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I cringe every time I see his face or hear his voice.
I’m, Josiah Rollins, a six-foot-two inch, fifty-year-old decorated veteran; served two tours in Iraq, seen someone’s life pass in the blink of an eye sit here and have anxiety issues because I must interact with this moron.
My blood pressure spikes at the thought of him. As I sit here with my so-called executive director of school improvement, I try to amuse myself to pass the time.
Great. What have I done now? I’m a teacher—an administrator. I love working with young people, but I am ruled by a moron who insists that we work inside a broken system.
Executive Director Sheets sits in his tidy little sterile office, buttons his cheap suit, and begins the dreaded conversation. The bland colored room describes his whole demeanor—dull and boring.
While he goes into his lecture mode, I daydream. First, I look at the Perseverance motivational poster with three bald eagles above him. I laugh internally as this man wouldn’t survive a day in my school. He has no clue on how education has evolved since he was a PE teacher back in the 80’s.
It’s hard for me to decide if he reminds me of a mosquito or a gnat. Both are annoying as hell.
“Mr. Rollins,” he nags. “Are you listening to me?”
Oh, crap he’s speaking. “Yes, sir. I am.”
“For a moment there, I thought you zoned out.” Mr. Sheets inquires.
“No sir, I’m with you.”
His phone rings. Thank God. Saved by the bell. My mind drifts again as he answers the call. I would give anything to escape and be somewhere else. Seriously, why am I here? Oh, crap, he is ending the call.
“Thank you for touching base, Mrs. Jones.” Hanging up the phone, the parent-to-child lecture resumes.
Then I see him grow fidgety. No, wait. More like squirmy, like a worm. Looks like he will tell me something that he is uncomfortable with our conversation.
Great. Just what I want, another lecture from this idiot. While waiting in purgatory, my mind runs through any resemblances. He is so much like—an annoying mosquito.
Yep, he’s always sucking the blood out of everybody. Mr. Sheets even loves to buzz around our face and leaves irritating welts where he strikes. Mosquitos also have the distinguished reputation of carrying deadly diseases.
Great. Round two.
With no emotion, he looks up, removes his low-priced framed glasses and stares awkwardly at me.
He takes a breath as silence fills the room.
The glowering facial expression combined with the yearned approach to continue the conversation turns my stomach. Yep. Welcome back to the clown show. And here he goes. Again.
“Mr. Rollins, there is no other way to put this to you—” Just like he begins his previous lectures, I sit back and take my scolding as I have done in many meetings over the two years.
Sheets drudges on initially and then reads from his notepad instead of looking at me like a man.
“The superintendent has reassigned you to Hermitage High School for the next school year as an assistant principal.”
Unsure of what I am hearing; I ask him to repeat it one more time. “I’m sorry. Would you repeat that, please?”
Sheets refuses to look at me and rephrases the statement. “You are no longer a principal, and the superintendent is transferring you to Hermitage High. There you will support the new principal in getting it accredited.”
My attention shifts from a hurry-up, get-out-of-here mindset, to a teapot whistling.
He continues. “Regarding your salary, it will remain the same for one year after which it will be reduced to match the pay scale of an eleven-month assistant principal. The superintendent considered this given the short notice you are receiving today.”
Did I hear him correctly? Seriously? What a putz. I can’t believe this is happening. How much longer must I sit here?
In his shrill voice, he drones on, “the school board will approve this transfer as a personnel item tonight at six, and I expect you to remove your personal items by five today.”
This clown would not know leadership if General George S. Patton walked into the room.
Now I hate the bastard even more.
Staring him down as if I was back on the battlefield in front of enemy fire, I demand answers. “You owe me an explanation, Sheets. More than just handing me an envelope.”
He quivers. “Mr. Rollins, let’s just say you, and I have profound differences in our opinions on education.”
My cause for concern heightens as my DEFense readiness CONdition raises a level from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 4.
“So, what are you saying? I am not a team player?”
“If that’s what you want to call it, then yes.”
DEFCON 3 level reached.
“You have no justifiable reason for this. Our school is accredited again since I took over; the scores are up, and our climate survey is higher than in the preceding year. The press continues to post favorable and inspiring stories on our school giving hope whereas everyone else sees an austere community and a failing education system.”
Then it hits me. Yep, he’s definitely a mosquito. He doesn’t realize that his irritating bite and nag will cause our thriving school to become afflicted with his micromanaged style or worse off dead by his inability to allow the staff to develop.
He lacks the skills and aptitude for us to live together so by killing me, he no longer has any threats. Now I see his game to gain the upper hand.
Instead of rolling up his sleeves and building his schools where everyone wins, he eliminates the best players only to make himself look bold and decisive. It’s just too bad that his inability to hide makes it more apparent for me to address him.
I begin my charge.
“This sir is pure bull. I can’t decide which is worse; you are demoting me or you cowardly wait until three hours before the school board meeting to inform me.”
“I would expect better from someone who comes from the military with a distinguished career such as yourself, Mr. Rollins. Be lucky you are not being fired altogether.”
He smirks as if he actually considered the option.
Stunned, mortified and in anguish, I gather my pride. Weighing all options, I realize this decision is final.
DEFCON 2. Best leave me the hell alone.
Zipping up my binder, I gather what little pride I have and attempt to leave without incident. But he keeps firing back, and this one struck a nerve.
“You had this coming, Rollins,” the round, five-foot one-inch bald headed insect pesters.
Oh, Hell no! Did he just go there?
DEFCON 1 is fully engaged.
“You are a pathetic excuse for an executive who could not even lead ducks to water. Stupid politics. The superintendent manipulates you because are the lowest man on the totem pole who has the unfortunate task of relaying your successful backstabbing.”
A puzzled look emerges from the useless insect. I hold nothing back.
“You say I am not a team player, but you’re the one afraid of interacting with the team. You simply don’t like me because our school stands out better than the others in the district because we do things differently.”
“That’s not true!” he snaps back.
“In the three years I served as principal, you have been to our school only once, slinking, maneuvering and avoiding the people who report to you. Has it ever come to you that maybe you should ask why I do things the way I do?”
He assumes a defensive position. Sheets rolls his chair back from his desk as he crosses his arms in strife. “No, Mr. Rollins, tell me why.”
I lay into him. “We work in a broken system, and our kids continue to suffer.”
Unsure where I am going with this, Sheets plays along. “I don’t understand Mr. Rollins.”
“You just don’t get it do you.”
Sheets turns his head sideways.
“If we are going to teach children for the Twentieth-First century, we need to approach
education through a different lens.”
“Like what?” Sheets boldly asks.
“Here are just a few things. How about eliminating summer breaks, giving teachers the freedom to teach, authorizing uniforms, providing residency for middle and high school students, enticing corporate involvement, enhancing STEM focus, consuming better nutrition and mandating community involvement?”
Sheets immediately fires back. “You want the impossible, Mr. Rollins.”
Without missing a beat, I reply. “No, sir. I only want what’s right for kids. You’re the only one who is impossible.”
Sheets knows he is outmatched and changes the subject back to the meeting. “Well, this decision is finalized, and there is no need to comment any further on it.”
Recognizing that Sheets will not engage in this conversation, I shift back to my job. “Why can’t we meet with the superintendent to discuss his concerns?”
“It’s too late. The Board already approved it in a work session this morning and it merely
a formality it is being introduced tonight.”
Now the mosquito bites under my skin. “I understand. So, instead of dealing with confrontation, the both of you would rather avoid me altogether because what you hear might just make sense compared to the bullshit formality y’all do each and every day.”
He picks up his jaw from the floor and makes the mistake of pointing his finger directly at me.
“That’s my point, Mr. Rollins. You do what you want to do, and the superintendent fears you are a rogue.”
Like a shark smelling blood, I realize now is the time I have waited for and go into attack mode.
“Your excuses are the epitome of America’s travesty. The teaching workplace in this district is toxic because of your uninspired leadership and spineless decision-making results in all of us questioning our profession much less our sanity.”
Sheets listens to my every word and attempts to come up with an interjection. I’ve completely lose my surroundings as I pelt him with the harsh reality of today’s schools.
“Instead of empathizing with educators, you’d rather appease the parents because you don’t have the guts to deal with their nasty, in your face attitudes. Everybody knows you avoid conflicts. Then in the other areas you can change, you evade it all together by hiding behind the pitiful excuse that there is no funding.”
He leans back in his chair and glances at the door to see if anyone is listening from the outside.
“Face it Sheets, let’s call it like it is. You’re a loser. You can’t see reality as it is in the world. That’s why you think you must look better than everyone else.”
He coils back. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. Our kids face life or death situations every day. Students we fail to reach often end up in one of five places—pregnant, jailed, dropouts, suicidal, or in a gang. Our education system is in crisis and your inability to grasp reality causes system failure.”
Executive Director Sheets takes his beating as if I swatted him with an electric flyswatter. His face now turns beet red that almost matches the color of his cheap Wal-Mart tie.
Unreal. He actually seems irritated. For once, he appears to care about something. It’s too bad that he only cares about himself and not the kids.
“Everyone knows you are merely idling until retirement next year and don’t want to rock the boat. You’ve coasted your whole kiss-up career.”
The spineless administrator attempts to take over the conversation “Mr. —.” I interrupt.
“I will let you know when I’m done.”
Looking for a way out, I light him up like a battlefield.
“You represent a supermodel; a supermodel that characterizes a school-to-prison pipeline. You guarantee that many students will fail every year. Then you scold us when we suspend over 150 students annually, but you provide no interventions in place to thwart their behaviors. To make any difference, we need to begin by building relationships where students and faculty care for each other.”
Standing up, he places his hands on his desk, “Mr. Rollins I have heard enough from you. Maybe, I should dismiss you all together.”
The cheesy grin comes through as he thinks he has gained higher ground.
Such a typical tactic that poorly informed parents think will influence the outcome.
“Tell you what—you do that, and I’ll sue your ass and visit the local newspaper education reporter. Trust me the press loves a good story. Especially when there are gossip and untruths around.”
I check to be sure my phone is still recording our meeting.
“You’re just an assistant principal,” Sheets counters. “Nobody will listen to you now that you are demoted. They will think that you are just irritated at the loss of your job.”
I advance my position and throw it all on the table. “The beautiful part about working with the press—they listen to me. I have more credibility than you and your entire clown show combined.”
With his eyes telling the story of fear and in trepidation, he concedes the argument. “Shh. You’re too loud. Let’s not make a scene or make waves.”
Man, I wish I had a can of Raid so I can spray his disgusted face. That way, there would be one less pest in the world where he would bother no one else.
Overhearing the commotion, Mrs. Frank, Sheet’s secretary, pops in and tries to break the antagonistic atmosphere.
“Excuse me, Mr. Sheets, but you have a call you need to take.”
Seeing a way out he attempts to regain composure. “Tell them —.”
I interrupted. “No, he won’t. He can return the call later.”
Her shocked expression renders her speechless.
Having a bystander in the room will only tarnish his weak reputation and knows it’s best for her to leave. “Mrs. Frank, it’d be best if you leave the room so I can finish having my private conversation.”
She closes the door slowly overhearing part of my dressing down to this low life scum.
“Mr. Rollins, you are creating a hostile environment. I expect you to act like a professional as I’m sure you didn’t work like this when you were in the military.”
“No sir, I did not. We had a productive and inspiring leadership. You, sir, are the creator and facilitator of this hostile environment.”
He reaches for the phone.
“If you want to take away a hostile environment for an educator, take something off their plate, make parents and students accountable, and allow teachers to do their job without all the barriers and bureaucracy. Even better, support the principals who try to fire the staff members who don’t do their job.”
He dials. “I need security in here! Now!”
Sheets peeks out of the window to see if anyone comes to his rescue. Thinking he has gained the upper hand, he shifts his maneuver.
“Since you are not doing your job then I have your resignation, Mr. Rollins?”
“No, absolutely not. You reassigned me to be in this position and only doing it for the kids that I might save. Rest assured, I will be a pain in your side for the entire year and should you decide to do anything to sabotage me, you will go down with me. I can promise you that.”
His ears perk up, and a small smirk on his face appears as he thinks he found something on me.
“Did you just threaten me?”
“Nope, it is a promise.”
A security officer enters through his door. “Escort Mr. Rollins off the property.” Sheets shows his true colors; authoritative and afraid of conflict.
The gray-haired, pepper bearded man in his white shirt and black pants uniform steps towards me. I smile at my old friend as he knows I’m in the zone and not to infringe.
“Charlie, do you want to mess with me, a former ranger, with expertise in hand-to-hand pugilism?”
Smiling, my old security officer, Charlie Ramey, says, “No sir; I respect you, but you need to come with me.”
“Ok, Charlie. I’m not mad at you. Give me just one more minute, and I’ll leave without incident.”
Returning my focus one final time to the invertebrate, I complete the conversation. Officer Ramey overhears every word.
“As much as I love working with kids, I cannot stand the thought of working for you. It’s not worth the health issues much less the mental anguish.”
The pathetic loser momentarily looks up at me and wonders what comes next.
“You remind me so much of a mosquito,” I say.
Confused and wondering where this sentence comes from, Sheets can’t help himself but fall for it. “How so, Mr. Rollins?”
“Because you are annoying, irritating and do nothing but carry disease and death with you everywhere you go.”
Sheets’ jaw drops to the ground.
Ramey has to turn around to avoid laughing in Sheet’s face.
“Screw this. I’m done. I quit.”
Having turned to walk out, Officer Ramey restrains himself from more laughter. He holds up his hand in front of his face, but everyone knows what just happened as it catches everyone’s attention on the whole wing. Walking out, people point and whisper at me.
I could sense that everyone in the building overheard us as they wait with great anticipation for the bombshell to drop. I hear parts of the conversation as they stand there stunned in disbelief. Their hands to their faces acknowledge they are shocked at what they just witnessed.
“Did he just say screw this to him?” One secretary states in admiration.
Knowing driving while agitated can cause my focus to be elsewhere, I deviate from going back to school immediately and park my truck at a nearby 7-11 where I collect my thoughts.
I turn to the letter once more for clues. The memo contains only two lines under the memo header with the gutless executive director’s stationery. The pontificated and unpretentious letter merely states “the Superintendent will make the recommendation to the school board you will be reassigned as an assistant principal for the next school year at Hermitage High School.”
There, at that moment, a flood of emotions overwhelms me. Looking back up from the letter I stare out and my heart breaks. I’ve poured my soul into this profession spending countless hours working on initiatives to improve the school, and it was for nothing.
Driving the five miles to my former school takes an eternity. Pulling up to my reserved space one last time, I stare into my office.
Mustering the courage to walk in, I sense I am being watched.
Then it comes to me. Several staff members are whispering as I enter the building. Guess it’s true that custodians and secretaries hear things first before others do.
Seeing Officer Ramey, he greets me by shaking his head. He walks up with his distinguished limp. Smiling.
“What are you doing here?” I say.
“I was told to come up and make sure you caused no more commotion.”
“Me?” I say sarcastically.
Indirectly acknowledging me with another smile, I know he will be honest with me. “Josiah, what you just said to him is what we all want to say.”
“Yep, I lost it. Don’t know what overcame me.”
“I admire you now more than ever. That’s why the staff loves you. You respect us and stand up for the kids and for what’s right. You’ve always had our backs.”
“But it’s cost me my job.”
“Is the job worth more than the headaches? You are a retired veteran. Don’t worry. Someone will hire you.”
Looking at the ground, I try to remain optimistic. “Hopefully. Right now, I need to get my things. Can I go into my office?”
“Yes, but I have to see you leave the building. Promise you won’t do anything stupid?”
“I won’t. Just give me a few minutes, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“That’s all you get because I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
Winking at me he answers, “the jerk told me to give you fifteen minutes. I’ll be here as I promised to ensure that you vacate the property.”
Charlie wants to say something, and I can tell as he laughs internally. “What?” His grin from ear to ear paints a moment he will never forget.
“I absolutely loved it, when you told him to screw this.”
“He deserved it. I’m sick and tired of his crap, and it’s about time someone stood up to him.”
Ramey shakes his head.
“So, what happens if I don’t leave quietly into that good night?”
“Then you’ll be arrested, but all kidding aside, I pray that we don’t have to go there.”
“Me too. Wouldn’t look too good for you to go in an ambulance while I go in a police car.”
We both laugh it off. My longtime friend gets a chair and sits down next to my office.
I turn the key into the room for one last time.
Entering, I sit down in my favorite chair. Meanwhile, Ramey waits out in the hallway. But I overhear.
“Did I hear correctly what happened to Mr. Rollins?”
Ramey states, “yep, saw part of it. He told him to kiss his ass, and he quit. Just like that.” The circle of friends around Ramey shares a laugh in the joke he tells.
“You know, I’ve seen him do wonders for kids and their parents.”
“I know. Remember Mrs. Byrum coming in with her son. He masterfully put a plan together for him and got him on his way.”
“He even conducted home visits to help kids find their way. I’m so sorry to see him go.”
“Me too. Guess we will get another ‘yes-man’ who sucks up rather than doing their job.”
“More than likely. It just goes to show you that education in America is going to hell in a handbasket. They seriously screwed this one up.”
While they chat outside, I collect my thoughts as the realization has set in. I stand up like I’ve done in the past three years to view out of the rectangular window at the varsity practice on the football field. Why am I allowing this moron to get to me?
Still attempting to gather my senses, I get back up and walk around my office. One by one, I take my photos, awards, and artwork from the wall. Looking at the teacher of the year plaque, a whirl of emotions hit me.
Then I pick up the newspaper article. “Teach Gets the Big Picture of a Better School.” Taking a moment to reread the article, I relive that day. Gathering my other belongings, I place everything in the center of the room.
With no one in sight, I let my guard down as it is my final chance to reminisce. This was bound to happen, eventually.
Scouring my drawers for any other personal items, I run across a folder. On the label, it reads, “read when having a difficult day.”
Enclosed are several letters from parents, students, and staff members who thanked me. It may not sound like much, but as an educator, we keep these precious things and go back to them occasionally when we have days like today.
One card has a picture of our school on the front. I remember keeping this one from Ericka, one of my former students with autism. It says, “you have given me hope, and now I am going to graduate on time. Thank you, Mr. Rollins.”
Knowing if I read them all, I will break down. Placing it in a box with other items, I turn to my laptop.
Sitting at my computer one last time, I compose an email to my faculty members with the subject line, “last day.”
“As some of you may have heard, today is my last day. I’ve moved on as I feel it necessary to begin a new chapter in my life. Continue to make a difference in the lives of our children. Godspeed.”
Hitting the “send” button, I log off for the last time and move the boxes to my truck. After coming back into the building one final time to write a final note to Tracy, my administrative assistant, as I place my keys on her desk.
“Thank you for everything. You truly made my life easier. I wish I could talk to you about this in person, but I am not ready to discuss this yet. You’ll soon learn more tomorrow if you have not already heard. I’ll speak to you when I have the chance. Take care.”
That night the sadness turns to lament, frustration and anger reminding me of the emotions swirling the evening my father passed away. Turning on the TV and watching a baseball game on ESPN, I retrieve the Jack Daniels.
Glancing at the clock, I notice it is past eight, and know the board meeting has concluded well before now. “Guess it’s final,” I whisper to myself.
Sitting in my recliner, I feel the urge to talk to an old friend and dial him up.
“What’s you up to James?”
He hears my frustrated voice. I hint around that I must talk. Comforting me as he has always done, we bring up old war stories that make me laugh.
I ask James. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Do you know of anyone willing to hire a retired veteran who has taught and is a licensed administrator?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I quit my job today. There is no need for me to be in this clown show anymore.”
Looking at the receiver in disbelief, James double checks. “You really quit?”
“Yep. Sure did.”
Curious to know more, James asks. “Why?”
“He just didn’t get the big picture and what I was trying to do for the kids. So when he offered me the assistant principal job, I snapped.”
James pauses, and the phone goes insanely quiet. Replying humbly, “yes, I’m sure I can help you find another job.”
“Tomorrow?” I ask eagerly.
“Yes. Take your time getting here. I’ll have a pot of coffee ready for you.”
Listening to my best friend’s advice, I can salvage at least something from this horrific day. Heading into the bedroom, I lay down and replay the whole experience. Still angered by the entire experience, I toss and turn the whole night and finally doze off past one.
While I attempt to catch a few winks, James also has a restless night.
Noticing it is about four in the morning, James frowns at his phone as it disrupts the silence of the room.
“James?” comes from the phone in a grouchy man with a distinct island accent.
“Yes, who is this?” James says half asleep.
“If you expect to see your son again, you will transfer me two-hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
James cannot believe the words that continue to ring in his ears. Attempting to wake up and understand the perplexity of the situation he asks questions.
“How do I know you have him?” James hits the speaker button so his wife, Eleanor, can listen. She sits up on their bed and pulls he hair back.
“Let’s just say I have his phone as you can see from the caller id.”
James confirms that the caller id says, Colby. “How do I know he is ok?”
Colby’s voice quivers, “Dad, I’m in trouble. Just give him the money. That’s all he wants.”
“What are you talking about son? Where are you?” James asks as he puts on his blue Neiman Marcus Luxury Cashmere long robe and points to Eleanor to grab paper and pen.
“I think I’m in Haiti, Dad.”
Eleanor retrieves a small notepad and jots down every word.
“Not sure. They kidnapped me. This thug wants a quarter of a million, and you have until tomorrow to pay him.”
He angrily replies to his son. “How in the HELL did this happen? And who is this guy?”
Colby explains, “I was taking a late-night walk at the beach in Playa Juan de Bolanos. Then suddenly, these men in military fatigues come from behind and surround me.”
In the background, James hears one of them telling Colby to hurry up.
Colby continues. “One of them points his assault rifle in my face and says, ‘get up now’ and motions to come with him. About a minute later, this black speedboat comes and takes us away.”
“WHAT!” exclaims James.
Colby is heard in the background in pain.
“Ahhh. I’m sorry.” Eleanor surrounds her face with her hands as she tears up.
Another man is now heard over the phone. “You talk too much.”
James hurriedly puts on his sling over his frail shoulder.
Omar now speaks in the receiver. “You will give me two-hundred fifty thousand by five tomorrow, or your son will be dead.”
“Who are you and where do I send the money?”
“My name is Omar, and I will text you the specific instructions on where to send the money.”
The call drops and the bland ringtone comes from the receiver’s earpiece.
“What are we going to do James?” Eleanor speaks in a disturbed tone.
He turns to her with watery eyes and says, “not sure, babe. Not sure.”
James now unable to sleep, becomes desperate to save his son. Going into his office, he cranks up his laptop.
Attempting to hide the discomfort of his arm, Eleanor hears her husband grunt and goes to support him. Seeing him with his face over his hands in extreme distress, she places her hand on his other shoulder.
In her comforting voice, she offers words of wisdom. “You need help, James.”
“Who am I going to call, Eleanor?” He answers back snarky.
Standing there in her Flora trim nightgown she instantaneously answers, “your best friend.” James pulls his hands away from his face as he knows she’s right. “You know he’d do anything for you.”
James replies as he knows I have my own issues. “I can’t bother him. He’s not in the frame of mind to help.”
She holds his hands as their eyes meet to reassure him. “Call him.”
James pulls out his phone again and looks for his old friend.
In the dead of night, a loud ring wakes me up. Scared out of my wits, I scramble to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”
James’ tone relays a voice; I have not heard in quite some time. “Josiah. I need you.”
What I hear is not his usual voice. A distressed voice I have not heard in a long time. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t have time to explain on the phone. Let’s say I need some serious help.”
“Be there in an hour. Call Colvin.”
“He was my second call. See you soon.”
While I scramble to put on a fresh t-shirt and workout shorts, I grab my hat and race to my truck.
James keys in General Colvin’s number from his favorites.
“What’s up James?”
“I’m sorry to bother you at such a later hour, but I am desperate.”
Colvin listens with great interest. “Sure, what’s going on?”
“My son has been kidnapped by some guy named Omar. We have less than twenty-four hours to respond. I need Intel.”
Colvin prepares to jot down vital details. “Go.”
“He is in Haiti, and he used my son’s cell phone, an Iridium 9575 Satellite Phone to this number. Other than that, he gave me until 1700 tomorrow afternoon to pay a sum of two-hundred fifty thousand. We spoke for four minutes at 0414.”
“On it. I’ll call you back.”
Unable to sit and wait for help, James conducts his own Intel gathering. His initial thoughts are to contact the ambassador of Haiti but scratches it off his list as it limits his options. Nix the Haitian police. They probably are involved in it.
James scours the web until he finds information on Caribbean kidnappings. Glancing at each link for the best information, he discovers one.
“Eureka.” Printing off the pages of information, he grabs a highlighter.
Eleanor sits on the couch and listens to her husband.
“Listen to this Eleanor. Haiti ranks in the top ten for the worst kidnapping statistics in the world.”
She shakes her head in disbelief like this cannot be happening and can only think about the Dateline episodes where this transpired to someone else.
James continues. “Somewhere between fifteen to thirty thousand kidnappings happen each year where many of them take place in the Caribbean. In fact, kidnappings in Haiti continue to increase.”
“What else does it say?”
“Kidnapping is a lucrative criminal enterprise that carries a high reward for low-risk for criminals. They use the ransom money to finance other operations.”
Wanting to know more, she assists her husband in thinking more about how to save her son. “But what does it say about kidnapping in the Dominican Republic?”
The mouse scrolls until he finds the passage. “It says here that the nature of the threats is ‘minimal’ and are conducted around border areas mainly.” He gets a small chuckle from the last words. “Minimal my ass.”
Eleanor requests to know everything. “What else?”
“The highest locations of kidnapping in the Dominican Republic occur around the border to Haiti or the vast water that surrounds the island.”
“The police know there’s a problem but won’t do anything about it for fear of retaliation.” “Why?”
“Because they are on both payrolls.”
Still trying to connect the dots, she asks out loud, “but why would they kidnap our Colby?”
Using his pointer finger to lock in reasons, James blurts out. “Here it is—organized criminal gangs conduct for-ransom kidnappings to target affluent families. These guys ask for just about anything. A quarter of a million is a considerable sum of money, but they could have asked for more.”
Crying aloud now, James stands up and sits next to Eleanor.
“James, what are we going to do?”
He confidently tells his beloved wife, “we will get him. I’ve already gathered information and Josiah is in route.”
Wiping away the tears, she looks up at him. “Do what you need to do. Go get our son.”
“Thanks, babe. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She gets up from the couch and asks James if she wants coffee to which he answers yes.
As she leaves the room, James returns his focus. Writing any possible information, he becomes overwhelmed with worry and shakes. Eleanor returns with two cups in hand and stands next to her husband. She rubs her hand on his back and puts her head on his shoulders.
The phone rings.
“James, Chris here.”
“Hey, Chris. Tell me you have good news.”
“Actually, I do.” His stern, crisp voice affirmed there was hope. “I called in your favor to four-star McMath. She says to tell you hello and looks forward to seeing you next month. I have a ‘top secret’ folder that will assist you in retrieving your son. You still have clearance which made this much easier to request.”
The news is better than James expected and cracks a smile as he listens with great anticipation.
“A courier will drop it off in less than twenty ticks. The chopper is leaving now.”
“Can’t thank you enough.”
“It’s all good James. Hope everything works out.”
Closing out the call, James goes to his window and looks upward into the starry sky. Winds suddenly pick up as the flowers and grass violently sway from left to right. An unmarked helicopter with blinking red and white lights arrives, and a manila envelope is politely delivered by a nicely dressed NSA agent. James opens the door. “Thank you.”
He returns to the kitchen, grabs another cup of coffee and reads the file. Unbeknownst to my friend, I pull onto his street as I see the chopper taking off with the blinking lights overhead of me.
My focus returns to the massive estate as I am waived in by the security guard. Damn, this place is prominent.
This enormous Blue Ridge Mountain mansion has 26,000 sq. ft. and forty-five rooms including ten bedrooms, twelve bathrooms, seven fireplaces, and two kitchens. On the first floor, the rooms have huge windows overseeing the vineyards. The spiral staircase sits in the center of the home and connects the second floor and the basement.
I’m immediately waved through the gates and pull up.
Eleanor greets me as she sees me walk up. “Thank you for coming, Josiah.”
“Not a problem, Eleanor. Where’s James?”
“In the kitchen. Let me take you to him.”
We travel through the massive estate to the sunlight kitchen. Granite countertops with stainless steel appliances reflect the early morning light. He pours me a cup of coffee where we sit down in a nook.
His body language confirms my presumptive notion.
“Right after I hung up with you, I watched some news and listened to the overnight rainstorm.”
“Then a bit after four, a loud ring comes from the phone. Initially, I thought you were calling me back.”
“I pick up the receiver where my worst fears are realized. I began to panic.”
He looks out of his kitchen window as the Sun touches the mountain’s treetops. James provides me a vivid description of the awkward conversation and how it abruptly ends.
I fire off the first question that comes to my mind. “What have you done so far?”
“A lot. Got Intel on the abductors” as he shows me his highlighted papers and the top-secret folder.
“What d’you learn?”
“We know where he is and must mount a rescue immediately.”
I think of the serendipity of this. Trying to break the tension, I attempt to crack a small joke about my recent events.
“Well… my calendar is actually free time tomorrow.” His eyes lock in with mine. “So, I can go get him.”
Stunned at my response, he verifies again. “You will?”
“Yes, I’ll bring him home.”
Just then Eleanor returns to the kitchen and James fills her in.
“Thank you, Josiah.” Eleanor cries.
Turning my attention back to the mission, I go for more answers and direction. “Have
you thought about calling Bud?”
Relief comes across his face as he sees my laser focused determination I once possessed in the Gulf War.
“I thought you would ask and already called him and will be here shortly.”
“Good idea. Never hurts to have a backup.”
We outline the plan as if it were a tactical mission. Just like old times, we plan our mission. Minute by minute, we think through the six-hour operation based on our Intel and our experiences in combat.
Then a familiar southern voice with a trace of Carolina twang enters. “Hey, guys.”
“Thanks for coming, Bud. Josiah and I have been working on a plan.”
“What y’all got?”
“One mission with three options,” I state.
The three of us sit at the nook, pointing at maps, writing notes and scripting final details. Then we review it one last time.
“Here’s the plan. Bud and I split up. He scouts the area looking for problems. I get Colby and people may get hurt if they don’t place nice.”
“Works for me, let’s go get your boy.” Bud echoes as he puts on his worn-out Ford Motor Company hat.
Putting my hat back on, we race to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport. The dawn of a new morning is in full swing at this picturesque small valley airport.
Showing my credentials, they allow me to access the hangars as I follow James and Bud.
Pulling up I envy the sleek Citation 5, and Learjet 35.
Ah. There it is.
“She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” Bud ribs at me.
“Yep, sure is.”
James’ white Gulfstream IV-SP with its red, blue and tan stripes that go from forward to aft touching the tip of the vertical stabilizer. Getting out of my truck, I hear the humming of the engines.
Admiring the six-window beauty, I always wanted to travel on his plane. But not this way.
Getting last-minute items out of my truck, my peripheral view catches my attention where I see my friend, FATSO (Faster Than SOund).
“What’s up FATSO?”
The tech-savvy Texan who always dresses in the most progressive fashion reaches his hands towards me and embraces me into a hug.
“Hey, Teach. How’s it hanging?”
“Not bad, FATSO. You know I’d love to catch up, but we have a job to do.”
“I know, just like old times, right?”
“Yep, you got it.”
“Excuse me, while I get strapped in ready for takeoff.”
I then turn to James in disbelief. “You hired him to be your pilot?”
“Why not? He was the best in flying covert ops in Iraq, and I knew he was my man to fly my Gulfstream.”
“This is slowly becoming a reunion,” I joke at James.
I find assurance in having Bud and FATSO next to me as we all have toured in Iraq together. Thanks to Bud’s cleverness and ability to go undercover make him valuable on this mission. I’ll never forget the time he found the Iraq general holding the little girl hostage and took him out. Our CO said he was the best sniper he’d ever seen.
Then there’s FATSO who not only flew secret missions, and he was always developing new gadgets and tinkering with all kinds of machines. Definitely two of the best people I would want to have my six.
Bud gets on the plane right behind FATSO, and it is just James and I. James walks with his slight limp right coupled with his arm in a sling, and I call an audible. I gently touch him on his shoulder, and he turns around.
“We need to talk about Plan D.”
A puzzled expression comes across James’ face. “Plan D? We didn’t discuss a Plan D.”
Remaining focused, I knew not to let my emotions compromise the mission. “I know. Didn’t want to say anything until the last minute.”
“All right, Josiah. What is it?”
“Plan D, command central, is having you call in the cavalry if all three options fails.”
James’ head drops to recognize what he heard from his best friend.
Trying not to make it personal and not make him feel guilty, I redirect the conversation.
“You know—the fewer people there, the better. Too many moving parts. Plus, we need you here in case of unexpected difficulties.”
The understanding I was right; he softly shakes his head in agreement.
Placing both of my hands on his shoulders and looking at him squarely in the eyes. “I promise. We will not leave without him.”
“I know you won’t. Now go get him.”
Still feeling guilty but knowing it was the right decision, I climb on board and pull up the stairs.
While FATSO conducts his last-minute pre-op flight checks, I gander in amazement. The large cabin interior has supreme comfort for luxury. I guess it can seat up to fourteen passengers based upon the number of leather seats.
There are leather couches in the aft that turn into beds, and the galley has two heating ovens and a refreshing bin. I even see the router making it Wi-Fi ready.
Ok, enough dreaming. Back to the task at hand.
We see that James has requested several things to be placed inside the jet. A filled briefcase with a quarter of a million dollars, a file, a map and keys to a car.
Suddenly, Bud notices we are missing one. “Where’s James?”
I say no word.
“You did what you needed to do, Josiah. Never compromise the mission.”
Bud reaches for the folder and points at the picture.
“Omar? What mother would name their child Omar?”
FATSO gets up from his pilot’s chair and verifies that the door is secured. “Well, let’s get started, shall we Teach?”
Bud unfolds the map, looks at the keys and hands me the file. Meanwhile, FATSO listens as this is his first time hearing the plan.
I trace the road from the beginning. “We’ll land here so we can go undetected. It will take a few minutes for the GPS to synchronize so I would suggest cutting them off while on the flight to transition quicker.”
“How long of a flight is it to Haiti?” I ask.
FATSO replies. “The flight is around thirteen hundred miles from Charlottesville to Labadee, Haiti, so expect a two-and-a-half-hour trip—one way. And remember there is no time difference.”
Bud and I review the plan based on our intelligence gathered and complete the details before landing just like we did with the previous sorties.
“We will land approximately at 1032 EST and dressed like tourists. Scout out the area first and then get him. Assuming everything goes to plan, we’ll be off the deck at sixteen hundred.”
“I’ll have the plane fueled and ready for departure. I’ll be waiting for your signal.”
“All right, sounds like a plan. FATSO, let’s get this bird in the air.”
We buckle in our seats as the plane continues to do a hot fueling. Within a minute, FATSO gets us up and in route.
Attempting to relax, I find it difficult to speak. Even though we are less than an hour away from landing at a private strip where there are no customs agents, we continue to review our steps. Bud and I recite them until we have them perfected.
“Cell phone tracking confirms Colby last whereabouts is at a restaurant four miles from the airport.”
“We suspect that Omar has several thugs around him.”
Bud says. “You know this may not be easy.”
“Cake. What else does the file say?”
“The report also shows his patterns. He expects others to do his dirty work and will not confront people when outnumbered and outmatched.”
“Sounds like my former boss,” shaking my head.
Turning his head, Bud couldn’t resist but to break the tension. “You’ve mentioned him before. What a douche. James says you actually quit?”
“Yep. Remind me to tell you more about it later.” I have some restrained aggression to express today.”
Our conversation swings back to saving Colby as I am not ready to talk about the ordeal.
“What kind of wheels do we have?”
I pull out a photo of the car.
“A black BMW parked by the hangar and is ready for our convenience upon landing.”
“Nice. Any other things we need to know?”
Bud notices one last thing in the folder.
“There is a phone number, and it says, ‘only use in the case of emergency.’”
My eyebrows show my uncertainty as I am unsure about this piece of information.
“Interesting. Don’t know whose number it is.”
Folding it in my pocket, I turn to Bud, “We got this. Let’s relax for a few minutes.”
Minutes before landing, I see Bud rise out of his seat.
“Come on back to my toy store.”
Walking towards the back of the plane, I see several black bags zipped up. He opens them up on the couches and pulls out each item one by one.
Tzuki’s Extreme cell phone charger, check.
Taser x2 Shooting Stun Gun with a dual laser black, check.
Ankle holster, check.
Battery pack and refill cartridges, check.
Parrot Bebop 2 UAV with military grade GPS and backpack, check.
Pulsar Edge GS night vision goggles, check.
Swiss Champ Victorinox XLT pocket knife, check.
Cable ties, check.
Slim Jim, check.
FNX 45 Tactical with a silencer and bullets, check.
GoPro Hero 4 Silver HD, check.
C12/Remote detonator, check.
Four cutting-edge Caps headsets, check.
Shocked at his toys, I couldn’t help myself.
“Man, you have not forgotten how to equip a soldier.”
“I got into a new hobby once I retired.”
“I can tell.” Shaking my head in disbelief.
Over the speaker, FATSO advises us to take our seats as we are inbound in less than five minutes. Sitting back down, I recognize we are a couple of miles incoming from the private airport as the color of the ocean changes from the deep royal blue to the turquoise color seen on postcards.
Thankfully, FATSO knows not to land in Port-au-Prince International Airport as it would take time to get through customs. Instead, he lands at the Jacmel Airport which is far away from civilization and off the grid.
Taxing down the runway, we talk through the plan one last time. FATSO notifies James of our status. The plane stops in front of the hangar where we see the promised BMW and taxi cab.
Scurrying off the Gulfstream, we put our plan into action. One by one we all get out. Bud hops in a rental jeep James arranged.
“FATSO, see you at sixteen hundred or earlier—”
He turns back, raises his arm, returns the hoot and yells out, “go Teach!”
Hopping into the BMW, I pull out of the airport and head to the restaurant where Omar is apparently holding Colby.
Then FATSO sits the drone down and launches it for James to get a bird’s-eye view of the extract. Within a minute, the link connects.
“You able to see everything?”
“Just perfect. I’ll take it from here, and I’ll advise the guys about potential problems. You keep an eye out for potential inbound issues.”
Just like any previous battle, I bring a ton of adrenaline. Regardless of what’s happened in the past twenty-four hours, my next mission is to extract Colby from hostile territory.