Beyond The Breakwater
Thomas Calabrese — Gunnery Sergeant Luke Brody had been in the Marine Corps for 10 years after serving two West Pacific and two Middle East deployments with different units. He was currently assigned to a counter terrorism unit in Bahrain when he was called to Major John Ingram’s office. Luke Brody stood at attention in front of the desk, “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes I did, have a seat Gunny.”
Luke Brody sat down and patiently waited for his unit’s administrative officer to begin speaking, “I just received your re-enlistment paperwork.”
“I haven’t made a decision yet, sir,” Luke responded quickly.
“You’ve got two months before you rotate back to the states,” Major Ingram said.
“More like seven weeks, but who’s counting.”
“Because of your experience as a counter terrorism operative, the Corps is offering you 153,000 dollars if you sign up for six years. “
“That’s a lot of money.” Luke
“I don’t know if you are aware of this, but if you reenlist while you are in a tax exempt combat zone, you will receive your entire bonus tax free, which can be a substantial savings.”
“So what you’re saying is that if I’m going to re-enlist then it would be financially prudent to do it here instead of back at Pendleton?” Luke said.
“Affirmative on that, Gunny,” Major Ingram smiled.
“Thanks for the heads-up, I appreciate it.”
Luke spent the next few weeks pondering the pros and cons of re-enlisting. If he invested wisely in an aggressive portfolio and had some luck along the way he would have a nice supplement to his military pension if he made it all the way to his full twenty. He might even be able to add to it the next time he was in a tax exempt zone. He might even get another bonus at 16 years, but that wasn’t likely. On the one hand, if he got out of the Corps now, what would he do, his only skills were combat related. He could apply for some law enforcement jobs or he knew some mercenaries with Red River Securities that would give him a recommendation if he wanted to become a civilian security contractor. Luke was a Marine and it wasn’t so much what he did as who he was. He had become very proficient at a set of some very specialized skills and while he would never boast about it, he was proud of his accomplishments.
This would be Gunnery Sergeant Luke Brody’s last mission before returning to the states and he was given the option of standing down by Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Swilley, “You’re a short-timer Gunny; you don’t have to go on this one.”
“I appreciate the offer, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to saddle up.”
“Affirmative on that,” Lt. Colonel Swilley knew that Gunny Brody was not the kind of man to take the easy way out, but he had to ask anyway.
The joint task force of Marines, Navy Seals and Delta Force operatives were going after Hamza Bin Laden, son of Usama Bin Laden. He was a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist,’ which meant that he was part of a very select group of individuals that have been determined to have committed or posed a serious risk of committing acts of terrorism that threatened the security of of the United States. To put it simply, terminate Hamza Bin Laden with extreme prejudice.
Satellite surveillance located him in a heavily fortified compound in northern Latakia, an isolated area in Syria. The force was scheduled to leave at daybreak the next morning so Luke stopped off at Major Ingram’s office that afternoon, “Sir, I’ve decided to re-enlist.”
“I have a meeting at Battalion, can we do it later?” Major Ingram said.
“I’m kind of busy too,” Luke replied, “I’ll check in with you when I get back.”
“Sounds good, I’ll make sure everything is ready.”
The five Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopters came in low and the pilots wore computerized night vision googles to avoid crashing into the uneven terrain. When they reached their destination, they hovered 60 feet over a group of buildings in stealth mode and the team fast-roped down to the roofs. The American forces were carrying two types of weapons; Heckler & Koch MK23 handgun designed to provide .45-caliber power during close-quarter battle. It had a 12 round magazine, sound suppressor and laser aiming module. Their other weapon was an MP5 9mm, vertical foregrip, folding buttstock and threaded barrel for accessory attachments.
The terrorist guards were no match for the special operatives and they were eliminated with methodical efficiency. Luke and three of his comrades entered an upper room and Hamza Bin Laden instinctively reached for a weapon. Luke fired one accurate shot through the terrorist leader’s primary motor cortex and shut him off like a light switch. The woman was not harmed, but was shocked. A Navy Seal took out his cellphone took several photos of Hamza and transmitted the images to Central Command. It only took a minute to get confirmation and Hamza was placed in a bodybag so that DNA tests could be conducted back at base. Word was passed and the team headed to the designated evacuation point.
Luke saw two armed terrorists hiding under a table as he started down the stairs and realized that members of the team were about to be shot so he yelled out, “Ambush!” and immediately leaped over the railing and landed awkwardly on the table, breaking it under his weight. When he hit the floor, he quickly refocused and shot both men, but not before he took a round to his shoulder. When Luke looked down he saw that his leg was in a twisted position and on closer examination he saw that he had dislocated his knee. When Luke came down from the adrenalin rush, the pain in his leg was excruciating.
A Corpsman quickly applied a splint to his leg and placed a bandage over the bullet wound. Luke received a shot for the pain and two of his team members helped him to the helicopter.
Strange how life can be, Luke thought to himself as he was driving to his physical therapy appointment at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Oceanside. One day he’s figuring out what to do with his bonus and the rest of his military career and the very next one, his life was changed forever. He was medically discharged from the Corps for the injuries he sustained during the mission and was now in an entirely different place in his life, one that he had not planned for. Luke was not ready to make the same time of commitment to another job that he did with the Marines so he was taking it day by day. He already had two surgeries on his knee and while the doctor said he would eventually be able to walk normally again, his days of running 10 miles through the hills of Camp Pendleton were definitely over. Luke might have to switch to long distance swimming, but that was another decision that he would file away for further consideration.
Luke was working the graveyard shift at Planet Fitness in Oceanside on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights while taking several classes at Mira Costa Junior College during the day. He was renting a room from a retired divorced Marine who lived by the San Luis Rey Gate of the base. The other thing about life that Luke came to realize was there was a big difference between killing time, which is what he was doing now and killing bad guys.
It was Tuesday afternoon and Luke decided to stop off at Home Depot after his English class and pick up some batteries and glass cleaner. He had just finished paying for his items and walked out of the store. He heard distinctive sounds and to most people their first thought would be fireworks, but to a highly trained special operative, it was the distinctive signature of an AK-47. That assessment was quickly confirmed by a herd of panic-stricken people that included men, women and children running in his direction. Most people’s first instinctive reactions were to run away or take cover so Luke was the only one moving toward the sound of the shots.
As he scanned the area Luke saw a man wearing a mask, body armor and tactical gear firing at targets of opportunity as he walked between the parked vehicles. If that wasn’t bad enough, Luke noticed another individual dressed the same way with a similar weapon at the other end of the lot doing the same thing. A young woman ran around the corner of the building and the closest shooter pursued her while firing at innocent bystanders.
From his position, Luke determined that he could reach the woman before the shooter, but only if he ran on his not quite healed medically repaired knee, something he was explicitly told not to do. Medical advice be damned. Luke took off in a full sprint, while ignoring the pain. The young woman who was in her late twenties or early thirties was crouched behind a big green trash dumpster when Luke reached her. He opened the lid, placed her inside it then covered her with trash. He dropped to the ground and looked beneath the dumpster that was on wheels to see the boots of the shooter coming around the corner, and picked up and eight foot length of rope lying nearby.
The waste container was located six feet from the rear of the building so when the shooter was in the right position, Luke pushed with all his might and wedged the man between the two objects. Before he could free himself or lift his gun to a firing position, Luke looped the rope around the shooter’s neck and choked him to death. Pulling back the dumpster, he grabbed the rifle and went looking for the second shooter. Sirens were growing louder and the second shooter had chosen to stop his assault on innocent bystanders and find a position to engage first responders upon their arrival. Luke got just close enough where he could prop his arms on the hood of a pick-up truck and get a good shot. He took careful aim and fired twice, both shots hit the second shooter, one in the back of the head and the other in the neck. The situation had been neutralized.
Luke set the rifle on the hood of the vehicle and went back to the dumpster. When he opened the lid, he moved some trash and garbage aside, “I’m glad you decided to wait for me.”
“My surroundings were so pleasant, especially the aroma that I thought I was at a 5-star resort,” The woman quipped.
Luke helped her out and noticed that her clothes had red stains on them, “Are you hurt?”
“It’s the rotten tomatoes look, newest fashion trend,” The woman sighed in relief,
“You know what they say; better red then dead.”
The woman noticed that Luke was perspiring heavily and not putting any weight on his injured leg, “Doesn’t look like you’re doing so well.”
“Just an old injury that acts up every now and then, like an old friend used to tell me; pain is the best reminder that we’re still alive,” Luke grimaced.
“Your friend wouldn’t happen to be a Marine, would he?”
Before Luke could respond, police and law enforcement arrived.
Luke was sitting in his hospital bed at Tri City Medical center early the next morning when the same woman knocked on the door, “I hope that I’m not disturbing you.”
“Actually you caught me in-between appointments.”
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you for saving my life,” The woman smiled.
“We’ll never really know for sure if that was the case,” Luke responded.
“I was talking to some police officers at the scene and they said both shooters were killed before they arrived.”
“Of course you wouldn’t know anything about that,” The woman said.
“In the excitement of it all, I don’t remember too much…sorry,” Luke responded.
“You look like a guy who is easily rattled and forgets things,” There was more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice, “One more thing, my name is Erin Daniels.” The woman set a card on the nightstand.
“My name is…”
The woman interrupted, “Luke Brody…I know.”
After Erin left, Luke looked at the business card. On the front, Rays of Health, written beneath it, Free lunch anytime. On the other side, were these words; don’t make me come looking for you.
Rays of Health was a small café that specialized in healthy cuisine and a variety of smoothies and protein drinks. It was located in downtown Vista and Erin was employed as a cook and waitress at the establishment. It was a week later before Luke showed up. Erin called out as soon as he walked through the door, “I was only going to give you two more days before I hunted you down.” Erin called out to the owner, “Hey Ray, this is the guy I was talking about. His lunch is on my tab.”
Ray nodded, “Got you.”
“What do you want?” Erin asked.
“A lot to choose from,” Luke responded as he gazed at the menu on the wall.
“I’ll make you one of my specialties. I hope you brought your appetite.”
“Seldom leave home without it,” Luke smiled.
Erin made a triple size order of the Vista Special, a salad that included; salmon, spinach, avocados, black olives, eggs, sunflowers seeds, feta cheese, sliced apples and caramelized nuts. She also made a date nut shake and when she brought the tray; she sat down and waited for him to taste both the salad and the drink before asking, “What do you think?”
“I am kind of undecided between great, excellent and outstanding.”
Over the next eight months, Luke and Erin spent a lot of time together and then one day Luke texted Erin and she didn’t respond. He sent four more texts and left three voicemails over the next two days and still nothing. Even when Erin was busy, she still let him know that she got his message so Luke went by Rays of Health, “I thought that Erin was scheduled to work today.”
“She left,” Ray responded.
“What do you mean, left?” Luke asked.
“She came in two days ago, said she had a family emergency and had to go. When I asked her when she would be back, she said she didn’t know. Very strange… it was not like her at all. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
“Not a clue. She told you it was a family emergency, any idea where her family is?” Luke asked.
“On her employment application, she listed a sister Katie as her emergency contact. She lives in Morro Bay,” Ray said.
“Morro Bay, I’ve never been there, it’s up the coast isn’t it?” Luke commented.
“About 300 miles, Central California area,” Ray said.
“Would it violate any laws if you gave me her sister’s name and address?” Luke asked.
“Actually it would, but if I left her employment application on my desk and you entered without my permission or knowledge and you saw it, well I couldn’t do anything about that.”
“Thanks Ray,” Luke smiled.
“I’m doing it for Erin, I’m worried about her and I know you care about her,” Ray said.
“That I do,” Luke confessed.
Erin had received a call from her younger sister, Katie who was frantic and fearful. She had gotten in trouble with a major narcotics dealer in her area when she skimmed part of a large cocaine shipment that she delivered to Cambria, California. The dealer was a ruthless thug named Larry Thurston who inherited the family business from his father who was killed in an ambush five years earlier.
Larry always had a thing for Erin even when they were teenagers growing up in the area, but after high school Erin left the area and moved to Southern California to attend Palomar College. Her sister Katie stayed behind in the area where she got into trouble with drugs and men. Erin warned her sister of the dangers of her current lifestyle and even invited her to move to Oceanside where a new environment might help her turn her life around. Katie refused and kept going down a dark path.
Larry Thurston gleefully explained the situation to Erin and Katie as they stood before his handmade desk at his Pismo Beach mansion, “The only reason that Katie is still alive is because you decided to come back, otherwise I would have had no choice.”
“What do you want, Larry?” Erin asked.
“Katie took 50 thousand dollars in product so I’m going to add another 50 thousand in interest and fines to that, which means you owe me one hundred grand,” Larry laughed.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Erin responded.
“I know you don’t, that’s why I’m going to be a nice guy and give you the opportunity to work it off. Two options; make ten deliveries for me at ten grand a pop or work here as hostesses for my business associates,” Larry rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Katie was trembling in fear and Erin had hatred and contempt in her eyes when she said, “How much time do we have to make our decision?”
“I would never rush you, Erin, you know that. How about three days? I’ll send somebody by Katie’s apartment for your answer in exactly 72 hours. One more thing, if you run. I won’t chase you, but I know that your parents retired to San Luis Obispo and I’ve got their address. I’ll just kill them and maybe a few of their neighbors.”
When the two sisters got back to Katie’s one bedroom apartment, Erin knocked some magazines off a chair and sat down without saying a word.
“Say something!” Katie screamed.
“What is there to say; that I warned you that this would happen or that this wasn’t the life for me. You know everything already,” Erin grumbled, “Why repeat it.”
Two days later in the morning, there was a knock at the door,” Erin rolled over in the bed that she was sharing with her sister, “I thought we had 3 days.”
Katie crawled under the bed as Erin opened the front door and was completely caught off guard.
“Ray told me that you had a family emergency. I just wanted to make sure that you were alright since I didn’t hear from you before you left,” Luke said calmly.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Erin angrily snapped back.
“But I am.”
“You need to turn around and drive straight back to Oceanside right now,” Erin ordered.
“That’s a long drive, can I use the little boys’ room first?” Luke asked.
“Find a gas station or a rest stop,” Erin pretended to be angry and it wasn’t quite working, “I don’t know if you’re one of those guys who can’t take a hint, but there was nothing between us, we were just friends, nothing more.”
“I don’t have that many friends,” Luke turned and walked away.
Luke saw Katie peering out from under the bed and his instincts told him that Erin was in trouble and she was trying to keep him out of it. He wasn’t going back to Oceanside until he was sure that his friend was alright.
After Erin closed the door, Katie asked, “Who was that?”
“Just some guy, none of your concern.”
As a special operative, Luke had become very proficient at developing the patience required for long term surveillance while blending into the environment. He found an inconspicuous place to park his car and settled in for what would be a long 23 hours. When he saw three men approach the apartment the next day, he took photos of them with his cellphone. When they drove off, Luke decided to follow them instead of maintaining watch over the apartment. They led him to Larry Thurston’s palatial mansion where he took a photo of the building and the address, 45 Skyline Terrace. He made a call to an influential friend in a secret government agency, “I need a favor, I’m going to send you some photos, give me everything you have.”
“Are you on a mission?” The man asked.
“I’m freelancing,” Luke added, “Keep this off the books.”
“I’ll be in touch,” The man said.
Two hours later, Luke received a message while sitting in his car outside Erin’s apartment. After reading it, he knew that he was going to be staying in Pismo Beach longer than he expected. Erin felt bad about the way she treated Luke, but it was for his own good. He was a good man and he deserved better than being drawn into a situation like this. Over the next week, the two sisters made three deliveries for Thurston with no problems and Katie commented, “That wasn’t so bad, only seven more to go.”
Erin nodded in agreement, but in the pit of her stomach, she had a sickening feeling that even if they did the ten deliveries that Larry still would not let them go free. The main shipments came in from Mexico every week and the large yacht would remain two miles due west of the Morro Bay harbor until a smaller boat came out to get the product. The weather conditions could get pretty rough so it took an experienced boat operator who knew the surf breaks well enough to get past the breakwater jetty. (A breakwater is a large pile of rocks built parallel to the shore. It is designed to block the waves and the surf. )
Luke was staying at the Ocean Palms Inn. He had photos posted on the large bulletin board with dates and times next to them. There were at least a dozen photos of Erin and Katie making their deliveries.
Erin’s worst fears were confirmed when she spoke to Larry Thurston, “This will be our last delivery.”
“You and Katie make such a good team that I’ve decided to keep you on,” Larry said.
“We had a deal,” Erin protested.
“The deal has been officially changed. Your problem is that you have no negotiating power. I’m in charge, I give the orders and you take them, it’s that simple. If you remember that, the people that you care about will keep breathing,” Larry was so full of himself that he didn’t even consider the possibility that Erin had any options. Of course she didn’t either.
Luke knew the schedule of the boat picking up the cocaine from the yacht offshore from his previous surveillance. He had a pretty good idea on when it would be returning so he found a place with an excellent vantage point and scanned the horizon with his high powered binoculars. Luke saw the boat returning to shore and made his way down a narrow path to the jetty, put on his swim fins and goggles and entered the rough water. He knew that there was only one way to get behind the men and that was to come in from the ocean. After an exhausting swim against strong rip-currents, Luke stopped, treaded water from his position 50 yards offshore and watched the men transferring the cocaine from the boat to a Dodge Ram pick-up with a camper shell. In order to avoid detection, Luke dived underwater, swam 15 yards then came up for a quick gulp of air then submerged again. He repeated this process three times until he reached shore. As he looked up, he saw that some kids had altered the sign Morro Bay with black spray paint to read, Immoral Bay
Luke sneaked up behind the driver who was leaning against the driver’s side door. He choked him out then took his weapon and approached the two men who were unloading the boat. When they reached for their handguns, Luke shot them. He loaded the three bodies into the watercraft, tied the steering wheel in position and pointed it out to sea. Luke started the engine, pushed the throttle down and sent the watercraft out to sea. He got in the driver’s side of the truck and drove to the Thurston mansion. The guard recognized the vehicle and nonchalantly waved it through without thinking. He barely looked at Luke who had a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.
Larry Thurston walked over to his desk and sat down with his bottle of tequila and shot glass. He took a swallow and choked on it when he saw Luke sitting across the room with a gun pointed at him. “Who are you?”
Larry pleaded for his life, “Don’t kill me, I’ll give you whatever you want!” then opened a safe filled with cash, “It’s all yours, take it.”
“This is about more than just money,” Luke shrugged.
Two hours later, Erin and Katie were approaching the seaside mansion when they saw a dozen police cars and several ambulances parked outside. “What do you think happened?” Katie asked.
“Nothing good, let’s gets the hell out of here.” Erin pulled over to the shoulder then made a U-turn and got out of the area.
One week later, Erin was back working at Rays of Health when Luke walked in, “I heard you were back.”
“Sorry about the way I treated you,” Erin’s voice cracked.
“No problem, I caught you by surprise and you had a lot going on.”
That is all they had to say to each other at the time.
That evening, Erin heard a knock at her door and opened it, “This is a nice surprise, you didn’t say much earlier, wasn’t sure if you wanted to see me again.”
Luke was carrying a large leather briefcase in his left hand, “May I come in?”
Luke sat down at the kitchen table and Erin took a seat across from him, “It’s a good thing that I forgot to put in my notice when I left, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a place to come back to”
“You got lucky with that oversight, that’s for sure.”
“What’s in the briefcase?” Erin inquired.
Luke opened it and dumped piles of hundred dollars bills on the table, “Your previous employer’s final request was that I give you your severance pay.”
Erin fell to her knees in tears, overcome with love and gratitude when she realized what had just been done for her. Special operative, Luke Brody was a man of honor and it was part of his code to protect those in danger. So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knew the former Marine that he would go beyond the breakwater of insurmountable odds, brave the crashing surf and swim into the murky depths of Immoral Bay for someone he cared about.