During her thirty year career as a trial and appellate attorney, award winning author Jerri Blair litigated many high profiles cases involving her clients' fundamental rights, some of which had a significant impact on the law. Her cases were featured on many primetime network news shows and made headlines around the world. Her books reflect the reality of courtroom tactics and the intricacy of legal procedure, as well as her life experiences growing up in the segregated South and her fight for justice in the judicial system. Ms. Blair’s first novel, Justice for the Black Knight, received critical acclaim from Kirkus Reviews and other literary publications. It was awarded the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Legal Thriller. She focuses her writing on issues that impact the search for justice and equal opportunity in the modern world.
JUST ANOTHER OLD DREAMER
Let’s face it. I needed the job, that‘s why I applied to be a border patrol employee. I did like the idea that I might be doing something to help my country, to protect us from invasion by people who might want to hurt Americans. But that was very secondary to the real reason. I have a six month old baby and the baby’s father skipped town without leaving a forwarding address. I needed money quickly and there weren’t many jobs around.
It’s not like they didn’t get an excellent employee. I’m probably overqualified. I have a Masters in poly-sci and a BA in math. I can compute the political implications with the best of them and spit out a bunch of statistics to support my position. I’m also multi-lingual. I speak fluent English, Romanian, and Spanish. I also speak a passable Farsi which I picked up on one of my tours while I was still a proud member of the U. S. Marine Corps. That actually helps a lot more than my other credentials when it comes to my day to day duties as a border patrol agent.
Working for the border patrol is like working for a police department or probably any other public service agency. You get some of the best and the worst people with a lot of average Joes thrown in who took the job like I did---because they had mouths to feed. It’s not an easy job because we’re understaffed, and it’s not a job where you get a lot of feel good energy directed your way, especially these days.
I’d been on the job for almost a year when something happened that changed my life forever. I hope I’m a better person now than I was before that day. Of course, I hope that every day of my life. It’s my goal to just keep making myself better. But that day stands out from all of the days of my life.
I think my background in the Marines probably made what happened that day even more memorable. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as America‘s super-heroes, and we all dread the thought that we might be getting too old to take out the enemy in a fire fight. But, hey, age happens. I’m still young enough to take on the worst of the worst, but I can feel the beginnings of the tendrils of age slipping in between my shoulder blades and behind my knees. I get a little ache now and then in those places where I’ve suffered a bad hit or a bullet wound. They speak out and remind me of my mortality.
And you have to remember that none of us wants to be the bad guy. We don’t want to spend our time ripping babies from mothers’ arms. As a matter of fact, I’m a strong supporter of a good system that will keep the arms of America open to the world. My parents came to this country as immigrants. I was born in a reception center just after they arrived from behind the Iron Curtain. They were defectors who sought the protection of Lady Liberty. And I have to say, the Statue of Liberty still brings tears to my eyes when I see it in person. It’s like a second mother to me. My parents always say it was the first thing I saw as we left the center for our new home in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I guess I missed being what they call a Dreamer by a couple of hours and the luck of having parents who had a way to come here legally. My father was a well-known musician behind the Iron Curtain who’d spoken out against communism when the Cold War was still raging. He was able to obtain asylum because his life was in danger. I don’t know if my mother waited on purpose, I don’t suppose she really could have if I’d started pushing very hard. Maybe it was me. Maybe even inside her womb, I knew I wanted to be born in this land I love. Anyway, I was, and my long form birth certificate makes that clear, thank you very much. I hear the story of her giving birth on the floor of the reception hallway has turned into a legend. But---my point is that they would have come here any way they could. I could easily have been a Dreamer in the same predicament as so many others whose parents sought the freedom of this wonderful country.
I tell you these things because I want you to understand that I am a person who supports the Dreamer population and wants a good solution for them. I want our country to remain a refuge for the world, and I’m sorry to see us trying to close our doors the way we have been in recent years. I try to treat every immigrant I meet with courtesy and respect. I don’t care whether they’re here legally or illegally. It’s my opinion that every human being deserves to be treated as I would want to be treated. But I have to do my job, and sometimes that means picking up people who are in the country illegally.
The day it happened was hot and dry. Everybody was sweating bullets and thirsty. We’d set up a check point at a small office we have near the border in El Paso. Our purpose was to give Dreamers an easy place to turn themselves in and fill out paperwork to begin the process that might eventually lead to citizenship. We’d had a few young people come to us and take the plunge. I knew it was hard on them, and I was trying to be as supportive as I could. But Lex, this guy in my unit, is just not good at handling power, and sometimes his macho attitude gets in the way out in the field. I’m pretty sure his sneers scared off a few more that might’ve checked in if he hadn’t looked their way with such disdain.
Lex was acting with his usual disregard that day, but he spent most of his time scanning the crowd, looking for others there who might be illegal immigrants not eligible for Dreamer status. At one point, he was out on the street looking around.
There was an old woman who was helping a child she held in her lap. She’d just finished tying one of his shoes. Lex demanded she show him ID and she asked politely if she could finish with the kid. She began to tie the other shoelace, but he grabbed the child from her arms and started walking away. She started crying and screaming, but she got out her ID which showed she was an American citizen. He let her go, but the damage was done. I was sure no one else would want to even talk to us. I tried to explain that if we did things the way he wanted to do them, we’d never get any Dreamers to turn themselves in. They’d be running as fast as they could away from us. He just laughed at me and called me an idiot.
I could tell by the look in his eye that he would’ve liked to pat my butt and blame my attitude on my gender. I didn’t say anything. I know from experience that his type of man is all bluster with no real guts. He wouldn’t have lasted a minute in combat. It wasn’t worth making anything out of the way he treated me, although I was going to make sure the commander of our unit knew how he treated the old woman that day. He was fast becoming a real detriment to our efforts.
There was something else I noticed that day too. I didn’t mention it to anyone because I didn’t want Lex to overreact. But there was a guy out on the street that had my full attention. He seemed to be just hanging around watching us. He had dark hair that had just a touch of grey around the front and the beginnings of the shadow of a partially grey beard. He was about six feet tall, a pretty good looking older guy in a scraggly Indiana Jones kind of way. He wore a very baggy suit that made it difficult to see what his body type might be, but his John Lennon style glasses seemed to be a prop. I didn’t believe he actually needed them to see which was what triggered my suspicions. There was just something about him. Anyway, this guy seemed to be hanging around for no reason watching us. He didn’t seem to know anyone around him or to have any purpose for being there. So I made it my business to keep an eye on him while I smiled at Dreamers and answered questions.
At one point, I went outside and smoked a cigarette just so I could check him out from a little closer. I saw him talking to this older lady who’d been shopping. She was carrying a canvas bag with groceries peeking out the top. When she got to where I was standing, I offered her a smoke and she sat on a bench with me for a few moments and shared a cigarette.
I asked her, “Was that guy over there bothering you? I saw him stop you.”
She laughed and said, “I think he might be a little loco, but he was polite.”
“Why do you think he’s loco?”
“He wanted to know if there were any phone booths around here. I told him he could use my cell if he needed to make a call to get a ride or something. He thanked me but said he just needed a place where he could be alone for a moment.”
“Alone for a moment? That’s an odd thing to say.” My hackles were up at that point. I began to imagine things that could be under that loose-fitting suit. Bombs came to mind as well as several varieties of guns.
“Oh, si, but it gets even odder. I told him there was a restroom around the corner where he could probably have a moment. That’s when he said the oddest thing.”
“What did he say?” Now I was sure it was going to be the worst---a suicide bomber just a few feet away with a crowd of innocent people between me and him. I’d seen that kind of thing before when I was overseas.
“He looked very sad and said it wouldn’t be very elegant.”
I was flabbergasted. Not very elegant? That didn’t make any sense. I said, “Yeah, what did he expect---bathroom attendants in a free street toilet?”
The lady shook her head and said protectively, “No---it wasn’t like that. He didn’t seem to be---grasping for respect or wanting to impress. It was like he was going to do something. I don’t know. He seemed---good.” She quickly put out her cigarette and thanked me again as she got up and went on her way.
I sat watching the man out of the corner of my eye. I was really curious now, but I knew I needed to get back inside before Lex pulled another boner and stirred things up.
I didn’t like the way he treated women, especially if they were attractive. I tried my best to steer those women who fell into that category to someone other than him for processing. I’d just seen a couple of younger women walk inside. I ground out my cigarette and took one last look at the guy. I wished I could get closer, but I knew I had other responsibilities. I went inside and saw the line had grown a little longer while I’d been smoking. I dug in and forgot about the old guy outside.
Then I got my wish. I looked up and the guy I’d been watching stood right in front of me with his fedora hat in his hands.
I said, quickly, “What can I do for you, sir?”
I said, “Why don’t you sit down and we’ll talk.”
He nodded and sat staring at me with a determined look on his face.
I said politely, “How can I help you, sir?”
“I---I think I need to sign in as a Dreamer.”
I knew he couldn’t possibly qualify as a Dreamer. He looked to be at least seventy years old, but I decided to humor him and try to get whatever information I could from him. I said, “All right, I need to ask a few questions. Did you come to the United States before you were sixteen years old?”
“Oh, yes. I was an infant when I landed---arrived here.”
“Have you been continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007?”
“Yes---well I actually maintain a home---somewhere else---but America is my true home. I love America and all it stands for.”
Now I was really suspicious. “Where do you maintain a second home?”
“Well, it’s like a home. It’s in the mountains of the Arctic.”
That answer was unexpected. I began to wonder if the lady had been right and he was a little crazy. I decided to keep asking questions and try to figure him out before I let him go back out on the street. “Did you enter the United States without inspection before 2012?”
“Yes, many times. I flew in many times.”
“Where---where did you land when you flew in?”
He glanced at me apologetically and said, “Maybe this was a bad idea. I think I’m going to leave.”
I wasn’t about to allow this guy to leave yet. “It may have been a bad idea, but you’re not leaving until I say you can, Mister---what did you say your name is?”
“I didn’t mean to cause a problem. I’ll just go.” He stood and backed away.
I put my hand on my weapon. “Sit down right now.”
He sat back down and put his head in his hands.
“My name is Kal-El.”
Shivers ran up my spine. I began to wonder if he was from ISIS or one of the other fundamentalist groups that were trying to destroy my country. My mind was racing, trying to match the name with a country. It sounded sort of Middle Eastern, but it didn’t really match up. It actually seemed more Spanish, but the translation made no sense. The lime? “Kal-El what?”
“Are you a citrus merchant or something?”
He laughed and said, “You seem like a nice person, like a person who really cares about this whole business. I’ve watched the way you treat people. That’s why I’m sitting here. I think you might understand my situation. My name is not Spanish. Nor is it Persian or Farsi.” He hesitated and continued, “My home is under water. I’ve lost everything.”
I tried to think of any floods in the area that might have reached people’s homes, but we were in the middle of a drought. I said, “Your home here?”
“No---the place up north---I can’t get back there. The glaciers have all melted and everything I owned is under water---but I’ve lived in the USA most of the time for years. I grew up here and worked here for all of my life.”
“Where did you work?”
“Oh---I was a reporter. I worked under the byline of Clark Kent.”
Now I knew I had a crazy. He thought he was Superman who used the alias Clark Kent. I was an avid comic book reader so I was aware of all the nuance that surrounded the super-hero every kid loves.
He glanced at me and his eyes became sad. I could swear he knew what I was thinking. I said, “So, is Kandor lost? Is that why you’re so sad?” I was referring to the city in a bottle Superman kept at his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic.
“Kandor is just a comic book invention, but I’m real. I know I sound crazy---and I know I don’t look like any Superman these days, but that’s who I am.”
“Look, I’m going to make a couple of calls and get someone here who will want to hear your story.”
“I’m not insane. The comic book was written about me. I always kept my deeds as Superman a secret, but my deeds became a myth that people talked a lot about a long time ago when America was suffering during the Great Depression. A couple of young guys heard the myth and made me into a comic book hero, but---that doesn’t make me unreal. I came here today because I’ve lived in the United States for all of my life and never actually become a citizen. I thought I should do the legal thing. I thought maybe if I stepped up, it would help push things along so the Dreamers could get some security about their futures.”
He didn’t sound insane, but---he thought he was Superman. I wanted to get a feel for whether he was dangerous before I called in a Baker’s Act situation. He seemed harmless, and maybe he didn’t need to go through being forced into an institution. I said, “Do you have any family I could call?”
“I never married. It wouldn’t have been fair. I’ve spent my life going to places I thought might threaten our people. I’ve used every ounce of power I had to protect this country and its citizens.”
Now he was really getting to my heart. I said, “You should’ve joined the Marines.”
He smiled. “That’s where you gained the confidence to be a super-hero. I can tell you’re the real thing. It’s in your face and in the way you treat others---with respect and honor.”
I liked the guy more and more. I said, “You have to learn to be there for your brothers in arms---especially in the field of battle.”
“I know that’s true. I flew into Iwo during WWII. I saw the Marines in action. I was just a boy, but I did what I could without being seen---to help our boys.”
“There were a lot of boys who went there, but no boys left that island. They were all men. Were you really there?”
“That’s how I’ve done things all through my life. I can fly---so I just---”
I was jerked back to reality with his last words. I said, “Mister---El---I need to make a call.”
“No, you don’t. I know it sounds crazy. I’ve gone this far, so maybe I can show you. I would just fly to wherever our people needed help and do what I could. That’s real. I can show you. Do you want me to fly across the room?”
“No, that’s okay.”
“Just hear me out.”
“I’ve been there on every field of battle---including the one where you were injured. I couldn’t help everybody. I just did what I could. It’s getting harder because the battles are all over the place these days. That’s made it harder to keep up---and I guess I’m getting a little old to be a super-hero. Maybe that’s the problem, but sometimes I wonder if my failing strength comes from the wounds America has suffered to her spirit. It seems that we’re drifting away from the land we should be.”
It was getting harder to want to call him in. He made a lot of sense in a funny way. I agreed that America was wounded from within. We’d always been the land of the free and the home of the brave. We’d held out our arms to the world and been the beacon for freedom. Now we were closing our borders and hiding like a scared coward. I didn’t like it. I whispered, “What do you mean?”
He smiled and his face seemed younger. He said, “I really like you. I think you know what I mean.”
That’s when things got out of control. Lex swaggered over to my desk and said, “What do you have here, Barbie?”
“I’ve got this, Lex.”
“Kal-El---maybe we should take you in the back room,” Lex said. He started to grab the guy’s arm.
I said, “Let it go, Lex.” I wondered if he’d been drinking before coming to work. He was much worse than usual that day and that’s saying a lot.
Just then a beautiful young woman with a baby walked in the front door. Lex noticed her immediately and his attention turned from Kal. He whispered, “Now that’s one hot tamale,” and wandered toward the door.
I looked apologetically at Kal and said, “I’m sorry.”
“He’s one of those who give us all a bad name.”
I nodded. “Yes, he gives the human race a bad name.”
Kal looked into my eyes and said, “You and your comrades were on a routine patrol outside of Fallujah. You were advising the Iraqis and weren’t supposed to be anywhere near a battle. Then you heard another group of advisers were pinned down after a freak accident. You went to their rescue. That’s how you lost your leg.”
My mouth was open and I had a terrible churning in my gut. “How do you know---?”
“I was there.”
“Remember that sniper. You saw him. He got one round off and hit your leg. You looked at him and saw the second round coming. You were sure you were dead---and then something knocked him out. He disappeared and you probably wondered if you’d been hallucinating.”
I was flabbergasted. I’d never told anybody about the sight I had of the sniper taking aim for me a second time. I thought I’d imagined it. My mind was racing. Was he an enemy spy? How could he possibly know if it wasn’t him that actually pulled the trigger that cost me a limb? I reflexively touched the steel rod that was where my calf used to be as I contemplated his words.
He whispered, “I stopped that second shot. That’s the kind of thing I’ve been doing since World War II. I go where our troops are fighting and give them aid in a way that only a superman can. I caught the second bullet. That’s why he didn’t get to take you out. You weren’t seeing things that weren’t there.”
I looked at him in disbelief. It was causing me a lot of troubling thoughts to consider taking this man into custody. I had liked him so much, but how could he know? And if he wasn’t there with us, he had to have been with them. I was speechless and he took advantage of my silence.
“I can see you don’t believe me. Let’s go outside and you can see for yourself. I can catch your bullet---and even if you hit me, it won’t hurt me. I’m the man of steel.”
“I---can’t do that.”
“You think you have to arrest me. You don’t. You agree with me about everything we’ve talked about. You know I’m not a bad man.”
“But---how could you know?”
Just then, I heard a loud voice from across the room saying, “I will do no such thing.” Then I heard a slap and a baby crying.
Lex shouted, “Get over here, Barbie. We need to take this woman into custody.”
I looked over and Lex was holding a baby while a woman stood in front of him trying to wrest it away.
I said, “Don’t move.” I didn’t want to leave Kal-El, but I had to do something about what was happening across the room. I rushed over and pulled the woman off of Lex. I said, “What’s the problem here?”
She was crying. She said, “He wanted me to perform vile acts or he said he’d take my baby away from me.”
“First things first. Do you have ID?”
The woman blushed and said, “I could go home and get it.”
Lex laughed and said, “I told you. She’s an illegal and she’s just run out of luck. Take this baby and go call social services.”
The woman screamed, “You’re not going to take my child.”
Lex said, “Oh, yes, I am.”
I heard someone move up behind me and glanced over my shoulder. There stood Kal-El. He whispered to me. “I guess I’ll get my chance to show you after all.”
Before I could make a move, he grabbed the baby and the woman and started moving toward the door. There were too many innocent people in the room to justify a shooting, but my hand was on my weapon. I needed some way to control what was rapidly turning into chaos. Then I heard a shot reverberate through the room. Obviously, Lex hadn’t followed protocol. It happened so fast that I thought again I was seeing things. There was a blur like Kal-El had moved up into the bullet’s path and then dropped back to the woman’s side.
Kal-El had a huge grin on his face and he held up a bullet. He looked right at me and said, “I told you so.” He held the woman and child in his arms as he started to rise from the ground. Then he pushed open the door and flew away. He was a little slow and seemed to almost fall a couple of times, but he and the woman and child flew away with everyone watching, all of us with open mouths.
It was true chaos in the room after that. Everyone was shouting, many of them cheering with joy at what they’d just seen. Lex was loudest of all and he was yelling in my ear, “You gave me no back up.”
I couldn’t help myself. I cleared the room and locked the door. Then I turned to Lex and said, “You better be happy we had a superman here to stop that bullet. You broke every protocol there is and I’m turning you in.” I admit it. I was angry, angry at him for all of the things he’s done, angry because of the way my country was treating people who needed a helping hand. I cuffed him and delivered him to local law enforcement for an unjustified shooting. He may get out, but I wanted him to see how it felt to have cuffs around his wrists.
It was just like I felt after the shooting in Iraq. I didn’t know what to believe. I wasn’t sure what happened. I was considering ending my time as a border patrol agent. I didn’t want to deal with any more Lexes and I didn’t want to enforce law I didn’t agree with anymore. Then, as I was working on my report on what had happened at my desk, my phone rang.
I automatically picked up and said, “Agent Johnson.”
“I took one of your cards from the desk where we were sitting.”
It was a voice I’d never forget. “How did you do that?”
“I told you. I’m Superman.”
I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask. “How did you know about Fallujah? I’ve never told anyone about that second shot.”
“I told you. I’ve been there in the background for years through many wars. I do what I can which is never enough. I wish I could take the place of every soldier on every battle field. Bullets can’t hurt me.”
“I admire your bravery. You may have saved that woman’s life---or the life of someone in that room. Lex shouldn’t have made that shot.”
“It’s not bravery for me to do that kind of thing. I can’t be hurt. It’s a different thing for the soldiers whose lives I’ve been able to save. They are all brave just to be there in one war after another.”
“Who are you?”
“I told you---”
“I know what you said, but why do you have these---super powers?”
“The comic book guys got some of it right. I’m from another galaxy I think. Anyway, as you saw, my super powers are diminishing.”
“What do you mean?”
“You saw how hard it was to carry those other people. I almost fell from the sky a couple of times. That’s old age catching up with me. I only have so much time left and I want to use it wisely.”
“It was still quite a show. So, even Superman feels age coming to take away the vitality of youth?”
“I think so---there’s something else too.”
“It’s hard to explain. I feel like there’s something happening to the spirit of America. Maybe what gave me strength was the best of what we stand for. Maybe our dedication to raising the possibility of true freedom for the world---maybe that’s what I’m really all about. And I feel like that might be changing. I remember the hope that was everywhere after the war, the dedication to making sure no people were downtrodden by a dictator like Hitler ever again. It feels like we’re turning our faces from the role we need to play in the world---one not centered in selfishness and greed, but powered with the big openhearted sharing can-do mentality that marked our existence in the world for so long. Maybe that’s why my strength is failing. Maybe Superman is the symbol of what we were, something we’re throwing out the window right now.”
I couldn’t help smiling. I couldn’t help feeling a love for this man who might be crazy but seemed more and more like the Superman I’d always dreamed of being. “I know what you mean.”
“Maybe it’s time for me to fade into the sunset.”
I felt tears come to my eyes. “No---you can’t do that. We can’t give up.”
“All right, I’ll keep trying, but only if you promise you will too.”
I had a sudden thought of my daughter at day care right now. I wanted the world to be a better place for her. I said, “I don’t know---”
“Sure you do. If people like you quit trying, we’re lost. If I’m going to stay in the battle, I have to know my brothers and sisters in arms are still fighting too. You can’t leave it to people like Lex.”
“Lex!” I spat out his name. “He shouldn’t ever have an iota of power.”
“Only you can stop that from happening---you and those who believe in the ideals that have made America great for so many years.”
“Okay. You’re right. I’m in.”
“I’m going now.”
“No.” I didn’t want this man to disappear from my life. I wanted to know he’d always be there by my side.
“I’ll be around doing what I do. If you hear about any disappearing bullets you’ll know where they went. But I wouldn’t mention what you saw. It will raise your superiors’ eyebrows.”
“Disappearing bullets! I’ll be screwed if I don’t try to tell what really happened. There’s no bullet to show what Lex did.”
He laughed. “Oh, yes, there is. I went back and pushed it into the wall.”
I felt relief. I’d been worrying about whether my story would be believed because Lex’s bullet left with Superman. “Thanks for having my back.”
“I’ll always have your back, sister.”
And he was gone.
I know it’s hard to believe, but it really did happen that way. I learned that Superman is real and he lives in the heart of all Americans who are willing to stand for truth, justice and the American way. It’s sort of like Santa Claus. It may not be real, but it’s a nice way to make the real world a better place to live. And it’s up to us, brothers and sisters, to keep it going on.