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Thomas Calabrese

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.”

 

THE END

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 me...no 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.

“Go!”

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?”

“What?”

“Every time I make a casual comment about something, you're going to throw that back in my face.” Jack said.

“Probably.”

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 go...one 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 life...save 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.”

 

THE END

 

 

NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH

posted Sep 12, 2014, 6:23 AM by Ron Pickett

           Rockford Garner retired from the Marine Corps after a distinguished twenty four year career. His rank at time of separation was First Sergeant. He started 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 made him realize that the time had come to leave the Corps.

 Rockford or “Rocky” as he was often called could have transitioned into a civilian career with CIA or the FBI but declined both options. He wanted to stay in one place and that one place was home. He had traveled enough during his military career to last a lifetime. His wife Emily was an emergency room nurse at Tri-City Hospital. She had been there twenty three years and planned on retiring when it was time to renew her nursing license in two years. His daughter Riley was in her second year of college at Cal State San Luis Obispo where she was majoring in engineering. His son Jimmy was a senior at El Camino High School. He was a pitcher on the baseball team and colleges were looking at him. There was a good chance that he would be offered a scholarship if he had a good year. Things seemed to working out well.  Emily cut back from three twelve hour shifts to two at the hospital so that she could not only spend more time with Rocky, but also so she wouldn't be so fatigued on her days off.

 Rocky and Emily had purchased their home in the Heartland housing area of Oceanside several years ago when the real estate market was down and got an excellent deal. Its value has increased every year.

They went over their finances in intricate detail and determined that with Rocky's military pension, their savings, investment portfolio and Emily's 401K, 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 so every morning after he took his two dogs to an open field for their exercise which was usually around sunrise, Rocky headed to the 14 Area pool on Camp Pendleton for a two mile swim. He could get a good cardio workout without doing any more damage to the joints in his legs. Afterward he stop by the fitness center for weight training and stretching. If Emily had not worked the night before he would pick her up and they would go to a small cafe that specialized in organic foods for a healthy breakfast. Later than afternoon Rocky would help Emily with her exercise routine at a neighborhood gym. If their son Jimmy had a game after school they would both attend that as well. It was everything that Rocky had hoped for and more when he envisioned retirement.

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

“It seems that there has been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood and they're looking for volunteers to join a NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH.” Emily said.

“I'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. Emily was drinking her orange juice and looking through a  fitness magazine.

“I was thinking.” Rocky began.

“Here it comes.”

“What?”

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

“I was thinking that I could help out with that neighborhood watch. We have two children that come in late at night sometimes. How you feel if something happened to them when they pulled in the driveway?”

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

“Let me rephrase that. I would feel bad if something happened.” Rocky said. “Especially if I could have done something to 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 haven't been around civilian society these past few years. Things have changed a lot and continue to change”

“How so?” Rocky inquired.”

“People are sue crazy nowadays. It is a litigious society that we live in. We could lose everything if you stop a burglar or stop some kid vandalizing a house. Even if you don't do anything wrong, we'd still have to hire a lawyer and that would cost thousands.  Just like that, our retirement nest egg is in somebody else pocket. Somebody might just provoke you for the sole purpose of taking you to court later. I have no doubt you'd do the right thing. Its the other guy I don't trust. ”

“I'm just going to have a flashlight and a cellphone with me. If I see something suspicious I'll call 911, do an about face and walk away.  In case you haven't noticed but since I left the Marines they call me Mister Non Confrontational.”

Three days later Rocky drove Emily to the hospital.  She was scheduled to work from seven in the evening to seven thirty the next morning.

“Remember what you said, if you see anything suspicious, you'll call the police.” Emily's tone of voice was stern and unbending. “You gave me your word. Don't break it!”

“Absolutely. I told the guy in charge that I'll take the midnight to zero three hundred shift.  You might not know this, but in history that has always been the slowest time for anything to happen in the world.” Rocky quipped.

            It was 130 AM and so quiet that Rocky found himself reminiscing about walking guard duty when he was a young Marine.  While walking down Vista Capri, Rocky noticed a black SUV with tinted windows parked on the right side of the street. Several people in the neighborhood had SUV,'s but none had windows as  dark as these.   Rocky placed his hand on the hood. It was warm. He shined his flashlight in the window. He could barely see a rifle on the backseat. Just as Rocky turned to walk back down the street, he felt something touch his neck. It was hard and cold. Rocky slowly turned around and starring down the barrel of a pistol.

“Not a sound.” The man whispered.”

Rocky was lead into a house where four other men were waiting. The place was in disarray. Drawers were pulled out and contents were scattered about. A woman and a man were lying motionless on the floor. From the location of their head wounds, Rocky knew they were dead.

“I saw him looking in our vehicle.” The man informed his superior.

The five men were all dressed in black outfits. They were carrying 9mm pistols with silencers. Their earpieces were state of the art military issue. These men were not common criminals. Rocky couldn't help but think that after all the things he's been in so many places around the world that he was going to get wasted less than a block from his home. The next thing that crossed his mind was how pissed off Emily was going to be. He gave her permission to say I told you so at his funeral.

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

One thing that they teach you in Special Ops is when the situation seems hopeless, buy yourself some time so Rocky made a play to prolong his life. “Frank told me that if anything happened to him then I was supposed to go to a storage locker and get something out.” Rocky didn't want to go overboard with his explanation. He wanted to be convincing without being unbelievable. He knew they were looking for something and if he could instill some measure of doubt in their minds.

“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 went through Rocky's pocket 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. He was sure glad that he made that decision.

“If I can take you to it , would that be worth my life?” These men were professionals, mercenaries probably and leaving any witnesses behind was not part of their plan, but he wanted them to think he was that naïve.

“The short stocky man thought for a second. “Where is this storage locker?”

“Down on Oceanside Boulevard. A couple mile from here.” Rocky knew that he had to make the location close enough so that waiting a few minutes would be too tempting to pass up.  If he said Los Angeles or some other place too far away they just might abort the entire mission.

“I'll give you thirty minutes. At thirty minutes and one second I'll call my men and if you haven't given me what I want, they'll kill you then I'll go to your house and kill your family.” The short stocky man sneered.

The man standing next to Rocky. “Its two AM. Will the place be open?”

“They have someone living on site. If we tell him its an emergency. He'll let us in.”

“I'll stay here with Sergio. You three get moving.” The short stocky man ordered.

In every mission there is always something that could have been done differently. If  they could do it again they would have tied Rocky's hands. Rocky started the stopwatch in his brain.  On the way out the front door, he inconspicuously brushed his hand over an end table in the hallway and picked up a ball point pen and palmed it.

“Where to?” The driver growled.

Rocky sat in back between two men. The driver sat alone up front.

“South on Rancho Del Oro and East on Oceanside Boulevard.”Rocky responded.

He visualized in his mind how he would proceed. He knew that if he failed to kill the three men then he would be killed. No middle ground, no truces, no do overs. His plan was clear and simple. The execution of it would be far more difficult. Rocky listened to the men speak and tried to remember anything about their voices that he could imitate later. Rocky recognized one accent as South African, another was French, he hoped the man was not Foreign Legion. They could be pretty rough.

When the SUV stopped at the intersection of Rancho Del Oro and Mesa Avenue, Rocky knew he had to make his move. He 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. In a split second, Rocky grabs the Glock 17 from the man who screamed in pain as he pulled the pen out of his eye. Rocky shot him twice in the side then did the same to the man on the other side. Rocky leaned forward and put two rounds into the base of the skull of the driver as he struggled to exit the vehicle. 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 guessed that he had about nineteen minutes left.

Rocky's mind raced. He found the man that was closest to him in size and weight and took his clothing off.  Rocky 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.  These men were wearing black rubber soled boots. Rocky had light blue Nikes on.  It would be very easy to tell the difference from a distance so he took off the boots off one man that looked like his size 12. In situations like this it would be better to be over cautious then to assume that they might not notice. Surprisingly the boots fit pretty well. The shirt was shirt wet and cool. Rocky felt a chill run up his spine knew that this was from blood. He was going to have to take a long hot shower if he lived through this. Time was running out as he began searching through the SUV for anything he could use. In the back was a large duffel bag. Rocky unzipped it and found bundles of twenty and fifty dollars bills. He didn't have time to count it, but it was a hell of a lot. Rocky assumed it was either for services rendered or to make a buy. Whatever the case, it was his now. He found a lug nut wrench by the spare tire. A cell phone rang. At first Rocky couldn't tell what pocket of what dead man it was in. He found it by the third ring. He began the hitting lug wrench against the dashboard to create a loud distracting noise. He answered the phone as he muffled his voice. “We're getting in right now.” BANG BANG as the lug wrench hit even harder. “I can't hear you.” Rocky quickly hung up.

He hoped that the man back at the house bought it. He'd know soon enough. Rocky drove to his home and put the large duffel bag in his storage shed then took a large cardboard box and dumped out the contents. Rocky cut two holes in the side of it that was large enough to put his hands through

 Rocky knew he had to get his cellphone and driver's license back and there was only one way to do that. Rocky parked in the same place that the SUV was previously. He took the empty box and two weapons from the dead men. He inserted his hands into the box with his fingers on the triggers of the Glock 17's. Rocky held the box high enough so that his face was blocked from view. He took a deep breath just before he kicked the door with the toe of his boot. When the man in charge opened it, his first question was. “Where are the others?” Rocky lowered the box just low enough so that the man could see his face. The last thing that went through the man's brain before the two bullets did was. “Oh shit!”

Rocky dropped the box and shot the other man twice in the leg as he turned to run then walked over and calmly executed him with a single shot to the forehead. It was four AM, three and one half hours before Rocky was supposed to pick up Emily from the hospital.  He retrieved his cellphone and driver's license then went over everything that he might have touched and wiped it down with a wet dishtowel and cleaning solvent. When he was sure he got everything, he went over it one more time. He changed out of the dead's man clothes, washed the blood off his body then dressed in his own clothes. Rocky found a cellphone in the pocket of the man in charge. He dialed O. When the operator answered.  Rocky grumbled.“This is an emergency! I need the FBI. Now!!”

 Ten seconds passed. “This is the FBI.”

Rocky responded. “Trace this number.” wiped the phone with a rag and set it on the dead man's chest. He wiped the doorknob as he left and calmly walked back to his home. He took a hot soapy shower and dressed in different clothes. Rocky went out to the shed and took several bundles of twenties, placed the money in several one gallon plastic freezer bags, wrapped rubber bands around them and placed them in the bottom of a trash can. Rocky then got two bags of organic compost and filled the trash can to the top.

The remainder of the money was placed in a large trash bags and put in a plastic storage container. Rocky found a place behind the barbecue grill in the backyard that had decorative rock on the ground. He raked the rocks away and dug a hole that was large enough to put the container in. He set a piece of plywood that was three feet by two feet over the hole then raked the rocks back over it. By the time Rocky was done, it was impossible to tell that anything had been disturbed. It was almost seven AM. Rocky didn't want to aroused Emily's suspicions so he focused on calming down before picking her up. He drove to the hospital while being extremely careful to stay within the speed limit.

When they entered their housing area, Emily noticed that the cul de sac next to theirs was filled with vehicles. Two cars had the entrance blocked. 'What do you think is happening there?”

Rocky feigned disinterest. “I don't know...it was alright when I walked passed there earlier in the night.”

The first thing Rocky did when nobody was at home was to remove the money from   its hiding place and count it. It came to three million dollars. He counted it twice to be sure.  Emily didn't need to know anything that happened. It would serve no useful purpose to tell her. Rocky immediately knew that it would be a grievous error to make big purchases with his newly acquired wealth. Drawing on his past experiences hunting terrorists Rocky knew that investigators would be checking financial records of anyone remotely connected to the killings and that included residents of the area. He would never take more than several hundred dollars out a day and only made purchases he could do with cash; gas, groceries etc. It was against Rocky's code to use this unexpected financial windfall totally for his family. It not only didn't feel right in his gut, but it would have been like a black unlucky cloud hanging over his head if he didn't share the money so every week he took out a thousand dollars and made anonymous donations to veterans' organization, animal rescue groups and local homeless shelters. He would also purchase two hundred dollars in fast food gift cards to pass out when he came across panhandlers or homeless individuals.

 While watching television Emily said. “Before I forget, I thought one of my tires was low on air so I stopped off to have them check it. The guy told me I'm going to need a new set of tires in the next few thousand miles.”

“Thanks for telling me. I'll make it a point to see check they're wearing. Don't worry, I'll stay on top of it. I don't want anything to happen to you.”

Two days later, Rocky took Emily's car to a tire and wheel shop.

“How can I help you?” The salesman asked.

“Would you take a look at my tires and see what you think.”

The salesman measured the thread. “You still have some wear left on these.”

“I might as well replace them now.” Rocky suggested. “That way I won't have to worry about it later.”

“I have a dependable mid priced tire in stock that I can offer you a good deal on.” The salesman said.

“How about a good deal on the best tires you have?  Any discount for cash?”

On the way home Rocky got Emily's car washed waxed and detailed. Rocky noticed  the government license plates on the dark brown sedan as he pulled into the driveway of his home. When he entered through the front door, Emily called out from upstairs. “Where have you been?”

“I had a couple errands to run.” Rocky replied.

“Why did you take my car?” Emily asked

 I thought I'd get it washed while I was out.”

A couple men were here earlier. They wanted to talk with you?” Emily added.

Did they say what they wanted?” Rocky inquired.

“No.”

“If it's important they'll be back.” No sooner did Rocky finish his statement that the doorbell rang. He opened it.

Emily looked over the railing. “I guess it was important.”

Rocky quickly evaluated the two men. Both stood about six foot tall and wore  similar dark suits. Rocky recognized the bulge under their jackets. They were packing heat.

“Are you Rockford Garner?” The first man asked.

“Who's asking?” Rocky replied as he made eye contact.

“We liked to ask you some questions?” The second man injected.

“Answer mine first?”

The first man quickly flipped out his badge then almost as quickly put it back in his pocket. “We're with the government.”

“Slow down a little with that badge flip.” Rocky responded. “I like to read what I'm seeing.”

The man pulled out his badge again and held it out for Rocky to see. 'Satisfied.”

“Can I see yours now?”

The second man pulled out his badge and Rocky looked at it. “Homeland Security, Counter Terrorism. Wait here. I'll be right back.”

Rocky walked into the kitchen and got a notepad. “You don't mind if I write your names down do you?”

The men tried not to show any displeasure at Rocky's request, but it was evident that they didn't like it.

“Come in. Mr. Farmer, Mr. Johnson.”

The two men entered and began immediately looking around the room.

“Looking for something?” Rocky asked.

“Is there some place we can talk in private?” Mr. Farmer asked.

“Sure.” Rocky called up to Emily. “I'll be in the family room in case you need me.”

Jimmy was watching television when Rocky entered. “Do you think I used this room to talk to these men?”

“Yeah.” Jimmy shut off the television and promptly left the room.

The two men sat down on the couch, almost in unison almost as if they had rehearsed the move. Rocky thought it was a little strange, but these gentlemen were from the government so their behavior shouldn't be expected to be normal.

Rocky knew that these men were evaluating him, looking for signs of nervousness. He sat quietly until the Mr. Johnson  finally spoke. “Six weeks ago this past Friday you were on Neighborhood Watch.”

Rocky didn't respond.”

Is that correct?”

“Was that a question?”

“Affirmative.”

“Its possible. I can't recall exactly.  You have a date...time..details like that”

Mr. Farmer pulled out a PDA from his suit pocket and typed in something. “You had an impressive military record when you were in the Marine Corps. A man doesn't forget skills like that even when they're get back in the civilian world. What is it that they say, “Once a Marine...always a Marine.”

Rocky knew the game these men were playing. They had no hard evidence so they were throwing verbal garbage against the wall to see what would stick.

“Do you mind if we look around your house?” Mr Johnson asked then added. “This is a matter of national security.”

“My wife is upstairs. She's pretty patriotic, but let me run it by her anyway. For the record its fine with me.” Rocky took two steps then turned around. “You bring a search warrant with you?”

“We could get one.” Mr. Farmer responded.

“Never mind. I know how busy you are. I'll be right back.” Rocky walked upstairs and went directly into his closet. “Do you know where we put the video camera?”

“Top shelf. I don't know if the battery is charged.” Emily answered as she worked at her desk. “Who are those guys?”

“They work for the government. From what I can tell, they're investigating something I might have or have not been involved in. They're not real forthcoming with specific details.” Nothing to worry about.” Rocky walked downstairs and approached the two men. “My wife said its just fine and dandy with her.”

As Farmer and Johnson began searching the family room, Rocky raised the camera and pretended to videotape the two men.

“What are you doing?” Farmer demanded

“You don't mind, do you? Its just for my own protection. I have nothing to hide. I just assumed that you didn't either.”

Farmer and Johnson went over to the corner of the room and had a brief discussion.“We don't really have to see anything else.”

As Rocky lead the two men to the front door. “Good luck on whatever you're looking for.”

“Be careful, you might be too smart for your own good.” Johnson warned.

“I'll remember that.”Rocky shut the door behind the men. He knew that most mid level bureaucrats preferred to fly under the radar. Johnson and Farmer were probably no different. Without any evidence it wasn't worth jeopardizing their career to go after him especially if they knew he had the knowledge and skills to do the same to them. Rocky continued to maintain his same level of caution when dealing with the money just in case the government decided to keep him under surveillance. Six months later as they were leaving for dinner. “I just wanted to compliment you on your financial management skills.” Emily said. “It seems like we've been doing pretty good since you took over the handling of the bills. ”

“I guess I just got a knack for finding good deals and saving money.”

Rocky smiled when he passed the sign on the light post that read; This area is protected by Neighborhood Watch.

 

The End

COSMIC SALVATION

posted Sep 12, 2014, 6:18 AM by Ron Pickett

COSMIC SALVATION

 

            The giant asteroids were on a collision course. One was almost six hundred miles across at its widest point, the other was slightly less than five hundred.

They had been floating through the infinite vastness of the Whirlpool Galaxy for thousands of years but destiny had other plans for them.

 When they hit the impact was so immense and incalculable that the largest piece left of both asteroids was less than a mile across. Billions of particles were dispersed over millions of square miles of infinite space.

Centuries passed until one chunk of these orphan rocks drifted into the earth atmosphere. The two hundred ton projectile was a beam of bright light as it flamed across the sky. It was burning and disintegrating at a rapid rate. Its own speed and gravity was cannibalizing and devouring it, but unlike most meteors that vaporize into this dust, this one's twenty ton core made it all the way to the ground.

It exploded into the Hindu Kush mountain range and cut through the  solid rock formation as easily as a surgeon's scalpel through human flesh. When the meteor stopped, it was imbedded eighty feet below the surface. There was a faint humming sound and an orange glow to  it. The meteor's location prevented it from being seen from above. This was June 7, 1952. For decades the Pastun tribes of the region knew there was something different about this area. Sometimes they would feel the ground vibrate under their feet. The ground was distinctively warmer here. Many thought it was an underground hot spring or volcano. Still others felt it was something else, sinister or spiritual....opinions varied as time passed.

Over the years the humming grew softer and orange glow diminished.

            Firebase Viper was a small forward operating base, fifteen bunkers and a LZ. It was located near the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders.

Third platoon of Lima Company 26th Marines had just relieved Bravo One Nine and had only been at Viper for a few weeks.

Corporal Mike Hoffman was playing cribbage with Ron Pickering. Lance Corporal Norman Muhl was sending an e-mail to one of his girlfriends, both were named Gail so to avoid confusion, he always consulted his notebooks which contained pertinent and extremely personal information on both. Lance Corporal Muhl considered it a great accomplishment to keep two woman dangling from his strings of verbal deceit.

PFC Frank Summers was browsing through a Popular Mechanics magazine and Corspman Griswald was catching some zzzzz's.

Sergeant Van Zandt entered. “Hoff, patrol..ten mikes.” and was gone without waiting for even a nod of acknowledgment.

Everybody gets a nickname in a grunt unit. It's a rite of passage. Hoffman was Twister because he was from Oklahoma's Tornado Alley and had an uncanny sixth sense when it came to predicting bad weather.

Pickering was called “Samaritan” because it was just his nature to help anybody who had a problem...he was sometimes called “Sam.”  Summers was Pseudo, short for pseudo-intellectual. Psuedo was always searching for explanations even where they weren't any to be found and liked to think that he was smarter than he really was. Muhl was “Ab” not Abe, but Ab. No Marine is ever going to be called Norm Muhl by his buddies as in normal so ab was added. Abnormal shortened to Ab. Griswald was called “Lampoon” after Clark Griswald in National Lampoon's Vacation. He was also kind of a dufus. Van Zandt was the “Bear” not just for the obvious reasons, but partly after Teddy Roosevelt who said “Walk Softly And Carry A Big Stick” Teddy Roosevelt also had a great affection for the American Grizzly Bear. Teddy just didn't fit a man like Van Zandt who was both mentally and physically strong. A Marine would be better off ignoring the roar of an angry Grizzly than disregarding an order from Sergeant Van Zandt. Nicknames have their own twisted logic and rules of application. If the name sticks, that's good enough. Bear pulled out the map, set it on the ground and put rocks on each corner to keep it from blowing away.

This is our sector of search.” and pointed to a place on the map.

What are we searching for?” Samaritan asked.

Some soldier walked off his base last night. Left his weapon and all his fighting gear behind.”Bear answered.

He deserted? He picked a hell of a place to beat feet...ain't nothing out here except rocks and Taliban.” Lampoon laughed.

Maybe he was sleepwalking...he could of had a dream about donuts and lattes and went out looking for the nearest Starbucks.”Ab interjected. “Kind of like the last time you had a dream about marshmallows and when you woke up, half your pillow was missing” Ab taps Samaritan on the head.

You know how those doggies are. He probably decided to go after the Taliban on his own.” Twister said.

Without his weapon?”Ab questioned

All Army dudes are basically a cross between Captain America and Audie Murphy. He just wanted to make the fight fair, his bare hands are lethal enough.”

I sure would like to know his motivation.” Pseudo rubbed his chin.”

You can ask the bonehead if we find him. Saddle up. You got point,

Twister.” Bear ordered. “The sooner we get out there, the sooner we get back.”

Roger that.” Twister responded.

The patrol was almost at the end of its grid search when Twister felt something, not anything physical, more like a hunch. He instinctively looked up at the partially clouded sky.

Hold up.”

When the patrol stopped Twister walked back to meet Bear.

What's up?” Bear inquired.

We got a storm coming our way.” Twister answered without hesitation.

Bear instinctively looked up. “How long?”

An hour..maybe two.”

Both men knew that violent storms could arrive without warning in the mountains. Bear also knew from past experience that it was a

pretty safe bet to listen when Twister warned him about the weather.

Bear quickly scanned the terrain. “Let's make that next ridge line. That'll give us a good view of the valley. If we don't see him we'll head back.”

Twister continued to walk point until he reached the ridge line and was only out of sight of Pseudo for only a few seconds who was ten yards behind him when the lightning bolt struck him. Three million volts ripped through Twister's body knocking him twenty feet into the air. When he landed, Twister bounced against a rock formation and fell in the hole that the meteor made fifty years earlier.  Nearly every bone in his body was broken or shattered by the  impact of the eighty foot fall. It also caused massive internal injuries and serious brain damage. Twister was unconscious and only moments from death as the electrified blood, body fluids and brain matter seeped out of his body and into the meteor. This was the birth of a symbiotic relationship. The humming became louder and the orange glow grew brighter until it encompassed Twister broken and twisted body. The meteor was not just a rock, it was actually a living organism and it had just received a high powered blood transfusion. From this point on, this extraterrestrial creature and Twister would forever be joined.Twister's patrol stood dumfounded as they looked down at the black spot on the ground. The M27 automatic rifle was melted beyond recognition.  The ammo magazines had been turned to a puddle of liquid metal. Everything else was disintegrated. Bear reached down and touched the blackened area. He quickly pulled his hand away as it was still extremely hot.

I've read about spontaneous combustion. Maybe this is something like it.  The lightning may have exploded every cell in Twister's body.” Pseudo shrugged. “Poof.”

Nobody else had a better explanation to offer.

 Deep inside the hole the Twister's injuries were already beginning to heal. An energy source was methodically moving through his body, repairing the damage in a matter of seconds! His bones just didn't heal to their previous state, but became denser and many times stronger, similar to an alloy of tungsten and titanium. The Elastin and Collageneous fibers of Twister's muscles were magnified many times over and new flesh grew to cover the gaping wounds until there wasn't the slightest indication of an injury.  A technology so far advanced from this world had been awakened. A light entered the broken skull and moved through the brain matter, regenerating and

 

 

 

 

heightening every sense and capability. The wound closed around the light. When Twister opened his eyes, they were bright and alert.

Back at Firebase Viper, the mood was somber. The Marines in

Twister's squad were seasoned combat veterans used to seeing death, but this was something different. This was not an enemy bullet or an IED. They had never seen anything like this and they were having a tough time accepting another way to die in this hostile environment.

Bear entered. “I just wanted to give you a heads up. I notified Battalion about Twister. They're sending some people out to take your statements.”

Statements? We don't know anything. Twister was there and then he wasn't. What else are we supposed to say?” Samaritan said.

Its a little more complicated than that.”

I'm lost.” Lampoon interjected.”What do you mean, more complicated?”

Battalion is going want something that they kick up the chain of command without getting their own butts in a sling. Twister was here and then he wasn't won't look good on an official investigation.” Bear explained.

So are we supposed to lie?” Ab nervously shuffled from foot to foot.

“I'm just warning you that when they get here, they're gonna try and get you to change your story. They're going to say, Why don't we make up a different story that's easier to believe for his family and the public to believe. What difference does it make now. Be especially alert when they smile and say Trust me. And once one of us goes down that road, they're no turning back. We'll all be busting rocks in Leavenworth.”

What do you want us to do then?” Pseudo questioned.

Tell the truth and stick with your story...no matter what they say.”

 Twister stood up, still encompassed in the orange glow. He was completely naked, having lost all his clothing and boots from the lightning strike. He looked down at the meteor and communicated

telepathically. The meteor had created a smooth cylindrical surface without one protruding edge when it burrowed through the mountain.  So glassy-like that it would have been impossible for any normal human to climb up. Twister jammed the fingertips from his right hand into the solid rock to create a handhold. Then he did the same with his left hand. In less than a minute, he was standing on the ridgeline.

Another storm was in full force. The wind was blowing fiercely and the rain was horizontal. It didn't affect Twister in the slightest as he casually looked about.

The ground began to shake and rumble. After fifteen seconds the meteor rocketed out of the hole and into the sky.

Back at Firebase Viper. The squad was huddled in their bunkers as they waited for the storm to pass. The bunker rocked back and forth.

Did you feel that?” Lampoon asked.

Must have been an earthquake.” Pseudo replied and pulled his blanket tight around him.”

Major Matthew McStay and Captain Ryan Frost were JAG officers and had been working as an investigative team in Afghanistan for the past six months.

They were quartered in the command bunker and were also waiting out the storm. They took this time to compare notes and personal assessments.

If it doesn't make sense, its not true.” Major McStay commented.

All of their accounts of the incident are consistent.” Captain Frost rebutted.

Too consistent. It's like they been rehearsing. When this storm is over, we'll take them back to the rear, split 'em up and see how they react. Agreed?”

Roger that.” Captain nodded.

By the time Twister had taken his first step, all his memories were back as well as a massive amount of other information.

The storm had passed and the leader of the Taliban enemy patrol had a clear view of the naked unarmed American in his binoculars.

 They prepared their ambush and waited for Twister to walk into it.

By the time Twister made the turn in the trail, he already knew the enemy was hiding behind the boulders ahead. He had his own plan so he knowingly continued into the trap.

The five heavily Taliban fighters began screaming in Pashto for Twister to surrender.

You surrender.” Twister calmly replied in the same language.

When one Taliban fighter moved closer and poked at Twister with his weapon, Twister grabbed the Kalashnikov assault rifle and broke it in half with his bare hands.

The other Taliban opened fire.

The CH-53D helicopter landed at the LZ.  Sergeant Van Zandt lead his Marines to it. Following close behind was Major McStay and Captain Frost.

Lampoon stopped dead in tracks and Samaritan ran right into him.

What the hell!”

Lampoon pointed off into the distance.  Six men were walking toward the firebase. The Marines instinctively went into their defensive positions and began watching through their rifle scopes.

You see what I'm seeing?” Ab asked.

 Lampoon said. “What are you seeing?”

Bear stood up. “Cover me.” and walked out to meet the men, keeping his weapon in the firing position. When he got close enough, Bear called out. “What the hell happened to you?”

You almost sound like you missed me.” Twister smiled.

Bear looked at the five Taliban fighters were cowering in fear.

Where did you pick up these knuckleheads?”

I ran into them on the way in.”

What did you do to them? They're all freaked out especially the naked one.”

Nothing..they're just the nervous types.” Twister responded.

No weapon?” Bear questioned.

Twister began speaking in Pashto to the Taliban fighters and they nodded in acknowledgment. “Sometimes the right words are powerful enough.”

Major McStay and Captain Frost approached. “Corporal Hoffman?”

Yes Sir.”

Where have you been?” Major McStay ordered.

I was just getting ready to tell Sergeant Van Zandt  about that.”

Tell me.”

Corporal Hoffman was transferred to a hospital in Kabul where he was given a battery of tests. The process was repeated three times over to ensure accuracy.

Lt. Commander Gordon, a Navy neurosurgeon was reviewing the test results when Lt. General Conner arrived on the floor with his entourage in tow.

I got word that you needed to see me, Lt Commander. You said it was urgent.”

You better sit down, General. You're going to have some trouble believing what I'm about to tell you.”

Later that night as Twister sat in the darkness next to his hospital  bed, Lt. General Conner entered his room. His eyes had not adjusted to the darkness when he heard.

 “I've been expecting you, General.”

Two weeks later, Corporal Hoffman and his squad were lounging on the tarmac at Bagram airfield waiting for their flight.

I don't get it.” Lampoon said

What don't you get?” Ab replied.”Besides everything.”

We got five months left to go on our tour. Why are they pulling us out?”

Samaritan called out. “Never question anything good that happens to you in the Corps...just keep your mouth shut and don't let them see you look happy.”

Bear saw Lt. General Conner approaching. “Atten-shun!”

The Marines started to stand up.

At ease! As you were.” Lt. General Conner ordered. When he got closer. “Corporal Hoffman, I'd like to talk with you.”

Twister and General Conner walked out of earshot of the others.

Your newly acquired abilities present some unique opportunities and challenges, but I'm going to need some time to put together a plan.  There's a lot of problems in the world and your country needs your help.”

I'm ready.” Twister replied.

One more thing...You shouldn't..”

Twister interrupted. “Don't worry, I wasn't going to tell my family.”

I'll be in touch.” Lt. General Conner placed his hand on Corporal Hoffman's shoulder. “Have a good flight home. Semper fi.”

When Twister walked back. Pseudo grinned. “How do I get a three star to come and see me off?”

 Twister shrugged and plopped down next to his seabag. Bear walked over, sat down and looked Twister straight in the eyes.“You don't expect me to believe that we're all going home early just because a lightning strike knocked you on your ass, do you?” Corporal Hoffman took out his K-bar knife and held it so that only Bear could see it. The handle was in his right hand and the steel blade was in his left. Twister crumpled it into a small ball and handed it to Bear.

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST REVENGE

posted Sep 12, 2014, 6:14 AM by Ron Pickett

 

          It was May 5, 1969 and my one year tour in Vietnam was slowly dragging to a conclusion.

My two best buddies, Larry Farmer and Mike Cassidy had already rotated out last month and I've stayed to myself since their departure, choosing not to make any new friendships with Marines I would have to soon leave behind.  I awakened before sunrise the my metal and plywood hooch. It was already in the low eighties and extremely humid, but I had grown accustomed to the tropical weather by this time so I was barely perspiring when I pulled my seabag from under my cot. I had put away a pair of clean jungle utilities especially for this day. The original dark brown and green uniform had faded through wear and numerous washings to a light tan and barely discernible green. I had been working on my jungle boots for the last month by rubbing in a combination of saddle soap and baby oil to make them as soft as a pair of house slippers while making sure there was no black left on the leather. The purpose of these endeavors was to show that I had been in Nam' long enough to get them this way. Nobody wanted to go home wearing new jungle utilities.

I got dressed and walked over to S-1.  When Montgomery the ill-tempered company clerk got back from chow I was sitting on the hood of the C.O.'s jeep.

“Get your ass off there!” Montgomery snapped. “Before the Captain sees you.”

“I 'm rotating out today.” I grinned like a boy in candy shop.

Montgomery scowled then walked past me and into the hooch without a word. When he returned he had a large manila envelope in his hand. “Good luck back in the world.”

“Thanks.”

“A knucklehead like you is going to need it.” Montgomery snapped.

I walked down to Motor T. The ground shook under my feet as the  drivers and mechanics revved the powerful engines of the trucks in preparation for the day's assigned duties. I caught a ride on a truck that was hauling c-rations to one of the grunt units in the field and would be passing by the Danang airport.  The smell of military grade diesel fuel, dust and Vietnamese cuisine cooking in roadside shacks combined to create a nauseating aroma that hung over me like my own personal cloud as I sat in the back of the truck. I probably wouldn't have even noticed the pungent smells until it crossed my mind that I would never be in this environment again. That fact seemed to have made all my senses hypersensitive to the sights, sounds and smells around me.

 When we got to the crossroads the driver pulled over to side of the road and yelled out. “This is it.”

I grabbed my seabag, jumped to the ground then gave the driver a hand signal that I was clear.  He gunned the engine and pulled into the oncoming onslaught of Vietnamese bicyclists and moped riders without waiting for an opening in traffic.  As I walked the last two hundred yards to the transit barracks I came across five inebriated soldiers from the 82nd Airborne were drinking beer and smoking grass in the middle of the trail. I put my seabag on my shoulder and tried to walk around them. When I stepped over a soldier's luggage, I lost my footing and knocked one of them to the ground. That's all it took to get them riled up.

“Sorry about that.” I shrugged.

“You stupid jarhead! I'm going to kick your stupid clumsy ass all the way back to the world!” The soldier cursed as he brushed the dust off his uniform.

Drunk or not, there were still five of them and only one of me.  I went through a whole year in Nam' with only a few minor wounds and now I was going get my ass kicked during my last few days in country. Damn! I quickly tried to devise a plan of action that would minimize the damage to myself, but nothing seemed plausible or within my capabilities. Even retreat was no longer an option as the soldiers encircled me.

“Can anybody join in or is this a private party?” came a voice from behind me. “

When I looked around I saw a Marine who looked like he had been chiseled out of a block of granite, like a statue who had stepped down from its stand in the town square. He stood about six foot six inches tall and had to weigh at least two hundred and fifty pounds. His biceps were about the same size as my thighs. I was six foot two but felt like a dwarf compared to this human mountain. He had a large scar that ran from the bottom of his left eye to his chin. One of his forearms was crimson in color. It looked liked a napalm burn to me.  His other forearm had three large circular scars, obviously from bullet holes. His right ear was a mangled piece of cartilage and skin. The thing that really caught my attention were his blue eyes, almost un-human in their brightness and clarity.

The first soldier was either too drunk or too stupid to know any better. He threw a punch that the big Marine easily caught with his open hand. His grip was so powerful that when he closed his hand around the soldier's fist, the soldier fell to his knees in pain.

Another soldier charged forward, but a crashing straight left punch to his chest laid him out. He fell to the ground grasping for air. The other three soldiers quickly lost their appetite for a serving of this battle. Their drooping shoulders and downward gazes was an unmistakable signal of surrender.

The Marine turned and walked away.

I called to him. “Thanks.”

He replied without looking back.” Don't take it personally. I just didn't like the odds.

When I got to the gate, I showed my orders to the M.P. at the gate and walked inside the compound. The place was teeming with activity. Marines, soldiers and sailors from all over I Corps were scheduling or awaiting flights back to the world.   On a hunch I followed a smiling soldier who looked like he knew where he was going.  It turned out to be a good guess. He lead me right to the place where I was assigned a flight  on May 9.

          My next stop was the messhall. By the time I got there it was full. The mood was festive and filled with cheerful anticipation.  Everybody had a smile on their face and a story to embellish.  I got my chow which consisted of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and pudding and looked for a place to park my backside. Every table was taken except for the one where the Big Marine who had helped me earlier was sitting alone. I don't know exactly what it was; fear nervousness or embarrassment, but I did not want to be around him.

Suddenly I heard his voice. “This seat's empty, Corporal.”and extended his catcher mitt of a hand. “Staff Sergeant Butler.”

I shook it. “Corporal Ciprani.” then sat down across from him.

When I was dropped off at the transit barracks, I was filling pretty full of myself until I encountered those Airborne dudes. Despite the odds and the appreciation I felt that the Staff Sergeant showed up, I still had a problem accepting the fact that someone had to rescue me. I ate in silence and rarely looked up from my tray. The Staff Sergeant sitting across the table seemed very content with the lack of small talk.  After I finished my meal, I stood up to leave.”Thanks again for your help back there.”

“Have you got a place to sleep?” Staff Sergeant Butler asked.

“I was going to do that next.”

“Come with me.” Staff Sergeant Butler said. Whether it was an order or a suggestion, I wasn't about to say no.

The Corporal in charge of the sleeping barrack who stood about five foot eight couldn't have been more agreeable when Staff Sergeant Butler approached him. He just looked up at the mountain before him and nodded weakly.

 The next thing I know I got a rack with clean sheets in a room with four other beds, but I was the only person assigned to the room. I thought to myself that this looked like a place where they put officers. Later on, I found out it was reserved for field grade officers and civilian personnel.

I awakened early the next morning to see that Staff Sergeant standing next to my rack.“The bullshit level in this place is too high for me. Let's get out of here.”

“I didn't know I could leave once I checked in?”

“That order is for idiots and drunks who'd get lost and miss their flights if they left the area.” Staff Sergeant Butler responded.

I smelled the stench of stale beer, urine and puke as we approached the beer garden that was located behind the transit barracks.  I noticed that several Marines were passed out and lying under the wooden tables.

I didn't hear what Staff Sergeant said to the guard at the rear gate, but he let us out without question.

A jeep was parked nearby. Staff Sergeant Butler got in and started the engine I looked over toward the terminal.

“Don't worry, we'll be back before your flight.” Staff Sergeant Butler promised.

Staff Sergeant Butler drove south on Highway One until we reached China Beach. The view was breathtaking.  There was a wide stretch of sparkling white sandy beach and an ocean so bright that it could have been illuminated from by a billion light bulbs.

We approached the gate to STACK ARMS and were waved through. Stack Arms is a designated area for infantry units to get some rest and recreation without leaving country. I came here with my company during my fourth month in Nam'.

Staff Sergeant drove down to an isolated area and past a sign that read; NO ACCESS PASS THIS POINT

There was a small cabana and several young Vietnamese women waiting for us.

One of the women was standing next to a grill and was cooking various types of fish. Boy did they smell good! Another woman handed Staff Sergeant Butler and myself two ice cold beers. I wasn't much of a drinker, but I had no trouble downing the entire can in less than two long gulps.

We ate fish, rice and vegetables under the shade of the cabana.  The negativity I had felt earlier had already faded away and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

 That evening we went down to the outside theater and watched the THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Afterward we moved a couple lounge chairs to the edge of the water and slept to the sound of crashing waves hitting right next to us.

When the sun rose the next morning, Staff Sergeant caught me staring  at the numerous scars on his body. I couldn't believe that he got that many injuries and wounds in combat and was still here in country.  “Not very pretty, huh?”

“Not so bad?” I had to know so I asked. “Did you get them all in combat?”

Staff Sergeant Butler laughed. “Some, most, I stopped keeping track a long time ago”

We stayed at the beach until 1300 hours then drove to the Freedom Hill,  PX. Staff Sergeant Butler bought two full bags of “pokey bait” which consisted of candy, potato chips, cookies and various snacks as well as a variety of soaps, lotions and shampoos. Our next stop was a small village. As soon as we arrived, villagers began rushing up to the jeep. An older man and woman whose teeth and gums were blackened from betel nut embraced Staff Sergeant Butler as soon as he stepped out of his seat. He handed the three bags to the woman, who immediately began passing out the goodies. A young boy about eleven years who was missing his left leg hobbled over on a single crutch, Staff Sergeant lifted him up and placed the young boy on his shoulder. The Vietnamese villagers were overjoyed to see the Staff Sergeant. He was like a big green Santa Claus.

 I noticed an area that was covered by a large camouflaged tent with its flaps rolled up It had stacks of lumber, corrugated metal and various crates and wooden boxes under it. I noticed the words U.S. Government stamped on the side of one crate. I guessed that the Staff Sergeant had something with these materials being here.

A beautiful young Vietnamese woman with raven hair and a porcelain complexion walked up. A little boy about three years old was following close behind.

Staff Sergeant Butler turned to me. “This is my wife, Mai and son Danny.”

The boy's blue eyes gave no doubt that the Staff Sergeant was his father. For the next two hours I watched Staff Sergeant Butler smile and laugh among people that for the last year, I've had little respect for and even less trust in.  This definitely adjusted my attitude and opened my eyes. The villagers made me feel completely welcome and I'm sure it had everything to do with me being with Staff Sergeant Butler, but it still touched me deeply. When it came time to leave I swallowed hard and tried to keep my emotions in check.

Staff Sergeant kissed his wife and held his son in his arms. I didn't know that there could be that much gentleness in those strong arms.

Staff Sergeant Butler tapped me on the shoulder as he walked passed.  “Not all of them are gooks.”

May 8...1615 hours.  I was scheduled to leave at 0900 the following day. We were less than an hour away from the transit barracks so that they gave us plenty of time to get there before nightfall.

We were making good time when Staff Sergeant Butler pulled off the road. He reached the seat and pulled out a pair of binoculars. He looked out over the rice paddy then handed the binoculars to me.

“Three o'clock...see those seven men?”

I picked up the seven men walking on the rice paddy dike. “Got 'em.”

“They're Viet Cong.”

“Moving in daylight? That's not like them.” I responded. “Is it?”

“Our night ambush teams go out before sunset and come in after sunrise. The Cong know this because they got scouts watching our movements. That's why they like to move between that gap of time.  This bunch is hauling supplies and ammo for their buddies.”

I took another look through the binoculars. “I don't see them carrying anything.”

“You'd be surprise how much they can strap to those puny bodies and hide under their black pajamas. Take another look. Don't they look a little chubby to you?”

When I looked again, I noticed that they were pretty wide around the middle.

“We need to make a slight detour before I get you back.” Staff Sergeant Butler drove to the other side of the rice paddies. There was a small village about three hundred yards away that he gestured to. “That's where they're going. I'll take care of 'em then we'll get back on the road. You find some cover. I'll don't want you getting yourself killed your last day in country.”

“That's a negative.” I immediately replied.

“Huh?”

“I'm a Marine. I don't need you to protect me. Last day or first day in country, we're still at war?” I was scared, I won't deny that fact and deep down I would have been quite content to drive away, but once Staff Sergeant Butler decided to stay and fight I was honor bound to stand with him. Staff Sergeant Butler knew we didn't have time to debate the issue.   He handed me an M-16 and two bandoliers. He checked his 45 caliber pistol and grabbed a pump action twelve gauge shotgun. We found a stand of palm trees and tall elephant grass that was next to the trail He pointed to a log. “Get behind that. When you have a clear shot at the last V.C. in the patrol, take it. That will be my signal to take out the point man. You work your way forward with your fire. I'll work my way back. Got it?”

“Affirmative.”

 I got in the prone position behind the log. Staff Sergeant Butler knelt behind a rock wall. I pulled out several magazines and set them out for easy reloading. Waiting was always the hard part, the heart thumping anticipation just before combat where my mouth was so dry that I couldn't t swallow and I was too afraid to blink because I thought I would miss something.

I watched the enemy walk past me in single file. I could make out the barrels of AK-47's pointed downward under their black shirts. In the daylight I could clearly see the strained expressions on their faces. This was a too close and personal to my liking. I focused on their torsos. When the last Cong got directly in front of me I aimed and squeezed off a short burst. He immediately went down. I took out the next man with a slight movement of my weapon. Out of the corner my eye, I saw Staff Sergeant Butler stand up and move forward. He was firing the twelve gauge and literally lifting the enemy off their feet with the powerful blasts.  I'm sure it was all over in less than ten seconds although it seemed much longer in my mind.

“Clear.” Staff Sergeant called out.

By the time I reached Staff Sergeant Butler, he already began checking the bodies. Two V.C. were badly wounded but still alive. Staff Sergeant Butler shot each man through the heart. He looked at me to see what my reaction was. There were two ways for me to look at it. He was killing helpless humans in violation of the Geneva Convention rules of combat or he was putting two dying Viet Cong out of their misery. I chose  believe the later.

We loaded their weapons and ammo into the jeep. Staff Sergeant thoroughly searched each body for any intel. We dragged the bodies off the trail and left them to rot or be consumed by maggots various scavengers.

I still hadn't come down from the rush of combat yet and was sweating profusely.

“Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly” Staff Sergeant Butler said. “It works for me.”

When we reached the transit barracks, Staff Sergeant Butler parked outside the gate. “Ever heard the saying. Best Revenge Is Living Well?”

“Can't say I have.”

“My dad used to tell me that when I was growing up. It basically means that sometimes the best way to deal with your enemy is not to shoot them like we do over here but to have a good life. You can whine and complain about what you saw and feel guilty about some of things you did in Nam' when you get back to the world or you can take those negative feelings and turn them into something positive.” Staff Sergeant Butler said.

I didn't know how to answer so I just mumbled. “Okay.”

Staff Sergeant Butler smiled. 'Believe me, this will make more sense when you get home. Get some sleep, your flight leaves in the morning.”

I got out of the jeep and Staff Sergeant drove off

 I didn't sleep at all that last night in country. Questions and unexplained feelings were bouncing off the inside of my skull like a pinball in an arcade machine.  When I heard my flight number called I got in line and followed the Marine in front of me.  I don't know what made me turn around, but when I did I and saw Staff Sergeant Butler standing under the sign that hung over the terminal doors that read; Through These Doors Pass Some Of The Best Fighting Men In the World. He gave me a big smile and a casual salute and then he was gone.

I came from a large Italian family so there were numerous invitations awaiting me when I got back to Kansas City. I told my mom that I didn't feel like socializing just yet so when she asked me to visit the lady who moved next door a few months ago and who I didn't even know, my answer was a definite no. My mother persisted

“Her son is a Marine and is in Vietnam. I told her all about you. She wants to give you a welcome home gift. You don't have to stay long. You don't want to be rude, do you?”

I saw the name on the mailbox, Daly then knocked on the door.

A pleasant middle aged woman with a friendly smile opened the door. “You must be John Ciprani. Please come in”

“I don't know anybody else who would admit to it.”

“I know you probably didn't want to come over and see some lady you don't know.” Mrs. Daly quipped

How did she know that. Was it that evident on my face.

“I'll be right back.” Mrs Daly went into the kitchen and returned with a  cake box. The aroma was tantalizing and unmistakable.“Your mom told how much you love Pineapple Upside Down Cake and I have this special  family recipe. Let me know if you like it.” Mrs Daly handed me the box.

 

“If it tastes as good as it smells then I'll probably eat it before I get home.” I grinned in anticipation.'Thank you very much.”

I turned to leave then noticed a wall filled with Marine Corps memorabilia. There were numerous commendations as well the Silver Star, Bronze Star and several Purple Heart medals.

Those are my son's. He's on his fourth combat tour.” Mrs Daly explained.

“Four! I was lucky enough to get through one.” I responded in disbelief.

“He had a tough time adjusting to civilian life. I did get a chance to see him in Hawaii two years ago, but he doesn't ever come home anymore.”Mrs. Daly responded softly. “I wrote and gave him your name and unit. I asked him to look you up. Did you ever see him?”

I thought for a second. The name Daly didn't stir up any memories. “I don't think so.” then saw a wooden sign hanging over the front door as I was leaving. I was dumfounded. My jaw dropped open and my feet refused to move,

The sign read; THE BEST REVENGE IS LIVING WELL

I noticed your sign.” I stammered.

“That was my husband's favorite saying.”

“Your name is Daly. Is that your son's name too?” I asked.

“His name is Robert Butler. His father Robert Butler Sr. passed away while Bobby was in high school. I remarried a few years ago.”

“Do you mind if I sit down? There's something you should know about .”

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

Tribute to Our Troops

posted Oct 11, 2013, 2:57 PM by Michael Wood

Saturday Evening Post

 

          Tribute to Our Troops

 

    The noble courageous men and women of the Armed Forces take an oath to defend the United States, the Constitution and the citizens of our great country. With this oath comes the pledge and heartfelt promise to make the ultimate sacrifice if and when the situation demands it.

Marine Corps, Army Navy, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard. The men of these services are the finest that this nation has to offer. They walk a path of honor, duty and integrity that few choose to thread. When the call to arms is sounded, our military doesn’t hesitate to respond.

The history of our military’s courageous exploits is directly related to the evolution of our country; Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Argonne Forest, Battle of the Bulge, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States of America isn’t just built on steel, wood and concrete. It is built on the sacrifices of our military.  Our flag is a constant tribute to our troops. Old Glory does not fly without our military.  When I lay my head down at night to rest, I express my undying gratitude to American troops all around the world who allow me to be free.

 

Thomas G. Calabrese

Oceanside, Ca 92057

 

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