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Calendar >  Big Tree- Thomas Calabrese

Big Tree- Thomas Calabrese

By   /  August 9, 2020  /  11 Comments

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His Bite Was Worse Than His Bark

Thomas Calabrese — Steve Forrest was a roustabout who bounced around the Gulf of Mexico after leaving Tupelo, Mississippi as a restless seventeen year old boy in search of adventure and ended up in New Orleans. After working at several low-paying jobs along Bourbon Street for a few months, he applied for work on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Steve started off as a roughneck (laborer), and from there he worked his way up to derrick-hand, motor-hand and tool-pusher. It was hard work with 12 to 14 hours days and when Steve and his co-workers were off shift, they liked to cut loose.

While partying in Las Vegas with a few of his co-workers after being on the rig for the last 14 days and having the next two weeks off Steve met Ellie Blake, a former dealer and casino hostess. After a ten day whirlwind romance when neither one of them were sober, they married at the Graceland Chapel on the Strip. Ellie was a tall attractive brunette with her own issues including alcohol, drug use and history of failed relationships. Upon the couple’s return to Louisiana, Ellie quickly became bored with the lifestyle of being alone while Steve was working in the Gulf. It didn’t take long before Ellie became a regular patron in the clubs on Bourbon Street. When Steve returned after 14 exhausting days on the oil rig, Ellie would be eager to go right back out again, “Let’s go dancing.”

            “Let me get a little rest first,” Steve responded through half-mast eyes.

Ellie lied to her husband to make him feel guilty, “I’ve been sitting in this apartment while you’ve been gone and now you want to sleep. This is not the life that you promised me.”

Steve sighed, “Give me a few minutes to clean up and then we can go out.”

This routine began to take a toll on Steve so he started telling Ellie that he was working an extra three days on the rig, but instead of coming back to the apartment, he went to a hotel to rest. As the separations grew longer and more consistent Ellie returned to Las Vegas and stayed there for weeks at a time and only returned to New Orleans for a few days a month.  The Forrest marriage struggled to survive under these circumstances. Ellie was spending her husband’s pay as quickly as he was earning it. Steve had no other choice but to take drastic measures. He asked his employer to do a direct deposit for half of his wages into a separate checking account that his wife had no access to, so that he could pay the rent and other bills.

When Ellie saw the significant reduction in her monthly income, she went back to New Orleans to convince Steve to change it back. She was devious, manipulative and was on her best behavior. After two weeks of being the dutiful and attentive wife, Ellie asked, “I’m having trouble paying my expenses with the money I’m getting.”

Steve responded calmly, “I thought it would be easier for you if I paid the bills.”

            “I can handle it from now on. I just got a little distracted for awhile, but I’m fine now.”

            “I like it the way things are, it’s a lot less stressful on me.” Steve smiled.

            “And the credit cards, what about those?” Ellie asked angrily. “You closed all of them!”

            “They were reaching their limits,” Steve added, “Have you ever considered that you might have a spending problem?”

            “I do not!” Ellie screamed and threw a vase at Steve, it missed his head by less than an inch and shattered against the wall.

            “Things aren’t working between us, they haven’t been good for a while. Maybe we were never right for each other or maybe we just changed somewhere along the line. I do not want to be married anymore and neither do you. We’re just burning daylight.”

            “So you’re just going to throw me out?” Ellie said.

            “That’s not my style. I’m giving you money each month, I’ll add another 500 dollars to help you out. I’ll continue that for one more year and also keep you on my medical insurance. You have that much time to file for divorce. If you don’t then I will.

When Ellie realized that Steve was serious, she quickly calmed down, “I’m sorry.”

            “I’m more to blame than you. I’m going to stay at a friend’s place tonight, I have to be at the rig in the morning. Take whatever you want. Good luck Ellie, I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Steve grabbed his duffle bag and left. After the door closed behind him, Ellie broke down in tears.

Over the next few months, Steve thought often about his former wife and like many memories, he was very selective about what he chose to remember, her spontaneity, bright engaging smile and playfulness. He chose to ignore her irrational behavior, excessiveness, unpredictability and explosive temper. Seven months after his wife’s departure, Steve received the paperwork from a Las Vegas attorney concerning an uncontested divorce. He went to a notary public and signed them, then dropped the large envelope into the mail slot at the post office. Steve truly wished his former wife a happy life.

Eleven months later. Steve was almost through his regular 14 day shift on the Thunder Horse oil platform when a pressure regulator malfunctioned. Eight workers, including Steve were blown off the seventy-five foot high platform into the Gulf of Mexico. Six of the workers were seriously injured.  

When Steve arrived at his small blue and yellow house with the white shutters in the Marigny Triangle neighborhood of New Orleans, his next door neighbor, Martha Robichaux approached him as he limped to the front door from his driveway, “How was work?”

            “The usual, thanks for asking. How about you?”

            “Good, all the appointments have been completed and there’s no problems. The receipts and your mail are in the usual place. I’ll stop by later.”

Martha Robichax was a forty-two year old divorced woman who operated a day care center out of her home. She often had children throughout the day and sometimes into the night, depending on the parents’ work schedule. Martha was good-hearted and hard-working and Steve was currently paying her 500 dollars per month to look after his house and handle things in his absence. It was well worth the price, in fact he intended to double the amount once he stopped paying his former wife.

            “Oh by the way a young woman came by a couple of days ago looking for you,” Martha remembered.

            “Did she say what she wanted?”

            “No, I told her what day you’d be back and she said she’d return.” Martha added.

Steve went into the kitchen and got himself two cold bottles of beer, he guzzled one right down to quench his thirst. He went into the bathroom, turned on the Jacuzzi tub and when it was filled he slowly slipped into the water. From neck to ankles, his body was bruised from the impact of the fall. He turned on some Christopher Tin music and sipped on the other beer. Later that night, Steve was sitting on the couch when he heard a tap at the back screen door. He looked over and saw Martha, “C’mon in.”

Martha walked in, carrying a large plate of food, “I thought you might be hungry. I’ve got roast turkey, gravy, mash potatoes, broccoli and pecan pie.”

Steve’s face broke out in a big smile,” You are too good to me!” Martha set the tray down on the coffee table and he asked, “You don’t have any kids tonight?”

            “I’ve got a three hour break. One of my clients is working the night shift, she’s going to drop off her daughter about eleven.” Martha noticed the bruising on Steve’s legs and arms and commented, “Are you alright?

            “I slipped on some oil,” Steve lied, “Want to keep me company for a while?”

            “Don’t mind if I do,” Martha plopped down in the overstuffed recliner and sighed in relief, “I love this chair. What are you watching?”

            “The Andy Griffith Show. My friend Greg Nielsen tells me that I remind him a lot of Barney Fife.”

Steve stood six feet three inches tall, weighed 220 pounds and was thickly muscled from years of hard manual labor and bore no resemblance to the wiry actor, Don Knotts. Martha took a closer look at the television screen and joked, “I can see a vague resemblance, but you’re more frail- looking and accident prone.”

While Steve ate his dinner, Martha dozed in the chair. There was a knock at the front door and he answered it. A young woman holding a baby was standing before him so he asked, “Can I help you?”

The woman was visibly nervous and it took her a few seconds to compose herself, “I’m Ellie’s sister, my name is Kristin. I came by a couple days ago.”

“Please come in,” Steve responded.

Martha awakened and stood up, “Good to see you again.”

Steve interjected, “This is Ellie’s sister, Kristin.”

Martha responded, “I’m Martha Robichax. I’m sure that you two have things to discuss. I’ll talk to you later, Steve.”

            “Don’t go,” Steve blurted out.

Kristin agreed, “It might be better if you stayed.”

            “Why don’t you sit here,” Steve gestured to the couch and Kristin sat down and laid the baby next to her.

Steve and Martha sat down and waited patiently for Kristin to speak. She cleared her throat then began, her voice barely above a whisper, “I’ve rehearsed what I was going to say a bunch of times on the flight down here. If you would be kind enough to let me get through it before you ask any questions, I would appreciate it.”

            “Yes ma’am,” Steve answered.

            “Ellie passed away six weeks ago.”

Steve was dumfounded, but did not speak. Kristin continued, “When she found out she was pregnant, she realized she couldn’t just live for herself anymore and swore to be the best mother she could be. Ellie wanted to prove to everybody especially you that she was capable. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.” Kristin spoke for ten minutes, breaking down in tears along the way and telling Steve and Martha that Ellie’s cause of death was from an amniotic fluid embolism. “My father and mother said we should put the baby up for adoption and not even tell you about him. I disagreed, I thought I owed Ellie that much and figured you deserved the right to know.”

            “I wasn’t much of a husband and can’t imagine myself being a decent father,” Steve sighed.

            “That’s all I needed to know,” Kristin replied and got up to leave.

            “Whoa! I know this is none of my business, but I need to say something,” Martha said.

            “Yeah, go ahead,” Steve encouraged.

            “I know that Steve appreciates you coming down here.”

            “I definitely do,” Steve seconded.

            “But this is not a decision that should be made in minutes. To find out that your former wife died and you’re a father all within a few minutes is a lot for anybody to take in,” Martha said.

            “Maybe I should have done things differently, I don’t know,” Kristin snapped back, “I thought you would want to see your son instead of me just calling you on the phone! I’ve got a part-time job and trying to go to school. I used my savings for the flight, hotel and rent a car. I just can’t stay in New Orleans any longer!”

Martha put a consoling hand on Kristin’s shoulder, “You shouldn’t have to bear the financial burden as well as the emotional one of losing your sister. Steve?”

“Yeah,”

“You need to step up and pay for Kristin’s flight, hotel, rent a car and other expenses while she’s in town. Kristin?”

            “Yes.”

            “You need to go to the hotel, get your stuff and move in here. There’s a nice guest room with a private bathroom and I’m right next door if either one of you need anything. Steve, you’ve got about two weeks before you go back out. Kristin, can you stay that long?”

            “I haven’t thought that far ahead, but I guess I could if I don’t have any expenses.”

            “Since we’re all in agreement, let’s get rolling!”

Steve looked at Kristin and smiled, “When it comes to kids and being organized, there is nobody better than Martha Robichax.”

            “You can leave the….what’s the baby’s name?”

            “His name is Chad,” Kristin responded.

Steve was caught off-guard once again, “That was my older brother’s name, he was killed while serving in the Marine Corps.”

            “That’s what Ellie said, she knew how much you loved him and knew you would approve of the name,” Kristin smiled.

            “Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom,” Steve rushed off and when he went into the bathroom, he closed the door behind him and broke down in tears.

Over the next seven days, Martha noticed how much Kristin liked children when she visited her day care center. While eating dinner one night, Steve made a comment, “I never hear that baby cry. Is that normal?”

            “It is kind of unusual,” Martha commented.

            “He just makes a few gurgles to let you know that he’s hungry or needs his diaper changed,” Kristin said.

            “Do you have much to go back to in Idaho?” Martha asked.

            “Some family,” Kristin replied.

            “I can tell that you’ve got a gift with kids, I was going to ask if you wanted to work with me. I can expand my business, take in a few more clients and also get a little more rest.”

            “You can stay here rent free and I’ll even pay you to help me raise Chad,” Steve volunteered without even thinking what he was saying.

            “Does that mean that you’re going to take him?”

            “If you’re staying, it does,” Steve answered.

Martha interjected, “Two salaries and no expenses…sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”

Steve doubled what he was paying Martha and also gave Kristin a thousand dollars a month. It was never about the money with him and when he was off work, he was content to stay home with Chad, Kristin and Martha. What Steve didn’t realize was that the first step in being a good father was to be a good man, and he definitely qualified in that category. Over the next three years Steve was promoted twice and was now a drilling supervisor and making an excellent salary. He tripled his life insurance and made Chad, Martha and Kristin equal beneficiaries. He also went to a lawyer and made Martha, the trustee of his estate in case something happened to him. He never thought about any of this stuff before, but now Steve was more concerned with those around him than himself.

Another thing that completely caught him off guard was that he was falling in love with Kristin. Being so close to her without being romantically involved gave him a chance to learn about his sister-in-law without any pressure or expectations. By the time Chad entered grade school, Steve was hopelessly in love with Kristin, and doing his best not to show it. He couldn’t hide it from Martha or his son.

            “How long are you going to do this?” Martha asked impatiently.

            “Do what?” Steve shrugged.

            “Not tell her that you love her,” Martha stormed out.

It was a quiet night at the Forrest home and Steve was sitting in the living room, sipping on a beer when Kristin walked in and sat across from him and started eating a sandwich. Maybe it was the way the afternoon sunlight framed her face or the angle that he was viewing her, but Kristin never looked more beautiful. She was mesmerizing and breathtaking. Steve finally had to say what was in his heart, “I’m in love with you.”

Kristin kept eating as if she didn’t hear the words. Finally when she finished eating, she casually got up, walked over to where Steve was sitting, sat down on his lap and passionately kissed him on the lips. Chad was watching from the hallway and smiled, “Finally.”

Steve and Kristin were married a year later and began building a life together. One of their first discussions was Steve’s future with the oil company, “I’ve been giving some thought to getting off the drilling crew.”

Kristin replied, “Is that what you want?”

            “The company is offering a training program for men with my experience to become safety inspectors. It’s a raise in pay and less time away. I’ll need to get better at my writing skills, but I’d like to give it a shot.”

            “I’m kind of a good writer, maybe I could help you,” Kristin said coyly.

            “I sure would appreciate it,” Steve smiled.

Chad was undersized for his age and when the doctor did a thorough examination of the young boy, he told Steve and Kristin his results, “Chad is completely healthy, sometimes height skips a generation. It is also possible that he’ll get a growth spurt during his adolescent years.” 

Steve also began to notice how coordinated and athletic his son was. He could tumble and do backflips and front flips by the time he was four. As a six year old, he could do a standing high jump onto the picnic table in the backyard where he did a handstand. He could also do pull-ups and climb up trees like a cat and swing from limb to limb. Chad was the same type of boy that he was as a baby, very easy-going and content to entertain himself with a variety of activities. During his freshman year in high school, he began competing against and beating upperclassmen in pick-up games. When Chad was a sophomore, he became the starting running back on the football team, his quickness and elusiveness was amazing. He could run at full speed, stop on a dime, do a 360 turn and continue on without missing a step. In basketball as a point guard, he made unbelievable passes from anyplace on the court to his teammates, and drove pass defenders on the court like they were standing still.

Even though he only stood 5 foot 5 inches, he could dunk the ball. In baseball, he was the leadoff hitter and starting shortstop. He was known to steal second, third base and home plate after being walked and make defensive plays that left people in dismay. Chad competed in wrestling and was the state champion in the hundred yard dash. He enjoyed the competition, even enjoyed the process of getting better and honing his skills and was at his best during the most crucial times. What Chad didn’t care for were the accolades and awards. When the competition was over, it was over. Win or lose, which wasn’t that often, Chad left it on the field. Steve and Chad were more than just father and son, they were best friends who enjoyed each other’s company.

Steve moved up quickly with the Shell Corporation and was now making a high six figure income as its top inspector. Despite his success, he never forgot what Martha did for him when he was just a struggling roughneck. Despite her initial objections that she was fine, Steve convinced her to let him pay to have her home completely renovated. He also increased her monthly stipend so she could retire and enjoy life. Martha began dating a retired Homeland Security Official and they started traveling extensively. Kristin wasn’t one to sit at home and not do her part, so she began volunteering three days a weeks at the Veterans Center to help former military personnel fill out the necessary paperwork for their benefits. Steve got Chad a summer job at the Shell equipment storage lot. He told his son, although he knew he didn’t have to, “I got you the job, it is up to you to keep it.”  

            “Yes sir,”

Chad approached his assigned duties with the same focus and determination that he approached his athletic endeavors.  When Robert Duleson, the superintendent of the storage lot saw Steve at the regional office, he rushed over, “Chad is one hell of a worker…wouldn’t mind having a few dozen like him!”

Steve responded with pride, “He’s one of a kind… I sure got lucky with him.” 

A group of Shell Oil executives including Steve were scheduled to go to East Africa for a series of meetings and inspections of the company’s oil rigs in the Indian Ocean. Since they were going to be in Mombasa, Kenya for two weeks, the company allowed them to bring their families. Forty suites and the conference room at the Voyager Beach Resort were booked. Steve contacted Emily Garner, the travel secretary of Shell Corporation, “Do you think you can get me a good deal on another suite.”

            “Another family member?” Emily asked.

            “A very close friend, who is like family and her companion. I’ve already got permission from the Regional Director for them to travel on the company jet.”

            “The Voyager is giving us the corporate rate. They always break down the charges by room. I’ll book an extra suite and when we receive the bill, you can reimburse us,” Emily said.

            “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

The Shell company jet landed in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya and famous for its beaches and world-class resorts. When they arrived at the Voyager Resort, Chad was the first to comment and express his appreciation, “This is really nice, thanks for bringing me,dad.”

            “You’re welcome, I’ve got work to do while I’m here, but I want everybody to enjoy themselves and I’ll join you every chance I get.”

The oil company scheduled many of their business functions in the mornings so that everyone could have the afternoons and evenings to spend with their families. On their fifth day in the country, Steve and seven of his co-workers were coming back by boat from one of the oil platforms when they were intercepted by three vessels occupied with armed terrorists. They were taken to a small island and kept under guard. A ransom demand of 10 million dollars and the release of 100 political prisoners was relayed to the authorities. A time limit was given and if it was not met, the terrorists would begin executing the hostages.

There was a dispute between Kenyan and American authorities on jurisdiction and how to handle the situation. While this was going on, Shell Corporation engaged a secret para-military agency. The terrorists could see anyone approaching from the water and were prepared for a helicopter assault. What the terrorists weren’t ready for was a high altitude insertion. A stealth helicopter hovered 1500 feet above the island in the early morning hours where it could not be seen or heard. Twenty highly trained operatives fast-roped the entire distance to the ground. Their only weapons were CO2 air pistols with three inch darts and knives of choice. While wearing jet black outfits and dark face paint, they moved among the terrorist like a deadly plague. By the time, sunlight hit the island, every terrorist was dead.

Back at Voyager Resort, the conference room had been turned into a command center and the families, employees, Kenyan and American officials nervously impatiently waited for any word on an upcoming rescue. Chad turned to his mother and Martha, “I’m going to take a walk, I won’t be long.” While walking through the grounds, Chad came upon an open field. When he looked up, he saw a helicopter descending so he backed away and watched it touch ground. A group of men in camouflaged uniforms stepped out, followed by the hostages, including Steve Forrest. The hostages shook hands with their rescuers and expressed their gratitude. Chad walked up and the leader of the operatives reached into his uniform, pulled out a folded piece of cloth and handed it to him. The operatives boarded the helicopters and disappeared into the East African skies.

Chad embraced his father, ecstatic at his safe return. Steve asked, “What did he give you?”

Chad unfolded the cloth and found out it was a small flag. It had an image of a jousting knight in the center, above it in large letters was the word Galahad and at the bottom in smaller print was the motto, To Go Where Others Won’t Or Can’t.

Fifteen years later, Chad was a seasoned military veteran who had completed four combat tours as a Force Recon Marine. During his enlistment, he continued to hear stories about the mysterious para-military group and after his discharge, he made discreet inquiries on how to join. He received a call one night, “If you’re interested in Galahad, then write this down…”

Chad grabbed a pen and a pad, “Go.”

“48910 Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Murrieta, California. Be at that location one week from today at 0900. A pre-paid ticket is waiting for you at American Airlines, reservations are in your name at Avis rent-a-car and Pechanga Resort and Casino. Bring gear for a workout and if you’re late, don’t come at all.”

            “Roger that,” Chad said.

Chad was interviewed by a group of special operatives then was required to take an extremely difficult physical fitness test and obstacle course that took two days to complete. He was accepted into the ultra-elite agency on a six months probationary period. Once that was finished, he became a regular team member.

Galahad fell under the umbrella of the Mighty Sequoia charitable foundation whose mission was to help struggling veterans reintegrate back into civilian life and offered a variety of recovery programs to our nation’s warriors. Both organizations were generously funded by three multi-billionaire American patriots who swore that the debacle of Benghazi when Americans were left to die because of bureaucracy and incompetency would never be repeated under their watch. After distinguishing himself in action, Chad, call sign ‘Big Tree’ Forrest was given command of his own team called the ‘Branches’.

A church group was doing charity work in East Africa when a dozen of them were kidnapped. Chad had been in South America, Asia and Europe on various missions, but this would be the first time since he was a teenager that he would be returning to Kenya. One of his unbreakable rules was to never go on a mission without the flag that was given to him on that fateful day when his father was safely returned. That moment shaped Chad’s life and set him on this chosen path.

Chad and his team stood on the metal platform and were lifted from the deck of the freighter and lowered to the Indian Ocean by a large crane. They entered the water with buoyancy packs that held tactical gear, weapons and explosives. The ten men began swimming while pulling their gear behind them. When the ‘Branches’ got within three hundred yards of shore, they decreased the air in the packs so they sank just below the surface and could not be seen by shore. When they touched shore, Chad radioed, “Big Tree and Branches on shore…proceeding to objective.”  Every man pulled out a battlefield display unit from his pack and attached it to his forearm with Velcro. The 2 by 4 inch screen allowed each team member to view surveillance in real time. They changed into their tactical gear and moved out. While moving toward their objective, men planted explosive devices along their path.

When they reached the three-story building, two team members neutralized the guards with accurate shots. Chad looped a long rope over his neck and began climbing up the side of the structure using special adhesive gloves. When he reached the patio, he quietly stepped over the railing and shot two guards using his M9 pistol with the noise suppressor. 

He didn’t have time to explain so he stated simply, “We’re getting out of here.” Chad slipped a harness over a hostage, pulled it snug and looped his rope through the belay plate and connected it to the harness. One by one Chad lowered the hostages to his team below. He was about ready to rappel down when he heard a guard open the door. As soon as the guard entered, Chad put his hand over the man’s mouth and drove a nine inch ice pick into his heart. While he was in the structure, his team set detonation charges around the building. It only took Chad two leaps to touch ground once he went over the railing. “Let’s go.”

The team and hostages had only gone a couple hundred yards when an alarm sounded. Chad ordered his second in command, “Get the hostages out!”

            “Roger that,” The man replied and left with half the team and the hostages.

Chad and the others stayed behind to slow down the pursuit. Once the hostages were on the beach, each one was fitted with a small nylon vest that had a locking carabiner built into it. A helicopter came swooping in, ten feet off the ground with dangling ropes and carabiners beneath it. The team snapped the carabiners together and waved off the pilot. It took less than a minute to complete the task and the hostages were gone. Once Chad saw the helicopter, he knew it was time to escape. Everybody began popping smoke grenades to obscure visibility. Once the team hit the water, Chad called out, “Let’s swim!”

The team swam a hundred yards offshore and Chad stopped and began treading water. He pulled out the detonator and blew the area to smithereens with two dozen powerful explosions. When the team reached the freighter after their long swim, their support team had energy drinks and protein bars waiting for them.  Ten minutes later, the team and hostages were on the helicopter and headed to shore. When they touched down, the team exited the chopper first and shook hands with the hostages. One young boy rushed up to his father and embraced him. Before Chad got back on the helicopter, he handed a Galahad flag to him. The helicopter ascended and headed for the airport and the team’s return to California.

Chad Forrest was born and bred to stand strong, tall and righteous. Those who use their power for nefarious purposes have every reason to tremble in fear, because when the ‘Big Tree’ comes for them, his bite will be worse than his bark.

The End

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11 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Very enjoyable story. This is right up there as one of your best. Keep them coming.

  2. Clyde says:

    I liked the story about Chad growing up even more than the action part…which is saying a lot.

  3. Tony says:

    Mr. Calabrese’s Sunday story took more detours then a Cal Trans Road Repair Construction Site with a twist and a turn of adventure while introduction a new adventure along the way. As always very nicely summed up. A story that hits a few bumps in the road that gets smoothed out along the way and as always new things to learn on the highway to adventure with a Tom Calabrese Sunday Story.
    “Keep them Rollin”

  4. Skip says:

    Another great “Ooh-RAH” story! Thank you

  5. Dan says:

    Another very GOOD story Tom !!

  6. Jeremy says:

    A very well developed and entertaining story.

  7. Terry Lutz says:

    I like the way you merge two or three stories into one Tom. Well done and very enjoyable.

  8. Cary says:

    A well developed story…the father in the beginning then the son.

  9. Steve says:

    Good one, keep em coming!

  10. Guy says:

    It is always a pleasure to read one of Tom’s stories. This was no exception.

  11. Mona says:

    I really enjoyed this story! The characters were all well developed and the ending was great….

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