Take It To The Next Level
Thomas Calabrese…. It was midnight on February 11th in Rio de Janeiro and the carnival festivities filled the city with dancing, samba music and thousands of partygoers. Connor Riggs arrived five days earlier and was in his hotel room on the 12th floor at the Grand Hyatt, unconcerned with the ongoing party on the streets below. He was there for a much different reason.
Connor spent fourteen years in the Navy Seals before leaving the military to work as a special field operative for Matrix Miles XL, a global security company that specialized in protecting corporations and other organizations from cyberterrorism. Connor’s main duty was to use his set of specialized skills to bring the hackers and ransomware criminals to justice.
Matrix was founded by Xavier Matrix, a computer science engineer and software developer and Laughton Miles, who had master degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering. These two individuals and their team of professionals were the elite of their chosen fields.
Amazon had been hacked and those involved in the intrusion demanded twenty five million dollars in Bitcoin. While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, in which it encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them.
Since Amazon could not afford to be shut down for even a small amount of time, they quickly paid the ransom, then immediately called Matrix Miles XL to find those behind the hack. The trail led Connor to Rio and he was awaiting further instructions from corporate headquarters in Oceanside, California.
His phone rang and Connor answered it on the first ring, “I’m here.”
Xavier Matrix, “We have his location; we’re sending the pertinent data to your phone.”
Laughton Miles interjected, “Try and bring him in alive.”
“Always my intent…they make the choice…not me.”
Five seconds later, the information arrived as Connor double-checked his tools for the upcoming mission that included a Glock 19, a dozen plastic restraints and the potent sleeping gas, 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate in a spray container and also loaded into tranquilizer darts.
The super yacht was docked at Guanabara Bay and dozens of party goers were coming up the gangplank as two burly guards checked their names. Connor got in line behind two young women.
“Name?” The guard asked.
“Torres, Nick Torres,” Connor responded.
As the guard scrolled down the list, “I don’t see a Nick Torres.”
Connor reached under his pants pocket and pulled out the small bottle and sprayed it in the man’s face, “Look again.” The guard passed out and fell into his arms, “Your friend is really sick.” When the other guard stepped over to check on his co-worker, Connor sprayed him and he also fell into unconsciousness.
Connor yelled out to the people standing in line, “Virus on board!”
The people on the gangplank made a hasty retreat as Connor pulled out his tranquilizer gun and shot several more guards with knockout darts then made his way below deck. When he reached the master cabin, he kicked in the door and shot two more guards in the leg with the Glock 17 then disarmed them and placed plastic restraints on their wrists and wrapped tourniquets above their minor wounds to slow the bleeding. There were also seven women in the cabin so Connor tossed the plastic restraints to the one closest to him, “Put these on your friends ankles and wrists.”
The woman hesitated and Connor gave her a polite warning, “I could give all of you a very powerful knockout drug if that’s what you really want, but then you would wake up in a couple of hours with the worst headaches of your life. I’m trying to be courteous, but I’m on a strict time schedule so you have to pick one or the other.
The woman took the lesser of two inconveniences and put the plastic restraints on the other females. Connor walked over and pulled them snug then slipped one on the woman’s ankles and wrists, “You made the right decision,” then placed a small knife on the table, “You can cut off your restraints after I leave.”
Adrian Paulsen, notorious worldwide hacker was cowering in the corner, “Don’t kill me!”
“Relax, I have different orders ” Connor shot Adrian Paulsen with a tranquilizer dart and when he passed out, Connor tossed a blanket over the limp body then lifted him over his shoulder. As he was leaving, he turned back to the nervous people in the cabin, “Your host gives his regrets for leaving early, but don’t let it ruin the party.”
Connor tossed two flash bang grenades on deck to disorient the other partygoers then jumped off the yacht with Adrian Paulsen. He swam a hundred yard into the harbor then pulled out a laser pointer and pointed it into the sky. Two minutes later, a large seaplane landed and Connor and his captive were helped aboard and the plane immediately took off.
Two weeks later in Oceanside, California, Xavier walked into Connor’s office, “How are things going with Paulsen?”
“At first he was kind of uncooperative, but then I told him that if he wasn’t willing to help us then we might as well turn him over to the Russians or the Chinese or even the North Koreans and their powers of persuasion are excruciatingly painful.”
“Let me guess what his response was,” Connor smiled, “Whatever you need, sir.”
“Something like that, of course he was a little a more emotional,” Xavier said, “You deserve a bonus so I called a friend of mine in the travel industry. Laughton and I want you to have two first class tickets on British Airways to Nassau and two weeks in a villa at the all- inclusive Baha Mar resort and spa.
Connor started to protest, “I…
“You don’t need a vacation, I’ve heard that before. Then consider this a temporary job assignment if that terminology makes you feel better. What about Torrey?”
“What about her?”
“Maybe she wants a vacation, run it by her first before you give me a final decision,” Xavier suggested.
Torrey Garner was thirty three years old, two years younger than Connor and was a registered nurse at Tri-City Hospital. She joined the Navy out of high school and the military paid for her nursing school in return for a six year enlistment.
She served three tours in the Middle East and after her discharge, went home to Kansas City, Missouri. After growing tired of Midwestern weather, she signed on to be a traveling nurse. After a couple years of working in Arizona, Hawaii and California, Torrey decided to apply for a permanent position at the Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.
Connor told Torrey that he had been in the Navy as well, but left out the part that he was a Seal. He thought that it made his current story that he was a sales representative for a computer company more believable. That wasn’t a problem because Torrey didn’t like to talk about her time in the service so she wasn’t at all inquisitive about Connor’s military history. They met when both of them were running on the beach in Oceanside one day and casually scheduled to meet two days later, neither really expected the other to show up. After six more runs together, they decided to have lunch and surprisingly their mutual wariness and lack of commitment was the catalyst that drew them closer together.
These were two fiercely independent individuals meeting in that vague and gray area of relationships where there was just enough closeness without feeling trapped or pressured. Connor and Torrey also had a sixth sense about each other, knowing when to be there and when to give each other the appropriate space.
Connor was hesitant to ask Torrey about taking an extended vacation with him, they had gone skiing at Mammoth for two days, but two weeks would be a different set of circumstances. He felt that he should at least give her the right of first refusal, but had little expectation that she would accept the offer.
“I’d love to go, but I don’t have much seniority at the hospital so I’ll have to check with my supervisor to see when I can get some time off,” Torrey said, “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not for me…we’ll go whenever you’re ready.”
Six weeks later, Connor and Torrey entered the private limousine in front of MatrixMiles headquarters at 8am for their Sunday morning drive to the Los Angeles International Airport.
“Your company is very generous,” Torrey commented as she leaned back in the plush backseat.
“They are good guys and do well by their employees, I have no complaints.”
The couple made small talk on the drive and before they knew it they had arrived at the airport. British Airways flight 689 departed on time for Nassau, Bahamas. Connor immediately noticed a gentleman who glanced up from his seat with disdain as he entered the plane.
While Torrey found her assigned seat, Connor quickly scanned the area as if he was doing a threat assessment, while trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible by pretending to check his carry-on baggage. There was a beautiful young woman who had to be at least thirty years younger than her companion. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes and her arms showed the faded colors of blue, purple and yellow from new and old bruising.
She wore expensive designer clothing and gaudy jewelry to draw attention and to emphasize that she was a bought and paid for commodity. The woman made a conscious effort to avoid making eye contact by keeping her attention focused on a magazine. Connor determined that she had no interest in the articles and was fearful about upsetting the man next to her. Sitting behind the mismatched predator and his prey were two hard looking men that Connor assumed were professional bodyguards. One of the men had a distinctive tattoo of a serpent imprinted across the knuckles of his hand.
By the time he sat down ten seconds later, Connor had already gone over several scenarios in his mind about helping the young woman. When he turned his attention to Torrey with a half- hearted smile, she responded, “Well?”
“The girl,” Torrey replied, “I saw you checking out the situation, what is your opinion?”
If it was anybody else, Connor would have denied that he noticed anything out of the ordinary, but he had too much respect for Torrey to lie, “She’s in trouble, scared and is with some very dangerous men.”
“That’s what I think too.”
“Let’s find out who we’re dealing with,” Connor pulled out his cellphone and handed it to Torrey, “see if you can get their photos without them noticing.”
Torrey pretended to focus on Connor when in reality she was taking photos of the elderly man, the bodyguards and the young girl. She handed the phone back to Connor who sent a text to his company, Run face recognition on these individuals.
It was a seven hour flight and two hours into it, the older gentleman got up to use the men’s room and both bodyguards followed him and stood outside the door. The young woman wrote on a napkin Help Me, then wadded it up in a ball and tossed it across the aisle. It landed in Torrey’s lap who read it, then showed it to Connor who nodded to the girl in acknowledgment.
Forty five minutes later, the information about the men came through on Connor’s phone. He read it then handed it to Torrey, “Look at this then meet me in the back of the plane,”
Connor was waiting by the rear galley when Torrey walked up, “They wouldn’t even be on this flight if their private jet had not blown an engine at LAX.”
“I read in the text that they are Albanians,” Torrey said.
“They are the worst of the worst, not because they’re so tough or well trained, but because they are merciless and vindictive.”
“I think I know what you mean, but just to be sure, clarify that statement for me,” Torrey said.
“We could rescue the girl and even take out her captives, but if we are identified then we’d have to worry about the safety of our families and friends for years to come. These are the kind of people that don’t ever forget and when they come for revenge, they’ll kill man, woman, child, family, friend, neighbor. Their wide circle of carnage is a technique that they use to intimidate people from standing up to them.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience,” Torrey surmised.
“I’ve had some business dealings with them in the past.”
When they landed in Nassau, Connor and Torrey had their cab follow the Albanians to a large house in Yonder Cay. After looking at the house for several minutes, Connor instructed the driver, “Let’s go, I need to go to a dive store.”
The driver took Connor and Torrey to Bahama Divers where Connor purchased a Mares compressed air spear gun with a dozen spears.
After checking in at the Baha Mar, Connor was focused on rescuing the girl when Torrey commented, “You’re pretty good at this.”
“Good at what?” Connor replied.
“I figured that the sooner that we can get this over with, the sooner we can start enjoying our vacation, otherwise that girl will be on our mind.”
“Is that funny?” Connor asked.
“Not what you said, but how calmly you said it…kind of like how most people would say they have a minor errand to take care of.”
“I haven’t told you some things about me,” Connor confessed.
“Whoa, don’t go there. On a need to know basis, we told each other what we felt comfortable with, I haven’t told you everything either. In case I’m not making myself clear, I was impressed when I first met you and I’m even more impressed now.”
“Let’s hope I don’t disappoint you,” Connor answered modestly.
“I seriously doubt that will happen. I’m pretty sure that you’ve already considered this; but don’t you want to get the police involved ?”
“You do want to get the police involved?”
“No, but I did consider it, then forgot about it. Remember what I told you about these men ?There is only one sure way to deal with this situation; quickly, efficiently and covertly.”
Thirty minutes later, Connor had the spear gun in a canvas bag and a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead to shield to his face, “If I’m not back by tomorrow then I won’t be coming back. Get out of the country and forget that you ever knew me.”
“Like that is ever going to happen,” Torrey snapped back, “I’m beginning to have second thoughts about you doing this.”
“No you’re not; we both know that once that girl asked for our help, that we had no choice. We might be on vacation, but there no days off from the doing the right thing.”
“You say ‘we’ a lot, but then you want to leave me behind. You’re making a mistake with your use of pronouns. I’ll make the correction, we’re going together…don’t argue.”
Connor and Torrey obtained a rental car from the resort concierge and drove to a secluded location about a hundred yards from the Albanians’ residence on the beach. Connor got out of the car and started to walk away, Torrey chased after him and passionately kissed him on the lips, “You better come back or I’m coming in after you.”
“Roger that, Ma’am,” Connor smiled broadly.
Connor was elated by the kiss, but knew that he had better shift to a different mode if he was going to make it back to Torrey. He took a deep breath and narrowed his focus on the mission at hand. The men he was about to confront had a long criminal history of brutal crimes and would show him no mercy if he was caught, so he knew he had better be prepared.
It was 3pm and in most cases this would not have been the best time to run a mission, but Connor determined that they would not be expecting a midday assault. The first guard opened the front door when he heard a knock and a spear went through his heart and he fell to the floor. A hand reached out and pulled him out of view.
“Who is it?” The second guard called out and didn’t get an answer so he got up from the couch to investigate. When he reached the door, he looked to the left then to the right, “Beshkim, where are you?” Just as he saw his friend lying face down in the flower bed, a spear went through his head.
Connor found the elderly man and the girl in the second floor master bedroom. When the man reached for a weapon, a spear impaled his hand to the desk. He screamed out in pain and the second spear went through his throat and ended his anguish.
Torrey was nervously waiting as Connor and the girl approached, the look of relief was evident on her face when she first saw them. Connor drove to the Royal Bahamas Police Headquarters where a female Interpol agent was there to meet them.
The young woman broke down in tears when she saw the police station and realized that she was finally free, “How do I ever thank you?”
“By having a good life,” Connor replied.
“My name is…”
“No names,” Torrey looked at Connor, “Right?”
“Right… no names.”
The couple drove back to the Baha Mar resort and did not let this unscheduled activity affect their vacation, in fact they never mentioned it again. The staff of MatrixMiles XL quickly released a fabricated news story that the dead men were working with the Russians in a global money laundering scheme and the Albanians were killed in a violent dispute. It probably wasn’t necessary, because Connor was reasonably certain that he could not be identified as the perpetrator, but he was a professional and it was a good policy to take extra precautions.
Six weeks later, Connor and Torrey were having an early dinner at King’s Fish House in Carlsbad when Torrey commented, “Maybe it is time to re-define our relationship.”
“From what to what?’ Connor asked.
“I started off looking for a little company with no expectations and ended up falling in love with you.”
Connor sat silently and stared at the woman sitting across the table from me.
“That is the kind of statement that is supposed to illicit a response from you,” Torrey responded with irritation, “Silence is not an option.”
“I’m sorry for the pause in my response, but I thought that you already knew I feel the same way about you.”
Whether you are in the Bahamas on a vacation and someone asks for your help, or you are casually dating in North San Diego County, one thing is certain, sometimes it just feels right to…Take it to the next level.