BY: J J BURKE
As the leader of a covert operations team, Jon’s supervisor’s called him one o the best. Over time, the screams of agony, the mangled bodies, and the stench of death took their toll-he had to get out. He retreated to commercial fishing, seeking mental cleansing in the vast ocean’s solitude. Three quiet years and his past returned to haunt him. He barely survived a second deadly encounter with El Tigre. Who had sold him out? He hunted down the traitor, but El Tigre still wasn’t through with him. Jon was compelled to return again, to the dark world of kill or be killed. A propane tanker explosion left Jon in a psychogenic coma. Comatose and cared for, in the guest room of his closest friends, Jon had survived every covert field operation when in the service, but would the echoes of his covert past finally destroy him?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS:
REGAN MURPHY SAYS:
Life has a way of playing tricks on people—sometimes good and sometimes bad. For some unknown reason, when it came to Jon, the bad seemed to always outweigh the good.
Jon and Carlos had been called out of retirement by their ex-commander. He needed a covert mission performed on U.S. soil, in a small out of the way rural West Virginia town. They had been to the town before and that memory wasn’t pleasant. This time would be different—they would be paid handsomely for their expertise.
The op wasn’t to be much different than those performed when they were in the service. One big difference would be the fact that they were to function in concert with the local sheriff. Neither the sheriff nor Jon was happy about this, but they were also aware that under the circumstances a joint offensive was unavoidable and necessary.
There were unknowns, but that was to be expected. When all of their combined planning appeared to be working out perfectly, a final shot—fired by the last and dying adversary—penetrated and ignited a propane delivery truck, which exploded violently.
That explosion was the cruelest of tricks for Jon. He was left in a psychogenic coma which, no one, not even the doctor, knew when or even if he would recover from. Sheri his girlfriend, after months of agonizing, left and returned to Texas. She needed to walk away and rebuild her life. Carlos was left with his closest friend, alive but vegetative. He had Jon, with some strings pulled by Ertugal, moved to his house, with full medical support. Carlos continued to operate the Adventure II and pray for Jon’s recovery. Days became weeks—weeks became months, and still there was no indication of improvement.
The first indication of trouble was a thin whistling sound, followed seconds later by a loud, concussive explosion less than one-hundred feet from their position. The aftermath of which was a barrage of the staccato pop-pop-pop of automatic weapons fire. They’d been spotted. There was little cover—a few small bushes and an occasional dip in the otherwise flat terrain. The black ops team, to a man, desperately hugged the ground.
Returning fire at this moment was useless, without visible targets. Their ammunition supply was, by now, limited and random fire was not even a remote possibility. Suddenly the area was illuminated in an eerie light. “Shit—flares.” A man stood to rush for better cover and was literally cut in half by the spray of fifty-caliber machine-gun fire. Their radio man was desperately calling for air support.
Carlos yelled to his team leader. “We’ve got to spread out—we’re too close together.” A scream of pain followed, as if to punctuate his comment—another man was hit. This time it was their team leader. Carlos took over, screaming orders…
“Carlos—Carlos, wake up—get up.” Rosita was force-fully pushing her husband and calling loudly at the same time.
Carlos stopped yelling and opened his eyes. “Madre de Dios. I haven’t had a dream like that in more than a couple of years.” He was drenched in sweat, his heart was pounding and he was panting as if he had just run a race. “Gracias, querida.” He turned and looked at the clock.
The softly glowing LED numbers on the small night table clock showed 4:00 a.m. Carlos’s mornings were routine and other than weekends without variation. That routine now included his walk down the hall to the guest room. This walk, no matter how routine, had an aura of pain about it. There were times when he would sit in the room’s corner chair, silently staring at his closest friend while tears coursed soundlessly down his cheeks. Why won’t he come back to me, to us? There is no longer anything to fear or hide from. It’s going into the seventh—no, eighth month. Nothing has changed except he has lost Sheri, but he has also found his mother. All of this is meaningless, unless he returns. Pues, vamos a ver.
The automatic timer had the light on in the guest room. It had been installed as a part of the effort to keep Jon on the same routine he had been on prior to that last, completely voluntary mission. The one specifically requested by Commander Ertugal. We never should have accepted that one. What’s the point in looking back? Done is done. Carlos opened the door and walked in, his morning greeting now reflexive. “Good morning amigo. Did you sleep well last night?” He continued toward the bed then suddenly froze. Jon’s eyes are open. He whirled around to face the open door, and yelled, loudly and urgently. “Rosita—Rosita, venga aqui y rapidamente.”
Rosita was there in just seconds. “Carlos, what is it…what’s wrong”?
He whispered—with a sense of urgency. “I think he’s back. His eyes are open.”
Rosita rushed to Jon’s bedside in an instant, Carlos right beside her. “Jon, it’s Rosita, can you hear me?” For a moment there was no response. She repeated herself, a tone of urgency in her voice. “Jon, can you hear me?” Then suddenly a faint and almost imperceptible smile appeared on his face. “Carlos, run…call the nurse and the physical therapist. Tell them it’s an emergency, and they must get over here right now.”
His cell phone came out in an instant. “I have the numbers right here.” The first number he pressed was that of the male nurse. Just the first two rings and his call was answered.
“Lee here, Carlos. What’s wrong?”
“He’s awake…he’s awake. Please get over here, right away.”
“I’m on the way.”
Carlos next called the physical therapist. He was slightly more in control now and so spoke calmly when the call was answered. “Can you come over right away? Jon’s awake and I’m sure we’ll need your help.”
“I’ll be there within fifteen minutes.” The phone went dead.
“They’re both on the way, Rosita.” He walked quickly back to the bedside. “Jon, don’t try to.” He never finished.
Jon looked up at his closest friend and in a very soft and hoarse voice asked, “How’s fishing?”
Tears filled Carlos’ eyes and he was unable to respond for more than a minute. He fought to overcome the emotion and gain control—then answered. “Not the same without you, Jefe.” Jon slowly started to move his arms. “Please Jon, lie still…wait for the nurse who will be here in just a few minutes…please.”
Silence for a moment then a response. “Okay—Rosita, can I get some water?”
“Of course Jon, but hot tea I believe would be better for you…more soothing. I’ll be back in a minute.” Typical of her nature she had to instruct Carlos. “Don’t let him move.”
“Carlos…how long? The last thing I can remember was…”
“Not now, Jon. First let the nurse check you, and take care of what has to be done. We have time to talk about everything after that.” If I say the wrong thing he might go back into that coma—I simply can’t take that chance. The sound of the doorbell interrupted his thoughts. “That will be the nurse.”
Rosita’s voice carried commandingly down the hall. “I’ll get it. You stay with Jon.”
There was no need for Carlos to respond. He waited without taking his eyes off his close friend…his joy at Jon’s return to consciousness—was boundless. A single light knock and the room door opened. Lee entered with Rosita close on his heels.
The nurse went immediately to the bed. “Mr. Morton, I am Lee Tsi Liang. I have been caring for you during your impairment. Hopefully this may be our last visit.”
Jon managed a short response. “Hello, Lee. Thank you.”
Rosita interrupted. “Lee, Jon requested something to drink. I made him a cup of plain tea. Is that acceptable?”
“That will be fine. If you would leave it with me I need to check Jon first, before he has anything. If the two of you will please wait outside, and give us some privacy?”
“Bueno! Carlos and I will be in the living room.” Carlos was focused on Jon, and quite reticent about leaving. “Carlos, vamanos—ahora, pronto.”
“Si, querida.” He pulled the door shut, behind them. They were walking in silence, toward the living room; each wrapped up in personal thoughts. Carlos suddenly remembered the reality of the moment. “I have to call Bjorn and Sven. I can’t go out—not today.” His cell phone came out and he pressed a “favorite” call number.
“Sven here, Carlos. Ve er on der boat.”
“Sven, fantastic news. Jon is awake. I can’t go out today…”
Sven erupted joyfully. “Yon avake? Fantastik.”
“Let me finish. Could you call Kris and tell him? I need to get back in with Jon.
“Ya, vhill do.”
“Thanks. I’ll speak to you later once I hear from the doctor. Then we can plan our next trip out.” His phone went back in his pocket. They hadn’t walked two more steps when his hand went back to his pocket. “I must call Doctor Patel at Walter Reed.” A moments search and Carlos punched the doctor’s private cell number. He had to use voicemail. “This is Carlos Montoto the friend of Jon Morton who you saw about eight months ago. You said he was in a psychogenic coma. He has awakened this morning. Please call me as soon as you get this message.” The phone went back in his pocket.
Rosita headed for the kitchen. “I’ll get us some coffee, while we wait.” She returned with the coffee to find Carlos pacing nervously. “Carlos, here’s your coffee. What’s wrong?”
“How are we going to tell Jon about Sheri? When we do tell him, could the bad news start this coma thing again?”
Rosita was unusually quiet for almost five minutes before answering. “Perhaps Dr. Patel can tell us how to proceed.”
“I sure hope so, because Sheri is one of two things that are unavoidable. It’s going to come up, and soon.” The ring of the doorbell interrupted them. “I’ll get it. He turned, walking rapidly toward the door. “Hi Walt—thanks for getting over here so fast. The nurse is in with Jon and should be done soon. Would you care for some coffee?”
“No thank you, Mr. Montoto. I try to limit how much coffee I drink. I’ll just relax until I can check on Jon, see what the level of his physical condition is. At that point I will set up a program of rehabilitation. I’ll take a seat on the screened porch until he’s ready—if that’s okay with you?”
“Absolutely—no problem.” Walt walked to the porch door and stepped out.
No sooner had Walt closed the door behind him when Lee called to them. “Mr. and Mrs. Montoto, we’re ready in here.”
“Coming, Lee.” They both started, elated yet at the same time anxious, back to the guest room.
Carlos suddenly grabbed Rosita’s arm, stopping her. “What about the letter Sheri left for him?”
“I tucked it away. He won’t see it until I give it to him.”
“Well…at least now he won’t spot it immediately. That makes me feel a little better. Let’s go.”
Carlos knocked gently then opened the door. He stopped dead in his tracks. Jon was sitting on the edge of the bed. Lee was watching as they entered. “Something wrong Mr. Montoto?”
“Nothing wrong, just my surprise at seeing Jon sitting up and awake.” His cell phone started to ring. He glanced briefly at the screen. “Excuse me. I have to take this call…it’s the doctor.” He stepped back into the hallway. “Yes Doctor Patel.”
“Mr. Montoto, this is most wonderful news. I am presently driving toward your home and hope to arrive in less than three hours. I have cancelled all appointments for today, but under the circumstances could not ask you to bring Mister Morton to me. I hope that is acceptable.”
“Yes of course—definitely. Do you need specific directions?”
“No thank you. I have a most wonderful GPS, and should it fail, I do have your number.”
“Great! Then we’ll see you when you get here. Oh, is there anything we should avoid or not say.”
“Simply remain with only light everyday conversation, for now.”
“Thank you Doctor. See you soon.” He turned and re-entered the room. “That was your primary doctor, Jon. He instructed that you remain in bed and just relax until he arrives. No questions or topics that would be stressful…please. Okay?”
“Okay, mi hermano.”
“I need to have someone else come in to see you.” Jon started to smile and Carlos’ heart sank. “It’s Walt, your physical therapist. He’s the one that’s been keeping you in shape.”
The smile had disappeared from Jon’s face. He spoke slowly, with an overbearing aura of sadness. “Sheri’s not coming. She’s gone, isn’t she? I’m not surprised. It was just too much—my past—to ask anyone to put up with.”
Carlos didn’t have to answer. His blank expression and slumped shoulders said it all. “I think, for now, that may be so. Quien sabes?” I need to get off this track, right now. “I have some good news, Jon. We tried to run the boat, just the three of us, since you were out of commission. It was too much. Stavros recommended a nephew of his who had worked as a commercial fisherman in Greece. His name is Kristos Stefanopolis. How’s that for a mouthful? Anyway, I tried him out and he’s excellent. We just call him Kris—much easier that way.”
Jon’s response was flat, almost toneless. “That’s good.”
Rosita had left the room to get Walt and bring him back to check Jon. “We’re back. Jon, this is Walt. He’s been your physical therapist. He wants to check you and see what type of regimen you need to be on, to ensure that your strength is back.”
“Hi, Jon.” He made a general statement to the others in the room. “Could all of you leave us alone, for a few minutes, please? I will need Jon’s undivided attention.”