Never Underestimate The Quiet Ones

posted Nov 18, 2019, 4:35 PM by Bruce Rowe   [ updated Nov 19, 2019, 9:57 AM ]

Santino Leone’s great-grandfather was Sergio Leone, the great Italian director, producer, and screenwriter. The elder Leone is credited with being the creator of the Spaghetti Western genre and is widely regarded as one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema. His movies included the Dollars Trilogy of Westerns that made Clint Eastwood an international star: A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, Bad and the Ugly.

His grandfather Marcello was an Italian opera star and his father Antonio had been a movie executive at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, the largest film studio in Europe until he accepted a senior position with Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso production company that was established with profits from the Dollars Trilogy. Antonio Leone moved to California with his bride Sienna Luchesi, an international fashion model, in 1980. They lived in Carmel, California for the first three years helping to develop the Malpaso production company as a major player in the film industry.

In 1983, Antonio and Clint became partners in a real estate project when they purchased 5,000 acres in Southwest Riverside County. Antonio soon found out that Temecula Valley soils consisted primarily of decomposing granitic material, which is beneficial for producing high-quality grapes because it provides better drainage for grapevine roots than silty or clay soils.

Antonio contacted family friend Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather movies who had a great knowledge about wine, “Hey Frank, could you take some time and come down here.”

“Sure, what’s going on?”

“Clint and I just bought some property. It looks good for grapes and I wanted to get your educated opinion.”

“Just tell me where and when,” Francis Coppola answered without hesitation.

The Leone Winery was one of the first in the Temecula Valley. The rural environment didn’t really suit Sienna Leone, but she reluctantly adapted to it. After the birth of their three children, Gina, Robert, and Santino, Antonio and Sienna made every effort to expose them to different cultures so the family traveled extensively throughout the world when they weren’t attending a private elementary school in Carmel.

When Gina finished eighth grade, she applied and was accepted to a private performing arts school in Rome to study music. Robert had aspirations of becoming a director like his great-grandfather and Eastwood, so he worked part–time during high school years at the Malpaso production offices learning the business from highly skilled professionals. Sienna spent a lot of time in Europe with her daughter while Antonio worked at the winery every chance he had. Even though the Leone family was often separated Antonio and Sienna made sure everyone remained connected.

Santino, or Tino as he was called by his family, was the enigma of the family. He was blessed with matinee good looks, wavy brown hair, crystal-blue eyes, chiseled features, and a perfect smile. He was unassuming and charismatic at the same time and despite the numerous opportunities afforded him, Tino never thought of himself as entitled or special. In fact, his parents were amazed how much different their youngest son was from his siblings, who had lofty goals and aspirations and relished acknowledgement of their accomplishments.

When it came time for Tino to attend high school, he told his parents he wanted to live at the home on the winery property and attend public high school in the area. They were not totally surprised by his choice and after a long family discussion where they gave Tino a long list of his options and he politely rejected them all. Antonio and Sienna Leone reluctantly acquiesced, “It’s your choice, son,” said his father.

The youngest Leone was much more equipped to handle the high school curriculum than his fellow students. At his elementary school he learned to speak three languages fluently: Italian, French and Spanish. Tino was knowledgeable about the world, national history, and economics, and was already studying high school subjects when he was in eighth grade.

He was part of the second class of Temecula Valley High School, which in 1985 was the first high school in the area to open. Tino was a natural athlete and signed up to play football, basketball, and baseball in his first year, being elected captain on all three teams. Despite having no seniors, the Temecula Valley Golden Bears became competitive with schools in the area. Tino was the kind of natural leader that elevated the play of those around him.

He also made friends with a frail and painfully shy young boy named Oliver Lehman who hardly spoke to anyone. Oliver was brought up with a physically and emotionally abusive father and when his mother finally found the courage to leave, she found herself penniless and working two jobs to barely support herself and her son.

Tino was the most popular boy in school; the teachers liked him, all the girls wanted to be with him, and the boys wished they could be like him. When he saw Oliver being bullied by a group of bigger boys, he quickly intervened, “What’s going on?”

One of the boys sneered, “We’re just having a little fun with the geek.”

“He’s my friend and if you want to have a little fun, then why not have it with me?” Tino offered.

The boys quickly lost interest in Oliver and one of them hung in head in embarrassment and spoke for the group, “We didn’t know, sorry.”

After the boys left, Tino turned to Oliver, “I’m Tino…”

Oliver meekly said, “You’re Tino Leone…everybody knows you.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Oliver Lehman,”

“Nice to meet you Ollie,” Tino flashed his charismatic smile.

“Why did you help me?” Oliver asked.

Tino put his hand on the smaller boy’s shoulder as a sign of reassurance, “My grandfather used to say; never underestimate the quiet ones.”

Tino knew that there was something special about the young boy, but what he didn’t know was that Ollie had savant syndrome. Savant syndrome is the name for a rare, but extraordinary condition in which someone with a serious emotional impairment (often some form of autism) displays a spectacular “island of genius” amidst his overall disability. In Ollie’s case, he compensated for his lack of social skills with an IQ so high there were no accurate tests to measure it.

When Tino found out Ollie’s mother was working two minimum wage jobs, he mentioned it to his father who offered Dorothy Lehman a job as an assistant bookkeeper with full benefits and excellent pay. Dorothy was so grateful for the opportunity that she broke down in tears when Antonio Leone asked her if she was interested.

Dorothy Lehman turned out to be such a good worker that the Leone family purchased a three-bedroom home and offered her a lease with option to buy on the property for the same amount that Dorothy was paying for a rundown, two-bedroom apartment.

Ollie would wait for Tino to finish practice at whatever sport he was involved in and both boys would return to the winery together. Even though Tino was the same age, Ollie looked at him as his protective big brother.

Dorothy approached Tino one day, “I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for Oliver.”

“Ollie’s my friend. He’d do the same for me if he was in my place,” Tino smiled.

Even though Ollie had little athletic ability, he’d try anything if Tino asked him and among their activities were rock climbing, surfing, and skydiving. When one of the peristaltic pumps at the winery malfunctioned, Ollie located the problem and corrected it. Tino was impressed and reminded his friend, “You’re destined for great things…never forget that.”

Throughout high school, Ollie only felt comfortable talking to Tino and after graduation, both boys were discussing their future plans when Tino said, “I’m thinking about joining the military.”

He wasn’t sure which branch of the service to join until he met Tim Slater, a former Air Force Pararescue specialist at the Perris Valley skydiving center.

“I wish you wouldn’t go,” Ollie pleaded.

“It’s something I need to do. The country has been good to my family. I feel I should give something back. What do I always tell you?”

“That I’m destined for great things,” Ollie sighed.

“Now is your time to prove it.”

*  *  *

After Tino left for military training, Ollie focused all his attention and energy into developing a cutting-edge computer information system. He also developed a new generation of electronic devices that brought new opportunities for miniaturization and mass production.

His efforts became the building block of the information revolution that transformed wireless internet technology. Over the next five years, Oliver Lehman was relentless in his pursuit of new advancements in the industry. One of his first large purchases was a house for his mother on a hill overlooking the Temecula Valley. Ollie also offered to support her in an affluent lifestyle for the rest of her life, but she loved working for the Leone family too much to give up her job.

Ollie knew the type of loyalty his mother felt because he felt the same way about them. He knew he owed everything to his childhood friend. Ollie created cybersecurity software for the government as well a new guidance system for unmanned drones. He held the highest security clearance from the state department and had diplomatic immunity whenever he traveled. Despite his numerous successes and vast wealth, Oliver Lehman’s most prized possession was his friendship with Tino Leone.

*  *  *

With Tino stationed at Aviano Air Force base, Ollie rented the largest villa with a complete staff in the small town of San Daniele, between Maniago and Udine, so both families could get together for Thanksgiving. Sienna and Gina drove up from Rome and Antonio and Robert flew over from California in Ollie’s private jet. Ollie instructed the cooking staff to prepare an elaborate feast for the American holiday with some special Italian dishes. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves and Tino raised his glass of wine, “To our host.”

The other people at the table raised their glasses and took a swallow from their glasses. Ollie stood up and placed his left hand on his mother’s shoulder, “To the Leone family. You helped us when we needed it most and we will always be grateful for your kindness and generosity.”

Ollie took a few moments to compose himself, “I can only imagine where I would be right now if it wasn’t for my friend. I would probably be a homeless recluse living on the street.”

Tino got up from his chair and walked over to Ollie and extended his right hand, “Paisano.” (Italian slang for pal, comrade.) Ollie shook Tino’s hand.

After a delicious dinner, the group adjourned to the observation room with a massive stone fireplace taking up half the wall. One side of the room was glass from floor to ceiling, exposing a breathtaking view of mountains, valleys, and rolling vineyards.

Antonio Leone brought out a wooden box, opened it and pulled out a wine bottle. “The newest Leone wine and if I do say so myself, it’s our best Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Before he had a chance to pour it for the guests, Tino’s cellphone rang. He looked at the screen, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get back to the base.”

“Problem?” Sienna asked her son.

“Sorry mom, you’ll be around for few days?” Tino said.

“Until Tuesday,” Robert smiled.

“Hopefully this won’t take long.”

“I’ll give you a ride,” Ollie volunteered.

When Tino got back to the base, members of his pararescue team were already arriving. “I need to go,” he said.

“Duty calls,” Ollie responded.

When he got to the situation room, Colonel Emmit Nelson was standing at the podium.

“One of our surveillance planes went down 50 miles northwest of Timbuktu, Mali. Intel has it that the terror cell Ansar-al-Sharia is moving toward the crash site. Load up, you’ll be briefed in flight. We’re on a strict timeline.”

Once aboard the C-47 Skytrain transport plane, it was determined that Alpha Team would go to the crash site and destroy the downed aircraft with explosive charges while Tino would lead Bravo Team and get the pilot who parachuted out, now one mile away from the plane.

The ten men parachuted just after sunrise and split up when they touched ground. Alpha Team made it to the crash site two minutes after a dozen terrorist fighters arrived. There was a firefight and the Alpha Team killed the terrorists with pararescue snipers doing most of the damage. They planted explosives and destroyed the aircraft.

“We’re on our way to your position,” Alpha Commander radioed.

“Roger that,” Tino replied. “We’re five mikes (minutes) from our destination.”

The downed pilot radioed, “I’m injured, 20 bogeys moving toward my position.”

Tino took the sniper rifle from a team member and pointed to a hill, “I’ll overwatch from there.”

The rest of the team made their way to the downed pilot while Tino sprinted up the hill and got in position. He began shooting the terrorists and took down six of them. Alpha Team arrived and reinforced the assault while Tino provided suppressive fire. Alpha Team leader radioed for extraction, then radioed Tino, “Bravo Team leader, let’s go.”

Tino prepared to leave his position when four pickup trucks with heavy machine guns and a dozen fighters raced up and began riddling the area with fire. Tino knew there was no way that he could make it from his position to the rest of the team without being killed. “I can’t make it,” he radioed back, focusing his attention on the trucks below. He took out two machine guns and killed four fighters. Helicopters could be heard approaching in the distance for the extraction.

“You’ve got to make your move,” Alpha Commander radioed.

“No can do,” Tino replied as he continued firing at the terrorists. “Go without me!”

The two helicopters hovered overhead and lowered a dozen ropes. The pararescue personnel connected a stretcher holding the injured pilot to one of them then connected themselves to the others and were lifted out. Tino kept the terrorists pinned down with accurate shots that destroyed two vehicles and killed three more fighters. When the team and pilot were safely out of range, Tino made his escape as three more trucks and more fighters arrived. His next mission would be to evade capture until he could be extracted.

*  *  *

When Tino had not returned to the villa by Saturday morning, Ollie used his top-secret clearance and connections with the Department of Defense to get aboard base and obtain a meeting with Colonel Nelson.

“We’re tracking Master Sergeant Leone right now,” Colonel Nelson pointed to a red dot on a map.

“Why not just extract him?” Ollie asked.

“As you are well aware, the Chinese have increased their presence in Africa. We were able to get in and get our pilot, but now they know we’ve got a man on the ground, so they brought in a state-of-the-art air defense system.”

“Probably an HQ-9 with a Russian 300 operating system,” Ollie made an educated guess.

“We can’t send our choppers into a hot LZ,” Colonel Nelson sighed. “But if Leone can make it to this area,” he pointed to a mountain range on the map, “We control this region and can get him out.”

Ollie took a closer look at the map. “That’s 30 miles over some very rough terrain while being pursued by enemy forces. That’s a hell of a lot to ask of any special operative even Santino Leone.”

As soon as Ollie left the office, he made a phone call, “This is Lehman, I need your help.”

“What’s up?” came the voice from the other end.

“I need an extraction team in Mali, ASAP,” Ollie responded.

“I’ve got some people in Dakar,” replied the voice.

“Text me their contact info. I’ll meet them in Bamako,” Ollie responded.

A group of highly qualified and well-paid civilian contractors were waiting at a private airfield when Ollie arrived in his private jet.

Approaching Ollie, a man said, “Tell me what you have.”

“We’ve got an extraction,” Ollie opened his tablet and pointed to a location on the map. “This is where we’re going.”

The man looked at the area in question, “We’ll have no problems with the terrorists, but the Chinese could be a problem.”

“I’ll take care of the Chinese,” Ollie said without hesitation.

*  *  *

Tino didn’t know how much more time he had. His strategy was to run for several hundred yards then take cover to shoot at the approaching enemy, but there were too many of them and they were quickly closing the gap. He saw a place up ahead with some boulders and decided that was where he would make his final stand. At this point, it was no longer about survival, but about taking as many of the bad guys with him as possible.

The Chinese crews manning the antiaircraft batteries picked up the incoming aircraft on their radar screens and prepared to fire on it. The command was given, but their systems malfunctioned and despite their repeated efforts, they were locked out and could do nothing.

Two missiles fired from a specially equipped Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor plane destroyed both Chinese positions. Banking to the left, the Osprey came in low over the terrain. Using its vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and with its 20mm cannons and .50 caliber machine guns blazing, it cut a path of death and destruction through the terrorists. When it landed, the military contractors exited the aircraft and secured the perimeter. Tino rushed up the ramp to the aircraft and saw Ollie sitting at the computer terminal with screens flashing images around him.

“Let’s go home,” Ollie said.

“Roger that,” Tino flashed his boyish smile.

With a signal, the military contractors boarded the aircraft and it elevated into the African skies. Mission complete!

*  *  *

One day later back at the villa, Antonio Leone opened a bottle of wine, “Now that we’re all back together again, we can finally have that drink.”

“Pour away, dad,” Tino was bruised and battered, but still managed a half smile. “I’ve worked up a thirst.”

“We’re not going to ask you what happened because we know you won’t tell us,” Sienna commented.

Dorothy Lehman looked over at Ollie and Tino, who exchanged knowing glances but remained silent. She raised her glass, “Never underestimate the quiet ones; they are destined for great things.”

 

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