Ascent To A Reckoning – Thomas Calabrese
Terry Rayfield woke up with a slight headache. She glanced at the digital clock on her nightstand. It was three A.M. Terry never needed an alarm clock to awaken her. She would just set in her mind the night before on what time she wanted to get up and her body always complied. She wasn’t quite the morning person that her dad was, who often said to the point of irritable redundancy that, “If the sun rises before you do then you’ve overslept.” but once Terry was awake she never procrastinated or lounged in bed, she got up and faced the day head on.
On this morning Terry cursed herself as she walked downstairs to the kitchen because she knew the reason she had a headache was because she got careless and didn’t hydrate enough after her workout last night. It was a stupid mistake and she should have known better. Terry was harder on herself then she would ever be on anybody else. She had been with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for twelve years, six on patrol, four in vice and the last two as a homicide detective. During that time she had seen co-workers turn to alcohol when dealing with job related stress, others became abusive to their spouses and children. Terry went in the opposite direction; she became a borderline obsessive compulsive when it came to her health. In a business where being reactive to other people’s actions was the rule, Terry was one of the best at her job. In her personal life, she wanted to be pro-active whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Terry had her problems and emotional quirks, but it wasn’t her style to reach out for help from everyone especially those closest to her including father and boyfriend. She had built a wall around her vulnerability since her mother’s untimely death and nobody was able to breech it. Terry overcompensated for her emotional weaknesses with her compulsion to be as physically and professionally capable as humanly possible.
She drank a large glass of alkaline water for her headache then juiced some organic produce and swallowed her daily vitamins. Terry would have normally be working the midnight to eight shift Friday at Southern Division, but she had signed up three months ago to attend a weapons and tactics seminar on Camp Pendleton this coming Saturday and Sunday so she had the night off and had planned to leave at four from her home in Laguna Hills and be at Palomar Mountain by five thirty. It was Saturday and there shouldn’t be any traffic. Terry wanted to be on the trail by sunrise. If she pushed it she could finish the Chimney Flat 8.8 mile route under sixty minutes then drive to her Oceanside hotel, shower and be at Pendleton by ten if everything went according to plan. As Terry prepared to walk out the door, her cellphone rang. It was her boyfriend, Mike McNulty.
“Hi Mike.” “Are you on the road yet?” Mike inquired.
“Just about, what are you doing up so early.”
“I wanted to say drive carefully,” Mike replied, “Drunks are coming home about this time and you also got some sleepy drivers out there.” .
“It’s only ninety miles, but I’ll be on extra alert… appreciate the sentiment.”
“Most accidents happen within twenty five miles of home.”
The conversation between Terry and Mike seemed very impersonal, like two people making inconsequential small talk while avoiding the central issue. Terry and Mike were both seasoned law enforcement officials and were much more aware of the inherent dangers of driving than the average citizen.
Mike was tempted to ask Terry if she wanted him to drive down that evening so they could have dinner after the seminar. He made sure he was off this weekend just in case.
Terry was fiercely independent and did not being pushed or manipulated so he treaded carefully. In the beginning of their relationship Mike was content to be with someone who asked for little and needed even less, but as his affection for Terry grew, he found himself wanting more. He had not reached to the point where he was willing to accept the fact that this is the way it would always be and Terry was not going to change so he still held out hope.
“If you want, give me a call later.”
“I will.” Terry responded. ‘Thanks again for the call.”
Terry knew that Mike was waiting for an invitation and was obviously disappointed when he didn’t get one. He wanted more that she felt comfortable giving. It wasn’t his fault and she wanted to believe that it wasn’t hers either. All she could do was be honest and make it easy for him to move on when the time came. Mike was a good man and he deserved a woman that was looking for that middle class suburbia dream.
Terry made good time to Pauma Valley then took County Road 56 from Rincon Springs. It was steep and winding, but much more scenic. At this time of the morning there weren’t any trailers and RV’s to slow her down. It was still dark when she pulled into the parking lot.
Terry was an experienced off road runner and always carried a first aid, snake bite kit, energy bars. three bottles of lemon flavored water, Ruger SP-101, single blade folding knife and cell phone in her pack. Since she often ran alone, Terry was well aware of the dangers. There are some evil men in the world who when they see a woman in an isolated area can’t control their impulses. They see a target of opportunity and can’t it pass up. She flashed back to the murder of Chelsea King who was running alone at Lake Hodges and was attacked by sexual predator John Albert Gardner.
She was no longer a young girl and definitely not a helpless victim, but didn’t want to take any chances so she made sure she was always prepared for any situation that might arise. Terry’s mind had already kicked into a higher level of awareness when she saw the four men talking to the Park Ranger inside the entrance to the state park. She watched them for several minutes from her vehicle. They weren’t dressed for hiking or running, wrong clothing and shoes. Their large packs were sitting low on their backs and appeared empty. They stood and behaved like hoodlums hanging out on the street corner, that loose limbed slovenly posture that was a cross between arrogance and laziness. These were not the type of men you’d expect to see at a park on an early Saturday morning.
Terry was off duty, out of her jurisdiction and on a tight schedule, all valid reasons not to get involved. She slipped her pack over her shoulders and headed for the trail. When Terry got closer to the men, her police instincts kicked in and she touched her weapon under her jacket just to be sure it was there.
“Good morning. How is everyone this fine day?” Terry smiled.
The park ranger was visibly nervous. He had the look of a boy who just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“A little early to be out here.”
“I wanted to beat the weekend crowd,” Terry answered.
“Be careful on the trail,” The park ranger stammered. “I will.”
The man with an eagle tattoo on his forearm licked his lips as ran his eyes up and down Terry’s body.
“Yeah, be careful out there.”
Terry immediately recorded every detail of the men and filed it in her memory for further reference. As she walked away, she heard the men talking.
“We’re not supposed to draw attention to ourselves.”
“How were we supposed to know that somebody would be out here this early.”
“Don’t worry, let her do her thing. Let’s not make trouble when there isn’t any.”
Even though her back was turned, Terry recognized the voice as the man with the tattoo. Once she got on the trail, Terry tried to focus her attention on her run, but couldn’t get her mind off the men in the parking lot. Something was going on, what was it? She caught a glimpse of something far up the trail. She carefully and quietly moved closer to see what it was.
Four men carrying the same type of packs as the men below detoured off the main trail. Terry accepted the fact that she was not going to be able to stay on her schedule and followed the men. She came across a sign on a tree; Danger No Hiking Beyond This Point and continued walking until she got to the top of the hill. As soon as she looked over the valley below, she knew that she wasn’t going to make it to the seminar at Camp Pendleton. A dozen men were working among tall green plants. The pieces began to fall into place. This was a marijuana harvesting operation. Terry went over the scenario in her mind. The men hiked up the trail with empty packs, filled them with the contraband then went back down.
It was obvious that the Park Ranger was involved; his nervous behavior gave him away. This was state land, not a bunch of guys getting together to make some extra case growing weed in the middle of nowhere. How high up did this go? The level of involvement would determine how much danger she was in. Terry saw several buildings hidden among the trees. She assumed that these were being used for storage and harvesting equipment. The street value of the harvested marijuana had to be in the millions.
Covert agencies often worked with cartels to fund questionable operations. They would rather get in bed with drug dealers than go through the bureaucratic quagmire called Congress to get their appropriations. Terry pulled out her I Phone and took a video of the valley and e-mailed it to her home and work computers then erased it from her phone. On the way back to the main trail she walked into the four men from down below.
Terry smiled. “I had to use the little girl’s tree.”
“I told you to be careful and that meant staying on the main trail.” Man with Tattoo said. “Let me see your phone.”
Terry slowly handed her phone to the man who checked it.
“It seems like you just e-mailed something. What was the attachment?”
“I sent a selfie.”
“I wish I could believe you, but I just don’t.” Man with Tattoo shook his head.
“I bet when you got here this morning, you’d didn’t think this would be the last day of your life.” “Did you?” Terry answered. “Huh?”
Terry quickly reached into her waistband and drew her Ruger 101, began firing and didn’t stop until the four men were lying dead on the ground. She took her phone out of the man’s hand and then took photos of the four dead men’s faces. Terry was sure that someone heard the gunshots in the early morning quiet and would be there very quickly. She reloaded her weapon then started running down the trail.
The Park Ranger was waiting at the bottom of the trail with his gun drawn when Terry arrived.
“Did you hear gunshots up there? That’s why I ran down,” Terry lied.
“You probably didn’t notice the surveillance camera. It showed you going off the trail then coming back to shoot the four men. Who are you, lady?”
“I was a hiker when I got here. You changed up on that trail.”
Terry began to slowly turn so as to expose less of her vital organs to a bullet.
“Don’t move.” I need you weapon…nice and slow.” Terry reached for her Ruger.
“By the fingertips,” Park Ranger ordered.
Terry pulled out her weapon and dropped it. At that precise moment she dove into the brush and starting tumbling among the foliage. The Park Ranger began firing even though he didn’t have a clear shot. A bullet grazed Terry’s upper left arm. She grimaced, but did not scream out.
She reached for her folding knife, opened it and found a place to hide in the brush. The Park Ranger slowly moved through the foliage as he looked for her. He was standing right next to Terry and did not realize it until she reached out and yanked him off his feet. She stabbed him through the heart.
Terry knew this last series of shots was going to draw people to this location so she moved as quickly as she could. She grabbed the Park Ranger’s weapon, reached into his pocket, took his cellphone and grabbed her weapon off the ground then ran off. Her wound was bleeding badly. She was going to have to take care of it or they were going to be able to follow her by the drops so she took out her first aid kit and quickly did a field dressing. It was going have to do until she had more time or could get professional medical attention.
When she got to a location where she could see the parking lot, Terry saw twenty heavily armed men searching the area. Two of them had busted the driver’s window of her car and were searching through it. Once they found her registration, they would know who she was.
Several men blocked the entrance to the park. The few options Terry had of surviving this situation were vanishing before her eyes. She had to find a way out and even though her wound wasn’t life threatening, the longer she waited the weaker she was going to get. Shooting her way out wasn’t going to work either, Terry might get three, four, maybe even five, but after that she’d go down in a hail of gunfire.
For some reason Terry flashed to the scene in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie when they were surrounded by the Bolivian army and Robert Redford said. “I guess they could surrender to us, but I wouldn’t count on that.”
The men were growing closer to her position. Terry had a pistol in each hand and was ready to fight to the death.
Suddenly she heard the sound of helicopters overhead. Machine gun fire scattered Terry’s adversaries. When the helicopters landed, heavily armed men got out and secured the perimeter.
A voice yelled out, “Time to go, Terry,” The man called out again. “If we wanted you dead, would we have chased those guys off? Think about it, if we leave then you’re in a world of hurt. C’mon think about it. What I’m saying makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Terry had to admit that the man had a point so she walked out into the open.
“My friends call me Grady…even my enemies do sometimes. Let’s get that arm taken care of.”
Grady was in his mid-forties, stood about six foot tall and had a self- assured demeanor. Terry guessed that Grady was former military and probably had seen his share of combat. They boarded the helicopter and took off. Terry looked out the window of the chopper and could tell from the rocky terrain than they were headed into East San Diego County. When they landed at an isolated site, Terry was taken to a building where a doctor cleaned and dressed her wound.
Grady entered and looked the bandage. “You look a little tired, why don’t get some rest and then we’ll talk.”
Terry lied back on the examining table and was asleep in less than a minute. Grady shut the lights off as he left. When Terry awoke three hours later, Grady was sitting in a chair on the other side of the room.
“Feel better?” Grady asked as he looked up from a file he was reading. Terry sat up and looked around the room. “Yeah you’re a real overachiever, aren’t you? Former Marine military police, two tours in Iraq, Bronze Star and two commendations for valor from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. You’ve ran marathons and done triathlons and are a skilled marksman with several different weapons and hold a third degree black belt in Jeet Kune Do,” Grady read from a manila folder, “I bet those men on the mountain might have acted differently if they had this information beforehand.”
“It reads better than it actually is.” “Humility as well as honor, that’s something you don’t see much of anymore.” Grady smiled, “Tell me how much you think you know then I’ll tell you how right you without exposing any classified intel.”
“Classified, huh?” Terry responded, “Here’s what I got…federal and state officials are working together to grow and sell marijuana.”
“Organized crime could learn a lot from our government. We sell weapons to countries who then use them to kill our own military. Ex- politicians get seven figure jobs with companies that are negatively affected by laws so they can advise them on where the loopholes are. Possible presidential hopefuls take campaign contributions from terrorist sponsored countries then give speeches about national security. In this case, the agencies involved in this particular criminal enterprise are using the money to buy elections in South America. My job is to monitor where the money is actually going. If it starts to get too far out of hand, we hijack shipments, steal cash or assassinate their candidates.”
“And I messed up this little cycle of reciprocal corruption for you?” Terry asked.
“We keep this location under close watch; even have a couple guys working on the harvesting crew. We ran your license plate and had a file on you before you even left the parking lot on your hike. We hoped that you would have stayed on the trail, but that didn’t happen then we thought they’d killed you and that would be the end of it, but that didn’t work out either.”
“So you were going to let them kill me?” Terry asked.
“Sounds bad I know, it is what is, but the government lets innocent people get killed all the time,” Grady responded, “We thought the Park Ranger would get lucky, but you got him too. Once they brought down their entire team to take you out, we had to intervene. They would never buy that a weekend hiker could take out five of their men so we had to get you out of there before too many accusations started being thrown around.”
“That’s above my pay grade. What happens to me from this point? Terry asked.
“We always try to cover all the bases, but once in a while things fall through the cracks.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“Well, here’s unpleasant scenarios, They’ll come after you and if they can’t find you, they’ll come after your friends and family to draw you out then kill all of you, but there is one way to protect yourself, though.”
“I can’t wait to hear your solution to save me,” Terry responded.
“We’ll put it out there that we intercepted some cell traffic about a possible terrorist attack and we sent you to Palomar Mountain to investigate. You got caught in the middle of a gunfight and were wounded so we extracted you; we keep some terrorists on ice for emergencies like this.”
“And why would you do all this for me?”
“You have skills we can use, but you would actually have to be working for us in order to make you this believable.”
“The frying pan or the fire,” Terry laughed.
“Not everything we do is bad,” Grady half smiled.
Six months later, Terry was at home when Grady knocked at her door. Terry opened it and Grady walked in and sat down in the living room.
“Remember the name Leland Garvey?”
“The serial killer who was released after the court found that his civil and constitutional rights were violated,” Terry answered.
“The neighbors called the police and said they heard muffled screams. Some said they saw a girl being dragged off. When they got to the neighborhood, it was quiet. The police remembered that there was a person of interest in a previous disappearance who lived nearby. When they got to Garvey’s house, they broke in without waiting for a warrant. They found three dead girls and one more being tortured in the basement. They beat him half to death before arresting him,” Grady elaborated.
“He sued the city of Los Angeles and they settled for five million. The last I heard was that he moved to Mexico.” Terry added.
“Right, He’s been on our radar for a while. He’s hooked up with human traffickers that bring girls up from Honduras and San Salvador and across the border. His group is starting to get a little too powerful for our liking.”
“I can only imagine how far over the line he must have gone now since murder and torture didn’t offend you before,” Terry responded sarcastically.
“That hurts,” Grady touched his heart, “Garvey will be in San Diego for the ComicCon convention with some of his pervert friends. He’ll be staying at the La Costa resort. I just happen to have a reservation for two, interested? ”
Terry and her boyfriend Mike exited off Interstate Five at the LaCosta Avenue exit.
“An all-expense paid weekend. That’s a pretty good prize,” Mike said “I bought three raffle tickets off the Wounded Warrior website and completely forgot about it. You can imagine how surprised I was when they called to tell me I won.”
Later than evening Terry and Mike were eating dinner at the Bluefire Grill when she received a text message with only two words; He Left.
Terry and Mike were asleep in their suite when Terry received another text message at one o’clock in the morning; On site.
Terry slowly got out bed so as not to disturb Mike, pretended to walk into the bathroom, slipped on her pants and shoes, picked her purse and quietly left the room. Once outside the room Terry reached inside her bag, pulled a red wig and fitted it over her brunette hair. She made sure that she kept head down as she walked past the hotel security cameras. When she got to Garvey’s villa, she listened for several seconds before taking out her weapon. She screwed on the muzzle suppressor and inserted the key card to open the door. Three scantily clad girls were sitting on the couch. Terry put her index finger to her lips as a signal for them to keep quiet then she went into the first bedroom and killed two men who were snorting cocaine off the coffee table then went into the master suite where Leland Garvey was sleeping face up in the bed. Terry put the muzzle between his eyes and slowly pushed it until he awakened, they made eye contact just long enough for Garvey to know what was going to happen… then she pulled the trigger.
Terry quickly left Garvey’s villa, took off her wig and threw it in a trash receptacle then disassembled her weapon as she walked and threw the separate pieces in several dumpsters. When she got back to her room she undressed and quietly slipped back into bed. Mike pretended to be asleep, but wasn’t.
Various law enforcement agencies as well as the coroner’s office were at the resort by sunrise. Yellow police tape cordoned off the area around Garvey’s villa. Terry and Mike were eating breakfast while feigning disinterest at the nearby commotion.
“Great breakfast,” Mike commented. “Really good,” Terry agreed. They looked over and saw the dead bodies being wheeled out.
“What is this world coming to; it seems that no matter where you go anymore, violence seemed to follow you. When I say “you” I mean the generic you, not the particular you had anything to do with it, Want more orange juice?” Mike commented with a sly grin.
“It was that particular moment that Terry realized that Mike wasn’t asleep last night.