Thomas Calabrese … Brian Westman could have been the poster model for a California golden boy advertisement. Even as a child he was the cutest in the group with piercing blue eyes, bright smile, dimples and wavy blonde hair. When women would see him, they would exclaim, “What a cute little boy, look at those dimples! Come give me a big hug!”
In school, learning came so easy to him that he hardly put any effort in to attain high grades and as for sports, he was a natural athlete. Another thing that made Brian truly unique besides his intelligence and physical abilities was his intense work ethic. He had the ability to focus totally on any particular task and exert maximum effort until he achieved it. Words like obsessive or relentless were just a couple of adjectives that described his mindset.
Normal pursuits in life bored him, so Brian found himself constantly searching for activities that challenged him such as freestyle rock climbing, rough water swimming and mixed martial arts. His high school sport teams were always nationally ranked and colleges were already sending query letters to his coaches by the time he was a sophomore, hoping he would choose their school when he graduated. Despite being the bona fide star, Brian routinely diverted the attention to his less talented teammates. It was part modesty that caused him to act this way, but mainly it was because Brian had no interest in awards or accolades and once the challenge of the activity was over, it bored him to dwell on it, re-live it or even talk about it.
It came as a complete shock to everyone when Brian chose to enlist in the military instead of accepting a scholarship to a prestigious university. He never discussed his decision with anyone including his family and when he visited the Armed Services recruiting office in San Clemente, his only question for the Navy recruiter was, “Can I immediately apply for the Navy Seals?”
When he got the answer he wanted, Brian signed up. Seal training was just one more challenge that Brian was compelled to complete and failure was never an option in his mind. It had been twenty four weeks and Brian would be graduating SEALBUD/S training in two days and moving on to the next phase of his training.
Mike Sandy was not only a different kind of person that Brian Westman, he had also taken a different path than the Golden Boy. He was a blue collar warrior who earned everything he had with blood, sweat and pain, for nothing of true value ever came easy to him. He joined the Marine Corps and went to OCS after graduating the University of Arizona. After serving one tour in Iraq with a regular infantry unit he transferred to Force Recon, served two more tours in Afghanistan before trying out for the Navy Seals. He had been with the elite branch for over nine years and had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, the last three with Team One and he had lost a lot of comrades during his distinguished career.
Mike carried emotional and physical scars from his numerous combat missions, but that was the price he was willing to pay to uphold the “Code.” He could have medically retired because of his many injuries, but that was not his style. Mike wanted to make his full twenty without any excuses so when he wasn’t on deployment or a mission; he spent most of his time taking care of his ailing body. He went on a strict alkaline diet to afford inflammation in his joints and hired a special trainer to help him with his flexibility and routinely received deep tissue massages and acupuncture treatments. Mike needed his body to perform at peak efficiency because the very survival of others depended on him.
Team One had been going through a terrible streak of bad luck lately, two members were hurt during a HALO exercise, high altitude, low opening parachute jump at Twenty-nine Palms, Marine Corps base, when a strong gust of wind blew them into high voltage power lines. While on a mission in Syria, Jordanian aircraft bombed Team One’s position when someone failed to notify coalition forces that they were in the area and three Seals were seriously injured. Don’t forget the mishap on San Clemente Island when a helicopter lost power while hovering over a landing zone and fell forty feet to the ground. The impact broke one team member’s back.
There was also the rescue operation in Nigeria. Team One operated on incorrect Intel, that thirty rebels were holding children hostage at an orphanage for ransom, but soon found out after they made contact that the small group of fighters were in reality one hundred twenty five heavily armed and well trained Boko Haram fighters that were not just willing, but eager to die for their cause.
Team One was outnumbered ten to one, but they still succeeded in the rescue, but at a very high price. It costs the lives of Master Chief Alex Delagarza, Mike’s closest friend and five other brave Seals. They were making their escape through the jungle on the way to their extraction point with the enemy fighters in close pursuit. Master Chief Delagarza was in the rear of the column and providing cover for the team when he was shot in the thigh and the bullet pierced his femoral artery. The other members of the team rushed to his aid and knew immediately that Delagarza was going to bleed out quickly. Mike pulled a strap out of his pack and put the tourniquet around Delagarza’s upper thigh and pulled it tight. This action would only buy him a couple extra minutes of life. The enemy fighters had just come over the ridge and the incoming fire was intense, there was only one decision left to make and it was not an easy one.
“End of the line for me,” Master Chief Delagarza grimaced, “I had a good run… no complaints.”
“Set the claymores,” Mike ordered.
The other members of the team set up anti-personal mines around Master Chief Delagarza’s position and placed the detonators next him. The Navy Seals move down the trail and provided cover fire, but Mike stayed next to the Master Chief.
“Time for you to go, ole’ buddy,” Master Chief Delagarza encouraged, “Go!”
Mike placed his hand on Chief Del’s shoulder, “Be seeing you,” then fired an automatic burst at the oncoming Boko Haram Fighters and raced down the trail. When he looked back, he saw consecutive explosions from the claymores take out a group of enemy fighters.
When one of the Boko Haram fighters turned over the gravely wounded body of Master Chief Delagarza, he saw that he was lying on three grenades with the pins pulled. Once his body weight was off them, they exploded, killing more of the enemy. Master Chief Delagarza’s actions allowed the rest of the team and the hostages to escape. Mike Sandy recommended his comrade for the Medal of Honor for his selfless heroism.
Commander Sandy was in Coronado to meet with Admiral Sean Thorsen, U.S. Special Operations Commander, when he came across Chief Tibbets, one of the instructors, “Hey Tib.”
“Hey Sandman, what brings you to Coronado?”
“Here to meet the old man.”
Mike looked at the formation of the SEAL graduating class, “Anybody special?”
“Third guy from the right, front row, Brian Westman.”
Mike took a long look at Brian, “Where is he from?
“Local boy straight out of high school, a real natural,” Chief Tibbets smiled.
“Catch you later, Tib.”
Mike had a good sense of intuition so he was kind of prepared when Admiral Thorsen told him, “It’s been a rough year for Team One.”
“It’s been a rough year for the world, Sir,” Mike answered.
“You’ve got quite a bit of leave time on the books, how come you never take any?”
“I really don’t have any place I want to go or haven’t already been,” Mike shrugged.
“Not every place you go has got to be on a combat mission,” Admiral Thorsen reminded Mike.
“I’ll remember that, thank you sir.”
“You’ll remember it, but you won’t change so I have an assignment for you. I got a call from the Pentagon; they ordered me to give my full cooperation for this new movie they want to make about Master Chief Delagarza.
I met with the producer last week and he wants somebody who was there when it happened and your name was the first one to come up as technical advisor.”
“Can’t you find somebody else?” Mike asked.
“I probably could, but I won’t. You were there, he was your friend and you are the best person to protect his legacy. After movies like Uncommon Valor, Lone Survivor and especially American Sniper, a big part of America wants movies about military heroes. We all want to fly under the radar, but that’s not the world that we live in anymore. Most things end up on the internet anymore and they’re going to make this movie one way or another, at least they had the courtesy to ask us for our input. I can’t force you to take leave, but I can order you on an assignment where you won’t be in harm’s way. Look at it from this perspective; they are going to make a substantial donation to our widows and orphans fund as well as give a percentage of the profits directly to the Delagarza family. It’s to everyone’s advantage if we help them do it right and profitably.”
“When you put it that way, I’d like to volunteer,” Mike smiled, “What do you want me to do?” Mike asked.
“The Navy has put you on temporary assignment. This movie producer has a big house in Malibu. You’ll stay there and meet with him, the director and screenwriters. If you’re unsure of what still remains classified then call me first,” Admiral Thorsen explained, “other than that, I trust your judgment.”
“How long am I going to be up there?”
“Until they don’t need you anymore. My clerk has all the pertinent information, pick it up on the way out.”
Mike was glancing at the paperwork as he walked out the front door of the building and bumped into Brian Westman.
“Sorry sir,” Brian said.
“Not your fault, I should have been looking where I was going, you’re Westman aren’t you?”
“Maybe our paths will cross in the near future.”
“I’ll look forward to it, sir.”
When Mike got to his quarters, he read his orders which included the producer’s contact information and an appointment date to meet the movie executive in three days.
After graduation from SEALBUD/S Brian went home to Mission Viejo on twenty days leave. There was a welcome home celebration that turned into a block party as the street was filled with family and friends. On the third day of his leave, Marco Perreria, Brian’s former high school football teammate stopped by the house.
“Take a ride with me to Malibu,” Marco said.
“I just got home a couple days ago,” Brian replied, “What’s in Malibu?”
“My sister is on the Pepperdine softball team and my mom wants me to bring her some clothes and some other junk.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“We can catch some waves at Zuma then come back tomorrow afternoon.”
As coincidence would have it, Mike Sandy left his quarters in Coronado an hour earlier than Brian and Marco left from Mission Viejo and both vehicles were on Interstate 405 at the same time and only twenty five miles apart.
Brian and Mario arrived at the gate to Point Dume Estates, “It’s me,” Marco spoke at the intercom and the gate swung open and he drove up to the house where his sister was waiting in the driveway.
“This is pretty fancy, how does your sister afford it?” Brian inquired.
“One of Wendy’s teammates has a father who’s a big hedgefund guy. He wanted his daughter to have a safe place to live and she didn’t want to live alone so she asked Wendy and another girl to move in with her.”
“Hey Brian,” Wendy smiled affectionately when he got out of the car.
“Aren’t you going to say thank you,” Marco teased, “I told you I’d find a way to get him up here.”
Brian gave Marco a double take.
“Sorry buddy, Wendy threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t find a way to get you up here,” Marco explained, “A guy’s gotta’ do what he’s gotta’ do.”
“That’s not true!” Wendy protested, “I just said I’d liked to see you if you had the time.”
“I was just getting ready to ask Marco if I could get in touch with you, but he asked me to come up here before I had the chance,” Brian lied, “thanks Marco, I owe you.”
“So you’re a Navy Seal now, I’m impressed,” Wendy said.
“I made it through the first stage of training, I’m going to have to do a lot more to earn the title of a true Navy Seal,” Brian replied modestly.
“I’m impressed anyway,” Wendy flirted openly.
“I should be the one who is impressed; I hear that you’re a big time college softball player.”
“And that’s coming from a guy who was an All-American in three different sports and had over two hundred scholarship offers,” Wendy quipped.
“I hate to interrupt this mutual admiration society, but can we go catch some waves?” Marco grumbled, “Oh by the way where are your roommates?”
“They went to buy some new thong underwear,” Wendy answered matter of factly.
“Really?” Marco grinned in anticipation.
“No, not really, you pervert!”
Mike Sandy arrived at Point Dume Estates, looked at his paperwork then punched in the code on the keyboard which notified the house of his arrival. When the gate opened he followed the directions to Jerry Kaperstein’s estate. A middle aged woman was waiting for him when he stopped at the entrance to the property, “Lt. Commander Sandy?”
“I’m Gwen Shepard, Jerry Kaperstein’s personal assistant,” and got into Mike’s car without hesitation, “We encountered a minor glitch and Mr. Kaperstein wanted me to convey his apologies. He was in New York for a meeting and was due back before you arrived, but he caught a stomach virus and the doctor doesn’t want him to fly until he’s better.”
“Should I just drive back to San Diego?” Mike asked.
“Absolutely not, the guest house has already been prepared,” Gwen replied, “Mr. Kaperstein will be back by tomorrow or the day after. Drive up to the main house and I’ll show you around.”
Mike followed Gwen’s instructions and drove to the front of the palatial estate as she reached into her purse and pulled out a black American Express card and handed it to Mike.
“What’s this?” Mike asked.
“A studio credit card.”
Gwen opened her laptop, “Give me four numbers to use as your password.”
“Use the last four of my social; one, three, seven and nine,” Mike answered.
“I’m giving you a ten thousand limit.”
“I don’t need a credit card,” Mike protested, “or a limit that high.”
“If you don’t want to use it then that is up to you, but Mr. Kaperstein instructed me give it to you. I’ll show you to your quarters, is that what you say in the military… quarters?”
“Some do,” Mike replied.
Brian, Marco and Wendy were walking down to the beach at the same time that Mike began unpacking in the guest house. Twenty minutes later, Mike put on his running gear, placed swim fins and goggles in a backpack and ran down to the same beach and a minute later he was in the ocean. While waiting to catch a wave, Brian noticed a powerful swimmer coming out from shore and without knowing who it was, he turned to Marco, “That guy is a hell of swimmer.”
After an exhausting two hour swim, Mike returned to the beach and walked back to the Kaperstein estate where Gwen was waiting for him, “How was your swim?”
“Relaxing,” Mike smiled.
“One of Mr. Kaperstein’s movies is in post-production and the film editors are having some creative difficulties and they want some fresh eyes so I’ll need to head over to the studio. You probably worked up an appetite so I called Geoffrey’s.
It’s a very nice restaurant that’s just north from here on Pacific Coast Highway. They’ll seat you whenever you get there, just tell them who you are, Mister Kaperstein has an open account. I’ll get back as soon as I can, here’s a remote to get in the gate,” Gwen tossed the remote to Mike and was out the door in a flash.
Mike showered and changed into casual loose fitting slacks and a short sleeve Hawaiian floral shirt and drove to Geoffrey’s. He approached the hostess in the lobby and as soon as he said his name, he was immediately led to a booth. Mike was casually looking at the menu and only caught a glimpse of the four Middle Eastern men as they sat down in the booth next to him.
He had spent enough time in the Middle East to become proficient in speaking and understanding the Farsi language so when Mike heard the men conversing in that manner of speaking, it immediately caught his attention. He lowered the menu just enough to get a visual, then slightly shifted his position in his booth so that he had an unobstructed view of the four men. He pulled out his cell phone and inconspicuously snapped several photos of them, then set it on the table and hit the record button as the waiter walked over.
“Good evening, Sir, my name is Carl and I’ll be your waiter. I’ve been told that you are a special guest of Mr. Kaperstein. Let me tell you about…”
Mike quickly interrupted. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m in the middle of something important, I like fish and vegetables, I trust your judgment, Carl.”
“Yes Sir,” Carl immediately left.
Mike had been carefully listening to the conversation in the booth next to him for over ten minutes when Brian, Marco, Wendy and two of Wendy’s roommates, Keri and Paige entered Geoffrey’s. Mike immediately recognized the young Navy Seal from his brief encounter at Coronado and wondered what the hell he was doing here so he waited for Brian to be seated with his group then he got up and walked to the lobby.
A minute later, Carl walked over to Brian’s table, “Excuse me sir, the manager would like to speak with you.”
“Me? Are you sure you have the right person?” Brian asked, “This is my first time here.”
“I’ll be right back.” Brian followed Carl to a storage room.
Mike grabbed Brian from behind and put him in a chokehold, “What are you doing here, Westman?” then turned him around so they were looking at each other, “Remember me? We met at Coronado last week.”
“Yes sir, you said we might meet again,” Brian responded, “Is this some kind of test?”
“What are you doing in this restaurant at this particular time?” Mike demanded, “Don’t lie, I can tell.”
“I’m with some friends, they booked the reservation, I just came along,” Brian answered.
Mike couldn’t afford to take any chances, “Introduce me to your friends…now!”
Brian now felt something serious was going on and this was not a test at all, “I don’t have a problem with that, one thing though.”
“I don’t know your name.”
“Just say, this is my friend Mike, but nothing more,” Mike ordered.
Brian and Mike walked back to the table, “This is my friend, Mike.”
Mike wanted to make sure that the young people sitting at table had not been radicalized and when he looked at their faces, he immediately knew they had not. He was now sure that Brian was telling the truth and proceeded ahead with that assumption, “May I talk to you for a second?”
“I’ll be right back,” Brian told his friends and followed Mike to his table and they sat down, Mike whispered, “Don’t say a word, just listen.”
Brian noticed the cell phone partially hidden under a napkin and heard the men speaking in a foreign language and quickly surmised that whatever was going on had to do with these men.
Mike leaned closer, “I believe that the four men sitting next to us are terrorists. I had to make sure you were not with them, sorry I had to be rough with you,” Mike was impressed that Brian reacted so calmly to that information.
“No problem, I can handle it,” Brian replied softly.
“You got a cell phone on you?”
Brian held up his phone.
“I need your number,” Mike ordered.
Mike put the number in his cellphone, then noticed two men in dark suits enter and pulled his menu up to block his face.
“I know those men,” Mike whispered, “and they know me,” The two Caucasian men sat down at the table with the four Middle Eastern men and Mike took photos of them as well, “I need a distraction to get out of here.”
“Yes Sir,” Brian responded, “I know just what to do.”
Brian stood up and walked to the far end of the restaurant then fell face forward on a table next to the kitchen and hit the floor with a loud thud. When everybody looked in that direction, Mike made a hasty exit during the commotion.
Brian lied motionless on the floor until Marco and the girls rushed over to check on him, then he slowly opened his eyes.
“You passed out,” Marco said.
“Really… all of a sudden I got lightheaded but I’m alright now,” Brian got up and went back to his table and two minutes later he received a text; Meet me outside now.
Brian turned to his dining companions, “I need to use the men’s room,” then got up and went outside.
Brian saw Mike standing on the side of the building and walked over to him.
“Westman, this is a fluid situation and I don’t have a handle on it myself?” Mike explained, “I’m Lt. Commander Sandy with Team One and effective immediately your leave has been cancelled and you’re now on duty.”
Mike and Brian had waited almost fifteen minutes when the six men exited the restaurant together. They spoke for a couple minutes before going in separate directions.
“Who would you follow?” Mike asked.
Brian responded without hesitation, “You said you knew two of them so I’d follow the ones that you don’t know.”
“Good call, that’s what we’ll do.”
Mike made sure he stayed a reasonable distance behind the vehicle that the four men were in as it went south on Pacific Coast Highway. He pulled over to the shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway when the driver turned into the Point Dume Estates entrance.
“Now that is strange,” Mike commented.
“What is?” Brian asked.
“This is the neighborhood where I’m staying.”
“You know what’s really strange; I’m staying in here too.”
Mike waited until the vehicle cleared the gate then entered behind them and watched the car until it passed through a gated driveway at the end of the road. The house where Brian was staying was only two houses away and Mr. Kaperstein’s estate was just around the corner.
Mike called Jocko Remington a former Seal Team member who was now working with Red Water Security, a private company that specialized in providing protection for government officials in dangerous locations,
“I’m sending you some photos and a voice recording, I also need to know if there are any high value targets in the Malibu area, Priority Alpha.”
“Roger that,” Jocko answered, “I’m on it.”
Later that evening, Mike was sitting in the living room of the girls’ house, “My name is Mike Sandy and my rank is Lieutenant Commander and I’m with Seal Team One. I briefly met Brian in Coronado just before I came up here to meet with a producer about a movie concerning a deceased Navy Seal, any questions so far?”
“So you’re the reason that Brian never came back from the bathroom?”
“I was at Geoffrey’s when I overheard four men speaking in the Farsi language about an impending terrorist attack,” Mike continued, “a few minutes later is when I saw Westman enter with your group. I’m sorry to I had to do things this way, but it was too much of a coincidence to take any chances. I have now ordered him to help me out.”
“I would have volunteered anyway, Brian quickly interjected.
“So that fall in the restaurant was staged?” Marco asked, “Don’t you Navy Seals do things secretly? Are you supposed to be telling us this?”
“That’s true in most cases.” Mike answered, “But each situation is different.”
“Like this one,” Brian added.
“Why’s that?” Wendy said.
Mike’s cellphone rang before he could answer Wendy’s question, “Hey Jocko, hold on, I need to take this,” and walked over to the window to carry on the conversation in private,
Brian interceded and responded, “We followed four of the men to the house down the road, so I’m pretty sure Lt. Commander Sandy is going to ask you what you know about them.”
Jocko gave Mike some extremely valuable Intel, “Those four men were released from Guantanamo Bay last month and were supposed have been transferred to Yemen, not Malibu. I’ll send you background on each of them.”
Mike asked, “What about the contractors? I worked with them in Nigeria, what are they doing in Malibu?”
“I’m still working on that,” Jocko replied, “I’m waiting for a call from a friend in Langley, hopefully he’ll have something for me.”
“What about high value targets in the area?” Mike asked, “Nothing strategic around here from what I can see.”
“The only thing that I can come up with is that the organization, Friends of Israel is having a fundraiser at Pepperdine University,” Jocko said, “I’ll be in touch when I have more.”
“Roger that,” Mike hung up and walked back to the group.
“The four guys are Saudi princes?” Paige blurted out.
“Tell him what you know,” Brian interjected.
Kerri interjected, “The Hallorans…”
“Back up, the Saudi princes are named Halloran?” Mike questioned.
“No, the Hallorans own the place, the princes are just renting it,” Kerri explained.
“From the beginning,” Mike smiled, “Don’t leave anything out.”
“Mrs. Halloran told me that she had been approached by a real estate agent who wanted to rent their place for two weeks. They originally said absolutely not, but the agent said, “Name your price.” Mrs. Halloran said a million dollars a week and a million dollars security deposit, all to be paid in advance. She figured that they’d never agree, but they accepted without negotiation. Mrs. Halloran told the agent that she had a lot of personal and sentimental items in the house and didn’t want them damaged so the agent paid to bring in fifty professional movers and they put everything that was in the house into storage pods. Mrs. Halloran said it wasn’t about the house or its contents but only about its location. The Saudi princes needed to be at this particular location by the ocean for a religious event, they said something about the stars being in alignment. If you need to get hold of the Hallorans, I have their number, they told me to give them a call if I saw anything suspicious. They’re staying at a suite at the Beverly Wilshire… and the princes are paying for that too.”
“Thank you,” Mike commented, “that tells me a lot.”
“I like to be a good neighbor,” Kerri smiled.
“She calls it being a good neighbor, everybody else calls it, butting into everybody else’s business” Wendy grinned.
“Not so,” Kerri protested.
“What else do you know about the princes?” Brian asked
“Not much,” Kerri replied, “When I went to welcome them to the neighborhood they wouldn’t even open the gate, some guy just grumbled through the intercom …go away. They go out to different restaurants around town and they are definitely not on a low calorie diet. I saw them at Carlos and Pete last week and their table was full of food and they were really going at it. You would think that they had never been to a restaurant before.”
Mike commented, “Or had been locked up for a while.”
“We now know two things for sure, they got a lot of money and are eating like there’s no tomorrow,” Brian said, “What does that tell us?”
End Part One