For Swift Justice
Thomas Calabrese – Inspired and Dedicated to Marsha the Magnificent —
Marsha Swift was born in Bend, Central Oregon’s largest city, located on the eastern edge of the Cascade Range along the Deschutes River. This area is where the Ponderosa pine forest transitions to the high desert, characterized by junipers, sagebrush and bitterbrush vegetation. Her father, Bill was a forest firefighter and smoke jumper. He was killed when she was eight years-old while battling a blaze near the Tamalo Reservoir.
After graduating from Mountain View High School, Marsha joined the Air Force and became a crash firefighter. She was sitting near the famous and often photographed Trevi Fountain in Rome, while on a 4-day pass from her duty station at Aviano Air base. She was approached by a well-dressed middle-aged man, “Mi scusi, are you Americana?”
Marsha had been in Italy long enough to know when somebody was trying to pick her up. She didn’t sense this was the intention of this man, but she still exercised the appropriate caution and offered no encouragement, “I am.”
The man handed Marsha an engraved and artistically decorated business card, “My name is Raul Gattini and I like your look.”
Marsha graciously accepted the compliment, “Thank you.”
“You are tall, athletic looking and photogenic. I think that you would be a very successful model. I am the man that can make that happen.”
“Once again, thank you, but I currently have other commitments that I’m obligated to fulfill.”
Raul asked, “Which are?”
“I’m in the U.S. Military.”
“There is no expiration date on my offer,” Raul added, “That is my personal number. Just give me a call when your schedule permits and your obligations are completed. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Marsha said, “You didn’t even ask my name.”
“You can introduce yourself if you call.”
Raul walked to the curb and got into his jet black Ferrari SF 90 Stradale View, with the 986 horsepower motor and the sticker price of $625,000 and drove off.
Marsha only had nine months left on her enlistment so she had plenty of time to check up on Raul Gattini’s credentials. He came across as a legitimate businessman so a week before she was scheduled to go back to the States, she called the Italian businessman. He picked up on the first ring. “Ciao bella.”
Marsha responded, “I don’t know if you remember who I am.”
“I know exactly who this is,” Raul said, “We met at the Trevi Fountain, I’ve been expecting your call.”
After leaving the Air Force, Marsha went back to Bend, Oregon. She had only been at the family farm for two weeks when she told her mother, “I’ll be leaving next week.”
Her mother, Glynnis was shocked, “You just got home.”
Marsha responded, “I received a job offer when I was in Italy.”
“What kind of job?”
“Modeling,” Marsha responded.
Glynnis was surprised, “You never told me that was a goal of yours.”
“It never was, the opportunity kind of popped up and I thought I would check it out. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it and I’ll probably be home before you know it,” Marsha reassured her mother.
Upon her arrival in Milan, Italy, Marsha entered a world that she knew nothing about. Many of the young girls who came from all over the world to seek fame in the fashion capital of the world, were wide-eyed, innocent and easily disillusioned. Marsha was tough, realistic and had no expectations. She was ready to walk away without regret if things didn’t work out or if they weren’t to her liking.
Marsha’s unique look and charisma translated well to the printed page and commercials. She could look glamorous or like the wholesome girl next door. This was a rare combination in this business. Because she stood six foot tall, Marsha was also able to do runway modeling. Raul took a personal interest in the Air Force veteran, not just because she was making his agency a lot of money, but because she projected an air of confidence without appearing conceited. The aura of an independent strong woman also came across in her work and this look was always in demand. When clients began asking for Marsha by name, her fees increased dramatically. The American beauty was the consummate professional and always gave the clients more than what they paid for.
She sent enough money to her mother so that she could hire two men to work full-time and make much needed renovations on the property. Paris, Vienna, Munich, Madrid, Athens, Cape Town, Sydney. It seemed that Marsha was working all over the world and was never in Milan for more than a few weeks at a time. While many of the young models were forced to share lodging to make ends meet in the highly competitive fashion market, Marsha resided in a spacious one bedroom apartment with all the amenities that was paid for by the agency.
Her neighbor was an Australian, by the name of Alex Land and he traveled even more than Marsha. Over a period of time, Marsha and Alex developed a casual friendship. Both were fiercely independent and didn’t like talking about themselves so their conversations were rather generic in nature.
One day, Alex said to Marsha as they passed each other in the lobby, “Do you like to exercise?”
Marsha responded, “I do, I just wish I had more time for it.”
“May I show you something?” Alex asked.
Marsha responded, “Sure.”
She followed Alex to the back of the building where he unlocked a steel door. Inside the 2000 square foot space was a fitness center equipped with exercise machines, free weights, yoga mat, punching bags and a boxing ring.
Marsha was impressed, so she asked, “Does this belong to the apartment building?”
“This is my personal equipment. I was showing it to you just in case you might want to use it. I can give you a key.”
“I would love that,” Marsha exclaimed.
Whenever Marsha was in town, she made it a point to exercise twice a day. She was working out one evening when Alex entered, “I apologize for the interruption, I’ll come back later.”
Marsha quickly said, “Don’t do that, there’s plenty of room for both of us. Besides this is your gym, not mine.”
After working out together at the same time over the next few weeks, Alex offered, “Care to do a little sparring.”
“I don’t want you to knock my teeth out, not much call for a toothless model, “Marsha smiled.
Alex said, “No worry, I’ve got headgear and mouthpieces.”
A few weeks later, Alex made another offer, “How would like to do some target practice?”
While using a variety of pistols and rifles at a private shooting range in Varese, Marsha was fairly accurate and showed no fear of the weapons. She commented, “I guess I’m a little out of practice, but I’ll get better.”
Alex commented, “Where did you learn to shoot?”
“I grew up in the country. Two things that you develop at an early age; the value of hard work and how to handle a weapon to protect yourself and your property.”
A month later, Alex was having dinner with Raul, while Marsha was on a photo shoot in Greece. You’ve had enough time to evaluate her…what’s your opinion?”
Alex answered, “She can fight and she can shoot and she’s getting better with each passing day. Marsha has an excellent work ethic and a code that she lives by. She has my full recommendation.”
Raul added, “Her background check didn’t raise any red flags. I think we found our girl.”
Alex corrected, “She’s no girl…she’s all woman.”
When Marsha got back from the Greek Islands, she received word that Raul wanted to see her. When she entered the outer office, Sophia, the receptionist smiled, “He’s expecting you.”
Marsha responded, “Thanks, how are you today?”
“Molto bene, grazie,” (very good, thanks) Sophia answered.
Upon entering Raul’s private office, she was greeted by a big smile from her employer, “The client couldn’t wait to call and tell me how pleased he was.”
“Good, things went well,” Marsha said with her usual modesty while deflecting the praise, “We had a good photographer and crew.”
Raul suggested, “Have a seat, I want to make you an offer.”
“One that I can’t refuse?” Marsha joked.
“One that you definitely can refuse,” Raul pressed the intercom, “Send him in.”
Alex Land entered the office and Marsha was obviously confused, “You know each other?”
“More than know each other…we work together,” Alex offered.
Marsha’s next question was an obvious one, “You’re in the modeling business?”
“Instead of playing twenty questions, why don’t you just tell me what this about,” Marsha said.
Raul warned, “What I’m going to tell you can’t leave this room. I need your word.”
“Girl Scout honor,” Marsha promised.
Raul began to explain, “I am with the CIA and Alex is with Interpol.”
Alex continued, “Our collaboration focuses on stopping human trafficking and terrorism.”
With things a little clearer than they were a minute earlier, Marsha responded calmly, “Sounds like you’ve got a full plate.”
“Do you want a seat at the table?” Alex asked.
Over the next few months, Marsha trained extensively with Alex in martial arts and weapons, while Raul briefed her on crime syndicates operating in the European Union and the government officials who enabled their corruption.
Alex voiced his reservations about sending Marsha out on her first mission, “I don’t know about this.”
“Very few things are assured in this world. We’ve taught her everything we know and now the rest is up to her,” Raul replied.
“I know…the mission always takes precedence over the welfare of one individual…is that what you’re saying?” Alex’s concern was evident.
Raul answered, “I’m not saying that at all. It depends on the mission and the person. It would be disrespectful to assume Marsha can’t handle it without asking her first.”
A photo shoot was set up in the coastal town of Sarande in the Republic of Albania. Marsha stayed in the area two weeks, which gave her enough time to make contact with some of the locals, who happened to be members of the Albania Mafia. Being a celebrity of sorts, Marsha was invited to a private party at the local crime boss’ heavily guarded residence. During an evening of socializing, Marsha was able to slip a slow acting and lethal dose of poison into Melis Serbedzija’s drink. The man responsible for over a hundred murders and numerous other crimes, didn’t get sick until two days later, then died in his sleep on the third night. By this time Marsha had already returned to Milan.
With her first mission accomplished, Marsha continued to use modeling as a cover for her covert activities. Her most dangerous assignment was being sold to human traffickers. A GPS microchip tracker was embed just beneath the skin on her left leg. Alex was in charge of the support team and the plan was simple, once Marsha was taken to where the other women and girls were being held captive, the support team would commence the rescue and arrest the perpetrators. There was one problem, the warehouse had sophisticated s jamming equipment and it blocked Marsha’s GPS signal from being received by her team.
Alex called out, “Give me a fix on her last known location!”
A member of the team pointed to the map on the computer screen, “Right here.”
“I want a secured perimeter around that area, NOW!” Alex ordered.
It didn’t take long for Marsha to make an educated guess that her signal wasn’t transmitting when she saw the radio equipment. A man announced to the ten women in captivity, “Don’t cause any trouble and no one will get hurt. You’ll be leaving soon enough so just sit back and relax.”
Marsha looked at the other nine young women who were cowering in fear and knew that she couldn’t expect any help from them. She was on her own, so after assessing the situation she came up with a plan, actually it was more of an outline of a plan. There were four guards plus the man in charge, Marsha knew that she had to change the odds. She raised her hand and the nearest guard growled. “What do you want?”
Marsha politely requested, “Permission to use the ladies room.”
The guard hesitated for a moment, then replied, “This way.”
Marsha walked down the hallway with the guard a step behind her. When they reached the rest room, the guard grumbled, “Hurry up.”
The model/operative knew that it was now or never to make her move. When the guard’s eyes drifted to the left for a split second, Marsha spun around and slammed his head into the concrete wall. She dragged the unconscious man into the bathroom and used his belt to tie his hands behind his back. She ripped his shirt and used two strips of it, one to secure his ankles and the other to gag him.
Marsha only had a couple minutes at the most before the other guards became suspicious and came looking for her. She remembered her training and checked the magazine in the Heckler & Koch MK23 with the noise suppressor to see how many rounds she had. Marsha moved the large weapon back and forth in her hand to get a feel for its weight and balance. She took a deep breath to calm herself and kept the weapon hidden behind her back. Marsha walked back in the same direction that she came in from and shot the guard as she passed him. She was able to take out one more armed individual before the others reacted and took cover.
The leader called out, “There is no escape. Make it easy on yourself and I promise to kill you quickly.”
Marsha knew her chances were slim and none at taking out the next remaining two armed men, now that surprise was no longer on her side. There was only one thing that might save her, though.
Alex and his team were on foot patrol walking down the street, not knowing which building to enter. Marsha saw a streetlight outside the window and fired two shots at it. When a bullet struck it, it made enough noise to give Alex the lead that he needed.
The leader didn’t know what Marsha’s intentions were so he laughed, “Breaking windows is not going to help you.”
Five seconds later, the support team breeched the door and burst in. Alex shot the last guard and when the leader stood up, Marsha took him out.
Alex walked over, “You alright?”
“Fine,” Marsha answered.
“That was a pretty smart move, getting my attention that way.”
Marsha corrected her handler, “More like desperate…I was hoping you were in the area.”
“Right time…right place, it may not always be that way.”
Marsha smiled, “Don’t rain on my parade…let’s go home.”
Over the next few months, Marsha, Alex and Raul worked together to track down the Russian hackers who called themselves the Darkside. These were the individuals who shut down the Colonial pipeline, causing major fuel shortages along the Eastern seaboard.
When Marsha’s mother had a heart attack, the female operative requested some time off to care for her.
Raul was quick to agree, “Absolutely, take as long as you need. Is there anything I can do?”
“I appreciate the offer, but I think I can handle it.” Marsha said.
Raul added, “I know you can. I wish your mother a quick and complete recovery. Tell Sophia to book you first class accommodations to Portland.”
After returning to Bend, Oregon. Marsha picked up where she left off, doing chores around the farm. Her mom asked, “How’s the glamorous modeling business?”
Marsha shrugged, “It’s a job.”
“What do you do when you’re not working?” Glynnis asked.
“Not much…there’s a fitness center in the building where I live.”
Glynnis was shocked, “You’re in Europe and you’re not taking advantage of all that history and culture. I know if I was there I’d be going to museums and cathedrals every chance I got.”
“When you get better and can travel, I’ll take you there, “Marsha promised.
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Glynnis said.
Back in Milan, Raul and Alex were having lunch in the outdoor dining area of the Un Posto a Milano, restaurant located on Via Privata Cuccagna.
Alex inquired, “Heard anything from Marsha lately?”
“A few days ago, “Raul answered as he continued eating his Risotto alla Milanese.”
“What did she say?”
“That her mom is recovering more slowly than expected,” Raul said between bites.
“Did she say anything else?” Alex inquired, his curiosity evident.
Raul laughed, “You mean about you…like how much she misses the sound of your voice? I’ve got her phone number…why don’t you give her a call.”
“I don’t know…I don’t want to bother her,” Alex said.
“You’re a trained assassin, been on numerous missions against some of the most dangerous individuals in the world and you’re afraid to call a girl,” Raul shook his head in amazement.
“I’m not afraid. Marsha is in a different frame of mind being at home, I don’t want to invade her space or divert her attention from the task at hand.”
Raul cautioned Alex, “That black Mercedes with the tinted windows has been parked at the same place since we got here. The windows are about a quarter of the way down and every few minutes cigarette smoke comes out.”
“I see ‘em.”
The two operatives finished their meals, paid their bill and left the eatery. They turned down Via Garibaldi and the black Mercedes followed from a discreet distance. The driver and passengers lost sight of Raul and Alex in the residential neighborhood. The car stopped and the four occupants got out and looked around.
From out of a doorway, Raul and Alex stepped out, weapons in hand. They made eye contact and in that brief moment in time, these trained operatives knew somebody was going to die in the next few seconds. Raul and Alex were faster and in the better position and took down their adversaries in methodical fashion.
Raul pulled out his cellphone and made a call, “Got a clean-up.”
Back in Bend, Oregon, Glynnis was feeling better and decided to visit her sister in Corvallis. With Dave and Sean, the two hired hands able to take care of things, Marsha decided to get away as well. She contacted two childhood friends, Wes and Shaina Stewart and asked them if they wanted to go hiking in the Columbia Gorge, Hood River area, “I’ll book a couple rooms at the Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa. You can be my guests.”
“Sounds good to me,” Shaina replied, “I’ll run it by Wes and get back to you.”
Back in Milan, the tech team was going through the cellphones and devices of the dead assassins for any actionable Intel. When they found something on one of them, they immediately brought it to Raul, who then showed it to Alex. There were three photos, Raul, Alex and Marsha. It was the words beneath them that caused great concern, Terminate with Extreme Prejudice.
Raul suggested, “We better get in touch with Marsha.”
Back in Oregon. Marsha was driving to pick up her friends and attempted to call them, but her phone was dead. When she got to her destination, she honked several times. The couple walked out of their small house and Shaina asked, “I thought you were going to call us when you were on the way?”
Marsha replied, “My phone went dead, I’ll get a new battery when I get a chance. If I need to, I’ll use yours.”
Wes was eager to get on the road, “We’ve got 145 miles to go and we’re burning daylight.”
Back in Milan, Alex informed Raul, “She’s not picking up…going straight to voicemail.”
“What about her home phone?” Raul asked.
Alex was obviously worried, “No answer there either.”
Raul strongly suggested, “Take the jet.”
Back in Oregon, four men arrived at the Bend Airport, got their rented car and drove off.
On a tree covered hill between Bend and Columbia Gorge, a lightning strike started a forest fire and it quickly spread due to high winds and drought conditions.
The four men were sitting in their car and watching the Swift farm. When Dave and Sean got into the pick-up truck and left for town, the four men went on the property and busted through the front door with their guns drawn. The house was empty so they searched for clues as to where Marsha might be. They found a note by the phone with the name, Columbia Hotel and Spa.
One of the men dialed a number and when the receptionist answered with the Hotel’s name, he said, “I’m confirming a reservation for Marsha Swift”
The desk clerk hesitated then answered, “Two rooms, check–in time is two o’clock.
The man answered, “Thanks.”
While in flight from Europe to Oregon, Alex continued to try and reach Marsha, but to no avail.
After checking in at the hotel, Marsha turned to her companions, “I’m going to see if the gift shop has any cellphone batteries.”
Marsha carried a special satellite phone. Because of her numerous trips to remote locations, she needed a communication device that did not rely on cell towers. It was encrypted and had a battery that was easily replaceable. Marsha showed the energy source to the clerk who responded, “We don’t carry those, but there’s a cellphone store in town. I can order it for you and they’ll deliver it in a few hours. Just give me your room number and I’ll bring it to you as soon it arrives.”
“Thank you very much,” Marsha responded.
Several things were happening at the same time, the team of assassins were headed to Columbia Gorge, Marsha was hiking with Wes and Shaina, near Multnomah Falls, one of 90 waterfalls on the Oregon side alone, the highest concentration of waterfalls of anywhere in the country. The fire was increasing in intensity and spreading rapidly as the private jet with Alex was making its final approach to Bend airport.
A rent-a-car was waiting when he arrived with his team. Their next destination was the Swift farm off Highway 20, where they noticed the front door jamb was broken. They did a perimeter search and found nothing. Right about this time, Sean and David returned from town. When they saw the group of men searching the area, they stopped the truck in the driveway and pulled out their rifles. Sean yelled, “Stop right where you’re at!”
Alex raised his hands and replied, “I’m a friend of Marsha’s from Europe. She could be in danger.”
After convincing the two hired hands that he was legitimate, David told Alex, “She went to Columbia Gorge with her friends.”
“What about her mother?” Alex asked.
Sean said, “She’s with her sister in Corvallis.”
“Do you know where Marsha is staying?” Alex asked.
David answered, “Columbia Hotel and Spa. I just heard that there’s a forest fire between here and there. They’ll close the highway if it gets too bad. You do not want to be caught in the open with a fire blazing around you.”
Alex turned to one of his associates, “Get me a helicopter.”
The team of assassins was heading toward Columbia Gorge and could see the fire in the distance.
One of the men was obviously concerned, “Maybe we should turn around. They’ll will be another time to get her.”
“We’ve come too far for that,” The Leader snapped back, “The fire will keep Swift in one place.”
Marsha saw the billowing smoke clouds on the horizon, “We need to get back.”
Shaina asked, “Is the fire coming this way?”
Marsha tossed a handful of grass into the air to see which way the wind blew it,” Not right now, but it could change on a moment’s notice.”
The hit team drove through two miles of burning embers before they made it to clear air. A Deputy Sheriff flagged them down, “You can’t go any further.”
One of the assassins shot the deputy in the chest, got out of the car, put the dead law enforcement officer in his cruiser and push it down a steep ravine.
At the same time Marsha entered the lobby and the hotel employee called to her, “Miss Swift, your battery just arrived.”
“Thanks,” Marsha replaced the battery and saw that she had nine messages from Alex. She quickly called him back, “What’s going on?”
“How come I couldn’t reach you?” Alex asked impatiently.
Marsha quickly replied, “I must had a defective battery because I replaced it before I left Italy and it went dead a couple of days ago. I just got a new one.”
The sound of the rotors spinning made it difficult for Alex to hear, but he yelled into his phone, “I’m coming to you by helicopter. Echo Delta…repeat…Echo Delta.” (Echo Delta was the term for Extreme Danger)
Firefighting crews began setting up a perimeter around the historic hotel as the massive fire raged in the distance. The flames were rising so high that they seemed to be touching the floor of heaven.
When Marsha saw the helicopter approaching, she ran over to meet it. The pilot quickly lifted off after Alex disembarked.
“There’s a hit team on your trail,” Alex handed a pistol to Marsha.
Marsha asked, “Do we know who sent them?”
“Raul is working on that.”
Another Deputy Sheriff stopped the car with the assassins at it neared the front entrance of the hotel grounds. He asked, “How did you get through? There was supposed to be someone ten miles down the road, turning cars around.”
The leader responded with well-rehearsed sincerity, “There was nobody when we came though.”
The Deputy didn’t have time to argue so he instructed the men, “Stay out of the way of the fire crews!” then waved them through.
Marsha and Alex began looking for the assassins while their adversaries were looking for them. In-between the two groups was organized chaos on the grounds as guests were ushered inside the building and fire crews and law enforcement personnel prepared to fight the blaze if it came this way.
When Marsha and Alex spotted the four men, they looked completely out of place, all were wearing the similar apparel of military contractors, khaki pants, tan boots and black shirts, rather than the casual clothing of guests or the functional gear of firefighters. It was also obvious from the way they were methodically scanning the area with cold vacant eyes that they were searching for someone.
Marsha commented to Alex, “Too many people around for a gunfight…a lot of collateral damage. Do you trust me?”
Alex was slightly confused by the question at first, but then answered “Yeah, of course.”
Marsha smiled, “Then follow my lead and don’t ask any questions.”
Marsha called out to the four men, “You looking for me?”
When the men started to approach, Marsha took off running with Alex right on her heels. They raced down the trail with the four men in hot pursuit. Marsha stopped for a split second and tossed some grass in the air to see which way the wind was blowing, “This way,”
Marsha and Alex were walking on the ridgeline. To the left, flames were moving up the incline. To the right, the four armed men were approaching. Marsha warned, “Do exactly what I do,” then began running at full speed, Alex followed and the four men began firing as they chased them. At the end of the trail, Marsha leaped off the cliff and Alex followed her. They fell 50 feet and landed in the lake below.
By the time the four men reached the ridgeline, the fire had made it to the top from the other side. The assassins suddenly realized they had made a serious error in judgment and tried to escape. It was too late, the flames were moving too quickly and one by one they were eventually engulfed and devoured by the merciless inferno.
Marsha and Alex held their breath and stayed beneath the water’s surface until the fire passed over them, then treaded water for another couple minutes before they came out.
Alex sighed in relief, “I’m glad you knew a lake was here.”
“This area has been in a drought for a while. On the way down, I couldn’t remember if this lake was fed from an underground stream or from water run-off and if it was going to be deep enough or if we were going to get squashed on the bottom.”
Alex looked at his Rolex watch and saw that it was exactly 12 noon.
The two operatives stayed in Bend for a month until Marsha’s mother had fully recovered. Afterward they returned to Milan and by this time Raul had determined who was behind the assassination attempts. It was the relatives of the Albanian gangsters who had been operating the human trafficking ring. They were sworn by a blood oath to enact revenge. A plan was devised to eliminate the threat and the mission in the city of Viora, on the coast of Albania was carried out with precision. When it was over, Alex smiled at Marsha and looked at his watch to see how long the breech of the building had taken. It had taken exactly eleven minutes. “Now that was fast!” said Alex.
When Marsha was around, it was Always the Right Time for Swift Justice.”
***This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.