Eve of Destruction
Thomas Calabrese –Delta Force is organized into 4 Squadrons. Each squadron is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. There are four teams in a squadron and each one has a team leader. The rank of a team leader is either a Master Sergeant (E-8) or Sergeant First Class (E-7).
Sergeant First Class Frank Stockdale and his team had been working with the French Foreign Legion in the Central Africa Republic for the last six months to eliminate human trafficking in the region. Boko-Haram had been raiding villages and schools, but after several violent confrontations with Delta Force and the Legion, the terrorists suffered heavy casualties and their strategic abilities to wreak havoc were destroyed. Charlie Squadron was relieving Bravo and would be handling clean-up operations and also to make sure that Boko Haram didn’t recruit new people and regroup.
Most of the men of Bravo Squadron had already caught an Air Force transport plane to Germany a day earlier. From there they would make connections to the United States for 30 days leave before reporting to their home base of Fort Bragg for their next assignment.
Lt. Colonel Matt Prescott and Sergeant Stockdale stayed behind to handle some final details before they departed as well.
Sergeant Stockdale inquired. “What’s on your schedule?”
“I’m going to meet some Israeli commandos in Mombasa. I’ll celebrate New Year’s there and then head to Tampa to visit my family. What about you?” Colonel Prescott said.
“My family is in Carlsbad, California. I’ll spend a couple of weeks with them, do some surfing then probably spend a few days or even a week at the Canyon Health Spa in Arizona. I hate traveling on holidays, too crowded and too many things that can go wrong.” Frank amswered.
“If you can handle mercenaries and terrorists, you should be able to handle holiday travelers and stressed out airline employees,” Colonel Prescott quipped.
“You would think that would be the case, “Frank replied, “I’ll pack up and head to Nairobi and from there to Europe. I’ll hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
Colonel Prescott said, “I’ve got to wait for Colonel Troutman and his advance team to arrive before I leave. Have a Happy New Year, Frank.”
Frank offered, “I can wait with you.”
“Thanks anyway, but I can handle it.”
“See you back at Bragg, Happy New Year to you and take it easy in Mombasa. Those Israeli commandos can get a little crazy.” Frank warned, “Remember what happened in Tel Aviv?”
“Don’t forget that your diplomatic I.D. gives you preference on all flights. At least you know that you won’t get bumped.”
“It doesn’t stop the flights from getting canceled, though” Frank retorted.
Colonel Prescott grumbled, “I’m giving you blue skies and you’re looking for gray clouds. Stop looking for excuses and get the hell outa’ here. One more thing…have a good time…that’s an order”
“See you when I see you, Matt.” Frank did an immediate about face and disappeared.
Frank made his way to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and found his best chance of getting back to America would take him through Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome, Italy. While waiting in the terminal to board Lufthansa Flight 2322, Frank noticed an attractive brunette in her late twenties or early thirties sitting two rows away. She was visibly nervous, squirming in her chair and repeatedly looking at her watch. Frank could tell that something was troubling her. Eight or nine years ago when he was a hard charging Ranger who was full of himself and before he became a Special Operator, he might have strutted over to her like a knight in shiny armor and offered his assistance. He wasn’t the same person anymore, experience had changed him. Like Terry Donovan, a former teammate once told him. Never let your outrage or compassion get in the way of your common sense. Frank figured that the woman wanted to be left alone so he respected her privacy.
The flight was a few minutes late taking off and Frank found a seat several rows behind the woman and settled in for the nine hour flight. The plane was only half-filled so the lanky Special Operator had the entire row to himself to stretch out. Frank didn’t sleep, but dozed off and on and opened his eyes every time somebody passed by. The woman was only able to sit still for the first hours, but after that her nervous energy got the best of her. She’d pace from the front to the back of the plane several times, sit down for ten minutes then repeat the process.
It was a rough landing and the plane was buffeted by strong gusts of wind as a major storm swept through Italy. Upon entering the terminal, Frank saw a crowd of disgruntled travelers trying desperately to reach their destinations. Flights were cancelled, others delayed and passengers were trying to get on any plane headed in the direction they were going. The ticket agents were frazzled, browbeaten and forced to prioritize who would get the remaining seats.
Frank stood patiently behind the woman that caught his interest in Nairobi. He was close enough to hear what she was saying to the ticket agent. “I need to get home. My father was seriously injured in an accident and he’s in the hospital. Anything you can do would be greatly appreciated.”
The ticket agent was grateful for the courtesy and apologized that she could not assist the woman, “I wish I could help, I sincerely do. There are people ahead of you and the storm is forecasted to get worse. I’ll put you my list and do my best to get you a seat, but I must be honest with you…it does not look good.”
“You can only do what you do. In any case, I’m grateful for your efforts,” The woman was polite and respectful, “My name is Eve Braxton…I’ll stay close-up just in case.”
Frank knew that the woman was desperate, but despite that, she still handled herself with class and dignity. She didn’t play the victim or act entitled which impressed Special Operator Frank Stockdale. When she passed Frank, he saw a tear on her cheek.
When Frank’s turn at the counter came, he showed his international identification card to the ticket agent who said, “I can get you out on the next flight, sir.”
“Well, actually I need you to give that seat to Eve Braxton,” Frank said. “I hope you understand why I can’t tell you why. It’s on a need to know basis.”
“I understand.” The ticket picked up her microphone and announced, “Eve Braxton to the ticket counter please.”
Eve walked up and Frank stepped off to the side to let her pass.
The ticket agent said, “Something just became available, I’ve got you on the next flight to London.”
Eve glanced over at Frank and her instincts told her that he had something to do with her getting a seat so she smiled and nodded. Frank wasn’t the kind of man to take credit for a random act of kindness so he went about his way. Eve boarded the flight, quickly found her seat and looked out the window. The snow was really come down now, which is really rare in Rome. The last time measurable snowfall fell in this area was in 2012 when it received three inches. This was the storm of the century and 12 to 18 inches were expected to fall on the ‘Eternal City’. With strong wind gust, it now qualified as a blizzard.
In hindsight, the pilot probably should have aborted the take-off, but he got clearance from the tower and so he taxied to Runway 31. Just as he increased the power to the four engines and the massive aircraft started to roll, he felt the crosswind increase dramatically. Suddenly a 50 knot gust of wind pushed the plane off the asphalt and into the dirt. The front wheel sank three feet into the ground and the fuselage tilted to the left until the left wing was touching the snow. Not only did the disabled airliner block the runway and stop other planes from taking off, it prevented the ground crews from accessing the luggage compartment.
Frank saw the emergency trucks with their red lights flashing race down the runway so he asked the ticket agent. “What happened?”
The ticket agent responded, “The flight to London skidded off the runway.”
“Was anybody hurt?”
The ticket agent answered, “Not as far as I know.”
Back at the airplane, the passengers used the emergency exit and chute to slide to the ground. Snow was whipping around them as they were ushered to waiting buses. Frank was waiting for Eve when she entered the terminal. He asked, “Are you alright?”
Eve responded, “More frustrated than anything else.”
An airline employee made an announcement, “For the passengers who were on Flight 769, we will try to get you out as soon as possible, however the storm is not expected to let up for two days. The main runway is blocked and all hotels are booked so you’ll probably have to wait in the terminal. If that isn’t enough bad news, it could be a while before the plane is back on solid ground and we can get your luggage. Please leave an address with the ticket counter where you want it delivered. Sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re doing the best we can under very difficult and unusual circumstances. There is no record of it ever snowing this much in Rome, so we do not have removal equipment on hand, which means everything is being done with manual labor.”
Frank walked over to Eve who found a seat in the chaotic terminal. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have an offer that might be the lesser of two evils.”
“Did you give up your seat for me?” Eve asked.
Frank saw no reason to lie, “I overheard you speaking to the ticket agent and thought that you needed to get home faster than I do.”
“That was very kind of you.” Eve smiled.
Frank sighed, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“It’s the thought that counts and I’m grateful.” Eve responded, “What is this offer?”
Frank explained, “I just rented a vehicle and planned on driving out of the storm. There are nine major international airports throughout Italy and maybe we could get a flight out of one of them. It’s better than sitting around here. You have no reason to trust me so if this is too much of a risk or if I make you nervous, I’ll be moving on.”
Eve smiled, “You had no way of knowing that the plane was going to skid off the runway. If you are a serial killer or a bad guy then you also have clairvoyant powers. I doubt that, so I gratefully accept your offer. For the record, you don’t make it nervous, but if you knew me better, you might be the one with some apprehension.”
“Thanks for the warning, I’ll keep my head on a swivel.”
Once they got into the rental car, Eve asked, “So what’s our travel itinerary? Remember I don’t have any clothing with me.”
“I thought we would go to Florence. It’s 175 miles north and I know someone who lives in Tuscany. I’ll call her and see if she’s at home. I think she’s about the same size as you and you could get some clothes and personal items from her.”
“That would be extremely thoughtful of you and generous of her,” Eve said.
Frank replied, “Let me make the call then.”
Frank did not elaborate on how he knew someone in Tuscany. Three years earlier, supermodel Tanya Gullickson was kidnapped by an international human trafficking ring while on a photo shoot in the French Alps town of Grenoble. She was transported to Belgium and auctioned off in a bidding war on the dark web for five million dollars.
She was several hours away from being transported from Antwerp, Belgium to Saudi Arabia, where a multi-billionaire sheik eagerly awaited her arrival. Intel interrupted vital information about the auction and Bravo Team was assigned to rescue Tanya. They arrived at the private airfield in time to intercept the Lear Jet. Frank shot out the tires with a sniper rifle and the team moved in. Three armed guards were killed and two more surrendered. Tanya was unharmed. The Special Operators wanted to go to Saudi Arabia to finish the job, but were ordered to stand down because the Sheik was related to the royal family. Instead, they crated the dead men and sent them to the Crown Prince, informing him that the Sheik was involved in human trafficking. The Sheik was arrested and beheaded.
Even though the Delta Force operators did not give their names to Tanya, she personally thanked each man and added. “I’ll never forget you.” For the past two Christmases, she sent a large gift basket with over a thousand dollars in Italian delicacies to Fort Bragg, home of Delta Force. Inside the secure package was a note; Please forward to the men who rescued me. You are in my thoughts. It had Tanya’s address and phone number on it. Frank never expected to use it, but he was glad now that he had the foresight to put the info into his encrypted cellphone.
When he made the call, a servant answered the phone in Italian. Even though he wasn’t completely fluent in the language, Frank was able to understand and respond, “Would you tell Signorina Gullickson that we crossed paths in Antwerp three years ago.”
Tanya was on the phone in less than a minute and enthusiastically said. This is an unexpected and very pleasant surprise.”
“You don’t know me personally.” Frank said
Tanya replied, “I won’t forget that day and the men who gave me back my freedom. I assume that you have been receiving my Christmas gifts otherwise you wouldn’t have my number.”
Yes Ma’am, one of best gifts ever. We all love it. Thanks for sending it. ”
“What can I do for you…just name it,” Tanya said.
Frank briefly explained the situation, “We’re on our way to Florence and my traveling companion’s luggage is stuck in Rome. She needs a few things… could you help her out?”
“Absolutely,” Tanya replied.
Frank hesitated for a moment then spoke, “She doesn’t know what I do and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“What have you told her so far?” Tanya asked.
“Nothing, we’re just strangers traveling together. Since the flower industry is Kenya’s third-largest export earner and generates about a billion dollars a year, I thought I’d tell her I was in that business. If she asks, we met in Milan when you were doing a fashion show and I was on a business trip.”
Tanya laughed, “Seriously…a flower salesman, that’s the best that you can come up with. I’d love to see if you can pull this off. One more thing, if we’re supposed to be friends, I probably should know your name…don’t you think?”
“Right, good idea…Frank Stockdale.”
Tanya warned, “The roads are winding and can get very slippery when wet so be careful. I look forward to seeing you again, Frank Stockdale.”
Frank walked over to Eve and said, “She’s expecting us.”
The storm raged on for the next two hours, but eventually let up and now there were only snow fluries. Eve finally said. “We’ve been driving for a while and you still haven’t told me your name.”
Frank interrupted, “Eve Braxton…I overheard the ticket agent speaking to you. Where are you are going? It’s obvious that you are in a hurry….problems?’
“My father is a retired Marine and lives in Oceanside. He was training for a triathlon and was riding with his buddies when a car swerved into the bike lane and hit him.” Eve said.
“Was he badly injured?” Frank asked.
Eve answered, “Bad enough to have surgery.”
“What were you doing in Africa?”
Eve responded, “I’m a wildlife biologist and photographer and was working at Tsavo National Park. What about you?”
“I’m a sales representative for a major flower grower in Naivasha, Kenya.” Frank lied.
Eve gave Frank a double-take. “That would have been my last guess. I grew up around military men and I would have wagered heavily that you were involved in some kind of security business or affiliated with the military.”
Frank kept his eyes focused straight ahead and replied. “You can’t be right all the time.”
“That remains to be seen,” Eve said coyly
It took an extra hour of driving to arrive at the palatial villa because of the inclement weather. Frank used the intercom to announce their arrival and the ornate metal gate slowly swung open and he drove up the long cobblestone driveway that had statutes on both sides.
Eve quipped, “Your friend has a nice place…very unpretentious.”
Tanya was waiting in the driveway when Frank drove up. He stepped out and she gave him a big hug and whispered in his ear, “Let’s see if we pull this off.”
Eve stepped out of the car and introduced herself, “I’m Eve Braxton and I recognize your face from dozens of magazine covers. Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Gullickson. Frank didn’t tell me that his friend was famous.”
Frank shrugged, “It slipped my mind.”
“Today’s famous person is tomorrow’s trivia question. Call me Tanya…any friend of Frank’s is a friend of mine.”
They entered the beautifully decorated villa where two female servants were standing, “Frank told me about your luggage problem. Gina will show you to the guest room where you can take a hot bath and rest. She’ll help you get a travel wardrobe together… feel free to take whatever you want. While you’re doing that, it will give me a chance to catch up on old times with Frank. Afterwards we’ll have a nice dinner.”
“Sounds good to me,” Eve said and followed Gina upstairs.
Frank and Tanya entered the living room and sat down. Tanya commented, “You make a nice couple.”
“There’s no couple, there’s her and me. Like I told you on the phone, I’m just trying to help her get home to see her injured father.”
Tanya smiled, “I know what you told me and I know what I see. Saving women seems to be a habit with you. Would you like something to drink?”
“Do you have anything warm?”
“I sure do… I’ll be right back.” Tanya walked into the kitchen.
Upstairs, Eve was relaxing in a bubble bath while sipping on a glass of wine. After drying off, she put on a plush cotton robe and lied down on the king size bed and fell asleep in less than two minutes.
When Tanya returned from the kitchen, she was carrying two large mugs. Small marshmallows were floating on top. She said. “There’s this Swiss chocolate that is the best in the world for making hot chocolate. Tell me what you think.”
Frank took a sip and commented, “I don’t know if it’s the best in the world, but it’s the best I’ve ever tasted,” then took two more long sips before he set the mug on the coffee table. “I read somewhere that you were dating multi-millionaire playboy Aldo Gattini, how’s that going?”
“That’s been over for a while. He’s got the Chinese pulling him one way and the Albanians on the other. Add to that, he’s got serious substance abuse problems and his ego is writing checks that his body can’t cash. I haven’t seen him in a while, but the last I heard he was partying in the Greek Islands with some of his fellow undesirables.”
“If you’re happier without him, then I’m happy for you. If you’re sad…then I’m sorry. Thanks for doing this. Frank said and leaned his head back against the soft padding of the chair and dozed off. Tanya put a blanket over him.
Vito the cook in the room and asked, “Signorina, what time do you want to eat dinner”
“I’ll let you know in a few minutes.” Tanya walked upstairs, opened the door and saw that Eve was also sound asleep. She informed Vito, “Both my guests have fallen asleep which means no formal dinner. When they wake up, we’ll keep it simple, Panini (Italian sandwiches) and Antipasto salad.”
Several hours later, the storm had passed and the skies were clear and blue. Both Frank and Eve awakened to the sound of people yelling and screaming. Eve quickly dressed and left the bedroom while Frank got up from the chair and walked toward the commotion. Eve stopped halfway on the staircase. Frank saw one man holding Tanya with her arms behind her back while three other men were beating the hired help. The man holding Tanya gave her an ultimatum, “Tell us where Aldo is and we’ll stop or we can do this all night…it’s up to you.”
Tanya angrily replied, “Like I told you, I haven’t seen or heard from Aldo in months.”
The man shook his head, “I don’t believe you.” When he suddenly saw Frank, he demanded, “Who the hell is this…your new boyfriend?”
“I’m just passing through.” Frank responded calmly.
The man asked. “Do you know where Aldo is?”
Frank answered, “Never met him and what I hear, don’t want to meet him either.”
The man snarled, “Then you’re of no use to me. He turned to his henchman, “Kill him.”
At that moment, Eve jumped over the railing and landed on the three men, knocking them off their feet. Frank charged forward, pushed Tanya aside and snapped the man’s neck who was holding her with a textbook special operations move. He rushed over to where Tanya was grappling with the other three men. Frank punched one in the throat and crushed his windpipe. Tanya pulled the pistol from a man’s shoulder holster and shot the remaining two attackers.
Frank was obviously impressed and asked, “I thought you said you were a wildlife biologist?”
“Once in a while, I have to discourage poachers. I thought you said that you were a flower salesman?”
“Even the prettiest flowers have thorns on the stems that you have to break off.”
As a sign of her appreciation for their efforts, Tanya chartered a private jet to take Frank and Eve to the Carlsbad Airport.
Colonel Mike Braxton was still recovering in Tri-City Medical Center when Frank and Eve made arrived in Southern California. The emergency surgery to stop the internal bleeding in his abdomen was successful and his medical condition had been upgraded from serious to good. Mike Braxton’s vital signs were stable and he was scheduled to be released in two days.
Eve made the introductions. “This is my father, Colonel Mike Braxton…Dad, this is Frank Stockdale. I probably would still be trying to get here if it wasn’t for him helping me.”
Frank extended his hand, “A pleasure to meet you, sir and thank you for your service.”
Mike slowly evaluated the young man, then gave him vice-like handshake, “Thank you for your service as well.”
Frank responded unconvincingly, “I’m not in the military.”
“Neither am I.” Mike laughed then continued, “Pull up a chair, Special Operator and I’ll tell you how my daughter got the nickname, Eve of Destruction.”
Even at this early point in their friendship, nothing would surprise Frank about Eve.
If it wasn’t for bad weather and cancelled flights, who knows how this story would have turned out.
Editor’s Note: 295 consecutive stories Mr. Calabrese has written for us! Thank You
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
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