A soldier comes home from duty to find his mother living in a tent close to her house – Story of the day

Craig came back home to spend Christmas with his mother, only to be astonished by finding her residing in a tent. Upon discovering that she was tricked and evicted from her own house, Craig felt no hesitation in disregarding boundaries to reclaim his mother’s home.

Craig didn’t notice the ‘For Sale’ sign on the lawn until he started walking along the frosty path. As he walked, the weighty duffel bag slipped from his shoulder and he looked up at the ageing Victorian house where he had spent his formative years. To his surprise, the windows had no curtains and the porch was devoid of the familiar Adirondack chairs.

Craig reached for his phone and dialled his mother’s number. Immediately, the distinctive 80s song that served as her ringtone began to play from a nearby location. Following the direction of the sound, he suddenly froze.

An ancient tent stood on the narrow strip of grass, and inside it sat his mother, huddled in a blanket, her eyes glued to the phone in disbelief. As he approached, she looked up and burst into tears…

“Oh, Craig! Oh, thank God you’re OK!” She cried, jumping to her feet and pulling him into a hug.

“Of course I’m OK, Mum,” Craig said, pulling away from her. “But what’s going on? Why is the house for sale?”

“I had to pay a ransom, darling,” Mum sniffed, looking at Craig from head to toe. “Did the kidnappers hurt you? I got a call from this man who said he’d taken you hostage. I couldn’t call the military or the civilian police or he’d kill you. So I paid him the money he asked for.

A shiver ran down Craig’s spine. “What are you talking about, Mum? You know I was at basic training!”
“I… I tried to call you, but the calls and messages didn’t go through. And I mortgaged the house,” she sobbed. “They repossessed it when I told them I couldn’t make the payments. Oh dear, Craig, everything the kidnappers told me… was it all a sham?”

Craig hugged his mother tightly. “Yes, Mum, it’s true,” he murmured softly. “But don’t worry. I will get our house back and I promise they will not escape punishment!”
Craig immediately sought the assistance of his friend James. Having endured many trials together during their basic training, Craig trusted his friend to lend a helping hand.
As Craig explained the situation to James, his friend’s jaw dropped and his hands clenched into fists. “You and your mum are more than welcome to stay here, brother, but remember, you’re not alone in this,” James revealed. “My mum got a call too.”
“No way!” Craig exclaimed in astonishment. “Is she all right? Were they trying to rob her too?”
“Although they tried to exploit her, she refuses to sell her house and give them any money,” James explained. “Her health is failing, but she’s too stubborn to admit that she can’t manage on her own. She refuses to leave her beloved Golden Street.

“I wouldn’t want to either,” Craig said, and James shook his head. “It’s not what you think, brother. This neighbourhood is godforsaken. The name is a sarcastic nickname used by the locals.”
“My mistake, sorry. But you do realise what it means, don’t you?” Craig asked. “It’s someone from our own ranks, mate. They know when we’re out of contact in training and that’s when they set their trap.”
“So what are you going to do?” James sighed.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Craig returned to the base to see the senior drill sergeant and asked him to give him access to the other recruits’ information so he could warn their families in advance. But the sergeant refused.
“We follow strict protocols regarding access to personnel information, recruit.”

“But sir…”
“Did I say you could talk, soldier? Now get out of my office before I write you up.”
Craig walked out of the sergeant’s office, wondering why the sergeant was stopping him from warning the other recruits’ families. Until Craig realised… the senior drill sergeant could be his man! The Sarge had access to all personnel records and the power to obstruct any investigation.
Craig turned around and decided to report the fraud to the Company Commander, whose office was down the corridor. But as he reached the senior drill sergeant’s office, the door burst open.
“You’re still here, recruit? Get going!” The Sergeant walked past Craig at a brisk pace.
Craig swore under his breath as the Sergeant entered the Commandant’s office. He hurried back to the Sergeant’s office and locked the door. Inspecting the computer files, Craig noticed a tab on the taskbar showing a minimised application and found a list of names and phone numbers.

Craig set the list to print and realised that Sarge must have looked at the list as soon as he had left, which meant he was already planning which relatives to con next.
Craig grabbed the page from the printer and put it in his pocket. He minimised the application again and stepped away from the desk. When he opened the door to leave, he walked straight into the senior drill sergeant.
“So the nosy recruit came back to snoop around my office? Kiss your career goodbye, boy!” The sergeant gestured at someone Craig couldn’t see.
“You can’t dismiss me just for being in your office, sir!” he said.
“Actually, I can. This definitely counts as a lapse in expected behaviour, so I’m going to make it even better and give you a less than honourable discharge.”
An hour later, Craig was sitting in a cheap diner drinking bad coffee as he waited for the bus to take him home. His career was over, but he could still save his former comrades.

Craig retrieved the list he had printed from Sarge’s computer and diligently dialed each number to warn them about the scam. It took him two days to successfully make contact with everyone on the list. In the meantime, Craig and his mother found temporary refuge at James’ house, and Craig agreed to work for James’ uncle in order to support himself.

A week later, while Craig was on his way home from work, he received a distressing call from a woman. “They claim to have my son,” she conveyed anxiously over the phone. “They’re demanding money!”

“Stay calm, ma’am,” Craig reassured her, explaining the entire process of how the scammers targeted their victims. “Once they disclose the drop-off location, call me back, and I’ll take care of it.”

“Okay, yes, I understand.”

As the call concluded, Craig turned the corner and froze in his tracks. James was at home.

“Why are you here, bro?” Craig inquired, astounded.

“I got special leave. Mum’s not looking good, bro,” he said, and Craig comforted him, telling him it would be all right. And soon James was off to see his mum.
An hour later, the woman called Craig again and told him the scammer wanted the money delivered to a park on the other side of town.
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Craig said, “and whatever happens next, remember it’s just a scam. Your son is in no danger and never has been.”
Craig arrived at the drop-off point early and sat down on a bench with a burger and soda. The woman had placed a bag in a hollow at the base of a nearby tree and left. Soon a slim man in a hoodie approached the tree, turning his face away as Craig approached.
Craig waited until the man reached for the bag before pouncing. He must have heard Craig or spotted him in his peripheral vision because he started to run.
Craig shouted at him to stop, but the man didn’t listen. But with his bag weighing him down, the man was no match for the army-fit Craig, who pinned him against a tree and cuffed his hands behind his back.
“I’m just a pick-up guy!” the man shouted as Craig pulled off his hoodie.

Craig realised he was dealing with a young boy. “I want the information, boy. You know the location and identity of the guy who was supposed to get the money, don’t you?”
The boy confessed that he didn’t. Instead, he was getting orders through an app, and when Craig asked him to tick a box in the app that would reveal the address where the bag was to be dropped off, it just didn’t work.
Craig looked around at the people and dogs on the brightly lit streets and realised that whoever was behind the scam was probably aware that his delivery man had been caught. “You’re too young to go to jail for following blind orders from someone you’ve never met.”

“When you live on Golden Street, jobs like this are an honest day’s work,” the guy scoffed.

“Golden Street?” Craig asked, taking out his phone. “My mate’s from there. Seen him?”
“James?” The guy said, looking at the picture on Craig’s phone. “Don’t you think I know him? His mum’s my neighbour. Auntie goes there every day to help the old lady.”

“Oh really?” Craig said. He put his phone down. “Hit me and run.”
“Just do as I say or I’ll report you to the police!”
“You’re weird, man!” The guy said as he landed a hard punch to Craig’s face.
Craig went home with a broken nose and a swollen face, but his eyes had stopped crying. “I almost caught the crooks. But the guy got away with the money. Now I owe one of the soldier’s mothers a lot of money,” he told James, who stared at him blankly.
“You should have told me, Craig! Jesus Christ! I could’ve helped you! Anyway, get some painkillers and rest.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that,” Craig said and went to his room.

In the middle of the night, a shadowy man slipped through the sash window of the delivery man’s house and crouched behind an armchair. He searched the living room under the sofa and then entered the kitchen.
The intruder had one foot on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms when every light in the house came on. He turned back the way he came, but a siren sounded and blue lights flashed through the windows.
The intruder turned and ran to the back of the house, grabbing a pan from the kitchen and raising it to smash a window, but a familiar voice surprised him.
“It’s over, James!” Craig pointed his gun at him. “I knew you’d come for the money. I had to test you, knowing you were connected to the impostor’s delivery boy. And you’d know where to look for the money if he double-crossed you.”

“And you lied to me that the boy got away with the money!” James cried as officers burst in and handcuffed him. “I did it for my mother, Craig. Just like you did everything for your mum. I could’ve waited for my Army enlistment bonus, but my mum needed the operation.”
“No, mate,” Craig said. “You could’ve found a better way to get the money.”
A month later…
James shuffled in, wearing an orange jumpsuit and accompanied by a surly guard. “What are you doing here?” he hissed at Craig, who was sitting at the centre table.

I have come to tell you that your mother’s operation was successful.
“What?” James slumped into the chair opposite Craig.
“Everyone, even the families you robbed, came together to raise money for your mum,” Craig met James’ gaze and held it. “You should’ve asked your friends for help in the first place, James, instead of scamming us.”
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