That’s Just Too Bad
Thomas Calabrese — It was midnight on July 14th, 2008 in Lee Summit, Missouri, a suburb located 15 miles east of Kansas City. The weather was hot, humid and it felt like a thunderstorm was on the way as dark clouds drifted in from the south to obscure the stars. Five boys, four in their early teens and the driver, who was 18 years-old cruised down Highway 40 in a badly dented dark brown Toyota 4runner with tinted windows. “Let’s see if you’re just a bunch of punks,” The driver teased his younger companions as he pulled into a parking lot with no illumination, parked and shut the engine off. He reached under his seat and pulled out a crowbar.
The young boys were used to committing mischievous deeds and pranks, like causing trouble in school and getting into fights, but breaking, entering and burglary was a big escalation for them. They kept looking at each other, hoping that one of them would have the courage common sense or fear to say ‘I’m not doing this’ or ‘this is crazy’ so that the others could use the excuse ‘if he’s not doing it, neither am I’ but that didn’t happen. They reluctantly followed the older boy to the back of the liquor store and crouched next to the dumpster. “Don’t get stupid, we want the expensive stuff, cigarettes, expensive liquor…no candy…no junk. We should be able to find some boxes in the storage room. I’ve done it before so we each fill one box. You try to carry too much and then you start dropping things and making noise. We get in and we get out.” The older boy instructed.
The young boys nodded nervously, too scared to speak while the older boy used the crowbar to pry open the back door. Once inside they immediately began loading their loot, barely able to see in the darkness. Suddenly the light went on and standing in the doorway was Deputy Sheriff Frank Branigan. He stood six feet five inches tall, weighed 245 pounds and filled the doorway with his ominous presence. “What’s going on boys?” The older boy instinctively reacted and came at him with his crowbar swinging from side to side. Deputy Branigan expertly used his nightstick to block the assault, then hit the older boy across his knees and he fell to the floor writhing in pain. He punched the older boy in the chest and the powerful force of the blow knocked the air out of him. While he was gasping for air, Deputy Branigan dragged him outside by the collar. “Get out of here!” then ordered the younger boys to follow. “Take a look.”
When the boys turned away, Deputy Branigan bellowed, “I said, take a look!” The young boys reluctantly looked at the older boy curled up in a ball, “This is the best that will happen to you if you continue to hang out with this kind of low-life. Do I need to tell you the worst? Is this what you want?”
The young boys didn’t answer. I asked you a question?” Deputy Branigan demanded and one by one the boys answered meekly, “No sir.”
“This is your one and only get out of jail free card. Get home now!”
The boys started to run off and Deputy Branigan grabbed one of them by the arm, “Not you!”
Deputy Branigan bent down over the boy on the ground and shook his head in disgust, “I’d warn you, but it wouldn’t matter. You’ve had too many chances already, you’re a dead man walking and the Grim Reaper has got you in his sights.”
Deputy Branigan took out his cellphone and dialed a number, “Jim Davis, this is Frank Branigan, I was on patrol and noticed that your back door was open. You might want to come down and secure it. I’ll wait until you get here.” Deputy Branigan hung up and turned to the boy on the ground, “You’ve got about three minutes before the owner of this place gets here. Take my advice and be gone by then. The boy struggled to his feet, limped over to his car and drove off. Deputy Branigan put the other boy in the front seat of his cruiser and waited for the owner of the liquor store to arrive. After talking for several minutes, Jim Davis noticed the boy sitting in the police cruiser. “Is that the boy who broke in?”
“No, that’s my nephew Mike, he’s on a ride along with me tonight,” Deputy Branigan lied.
Frank Branigan was a former United States Marine combat veteran who fought in the Desert Storm and Desert Shield campaigns. He was also with the first American units to arrive in Afghanistan and fought against the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom, then volunteered for two additional tours. After a distinguished career in which he was decorated for bravery and wounded three times, Frank Branigan left the military with 19 years and 10 months, after adding in his accrued leave which gave him a total of 20 years, the minimum time for retirement. He had attained the rank of First Sergeant and would have stayed in the Corps a few more years with hopes of becoming a Sergeant Major if it had not been for a serious family issue. His father had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Frank could have left the care of his father to his older brother, John, (Mike’s father) and sister, Mary. In fact they encouraged him to finish his career and they would handle everything on the home-front. He thought about their offer, but it wasn’t his style to let someone else take care of his responsibilities so he put in papers and headed back to Missouri. With the help of family and friends, Frank completely renovated the basement to make it a small functional apartment. His military experience made him a desirable candidate for law enforcement. When he wasn’t on duty with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Frank handled all the chores that his father used to do around the house and even took over some of his mother’s, like the shopping so that she could spend more time with his father. When he was at work, his sister and brother alternated making themselves available. This was the kind of family that the Branigans were. It was about doing what needed to be done and then getting it done.
Deputy Branigan was disappointed with his nephew, but he didn’t think it would do any good to lose his temper so he spoke in a deliberate and measured tone of voice. “You’re like a piece of trash being blown from one gutter to another. You’re going to have to make a decision on what kind of man you want to be, being a stupid kid is an excuse that you can use for only so long.”
“I’m sorry, Uncle Frank,” Mike apologized.
“Never put me in this position again where I have to choose between family and duty,” Frank Branigan’s voice was stern and unbending.
“Yes sir,” Mike meekly answered.
Six months later, Deputy Branigan responded to a call of a robbery in progress at Sally’s Waffle House on Templeton Road. He was the first to arrive on scene and when he heard gunshots inside the building, he knew that he couldn’t wait until back-up arrived. Every moment that he delayed furthered endangered the lives of those inside the restaurant. Frank Branigan pulled out his service weapon, checked the magazine and ran to the front door. He opened it three inches and listened, when he heard gunshots coming from different locations, he determined that there were multiple shooters on site.
Deputy Branigan entered through the front door in a low crouched position and this military tactic obscured him from view. When he popped up, he was standing less than five feet from a man with a semi-automatic rifle who was guarding the people at the counter. When the shooter saw the deputy, he spun around to fire, but Deputy Branigan shot him in the chest before he could pull the trigger. The bullet knocked the man over the counter, but he was able to rise to his feet. Deputy Branigan realized that the shooter was wearing body armor so his next shot was through the man’s forehead. This time, he didn’t get up.
Besides the people at the counter, there were a dozen patrons cowering under their tables. Deputy Branigan pointed to the front door and said. Go!” and while he covered them, a group of terrified men, women and children escaped to safety. Deputy Branigan then moved toward the kitchen and a shotgun blast caught him in the left side, peppering his arm and legs with pellets. Frank fell to the floor and fired three rounds through the wall next to the door. The second shooter staggered out and fell dead from his wounds. Frank was bleeding badly from his wounds. The third shooter walked into his view with his gun held to the head of Sally, the owner. “I’m walking out of here or she dies!”
The last shooter was the boy that Deputy Branigan caught at the liquor store with his nephew. The boy was too hyped up on drugs to recognize the Deputy, but Frank Branigan recognized him immediately. “No problem, I’m going to put my gun down. Let the woman go,” then slowly bent down to give the impression that he was placing his weapon on the floor.”
The boy had no intention of letting Sally or Deputy Branigan live, so he turned his weapon to shoot the Deputy, but Frank reacted a slight second quicker. His bullet grazed Sally’s ear and caught the boy in the right cheek and penetrated his brain. The shooter’s index finger pulled the trigger in a reflex reaction and even though the barrel wasn’t aimed at Deputy Branigan or Sally, the bullet hit the metal stove and ricocheted off. In a cruel twist of fate and a one in a million incident of bad luck, the bullet missed Deputy Branigan’s vest by less than a quarter inch and hit the carotid artery. He died in less than a minute.
Frank Branigan was buried with full military and police honors. Law enforcement agencies from all over the country sent representatives to honor this American warrior and acknowledge his ultimate sacrifice. The Governor of Missouri was in attendance as well as a personal messenger from the President of the United States. The patrons of Sally’s Waffle House chipped in to purchase a massive floral wreath with words expressing their profound gratitude. The funeral procession stretched on for miles as it slowly traveled down Interstate 70 to Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. As they passed under each overpass, veterans and appreciative citizens waved American and Marine Corps flags and held out banners like; We Love You Frank and Heaven Got A Warrior Angel.
The loss of Frank Branigan had a devastating effect on his family. He was their rock, their light, the North Star when they were lost, their pillar of strength when they felt weak. His kindness and love filled their souls. Frank’s death sucked the oxygen out of their lungs and left them gasping for air and the blood out of their hearts, causing a pain in their chests that would not go away. For the next few months, somebody in the family could always be found crying. In fact Mike had never seen his father in such a weakened and fragile state. It was almost as one touch would shatter him into a million pieces. Mike didn’t want to return to school, he didn’t want to do anything except find a corner and hide from the world. He hoped that his overwhelming grief would put him out of his misery. A wise and empathetic school counselor saw the desperation in Mike’s eyes and tried to convince him that the best way to honor his uncle’s memory was to fight and rage against the pain, not surrender to it.
Once Mike reluctantly accepted that advice, his life changed forever. He became laser focused on being the best that he could be at everything he tried. He would not allow his body or mind to accept lack of effort as an excuse and substituted exhaustion for relaxation. He graduated number three in his class and was voted most valuable athlete. It was no surprise to family or friends that Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps. At his first opportunity, he applied to join the Marine Corps Raider Regiment, a special operations force of the United State Marine Corps. He had been with the unit for two years when his team, led by Captain Sean Mobley was sent to Syria on a mission. They were supposed to rendezvous with a group of Delta Force top tier operatives in a designated area in the northwestern province of Idlib. Unfortunately, the aircraft carrying the Delta team developed engine trouble and had to turn back. Centcom made the decision to not abort the mission and sent the undermanned Marine Raiders to the village of Habeet. Abu Omar al-Shishani was a HVT. In United States military terminology, a high-value target (HVT) is a person or resource that an enemy requires to complete their mission. The Marines’ task was to capture or kill him. They arrived on the outskirts of the village by 1400 hours. Using their high tech surveillance equipment, the Marines pinpointed the exact location of the infamous terrorist leader and radioed back to Centcom. “We have located HVT, heavy civilian presence in the area, recommend a night insertion or different location for HVT capture, over.” Captain Mobley radioed.
There was a long delay before he received a response, “That’s a negative. Proceed immediately…repeat, complete mission.”
“Civilian casualties inevitable.” Captain Mobley reiterated.
“You have your orders.”
Captain Mobley turned to Sergeant Branigan who overheard the entire conversation, “Pass the word that we’re going in. We need to minimize collateral damage.”
“Roger that,” Sergeant Mike Branigan responded.
The Marines were deadly accurate marksman and made sure to not shoot any innocent civilians. The terrorists were much less concerned about the villagers. They deliberately killed men, women and children and used others as shields against the Marines.
The Americans were able to capture Abu Omar al-Shishani, but it came at a high price of human lives. When an investigation was initiated, commanders stated that Captain Mobley disobeyed orders and entered the village on his own. They also stated that he deliberately killed or ordered the killing of non-combatants. The other Marines in the team did not hear the radio transmission, so they could not testify to the order. The only one who did hear the order was Sergeant Mike Branigan. When he was offered immunity if he testified against Captain Mobley, he adamantly refused. When he was threatened with disciplinary action if he didn’t refute the claim that they the Marines received orders, Sergeant Branigan still would not be swayed.
“Is that your final word, Sergeant Branigan.?” State Department Official Everett Sloane asked.
“Actually I have three more words… Go To Hell!”
Captain Sean Mobley was given a 20 year prison sentence for pre-meditated murder at his court martial. Sergeant Michael Branigan was given ten years for accessory to murder and obstruction of justice. Both men were sent to the Fort Leavenworth Military Stockade to serve their sentences. Sergeant Branigan was told that his sentence would be commuted if he changed his mind about testifying. He still refused.
Upon their arrival at the stockade, Captain Mobley told Mike, “I’m already here, no reason for both of us to be locked up. Go ahead and testify against me, I don’t mind.”
Mike responded, “We live by a code that says we’ve got each other’s back. No Marine left behind. Better men than me have given much more than a few years out of their lives to honor that code.”
For the next three years, Mike was a model prisoner, did his assigned work, studied and exercised in his free time and not once did he regret his decision to stand by his fellow Marine. A CIA intelligence analyst who happened to be in the command center when Captain Mobley was ordered to attack the village recorded the radio transmission and kept it hidden away. Upon his retirement, he sent a copy of it to Captain Mobley’s legal team. Once President Trump heard the recordings, he ordered Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to conduct an official investigation. Not long afterward, he issued full pardons for Sean Mobley and Mike Branigan, including reinstatement of their rank and back pay. Both men knew that even though they were completely exonerated, it would be a serious mistake to try and resume their military careers. Sean Mobley returned to his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma while Mike went back to Lee Summit, but wasn’t sure he wanted to stay there. Mike didn’t feel like he fit in anymore so it was good timing when he got a call from one of his former teammates, who was working for Homeland Security in Oceanside, “Hey Mike, I heard you got out.” Jim Crowder said, “Congratulations, made any plans yet?”
“No, not yet? Mike answered.
“My parents helped me with the down payment on a house by the back gate of Pendleton. It’s a four bedroom. You know Eric Tollson, he’s renting one room and Rick Gehring just took a transfer to Florida so I’ve got a room available if you’re interested.”
“I don’t know, I’m getting past the age where I want to room with a bunch of guys,” Mike responded.
“Eric and I both travel a lot with our jobs and I don’t want some guy that I don’t know or trust living here. My parents want to use it as their vacation home when they retire in a few years and I’m hoping to save enough money to buy my own place by that time.”
“How much is the rent?” Mike asked.
“A thousand a month, includes all the utilities. You’ve got a large room with your own bathroom. If you’re hurting for money, I can lower the rent,” Jim offered.
“I’ve got my back pay and I’ll take your word that’s a good deal. Can you give me some time to think about it?”
“Absolutely, it’s the 10th, but If you can let me know by the 15th I’d appreciate it. That way I can put an ad in the paper for next month,” Jim said.
Mike had been working at Taggart Medical Devices for the last six months. The large manufacturing and distribution plant of metal tables, IV poles and various equipment for hospitals, clinics and medical offices was located in the Pacific Ranch Industrial Park in Oceanside. He worked Monday thru Thursday from 6AM to 2:30 PM and attended Mira Costa Junior College, three evenings a week. His job was to prepare orders so they could be delivered by company drivers.
It was just a routine day when all of the sudden, management personnel started frantically rushing around the warehouse floor, picking up papers on the floor and straightening out boxes. Mike overheard one of the more senior employees comment, “It must be a surprise inspection by the old man himself.”
“Who’s that?” A newer employee inquired.
“Old Man Taggart himself.”
Dan Taggart was in his early seventies and a multibillionaire. He either owned outright or had stock holdings in over two dozen major corporations. He arrived in a Cadillac Escalade with two of his assistants, Holly Decker and Phillip Mathison. The driver got out first and opened the doors for the three individuals. Phillip greeted the plant manager, “Good morning, we’re going to look around.”
Dan Taggart did not speak and once the trio entered the facility, Holly and Phillip took out their computer tablets and began taking notes from their boss. Dan never spoke to anyone directly, he always relayed all of his comments, questions and instructions to his assistants and they would get back to him with the answers. He had been doing things this way for years and everything was in shock when Dan abruptly detoured away from the group and walked over to where Mike was working. He watched the former Marine meticulously put the products on the pallet, labels up, then secure it with plastic wrap to prevent the items from falling off during shipment.
“Good morning,” Dan said.
“Good morning, sir,” Mike said as he finished this particular task.
Dan walked over and checked the pallet, it was very secure, “I noticed that you take a lot a time t putting your pallets together.”
“No more than necessary to do it right, sir” Mike answered.
“What do you mean?” Dan questioned.
“I could go faster, but the job wouldn’t be as good and the drivers would have more delays on their deliveries. Neither one of us want that to happen. The pace that I’m working at is the most effective, sir.”
“I’m the owner of this company and if I told you to do it differently, even if it was wrong or you didn’t agree with me, what would you do?” Dan asked.
“It’s your company, you can tell me to do it anyway you want and I’ll do it. Doing something incorrectly would eventually get on my nerves enough that I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do it anymore. When that time came, I’d quit and find another job, sir.”
Dan found himself staring at the young man and his scowl eventually turned to a big smile, “I like your philosophy, proceed at your chosen and proven pace.”
When Dan got back to his group, everyone looked completely confused. He whispered to Holly, “I want a thorough background check on that man…put a rush on it.”
Two days later, Dan Taggart arrived back at the plant alone and walked into the office and caught everybody by surprise at seeing him back so soon without his assistants, “I want to see Mike Branigan.”
When none of management personnel moved, “I said I want to see Mike Branigan…now.”
“Yes sir,” A man rushed off.
Mike was working when the man approached, “Come with me.”
“Almost done,” Mike responded.
The man called to another employee, “Finish this.”
When Mike arrived at the office, Dan Taggart said, “I’d like to buy you lunch?”
Mike looked at his watch, “How’d you know this was my lunch time?
“It’s my company.”
“You don’t mind if we’re gone for a while,” Dan’s tone of voice was more of a statement than a question.
When they got outside, Dan noticed that Mike was not impressed by his Bentley Mulsanne, the most expensive luxury sedan on the market, priced at 375,000 dollars. As Dan drove, Mike sat quietly in the passenger seat, he knew that there was more to this meeting than his job performance. Dan handed a thick bound folder to Mike, “This a background history on you, going all the way back to your childhood in Missouri.” Mike made no effort to open it and Dan responded, “Don’t you want to see it?”
“Reading about myself isn’t my idea of recreation,” Mike answered.
“You are a very impressive young man,” Dan said.
“Opinions vary and that one is in the minority,” Mike dismissed the compliment.
“How would you like to work for me?” Dan asked.
“I already work for you,” Mike replied.
“You work for one of my companies, it’s not the same.”
“You talked to me in the warehouse before you did a background check. I know that look, you had a flashback of something or someone,” Mike surmised.
“I’d like to show you something, do you have time?”
“I’m still on the clock,” Mike answered.
Dan drove to South Carlsbad and into the ultra-exclusive neighborhood of Teramar where his 10,000 square foot home sat on 1.5 meticulously landscaped acres with 166 feet of ocean frontage. When they walked the home, the first thing that Mike saw was a life-size portrait of a young man, who bore a striking resemblance to him.
Dan commented, “That’s my son David, he was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. You remind me of him…let me ask you a question, if someone reminded you of your Uncle Frank, wouldn’t you want to know him better?”
This was probably the only thing that Dan Taggart could have said that made Mike understand what the multibillionaire was feeling. In the beginning, Dan had to be sure of Mike’s loyalty and to confirm his initial assessment. He had members of his upper management team place tempting offers before the former Marine and all Mike had to do was accept one of them and he would be a wealthy man. No amount of money could entice him to betray Dan Taggart. Once he had proven himself, Mike continued to impress his employer with his work ethic, keen judge of character and analytical approach to various problems. Even though he had no prior business experience or schooling, Mike had instinctive skills that were honed to a razor’s edge from his experience in the Marine Corps that served him well in the world of big business.
Mike was sent to Portland, Oregon to evaluate Columbia Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of Taggart Holdings and make suggestions after their job productivity dropped by over ten per cent and employee complaints rose significantly. Mike had been on site for three days and was due to return to California by the end of the week. He received a call from Holly Decker, “We have a serious problem, you need to get back immediately.”
When Mike landed at the Carlsbad Airport, Holly was there to meet him. She was obviously distressed, “Mr. Taggart has been kidnapped. I received a call from him and he told me not to tell anyone.”
“Then why are you telling me?” Mike asked.
“Because he also told me that if something like this ever happened, you’ll know what to do?”
“What’s the ransom?” Mike asked.
“Twenty million in bearer bonds.” (bearer bonds are government or corporate issued currency that are easily transferrable and negotiable) We have seventy- two hours.”
“Get it together, I’ll make the exchange,” Mike said without hesitation.
There was a good chance that the kidnappers would kill Dan Taggart after getting the ransom so Mike incorporated that contingency into his plan. He boarded the company private jet with Holly 22 hours later. Their destination was Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Their instructions were to go to a location outside the city limit with the ransom. Upon the arrival at the designated site, Mike took the large briefcase from the trunk and Holly instinctively gave Mike a kiss on the cheek, Good luck.”
“If something goes wrong, get out of here. Don’t even think about waiting for me or Mr. Taggart” Mike ordered then added, “We’ll probably both be dead.”
Several men came out from the bushes as Mike walked down the dirt road and they roughly searched Mike for weapons, phone or other devices. One of the kidnappers opened the briefcase, saw the bonds and waved toward the ridge. Dan Taggart appeared and began walking down the road toward Mike’s position. The men made no effort to escape, but they were obviously nervous and Mike knew that the ambush was about to go down. This was a bad situation and but the former special operative combat instincts were fully engaged. When he saw one of the kidnappers nod to his comrade, Mike called out, “Hit the deck!”
Dan Taggart put his face in the dirt as Mike quickly killed two kidnappers that were standing closest to him by snapping their necks. He punched another in the face, grabbed his pistol and shot him and two more men then dived for cover as rifle fire from the top of the hill peppered the area around him. Right about this time Holly had maneuvered a large drone directly above Mike’s position and dropped a high powered assault weapon with a scope into his hands. Mike moved toward Dan Taggart’s position, killing several more kidnappers along the way. By the time he reached his boss, two kidnappers were getting ready to execute the multibillionaire. Mike calmly shot both men in the head, then helped Dan Taggart to his feet. “Let’s go home, sir.”
DanTaggart spit out some dirt that had gotten in his mouth, “I’m glad that Holly remembered what I told her…thanks Mike.”
As they walked down the dirt road, Mike nonchalantly shot one wounded kidnapper who was reaching for his weapon, then picked up the briefcase with the bonds. Holly rushed over to embrace both men. To almost everybody else in the world, this would have been a harrowing experience and far beyond their capabilities, but to Mike Branigan, it was All In A Day’s Work.
And to those in this world who are offended by this American warfighter’s actions, righteousness or patriotism… That’s Just Too Bad.