By Gonz Blinko
Shortly after we got the note from BC, one of the local bikers overheard a conversation in a blues bar that suggested that our mission had been found out. We had to go into deep cover which, of course, meant I couldn’t write anything for Blind Confidential and we had to move out of the luxury hotels and into tents along the Manatee river, tool sheds and other rat and mosquito infested hell holes.
Sam and I sat with El Negro, a friendly retired Navy Seal and our friend Snake from the Hell’s Angels. Sam had thought to bring tactile maps so I could follow along as we planned further spy missions.
Snake, who had gathered a ton of intelligence from bikers friendly to our cause and I, who had done about a billion google searches on the names and addresses we thought were likely prisons for blinks, had narrowed the list down to two.
“I don’t think that the guide dog school would be holding a prominent blink as a prisoner. The publicity would kill them and their contributors would flee like rats from a sinking ship,” I stated when Snake suggested that BC might be held at Southeastern.
“But the other place has a huge sign that reads, ‘NFB’ with a subtitle on its gate that says, “Work will set us Free.’”
“Sam and I have spent a lot of time in Florida and we’ve never heard of an NFB facility in Manatee County. What’s its address?”
Snake read me the address and I launched the Manatee County Department of the Registrar database which I had hacked my way into a few days earlier. The property was indeed owned by an organization called NFB but not the National Federation of the Blind. This NFB, listed as a non-profit corporation, actually was named “Not For Blinks.” A little further research on the State of Florida State Department web site showed us that Not For Blinks was a real 501©3 non-profit with the right to raise funds both nationally and in Florida. Furthermore, the organization had a president named, Sydney T. Greenbacks.
“Bingo!” I shouted as I read the information to the others. Sam, El Negro and the Seal, who didn’t want us to even use a nickname to describe him (he seemed pretty paranoid) had been planning assaults on both locations and, now, we focused all of our attention on the NFB reprogramming camp.
The camp had four guard towers, on each at the north, south east and west corners of the compound. We could approach the north corner via the Manatee River, the east and south seemed to be covered by fairly dense forest and the west faced the Gulf. The Seal asked for one of the helicopters and said he’d take control of the landing from the Gulf side, El Negro and a handful of Angels joined him and started working on a combined Arial and sea assault.
“I’ll work with the north team as we can approach via kayak on the river and, when the guardsmen think we are a happy bunch of tourists out for a picnic, we’ll fire away.”
“I’ll take the front gate,” said Snake, “A bunch of us Angels can blow the doors off and roll right in.” The front gate was the only area that had access to a road so we felt the bikers should handle this one.
Sam and BC’s wife flipped a coin over the remaining corners and each took control of a helicopter.
We spent the rest of the night readying our weapons and working with our teams. I had a handful of BPP guys with me and we used kayaks lent to us by PPO. The stress thickened as dawn approached and we jammed ourselves up with espresso.
The kayak team left camp first. The boats felt a bit tippy loaded down with all of the military hardware but the Manatee River at low tide is shallow enough for us to walk in if we had to. Kropotkin had never paddled before so we put him on a tandem with a sightie and loaded them down with assault rifles. We all had mosquito suits on and had covered ourselves from head to toe with Deet. We had a few fishing Rods, supplied by friends of BC at Discount Tackle in Bradenton to serve as camouflage. We paddled quietly but shouted to each other like a bunch of beer swilling fishermen.
When we reached our landing point, about 100 yards off of the north corner of the compound; we put lures on our lines and tossed them into the river hoping that a bass or gar would ignore them so as to avoid any distractions. We waited for our signal from El Negro and the Seal.
At exactly 5:45 in the morning, before the sun had risen more than a crack, we heard the explosions out of the west. Soon, a fire ball bright enough for me to see lit up the Gulf side of the facility. The kayak team grabbed our weapons and slowly made our way in through the forest, using the GPS and talking compass on our MSP enabled iPAQ devices.
Kropotkin took his group to one side of the corner and I moved to the other. “Listen for explosions to the south or wait ten minutes in case BC’s wife gets caught before firing,” I commanded.
“plug in the GPS coordinates into the RPG,” whispered Kropotkin to those holding the rocket propelled grenades. “Those of you with rifles, fire at the sound of the nearest explosions and flames if you can see them.”
“Once the tower falls, retreat to the river and head west to the Gulf,” I added, reinforcing the plan we had repeated all night.
My radio bleeped, “Gonz,” I whispered.
“It’s Sam,” said the familiar accented voice. “The western tower dropped, the chopper is approaching to the south, the Angels are ready to charge in right after you guys start firing and we’ll be right after you.”
“Sam?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Good luck, I love you,” I said in a peculiarly sentimental moment. “Hell,” I thought, “If we might get our asses killed for an annoying paranoid boss, we might as well say our good bye with honesty.”
“Shut up,” whispered Sam, also in an especially sentimental voice.
We heard the south tower explode.
I lifted my RPG and squeezed the trigger; Kropotkin must have launched his a half second before me as I could hear it screaming toward the tower as mine shot off of its handle. A couple more went toward the north tower and the explosions were spectacular. I don’t have much experience with serious military type assault tactics and found myself standing still, petrified with fear. A BPP guy whacked me on the back of the head and yelled, “Get your ass down, DOWN, DOWN!!!”
I hit the ground as if by instinct and heard bullets whizzing over my head.
I pulled out my AKM and started firing in the direction of the tower. My BPP buddy did the same and yelled assurances to keep the others calm. I would later learn that he lost most of his vision in Viet Nam and this situation wasn’t at all new to him.
From our vantage point on the north corner of the compound, we could hear more explosions, see a few more fireballs, and hear the yells of humans and barks of dogs as we retreated to our kayaks. I had unloaded 4 32 round clips and had five more. We left everything but the assault rifles behind when we reached the kayaks.
As we paddled toward the Gulf, we continued to hear lots of gunfire, explosion and shouting. An occasional voice from a team member would shout something on the scrambled digital radio but none of it pertained to our team on the river. We followed the plan, paddled as swiftly as we could and tried to reach the river mouth, El Negro and the Seal.
The NFB guys obviously knew that they had been hit from the north but stopped firing in our direction. I guessed this meant that their perimeter had fallen and that the Angels were inside. We paddled as quickly as possible and did our best to follow the plan instead of thinking of what the others might be doing.
My radio blipped again and I heard Sam’s voice, “We got him!”
We hadn’t even reached our meeting point for the next stage of the operation but Sam was already loading BC and “11 other blinks and some dogs with whom they’ve grown fond onto the Segorski.”
The “Not For Blinks” team folded quickly but the heat seeking missiles aimed at Sy T. Greenback’s helicopter missed as he took off toward St. Petersburg and, presumably, his friends at Freeman Scientology. Five of the NFB guys would be found charred and cold by the time the Manatee County Fire department reached the scene. About a dozen others would need hospitalization.
“An unexplained series of explosions and fires knocked Manatee County residents out of bed last night when a secret, illegal prison reprogramming camp was attacked by unknown forces dedicated to the liberation of blind people held captive there,” said the local news reporter. Chet is on the scene with this report:”
“As you can see behind me, Manatee County fire fighters have stopped the flames and the police and arson teams are seeking any survivors. It seems that all of the blind captives and many dogs were freed in this suspicious attack. I have Officer Joe Bolton with me for a comment,” said Chet, “Officer Joe, what do you think happened here?”
“Early this morning, we received a fax from a group located somewhere near Austin, Texas that claimed responsibility for the attack. They call themselves the Blind Panther Party and said that they would ‘use any tactics necessary’ to further the civil rights of blind people around the world.
“The message claimed that this compound was being run by the owner of an assistive technology company who, ‘would take any steps, legal or otherwise, to prevent blind people, in the US and abroad, from making disparaging remarks about his company, its business strategies or overpriced products. The fax also said that Mr. Greenbacks would take any anti-competitive actions possible to prohibit blind people from finding ways to build and distribute lower cost assistive technology products.”
Chet asked, “Did Mr. Greenbacks, owner of one of the competing television stations in this market and a large amount of real estate have any comment for the police?”
“As this is an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment on that.”
“Have you any leads on finding the members of this Panther Party?”
“I still can’t comment.”
“Back to you Ed, from the smoldering remains of the Not For Blinks’ headquarters in Palmetto, Florida.”
“Our next story involves a 12 year old boy who has crossed Tampa Bay riding on the back of a friendly Manatee…”
We shut off the television and toasted our team. BC got up on the bar in the blues and biker club and thanked everyone involved. With tears in his eyes, BC embraced his wife and his new canine friend Axel, named for the Guns and Roses singer. He thanked the Angels for their help, the BPP and told me to get down to writing this story hoping there might be a movie deal in the making.
Sam gave me a soft kiss on the cheek and slid quietly out the back door. When the party dwindled, I hopped on the back of Snake’s Harley, waved good bye to the remaining partiers and sang “Born to be Wild” until we got to the airport.
For those of you who didn’t guess already, I was actually at Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto, Florida. I am back home and Blind Confidential will resume regular programming.
While at Southeastern, I received my first ever guide dog. His name is Xcellerator (pronounced ex cellerator) and he is a 76 pound yellow Labrador. The X-Dog and I get along amazingly well and, to my great delight, he and our twenty pound, corgi/yorki pet dog act like they’ve been friends forever.
I promise I will not turn Blind Confidential into a sappy journal about my guide dog and me nor will I write endlessly about the amusing behaviors he demonstrates. I love the animal but hate reading sappy essays about the bond between man and beast.
I will, however, start writing a series that I will call “the guide dog school chronicles” from notes I took while captive. I will write little about the dogs but, instead, the focus will be on the 10 strange blinks I shared living quarters with for most of the past month. I will also write about the outstanding staff at Southeastern as they worked like hell to teach us the skills necessary to work a guide dog and somehow accomplished the task without suicides, homicides or severe maiming.
My experience in Palmetto was terrific and, if you are interested in getting a dog, I recommend you look into Southeastern while you are shopping for a school that meets your needs. I recommend, however, trying to get a winter class as Florida can be unbearably hot this time of year.
I’m happy to be back and am looking forward to starting the second six months of Blind Confidential posts.