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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

TIN HEADS – EPISODE 5 – “THE GETAWAY”

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 8, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– A little escape to Montana.

This is a chapter from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. For more info on what is a Tin Head, see the INTRO. I hope you will enjoy it.

“THE GETAWAY”

“Tin Head” – slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A “dumb” robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.

Have you ever been engrossed in a job demanding your utmost attention to detail for an extended period of time? Harry Dobin knew it well. He was the lead architect for a major new system for North Carolina’s Department of Transportation. The state had undergone a major upgrade of its highway infrastructure and, as part of the effort, wanted to revamp the highway’s information system by studying and calculating traffic volume, accidents, and rerouting traffic to assure proper flow. This was no small task as it was a major system and had to interface with other state systems. The feasibility study alone took several months and, as point man of the project, Harry spent an inordinate amount of time studying the geography, specifying requirements, and designing the various business processes involved with the system.

It was not unusual for Harry to put in 70 to 80 hours a week on the project, sometimes more. Fortunately, Harry was still single so there were no family attachments to distract him. He loved his work and didn’t mind the hours, but he tried to pace himself so he could keep his mind focused on the project. To do so, Dobin found solace in fly-fishing. He kept his pole and gear in the trunk of his car in case an opportunity presented itself for him to wade into a stream. As the project took him around the state, he knew just about all of the streams and rivers. It was the perfect distraction for him, as well as giving him an appreciation for the beauty of the state and an understanding of the needs of its citizens.

The highway system was now at a critical juncture whereby the data base was being constructed and specifications passed over to programming for implementation. Even though the system design was well documented, Dobin was concerned about the transfer to the programming staff, which meant he felt it necessary to hover nearby to oversee the staff and answer questions. This demanded more time than he had planned and he found himself working at the office night and day for most of July. When he grew weary during the day, he would close his eyes and think about climbing into a cool stream to fish, but knowing fishing was slow during this time of the year, it remained nothing more than a pipe dream to him.

One day over lunch in the government cafeteria, Harry happened to sit with a couple of the programmers on the project. He always wanted to keep track of the pulse of the project and found sharing lunch with the programmers a good way to do so, plus he could answer questions if necessary. On this particular occasion, Harry was introduced to a new programmer who had just joined the team earlier in the week, Wayne Tripplett.

“Where you from?” Harry asked trying to be hospitable.

“A little town out in northwest Montana, you’ve probably never heard of it, called Kalispell,” Wayne replied.

“Montana? Really?” Harry had heard a lot of stories about fishing and hunting in Montana, but had never been west of the Mississippi River.

“What’s the fishing like out there?” Harry asked.

“Actually, it’s pretty good right now, “Wayne replied, “The winter runoff is over and the rivers should be relatively stable.”

“What do you catch?”

“Mostly cutthroats (trout).”

“What’s Montana like this time of year?”

“Actually, this is my favorite time of the year,” Wayne began, “It’s warm, but the humidity is low, making it a lot more comfortable to walk around than here in the East. Normally, I get up early in the morning, check out a section of the Flathead River and work it until midmorning. I’ll then head home, work on something, then come back around 7:00pm for a couple of hours of fishing. Sometimes I’ll take a book and a pipe with me and just sit and read for the afternoon. I might even close my eyes for a spell. The air and scenery is simply magnificent. If I stumble upon wild huckleberry, I’ll pick some and snack on it, but you have to keep your eyes open for bears as they like it too.”

“Bears? What kind?”

“Black bear and grizzlies. They generally keep to themselves but it’s wise to give them a wide berth. The last thing you want to do is sneak up on one and surprise him. They don’t have much of a sense of humor, if you know what I mean. Some people wear bells when they’re hiking in order to let bears know they’re coming, and they’ll generally get out of the way, but you just never know what a bear will do.”

“Something else, Kalispell is just outside of Glacier National Park. Have you heard of it?”

“Frankly, no,” answered Harry, “I’ve heard about Yellowstone and Yosemite, but not Glacier.”

“Well, Glacier is not as well known as those, but it is one of this country’s great parks. It’s in the northwest corner of Montana and extends down from Canada. The mountains, glaciers, and wildlife are beautiful and if you’re into fly-fishing I would heartily recommend a trip up there.”

“Sounds great,” said Harry, “But I won’t be going anywhere for a while until this project takes off. I simply can’t get away right now.”

“Hmm…, have you ever thought about a simple weekend getaway up there?” asked Wayne.

“Are you kidding? It would probably take a day just to get up there and another day to get back. No, I’m stuck here at least until the Fall.”

“Why not rent a Tin Head instead? At least you could see the place and get in some fly-fishing. You might not be able to eat it, but you could at least relax.”

Harry studied Wayne’s face, “You mean, they’ve got Tin Heads up there?”

“Of course they do, where do you think Montana is, Mars? They’ve had Tin Heads up there for at least the last five years and I hear it’s a booming business for them as people like you just want to getaway and visit the park. I have a good friend up there who is an outfitter and also has a Tin Head license. I can give you his number if you’re interested.”

“Yes, please,” Harry said as his curiosity continued to grow. “This could be the perfect weekend escape,” he thought to himself. And Wayne scribbled the name and number on a slip of paper for Harry.

Later that night, Harry went home and researched Kalispell and Glacier National Park on the computer. He quickly became familiar with the geography, the layout of the area, and the fishing. It all sounded great, but Harry felt handcuffed to the project and dropped the idea.

Harry worked hard the next week, putting in at least twelve hours at work each day. When Friday finally came along, Harry was pretty burned out. Just before lunchtime he found himself staring at his computer screen with a blank look on his face, seemingly mesmerized. Jeff Bondo, the Project Manager happened to walk by Harry’s desk and noticed the blank look on his face.

“Harry, what are you looking at?” Jeff asked.

“Huh, what?” Harry said as he started to snap out of the trance.

“You’ve been putting in a lot of time lately. I can’t afford to have you burn out on me. I want you to take the weekend off and recharge your batteries. In fact, why don’t you quietly close up your desk and just take off right now?”

“Really?” Harry responded, “You’re probably right. I think I’ll just slip out and go home.”

Harry drove home to his apartment where he thought he would close his eyes for a few minutes, but before doing so, he thought he would logon to the computer one last time to check the status of the project. Before he could turn on the screen though he spotted the card Wayne had given him for the Tin Head outfitter in Montana. He picked it up and paused to think about it.

“Why not?” he said to himself, and he dialed the number. He spoke to the manager who assured him he had Tin Head units available and could arrange a great getaway for him, complete with river rafting, fishing, and a tour of the park. He gave Harry his TN license number to use when making the Tin Head reservation.

Harry went on-line and booked the Tin Head reservation. The rental of the suit and the special outfitter package came to $300, but Harry used a coupon which brought the whole getaway package price down to just $250. Having booked the trip, Harry turned off the lights, closed the drapes and fell fast asleep in his bed. He slept through dinner and the night, nearly twelve hours in total. The next morning he awoke refreshed, ate some breakfast, and went on-line to check weather conditions in Kalispell. It was going to be a beautiful day with no rain in the forecast, and temperatures in the mid-80’s.

He arrived at the local Tin Head outlet where his reservation awaited him. It was now late in the morning Eastern Time, but it was still early in Kalispell which is on Mountain Time.

Harry produced his identification card, along with the reservation number, all of which checked out with the local TN staff. He then got into a home unit uniform and sat in the prep chair. The unit then swung down from the ceiling on to Harry where he was then snapped in by the staff. The unit then hoisted him out of his chair and suspended him in the air.

“Equipment check Mr. Dobin, can you hear me?”

Harry gave a thumbs up.

“Okay, standby, your screens and audio will go live in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Harry suddenly found himself sitting in the Glacier Outfitters store located just outside of the park.

“Mr. Dobin?” an attendant addressed Harry, “Are you okay? Does everything check out?”

Harry gave another thumbs-up.

“I’m Matt Stimson, I believe we talked on the phone yesterday. Welcome to Montana,” and he helped Harry to his feet.

“Looks like we’ve got a terrific day today. Let me check on a few other arrivals. Make yourself at home and I’ll be with you shortly.”

Harry wandered around the store. His eyes were drawn to a vast collection of artificial flies for sale in the store which he examined closely.

Stimson made a general announcement to gather the group, “May I have your attention please? Welcome to our Glacier getaway package. Please come closer so you can hear me.”

Six Tin Heads assembled near Matt.

“First, I want to thank you for booking your trip with us. We have been in this business for thirty years now and have extensive experience in and around Glacier National Park. My name is Matt, and I’ll be your guide today. We’re going to begin with a tour of the park, followed by some white water rafting, and ending with some fly-fishing on the Flathead.”

“Before we begin, I want to mention the Tin Head suits you have on today have been slightly modified. Yes, they are normal Tin Head suits, but they have also been made water proof. You can get them wet and it won’t hurt a thing, but like most Tin Head suits they are not indestructible. Remember, this is not a space suit, it is a Tin Head. Please act accordingly and think safety first.”

“During the day, we will take some scheduled breaks so you can relieve yourself back at your Home unit or to eat. If you’ve got a special problem though, please see me and we will try to accommodate you.”

“Since you are all dressed identically, we have put different colored tape on your arms and marked your name on the front of the suit and back of your helmet. Your fishing licenses have already been obtained for you and are in your top breast pocket. Any questions? Okay, great let’s go outside and get in the bus.”

It was just 8:00am and the sun had already come up casting long shadows. Waiting for the group was an old red bus with a black open top. This was no Greyhound, but rather a short, squatty bus which, they were told, was a classic trademark of the park for many decades. It was a good thing the roof was opened at the top, as the Tin Head helmets required headroom. When loaded into the vehicle, the group heads poked out of the top. As they traveled down the road, their heads jiggled like a strange set of bobble-heads sitting in an egg carton. Matt always found this rather amusing.

They entered Glacier Park through its west entrance and began their climb up Going-to-the-Sun Road which cut through the park. They passed by Lake McDonald and because of the Tin Head sensors in the suit, they could feel the cool winds coming off of the lake and smell the sweetness of the air. The bus continued to climb up through the mountains. People along the way would inevitably turn and laugh at the bobble-heads as they drove by, such as hikers and others on bicycle. The driver of the bus, whom Matt had hired, hated driving Tin Heads around as everyone would giggle and point at the bus as if they were crash dummies who had somehow come to life. Although embarrassed, he said nothing and raced to complete the trip so as not to prolong his agony.

The view from the Going-to-the-Sun Road was simply spectacular and showcased the majesty of the park, particularly as the bus ascended the mountain. At the summit of the road was Logans Run, over 6,000 feet above sea level and the destination for the bus. Matt instructed the group to disembark. Even though it was now late July, it was still chilly at this elevation and with the wind whipping over the mountain. So much so, there was a large sheet of snow uphill from them but within walking distance from the bus and Matt walked them up the mountain to it. Kids were sliding down the snow which gave Harry an idea; before Matt could catch him, Harry sat down on the snow pack, gave himself a push, and whoosh went down the hill on his back for at least 100 yards. Harry yelled “Yaa-hoo!” as he slid all the way down the hill and landed at the bottom of the slope near the bus where it was parked. Before Matt could stop the others, the remaining Tin Heads lined up on the snow and slid down the hill like kids. From afar, the sight of five screaming Tin Heads sliding down a hill covered in snow looked like space invaders run amok. It just didn’t look right.

Matt walked down the hill and scolded the group as he was concerned about accidentally puncturing the Tin Head suits. Fortunately, no damage was done and the group found the experience exhilarating. They then re-boarded the bus and acted like giddy school children. The trip back down the mountain seemed to go faster than going up, maybe because the group was becoming more adventurous and stood up in the bus in order to call and wave at passerbys. “God damn Tin Heads,” the driver thought to himself. Normally he would tell human passengers to sit back down in their seats, but because they were Tin Heads he hoped one or more of them would fall out of the bus and tumble down the side of the mountain.

It wasn’t until noon before they finally returned down the Going-to-the-Sun Road, exited the park and made their next stop, a white-water rafting trip down the middle fork of the Flathead River. Matt instructed each Tin Head to put on a life vest. Even though the Tin Heads were waterproof, it was company policy for everyone to wear a life vest. He then introduced the group to Dave Franklin who would be their guide down the river. Dave provided them with paddling instructions and assigned people to specific seats in the raft and gave each a paddle. He then took his position at the stern of the raft where he would navigate from. Matt waved to them from the bank as the group departed. He then got back on the bus which took him to the ending point of the raft trip, down river, where he would await them.

The Tin Heads were in good spirits as they began their journey and kidded each other. In particular, Harry was impressed with the clarity of the water and he could see an occasional trout or whitefish swimming under them. He was starting to become anxious in anticipation for fishing later on.

The starting point of the rafting trip was smooth and the group paddled leisurely along thereby affording Dave the opportunity to explain the area and provide additional instruction in what to do when they came upon the white water later in the trip.

“Very important,” Dave said, “You depend on each other. Keep an eye on your buddy next to you and don’t let him fall out of the raft. Grab on to their vest if necessary. Second, do not let go of your oar; they are critical tools for us and we don’t want to lose them. Third, stay off the rocks. This raft is made of some very durable material, but we don’t want to get hung up on a rock or have someone fall out and hurt themselves. Finally, should you fall out of the raft, just turn over on your back and float along until we can pick you up.”

Like the bus driver, Dave didn’t particularly like Tin Heads as passengers. They didn’t move as quickly as human passengers and tended not to take instruction well as they didn’t show fear, and most acted like drunk louts. Bottom-line though, he saw them as nothing more than machines and just plain creepy.

Harry was particularly enjoying the ride. He had ridden over white water rapids in Tennessee and was familiar with what to expect. He was surprised though, how the sensors of the Tin Head suit allowed him to feel most of the bumps and rolls of the water.

The group approached their first set of rapids which Dave deftly navigated them through using his oar as a rudder. It was a small set of rapids which helped to indoctrinate neophytes who had never rafted before. All exclaimed their fondness for the ride and now wanted to try something a little stronger. Fortunately, they didn’t have long to wait as they quickly found themselves in the second set of rapids, which dropped them down a couple of feet in the river.

“If you liked that,” said Dave, “we’ve got a class II set of rapids coming up next. I want everyone to be on their toes. It is now going to start to get interesting.”

As they approached the next set of rapids, Harry could see the water speeding up and some nasty looking rocks in the water. He encouraged the group to paddle in synch. Again, Dave did a good job navigating the raft but this time it rode over a hidden boulder in the river causing one side of the raft to jerk up in the air. As it came back down, Harry’s partner started tumbling backwards and at the last split-second Harry grabbed his vest and pulled him back into the raft. The rest of the crew was rattled and wet from the experience. Although the ride had been fun up until now, the Tin Heads realized this was going to be harder than they had envisioned.

“Is everyone all right?” Dave asked. All shook their heads affirmatively, but Dave could tell they were also becoming apprehensive about the trip. “Rookies,” Dave said to himself, “this is nothing.”

“Now, if you thought that ride was wild, we still have a class III set of rapids to go through in a couple of miles. Everyone relax for a while until we hit it.” And the group calmed down as the raft slowly drifted down the river.

As they approached the rapids, Harry was the first to hear the whoosh of the rapids ahead and could tell this was going to be more intimidating than the rest of the rapids. As they got closer, Harry could see a substantial drop in the river, a lot of white water, and some tight spots in the rocks to maneuver through.

“Come on, this is going to be fun,” said Dave to encourage his passengers, but as he looked at their faces, he only saw fear. “Oh, oh,” he said to himself.

By this time, Matt Stimson had already made it back to the disembarkation point of the ride about an hour earlier, had a snack for lunch, and sat reading a book on the river bank while waiting for the Tin Heads to come out of the final turn of the rapids. It was a quiet spot for reading; very peaceful. In the distance, he thought he heard some laughing coming from upstream but, looking up, he didn’t see anything. It must have been his imagination he thought.

The laughing sounded louder and as he looked upstream at the final bend, he saw a Tin Head come floating down the stream on his back with his life vest on. Then a second Tin Head shot out of the turn, then a third, fourth, fifth, and finally the sixth. All six were now resting on their backs lazily floating down the river like some kids playing hooky from school. It was a strange sight even for Matt.

“Where’s Dave?” he shouted at them as they floated by.

“He’s coming,” they yelled back to Matt and pointed at the final turn. They continued to float down the river to the final station where they got out of the river.

Then, all of a sudden, out shot the raft down the final turn with Dave alone at the stern. As he got in earshot range Matt shouted, “What happened? What’s going on?”

Dave guided the raft over to the bank where Matt awaited him.

“That’s the last time I ever take a raft load of those Tin Idiots on the water,” Dave said visibly upset. “You know what they did? They were a little shaken by the first few rapids. As we approached the last one, some panicked and started to back paddle and began to argue with the others. They then spun the raft around and around; I told them to shut up and start paddling together. They just kept bickering until I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I maneuvered us over to the bank and I got out. I told them there was only two ways to get through the final turn, either the hard way or the easy way. Since they didn’t want to do it the easy way, I flipped the raft over and told them to enjoy the ‘hard way’. They of course started to bob around in the water like apples, then one-by-one they slid down the rapids. It was only then that they found out it was fun and splashed their way home. I hope they’re all right.”

“Thank God those suits are waterproof,” Matt said and ran after the Tin Heads before they got into any more trouble.

After cleaning up the group and returning their life vests and paddles to the rafting company, Matt collected them and shuttled them off for their last stop of the day, fishing off another branch of the Flathead. It was now early evening, about six pm, and although the sun was starting to set, there was still plenty of sunlight left to fish.

Upon arriving at their destination, Matt assembled the group and inquired about their fishing proficiency. With the exception of one, all had suitable skill in using a fly rod. He then described the terrain around the river and where he wanted them to go. “There is basically two rules I want you to observe here,” he said, “always stay in sight of another person, and do not wade into the water. The rocks are very slippery and we do not want anyone to fall into the river; it can be dangerous around here.”

Matt then distributed the fly rods, nets, and small plastic kits containing extra flies.

“You’re fly rods are all ready to go and we’ve got a good dry-fly tied on it for you. Should you need to change a fly, we’ve added special clips onto the tippet line which will be easier for you to handle with your Tin Head hands. Should you break a line, come and see me and I’ll fix it for you.”

“I’m going to take our rookie here over to this gravel shoal and give him some instruction. The rest of you can spread out along the river and we’ll come down and join you in a little while. Good luck.”

And with that, the group dispersed down to the river which was lined with gravel on one side where they would stand. In particular, Harry hustled along to find a good spot as this is what he had waited for. The river was only three-to-four feet deep, about thirty yards across, and was moving at a good pace. Harry had fished bigger and deeper rivers before, but he decided to heed Matt’s advice and stay out of the water. The rest of the Tin Heads finally caught up with Harry and took up positions behind him along the river.

Harry spotted a good hole in the river behind a submerged rock which looked like a good place for a fish to hide and he cast into it. Nothing. He then started to work the river bank moving methodically upstream. Finally, snap, he had a hit and watched a cutthroat breach the water. It wasn’t a big fish, maybe just ten inches, but it gave a splendid fight before Harry reeled him in. Harry was in heaven. He never thought fishing through a Tin Head suit could be so realistic.

After releasing the fish back into the stream, he continued to work his way up the stream. Now and then he would look back to see his companions slowly following him. They too were starting to get hits and catch fish, but they all seemed relatively small.

Harry kept moving upstream until he came upon a quiet pool of water laced with boulders. There were woods on the opposite bank where wild grasses and flowers grew, along with wild Huckleberry trees abundant with fruit. Harry thought it was a very peaceful and serene setting, ideal for fishing. Quietly, he moved toward the pool, let out some line and cast his fly behind a boulder. Snap! He had another cutthroat on the line, this time one that was respectable in size, at least a foot, maybe more. The fish gave him a good fight but was finally reeled in by Harry who estimated it was at least fourteen inches in length, a respectable-size fish. He held it up to admire it.

Only then did Harry realize he was not alone. There on the other bank peering through the grass was a grizzly bear who had been enjoying a snack of huckleberries when the sound of Harry’s fish splashing in the water distracted him. Harry saw the huge head of the bear and instinctively froze like a statue hoping the bear wouldn’t see him. His companions down river also saw the bear and did likewise.

The bear lumbered out of the grass and down the bank. It was actually a beautiful animal with a thick brown coat and muscles under a layer of fat. The grizzly then crossed the river directly across from Harry and headed in his direction.

If Harry had been there in person, he would have been terrified, but he felt somewhat safe as he was in a Tin Head which, of course, had no scent to it. He prayed the bear would leave him alone Nonetheless, he maintained his silence and froze like a statue with the fish still in the grip of his left hand and the fly rod in the other.

The bear came right up to Harry and studied him for a moment. It was rather imposing in size, but showed no open sign of aggressiveness. Perhaps it didn’t see Harry as human as he had hoped. The animal seemed almost friendly, kind of like a dog sitting next to a table. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Harry dropped his fly rod and with his right hand slowly reached over and petted the bear on the head. The animal offered no resistance and seemed to appreciate the token. The bear however, was less concerned with being petted than with the fish still flapping in Harry’s left hand and in what seemed to be a blink of an eye, opened its mouth and tore the fish from Harry’s hand and Harry’s hand from Harry’s left arm.

Harry stood there stunned by the bear’s advancement. Back in North Carolina in the Home Tin Head unit, his left hand was, of course, still attached, but he felt no sensation in his left glove.

The bear spit out Harry’s left hand and began to eat the fish. Harry figured this was an opportune time to make his escape and turned to leave. Startled by the motion, the bear swiped at Harry with a massive paw thereby tearing his left arm from his torso. Harry froze and looked down at his arm on the ground.

“Oh shit,” Harry said to himself, “and I didn’t pick up the insurance rider for the Tin Head.”

Harry remained frozen there while the bear finished its meal. Slowly he knelt down and quietly picked up the severed hand and arm as he wanted to return it to the outfitter. The bear finished the fish and sat there watching Harry who was now trying to inch his way away from the animal. As Harry started to move though, so did the bear in the same direction. Step-by-step he slowly moved away with the bear shadowing him.

The others had fled shortly after the bear took Harry’s fish (and hand). They had gone to get Matt and tell him what happened. After Matt heard their story, he rushed back to the shuttle van and retrieved a shotgun from the back and went running upstream towards Harry. “God damn Tin Heads,” he mumbled to himself.

By the time Matt reached the bank on the river, he heard Harry yelling “Get out of the way! get out of the way!”, then saw him running pell-mell towards him with the grizzly now in hot pursuit. As the bear got closer to Harry, he would turn and bang the severed arm on its head, unfortunately to no beneficial effect other than to add to the animal’s displeasure.

As they got about twenty yards away, Matt fired two rounds loudly near the animal to scare it. The bear was surprised by the shots and stopped quickly, sat up and looked at Matt who was quickly reloading his gun. The shots had not deterred Harry who ran by Matt on his way back to the shuttle. Matt then shot off two more rounds and the bear finally retreated back up the stream.

“God damn Tin Heads,” he said.

Matt then searched around for any fly rod or equipment that may have been dropped before returning to the shuttle where the group awaited him.

The sunlight was now disappearing as Matt loaded the Tin Heads into the shuttle and took them back to the outfitters store where their adventure had begun. On the way back, the van was buzzing with talk about the fishing, the bear and, of course, Harry’s severed appendage.

When they arrived at the outfitter’s post, they thanked Matt for a memorable day, and tipped him handsomely. Harry paid heavily for the severed arm and hand but didn’t appear too concerned about it. After all, it had certainly been a memorable day. The Tin Heads bid Matt good-bye before sitting down in their chairs to be deactivated and return home.

Harry was back to work bright and early Monday morning. His boss thought he looked rested and invigorated. “Did you do anything special over the weekend?” he asked.

“Not much really,” he replied, “Just slid down a mountain, got a little wet, did a little fishing, and fought a grizzly.”

Harry then thought to himself, “And next weekend, Alaska.”

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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TIN HEADS – EPISODE 2 – “THE FINAL SALUTE”

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 6, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– The last Iwo Jima veteran returns home.

This is a chapter from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. For more info on what is a Tin Head, see the INTRO. I hope you will enjoy it.

“THE FINAL SALUTE”

“Tin Head” – slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A “dumb” robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.

James “Bum” Sanders strolled down to the local barber shop for his weekly haircut, cane in hand. He didn’t like carrying the cane but his daughter insisted he use it to balance himself as he was now 102 years young, although he certainly didn’t feel like it. He made the trip to the barber shop once a week in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee not because he needed a haircut, he actually had little left on his head, but to kibitz with “Big Al” Smith, the shop’s proprietor, as well as the other visiting patrons.

As Bum walked into the shop he was warmly greeted by everyone as he was well known. Bum was a bit of an institution in the Cleveland area and had run a transmission repair shop for a number of years until he was forced to sell it and retire in his 90’s. He was also active in several civic, fraternal and veterans groups so it was no small wonder just about everyone in town knew him. He was best known though for organizing and managing the Memorial Day service at the cemetery in the Spring, and the local Veterans Day parade in the Fall. As a World War II veteran, these were very important events to him and he insisted they be commemorated with dignity and grace. His signature though was a crisp salute he would give at the end of each service, followed by the words “Semper Fi” to honor his fallen Marine brothers.

During the War, Bum served in the 5th Marine Division which invaded Iwo Jima in 1945. His nickname “Bum” was derived from a wound he suffered in his posterior by a Japanese marksman. Other than this, little was known about Bum’s activities on the island as he was intensely private about the matter, not just to strangers, but to friends and family as well. Nonetheless, rarely did a day go by that Bum did not think of the horrors of war he suffered on Iwo, his friends and comrades he lost, and the enemy soldiers he killed. While on the island, he was assigned flame thrower duty to root out Japanese hidden in the caves and tunnels around Mount Suribachi. Their screams haunted him for many years, something he could not forget, and explained why he refused to talk about it. He served his country honorably, but was acutely aware of the brutalities of war.

Bum found his usual chair in the barber shop and began to chat with Big Al. He didn’t recognize the customer whose hair Big Al was cutting and inquired, “You new around here son?”

“Yes, just moved into the area from Chattanooga. The name is Jeffries, Sam Jeffries.”

“Pleased to meet you,” replied Bum, “It’s good to have another leatherneck in the area.”

Jeffries looked surprised, “How did you know?”

“Not too difficult,” began Bum, “The way you sit at attention in the chair, the crisp press of your clothes, the polish on your shoes, and that jarhead haircut Big Al is giving you. In fact, I would wager that ring you’re wearing bears an eagle, globe and anchor insignia.”

Jeffries laughed, “You got me, you’ve got a pretty good eye sir, and you are…?”

“Bum Sanders my brother; Corporal, USMC, Iwo Jima, 1945,” he snapped, “Welcome to the area.” And he rose to shake the man’s hand. “What brings you around to these parts?”

“I’m opening a new Tin Head franchise here in Cleveland.” Jeffries replied.

“Tin Head? What the heck is that?”

The rest of the people in the barber shop chuckled at Bum’s ignorance as just about everyone knew of the popular Tin Head program. In his defense though, Bum had lost interest in the news a few years ago and, like a lot of senior citizens, tended to avoid new technology.

“It’s something new that allows a person to visit just about anywhere on the planet,” and he gave Bum a brief description of the Tin Head program.

Bum listened intently but asked few questions. He had never heard of such a device before, but the more the man spoke about it, the more absurd the notion seemed to him.

As Jeffries finished his haircut, he produced a business card and said to Bum, “Tell you what; we’re planning on opening the store next week. Give me a call and I would be happy to give you a personal tour.”

Bum thanked him for the courtesy, slipped the card into his shirt pocket, and quickly forgot about it.

Bum still lived at home, much to the concern of his children who worried about his well-being, but he had always been stubbornly independent and remained so after surviving not just one wife, but two. His children were grandparents in their own right and beginning to slow down themselves. At age 102 Bum was still relatively fit and alert, but he worried about losing his health and memory as many seniors do. He still tended to his yard, but finally acquiesced mowing the lawn just a couple of years ago to his great-grandchildren who he would pay generously. When he wasn’t working in the yard, Bum could be found rocking in a favorite chair on his front porch where he would often talk to neighbors walking past his house.

As he settled into his chair, he thought about the Marine he had met earlier before slipping off to a short nap. His encounter with Jeffries caused him to dream about Iwo Jima… Even though he had suffered a shot to his derrière, doctors had been able to patch him together so he could return to duty with his flame thrower, a dangerous occupation with a high mortality rate. Somehow Bum found a way to not only survive, but became quite proficient in clearing the caves and tunnels on the island. If he didn’t burn his victims to death, the flame would suck the oxygen out of the enclosure and suffocate them.

His dream became clearer as he found himself with his Marine squad on the island. It was nighttime and the battle for the island was coming to a close. Despite this, the soldiers were told to beware of desperate Japanese counter attacks. The moon was almost full which provided minimal light to detect motion. Half of Bum’s squad stayed alert while the other half slept. Bum kept checking the forward positions but saw nothing. He then thought his eyes were beginning to play tricks on him and he rubbed them. Had he seen a shadow move or was it his imagination? Squinting to get a better look, Yes, something was moving out there, but what? He shot a flare into the air only to see hundreds of Japanese poised at the edge of the American lines ready to attack. As the flare lit the sky, the Japanese shouted “Banzai!” and lunged forward to attack the American position.

Bum suddenly found himself surrounded by Japanese engaged in hand-to-hand combat. One by one, he watched his squad decimated by the attack. Before he could reach for his weapon he found himself fighting with a Japanese in his foxhole. The attack was savage and even though he fought well, he suddenly felt the pain of a sword slicing into his side. Reaching for his bayonet, he turned to face his attacker and lunged the blade into him. Bum slumped over as he saw fellow Marines respond and scuttle the Japanese charge. “At last, I can rest, I can rest…”

Bum awoke rubbing his side where he thought he had been stabbed. An unfamiliar sharp pain shot through him causing him to sit up. Something was wrong and he called his daughter who lived nearby to take him to see his physician, Dr. Ferguson.

After a preliminary examination, Dr. Ferguson had Bum admitted into the hospital for further tests. The results confirmed the doctor’s suspicions; Bum’s kidneys had become cancerous and would begin to shut down soon. Offhand, doctors would operate for such a condition and the patient would either end up on dialysis or undergo a kidney transplant, but due to Bum’s age and constitution it would be unlikely he would survive either scenario. It began to become painfully obvious to Bum that the end was near.

Word spread quickly around town that Bum was in trouble, including the commander at his VFW post, Charlie Simpson, who visited Ferguson in his office. “Doc, we’ve been old friends for a number of years right? I’m sure you know how important Bum Sanders is to the people of this community. I know he’s old, but we have to do anything we can to help this man as I’m sure he would fight for any one of us.”

“Yes, Bum is a great guy,” Ferguson said, “but he cannot survive an operation and I don’t want to be the one responsible for shortening his life.”

“Doc,” Simpson said, “I’m not sure you aware of this but I’ve been informed by the V.A. that Bum is the last survivor of Iwo Jima.”

“Really? You’re kidding me aren’t you?”

“No. They’re all gone…except Bum. We really need to do something special for him.”

“Have you got something in mind?”

Simpson opened the door and said, “Sam, could you come in here?”

The same Sam Jeffries who met Bum just last week in the barber shop walked into the room and was introduced to Ferguson.

“Sam, tell the doctor what you have got in mind.”

“I’m the manager of the new Tin Head franchise here in town,” Jeffries began, “and I happened to hear about Bum’s problem. I also heard from Charlie how important Bum is to the community and that he is the last survivor of Iwo Jima. I’m a Marine myself, and the battle for Iwo Jima was an important chapter in our history, and I’m sure to Bum.”

“In all the years I’ve known Bum,” Ferguson said, “I knew he survived Iwo but he never liked to talk about it.”

“Well we talked to Bum about the idea,” continued Sam, “and he would like to visit Iwo one last time before he checks out.”

“No way, impossible,” countered Ferguson, “he could never survive such a long trip.”

“Maybe not in person,” said Sam, “but how about through a Tin Head?”

Dr. Ferguson stopped in his tracks. He had never considered this.

“Doctor, you’ve been in a Tin Head before haven’t you?”

“Yes. I was surprised how easy it was to use.”

“Do you think Bum is strong enough to operate a Home unit?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure. Don’t tell me you’ve got a Tin Head franchise on Iwo Jima, do you?”

“No, but the Navy has plenty of units and I have some contacts which could enable Bum to use a Tin Head on Iwo Jima. Since the 1980’s. the Navy has a program whereby veterans and family members once a year are allowed to visit the island. Over the years though, their numbers have understandably dwindled. Now we’re down to just Bum, and in talking to my contacts, they would be happy to arrange a Tin Head for him, but we would have to confirm this soon as they will be visiting the island in two weeks.”

“That’s an awfully tight window we’re looking at,” said Ferguson, “frankly, I’m not sure he can last that long.”

“Doctor,” pleaded Simpson, “give the man a chance.”

Ferguson paced the office and contemplated the options. “If Bum Sanders wants to take a shot at it, who am I to deny the last Marine of Iwo Jima?”

Bum Sanders still had a problem understanding what exactly a Tin Head was, but after much encouragement from Sam Jeffries and Charlie Simpson, he agreed to give it a try. He was growing tired and weaker with each passing day though. So much so, Jeffries decided to accompany Bum on the trip and assist him if necessary. Fortunately, the Navy was able to accommodate his request and made two Tin Head suits available for the visit.

Sam had to spend a number of hours with Bum explaining the Tin Head’s capabilities and features. As these were to be military issued Tin Heads, Sam explained the suits had greater strength and dexterity which would greatly help Bum who was still in a weakened condition.

As the day of his trip began, Bum Sanders became a celebrity. Charlie Simpson leaked the story to the press and the media was on hand as Bum left the hospital for Sam’s store. The media attention actually helped to raise Bum’s confidence and strength as he was flattered by the attention. He stopped to answer a few questions from reporters:

“Mr. Sanders, when was the last time you were on Iwo Jima?”

“1945; I was with the Marines and I can assure you it wasn’t a pleasure trip.”

“What do you hope to see there today?”

Bum mulled the question over before answering, “I’m not sure, perhaps some old friends and a few old enemies.”

They wished him luck and Jeffries whisked him off to his store where a team of his assistants awaited them. After they arrived, Sam showed the “Home” unit to Bum and reviewed its operations. “Bum, do you think you can handle it?”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” he said, but he was already feeling weak from the short trip to the store.

Dr. Ferguson was on hand to observe the proceedings and was on standby should anything go wrong.

Sam’s assistants helped Bum into the suit which looked like a strange space suit cut in half. The suit was applied by having the person sit in the back portion. A machine suspended from the ceiling held the front portion which was slowly eased on top of the person and pressed together with special snaps thereby forming a single suit. The machine then raised the human subject and suspended him in midair to afford him the mobility he needed to move around.

“Equipment check, Bum, can you hear me?” asked Sam.

“Yes, I hear you fine Sam.”

“Okay, my staff is going to insert our identity cards, program our trip and make contact with the Navy on Iwo. Your screens, audio, and other sensors will come on when the Tin Heads go live. Are you ready?”

“I guess so, as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Okay, beginning countdown…10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Bum and Sam awoke on the black beaches of Iwo Jima. It was a sunny day and Bum could hear and smell the salt water behind him and turned to look at it.

“Bum, are you okay?” asked Sam as he approached him on the beach.

“Yes, fine…. This is unbelievable,” he replied haltingly.

Back in Cleveland, the Tin Head franchise had setup screens in a sequestered room in the store for Bum’s family, close friends and Dr. Ferguson to watch through the cameras mounted on his Tin Head.

Bum was startled by the clarity of what he could see, the vividness of the sounds, and the smell.

“Excuse me, Mister Sanders and Jeffries?” asked a Marine Lieutenant.

“Yes?” they said in unison.

“I’m Lt. Rice, welcome to Iwo Jima or ‘Iwo To’ as the Japanese call it. Thank you for coming. Is your equipment working properly?”

“Yes, everything seems fine,” they said.

“Then if you’re ready, I would like to take you to my Colonel who is waiting for us further down the beach,” Rice said.

“If you don’t mind Lieutenant,” Bum said, “Can I walk the beach a bit? It’s been a long time since I was here last.”

“Certainly, take your time, I know what this means to you,” and he walked ahead to meet his Colonel.

Bum was exhilarated by his Tin Head. He found he could move as easily as if he were a young man again. After coming to grips with his new physical freedom, he began to appreciate where he was.

He turned to Sam and pointed down the beach, “We landed down there in the southeast and were charged with taking Mount Suribachi. I was just eighteen years old. We were just kids.” And Bum was flooded by memories.

Bum and Sam continued their walk down the beach. Bum explained troop movements during the battle and Sam quietly listened to his friend. The two finally caught up with Lt. Rice and his Colonel who warmly greeted them.

“Mister Sanders, I’m Colonel Benson, welcome back to Iwo Jima. It’s a pleasure having you here today and an honor for us to host you as the last surviving Marine. Mister Jeffries I also want to welcome you and thank you for helping to set this up. What we would like to do is give you a brief tour of the island before we go up Mount Suribachi and visit the Reunion of Honor.”

The Reunion of Honor was started in 1985 and represented a pilgrimage of battle veterans from both sides, Japanese and American. It was held on the summit of Mount Suribachi where a monument was constructed at the spot where Marines raised the American flag. The reunions had stopped three years earlier when it was falsely assumed all the survivors had finally died.

“Mister Sanders,” asked the Colonel, “We’re going to use this vehicle to give you a tour of the island. Is there a particular spot you would like to see?”

“Not offhand, but if I see something, can I ask you to stop?”

“Certainly. Shall we go?”

The party got into the military vehicle, an old Hummer which still ran remarkably well and looked in good condition. Beginning with a general orientation at the current air base operated by the Japanese, the group visited the two abandoned airfields captured during the battle. Bum’s mind began to fill with memories as he recalled how the Marines sliced the island in two. Visions of fallen brothers flashed through his mind’s eye causing his head to suddenly twitch as he recalled one tragedy after another.

After the airfields, the group headed for Mount Suribachi. As the Hummer began to climb the road to the summit, Bum suddenly asked Lt. Rice to stop the truck.

“Sam, help me out will you; I’m getting tired but I must see this,” said Bum.

The group exited the vehicle and stood facing the foot of Mount Suribachi. Sensing Bum’s weakness, Sam kept an arm on Bum to balance him. Bum grew quiet; he had been here before.

“It was here where I was shot,” Bum said as he gazed into the general direction where he imagined the sniper had pulled the trigger.

He then pointed up the hill, “It was over there where I cleaned out the caves with my flame throw,” and he could hear the roar of fire and screams of his victims.

“And it was just about 100 yards over there where we repelled the final Japanese banzai charge. It was nighttime, but if it hadn’t been for the moonlight, they would have completely taken us by surprise and I wouldn’t be standing here with you.”

Bum could see the charge vividly; his shooting of the flare, the hand-to-hand combat, and the soldier he fought in the fox hole. The Japanese soldier appeared to be an officer even though he couldn’t recognize his rank or decorations. He was approximately the same size as Bum whom he charged with a sword. His face was an interesting combination of determination and terror, just plain crazy it seemed to Bum. The officer fought ferociously, but Bum was in better condition and more athletic. In the end, the officer succumbed to Bum’s bayonet. The surprised look on the officer’s face as life drained from his body was indelibly impressed upon Bum, something he couldn’t erase from his memory; something that had haunted him for years. He died valiantly though, a soldier’s death.

“Thank you gentlemen, we can go now. Sam please help me get back in the car, I’m weak.”

Back at the “Home” unit in Tennessee, Ferguson and Bum’s daughter were monitoring Bum’s vitals which were dropping noticeably. So much so, he was forced to call the two through the Tin Head communications channel.

“Sam, this is Dr. Ferguson, can you read me?”

“Yes, we copy just fine. What’s up?”

“Bum’s vital signs are dropping dangerously low. We’re going to have to call this off and get him back to the hospital.”

“No, don’t stop it,” insisted Bum, “I’ve waited too long for this. I must see it to the end.”

“But your family is worried about you Bum.”

“Worried about what? I’ve spent most of my life worrying about everyone else, now it’s finally my turn to worry about myself. I must see this to completion. Whatever you do, I beg of you not to stop this. I relieve all of you of responsibility.”

Reluctantly, Ferguson and Bum’s family acquiesced to his wishes. All they could do now was watch the images he was transmitting back from his “Remote” unit.

The Hummer slowly made its way up to the summit of Mount Suribachi. Upon arrival, Bum climbed out with Sam’s assistance. Despite the strength and durability of the suit, Sam could feel Bum’s weakness.

From the top of Suribachi, Bum could see the overall island. He could see where the ships had been when they pummeled Iwo with shells as a prelude to the invasion, he could see the black beaches where the troops landed, the air fields that were captured, and the caves below.

Here, atop Suribachi was the memorial he had longed to see. It commemorated the battle with two monuments, one side for the Japanese, and the other for the Americans. It wasn’t a massive memorial but it was still very dignified and marked the spot where the Americans had raised the flag denoting the capture of the island.

The group helped Bum over to the American side first where Sam read the inscription to him. They then walked him to the Japanese side. Although it was windy at the summit, Bum appreciated the quiet dignity of the memorial. He was finding peace.

“Please, take me back to the American side.”

They slowly walked him back over to the American monument. He could hear the ocean below, feel the wind, and smell the salt water.

“Please, leave me for a moment, there is something I have to do myself,” and they did so reluctantly.

Bum studied the words on the plaques for a few moments. Then, mustering what little strength he had left, he stood at attention and saluted the monument with his customary crispness. “Semper Fi” he whispered.

He then turned to pay homage to his Japanese adversaries. As he turned towards the Japanese monument, he was suddenly face-to-face with a Japanese officer in full uniform; the same Japanese officer he had fought to the death in his fox hole years ago. The soldier was emotionless and didn’t speak, but snapped a salute to Bum and awaited the return. Bum was stunned. The soldier was impeccably dressed and, by the uniform, Bum could tell he held the rank of captain. The Japanese stood unwavering at attention, still waiting. Bum then drew himself up to attention and returned a crisp salute. As he dropped his arm, he suddenly realized he was surrounded by his squad in Marine dress uniforms quietly lined up behind him. Bum looked confused. He then looked back to the Japanese captain who was now standing with three rows of his soldiers behind him in dress uniform.

Bum’s sergeant then barked, “Attention. Present arms.”

The Japanese captain replied in kind in his native tongue.

Then, one last time, Bum snapped off a salute to his former adversary who returned the salute and slowly smiled at him. The last warrior of Iwo Jima was finally home.

At first, Sam Jeffries, Colonel Benson and Lt. Rice didn’t realize what had happened, nor did Charlie Simpson, Doctor Ferguson, or Bum’s daughter, who had watched the screens from afar; they all just saw Bum standing motionless at attention in his Navy Tin Head saluting the American monument. It was only then, that Ferguson noticed Bum’s vital signs had plummeted. By the time they opened the “home” unit suit, they found a tired old man with his arm at salute and a tear on his face.

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2010-2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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TIN HEADS – INTRODUCTION

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 1, 2019

BRYCE ON FICTION

– A novel way to see the world, merging transportation with communications.

NOTE: I am in the final stages of producing a new book regarding how to manage a nonprofit organization, which I will be announcing shortly. In the meantime, I thought I would entertain you with chapters from a book I wrote back in 2010, “Tin Heads,” which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the “Twilight Zone.” The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. I hope you will enjoy it.

FOREWORD

The Tin Head concept as described herein came to me several years ago after making one too many business trips. Air transportation had transformed itself from being a fun and exciting experience to an expensive and laborious proposition. I don’t think anyone relishes the idea of traveling by airplane anymore. You’re prodded through long security lines like cattle, strip searched by people who do not speak your language, squeezed into uncomfortable seats, flights are seldom on time, the meals are horrible, and you’re nickel/dimed to death by the airlines. Regardless what class you’re traveling, passengers are treated like galley slaves. I can hear the sound of the monotonous drum beat now: boom-boom-boom-boom… Best of all, you get to pay exorbitant prices for this privilege.

People no longer enjoy the adventure of travel and consider it a colossal waste of time. They would much rather be at their destination performing their chosen activity, be it business or pleasure.

It occurred to me there has to be a better way for people to meet and discuss business. Teleconferencing is nice, but it lacks the personal touch. People tend to lose interest quickly if you are not physically present in the room with them. Technologists typically believe in exotic solutions which tend to be complicated and impractical to implement. I tend to be more pragmatic; automate as much as is practical to do, but leave the complicated portion to the human being. This is the premise behind today’s aerial drones used by the military and deep-sea drones used in marine research, cheaper and more practical solutions for exploration. If we can create drones for the air and sea, why not devise a land based solution for simpler applications, such as to conduct business at remote locations? Frankly, the Tin Head concept is a viable solution for communications, maybe not in its robust form as described within these pages, but a simpler version could easily be assembled and deployed. Such a device could have a profound effect on our culture socially and economically. It could revolutionize business, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and greatly improve interpersonal relations.

Not only is it possible for the Tin Head concept to occur, it is highly probable we will see something like this emerge within this decade.

– Tim Bryce

EPISODE 1 – WHAT IS A TIN HEAD?

Derryl Jablonski was working the morning shift on the tenth floor of the new TN Tech Tower in midtown Manhattan, a sophisticated new building being constructed as the new corporate headquarters for TN Industries, the high tech powerhouse who seemed to become a monopoly overnight. Jablonski was the sectional construction foreman who oversaw the work of thirty workers on two floors. Above him, he could see the 17th floor beginning to take shape. His group had just completed the ninth floor and began work on enclosing the tenth.

Jablonski had put in a bad night. He had too much to drink and only slept a few hours before beginning his shift. He had rushed to punch in on time and looked a bit slovenly and wasn’t in the best of moods; he didn’t smell particularly good either. He had spent fifteen years on such construction projects and even though he was a bit disoriented this morning, his instincts saw him making the rounds checking his troops were working as they were supposed to. A supply of gypsum wallboard had been delivered to the tenth floor overnight and his workers were beginning to separate and cut them into pieces. Scraps were already beginning to pile up and Jablonski came over to make sure they were properly stacked. Leaning against the pile, Jablonski heard his name called out by his boss who was looking for him. As he twisted his bloated body around to look, his hand lifted a 4′ X 3′ scrap of wallboard which was suddenly picked up by a gust of wind and took flight out of Jablonski’s hand and over the edge of the building. Both Jablonski and his boss hurried to the edge to watch in horror as the wallboard floated downward from the building. Although sidewalk barriers were constructed around the project to protect pedestrians below, the wind pushed the wallboard down and away from the tower and appeared to target an individual walking down the street.

“Look out below!” both Jablonski and his boss yelled to warn the passerby, but it was too late as they watched it crash on the victim’s head breaking into pieces. From this height, such an object would have surely snapped the neck of anyone, but the pedestrian staggered a bit, then stopped, dusted himself off, and continued on his way. A wave of relief covered Jablonski’s face. “Oh, thank God, it was only a Tin Head.”

The expression “Tin Head” had become a natural part of the vernacular a few years ago after the TN-2020 Personal Drone was introduced. The drone was specifically designed to allow humans to telecommute to just about anywhere on the planet using a robot with human-like features. Its premise was rather simple, a human could stay in one location and could connect to a “Tin Head” in another city for example, whereby he could then walk around and visit without actually leaving home. The unit itself looked a bit like a mannequin with devices embedded in it to enable someone to go beyond just sight and sound, but also included special sensors to assist in smelling, and even a certain amount of touch, although it wasn’t perfected yet. Developers also foresaw the development of a taste module. Perhaps the best way to think of a Tin Head is as a “dumb” robot that looks and moves remarkably like a human being.

The TN-2020 was developed by TN Industries of San Jose, California, headed by Terry Noyce, who originally invented the device to help the handicapped overcome physical restrictions. To all outward appearances, the device looked and moved like a human being with the exception of its domed head which resembled a sort of space helmet and housed special transmitters which assembled a hologram of the human subject’s face which moved and spoke in real-time. It was quite realistic. Between the helmet and “TN” model number, the name “Tin Head” was born.

For all practical purposes the Tin Head represents an “out of body experience” (which was used in the company’s advertising). A person wouldn’t purchase a unit, but would rent one instead. To use it, a customer would simply visit one of the many “Tin Head” franchises set up around the country. Working with the staff, you would inform them of your destination and enter a “Home” unit where you would work locally. They would then connect you to a “Remote” unit at your selected destination. When activated, the human in the “Home” unit would only see and hear through the electronic sensors of the “Remote” unit. If the “Home” unit wanted to stand, sit or walk, he could do so easily. It was as if he was actually at the other location.

As mentioned, this technology was originally developed to assist the handicapped who suffered from crippling defects which prohibited them from freely moving about. However, it quickly became apparent to developers the TN-2020 had many other uses, particularly to average consumers who found it necessary to visit other locales, such as business people. Instead of paying for airfare and wasting a lot of time in transit, people could literally be up and running almost immediately at a remote location. Salesmen, consultants, and customer service agents found it a convenient and cost effective approach for visiting customers. For example, a person in Miami could plug into the “Tin Head” network and conduct a presentation in London in the morning, have lunch with a client in New York, and work with a customer in the afternoon in Seattle. When completed, he could exit the “Home” suit and be home in time for dinner with the family.

Although its use in business is the Tin Head’s number one application, it started to catch on with tourists as an inexpensive way to visit foreign destinations. Now, people could experience first hand the beauty of Rome, the Carnival festival in Rio de Janeiro, the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient shogun castles of Kyoto, or wherever. A franchise had even opened on the moon thereby allowing tourists to experience standing on the lunar surface, all from the safety and comfort of their “Home” unit.

Although the TN-2020 is more durable than human skin, it is certainly not indestructible as it would have been cost prohibitive to do so, plus the company didn’t want to invent something that could be used for felonious purposes, such as to rob a bank. However, TN Industries developed a line of “Remote” units more resilient to damage for use in military, space, oceanic, and law enforcement purposes.

Since its introduction, the Tin Head had a dramatic impact on the world. First, it greatly relieved transportation costs. Airlines reported a whopping 30% drop in passengers the first year it was introduced. Over time, it greatly reduced attendance in all forms of transportation which, consequently, decreased dependence on fossil fuels. This, of course, meant sharp drops in fuel costs. The tradeoff though was it forced a reduction in transportation workers as there weren’t as many pilots, operators, and maintenance people needed.

Law enforcement and military personnel found the Tin Head to be invaluable for entering and disarming life threatening situations, thereby causing a decline in crime and terrorism. So much so, governments found it was possible to work at 50% capacity. Perhaps the most interesting application of the Tin Head was in science where it was used in a variety of exploration capacities, on the land, in the sea, and in the air (including space).

Although a lot of people were put out of work as a result of the Tin Head, it also created many new jobs. The demand for the units was so great, factories worked around the clock to build and deliver them to franchises that sprung up as quickly as gas stations in the 20th century.

After recovering from Jablonski’s wallboard, the Tin Head hurried across the street to his next destination. This particular unit was operated by Bruce Abbot who was “Home” in Appleton, Wisconsin. Normally he would personally fly to New York to meet his clients, but winter had been brutal in both Wisconsin and New York, and Abbot thought it would be safer to rent a Tin Head instead. The wallboard incident had startled him, but as an experienced Tin Head user he shook it off and rushed to meet his appointment.

Abbot had been hired by the local VA Hospital to troubleshoot a major project that seemed to have gone awry. The project, which involved millions of federally funded dollars, was intended to totally replace the aging hospital systems. The hospital had plenty of modern computers, but the systems were nothing more than a hodgepodge of programs slapped together by programmers over the years. Not surprising, there was still considerable paperwork involved with admissions, redundant data and work effort, and no consistency in information produced. Consequently, both the medical and administrative staffs didn’t trust the systems and instead acted on instincts and their own procedures. As a result, the hospital routinely operated at a loss and patients were frequently misdiagnosed which resulted in considerably bad press for the hospital, hence the need for the overhaul.

Abbot had spent the last 22 years in the Information Technology field. Although he started out as a programmer, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his ability to ask a lot of questions and grasp the big picture. He started his own consulting firm eight years ago when he realized he could make more money putting out the fires created by others. His reputation was becoming well known in the industry as he cleaned up one systems catastrophe after another. As a person, he was well groomed, articulate in making his points, and genuinely cared about his customers who would inevitably provide him with references for other assignments. He was often asked to be hired permanently by his clients, but Abbot and his family loved Appleton. Besides, he was making too much money as an independent contractor and the Tin Head system gave him the mobility he needed to move around.

For this particular meeting, Abbot knew he had to project an authoritative image and, as such, ordered an “executive” Tin Head which came dressed in a smart looking business suit and tie with matching shoes. It cost a little more than the average Tin Head, but Abbot knew he would need an edge today.

Arriving at the hospital, Abbot took the elevator up to the sixth floor of the Administrative wing where he was met by Hank Stimson, the Hospital’s Director in charge of the project. Stimson didn’t like shaking hands with a Tin Head as he felt it was demeaning, but he did so anyway to form a closer bond with Abbot whom he had met face-to-face for the first time when it became apparent the project was spiraling out of control. Abbot sensed Stimson’s discomfort and made small talk to set him at ease. Stimson appeared to be nervous and agitated. His nails were bitten badly and his hair was messy. Frankly, he looked like he hadn’t been sleeping much.

Before they entered the conference room, Abbot stopped Stimson and assured him, “Now I want you to relax; after you have introduced me, let me do the talking, listen carefully, and take notes.”

As the two walked into the room, they were met by ten people, most of whom Abbot knew personally or had heard of professionally. They were a team of hired consultants representing some of the biggest names in the world of programming, accounting, and health care. The hospital had spared no expense to bring together what was considered by many as a “Dream Team” for the project. There was data base expert Sam Oats, Byron Toring who survived the SOA wars years ago, Francine Tuttle representing JCN Computing, Tory Lansing of the giant accounting firm of PDEK, a small handful of well-known industry strategists and gadflies and the man himself, Ed Ambler, super programmer and author of numerous books on computer science.

Stimson walked Abbot around the room introducing him to everybody before the two sat down at the head of the table. Abbot felt this was a strangely eclectic group of people with huge egos and sensed there was some friction between some of the people.

Abbot thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and for their participation. He noted the room was arranged around a massive circular table in the middle with inlaid computers for each person. On the walls were a variety of white boards bearing graphics and notation. Large sheets of paper with additional notes were taped to the walls. Everything looked incredibly busy. A projector mounted on the ceiling broadcast a large image on the wall towards the front of the room.

“Friends,” Abbot began, “The VA’s Hospital system was initiated 14 months ago with a preliminary budget of 15 million dollars funded by the taxpayers of this country. It is my understanding that as of today, over ten million dollars has been spent yet nothing has been formally delivered to the hospital. Can anybody here give me an assessment of where we currently stand?”

Ambler rose to the occasion and spoke with a swagger, “I believe I can speak on behalf of the group. I can proudly say quite a lot has been accomplished. When we were contracted for this job, we established three teams of expertise, one to handle time reporting and project accounting, one to handle the data base design, and I personally headed up the programming section. What we have come up with is a rather sophisticated software system that will enable administrators to admit, process, and release patients from start to finish.”

Ambler pointed at one of the charts on the wall bearing strange notation and continued, “We have developed a data model of not only the hospital but the average patient as well and embedded all of the pertinent business rules within it, denoting the various afferents, tuples, and efferents. Here on the screen, you’ll see some of the hand held devices which employees will carry; each includes scanning and GPS sensors to input and track data which is being maintained on an off-site server for backup/recovery purposes. Actually, the programming on this will be rather slick as it will make active use of cloud computing, something, you may recall, I helped invent. These next diagrams show…”

“Just a second,” said Abbot, “Where are the requirements for the system? Where is the documentation?”

“This is all based on a series of extensive interviews we conducted with the hospital’s I.T. staff,” explained Ambler.

“No, no, no,” said Abbot, “I’m looking for something in writing that defines the precise business problems to be addressed and the information needed to support the actions and decisions of the users.”

Ambler became somewhat defensive, “Well, we have taken the stakeholders best interests into consideration, but as I’m sure you know, the users don’t really know what they want. They change their minds all the time, which is why we don’t have time to document such nonsense. We decided instead to make the software flexible enough to adapt to any situation that may arise.”

“Have you reviewed any of this with the hospital’s management or staff?” asked Abbot.

“No, we thought this would hold things up. Besides, I’m sure they’ll be happy with the finished product,” assured Ambler.

Abbot asked, “Do you have any documentation of any kind that reflects the design of the system?”

“Aside from the charts and graphs you see in this room, No. We’re programmers, we don’t have time to waste on documentation,” replied Ambler defiantly.

But Abbot wouldn’t let him off the hook, “You mean if, God forbid, something were to happen to you or these charts, there wouldn’t be anyone who could carry on with the project? I see,” and he scribbled some notes on a legal pad. “Anything else?”

“It has become apparent to us that the budget is much less than what is needed to complete this project,” Ambler said matter-of-factly.

“How much more do you think you are going to need?”

“At least another eight million.”

“I see,” Abbot said and he paused to digest what had been told him. He had heard all of this type of gobbledygook before. It was a smokescreen to avoid accountability and to bilk the company out of more money. “Please be seated.”

Regardless of the name Ambler had made for himself, Abbot held him in contempt as just another scatterbrained programmer. Even his dress, speech and mannerisms galled Abbot; very condescending and pseudo-intellectual.

Abbot rose and walked deliberately around the room studying each chart. The camera on his Tin Head recorded the images. After he had circled the room, he reached up and took one of the charts down; he then moved back around the room and took down everything while the others looked perplexed as to what he was doing. He then wiped clean the white boards and turned off the overhead projector. Finally, he took the charts back to his seat and very dramatically tore them in half.”

This was too much for Ambler, “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Abbot began, “The party is over. You have wasted enough time and money. Today we go to work. Yes, this is a large project but as far as I’m concerned it is overfunded, not under-funded. Tomorrow we’re going to begin by studying the business, specifying requirements, and designing the whole system. Before we write one line of software code, everything is going to be documented, reviewed and agreed upon by the management of this hospital. Any questions?” Abbot’s faced showed no sign of levity.

“This is outrageous!” Ambler shot back, “You can’t say that!”

“I just did,” growled Abbot, “and Mr. Ambler, your services are no longer required.”

Ambler looked shocked. He looked at Stimson and the others for some sign of support but received none. Then, as dignified as possible, he collected his belongings and exited the room slamming the door in the process.

“Anyone else?” Abbot asked. Nobody dared to respond.

“Okay, let’s go to work.”

Afterwards, Stimson thanked Abbot for taking charge of the project and terminating Ambler as it had become obvious he had resisted any form of discipline, accountability, and organization. Stimson now had confidence someone knew how to manage the project, regardless if he had come in as a Tin Head or in person.

Abbot left to return the Tin Head to the franchise. He had earned his keep today. As he walked the streets of Manhattan, he thought about Ambler’s arrogance and chuckled to himself, “I wonder what its like to be fired by a Tin Head?”

For more information on the “Tin Head” book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Don’t forget my new book, “Tim’s Senior Moments” now available in Printed and eBook form.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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TIN HEADS – EPISODE 2 – “THE FINAL SALUTE”

Posted by Tim Bryce on November 11, 2015

As this is Veterans Day, I thought I would release a chapter from my “TIN HEADS” book I produced a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

“THE FINAL SALUTE”

“Tin Head” – slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A “dumb” robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.

James “Bum” Sanders strolled down to the local barber shop for his weekly haircut, cane in hand. He didn’t like carrying the cane but his daughter insisted he use it to balance himself as he was now 102 years young, although he certainly didn’t feel like it. He made the trip to the barber shop once a week in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee not because he needed a haircut, he actually had little left on his head, but to kibitz with “Big Al” Smith, the shop’s proprietor, as well as the other visiting patrons.

As Bum walked into the shop he was warmly greeted by everyone as he was well known. Bum was a bit of an institution in the Cleveland area and had run a transmission repair shop for a number of years until he was forced to sell it and retire in his 90’s. He was also active in several civic, fraternal and veterans groups so it was no small wonder just about everyone in town knew him. He was best known though for organizing and managing the Memorial Day service at the cemetery in the Spring, and the local Veterans Day parade in the Fall. As a World War II veteran, these were very important events to him and he insisted they be commemorated with dignity and grace. His signature though was a crisp salute he would give at the end of each service, followed by the words “Semper Fi” to honor his fallen Marine brothers.

During the War, Bum served in the 5th Marine Division which invaded Iwo Jima in 1945. His nickname “Bum” was derived from a wound he suffered in his posterior by a Japanese marksman. Other than this, little was known about Bum’s activities on the island as he was intensely private about the matter, not just to strangers, but to friends and family as well. Nonetheless, rarely did a day go by that Bum did not think of the horrors of war he suffered on Iwo, his friends and comrades he lost, and the enemy soldiers he killed. While on the island, he was assigned flame thrower duty to root out Japanese hidden in the caves and tunnels around Mount Suribachi. Their screams haunted him for many years, something he could not forget, and explained why he refused to talk about it. He served his country honorably, but was acutely aware of the brutalities of war.

Bum found his usual chair in the barber shop and began to chat with Big Al. He didn’t recognize the customer whose hair Big Al was cutting and inquired, “You new around here son?”

“Yes, just moved into the area from Chattanooga. The name is Jeffries, Sam Jeffries.”

“Pleased to meet you,” replied Bum, “It’s good to have another leatherneck in the area.”

Jeffries looked surprised, “How did you know?”

“Not too difficult,” began Bum, “The way you sit at attention in the chair, the crisp press of your clothes, the polish on your shoes, and that jarhead haircut Big Al is giving you. In fact, I would wager that ring you’re wearing bears an eagle, globe and anchor insignia.”

Jeffries laughed, “You got me, you’ve got a pretty good eye sir, and you are…?”

“Bum Sanders my brother; Corporal, USMC, Iwo Jima, 1945,” he snapped, “Welcome to the area.” And he rose to shake the man’s hand. “What brings you around to these parts?”

“I’m opening a new Tin Head franchise here in Cleveland.” Jeffries replied.

“Tin Head? What the heck is that?”

The rest of the people in the barber shop chuckled at Bum’s ignorance as just about everyone knew of the popular Tin Head program. In his defense though, Bum had lost interest in the news a few years ago and, like a lot of senior citizens, tended to avoid new technology.

“It’s something new that allows a person to visit just about anywhere on the planet,” and he gave Bum a brief description of the Tin Head program.

Bum listened intently but asked few questions. He had never heard of such a device before, but the more the man spoke about it, the more absurd the notion seemed to him.

As Jeffries finished his haircut, he produced a business card and said to Bum, “Tell you what; we’re planning on opening the store next week. Give me a call and I would be happy to give you a personal tour.”

Bum thanked him for the courtesy, slipped the card into his shirt pocket, and quickly forgot about it.

Bum still lived at home, much to the concern of his children who worried about his well-being, but he had always been stubbornly independent and remained so after surviving not just one wife, but two. His children were grandparents in their own right and beginning to slow down themselves. At age 102 Bum was still relatively fit and alert, but he worried about losing his health and memory as many seniors do. He still tended to his yard, but finally acquiesced mowing the lawn just a couple of years ago to his great-grandchildren who he would pay generously. When he wasn’t working in the yard, Bum could be found rocking in a favorite chair on his front porch where he would often talk to neighbors walking past his house.

As he settled into his chair, he thought about the Marine he had met earlier before slipping off to a short nap. His encounter with Jeffries caused him to dream about Iwo Jima… Even though he had suffered a shot to his derrière, doctors had been able to patch him together so he could return to duty with his flame thrower, a dangerous occupation with a high mortality rate. Somehow Bum found a way to not only survive, but became quite proficient in clearing the caves and tunnels on the island. If he didn’t burn his victims to death, the flame would suck the oxygen out of the enclosure and suffocate them.

His dream became clearer as he found himself with his Marine squad on the island. It was nighttime and the battle for the island was coming to a close. Despite this, the soldiers were told to beware of desperate Japanese counter attacks. The moon was almost full which provided minimal light to detect motion. Half of Bum’s squad stayed alert while the other half slept. Bum kept checking the forward positions but saw nothing. He then thought his eyes were beginning to play tricks on him and he rubbed them. Had he seen a shadow move or was it his imagination? Squinting to get a better look, Yes, something was moving out there, but what? He shot a flare into the air only to see hundreds of Japanese poised at the edge of the American lines ready to attack. As the flare lit the sky, the Japanese shouted “Banzai!” and lunged forward to attack the American position.

Bum suddenly found himself surrounded by Japanese engaged in hand-to-hand combat. One by one, he watched his squad decimated by the attack. Before he could reach for his weapon he found himself fighting with a Japanese in his foxhole. The attack was savage and even though he fought well, he suddenly felt the pain of a sword slicing into his side. Reaching for his bayonet, he turned to face his attacker and lunged the blade into him. Bum slumped over as he saw fellow Marines respond and scuttle the Japanese charge. “At last, I can rest, I can rest…”

Bum awoke rubbing his side where he thought he had been stabbed. An unfamiliar sharp pain shot through him causing him to sit up. Something was wrong and he called his daughter who lived nearby to take him to see his physician, Dr. Ferguson.

After a preliminary examination, Dr. Ferguson had Bum admitted into the hospital for further tests. The results confirmed the doctor’s suspicions; Bum’s kidneys had become cancerous and would begin to shut down soon. Offhand, doctors would operate for such a condition and the patient would either end up on dialysis or undergo a kidney transplant, but due to Bum’s age and constitution it would be unlikely he would survive either scenario. It began to become painfully obvious to Bum that the end was near.

Word spread quickly around town that Bum was in trouble, including the commander at his VFW post, Charlie Simpson, who visited Ferguson in his office. “Doc, we’ve been old friends for a number of years right? I’m sure you know how important Bum Sanders is to the people of this community. I know he’s old, but we have to do anything we can to help this man as I’m sure he would fight for any one of us.”

“Yes, Bum is a great guy,” Ferguson said, “but he cannot survive an operation and I don’t want to be the one responsible for shortening his life.”

“Doc,” Simpson said, “I’m not sure you aware of this but I’ve been informed by the V.A. that Bum is the last survivor of Iwo Jima.”

“Really? You’re kidding me aren’t you?”

“No. They’re all gone…except Bum. We really need to do something special for him.”

“Have you got something in mind?”

Simpson opened the door and said, “Sam, could you come in here?”

The same Sam Jeffries who met Bum just last week in the barber shop walked into the room and was introduced to Ferguson.

“Sam, tell the doctor what you have got in mind.”

“I’m the manager of the new Tin Head franchise here in town,” Jeffries began, “and I happened to hear about Bum’s problem. I also heard from Charlie how important Bum is to the community and that he is the last survivor of Iwo Jima. I’m a Marine myself, and the battle for Iwo Jima was an important chapter in our history, and I’m sure to Bum.”

“In all the years I’ve known Bum,” Ferguson said, “I knew he survived Iwo but he never liked to talk about it.”

“Well we talked to Bum about the idea,” continued Sam, “and he would like to visit Iwo one last time before he checks out.”

“No way, impossible,” countered Ferguson, “he could never survive such a long trip.”

“Maybe not in person,” said Sam, “but how about through a Tin Head?”

Dr. Ferguson stopped in his tracks. He had never considered this.

“Doctor, you’ve been in a Tin Head before haven’t you?”

“Yes. I was surprised how easy it was to use.”

“Do you think Bum is strong enough to operate a Home unit?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure. Don’t tell me you’ve got a Tin Head franchise on Iwo Jima, do you?”

“No, but the Navy has plenty of units and I have some contacts which could enable Bum to use a Tin Head on Iwo Jima. Since the 1980’s. the Navy has a program whereby veterans and family members once a year are allowed to visit the island. Over the years though, their numbers have understandably dwindled. Now we’re down to just Bum, and in talking to my contacts, they would be happy to arrange a Tin Head for him, but we would have to confirm this soon as they will be visiting the island in two weeks.”

“That’s an awfully tight window we’re looking at,” said Ferguson, “frankly, I’m not sure he can last that long.”

“Doctor,” pleaded Simpson, “give the man a chance.”

Ferguson paced the office and contemplated the options. “If Bum Sanders wants to take a shot at it, who am I to deny the last Marine of Iwo Jima?”

Bum Sanders still had a problem understanding what exactly a Tin Head was, but after much encouragement from Sam Jeffries and Charlie Simpson, he agreed to give it a try. He was growing tired and weaker with each passing day though. So much so, Jeffries decided to accompany Bum on the trip and assist him if necessary. Fortunately, the Navy was able to accommodate his request and made two Tin Head suits available for the visit.

Sam had to spend a number of hours with Bum explaining the Tin Head’s capabilities and features. As these were to be military issued Tin Heads, Sam explained the suits had greater strength and dexterity which would greatly help Bum who was still in a weakened condition.

As the day of his trip began, Bum Sanders became a celebrity. Charlie Simpson leaked the story to the press and the media was on hand as Bum left the hospital for Sam’s store. The media attention actually helped to raise Bum’s confidence and strength as he was flattered by the attention. He stopped to answer a few questions from reporters:

“Mr. Sanders, when was the last time you were on Iwo Jima?”

“1945; I was with the Marines and I can assure you it wasn’t a pleasure trip.”

“What do you hope to see there today?”

Bum mulled the question over before answering, “I’m not sure, perhaps some old friends and a few old enemies.”

They wished him luck and Jeffries whisked him off to his store where a team of his assistants awaited them. After they arrived, Sam showed the “Home” unit to Bum and reviewed its operations. “Bum, do you think you can handle it?”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” he said, but he was already feeling weak from the short trip to the store.

Dr. Ferguson was on hand to observe the proceedings and was on standby should anything go wrong.

Sam’s assistants helped Bum into the suit which looked like a strange space suit cut in half. The suit was applied by having the person sit in the back portion. A machine suspended from the ceiling held the front portion which was slowly eased on top of the person and pressed together with special snaps thereby forming a single suit. The machine then raised the human subject and suspended him in midair to afford him the mobility he needed to move around.

“Equipment check, Bum, can you hear me?” asked Sam.

“Yes, I hear you fine Sam.”

“Okay, my staff is going to insert our identity cards, program our trip and make contact with the Navy on Iwo. Your screens, audio, and other sensors will come on when the Tin Heads go live. Are you ready?”

“I guess so, as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Okay, beginning countdown…10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

Bum and Sam awoke on the black beaches of Iwo Jima. It was a sunny day and Bum could hear and smell the salt water behind him and turned to look at it.

“Bum, are you okay?” asked Sam as he approached him on the beach.

“Yes, fine…. This is unbelievable,” he replied haltingly.

Back in Cleveland, the Tin Head franchise had setup screens in a sequestered room in the store for Bum’s family, close friends and Dr. Ferguson to watch through the cameras mounted on his Tin Head.

Bum was startled by the clarity of what he could see, the vividness of the sounds, and the smell.

“Excuse me, Mister Sanders and Jeffries?” asked a Marine Lieutenant.

“Yes?” they said in unison.

“I’m Lt. Rice, welcome to Iwo Jima or ‘Iwo To’ as the Japanese call it. Thank you for coming. Is your equipment working properly?”

“Yes, everything seems fine,” they said.

“Then if you’re ready, I would like to take you to my Colonel who is waiting for us further down the beach,” Rice said.

“If you don’t mind Lieutenant,” Bum said, “Can I walk the beach a bit? It’s been a long time since I was here last.”

“Certainly, take your time, I know what this means to you,” and he walked ahead to meet his Colonel.

Bum was exhilarated by his Tin Head. He found he could move as easily as if he were a young man again. After coming to grips with his new physical freedom, he began to appreciate where he was.

He turned to Sam and pointed down the beach, “We landed down there in the southeast and were charged with taking Mount Suribachi. I was just eighteen years old. We were just kids.” And Bum was flooded by memories.

Bum and Sam continued their walk down the beach. Bum explained troop movements during the battle and Sam quietly listened to his friend. The two finally caught up with Lt. Rice and his Colonel who warmly greeted them.

“Mister Sanders, I’m Colonel Benson, welcome back to Iwo Jima. It’s a pleasure having you here today and an honor for us to host you as the last surviving Marine. Mister Jeffries I also want to welcome you and thank you for helping to set this up. What we would like to do is give you a brief tour of the island before we go up Mount Suribachi and visit the Reunion of Honor.”

The Reunion of Honor was started in 1985 and represented a pilgrimage of battle veterans from both sides, Japanese and American. It was held on the summit of Mount Suribachi where a monument was constructed at the spot where Marines raised the American flag. The reunions had stopped three years earlier when it was falsely assumed all the survivors had finally died.

“Mister Sanders,” asked the Colonel, “We’re going to use this vehicle to give you a tour of the island. Is there a particular spot you would like to see?”

“Not offhand, but if I see something, can I ask you to stop?”

“Certainly. Shall we go?”

The party got into the military vehicle, an old Hummer which still ran remarkably well and looked in good condition. Beginning with a general orientation at the current air base operated by the Japanese, the group visited the two abandoned airfields captured during the battle. Bum’s mind began to fill with memories as he recalled how the Marines sliced the island in two. Visions of fallen brothers flashed through his mind’s eye causing his head to suddenly twitch as he recalled one tragedy after another.

After the airfields, the group headed for Mount Suribachi. As the Hummer began to climb the road to the summit, Bum suddenly asked Lt. Rice to stop the truck.

“Sam, help me out will you; I’m getting tired but I must see this,” said Bum.

The group exited the vehicle and stood facing the foot of Mount Suribachi. Sensing Bum’s weakness, Sam kept an arm on Bum to balance him. Bum grew quiet; he had been here before.

“It was here where I was shot,” Bum said as he gazed into the general direction where he imagined the sniper had pulled the trigger.

He then pointed up the hill, “It was over there where I cleaned out the caves with my flame throw,” and he could hear the roar of fire and screams of his victims.

“And it was just about 100 yards over there where we repelled the final Japanese banzai charge. It was nighttime, but if it hadn’t been for the moonlight, they would have completely taken us by surprise and I wouldn’t be standing here with you.”

Bum could see the charge vividly; his shooting of the flare, the hand-to-hand combat, and the soldier he fought in the fox hole. The Japanese soldier appeared to be an officer even though he couldn’t recognize his rank or decorations. He was approximately the same size as Bum whom he charged with a sword. His face was an interesting combination of determination and terror, just plain crazy it seemed to Bum. The officer fought ferociously, but Bum was in better condition and more athletic. In the end, the officer succumbed to Bum’s bayonet. The surprised look on the officer’s face as life drained from his body was indelibly impressed upon Bum, something he couldn’t erase from his memory; something that had haunted him for years. He died valiantly though, a soldier’s death.

“Thank you gentlemen, we can go now. Sam please help me get back in the car, I’m weak.”

Back at the “Home” unit in Tennessee, Ferguson and Bum’s daughter were monitoring Bum’s vitals which were dropping noticeably. So much so, he was forced to call the two through the Tin Head communications channel.

“Sam, this is Dr. Ferguson, can you read me?”

“Yes, we copy just fine. What’s up?”

“Bum’s vital signs are dropping dangerously low. We’re going to have to call this off and get him back to the hospital.”

“No, don’t stop it,” insisted Bum, “I’ve waited too long for this. I must see it to the end.”

“But your family is worried about you Bum.”

“Worried about what? I’ve spent most of my life worrying about everyone else, now it’s finally my turn to worry about myself. I must see this to completion. Whatever you do, I beg of you not to stop this. I relieve all of you of responsibility.”

Reluctantly, Ferguson and Bum’s family acquiesced to his wishes. All they could do now was watch the images he was transmitting back from his “Remote” unit.

The Hummer slowly made its way up to the summit of Mount Suribachi. Upon arrival, Bum climbed out with Sam’s assistance. Despite the strength and durability of the suit, Sam could feel Bum’s weakness.

From the top of Suribachi, Bum could see the overall island. He could see where the ships had been when they pummeled Iwo with shells as a prelude to the invasion, he could see the black beaches where the troops landed, the air fields that were captured, and the caves below.

Here, atop Suribachi was the memorial he had longed to see. It commemorated the battle with two monuments, one side for the Japanese, and the other for the Americans. It wasn’t a massive memorial but it was still very dignified and marked the spot where the Americans had raised the flag denoting the capture of the island.

The group helped Bum over to the American side first where Sam read the inscription to him. They then walked him to the Japanese side. Although it was windy at the summit, Bum appreciated the quiet dignity of the memorial. He was finding peace.

“Please, take me back to the American side.”

They slowly walked him back over to the American monument. He could hear the ocean below, feel the wind, and smell the salt water.

“Please, leave me for a moment, there is something I have to do myself,” and they did so reluctantly.

Bum studied the words on the plaques for a few moments. Then, mustering what little strength he had left, he stood at attention and saluted the monument with his customary crispness. “Semper Fi” he whispered.

He then turned to pay homage to his Japanese adversaries. As he turned towards the Japanese monument, he was suddenly face-to-face with a Japanese officer in full uniform; the same Japanese officer he had fought to the death in his fox hole years ago. The soldier was emotionless and didn’t speak, but snapped a salute to Bum and awaited the return. Bum was stunned. The soldier was impeccably dressed and, by the uniform, Bum could tell he held the rank of captain. The Japanese stood unwavering at attention, still waiting. Bum then drew himself up to attention and returned a crisp salute. As he dropped his arm, he suddenly realized he was surrounded by his squad in Marine dress uniforms quietly lined up behind him. Bum looked confused. He then looked back to the Japanese captain who was now standing with three rows of his soldiers behind him in dress uniform.

Bum’s sergeant then barked, “Attention. Present arms.”

The Japanese captain replied in kind in his native tongue.

Then, one last time, Bum snapped off a salute to his former adversary who returned the salute and slowly smiled at him. The last warrior of Iwo Jima was finally home.

At first, Sam Jeffries, Colonel Benson and Lt. Rice didn’t realize what had happened, nor did Charlie Simpson, Doctor Ferguson, or Bum’s daughter, who had watched the screens from afar; they all just saw Bum standing motionless at attention in his Navy Tin Head saluting the American monument. It was only then, that Ferguson noticed Bum’s vital signs had plummeted. By the time they opened the “home” unit suit, they found a tired old man with his arm at salute and a tear on his face.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

BOO! A MASONIC HALLOWEEN STORY

Posted by Tim Bryce on October 21, 2010

“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

– Scottish Saying

John Keene paced his Chillcothe prison cell late at night. It was a habit he had developed over the last couple of years after he had been incarcerated for his latest check kiting scheme. He found pacing helped clear his head and allowed him to think. It troubled him that he was getting close to 30 years of age and had never done anything with his life. He had a long arrest record which included many petty crimes. Even in crime, he never really hit the big time and this frustrated him greatly. In terms of education, he never went beyond high school as he couldn’t afford college and the military wouldn’t take him due to his arrest record. For the last ten years he had simply drifted from one scam to another until his luck finally ran out in Ohio.

Despite his run-ins with the law, he still had a huge ego and thought that holding a regular job was for chumps, but as he paced his cell he realized what he was doing wasn’t hacking it either. Instead of these smalltime scams, it was time to go after something bigger, such as embezzlement. If he could just get hired by a bank or insurance company, or perhaps a large department store, he could work his way into a position to tap into their accounts. But to do so, he realized he needed to clean up his image. Getting a new identity wouldn’t be a problem, but getting an endorsement would be something else. He needed something respectable, something that was well known and beyond reproach. Keene then had an epiphany, “I know, I’ll join the Masons!” he said to himself. He had known of the Masons since his youth as the pillars of the community. They were somewhat secretive but everyone knew them to be a tight-knit group with impeccable credentials. If he could just get into the Masons, this might be just the type of reference he needed to get into an established company.

If all went well, Keene was scheduled to be paroled in a few months. He made good use of his remaining time in the prison library where he studied everything he could find regarding the Masons. He learned about their membership application process and felt he could easily deceive the Masons through his personality and rehearsed answers to their questions. As part of his investigation he discovered that the Masons were desperate for members, and this might be the opening he was looking for. If he could find a small Lodge that was struggling for members, perhaps he could bypass a lot of the Masonic red tape to join. He then scanned various geographical locations until he zeroed in on Columbus which was home to many banks, insurance companies, and other large companies.

Keene’s parole hearing finally came up in January and thanks to his good behavior, he was granted a parole. He was asked where he would be settling and he told them of his intention of finding work in Columbus. He was then assigned a parole officer he would have to regularly report to. Upon his release he made his way to Columbus and found work at a fast food franchise.

During his free time he went about the process of getting a new identity. He began by visiting a local cemetery where he found a grave of a young boy who was born around the same time as himself, the name was Michael J. Burton. Next, he secured a copy of Burton’s birth certificate and, using it, applied for a social security card. Once he had the card, he next applied for a driver’s license, then finally a U.S. Passport. The whole process took just a few short months. Next came a checking account, gasoline cards, and finally credit cards. The prison system had taught him well.

By May, Keene/Burton was ready to make his application with the Masons. He had studied the Masonic Lodges around Columbus closely and found one that was remarkably small (less than 100 members) and was on the verge of closing its doors due to dwindling finances. Keene contacted the Secretary of Buckeye Lodge No. 1557 who was delighted to hear from him and promptly mailed him a petition to join the Lodge. Using his new identity, Keene falsified the petition and returned it to the secretary along with payment of the initiation fees in full.

During Buckeye Lodge’s Stated Communications, the Secretary surprised the Craft (only six were in attendance) by reading the petition. This delighted the Lodge as they had not received a new member application in two years. In particular, this pleased the Master, Gordon Shields, who wanted to waste no time getting some new blood into the Lodge. The petition was accepted and followed its usual course, except the Lodge glossed over the investigation as the Master couldn’t find anyone to perform the task. Instead, the Master invited Keene to the Lodge and talked to him about what it meant to be a Mason. He found “Burton” to be an honest, clean-cut and forthright individual. Little did he understand his true background, particularly since he didn’t check his references.

Keene’s petition was finally balloted upon one month later as scheduled where it was found clear in the South, West, and East. Bro. DB Hunter happened to attend the meeting that night and was pleasantly surprised by the petition. Hunter was the Lodge’s Instructor and was pleased to hear he would once again be asked to teach a Brother his catechism.

Shortly after the ballot, the Master scheduled Burton’s Entered Apprentice degree for mid-June which was performed accordingly. Keene then began to meet with Hunter on a regular basis to learn the EA catechism. At first, he was surprised by the amount of memorization work required, but finally learned the rhythm of the work and quickly mastered it, perhaps too quickly. During catechism meetings, Hunter liked to develop a rapport with the new Brother to see what kind of Mason he would be. Although Keene would volunteer some information, Hunter found him to be somewhat evasive on his past. Instead, Keene wanted to accelerate the practices. Hunter liked Keene’s enthusiasm, but found it a bit disconcerting that he wouldn’t volunteer information about himself.

Keene learned the EA work and was able to return it in Lodge during the month of August. Shortly thereafter, the Lodge conferred the Fellow Craft degree on Keene and, consequently, he continued his sessions with Hunter to learn the second degree. During one of the meetings, Keene proudly displayed a Masonic ring he had purchased. Hunter pointed out to him that it shouldn’t be worn until he had been raised to Master Mason, but this did little to subdue his enthusiasm as he knew his training would soon be over and he could dump these “bumpkins” once and for all.

To Hunter, Burton was an enigma; on one hand he was very enthusiastic about the fraternity, but on the other there was a dark and evasive side of him which disturbed him. Consequently, DB contacted Shields to discuss Burton’s background. In the process he discovered that the Lodge in its excitement of getting a new member had performed a superficial investigation of the candidate. Suspicious of what was going on, Hunter telephoned “Doc” Simpson, a Brother Mason who served in the law enforcement community and asked him to do a background check on a Michael J. Burton. The deputy told him he would do so but it would take a couple of weeks. Hunter agreed and continued with Keene’s catechism practice while he waited for the results.

In an attempt to postpone the raising of Burton to Master Mason, Hunter stretched out the catechism training until he heard back from Simpson. Prolonging the training irritated Keene as he wanted to be raised and move along. Nevertheless, he mastered the work and successfully returned it back in Lodge in early October before Simpson had completed his investigation. There was now nothing to stop Keene from being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, or so he thought.

Shortly after Keene had completed his Fellow Craft training, Simpson called Hunter and reported he couldn’t find any criminal activity associated with Michael J. Burton. There was just one problem though, Michael J. Burton died 25 years ago. This concerned both Hunter and Simpson greatly as they realized they either had someone with a false identity or someone who had changed his name somewhere. Simpson told Hunter to somehow obtain Burton’s fingerprints or a sample of DNA. The DNA would be hard to get as it would inevitably tip off Burton, but the fingerprints would be easier to obtain since he always drank a glass of water during the catechism practice. Fortunately, Hunter was able to obtain a glass with Burton’s prints on it and gave it to Simpson to analyze.

After a few days Simpson met Hunter at the Lodge and reviewed the results. Lo and behold, the fingerprint tests resulted in the criminal dossier of John M. Keene, complete with mug shots. Hunter verified that it was indeed Burton. He then picked up the phone and called the Master and asked him to meet the two at the Lodge.

When Shields arrived, Hunter and Simpson explained to him what they had found. Shields was aghast that someone with such a background could have penetrated the Masons and was embarrassed by his own investigation. But what to do? Simpson couldn’t find anything where Keene may have misled someone about his identity, only the Masons. Surely they couldn’t make Keene a Master Mason based on what they now knew, nor should they allow him to continue the charade to some other unsuspecting person or institution.

“I have an idea,” said Hunter.

The Worshipful Master scheduled Keene’s raising for the evening of October 31st, Halloween. Keene was delighted. Not only would he finally learn the secrets of the Masons, but he had also been able to secure an interview for a clerk’s job in a downtown bank during the first week of November. The timing was right for Keene to move into the next stage of his plan.

The Master explained to “Burton” that since he was the first person to join the Lodge in a couple of years, this was going to be a special degree and would be held outdoors. Keene had heard of such degrees by the Masons and, as such, the honor fed his ego. He was told to arrive at a remote field north of the city precisely at 7:30pm, not a minute sooner or later. Keene knew the spot and became fascinated by the intrigue.

Ohio had experienced an Indian Summer with warm temperatures during the day and cool evenings. On Halloween night it was a balmy 72 degrees with a cloudy overcast as Keene arrived at the field precisely at 7:30pm. As Keene got out of his car he was approached by Hunter who welcomed him warmly. He assured him that he had nothing to fear and that he would learn a lot from the degree. Hunter then asked him to change out of his clothes and don a set of plain blue pajamas and sandals.

About fifty feet away Keene saw the members of the Lodge standing in a single line facing east. Each held a torch in their left hand, their right hand covering their heart, and wearing a Masonic apron. Not a word was spoken by the group and despite Hunter’s assurances, Keene grew a bit apprehensive. Hunter presented Keene directly in front of the group.

“My Brothers I hereby present Michael J. Burton to be raised to the ancient and honorable degree of Master Mason. He has made suitable proficiency in his preceding degrees and now seeks the light of Masonry.” After which Hunter left Keene’s side and rejoined his Lodge Brothers in the line.

The Worshipful Master stepped forward from the line and faced Keene. He then called upon the Chaplain to lead the group in prayer.

Following prayer, Shields turned to Keene and said, “You are now standing before Brothers who have traveled this way before you. I am afraid you have a rough and rugged road before you to seek the light of Masonry. Walk softly, listen carefully, memorize the words, and learn from their wisdom. You will now turn 180 degrees to face the East,” and the Master helped turn him in the proper direction.

“Before you is the road leading to your destiny and light. You will now walk upon the level until you meet with a wayfaring man who will grant you your final instructions. Listen well to his counsel as your future depends on it.”

Keene slowly walked away from the group as instructed. It was pitch black at night, and the only light he saw was from the torches held by the Masons who stood motionless behind him and a small dot of light ahead of him. He realized he was in a meadow as he didn’t encounter any trees. Perhaps it was a cow pasture. He chose his steps carefully as he didn’t want to step in anything or lose his sense of direction. From time to time he would look back to see the line of Masons standing far behind him with their torches. As he advanced he could see the dot of light grow larger but in front of it appeared a body of water, a small lake of some kind.

As Keene came up to the edge of the water an old man approached him clothed in a strange costume holding a six foot staff. To Keen, the man appeared to be dressed as some sort of ancient mariner which he had seen in history books from biblical times.

The stranger spoke, “Brother, what do you seek?”

“The light of Masonry,” Keene said hesitantly.

“Then you have traveled the right path for I am to be your guide. Across the waters you behold the light of Freemasonry,” and he pointed to the other side of the lake where Keene could now see the dot of light was a bonfire of good size.

“But as we enter the world penniless and naked, you must enter the Light likewise and be reborn. You will now be divested of your outward appearance and swim across the water as all who have come this way before you. Do you accept these terms?”

“I do,” said Keene.

Removing his clothes in front of a strange man didn’t bother Keene as he had done it plenty of times while in prison. As he removed his clothes he could still make out the line of lights behind him from the Masons. He then handed his pajamas, along with the sandals, to the man who put them into a bag for safekeeping. He now stood naked before the old man and felt a little shiver from the cool night air.

“Now before we do this,” the old man said candidly, “Are you in good health and are you sure you can swim across the lake? Only the strongest men can become Masons.”

Keene looked across the lake which he judged to be about 100 yards away.

“No problem,” he said confidently.

“Here take a swig of this,” the old man said as he handed him a flask containing whiskey, “You’ll need it.”

Keene was hesitant at first as he thought Masons practiced intemperance, but after some encouragement from the old man he took a deep drink of it.

“Go ahead, take another swig, it’ll keep you warm in that cold water.” And Keene did so.

“You will now cross the waters. Swim strongly, swim carefully, and beware of the serpents of the deep. When you arrive on the other side you will be met by your Brothers. As quick as you can, you must jump before the light and exclaim three times, ‘God Almighty, show me the light.’ Do you understand this? Repeat it.” Keene did as he was told.

“Then may the Grand Architect of the Universe be with you. I bid you farewell,” and he stepped aside to allow Keene to step into the lake to test the water. The lake was a bit chilly but Keene’s body quickly acclimated to it.

Keene wasn’t a strong swimmer but he competently began to swim across the lake. As he made his way, he thought to himself, “What in the hell am I doing out here on a Halloween night? I can’t believe I’m doing this. Oh well, it will be worth it when I get that bank job. And what was with that weird old guy with the staff and his mumbo jumbo about ‘beware of the serpents of the deep’? There better not be anything in here other than catfish and blue gills.”

He swam slowly and methodically as it was still dark and he reached out to touch anything that might be in his way. As he neared the other bank he could see the bonfire more clearly but could only make out silhouettes of a few people sitting around the fire. He thought he would make the best of it and give them all a good show. After all, if those old geezers could do it, he could as well.

As he reached the other bank he pulled himself out of the lake and raced over to the bonfire and jumped in front of it and yelled three times, “God Almighty, show me the light.”

Girl Scout Troop #132 looked up horrified. They had come out for their annual Halloween camp out at the county park but had not expected to see some drunk naked lunatic jumping around their campfire. Fortunately, the adult chaperones present were able to subdue Keene and covered him in blankets.

Deputies from the nearby Sheriff’s office were summoned who arrested Keene for public intoxication, indecent exposure, and lewd conduct in the presence of minors. As he was being placed in the Sheriff’s patrol car, Keene looked back across the pond to see the Masons and old man, all of which had conveniently disappeared.

 
Epilogue: The strangest things occur on All Hallows’ Eve: membership records mysteriously disappear, Masonic rings and identity cards are lost, criminals are apprehended, parole officers are anonymously notified of indiscretions, and other things that go bump in the night. Boo!

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2007 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

IT’S IN THE WATER

Posted by Tim Bryce on August 27, 2010

Tranquility is a small town in the northwest corner of Connecticut near the New York and Massachusetts borders. Only 20,000 residents live in the area which enjoys an influx of tourists in the summer who want to escape New York City and enjoy some country air. Nearby lakes and parks in both Connecticut and New York make Tranquility the perfect getaway for a picturesque and affordable vacation.

25 years ago Tranquility was aptly named as it was a quiet and peaceful town. Neighbors watched out for each other, and school kids were well behaved. During the summer, baseball was king, and during the winter hockey ruled on the many ponds in the area. There was no such thing as crime and it was commonplace for residents to leave the front door of their houses open and keys in their cars. Not anymore. Over the years, the town was slowly transformed into a mere shadow of itself. Neighbors no longer trust each other, and local schools are now filled with screwball kids who are regularly in and out of trouble. The attitude of the local citizenry was such that tourists began to stay away which hit their bottom-line and finally got someone’s attention.

As the town elders became concerned about “the change” as it was called, I was contracted to come in to try to determine the cause of the problem. Actually, I got the job because the mayor is an old college friend and, as such, it was hard for me to say no to him. My background is in environmental studies and psychoanalysis, two separate fields which didn’t seem to have anything in common until now.

I began by studying the behavior of the school children. The local principals allowed me access to observe classrooms, playgrounds, and sports fields. I also attended PTA and Booster Club meetings. On the weekends, I attended religious services and interviewed the local clergy and chamber of commerce. I also would drive around keeping general tabs of the community, who was doing what, in an attempt to detect patterns of behavior. The local Sheriff’s department was also cooperative in reviewing crime statistics which revealed that over the years there was a slow yet steady increase in reports of road rage, theft, drunk and disorderly conduct, and drug possession, among other things.

One of my earliest observations I recorded in my journal was that most, if not all parents were working in order to make ends meet, both husband and wife. This meant nobody was home when children returned from school. Without parental supervision, children tended to lack discipline and responsibility. I also observed a marked increase in students with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Actually, this wasn’t too different than other communities I have studied.

Teachers also reported students at all levels had a general disrespect for adult authority, lacked academic discipline, and were experimenting with drugs. There was also a noticeable increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Basically, school officials described their students as social misfits who were irresponsible and held a general disregard for personal property, yet possessed a strong sense of entitlement. At home, there were several reports of domestic violence and it seemed everyone had a story of a wacky relative. I had considerable trouble locating a family who behaved as a close cohesive unit.

Adults were also experiencing problems. Unemployment had reached double-digit proportions. Those who still had a job were somewhat apathetic about their work and were frequently tardy. Reports of depression were not uncommon. While the rate of marriages decreased, separations and divorces increased. Adults also reported a lower sex drive, sperm count, which led to a lower birth rate in the community. One-by-one, civic and community volunteer organizations slowly faded away as nobody offered their services freely anymore. Alcohol and drug abuse was also on the rise. Again, this was not too different than other communities I’ve studied.

In attempt to get my arms around all of this, I created an extensive spreadsheet to compile and plot the data on a graph. Interestingly, I detected a slow but steady increase in the various problem areas. Beginning in 1985, Tranquility’s problems rose steadily 5% each year. It was a slow and steady increase that could almost be plotted with a ruler as the numbers were not erratic. I have never seen such a consistent increase before.

I had graphed the symptoms, but what was causing the problem? Was it a social problem? Economics? I wasn’t sure. This caused me to study the physical environment. I began to check on the foods consumed and clothes worn by the natives. I could find nothing unusual there. I then checked all forms of electronic signals in the area and encountered a handful of unusual low-frequencies signals canvassing the area. They were the type of signals distinguishable by animals, such as dogs, and young people. I also took samples of soil and air for laboratory analysis and found nothing. Then I started to sample the water which is when I met Mike Gilmore, the superintendent of the town’s water supply.

Gilmore is a strange looking duck. About 6′ in height, 200 pounds, gray hair, black glasses, and insists on walking around with a white medical lab coat. I thought this was a bit strange as his job wasn’t too complicated; it was more of a matter of studying the water tables, routinely taking water samples, and regulating the water supply. The water ultimately originates from Gridley Lake, a rather large body of water that is spring fed and collects rain runoff from the hills nearby. There is no industry nearby to pollute the water and the county established a sewer and sanitation system years ago.

When I asked Gilmore for a tour of the water treatment plant, he was somewhat tightlipped about the operation and watched my every move when I took samples. I collected water from different spots around the lake, the preprocessing area, filter, and post processing. My initial tests didn’t detect anything except some strange residue which technicians didn’t recognize. True, the water was properly filtered and fit for human consumption, but something seemed strange. They were finally able to detect a compound in the water which was odorless, tasteless, and colorless. After taking numerous samples, they were able to replicate the results but were uncertain as to what it was.

After consulting with the lab techs, I began to dig into the background of Mike Gilmore who grew up in the area. Although he attended the local high school, he only had an Associates degree in chemistry from the nearby community college. I ran a criminal background check on him which produced nothing noticeable. I then went back to his high school and checked his record. It was here that I noticed he excelled in chemistry. Fortunately, his chemistry teacher still taught at the school and so I took it upon myself to interview him. According to the teacher, Gilmore did fine in the classroom, but was always considered a strange outcast who nobody wanted to partner with during lab work. Gilmore seemed to have a strange intuitive sense of chemicals. He put this knowledge to work when he began to experiment with drugs. This led him into a drug culture where he began manufacturing his own products, fortunately on a small scale. When his lab was discovered, he was suspended from high school and he finally graduated with a GED certificate. He never forgave the school for suspending him which hurt his chances for winning an academic scholarship to an out of state university. Surprisingly, he elected to stay in the area and took the job at the water treatment plant after graduating with his associate’s degree. The year? 1985.

This was too much of a coincidence for me. Working with the police, we obtained a court order and strategically hid video cameras around the water treatment plant, particularly places where Gilmore was likely to work. We then began to follow his movements during the work day and started to document his patterns. As it turned out, he was a slave to routine. He would dutifully check gauges and perform water tests like clockwork. On the surface everything looked proper until I noticed his plastic water testing kit was not empty when he took samples. It was only two ounces, but I observed some liquid was always emptied from the container before he dipped it into the water to collect his next sample. Based on this evidence, we obtained a warrant to search the facility, much to the chagrin of Gilmore.

Among all of Gilmore’s other belongings, the police found a small yet powerful radio transmitter which turned out to be the source of the strange frequencies I detected in the area. They also uncovered an aluminum canister containing a clear liquid. The police asked me to take samples and have it tested while they took Gilmore down to the station for questioning. My lab techs put the samples through a battery of tests. It was an interesting combination of saltpeter, caffeine, nicotine, Barbituric acid, and a touch of Mescaline for good measure, all in a concentrated dosage making it powerful if consumed all at once. Such a concoction though fed regularly into a water system in diluted doses could slip by undetected. Interestingly, I discovered a correlation between the radio signals and the chemicals. Somehow the signals accentuated the effects of the chemicals. There was evidently some synergy when the two were used in tandem thereby causing the various neuroses experienced by the town.

Gilmore refused to crack under pressure. Regardless, he was prosecuted for contaminating the town’s water supply with mind-altering drugs. Shortly after the transmitter was disabled and the concentrate eliminated from the water supply, there were numerous reports of headaches, indicative of withdrawal. Nonetheless, the town slowly returned to normal. Within 120 days I observed cell phone traffic had diminished considerably, there was a marked decline in petty crimes, volunteer organizations and the clergy reported increases in attendance and membership, and unemployment dropped radically as did the divorce rate. In the schools, the principals reported students were more subdued and attentive which resulted in a noticeable increase in grade point averages. In other words, everything was returning back to normal and the town of Tranquility was just that, tranquil. Tourists took notice and began to return to the area where they were made to feel welcome.

Gilmore never revealed where he got the transmitter or formula from or who he shared it with, if anyone. There were a couple of things that disturbed me about this episode though, there was no identification mark on the canister containing the concentrate other than a seven digit serial number. This led me to believe there is more than one canister out there. More disturbing though, both the transmitter and the canister obtained by the police, were mysteriously stolen from the property department without a trace. While police continue their search for it, authorities are keeping an eye on the water supply and monitoring radio frequencies.

As for me, the success I experienced at Tranquility earned me considerable notoriety and I was quickly contacted by several municipalities to investigate “the change” in their communities. How about your community, have you experienced a change over the last 25 years? Just remember, it’s in the water.

NOTE: This is a work of fiction. All events and characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 11:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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