Heroic Teacher Press

-Book Excerpt


Chicago, Illinois

The Jihad soldier angled the car’s side view mirror so that the image was perfectly centered. The top of the Sears Tower was captured precisely in the middle of the glass, the tip of the triangle neatly bisecting the glass. Turning and studying the end of the street, he noted the immense skyscraper appeared to rise out of the ground, jutting up into the azure July sky like some phallic monument to the material greed of Western culture. He counted down seven rows of windows from the top and found the targeted office. He allowed himself a small smile of triumph.

Asad Akadi glanced at his watch, 8:44. Two minutes. He picked up a small silver box and lovingly pawed the smooth metal sides. Gently he ran his fingers over the top of the red trigger, caressing it like the excited clitoris of one of the sacred women in the Cavern of Near Paradise. He got hard thinking about it, reveling in his power. Be patient. He reminded himself of the Sheik’s warning. “Just as in our first battle with the Americans years ago, timing is critical.”

Allah could wait.

It was amazing how simple it had been. Through the slimy little real estate agent, that Jew with the hooked nose, Asad had found several possible offices in the Sears Tower and selected one on the 103th floor as the target. It then took little effort to get his new “entertainment company” to land the job for a bachelor party, only a few flyers undercutting others’ prices.

Asad scoffed, Americans were so predictable.

Fifteen minutes earlier, he had delivered the giant “cake”–complete with an almost nude stripper inside–to the bachelor party at the investment fund company in Room 10305. White icing covered the ten-tiered cake, with each layer meticulously decorated in leaves, figures, and ropes shaped into and throughout the icing. The Muslim baker had done a superb job of embellishing the walls of the “cake.” Even for Asad, it was impossible to detect that more than one hundred pounds of plastique lay hidden beneath the intricate confectionery design. According to his source, that was enough to blow up at least the top ten floors of the building, adding more than two thousand new casualties to the great Jihad.

The security had been a joke. The rent-a-cops could not take their eyes off the whore curled up inside the cake shell. Each one just waved him on. Then, pasting a silly grin on his face, Asad stopped briefly in the office to make a few lewd jokes with the ignorant American partygoers, saying he had other “surprises” to deliver and would return for the party girl. He simply drove out of the garage, down the street and into another parking spot saved by another believer, a maroon pick up exiting just as he pulled up. The location had been carefully researched and met the Sheik’s criteria. “You must be within one-half mile for the signal to work and have a direct line of sight.”

He checked his watch again, 8:46. It had to be at the exact time. One minute. He closed his eyes to whisper the traditional prayer of protection, his lips quietly pursing the syllables from the Koran. When he opened his eyes again, the red light on the silver box was pulsing, reminding him of the blinking monitor of his son’s heart just before… It was time. His eyes focused on the Sears Tower in the side view mirror and he massaged the trigger once more. Then, using his thumb, he flipped the switch.

He thought he saw an explosion, but he wasn’t sure. He felt his door fly open and two huge hands dragged him out of the car and hurled him to the pavement. Asad’s head collided with the cement, a large gash spreading crimson across his forehead, and his hands rushed to the cut. The device bounced and clattered on the sidewalk a few feet away. In agony, Asad gaped up at the tall figure looming above him. A dark baseball cap shadowed the attacker’s eyes and nose. But that voice. As if falling through a tunnel, he could hear the cackling laugh dying away as the words were spat out, “I got ya’ this time, you fucking Ahab!”

Chapter 1

I’m sure it was my fault. It must’ve been my own preoccupation that caused the collision.  Either that or I just wasn’t watching where I was going. Maybe I was pondering how many of my students failed the newest State graduation test, or was thinking about the National Guard soldiers stationed on every street corner.

You see, for me, a three-mile run through the quiet streets of Hammerville has become a Saturday morning ritual, one small part of my exercise regimen. I don’t know if it was merely a phase or if I was actually getting serious about my fitness, but in the past two years I had begun running regularly, doing weight training and taking Tae Bo classes at the local Y, usually three times a week.  Well, it’s not like guys were ringing the phone off the hook and booking my social calendar. Besides, I had gotten to the point where I could feel my muscles strengthening and my stamina increasing. On good days, it was a rush–and I didn’t have enough of those feelings lately. Also, I knew the running was one of the only ways to keep the hips from collecting excess padding.  I’m a teacher.  And, you know with the huge salary I make, I find myself eating rich foods all the time, mostly macaroni and cheese from the school lunchroom. Just one of the great perks of the job.

Most days, I found that the fresh air of these runs freed my mind and allowed my feet to jettison the week’s anxieties directly into the forgiving asphalt. My 5’4, 115-pound frame had run this route so often that my legs had the track memorized, my muscles automatically responding to each rise and hill, the aches and surges coming in predictable patterns.

But lately, it wasn’t working.

The imminent execution of the terrorist Asad Akadi had transformed my beloved town of Hammerville into some grotesque three-ring circus, with the camouflaged National Guard soldiers in one ring, FBI agents in crewcuts guarding the second ring and a horde of reporters crowding the third. Of course, all the turmoil made my students more squirrelly than usual, causing my classes to be a challenge. And then, thanks largely to the lewd suggestions of my friend Christie, the image of a partially-nude figure of Jerod Thomas–the volunteer student mentor and sometime visitor to my class–was crowding my thoughts more than I wanted to admit.

In the final quarter mile, still at full speed, I rounded the blind curve on the park path bordered on both sides by tall hedges and crashed into the stranger. We both went down in a heap, legs and arms in a jumble.

“I am so sorry,” the man was saying, even before I was able to untangle my legs. “I did not see you and must have stepped into your path as I backed out of the bushes.” Though I couldn’t see a face, the voice used the careful pronunciation of a foreigner.

He jumped up first and reached out a hand to my prone figure. I took it. It was warm, a strong hand, and when I raised my glance, I saw that the hand was attached to the arm of one of the best looking men I had ever seen. I panted, trying to catch my breath but looking at this gorgeous stranger made that a little harder. His bronze skin and stunning green eyes reminded me of an actor, though I couldn’t immediately remember whom. He smiled through his apology, teeth bright beneath a perfectly trimmed black mustache.  I stared, dumbstruck, into his handsome face and couldn’t get a word out. It would’ve been easy to just keep staring, but then I realized he was talking to me. After all, I’m a teacher; I couldn’t let myself look too stupid.

“…I am so sorry. Please forgive me. It was all my fault,” he was saying. “Are you… unharmed?”

I finally found my voice and managed, “Yeah, sure.” I drew a shallow breath. “No…sweat,” I huffed. Breath. Trying to regain some semblance of poise, I walked over to the nearby bench and started my cool-down exercises. When my fingers brushed some dirt off my spandex tights, I realized I was sweating through every pore in my body. It had been an especially intense run that morning and it showed. Lovely! I took one slow, long breath and let it out. “I was just about finished anyway,” I said, glancing back at him in the middle of my first stretch.

He walked over to where I was. “How far do you run?”

“Three miles…well, almost three miles today,” I said, turning my head and smiling back.

Black eyebrows rose. “That is quite good and you don’t even look, uh–winded?” he said, as if he were searching for the right word.

Right then, I should have been at least a little suspicious. There I was panting like an overheated collie and he said I didn’t look winded? At the time, I thought it was just an original pick up line. And, did I mention he was middling attractive?

I laughed nervously and switched legs. “I think you just knocked the wind out of me.”

He tilted his head sideways and looked down at my figure and then, after a bit, chuckled. “Ah, knocked the wind out of you. It is a saying, no? Very good!”

His accent was Caribbean or maybe South American, I couldn’t quite place it. My gaze strayed down the path as two oncoming joggers passed us single file, casting quick glances at us. When my eyes returned to him, my collision mate thrust a large hand at me. “My name is Jesus Ramirez and I am new to your town.”

I rose from my stretching position on the park bench and shook the offered hand. Oh-h, my skin tingled from the warmth again. “I’m Danielle Sterber,” I said, “but my friends just call me Dee Dee.”

“I am glad to meet you…D. D.?” he said with some hesitation.

I nodded, releasing his hand. “Where are my manners? My mom would shoot me. Welcome to Hammerville.” I paused a beat and then asked, ”What brings you here?”

His face took on a quizzical look again; then I could see something flash behind his eyes. He took two strides back to where we had fallen and disappeared into the hedge; a second later, he emerged holding a red and gold plastic disc in his right hand. His shapely mouth twisted into a mustache-edged smile and he whistled. I turned to look but before I could react, a blur of blond rushed by. When I turned back, a golden retriever stood in front of the stranger, the dog’s tail whipping vigorously back and forth like a metronome gone crazy. A dark-skinned hand held the Frisbee up and waved it erratically and the dog’s quivering body pranced in anticipation. In one fluid motion, he released the disc and it sailed silently across the perfect blue sky in a large sweeping arc, the retriever in fierce pursuit.

He watched the dog for a bit and then turned back to me. “The fris–bee got stuck in the bush,” he said, pointing to the spot on the path. “That is why I am here.”

Chuckling, I shook my head. “No, I meant what brings you to Hammerville?” I asked.

He didn’t seem to understand and he shrugged.

I tried another approach. “Are you with one of the news crews?” No response other than a squinting of one of his emerald eyes. “You know, a TV crew covering the execution?” There were national outlets from all over the globe in town and it was easy to see him as a handsome reporter. In fact, it was hard to go to a restaurant or store in Hammerville without running into a Saudi reporter or a cameraman from Brazil. Our merchants were ecstatic.

At first he nodded and then shook his head no. “I am sorry again. I did not understand. No, I am not with any news…crew? I have recently come to this country. I am teacher and am hoping to teach.”

“Teach here?” I stifled a laugh. “In Hammerville? Why here?” When he didn’t answer right away, I added, “And why now?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

I tried again. “Why does a guy from another country…” I stopped mid-sentence and asked. “You are from another country, aren’t you?”

“I am from Ecuador, you know, small country in South America?” he asked.

“Yes, I know where Ecuador is,” I said, smiling. “Okay, what brings a guy from Ecuador to Hammerville to teach? And in October? I mean, I don’t know when the school year starts in Ecuador, but ours began two months ago.”

“You are a teacher?” he asked. I nodded and his smile broadened. “Then this is lucky day for me.”

“Yeah, I teach English at Hammerville High. What do you teach?”

“My field is science,” he said, “as you say here, biology.”

I nodded. “But there are no jobs now. At least I don’t think there are. And besides, why would you come to Hammerville?”

At my last question, those green eyes flashed. “It is true, I come to your country too late and it is hard for an immigrant to get regular teaching job. So I respond to job listing for substitute teachers on district website and I come here. I arrived last night.”

I know, you’re thinking I should’ve seen through this improbable explanation. But back then, what did I know? And, did I mention he wasn’t hard to look at?

The golden retriever was back, the Frisbee now properly slobbered in his mouth.  Jesus bent down to dislodge it, not without some difficulty. The dog jumped as the stranger sent the disc flying again. The retriever did its thing. He jogged after the dog and called back to me, “It was good to meet you, Dee Dee Sterber. I hope I get to see you at Hammerville High School soon.”

“Good luck,” I replied. “Glad I ran into you,” I added and smiled.

“Ran into you. Very good,” he hollered back over his shoulder, laughing as he ran down the hill after his dog.

As I watched his figure descend the slope, I thought it actually was “nice running into you.” Polite, considerate and handsome. All together not a bad package, I thought. Christie was right; Jerod is okay, but wait till she sees this guy. I could already predict the words out of her mouth, “Nice eye candy!”

After his figure disappeared, it suddenly dawned on me. “Ricardo!” I cried aloud like some excited game show contestant. A couple holding hands on a nearby bench threw me a curious look and then returned to staring into each others’ eyes. The stranger I had just met reminded me of the Hollywood actor, the dashing character I remembered from one of my parents’ favorite TV shows, “Fantasy Island.” At that point I could almost have sworn that I had just run into a young Ricardo Montalban.

I headed back down the path, intent now only on getting back to my apartment to call Christie. She’d never believe this. In retrospect, you probably think this was all pretty naive, even stupid on my part. What did I know a few months ago? But this one scene has stayed with me, replayed time and again, like some video loop inside my head. Maybe, that’s because it was just the first of my “collisions” with Jesus, and, ultimately, fate.

But I guess I should begin at the beginning.

As much as I could, I’ve struggled to be faithful to the truth, to tell things as they really happened. Or to rebuild the parts of this story I was only able to learn about later, after it all came down.

In my small-town, comfortably quiet existence, I collided with the rapacious beast of terrorism and it dragged me into its nest of deceit, violence and death. In the depth of this morass, I, a fledging “woman of letters” as one prof liked to call me in college, learned too much about the world, a lot about myself, and even a little about love.

R. Overbeck has served children as a teacher, college professor and administrator.  He has won several state and national educational honors including the National Teacher-Leader Award from the Reading Recovery Council of North America.   An accomplished writer, he has been published in newspapers, journals and trade publications. Leave No Child Behind is his first work of fiction. Read More…

%d bloggers like this: