By Kenneth Stepp and Lindy Earl
Legend has it that there are warriors in our midst. They could be anyone. Your postman, brother, father, even your teacher. They blend in. They tell no one, they just do life in a normal manner like everyone else. They are not a part of the military, nor do they answer to the Pentagon.
The story goes that there are seven of them. On inauguration day, after the new President is installed, the President is briefed on the seven. These men and women are property of the President alone, and the President may use them for any purpose.
Rumors suggest that these are men are of valor, principles, and patriotism. Their country is only second to their God. Make no mistake, though. These men are machines–the minds of a MacGyver and the warrior prowess of the Greek god of war, Ares. They can cross borders and do what must be done, undetected. They leave destruction in their wake. They can, and have, annihilated standing armies. Well, if the legends were true; of course, they are just stories around a campfire to most.
Daniel was working on a marketing and promotional campaign for a woman he’d met online. She was smart, funny, likable, and needed to find herself in the business world again. Divorced and a talented speaker, already a published author, she would soon be on her way.
Linda was a single mom. One son, Jerry, was in the Navy, the other, Randy, was an Army man. Her daughter, Kim, was a college student who lived with her. All bright outgoing superstars in their own way. Just a great family that Daniel had become very close to and enjoyed spending time with. Daniel and Linda wrote for a local paper, mostly about relationships, love, and dating. They both enjoyed writing and enjoyed the commonality of being writers. They understood one another in ways others couldn’t.
Time together made them both imagine more, but they kept their feelings private. Both knew, but it wasn’t something that ever became a conversation. Daniel was along for the ride, in hopes of riding her coattails while helping her at the same time. The single mom world was tough, no matter what the children’s ages.
* * * * *
Jerry received word from his Naval command that he would be stationed in San Diego. Linda was hoping for somewhere closer, but knew her son needed to live his own life. Life is brutal, but each needs to follow their own path. The family all joked about it but the fact remained, life is hard in the service. Even while sad that he was a continent away, Linda was relieved that he would be in a safe, and very fun, place. It could have been so much worse. And maybe she would visit him next year.
After taking time to acclimate to the news, Linda was beginning to enjoy the thought of being an empty nester. She was fiercely independent and was warming up to the idea of expanding her adventurous side. There were plays and symphonies to be seen. Concerts to attend. Trips to beaches, cities, mountains . . . the options were limitless.
Even staying home could be an adventure. There were so many projects to do . . . house and yard maintenance had taken their toll on her and she was ready to return to the land of the living after years of a bad marriage and the challenge of raising children alone after an ugly divorce.
She could return to exercise – real exercise! She had been an athlete in school so many years ago. While she had tried to maintain her figure, the years showed in her eyes and, too often, her posture. Returning to a regimen would be good for her mind as well as her body. She was ready to face the adventure of the rest of her life, now that her children were safely ensconced in their lives.
Her son, Randy, however, did not receive great news about where he would be spending his time. Iraq. Not what any mother wanted to hear. It was, however, what Randy wanted to hear. Randy tried to downplay the danger to his mother.
“Look, I’ll be in the second largest FOB in the country,” he told her. “It’s huge. A world unto itself.” He looked earnest, and Linda wanted to believe him, but they both knew better.
While the base may be safe, Randy, and his platoon, would not always be on base. There were reconnaissance missions. There were patrols. There were too many reasons for young soldiers to leave the base. Outside the FOB was not a safe place and everyone knows it, most of all mothers of soldiers.
Daniel knew how Linda felt. He had lived through it himself when his son, Samuel, had been in the Army. Samuel had been deployed to Iraq but never talked about it. That alone told Daniel how bad it had been.
If the danger had been less, Samuel would have returned with funny stories and tales of pranks. Instead, silence. Samuel simply did not discuss what happened in the theatre. The subject was taboo. Daniel knew it had been bad.
Daniel had many sleepless nights thinking about what might go wrong for Samuel. His wife at the time wondered why Daniel talked of going over himself. He had never been in the military, she thought, what a silly thing for him to say. Oh, the secrets that are kept.
* * * * *
Life moved quickly. Daniel was introducing Linda to his political friends and she was taking him to football games. They were attending Art Shows and visiting museums. A day out could mean a stroll through an historic town, a visit to a plantation, or a day shopping thrift stores. They were all equally fun and all provided fodder for their writing. They could find stories anywhere and spent hours weaving their tales.
The two were enjoying their time and staying distracted. Daniel’s plan was to keep Linda so engaged that she wouldn’t think about her Sailor on the left coast or her Soldier on foreign soil. Movies, games, events, and a lot of just riding around, sightseeing and talking . . . anything to keep her busy.
Behind the activities, though, she was worried. Scared maybe, too. She did receive a weekly email from Randy. Thank God for electronic communication. What did families do before? The idea of waiting months for a letter was deplorable in her mind.
Linda and Randy spoke very little of his daily activities. He did mention that the children over there would steal his pens, so he kept one hidden. He would do his best to share light-hearted stories. Randy did his best to lie to his mother about how bad it was. Linda did her best to pretend to believe him.
One week there was no email. She was concerned, but not freaking out.
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Just busy. Right?” she casually mentioned to Daniel during one of their rides. “I mean, everyone is busy. All over. Of course they’re busy over there.”
Daniel caught on. Linda was talking about Randy again. Whenever he saw her with a frown and scrunched up eyebrows, he knew she was thinking about her soldier. And, like now, when she would suddenly begin talking, as though in the middle of a sentence, he knew how concerned she was.
Daniel comforted her the best he could. “Of course he’s busy. He’s a soldier,” Daniel responded. “They have patrols all times of day. Night patrols. Early patrols. Late patrols. He’s probably rarely in his rack.”
This brought a new concern to her eyes. “Do you think he’s getting enough sleep?” she asked. “You know, sleep deprivation leads to bad decisions. If he’s not sleeping well, and who could on a thin little mattress? I mean, they call them a rack – that’s a mid-evil torture device! How can anyone expect to sleep well on something like that?”
Daniel was pleased to hear the humor in Linda’s voice. Yes, she was concerned. Yes, she would always be a mother. But she was wise enough to realize that her worrying changed nothing. So she made her jokes and they continued their adventures, Daniel doing his best to distract her.
* * * * *
The second week without a letter prompted Linda to begin making calls, to anyone she could. She called Randy’s unit, the recruitment center, an 800 number she saw advertised. Anything! She even called the politicians she had recently met. Nothing. There was no help to be found.
Week three without a letter was terrifying for her. She knew. Mother’s intuition or not, she knew her Randy was missing. Probably dead. She could only hope it had happened quickly.
The fifth week she did receive a letter. It was from the Army. Randy was believed to be held captive by the Taliban encampment west of his base. His team had been on patrol. They came under fire. Many of the soldiers died that day. Two escaped. Randy was taken alive!
* * * * *
Daniel made the hour drive to Linda’s home on a rainy Saturday morning. He sat with her, read the letter himself, and just held her. His heart was broken too. He could not imagine what was going through her mind. The scenarios must have been horrifying.
“We don’t know he’s dead,” he whispered, holding her gently but close.
“You’re right. We don’t know. But we certainly strongly suspect it. Right? Admit it, Daniel. You think he’s dead. In truth, it would be better for him if he is dead than being caged up by those people who are no better than animals.”
Daniel knew Linda’s lashing out was her way of venting. He let her continue.
“Why is he even over there? Why is anyone over there? Why can’t we live a nice, peaceful life, right here in our own country?”
Even as Linda continued, Daniel knew she didn’t believe what she was saying. She was as patriotic as anyone he knew, as patriotic as he, himself, was. She also knew why the US chose to go overseas, and that soldiers over there kept people safe over here. Yes, they both knew it, but Linda needed to vent, so he let her, as he gently held her, for just a little while.
Daniel said he would make some calls but Linda really had no idea why. He wasn’t military and she knew everyone he did, or so she thought. Daniel was acting strangely. Different in a very alpha way. It’s as if he was all of a sudden a different man.
The next day was Sunday. Daniel came over, picked Linda up and took her to a church nearby. They went to lunch at a little hole in the wall place in the historic district, near the church.
“Linda,” he said. “I’m going to say some things that won’t make sense for a while. I just want you to listen without commenting . . . “
Then Daniel went on to tell her there were things about his past that weren’t exactly what she thought. She listened, confused but attentive.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked.
“I’m leaving in the morning,” he replied steadily. “I’ll have Randy back home in ten days.”
She was silent. To her, it was a cruel joke. He dropped her off at home and disappeared down the road.
- * * * *
The next day Linda found her mind wandering down some very strange roads. Daniel’s phone was no longer on, his social media, which was always busy, was gone, he had suspended what he could and the rest was nothing but crickets.
“Was this all an elaborate ruse?” she said to no one, for she was, again, alone. “My son has been kidnapped and now my best friend abandons me.” It wasn’t a complaint, just a fact.
A fact, like her failed marriage. A fact, like her unending stream of bills. A fact, like her sons choosing professions that scared her to her knees, night after night.
Her heart was breaking all over again. It was all too much, too much. She was distraught in a way that she couldn’t describe. Her favorite thing to say was, “tomorrow will be a better day”, but would it? How could it? Her son was missing and now Daniel was, too.
And what was that cockamamie story about rescuing Randy? Why would he even act like that? Daniel had been gone five days. She stayed glued to the news and alternative news. There was a story of a battle picked up via satellite. An encampment in a No-Go Zone of the desert had been lit up like the fourth of July and no one seemed to know what happened.
Her mind drifted back on his words. I’m bringing Randy back to you in ten days. Could it be? She tried not to get her hopes up.
* * * * *
Day seven since Daniel disappeared. Her doorbell rang. She looked out the peephole and Army suits were all she could see.
She opened the door and stared at them for more than few seconds before she found her voice.
“M-may I help you?”
“Mrs. Pearl,” the authoritative voice did not fit the baby face of the man on her front porch.
“May we have a moment of your time?” he continued, not knowing her thoughts. Not knowing that she found his youthful appearance a painful reminder of her sons, one on a ship in the Pacific, one lost on the other side of the world.
Robotically she invited them in and seated all of them in her den. Her body was functioning, her manners rising to the occasion while her mind was shouting within her head, “What is this about?” and, in her heart, she fervently prayed this wasn’t a visit telling her Randy was dead.
Once they were seated, the elder of the two soldiers spoke for the first time. “Mrs. Pearl.” He was all politeness and formality. “My name is Colonel Blakey. I need to ask you what is going to seem like a strange question.”
The Colonel paused just long enough for Linda to have another thousand thoughts race through her mind. She was no longer wondering anything, she was racing from thought to thought. Who knew anyone could stuff so many thoughts into the space of a few breaths?
In an almost-monotone Colonel Blakey continued, “Have you heard from Randy?”
Her heart leaped. Why were they, he, asking her this question? Wouldn’t, shouldn’t, THEY know, the US Army, the greatest military operation in the world, wouldn’t they have heard from Randy if there was, in fact, any communication? Randy rarely spoke about his life in the military, unless it was a funny story, usually at the expense of a jerk of an officer who threw his weight around then got caught doing something stupid. No, Randy never talked to her about anything of importance. But that wasn’t the question.
Realizing that the soldier were staring at her, Linda made herself shake her head.
“No. No, I haven’t. Why?” her eyes came alive. “Should I have heard from him? Are you saying he could have contacted me?” Her thoughts were catching up with themselves now.
“No. He’s captured. In Iraq somewhere,” her voice trailed off as her eyes dropped to the floor. Then her head snapped back, “But you know that. You do know that, don’t you?”
Now it was Linda’s turn to watch the soldiers, the Colonel, for his reaction. Who were these people who came to her house to ask her what they should already know?
Without hesitation the Colonel responded. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “He was. Captured, that is. The encampment he was being held in was completely destroyed. Randy is no longer there.” This information was not exactly confidential, but neither had it been publicly broadcasted. But the Colonel figured he needed to tell her. She was his mother. She should know.
Linda felt herself getting angry. These men came into her house to tell her that the encampment was destroyed and Randy was missing. Didn’t that mean he was dead? Was this some cruel way of sharing horrifying news? These men needed a stern look and a lesson in communication, was the irrational thought that came, unbidden, to her mind.
She was finally able to put her thoughts into words. “Why would you think I’d know what happened? Isn’t he dead? Do you think he’s not?” a brief light could be seen in her eyes, but was quickly extinguished. She was too much of a pragmatist to think that way. But hope is powerful and quickly resumed.
“Do you think he is alive? Maybe taken by someone?” she had no idea how close to the truth her questions were.
The soldiers exchanged glances before the Colonel continued, in his matter of fact monotone. Linda wished she could squeeze some emotion into his voice.
“There was a note.” The Colonel paused, with all the dramatic effect only a practiced orator could muster. “It was spiked at the entrance to the encampment.”
He again paused and stared hard at Linda. “What I am about to tell you is classified.” The word seemed to hang in the air.
The pause gave Linda enough time to wonder, “Does someone give these people drama lessons? No Shakespearean character ever displayed as much flair in an aside as did this man. This normal-looking, Army Colonel sitting in her living room. The thought made her smile but she controlled her features.
“Ma’am. Mrs. Pearl. We are stumped and are hoping you can shine a light on what this note meant.”
“Of course,” Linda was quicker to respond now. It was like she was above the situation, watching it from the ceiling. Her manners came to her aid.
“What did it say?” she queried with the slightest raise of her lips. Not a smile, but an agreement to help.
“It simply said, ‘I’m taking Private Randy Pearl back to his mother.’”
Linda felt faint. “I…I may know something,” she faltered, unsure of what she should, or could, say. She continued, “A friend told me he was going to bring my son back to me.
That glance between soldiers again and Linda had an instant and unreasonable reaction of wanting to hit them both upside the head and slap some manners into them. But of course she remained silent and still.
“Ma’am,” the Colonel said, his tone one you would use with a small child. “One man couldn’t have caused this much destruction and death.”
Linda just smiled at him, “This one can,” she thought. But dare she say it?
“Who is the man who told you this? That he would return your son to you?”
For the first time it occurred to the Colonel that he might be dealing with a mad woman. Maybe she was a Jesus freak and was going to tell him The Lord told her. He was relieved when he heard a normal name.
“Daniel.” She barely whispered his name. More boldly she repeated it. “His name is Daniel. But if anyone asked he said to tell them he’s ‘7.’ I have no idea what he meant.”
The colonel, however, did have an idea and turned completely white.
“Are you sure he said he was 7?” he asked, staring hard at her. “Seven.” He repeated the word as a statement, not a question.
“Actually, his exact words were, ‘I’m one of the 7.’ I thought it was an odd thing to say, but he told me not to ask any questions, so I didn’t.” She could have continued but it wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody was listening to her anymore.
They all gasped silently. One man, who had been quiet the entire time, spoke.
“I thought it was just a story.” He stated it, but the wonder could be heard, very lightly, in his voice. “It would explain how one man could do what was done.”
“Is anyone going to explain all this to me?” Linda asked, looking around the room.
The soldiers came to their feet. “Ma’am, the road to that encampment was destroyed. The base was leveled and 321 combatants were eliminated, 26 of them by someone’s bare hands. The word is out, I’m not sure when the media will catch wind of this, but that’s coming. If you hear from either Private Pearl, or Daniel, have them call the number on my card. Please. If we are correct about Daniel, he answers to only one person. And that person isn’t me.”
* * * * *
As she watched the government car drive away, she wondered what had just happened. A warm feeling came over her and she slowly smiled. She knew Randy was okay now. He was in the care of a man who would, and could, take care of him. Day nine arrived. She woke early, 5:00 am. “The time soldiers wake,” she thought. She was restless and anxious at the same time. She got up, made coffee, and began her workout.
This ordeal had made her lose so much weight. Not a diet she’d recommend at all. As she busied herself to keep from going crazy, she daydreamed about where they were, her guys, her son, and Daniel. Where was he? She searched the internet for anything about “The 7” that she could find. There were stories, some even written by a man who claimed to be a part of it, one of the elusive “7”.
It was all so legendary and mythical. These strangely normal acting men were war machines. Warriors who cannot lose. Warriors who can destroy entire armies when necessary. After so much searching, she concluded that she may never know what was real or simply stories.
Day ten began quietly. As she sipped her coffee and watched the sun rise out her window, she heard a car pull into the driveway. She looked and saw Daniel’s old truck. She was both surprised, and not.
She popped her garage door open and ran towards it – the car, and him, Daniel. And them! There they were! There he was!
She grabbed Randy and almost squeezed him to death. She wept and became the littlest bit hysterical. Finally, she turned to Daniel.
“I don’t know what to say, or to think. I’m still unsure what just happened,” she was crying and laughing and hugging them both, all simultaneously. “But thank you,” she finished lamely, knowing it wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.
“I need to get home” Daniel said. His voice was so deep.
“I’m tired. I may sleep a week,” he casually joked.
Daniel heard Randy ask if there was any food in the house as he pulled away, and thought, “life is back to normal again” as he headed out. At least for a moment. But he was he wrong.
* * * * *
Daniel woke early, which surprised him. He was beat. He wanted to sleep for a week. Once awake, he began searching the net for news, something he did every morning while enjoying his coffee.
Word was not only out, but The 7 was mentioned as well. The 7, HE, had broken protocol, and many international laws. Maybe his name wasn’t embedded in any of the stories. That was wishful thinking…
Now, seeing who he was, what he was a part of, and what he did in Iraq all over every news outlet he had to think. The phone rang. It was his handler. He was being summoned to The White House, to speak with the President. That couldn’t be good, since secrets were what controlled everything in his world.
His kids now knew. So did his parents and brothers. Would they think it was cool? Probably. But no one was supposed to know. He changed phones to a private one. Damage control was in order. First, the trip to DC. That should be interesting.
* * * * *
Daniel packed a duffel bag and headed towards DC in his truck. It would be a long drive from his home, over ten hours straight through. The White House was beautiful. He wondered what the President would say. He would know soon enough and put it out of his mind.
It was 8:00 pm when he arrived. He pulled up to the gate. The Marine standing watch said he was expected and told him where to park. The President was in the oval office.
As Daniel entered the President stood and smiled a huge grin.
“Daniel,” he said, shaking his hand. The President continued speaking, not giving Daniel a chance to greet him or show him the proper respect.
“You wowed me. To be honest, I really didn’t believe in the program, but you stood tall. You broke all the rules. Of course, the backlash isn’t what we expected. One American who did what you did makes them fear every American. I want this nation to be proud of what we are capable of accomplishing.”
He paused for a second and Daniel had a chance to murmur a “Thank you, Mr. President.”
The President ignored it and continued. “I need a favor.”
“Anything,” Daniel said, more comfortable with what was, for him, familiar ground. People always asked him favors, and he agreed whenever he could. The fact that it was the President of the United States requesting a favor was not lost on Daniel, but the response was the same. “Anything.”
“Go on a media tour,” the President was saying. “I trust you. Make us proud again, Daniel. This country is ready for renewed patriotism.”
And so the journey began…
* * * * *
First up, CNN in Atlanta. Not Daniel’s favorite news source, but he had his orders. The reporter was unhappy with him that morning. Daniel was just there to give him an interview, answer the questions in a factual manner, but the reporter was antagonistic.
He was a reporter who hated the President and it showed. What he didn’t understand was that Daniel had served 3 Presidents, not just this one, regardless of political party. That didn’t seem to matter.
“You violated international laws while prancing around Iraq,” the reporter pounced immediately upon taping. Daniel took umbrage at the word prancing and was getting frustrated by now.
He began in a gentle voice, the voice he saved for children and idiots. “I wasn’t prancing,” he stated. “I don’t prance.” He said it with a voice of iron, so much so that the reporter visibly flinched.
“I was on a mission to save my friend’s son. He signed up to be a soldier.” Daniel looked at the reporter with a gaze that made him even more uncomfortable and, somehow, physically smaller.
“The war that’s going on over there isn’t my war,” Daniel said. “I did not nor would I, participate in it. I went there to save my friend’s son.”
“That’s one life,” spat back the reporter, trying to regain some composure. “What about all the people you killed?”
“Well, I’m not sure anyone can say what happened to the people over there. Maybe they aren’t dead. Just because they disappeared doesn’t mean they’re dead, does it?” The reporter knew it was a cat playing with a mouse, and as the mouse, he was soon to be dead. He would lose his job over this interview. Daniel continued, “After all, my friend’s son disappeared, but is okay now. If he hadn’t gone missing, none of this would have happened, and they’d still be there. This wasn’t about the military or the nation. This was about my friend.”
* * * * *
They were waiting for Linda outside her home. She granted interviews, keeping her integrity and manners intact. Her bottom line: “Those monsters stole my son. They didn’t know I had my own monster. My monster went to retrieve my son, an American soldier, and he did.”
They interviewed Randy. He spoke of watching out the window as Daniel destroyed the camp and killed every combatant in it. “He’s a machine,” he said. “I watched him fight off more men than I could count. When he hit them, their heads would explode.” He stated it with a kind of wonder in his voice. For all his military training he had never seen, nor experienced, anything like it.
“What’s strange is that, when he switches off warrior mode, he’s the nicest guy in the world.” He stopped talking as he thought about it. Then he began again, almost unaware of the reporters and microphones. “He broke the lock off the door and told me to follow him. He’s a trip. I’m glad to share my family and my country with him. He did what he did with honor and for all the right reasons.”
“You know,” he continued, suddenly aware of the reporters again, “I recapped the fight on the plane as we were flying back. I told him that no one else on the planet could have done what he did. Do you know what he did? He corrected me.” The look of awe was there again. “’There are others who could have done it,” he said. “They are out there.’ I’m not sure I believe him, but why shouldn’t I?”
* * * * *
All Daniel wanted to do was to shrink back into the crowd again, and eventually, he knew he would. He also knew that one day he would show up on a farm in Montana or a cabin community in Idaho. Just some guy who moved to the area. He wonders about things though. Who are the other six? He knows they are out there, as sure as he is one of 7. Why were they chosen? Why was he chosen so many years ago? What if he’d said no?
The questions never really stop. A night auction and the purchase of an old camper. He’s moving tonight, obscurity here he comes. A nameless, faceless, nobody. Until his light goes green again…