by R. Michael Lowe aka The Scot
All rights reserved © 2006
Copyright © 2006 by R. Michael Lowe aka The Scot
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. All rights are reserved by the author, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
Product names, brands, and other trademarks referred to within this book are the property of their respective trademark holders. Unless otherwise specified there is no association between the author and any trademark holder is expressed or implied. Nor does it express any endorsement by them, or of them. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark, service mark, or registered trademark.
The cover image is Convertremwib.jpg by Michael E. Cumpston and was placed in the public domain by him. The trimming and adding of text is done by Ernest Bywater.
6 December 2019 version
Published by Ernest Bywater
Kevin McKinsey looked up at the bulletin board that hung just inside the main entrance of his high school. Posted on the board were this morning’s sports articles. The headline from the Birmingham paper read: Gunslinger Plays with Loaded Forty-five. As he read the accompanying article he was hit by a strange mixture of pride and humility.
To those people who weren't football fans in the State of Alabama this headline would've been very misleading, but this was part of the hype preceding the state championship game scheduled to be played that night in Birmingham. The game featured a perennial powerhouse from Dothan and Kevin’s team from the normally mediocre Ft McClellan (Ft Mac) High School in Anniston.
The article itself covered the awesome passing statistics of Kevin, whose nickname was ‘Gunslinger’ and the exploits of his best friend, Jamar Pickney, whose jersey number forty-five was the other half of the headline. The two of them together had averaged over six hundred and fifty yards a game during this, their senior year.
Now, to many, Kevin’s reaction might seem strange, but his pride was in his team and in the exploits of his best friend. Kevin himself was very atypical of the traditional sports hero. First, he was extremely intelligent, scoring over fifteen hundred on his SAT. Second, he didn't see himself as someone special, but was just someone doing his job. Of course he did enjoy winning, but primarily because it was a way of measuring his performance. Beyond that, he tried as much as possible to be a normal student, friendly and pleasant to everyone. While Kevin turned away from the bulletin board he heard his coach calling from down the hall.
“Kevin, I've some people in the teacher’s conference room who'd like to talk to you.”
“Coach, I've French this period.”
“I know. Missus LaRue is aware and has given you an excused absence. In fact, when I asked her if you'd miss anything she laughed and said you already spoke French better than she did.”
Kevin laughed, and said, “Well, it didn’t hurt that Dad was stationed there for almost four years.”
Coach Bryson led his star quarterback down the hall, asking, “Speaking of your Dad, is the Colonel going to be at the game tonight?”
“Yes, Sir. He’s flying in to B’ham this afternoon, and going directly to Legion Field. If I can, I'd like to ride home with him after the game.”
“Son, I don’t see a problem with that. You get to see him little enough, as it is.”
“I know, but staying with Sergeant Pickney and his family isn't bad. I've Jamar, and the rest of the family treat me well.”
Just before they entered the room Coach asked, “Does it ever seem strange to have a black family be your guardians?”
“Coach, Sergeant Pickney worked with my Dad for more than twenty years, and Jamar and I even shared the same playpen. Since Mom died eight years ago, and all of Dad’s travel these past few years, they've been my family. I never think about the color of their skin, just about the love and respect they've shown me.”
In the conference room Kevin was introduced to two men and a woman, all of them stood when Kevin and Coach Bryson entered. The older of the two men looked to be around forty-five and was dressed in tan slacks, a white shirt with a maroon tie, and a camel hair blazer. The younger man was dressed in black slacks, and a LL Bean pullover sweater. The woman was in her early thirties, blond, and wore a Navy blue skirt and blazer, a white oxford blouse, and a burnt orange scarf around her neck for accent. It was obvious she'd done her homework wearing Auburn University’s colors. Kevin had already committed to accept their offer of a scholarship.
“Kevin,” as Coach introduced the people who waited to shake his hand, “this beautiful young lady is Alicia Clotfelter with ESPN. Next is Robert Armstrong of Sports Illustrated, and finally Geoff Palmer of Fox Sports. With your permission, they'd like to interview you.”
After giving his coach a look of frustration Kevin tried to be pleasant to the people who'd traveled a great distance to learn more about him.
Ms Clotfelter seemed to sense his discomfort and asked, “Kevin, do you have a problem with this, or are you just shy?”
“Honestly, I am uncomfortable with this, but probably not for the reasons you think. As far as I’m concerned it's the rest of the team you should be interviewing. If they didn’t do their jobs I'd be just another high school quarterback hoping for a scholarship offer somewhere.”
Mr Armstrong replied, “Kevin, that's really why we'd like to get to know you and to introduce you to our readers. You're the antithesis of every stereotypical high school jock any of us have ever heard of. I think, for that reason alone, the interviews would be worthwhile. When you add to that your phenomenal statistics, it'll make our readers and listeners want to learn about the real Kevin McKinsey.”
The young man from Fox added, “Kevin, I agree with Robert, but it’s more than that. You’re like the ‘kid next door’ to people. You’re accessible, humble, and genuinely care about more than just football. In addition, from what I've learned, you’re intelligent enough to go to school anywhere, even without football. This makes you 'good news' compared to so many out there who are bullies, trouble makers, and borderline gangsters.”
Kevin thought for a moment, and then slowly nodded while he asked, “Okay, but how will we work this. I’m missing one class this morning, but I don’t want to spend all day doing interviews.”
Alicia replied, “Your principal said the same thing. What we've proposed is a joint conference with only two camera people placed in the far corners of the room. We'll just have a casual discussion, and then share the results between us. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t see a problem with that. Though I do have some limitations I'd like to impose.”
Robert Armstrong looked concerned and puzzled as he asked, “And they are?”
“First, if the subject comes up, no one says anything about my father other than that he was in the Army. Second, no pictures of our home, or anything about where I live while my father is away. Finally, I want nothing said about my social life. I've a very precious girlfriend, and she deserves her privacy.”
The reporter from Fox looked at the others, and then said, “Kevin, we've no problem with that, but why the restrictions about your father and your living arrangements?”
“My father is an investigator with CID, the criminal investigative division of the Army, and often times has to work undercover. I don’t want anything said by you that could put his life or career in jeopardy. As for the other, while my father is traveling I stay with his old sergeant and his family. Even though we've progressed a lot in this state, there would be some out there who might respond negatively to me staying with a black family.”
Geoff replied, “Kevin, your reasons are obvious and acceptable. We'll do nothing to compromise any of the three relationships.”
With that agreement two camera crews were quickly brought in and microphones were placed in front of each of the four, and tested. Finally, a makeup person worked with each of them for a few moments.
When the interview began Alicia introduced everyone to the audience and gave some overall statistics of Kevin’s high school career.
Turning to the young quarterback she asked, “Kevin, are you nervous?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I still can’t figure out what all the fuss is about. It’s my teammates that enable me to do what I do. They’re the real stars of this team.”
Geoff responded, “Well, I talked to most of your teammates after practice yesterday, and their opinion is a little different. To a man, they said it's an honor just to be on the field with you. In fact, I got the distinct impression they'd follow you into Hell. Their feeling is that without you and Jamar, they wouldn't even have a winning season, much less be playing for the state championship. As for Jamar, he says you're so good everyone keys on you. He just has to wait for you to put the ball in his hands.”
Kevin replied, “Well, if you believe all that, then I'd like to talk to you about some property in New Orleans.”
Everyone laughed at Kevin’s obvious joke.
“Kevin,” responded Mr Armstrong, “I spent yesterday reviewing the films of your season. I have to be honest, I've never seen anyone, even in the pros who seemed to sense where everyone was on the field. Have you even been sacked this year?”
“No, Sir, but I came close many times, and I have the bruises to prove it.”
“Also, I've never seen anyone with the throwing touch you have. Whether it's across the middle, or long down the sidelines, the ball seems to have eyes. From what I could see, the only interceptions you had were tipped balls, and the only incompletes were dropped balls or obvious throwaways. What do you attribute this to?”
“I guess most of it's practice. I’ve thrown to Jamar almost everyday since I was seven or eight years old. This past summer I worked-out with all our receivers for more than two hours everyday. Of course, that was unofficial and none of the coaches were there. Jamar and I also spent a week at one of Auburn’s camps for high-school athletes. They were able to help both of us immensely in fine-tuning our patterns and our play fakes.”
Alicia responded, “And clearly the effort has paid off. Now, tell us about Kevin McKinsey. We know your father is in the Army and your mother died several years ago of cancer. Has growing up like that been hard on you?”
Tears could be seen in the corner of Kevin’s eyes when he replied, “I have to be honest and say I miss my Mom, a lot. She was a beautiful and very loving woman who created in me a hunger for reading and learning that's still there today. As for my Dad, I've a great relationship with him, and we've been together for most of the time since Mom’s death. I even went with him when he was stationed in Europe, so it’s only in the past twenty months when he has been gone more than normal. Fortunately, he only has another eleven months before retirement. He plans on being there for every game I play at Auburn.”
Robert Armstrong asked, “Kevin, if it’s not asking too much, why Auburn? With your grade point average and your SAT scores you could have gone anywhere in the country, football or no football.”
“I guess it’s mostly because of the unique spirit I found when I visited the school. My Dad, Mom, and I actually started going to their games when I was around five, and, except when we were overseas, we've missed very few of their home games. Other than West Point I don’t think I ever considered any other school.”
“Have you picked out a major?” Alicia asked.
“I plan on getting a double major in criminal justice and military science. I expect to make the Army my career, though I'd like to study law sometime in the future.”
Surprised at this revelation Geoff Palmer asked, “What about professional football? With your abilities surely you have to be thinking about that.”
“Mister Palmer, while I may change my mind in the future, it's presently not in any of my plans.”
Looking at his watch Kevin announced, “I’m sorry, but we've about five minutes before the bell rings. I think we've time for one more question.”
Geoff replied, “Then I’m going to go after the question that's bugged me since I first heard about you. How did you get the nickname ‘Gunslinger’?”
The other two reporters added, “Thanks, Geoff. I think that's a question we'd all like to have answered.”
“Well, it actually goes back to before my mother died. My Dad was off somewhere and a friend of his found a pair of the old Mattel Shooting Shell cap pistols, along with a bunch of the bullets, plastic tips and stick on caps. They'd belonged to his son who'd been killed in Vietnam. After talking to Dad he passed them on to me to enjoy. I was fascinated with them and even learned to work with leather so I could make my own ‘fast draw’ holster. Of course, I got my Mom to help me. I'd play with them in my room for hours, drawing and shooting at cardboard targets.
“When I got older Dad gave me a twenty-two pistol that looked like the old Colt Peacemaker. About three years ago I moved up to a real Colt forty-five and even a cap and ball forty-four. It’s not really a big deal, but my playmates started calling me 'Gunslinger' when I was around nine, and the nickname stuck. I have to admit ,though, I really do enjoy going to the range and shooting. In some ways, I was probably born a hundred years too late.”
Alicia asked, “What about any other hobbies?”
Kevin looked at her, and replied, “Miss Clotfelter, you’re cheating, but I will answer your question. I’m an amateur magician, I enjoy riding horses, and I’ve studied numerous forms of martial arts, though I've never been tested for a belt.
“Now, I need to wrap this up. I've an exam in AP Chemistry in less than ten minutes, and I'll have to hurry to get to class on time.”
Kevin then shook everyone’s hand and hurried out the door.
When he reached his locker Jennifer was waiting. She looked so sexy in her maroon and gold cheer-leading outfit.
“Good morning, GS. Where were you during French?”
“Would you believe I was being interviewed by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and Fox Sports?”
“Yep, they wanted to know all about our love life.”
Jennifer grinned, and said, “If that’s the case, I’ll bet it was the shortest interview they’ve ever had.”
“Actually, I embellished it so they wouldn’t think I was a virgin or something.”
Jennifer stopped dead in her tracks and looked hard at the only boy she'd ever dated. In fact, the only dates either of them had ever had were with each other. With her eyes looking deeply into his soul, he could no longer keep a straight face.
Realizing he'd been teasing her, she gently slapped him on his butt, and said, “If we win tonight I plan on changing that status.”
Kevin was still standing there with his mouth open when she hurried off to class. Suddenly he snapped out of his daze and was grinning from ear to ear while he headed for Chemistry. He passed through the doorway just as the tardy bell began to ring.
Mr Long looked up and said, “Mister McKinsey, I’m glad you've decided to grace us with your presence on this eventful day. Though with what you do to the curve I’m sure there are many here who would've been delighted if you'd missed this exam.”
“Sorry, Mister Long,” Kevin replied. “I was delayed getting out of the interview, even though I told them I had to get to an exam.”
“Interview, Mister McKinsey?”
“Yes. Coach got me out of French to meet with some people from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and Fox Sports.”
The teacher grinned, as his feelings for Kevin were like so many of the other teachers. The young man was a great person and a delight to teach. This view was especially true for Mr Long, as he'd never had any use for athletics or athletes. This year, however, because of Kevin, he hadn't missed a single game, and would scream himself hoarse over the exploits of his pupil. “Then I hope you're prepared, as this will be an exceptionally tough test.”
With that remark the class groaned as the exams were handed out, face down on each desk. Mr Long was noted for his thorough tests, but he was also fair and graded on a curve. What most didn't know was after Kevin had aced his first test the teacher had removed Kevin’s score so the others wouldn't be penalized by their extraordinary classmate.
When he'd finished passing out the exams Mr Long stated, “You may begin. When you finish you can quietly gather your books and head to the gym for the Pep Rally.”
The exam was two pages long, and the first page dealt with the properties of selected elements. When Kevin finished that page he turned to the second page where he read:
The five questions on the first page count one point each. For the other ninety-five points, who is the number one high school quarterback in the nation?
Kevin immediately broke into laughter. Moments later the rest of the class joined him when they discovered their teacher’s joke.
Laughing with his students Mr Long said, “Now, get out of here and head to the gym, and Kevin, good luck tonight.”
For the next forty minutes the entire student body, teachers, and even the lunchroom workers met in the gym and cheered on these modern day gladiators who'd carry their school’s colors and honor into the coming game. It was a very moving experience, and the coaches even led the team in their own version of the ‘Tiger Walk’ on the way to the waiting buses. To say the players were pumped up would be putting it mildly.
For the next hour and a half the bus journeyed west on I-20 until it joined I-59. They exited at Arkadelphia Road and then turned onto Eighth Avenue. Two blocks later the buses pulled into their designated area outside the stadium. Then, while the coaches, trainers, and equipment managers unloaded the team’s gear Kevin led the rest of the team inside. It was the biggest place they'd ever played and many of the players were already becoming intimidated by the stadium’s size and by the reputation of their opponent.
Sensing what his teammates were feeling, Kevin sent one of the freshmen for the team’s practice balls. When he returned with one of the managers and a large canvas bag full of footballs Kevin retrieved one, and said, “Okay, Mustangs, listen up.”
When he had their attention he said, “I believe I know how most of you feel right now. This place is huge, and in a few hours it'll be filled with more people than most of us have ever seen at one time. We can let this field and Dothan intimidate us, or we can focus on what got us here. What say you, my friends?”
Tom Witherspoon, their center, replied, “Run, Mustangs! Run!”
“Now, the first thing I want you to take note of is this is a football. It's just like the football we've played with all year and is just like the one we will be using tonight. This football can not intimidate us, nor can it beat us. Am I right?”
Mike Thomas, their tight end, led them in the answer, “Run, Mustangs! Run!”
Kevin smiled, and said, “Mike, take off down the field for ten, and then slant across the middle.”
Without hesitating Mike did as instructed, even though they were wearing normal school clothes. Kevin seemed to ignore Mike until he made his cut, and then he threw the ball without hardly looking at Mike or where he was running. The ball landed perfectly in Mike’s hands. After catching it Mike ran back to the other players.
“Mike,” Kevin asked, “did that pass feel different to you?
“Nope. It was just like hundreds you’ve thrown to me.”
“How about the field? Does the grass seem to be different than what we’re used to?”
“It seems to have just a little more of a slope, but not enough to really affect us.”
“Jamar, is this field any bigger than we’re used to? What about the yard markers?”
Grinning, Kevin’s friend replied, “Nope. It’s just like what we’ve been playing on for most of the year. Ten yards are ten yards and the field is a hundred yards long.”
Buck Washington, one of the wide receivers said, “GS, all that's good, but what about the crowds and the noise. What if you call an audible and we can’t hear you?”
“Buck, that’s a good point, but also remember Anniston is a lot closer to B’ham than Dothan. I expect this place will have a lot more of our fans here than Dothan will. Besides, when you play at Mississippi State next year the noise will be a lot louder than we'll hear tonight.”
Buck grinned, and said, “Yeah, that’s true. Especially with all those cow bells ringing.”
Kevin turned serious a moment, and said, “Guys, Buck does have a good point, though. It'll be hard for the wide receivers to hear my audibles. Any suggestions?”
Allen Smith, the strong side tackle, said, “Kevin, why don’t you give us three plays in the huddle. Then begin your snap count with the play number, as well as holding up one, two, or three fingers. A four would mean a new play.”
Kevin looked carefully at his teammates. He'd played with many of them since the seventh grade. They knew him, and he knew them. As a result the confidence that showed on their faces strengthened his own resolve. What’s more, it was their idea, not his or the coaches. They'd make it work.
“Okay, I think it’s a good plan, but I’ll have to talk to Coach Bryson about it. Now let's head back to the locker room and get prepared.”
When they arrived Coach Bryson came over to Kevin, and asked, “What’s going on?”
“The fellows were getting a little intimidated by all this. I took them out on the field and helped them to get their focus back. They did come up with a suggestion as to how to handle much of the crowd noise.”
“Really, tell me about it.”
Kevin explained the idea Allen had presented, and how he thought it'd work. After going though some different scenarios the coach agreed with the plan.
Then in a surprise Coach added, “Kevin, for this to work you’re going to pretty much call your own plays out there. Are you ready for that?”
“I think so. After all, we probably audible more than thirty percent of our plays as it is. I do have one suggestion, though.”
“What's that, son?”
“I'd like for Coach Brown to continue calling signals from the sideline, so Dothan doesn’t catch on to what we’re doing. Also, if the two of you want something special called you place your hands on your hips, and I'll call what he signals, subject to audibles, of course.”
“Kevin, that sounds like a good plan. I’ll go over it with the other coaches while everyone gets dressed out. One last thing, though.”
“What's that, Coach?”
“Kevin, win or lose tonight, coaching and working with you has been the pinnacle of my career. Not only are you a great passer and team leader, you're one of the finest young men I've ever been associated with. I’m proud of you … very proud.”
With that said Coach Bryson gathered the other coaches into a side office while Kevin and his teammates continued to get dressed out.
Shortly before the Mustangs were to head to the field to get warmed up there was a knock at the door. One of the coaches answered, and then called for Kevin. His Dad was standing there when he arrived at the door. They immediately fell into a deep and loving hug.
“I’m glad you could make it, Dad. I’ve missed you a lot this season.”
“I’m sorry about that, but there's something crucial going on. As it was, I had to threaten to resign my commission to get the General to agree to let me come home.”
“How long will you be home?”
“I’ve got to report back Monday morning, but I’ve got us three tickets for the Iron Bowl tomorrow.”
“That’s great. There's nothing like being in Auburn when they play Alabama, but why three tickets?”
“I figured you'd want to take Jennifer, especially since she'll be our house guest tonight.”
A stunned Kevin looked hard at his father, and asked, “And you’re alright with that?’
“Son, I won’t say I’m thrilled at the idea, but as Jennifer explained to her father, it'll be far better and safer than if her first time was in the backseat of a car somewhere. Now, that’s for later. Right now get your head back into this game and give ‘em hell. At the same time, Son, remember it’s only a game and tomorrow you'll be the same person, win or lose. Therefore, go have fun. The rest of your life is before you.”
“Kevin, one more thing. I’m proud of you, and your mother would be too.”
There were tears in Kevin’s eyes as he closed the door.
Shortly before seven o’clock the coaches led the Mustangs on to the field. Then, while the team went through calisthenics and warm-up exercises, Kevin was off by himself going through a series of Tai Chi forms, loosening his muscles and centering his focus. By seven-thirty, they were ready.
The actual kick off was scheduled for seven forty-five, and just before the team took the field Jennifer came over to Kevin and gave him a kiss on his cheek for good luck. Immediately afterwards the Mustang’s captains, Kevin, Mike Thomas, and Jerome Cannon approached the center of the field and were introduced by the official to their counterparts from the Dothan Wildcats.
Dothan won the toss and elected to receive. The Mustangs kicked off and stopped the return at Dothan’s thirty-five. At that point the Wildcat offense came on the field and proceeded to drive for their first score. Their offensive line was much bigger than the Mustang defense and just opened huge holes for their backs.
On the ensuing kickoff Dothan gambled the Mustangs wouldn't be expecting an onside kick, and they were right. The kicker hit the ball at a funny angle, causing it to spin. It traveled over the heads of Ft Mac’s linemen and then just dropped, bouncing wildly toward the right side of the field. This play had obviously been practiced, as there was nothing but Wildcats around the ball when it landed.
Three plays later Dothan flooded the left side of the field with receivers. This drew most of the Mustang defensive backs to that area, while their quarterback hit the tight end coming across the middle. At that point the Wildcat wide receivers became blockers and no one touched the receiver before he crossed the goal line. Less than five minutes had transpired and the Mustangs were already down by fourteen. What was worse, was they'd yet to even touch the ball.
Dothan kicked off again, but this time it went into the end zone for a touchback. Kevin led his team on to the field, taking possession on their own twenty yard line. On the first play Kevin pitched out to Jamar, but he immediately ran into a wall of defenders for a four yard loss. For the next two plays, it was just a repeat of the first - no matter what they tried, they ran into players waiting on them. The Dothan defensive players were not only bigger and stronger, they played with an almost reckless abandon. With fourth down the Mustangs punted. Dothan caught the ball on their thirty and returned the ball into Mustang territory. From there, they proceeded to move down the field for the third time.
While the defense was on the field Kevin, Coach Bryson, and Coach Brown huddled on the sideline discussing the situation.
A dejected Coach Bryson said, “Kevin, we don’t seem to be able to stop them, and they seem to know every play we’re trying to run.”
“Coach, I don’t think they can know our plays, but their size and their aggressiveness makes it easy for them to get into our backfield before the play can even start to develop. On that last hand off to Jamar I almost handed the ball off to their blitzing linebacker. He actually hit Jamar with my hand still holding the ball. What’s more, they seem to be keying on Jamar.”
Coach Brown responded, “They won’t be the first team to have tried that. It didn’t stop us before.”
“Coach,” said Kevin, “that’s true, but we’ve never played anyone with the size and speed of these guys. If I didn’t know better, I'd swear that we were playing the Alabama Crimson Tide, not the Dothan Wildcats.”
Both coaches laughed at Kevin’s candid remark, but they also understood why he felt that way.
Finally, Coach Bryson said, “Kevin, I’m at a loss. Do you have any ideas?”
“Coach, try moving the defense from a four three to a three four and randomly stunt two or three of the linebackers on almost every play. I'd take Toby out except for very short yardage and move the two corners up to play as outside linebackers. I'd move our safeties up to replace the corner-backs and then put Jamar and the Terrell kid in as free roving safeties.”
A stunned Coach Brown exclaimed, “Kevin, it'd take us a month to get the line used to those changes. Add to that the fact Jamar has never played safety and Brian Terrell is a freshman. We'll get blown away.”
“Maybe so, Coach, but that's already happening. We’ve got to get them out of their rhythm and become unpredictable. As for Jamar, when we practice with the other players he often takes the safety position to give them the feel of having to play against a defender. He has good speed, good hands, and a keen mind. Brian, on the other hand is green, but he was also the hardest hitter on the team. He plays wide open, as well as having good speed and good hands. They'll be our stoppers, and I suspect Jamar will have more than one interception while Brian will cause more than one fumble.”
A thoughtful Coach Bryson asked, “What about Jamar playing both sides? Won’t he get exhausted?”
“First, Jamar is in far better shape physically than most people know about, and second, from here on out he'll be more of a decoy than the primary running back. I plan on using Dothan’s aggressiveness against them, though our play may look more like sandlot football than anyone is used to. Also, no more calls from the sideline. If we need to make changes, or you want me to run something special, send it in from the sideline. We’re going to run a hurry up offense and try to keep Dothan from getting set for every play. I don’t want the distraction of looking at the sideline for signals, especially when they're decoys.”
Coach Bryson smiled at his young quarterback and said, “Son, I don’t see we’ve got anything to lose at this point. Have at it. Is there anything else?”
“Yes, Sir. Send Cory to join Coach Lawson in the press box. Tell them both to watch carefully for anything special any of Dothan’s players do that could tip us off as to their plans. Also, I want you to rotate our wide receivers more frequently, including the younger players. I want fresh legs on almost every play. Finally, I want Jason to move to a back’s position. I want two blockers in the backfield.”
“But Jason’s a guard, he’s never run the ball in his life.”
“Not quite true, but he is a fast pulling guard and heavier than most backs. He also played tailback for me in junior high before he went through a growth spurt.”
At this point, there was a loud cheer from the stands. Expecting to find out Dothan had scored again they were pleased to find Dothan had fumbled the ball instead. It was now the Mustang’s ball, starting on their own twelve yard line. Those cheers turned to confused silence as Kevin walked on the field and called time.
He then called everyone to the sideline and explained to the offense what he planned to do, and what was expected of them. To many, it didn’t make sense, but Kevin was their leader, and that was all that mattered. At the same time, Coach Bryson and the other coaches were working with the defense. Finally, the official came over and told them it was time to resume play. Once they got back to their place on the field, Tom Witherspoon, the center, called everyone into the huddle.
As soon as everyone was in place Kevin said, “We’re moving to a full house backfield, though I want it to look more like the wishbone, except when I move into the shotgun. Jason, you'll join Ted as a second fullback, while Jamar will be the up back. Most of the time Jamar will be a decoy and another blocker while I'll be using the fullbacks more to run the ball. I'll be rolling out more, and I expect the wide receivers to pull their safety and cornerbacks deep. Tom, besides blocking as a tight end you'll be my primary safety valve. Unless I give you a pattern to run you just work to get open and stay alert. Any questions?
“We’ll do our best,” was their answer.
“Good, then let’s run a variation of thirty-two right, and move it to student body left with Buck trailing as the option man. On two, break.”
The Mustangs moved into their positions. On the two count Kevin took the ball from Tom and took a step to his right. Jamar also went to the right, and Kevin pulled off a perfect fake by actually putting the ball in his best friend’s arms and then pulling it back out. Then, while the Wildcats pounced on Jamar, Kevin pivoted to follow the two blocking backs and one of the guards in the opposite direction. The only ones who weren't fooled were the defensive end and the outside linebacker. To their credit they were both disciplined enough to stay ‘home’ instead of following the fake. Jason, the guard playing fullback and the pulling guard took out the end, but the linebacker fought off the block from the other running back and moved in to stop Kevin. Then, just before Kevin was hit he made a perfect pitch back to the trailing wide receiver and Buck was twenty-nine yards down field before he was forced out of bounds by the safety. The Mustang bench and fans went wild.
From there the Mustangs moved down the field to score. Then, after the extra point and the kickoff the revised Mustang defense came on to the field. With the changes Kevin had suggested the Wildcats were thrown out of their rhythm. Unfortunately, because they hadn't practiced these new formations the Mustangs made some errors and eventually the Wildcats were able to score again.
In spite of the score Coach Bryson was realizing with each play the Mustang defense improved their execution. This improvement continued so that by half time Ft Mac had actually made the Wildcats punt a couple of times. In addition, Brian Terrell had caused two fumbles, even though one went out of bounds before the Mustangs could recover it.
In the locker room, even though they were behind thirty-five to twenty-one, an increasingly confident Ft Mac team discussed different problems and how to resolve them. Jamar had taken over the leadership of the defense and was working with the defensive coaches and players to shore up their ability to keep the Dothan offense out of sync and out of the end zone. At the same time, Kevin was working with the offense, discussing different approaches to use misdirection and counter plays to offset the Wildcat’s defensive speed and aggressiveness.
About ten minutes before the second half was to start Cory Williams, the Mustangs’ number two quarterback entered the locker room. He'd been assigned to the press box to look for subtle clues and habits that might help the Mustangs.
Kevin looked up when Cory entered, and asked, “Well, did you spot anything?”
“Did I ever. GS, you must be clairvoyant.”
Kevin yelled, “Hey, everyone, gather around and listen to what Cory has learned.”
With the rest of the team listening intently Cory said, “Let’s go down the list. First, their quarterback makes one of the stupidest mistakes I think I've ever seen. When he exits the huddle if it’s a pass play, he puts the tips of his right fingers in his mouth to wet them. Second, watch his feet when he lines up to take the snap. If the play is going to the right, his right foot is several inches behind his left one. If the play is going to the left, it’s just the opposite. If they're equal, then he’s dropping straight back to pass. As for the tailback, if he’s carrying the ball he lines up about a foot further back than if he’s the decoy or if he’s blocking. Their wide receiver, King, sets up different if he’s the primary receiver and going deep. He sets up almost like a sprinter in track, but if he’s not expecting to catch the ball or isn't going deep, then he stands up, with his hands on his knees. In addition, just before he makes a cut he moves his head slightly in the direction of his cut.”
“Wow!” exclaimed one of the players in the back of the room.
Kevin added, “I agree. Anything else?”
“Oh, yes. Their center moves the ball into a vertical position just prior to the snap on running plays, but leaves it sideways for passes. In addition, at least part of the time he actually lifts the ball and edges it forward. Coach Lawson said Jerome should point it out to the line judge. Then the next time he does it on a crucial down just blow through him. The best thing Dothan could hope for would be a penalty for drawing us offside. In actuality we’re likely to force a large loss or a fumble.”
Coach Bryson said, “Good job, Cory. That should give us an edge in stopping them more in the second half. What about help on the offense?”
“The primary thing Coach Lawson and I noticed was how they dealt with our counter plays. Their defensive ends and cornerbacks are holding a second to see which way the play begins while those on the opposite side stay home or cheat just a little to the inside. Coach says if we reverse our tight end and fullback’s blocking assignments they'll be more effective. He also suggested we designate one player whose primary responsibility is the middle linebacker.”
Mike Thomas, the tight end, asked, “Cory, I’m not sure I follow you on the reversing blocking assignments. Can you elab … explain?”
“You want me to elaborate?”
“Yeah, that’s the word.”
“Okay. Normally, you'd try to block the defensive end while Jason or Ted would take out the cornerback. Instead, Coach wants you to brush block the defensive end and then head for the outside linebacker or cornerback, pushing him back toward the center of the field. Then, whoever is the blocking back for that side is to get up a head of steam and go straight at the defensive end, putting him on the ground or at least moving him toward the sideline. Then, Kevin can pass, run or pitch out through the vacuum left behind.”
Coach Bryson said, “Excellent, but I'd make one suggestion to Mike and Kevin. Every so often let Mike slip past his intended block and have Kevin hit him about five yards past the defensive player. That'll give Mike a chance to pick up some good yardage before the defensive man realizes Mike didn’t just miss the block.”
Turning to Kevin and Jamar, he asked, “Anything more you need to say?”
Jamar replied, “Yeah, let’s go kick some Wildcat butt!”
The second half was as wild as any college game anyone had ever seen. The primary difference was Cory’s observations plus Kevin’s arm and his uncanny ability to know where everyone was on the field. Finally, with less than thirty seconds on the clock and down by four Kevin saw Jamar get free, and hit him with a sixty-three yard pass.
The final score was fifty-nine to fifty-six, Mustangs. In addition to more than a hundred points the two teams had amassed more than twelve hundred yards in offense. It was definitely not a defensive struggle. Kevin and Jamar were carried off the field by their teammates and Kevin was given the MVP trophy.
Back in the locker room the celebration looked like it'd go on for hours, but Kevin quickly showered and dressed. As he explained to his friends he only had a short time with his Dad and wanted to make the most of it. He never mentioned Jennifer was also planning to spend the night.
After joining in one last cheer Kevin slipped out of the locker room. Jennifer and his Dad were waiting for him in the hall. The three quickly headed for the Colonel’s car, a dark blue Tahoe, and moments later they were on the Interstate headed back to Anniston. For the entire trip the three excitedly talked about the game and their plans for the next day.
Around eleven-thirty Kevin’s Dad stopped the Tahoe at the base of their driveway. The house was on a hill about sixty feet from the road. There was a five foot retaining wall at the edge of the property with steps leading through it and up to the house. The mailbox was in front of the steps. Kevin, got out and headed to get the mail. His Dad and Jennifer started up the hill, but the SUV stalled out. His Dad restarted it and drove up to the top of the hill.
While taking the mail out of the mailbox Kevin thought, Today I don't have to take it inside and sort it out before going over to Jamar's house for the night.
By the time the car came to a stop Kevin had gotten the mail and climbed the steps. When he was about five feet inside the wall his eye noted a flash of light from several houses away. For some reason he knew immediately what it was. Unfortunately, his scream of “No!” never made it past his lips before the Tahoe exploded and the force of the explosion blew him backward and over the retaining wall.
Three days later Kevin awoke in the hospital. Nadine Pickney, Jamar’s mother, was sitting in a chair beside the bed when he opened his eyes. Her ‘mother sense’ immediately told her he was conscious, and she hit the button to call the nurse. Turning to Kevin she could see him trying to talk, but the only sounds that came out were grunts and groans.
“Do you need some water?” she asked.
Kevin nodded, and she immediately retrieved a cup of ice water and a straw. She also cautioned him to only take small sips at the moment. Kevin still had the straw in his mouth when the nurse entered the room. She scowled at Nadine, but didn't say anything about the water. On the other hand she ushered Jamar’s mother out of the room while she took Kevin’s vital signs.
Finally able to talk Kevin asked, “What happened?”
Still miffed because the cold water would make it harder to get Kevin’s temperature she gruffly replied someone from the Army would be in to talk to him shortly. When she left Nadine returned, along with retired Sergeant Gerald Pickney, her husband. Both of them had tears in their eyes.
A panicking Kevin asked, “Sarge, could you please tell me what’s going on?”
“Kevin, General Scott will be here shortly. He feels it’s his job to bring you up to date. I’m sure the doctor will probably want to see you first, but just remember, we’re here for you.”
With that the couple who'd been his legal guardians while his Dad was away could no longer bear the pain they carried and left the room. Moments later a doctor came in with another nurse. Then, while Kevin stared in confusion, the doctor checked his eyes and ears, along with testing for feeling in his right foot. When they finished they also abruptly left the room.
Moments later General Malcolm Scott, Colonel Mike McKinsey’s superior officer, entered the room. Through the opened door Kevin noted the guards outside the door, and they were armed with H&K MP5’s.
“General, what’s going on?”
“Son, I’m sorry to have kept you in the dark, but I needed to be the one to tell you what has happened, as some of the things I’m going to share with you are considered classified. The President and I thought that, under the circumstances, you had a right to know. First though, I'd like to ask you what you remember about that night.”
“You mean after the game?”
“Yes, and by the way that was some game. ESPN has been televising the taped replay, calling it the game of the decade.”
“Thanks. I remember getting to the house and getting out to get the mail. Dad started up the hill, but the car stalled. By the time he had it restarted and had pulled it to the front of the garage I was past the concrete wall and coming up the hill. I remember seeing a flash of light to my right and starting to scream. I don’t remember anything else until a few minutes ago.”
“Kevin, the flash of light was from a Russian made RPG seven, and it hit your Dad’s car dead on. It instantly killed your Dad and your girlfriend, and blew you over the wall before any shrapnel could get to you.
Hearing this the young man broke down in tears. Malcolm sat on the edge of the bed and held Kevin, letting him cry out his emotions and pain. Colonel Mike McKinsey was his friend. It was the least he could do.
A few minutes later Kevin began to get a hold of himself. He dried his eyes on a tissue from a box beside the bed and took a few swallows of water. There would be more tears and emotional upheaval later, but for now, Kevin knew he had to deal with reality. “What about me, Sir?”
“Kevin, you suffered a pretty severe concussion and your right heel was badly broken. According to the doctor they fused the bones of your heel. This should allow you to eventually walk with little or no pain, but you'll never be able to play football again. Not only will it affect your running, but you won’t be able to plant your right foot to throw a pass.”
“What about the Army, Sir? Will my injury also keep me from that?”
“Kevin, I know you intended to follow in your Dad’s footsteps in the Army, but, sadly, even that option is now closed to you.”
Tears were again filling Kevin’s eyes as he saw his losses becoming an insurmountable mountain before him. Angrily, Kevin asked, “Who did it General? Terrorists?”
“We’re not sure, but we think it's related to a case your father was working on. This is classified, but it involved the disappearance from a research lab of a previously unknown element we think was part of a meteor. My suspicion is your Dad was getting too close and they were trying to stop him. You and your girlfriend just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What about Dad’s arrangements?”
“He was so badly burned I had him cremated. The Army is taking care of all the arrangements, and his ashes will be placed at Arlington as soon as you're able to travel. Since he was stationed here for so many years we’re planning a memorial service for him at Fort McClellan.”
“What about Jennifer?”
“Kevin, I’ve talked to her parents, and they're pretty upset and angry at the moment. They don’t blame you or your Dad, but until they undergo some healing they don’t want to see you. They also had her cremated, and I was able to get the people at the crematorium to prepare this for you.” With that Malcolm pulled out a small metal capsule suspended on a chain.
“What is it?”
“A small amount of her ashes you can wear close to your heart.”
Kevin smiled, and said, “General, I think you are a 'closet romantic.'”
“Let’s just say I understand what you’re going through.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Kevin, you’re welcome. Just understand, your Dad wasn't just one of my officers, he was my friend. I'll help you anyway I can.”
“Thank you, Sir. What happens to me, now?”
“First, I have to tell you Auburn has had to withdraw their offer of a football scholarship, but replaced it with a full academic scholarship. Your Dad had a fair amount of insurance, and the Army will extend his retirement benefits and survivor’s benefits to you as long as you're taking classes, even through graduate school. Based upon that you won’t be rich, but you should be able to live comfortably. In addition, if you're interested, a two thousand acre block on the back side of Fort Mac will be available for you to purchase at very favorable terms. It backs up to the Talladega National Forest and has plenty of water. We’ll need to clear it of any unexploded ordnance and replace a few fences and buildings, but it'd make a very good horse ranch.”
“Thanks, General, but I’ll have to let you know on that one. What I'd like more is to get my sights on the people who did this.”
“I understand, but for now you need to get better and finish school. You won’t be eighteen for a few more months, but we've arranged for you to continue to stay with the Pickneys. Social Services wasn’t excited about it, but the temporary custody papers from your Dad helped. When they still pushed to put you into a foster home I made some calls. When they found their funding suddenly threatened they backed off. I will say I got the impression the woman in charge is a vindictive bitch who may well try to cause trouble sometime in the future.”
“How long will I be here?”
“I don’t know for sure, but possibly another week. That’s pretty much controlled by your recovery rate.”
“What about school?”
“That’s all being taken care of, and your teachers are making sure you don’t miss anything. I also have the feeling you won’t be getting lonely. Your teammates have been worrying the hospital to death, and there are a lot of retired Army people here who knew and respected your Dad. I suspect they’ll be almost fighting each other to do things for you.”
“Sir, I don’t know if I can handle that.”
“Well, you need to try. Remember, these men need to grieve too, as they lost one of their own, and a special one at that. Helping you at this time will enable them to get through this as much as it'll benefit you.”
“I never thought about it like that. I just don’t want to be a bother.”
“Kevin, you can’t separate yourself from the world. There are too many people in the world that need you. Just remember calling on them for help is not a bother. They’ve made that perfectly clear.”
Visiting hours were over at eight, and Malcolm left when a nurse came in to check Kevin’s vital signs.
When she wrote the results on his chart Kevin asked, “How am I doing?”
“Actually, you’re doing pretty good. I’m going to give you something for the pain and to help you sleep. According to the doctor’s instructions, you’re supposed to be allowed to eat in the morning.”
“Good, because I’m starved.”
“I can imagine. Just remember, we’ll have to start you out slowly, so don’t set your expectations very high. I suspect once you’re able to urinate normally and had a bowel movement they'll begin working on your physical therapy. I've no clue if it'll be with you as an inpatient, or an outpatient.” At the end of her conversation, the nurse injected some medicine into Kevin’s IV and turned down the lights as she left the room. A few minutes later he was asleep.
The next morning, Kevin was taken off the IV and allowed to have a piece of toast and some weak tea. At lunch he was allowed to have some chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers, along with Jell-O. By dinner the doctor had decided Kevin could have some solid food and by noon the next day he was back on a normal diet and starving to death for something more substantial.
Around three forty-five that afternoon his coaches came by to see him. While the other coaches asked how he was doing Coach Bryson brought out a juicy hamburger fresh from one of the better restaurants in town. Kevin thought he'd died and gone to heaven. Of course, one of the nurses came in and caught them, but she just smiled and never said a word.
After she left Coach Bryson asked, “Kevin, how are you doing?”
“Coach, right now I’m miserable. I’ve lost my Dad and Jennifer, and I don’t even know why. In addition, my football career is over, as is my option of going into the Army. The future I had all mapped out, including the girl I expected to make my wife, was destroyed by someone with a grenade launcher. I honestly don’t know where to go from here, nor am I really sure I even want to try.”
A surprised Coach Bryson said, “What's this about a grenade launcher? We were told it was caused by a gas leak.”
“Then, Coach, I just revealed something I shouldn’t have, so please forget I even said anything. I will tell you the house was totally electric; there wasn't any gas to leak out and explode.”
“Kevin, with that information I can understand your feelings. What everyone at school was told implied only an unfortunate accident. You’re saying Jennifer and your Dad were murdered. I accept the need to keep this quiet, but Jennifer’s parents need to know.”
“Coach, I agree, but they’re not talking to me at the moment. They don’t blame me, but they sent word I represented all the pain and anguish they'd experienced. They don’t seem to realize each of us have suffered a great loss. We're all victims, here.”
“You’re right, son. I’ll see if they’ll listen to me.”
The coaches stayed a little longer and then went home to their families. Coach Bryson kept his promise about talking to Jennifer’s parents. When they showed up just after dinner Kevin thought it must have been some talk. Jennifer’s Mom asked, “Kevin, how are you doing?”
“I’m not in any physical pain at the moment, but my emotional pain is almost unbearable.”
Mr Thompson responded, “And I’m sorry we weren’t there for you. We lost our little girl, and you were the easiest person to blame. We never thought about the love you had for each other, or your hopes and plans for the future. Of course, we know ‘nothing’ about the events that transpired, but we now understand we've all been victimized by the same traumatic event. Will you forgive us, and try to include us in your life?”
Confused, Kevin answered, “Of course I forgive you, but I don’t understand the other.”
Mrs. Thompson explained, “Kevin, at first we didn't want to see you because you represented our loss. Now we realize because of the love you had for each other you actually represent the memory of our daughter. We've discovered your two lives were so intertwined for such a long period of time it's almost impossible to remember her person and her life without also seeing you as part of it. Therefore, we'd like you to consider yourself part of our family.”
“I understand, but you realize there are already some custody problems, so it'd have to be at an emotional level only.”
Mr Thompson asked, “We haven't heard of any custody problems. What is going on?”
“It’s not common knowledge, but my Dad gave temporary custody to Jamar’s parents while he was traveling. Because they are a black family the local head of social services has been trying to get me removed from their home and placed with a foster family.”
“Son, I know you two boys are close, but why would your father give them temporary custody?”
“When Dad was still a green ‘shave tail’ lieutenant he lead a platoon in Nam. Gerald Pickney was Dad’s platoon sergeant. I never heard the whole story, but I think they must have saved each others' lives several times. Because of their relationship, until he retired a few years ago, Sergeant Pickney’s career was tied to my father’s. There was no one my father trusted more to look out for me.”
There were tears in Mr Thompson’s eyes when he said, “Son, that's a tremendous story. I was going to offer to adopt you, but now I think it'd be a dishonor to your father to do so. I'll tell you, and I’ll pass it on to Sergeant Pickney, we will be there for you in any way that's needed.”
Turning to his wife he said, “Now, Momma, I think we need to let ‘our son’ get some rest.” They both gave Kevin a big hug, and she gave him a mother’s kiss. That kiss was still on Kevin’s mind when he fell asleep a short time later.
The next morning Kevin was awakened early by a nurse wanting to check out his vital signs. When she finished she pulled the curtains to give him a sponge bath.
As she was getting him clean Kevin thought This sure isn’t like some of the stories you read. First, she’s not that attractive, and second, she is totally professional. Well, I guess that’s why it’s called fiction.
“Why are we getting started so early?” Kevin asked.
“My understanding is since you're able to urinate and have a bowel movement yesterday they may release you today. I was also told if your vitals were okay I was to get you ready to go on a trip. From the rumor I hear you’re going to meet the President.”
“I doubt that, but I do know I’m supposed to go to Washington to bury my Dad. That must be what this is all about.”
“Oh, I guess when someone heard Washington they just assumed the President would be involved.”
Looking at her name tag Kevin replied, “Betty, that would make sense. I can’t imagine why the President would want to meet me anyway.”
“If he’s seen that video of your game against Dothan, I can sure understand. That was phenomenal.”
“Thanks, but unfortunately, from what I understand, that was my last game.”
“I’m sorry. I hadn't heard that.”
“From what I’ve been told the damage to my heel might not keep me from walking, but I'll never be able run again, much less to plant my right foot to properly pass a ball.”
“So what happened to your scholarship?”
“They had to rescind the offer of a football scholarship, but they replaced it with an academic one. That says a lot to me about the school, as they didn't owe me anything.”
“I can see why it would. What are your plans then? Besides football, have they changed any?” Kevin could tell she was genuinely interested, and the care in giving him his bath was also obvious.
Kevin answered, “Betty, I wanted to study military science and criminal justice. I really didn’t care to go pro after college, as I wanted to follow my father into the CID. That night I lost my father, my future wife, and all my dreams. I honestly have no clue what I'll do now.”
Moved almost to tears Betty finished the bath, and changed his sheets and gown. Before she left she leaned over and kissed Kevin on the cheek.
“Kevin, you may not have a clue, but God does. I'll be praying for you, as you're a very special young man.”
“Thank you, Betty. At this point, I'll take help from wherever I can get it, even from God.”
A few minutes later, General Scott and the doctor walked in together. The doctor asked, “How are you doing this morning, Kevin?”
“About as good as expected. My right foot hurts, but it’s bearable. Other than that, the only thing that hurts is my heart.”
“Son, I can tell you, from experience, time will help both hurts. Now, the General here wants to take you to Washington. Are you up to the trip?”
“I haven’t tried to walk, yet, but other than that I'll be fine.”
General Malcolm Scott responded, “Kevin, for now you'll be in a wheel chair. While we're in DC I plan to have some specialists at Walter Reed take a look at you. You may be able to do your therapy there.”
“Then, General, what do we do about getting me some clothes?”
“The Pickneys are flying with us, and they're bringing you some things. If you need anything beyond that I’ll see it’s taken care of. They should be here in just a few minutes.”
“Are we going to Birmingham to catch a plane?”
“No son, for you and your Dad this will be first class all the way. A C-twenty B is waiting for us at the Anniston Airport.”
“That’s a Gulfstream built to carry Army VIP’s.”
Before Kevin could ask the General how the investigation was going Jamar came in carrying some of Kevin’s clothes. He was followed by an orderly pushing a wheel chair. With his best friend’s help Kevin quickly dressed. Then the orderly helped Kevin get into the wheel chair.
A few minutes later Kevin was wheeled out the front door and up to a white Suburban where he was placed inside. There were two sergeants in the front, with one of them driving. They were both armed. Malcolm and Jamar joined Kevin in the rear, and the SUV headed to the airport. On the way Malcolm explained that Gerald and Nadine would be meeting them at the plane. The drive was strangely quiet, and Kevin finally decided it was primarily due to respect for his Dad. There was also the factor no one knew what to say to the young man, not even Jamar.
When they arrived at the airport they went to the general aviation terminal. Here they were directed to drive out to where the aircraft was parked. Kevin noted the Pickneys must have just arrived, because their luggage was still being loaded onto the aircraft. Suddenly Kevin saw a bag being placed on the plane that confused the heck out him. It was the bag he used to transport his pistols and supplies. He couldn't imagine why that would be there, but decided to discuss it with the General when no one else was around.
While he'd been pondering the reasons for his guns being placed on the plane Kevin’s wheel chair had been unloaded. The two sergeants helped him from the SUV and into the chair, where he was wheeled to a device that looked like it had begun its life as a fork lift. It was now used to help move people bound to a wheel chair into a position where they could be rolled into the aircraft.
Once inside the plush aircraft, Kevin was helped into a seat. The wheel chair was folded and placed in storage to be used when they arrived in Washington. A young female two striper approached and asked if Kevin would like anything.
“Yes, Ma’am. A cold Coke would be most enjoyable.” She returned moments later with his Coke. She didn't check with any of the other passengers until the plane had taken off and reached its cruising altitude. She then brought Kevin a refill and checked on her other passengers. Her attitude quickly sent Kevin the message she considered him a more important VIP than the others on the plane, including General Scott. This didn't offend or alarm the young man, but he was puzzled by it.
A little over an hour later, the pilot announced they were entering Washington air space and would be landing at Reagan National Airport shortly. When the plane did finally touch ground it pulled up to one of the standard hub points so Kevin could be wheeled out of the plane along a boarding tube without any problems.
An Army Hummer pulled up beside the aircraft and the baggage was moved from the aircraft to the huge vehicle. General Scott and the two sergeants went down the stairs and climbed into the Hummer. Meanwhile, two men dressed as airline personnel came on board the aircraft and helped Kevin into the wheel chair. With the Pickneys following them the two men wheeled Kevin through the tube into the airport and to a limousine that was waiting outside the baggage area.
Once everyone was in the car the chauffeur introduced himself and explained he'd be taking them to their hotel to freshen up before going to Arlington Cemetery. With that information imparted to his passengers he drove away from the airport. When the airport road intersected with the George Washington Memorial Parkway he turned west. He pointed out Arlington Cemetery when they passed, and a short distance further he exited the parkway, heading for the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Shortly after crossing the bridge they pulled into a circular drive that led to a stately ivy covered brick building. The driver announced this was the Four Seasons, one of the finest hotels in the city.
Kevin thought, It sure is different from the more modern hotels I’ve stayed at before.
Again, Kevin was moved back into the wheel chair, and Jamar helped push him inside. While the others gawked at the rich luxury they saw Sergeant Pickney approached the registration desk. With tremendous uncertainty he introduced himself to the desk clerk and asked about a room. “Oh, Mister Pickney. We’ve been expecting you. Do you have any luggage with you, or is it all arriving separately?”
“I guess it’s coming separately. They didn’t put it in the limo that brought us here.”
“That’s not a problem, Sir. We’ll see your luggage is brought up when it arrives.” Turning to one of the bellhops standing close by, the desk clerk said, “Andrews, please escort the Pickneys and Mister McKinsey to Presidential Suite C in the West Wing. Their luggage will be arriving separately.”
Concerned about the expense the sergeant leaned over the counter and whispered, “How much is this going to cost?”
The desk clerk smiled, and said, “Sir, that's all been covered, including meals and tips. You don’t have to worry about anything. Just enjoy your stay at the Four Seasons.”
This relieved the older man’s mind, and he was able to relax. Well, he did until they arrived at their ‘room.’ The suite was bigger than their house in Anniston. After the bellhop left them, Gerald and his wife sat and stared at the unimaginable luxury that surrounded them. In contrast, Jamar and Kevin were fascinated with the view they had from the window. They were still trying to pick out different sights in the distance when General Scott and his men arrived with the luggage.
One thing Kevin did notice was his gun bag was missing, but he didn't think it was the time to mention it. Besides, if he remembered correctly something his Dad had said, DC had some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
When Gerald and Nadine gathered their luggage and headed to get dressed General Scott opened a garment bag and removed a medium gray suit Kevin had never seen. “Kevin, I took the liberty to borrow your blazer, as well as a pair of your favorite slacks. A tailor I know made this suit just for you in that the right leg has snaps so it can get over your cast without a problem. Later, when you lose the cast, he'll remove the snaps and sew the leg like normal.”
“Thank you, Sir, but wouldn’t the blazer have been sufficient?”
“Son, this is your father’s funeral, and there will be a lot of dignitaries present. I felt your Dad would like you to look your best. I also have a new shirt to go with your suit and an Auburn tie. I think you'll do Mike proud.”
“Thank you. I'll wear it with that same pride. And thanks, also, for the Auburn tie. That's a nice touch.”
“You’re welcome, Son. I'd also like to tell you, after meeting you I understand why your father was so proud of you. You're a fine young man. Now, do you need some help getting dressed?”
“Probably. Just send Jamar in. He’ll be glad to help.”
The general left and moments later Jamar entered the room.
He flashed Kevin a grin, and said, “Now, if you’re expecting me to be your groom, or something, you and I need to have a very serious conversation!”
“Jamar, I don’t need a groom, a butler or any other form of servant. What I need right now is a friend.”
“Then you’ve come to the right place. Friendship I have in abundance. Now, how can I help?”
“Probably the first thing would be to help me sit on the side of the bed. I need to get out of these clothes and into this new suit.”
“GS, you must not have looked in the mirror recently, because the first thing you need to do is get a shave. You look like that vice dude who ran around in the Ferrari.”
“Then, would you please see what you can scrounge up, and we’ll start with that. I wish I could get a shower, but I can’t until I get this cast off.”
Jamar replied, “If we were home we could tape it inside a big plastic bag, but I wouldn’t know where to start to find anything like that here. Besides, I don’t think you could stand by yourself and wash. At the same time, I think me doing something like that would be stretching the bonds of friendship far beyond what either one of us would be comfortable with.”
Laughing, Kevin replied, “I agree. Now, could you please find me some shaving supplies.”
Jamar left and returned a moment later with a man in his forties, wearing a white coat. “General Scott already had it covered. This gentleman is Oliver, and he’s from the barbershop down stairs. He was sent up to give you a trim and a shave. While he’s working with you I’ll go get my shower and get dressed.”
Oliver and Jamar moved Kevin back into the wheel chair and rolled him into the large adjoining bathroom. Here Oliver shampooed and cut Kevin’s hair, as well as removing his whiskers.
By the time Oliver was finished Jamar was back to help his friend get dressed. In spite of all Kevin had to do he was still ready before Gerald and Nadine.