Thomas Calabrese

The Heart is a Refugee

posted by Bruce Rowe   [ updated ]

Sanctuary Of Another

The M18A1 Claymore is a directional anti-personnel mine developed for United States armed forces. Its inventor, Norman MacLeod, named the mine after a large medieval Scottish sword. Unlike a conventional land mine, the Claymore is command-detonated and directional, meaning it is fired by remote-control and shoots a pattern of metal balls into the kill zone like a shotgun. The Claymore can also be victim-activated by booby-trapping it with a tripwire firing system for use in area denial operations.

When Ray and Jane Moore’s son was born on March 1, 1950, in the small town of Escondido, they might have reconsidered their decision to name him Clay if they thought it foreshadowed his future endeavors. After high school Clay joined the Marine Corps and quickly realized from his drill instructors, who were all Vietnam War combat veterans, that they enjoyed the mention of his name, “Hey Claymore, get your tail in here. Claymore come here. What’re you doing?”

It was Claymore this and Claymore that. In fact Clay thought the only reason he made squad leader was so that his drill instructors would have another reason to use his name. He was tempted to ask why his fellow recruits were always called by only their last names but decided to keep his mouth shut and do what he was told.

Upon graduation from boot camp, Clay was assigned MOS (military occupational specialty) 0311 Rifleman, the primary infantry designation for the Marine Corps. His next set of orders sent him to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Oceanside, California for Basic Infantry Training.

Clay finally found the answer he’d been waiting for all these weeks when his platoon went to the range to learn about setting up anti-personnel mines. He saw the MI8A1 Claymore mine for the first time and everything became clear at that point. It was also where he met Josh Gibbs, a big country boy from Topeka, Kansas. The two young men became best friends and that friendship continued after their arrival in Vietnam.

When both Marines arrived at Danang as new boots in-country, they were approached by Staff Sergeant Tim Spear, a seasoned combat veteran as they sat in the terminal and waited for their ride to their unit,

“You gyrenes looking for a good unit to join up with?”

“We got orders for 26th Marines,” Josh held a manila envelope.

“Orders can be changed,” Staff Sergeant Tim Spear snapped back.

“We might be boots in-county, but we know better than to volunteer for anything,” Clay responded.

“A smart Marine…don’t see too many of those around here,” Tim smiled, “I’m a pretty good judge of green meat and you guys look like you might have potential.”

“Why pick us? Like my friend said, we just got here. Why don’t you get some Marines who are more experienced than us?” Josh inquired.

“Another good question, guys develop bad habits after they get to ‘Nam. It’s easier to get Marines that haven’t formed any opinions yet.”

“The terminal is full of Marines that just got here, why us?” Clay asked.

“Going with my instincts. Take a ride with me and if you don’t like what you see or you’re not interested then I’ll give you a ride back to your unit and tell them you’re with me. You got my word that you won’t get into any trouble.”

Clay looked at Josh and shrugged, “What the hell, we got nothing to lose by checking it out.”

The three Marines got into a jeep parked outside the terminal and drove 68 miles down Highway One to a small village outside Chu Lai. Exiting their vehicle, the three Marines listened as Tim began to explain, “The Combined Action Program or CAP is an operational program. It is a combination of Marines, Navy Corpsman and reinforced by Vietnamese militia. Most of the Vietnamese in the unit or either too young or too old be drafted into the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Any questions?”

 “Yeah, a whole bunch,” Josh said as he scanned the area.

“I ain’t got time to answer them,” Tim answered, then called out to Marines in the area.

“I got a couple new guys, show them around,” then added. “What’s your names?”

 “Josh Gibbs.”

“Clay Moore.”

Tim quipped, “If you’re half as good as the other Claymore we use around here, you’ll be alright. Take a look around and if you’re interested, let me know, if not I’ll take you back to your unit at first light.”

There were two dozen Marines lounging around the area, some were socializing with the local villagers, others were congregating among themselves.

Corporal Todd Richards called out, “You hungry?”

“Yeah,” Josh responded.

 “Come on over then.”

After brief introductions, Clay and Josh sat down on empty c-ration boxes and Todd served two large bowls of chicken noodles with broth over rice, “Everything we eat around here has got rice in it. C-rations actually taste pretty good with the right accessories and seasoning.”

“This is really good,” Josh commented.

 “Yeah,” Clay added.

The two Marines had another large bowl of soup then were assigned a hooch to crash (sleep) that had several other men in it. They were given a straw mat and poncho liner and found a place to lie down. They didn’t have long to wait to find out why they were in Vietnam in the first place. It was 0300 when Tim woke them, “We’re going out.”

Clay and Josh were handed M-16s and three bandoliers of ammo and followed the other Marines and armed villagers down a narrow path. They couldn’t see more than a few feet in the darkness and were confused, scared, and didn’t know what to expect. The Marines and villagers found concealed places on both sides of the trail. Clay pushed the elephant grass out of his line of sight.

Tim appeared out of nowhere and told the wide-eyed Marines, “Wait for the first shot and if someone is on that trail, then they’re the enemy…kill them.”

Clay and Josh looked in amazement at the seasoned combat veterans next to them, calm and focused on the task at hand. Most of them were their age or slightly older, but seemed so much more mature and experienced.

For what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only ten seconds, a platoon of North Vietnamese soldiers came walking down the trail. It was so silent that Clay thought someone would hear the beating of his heart. When he didn’t think he could stand the suspense any longer, an NVA soldier ankle hit the tripwire that was stretched across the trail and two flares illuminated the area. In less than a second, it went from pitch black to complete brightness.

Several Marines popped up from their positions and opened fire with their pump shotguns. Clay and Josh stayed down and began firing at the images on the trail. Clay caught a fleeting glimpse of one enemy soldier, surprise and terror etched upon his face. He would never forget the first firefight of his career, although there were many more to come.

 At first light, Tim approached the two Marines, “Made your decision?”

“I’d like to stay,” Clay stated.

“Same with me,” Josh seconded.

“Done,” Tim said and did an immediate about face. There was too much work to do to waste time making small talk.

The CAP concept seems to have been at least partially based on Marine pacification programs in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere during the Banana Wars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In these programs, Marine units would pacify and administer regions, while providing training and security for local forces and villages. There are also connections to other pacification programs, such as the Philippine Insurrection.

“CAP came naturally for the Marine Corps because counter-guerrilla warfare was already part of the USMC heritage. From 1915 to 1934, the Corps had a wealth of experience in foreign interventions fighting guerrillas in Nicaragua, Haiti, and Santo Domingo.

It was a whole different way of fighting than what Clay and Josh had learned back in the states. In CAP units, villagers who helped the Americans were considered prime targets of the Viet Cong and there were bounties placed on the leaders of villages that had a joint combat unit. The village of Din Luc was a prosperous village of some thirty-five hundred people and had a recorded history going back to the late eighteenth century. In recent years, most of the inhabitants of Din Luc were engaged in tilling the exceptionally fertile paddies bordering the river and in tending the extensive orchards of mangoes, jackfruit, and an unusual strain of large grapefruit that was a famous product of the region. The village also supported a small group of merchants, most of them of Chinese descent, who ran shops in the marketplace, including a bicycle shop and a pharmacy that sold a few modern medicines to supplement traditional folk cures of herbs and roots.

Before the Americans arrived, the National Liberation Front (or N.L.F., or Vietcong, or VC), kidnapped and later executed the government-appointed village chief and set up a full governing apparatus of its own. The Front demanded and got not just the passive support of the Din Luc villagers, but their active participation. They forced the women to cook food for their fighters and care for the wounded and sick while the men were used as pack animals to carry ammunition and supplies for the fighters.

CAP units were implemented to stop the N.L.F. from terrorizing villagers who had no way of defending themselves again the heavily-armed and brutal guerilla forces. The Marines developed a fierce loyalty to their South Vietnamese counterparts and developed an emotional attachment to the families. In less than six months Clay became an integral part of the unit and nobody was surprised when he was placed in charge of the minefields surrounding Din Luc. One of his first duties every morning was checking that the Claymores and the other mines were still operational and had not been tampered with by a sapper probing the perimeter. It wasn’t usual for the Marines to be awakened by a single or multiple explosions when one of the enemy combatants took a misstep as he tried to navigate the minefield.

Male villagers were assigned guard duty and the entire perimeter was under 24-hour surveillance. There was no way an enemy force could sneak through the minefields or escape the keen eyes of the sentries. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese wanted desperately to destroy Din Luc and inflict major casualties, so they changed their strategy. The Marines felt so strongly about the value of their mission that most of them signed up for a second or third tour in Vietnam rather than leave their friends behind. There were even incidents of Marines falling in love with Vietnamese women and marrying them so they could bring them back to the states.

Tim was often called Tip, as in “Tip Of The Spear,” and Josh picked the moniker of “Shotgun Gibbs” for his proficiency with the pump-action twelve gauge shotgun. The Viet Cong knew that a surprise attack was out of the question, so they decided to use overwhelming force to destroy Din Luc. A large enemy force unleashed a barrage of mortars on the village. The villagers immediately ran to the heavily fortified bunkers strategically placed throughout the area.

The enemy gunners walked their mortars through the minefields, clearing a path for a human wave of NVA soldiers and Viet Cong guerillas to charge forward just after dawn.

“Let’s go!” Tim yelled out.

Clay and Josh grabbed their weapons and followed. Tim had an M-60 machine gun and he was mowing down the enemy with long bursts and Josh was firing so quickly that it was hard to see his hand pump the shotgun to eject the spent cartridges. Clay had an M-16 slung over his back and was firing high explosive rounds from an M-79 grenade launcher. Three Marine Corps snipers had unlimited targets to choose and they didn’t miss. The Marines eventually were able to push back the enemy force, but Clay, Josh, and Tim were wounded, as were many of the villagers and several members of the CAP team. Clay took a bullet through the fleshy part of his upper left arm. Josh was hit in the right leg, but it missed the bone and artery and he was able to continue fighting. Tim sustained the most serious wound, a round to his lower abdomen and was bleeding badly.

The three Marines struggled back to the village to reload and get medical treatment. Navy Corpsman Danny “Doc” Cascone examined the stomach wound, “You’re hurt pretty bad, Tip. You need a medivac.”

 “Give me some morphine and wrap me up so I don’t bleed out,” Tim grimaced.

One of the inherent risks of being in a CAP unit was that it was difficult, if not impossible to call in air or artillery support because there would be too many civilian casualties. The Marines and the South Vietnamese would have to win this battle on their own. The NVA and VC launched two more waves, reminiscent of the Japanese banzai attacks of World War II. Tim stepped in front of an NVA soldier who was about to kill a young woman villager and was fatally wounded in the process when he took three rounds to his chest. Clay and Josh arrived a second later and killed the enemy fighter.

Tim struggled to breathe as his lungs filled with blood, “It’s on you now my brothers. Finish this, Marines!”

Clay and Josh organized the surviving members of the CAP unit and with a dozen of the village militia they counter-attacked the enemy force. It was brutal fighting, even hand to hand at times, but eventually the Marines got the upper hand. The NVA and Viet Cong suffered significant losses and once they started retreating, helicopter gunships were able to come in and finish the job.

When Clay and Josh returned to the village, they saw the young woman crying over the body of Staff Sergeant Tim Spear. The two Marines stayed for another tour and Clay eventually took over command of the CAP unit. It was with great sadness that both men left South Vietnam, knowing the mission was not complete and the villagers were still in danger. They did not leave the war without suffering physical and emotional wounds. Their emotional ones would take much longer to heal.

After their separation from the Corps, Clay and Josh shared an apartment in San Marcos, California and bounced from job to job; truck-driving, construction, warehouse work. Nothing seemed to soothe their restless souls. They were living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying not to look too far down the road. Although they seldom spoke of it, both warriors had problems moving on with their lives.

*  *  *

On April 30, 1975, 1,191 evacuees, including 100 American government and contractor employees from South Vietnam checked into a hastily prepared reception at Camp Pendleton. Thousands more would eventually follow and the Marines gave the resettlement operation the code name “New Horizons.” Eventually, they settled on a section of the base called Camp Talega.

The Department of Defense was desperate to find individuals who spoke Vietnamese, so they placed help wanted ads in the local newspapers for qualified individuals.  Josh noticed one of the advertisements.

“What do you think… we speak enough of the language to get by.”

 “A paycheck is a paycheck…probably easier than digging ditches,” Clay responded with mild interest.

With their experience in Vietnam and knowledge of the language, Clay and Josh were quickly hired. It was during their third week on the job that another group of refugees arrived by bus from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

 “Clay! Josh!” The young woman’s voice echoed across the brown hills.

When both men turned, they recognized Julie Lam, the young woman from the village of Din Luc that Staff Sergeant Tim Spear died protecting. She rushed into Clay’s arms and broke down in tears. She was in a new country, but knew she would be safe now.

Clay talked to his parents and they agreed to sponsor the Lam family. They moved to Escondido, found a small house and started their new lives.

It took a crazy Asian war and a twist of fate to bring Clay and Julie together. Josh was the best man at Clay and Julie’s wedding two years later at the Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting hall in Vista, California. His toast at the reception could not have been better phrased, “Raise your glasses to the happy couple. Whether you’re from Escondido, California or Din Luc, South Vietnam. It can be the calm of peacetime or the chaos of war, but one thing has always remained true and certain; the heart is a refugee in search of the sanctuary of another’s unconditional love.”

The Long Sigh: Make It Easy on Yourself

posted Sep 30, 2019, 4:24 PM by Bruce Rowe

Definition of sigh: to emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or a similar feeling.

Jake Russell never expected to be in hiding or using an alias, but just because he didn’t expect it, didn’t mean he hadn’t planned for that contingency. Top-tier covert operatives learned early in their careers to turn on a dime, change plans at a moment’s notice and most important of all, have an escape plan. Jake had served 15 years in the Navy Seals before being recruited for the Office of National Intelligence, Task Force Falcon.

Enjoying a vacation rental in Lake Havasu, Arizona, he received an encrypted e-mail ordering him to report for his next assignment. He drove 194 miles to Phoenix and caught a flight to Tampa, Florida, then picked up and delivered to MacDill Air Force Base.

The missions of Task Force Falcon were so secret that even the men performing them knew very little about their fellow operatives. These elite warriors came from all over the United States and a few of them even lived outside the country. Jake’s call sign was Condor. Entering a hangar, he recognized two men he’d worked with who went by the names, Comet and Rio. They nodded to each other as a sign of professional courtesy, but kept their distance.

Workers loaded a Douglas C-133 Cargomaster with two pallets that were covered with black tarps and secured with nylon straps. A man in a suit gestured to Jake and the other two men and they followed him to a secure area of the hangar.

“Guard the shipment until it reaches its destination. After it’s unloaded and your contact takes possession of it, return with the aircraft and your mission is completed,” said the man pointing to weapons on a table. “We know your preferences.”

There was no unnecessary chatter or questions.

Once the plane was airborne, the three men found locations in the cargo hold where they were equally distant from each other, but still gave them an unobstructed view of the pallets. Jake kept his assault rifle on his lap with his finger an inch away from the trigger. It was hard to believe how these three men could work as a finely tuned instrument, but these were not ordinary men.

Jake did not know the destination or how long they would be in the air, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bottle and took two sips. It was a natural stimulant made by a Chinese herbalist in Hong Kong that included Ginseng, Guarana, Maca Root and Schizandra berry. The concoction kept him alert without being wired or hyper. Each sip was good for six hours and once it passed through the blood stream, there were no residual effects.

Fifteen hours into the flight, the plane began descending for a landing in the early morning hours. Jake recognized the airfield as soon he stepped off the aircraft; it was a black ops secret airfield in Saudi Arabia used by intelligence agencies. He’d been here on a mission two years earlier. Comet and Rio positioned themselves in the front and rear of the aircraft respectively, while Jake took the center by the emergency exit door.

Twenty minutes later, a truck drove up. There were seven men in the receiving team and all of them remained masked as they transferred the two pallets. In any other line of work that might seem unusual, but a lot of these operatives did not want anyone to see their faces.

The man in charge of the receiving team called out, “Your orders have changed, you’re coming with us.”

A red light went off in Jake’s mind, he was used to having his orders changed, but never like this. “I’ll be right back; I left something on the plane.”

“Hurry up,” The leader snapped.

Instead of going into the plane, Jake disappeared into the darkness and found a concealed position behind several shipping containers where he had a view of the plane. When the receiving team realized Jake was gone, the man in charge ordered his team to conduct a quick search of the area.

“No sign of him, we shouldn’t wait any longer,” A man said.

The receiving team shot Rio and Comet and placed their bodies in the truck. Five men got into a black SUV and the other two men stepped into the cab of the truck. Jake climbed on top of the shipping container and when the truck passed his position, he jumped on it.

Luckily for Jake, that truck only drove to the other end of the airfield because he was barely hanging on with his fingertips. If they had driven any further, he would have fallen off. The truck pulled into a warehouse and the door closed behind it. From his elevated position Jake could not hear what the men were saying, but when the men removed their masks, he recognized two of them as CIA contactors. It didn’t matter now what had changed since he boarded the airplane back in Florida. Jake knew that these men had their own mission and killing him was part of it.

He had a “tell” (an unconscious action that foretold of a coming action.) Jake would take a deep breath and let out a long sigh of relief before initiating an attack; it helped him focus. He crawled inch-by-inch to the edge of the truck so as not to make a sound and looked down.

“I’m not looking forward to telling them that Condor got away,” the leader grumbled.

“At first light, we’ll track him down, don’t worry,” another man boasted.

“I’m very worried. He’s one of the best and could be anywhere.” The leader did not realize that he was standing within feet of their prey.

All seven men sat at a table, drinking beer while they waited to move out. Carefully positioning the barrel of his rifle, Jake opened fire and killed six men instantly and gravely wounded the leader. He jumped down from the top of the truck and bent down next to the wounded man who was coughing up blood. “I was right to be worried,” were the last words of the leader as he died.

Jake opened the back of the truck and climbed in. He took out his knife and slit the thick tarp to see what was so important that it was worth killing for. He got his answer when he saw hundred dollar bills in plastic wrap. Jake cut open the tarp on the other pallet and found 500 Euro notes (500-euro note is worth $682) similarly packaged.

He got in the truck, drove off the airfield then pulled out his cellphone and called a number, “This is Condor, three, niner, six hotel.”

The person on the other end repeated, “Three, niner, six, hotel, confirmed.”

Jake drove to the King Fahd Industrial Port in Yanbu on the Red Sea Coast. It is the largest port for loading crude oil, refined products, and petrochemicals in the Red Sea. The pallets were placed in a shipping container. A Saudi Arabian businessman handed paperwork to Jake, who in turn handed him a large bag of Euros.

The man looked inside the bag and smiled, “Very generous.”

“I was never here and you never saw me,” Jake ordered.

“Like always. Your paperwork gets you all the way to Zurich.”

Jake boarded the freighter and disembarked with the shipping container at the Port of La Spezia, the northernmost commercial port in Italy. He drove to Zurich Switzerland with the two pallets and met with several high-ranking employees from the Zurich Bank Group.

“We opened four accounts with 500 million dollars in each one,” the bank supervisor stated. “Just like you requested.”

“Thank you,” Jake replied.

“We have several security protocols. Please read this,” he said, handing Jake a 3 by 5 card.

“The weather is fair and clear in Zurich today,” Jake said slowly and clearly.

 An employee nodded and the bank supervisor said, “That’s for voice recognition.”

Another employee placed a special device up to Jake’s eyes. “That’s your optic scan.”

Another employee pressed a small device against Jake’s arm. “That’s a microdot.”

The bank supervisor gave Jake a cellphone. “This is a special encrypted phone, connecting directly to our call center. We are available 24 hours a day.” He handed Jake an ATM card. “You can use this at any bank in the world, we’ll maintain a hundred thousand dollars balance at all times.”

“What about major purchases like a house; how will that work?”

“Tell us what you want and we’ll purchase it using one of our numerous shell corporations. Nothing will be in your name, not even the utilities.”

An employee handed Jake a passport, a California driver’s license and a box of business cards: Du Rhône Chocolatier, Western Sales Manager. The name on all three was Alex McCall.

“If anybody should question you, we’ll verify your employment going back 15 years and family history back to your birth if someone ever does a background check on you. Do not worry; we have the best personnel at creating new identities. Considering your prior history with us and the significant balances in these accounts, we’ll only be assessing a two per cent yearly fee for our services. That will be 4 million dollars annually, is that acceptable to you?”

“If you maintain the same quality of your work and reputation for discretion and secrecy that I’ve come to expect, then I’ll have no problem with your fees,” Jake/ Alex replied.

“Enjoy your new life, Mr. McCall.”

It would have been considerably harder to explain a mission that resulted in the death of nine Americans and the disappearance of another one, than it was to ‘cook the books’ about two billion dollars being used in the battle against global terrorism. High ranking officials in the intelligence agency went into damage control, accepted their losses, and conspired to make sure that nothing led back to them.

*  *  *

Three years had passed and Alex McCall was now in Oceanside, California. When he first arrived, he couldn’t find a place where he wanted to live until he saw a new housing development being built in the farthest northeast quadrant of the city, which bordered Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. The homes ranged in size from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet on 12,000 square foot lots. Alex had the Swiss bank purchase three houses during the first phase of construction in a secluded cul de sac where all three backyards bordered government property. Working with the builder, Alex had everything upgraded in the homes and when it was completed, the total came to $6.7 million for all three. He had Johnson Interiors of Oceanside furnish all three houses. Each home got a state-of-the-art security system and a property management company to provide landscaping, maid service, and to deal with maintenance issues. Alex moved into the middle house and to his neighbors he was just a successful businessman.

Considering his vast wealth, Alex could have lived anywhere in the world, but he was an American and wanted to live in the country that he was willing to fight and die for. He had spent a lot of time in Coronado as well as at Camp Pendleton during training and developed a fondness for the Southern California climate. The ocean was nine miles to the west, not too far a drive, and the vast openness of the Marine base stretched all the way to San Clemente. It did get noisy at times from artillery practice and some of his neighbors thought it was a nuisance, but Alex had a different impression. It was the sound of freedom and music to his ears. In his life, Alex had acquaintances, associates and fellow operatives, but no close friends or family. It was the price he was required to pay to do his job and now that he was retired and in hiding, he was even less inclined to get close to anyone.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t friendly. Alex was always the first to extend a greeting when he saw someone in the neighborhood. It was a pleasant surprise to the covert operative that nobody was really that interested in him. When he was invited to a barbecue by a neighbor down the street, Alex brought ten boxes of imported chocolate with him. He passed them out to the guests to reinforce his cover, “I’ve been with the company about 15 years,” Alex responded when a woman asked him about the delicious confection she had just tasted.

As long as he had free samples to give out, most people were content to believe anything Alex said, never inquiring beyond questions about the luscious chocolates. Alex made sure that the bank in Switzerland sent him fifty pounds of various candies every week. Needless to say, Alex became very popular with the children and people with a sweet tooth in the neighborhood. When his freezer got too full, he’d take a load to Brother Benno’s homeless shelter. After a while many of his neighbors began calling him the “Candyman.” Considering some of the things that he had been called in the past, Candyman was just fine.

Some habits were too ingrained in him to even try to change, like knowing his environment and keeping weapons close by. Alex was not a gun collector; he was a craftsman, much like a carpenter or plumber who had specific tools for their jobs. He had a gun safe in his bedroom and weapons that served him well during his career. If he never had a reason to use them, that was fine with him too. There were 91 homes in his development with one through street and four cul de sacs. Alex liked to take a walk just before sunrise going up and down each street. and came to the conclusion that while some people were doing alright financially, others had leveraged themselves to maintain a lifestyle that was above their income. It was little things that he noticed that caused him to make these determinations. Maybe it was an older car or a minor repair to the house that had been ignored. It could even be grass that was longer than the neighbors. This indicated to Alex that maybe the gardeners were coming twice a month instead of on a weekly basis.

Alex was not the kind of man to interfere in anybody else’s life, but it gave him a sense of control to have a basic knowledge of those living around him. What was kind of strange and even funny was that he knew some people by their first name, Trish, George, Howard and others by their last names; Mr. Tanner, Mrs. Rowe, Mr. Graham, but didn’t know anyone by their first and last names.

While on one of his routine night walks at 11 p.m., with a small flashlight in his right hand, he turned down Vista Del Camino and passed a house that had the worst exterior appearance in the entire area. The grass was brown, the front hedge was uneven, and two palm trees needed trimming. When Alex saw an SUV parked in front with Nevada license plates, he pointed his flashlight at the windshield and saw four men inside it. One of men immediately stepped out and confronted him. He spoke with a heavy accent, “What are you doing?”

Alex recognized the accent as Albanian and responded, “Not much, what are you doing?’

“You need to go home now,” the man ordered.

Alex noticed that man’s right hand was resting on a holstered weapon, “As soon as I finish my walk.” Then he noticed two men exiting the house.

The man uttered an insult in his native language that Alex recognized as “idiot pig” as he walked off.

This was his neighborhood and Alex did not like these men in it. His special skills had remained dormant for so long that he wasn’t sure that they still existed. He was pleasantly surprised that when the man confronted him on that dark street, several different scenarios flashed through his mind on how to eliminate the threat. He made a call to the Swiss bank and found out the man living in the house owned an import and export business that ran into financial difficulty. It was on the verge of bankruptcy when an influx of capital saved him.

Alex put $5,000 in a leather pouch and drove over to the house and parked in the driveway. He knocked on the door and a woman in her thirties partially opened it enough for Alex to see that her left eye was swollen and purple, and red bruises were on her cheek and throat.

“Are you alright?” Alex asked.

“I had a car accident. Airbag you know,” the woman lied unconvincingly.

“Airbag…right. I found this last night in front of your house,” Alex handed the leather pouch to the woman who looked inside it.

She hesitated for a moment than called, “Liam, come here.”

A man whose face was also bruised opened the door a little wider. The woman handed the pouch to her husband, “He found this in front of our house last night.”

“It’s not ours,” Liam weakly replied.

“I noticed some men leaving your home, maybe it’s theirs. You could call them and ask.”

The man and women exchanged fearful glances, but did not respond. Alex sighed, “Besides your injuries, I have reason to believe that you might be in trouble.”

Neither person responded.

 “Let’s not waste time, I might be able to help you if you are,” Alex said. “Tell me about those men.”

Liam Robertson explained how he accepted a low-income loan from what he thought was a reputable lender and they basically took control of his business. When he complained, they sent men to beat him and his wife.

“Take this money and go on a trip. My cellphone phone number is in the bag, call me in a week and I’ll let you know if it’s safe to come back.”

 “Why do you want to help us?” Liam asked suspiciously.

“Did you ever see those commercials about companies that help you get out of timeshare contracts?”

Both the man and woman nodded and Alex continued, “That’s kind of what I do; get people out of contracts that are hard to break.”

“What is the cost for your help?” the man asked. “Are you going to take my company?”

Alex sighed, “Only one stipulation…you have never seen me and I was never here…agreed?”

“Agreed,” Liam responded.

“They said they would kill us if we went to the authorities,” the woman stammered.

“I’m not the authorities…far from it,” Alex responded.

Liam felt like a drowning man who had just been thrown a life preserver.

Two days later, Alex had gathered enough Intel about the Albanians to make his move. Unlocking his gun safe, he took out two pistols and an assault rifle then loaded them with ammunition. He drove to International Global Exports on Balboa Avenue in San Diego and took a package with him when he got out of his car. There were a dozen men standing around when Alex entered the building.

“I’m looking for the owner.”

A man came out of an office, “I’m in charge, what do you want?”

“I’m here to make sure everything is in order,” Alex replied.

“What are you talking about?” the man grumbled.

“Don’t be telling me that,” Alex handed the man his business card, “I’ve got a big trade show in a couple of days and shipments waiting in Switzerland. I gave my word to my bosses that this company could be trusted. Don’t make a liar out of me.”

The Albanians looked at each other in confusion so Alex pushed the issue, “You can wipe that stupid look off your faces. It’s too late for me to find another importer and if you can’t find a way to make this work then I’m going to sue you for damages and put you out of my business!”

The Albanians gathered around and discussed the problem.

“Mr. Robertson just arrived and has everything taken care of it. He wants to see you in the warehouse.”

Alex knew that was a lie, but he played along, “That’s what I wanted to hear. Lead the way.”

He followed four thuggish men to the rear of the warehouse, “Where’s Robertson?”

When one of the men reached for his weapon, Alex was faster getting to his and shot the four men and three more on his way back to the office. When he came through the door, he saw the man who assigned him the mission to deliver the currency several years earlier and instinctively knew that he was the one who betrayed him. Now he was involved with these criminals.

The man looked at Alex and swallowed hard, “Condor.”

The Albanian leader was puzzled, “You know this person?”

 “Top Tier Operator, Code Name Condor.”

They exchanged wary glances, much like opposing gunfighters in the Old West.

Make it easy on yourself,” Alex said, but when they reached for their weapons, he shot everybody in the office including his former associate. He quickly holstered his weapon, ripped off the brown wrapping paper from the package, exposed his assault weapon, and fired a long automatic burst of gunfire, killing the rest of the Albanian gangsters.

Alex later ordered the bank to purchase the outstanding debt of the import business and provide enough customers to bring it back to profitability. He never met with the Robertsons again, even though he lived on the next street. The former operative was sitting in his living room watching the evening news when he heard the story about the Camp Pendleton Marine that was kidnapped by a drug cartel while visiting his ill grandfather in Mexico. There was the customary long sigh before Alex got up from the couch and prepared to leave the next morning.


A Fragile Commodity

posted Sep 8, 2019, 3:55 PM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Sep 8, 2019, 3:57 PM ]

John Edward Donovan (November 13, 1891–December 5, 1963) was an American gangster, bootlegger and enforcer for organized crime before becoming a film studio executive and producer. He is best remembered for his work protecting Hollywood stars as a “fixer,” a person paid to disguise details of these individuals’ colorful, distasteful, and sometimes illegal private lives to maintain their public personas.

Johnny “Not Come Lately” Donovan, as he was called by those in the industry, maintained detailed records of every case he ever worked on. He did it to protect himself from those who thought he had become too powerful. Johnny made it emphatically clear that if anything happened to him, he wouldn’t go down alone. It was ironic that his worse enemies often became his fiercest protectors.

Johnny was always on call; it could be a hand delivered message from a studio head or a frantic phone call from a hysterical star. He was a unique man who operated under his own set of rules and used every trick in the book, including using cash and various products to buy off police, politicians, and reporters. Johnny also had connections to hardened criminals who were willing to beat, threaten, and even eliminate uncooperative individuals for a price. Not every star wanted help though. When closeted actor Boris Asher refused to keep up his sham marriage, Johnny greenlighted an article in Screenland Magazine about Asher’s drug use and preference for deviant behavior, and the aspiring actor’s career was subsequently destroyed.

Perhaps the wildest example of Johnny’s intricate work was a famous movie star’s adoption of her own biological daughter. The actress became pregnant by her costar while filming the movie The Wilderness Calls, but she was Catholic and refused to have an abortion. The studio sent her into hiding and told the press she was on extended vacation. When the actress missed her sister’s wedding, reporters went into a frenzy of speculation. Johnny arranged for an interview with Beau Canter, a journalist at MoviePlay who was on his payroll.

“How do you want to do this?” Beau suspiciously asked.

“Like normal,” Johnny replied.

“Like normal?” Beau repeated. “You need to be a little more specific.”

“Don’t ask any health-related questions and don’t assume anything,” Johnny's words were a warning that Beau immediately picked up.

“Oh, that kind of normal,” Beau countered.

 Johnny responded, “Be expecting a little extra this month if you do this right.”

During the interview, the actress remained in a bed piled high with strategically placed pillows and blankets for the interview. A studio nurse was sent in several times to replace a prop intravenous bottle. Beau Canter was an astute reporter and he had a pretty good idea what was going on, but he went along with the subterfuge. One thing he knew for sure was you didn’t double-cross Johnny Donovan and live long enough not to regret it. After the actress gave birth to a daughter, the baby girl stayed at a bungalow with a family in Oceanside, California for several months, then was placed in an orphanage in Vista, California at the appropriate time.

The actress publicly announced that she planned to adopt an orphan child and Johnny planned every aspect of the elaborate story so that the actress could adopt her biological child without arousing any suspicions. The truth only came out two decades later when the actress’ memoirs were printed after her death.

When one of the studio’s top actors would go on an alcoholic bender, bartenders were told to call Johnny any time of the day or night and he would have one of his men pick up the inebriated star before he could create a disturbance, get arrested or cause any negative publicity that even Johnny couldn’t cover up. He also helped cover up Joan Crawford’s involvement in X-rated movies, Errol Flynn’s lecherous ways, George (Superman) Reeves’ mysterious death, Judy Garland’s eating disorder and drug addiction, Howard Hughes reckless directing of a movie that caused the deaths of three pilots and one mechanic, and Charlie Chaplin’s marriages to underage girls.

The notorious fixer married a studio dancer in 1946 after returning from World War II combat in the Pacific. They had a son and two daughters who went into the family business. The entertainment industry was changing and Johnny decided if there was going to be any future and financial security for his family, he would have to change with it. He opened a public relations firm that gave the appearance of propriety and incorporated new ideas from his children. That didn’t mean that Donovan didn’t blur the lines between legal and illegal with clients and adversaries whenever the situations warranted.

The infamous John Donovan passed away on June 7, 1969 from a variety of physical ailments that were magnified in severity by enough stress to kill a dozen men. He was buried next to Rudolph Valentino in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and none of his clients showed up for the funeral. They were too afraid of being associated with him. His oldest son Edward took control of the family business and expanded it to include the business and political sectors. Instead of delegating authority and learning from the errors of his father, Edward worked incessantly and died from a massive heart attack while visiting a movie director who got into trouble with the Italian authorities while shooting a movie in Rome in 1981.

His daughter, Stephanie who had just graduated from SMU law school, stepped into the leadership role. She got married in 1988 to a real estate broker and had three children of her own. Her husband Victor had a serious gambling addiction and, to pay off some of his debts to some nefarious gamblers and big time bookies, he began trading confidential information of the Donovan Agency to his debtors. When Stephanie found out her husband’s betrayal, she had to make a serious decision to protect the family and its legacy of discreetness. Two weeks later, Victor drowned off the coast of Dana Point when he slipped and hit his head on the deck of the boat one dark night and fell overboard. The investigators concluded it was accidental drowning. Stephanie was asleep below deck at the time…supposedly.

With the help of some powerful New York underworld figures, Stephanie bought back the stolen materials and negotiated a deal to pay off her husband’s debts for ten cents on the dollar. She made it emphatically clear, “This concludes your business with the Donovan family and if any of this information ever becomes public, I will have all of you killed. There is no statute of limitations on this deal.”

The gamblers and bookmakers knew that Stephanie Donovan was not bluffing.

Paul and Ava went into the family business without argument, it was just a natural progression for them. But Stephanie’s youngest child, Roy was a different story. Even as a young boy he was always strong-willed, almost to the point of defiance, if he believed in something. Stephanie was an expert at manipulating situations and people, but had long ago accepted the harsh reality that it was a useless endeavor to try and convince Roy to enter the family business and if she pushed the issue, he would leave. She wished she could have said she was surprised, but that would have been a lie when Roy said to her after graduating from high school, “I’m joining the Marines.”

“That’s it, no discussion, no hey mom, what’s your opinion?”

“You start questioning my decisions and I’ll have to start questioning yours. I’m pretty sure we don’t want to go down that path. It will be all downhill from there,” Roy smiled mischievously.

“Do you ever wish that we weren’t born into this kind of life?”

“That is the question that pertains more to you than it does to me,” Roy said, “You’ve given me options, I’m sorry that grandfather didn’t show you the same courtesy.”

Stephanie kissed her son on the cheek, “It is what it is. Life happens while we’re out making other plans. Of course looking back on my life, I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.”

“You’re a credit to the Donovan Code.” There was a mixture of sarcasm and truth in Roy’s statement.

Eight years later, Roy was out of the Marine Corps after serving three combat tours. He was back in the family business, with one serious stipulation; the Marine Corps had instilled in him a code that was even stronger than the one he was raised with. His brother Paul and sister Ava were meeting with their mother in the conference room.

“How come Roy gets to pick what cases that he wants to be involved in and we’re stuck with whatever you give us?” Paul asked.

“You ask me that question every time you’re having trouble with a client,” Stephanie responded. “Your brother has a special set of skills that only works to our advantage in certain situations. Who’s the client that has you all riled up?”

“George Pittman refuses to listen to anything I tell him. Instead of letting things cool down, he’s back on his Twitter account criticizing the judge, the district attorney, and the entire legal system,” Paul grumbled.

“He’s right, our contact in the D.A.’s office was ready to misplace some key evidence, but now he’s too nervous to make a move,” Ava added.

“Set up a meeting with Pittman and his lawyer. I’ll lay it out plain and simple for him. If he’s wants to do it his way, we’ll cut him loose and he’s on his own,” Stephanie vowed, “There’s the Donovan’s way and then there’s the highway. Our clients only get to choose one.”

When she noticed Roy standing outside, she said, “Get on it, I need to talk to your brother.”

Paul and Ava smiled at their younger brother who was wearing workout clothes.

“It’s a good thing we don’t have a dress code around here,” Paul quipped.

Roy playfully rubbed his hand through his brother’s neatly combed hair, “Not all of us are Nordstrom regulars.”

“Don’t mess with my hair!” Paul pushed Roy against the wall.

“Boys, play later…work now,” Stephanie smiled.

After Roy entered the room, his mother closed the soundproof door. “We are representing a client whose daughter was an aspiring actress. She was beaten and drugged by Joshua Feingold, the big-time movie producer at a party at his mansion in Hidden Hills. She had to be hospitalized for three broken ribs and internal injuries.”

“Feingold is a well-connected poisonous spider,” Roy said. “And his web entangles a lot of powerful people, some of those people are former and current clients. Have you thought about that?”

“Our loyalty is to this girl and the hell with the others. They knew the risks by getting involved with Feingold. We owe them nothing, not even a warning. Feingold has always been able to buy his way out of his previous indiscretions, but this time when he offered the family a six-figure settlement, they filed charges instead. Usually he preys on vulnerable girls who are either too poor to stand up to him or so desperate to make it in the movie industry that they’ll let him get away with anything. This family is extremely wealthy and will not be intimidated.”

“Sounds like a good family,” Roy said. “What’s the current status?”

“The girl has been taken and the family received a call that unless the charges are dropped, she isn’t coming back,” Stephanie explained.

“Even if they agree, Feingold knows that they can always refile once she’s released and back home,” Roy reminded his mother.

“I didn’t want to tell them that. They have enough to worry about.”

Stephanie pushed a folder across the table. “Right now Feingold is buying himself enough time to plan his escape to a country with no extradition where he can pay off the politicians. The girl will have no value after those plans are finalized. The clock is ticking: tick, tick, tock. Get her back and we’ll figure the rest out after that.”

“Any particular instructions?”

“Just one.”

“What’s that?”

“Do what you do best,” Stephanie smiled. “I got a lead on where she is being held.”

“Roger that,” Roy picked up the folder and left the room.

*  *  *

The well-guarded mansion was on the outskirts of Cabo San Lucas in a small village called Arriba de la Roca. One by one, the guards were dispatched without a sound. Twenty–two year-old Patricia Winton was in a locked bedroom on the second floor. She heard a sound outside the door, rolled over on her back and listened more closely. When she didn’t hear anything else, she closed her eyes. Suddenly a hand covered her mouth and a reassuring voice whispered, “Let’s go.”

Three hours later, Patricia Winton and her rescuer Roy Donovan arrived at the three-story beachfront home in Oceanside that was titled under a bogus shell company.

“Did my parents send you?” Patricia asked.

“Actually my boss sent me after your parents asked my agency to get you back from your captors,” Roy responded.

“When I am going home?” Patricia asked.

“That might be a while.”

“I’m still in danger, aren’t I?”

Roy handed Patricia a manila envelope with her new identification, Kelli Taylor, that included a driver’s license, ATM cards, and keys to a BMW convertible. “Until we’re sure that the situation has been resolved, it’s best if you live down here and go by this name at all times.”

“I should contact my family to tell them I’m safe,” Patricia said.

“They’ve already been notified,” Roy answered.

“What happens if I don’t want to stay here?”

“Then you are free to leave, the locks are on the inside, not the outside. It’s not my job to protect someone who doesn’t want it. Remember if you go back now, you’ll endanger your own life and your family’s as well. These are very dangerous and powerful men that we’re dealing with. They have serious addiction issues and you are a serious threat to their deviant lifestyle.”

“When you put it that way, I guess it isn’t so bad around here. What’s for dinner?” Patricia asked.

“The refrigerator is stocked or you can call Doordash,” Ray suggested. “Make yourself at home, you could be here a while.”

Joshua Feingold was out on ten million dollars bail and meeting with a group of politicians, businessmen and entertainers that were part of his inner circle. He was both angry and fearful as he ranted and raved about the situation. “If this girl testifies then it will encourage the others to come forward. Is she back with her family?”

Donald Hughes replied, “We’ve got our best people on it, but so far, no sight of her. The only thing we know for sure is that 11 armed men were terminated and not one of them was able to sound the alarm. That is highly impressive work.”

“Save the compliments for your Twitter account. Find her!” Feingold screamed.

*  *  *

The best efforts of Feingold’s hired thugs had failed and they were no closer to finding Patricia Winton now than they were six months ago. Little did they know that she had transitioned into her alias with amazing ease and made new friends in the Oceanside/Carlsbad areas. She thought less and less about the traumatic incident back at Feingold’s mansion, but one night a vivid nightmare came back to haunt her. She woke up screaming and Roy was there in an instant to console and comfort her.

Roy continued to work on other cases, but made it a point to check in on Patricia on a regular basis either by phone or in person. Sometimes they would have dinner or go down to the beach for long walks along the water’s edge. There was no mistaking that a connection was developing between them, but two things happened that changed the current situation. Patricia’s grandfather became seriously ill and she wanted to see him before he passed away and the U.S. Attorney in New York found another female victim who was willing to come forward and testify. Feingold’s bail was revoked and he was placed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City under 24-hour surveillance.

“The time for hiding is over, I can’t let that girl testify alone,” Patricia vowed.

Once Feingold realized that Patricia Winton was coming out of hiding, he paid a Russian mercenary and his associates to help him escape before the trial. Five men disguised in correctional officers’ uniforms were parked down the street from the jail in Manhattan and were ready to make their assault. A city worker in an orange vest and hardhat approached their car and knocked on the driver’s side window. The man rolled lowered it and asked, “Yeah what?”

Roy pulled out his pistol with the noise suppressor and shot all five men in less than two seconds. Feingold was nervously pacing in his cell when Roy dressed in a correctional officer’s uniform opened his cell door. Feingold smiled, “Let’s get out of this place, my jet is ready to go.”

Jail officials found Feingold’s body the next morning, dead from an apparent suicide with a rope tied around his neck and the other end around his cot. Roy told Patricia, upon his return from the East Coast, “I know you wanted to face him in court, but the wrath of God will have to do. He was never going to make it to trial, Feingold was either going to escape or be killed by his accomplices. This way he went out on our terms. The good news is that you can go back to your family.”

Patricia was visibly disappointed for more than one reason, “Will I see you again?”

“Maybe,” Roy smiled.

*  *  *

The plane landed at St. Thomas and Roy met with several men. They drove to the harbor and boarded a boat and headed to a private island nicknamed “Little Saint Josh.” Roy disembarked in the middle of the night and made his way along the shore to the mansion on the hill where a party was in progress. The other men on the beach guarded the area until they heard the sound of gunfire and saw Roy coming toward them a few minutes later. The sky was aglow in shades of oranges and reds as flames engulfed the massive structure.

Patricia Winton was celebrating her 23rd birthday at her family’s vacation home in Pismo Beach when Roy made a surprise appearance. When she saw him, Patricia rushed into his arms and gave him a passionate kiss.

*  *  *

 Roy returned to the Donovan offices on Monday and his mother met him at the front door.

“Good job, son.”


“I heard you showed up at Patricia Winton’s birthday party.”

“Just making sure she was alright,” Roy replied defensively. “It is called customer service.”

“Is that what they call it?” Stephanie kissed her son on the cheek and walked off.

Roy called to her, “I’m a former Marine who comes from a long line of Fixers.”

“Love is a fragile commodity, protect it at all costs!”

He could hear his mother’s laughter as she entered her office, and her warning, “Make this one count because I’ll fire you the next time you get involved with a client.”

Welcome Back Molly

posted Aug 29, 2019, 1:49 PM by Bruce Rowe

Staff Sergeant Nick Morrison was deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and assigned to Camp Dwyer in the Gamir district of the Helmand River Valley. His recon team came under attack from small arms and light anti-tank weapons when a large group of Taliban fighters ambushed them as they were scouting for an infantry platoon along a mountain trail. The Marines instinctively dived for cover and returned fire as bullets peppered the area and explosions shook the ground.


Nick crouched down and used his combat experience from three previous tours to evaluate the situation.  It took him less than five seconds to come up with a plan.

First, he ran back 50 yards in a zigzag pattern to make himself a more difficult target for enemy shooters. When he reached the platoon company commander, Lieutenant Jim Keane was lying flat on the ground with his radioman next to him.

“My men will hold them off…we’ll regroup at those rocks,” Nick pointed to a cluster of boulders on the right flank.

This was Lt. Keane’s first experience in combat and his heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to pop out of his chest. The savvy NCO placed a reassuring right hand on the young Marine Corps officer’s shoulder and reiterated calmly, “Get to those rocks, we’ll figure the rest out from there.”

 “Why don’t we just call in air support?” Lt. Keane nervously asked as bullets whizzed overhead.

 “We need to get out of the open first,” Nick responded. “Or we’ll get killed by friendly fire.”

After SSgt. Morrison returned to his men, he signaled Lt. Keane that it was time to make his move. When the infantry platoon ran for the boulders, Nick and his men opened fire while throwing hand grenades between reloading. When the Marines reached cover, Nick yelled at his men, “GO! I’m right behind you.”

The four recon Marines raced off and when Nick started to follow, he was shot through his right calf and fell to the ground. He looked at his wound and knew that he would never make it to the rocks. He picked up the radio and pressed the numbers on the keypad that emitted a radar beacon, then yelled out, “Danger on my position.”

Three F-18 Hornets locked in on the beacon and let loose with their missiles just as the Taliban fighters were about ready to overrun his position. It was the longest three minutes of Nick’s life as the aircraft unleashed hellfire on the area.  It seemed that every time there was an explosion, his body bounced three feet in the air with the last missile knocking him unconscious.

Nick knew that he wanted to wake up, but his eyelids would not work. His body was not taking orders from his brain. Finally after using all his willpower, he got his eyelids to flutter and eventually open. When he looked around, everything was hazy and unfamiliar. A nurse walked by, stopped at his bed and flashed him a big smile, “It is good to see you awake, Staff Sergeant.”

 “How long have I been out?”

 “Two days,” the nurse answered.

 “Where exactly am I?”

 “Bagram Military Hospital.”

Morrison grimaced as he rubbed his head, “I’ve got the sergeant major of all headaches.”

 “Just relax,” the nurse encouraged.

 “I think I’m going to throw up.”

The nurse quickly grabbed a plastic basin and held it out for Nick as he leaned over the edge of the bed and relieved himself.

 “Thank you, ma’am,” Nick weakly responded.

SSgt. Morrison recovered from his leg wound, but the symptoms of his (TBI) traumatic brain injury lingered, even after he returned to Camp Pendleton. At one time or another, he found himself confused or disoriented, experiencing headaches, with a loss of balance, and nauseated. Nick’s sleep patterns were also jumbled, sometimes he would stay awake all night and fall asleep at the strangest times, like while he was eating lunch. Nick was placed in a cognitive rehabilitation program that focused on improving his thinking and communication skills such as problem solving, planning, and memory.

It was very frustrating to a warrior who was used to making life and death split second decisions to have to plan so many things in advance, then refer to his pocket calendar on a regular basis to double-check his schedule.

Nick was assigned to the Wounded Warrior barracks on base and diligently adhered to the treatment protocol that was prescribed because he was bound and determined to get better and back to his unit. After six weeks, his counselor, Maria Larson determined that he had made enough progress to move to the next level of his treatment plan.

“Have you ever thought about living off base?” the counselor asked.

 “Not lately, why?” Morrison responded.

“You’re in a controlled environment here on base. Living off base will give you the opportunity to slowly acclimate to the civilian world.”

 “I see where you’re coming from. You don’t think I’m going to fully recover, do you? You want to make sure when I get the infamous heave ho from the Corps that I’m not a danger to the friendlies.”

 “I don’t make those decisions and you shouldn’t either. I’m here to help you get through the program, so let’s just take it one step at a time.”

 “Point taken,” Nick replied, “The most important step is the next one.”

 “We have a list of people who rent to veterans dealing with medical and readjustment issues. I took it upon myself to contact a retired couple about your particular situation. I thought you would be a good match. They live in the Rancho Del Oro area of Oceanside and have a small granny flat in the back of their property. The Marine who was living there moved back to Nebraska.”

*  *  *

Peter and Kristin Travers lived along the rear boundary of their housing development, on top of a hill overlooking a canyon where the San Luis Rey River ran. Nick pressed the doorbell and a man in his mid-sixties answered it.

“Excuse me sir. I had an appointment at 1400 hours. My name is Nick Morrison.”

“I’m Peter Travers. Please come in.”

Nick entered and a woman exited the kitchen with an inviting smile on her face, “Staff Sergeant Morrison, welcome to our home. Please have a seat.”

 “Thank you ma’am.”

 “Maria Larson told us a little about you and your situation, maybe you can tell us a little more,” Peter suggested.

 “Yes sir I could do that, but it might save some time if you just ask me what you want to know and I’ll tell you,” Morrison said.

 “Do you smoke?” Peter asked.

 “No sir.”


 “I assume you mean alcoholic beverages. No sir, I do not. I never developed a taste for it either socially or medicinally. I don’t even drink coffee.”

 “What about your family?” Kristin asked.

 “I was adopted by a nice couple when I was three years old. They were killed in a car accident while I was on my first deployment.”

 “I’m sorry for your loss”

 “Thank you ma’am.”

“Why don’t we take a look at the rental,” Peter suggested.

Nick followed the couple to a flower lined concrete walkway in the rear of the main house that led to the small structure.

When Peter opened the door, the 600 square foot living space was completed furnished, including towels, silverware, and linen. Nick was visibly impressed, “This is really nice, it’s like a five-star hotel room.”

 “We built it for our son,” Kristen’s voiced trailed off.

 “He was a Marine officer who was killed in action, two months before he was due to come home. He had been accepted to the MBA program at Cal State, San Marcos. We had this built so that he could be close to home and still have his own space,” Peter said.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” Nick put his hand over his heart and whispered, “Semper Fi.”

 “Thank you,” Kristin said.

 “What does a place like this rent for?” Nick asked.

“We’re asking $850 per month,” Peter answered.

“I’ve been gone for a while, but what I hear from the other Marines on base, rents are very high around here. I’m sure you can get a lot more than that for a great place like this.”

 “It’s not about the money, it’s about giving back to those who have given so much. That amount is more than enough for us to maintain the place and cover the utilities,” Kristin replied.

The couple accompanied Nick back to his truck and he said, “Thank you for taking the time to show me your place. Sir, ma’am.”

 “We’ll notify Maria about our decision,” Peter added.

 “Yes sir. I understand this is more than a rental to you, it is your home. Whatever you decide, I appreciate that you would even consider me,” Nick smiled.

As Nick drove off, Peter turned to his wife, “Does that Marine remind you of anyone?”

 “You saw it too.”

Kristen wiped a tear from her eye as she thought about their deceased son. Her husband put a consoling arm around her shoulder.

*  *  *

The Travers contacted Maria and told her that if Nick still wanted the place, it was his.

When Nick moved in, he treated the small granny flat with the utmost respect. He was so concerned about the Travers’ peace and quiet that he bought wireless headphones so when he watched television, there would be so no sound to disturb them. Over the first few weeks, he intently watched the routine of the Travers and then without being asked, he began doing chores around the property like placing the trash and recyclable containers at curbside on the appropriate days.  

When Nick saw Kristin working on her property it was easy to tell the great pride she took in its appearance, so every morning before he went to the base, Nick inspected the area, pulled any weeds and swept the walkways. His behavior did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by his landlords.

Kristin knocked on the door one evening with a casserole bowl in her hands. When Nick opened it she said, “I hope that I’m not disturbing you.”

 “Never, ma’am.”

 “You can call me, Kristin.”

 “I’ll work on that ma’am,” Nick smiled.

 “I made you a chicken, spinach, and mushroom casserole to thank you for the work you’ve been doing around here,” Kristin said.

 “That’s not necessary ma’am, I’m happy to help out any way that I can.”

Kristin looked around the granny flat and nothing had changed since Nick moved in. It was spotless and everything was exactly where she had placed it.  If she didn’t know better, she would have thought it was still vacant.

“You’re allowed to add some personal touches of your own, photos and pictures on the wall, things like that. This is supposed to be your home.”

“It was fine just the way you had it,” Nick shrugged.

Two weeks later, during one of his counseling sessions, Maria said, “You’ve really impressed the Travers.”

 “Are you checking up on me?” Nick asked.

 “That’s kind of what I do around here,” Maria smiled.

 “They’re good people who are easily impressed,” Nick dismissed the issue.

“They told me you look for things to do to help out around the property.”

 “Pulling a few weeds or pushing a trash container to the curb hardly qualifies me for a good conduct medal,” Nick grumbled.

 “Maybe you’re just good guy? Have you thought about that?”

 “Not even close.”

 “How have you been feeling?”

 “On the record, I’m fit and ready for duty.”

“And off?”

 “The same problems, just not as often,” Nick sighed. “I know this is a marathon and not a sprint, but I’m getting impatient to be normal again.”

 “You may have to adjust to a new normal.”

“I know…let me see how close I can get to where I used to be, and then maybe I’ll have a better idea of what I’m willing to settle for.”

 “Let me run something by you. Do you like dogs?”

“Yeah, why? I also like apple pie and the star and stripes. Is this a test?”

“One of the other counselors started a therapy program at the base shelter working with the dogs.”

“Are you asking me if I want to clean kennels?” Nick joked.

“It’s more than that.”

Nick never looked at any job as being beneath him. When he arrived at the base shelter in Area 25 Vada Del Rio, he remembered what one of his high school teachers once said and it had served him well in the Corps: “It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how well you do it.”

*  *  *

The first time he saw her, Nick knew she was a special dog so he asked Corporal Hefferdon, the Marine assigned to the shelter, about her.

“What’s with the dog in kennel 13?” 

 “You mean Molly? She came in as a stray about three months ago,” Cpl. Hefferdon answered, “She’s either really mellow or depressed. She likes to stay to herself.”

When Nick took Molly out to the exercise area, he found she was extremely intelligent and clever, taking to tricks and commands in minutes rather than days, and was already well-trained with basic commands. Whoever lost her or abandoned her had spent a lot of time with training, which is another thing that made Nick think she wasn’t just some random mutt.

The veterinarian told him that Molly was a cross between a Belgian Malinois and a Pitbull. She had the head shape and snout of a Pitbull with tufts of hair running down her neck, ending in little swirl-like patterns on each side. Her coat was perfect and symmetrical, and the vet added, “She must be a mix of two full-stock dogs because mixed breeds usually have at least one flaw in their coat, while hers is flawless.”

Molly had an orangish/fawn color with streaks of black in her tail.

Over time, Nick and Molly developed a connection. What was even more amazing was that whenever he was with her, Nick felt normal again. This unique dog emitted some kind of healing power that literally obliterated the symptoms of his traumatic brain injury. He became so addicted to feeling good again that he spent most of his time at the animal shelter, even sleeping in the kennel with Molly at night.

When the Travers hadn’t seen Nick in several days, they called Maria, worried that something might have happened to him. Nick explained his behavior to his counselor.

“If I ask the Travers about bringing a dog home and they say no, then I’m going to be upset, and I don’t want to be upset with people who have been so kind and generous to me. On the other hand, I don’t want to put them in a position where they say yes because they feel sorry for me. I thought the best solution was just to stay away. At least for the time being until I could find another place to live.”

“Those are valid concerns, but did you know that the Marine who lived there before you had a therapy dog?” Maria asked.

 “I do now.”

*  *  *

It was hard not to love Molly, she was the sweetest dog and adapted well to her new surroundings. She was quiet as Nick and hardly ever barked. Every time she saw Peter or Kristen, she would run up to them with her tail wagging. This intuitive dog knew exactly when somebody needed her attention and when to stay away.

*  *  *

The precocious seven-year-old girl stayed with her grandmother after school until her divorced mother got off work and then they would go back to their apartment on Vista Way.

Nick was in the driveway one afternoon cleaning his Toyota pick-up and Molly was lying in the grass near him. The young girl walked across the street and introduced herself, “I’m Riley.”

Nick smiled, “I’m Nick and this is Molly.”

 “May I pet your dog?”


In less than two minutes Riley was lying in the grass and cuddling with Molly, “My grandmother has a dog, but it’s kind of old and doesn’t like to do much. I really like your dog.”

 “I can tell she likes you too. Anytime Molly is around, I’m sure she would appreciate your company, right Molly?”

Molly barked and went up on her hind legs to show her agreement.

Over the next few months, Riley would finish her homework, look for Nick’s truck, then come over to play with Molly. Nick never mentioned it, but he a made it a point to be home at the same time Riley was at her grandmother’s. One afternoon Riley took off her bandana and tied it around the neck of Molly, “This is for you, so you won’t ever forget me.”

Nick commented, “You don’t need to worry about that. You’re one of her best friends.”

*  *  *

It was just before sunrise and Riley had stayed overnight at her grandmother’s because her mother Julie was out of town on a business trip. She heard the sound of the newspaper hitting the driveway and decided to get it for her grandmother. Riley opened the front door and her grandmother’s poodle Betsy ran out, “Come back here!”

Riley chased Betsy across the street and when she turned around she saw three coyotes eyeing her and the ten pound dog, “Aw hell,” Riley cursed under her breath.

Molly sensed trouble and went to the door and growled, Nick was already awake, “We’re going to the park. Just hold on, I’ll be right with you.”

Molly would not be denied and when Nick opened the door to the yard, she raced out and leaped over the five-foot fence. Nick didn’t even bother to put on his shoes before he chased after her. The coyotes had cornered Riley and the poodle and were ready to make their coordinated attack.  Molly hit the largest coyote at full speed and knocked him off his feet, sending him rolling down the sidewalk. The other two coyotes barred their fangs as the poodle ran under a car. Molly attacked both of them with such ferocity that they ran off in a full sprint. 

There was enough commotion to wake up the entire neighborhood and when Riley’s grandmother came out her front door, the first things she saw was her granddaughter on the ground and Molly growling menacingly next to her. Lois Anderson’s first reaction was that Riley was being attacked by Molly instead of being protected by her. She screamed out in panic, “Get away from her!” When she saw Nick, she turned her wrath on him, “Get your dog! Get your dog!”

Riley tried to explain, but her grandmother was too hysterical to listen. Her dog Betsy was so fearful that it took her several minutes to coax her out from under the car. The little dog cut herself on the undercarriage of the vehicle and when Lois Anderson saw the blood, she assumed that Molly had done it and this further enraged her, “What is wrong with you? Your dog is a menace!”

Lois Anderson filed complaints with the Oceanside Police Department and the Humane Society. She threatened to file civil litigation against the Travers if they didn’t immediately evict Nick.  When Riley tried to explain what actually happened, her grandmother thought she was lying to protect Molly and refused to listen. The situation had escalated to the point where Nick knew that he had to leave. He told the Travers, “I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me, but there would be too much negative energy and conflict in the neighborhood if I stayed. I’ll be gone before nightfall.”

Riley was so angry with her grandmother for forcing Nick and Molly out of the neighborhood that she wrote a note one day after school. Molly saved me and Betsy. If you won’t believe me then I’m leaving, Riley.  She filled up her backpack with snacks and some extra clothes, climbed over the back fence and disappeared into the canyon.


Nick was cleaning up around the shelter with Molly by his side when he passed by the office and saw the television broadcasting that a young girl in Oceanside had vanished.  When he looked closer, he recognized the neighborhood and then realized that the missing girl was Riley!

The street was cordoned off with law enforcement personnel when Nick arrived with Molly. Lois Anderson began screaming when she saw him, “It’s your fault! It’s your fault!”

Nick immediately drove away and parked around the corner where he could not be seen. He took the bandana out of the glove compartment and asked Molly, “Do you think you can find her?”

Molly barked and nodded her head. Nick placed the bandana under Molly’s nose, “I know the scent is old, but it’s all we have.”

He tied the bandana around her neck and let her out of the vehicle. Molly waited until Nick was ready, then took off looking for an access to the canyon.

Riley had walked for five hours then changed her mind and turned around to return to her grandmother’s. The four men stepped out from the dense foliage and blocked her path

“Where you going, little girl,” the biggest man glared.

Nick and Molly made good time and when he came across the small encampment along the riverbed, his combat senses were on hyper alert. The four men were sitting around a campfire and one of the men commented, “You a Marine?”

 “Yes sir.”

The second man snarled, “Are you lost? The base is about five mile north of here. Did you break your little compass?”

When Nick looked at Molly, she was focused on a small tent about ten feet behind the men, “I’m not lost, I’m looking for a lost girl.”

The four slowly began reaching for weapons One pulled a thick-bladed knife from its scabbard, another had his hand on an aluminum baseball bat and the other two had large wooden clubs.

 “We haven’t seen her,” the first man lied.

 “You don’t mind if I look inside your tent?” Nick asked.

 “Yeah we do,” the second man answered.

“Then we’re going have a problem.”

The four men stood up and encircled Nick and Molly.

 “Are you ready to die, Marine?” The third man joked.

 “Marines are always prepared to die. It comes with the job.”

Nick’s words were icy cold and right at this very moment. The four men realized they made a serious mistake, but it too late to turn back now.

The man with the knife lunged forward and Nick grabbed his wrist and turned the knife around and drove it into the man’s heart, then pulled it out and threw it at one of the other men, striking him in the forehead. Molly leaped at the man with the baseball bat who was ready to swing it at Nick. She clamped down on his throat, crushing his windpipe. The fourth man begged for mercy, “Don’t kill me.”

Molly ran to the tent and ripped it open with her teeth. Riley was tied and gagged. Nick released her and she embraced Molly with tears of joy in her eyes, “I knew you’d find me.”

Nick called 911 on his cellphone and the police arrived within ten minutes. When one police officer looked at the three dead men, he asked, “What happened to these guys?”

“Their arrogance wrote a check that their abilities couldn’t cash,” Nick shrugged.

“I can buy that.”

A helicopter landed and Riley’s mother and grandmother exited the aircraft. They were met by the search commander, “The man who found them is right over here.”

When he turned around, Nick and Molly were gone.

“He was here a minute ago with his dog.”

*  *  *

Maria called Nick to her office three days later.

“You wanted to see me,” Nick said.

 “The Travers called and would like you to come by their house at 1400 hours on Saturday,” Maria said.

 “Did they say what they wanted?”

 “No, but they said to bring Molly.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

 “Maybe they just want to say goodbye to her. You owe them that much.”

 “I do.”

 “Be on time.”

“When have I been late?”

Nick left Molly in the truck, walked to the front door of the Travers’ home, and rang the doorbell. Peter and Kristin quickly walked out.

 “You wanted to see me?”

 “Let’s take a walk,” Kristin suggested.

Peter opened the door to the truck as they passed it. “Molly is going to want to see this too.”

They walked down to the corner and crossed the street.

“Are we going to the dog park?” Nick asked.

 “You’ll see,” Kristin responded coyly.

*  *  *

Palisades Dog Park was filled with men, women, children, and dogs. As soon as they saw Nick and Molly, everyone began cheering and applauding.

 “The neighborhood wanted to show their appreciation,” Kristin said.

A familiar voice called out and Molly took off in a full sprint and found Riley in the crowd and began licking her face. Lois Anderson walked over, “I hope you’ll accept my apology. I overreacted to the situation and was so scared that I wasn’t thinking straight. I should have known that Molly would never hurt Riley.”

 “No problem, ma’am. Everything worked out for the best.”

Julie Anderson walked over and gave Nick a big, emotional hug, “Thank you so much for saving my daughter. She told me she knew you and Molly would find her.”

Nick sat at the main table with Riley and her family as everybody enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and ribs with all the fixings. There was even a dog cake for Molly and the other dogs, made from peanut butter, eggs, applesauce, grated carrots, and a touch of honey.

Riley leaned over and whispered in Nick’s ear, “My mother has been looking for a good man. I put in a good word for you.”

When everybody had finished eating, Riley walked to the center of the park.

“May I have your attention.”

When everybody quieted down, Riley reached up and grabbed a rope and pulled it with all her might and it unfurled a banner that was strung between two tall trees. Everybody burst out in applause and cheering when they saw it.

Kristin walked over and placed her hands on Nick’s shoulders.

“You have to come back now.”

The red, white and blue banner had these words on it: Welcome Back Molly To The Dog Side of Town.


Jack of Diamonds And the Bandido

posted Aug 20, 2019, 9:47 AM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Aug 29, 2019, 1:50 PM ]

John Joseph Pershing (September 13, 1860–July 15, 1948) was born in Laclede, Missouri, the oldest of five children. He attended a school in town for precocious students of prominent citizens and after completing high school in 1878, he became a teacher of local African American children. He later applied to the United States Military Academy in 1882, graduated in 1886, and was commissioned a second lieutenant.

Assigned to Troop L of the 6th U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Bayard, in the New Mexico Territory, he participated in several Indian campaigns. It was during this time period that he became close friends with Lt. Julius Penn and Lt. Richard Paddock. In 1895 Pershing assumed command of the troop of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, one of the original Buffalo Soldier regiments composed of African American soldiers.

Pershing’s sister Grace married Paddock in 1894, then in 1898 gave birth to a son named John Diamond Paddock.  They gave him that middle name because of his sparkling blue eyes. John grew up to be a strong young man with a great admiration for his uncle Jack and joined the Army in 1914 at the age of 16. General Pershing used his influence to get Jack assigned to his unit so he could mentor him.

On May 5, 1916, several hundred Mexican raiders attacked the geographically isolated towns of Glenn Springs and Boquillas in the Big Bend region of Texas. At Glenn Springs the Mexicans overwhelmed a squad of nine 14th Cavalry troopers guarding the town, set fire to the building, then rode on to Boquillas where they killed a boy, looted the town and took two captives. Local law enforcement pursued the Mexicans 100 miles into the state of Coahuila to free the captives and regain the stolen property

At 2:30 a.m. on March 9, 1916, several hundred troops under the command of Francisco “Pancho” Villa crossed the border separating the United States and Mexico and attacked the small Army garrison at Columbus, New Mexico.

By this time John Diamond Paddock had already been in the Army two years and proven himself to be an able trooper and combat veteran who earned the respect and trust of his uncle and the men he served with. Since they had different last names, the other troops never knew that General Pershing and Corporal Paddock were related, and they preferred to keep it that way.

Every so often, General Pershing would call Corporal Paddock to his command center and they would speak privately about family and personal issues, but in public Corporal Paddock was treated the same as any other soldier. General Pershing saw the potential in Jack of Diamonds—the nickname that many called his nephew—and offered him the opportunity, “I’ve talked to your superiors and they say you have leadership potential. I can recommend you to West Point if you want.”

“I appreciate that, sir, but for the time being I’d prefer to stay in the enlisted ranks. I still have a lot to learn,” Corporal Paddock replied.

 “You’ll let me know when you change your mind,” General Pershing offered.

“You mean if, don’t you sir?”

“There will come a time when you’ll want more responsibility,” General Pershing winked.

On May 12, Corporal Paddock accompanied Major George T. Langhorne, a by-the-book officer with no combat experience and two units of the 8th Cavalry on a routine patrol. They left Fort Bliss and rode to the border where they met up with a group of Texas Rangers commanded by the rambunctious Captain William Lee Wright who had killed more outlaws and marauding Indians than he cared to count. He knew Corporal Paddock from a previous joint operation against the Apaches.

“It’s good to see you again, Jack of Diamonds.” Captain Wright spit out a wad of chewing tobacco that landed on the right boot of the young soldier.

“If it isn’t Captain Wright Makes Right,” Corporal Paddock joked.

The two men exchanged handshakes, “You in charge of this here shindig?” Captain Wright asked.

“That would be me. I’m Major Langhorne.”

“Let’s ride, Major.” Captain Wright took off at a gallop followed by his Rangers.

Major Langhorne rode up alongside Corporal Paddock, “I hope he knows who’s in charge.”

“I’m pretty sure he does now, sir,” Corporal Paddock replied.

They rode to the outskirts of El Pino, Mexico and arrived just before sunrise.

“We’ll leave the horses here and go in on foot,” Captain Wright said.

 “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Major Langhorne responded fearfully.

 “I reckon if you got a better one, then go on and spit it out,” Captain Wright grumbled.

Major Langhorne did not have a valid alternative, but desperate to maintain his persona of authority, said, “Give me a little time.”

“Time is one thing we don’t have. You and your men stay here with the horses and work on your plan while I take my Rangers into town.”

Major Langhorne snapped back, “If something goes wrong, I’m holding you responsible!”

“You can hold anything you want!” Captain Wright yelled back.

As the Rangers rode off, Corporal Paddock approached Major Langhorne, “Permission to go with the Rangers?”          

“Why should I allow that?”

 “Because if Captain Wright does something wrong, I’ll be there to witness it,” Corporal Paddock replied.

 “And if you get yourself killed?”

“Then I would be wrong for asking,” Corporal Paddock said.

 “I expect a full report!”

Corporal Paddock ran to catch up with the Rangers, “You don’t mind if I tag along?”

Captain Wright smiled, “Hell no. If we’re going to play this hand, we might as well have a Jack of Diamonds in the deck.”

The Rangers and Corporal Paddock easily overwhelmed the few guards and freed the hostages. After interrogating a wounded Villa raider, they found that more hostages were being held in the town of Castillon. Captain Wright offered Corporal Paddock the option, “Do you want to go back with the hostages?”

“Reckon not.”

Captain Wright called to one of his men, “Hey Buck, take Festus with you and bring the hostages back to the Major. Tell him that we’re heading to Castillon. Bring our horses with you. We’ll use the Mexicans’. They won’t be needing them.”

“Yes sir,” Buck replied.

With Captain Wright and Corporal Paddock in the lead, they rode to Castillon and engaged in a heavier battle, killing five of Villa’s Raiders.  Buck and Festus arrived with the Ranger horses and a young army officer, Second Lieutenant George Patton, a Pershing aide and the only one in the unit that knew Corporal Paddock was the nephew of General Pershing. He had 15 men with him and three Dodge touring cars. Lt. Patton walked over to the Jack of Diamonds and whispered, “Your uncle thought I might be of more use than Langhorne.”

“That’s for sure, I’ll have to thank him when and if I get back,” Corporal Paddock said.

The soldiers and Rangers’ next destination was Rubio, Chihuahua where Julio Cardenas’ San Miguelito Ranch was located. Cardenas was an important leader in Pancho Villa’s organization and responsible for numerous raids into the United States.

Captain Wright turned to Lt. Patton, “How do you want to handle this, soldier boy?”

George Patton did not hesitate, “We’ll go in first. Give us 15 minutes, then follow us.”

“What’s the point of doing that?”

“I don’t want you killing them before I do,” George Patton smiled.

“I like your style, Lieutenant” said Captain Wright. “So we’ll wait our turn.”

The soldiers climbed into the three Dodge touring cars with their weapons pointed outboard and raced toward the main house. Corporal Paddock and Lt. Patton charged into the house and killed Cardenas and two other men in what turned out to be America’s first motorized military action. After the short gunfight, Patton had the three dead Mexican bandits strapped to the hood of the cars and began driving back to Pershing’s headquarters.

“Why is it that I have the feeling that you really enjoy this?” Corporal Paddock asked.

“I don’t know, Corporal,” Lt. Patton snickered as he carved three notches in the handles of the twin Colt Peacemakers that he carried, representing the men he killed that day.

Corporal Paddock commented, “I shot those men too.”

Lt. Patton grinned playfully, “Your uncle told me to remind you that rank has its privileges. You might have shot them, but it was my bullets that killed them.”

“Permission to speak freely, sir” Corporal Paddock asked.


“You’re mean enough to eat off the same plate with a rattler,” Corporal Paddock quipped.

“Only if he promises not to eat my share.”

When General Pershing saw the dead Mexicans on the hoods of the cars, he gave Lt. Patton a nickname, “Good job, Bandido!” Only his closest friends would ever call Patton that from this point forward.

Brigadier General Pershing was later ordered by Woodrow Wilson to go into Mexico and bring Villa and those responsible for the attacks back to America to face justice for the attack on the garrison. The American expedition was comprised of 4,800 men from the 7th, 10th, and 13th Cavalry, 6th Field Artillery, 6th and 16th Infantry Regiments and medical personnel. They entered Mexico on the March 15, 1916, in two columns and continued their pursuit of Villa for the next two months.

The last and most costly engagement of the Mexican Expedition was fought on June 21, 1916, when three officers and 87 men of Troops C and K of the 10th Cavalry were sent to patrol the area along the Mexican Central Railway. The Americans encountered a force of 300 Mexican soldiers who were sympathetic to Villa and were soundly defeated at the Battle of Carrizal.  Captain Charles T. Boyd, 1st Lt. Henry R. Adair, and ten enlisted men were killed and eleven more were wounded and taken prisoner. The sole surviving officer, Captain Lewis S. Morey, was rescued four days later by a relief squadron of the 11th Cavalry.

When General Pershing learned of the battle he was furious and asked for permission to attack the Mexican army garrison of Chihuahua City, but President Wilson refused, knowing that it would certainly start a war. Pershing called the two men that he trusted most, his nephew and Lieutenant George Patton.

“I’ve been ordered back across the border by the President and I will comply with those directives. This will prevent me from getting justice for our fallen brothers. You have done a good job while we’ve been in Mexico so I’m rewarding both of you with extended furloughs. Once I’m gone, I won’t have any responsibility for what happens here. I will also have no interest in knowing what you two gentlemen do after I’m back in the United States. Am I making myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Lt Patton replied.

“No responsibility, no knowledge and no interest. You can’t be any clearer than that, sir,” Corporal Paddock responded.

General John “Black Jack” Pershing led the American force back into New Mexico, signifying the official end to the military expedition. The Jack of Diamonds and the Bandido headed from New Mexico to Texas to meet with Captain Wright. The two soldiers and the Rangers loaded up three horse-drawn wagons with ammunition and explosives and headed toward the largest stronghold of Pancho Villa at Tomochic, Mexico.

As soon as the Americans entered the village, the Mexicans opened fire from the surrounding hills. Fighting side by side with the Texas Rangers, the two soldiers made it through the night against Villa’s raiders and when the sun came up, 30 Mexicans were dead and two Rangers had perished in the battle.

Corporal Paddock saw the advantages of being an officer and accepted a commission to 1st Lieutenant upon his return from Mexico. When World War I broke out, the Jack of Diamonds and the Bandido accompanied General Pershing and the American Expeditionary Force to Europe to fight Germany.

Lt. Patton wanted combat and knew he couldn’t find it as a staff officer to Pershing. To see action he had to either lead infantry or train to become a tank officer. He chose the latter, thinking it the quickest way to combat and further promotion. He wrote to Pershing, reminding him that he was “the only American who has ever made an attack in a motor vehicle” (referring to the motorized assault that he had led in Mexico).

General Pershing called Captain Paddock to his command center, “I’m going to approve the Bandido’s request to lead a mechanized unit, but only on one condition…if you take command of an infantry company and work together.”

“You know that Georgie is kind of a nut,” Jack of Diamonds responded.

“He’s more than kind of a nut, he’s crazier than a Kiowa paint mare, but he’s a hell of combat soldier,” General Pershing smiled.

“That’s for sure.”

“I can give him an order and he’ll follow it most of the time, but I need someone he respects to keep him in line when I’m not around,” General Pershing commented.

Bandido’s efficiency as a tank commander won him a promotion to lieutenant colonel, but he was worried the war would end before he had a chance to lead his tankers in combat. He voiced his frustrations to the Jack of Diamonds who had been promoted to Major, “I need to be able to lead my tanks in combat.”

“Lighten up Georgie, this war isn’t working on your schedule,” Major Paddock retorted.

The Bandido’s chance came at Saint Mihiel on September 12, 1918, and unsurprisingly, he didn’t stay at his command post, but roamed the field under fire, directing attacks and encouraging his tankers forward. The Jack of Diamonds was right there by his side.

General John Pershing heard about the recklessness of his two officers and called his nephew to the command center, “I told you to keep the Bandido under control and now I heard that you’re acting as crazy as him.”

“Sorry sir, I reckon I got swept up in the moment,” Jack of Diamonds apologized.

“Don’t let it happen again!” General Pershing ordered.

“Yes sir.”

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, both officers immediately reverted to their “hell bent for leather” behavior. The Bandido followed his tanks into combat and the Jack of Diamonds lead a unit to rescue a group of pinned-down infantry. Both men were wounded in the battle. The Bandido was shot through the leg and the Jack of Diamonds sustained shrapnel wounds to his back. While recovering in a field hospital together, the Bandido wrote his wife, Beatrice on October 12, 1918, “Peace looks possible, but I hope that I would have a few more fights. They are awfully thrilling, like steeple chasing only more so.”

The Jack of Diamonds looked up and saw his uncle, “Black Jack” Pershing storming through the ward and could tell that he was not happy, “Buckle up Bandido, this is going to be a rough one.”

After a thorough dressing down for their disobedience of a direct order, the two men received battlefield promotions and silver stars for their bravery.

After World War I ended, Lieutenant Colonel “Jack of Diamonds” Paddock left the Army and joined the Texas Rangers. He also married one of the female hostages that he’d rescued during the Mexican expedition. Over the next two decades, he chased outlaws and gangsters all over the state of Texas, while Colonel “Bandido” Patton stayed in the Army and became an outspoken advocate for tanks.

Patton wrote extensively and carried out experiments to improve radio communications between tanks and helped invent the coaxial tank mount for cannons and machine guns. Patton also held a variety of staff jobs in Hawaii and Washington D.C. after graduating the Command and General Staff School in 1924. He completed his military schooling as a distinguished graduate of the Army War College in 1932.

When World War II broke out, Jack of Diamonds Paddock re-enlisted in the Army. He was given command of an elite Ranger battalion and fought across the Mediterranean with the Seventh Army and the Third Army in France and Germany with his friend and comrade in arms. The Jack of Diamonds and the Bandido remained close friends until General George Patton’s suspicious death on December 21, 1945, in Heidelberg, Germany.

Immoral Bay: Beyond the breakwater

posted Aug 19, 2019, 4:12 PM by Bruce Rowe

Gunnery Sergeant Luke Brody had been in the Marine Corps for 10 years after serving two West Pacific and two Middle East deployments with different units. He was assigned to a counter terrorism unit in Bahrain when he was called to Major John Ingram’s office. Luke Brody stood at attention in front of the desk, “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes I did. Have a seat Gunny.”

Luke Brody sat down and patiently waited for his unit’s administrative officer to begin speaking, “I just received your re-enlistment paperwork.”

“I haven’t made a decision yet, sir,” Luke responded quickly.

“You’ve got two months before you rotate back to the states,” Major Ingram said.

“More like seven weeks, but who’s counting.”

Because of your experience as a counterterrorism operative, the Corps is offering you $153,000 if you sign up for six years. “

“That’s a lot of money,” Luke responded.

“I don’t know if you are aware of this, but if you reenlist while you are in a tax-exempt combat zone, you will receive your entire bonus tax free, which can be a substantial savings.”

“So what you’re saying is that if I’m going to re-enlist then it would be financially prudent to do it here instead of back at Pendleton?” Luke said.

“Affirmative on that, Gunny,” Major Ingram smiled.

“Thanks for the heads-up. I appreciate it.”

Luke spent the next few weeks pondering the pros and cons of re-enlisting. If he invested wisely in an aggressive portfolio and had some luck along the way he would have a nice supplement to his military pension if he made it all the way to his full 20. He might even be able to add to it the next time he was in a tax-exempt zone.  He might even get another bonus at 16 years, but that wasn’t likely. On the one hand, if he got out of the Corps now, what would he do? His only skills were combat related. He could apply for some law enforcement jobs. Or he knew some mercenaries with Red River Securities that would give him a recommendation if he wanted to become a civilian security contractor. Luke was a Marine and it wasn’t so much what he did as who he was. He had become very proficient at a set of some very specialized skills and while he would never boast about it, he was proud of his accomplishments.

This would be Gunnery Sergeant Luke Brody’s last mission before returning to the states and he was given the option of standing down by Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Swilley, “You’re a short-timer Gunny; you don’t have to go on this one.”

 “I appreciate the offer. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to saddle up.”

“Affirmative on that,” Lt. Colonel Swilley knew that Gunny Brody was not the kind of man to take the easy way out, but he had to ask anyway.

The joint task force of Marines, Navy Seals, and Delta Force operatives were going after Hamza Bin Laden, son of Usama Bin Laden. He was a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” which meant that he was part of a very select group of individuals that have been determined to have committed—or posed a serious risk of committing—acts of terrorism that threatened the security of the United States. To put it simply, terminate Hamza Bin Laden with extreme prejudice.

Satellite surveillance located him in a heavily fortified compound in northern Latakia, an isolated area in Syria. The force was scheduled to leave at daybreak the next morning, so Luke stopped off at Major Ingram’s office that afternoon.

“Sir, I’ve decided to re-enlist.”

“I have a meeting at Battalion, can we do it later?” Major Ingram said.

“I’m kind of busy too,” Luke replied. “I’ll check in with you when I get back.”

“Sounds good. I’ll make sure everything is ready.”

*  *  *

The five Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopters came in low and the pilots wore computerized, night vision googles to avoid crashing into the uneven terrain. When they reached their destination, they hovered 60 feet over a group of buildings in stealth mode and the team fast-roped down to the roofs.

The American forces were carrying two types of weapons. One was a Heckler & Koch MK23 handgun designed to provide .45-caliber power during close-quarter battle. It had a 12-round magazine, sound suppressor, and laser aiming module. Their other weapon was an MP5 9mm, vertical foregrip, and folding buttstock with a threaded barrel for accessory attachments.

The terrorist guards were no match for the special operatives and they were eliminated with methodical efficiency.  Luke and three of his comrades entered an upper room and Hamza Bin Laden instinctively reached for a weapon. Luke fired one accurate shot through the terrorist leader’s primary motor cortex and shut him off like a light switch. A woman with  him was not harmed, but was shocked. A Navy Seal took out his cellphone, took several photos of Hamza, and transmitted the images to Central Command. It only took a minute to get confirmation and Hamza was placed in a body bag for DNA testing back at base. Word was passed and the team headed to the designated evacuation point.

Luke saw two armed terrorists hiding under a table as he started down the stairs and realized that members of the team were about to be shot so he yelled out, “Ambush!” and immediately leaped over the railing and landed awkwardly on the table, breaking it under his weight. When he hit the floor, he quickly refocused and shot both men, but not before he took a round to his shoulder. When Luke looked down, he also saw that his leg was in a twisted position and on closer examination he saw that he had dislocated his knee. When Luke came down from the adrenalin rush, the pain in his leg was excruciating.

A Corpsman quickly applied a splint to his leg and placed a bandage over the bullet wound. Luke received a shot for the pain and two of his team members helped him to the helicopter.

*  *  *

Strange how life can be, Luke thought to himself as he was driving to his physical therapy appointment at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Oceanside. One day he’s figuring out what to do with his bonus and the rest of his military career and the very next one, his life was changed forever.

He was medically discharged from the Corps for the injuries he sustained during the mission and was now in an entirely different place in his life, one that he had not planned for. Luke was not ready to make the same time of commitment to another job that he did with the Marines, so he was taking it day by day. He already had two surgeries on his knee and while the doctor said he would eventually be able to walk normally again, his days of running 10 miles through the hills of Camp Pendleton were definitely over. Luke might have to switch to long distance swimming, but that was another decision he would file away for further consideration.

Luke was working the graveyard shift at Planet Fitness in Oceanside on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights while taking several classes at Mira Costa Junior College during the day. He was renting a room from a retired divorced Marine who lived by the San Luis Rey Gate of the base. The other thing about life that Luke came to realize was that there was a big difference between killing time, which is what he was doing now, and killing bad guys.

It was Tuesday afternoon and Luke decided to stop off at Home Depot after his English class and pick up some batteries and glass cleaner. He had just finished paying for his items and walked out of the store when he heard distinctive sounds. To most people their first thought would be fireworks, but to a highly trained special operative, it was the distinctive signature of an AK-47. That assessment was quickly confirmed by a herd of panic-stricken people that included men, women, and children running in his direction. Most people’s first instinctive reactions were to run away or take cover. Luke was the only one moving toward the sound of the shots.

As he scanned the area, Luke saw a man wearing a mask, body armor and tactical gear firing at targets of opportunity as he walked between the parked vehicles. If that wasn’t bad enough, Luke noticed another individual dressed the same way with a similar weapon at the other end of the lot doing the same thing.  A young woman ran around the corner of the building and the closest shooter pursued her while firing at innocent bystanders.

From his position, Luke determined that he could reach the woman before the shooter, but only if he ran on his not-quite healed, medically repaired knee, something he was explicitly told not to do. Medical advice be damned. Luke took off in a full sprint, while ignoring the pain. The young woman, in her late twenties or early thirties, was crouched behind a big green trash dumpster when Luke reached her. He opened the lid, placed her inside, then covered her with trash. He dropped to the ground and looked between the wheels on the bottom of the dumpster to see the boots of the shooter coming around the corner. He picked up and eight-foot length of rope lying nearby.

The waste container was located six feet from the rear of the building, so when the shooter was in the right position, Luke pushed with all his might and wedged the man between the two objects. Before the shooter could free himself or lift his gun to a firing position, Luke looped the rope around his neck and choked him to death.

Pulling back the dumpster, he grabbed the rifle and went looking for the second shooter. Sirens were growing louder and the second man had chosen to stop his assault on innocent bystanders and find a position to engage first responders upon their arrival. Luke got just close enough where he could prop his arms on the hood of a pick-up truck and get a good shot. He took careful aim and fired twice. Both shots hit the second shooter, one in the back of the head and the other in the neck. The situation had been neutralized.

Luke set the rifle on the hood of the vehicle and went back to the dumpster. When he opened the lid, he moved some trash and garbage aside, “I’m glad you decided to wait for me.”

“My surroundings were so pleasant, especially the aroma. I thought I was at a 5-star resort,” the woman quipped.

Luke helped her out and noticed that her clothes had red stains on them, “Are you hurt?”

“It’s the rotten tomatoes look; newest fashion trend,” the woman sighed in relief.

 “You know what they say; better red than dead.”

The woman noticed that Luke was perspiring heavily and not putting any weight on his injured leg.

“Doesn’t look like you’re doing so well.”

“Just an old injury that acts up every now and then. Like an old friend used to tell me; pain is the best reminder that we’re still alive,” Luke grimaced.

“Your friend wouldn’t happen to be a Marine, would he?”

Before Luke could respond, police and law enforcement arrived.

*  *  *

Luke was sitting in his hospital bed at Tri City Medical center early the next morning when the same woman knocked on the door, “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“Actually you caught me in-between appointments.”

“I didn’t get a chance to thank you for saving my life,” the woman smiled.

“We’ll never really know for sure if that was the case,” Luke responded.

“I was talking to some police officers at the scene and they said both shooters were killed before they arrived.”


“Of course you wouldn’t know anything about that,” the woman said.

“In the excitement of it all, I don’t remember too much…sorry,” Luke responded.

“You look like a guy who is easily rattled and forgets things,” There was more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “One more thing, my name is Erin Daniels.”

The woman set a card on the nightstand.

“My name is…”

The woman interrupted, “Luke Brody…I know.”

After Erin left, Luke looked at the business card. On the front, Rays of Health, written beneath it, Free lunch anytime. On the other side, were these words; don’t make me come looking for you.

Rays of Health was a small café in downtown Vista, specializing in healthy cuisine and a variety of smoothies and protein drinks. Erin was employed as a cook and waitress at the establishment. It was a week later before Luke showed up. Erin called out as soon as he walked through the door, “I was only going to give you two more days before I hunted you down.”

Erin called out to the owner, “Hey Ray, this is the guy I was talking about. His lunch is on my tab.”

Ray nodded, “Got you.”

“What do you want?” Erin asked.

“A lot to choose from,” Luke responded as he gazed at the menu on the wall.

“I’ll make you one of my specialties. I hope you brought your appetite.”

“Seldom leave home without it,” Luke smiled.

Erin made a triple size order of the Vista Special, a salad that included; salmon, spinach, avocados, black olives, eggs, sunflowers seeds, feta cheese, sliced apples and caramelized nuts. She also made a date-nut shake and when she brought the tray, she sat down and waited for him to taste both the salad and the drink before asking, “What do you think?”

“I’m kind of undecided between great, excellent, and outstanding.”

Over the next eight months, Luke and Erin spent a lot of time together. Then one day Luke texted Erin and she didn’t respond. He sent four more texts and left three voicemails over the next two days and still nothing. Even when Erin was busy, she still let him know that she got his message, so Luke went by Rays of Health.

“I thought Erin was scheduled to work today.”

“She left,” Ray responded.

“What do you mean, left?” Luke asked.

“She came in two days ago, said she had a family emergency and had to go. When I asked her when she would be back, she said she didn’t know. Very strange… it was not like her at all. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

“Not a clue. She told you it was a family emergency? Any idea where her family is?” Luke asked.

“On her employment application, she listed a sister Katie as her emergency contact. She lives in Morro Bay,” Ray said.

“Morro Bay. I’ve never been there. It’s up the coast isn’t it?” Luke commented.

“About 300 miles. Central California area,” Ray said.

“Would it violate any laws if you gave me her sister’s name and address?” Luke asked.

“Actually it would, but if I left her employment application on my desk and you entered without my permission or knowledge and you saw it, well I couldn’t do anything about that.”

“Thanks Ray,” Luke smiled.

“I’m doing it for Erin. I’m worried about her and I know you care about her,” Ray said.

“That I do,” Luke confessed.

*  *  *


Erin had received a call from her younger sister, Katie who was frantic and fearful. She was in trouble with a major narcotics dealer in her area from skimming part of a large cocaine shipment she delivered to Cambria, California. The dealer was a ruthless thug named Larry Thurston. He’d inherited the family business from his father who was killed in an ambush five years earlier.

Larry always had a thing for Erin even when they were teenagers growing up in the area, but after high school Erin left the area and headed to Southern California to attend Palomar College. Her sister Katie stayed behind, where she got into trouble with drugs and men. Erin warned her sister of the dangers of her current lifestyle and even invited her to move to Oceanside. She thought a new environment might help Katie turn her life around. She refused and kept going down a dark path.

Larry Thurston gleefully explained the situation to Erin and Katie as they stood before his handmade desk at his Pismo Beach mansion, “The only reason that Katie is still alive is because you decided to come back, otherwise I would have had no choice.”

 “What do you want, Larry?”  Erin asked.

 “Katie took 50 thousand dollars in product. I’m going to add another 50 thousand in interest and fines to that, which means you owe me one hundred grand,” Larry laughed.

 “We don’t have that kind of money,” Erin responded.

 “I know you don’t. That’s why I’m going to be a nice guy and give you the opportunity to work it off. Two options; make ten deliveries for me at ten grand a pop or work here as hostesses for my business associates.” Larry rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

Katie was trembling in fear and Erin had hatred and contempt in her eyes when she said, “How much time do we have to make our decision?”

“I would never rush you, Erin, you know that. How about three days? I’ll send somebody by Katie’s apartment for your answer in exactly 72 hours. One more thing. If you run, I won’t chase you. But I know your parents retired to San Luis Obispo and I’ve got their address. I’ll just kill them and maybe a few of their neighbors.”

When the two sisters got back to Katie’s one-bedroom apartment, Erin knocked some magazines off a chair and sat down without saying a word.

“Say something!” Katie screamed.

“What is there to say; that I warned you that this would happen or that this wasn’t the life for me. You know everything already,” Erin grumbled. “Why repeat it?”

In the morning two days later, there was a knock at the door. Erin rolled over in the bed she was sharing with her sister, “I thought we had three days.”

Katie crawled under the bed as Erin opened the front door and was caught completely off guard.

“Ray told me you had a family emergency. I just wanted to make sure you were alright since I didn’t hear from you before you left,” Luke said calmly.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Erin angrily snapped back.

“But I am.”

“You need to turn around and drive straight back to Oceanside right now!” Erin ordered.

 “That’s a long drive, can I use the little boys’ room first?” Luke asked.

“Find a gas station or a rest stop,” Erin pretended to be angry and it wasn’t quite working. “I don’t know if you’re one of those guys who can’t take a hint, but there was nothing between us. We were just friends, nothing more.”

“I don’t have that many friends,” Luke turned and walked away.

Luke saw Katie peering out from under the bed. His instincts told him that Erin was in trouble and she was trying to keep him out of it. He wasn’t going back to Oceanside until he was sure his friend was alright.

After Erin closed the door, Katie asked, “Who was that?”

 “Just some guy. None of your concern.”

*  *  *

As a special operative, Luke had become very proficient at developing the patience required for long term surveillance while blending into the environment. He found an inconspicuous place to park his car and settled in for what would be a long 23 hours.

When he saw three men approach the apartment the next day, he took photos of them with his cellphone. When they drove off, Luke decided to follow them instead of maintaining watch over the apartment.  They led him to Larry Thurston’s palatial mansion. He took a photo of the building and the address: 45 Skyline Terrace. He made a call to an influential friend in a secret government agency, “I need a favor, I’m going to send you some photos, give me everything you have.”

 “Are you on a mission?” the man asked.

“I’m freelancing,” Luke added. “Keep this off the books.”

 “I’ll be in touch,” the man said.

Two hours later, sitting in his car outside Erin’s apartment, Luke received a message. Reading it, he knew that he was going to be staying in Pismo Beach longer than he expected.

*  *  *

Erin felt bad about the way she treated Luke, but it was for his own good. He was a good man and he deserved better than being drawn into a situation like this. Over the next week, the two sisters made three deliveries for Thurston with no problems and Katie commented, “That wasn’t so bad, only seven more to go.”

Erin nodded in agreement, but in the pit of her stomach, she had a sickening feeling that even if they did the ten deliveries, Larry still would not let them go free. The main shipments came in from Mexico every week. The large yacht would remain two miles due west of the Morro Bay harbor until a smaller boat came out to get the product. The weather conditions could get pretty rough, so it took a boat operator experienced with the surf breaks to get past the breakwater jetty. (A breakwater is a large pile of rocks built parallel to the shore, designed to block the waves and the surf.)

Luke was staying at the Ocean Palms Inn. He had photos posted on a large bulletin board with dates and times next to them. There were at least a dozen photos of Erin and Katie making their deliveries.

Erin’s worst fears were confirmed when she spoke to Larry Thurston, “This will be our last delivery.”

“You and Katie make such a good team that I’ve decided to keep you on,” Larry said.

“We had a deal,” Erin protested.

“The deal has been officially changed. Your problem is that you have no negotiating power. I’m in charge, I give the orders, and you take them—it’s that simple. If you remember that, the people you care about will keep breathing.”

Larry was so full of himself that he didn’t even consider the possibility that Erin had any options. Of course she didn’t either.

*  *  *

Luke knew the schedule of the boat picking up the cocaine from the yacht offshore from his previous surveillance. He had a pretty good idea of when it would be returning. He found a place with an excellent vantage point and scanned the horizon with his high-powered binoculars.

Luke saw the boat returning to shore and made his way down a narrow path to the jetty, put on his swim fins and goggles, and entered the rough water. He knew there was only one way to get behind the men and that was to come in from the ocean. After an exhausting swim against strong rip-currents, Luke stopped, treaded water from his position 50 yards offshore and watched the men transferring the cocaine from the boat to a Dodge Ram pick-up with a camper shell.

To avoid detection, Luke dived underwater, swam 15 yards, then came up for a quick gulp of air, then submerged again. He repeated this process three times until he reached shore. As he looked up, he saw that some kids had altered the sign Morro Bay with black spray paint to read, Immoral Bay.

Luke sneaked up behind the driver who was leaning against the driver’s side door. He choked him out then took his weapon and approached the two men who were unloading the boat. When they reached for their handguns, Luke shot them. He loaded the three bodies into the watercraft, tied the steering wheel in position and pointed it out to sea. Luke started the engine, pushed the throttle down and sent the watercraft on its way. He got in the driver’s side of the truck and drove to the Thurston mansion. The guard recognized the vehicle and nonchalantly waved it through without thinking. He barely looked at Luke, who had pulled a baseball cap low over his forehead.

*  *  *

Larry Thurston walked over to his desk and sat down with his bottle of tequila and shot glass. He took a swallow and choked on it when he saw Luke sitting across the room with a gun pointed at him. “Who are you?”

 “Nobody important.”

Larry pleaded for his life, “Don’t kill me, I’ll give you whatever you want!” He opened a safe filled with cash, “It’s all yours. Take it.”

 “This is about more than just money,” Luke shrugged.

Two hours later, Erin and Katie were approaching the seaside mansion when they saw a dozen police cars and several ambulances parked outside.

“What do you think happened?” Katie asked.

“Nothing good. Let’s gets the hell out of here.” Erin pulled over to the shoulder, made a U-turn, and accelerated.

One week later, Erin was back working at Rays of Health when Luke walked in.

“I heard you were back,” he said.

 “Sorry about the way I treated you,” Erin’s voice cracked.

“No problem. I caught you by surprise and you had a lot going on.”

That’s all they had to say to each other at the time.

That evening, Erin heard a knock at her door. She opened it and greeted Luke, “This is a nice surprise, you didn’t say much earlier. Wasn’t sure if you wanted to see me again.”

Luke was carrying a large leather briefcase in his left hand, “May I come in?”

 “Of course.”

Luke sat down at the kitchen table and Erin took a seat across from him, “It’s a good thing I forgot to put in my notice when I left, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a place to come back to.”

 “You got lucky with that oversight, that’s for sure.”

 “What’s in the briefcase?” Erin inquired.

Luke opened it and dumped piles of hundred dollars bills on the table. “Your previous employer’s final request was that I give you your severance pay.”

Erin fell to her knees in tears, overcome with love and gratitude when she realized what had just been done for her.

Special operative, Luke Brody was a man of honor and it was part of his code to protect those in danger. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knew the former Marine that he would go beyond the breakwater of insurmountable odds, brave the crashing surf and swim into the murky depths of Immoral Bay for someone he cared about.

Win Wisely

posted Jul 18, 2019, 2:27 PM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Jul 18, 2019, 3:23 PM ]

Schilling & Company was an American foodstuffs company founded in San Francisco, California, in 1881 by August Schilling and George F. Volkmann, a pair of 27 year-old Bremen, Germany immigrants. The company dealt in coffee, tea, baking powder, extracts, and spices. August Schilling had one son, Eric who was born in 1895. Eric married Joan Kleiser, a worker at his father’s successful company in 1915 and they had two daughters and one son; Joan Cinnamon Schilling, Carol Ginger Schilling, and William Cayenne Schilling.

Bill Schilling was born on July 4, 1922 and like his siblings, he worked at A. Schilling from the time he was old enough to walk. Bill was a small child and his nickname was Little Spice. By the time he was a teenager in the 1930s, Bill was a natural risk taker and could often be found hanging out in the rough and tumble Barbary Coast area of San Francisco. He became equally adept with a deck of cards as he was with his fists. Since he had only grown to five foot, six inches in height, many people underestimated the diminutive dynamo, but Bill Schilling was lightning fast, acrobatic and tough as rawhide. Even though James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, former heavyweight champion of the world was quite a bit older than Bill, they developed a close friendship and he mentored Bill in the art of pugilism. Gentleman Jim was heard to comment about "Little Spice": “I like that kid; he reminds me a lot of myself.”

Eric Schilling came to realize that it was a futile endeavor to try and keep a tight leash on his free-spirited son, so he sighed in resignation and offered this advice, “Make me one promise.”  

“Sure dad, what is it,” Bill answered.

“Try to be an honorable man whatever you decide to do with your life,” Eric Schilling said.

Those words of advice would never be forgotten.  When World War II broke out, the 19 year-old joined the Army Air Corps on January 5, 1942 and was sent to flight school at the newly created Air Force Flying Training Command in Fort Worth, Texas. After being designated a multi-engine pilot, he went through transition training and learned to fly bombers. That training complete, Lieutenant Bill Schilling was sent overseas and assigned to 445th Bomb Group of the 703d Bombardment Squadron at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England.

It only took the rambunctious Little Spice Schilling three missions before reality punched him in the gut and slapped him across the face. This wasn’t San Francisco and life was fragile and temporary. German anti-aircraft fire or a burst of machine gun fire from a Messerschmidt fighter could take away  a life in an instant. It was a rude awakening for a young man who always thought of himself as invincible. 

It was during the unrelieved and monotonous hours of tension flying toward an enemy target, strapped in the cockpit, that Little Spice often remembered his father’s words: "Try to be an honorable man."

The aircrews woke at 0400 hours and Little Spice called out from his rack, “Rise and shine, boots on the ground!”

In over a dozen small barracks located several hundred yards from the landing strip, aircrews dressed and sauntered to the chow hall for breakfast. Conversation was at a minimum, just a lot of grunts and moans as the men moved in robotic fashion. They had done this routine enough times they could do it from memory without their minds fully engaged.

After chow, the crew drifted with slightly more haste to the auditorium for their morning briefing. Little Spice sat next to a long lanky pilot. 

“Hey Destry.”

“Morning Little Spice," the man drawled.

Destry was the nickname given to James Stewart, hollywood actor, because of his 1939 movie Destry Rides Again, where he played a pacifist lawman.

Little Spice was introduced to the two new members of his flight crew by the company clerk; Will Simons, radio operator and medic, who was replacing Benny Del Portro, killed on the last mission, and a young replacement, Charlie Buchinsky, who would after the war become a movie actor and change his name to Charles Bronson. Buchinsky would be the new tail gunner after George Klayman was grounded for medical issues, ending his flying career.

Master Sergeant Tim Halloran was a seasoned veteran with almost 16 years in the Army. He had a reputation as a hardcase who always got the job done. His tools of the trade were fear, intimidation, brutality, and harassment. He was as strong as a horse and as mean as a rattlesnake and took perverse pleasure in the pain and suffering of those around him. War brings out the best and worst in men and Master Sergeant Halloran was one of the worst. As the new maintenance chief, it didn’t take him long to alienate the flight crews from the ground personnel and create an aura of malevolent discontent. He was a barrel-chested braggart and bully with a booming voice and arms the size of a man’s thighs. It got to the point that crews and pilots rarely approached mechanics even about minor issues with their planes because they knew the answer they would get; "Master Sergeant Halloran said if you got a problem then you need to see him."

When pilots and flight engineers went to Halloran with their concerns, he responded arrogantly, “I’ll put you on the list and we’ll get to it when we get time.”

This new unwritten policy was detrimental to the safety of the crews and a colossal waste of valuable time. There was only one way to deal with a man like Halloran. But who would be up to the challenge? Little Spice was walking with Destry when he saw Master Sergeant Halloran lounging around with a group of mechanics next to one of the fuel trucks telling stories of his military exploits and decided this was the time to rectify the problem. He yelled out, “Get off your butts and get back to work!”

The mechanics didn’t know what to do so they looked to Halloran for guidance. He responded with defiance. 

“We’ll go back to work when I say so!”

“Did you check number three engine on my plane?” Little Spice snapped out. “This is the second time that I’ve asked you. I won’t ask you again.”

“It’s on the list, sir,” Master Sergeant Halloran snarled. His his mechanics snickered. “You wouldn’t want me to put your plane ahead of the others, would you sir? That wouldn’t be fair, would it, sir?”  

The maintenance chief seemed to spit out the word "sir."

“I’ve heard you’re a tough guy Master Sergeant, is that right?” Little Spice said. “From where I’m standing you just look like one of those loudmouths that’s all talk and no action.”

Master Sergeant Halloran stood up and flexed his biceps, showing muscles on top of muscles.

“What do you think, does that look like talk to you? That’s grade A American prime beef.”

“Looks like all fat and gristle to me,” Little Spice chuckled. “Do you think you could beat me in a fight?”

“I’d crush you like a peanut shell under the heel of my boot, sir” Master Halloran said, slamming his foot down for emphasis. “I know your officer tricks, you get me to take a swing and when I put you in the hospital with a crushed skull, I end up in the stockade for assault. I ain’t falling for that.”

Little Spice looked at the men standing around.

“Look at all these witnesses, this is just a sporting bet between you and me. No rank, just man to man,” Little Spice said, then turned to Destry. “How much money do you have on you?”

Destry emptied his pockets and Little Spice counted it.

“I’ve got 116 bucks right here.  If you beat me, it’s all yours, but if I beat you then things go back to the way that they were around here before you showed up.”

“You mean all I’ve got to do is knock your head off and I won’t get in any trouble, and you’ll give me money for doing it?” Master Halloran relished the thought.

“Sounds like a hell of a deal, doesn’t it?” Little Spice smiled.

Master Halloran took off his shirt and everybody was visibly impressed at his size. Destry whispered in Little Spice’s ear, “You sure that you know what you’re doing?”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Little Spice answered. “I’m not worried. It’s your money that I’m betting.”

The men fanned out to create a circle, the mechanics on one side and flight crews on the other. The mechanics were extremely confident in Master Sergeant Halloran and exuberantly cheered him on as he loosened up with several practice right crosses and left hooks.

The flight crews were considerably more apprehensive about Little Spice’s ability to even survive, let alone win. He was six inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter and when Little Spice took off his flight jacket, he was so lean that he almost looked frail.

Master Sergeant Halloran raised both his fists and growled, “Little Spice, I’m going to season these knuckle sandwiches with your blood.”

The two men moved to the center of the circle and squared off against each other. Master Sergeant Halloran swung from his heels with his right hand and the punch sailed over Little Spice’s head who ducked at the last instant. Halloran threw several more haymakers and each time the smaller man sidestepped or ducked under the massive fists. After evading six of his opponent’s punches, Little Spice started counterpunching, focusing his punishing blows on the mid-section of the much larger man. Each time Little Spice made contact, Halloran grimaced, groaned and twisted in pain.

It didn’t take long before Master Sergeant Halloran began teetering back and forth like a mighty oak whose roots were no longer strong enough to support it. In frustration he threw a left hand that had no power or direction and Little Spice stepped in and unloaded a barrage of body blows that brought the big man to his knees. 

“No more, I’m done,” Halloran pleaded as he looked up. His chin was an inviting target, one that Little Spice ignored, choosing instead to help the big man to his feet and walk him over to a jeep where he collapsed into the seat.

As Little Spice walked away, the new tail gunner, Buchinsky, approached, “Excuse me Captain, why didn’t you hit him in the face?”

“If I hit him in the face, maybe I’d break his nose, jaw or give him a concussion or even shut both his eyes. He could end up in the hospital for a couple weeks or maybe he doesn’t come back at all. We’re shorthanded enough around here and can’t afford to lose any more men than we already do. This way the Master Sergeant will only be passing blood for a few days and with his attitude adjustment he’ll be somebody we can work with.  Remember, there’s a big difference between winning and winning wisely.”

Buchinsky thought for a second, “When you put it that way, it makes sense.”

Destry smiled, “You’re a hell of a man, Little Spice.”

When they entered the auditorium, the mood turned grim in an instant when the flight crews looked over to the massive map of Europe on the wall and saw the target marked by a large red string that showed the route from their home base. It was Oschersleben again! The group had bombed an aircraft factory there five weeks ago and barely made it back to the coast of England in their badly damaged B-17s. Luftwaffe fighter opposition was continuous on the raid and 30 planes were shot down although German radio claimed they shot down 50! The bomber group had only some minimal fighter support from the first long-range P-51 Mustang fighters.

The temperature was forecast to be 55 degrees below zero at their designated altitude. What most people didn’t realize was that the Eighth Air Force lost more men to frostbite than from battle wounds. Captain Schilling cautioned his crew, “Extra cold weather gear on this one.”

While on his way to his plane String of Pearls (named after the famous Glenn Miller song), Destry walked over with another man that looked very familiar to Little Spice. It was movie star Clark Gable. 

“Clark was going to fly with me to shoot footage for Combat America, but my plane is down so I told him Little Spice is the next best pilot in the group.”

“You sure you don’t want to wait for a milk run, this is going to be a rough one,” Little Spice warned.

“They want combat footage, that’s what I’m going to give them,” Clark Gable replied simply.

A significant percentage of the flight crews detoured over to the chaplain’s office for a blessing. Each aircraft was allotted a certain numbers of rounds, but George Madden the aircrew armorer always managed to smuggle aboard additional belts of ammunition. The B-17s began lining up at 0815 hours and a white flare from the tower signaled the pilots to get ready for takeoff. Little Spice revved up the four 1200 horsepower Wright Cyclone engines one by one while his co-pilot Fred Triplett watched the instruments to make sure everything was operating at maximum performance.

When String of Pearls reached the altitude of 12,000 feet over the English Channel, Captain Bill "Little Spice" Schilling radioed the crew, “Put on your oxygen masks," then added. “Gunners, test fire your weapons.”

Clark Gable and his crew were sitting with their camera equipment since there wasn’t much to take film of so far. As was their custom, the crew began singing the song. 

“String of Pearls, Ba, by, here’s a five-and-dime, Ba, by, now’s about the time for a string of pearls à la Woolworth.”

‘Every pearl’s a star above wrapped in dreams, and filled with love. That old string of pearls à la Woolworth till that happy day in spring when you buy the wedding ring. Please, a string of pearls à la Woolworth, Ba, by you made quite a start.”

Over the Ruhr Valley, the B-17 Jennie Lee on Little Spice’s starboard wing got hit and exploded. Clark Gable’s film crew photographed the aircraft as it crashed to earth. Suddenly there was an explosion and the String of Pearls lurched, dropped, and shuddered as metal fragments tore through the fuselage. 

The Germans used 105mm cannons in batteries of four and fired in quick sequence. The String of Pearls flew through the shrapnel from the third and fourth shells. After damage assessment, Little Spice caught up with the rest of the squadron and every B-17 had also sustained some amount of flak damage. By the time Little Spice reached the target area, number two engine had completely lost power and number three was smoking. This was extremely serious, but the catastrophic problem was that the bomb doors were too badly damaged to open. Little Spice knew that the String of Pearls could not make it back to England with a full bomb load; it would burn up too much fuel. 

He ordered Ronnie Matheson the bombardier and the two waist gunners to push as many bombs as they could on the jammed doors. Eventually the massive weight was enough to push them open and the bombs fell out. The entire crew breathed a collective sigh of relief.

On the way back to England, the String of Pearls encountered a group of enemy Me-410 fighters. They came in with guns blazing and the gunners aboard the B-17 returned fire. Before long they were standing ankle deep in spent .50 caliber rounds. Luckily some P-51 Mustangs were in the area and engaged the enemy fighters.

Crossing the channel, the radio operator notified Little Spice that cloud cover had dropped to 300 feet over England so he dropped to 200 feet. By now the B-17 was shaking so badly that co-pilot Triplett notified the base that they might have to ditch. Nobody liked ditching in the Channel, the water was so damn cold that crews could only live about 15 minutes.

Little Spice spotted an emergency airfield and alerted the crew, “Prepare for crash landing.”

Right about that time the propeller on engine 2 spun off and the motor fell to the ground. Luckily one thing was still working properly on the aircraft and that was the landing gear. Little Spice used every bit of his skill and experience to gently set the plane down on the grassy field.

When Gable stepped out of the B-17, he lost his balance. It seemed that one of the enemy rounds had shot off the heel of his right boot.

“You were right.”

“How so?” Little Spice responded.

“I should have waited for a milk run,” Gable grinned in relief.

Captain "Little Spice" Schilling flew 20 more combat missions, cheating death and pushing his luck with each one. By the time the war was over, the only man in his crew who hadn’t been  seriously wounded or killed was his tail gunner, Charlie Buchinsky.

After returning to San Francisco in 1945, Little Spice returned to work at his grandfather’s spice company, but that didn’t last long because in 1946 the family business was acquired by McCormick and Company. Bill Schilling took his inheritance and along with his sisters' financial backing, began investing in the real estate market. He focused his attention on the Los Gatos and Los Altos areas, buying two hotels and several commercial properties.

In the early 1950s, Little Spice received a call from his wartime buddy James "Destry’" Stewart about the rapid expansion in the Los Angeles area. The two men saw the potential and invested heavily in the Pacific Palisades and Malibu areas. During the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in 1962, Bill Schilling had the opportunity to meet John Wayne and they entered into a real estate partnership in the Newport Beach area.

When Bill Schilling heard that Audie Murphy was having financial difficulties in the mid-1960s, he created a fraudulent deal that - for a miniscule investment - Audie would receive a lucrative monthly dividend for the rest of his life. "Little Spice" would never disrespect the most decorated man of World War II with a handout, but he couldn’t turn his back on a fellow veteran either.

In the early 1970s, Schilling had enough vision to see what was happening in the Silicon Valley and invested heavily in numerous computer and software companies that included Hewlett Packard, Apple, Shockley Semiconductor, and Cisco Industries.

In the mid-1970s, Buchinsky, who was now Charles Bronson and a world famous actor, contacted his former plane commander and together they began investing in the Carlsbad and La Costa areas of North San Diego County, buying a dozen mobile home parks along the coast and huge parcels of land along the Palomar Airport Road corridor.

Bill Schilling and James Stewart purchased a B-17 and two P-51 Mustangs and had them completely restored to mint condition. Their call signs were Spice and Destry and the B-17 was affectionately named, String of Pearls #2. The three aircraft were hangered at the Santa Monica airport and the two combat pilots never missed an opportunity to get together and hit the wild blue yonder. Little Spice’s car of choice was a 1955 Porsche Super Speedster, the same model that actor James Dean was killed in near Cholame, California, at the junction of Route 46 and Route 41 on September 30, 1955.

It was in the late 1970s that Bill Schilling’s extensive holdings made him a billionaire. He was one of the few people in the world to forecast the arrival of the internet and how it would eventually change the world. He had his lawyers purchase the rights to 1000 domain names in 1980 and top companies had to pay a fee to Bill Schilling to use them.

In later years Little Spice worked with other world class investors, Warren Buffett, Carl Icahn, and John Templeton on a variety of projects and entered into a partnership with Sheldon Adelson to purchase and manage casinos around the world. Although he was extremely generous with his wealth, two of Schilling’s greatest pleasures were investing in companies of military veterans and bringing in deserving individuals on lucrative business deals where they could earn their own financial independence and security.

Bill "Little Spice" Schilling, part of the Greatest Generation, was a man who deeply loved his country and defended it with his life during World War II, then helped to build it upon his return. He tried always to be faithful to the two principles that served him well throughout his life: Win wisely and always try to be an honorable man.

Neighborhood Watch

posted Jul 15, 2019, 10:54 AM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Jul 15, 2019, 11:07 AM ]

Neighborhood Watch story from Tom Calabrese

Rockford Garner retired from the Marine Corps after a distinguished twenty four year career and his rank at the time of separation was Master Gunnery Sergeant. He started his military career as a Marine Corps infantryman then transferred to Force Recon for twelve years then was selected to join an elite special operations unit. A severe knee injury during a high altitude low opening parachute jump over the Ukraine forced him out of the field and into military intelligence where the mundane routine convinced him that the time had come to bid farewell to the Corps.

Rockford, or “Rocky” as he was often called, could have transitioned into a civilian career with the CIA or FBI, but declined both options because he wanted to stay in one place. That one place was home, for he had traveled enough during his military career to last several lifetimes. His wife Emily had been an emergency room nurse at Tri-City hospital for 23 years and was planning to retire after 25.

His daughter Riley was in her second year of college at Cal State San Luis Obispo, majoring in engineering. Their son Jimmy was a senior at El Camino High School and a pitcher on the baseball team. College scouts were looking at him and there was a good chance that he would be offered a scholarship if he had a good year.

Things seemed to working out well for the Garner family. Emily had cut back from three 12-hour shifts and was now working only Friday and Saturday evenings at the hospital so she could spend more time with Rocky. The Garners had purchased their home in the Heartland housing area of Oceanside seven years ago when the real estate market was down and the value of their property had increased every year since. A financial review with their retirement advisor determined that with Rocky’s military pension, savings, investments and Emily’s 401(k), they should be able to live comfortably if they didn’t do anything stupid or reckless.

The days of high impact exercise were over for Rocky because of his knee injury, but that didn’t stop him from staying active. He would start the day off by taking his two dogs to an open field every morning at sunrise to play. Afterward he'd go to the 14 Area pool on Camp Pendleton for a two-mile swim where he could get a good cardio workout without doing any more damage to his joints. Finally he'd stop by Planet Fitness for weight training and stretching then be home by noon.

If Emily had not worked the night before they would go to a small café on South Coast Highway in Oceanside that specialized in organic foods for lunch and later Rocky would help Emily with her exercise routine. If Jimmy had a game after school, they would both attend. It was the calm and uneventful routine that Rocky had hoped for when he envisioned his retirement.

A change in the neighborhood

The flyer was left on the door and Emily brought it to the kitchen where Rocky was sitting at the counter.

“It seems that there has been an increase of burglaries in the neighborhood and they’re looking for volunteers to join a neighborhood watch,” Emily said.

“We’ve got motion sensor lights, deadbolts and two dogs that would like nothing better to catch a burglar in our house. I think we’ll be alright,” Rocky replied.

“I was hoping that you would say that,” Emily said. “Enough said then.”

It was mid-morning when Rocky entered the family room where Emily was drinking her protein smoothie and was looking through a women fitness magazine.

“I was thinking,” Rocky began.

“Here it comes.”


“Never mind, go ahead,” Emily responded. “I’m listening.”

“I was thinking that I could help out with that neighborhood watch. I do have some free time and you don’t want anything to happen to one of our poor neighbors?”

“Are you trying to put this on me?” Emily retorted.

“Let me rephrase that, I would feel really bad if something happened to our poor neighbors,” Rocky said. “Especially if I could have done something to help prevent it.”

“These neighborhood watches are for people who work regular jobs, they are not for men like you,” Emily stated matter of factly.

“What’s that supposed to mean, 'men like me'?”

“Men that are trained to deal with bad people. You’ve have been away these past few years and things have gotten more politically correct.”

“How so?” Rocky inquired.

“Some people will try to provoke you into reacting so they can record the incident on their cell phones. When you combine a victim mentality with a sue crazy environment, it’s just too big a risk for this family to take at this point in our lives,” Emily explained. “One more thing; you are the last guy who would ever walk away from a confrontation.”

“I’m not going to be a first responder or even a last resort; I’m just going to be a forward observer so if I see something. I’ll just call 911 then hide until the police arrive. You know how non-confrontational I’ve become since I left the Corps? There was a time I was on one of the machines at Planet Fitness. This frail looking, purple-haired college aged kid knocked me right on my butt when I didn’t move quick enough for his liking. And you know how I reacted?” Rocky smiled.

“You filed an official complaint with the Millennial Police?” Emily answered.

“Close. I apologized and moved on.”

“That would be my second guess,” Emily said.

Neighborhood watch still beckons

Three days later, Rocky was driving Emily to Tri-City Hospital for her scheduled shift.

“Remember you said if you saw anything suspicious, you’d call the police? That’s only part of my concerns,” Emily said. “I don’t want to leave Jimmy alone, I know he’s 17 and almost grown, but I’d still feel better if somebody was home.”

“Point taken. You don’t have to explain,” Rocky said, “He’s been getting up at zero four-fifteen to meet his buddies for workouts before school so if I took the zero three hundred to zero six patrol and turned on all the lights before I left, Jimmy would only be left alone for about an hour and a half. Plus, I wouldn’t be further than a few blocks away if there was a problem. Does any of that make a difference to you?”

“Some,” Emily responded. "Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”

It was 0400 and Rocky was only on his third neighborhood watch shift. It was so quiet he found himself having flashbacks about guard duty when he was a young Marine. While walking down Vista Capri, the street next to his own, Rocky noticed a black SUV with tinted windows parked on the right side of the street. Several people in the neighborhood had SUVs, but none had windows as darkly tinted as these, so out of curiosity Rocky crossed the street and placed his hand on the hood. It was still warm. He shined his flashlight in the back window and saw a rifle butt sticking out from under the seat. Rocky turned to leave then felt something touch his neck, it was hard and cold and he instinctively knew what it was.

“Not a sound,” the man whispered.

Rocky was led into a house where four other men were waiting. The first thing he noticed was a living room filled with computer equipment. The second thing was the disarray. Drawers were pulled out and the contents were scattered about. A woman and a man were lying dead on the floor with bullet wounds to the head.

“I saw him looking in our vehicle,” the man said.

The five men were all dressed in similar black outfits, carried nine millimeter pistols with silencers, and wore military-issue earpieces. Rocky quickly surmised that these men were not common criminals, but a black ops team on a special mission. He couldn’t help but think of the stories where Marines had survived numerous tours of combat and then were killed stateside by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next thing that crossed Rocky’s mind was how pissed off Emily was going to be at him. He could almost hear her voice at his funeral: I told him so, he just wouldn’t listen.

“Kill him,” came the order from short, stocky man who was in charge.

Rocky shifts into action

One of the many things Rocky learned in Special Operations is when the situation seemed hopeless, buy yourself some time any way you can, so Rocky played a longshot. 

“Frank told me that if anything happened to him, then I was supposed to go to a storage locker and get a large backpack out.”

“Who’s Frank?” The short stocky man asked.

Rocky motioned to the man on the floor. “That’s the name he used with me.”

“Search him.”

Two men roughly went through Rocky’s pockets and pulled out his cell phone and driver’s license. Rocky saw no reason to carry his entire wallet - including his military ID - while walking neighborhood watch. Right now, he was sure glad he made that decision.

The short, stocky man asked, “Where is this storage locker?”

“Down on Oceanside Boulevard, a couple of miles from here.”

“Bring me what I came here for and I’ll let you live.”

Rocky knew the man was lying and he would be killed as soon he no longer had anything of value to trade.

The man standing next to Rocky said, “It's ten minutes after four, will the place be open?”

“They have someone living on site, if we tell him it’s an emergency, I’m sure he’ll let us in.”

“I’ll stay here with Sergio, you three get moving,” the short, stocky man ordered.

Rocky inconspicuously brushed his hand over an end table in the hallway on his way out and palmed a ball point pen.

“Where to?” The driver growled when they got to the SUV.

Rocky sat in back between two men while the driver was alone in the front seat. “South on Rancho Del Oro then east on Oceanside Boulevard,” Rocky responded.

Rocky visualized in his mind how he would proceed. When the SUV stopped at the intersection of Rancho Del Oro and Mesa Avenue, Rocky jammed the pen into the right eye socket of the man sitting to his left, then smashed his elbow into the face of the man to his right. He grabbed the Glock 17 from the man who released his grip on the weapon to pull the pen out of his eye. Rocky quickly shot him twice in the side then did the same to the man on the other side. When the driver turned around, he put two rounds into his face. All three men were dead in less than five seconds.

Rocky got out of the vehicle and pushed the driver over, got behind the wheel and drove the SUV to the far corner of the El Camino High School parking lot where he couldn’t be seen by passing traffic. He found the man that was closest to him in size and weight and took his clothing off, got undressed and put the clothes on. The pants and shirt were tight so Rocky ripped the seams enough to give himself a little extra room. The shirt was wet and Rocky knew it was from the man’s blood. The men were also wearing black, rubber-soled boots, while Rocky was wearing blue Nikes. It would be very easy to tell the difference from a distance, so he took the boots off one man that looked like his size 12. Surprisingly the boots fit.  

He searched through the SUV for anything that might give him a clue as to who these men were or what their mission was, but all he found was standard-issue military gear.

A cell phone rang and at first Rocky couldn’t tell what pocket of which dead man it was in, but he found it by the third ring. He began hitting the Glock 17 against the dashboard to create a distracting noise, then answered the phone.

“What’s going on?”

Rocky muffled his voice, “We’re bustin’ in right now,” BANG BANG. “I can’t hear you, I’ll call you back,” then quickly hung up and hoped that the man back at the house bought his subterfuge.

Back home to complete his plan

Rocky drove to his home and took a large cardboard box from his storage shed. dumped out the contents and cut two holes in the side that were large enough to put his hands through. He had to get his cellphone and driver’s license back and there was only one way to do that. He drove back to Vista Capri and parked in the same place that the SUV was previously. He took the empty box and two weapons from the dead men and inserted his hands into the box with his fingers on the triggers of the Glock 17s. Holding the box high enough so his face was blocked from view, he walked to the front door and kicked it with his boot.

When the man in charge opened the door, his first question was, “Where are the others?” Rocky shot the man in the chest, then dropped the box and shot the other man twice in the back as he tried to run away. 

Rocky found his cellphone and drivers’ license in the pocket of the man in charge. He wiped down anything that he might have touched inside the house, then went home. Jimmy was just leaving the house when he arrived.

“Have a good day,” Rocky called out.

“You too," Jimmy replied.

Rocky went upstairs, got undressed and took a shower to remove any gunshot residue or blood splatter. He placed the clothes he was wearing into a plastic bag, then poured a small cup of bleach in and sealed it. Placing the bag in the trunk of his car, he went to get his lawnmower gasoline can and a rag, then drove back to Vista Capri.

He felt comfortable there was nothing in the house that could lead anyone back to him, but the SUV was a different story, it could take hours to clean it and he didn’t have the time. It was almost sunrise and people would be leaving for work soon. Rocky got out of his car and soaked the rag in gasoline then stuck it in the gas tank of the SUV, lit the rag on fire, and quickly left the cul de sac.

The SUV exploded in a ball of flames destroying any evidence in the process. Rocky dialed 911, “This is the neighborhood watch for the Heartland housing area in Oceanside and I would like to report an explosion and fire.”

The police and fire department quickly arrived, but the SUV was already destroyed by then.

“Are you the person who reported this?” The police officer asked.

“Yes, my name is Rockford Garner and I live on Vista Astro, I was on neighborhood watch when I heard the explosion.”

After taking his personal information, the police officer said, “The detectives will probably contact you later.”

“I’m retired so I’ll be around. If it's alright, I need to pick up my wife at Tri-City hospital; she gets off work at seven thirty.”

“Sure go ahead,” the police officer answered.

Rocky dropped the plastic bag with the clothes in a dumpster next to Home Depot on Vista Way on his way to the hospital.

When they returned to the housing area, Emily noticed the fire trucks and police cars, “What do you think is happening there?”

Rocky replied, “I heard an explosion and a car on fire and called it in.”

“Are you alright?” Emily asked.

“I never got close,” Rocky lied. “Just like I promised.”

Rocky was interviewed by the police and the FBI, but he stayed consistent with his story and they had no reason to doubt him. As time passed Rocky made discreet inquiries through his sources in intelligence about the couple that were killed.  It seemed that they had hacked into the personal e-mail accounts of some very influential and powerful politicians and released the incriminating and embarrassing information on social media. Covert operatives were sent to find anything else in the couple’s possession and neutralize the threat, but nothing was found and there was no intel on what happened to the team.

Things quieted down in the neighborhood and Rocky ended his brief career in Neighborhood Watch. 

Ascent To A Reckoning

posted Sep 12, 2014, 9:26 AM by Ron Pickett


           Terry Rayfield woke up with a headache. She glanced at the digital clock on her nightstand. It was four thirty AM.  Terry never needed an alarm clock to awaken her. She would just set in her mind the night before on what time she wanted to get up and her body always cooperated. Once Terry was awake she never saw a reason to procrastinate or lounge in bed so she got up to face the day and whatever challenges it held. Terry cursed herself as she walked downstairs to the kitchen because she knew the reason she had a headache was because she got careless and didn't hydrate enough after her workout last night. It was a stupid mistake and she should have known better. Terry was harder on herself then she would be on anybody else. She had been with the Orange County Sheriff's Department for twelve years, six on patrol, four in vice and the last two as a homicide detective. During that time she had seen co-workers turn to alcohol when dealing with job related stress, others became abusive to their spouses and children. Terry went in the opposite direction. She became a borderline obsessive compulsive when it came to her health. In a business where being reactive to other people's actions was the rule, Terry was one of the best at her job. In her personal life, she wanted to be pro-active whenever the opportunity presented itself. Terry had her problems, but it wasn't her style to reach out for help from everyone especially her father and boyfriend. Terry had built a wall around her vulnerability ever since her mother's untimely death and nobody was able to go through or over it. She overcompensated for her emotional weakness with her compulsion to be as physically capable as humanly possible.

Terry drank a large glass of alkaline water and her headache began to dissipate then she juiced some organic produce and took her daily vitamins before heading off to 24 Hour Fitness for her workout. She would normally be working the swing shift Friday at Southern Division but she had signed up three months ago to attend a weapons and tactics seminar on Camp Pendleton on Saturday and Sunday. Terry decided to leave early from her home in Laguna Hills so that she could stop at Palomar Mountain for a hike before checking into her hotel in Oceanside. From past experiences Terry knew that the Chimney Flat 8.8 mile trail would be a good workout if she kept up a good pace.

As she packed her hiking gear and clothes, her cellphone rang. Terry saw it was her casual boyfriend, Mike McNulty. “Hi Mike.”

“Are you on the road yet?” Mike inquired.

“Just about?”

“Drive careful.” Mike added.

“It's only fifty miles. I think I can handle that.” Terry knew Mike was trying to make small talk.”But like they say most accidents happen within twenty five miles of home.”

Mike was tempted to ask Terry if she wanted company. He could have easily changed his schedule, but chose not to bring it up. If Terry wanted his company, she would have asked him earlier. Mike knew from personal experience that Terry was fiercely independent and defined the term “low maintenance”. She was the perfect girlfriend for a man who wasn't looking for a long term commitment.  In the beginning Mike was content to have someone who asked for little and needed even less, but as his affection for Terry grew, he began to wonder if he should move on before he got too involved and got his heart broken For the time being he wouldn't push the issue. Mike knew that if he gave Terry an ultimatum, it would be the end of what they have and he wasn't prepared to take that step yet.  “If you want, give me a call when you get to your hotel.”

“I will.”  Terry responded and hung up. She knew that Mike was waiting for an invitation and was disappointed that he didn't get one. Terry also knew she should have more empathy for his feelings, but couldn't find any. He wanted more that she was capable of giving, but she promised to make it easy for him to move on when the time came. He was a good man and he deserved a woman that was looking for that middle class suburbia dream of husband and children. She wasn't ready to make that step and was pretty sure she never would be.

Terry made good time on Interstate 5 to State 76. When she arrived in Pauma Valley it was only eleven AM.

Terry then took County Road 56 from Rincon Springs. It was steep and winding, but much more scenic. She knew that trailers and RV's didn't take this route so she would be less inclined to get stuck behind some slow moving vehicle.

Terry was a seasoned hiker and off road runner so she had the proper gear for the trek. She had a first aid and snake bite kit, energy bars and three bottles with lemon flavored water. Terci also never went hiking without her Ruger SP-101 and a single blade folding knife. Since Terry often hiked alone, she was aware that predators who found a woman in an isolated area might envision her as a target of opportunity that was too inviting to pass up.  She wished that it would have been her instead of Chelsea King running at Lake Hodges who was attacked by John Albert Gardner. She would have emptied her clip into him then cut his genitals off.

Terry was immediately suspicious when she saw the four men talking to the Park Ranger near the entrance to the state park. She watched them for several minutes before getting out of her vehicle. They weren't dressed for hiking, wrong clothing and shoes. Their large packs that were not adjusted properly and sitting too low on their backs. This would not only caused undue fatigue, but possible injury. These men were definitely not experienced hikers. Once her suspicions were aroused Terry began noticing other things. They stood like hoodlums hanging out on the street corner, that loose limbed slovenly posture that was a cross between arrogance and laziness. At first, Terry thought about waiting for them to leave before starting out on her hike, but when they didn't move after several minutes Terry lost patience, got her gear and started on her way. She had to walk past the men to get to the trail so she prepared herself. Terry didn't want to ruin her day by getting in a confrontation so she vowed not to overreact.

When the tallest man with the eagle picking up a rodent tattoo on his forearm saw Terry approaching. “Hey baby. You're not out here alone, are you?”

Terry thought to herself, don't say anything. just keep walking. When the man stepped in front of her she walked around him. Terry looked at the Park Ranger to see if he was going to intervene. Fear was etched upon his face, however he reluctantly approached the man with the tattoo and whispered something to him.

“Sorry Ma'am.” The Man with the Eagle Tattoo. “I got carried away.”

There was no sincerity in his apology, but Terci accepted it anyway. “No problem.”

As she walked away she could hear the men arguing when they thought she was out of earshot. “You can't do shit like that.” We're not supposed to draw attention to ourselves.”

The Man with the Eagle Tattoo responded defensively. “Yeah, yeah...she's nobody... relax.”

 These men were involved in something, there was no doubt about that in Terry's mind but it was none of her business. Her sole purpose for being here was to get a workout.

Once she got on the trail, Terry was able to focus her attention on the task at hand. She was only two miles from the top of the mountain when she saw another group of four men detour off the main trail. Terry noticed that they were carrying the same type of packs as the men in the parking lot. Coincidence? She didn't think so.

“Don't do this to me. I'm off duty and I don't want to be involved in anything.” Terry said to herself, but still couldn't resist the temptation and followed the men anyway. It was in her DNA.

  Terry came across a sign on a tree; Danger No Hiking Beyond This Point. Where are they going? It couldn't hurt to follow a little further. She rationalized.

When she got to the top of the ridge, Terry looked at the valley below then pulled out her binoculars and scanned the area. About a dozen men were working among tall green plants. It all began to make sense to her. They were growing and harvesting marijuana.    It went something like this; The men pretended to be hikers, walked up with empty packs, filled them up then went back down the trail. They put the packs in vehicles waiting below then either left or went back up for another load. The Park Ranger, if that's what he was, was in on it. Terci saw several storage areas hidden among the trees. They were filled with small bundles of marijuana. Terci estimated the value of the crops and harvested products to be in the millions. This was definitely not a small time operation. Something this size on state land had to be under the protection of some very influential people. Covert agencies working in partnership with cartels, probably. Drug dealing has always a good way to raise money for black ops instead of asking for congressional appropriations. Terry self preservation gene kicked into high gear. She knew she would be killed if they caught her so she pulled out her I Phone and took a video of the valley then quickly headed back to the main trail. She didn't quite make it, the four men from down below intercepted her before she could.

Terry smiled. “I supposed you wouldn't believe me if I told you I had to use the little girl's room.”

Man with Eagle Tattoo laughed. “You know what they say, Curiosity killed the stupid bitch.”

“You paraphrased that.” Terci had the ability to see things in extreme clarity when in a dangerous or life threatening situations. While receiving mandatory counseling after a shooting, the police psychiatrist told Terry that she was a “danger junkie.” She didn't think that was true, but the pumping of adrenalin through her body definitely heightened her senses and quickened her reflexes. In this organization, these men were the labor. While they might possess some rudimentary skills, they were not elite operatives. Even though the odds were four against one, Terry had one distinct advantage, she had a pretty good idea whom she was facing. On the other hand, the four men mistakenly assumed that Terry was just a casual and defenseless hiker.

“As much as I would like to spend a little quality time with you, we're on a tight schedule.” The Man with Eagle Tattoo turned to the other men.”Let's do this.”

All Terry needed were those precious couple seconds when they were looking each other at not at her. Terry drew her Ruger 101 and began firing. She went for the kill. This wasn't like when she was on duty and the use of deadly force was always a last resort. This was something completely different and Terry was taking no chances. Each man took a round to the face or head depending on which way they were turned. Four shot in less than two seconds and all of them within two inches of where Terry aimed.  She slipped her weapon into her pocket, took out her phone and got photos of their faces. Terry made sure to get a photo of the tattoo. It was very distinctive. Her experience as a homicide detective helped keep her calm and methodical.

The Park Ranger approached, looked at the dead men then at Terci. His sidearm was drawn and pointed at her.

“Don't do this.” Terry stated matter of factly.

“I got no choice. I can't let you leave this mountain.”

“I know.”Terry slowly turned to the side, exposing less of her body to a bullet.  She dove into the brush while reaching for her weapon at the same time. The Park Ranger fired. A split second later Terry squeezed off a round. One was on right on target, the other was slightly off.

Terry left shirtsleeve was soaked with blood by the time she reached the parking lot below. As she drove away she looked in her review mirror and saw several men running down the trail. A high tech surveillance camera was mounted on a pole at the entrance to the parking lot. Terry knew it wouldn't be long before they knew who she was from the license plates on her vehicle.

Later that day, Mike McNulty received a phone call. “Are you at the hotel?”

“I've changed my plans.” Terry answered as she sat in her vehicle and cleaned the wound on her upper arm with hydrogen peroxide. “Somebody might ask you if you've heard from me. Tell them no.”

There was a slight pause. “What's going on?”

“I'm not sure yet.” Terry answered. “I need to get going. I'll explain later. Remember, you haven't heard from me.”

“Do you need my help?” Mike asked.

“No, I better take care of this myself. Thanks anyway.”

“Be careful.”

“I planned on it.” Terry terminated the call then drove to the Fry's Warehouse in San Marcos where she used a Sim Card Reader to transfer essential information on her I Phone to a prepaid cell phone then destroyed her phone.  She purchase two other “burner phones.” in the process.

In the parking lot she dialed an acquaintance who worked for Whitewater Securities in San Diego. This company specialized in security for overseas installations and politicians as well background checks for top security positions. It had many ex-military personnel in its employment. Everett Tate was a former Seal that Terry met during a security seminar.

“I don't know if you remember me. My name is Terry Rayfield.”

“Sure I do. You're the Orange County detective. We met at Coronado last year.” Everett Tate said. “What can I do for you?”

“Terry hesitated. “I liked to send you something. See you know anything about the men in the photos.”

“Is this official or personal?”

“Let me put this way. I'd like to keep this between you and me.” Terry said

“You got it.  Send them to my personal phone number and call me back tomorrow.”

“I don't want to you rush you, but I'm kind of in a hurry.”

“Make it two hours then.” Everett Tate replied.

Terry took a nap in the parking lot of Coco's restaurant off Melrose Drive in Vista. She awakened three hours later. “Oh Shit.” she immediately called Everett Tate.

“I wasn't sure you were going to call back.”

“Sorry about that. I dozed off. Got anything?” Terry asked as she grimaced from the pain in her arm

“I do. We should meet.”

Terci was hesitant. “Why can't you tell me over the phone?”

“You have every right to be cautious. While looking up those men, my agency picked up an alert. Someone put you on a terrorist watch list. One more thing, there's a five million bounty on you...dead or alive. I don't know what you're into, but it sure has created a shitstorm.”

“Five million, huh?”

“I have an old score to settle with the people who I think are involved in this. We might be able to help each other.” Everett Tate explained.

Terry didn't answer as her mind raced through different scenarios. If Tate wanted the reward, why would he tell her about it. She'd would have never known and he could have caught her off guard. “Where?”

“The Flower Hill Shopping Center on Via Del Valle. I'll be in front of the Cinepolis Theater at 1900 hours. Think about it.” Everett Tate hung up without waiting for a reply.

Terry drove to the commuter parking lot off State 78 and found a secluded place. She inconspicuously switched plates on her Toyota Highlander to another SUV. Terry then drove into Oceanside and purchased a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap from a local surfshop. She stayed off the freeway choosing instead to drive to Del Mar on the Coast Highway.

Everett Tate was pacing back and forth in front of the theater when someone in a hooded sweatshirt walked past him. He heard the words.”Follow me.”

Tate followed the hooded stranger into the lobby. Terry pulled her hood down.

“Good disguise.” Tate commented as he handed Terry a manila envelope. She opened it and looked at the contents.

“Whooree....You weren't kidding about a shitstorm.”

“That's when I talked to you earlier. It's probably up to a Category Five tornado by now.” Everett Tate. “Everybody you know, everything about your life is under surveillance and scrutiny right now. I've got a boat waiting at a marina in San Diego. We can be in Rosarita Beach in less than two hours.”

“Then what?” Terry asked.

“We get you a new I.D. then we go after these bastards.”

Terry managed a half grin. “Best offer I've had all day.”



Cold Ice Hot Steel

posted Sep 12, 2014, 8:17 AM by Ron Pickett

Cold Ice   Hot Steel


          Charlie Reese had an ice bag wrapped to ailing right knee as he lowered himself into his worn and faithful recliner.  A cold beer was setting within reach on the end table to his right. It patiently beckoned to be consumed. The remote control was cradled in his left hand. After a long hard day on the streets of Lincoln Heights, there was no place Charlie would rather be than right where he was. He had previously recorded the 1975 film, Hard Times with Charles Bronson and James Coburn and prepared to watch it. Even though he had seen it numerous times, it still remained one of his favorite movies. Charlie found it to be entertaining, relaxing and inspiring all at the same time. It helped nullify the negative effects of dealing with the dregs of society that were an occupational hazard of his job.

The phone rang and Charlie cursed the interruption. “Oh shit.”

When he saw who it was, he immediately answered it. “Hey Ben.”

There was a hesitation on the other end. “It's not Ben...its Wendy.”

“Hi Wendy. What's up?” Charlie immediately sensed that something was wrong from her tone of voice.

“Ben's been killed. I don't have any other details. You're the first person I called. Wendy cried. “I need to call his parents. I'll let you know when they tell me more.”

Charlie was dumfounded and speechless.  He couldn't process the information. It was too traumatic for his mind to accept. If longevity and shared experiences had anything to do with friendship then Ben was an invaluable part of Charlie's life. Their connection went back many years. They went to high school at Huntington Beach High and served in the Marine Corps together. After leaving the Corps they traveled around the world for six months before deciding to use their military experience and veterans' preference and applied for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Charlie was best man at his friend's wedding. Ben and Wendy left Los Angeles and moved to Arizona when Wendy's father became ill and needed some assistance. Ben took a job with the Maricopa Sheriff's Department and has been with them for the last three years. Charlie and Ben usually got together around the holidays and at least once a year went on a surfing trip. Hawaii was on their tentative schedule this time. They usually spoke on the phone two or three times a week as well. Charlie had acquaintances and associates, but Ben was his only friend.  Charlie knew there would never be another Ben Allison in his life again not only because he didn't have the time, but also because he didn't have the slightest inclination to let anyone ever know that much about him again. As different accounts of what lead to Ben's death became to surface, Charlie's grief slowly turned to anger.  What he heard would have been hard to believe except for the point that the feds were involved. That made incompetent, irresponsible and politically motivated behavior totally within the realm of possibilities and probabilities. Lieutenant Perino, Ben's shift commander told me. “I've got two years to retirement, a bad heart and I'm barely hanging on with my fingertips for my pension so if you want the truth, I need your word that you didn't hear this from me.”

“You got it.” Charlie promised.

“You would think that after the Fast and Furious train wreck, that the Feds would have learned their lesson and backed off, but instead they decide to do something even more reckless and dangerous.”

“Which is?” Charlie inquired.

“Jorge Ramos, the man who killed Ben works as an enforcer for the Benjamin Barmenta cartel. He bounces back across the border liked he owns both countries. When we catch him, we have standing orders to turn him over to ICE who releases him back across the border and then he comes back when he feels like it.”

“Why's that?” Charlie questioned.

“The current administration is trading weapons and immunity to drug dealers in return for worthless intel about any terrorist threats moving through Mexico and possibly coming across the border. This is the classic dog and pony show.  Instead of securing the border, they give weapons to hardened criminals in the name of national security. ”

Charlie went back to his motel and thought about what Lt. Perino told him. If he had any doubts they were put to rest the next morning as he watched Fox News. The Department of Justice had the unmitigated audacity to make a public statement on the day of Ben's funeral.  To get in front of the story, so to speak. The spokesman read a prepared statement; “The United States has been working with our Mexican allies to stop dangerous terrorists sneaking across our Southern border. This program has already shown dramatic results on the was against terrorism. The war against terrorism is a global and ongoing war and the United States can not do it alone so we are always willing to work with other countries to protect human life in the ongoing War on Terrorism.”

Charlie knew the catch phrase  “War on Terrorism.”  was overused and misused. The American government knew the best way to stretch the boundaries of its ever expanding authority was to instill fear in its citizens. Fearful Americans will gladly give up their rights and freedoms if they feel they are being protected. It was not only an underhanded dirty political trick but a national disgrace.

When Charlie tried to find Jorge Ramos, he was told that he was being held in a federal detention center, undisclosed of course.  When it was time to head back to Los Angeles, Charlie stopped by to see Wendy. “If you need anything...anything at all, you call matter what time or what it is and I'll be here.” Charlie promised.

“I know. You were Ben's best friend and he loved you.” Wendy replied.

“I loved him too.” Charlie swallowed hard as he choked back his tears.

“I saw you talking to some of Ben co-workers. Don't do anything stupid, Charlie. Nothing is going to bring Ben back and I couldn't take it if something happened to you too.”

Charlie flashed a boyish smile. “Me doing anything stupid. Why would you think that?”

When Charlie got back to Los Angeles, he immediately went to see his personal physician and asked him to write a letter to the Sheriff's Department requesting an indefinite medical leave of absence for excessive stress. Charlie needed to devote his full attention to the matter at hand.. Over the next thirty days, Charlie called everybody he knew in the law enforcement community asking for information about Benjamin Barmenta and Jorge Ramos. When he got what he needed, he moved to the next step.  Jack Hannity  had worked at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department during the same time frame as Charlie and Ben. He was also a former Marine as well. He was a top sniper in the Corps and worked at that position with the Sheriff's Swat Team and was the best shot Charlie had ever seen. There was a botched hostage situation in Boyle Heights where two innocent residents were killed when the on site commander got impatient and ordered Jack to take out the suspected kidnappers of a small girl. The problem was that in the rush to enact the rescue a number on the warrant got inverted by a careless or hurried clerk. Instead of 879 it read 789. Even though there was supposed to be a recording of the radio transmissions, it mysteriously got lost or was purposely destroyed. No one could be sure which. The bureaucrats needed a fall guy in a hurry to stall any outside investigations by the FBI so the County Board of Supervisors quickly offered Jack a full medical retirement for PTSD if he admitted he may have misunderstood the order. Jack knew the system well enough to know that shit floats to the top when it comes to leadership while truth often gets flushed down the toilet. He already had a few disciplinary reprimands in his record book so he could leave now with a pension or wait to be fired later on a trumped up charge and end up with nothing. Jack Hannity now resided in Lake Havasu, Arizona.

Charlie was surprised when he drove up to the gate of the spacious estate.  He pressed the intercom. “Charlie Hood.”

The gate slowly opened and Charlie drove up the long driveway to the front of the sprawling single story home. Jack Hannity was wearing shorts, flip flops and a faded blue t-shirt as he walked out to meet Charlie He was lean, relaxed and had a welcoming smile on his face.  “Its been too long.”

Charlie replied. “Yes it has.”

As they walked inside Jack offered his condolences.. Sorry to hear about Ben. He was one of the good ones.”

“One of the best actually.”

Two large muscular Pitbulls, one black and white, the other, gray and white were lying down on the floor when Charlie entered. They raised their massive heads in curiosity.

“Go back to sleep. He's a friend.” Jack told them. The dogs immediately complied.

“It looks like you 're doing pretty well.”

“No complaints.  You mean this place? It belongs to one of the casinos in Laughlin. Some professional gambler lost it in a high stakes poker game. They were using it as a comp for high rollers who bring their families with them. You'd be surprised how much property casinos own around the world.”

“Why are you here.? You're not a high roller. At least you didn't used to be?” Charlie asked.

“Far from it. I do various assignments for the casinos when they need me. I have a pension so I don't need the money so I take this as part of my compensation package.”

“Ummm” Charlie shrugged.

“Its nothing illegal. Let me rephrase that. Its kind of like that gray black white area that could be legal depending on your perspective. I help trusted employees and valuable guests of the casinos who run into legal difficulties or problems with the law. I try to convince complainants and witnesses that a financial settlement is more in their interest than a long drawn out prosecution and court proceeding. And once in a while...very seldom...I kind of put the wheels in motion where a report gets misplaced permanently.” Jack rationalized with a sly grin.

“I'm happy for you and don't take this the wrong way, but I really don't give a shit if you're breaking, bending or twisting the hell out of the law. I got other things on my radar right now.”

“Right. Enough of my delusional ramblings. You're here because of Ben. Where do I fit in?”

“I'm going after Ben's killer. I came here because I needed your specializes skills, but I see you got a sweet deal here so I'll make other arrangements. I'll be seeing you.” Charlie got up to leave.

“Hold on, Charlie! What I do to pass the time during my tarnished golden retirement years is a diversion not a calling. Ben was my friend and despite being a hardheaded son of a bitch so are you. You came all this way to tell me something so put it out there before I tell my dogs that you're a pork chop.”

It is sunset and it has cooled off a little. Jack put his two dogs in the back of his SUV.  Charlie got in the passenger seat.

“Pitbulls are the dogs of choice for drug dealers. I volunteer for an animal rescue group. Sometimes we'll get a call when dogs are abandoned in the desert. I was on duty when the call came in. When I found Danny and Thor, they were about an hour away from crossing over the rainbow bridge. I brought them to the vet where they put them on IV's and cooled them down with ice.  It was touch and go for a couple days them until they started to recover.  When they were well enough I adopted them. I'm not comparing my dogs to Ben, don't get that impression. I'm just saying that men like us have to do what our hearts tell us to do otherwise we'd never be able to face another day.”Jack explained.

 When they got to the Marina, Jack let his dogs out and they immediately ran to a boat and eagerly jumped in.

Jack started the boat and drove a mile down river. He put a swim vest on each dog.”

“Charlie didn't say anything, just smiled and watched.


Danny and Thor jumped into the river. Jack started driving upstream as the dogs swam against the powerful current.

“I never get tired of watching their power and determination. There is no give up in them.” Jack smiled. “Their whole life is about not disappointing you.”

By the time they reached the Marina, Danny and Thor were completely exhausted.

“I'm impressed.” Charlie said.

 Later, Charlie and Jack are sitting at the dining table and going over files and photos of Barmenta and Ramos.

“What do you think?” Charlie asked.”

“It's possible. Let me show you something.”

Charlie and Jack walked to the back of the property where two metal security containers and a metal security office were setting under a large desert camouflaged tarpaulin

“I like to keep my equipment in these containers. It's easier to move them around this way.”  Jack explained as he unlocked the doors to all three. The containers are filled with various weapons and boxes of ammunition. The security office was a workshop.

“You sure got a lot of toys.” Charlie marveled as he took it all in.

“It's amazing how much stuff a person can accumulate over the years when he's not paying attention or doesn't have much of a life.” Jack said. “If we're going to do this then we'd better find the right tools for the job.”

Several hours later, “I really like the Barrett fifty cal, but I think for this particular soiree, we need something lightweight. Jack pulled a rifle off its wall mount. This is an M-25 SOCOM, a variation of the M-21 which is a modification of the old reliable M-14.” Jack opened a drawer and pulled out a narrow box and opened it. “Some shooters prefer the Bausch and Lomb tactical scope. Personally I lean more toward the Swarovski Z6.  We'll use OPS suppressors.  Here's one thing I've been fooling around with.” Jack open a freezer door.

“If you're getting an ice cream bar then get me one too.?” Charlie said.

“I don't think you want to chew on this.” Jack smiled and pulled out a small box. He opened the lid and held it up for Charlie to see.

“What is that? Frozen bullets.” Charlie asked.

“Nothing gets by you, does it?” Jack joked. “They hit their target and disintegrate.”

“You're one devious son of a bitch.”

“I'll take that as a compliment.” Jack smiled. “I've got Kimbers, Berettas, Tim Wessons. Do you have any preference for a handgun?”

“I'll stick with my HK P7.” Charlie answered.

“What about this?” Jack opened a drawer and pulled out a weapon.

“That looks like a Glock 18 to me.”

“Right again.” Jack pulled out a drum magazine and inserted it. “We can do fam-fire tomorrow morning.

 At sunrise Charlie and Jack went to an isolated area in the desert where targets are set at various distances. There is also makeshift urban combat course.

“I own this property. I come out here to practice.” Jack said

There are paint splatters on the plywood partitions and metal barrels. “You doing paintball too?” Charlie asked

 Helps keep the senses sharp.” Jack answered. “Kind of fun too especially when I invite the looney survivalists.”

For the next two hours, Charlie and Jack went through different scenarios with their weapons then made the appropriate adjustments in their strategy and equipment.

While firing the M-25, Jack reminded Charlie as he sighted in. “B.R.A.S.S. breath, relax, aim, slack, squeeze. The ice projectile hits the bullseye and explodes. “You just might almost be as good a shot as me.” Jack laughed.

The next morning as they sat at the dining room table. “We need to get us a SUV,  Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, something like that. Charlie suggested.

“I know a car lot where we can pick one up. Pay cash, no questions asked.”

“What about getting into Mexico?” Charlie asked

There's a crossing in Yuma that I've used before. We'll go through Algadones then its about sixty miles to Mexicali.” Jack added.

“You don't have to do this. You've done more than enough and I owe you big time, but I'll take it from here.” Charlie said. “This is my fight, not yours.”

 Jack protested. “You're going have to shoot me if you don't want me coming with you and even then I'll be dogging your trail. I'm already in the mindset for combat. I can't shut down just like that. My PTSD won't let me besides if I don't go with you, I might end up shooting up a mobile home park. You don't want that on your conscience, do you?”

A Fed Ex truck delivered a package for Charlie that afternoon.

“Is that what we're waiting for?” Jack asked.

Charlie opened the package and quickly scanned the contents. “Yup, latest intel on Ramos and Barmenta sent by an unknown and disgruntled FBI employee.” Charlie grinned. “We should leave in the morning.”

A large motor home arrived just before sunset and parked off to the edge of the property.

“Who's that?” Charlie questioned.

“That's Roger and Myra Donaldson. He's a retired Marine. They volunteer at the animal rescue too. They takes care of my dogs when I leave town.”

Next morning, it is still dark when Charlie and Jack finish packing the Ford Expedition.

“I'll tell Roger we're leaving and that they can move up to the house. Pick me up at the gate.” Jack said. “Let's go boys!”Danny and Troy followed Jack as he walked to the motor home.

Charlie is parked down by the gate when Jack walked up carrying two mid size boxes. He put them in the back of the SUV. “It looks like its going to be a nice day for a road trip. Hit it, Compadre!”

Charlie and Jack made good time on the road from Lake Havasu to Yuma then looked at each other when they got to the border. They didn't have to verbalize it because both men knew there was a distinct possibility that this could be their last time on American soil then crossed into Mexico.

Charlie had the list of places in his latest intel package of where Jorge Ramos liked to frequent in Mexicali. Three days passed and they were still not be able to locate their target. They were sitting in their vehicle across the street from a restaurant called. Senorita Bonita.

“I really hate surveillance.” Jack grimaced as he shifted in his seat.

“I told you that you didn't have to come.” Charlie replied.

“Is that the way its going to be?”


“Every time I make a casual comment about something, you're going to throw that back in my face.” Jack said.


Well, its not...”

Charlie quickly interrupted. “Take a look.”

Two black Cadillac Escalades pulled into the parking lot. Four thuggish looking men got out of the first Escalade and scanned the area. Two men stepped out of the second  Escalade and did the same. Several seconds pass before Jorge Ramos got out. He was wearing a shirt that was unbuttoned to his navel and several gold necklaces hung around his neck. His wristwatch was gold and diamonds and looked like it was heavy for him to lift. Jorge Ramos liked to flaunt his wealth and power. He loved the excesses that came with his position.

“There he is, Mr. Inconspicuous.” Charlie observed. “Being paid by the Americans and buying off the Mexicans. He's got a sweeter deal than you.”

“But he'll never be able to pull off the open shirt look like I can.”

The seven men walked into the building. The drivers of the two Escalades stood guard next to the vehicles.

“How do you want to do this?  Wait for them to come out?” Jack asked.

“Weren't you just bitchin' around sitting on your ass?” Charlie responded. “Let's get this show on the road.” and got out of the vehicle, put in his wireless earpiece in and started walking toward the restaurant. “Com check, copy?”

“5 by 5, loud and clear.” Jack responded.

“Take out the drivers when you hear me say, How's the food in this place? If you hear shooting then come in blasting, otherwise wait until I get Ramos to come outside.”

When Charlie entered the restaurant, he walked toward the large table where Jorge Ramos was sitting. He was stopped when he got within ten feet by Jorge's bodyguards. Charlie Hood had a gift or a curse depending on your perspective, he understood criminals. The more incorrigible they were, the less of a mystery they posed to him. In the few seconds Charlie had seen Jorge Ramos, he already knew what kind of worthless scum he was and what he needed to do to pull off his bluff.

“Easy fellas.” Charlie smiled and pulled out his badge. “A mutual acquaintance told me where to find you. I got something you''ll be interested in.”

 Another corrupt American. Ramos thought. “What mutual acquaintance?”

Charlie laughed. “I'd rather not mention his name in public, but do the initials ATF or DOJ mean anything to you?”

That's all Jorge Ramos needed to hear. “What do you have for me?”

“It's outside, I'll show you.” Charlie answered.

More guns, Jorge thought. “Lead the way.”

Charlie looked around the dining area. “How's the food in this place?”

Jack opened the cooler, pulled out a magazine and loaded it into the M-25. He quickly aimed and took out the two men with quick successive shots to the heart. “Done.”

Charlie heard the acknowledgment and quickened his pace. He was followed by all seven men. As soon they got outside, Charlie heard Jack's voice. “Take two steps to the left.  Charlie slowly complied. “I' ll take the four on the right. The other two and Ramos are yours.” Charlie nodded.

As soon as the first man got hit, Charlie drew his HK and shot the two men on the left. In less than three seconds, six men were dead and Ramos was the only one standing.

“Look into my eyes and tell me what you see? Charlie asked.

“Don't kill me!” Jorge pleaded.

“If you looked into my eyes, you'd see the end.”

End? End of what?” Jorge was scared out of his mind.

“End of your life.” Charlie calmly stated.

“Do this. We need to get out of here.” Jack said.

Charlie shot Jorge in the left knee. When Jorge screamed in pain and grabbed his leg. Charlie shot him in the other knee. Jorge fell to the ground in excruciating pain.

“Ssssshhh.” Charlie put his index finger to his lips. He stepped on Jorge's throat and slowly crushed his windpipe. While Jorge choked to death, Charlie shot him in the groin then calmly walked over to the vehicle where Jack was waiting. “You didn't tell me you were going to do that.”

“No mercy for the merciless.” Charlie responded without emotion. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Why would I have a problem? I just wished you would have let me in on it. I know how to shoot guys to make them suffer too.” Jack smiled.

“Let's more stop.”

Charlie and Jack drove past the fenced estate of Benjamin Barmenta and parked in a secluded area about a mile away.

They began preparing for the assault. Jack opened the two boxes. One was filled with C-4 explosives, the other had blasting caps and timers. “I thought I'd bring these just in case.”

“We might be able to find some use for it.”

Charlie was the not type of man to overlook details because of carelessness. He knew that even if his intentions were honorable, that would only carry him so far. Cemeteries were full of men who thought they were doing the right thing. Jack and him would still have to execute if they were going to survive. They set two blankets on the ground and began putting matching equipment on each one.

“You're not taking the ice bullets?” Charlie asked.

“They work alright if you got a cooler nearby. In this weather we only got a three to five minute window to use them. I think we should switch to the RIP's, full metal jacket.”

“Radically Invasive Projectiles.” Charlie agreed. “From cold ice to hot steel..good call.”

“I'm not going with the Glock 18..I need accuracy more than rounds per seconds.”

“Glock 18's out.” Jack said.

At four AM Charlie and Jack moved within two hundred yards of the Armenta compound. They got down into the prone position and scanned the area with their rifle scopes. Two armed guards were on a walking patrol. Charlie took out the man on the left, Jack got the one on the right. They got up and moved closer. A guard stood at the front gate, Charlie got him. A man on the roof was neutralized by Jack. Most snipers use the lower “triangle of death” throat down to both nipples. It was a bigger target. Charlie and Jack were good enough to use the upper triangle. Eyes down to the lips with the nose as the bulls eye.  They slowly opened the gate and quietly moved inside. At this time they pulled the masks down over their faces, leaving only their eyes and lips exposed. When they got to the back of the house, they looked through the window. Charlie and Jack set their sniper rifles behind a large trash can, pulled out their handguns and entered the house through the back door where four Mexican women were working in the kitchen. Charlie pointed his gun at them then said in Spanish. “Ni una sola palabra.” which roughly translated to; not a word. Jack pulled out several disposable flex cuffs and motioned for the women to sit down. He secured their ankles and hands then put a piece of duct tape over their mouths.

Charlie and Jack walked through the living room to the staircase. A guard just stepped into view as he prepared to walk downstairs. When he saw Charlie and Jack, he reached for his weapon, but it was too late. Charlie and Jack shot him simultaneously. He tumbled down the stairs and landed with a thud on the marble floor below.

             Benjamin Barmenta had told his men to keep the noise down when he was sleeping. He'd find the person responsible for waking him up and make him suffer. Barmenta rolled over in his custom made double king size bed with the Egyptian linen sheets and tried to sleep off his hangover. He kept saying he was going to drink less, but the only thing that he liked almost as much as alcohol were young innocent girls, preferably the ones traveling alone from San Salvador or the Dominican Republic. Last night he had too much of both. The girls had only two ways to go after Benjamin Barmenta had raped and abused them, death or prostitution.  They were nothing more than disposable commodities to him placed solely on this earth for his deviant and perverted pleasures.

The shock went all the way to his bones. What the hell was that! Benjamin Barmenta thought as he hit the floor.  When he looked up, he saw a man in a mask standing over him.

“Your wake up call, Sir.” Charlie said as he dangled the taser in his hand.

Jack was standing guard at door, looking up and down the hallway.

“We're going to take a little trip.” Charlie said.

“I'm going anywhere!” Benjamin Barmenta protested.

Charlie tasered Barmenta again. He screamed in pain. “How many times do you want to do this? I just put new batteries in.”

“You're a dead man!” Benjamin Barmenta threatened.

“How does that work? I've got the gun and you got nothing. It seemed that you're a lot closer to death than me, but you're entitled to your opinion.”

Jack said. “Ask him where he keeps his money.”

“Oh yeah.” Charlie said. “The money.”

Benjamin Barmenta pointed to a closet door. Jack opened it and saw the entire room filled with stacks of money.“You don't even lock it up?”

“Nobody is crazy enough to steal from me.” Barmenta growled.

Charlie handed his backpack to Jack. “Fill it up.” then to turned to Barmenta. “Get dressed.”

Jack took out their ammunition and explosives, put the money in the bottom of their packs then repacked them.“Our packs aren't big enough.”

Charlie pulled a sheet off the bed. “See how much you can put in this. Don't make it so heavy we can't carry it.”

Benjamin Barmenta was moving as slowly as he could.

“If we wanted to kill you, you'd be dead by now.” Don't make us change our minds.”

Benjamin Barmenta quickened his pace After he was dressed, Charlie secured his hands behind him with plastic restraints. “Check our exit. See you in the kitchen”

Jack swung the sheet filled with money over his shoulder and left the room. Charlie walked over to the closet and filled his pockets with money. He pushed Barmenta to the door, using him as a shield. Charlie pulled out a C-4 charge, set the timer for ten minutes then tossed it back into the open closet of money.

When Charlie and Barmenta got to the kitchen, Jack was standing next to the fearful women and looking out over the courtyard.

“Take Barmenta, I'll be right behind you.” Charlie said. “I'll carry the money.”

Jack walked outside and grabbed both rifles then came back in and handed one to Charlie. “Don't take too long.”

Charlie cut the restraints on the women. He took the money out of his pockets and dropped it on the floor. “Escapar corriendo.” which translates to run for your lives. The women grabbed as much money they could and ran out of the house. Charlie took out another C-4 charge set the timer for five minutes, threw it behind the stove, grabbed the sheet full of money and left.

Charlie caught up to Jack and Barmenta in a couple minutes. They were only a hundred yards from their vehicles when they heard the first explosion,.The second one was only a  minute later. A ball of flames lit up the morning skies.

“I hope you know a good realtor because you're going to need another house.” Charlie commented.

Jack was scanning the area behind them with his rifle scope to see if anyone was following. He saw four all terrain vehicles racing toward their position. “We got bogeys headed our way.”

“Did you actually think you could get away!” Barmenta laughed.

Without hesitation, Charlie raised his rifle and took aim, Jack did the same. They shot all four men off their vehicles. “I kind of thought we might have a slim chance.” Charlie stated matter of factly.

When they reached their vehicle, they put the money and Barmenta in back and drove to the border. When they got within a mile of the crossing, they pulled off the road.

Charlie pulled Barmenta out and handed him a sheet of paper. “Read this.”

Jack had his IPhone out and prepared to record it.

“No way! I'm not going to read this.” Barmenta vehemently protested.

Charlie put the barrel of his handgun to Barmenta's forehead. Read it and go free. Deny and Die.”

Barmenta knew he had no choice so he began to read. “I am Benjamin Barmenta. I am a drug trafficker. Agents from the United States government have been trading weapons for information with me. My organization has been using these weapons to conduct illegal activities and kill American citizens.”

“Got it.” Jack tapped Barmenta on the shoulder. “You got a real future in public service announcements.”

“One more thing and you're done.” Charlie said. “We need to give you an official termination notice compliments of the American people.”

 Benjamin Barmenta was found walking naked down the highway by a chicken farmer. His head was shaved and painted fire engine red. The initials ATF were carved into his chest and DOJ into his back.

Charlie and Jack approached the border crossing.”Where you coming from?” asked the Border Patrol agent.

“San Felipe, fishing trip.” Charlie responded.

“Are you bringing in any agricultural products”

“No. Didn't even bring back the fish we caught.” Charlie answered.

“Have a good day gentleman”

Jack was driving and Charlie was gazing out the window. “Stop!”

Jack hit the brakes. “What?”

Charlie got out and walked down a ravine. When he came back, he was carrying an injured Pitbull. The dog was jet black with dried blood all over him.

“How did you see him in that ravine?”

“I don't know if I did. I just knew he was there.”

Over the next three weeks, things changed quickly, both in Mexico and Washington. After Armenta's statement aired on YouTube, he became a liability, a disposable one. The official cause of his death was a self inflicted gunshot wound. The current administration went into severe damage control as various incompetent government agencies began investigating unaccountable government bureaucracies. UPS delivered a large box to Wendy Allison. It had two million dollars in it. There was no return address, but she knew who it was from. The animal rescue group that Jack volunteered with received an anonymous donation for the same amount. Jack was as surprised as everyone else...or so it seemed.

Charlie was packed and ready to head back to Los Angeles.

“No reason to rush back.” Jack said.

“I've been down here almost a month. Don't tell me you're not getting tired of looking at my ugly face by now.”

“You would think I would, but surprisingly no.”

“Don't worry, I'll be back. Good friends are too hard to come by. ” Charlie extended his hand. “You're the man.”

“Right back at you. You know you should have kept some that money. Cost of living in LA is pretty high.”

“It was never about the money.” Charlie said. “You didn't keep your share either.”

“Look around, I got everything I need. More money would only complicate my otherwise simple life.”

“Where's the dogs?” Charlie asked.

“Playing in the pool.” Charlie yelled out.” Let's go!

Three Pitbulls are swimming in the pool when they heard the command. They climbed out and came running.

Charlie opened the door to his vehicle and the black dog quickly jumped in.

“I could probably find a home for that dog if you wanted to leave him behind.” Jack teased.

“That's not going to happen. Take a a life...its all about the balance.”

“Amen to that brother.” Jack nodded.

Charlie placed his right hand on the dog's head. “Let go home, Ben.”





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