The True Predators
Thomas Calabrese…Sergeant Johnny Tersus served six years in the Marine Corps and had four deployments to the Middle East and wanted to surprise his parents Robert and Frances Tersus so he didn’t tell them that he was being discharged and coming home. It was mid-morning as he walked up the steps to the front door of the modest family home in Gladstone, Missouri and rang the doorbell, a few seconds later his father opened it.
“Johnny,” Robert said.
“Dad,” Johnny replied.
“Did we forget that you were coming home today?”
“I didn’t tell you I was,” Johnny grinned.
“You were trying to surprise us,” Robert surmised.
“I was if you are, “Johnny said.
“Then surprise,” Johnny shrugged.
“Frances, somebody at the door to see you,”
Johnny’s mom walked down the hall from the kitchen and called out when she got a glimpse of her son, “Johnny!
“Did we forget? Frances asked.
Robert interrupted, ‘He was trying to surprise us,”
“You did that,” Frances embraced her son.
Johnny was a man of few words and so was his family, obviously.
Six months later and Johnny was still trying to find his place back in the civilian world when he saw an article in the Kansas City Star newspaper about an animal rescue organization looking for volunteers.
The Midwest Animal Rescue was based in Excelsior Springs, Missouri and was operated by Chet and Betty Branson, a middle aged couple whose love of animals far exceeded their financial ability to care for them.
When Johnny set foot on the grounds of the sanctuary, he instinctively knew that this is where he was supposed to be at this particular point in his life. He felt a sense of tranquility and purpose, something that he needed desperately after being in combat.
The Midwest Animal Rescue was run down and in desperate need of repair and the Bransons were each working two jobs and putting every cent they could spare in feeding and caring for the animals which left little for remodeling and regular maintenance.
“I’m here to volunteer,” Johnny said.
“As you can see, we need a lot of help,” Betty said.
“I do see that,” Johnny answered.
“Discouraged?” Betty asked.
“When can you start?”
“Now,” Johnny answered.
Johnny was a tireless worker who truly loved the animals, but the unique part was that while he was a man of few words, he had a unique connection with the animals that transcended verbal communication, it was spiritual and magical. There was the abused cocker spaniel that quivered in fear every time a human got near and the physically and emotionally scarred Pitbull that remained in constant attack mode. Both animals lay next to each other at the feet of Johnny, feeling safe and secure while the kitten that could fit in a person’s hand played among its natural predators. A hawk that was shot by an arrow and was recovering from a wound to its wing was perched on the back of Johnny’s chair.
“I’ve been around animals a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Chet commented.
“He definitely has a gift,” Betty agreed.
It didn’t take long for Johnny to realize that the Bransons could not go on much longer in their financial situation before they would have to close down the sanctuary so he thought of a plan to help them. He bought a Canon 80D camera on his credit card and set it up in the exercise area of the sanctuary and put the animals through a variety of intricate tricks and stunts then made copies of the video and sent them to movie studios in Hollywood offering his services as an animal trainer.
When the phone call came in, Johnny was feeding the animals, “Johnny, phone call, the man says he’s from California,” Betty said
Johnny rushed inside and took the call, “John Tersus speaking.”
“My name is Steve Warner; I viewed the film footage you submitted, that’s not trick photography is it?”
“I’ve been thinking about doing an action adventure movie and I need a special kind of animal trainer, I’ll be in touch.”
“I’ll be here,” Johnny said
The Filmlands International private jet landed at Kansas City International airport where several limousines were waiting for Steve Warner and his entourage. When they arrived at the Midwest Animal Rescue, Johnny was waiting at the gate.
“I need a trainer who can get wild animals to act on cue,” Samuel Warner said without hesitation, “I want to go old school, but if I can’t find someone to do the job then I’ll go with CGI, Computer Generating Imagery.”
“Understood,” Johnny answered.
As they walked through the grounds, Steve Warner noticed that all the pens, cages and corrals were empty, “Where are all the animals?”
“Show me what you can do because I need to get back to California,’ Steve Warner responded impatiently.
From out of nowhere fifteen dogs came charging out of nowhere and surrounded Johnny and Steve Warner, with their fangs bared and growled menacingly. Ten cats then leaped out of a tree and landed on the backs of the dogs and began hissing. Three horses raced down the trail and when they got close they went up on their hind legs then came down and began pawing at the ground like they were going to attack.
Steve Warner was so fear stricken that he cowered behind Johnny as three hawks flew low over his head and landed on the back of the horses. Johnny pulled a carrot out of his pocket and a hawk flew over, took him out of his hand and dropped it into the mouth of one of the horses.
“Let me introduce you to the animals of Midwest Animal Rescue,” Johnny raised his hand and every animal immediately stopped their aggressive behavior and bowed down.
Steve Warner just stood there speechless and awestruck at what he had just witnessed and later as he was leaving, he was still visibly shaken, “I don’t how you did that, but you’ve got the job.”
“I have to ask,” Johnny said.
“The people that operate this animal shelter are having a cash flow problem,” Johnny answered.
“Would a ten thousand dollar advance on your salary help?” Steve Warner asked.
“Make it out to the Midwest Animal Rescue.”
Johnny got the job as the main animal trainer on the movie; Redemption in the Sierras. The story was about three privileged sons of a multi billionaire who was diagnosed with a terminal disease and before he turns over his global empire to his sons, they must prove to him that they are mentally and physically capable so he makes them an offer; if they can complete the Sierra High Route, they will inherit the family empire. It could have been a very cliché movie except for the director’s creative interpretation of the story that incorporated the use of many wild animals. John was proud of his contribution and was eager to see the finished product on screen. The last scene was filmed and “in the can”, as they say in the business and the cast and crew were celebrating a difficult and rewarding shoot at the “wrap” party in the small town of Bridgeport, California.
Robert Markham was a talented director who treated everyone in the cast and on the crew with courtesy and kindness and under his leadership the filming finished three weeks ahead of schedule. His wife Julie and fourteen year old daughter, Priscilla came up from Los Angeles for the festivities.
After getting something to eat from the lavish buffet, John got two more plates and stacked them high with various types of meat then walked over to the edge of town where the animals that were used in the movie were being held. There was a bear, three wolves and two mountain lions that the studio rented from a local wildlife rescue. Andy Weaver was a college age student working at the rescue while saving money for veterinarian school and was hired by the studio to feed and care for the animals during the filming. The money he made would go a long way toward his education.
Andy was sitting in the trailer, playing a video game on his laptop when Johnny approached, “They got some pretty good food at the party, why don’t you go get you something to eat.”
“Thanks Johnny,” Andy smiled, “I won’t be long.”
“Take the rest of the night; I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks, thanks a lot,” Andy rushed off to join the party.
The cages of the animal were connected to a fenced exercise area separated by a gate. Johnny opened the gates to all the cages and released the animals into the exercise area then entered it himself. Johnny gave the command for the bear; two mountain lions and three wolves sit in a line then feed each one like they were domestic pets from the two plates of food.
Two hours later, Johnny was napping in the exercise pen, using the bear’s stomach as a pillow and the other animals were within arm’s reach.
Andy rushed up to the pen and called out, “There’s a problem.”
By the time Johnny reached the Mono County Court House, the entire cast and crew as well as the Sheriff and a large group of local residents were gathered in a group.
Johnny walked up to Steve Warner, “What’s going on?”
“Bob Markham’s daughter, Priscilla is missing and nowhere to be found. The Sheriff is organizing search parties right now,” Steve answered.
Johnny noticed a young woman in mid-twenties arguing with the Sheriff then storming off, he followed then called to get her attention, “excuse me,”
The young woman spun around, still angry from her interaction with the Sheriff, “Yeah?”
“I saw you talking to the Sheriff, what it about the missing girl?”
“Who are you?” The woman snapped back.
“John Tersus, I’m with the movie crew and an acquaintance of the missing girl’s father.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, I’m Julie Cuneo,”
“It looked like you were pretty upset with the Sheriff,” Johnny commented.
“I need to show you something,” Julie led Johnny to Big C Outfitters on Hays Street and entered through the back door and they went into her private office, “Have a seat.”
Johnny looked around the office and saw a selection of Marine Corps photographs on the wall.
Julie explained, “My father was a Marine and Bridgeport was his last duty station and he bought this business after he retired because he liked it up here. I was going to school at Mira Costa Junior College in Oceanside when he was killed in a car accident so I came up to sell the place, but couldn’t find a buyer and ended up staying. I still might make it back to Oceanside someday, but not until I take care of unfinished business.”
“Something tells me that this unfinished business has something to do with Priscilla Markham’s disappearance?”
Julie Cuneo pulled out a stack of newspapers, “These are stories of women and young girls who have gone missing over the past five years in the Sierras.”
“You suspect someone, obviously” Johnny said matter of factly.
Julie pulled out slipped a disk into her DVR, “This is a surveillance tape from the camera inside my store today,” The video showed two big bearded long haired men as they entered through the front door, “You are looking at Tyrone and Murray Brocius, they have a place on Mount Jackson. Their family has been up there for many years and originally made their money during the gold rush then increased their net worth over the years in a variety of businesses. Tyrone and Murray inherited it all and don’t need to work so they spent their time…
“Kidnapping women,” Johnny surmised.
“Besides drinking and raising hell,” Julie smiled, “How did you know that?”
“Why else would you bring me here?” Johnny replied.
“These are not only bad men, but they’re strange, weird and crazy all mixed together into an evil and sinister concoction. They come into my store to pick up supplies, so I’ve had a chance to observe them up close and I see the way they look at every woman like a predator that is sizing up its prey before it attacks.”
“Interesting, tell me about where they live,” Johnny said calmly.
“It is isolated and hard to get close to without being noticed. Part of their residence is actually built into the side of the mountain and I don’t know how deep it goes, but I’ll bet you that we’ll find what we’re looking for in there. The challenges are as followed and I have given this a lot of thought; one, getting on their property without being noticed, two, not getting killed by them, which I’m sure they would do without hesitation to any trespassers and last, but not least, finding the women before they can move or kill them. When you saw me I was gently reminding the Sheriff of my ongoing suspicions and concerns about the Brocius brothers.”
“And he responded with these same concerns, right?” Johnny said.
“Right, then added that he needs probable cause to get a warrant.”
Johnny not only had keen instincts when he came to animals, he was also a good judge of character and he had no doubt that Julie Cuneo was telling him what she believed was the truth, but there was only one way to be sure if she was right, “ Whatever you want to do, count me in.”
“We need to move quickly,” Julie said.
“Give me a half hour,” Johnny replied.
“I’ll get our gear ready.”
Up on Mount Jackson, Tyrone Brocius was angrily berating his young brother, Murray, “You stupid idiot! What the hell were you thinking! I can’t leave you alone for five minutes!”
Murray hung his head in remorse as Tyrone started punching him, “I said I was sorry.”
“It is one thing for us to take poor women and hikers because eventually the authorities give up looking for them, but you had to take some rich guy’s daughter, but not only a rich guy’s daughter, but while they’re having a party with hundreds of people around. Even if that idiot Sheriff stops looking for her, they’ll keep hiring detectives until they find something. They will never stop, ever!”
“She walked by the truck, I couldn’t help myself. She was so pretty and it was so easy to just reach out and grab her,” Murray cried.
“Don’t say another word; I can’t listen to your stupid excuses. Right now we need to get rid of these women and we need to do it fast!”
“You mean kill them?” Murray asked.
“Yeah, but we need to get them as far away from here as we can before we do it. Go get the women now!” Tyrone violently pushed his brother.
When Johnny returned to Big C Outfitters, he was driving a large truck, “I have a vehicle, you didn’t need to get one,” Julie observed.
“There is something in back that we might need,” Johnny responded.
Julie handed a pistol and rifle to Johnny, “You know how to use these?”
Johnny expertly checked each weapon, “Vaguely.”
The sun was slowly setting and it would be dark in an hour and Julie heard noises in the back of the truck while they were driving, “What exactly do you have back there?”
“A few friends,” Johnny answered.
Julie gave Johnny directions to the Brocius property, “This is as close as we should get.”
Johnny pulled the truck over to the side of the road, got out then went to the back of the truck and opened the back doors. Two mountain lions, one bear and three wolves jumped out as Julie instinctively reached for her pistol, but Johnny grabbed her arm, “They’re on our side.”
Tyrone and Murray Brocius unlocked the metal doors that lead to the individual rooms where five women and the young girl, Pricilla Markham were being kept prisoners and started pulling them outside.
It was completely quiet when they got outside, a little too quiet, “Where are the dogs?” Murray asked.
“Rocky! Bo!” Tyrone called out, but there was no response because the two large Pitbulls were quietly sitting next to Johnny and Julie.
The Brocius brothers heard a bear growling to their right then heard mountain lions to the left and finally wolves howling behind them. The sounds of the animals grew increasingly louder as they circled the perimeter of the property.
“What the hell is going on?” Murray asked nervously, “I’ve never heard that before.”
“I don’t know,” Tyrone responded, “but I don’t like it.”
Before the Brocius brothers knew what was happening, two mountain lions raced past them, coming so close that they brushed against their legs then disappeared into the brush as Tyrone and Murray dived under the truck for protection. When they thought it was safe, they crawled out only to find Johnny and Julie standing before them.
“Did we interrupt your plans?” Julie asked.
The captive females cowered in fear as Johnny smiled reassuringly. Tyrone looked at Johnny and Julie who still had their pistols holstered and their rifles pointed downward and thought that he might be able to escape back into his house without before being shot if he could create a diversion. Tyrone pushed his brother Murray and yelled, “RUN!”
Murray sprinted down the road as Julie turned to shoot him, but Johnny pulled her gun down, “he’s not going far,” Johnny pointed at Murray and the two mountain lions sprinted off in pursuit. Tyrone took this as his opportunity to run back into the cave, but had only about ten steps when a black bear stepped into path and blocked his retreat. When Tyrone turned around, he found himself standing face to face with an unarmed Johnny Tersus.
“The road to your freedom goes through me,” Johnny taunted.
Tyrone looked at his smaller adversary with anticipation, “you mean that if I can beat you then I can go free? What do I get if I kill you?”
Julie noticed the massive weight differential between the two men and offered, “Why don’t you just let me shoot him between the eyes?”
“Don’t waste your ammo.”
Tyrone charged forward and took a wild swing, Johnny ducked under it and drove a punch into the bigger man’s solar plexus and then as he stumbled by, he punched Tyrone in the back of the neck which further enraged the massive hunk of depraved humanity.
“Do you think that’s going to stop me?” Tyrone laughed.
“I hope not,” Johnny smiled, “a man like you deserves to suffer.”
Tyrone charged again and Johnny stopped him dead in his track with a sidekick above his right knee then stomped down hard on his left foot. Tyrone roared out in in pain and Johnny began punching Tyrone with short powerful punches the turned Tyrone’s face to a bloody pulp then ended the fight when he drove a vicious uppercut to the chin of the massive predator that knocked him unconscious and laid him out flat on his back. Julie walked over and gently lifted Johnny’s right hand, “How did you those steel knuckled combat gloves work?”
“Ask him,” Johnny gestured toward Tyrone lying in the dirt.”
The two mountain lions were standing guard over Murray Brocius as the black bear dragged the beaten Tyrone back to the truck by his collar.
“I would have killed them if it was up to me,” Julie said.
“For the record, I wasn’t against you killing these guys; I just thought they might have hidden other women somewhere else besides here and the Sheriff might want to question them.”
“Good point, I never thought of that.”
When they got back to Bridgeport, Sheriff Hackmore shook his head when he looked at the torn, beaten and battered Brocius brothers lying in the back of the truck, “They were never much to look at in the first place, but it looks like someone held a Dancing with the Lumberjacks competition on their faces. I’m going to need statements from you two, tomorrow is good enough, good job,” and walked off.
Steve Warner walked up and suggested, “Have you ever thought about opening an animal sanctuary in California? I know that Bob Markham and I would make sizable contributions to help get it started and once I pass the word to the other studios about your abilities and to my generous animal loving friends you’ll have more than enough money to keep it operating.”
Julie smiled, “That’s a good idea, hell you might even be able to get the Brocius property, they won’t be going back to it.”
“That is a tempting offer, let me discuss it with my associates,” Johnny walked over to where the bear, wolves, mountain lions and the two Pitbulls were patiently waiting for him and called them into a group around him. Johnny Tersus wasn’t just a unique man, he was A Breed Apart.