A lot of things to be thankful for
Thomas Calabrese … A twelve man team fast roped out of the helicopter into the dark of night that was hovering in silent mode and was on the roof of the three story building in less than five seconds. The diversion of a car exploding down the road drowned out whatever remaining sound there was from the stealth aircraft. They had been together and trained long enough so each mission was a finely choreographed exercise in military operational strategy. Each man instinctively knew how each teammate would react in any given situation so every gesture was instinctively understood. Gunnery Sergeant Dane Callan flipped on his night vision glasses and entered through the rooftop access door with his Heckler&Koch MK-23, modified sound suppressor and laser-aiming module at the ready. He was ultimately qualified to lead this elite group of warriors, not just because of his abilities, but also because he had the mindset of an individual who had been repeatedly sent into situations that very few would ever think of entering and even fewer could return from. Gunnery Sergeant Callan shot two men and stabbed another as he made his way down the narrow stairway then motioned for the others to follow. When they got to the second floor, the armed team spread out and searched each room and neutralized combatants.
Gunny Callan was operating on the latest Intel that Abu Ahmed Bakr was located in the last room at the end of the hall. The mission was to capture this brutal ISIS leader if at all possible so he pulled out his razor sharp K-Bar knife and slowly opened the door several inches and peered in. Several men were sleeping on mats around an elevated bed. Gunny Callan quickly surmised that Abu Ahmed Bakr was in the bed and the men on the mat were his bodyguards. One of the men on the floor must have noticed that the door had opened and sat up. The K-Bar hit him in the forehead and he fell back on the mat. Gunny Callan tiptoed into the room and over to the bed and identified the terrorist leader. Another man stood up from his mat, but before he realized the threat, his Adam’s apple was crushed by a blow from Gunny Callan’s steel belted glove. The other two bodyguards got to their feet and Gunny Callan killed one of them with a shot to the head as the other bodyguard reached for a sword and began swinging it wildly. Gunny Callan picked up a small table and threw it, the bodyguard swung at it and the blade of his sword got stuck in the wood. In a split second, Gunny Callan was on the bodyguard and snapped his right leg when he drove the heel of the boot into the man’s knee. He grabbed the sword and decapitated the terrorist and his head rolled over toward the door as another member of the team entered.
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” Chief Petty Officer commented as he looked down at the head that was staring up at him.
“Are you quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF that was written in 1895? The package is ready for transport,” Gunny Callan commented and gestured toward the bed.
Mike Bronson retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of lieutenant colonel then worked for several years in the civilian sector for an international construction company. When the Department of Defense posted a job opening at Camp Pendleton for a contract specialist, Mike filled out an application and submitted it. He would be making significantly less in the government sector than he was in the business world, but there were other advantages that could not be measured in dollars. Mike would have regular hours and would not be traveling for work anymore. With his military preference and extensive experience, Mike was hired.
He had been working on base for two years and the situation was going well, but in a matter of months, unforeseen incidents occurred that forced Mike to make major adjustments to his current lifestyle. His brother James was laid off from his job at an investment company and needed a substantial loan to cover outstanding debts and monthly expenses. Mike’s wife, Tara was an emergency room nurse at Tri City Medical Center and was injured when a patient on PCP slammed her against the wall and caused enough injuries that she could no longer return to work as a health care professional. His daughter was due to graduate El Camino High School this year and was offered a partial scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley and partial meant that Mike would still have to come up with thousands of dollars for her educational expenses. Combine these three incidents together and Mike’s financial portfolio seemed a lot smaller than it once did.
Mike wasn’t inclined to leave civil service and lose his pension and return to the private sector so he began looking for higher paying positions in the federal government and eventually came across an inspector’s position with Contracts and Procurements in Afghanistan. The additional pay for being in a combat zone would make a significance difference in helping his family so Mike reluctantly applied for the position and got it.
He had been at Bagram Air Base for seven months and during that time Mike had uncovered numerous discrepancies and improprieties with major defense contractor, Lewiston Hackland. The misconduct concerned bribery, rigged contracts, improper shipments and faulty construction and most serious of all, human trafficking. Mike had been approached on several occasions by individuals were subtlety encouraged him to not rock the boat and how it would be in his self-interest both physically and financially to maintain the status quo. He had been in the military long enough to know what a bribe and a threat were, no matter how vaguely they were worded.
Gunnery Sergeant Dane Callan had been in the Marine Corps fourteen years and was currently assigned to an elite joint terrorism task force that included personnel from; Delta Force, Navy Seals and Marine Corps Force Recon. Dane Callan also had the amazing capability of going from warrior mode to easy going in a matter of seconds once he was out of harm’s way. He was quick to smile and had a self- deprecating sense of humor and even those who served with him were continually amazed at how quickly he could go back and forth between the two distinct personalities without missing a beat.
Mike and Dane developed a close friendship during their time in Afghanistan and they often socialized together when their assigned duties weren’t keeping them busy. They were sitting in the club on Bagram Air Base, Mike was nursing a beer and Dane had a large glass of apple juice.
“You’re the only Marine I’ve ever known that didn’t drink,” Mike commented.
“That’s because you‘ve been hanging around the really tough guys in the Corps.” Dane replied, “I’m one of the new breed of Marines who has a politically correct sensitivity to alcoholic beverages.”
“Are you going on leave for the Holidays?” Mike asked.
“Yeah,” Dane answered.
“So am I, I’m spending it with my family in Oceanside, what are you doing?”
“I got a married brother and sister and they alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with my parents and their in-laws.
“What’s that got to do with you?” Mike asked.
“What?” Dane asked.
“Is this the year that your brother and sister are spending Thanksgiving with your parents?”
“I don’t know, I never go home for holidays,” Dane answered, “It only reminds me how much I don’t fit in anymore. They eat all day, watch football and talk about their kids. I don’t have the patience to sit through one game, let alone two or three and since most of the things I do are prohibited from repeating or explaining, I make easy on everyone by keeping my visits to non-holidays time periods so I’ll probably just hang around Pendleton.”
“Now that is a sad story, do you have a tissue because I’m starting to tear up,” Mike joked.
“That’s because you’re a man in touch with his feelings.”
“I am extending a formal invitation to you to join my family for Thanksgiving dinner,” Mike said.
“Did you invite anybody else?” Dane asked.
“I invited a few Taliban fighters, but they all turned me down so that’s why I’m asking you,” Mike answered.
“That’s takes a lot of pressure off me,” Dane smiled, “Do I have to watch football?
“I have three television sets so you can watch cartoons, reality shows and reruns of the Andy Griffith show.”
“What about socializing? I am not amiable, engaging or gregarious?” Dane replied.
“That would be the last thing I would ever expect, I was hoping that you would sit in the corner and eat your food.”
“That would be my plan,” Dane agreed.
“I’ll even place a doggie bag next to your plate so you can dump your food in it and make a hasty retreat at any time that you feel the atmosphere has gotten too “Hallmark” for your discerning tastes.”
“I haven’t received an invitation like that in a long while, you make it hard to resist.”
“Think about it, I’m only going to keep the offer open indefinitely or at least until after Thanksgiving is over,” Mike replied.
Lawrence Levin, a high ranking executive with Lewiston Hackland was meeting with five other men in the corporate headquarters in Tampa, Florida, “We can’t let Mike Bronson testify, that option is completely off the table.”
“It will look suspicious if we do anything to him while a Congressional investigation is pending,” Van Kotter interjected.
“Not if it looks random,” Lawrence Levin replied.
“A car accident?” Roger Maddow suggested.
“I’m thinking more along the lines of a home invasion robbery. Let’s say that a couple houses in his neighborhood were robbed previously and the residents were killed. It wouldn’t seem like we were targeting Bronson if he became an unlucky victim of a vicious crime spree.”
“That’s a lot of collateral damage,” Roger Merkel commented.
“Do you feel like going to prison? I know that I damn sure don’t!” Lawrence Levin screamed, “This is no time to get weak in the knees, big business is about making the tough choices! Man up!”
“How do you want to proceed?” Roger Merkel responded meekly.
“I want our best men on this so get Kirk Edmonds and his team. I have knowledge that Bronson is going to be home for Thanksgiving, that would be a good day to take him out,” Lawrence Levin instructed.
Kirk Edmond was a mercenary, a cold blooded hired killer and as soon as he got the order, his team was on their way to California in a private jet. They landed at San Diego where a vehicle was waiting and they drove to Oceanside.
It was five days before Thanksgiving so Kirk and his team wasted no time in getting to work. They picked a home in the Rancho Del Oro neighborhood near the intersection of College Avenue and Mesa Road, killed the four occupants then ransacked the home like they were instructed to. The next evening they found another residence near North River Road and Douglas Drive and repeated the same brutal process and killed six occupants.
“Our next target is our primary one, get a couple days rest, we go on Thanksgiving,” Kirk Edmond told his team as they lounged in their suite at the Marriott Residence Inn in Ocean Ranch.
When Gunnery Sergeant Callan got back to Camp Pendleton he met with Lt. General Joe Horan to discuss several issues before checking into base billeting. He got up early the next morning and drove to Glenn Ivy Resort in Corona where he had booked a deep tissue massage. He also used the mud and mineral baths and took a thirty minute sauna while he was there. Afterward he drove to Harmony Acupuncture for a therapy session and by the time he got back to Pendleton that evening Dane was completely relaxed and fell asleep early. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, Dane checked the movie listings and decided to see the new Jack Reacher movie at the Mission Marketplace shopping center.
Dane was returning to his car after the matinee when his cellphone rang, “Hey Mike.”
“I’m just double checking to make sure that you’re still coming tomorrow.”
“It’s not too late to rescind your invitation,” Dane replied, “that’s what I would do if I was you.”
“We’re expecting you so if you want to go back on your word then that’s up to you.”
“I’ll be there at 1500 hours, give or take thirty seconds.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Dane went on a five mile run before showering and heading out to Mike Bronson’s home in Morro Hills. He drove out the back gate, down Vandergrift Boulevard and turned left on North River Road and then up Sleeping Indian Road to the Bronson home.
Dane was thoroughly enjoying himself as the conversation around the dinner table was lighthearted and playful stayed away from the contentious subjects of politics. After a delicious main meal that included entrees of turkey, ham and fish, it was seventeen thirty hours and starting to get dark.
Dane’s cellphone vibrated and he pulled it out to look at the text; Confirm four, awaiting instructions.
“Who wants desert? What about you Dane?” Tara Bronson inquired.
Dane glanced out front window, “How about a slice of pumpkin pie,” then replied to the message; I’ll handle it…back me up.
“Whipped cream?” Tara said.
“Please, I’m going to take a short walk to help digest that wonderful meal,” Dane smiled, “Give me a few minutes.”
“Make sure that you come back,” Mike warned, “I know your tricks.”
“After a great meal like that, I might never leave.”
Dane walked out the front door and was halfway down the walkway to the road when he saw a man approaching him.
“What’s up?” Dane said.
“I’m lost, I’m looking for the Jackson residence,” The man responded with an insincere smile.
“No you’re not,” Dane answered.
“You know exactly where you are,” Dane’s voice was cold and his eyes were focused.
The man reached for his pistol, but Dane slapped his hand away then hit him six times in the face and chest in lightning quick succession then slammed him to the concrete, took the man’s weapon and shot him twice. He moved over to the hedge and looked across the road and saw an SUV.
“He should have contacted us by now,” A man commented as he looked at his watch.
“I wouldn’t expect that call,” Dane called out from behind the vehicle.
Two men instinctively reached for their weapons and they were both men shot from an unknown location as the third man raised his hands in the air, “Hey Dane, I would have brought more men if I knew you were on the guest list,” Kirk Edmonds smiled.
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Dane smiled.
“I knew that Lewiston Hackland would send their best to stop Bronson from testifying. I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be you; I’m disappointed, but not surprised. You shouldn’t have killed those innocent families, that was completely unnecessary, they had nothing to do with this,” Dane shook his head in disgust.
“That wasn’t my call, I was just following orders.”
“What happened, you were a pretty decent Marine when you were with the team,” Dane commented.
“I saw other people getting rich while I was taking all the risks so I got smart,” Kirk shrugged.
Four armed men exited the house across the street from the Bronson residence, “I met with General Horan when I got back and he was nice enough to assign several sniper teams to do surveillance on the Bronson home. The neighbor is a retired Marine and was more than happy to let us use his house.”
Kirk shrugged, “You were always good with details. Since this is going to be my final mission, I might as well ask you a favor”
Dane commented, “They’re holding my desert for me so make it quick.”
“I’ve always believed that I was better than you, I’d like to know for sure.”
“I was ordered to take in one person for interrogation. Are you sure that you want to go down this road? There is no turning back.”
“Damn right I do!”
“That was always one of your problems, Kirk, your ego always got in the way of common sense,” Dane turned to the four armed men, “Don’t interfere,”
“Roger that,” replied a member of the armed team.
Dane turned to Kirk, “Let’s do this.”
Kirk unexpectedly swung at Dane who ducked under the punch as both men got into their fighting stance and faced off. Kirk fired off several punches while kicking at the same time. Dane blocked most of them and the few that made contact had little effect. Dane broke Kirk’s nose with a left jab then hobbled him with a kick to his knee.
“You’ve been practicing,” Kirk grimaced in pain.
“I told you that they’re holding desert for me, less talk, more fighting,’ Dane encouraged.
Kirk charged forward and ran into a barrage of short powerful punches that bloodied his face and left him gasping for air. In desperation Kirk Edmond used every bit of his combat experience and began striking and kicking with all of his strength, but it wasn’t enough as Dane countered the relentless attack then kicked Kirk so hard in the solar plexus that he coughed up a mouthful of blood as he fell to his knees, “Rot in hell, Callan!”
Dane got behind Kirk and put him in a vicelike chokehold then squeezed the remaining life of him and dropped the lifeless body to ground.
The four Marines stood speechless after witnessing this deadly display of hand to hand combat until one of them finally spoke, “We’ll take it from here, sir.”
When Dane got back to the Bronson property, Mike was standing in the driveway, having watching what had just transpired, “What happened?”
“I ran into a friend and we ended up discussing old times,” Dane flashed his boyish smile, “Sorry it took so long, but he wanted me to show him something.”
Mike knew what happened was about him and a dangerous situation had been neutralized. He wanted to express his heartfelt appreciation to his friend, but was sure it would only make Dane Callan uncomfortable so he said the first inconsequential thing that can into his mind, “Your desert is waiting.”
Lawrence Levin entered his private office and fell into his overstuffed chair and pulled out his cellphone, “Kirk Edmond failed, I hope we got good lawyers because we’re going to need ‘em.” Lawrence Levin ended the call, turned around and saw an indistinguishable figure standing in the shadows, “Who’s there?”
The corrupt executive fell twenty seven stories and landed on the roof a linen delivery truck. The authorities ruled it a suicide, assuming that Lawrence Levin had chosen to take his own life rather than face the disgrace of a public trial and the possibility of a long prison sentence. Nobody knew that at the precise moment of Lawrence Levin’s impact that Gunnery Sergeant Dane Callan flashbacked to how much he liked the pumpkin pie and whipped cream on Thanksgiving Day.