Some Lines That You Don’t Cross
Thomas Calabrese….Charles ‘Charlie’ Cooper Jr graduated Cal State, San Marcos in three and one half years with a major in Business Administration, a minor in communications and 3.8 GPA. He had not made up his mind if he wanted to go back to school for his (MBA) masters’ in business administration or enlist in the military and follow in his father’s footsteps. He was also on the school’s golf team and had the potential to make the pro tour with the right coaching and as a track athlete he was nationally ranked in the 800 meters and could focus his efforts on making the Olympics men’s track and field team. Those were serious choices that had to be made very soon.
Charlie still lived at home with his father, retired Brigadier General Charles Cooper Sr. and mother Jennifer in the Morro Hills area of North Oceanside. He had a close relationship with his parents, so he sat down with them to discuss his options.
“Whatever you decide, you’ll have our full support,” Jennifer Cooper smiled.
“I appreciate that, but I need you to be more specific,” Charlie said, “What would you do if you were in my place?”
“That would take all the fun and challenge out of it for you, wouldn’t it?” Charles said.
“Yes sir,” Charlie mumbled, “I know the drill, it is part of the learning experience and how will I mature otherwise. You can’t blame me for trying to take a shortcut to the right decision while bypassing youthful inexperience pitfalls. ”
“The right decisions are often at the end of a long broken road,” Charles said.
“What you need a new perspective,” Jennifer said, “Step back and see the big picture.”
“Your mom is right, you put in almost four years of hard work, and even in the military a trained warrior needs a little rest and recreation,” Charles suggested.
“What is this leading up to? Charlie surmised, “I can tell when you’re teaming up on me.”
“He’s on to us, might go ahead and tell him,” Charles said.
“I was at my weekly women’s business meeting when Mrs. Doherty told me that she and her husband booked a trip to Italy. He caught some kind of stomach virus and he’s on medication and the doctor doesn’t want him to fly for sixty days,” Jennifer explained.
“They neglected to buy travel insurance and the trip is non-refundable, but luckily it is transferable,” Charles added.
“Their excursion was for 12 days in Rome and the Italian Riviera,” Jennifer continued, “If you knew Sally Doherty like I do, then you’d know that she is more than a little pretentious. This is a very expensive trip with top of the line accommodations and food.”
“I’m sorry for their misfortune and I wish Mr. Doherty a full recovery and Mrs. Doherty less pretentiousness, but why are you telling me this?” Charlie replied
“We bought their travel package to help them out, and they gave us a discount,” Charles said.
“I’ll watch the house while you’re gone, you can count on me,” Charlie promised.
“We’ve been to Europe more than once, this is for you,” Jennifer said.
“You’ve got a lot on your mind right now, so we figured a change of scenery is just what you might need,” Charles advised.
“I hadn’t figured on going anywhere,” Charlie responded.
“It’s a graduation gift,” Jennifer replied.
“You’ve already given me a watch.”
“Like I said, we got a good deal,” Jennifer said, “If you don’t go, it will probably just go to waste.”
“And don’t forget it’s for two people, why don’t you ask Katie?” Charles asked.
“We don’t have that kind of relationship; we’d be too uncomfortable on an extended vacation. It’s a moot point anyway; she wouldn’t go in the first place. I do have somebody that I could ask and the good thing is we’re used to each other.”
“You need to renew your passport,” Jennifer suggested.
“I only got it 5 years ago, they’re good for 10,” Charlie answered.
“If you got it when you were 16 years of age, it’s good for ten, but you got yours when you were 15 when we went to Australia,” Charles stated, “ So its only good for five, in which case yours is invalid at this time”
“We did our research,” Jennifer smiled, “just in case you accepted our offer.”
“Like you knew I would,” Charlie smiled.
Charlie was the youngest of four children; his sister Kelli was eight years older than him, Rilee was six years his senior and Carly was closest to his age, being only 34 months older. Kelli was an assistant district attorney working out of the Vista Courthouse.
Rilee was a firefighter with the Carlsbad fire department and Carly was employed at Tri-City Hospital as a physical therapist.
The three Cooper girls were excellent students and talented athletes just like their brother and each one received a college scholarship upon graduation from high school. The Cooper children had more than just natural ability; they also had core values and knew the meaning of hard work and dedication. These were qualities that were instilled in them by their parents.
When he wasn’t deployed or on a mission, General Charles Cooper was a ‘hands on’ father. He would take his children to the obstacle course, run the trails of Camp Pendleton or teach them strategies and tactics at combat town. He also made sure that his daughters and son were proficient in hand to hand combat and use of weapons. These were skills that they maintained throughout their lives.General Cooper wanted his children to be prepared for the realities of the world, so he worked hard to give them the tools that they needed to not only survive, but to succeed and thrive.
Despite his openness with his children, General Cooper was prohibited from telling them that his last assignment was as commander of a top secret elite counter terrorism unit called FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) . The basic duties of FAST were to respond to anywhere in the world on short notice or to assist special operators who ran into problems on their covert missions. The men of FAST were extremely qualified, none more than Charles Cooper who often led the missions himself.
A joint operation that included personnel from; Delta Force, Navy Seals and Marine Corps Reconnaissance units was sent to the Helmand River Valley to terminate a high value Taliban leader and destroy his fortified sanctuary. Many high ranking politicians and bureaucrats from the coalition were adamantly opposed to the mission, stating that it would alienate the Afghan government, but the President overrode their objection and gave the go-ahead. The fact that the Commander-in –Chief approved the operation did not deter ‘deep state’ individuals from sabotaging the mission. The motivation for their behavior was simple; Afghanistan has been the world’s leading opium producer since 1992 and these men and women were part of an international crime syndicate that reaped massive profits from the 16 billion dollars a year in illicit drug exports. The Taliban leader who was the intended target was essential to the opium poppy harvest and had to be protected at all costs.
When the American Special Forces operators landed in the valley, the Taliban fighters were waiting and immediately surrounded them. The Americans took up defensive positions, but they were greatly outnumbered and it was only a matter of time before they were overrun and killed.
Captain Cortez radioed in, “We need immediate extraction, they were waiting for us!”
When Brigadier General Charles Cooper received the distress call, his team was ready to go in minutes. They were in the helicopters and ready for take-off when the order came, “Stand down, mission aborted.”
General Cooper knew that if he didn’t go, Americans would die so he did what any honorable Marine and leader would do, “You’re breaking up, I can’t read your last transmission,” then signaled the pilot to take off.
When the FAST team arrived at the site where the Americans were trapped, they immediately rappelled out of the choppers and provided much needed cover fire. Gunships circled the area and began taking out the structures with air to ground rockets. During one of the strikes, the leader of the Taliban, Akhtar Mansour’s son, Mohammed was killed.
When General Cooper returned to base with the rescued Americans, “Major General Albert Wilson was waiting for him on the landing strip, “I’m glad you made it back safely.”
“Thanks,” General Cooper responded.
“Off the record, one hell of a job, on the record, you screwed up big time.”
“I couldn’t let our men die out there,” General Cooper snapped back.
“That’s why you’re a damn good Marine, but you’ll never make a politician or see another star on your collar,” Major General Wilson smiled.
“Is that supposed to be a bad thing?”
Three days later, General Cooper was called to General Wilson’s office, “A lot of people are pushing for your court martial.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” General Cooper replied.
“The President has got your back on this, but that doesn’t mean they still won’t be coming after you on something else further down the line. If I was you, I would not want to be looking over my shoulder indefinitely…I would…”
General Cooper set an envelope on the desk, “I agree.”
“What’s this?” General Wilson asked.
“My resignation, see you around.” Brigadier General did an immediate about face and was gone.
Akhtar Mansour demanded revenge for the death of his son, but was only pacified by the promise that General Cooper would be eventually punished for his rogue action. There was one condition; he could not be taken out on American soil. The negative publicity would be too great and an investigation might uncover the sinister conspiracy.
When the family went to Australia on vacation, three assassins were sent to terminate General Cooper. It was only by a stroke of luck that a keen eyed Australian custom official at the Sydney International Airport became suspicious when he looked at the almost perfect counterfeit passports and noticed a minor flaw. He detained the men and when they saw they were about to be arrested, they used fiberglass knives hidden on their bodies to kill three Australian police officers in their failed escape attempt, before they were shot dead. The Cooper family was never aware that they were the intended target.
Charlie made the offer to his sister Carly, over an early dinner at the Teri Café on Hacienda Drive in Oceanside, “Well, do you want to go?”
“Did you ask anybody else?” Carly asked.
“What’s that got with anything?”
“I don’t want to go if I’m your fifth or sixth choice,” Carly answered.
“You’ve got right of first refusal,” Charlie promised.
Charlie applied for a new passport and when his name appeared on a list, a mid-level bureaucrat in Background Checks made a phone call, “You told me to call you if the name Charles Cooper came up. It is actually Charles Cooper Jr. but the address is the same.”
“Thank you,” came the deep voice on the other end.
Akhtar Mansour received a text on his cell phone and his stern face broke into a bright smile. His second in command, Amir Turabi asked, “Good news?”
“Yes, very good news.”
Charles and his wife took their two youngest children to the San Diego Airport to catch their flight. Let me see your cellphones,” Jennifer said.
“What for?” Carly asked.
“You may want to do some things on your own; this app works as a GPS so you can find each other. All you have to do is call the number and a location pops up and the best thing about this app is that it still works if the phone is off,” Jennifer explained as she programmed her daughter and son’s phone, “It is called ‘Find Me’, I put the icon on your screens.”
Charlie and his sister, Carly arrived in Rome and checked into their hotel. Three days into their trip as they sat by the world famous Trevi Fountain, Carly noticed three Middle Eastern men intently watching them and gestured with a nod of her head, “Have you noticed those three men?”
“I have,” Charlie answered.
“I’ve seen them at the last two places that we were at,” Carly volunteered.
“Dad would be proud of your powers of observation. I’ve seen ‘em too, they’re starting to get on my nerves.”
While eating dinner at Trattoria Al Moro, Charlie and Carly saw the men again, “Those same men are outside watching us,” Carly said.
“I see them,” Charlie responded.
After they finished their meals, the brother and sister each picked up a knife from the table and slipped it up their sleeves before leaving. While walking down Vicolo delle Bollette, Charlie and Carly noticed the three men step out of a doorway right behind them. Carly spun around before one of the men could grab her and stuck the knife in his arm. Charlie rolled out of the way and stuck one of the other men in the thigh. However, the third man was able shoot a Taser dart at Carly, temporarily disabling her and she fell to the sidewalk. He fired a second Taser dart that hit Charlie and he fell over as well. A car raced up, two men jumped out and threw Charlie into the trunk while the injured men struggled to get in. The car raced off, leaving Carly struggling to regain her senses.
Charlie had been trained by his father to deal with stressful situations with common sense. He took out his cellphone and shut it down and slipped it far down behind the seat cushion, after remembering what his mother told him about the GPS. It was a good idea because he was not in the trunk more than thirty seconds when the car pulled down a dark alley and stopped. Charlie was pulled out of the trunk, thoroughly searched, injected with a knockout drug and placed back in the car.
Carly wasted no time contacting her parents and after explaining what happened, she added, “They had been following us. This was not a random abduction.”
“Remember what I told you if a situation like this ever happened ; write down everything that you saw and heard, no matter how insignificant it may seem. I’m going to text you the name and phone number of an Italian man that I worked with when I was assigned to NATO. I’ll call him and tell him to be expecting your call.” We’ll be there soon.”
“What’s wrong?” Jennifer asked, worry etched upon her face.
“I’ll explain as we get ready,” Charles said.
While packing, Jennifer called the airline to book two seats on the next flight and received some disturbing news and hung up.
“You get the reservations?” Charles asked.
“We’ve been put on the no fly list,” Jennifer answered.
“This is no coincidence,” Charles gritted his team in rage.
He called Major General Albert Wilson who answered with a pleasant greeting, “Hey, good to hear your voice.”
“My son has been taken and I’ve been put on the no fly list.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I don’t need your sympathy, I need your help,” Charles said.
“I don’t know what I can do,” General Wilson replied.
“Don’t play games with me, Al, I don’t have the time,” Charles warned, “You know how this works, once our families are involved, there are no rules of engagement. If something happens to my son, I’ll give you a body count that will look like a small war’s casualty list. One more thing, if you’ve got anything to do with this and I hope that you don’t, you’re at the top of my terminate list. I’ll start in the Washington DC swamp and work my way to every other hellhole in the world if I have to. Am I making myself clear?”
“For the record, I’ve got nothing to do with this. I’m offended that you even think that I would do something to hurt your family,” General Wilson growled.
“I’ll apologize later, are you going to help me or not?” Charles asked impatiently.
Charles and Jennifer left their home and made about 15 unneeded turns to make sure they weren’t followed before they reached the Marriott Hotel in the Oceanside Ranch area. Kelli and Rilee were waiting for their parents in the parking lot when they arrived. A large SUV drove up and the Cooper family got in.
When Charlie slowly awakened from the sedative, he felt groggy and nauseous. He was sitting in a chair with armed guards around him. Akhtar Mansour walked over, “You’ve been out for twenty four hours, I think my people may have over sedated you. I was hoping for your father, but this is even better,” Akhtar Mansour turned to one of the guards, “Clean him up, I want him to look his best..”
The Cooper family made it across the border to the Tijuana Airport where a private jet was waiting. The pilot approached as Charles got out of the vehicle, “Good to see you again, General.”
“I wish it was under different circumstances,” Charles said.
“We’re ready to go whenever you are,” Frank said.
“Wheels up,” Charles responded.
The distance to Rome was 6371 miles and the jet refueled at Jacksonville, Florida before heading across the Atlantic. Charlie knew that his family would be coming after him, so he needed to buy some time so he started moaning and curled up on a cot inside a large metal cage.
“What is wrong?” The Guard asked.
“I’m having an allergic reaction to the drugs you gave me. I need a doctor real bad.”
When Akhtar Mansour was notified about Charlie’s illness, he was extremely angry, “Go get me a doctor!”
Three of his men abducted a physician as he exited the Salvatore Mundi International Hospital.
When the jet landed, Carly was there to meet her family with Gaetano Saladino, a member of GIS. Gruppo di Intervento Speciale is an elite special operations counter-terrorism tactical response unit inside the Italian Carbinieri military police.”
“I’ve got everything ready, General,” Gaetano said.
“Grazie,” Charles replied.
Jennifer turned to Carly, “Are you alright?”
“I’ll be better once we get Charlie back.”
Charles’ cellphone rang, the number was blocked, but he answered it anyway, “Yes.”
“Just in case you’re wondering, I’ve got your son,” Akhtar Mansour sent a photo of Charlie locked in a cage, “You took my son and now I’m going to take yours. Just in case you’ve forgotten who I am,” Akhtar Mansour sent a selfie, “I’ll let you know when the execution is ready for viewing. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.”
Jennifer asked, “Who was that?”
Gaetano Saladino took the Cooper family to a safe house, equipped with a well-stocked arsenal. The three girls started looking through the weapons, ammunitions and explosives while trying on bullet resistance vests as calmly and deliberately as if they were at Macy’s shopping for clothes and accessories. Charles and Jennifer did the same and when everyone was geared up, they walked over to where Carly had her cellphone out, she pointed to the red dot on the screen, “This is the location of Charlie’s phone, hopefully he’s not too far away.”
Gaetano Saladino elaborated on the area in question, “That is an industrial area, lot’s of warehouses. Do you want me to call for back-up?”
“I don’t know who else is involved so we prefer to keep this is a family matter,” Charles replied, “You’ve done enough, we’ll take it from here.”
“You don’t mind if I come along?” Gaetano asked.
“It could be a career breaker for you,” Charles reminded his Italian friend of the risks.
“So be it then,” Gaetano flashed a big smile.
When the group reached the area in question, they parked down the street. Charles pulled out his binoculars and scanned the area in question. He saw two armed guards in front and one on the roof. “We’ve got some sentries.”
Kelli and Rilee pulled out Remington 700 rifle and steadied their arms on the hood of the vehicle as they stood right next to each other, “Don’t miss,” Kelli said.
“Don’t worry about me, who do you want; the two on the bottom or the one on the top?” Rilee asked.
“You’re a little better at the elevated targets and I’m quicker on the trigger so I’ll take the two.”
“On my count,” Rilee said, “One…two…fire.”
Rilee took out the man on the roof, Kelli fired once, hit one sentry in the chest then quickly fired again and hit the second man in the forehead.
“Good shooting,” Jennifer commented, “Let’s go get our boy.”
Akhtar Mansour’s men were setting up the camera to stream the execution over the internet. Two guards took Charlie out of the cage and tied his arms to poles that were five feet apart. Akhtar Mansour slowly walked toward his captive while brandishing a razor sharp sword.
Suddenly stun grenades (A stun grenade, also known as a flash grenade, flashbang or sound bomb, is a non-lethal explosive device used to temporarily disorient an enemy’s senses) echoed through the buildings and a split second later, the Cooper family entered with Gaetano and shot and killed all the guards. When Akhtar Mansour saw that his plan had failed, he ran toward Charlie with the intent of severing his head. The five members of the Cooper family opened fire and riddled the terrorist leader’s body with fifty three rounds. He fell dead at the feet of Charlie with the sword still clutched in his hand.
Jennifer walked over and stepped on the wrist of Akhtar Mansour, took the sword and cut the restraints off her son’s arms. “Hi Mom,” Charlie said, “You were right, this trip definitely gave me a new perspective.”
When the Cooper family returned to America, they went off the grid until they were able to bring the other conspirators to justice. When dealing with The Warrior Family, it is wise to remember that there are Some Lines That You Don’t Cross.