By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor of Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a residential 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 2-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 seven 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 Avenue and Plantation Street have only the Men of Honor for assistance.
To read more of the Men of Honor:
Chapter 10 – First Steps
Day Two – 3pm
TT and I decided to take two small groups into the neighborhood. TT drove his SUV – now christened the “Nuke Mobile” by Willy – and take Trey, Willy and the two K’s along Heywood Street. I took Deon and Naleef up to Shannon and Dorchester Streets.
Terry and Bill, deciding that it was vital to check out St. Vincent’s and see what, if anything remained of that once glorious hospital, hitched a ride with TT as far as the Abbey, and organized a scouting party with Brother Mike and the Abbots.
For this process, we had to figure how to suit up.
Bill got us plastic gloves from the SYSCO truck. In fact, he had five cases of the suckers, all extra-large.
He also got us plastic, garbage pail liners for our feet, and large recycling bags with which we made ponchos and arm wraps, sealing them with duct tape. I got a couple of paper face-masks from my woodworking shop downstairs, and ran out to my pickup for my paint respirator. We didn’t have enough masks for everyone, so Trey and Willy made Bedouin head wraps out of their yellow scarves. I had to admit they looked pretty sharp, better than my 3-M silicon half-mask. By the time the Men of Honor had gotten into the Nuke Mobile, all the guys had wrapped their heads like Trey and Willy, and it became the signature look of the Men of Honor for the duration.
At the last second, I asked Bill to come with me and he seemed glad to be invited. He’s got the touch, as Terry says, I said to myself, and wondered how long he would be able to stay with us. I asked him as we hiked up the short, steep ravine to Shannon Street.
“Oh, I emailed my sister-in-law and got good news. I couldn’t get through directly to my wife, but my sister-in-law lives two blocks away and she told me everything’s okay at home. A couple of minutes after the bomb hit, the sirens went off in Canton, and Patty knew something was up. She went right to the school and got our son Jason. She didn’t know what was happening until she got to the school. It was a good thing she acted when she did, because the traffic jam at the school was crazy. Hundreds of parents showed up within fifteen minutes, but Patty was in the front of the bunch so she was able to get Jason right away. She said the teachers were running around and things looked chaotic. But they’re okay. They’ve more worried about me, and they think I’m safer here until the dust level goes down. So, they know I’m okay, and that I’m gonna stay here for a coupla more days.”
“That’s great, Bill,” I said. Deon and Naleef didn’t say anything as we trudged along, which told me they weren’t opposed to the idea of a stranger in the house.
“I want the four of us to go together to the first house,” I said. “I don’t know how people will react to us, so it’s better if we stay together for the first shot.”
“C’mon man, I can go on my own,” argued Deon.
“I know, Deon, and you will. After the first one you are on your own. Okay?”
“Okay, but I can do it on my own right now.”
“Thanks for doing it my way, Deon, I appreciate it.”
We shuffled off en mass to the first house on Shannon. Wrapped in green garbage bags like Plastic Pillsbury Dough Boys, we must have looked weird – two grown men in dust masks, pint-sized Lawrenceii of Arabia in scarves, and all of us wearing red berets and green ponchos.
“Are you from the government?” asked the young woman in camo gear who came to the door in two seconds after we rang her bell.
“No, Ma’am,” I said.
“No, we’s from Unity House and we’s here to save you,” said Deon.”
Shit kid, I said under my breath.
“Here lady. Here’s a radiation warning,” Deon said, handing her a flyer. “If ya need anything, call us.”
“We gotta go,” I said.”
“Yeah, we’s only got five minutes in the dust before we die. Bye,” finished Deon.
“Thanks,” said the young woman in an olive drab t-shirt, camo pants, and black army boots. “I’ll try emailin’ ya in a coupla minutes. I’m active duty and I’ve been wondering what to do, but I can’t get through to anybody.”
I waved, and gave her a thumbs-up since I couldn’t say a damn thing clearly with my respirator on. Our first house looked like a success.
“Bill,” I mumbled, “you take Naleef and go next door. Deon and I will go across the street.”
“I’m on my own, man. You said it.”
“That’s right, Deon. You take the next house and I’ll do the one next to yours.”
Deon was off and running, his plastic leggings making a whrosh, whrosh, whrosh sound as he ran. He rang the first bell, but no one answered. Deon waited for five seconds and then stuck a flyer in the door handle. Then, he ran across the yard to the next house. I wasn’t even to the sidewalk, yet.
Deon kept running, sticking flyers in the door handles and not waiting for anyone to answer. Smart thinking kid, I thought and headed to the next house. Deon beat me to that one too, so I just waved him back and said, “Our five minutes are up Deon, c’mon.” He returned to where I was standing in the street and Bill and Naleef joined us. e only had contacted six houses, but it was a start.
“Mission accomplished, Men of Honor,” I said walking into the portico of the Commons room door, pulling off my respirator, and hanging my plastic garbage bag suit on a nail just outside the door.
“Yeah. We’re heroes,” Deon replied, and high-fived Naleef.
I smiled. I don’t think Naleef has ever been high-fived before.
“Yes, you are Deon,” I said. “You’re a hero. And, you too, Naleef. And, Bill. We’re all heroes.” I poked Bill in the ribs with my elbow. “How do you like being a hero, Bill, you SYSCO Kid?”
Bill smiled, “It’s okay.”
Naleef and Deon went to their showers on the north hallway and Bill and I used the south bathroom. After drying off and putting on “indoor clothes” from the Goodwill Box, TT and the Nuke Mobile drove back through the gardens of the Magdalene Abbey, and I saluted them through the Commons window. From the backseat Trey and Willy returned the salute.
TT showered after the two K’s, Trey, and Willy in the south bathroom. I could only guess how TT was feeling about using bathrooms that had once been the private enclave of our clients. Even with the clear rationale of nuclear war, being naked in our clients’ bathroom was a little freaky. I knew I felt uncomfortable.
Is TT, too? We’ll be processing this in staff meetings for a year. I wonder when we’ll ever get a quiet moment to talk about all of this?
Chapter 11 – The Men of Honor Make First Contact
Day Two – 4pm
The news from St. Vincent’s wasn’t good. When Terry returned, she went straight to her computer to alert whomever she could reach.
St. Vincent’s was nominally a 600-bed hospital with a staff of 500, but only sixty-odd patients and staff had survived there. Being close to the summit of Dorchester Hill, St Vincent’s got most of the blast and was in very rough shape. They had nary a drop of water and absolutely no food, plus they had lots of injuries. Worse, the most intact places were the basements and subterranean hallways, which were pitch-black and lacked ventilation. St. Vincent’s was desperate for whatever we could give them, but most of all, they needed the outside world to know how critical their situation was. Terry aimed at getting their mayday call out to the world.
That was not easy. Our computer only worked intermittently, and email was iffy. Nevertheless, Terry send emails to everyone she could think of: Executive Board members, staff, friends, and family and told them to get in touch with the Army, State Police, DSHS, or anybody that was organizing the rescue efforts. However, she got no response back.
She Googled different web sites for the Army, Mass National Guard, Red Cross and FEMA, and tried reaching them through their home pages. Although the transmissions seemed to go out, we didn’t receive anything back.
While punching keys, she told me how things were at St. V’s and the Abbey.
“There are three Brothers up at the Abbey. A Brother Mike’s in charge as we know, and I met a Brother Richard who is a charming fellow. But he’s diabetic and eighty-years old, so he said that he’s doing what he does best, and that’s praying. He can’t really do much physically.
“There’s a Brother Joseph who looks out of it. Not sure what the problem is with him, but he’s in another world, and I think Brother Mike is content to leave him there.
“Brother Mike came up to St. Vincent’s with me, and he’s gonna organize a bucket brigade with the survivors to hand-pump water up from his well for the hospital. Thank God there are enough able-bodied folks, mostly staff who survived up there to take turns hauling water. The injured have been moved to a safer spot in the basement, and now are lying about fifty-feet down from the only doorway to the outside world still intact.
“I volunteered the Nuke Mobile, and Brother Mike is going to come down and coordinate things with TT on that end.
“Thank God for TT and the Nuke Mobile,” Terry continued. “It takes at least ten minutes to walk to the hospital from the Abbey, so people will get over-exposed if they try to haul water on foot. I was out in the friggin’ dust for over thirty-minutes today, so I’m not going to go out tomorrow.
“As for food, Mike is going to organize something on one of his water runs and transfer food from Bill’s truck up to St. Vincent’s. Fresh fruit, bread, tuna – high value stuff that doesn’t need cooking.
“I met one doctor up there and a nurse. There are a few maintenance guys, too, and about twenty, pretty sick patients who were in the basement of the X-Ray wing when the bomb went off. The healthy survivors have brought everybody together in the one section I saw, which looks like it’s the basement of the maintenance department.
Brother Mike is taking charge of coordinating things for the hospital. There’s no electricity at the Abbey or hospital and no communication, and only a couple of flashlights. So, he’s going be over here and use our email and stuff. I don’t know when he’s coming today, or if he’s gonna wait until tomorrow, or what he’s going to do about the radiation. He’s way over his limit today.
“But I can’t devote any more energy to what’s happening up at the hospital. It’s just too demanding, and too far, quite frankly. My focus is here and Brother Mike knows that, so he’s the solo point man for St. Vincent’s.”
Then, miraculously her inbox bell went off. Terry got a quizzical look on her face as she read her email out loud to me.
“A Karen Jackson’s emailing us…. You went to her house…. She’s active duty Army at Westover….and she’s wondering if she can come over and either help us, or figure out how she can get to the base…. She doesn’t have a car. Her husband took it to work yesterday and obviously can’t get back. Yesterday was this Karen’s day off. What should we do?”
“Invite her over,” I said. “Maybe she can help. If she can’t, we’ll find a way to move her on.”
Terry scowled and breathed deeply. Strangers in the house, strangers in the program. Any unknown was dangerous to Terry. It was an underlying fear that haunted all of our dealings. Oh, lighten up Terry. Know that we always have the means to pull anything out.
“Oh hell, Terry,” I said. “Don’t be so afraid of strangers. Hell, ya can always shoot ‘em if they’re trouble.” I laughed out loud.
Terry didn’t, though. While Terry wrote back, I saw TT lugging black bags of contaminated laundry on the way to the washers. Hmmm. The boys should be doing that, I thought. We’re gonna have to make a duty roster of who does what every time we go out.
Terry hesitated half-way through the email. She wondered how to describe our guys, and opted for calling them juvenile offenders. I thought that was wise. Ms. Jackson needed to know what she getting into and we didn’t need her getting freaked out. That would just make our job tougher.
Karen Jackson emailed right back. “My brother’s in the federal pen at Danbury and another’s in Lexington. Your house sounds like my parents’ home. I’ll be right over.”
“She’s on her way,” Terry called out. After a pause, she continued. “How’d it go out there?” Terry’s tone was warm. I guessed that contact with the outside world comforted her in some deep place.
“It went well,” I answered. “Deon really showed a lot of quick thinking, and of course, a lot of quick talking.”
Terry laughed, finally.
“Really, Terry, it was great. Naleef even got high-fived by Deon.”
I slowly drew my hand up and pushed it toward her. She raised her hand and as we slowly, theatrically, high-fived each other. I said in my best Deon imitation, “We’s heroes, Terry. We’s real heroes.”
Terry smiled, and I relaxed.
It was coming together like I knew it would.
Five minutes later, Karen Jackson appeared, cloaked in plastic, wearing a blue Army beret and a plaid, wool, scarf around her face. Quickly removing her protection, she walked into the dining room and the guys got silent immediately; they even stopped eating their late lunch. Karen was in her mid-twenties and very good looking.
Thump, thump, thump, my heart started pumping like it did when I had been in high school and trying to get the courage to ask a girl to dance.
“Men of Honor of Unity House,” she said in a command voice. “I am Sergeant Karen Jackson of the First Air Cavalry.”
I thought Kevin P’s backbone would break as he snapped to attention sitting in his chair, his shoulders squaring off.
Must be a cellular memory from another lifetime, I thought, and flashed to my own dreams of getting blown up in a British tank during the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. My back got a little straighter, as well.
“I am active duty, but I am unable to join my unit. Our country is under attack and I was wondering if you’d let me join up with you until I can rejoin my unit. I’d be honored if you’d let me be a temporary member of your Men of Honor Society.”
Trey looked at me.
I shrugged, Why not?
Catching the vibe, TT rose and spoke.
“Sergeant Jackson, I am Tecumseh Sherman, known as TT, and I am a Residential Counselor here at Unity House. I think I can speak for the rest of the members of our Honor group. Yes, we would be happy to have you join us here. Welcome to Unity House and the Men of Honor Society.
“Men,” TT said, turning to all the guys sitting at the table, “I think it would be a wonderful thing to go up to Sergeant Jackson, one at a time, and introduce yourselves, and welcome her to our home.”
I beamed. TT had just hit the biggest home run I had ever seen hit in teenage behavioral health: the guys lined up respectfully to introduce themselves to her. No pushing, shoving, or wise-cracking.
They’re maturing! They’re becoming men right in front of my eyes and it’s not a macho, gung-ho kind of thing. This is just righteous, plain and simple.
Deon, of course, gave her a knuckle-knock handshake with all the trimmings.
Sgt. Jackson smiled, and answered every move Deon made.
She’s smooth, too.
“Are you hungry?” TT asked Sgt. Jackson.
“Sure, I could have a bite. Whaddaya got.”
“Sloppy Joes,’” said Deon, smiling triumphantly.
“My favorite,” said the Sgt., and sat down next to Deon.
Honey, I said to myself, you are just too cool. Are you sure you’re married to that guy, or are you two just living together?
After dessert, TT talked to Trey. After a moment of consultation, Trey stood up to get everyone’s attention.
“Sergeant. Jackson, as a member of the, er, ‘Men of Honor,’ I… ah, have got, … ah, something, … ah, I want to give to you.” He pulled out one of our red berets.
TT stood up, and the rest of the guys followed.
Sgt. Jackson pulled her chair back and saluted Trey. Trey didn’t know what to do so he just handed her the beret.
“Sgt. Jackson,” said TT, “we have an initiation that we would like you to participate in. Boys, please stand.” Willy, who had slouched back down, bounced right up.
“Sergeant. Jackson, here is our Code of Honor,” TT said, handing her a copy of the Code. “All Men of Honor recite it in order to receive their yellow scarf. Will you please read the Code of Honor?”
Karen received the paper and TT continued.
“Read each line out loud and slowly. When you’re finished with each line, the rest of us will recite the line after you.”
Whoa, new rules. I loved it. This thing is just growing on its own.
Sgt. Jackson began:
“One. Men, or Women of Honor,” she filled in the gender gap without missing a beat, “honor themselves, and always hold themselves in respect.”
“One,” we repeated, ‘Men, er, wo…’ some of us said ‘women,’ others were confused. We became out of synch and started mumbling on our own, trying to catch up with the rest. Naleef didn’t say anything at all. Deon looked like he was auditioning for Broadway. Trey looked embarrassed, like it was too weird for words, but also knowing it was important and not to be missed. Willy looked like he wanted to phone in his participation. Kevin P stood straight at attention, but couldn’t say the word ‘women.’ Kevin A stood straight, and spoke the code evenly, without missing a beat.
“Two. Men or Women of Honor, honor their Brothers of Unity House, and their Sisters, too,” Sgt. Jackson said, again ad-libbing perfectly.
I looked at TT, and he returned my gaze. This is going great, was the look.
Thank you, God, I said to myself for sending us Sergeant. Jackson.
When Sgt. Jackson finished, TT handed Trey a scarf and motioned for him to give it to her. Trey reached out his hand and Karen extended hers.
“No,” I interjected. “Place it around her neck, Trey, just like TT did to you when you received yours.”
Karen smiled and lowered her head.
Trey placed the scarf around her neck and smiled.
He’s falling in love with her, too, I thought, and smiled. Why not?
After lunch, we did kitchen chores and then the guys headed to video games with TT. The rest of the adults headed to the staff office. Sitting around the big oak table we looked like the cast of Gilligan’s Island: Sgt. Jackson in her duty uniform; Bill, a real SYSCO kid; me, the New Agey woo-woo therapist; Terry, the pistol–packin’ momma; and just outside, TT, the black bear of big-heartedness and bull-headedness.
“Welcome to the crew, sergeant,” I said.
“Please, Karen,” she said to us all.
“What do you do with the First Air Cav, and what are you doing in Worcester?” asked Terry.
“I am a communications specialist, and I’m on leave this semester to study at MIT. My husband got a teaching job at U-MASS, luckily, so that’s how we ended up in Worcester. But, my normal duty station’s at Fort Benning.” said Karen.
“My husband is with the Delta Force,” Terry responded. “Do you know a Lt. Col. James Muscolli? His on assignment at Hanscom, but he’s often trained with the 1st Air Cav at Fort Benning.”
“Yes, I do, but only by name. We were in Afghanistan at the same time a couple of years ago, but I never met him. I was stationed in Kabul, and the Delta guys shipped out to Kandahar just a few days after I got there. And now we have the Hanscom connection, but no, we’ve never met. But I know he’s a good man.”
“Yes, he is,” said Terry.
“How have you kept your marriage together, with your husband in the service and you working here?” Karen asked.
“It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you,” Terry replied. “The separations are tough, and it’s taken more than a bit of luck. My husband has been able to get enough assignments at Hanscom Air Base, but sometimes, especially early on, we were apart a lot more than we were together. I guess we both respected each other’s professional interests and were able to handle the separations. Not having kids, or wanting kids, has made it easier.”
“You don’t have any kids?” Bill asked Terry, quizzically.
“But you work well with kids, tough kids too, at that,” he added.
“Yeah, I know; kind of funny isn’t it? I guess I’ve raised a lot of other mother’s children.”
“Me, too, Bill. I’m the same way,” I said.
Bill shook his head.
“Do you have or want kids, Karen?” Bill muttered as if he was still digesting the concept that people who obviously loved kids didn’t have any of her own.
“No, sir,” Karen said. “Don’t know when I’m going to have them, either. Maybe that’s why I asked Terry about herself. My husband and I have been married for five years and it’s getting to be time to decide whether we’re going to have a family or not. We both say we want one, but we…don’t. That’s the bottom line; I guess we like what we’re doing and we just keep doing it.”
Bill laughed. “I’m just the food delivery truck driver here, but I’m the only one here with a kid.” He laughed quietly, and shook his head in amazement.
I nodded my head in agreement. It was strange realizing that I didn’t have any of my own kids, but still felt good raising other folks’ children.
We spent the rest of the afternoon making chore lists and duty rosters for the guys, and a protocol for de-dusting ourselves after our daily forays. High on the list was unloading Bill’s refrigerated truck into either our pantry or the Nuke Mobile for the hospital.
“Tomorrow, we’ll have to use our outdoor time to unload the truck and get things into our freezers and pantry,” I said to Terry, who nodded. “I bet the guys aren’t going to like switching from Heroes to Truck Unloading Laborers, but it has to be done. Still good for the clock hours, Ter-? It shouldn’t be too bad on the budget; we’ll only have fifteen- minutes to contribute…
But Terry had stopped paying attention to me and was absorbed in her computer, searching for contact with the outside world.
Karen teamed up with Terry, jumped Terry’s inactive computer into the working one on my desk, and together they sent tons of emails. Finally, Terry’s email bell went off.
“Hey everybody!” Terry squealed, or shouted, depending how close one’s ear was to Terry’s vocal projection, “Adam Peronski’s emailing us. He’s got TV reception,” she said, “at his house up in New Hampshire… on Squam Lake where the radiation cloud isn’t too bad… so he knows our situation.
“Wow,” she continued. “We were on TV! He saw a piece about us this morning. Apparently, the military saw our lights on last night, so they know we’ve survived.
“TT, Dave, c’mere,” she shouted. “You’ve got to see this. Adam’s sent us some pictures of soldiers in full radiation gear and battle dress. They’ve blocked off Interstate 95 at Providence, and 91 at Hartford…. Yikes, the country’s shut down north all the way to the Canadian border. The military is in a panic that they’ll be other terrorist attacks, so they’re not taking any chances…. And, the whole country is in some kind of lock-down…. They’ve even issued an order for local law enforcement to stand down until the terrorist threat is fully determined. Only authorized military and medical emergency travel is allowed throughout the country for another twenty-four hours…. Wow, no one is going anywhere, even in California.
“Damn! So, as a result, no rescue teams are being sent into the dust zone ‘as of yet,’ until the terrorist threat has been fully assessed, security established and the radiation teams are assembled. Jeez. C’mon guys, we need help now. Today!”
TT, Karen and I entered Terry’s office and read over her shoulder. But, like the “Captain of the Ship,” Terry still narrated for us.
“…FEMA and the Army are creating the major rescue staging area at Westover Army Base and Air Field…. Medical and Surgical units are coming in from Germany, McChord in Tacoma, Twenty-Nine Palms in California… and Fort Hood is air-lifting its entire medical radiation battalion… Fort Benning is deploying the First Air Cav for transport support. Hey, Karen! Hey girl – you don’t have to go to your unit, your unit’s coming to you! Hooray!”
“…Wow. The military expects to find up to fifty-thousand causalities and is preparing a dozen forward field hospitals for transport into Worcester… They’re mobilizing hospital teams at UMass-Amherst, Springfield VA, and Westover – we knew that, and convoys to get our sick and wounded out to them. Christ, forty-five miles in a Humvee ambulance, now, that’s a tough ride.
“Yee-gawds, look at some of these pictures of the injured they’ve already got in Boston. Their bodies are just bright red with radiation burns… I wonder how they got to Boston, drove through the road blocks? …Jesus, Mary and Joseph, look at those poor people….”
Terry revealed a little of her Irish Catholic roots with that last comment. I put my hands on her shoulders to comfort her. Karen caught a glimpse of my affection, and bending down she put her arm around Terry’s waist as well.
In a nutshell, help was coming, but we were on our own for at least another day, maybe two.