Scent of Survival
Thomas Calabrese — On average 21 U.S. veterans including one active-duty service member commit suicide every day and 3,200 dogs are euthanized in that same time period. This is a statistic that should cause every American deep concern. Sometimes a bad beginning will have a happy ending. This story is about a fortuitous turn of events for a veteran, a dog and those lucky enough to come in contact with them.
Sergeant Nick Chamberlain was in the Marines and on his third deployment. He had already made his decision to leave the Corps when his enlistment expired. Being in the infantry, he saw his share of action in Afghanistan and was wounded twice during combat with Taliban fighters.
His Marine detachment had been at Fire Support Base Murphy for six months and were almost done with their assignment and would be returning to Camp Pendleton in two months. Things had slowed down considerably since his company’s first three months in country when they had been under regular attack by mortars, rocket fire or actual attacks by Taliban fighters. For the last three weeks, Lima Company had only been receiving sporadic sniper fire, but nobody was complaining, “Lance Corporal Rob Tremayne said, “If our luck holds out, we just might make it out of here without getting into another firefight.”
“I’ll consider myself lucky when I’m on a plane back home with all my body parts still attached,” PFC Craig Rizzo interjected, “until then I’m keeping my head on a swivel.”
“Like Yogi Bear said, it ain’t over till it’s over,” Lance Corporal Jerry Olander smiled.
“It’s not Yogi Bear, it’s Yogi Berra!” Corporal Louis Caggiano snapped.
“What’s a Berra?” Jerry Olander asked.
“A smaller bear, kind of like a wolf and a wolverine,” Corporal Chris Burson added.
“You guys got no respect for history or tradition. Yogi Berra was a legendary New York Yankee. He was one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series. Berra appeared as a player, coach or manager in every one of the 13 World Series that New York baseball teams won from 1947 through 1981. Overall, he played or coached in 22 World Series, 13 on the winning side. Berra caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. He also holds the all-time record for shutouts caught with 173,” Louis Caggiano said.
“I guess you’re a Yankee fan?” Craig Rizzo surmised.
“Like my dad and his dad before him and everybody else in my family,” Louis said proudly.
“Wasn’t it Yogi Berra who said that being in the Marines was ninety per cent mental and the other half was physical?” Nick Chamberlain joked.
“Something like that,” Louis replied.
Lt. Andy Breck walked up, “A drone detected some movement about three clicks (one click equals 1000 meters) southwest of our position. Sergeant Chamberlain, take a patrol out and see what’s going on.”
“Roger that,” Sergeant Chamberlain quickly responded.
“When you’re saddled up, stop by the Command Center and I’ll give you the grid coordinates.” Lt. Breck added as he walked off.
The Marine patrol had been out about 30 minutes and not seen any suspicious activity. Sergeant Chamberlain looked up and saw the drone circling overhead then checked his map to confirm he was in the right location. Something didn’t seem right to him and he ordered his Marines, “Take cover!” His warning couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as a machine gun opened fire right where the Marines were standing a moment earlier. Mortars came falling from the sky above and one landed ten feet from where Sergeant Chamberlain was standing and the blast lifted him off his feet and slammed him against a boulder.
Sergeant Chamberlain was medivaced to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the main medical center for U.S. Coalition forces. L.R.M.C. is also the evacuation center for all injured U.S. service-members serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, African Command, Central Command and European Command. After several surgeries to remove 16 pieces of metal shrapnel from his body, Doctor Richard Barkley was conferring with his fellow physician Tate Chambers, “That part is done, we got all the metal out and he should make a full recovery from his physical injuries, but…”
“It’s the traumatic brain injury that concerns you and me,” Doctor Chambers echoed the same sentiments.
Sergeant Chamberlain slowly awakened to see a blurry image of Nurse Lana Garfield standing next to his bed. She smiled down at the injured Marine, “Welcome back, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Chamberlain’s mouth was so dry that he could hardly speak. The kindly nurse held a glass of ice chips under his chin and the Marine took some into his mouth. It felt cool and refreshing and he took several more chips, “Where am I?”
“Landstuhl,” Nurse Garfield replied.
It only took the Marine a couple seconds to realize he was injured, “How long have I been here?”
The next question was harder for Sergeant Chamberlain to ask, “How bad am I hurt?”
“You’re much better now.”
Sergeant Chamberlain started doing a mental inventory of his body because he didn’t want to look to make sure that he was still in one piece, “What about my…my…
Nurse Garfield had dealt with enough badly injured combat veterans to know what the Marine’s concerns were, “Don’t worry about that.”
Sergeant Chamberlain became slightly nauseous and the room began spinning. Over the next few days he began experiencing classic symptoms of TBI (traumatic brain injury) amnesia, dizziness, slurred speech, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. When Sergeant Chamberlain began eating solid food, he realized he had no sense of smell or taste.
Three weeks later, Sergeant Chamberlain was transferred from Germany to Camp Pendleton and assigned to the Wounded Warrior Barracks. Most of his symptoms had either diminished or vanished completely except for his loss of smell and taste. After a short period of treatment and some transitional therapy, Sergeant Nick Chamberlain was discharged from the Marine Corps. With the assistance of qualified counselors and a government subsidized program for severely injured combat veterans, Nick moved into a fully furnished studio apartment in a new complex on Vandergrift Boulevard located two miles from the back-gate of the base. He would be allowed to stay in transitional housing for one year rent free, as long as he continued with his treatment program through the Veterans Administration.
It had been over four months since his injury and Nick’s sense of smell and taste still had not returned so without the pleasure of enjoying his food, Nick went on a strict diet of vegetables and fish and basically only ate to keep his energy up. He began attending Mira Costa Junior College with the intent of getting his Associates Degree. A former Navy Corpsman who was also living at the apartment complex, was in a vehicle that ran over an IED (improvised explosive device) in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. A piece of shrapnel severed his left hand at the wrist with surgical precision. Adam Slattery asked Nick, “If you are looking to pick up some extra money, I’ve got this part-time gig driving for Motion. I usually make a couple hundred dollars every week.”
“What are your hours?” Nick asked.
“I tell the company which days that I’m available and they text me when someone needs a ride. I’m not doing much so it gives me a chance to get out, ride around and meet some people,” Adam said.
“I’ll think about it. If I decide that I’m interested, could I go with you to see how it works?” Nick asked.
Kanines to Kombat Veterans, was a non-profit organization that works with various animal rescue organizations including SPOTT and It’s The Pits. It was based on a four acre parcel of land in the hills of Vista, California. Their primary mission was to join military personnel who have post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or a different psychological disorder with a service animal. The motto of the organization was “Creating the Greatest Bond.” The organization was born out of the premise that dogs could help veterans with a variety of mental health issues.
When Nick was informed of the program and that he was an eligible candidate, he immediately applied. Two weeks later, he was notified that he had been selected. He drove to the sanctuary and waited on the bench outside the main office.
An attendant walked toward him with a tan dog on a leash. The dog pulled loose and ran over to Nick and sat before him. He placed his right paw on his knee and looked up. The attendant smiled, “I guess Deputy couldn’t wait for a formal introduction.”
“Deputy? Is that his name?”
“A deputy sheriff brought him in, He’s about two years old. We did a DNA test on him. His breed is Pitador,” The attendant said.
“A cross between a Pitbull and a Labrador.”
Nick gently stroked the head of the animal and felt a sense of calm sweep over him. My brother, Vincent and I used to spend a lot of times at our grandparents. We’d play catch and my brother had a strong arm, but wasn’t the most accurate thrower so I’d be all over the big yard chasing and fetching the ball. “My grandfather nicknamed me ‘Deputy’, short for Deputy Dawg after a cartoon show that he loved. It’s strange which things you remember like they were yesterday while yesterday seems like an eternity away. The other characters in the show were Muskie Muskrat, Moley Mole, Possible Possum, Ty Coon, Pig Newton and my brother was Vincent Van Gopher, because when the ball went under something, he had to crawl to get it. Until I saw this dog, I had completely forgotten about those days.”
The attendant smiled, “The mind is a strange thing, when we’re in trouble or not exactly where we want to be, it defaults to a sanctuary of more pleasant memories. Not to change the subject, but I think you and Deputy are a match. Let’s walk over to the office and get you signed up for a training class. Let’s go Deputy.”
The dog barked and Nick replied, “Yes sir,” at the same time.
As Nick passed a jasmine plant, he caught a faint scent of the sweet smelling flower and stopped to savor the aroma. “Something wrong?” The attendant asked.
“Something else I just remembered… how good flowers smell.”
The handler class is where the veteran and the dog learn to work together as a team and it usually takes three-to-five months to complete. For the first month, Deputy stayed at the training facility and Nick drove over from Oceanside to work with his four-legged partner. Their connection grew stronger with each passing day and Nick’s sense of smell became ultra-sensitive, far beyond what it ever was. During the next phase of training, Deputy was allowed to go home with Nick and from that point on, unexplainable things began to happen. The former Marine’s energy level increased dramatically and he developed a laser focus and keen awareness of his surroundings. Despite these noticeable changes, the biggest difference were the feelings of overwhelming calm and positive energy that never left Nick as long as Deputy was close by.
Nick joined Planet Fitness and worked out three hours every morning before going to the sanctuary for his training session. Deputy wore a vest to identify him as a therapy dog, which allowed Nick to bring his trusty companion wherever he went.
After an intense workout at the gym, Nick and Deputy stopped off at Valerie’s, a small café on Hacienda Drive for a Mexican omelet. The place was empty and Nick sat at the booth in the corner to eat his breakfast, while Deputy laid down under the table. Two men walked up to the counter to place their order, or so it seemed. Nick detected an odor that resembled the way your skin smells after being in a heavily chlorinated pool. Deputy also picked up the same scent. When he looked toward the woman at the counter, she had a distressed look on her face. While one man remained at the counter, the other one went into the kitchen with her. Nick gazed down at Deputy and knew what he had to do. He walked up to the counter and said to the man whose eyes were nervously darting about, “Where’s the lady?”
The man responded quickly, “She’s in back getting something.”
Nick made a move toward the kitchen and the man grabbed his arm and said, “You don’t want to do that.”
Nick noticed the handle of a pistol sticking out from the man’s waistband and commented, “You’re probably right,” then heard the faint sound of a scream coming from the kitchen. The man reached for his pistol and Nick punched him in the throat and grabbed the weapon as the robber fell to his knees, gasping for air. Nick kicked him over and told Deputy “Watch him.” Deputy barked and stood over the fallen man with his teeth bared. Nick cautiously made his way into the kitchen and saw the other man standing next to the woman with a gun in his hand as she opened the safe. When the man saw Nick, he turned around and fired. The bullet whizzed by Nick’s ear, hit the wall and Nick returned fire hitting the man in the shoulder.
When the Oceanside Police arrived, Officer Jim Martin said, “These two have been on a crime spree since last week, starting in San Leandro. They don’t usually leave witnesses, you were both very fortunate.”
“Better lucky than good,” Nick responded.
“Or luck is the residue of skill,” Officer Martin gave another version.
When Officer Martin saw the service dog vest on Deputy, he asked, “You a veteran?”
“Yeah.” Nick answered.
“Me too, 5th Marines.” Officer Martin said.
“7th Marines,” Nick volunteered.
“I’ve got your contact information. The detectives will be in touch.”
“Anything I can do to help,” Nick said.
The female employee rushed over and embraced Nick, “Thank you…thank you very much. You can come back anytime and eat free!”
Nick was driving west on Highway 78, and usually got off at Sycamore Avenue, but decided at the last moment to take the Civic Center Drive exit. Just as he turned off, the truck in front of him blew a tire and its cargo container flipped over. If Nick had kept driving straight, he would have crashed into it.
After finishing his training session, Nick and Deputy were walking through the lobby and passed a middle-aged woman who was deep in thought. Nick commented, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.”
The woman stopped abruptly, “What did you say?”
Nick responded, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.”
“How do you know?” The woman asked, her emotions evident.
“I just know,” Nick shrugged, walked off then looked down at Deputy, “Do you know why I said that?”
Three days later, the woman came up to Nick during his training session. “My father underwent a serious heart operation and the doctors didn’t give him much chance of surviving it. The whole family was prepared for his death. When I got to the hospital, I told all my relatives exactly what you said, ‘Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.’ I don’t know why I believed you, but I did. The doctor said it was a miracle and my father is now on his way to a full recovery!”
As Nick walked away, he looked down at Deputy, “This is more about you than it is me.”
Nick decided to start driving two days a week for Motion. He got a call for a pick-up in Del Mar. When he reached his destination, a large beachfront house, he stopped out front. Since it was 2AM, he didn’t honk, but waited patiently.
Stuart Magowan was a multi billionaire hedge fund manager and owner of the residence. He was also an alcoholic and abuser of women. Callie Brinton was an attorney and her firm had just handled a large transaction for Magowan. When she met the dashing billionaire, he was charming and sweet. After accepting his dinner invitation, Callie expected an enjoyable evening, but after several drinks, Stuart became rude and belligerent. Callie tried to be diplomatic and told her host, “I’m not feeling well, I’d better go home.”
This further outraged the drunken Magowan, “You’ll go home when I tell you!”
When Callie was in the bathroom, she called for a ride. While Magowan continued drinking heavily, Callie pretended to be docile and compliant while looking out the front window for the vehicle she called to arrive. When she saw it, Callie decided to make a run for it. Magowan caught her as she struggled to unlock the front door. He punched her in the face and she fell to the floor and her shoes came off. Magowan was out of control by now and began hitting Callie in the stomach and tearing at her clothes. She struggled to her feet and kicked Magowan and broke his nose.
Callie finally got the front door open and staggered out. The pain in her abdomen was so intense that she fell to the ground. When Nick saw her, he rushed to her assistance while Deputy leaped out the window. Magowan came to the front door, with blood streaming down his face and firing a pistol at Callie and Nick. Deputy was off like a rocket and came right at Magowan. The gun went flying when he snapped down on his wrist.
On the way back to Carlsbad, Callie just wanted to go home, but Nick detected the scent of chlorine and knew that the woman sitting in his backseat was seriously injured. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”
It was a prudent and lifesaving decision because Callie had internal bleeding and needed emergency surgery. Nick and Deputy stayed at the hospital until the doctor told him that she was out of danger and in recovery. The next day, Nick returned to see Callie. She expressed her gratitude, “The doctor said if you had not brought me here, I may have died.”
“The most important thing is that you are alright.” Nick answered while Deputy rested his head on the bed and Callie stroked him. She reluctantly brought up the subject of Stuart Magowan. “I apologize for putting you in a dangerous position. The man that you helped me escape from is a very powerful and ruthless individual. I worked on some of his legal matters so I know what he is capable of. He will try and get even with both of us.”
“You need to get better, I’ll handle…what is this guy’s name?” Nick asked.
“I’m sure if I had a talk with him, we could come to an agreement,” Nick said.
After her release from the hospital, Nick cautioned Callie, “I don’t think you should stay at your place until we settle things with Magowan. After packing a couple suitcases, Callie checked in at the Marriott Hotel on Oceanside Ranch Road in Oceanside.
The two professional assassins arrived at Callie’s darkened condo, picked the lock and entered the living room. They walked into the bedroom and saw the shape of something under the covers. Both men fired three shots from their pistols equipped with noise suppressors. The man on the right fell to the floor as a baseball bat hit him across the forehead. Before the second man could react, the baseball bat caught him across the knees and he also went down. Nick turned on the lights and looked at the man who got hit in the head. His eyes were wide open in surprise and it was obvious that he was dead. The second man was moaning in pain, “You broke my knee!”
Nick pulled back the blanket on the bed to show several pillows, “You were going to kill a defenseless woman. Who sent you?”
The man didn’t answer and Nick responded, “There are 206 bones in the human body. I’m betting that before I break ten of them, you’ll tell me anything I want to know.”
“Stuart Magowan,” the man grimaced.
“How were you supposed to let him know the job was done?” Nick asked.
“Do it,” Nick ordered.
The man pulled out his cellphone and made the call, “It’s done.”
Stuart Magowan leaned back in his recliner and gazed out over the Pacific Ocean, “Good…I want the driver next.”
When the man disconnected the call, he looked over at Deputy, “Nice dog…I guess you can’t really let me live? You know I never wanted to do this job in the first place. Mind if I pet him?”
The man reached out his hand and Deputy clamped down and crushed several bones. Nick commented, “I guess he doesn’t like cold blooded scum.”
The man now had a painful dog bite to go with his smashed knee, “You might as well put me out of my misery. Can I ask a question first?”
“Go for it,” Nick said.
“You’re pretty good, where did you learn your skills?”
“Marines,” Nick answered as he smelled the faint odor of chorine.
“A Marine and a dog, I guess I was destined to lose this fight,” The man sighed.
“Call it, head or heart?” Nick asked.
“Heart,” The man whispered softly.
Nick shot the man in the chest, loaded the dead bodies into the trunk of his car and left the condo with Deputy. Stuart Magowan heard a scratching sound, but when he didn’t see anything on his surveillance cameras, he walked down the marble hall and opened the front door. He looked to the left and didn’t see anything, but when he looked to the right, he saw his hired killers lying behind the bush. Nick stepped out from behind a tree and put a bullet between Magowan’s eyes. The billionaire fell between the two men. Nick wiped the pistol’s handle clean of his fingerprints and placed it in one of the hitman’s hands. It was definitely going to be a confusing crime scene for investigators to figure out.
When Callie heard about Magowan’s death, she had a pretty good idea who was responsible, but never voiced her suspicions. She had to replace her mattress, damaged by the bullets, but figured it was a small price to pay. Callie invited Nick and Deputy over for a home cooked meal to thank them for their help. She poured a glass of wine for Nick and herself then looked down at the unusual dog on the floor, “To the greatest bond, a man and his dog.”
They sipped the vintage burgundy and Nick refilled their glasses, “Here’s my toast,” then took a deep breath and detected the tantalizing aromas of vanilla and peppermint blended together as Deputy rested his head on his lap, “To the Sweet Scent of Survival.”