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Excerpt for Injun Summer by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Injun Summer

Copyright 2019 JT Evergreen


Published by JT Evergreen

at Smashwords


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

The Desert

The Terrorist

Father Freddie Appears

New Year's Day

Interlude

Finale

About JT Evergreen

Other books by JT Evergreen

Connect with JT Evergreen


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz for his tireless proofreading.


The Desert

Mike Faraday laid the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune on his library table and pulled out the insert featuring the McCutcheon illustration of Injun Summer. It was like an old friend appearing each year as the season changed from summer to autumn.


He was thirty-five years old and pondered how quickly the years were passing, two directionless years of college and then twelve years in the Army. He remembered reading the qualifications required to wear the Green Beret. His six-foot-two, two-hundred-thirty-five-pound frame, along with his martial arts training, football, and wrestling experience would qualify and sustained him through the rigorous physical training. The other requirements would challenge the very fiber of his being. But he knew, becoming a member of Special Forces would give him the direction he lacked. He signed up.


He glanced at the portrait hanging over his desk of his Grandfather, Michael Faraday, the famous English scientist. Friends often remarked on Mike’s uncanny resemblance to the portrait. The painting illustrated a relaxed and confident man. Mike was envious.


Max, his seven-pound Havanese pup, trotted into the room with his red ball gripped firmly in his mouth. He sat down and stared at Mike. His relentless stare could not be ignored for long. Mike turned and smiled at his four-year-old companion. Max dropped his ball and stood up, tail wagging furiously. Mike hesitated, waiting for the impatient growl that would come. When it came, Mike leaned over, picked up the ball and threw it through the open doorway. It hit the wall, ricocheted down the hallway and bounced down the recreational room stairs. It would be a while before Max returned.


Mike sighed as the memory returned to the mysterious man who appeared in the Iraqi desert at the moment he thought he would die. The overwhelming attack on his eight-man unit left him helpless in the onslaught. He knew these men better than any other on the face of the planet. They had lived and trained together, they were so in tune with one another it defied description. Seven times they had been deployed to the Middle East on successful missions the world would never hear about and now this overwhelming failure. One by one he saw his men slaughtered in the midst of a hail of gunfire. Then this man in black was there, calm, and smiling at Mike. He beckoned him to follow, leading him to safety.


The sight of his team members dying in front of him instilled a rage and anger within him which he was unable to dispel. He was their leader and he failed them miserably. But who was this man who calmly led him to safety, and why didn’t he save the others? Why me, was the never-ending question which plagued him, giving him no rest with persistent nightmares. He often thought it would have been better if he had died with his men. Living with the memories was like a millstone around his neck. Would he ever be rid of it?


The only thing he could remember about the stranger, outside of being dressed in black, was the cross that hung from his neck. It had the rosy color of solid gold, encrusted with green gems which sparkled in the desert sun. Then he was gone. Mike wasn't sure if he walked away or disappeared, it happened so fast. From that day forward he was ever alert to the possibility of seeing this man again. Even as a civilian, he searched crowds he passed through with the hope he would see him, talk with him, thank him, learn from him, ask him the million and one questions in his mind, and find out why he saved Michael Phillip Faraday and not the other brave men of his unit.


Max growled, repeatedly staring at his ball and then at Mike, his way of pointing. Mike picked up the ball and threw it again. A few more throws and he would have to leave for a meeting with friends at the Woodfield Mall for lunch, and early Christmas shopping. They were going to try Zia’s, an Italian restaurant they had heard so much about.


The Terrorist

A young perky waitress, whose tastefully displayed cleavage did not go unnoticed, seated the five men at a large window overlooking the main concourse of the mall. “My name is Adrianna, and I’ll be serving you this afternoon.” She smiled as she passed out menus before excusing herself. “I’ll be right back,” all eyes followed her as she departed. The Italian costume she wore could not hide her curvaceous figure.


“I’ll bet she gets some good tips,” Bobby remarked. Everyone mumbled agreement.


“Oh, yeah,” drooled Tim, his eyes following her every movement, “Cute accent too.”


“How’s your wife, Tim?” Stan smiled at his friend.


“What? Oh, she’s fine,” Tim woke from his daydreaming.


They were finishing their lunch and discussing what they would do next when Mike stiffened. He stood up, staring out into the crowd.


“Mike?” Russ, his closest friend, followed Mike’s stare out into the concourse. “You look like you saw a ghost.” He and Mike had met in Iraq and formed a bond only they understood. Russ was regular Army.


Mike sat down, “I thought I did.”


“You mean …?” He and Mike had discussed the mysterious man on a number of occasions.


“Yeah,” Mike smiled and relaxed. He joined in the conversation again but kept his eye on the crowd.


Each of the five men had different gift items on their list; they decided to split up and meet at the fountain in the center of the concourse at 3 PM.


Adrianna was appreciative of the generous tip, smiled and invited them to return again. As they left the restaurant, “Anyone bring a napkin? Tim is still drooling.”


Bobby pushed Tim playfully; they laughed. “Come on guys, Marge said it’s ok to window shop as long as I take my meals at home,” He shadow boxed with Bobby.


“You don’t know how lucky you are to have Marge, you big lunk,” Bobby slapped his friend on the back.


“Yes, I do,” Tim paused in the middle of the crowded mall. “I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, especially you guys,” he grinned from ear to ear.


“Tell us what?” Stan asked as they stopped and looked at him.


Tim giggled, “I’m gonna be a dad.”


“You what?” hollered Russ, as they all jumped on Tim, congratulating him. Mike held back a little. He felt a twinge of envy deep inside. There would probably be no children for him. He couldn’t subject anyone to the nightmares that were still with him. He congratulated Tim and wished him well.


As Mike and Russ drifted off together, Mike mused, “It’s so difficult to buy gifts for my folks. … I know! I’ll take them out for dinner instead. The food at Zia’s was good. Who knows, maybe I’ll get Adrianna to wait on us,” he smiled at Russ.


“And maybe you and she will get together. I didn’t see a wedding ring. You should ask her out?” Russ nudged Mike playfully.


“No, too young, and those nightmares. Don’t want to inflict those on anyone else.”


“Hey, there’s Nordstrom’s,” Russ knowingly changed the subject, “I know what Grace wants for Christmas. She’s been dropping hints since July. My sex life depends on fulfilling her every desire,” they laughed as they wandered into the store.


Russ looked at his watch. “Hey, it’s almost 1500, we better head back.” They were the first ones to arrive at the fountain; discussing the finer points of the passing female population. Mike glanced up to the mezzanine balcony and grabbed Russ’s arm.


“What?” he followed Mike’s gaze.


“That’s him, Russ. I knew he was here.” The man in the balcony stared at Mike.


“He’s a priest!”


“Yeah, I know.” The priest turned his glance to the other side of the concourse, lifted his arm and pointed. Mike followed his prompt, scanning the crowd. Then he spotted what the priest was pointing at, “Jesus! Come on Russ.” Mike’s rapid response training kicked in as he ran full speed, dodging surprised shoppers and leaving Russ trailing behind. Without a second of hesitation Mike did what he had been trained to do, he tackled the man, throwing him onto the mall floor. The man’s coat came open, revealing the bomb tied to his mid-section. Mike got on top and pounded the man’s face with his fists. The rage Mike harbored surfaced as he punched the man until he lay unconscious.


Russ saw the bomb and began shouting to the shoppers, “RUN, EVERYBODY OUT, NOW!” He dialed 911. Screams rose as shoppers realized what was happening. In seconds the concourse was empty.


Mall security arrived. Mike got up once he was sure the man was unconscious. “Make sure everyone is out of here. The bomb is live.” The man’s head began to move as he regained consciousness. Mike turned to a young guard, “Give me your weapon.”


“Sir, I can’t…”


“Son, if he triggers that bomb, you’re dead, we’re dead. They’ll be picking up what’s left of you and tossing it into a bucket. Give me your weapon, please,” Mike stared at the frightened guard who reluctantly handed his revolver to Mike.


Mike moved quickly over the man who was coming to full consciousness. He glared at Mike and mumbled, "Allahu Ackbar!"


Mike pointed the revolver, “Izhab ila al djaheem” and pulled the trigger, shooting the man in the forehead between his eyes. The man’s body went limp. Mike handed the revolver back to the guard.


“Our problems are not over. That cell phone attached to the bomb, if someone calls that phone – it’s all over,” Mike looked around. “Where’s the nearest exit?”


“This way,” the trembling guard moved toward the exit. “Russ, let’s go.” Each grabbed a wrist of the dead man and dragged him out of the concourse leaving a small trail of the dead man’s blood. They were out of sight when the police arrived. The remaining guard told them what had happened and pointed to the exit.


Mike met the police as he and Russ entered the building. “The bomb is still armed. Proceed at your own risk,” he showed them his Special Forces ID and told them what he had done when he spotted the bomber. “There’s a cell phone trigger attached to the device. There was no way to turn it off safely. Let’s get out of here.”


They were safely in the mall when a thunderous explosion shook the building. Russ grabbed Mike. “Jesus, Mike, if you hadn’t…”


“It’ll happen again, Russ, and I probably won’t be here next time,” Mike looked up to the mezzanine, “Look!”


Russ turned his head. The smiling priest looked at them, placed his hand over his heart and disappeared. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here before the media arrives.”


Tim, Stan, and Bobby met them as they exited the mall, rushing at them with questions as to what had happened. “Come on guys, we have to get out of here.” Mike led the way to Bobby’s car.


Police and ambulances arrived as they drove out of the parking area. “Thank God they won’t need the ambulances this time,” Mike looked back at the unfolding scene. “There’s ABC news. Step on it Bobby, we don’t want any part of them.”


“They obviously weren’t prepared for this,” Russ watched the scene outside of the mall.


“They will be from now on,” Mike looked away.


As they drove out of the parking area, Russ turned to Mike, “You spoke Arabic to that asshole. What did you say?”


“I told him to go to Hell, then sent him there.”


Stan turned to Mike from the front seat, “What do you mean you sent him there?”


Russ answered for Mike, “He blew his brains out.”


“With what?”


“I borrowed a revolver from one of the guards. That poor kid will have nightmares over what he witnessed.”


“Better than being dead,” Russ added. “Did the police take your name?”


“I showed them my ID, but no one wrote it down, they were too confused.”


“Thank God we got out of there before the reporters arrived. I’m betting you’ll become the mystery hero when it hits the airwaves tonight,” Russ laughed.


“That’s all I would need. Some idiot reporters banging on my door,” Mike gave a sigh of relief.


Bobby’s car pulled up to the curb in front of Mike’s home. Mike and Russ got out. “Hey guys, let’s have lunch at Zia’s again,” and closed the door. They laughed as Bobby pulled away, leaving the two friends standing on the curb as late afternoon shadows stretched across the lawn.


“Before I take off, there is something you need to know,” Russ was hesitant.


“Yeah?” Mike was listening.


“When we and the police came into the concourse, before the explosion, I saw one of the cops trailing behind. He stopped, pulled something from his pocket, turned away for a second, and then followed the rest of us.”


“And?” Mike wasn’t sure where Russ was going.


“Seconds later the bomb went off. I saw you and the cops jump and turn around.”


“So?” Mike still didn’t get the meaning.


“The explosion didn’t seem to faze the cop that lingered behind.”


“You think …?” Mike was catching up.


“I can’t be positive, but it’s likely he was the accomplice with the trigger phone.”


“Jesus, I missed that. I must be getting old. Thanks, Russ. Did he see you watching him?”


“No, I don’t think so, I’m not sure.”


“You remember what he looked like?”


“Yes, and he knows what you look like, Mike. Did he see your ID?”


“I don’t remember which one looked at it.”


“Is your address on it?”


“No … got a handgun?”


“Yes, but I haven’t used it since I got out.”


“Better clean it, and have it handy. Let’s hit the range and get some practice in. We need to ID this guy and find out if he’s a loner or if there are more. I’ll have my lawyer try and get photos of the police force. We should stay away from them for the time being.”


“Good idea.” Twilight had given way to the darkness of evening as a gentle breeze caressed the two friends. “That’s strange,” Russ looked up.


“You mean the breeze?”


“Yeah. It swirled around us and was gone. Spooky. Gotta go before Grace thinks I have a girlfriend. See ya.”


“So long, Russ,” Mike laughed at his friend.


“Hey, Mike. Remind me never to go Christmas shopping with you ever again.”


Mike waved as he climbed the stairs to his front door.


Max met him as he opened the door. “Max, come here, you,” he picked him up and held him close for a moment. “Go get your ball,” he watched him dash off as the sound of Russ’ car driving away caused him to ponder what his friend had told him. In seconds, Max was back with his red ball clenched in his teeth. Mike smiled. “You never tire of that ball, do you?” Max dropped his ball and growled.


Watching the late night news, Mike discovered Russ was right, he had become the mysterious hero who saved many lives that afternoon at Woodfield Mall. The reporter mentioned that one of the police officers said the man was U.S. Army Special Forces but couldn’t remember the man’s name. Mike gave a sigh of relief.


The young security guard, who handed his gun over to Mike, was the only one who saw the whole event. He attained momentary celebrity status in telling his story with a few embellishments added regarding his assistance to the mystery man. Mike laughed. The kid was probably the same age he was when he joined the Army. He got up and went to the safe in the hall closet, opened it and took out his 9mm Springfield Armory handgun. Just holding it brought back dark memories which he preferred not to entertain. He thought of the priest. Now there were more questions to be answered. Were he and Russ in danger?


Father Freddie Appears

The next morning, Mike wondered where Max was. He usually followed Mike around for his breakfast. “Max!” After a minute he peeked down the hallway and saw Max standing at the front door, tail wagging, his red ball clenched securely in his mouth. “Hey Max, come get your breakfast,” Mike turned back into the kitchen, but no Max. He looked again. Max had not moved and his tail was still wagging. Mike laughed at Max’s determination to go outside and play ball. He glanced at yesterday’s dishes in the sink and the rest of the kitchen mess. “To hell with it,” he muttered and walked to the front door.


“Ok, let’s go.” Max flew out and down the stairs, waiting for Mike at the side of the house. His house on Verde Drive backed up against Polk Brach Park, so there was no traffic to contend with in reaching the meadow in the park. It was early, they found themselves alone. Mike threw the ball, but Max did not return. He walked in the direction he had thrown the ball, calling Max’s name a number of times. As he came around the corner of a tall hedge he stopped in his tracks. The priest he had been so anxious to meet for so long a time sat on a park bench petting an adoring Max.


“Good morning, Mike,” came a calm greeting from the mysterious priest.


“Good morning,” Mike stared.


“Please, sit down,” came a gentle invitation.


“Who the devil are you?”


The priest laughed, “I hope you think of me more than a devil. I’m Father Frederick Monahan. You can call me Freddie,” he smiled up at Mike, who hesitantly sat down. “I know the questions in your heart, Mike, and I will answer them before we part.”


“Thank you,” Mike put his hand on Max.


“Regarding our first meeting in the desert, I didn’t save you. I merely provided a way for you to leave the scene. My mission is not to interfere with the destiny of folks. My task is to help them better understand their potential spiritually, and to move along the correct path. I’m like a traffic director. People come to a crossroad and don’t know which way to go. I merely suggest this way, not that way. The decision is always theirs.


“As for those of your comrades who fell around you that day…”


“Yeah, what about that?”


“They were meeting a Karmic debt they incurred many lifetimes ago in a different time and place. It was necessary for them to meet that fate so they could move on. Your spiritual strength and purity would not allow such a thing to happen to you,” Freddie paused.


“Spiritual strength and purity? I killed a man the other day for Christ’s sake,” Mike glared at Freddie. “You have no idea how it rips my guts apart to take someone’s life. I do it, I’m good at it, and I hate it. I have nightmares, those seven men I lost in Iraq, the man I killed. You have no idea.”


“I do understand, Mike. More than you realize. Ending the life of this misguided soul yesterday was a blessing to him and to the many lives of innocent folks in the mall who would have perished if he had achieved his goal.”


“A blessing? You have to be joking.”


“Had he lived and accomplished his task, he would have created a Karmic debt which would have taken him many lifetimes to eradicate. You did not kill him, you redirected him to another course of existence, one in which he will eventually thank you.” Freddie got up, “Come, let us walk together.”


Max jumped off of the bench and stood waiting. Mike got up and they walked with Max trailing obediently behind.


“I know you question the spiritual strength I mentioned. Try and understand that in a past life experience, you were the spiritual leader of many people. That is one reason it was so easy for you to attain a leadership position in the Army, it was second nature to you. And how easy it was for you to immerse in and learn several languages while your fellow students struggled.


“Even then, you took on a leadership role in helping them to learn. You’ve accumulated enough positive Karma to where it wasn’t necessary for you to return to this life plane. You’ve learned everything necessary. You graduated so to speak. It was a voluntary decision on your part to return. You wanted to help, much like my own mission.” Freddie told the tale of losing his life in the sinking of the Titanic and his subsequent decision to stay on this plane and assist those in need.


“It’s a terribly lonely existence, Freddie, one in which I’m not sure I want to participate.”


“Ah, your love life,” Freddie mused.


“It’s nonexistent and will probably remain so as long as these nightmares persist.”


“The lonely aspect you are experiencing will soon come to an end,”


Mike turned to Freddie with a surprised expression on his face. “Meaning?”


“There was a woman of great spiritual stature, a nun I guess you would call her, who worked closely with you during previous life experiences. She is here now. You’ve already met her.”


“I have?” Mike’s heart leapt.


“Yes, indeed. She will be of great support and comfort to you,” Freddie removed the cross from around his neck and handed it to Mike. “Keep this with you. One stone is missing from the center. She has it,”


Mike looked at the cross and placed it in his pocket. “Who she is?”


“Oh, no, that would spoil all the fun,” Freddie laughed. “The nightmares will come to an end once you’ve met and realize the path you will take with her.”


“I don’t understand.”


“You will, and it will all seem quite natural,” Freddie smiled and touched Mike on the shoulder. “As I’ve said before, the choice will be yours, I’m sure you won’t pass up this opportunity for a blessed family and children.”


“Children? I never … how many?” Mike grinned.


Freddie laughed, “Oh, come now, I’m not that good at predicting the future.” He knew there were three waiting in the wings waiting to make their appearance.


They continued to walk, discussing many things of the past, present, and the future. “I spoke with that misguided man you encountered at the mall. He was so radicalized there was no hope of diverting him from his intent, so I turned to you. There will be many more events such as this in the future in which I may require your assistance. Civil authorities have no way of knowing when or where these things will happen.”


“And you do?”


“Yes, I do. Past, present, and future are all the same at my level of existence. You are confined to the present, with dim views of the past and intuitive views of the future. Mike, it’s time for me to go. We will talk again, many times,” he took Mike’s hand and dematerialized.


A gentle breeze swirled around Mike as a tingle ascended his arm. He thought of the breeze that encircled him and Russ the night before. Then he remembered, “But what about the cop who detonated the bomb?” Freddie was gone.


As Mike walked away he heard a whisper in his ear. “All will be resolved.” Mike was so shaken, he wasn’t sure what to do. Max saved the moment by barking at him as he looked at his ball and then at Mike. Mike laughed. He reached down, grabbed the ball and threw it. Max dashed after it with his usual enthusiasm.


Mike felt the cross in his pocket. As he held it, a weight seemed to come off of his shoulders. He hadn’t felt that cheerful in a long time, wondering who this woman could be. Russ came by the next day to hear the details of Mike’s encounter with the priest. He showed Russ the cross.


“Is it the same one you saw in Iraq?” Russ was fascinated.


“Yes, it is.”


“I don’t understand, why did he give this to you?”


Mike hesitated then told him the tale of a woman he knew in the distant past.


“You mean she’s here?” Russ was skeptical.


“Yes, and if you mention this to anyone I’ll brain you. … Freddie said I’ve already met her.”


“Holy Crap!” Russ began to laugh. “I know who it is.”


“No, you don’t,” Mike grinned.


“It’s Adrianna.”


“No, it’s not, how would you know that?”


“Because, I haven’t seen you talk to another woman except your mother for a long time. Hey, maybe it’s your mother.”


“You’re such an idiot. Whoever she is, I hope she is like my mother,” an expression of love and caring spread over Mike’s face.


“So what are you supposed to do, wear it?” Russ wanted to know more.


“I don’t know. All he told me to do was to keep it close. So, I’m keeping it close, in my pocket. See the empty space in the middle? Freddie said this woman has the missing piece.”


“Well, this is going to be interesting. Maybe you should wear it around your neck so she’ll see you coming,” they laughed at the possibility.


“By the way,” Mike remembered, “I’ve decided to take my parents to Zia’s instead of a Christmas gift. Are you busy next Sunday afternoon?”


“Probably not. Why?”


“Why don’t you and Grace come along to dinner with us? They always enjoy your company. My treat.”


“Well in that case, Ok. I’ll check with Grace, but I’m sure we’ll be able to make it. Hey, maybe Adrianna will serve us.”


“I hope so.” Mike made the reservations for the following Sunday at 1 PM.


Paula and Darren Faraday were delighted with the Christmas gift, as well as being able to see Russ and his girlfriend, Grace.


“Reservations for Faraday, party of five,” Mike smiled at the hostess and added, “Is Adrianna working today?”


“Yes, she is. I’ll make sure she serves you. Right this way, please.” After seating them, “Adrianna will be right with you. Enjoy your meal.”


“Adrianna?” Darren looked at Mike.


“Yes, she served us the day we came in for lunch.”


“And she’s cute as a button, not that Mike ever noticed,” Russ grinned.


“I noticed. She’s too young for me,” he laughed,


“I thought Tim was going to fall all over himself.”


Adrianna approached the table. “Good afternoon, oh, it’s you. I’m so glad to see you again.”


“Hi, Adrianna, you remember Russ, this is Grace, and these are my parents, Paula and Darren Faraday.”


“I’m so happy to meet you. Now, here are your menus, and I’ll be back in a moment to take your orders.”


“Cute kid,” Darren remarked.


Paula laughed. “I’d be worried if your father ever stopped looking.”


A busboy cleared the dinner dishes as Adrianna replenished everyone’s coffee. “My shift is ending in a few moments, Zack will take your dessert order and attend to any of your other needs. Thank you for joining us.”


“Wait a minute, Adrianna, let me give you a little thank you for your service,” Mike reached in his coat pocket, pulled the cross out and laid it on the table while he searched his pocket for some money.


“Oh, my God,” Adrianna’s face went pale, she staggered back.


“What is it, my dear?” Paula got up and went to her.


“That cross. Where did you get it?” She looked at Mike.


“Here, you better sit down,” Paula helped her to a chair.


“A priest gave it to me. You recognize it?”


“Yes, several weeks ago a priest approached me in church. He was wearing the same cross. He gave me this,” she pulled a tiny tassel from her cleavage. At the end was a small silk bag. She opened it and deposited its content on the table.


“Jesus,” Mike exclaimed as he reached for the green stone. He dropped it into the center of the cross, it fit perfectly. “What did this priest say to you?”


Russ laughed, “Well, that didn’t take long. And I told you so.”


“He told me to keep it close and someday I would understand,” Adrianna paused, “Do you understand?”


“Yes, I do,” Mike gave Russ a sidelong glance.


“I have to go. I shouldn’t be sitting here. Please excuse me,” Adrianna left the dining room.


“Too young for you, eh?” Russ laughed.


“Shut up, Russ,” Mike smiled.


“Would you please explain what just happened?” Paula was confused.


“Mom, I’ll explain later. We better go.”


“I haven’t finished my coffee,” Darren frowned.


“Come on sweetie, we’re going. I’ll make some when we get home,” Paula got up and tugged at Darren’s sleeve.


As they walked into the parking lot, Mike took Russ’ arm, “Would you and Grace mind coming over to my parents? I’m going to need moral support when I tell them the story.”


“Sure. We’ll be right behind you,” Russ giggled, “She is cute, and still no wedding ring.”


“Yeah, so you’ve told me a hundred times,” He glanced back at the restaurant and wondered.


Mike placed his cup on the coffee table, “What am I going to do? I can’t make a move on her,” he finished telling his parents the story behind the cross.


Paula looked thoughtfully, “Well, this is great. I’m going to get in touch with Adrianna and invite her for dinner.”


“Mom,” Mike protested.


“Don’t Mom me. Mother knows best, right Darren?”


Darren nodded. “Don’t fight it, son. Go with the flow is the best advice I can give you,”


Paula laughed and pushed her husband’s arm.


“Yeah, Mike. Go with the flow. I want to see how this plays out,” Russ was having fun.


“I know, we’ll have a little open house on New Year’s Day and invite her. Grace, Russ, will you come?”


“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Grace grinned at Mike.


“What about her family?” Darren chimed in.


“They’re in Italy,” Mike answered.


“Perfect,” Paula rubbed her hands together.


New Year's Day

“Mike hasn’t left Adrianna’s side since she arrived,” Paula smiled gleefully.


“Never mind, let him be. It’s the first time he’s shown interest in anyone since he was discharged,” Darren was pleased.


“I’m going back to Italy in a few weeks, and I won’t be returning,” Adrianna looked into Mike’s surprised face.


“Wait a minute, why are you leaving? You can’t leave, I won’t let you.”


Adrianna smiled at Mike’s serious response. “That’s kind of you, Mike, but I never planned on staying when I came to the United States.”


“You can change your mind can’t you?” Mike wanted to reach out and touch her hand to emphasize his statement but was afraid to do so.


“My visa is not being renewed, the building I live in is being torn down to make way for a high-rise, and I can’t find anything affordable on what I’m making at the restaurant.”


“Your visa isn’t being renewed? Why not?” Mike was persistent.


“There’s a limit on renewability, I guess I’ve reached that limit. That’s okay, I miss my family. I want to go home.”


“Can’t argue with that, though I would like to.”


“You’re very sweet and I appreciate your interest. Your mother is giving us the eye. Let’s join them. Come on,” Adrianna took Mike’s hand and pulled him to his feet.


“What were you two discussing, too seriously?” Paula asked as they sat down with the others.


“She’s going back to Italy,” Mike replied dolefully.


“No, why?” Paula was surprised.


Mike answered for Adrianna, “Her building is being torn down, they won’t renew her Visa, and I guess she doesn’t like us.”


Adrianna grabbed Mike’s arm, “That’s not true, you’ve been so kind, it won’t be easy to leave.”


“When do you have to leave?” Darren decided to get involved.


“My landlord gave me a 30-day notice — that was two weeks ago. I’m going to make plane reservations next week.”


“What about your Visa, when does it expire?” Russ joined the conversation.


“Oh, it doesn’t expire for another nine months. No one is going to give me a lease on an apartment for nine months even if there was one I could afford. So, I’ll leave a little earlier than planned.”


Darren jumped to his feet, “Wait a minute, why don’t you stay with us. Mike’s room is empty and we’d love to have you. You won’t have to pay any rent and can save money to take back to Italy. How about it?”


Adrianna was taken by surprise, “I don’t know. I couldn’t impose upon you like that.”


“Yes, you could,” Paula joined in. “Besides, I need pointers on Italian cooking. Please, Adrianna, think about it.”


Russ piped up, “Go with the flow, Adrianna. Please, or I’ll never hear the end of it from this one,” he pointed at Mike.


“Yeah, go with the flow,” Mike laughed. “Father Freddie gave you this stone for a reason. You would hate yourself for not hanging around to find out why.”


“Father Freddie?” Adrianna was curious.


“Yeah, he and I spent time together. We’re old friends now.”


“That’s right,” Adrianna remembered, “You were going to explain why he gave me the stone, and never got around to it,” Adrianna was relaxing into the idea of living with Mike’s parents.


“I will, if you say ok to the offer of living here,” Mike smiled.


“That’s blackmail,” Adrianna laughed.


“Yeah, I know,” Mike glowed at the possibility of Adrianna staying.


Paula got up and moved toward the kitchen, “I need to get supper started. Adrianna, would you like to give me a hand?”


“I’d love to,” Adrianna was pleased to have a reprieve from the decision being put to her.


Russ turned to Mike. “Okay boy, you have nine months to pull this one off. If you don’t, you’ll die a lonely, bitter old man.”


“Oh, God,” Mike threw his head back on the sofa and groaned. “She’s so young, I don’t know.”


“Do you know how old she is?” Russ had an idea.


“No, I’m afraid to ask,” Mike knew immediately what Russ was about to do. “Russ, don’t you dare.”


Grace laughed, “Haven’t you learned never to dare Russ?”


Russ shouted toward the kitchen, “Hey, Adrianna, how old are you?”


“Russ, for God’s sake,” Mike kicked Russ’s foot.


“I’ll be 28 next Sunday,” came a cheerful response from the Kitchen.


“Oh, goodie,” Darren perked up. “Another party.”


“Mike, that’s only seven years difference. Twenty-eight, still plenty of time for babies. How many do you want?” Russ was pleased with himself.


“You’ll never find out if I strangle you,” Mike liked the idea of babies.


“Three would be perfect,” Grace looked directly into Russ’s face. Mike laughed,


“That shut him up. Thank you, Grace.”


“You’re welcome,” she snuggled up next to Russ.


Adrianna was busy preparing a salad, “I think you’ll love this dressing. It was one of the first things my mother taught me.”


“I’m so glad I had the ingredients. I usually don’t make dressing from scratch,” Paula paused and looked at Adrianna, “I know, we’ll have a birthday party for you next Sunday and we’ll skype your parents. Mike knows about skyping so we’ll leave it to him.”


“Oh Paula, they will be so pleased. I don’t have a computer. My brother is a computer geek so he and Mike will be able to work something out,” Adrianna stopped to wipe her eyes.


“What is it, my dear?” Paula stopped what she was doing.


“I’m sorry, I’m so overwhelmed by your kindness. Thank you.”


“Oh, my dear, we are so pleased to be able to do this for you. I hope you’ll accept our invitation to stay with us. Have you given it any thought?”


“Hey, what’s going on in here? I’m starved,” Mike came through the kitchen doorway. “What can I do to help?”


“You can set the table, in the dining room. Use the good stuff,” Paula smiled at Mike.


“Consider it done. Come on Russ, you’re gonna help,” Russ and Mike disappeared into the dining room. Grace joined Paula and Adrianna as Darren strolled into the kitchen.


“Darren, would you get a bottle of wine from the cellar?”


“Sure. Adrianna, come with me and see our selection of wines we’ve collected. I’ll let you choose one for dinner,” Darren and Adrianna could be heard talking and laughing as they descended into the cellar. Mike came into the kitchen, “Well, has she said anything?”


Paula laughed, “She was about to when you burst in here. We’ll have to wait and see.”


The dessert had been served, Mike raised his wine glass, “Happy New Year everyone, and thank you, Adrianna, for joining us.”


Everyone raised their glasses and joined in the toast. “Thank you, Mike, for the invitation. It’s been wonderful being here, reminds me of holidays with my family.”


“Okay, Adrianna, have you made any New Year’s resolutions?” Russ laughed at his sneaky way of getting an answer about her staying with Mike’s parents.


“Yes, I have. If the invitation is still open, I would like very much to join your family for the time being,” she broke into her lovely smile as everyone cheered her decision.


Before the week was out, her few belongings had been gathered and placed in Mike’s childhood room. Paula treated her like the daughter she never had.


Adrianna’s birthday was celebrated with a long skyping session with her parents and siblings in Italy. She coordinated the start time with her brother in Rome the day before. It was 11 AM in Schaumburg and 6 PM in Rome when the long distance connection was made.


Mike was charmed by the comradery between Adrianna and her family. Secretly, he thought he would take her there on their wedding trip if he ever got the nerve to ask her, but there was time for that.


Paula and Darren retired to their room leaving Russ, Grace, Mike, and Adrianna to clean up the kitchen before the evening ended.


“Have you told Adrianna yet?” Russ decided it was time.


“Told me what?” Adrianna glanced at Mike.


“No, and I wish you hadn’t brought it up. You really can piss me off when you start running my life for me,” Mike smiled, but was not pleased.


“Sorry, if you wait, it may never happen,” Russ was firm.


“Well, you’re going to have to tell me now, or I’ll never get to sleep tonight,” Adrianna looked at them, waiting.


“Westfield Mall,” Mike began.


“What about it?”


“The bomb scare,” Russ added.


“Yes, I know. I was still in the restaurant when it happened. We exited through the back door and waited in the parking area. They never did identify the man who saved the day,” Adrianna paused, “Did they?”


Russ pointed to Mike. Adrianna looked at Mike, “What?”


“He’s the man,” Russ answered quietly.


Adrianna’s jaw dropped slightly, “You killed the terrorist?”


Mike nodded and sat down at the table and told the story beginning with Father Freddie pointing at the suspect.


“The guard reporting on TV said the man spoke a few words to the terrorist before he killed him, Arabic or something like that,” she waited for an answer.


“It was Arabic.”


“And what did you say to him?”


“I told him to go to hell.”


“And then he sent him there,” added Russ.


“And you learned Arabic, where?”


“Army Special Forces.”


“Army Special Forces. And what’s that?”


Mike explained his two years of training in Special Forces and his twelve years serving in the Army. “E parlo anche italiano,” Mike looked down at the tabletop.


“È giusto. E quando avevi intenzione di dirmi di che? Adrianna was smiling.


“Hey, wait a minute,” Russ jumped in. “Don’t leave us out of this.


“I asked him when he was going to tell me he spoke Italian,” Adrianna smiled at Russ, then turned to Mike as the light dawned on her, “You heard everything I said to my parents and my brothers and sisters?”


Mike smiled and nodded as he examined the table top.


“That wasn’t fair of you, Mike. You were eavesdropping,” Adrianna was not pleased.


“Whoooa, what did she say, Mike?” Russ sat up in his chair.


Adrianna got up, walked to the kitchen counter and put dishes into the cupboard. Grace joined her in support.


“I was planning on telling you,” Mike knew he was in trouble.


“What else is there you planned on telling me, and haven’t?” She was as close to being pissed as he had ever seen her.


“Would someone please tell me what’s going on?” Russ was tired of being sidelined.


Adrianna turned to Russ, “I’ll tell you.”


“Adrianna, please, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”


“I told my parents Mike was a good man and would make an ideal husband,” she turned away.


“Holy crap. Mike was planning on asking you to marry him,” Russ moved his chair back out of Mike’s reach.


“Oh Christ,” Mike got up and left the room.


“Nice going genius. Come on, we’re leaving,” Grace turned to Adrianna, kissed her on the cheek. “Happy Birthday sweetie. Men!”


“Thanks, Grace,” Adrianna hugged Grace, then turned to leave the room. “Good night all. Thanks for the surprise birthday party,” she left the room.


“Come on Mike. No use you hanging around,” Russ moved toward the kitchen door.


Mike came into the kitchen, “What the hell did you do that for? I should kick your butt.”


“The way you dillydally around, you’d never ask her.”


“Fat chance she’ll even talk to me again,” the three exited.


The next morning, Adrianna related the conversation of the previous evening to Paula and Darren during breakfast.


“Oh my dear, I’m so sorry that happened. I was not aware of Mike’s intentions. I know it may be difficult to believe, but Mike is a very shy person. I’m sure Russ had that in mind when he spilled the beans. But, of course, your family is important and should be considered.”


“No they shouldn’t,” Darren barged into the conversation. “Adrianna, you would fit into this family perfectly.”


“Darren, will you zip it please,” Paula’s glare quieted Darren.


Adrianna smiled, “Thank goodness he wasn’t too shy to kill that man at the Mall.” The deadly pause caught Adrianna off guard. “Oh, my God, Mike hasn’t told you.”


“Told us? Told us what?” Paula had not caught what Adrianna had said.


“Oh, my, look at the time. I have to get ready for work,” Adrianna got up and left the room. Paula looked at Darren, “What?”


“Better sit down, dear,”


The next afternoon at Police Headquarters, “Thank you, Chief Schroeder, for seeing me on such short notice,” Phil Higgins, Mike’s lawyer, stood in front of Chief Schroeder’s desk.


“Please, Mr. Higgins, sit down. This is very mysterious. Of course, I’ll help in any way I can.”


“I represent Mr. Faraday and Mr. Martin. They were at Westfield Mall and facilitated the demise and removal of the terrorist.”


“What?” Chief Schroeder sat up.


“They may be in grave danger.”


“In what way?”


“They saw something a few seconds before the explosion which has led them to believe one of your officers may be an accomplice to the bomber.”


“Holy Shit. Do you realize what you’re saying?”


“Yes, sir, I do. We need to look through photos of your current officers in order to identify the individual in question.”


Chief Schroeder went to his filing cabinet and pulled out an album. “Here’s my copy of current officers and clerical staff,” he placed the album in front of Higgins. “I want this back in the morning.”


“That’s him. I’m sure of it,” Russ placed his index finger on the photo of Alix M. Osman.


“The clean cut look is deceptive,” Mike examined the photo. “Osman is Arabic for Uthman, it’s Turkish. And I’ll bet the middle initial M is for Muhammad, and Alix is Ali.”


“Phil, you need to return this to Chief Schroeder and request a thorough background check. Officer Alix must not know about this.”


“What about his phone. Should I ask the phone be confiscated?”


“God, no. He would not have used his own personal phone. It was probably a throwaway. Keep in mind we’re only guessing at the possibility.”


Three days later Phil laid the report in front of Mike, “You were right. Deep background check pulled up all sorts of things Officer Osman lied about.”


“Why the hell didn’t they catch this before they hired him?” Mike picked up the report.


“They only do a criminal background check and he was clean. Schroeder is ready to fire him. I told him to hold off until we got back to him.”


“Tell Schroeder to leave him as he is. That’s the best way we can keep an eye on him. We need to let the FBI know. They’re better equipped to find out his contacts. I don’t want him arrested under any circumstances. He’s too valuable on the loose,” Mike sat back in his chair. “Looks like we have a sleeper terrorist cell on our hands.”


Mike woke with a start as Max growled softly under the bed covers next to him. He reached over to the nightstand for his handgun. It was not there. He had forgotten to put it out before he crawled into bed.


Defense mode kicked in. Ears alert, he slipped out of bed and crept to the open bedroom door. Hearing movement in his office, he stood up and moved with panther-like movements to the open door of his office. He looked through the doorway. Locating the shadowy figure, he sprang across the library table, pouncing on the surprised intruder. One quick blow to the neck and the intruder’s body went limp. Mike turned on the desk lamp, found a gun in the man’s pocket, picked up his phone and speed dialed Russ. “Get over here ASAP. Use your key. I’m in my office. Bring your handgun.”


Mike heard the front door open, “In here, Russ.”


Running footsteps came down the hallway, Russ flung himself into the doorway, bracing himself in the door jam. “Mike?”


“Look what I found crawling around my house.”


“Did you kill him?”


“Not yet.”


“Why are you naked?”


“I was sound asleep. Max woke me. I heard noise in here and found this piece of garbage.” The intruder began to regain consciousness, groaning.


“Russ, pull that ski mask off, I want to see who we’re dealing with.”


Russ moved around the library table, grabbed the ski mask and gave it a yank. The intruder sat up and looked at Mike.


“Jesus, it’s the cop,” Russ blurted.


“What the hell are you doing here?” Mike yelled.


“FBI undercover,” he massaged his neck. “Did you have to hit me so hard?”


“Oh, I’m sorry. You’re lucky I didn’t kill your ass. Let’s see ID.


“I wasn’t sure who you were or what you were up to. I got your name from the ID you showed at the mall, had the FBI do a background check. It was your extended deployment in the Middle East that raised questions. I wanted to find out what your connections might have been with the bomber. Your being in the mall at the precise moment he was about to blow the place up raised a red flag.”


“Not very good at undercover work, are you?” Mike examined his ID and threw it back at him. “And my missions to the Middle East are top secret. How the hell…”


“I’ve got the clearance. Sorry. Can I have my gun back, please?”


Mike laughed, ejected the cartridge and tossed the gun back. “I’m going to put clothes on,” he turned away.


“No, that’s ok, I don’t mind,” Ali tried to be nonchalant.


Mike stopped and turned, “You what?” Ali smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Mike laughed and left the room.


“Come on, I’ll put coffee on, then we’re gonna talk – Ali. And Mike’s straight as an arrow.”


“I can look, can’t I? He’s a fine looking specimen. How about you? You’re kind of hot.”


“Kind of hot? Are you kidding? How did you ever get into the FBI?”


“I lie a lot. Can’t help it,” they laughed. Ali stopped short. “God, he really hurt me,” he rubbed his neck.


“And you’re probably enjoying it, coming from such a fine looking specimen?” Russ grinned.


“Very funny,” Ali glared at Russ. Max growled as Russ and Ali passed him in the hallway, then trotted after them into the kitchen.


“Ok, Officer Krupke, does Schroeder know about you?” Mike set three cups on the table. “No, and you gotta back off. You can’t blow my cover, at least not yet. I knew about this suicide bomber, I didn’t know when or where. How did you find out?”


“From a friend, and don’t bother asking me any questions about him,” Mike poured coffee into the three cups and sat down.


Russ took up the conversation, “Before the bomb went off, I saw you stop, take something out of your pocket and turn around. I thought you triggered the bomb.”


“I’m diabetic, had to give myself an insulin injection. Nobody knows about that.”


“Mike laughed, “How did you ever get into the FBI?”


Russ interrupted, “I already asked him that, he lies.”


“Jeez Louise, I feel so much safer knowing you’re looking out for the rest of us,” Mike sipped his coffee.


“Whoever triggered the bomb knows about you from the media. I’m guessing they weren’t in the mall and may not have seen you and Russ, but I can’t be certain. Consider yourselves in danger 24/7.”


“I kind of figured that,” Mike gave a sigh of resignation.


“There are more of these suicide bombings coming. I need all the help I can get. Is your source reliable?”


Mike looked at Ali in deadly seriousness, “Yes, I can guarantee that.”


“I’ve got a task force at my fingertips, available on a moment’s notice, provided I have credible sources. Will you help?” Ali’s question was almost a plea.”


“I’ll think about it,” Mike sat back and scrutinized Ali. “How do I get in touch with you, on a moment’s notice?”


The next afternoon Mike’s phone rang. “Yeah?”


“Mike, I’m frightened.”


“Adrianna, where are you?”


“I’m at the restaurant. Don’t come, stay where you are.”


“What happened?”


“A man came into the restaurant. He was seated at one of my tables. The minute I saw him I felt something was wrong. I took his order. When I served it to him he glared at me and asked me something that frightened me.”


“What?”


“He asked me if I knew the man who killed the bomber. I reacted by saying I didn’t realize he had been identified. The man smiled at me and ate his food.


“He has since left the restaurant. I’m afraid to drive to your parents’ home in case he follows me.”


“When is your shift finished?”


“In two hours.”


“Carry on as if nothing has happened. I’ll let you know what to do before you leave.”


“Russ, they’ve contacted Adrianna at the restaurant. I need you. They may be watching. Leave your car on the other side of the Park and walk through to my place. Bring your handgun.”


“I’m on my way.”


“Call Phil Higgins, we may need a lawyer.”


“Dad …?”


“Mike, I was about to call you. Someone has been driving back and forth in front of the house.”


“Dad, take mom into the safe room - now. I’ll explain later.”


“Ali, I need your help.”


“Mike?”


“Someone contacted Adrianna, the girl staying with my parents. She works at Zia’s Restaurant. He asked her if she knew the man who killed the bomber. I talked to my Dad. He said someone had been cruising their home. I need you to have one of your men tail Adrianna when she leaves the restaurant. I can’t go to her. Here’s the plan.”


Max barked and took off toward the back door. Mike met Russ as he entered. “Adrianna is not going to my parents after work. She’s coming here. She’ll leave her car on the other side of the park and walk through. We have to position ourselves in the wooded area to see if anyone follows her. This could get dangerous, deadly dangerous. Are you up to it?”


“Yeah, I suppose so,” Russ was less than enthusiastic.


“Someone has been watching my parents place. Anyone follow you?”


“No, I drove around the block several times, parked, and then waited before I got out.”


“Good lad. Interesting how we never forget.”


“Yeah, like I’m really looking forward to this.”


“She’ll be leaving work in a few minutes. Let’s get out to that wooded area over there.


“She’ll walk in from that direction and pass by us. I’ll position myself about twenty-five feet away. If someone follows her, let them pass by fifteen feet, then holler at them. I’ll attack when I hear your voice. Put your phone on vibrate in case we need to talk.”


Russ glanced to the other side of the park, “There she is, Mike.”


“Look at her. Strolling through the park like she’s on holiday. What a gal.” Adrianna passed Russ’s position on her way to Mike’s house.


Russ called Mike on his cell phone. “Someone is following her.”


“I see him. God, he’s so obvious, how dumb is that?”


Russ let the man pass by his position before shouting. Mike dashed out of the bushes tackling the suspect to the ground, grabbed his gun and threw it into the bushes.


“Look out Mike, there’s another one,” Russ shouted as the second man came out into the open. Mike gripped the man he had and pulled him around. Several shots are fired. The man he was holding dropped to his knees, looked up at Mike, "Allahu Ackbar!" and dropped dead.


More shots are fired, Russ fell to the ground. Police cars skid to a stop cutting off the second man who put his gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.


Mike rushed to Russ and gently turned him over. “Russ?”


“Did we get ‘em?” Russ whispers.


Ali ran up. Mike looked up, “Call 911, we need an ambulance.”


Adrianna ran up and knelt next to Russ surveying the damage. “Take your belt off Mike – tourniquet his leg. It looks bad, he could bleed to death if it’s not stopped,” she looked at Mike. “NOW, MIKE!”


She opened Russ’s shirt and placed a kitchen towel over the bleeding wound in his chest. Ripping a piece of tin foil from the box she brought from Mike’s kitchen, folded it into a square and placed it over the wound. “Russ, are you with me? RUSS! CAN YOU HEAR ME?”


“Hi, Adrianna … am I going to die?”


“Not if I can help it. Now listen to me. Stay with me. There’s a wound in your chest. Russ, are you listening to me?”


“Yes … beautiful … I hear you,” He smiled and closed his eyes.


“When I tell you, breathe in and hold it. Breathe out when I tell you. Do you understand?” Russ nodded. Adrianna placed the aluminum foil patch over the wound. “Ok, breathe in and hold it. Ok, breathe out,” repeating the procedure over and over while watching the color in Russ’s face. “Mike, release the tourniquet and then tighten again.”


Mike was about to yell to Ali for the ambulance when he saw one roaring across the meadow, sliding to a stop a few feet away. The medics jumped out and surrounded Adrianna. “He’s been shot in the leg, loosen the tourniquet. He’s been shot through the chest, it’s a sucking wound. I can’t be sure if it hit the heart or not. He needs surgery ASAP.


The medic confirmed the hospital is ready for him. They lifted Russ onto a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance. Mike moved forward, “I’ll go with him.”


“No, Mike, he needs me right now. You get back into the house and look after Max, he’s terrified. Then find Grace and bring her to the hospital. Russ needs her support more than ever.”


Mike moved to the driver’s side of the ambulance. “How did you guys get here so fast?”


“Some priest stopped us and told us to get over here. I almost ran over the son-of-a-bitch. He came out of nowhere.” The other medic closed the back of the ambulance, jumped into the cab and pulled the door closed as the ambulance moved away, lights flashing, siren blaring. Mike picked up the roll of aluminum foil, the blood-soaked towel and ran toward his house.


Max was shaking like a leaf when Mike found him crouching under the kitchen table. He picked him up and held him tight while he dialed Grace. “Grace, you need to go to the hospital, Russ has been shot and is in surgery. He’s going to need you when he comes to. I’ll be over later. And don’t drive fast for Pete’s sake. Adrianna is there. She’ll fill you in.” He grabbed his car keys and headed out the front door.


With Max in the front seat, he drove to his parents’ home while reviewing what had happened. He found it difficult to understand how Adrianna took over and probably saved Russ’s life. He would drop Max off at his parents and explain to them what had happened before going to the hospital.


He dialed Ali, “Can you keep this out of the news? If there are more terrorists, we don’t want them to know about this. Thanks.”


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