Heal or Kill –
Thomas Calabrese – Part I ……It was nine pm, Wednesday night and Deputy Ben Allison was working the four to midnight shift in the Douglas, Arizona area. He drove down Pan American Avenue and turned on Tenth Street and pulled into the parking lot of Brasas Grill for his dinner break. This was his last shift before taking four days off. The contractors were replacing the kitchen cabinets in his house and he promised his wife that everything would be boxed and stored in the garage when they arrived on Monday.
Ben got a text message as he was entering the restaurant and glanced at it, Just checking in, how are you doing? Charlie. He walked over to the counter, sat down and prepared to reply to the message when the young waitress walked over, “What can I get for you, Officer?”
Ben was looking down at his phone and his attention was divided, “Evening, Priscilla, I’ll have the usual.”
Priscilla replied, “Pork chops, french fries and a diet coke,”
Ben’s usual was a chicken tostada salad and ice tea and when he looked up, Priscilla nodded toward the corner of the restaurant where four middle aged men were sitting with two young teenager girls. Ben inconspicuously glanced over and knew why Priscilla was concerned. The girls looked scared and the men were trying too hard to look casual. This was a tough call for Ben who knew that if he walked out, the men could go out the back door and if he confronted them outside, the girls could get caught in the middle of a gunfight. If he made his move here then the people in the restaurant could get caught in the crossfire. If he reached for his radio or cellphone, they could get nervous and start shooting.
Ben whispered to Priscilla, “Do you have a small mirror that I could borrow?”
Priscilla reached under the counter and pulled a make- up mirror out of her purse and handed it to Ben who set it on the counter in an angle that gave him a view of the four men and two girls. He could see that they were talking about him. Ben ordered Priscilla, “When I get off this stool, you go into the kitchen and call 911 and don’t come back out,” When the four men got out of the booth, Ben was off the stool in an instant with his gun drawn, “Hands up!”
The four men ignored the command, looked at each other and Ben reiterated his command, “I said, hands up, I know what you’re thinking and don’t do it. No matter how this turns out, I’m going to get at least two of you.”
Ben knew he had to neutralize the men closest to the girls first for their protection and hope he still had enough time to take out the other two, “Last chance, let the girls go and put your hands in the air,” The men started to spread out as their hands slowly moved toward their holstered weapons, Ben couldn’t let them create more distance between his targets so he quickly shot two men and they went down as the other two reached for their weapons. He shot the third man in the forehead, but the last man fired off a round that hit Ben in his bulletproof vest and he fell to his knees with a broken rib.
Ben grimaced in pain and fired two shots from his kneeling position and killed the last man. The two teenage girls ran screaming out of the restaurant as sirens could be heard approaching in the distance. Ben staggered over to a chair to wait for back-up and medical assistance. A black Cadillac Escalade pulled up to the front of restaurant and five men got out and walked inside. Once inside one of the men casually walked over to Ben who was bent over in pain and shot him in the head as witnesses stared in shock. He dropped the gun on the floor, smiled and winked at the surveillance camera then walked outside to confront a group of armed deputies with his hands in the air, “My name is Jorge Ramos and I surrender.”
Charlie Reese had an ice pack wrapped to his ailing right knee as he lowered himself into his worn and faithful recliner. He already had his left knee and hip replaced and had metal pins in his right arm and both legs from wounds and injuries. If it wasn’t for ice and steel, Charlie knew he would be in a world of hurt. A cold therapeutic beer was setting within reach on the end table to his right and patiently beckoned to be consumed. The remote control was cradled in his left hand and after a long hard day on the streets of Lincoln Heights, there was no place Charlie would rather be than right where he was. He had previously recorded the 1975 film, Hard Times with Charles Bronson and James Coburn and prepared to watch it in peace and quiet.
The phone rang and Charlie cursed the interruption, “Oh hell.”
When he saw who it was, he immediately answered it in a different frame of mind, “Hey Ben.”
There was a hesitation on the other end, “It’s not Ben…its Wendy.”
“Hi Wendy, What’s up?” Charlie immediately sensed that something was wrong from her tone of voice.
“Ben was killed on duty, I don’t have any other details, you’re the first person I called,” Wendy cried, “I need to call his parents, but I’ll let you know when they tell me more.”
Charlie was dumfounded and if longevity and shared experiences had anything to do with friendship then Ben was an invaluable part of his life. Charlie readily admitted his numerous shortcomings as a husband and his two failed marriages were a testament to that fact. He was also a dismal failure as a father, unable to separate his work from his home life and was often emotionally unavailable to his family, choosing solitude instead of interaction as his refuge. He was amazed that his two grown children had turned out so well and the fact that he had very little contact with them was more than fair and just punishment for his past transgressions. Charlie felt that he was only good at two things; being a good friend and a capable law enforcement officer and now that he lost the first, the second didn’t mean much either.
Charlie and Ben attended Vista High School then served in the Marine Corps together and after leaving the Corps they traveled around the world for six months before deciding to use their veterans’ preference to apply for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Ben took a position with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department when Wendy’s father became seriously ill and they moved to Arizona to provide their assistance.
Charlie and Ben still got together on holidays and at least one other time during the year and they already had their tickets for Hawaii where they planned to do some surfing on North Shore and also spoke on the phone at least three times a week as well. As the account of Ben’s death surfaced, Charlie’s all- consuming grief slowly had turned to rage by the time he went to Arizona for the funeral.
Lieutenant Perino, Ben’s shift commander told Charlie, “I’ve got two years to retirement, a bad heart and I’m barely hanging on with my fingertips for my pension so if you want the truth, I need your word that you didn’t hear this from me.”
“You got it,” Charlie promised.
“You would think that after the Fast and Furious train wreck that the Feds would have learned their lesson and backed off, but instead they doubled down.”
“How so?” Charlie inquired.
“Jorge Ramos, the man who killed Ben is an enforcer for the Servando Barmenta cartel and when we arrest him, we have standing orders from the Department of Justice to turn him over to ICE who then turns him loose. It was the same this time with Ben’s death. Ramos must have been sitting on something they thought was damn important because they gave him immunity without any hesitation.”
“Are you telling me that the man who killed Ben was set free?” Charlie asked in disbelief.
“That’s an affirmative, the current administration has been trading weapons and immunity to drug dealers and murderers for some time now, in return for intel about possible terrorist threats coming across the border,” Lt. Perino explained.
Charlie went back to his motel and obsessed about what Lt. Perino told him and if he had any doubts they were put to rest the next morning when he watched Fox News. The Department of Justice had the unmitigated audacity to make a public statement on the day of Ben’s funeral to get out in front of the story.
The spokesman read a prepared statement; “The United States has been working with our Mexican partners to stop dangerous terrorists from entering our Southern border. This program has already shown dramatic results in the protection of American citizens. We salute our noble law enforcement officers who risk their lives on a daily basis to keep us safe, including the latest hero to die in the line of duty, Ben Allison.”
Charlie made casual inquiries about Jorge Ramos, but all he could get was that he was being held in protective custody at an undisclosed federal detention center and when it was time to head back to Los Angeles, he stopped in to see Wendy, “If you need anything…anything at all, you call me…no matter what it is.”
“I saw you talking to some of Ben’s co-workers; don’t do anything stupid, Charlie,”
Charlie flashed a boyish smile, “When have you known me to do anything stupid, that’s a rhetorical question and does not require an answer.”
When Charlie got back to Los Angeles, he ratcheted up his efforts to get information about Servando Barmenta and Jorge Ramos and when he got what he needed, he took an indefinite leave of absence and got on the road.
Jack Hannity had worked at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department during the same time frame as Charlie and Ben and was a former Marine as well. He was a top sniper in the Corps and worked at that position with the Sheriff’s Swat Team and was an even better shot than Charlie was.
There was a situation in Boyle Heights when four members of a family were killed. The onsite commander had ordered Jack to take out the drug crazed father if he got a clear shot, but Jack felt that would only escalate an already inflamed situation so when the father came out the front door with a knife to a little girl’s throat, Jack initially refused to fire even though he was repeatedly ordered to do so.
“This is a direct order. Fire! The onsite commander demanded, “Take the shot!”
Jack reluctantly squeezed the trigger and the bullet destroyed the cerebral cortex of the father and the little girl ran to safety. A minute passed before three more shots were heard inside the house when the mother killed the other two children then turned the gun on herself.
The radio transmissions were mysteriously erased and Jack was offered the options of facing charges for negligence or he could choose to medically retire with a diagnosis of PTSD. He chose the latter and now resided in Lake Havasu, Arizona.
Charlie drove up to the gate of the property and pressed the intercom, “Charlie Reese.”
The gate slowly opened and Charlie drove up the long driveway to the front of the single story home. Jack Hannity was wearing shorts, flip flops and a faded blue t-shirt and had a welcoming smile on his face, “It’s been too long.”
Charlie replied. “Yes it has.”
As they walked inside Jack offered his condolences, “Sorry to hear about Ben, he was one of the good ones.”
“One of the best,” Charlie replied.
Two large muscular Pitbulls, one black and white, the other, gray and white were lying down on the floor when Charlie entered the house; they raised their massive heads in curiosity, “Go back to sleep, he’s a friend,” Jack commented and the dogs immediately complied with their master’s command.
“It looks like you’re doing pretty well,” Charlie observed.
“You mean this place? It is owned by one of the casinos in Laughlin, used to belong to a professional gambler who lost it in a high stakes poker game, you’d be surprised how much property that casinos own around the world from uncollected debts,” Jack said, “ they let me stay here in return for doing investigations, collections and security details for high rollers.”
“You still go into Mexico on a regular basis?” Charlie asked matter of factly.
“A few times a month,” Jack answered.
Charlie dropped a large folder on the dining room table, “I need your help with a plan.”
Later, Charlie and Jack were sitting at the dining table and going over files and photos of Barmenta and Ramos.
“What do you think?” Charlie asked,
“Let me show you something,” Jack replied.
Charlie and Jack walked to the back of the property where two large metal security containers were setting under a large desert camouflaged tarpaulin, “I keep my equipment in these, it’s easier to move them around this way,” Jack explained as he unlocked the thick metal doors to the containers that were filled with weapons and ammunition.
“Expecting a war?” Charlie commented.
“Expecting the best, but prepared for a situation like this,” Jack smiled, “One more thing, you’re crazier than I even remember if you think you’re going after Ben’s killer without me.”
End Of Part One ……………………. Come back next week to see what awaits Charlie Reese and Jack Hannity in Mexico.