Nothing is for Free
When the phone rang at 4:00 am, Sara McKenna felt the same stabbing pain to her lower spine she last felt when Kate, her youngest, was born. When her husband began whispering to someone on the phone with his back to her as he tried to keep the conversation from being heard, she knew her instincts were right. The stabbing pain increased to that point just before child birth and she knew that, unlike the precious bundle that now slept quietly five feet from her, a terrible evil was now upon her family.
She watched as her husband, Frank McKenna, an E-6 in the Delta Force that had secretly been created to cover the hole in security that was so obvious on 9/11, sprang into action gathering gear.
When he reached for the floor board that led to the crawl space under the cabin he had recently built as the addition for their growing family, she knew what she had feared for since he had joined the Force “...for extra money to keep the orchard going...” was now to be realized finally. And like most mothers, she wasn’t about to lose her husband and the father of her five children without a fight.
“It isn’t right, Frank, and you know it. They’ve got plenty of others with just as much training. This must be something big or they wouldn’t be calling you in the middle of the night. What do they need someone to hang out a limb as bait for Jihadi’s somewhere?”
Frank McKenna knew he had to answer some of Sara’s questions. He also knew he had to meet his unit in half an hour fully equipped and operational to be briefed and be airborne to an unknown destination. He also knew the roads outside were icier than a skating rink, and since the last ice storm he hadn’t left the orchard and thus had no reason to put snow chains on the his Ford 250. He kept gathering gear and weapons as Sara pleaded.
“Damnit, Frank, you have five children now. How am I going to raise them alone?” She demanded.
Frank knew he had to talk to her, and quickly. “First, I won’t be gone long. Second, I don’t have time to argue right now. And third, where’s my clean underwear?”
“In your top drawer…like always. Don’t patronize me, Frank McKenna. I know that government check was the reason we didn’t lose this orchard some years. But I always knew this day was coming.”
Now her voice rose to a scream because she knew deep down what was at stake here: her husband’s life. “THE GOVERNMENT NEVER GIVES ANYTHING FOR FREE!!! NOW THEY’RE CALLING YOU TO CASH IN!!! DON’T DO IT, FRANK!!! PLEAD HARDSHIP!!! THEY HAVE HARDSHIP DEFERMENTS STILL, DON’T THEY??!!”
Even as she raised her voice enough that the two children in the room nearest to them could now hear their heated discussion, Sgt. McKenna was already elsewhere. He concentrated on General Robinson’s code words: “Nirvana...Repeat Nirvana Seventh Heaven. No Trap door.” It was a situation he had been selected to train for and accepted and met the standards each year but still never expected to really be called upon to fulfill.
“Nirvana” meant the President was a hostage. “Repeat Nirvana Seventh Heaven” meant he would be operating under the worst possible circumstances. “No Trapdoor” meant it was so bad they had never even developed a contingency plan to meet it, despite the billions spent on experts and computer gaming to simulate various jihadi scenarios since 9/11.
In short, the code meant no one knew what to do in the short run because the whole situation was so serious and dangerous that it could not possibly have been imagined, except by those who specialize in such destruction and death: Jihadi’s. Frank reached for one extra Ontario boot knife.
“God, Frank at least listen to me, please. You can still...”
“Where are my extra boots? And where’s my goddamned underwear woman?!” At this point, she knew he was two minutes from being out the door. She now had about 60 seconds to make her case and the clock was ticking. Like any wife and mother, she still wasn’t letting him go without a fight because when it came to burying him she wanted a clear conscience.
“In the drawer...now the baby’s crying...” The baby, awakened by all the commotion, let out loud wails which brought the four boys to their parent’s door. They all stood there sleepy and confused.
Mrs. McKenna went to the crib, picked up the baby and clung to her tightly. She moved to the boys well aware now that her husband, as she knew, would honor the obligation and duties of his sworn oath to his nation. He was built that way and nothing she now said was going to change anything. She took the other children around her and walked them to the door. “Come my darling’s, let your father kiss your towheads on the way out the door.”
The knowledge that this might be the last time they would see their father made her knees buckle. Only her motherly instinct that the baby was at her side made her recover in time to keep from collapsing.
Unable to look at her husband without collapsing and aware of what this would do to the children, she looked around at the fireplace, unable to bear the knowledge of what her husband was about to encounter. In a two decade career with the Force, he went to remote corners of the world he never described when he returned.
He did his duty and maintained his silence, even if the puke politicians at the highest level in Washington, DC did not understand duty, honor, country, and the necessity of silence, he did.
He was silent now, as when he returned from other missions, and that silence always meant trouble. She focused her gaze on the fireplace and clung to her brood as a knife the size of fist slammed into her heart crushing the life out of her family. She tried with every one of her orchard wife’s long and hard life to suppress her feelings, but the devil had been released from hell and his first stop had been to her house.
Against her will, she wailed like the baby in her arms because she knew she was closer to losing her husband, his love and his strength, and being a widow at 39 was impossible to believe, yet it was about to happen and she could do nothing to stop it. In the way that crying often goes from family member to family member at such times, the boys all began to whimper and cry when they saw her crying.
To be strong for her children and to force such thoughts beneath the surface, she gritted her teeth and looked at the fireplace. Frank had built that fireplace from stone he found clearing the orchard 24 years ago when they had first married.
Suburban born and bred, she wasn’t sure then she was cut out for the life of an orchard wife, but she was always athletic and cheerful and resourceful and these qualities had served her well against the vicissitudes of trying to make a living from the land. That, and a strength inside that Frank knew from the day he set to marry her would enable her to endure and triumph over odds that would crush most women whom he saw as too used to the easy comforts of modern life.
In that rush of emotions and memories that accompany such a departure, she saw in the fireplace the craftsman Frank was, a craftsman in the classic American sense. If he laid stone, cut old oak trees into planks for his sawmill and to build new packing sheds, planted or cared for trees, or in whatever of the numerous skills it took to run a successful orchard, Frank did it right. Not for show, but because that was the way it was to be done.
His ancestors passed it on to his father who, in turn, passed it on to him and he passed on to her boys. The very house she stood in now, one third oak, one third brick, and one third stone, had all come from the land they lived on and loved. “It’s always a battle for land.” he remembered Frank saying a thousand times over the years of their marriage.
“Sara...wake up! I’m goin’ now.” She was shaken from her half-awake day dream. “Tell Pa Paw to make sure the fertilizer bill is paid when I’m away. The packing shed needs insulation in the north corner. Tell him to get more of that Reflectix aluminum foil product as it seems to last longest. I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
He leaned over to kiss her and she put the baby on her hip with one arm and grabbed him with terrible force with the other arm. Her strength startled him.
She kissed his lips fully. Then she put her mouth to his ear and whispered, “You come home, Frank McKenna! You come home alive! I can’t raise these kids alone! You do what you have to but don’t get hurt! We need you, Frank. We all need you. Three rings and hang up and I’ll pick up on the next first ring like we rehearsed. Now go! Go!” She turned, held the children to herself, and cried.
Frank McKenna took one last quick look at his family, and then turned quickly. He bounded out the door and into his “Deezel Weezel” a huge Ford truck he had picked up at a going-out-of-business orchard fire sale for five hundred dollars. The fruit business was always tenuous, but with the “City People” (mostly retired government workers from the Washington, DC area now moving in because of the low taxes and driving up land prices) it was even more tenuous now. “Christ! Forget the orchard business for just now!”
Frank McKenna said to himself loudly in the cabin of his truck. He drove his fists into his stomach and let out a primal scream.
AAAAAAHHHHHAHAHAHHHHHH!!! Like any great sniper, he had the ability to shift focus in a matter of nanoseconds. So he did.
As a student of the Finnian Celtic warriors of ancient Ireland and an expert on the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, he knew there was one last preparation for battle. “Lord...you know how I love them. You also know I don’t say it like I need to and it’s always too late and all that crap. The Presidents’ ass is in a meat grinder and soon mine’ll be too. Please protect me and guide me through all this. I’ve read your word and tried to live it as best I could.
“AH PIGSHIT!!!....” Frank screamed, as the truck went off a patch of ice into a fallow corn field.
“Like I said Lord, talk to me on this one as before and I’ll try to do the same. All these skills you gave me I offer to your greater glory. Let me honor you in this battle. I’ll keep that little tired copy of your Word in my pocket. It’s the one that took a Jap bullet and saved my father’s life in the Pacific. If I get captured...well...let’s not even think about that, eh? Give me Daniel’s strength in the lion’s den”
“What was that Proverbs passage?” Frank reached for the dash board and his old, beaten up Bible. He played a game he had played many times before and let the Bible drop and open to a page. At Proverbs 28:1-2 he saw what he needed.
“The wicked man flees though no one pursues but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.”
“Sounds close enough for me, Lord!” Frank said as he clenched his jaw, threw the truck into low gear, rolled down the window half way to breathe the freezing air to steel himself for battle, and raced into new narcotic nightmare of foreigners bringing death and destruction to America.