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(Book Selection) Dulce

>>October 2005<<

Chesley looked up as the last customer in line stepped to the counter at the Dulce, New Mexico Post Office.  He looked like so many others out that way, grizzled and weather worn,  a wear faded Carhartt vest decidedly warm for the fairly mild temperatures of the early fall and a go to hell gray Stetson with a corner of the brim turned up that was sweat stained where the crown met the brim.  By her estimation he looked to be in his 60s with hair that had gone steely gray.  More than a few days stubble on his cheeks framed an odd goatee that would have looked more in style during the Civil War.

“How you doing Mr. Dave?”  He looked up from the overnight envelope in his hands and said “Not bad for an old man gal.”  She was struck by his green eves and steady gaze that cut through the distance between the two.  “Not a bad lookin’ old dude–not bad at all”  she thought, even though he was a good 30 or 40 years her senior. She looked past his shoulder to where his pickup truck was nosed in to the curb.  “See you got your runnin’ buddy with you today.” Dave turned slightly and smiled.  “Yeah – that Buck dog likes to make every step I do.”   She scanned the envelope and said  “Alrighty Mr. Dave,  this’ll be delivered in Oklahoma City by noon tomorrow.”  He handed her a twenty and she asked “That it for today?” as she made change.  He pocketed the change and turned to leave “Oughta do it for me.”  Chesley watched as he walked out and got into the old Chevy on the curb. The odd looking black and brown dog had his head out the driver’s side window and nosed the old man’s chest when he opened the door to get in.  She dropped the overnight letter in the plastic and cardboard bin marked Property of USPS on the rear counter and disappeared into the back of the small Post Office.

Dave opened the door of the institutional green 1969 Chevy K20 4×4 Camper Special.  “Git over Buck!” he said as he slid behind the wheel. The 292 cubic inch straight 6 fired off as he turned the key.  He reached over and palmed the broom handle shifter to the right and back to reverse away from the curb and into the center of the mostly deserted street.  Pushing in the clutch again,  he pulled the shifter toward him and then back and eased out on the clutch as the truck started forward in second gear.  Two blocks down Main, he parked in front of the drugstore “Back in a minute Buck.” Letter mailed and prescriptions picked up,  he headed out of town east on US 64 and pulled into the parking lot of the Jicarrilla Apache Casino.

Dave felt like some coffee and the Casino was a good place to get an early afternoon cup.  Nobody ever noticed him as they hustled in and out of the doors of a Los Angeles architect’s hideous rendition of what he thought a Pueblo style Casino should look like.   He parked the old Chevy by the farthest corner of the outdoor patio and figured that would be a good place to spend some time drinking coffee.  Coming out of the restaurant with a cup in one hand and a full carafe in the other he smiled at Buck hanging his head out the window watching his every move.  “Silly ass dog!”  he commented to no one.  He knew he would have the patio to himself on this cool day and Buck would enjoy being liberated from the confines of the truck cab for awhile as well.  He set the cup and carafe on the nearest table, let Buck out, and settled back  into a chair.

Buck was a Tricolor Lacy Dog and Dave often mused on how a dog more suited to running East Texas feral hogs ever ended up in the high country of Northern New Mexico.  It was a good day for remembering and Dave slid his mind back 3 years to the phone call from Charlie Notsinneh.  Charlie was full blood Jicarilla Apache and just about the only person in town Dave gave a damn about….  well, take that back.  Charlie and his daughter Lori were the only true friends he had in Dulce.  Charlie had called Dave to let him know the litter of Lacy Dog pups was ready to go and he had pick of the litter.  Dave had driven out to Charlie’s small house next to the airport and the two men had gone out to the barn where a half dozen pups were corralled in a straw floored chicken wire pen in the corner.  Dave handled the pups each in turn with their tight little pot bellies and puppy breath that smelled of Purina Puppy Chow soaked in warm milk.  The last pup, a tricolor male, growled and bristled whenever Dave’s hand came near.  As he picked him up, he managed to nip the web of his thumb and index finger with his needle sharp puppy teeth. “Little bastard!”  Dave held the spitting, snarling pup at eye level and gave him a long look.  “This is the one Charlie.”  Charlie’s eyebrows went up “What do you want with that mean little sonofabitch?   I figgered he would be the last pick of anybody.”  He put the pup in the dog crate Charlie had next to the pen.  “He may be anti-social but he wasn’t scared of me in the least.  I like his grit.  Sometimes it is best to be different and not to follow the pack.  Yep, this is the one.”  Buck came home with him that day and the man and dog had not been apart for more than two hours in the last three years.  Buck was representative of the breed at about two feet tall and 40 pounds in weight with startling yellow eyes that complemented his red, dark gray-black  and white markings.  After checking out the immediate area of the patio, Buck laid down at his master’s left side.  Dave was deep in thought and his left hand absently went to the dogs neck and stroked the short coat.

‘Sailor’ Dave Connell Jr. was 65 years old and the afternoon on the patio was given away to remembering a life sliding down the back side of the curve toward an inevitable conclusion.   He was born in San Diego, California in  1940 and was an only child.  Connell Sr. was an aeronautical engineer and worked for Consolidated Aircraft his entire life.  His major claim to fame being a pivotal design role in the B24 Liberator Bomber which saw extensive service in WWII.   Connell Sr. had purchased a Cessna 140 in 1949 and kept it conveniently hangared at Lindbergh Field which just happened to be the location of Consolidated Aircraft as well.   Dave had started going to the airfield almost every weekend with his father when he was 10 years old and started flying when he was 12;  soloing at the earliest allowable age of 16.  After 4 years of college at UCLA,  Dave had entered the Air Force to complete his obligation of an education provided at Air Force expense and was not quite 23 years old in 1963 when he was sent to Viet Nam as a Forward Air Controller.

The rugged jungle terrain of South East Asia readily hid enemy troop movements. U.S. fighter-bombers were so fast that pilots had great difficulty distinguishing between enemy troops,  friendly troops and civilians. Forward air controllers directing air strikes thus became essential in the application of air power.  The FAC flew the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog slowly over the rough terrain at low altitude to maintain constant aerial surveillance. By patrolling the same area constantly, they grew very familiar with the terrain and they learned to detect any changes that could indicate enemy forces hiding below. Tracks on the ground, misplaced vegetable patches, an absence of water buffalo, smoke from cooking fires in the jungle, too many farmers working the fields—all could indicate enemy troops in the vicinity. Flying low and slow over enemy forces was very dangerous; however the enemy usually held his fire to avoid discovery. The FAC radioed for strike aircraft after spotting the enemy and marking the target with smoke grenades or white-phosphorus rockets.  After directing the fighter-bombers’ attacks, the FAC would fly low over the target to assess the damage.

The O-1 Bird Dog had many shortcomings. Its’ speed made it slow to arrive over target. It was vulnerable to enemy small arms fire and its’ small size limited its payload. The little plane’s radio system of 3 different radios was makeshift, with only one channel available at a time for any radio. Also, the Bird Dog lacked night flight instruments. The Viet Cong feared the Bird Dog the most and nicknamed it “Old Lady.”  Based on the Cessna 170, the Bird Dog was a single-engined, light-weight, strut-braced, high-wing monoplane with a tailwheel landing gear. The greatest difference from the Cessna 170 was the Bird Dog only had two seats, in tandem configuration with angled side windows to improve ground observation. Other differences included a redesigned rear fuselage, providing a view directly to the rear and transparent panels in the wings’ center-section which allowed the pilot to look directly overhead. A wider door was fitted to allow a stretcher to be loaded. Dave flew the same type plane when he returned for his second tour in late 1965.

Dave returned to Viet Nam a third and final time in 1969 with the rank of Captain.  He was assigned as Exec Officer to an Air Force FAC group which had upgraded to the Cessna O-2 Skymaster by that time. The  O-2 Skymaster was an adaptation of the civilian Cessna 337. With twin engines, the O-2 had greater speed, an improved radio system, could carry more equipment and ordnance and had night instrumentation.  Dave flew a desk more than a Skymaster that tour and returned to the States totally disillusioned by the way the war was going. He resigned his commission almost immediately and settled into civilian life around San Diego.

Both of Dave’s parents had passed in 1967 and left him a little nest egg after the liquidation of the estate. The only item not sold was the venerable Cessna 140 which he still hangared at Lindbergh Field. He spent the next few years partying and having a good time –  supporting himself marginally by flying the little 140 into Mexico and buying a pound or two of pot. It was ridiculously easy to make a quick day flight south and return with the marijuana which he easily sold for 8 to 10 times profit. Somewhere along about 1971 Dave bought a Catalina sailboat and moved out of his small apartment to live aboard the 30′ fiberglass boat full time.  As good a pilot as he was, he proved to be an absolutely miserable and inept sailor. The Catalina ended up sitting in its’ marina slip 99% of the time and his hippie friends soon saddled him with the nickname of Sailor Dave. The nickname stuck and Dave even started introducing himself as Sailor Dave with rare inclusion of his surname.

Repeated flights into the small towns of Baja California eventually brought the attention of the local drug family that controlled the region to bear on the hippie gringo pilot.  They recruited the skilled American to ferry plane loads of drugs over the border in various Cessna 206s.  Smuggling drugs across the border during the early 70’s  was insanely easy.  Flying low avoided most if not all of the spotty radar and physical interdiction by a U.S. Official was an almost unheard of event.   Sailor Dave enjoyed the challenging flying and the cat and mouse game of avoiding the authorities – and the money.  He could have easily made more money had he not not refused to haul cocaine or heroin but even a lawless smuggler is allowed to have his scruples.  By 1980, he was starting to see the handwriting on the wall.  The Drug Enforcement Administration was six years old and they were starting to grow some teeth in the San Diego area.  Dave and his wife of just over one year had split and being as how they were childless, the divorce had been amicable and mostly painless.  Marian was a good woman -still was for that matter- but when you are a working class child of working class parents from a blue collar neighborhood in Riverside, California going so exotic was just a little much.  Marian had loved the idea of being married to a devil may care smuggler that lived on a sailboat;  the reality was not as romantic.  It had proven to be just too much for her simple expectations of life.

High time for a change” Sailor Dave had remarked to his drinking buddies at the marina bar.  “Time to get the hell out of Dodge.”

Previous installments of the book are HERE.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  None of the characters are real.  The events depicted may or may not be historically true or even remotely factual.  Locations and descriptions may or may not be actual.  This is my original work and you DO NOT have permission to copy more than a short excerpt which must point back to my original document. This work and all work in this series is Copyright © 2013 MyOldRV.com.





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