Delicate Balancing Act
Thomas Calabrese –Clay Paladin was a Navy Seal and caught a very mild case of COVID-19 virus when he was home on leave for his sister’s wedding in San Marcos, California. Because he was in excellent physical condition and his immune system was strong, his only symptoms was a mild headache. If the Navy didn’t require routine testing, he might not have known, he even had the virus.
The team Corpsman, Tyler Haines doubled Clay’s routine anti-viral supplements to expedite his recovery. The standard protocol was that Clay needed two negative tests before he could rejoin his team. He took one test on Monday and another on Tuesday and by Thursday he was back to normal. Three weeks later, Clay took the COVID-19 Antibody test and found that he had them in his blood. (Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to fight infections like viruses and may help to ward off future occurrences by those same infections. Antibodies can take days or weeks to develop in the body following exposure to a SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection and it is unknown how long they stay in the blood.)
The Seal Teams were extremely cautious and diligent about protecting their health. They had to be, because they demanded so much of their bodies. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, Tyler Haines made sure that each member received an anti-viral cocktail on a daily basis which consisted of; Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, zinc, vitamins, lysine, enzymes, elderberry, lemon balm, Echinacea, seaweed, bark extract, andrographis and a mushroom complex. It was potent and effective. This was in addition to whatever each member of the team was taking on their own.
The Seals had come up from Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado to do some specialized training with Marines from Force Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Pendleton. They did some fast roping off Red Beach, simulated hostage rescue in an urban environment at 25 Area Combat Town, and honed their hand-to-hand combat skills. Everything went according to schedule and they finished on Thursday morning. There would be a meeting at 0900 on Friday morning between the two military units to evaluate their performances. Everything had been recorded and the Seals and Marines would review the footage on the big screen in the auditorium at Battalion Headquarters. That would be the time for suggestions and comments.
Clay asked Gunnery Sergeant Zane Montgomery, “Any suggestions on where we can get something good to eat around here?”
Gunny Montgomery, “If you like Mexican food, there’s Felipe’s. Great quality and big portions, so bring your appetite. Tell the manager that I sent you.”
“Sounds like just what we’re looking for,” Clay smiled.
That afternoon the Seals took a five-mile run and a two-mile swim off Del Mar Beach. When they made it to Felipe’s on South Coast Highway in Oceanside, their appetites were raging.
The eight men took two booths, four in each one and started looking at the menu. Aaron Prescott commented, “I hope that this place is as good as you say it is.”
Clay responded, “Gunny Montgomery said it was, I just passed the word.”
“As hungry as I am, I’ll settle for edible,” Tim Reagor interjected.
The Seals waited for five minutes before a frantic waitress rushed over. She apologized profusely for the delay, “We’re really short-handed, our busboy and two waitresses both tested positive for COVID.”
The young waitress was trying to do the work of three people and the patrons were losing patience. Four men were especially hard on her. One called out, “How long do we have to wait to get some chips and salsa?”
Another one chimed in, “How about some water and silverware while you’re at it.”
The waitresses responded, “Right away, sir.” As she was rushing with a tray of chips and salsa, she dropped them on the floor. She bent down to clean up the mess and broke down in tears, overwhelmed by the situation.
Clay got up, bent down to help and reassured her, “Relax…it’s no big deal.”
Brian Dunbar quipped, “There he goes again…can’t resist a damsel in distress.”
Clay brought a tray of chips and salsa over to the men and set it on the table .Tim Reagor brought silverware and napkins and Aaron Prescott brought glasses of water.
Clay explained, “They seem to be shorthanded tonight, so we’ll be helping out. I’d appreciate your patience, gentlemen.”
For the next hour, the Seals alternated between eating their meals and helping out at the restaurant. The four men did not cut the young waitress any slack and complained about everything just to make things more difficult for her. Clay eventually lost his patience with their behavior when one of them grabbed her arm as she walked by. She yelped and commented, “Ouch, that hurt!”
Clay got up from his seat and Aaron warned him, “Don’t lose your temper.”
“I’m completely in control,” Clay walked over to the table with the four men and grabbed the man who had grabbed the waitress, by the ear and led him outside. The other three men followed and the other Seals were close behind. Clay released the man’s ear and said, “Two choices; apologize for your rude behavior or you can deal with me.”
The man rubbed his ear then saw the rest of the Seals standing nearby, “It ain’t a fair fight! We’re outnumbered.”
Clay reassured him, “They won’t interfere… mano e mano, it’s your call…easy way or the hard way?”
The man’s bravado overruled his common sense. He stepped back and got into a fighting stance. Clay walked toward him and when the man threw a punch, Clay adeptly stepped to the side and grabbed the man’s forearm and bent it backward, “Three more inches and I’ll dislocate your shoulder.” Clay released his hold and the man stepped backward, regrouped and charged forward. Clay did a leg sweep and stood over the man with his right foot raised, “I could break your knee with a properly placed strike.”
The man was too stubborn and arrogant to realize that he was overmatched so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade, popped it open and waved it menacingly, “See how you like this!”
Clay warned the man, “That is a deadly weapon so when I kill you, it will be justifiable homicide. Take a look around…is this where you really want to die?”
One of the men’s companion’s called out, “He’s right, Larry. You kill him, you go to jail, he kills you, and you go to the cemetery. It’s a no win situation.”
Larry thought for a moment then made one foolish and desperate lunge at Clay, who was not caught off- guard. He grabbed the man’s wrist, took the knife, touched the tip of the blade to Larry’s Adam’s apple and barely broke the skin.
Larry pleaded, “Don’t kill me.”
Clay thought for a second and turned to the other three men, “Go pay your bill, then come get your friend.”
One of the men rushed off while Larry stood there whimpering and trembling.
As the men drove off, the waitress came out to offer her gratitude, “Thanks for your help. Who are you guys?”
Clay shrugged, “Nobody special…just some customers who were glad to help out…right guys?”
The rest of the Seals nodded and voiced their agreement.
The waitress smiled and introduced herself, “I’m Elena, I hope to see you again soon. Maybe next time we’ll be at full staff and I can give you special service. ”
“We’re not from the area, but we get up this way occasionally. We’ll make it a point to stop in…right?” Clay said.
The rest of the Navy Seals once again voiced their approval.
As they walked to their car, Elena called out, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
The group of Seals turned around at the same time, “What did you say?” Clay asked.
Elena answered, “Isn’t that what Navy Seals say?”
When another Seal Team was trapped in Yemen during a covert mission, Clay and his teammates were given the assignment to reinforce their comrades. However, before being allowed to depart the country, the Department of Defense made it mandatory that they receive the COVID -19 vaccination. It was a dilemma of serious proportions. The Seals discussed it on the tarmac of the airfield. Clay made it clear, “Either we all take it or none of us do.”
Reluctantly, they agreed and took the shot. Even if they had wanted too, this would have been the worst time for it. If they had adverse reactions, they did not want to be in the middle of a mission when they needed to be at peak efficiency.
By the time they reached their destination, every Seal was sick to some degree. Apparently, the vaccine interacted negatively with the oral anti-viral medication that they were taking.
The Seals were nauseous, their entire bodies ached and their joints were stiff. There was no turning back now. Clay was the worst of them all because his natural immunity was also fighting the vaccine. It took all his fortitude just to stand upright.
“You need to keep me going, so shoot me up with whatever you’ve got,” Clay grimaced.
Tyler gave Clay a shot of morphine and the other Seals each took a handful of medications. The team had five clicks (a click equals 1000 meters) to travel. The other Seal team was hunkered down in an abandoned Army fort southeast of Marib, in the central part of the country.
The Al-Qaeda insurgency was well-armed and ready to make their final assault when Clay and his team sneaked up from behind them. Mike Dante set up the Barrett 50 caliber sniper rifle in an elevated position where he had a clear field of fire and could cover his teammates.
Jason Bower looked over at Clay who was pale, perspiring heavily and shivering, “You sure that you’re up for this?”
“I’d better be,” Clay replied.
With Mike Dante covering them, the rest of the Seal team moved out. They radioed the other team when they were in position and they were able to catch the terrorists in a crossfire. When the firefight was over, the two Seal teams rendezvoused.
Brent Phillips, leader of the other team walked over to Clay who was bent over in pain, “Thanks for coming for us.”
Clay fell to his knees and replied, “You would have done the same.”
Brent helped Clay to a bench and asked, “What the hell happened to your guys?”
Tyler Haines walked over and hooked up an IV to Clay’s arm and responded, “They got the vaccine before we took off. Everybody is having various reactions to it.”
Brent was visibly angry, “What did you do that for?”
Don’t blame us, they wouldn’t let come otherwise,” Mike Dante interjected.
By the time, the Seals made it back to base, Clay was seriously ill and was immediately placed on oxygen. When he was well enough to travel, Clay was airlifted to Landstuhl Military Medical Center in Germany where he was placed in the intensive care unit.
Commander John Culp was a resident Cardiologist. His diagnosis was myocarditis, caused by a drug induced viral infection. Clay’s antibody cells had negatively reacted to the vaccine which caused inflammation of his heart muscle. It was touch and go for two weeks, but Clay’s medical condition gradually improved from critical to serious and then to stable.
Commander Culp stopped in to check on his patient, “Permission to speak freely?”
“Nobody says that unless they’ve got bad news,” Clay answered.
“Your military career is over. There is no cure for myocarditis. We can treat the symptoms, which include tachycardia, arrhythmias and heart failure, but we can’t cure it. Treatment includes medication to regulate your heartbeat and improve heart function. In rare and severe cases, a breathing tube will be inserted,” Commander Culp explained.
Clay asked, “Is my case rare or severe?”
“Both…the fact that it took so long for you to get the proper medical treatment greatly increased the severity of your condition…sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Commander, you didn’t have anything to do with it,” Clay sighed, “ In my business, bad choices and bad timing equals bad outcomes.”
Clay was usually a very upbeat individual, but he was having a very difficult time getting past this major crisis in his life. He was used to pushing himself and demanding more of his body in a day than most people do in a year or even a lifetime. To take medication and watch that he didn’t over-exert himself was wreaking havoc on his psyche and self-esteem. He was melancholy and depressed most of the time.
After his medical discharge from the Navy, Clay moved in with his sister, Sarah who had a small house in Vista. She had just gone through a bitterly contested divorce and was trying to get her life back on track. She commented to her brother, “I’m not used to seeing you this way. You’ve always been the rock…the proverbial rock.”
“Weak and frail, I’m not too happy about it either,” Clay answered, “I guess that even rocks crack.”
Sarah said, “I wasn’t referring to your physical condition, I meant your mental state. When I was at my lowest point in my marriage, I went to see someone who helped me get through some difficult times.”
“I don’t need a marriage counselor.”
Sarah corrected her brother, “She’s not a marriage counselor….she’s more like…
“A life coach…don’t need one of those either,” Clay said.
“It’s hard to explain, but she notices things that people overlook or take for granted when they’re in trouble. We get tunnel vision when we’re under stress, too focused on our problems to see the world around us. This woman expands horizons, she’s an emotional architect who re-designs realities. Would you like to meet her?”
Clay smiled, “Wow…she sure has impressed you. With a build-up like that…how can I say no?”
The place was located on North River Road about halfway between Oceanside and Bonsall. It was a multi-purpose, three-acre parcel that bordered the San Luis Rey River. It provided a location for weddings, parties and various events.
It also had two greenhouses, one for flowers and the other for vegetables and herbs. The entry to the main house was lined with jasmine shrubs and vines. Their sweet characteristic fragrance drifted gently on a Southern California breeze.
Clay drove up to the front of the small house, and he and Sarah got out. A woman in her early-thirties with glistening black hair that hung loosely about her shoulders came out to greet them. Her hands were dirty and she flashed a big smile, “I’m sorry, I was working in the greenhouse and lost track of time. Come in the house and we can talk.”
Sarah introduced her brother, “Clay, this is Della Street.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Clay said.
“Nice to meet you too,” Della responded.
When they got inside, Della suggested, “Sit anywhere.”
The living room had four large overstuffed recliners. When Clay sat down, the soft cushions engulfed him, “This is a very comfortable chair.”
Della washed her hands in the kitchen sink and brought out a pitcher of iced tea. She poured glasses for Clay and Sarah and one for herself.
When Clay tasted it, he commented, “Great tea!”
Della commented, “Its sun tea, made with a special combination of leaves…glad you like it. She called out, “Alexa…put on some relaxing music.” In a moment the sound of a babbling brook filled the room. Della kicked off her flip flops and sat cross legged on the chair, “Sarah told me about your situation. Before we start, thank you for your service.”
Clay never knew exactly what to say when people said that to him so he simply responded, “You’re welcome.”
“How can I help you?” Della asked.
Clay responded, “I don’t think you can… my problem is more physical than psychological.”
“They cross over more often than you would think. Are you open to new ideas or are you regimented, inflexible and obsessive-compulsive?”
Sarah spoke up for her brother, “Clay is completely inflexible when it comes to his core beliefs, but very open-minded when it comes to new ideas.”
“Perfect answer…come by tomorrow and we’ll get started,” Della said.
“Started doing what? What time tomorrow? How much is this going to cost?”
Della got up, “Take slow deep breaths and relax, your answers will come in time. I’ll be in the greenhouses all morning. If I see you, I see you…if not, good luck,” then she was gone.
Sarah asked, “What do you think?”
“Makes a hell of a first impression,” Clay responded, “I’ll say that for her.”
For the next three days, Clay showed up at 0800 and found Della working in the greenhouse when he arrived. He immediately began working beside her and they would go an hour or longer without speaking, except for Della to occasionally give Clay simple instructions. At noon, they would take a break and sit at the picnic table behind the house. Della prepared their lunch the evening before. The meals were always organic and the fruits and vegetables were grown on the property.
On the fourth day, Della finally began to speak, “My husband was a Captain in the Marine Corps. When he voiced his criticism of military leadership and their strategy after the deaths of ten of his men at the Kabul Airport, he was relieved of his command and placed in solitary confinement. They refused to let me see him, and five days later I was notified that he died from cardiac arrest. The government gave me a three million dollar settlement and a subtle warning not to pursue the issue.”
“Sorry for your loss,” Clay responded, “You have every right to be proud of your husband. I’m not sure I would have been able to show that kind of courage.”
Della responded without hesitation, “I’m a fairly good judge of character and I’m very sure that you would have conducted yourself with honor and conviction.”
Clay and Della began to speak freely while working beside each other. It seemed that words flowed more freely when associated with manual labor. She said, “The first step of your journey begins with perception. How you think about your illness determines whether you fully heal, stay sick or remain stuck in remission. The root cause of your disease doesn’t exist on the physical level,” Della said.
“How did you end up in this business of helping people?” Clay inquired.
Della said, “I don’t look at it that way. I merely try to show people how to help themselves.”
“From what Sarah says, you’re very good at what you do. This is an unusual place. How did you come up with the idea?”
“I was working as a nurse at Tri-City Medical when my husband died. During my time there, I noticed that the happy positive people recovered faster than the sad and depressed ones. People who weren’t carrying a lot of emotional baggage also moved faster toward recovery,” Della said, “I started a charitable foundation and accept no fees for what I do. Anything that people want to contribute to the James Street Health Sanctuary is greatly appreciated, but never required.”
Clay really liked this woman, more than that, he truly admired her. Over the next few months, Clay would go the sanctuary and work around the place while freely discussing his health concerns and emotional issues with Della. During that time, other people visited the site and the unusual woman always made time to help them.
Della suggested a protocol for Clay to follow and he embraced her suggestion. Every morning before he started working, he would stand under the sprawling Coral tree, look up through the branches to the sky and repeat these words, ‘I refuse to carry toxic energy. I command every last ounce of toxic poison to leave my body. I release you and I set you free. In doing so, I set myself free.’
Clay was a man of immense inner strength and once he was able to release the negative energy, his body began to heal itself. It was nothing less than a miracle of mind over matter. When he went to the Veterans Clinic on Rancho Del Oro for his regular exam, Clay instinctively knew the disease had left his body. As he walked through the door of the clinic, he felt a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual freedom that he had never known before. It was overwhelming, reassuring. Clay felt so light on his feet that he barely felt his shoes touch the floor as he walked down the hall.
Doctor Suberton was dumfounded as he looked at the chart, “Your myocarditis is gone…not a trace. How can that be?”
Clay showed no emotion.
Doctor Suberton was slightly confused, “You don’t seemed surprised…I’ve just given you great news.”
“I kind of expected it,” Clay replied with a sly grin, “I took the road less traveled and ended up on a street called Della.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Just thinking out loud, sir.”
Della was beyond ecstatic when Joe relayed the information of his latest diagnosis, “That’s wonderful!”
“I’ll never be able to re-pay you for what you did for me,” Clay choked back his emotions.
“You did it yourself, your happiness and good health is the only payment I require,” Della smiled.
It may have been enough for Della, but it wasn’t enough for Clay. He swore to find out what happened to Captain James Street while he was in the brig. He found former Gunnery Sergeant Tim Gray working as a concrete truck driver on a housing project in Bakersfield, California.
When Clay approached the former Marine, “I’d like to talk to you about Captain James Street.”
Tim Gray sighed in relief, “I was wondering how long it would be before somebody came to see me. At least now, I can stop looking over my shoulder. Are you here to kill me?”
“I don’t know, should I be?” Clay said, “Why don’t you tell me what you know first.”
Tim began to explain, “I was in charge of the cellblock on the evening when a man from the Department of National Intelligence arrived at the brig. He had top secret clearance and special authorization paperwork to see Captain Street who was being kept in solitary confinement.
He identified himself as Ernest T. Bass. He didn’t look or sound anything like an Ernest T. Bass. He had a thick accent and looked Middle Eastern.”
“What kind of accent?” Clay asked.
“Afghan maybe. You’ve got my word that I didn’t know what he was going to do…you have to believe me. I was just following orders.”
“Convince me,” Clay answered,
Tim continued, “I called the OIC. (Officer in charge) and he ordered me to let him in. Captain Street was moved from his cell to a private room where prisoners meet with their lawyers. Twenty minutes later, the man checked out. Captain Street was returned to his cell and he started having trouble breathing. He was transported to sickbay and died 20 minutes later. Three weeks later, I received a meritorious promotion from Staff Sergeant to Gunnery Sergeant. I also received a phone call later instructing me that the meeting between Street and the man was top secret and I was never to speak about it. I had 17 years in, only 3 left to my full 20, but someone falsified my original enlistment paperwork to make it look like I had enlisted three years earlier than I did. The Battalion Commander called me into his office and said my retirement paperwork was ready to be signed. Even if I wanted to stay in, they weren’t going to let me and I was quickly processed out of the Corps. I thought to myself, who in the hell has this kind of clout, but I figured if it was better if I didn’t ask.”
“Can you identify this man?” Clay asked.
Tim Gray replied, Better than that… I have a photo of him.”
“How did you do that?” Clay inquired.
Tim explained, “After Captain Street died, I got suspicious so I made a copy of the surveillance footage of the man entering the brig. Two days later, the tape was mysteriously erased.”
Clay followed Tim to his house in Tevis Ranch on the outskirts of Bakersfield. The thumb-drive was hidden under a bag of grass seed in the storage shed behind the house. Tim said, “Here it is…I only ask one thing in return.”
“What’s that?” Clay replied.
“Kill him when you find him,” Tim said.
Clay answered, “That would be my intention.”
The Seal Community was tight knit and the fact that Clay was no longer on active duty didn’t matter.
Commander Ethan Lockwood put the thumb-drive in his computer. Five minutes later, he got what he was looking for. “Take a look…here’s your Ernest T. Bass.”
The name Ernest T. Bass was the codename that some rogue intelligence operators liked to use to identify their freelancers. The name came from a character in the old Andy Griffith show.
Clay looked at the screen, it identified the man as Tayyah Akhund. “Akhund is an enforcer for the Taliban with a five-million dollar bounty on his head. How did a Taliban assassin get inside a secure military facility to kill a Marine Corps officer? Who could have authorized a mission like that? That’s off the charts when it comes to being bold.”
Commander Lockwood pondered the question, “They were thousands of people being evacuated from Kabul. Maybe, just maybe, somebody got him out of Afghanistan on one of the flights. It’s possible that they thought Captain Street recognized Akhund. When he criticized leadership, it just gave them another reason why he had to be eliminated. “
“Just when you think that people in our government couldn’t be any more despicable,” Clay shook his head in disgust. “A trained assassin and experienced torturer would be a dangerous weapon in the hands of the deep state globalists.”
Clay re-focused his energy and trained relentlessly in anticipation of the time when he would find Akhund. That time came three months later. The Taliban assassin was living the high life and enjoying dinner with two high paid escorts at the very expensive restaurant, Ocean Prime, in Georgetown, Maryland, less than two miles from the nation’s capital. He got up from his table and went to the men’s room. Akhund was standing at the sink when Clay came in and stood next to him. When they made eye contact, these trained professionals immediately sensed that they were sworn enemies. In a split second the battle was on. Clay smashed Akhund’s head against the mirror, shattering it.
The Taliban assassin staggered backward, reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. Blood streamed into his eyes from a gaping head wound and he desperately tried to clear his vision, by wiping it away with his shirtsleeve. Akhund lunged at Clay, who grabbed his wrist, bent it back until the ulna and radius bones in his forearm snapped. Clay took the knife and jammed it through the top of terrorist’s head, dragged the dead body into one of the stalls and set him on the toilet. Clay stared at the lifeless eyes of the merciless killer and commented, “I wish the commode was big enough so that I could flush you down with the rest of the waste.” then took the killer’s cellphone. Clay casually walked through the crowded restaurant as if nothing happened and disappeared into the night.
Della smiled broadly when she saw Clay, “Where have you been…you’ve been gone two weeks. I’ve missed you.”
Clay immediately began potting plants and responded, “Now that I’m back to normal, I was able to pick up some part-time work. Every now and then I may have to leave on short notice, but I won’t be gone long. I missed you too.”
From a Patriot’s perception, Clay knew that he had been given a second chance to a make a difference, he would not squander it. Eliminating Tayyah Akhund was just the beginning, the so-called tip of the iceberg. Clay vowed to find those who brought him to America and were connected to this diabolical scheme. He would then use his special set of skills to hold them accountable for their treasonous actions, no matter how high up the food chain it led him.
But while he was here with Della in this tranquil sanctuary in Oceanside, he was equally determined to be in the moment and keep the toxic energy out of his life. Only time would tell if Clay Paladin could pull off this delicate balancing act.
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
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