Make It Easy on Yourself
Thomas Calabrese — Definition of sigh: emit a long, deep, audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or a similar feeling.
Jake Russell never expected to be in hiding or using an alias, but just because he didn’t expect it, didn’t mean he hadn’t planned for that contingency. Top tier covert operatives learned early in their careers to turn on a dime, change plans at a moment’s notice and most important of all, have an escape plan. Jake had served 15 years in the Navy Seals before being recruited for the Office of National Intelligence’s Task Force Falcon.
He was currently staying at a vacation rental in Lake Havasu, Arizona when he received an encrypted e-mail ordering him to report for his next assignment. He drove 194 miles to Phoenix and caught a flight to Tampa, Florida and was picked up and driven to MacDill Air Force Base. The missions of Task Force Falcon were so secret that even the men performing them knew very little about their fellow operatives. These elite warriors came from all over the United States and a few of them even lived outside the country. Jake’s call sign was Condor and when he entered the hangar, he recognized two men that he worked with in the past who went by the names, Comet and Rio. They nodded to each other as a sign of professional courtesy, but kept their distance.
A Douglas C-133 Cargomaster was being loaded with two pallets that were covered with black tarps and secured with nylon straps. A man in a suit gestured to Jake and the other two men and they followed him to a secure area of the hangar. “Guard the shipment until it reaches its destination. After it is unloaded and your contact takes possession of it, return with the aircraft and your mission is completed.” The man pointed to a table that had weapons on it, “We know your preferences.” There was no unnecessary chatter or questions.
Once the plane was airborne, the three men found locations in the cargo hold where they were equally distant from each other, but still gave them an unobstructed view of the pallets. Jake kept his assault rifle on his lap with his finger an inch away from the trigger. It was hard to believe how these three men could work as a finely tuned instrument, but these were not ordinary men. Jake did not know the destination or how long they would be in the air so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bottle and took two sips. It was a natural stimulant made by a Chinese herbalist in Hong Kong that included Ginseng, Guarana, Maca Root and Schizandra berry. The concoction kept him alert without being wired or hyper. Each sip was good for six hours and once it passed through the blood stream, there were no residual effects.
Fifteen hours into the flight, the plane began descending for a landing in the early morning hours. Jake recognized the airfield as soon he stepped off the aircraft; it was a black ops secret airfield in Saudi Arabia used by intelligence agencies. He had been here two years earlier on a previous mission. Comet and Rio positioned themselves in the front and rear of the aircraft respectively, while Jake took the center by the emergency exit door.
Twenty minutes later, a truck drove up. There were seven men in the receiving team and all of them remained masked during the transfer process of the two pallets. In any other line of work that might have seemed unusual, but a lot of these operatives did not want anyone to see their faces.
The man in charge of the receiving team called out, “Your orders have changed, you are coming with us.”
A red light went off in Jake’s mind, he was used to having his orders changed, but never like this. “I’ll be right back; I left something on the plane.”
“Hurry up,” The leader snapped.
Instead of going into the plane, Jake disappeared into the darkness and found a concealed position behind several shipping containers where he had a view of the plane. When the receiving team realized Jake was gone, the man in charge ordered his team to conduct a quick search of the area.
“No sign of him, we shouldn’t wait any longer,” A man said.
The receiving team shot Rio and Comet and placed their bodies in the truck. Five men got into a black SUV and the other two men stepped into the cab of the truck. Jake climbed on the top of the shipping container and when the truck passed his position, he jumped on it.
Luckily for Jake that the truck only drove to the other end of the airfield because he was barely hanging on with his fingertips. If they had driven any further, he would have fallen off. The truck pulled into a warehouse and the door closed behind it. From his elevated position Jake could not hear what the men were saying, but when the men removed their masks, he recognized two of them as CIA contactors. It didn’t matter now what had changed since he boarded the airplane back in Florida. Jake knew that these men had their own mission and killing him was part of it. He had a ‘tell’ (an unconscious action that foretold of a coming action.) Jake would take a deep breath and let out a long sigh of relief before initiating an attack; it helped him focus. He crawled over very slowly, inch by inch to the edge of the truck so as not to make a sound and looked down.
“I’m not looking forward to telling them that Condor got away,” The Leader grumbled.
“At first light, we’ll track him down, don’t worry,” Another man boasted.
“I am very worried, he’s one of the best and could be anywhere,” The Leader did not realize that he was standing within feet of their prey.
When all seven men were sitting at the table drinking beer waiting to move out, Jake carefully positioned the barrel, opened fire and killed the six men instantly and gravely wounded the leader. He jumped down from the top of the truck and bent down next to the wounded man who was coughing up blood, “I was right to be worried,” and died.
Jake opened the back of the truck and climbed in. He took out his knife and slit the thick tarp to see what was so important that it was worth killing for. He got his answer when he saw hundred dollars bills in plastic wrap. Jake cut open the tarp on the other pallet and found 500 Euro notes (500-euro note is worth $682.) similarly packaged.
He got in the truck, drove off the airfield then pulled out his cellphone and called a number, “This is Condor, three niner, six hotel.”
The person on the other end repeated, “Three, niner, six, hotel, confirmed.”
Jake drove to the King Fahd Industrial Port in Yanbu on the Red Sea Coast. It is the largest port for loading crude oil, refined products and petrochemicals in the Red Sea. The pallets were taken off the truck and placed in a shipping container. A Saudi Arabian businessman handed paperwork to Jake, who in turn handed him a large bag of Euros.
The man looked inside the bag and smiled, “Very generous.”
“I was never here and you never saw me,” Jake ordered.
“ Like always,your paperwork gets you all the way to Zurich.”
Jake boarded the freighter and disembarked with the shipping container at the Port of La Spezia, the northernmost commercial port in Italy. He drove to Zurich Switzerland with the two pallets and met with several high ranking employees from the Zurich Bank Group.
“We opened four accounts with 500 million dollars in each one,” Bank supervisor stated, “Just like you requested.”
“Thank you,” Jake replied.
“We have several security protocols. Please read this,” and handed Jake a 3 by 5 card.
“The weather is fair and clear in Zurich today,” Jake said slowly and clearly.
An employee nodded and the bank supervisor said, “That’s for voice recognition.”
Another employee placed a special device up to Jake’s eyes, “That’s your optic scan.”
Another employee pressed a small device against Jake’s arm. “That’s a microdot.”
The bank supervisor gave Jake a cellphone. “This is a special encrypted phone, connects directly to our call center. We are available 24 hours a day.” He handed Jake an ATM card, “You can use this at any bank in the world, we’ll maintain a hundred thousand dollars balance at all times.”
“What about major purchases like a house; how will that work? “Tell us what want and we’ll purchase it using one of our numerous shell corporations. Nothing will be in your name, not even the utilities.”
An employee handed Jake a passport, a California driver’s license and a box of business cards. Du Rhône Chocolatier, Western Sales Manager. The name on all three was Alex McCall, “If anybody should question you, we’ll verify your employment going back fifteen years and family history back to your birth if someone ever does a background check on you. Do not worry; we have the best personnel at creating new identities. Considering your prior history with us and the significant balances in these accounts, we’ll only be assessing a two per cent yearly fee for our services. That will be 4 million dollars annually, is that acceptable to you?”
“If you maintain the same quality of your work and reputation for discretion and secrecy that I have come to expect, then I’ll have no problem with your fees,” Jake/ Alex replied.
“Enjoy your new life, Mr. McCall.”
It would have been considerably harder to explain a mission that resulted in the death of nine Americans and the disappearance of another one, than it was to ‘cook the books’ about two billion dollars being used in the battle against global terrorism. High ranking officials in the intelligence agency went into damage control, accepted their losses and conspired to make sure that nothing led back to them.
Three years had passed and Alex McCall was now in Oceanside, California. When he first arrived, he couldn’t find a place where he wanted to live until he saw a new housing development being built in the farthest northeast quadrant of the city that bordered Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. The homes ranged in size from 2500 to 4000 square feet on twelve thousand square foot lots. Alex had the Swiss bank purchase three houses during the first phase of construction in a secluded cul de sac where all three backyards bordered government property. Working with the builder, Alex had everything upgraded in the homes and when it was completed, the total came to 6.7 million dollars for all three. He had Johnson Interiors of Oceanside furnish all three houses. A state of the art security system was installed in all three homes and a property management company was retained to provide landscaping, maid service and deal with maintenance issues. Alex moved into the middle house and to his neighbors he was just a successful businessman.
Considering his vast wealth, Alex could have lived anywhere in the world, but he was an American and wanted to live in the country that he was willing to fight and die for. He had spent a lot of time in Coronado as well as at Camp Pendleton during training and developed a fondness for the Southern California climate. The ocean was nine miles to the west, not too far a drive and the vast openness of the Marine base stretched all the way to San Clemente. It did get noisy at times from artillery practice and some of his neighbors thought it was a nuisance, but Alex had a different impression, it was the sound of freedom and music to his ears. In his life Alex had acquaintances, associates and fellow operatives, but no close friends or family. It was the price that he was required to pay to do his job and now that he was retired and in hiding, he was even less inclined to get close to anyone.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t friendly, Alex was always the first to extend a greeting when he saw someone in the neighborhood. It was a pleasant surprise to the covert operative that nobody was really that interested in him. When he was invited to a barbecue from a neighbor down the street, Alex brought ten boxes of imported chocolate with him. He passed them out to the guests to reinforce his cover, “I’ve been with the company about 15 years,” Alex responded when a woman asked him about the delicious confection she had just tasted.
As long as he had free samples to give out, most people were content to believe anything Alex said, never inquiring beyond questions about the luscious chocolates. Alex made sure that the bank in Switzerland sent him fifty pounds of various candies every week. Needless to say Alex became very popular with the children and people with a sweet tooth in the neighborhood. When his freezer got too full, he’d take a load to Brother Benno’s homeless shelter. After a while many of his neighbors began calling him the ‘Candyman.’ Considering some of the things that he had been called in the past, ‘Candyman’ was just fine.
Some habits were too ingrained into him to even try to change, like knowing his environment and keeping weapons close-by. Alex was not a gun collector; he was a craftsman, much like a carpenter or plumber who had specific tools for their jobs. He had a gun safe in his bedroom and weapons that served him well during his career. If he never had a reason to use them, that was fine with him too. There were ninety one homes in his development with one through street and four cul de sacs. Alex liked to take a walk just before sunrise going up and down each street. and came to the conclusion that while some people were doing alright financially, others had leveraged themselves to maintain a lifestyle that was above their income. It was little things that he noticed that caused him to make these determinations. Maybe it was an older car or a minor repair to the house that had been ignored. It could even be grass that was longer than the neighbors. This indicated to Alex that maybe the gardeners were coming twice a month instead of on a weekly basis.
Alex was not the kind of man to interfere in anybody else’s life, but it gave him a sense of control to have a basic knowledge of those living around him. What was kind of strange and even funny was that he knew some people by their first name, Trish, George, Howard and others by their last names; Mr. Tanner, Mrs. Rowe, Mr. Graham, but didn’t know anyone by their their first and last names. While on one of his routine night walks at 11pm, with a small flashlight in his right hand, he turned down Vista Del Camino and passed a house that had the worst exterior appearance in the entire area. The grass was brown, the front hedge was uneven and two palm trees needed trimming. When Alex saw an SUV parked in front with Nevada license plates, he pointed his flashlight at the windshield and saw four men inside it. One of men immediately stepped out and confronted him. He spoke with a heavy accent, “What are you doing?”
Alex recognized the accent as Albanian and responded, “Not much, what are you doing?’
“You need to go home now,” The man ordered.
Alex noticed that man’s right hand was resting on a holstered weapon, “As soon as I finish my walk,” then noticed two men exiting the house.
The man uttered an insult in his native language that Alex recognized as ‘Idiot Pig.’ as he walked off.
This was his neighborhood and Alex did not like these men in it. His special skills had remained dormant for so long that he wasn’t sure that they still existed. He was pleasantly surprised that when that the man confronted him on that dark street, several different scenarios flashed through his mind on how to eliminate the threat. He made a call to the Swiss bank and found out the man living in the house owned an import and export business that ran into financial difficultly. It was on the verge of bankruptcy when an influx of capital saved him.
Alex put five thousand dollars in a leather pouch and drove over to the house and parked in the driveway. He knocked on the door and a woman in her thirties partially opened it enough for Alex to see that her left eye was swollen and purple and red bruises were on her cheek and throat.
“Are you alright?” Alex asked.
“I had a car accident, airbag you know,” The woman lied unconvincingly.
“Airbag…right. I found this last night in front of your house,” Alex handed the leather pouch to the woman who looked inside it.
She hesitated for a moment than called, “Liam, come here.”
A man whose face was also bruised opened the door a little wider. The woman handed the pouch to her husband, “He found this in front of our house last night.”
“It’s not ours,” Liam weakly replied.
“I noticed some men leaving your home, maybe it’s theirs. You could call them and ask.”
The man and women exchanged fearful glances, but did not respond. Alex sighed, “Besides your injuries, I have reason to believe that you might be in trouble.”
Neither person responded.
“Let’s not waste time, I might be able to help you if you are,” Alex said, “Tell me about those men.”
Liam Robertson explained how he accepted a low income loan from what he thought was a reputable lender and they basically took control of his business. When he complained, they sent men to beat him and his wife.
“Take this money and go on a trip. My cellphone phone number is in the bag, call me in a week and I’ll let you know if it’s safe to come back.”
“Why do you want to help us?” Liam asked suspiciously
“Did you ever see those commercials about companies that help you get out of timeshare contracts?”
Both the man and woman nodded and Alex continued, “That’s kind of what I do; get people out of contracts that are hard to break.”
“What is the cost for your help?” The man asked, “Are you going to take my company?”
Alex sighed, “Only one stipulation…you have never seen me and I was never here…agreed?”
“Agreed,” Liam responded.
“They said they would kill us if we went to the authorities,” The woman stammered.
“I’m not the authorities…far from it,” Alex responded.
Liam felt like a drowning man who had just been thrown a life preserver.
Two days later, Alex had gathered enough Intel about the Albanians to make his move. He unlocked his gun safe and took out two pistols and an assault rifle and loaded them with ammunition. He drove to International Global Exports on Balboa Avenue in San Diego and took a package with him when he got out of his car. There were a dozen men standing around when Alex entered the building, “I’m looking for the owner.”
A man came out of an office, “I’m in charge, what do you want?”
“I’m here to make sure everything is in order,” Alex replied.
“What are you talking about?” The man grumbled.
“Don’t be telling me that,” Alex handed the man his business card, “I’ve got a big trade show in a couple of days and shipments waiting in Switzerland. I gave my word to my bosses that this company could be trusted. Don’t make a liar out of me.”
The Albanians looked at each other in confusion so Alex pushed the issue, “You can wipe that stupid look off your faces. It’s too late for me to find another importer and if you can’t find a way to make this work then I’m going to sue you for damages and put you out of my business!”
The Albanians gathered around and discussed the problem, “Mr. Robertson just arrived and has everything taken care of it. He wants to see you in the warehouse.”
Alex knew that was a lie, but he played along, “That’s what I wanted to hear, lead the way,”
then followed four thuggish men to the rear of the warehouse, “Where’s Robertson?”
When one of the men reached for his weapon, Alex was faster getting to his and shot the four men and three more on his way back to the office. When he came through the door, he saw the man who assigned him the mission to deliver the currency several years earlier and instinctively knew that he was the one who betrayed him and was now involved with these criminals.
The man looked at Alex and swallowed hard, “Condor.”
The Albanian leader was puzzled, “You know this person?”
“Top Tier Operator, Code Name Condor.”
They exchanged wary glances, much like opposing gunfighters in the Old West. “Make It Easy On Yourself.” Alex said and when they reached for their weapons, he shot everybody in the office including his former associate. He quickly holstered his weapon, ripped off the brown wrapping paper from the package, exposing his assault weapon and fired a long automatic burst of gunfire that killed the rest of the Albanians gangsters in the building.
Alex later ordered the bank to purchase the outstanding debt of the import business and provide enough customers to bring it back to profitability. He never met with the Robertsons again, even though he lived on the next street. The former operative was sitting in his living room watching the evening news when he heard the story about the Camp Pendleton Marine that was kidnapped by a drug cartel while visiting his ill grandfather in Mexico. There was the customary long sigh before Alex got up from the couch and prepared to leave the next morning.