Illusions of the Past by Mikell Keeth

John Franklin grew impatient as he observed the guard leading his grandson to the apparatus attached to a mechanical arm suspended from the ceiling. On arrival, they were immediately ushered into a ten by ten room just inside what appeared to be the only entrance to the building. John held his wife of nearly forty years, who was shaking from being touched by 
Illusions of the Past
Illusions of the Past by Mikell Keeth

the strange men. After looking into the machine for several seconds, the guard motioned for his grandson to step back, then making eye contact, pointed him toward his grandparents. Brad returned to his grandmother's side. John released Mary's hand, placing it in his grandson's, nodding reassuringly before walking across the room to look into the same device.

The guard studied his computer screen, scrolling a few times before speaking. “You're not in the system, Mr. Franklin.” He watched John step back from the iris scan. “Neither is your wife or grandson.”

An aggravated John replied, “That's why I asked you what the hell this was all about in the first place!”

“Immediate identification is standard protocol, Mr. Franklin.” The guard did not look at John, striking several more keys on his computer. “Where are you from and what is your business here?”

“We live in Georgia,” John replied. “My daughter is a resident here. My wife is not well, and my daughter will be looking after her for a while.”

Mary squeezed Brad's hand. Brad leaned over, kissing his grandmother on the cheek. He gently rubbed the back of her hand. She started humming softly. His eyes welled up with tears, again. He knew today would be one of the most difficult of his young life.

“She looks fine to me.” The guard stood, stepping up to Mary and looking directly into her eyes, before circling her and glancing back at John. “What's wrong with her?”

“Her mind. It's not good. She forgets things. Some days she doesn't know who I am.”

Looking again at Mary, the guard nodded and replied, “I see,” before returning to his seat and resuming his pecking on the computer in front of him. “So your daughter is expecting you?”

“Yes,” John said as he nodded.

“What is her full name?”

John had to think for a moment. Samantha was the younger of two daughters. He had no sons. Thank God I only had the two children, he thought. John pondered the countless men Samantha had been with in her life. Most he never met. He was certain there were others he never knew about. As far as he knew, she married none of them. Brad was the only positive result produced by either of his offspring. He was born to his oldest daughter. John glanced at Brad, hoping he had a clue what surname his aunt was using. Noticing his grandfather's silent, subtle plea, Brad shrugged.

“Franklin. Her name is Samantha Franklin,” John finally answered. He watched with little confidence as the guard searched the records.

“Okay, Mr. Franklin, I've located the name. But as I indicated earlier, we don't seem to have any of your information.”

John's brief surprise from guessing the correct surname quickly subsided into a defensive posture. “Why would you need any of my information? I don't live here.”

“No need to be overly concerned, Mr. Franklin. It's primarily for the safety of our residents,” the guard responded, looking at John with growing suspicion, “Do you have any identification?” John reached into the back pocket of his jeans, retrieving his billfold. He flipped to the section of wallet containing his driver's license and held it up for the guard to examine. The guard didn't look at the license. Instead, he set his attention on John. Though in his mid-sixties, John's muscle tone and posture were still imposing. “Remove the license from your wallet, Mr. Franklin,” the guard instructed with increased assertiveness.

Two other uniformed security guards shifted their attention to the exchange between John and their fellow officer. As he handed him the license, the guard began typing John's information, glancing at him periodically. “The IRS office is just inside the front door. It's not open on Sundays.You and your grandson will need to stay overnight and report in the morning.”

John could feel his temperature rise, his face becoming flushed. He understood why the government decided to implement the reforms, resulting from the Housing Empowerment Amendment to the Constitution, in the northern states first. The obvious path of least resistance, John speculated. He made an effort to calm himself, drawing in a deep breath before answering. “Why would I need to go to the IRS office? And my grandson? He's just a boy.”

“Soon we will no longer accept any physical identification in Illinois. All other states will eventually follow, including Georgia. If you don't complete the identification process now, there could be delays preventing you from visiting or picking up your wife at a later date. The IRS processes all acceptable forms of identification,” the guard explained.

“We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,” John firmly asserted. “We only plan to be here a few hours. As soon as we get my wife settled in, we're leaving.” John was aware of the identification process in the converted states and had no intention of allowing the IRS to obtain anything from him or his twelve-year-old grandson.

The guard continued to study John. While the government encouraged attempts by its personnel to obtain the new forms of identification, it was not yet mandatory for Southern citizens to be processed. “Very well, your daughter lives in apartment twelve-twenty. That is on the twelfth floor. As you enter the building, turn to your left and follow the green walkway. It will lead you to the residential elevators.”

John took his driver's license from the guard, giving him one final glare, before walking to the back of the room where two solid steel doors separated them from what lay beyond. As the guard pressed a button to open the entrance doors, a very loud, annoying buzzer sounded. They passed through the doors and entered a hallway. John heard a distinctive clicking sound behind him. They were locked in. Standing inside the door, John noticed the green walkway leading to the left. They were presently in the midst of what appeared to be an office complex. A directory on the wall identifying Court Room, Police, EMS/Nursing station, Fire, and IRS, pointed to the right.

“What the hell would they need a courtroom for?” John muttered.

A separate directory sat on an easel, just to the left. It identified First Floor - Community Dining Halls, Recreation Area, Gym, Game Room, Bowling Center, Theater, Social Hall, Pools. Third Floor through Twelfth Floor – Residences. Thirteenth Floor – Comfort Care Facility, Detention Center.

No second floor? John thought. “Hold on to Mema's hand, son.” Brad took his grandmother's hand once more as they headed down the green walkway. Approaching the end, they could see a vast opening with bright lights overshadowing the softer ambiance of the hall. Upon entering the opening John abruptly stopped, causing Mary and Brad to do the same.

Brad's eyes lit up at the huge area lying before them. To his right were multiple basketball courts. Next to those and against the rear wall were enclosed glass rooms where people paddled balls. The balls bounced everywhere as the players tracked them down to hit them again. John noticed Brad's interest in the game. “Those are racket ball courts, son.”

Brad looked at his grandfather and nodded. “What kind of game is that, Papa?” Brad pointed to an area where a dozen tables with nets across the center were set up. About half were occupied with players.

“Table tennis,” John smiled as he tugged slightly on Mary's arm, prompting her and Brad to continue down the green walkway. The walkway ended as they entered the recreational area, but green stripes on the floor continued to another hall that began again at the far corner of the recreational facility.

John could see a window at the end of the corridor. The distance made it seem small, but it covered the majority of the wall. They passed several more features in the open area. The most prominent were two Olympic-size swimming pools. One was shallow, no doubt for younger kids and those unable to swim, John concluded.

When they reached the large window, the hall turned ninety degrees to the right. Another long hallway leading to another large window, John observed, noting the walls were solid and plain. The elevators were half-way down. As they moved inside Brad pressed the button for the twelfth floor. The sudden movement caused Mary to lose her balance. John and Brad quickly steadied her as all three stood in silence while the elevator powered upward.

A bell signaled their arrival followed by the elevator doors opening into what more resembled a tunnel, than another hall. It was narrower, and the ceilings were lower, with similar soft lighting, as in the initial entrance hall on the first floor. The length and dimness prevented them from seeing the other end. John noticed odd numbers on the apartment doors to the left, with even on the right. He led the way down the hall and began identifying the apartments, reading aloud, “Twelve-sixteen, twelve-eighteen, twelve-twenty. No door bell.” He lifted his hand, knocking loudly. John could hear footsteps, shuffling, then silence for a short while. He was about to knock a second time when the door opened.

John stared at his daughter. It had been years since either of them had seen the other. He knew Samantha had several children with multiple men, moving to Chicago with one of those men years ago. Both of my daughters could easily be poster children for the welfare state, John thought, though he had no way of knowing if Brad's mother had other children. He had not heard from her since she abandoned him as an infant.

“Hey, Daddy,” Samantha finally said. “Y'all come on in.” She slid to the side, holding the door for them.

Samantha looked the part of someone who didn't care much about anything, particularly herself. “I see the diet isn't going so well,” John said as he moved past his daughter observing her five-foot, four-inch, three-hundred-poundframe. She wore a flannel nightgown that looked like it hadn't been changed in days. The apartment smelled. John, Brad, and Mary took seats on an outdated sofa, with ripped cloth cushions, that sat very flat.

Ignoring her father's initial comment, “So daddy, how have you been?” Samantha asked as she sat in a ragged, old, winged-back chair positioned caddy-cornered to the sofa.

“I've been better. This is the last thing I wanted to do,” John replied bluntly while surveying the disarray of the apartment.

“I hate it too, Daddy. I know this is hard for you,” Samantha replied.

Turning her focus to her mother, Samantha shouted, “Hey Mama!” Mary turned her head, gazing in Samantha's general direction, a reaction to sound rather than recognition of her daughter.

“She's gotten a lot worse. Six months ago, it was hard, but she would follow some simple instructions if you helped her. Maria begged me to let her take care of your momma, but we depend on Maria so much for all the things around the farm, especially since your mother got sick.”

Maria Gomez and her husband Elisio were like family. They crossed the Mexican border illegally over fortyyears ago, working as migrants on the Franklin farm. Elisio became John's foreman after John's father died. Maria and Mary grew as close as sisters. Mary's disease devastated them all.

“Daddy, you know I'll look after her,” Samantha tried to say in a comforting, sincere way. “Did you bring the power of attorney?”

The tension in John's reaction was obvious. If Mary was going to live with Samantha, he had little choice. He would have to trust his daughter to make good decisions on Mary's behalf. “Yes, I've got it right here.” John reached into his jacket pocket, retrieving and handing the legal document to his daughter. She immediately opened it and began reading. After a moment she folded the paper, continuing to hold it.

“I thought I heard voices.” A man emerged from the master bedroom, with bare feet, worn pajama bottoms, and no shirt. Tattoos covered the majority of his torso. He had piercings in his ears, nose, and lip.

John stood abruptly, turning to face the man. “Who the hell are you?”

Samantha jumped up, taking a step toward her father. She put her hand on his shoulder. “Daddy this is little Johnny's father, Jeff.”

“Little Johnny? You had another one?” John exclaimed crossing his arms as he glared at Samantha, “How many does that make?”

“Johnny's just the fifth. I had to have another one. If you don't have kids, the law says you have to share an apartment with another couple. Complete strangers, too. They just pick 'em without givin' you any say about it. Can you believe that?”

John absorbed his daughter's response, shaking his head in disbelief, not at the rules and regulations she attempted to explain, although he found those ridiculous enough, but at his daughter using it as justification to have another bastard child. “Where are the other four?”

“Now Daddy you know two of 'em are grown. Of course Troy is still in jail for that misunderstanding. The two littlest ones live with their daddies. It's not all bad, though. They're lettin' Troy serve his time in the jail on the top floor. Today's visitin' day. You ought to stay and see him.”

A livid John brushed his daughter's hand off of his shoulder and exclaimed, “See him? I don't even know him.” John paused a moment to gather himself. He hated for Brad to be witnessing all of this. Maybe it would be a good thing. His grandson may benefit from seeing firsthand what has happened to this country, John hoped. “I'll be back for her as soon as I can make arrangements. Maria is trying to find someone to come live with us. In the meantime, you had better take good care of your momma.”

John kissed his wife and walked around the end of the couch. He glared down at Jeff, who was at least eight inches shorter than him. “Come on son,” he said as he motioned for Brad to follow.

Brad got down on his knees, eye level with his grandmother. He looked her in the eyes, still not certain if she knew he was there. He kissed her cheek and whispered he loved her, and then joined his grandfather. As John turned to leave, he could hear the low sound of Jeff and Samantha's anxious whispers. John opened the front door and Samantha, almost in a desperate plea, blurted out, “Oh Daddy! Daddy!”

John stopped, turned, and faced her. “What is it?”

“Uhmm, Momma's checkbook. You said you would bring it. In case she needs anything.” Samantha made every effort to smile in a concerned, innocent way. John could see right through it.

It was obvious she couldn't provide for her mother, not that John expected his daughter to bear any financial responsibility for Mary. He just needed her to be responsible, period. John reached in the same coat pocket that he had retrieved the power of attorney from earlier, pulling out Mary's check book. He noticed the intense stare from Jeff as he stepped back into the apartment and handed it to his daughter. “I don't expect you to use any of your own money to provide for your mother. However, I do expect you to be able to account for every dime you spend on her behalf. Get a notebook and write it down, in detail.” Samantha took the checkbook, briefly glancing at Jeff.

Keenly aware of the non-verbal communication, “Where do you work at?” John sternly asked as he walked toward the shirtless scum currently bedding his daughter.

“I'm... I'm not working,” Jeff stuttered, “My back hurts, and I can't work. I'm trying to get my disability.”

“Disability! How the hell old are you?”

Nervously, Jeff replied, “Thirty-nine.”

Shaking his head, “How many more kids do you have?”

Jeff hesitates.

“How many?” John repeated angrily.

“Little Johnny makes eight.”

“Eight?” John exclaimed. “It don't sound like there's a damn thing wrong with your back. If you can screw that much, you sure as hell ought to be able to work.” John glared at Jeff before continuing. “If one penny of my wife's money finds its way to you, we're gonna have a big problem!”

Jeff nodded quickly, but didn't speak. His wideeyes and mannerisms told him he had gotten his point across, for all the good it will probably do, John thought.

John turned in his daughter's direction, gave her a brief glare, and walked out the door. With moist eyes, Brad waved goodbye to his grandmother, but she did not respond. He closed the door and ran to catch up with his grandfather.

Chapter Two

Savannah River – Franklin Farm

Sunday, March 30th, 2042

The assorted sounds of nature and the pounding of the Savannah River rushing against the curved embankment filled the air. Brad leaned back in the swivel seat of the small jon boat as he held his rod and reel, enjoying the peace and quiet of the cool, late-morning breeze. He had loved to fish since an early age and was as much at home on the river as he would be in his own bed. The river served two purposes for him. Today, Brad cared little about fishing. He simply wanted some time alone.

Brad turned his head, looking over his shoulder as another boat made its way up the river. He didn't recognize the two fishermen, but his Southern hospitality nature kicked in as he reciprocated a wave to the complete strangers. Funny, Brad thought, how different the general demeanor of people living in the North was from the South. He thought of his one and only trip above the Mason-Dixon Line to Chicago as a boy. He remembered feeling invisible as he walked the streets. He remembered his grandfather's natural effort to make eye contact and greet some of the passersby as they made their way to his aunt's apartment building. The reactions ranged from disdain and suspicion to outright rudeness. Everybody was in their own little world. Nobody cared about anyone else. Maybe if Northerners acted more like us, we wouldn't be where we are today, he thought.

Brad was dealing with a lot of concerns. Too many for someone his age, Brad concluded. He loved farming and would be perfectly content continuing the family farm that he grew up on, finding an old-fashioned Southern girl to marry and raising a God-fearing family. His mind drifted back to a year earlier when he met Kay... could she have been that girl? Brad wondered.

Brad admired his grandfather. John Franklin was a rock, firm in his beliefs and steadfast in his resolve. And while his love and admiration for him had never wavered, Brad was beginning to develop his own beliefs and his own desires. The conflict that brewed within was not a rebellious one. He largely agreed with his grandfather's political, religious and social views. But, his grandfather was much more of an activist than Brad wanted to be, at least at this point in his life. A hands-on activist, too, Brad thought. Papa didn't mind getting dirty if the effort was worthwhile. Brad had no problem with taking care of himself, but acts of aggression were not natural for him, no matter how justified.

“Bradley, cocksucker, Franklin! Where the hell are ya'?”

Brad smiled as he heard Roberto call for him over his handheld radio. “I am where I am. Where the hell are you?”

“I am not where you am. Now where exactly is where?”

“The river,” Brad replied, still smiling.

“What? Without me? You are a cocksucker!”

“Well, if you didn't sleep until the crack of noon on Sundays, you might get included more often. I haven't caught anything, anyway, so you haven't missed much.”

“Uh-huh. Well, Gammy is finishin' up one helluva Sundy' dinner. Fried chicken, mashed taters and gravy, collard greens, squash casserole, homemade conebread' and a red velvet cake for dessert. But don't worry 'bout it. They ain't gonna be much left by the time ya' git' here.”

“I hear ya'. Tell Gammy I'm coming.”

“Ten-four... cocksucker.”

Brad shook his head... Roberto. He was as close to a brother as he’d ever had. Although he was only six years old, he still remembered the first day they had met. It was a few days after his parent's funeral. Roberto was born in Texas where he lived near El Paso. Brad's grandfather had accompanied Elisio and Maria to make arrangements and attend the funerals after the horrific automobile crash that claimed Elisio's son and daughter-in-law's lives. They returned with Roberto. He and Roberto had been inseparable ever since.

Brad reeled his line in, securing the rod in the holder fastened to the sidewall of the boat. After raising the anchor, he pulled the manual start hand pulley of the small outboard motor and headed up river to the boat house. His thoughts shifted to his grandmother, Mary. She had been his mother as far as he was concerned. He had never known so much love, Brad reminisced. As he thought about the dinner Roberto described, he thought of how his and Roberto's grandmother took great pride and interest in developing each other's culinary skill. Mema had become as good of a Mexican cook as Gammy who had become a Southern one. “Something to be very thankful for,” Brad said to himself.

Brad was about a half-mile down river from the family's boat house. As it often did, thoughts of Kay wandered back into his mind. Brad had a few puppylove relationships during his teens. He definitely sowed his wild oats, almost daily, during the brief year and a half at Georgia Southern University. Although Brad periodically dated, meeting Kay had put a significant dent in his desire to bed every girl he met, though most were willing... except for Kay. Auugghh, this is stupid! Brad thought. People don't actually fall in love at first sight. Hell, I just saw her that one time. It's been a year... let it go.

As Brad approached the boathouse, he was not surprised to see Roberto standing on the dock with his arms crossed, shaking his head. Brad slung the bow rope to Roberto and cut the motor. Roberto tied off the boat while Brad climbed the ladder, heaving himself up on the dock.

Roberto turned and walked back toward the ATV he parked next to Brad's.

“Cocksucker!” Roberto exclaimed as he mounted the four-wheeler, started it, and immediately tore off toward dinner.

Brad sat on his vehicle for a few moments, drinking a bottle of water before following. He couldn't imagine that his and Roberto's relationship could be any closer, even if they had been full-blooded brothers.

Chapter Three

Franklin Family Beach House - Tybee Island, Georgia

Sunday, April 6th, 2042

A cool ocean breeze blew the vertical blinds as the air passed through the half-opened, sliding glass doors, into the master suite of the Tybee Island beach house. It was only eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, but bright sunshine already lit the room. Brad emerged from his bathroom, while still brushing his teeth. Dressed only in a pair of boxers, he looked over at the California king-sized bed where two young ladies from the previous evening were still sleeping. He remembered the blonde. He did not remember the brunette. As he towered over the bed, Brad tried to think of the blonde girl's name. It was Jen, Joan? No, those weren't it... Jessica. No, hell... “Jennifer! That's it!” He finally said aloud.

“What?” A scratchy, hoarse voice came alive from the bed. It was a voice that in no way matched the girl, but a night of heavy drinking and the dampness of cool air could wreak havoc on the vocal cords.

“Oh, nothing. I'm sorry, go back to sleep.” Without moving a muscle or making another sound, she laid there. Even in her present state Jennifer was still gorgeous.

Brad then looked over at the brunette. “Uhmm, yeah,” he muttered. He quietly reached down beside the bed, retrieved and slid on his pants. He grabbed a plain, white T-shirt from his dresser, quietly leaving the drawer open.

As he descended the spiral staircase, he pulled the T-shirt over his head. Roberto Gomez was seated at the bar in the kitchen, drinking coffee as he surfed the internet. Brad ran his fingers through his hair, walking past the bar, over to the coffee maker on the counter. He stood for a few minutes looking out the doors that led onto the kitchen balcony, before getting a cup and pouring some coffee. Brad walked around the bar and sat facing his lifelong friend.

Roberto glanced over the top of his computer, assessing the impact of the previous night on Brad's appearance. “Daaaaammnn son! Hell of a night, huh?” His jet black hair, dark brown eyes, smooth dark skin, and virtually hairless body, was typical of most Mexicans. His accent was not. Raised on the Franklin farm by his grandparents, Elisio and Maria Gomez, Roberto talked with a natural draw that would make any Southerner proud.

Like Roberto, Brad was lean and muscular, but taller, with sandy, blond hair and hazel, green eyes. Before Brad could respond, he saw Roberto's eyes widen as he appeared to be gazing over his shoulder. Brad turned around to see the rather unattractive brunette, obviously still affected by the previous night's drinking, stagger off the last step of the staircase. At least she managed to throw her clothes back on, Brad thought. He closed his eyes in dread as he turned back to Roberto.

Roberto struggled to maintain a blank look as he held his coffee cup in front of his lips. “No more tequila for you, my friend.”

Embarrassed, Brad hurried out of the kitchen toward the woman. Roberto could not hear the conversation as the two walked to the front door. Brad suddenly ran upstairs, returning with his wallet. He gave some money to the woman who promptly slapped him before storming out. Brad closed the door, rubbing his jaw as he returned to the bar stool across from Roberto.

With a smug grin, Roberto asked, “Hooker?”

Refusing to look at him, “No Berto, not a hooker.” Brad volunteered no further explanation.

After pausing a moment, “What was the money for, then?” Roberto asked jokingly as though he didn't believe Brad's answer.

Brad let out a lengthy sigh, not caring to discuss the matter. “She wanted to wait for her friend, but I called her a cab.”

“Guess she didn't think much of that.”


“So what does the other one look like?” Roberto asked as he continued trying, albeit not very successfully, to keep a straight face.

Ignoring the question, Brad asked, “So where is your prize from last night?”

“Gone. Left before I woke up.”

“Lucky you...” Brad looked back toward the staircase as he answered and his expression changed to a more satisfied look. Jennifer was making her way down the steps, wearing one of Brad's Atlanta Braves T-shirts that barely covered her thong underwear.

“Whoa!” Roberto let out, making no attempt to hide his reaction. The young blond seemed to enjoy the attention.

“Hi, guys. Great night, huh?” She paused and smiled, swaying slightly side to side, pressing the T-shirt to her body, Marilyn Monroe style. “Where's Miriah?”

“Miriah,” Brad muttered, “so that was her name.”

“Huh?” Jennifer asked.

“Nothin’ Hun. Uhmm, Miriah said she had to go and didn't want to wake you, so I called her a cab.”

“Awe, how sweet of her and of you,” she repliedbatting her eyelashes. “I have to be going soon, too. Mind if I borrow your shower?”

“Oh no, of course not. You go right ahead,” Brad encouraged.

Brad and Roberto stared as Jennifer headed back up the staircase. When her head disappeared out of sight, she stopped and bent back down, “You boys can breathe now.” They could hear her laughing as she reached the top of the steps.

Roberto looked over at Brad, “You wanna explain how...”

Without turning his way, Brad emphatically said, “Don't Berto, just don't. Leave it alone.”

“I was just...”

Before Roberto could say another word, Brad firmly turned facing him with an expression that clearly reiterated his disdain toward continuing the conversation.

“Okay, okay... I'll drop it,” he said, raising his hands in surrender and grinning as he reached for his coffee.

* * *

With the previous nights’ dates gone, Brad and Roberto descended to the garage. Technically, it was considered a three-story home, but the entire first floor was nothing but garage and storage space. After securing the van they brought with them a couple of nights earlier, the boys hid the van's key under the door mat and climbed into their diesel truck, throwing their bags in the open bed.

Brad turned the ignition key while pressing the button opening the garage doors. “Last night is gonna have to tie you over for a while.”

Roberto raised his eyebrows, “Yeah, so what's new?”

Brad shrugged as he backed out and pulled forward, heading toward the main road leading off the island. “Nothing.”

Roberto knew at twenty-two most guys their age would kill to have a place on the beach where they could party and have a good time at. He also knew once they were away from the beach, their lives didn't come close to resembling other young men their age. “Ya' think we'll ever be able ta' have girlfriends?” Roberto asked.

“We have plenty of girlfriends.”

“No, we have acquaintances... flings. We ain't dated the same girl twice in forever. I can't remember the last time,” Roberto responded as he stared down the road.

Brad understood what his friend meant, often wondering the same. Their lives became destined at an early age, the summer Brad's grandmother died. Papa changed that year, becoming a hardened man, Brad thought. John and Elisio removed Brad and Roberto from public school the following fall, opting to home school them.

When they weren't involved in studies, much of their time was spent outdoors. They worked on the farm, and a natural gravitation toward hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and other outdoor activities, took root. Video games and technology like smart phones, social media, and texting, were never part of their upbringing. Instead, they learned to shoot sniper rifles and received survival training. Later in their teens, they were introduced to explosives and automatic weapons. It all seemed natural to them.

Social functions, in fact, all interactions with kids their own age, occurred with the children of localworkers living on the farm. It was a fairly large community. Most families living there home schooled their children as well. Brad and Roberto had had a few innocent relationships with local girls as teenagers, but their activities were closely supervised. The parents often got together and organized recreational games for the kids. John and Elisio also built a church near the river over twenty years ago.

Against the wishes of their grandfathers, Brad and Roberto spent a year and a half at a nearby college, immediately after high school. It was a culture shock to them. Like most young men the first time away from home, they indulged in the pleasure of alcohol and young ladies. The two did enjoy the legal drinking age being lowered to eighteen, not that most young people paid the previous drinking age of twenty-one much attention. It was hard to justify an older drinking age when eighteen-year-olds could legally purchase recreational marijuana in all states.

In their late teens, as part of their home-schooling, their grandfathers shared the dilemma the country was in. It wasn't difficult for either to grasp and comprehend. Their maturity level well exceeded their actual years, spending much of their time sheltered from the typical distractions of youth and influenced by a predominantly adult environment. The homeschool curriculum provided taught actual history as it was originally recorded, not the watered down, politically correct version presented in government schools. They quickly learned there were as many people who wanted to destroy America aswanted to be a part of it. The destruction desired wasn't as much physical in nature as it was ideological. And they learned that today, those destroying the country were within its own borders.

These were their enemies. Instead of guns, bombs, bayonets and weapons of mass destruction, the enemy's weapons of choice were indoctrination, political correctness, manipulation, propaganda, deception, outright lies and empty promises. Their preferred method of delivery was public education, the entertainment industry, and mainstream and social media. Brad and Roberto experienced firsthand the political bias in public education. The political views of their professors during their brief stint in college quickly confirmed what they learned from their grandfathers. The United States had survived numerous armed conflicts for over two-hundred-fifty years, only to be ravaged from within, without one shot being fired.

As they turned off the gravel road onto the long and narrow dirt driveway, they could see the old farmhouse that, like the beach house, had been in the Franklin family for years. The driveway was more of a path, with tire ruts down to the dirt, and grass growing between. The yard opened up, revealing the vast clearing of farmland behind the large, two-story wood frame home. John Franklin and Elisio Gomez were seated on the front porch, in adjacent rocking chairs, each with a glass of tea. Saw horses, a circular saw, and two-by-four treated lumber were lying in the yard.

Brad pulled up to the wood pile. As he and Roberto got out of the truck, Brad immediately said, “What are y’alldoin? I told you me and Berto would take care of the porch.”

“Uh-huh, and good mornin' to you,” John greeted the young men as he glanced at his watch, “or should I say, good afternoon.” Elisio leaned back in his rocker amused.

“Papa, you said we could go, and you know good and well it takes us some time to get our bearings after a weekend at the beach,” Brad defended.

“Relax boys, I'm just messin' with ya'.” John paused as he looked over the pair. “Y'all look like you had a good time.”

“Some of us better than others, Papa,” Roberto paused and smiled before repeating, “some of us better than others.” Roberto noticed the glare from Brad and mercifully changed the subject. “So Poppy, what's on the agenda this week?”

Elisio stood, “You boys come on in the kitchen. Let's sit down and talk about it.” Elisio led the way inside as the young men followed, with John bringingup the rear.

The home had a very dull interior in need of updating. When Mary was alive, she kept it immaculate. It was just a roof over their heads now. Still, the home had plenty of space, including six bedrooms and a lot of character. Maple, hardwood floors were throughout the house. The original cabinetry and granite counter tops remained in place in the kitchen as well as all three bathrooms. A beautiful, crystal chandelier hung over the formal dining room. A stone fireplace with mahogany mantle, once accenting a well-maintained living room, now looked somewhat out of place.

As the four entered the kitchen, John and Elisio took a seat at the breakfast nook overlooking the rear of the property through a large bay window. Roberto sat at the bar and Brad joined him after retrieving two glasses, ice, and the tea pitcher from the refrigerator. They looked patiently at their respective grandfathers.

John began, “My sources tell me that there is no legislative or legal way we are going to be able to stop what's coming our way. We are going to have to meet it head on.”

“How long do we have, Papa?” Roberto asked.

Elisio cut in, “Not nearly as long as we had hoped for.”

John nodded and continued, “Until recently, the Reid Administration planned to initiate construction of its first housing facility in Atlanta, around April of next year. Now I've been told, because of growing concern that the upcoming midterm elections may weaken or even tilt control of the House, the President has decided Savannah would be his first, not second target.”

“When?” Brad asked.

“October,” John replied. “Apparently, Reid wants construction to be underway before the midterms. Poppy received notification of the project when the government opened up the bidding for contractors. From the proposed schedule, we think the government is banking on their ability to demolish and clear the building site before the elections, making it harder to halt construction if things don't go their way in November. It's a smart move on their part.”

“Sounds like he's sending a message to Jim Hart,” Brad pointed out.

“I don't know if that's his predominant reasoning, but it could certainly be viewed as an added bonus.” John acknowledged. “Jim's flying down in a couple of days. We plan to meet and talk about things.”

House minority leader, Republican, Jim Hart, represented the district encompassing Savannah, extending through neighboring Effingham County, into Screven County. He and John Franklin had been close friends since before Jim was elected as a local County Commissioner, some fortyyears ago. Jim was the early front-runner as the Republican Presidential nominee in two-thousand, forty-four.

“So what do you need us to do in the meantime?” Brad asked.

“Well, for starters, you and Berto can finish replacing the railing on the porch,” John smiled. “After that, the crappie are bitin' in the river.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Roberto interjected as he nodded his approval.

“You boys just hang close for a few days until I meet with Jim. I have a feeling, with him flying down to see me in person, there's a lot more to these changes than we know.”

“Will do, Papa.” Brad rose, taking his glass of tea with him as he headed to the front porch.

“Poppy, you or Gammy need us for anything else?” Roberto asked as he got up to follow Brad.

“I think we got everything under control. I'll holler at you if something comes up.”

Chapter Four

Hunting Lodge – Franklin Farm

Tuesday, April 8th, 2042

Minority Leader, Jim Hart, held his cigar as he took a sip of brandy. “It's unprecedented John.” He and John had spent numerous days and nights seated on the upper-level porch of the two-story cabin, overlooking the Savannah River. John built the lodge as a retreat, where he and like-minded men could recluse themselves. For over twenty years, political leaders and other influential men had been invited to discuss matters of concern while enjoying the hospitality and recreation of the Franklin farm.

“Savannah survived Sherman's march, it'll survive this,” John responded.

Jim's expression indicated he wasn't as confident. “I wouldn't have believed all of this was possible, except I've seen it unfold right before my eyes. The American people have been so stupid. It's so clear and right in front of them, but so many either can't or refuse to see any of it.” The brandy was beginning to loosen Jim up a bit, allowing him to lose some of his political professionalism and speak more freely.

“They aren't stupid Jim, they're ignorant. For years I have been telling you, the most dangerous tactic progressive Democrats possess, is their ability to play to the shallow, selfish wants and desires of the American people. We spent our younger days working to advance our careers, raise our families, make a difference in the world and build a retirement. Today's America is built on instant gratification. My youngest daughter's long-range plans, for example, consist of making it to her next government check, so she can buy some pot and get high.”

“I guess self-indulgence and lack of concern for consequences are powerful incentives.”

“To the contrary, self-indulgence without regard for consequences has become an addiction of epidemic proportions in this country. Instead of supply and demand, the progressive ideology of Democrats created the law of give and receive entitlements for votes. All behavior is learned behavior, Jim. No one is born destined to a certain fate,” John asserted. “Progressive Liberals have been methodical in their techniques. They fundamentally altered the foundation of this country when they successfully removed God and parenting from the family, replacing them with government. They exchanged a Savior for a provider. With God out of the equation and the traditional family disbanded, the inevitability of government dependency evolved.”

“People still have the ability to choose, especially in this country,” Jim said.

“And therein lies the difference between ignorance and stupidity. Progressives have mastered the craft of making their ideology seem normal while successfully portraying traditionally minded Americans as cold-hearted, intolerant, greedy, homophobic, racists. It's normal for the government to provide health care. It's normal for the government to provide food and shelter. It's normal for the government to provide education. It's normal for people of the same sex to marry. It's normal to hate corporate America. It's normal to enjoy mood and mind altering drugs. It's normal to redistribute wealth.

The onslaught of Progressive ideology has been going on since the 1960s. The indoctrination of this past generation of eighty million Millennials was executed with surgical precision, finally providing the political environment to nail the coffin shut on the America our founding fathers envisioned. People have been conditioned to live as they now live. Self-indulgence and gratification have evolved into government dependence, which is now America's freedom, hope, and dream. They are ignorant because they no longer recognize another choice exists.”

Jim Hart sat quietly, smoking his cigar and sipping his brandy as he reflected on his friend's comments. Progressives view housing, not necessarily home ownership, as the ultimate American Dream. No matter how it is achieved or who pays for it, according to their doctrine no one should be homeless. In the 1990s, instant gratification legislation encouraged government sponsored entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to loosen lending standards, opening the door for sub-prime lending, making it possible for anyone who breathed to obtain a mortgage and purchase a home. By the time Wall Street realized it might be a good idea to make certain people buying homes could actually afford them, it was too late, Jim reflected. Within ten years, the lending house of cards had imploded. While housing eventually recovered for some, the poorest of society once again found insurmountable barriers to home ownership.

The housing disaster was orchestrated by Progressives, establishing the foundation for the government to step in and offer an alternative American dream of taxpayer provided housing for every citizen. 'Clearly, the private sector has demonstrated it is incapable of accomplishing this goal,' Jim remembered Progressives touting. With the aftermath of the mortgage and housing crisis still evident years later, the Housing Empowerment Amendment was eventually passed.

The government had a huge head of steam. Secondary to housing, but deemed just as much a failure was education. 'The states simply could not meet federal standards of education and protect our children from harm,' spouted another piece of Progressive propaganda. Significant advances in technology gave birth to the U. S. Department of Education's virtual classroom.

Broad reaching powers were granted to the Federal Government as a result of the Housing Empowerment Amendment. As with most Progressive legislation, Americans only discovered what was in it after it was passed. Education reform was a substantial part of legislation enacted under the new amendment. Colleges, in fact, all school campuses, were deemed a breeding ground for violence, child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as teen pregnancies, making it impossible to provide a successful and safe learning environment, according to the Progressives in power.

Virtual classrooms attended from home were the new norm in the Northern-convertedstates and would soon be in the South as well. The U. S. Department of Education expanded to regulate and fund all primary, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education. Public schools were already essentially controlled by the Federal Government, so taking it one step further was relatively simple. It didn't take long for Congress and the President to use the power of legislation to shut down all private schools as well. In the wake of multiple school shootings, bombings, riots, physical and sexual child abuse, new legislation protecting student's rights to obtain an education, without being concerned for their physical safety or emotional well-being, was passed. Such general legislation opened the door for an onslaught of rules and regulations designed to protect our children.

Lawyers had a field day, Jim mused. Private institutions could not afford the inevitable liability, as enormous lawsuits erupted across the country. And although the housing projects were not yet introduced in the Southern states, impacts of these lawsuits were destroying private education in the South.

With brick and mortar private schools, colleges, and universities no longer in existence, the U. S. Department of Education would be in complete control of the country’s education system, from preschool to doctorate, including all technical and trade schools. 'Courses taught will finally be presented with fairness and equality, untainted by the personal opinions of individual teachers,' Jim remembered the Department of Education advertising. Instructors and professors are no longer required, as artificial intelligence has been developed to the point where a program can respond to any question on any subject a student may have. Government approved curriculum will be followed exactly as prescribed.

The Housing Empowerment Amendment was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2032. The urban areas of every state from Maine, south to Washington D. C., and west to Chicago, Illinois, as well as the state of California, had a significant majority of its citizens, living in the sprawling housing projects, complete with virtual classrooms. Everything above the Mason-Dixon Line had been converted. Savannah would be next.

“Based on recent polling data, it seems that Southerners still see another choice available to them,” Jim noted. “Unfortunately, it may be a case of too little, too late. Reid will begin building a housing unit in Savannah before the midterms. Politically and legislatively, there is no way to stop him. You know what happens when the government gets their foot in the door. There's no closing it.”

John considered his friend's comments. John worked on Jim's campaign years ago when he was initially elected to Congress as a Democrat. He supported Jim because he was conservative and it was beneficial to have a friend in the Democrat Party. With his defection to the Republican Party a little over ten years ago, they were now on the outside looking in. “We may have to think outside the box.”

With raised eyebrows, Jim puffed his cigar, lifting his glass of brandy and taking another sip. “What did you have in mind?”

John knew he really didn't want to know. He knew he couldn't know. And in everyone's best interest, it was best if he didn't know. As staunch allies, the two had developed a language over the years that effectively communicated information without revealing details. “If we can't stop him from putting his foot in the door, we may have to eliminate the door.”

Jim thumped his cigar against the ashtray on the table to his side between him and John, glancing at him, before returning his gaze forward toward the flowing river below.

Chapter Five


Thursday, April 24th, 2042

John glanced over at Elisio, “What are you fumbling with?” he asked, watching Elisio shuffle some papers as his friend rode in the passenger seat of their old Dodge pickup.

Elisio replied, “My damn Social Security check. A whopping fourteen-hundred, twenty-four dollars. I wait seventy-five years and this is all I get.”

John turned his focus back towards the road. “Not quite seventy-five years, my amigo. You seem to forget. You slipped into this country illegally and didn't pay taxes for a lot of those years. Congratulations, though. I started gettin' mine six months ago. A whole nineteen-hundred.”

“What? We're the same age. Why is yours more?”

“Didn't you just hear what I said? That's what you wetbacks get for smoochin' off the welfare system and workin' under the table all those years.” John smiled.

Elisio cut his eyes at the curt comment, “Yeah, well neither of us is exactly making out like banditos, my friend. We had to wait until we have one foot in the grave before we could get anything.”

Nodding, John replied sarcastically, “First, take over the health care system and bring down the life expectancy age, then increase the retirement age so nobody lives to collect it. The Democrats finally solved the social security crisis. Quite ingenious if you think about it.”

While neither man ever held public office, they had been very active politically, working on the campaigns of several U.S. Congressmen, Senators, and a host of state and local officials over the past fortyyears. As younger men, both served their country in the military. When his citizenship was granted by executive order, Elisio enlisted in the Army, where he began his military career as a diesel mechanic, and then became an airborne ranger, receiving explosives and sniper training, serving for eight years. John dedicated ten years of service as a U.S. Navy Seal, serving as a machinist, sniper, and underwater explosives expert. As members of the Special Forces, they were trained medics as well. They both saw combat and became decorated veterans.

Elisio relaxed somewhat as they ventured west toward Tybee Island. Something about the view of the salt marsh and Intercoastal Waterway brought peace to him. After riding in silence for several minutes, Elisio reflected, “I pray for our families. Your country has become a monster, amigo.”

John glanced over, then turned his visual focus back to the road and after pausing briefly replied, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news my friend, but my country is also your country. I was born here, but you came here voluntarily... and uninvited I might add,” a slight smirk crossed John's face.

Elisio laughed, “touché amigo.”

The warm spring sun beamed down on the old 2010 Dodge diesel. The air conditioning in the thirty-two- year-oldpickup had long quit working, but the truck remained mechanically sound. With backgrounds as machinists and mechanics, the two men converted all of their diesel motors to run on bio-diesel, a fuel they were easily able to produce on the farm. Green energy initiatives had taken a back seat to fossil fuels as the government bailout of all major U.S. oil companies resulted in government ownership. With the government running things, gas and diesel fuel was priced at all-time highs. Politicians now enjoyed the tremendous revenues generated not only by the sale of fuels, but the taxes they also collected on the oil products. Big oil was indeed profitable.

The Middle East finally collapsed in 2026. With the weak nuclear arms agreement and the release of one-hundred-fifty billion dollars of frozen Iranian assets by then President Barack Obama in 2015.It only took eleven more years for Iran to bring their hopes of a nuclear weapon to fruition. Israel confirmed Iran had developed a viable nuclear warhead and launch a preemptive nuclear strike against Tehran, once it became clear Iran was about to attack them. All hell broke loose. Prior to the collapse, the U.S. had completely withdrawn from the region and abandoned Israel. The inevitable happened.

An all out assault had been launched by a coalition of Muslim states against Israel, claiming the lives of two-thirds of the Jewish State’s population. Iran's Supreme Leader, in an arrogant rant after the ruthless assault, felt it necessary to announce its impending nuclear attack and the final annihilation of the Jewish state. Israel responded the only way it could, striking swiftly and decisively with their own nuclear weapons. In addition to blowing up Tehran, they were able to eliminate Iran's nuclear capability and threatened to utterly destroy every major Arab city in the region. The war ended abruptly, but the fallout was devastating. Middle Eastern oil became essentially non-existent.

When the U.S. refused to issue permits to drill domestically, American oil companies went bankrupt requiring a government bailout. Late in 2026, the U.S. government went into the oil business. Congress finally approved the long fought for Keystone Pipeline. Legislation approving the issuance of drilling permits to the new government-controlled oil companies was fast-tracked and signed into law. Within ninety days of the government bail-out, multiple new permits allowing the drilling of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico were issued.

Of all of the other industries, oil was deemed by the progressives as the Holy Grail. It was a grand plan orchestrated by the left, not to just control, but literally, own the U. S. oil industry. Combined with total control over healthcare, housing and education, the government's size, power, and influence on the lives of every American became enormous.

Environmentalists were furious. In fact, all special interest groups, including homosexuals, civil rights activists, homeless activists, ethnic groups, animal rights activists, and many others, were outraged upon the realization the support they had received from the progressive ideologists in return for their votes was meaningless window-dressing. These groups finally realized they had been used to tilt elections in favor of Progressive candidates whose only goal was to advance their own agenda. Once power shifted overwhelmingly in favor of the Progressives, the politicians that the fringe special interest groups supported, couldn't care less about them or their causes.

Elisio pointed to the left side of the road. “Would you look at that?”

A billboard containing a picture of the Statue of Liberty, with an outline of the state of Alaska encasing an oil well, with the words 'Drill Baby Drill' appeared across the top. The U. S. government oil emblem was in the lower right corner.

“Well, if that don't beat all,” John mumbled.

As they passed the billboard, Elisio asked, “What do we have, another twenty minutes out to the island?”

“About that. Did the boys radio you this morning?”

“Berto did. He said the pick up went well. They had the boat loaded and left Augusta around seven. Everything should be unloaded and in the south bunker, by the time we get back.”

“Good. Let's pray Juan is still willing to deliver our merchandise. Having a last minute complication thrown in the mix of things makes me nervous,” John sighed heavily.

* * *

“There she is.” Elisio pointed across the water as John drove over the bridge spanning the width of the Intercoastal Waterway that separated Savannah's islands from the mainland. The boat was a large commercial fishing vessel from Mexico. Open borders were established with Mexico in 2030, so travel by any means between the United States and Mexico was no different than driving from one state to the next. John pulled the Dodge into the parking area, adjacent to the marina, facing The Senorita. They watched as two crewmen tied off and secured the boat. A young Hispanic man appeared on the bow, looking toward the parking lot.

“There's Juan,” Elisio announced as he pointed through the windshield. “Flash your headlights.”

John complied, and Juan responded by motioning them over. As John exited the truck, he instinctively reached to the small of his back, brushing the area to make certain his SIG .45 pistol was secured in place. John glanced over the bed of the truck as Elisio made his way to the tailgate. “You're carryin' a weapon?”

Elisio patted his right hip, “Yes, amigo.”

John nodded, lowering the tailgate and pulling out two dollies. “There are supposed to be two crates. One should contain the radios and C-4. The other will have the base stations.” John placed the handle of one of the dollies in Elisio's hand, taking the lead with the other dolly, as he started toward the plank leading onto the boat. “I just wish we could have gotten enough C-4 without having to have the boys transport some too.”

Elisio nodded.

As the two men approached the foot of the plank, Juan descended with his hand extended in a stopping motion. “That's far enough, amigo. My men will bring you the merchandise.”

John and Elisio abruptly stopped, standing theirrespective dollies on end. Elisio propped against his, while John's posture remained much tenser. The twenty-four short wave, handheld radios, and twelve base stations would establish communications from their farms in Southeast Georgia across the Southern United States, through Tijuana, and into a mountainous area in Northern California.

Anxiety, apprehension, and distrust still plagued the coalition of Hispanic freedom fighters and their American counterparts in the Southern United States. Talk between the leaders of both countries about the potential annexation of Mexico by the United States had been widely rumored. Although any such move would have likely been years down the road, the Southern U. S. resistance had made the matter seem more urgent, motivating Mexicans to help them prevent the housing expansion into Savannah. If successful, annexation was all but dead.Which was a powerful incentive for Mexicans who believed their sovereignty and independence was under assault.

The associated but separate groups traded and bartered in all kinds of equipment and weapons. Small, under the radar transactions, as each group acquired and stockpiled items necessary to combat the forces against them, had been going on for several years. Although the fallout from failure would ultimately play out in different scenarios, for the Mexicans and Americans one common cause existed... freedom.

John learned a few days prior that the FBI took down their farm in Dallas, Texas, branding several members of their resistance group as domestic terrorists. Everyone knew as the resistance grew in numbers over the past ten years, they would eventually attract the attention of law enforcement. No aggressive or violent acts hadbeen committed, but the FBI managed to discover and successfully infiltrate the group in Dallas, uncovering a stockpile of weapons. It was assumed the leaders of that group were enjoying the hospitality of the NIA at Guantanamo Bay.

The shipment of radios was to be paid for with AR-15 rifle parts and ammunition. A payment that would not occur as originally planned because of the Dallas situation. That delivery was to be made by land in Tijuana simultaneously with the radio and C-4 transactions at the coast and in Augusta, South Carolina that day. The leader of the coalition force in Tijuana, Jose Javez, went ahead and approved the deliveries on a promise from John that the rifle parts and ammunition would be delivered in Tijuana within two weeks. John had contacted the farm in Arizona who would hopefully make that happen.

Until now, coded written messages via Federal Express had been the primary means of communication among the cells for sensitive information. All mail was now electronic. The Postal Service was shut down in 2030. FedEx was, surprisingly, one of a few corporate giants still managing to remain profitable and out of government control as the need for package delivery remained. The coded messages appeared on invoices included inside merchandise, therefore going unnoticed.

Communication over short wave radios would be much quicker and vital for more urgent, highly sensitive matters. With the advances in technology, this primitive method was likely to never be monitored. Combined with the use of their own coded language, their communications would be virtually undetectable. Long distance communication required a series of relays, hence the need for base stations placed at strategic locations to move messages along.

Four more crewmen emerged from below deck carrying another large wooden crate. As they reached the top of the plank, John could see Juan conferring with one of the crew. He watched both men nod at the other, and then the five men exited the boat toward John and Elisio. John assumed a defensive posture, easing his right hand behind him. Elisio remained calm, continuing to lean on his dolly.

Juan and Elisio stepped forward to meet the men. In addition to being young enough to be John's grandson, Juan stood five foot one and his eyes were level with John's chest. John had remarkable muscle tone for his age, and he was in excellent health and physical condition.

Juan looked up and cleared his throat as if having second thoughts about what he intended to say, and how he intended to say it. Looking back at his four crewmen who were likely armed, his confidence rebounded. “Senor John, I do not like this. I do not like it at all. We have no verification of what happened in Dallas. All we have is your word.”

John delayed his response, staring down the smaller man for a few seconds. After Juan had swallowed very hard, John smiled and placed his left hand on Juan's shoulder. “You are my friend, amigo because we work for the same cause. As we become more active in our work, things are going to happen. There will be obstacles. There will be mishaps. We will meet opposition, and things will not always go as planned. What happened in Dallas is a temporary inconvenience, a minor setback. We cannot become discouraged, and we cannot allow these things to cause mistrust between us. Am I making any sense my friend?”

After studying John for a few moments, Juan sighed, relaxed, and nodded. “Si amigo, you are making perfect sense.”

With his hand still on Juan's shoulder, John opened his right arm, inviting an embrace, and the two men hugged while patting each other’s back. As they separated, John raised his right hand and shouted, “to a free Mexico!”

Juan responded in kind, “to a free America!”

* * *

With the sound of a digital camera clicking in his ear NIA agent, Paul Groover, refocused his binoculars, continuing to observe the crew of The Senorita and the two male subjects meeting the boat. His junior partner, agent Sandra Knox, worked diligently to obtain photographs. Groover was growing increasingly impatient, his curiosity getting the better of him.

From their vantage point on the outdoor deck of the restaurant across the river from the marina, The Senorita blocked their view. What are you guys up to? Agent Groover wondered. “Have you gotten any photos of the subjects from the truck? I can't see them.”

“Negative,” Knox replied, “at least not a shot of their faces.”

“Wait,” Agent Groover exclaimed. “There, right there. It's one of the subjects headed toward the Dodge with a crate. Hold on! The other subject is behind him with a second crate. They are loading them. Are you getting this Knox?”

“Yes, Agent Groover. That's what you brought me for,” a frustrated Knox acknowledged.

“Their faces. We have to get a shot of their faces.”

“I'm aware of that, sir, but I haven't had a clear shot. The boat blocked my view until they rolled the crates away. Of course, then, their backs were to me. When they turned around to load the containers, the cab of the truck was in the way. They've got ballcaps with their visors lowered, and sunglasses. They know what they're doing.”

“Dammit,” Groover exclaimed. “Let's go! We may have a chance to intercept and follow. Call and get a bird in the air.”

As Agent Knox called into Central Command to request air surveillance support, she broke into a sprint, trying to keep pace with Groover, as he ascended the steps from the river to the elevated parking area above. When she arrived at the top, Paul Groover was already in the car. He swung open the passenger side front door and yelled, “Hurry up and get in.”

Knox dove in the front seat as Groover punched the accelerator. She righted herself, barely clearing her second foot as the door slammed shut. It would take several minutes to navigate the parking area and side roads leading back to the main highway from the riverfront restaurant. Groover was counting on the subjects facing a similar scenario, plus they would also need to cross the mile-wide bridge over the Inter-coastal Waterway. That should give them sufficient time to intercept, Groover hoped.

“We know the subjects will be headed back west, through and out of the city. With the overhanging oaks, it will be impossible for air support to pick them up going back down Victory Drive. Radio the chopper and advise them to prepare to intercept on I-16 west, once they clear the midtown area. That is the likely route. Let Central Command know we will follow until they mark the subject, then we will fall back.”

“Will do,” Knox acknowledged.

“Agent seventy-seven to Air One, agent seventy-seven to Air One, do you copy?”

Groover pulled to a stop and left the engine idling once they reached the intersection of the expressway leading to the islands. “One way in and one way out,” Groover said aloud. “Any minute now.”

“The chopper will be in position in less than five minutes,” Knox informed.

“Good. Plenty of time, that's plenty of time,” Groover repeated.

Three minutes passed, and a motorist pulled up behind them, paused momentarily, and then blew their horn. Groover let his window down, motioning for them to go around, and then quickly refocused east. After two more minutes, Groover slammed the steering wheel, “C'mon, where are you?”

“You drove like a maniac getting out here, but it still took several minutes. They may have gotten past us,” Knox pointed out, looking at her watch. “We've been sitting here for seven additional minutes.”

Not wanting to accept that his partner was probably right, Groover slammed the steering wheel with his hands again, “Dammit!”

Groover jerked the sedan into gear, mashed the accelerator and tore west down Victory Drive. “Radio the chopper and let them know we do not have a visual. Better yet, let them know we never re-acquired the subjects after we left the river. It's all up to them if we are going to track these guys. Dammit!” Groover pounded the steering wheel one more time.

Chapter Six

Franklin Beach House – Tybee Island, Georgia

Late afternoon, April 24th, 2042

John decided to take a few minutes, enjoying the views from the third-story balcony of the beachhouse. Though this was John's first meeting with Juan, they had received and shipped many items over the past ten years via commercial fishing vessels, and occasionally, private yachts. The beach house was a perfect location to leave a transfer vehicle. The warm and comfortable vacation home remained mostly unoccupied, except for relatively frequent visits by Brad and Roberto.

“Hey, amigos, we better get going,” Elisio said as he ascended the stairs into the third-floor master suite.

John was standing on the balcony looking over the dunes at the ocean. As John turned to his friend, Elisio noticed his moist eyes and softly said, “Take your time, my amigo. I will be downstairs when you are ready.”

Elisio headed to the garage to begin transferring the radios, base stations, and explosives to the van Brad and Roberto had left a couple of weeks earlier. He knew who was on John's mind.

John and Mary were married in 1995 before Elisio had met John. Mary was a vibrant and healthy woman before Alzheimer's disease took its toll. Twelve years ago, while the disease was in its early stages, Mary had more good days than bad. Within a couple of years, the disease progressed to the point where John could no longer care for her. John arranged for Mary to go live with their youngest daughter, Samantha, in Chicago. Samantha rarely worked, instead living off of various government entitlement programs. That was a mistake John had never forgiven himself for, Elisio thought.

Chicago was one of the first cities converted under the Housing Empowerment Amendment. In 2032, Samantha moved into her new three-bedroom government apartment, with her newest baby and live-in boyfriend. John arrived with Mary a few weeks later. Samantha quickly discovered one of the features provided in every housing complex was a Government Comfort Care Facility. It was a place where Mary could receive better care than Samantha could ever provide, and it was free for any sick or incapacitated family members of residents. The law allowed for any immediate family member to admit a relative to a facility. All Samantha had to do was sign some paperwork, and the Comfort Care Counselors handled everything else.

John never saw Mary again. A little over a month after being admitted, Mary was dead. The appointed government guardian for John's wife determined she would not want to live with Alzheimer's anymore. With Mary's comfort care counselor and guardian present, a nurse administered the approved lethal combination of drugs to end Mary's life. No one was notified in advance. Samantha was informed with an unannounced visit from the guardian and counselor after Mary was cremated. With an urn containing her mother's ashes in hand, the pair quietly knocked on Samantha's apartment door, briefly explained that Mary had died, and presented the remains. This was deemed legally assisted suicide under one of the provisions hidden deep inside legislation and enacted as a result of the Housing Empowerment Amendment. John considered it murder.

As he leaned over the balcony, John looked toward Heaven, “By the power of Almighty God, the Holy Spirit, and His Son Jesus Christ, I commit every breath in me, until the day the Lord takes me home, to the cause of making all of this right.” With both hands lifted to the sky, he stared into the heavens and softly spoke, “Amen.”

Returning to check on his friend, Elisio paused halfway up the staircase, respectfully allowing John to finish his prayer.Elisio added his own quiet, “Amen,” as he stepped back up to the third floor.

With tears streaming down his face, John turned and walked over to Elisio. Nodding, John said, “I'm ready... let's go.”

* * *

Brad unloaded the last piece of metal from the boat, placing it on the flatbed trailer with the rest of the cargo. “Berto,” he said, pausing briefly as he allowed his friend time to turn his way, “catch.” Brad tossed the end of the final strap needed to secure the load of metal and explosives.

Only eighteendays separated the boys’ ages, paving the way for the special bond that existed between them. Brad was abandoned by his mother soon after birth. He never knew her or his father, so John gave him the Franklin name. He knew his mother's name was Jessica. His grandfather never talked about her.

Roberto came to live with his grandparents at six years of age. He was Elisio's oldest grandson, born to his eldest son Julio and beautiful wife, Leticia. Brad had seen many pictures of them proudly displayed in Elisio and Maria's bedroom and on the mantle over the fireplace. His parents were tragically killed in an automobile accident. When they were younger, Roberto spent hours looking at old family albums. Elisio spoke very proudly of Roberto's father as the only one of his children worth anything. He now placed much hope and pride in his grandson. Both grandfathers were very thankful the ineptness that inundated their children seemed to skip Brad and Roberto.

They jumped into their old Dodge diesel pickup with Brad behind the wheel and Roberto in the passenger seat. It was two years older than the truck, their grandfathers usually drove but in just as good of mechanical condition.

“Are you ready for all of this?” Roberto asked, breaking the silence as they slowly pulled the flatbed trailer containing the material to construct the base station radio towers.

“I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it all out.”

“Accordin' to Poppy, it's all 'bout timin'. Poppy says God's word tells us to perpare' our fields and expect Him to send the rain. You know the story Poppy's always tellin' us 'bout the two farmers prayin' for rain? Both farmers prayed, but only one farmer believed God 'nough to perpare' his fields.”

Brad chuckled, “How could I forget that one? Poppy's told it a million times.” Brad was thankful for a lot of things in his life. As a child, he had always taken his grandparents for granted. It wasn't his fault. They became his parents. Only recently did he realize how special their sacrifice really had been. His love and loyalty for his grandfather remained strong and natural, making it difficult to deal with the thoughts, doubts, and emotions that brewed from within. “You do realize none of this is going to matter unless the midterm elections go our way?”

“Dat's why we're young Republicans, buddy,” Roberto pumped his right fist enthusiastically while making a backward slap on Brad's shoulder with his left hand. “The elections may not be much in our control, but we can do our part and pray my amigo,” Roberto emphasized 'a-mi-go.'

Brad briefly rubbed his right shoulder, looking at Roberto, grimacing. He continued driving the old Dodge pickup slowly across the field to the southernmost bunker.

“The old guys sure like these Dodge diesels,” Roberto commented while rubbing the cracks in the passenger side dashboard.

“I would say so,” Brad sighed. “So what's with all the Biblical references? I thought you were setting aside your religious beliefs while you indulged in the glory of your youth.”

“Ah c'mon man, like you got any room ta' talk. Besides, I still got Jesus in my heart. It's just the damn devil done took up residence in my loins,” Roberto defended while laughing.

Brad let out a burst of laughter and responded, “Whatever. I wonder if Papa and Poppy have made it back yet.”

“Unless somethin' went wrong, they should have.”

As they neared their destination, Brad's thoughts drifted to his grandmother. She was the only mother he had ever known, other than Roberto's grandmother, Maria. She selflessly filled a void in Brad's life after Mary died. He still had John, but a large part of him died with his grandmother.

While looking ahead, Brad posed the question to Roberto, “I know Papa is a strong-willed man with firm beliefs, but do you think if Mema hadn't died the way she did, he would be doing this?”

Roberto seemed a little surprised by Brad's question. The two never ventured into any conversation about the decisions or motives of their grandfathers. It was an uncomfortable moment for Roberto because he tooprivately harnessed uncertainty and suspicion. It wasn't always like that. Throughout their youth, there was an unshakable, blind devotion and trust, given to both their grandfathers. Something was changing. Though he undoubtedly shared some of Brad's feelings, Roberto opted to stay the course for now and reinforce his loyalty to the elder men. “I don't doubt he would. Poppy too. Of course, they both would follow each other into a ragin' fire and not even ask why. If one thought it was worth doin', it would be all the reason the other needed. You realize they doin' this for us, don't you?”

“Yeah,” Brad acknowledged while privately contemplating exactly how their grandfathers thought their plans would positively impact their futures. “Let's get the load in the bunker. Just be careful with the container under the metal. Remember, that's got the stuff that goes boom.”

Roberto laughed. “C-4 is a very stable explosive, my amigo. It doesn't just go boom. It has to have help. You know. One of those things called a detonator?”

I don't know all of the chemistry behind C-4. All I know is Papa said we were picking up enough to level four city blocks. Let's not find out the limits of its stability the hard way.”

“You worry too much,” Roberto said, shaking his head.

“And you, my Mexican gringo, do not worry enough.”

Chapter Seven

National Intelligence Agency Headquarters – Washington, DC

Monday, April 28th, 2042

“This Savannah Project is really beginning to concern me,” Director Lathem stated bluntly as he stared out the window of his Washington, DC office.

Paul Groover and Sandra Knox sat quietly across the director's desk, gazing at the back of their superior, as he continued staring aimlessly over the city's skyline. Theodore Sebastian Lathem was named the first director of America's newest intelligence agency. Established in 2036, the National Intelligence Agency had been kept hush-hush. Few people in the general public knew of its existence. In drafting legislation creating and funding the NIA, Congress touted the agency as necessary for the greater good of all Americans.

Outside of Congress and the President, only the highest-ranking federal officials within law enforcement were officially aware of the agency's activities. The NIA could best be described as a domestic version of the CIA. Traditional Americans would liken it to the Russian KGB. State and local authorities were officially unaware of the agency's existence, although as the activities of the NIA brushed with other law enforcement, rumors of the agency were common.

The Constitutionality of the agency was of little concern to Washington today. Similar to the Patriot Act of years ago that was authorized under the guise of spying primarily on foreign threats both external and domestic; it was deemed a vital part of America's ability to fight enemies of the State. In reality, it was nothing more than a federal spy agency for its own people.

The Supreme Court had ruled it to be unprecedented times, requiring the government to employ extreme measures to preserve our fundamental, inalienable rights, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the opinion of today's Court, First and Fourth Amendment rights regarding freedom of speech and search and seizure had been ruled in conflict with these inalienable rights. The Supreme Court had found in favor of the government in all cases involving First and Fourth Amendment challenges for the past twenty years. With no obstacles for the foreseeable future, the NIA was created.

The NIA's first order of business was the reopening of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Once Israel was abandoned by the United States and America began drilling for their own oil domestically, those waging jihad returned their focus to the Middle East. The war on global terror was declared over by America, and all foreign enemy combatants were released, returning to their homelands.

Now those classified as domestic terrorist occupied the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Although most were American citizens, their rights had been stripped. The liberals advocating civil rights and civilian trials for foreign terrorists detained during the war on Islamic terror were silent today. Americans suspected as enemies of the state were detained and interrogated indefinitely, completely cut off from the outside world, with no formal charges and no legal representation.

The director turned with his arms crossed as he eyed his two agents. “Tell me again how you managed to lose the subjects.”

Clearing his throat, Agent Groover offered, “We received an anonymous tip of the meeting at the very last minute. We arrived in position about the same time as the subjects and had no other agents in the area. We called for air support out of Hunter Army Airfield. The subjects were observed loading their cargo and about to leave, so we broke surveillance and moved in position to intercept. I don't know how they got past us, but they did. The chopper never acquired them, so they must have taken another route. They were smart.”

“Or you were stupid,” the director replied quickly and bluntly.

Groover shifted in his chair as Knox lowered her gaze away from the director.

“As senior agent, did it ever occur to you to leave Knox in surveillance position while you intercepted and followed?” The director glared at Groover for several moments, glanced over at Knox, then back to Groover. “I'm waiting.”

“Sir, as I explained everything went down very quickly and by the time-”

Lathem raised his hand, “Groover, you are trained and paid to think on your feet. This was a rookie mistake,” looking towards Knox the director continued, “and Knox, what's this crap about not being able to get a facial on either subject. We have satellite capability of seeing the balls of a tick buried in a chimpanzee’s ass, deep in the jungles of Africa at four in the morning, and you never even requested satellite assistance.

“Sir, I-”

“I don't even want to hear it. At least you are a rookie.” Lathem cut her off in a condescending tone, intended more for Groover than Knox. “You do know we have support staff at Central Command available twenty-four-seven who do nothing but wait for assistance requests from field agents?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” Knox answered.

Several moments of silence followed Knox's response. Appearing to calm down, the director finally nodded. “After hearing your radio traffic, the supervising agent on duty at Central Command requested Coast Guard assistance to intercept the fishing vessel. As you know, our open border policies with Mexico limit our ability to police Mexican citizens without probable cause. They did manage to reach the vessel before it made it to international waters, boarding it under the pretense of a routine safety compliance inspection.”

Hesitating momentarily, Groover asked, “What did they find?”

“It's what they didn't find that bothers me. The boat appeared in every way, shape, and form to be a typical fishing vessel. If anything was exchanged, there was no evidence of it on the boat. Something sure as hell went down, but thanks to your incompetence,” Lathem said, pointing directly at Groover, “we have no idea what the cargo was, who the subjects were, or where they come from.” The director's voice began rising again.

Groover drew in and released a deep breath. “It won't happen again, sir.”

“You're damn right it won't!” Lathem again paused, alternating stares between the two agents, before settling his glare on Groover once more. “You have tenagents in the Savannah office, correct?”

“Yes, Director, ten plus myself, with four additional supporting staff, two analysts, and twologistical. Fifteen total, sir.”

The director finally took a seat in his executive chair behind his desk. He jotted some notes on a legal pad. “I am assigning ten additional field agents, with two more logistics personnel, to the Savannah field office. I am reassigning the two analysts back to Washington. I want all future information and material to be analyzed at Central Command. That includes any anonymous tips. Is that understood?”

“Completely, sir,” Groover replied.

“Something is brewing in the Savannah area. Agencies throughout the Southern U. S. concur that there is an increasingly well-organized resistance forming throughout the Southern states. A cell in Texas with a sizable weapons cache was just taken down, but it is believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Savannah could well become ground zero for any resistance. Future mistakes will not be tolerated. Are we clear, agent Groover?”

“Crystal, sir,” Groover replied.

“Get the hell out of my sight!”

“Thank you, sir.”

Agent Groover led the way out of the director's office, followed closely by Knox. They entered the sixteenth-floor elevator in silence and alone. Once the doors closed, Groover again drew in and let out a deep breath. Knox turned to him and said, “Thank you, sir?” chuckling slightly.

“Shut up, Sandy,” Groover replied in a subdued tone. Groover stared straight ahead at the elevator doors, refusing to face Knox.

Sandra Knox was a direct recruit into the NIA. After finishing at the top of her class with a BA in Criminal Justice from Georgia Southern University, she was contacted and personally recruited by Ted Lathem. At least that was the formal process of record.

Bill Knox, the President's Chief of Staff, was Sandra's father. One phone call from the President and Lathem was on the way to visit Sandra in her hometown of Statesboro, Georgia, the home of Georgia Southern University, located about forty miles west of Savannah.

“What time is our flight, special agent in charge Groover?” Knox asked sarcastically.

Groover shook his head, looking down at the floor with a slight smile, before looking up and turning toward Knox. “6 A. M.”

“We're staying in Washington overnight? How convenient?”

“That was the earliest direct flight to Savannah,” Groover responded as he turned away to face the elevator doors again.

Knox eyed her boss's profile, gently touching his hand. Smiling, she quietly said, “I'm sure it was.”

Chapter Eight

Oval Office – Washington, DC

Thursday, July 3rd, 2042

“They call them generation PO,” Chief of Staff, Bill Knox pointed out, handing the day's national security briefing to the President. “It's just a characterization of today's twenty and thirty-something-year-olds, born after the Obama administration. They are the children of the millennial generation.”

President Larry Reid was the fourth consecutive Democrat President. He was the first President in years to face significant challenges in both the upcoming, midterm and later, general elections.Democrats had occupied the oval office for more than a generation and had controlled both the House of Representatives and Senate, since 2018, an unprecedented period of one-Party rule. President Reid intended to keep it that way.

A political science major with an MBA from Harvard, Larry Reid was very pleased with the direction of the country. His Democrat predecessors laid claim to some of the most progressive changes in history. Now it was his turn. President Reid's signature achievement would be to finish what his predecessors started. President Reid would complete the Federal Housing Initiative made possible by the Housing Empowerment Amendment. With the housing program fully implemented in the Northern states, the President had his sights set firmly on the South.

It took a quarter of a century and the help of an inept, self-indulgent, entitlement minded, generation of Millennials, grazing behind the Progressive politicians like sheep being led to slaughter, to complete the long envisioned socialist America, but essentially it is finished, Reid proudly thought. Though there was still work to be done, it was abundantly clear that America had been fundamentally altered from a free society to a government dependent one.

“Is this where all of our trouble is coming from?” the President asked.

“Quite a bit of it, sir. You only carried thirty-eight percent of their votes in the last election, and the majority of that came from the Northeast and California. Now, when we poll that group in the Southern states, your approval rating falls to twelve percent, and it's down to twenty-six percent nationwide among the demographic. It completely crosses gender and ethnic lines. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, male, female and transgender. They're all fundamentally united. It is simply an entire generation in what looks like an outright rebellion.”

“It sounds like the PO stands more for 'pissed off' than 'post-Obama,'” the President joked.

Not seeing the humor, his Chief of Staff continued, “The numbers will likely worsen all the way to the National elections in forty-four. The voter registration percentage for the PO generation is an astounding ninety-six percent. As soon as they turn eighteen, it's like a rite of passage. Most are registering within a week of their birthday.”

“Look,” the President began, “it’s just part of the process and has more to do with them being young. This age group historically has been rebellious and anti-establishment. We rode the

Millennials coat tails, winning elections for years, promising everything from forgiven school loans, legalized marijuana, faggot marriage, and free phones, to cutting and running on most of our allies. All we have to do is figure out what the POs want and make them think we are all for it. They'll be eating out of our hand in no time.”

“With all due respect, sir, the PO generation seems to be different.”

“Hogwash, let's move on. I know we are still firm with middle-aged and older Americans. Now that we hold the spoon, they won't risk missing a meal. What's in the security briefing this morning?”

Refusing the President's attempt to change the subject, Bill Knox continued, “Well, like I said Mr. President, concern with the PO generation is the most alarming, but there is unrest with voters nearly across the board. The problems are not significant yet, but your overall approval rating and that of Congress has taken some hits of late.”

“Hits? From where else?” the President asked, annoyed with his Chief of Staff's persistence on the matter.

“For one thing, Mr. President, you really pissed off the environmental lobby when you pushed to have all of those new drilling permits issued after promising in your campaign that you wouldn't. With Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico looking like a pin cushion of oil wells, environmentalistsare starting to support the Republican effort to revive Middle Eastern oil,” Bill informed.

The President responded slowly and emphatically, “Reviving Middle Eastern oil is a bunch of rhetoric and bullshit... it ain't gonna happen anytime soon, and I never promised no new permits. What I said was, I thought the number of current permits was sufficient for the foreseeable future.”

“And then you authorized twenty-eight new wells right in the heart of the Federal Wildlife Preserve in Alaska, and twelve more oil rigs in the Gulf,” pausing for a moment, Bill then added with emphasis, “sir.”

“Well, they'll get over it. Who the hell else are they going to vote for, the Republicans?” The President laughed.

“Probably not, Mr. President, but what concerns me is they may become indifferent and not vote at all. If you remember, that's how we originally got to power years ago. While it doesn't have the same impact as switching sides, it would still hurt us.”

“It's no big deal, Bill. The group is just loud. Their numbers are insignificant. Who else is a problem?”

“Okay, sir, well after the PO generation your numbers are down the most with gays and lesbians.”

“What the hell? Obama got them a Supreme Court ruling so the fairies could marry each other back in 2015. Over the years, we've implemented and enforced dozens of laws aimed at making these people feel normal. What do they want now? The right to marry their dog?”

“Uhmm, not exactly, sir. It seems they are very disgruntled with well over half of their income going to taxes. In fact, lower taxes are on the minds of all of the people we polled.”

“Impossible,” exclaimed the President. “Don't these people understand everything that government provides for them now? As the largest single employer in the country, the Federal Government has already raised the minimum wage to eighteen dollarsper hour. We have either provided or are in the process of providing free housing to the majority of our citizens. Healthcare is free. Food is free. Utilities are free. Cable, Internet, cell phones are all free. Hell, we even provide computers for the virtual classrooms in every home. Speaking of virtual classrooms, education is free too.”

“Federal income taxes are also a flat tax rate of fifty-five percent across the board, not to mention the consumption tax. I think the general public is finally catching on that nothing is really free,” Bill rebutted. “The PO generation has definitely drawn that conclusion. And with virtually no upper class to speak of, and a decimated private sector as government has taken over many industries traditionally ran by corporations and entrepreneurs, the tax burden largely falls on the middle class.”

President Reid pondered his Chief of Staff's assessment, thinking to himself how far the movement had come in such a short time. For years the groundwork was laid. Progressives made small gain after small gain, occasionally stalling during periods of conservative uprising in the nineteen-eighties and nineties. But conservatives always took things too far back to the right, paving the way for progressive change. The Republicans had Congressional control for most of the Obama administration, but were scared shitless to do anything, the President thought. Then, suddenly, all the pieces fell into place, and a tsunami of progressivism prevailed. The past twenty plus years have been a beautiful thing to watch unfold. But the changes are all so very new, Reid thought.

“Bill, you and I both know, the old America was doomed for failure. There were homeless in the streets, out of control medical costs, greedy corporate executives stealing millions from stockholders, a further separation of the wealthy from the poor. It was dreadful times and fertile ground for change. The groundwork for a new American society had been consistently laid for nearly one hundred years prior to the opportunity to finally finish the job. We Democrats acted. Democrat after Democrat was elected. They were Presidents of action. I am a President of action. We all formulated a plan leading to what we have today and the American people not only approved it but continue to reaffirm it as is evidenced at the ballot box, election after election. Bill, this is just a bump in the road. The people will adjust and grow to appreciate all that government now does for them.”

Becoming increasingly frustrated at the Presidents seeming denial of the potential change of heart in many American citizens, Bill pressed on, “I hope you are right, sir, but you also need to be aware that many seniors are also becoming very anxious. They are still by your side as a whole, but many are now being denied life-extending care, due to their quality of life and anticipated expense of managing their care, when death is imminent. There's been some real backlash with these laws regarding assisted suicide at the Comfort Care Facilities in the North. That has been one of the loudest battle cries of the resistance to the Southern expansion.”

Ignoring Bill's last statement, the President in an irritated tone asked, “Where's my damn speech for tomorrow night? I planned to do the patriotic hoopla and announce the date of the Southern expansion, but I want you to get the team together and rewrite it to address these issues as well. Is that clear, Bill?”

“Yes, sir. We will pull an all-nighter if necessary.”

“It will be necessary because I need it on my desk by seven in the morning. I want enough time to prepare my delivery. And Bill,” the President paused until his Chief of Staff looked him in the eye with his undivided attention, “tweak it, sugar coat it, spin it however you have to, but when I'm done tomorrow night, I want the American people at ease over all of this. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir, I understand. You are on all major networks and six cable stations at 8 P. M.”

“Good, I'll expect you for coffee and toast at seven sharp.”

“See you then, sir.”

As Bill exited, three aides and the President's personal secretary, Nancy, swooped into the Oval Office. “Not now guys,” the President announced, gesturing with his hand. “Whatever it is will have to wait until later this afternoon.”

Before the President could speak to Nancy, she was already escorting the three aides out the door. “You heard the President, let's go.” As she closed the door behind the aides, Nancy turned to the President, “Is everything alright, Mr. President?”

Nancy Heidt was a very eloquent lady, in her late sixties. She exuded a professional and authoritative air about her that nobody dared to cross. Nancy had served Larry Reid for over twenty-five years, dating back to his days as Governor of Nevada. She was fiercely loyal and protective of the President, with the ability to summon the bulldog within her at a moment’s notice.

“Yes, Nancy, everything is fine. I'm just dealing with some recent developments and need to focus on my speech tomorrow night.”

“I understand, sir. Another cup of coffee and a couple of aspirin?”

“Nancy, what would I do without you?” The President smiled and gave her a wink.

As Nancy reciprocated the wink she replied, “I'll be right back.”

Reid nodded his approval as he leaned back in his chair. He let out a long breath, interlocked his fingers behind his head and tried to relax. Closing his eyes, he pondered Bill Knox's concerns further. Bill was highly intelligent, analytical, and very intuitive. If he is worried then there is good reason for me to be concerned, the President thought.

Fifty-nine-year-old Larry Reid grew up in Las Vegas, following his uncle into politics. He was a gentle, handsome man. At five foot eleven inches, he was twenty poundsoverweight, but carried it well. His brown hair and light complexion accented his brown eyes. The graying hair over his temples added a grandfatherly appeal to his very professional appearance. He was also an excellent orator.

“This speech is critical. I need to say the right things, but most importantly, deliver the message the right way,” he thought aloud.

Nancy re-entered the Oval Office without knocking, as the President had grown accustomed to. She took very good care of him and had free reign to come and go as she pleased. She always made immediate eye contact and instinctively knew when to remove herself simply by the President's subtle facial expressions. “Here you go, sir. Will there be anything else?”

“Yes, Nancy, please clear my schedule for tomorrow afternoon.” After a brief pause, the President added, “Oh, and Nancy give me about fifteen minutes, then get Ted Lathem on the line.”

“Yes, sir, but Mr. President, are you sure you want me to clear everything tomorrow? Even the front lawn, barbecue?”

“Oh my God, with the address tomorrow night I forgot it was Independence Day. Yes, I'll attend the barbecue, but nothing else.”

“I'll take care of it, sir.”

Chapter Nine

Statesboro, Georgia

Early Morning, Friday, July 4th, 2042

The room was dark, although not completely. Light from a street lamp illuminated the blinds in the window. Additional light from what appeared to be a bathroom seeped around the edges of the partially closed door. It wasn't much light, but it was enough for her to see the face of the man on top of her. He was beautiful with dark hair, dark eyes, bronze skin, and a perfect, mischievous smile. She smiled back. Her smile faded as she suddenly realized she didn't know where she was. Her focus turned back to the man. He looked to be a few years older than her, maybe twenty-one or twenty-two. Definitely a man, not a boy like a lot of the guys she was accustomed to.

As he hovered over her, he rested his weight on his elbows. Taking the back of his right hand, he gently caressed her hair, brushing it out of her face. Their eyes locked. Her body felt like Jello, completely at his mercy. Anxiety and excitement filled her as she surrendered to whatever may come next.

He was both handsome and rugged, with a lean, muscular body and flawlessly smooth skin. She felt the cut of his chest, then ran her hands over the ripples of his tensed abdomen resting them on his hips. She moved her hands lower, sliding them over his smooth, muscular rear.

He gently kissed her on the lips, and then slowly placed several softer kisses on her face, across her eyes, and down her neck. She closed her eyes, breathing harder and began letting out soft moans of pleasure. As he continued touching her, she suddenly realized she had seen this man before, but what was his name? Her thoughts turned to her surroundings, once again wondering where she was, and how she got there. Redirecting her focus to the man, she could feel him fully aroused, pressing against her.

“Do you want me to stop?” The man whispered in her ear.

A little startled, she opened her eyes and responded, “What? Uh, no, no don't stop.”

She was still confused. It was the first words he had said to her. She fully understood the moment and what was taking place but was still oblivious to the events that got her there. My God, maybe I was drugged? Quickly dismissing this thought and consumed with passion, she wrapped her legs tightly around his waist and pulled his right ear to her mouth, whispering breathlessly, “Please, please I want you now,” she pleaded.

She caught another glimpse of his beautiful smile as he glanced up at her. She placed both hands on his head, applying downward pressure. He returned his focus to her body, kissing and caressing her again, as he edged lower with his lips. She could feel the warmth of his breath. He was driving her crazy. His lips and tongue sent shock waves throughout her body. She dug her feet into the mattress, bearing down as she gripped the sheets with both hands and arched her back.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! “Amanda Faith,” her sister, Sandra called. “Get your ass up right now. We were supposed to be at mom's an hour ago, and you're still in the freakin' bed. I'm not calling you again.” Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Sandra Knox continued to beat on her kid sister's bedroom door. “Mandy, GET UP!”

Sandra walked away, letting out a groan of frustration as she headed to the kitchen of the two-bedroom condo she and her sister shared. Their father purchased the condo just off of the Georgia Southern campus when Sandra entered college. When she became a senior, Amanda joined her as a freshman. Sandra continued living there after earning her degree, partly to keep an eye on her more promiscuous sister, and mostly because her dad still paid the bills. Sandra began packing the food she had prepared for the cookout at their mom's. Several minutes passed and she eased back to her sister's door and listened.

After clearing her head and sensing her sister's presence, Amanda sat up and exclaimed, “I'm coming dammit!”

Without responding, satisfied that Amanda was finally awake, Sandra went back to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, flipped open her laptop, and began reading her emails.

As Amanda sat up in the bed, she couldn't believe the intensity of the dream she’d just had. It seemed so real. It felt real. While it may have been a dream, her physical reaction was very evident as she examined her sheets. “Holy shit!” Amanda exclaimed, flopping backward on the bed.

* * *

As they drove Sandra's government provided black sedan out to the old family home place, Amanda broke the silence. “Did Dad make it down?”


“What happened this time?” Amanda asked matter-of-factly.

“Same as usual, work.”

“On the freakin’ Fourth of July!?”

“He does work for the President you know.” Sarcasm was obviously present in Sandra's reply. “The President has a big speech tonight. He needs Dad to help him get it ready.”

“Wait, you talked to him? When?”

“Last night, after you passed out.”

“Oh,” a momentary pause, “Well, it doesn't matter. Nothing ever changes with him. I can't believe Mom still invites him to every little get together we have. He's always working or off doing whatever.” Amanda turned away from her sister and looked out the passenger window.

“Mandy, Mom still cares about Dad, and I think Dad still loves her, he just loves his work more.”

“Yeah, more than Mom and more than us,” Amanda replied, continuing to stare away.

Sandra couldn't disagree. Her father was an excellent provider, but seldom a meaningful part of their lives. Their mother, Elizabeth, met him in college, and they married soon after earning their degrees. Elizabeth was content at being a Southern housewife and mother. Bill's ambitions reached much farther. They grew apart, eventually divorcing when Sandra was fifteen and Amanda was twelve. Life didn't change much because their father was seldom around before the divorce. His work always consumed him.

Changing the subject, Amanda spoke up while turning back toward her sister, “I dreamed about him again last night.”

“Who?” Sandra asked sheepishly, acutely aware of who her sister was talking about.

“Him!” Amanda said emphatically. “Oh my God. Do you know what took me so long this morning?... I had to change my freakin' sheets.”

Sandra's eyes opened wide, as she glanced away from the road and over to her sister, “Good Lord, Mandy. TMI!” Sandra smiled, looking back at the road before continuing, “You met the guy in a bar, screwed him and don't even remember his name. They're over twenty-five thousand college students in Statesboro from all over the world. He's gone. Get over it!”

Sulking at her sister's hopeless analysis, Amanda turned and faced forward. Sandra couldn't help but think about the impact the Southern Expansion was going to have on her sister and all young students. With all of the other mandates and intrusions, many people in the South did not realize that all physical schools, including colleges and universities, would be closed in favor ofonline virtual schools. Those that did realize it were in denial, failing to accept something so unbelievable. Sandra knew better. She would be on the front lines ensuring its success.

“I know it’s been a while, but every time I turn around, I'm thinking about him. Now these dreams. It was the second one. And by the way, you should have seen his cute friend. Not my type, but you would have loved him.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sandra asked defensively.

“Nothing. He was just kinda quiet and reserved, you know, serious. Right up your alley.”

Sandra frowned. “Yeah, well, I've had enough on my mind. The Savannah expansion is coming, and all indications are that a lot of people down here don't like it.”

“Whatever. Just like Dad. Work, work, work. Oh, that's right. Wait a minute. Just how are things at work?” Amanda asked in the same sheepish manner her sister used earlier.

Sandra knew exactly what she was driving at, but played completely innocent. Recently, late one night, Sandra made the mistake of having a few drinks with Amanda and engaging in a little girl talk. Before she caught herself, Sandra had blurted out how gorgeous she thought her boss was. “Like I said, things are very busy.”

“Uh-huh and just how is bossypoo?” Sounding like a giddy fourteen-year-old, Amanda continued, “Didn't you two just have an overnight trip to Washington not long ago... alooone?”

“Stow it, Mandy. Our relationship is purely professional,” Sandra bluntly retorted, ending the conversation.

Chapter Ten

Franklin Farm

Friday, July 4th, 2042

John, Elisio, and their grandsons had been up most of the previous night roasting a whole pig in their barbecue pit, about one hundred yards behind the main house of John's farm. It was a Fourth of July tradition they had started years ago. John sat backward, leaning forward with folded arms across the backrest of an armless wooden chair. Sporting a sombrero pulled over his face, Elisio had opted to recline in a lawn chair with his coffee cup sitting on the ground next to him. His occasional snores caused him to briefly awaken, as he catnapped. The barbecue pit was housed in an open shed not far from the barn. Brad and Roberto had each claimed a wooden post to lean on.

“Hot already,” Brad noted as he looked at his watch. “It's only ten.”

Without raising his sombrero, Elisio replied, “You do not know hot, my young amigo. In the South, they claim you can fry an egg on the concrete in July. In Mexico, the concrete melts.”

Brad laughed.

After a few moments, “So El Presidente' is going to speak tonight,” Roberto offered as more of a statement than a question.

“That would appear to be the case,” said John, taking a sip of his coffee. “I think it's pretty ironic a valuable piece of intelligence we need to make final preparations is going to be confirmed by the President of the United States on national television.” John pulled a quarter out of his pocket and flicked it, hitting Elisio's sombrero, “don't you my friend?”

Elisio slowly raised his hat, glancing at John with an annoyed look, “No comprendes, senor.”

“I bet you will comprendes when I pull that pig off the fire, my amigo,” John quickly replied as Elisio grinned and pulled the sombrero back over his face.

Amused, Brad and Roberto looked at each other and smiled. Their grandfathers had picked and poked fun at each other for longer than either of them could remember. As if there were some type of mental telepathy between them, each old man seemed to be able to read the thoughts and intentions of the other. It often seemed their playful conflict was mostly intended to entertain and amuse those around them.

Brad knew that one would lay down his life for the other. He was just as certain that either would sacrifice their life to preserve his or Roberto's. With the coming events, Brad often thought of these things. He figured Roberto did as well, though they never talked about it.

“So, I guess we're gatherin' 'round tonight to watch?” Roberto asked.

John nodded in reply, while Elisio snored and Brad stared forward, at nothing in particular.

The effects of the overnight vigil in front of the barbecue pit were beginning to take their toll. “Oookay then, I'm gonna go help Gammy,” Roberto announced after a period of complete silence.

“Good idea,” John acknowledged. Looking toward Brad, “Son, why don't you go with Berto? I'm sure Maria has plenty for you boys to do.”

“Yes, sir,” Brad answered and turned to follow Roberto to the main house.

After the boys were out of earshot, John sat in silence for a few minutes before declaring, “You know we're probably not going to live past Savannah.”

Elisio reached up, removing his sombrero as he raised his chair to a sitting position. “You do not know that, my friend.”

“I know the odds are against it.” John paused. “Whether we live or die, it's not important. What is important is that we accomplish our goal and shield the boys from detection. For all practical purposes, once we're exposed, we're as good as dead anyway.”

“We're old men. I agree it's their future, my friend, that is most important.”

Nodding, John bluntly stated, “You know we can't let ourselves be captured. They will break us.”

Looking directly at John, Elisio replied, “I know.”

“If we are captured and the boys know we're alive, they will assume we're being held at Guantanamo. They're cocky, young and dumb enough to come after us. That would compromise everything. We cannot,” John stressed again, “be captured.”

After pausing for reflection, Elisio nodded, “Understood and agreed my friend.”

* * *

“Thirty minutes, Mr. President,” Nancy informed, as she stuck her head in the door of the Oval Office. President Reid and Chief of Staff, Bill Knox sat on opposing sofas, conducting a final review of the speech the President was about to deliver.

“You are going to have to put some emotion in this, Mr. President. I know that's not typically preferred, especially when delivering from the Oval Office, but the American people need to see both your passion and compassion. They need to know you truly believe in the Federal Housing Initiative and all of the benefits it provides to the people. They need to know all of the legislation resulting from the Housing Empowerment Amendment is beneficial to them.”

President Reid sat somewhat restlessly with his right leg across his left knee, reading through part of the speech. Without acknowledging his Chief of Staff's advice or looking up, the President said, “I spoke with Ted Lathem yesterday.”

Knox's demeanor quickly changed. “Oh?” he replied immediately, crossing his arms and staring directly at the President.

The President looked over his reading glasses at his Chief of Staff and then peeled the glasses off. “Don't look at me like that, Bill. Nancy knows how to handle calls with discretion.”

Bill abruptly stood, walking around to the back of the sofa. Again crossing his arms, he took a moment to regain his composure before speaking. Turning to face Reid, he dryly stated, “I thought we agreed it would be best for you to have no direct contact with Ted Lathem.”

“Relax, Bill,” the President said matter-of-factly, “Ted and I go back a long way. Nothing we discuss will ever be repeated. Ted was on a secure line.”

Not interrupting, but not allowing the President time to continue, “There's no such thing as a secure line, Mr. President,” Bill stated forcefully, “and your past connection to Ted Lathem is already well established. You and President Pelosi were instrumental in getting him appointed to head the NIA. That has largely gone unnoticed because at present the NIA still operates off the grid. That will eventually change. It is imperative that you follow protocol and issue your directives through the established channels. You know how the NIA operates. You must remain insulated. If NIA activities can ever be traced directly-”

The President interrupted, gesturing with his right hand, signaling his Chief of Staff to stop speaking. Bill placed a hand on his forehead, dragging it down across his face, resting it on his chin.

“Bill, Ted is a close friend. I trust and confide in him.”

“That is an issue in and of itself, Mr. President, however, the more pressing matter, given your past open support of Ted Lathem and considering the activities of the NIA, is that there now be no direct connection between you and him. The press-”

“…will report and withhold what I tell them too,” the President calmly completed Bill's sentence.

“Fifteen minutes, Mr. President,” Nancy announced as she cracked open the door, closing it without waiting for a reply.

“The President stood and stared at Bill for a moment, walking over to his liquor cabinet and preparing a scotch on the rocks, as was his habit before every speech. Without offering his Chief of Staff a drink, Reid turned back to Bill, raised his glass as if proposing a toast, then downed the liquor. As he firmly set the glass down, he said, “Again, Bill, you worry too much. It's show time.”

Bill left the Oval Office, informing Nancy the President was ready, while the President sat down behind his desk. Nancy went into action, directing a swarm of press and camera crews, along with the President's cosmetologist.

She backed off to observe and supervise all the activities. Once she was satisfied, she had the Secret Service escort all non-essential personnel out of the Oval Office and turned the reigns over to the Press Secretary.

“Mr. President in three, two, one,” and the press secretary signaled the President to begin.

“My fellow Americans...”

* * *

The Republican leadership groaned in unison, as they endured the President's midterm, election year, Independence Day speech from the offices of Minority Leader, Jim Hart. Washington was the last place any of them cared to be during their summer recess, but Democrats had controlled all three branches of government for an entire generation, and for the first time in over twenty years, there were chinks in their armor.

Jim Hart switched from the progressively controlled Democrat Party to the Republicans in 2031. Seldom does a member of Congress move from a majority to a minority party, unless it tips the balance of power. Jim's defection didn't come close. He simply had to get out. Hart's prior leadership positions in the Democrat Party made him privy to a lot of sensitive information, exposing him to the heart and soul strategies of the progressive ideologists controlling the party.

Jim didn't need to hear any of the President's speech. He said the same thing over and over with a different tone or spin. The twist this time, however, included the Southern Housing expansion. It was the key element to introducing the Southern United States to the Housing Empowerment Amendment. Jim knew it was no accident Savannah had been chosen for the first Southern conversion. It was an arrogant first punch by President Reid, aimed directly at his back yard, before the Presidential elections in 2044.

Some of the legislation resulting from the Housing Empowerment Amendment had already been introduced on a voluntary basis in the South. Many rural Southerners had installed the virtual classrooms, allowing their children to attend school at home. Free bank accounts were now available throughout the country, although Southerners were not yet impacted by real time taxation. They continued to use paper money and file income tax returns as normal, at least for now.

As the President began getting wound up in his delivery, Jim remembered the new housing units in the North had no kitchens. Part of the housing initiative required all meals to be provided and eaten in one of the two community dining areas. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other obesity-related conditions had become an epidemic. Deemed for the greater good, one piece of legislation mandated dietary control by the housing facilities over all of its residents. That would go over like a lead brick down South, Jim thought.

The sprawling, modern, residential units seemed like heaven to the poor, but tensions quickly developed, as the Federal Housing Initiative expanded into the working class sections of metropolitan areas and the suburbs. Eminent domain laws were modified, completely eliminating any judicial process for citizens to fight for their property. When the government decided it wanted to build, they were simply required to follow minimal procedures and eminent domain could be enforced in days. The government was required to pay no money to purchase any home. Compensation for home value came in the form of housing credits, reducing housing tax liability for a period of time. Like all mandatory government programs, exemptions were made available to those who qualified. These were given mostly to homeowners in affluent suburban areas, where taking possession of the home was deemed far too expensive, even in the form of housing tax credits. At least that was the justification.

Jim glanced at the television as the President raved about the Comfort Care Facilities. Plans for these facilities had been designed and in the works by the Progressives while he was still part of the Democrat Party. As socialized, single-payer, government healthcare predictably evolved from the government's orchestrated failure of the original healthcare reform known as Obamacare, the government shockingly realized that it could not afford to provide care to sick individuals indefinitely. Surprise, surprise, Jim thought.

The law essentially mandated anyone unable to live independently must reside in a Comfort Care Facility. This included those deemed disabled due to any health related condition or illness, whether mental, emotional or physical. It opened Pandora's box. In reality, their main purpose was to counsel patients on their right to die with dignity. In caring for society as a whole, Congress had legislated, and the Supreme Court reaffirmed that continuing to care for individuals requiring extensive physical and psychological medical treatment, with low quality of life or imminent death, diverted critical medical resources from others who still hadgood quality of life. Now, when devising treatment, the hypocritical oath required the medical professional to consider overall harm that may result to society as a whole. The Federal Right to Die with Dignity Act was passed, and medically assisted suicides became a right, not only to terminally ill citizens, but to mentally, emotionally, and chronically ill patients as well.

By design, Comfort Care Counselors were paid a commission based on successfully counseling a Comfort Care resident to terminate their life. Commissions were calculated based on the amount of money the government estimated were saved by the early termination. Since guardianship must be relinquished upon admitting anyone to a Comfort Care Facility, family was not allowed to be involved in the process.

“How could the American people allow all of this?” Jim muttered. His thoughts shifted to the upcoming midterm elections and his intended run at the Presidency in 2044. Federal authorities now oversaw all elections. In the converted Northern states, while facial recognition, iris scan, fingerprint and instant DNA identification was readily available and required for every imaginable government provided service, use of such technology to identify voters during an election continued to be considered disenfranchisement and discriminatory. The only paper identification issued by the government today was a voter registration card. It was all that was needed to vote. Jim suspected it would make winning much more of a challenge.

“Mr. Hart, are you okay?” The young man had been prodding and tapping Jim on the shoulder for several moments.

Jim turned from his thoughts and refocused. “Yes, I'm fine, son.”

“You have about twenty minutes before you give your rebuttal speech, sir.”

“Now young man, it is simply a reply to the President's speech by a concerned Congressman. The word rebuttal suggests animosity and conflict. We must use appropriate and professional terminology even if we hate the dumb ass, arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic son of a bitch and everything he stands for. Is that understood?”

With a chuckle, the aide replied, “Yes, sir. Uhmm, it is almost time for the concerned Congressman to reply to the President's speech.”

Grinning, Jim nodded his head. “Thank you, son. Tell them I'm on my way.”

* * *

Facing the camera in the nearby media room, Jim Hart began. “My friends, we are all Americans, but what does being an American today really mean?” Jim held a somber expression as he looked into the camera, tilted his eyes downward briefly as if in thought, then looked back into the camera:

“Our founding fathers envisioned a dream that was unfathomable in its day. Was it perfect? No, of course not. The vision was formed at a time when 'all men are created equal' meant all white men. Black men, women, and children were considered property, as though inferior; to be used as the white man saw fit. And the American Indian... they were considered savages. It took this country almost one hundred years and a civil war, costing thousands of American lives, to legally free blacks from slavery. And although blacks became legally free, bondage continued for many more years in the form of racism, oppression, and state-sanctioned persecution in the form of Jim Crow laws.

For many years, women continued to be treated as second-class citizens, unable to vote until well into the 1900s, and even then, still kept virtually silent by a culture that simply recognized women as the weaker sex, subservient to their husbands, and caretakers of their children.”

Jim paused again before continuing:

“Racism, bigotry, sexism... it will always exist to some degree. If you are a bigot, you are a bigot. Laws can pave ways and clear roadblocks, but they cannot change hearts.

My friends, we do not live in a perfect world. There are cultures and even entire countries that not only allow, but require husbands to discipline their wives, up to and including killing them for certain offenses. Honor killings of children who denounce their faith for another religion, or otherwise shame their families, are celebrated in certain societies. The barbaric act of beheading, literally sawing someone's head off, is a preferred method of punishment in some very modernized countries. American homosexuals rail against one out of a hundred bakeries that would like to respectfully refuse service to them based on religious beliefs, but homosexuals in most Middle Eastern countries don't dare to even reveal their sexual preference for fear of being killed.

America is not perfect, but even in its current decline, that began over a generation ago, I would not choose to live any other place. Even with a corrupt and completely out of control government that continuously attacks our moral fabric, our families, and our futures, I still would not choose to live anywhere else. Do you want to know why?”

Jim hesitated as if waiting on an answer, then picked up a scroll and unrolled a 1985 copy of the United States Constitution. The camera zoomed in so the document could be clearly identified by the audience. “This is why. We still have this, even if the current administration, the majority party in Congress, and the Supreme Court, have chosen to piss on it.”

* * *

“Oh dear Lord,” John Franklin moaned. John agreed one-hundred percent with Jim Hart's assessment of Washington's regard, or rather disregard, for the Constitution, but as the front-runner to be the next GOP presidential nominee, a lot less abrasiveness, and a little more tact would have been more advisable, Jim thought.

Roberto had immediately jumped to his feet, giving a fist pump and shouting, “Dat's right, dat's right. Put dem' sons a bitches in their place.”

Brad hurried his pace from the cooler in the back of his truck, as he climbed the front porch steps, anxious to return to the living room where all of the commotion had erupted. As he moved from the front door to the sofa, he sat next to Roberto and handed him a beer. “What did I miss?”

Still excited, Roberto replied, “I'll tell ya what ya missed! Jim just wedged his size eleven boot up their size two asses! We got ourselves the next Donald Trump!”

Elisio had been sitting calmly throughout the President and now Jim Hart's speech, but felt compelled to enlighten his grandson after the last comment. “You may want to review your history book before getting too excited. Trump didn't have supporters, he had fans. He was a celebrity, and it really showed in the end.”

Roberto gave a dismissive grin to his grandfather before turning back to the television and pumping his fists once more.

* * *

“This is a copy of our Constitution as it existed in 1985.”

Jim Hart continued:

“Ronald Reagan, the last great American President, was beginning his second term in the Oval office. Today's Constitution barely resembles this one. If the Democrat Party in control of your government today has its way, the next Constitutional Amendment will begin 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'. You don't have to believe me, just look around you. For America's sake people, you must not only open your eyes, you must hear the ramifications of what you are seeing.

I remember as a child attending school, seeing and hearing the phrase 'there is no such thing as a free lunch.' It was actually posted in the lunchroom of my elementary school and even addressed by a teacher during social studies one day. I grew up in a poor area of Savannah. My father worked at a manufacturing plant. He worked in a sweltering metal building with no air conditioning, building semi-truck trailers. He and three other co-workers spent the majority of their day moving four-hundred-pound pieces of sheet metal in position to be bent for the trailers. As hot as it was during the summer, it was just as cold in the winter.

I don't know exactly what the job paid, but I know it wasn't much. Dad was the breadwinner, though, and Mom was…well, she was Mom. She cooked, she cleaned, and she took care of my brother and me. We had all of the basics of life, but not much else. One thing my parents did have was dignity and integrity. Even though it was a tough life, especially early on, they earned their way without anything being handed to them.

My parents managed to buy a small, nine-hundred square foot, two-bedroom home. They earned it. It was theirs. No one could take it from them. Mom worked hard raising my brother and I to be responsible for ourselves. Mom and dad instilled in us that nothing was free. Anything we wanted, we had to work for. That philosophy was preached to us whether it was earning a trip to the movies, a new baseball glove, or good grades in school.

I've heard it many times since, but the first time was from my father, and what he told me was this. The only place you find success before work is in the dictionary. He was also the first person to truly explain to me what there's no such thing as a free lunch really meant. He simply said if you receive something you did not work for, and the government gives it to you like they do through the free lunch program, somebody else's blood, sweat, and tears earned it for you. He explained, 'Son, that's not free, it's not a voluntary gift, it is a forced handout.' His final words on the matter will be ingrained in my memory forever. He said 'Putting the government in charge of redistributing your earnings to whomever they deem needs it, goes against the very foundation of our republic and is the fundamental reason why this country was founded in the first place.'

My fellow Americans, you can listen to all of the propaganda this current administration and Congress spew, as reasons why you need to entrust your entire lives to government. Many of you have. The millennial generation, those of you who come of age at the beginning of this, have stood by aimlessly during the Progressive, all out assault, which changed our Constitution and fundamentally altered the country's economic, political, and social landscape.

Whether or not this is a temporary alteration or a permanent reality is up to you, the American people. I know our younger generation, the children of the Millennials, and our seniors who are the parents and grandparents of the Millennials, have overwhelmingly seen the light. As I talk to more of my constituents, it is becoming very evident a significant number of those who originally bought into the propaganda, enabling the government to control every significant aspect of our lives, are now experiencing buyer's remorse. At least that is my hope and prayer because we need you if we are to successfully reverse our course and restore America to the free, self-sustaining, vibrant, thriving, land of opportunity that made our country the most envied and admired in the world.

We have had a one-Party rule for well over a generation. The course we are currently on and have been traveling for the past twenty-plus years has led us to socialism. The direction of this country is not only a threat to the livelihood of all Americans, it is a direct threat to our very lives and the lives of those we care about.

Unfortunately, for freedom loving Americans today, all inhabitable lands of the Earth have been discovered and settled. I know of no other area that we can escape to and start over. So, we are going to have to fix this one. It begins by putting a stop to this Southern Housing Expansion. This July Fourth, this Independence Day, resolve that you will not stand for further socialist conversion of this great Nation. It's not too late to end this madness. Reversal at this point will be extremely painful, but if we have any hope of ever being a free people again, we must act now.

This is a midterm election year. America, if you ever loved your country? If you ever loved choice and freedom? If you ever believed in your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you must go to the voting booth, overwhelmingly right this wrong, and rebuke this current administration and Congress who continue to destroy the fundamental foundation this great country was founded on.

You must take back your government. You must vote those who chose to oppress you out of office. We have great conservative candidates in every Congressional and Senate race in the country. Please make your voice heard while you still can, because if you don't, there is no end to this slippery slope we are on. Make no mistake, your current leaders love their power and have clearly demonstrated they will stop at nothing to keep it.

This current Progressive-controlled government has become a cancer that has spread to every vital organ. My fellows Americans, you, the voter, are chemotherapy.”

Jim paused, “and starting this November it's time to begin aggressive treatment. Good night and may God bless America.”

The cameras cut off as the crews began moving around, disassembling equipment. Jim Hart remained in his seat, staring at nothing in particular as he thought about the night's events. “Here is where it really begins,” Jim mumbled.

Chapter Eleven

Savannah, Georgia – NIA Field Office

Early Monday morning, July 7th, 2042

Paul Groover's office phone buzzed as he sat behind his desk at the NIA's Savannah field office. Paul continued to review the intelligence summary he received from the analyst. Though adamantly opposed, he did not argue with the director when he informed him that all future data was to be analyzed in Washington. His phone buzzed again.

Paul reached and hit the intercom button, “Yes, what is it?”

The female administrative assistant announced, “Sir, Director Lathem is holding on line four.”

“Well, speak of the devil,” Paul muttered.

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

Paul picked up the receiver, pressing the appropriate line, “Paul Groover.”

“Good morning, Paul, Ted Lathem.”

“Good morning, sir.”

“Groover, I'm going to get right to the point. You know the President announced during his July fourth speech, that the Southern expansion in Savannah would break ground on October first. Well, in light of Jim Hart's response, the President has decided to launch a crash construction beginning August first. He wants to get at least one residence building constructed and occupied before the midterm elections. Jim Hart's comments were borderline treasonous, in the President's opinion, and likely to insight a significant amount of unrest.”

“From the looks of this intelligence, you wouldn't know it, sir. There's nothing here. We still have the run of the mill communications, we always see, but no spike in traffic and nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I realize that Groover,” the director replied. “We have to search every corner and dig deeper into everything. Maybe we're being paranoid, but that's what we're paid for. If there is a threat to the advancement of the administration's agenda, it's our job to find and neutralize it. I am authorizing more intelligence agents for your area, one-hundred more to be exact. They will be in the field over the next week. We are also going to enlist the services of IRS enforcement agents. They can legally and openly dwell into things we must do covertly.”

“Where do you plan on me housing one-hundred additional field agents? I seem to recall the importance of remaining a clandestine organization?” Paul asked with a touch of sarcasm.

“We've actually been working on the potential necessity to saturate your area with agents for quite some time, in anticipation of the developing problem,” Lathem asserted, ignoring Paul's tone. “All one-hundred agents will be enrolling as students at local colleges in Savannah and Statesboro. For the past few months, we have been creating appropriate backgrounds for each of the agents. They are all twenty to twenty-five years of age and will be enrolling at various stages, from freshmen to post-graduate. They will live the life of college students by day and agents otherwise, primarily gathering intel. The key is to infiltrate the college scene in Savannah and the surrounding areas, particularly the Georgia Southern area in Statesboro. What intelligence we do have, suggests a concentration of resistance in the more rural areas outside the city of Savannah.”

“And the IRS?”

“They have the database,” Lathem stated bluntly. “They can plunder in ways nobody else can. Our analysts are in the process of developing a profile of what we believe will be our typical combatant.”

“When can I expect the agents to arrive?”

Lathem paused briefly, considering his reply. “Here's the deal, Groover... You shouldn't be expecting anything. This intel op is being handled from Washington. These agents will not be in your charge. All intelligence gathered will be analyzed, and you will be briefed, but you will not be connected to the operation in any way. You are to function as you always have.”

Before any political correctness or mental filter could intervene between Paul Groover's brain and mouth, the words, “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” sprang forward. As soon as the last word rolled off his tongue, he knew he had crossed a line. Ted Lathem was very old-school. You could deliver almost any opinion you wanted as long as you chose your words and your tone carefully. To make matters worse, instead of immediately and profusely apologizing, Paul froze. He didn't say anything. The silence augmented the defiance and disrespect. Ten seconds seemed like an eternity. As he gathered his composure, Paul finally uttered, “Sir, I'm-”

“Forget it, Groover,” Lathem interrupted. “I suppose I would be upset too. The truth of the matter is I am a bit miffed. The order for this op comes from above me, way above. Personally, I would never send that many agents undercover to such a confined area. The nature of the op requires younger agents, who are of course less experienced. In theory, it is supposed to only be an intelligence gathering operation, but you and I both know how volatile circumstances on the ground can quickly become.”

“I understand,” Paul replied as he pondered both Ted Lathem's uncharacteristically calm response to his outburst and his very free-flowing comments on the matter. The Ted Lathem he had always known would have most certainly given him a letter of reprimand for his disrespectfulwords, if not suspending him without pay, and reassigning him to the mail room in a remote corner of the country.

“Sir, will I know who these agents are? If they are infiltrating the student population across the region, we are likely to encounter some in the field.”

“No, you will not know who any of the operatives are,” Lathem replied, as his more typical demeanor began to return.

Groover leaned forward, resting an elbow on his desk, as he supported his forehead, “Will you know?”

A pause from Lathem, “No.”

“So how am I supposed to-”

“I know where you are going with this, and I'm afraid I can't help you. Utilizing your own intelligence and any information passed to you from here, you and your team are to continue working any leads and angles you develop. Officially, you are the only field agents in the area.”

“Officially?” Paul replied.

“As officially as the NIA will reveal,” he said, followed by another pause. “Listen, if it’s any consolation, I don't like this any more than you do. Just stay focused on the objective. The atmosphere in the area tells us there are serious potential threats to the Southern Expansion, which we are yet to uncover. The housing project has been accelerated, and the President is nervous. It is imperative that we identify and neutralize those threats. Understood?”

“Understood, sir.”

With no further pleasantries or comment, the director hung up. As Paul laid the phone down, he leaned forward, now with both elbows on his desk and hands under his chin. There were a lot of things to think about and consider after his brief, but mind-bottling conversation with Lathem. He specifically mentioned the President as being nervous, Paul pondered. “My God, could the President be calling the shots directly? Ballsy... no, not ballsy, arrogant and stupid... and paranoid,” he murmured to himself.

Paul leaned back in his chair. If we aren't privy to the names and profiles of the operatives headed our way, will they know who we are? Is part of their operation to spy on us? Maybe the President is just obsessed with identifying threats and believes if he blankets the area, something is more likely to turn up? No, no, that's not it. He is paranoid. Why else would he approach the matter this way? He doesn't want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing, so he can play both ends against the middle. Maybe he's afraid the agency has been infiltrated. Could that be it?

Questions and thoughts ran rampant through Paul's mind. He got up from his desk and opened his office door. As he stood in the doorway, he motioned to his administrative assistant who was making copies. “Have Agent Knox meet me at the east side safe house at nineteen-hundred, tonight. Use the secure line.”

“She is still on assignment, sir. She's not due in for several more days.”

“That's right. Okay, the day she comes in, I need you to arrange a meeting at the safe house for the same evening. Let me know and keep it under wraps.”

“Yes, sir.”

If they are going to play games, we may have to play along, Groover decided.

Chapter Twelve

Rural Franklin Property, Northern California

Late Monday evening, July 7th, 2042

“That should do it,” Brad concluded aloud as he tightened a bolt securing the cable at the foundation of the newly erected base station antenna. “That's the last one. Hopefully, our calculations are right... well at least close enough. Would you like to do the honors?”

Roberto pulled out his handheldradio and keyed it up. “The stations should be in range of each other,” he plainly stated before speaking into the radio. “Baby Bear to Papa Bear, Baby Bear to Papa Bear. Come in Papa Bear.”

Some static come across the radio as Roberto completed his transmission. After several seconds, “Baby Bear, you are loud and clear. Has Goldilocks finished all her porridge?”

Roberto immediately grinned as Brad exclaimed, “Well, I'll be damned. It works.”

Multiple teams, from other farms, had been dispatched to erect the radio relay stations across the Southern United States and Northern Mexico, immediately following the President's Fourth of July speech. Within hours, Brad and Roberto were on their way to the rural land John had purchased in Northern California five years ago. They had been prefabricating the towers since obtaining the materials a few months earlier. The tower in the Northern California Mountains was the farthest away, taking two days of continuous driving. There were farms with qualified people much closer, but John preferred the final station be installed by Brad and Roberto. With the tower already in sections, assembly and erection of the stations were relatively straightforward.

“Roger that, Papa Bear. Goldilocks has a full belly and is about to head home.”

“That's a big ten-four, Baby Bear! Any sign of the Big Bad Wolf?”

“Negative, Papa Bear. We delivered the package to Friar Tuck, and he briefed us on the aftermath of the Big Bad Wolf blowing his house down. Definitely need to relocate. We've got about 30 minutes of work left here, then we're eastbound and down. Over and out.”

“Roger that, Papa Bear out,” John replied as he ended the exchange. Turning to Elisio who had been attentively listening to the exchange, “Praise God, amigo!”

“Amen, my brother. Good news and not so good news,” Elisio pointed out. The Feds decimated their Dallas operation. The Dallas farm was located on the outskirts and was relatively small compared to some of the other farms, but the location alone had made it one of the most vital. “It is a great blessing that the radio relay system is operational, but I fear that operating anywhere near Dallas will be very risky.”

“The other farms have been primarily used for training and refuge. We are going to have to utilize one of them and get things flowing again, soon. It will be a challenge. Not only did we lose our location, we lost key people too,” John pointed out.

* * *

It was after midnight before Brad and Roberto entered Arizona. After tying up some loose ends at the relay station, they fueled up, and then restocked on water and sandwiches. They would only stop for additional fuel. One would drive while the other slept and vice-versa. The trip home would be faster since they had no cargo.

Brad kept their old Dodge diesel on a steady seventy-five miles per hour, as they made their way east on the interstate. “I love these old trucks, but what I'd give for a damn cruise control that worked.”

Roberto chuckled, “Not use to hearin' ya cuss, ol' buddy. You must be some kinda tired.”

Without a response, Brad continued to keep his eyes forward on the road. He was tired. And aggravated. He should be more upbeat after successfully completing the radio relay system. It was hard to believe such a primitive means of communication had become vital to their operation. But, it was working, and he was thankful. His concern stemmed mainly from the raid in Dallas and having part of their operation compromised. The broader matter was they were now on the radar. Had someone actually infiltrated their organization in Dallas? Could there be others already on the inside elsewhere? Brad shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and stay awake. “Do you think we have a problem with our vetting process?”

“What do ya' mean? We've got three of the best people we could have checkin' everybody out. Two of them have extensive intelligence backgrounds and Rico was a freakin' profiler and intelligence analyst for the FBI.”

“Yeah, I know,” Brad acknowledged. “We've gone to extreme measures to ensure all of the other farms have the appearance of just that, large family farms. I think it's critical to leave those as they are, as places of refuge for escape after executing an operation. We never considered a premature disruption of Dallas. We are either going to have to activate one of the other farms or establish a new one. We've got to have something in close proximity to the border.”

“What happened in Dallas was most likely the result of our exchange point in Mexico being compromised, leading the feds right to us,” Roberto pointed out.

“I know our guys have pretty much concluded that, which could be a good thing. Weapons headed to Mexico would cause a lot less concern to the feds, than weapons coming from Mexico.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Roberto agreed. “Most of what we had stored in Dallas was to be shipped to Mexico as payment for supplies coming by boat. We have pretty much everything we need to complete the upcoming operation. We've got time to figure something out. Besides, whether we are right or wrong, we need to lay low for a while, until everything cools off.

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I'm sure Papa and Poppy already have everything mapped out to deal with it.”

Roberto nodded, paused for a moment, and then asked, “Ya know what I need?”

Brad glanced briefly, “Berto, I can only imagine...”

Roberto displayed a coy grin, and then hollered, “Some coonaker!”

“Oh, good grief?”

“You know,” Roberto said, motioning over his chest as if he were cupping female breasts, “c-o-o-n-a-k-e-r, a little trim, some honey hole?” Roberto threw his hands in the air, unable to elicit any response from Brad. “You know what I really, really want?”

Brad looked over, stared for a moment, then shrugged without speaking.

“I want to find that little blonde-haired, blue-eyed, filly, I nailed up at the college a while ago.”

“Which one?” Brad asked.

“The one I met at the bar and ended up in that cheesy motel outside of town with.”

“WHICH ONE?” Brad asked again sarcastically, as Roberto's response described a half-a-dozen encounters he'd had in the past couple of months.

“Smart ass,” Roberto replied. “The one that had the cute friend you didn't meet because you disappeared. Remember me tellin’ you?”

Brad had no doubt of Roberto's commitment to their cause. Unlike him, though, Roberto had the raging hormones of a three-year-old lion. Brad enjoyed his share of women, but was much more grounded and in control. There was a time and place for everything and now simply wasn't the time. Perhaps it was more because Brad had met someone as well. Someone, he had a brief encounter with over a year ago and had no clue how to find now, except by frequenting the original place they met. She was different. She wasn't like the free, and easy girls, Brad was accustomed to near a typical college town. It was early spring of the previous year. Brad loved to run, but usually did so on the cross-country style path he had cleared on the farm. On a warm spring evening, Brad decided to ride over to Statesboro and run around Mill Creek Park.

Brad could see her light blonde hair from a hundred yards away, as she was sitting on the ground next to the trail, rubbing her ankle. As he came closer, he noticed her tan and slender midsection revealed between her sports bra and running shorts. He slowed his full run to a trot, then jog, eventually pulling up and walking, as he approached her.

“Did you hurt your ankle?” Brad remembered asking.

“Well, aren't you a freakin’ genius? No Einstein, I'm a massage therapy student and decided to fall to the ground during my run so I could practice my technique. I thought I needed a real-time scenario, so I tripped myself,” he remembered her replying.

While most guys would normally be put out by the response, Brad chucked. He paused before apologizing to her. “I'm sorry. I guess I was stating the obvious. My name's Tyler,” Brad said as he offered his hand.

The beautiful young woman sat there a few minutes, not making eye contact with him, rubbing her ankle. Brad withdrew his hand as he knelt down at her feet. “I'm not a doctor, but-”

“Let me guess, you played one on TV?” the young woman smirked as she interrupted.

Smiling, Brad continued, “I was going to say, I've had some medical training. Would you like me to take a look at that?”

The young woman let out an agitated sigh, looked up at Brad and extended her right hand, “I'm Kay.”

As she lay back on the grass, she rested her weight on her elbows and allowed Brad to remove her right shoe and sock. The ankle was definitely injured, with obvious bruising and swelling. Brad remembered moving his hands up Kay's leg, examining for additional injuries, as protocol from the medical training both he and Roberto received from their grandfathers kicked in.

It was decided a while back, that he and Roberto needed to create alternate identities. Brad had never put his to the test and had no idea why he employed it here, but he would be Tyler to this young lady. Her skin was so smooth and soft. She was definitely athletic, but also very feminine. Brad couldn't help noticing how Kay closed her eyes, seeming to enjoy the touch of his hands, as he gently slid them slowly up her leg. His right hand reached her inner thigh when Kay popped her eyes open.

“What the hell are you doing?” He remembered her snapping at him suddenly.

Brad calmly continued his exam, ignoring Kay's alarmed response. “I was Special Forces in the military, and I'm a trained medic. When examining an injured limb, it is common for other areas to be impacted. I'm just being thorough.”

With her alarm slowly subsiding, Kay replied, “Well, I think you've been thorough enough. Can you just help me up?”

Brad stood up, reaching down with both hands. Kay grabbed each hand, and Brad lifted her up and forward in one easy motion. As Kay stood, she applied some weight to her injured ankle, immediately crying out in pain and leaning into Brad for support. Her arms instinctively wrapped around Brad's neck, positioning her face at his chest. Brad smiled as he continued his thoughts down memory lane. She was quite short and petite, he recalled.

They just stood there for a moment in each other’s circumstantial embrace, but an embrace none the less. Brad looked down, and Kay looked up. Their eyes met for the first time, only inches apart. My God, she is so beautiful, Brad remembered thinking. He smiled, but it appeared Kay was intentionally making an effort not to. Still, the connection was obvious.

“How did you get here?” Brad asked.

“My car,” Kay replied as she pointed across the pond.

“You couldn't trip yourself on the same side of the park where you left your car?”

Just as quick witted, Kay replied, “I wanted a realistic, real-time scenario, remember? I'll be fine. Thank you for your help.” Kay released her grip around Brad's neck, turned to walk away and fell straight to the ground, wincing as the ankle continued to swell and became more discolored.

Brad stared, crossing his arms, placing his left hand under his chin, semi-covering his mouth in an attempt to hide his smile. Kay rolled over again on her backside, leaning on her elbows again and groaning, “Dammit!” She looked up at Brad. “Well, don't just stand there, help me up!” Kay barked.

Brad couldn't help himself, asking, “Another real-time scenario?” continuing to smile, before reaching down and lifting her in the same manner as he had previously done.

Kay reluctantly wrapped her arms around Brad's neck again. “What did you do? Double up on your smart-ass prescription today?”

“Nah, I'm afraid that's an all natural quality that God gifted me with.”

“Lucky me.”

“I guess if you are going to make it out of here, we need to come up with a different game plan,” Brad remembered telling her.

“What do you suggest?” she had asked.

Brad turned, letting go of her as he headed down the trail, “I'll let you know.”

“Where the hell are you going?” Kay screamed as she tried to balance on her one good leg.

“To finish my run,” Brad hollered, without looking back.

Brad had noted a variety of very unfeminine, animal-like grunts and sounds being hurled in his direction, but the wind in his face and the sound of his running shoes meeting the pavement drowned out the barrage.

Brad smiled as he continued driving entirely lost in the memory.

“Brad! …Brad! … Bradley Franklin! Did you hear anything I just said?” a frustrated Roberto exclaimed. Reaching towards Brad, Roberto demanded, “Alright dammit. Unzip your pants.”

Finally coming back around, “What?” an annoyed Brad answered. “Get your hands off my crotch! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Open your fly! I got to see if somebody done cut it off.” After regaining Brad's attention, Roberto firmly asserted, “Let's stop in Dallas! You know that place on the north side. My God, the women were hot and bothered before they walked in the door.”

“Dallas? Have you lost your mind?” Brad asked.

“Man, all that stuff went down on the other side of town. We won't be anywhere near anything. All I need is a few hours.”


“C'mon man?”

Brad refused to dignify Roberto's request with another reply. He didn't want to be anywhere near Dallas and was planning to avoid it completely on their return.

After several moments of silence, Roberto crossed his arms like a frustrated six-year-old, whose mother just refused to buy him a toy. “Fine then.”

A few more minutes passed and Brad began thinking. They had been working almost non-stop, preparing for the operation to neutralize the Southern Expansion, or at least disrupt it long enough for the midterm election to occur. Maybe a little down time would do them both some good.

After a half-hour or longer of complete silence between them, Brad said, “We'll get with Papa and Poppy when we get back and see if they think we can spare a few days to unwind at the coast.”

“Really?” Roberto shrieked like an eight-year-old girl.

Shaking his head and looking over at Roberto, Brad replied, attempting unsuccessfully to imitate the same giddy shriek, “Really!”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Roberto repeated emphatically, batting his eyelashes in the most feminine of ways. “Have I told ya' lately that I luv ya'?”

Frowning, Brad pointed out, “Don't get too excited. We've been gone for several days. You know if anything significant has developed, Papa would never deliver the news over the radio or phone. Maybe it will work out, though.”

Chapter Thirteen

Franklin Farm

Early morning, July 10, 2042

John was seated at his breakfast nook, looking out at the rear grounds of his home, while sipping on a hot cup of black coffee. “What time did you boys get in?”

A very tired looking, barely awake Brad, let out a yawn, stretching his arms upward as he entered the kitchen. His disheveled hair and half-opened eyes were a clear indication he had just gotten out of bed. As he fumbled in the cabinet for a coffee cup.

“'bout two...,” he started, mouth agape in a wide yawn, “about two o'clock.”

“Y'all made pretty good time then. Any trouble along the way?”

Brad poured his coffee, lumbered over to the breakfast nook, sitting across from his grandfather, taking a sip before answering, “Nothing to speak of, unless you count practically having to hog tie Berto when we got near Dallas.”

John chuckled, “Let me guess, raging hormones?”

Brad smacked his lips after another drink of coffee, “Yeah... How 'bout on this end? Any new developments?”

John hesitated, “I'm afraid so. It seems there has been a change in the startup date for the first housing unit to break ground.”

Brad was about to take another sip of his coffee, but set it down. “How much of a change?”

“August first.”

“August first? That's a full month sooner and only three weeks from now. Do you think we can be fully operational by then?”

“I believe so. Elisio's company received an email notification that he needed to be on location, ready to begin demolition, on August third. We can set up our mobile office trailer and move our heavy equipment to the work site next week.”

Preparation for infiltrating the construction operation of the Southern expansion into Savannah had been put into action several months earlier. John and Elisio created a construction company in Elisio and his wife's name only, to take advantage of affirmative action, and virtually guarantee them critical access to the building site. Elisio's explosives training in the military gave them the credibility to present themselves as specialists in demolition, enabling them to bid on that portion of the housing expansion project. As a minority owned company and the lowest bidder, they had no problem winning the federal contract. In reality, the bid would never cover their cost, much less make a profit. That fact was completely irrelevant, knowing they would never collect on the contract anyway.

“I wonder why the sudden change.” Brad pondered aloud.

“My guess is it has something to do with how aggressive Jim Hart responded to the President's Fourth of July 'pep rally.'”

“Yeah, Mr. Hart pretty much pissed in his corn flakes. I know it had to motivate a lot of people to open their eyes and do something... like plan to vote!” Brad pointed out.

“Larry Reid is well aware of the impact of getting that foot in the door. It will take a monumental revolt to undo what has already been done in the Northern States, but the task became next to impossible if we allow them to get a foothold in the South. I'm sure his goal is to complete something at the Savannah site before the midterms so he can pour on the propaganda.

“That's not going to happen,” Brad stated pointedly.

“Damn right it's not.” Roberto inserted as he came through the back kitchen door. “They really ought ta' vet those wetbacks better, instead of just awardin' contracts 'cause of 'em bein' a minority... 'specially when they hire 'em to blow stuff up.”

John smiled, “Good morning, Berto.”

“Good mornin', Papa. You seen Poppy yet? He ain't in the house, and I didn't see him outside.”

“Dang it, how about pour Poppy a cup of coffee and take it out to him. He's workin' on one of the trucks over behind the barn. I meant to get him a cup when I got mine.”

“Sure thing, Papa,” Roberto replied.

John waited for Roberto to pour the coffee and leave before continuing his conversation with Brad. “I want you and Berto to stay clear of that project son,” John bluntly informed Brad, “especially with the timeline being moved up. Your experience with explosives is limited, so there is no sense in risking you or Berto being exposed. We're gonna have to modify our original plan, which will require us to move faster than we intended. Increased speed will mean increased risk. In case something goes wrong, I want-”

“Nothing is going to go wrong,” Brad interrupted.

“...I want you and Berto to be around to continue the fight,” John stressed as he finished making his point.

Brad sat in silence for a few moments, glaring at his grandfather, but knew it was of no use. John had clearly made up his mind. Brad finally nodded in agreement. They had a solid plan. Gomez Demolition, Inc. was an approved government contractor and had been awarded the demolition contract for the initial ten-thousand occupant housing facility, right in the heart of the historic district, in downtown Savannah. Their job was to demolish and remove the existing buildings in the path of the new construction, which would involve explosives. It was the perfect cover.

Dynamite would be utilized to bring down a number of the existing structures, and at the same time, C-4 explosives would be strategically placed in advance of the new construction. If everything went according to plan, just before completion, they would level the new housing facility.

“Papa, I still don't know why you and Poppy have to work on site. Poppy had explosives training in the military and knows what he's doing.”

“Affirmative action, son. I'm the only white guy in the company, so I have to be there.” John smiled.

Shaking his head, Brad declared, “Seriously Papa, wouldn't it be better if you stayed clear as well?”

“I know Poppy had explosives training, but I am an explosives expert. Circumstances can change quickly, and I may have to make a spur of the moment adjustment. We can't fail and in all seriousness, I give us the best chance of success if I'm there.”

“I guess so,” Brad conceded, although he still didn't like it.

“Listen, y’all just had a long trip, and nothing is going to happen over the next several days. As I told you, I don't want y’all involved in the demolition, but I will need you guys to set up the office unit and move the heavy machinery next week. I tell you what, why don't you and Berto head down to the coast for a few days. Let Berto out of his cage, so he can get that stuff out of his system and be ready to roll. What do you say?”

Brad looked his grandfather in the eye, his concern still evident, but nodded in agreement, replying, “Funny you should suggest that.”

“Good, it's settled then. You boys try to get back early Sunday though. I plan to hold service at eleven o'clock, sharp.” John placed extra emphasis on the time.

“It's been a while, Papa. You must feel moved by the Spirit about something.”

“Well, son, you don't have to be moved by the Spirit about anything, in particular, to share the word of God. Although, you boys will probably be due a good dose by the end of the weekend,” John smiled.

Brad smiled too, slightly embarrassed as he got up and headed out the back door. John was a self-ordained minister and definitely the spiritual leader of their group. The farm was more than just a business and grounds for their resistance, it was a close-knit community, as all of the other farms in their network were.

In a remote area near the river was The Church. As children, Brad and Roberto simply called it the church. The name stuck. John and Elisio had built it nearly twenty years ago, as a place of worship for their families and the sharecroppers living among them. It now provided many uses for every man, woman, and child, including several more active members of their movement, living and working on the farm. John would hold services weekly if possible, but circumstances over the past year had proven too overwhelming. Still, John made every effort to gather his flock as often as he could.

John continued to drink his coffee, watching Brad meet up with Roberto out the bay window. From Roberto's reaction, it was clear Brad had delivered the good news about the weekend. John dearly loved both boys, and it warmed his heart to see them happy. After being so disappointed with his own children, he could hardly contain his pride over how principled and value driven Brad had become. Sure, he is a young man and deals with the common lusts and desires of youth, John thought, but he was certain of where his heart was. And even though Roberto was not flesh and blood, John treated and loved him as if he were.

John was agnostic most of his life. He now believed it was a significant contributor to his children's downfall. He considered his kids accountable for their actions and decisions, but he also blamed himself. Soon after John had taken in his grandson, Elisio literally introduced him to Jesus. John still recalled the conversation.

It was Cinco De Mayo, 2019. Elisio and Maria were devout Christians for as long as John had known them. For over twenty years, they gently and persistently presented their faith. Maria had long ago led John's wife, Mary, to Jesus. Mary never pressured John. She simply lived the life of a faithful wife to her husband and faithful servant to her Lord and Savior.

It was a combination of the Lord's grace, through his loving wife and close friends, that the seeds of faith were firmly planted. John thought of his overwhelming guilt at failing as a father. He dealt with the sorrow of knowing his grandson would likely grow up never knowing his mother, or worse, the fear his drug addicted daughter would somehow try to take Brad. Nothing could alleviate his sorrow, fears, or anxieties.

They had completed their evening feast. John and Elisio had retired to a comfortable sofa in the living room of Elisio and Maria's home. Maria brought them coffee, then left them alone. They sat in silence for several minutes. John now knew Elisio was allowing the presence of the Lord to fill the room.

Tears were forming in John's eyes as he looked away from Elisio. Then Elisio placed a hand on John's shoulder. Elisio saw the tears flowing down John's face as John turned toward him. Neither man had ever seen the other weep. It was a surreal and humble moment for both.

Elisio reached and took the Bible off of the coffee table. As he removed his hand from John's shoulder, he began flipping through the pages. John turned further towards Elisio, watching him search. Finally, Elisio stopped and smiled as he located what he was looking for and began reading aloud.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

John had heard the verse many times. It was often read at funerals. He brought that point up, and Elisio told him believers in Jesus Christ as Lord, die two deaths. The first one is spiritual when they repent of their sins and ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. He said the verse from the twenty-third Psalm is as much talking about a person’s death to sin, as it was about physical death. Then he said something that really resonated with John. Elisio said eternal life actually begins in the world when you are saved. God gives you a new spirit, and you are spiritually born again. Elisio then read another verse.

“For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Even before he was saved, John recalled that verse coming from the Book of John 3:16 and 3:17. After reading the verse, Elisio did not have to say anything else. All of the seeds that had been planted over the years filled John. He recalled many of the times his wife and friends had quoted Biblical references at various moments of trials and troubles during his life. An overwhelming peace inundated every void in him. He knew God already loved him. He knew Jesus died for him. He was finally ready to receive Christ.

John slid off of the couch to his knees, turned around, and leaned back over the couch interlocking his fingers and hands while resting his elbows on the seat cushions. He was so overcome by emotion. His lips were trembling, the tears were flowing, and he could not speak. He remembered looking up at Elisio, seeing Elisio nod his head, and then John rested his head against his hands while Elisio prayed for him.

“Father God, my brother John comes to you today to receive your gift of Salvation, through the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus. John repents of his sins and asks forgiveness. John accepts Your Holy sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus, as atonement for his sins. He asks for you to come into his heart and fill him with the Holy Spirit.”

Then John remembered Elisio gently lifting his head and asking, “Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?”

John had nodded his head, barely uttering the word, yes. From that moment, John was truly a changed man. The old self reared its ugly head at times. He knew he wasn't perfect, just forgiven. Building The Church, better enabling their ability to share the Gospel with friends, family, and workers, became a priority. They felt led by the Spirit to provide living quarters throughout the property, for all of the workers and their families. They built small, but comfortable and efficient bungalows, and soon grew to over four-hundred people with one-hundred workers and another three-hundred family members. The farm had not only become a community, it established the blueprint for all of the other farms to follow.

Chapter Fourteen

Franklin Beach House - Tybee Island, GA

Saturday, July 12th, 2042

In a deliberately slow and pronounced deeper voice, with a rhythm that sounded like a steam locomotive chugging down the tracks, Roberto repeated, “Coooonaker, Coooonaker, Coooonaker.”

“Will you shut up and come in here a minute,” Brad ordered as he called out to Roberto who had been leaning over the rail of the balcony outside the master bedroom of the island vacation home.

Roberto took another swallow of his Corona, literally skipping back into the master bedroom. Brad couldn't blame him. Brad was excited at the prospect of drinking and partying for a few days as well. It had been a while since they were able to break away without any immediate crisis to worry about, a brief reprieve, Brad thought.

Roberto definitely had the playful side of a teenager, but there was no one Brad would trust more with his life. He knew just how serious Roberto could becomewhen circumstances dictated. While neither of them had any formal combat, firearms, or tactical training, their grandfathers had been grooming them for conflict for years. Coupled with the physical demand of working an active farm, the skills, and knowledge the boys received in many ways made them superior to the majority of today's military men and women. Cock strong is what Poppy once referred to us as, Brad remembered.

“I want to ride up to Statesboro tonight,” Brad announced.

“What!” With an unintended high pitch shrill in his voice, Roberto eyed Brad briefly, walked over to him, grabbed his upper arm, and led him out onto the balcony. Raising his right arm, Roberto made a swath from left to right. “Do you see all of this? No way are we leavin' it. What the hell do ya' wanna go back there for? I thought the idea was ta' get away for a few days?”

“Didn't you say you wanted to find that blonde?... I believe you referred to her as your little 'filly.'”

“Ahhhh, okay, I see. So you're tryin' ta' look out for me?”

“You bet, so let’s go. We can still come back here afterward. It's only an hour and a half away.”

Skeptically, Roberto replied, “Uh-huh... is there somethin' you ain't tellin' me? Promise me, no work tonight. Papa gave us permission. It's playtime!”

“No Berto, I swear. I just want to go to Statesboro and hang out. If you find your 'filly' you can always bring her back here... or do her in the parking lot or some sleazy motel, like you usually do.”

“Okay now, that one hurt. I really care 'bout this one.”

“Yeah, well what was her name then?”

“What's that gotta do with anything?” Roberto asked defensively.

“What's the girl's name!?”

Roberto thought long and hard, verbally fumbling like a child caught stealing candy. After a series of uh, uh, and uhmms, Roberto finally smiled andsaid, “Filly.”

* * *

Roberto had already drunk several beers, so Brad got behind the wheel. They rode through Savannah and hit the interstate headed west to Statesboro. Roberto dozed off after singing several verses of what he called the coonaker song. It was a fitting title considering the only word in the song was coonaker, Brad mused. It was a welcomed relief. Brad loved the man like a brother, but like brothers Roberto knew how, and enjoyed, irritating the hell out of him.

“I-16 has to be the most boring stretch of road in Georgia,” Brad thought aloud as he stared down the desolate highway. Once again, Brad's thoughts drifted back to Kay. He suspected she frequented Mill Creek Park, so he had ventured over there several times since their original encounter in hope of finding her. At first, when he didn't run into her, he figured she was recovering from the busted ankle. But, every attempt since continued to be a disappointment. Roberto didn't know it yet, but Brad planned to go by the park tonight. Maybe he would stay asleep, Brad hoped.

* * *

A freaking damsel in distress, she thought to herself as she ran on the familiar trail circling Mill Creek Park. It had been over a year ago when she sprang her ankle. The park was not empty the day she tripped and fell, but it was sparsely occupied, and this guy was willing to help, even if he was a bit of a smart ass. “What did you have in mind?” she recalled asking Tyler when he said we needed a new plan. I can't believe he just ran off like that. She laughed. I've never cursed so much in my life. I would have loved to know he heard me, she thought.

Who was he? Definitely different. My God, he was cute... a bit of a sarcastic asshole, just like me, she chuckled. Leaving me on the ground injured, just to let me know he was in control... it's something I would have done, she mused, again smiling.

She thought about Tyler every time she ran in the park. It seemed like yesterday. His face, those eyes... my God, that body! Mmmh, mmmh, mmmh!

She thought about the sound of Tyler's shoes hitting the pavement as he approached her again. She looked down the trail from where he was running. His chiseled face, blond hair, dark tan, and sculpted body from head to toe, had a spell-like effect on her. His tight T-shirt covered in perspiration, clinging to his body, left little to the imagination. Her heart began to flutter. “Stop that!” She said as she slapped her chest. Once again Tyler slowed down to a jog, eventually walking as he approached her. She remembered the smirk on his face and her desire to slap it off.

“Alright, let's get you up,” Tyler had said as he extended his arms and lifted her, for a third time, ending up in the same previous position, with her arms around his neck and her face pressed against his chest.

She remembered shouting, “Ughh, you're soaked.”

Without missing a beat, Tyler moved her hands and placed them on his hips to steady her, then promptly removed his shirt.

“Ooohh!” She remembered her reaction and knew Tyler noticed because of his grin.

She quickly composed herself and asked, “So how exactly am I going to get to my car. It's close to a mile back around the pond and a longwaayyyyy-”

She stopped speaking as Tyler whisked her into his arms, cradling her as he started carrying her effortlessly. “You're light as a feather,” Tyler had commented. As she tightened her hold around his neck, she could feel nothing but muscles everywhere she touched. She felt compelled to say something to break the silence of their walk, but quietly relaxed in his strong arms instead.

They arrived at her car about ten minutes later. She noticed that he wasn't even breathing hard. “Is this it?” Tyler asked as he released his hold, gently lowering her legs to the ground.

She remembered looking around the empty parking area surrounding them, starting to make another sarcastic comment, but deciding not to. She just nodded. After all, the guy had carried her almost a mile.

“What did you do, borrow your grandma's car?” Tyler had asked.

I guess a four-door, full-size black sedan, was not the typical vehicle most twentysomethings drove, she thought. “Something like that,” she had answered.

As she unlocked and opened the car door, Tyler positioned himself close behind her, very close. Having just met a complete stranger and suddenly realizing her surroundings, she should have become immediately alarmed, but she wasn't. She somehow knew there was no need to be.

She turned around with the intention of thanking him, when Tyler reached to her jaw line, gently touching the side of her face with his fingertips, and softly traced downward toward her lips. As with his touch when he examined her leg, she remembered briefly closing her eyes. They were close. She could feel the warmth of his breath and the gentleness of his touch. After a moment, she popped her eyes open and suddenly turned away, sliding into the front seat of her car. She remembered simply announcing, “I have to go.”

“I hope you can drive with one foot,” Tyler replied. Those would be the last words they exchanged. She turned on the ignition, glanced up at him, and he moved away so she could close the door. She put the car in reverse, backed out, and drove away.

“God, I'm such an idiot,” she said aloud. She bore down hard and ran even faster.

* * *

As Brad pulled into the front entrance of the park, he navigated to the back parking lot. He pulled in and his heart skipped a beat. A large, black, four-door sedan had just passed him headed to the back exit. It was dusk, and the windows were tinted so he couldn't see any occupants, but his excitement quickly subsided when he saw the government plates on the rear of the car. “Well, so much for that,” Brad thought aloud as he dismissed the possibility of it being Kay.

Roberto returned his seat to the upright position and sleepily asked, “What are we doing here?”

Without answering him, Brad parked the truck and got out. As he surveyed the area, Roberto opened his door, stood, and leaned on it.

“What's up buddy?” Roberto asked.

After hesitating in silence for a few moments, Brad told Roberto all about Kay and how they met. “I can't get her out of my mind.”

“Wow, amigo. So that's what's had ya by da balls,” Roberto concluded.

“I guess so.”

“Hmmm, so we both got somebody floatin' 'round this town we wanna find?”

“That would appear to be the case.”

“Hey, ya know the thing we got in our favor is our youth. It's a college town, and most young people in a college town's gotta nightlife. We just gotta get out more.” Roberto pointed out, seizing the opportunity. Roberto would literally live in the clubs if he could. Brad, had little use for the bar scene.

Brad replied sarcastically, “I'm sure that's what we need to do.”

Roberto grinned and gave him a double thumb up.

“Somehow, I don't think that would help me find Kay. She was young and beautiful, but didn't strike me as the clubbing type.”

“So ya' thought ya' might run in ta' her agin' here?”

“Yeah... well no. Maybe not necessarily tonight.”

“But eventually,” Roberto asked?

Brad shrugged and got back in the truck. Roberto followed his lead. “Where to?” Brad asked.

“The Cavalier!” Roberto announced emphatically.

Brad smiled, put the truck in gear, and headed toward Roberto's favorite local honky-tonk. “Maybe I could use a little coonaker.”

Briefly concealing his approval, Roberto turned and placed his hand on Brad's shoulder, as if about to have a serious conversation. With a pronouncednod, he suddenly exploded, “Now dats what I'm talkin' 'bout!

Chapter Fifteen

NIA East side Safe House – Savannah, GA

Late evening, Saturday, July 12th, 2042

It was already after ten in the evening as Special Agent in Charge, Paul Groover, sat on a couch across from Agent Sandra Knox, who relaxed on a love seat. The safe house was very modest, located in a middle-income neighborhood on the East side of Savannah, about twenty-five minutes from the islands.

“How are things going?” Groover asked. Even before he was informed of the new agents coming into the area to do intelligence gathering, Groover recognized the need to comb the nightlife scene in Savannah and Statesboro. Sandra Knox had spent the last few nights on assignment in the small college town where she lived.

“If by, how are things going, you mean have I uncovered anything? The answer would be no,” Sandra replied.

“It’s summer, and that should work to our advantage, Agent Knox. Most students have gone home. Since we believe we have a local cell, the odds of us discovering and identifying them are significantly better now than they will be when fall semester starts.”

“I know that Special Agent in Charge, Groover. I'm working on it. I plan to go to a place called the Cavalier tonight with Mandy. She has been begging me to go with her and several of her friends. I would already be there if you hadn't interrupted my plans.”

“Involving your kid sister in surveillance?”

“No, Paul. She doesn't have a clue what I do for a living, other than I work for the government. Being part of a group of college-age party girls will provide excellent cover. Remember, I'm just poking and snooping for information.

“Good point. I've been waiting for you to come in. There's been a development, and I'm not certain what, if anything, we need to do about it.”

Sandra became more focused. “Really? What kind of development?”

“Lathem called this past Monday to inform me that there would be an additional one-hundred intelligence agents assigned to our area.”

“Whoa, a hundred? Why so many?”

“That was my initial response. I pointed out its kinda hard to maintain a low profile with an army of agents. That's when he told me it had nothing to do with the Savannah office. Apparently, even Lathem will not be directing this op. It's being handled directly from Washington. According to Lathem, the orders come from far above him,” Groover explained.

“Far above him? But, he is the director of the Agency. There isn't, but a couple of people...” Sandra stopped. After reflecting for several moments, she continued, “The White House?”

Nodding, “A very logical conclusion. It was the way he seemed to emphasize the well above him part. Have you spoken with your dad or Uncle Larry lately?”

Paul Groover was well aware of who her dad was, as well as her relationship with the President. Sandra's concern had already turned to her father. President Larry Reid and her father had been friends and colleagues since before she was born. In the same way, she had difficulty seeing her father as the White House Chief of Staff, she similarly had difficulty relating to Larry Reid as the President. “I talked to Dad briefly the night before the July fourth speech. We didn't talk about much. He was just mainly letting me know he wouldn't be coming down for Mom's barbecue. I don't remember the last time I spoke to the President.”

Paul nodded. “I don't think I have to tell you that I have a huge problem with this. Ironically, Ted Lathem views the situation similarly. His only function will be analyzing the intelligence. Even he won't know who these agents are.”

“What? Well, if he doesn't know, how are we supposed to know?”

“We're not,” Groover responded bluntly.

Multiple questions, similar to the ones that had plagued Paul Groover upon being informed of the upcoming intelligence op, quickly consumed Sandra. “Do you really believe Lathem has no idea who the operatives are?”

“I don't know what to believe at this point,” Groover replied. “I've been giving it a lot of thought this week. At best, it may simply be that the President is a control freak and micro-manager. Obviously, he can't run everything hands on, but if he is that type, this may hit close enough to the vest to make him want to be directly involved. Worse case is he believes me to be incompetent, but that would also suggest he believes Ted Lathem is as well. Or he could consider this to be sensitive enough to warrant a need to know basis, with his actions clearly indicating he doesn't believe we need to know.”

“So, where the hell does all of this leave us?”

Paul raised his eyebrows and let out a sigh. “That's the other part I have a real problem with. Per Lathem, we are to continue to operate as normal. He wants us to maintain our field presence and continue to gather intelligence, passing it on to the Washington analysts of course. Lathem also said we would continue to be briefed on both our work and the work of the additional agents.”

“That's bullshit! They aren't going to tell us anything.”

“My assessment exactly. That's why I wanted to meet with you. We aren't telling them shit either. What they don't realize is we don't need them. I was an analyst for several years. We're also embedded in the community and know the area, especially you.” Paul decided to throw his intentions at Sandra openly so he could gauge her genuine reaction. He figured if she wasn't receptive he could always backtrack, but knowing Sandra, he believed she was just as angry about the circumstances as he was, and would want to take control in any reasonable way possible.

Sandra pondered Paul's response. She had only been with the agency for about a year. Paul Groover had been her only superior, and she was sleeping with him. While she knew he was quite competent at his job, operating covertly and keeping information concealed from their superiors made her nervous. If they were caught, it would be considered a dereliction of duty. The thought that Paul may be simply using her for his own personal gain crossed her mind too, but she quickly dismissed it. She was sexually involved with him, but it was purely physical for her.

Sandra decided to play along. “So, what exactly did you have in mind?”

“Simple,” Paul began. “We have to give them something, so we will. But, we'll be selective. Prepare your field reports as you normally would and turn them indirectly to me. I'll do the analyst work and revise the reports before sending them to headquarters, excluding any meaningful intelligence. We'll take whatever they give us, but as you so graciously put it, bullshit is pretty much all we can expect. We'll develop our own strategies based on our intel. Once we have viable conclusions and reach the point where we need agency approval to act, only then will we present it.”

“What about the other agents working out of the office?”

“I already have them turning in their daily reports to me for review. I am reading them as they are presented, immediately passing them on to Washington without alteration. I plan to continue doing the same. If anything significant is presented, you and I will investigate. But, I don't want to involve any more agents. I trust you. Beyond that, I'm not sure who else I can depend on.”

Sandra looked into the eyes of her boss. She believed he did trust her. Although he was a generation older than her, he was a very handsome man. His dark complexion was accented by his dark brown hair, brown eyes and a touch of gray around his temples. She felt guilt from time to time over the affair because she knew Paul was still married. He had convinced her that his marriage was over. At least Paul had no children, which enabled her justification that what she was doing wasn't all that bad. Sandra softly smiled at Paul and reassured him, “You can depend on me. So what's our next move?”

“Keep on, keeping on. You said you were going to insert yourself into your sister's group and hit the Cavalier in Statesboro tonight. I think you should do just that. It's where you're from, and it's where you will be the most effective.” Paul stood up, continuing the eye contact Sandra established, crossing the rug that separated them. He smiled down at her as Sandra looked up toward him. Without further hesitation, Paul dropped to his knees directly in front of Sandra, easing her legs apart, sliding forward flush with the love seat. “Do you have any idea where I want to insert myself right now?”

Sandra chuckled, then smiled. She scooted her hips forward as the skirt she was wearing stuck to the love seat, exposing her panties. She grabbed Paul around the back of his head and pulled until their hungry lips met.

Several minutes later, Paul collapsed on top of Sandra, rolling to one side. Both lay motionless as their breathing and heart rate raced. Finally, Paul spoke, “I intended to make slow, tender, passionate love to you tonight, beginning by bathing together with candlelight, sipping on wine and eventually moving to bed.”

Sandra's heart rate and breathing were still elevated as she asked, “Yeah, well what happened?”

“You tell me?” Paul responded with his own question.

Sandra looked at Paul with a satisfied grin, shaking her head and raising her eyebrows.

Both began laughing as Paul laid back with the arm of the love seat supporting him halfway up his torso. He pulled Sandra over on top of him, and she rested her head on his shoulder. They listened to the noises of the city.

Sandra relaxed and drifted into thought. Paul was her boss, and he had a lot going for him, but she knew she had no interest in a future with him. Yes, there was a tremendous sexual attraction. Kinda a boss with benefits thing, Sandra grinned. But, there were no real feelings for him. It was a good thing. Paul was married. Unhappily, but married just the same.

After a while, Paul broke the silence, “I guess we better get back to business.”

“What? Again already?” Sandra playfully responded.

“You know what I mean,” Paul interjected as he tickled her ribs.

Sandra squirmed and let out a loud giggle. “Stop that!” Squealing, she grabbed his hands and tried to push them away.

Paul continued briefly, and then moved a hand up near Sandra's face, stroking her long blond hair. “You are beautiful,” Paul softly whispered as their eyes met.

Sandra smiled, then broke eye contact and laid her head back on Paul's shoulder without saying anything. As Paul stroked her hair in silence, a sudden anxiety began building within Sandra. She and Paul had had sex numerous times over the past few months. The first was like this one. Sudden, spontaneous, raw. Paul's love making became much tenderer the second time, while they were on that overnight trip to Washington.

Paul continued to stroke her hair. “Why couldn't I have found someone like you earlier in life?” he asked more philosophically than as a direct question. “I've never held a woman more beautiful than you. You make me feel alive again.”

Oh God, this is not good, Sandra thought to herself. She had contemplated her own feelings toward Paul numerous times during their relationship before becoming comfortable and content that it was nothing more than physical. That conclusion enabled their work relationship to continue to function normally. She couldn't believe she never once considered that Paul would fall for her.

Before Sandra could give the notion any further thought, Paul whispered, “I think I'm falling in love with you,” as he lowered his lips near her ear.

Sandra didn't move or visibly react in any way. “Dammit,” she muttered.

Chapter Sixteen

The Cavalier – Statesboro, Georgia

Saturday night, July 12th, 2042

“Ahhhhh, Bradley, Bradley, Bradley. Do you smell that?” Roberto asked while raising his nose in the air, exaggerating a sniffing action.

“Berto, I swear to God, if you say coonaker one more time, I'm going to deck you.”

Roberto just smiled at his friend, then led the way through the crowd, bypassing the hostess, moving straight into the bar section of the honky-tonk. “Two Bud Lights,” Roberto shouted to the female bartender, holding his arm high with two fingers in the air.

It was just after ten o'clock and the crowd was somewhat sparse for a Saturday night, but the music was loud. A live band was setting up and preparing to play. The corner jukebox provided the twangy country songs typical of a South Georgia redneck watering hole. The music was fifty years old but still popular. Hank Williams Jr. was playing, 'Hank, why do you drink? Hank, why do you roll smokes? Hank, why must you live out the songs that you wrote?' Several well-lubricated patrons had joined in to assist in serenading the bar.

“We're just in time to get a spot where we can see everyone who comes in,” Roberto announced as he bellied up to the bar, motioning for Brad to do the same.

Brad's prior experience at the Cavalier was more limited than Roberto's, but he had been there enough times to know that Saturday night really didn't crank up until around eleven o'clock.

“Thank ya,'Darlin',” Roberto said in his best Southern drawl. It gets a reaction every time, Brad thought.

The bartender giggled, and then grinned as she picked up the twenty dollar bill Roberto laid on the counter and made change. As she handed Roberto the change, the tall brunette said “Youze be welcum,” attempting, not very well, to employ a Southern black dialect.

“They always think I'm tryin' to be funny,” Roberto commented, handing Brad one of the beers as they walked back toward the bar opening.

“That's because most of the time you are.”

“True,” Roberto acknowledged as he took a swig of his beer. “Here we go,” Roberto pointed to an elevated platform where several tables were separated from the main floor by a railing. After quickly identifying the one he wanted, Roberto sat down. Brad moved to the opposite side of the table, sitting directly across from him.

Roberto announced, “This is gonna be like huntin'. We're in our deer stand, and we're gonna sit here, drink and wait.”

“Uh-huh, I hear ya,” Brad spoke, not necessarily agreeing with his friend's game plan.

* * *

“So what kind of work did you and bossypoo have to do on a Saturday night?” Amanda asked her older sister in a very accusing manner as she fastened her seat belt, scooting into a more comfortable position.

Without looking at her sister, Sandra put the car in reverse, turned to look over her right shoulder and backed out of the parking space at their condo. “Boring stuff that you wouldn't care a thing about,” Sandra offered, accelerating the car forward.

“I'm sure.” As they drove toward the Cavalier, an irritated Amanda sat in silence before turning and staring at her sister, “You know it's already after midnight? Karen has texted me a dozen times wanting to know where we were. They've already gone home. She wanted to come get me, but I said noooooo... I wasn't going to do my sister like that. You told me you would be here by ten. So what the hell took you so...?”

Amanda suddenly noticed something a little off about Sandra. She looked at her sister more carefully. As she was staring, Sandra quickly glanced at Amanda, then refocused on her driving just as fast. There was an unusual calm about her. Sandra appeared strangely relaxed, with a peaceful facial expression and... Her face was flushed, full of color. She's glowing, Amanda realized silently. “Oh... my... God! Sandra Kay Knox! There is no denying it this time. Big sistadone got her freak on!”

“Shut up, Mandy,” Sandra embarrassingly retorted. “Just shut up!”

Amanda sat silently, grinning profusely, as she again stared at her sister. Another glance from Sandra and an aggravatingly induced, “WHAT?” flew out of Sandra's mouth.

“That's what I call a benefits package. Retirement plan, paid vacation, paid holidays, paid sick time and FREE -”

“MANDY!” Sandra shouted, “I swear to God...!”

“Okay, okay. I've said enough,” she smirked as if about to drop the subject. A minute passed, and Amanda could not help herself. “Slut.”

“DAMMIT, MANDY! One more word and the only place we're going tonight is back home.”

Amanda couldn't hide the huge, obnoxious grin, as she reached to her mouth and made a zipping motion across her lips.

* * *

“I've got to piss like a racehorse,” Roberto announced, as he got up from the table and walked in the direction of the bathrooms situated next to the bar portion of the club.

Brad heard, but did nothing to acknowledge him. He just continued sitting at the table he had been at for over three hours, nursing his third beer of the evening. Roberto had consumed quite a few more. An attractive, tall and slender redhead, made eye contact and smiled, smoothly gliding past him, before turning back to see if Brad was looking. He was not. As the redhead passed his table, he saw her coming in the front door. Beautiful, tan, blond, and petite. His heart raced. Then the young lady looked in his general direction, and he got a good view of her face.

There was a striking resemblance, but it wasn't her. “Damn...,” Brad murmured. He turned his focus back to his beer as he took another sip, then decided to chug the rest and flag down a waitress. “Another beer please.”

“Comin' right up honey,” replied a cute, curvy young lady, who had taken over serving their drinks.

As Roberto arrived back at the table, Brad stood and pointed toward the bathroom signaling, 'my turn', before making his way back in the direction Roberto emerged from. The server returned a short time later with Brad's fresh beer. She sat it down on the table and Roberto immediately reached across and took it.

“Ya might wanna bring him another one,” Roberto suggested, winking at the server, as he consumed nearly the whole bottle in one swig. “Make that two.”

Smiling as she walked away, she laughingly said, “Be right back.”

As he polished off Brad's cold beer, Roberto began to survey the club, something he had been doing all night periodically. Like most honky-tonks of any size, this one had darts, pool tables, a punching bag that supposedly measured the strength of your punch, and a small stage with a dance floor. No mechanical bull, though, Roberto thought. Definitely not in Dallas.

He noted the crowd was beginning to thin a bit. The band was still playing, but it appeared to be winding down. A few people were throwing darts, and a couple of the pool tables had active games. He was about to look over at the dance floor when he suddenly snapped his eyes back to one of the pool tables... and there she was... his little blonde filly.

* * *

Brad figured out where the crowd was, waiting outside the bathroom, with several men in front of him. Berto could have given me a heads up, Brad thought. The wait would not be too aggravating. He had a perfect view of one of several big screens showing the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers game, now in extra innings from Dodger Stadium. Brad also had a view of the table where he and Roberto had been sitting all night. It was empty. “Now where'd he go?”

About 15 minutes later, Brad finished and cleared the bathroom. He glanced up to see a replay of the two-run, walk-off homer, the Dodgers just hit to win the game. “Figures,” Brad said with disgust. As he continued toward his table, he saw that Roberto had returned with not one, but two blondes. He shook his head, thinking, this should be interesting.

Brad neared the table, first checking out Roberto's selection. It was the little blonde he watched come in the bar earlier. Apparently, she had a twin with her, from the appearance of the other young lady sitting across the table, with her back to Brad. Roberto was grinning from ear to ear.

When Brad reached his chair, he remained standing as Roberto turned to the girl sitting next to him and said, “Mandy, I'd like you to meet my best friend in the whole world. This is Brad. Brad... this here is Mandy, a. k. a. Filly.”

Brad couldn't help but raise his eyebrows as he studied Mandy and glanced at Roberto. “So, I see you finally found her?” Brad decided to blurt out, intentionally trying to embarrass Roberto.

Roberto just nodded, “uhmm hmm,” appearing mostly unaffected by Brad's attempt to rattle him. Mandy was a different story. A huge blush overwhelmed her. Brad felt a little bad about it, but anything else he said would probably only make it worse, he concluded.

Roberto pretended not to notice Mandy's reaction, instead turning his attention to her companion. “Brad, it's your lucky day too,” Roberto informed, motioning toward her. “This beautiful young lady is Mandy's sister, Sandy. Mandy and Sandy, cute huh?”

“Very,” Brad commented. He turned toward Sandy, who had been focused on her sister during the exchange between Brad and Roberto.

“How do you do?” Brad, still standing, asked as he turned and leaned across the back of his chair, extending his hand and waiting for Sandy to turn around and greet him.

As Sandra turned to face Brad, their eyes met at the same time their hands did. And there they were. Looking at each other. Both were equally wide-eyed and speechless. Fortunately, what seemed like an eternity to them only appeared mildly awkward to Roberto and Amanda. Brad regained his composure and spoke, “It's very nice to meet you... Sandra was it?” Brad asked with extra emphasis on her name.

If there was an inkling of doubt concerning who Brad really was, it left Sandra immediately upon the sarcastic way he asked the question. It was just like many of the questions and comments he made that day in the park. And it quickly brought Sandra out of her momentary trance.

“Why yes, yes, Brad,” adding emphasis of her own. “But, please, call me Sandy,” Sandra requested in a very proper, Southern, ladylike manner as she overflowed with equivocal sarcasm.

“O-Kay, Sandy, of course. Thank you for correcting me on that,” Brad responded just as proper, before allowing his speech to migrate to a more condescending tone. “I want to be certain to call you by the right name... or at least the one you prefer.”

Oh no, he didn't! “What the-,” Sandy began before Brad abruptly interrupted her.

“Sandy,” he said sweetly, but sternly.

“What!” She snapped.

“Would you please let go of my hand. You're beginning to squeeze it quite hard.”

Sandra didn't realize she was still holding on to the handshake. Brad had loosened his grip, but she continued to grab him around his fingers and apparently it was becoming uncomfortable. Good, she thought, as she released his hand with a flinging motion. Brad took his right hand and rubbed it with his left, before sitting down next to Sandra.

A whirlwind of thoughts and emotions consumed each of them. Both were thinking the other was playing some kind of game that spring day they met in the park. Ironically, they were completely oblivious to their own deceitful efforts.

Very cautiously, Roberto cleared his throat and asked, “Do you two know each other?”

Both Brad and Sandra had forgotten Roberto and Amanda were even there. Sandra spoke first, “Yeah... well no... well kinda... it's a long story.” She turned to her sister. “Mandy, do you remember when I sprained my ankle last year?”

“Oh yeah, I remember. Your whole foot turned black.”

“Yeah, well, I was lying on the ground after tripping and Brad here, well he was running in the park too, and he helped me to my car.”

Roberto immediately connected the dots. “Dude? Y’all meet in the park last summer when she hurt her ankle? So this is the girl you were telling me about? The one you've been hung up on all this time?” Roberto asked Brad with much enthusiasm, as he gave him a smug look.

Unlike Roberto, Brad was not able to hide his embarrassment. His face turned beet red from the blood rushing to his head. Brad was speechless for the second time in less than five minutes.

Sandra reacted with a grin and sense of satisfaction, realizing Mr. In Control that day in the park, wasn't as much in control as he appeared. Sandra leaned over allowing her lips to brush against his ear and whispered, “Oh Tyler, if you need some help carrying your bruised ego out of here, please let me know!”

Brad sat with his elbows on the table, drinking his beer, and focusing on a spot between Roberto and Mandy, trying to think of something smart to say. Nothing came to mind. Then smiling, he leaned over to Sandra and quietly said, “Well, Kay... as a matter of fact, I do.”

Brad stood and announced, “If you guys would excuse us, Sandy and I are going to get some air.”

Roberto and Amanda had already becomeoblivious to the spat that seemed to be continuing between Brad and Sandra, returning their focus to each other, and to their drinking. Roberto was already fairly well intoxicated. Judging from her petite size and her torrid pace of alcohol consumption, Amanda wouldn't be far behind. He made a shooing motion toward Brad.

Brad extended his hand to Sandra. She sat for a moment, looking at him, then shook her head and took his hand. He slid her chair out as she stood, releasing her hand and moving his to the small of Sandra's back, then leading her to the front of the club and out the door. Roberto and Amanda followed them with their eyes until they exited... and so did Paul Groover.

* * *

As soon as they were outside, Sandra informed Brad she needed to make a phone call, walking down the side of the building and out of hearing range. She didn't need to make a call, but she did take the time to snap a picture of Brad before checking her messages and emails. Sandra felt the need to send a clear message to Brad, that he wasn't as significant as he seemed to think he was. Brad waited patiently near the front door, while Sandra spent twenty-five minutes replying to several emails.

Sandra placed her phone back in her purse. As she approached Brad, he gave her an aggravated grin and began to zig-zag through the cars. He's a real piece of work, assuming I would simply follow, she thought, and then she followed him to his old black Dodge pickup in the rear of the parking lot. Brad walked to the passenger side, opened the door, and motioned for Sandra to get in. Easing sideways past Brad, sliding into the seat, she looked at him and asked, “What did you do, borrow your Grandpa's truck?”

Amused, Brad replied, “Something like that,” closing the door behind her. He ambled around the front of his truck, uncertain how he was going to confront the awkward situation. He was excited to find her, but the circumstances didn't seem to allow for any better outcome than the last time they met.

Sandra watched him intently as he walked around to the driver's side. After thinking over their encounter inside the club, she actually felt relieved at his deceit. He seemed to be more stressed over being found out and less concerned with her subterfuge. Even though both bad acts were equal, Sandra already planned to play the defensive card. She didn't use her first name because she didn't know him and at least Kay was her middle name, even though she hated it. Who knows where Tyler comes from, she thought. Sandra suspected it was completely fabricated. He could have been a stalker or serial killer or something. Yeah, girls can get away with something like that. But a guy, oh no, no, no. A guy making up a name. That has player written all over it. She knew how she was going to handle this.

Brad opened the driver's side door, sat down, closed it, and turned to face Sandra quickly saying, “You have some explaining to do.”

Wow, wasn't exactly expecting that, Sandra thought. She turned facing him, crossed her arms, tilted her head slightly to the right and said, “I have some explaining to do? Really, Tyler? I was a young woman lying on the ground in distress, in a virtually deserted park, injured and completely defenseless, and you, a complete stranger, just come up to me like you wanted to help. How did I know if you really wanted to help or not? Maybe you wanted to hurt me or something? I used my middle name. So what... sue me for being careful. But you? Oh no, you were up to no good Tyler.”

“That's what you think?”

“That's what it sure looked like. I was halfway expecting you to suggest going to my place, wrapping my ankle, then asking me to take a shower with you or something crude like that.

Brad runs his hand through his hair, looking at her, not quite sure how he wanted to respond... or even if he wanted to respond at all. Finally, he said, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met.”

Sandra's hard line betrayed her as a slight smile formed across her lips.

Seeing her reaction, Brad paused momentarily for full effect before continuing. “But your mouth takes you from a ten to a two in a matter of seconds. Maybe you could just sit there and not talk.”

The smile quickly dissipated, her face turning red with anger. “Oooooo!” she exclaimed, tensing up tightly, her whole body in response. Sandra got out of the truck then leaned back in, “Well, Tyler, Brad, or whatever the hell your name is. You're probably the most gorgeous man I have met in a long time, but before you play this macho, manly, in control, crap and tell a woman she's a two, you might want to check and make sure your dick isn't hard first. It would be more convincing that way.” Sandra slammed the truck door and headed back into the bar.

Brad glanced down at the rise in his crotch, raised his eyebrows, looked back up and thought to himself, way to go genius. Brad sat there for a few minutes before deciding to go after her. He walked back through the maze of cars. After clearing the last row, the club entrance door flung wide open, slamming into the wall. Sandra was dragging Amanda by the arm, walking steadfastly into the parking lot.

“Sandy, what's going on? I don't wanna go!” Mandy slurred and pleaded.

“Just shut up and come on!”

The girls passed Brad, Sandra giving a brief but intense glare. Amanda continued to protest. They quickly moved into the third row, making an abrupt right turn. Brad heard a double horn and saw the lights flash briefly as Sandra unlocked her car, about ten more spaces in front of them.


“Oh no,” Brad mumbled as he closed his eyes, slowly turning around, opening them again, and seeing a well-inebriated Roberto, staggering out the front door of the club.

“MANDY, don't leave me!” Roberto lost his balance and fell forward on his hands and knees to the gravel parking lot. Unable to stand back up, he started crawling.

“BERTO! BERTO! I love you, Berto!” Amanda blurted out, slurring her speech profusely as Sandra pushed her into the passenger seat of her car, holding the top of her head like an officer loading a suspect.

Damn, she's drunker than he is, Brad observed as he started moving toward Roberto.

“MANDY, MANDY, I love you tooo...” Roberto lost considerable volume as he finished professing his love for Amanda.

Brad watched as Roberto swayed on his hands and knees. His upper body began bobbing up and down and shaking. Uh oh, Brad thought. He's about to hurl.

Suddenly, Roberto rose up and wailed loudly, “MANDYYYY...!” He followed this outburst with loud, uncontrollable sobbing.

By this time, several other patrons had exited the building, and a few more pulled into the parking lot. Everyone seemed mesmerized by the spectacle of a drunken Mexican, with a Southern redneck accent, crawling on his hands and knees in the parking lot, crying for a girl that was no longer anywhere to be seen. In all of the commotion with Roberto, Brad never noticed Sandra drive off.

Roberto seemed to freeze solid. Brad got within ten feet and thought he heard him softly say, 'Oh God.' Brad stopped. “Berto?”

Roberto turned and looked up at Brad. His eyes were puffy from all of the crying. Apparently, his head had made contact with the parking lot because there was a considerable scrape and bump on the right side of his forehead, but neither of those things concerned Brad as much as the fact that Roberto appeared to be green. Maybe some of it was the lighting. As he took a couple of more steps and leaned over toward him, there was no question. He was green.

Brad was about to help Roberto to his feet and begin the task of carrying his six foot, two-hundred-pound friend to the truck, but before he grabbed him, a surge went through Roberto. It was like a wave beginning in the pit of his stomach and traveling upward. The first one resulted in the vilest belch Brad had ever experienced from another human being. It was only a mild preview of what was to come.

“No, No, NOOOOO...!” Brad exclaimed as he reached to Roberto in an attempt to turn and lean him in the other direction. He was too late. Brad only succeeded in grabbing both of Roberto's shoulders, just in time to cause Roberto to look squarely into Brad's eyes. In a scene not witnessed since the Exorcist, the second wave hit Roberto and a stream of vomit projected far enough to cover Brad from his chest to his shoes.

A couple of the patrons had begun moving towards Roberto as they saw Brad approach him, appearing as though they wanted to help. Both men rocked back so hard they ended up on the ground, scrambling away like they just stumbled onto a dead body. Almost as fast, the other patrons that were so enthralled at the scene, they quickly turned away in disgust, continuing briskly to their original destinations. Brad could hear the sound of at least one of those patrons throwing up somewhere past the first row of cars.

Brad stood there dripping and watching his friend finish. As Roberto reached a series of dry heaves, he appeared to be done. He grabbed Roberto again, this time under his arms and lifted him to his feet. The horrendous odor was beginning to get to Brad. As Roberto struggled to get his legs under him, Brad turned, wrapping one of Roberto's arms around his neck. “You're gonna have to hold on, Berto. I've got to have some help.”

Roberto just looked up and muttered something Brad could not understand.

“Good God,” Brad interjected as he managed to get his right arm under Roberto's left and firmly around his torso. Reaching back, Brad balanced both he and Roberto by taking hold of his left forearm protruding across Brad's back. Brad slowly negotiated the parking lot, eventually arriving at the truck, loading Roberto into it.

Brad considered going to the farm since it was only thirty minutes away, but thought better of it. He didn't feel like explaining the condition both he and Roberto were in, although Papa and Poppy probably wouldn't even ask. One look would be all the explanation they needed. Still, the beachhouse would be a much better choice to recover from the night's festivities.

Roberto was out like a light as Brad pulled back onto the interstate. Please, just don't throw up again, Brad hoped as he turned his thoughts from Roberto to Sandra. “Sandy, Sandy, Sandy,” Brad repeated. “What am I going to do with you?” His mind faded off into his memories and thoughts. Even though nothing had gone right with Sandy so far, he felt a peace about it that he couldn't explain.

Then suddenly he filled with dread. He had completely forgotten. Church tomorrow.

Chapter Seventeen

The Church – Franklin Farm

Sunday, July 13th, 2042

They could hear the singing before they could see The Church. As Brad parked, both young men sat sweating profusely in the intense, South Georgia heat. The Church was packed as it always was when John held service. It was not uncommon for attendance to fill the vast sanctuary, constructed more with the feel of a school gymnasium, than a church. It was as hot as one too. Many times in the summer, Papa would rent a large tent to hold services, but not today, Brad pondered in disappointment. Parking was also at a premium. Being ten minutes late, simply meant you would be twenty minutes late by the time you found a place to park and made your way inside.

The singing had stopped, and the crowd was completely silent. John approached the podium to begin his message at the same time the boys opened the double doors and entered the rear of the sanctuary. The entire congregation turned to look at them. There were some chuckles, some ooooos, more than a few raised eyebrows, but mostly passive smiles, and grins. Everyone in The Church could see evidence of the previous night's adventure.

John lowered his reading glasses, peering over the top, as he studied the two boys for a moment. Before sliding the spectacles back up his nose, he glanced at the front row to his left where Elisio and Maria sat shaking their heads. “Let us pray.”

The congregation simultaneously bowed their heads as John began:

“Heavenly Father, what a beautiful day you've given us to come together and worship. We thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed on us, but Lord, we thank you most for the greatest gift, Your Son Jesus Christ, who You sent into this world to walk among us, sharing Your love, grace, peace, forgiveness and mercy, so that we may come to have a personal relationship with You. Father in order for this to come to pass, You made the ultimate sacrifice. Your Son Jesus died on the cross at Calvary. He died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day, so that we too may profess our love for Jesus, die to sin and be born again in the Spirit as Your children; saved by grace and justified not by the work we do in this world, but by faith. Father, we ask you to bless each man, woman, and child present here today. And Father, we pray for a small miracle this morning. If it's not too much to ask, would you please see that Brad and Roberto find a way to get to church on time, fully clothed and not hung over, the next time we have services. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen!”

An immediate uproar of laughter filled The Church as John concluded his prayer. Roberto and Brad could be seen squirming in their seats, obviously embarrassed at the unwanted attention they were receiving. Smiling and satisfied that he had made his point, John began his sermon.

“I'm going to start today's message by reading several passages from God's word. Let's turn to Romans chapter one, beginning with verse twenty. As I read these passages, I want you to think about the world we live in. See if you can recognize the similarities between the world Paul describes in Romans, two-thousand years ago, and our society of today.”

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

“Now let’s just stop right there a second and understand what is being described. The people Paul is referring to are people who have known God. The Gospel has been preached to them. They understood it, and they rejected it. Okay, let's read some more.”

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

“Okay folks after rejecting God, the people started creating their own Gods to worship. This is idol worship. Now, what are idols? Stone statues that are worshiped? Sure. Golden calves made as an idol of worship? Yes. What about money? Can money be worshiped? Sure, it can. There are people that worship money every day. What about power? Absolutely. How about a lifestyle of immoral sexual acts? Yes, people place sexual perversion on a pedestal and allow it to consume their lives. That is idolatry in its purest form. Our world today is full of idol worship. God barely exists in America today. Let’s read further and see how God deals with these people.”

“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worship and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lusts for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

“Homosexuality is a sin that has been around for a long time, hasn't it folks?” John asked the congregation.

“The apostle Paul was writing about these sinful acts that occurred two-thousand years ago. Let's stop a minute. I want you to think about something. You know gays and lesbians claim their homosexual acts are natural. They try to apply a scientific approach to it. Well, what if every man, woman, and child on this Earth was a bona fide, clear cut, one hundred percent practicing homosexual? Do you realize in about one hundred years, the human race would become extinct? That's right, there would be no reproduction, and once the last human on Earth died, that would be it. Doesn't that simple fact tell you there is nothing natural about homosexuality? The fact of the matter is homosexuality is one of two things. Either it is a voluntary choice or a disease. It's not natural. As Christians, we cannot condone individuals that voluntarily chose this sinful lifestyle. In some cases, I accept that homosexuality may very well be a disease... a mental illness, perhaps even becoming an addiction as well, but as with any disease, we provide treatment for the problem. We don't enable someone by pretending their perverse behavior is normal. Think about it. Okay, moving on.”

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

“Boy, the Apostle Paul just blasts them all, doesn't he? Wow! But get what he is saying here. Does he mean we should all go out and kill the people that commit these sins? No of course not. But, Paul clearly states that we should not stand by and 'approve of those who practice them,' either.”

John continued:

“When he talks about death in this context, he's talking about a spiritual death. And Paul points out when you have knowledge of salvation, know that it is available for the asking through Jesus Christ, then you reject Him, instead choosing these other things, then He will simply let you go. He will move own. You see God is never going to force Himself on anybody. God is a choice. God gave man free will and man is free to choose. Some say free will is both a blessing and a curse. Living in the world we live in today, it would be hard to disagree, wouldn't it? The choices people have made, just in this country alone, amaze me and not in a good way.

Isn't that what freedom is all about... about choice? But there's a reason America was founded on Judea-Christian beliefs. That reason is so we could build a country, based on God's truths as our foundation, and in doing so, if we had stuck to those principles, they would have enabled us to make the right choices... always. That's where this country has failed. Look at the laws we've chose to enact. We not only allow homosexuals to marry each other, we've passed laws requiring pastors to perform the ceremony or face civil and criminal consequences. We even impose civil and criminal penalties on cake makers who refuse to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding.

That's America's definition of freedom today. When political correctness and progressive ideology replace God's word as the foundation of public policy, we get exactly what we have today... a Godless, unjust, unrighteous, immoral society. Fortunately, this church chooses not to participate in any way, shape, or form, with the Federal Government. We do not have tax exempt status because we never applied. Therefore, I can say what I want to say, without any fear of government reprisal, especially from the IRS, and I'm thankful of that.

So I'm going to take this opportunity to not only encourage you to register to vote, but also plead with you to please vote every progressive politician currently holding office out, and do not elect anymore. Notice I did not say Democrat because there are a few conservative voices who are Democrat. But we must elect only traditional conservative candidates, who are committed to putting an end to the Godlessness that has been allowed to gain significant footing in our country. It will be a long and arduous road, but if every one of you eligible to vote does his and her part, as a group we will have done our part, and that's all I can ask of you.”

“Okay folks, I'm done preachin' today. John smiled as much of the congregation reciprocated.

“I'll ask the choir to lead us in a final song of praise and then we will adjourn to the shelters out back, where Maria and the other senior ladies have so graciously prepared lunch for us all to enjoy together.” John motioned to the choir leader to begin as he stepped down from the podium.

Chapter Eighteen

NIA Headquarters - Washington, DC

Monday, July 14th, 2042

“Agent Knox, I've been looking over several of the reports you compiled the past few weeks. Most have produced at least some actionable intelligence. One stands out to me. I read your surveillance report from this past Saturday, the thirteenth I believe. I find it to be alarmingly unremarkable,” Director Lathem pointedly commented. “Would you care to add anything to it?

Sandra quickly became uncomfortable. She was one on one with the director, after being summoned to Washington on the agency's private jet. My God, did he know about her and Paul? Was this just some covert method of approaching her about it? Did he want to make her sweat to see her reaction?

Not waiting for an answer to his previous question, “Who is he?” The director bluntly asked as he slid a large envelope across his desk. Sandra leaned forward from her chair and looked at the Director squarely, picking up the envelope. She slid back, crossed her legs and removed the contents. On top of several documents and multiple photographs was a picture showing her and Brad leaving the Cavalier together. Her throat sank into her stomach. Fear came over her. Then she became angry.

“You had me followed?” Sandra questioned with a very deliberate tone.

“Agent Knox, I suggest that you focus on the issue at hand. You went into the field on assignment. Your job was to mingle with the crowd while seeking out information. This young man would appear to fall in at least the age range of someone we would like to know more about. The reason why we have decided to blanket the area with intelligence agents is we are aware infiltration of any organized cell is going to be difficult. Simply put, there are strength in numbers and the more activity we have, the better the chances are of someone uncovering something.” The director paused, studying Sandra's mannerisms and reaction.

Continuing, the director pointed out, “You wrote in your report that you had brief encounters with a number of individuals whom you deemed of no informational value, yet all indications are that you spent the entire evening with the gentleman in the photograph... Did you sleep with him?”

Sandra, who had been looking toward the director but not making eye contact, suddenly cut her eyes directly into the path of the director's. “I can't believe this. No, I did not sleep with him.”

The director interrupted and warned, “Careful, young lady.”

With the tension obviously building, Paul Groover stood up from the corner chair he had been seated in, across the director's spacious office, positioned behind and to the right of where Sandra Knox sat. She never noticed him. Sandra took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Paul Groover broke in, “It's a legitimate question for an agent on assignment.” He approached Sandra and sat in the empty chair next to her.

Completely startled with Paul's appearance, Sandra quickly assessed and concluded, not only had she been ambushed, but that the two men had completely different agendas. Paul had obviously been the one who took the surveillance photos, using his position to raise concern with the director, in order to expose Sandra for personal reasons. Her anger had now grown to a raging fury. She couldn't believe she had been so naive.

While making every attempt to remain respectful, Sandra's incensed tone was undeniable. “Director, the reason you find my report to be unremarkable that evening is that quite simply, the evening was unremarkable,” then turning to look directly at Paul, Sandra added, “and when I say that the evening was unremarkable, I mean the entireevening.” Refocusing on the director, she continued, “On the night of the twelfth, agent Groover and I met in the East side safe house to discuss surveillance strategies. I informed him I planned to canvass the Cavalier in Statesboro and that my sister and I would be meeting some of her friends there. I thought it would be a perfect cover. Although Agent Groover did question involving my sister, I reassured him that she had no clue what I actually do for a living, and my only purpose was observation. He agreed, and I headed to Statesboro to pick up my sister. On arrival at the club, my sister ran into an old acquaintance who, in turn, introduced me to a friend whom he was there with.”

“His name is,” Oh God, Sandra hesitated as she thought to herself, do I know the guy's real name or not? “His name is Brad. When you saw us leaving, we simply went outside to get some air. Eventually, we sat down in his truck and engaged in some small talk. After our conversation, it was clear to me that he and his friend are just farm boys from Screven County. His family owns a farm they are actively cultivating. His Friend's name is Roberto, and I think he probably works on the farm too. Apparently, they grew up together and are pretty close. Both are college dropouts, and farming seems to be all they know. I hardly viewed them as a threat or worth documenting in my report?” Sandra made note of the director's raised eyebrow as he looked at Paul, as though mentally asking him if he was satisfied with Sandra's response.

“Agent Knox, it is not up to you to decide what is relevant or to determine what you will and will not report. I expect a full and accurate accounting of your activities every day. You are to prepare your reports in painstaking detail. If you meet someone that has a tattoo on his dick, I not only want to know what the tattoo is, but when he got it, where he got it, why he got it, and how you discovered it... in excruciating detail. Do I make myself clear?”

Still quite miffed, Sandra responded, “Crystal clear, sir.”

Confident that he had gotten his point across, Director Lathem complimented, “Sandra, I believe you are going to make a fine agent. Just remember when performing duties discreetly and under cover, particularly in a social environment, you must maintain a professional disposition. A good agent in action rivals an Oscar-winning performance.”

“I'll try to remember that, sir.”

“You do that. Why don't you go get yourself a bite to eat. We are putting you on a commercial flight back to Savannah. It leaves in about two hours. Groover will meet you at the airport.”

“I'm fine, sir.”

“We had some delicious deli sandwiches and a killer broccoli and cheese soup catered in for the staff today. It's all in the employee lounge. Please go help yourself.”

“Really, sir. I'm not hungry.”

Frustrated that Sandra wasn't taking the hint, Lathem bluntly said, “Knox, I need you to leave the room.”

Sandra let out a frustrated breath, got up and walked out of Lathem's office, closing the door behind her.

Lathem leaned back in his chair, placed his hands behind his head, interlocking his fingers, breathing deeply and letting out a long breath before speaking. “Groover, we have policies against fraternizing with co-workers, especially a direct subordinate.”

“Sir, what makes you think that I-”

“Groover,” he said sternly, “think carefully about how you choose to respond.” The director's piercing gaze seemed to penetrate effortlessly through any purported attempt Paul was considering in denying the implied accusation. Lathem reached in his top desk drawer, pulled out another large manila envelope, and slid it across his desk.

Paul didn't even bother to look. He just starred at the envelope for a moment, then back at the director. The irony of the situation did not escape either man. After a very tense and uncomfortable minute, Lathem offered, “She is quite stunning. I can't say that I blame you.”

Groover made eye contact with the director and interjected, “But?”

“I think you know the 'but.' You and I both know you had no logistical or tactical concerns about the night of the twelfth. You allowed your jealous emotions to impact your actions. Your sole purpose in this interrogation was to rattle Knox for personal reasons. That means, you not only inappropriately utilized agency resources, you used me!”

Groover's heart rate accelerated expeditiously. He felt as though he was about to pass out. He misused his position, and the director nailed him. His jealousy had impeded his judgment. The decision to follow her that night, and his reaction when he observed the subject and Knox leave the Cavalier, was personal, not professional. His mind flashed to being re-allocated to some cold, desolate, far away land, on some meaningless assignment. And, he knew the director would be justified in doing so. Groover was also keenly aware any attempt to downplay the situation would only make matters worse.

After breathing deeply and exhaling, Groover decided that complete disclosure was his best option. “It began about three months ago. My wife and I... well, she's lost interest in the bedroom. Menopause, hot flashes, and all that emotional crap that goes along with it has changed her. She's become quite cold when it comes to affection. I was lonely. Sandy was there. Young, vibrant, carefree...” Groover looked away, paused in thought.

“...And willing?” The director concluded aloud for Groover.

Nodding slightly, Groover glanced back at the director and replied, “Yeah,” before looking away again.

“Why didn't you follow her and the other gentleman outside?”

“I don't know. I was a little shocked. I guess I really didn't want to find out if there was anything going on. At least not that way. If I had followed them out and... I'm just not sure how I would have handled seeing her engaged with another man,” Groover admitted.

After pausing for a moment, the director nodded. “So by your own actions, it should be clear to you why we do not get involved with other agents, especially one that works for you.” Lathem again hesitated a moment before continuing. “I'm not going to make light of this Groover. It is a serious situation. Standard protocol for a consensual but prohibited relationship would be to relocate the subordinate; however, I'm sure you can see the potential issues with that.”

Lathem stood and walked over to his liquor cabinet, grabbed two glasses and a bottle of scotch, and returned to his desk. After setting the glasses down, he poured the drinks. As he sat down, he slid Groover's drink over to him. “My God Groover, why did it have to be her?”

* * *

Sandra sat in the waiting area, adjacent the gate to her flight, at Dulles International Airport. “Thank you, ma'am,” Sandra replied as she hung up the phone with the director's secretary. Paul would not be joining her on the flight home after all. She was glad. It would give her some time to think about all of the ramifications of what she just experienced. The agency didn't have her followed. Paul followed her on his own. Of that, Sandra was convinced.

Sandra also knew his alarm that prompted her to be called to Washington was nothing more than a jealous attempt to gain information of a purely personal nature. The man had fallen for her, and he was insanely jealous. Absolutely insane to go to these lengths, Sandra thought. All of the talk about trust and him acting as though we were forming some covert alliance?... My God, Sandy, how could you be so stupid?

Why did the director want to talk to Paul, alone? Apparently, he wanted her to leave the room so he could talk about her, but what did they discuss? Did she do an adequate enough job responding to the director, causing Paul to receive a reprimand for overreaching? Had the director figured out the real reason why Paul followed her? Was there something else? And what the hell was it going to be like when she checked into the field office?

“U. S. Air flight 489 to Savannah, now boarding at gate B-13.” It was her flight, but Sandra continued reflecting on the day’s events, sitting quietly in the waiting area. About fifteen minutes had passed before the airport announcer come over the intercom again, “Final boarding call for U. S. Air flight 489, bound for Savannah, Georgia.”

Sandra had always been independent and head strong. She approached every facet of life as if she needed no one. But, this was different. She looked to Gate B-13 and the ticket agent standing by the door leading to her flight. As she stood, she eased her boarding pass into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She looked the number up and pressed send. “Yes, Bill Knox please,” a brief pause, “yes, tell him it's his daughter, Sandy.”

* * *

The Secret Service agent opened the door to the Oval office where Bill Knox was finishing up a meeting with the President. Bill immediately rose to his feet, swiftly moving to meet his daughter as she entered the room. “Sandy!” Bill affectionately enunciated, taking his daughter into his arms. “Baby it's so good to see you!”

“Hey Daddy,” Sandra responded. She glanced over her father's shoulder as she hugged him, giving a little wave to the President, with her arms still wrapped around her father.

The President acknowledged with a satisfied grin and a three finger, wiggle-waive. Sandra and Bill remained embraced for a few moments longer, before Bill backed away, taking each of his daughter's hands, scanning her from head to toe. “Well, look at you. Just as beautiful as ever.”

“Thank you Daddy, but I think you are a little biased,” Sandra replied as Bill moved to her side, putting one arm around her waist, leading her to a couch.

“Guilty as charged, but you are still beautiful!”

Sandra smiled and glanced back over at the President, who remained silent, as he stayed seated on the couch across from them, seemingly lost as much in the warmth of the moment as they had been. Sandra never really thought of Larry Reid as the President of the United States. He had simply been Uncle Larry and treated her more as a favorite niece, than the daughter of an employee. When she became a Federal Agent and essentially a subordinate, his demeanor had not changed. She knew he was instrumental in assisting her and was grateful for his input in getting her application fast-tracked to the NIA.

“I realize I'm not the number one man in the room,” the President interrupted, “but do you have a hug for Uncle Larry?”

Not yet seated, Sandra spontaneously flung herself into the arms of Larry Reid, as she often did when she was younger, before he was President. Reid reciprocated a big hug, kissing her forehead.

“That's a little more like it,” Reid said as he patted her back. Sandra then gave him a peck on the cheek, got up and rejoined her father, who had sat down on the opposite couch.

“How's your mother, honey?”

“She's fine. She was disappointed you didn't make it down for the Fourth of July cookout. We all were, especially Mandy.”

Before her father could reply, Reid interrupted, “I'm afraid I have to take the blame for that, sweetheart. I needed your dad here. If he could have come, I'm sure he would have.”

“That's pretty much how I explained it. Mom took it in stride. She's used to it. Although Mandy should be, she still didn't take it so well. Daddy, you need to call her.”

Painful and guilty expressions clearly overcome Bill, “I will, baby! I promise.”

Sandra smiled and nodded her approval.

“Honey, I'm glad you are here, but what in the world are you doing in Washington?

Sandra didn't immediately answer. She looked over at the President with a more somber look.

“Okaaayyy, that looks like my cue to leave,” the President instinctively announced.

“No, no, please stay,” Sandra insisted, “after all, we are in your office.”

The President stood, still intending to give his Chief of Staff and daughter some private time when Sandra made a sitdown motion with her hand and arm. “Please Uncle Larry, I want you to stay.” Sandra loved her father, but their relationship had never been very close, and the circumstances that brought her here might be better served if the President were involved.

Sandra shared the recent events involving her being put under surveillance, presumably by Paul Groover, and her activities being reported to Director Lathem. She explained that concerns raised over her conduct in the field had been the reason she was in Washington. She disclosed her meeting with Director Lathem and the surprise appearance by Paul Groover. She neglected to mention her sexual relationship with Groover. “I don't know what I've done to give them cause for concern.”

“Bill, may I?” The President asked his Chief of Staff's permission. Bill nodded his approval.

“Sandy,” the President began as he cleared his throat, “I'm about to share some things with you that are above your clearance level, but I'm the President of the United States so I have that discretion.” Sandra became keenly attentive.

“Sandy, your work and the work of the agency in Savannah have become of paramount importance. We have reason to believe there is a major resistance cell plotting to somehow disrupt the housing expansion into Savannah. We think this militant group is preparing to use violence against American citizens to advance their cause, which seems to be the destruction of ours.”

Sandra shifted slightly, glancing at her father, but remaining attentive to the President.

“Normally, a junior agent like you would never be privy to such intricate details, but part of the reason I placed you where I did was that I trust where your loyalties lie. Your dad and I go back a long way, and it was important for me to have someone on the inside, down in Savannah that I knew I could trust implicitly.”

Whether the President or her father noticed, Sandra couldn't help becoming somewhat wide-eyed at the words coming from 'Uncle Larry.' Sandra absorbed that the President not only fast-tracked her application to the NIA, but he had also actually placed her there with specific purposes in mind.

“Don't think that your recent circumstances have prompted this. I had all intentions of having this conversation with you soon anyway. Since you are here, now seems as good of a time as any.”

“You definitely have my attention... Mr. President,” Sandra replied in a playfully serious way.

Amused, but also serious, the President informed her he had authorized one-hundred intelligence agents to blanket the college scene and nightlife, explaining their cover and revealing that he was directly involved in monitoring their activities.

So Paul was right about that part, Sandra thought.

The President indicated that all intelligence thus far pointed to a largely young rebellious group of individuals that were becoming well-organized. He told her that a direct link between the raid in Dallas and this local group could not be established, but there was strong circumstantial evidence that the groups were affiliated, raising additional concerns at the possible level of organization the resistance group had achieved.

“Paul Groover is aware that we have dispatched these agents, and he was also informed that they would not be under his charge. Ted Lathem's group will analyze the intelligence gathered, but otherwise, he has no control over the agents in the field either. I do,” the President emphasized.

Although not a complete surprise, Sandra's physical mannerisms, and facial expression revealed her amazement at actually hearing the President declare he was not only involved but running the covert operation. Sandra's shock was nothing compared to that of Bill Knox. Bill's physical reaction was easily noticed by the President as he sat uncomfortably, allowing the President to continue uninterrupted.

“I suspect Groover's behavior over the past few days may have more to do with these recent developments than anything you've done. He's been put in a precarious position. Part of what I decided was intended to see how he would react. Obviously, from the look of things, he hasn't handled it very well. I will have a little chat with Director Lathem,” pausing and appearing to be in thought, he continued, “As of right now Sandy, you work directly for me. You are no longer reporting to Paul Groover or Ted Lathem for that matter. Do you have sufficient room to set up shop in your apartment, or do I need to arrange new accommodations?”

Stunned, Sandra hesitated momentarily before answering, “Uhmm, yeah, sure, my apartment should be fine.”

“Good, I want you to continue living where you are and work from home. I'll have someone procure your things from the Savannah office and deliver them to your apartment. We will have a secured server installed. Again, do not speak any further to Paul Groover or Ted Lathem. I'll call Ted and let him know you're on special assignment and are not to be contacted. As a matter of fact, I'll have Ted relay the message to Groover as well. That should kill two birds with one stone.

Sandra nodded appreciatively, “I understand. But, what exactly are you planning for me to do?”

Larry Reid laughed as he looked over at Sandra. “Don't draw any conclusions about me pulling you out from under Paul Groover, but I simply need you to continue doing what you are doing and reporting any intelligence directly to me. I will pass it to the analysts here at the Washington office if I feel it necessary.”

“So there's really no new assignment?” Sandra replied, making more of a statement than a question.

“Like I said dear, don't go drawing any conclusions. I need someone I can trust, ready at a moment’s notice among other things, to confirm any significant intelligence we receive. I need someone already in the field who can move quickly. You are local and in the same age range of the likely combatants. You may not think much of that, but in my opinion, it is very valuable. So yes, there really is a new assignment. It is for you to be on standby, ready to take on anything I give you at a moment's notice.”

“Oooookay...”Sandra thought briefly. “Okay. I'm good with that, Mr. President.”

Raising one finger and waving it side to side, the President responded, “Dear, while we are in private, I'm still Uncle Larry, and I don't care whether we are discussing work or not. Only in public or around others, do I expect you to call me Mr. President.”

“Okay, Uncle Larry,” Sandra smiled and stood. “Well, I missed my plane, so I need to get going. I have to see about another flight.” As her father stood next to her, she hugged him and turned to the President, who had also stood up.

“Just a minute, young lady. Do you have your ticket for the flight you missed?”

Sandra nodded her head.

“May I see it?” the President asked.

She retrieved the ticket from her purse and handed it to the President. Larry Reid walked behind his desk, pressed his intercom and asked Nancy to come in. Fifteen seconds later, Nancy stepped into the office and closed the door.

“Yes, Mr. President?”

“Nancy, you know Bill's oldest daughter, Sandy, don't you?” The President had returned to Sandra's side and placed his arm around her.

“I do, Mr. President. How are you, young lady?” Nancy greeted.

“Fine, Mrs. Heidt, how are you?”

“I'm doing quite well.”

“Nancy, Sandy missed her flight home when she paid us a surprise visit. Here is her ticket. Could you call the airlines and book her first class on a direct flight to Savannah, leaving around eleven this evening? Then, I would like you to make seven o'clock reservations for two at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana so she and her father can have a nice dinner together before she leaves. Use my personal account and assign them a driver for the evening.”

“Yes, sir, I'll take care of it right away.”

Bill smiled while Sandra put her hands on her hips and stared at the President. “You didn't have to do that,” Sandra said. The President grinned. Bill walked over to the President, extending his hand.

“You guys are welcomed. I hope you enjoy it. By the way Bill, I'm firing you for the remainder of the day. Go spend some time with your daughter. I'll see you for coffee and toast at nine in the morning.”

Bill was eager to speak with the President about his continued involvement in NIA activities. Although he appreciated the time with his daughter, he suspected the President's generosity was predominantly motivated by his desire to put off any discussion on the matter. Still, he graciously accepted the President's good will and he and Sandra were out the door to visit some of the sights in Washington.

Chapter Nineteen

Franklin Farm – Screven County, Georgia

8:00 A. M. Tuesday, July 15th, 2042

“You've got a westerly breeze at six miles per hour. Humidity is seventy-four percent. Dew point is sixty-eight. Range to target, eighteen hundred yards,” Roberto announced as he looked down range through his spotting scope at the partially exposed life size, silhouette, visible through a movie set styled wall with window. While almost all activities related to the resistance were concentrated on the Franklin Farm, an airstrip had been constructed on a separate, but adjacent, two-hundred-acre tract which also served as a perfect sniper range. The property was long and narrow, expressly designed for its current use.

Brad relaxed his muscles and allowed his breathing to slow. He had read many books and viewed many videos on the practical techniques of being a long range sniper. He and Roberto intensified their training several months ago. They were as good as any military trained sniper team. Brad could consistently place rounds in the kill zone of targets over a mile away, under varying conditions.

“Mission is a go, you are clear to fire,” John radioed into Brad and Roberto's ear pieces, as they executed the live fire exercise.

“Roger we are clear to engage target,” Roberto confirmed.

As Brad achieved complete relaxation, he positioned the crosshairs of his scope above and left of the kill zone, adjusting for the wind and humidity. A slight pause, then a loud, distinctive, sonic boom and echo that could only follow a high powered rifle discharge unleashed. After nearly three seconds, the window exploded as the bullet hit the wood pane rather than the glass. The shot was slightly off, but still center mass and definitely in the kill zone.

Smiling, Roberto patted Brad on the shoulder as he laid next to him, viewing the destruction left by the .338 caliber, lapua magnum round through his spotting scope. This shot was over a mile. They had fired several rounds from various distances. All shots had hit the intended targets with only two missing the kill zone, impacting limbs instead. The custom loaded titanium bullets from such a large caliber weapon would still have been lethal, just not instantly. The target would take a few minutes to bleed out from what would remain a catastrophic wound.

“Good shootin', boys,” John congratulated as he surveyed what was left of the final target through his binoculars, about two-hundred yards away from his observation position. “I'll meet you boys back up at the house. Gammy's fixin' some breakfast for us.”

Brad disassembled his rifle while Roberto packed the rest of the gear. After loading up, the two young men mounted their ATV and headed towards lunch. Two-thousand acres was a lot of land. The far end of the Franklin farm held the separate two-hundred acres containing the airstrip and sniper range. It also included Elisio's home, although he and Maria moved to the main house with John when Mary became ill and decided to remain there after her death. The six-bedroom main house was more than enough room for all of them, though Brad and Roberto had shared the largest bedroom for years.

John surveyed the two-hundred-acre tract several years ago, separating it under a shell corporation based in Mexico. In addition to the airstrip and sniper range, the smaller parcel had frontage on the Savannah River. One large bunker was built, housing smaller portions of everything stored in large supply on the main farm.

The separate tract was the foundation for a series of contingency plans. The airstrip was simply a vast area of cleared grassy land. A large barn adjacent to the airstrip served as a hangar for a twin-engine turboprop, capable of carrying ten passengers and thirty-five-hundred pounds of cargo. It was loaded with parachutes for both passengers and supplies.

There was another well-secured structure directly on the Savannah River, connected to the boathouse, housing two power boats with dual three-hundred-fifty cubic inch, Chevrolet inboard motors, capable of taking the twenty-two-foot crafts to speeds of seventy miles per hour, fully loaded.

The plane and boats were their last line of defense in the event all hell broke loose, leaving escape as their only option. The plane would be the preferred method. They would radio their allies in Mexico, who would send a boat to pick them up in international waters. John would fly them below treetop level, down the Savannah River, avoiding radar, out over the Atlantic Ocean, climbing to parachute altitude once they reached predetermined co-ordinances in international waters. There, they would send supplies out of the plane by parachute and dive out themselves, setting the plane on autopilot, straight out into the Atlantic. The military would likely scramble some fighter jets and shoot it down. In any event, they would be long gone, without a trace, by the time authorities figured anything out or took any action.

If, for some reason, an air escape was not possible, an escape by boat, following a similar path down the Savannah River into the Atlantic and out into international waters, would be utilized. It would likely be a highly contested escape. If they didn't encounter any resistance on their journey down the Savannah River, they would most certainly end up in a confrontation before entering the Atlantic. There was a fully functioning Coast Guard station at Tybee Island, right at the mouth of the Savannah River. There were at least three Coast Guard cutters and four helicopters located there. While the twenty-two-foot power boats would be well-equipped, faster and more maneuverable, a confrontation with a branch of the armed forces, well-trained to intercept them, was much less desirable. Still, if it was their only way out, it was better than the alternative. Assuming success, they would scuttle the boats and be picked up in the same manner as if they had escaped by air.

Either escape plan was designed with them ending up in a safe zone in Mexico, where they would regroup and disappear for a while, before resettling at one of the other farms. The best of circumstances would be to successfully complete the operation in Savannah which would involve a quiet, organized, exodus of all members of the resistance along with equipment, prior to execution, leaving only farmhands and their families on the Franklin farm.

After enjoying an incredibly prepared breakfast of pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs and a fresh fruit salad, Roberto and Brad gave Maria huge hugs and kisses. “Thanks, Gammy!” Roberto told her as he rubbed his stomach, “that was awesome!”

“Wow, Gammy, I'm about to pop!” Brad hugged Maria one more time.

“You boys are most welcome!” Maria cheerfully replied while sporting a huge smile. “Will you be home for supper?”

“Not likely, Gammy,” Brad responded. “Looks like we’re headed to Savannah to deliver some equipment.”

“Well, you boys don't work too hard. Breakfast will be at seven in the morning. I've got a busy day so don't be late.”

“Yes, ma'am, we won't be,” Roberto assured as he gave her a final hug and kiss.

Brad and Roberto walked out of the back door and headed to load a bulldozer and backhoe on individual trailers. They would be hauling equipment and supplies for the next few days as Gomez Construction established a work site, including a portable office trailer, on location at ground zero.

* * *

Bill Knox arrived early in the Oval office for his morning meeting with the President. Nancy had just informed him that the President and First Lady were enjoying a private breakfast, and he would be fifteen minutes late. “Coffee, Bill?” Nancy asked.

“Yes ma'am, please.”

“Have you had breakfast?”


“I'll bring you a bagel and cream cheese.”

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” The Chief of Staff smiled with gratitude.

Bill sat on one of the familiar couches where he and the President normally had their meetings. It had only been yesterday since his oldest daughter paid him a surprise visit, but it already seemed much longer. An extreme guilt always filled him after seeing his children. While he loved them dearly, he had been an absentee father most of their lives. His passion had been politics. While never seeking public office himself, he was just as addicted to his role in the process as any public official. It cost him his marriage and family. Like most addictions, though, he knew as soon as the President walked in the door, his mind would be firmly on his job. One caveat this time; his daughter was now working directly for the President.

There were many concerns Bill planned to discuss with Reid. Actually, most of his concerns stemmed from one root cause. There was an undeniable connection between the Oval Office and covert activity within the borders of the United States. Larry Reid was calling the shots, opening him up to a political backlash that would make all Presidential scandals, from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Monica Lewinsky combined, pale in comparison.

Nancy placed the coffee and bagel with some cream cheese, between a letter opener and tissues, on the table in front of the couch. “Thank you so much, Nancy.”

She nodded replying, “You're welcome,” as she turned and left the room.

The President entered twenty minutes later as Bill finished his bagel and was drinking coffee. “Good morning, Mr. President.”

“Mornin', Bill.” The President already had a cup of coffee in his hand. As usual, he was immaculately dressed in a dark, charcoal gray suit and tie. As long as Bill had known the President, he could not recall ever seeing him dress casually. “So what's on the agenda this morning?”

“Mr. President, I would like to first discuss some things that come out during Sandy's visit.” Bill had been dreading this conversation but knew it was one they had to have.

The President sat down in his customary seat across from Bill and replied, “I'm pretty sure I know what's on your mind Bill and yes, part of my motivation for removing Sandy from the Savannah field office was to protect her. But you need to know I have a lot of confidence in your daughter. She is a brilliant, energetic and ambitious girl... or young lady, I should say. In fact, when I spoke with Ted Lathem last night about the incident with Sandy, he revealed some fascinating intelligence I plan to assign Sandy to investigate.

“That's good to hear and yes, I was curious about your thoughts behind reassigning my daughter, although I knew you had her best interests at heart.”

The President nodded his acknowledgment.

Bill changed to a more serious tone. “Sir, you've seemed to completely ignore my previously expressed concerns about keeping your distance from the NIA. I see no advantage or upside to your direct involvement in the agency's operations. But the downside is potentially catastrophic politically. I thought we had an understanding, after talking about your direct conversations with the director, that-”

“Just hold on right there Bill,” the President interrupted. “I acknowledged your concerns, but I never agreed to anything after that conversation. I told you that you worry too much. The fact of the matter is, I view the upside potential as tremendous. In my many years, there is one thing I have learned. If you want something done right, do it yourself. The success of the initial phase of the Southern expansion is the single most important objective of my administration, and it is under threat.”

“And you believe the success of the Southern expansion is worth the potential downfall of your administration should any of the covert activities be directly linked back to you?”

The President took a sip of his coffee and looked directly at Bill before answering him. “I don't think you grasp the gravity of what we've accomplished over the past two-plus decades. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama laid the groundwork for us years ago. George W. Bush became obsessed with waging war and fortunately did nothing to cause any setbacks during his eight years between Bill Clinton and Obama. In fact, he did us a beautiful favor by falling asleep at the wheel as Clinton's housing initiatives, which were doomed for failure when they were enacted in the late nineties, blew up on his watch. I still love how Obama turned it all around and blamed the housing disaster on Bush's Wall Street ties.

We are like kings ruling over our subjects. Three hundred and fifty million people in America with only a few thousand of us controlling everything. We have the Presidency, the House, the Senate and our ace in the hole, a six to three majority on the Supreme Court. Our six justices have an average age of forty-five. Even if we suffer temporary election setbacks, we have so fundamentally altered the direction of the country, that as long as we control the courts, we have the final say on all constitutional matters. I am unstoppable.”

The President leaned back and relaxed for a moment, allowing his response to sink in with his Chief of Staff. “Bill, don't you see? We finally did it! And our administration, my Presidency, will go down in the history books, as the one that put the final touches on our beautiful new country. A country that is finally representative of all people. Where all people are truly equal. The United States of America now more closely resembles many societies in ancient Biblical times, where the privileged were few, and the masses were content, loyal subjects, placing their leaders on pedestals and being thankful for what they had.”

There had been occasions over the past several months when the President made comments, reacted in strange and mysterious ways, or just seemed out of touch with reality. It wasn't just what the President said that shook him; it was how he said it and the look in his eyes that alarmed Bill even more.

* * *

“Berto, did you double-check those chains?” Brad asked as he pointed to the back of the trailer.

“Would you relax already? This ain't my first rodeo, padre.”

Roberto wasn't the only one capable of irritating in a brotherly love fashion. Brad walked over to the rear of the trailer and pulled on the chain to see if it was secure.

Roberto rolled his eyes. “I'm pulling the backhoe. Go to channel nineteen. Switch up odd every half hour and back to even at the top of the hour.” He climbed into the truck, cranked the diesel, put it into gear, and pulled out.

It was mid-afternoon, so the traffic headed into Savannah would be relatively light. By the time they exited the interstate into downtown Savannah, Brad had caught up with Roberto. The staging area for the construction set up was a cleared lot at Anderson and Drayton Street. Roberto turned right on Drayton and followed the one-way street to Anderson, pulling off into the vacant lot. Brad pulled in behind him. There were other contractors unloading, setting up offices and equipment. They located the superintendent's office trailer, finding him leaning over the hood of his truck next to his office, reviewing some plans.

The superintendent was an older black gentleman, who looked to be in his early sixties, wearing a blue button-down Oxford shirt, khakis, and steel-toed work boots. As Brad and Roberto approached him, he looked up and spoke first, “How may I help you, gentlemen?”

Roberto took the lead, extending his right hand and introducing himself, “My name is Roberto Gomez with Gomez Construction. This is one of my employees,” Roberto pointed back over his right shoulder with his left thumb as he shook the superintendent's hand.

Brad remained still with no outward reaction, although he laughed inwardly watching Roberto enjoy playing up his leadership role.

“Where would you like us to set up?”

“I'm Mr. Brown,” the superintendent introduced himself. “All contractor areas are assigned. Look for your name on the concrete. The location for your office trailer is marked on the concrete as well. All equipment will be unloaded and stored in the vacant lot across Drayton.” Mr. Brown pointed across the street to another cleared lot. “Security is in the process of installing barriers and guard posts as we speak. When you arrive on the third, you and all of your employees must have your identification processed and verified. You will need to go to the local IRS office to be fingerprinted, have an iris scan done, your face photographed, and give a DNA sample. Driver's licenses and other forms of ID will not be accepted for this project or any future government projects.” Mr. Brown paused in anticipation of questions. When there were none, he continued, “You are authorized to work around the clock, however, in your case, any demolition involving explosives must occur between 9 and 11 A. M.”

“I believe we only anticipate usin' explosives for five of the buildings. The rest we plan on usin' traditional methods. It's amazin' how effective a good ol' wreckin' ball and crane can be.” Roberto joked as he chuckled. Mr. Brown looked at him unamused.

“If there are no questions, I have work to do. If you will excuse me.” Mr. Brown reached out to Roberto, shook his hand, turned and walked back to his truck.

Roberto and Brad also turned away, heading back to their respective vehicles. After pulling across the street and unloading their equipment, they met briefly before heading back for another load. “Should we tell Papa 'bout the ID thing now or just wait till the mornin'?” Roberto asked.

“We'll bring it up at breakfast tomorrow. It is what it is. I doubt he will be surprised. We knew this identification process was already in use up North. What better opportunity to get it started down here?”

“Fair ‘nough. Let's get rollin' so we can get done. Speaking of gettin' done, once we get this equipment moved, ain't we gonna have some free time on our hands? Hmmm, buddy?”

Roberto was right. We would have things to do on some days, Brad thought, including some farm related duties, but we would be predominantly free for the next few months as we wait for the coming events to unfold. Papa was clear about not wanting us to be involved. There were many variables that could change life as they knew it once the operation began, but for now, they could relax a little. “I suppose you have something in mind?”

“I seem to recall that we left two beautiful, young, hot and bothered ladies hanging the other night after you promised we could take them back to the beach.”

“No, I promised we could go back to the beach. I told you if you found your little filly, to go do her in the parking lot or cheap motel like you usually did. And they weren't hot and bothered. Yours was drunk, and mine was pissed.”

“Yeah, you said that, but you also said we could bring 'em back to the beach,” Roberto insisted.

“Okay, okay, what's your point?”

“I got Mandy's phone number this time.”

Brad's heart skipped a quick beat. It had gotten extremely late, Roberto was drunk and so was Mandy. After Brad's tumultuous exchanges with Sandy, he basically put any thought of getting another chance with her on the back burner. He couldn't believe Roberto managed to get Amanda's number. “Okay, we got breakfast with Papa and Poppy in the morning. We can go over everything then. It should take us another two days to move the rest of the equipment and set up the office trailer. Let's take another long weekend at the beach. This time, we'll invite our two new acquaintances to our place.”

Roberto was almost in shock. His eyes opened wide and a grin that would rival a six-year-old boy on Christmas morning filled his face. He grabbed Brad high on both arms, stared into his eyes and during rush hour traffic on the vacant lot, adjacent one of the busiest streets in downtown Savannah, Roberto pulled Brad to him and placed a wet, sloppy kiss right on his mouth.

“Dammit, Berto!” Brad hollered as he pushed him so hard he fell to the ground, laughing hysterically. Brad spat and wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. Without another word, he got in his truck and headed back to Screven County. Roberto got up, brushed himself off, still chuckling a bit, and followed.

Chapter Twenty

Franklin Farm – Screven County

7:00 A. M. Wednesday, July 16th, 2042

“Unbelievable,” John spouted as he took another bite of grits and eggs. “I'm not surprised, though, not one bit.”

“I didn't think you would be,” Brad confessed. “It's just a preview of what's coming if something isn't done about it.”

“Yeah, well, it's one more reason for you and Berto to stay clear of the work site. When will you have all of the equipment and office unit in place?”

“By tomorrow night,” Roberto announced cheerfully, “then me and Brad are goin' to the beachhouse for a long weekend.”

Brad tensed, stopped chewing, and stared at Roberto.

John smiled, “Oh, you are, are you?”

“Yep, it was Brad's idea. He said when we finished deliverin' the 'quipment to the job site, we'd have plenty of time.”

“Jesus Christ, Berto,” Brad blurted out, unable to control his disdain with Roberto's lack of tact.

John started laughing as he looked at Brad. “Don't sweat it, son. You're right. You guys will have some free time on your hands. We've got to go do our thing, but it will be a slow process. Once we finish demolition and place the C-4, we will be in a sit and wait mode while the housing unit is constructed. Y’all go ahead, enjoy yourselves.”

“Yeah, 'cause when everything goes boom, there's no tellin' what we'll have to deal with,” Roberto chimed back in.

“Berto has a point son. Just keep your radios charged and with you. If we need you, we'll let you know.”

Brad didn't need a whole lot of encouragement. Although he planned to ask John, rather than announce it like Roberto, he fully expected to be spending the weekend at the beachhouse. He wanted to see Sandy again. They had a connection. He could feel it. Although timing could not be worse, he didn't care. They would finish their delivery tomorrow evening, and then he would let Roberto make the call.

John slid some cash across the breakfast table. As Brad picked it up and pocketed it, he thanked his grandfather and motioned for Roberto to join him in loading some more equipment. John and Elisio watched as the boys cranked their diesel trucks and pulled out towards the heavy equipment beside the barn. They sat quietly, finishing breakfast.

“At what point do you think we need to tell the boys the rest of the plan?” Elisio asked.

“I'm kinda surprised they haven't asked any questions. They have to know all the sniper training we've put them through is for somethin'.”

“Not necessarily. We've put them through a lot of training. By now, they probably assume it's all in general preparation for whatever may come our way.”

John pondered Elisio's assessment. “We definitely have to brief them before we bring those buildings down... in case we don't make it.”

Elisio nodded. “You ain't worried about that first kill? Wood targets are a far cry from a real person. Are you sure Brad will be able to pull the trigger when it's time?”

As he looked toward Elisio, John raised his eyebrows, “No, I'm not sure. But, it's important that our plans remain absolutely secret. What we risk in uncertainty, we gain in confidentiality. It's a chance we'll have to take.”

Elisio nodded, “I wish there were some other way.”

“If there is, I don't see it,” John quickly responded. “I truly believe these midterm elections followed by the Presidential election and Congressional races in two years will culminate in a conservative super majority in both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Politically, we will be able to reverse all of the laws, amendments and executive actions that have fundamentally shifted the country to socialism. All of that is useless if the structure of the current Supreme Court remains intact. They can just strike everything down.”

“You're talking about eliminating two Supreme Court justices. One assassination could be spun in a host of directions with countless theories, but two?... That's clearly going to be seen as a conspiracy, my amigo,” Elisio pointed out.

“So how do you think three assassinations would be viewed?”

“Three?” Elisio exclaimed.

“Two would give us the barest of margins,” John pointed out. “Why do you think Reid and all of his cronies strut around like the only rooster in the hen house? We need the same six to three majority they have had for years. It's very necessary insurance.”

“And you think Brad and Roberto can pull all three off with sniper attacks?”

John shrugged, “We're not talking about taking them all out at once. The first assassination shouldn't be difficult. Justices have no protection away from the court unless they employ their own. As we discussed, Jackson will be our first target. We've had him under surveillance for six months. He owns a vacation home in Vermont that he frequents at least one weekend a month. It's isolated and wide open. Our reconnaissance indicates that he has no security, and there are three suitable locations from where an effective shot can be taken, that will allow them an easy evasion route.”

“If the boys succeed on the first one, what do we do next?”

The nation will be shocked and, as you suggest, the press will have a field day with theories. The first assassination has to be done immediately after the midterms, allowing as much time as possible to elapse, before we take out the next target. Once the Savannah housing operation and the first assassination is out of the way, we go completely dark. With a conservative majority in the Senate, no progressive will be confirmed or given a hearing for that matter, even if the vacancy remains until the next President. Hopefully, Jim Hart is elected. When nothing else happens for an extended period of time, law enforcement and the general public will assume the assassination was an isolated incident. As we near the Presidential election in forty-four, we will take out the second justice. That will be a good eighteen to twenty months after the first assassination.”

“I assume Murphy will be the second justice?” Elisio asked. “We never talked about it, but behind Jackson, he would be the most progressive.”

“Actually, Hall will be the next target. We placed all six progressive justices under surveillance. Although Murphy would be ideal politically, he is the lone justice with private security. Hall likes to vacation in Acapulco,” John replied with a smile.


“The ability to eliminate Hall in Mexico is what makes the possibility of the boys handling all three assassinations practical. Passports are no longer required in Mexico and with the support, we already have established down there, it should be relatively easy to shield them from any detection or suspicion.”

“Let's hope we are around to ensure things happen as we plan,” Elisio mentioned somewhat somberly.

“Keep your chin up. When we talked about all of this at the barbecue, I wanted to be as frank as possible with you. We need to be committed to die, if necessary, but I'm not as pessimistic as I sounded. We've lived through a lot. I should have been dead long ago, and you've had your share of close calls. I plan to see this through,” John firmly stated.

“That's good to hear, amigo,” Elisio replied with a renewed hope and confidence. “I am willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the boys, but I really don't care to go out the way you suggested. What about the third target?”

“You mean when? Undetermined at this point.” John shrugged. “While I believe it is necessary, we should have a few years, maybe longer, after we eliminate Hall. We can even wait until we test the waters of Jim's re-election in forty-eight.”

“Assuming he is elected in forty-four,” Elisio reminded John.

“Touche, amigo,” John smiled. “We aren't dead in the water if he fails to get elected, because with the almost certain Congressional gains, at least we can stall out any further damage. We would definitely have to convene our brightest people to re-think a whole new strategy, though. Let's hope things go as planned.”

Elisio nodded. “So back to my original question. When do we talk to the boys about all of this?”

John finished his coffee, setting the cup down as he stood up from the table. “Soon.”

Chapter Twenty-One

Knox Apartment – Statesboro

Friday, July 18th, 2042

“Really?” Amanda giggled, “on the beach?... Oh, well, still that's close enough.”

Sandra sat on the couch listening intently to the phone conversation. She got Amanda's attention and mouthed to her, 'who is it?’

Amanda just waved her off, barely paying her sister any attention. “Can you see the beach?... Wow!... You mean, spend the night?” Amanda thought for a minute, then exclaimed, “Hell yeah, I'm in!...” Whack! Amanda flinched as the rolled up newspaper in Sandra's hand firmly connected with the back of her head.

“Damn it, will you STOP!” Mandy lashed out at Sandra with gritted teeth as she slapped at her sister with her free hand.


Amanda covered the mouthpiece of the phone, still gritting her teeth, and said, “BERTO!”

Oh my God, Sandra thought. Butterflies and an unfamiliar tightness immediately engulfed her stomach. Wait, she thought. What was she getting excited about? Berto was asking Mandy away for the weekend. There had been no mention she was aware of, that included Brad or her. What the hell? She knew he didn't have her number and things didn't end well, again, the last time they saw each other, but figured Brad would have somehow tried to reach her by now.

Just as she was about to get angry, she heard Mandy say, “She's right here. No, I'll ask her.”

A giddy Amanda turned to Sandra, again covering the mouthpiece of the phone, “You... are... not... going to believe this! Brad's family owns a house on Tybee, just off the beach, with an ocean view, and they want us to come spend the weekend!” Amanda bounced up and down making a simultaneously excited motion with her hands as she told Sandra. Amanda was about to explode wanting to tell Roberto they would both come when Sandra responded.

“Tell him I need to think about it.”

“WHAT!?” she yelled at her sister.

“No Berto, I'm sorry there must be some static in the line. Hold on a minute.”

Again covering the mouthpiece, very agitated, she asked, “Have you lost your cotton pickin' mind? What the hell is there to think about?”

“Just get his phone number and tell him we will call him back!” Sandra said firmly.

“I can't freakin' believe this!” Amanda spewed again, scowling at Sandra.

She uncovered the mouthpiece and sweetly said, “Berto, honey, I'm going to need to call you back... No, no problem. My sister and I just need to have a little chat. Okay, hon. Can I get your number?... Great. I'll call you back shortly. Bye bye.”

Amanda's back was to Sandra as she hung up the phone. She stood there for several moments, trying to calm down, before slowly turning around with daggers for eyes.

* * *

“What do you mean they will call us back?” Brad asked as he sat up straight from his reclined position on the sofa in the living room area of their beach house. Brad had been lying back enjoying the phone call Roberto was making, just waiting for both young ladies to melt at the thought of being invited to spend the weekend at the beach.

“Everything was good ta' go, I swear it,” Roberto told Brad. “Mandy said 'I'm in', and then she asked Sandy. I heard some muffled sounds, maybe even a little shoutin', then Mandy comes back to the phone in that sweet little voice of hers sayin' they have to call us back.”

Brad started laughing.

“What's so damn funny? I don't think anything’s funny here!”

“Don't get your panties in a wad, Berto. It's Sandy. This is just a continuation of the day in the park and the night at the Cavalier. She wants so bad to play hard to get when she's just as much into me as I am into her. Give me the phone.”

Roberto jerked the phone close to his body as if protecting it, “Hell no!”

“Give me the damn phone, Berto!”

“No! What the hell ya' gonna do?”

Brad continued staring at Roberto with his hand out. After a mini-standoff, Roberto handed Brad the phone. “Fine! But if ya' screw this weekend up, I'm gonna kick your ass!”

Brad smirked as he took the phone and hit redial.

* * *

“I hope you're satisfied.” The anger in Amanda's voice was undeniable.

“You've got a lot to learn about men and how to gain their respect. You can't just cream your panties every time some good looking guy impresses you a little. You got to make them earn it.”

“Are you freakin' kidding me?” Amanda was about to go into an all out tirade when her phone rang. She looked at the number and saw it was Roberto. “Ssshhhhh, just be quiet. It's Berto. Let me handle this.”

“Hello. Oh, hey Brad.”

Sandra's head snapped quickly to full attention, looking directly at Amanda, motioning with her hands and mouthing, 'I'm not here!'

“Yep, she's right here,” Amanda gleamed as she smirked at her sister. “Hold on a minute and I'll get her.”

“You... little... bitch...!” Sandra mumbled under her breath, taking the phone. A very satisfied smile continued to engulf Amanda's face as she took a seat in a nearby, easy chair, crossed her legs Indian style, and pulled a pillow that had been laying on the arm of the chair into her lap, settling in for what she anticipated would be a very entertaining phone call.

Sandra covered the phone with her hand, letting out a long breath, as she gathered herself. “Well, hi there, Brad. How are you?... I'm doing quite well. Thank you for asking. So, Brad, what can I do for you?” Several moments passed as Sandra quietly listened. Amanda watched as Sandra's facial expression softened while smiling on occasion. She even covered her mouth with her hand one time as Brad obviously said something that surprised, but clearly pleased her.

Finally, Sandra let out a big sigh as if she were surrendering. “Okay, okay, we'll come.”

Amanda leaped out of her chair, letting out a shriek that could have penetrated the best sound proof walls, jumping up and down. “No, I'll need to drive us down. Something may come up, and I may have to leave... No, I'm not planning my escape. I said I would come for the weekend, and I plan to stay. It’s just sometimes my job interrupts my plans... My job? We can talk about that later. Okay, give me the address. Alright, why don't you give me your phone number too?... Okay, got it. See you tomorrow night around eight o'clock. Okay, bye.” As Sandra hung up, she turned to her sister who was grinning from ear to ear.

Observing her huge smile, Sandra commented, “You look like a jackass eatin' briers through a barbed-wired fence.”

“He must of said something to IMPRESS you!”

“Shut up, Mandy!”


Sandra reached for the newspaper and began rolling it up again as she moved toward Amanda. Amanda screamed and took off running to her bedroom where she slammed the door and locked it. Sandra smiled and shook her head. Her thoughts moved back to Brad. Maybe this guy wasn't so bad after all.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Franklin Beach House – Tybee Island

Saturday, July 19th, 2042

“Ya' never told me what ya' said to Sandy.”

“That's because I didn't want you to know. There's a reason why I walked out of the room to make the call.”

“C'mon man? We're buddies.”

“Yes, we are.” Brad placed his feet on the third story balcony railing, leaning his chair back on two legs as he drank his beer.

“Ya' still ain't gonna tell me what ya' said to her?”


“Fine. Hand me another beer.” Brad reached down into the cooler and tossed a beer over to Roberto, who was leaning against the railing on the opposite end of the balcony. It was late afternoon around five o'clock, and the girls weren't due for a few more hours. “Did ya' put the steaks in marinade?”

“Check,” Brad answered as he closed his eyes.

“What about the wine? Is it chillin'?”

“Check, check.”

“Sounds like we did everything. I'm grabbin' a little nap.”

Without opening his eyes, Brad acknowledged Roberto's rest plan, weakly saluting him.

* * *

Roberto rolled over, grabbing the clock off the nightstand with one hand while clearing the sleep from his eyes with the palm of the other. Damn, I'm tired, he thought, stretching with the clock still in his hand, then noting it was already seven o'clock. Roberto returned the clock to the nightstand and headed for the shower. After toweling off, he put on a bright orange tee shirt, khaki shorts and deck shoes with no socks. Roberto passed through the kitchen trying to remember everything he planned for dinner. Once he started the coals in the grill, he ran upstairs expecting to see Brad on his balcony drinking beer after showering himself. To his surprise, Brad was fast asleep, sprawled out face down on his bed, butt naked.

Roberto's first thought was to pull out his phone and take a picture, but for some reason, he decided against it. I must be going soft, Roberto thought. Instead, he picked a pillow off of the bed and hit Brad in the head with it, calling his name. “Brad! Hey, dude, it's 'bout eight. The girls will be here any minute. I got dinner started,” Roberto sniffed, “man you stink. Get ya' ass up and take a shower.”

Brad lifted his head, “I got a headache,” then flopped back down.

“C'mon man. You probably got a little hangover brewin' from the beer you drank this afternoon. Drink another one. You'll be fine. Let's go, get up!”

Brad remained plastered to the bed, “Okay, okay. I'm up,” he mumbled.

“No, you're not. C'mon, move it, man.”

Brad sat up on the bed, opening his eyes half-way, peering out the sliding glass doors. “It's about dark.”

“Ya think? Move ya ass!”

Brad slowly rose and walked toward the bathroom. Satisfied that he was finally getting into the shower, Roberto went back downstairs and pulled the steaks out of the refrigerator. After checking the grill and determining the coals needed more time, Roberto began preparing a salad. He completed and covered the salad when the doorbell rang. Through the glass on either side of the front door, he caught a glimpse of their dates. Damn, Roberto thought as he peered through the glass. He could tell they both were wearing light colored sun dresses, revealing tan lines across their shoulders.

The glimpse through the side glass had not prepared him for the full view he got when he opened the door. Roberto just froze in admiration of both young women. They did favor quite a bit, he thought. Sandra had a more mature appearance, but both looked stunningly vibrant.

“Good evenin' ladies. Would you please come in?” Roberto asked in his best butler tone while motioning with his arm. Both young women gave a slight curtsy, smiling as they passed Roberto, walking through the small foyer into the living room. “You're just in time. I was 'bout ta' put the steaks on the grill. How ya' want 'em cooked?”

“Medium rare for me,” Sandra announced.

“Eeww, well done on mine.”

“Good enough. Either of you care for a beer or a glass of wine?”

“I'll have a beer,” Amanda answered.

“Me too.”

Roberto walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and retrieved two bottles of Bud Lite as the sisters followed. He opened both, handing one to each of them. “Sandy, I left Brad in the shower 'bout a half hour ago. He don't like to cook much so he's probably hidin' on his balcony drinkin' beer again. Why don't ya' go check on him?”

“Okay, I guess those steps will take me up there?” Sandra pointed back into the living area at the spiral staircase.

“Yes, ma'am. They lead directly into the master suite.”

Roberto turned to Amanda, “And you my beautiful little filly.” Amanda started giggling. “You come on out here and help me grill these steaks.”

Sandra began to ascend the spiral staircase. As she neared the top, her head cleared the third story bottom floor, and she could see the balcony. She was immediately drawn to the sounds of the ocean. She walked directly to the open, sliding glass doors, looking left, and then right, as she stepped through them. A chair with a cooler next to it occupied one end of the balcony, with potted plants, a small table and two chairs on the opposite end, but no Brad. Sandra stood there, momentarily absorbing the cool evening ocean breeze, listening to the crashing waves on the shore. Then she listened more intently. She could hear water, but it wasn't waves. It was running water.

Sandra stepped back through the sliding glass doors into the master suite, trying to isolate the sound of the running water. Then it dawned on her. It was the shower. She had come up into Brad's bedroom while he was still in the freaking shower. An immediate wave of panic hit her. Oh my God. What if he just popped out in the buff? Then she thought, well what if he did?... and smiled.

Nervousness overcame her as she moved around his bedroom, but her curiosity overwhelmed her even more. She started in the direction of the running water. The master bedroom opened into a large walk-through closet, leading into the master bathroom. Sandra entered the closet, and as she neared the rear, she could clearly see the shower directly in front of her nestled against the back wall of the bathroom; a shower that had no door, no curtain, no anything... except Brad.

All of the blood in her body rushed to the surface of her skin. Brad's back was to her. She could do nothing but stare. She had seen her share of men's backsides, but his was absolutely perfect. She could visualize her hands grasping his buttocks. Geez, what am I some kinda pervert? She turned to leave.


OH... MY... GOD! “Uhmmm, yeah, yeah, Brad. I'm sorry, I uhmmm, I didn't realize this was your bathroom.” She turned back with her hand covering her eyes as she talked and before she realized, had peeked through her fingers to see Brad now facing her from the shower. “Ohhh,” Her mouth dropped, and she knew she stared too long. “Oh, uhmm Jesus. Brad look, I'm just going to go back downstairs and wait for you there.”

Brad was more than a little amused at how embarrassed and uncomfortable Sandy appeared to be. Sandra fanned herself with her hands, almost tripping three times as she quickly descended the spiral staircase. She couldn't remember what she did with the beer Roberto gave her, so she reached into the refrigerator and helped herself to another one, before walking out to where the steaks were being grilled.

“Well, there you are,” Roberto greeted her again. “Did you see Brad?”

After pausing briefly, Sandra said, “Brad? Oh yeah, I saw Brad.” Then she thought, Boy did I see Brad. Sandra moved opposite the end of the balcony where Roberto and Mandy tended to the steaks. She observed the continuous flow of smiles, touches, laughter and conversation between them. The innocence and openness between Roberto and Amanda at such an early stage of their relationship made Sandra somewhat jealous. Why can't I be more like that? She thought. Sandra sat quietly, nursing her beer. They really do make a cute couple. She smiled and looked out toward the ocean.

After another fifteen minutes Roberto asked, “Sandy, can you go see what the hell's takin' Brad so long?”

Sandra's eyes widened, and her pulse quickened at the thought of going back to Brad's bedroom. She stuttered, “I... uhm, I-”

“Well, speak of the devil and he appears,” Amanda announced.

Relieved at being rescued by Brad's timely appearance, Sandra casually took another swallow of beer. Brad stepped through the sliding glass doors, with two beers in his hand. His sandy blond hair was still damp. He wore a yellow, polo-style pullover short-sleeved shirt, with plaid shorts and deck shoes, similar to Roberto's.

“Here you go? You left this on my dresser,” Brad said as he handed one of the beers to Sandra.

Sandra offered up a slight smile as she took the beer from Brad. She quickly downed it and discarded the empty bottle in the trash can inside the door before turning back toward the others.

“Well, I hope everybody's hungry. The steaks are 'bout done,” Roberto informed.

“I'm starved,” said Amanda. Brad and Sandra didn't reply, seemingly lost in their own separate, but very much entwined world of thought.

The four enjoyed dinner together while engaging in small talk. They did manage some superficial conversation about their families, but nothing specific other than the fact that Sandra and Amanda's parents were divorced, neither of them remarrying, and that Brad and Roberto were raised by their respective grandparents, although there was no discussion of how any of that come to be.

After they had finished dinner, everyone pitched in with clean up and the dishes. When they were done, Roberto and Amanda settled in on the couch in the living room, turning on the television. Brad announced that he wanted to take a stroll on the beach and asked Sandra to join him, which she did.

Brad led the way to the end of the street and into the sand. As the pair reached the dunes separating the beach from the residential streets, they headed for the closest walkway, one of many built across the dunes leading to the beach.

“This is like walking in six foot of snow with no snow shoes,” Sandra commented as they stepped out of the soft sand and onto the walkway.

“That's why they built these crossovers. There's one near the end of every street leading to the beach.” Brad pointed down the coastline at the additional walk ways that hovered over the dunes.

Sandra brushed by Brad, moving ahead of him, entering the beach. The tide was going out, leaving much of the sand wet and compacted from the receding waters. It was a brilliant evening with light ocean breezes, crystal clear skies and a bright crescent moon rising over the water.

Brad stopped as Sandra passed by him. Her long blonde hair blew softly in the wind, ever so gently teasing her shoulders. Her yellow and white sundress was clinging to her body as the breeze passed over her. Her silhouette was accentuated by the reflection of the moonlight across the water in the background. She looked absolutely amazing.

Sandra turned and caught Brad staring at her, but he didn't care. As he continued to take in her stunning beauty, she smiled over her shoulder, extending her hand back towards him. Brad grinned as he walked forward and took her hand. They headed north, both removing their shoes as they neared the water's edge. All of the previous animosity seemed ancient to them now.

While it's often said that opposites attract, both Sandra and Brad already knew they were far from opposites. Their personalities rivaled that of the strongest-willed siblings. Their quick wit and sarcasm had already proven to be well-matched. And their mutual attraction bordered on an explosive lust that was getting more and more difficult for either of them to control, much less deny.

They walked hand in hand in complete silence for nearly a mile. Occasionally one would look over at the other, only to look away when the other reciprocated. There was so much each wanted to say. So many things each wanted to know about the other. While the physical attraction was undeniable, the yearning to really get to know each other was just as intense.

Brad had taken the first step to break through the sarcastic, confrontational bliss that had developed since they first met in the park over a year ago. When he called her on the phone and said hello, Sandra immediately threw up the standard gauntlet. But this time, Brad didn't. He told her he understood the way she was acting because he was the same way; that he was guarded and that there were reasons for it that he would like to share with her one day. He told her how beautiful she was and that he wanted to get to know her better. Then he asked her if she would please join her sister and come spend the weekend. Sandra's heart melted, and now, here they were.

“What are you thinking about so hard?” Brad asked, finally breaking the silence.

Sandra began to swing Brad's hand in a more exaggerated motion as they slowed their walk, eventually stopping face to face. “Oh, I don't know,” she said as she smiled and looked up to Brad. His eyes were a ridiculously beautiful, light shade of blue, she had never seen before. Like gatekeepers to his soul, Sandra sensed a mystery hidden in those eyes.

Brad took in her gorgeous smile, turning back up the beach, this time, he was swinging her hand. For the first time in his young life, he was at a loss. Brad was nervous, maybe from anxiety, maybe it was fear. Whatever it was, he had never experienced indecisiveness with any girl. He wanted more than anything to kiss her. Any other time, with any other woman, he would have already made that move. This was different. She was different.

They continued up the beach hand in hand, with nothing but the sound of the wind and waves. It was driving Sandra crazy. She wanted to talk, but for one of the few times in her life, she didn't know what to say. She wanted to kiss Brad but wondered why he had not made the first move. After all, he broke the ice when he called her back. He told me I was beautiful, Sandra smiled. After all of that time putting on a front and being a sarcastic smart-ass, he opened up to me, if only a little. What was wrong now?

They walked for several more minutes, still in silence. God, those eyes... that body. Sandra couldn't take it any longer. Screw it! Sandra stopped, swung around directly in front of him, letting go of his hand and dropping her shoes before wrapping both arms around his neck and pulling herself up to meet his lips. Brad quickly wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her as he interlocked his arms behind her back and held her tight while they probed each other’s lips, tongues, and mouths with a passion unlike either of them had ever experienced.

As the two melted into each other, Sandra raised her legs and wrapped them around Brad's waist, locking her ankles behind him. The feel of her full breasts pressing against his chest through the light material of the sun dress was exhilarating. They continued kissing with equal passion as Brad brought his hands to rest on Sandra's hips, dropping to his knees and laying her back in the wet sand while lowering on top of her.

“My God, Sandy. You are so beautiful,” Brad whispered breathlessly into her ear.

Sandra moaned as she squeezed her legs tighter around Brad's waist, grinding against the bulge about to escape the top of his shorts. Brad leaned into her as he kissed her, alternating between a variety of spots around her neck and lips.

Sandra pushed up against his chest. Brad followed her lead by rolling onto his back and pulling Sandra on top of him. She sat up, leaning back, straddling him with her eyes closed, continuing to enjoy his fullness pressing against her. She leaned forward, resting both hands on his chest. As she continued grinding her hips against him, she moaned, again and again, slightly opening her eyes... then she suddenly froze. She didn't move an inch. She just stared straight ahead with eyes wide open and a wide open mouth to match.

About fifty yards behind them, just in front of the dunes, to the left of a crossover was a swing, and in the swing was a very sweet-looking, elderly couple, captivated as they looked on. Brad was still in the moment, moving his hips, pressing into her, when he realized that Sandra was no longer participating.

“What's wrong?” Brad asked as he looked up.

Sandra moved from atop Brad steadying herself on her knees. Brad rolled on his side, looking in the same direction as Sandra. The moonlight and clear skies made facial expressions easily visible. The old couple just sat there and smiled. The lady raised her hand up conservatively, about chest high, and gave them a little wave.

Brad dropped his head down and started laughing. He looked up at Sandra as she fell over, rolling him on his back again, laying her head on his chest and joining him in laughter. The old couple looked as though they were reminiscing about younger days and in no way acted disapproving of their behavior.

“I guess we just gave them a thrill,” Sandra concluded.

“I would say so.”

They lay there for a few minutes more. Brad stood up, helping Sandra to her feet. They both turned to look at the old couple and waved goodbye. The gentleman just continued to smile. The lady gave them another wave.

They picked up their shoes and Brad took Sandra by the hand once more. They walked in silence the entire way back to the beach house. Although few words were spoken between them the entire evening, both felt an intimacy and closeness neither could fully comprehend. Yes, there was a lustful desire and attraction, but their desire for one another ran so much deeper.

On their return to the beach house, Brad stopped and faced Sandra. He raised his hand to her face and brushed her hair out of the way. He gently kissed her lips, pulling back slightly and looking into her eyes. Sandra was mesmerized. Brad smiled and led her up the steps, opening the front door, quietly entering the foyer.

Brad suddenly stopped and whispered in Sandra's ear, “Oooops,”

“Uh, oooooh!” Sandra let slip as she covered her mouth.

The back of the couch in the living room faced the foyer. Amanda was facing them as she leaned on the backrest, her eyes fortunately closed. Roberto was bent over her back with his face buried into the back of her head as they moved together in a gentle, rocking motion.

Sandra kept her hand over her mouth, trying to muffle her surprise. She and Brad moved as quietly as possible around the perimeter of the living room to the spiral staircase, ascending the steps into the master bedroom.

Once they were clear, Sandra let out a laugh, “Oh my God, I wasn't expecting that!”

“I guess we know how the old couple felt now,” Brad smiled.

“I guess we do.”

Brad began taking his shirt and shorts off when he noticed Sandra staring at him with a discerning look on her face.

Recognizing her guarded posture, Brad stopped. “My clothes are wet and so are yours.” He winked and smiled.

“Ah, of course, I guess you're right.” She reciprocated his gestures.

“You did bring some clothes, didn't you? I mean the plan was for you to stay the weekend.”

“Yes, I brought some clothes,” Sandra said matter-of-factly. “I left my bag in the car, though.”

“Oh... Well, I guess you might want to wait a bit before going to get it?”

“Uhmmm, yeah you guess right,” Sandra smirked in agreement. She then turned to Brad's dresser and opened the top drawer. She shuffled some clothes around until she found a tee shirt. She opened the adjacent drawer and found a pair of Mickey Mouse boxers. Sandra turned back around with raised eyebrows, holding up the underwear up. Brad gave a slight grin and then shrugged.

Sandra decided to give Brad a taste of his own medicine. She reached under her sundress and lowered her panties, letting them fall to the floor as she pulled on the Mickey Mouse boxers. She then turned around taking her bra off, sliding it through the sleeve opening of her wet sun dress. With her back to him, she removed her dress and let it drop to the floor. She looked over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of Brad with his mouth open. “My clothes are wet too, remember?” She turned back around unable to contain her smile when she realized that she was staring into a mirror atop the dresser.

She comes face to face with Brad in the mirror. “HOLY SHIT!” The uncontrolled outburst flew out of her mouth as she quickly scrambled to put on the T-shirt. Brad had turned away trying not to let Sandra see him laughing, but he couldn't control it.

“Oh yeah, I'm just a barrel of laughs, aren't I?” Sandra's sarcastic tone re-emerged.

Brad, still only in his boxers, just shook his head and started walking toward the bathroom. With an evening already full of embarrassing moments, Roberto let out a deafening “auughhhhh!” from below, followed by Amanda screaming, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!”

Brad crossed his arms, lifting one hand to rub his forehead, as he dipped his head. Sandra again covered her mouth and looked away from Brad. The sounds suddenly stopped. Brad and Sandra continued to stand in silence, not looking at the other. Brad finally spoke, “Well, I guess it's safe to go get your bag now.”

* * *

“Brad! Sandy! Y’all up?” Roberto climbed half way up the stairs as he called into the master suite again, “Hey guys!”

“Yeah,” Brad shouted.

“Hey, we're goin' for a walk down the beach, then we're gonna swing inta' Chubby's for somethin' ta' eat. Y’all comin' or not?”

Brad looked down at the top of Sandra's head, resting peacefully on his shoulder, and then replied, “Y'all go ahead. We'll pick up something later.”

“Awe'right, soot cha' self.”

Brad heard the front door close a few minutes later. He kissed Sandra on the head and shifted lower on the bed until his face was even with hers. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “I guess we have the place to ourselves for a few hours. Berto and Mandy just left.”

“Uh-huh,” Sandra acknowledged. She adjusted some pillows, sitting up, leaning against the head of the bed. Brad did the same, leaning back and providing his shoulder for Sandra to lay her head again.

“Sandy. Can I ask you some questions?”

Still drowsy, she replied, “Uh-huh... but me first.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“I just have one question. How the hell did we share your bed last night, especially after our little beach episode, and not make love?”

Brad chuckled as he stroked her hair, “yeah... it's a first for me, too.”

Sandra looked up at Brad, “You're something special, Bradley Franklin.”

Brad touched his fingers to her face and then lips, gently kissing her. “I've never met anyone like you either. I know we haven't known each other that long, but there are things about you that stir up things in me no one ever has.”

Smiling, Sandra laid still for a few moments before responding, “If you want to get technical about it, we've known each other for over a year now.”

Amused, Brad agreed, “Technically, yes.”

“Okay, I guess it's only fitting that we get into some logistics. What do you want to know about me?” Sandra asked. “And please don't ask me my sign or favorite color. That's so lame.”

Brad snickered, deciding if she wanted to be that way, he would go straight for the jugular, “Okay then, have you ever been married?”

“Oh, I see how you are. I tell you what. I've changed my mind. You get one question, and then I get one. Fair enough?”

Brad raised his hands as if surrendering, “Fair enough. So?”

“Me married? No. Way too young for that.”

“Ever had a serious boyfriend?” Brad asked.

Sandra looked at him, “So what part of you get one question, then it's my turn, did you not understand?”

“Oh, sorry. Go ahead.”

“That's better. I'll throw your question back at you. Have you ever been married or had a serious girlfriend?”

“Hold on, that's two questions!” Brad exclaimed.

“No, no, no.” Sandra retortedwaving her finger. “The question contained two subjects, but grammatically speaking it is one question.”

“Oh, good grief. Are you a freakin' lawyer?”

“That's another question, and you haven't answered mine yet.”

“Grrrrrr,” Brad growled appearing to be frustrated, but loving every minute of his combative exchange with this beautiful woman. “Okay, fine. No, I've never been married and no, I've never had a serious girlfriend.”

“Okay, no serious boyfriend and no, I'm not a lawyer. My turn again.” Sandra's sarcasm was once again evident.

“I'm not going to win here am I?” Brad asked.

“Not likely, although I do find you to be a formidable foe. I know you live and work on your family's farm. Is that all you've ever done?”

Ah an opportunity, Brad thought to himself. “What do you mean is that all I've ever done? This country needs farmers. Farming is hard work and a respectable profession.”

“Uh, well, I mean... uhmm, I didn't say there was anything wrong with farming. I just...”

Brad grinned, “Gotcha.”

“Oh, you little...,” Sandra spewed as she thumped Brad lightly on his chest with her fist.

“Other than spending a short time at Georgia Southern, I've always worked on the farm,” Brad finally answered. “So what kind of work do you do?”

“I've got a boring job.”

“Hmmm, I was expecting something more from a bright, energetic, filly like you, especially after you mentioned you needed to drive over in case work called. Or was that just a cover giving you a way to bolt?”

“No, it wasn't a cover, smart-ass. Actually, I have a government job. I work around a lot of misplaced Washington stiffs on various projects. Sometimes it involves nights and weekends.”

“That sounds interesting. What kind of projects do you work on?”

“It's boring stuff. Nothing you would be interested in,” Sandra assured him.

“Try me,” Brad insisted.

Sandra glared at him momentarily, “Okay, but remember you asked for it. Have you been following the new housing projects up north?”

Brad's stomach suddenly leaped into his throat and his heart began racing. He knew he heard Sandy clearly. All he could manage to do in response was simply nod.

“Well, I'm involved in the Southern expansion into Savannah.”

Brad, did his best to control his reaction before speaking, “You don't look like a construction worker?” Brad asked, fully aware that his playful tone and demeanor had become more dry and abrupt.

Not appearing to notice the change, Sandra laughed, “No silly, I'm not building anything.” Sandra tried to think of a way to describe what she did, without having to tell Brad an outright lie. “I'm sorta in public relations. I'm helping promote the new housing facilities. You know, trying to get folks down here used to the idea.”

In just a few short sentences, Brad had rapidly descended from a euphoric emotional high to deep depression. He was completely torn. He was falling for a woman that could easily get in his way. Someone he may have to eventually deal with and not pleasantly. He knew he had to compose himself. His radar quickly came alive. He sensed she was even more than what she proposed to be. He needed to find out. What had been one of the best weekends of his life had quickly become a nightmare. My God, Sandy. I could have really loved you, Brad grieved.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Knox Apartment – Statesboro, GA

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2042

“Okay, I'll start checking it out. Did the intelligence indicate anything specific?... Just a conversation that was overheard, huh?... And the agent was sure she heard one of the guys mention the building going on in Savannah?... What was she doing in a feed store?... Really? I would never have thought of that angle. What's the name of the Store?... Smith's Feed Store. Wow, that's original. In Screven County?... Where about?... Highway 24 outside of Newington? Okay, got it. What did the men look like?... One old with gray hair, one young and blond; both tall and tanned? Congratulations, you just described half the men in Southeast Georgia... Profile? They finally come up with one?... Yeah, email it to me along with the report on these guys and I'll get to work... No problem. Thank you, Uncle Larry.”

Sandra hung up the phone as she continued sitting on the side of her bed. She had a direct, secure line to the President of the United States. She answered to him and only him. That would be impressive if I could tell anyone, Sandra laughed. Who am I kidding? Who the hell would believe me?

She glanced over at her nightstand. Eleven o'clock. Sandra tossed the phone onto her bed and laid back across it. Three days, she thought. It's been three days, and he hasn't called. She sat back up, slid her slippers on and walked over to the window. As she opened the blinds, bright sunlight filled the room. Sandra shielded her eyes with her arm. After standing there for several minutes, looking out at nothing in particular, she let out a heavy sigh.

Sandra went into the living room and found her sister seated on the sofa, still in her pajamas. She sat down next to Amanda, pulling both legs to one side, bending them underneath her. “I thought you had to get registered for fall classes this week?”

“He's still not answering his phone,” Amanda said with obvious dismay. They continued to sit for quite some time before Amanda spoke again. “I just don't get it. Everything was going great. It's the best weekend of my entire life. I don't know what happened?”

“I don't know, little sis. Brad hasn't called either.”

“Have you tried to call him?”

“No, and I'm not going to.”

“Did you two have a fight or something? I mean, when me and Berto got back from breakfast, you were loading the car, and I didn't see Brad anywhere. When I got my stuff together and kissed Berto goodbye, you were waiting in the car, and you didn't say anything all the way home.”

Sandra smiled slightly, “You didn't shut up long enough for me to say anything. It was Berto this and Berto that. Berto is soooosweet, and Berto is a great kisser. Oh, and Berto reached places you never knew you had. It was Berto, Berto, Berto.”

“Okay, I had a great weekend, so sue me.”

“Yeah, well mine was great,” Sandra said sarcastically, and then started shaking her head. “We were fine. We just lay there in bed while y'all were gone. It was good. I actually started opening up, letting him in a little. We were asking each other personal questions. You know? Nothing deep, just taking turns getting to know each other better. Then everything suddenly changed.”

“What do you mean?” Amanda asked intently, shifting to face her sister.

“I was talking about stuff. Nothing important, just small talk. We were lying back on some pillows. I had my head on his chest when he just grabbed under my shoulders and slid me off of him. Then he got up, went into the bathroom, and shut the door. A few minutes later I heard the shower running.”

“So he went to take a shower. No big deal.”

“No, well yeah, but...,” Sandra was beginning to tear up thinking about what happened, her lips quivering. “He never said another word to me.” Turning angrier, she bluntly stated, “Hell, he never came out of the bathroom. I heard the shower running for the longest time. It finally stopped, but he just stayed in there. After an hour and a half, I got my things and took them to the car. I didn't know what to say or do. He was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

Amanda's mind started rolling through possibilities. “Don't get the wrong idea, but how was Brad in bed?” Although Amanda was dying to know, she was more concerned about how her sister was in bed. She always thought of Sandra as a bit of a prude. Maybe she was a dud. She felt a little guilty for asking under the circumstances.

“Oh my God. That's got nothing to do with this.”

“How do you know? It might,” Amanda argued.

“I know for a fact it doesn't, because...” Sandra couldn't bring herself to tell Amanda.

“Because what?” Amanda insisted.

“Because we didn't have sex, alright.”

“What?... You didn't have sex? Are you kidding me? How in the hell do you sleep in the same bed with that unbelievably gorgeous, hunk of man and not screw his brains out?”

Sandra started crying after Amanda's rather insensitive outburst. “Okay, okay it's alright.” Amanda leaned over and hugged her sister. “So you didn't have sex with him. Hopefully, he's a little deeper than that and if not, to hell with him.” She patted Sandra on the back, continuing to comfort her.

Still sobbing, Sandra concluded, “It must have been something I said that upset him, but I have no idea what. We were picking at each other, but he was laughing the whole time. If something bothered him, he never showed it until... until he just got up.”

Amanda sat there and listened to her sister empathetically. “I know you liked to pick at each other. Maybe you went too far with something and hit a real raw nerve.”

“I don't see how. Right before he got out of the bed we were just talking about what kind of work I did. I was telling him-”

“WORK!?” Amanda emphatically interrupted. “What in the hell is wrong with you?” Amanda stood and glared at Sandra for several moments. “Okay, now it's all starting to add up. Brad probably waited in anticipation all weekend to have sex with you. After all, you are beautiful, and he is one hell of a stud. You know, that's what beautiful people do when they go off for a fun weekend. Oh my God. Then you top the sexless weekend off with a little Sunday morning pillow talk about... OF ALL THINGS... WORK!” Amanda slammed her arms together as she crossed them in front of her chest. “You didn't just have to ruin things for you and Brad; apparently, you've screwed things up between me and Berto too!” Amanda jumped up, turned, and stomped off to her bedroom. Just before slamming the door she shouted, “Freakin' work! Dammit, I would have gotten up and left your ass too!”

Chapter Twenty-Four

Savannah River – Screven County

10:00 A. M. Saturday, July 26th, 2042

Roberto made another cast from the bow of the boat between two shallow logs protruding from the riverbank, on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, about two-hundred yards from the boat house. The fourteen-foot aluminum jon boat with fifteen horse-power outboard and the foot-controlled trolling motor was the preferred rig of choice for fishing the river this far inland. Speed was of little concern as some of the best fishing in all of the Savannah River was within a couple of miles of the boathouse.

Brad repaired his broken line, watching Roberto try to coax a largemouth bass with a spinner bait. They entered the Savannah River at six in the morning, working down the Georgia side and had been steadfastly fishing their way back up the South Carolina side.

“It's been over an hour since I gotta bite. I'm ready ta' pack it in,” Roberto announced.

“Not quite yet,” Brad replied. “Let's at least fish our way back. It's not much further.”

“Fine.” Roberto was frustrated. He had been sulking all week. He had grown attached, very quickly to Amanda and he missed her. “So can we call the girls today or what?”

Brad knew Roberto was angry with him after offering no explanation why they would have to stop seeing Amanda and Sandra as they drove home from the beach the past weekend. He simply asked Roberto to trust him. Although Roberto put up a significant protest, Brad finally succeeded in convincing him that he had his reasons. It had bought him some time to think. The bottom line was a week later the circumstances were no different and Roberto, understandably, was out of patience.

Roberto had retrieved his line and was adjusting his lure when Brad decided to come forward. “She's a fed, Berto.”

“Who, Sandy?” A doubtful frown immediately comes over Roberto's face. “Is that what this is all about? Hell, I saw the government plates on her car. Half the damn country works for the government. Just 'cause she's gotta' federal job, don't make her a 'fed, fed'.”

Brad hesitated as he knew his next comments would both end Roberto's denial and crush his close friend. “She mentioned the Southern Housing expansion into Savannah, specifically.”

Roberto's previously dismissive demeanor abruptly changed. Brad could see the progression of his thoughts in his mannerisms and facial expression. Roberto laid down his fishing rod, leaned forward in his seat and buried his face in his hands. Out of respect, Brad sat in silence, allowing his friend time. After a few minutes, Roberto sat up, ran his hand through his hair and in an almost child-like manner asked, “And Mandy?”

“It doesn't matter.” Brad knew he sounded unsympathetic as he increased the firmness of his tone, but it would have been crueler to give Roberto any false hope. “They're sisters, they live together, and they're obviously very close.”

Roberto looked directly at Brad before nodding and looking away. “Man, this sucks.”

“I know. If you can believe it, after the initial shock my next thought was to use our relationships to gain information.” Brad paused, “But I can't. We can't.”

Roberto sat quietly for several more minutes before stowing his gear. Brad followed his lead, packing up as well. They cranked the outboard and headed to the boathouse. Roberto climbed out first and tied the boat off. “Why can't we?”

“Why can't we what?”

“Why can't we use our relationships to find out information?”

“Berto...” Brad shook his head in disapproval.

“No, listen to me. How great would it be to have someone on the inside?” Roberto pleaded. “I mean, how many times have we tried to get people in places?”

“Yeah, but that would be someone we planted on the inside. This is not the same. We would be using them and they wouldn't have a clue. It's dangerous, especially for Sandy. If anything went wrong, Mandy could easily get caught in the crossfiretoo, and they wouldn't even know what hit them.”

After securing the boathouse, Brad led the way, walking towards their all-terrain vehicles. Still pleading his case, Roberto blurted out, “C'mon man, there's gotta' be a way? We can protect 'em!”

“Berto, listen to yourself. I know you really care about her. I care about Sandy too. But you are just making a desperate attempt to keep Mandy in your life. There's too much at stake. And when it's all said and done, then what? When we blow that place up, we have to leave here. What are you going to do then? Tell them everything hoping they will join us? Hell, for all we know Sandy may be an actual ATF or FBI agent. Maybe she and Mandy aren't even sisters. Maybe they're a team sent to infiltrate our group.” Both young men froze in their tracks. Brad whirled around to face Roberto. He was just rambling out thoughts as they came to him, but his last sentence sent chills down their spines.

Roberto shook his head and weakly said, “We have to talk to Papa and Poppy.”

Brad just stood there. It was a theory, but a very plausible one. Papa would likely assume the worst, prompting him to do whatever he deemed necessary to preserve the cause, which would likely not bode well for Sandy or her sister. No, involving Papa and Poppy right now wasn't the answer. He and Roberto needed to handle this. They needed to either confirm or disprove their suspicions. They needed to know the truth. “No.”

Roberto looked at Brad curiously. “No?”

Brad shook his head. “C'mon, let's go.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

Starbucks – Statesboro, Georgia

3:00 P. M. Sunday, July 27th, 2042

“That's pretty funny mom.” Sandra laughed as her mother recounted a confrontation at the grocery store, she witnessed earlier in the week, between two old ladies over the last tube of Polident on a shelf. “Yeah, I bet... Uhmm, I really don't know... Because Amanda isn't speaking to me right now... It's a long story. She'll get over it... You tried to call her? When?... Well, there's no reason for her acting like that... No, it's nothing you've said or done... She's got a corn cob stuck up her butt over some guy, and she blames me.” Sandra hated saying anything at all to her mother but knew if she didn't tell her something, her mother would persist. “No, don't try to call her again. I'll get her to call you later... No, I'm not at home right now... Just having a cup of coffee at Starbucks... Okay, love you too mom, bye.”

Sandra resumed reading over the information she received via email from the President. She had printed all of the documents at home. Agents were not allowed to access any of the NIA servers from unsecured locations. She wanted to get out of the apartment anyway, mostly because of Amanda continuing her full-blown pity Party. It made it extremely difficult to concentrate, and she needed to get some work done.

“Screven County,” she muttered as she set the lead information aside, turning her attention to the psychological profile of potential enemy combatants compiled by the NIA analysts. “Let's see,” she started reading. Likely to be male. “Wow, that really gives me something to go on,” Sandra said aloud. Eighteen to thirty years of age. Unmarried. Ethnically neutral. Hmmm, that's interesting. I guess they believe we're not looking for a white supremacist group. Likely to be of above average intelligence... Okay, definitely not looking for a white supremacist group. Sandra smiled. Employed but working in a field overqualified for such as farming or another small, family-owned-type business. Likely to live in a rural area, but frequents urban areas. Classic underachiever. Probably a high school or college drop out. May or may not be openly active politically or have political affiliations. Possesses strong anti-government sentiment. Most likely has Christian beliefs observed in an independent, full gospel or Baptist denomination. Well, Sandra thought, there’re a lot of people around here fitting that profile.

Sandra slid the profile back into its manila envelope and grabbed the intelligence report again. She leaned back in her soft-cushioned, winged-back chair, picked up her coffee in one hand, while holding the report in the other and began reading.

Tuesday, approximately 10 A. M., July 22nd blah, blah, blah. Okay... two men, one young, one old, come into the store while the agent was already on premises, blah, blah, blah... Agent moved to position directly behind subjects at cash register. Young subject was blond haired, dark tan, medium build, approximately six foot, one to six foot, four inches in height. Oldersubject was gray-haired, dark tan, medium build approximately six foot, one to six foot, four in height. Agent overheard the term Housing Expansion and Savannah from the younger subject, although did not hear the context of the conversation. All right! Great work... not! “I guess this agent is one of the hundred sent into the field from Washington,” Sandra mumbled.

Sandra crossed her legs before laying the report down in her lap. She grasped her coffee with both hands, continuing to sip while enjoying the peace and quiet of the mostly empty coffee shop. Well, it’s been long enough, she thought as she began preparing herself mentally and emotionally to deal with her younger sister. Sandra stood, placed the papers on the small table beside her, walked over to a trash can, and discarded her empty coffee cup. She returned, picked up the papers and began sliding them into the same manila envelope. Then she saw the second page of the report. At initial glance, she thought it was blank, but it contained one short paragraph. 'Subjects loaded some feed and fencing, then entered their old model, black, Dodge diesel pickup truck, heading North on Highway 24. Agent was not in position to follow...'

Wait a minute, Sandra thought, then muttered, “Old Black Dodge diesel? Tall, young man. Eighteen to thirty. Blond hair. Farmer. College drop out. Family farm. Work!... We were talking about my work!... Oh my God!” She shoved the papers in the envelope, grabbed her purse and walked briskly out to her car.

* * *

Brad and Roberto decided the boathouse offered them the most privacy, arriving again on their all-terrain vehicles. They had not talked to either of their grandfathers. They agreed to complete secrecy with regard to their recent revelation. Instead of immediately contacting Sandra and Amanda, Brad thought it would be prudent to take some time to plan a strategy and make certain he and Roberto were in agreement on how they would move forward. The two entered the boathouse and sat on opposite stools at the rear of the building.

“We're going to need to focus hard on Mandy,” Brad started the conversation.

“Mandy?” Roberto asked with some surprise.

“If things are the way we believe, and she just happens to be Sandy's kid sister and an innocent college student, then yes, Mandy will be the easiest way to gain information. We know Sandy is somehow directly involved with the housing expansion. We have to assume that she is a federal law enforcement agent, although we don't know with what agency.”

“And you expect Mandy to be able to tell us? I don't think she knows what her sister does and I really don't think she cares,” Roberto replied.

“Yes, I think Mandy will tell us. You are going to have to lead her, gently... very gently. You need to plant some seeds and stir some interest. Make Mandy want to know more about what Sandy does, but do it in such a way not to draw any suspicions. Approach it in small increments. Gather one piece at a time. Eventually, the puzzle will begin to come together.”

“And Sandy? How ya' gonna handle her?”

“I'm not going to make any attempt to prompt her in any way. I believe she probably likes her job. If she is an agent, she is prohibited from talking much about any official duties. She's probably already said more than what she should, which is a good sign. It means there is some trust. After my reaction last weekend, she should have the impression that I don't care anything about her work. That wasn't my intent, but she doesn't know that. I think she wants someone to talk to and confide in. My best approach will be to remain uninterested and let her offer up whatever she will.” Brad analyzed as he explained.

“I guess if ya' started askin' too many questions, her instincts would kick in, makin' her suspicious,” Roberto replied. “So which one of us is gonna make the phone call? They're probly' both mad as hell by now.”

“I think you know the answer to that,” Brad responded.

“Yeah,” Roberto acknowledged as he pulled the cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Mandy's number.

* * *

“I thought you hated me,” Amanda cried... “Well, what was I supposed to think?... But you wouldn't even answer your phone?” Amanda continued to sob lightly. “You couldn't call me just one time to let me know you had to go out of town... Not even a text... And I guess cell phones didn't work while you were driving down the highway... What about Brad? I can't believe one of you couldn't let us know something.

Sandra heard Amanda on the phone as she entered the apartment and closed the door softly behind her.

“Hold on a minute, Berto. Sandy is that you?”

A very conflicted Sandra Knox entered the living room, finding Amanda seated with her legs crossed on the couch. Sandra looked hesitantly at Amanda as her sister waited for Sandra to sit next to her.

“Berto...” Amanda started crying harder. “I think I'm falling in love with you. Please don't ever do something like this again. I mean, if you don't want to see me, just tell me, okay?... Really?” Amanda smiled, letting out a slight giggle as her eyes and nose continued discharging. “You're not just saying that?... You really mean it?... God, I miss you.” Amanda began crying again. “I want to see you... Next weekend?” With her voice breaking, she softly said, “I don't know if I can wait that long... Okay... Okay... I can get there... Sandy? I'm sorry, I can't speak for her. Brad needs to call her... Yeah, she was pretty pissed with the way he acted... Off his meds?... Really?... No way. I would've never guessed that about him... Oh my God, poor guy.”

Amanda looked over at Sandra. Normally she would have expected her sister to be rolling her eyes under the circumstances, but Sandra just sat listening with a blank look on her face.

“I love you soooo much, Berto! I can't wait to see you... Okay, I'll be there Saturday night... I love you too. Goodbye.”

* * *

As he turned the speaker off and pressed end on his cell phone, Roberto looked over at Brad with a somber grin. A range of emotions run through his heart as he absorbed the conversation with Amanda. He didn't know if Brad was convinced yet, but there wasn't any doubt in his mind that Amanda was no Federal Agent.She loved him. She sincerely loved him. Of that Roberto was certain.

Brad broke the silence, “Off my meds, huh? Great.”

“Oh... yeah, sorry. It just came to me. Seemed like a good explanation.” Roberto smiled hesitantly.

Brad shook his head as he continued to analyze and think about Roberto and Amanda's conversation. Surprisingly, the results of the conversation went much the way he anticipated. He didn't expect the call to produce any response from Sandra, although he was confident she was listening in.

“I got ta' thinkin', if ya' believe we can get information on Sandy through Mandy, maybe we can use Mandy ta' drop tidbits of things we need Sandy ta' know, or at least believe,” Roberto offered.


Roberto waited in an awkward silence. He could usually tell when something was eating at Brad. His mannerisms tended to give a lot away. “Alright, just come out with it. Somethin' 'bout this isn't settin' well with ya'. Spill it.”

Brad pondered for a moment. No sense in sugar coating it. While he used their conspiracy theory as an excuse to repair and continue their relationships with the girls, he knew Roberto was in too deep, and so was he. “Could you kill her if you had to?”

“WHAT?” Roberto exclaimed, obviously caught off guard.

“What if Mandy figures something out during all of this? What if she reaches a point when she knows too much? Could you kill her?” Brad pointedly asked again.

“Kill her? I mean even if she knew somethin', there's no way she'd figure all of it out.”

“You don't know that,” Brad persisted. “Blood is thicker than water. If she learns about something that could potentially threaten her sister, she would tell her. It's something you had better come to terms with. Fortunately, things have unfolded in a way that allows us a couple of months to cultivate our relationships and build more trust.” Brad paused, pondering his next words. “Unfortunately, we both..., we both...”

Roberto peered directly at Brad when he didn't complete his sentence. Well, I'll be damned, he thought. Roberto decided to confirm his suspicions in his own crafty way by turning the tables. “Could you?”

Brad looked directly back at Roberto, “Could I what?”

“If necessary, could ya' blindfold Sandy, march her to a remote area with her cryin', pleadin', and beggin' for her life, make her kneel on the ground, facin' away from you and put a bullet in the back of her head?”

Brad abruptly straightened his posture, sucked in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Unlike Roberto, he had given some thought to the possibility. He had decided if necessary, he could. But having the question posed in a very callous, brutal manner... now he wasn't sure. In fact, he was very uncertain.

“Brad... have you ever really thought 'bout what we're doin'? I mean really thought through everything Papa and Poppy intend ta' do? I know they're plannin' carefully, but there's no way we can level a buildin' that size without some innocent people gettin' killed. Even if the buildin' is unoccupied, we're talkin' 'bout c-4 and a thirteen-story buildin' implodin'. They may plan ta' do it early on a Sunday and there may not be any residences located 'round it, but still... A jogger on the street? Somebody walkin' their dog?”

“Collateral damage,” Brad interrupted.

Frustrated, Roberto snapped, “Would ya' cut out all the formal, official military strategist jargon for a minute and just listen ta' me?!”

Brad leaned back on his stool, lifted his right leg crossing it over his left, folded his arms, and motioned for Roberto to continue.

After relaxing for a minute to gather his thoughts, Roberto began. “You know I love ya' like a brother. Papa is just as much a father to me as Poppy. And Mema... I really miss her. I know she was Papa's world and meant everything to ya' too... I know ya' think my mind stays focused more on the moment and havin' a good time, and I admit, I think a large part of life should be the enjoyment of it. I mean, why else work so hard, or stand up for things ya' believe in, or fight the fight we're fightin' right now?”

Brad continued to give the floor to Roberto as he listened attentively. He noticed Roberto beginning to waiver some. Roberto was finally saying what neither of them previously had the courage to say, even to each other, and he didn't want him to stop now. “So what's your point?”

“My point is, do ya' really think acts of violence in an attempt ta' strike fear in the quote, unquote, enemy, will at the same time serve as a rallyin' cry for our resistance, resultin' in our enemies just rollin' over and sayin', 'Hey, we been actin' crazy for the last thirty years. We finally see your point and think you're right. You should have blown somethin' up sooner, and we'd listened then. Go ahead and do it your way. There won't be any more trouble from us. In fact, you can count on our one-hundred percent support,'”

Brad's eyebrows rose. He never heard Roberto articulate his thoughts this way. It is true, Brad did think of Roberto as rather indifferent to their cause at times, although he was confident his loyalty kept him committed. To say the least, Roberto's revelation was surprising.

“Papa and Poppy have been perparen' us for a fight since we were what, thirteen or fourteen-years-old? They didn't tell us a whole lot in the beginning. Hell, I don't think either of us cared.” Roberto laughed.

Brad smiled, “Well, how many young boys get to fire sniper rifles and machine guns or learn how to use explosives and fight with our bare hands like we can?”

“Yeah,” Roberto agreed. “It has come in handy a time or two. At least the hand ta' hand combat skills anyway.”

Chuckling, Brad reminisced, “As far as I know we're still banned from at least two clubs in Savannah.”

“Yep, we sure are. The thing is we didn't start any of those fights,” Roberto pointed out.

“Maybe not, but we damn sure finished them!” Both men nodded in agreement as they smiled.

A brief silence ensued as the boys enjoyed the trip down memory lane. “I don't know if I can do this anymore,” Roberto blurted out in a subdued voice. “I know our country is screwed up. We don't have the housing projects yet, but we have the consumption tax along with astronomical income taxes. Our schools are fallin' apart 'cause the feds take all of the state taxes. We're sufferin' the consequences of our parent’s generation, but our generation is strong. You can see it everywhere. They're really mad as hell. They're finally standin' up.”

“They're letting the schools fall apart because the plan is not to have any more schools. A lot of kids down here have already voluntarily enrolled in the government's virtual school online, because our local schools are in such bad shape,” Brad pointed out.

Roberto nodded, “So I'm gonna ask ya' agin'. Do ya' really think what we're plannin' is gonna change anything?”

“I know Papa says it will. But sometimes I don't know if it is as much Papa believing it, or if he is still so damn mad over Mema's death, he wants some measure of payback, hoping it will change things more as a side benefit. I think he knows that blowing one unoccupied housing unit up will be more symbolic than materially effective. But, it will definitely delay the construction long enough for the new Congress to be elected,” Brad concluded. “To answer your question, though, other than delaying construction, no, blowing up the building isn't going to change a damn thing. In fact, it's probably going to make things worse, at least for us. We won't just be classified as terrorists. We are American citizens. If we are caught... if any of us are caught, they will make examples out of us. They will charge us with treason. At best, we'll be on the run the rest of our lives. We'll never have a normal life.”

After spending practically all of their lives, their formative years and childhood, training for the cause, trained by the men they loved and trusted the most, their innermost doubts and fears surfaced. The reality that they both felt similarly brought comfort and at least some peace of mind to both of them. Maybe it was knowledge and maturity as they became adults. Maybe it was the innocence and ambition of youth over the frustration and bitterness of two old men. Perhaps the catalyst was simply their first taste of love, propelling Brad and Roberto to examine their own personal beliefs. Whether they suppressed those doubts out of loyalty to their grandfathers or simply because they were following a calling that they felt compelled to carry out, they now had full awareness of their own and each other's perspective.

“How the hell are we gonna convince Papa and Poppy we shouldn't go through with this?... that we should figure out how to fight a different way?”

Brad replied, “That, my friend, is the million dollar question.”

As the two sat quietly, Roberto contemplated, “You know, I really think they both plan to die in the explosion.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because they don't want us anywhere near the site. And they want us buggin' out to Louisiana before they blow it,” Roberto answered. “With all of the technology available to law enforcement, the chances of them gettin' out of the city after the bomb goes off are slim. At their age, I don't see them, allowin' themselves to be captured. They wouldn't risk being interrogated.”

A sense of uneasiness descended on Brad. Roberto really had been thinking things through. Brad was filled with uncertainty. For the first time he could remember, Brad began thinking of Roberto in a different light. “So how do we stop all of this?”

“Funny you should ask,” Roberto smirked. “It just so happens, I've worked all of that out.” Roberto hesitated as he studied Brad's reaction, before deciding to come forward with his thoughts. “Well, basically it will take a couple of weeks to complete demolition. Papa will set the explosives as soon as the site is cleared. That will be mid-August. Construction will begin immediately afterward so they will have a small window to get the explosives in place before construction starts. The plans are for the building to be complete by the end of October, so they can't blow it up until then. Remember me tellin' you that C-4 was very stable and required help to go boom?”

“Yeah,” Brad replied. “You said it had to have a detonator.”

“Precisely,” Roberto grinned.

Immediately picking up on Roberto's plan, “You want us to sabotage our own explosives?” asked Brad.

“Only as a precaution. I hope by then we are in a position to approach Papa and Poppy and talk some sense into them. We need to convince them ta' see things our way.”

“Why not just go talk to them now? After all, they claim to be doing this for our future as much as anything. Why can't we convince them we want to try a different approach?”

“And if they can't be convinced, then what?”

Roberto had a very valid point. Still, the thought of a potential confrontation with Papa and Poppy? Surely it would never come to that, Brad thought. “Point taken. There’re a couple of problems with your plan, though. How are we going to know where all of the C-4 is planted? Not to mention, I assume it will be you and me locating and removing the detonators? What about site security? When we talked to the project manager, he described some pretty extensive security measures.”

“I'm way ahead of you on both of those issues, my amigo,” Roberto winked. “Poppy left the schematics for where they planned to place the explosives on his dresser a couple of weeks ago. We will know exactly where the C-4 is and can use the sewer system to avoid security. I kinda took it on myself ta' ride back down to the site, alone last week. Everything was still wide open, so I had no problem mappin' the location of each manhole. There's sewer access two blocks away in a back alley where we can get in. When I compared the explosives areas to where the manhole covers were, the farthest we'll be exposed on the street is 'bout forty feet. Some risk, but if we go in at say, two or three o'clock in the mornin' on a weeknight, the risk should be minimized.”

Brad sat quietly as he pondered Roberto's plan. “Man, I got to ask you. How long has all of this been bothering you? I mean, up until now you've went right along with everything. You could have told me.”

“I could ask you the same question. I guess we both just grew up. As kids, our grandfathers walked on water. Hell, they still do. We love 'em like crazy. But as adults, the way they're goin' 'bout things just seems wrong. I've picked up on signs and signals in things you've said, but I needed to be pretty sure you were thinkin' along the same lines as me before comin' at ya' with it,” Roberto explained. “I didn't want to end up spillin' the beans and findin' out you were a hundred percent in their court.”

Brad looked at Roberto and saw the conviction in his eyes. This would be a defining moment in both of their lives. “I'm on your side, Berto.” Brad reached over and shook his hand. “Alright, so we get our safety net in place, then what?”

Smiling, Roberto replied, “We get to spend time with two beautiful young women for the next couple of months, while we gather information and work on bringin' Papa and Poppy around to our way of thinkin'. Oh and I’ve been doin’ a little snoopin’ ‘round our old stompin’ grounds in the ‘boro. Sandy and Mandy... their daddy is William Knox.”

“William Knox? Why does that name sound familiar?”

“Bill Knox, dumb ass,” Roberto smiled, “The Chief of Staff for the President of the United States. And it appears Sandy is a field agent for some Federal agency.”

With raised eyebrows, Brad replied, “Well, aren't you a wealth of knowledge.”

“Yep,” Roberto nodded. “The Chief of Staff thing could be good... could be bad. Like you said, blood is thicker than water. We pretty much figured Sandy was a Federal Agent.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Highway 24, South of Newington – Screven County, Georgia

9:00 am Monday, July 28th, 2042

Sandra Knox read the road sign aloud, “Newington, nine miles.” As she continued north on Highway 24, Sandra racked her brain searching for the best way to approach Mandy about Roberto. While the evidence at this point was circumstantial, her gut told her that the young man in the report was Brad. The old man was likely his grandfather. She pulled her phone out and scrolled until she found the picture of Brad she took in the parking lot of the bar. She didn't know why she did it at the time, but was now glad she did.

An old looking frame structure, with a dark wood plank exterior and large gable that extended out several feet into a paved parking lot from the building entrance, appeared several hundred yards on the left side of the highway. That had to be the store, Sandra thought. As she neared the building, there was no driveway. The parking lot met flush with the highway, all the way across the road frontage of the property. Sandra saw the painted metal sign hanging in the gable. Smith's Feed Store.

As she pulled in, Sandra passed several pickup trucks, most hauling trailers, lined up around the building waiting to be loaded. She pulled up to the store to a spot a couple of parking spaces to the left of the entrance, parked, and got out. A couple of whistles filled the air as she walked around the rear of her car and headed inside the store. Sandra glanced back toward where the sound was coming from to see two very well-built, attractive young men, standing outside the driver's side door of their truck.

My God, do all of the guys from around here look like that? Sandra thought. As she entered the store, there was a western wear section with an assortment of jeans, flannel shirts, coveralls, and boots, filling the right front half. To the left everything you could want for an animal, from horse saddles to medical supplies, were displayed. An older gentleman was the sole occupant of what appeared to be the customer service section made of a rectangular area, enclosed by wood-paneled counters, with two cash registers on opposite sides.

Sandra smiled at the elderly clerk, veering off into the clothing section toward the shoes and boots display. She had decided information may be easier to obtain if she made a purchase. She browsed the footwear section for several minutes. I might as well buy something worthwhile, she thought with a slight grin. Hmm, Georgia Boots. She placed the lid back on the box containing the size seven boots and made her way to the customer service counter, approaching one of the registers and displaying a cheerful smile for the older gentleman behind the counter.

“Well, hello young lady? Did you find everything you were looking for?

“Yes, sir, I believe I did. These are great looking boots. I don't think I've ever heard of this brand.”

“Yes, ma'am, the Georgia Boot Company. They make great boots. Not only are they stylish, but I've never worn a pair that wasn't like floatin' on air right out of the box.”

“Sounds great!” Sandra said with a sweet enthusiasm.

“That will be one seventeen thirty-nine.”

“You know I didn't even think about y'all bein' an old country store. Do you take credit cards?”

“Why, yes ma'am. We are all up with the modern times.”

Sandra tried to contain her laughter as the old clerk placed a carbon receipt on top of her card and laid it in the manual credit card copier, sliding the handle across to make the impression of the card, then back. It reminded her that there were still places, even in this country, where time seemed to stand still. It was refreshing, she thought.

“Just sign right here, my dear.” Sandra signed and then waited as the clerk tore off the carbon copy, placed the boots in a plastic bag, then stapled her receipt to it. “What else can I do for you, young lady?”

“You know, maybe there is something else you can help me with.”

“Alrighty, shoot!”

“You're the sweetest man. What's your name?”

“Gus, what's yours?”

“Kay. I'm pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Gus replied with a bright grin. “Okay, what else ya' need?”

“You know I feel so silly even askin'. You see, I met this guy at a bar over in the 'boro not long ago.”

“Uhhh-huh.” Gus gave a sly grin as he acknowledged.

Sandra winked at him and then smiled again. “This is so embarrassing. Anyway, we started talkin' and really hit it off. Then out of nowhere my boyfriend shows up.”

“Uh-oh!” Gus interjected.

“Oh yeah, uh-oh is right. Thing is, he really ain't my boyfriend anymore. I broke up with him. He just don't see it that way yet.”

“It happens like that sometimes.”

Sandra nodded, “Anyway, rather than cause a big scene, I walked outside with him.”

“Who? The boyfriend?” Gus asked as he hung on every word of Sandra's story.

“I'm sorry, yes the boyfriend. We got outside, and I really let him have it,” Sandra exclaimed while making a punching motion.

“Good for you!” Gus bellowed as he jumped slightly in his seat.

“I thought so too,” Sandra smiled. “Well, thank God he left. Once he was gone, I went back inside to look for the guy. I guess in all of the confusion he left too. I haven't seen him since.”

“Oh, that's so sad,” Gus said apathetically.

“Yeah, it was. But he did tell me he was a farmer, and his family had a farm in Screven County, near the Savannah River. I thought maybe since this was a feed store, somebody here might know who he is and help me find him.” Sandra batted her eyes slightly as she again smiled at the older gentleman.

“Owns a farm on the Savannah River, huh? Well, that's all farm country, all up and down that area. Let's see, you got the Lariscys, the Zipperers, oh, the Evans brothers, but they don't actually farm the land. They just got chicken houses. Of course, ya' can't go wrong wid' chicken houses.” Gus smiled again. “What'd young fella looked like?”

Finally, he asked the question Sandra was waiting on, Sandra reflected. “Oh my God. I didn't even think about that. Let's see, he was tall, over six feet. He had blond hair and a very nice tan. He was well built, not fat at all.” Sandra quickly said, “No offense,” as she looked at the pot belly on the old man.

“None taken.” he smiled.

“Oh my gosh, I'm such a goober. My blonde is really showing through today. I completely forgot I've got a picture of him. I snapped it with my phone when he wasn't paying attention. I hated being sneaky like that, but he was sooo dreamy lookin', and I didn't want to spook him or anything. It's a side view, but you can see his face pretty good.” Sandra scrolled through her phone to Brad's picture and showed it to Gus.

“Let me see here. Gus took the phone in his hand and studied the picture. He does look familiar. I don't see that good anymore, but it looks like it could be Bradley Franklin.”

BINGO! Sandra enthusiastically noted. “Bradley Franklin. Hmmm, well we never got around to names. He said his grandfather owned the farm.”

“That would be John. One hell of a man. Hardworkin', God fearin', honest as the day is long. Bradley inherited a lot of his good traits. He's a fine young man.”

“Really? Honestly, that was my impression of him too. He was so gentleman like. Sweet too, like you.” Sandra gazed intently as she continued smiling at Gus.

Soaking in every bit of Sandra's attention, Gus said, “Yeah, they got a big farm. Cotton, soybeans, corn. More livestock than you can shake a stick at. They got a bunch of people workin' for 'em. Farm must kinda run itself, 'cause they got their hands in some other stuff too. Somethin' goin' on in Savannah for the next few months. They were just in here the otha' day pickin' up some supplies fer it,” Gus offered.

Sandra realized she had hit the mother-load of information they had been looking for. It was the kind of knowledge that could potentially lead to the dismantling and apprehension of an entire organization. Lesser discoveries have propelled law enforcement careers to great heights. She should be salivating over the seemingly endless opportunities. But she wasn't. In fact, Sandra's professional good fortune gutted her like a fish being prepared for market.

“Well, thank you sooo much, Mr. Gus. I feel better just puttin' a name with a face. Maybe I'll run into him again soon.”

“You're welcomed, sugar. Anytime.”

Sandra turned and walked out of the store. No whistles, this time, but there was no shortage of stares from several men, young and old, as she opened the door to her car. She turned on the ignition and pulled out her phone. She scrolled the Screven County clerk of court's website, looking up the property records, finding a one thousand, eight-hundred, and eighteen-acre tract in the name of Jonathan Franklin. She accessed the county mapping system and input the coordinates into her GPS. It's twenty miles from here on this same road, Sandra determined as she backed out and pulled onto the highway.

Sandra decided she needed to give a report to the President. She picked up the secured, satellite phone the Secret Service provided and dialed his secure line. He answered on the second ring. She heard him as he asked whoever he was with to please excuse him.

He then greeted her, “Hello, my dear.”

“Hey, Uncle Larry.”

“It's been several days. Have you had any luck?”

“I think I'm on to something. I'm headed out to a farm here in Screven County.”

“Oh? And what's your interest in the farm?”

“The intel you shared with me seems to have legs. I spoke to an old geezer in the feed store. He may even be one of the owners. Anyway, by the end of our conversation, he confirmed it was a John Franklin that made the comment about the housing facility in Savannah. He owns a large farm north of a little town called Newington on the Savannah River.” Sandra felt uneasy as she altered the facts.

“Is that so? Well, the profile did indicate a small farm or business owner. Is there anything else?

“Not yet. I'm riding out that way to check it out.”

“Sandy, the intelligence report indicated two men, one old and one young. And I thought the other agent suggested it was the young man who mentioned the housing expansion. Any idea who the young man was?”

Dammit! Suppressing her anxiety before replying, Sandra answered, “According to the old store clerk it was probably one of his grandsons, but apparently he has several. I think it's the old man, we're after.” Sandy tried to stay calm and collected as she intentionally misleads the President.

“I see. Sandy, I tell you what. Why don't you hold off on checking out the farm until I can confirm some things? It may be dangerous, and you're all alone. I wouldn't want you to get into a precarious situation.”

“I plan to be very careful.”

“Sandy, that's an order!” the President stated.

Sandra did not press the matter any further simply saying, “Yes, sir,” and ending the conversation. Sandra pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Visibly upset with herself, she just sat shaking her head. I couldn't have screwed that up any more if I tried, Sandra thought. Sandra had little doubt she had raised the President's suspicions. To what degree, she wasn't sure. Frustrated, she conceded no matter how personal of a relationship she had with Larry Reid, defying a direct order would not be a very intelligent thing to do. Sandra jerked her sedan into drive, stomping the gas as she turned her wheels sharply to the left, kicking up sand and sod before screeching the pavement as she completed a violent U-turn and headed away from her destination.

* * *

Larry Reid pressed the intercom, “Nancy, can you look here a minute?”

Nancy appeared in the President's office within a matter of seconds, not bothering to respond on the intercom. “Sir?”

“I need Ted Lathem.”

“Right away, sir.”

The President rubbed his eyes. He already knew who John Franklin was. He also knew who Brad was. Ted Lathem had sent him a copy of the file on Brad Franklin after Ted summoned Sandra to his office when she failed to mention him in her report the first time. The report revealed several relatives and the President immediately ordered an investigation of John Franklin, quickly discovering Brad. More concerning, his ties to Jim Hart were evident as well. Lathem told him he also remembered John Franklin as a Navy Seal when he was with the CIA.

Now Sandy was protecting the kid. He flipped open the file on Brad Franklin and looked at his photograph. Reid was fairly certain why she was protecting Brad Franklin. Whether that particular assessment was right or wrong was irrelevant. He had not connected all of the dots, but had no doubt these were the people he'd been looking for. “Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. Why did you have to lie to me?”

* * *

Elisio stood up from the breakfast nook where he and John were sitting, reached onto the counter, retrieved the coffee pot, first refreshing John's cup, then pouring himself another. As he sat back down, he continued listening to John's phone conversation.

“No, you did the right thing. Thanks for calling... Yeah, keep me posted if anything else happens... Don't catch all the fish.” John grinned. “Yeah man, appreciate it. Goodbye.” John ended the conversation, sat his phone down, picked up his coffee and took a sip.

“That was old man, Gus,” John began. “It seems he had an interesting visitor, just a little while ago.


“To make a long story short, she browsed the clothing, bought some boots, and went through a whole lot of shenanigans, before pulling out a picture of Brad on her cell phone. She fed him some story about meeting him in a bar... which that part is probably true.” John smiled. “Then she gave him a story about a boyfriend coming in and Brad leaving. She said she didn't know his name, and she was trying to find him and so on.”

“Did he tell her anything?” Elisio asked.

“Yep, she should be able to pull up to our front door with a little effort on her part,” John answered.


“No big deal,” John reassured Elisio. “We aren't exactly that hard to find. Apparently, she introduced herself as Kay, but used a credit card.”

Elisio perked up, “And?”

“Her name is Sandra Knox. Have you seen Bradley today?”

“No, I haven't seen him or Berto,” Elisio replied.

“What's your lovely wife's plan for lunch?”

“Mexican cuisine, my amigo. I think she plans on some beef fajitas.”

“Mmmm, mmmm. That sounds good. Get a hold of the boys and make sure they plan on being here. I think we need to go ahead and let them in on everything. Don't mention any of this other stuff to them yet. I don't want to raise any unnecessary concerns. Those boys meet a lot of girls, so they probably wouldn't remember who this Knox girl is anyway. I need to make a couple of phone calls.” John stood, downed his remaining coffee and walked upstairs.

* * *

Roberto wrapped Maria in his arms as he slipped up behind her unnoticed. “Hey, Gammy. Man does that smell good.” Maria continued stirring the pot of beans as she smiled, enjoying her grandson's embrace. He reached over to the counter and picked up a piece of beef with his fingers, promptly getting his hand smacked.

“Go wash up first!” Maria instructed.

“Ow!” Roberto hollered in dramatic fashion as he rubbed his hand.

“Gimme a break,” Maria laughed. “Where's Bradley?”

“Washing up,” Roberto grinned. “Be right back.”

John and Elisio overheard Maria's conversation with Roberto from the front porch, deciding to move to the breakfast nook for lunch. They took turns placing their hands on the back of Maria's shoulders and leaning around to kiss her cheek. As they sat down, John said, “Maria, I have no idea what we would do without you. You are truly an angel sent by God.”

“Ah, no need to make all that fuss over me. I do what I do because I love doing it for you,” Maria replied.

“You see, that's what makes you so special, honey,” Elisio added.

Maria smiled as she set the table and placed the food. “I cooked enough for supper too. The ladies decided to start our new Bible study tonight.”

“That's wonderful. Thank you so much,” John said as Brad and Roberto entered the kitchen and took their seats.

“What's wonderful?” Roberto asked.

“That I cooked enough for lunch and supper, so don't eat like a pig,” Maria lectured. Roberto puckered his lips up and smacked them a couple of times in an exaggerated kissing motion toward his grandmother. Maria raised her eyebrows with pursed lips, before smiling. “You boys feel free to wash the dishes when you finish lunch. I'll see you after Biblestudy this evening.”

“C'mon, Gammy, do we really-”

Maria quickly cut her eyes and gave Roberto a scornful look. “Okay, okay, we'll get the dishes,” Roberto surrendered. Maria smiled again and headed toward her bedroom.

“I know you're a grown man,” Elisio said, “but I think your grandmother could still cut your ass.”

“My money's on Gammy,” Brad chimed in as he, Elisio and John laughed.

Eager to change the subject, Roberto interrupted, “What did y'all need to talk to us about?”

John and Elisio spent a little more time enjoying the light-hearted moment before assuming a more serious tone.

“Well boys, as we progress toward our first objective, we thought it would be a good time to share our next step with you,” John began. “Essentially, if we are successful in bringing down the building in Savannah and achieve our next goal, we will have done our part and likely would be able to cease any further operations. Maybe even lead normal lives.”

The comments drew the undivided attention of both young men as they exchanged glances. Until this moment, they had assumed bringing down the housing project in Savannah would only be the beginning of a series of continuous efforts to advance their cause. Although the act of blowing up the large structure in Savannah still had no appeal, the knowledge that only two operations were planned, with the potential of leading normal lives afterward, had jarred them. Brad and Roberto had already begun independently reassessing their position.

“Wow,” Brad replied as he looked over at Roberto. “So, what's our next goal?”

John took the lead, explaining in great detail, the assassination plots and anticipated impacts. He discussed the potential for failure and the possible fallout. He also talked about the fallout and the need to develop a contingency plan, especially if any of the elections do not pan out the way they were expected to. After covering all of the potential negatives, John concluded, “With the Presidency, Congress and Supreme Court back in conservative control, the revolution, at least as far as we're concerned, would be complete.”

Brad and Roberto remained silent, somewhat in shock, at the revelation presented by John. Finally, Roberto spoke, “I can see where the results of all of this would place the country back on the right track,” shaking his head slightly, “but the assassination of Supreme Court Justices? Is that really necessary?”

John shifted as he became uncomfortable in his chair. “Unfortunately, son, it is absolutely necessary. The truth of the matter is it is highly likely the first conservative justice that mysteriously died, initially shifting the court to the Progressives back in 2018, was the result of foul play. Look what the progressives were able to achieve because of it. Control of Congress and the Presidency means nothing without the Supreme Court... not when it comes to dramatic constitutional changes. It could take a generation or longer for the natural process to work and there are certainly no guarantees. There is no other way to reverse all of the damage. We have to shift the Courts back to the right. This is the only way.”

Brad and Roberto completed their lunch in silence, occasionally glancing at the other. Once they were finished, they cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen while John and Elisio retired to the porch to allow their lunch to settle.

Once they were alone, Brad softly said, “So much for the glimmer of hope. What now?”

Roberto glanced over his shoulder as he dried a dish, “First things first. We focus on the girls, and we focus on removing the detonators.”

“I thought blowing up the buildings with the possibility of killing a few people was pretty far out there, but the assassination of two, possibly three Supreme Court Justices?” Brad whispered.

Roberto leaned over to Brad, “One thing at a time. The assassinations depend on us, so just put those out of your mind for now. We need to concentrate on the other problems first.”

* * *

John sipped on a glass of tea as he rocked on the front porch. “That didn't go the way I expected.”

Elisio did not respond, instead drinking his own glass of tea as he sat next to his friend.

“Well, that's a little ways down the road. They will come around,” John concluded.

Elisio continued sitting in silence.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Highway 301, North of Statesboro

8:00 P. M. Wednesday, July 30th, 2042

“Come on, answer the phone.” Brad had been riding the highway in his Dodge pickup for the last two hours. It was his third attempt to call Sandra this evening, but the first effort to contact her since giving her the cold shoulder at the end of their weekend together. Brad assumed even if she wasn't present when Roberto called Amanda that the sisters would have talked by now.


Finally, Brad thought as he oddly felt relieved that she answered. “Sandy?”

“Before I continue this conversation I need to know. Are you on or off your medications?”

“What?” Brad asked, confused. Then he remembered Roberto's lame excuse for his behavior on their recent weekend together. “Sandy, we need to talk.”

“Yeah, I thought that was a crock of crap.” Sandy persisted letting Brad know she wasn't letting him off easily. She had to maintain her cover and the events the last time they were together was making it easy.

“Sandy, please. I don't want to get into it over the phone. Can we just meet somewhere, quietly?” Brad asked.

“Oh sure. Hell, why don't we just go back to the beachhouse this weekend? Apparently, Mandy and Berto plan to. Oh, that's right, Berto called Mandy almost a week ago.”

“You have every right to be mad at me. I don't blame you, but if you will just give me a chance to explain?” Brad pleaded. “I was hoping we could get together before the weekend.”

Sandra laughed. Even if I could, I wouldn't because that's what he wants, Sandra thought. “Well, number one, I wasn't serious, I was being sarcastic, and two, I'm busy the rest of the week. If I even remotely consider seeing you again, it'd have to be this weekend.”

Brad expected her to be difficult, but knew she had ulterior motives just as he did. She was being bolder than he anticipated. She must think he needs to maintain their relationship, too. There’s one way to find out. Brad continued to be silent and not respond to her last demand.

“Brad. Are you still there... Brad?”

Brad shifted to a very dejected tone and softly said, “I'm here.” He again remained silent.

After a few minutes, “Like I said, if I agree to see you again, and I'm not saying that I will, it will be this weekend,” Sandy repeated.

After another long pause, Brad acted as though he was giving up, “Listen, Sandy. I've already hurt you enough. I'm sorry. I won't bother you anymore.”

SHIT! “Hey, listen, wait a minute,” she anxiously responded.

Brad grinned. “Yes?”

“You have been a real jerk. You at least owe me an explanation,” Sandra asserted.

“I want to give you that explanation, but it's too personal to say over the phone.”

“Fine then, Magnolia Run. The condo number is C-3. Pick me up at seven sharp, Saturday night. Don't be late. You're taking me to dinner.”

“You mean like a real date? Out in public and everything? What if somebody sees us?” In spite of the incredibly difficult circumstances, Brad marveled at how easily he became lost in Sandra.



“Don't push your luck.” Sandra ended the call, placing her phone on her nightstand. She propped up on several pillows where she had been reading for the past couple of hours and ignoring Brad's previous phone calls. In reality, she had gone through the motions of reading the words on the papers she was reviewing, but could remember nothing. Her thoughts had been drifting back and forth between the turmoil that she now faced.

As the circumstances unfolded over the past several weeks, feelings of animosity, lust, anger, anxiety, uncertainty, love and now fear, had pelted her like the internal workings of an old pinball machine. Love? Could I really love this guy? Sandra thought. God, if I don't, I sure have taken some stupid risks. Sandra looked up to the open doorway of her bedroom to see her sister leaning against the door frame with her arms crossed, gazing at her.

“Are you going to see him?” Amanda asked.

Sandra looked away toward the open blinds, staring momentarily before replying, “Yeah.”

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Franklin Farm

1:00 P. M. Thursday, July 31st, 2042

Maria set a platter full of fried catfish and a pot of cheese grits on the kitchen table. She retrieved the tea pitcher from the refrigerator, setting it down next to the fish. John took her hand and kissed the back of it. Elisio kissed her on the cheek as she bent down to say goodbye to him.

“You headed out?” Elisio asked.

“Yep, you guys are on your own again tonight. The ladies and I are visiting nursing homes this evening.”

Both men lifted and waved a hand, acknowledging Maria, as they chewed a mouth full of fish and grits. When Maria was out of earshot, John laid his fork down. “I just heard back from my source in Washington.”

Elisio chewed a couple of more times, swallowed, and then stopped eating. “What's the verdict?”

“Not good. Not good at all. It seems my worst fears about Sandra Knox appear to be true. She is an agent for the NIA.”

“Who?” Elisio asked.

“It's a clandestine government agency established about six years ago, headed by none other than Ted Lathem.”

“That slimy son of a bitch,” Elisio exclaimed. It had been years since either of them had heard his name mentioned. As members of Special Forces, both Elisio and John had been called in to support, or rather clean up, more than one mess left behind by Lathem when he was with the CIA.

“It gets worse,” John continued, “Sandra Knox is William Knox's daughter.”

“You mean the same William Knox from Statesboro? Bill Knox?”

“Actually, he lived in Bulloch County, outside of Statesboro. His ex-wife still owns the house and twenty acres they bought when they married.”

“Didn't he go to work as a lobbyist or something like that, in the Washington area?” Elisio asked.

“You don't keep up with much anymore, do you? That's the worst part of it. Bill Knox is White House Chief of Staff. The President's right hand,” John informed.

A stunned Elisio sighed heavily as he stared in John's direction. “I would say that qualifies as a problem,” Elisio bluntly stated. “What are you thinking?”

“I don't know, my friend. I just don't know. The NIA is a hush, hush agency with a lot of power and resources. This girl has gotten closer to us than any other Federal Agent we know of and she is related to the President's Chief of Staff. From what I understand, NIA agents have freedoms and independence similar to the CIA, they just operate domestically. That means if she is just stumbling into us, she may not have reported anything back yet.” John carefully studied Elisio's reaction.

Elisio stared back at John with a hardened look. It was all John needed to confirm that they were in agreement.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Subway – Highway 301 Bypass - Statesboro, Georgia

7:30 P. M. Saturday, August 2nd, 2042

“Subway? It's Saturday night, and you want to have dinner at Subway? You sure know how to treat a lady.”

“Hey, you said I was taking you to dinner. You didn't say where.” Brad smiled as he held the door open for Sandra.

“Welcome to Subway!” Brad looked behind the counter as a young high school aged girl with a very enthusiastic smile greeted them.

As they neared the counter, Brad announced to Sandra and everyone else in line, “Anything on the menu, honey. I'm sparing no expense tonight.”

“God, you're so embarrassing,” Sandra mumbled.

Brad and Sandra picked up their sandwiches and carried their tray to a booth in the back of the restaurant. Brad had decided to go out on a limb. He was going to press Sandy on her job and her knowledge of their operation. Depending on her reaction, he would determine how much information he would reveal. Deep down, he hoped to be able to level with her, admitting everything that was going on and explaining the new path he and Roberto were now on.

As Sandra slid into the booth, Brad sat on the opposite side. He would have rather sat close to her, but he needed to face her as they talked. They opened the wrapping of their sandwiches and began eating.

“I want to pick up where we left off.” Brad took a swallow of his Coke and sat it back down.

“Where would that be, exactly? The part where I laid in bed for an hour waiting on you to come out the bathroom, or the part where I sat in the car for an hour and a half waiting on my sister because you wouldn't come out the bathroom?”

“Uhmm, neither. I want to pick up before all of that when we were still talking and asking each other questions,” Brad answered.

“Oh yeah, that worked out real well before. I can't wait.” Sandra responded, rolling in sarcasm.

“Seriously,” Brad continued. “You were telling me about your boring job. I want to know more.”

“Why? It's a boring government job.”

“I know that's what you said.”

“But, what? You don't believe me?” Sandra quickly shifted to a defensive posture. She searched Brad's eyes for clues. She suspected he knew more about her than he was letting on. He was part of a group of militants. Most organizations have ways of getting information. If he had put two and two together, he's had time to verify and confirm. Yet he seemed to be taking a more direct approach. He suggested that I'm not being truthful about my career. Let's see where this goes, Sandra thought. “Why do you even care what kind of work I do?”

“I don't... really. I just don't like being lied to.”

Interesting, Sandra thought. “For you to think I've lied to you, you must believe I'm hiding something, or are you psychic?”

Brad was tired of playing games. He was tired of a lot of things. Life at twenty-two years of age shouldn't be like this. His relationship with Sandra began with a lie and continues to be directed, at least in part, by dishonesty. No. NO! Not anymore. He was already in deep enough. He may still end up paying the consequences before he had an opportunity to make everything right. But he was going to make this right. He loved Sandy. He had loved her since that very first day in the park. He believed that she loved him. If he was wrong, so be it. He would accept whatever came. But he wasn't going to live one-minute longer without trying to right the wrongs.

Brad reached across the table and covered Sandra's hands with his. He looked down as he gently massaged her fingers. He could feel his heart race. He could see her breathing more rapidly too. “Sandy, I've loved you since I first laid eyes on you. I've never met anyone like you. I ache when I'm not near you. I ached for all of those months that I searched for you. Last weekend at the beachhouse seemed like a fairy tale to me. I didn't want it to end.” Brad looked up into Sandra's eyes. She was mesmerized. Her mouth was slightly open. Her eyes were wide. She was breathing even faster than before.

“The reason I freaked out is my and Roberto's grandfathers are opposed to the President's plan to bring those housing projects to the South.” Brad hesitated. “I don't mean they just disagree with it. They are vehemently opposed... willing to do anything to stop it. They've planned some things against the Southern Housing Expansion in Savannah... soon. When you told me you were involved with the housing projects, I panicked.”

Sandra gathered herself, trying her best to ignore Brad's love confession, focusing on her job. Brad wasn't telling her anything she hadn't already figured out, but to hear him confess it and to hear the regret and remorse were something unexpected. “Are you and Roberto actively a part of this?”

“We were, but we aren't anymore. Roberto and I have decided we're not letting them go through with anything, but it's not that simple.

“So your grandfathers don't know about your change of heart?”

Hesitating for a moment, Brad answered, “They don't know, yet.”

“Then how do you know you can stop them from doing anything?” Sandra pointedly asked.

“I can't tell you, but I know. Don't tell me all of this is a surprise to you? I know better.”

“No, it's not all a surprise,” Sandra replied. “You obviously have figured out I'm a Federal Agent. How can you risk everything now?”

“Because I didn't fall in love with a Federal Agent, I fell in love with Sandy. And I'm hoping, especially since Berto and I have come to our senses, nothing else will matter.”

Tears were beginning to fill Sandra's eyes. She never expected a confession. She also could never have anticipated remorse or that she was directly responsible for the confession and the remorse. “I wish I could tell you that it won't matter. But I have no way of knowing that.” Sandra looked at Brad. She looked at his hair, his eyes. She melted at the touch of his hands on hers. She ached for him too. She didn't know how any of it would turn out. She would do everything she could. Right now, she just wanted to be with him. “Please take me home.”

* * *

John and Elisio entered the third-floor apartment across from the Magnolia Run Condominiums. John set the duffel bag containing the Remington .270 caliber rifle he would use to eliminate Sandra Knox on the living room floor. Elisio pulled the spotting scope from the bag and set it up in the window overlooking the second story condo across the street. It would be a very short shot compared to most; a little over one-hundred fifty yards. John found and immediately rented the strategically located apartment as soon as he learned of Sandra Knox's NIA position and who her father was. Locating Sandra's condo was a simple matter of searching deed records. Her father owned it.

“We should have ample opportunity,” Elisio commented as he viewed the condo through his spotting scope. “We are slightly elevated above the apartment, with a clear line of site through the balcony's glass doors, leading into the kitchen and living area. The glare is a little difficult right now, though.”

“It's almost dusk. I won't have any problem once the sun sets and she turns some lights on.” John opened the duffel bag as he sat on the floor next to it. He began assembling the rifle. At this range, the smaller caliber was still overkill. The problem wouldn't be the shot. At such a close proximity to their target, evasion and escape could prove to be a challenge, though. “You know we aren't spring chickens anymore.”

Elisio knew John's comment was intended to express concern about exiting the scene undetected. “We'll make it out fine. There'll be enough confusion. It should provide adequate cover.”

“I hope you're right,” John replied as he snapped the scope in place and raised the gun to his shoulder, looking down the sight. “Now we wait.”

* * *

They arrived at her apartment a little after eight-thirty. Brad placed his hands gently on her shoulders as she unlocked the door. He closed the door behind him after following Sandra inside. She was immediately in his arms, dropping her purse and wrapping her arms around his neck. He slid his hands to her waist as they kissed. Then, he pulled his hands up to cup her face as their tongues probed deep. They stopped and stood facing each other, with their foreheads touching, as they listened to each other’s heavy breathing. He backed her up to the couch. They mirrored each other as they removed their clothing until they were both completely nude. Smiling, he eased her over the backside of the couch and let her roll onto the cushions, while he walked around to the front.

Brad kneeled in front of her as she sat upright and slid toward the front edge of the cushion. He began kissing her again, probing with his tongue, moving to her neck and shoulders.

“I love you, Brad. I think I've loved you ever since I first laid eyes on you, too.”

Brad stopped and leaned back as he looked into her eyes. He smiled and began kissing her breasts. No matter what happened after tonight, he finally knew what it was like to love and be loved.

* * *

“I've got movement.” Elisio had relocated his spotting scope and assumed a prone position, half-way on the kitchen floor and half-way out the glass doors, onto their balcony. “Dammit, she's not alone. It looks like she's about to have sex. There's a guy kneeling on the floor in front of her, and they're naked.”

John scampered to the floor, as best as a man of his advanced years could, next to Elisio, where he had set his rifle up on a tripod.

Elisio remained fixated on their target as Brad turned around, moved from the floor, and sat down on the couch beside Sandra. Elisio recoiled from his scope, tensed up and groaned slightly, before refocusing. “Oh, no... John, we've got a big problem.”

Recognizing whatever problem Elisio was referring to existed through his spotting scope, John lifted the rifle and pointed it into the condo. As he looked down the rifle sight, he couldn't believe his eyes. “No Brad, no...”

* * *

“Why did you stop?” Sandra asked softly as she smiled. “Are we just going to sit here and stare at each other?”

Brad looked down at the movement of Sandra's hand and laughed. “We aren't exactly just sitting here.”

“Ooops, sorry,” she giggled.

“Don't be. I'm sure as hell not.” Brad paused for a moment. “Sandy, I don't know how all of this is going to turn out. I gave you a very brief overview of what I'm involved in.”

“Shhhhh.” Sandra placed her index finger on Brad's lips, then leaned over and began kissing him again. She paused briefly and quietly said, “I think I'm realizing there are more important things in life.” She kissed him again, “I took this job pretty much because it was expected of me. Probably like you have followed in the same footsteps you were expected too. Let's not talk about it anymore tonight. Kiss me.”

Brad brushed her hair with the back of his hand as their lips met again. He leaned further down exploring her neck with his tongue and began caressing her breasts.

* * *

John and Elisio continued observing Brad and Sandra. Elisio periodically looked through his spotting scope, but John remained glued as he looked down the optic sights of his sniper rifle. Why did you have to do this? John grieved for his grandson and the impact on him from the aftermath of the coming event. He then grieved for Mary and felt his powerful urge to avenge her, as strong now as the day she was taken from him. Brad had to know who the girl was. He had to know she could be a threat. “Why?” John whispered.

Elisio observed his friend closely. He could see the anguish in his eyes. Both he and John were shocked to see Brad with her. “Amigo, we do not have to do this.”

John breaks away from his observation and turns to Elisio. The pain and betrayal radiate as he stares at him. “Yes, we do. Brad knows our ultimate objectives. We have to restore this country. It's been our mission for years. He's not thinking clearly. She is a threat. She must be eliminated.”

Elisio placed a hand on John's shoulder. “Nothing we do is going to bring Mary back.”

“This has NOTHING to do with Mary,” John snapped brushing Elisio's hand from his shoulder.

Elisio realized some time ago that John's obsession with their cause had everything to do with Mary. Like most their age, they both felt anger and animosity towards the government. The country they loved and fought for had been taken from them. He understood. Many people now understood and were taking action. Young and old now supported the same direction they were pushing in. But this was different. This went well beyond their cause. He and John were about to commit a heinous act that could destroy their families, potentially doing more harm than good to their cause.

Elisio had seen this hatred consume John before. He knew there was only one true voice that could change John's mind, as Elisio calmly pulled a small Bible out of his pocket. John showed no reaction as he returned to a firing position, looking through his rifle scope. “They've stopped. They're just sitting on the couch kissing and talking now,” John announces as he focused on his target. “Are you going to do your part and spot me or not?”

Elisio began reading from the Book of Romans:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”


“ WELL, IT'S NOT FUCKIN' POSSIBLE!” John shouted. “I have a clear shot.”

Elisio continued reading:

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.”

A split second before Elisio completed reading the scripture, he heard the shot. He saw John jump backward, landing on his buttocks, breathing rapidly. Elisio quickly moved to his spotting scope. He could see Brad frantically dragging Sandra from where she had fallen. As he turned furiously toward John, John shouted, “It wasn't me, it wasn't me! I didn't fire!”

* * *

Brad stumbled along pulling Sandra to the safety of the hall leading from the living area to Sandra's bedroom. He had noticed the red laser dot in the center of her chest and immediately dove, pulling her to the floor just before the bullet flew through the window. He knocked the wind out of her, but she was otherwise unharmed. As they rounded a corner into the hallway, Brad leaned Sandra up against the wall, quickly looking her over. “Are you okay?”

Shaken but otherwise unharmed, Sandra nodded.

“Do you have any weapons besides your sidearm?”

After finally catching her breath, she uttered, “my closet,” pointing to her bedroom.

Brad stayed low as he entered the bedroom. He crawled to the closet and after surveying the window locations in the room determined it was safe to stand. He needed Roberto but realized he left his radio in the truck. Good going idiot, Brad thought to himself. Brad quickly assessed that using his or Sandy's cell phone would be too risky, considering he didn't know who shot at them or which one, if not both of them, were the target.

Sandy crawled to the bedroom door. Pointing, she said, “Top shelf in a box and on the floor in a case behind my clothes.”

Brad was eye level with the top shelf. He shuffled some bags out of the way and retrieved a box from the rear. As he turned, kneeled, and placed the box on the floor, he opened it. “Nice,” he commented, looking at the H & K .45 caliber pistol and two fully loaded, high capacity magazines. “Holster?”

Sandra pointed to the right side of the shelf. An inside the concealable waistband clip on holster was lying just to the right of where the box was, with two similarly concealable magazine holders.

“Where's your weapon?”

“In my purse,” Sandra replied.

“And your purse?” Brad asked.

Even in the danger of the moment, Sandra couldn't help but smile. “Oh, somewhere between the foyer and the couch with the rest of our clothes.”

Brad grinned. “The next time we try to make love, we're immediately getting down to business.”

Sandra responded, “If there is a next time.”

“There will be, I promise. We need to get your purse and our clothes. Chances are it was a lone sniper or a two man sniper team, and they probably bugged out immediately, but there could be others. Wait a minute. Did you say you had a bag with another weapon in the bottom of the closet?” Brad didn't wait for a reply, digging down behind the clothes and retrieving a soft gun case. He laid it on the floor and unzipped it. His eyes widened, and an immediate boost in confidence filled him as he viewed the MP5 submachine gun. “Thank you, Jesus,” he commented, pulling the gun out of the case along with two fully loaded magazines. “This will definitely give us more options.” He spotted a small gym bag in the bottom of the closet large enough to hold the MP5 and clips. “Probably not a good idea to tote the machine gun in its actual case.”

Sandra replied, “Ya think?”

Brad crawled on the floor, retrieving their clothing and Sandra's purse, and then returned to her bedroom to dress. As they put their clothes on, Sandra asked, “What's our next move?”

“We need to contact Berto and Mandy at the beach.” In making the statement, Brad hid his concern of the possibility they too were targeted. “Mandy drove her own car down there, didn't she?”

“Yes. What? You want them to come get us?”

“That's the idea, but not here. We need to get moving.”

“Didn't you say your radio is in the truck?”

“Yeah... but bad idea. If there are others, we may walk into an ambush. Or, they may have planted explosives as a backup.”


“Let's find a land line phone. We need to stay off of the cell phones. The beachhouse has a land line, and I can call collect. It'll be a safe call from our end and the phone at the beach is still listed under my grandmother's name. Nobody has hard wired phones anymore. The chances of the call being traced are negligible. Let's go.”

Brad and Sandra made their way down two staircases and exited the south end of the building on the opposite side of where the shot come from. Brad strapped the gym bag containing the MP5 across his shoulder, keeping it partially unzipped, with one hand on the weapon. Once they were safely beyond the immediate area of Sandra's apartment, he planned to discard the submachine gun.

As they exited the door, they turned to the right, staying close to the building. After pausing long enough to survey the surroundings, Brad felt some relief at the amount of foot traffic and automobiles. He turned to Sandra, “We are headed to Dingus MaGees. I know the owners. You ever been there?”

Sandra looked at him funny and nodded. Of course, she had been there. There isn't a Georgia Southern student in the last sixty years who hasn't been to Dingus MaGees, Sandra thought.

“It'll be packed tonight. We can use their phone and then hang out until Berto and Mandy get here. With all of these people on the street this evening, we are just going to take a casual stroll. Don't walk too fast or do anything to draw attention. It's about a mile from here. As soon as we make it a few blocks, I'll ditch the MP5.”

Sandra reached and grabbed Brad's free hand, hugging close to his side. They could easily pass as college students out enjoying themselves on a leisure Saturday night. Brad found a dumpster behind an apartment complex six blocks away, where he disposed of the MP5 and the gym bag. They had both relaxed somewhat, but remained guarded as they continued walking.

Approaching the sports bar, Brad realized it was a good thing they were on foot because there didn't appear to be an open parking spot anywhere. He led Sandra into the front door and back towards the bar. It was a slow process weaving in and around the patrons, most of which appeared to have been drinking for some time.

“Brad!” A familiar voice hollered out. It was a voice with enough bass to differentiate it from all of the other chatter and noise.

Brad looked behind the bar and saw his old friend Billy waving at him. Billy Myers stood all of five feet four inches tall but had the booming voice of someone six-foot-six. He was in his mid-forties, with a large bald spot in the center of his head, surrounded by a perimeter of stringy salt and pepper hair. Billy's father was a farmer and a friend of his grandfather. They originally met while hunting for deer on the farm. He waved back and worked his way around to the end of the bar, where Billy had emerged, welcoming him with a bear hug.

“How the hell are ya,' man?” Billy growled as he loosened his hug and backed away slightly.

“I'm good. I see business is booming.”

“More than I can handle most nights.” Billy smiled, looked over at Sandra, then leaned toward Brad, lowering his voice, “You're outta your league, aren't cha?” Who's the little lady?”

“Look here, honey.” Brad turns to Sandra and then turns back to Billy. “This is Kay.”

Sandra doesn't flinch or miss a beat. “It's nice to meet ya' Billy.”

“Likewise, you pretty little thing.”

“Hey,listen, man, I need two things. I've lost my damn phone, so I need to borrow yours. Is it still in the kitchen?”

“Yep, sure is. What else?”

“How about two beers and as quiet of a table you can find me in the back.”

“You got it. C'mon little lady, let's find y'all a place to sit down.”

Brad waited for a minute to see where Sandra was being seated, then walked around the other side of the bar, through two swinging half doors, into the kitchen. The nineteen-eighties style phone with along cord that dragged the ground, hung on the wall next to a large commercial refrigerator. At lease its touch tone, Brad thought to himself. He called the operator. He informed her that he wanted to make a person to person collect call and recited the land line phone number for the beachhouse. He could hear the phone ringing.

* * *

“What the hell is that?” Startled, Mandy sat up in the bed.

Roberto, wearing only a pair of boxer briefs reacted quickly at the sound of the housephone ringing. He spurted out, “Phone,” as he left the bedroom, reaching the table next to a recliner in the living room where the only hard wired phone in the house was located. Papa and Poppy were the only people who had ever called them on the beachhouse phone, and it usually meant something was wrong.

“Hello. Yeah, operator put him through.” Roberto thought to himself, Brad?

Before Roberto could say anything, Brad began telling him about the evening's events as efficiently and quickly as he could. Roberto did not interrupt. Once Brad finished, Roberto said, “I'll explain everything to Mandy on the way... Brad, she has to know... I'll handle it...”

Mandy stood in the doorway of the bedroom with a blanket draped around her bare body, watching Roberto hang up the phone. As he turned around facing her, she asked with obvious concern, “What's wrong?”

“Get dressed. We gotta go.” Roberto replied in a calm but firm tone.

* * *

John and Elisio entered the apartment with pistols drawn. As they moved to clear each room, one important fact was evident. There was no blood. Once they determined the shooter didn't have any company and no one else appeared to have entered the apartment, they holstered their weapons. John examined the damaged window and traced the projectile's path. “A clean miss,” John concluded as he found where the bullet passed through the couch and struck the floor behind it, apparently ricocheting to a destination they had no time to look for. “Let's get out of here.”

“Where're we going?” Elisio asked as he kept a brisk pace behind John.

“We need to get back to the farm. I thought both boys were supposed to be at the beach this weekend. Do you think Roberto is there?”

“I don't know. I was under the same impression you were,” Elisio responded.

“We've got to get to safety and hope Brad and Berto do the same. Whatever this is, I believe it's far from over.” John unlocked the Dodge, tossing the duffel bag behind the seat. He and Elisio entered the truck and drove toward the farm.

Concerned, Elisio asked, “How will Berto even know what's going on?”

Without hesitation, John replied, “You can rest assured; Berto was the first person Brad called.”

* * *

“Berto, you're scaring me.” Mandy watched as Roberto laid a tactical, twelve gauge, pump shotgun and AR-15 on the back floor board of her five-year-old, Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu. “My God, what do you need those for?”

“Get in the car!” Roberto opened the driver's side door, not waiting for Amanda, as she continued to stand on the passenger side, with the door open. After shutting his door, he leaned across the seat and looked up at her, “Mandy, please.”

Frustrated, Amanda slid into her seat and shut the door.

“I need your keys.”

Amanda fumbled in her pocketbook for a moment, and then flung the car keys into Roberto's lap. Roberto started the car, backed out, and headed toward the main road. He put his seatbelt on, and then looked over at Amanda. Still very aggravated, she grossly exaggerated the movements necessary to retrieve and fasten her safety belt.

Amanda crossed her arms again with unnecessary force, before pleading with Roberto, “Will you please tell me what's going on?” Roberto looked over at Amanda somberly, extending his hand into her lap. She took his hand in both of hers and asked, “What is it?”

Roberto spent the majority of the ride to Statesboro, first summarizing relevant history, then explaining what had happened tonight. Once Amanda appeared to grasp the night’s events, he gave her more details of how things had progressed to where they were. “I know all of this is shocking to you.”

“Some of it, yes. Not all of it,” Amanda answered in a surprisingly calm voice. “I always pretended not to care anything about Sandy's job. She kept such weird hours. I knew she was more than a secretary. I snooped around from time to time. I found some papers about cases she was working on. A couple of weeks ago, I found papers about Brad's grandfather.” Amanda noticed Roberto's enhanced awareness, but he did not interrupt. “Everything I saw was talking about John Franklin. It never mentioned Brad or you, but I'm not stupid. I knew you guys were involved in something. I guess I was hoping it was no big deal.”

“Sandy was protecting us. We didn't ask her too.”

Amanda nodded as she turned and looked out the passenger side window. “So where are we going once we pick them up?”

“We're going to Brad's farm. We all may be in danger now, but Sandy and Brad are in immediate danger. Somebody tried to kill one or both of them, and we don't know who. We need to get to Papa and Poppy. They will know what to do. Papa has some pretty deep connections. The farm is the safest place till we can figure out what the hell is goin' on.

“Even for Sandy and me? Sandy is a Federal Agent, and she's been building a case against Brad's grandfather!”

“Yeah, but he doesn't know anything about that yet, and we need their help,” Roberto commented.

* * *

Brad and Sandra were waiting by the front entrance to Dingus MaGees when Roberto and Amanda pulled into the parking lot. Amanda jumped out of the car, meeting Sandra halfway. The two sisters embraced, both with tears in their eyes. Amanda and Sandra got in the backseat. Brad entered the passenger side front seat, turning around to look at Amanda. As Roberto placed the car in gear and left the parking lot, Brad returned his focus forward.

“Mandy, do you understand what's going on?” Brad asked.

Amanda looked at her sister and then looked toward the front seat, “I understand what Berto has told me. I know you two were involved with your grandfathers in a plot against the housing projects coming to Savannah. I know my sister is a Federal Agent and found out about everything after meeting you.” She started crying, “I know somebody is trying to kill you and Sandy... I can't believe this is happening.”

“I know it's a lot to get your head around, but it is happening, and if we're all going to survive, you need to be brave and do what we tell you to,” Brad insisted as he turned back to face Amanda and Sandra. “Do you understand?”

Amanda nodded, laying her head on Sandra's shoulder as she continued to cry.

* * *

“There's a car coming,” Elisio hollered through the screen door from the front porch.

John, still shaken and upset, appeared in the doorway, looking through the screen. The car pulled up to the front porch. Amanda and Sandra exited but stayed by the car as Brad and Roberto got out and ascended the porch steps.

John opened the screen door. “You might as well come on in here,” John looked out towards the sisters, “all of you.”

Brad was somewhat surprised. No words, no questions about who the girls were. Or why, on a Saturday night, they suddenly showed up at the farm. It was like they were expecting us, Brad thought. Brad grabbed the opened door, holding it while Roberto and Elisio went inside. He then turned to Amanda and Sandra, waving his arm for them to come too. As the girls climbed the steps and went inside, Brad lightly touched Sandra on her shoulder. Amanda and Sandra placed their purses on the entry table in the foyer, then followed to the kitchen, where John and Elisio sat at the bar, leaving the four seats at the breakfast nook for them.

Brad was trying to keep his composure. Papa is going to lose it once I tell him, he thought. Brad looked at his grandfather more closely. He looked strange like he was in another world like he was lost. But Brad didn't have time to be concerned with anything other than their immediate problem.

“Papa, something bad has happened.” No reaction. Brad stared at his grandfather who seemed to be purposefully avoiding eye contact. “Papa, somebody tried to kill me and Sandy tonight. We were at her apartment, and I saw a red dot on Sandy's chest. I was able to knock her to the ground, and the bullet missed.” His grandfather continued to look away. Still no questions, no comments, no emotions. No reaction of any kind. “Papa, did you hear me? Somebody tried to kill us!”

Finally, John turned to face his grandson. His moist eyes, quivering lips and trembling hands were front and center for everyone to see. A puzzled look engulfed Brad. “I know somebody tried to kill you.” Hesitating, he could barely continue, “because, I was there.”

With a confused expression, Brad asked, “You were there? What? Spying on us or something?” Brad asked with his anger rising. “How did you know where we were? Where were you?”

John answered, “In an apartment across the street.”

“In an apartment? Doing what?” As soon as he asked, Brad realized why his grandfather had been in the apartment. “You shot at us?” Sandra stiffened, realizing that her firearm was in her purse in the foyer.

John was overcome with emotion, unable to speak. Elisio stood up and intervened. “No, no we didn't shoot at you, someone else did.”

“What? Wait a minute. Poppy, you were there too?” Roberto stood and confronted Elisio.

Suddenly everyone was knocked to the floor as the house was rocked by an explosion. John scrambled to the front door and saw two Apache attack helicopters, hovering as they appeared poised to fire again. “RUN!” John screamed.

Roberto took Amanda by the arm, literally pulling her, with Brad and Sandra close behind as they exited the rear of the house and sprinted toward the barn and their all-terrain vehicles. As they straddled the four-wheelers, Brad helped Sandra, and Roberto assisted Amanda. They knew where they were headed as they cleared the barn. Roberto led with Amanda holding on for dear life. Brad and Sandra followed. Brad looked back at the farm house to see Papa and Poppy stumble out the back door, barely making it into the yard before the house exploded with a massive rocket attack from the Apaches. He could see both grandfathers impacted by the explosion and thrown several feet, then engulfed with the emerging fireball. Brad turned his head, squeezing his eyes shut, unable to watch. He immediately knew there was no way the two old men could have survived the massive blast.

Roberto cleared the field behind the house and entered the wood line. Brad was fifty feet to his rear and closing. Roberto picked up the trail to the boathouse and followed it. Additional explosions could be heard in the distance. The ground shook. The attackers were blowing everything up.

As they entered another field, they could see the raging fires in the night sky, over the tree tops. Directly in front of them were two more flying objects. More helicopters. Roberto saw them first. C'mon Brad, Roberto silently urged his friend.

Brad studied the helicopters as they approached. Just before reaching the next wood line, he recognized the aircraft. They weren't Apaches; they were Hueys, which was both good and bad. No more explosive firepower, but Hueys carried troops and a lot of them. They had another mile to the boathouse. The problem with this last stretch wasn't just the lack of a road, the darkness made the run at their current speeds dangerous. Even with headlights, the swamp was much too dense to maintain their previous pace. As soon as Brad arrived at the wood line, he could see the rear lights of Roberto and Amanda's ATV just fifteen feet in front of them.

They weaved their way over the rough terrain, through the heavy foliage, as fast as they could. Finally, they could see the boat house. As they traveled the last one-hundred yards, Roberto stopped, first leaping off of the all-terrain vehicle, then sprinting to the secured structure adjacent to the boathouse, to unlock it and fire up one of the two, twenty-two-foot speed boats. Brad helped the girls as they made their way to the boathouse and onto the boat. Roberto placed the watercraft in reverse and eased backward into the river.

As they cleared the structure, the sound of at least one helicopter could be heard closing in. Roberto shifted into neutral momentarily so everyone could put on life jackets. He noticed searchlights from above shining through the swampy forest. They were getting close. Roberto ordered everyone to sit as he gunned the powerful engine, standing the bow tall in the air above the water. As the boat gained speed, it eventually planed off. A minute later, about a mile down river, Roberto suddenly cut the engine.

In disbelief, Brad shouted, “Why are you stopping?”

“We ain't goin' down river, we're headin' up,” Roberto confidently informed Brad.

“That's suicide,” Brad exclaimed.

Roberto pulled a large canvass bag from the storage area underneath the bow of the boat. “Start untyin' the straps,” he ordered.

Brad hesitated, looking both frustrated and puzzled, as he glared at Roberto. Roberto reached back, placing his hand on Brad's shoulder, looking him squarely in the eyes. “Just do it,” he reiterated calmly, but firmly.

Brad reluctantly motioned for the girls to help as he began working on one side of the large bag. He saw Roberto kneel down on all fours, crawling halfway into the storage area, retrieving a small outboard motor, a powerful electric motor, gas tank, battery, and a couple of weapons.

As Brad, Amanda and Sandra opened the canvas bag, Brad realized it contained an inflatable raft. He then noticed two C-4 charges Roberto had retrieved from under the bow of the boat. Relieved, Brad said, “You're a freakin’ genius, you know that?”

“Not a genius, my amigo, just well prepared.”

Brad tossed the half unfolded raft into the water, holding on to a cord that was attached to the bow. He pulled the cord and in less than a minute the heavy-duty raft fully inflated. He and Roberto helped the girls onto the raft. Brad followed as Roberto began handing him the motors, gas, and battery. He then placed the small, C-4 charge on the boat's motor and the second, larger charge, on the on the opposite end near the tip of the bow. He grabbed an RPG and a sniper rifle that was stored in the bow and handed them to Brad, then climbed over into the raft.

“Are these the only weapons? We're probably gonna need more firepower than this.” Brad protested with a touch of sarcasm.

“Not where we're goin’,” Roberto replied as he mounted the two motors on the rear of the inflatable boat, hooking up the gas tank to the outboard and battery to the electric motor. “And you had better hope we don't need the RPG or the sniper rifle,” Roberto pointed out as he pumped the ball on the gas tank and jerked hard on the outboard's manual start pulley. The motor started on the third pull and Roberto navigated back up river.

As they approached the first bend about four hundred yards away, Roberto pulled a small electronic device from his pocket and handed it to Brad. “When I tell you to, press the first button.”

Brad nodded as Roberto cut the outboard off and engaged the electric motor. “It'll be slow going against the current with that.”

Roberto responded, “Not as slow as you think.” He had done his research specifically for the circumstances they now found themselves in. “Electric outboards have come a long way. After you push the first green button, wait thirty seconds, then press the second button.”

Roberto turned the accelerator on low and with surprising power, the raft lurched forward. “Okay, now!” Roberto directed. Brad pressed the first button on the detonator, and the rear of the boat exploded, sending debris in every direction. Roberto then fully accelerated the motor, and the raft surged forward at a good, twenty-five-knot pace.

Brad noted thirty seconds and pressed the second button. They had already rounded the bend. The trees blocked their direct line of sight, but they had no trouble hearing or seeing the explosion as a massive fireball shot well into the air, easily clearing the tree tops. Even though they were safely a half mile away, they could still feel the percussion of the second, larger blast.

Everything happened so quickly, neither Brad nor Roberto had time to explain anything to the girls. They were very thankful there was no protest or hesitation from either sister when Roberto screamed for them to follow. Sandra apparently realized what was going on. Amanda was in complete shock. Sandra and Amanda just sat on the floor of the raft, huddled together, holding on to each other.

As they moved quietly up the river and neared the boathouse, Roberto maneuvered close to the opposite river bank, slowed the raft, and instructed everyone to lie down. Roberto could see movement and flashlights inside the boathouse. Once they were a safe distance, Brad moved closer to Roberto and sat on the side of the raft.

“Where are we going?” Brad asked.

Roberto continued to focus up river as he increased the speed of the electric motor. After a couple of miles, he re-engaged the gas motor, then began explaining, “Poppy loved and was very loyal to your grandfather.”

Wow, Brad thought to himself. He had never heard Roberto refer to Papa as your grandfather.

“It's not that he didn't trust Papa's judgment. He just questioned his intentions. All of these contingency plans were designed to protect us if things got out of hand. We are going to a camp Poppy bought several years ago. It's about five miles up on the South Carolina side of the river. Papa didn't know anything about it. I suppose if the feds really dug they could figure it out, but the purchase was well layered, passin' through several hands. The place should give us what we need for now. I think you will be impressed with what me and Poppy managed to set up at the camp,” Roberto said confidently. “Throw everyone's cell phone into the river.” Brad tossed his and Roberto's phones. Sandra left hers in her purse and Amanda couldn't remember where hers was.

“There’re a couple of burn phones at the camp along with two radios and a base station,” Roberto said, “but we have to be very careful how we use them.”

“The feds have to know who all of us are by now. They will be looking for us.” Brad pointed out.

Sandra looked up as she turned to them, “Maybe not.” Both men turned and stared attentively as Sandra said her first words since running for their lives from the attacks. “I never told them anything... I mean, I had to turn in reports every day, but you were never part of any of them. I identified your grandfather as the primary person of interest and suggested he may be leading a militant group. A while back I mentioned your names to Director Lathem because of some crap that went on with my boss, but I don't think he has ever made any connection. I don't know if he is even directly involved anymore.”

“How could the director of the NIA no longer be involved in something like this?” Brad questioned as his curiosity grew.

“Because I no longer work for him,” Sandra replied as a tear ran down her face. “I haven't for several weeks.”

Curiosity quickly became suspicion as both Brad and Roberto listened.

Roberto cut the motor giving his full attention to Sandra. “If you no longer work for the NIA, who are you working for?”

A swath of emotions, including guilt, fear, and shame overcome Sandra as she tried to speak. She had no idea how they would react. Brad slid off the side of the raft and kneeled next to her placing his hand gently along her jaw line and wiping a tear from her cheek with his thumb. “Sandy?”

Sandra looked Brad in the eyes and softly replied, “The President.”

* * *

They pulled the raft up on the floating dock after they finished unloading it. The canvas bag that contained the raft opened up to a cover that could be used to secure, as well as hide the raft from view without having to deflate it. The river was high, but the cabin was on a bluff and in no danger of flooding. Before securing the raft they walked Sandra and Amanda up to the cabin, got them undressed, and laid them in the same bed. Everyone was exhausted, but the mental and emotional strain of the day had worn so deeply on the girls, they could no longer function.

The cabin was small and basic in appearance. It was an A-frame style structure with a logsiding exterior and wood-paneled interior. The floor plan was open with a sleeping area and bed to the rear of the first floor and another bed located in the loft above. A small, round dinette, with four chairs, was located in the kitchen area with a couch, two-seat loveseat and two stationary chairs, situated several feet to the left of the dinette. A large, flat screen television was strategically located and could be seen from anywhere in the cabin. Although very basic and almost rustic in nature, the cabin did have running water from a well and solar-powered electricity which would aid in keeping them off the grid.

Roberto retrieved two beers from the refrigerator and motioned for Brad to follow him outside. As they walked out the front of the cabin, Roberto headed back down to the dock. Brad followed in silence. Emotions were finally beginning to impact both of them. The attack happened so quickly, their survival skills and escape plan instinctively kicked in. As they arrived on the dock, Brad placed his hand on Roberto's shoulder. Roberto turned to him with moist eyes, before wrapping his arms around Brad and bursting into tears. The young men cried for several minutes as they embraced. Brad finally managed to say, “You know we did exactly what they would have wanted us to do.”

Continuing to hold Brad, Roberto nodded, “I know.” Roberto gave Brad a few strong pats on the back before separating and moving to the end of the dock, where he sat down and let his feet dangle off the end like a young boy. Brad joined him. Roberto handed Brad one of the beers he still clutched in one hand.

“Talking about preparing for everything,” Brad attempted to joke as he wiped tears from his eyes.

Roberto let out a half-hearted chuckle as the two sat quietly drinking beer and thinking. “Is it possible any of them survived?”

Hesitating, Brad replied, “I looked over my shoulder at the time of the second rocket explosion. The concussion threw Papa and Poppy several feet and then a huge fireball completely covered them.”

Roberto nodded as he struggled to accept that their grandfathers were likely dead. “What about Gammy? I didn't see her, did you?”

“No. We can hope and pray she wasn't home, but you know we can't risk trying to find out right now,” Brad emphasized. Roberto again nodded. Both young men knew if they were to survive, they would have to quickly put their grief behind them. “I guess it goes without saying that this is a major game changer.”

“Ya’ think?” A little of the normal Roberto shined through as he smiled slightly. After pausing, he felt it necessary to point out, “Sandy knows too much.”

Brad quickly and aggressively responded to Roberto's accusation. “I hope you aren't thinking about what I believe you're thinking about.”

“No, I don't believe she knows too much about us. I think she was telling the truth about not reporting anything specific that would expose us. She knows too much about the President.”

A light immediately went off as Brad quickly connected the dots. “If the President is personally involved, he's got to be calling the shots... My God... he ordered the strike on our farm himself.”

“Not only the farm, he had ta' order the hit. He must believe Sandy has been compromised. When the sniper attack failed, he knew you were with her and where you would likely go. Or he had some way of trackin' her. He probably hoped to kill everyone, but I think Sandy was his primary target. They've probably been on to us for a while. He had to of learned that you and Sandy were seeing each other. Regardless of their relationship, that made her a threat. Larry Reid knows she has great potential to cause him harm. You, me, Papa, Poppy... anybody connected to us. They could take us out anytime, and nobody would care. But Sandy is a Federal Agent.There is a reason Papa never wanted us involved with anyone.”

Brad quickly assumed a defensive posture, “Berto, you're not-”

Roberto headed Brad off before he could finish his comment. “I'm not blamin' anybody. I'm just as much involved with Mandy. I'm just sayin' the old codgers were pretty wise. Our relationships gave them the opportunity to go after Sandy and be able to cover it up.”

“But her father is the President's Chief of Staff,” Brad exclaimed. “He would have to be one helluva cold-hearted bastard to go to this extreme.”

“Yeah. Thing is, this world today has plenty of men capable of doin' what he did. I don't think it's just cold-hearted. I think it's pure evil. The kind of power Larry Reid has... he's apparently willin' ta' stop at nothin' ta' keep it.” Roberto finished his beer and tossed the empty can into the river. “Do ya' think they will believe we're all dead. They won't find our bodies.”

“Did you feel the intense heat from the explosions? They used rockets with highly incendiary explosives, capable of burning and incinerating flesh, bone, and pretty much anything else it contacted. They shouldn't be surprised if they don't find some bodies. The key to whether or not they believe any or all of us are dead lies with how confident they are in the intelligence placing us in the house at the time of the attack.”

* * *

“You're certain she was in the house?”

Ted Lathem sat across from the President in the oval office. “We have tracking devices embedded in the grips of all of our agents’ firearms. No agent leaves their gun. She was in the house.”

“What about bodies? Were any of them found? If you haven't found hers yet, what about John Franklin? And what about the boy, his grandson?”

“We found numerous remnants of bodies in and around the house. What parts we found were scorched. I know you don't like assumptions, and neither do I, but I have to go with our intelligence. We know Sandra Knox was there, inside the house. Given the events earlier in the evening, logic tells me the others were with her. Even if all of the targets weren't present, she was the one we absolutely had to eliminate. If any of the rest survived, they will be on the run, and we will eventually catch up to them.”

“What about the boat that exploded in the river?”

“An Apache was hovering on scene less than two minutes after the explosion. There was no sign of life and debris was everywhere. Agents searched a two-mile radius on both sides of the river. Anyone on board obviously drowned. Unfortunately, it’s another scenario where bodies may never be found.”

The President nodded, “I'm done with this. I'm washing my hands of it. Everything is on you now, Ted. Get with the FBI and press secretary and have them hold a news conference. Let the FBI take credit. Have them suggest this group was part of a vast organization planning to overthrow the government. Strike fear in Americans. We need all of the advantages we can get, and public fear is very powerful.”

Lathem and the President stood and shook hands as Bill Knox entered the oval office, after being summoned by the President. Bill frowned with obvious disgust. Lathem nodded to the President and glanced at Bill Knox as he exited.

“I can't believe this,” Bill exclaimed as he walked toward the President. “You called me down here at this late hour for something involving him? You might as well-”

“Bill, there's been a development,” the President interrupted. “Please sit down.”

As the pair moved to opposite couches, Bill set a cup of coffee next to a box of tissues and letter opener on the coffee table that separated them, crossed his arms, and waited for the President to speak.

“I'm so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Sandy is dead.”

Bill's eyes immediately widened as the President's words slowly resonated. Disbelief gripped him initially, eventually giving way to denial. “What? What do you mean Sandy is dead?” Bill didn't need for Reid to repeat himself. He didn't want an explanation. Grief paralyzed him as he sat motionless, staring at the President.

Larry Reid cleared his throat, “Bill, I know how much Sandy meant to you. For a rookie, she was a great agent. Sandy tracked down the local cell we have been looking for. I told her to stand down. We ordered an aerial attack to destroy the compound. She wasn't supposed to be there.”

Bill began to shake uncontrollably. Anger and grief exploded from within. You son of a bitch. “You promised to protect her!” Bill yelled. Reid continued speaking, but Bill barely processed the words. Tears began falling as fury consumed him.

“I don't know why she disobeyed my direct order, but she apparently did,” the President explained.

Still shaking, Bill angrily said, “Where's her body? I want to see it.”

“Bill, we attacked with Apaches. The explosions were massive. We haven't located her body,” the President responded.

Bill perked up slightly, feeling some relief as he stated, “Then you don't know that she's dead.” The President shifted uncomfortably, breaking eye contact with Bill. Bill immediately picked up on the President's mannerisms and discomfort. “Unless...” Bill's glimmer of hope plummeted.She disobeyed my direct order, Bill thought. There was nobody. He knew she was there before he attacked. He intended to kill her or could have cared less knowing she would die.

“Now Bill, it's like I told you, Sandy was ordered to stand down.”

Oblivious to Reid's comment, Bill shouted, “WHY? Don't say her name! Don't you dare say her name! You have no right! You killed her, you BASTARD!” Bill Knox sobbed uncontrollably as fury caused his body to tremble even more. Overcome with hatred, he eyed the letter opener on the coffee table.

With no forethought or hesitation, the enraged Bill Knox grabbed the letter opener, leaped over the table, and plunged it deep into the President's neck, through his windpipe, and as evidenced by the spurting blood, struck an artery. Unable to make a sound the President grabbed Bill's arm with both hands. He was powerless to do anything as Bill twisted and turned his improvised weapon, inflicting as much pain and damage as he possibly could. Within a minute, Larry Reid had lost consciousness. Two minutes later his heart stopped. The President gurgled one final time.

Bill Knox withdrew the letter opener, continuing to hold it firmly in his hand. Several minutes passed before he got up, walked to the President's desk, and pressed the intercom. “The President is dead,” Bill calmly announced to Nancy as he sat down in the President's chair. Nancy burst through the door, followed by two Secret Service agents, with weapons drawn. She screamed and dropped to her knees as she viewed the gruesome scene. The lead Secret Service agent immediately focused on the bloody Bill Knox, as he continued sitting in the President's chair, holding the bloodstained letter opener.

The agents eased closer to Bill with their guns aimed center mass. The lead agent repeatedly ordered him to put the weapon down. Bill looked at the agents, then over at the dead President. He focused momentarily on Nancy as she continued wailing. He stood up. The agent again ordered him to drop the weapon. Bill stared down at the letter opener for several more moments.

Four, forty-fivecaliber rounds, struck Bill Knox's torso before he hit the ground. He had drawn the letter opener back above his head and lunged at the Secret Service agents, letting out a horrendous shriek that seemingly released all of his grief, rage, and fury.

Chapter Thirty

Hideaway Cabin – Savannah River

Sunday Morning, August 3rd, 2042

Amanda remained in bed, still in disbelief of the previous night's events. Brad, Sandra, and Roberto sat motionless at the small round table and watched the network news. It didn't matter which channel. All of the lead stories were the same. The President had been assassinated. Sandra nervously glanced at Roberto and Brad, occasionally looking over at her sister to see if she was paying any attention. She didn't appear to be.

News anchor, Beth Raines, began her report on the assassination again. “Today, our country mourns the loss of one of the greatest Presidents to ever serve. President Larry Reid is dead. Details are very sketchy and limited at this time. All we know is the President was killed inside the White House. Let's turn now to White House correspondent, Lee Jenkins. Lee, are there any new developments.”

“Beth, as you can imagine, rumors are flying high, but we have received no official word regarding the assassin or assassins, the method or the exact location where the assassination took place.”

“Lee, we've heard some suggestion that the First Lady may be involved. Have you been able to confirm anything?”

“Well, Beth, that's probably one of the wildest rumors we've heard yet. I was able to tap an unofficial source, briefly, and asked about any role the First Lady may have had. The source adamantly denied it, calling the rumor completely irresponsible. Hold on a minute, Beth... We're now receiving word the White House Press Secretary plans to hold a press conference about the assassination in fifteen minutes... fifteen minutes, Beth. I'm going to send it back to you in the station until then.”

“Thank you, Lee. We'll get back to you. Well, folks, I know you want answers just as we do. We will go live to the White House Press Room at eight-thirty eastern time...”

The three shifted their attention from the newscast to each other. Roberto looked over at Amanda as she slept. “She's so innocent in all of this.”

“Unfortunately, not anymore,” Brad reluctantly said as his eyes met Sandra's.

Sandra nodded. “This is out of control. I can't call Dad. I can't call Mom. As far as they know, I'm dead, and Mandy is missing.”

“The whole country is out of control,” Roberto added, “and we're completely out of the loop.”

“Well,” Brad began, “we may not know anything for a while because we have no choice but to remain out of sight and off the grid. We have to assume they will be looking for us once they can't confirm our deaths. We have to hold off doing anything until we're reasonably sure they think we're all dead. Survival is our first priority. Eventually, we have to get out of the country and regroup.”

“How the hell we gonna do that?” Roberto asked. “We can't fly the plane, which it wouldn't be very smart to go near anyway. I'm sure the feds have already confiscated the other boat.”

“Yeah, but we should still be able to signal for pickup at our original rendezvous point. We just have to get there,” Brad suggested.

“Shhh, shhh,” Sandra motioned for everyone to be quiet as she turned the television volume up.

The press secretary took his position behind the podium, observing the room briefly before speaking. “Ladies and Gentleman, we are all in shock as we try to understand the assassination of President Reid. The details surrounding the President's death are almost as alarming as the murder itself. While the Secret Service diligently vet all White House personnel, those chosen personally by the President to serve directly with him are often vetted the least, particularly when it comes to mental health and psychological concerns. It deeply saddens me to inform the American People that Chief of Staff, Bill Knox, in an unexplained, uncontrollable mental breakdown, violently attacked the President, mortally wounding him with a sharp object while meeting with him in the Oval office last evening.”

Sandra sat paralyzed for several moments before crying out, “Oh my God, NO!” as she burst into tears. Brad immediately moved to hold and console her as they continued to watch. Roberto looked over at Amanda, who was beginning to stir, hurrying over to sit on the bed next to her.”

The press secretary continued, “As the Secret Service became aware of the attack, they entered the Oval Office, observed the wounded President, and confronted Bill Knox while he was still in possession of the apparent murder weapon. Knox ignored repeated attempts by the Secret Service agents to get him to drop his weapon. He lunged at the agents and the lead agent discharged his firearm, striking Knox four times. Both the President and Knox were pronounced dead at the scene.”

“Oh my God!” Sandra screamed as she gripped Brad tighter.

As Amanda awakened, she grabbed Roberto, pulling herself up. Alarmed, she asked, “What's going on?”

“Daddy's dead!” Sandra wailed.

Amanda began sobbing, burying her face into Roberto's neck and shoulder. “I can't take anymore,” she whispered.

Brad and Roberto quietly sat and held the girls, consoling them as best they could. Brad did manage to lead Sandra over to the sofa as Roberto and Amanda continued sitting together on the bed. Very little was said in the hour or so between the official press conference announcing details of the assassination, and the inauguration of the Vice-President as President.

Brad, Roberto, Sandra and Amanda watched the live coverage of the Chief Justice of the United States, administering the oath of office to Vice-President Aasim Saad Mustafa.

“They don't waste any time, do they?” Roberto said.

“Constitutionally, the new President has to be sworn in pretty much immediately after death,” Brad replied. “I wish I could talk to Jim Hart. All of this has had to turn everything upside down for him. His relationship with Papa is bound to come out.”

“Your grandfather and Jim Hart... Minority leader, Jim Hart, are connected?” Sandra asked calmly as she wiped tears away.

Roberto and Brad's eyes met briefly before Brad turned back to Sandra. “Sandy, I know we are all hurting beyond belief right now, but it's important that we share everything we know with each other. Information, knowledge, even gut feelings, anything you have.”

“I have to know what you know as well. It may help me figure out some things that I didn't previously understand,” Sandy responded.

Amanda focused intently on the other three as they talked. She stood from the bed, walking over and sitting at the table, making eye contact with everyone in an unspoken invitation. Brad, Sandra, and Roberto joined her. They spent the next four hours exchanging and discussing information. Their conversation resulted more in confirming suspicions and theories, than revealing anything new. The feds followed their intelligence, and as soon as they determined them to be a potential threat, they acted ruthlessly, choosing to massacre everyone. This was the American government now in power, and that power structure remains well-established, even with the death of President Reid.

Chapter Thirty-One

White House Press Room

Monday Evening, August 4th, 2042

The press room was filled well beyond capacity as President Mustafa entered. The Press Secretary shook the President's hand as he yielded the podium. The American people knew little of Aasim Saad Mustafa. His parents escaped to America from Syria as refugees in 1998. He was born the following year in New Jersey. Muslim Americans made up fifteen percent of the voting public, closely behind the seventeen percent of Latinos. Blacks had not dwindled in numbers, but their percentages now lagged well behind as the third most populous ethnic group, at eight percent of the American population. The Muslim population exploded after Congress opened the floodgates, allowing massive numbers of Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees into the country, beginning with the Syrian and Libyan crisis under Obama and culminating with the nuclear exchange involving Iran and Israel in 2026.

Republicans fought tirelessly against the mass migrations, but Muslim extremism and terrorism had been declared a non-threat by President Pelosi after the Middle Eastern nuclear crisis, as the Middle East struggled for its own survival. The Progressives seized the opportunity to indoctrinate the new voting block of Muslims as they cleared an immediate path to citizenship, granting all Muslim refugees political asylum.

Ninety percent of African Americans now supported the Republican Party. After losing many privileges and advantages as America's preferred minority to Latinos, the Muslim refugee influx pushed African American influence to negligible levels. Muslim and Latino interests often conflicted with blacks. The Democrat Party had to choose and decided to all but abandon African Americans in favor of the more lucrative numbers of voting Latino and Muslims.

Minority Leader, Jim Hart, sat quietly in his private office with several colleagues, prepared to hear Mustafa hold his first news conference. There was an eerie and somber mood in the room. While Larry Reid was well despised, there was no uncertainty regarding his agenda. The American people elected Larry Reid as President and allowed the ultimate political correctness in supporting a Muslim as his Vice-President. A Muslim of Sunni descent, whose parents were devout, with roots in Sharia Law. A Muslim that now carried the football and was in control of America's nuclear arsenal. A Muslim that would have over two years as President of the United States.

Although it had been over twenty years since a terrorist attack had occurred on American soil, there was still enough anti-sentiment on the minds of most to prevent Mustafa from being re-elected in forty-four. Jim and all of his colleagues now felt quite assured of his ability to win the Presidency in the next election. Republicans stood by powerless as the Progressives declared Islamic terrorism to no longer be a threat, but they knew a hatred that had existed for thousands of years would never die that easily. Jim Hart remembered well the countless attacks by Muslim extremists. He knew they were both patient and opportunistic. And he knew the United States was more vulnerable now than ever. The question that was privately on Jim's mind was, would America still exist to hold the next Presidential election?

The sound of cameras clicking was all that could be heard as President Mustafa stood in silence, surveying the room, before beginning his address. “My fellow Americans, it is with a heavy heart that I stand before you today. Larry Reid was so much more than my President, he was my friend. He was a brilliant man who loved his country as much as I do. Please rest assured that I plan to continue the same path President Reid so strongly believed in. As a country, we have made remarkable strides in equality, fairness, compassion and responsibility. The programs and projects currently in progress will be diligently executed and followed through to completion.”

Jim's colleagues began to stir, shifting in their seats as they listened. It made perfect sense. Stay with what got them here. Control... that's what allowed them to continue doing as they pleased and Reid, his predecessors, and cronies, had certainly figured out that the programs and projects they had in place would produce control over the American people. Why would Mustafa change anything? Jim thought.

“For now, we grieve. As a nation, we will mourn the passing of our President. After our period of mourning, I will be assessing my team. There will likely be changes. While I intend to stay the course, I believe it is necessary to install people in key positions that I personally have knowledge of and confidence in. That is all.”

* * *

Although still considered medically comatose, John Franklin was becoming more aware of his surroundings. He remained in the burn unit of the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, where he was transferred from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, once it was determined he was a United States Navy veteran. In addition to life-threatening internal injuries, he had suffered third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body. Combined with his advanced age, doctors considered his survival to this point a miracle. Still, he was far from out of the woods.

Captain Sam Jones, the doctor in charge of John's care, entered the hospital room. “Good morning, sir?” Registered nurse, Lieutenant Barbara Johnson, greeted the doctor as she completed changing the dressings on John's wounds.

“Good morning, Lieutenant. Any change in the patient's condition?”

“Not that I can tell, sir. He's opened hiseyes but remains unresponsive to our efforts to stimulate him. It's strange. The first thing a patient normally does when regaining consciousness is fight the tube down his throat. His vitals continue to be stable. Blood pressure has held at one-thirty over seventy. Oxygen saturation is good. He's one tough bird. I've been a nurse in burn units for twenty years, and I've never seen anything like this.”

Nodding, the Captain concurred, “Neither have I, Lieutenant.” As he signed the chart and handed it back to the nurse, he instructed, “Keep trying to stimulate a response from him. He had a substantial concussion when we admitted him, but nothing else of any significance showed up on his MRI. He should come around eventually.”

“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant responded as she hung the chart at the foot of John's bed, following the Captain out of the room.

The doctor and nurse failed to notice the movement of John's eyes as he watched them exit. John realized he had survived the rocket attack. His memory was fuzzy at first, but his level of awareness was increasing in longevity and frequency as the events that led to his hospitalization grew in clarity.

John was aware of the efforts to stimulate a response from him. As the doctors and nurses talked to and prodded him, he purposefully did not acknowledge them in any way. It was the only time he was thankful that impotence had plagued him, as one nurse attempted sexual stimulation. John was also thankful for not having a gag reflex. He could insert things deep into his throat, and it never bothered him. He knew it was uncommon, but not unheard of and wondered how long he could play his game.

He had laid lucid for several hours before anyone noticed that he had opened his eyes. At that time, even though he knew he probably wouldn't get away with it for long, he decided to play the vegetable. He would listen and observe. It's amazing the things that people will discuss in the presence of someone they believe can't hear them, John thought. He was particularly interested in maintaining his subterfuge long enough to receive another visit from the men in suits, who hovered over him earlier in the day after he initially opened his eyes.

John's thoughts suddenly shifted as the aroma of coffee drifted into his room. Even in critical condition and unable to move, John craved a cup. His eyes veered to the television on the wall across from him. He hadn't noticed it before. He could see that it was on one of the news channels. A man was at a podium speaking. Wait, that looks like the Presidential Seal, John noticed, but that isn't the President. The volume was all but muted as he strained to hear.

Lieutenant Johnson returned, quickly walking into the room holding a syringe. John immediately closed his eyes as the nurse circled around the foot of his bed and grabbed the IV line, injecting the contents of the syringe. Just as swiftly, the nurse exited. Sensing her departure John opened his eyes again, immediately refocusing on the television. John recognized the man. It was the Vice-President, the Muslim, who appeared to be holding a news conference. My God, what's happened? John could feel the effects of the medication as it entered his system. What's... going on?... he thought as he drifted back to sleep.

* * *

A barrage of 'Mr. President' and 'President Mustafa' inundated the air as reporters jockeyed for position. The press secretary moved to the podium as the President was escorted out by Secret Service agents. “That concludes this press conference. No questions, please.” The press secretary then exited as well.

Changes in personnel? Jim thought. His cabinet? The Joint Chiefs? All of the federal agencies? He has complete autonomy. It's going to unfold right in front of the American People's eyes. They will never listen to what their own eyes are telling them. Government control? Government dependence? Socialism? It wasn't the end game. It was only the catalyst. My God...

* * *

Brad, Sandra, Roberto and Amanda spent the next month at the cabin, recovering emotionally from the catastrophic events that now dictated their foreseeable future. Roberto brought Brad up to speed on all of the preparations he had made with the cabin. Brad was impressed with the details, equipment, and supplies Roberto thought of. Although they possessed two burn phones and a laptop with equally untraceable mobile access, they remained off the grid, making no contact with anyone on the outside. They instead relied on broadcast television as their means of information.

Brad, Sandra, and Roberto had come to terms as well as could be expected while processing all of the death and mayhem. They all remained concerned with Amanda. Although she wasn't much younger, she didn't have the benefit of experiencing and knowing what the others knew. The others were initially stunned as things unfolded, but the acceptance of the attack and consequences came easier for them.

“I want to fight,” Amanda boldly stated to Roberto as they lay on the queen-sized mattress of the bed in the ground floor sleeping area. “I want to learn how to shoot, and I want to fight,” she turned to Roberto and reiterated.

Roberto looked into Amanda's eyes. Her demeanor had changed. He, Brad, and Sandra had agreed it was likely Amanda would head in one of two directions. She would either sink further into a paralyzing fear and hopelessness or she would rebound and the experience would harden her. Roberto now suspected the latter. Today, Amanda appeared bold. She was finally showing signs of coming out of her depression. It wasn't the sweet, innocent Amanda.

Her expression exuded anger, not rage or fury, but more controlled and determined. Roberto looked squarely face to face at Amanda before giving a firm nod and smile. “Let's get started!”

Chapter Thirty-Two

Oval Office

Thursday, September 11th, 2042

President Aasim Saad Mustafa sat behind his desk, reviewing files of potential new cabinet members. His newly appointed Chief of Staff, Muhamed Bahri Fayad, looked over information on the current cabinet. “We cannot replace them all, Aasim,” Fayad asserted.

“Agreed my brother. It is not necessary to replace everyone, just the important ones. For instance, the infidel Secretary of Defense, Stone. We will start with him. Everyone we intend to replace; we will do so over time. A massive turnover all at once might be perceived with greater alarm, although according to American law, the power and authority to make such decisions lie with me.” The President smiled. “Still, no need to intentionally provoke opposition. We have plenty of time.”

“What about the midterm elections? They are less than two months away,” Fayad asked.

“We have no concern over these elections. We cannot stop the Republicans from winning majorities in the House and Senate. Let the infidels politic and fight. These so called lawmakerscan pass anything they chose. We are the executive branch. All decisions relative to our cause will be made here. Even if there is opposition to my executive orders, the American system requires them to file suit in court. Their system of justice is slow. After we have accomplished what is required, it will be too late.

Our only concern will be in selecting a Vice-President before the new Congress is seated next January. Under the circumstances, American law allows me to nominate a Vice-President, but he must be confirmed by the House and Senate. We need the current Congress to accomplish this.”

Fayad contemplated Mustafa's comments. “Why not simply move forward without a Vice-President? It's my understanding that the law does not require you to have one.”

I thought of that, but it would present too much risk. If I am murdered by the infidels or meet some other demise, current Minority Leader Hart becomes President. He will be the new Speaker of the House after the elections. No, we must choose a new Vice-President and move quickly to have him confirmed. I will be nominating Omar Rasheed Abbas.”

“Very well,” Fayad replied.

I want to replace Secretary of Defense Stone with Mohid Muhammad Yousef. Also, get rid of that idiot press secretary and appoint Abdullah Haafiz Alam. Have his first duty be to announce the Secretary of Defense replacement.”

“Will there anything else?”

“Not at this time, but soon we will need to replace the Secret Service detail assigned to me. Be thinking of who we might appoint as lead agent. That is all.” A new thought entered Mustafa's mind. “Wait just a minute.” The President motioned as he pressed the intercom, “Nancy, may I see you?”

“Yes, sir,” Nancy replied, then walked over to the door and knocked.

“You may enter,” the President responded.

Nancy walked into the office and approached the President's desk. The President did not look at her. He continued reviewing files as he said, “Nancy you are fired.” He then made a shooing motion as he addressed his Chief of Staff. “Fayad, escort this woman to the Secret Service Agent in charge, inform him of her termination and instruct him to pack up her belongings.”

Nancy was still reeling from the assassination of her former boss and friend. Her grief was supplemented with discomfort and disgust at the callous and uncaring demeanor Mustafa had displayed since taking over the Oval office. She had withheld her anger for obvious reasons that no longer restrained her. “You go to hell!” Nancy shouted as she pointed at Mustafa. “You son of a bitch! Who do you think-”

Mustafa leaped from his chair, charging around his desk, directly at Nancy with eyes of fury.

“Aasim!” Fayad hollered.

The President stopped in his tracks as he regained his composure, but continued to glare at Nancy Heidt. Clearly shaken by the President's violently aggressive reaction, Nancy offered no more resistance and rushed out of the office. “Get her out of here!” Fayad walked toward the door. “Oh, Fayad, there will be no women in my cabinet. I want them all replaced. I know it will take time, but Allah forbids authority of women over men. Make certain you see to it. Identify all of them and report back to me.” Mustafa made certain Nancy Heidt heard his instructions to Fayad, taking great satisfaction, as he watched them exit and close the door.

President Mustafa walked over to the secured, safe located behind his desk and input the code. As he opened it, he reached in and pulled out the hard case. Hekneeled behind his desk and sat the case on the floor, before opening his lower desk drawer and pulling out his prayer rug. After spreading the rug on the floor, he kneeled facing in the direction of Mecca and began to pray. His thoughts drifted to the case and what it contained. He praised and thanked Allah for choosing him, before completing his prayer. After folding and returning the rug to the drawer, he picked up the case and placed it on his desk. Mustafa stared at it with wide eyes, caressing it as though it were one of the seventy-two virgins Allah promised.

These infidels, they are so weak. Their Christian God is powerless to deal with them. They profess Jesus and claim the word of their God as truth, yet they allow the most egregious sins to not only go unpunished but to be sanctioned and protected under their laws. They allow their women to rule over them, to disrespect them. They allow their homosexuals to marry one another. They disgrace their families, wives, and daughters, enabling men to enter women's bathrooms. They allow women to shamefully bare themselves in public. They legalize drugs and alcohol, the very tools of Satan. America and Satan are one in the same. Allah Akbar!

Chapter Thirty-Three

The Senorita - Atlantic Ocean

Sunday, October 5, 2042

Brad leaned against the wall at the head of his bunk, holding Sandy as she sat between his legs.

“Not exactly luxury accommodations,” Sandy observed.

Brad laughed as he brushed the side of her neck with his lips. “It'll do for now.” With each passing day, things became a little easier to accept and deal with. There was still massive uncertainty, and persistent grief, but each of the four friends had formed a unique bond. They leaned and depended on each other as occasional glimmers of their old selves periodically seeped through the mental and emotional anguish.

The Senorita was well into International waters and headed towards Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. “Just think, in a few days we will be basking in the sun on the beaches of Playa Del Carmen,” Brad said as he stretched his arms above his head.

It had been two months since their narrow escape, but Juan did not hesitate to respond to the distress signal sent out by Roberto. The same raft that aided their escape two months earlier delivered them down the Savannah River to safety once more. The trip took considerably longer than it would have on the speed boat, but was much safer now after resting and allowing time to elapse from the furious attack on the farm. They passed completely unnoticed by the U. S. Coast Guard station and entered the open waters of the Atlantic, where they met Juan and The Senorita at their previously arranged GPS coordinated rendezvous point.

They would hide in plain sight as tourists among the many Americans and Europeans that frequented the resort areas in and around Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico. With the President's assassination and all of the turmoil surrounding it, both Brad and Roberto were reasonably confident they were not being pursued. Eventually, they would head to the farm north of the bayous and New Orleans, where anyone who survived the attack hopefully went. At least that was the farm designated as refuge in the event an escape or evacuation was warranted. They still had an agenda. But now it could be accomplished using the political process. The midterm elections were still several weeks away. With the President's untimely death, President Mustafa made it clear he intended to maintain the status quo, but ended up putting the housing expansion on hold until after the elections. The general sentiment was for significant conservative gains in both the House and Senate. Following the corruption that was revealed about the Reid administration and the subsequent assassination, the elections could produce even more favorable results, Brad thought.

During the President's second press conference a few weeks following his oath of office ceremony, he was quick to distance himself from the scandal of President Reid, fully disclosing details of the President's involvement in NIA operations. President Mustafa specifically identified the death of Chief of Staff Bill Knox's daughter, Agent Sandra Knox, as the motive for the assassination, clarifying the initial press release that characterized Bill Knox as a deranged psychopath, who killed for no rational reason.

Sandra had wept openly upon hearing the revised version of the assassination. Grief over her father's death would be with her for some time. But she grieved just as much for her mother. Her mother would accept that she had died. She would also accept her father's death. But all she knew was Amanda was missing. That had to be eating her alive.

“You smell pretty damn good for a dead person,” Brad joked.

Sandra playfully slapped Brad's chest. “Oh yeah, well how are you dealing with your latest psychological problem?”

Thinking for a moment, Brad eventually said, “Okay, I'll bite. What new psychological problem?”

“Necrophilia,” she said matter-of-factly, as she turned her head and smiled.

Brad chuckled. “You're definitely not dead, but I can see how some people might think you're dying.”

“Huh? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, we still haven't made love, but all that moanin' and groanin' you do when we make out...”

“Ooooh, no you didn't go there,” a surprised Sandra exclaimed as she quickly turned trying to tickle him. It backfired as Brad turned the tables and tickled her until she almost peed.

“STOP!” she kept repeating.

“Hey, you two!” Amanda hollered from above into the sleeping quarters, mercifully saving Sandra from embarrassment. “Juan wants all of us on deck. Berto said he told him our ride ain't free. We got to learn how to fish, cook, clean or something to earn our keep.”

Brad and Sandra collapsed back on the bunk. “Alright, tell him we'll be there in a few minutes,” Brad replied.

Sandra rolled on top of Brad, sliding face to face. Brad runs his hand through her hair as they enjoyed gazing into each other's eyes. “I love you, Bradley Franklin.”

Brad smiled and gently kissed her lips. “I love you too, Sandra Kay Knox.”


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