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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dog Tags--Bonus Scene

What is it? – This is a scene I deleted from the manuscript before I submitted it to the publisher, simply because it’s a flashback, and I didn’t have a good place for it.  The scene is referred to several times in the actual book. For those who haven’t read the book, I hope it sparks interest. And for those who have read the book, I hope you enjoy this extra scene.

Silver maple and white ash leaves littered the sidewalk as Mark Graham traveled in his wheelchair, pushing himself along Main Street of Beaumont, Ohio, to clear his thoughts. He rolled in front of the Hometown Café and peeked inside. A short, mousy-haired waitress poured someone a cup of coffee. Ten patrons total. Most he recognized.
Should he venture in?
The front door chimed as a customer walked outside, and Mark twinged. The hair stood on the back of his neck, like the day of the ill-fated reconnaissance mission and subsequent ambush he’d witnessed in South America. Routine. The word his commanding officer had used—the same superior who bailed out on the so-called simple, ordinary mission to procure intel about the whereabouts of several high profile political prisoners captured by guerrillas. As much as he’d like to, he’d never forget that day.
A second chime sounded as another customer exited the aging building, allowing the autumn breeze to waft the café scents in Mark’s direction. The pungent aroma of java reminded him of Dad, who’d start each morning out with two cups of coffee.
Mark wheeled inside. A “Seat Yourself” sign sat near the doorway. Pushing a chair aside, Mark maneuvered near the third table from the door, set a navy-blue backpack on the seat next to him, and shifted his gaze to the waitress, who now stood at attention before him, pad and pencil in hand. “I’ll take a cup of joe.”
The waitress brought his coffee then shuffled along to assist another customer.
Mark savored the rich flavor, which far surpassed any coffee he’d tasted in the military, and observed the mint green, aging wall tiles covering the interior of the café. He remembered when they’d seen better days. When had the café been built? 1940? 1950?
As Mark sat and relished his coffee, a loud bang sounded, like a gunshot. His hand shook, causing him to spill his coffee on the table. He released a sigh. Probably just a car backfiring. Using his napkin, he wiped up the spilled liquid. Had anyone noticed? No one appeared to be looking at him, but to be on the safe side, he tucked his dog tags and accompanying chain inside his t-shirt.
Would he ever get over it? The sights? The sounds? Everything that took him back? He peered out the window and across the street, toward the brick building housing the Marine recruiting office. Two teenage boys exited the office, crossed the street, and walked toward the pizza parlor. Mark shook his head and grunted, arms resting on his wheelchair. What did high school kids know about war and combat? Not like he’d known much when he enlisted a few years prior.
The waitress strode over to his table. “Would you like more…” Her eyes widened then avoided him once she looked at his wheelchair. A typical response, at least from anyone who knew him before. “Hey, wait, I know you. Mark Graham. You look just like your mom.” The waitress hung her head. The twinkle in her eyes subsided. “Sorry to hear about her passing.” She paused. “Would you care for more coffee?”
Mark nodded and studied the waitress for a moment. She seemed familiar. What was her name? He pointed to his cup. “Did you know coffee was discovered as early as the ninth century?”
The waitress smiled and shook her head.
Leaves whirled outside the window as the woman refilled Mark’s coffee and set his bill on the table. He looked at the total then out the window again. Horace Smith, his elderly neighbor, passed along the other side of the street.
Mark slumped in his wheelchair. He had to get out of Beaumont, needed a change in scenery. But where should he go? What was he going to do from his chair? It limited his options a bit.
Mark opened his wallet, removed a business card, and flipped it over, revealing a phone number scribbled on the back. He skimmed it and slipped it back in his wallet. It would have to wait until later. He picked up the bill and his backpack and wheeled over to the register.
The waitress rang up his order. “How long are you going to be in town?”
He handed her a twenty. “Not very long. Can we keep this little meeting to ourselves?” He winked. Word traveled fast in Beaumont.
The woman nodded as she counted and held out several bills and coins.
“Keep the change.” He headed toward the door.
As he left the café, a group of high school girls headed toward him: a tall blonde, a medium-height brunette, and a short girl with black hair. What had the blonde said to the brunette that caused her to giggle? It must have been amusing. The brunette laughed until she met his eyes then stopped. The blonde tugged at the brunette’s arm, and all three walked away. After wheeling a few feet in the other direction, Mark turned and found the brunette looking at him. Their eyes locked. She tilted her head—a puzzled expression on her face—then jogged away.
Mark recognized her—Private Martindale’s kid sister. How soon before the Martindales found out he was in town? The stubble on his face rubbed against his hand, and he realized his desperate need for a clean shave. Maybe Beth Martindale didn’t recognize him. He hardly recognized himself.
Mark wheeled south and stopped at the corner. If he crossed the street and went north, he could head over to the recruiting office. Perhaps Lieutenant Lance Bridges still worked there. Who else might understand what he endured except others who’d served as well? But a visit to the recruiting office would further announce his presence.
Going south two blocks, he moved toward a row house on Fifth Avenue and gazed at the aging edifice. Brick red paint peeled from the siding. It looked better when Dad had been alive.
Mark rolled past the vacant county dog-catcher’s vehicle parked along the side of the street and wheeled to the front door of the house. A yip sounded from an evergreen bush. He fixed his gaze off in the distance. No dog catcher in sight. Perhaps the man was around the corner. Mark reached down and petted a shaking, fuzzy black pup now standing beside the bush. The poor thing looked more like a miniature bear cub than a dog. Mark patted his leg, and the puppy jumped in his lap.
Jetting inside to the kitchen, Mark fetched the pup a bowl of water. He held up the dog and looked it in the eyes. “Guess you’re trying to lay low too. Well, you can hide out here, for now at least.”
The dog licked Mark’s nose then jumped onto the floor and lapped some water.
“Now what am I going to call you?”
The dog finished his drink then zipped around the kitchen floor and chased his tail.
“Hmm…How about Sparky?”
Sparky stopped running, looked up at Mark, and tilted his head to one side.
“Okay, I have other things to do now, so you’re going to have to entertain yourself for a while. Sorry, boy.”
Mark wheeled to his bedroom and began to pack his things. He’d call the realtor about selling the house tomorrow. How much junk did he have? He took a few small boxes, one at a time, out to his van. Its green exterior appeared a light shade of brown due to layers of dirt caked on the body.
Mark took a deep breath before heading back inside and opening the door to his mother’s room then scanned the living space and spied a yellow dress on the far right side of her closet. Wasn’t that the one she wore on Easter? Mark spotted his photo, on the opposite corner of the room, atop his mother’s dresser along with her Bible. She still kept it there? Mark wheeled over to the dresser, opened a drawer, found floral note cards inside, and stashed a few cards in his bag. He couldn’t talk to the Martindales, but his Mom would have wanted him to at least write to them. He could do that much.
After hours of packing, he stopped by the back door and let Sparky in the fenced-in back yard for a night-time run. While the dog took care of business, Mark identified constellations. Canis minor—Latin for smaller dog. How appropriate.  
Using his arms, Mark lifted himself out of his chair and into the bed. He punched his pillow a few times to achieve the desired softness. Still better than cots in the Corps. He set his cell phone, wallet, and dog tags on the nightstand, next to a small brass frame containing a photo of Mom and Dad. Maybe the last one taken of them together? He reached for the lamp switch, paused, and grabbed his cell phone and wallet. Then he removed the same business card from before and dialed the number on the back.
He ran his fingers through his hair. “Hey, Bill. It’s Mark. Mark Graham.”
“How are you?”
“Lousy. Are you still thinking of opening up a bait and tackle store?”
A deep chuckle echoed over the phone. “Yeah. You still thinking of helping us?”
Mark examined the business card. “I can be there in a few days.”
“Great. Do you know where to find us?”
He scratched his head. “Our old hangout when we were stationed in Riversdale?”
“Yep. See you soon.”
Mark replaced the card in his wallet, turned off his phone, and returned both items to the nightstand before switching off the light.
He settled under the covers. Sparky jumped onto the bed and nuzzled next to him. Mark scratched the dog’s head and glanced at the ceiling, still wide awake.
California, here I come.


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