THE BERGEN BOYS.
Pete Harrison had Jesse’s attention. The acerbic smart-alecky aura of Jesse’s soul became dormant, and a distraction-free, reverential disposition emerged within Jesse, but not without curiosity.
“You… knew my father?” Jesse inquired.
“Yes,” Harrison replied. He placed his hands on his hips and began walking at a tortoise pace.
“Ha, good one, you got me,” Jesse chuckled, but did so nervously.
“No, I’m not. I’ll prove it.” Harrison produced his ultraphone and extracted a photo of himself and a muscular man in military uniforms, arms wrapped around each other.
Jesse’s blue eyes became a puddle of salty water as he saw father’s face next to Harrison’s. “I can’t believe it,” he trembled. “It’s like we’re looking in a mirror.”
“Except I don’t have old man’s hair,” Harrison chuckled. “Brian was the best soldier in the Boys. He was an instinctual fighter with uncanny strength, steadfast resolve, and brilliant tactical acumen.” His heart fluttering, Harrison stopped, approached the hallway windows, then leaned his trembling hands against the windowsill.
“Are you okay, sir?” Jesse asked with genuine concern.
Harrison sighed, furrowed his eyebrows, then resumed: “Our first fight was the Battle of Chicago. I remember every second. I recall me, your father, and three other Boys were trapped in a room on the third floor of the laser-decimated Hancock Tower. The perimeter was engulfed in flames, and we were stuck in the middle. We were dead; I mean dead. Then, your father suggested we shoot a circle on the floor with our sidearms. I thought he was nuts, but we did it because we felt we had nothing left to lose. Eventually, our shots caused the floor to cave beneath us, and we fell to the second floor. Moments later, we reached the emergency staircase and made it out to the streets alive.”
“Wow,” an overwhelmed Jesse replied.
“I never would have considered such a move with seconds to live, but… Brian did.”
“Now, I’m sure you’ve been told stories about the Battle of Washington.”
Jesse’s heart sank. “You don’t have to remind me.”
“Do you know what happened two days before that?”
“Your father announced your mother was pregnant with you.” Harrison paused, then breathed deeply to recompose himself. “He was so excited! His happiness galvanized us. So, me and the rest of the Boys agreed to continue fighting and drive the New Axis off the east coast, so we could get back to our families. Anyway, Brian and I escaped D.C. on a helicopter before the H-bomb detonated, but not before we sustained heavy fire, and… we were both hit. Badly. While we were on the helicopter, your father…”
Harrison began to sob. Jesse patted his principal on the shoulder in a show of empathy.
“He asked me to tell your mother he loved her,” Harrison marshaled after huffing. “And he kept saying how sorry he was he wouldn’t be there for you. He died… before the helicopter landed. Those words: I’m sorry… I’m sorry, still echo in my mind today. It’s heartbreaking.” He then turned to Jesse and said: “I can’t comprehend how it feels for you to be an orphan. I will never pretend to understand.”
He and Jesse then embraced and sobbed together. After a minute of emotional release and reflection, Harrison released his arms from Jesse, clapped his hand together, and summoned a slight grin. “You know,” Harrison resumed, “your father would always talk about your mother. He loved her more than life itself. And to be honest, after what he went through, I will never complain about why I was discharged from the Marines.”
Jesse’s glazed eyes rolled upward as he wiped a tear away. “Why did you get discharged?”
Harrison then lifted the right pant leg of his khaki, revealing a silver steel beam where his lower right leg used to be.
“WHOA!” Jesse exclaimed as his heart skipped a beat. “Can… can I ask…”
“Got shot square in the kneecap. My leg detached on impact. I’m lucky I survived. I ask one favor of you, Jesse: that this conversation stay between us. Your fellow students don’t know about my leg, so I trust you’ll keep this a secret.”
“I’d like you to look me in the eye and promise.”
Jesse nodded and gave his principal a reverence he hadn’t given his uncle in years. “I promise, sir.”
“Mr. Harrison, I appreciate you trying teaching me a life lesson, but I have a random question.”
“Are you familiar with the Diary of the All-American Marine?”
Harrison’s eyes popped skyward, then he looked in all directions. When he realized no one else was around, he leaned toward Jesse’s face, almost nose-to-nose. “How do you know about that?!” he whispered.
“The interlink,” Jesse loudly replied.
“Shh!” Harrison implored, then continued whispering. “You want a Third violation?!”
“For a book?!” Jesse whispered while looking at his principal in wonderment.
“Jesse,” Harrison whispered. “I need you to be one hundred percent honest with me right now. Do you have a copy of that book?!”
“SHH!” “Listen to me.” Harrison then took a knee, and resumed in the softest, quietest whisper he could produce: “You-know-who has deemed the Diary of the All-American Marine a level-five matter of national security: the highest there is. Supposedly, only five copies still exist. You-know-who possesses one. If the other copies were discovered, not only would its possessor be tight-roped at Rockefeller, but their family members would be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.”
Jesse leaned back, anxiousness overtaking his insides. “How do you know this?”
“I never thought I’d need to say this but… I know Francis Stewart. I worked for his office in the early days of the DRF. Not the SAA, but Jesse… I risk a Third violation just speaking about this!”
“Are you still in touch with him?”
“We haven’t spoken in years. We used to be best friends, and I did a big favor for him years ago. But as the years have passed I’ve become more distant from him, because… well… all I can say is that his morals, ethics, and tactics completely differ from mine, and… I know a little too much about his intentions as Ultimate Minister that I learned about years ago.”
Jesse ponderously tilted his head upward, then fretfully interlocked his blue eyes on Harrison’s. “Sir,” he whispered. “Will we be going back to the W word?”
Harrison blinked his eyes twice, then sighed. “Jesse?”
“I don’t think you-know-who has anything to gain by invading New Alaska. He may be angry now, but he’ll get over it. Listen, I can’t have you worrying about that. Your biggest concern right now is to focus on your studies - and I trust they’ll improve - and be ready for Friday.”
Jesse scrunched his face. After a lengthy pause, Harrison creased his lips.
“And,” Harrison continued, “I would also think about using your talent and intuition for something more.”
Jesse raised his right eyebrow. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Harrison smirked. “Beat Alpine Friday night, then we’ll talk.”