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Bella

Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

Isabel took the paper and stared at the name for long seconds. I knew what she must be thinking. Marcus Ravoli, barely out of college. A scared kid who tossed a grenade at the enemy and killed my husband. “I gotta’ go,” said Bart Jefferson. “Please don’t try to contact me.”

“Hold on.” I read back through my notes. “What about this Sgt. Falk? What’s he about? Where is he now?”

“Falk’s still in-country, somewhere near Kabul, I think. He’s a lifer – never married, served in the first Gulf War, a hard-ass, but loves his Army.”

We stood and shook hands like businessmen. “Something might come up where I need to get to you, Bart.” I gave him my cell number and he said he’d get in touch in a week. Isabel stayed seated, her eyes wet, the paper still in her hand. “Good luck, Mrs. Moss,” he said, gently squeezing her shoulder. “I loved your husband. We all did.”

When he was gone, I said, “Quit crying on the paper; you’ll smudge the address.”

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She laughed and turned into me. She hugged me hard, arms slung around my neck, and I brought her closer and she started crying again, big, heaving sobs, and my damned shoulder started getting soggy and then we were drawing attention, so I whispered we should leave. She kissed me quick as we pulled apart and her lips were sad and sweet and I thought, how staggering that so much life would, could, start, end and begin again between the two kisses I received from such different girls at Mel’s Diner. I wondered whatever happened to Tanya Rodriguez. When I tried to tell Isabel what I was thinking and how small and inconsequential it all made me feel, I found she was amazingly composed. She pressed two fingers to my lips and said, “Shh. Wait. See what happens.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

“And you’re saying a drone caught what happened to Hank, and that a tape of it exists.”

“That’s what I was told, sir.”

I slid forward. “Told? What are you saying? Either you know or you don’t. Have you seen it or not?” He hesitated.

“Bart?” Isabel said.

“I was told they have it. I haven’t seen it myself. I’m sure it exists, that it shows conclusively that — ”

“— You think you’re sure. Are you kidding?” I took his wrist, not realizing that under the hairy cover, it was the size of an average man’s ankle. He looked at my hand. Both of us knew he could crumble my five fingers like almond biscotti before I uttered another syllable.

I was too far in to stop. “You’re sure someone told you it exists, but you haven’t seen the tape. Therefore you’re not sure about anything. Unless you have a copy, that is. Do you have a copy of this alleged tape?”

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He brushed away my hand. “No,” he said. “I didn’t see the tape and I don’t have a copy. What I have is this — a name and an address.” He passed me a torn square of loose leaf paper. I looked at the name, written in a precise, steady hand with a black, fine-point. It meant nothing. The address was in Charleston, South Carolina.

“That’s the guy who threw the grenade. Marcus Ravoli. Went to the military college in Charleston.” Bart closed his eyes and moved a fork from thumb to pinky the way a cheerleader transfers a baton across her fingers. “Ravioli. We called him Ravioli. They cut him loose. Honorable discharge. Find him and he might tell you the truth. Do it fast; I hear Marcus’ not doing so great. None of us who were there are doing so great. That much I’m sure about, Mr. Patragno.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

Isabel hadn’t said a word since we’d sat down in the booth opposite Bart Jefferson. She wore jeans and a pale orange polo that looked nice against her black hair. She’d spent the last few minutes with both hands wrapped tightly around her coffee cup. Now she looked directly at Bart. “Hank told me about drones once. UAV, for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.”

“Yes, ma’am. High-altitude, long-endurance. They give our field commanders near-real time streaming video of the theatre.”

“Good quality?”

“Yes sir, very high resolution.” So the video — the embodiment of modern warfare, more precise and conclusive than DNA — would clearly show Hank and the events leading to his death. “How big are these drones, like a kid’s radio-controlled plane?”

Bart looked at Isabel to see if I was kidding. She rolled her eyes, he chuckled, and the tension eased.

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“I know the specs,” he said. “I’m studying integrated and unmanned systems. Top to bottom, it’s about 14-and-a-half feet; wingspan, 116 feet; length, about 45 feet. Gross weight at take off: 26,000 pounds; maximum altitude, 65,000 feet or so. Not a kid’s toy, sir.”

“How long can they stay in the air?”

“About 35 hours.”

“So what we have is like a guy robbing a convenience store getting caught by the surveillance camera.”

Again his eyes went to Isabel. “Something like that, sir. Like I said, our drones fly at up to 65,000 feet. They send surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance info to our commanders on an area that measures 40,000 square miles. That’s a little bigger than your average 7-11. And it’s not a static camera.” Isabel smiled. “But you’re right,” he added quickly, “drones don’t pick and choose what they record. Everything that goes in gets sent back to command for analysis.”

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

I counted four witnesses: Bart, his teammate Sanchez, who was still overseas, the soldier who threw the grenade, and Marlin Falk. When Bart Jefferson said Hank Moss was the most selfless man he’d met in the Army, that he wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do, and that he spoke all the time about his wife and little girl, I reached for Isabel’s hand under the table. She pulled away and stared at the kid from outside Chicago until he began looking uncomfortable. I caught his eye. “Bart, I know it’s a longshot, but I thought there might be satellite imagery showing what happened that night.”

“Satellite photos. No sir, no way.”

“I know. They don’t zoom in that close, plus it was raining, and what would the odds be of — ”

“ — There is a tape, though.”

“A tape.” Bart scanned the diner, looking jumpy for the first time. His burger sat untouched. I could see a small patch of grease spreading on the plate. I’d probably eaten 200 of Mel’s burgers waiting for rides home when I was a kid or taking breaks when I helped out at our store. I took a wide angle look out the window and saw that Jim Dandy Cleaners was no more. The real estate company I’d sold it to when the folks died turned it into a cell phone store. Business was good; we never had a line of customers out the door, not even on Saturday mornings. Bart leaned toward us and said softly, “Streaming video shot by a drone.”

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A drone. I thought of Star Wars and tried to remember if the drone was the tall, chatty gold android or the squat, dome-topped thing with camera eyes and arms that reached to the ground. Military drone. I imagined a rolling, whistling, whirring, silver-plated robot with camera eyes in Army fatigues.

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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Author Steve Piacente

Guest Post by Steve Piacente

He was Hollywood’s vision of a fighting man — a square-jawed, 5-10, 190-pounder from outside Chicago accustomed to addressing everyone as sir or ma’am. Private Bart Jefferson was 23, with close-cropped black hair and a chin that looked like it needed two shaves a day.

The three of us drew little attention at Mel’s. Tampa was home to MacDill Air Force Base, a command of 6,000 airmen and civilians that, as Congressman Dwoark intoned over and over as he trolled for votes every two years among active-duty service members and veterans, pumped over $6 billion a year into the local economy.

Bart Jefferson, in Tampa on a stop-over, was hardly the unknown soldier I’d imagined. For all he’d seen and been part of in Afghanistan, for all his muscle and military bearing, he was pretty much a scared kid without a hint of hype or mystery. He’d witnessed a tragedy, joined the conspiracy by keeping silent, and now needed things set straight so he could sleep nights. He told us that he’d been part of Hank’s three-man team the night of the accident. On Hank’s order, he and another soldier, Oscar (Osky) Sanchez of Laredo, Texas, had ducked behind a corner seconds before the grenade exploded. Afterwards, they raced to Hank. There was simply no one to help, not even much of a body to send home and bury.

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Two other soldiers arrived moments later from the north. One began sobbing when he saw the first team and learned he’d killed another American. The second soldier, Sgt. Marlin Falk, ordered everyone to resume their patrols. Falk said he’d handle the paperwork. He made sure that everyone understood Hank Moss was a hostile casualty, killed in action by enemy fire. He stood before all three men — Bart, Osky Sanchez, and the soldier who threw the grenade — and repeated, We clear on this, soldier? Each barked back a yessir.

Martha Note: Steve Piacente self-published Bella, and in 2011 was named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by The Authors Show. Steve is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at steve@getbella.com. Buy Bella now and read on!

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