classified and he’s a Chaplin.”
“A Chaplin? What’s going on?”
Almost whispering, Jacobs replied, “I’ve seen him before.”
The doctor was about to ask another question when the Major pulled back the curtain and said, “Doctor, you and your staff may continue treating her. She won’t communicate verbally for a while, but you can ask yes or no questions and she’ll nod answers or point. Administer no sedatives or pain meds. Just treat her injuries. I’ve seen to it that you won’t receive additional patients while she’s here, and please keep your other patients away.” Turning his attention to Jacobs, the Major said, “Let’s finish this in your quarters.”
The doctor and his staff returned to find the woman calm and lying on her right side facing them. As the Colonel led him outside, Jacobs noticed two Humvees and one armored personnel carrier (APC) parked in the compound. Twenty men, some in military uniforms and others appearing to be heavily armed civilian contractors were meeting in two groups near the APC.
Once inside Jacobs quarters, Wingford said, “I looked at your service record on the way and I’m glad you’re in command here. I’m sure you’re wondering if this is the same thing we encountered in 2008.”
“I remember seeing you then. All I want is to protect the people under my command and give you what you need.”
“I appreciate it. We learned some hard lessons the last time. If all goes well we’ll be out of here early in the morning and your base will be back to normal.”
“As normal as it gets in a war zone.”
“True, but you know what I mean.”
“I didn’t expected a female,” said Jacobs.
Wingford sat in a chair by Jacobs’ desk and said, “You did the right thing calling this in to command. How’s the crew who brought her in?”
“They’re good men, but shaken by what they saw. The copilot asked to see her. I told him it was unlikely.”
“Probably better if he doesn’t.”
“What else did you bring to protect us in addition to the people outside?
Leaning back in the chair, Wingford said, “We own the sky with stealth fighters, an AWAC plane overhead and satellites and are being repositioned. Command deployed a full company with heavy armor so we won’t be caught off guard.”
“What’s the plan?”
“We’ll be on our way to Ramstein as soon as she’s stabilized.”
Wingford smiled and said, “That’s above my pay grade. Besides, I’m getting out. I have thirty years in and was literally on my way out the door to retirement when I got this call. I’m going home to settle into a police force job.”
“My sister is the medical examiner in Utica, Oklahoma and lined up an interview when I was there over the summer. The Police Chief offered me a job when I was ready to muster out.”
“Sounds good, Chaplin. Now all we have to do is live through the night to get you there. I suggest calling in all the favors you have built up with the man upstairs.”
“I started the minute I received the call. If we’re lucky, no one knows she’s alive, much less at this base. If she’s lucky, she won’t remember what happened.”
Chapter 3. A window to the soul
After interviewing the chopper crew, Major Wingford returned to the medical facility and stayed with the female patient. No one at the base slept much as helicopters came and went during the night bringing back the remains of specials forces unit Rouge Seven. DNA samples were taken and then the remains were photographed, packed in containers with dry ice and placed in the APC.
Another Blackhawk helicopter was landing at six-thirty when Colonel Jacobs left his quarters with the Rouge Seven files, which Wingford ordered turned over to him. A soldier carrying a package exited the chopper and trotted into the medical facility ahead of him. When Jacobs entered, everything was quiet.
Doctor Kinnerson met him and said, “They began conversing in English an hour ago. I can’t adequately describe what I heard from them during the night.”
Jacobs didn’t react. He walked to the trauma area, stood in front of the curtain and cleared his throat.
Wingford pulled it open and said, “Come in, Colonel.”
The soldier from the helicopter was also there and saluted before exiting. The woman was sitting up in bed wearing a military issue housecoat and slippers with her hand on Juno’s flight jacket. She acknowledged Jacobs with a slight nod as Wingford placed dog tags around her neck, which came from the envelope he just received.
Jacobs handed him the personnel files and said, “These guys haven’t been here long. Each was a dedicated soldier and I’m proud to have served with them.”
“I’ll make sure their families know.” Wingford placed the files on a table and said, “Colonel Jacobs, meet Lieutenant Angeline Stacy.”
The woman smiled slightly, then held Juno’s jacket out toward him.
Wingford placed his hand on the jacket and said, “Later.” He motioned Jacobs to follow him and they left the room and pulled the curtain closed. A female nurse carrying a tray with two containers of vanilla yogurt and cups with water and ice stopped in front of the curtain and glanced at Wingford for approval to enter.
“Go ahead,” he said. Looking back at Jacobs he continued, “We’re leaving at zero eight-hundred. The base will be back under your command when we’re in the air.”
“You’re a man of your word, Major. How do you interpret having a quiet night?”
“I’d rather be lucky than good, but we’re required to be good at what we do and not depend on luck.”
“I agree, although I’ll take a little luck any time. She wants to see Juno to return his jacket and I’m thinking of allowing it. She’s adapting, but has no memory of who she is or how she came to be here. Juno is the first thing she remembers and I believe it will help her to see him, but very briefly.”
“What about Juno? You’ve given her an ID and he’s likely to want to find her someday.”
“We’ll deal with that as it comes. My greatest concern is her transition to civilian life. Seeing him will make it easier. She’ll forget him soon enough.”
“You’re the boss. I’ll have him here when you’re ready.”
Wingford extended his hand and said, “Thanks Colonel. I know it’s hard to have your command pulled out from under you like this. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the cooperation.”
Shaking his hand, Jacobs said, “I’ll get it back from you down the road. I’m getting out when I’m sixty with plans to travel and call in some favors. You can take me fishing and buy dinner at a swanky place in Utica.”
“You’re on, Colonel. I’ll probably know the good fishing spots much better than the swanky restaurants, but we’ll find one.”
“I’ll hold you to it. I hope the rest of your trip and her transition goes as well as the last few hours.”
“It’s not over until it’s over. I’m looking forward to getting her to Germany, and then I’m out of the service. I’ll be in Utica a week from today.”
Captain Juno entered the Colonel’s quarters after being summoned. Saluting his commanding officer, Juno stood at attention.
“At ease, Captain. Did you get any sleep?”
“Not much, Sir.”
“Me either. You asked to see the woman your crew brought in. She’s about to be transferred out of here and the officer in charge has approved a short visit. She wants to return your jacket.”
Cracking a smile, Juno quickly pushed it off his face and said, “I’d like that, Sir.”
“I know she made an impression on you. Just don’t get your hopes up and above all behave like a gentleman. The officer in charge is a Chaplin.”
“Yes Sir. I appreciate it, although I’m kind of spoken for. I mean, there’s a girl back home, but that lady is the kind of woman who’d make a man think twice.”
“Are you a career man?”
“I’d rather fly than anything. My family and my girl want me to get out when this tour is up next year and go into commercial aviation. This is my fourth tour since 9-11, Sir.”
“Well son, do what you think is best. Just don’t read too much into this woman asking to see you.”
“I won’t, Sir.”
Jacobs patted Juno’s shoulder and said, “Let’s get going. Things are about to get busy around here.”
As Jacobs and Juno crossed the compound, more Black Hawk helicopters hovered overhead and one landed just inside the barrier wall. Five of the civilian contractors were inside the medical facility meeting with Wingford as they entered.
After a moment, Wingford turned his attention to Juno and said, “This will be brief, Captain. She’s been through quite an ordeal. Don’t initiate conversation or ask questions. Is that clear?”
Wingford led them to the trauma area and pulled the curtain open. Juno smiled broadly when he saw her sitting on the side of the bed. Remembering the cautions he’d been given, he attempted to tone down his reaction. The bruising on her arms and legs was severe, although her face was clear and her long, naturally curly hair was clean and braided into a long ponytail.
Wingford said, “Captain Juno, this is Lieutenant Angeline Stacy.”
Juno smiled. His flight jacket was lying on the bed beside her and she reached for it. After picking it up with her left hand, she pushed herself off the bed, wavering slightly as her feet touched the floor. Juno, Wingford and Jacobs all reached to steady her and she placed her right hand on Juno’s arm.
When their eyes met, she smiled and offered him the jacket. Juno looked at it, and then going against the orders he’d been given said, “Keep it. It’s cold outside and you’ll need it.”
Wingford almost growled holding in the desire to smack Juno on the side of his head. Jacobs reached for Juno’s arm to pull him from the room when the woman spoke, struggling some to get the words out.
“Thank … you.”
She held the jacket up in front of Juno and he helped her put it on. Taking both his arms, she settled back against the bed pulling him forward, causing him to take a step and stand close to her. Pulling him closer so their faces almost touched, she moved her head beside his, placed her mouth next to his ear and whispered. Juno pulled back after a few seconds and looked at her without speaking.
Jacobs grabbed his arm and said, “Time to go.”
“Yes Sir,” he replied, looking back while being hustled out of the room. Wingford closed the curtain as Jacobs led him outside.
Jacobs got in his face with a you’re dead meat kind of stare, and said, “It’s a good thing you’re planning on leaving the service, Captain. Don’t be surprised if you serve the rest of your tour cleaning latrines at the weather station in Akdak, Alaska.”
Juno didn’t reply and stood at attention. Moments later, Wingford, the civilian contractors and Angeline exited the medical facility. Angeline paused when she saw Juno and pulled on Wingford’s arm. The Major stopped, but the armed contractors continued moving her to the APC.
Wingford came over and said, “Don’t be too hard on him, Colonel. What he did actually helped. If you get out to Utica after you retire, be sure to stop in and see me.”
“I will,” replied Jacobs. After the APC took the passengers to the waiting helicopters, Jacobs turned to Juno and asked, “What did she say to you?”
With his eyes locked on the departing aircraft he said, “Marry Sara Grace.” Jacobs was about to ask him to repeat it when Juno continued, “She said I should marry my girl back home, Sara Grace and live a long and happy life with her. How could she know?”
“Did you have a letter from her in your jacket?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well Captain, count yourself lucky to still have your rank.”
“I do, Sir.”
“Get back to work and remember, everything since you went on the mission yesterday is classified. I mean the kind of classified you take to the grave. Am I clear?”
“Yes Sir. Perfectly clear.”
Chapter 4. Utica, present day
“Sorry I’m late, boss,” Mark Greenfield said barely looking up while sending his wife a text message.
As Mark hurried in the door of Arnie’s Bar in Utica’s downtown Blue Dome District, the manager looked at his watch and quipped, “Right on time by your standards. You’re always ten minutes late.”
Nearly dropping the phone as he slung a backpack off his shoulder, Mark chuckled and said, “Yeah, but I bring in the ladies.”
“Your wife will have something to say about that.”
Mark laughed and was about to respond when his boss pointed to the cell phone and said, “No texting tonight. It’s ladies night and we’ll be busy after the concert at the Bank of Utica Center is over. Put it away and don’t let me see you with it again until we’re closed.”
“Sure thing,” Mark said, realizing his employer was serious.
As expected, Arnie’s was busy with the usual Irish pub crowd, ladies night, plus the rush after the concert kept them busy until last call.
Rebecca (Becky) Greenfield stayed a few minutes after her economics class dismissed at ten o’clock to speak with the instructor about an internship referral. When she left the main building of Utica State University (USU), all the other students were gone. Looking at her car on the far side of the parking lot, she retrieved her cell phone and keys. Knowing Mark would be busy and unable to take the call, she still wanted to hear his voice mail greeting and leave a message to let him know she was on her way home.
Halfway to the car, Becky heard the sound of a door close on the building she exited. Looking back expecting to see the instructor she saw a tall, bulky figure walking under the dimly lit awning of the building. Glancing at her car again, the parking lot light closest to it flickered and then went out. Returning her attention to the person under the awning, he emerged as Mark’s voice mail greeting began. He wore a long, black hooded jacket and very large, dark lens glasses. Worse yet, he began running in her direction.
Inhibited by her purse, a book bag and not wearing the best shoes for running, Becky dropped the cell phone into the purse and began sprinting. Nearing the car, she pointed the key fob at the vehicle, pushing the unlock button. With fear building inside, she glanced over her shoulder to see the man gaining fast and could now hear the sound of his heavy footsteps hitting the pavement.
“Think,” she mumbled, attempting to clear her head and stifle fear. Suddenly, the sound of his footsteps ceased and she looked back again. Not seeing him, she returned her attention to the car, continuing to push the unlock button on the key fob hoping to hear the comforting sound of the car alarm disarming and see the interior light come on as the doors unlocked.
With the parking lot light out, the area was incredibly dark. Reaching the car and tossing her book bag and purse on top of it and struggling to slow her breathing, she wondered why the car wasn’t unlocking. Taking her eyes off the keys for a moment, she reached her free hand into her purse searching for the cell phone and a can of pepper spray.
Finding them quickly she caught a full, deep breath, then took a step back and pointed the key fob at the car. The interior light came on, but the doors didn’t unlock. Looking up she saw the huge man standing on the opposite side of the car.
He took a step forward and began rocking the car. Then he moved to the back, still rocking it and she moved toward the front and continued pressing the key fob. The man jumped onto the trunk as the doors unlocked, and then bounded over the top toward her.
Raising the pepper spray, she began discharging its contents as he jumped onto the hood. Moving the cell phone to her other hand and switching to camera, she dodged him while snapping a photo and moved toward the driver’s side door.
Choking and falling to the ground, he pulled off the dark glasses and began scrambling to his feet. Raising the pepper spray and cell phone again, she snapped another picture and emptied the remaining spray into his face, causing him to wipe wildly at his eyes before falling to the ground.
Seeing an opportunity to get in the car, she grabbed the door handle only to feel his hand around her ankle. He tightened his grip and crawled forward. She kicked his hand with her other foot and freed herself as the sound of a vehicle leaving the parking lot at a high rate of speed caught her attention.
She turned around and saw a small pickup exiting the parking lot approaching Detroit Avenue. Crying out with all her vocal strength she yelled, “Stop, please stop.” Glancing over her shoulder she saw the attacker was still on the ground and returned her attention to the street while dialing 911 and running.
As the truck turned onto Detroit and disappeared into traffic, the operator answered. “Utica 911. Do you need police, fire or ambulance?”
The call connected quickly and the dispatcher said, “Utica police. How may I assist you?”
“I’m at Utica State and someone is chasing me.”
“OK ma’am. I’ll send an officer. What is your name?”
The dispatcher confirmed her number from the caller ID and said, “Describe who is chasing you.”
“A big man,” she said, breathing hard.
“Do you know him?”
“No. I pepper sprayed him to get away.”
“Okay Becky. Is there anything else you can tell me about him?”
“He’s white, really big, wearing a black hooded jacket and dark lens glasses.” She stopped talking because her mouth was dry and breathing labored. Reaching the edge of the parking lot, she sprinted up the grass-covered incline toward the street.
“Is he still chasing you?” Looking back as she topped the hill, Becky saw he now less than twenty yards away.
“He’s still there,” she said as the sound of screeching tires caught her attention. Turning in the direction of the sound, a vehicle entered her field of vision. She tried to avoid it, but she was already in the street and collided with the side of a van causing her to drop the cell phone, which hit the pavement and slid under the van.
Barely staying on her feet, Becky looked back and saw the bulky man clawing his way up the grassy incline. The startled woman driving the van put it in park, unbuckled her seat belt and turned around to check her children. Addled by the collision, Becky stumbled past the van and kept running.