The delegation's leader stepped on the porch of Norman Cole's condo. He was a middle aged man of fifty-five, slightly overweight and a little less than six feet tall with a full head of dark hair speckled with gray.
The group following him consisted of another man in his mid-twenties, and two women of equivalent ages to the men. They each carried a black briefcase and wore similar dark business attire with what appeared to be standard issue wrap-around opaque sunglasses.
The younger man, standing several inches taller than his senior counterpart, looked down at the leader and remarked, "We've arrived almost an hour behind schedule." He continued by asking, "How many times does this make for you?"
"Six. And this is my last one. Twenty-four years is enough." The leader replied as he rapped on the badly peeling paint of the front door with his knuckles. Time seemed to drag, sounds could be heard from the inside but no one came to answer the door.
The two men wiped the sweat from their brows. The day was oppressively hot and humid. The four United States Marshals accompanying the perspiring government delegation, showed no sign of any effects from the heat.
The leader frowned, glanced at his watch, and said to the group, "We've got to get a move on! The laws are strict about having the Odd Man in protective custody by three o'clock."
He made a fist and banged loudly on the door. From the interior of the condo they heard, "Just a minute! Be right there."
A few seconds later the locks rattled and the door swung open to reveal a thin, unkempt brown haired, hazel eyed man of about forty years of age. Most would say he was good looking even though unshaven and rumpled. Dressed in cut-offs he displayed a tempered body evidencing a life time work out regimen. His informal seemingly forced domesticity was indicated by the large kitchen whisk in one hand and dishtowel in the other.
"Norman Cole?" The leader of the delegation asked.
"Yes. Can I help you?" Norman inquisitively replied as he wiped his hands on the dishtowel while trying to balance the whisk.
"Mr. Cole, we are government representatives of the Odd Man Program. You should feel honored, sir. You have been selected to be this election's Odd Man!" The younger man exclaimed excitedly holding out his hand to shake Norman's.
"W ... w ... what? H ... how? Why me?" Norman questioned as his eyes darted from one person to another.
The older woman pushed her way to the front and squeezed passed Norman into the interior of his home. "Come people, we have to hurry! Norman! May I call you Norman? Norman, please go pack a bag, we have to be at the Kansas City airport in two and a half hours and it's a long drive from Topeka."
Norman simply gaped as the remainder of the delegation and two of the marshals followed the woman into his home. The other two marshals took up guard positions at his door.
Norman still stood at the doorway looking at the uninvited guests now spreading out through his house. He was in shock as his mind numbly tried to process what was happening. I'm the Odd Man? How the hell did they come up with me as the Odd Man? Somebody's screwed up badly ... royally in fact!
He started to argue with the older woman but was interrupted by the younger woman as she snapped her cell phone closed with a loud click. "That was HQ. The info has leaked to the press. We've less than ten minutes before every news hound in Kansas and Missouri arrives here. We've gotta move -- now!"
"Norman, don't worry about packing a bag. Just change into some comfortable traveling clothes. Everything you'll need for the next ten days will be waiting for you at the Odd Man compound," the older man said with authority. He turned to look at the younger man. "Fred, go help Norman get ready would you?"
The younger man steered Norman into his bedroom and rifled through his closet and drawers. He found a pair of soft, faded blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt that proudly announced that Norman had been at the Hog's Breath Saloon in Key West.
Norman reluctantly began to remove his t-shirt and cut-offs and was just placing a leg in the jeans when the young woman ran through the door. She showed no embarrassment at finding Norman in his underwear as she announced, "We've got two minutes. News helicopters have been spotted less than six miles from here heading this way. We have to go, now!"
The young man replied, "Okay Fran. Come on Norman. I've got your shirt. You can put it on the car. Let's move!" He pushed Norman toward the door as Norman was still fastening his jeans. "Don't worry Norman. Our people will lock up plus let your neighbors and your boss know that we didn't kidnap you."
The two marshals that had entered his home flanked Norman and the government delegation walked in front of him. The other marshals stationed at the front door had already returned to stretch limo and accompanying SUV and had the motors running. Norman was steered to the limo and was placed between the two marshals. The two older government representatives got in the SUV ahead of the limo.
The woman, Fran, and younger man, Fred, entered the vehicle and sat in the seat facing backward in front of Norman. The young woman's skirt was hiked up to show some very shapely legs that Norman could not help but notice.
She saw his face and a brief smile played on her face as she adjusted her skirt to a more proper position. She took a laptop computer from her briefcase, opened it and began keying. She continued to key as the vehicles pulled away from Norman's house and the neighbors watched the strange abduction take place.
After several moments, she hit a final key with a sigh and looked up. "Okay. We're good. The diversion team arrived just after we left and waited for the helicopters to show up. They took off on I-70 going westbound. Every news hound in two states is now chasing them in the opposite direction."
Norman looked at his seatmates. The marshal to his left was looking out of the heavily tinted window intent on spotting any sign of trouble. The marshal on his right was eyeing the terrain on his side of the vehicle with the same diligence. Norman looked across at the young woman and asked, "Miss. Can I ask ... what's a diversion team?"
The woman's mouth crinkled into a smile as she replied, "its simple, Norman. There are two additional convoys with vehicles exactly like ours that are now being used to divert the attention of anyone trying to follow us. Diversion team two took up the duty in front of your house immediately after we left there and is now proceeding away from us going in the opposite direction. They're drawing away those people we would rather not have around us. Diversion team one is ten miles ahead of us going the same direction we are. We hope that anyone clever enough to look for a convoy going that direction will start following them. Oh, by the way, Norman. My name is Francine, Fran for short, and I'm going to stay by your side for the next ten days until your Odd Man duty is completed."
Norman could only nod in reply as he was still overwhelmed by his selection as the Odd Man. Norman inspected his seatmates, the two U.S. marshals. They both stared out of their respective windows looking for any hint of trouble. No Odd Man had ever been attacked or even threatened and these men were determined not to be the first to experience such an event.
Fran spoke again, "Norman, we will be taking you directly to the airplane and ask that when we get there, you move quickly to the plane. Stay close to your escorts." She indicated the two marshals seated next to him.
She continued, "The trip to Odd Man Center is two hours and forty-five minutes by air. We have our own airstrip at the Center. The Center is actually a compound containing all facilities needed for your comfort and protection. As the selected Odd Man, you have the right to know where the Center is located, but we strongly suggest you don't ask for particulars. If you don't know, you can't accidentally divulge it to others. We will tell you that it's located in Virginia."
Norman just nodded his head and said nothing. He was still overwhelmed at being selected as the Odd Man. He could only hope that his role would not be required in this upcoming election. He was already getting that feeling of panic that he might be called on to take action and what if he decided wrong.
Fred cleared his throat and stated, "When you arrive at the Center, you'll receive a full physical and any medical needs you have will be dealt with. You'll also receive a battery of psychological tests to ensure you're of sound mind. It's the Center's responsibility that you are in the best physical and mental condition possible in case you're required to fulfill the Odd man duties. Don't worry though. Our mainframe computer has never selected an Odd Man candidate that failed to pass all of the tests."
Fran chimed in, "The process starts in six days. The Odd Man may be needed on the eighth day. Once the Odd Man duty passes you will spend one more night at the center for a rest and short debriefing. Then depending on circumstance we may return you to your home. You will probably have protection assigned to you until a new Odd Man is selected. It's our experience, that once your successor is named, even most nuts lose interest in you."
Norman simply nodded a response as he mulled over what they had just said. Oh great! Now I'm a target for every maniac looking to shoot first and think second. What the hell have I gotten myself into? What if I really have to perform the duty?
.... There is more of this story ...