GM - Story #3

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Chapter 30

Jameis Thomason stood in the middle of a busy intersection trying to figure out which way to run.

After his marriage finally fell apart for good and his divorce proceedings concluded, he was free to leave the country and seek the meaning in his life that had eluded him for so long. He felt like he had failed to live as productive an existence as he could have. The better part of four decades had passed and he had yet to accomplish a contribution to society that he could be proud of. He looked back at his time in journalism and regretted the millions of empty words he had written about style and culture, celebrities and melodrama.

He also felt that the dissolution of his marriage highlighted his inability to sustain love, which he viewed as a sin. He wanted to believe that Jaio could save his soul. And the work he conducted with Missy brought him back to life in many ways.

The year he spent with Missy electrified him like no other period in his life. Their collaboration in discovery of Jaio’s vocation renewed his spirit and inspired him to break free from his routine. He needed to learn more about Jaio, the man, to understand if Jaio, the enigma, could truly be his Messiah. He had to learn about his origin and figure out for himself if he could believe that God had actually sent an emissary down to earth to give him a renewed opportunity for salvation.

He signed a handful of papers and then boarded a plane to Somalia to start his next chapter. He had only met Jaio a year earlier in Churchville, Iowa. But he had spent a majority of those days with him, shadowing him, listening to him and studying peoples’ reactions to his teachings.

Prior to his departure, he had taken on the role of researcher, feeding raw material to Missy, who crafted the stories and then submitted them back to him as her Editor to finalize and publish.

After her final piece, he broke the news to Missy that he had arranged with Melanie Horniday to visit her parents at their mission and start a journey of discovery. Missy told him to blog about his experience, maybe publish a second book after the one he had just completed drops and hugged him close to her warm and soft, young body. She kissed him lightly on the cheek, lingering just long enough to cast doubt in his mind that maybe he could stay. But the hug ended. The kiss evaporated like invisible ink. He looked her in her eyes like a peer – or a friend – or a father. He told her he would write the second book about Jaio’s origin, or at least send her the updates so she could do it instead.

With split seconds to decide where to go to survive the sudden gun battle on the street, Jameis found a metal trash bin in an alley to hide behind as the hail of bullets rained down on the dirt streets and pinged off the cement facades of the city block around him. Bombs exploded in the distance and smoke filled the blue sky with a menacing swirl of grey and death black.

His journey had taken him from poverty-stricken Africa to some of the dirtiest, grungiest slums of run down places like Basrah, Beirut, Falluja, Mosul and Bagdad. The specter of violence hung over every place he visited, but never erupted the way it had today.

He had learned so much and come so close to finding the meaning he sought. He had learned of Jaio’s birth in the hollowed-out wreckage of a hospital that had been destroyed by an errant American missile during operation Desert Hornet. He had traced his youth to the family that cared for him and protected him, moving him from city to city to avoid the wrath of radical elements that would seek to exterminate his teachings.

He met Jaio’s earliest supporters and learned how Cael Block’s team of Marine Special Forces had been assigned by the US government to protect Jaio and his team in an effort to fan the influence he had built in the region.

He also learned that Cael and Ruben had separated from their team after the incident in Jeruselem and arranged to escort Jaio to Egypt and then on to Somalia to seek refuge with Cael’s uncle Horniday at their mission.

He never quite ironed out an explanation for the survival of the shooting, but not for lack of candor by the Hornidays. In fact, nobody could explain how he survived. And Jameis had accepted the mystery as a potential, even probable miracle.

As his month-long experience in the Middle East fast-forwarded across his mind, his heart exploded out of his chest in a violent cadence. He tried to maintain faith in God’s plan for him but feared for his life. And more than that, he feared that he would pass from this world without the final bit of clarity he needed to understand his value to God and in turn, why God would love him and choose to save him.

“No!” he screamed, dirty with sweat streaming down his face. “This can’t be it. This can’t be all there is. Please, show me there is more than this senseless death.”

But the only sign God managed was the sight of a young girl running, screaming across the street, her parents, separated from her and pinned down behind a parked truck.

He could only see the top of her head behind the dumpster that provided him cover. He didn’t see her go down. He only heard her scream and then lost sight of her all together.

Greyson hated airports.

But he had learned to take comfort in the plush accommodations at the Westchester NetJets lounge. Nearly a year had passed since he met Jaio at his apartment. He had been to the terminal a couple dozen times, dropping him off and picking him up after his trips to Iowa, Minnesota and other Midwestern destinations.

He felt alone in the leather recliner, sipping his water and thinking back to his painful lunch date with Cidalia and the evening he had spent with her and Hakim. He missed them. Since his employment as Jaio’s driver, his time had seemed to vanish into an invisible vortex. He made a mental note to connect with them and share more of what he had learned from his interactions with Jaio. He found himself hoping that they would choose to be inspired by Jaio and maybe even become followers of his.

Back in the airport again, he could feel Ruben Herrera’s presence all around him. With each camera he passed, tucked in a corner of a ceiling or mounted inconspicuously to a wall, he could hear an imaginary bell at Ruben’s desk keeping tight tabs on his movements. He had only seen the man sporadically since the shooting on 7th avenue where the former marine had miraculously recovered from a bullet wound in his spare bedroom. But he knew that Ruben must surely have seen him, and Cael escort their mutual “precious cargo” to and from his transport.

He hadn’t been back to Westchester in several months as Cael determined to keep rotating the schedule between different locations.

Gina Santaria sat quietly in the leather recliner across from him, scrolling through e-mails on her phone. Cael took a position in the lounge that maximized his ability to assess the crowd. Jaio sat quietly in a corner, deep in conversation with an influential Rabbi from nearby Ryebrook, New York. The Rabbi had agreed to meet him in the airport prior to his flight with Cael to Chicago, where he would spend a week with the various Deans of Religious Studies, Philosophy and Anthropology at Northwestern.

They sat in a dark corner of the lounge, early in the morning. Jaio wore a Yankees baseball cap and a grey hoodie. A long overcoat covered the hoodie and shrouded his entire lower half in shadow. He resembled a rap artist. Greyson surveyed the lounge and the self-obsessed business professionals who failed to notice the celebrity in their midst.

Greyson heard only snippets and phrases from the hushed conversation and turned his gaze to his colleague. Her perfume wafted across the small coffee table between them. She peered into her iPhone with her feet up. Her black leggings stretched tight over curved dancer muscles with her pink oversized sweatshirt covering her thighs. Her new reading glasses tipped downward at the end of her nose. She looked up, caught Greyson staring at her and smiled warmly at him.

It had been such a strange journey from their initial sexually-charged but physically isolated relationship to the nebulous sibling-like friendship they had developed. Greyson could still visualize her emblazoned in a bright red feathered bra or a sleek black teddy. A big part of him missed the late Sunday night chats with her, separated by the cold, hard glass of his television monitor.

They could see the tail of Jaio’s overcoat disappear into the doorway to the jet, obscured by the rock-like muscular frame of his oversized escort that seemed to appear out of thin air and join him in stride.

As Gina gathered her bag and Greyson checked his pockets for the keys, the twangy waitress, who had waited on them whenever they visited the terminal, approached them.

“Excuse me, Mr. Holliday,” she said, with no effort to dim the volume of her boisterous Texas accent. “Who was that man with you today? I have seen you here with him before.”

“He’s nobody in particular,” Greyson smiled as he reached for one last sip of his water before standing up to leave. “A friend.”

“Yes, I feel like I’ve seen him before,” she continued. “Is he somebody famous? Somebody I would know?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Greyson replied, putting his hand on Gina’s back as she brushed by the tall lanky cocktail waitress.

“He sure looked familiar, like he’s been in the news,” the bartender pitched into the conversation. “I’m sure I saw him on TV recently – maybe CNN?”

“No, no.” Greyson replied, tersely as the door to the tarmac slammed shut and rang three times. “He’s nobody, really. Just… no one at all. We have to get back to the city.”

Melanie Johnson watched one of the morning news chat shows on the kitchen television while she cleaned up after her kids’ breakfast. She had just returned from walking her youngest to the bus stop and mindlessly flipped to CNN to fill the empty house with chatter.

After an inane piece on a bride in San Francisco who had made her own wedding dress out of receipts from all the gifts her fiancé had bought for her during their long syrupy courtship, the program cut to a grainy video of Jaio walking out of an office at Columbia University, taken by a student and submitted on-line.

“Is this man the son of God?” asked the co-host. “That’s what people are asking themselves this morning after a series of articles from the Christian Science Monitor won a Pulitzer Prize last night.”

The story cut to a clip of Missy Davidson describing, in her Pulitzer acceptance speech, the positive and negative reactions that her interviewees had provided to her during her research for the articles.

“Son of God, or total fraud?” said a local reporter, filmed standing on an Upper West Side walkway by the main gate to Columbia. “According to the Christian Science Monitor, the man in this video, seen walking through this gate to visit Columbia University Dean of Philosophy, Dr. Helmut J. Foedor, is none other than Jaio - if you recall - the controversial holy Man from the Middle East who was shot - some believe fatally - at a rally in Bethlehem several years ago.”

The home-shot video followed Jaio, presumably without his knowledge across the avenue, down a side street and into the black town car. Through the window, Melanie could make out the distinctive features of her brother, Greyson. The shot cut to black as the barrel chest of Cael Block intervened and blocked the film crew’s path toward the car.

Melanie faced the monitor with her full attention. She turned up the volume and stood still absorbing the coverage. She always knew the moment would arrive. But she never truly pictured what it would be like for the world’s blissful unawareness of Jaio’s presence to finally disappear.

“In the series of articles, written by Melissa Davidson,” the reporter continued. “A former Associate Editor, and now Pulitzer Prize winner, Jaio not only miraculously survived being shot at point blank range by militant radical terrorists earlier this decade but was also the same hero that saved 54 students caught in the bombing at the University of Northern Iowa last February. Incredible – if true.”

The story cut to a sound byte of the Professor stating that he and Jaio had a compelling discussion about the human condition and the role of faith and free will in society. The reporter cut him short to ask if Jaio had claimed to be the son of God, but Dr. Foedor answered cryptically as he entered his car and closed the door.

“That is definitely the philosophical conundrum we must all face now isn’t it?”

The reporter turned to the camera as Dr. Foedor drove away, up 10th Avenue.

“Son of God or not,” she peered into the camera with her perfect smile framed symmetrically by arching auburn bangs, high cheekbones and bright red lips. “People are taking notice, but not everyone is buying in.”

“I think it’s stupid,” said one middle aged man into the microphone while walking his dog across the street from the university.

“Only in New York,” said another woman passing by dressed in a business suit.

“As for Missy Davidson, the reporter who broke the story,” the television personality concluded her story. “She’s taking the leap of faith from “reporter” covering the story, to “believer” joining the story.”

The network cut away to footage of Missy announcing that she would join Jaio and his team in helping to spread his message.

Melanie turned off the TV and stared at the black pane of glass. Her own reflection slowly came into focus and her mind started to race.

So, this is it now,” she thought to herself, recalling the simpler days when she and Jaio would travel to local churches and meet with a couple dozen followers at a time. “He’s not just our own local savior anymore. We’re losing him to the rest of the world.”

Melanie remained frozen in her kitchen. She couldn’t place the fluttered feeling in her stomach. Dread? Fear? Excitement? Pride? Her emotions swirled. She thought of her family, her supportive husband and her wonderfully bright, polite, well-adjusted children.

She worried for Greyson’s safety and for the safety of her own family. She looked up through the ceiling of her home to Heaven and asked for God’s strength and protection. She exhaled and felt comfort in her prayer and confidence in her Lord God and savior.

It doesn’t matter,” she said to herself. “He’ll always be our savior.

Jameis holed up in an alley on a barren city street deep in the heart of the Middle East. Bullets crisscrossed sporadically from unseen assailants, like popcorn. Plaster fell from a ricochet just above his head. Two dead bodies lay in the street, blood trickling out of their noses. He had just watched a little girl disappear and assumed she had been killed as well. He dared peek his head up over the iron dumpster that sheltered him and saw, through the dust and smoke, that the little girl had not been killed. Possibly she hadn’t even been shot. She sat in the middle of the dusty, smoke-filled street, paralyzed in fear, screaming and crying.

Her parents beckoned her to run to them, but the 30-yard dash would surely kill her with the flurry of bullets that whipped across that stretch. He could see about a hundred yards down to the east, maybe a dozen young men with enormous weapons, hiding behind doorways, cars, piles of garbage and trees. They had slowed down somewhat in their barrage. But they remained in place like sentries waiting for the next target.

The little girl must have been just out of their sight as she had slumped over behind one of the dormant bodies in the dirt.

To get to her, he would have to cross the street going south in the shadows of the buildings, out of view from the militants. To return her to her parents, he would have to cross eastward, through the sunlit portion of the street - right through their line of fire.

But he couldn’t just let her stay there in the middle of the battle zone. He slowly poked out from behind the dumpster, like a rabbit edging out of its hole.

The child looked small, maybe three or four years old and light. He thought she would be easy to carry like a football under his left arm. His best bet would be to cross the side of the street to the south, grab her and bring her straight back to his hiding spot. He would not have to cross into the light and might remain unseen.

Once he took the first step out of the alley, he would have to run as fast as he had ever moved. He would have to keep his head down and ignore the bullets and explosions. He looked up to the sky for guidance from God. But he only saw jet black smoke choking the air and hiding the sun.

And then he took one big leap into the intersection and dashed toward the girl.

To his surprise, the militants either did not see him or were not concerned about his rescue effort as they did not fire. Hope soared in his heart and he thanked God for helping him.

And then the shots rang out from the south side of the intersection. A separate group, about 300 yards away was running wildly toward him with guns raised. He scooped up the girl with one arm and turned to retreat to his hideaway, but bullets peppered the street between him and the alley. The crowd approached him rapidly from behind and he had to make a snap judgment as to which way to flee.

He decided his best route would be to cut straight through the intersection, directly across the line of fire from the group to the East and try to make it to the pick-up truck where the girl’s parents hid.

Holding the girl in the bend of his elbow, he flew across the street. Bullets followed him and spluttered across the dirt all around him.

The first stinging sensation struck his thigh about half way across the street and he fell flat on his face, dropping the girl in the process. Instinctively, he ignored the pain and grabbed her again. Two strides later, it felt like a string had ripped through his shoulder and gouged out all the flesh from his collar bone through his left bicep. He dropped the girl again and felt a third explosion in his ankle, just below the puncture wound in his thigh.

The line of fire changed as the group from the south encountered the group from the east. Jameis had about 12 more feet to traverse. The girl’s father reached out from behind the pick-up truck, but stay bullets made it impossible to move.

Jameis couldn’t get up with his shattered ankle and limp shoulder. Using his free right hand, he hoisted the girl onto his back and dragged himself on his belly across the last few feet. The father reached to pull him to safety. Jameis pointed to the girl and motioned for him to save her first.

In the moment as he could see the girl hugging her mother behind the shelter of the Ford F150, he felt the last bullet enter his lower back and turn his whole lower body cold. He didn’t even feel the friction of the gravel road as the girl’s father dragged him to safety.

He could move only his right arm and his head. The two adults spoke what sounded like gibberish to him, but he could tell by their head nodding and patting of his face and back that they were thanking him in their native language.

The woman produced a plastic container and tried to offer him water. The father took off his shirt and pressured his wounds. Jameis knew they couldn’t save him. Time slowed. He could feel each drop of blood that left his body from his four wounds. The girl’s parents seemed to understand his fate as well. They both placed their hands on his head and leaned their faces right up to his.

At first, he couldn’t understand. And then he figured it out. They were praying for him. It didn’t matter what prayers and to which God. And in that moment, Jameis felt more loved than he had since his childhood.

He looked up into the dark sky and thanked God for allowing him to achieve a worthwhile accomplishment in his life and for the deep peaceful understanding of true love. A small circle opened in the smoke. He could see the azure blue of the sky. His peripheral vision closed in. And as he gasped his last breath, Jameis Thomason saw God.

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