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.”


“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 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.


“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?”


“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