Neighborhood Watch

posted Jul 15, 2019, 10:54 AM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Jul 15, 2019, 11:07 AM ]
Neighborhood Watch story from Tom Calabrese

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

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

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

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

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

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

A change in the neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

“I was thinking,” Rocky began.

“Here it comes.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How so?” Rocky inquired.

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

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

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

“Close. I apologized and moved on.”

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

Neighborhood watch still beckons

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

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

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

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

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

“Not a sound,” the man whispered.

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

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

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

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

Rocky shifts into action

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

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

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

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

“Search him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?”

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

Back home to complete his plan

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

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

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

“Have a good day,” Rocky called out.

“You too," Jimmy replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure go ahead,” the police officer answered.

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

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

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

“Are you alright?” Emily asked.

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

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

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

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