Shadow Ghosts (1)
* Foreword *
As a father, what would you do if your wife died in the twin towers (9-11), and, ten years later, your daughter was listed as having been killed in a training accident in boot camp but you believed she was actually still alive?
Mike Wilson is on a mission and now, it’s personal!
Spooks, spies, operatives and covert assets are just some of the nicknames given to those who serve in the disavowed operations of many governments, but their true nature is that of a Ghost thwarting the ability of enemies to do harm to their country.
Most are never seen by the public. Nor is their dirty, dangerous and sometimes unthinkable work ordered by administrations bent on protecting their nation or, in some cases, fanatically working to increase their power over others.
To be capable of doing this work, one must be truthful and yet a liar, honorable and loyal and yet an imposter. Such people are rare. But rarer still are those who ultimately survive for very long in the business of manipulation, destruction and death.
Occasionally, an individual creates a cover so deep and so complex, their true identity is never revealed…, to anyone! Occasionally, they spend a lifetime, invisible one moment and living a normal average existence the next. And occasionally, they survive.
This is a story about such an individual who lived through wartime and peacetime without being discovered but, as it has been said, “How do you give a medal to someone who doesn’t exist for something that never happened?”
Chapter 1: A Father’s Baby Girl
“Wow it’s hot out today,” muttered a weary looking muscular fortyish man as he sat down at the bar. With a sigh, he removed his sunglasses, his New York Yankees baseball cap and ordered a “very cold beer” while blotting the sweat from his forehead with a bar napkin. “Is Robert Petrovitch here today?” he asked in a nearly exhausted tone.
“Robert…. Oh, you mean Colonel Bob?” queried the bartender.
“Yeah. I think that’s right. Is he here?”
“Right there, sitting alone,” she said pointing to the far end of the bar.
“I don’t know why not,” she said warily. “Why, who are you?”
“Oh…, nobody important but I was told he’s the one to talk to about flying.”
“Oh! Well okay then, I’ll get your beer,” she muttered over her shoulder while heading down the bar. But she walked past the cooler all the way to the end and whispered, “Colonel, that guy’s asking about you. Do you know him?”
The Colonel looked up for a second. “Umm, nope, but he doesn’t look dangerous. Why, who is he, a regular?”
“Nope, never saw him before. Says he’s looking for Robert Petrovitch; thought I’d better let you know.”
“Thanks sweetie. I appreciate that. Send him down.”
Marlene turned and waved a “come hither” motion to the stranger who grabbed his glasses, cap and briefcase, approached and introduced himself as Mike Wilson, a writer who was doing some research for a book. “Can I buy you a drink Sir?” he added before sitting on the stool next to Petrovitch.
“Sure. I’ll have another. I understand you asked about me. What can I do for you?”
“Well Colonel, I’d like to––”
“Just call me Bob.”
“Oh…, okay…, Bob. But she, um, I guess everyone here calls you Colonel Bob.”
“Okay! Bob it is. What’s with the chicken thing? What, do you do, work for them or something?”
“Ah––Right. That would have been Eddie Hicks. Right?”
“Oh, so you knew Eddie?”
“No. Never had the pleasure but I’ve learned about him and many others in my research. You’re the one I can’t find anything on or about. That’s why I want to talk to you.” He pulled out a notebook and added, “Do you mind if I take notes while we talk?”
Petrovitch stared at Wilson’s tattered notebook for a second then leaned back and folded his hands in his lap. With an incredulous expression, his eyes grew dark as he stared deeply at the writer. Several more seconds of silence passed while the two men mentally sparred with the situation sizing each other up. Petrovitch broke the verbal impasse with a claim that there was nothing about him anyone would ever want to put in a book. “Come on,” he added, “I’m nothing special. What kind of book is this? I’m just another old dinosaur having a drink and wasting a little time on a Sunday afternoon.”
“Well, with all due respect Sir, that’s not what I heard. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told some pretty fantastic stories about you. There are some who think you should have accepted the Medal of Honor and should be in the history books so I wanted to come to the source and get the truth!”
“Oh my God,” laughed Petrovitch sarcastically. “You’ve got to be kidding! What is this, candid camera or something?”
Just then Marlene brought their drinks. “So, how’s it going Colonel…., Mister…, Mike Wilson is it…, everything cool?”
Still chuckling, Petrovitch put an elbow on the bar, rested his chin in his hand, shook his head and said, “Marlene sweetie, I think someone has been making up stories again and Mike here believed them! Ha! Some things never change!”
A knowing smile flushed across the woman’s face as she turned and silently walked away.
“Mike, look,” began Petrovitch, “people make stories grow like weeds so,” –– He picked up his glass of iced tea and held it for a toast –– “here…, a toast to those who can’t see the truth to the fantasies in their imaginative minds.”
Petrovitch squinted. “He…? Who, who is he?”
“The Congressman I spoke to just before he passed away. He said you would deny ever being, um, well, being who you were. That was several years ago. I believe he was your handler or contact or something. I’ve been working on putting this together for years and you’re the part I can’t pin down so I hope you’ll help me. It would mean a lot.”
Petrovitch raised an eyebrow and let out a long sigh. “Okay look, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to or what they’ve said but there’s probably nothing I can say that will answer any questions you have. So let’s have a drink and enjoy the game on TV. You like football?”
The writer smiled, flipped to the back of his notebook and rattled off a dozen names. “Recognize any of these people?” he asked. Petrovitch’s expression did not change. “Two people you went to school with, and we have a Senator, a Secretary of Defense, a Congressman and several former Marines; I don’t know why they would lie to me. Tell me about when you were stationed on the Kitty Hawk.”
“I was never stationed on the Kitty Hawk.”
“That could be anyone,” Petrovitch blustered interrupting the writer mid-sentence. “Where did you get a confidential medical record anyway?”
“Freedom of Information Act, it’s not classified or anything and it’s been cleaned. Most of it has been blacked out, unreadable. That’s why I need your help.”
“Okay Mike, I get it. You’re writing a book and you need something sensational to make it sell. But I don’t have anything sensational to tell you. Besides, if you can get that record, you probably already know everything there is to know about me. And that’s not much at all.”
Wilson put the folder back and, with a pleading expression said, “Yes, I’ve got some records but the Marine Corps says they never heard of you and DOD says that you completed your six year draft obligation in a few months. From 1-A to 6-A in four months…? That’s impossible! What’s more, several people told me you saved their lives. Most refer to you as a Spook or a Ghost and that’s why I’m so confused and frustrated! One record says you were here but another says you were there and another one says you were not even you!” Petrovitch chuckled as Wilson continued. “If you just give me the name…, or the names, damn, I need something! I’ve got three birth certificates and four passports that are supposed to be you but they’re all different names. Can you at least tell me who you really are?”
Petrovitch shook his head and laughed. “I think you’ve got an impossible task Mike. I’m a guy who graduated high school, joined the Air Force, got hurt, went home and sold cars to make a living. Then I learned a few things and did some accounting work. Now I’m old and retired. Pretty simple huh? That’s about all there is to know.”
“Bob––Look–– I know you don’t want to talk about any of this but I’ve got photographs of you, in the cockpit of an F-4J at Da Nang, another on the Enterprise. It was CV-64 wasn’t it? I think that was an F-4C you were in front of.”
“Well there! See? You’ve been given false information. I’ve been told that the Enterprise is CVN-65 and whatever photographs you have are probably of someone who just looks like me. No wonder you’re so confused!”
Wilson pulled an envelope out of his briefcase and spread some photographs out on the bar. “Look at this one Bob. It’s of a Marine fighter squadron on the Enterprise at Yankee Station. Recognize it?” Petrovitch offered no answer. “Okay. Look closely at the flight jacket in this later one from Kaneohe Bay. Right here, see the name? It says, Robert H Petrovitch, Lt. Col. USMC; and this one taken five years after that, Colonel, USMC. Come on Colonel, help me. If you don’t, I’ll have to run with what I have and fill in the blanks as best I can. And that could turn out to be highly inaccurate! Give me a break… Please?”
Petrovitch finished his iced tea, put a five dollar bill on the bar and stood up. “Okay Mike. You’re persistent. I’ll give you that. You hungry? I know a private little restaurant across the street. We’ll talk.” And, without waiting for an answer, the Colonel started walking toward the door.
“Well, wait…, wait a minute Colonel…!” sputtered Wilson gathering his things and hurrying to catch up. “Where are we going? Why not talk here?”
Without stopping or turning around, Petrovitch responded with, “Too many ears!”
It was a short five minute walk across the street to an Asian themed plaza where the front door of a Japanese restaurant loomed on a small building set apart from the many Korean, Thai and Chinese shops and eateries dotting the main structure. Wilson asked question after question on the way but Petrovitch looked straight ahead or back and forth at the traffic and never answered. A smile at one question or disbelieving expression at another was all Wilson got for his incessant bantering.
“Thank you Yushiko,” replied Petrovitch. She bowed again and hurried away.
“Guess these people know you. Come here often?” Again, Petrovitch just smiled but gave no answer. “Okay look,” blustered Wilson, “you said we’d talk. I think that means we both say things. I talk to you and you answer. Get it? Are you ever going to actually say anything?”
“Soon,” Petrovitch replied.
Wilson sighed, shook his head and silently waited until an Asian man came out and spoke with Petrovitch in Japanese. Then, speaking in English, he turned toward Wilson and said, “I believe we have a table to suit your needs Sir.”
They were taken to a private room separate from the main restaurant and seated at a table large enough for ten people. Wilson looked around in awe, stared at the perfectly aligned elegant place settings for a moment and then sheepishly muttered, “I don’t know how to use chopsticks. Can we get some silverware?”
“I could sure use another beer,” he replied looking at Petrovitch for approval.
It took only ten minutes for Petrovitch’s Sushi and Wilson’s cheeseburger and salad to arrive. He lifted the patty from the bun with a fork to examine it. “Is this––”
“Wilson gingerly took a small bite, then another larger one. “This is…, ummm, this is, Wow! This is like tenderloin…, this is good!”
For several minutes they talked about the food and other casual things but soon, Wilson’s goal reappeared. “So Mike,” mumbled Petrovitch through a mouth half full of sushi, “what’s this, asking me about flying, thing you mentioned at the bar? What do you, Mike Wilson, a reporter, a freelance stringer for technology mags, really want from me? Are you really writing a book now or is this all about something you haven’t even mentioned yet?”
“You know who I am?”
“I’ve read a couple of your articles.”
“Look Bob, I’m really sorry for the ruse but I’ve been to every government agency, department and person I know and I can’t get any answers. I’m desperate and I need your help.”
Petrovitch wiped his mouth with a napkin and leaned back. “And exactly what do you think an old man like me could possibly do for you?”
Wilson rubbed his face with both hands and sighed before confessing his true goal. “My daughter,” he blurted, “they said she’s dead. We even had a funeral but I think she’s still alive! You know people so I thought––”
Wilson’s face flushed with frustration. “The Marine Corps told me she died in a training accident but listen to this.” A slight click on a small recorder played a message. I’m okay dad. Have to do a job. Snickers. This message was on my phone one day and I know it’s her voice.”
“Ohhh, well… I’m sorry to hear your daughter died. When did she leave the message, just before it happened?”
“No. A month after the funeral!”
Petrovitch folded his arms, put one hand up to his forehead, rubbing it and thinking. He looked past his fingers at Wilson for several seconds and then asked “Parris Island?” Wilson nodded. Petrovitch let out a long deep breath and took a drink of tea. “What battalion, what unit, what everything; tell me who, what, where, when and why. But I can’t promise anything.”
Wilson beamed with joy as he began to put photographs of his baby girl on the table explaining the details of what he knew but the thing Petrovitch really noticed was the hope returning to a distraught father’s eyes. Once again, Robert Petrovitch, the man who was only a civilian accountant, felt the pressure of life and death on his battered shoulders.
R. H. Politz