By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor if Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a foster care facility for young men coping with sexual assault charges. In 2001, during the Anthrax scare that followed 9-11, my agency’s director and I mapped out a plan for how we would deal with our men, aged 12-18, if we had to go into lockdown in the event of a local terrorist attack. The following pages are based upon those discussions.
The plot so far: A 1-kiloton suitcase nuke has exploded in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the staff of Unity House form the Men of Honor Society for two purposes: One, to keep the twelve teen-aged boys of Unity House busy and not fighting each other, and two, to act as a rescue group to the local neighborhood. Due to the destruction and radiation, the police and army can not get into this section of Worcester. The people living on Marion and Plantation Avenues only have the Men of Honor aiding them.
Day Four, Noon – Help arrives, but first the Brownies and apple pie
I was in the middle of eating an instant chocolate pudding when I heard the dining room go silent. Slowly I looked up, not sure what kind of shock wave had just rocked us into silence.
At the entrance to our dining room stood the only thing that can render young men mute, girls.
Posed at our threshold were two cute, shy, awkward, teenage girls dressed as duplicate of Men of Honor: green plastic garbage bag garb, duct-taped together with plastic booties inside sneakers, latex gloves, and yellow-ish scarves across their faces for breathing protection. Uncharacteristically, though, they were wearing brown berets.
“Would any of you like some of our apple pies?” the older one asked.
No one spoke.
The smaller girl, with the slight, thin voice of a ten-year old, broke the silence.
“We made two apple pies before the electricity went off for the Men of Honor who put flyers on our door this morning. My sister thought you might like them.”
The girls walked to the tables and put them down triggering an avalanche of male teenage pandemonium. As the guys scrambled, the girls scurried back to the foyer to shed their protection.
“Oh, yeah Sisters. I love apple pie,” screamed Kevin P, knocking over his chair to get at them.
“Right here, Sister,” summoned Trey, elegantly brushing table crumbs and split bug juice off the table and onto the floor to make room for the pies.
“Oh, these smell good,” exclaimed Kevin A, offering his expert opinion as he nose-dived toward the cross-hatched crusts of the soon-to-be devoured delectables. On and on the chorus of young male voices erupted.
“Dave, can you make a pot of fresh coffee to go with these girls’ apple pie?” Terry asked, adding her big smirky grin to the magic of the moment.
I looked back at Terry with a big grin of my own, but she turned toward Adam.
He was smiling too, and then the two of them turned toward me and said in unison, “Well, are you going to make coffee, or not?”
After pie, we learned our two teen angels, Tracy and Monica, lived on Salford Street, just one block below us. The younger sister Tracey explained their arrival and the berets.
“We saw you boys wearing your red berets and stuff and we wanted to do the same, but all we had were our Brownie berets. I know they look a little dorky.”
“And too small,” piped in the older but quieter Monica.
“But we wanted to be part of the Men of Honor as best we could.”
“Can we make them Men of Honor?” Trey asked.
“Yeah,” shouted Willy.
“Yes!” exclaimed Kevin P, fist pumping.
Even Naleef smiled, surrounded by a chorus of male acclamation confirming their unanimous consent.
I looked at TT, who shrugged, saying, “We can make them honorary members of the Men of Honor.”
“Why only honorary members?” challenged Willy.
“Well, they don’t live here, so it’s not the same thing,” I interjected. I looked back at TT for help.
TT could see how this thing was going. I turned it over to him mentally. He got it, and changed his mind.
“Men of Honor of Unity House,” he said in a commanding voice. “Please come to attention in the Commons Room.”
We tumbled out of the dining room. TT sent Trey to get the box of berets and scarves.
“Men of Honor of Unity House…and Women of Honor,” he added, with a head nod to Terry and Karen.” After a pause, he launched his schpiel.
“Brothers and Sisters of Honor of Unity House, we have been blessed by these two angels, Monica and Tracey. They have been inspired by what we have done. They have been inspired by your courage, boys, and now they want to be part of our Honor Society. Isn’t that right girls?”
Tracey shook her head vigorously, saying “Yes.” Monica smiled and nodded a little, but looked mostly at her shoes.
TT continued. “Since these young women have come to us with honorable intentions, I say they are able to be inducted into our honor society as full-fledged members. For actions speak louder than words and these girls have certainly proven themselves today by braving the radiation to give us a present, and asking to join the Men of Honor.”
“Yes!” Willy shouted, then looked sheepishly away because he was the only one who had voiced a shout-out.
TT went on. “Monica and Tracey, Trey will read our Code of Honor out loud, one item at a time. When he is finished with his line, I want you to repeat it. Okay?”
Tracey again nodded vigorously and Monica followed. Trey began the induction of the Salford Street Division of the Men of Honor.
After they had received their scarves, Tracey the younger, spoke. “Thank you for making me a part of the Men of Honor, but now that I’m a member I think we should formally change the name of the group to always be the Men and Women of Honor since I’m not a boy.”
Out of the mouths of babes come such truths. Oh, Tracey, you are a winner.
Day Four, 1:45 pm – Choppers!
We decided to celebrate our new inductees by raiding the petty cash box and giving everyone a dollar’s worth of change to get the last of the Pepsi’s out of the soda machine, even if it was now warm. In his excitement Naleef dropped his can and foaming Pepsi spurted all over the dining room.
Above all the resulting commotion, though, we heard the throp, throp, throp of a helicopter. It got louder. Then really loud, and we all rushed over to the bay window in the Commons room to see a Chinook hover over our soccer field. Even I, who had marched in every anti-Vietnam protest march in the 60s, was glad to see a chopper sixty-feet above us with USAF written on its side. Hell, my eyes filled with tears.
Slowly, four figures appeared in the belly doorway. They had “Michelin Man” padded suits on, and moved quite laboriously as if in slow-motion.
Each one dropped a rope out of the side of the chopper and then attached a fall arrest device. Secured, they slid down their ropes to the ground.
Two other airmen in the chopper unloaded four large tubes with a spike sticking out of one end. The men on the ground pointed the spike down, which I later learned had a hydraulic braking system built into it, and fired this strange bazooka-looking gizmo into the asphalt of our parking lot. The spike secured, they then pulled their respective ropes through the device, pulling long, thick bungee cords down from the hatchway all the way to the spikes. The chopper was now secured to the ground by four shock cords pulled out equally distant from the chopper.
Then the airmen in the chopper loaded out four large rolls of Visqueen plastic, which the four on the ground rolled out fifty feet in each direction underneath the chopper.
Intuitively I understood: dust protection. The chopper was hovering just above the dust cloud kicked up by its rotors. The Visqueen was spread over the dust and debris to minimize the dust swirl as the chopper landed.
Then, four large pylons extended out from the sides of the chopper. With a groan they turned ninety degrees. From the bottom of the tubes a large piston appeared. When they fully deployed the chopper closed its hatchways, cut its engine, and with the rotors throping passively, the aircraft fell to earth.
The pistons broke the sixty-foot fall of the giant Chinook, which then bounced back in the air like a well-nourished frat boy jumping at the end of a bungee line.
At apogee, the hydraulic brakes grabbed the bungee cords, leveling the chopper.
The Chinook bounced three more times until it finally settled on the ground.
Of course, I thought, how else could it land? If it came in with its rotors swirling it would kick dust into every nook and cranny of the aircraft. It would be an airborne radiation collector and not a very safe or effective rescue vehicle.
Secured, the airmen lowered a step ladder and a ramp out of the hatchway and began unloading boxes and a little golf-cart looking vehicle, which I soon learned was called a “Gator,” a rugged all-terrain, all-wheel drive, dune buggy. While the rest of the gear was being off-loaded, one of the airmen headed toward the side door of the south hallway.
From the Commons room entryway Willy ran out shouting, “Hey mister, we’re over here.”
The airman waved and changed direction, joining our merry little band.
But before he entered the building he unfolded a suitcase-looking box which sprung to life as a sort of outdoor clothes rack. Around it he unrolled a Mylar portal, duck taped that to the door frame, and then extended it out about twenty feet to make a dust-free tunnel. Inside his roomy, radiation-free lean-to he unzipped his suit and then walked into our lives.
“Hi, everybody, I’m Specialist Eric Mulhearn, but please call me Eric. How are ya?”
“Oh, we’re good,” I called out.
“Can you fix the TV so the video games work?” Deon asked.
“Some other guys are working on that buddy, but I hope it’ll be up and running soon,” our airborne angel said without missing a beat.
“Specialist Mulhearn, welcome to our party,” Terry said. “Can I buy you a Pepsi?”
“Sure,” replied Eric Mulhearn, smiling broadly. We all introduced ourselves and told him what our situation was, and a little about what we had seen down at the high school. Adam surprised the guys when he spoke about Bill.
“Eric, we have a very sick man here who needs immediate medical attention. Are you equipped to give it to him, or can you medivac him out of here?”
“We’re not a medical unit, Sir, unfortunately. We’re here to first establish a communication system, which we’re doing out in your field. We only have potassium iodate tablets and immunity boosters with us on this first run.”
“He needs more than iodine,” Terry countered. The guys looked squeamish. Radiation was invisible and they didn’t like anything they couldn’t see.
“I think he needs immediate hospitalization,” said Terry. “He’ll probably need transfusions and things like that.”
“Gotcha,” said Eric. “But, I think I better establish radio contact, first.” He pulled out two small pouches. “These are short range, high-pulse radios. They’ll cut through the radiation to our booster that we’re putting up in the field. Then we can call in a medivac chopper.
“But why not fly Bill out now?” Adam asked.
“Hmmm. That’s possible, too. Our chopper is going to leave as soon as we unload,” said Eric, “but that’ll take some time.”
Two other soldiers in radiation suits came to the portal that Eric had made, unzipped themselves and entered Unity House. The booster was ready to try out. Nothing but static greeted their efforts. One airman re-suited and left, moving the boosted device closer to the house.
“Anderson,” Eric asked his other colleague still inside, “when will the Chinook be off-loaded? We have an evac here that needs to lifted-out A-sap. Will it be faster to wait for our fly-out, or should we call in a medivac?
“We’ll be ready to go in less than five,”Anderson replied.
“Good. But that’s still a tough ride for a sick man,” Eric said, turning toward Adam, “and we don’t have a litter for him.”
“We can make one,” I volunteered. “Terry, tell Bill he’s going home. Me and Ryan, and hey, anyone else want to help make a stretcher for Bill?” Everyone raised their hands. “C’mon KA, you, me and Ryan will make one out of 2×4’s downstairs. Give us those five minutes, Eric, okay?”
We got a thumbs-up.
We went downstairs and scrounged four more 2×4’s, eight feet long. We wrapped an old packing blanket around two of the sticks to make the frame for the stretcher. Then, we sandwiched the blanket between the extra 2×4’s and made a sturdy litter. We were now ready to get Bill to a hospital.
Bill looked bad. His face was red and sweaty, and his breathing was very fast and shallow.
“Good luck, Bill,” Ryan said, as TT and KP carried the SYSCO Kid to the radiation portal. Bill couldn’t even acknowledge the greeting.
Eric’s two outdoor crew members took Bill from us and carried him out to the Chinook. Watching Bill lift off, TT spoke to the moment.
“Dear God, please be with our friend Bill as he flies to receive help. Please be with him in this hour of trouble. In the sweet name of Jesus, we ask you this. Amen.”
“Amen,” said a few of the guys softly.
Eric stayed behind with us, and I was pleased to hear that his intentions were to bunk down here with us for the long term, along with his two other crew members who were then giving us a thumbs-up on the radio booster, and getting their Gator ready to travel.
Since the Men and Women of Honor had already scouted the environs, the three soldiers would now be able to focus on the bigger problem of restoring power down at the Worcester Power and Light substation at the bottom of the hill on Plantation Ave. They were also heading over to the police station on Grafton Street to give those men their own radio boosters and radiation suits. They hadn’t known about the dire situation at St. Vincent’s, so that became a priority as well.
With a wave, Eric went outside and suited-up. We were alone again, but, finally, we were in touch with the outside world and Bill was on his way to a hospital. The rescue had begun.
Eric told us that food and water convoys were preparing to enter the primary radiation zone, which stretched from Route 20 on the south to Worcester Airport in the west, Burncoat on the north and Shrewsbury to the east. We were essentially in the middle of that circular area. All told, nearly three-hundred square miles and over a quarter-million people.
Before Eric and his team left they gave us plenty of potassium iodate to take. It protects the thyroid, which is the most vulnerable part of the body to radiation. I put the pills in cups of chocolate pudding because the apple sauce was too weak to cover the taste. Eric also gave us boxes of a new food item, MREs: Meals Ready to Eat. Even if it was food in a pouch, I was glad it wasn’t more Sloppy Joes.
Best of all we received two radiation suits, which allowed us to enter the rooms with busted windows and lots of dust and clean them up and secure them. Looking spiffy and official in the rad suits, TT and Trey eagerly took care of that project.
By this time, we learned that Tracy and Monica had been alone since the beginning. Their mother, a single mom, had not been able to get home from her job on the night shift at the Raytheon Lab in Waltham because she had been working late when the bomb went off. Nor was she able to get any word to her daughters, whom she usually home-schooled during the day.
So, TT promised to take Monica and Tracey home in the Nuke Mobile to get sleeping bags, clothes, and any food and bottled water that looked like it would supplement our supplies.
That evening when TT took them, they also brought back their two golden retrievers, “Tippy” and “Noble,” and their two cats, “Mo” and “Wynonnajudd.”
Girls in the House, I thought, It’s getting interesting.
Early afternoon saw our first smoke break, and it was a big hit. We used my room at first and everybody either wanted a smoke or just wanted to hang where the action was, so in the interest of space we decided to make the Commons room the new smoking lounge. That meant we had to get a lot of ventilation in the central part of the house. To do that we made a large vent that was four-feet long and covered with a double-thick blanket on the outside. I blessed the old-time construction of Unity House that had the wisdom to install windows that actually opened, unlike modern construction that prefers sealed windows and central air and heat.
On the inside of the vent box, using hinges off the closet doors downstairs, we built a bellows to push air. Of course, we only got air when some one was pushing the flap in and out, but we decided that the “flap guy” would get an extra cigarette for every ten minutes of flapping, so we had all the labor we needed.
Everyone smoked, including me, and I hate cigarettes. Somehow it’s easier to breathe other people’s exhaust when my own smoke is part of it. Besides it calmed me down, too, and gave us all a few minutes of relaxed camaraderie.
With the electricity off we had to make some changes to the meal times. We moved dinner up to 5:00pm so we could eat and clean up while it was still daylight. Our refrigerators and freezer units were beginning to get warm, so we re-prioritized our menus. We had to eat all the fresh food that would spoil. One of our four freezers, filled with chicken, was never too robust and now was thawing fast. So, we decided to have a huge fried chicken meal.
Karen and TT announced that “Southern Pride” would take care of the fried chicken dinner, so, ex-New Yorkers like me were expected to stay out of the kitchen. Anyway, they had Trey, Deon, Willy and the two girls to help.
Plenty of help, maybe too much. But in the end they cooked over a hundred pieces of chicken and had a blast doing it.
In the interim, the rest of us arranged new accommodations. The girls got my old room, and I moved into my little 6×8 office. We had to clean up Bill’s room, which was badly soiled. His mattress was stained beyond redemption with vomit and diarrhea. Ryan just tossed it out the side door, saying, “We’ll deal with it later,” and I agreed with his assessment. We let Bill’s room air out as best as the window filter allowed. Using the door as a little air pump, we swung it back and forth, pushing air in and out of the room. Ten minutes on vomit door duty earned another extra cigarette.
Karen decided to move into the Commons room where Eric and his two team mates were going to camp. She said that it was a “military thing,” and “all the soldiers should be together,” but I wondered if the real reason was a “woman thing” and Karen was giving some space to a sister who might want some privacy in case she wanted to be alone with a certain member of the Executive Board whose initials were Adam Peronski.
Personally, I thought what was happening between Adam and Terry – or should I say Teresa – was a cool thing. I just wondered how it might boomerang with the guys if they got any ideas along similar lines.
I’ll defer to the clinical judgment of my superiors on this one, I reassured myself. And thank God, for once I’m not the one on the hook.
In terms of room assignments, the guys still had their own individual rooms. However, with the new arrivals we were running out of beds and mattresses. TT still stayed downstairs, which was quiet and appealing, but damp and filled with spiders. I think he slept on a couch, because whenever I was downstairs I never saw a bed.
Ryan proposed the idea of making cardboard carton mattresses for all our new guests, which I thought was a great idea. We had the kitchen crew remove the cans from our cases of food, collapse the cardboard boxes into a layered mattress, and then place them back on top of the cans out in the Commons room, using the cans as a kind of metal sleeping platform.
Whoever diagnosed Ryan as developmentally disabled had never seen him on any of my work crews. He had a great mind for putting things together, and his idea of building mattresses out of cans and cardboard was a brilliant marriage of need and resource. I would see this kind of thing over and over with Ryan, like when we built the smoking vent. He was the one that proposed a flap on hinges. No DD guy does that. I had been telling everyone that I thought Ryan’s very real learning and social problems were not sourced in the DNA of retardation, but elsewhere.
Maybe he has an anxiety disorder that blocks him at every turn. Then, when he sees that he can’t make his life happen the way he wants his anger overwhelms him?
Naleef, for his part proved to be adept at tying knots. I had to show him a couple of times to get him started, but once he got the hang of it he was a whiz at tying the cardboard mattresses together.
During clean-up the kitchen crew announced that the faucets had run dry, which gave us two new problems. One, what could we use to cook and clean up with, but the bigger issue was the bathrooms. It seemed we would have to dig pit latrines tomorrow and decrease our outdoor time to accommodate the squattin’ and peein’, and haul water from the Abbey for showers. The Nuke Mobile was already scheduled for morning, afternoon, and evening water runs to St. Vinnie’s with Brother Mike at the wheel. The details of survival began to make my head spin.
When the power had gone off, we had filled eight, five-gallon buckets immediately so we had about forty gallons on hand plus everyone’s personal container. We would have to save that strictly for drinking and cooking. The average person consumes two quarts of water a day, and we had eighteen folks in the house now, counting the three soldiers and the two girls. Realistically, we had a day of water, maybe two before we had to join the line at the well pump and keep our fingers crossed that an eighty year old pump would hang tough.
And that’s just survival, I thought, What about laundry? Dust protection? Going outdoors? Does this mean no more outdoors unless we have a rad suit on? Take turns wearing them? Ug, the guys stink. Sponge Baths instead of showers? Oh vey. Logistics were getting tricky.
The fried chicken was a success, as was the candle light we ate by. It was totally dark by 7:00pm when we retired to the Commons room for our evening smoke and whatever entertainment we conjured up. TT stepped in with a reading from the Bible.
Hmm, we’re really having an evening of southern culture aren’t we, I thought a little cynically, but I added my own contribution from The Prophet, by Kahil Gibran.
The guys loved the whole thing, and at one point every one was jumping up and running to their room to get a poem they had written but had never read out loud to anyone. Surprisingly, Willy really enjoyed reading from the Bible. In fact, he finished up the evening sitting next to Deon and they read the Holy Book together.
At 8:30pm Eric and his team came roaring back on two Gators. They announced through the window that an additional communication team had landed at the high school, and one of their Gators had come back with Eric. It took the soldiers a few minutes to unzip from their suits, but we all waited quietly, wondering what they would tell us of the big world outside.
“Hi, everybody,” Eric said as he came into the Commons room. “How are you?”
“Oh, we’re great. Want some chicken?” Trey offered.
“We don’t have water,” Kevin A shouted. “How am I supposed to wash the dishes, hunh?”
“Where are we gonna take a dump tonight?” demanded Kevin P.
“How come the TV’s not on?” asked Deon.
“Can you fix the videos?” chimed in Ryan. The chorus was mighty.
“How are things outside, Eric?” asked Karen.
“Not so good. There’s lots of problems. We went to the police station on Grafton Street. There’s a dozen cops down there, some sick, but they didn’t have rad suits so they couldn’t do much. We gave them two, so you should be hearing a police car with a bull horn making announcements up and down the streets by tomorrow morning. They’ll be getting more rad suits tomorrow and then they’ll be really up and running.
“We went to the power plant and there’s some real trouble there. Seven men were heading towards the main building for lunch when the bomb hit, so they caught some gamma radiation from being outside. They were lucky, though, ‘cause the building is in a ravine and they missed a lot of the shock waves. But they’re all sick – a couple critically. They don’t know what happened to the electricity, but they agreed it’s probably something in the switches that got fried by the gamma rays. But they’ve been too sick to really do anything about it.
Everybody out there is hungry and dehydrated, except you guys,” he said laughing as his two team mates emerged from the kitchen with a platter of fried chicken piled a foot-high. “We’ll be sending an engineering team there tomorrow. Plus, we got convoys coming in at first light with water, generators, medical, and food.”
“Thank God,” I said, “’cause Eric we’re out of water here. We got about forty gallons, tops, in buckets.”
“You’re doing better than most, but I know what you mean. The hospital is just barely hanging in there, what’s left of it. There are about two-hundred folks up there all told, we think, because we can hear people behind the rubble that we can’t get to. There’s a monk up there in a brown robe like St. Francis, digging like a madman, and about a dozen healthy survivors working with him to get to those trapped people.
“We’ll be sending in a full search and rescue company there tomorrow with hydraulic jacks, tools, and dogs. We’ve got a dozen 16-wheeled tankers with 2,000 gallons of water each, coming tomorrow on the first cargo run, but the roads are still pretty well blocked with rubble. The high school is the priority at his point ‘cause we got real problems there.”
With that everyone huddled close; this was getting personal.
“There are over five-hundred kids still up at the school, with about twenty-five teachers. Most of them are sick, many critically. Apparently, the building was just high enough to catch a good amount of gamma, particularly anyone on the western side of the building facing ground zero, and there was a lot of dust – more than here, even.
“We’re sending in a med-rad team by chopper there tonight, which is tricky and against regs, but those kids are between a rock and a hard place. We’re gonna set up a hospital there and see if we can save some of those people. Some we can’t, but some we can.”
“Can we help?” asked Karen.
“Yes, and here’s what I propose.” Eric’s voice rose as he stood. “I’d like to count on you people to help us. First, we want to turn this building into a triage center for people in the neighborhood. We’re hoping we can do that at the high school, too, and St. Vincent’s, but we know we have a better shot here.
“We’ll get you all your own rad suits tomorrow, so teams can go out into the neighborhood and help bring people here for treatment and evacuation. Police and Fire are gearing up too, and y’all can work together. Lt. Ambretti will be here to coordinate things, first thing tomorrow.
“Use your Nuke Mobile for transport, and we’ll have a medical team and ambulances here by mid-day. We’ll have an engineering team in by dark at the very latest to get you power, even if it’s only a supplemental generator and fuel.
“But, we’re gonna need a lot of help up at the school, so I’m asking you to divide your forces. A lot of people there are gonna need around-the-clock care. We’re gonna need orderlies, cooks, aides – all kinds of people.”
“The Men and Women of Honor are ready to help in any way we can, Specialist Mulhearn,” TT replied.
“I knew you would be. That’s why I’m here. I mean it. I’m not just saying that. When we were briefed on the flight up from Homestead we knew there was a light shining in the zone and that was you. At lot of people know about you. The Men and Women of Honor of Unity House are known nationwide, at least in the military response. General Mayfield’s HQ knows all about you guys, and a lot of people are heading here knowing that here there’s a base to work from. You folks are relatively healthy and organized, and not too many people around here can say that. So, if you’re willing, we’ll put you to work first thing tomorrow.”
“What time do you want to get started?” Terry asked.
“I’d like everybody going to the school to be ready to go at 8:00 am”
“That means we get up at 6:00 to eat and get ready,” said Terry. “Lights out in thirty minutes.”
“There aren’t any lights, Terry,” quipped Willy.
“You know what I mean. Go to bed. Speaking of which, Eric, Ryan and Naleef made beds and mattresses for you. I hope you like them.”
“They look fine to me. Thanks, Ma’am. And thank you Ryan, Naleef,” he said, nodding to each as he spoke their name.
The guys and Monica and Tracy made their way to their rooms; the adults retired to the dining room table and made plans for the next day.
“Who should go to the school?” Adam asked.
“I would say your most stable people,” said Eric.
“I guess that would be Trey and Willy for sure, and Kevin A and Kevin P, and the two girls, I guess,” TT suggested.
“How about Ryan?” asked Karen.
“I don’t think so,” said Terry. “If he gets in with the wrong crowd he could be trouble. He doesn’t think, sometimes.”
“Yeah, he needs constant supervision,” I offered. “I think he should stay here. He works well with me, so why doesn’t he stay here with me, and Deon and Naleef. Everyone else could go to the school.”
“You can handle them by yourself?” asked Adam.
“Oh, no, my friend, I was just thinking of one thing at a time. I know they should stay, and I was just volunteering myself. Actually, I think we need a few staff at both places.”
“I agree,” said Adam. “I’ll stay here with you. Why don’t the three of you, Terry, TT and Karen go to the school tomorrow?”
“In the Nuke Mobile?” asked TT.
“The gators are going to go out with my people. Your Nuke Mobile is the best thing I’ve ever seen. You guys are great to have it.”
“What about toilets?” I asked. “Poop in buckets, or dig pits outside?”
“I don’t think so,” Terry replied. “We have problems in the hygiene department even with working toilets. There must be a better way.”
“We can use the toilets,” said Adam. ”We just need supplemental water to flush them. We can get that water by draining the radiators and the boiler. We won’t need heat around here for another month. Pour a little extra into the toilet to flush it, and make sure there’s enough in the bucket for the next guy to use. We’ll have to play it by ear and see how it goes. Tomorrow, we can always make a run to Brother Mike’s with our eight white buckets and bring back a forty-gallon supply.
“And no more going out in plastic wraps since you can’t take showers,” added Eric. “Only go out in a rad suit, except maybe those going to the high school in the Nuke Mobile.”
“Where can we find containers for the water to flush the toilets?” I asked, thinking out loud as the meeting broke up and we headed to our rooms. “I know there’s a utility pail in the boiler room.”
“We can probably rustle up a few more somewhere,” Adam suggested, “maybe a couple old paint cans – anything’ll do.”
We found a couple plus an empty two-liter Pepsi bottles and filled them with rusty water from the heating system.
Finished, we all went to bed.
Lying down in bed I felt drained, like I had just come from a dentist. I didn’t remember falling asleep or dreaming.
Day Five, Dawn
In the faint grey of Worcester’s dawn, I heard the first of many police vehicles giving instructions to the people of Union Hill:
“This is the police. Please stay indoors. Radiations levels are too high for you to spend more than twenty minutes outdoors. Local aid stations are being established in your neighborhood. Place a flag or towel on your door if you need medical attention, food or water. Officers and volunteers are going house-to-house to assist you.”
Sounds like we just got our marching orders. And towels? Did they see our flyer? I smiled with the thought.
The bullhorns woke up the guys, and instead of aerobic exercises we just got ready. Besides, the Commons was filled with soldiers and their gear, and our radio was already humming.
Another Chinook landed and we received our rad suits, walkie-talkies, and two Gators. In and out in thirty-five minutes, the air lift almost seemed routine.
Wearing his CapCom headset, Eric was busy writing down “orders from headquarters” as my Aunt Teddy would say, and sharing details of our situation. Monica and Tracy’s mom got word to us through the police substation on Grafton Street, which was linked now to the world via a boosted satellite phone. Unity House however, was linked only to the Army’s radio frequencies through Eric and his team, so WCPD had to bounce the call back to the Army for us to receive it.
Eric had been on the radio since before dawn, but he turned communications over to Karen. That meant one less staff supervising our guys going to the high school.
Hmmm. Not the ideal situation, but let’s hope for the best.
We were eating breakfast calmly when Karen came in and tapped me on the shoulder, “Dave, can you come away for a minute?”
“Sure, Karen. What’s up?”
“Bill just died.
“Damn….he was a good man. So, that’s how radiation goes, eh?… It’s insidious stuff.”
“I guess so. I just got the word from HQ. He died about an hour ago at Westover. He never even made it to UMass-Amherst. Should we tell the boys? How do you handle these kinds of things?”
“Well, I handle things straight. ‘Truth with compassionate timing’ is my motto, but I’m in a minority. Now that we’re talking, the guys know something is up and to have any more secret discussions is going to build anxiety. That creates emotional chaos and that leads to craziness.
“I’ll tell them if you want, but I think you should. You heard the news first. You’re our communications expert, Sergeant. Go for it.”
She nodded, and we walked back into the dining room.
“Guys,” she called out, “Men and Women of Honor, may I have your attention.”
Willy and Deon were messing around at the far table and not paying attention.
Ladies and Gentlemen,…” she growled, then everyone was listening.
“I have some sad news. Our friend, our fellow Man of Honor, Bill, died last night at the base hospital at Westover. I just got the word from Eric’s HQ, and I wanted to let you know.”
As she finished, she began crying softly, and so did I.
The guys just sat there, but Trey spoke up, “That’s too bad. He was a good man.”
“Yeah, not like you,” Deon said to Willy, poking him in the ribs.
Willy poked back, and I wanted to cream him.
Sensing the tension and knowing it could lead to some reactive behavior, TT stood.
“Men of Honor and Women of Honor of Unity House, we have suffered a loss. Please join with me and say a prayer for Bill, and especially for his family, whose loss is much greater than ours.”
“Heavenly Father,” TT began, “we are the Men and Women of Honor and we pray to you this morning. Oh, Father, we ask you to welcome into your heavenly arms one of our beloved brothers, Bill. He has passed over to your care last night, Oh, Heavenly Father, and at this time of judgment we want you to know, as you surely do, how he served you Father, certainly in his last days.
“He was a good man, Oh, Heavenly Father, and is worthy of eternal life with you in heaven. Bill was always a man you could count on, as we did here in our time of need. Oh, Heavenly Father, our brother Bill traded his last days on earth to be with us instead of seeking his own family, who surely needed him as much as we did.
“Now that you have taken Bill from his earthly time, Oh, Heavenly Father, we ask that you watch over his wife and six-year old daughter with all the vigilance of a mighty Father, as Bill was worthy of them and he, they. We pray this, oh, Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus. And may you continue to bless the Men and Women of Unity House, who go to perilous duty this day in your name. May you watch over us and protect us, and we thank you for the blessing of being in this bountiful house with righteous men and women. Thank you, Heavenly Father for all your Blessings, that you have bestowed upon us, and we pray for your continued blessings in the days to come. Amen.”
“Amen.” The ‘amen choruses’ were getting a little stronger as more minds attuned into TT’s cadence and intent.
“Does anyone have anything to say in Bill’s memory?” Terry asked.
After a lengthy pause I spoke. “Is there anything anyone would like to say about Bill’s passing?” Eric surprised me and spoke first.
“I have been a professional soldier all my adult life. Losing a comrade in arms is never easy, and for some of you this may be the first time you have lost someone you know, or someone that you care about. Then again, maybe not for some of you, too. I pray to God that Bill is the last.”
Deon stood next, again another surprise. “I didn’t know Bill real well, but I think God was looking out for us by sending Bill to us with a truck load of food. I think that’s a miracle.”
“Yeah,” agreed KA, and the rest nodded their heads.
In the past I had wanted to strangle Deon often, but other times, like this time, he was truly inspiring.
“I wanna say something,” Ryan announced, slowly rising.
Willy raised his eyebrows and began to say something undoubtedly taunting, but this time it was Deon who shushed him.
“Bill was a friend of mine, and I’m sorry he’s dead. Bill always said ‘hello’ to me, and gave me a dollar to help him unload his truck. Not every time, but sometimes. I liked Bill, and I wish he wasn’t dead. He always… ah… he always, er, he always, ah…,” Ryan just couldn’t get it out.
“Like what man,” Willy insisted. “C’mon. Say it.”
“Bill always treated me like I was, ah,” Ryan paused again.
Oh this is getting tough, I thought, but my heart told me to be quiet when my head said finish his words.
“Bill always treated me like I was, ah … real.”
“Real?” I asked. “How so?”
“He treated me like I was real, like a real, you know….”
“Like a real person, not a ward of the state or a dummy from Special Ed class, or something like that?” offered Trey.
“Yeah, that’s it. Trey said it everybody. Thanks, Trey. Bill treated me like I was a real person and not some lousy kid that the state needs to take care of.”
Whew, Ryan just said a mouthful.
“Cool,” Willy said. “Now can we go and get ready?”
TT cut him off. “I think Ryan just said a very important thing. I want to congratulate him on telling us how much Bill meant to him because that helps me know how much Bill meant to me. Thank you, Ryan.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kevin A, joined by a quiet chorus of ascent, and even Willy was catching some of the vibe.
Feeling warm in side, we went into the Commons room and put on our new radiation suits.
Day Five, 8:10am
A second Chinook landed in our field and unloaded a big diesel generator on a wheeled dolly, and dozens of cases of medical supplies, cots, bedding, and more MREs.
Suited up, we now unloaded our own supplies and hauled them out of the LZ to our new storage Mylar portal, next to Eric’s original one by the main Commons door. Next to that we stacked forty, five-gallon cans of diesel fuel with the generator, but the water and food into came directly into Unity, and we started stacking them in the Commons, and then in hallways.
Our three-hundred gallons of water came in sixty, five gallon cans, and we were busy unloading our supply Chinook, but two more Chinooks flew overhead towards the High School, so TT and Terry took the two K’s, Trey, Willy, and the two girls down to the high school in the Nuke Mobile as per our arrangements with Eric.
Ryan and I stayed outdoors to finish unloading the Chinook, while Eric, Karen, Adam, Deon, and Naleef went back inside to continue stacking the water, food and medical stuff. We were concerned with possible radiation effects on the food and water if it stayed outside for too long a duration.
Naleef was really challenged carrying a five gallon can of water that weighted over forty pounds, and the sloshing made it truly beyond his strength. Seeing his limitations, the “Inside Crew” put him on quartermaster duty, writing down on a master list where everything was stowed.
Adam got out the hand truck, but the water loads tumbled every time they went over a seam in the floor. So, the crew resorted to just stacking our cans of water in the Commons room, just inside the portal. The food and medical supplies were deposited wherever it looked convenient.
An hour later we looked like an army supply depot with cases of gear and supplies stacked in the Commons room and hallways, medical equipment in the dining room and food packed to the kitchen ceiling. We were now truly in close quarters.
Eric and his squad joined the engineering team choppered in on our third flight of the morning, and together they roared off on the Gators to get the Worcester Power and Light substation back on line. After that, they were going to coordinate things with the police and fire, and check-out the high school.
Throughout the morning, more Chinooks flew over us toward the high school and St. Vincent’s, so we knew help and lots of it was coming in. I just prayed it would be in time.
Adam remained with Naleef and Deon, and they put the finishing touches on the piles of stuff before they headed out into the neighborhood on foot.
Day Five, 10:30am
Sgt. Jackson was hunched over a new, much bigger radio that was the size of a TV, courtesy of a fourth Chinook delivery. She wore her headphones and was concentrating intently. After a minute she eased up, and I asked, “What’s happening?”
“Lots. The convoy with water and doctors is on its way to us, but it’s delayed.
“Yes, that’s what I figured.”
“It’s serious. There’s an overturned bus and part of a building blocking the roadway, and there’s some question if the viaduct is strong enough to handle the weight of the trucks. There’s a discussion going on right now of turning the convoy around and coming up Granite or Massasoit, but that would take a lot of time too, because Massasoit is blown out between us and Vernon Hill.
“Engineers are underneath the viaduct, and so far everybody thinks it’ll take the weight. Mass-Fire and Rescue is down there with several teams of plasma cutters and heavy equipment to clear the roadway. Apparently, some of the bridge fell over onto the roadway, too. It’s a real mess from what I can gather.”
“What’s their best estimate for an ETA here?”
“At least another hour, is what the Army is saying at the moment.”
“What else is happening? How about water?”
“Engineers are at Worcester Power and Light, but I have no idea when things will be fixed. Nobody has cell phones or regular radio. The radiation is still too thick for clear communication. Land-lines are iffy and ours are still out. We sure could use some rain to wash the air a bit, and get the cell phones back online at least.”
“Interesting concept,” I said, ‘washing air.’”
“Yeah,” Karen replied, “but that’s what we need.”
“Can I listen?” Ryan asked, apparently changing his mind about a nap.
Karen hesitated, and looked at me.
“Okay,” Karen said to Ryan, “but let me show you how to use everything, first, okay?”
“Sure,” Ryan said, but he immediately disregarded her instructions and adjusted the volume control.
Karen jumped and pulled his hand away from the dials.
“I’ll show you, first. Right?”
“Okay, then. Do you hear the beeps?”
“No,” Ryan said quizzically. “What beeps?”
“They’re in the background, they’re faint. It’s a constant to let you know your unit is working, and that CapCom or base command is on line, but they’re just not talking.”
“Miller Four, Base One, what’s your 20?”
“I heard something!” Ryan squealed in a harsh whisper.
“What did they’re say?”
“If they ask for Unity One, or Unity Triage, you give it to me, okay?”
“Base One, Miller Four. Our 20 is still South Grafton Street and the viaduct one-mile from FoMed-North destination, and we are stationary. Still clearing road debris. ETA to FoMed-North is still ten-triple-plus.”
“Roger, Miller Four, still ten-triple-plus-ETA to FoMed-North. Copy that FoMed-North?”
“Roger that, Base One, FoMed-North copy. Miller Four still ten-triple-plus on its ETA.”
“Miller Four, FoMed-North, copy?”
“Go for Miller Four, FoMed-North.”
“Miller Four, we need a medical team A-sap. Can you send a Gator to rendezvous and carry back two docs?”
“Roger that, FoMed-North, we’ve got docs stacked and packed, but they are not suited up. Repeat, they are not suited up.”
“Miller Four, can two docs be suited up?”
“Roger that. Our transporter has two suits on it.”
“Miller Four, get one surgeon and one anesthesiologist suited and ready for transfer. We’ll send you a Gator.”
“Roger that, FoMed-North. Two docs on the blocks, suited-up.”
“Ten-Four, Miller Four…. Standby.”
“FoMed-North to Unity One.”
Ryan whipped off the headphones and flung them at Karen. They went sailing wide and right, but she caught them like a Cal Ripken.
“They’re calling Unity One!”
“FoMed-North, Unity One…. Unity One do you copy?”
“Unity One,” said Karen. “Go for Unity.”
“Unity One, this is FoMed-North. Do you copy our need for a Gator to rendezvous with Miller Four at South Grafton Street and the viaduct?”
“Negative, FoMed-North, I missed that transmission, sorry. But I copy now that Miller Four needs a Gator.”
“Yes, Unity One, is your Gator available?”
“Dave, has Adam gone yet? We need a Gator at the viaduct!”
I ran to the window.
“They’re just leaving. Stop!” I shouted.
Naleef, though, ran out of the house, in his socks no less, chasing the Gator.
Adam and Deon were driving down TT’s road and were well out of earshot. Naleef ran across our yard, hopped over the Abbey’s garden fence, and scrambled down the thirty-foot embankment leading away from the gardens. Then, he was out of my sight.
But I knew his plan. He was short-cutting the switchback on TT’s road.
I heard the Gator stop and then speed back up. They came tearing back up the hill.
“Naleef got ‘em!” I shouted from the window.
“FoMed-North, Unity One has a Gator ready to go. What do you need?”
“Unity One, send your Gator to the Miller Four convoy at South Grafton Street at the viaduct. We need two docs transported to North High School stat. Send your Gator down to the convoy and transport them back up to us. They’ll be wearing rad suits. Copy?”
“Roger that, FoMed-North. Unity to send one Gator to South Grafton Street at the viaduct and transport two doctors to North High School.”
“Unity One, out.”
“Can you relay that, Dave?”
Adam looked a little nervous when I shouted the instructions through the window.
“I’m not one-hundred percent sure where the new North High is, Dave. I’ve been a Board member for a while.”
“I understand, Adam.” It’s not that new. But I know how things change.
“I’ll show, him,” shouted Deon. “I know how to get to the high school.”
“There ya go, Adam,” I called out. “Be a hero, Deon.”
“Go to your destiny,” Naleef said quietly as he came back into the house and heard my shouted conversation with the Gator guys. I had never really heard him speak up before. I was impressed.
“Naleef, you need to take a shower, or a sponge bath, or whatever we’re calling our wash-downs at this point. Let me know if you need some help bringing more water into the bathroom.”
“I can do it. There’s still a pot of warm water on the stove,” he answered.
“Well, then it’s all yours. And wash those clothes, too, or put them wherever we’re putting radioactive clothes at this point. Definitely in a bag and put them outside. Okay.”
Naleef nodded, and starting walking towards the bathrooms.
“Naleef!” I called out.
“Nice work out there… pretty quick thinking.”
“And Naleef, remember it takes balls to be a hero once, but it takes brains to be a hero twice. I read that somewhere, or maybe I saw it in the movies. Okay?”
“Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah. Don’t take chances unless you know the odds and it’s worth the risk.”
I nodded. I couldn’t have said it better, kiddo.
I returned to Karen’s radio station. Ryan was back on the head phones.
“Dave,” asked Karen, “do you think it’d be okay if I train Ryan to be a radio operator? I’m gonna need some backup, even if it’s just for potty breaks.”
“Yeah,” I said, “why not?” I continued thinking out loud, and motioned to Karen to step away from Ryan’s hearing.
“The idea has risks,” I whispered, walking to the other side of the Commons, “but we adults can’t do everything. We have to give the kids as much as they can handle. Is there any information coming over the air waves that you wouldn’t want a SO to hear?”
“Sexual Offender. Ryan’s an S.O.. Did three years.”
“At Berkshire Valley?”
“He told me he was there, but I didn’t know what for, exactly. I don’t think there’s anything on the radio that would be sensitive to him, but what do you mean by sensitive?”
“Any sexually graphic references? Like, anybody out there who is really off-color, peppering his transmissions with references to female body parts…that kind of thing?”
“Oh, no. There’s nothing like that.
“Well good, then.”
“Then, I think he could be a radio operator with your supervision. Give it a try and see how it goes.”
“I’ll tell Base that we’re putting one of our kids on.”
“Tell ‘em I think it’s okay.”
“I was planning on doing that.”
“Were you going to ask me before you did?”
“I didn’t think so, but I thought I’d ask,” I said, smiling.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, poking me in the ribs, “I’ve got work to do to in order to expand the communication resources of Unity House.”
“Ten-four, Sergeant,” I replied, and pushed her teasingly. She kicked back and hit my leg hard in the shin bone.
Gawd, she plays rough.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith