Wednesday, June 6, 2012

FBI, CIA, Secret Service and Me

FBI, CIA, Secret Service and Me

A few years back I had this troublesome Mercedes the dealers just couldn’t get to run correctly because they said the brain box was fried. They also said it would cost fifteen hundred bucks to fix so I took my mailman’s advice and called his mechanic. The guy had this little garage on a side street, and it didn’t look like much. You know about first impressions, right? I reluctantly took my car in, told him the problem, and he said to take a seat. Twenty minutes later he drove around and parked. He said the car was ready to go. I said, “what about the problem?” He told me I had a torn sparkplug wire that was arching, shorting out two other plugs. He put a new wire on, replaced three plugs and charged me forty dollars. I had one of those moments we dread, so much for first impressions, and that we should never judge a book by its cover.

The mechanic then introduced me to his cousin. He said the guy had a story, and since I was a screenwriter and filmmaker I should buy him a drink and listen to the story. Everybody has a story; everyone wants you to write about his or her life, and you get gun-shy or hardened about the whole process. Normally, I just thank them and say I’m busy, but this man; his name was John, had a personality who reminded me of my grandfather. He had this warmth and smile that were captivating, and so I took him out for a drink. Five hours later, after dinner and too much ice tea I came to the conclusion this man had truly lived an extraordinary life.

John started as a New York Trooper, transferred over to the FBI, went undercover for years, did a one-year Secret Service engagement and ended up working for the CIA. After he retired he moved to Florida, took over a corrupt police department and straightened it out. I made notes and spent the following day checking John’s background. He had references at the FBI and the CIA and provided me with phone numbers. I so enjoyed meeting government agents and found John’s story to be true. It was also interesting how they checked up on me. I flew to Washington DC, had multiple meetings, got to visit Quantico where most government agents are trained and forged some life-long relationships. I purchased John’s novel and screen rights and went to work on it.

My first thought was to write a screenplay, and that’s what I did. My agent said there was too much to his life to cram into one story, and the studios agreed. I next broke his story down for a TV series. He had endless stories to tell, but once again, they had a hard time choosing which part of his life worked best, as there were many sides to John and all of them were exciting.

John was an extraordinary man. He was a very good agent and served our country well. He made huge drug busts, was involved in cases like The French Connection, and other major crimes, but the real story about John didn’t make the newspaper or television news. John had a soft side, one full of human nature and emotional feelings. John told me he hardly ever met a young man or woman who, in his opinion, couldn’t be turned around. He spent thirty years proving he was right. He risked his life and cover to save and/or protect a young law-breaker. He believed in pay forward.

My grandfather spent untold hours with me, convincing me that a peaceful existence would always win out over an argumentative confrontation. Gramps taught me to smile and how much one little smile meant to a person in need. My family was dysfunctional in just about every way imaginable. My folks struggled to get through the day. We never went anywhere and at times had little money to buy food or clothes. Grandpa showed me how to build stability from the ground up. He said if I believed in myself and really wanted to cause a change, I had to do most of the work on my own. Grandpa told me there was always a helping hand if I looked in the right places, and he was so on target. There are those who really care and will help, and of course, there are others that won’t lift a finger. Those are the ones you need to avoid, if at all possible. Grandpa also taught me it was possible to make your own luck and build a good life but the desire had to start deep within. That’s all one needed.

John discovered the good in all the kids he met while investigating horrific crimes. Some kids had no choice and were forced into a life, while others only knew the life and accepted it as fate of a bad deck of cards being dealt to them. John didn’t believe that and was willing to risk his life or the cover of his case to help a child who never expected help from anyone.

John loved life and lived it as he believed. He did the deed, took the chance and paid forward in everything he did as a human being. His nephew thought he was nuts but the more I was around him the more I understood what made him tick. He was an awful lot like grandpa. I learned the true meaning of pay forward from grandpa early in life, and John put it in cement. If you live life by offering your hand, hope, peace and thoughts to others, it will indeed come around ten-fold when those you assisted give that same gift to someone else and watch them pay forward and feel so very good about doing it.

When John became ill, we first thought, it was mercury poisoning. I did research around the globe to reverse his symptoms, but it wasn’t mercury. He had Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I was not familiar with the disease, but it only took a day to discover it was fatal and there was no cure.

I was furious inside. I thought about all he had done for others, and this was how he was being paid back. John didn’t feel that way at all and begged me not to lose focus on life and with the strangers I had yet to meet. I had called many of his law enforcement friends and found they all cared and offered help, but no help could change his ultimate fate.

When John died, I wondered if anyone knew he was gone. Notice of his death was given out, but I was certain only a few had read it. The church service was small, immediate family, a few friends and agents from the past but on a hillside grave service several hundred people slowly materialized out of nowhere. Some had to walk miles to the grave site as parking was all but impossible. After the prayer service, few left and many stood over his grave and wept. I mingled among many and didn’t recognize anyone, but as I asked in my writer’s curiosity, I discovered most where kids John had paid forward with love and a helping hand to save. John died as financially broke as he was at birth, but rich in rewards for all the lives he had saved. I exchanged cards with my number and asked many to call me. I felt twenty-feet tall when the service ended as I witnessed first-hand the rewards that came from John’s oversized heart, and the pay-forward imprint he left behind.

John, like my grandfather, became my hero. I hope I do justice with his life story as I put it down on paper. Pay forward and reward two lives, the one helped and yours.

Posted June 6, 2012 © 2012 William Byron Hillman
Author’s Page:
My latest novel: Veronique and Murray