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Cuffs or Coffin
Thomas Calabrese — United States Marshals are tasked with capturing fugitives, serving federal arrest warrants, transporting prisoners, and overseeing the witness protection program. The job puts agents directly in the path of the most dangerous criminals in the nation and the world.
With a name like Dillon Marshall, it seemed only appropriate, ironic or even prophetic that he would end up as a United States Marshal at some time in his life. Dillan graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served on active duty for ten years as a naval intelligence officer. His decision to leave the military was due primarily to a joint operation that he participated in between Naval Intelligence and the U.S. Marshal Service in 2009.
Lieutenant Commander Marshall provided invaluable assistance in tracking down Boris Kodjoe, screen name B.K. notorious hacker and escaped federal fugitive. B.K. had been arrested in Bali after he installed ransomware (a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid) at Paramount Studios and shut down their movie and television production. Executives at the entertainment company reluctantly paid the twenty- five million dollars.
Boris Kodjoe would have never been caught except for two things; he had a weakness for Polynesian women and an addiction to prescription drugs. An international arrest warrant was issued and a two million dollar reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution for the person responsible for the Paramount cyber- attack. B.K. became delirious after a negative reaction from a drug cocktail while partying in Indonesia and was taken to the nearest medical facility. The doctor at the Bali Royal Hospital called the local police when he became suspicious after a delirious Boris Kodjoe began rambling about his criminal exploits. He was placed under protective custody until U.S. Marshals arrived to bring him back to Los Angeles.
During a layover in Honolulu, Hawaii, the three U.S. Marshals were ambushed and killed by a highly trained team of Chinese mercenaries in a bold attack inside the main terminal. In return for being taken from American custody, B.K. agreed to conduct cyberattacks on high profile targets for the Chinese secret police. However they pushed their luck when they ordered B.K. to hack into a United States Naval weapons systems and this brought Lieutenant Commander Marshall into the picture. Although he was one of the best at cyber-attacks, B.K. finally met his match when he came up against the young naval officer. He was bouncing his internet signal from locations all around the world, but Lieutenant Commander Marshall was able to pinpoint the origin in Managua, Nicaragua. Working with Seal Team Six they attacked the fortified complex, killed the Chinese mercenaries and took Boris Kodjoe into custody. The notorious hacker was sentenced to twenty years at United States Supermax Penitentiary Florence located in Fremont County, Colorado, known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies.
Donald McKittrick, Director of the United States Marshal Service approached Lieutenant Commander Marshal three years later in Coronado, California when his enlistment was almost over. “I’ve been following your career since the Boris Kodjoe capture and you’re the kind of man I can use.”
“Use for what?” Dillon asked.
“Just for the record, I’ve already discussed this with the President and as a matter of courtesy; I also consulted with the Secretary of the Navy for permission to make this offer.”
“At the risk of being repetitive, what is this about?”
“I’d like you to put together a quick reactionary strike team, go anywhere in the world on short notice and bring back the worst of the worst,” Director McKittrick explained.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of marshals to choose from; why would you go outside your own organization to ask me?” Dillon asked.
“I need someone with a different perspective, a man who can work across departmental lines; who knows the military, foreign countries and has natural instincts and specialized skills. You possess all of those,” Director McKittrick said.
“I appreciate the offer, but you’re a political appointee and if you get replaced by someone who doesn’t like this new team then I’m without a job. It will also be hard to recruit good people under, shall I say a fluid situation. I’m about halfway to my twenty in the Navy and I was hoping to retire unless I do something really stupid along the way. None of what you’re saying sounds that inviting to me.”
“I figured that you might have concerns so I tried to address them beforehand. I have complete bi-partisan support on this project. The President and Congress both know that Russia, China, North Korea and a long list of other bad actors are going to become more of a threat as time goes on and we need to be ready. I obtained ten years of funding voicing your same issues; I told them that to recruit good people I need to offer something substantial and stable. Before I forget, the Navy will allow to you to transfer to the reserves and if this doesn’t work out then you can go back to active duty,” Director McKittrick elaborated.
“Seems like you’re taking a big risk, what happens if this goes south?” Dillon asked.
“I serve at the pleasure of the President and if I’m wrong about you and this team then I’ll take my twenty lashes and slither away to my small avocado farm in Fallbrook, California, never to be heard from again.”
“Are you willing to put this in writing?” Dillon said.
Director McKittrick reached into his pocket, pulled out an envelope and handed it to the naval officer. “Look it over, it has my direct line on top. You’ve got 48 hours from right now to make your decision. You’re my first choice, but not my only one.”
That was four years ago and since that time Dillon Marshal and his elite team that was handpicked by him has proven their worth ten times over to America and her allies. Shira Dayan was a former Miss Israel, Mossad agent and held dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. She spoke five languages and was proficient in counter terrorism techniques and hand to hand combat. Bill Goining was a former Navy Seal and prior instructor at the US Navy Sniper School. If there was even the slightest possibility to hit a target under the most difficult circumstances then Bill could make it.
Benjamin Leonard could be the poster boy for computer savant weekly. He was in his early twenties, socially awkward, easily embarrassed, and uncomfortable in public and below normal in all academic endeavors due to lack of interest. However, he was a magician with anything that had to do with computers including: eavesdropping, multi-vector polymorphic attack, phishing, social engineering, spoofing and tampering. Benjamin was also extremely proficient in security architecture, design and measures, vulnerability management, secure coding, hardware protection mechanisms, breaches response and cross-site scripting. Benjamin was also a master of password cracking, denial of service attacks, network traffic sniffing and SQL injection. Put him around state of the art computers and high tech equipment and Benjamin Leonard was like a fish swimming in water or a bird flying in the sky; he was in his natural element.
Even though they operated around the world, they divided their time where they were stateside between Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek, Virginia, a Navy Seal base and Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Oceanside, California. Dillon liked the security that being on a military base provided his team. They were assigned base housing in both locations.
They had just returned from Venezuela where they captured escaped federal fugitive, David Ogden, a hedge fund manager who absconded with over a billion dollars that he embezzled from investors and banks. He was offered sanctuary by Nicolas Maduro who charged a seven figure fee for around the clock security and immunity from extradition to the escaped fugitive. Dillon and Bill did a HALO (high altitude low opening) jump over the private estate where Ogden was staying while Shira Dayan pretended to be female company provided by Nicolas Maduro. When the head of security called to verify, Benjamin Leonard breached the communication network and authorized the entry. Once inside the private quarters of Ogden, Shira injected him with a knockout drug and he was incapacitated in a matter of two minutes. Dillon and Bill at the same time were neutralizing guards along the way to meet with Shira in the master quarters. Dillon sent a radio signal to Benjamin that they were ready for extraction and the trio and their prisoner prepared to make their escape. Bill placed Ogden over his shoulder and headed to the roof. Several moments later, an UH-60 Ghost Hawk stealth helicopter appeared out of the darkness, hovered overhead, lowered several ropes, the team connected and disappeared into the night. Another fugitive brought to justice by the Marshall Team.
The team decided to celebrate the success of the mission by going out for beers and burgers at the Junkyard Grill in Oceanside. Whenever Benjamin came along, the other three members kept a watchful eye on him because of his awkwardness in social gatherings. While enjoying their meals and snacking on a variety of appetizers, Benjamin kept staring at two couples at an adjoining table and eventually two large muscular men in tank top shirts walked over and loomed over Benjamin in a threatening manner.
“What are you looking at?” First Man demanded.
Bill kept eating his chicken wings and lightly commented, “He didn’t mean anything.”
The second man interjected, “He wasn’t talking to you!”
Dillion could see that this situation could escalate into a physical confrontation so he sought to defuse the situation. “Why don’t I buy your table a round, no harm, no foul.”
Benjamin continued to stare at the two girls who were sitting by themselves and the two men got even more agitated. The first man growled, “He’s doing it again!”
Shira offered, “Just let us finish our drinks and food and we’re gone.”
At that precise moment, all four of their cellphones starting ringing simultaneously and Dillon looked at his, “We have to go.”
The two men blocked their exit and Bill smiled, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”
“Walk around,” The First Man ordered.
Bill looked over at Dillon who said, “Do like he says.”
When Bill attempted to walk around, the two men blocked his path again. “The hell with this,” Shira commented impatiently, then buckled one man’s leg with a kick to his thigh then pushed him aside when he started hobbling. The Second Man stepped forward and Shira grabbed his wrist and bent it back to inflict maximum pain.
“Let me go,” Second Man pleaded as he squirmed and twisted to free himself.
When the rest of the team was halfway out the bar, Shira released her grip and followed. Bill was waiting on the sidewalk when she exited. “I know what you’re going to say, but doing it my way those two guys only ended up with deflated egos. “If you had handled it there would been major contusions, broken bones and a police report. We didn’t have time for that.”
“All I was going to say was thanks,” Bill said.
Dillon called from the car, “Less talking and more running.”
Shira and Bill raced to the car and they sped out of the parking lot. Twenty four hours earlier, Amber Lowry, noted zoologist from the San Diego Zoo and daughter of Senator Charles Lowry, Chairman of the Armed Forces subcommittee was kidnapped while working at the Queen Elizabeth National Animal Park in Uganda. Senator Lowry was contacted by the kidnappers and told that if he wanted his daughter back, he would have to provide the most current list of covert operatives working in Africa. He was expressly warned that if he contacted law enforcement, his daughter would be tortured and killed.
Senator Lowry was torn between his love for his daughter and his oath of loyalty to the United States. Once foreign operatives got their hands on that list, most of the people on it would be executed. The others would be used to extract valuable Intel. Senator Lowry was distraught and conflicted and took a great risk by contacting his longtime friend Donald McKittrick. “I can’t betray those operatives, but on the other hand I can’t just stand by and let Amber die.”
Donald McKittrick consoled his friend, “I have some people that might be able to help. They are the best at what they do and if anybody can get Amber back, they can.”
Dillon Marshall and his team were airborne and on their way to Africa within two hours of being contacted by Donald McKittrick. “Our covers are as follows, Shira and myself are married and on our honeymoon. Bill, you are a wildlife photographer on assignment.”
“Roger that,” Bill replied.
“Copy,” Shira seconded.
“They have sealed the borders so there is every reason to believe that Amber is still within the country or close by. I don’t think this is a group of African bandits looking to move up the global ladder of terrorism. It is my initial assessment that the Chinese are calling the shots so we will approach this mission under that assessment unless we find alternative Intel. We need to stay fluid on this one so be prepared to pivot on a dime.”
Dillon tapped Benjamin on the shoulder, “I need you to find any communication links between the kidnappers and their handlers. You know how the Chinese like to operate so you need to hit the ground running.”
“I’ll have everything ready to go as soon as we land,” Benjamin promised.
The team immediately went to the U.S. embassy in Kampala where only a select few with the highest security clearance knew who they were. After double-checking their equipment and weapons, they got on the road for the 200 mile journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park is located in western Uganda and is about 750 square miles of savannah and tropical forests. It sits between two lakes at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains and is home to buffalo, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, lions and chimpanzees.
Upon arrival at the park, Dillon informed the camp manager that he knew about the abduction and assumed it was an isolated incident so his wife and him didn’t feel it was necessary to cancel their seven day safari. Bill pretended to be a photographer on assignment from National Geographic and Benjamin was his assistant. Once they were out in the park, Benjamin launched several drones that were capable of detecting radio signals and transmitting video images. When the guide inquired about them, Bill responded, “They help us locate the animals that we need to photograph.”
After two days traveling through the park, the team decided to see how much the guide knew about the abduction. While sitting around the campfire, Shira turned to Benjamin, “How accurate is your remote lie detector?”
“Right now it picks up changes in body temperature and heart rate, but if I had a little more time I could add a couple more functions.”
“We don’t have any more time so get it ready for a field test. Remember keep the conversations casual, we don’t want to arouse any suspicions,” Dillon ordered.
Every time the group stopped, someone brought up the subject of the kidnapped American, “This is a very big park and the kidnappers could be anywhere.” Dillon gazed off into the distance then turned to the guide, “You work here, where would you hide a hostage?”
The guide grumbled something in Swahili and walked off. Benjamin showed the laptop screen to the team and the graph showed a major spike, indicating a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. As they prepared to break camp the next morning, Dillon came up behind the guide, “We’re going take a different route today.”
The guide immediately protested, “We can’t do that, the safari has been carefully planned and detours are not authorized.”
“We’ll make an exception this time,” Shira added as she approached.
The guide knew something was up so he took off running. Bill appeared out of nowhere and held his arm out and the guide ran right into it and it knocked him off his feet. Dillon put his boot on the throat of the fearful man, “Take us to where the American woman is.”
“I don’t know anything about that!” The Guide sobbed.
“If you can’t help us then there’s no reason to keep you alive,” Shira pulled her Beretta 92 and placed it against the forehead of the guide. He nervously nodded as fear induced perspiration rolled into his eyes.
The group drove to the western point of the park in their Land Rover and the guide pointed down the road. “Just over the next hill is the Ishasha border checkpoint that leads to the Congo. They crossed over and are hiding up in the hills. I don’t know exactly where.”
Bill looked at the sprawling area and sighed, “That’s a lot of terrain to cover.”
“What is your involvement in this?” Dillon asked.
The guide began to cry, “They took a family member from four park guides including mine. In my case I was told that they would kill my wife if I didn’t help them. I was supposed to call if I saw any park rangers coming down Kanugu Road. In the beginning I thought they were big game poachers and I didn’t even know about the kidnapping until hours after it happened.
They called me later to tell me that my wife would be released if they got what they wanted so it was to my advantage to report any police arriving at the park.” .
“And you believed them?” Bill asked.
“What choice did I have, what would you have done if you were in my place?”
“How were you supposed to contact them?” Dillon asked.
The guide pulled out a cellphone, “With this.”
Shira took it and quickly determined, “A typical burner phone.”
“I can get the frequency that it is transmitting from then track it,” Benjamin interjected. “In this isolated area, there shouldn’t be any overlapping, interfering or duplicating signals.”
Dillon pulled the guide by his shirt and gave him a warning that left no room for confusion. “You help us and we’ll do our best to get your wife back alive, go rogue and I’ll kill you without hesitation. Here’s what you’re going to do; you’ll call and tell them that you heard that the F.B.I. is arriving tomorrow. If they ask how you know, tell them the park manager was speaking on the phone…no more and no less…got it?”
The guide nodded weakly. After he had a couple minutes to compose himself, he made the call and it seemed to go well although there was no definite way of knowing for sure if the kidnappers bought it. Benjamin was able to determine the location that they needed and the team moved out. Dillon and Shira would make the assault while Bill would provide cover fire. Benjamin would launch a drone with heat seeking capabilities and give them real time Intel. Dillon and Shira moved quietly through the brush, avoiding detection until they were within 25 yards of the building. Bill was in the prone position about two hundred yards away on the crest of a small hill with the butt of the sniper rifle nestled in his shoulder and his right eye looking through the scope, “I’ve got a clear field of fire, move out whenever you’re ready.”
The drone circled over the target area and transmitted images back to Benjamin’s laptop. “I’ve got 11 heat signatures, five inside a building and six outside.”
“Roger that, five in, six out,” Dillon radioed back.
“Let’s do this and go home,” Shira smiled.
“I’ll make sure the hostages are safe while you and Bill take out the kidnappers.”
It had to be split second timing, but these four people were used to working in unison in life and death situations.
“On my call…one…two …go!” Dillon radioed.
Dillon charged forward with Shira right next to him. They were firing as they went ad Bill eliminated two guards with accurate headshots. Dillon smashed through the front door of the building and saw the hostages sitting on the floor, “Stay down!”
Shira engaged two more kidnappers and killed them. One escaped and ran toward the building with the intent of killing the hostages, but Dillon was ready as he came through the door and shot him several times and he fell dead.
Twenty minutes later, a Uganda military helicopter landed nearby and took the hostages except for Amber Lowry. “She’ll be coming with us.” Dillon informed the Uganda commander.
The flight left Kampala that same day and landed at Andrews Air Force Base where Senator Lowry and family members were eagerly awaiting her safe return. Director Robert McKittrick was also in attendance and approached the team, “Good job,” then added, “You ready to go after the man behind this?”
Three months later, Dillon and his team landed in Hong Kong. When they entered the warehouse in the industrial section of the city they eliminated six Chinese mercenaries and confronted Dongfan Leung, the mastermind behind the kidnapping and notorious Chinese spy. He had a weapon in his hand and was conflicted about his next move. Dillon and Shira stood before him with their weapons at the ready, Bill also had him in his sights from his distant position.
“It’s your call…cuffs or coffin,” Dillon said.
Dongfan Leung dropped his weapon and sighed in resignation, “If I knew that Marshal Marshall and his team were on my trail, I would have hired more men.”
Don’t call me Marshal Marshall,” Dillon growled.