What I Did On My Summer Vacation

by
Cole Parker

Rila Mountains region, Bulgaria (click here to enlarge)

Mrs. Collins had been looking forward to this with some eagerness. She’d been promoted to the high school English department, and this was her first day. Because she’d come up from the middle school along with this year’s freshmen, she knew many of the students, having taught them in ninth grade last year. Of course, this meant they knew her, too, and weren’t quite as intimidated as they’d have been with what they considered a “real” high school teacher.

Finally, she got the class quiet enough to begin speaking. “Shush now! I know you’re happy to see each other again after your summer vacations, and you have a lot to tell each other, but we have to get going here. We need to start now. John, get in your chair! Quiet, all of you. All right, and if—” She was interrupted once again, this time by Lucy whispering to Morgan. Ben was turned around talking to Andy, too, and paying no attention at all to what she was saying.

Frustration was setting in. “Stop! All of you! Do I have to remind you this is high school? Act your ages, people!”

Even her tone of voice and obvious irritation didn’t entirely settle the students. Finally exasperated, she said, loudly, “OK, if that’s how it’s going to be, we’ll do it this way. Each of you take out a sheet of paper. And a pencil. Right now!” She clapped her hands, then waited impatiently, tapping her foot, while the kids noisily found sheets of paper in their brand new notebooks and sharp, never-used-before pencils.

“I was going to have fun today. Each of you was going to come up front and talk about your summer, but obviously that isn’t going to work. So, instead, each of you will write for the rest of the period. With no talking! Write what you did this summer. I want good grammar, proper spelling, interesting and involving writing. You’re all in tenth grade now, so you all know, or at least all have been taught, how to write an essay. I taught a lot of you how to do that myself, so follow that style. You have the rest of the class to write as much as you can. Fill up your paper, and as many more sheets as you need. No talking. Title your work, What I Did On My Summer Vacation. All right, get started.”

Simon looked at the blank paper, then up at Mrs. Collins, who seemed to be looking back at him frequently as her eyes moved around the classroom, her face stern. He sighed and picked up his pencil. He could do with more sleep, he knew that for sure.

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It had been two months and two weeks since Simon had walked home from his last class ever in middle school. He was experiencing a mixture of sadness and glee. He’d really liked the three years he’d spent in Harry S. Truman Middle School. He’d made a lot of friends, grown from a little boy into a young teenager, and become much more self-assured in the process. Now, middle school was finished. He was leaving that behind him, closing that door. It was exciting to think about high school next year, but even at 14, he was feeling nostalgic about leaving behind what had been so much a part of him.

Simon’s perspective on many things was different from those of his friends and classmates. School and friends made up the majority of their lives. Simon enjoyed those things too, but they were secondary to the time he spent with his father. His father was gone a lot. His responsibilities forced their separations, and Simon regretted the times his father was away while thoroughly understanding the need for them. He was terribly proud of his father. If he had to sacrifice time with him for the job that the man was getting done, that was simply part of the equation.

There were compensations, however. When his father was home, he and Simon spent almost all their time together. His father talked about his job, and even better, worked with Simon, training and coaching him. He’d begun this when Simon was just twelve, and it had been ongoing ever since, making the two of them much closer than the ordinary father and son. In the process, Simon had become more observant of the world and more mature than most boys his age.

Simon was just leaving the school grounds when he saw a younger boy he recognized but didn’t know come running in his direction, a look of panic on his face. Then, behind the boy, he saw two other boys, both considerably older than the first one, older even than himself, running as well, apparently chasing the first. Instinctively, Simon reached out and corralled the younger boy.

“Hey,” he said softly, trying to quell the boy’s fear. “What’s going on?”

The boy didn’t have time to answer before the two older boys arrived. They were both larger than Simon. They stopped, then one stepped forward. He spoke to Simon.

“Let him go and get out of here. This doesn’t concern you. Beat it!” He reached out to take the younger boy’s arm.

Simon moved slightly, just enough so he was between the boy who was reaching out and the boy he’d stopped. He looked hard into the larger boy’s eyes, then said, his voice even and unwavering, “You sure you want to do this? I’d advise you and your friend here to move along. You’re both too old to be playing with this guy.”

The older boy, as he was several inches taller, was looking down on Simon. A small smile formed on his lips. “You’re sort of cocky for a little kid, aren’t you? You’re just as easy as this kid is going to be. Last warning. Get out of here. Just go and you won’t get hurt. This isn’t any business of yours.”

“I’m not going to get hurt regardless.” Simon didn’t move at all. This time there was a slight but noticeable edge to his voice.

“Have it your way then,” said the speaker, and stepped forward, reaching out to grab Simon’s shoulder.

The smaller boy watched what happened next in disbelief. The large boy reached for Simon, Simon seemed to move his arms and legs and body very quickly, then the large boy was suddenly on his back on the sidewalk, his wind knocked out of him from the hard fall, and Simon was looking down at him. Then Simon looked at the fallen boy’s friend.

That boy must have seen something in Simon’s eyes, because he started taking backward steps, then turned and ran.

Simon put his arm around the smaller boy. “Come on, I’ll walk you home, and you can tell me why these guys were bugging you. Maybe we can figure out something to do about it so it doesn’t happen any more. What’s you name?”

The smaller boy looked up at Simon, something very much like awe in his expression, then started walking towards home with a bounce in his step. Simon walked with him, and soon both were giggling at some joke that had been told. Seemingly in little more than the blink of an eye, Simon had reverted back to the young, happy teen he was.

Simon went all the way to the boy’s house with him, chatting and laughing while they walked, enjoying the fact he’d made a new friend, then headed for his own house. As he turned into his street and looked ahead to where he lived, thinking that he was walking home for the last time as a middle-schooler, he came to a sudden halt. Up the street in his driveway was a silver Jaguar, low and sleek, and looking as always as if it were ready run. Simon was at once excited and cautious. His father never came home during the day. Never. Often, he didn’t come home for a week or more at a time. For him to be home in the middle of the day was strikingly odd, and that made Simon uneasy, especially as he thought his father was in Bolivia till next week. So Simon stopped. He looked around him. Nothing on the street was suspicious or unusual. He resumed walking home, and then the excitement of seeing his dad again was too much, and he started running, his loaded backpack containing all the stuff he had to bring home from his locker on this last day of school slapping him on the back with each step.

He ran up to the front door, then stopped abruptly and didn’t enter. Instead, he dropped his backpack there, then looked in one of the small windows that were beside the door. He could see only the empty hallway and staircase inside. Still, he didn’t enter, but instead moved around to the back of the house. He stayed close to the sides while doing so and dropped below window level as he came to each one so as to make himself invisible to anyone looking out from inside.

He looked in the rear window and saw his mother standing at the kitchen sink, washing the first peaches of the year. He could faintly hear the stereo playing. It sounded like Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony to him, but he then thought it might be the Spring instead. He always got the two confused. In either case, it was OK. Anytime his father was home, if whatever was playing on the stereo was written by a composer whose surname began with an S, it was a signal that everything was fine inside.

Simon himself preferred the irreverence of Shostakovich to the structure of Schumann, but he always had been a bit precocious.

Knowing that caution wasn’t needed, he opened the back door and went in. He greeted his mother with a hi, she smiled her usual rather preoccupied half-smile at him and told him his father was home, was down in the den, and wanted to talk to him. She dropped her eyes after saying that and looked back down at her peaches, dismissing him. Simon, his heart speeding up, opened the door to the basement and descended.

Simon’s father, Brigadier General Amos Bellow, was at his desk in his den. The den was a windowless walled room, the walls made of cinder blocks, which took up most of the basement. It was large, brightly lighted, and soundproof. The heavy oak door, the room’s only entrance, swung open when Simon turned the knob. It had spring-assisted hinges; it was impossible to tell there was a heavy titanium-steel plate inside, making it bulletproof and impregnable except to an extremely high explosive device.

Simon knew his father was aware of who had entered the den without even having to raise his eyes. There was a bank of TV monitors in front of the desk, and his progress down the stairs had been clearly shown.

“Hi, Dad.” And then Simon was jumping into his lap, hugging him.

General Bellow hugged his son fiercely, then kissed the top of his strawberry blond head. “How was your last day of school, kiddo?”

“We just got our report cards, cleaned out our lockers and left. Easy day.”

“Can I see your grades?”

Simon reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out the manila card. He glanced at it, then handed it to his father. General Bellow looked it over thoroughly, then harrumphed.

“What is this?” he asked gruffly.

Simon looked at where his father was pointing, then laughed. “What’s wrong with that?” he asked disingenuously.

“You got a B, in gym? What’s going on here? I like those A’s in everything else, but a B? And in gym?”

Simon’s eyes sparkled as he answered. “Sir, yes sir! That’s camouflage, sir! Misdirection. Confusion. You always said, keep the enemy off-balance, only let them know what’s in your best interests for them to know, keep everything that’s important hidden. Maintain the element of surprise in case you ever need it. That’s what I was doing there. Practicing. No need for Coach Taggart to know more than he needs to know. Sir!”

By the time he was finished with his army style speech, that of a lower ranking officer reporting to a higher ranking one, the general was laughing, and as Simon was still in his lap, tickling became the order of the day. Simon shrieked and wriggled out of his lap.

The general looked at his son adoringly, but as always, the pressing need for work cut short the playtime between father and son.

Simon saw his father’s eyes change, the fun leaving them, his usual seriousness returning, and the excitement he’d felt when coming down to the den returned. He moved back and sat in one of the comfortable chairs in front of the desk, then waited to see what his father had to say. He was sure he’d know why his father was home in the middle of the day, and why he wasn’t in Bolivia, very shortly.

The general was the top man in a super-secret government agency. Officially it was named the Interagency Clandestine Antiterrorist Networking section of the Armed Forces Intelligence Group. It was under the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, working out of the Department of Defense. ICAN/AFIG was its official acronym, but those who spoke of it, those very few who even knew of its existence, shortened that verbally to I-Can, which over time had become the motto of those working within the group.

Simon had known what his father’s job was for only a little over two years. He actually now knew more of what his father did than his mother knew. The bond and closeness between father and son was unique. When Simon was 12, his father had taken him to his den and they’d talked for hours. After that, Simon had begun training, physically and mentally, and now, at 14 and having just finished the ninth grade, he was strong of body and keen of mind, with quick reflexes and reactions and an even quicker insight into and awareness of all that was around him.

Simon was tall for his age, and his thinness masked his wiry strength. He kept his hair shorter than the style that was popular with his peers. He was outgoing, good looking and had a quick wit, all of which made him well-liked at school. The girls had been showing more and more interest in him lately, which he found bothersome. He had no time for girls.

Now, he was watching his father collect his thoughts. He could tell as he watched that his father was troubled.

The general got up from the swivel chair behind his desk and came out in front and sank down into a chair next to Simon. His words, when he spoke, were grave, and shocked Simon.

“I-CAN has been penetrated. I realized it when our last mission failed. Our agent in the field was killed. And there was no way that could have happened unless the enemy had prior warning of what was going down. Problem is, we’ve got an extremely delicate situation facing us right now, and I don’t have the confidence in our people I need to have. This is something that would be disastrous if we failed.”

The general turned to look at the bank of TV monitors, though it was just to give him time to gather his thoughts. Any movement on any of the monitors was accompanied by a beep to alert the viewer. He then turned back and looked Simon right in the eye. “Son,” he said, “this can’t leave this room. Top, top secret. What’s happened is, Fayed bin Hammad has been kidnapped, and his father has received demands that he cannot accede to. He’s turned to us. We have to rescue his son. If Fayed is killed, we’ll have failed one of our strongest allies in the Middle East. Additionally, it will make Hammad look weak, that he was unable to protect his own family. There will be rumblings by his opposition asking if he can’t even do that, how can he protect their country? We can’t allow this to blow up into a shitstorm. We have to rescue Fayed, but the people holding him know that killing him is almost as good as holding him to make his father do what they demand, so any rescue has to be covert.”

Simon had felt his heart jerk when his father had mentioned Fayed bin Hammad. Simon knew who Fayed was. He was the son of the ruling emir in one of the Mideastern emirates, and was being groomed to ascend to that position himself in the future. Simon knew who he was because the two boys, the same age, had actually met about a year ago. Simon was blond and fair, Fayed was dark haired and swarthy, but both were friendly and precocious, both had sparkling eyes and quick enthusiasms, and they’d become good friends in the short week they’d been together while Simon’s father was discussing security issues with Hammad’s second in command.

“Is Fayed all right?” Simon asked, more worried about the boy he liked and had bonded with than the international implications of the problem.

“He was as of this morning. His father is getting daily proof-of-life communiqués from the terrorists, but they’re becoming more and more threatening. As of this morning, a deadline has been given. The demand is that Hammad must resign all authority in just a little over two months from now, handing over his reign to his third cousin, a minor emir who is well known to our intelligence networks. He is certainly the one who orchestrated the kidnapping. He is a very dangerous man, cunning and unscrupulous with a great thirst for power and an unending hatred for our country.

“But that two-month window that was given was only because it will take time to arrange such a shifting of power. The announcement that Hammad is relinquishing his position is to be done almost immediately. Hammad has to announce he’ll be turning over the government to his cousin, and he has to do that by tomorrow, or the kidnappers say they’ll begin sending him parts of Fayed every day till he does make that statement to the world. They’ve said the first part they’ll send is one of his eyes.”

Simon gulped, then sat up straighter. “What can I do to help?” he asked. He knew his father wouldn’t be briefing him on this ultra sensitive information unless there was a reason to do so. He wondered if that reason was that he knew Fayed. Whatever it was, he was eager to help rescue him. For most any other 14-year-old boy, such a thought would have been ridiculous whimsy. Simon wasn’t any other 14-year-old boy, and both he and his father were aware of that.

The general looked at him without speaking for several seconds, and Simon could almost see his mind working, weighing options, weighing the fact that Simon was his son, and whether he had the courage to send him into harm’s way. He’d never done so in the past, but he had been preparing for that day. He’d expected it would be years away. But events had changed that timetable.

Simon saw his father’s eyes clear, and determination set into his face.

“Simon, as I said, I-CAN has been compromised. If we’re to save Fayed, it has to be done without our usual people being involved. We are trying to discover who the traitor among us is, but we don’t have much time. Whoever it is, he’s probably being paid a lot of money by Hammad’s cousin for his treachery. But the fact they’ve penetrated I-CAN means our response options have been severely hamstrung. I’m afraid that if we mount any sort of mission, Fayed’s kidnappers will know almost immediately and they’ll simply kill Fayed, then use his body politically to destroy Hammad.

“Hammad has agreed to make the announcement he’s handing over the government to his cousin tonight, and I’ve spoken to him privately, saying we’re mounting an operation to rescue his son. We have about two and a half months to find where Fayed is being held, then plan and execute his rescue. Once that has been accomplished, Hammad can seize his cousin and rescind the announcement. I’ve given him my word that the rescue will be done secretly with as little risk to Fayed as possible. That means I have to have a field agent who is entirely trustworthy, and because of our internal leak, this agent must be able to work alone in enemy territory.

“There’s no one I can trust absolutely except one person. You. But Simon, I don’t know if I have the guts to ask you to do this. It’ll be horribly dangerous, and I’ll be asking you to do things that most adults shy away from doing. You’d have to kill people.”

Simon had already figured that out. The thought was unnerving, but he had to balance it against the fate of the boy he knew and cared about. He only paused for a moment before saying, “I’m ready to start whatever specific training I’ll need right now. It sounds like we should move immediately. Who knows what Fayed is suffering as we sit and talk about it.”

The general didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he wiped the corner of his eye, and stood up. He leaned forward and grabbed his son, wordlessly embracing him, feeling a mixture of pride and fear.

Neither of them even spoke of Simon’s mother. Need-to-know excluded her from involvement.

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For the next two months, Simon was at an Army Rangers training camp in South Carolina, getting physical and weapons training that was much more intensive than what he’d already undergone. The people there had been told Simon was training for a school project. They had no idea what the real mission was. They were told to make the training as real as possible so the boy could then report on the rigors of Ranger training.

That was during the day. At night, tactics and strategies were reviewed for a covert hostage rescue mission. Specific plans could not be made because Fayed’s whereabouts were still a mystery. This meant planning had to be for all terrains, all situations, with an emphasis on thinking clearly under pressure and using what was available wherever he was to complete his mission. Versatility, creativity and spontaneous response were emphasized over and over.

While Simon was working harder than he’d ever worked before, the general himself was working twenty-hour days trying to locate where the boy was being held.

The father and son met every evening for dinner. Simon could see the stress in his father’s face, growing worse daily as the days passed. The general was having no success in locating Fayed. If the place where Fayed was sequestered wasn’t discovered, and discovered quickly, there was no hope of rescuing him, and his father would have the choice of turning over his country into the hands of a totalitarian madman with a known hatred of the United States, or having his son sent to him one piece at a time.

With only days remaining before Hammad would have to officially cede power or lose his son, with the preliminary hand-over process of his government already well under way, the general sat down to dinner with Simon. It was another in a seemingly endless string of hot nights. They were still at the hidden training camp. The general took a quick glance at his son as they were being seated. Simon had always been thin. Now, he wasn’t quite so slender. He’d added some weight, the change being added muscle. His face was leaner and harder, with no traces of baby fat present. There was a glint in his eye that made him look older than his fourteen years. His walk was confident, his carriage erect.

Simon looked briefly at his father, as well. He was expecting to see the same discouraged slump of his father’s tired shoulders as they sat down at the table. Instead, his father looked more relaxed.

“Simon, I’m pretty sure we’ve found him,” he said with no preamble.

“Really? That’s great! Where is he?”

“Bulgaria. In the Rila Mountains.”

“How did you find him?”

“I was a little lucky and a little good. I’ve had a computer team intercepting phone messages and listening for certain words, like ‘boy’ and ‘hostage’ and ‘Fayed’ and ‘Hammad’ and several others. I didn’t tell them why I was looking, and as they run intercepts all the time with strange combinations of words, I thought it was safe to do this. Only the operators themselves know what I’m doing.

“I know there has been communication going on between the kidnappers and Hammad because of the proof-of-life communiqués. I’ve been trying to backtrack those and tie them into the key word intercepts, but gotten nowhere. Until today.

“Today, one of my operators, a really smart kid who’s been working for us for a little over a year now, heard someone on a secure phone to Hammad’s cousin talking about ‘the source.’ Thinking that might be a code word, he backtracked that call, and immediately became suspicious because he couldn’t get a location on it. Someone was intentionally blocking it, which didn’t make sense if they were talking about anything unimportant. So he got NSA involved in tracking it, and they found where it was coming from, which was an office in the emirate’s embassy in Teheran. He found who had that office, told me, and I talked to the Israelis and they assigned one of their agents to follow that man when he left work.

“He was followed to a pay phone several blocks from the embassy. It was easy to use a sound wave intensifier and recorder from that point to listen in on both ends of the conversation, then match that up with computer copies of all phone conversations coming out of Tehran. And when we did that, it pinpointed a location in Bulgaria.

“So I reprogrammed a satellite to concentrate on that spot. We now have pictures of where the phone calls came from. It’s a mountain clearing and there’s a shack there. Nothing else around for miles. There are, from what we’ve seen, three guards there patrolling the area around the shack. We don’t know how many guards might be inside.”

Simon was listening intently. Now, he asked the obvious question. “OK, you’ve found a shack that’s apparently being guarded, and had a phone call to it about a ‘source.’ That’s pretty thin evidence that Fayed is there.”

The general smiled. “The source talk was from Tehran to the emirate. The talk from Tehran to Bulgaria mentioned the word ‘boy’ three times, and Hammad’s cousin once. And then, at three in the afternoon today, a guard we hadn’t seen before came out of the shack, holding the arm of a smaller person. That person was dressed in white robes rather than trousers and shirts like the guards. Fayed was wearing his ceremonial dress when he was grabbed; that costume was a long embroidered white robe. Also, by comparing the shadows that could be seen by the satellite’s camera, we know how tall this person is. He’s one inch shorter than you are. And I seem to remember you telling me that he was just shorter than you were when you two were together a year ago.

“The guards appeared to be letting the boy move around a bit. He was able to walk around the clearing for about ten minutes, and then the guards took him back inside. He was moving a bit unsteadily when they first brought him outside, suggesting he may have been closely confined for some time.”

The general stopped, and a frown crossed his face. “Simon,” he said, “there is another problem. Some good news, too, but a serious problem. We intercepted more phone conversations, which is easier now we know where to concentrate. The guards have been told to be very careful as the time for the government handover is imminent, and if there is a rescue being mounted, it will come soon. That they said it that way means they don’t know what we’ve been doing. They don’t know you’re coming. Had they said they knew about the rescue, I wouldn’t be letting you go. But it was speculation, so you’re still on. Also, the language being spoken was Czech. Evidently the guards are Czech nationals being paid for what they’re doing. That helps us, knowing that.

“It was also emphasized, fiercely emphasized, that in the event of any rescue attempt, their first and most important task is to kill Fayed. They’ve been told they’ll most certainly go to heaven if they do that, which may or may not mean anything to the guards, but also that their families will each receive one million dollars if they should die while killing Fayed.”

The general paused to let that message sink in, then continued. “They’ve also been cautioned the boy is worth much more to them alive than dead, and that they’ll be paid more if they hand him back to their chief alive, but if their choice is losing him or killing him, dead is far, far better than losing him. This, of course, means when you’re there and they are aware of what’s happening, they must be given no chance at all to kill the boy, which we have to assume they’ll do without hesitation. That makes your job almost impossible.”

Father and son looked at each other, and then Simon smiled. “We knew it was going to be difficult anyway. We knew I’d have to remove the guards one by one surreptitiously anyway, and there’s still just one of me and several of them. This really doesn’t change that at all.”

The general then smiled too, although it wasn’t a happy smile. There was pride in it, however. Great pride.

Then they both ate their dinner and began the last phase of Simon’s training. Now they knew where to go to find their hostage. In the short time that was left, the hard work necessary for detailed strategic planning could begin.

Simon walked carefully through the waist-high grass, silent and frequently crouching, although even when upright he was creating no silhouette. It was 3 AM, the night sky was overcast, and he was the only thing moving in the vast stillness.

He knew exactly where he was. From the satellite images, a model of the terrain he’d be moving over had been rebuilt in the training camp. Over similar terrain they’d located and moved to nearby, Simon had run training missions at night against guards who knew he’d be coming, making the assignment tremendously difficult. Yesterday, for the first time, he’d disabled them all and gotten inside the hastily built shack they’d erected for his training. That had been only hours ago but half a world distant from where he was now.

He kept moving forward, more slowly now because he was getting close. There was a faint odor coming from the grass as he waded through it. It smelled vaguely of cloves and garlic. His night vision goggle illuminated the scene around him. He knew within the next minute he’d be able to see the clearing he was headed toward, and the shack in the middle of it.

He was approaching the clearing from above it. He was on a small bluff, 15 feet or so higher than the top of the roof. He stopped and stood absolutely still when he could finally see the clearing. Without the goggle, everything was pitch black. There was no wind at all, nor any night sounds. Black and still. That was the reality of the here and now.

He slowly sank to his knees so only his head was looking over the top of the long grass. Slowly, ever so slowly, he moved his head from side to side. In the eerie green glow of the goggle, he could see two guards, one close to the door of the shack, sitting behind a low wood fence, one farther away, resting against a large tree. The one close to the shack appeared to be asleep, his chin resting on his chest, his head having fallen slightly to the side. Simon watched him for a full two minutes. The guard didn’t move, except for the slight, almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest that Simon could only barely detect from his position about forty yards away and above him.

Simon turned his head toward the other guard by the tree. He was awake. Simon had no problem seeing him because, against any training he could possibly have had, he was smoking a cigarette. The glowing end made a brilliant white spot on Simon’s goggle. The guard was turned sideways against the direction of Simon’s approach, looking to the south as Simon crept forward from the northeast.

Simon studied both guards and the dark, shuttered shack. The smoking guard had to be dealt with first. He too was about 40 yards away and partially screened by the tree. Simon looked down on him, plotting the best course of approach.

The long grass would cover him most of the way if he crawled down the hill, but that would take far too long. His evacuation rendezvous schedule was tight and time was passing; he needed to move.

Simon’s training kicked in. He rejected the idea of creating a diversion as that would probably awaken the second guard, and he wasn’t sure how many people were inside the shack who would also be alerted. Stealth was what he’d have to rely on at the moment, and probably throughout the mission.

He began circling. Being above his quarry and making no sound at all, there was little chance the sentry would detect him. The fact that he was smoking gave Simon some confidence that he wasn’t dealing with someone who was overly competent. Too, the tobacco smell would cover any change in smell his presence might cause, and the glowing end of the cigarette might even slightly impair the guard’s night vision.

Simon circled until the tree was directly between him and the guard. Then he began closing in on him, moving down the slope from the bluff to the level of the clearing.

Simon’s senses were at full alert. His training instructors had told him what to expect, and having both his hearing and sight senses enhanced by the increased adrenaline flowing within him were part of that. They’d also told him he’d be nervous, and trained him how to use that as a benefit rather than a weakness.

Simon had dropped to all fours several yards earlier, creeping through the last of the grass. He’d closed on the tree. It was only ten yards in front of him now. He couldn’t see the sentry because of the width of the tree, but he could still smell the tobacco smoke. He turned off and raised his night vision goggle, then paused for his eyes to adjust as well as they could to the black of the night.

Killing the guards had been discussed in his training. It had been decided there was no other option. Incapacitating them, tying them up, gagging them, would be too time consuming and quite possibly not effective. Trying to drug them by shooting them with darts was impractical because it created all sorts of tactical problems. This had been discussed with Simon, and Simon had said all along that if these men were willing to carve pieces off his friend and put him through who knew what agonies, and start by removing his eyes, Simon had no reluctance whatsoever in doing what was necessary to save him. His father had been in the discussion, and he’d reluctantly agreed.

The method of execution had been left to Simon. A plan of attack had been worked out in detail, but the general and the trainers were all well aware that on the ground, unforeseeable events occur and it was impossible to plan exactly what would happen in advance. The final decision on how the guards should be killed had to be made on the spot.

Now, with the deed in front of him, the real deal rather than a training exercise, Simon gulped. He was, after all, 14-years-old, and killing someone, even someone who probably needed killing long ago, was not for the fainthearted. He had a knife and a silenced gun. The knife made no noise at all, but an instantaneous death wasn’t assured. The silenced gun did make a small sound, rather like a loud hiccup, but the guard would be expected to make no noise at all after it was used.

Simon hesitated a moment, then, thinking of Fayed, drew his silenced 9 mm, gently slid the safety off, and stood up, still in the very end of the tall grass. He still had several feet of ground to cover to get to the tree, all of it exposed to the shack. He took a quick glance in that direction. The windows were boarded up. The shack was almost invisible in the dark night, about thirty yards from the tree. A quick scan through the night vision goggle before he’d turned it off had shown no movement from that direction.

Firming his resolve, thinking only of the task at hand, he sank to a low crouch in which he could move quickly, a running crouch that he’d perfected during the past two months. He moved to the tree, his steps soundless in the black night.

Holding his gun as he’d been taught, he slapped his hand gently just once on the left side of the tree. He sensed the guard moving, then abruptly stepped around the tree to the right, lifting the gun as he moved. He put it near the side of the head of the guard, who was rising and turning left, and shot him in the temple.

The guard tumbled to the ground. Simon caught him on the way down, and eased him onto the ground, then verified he was dead. He then arranged him so he was in the same position he’d been in when Simon had seen him from above on the bluff.

Anyone looking for him would see him lounging in his accustomed style. Simon thought he was forgetting something, then realized what it was. He looked around and found the cigarette, still burning and under the guard’s hand. Simon put it out; he didn’t need the scent of burning flesh in the air to puzzle anyone.

The sleeping guard was next. With as much caution as he’d used with the smoking guard, Simon circled back till he would be approaching this guard from behind as well. The low fence that the guard was leaning against was made of wooden boards and was about three feet tall. The guard was on the shack side of the fence, and if Simon had not been above the shack as he approached it, he might well not have seen him at all. As it was, if he was going to approach this guard inside the fence where he lay, he would have no cover at all.

This would be a difficult maneuver, but Simon’s training had prepared him for almost anything he’d come up against, and the satellite images had clearly shown the fence, so contingency plans had been made for dealing with it.

Instead of moving inside the fence, Simon stayed outside it. He dropped the night vision goggles into place and studied the shack and the wall. From this side, he couldn’t see the guard at all. He had to assume he was still sound asleep, and be ready if that turned out not to be the case.

With his heart in his throat because he had less control this time, Simon moved toward the shack and the fence. He saw nothing through his goggles that was inhibiting. He went as far as he could in the tall grass, then moved forward across the clearing till he’d reached the fence, trying to get as close to where the guard was sleeping as possible from memory.

When he arrived, he again had to think, knife or gun. The hiccup might be more noticeable this close to the shack.

He’d trained with the knife, and he knew the vital spots on the human body well. So, now, he pulled his blade from its sheath. Then, saying a quick prayer, he rose from his prone position behind the fence and looked down over the top. The guard was in the exact position he’d seen him in from the bluff. He was lying with his legs in front of him, his back propped against the fence, his chin on his chest, his head tipped slightly to the side.

Which, of course, exposed the side of his neck.

Simon didn’t hesitate this time. He put both hands on the knife handle, and, eschewing the neck, plunged the blade into the guard’s chest.

His practice in South Carolina, using dummies of course, had shown him how to reach the heart from several angles. He hadn’t tried it from above, reaching straight down and over a short fence, but he knew where the heart was, where the ribs were, and how to use his knife. His thrust went true. The guard was sleeping one moment, simply dead without waking up the next.

Simon stopped and took a deep breath. Now it got harder. The surveillance camera had never shown more than four guards together, but it was always possible there were more, that there was always at least one inside the shack. There also could have been more inside. Simon simply didn’t know.

He did know that if any guard or guards inside perceived a threat, they were under orders to kill Fayed. So Simon could do nothing to make them think an attack or rescue was in process.

Simon took a quick glance at his watch. A press of a button and the face glowed momentarily. 3:40 AM. It would take an hour to make it to the rendezvous point, and they had to be there by 5 AM if they were to take off before it was light. He had twenty minutes left to get Fayed free and start out. Therefore, he had to move. Sitting contemplating his chances for success just wasted precious time and contributed nothing.

Simon pulled the knife from the sentry, cleaned it and resheathed it. Then he stepped over the fence so he was standing next to the shack. He pulled a listening device from one of the many zipped pockets of his dark camo suit and placed it against the wall. He listened, then moved five feet down the wall toward the back of the shack and repeated the process.

Within only minutes, he’d completely circled the shack. That was the good news. The other good news was, he’d heard the very slight noise of one person sleeping, and the noisier sounds of two other people sleeping. It would appear there were two guards and Fayed inside. That was the best Simon had been hoping for, and it looked like it had come true.

Simon’s plan of attack assumed as few as two guards inside the shack and as many as four. More than that, it was felt it would be hopeless trying to stop someone who was committed to his job from killing the boy. Fewer than four, there was at least a chance Simon could be successful. With only two men to handle, Simon’s confidence rose. In training, he’d won almost every time he only had two men to dispatch.

Time was passing, and Simon had to move. His first task was to get rid of the two bodies. He quickly pulled the body of the guard who was sprawled against the fence up and over it, then carried it to where he’d decided it could best be hidden. Time was a factor, but the body had to be hidden so it wouldn’t be found. He then took the time and made the effort to hide the second body as well, securing it in the same place as the first and taking care of their weapons. For his plan to have a chance of working, those two bodies had to remain hidden.

After that, he pulled two small battery operated sound devices from one of the pockets of his suit and set one of them up in the long grass several yards away from the clearing. He took a remote activator from his camo suit and pressed a button. A light glowed briefly from the sound device then went out, showing it was working and responding to the remote. Simon then put the second one about fifty yards away from the first, again in the tall grass where it would take a minor miracle to be found in the moonless night. He checked, and that one was working, too.

Words in Czech had been recorded on two computer chips, and one had been installed in each device. The words constituted an argument. It was an argument between two men and it got louder and louder as it went on. Even though the equipment was minute, the sound quality at the distance it was to the shack made it sound like two men were standing outside, wrangling with each other, the argument getting progressively more strident.

The problem the general had had, of course, was knowing what the guards’ voices sounded like. He’d done the best he could to minimize this by having the argument consist of short, one and two word phrases, spoken emotionally, hoping that would make voice recognition problematic for anyone inside the shack. For the plan to work, the guards inside had to think the two guards outside were calling to each other, arguing about what one had thought he’d seen, one man saying he’d seen a wolf, an animal that lived in these mountains, the other calling him an idiot who’d been dreaming, and doing it almost in guttural grunts.

Simon hid himself on the far side of the short fence at the side of the shack where he couldn’t be seen, but also therefore couldn’t see the door when he heard it open. He was sure whoever came out would look around, see the close-in guard missing, hear the voices, and go outside to quiet them. The plan was that the guard stepping outside wouldn’t feel threatened. It shouldn’t be instinctual for him to kill Fayed; he should feel no cause to do so. What Simon didn’t know was whether one or both guards inside the shack would come out. He had plans to deal with whichever way it worked, but he did need at least one of them to leave the shack.

Simon pressed his remote controller twice, activating both sound devices.

The sound of voices in the still night could be heard, getting louder. They were in Czech and Simon couldn’t understand them, but knew what they were saying.

“What?”

“Wolf!”

“You’re crazy!”

“Wolf!”

“You’re dreaming!”

“No!”

“Idiot!”

By that time, the words were loud enough to have been heard inside, and it was obvious they had been. The door creaked open, and Simon flattened himself against the fence. It would be natural for whomever it was to take a quick look around, and Simon had to be hidden or everything would go to hell quickly.

He let the voices continue for one more word each so some idea of where they were coming from could be established, then clicked the remote again, shutting them both off.

He waited and listened, his gun in his hand. There was no sound at first, and then he heard someone call out from the door of the shack, softly. It sounded to Simon like a name being called, but he wasn’t sure. His training had not included trying to learn Czech. There hadn’t been enough time for that.

Then he heard the steps creak. He lay still, looking forward. It was still totally black out, and he doubted he’d be seen even if someone looked directly at him from where the short fence opened in front of the shack. What Simon wanted to know was whether one or both guards were leaving.

In the inky stillness, it was almost impossible to see anything. He flipped down his goggles, and could suddenly see very well, even if everything was now different shades of green. But what he saw greatly excited him. He saw two men, one with a gun in his hand, walking across the clearing, each one headed in slightly different directions toward where they thought the sounds of the argument had come.

Like a shadow, Simon was immediately over the fence and at the door to the shack. His clothing was all black and the shack was unlit, so even if one of the guards looked backwards, he doubted he’d be seen. However, instead of walking into the shack, he dropped to the floor and slithered in, just on the slight chance his listening device had failed to pick up one more guard inside.

It was better to be safe than rash when he had Fayed’s life in his hands, to say nothing of his own.

With his goggles still in place, from his position on the floor in the doorway he looked around. It was a large single room with rude furnishings and no ceiling, just the slanted roof above with the rafters which held it up exposed to view. There were four cots, all of them empty except one. That one had someone on it. That someone had one arm handcuffed, and the cuff was attached to a chain that was fastened to a ring on the wall.

Simon was about to jump up and run to Fayed when his training stopped him. He still had to complete his survey of the room. He was doing so when he sensed movement at the far side of the room. Hoping he was still invisible in the close to total darkness, he slowly moved his head in that direction. There, standing and peering through a crack in the shutters covering the glassless windows, a fifth guard stood, a gun in his hand.

As Simon watched, the man turned away from the window and faced him. Simon didn’t want to raise his gun as the movement might give him away. He didn’t want to shoot anyway because at a distance of probably twenty feet it was possible he would miss. He lay still, not moving anything at all, thinking it most probable that he was invisible to the guard, that the guard would be looking about shoulder height through the doorway, not at the floor.

The man didn’t raise his gun. What he did instead was look toward Fayed, then move in that direction.

Simon had a decision to make. If the guard stepped between him and Fayed, Simon would be unable to shoot. But the distance was still such that hitting a moving target with a pistol wasn’t a sure thing.

Simon decided. When the man was as close as he was going to come to Simon, Simon aimed his gun at him and with his left hand snapped his fingers once. The sound stopped the guard and he turned toward it so he was now facing him instead of in profile to him, and was in the process of raising his gun when Simon shot him twice. One of the shots hit him in the stomach, one in the chest. He was dead within seconds. There had been almost no noise, and certainly nothing that could be heard outside.

Before the guard had hit the floor, Simon was at Fayed’s bed, making sure he didn’t shout out. “Fayed, it’s Simon!” he said. “Simon Bellow. Don’t make any noise!” He said this urgently, emotionally, but his voice was barely above a whisper.

“Simon? Simon!” Fayed’s voice was the same as Simon’s, quiet, but full of raw angst. He reached out his free arm and grabbed Simon, pulling him to him. Simon used both arms of his own and tightly hugged Fayed back. Then, with no more waste of time, he asked, “Where is the key?”

“The boss guard has it. He’s in charge, and he keeps the key. He doesn’t trust the others, I can tell, even though I can’t understand what they say. The others, they’re animals. The boss keeps them in line, or I might be dead by now. The others, they’re always saying things while looking at me and laughing. Rubbing their crotches and laughing. I think they all would have raped me, many times, if the boss hadn’t been here. He usually stays inside, but when he heard voices a few minutes ago, he got angry, and took one of the others outside with him. The one he took, he’s the one who wanted to do things to me the worst. He was always looking at me and rubbing himself. The boss has to keep him away from me.”

Simon had moved back to the door as Fayed was saying this, and was looking toward where the sound devices were. He couldn’t see anyone, but knew they were out there somewhere. He kept watching, but spoke to Fayed, keeping his voice just loud enough it would reach the boy.

“Fayed, listen. This is going to be hard. You’re going to have to help me here. These guards have been told that under no circumstances are you to leave here alive, and if there’s a rescue attempt, they’re to kill you. Their families will be paid lots of money if they kill you, even if they die. They’ll know, if they find what made those voices out there, or if they find the bodies of the guards I killed, that in all probability, someone is now inside with you. It also will occur to them that there’s probably something wrong when those guards don’t answer them when they’re called.

“They’re going to try to kill us. My plan was to get them outside, then free you, and the two of us would try to either escape in the tall grass, or kill them. But, I can’t free you! So we have to change the plan. I have to go kill them outside, or at least one of them. If I only get one, you have to take care of the other one if he gets back inside while I’m hunting the other.”

Simon looked around the room using his goggle, then asked Fayed, “Is there a candle or lantern or something here?”

“Over on that table in the far corner. But won’t that alert the guards outside?”

“I think it’ll do the opposite. It’ll reassure them that everything’s all right in here, and simply think the remaining guard lit the candle. But for my plan to work, we have to have some light in here.”

He went to the table and found a candle and some matches. Then he went back to the cot Fayed was sitting on set the candle on the floor there next to the bed. He explained what his new plan was, and set things up. Then he told Fayed to light the candle after he was gone, and slipped back outside.

Fayed listened to Simon’s quick instructions and watched his friend leave. Simon, back in the enveloping blackness of the Bulgarian night, squatted down behind the fence, used his night goggle, then stepped over the barrier and moved in a crouch toward the closest patch of long grass.

Inside, Fayed got ready. He pulled his robe up and off as much as he could, leaving himself naked with the robe hanging on the chain that still attached him to the wall. Simon had dragged the dead guard over to the bed, and he was lying half on, half off it. Fayed steeled himself, then lit the candle

He waited about a minute as Simon had requested, allowing Simon to get in place. Then Fayed took the dead guard’s gun, checked it, and fired it into the body lying on his bed, firing till the gun was empty.

He waited. Almost immediately, there were two yells outside, and two pairs of running footsteps could be heard.

Suddenly, one guard was inside with his gun raised, his finger tightening on the trigger. Then, he stopped and stared. There on the bed, in the flickering candlelight, he saw Fayed, clicking an empty gun at the guard he’d obviously killed. It was clear to him what had happened from the fact the boy was naked. The guard could visualize it happening: the guard who had remained inside had intended to take the opportunity while the boss was outside to have his way with the boy. He’d come to the bed, stripped the boy’s robe off him, but the boy had somehow got his gun away from him and shot him. But, he’d used all the bullets!

As he watched, he saw the boy look up and see him. Desperation, then defeat crossed the boy’s face. He was still clicking the empty gun, and how he raised it and pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger several more times. Only empty clicks resulted.

The guard in the doorway smiled, looked at the boy’s body highlighted against the dark background of the shack, then took his finger off his trigger and lowered his gun. He’d been watching this boy for months, and now, the opportunity to satisfy his lust overwhelmed all other considerations. He started toward Fayed. Fayed looked terrified and in desperation threw the empty gun at the guard. The guard easily dodged it, laughed, and then kept coming, one hand dropping to his zipper.

Outside, Simon was still waiting.

He’d seen the first guard, the one Fayed had described as the animal, come to the shack first, and he’d let him go, as shooting him would have alerted the other man. He let him go inside and desperately hoped Fayed would be all right, that his plan would work.

Simon waited and watched the other man, the boss. He’d run toward the shack too when the first shots were heard from inside, but had quickly halted, still a ways away, and simply waited, watching the shack. He was cautious, and looked around him and held his gun at the ready. He was too far off for Simon to shoot, but now was slowly coming closer, edging his way toward the shack.

And then shots rang out again from the shack. Four quick shots, then two more.

The boss jerked at the sudden sound, then threw caution to the winds and ran to the shack. He came within ten feet of Simon when doing so, and Simon shot him when he was at his closest. The man staggered, and Simon stood up and shot him again, the coup d’grace. Then Simon rushed to the shack.

He looked in carefully, and saw Fayed was sitting on the bed, holding the second gun, the one Simon had given him that had originally come from the guard smoking by the tree. The body of the guard Simon had propped on the bed was still there, and the second one was on the floor in front of the bed. He’d managed to get his zipper half way down, both hands occupied in doing that, before he’d been close enough that Fayed had taken the second gun from under the pillow where Simon had had him hide it and put four bullets into his stomach, then the final ones into his chest.

A huge feeling of relief descended on Simon. He stepped back outside and found the handcuff key in the dead boss’s pocket. He freed Fayed, and the boys fell into each other’s arms.

They had no time for a joyful reunion, however. Simon looked at his watch and told Fayed they had to go.

“Are you OK? They didn’t hurt you? You can walk? We have a ways to go, about an hour’s hike, and some of it is uphill.”

Fayed was holding on to Simon as they talked, not letting go for anything. He replied with his face buried in Simon’s chest. “I’ve been mostly just chained to this wall for the last two months. I’m pretty weak. But I’ll do the best I can.”

“They didn’t bring you any clothes other than that robe, did they? That’s not going to be the best thing to be hiking in, but it would be better than being naked.”

“What, you don’t like me naked? That wasn’t what you said last summer!” Fayed was sort of giddy, having been rescued, and laughed at the embarrassed look he saw on Simon’s face as he took a moment to look upwards.

“We don’t have time for that,” said Simon, though his voice wasn’t a bit angry, just businesslike. “What about taking the smallest guard’s clothes?”

“Yeah, if you insist. Where are their bodies?”

“I hid them where these last two wouldn’t stumble over them too quickly. Come, I’ll show you.”

Simon led the still naked Fayed outside, holding his hand because of it still being black outside the shack. He led them to the tree, then pointed upwards. He’d pulled both bodies up and wedged them into the lower branches, about seven feet above the ground. As he’d done so, he’d given thanks to all the physical work he’d put in at the camp. He wouldn’t have been strong enough to do that at the beginning of summer.

Simon quickly scaled up into the tree and shoved the smaller body down. Within minutes, Fayed was dressed from shoes to shirt. And then the boys were hiking back towards their evacuation location.

Simon had his goggle activated, and Fayed held his hand. The hike was mostly uphill and Fayed quickly tired. Simon stopped when it was apparent the boy needed a breather and took out his transceiver.

“Mongoose to Cobra,” he said softly.

“Cobra,” was the almost immediate reply.

“Running a little slow. Expect will arrive at site at D plus fifteen.”

“Roger, out.”

Fayed was sitting on the ground, and Simon slipped down next to him. Fayed immediately hugged him. Simon hugged him back, and felt his warrior demeanor slip a little. The mission was about over, they were on their way out, there was no further threat in the immediate area and he was sitting next to the boy he’d grown so fond of in the few days they’d known each other a year ago.

“I’ve got lots of questions,” said Fayed, laying his face along side Simon’s and wriggling even closer to him.

“We’ll have lots of time to talk. We really need to get to the chopper, as soon as you think you’re OK to walk again.” He thought back to when he’d flown in, his father by his side and Col. Rodgers, his father’s aide, flying the chopper. They’d had to land well away from the clearing because sound traveled a long distance in the quiet of the deserted meadows and peaks. Now, the two boys needed to hike back to that site as there were no closer places the chopper could safely land at night.

He urged Fayed to his feet, and they were off again. Simon was using his night goggle and his compass. They plodded on. The uphill part of the trek was nearly over.

The sky was no longer black and their surroundings were now somewhat visible when they finally saw the chopper ahead. Fayed was about dead on his feet and Simon was supporting him. The general and colonel saw them at the same time the boys saw the chopper and rushed to help. The general lifted Fayed into his arms and carried him to the chopper, settling him into one of the back seats. He slid into the seat next to him, then fastened both their seatbelts.

Simon slipped into the co-pilot’s seat, although he had only rudimentary knowledge of how to fly such a machine. He quickly fastened his seatbelt too as this machine had no doors to close. Col. Rogers climbed into the pilot’s seat, strapped himself in, started the rotors moving, and they were quickly in the air, the ground falling away far below even as it was becoming more visible as the sun came closer to rising.

The colonel turned to the back and asked, “You all right, Fayed?”

Fayed was asleep and didn’t even hear him.

Simon did. Simon was tired too, but his brain was still working. So was the general’s.

Colonel Rogers had worked closely with the general for years. However, he wasn’t privy to top secret information. Included in that information were the names of the family members of key politicians that were friends of the United States. Code names were used for identification purposes so if members of I-CAN were overheard, the real names of the people being discussed would not be revealed. Hammad’s name was known. Those of his wife and children weren’t.

Simon turned to look at his father. His father looked back, then reached for his gun, holstered on his hip.

The colonel was faster. He knew he’d screwed up as soon as he’d used Fayed’s name, and when he saw Simon’s reaction he knew he was exposed. Quick as a flash, he unlatched his seatbelt with one hand and pulled a knife from its sheath with the other, then lunged for the general.

The general couldn’t get his gun out quickly enough because of the depth of the bucket seat he was in and the restricting seatbelt. He saw the knife coming and turned, taking it in his shoulder instead of his heart.

Simon looked on in horror. His own weapons were stashed in the side compartment of the helicopter, completely out of reach.

As he watched, he heard his father yell out, then saw the colonel yank out the knife, ready to strike again.

Simon reacted the only way he could. Weaponless and smaller than the colonel, he couldn’t engage him hand to hand. To try to do so would be futile. Instead, he reached out and jammed the cyclic as far left as he could.

The helicopter immediately tilted to its left, abruptly and suddenly. With nothing to hold him back, not even having time to brace himself, the colonel was thrown to the left, and with no door to hold him back, he flew out of the helicopter. His scream was the only trace left of him, and that faded and was lost almost immediately in the noise of the helicopter.

Simon pulled the cyclic back to its original position, and the copter leveled off. He turned back to his father who was holding his handkerchief against his shoulder, staunching the flow of blood.

“Hey, Dad,” said Simon, “I hope you have some idea how to fly one of these.”

His father had a glint of humor in his eyes, even through his pain. “What, they didn’t get around to certifying you in one of these yet?”

“No, I was busy with other stuff.” Simon was amazed at himself being able to joke in the present circumstances.

“I guess chopper piloting will have to wait till next summer. Yeah, I know how. Slide over into that seat, and I’ll talk you through it.”

All the while, Fayed slept on.

Simon walked into his house, totally exhausted, 22 hours later. He’d been awake for 36 straight hours and his eyes felt like they were full of sand when he blinked. He was tired but happy. The call to Hammad’s father had resulted in great relief and elation from that end of the phone line. Fayed had spoken to his father, then the general had had a long talk. It had been decided that, because of the turmoil that would now take place in the emirate, Fayed would be safer far away from there for the next few months, and maybe even longer. There was even preliminary talk of the possibility of him finishing his school years in the United States.

The general had watched Fayed and Simon since the rescue mission. He had seen how Fayed stayed close to Simon, actually finding ways to touch him when he could. He had seen how Simon acted protective of him, and didn’t appear to mind at all that the boy was physically close to him. He had noticed, and then, on the phone, had suggested Fayed come live with his family, and Hammad had quickly agreed after hearing Fayed’s gleeful reaction to the suggestion. It had been decided. The boy was going to join the Bellow family in two days. After, of course, the general had had the opportunity to spring on his wife she’d have another boy living in the house, and after Fayed had been thoroughly checked out by the I-CAN medial staff.

Now, Simon looked around him, feeling the welcoming arms of his familiar house embrace him. Gratefully, he sank onto the couch, laid his head back and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of him.

Within seconds he was asleep, and almost as quickly, awake again.

“Simon Adam Bellow! What are you doing? Get your feet off that table immediately! The very idea! Where did you learn such behavior? You go off with your father for the summer, without telling me where you’re going, you never even send me a card while you’re gone, then come home with manners that make it look like you were raised in a barn! Well, I won’t have it! I won’t! You get upstairs! Go to your room! You’re grounded! Lucky for you school begins tomorrow. You stay in that room till then! Now get!”

||+++||+++||

“Simon Bellow!”

He looked up to see Mrs. Collins glaring at him.

“Simon, the class is almost over and you haven’t written anything. Don’t think you can get away with misbehaving in this class, young man. You’ll write that essay today even if you have to stay after school to do it. I want that before you go home!”

Simon looked at her indignant face, then smiled at her. “No problemo, Mrs. Collins. I’ll do it right now.”

He dropped his eyes back to his blank sheet of paper, picked up his pencil, and wrote. It only took him a few moments. He was finishing as the bell rang.

He got up with the rest of the students and dropped his paper on Mrs. Collins’ desk with the rest of them. She quickly went through the pile when the students had left and pulled out Simon’s. It was quite short.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation.

I was sent to my room. All other activities cannot be divulged in the interests of national security.

Simon Bellow.

The End