Authors: Roger Olivieri
For the past, present and future – everything happens for a reason.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
ugust 6, 2000
-- Pain exploded through Aaron's body with each jerk of the wheelchair. Pushing slowly, the nurse must have been trying to reduce wobbling between the hard rubber wheels and the brown square tiles. Her pace not the solution, the strain on the thirty-seven-year-old man riding in it was excruciating. He reminded her at least five times already from the hospital to the airport. His right arm had a stress fracture, four face lacerations required stitches, the third rib on his left side was broken and he was in no mood for a wheelchair that wobbled across tiles.
A good nurse to Aaron during the two days assigned to him, he assumed she understood the emotional and physical trauma suffered because she asked little. She must have known it had taken its toll.
They began to develop a quiet bond. Neither spoke much to the other, but they never disagreed with a suggestion. Aaron trusted her judgment as a professional. Genuinely devoted to her work, it seemed, he appreciated that. Every so often she would push her black wavy hair back over right ear, cock her head to the left, and smile. Her dark brown eyes would glow under neatly trimmed eyebrows. Aaron thought she could be attractive with less makeup. Tall, slender and still young enough to be eye-catching, he assumed her late thirties, but never asked.
“Mr. Gallo, do you need anything sir? This is the last bathroom before we get out on the runway,” she said pointing to the brown wooden door on the left.
Poorly lit, a hallway leading to the runway with rectangular windows near the ceiling allowed only a glimmer of sunlight. Every other uncovered light socket held a bulb screwed and only half of them worked.
“No thanks. Just get me out there. I have to see my kids, my wife, and everyone else. You sure there is no media?” He was sick of the media.
“No sir, no one here except the FBI. No police, no reporters, no one. The FBI and you all that are leaving together, that's it,” she reassured him.
It had only been forty-eight hours since Aaron was released from jail. His attorney cited ‘exigent circumstances' led to the broken laws over that time. The case was a simple one; tried in one afternoon. Three members of the jury believed that Aaron should serve a sentence of some sort, believing that a broken law was a broken law nonetheless. They must not have had the courage to take a stand against the man dubbed a “national hero.”
A hung jury in a rushed trial – perfect for a quick getaway.
He could hear the airplane's rumble. The sound had grown louder as they approached and become deafening by the time they rolled onto the runway. With eyes racing back and forth anticipating the sight of his family, the morphine took effect just in time - just in time to enjoy the reunion only moments away.
He had not seen them in a week. Into the bright sunlight, a plane that would carry Aaron and his friends to an unknown location sat glistening in the sun. Silhouettes of people could be seen, but the sun prevented anything more. Then he heard his wife's voice and the screaming of his children. He could barely make them out as they approached. Lips buckled, jaw tightened and his tears began gushing. Pushing a limp body up out of the chair as if there were no pain, he reached out. The children went for his legs, so he went for his wife.
Embracing Emily like never before, she returned the hug with fervor. It had been seven days, yet an innocent bystander may have guessed years. Both had tears streaming now. Aaron's children were clutching his legs, one on each. They were not crying as much; they must have had no idea what Daddy had been through.
The previous week was filled with suspense, violence, and mystery. It had brought out every single emotion a man could possibly experience, making him mentally and physically exhausted. Nothing felt better than the love and warmth of his family - the only reason he was standing here today. Ready to give up, he thought of his wife, children and this moment.
Losing friends violently along the way, he had stared certain death in the face at least four times in the previous week. The stories in the newspaper and on television about one death associated with the cause were being called “one of the most horrific murders in United States history.”
Guilt invaded his prayers thanking a higher power for at least taking care of
family. He lost no one. His father, whose life may never be the same, was beaten but still alive.
Wounded and worried yet happy at the same time, he hugged his wife as tears of joy and sorrow fell from his eyes simultaneously. The aroma of her long brown hair and the children's breath were little things gone unappreciated, or even noticed. Now they were the sweetest of fruits.
From the other side of the aircraft he could see his new friends, standing scattered along the abandoned runway admiring the moment. Some were already smoking or drinking. As they exchanged congratulatory smiles with each other, Aaron could tell they were still mourning those lost along the way.
Together seven people boarded the jet with a similar curiosity about the future. Two FBI agents stood handing out Social Security cards, identification cards, credit cards, and other articles needed for new identities. Although they wished to have old lives back, given the circumstances, this would do.
Aaron felt what he had always imagined a Vietnam veteran felt - in and out of reality, body worn down, yet not enough appreciation for his sacrifice. He had answered every reporter's question possible and had turned down hundreds of offers for appearances, book deals, television shows and more.
He looked forward to his new life - a family man forever, never working for anyone again and never getting involved in business outside of his own affairs.
He stood looking at the jet as his wife tended to the children, thinking again of his father, who had gone through so much pain and trouble for his sake. In his mind he pictured those lost clapping for him in Heaven. They would be proud.
As to where this jet would finally land, Aaron had no clue. He wondered what his new house would look like, but at this point he wondered about everything. Would someone approach him one day in a small alley and put a bullet in him? Would his wife and children be OK? Was this even worth it?
As he day dreamed about the future, the nurse walked up to him and offered to tend to his beaten body once more before take off. Never making eye contact with her, he nodded, but continued staring into the distance. She lifted his shirt and began to unwrap bruised and broken ribs, then re-applied a thick white cream to the open wounds. The bandages were wrapped tight enough to constrict his breathe. Trusting his devoted nurse's decision to wrap them tightly, he never complained.
The enormity of what had been discovered in the past week was too much for one man to handle immediately. It would be at least a year before he could absorb everything.
In college Aaron became an astute believer in American government – an honest symbol of organization and power - a model for all nations to replicate. Even after his battle against it, he embraced the belief. The difference now was its need to be an exterminated occasionally. Thought to be self-cleansing, he learned even the grandest of mansions need a good sweep-through from time to time; kill the roaches and forge ahead.
Emily walked back to him and mentioned Matty, his daughter, needed to use the bathroom. Such a simple need caused tears to roll down his cheeks. Happy to be a daddy again; he trusted the morphine and ignored whatever pain lingered. Being a father had always been stressful - the children were too much to handle. The feeling was gone now; he could not wait for them to misbehave. Now he could laugh at the innocence and vowed to enjoy every aspect of fatherhood from this point forward.
Limping toward the bathroom with Matty, he heard the man in the black suit ask his wife for the government issued boarding pass. It would be time to leave soon.
Returning from his bathroom trip, a friendly face approached him. Smiling as he approached muttering, “Stay away from me. You cause trouble when you're around!”
“I cause trouble? If I'm not mistaken you were the first of all of us to stumble onto the whole story. I think I should stay away from you.” he replied returning the smile.
Hugging for the first time since they had met, it was a manly hug, but Aaron knew there was meaning behind it. After what they had been through together, he truly did love him and hoped they would remain friends forever. In fact, it was his understanding they would be living next-door to each other in the new location. Though both needed a break from society, but needed each other. Aaron's family at their side, they walked peacefully towards the aircraft.
A lock to win the Democratic Primary, Senator Howard Farnsworth would have to spend another term garnering respect. His popularity was so overwhelming that some media members suggested skipping the primaries altogether, saving the Democrats millions of dollars. No one doubted who the next great Democratic candidate would be. Of course, the Constitution would not allow such a preposterous act so the idea was eradicated early. The Democrats would go through the motions, spend millions, waste thousands of man hours to have their man.
Farnsworth would stand at the podium and tighten his lips. Pointing just above the crowd, he would cock an eyebrow and stare at the frantic, poster holding crowd in front of him before uttering his favorite words, “Straight ahead, America!”
Senator Farnsworth was as sure a winner as one could find these days. If he were a horse they would lay no odds - he could not lose. Egotistical Democrats joked about not holding an election when Farnsworth did run saying, “Just give him the keys to the White House.”
The handsome young Democrat was sure to win in a landslide when his time came.
A hot summer day in
Montgomery, Alabama, the national media gathered to report on his announcement. The two o’clock rally had grounds flooded by ten with reporters, news vans, cameras, and those poster-wielding fanatics. All of the major outlets were represented. ABC, CBS, and NBC had sent their top-notch reporters. Camera men, make-up artists, and bodyguards buzzed like fruit flies.
The Alabama Sun
, a small Alabama newspaper, had their star writer and cameraman on the scene as well. Not armed with top-dollar equipment and an entourage, Jason Rama and Jake Tanner were well aware of the competition. This was their turf though and they were ready to defend it. CNN had a tendency to take over while all the “suits” at ABC had chips on their shoulders. CBS was pleasant, but pushy in a subtle way while NBC was downright impossible. Like lions in a jungle, each staked claim to its ground and almost dared others to take it away.
The scene sickened Jason - most of the reporters were ancient and out of touch with current events until their pre-report briefing. Some even wore hearing aids the public could not see or mistook for on-air devices. An integral part of the Ford and Carter administrations, they had nothing in common with the new generation. Convinced the major networks put them on the scene with a microphone because they did not have the balls to fire them, Jason moved through the crowd swiftly and confidently.
They searched each area carefully trying to predict where the sun would be by two o'clock. Where would they be able to get a clear shot of the stage and podium behind them? Where would CNN be? Their eyes scoured the area working towards the same goal, yet they never spoke. Each knew what the other was thinking without words until Jason broke the silence.
“Here?” He studied Jake's facial expression.
Jake raised an eyebrow moving his lips from side to side and replied, “Yeah, this'll do.”
With a hand shading his eyes and pointing Jason studied the sky. “Sun will be about there. You and the camera there.”
“Wait 'till ABC sees how the sun screws them about quarter after.” Jake smirked and winked at his partner.
“They'll figure it out.” ABC always figured it out.
Out of nowhere, the first gas pain hit Jason like a bolt of lightening. Thinking for a moment, he realized it was going to be one of
moments. Everyone has them; they just don’t elaborate. Looking at his watch as the stomach cramp subdued, maybe it’s a false alarm, he thought. The next pain hit about sixty seconds later. Letting out a deep breath, he squinted while looking at Jake.
“What's wrong, man?” Jake looked concerned.
“I gotta' find a Porta-Jon, man. I'm not kidding. Ya' know, the toilet things.”
“What? The Senator is going to speak in seventeen minutes. Are you crazy?”
Jason knew he had a job to do; he had to put everything in life on hold right now. He also knew if he ran to a Porta-Jon he could be back in fifteen minutes. This was clearly a worst-case scenario. The green tops to the Porta-Jons could be seen over the crowd in the distance. If he lost bowel control in the crowd of reporters he’d never live it down.
Tapping Jake on the shoulder, he whispered before he ran off, “Sorry man.”
Jake screamed, “You gotta' be fucking kidding me!”
Racing through the crowd, he cut left, then right, leaped over a man kneeling on the ground, stopping again only for a second when the third pain hit his abdomen. He tightened his buttocks and winced in pain.
“Why now? Why here? Damn,” he whispered.
The pain subsided and he took off again. Stiff-arming a man in a pin stripe suit and matching top hat, he did not have to look - it had to be one of those all too familiar “Farnsworth Next” hats that had become popular amongst the Democrats. The man grimaced at Jason then made a snide remark that Jason never heard as he dashed through the ocean of people. The bathrooms must be close yet there seemed no hope. Gritting his teeth and running, he saw the glorious green portables - seven of them. Each had a line of about ten in front of it. This could not be happening.
Jake would never forgive him. He studied his surroundings for another alternative. A small wooded area across rows of parked cars beyond the portables offered relief. Unbuckling his pants as he sprinted for it, there was no time to think.
About twenty feet into the woods he found a thick tree, leaned against it to conceal himself and prayed a nosy police officer did not witness the mad dash. Realizing victory, he smiled and looked at his watch - ten minutes to spare. With nature as his cleaning agent, Jason would be on his way soon. Studying the leaves on the ground, he heard the footsteps. Sure it was a police officer, his breathing stopped. How would he get out of this and be back to Jake in ten minutes? Shaking, sweating and blushing simultaneously now, the footsteps slowed. He heard one man involved in an angry conversation.
“Listen sir, let me handle the kid. You worry about
right now!” The voice was deep, but Jason could not see who was speaking.
The same voice came again. “Sir, I don't know if murder is the answer here. Hell, I was just going to scare the daylights out of him.”
With the mention of the word “murder”, Jason froze. This was not a conversation between two people walking together; it was a man talking on one of those new
. He had to be close as the faint odor of cigarette smoke filled the air.
“Sir, I will do whatever you say. You know that. But, do you really think this is necessary?”
The footsteps started again and grew louder. Obviously in the presence of a soon-to-be murderer, Jason froze with fear. He would be shot dead, left naked in the woods in a pile of his own shit. Not only could he smell the smoke, he could see it too -- he must have been leaning against the other side of the tree. Shaking hysterically now, he was more scared than ever before.
The conversation continued. “Yes sir, you just go make your speech. Give the people what they want. I'll take care of everything else. I'll call you in the morning when it's all taken care of.”
Another momentary pause heightened the suspense until the voice started again, “If you need me just beep me from the outside line. I gotta' go, it fuckin' smells in these woods.”
Jason’s mind raced now, unsure of which fear belonged in the forefront. It was only when he heard the footsteps again, moving further in the distance that he felt safe. How long had it been since he had left Jake to cover the speech? Both logical and rational thoughts; the third one scared the hell out of him. Too far-fetched to believe, but the man on the phone told the person “to go make his speech.” Surely, there the man wasn’t speaking to Howard Farnsworth. Or was he? Staring at the ground considering his next move, Jason breathed in and out slowly to gather himself.
Scanning the earth for a large leaf, he knew one would have to do for today. Try as he might to calm his nerves, the young reporter's heart still pounded with fear. If the man on the phone was still in the area and saw Jason walk out of the woods there was no telling what would happen.
Finishing his business with the leaf, he slowly fastened his pants, turned cautiously with tilted head from behind the tree to examine the area. No one in sight, he leaned his head back towards the right side of the tree when he saw him. Standing on the side of the dirt road next to an unmarked black Lincoln, Jason could only see him from shoulders up - again on the cell phone, but too far to hear anything. Taking the phone from his ear, he flicked the cigarette to the ground before sliding into the driver’s seat. The door slammed shut and he sped off.
Jason let out a sigh of relief. Again he thought about the conversation he had just overheard. His thoughts immediately dissipated when he remembered Jake, standing in a field waiting for his reporter. Jason was a writer for
The Alabama Sun
for some time now. He had been begging the local television station, which also owned the newspaper, for a spot on the local news for years. Today was his first opportunity because Stan Chesterfield was attending a family member's funeral in Arkansas -- he was blowing it.
Jason was to do a simple introduction as the future President walked to the podium; then the rest would be Jake filming clips of the presumed next President speaking to his constituents. Jason broke into a sprint towards the crowd thinking he could find Jake within minutes. Crossing the dirt road, he hit the wave of people again. As he entered the crowd a voice rang above the rest introducing the senator. If Jason did not find Jake in less than a minute, the shot would be ruined and his first television-reporting job would be a failure. What excuse would he use? How would he explain it to his peers? Not to mention, he was letting Jake down. This was as big a job for Jake as it was for Jason.
As Jason was picturing vivid thoughts, he failed to see the man with the camera in his direct path. The camera struck Jason above the eye and opened a gash. Blood spit out across his face and onto his white shirt and blue tie. Yelling now, the slightly stunned stranger stood flailing arms to onlookers. The verbal abuse went unheard as Jason tried to gather thoughts and feel for the gash in his forehead. There was no way Jason could go “on the air” now. Even though a number of people gathered to stare, no one offered help. The cameraman continued to yell. Jason wanted to punch him so badly he could barely restrain himself, but he knew the anger was warranted.
Though embarrassed, he could not stop thinking about the conversation in the woods. The man on the phone could only have been speaking to the senator. It had to be. The “now go make your speech” comment was unlikely to be a coincidence. He wished he had gotten the license plate number of the Lincoln. Like all good reporters, though, he had a contact in the local sheriff's office. Officer Robert DeLuccia, another of the few Italians in Alabama, tipped Jason off occasionally. Every now and then he had leaked a story to him that was still under investigation. They were friends and Jason thought about calling him first. As he was walking through the crowd mulling it over, a hand firmly grabbed his left shoulder. Spinning expecting to see the angry cameraman he’d recently bowled over, he saw Jake.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jake grumbled ignoring the bloody face, “How the fuck could you do this to me?”
“Did you get any tape of him talking Jake? Shut the fuck up and turn your camera on! I'm the one that had to do the intro. Me! Not you! Your job is to get the footage of him talking! So shut up and shoot.” Jason pointed at the stage.
“You were also my responsibility. We came here as a team and the station is going to look at it that way. No reporter commentating for our station makes us look bad. It makes it look like a feed from the A.P. You know they'll be pissed. You know it!”
“Just shoot man, just shut the fuck up and shoot.” Jason's volume tapered off. He walked away holding his head, knowing Jake would lose his job. He was only a reporter for a newspaper; this was only an opportunity. His regular job would still be there.
Trying to figure out how all of this transpired in fifteen minutes, Jason kept going back to the phone conversation he had overheard. With Jake's pending termination from the television station looming, this was not the time to share what he knew.
He always slept with his television on. The loud volume woke him the following morning. The base and electric guitar of the CNN news bulletin theme always caught his attention, even while sleeping. The news about an overnight one-car accident, approximately four miles from the sight of the senator's speech, cleared the cob-webs. The driver, a newspaper reporter from Auburn, Alabama, ran off the road and hit a tree. With no witnesses to the accident, an empty twelve pack of beer practically convicted the obviously drunk driver. Police still had some questions about the reporter's notes from Farnsworth's speech. He never returned to his office after the assignment.
Every reporter in the United States would have run right back to the office after the speech. Why a reporter would be found intoxicated eight hours later only four miles from the area had baffled authorities. A few bars in the area, and only one grocery store that sold beer, none of the employees recognized the dead man. Not likely he would have kept the beer in his car and then drink it all after the event, detectives were left clueless. He left behind three beautiful little girls and a young wife. Nothing at the scene made sense.