Always Stories Out There
Erin Donaldson had worked on Camp Pendleton for thirty-three years; the last seventeen were in base housing as an assignment clerk. She was approached by an acquaintance and asked if she would consider writing a weekly column for an online newsletter about events that affected Marine families on base. Erin was hesitant at first, but said that she would give it a try. That was over six years and 318 articles ago, but the time had come for her to retire from federal service and Erin was seeking someone to take over her writing responsibilities. Her fellow employees declined for a variety of reasons with the primary one being; I’ve got enough going on right now, but thanks anyway.
Don Rafferty, a former Marine transferred to base housing from Environmental Security three years ago and was currently assigned as a housing inspector. Erin approached him, not really expecting him to accept her offer, but she asked anyway.
“Sounds like a good thing, what kind of stuff do you write?” Don asked.
“It is probably easier to show you than tell you,” Erin handed Don a business card, “Here’s the link, take a look and you can see for yourself.”
“I’ll do that and get back to you.”
That evening, Don went on the computer and read a dozen of Erin’s articles. The next day when he saw Erin at the office, he inquired further, “Where do you get your Intel, I mean information?”
“I have ten people around the base that I call every Wednesday to see if they have anything. When I write an article I keep it between five hundred and a thousand words based on what what I can find out on my own and what they tell me. It is nothing complicated or requires any in-depth research,” Erin said.
“What about the base, do they have any problems with you doing this?” Don inquired.
“That’s why I like to do it on Wednesdays because on Thursday mornings I send it to Public Affairs for their review. If they don’t like something, they’ll delete or change it, of course that doesn’t happen too often. After that I send it to the editor on Friday and it comes out on Sunday.”
“Are you such a good writer that Public Affairs rarely changes it?” Don smiled.
“Far from it; I just don’t write anything controversial, negative or complicated. Just remember that the Marine Corps loves positive publicity,” Erin answered with a sly grin.
“When are you retiring?” Don asked.
“I turned in my paperwork in April and my last day is July 1st.”
“I’m not making any promises or commitments, but I’ll do it on a trial basis until you leave. That way you can evaluate if I’m any good and I’ll know by then if I want to continue doing it. On July 1st, we’ll both be honest with each other, sound fair enough?” Don asked.
Fair enough,” Erin extended her right hand and Don shook it. That was almost two years ago and Don is still writing a weekly column for the newsletter.
Elena and Anna Moretti were sisters who worked at their family’s party rental and event planning business in San Marcos, California. They were currently at the San Diego Convention Center coordinating activities for a movie studio and its newest superhero movie at the annual Comic-Con festivities. On the following Sunday the Moretti sisters were scheduled to fly down to a new all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico before their gala grand opening. The owners of the resort wanted to promote their facilities as a prime destination for weddings and conventions so they invited 200 hundred event planners and travel agents to come down and experience what the resort had to offer.
After their last scheduled event at Comic-com, Elena was exhausted and decided to return to the home in Vista, California that she shared with her sister. Anna accepted an invitation to dinner with several actors and movie executives, “It will be a good opportunity to do some networking,”
“Are you coming back tonight?” Elena asked.
“Probably not, I’ll stay over at the hotel and drive back in the morning,” Anna answered.
“I’ll be at the office, call me when you get on the road.”
As Elena was driving from San Diego to Vista, she looked at the time and saw that it is 9:55 PM. She was unsure about making a phone call then decided to do it anyway, she was getting slightly drowsy and it might help keep her awake.
“I was hoping you would call,” Don answered with obvious enthusiasm.
“It’s not too late, is it?” Elena asked.
“Never too late to hear your voice,” Don continued, “How did things go?”
“To be perfectly honest, I think it went well, but I really never know for sure with these kinds of clients. If they use us again then I know we did alright.”
“You must be tired,” Don guessed.
“It’s starting to catch up to me,” Elena yawned, “Anna is still going strong, though.”
“She’s not with you?”
“She went out to dinner with the clients,” Elena answered as she took the Melrose exit off Highway 78, “I’m almost home, I’ll call you tomorrow, maybe we can get together when I get off work, just you and me… away from the maddening crowd.”
“I like the sound of that,” Don answered, “some anti-social socializing.”
After a late dinner and drinks, the stretch limousine that Anna and several others were riding in was struck broadside by a speeding drunk driver at the intersection of Market Street and Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp section of San Diego.
Even though she often woke up at the slightest sound, Elena was so deep in slumber that she didn’t realize that her cellphone’s ringtone until the third ring, “Hello.”
“I’m in the hospital,” Anna said.
“Are you alright?” Elena was completely awake in an instant.
“I’ve been better.”
“I’m on my way, text me which hospital that you’re in and I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Elena’s next call was to Don who responded without hesitation, “I’m on my way.”
Don quickly dressed and went to Elena’s home where she was waiting outside when he arrived. They drove to UC San Diego Health Center on F Street and found Anna lying down on a bed inside the emergency room. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but was badly bruised from the impact of the crash and had sustained a whiplash injury to her neck. By Wednesday of the following week, it was obvious that Anna was not going to recover sufficiently to make the Cancun trip so she suggested to her sister, “Why don’t you ask Don to go with you?”
“It is kind of short notice to spring it on him,” Elena answered.
“What’s the worst that he can say, I can’t go. At least give him the opportunity,” Anna suggested.
Don knocked on the open door of his supervisor, Chuck Haverty and leaned in, “I’d like to run something by you.”
“Sure, c’mon in.”
Don explained the situation and then made his request, “I usually like to plan further in advance, but this is one of those situations where that is not possible. Bottom line, I’m requesting five days of vacation time.”
“Starting when?” Chuck asked.
“This coming Monday through Friday”
“That is short notice, but I don’t see a problem,” Chuck answered.
When he left his boss’s office, Don called Elena, “I’ve got the time off,” then called Barbara Johnson, the editor of the newsletter and told her the same thing he told Chuck Haverty, then added, “I won’t be able to write an article this week.”
“You haven’t missed writing one in over two years. I’d say that you’re entitled to take the week off and enjoy yourself,” Barbara said.
Don and Elena boarded their flight Sunday morning from San Diego and after a stopover in Houston they arrived at Cancun International Airport that evening. They took a shuttle to the Platinum Mujeres Resort and three days into their trip things couldn’t have been better. There were enough activities and entertainment to fill their days, the food was excellent, but most of all, Don and Elena were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company
They were sitting on the beach under a star filled sky as a gentle breeze rustled the palm trees around them in rhythm to the waves rolling up to shore. Elena was swept up in the moment, “I’ve done a lot of traveling in my business and no matter where I’m at, I usually can’t wait to get home to my own bed.”
“I can understand that,” Don replied, “Like they say, no place like home.”
“But not this time, there is no place that I’d rather be than right here with you.”
Before Don could answer, there were a series of loud bangs coming from down the beach that could be misinterpreted by the untrained ear. “They must be having a fireworks display…want to go see them?” Elena asked.
“Those aren’t fireworks, those are gunshots,” Don surmised.
“Yeah, really,” Don smiled.
“That’s not a good thing, huh?” Elena smiled.
“That would depend on who is doing the shooting, but you’re probably right, it’s not a good thing.”
In the distance, men were running in their direction and the muzzle flashes of their weapons were growing brighter as they approached. Don grabbed Elena by the arm and pulled her behind some shrubbery. Four men were firing indiscriminately at panic stricken guests who were literally running for their lives.
Don noticed a section of rope that was securing beach furniture, removed it and secured it around both his hands until there was only a two foot length, “Not a sound,” and made sure that Elena was completely hidden from view by gently pushing her head down.
When one of the gunman walked by, Don looped the rope around his neck and flipped him over his back with such force that it instantly snapped the man’s neck. He picked up the weapon, quickly checked the magazine and reinserted it. The other men were so focused at shooting guests that they didn’t realize that they were now being stalked. Don took aim and killed them all then grabbed two assault rifles and slung them over his shoulders, before going back to get Elena. When she stood up and saw the dead bodies lying in the sand, she couldn’t help but ask, “You never told me what you did in the Marines.”
Don checked the other weapons and answered, “If I told you then I’d have to marry you.”
“I can live with that deal,” Elena responded coyly as gunfire echoed in the distance.
“If I also told you to wait here while I recon the resort, what would you say?”
“I’d say, if you’re going then I’m going with you,” Elena answered.
“That’s what I thought…okay then, if you’re going then you need to know a couple of things. These AK-47’s have a selector switch, semi-automatic and automatic. Semi-automatic is…
Elena interrupted, “Semi-automatic means that each time I press the trigger I shoot a round, automatic is when I depress the trigger, I keep shooting…right?”
“Correct, I’ve got it on semi-automatic, Don handed the rifle to Elena, “and second and most important of all, I want you so close to me that I can feel your breath on my neck, understand?”
“Then I guess that it’s a good thing that I didn’t have the garlic shrimp appetizers,” Elena joked.
When they got back to the resort, they saw ten more gunmen holding the guests under guard by the swim up bar. Dan quickly decided the best way get to close to the gunmen was to use the cabanas as concealment until he had clear shots at them. Leapfrogging from one to the other the couple got as close as they could without being noticed then Don instructed Elena, “Stay out of sight, but keep a visual on me. If you see me go down, then get the hell out of here and don’t look back.” When he started to move, Elena grabbed his arm and passionately kissed him on the lips, “Come back to me, that is an order.”
“Roger that,” Don was gone in an instant.
When Don reached the closest cabana to the bar, he was now within twenty five feet of the gunmen and this would have to do. He quietly set the two rifles on the concrete deck and extended the rifle barrel of the third weapon from underneath the canvas as he slowly lowered himself into the prone position. Don knew that he would have to be fast, accurate and extremely lucky. The harsh reality of the situation was that it was going to be extremely unlikely, but closer to impossible for him to take out ten men before they could get to him. That was the risk he had to take because the guests only hope of getting out of this predicament alive was him.
Don glanced back and made eye contact with Elena, then turned back around and took aim at the gunmen. He emptied one magazine and six armed intruders fell, then Don picked up the second rifle as gunfire riddled the cabana. He stayed low to the ground and tried to engage the remaining four shooters, but they had him pinned down and in a deadly crossfire. The bullets were hitting only inches away from his body. Don was trapped as the gunmen moved closer with the intention of surrounding the cabana. They signaled each other to make their final assault, but just as they came into the open, Elena appeared on the balcony above them and unleashed a well-aimed burst of automatic gunfire then called out, “All clear!”
“I thought I told you to stay where you were?” Don angrily lashed out when he stood up, “And to keep it on semi-automatic.”
“Were you serious?” Elena responded, “My bad on both counts.”
“Where did you learn to shoot like this?” Don marveled at the accuracy of Elena’s marksmanship as he looked down at the motionless bodies lying on the ground.
“You’re not the only one with secrets,” Elena responded.
Don wrote and sold the story about what happened at Cancun then used the money for the wedding and reception. As they were leaving the Los Willows Wedding Estates in Fallbrook, California, Barbara Johnson approached the happy couple, “If I tell you to take the week off and not write anything, are you going to do it this time?”
Elena interceded before her husband could speak, “Probably not, there’s always stories out there and Don can’t help but find them.”