Thomas Calabrese— Sergeant John Fuller was a Marine Corps Scout Sniper, MOS 0317 and had been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria for five of the seven years that he had been in the military. During a wartime scenario, a commander sees the benefits of scout snipers on the battlefield and he says, ‘I want you guys everywhere; I need you guys everywhere.’ Typically the Marine Corps has up to 300 or so trained scout snipers and since Sergeant Fuller was one of the best, his services were always in great demand.
The scout sniper community sees a very high rate of turnover because once Marines become staff sergeants, their primary MOS becomes 0369, Infantry Unit Leader. The only way scout snipers can keep doing their jobs is by becoming reconnaissance Marines. John had already contacted 1st Reconnaissance Battalion about a transfer if he was promoted to staff sergeant. Several of his friends and fellow snipers had already made the transition.
There was a certain skill, skill may not be quite the right word, perhaps attribute or personality trait is the more appropriate description. Besides being an excellent marksman, John didn’t mind being alone, in fact he enjoyed the solitude of isolated surroundings which contributed to his excellence at stalking. He could remain concealed for several days in the same location and blend into the surroundings and when the time came, he could move slowly, patiently and methodically without being noticed. When John saw natural terrain and urban environments, he instinctively determined which places were suitable for cover and concealment and which one should be circumvented. When he was on a mission nothing escaped his keen powers of observation and he planned accordingly with each measured and controlled breath.
John returned to Camp Pendleton in August 2018 after his last deployment and took ten days leave to visit his family in Kansas City, Kansas. He had never told any of his relatives, especially his parents about his job in the Marines. It wasn’t because he was trying to be secretive or evasive; it was simply that he didn’t find it that interesting to talk about. The fact that these were people who had no idea that what he had been through was only a small part of it. John avoided conversations about his experiences with other snipers as well. Once he put away his rifle, he preferred, but didn’t always succeed in locking away his memories as well. John was given a 96 (military slang; four days off in a row) for Thanksgiving and while he didn’t feel like going home again, his mother convinced him to come back for the holiday so John flew out early Thursday morning, had dinner with the family that afternoon and headed back to California on Saturday to avoid the travel rush.
On December 10th, John’s mom called, “What day are you coming home for the holidays?”
“I won’t be able to make it this year, I’ve already had Thanksgiving off and it’s only fair that the Marines who had to work that day should have Christmas off,” John twisted the truth just a little; he could have worked it out to go home if he absolutely wanted to.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mom’s voice trailed off in disappointment, “but you have your job to do after all. We’ll miss you.”
“I’ll have some time off in the springtime, I’ll come back then,” John promised.
John’s unit was down to minimum staffing because most of the Marines were spending time with their families during the holidays. When a few of the men reported back to duty toward the end of the year, Captain Metcalf, the company commander called John into his office, “Job well done these past two weeks.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re due for a 96, take it over New Year’s,” Captain Metcalf said.
Later that evening while John was in his quarters at 43 Area, Las Pulgas, watching television, he heard a knock on the door and called out, “It’s unlocked, enter at your own risk.”
Staff Sergeant Jacob Perkins, a.k.a. J.P. entered the room, “What’s up Johnny?”
“Hey J.P.” John replied, “Nothing much.”
J.P. plopped down in a chair, “What are you watching?”
“The Great Escape.”
“How many times have you seen that movie?” J.P. asked.
“I don’t know, a couple dozen maybe,” John replied.
“You must know every line in it by now.”
“Classic movies are meant to see over and over,” John explained, “You can only hope that when you’re as old as this movie that people will be interested in seeing you.”
“What are you doing for New Year’s?” J.P. asked
“I’ll tell you what I’m not doing; I’m not getting on the road, getting drunk or going anywhere where there’s a bunch of drunks,” John replied.
“So what you’re saying is that you’ve got nothing planned.”
“In the classic movie, ‘Cool Hand Luke’, sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand,” John smiled.
“How would you like to stay at my place?”
“I don’t think your wife would go for it.” John replied.
“She’s gone, left three days ago, her father had a heart attack on the day after Christmas.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” John responded. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s in intensive care right now, but they’re hoping for the best. I told Terry that I would to try and make it back there if I could,” J.P. said.
“I’m pretty sure your command would give you emergency leave.”
“That’s not the problem,” J.P. answered.
“Then what is?”
“You know that I’m renting the granny flat behind retired General James Matthews’ house?”
“Yeah, you got a hell of a deal, one block from the beach and less than half of what other people are paying for rent in Oceanside,” John said.
“The General and his wife treat Terry and me more like family than renters. They left to visit their son in Texas just before Christmas and I’m in charge of their dogs until they get back.”
“And you don’t want to call him, do you?” John asked.
“He loves those dogs and if I contacted him about my family problems, you know what he would do?”
“He’d cut his trip short and catch the next flight home,” John guessed.
“Exactly, how did you know that?” J.P. asked.
“Because he’s a Marine and that’s what you would do in the same situation,” John said, “If this is all about you needing a dog sitter then say no more, I’m happy to do it.”
“I owe you,” J.P. smiled.
“Considering all the stuff we’ve been through together, this is no big deal.”
In a private suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C. Senator Elizabeth Harris was meeting with a group of five powerful, influential and wealthy men who were considering investing tens of millions of dollars into Senator Harris’ campaign run for the Presidency in 2020.
“If we give you our financial support, then we’re going to expect something in return when you’re elected. Is that going to be a problem?” First Man asked.
“Absolutely not, as long as I’ve got plausible deniability if things go south, you can consider the federal government your own personal smorgasbord,” Senator Harris responded, “Fill your plates and fill your stomachs, gentlemen.”
“Before we make any commitments, is there anything in your past that we need to know about?” Second Man inquired, “We don’t like surprises when it comes to our money.”
“There is one thing that could be a problem if it surfaced. It’s been a while and I don’t think it matters now,” Senator Harris commented.
“Nowadays there is no statute of limitations; your opponents will go back to your pre-school days and dig up everything they can find. If you stole some other kid’s chocolate milk, they’ll call you a bully, so let us be the judge of what matters,” Third Man strongly suggested.
“About 15 years ago when I was working for the State Department contracts division, we were doing a lot of construction projects in the Middle East. It was like Vegas jackpot meets the lottery. Money was just rolling in with kickbacks, overcharging and half-finished jobs,” Senator Harris laughed and the men joined in.
“I like the sound of that,” Fourth Man said, “I wish I could have been there.”
“Everybody had their hand in the cookie jar except one man,” Senator Harris reminisced, “We couldn’t convince him to get on board, no matter we what offered.”
“Who was that?” Fifth Man asked.
Marine Corps General John Matthews,” Senator Harris answered, “He filed dozens of complaints on projects that failed to meet specifications. Luckily, we had the Inspector General on the payroll and so we were able to destroy incriminating evidence before it could go anywhere, but Matthews was relentless and it only slowed him up a little. We eventually had to falsify evidence against three of his officers, accusing them of killing innocent civilians during a firefight. Matthews was offered a deal; the charges against his Marines would be dismissed if he stopped causing trouble.”
“What did he say?” First Man asked.
“What could he say,” Senator Harris answered, “He dropped his investigation, but he made a promise that we took very seriously, ‘You try coming after my men at a later date and I’ll take all of you down. He resigned from the Marine Corps soon afterward.”
“Do you think he still has that evidence?” Second man asked.
“I’m sure he does, the question is whether he’ll release it if I declare my candidacy for the President,” Senator Harris stated.
“People in the military make a lot of enemies,” First Man said in a low and hollow voice.
“Don’t forget about the rash of home invasion robberies that is plaguing the country,” Third Man coldly stated, “It is especially bad, where did you say that Matthews lives?”
“Oceanside, California,” Senator Harris answered.
“ It’s very bad there,” Fourth Man grinned maliciously.
The granny flat was six hundred square feet and was behind the 3000 square foot main house that was located on the corner of Pacific and Tyson in Oceanside. General Matthews and his wife purchased the home in 1996 when he was a Colonel and the California real estate market was in a depression. Mrs. Matthews had just received a very large inheritance from her grandmother and they wisely invested in this property. The small guest house was built so that his wife’s mother who lived in Michigan could stay there during the harsh winter months. When she passed away in 2010, the Matthews decided to rent the property to married staff non-commissioned officers with no children. Staff Sergeant Perkins was their sixth tenant.
The Matthews had two Labrador dogs, one black and one chocolate. Pepper was the female black one and Sam was the male. When John and J.P. arrived at the house, they walked to the side of the house where there was an eight foot metal gate with a touch keypad. J.P. punched in the code and said, “The numbers are 26, 28, 30. The General changes the code every month.” When the two Marines entered the backyard, the two dogs rushed to greet them.
John bent down to pet both animals, “Great dogs.”
The sliding doors to the granny flat and main house were open just wide enough for the dogs to enter. “We leave the doors open so that the dogs have access to both houses. Sometimes they sleep in the main house or outside. They basically have the run of the property.”
“Sounds good to me,” John joked as he got down on all fours and began playing with Pepper and Sam, “We always had dogs when I was growing up, my dad used to say ‘this is the dogs’ house, we just live here.”
J.P. made up a detailed list of what to do and where everything was, “The dogs like to go to the park in the mornings and late afternoons to play with their friends. You don’t have to take them if you don’t want to.”
“Dogs are even more routine oriented than Marines are,” John said, “Just write down the directions to the park and I’ll take them.”
“I’ll leave you the keys to my truck, use it,” J.P. offered.
“How are you getting to the airport?” John asked.
“One of the guys in my unit is going to drop me off,” J.P. answered.
“I can take you.”
“You’ve done enough already,” J.P. said.
“What are you doing, keeping score? Like I said, this isn’t any big deal. Go take care of your wife and let me enjoy my 96 with my two new friends.”
J.P. left nothing to chance, writing down everything in explicit detail. After the first two days, John had settled in a nice comfortable routine. “I could get used to this,” as he relaxed on the couch with Sam and Pepper on each side of him.
On the third night, things were about to change dramatically. Four men were sitting in a black SUV parked on the beach side of Pacific Avenue across from the Matthews’ home. The leader of the group turned to the other three men, “We’re looking for a safe or anyplace where valuable papers might be kept.”
“That could take a while. How long are we going to stay inside?” Second Person asked.
“Until we either find what we’re looking for or we’re damn sure that nothing is in there,” Leader responded, “Cause if we’re wrong, the next contract will be on our heads.”
“What are our rules of engagement?” Third Person inquired.
“No witnesses, clear enough?”
The men grabbed several bags that contained high tech equipment including infra-red and metal detection devices and crossed the street. They were professionals and knew exactly how to disable the alarm and pick the lock on the front door in less than 30 seconds. They silently entered the house; two men went upstairs and the other two stay on the ground level to begin their methodical search.
John was asleep when he heard the two dogs get up, “What’s wrong?”
Sam and Pepper didn’t bark, but their barely audible growl was all the warning that John needed for him to investigate further. He walked over to the door and looked toward the main house. There was a faint red glow emanating from the infra-red machine that was faintly visible from the upstairs window. John walked back to the two dogs, “I need you to be very quiet, I can’t let anything happen to you.” As he prepared to leave, he looked around for some type of weapon to use, the only thing he could find was an aluminum baseball bat.
John moved toward the main house, each step was so silent that it was as if his feet were barely touching the ground. When he entered through the sliding door, he stayed close to the wall and moved into the living room where he saw two men in the den. One was searching through the desk while another used the metal detector. It began beeping and he pulled back the carpet, exposing a floor safe. Another man who didn’t have the unique skills of John Fuller might have been nervous and apprehensive, but this Marine was calmly assessing the situation like he had done so many times before in combat.
This was not a normal break-in, John thought, this was a calculated mission and with a definite goal. One of the men pulled out a laser drill and began cutting through the metal safe. John could see from his vantage point that the men were carrying Heckler&Koch 416 assault rifles with noise suppressors. ‘What the hell, he thought to himself.’ Were these men terrorists and what did General Matthews have that was so valuable? These were questions that would have to wait to a later time to be answered; right now John’s first priority was neutralizing the threat. When he saw two other men coming down the stairs, he knew that his troubles just doubled.
John stayed in his position without moving so much as a muscle. When one man said, “I need to use the bathroom,” and walked out of the den. John followed the man and when he came out of the hall bathroom, he was met with a baseball bat that landed squarely against his forehead. John pulled the man into the back into the bathroom and checked his pulse, he was dead. He put on the dead man’s jacket and picked up the assault rifle.
When he returned to the den, the other three men had already accessed the safe and found what they came for. Without looking up, one of the men said, “It took you long enough.”
When John didn’t answer, the man turned around to see John, but before he could say anything, John fired three shots.
John and J.P. were watching television in the granny flat with Sam and Pepper when General Matthews knocked on the door and both dogs rushed to greet him, “How did it go when I was away?”
Both men immediately jumped to their feet before J.P. answered, “The dogs are fine, but we had one problem. This is Sergeant Fuller, we served together, he has something he wants to show you.”
John led the way to a storage shed in the corner of the yard and opened the door, showing four dead men stacked on top of each other. General Matthews calmly stated, “Someone owes me a de-briefing.”
General Matthews made a phone call and the bodies were picked up within the hour. It took several months of investigating before General Matthews could link the five wealthy criminals with the covert team who broke into his house.
The five men were meeting in Palm Springs and sitting on the veranda of a palatial home while enjoying drinks and appetizers. John and J.P. were in another home that was exactly 410 yards away. Their hi-tech ultra- powerful compressed air rifles were mounted on tripods. John opened a freezer and pulled out five frozen projectiles, he kept three and handed the other two to J.P. They loaded their weapons, looked through their scopes and made last second adjustments. “One, two, three,” they counted in unison then fired and hit their intended targets. The men felt something and assumed that it must have been bees or wasps that stung them and rushed back inside. The darts melted when they made contact with human flesh and released a highly potent toxin that slowly began to attack the men’s immune systems.
After the deaths of her campaign supporters from various natural causes, all within weeks of each other, Senator Elizabeth Harris must have realized that she was next on the list. She gave up her political aspirations and abruptly resigned from the senate, citing health concerns. Senator Harris moved out of the country, but did not leave a forwarding address.
There are several things that are so self -evident for a person’s survival that it seems like a waste of breath to tell someone not to do them like; don’t do yoga in the fast lane of the freeway, don’t dive headfirst into the deep end of an empty pool and most important of all; don’t break into a Marine’s house and not expect some type of serious retribution in return.
John, J.P. and General Matthews were sitting on the upper deck of his home and looking out over the Pacific Ocean as the sun slowly set behind the distant horizon. The various shades of oranges and reds encompassed the area in a shroud of self- reflective serenity. The two dogs were lying right next to the men.
“How about a toast?” General Matthews suggested as he reached for a bottle of wine on the table.
“I’m not much of a drinker, but I’ll gladly make an exception this time,” John said.
General Matthews poured the wine then lifted his hand, “To the Corps.”
Each man took a swallow then J.P. raised his glass, “To family and friends, life is so much better when you’ve got good ones.”
The men took another swallow and then it was Sergeant John Fuller’s turn and he momentarily struggled to find the appropriate tribute then all of a sudden it came to him, “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for one thing,” then raised his glass, To the 96!”