Steve Nielsen and Greg Whittington were assigned to Strike Team Bravo. It was comprised of a small and elite group of combat warriors from all branches of the Armed Forces. The existence of this unit was so secret that most people in the military and government did not even know about its existence. There was no recruitment process and the men in ‘Strike Bravo’, as it was sometimes called, were selected by an elaborate computer algorithm program that evaluated every aspect of a service member’s life. Nothing was overlooked; physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, background, heritage and DNA were all part of the experimental selection protocol. For 18 months, the men of ‘Strike Bravo’ were put through the most intense training that Special Forces had ever experienced. They were routinely taken to the brink of total physical and mental collapse, then brought back by state of the art technology and mental fortitude. Western and Eastern medicine techniques were implemented and utilized. Physiologists, psychologists, as well as experts in all types of training, worked together in a cohesive unit with one goal in mind… to create the finest fighting men in the world.
Bravo members were taught how to slow their breathing and heartbeat to the point that they were hardly detectable. They could block out excruciating pain, without the slightest indication of any discomfort. Each man was placed on a specifically designed diet for their body and blood type; by a group of nutritionists to maximize strength, speed and endurance. When they weren’t in training, Bravo members slept in oxygen cylinders that made 45 minutes of rest seem like 8 hours of deep uninterrupted sleep. It also enhanced their mental and physical capabilities to superlative levels by pumping nutrients into the air that permeated their pores.
These men had been already selected, so it wasn’t as if the training was supposed to weed out the weak and unqualified. It was designed to turn lumps of coal into diamonds, hardest natural substance in existence. No matter how difficult things became, none of the twelve men ever considered quitting. That was just one of the reasons they were chosen; there was not one ounce of ‘I can’t do this’ in their mindset.
Two such men were Greg Whittington who came from Turlock, California and Steve Nielsen who was raised in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and whose father worked for the United States Department of Agriculture, and was assigned to help the Thai people with their rice crop production, Totally different backgrounds, but what they had in common was much greater than the difference in geography.
Admiral Marty Sutherland was a former Navy Seal and currently in charge of Naval Special Operations Command. He was rightfully alarmed at China’s relentless pursuit toward world dominance. What also concerned him was an effort by anti-military politicians in Congress to weaken the Armed Forces with a decreased budget and sensitivity training courses for enlisted personnel and officers. Working with Admiral Dan Garchar of Naval Logistics Command, the two high ranking naval officers jeopardized their careers by illegally diverting tens of millions of dollars from congressional approved expenditures to Strike Team Bravo. It was worth the risks, because what America needed right now was an avalanche of power, not snowflakes that would melt at the first sign of heat.
During the time Strike Team Bravo were training their bodies relentlessly, they were also exercising their minds to carry out a variety of assignments. Greg and Steve had just returned from Hong Kong where they pretended to be news correspondents. Their primary mission was to protect protesters from the brutal treatment by Chinese National Police.
One thousand officers conducted raids on 72 premises across the city to curb months of violent pro-democracy protests. James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Claudia Mo and Benny Tai, one of the initiators of election primaries as well pro–democracy campaigners, Lester Shum, Gwyneth Ho, Tiffany Yuen and Jeffrey Andrews were all taken into custody.
Greg and Steve planted eleven C-4 plastic explosive bombs at strategic locations around the fortified security compound. After the detonations, the two operatives entered the structures and fought with two dozen officers. They found the prisoners locked in their cells; they had been badly beaten and were in desperate need of medical attention. After rescuing the captives, the two special operatives began a series of well-coordinated attacks against the Chinese Police.
Greg said, “Misappropriate response, they take one protester…we blow up one of their buildings.”
“China is ruthless, they’ll retaliate with everything they have,” Steve reminded his partner.
“If the people are willing to fight, then we’ll help even the odds. It has to start with them though.”
When protesters were beaten at a rally. Steve and Greg would capture the guilty police and give them a taste of their own treatment. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated cities with nearly all its seven million people clustered in crowded urban areas. However, 70 percent of the territory is rural and sparsely inhabited. It was in these areas that Steve and Greg hid during their mission.
The world was carefully watching China’s behavior in Hong Kong, leaders in Beijing wanted to squelch the uprising as quickly as possible. The Americans’ mission was to make that impossible. Sabotaging Chinese Communist Party buildings and their ships at every opportunity, they demoralized the National Police, Steve and Greg accomplished their mission and China reluctantly made concessions to the pro-democracy residents of Hong Kong, weakening their global status.
COVID-19 and its variants had wreaked havoc on the world with massive lockdowns, deaths and hospitalizations. Economies suffered terribly and politics became a big part of the problem with bureaucrats manipulating the situation to further their personal agendas. Intel determined that Russian agents were looking to purchase a virus of their own. Strike Team Bravo’s leadership determined that this was a mission worth undertaking.
Admiral Sutherland arrived at the home of a reclusive semi-retired scientist at his home/ laboratory in Fallbrook, California. “I’d like to discuss something with you if you’ve got the time.”
Gordon Carrigan responded, “If you want me to evaluate a formula for effectiveness or safety, I’ll need to see it before I can give you an estimate for a detailed analysis.”
“I’m actually in the market for your expertise concerning viruses,” Admiral Sutherland stated.
“If you’re with the government, then you probably already know that I didn’t leave Fort Detrick on the best of terms. When I was hired at the 13,000 acre multi-governmental community biomedical research facility, I was given unmistakable assurances that my research into anthrax, Ebola and ricin was going to be used to create antidotes and treatments. When I found out that my work was being used to create stronger biological weapons, I resigned. I’m now in a different stage of my life, I no longer feel the burning desire to be the whiz kid of bio-research or I am not as naïve or gullible as I once was. I have come to the conclusion how much I like keeping things simple. I do some consulting, a little evaluating, organic gardening, and enjoy my semi-retirement. I have zero interest whatsoever, working for the government. I hope that is clear enough for you, and even if it isn’t, that is all I have to say on the matter.”
Admiral Sutherland smiled, “You misunderstand the purpose of my visit. I’m not here on behalf of the government, I’m here on the people’s behalf.”
“That is the one thing that you could say that would interest me,” Carrigan replied.
When Steve and Greg arrived three days later, Carrigan looked at his watch and commented, “Right on time, I’m impressed by your punctuality.”
Steve commented, “You’re doing us the favor, we don’t want to waste your time.”
“It’s a little warm out today, may you get your something to drink?” Carrigan asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Greg answered.
Carrigan smiled, “I’ve got something you might enjoy.” He walked to the refrigerator and took out a large pitcher, set three glasses on the table and filled them.
Steve took a swallow, “This may be the best tea that I’ve ever tasted.”
“Most definitely,” Greg agreed.
Carrigan smiled, “I grow several types of tea leafs and combine them with the proper amount of sun and a natural organic sweetener.”
Over the next few days, Carrigan explained in details about his research and the two special operatives were quick learners.
Greg asked, “So what’s stopping someone from replicating this virus once they get their hands on it?”
Carrigan responded, “I’ve learned that the best way to protect my creations is to make sure that nobody can steal them. At the risk of sounding immodest, my genome sequencing is so complex and difficult to decipher that a lab could spend years trying to figure it out. The slightest microscopic error in duplicating it and it is rendered useless.”
Three days passed, Greg and Steve had finally accumulated the knowledge to pull off their covers as a virologist and immunologist.
When they met with the Russians at their Belgrade hotel room, one of them demanded, “Show us what you have.”
Greg opened a metal briefcase and pulled out a test tube, “There is enough virus in this one vial to infect a million people.”
“How serious is the infection?” The Russian inquired.
Steve responded, “It can be as mild as the common cold or as severe as respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. It is also more contagious than the Delta variant of COVID-19.”
Greg pulled out another vial from the briefcase, “Virus and antidote, both for 250 million dollars. You can bring a country to its knees in a matter of a couple weeks, then bring it back to normalcy in a couple days.”
The Russian beamed in anticipation, “Those are bold claims. I’ll need some assurances that your claims are valid. I’ll need a demonstration.”
Steve took out a hypodermic needle and injected himself, “I’ve just taken a high dose of the virus. In a few minutes, I’ll be close to death. My associate will administer the antidote and bring me back.” then laid down on the bed. In a matter of five minutes, he was unconscious. Greg handed a stethoscope to the Russian who checked Steve’s heartbeat and pulse then handed it to his comrades who repeated the process,. Both vital signs were barely detectable.
Greg asked, “Are you satisfied?”
The Russians had no way of knowing that Steve was controlling his heart and pulse and that the virus had no effect on him.
The Russian oligarch demanded, “The virus works, now show me how effective the vaccine is.”
Greg injected his partner and in a matter of minutes, Steve pretended to awaken and be fully alert.
“Satisfied?” Steve asked.
Greg then enticed the Russians. “We have a small facility equipped to make as much virus and vaccine as you need.”
The Russian warned, “You do not want to betray us…that would be a fatal mistake. We’ll transfer the funds per your instructions.”
After the wire transfer was concluded and the Russians left, Steve reminded his partner, “Carrigan said the virus would destroy itself within six months.”
Greg commented, “I’m betting that they will not wait that long to use it.”
Steve and Greg returned to California that night and were given another assignment two days later. Tamara Brown had recently joined Strike Team Bravo as an intelligence analyst and she also became Steve and Greg’s handler. Tamara was 33 years-old and a graduate of Hillsdale University. She was an expert in cyber-warfare and international business relations. In her free time, she enjoyed rock climbing, white water rafting and big wave surfing. Tamara was a unique woman who brought a lot to the table, including being a strong, confident and beautiful woman.
Greg and Steve met Tamara for the first time at Ole’s Waffle Shop in Alameda, California. She was sitting in a back booth and waved to them when they entered. There was no need for introductions since they had been briefed beforehand on each other.
Tamara asked, “Do you have a problem taking orders from a woman?”
“Nothing in our records that says we would,” Steve replied.
Greg commented, “This a performance business, you can be anybody from anyplace and if you can do the job, you won’t have a problem with us.”
“The Admiral knows how we operate, he would not have put us together unless he thought it would work, “Steve said.
“We’ll probably have to make some minor adjustments, but why don’t we take it day by day and see what happens,” Greg added.
“That was going to be my suggestion,” Tamara smiled, “Do you want me to use your names or do you have some other preference?”
Greg smiled, “I’m partial to Mr. Sensitive.”
“They call me the ‘Snowflake”, Steve added with more than a hint of sarcasm.
Before Tamara could reply, the waitress arrived with a tray of food. Tamara pointed to Steve, “He’ll have the vegetarian omelette,” then gestured to Greg, “He’ll have the buckwheat hot cakes and I’ll take the blueberry smoothie. Am I right?”
“Exactly,” Steve said.
The three operatives rented a furnished three-bedroom apartment at South Shore Tennis Club. While sitting in the living room, Tamara explained the mission, “This apartment complex was originally owned by the Luis Quintero Cartel. They invested a lot of their drug profits into real estate all over the world. It was a great way to launder millions of dollars. When Quintero was captured, the government confiscated his property. Most of it was auctioned off, but some of it, including this complex was kept.
Greg guessed, “Why is our being here and the government keeping this place are somehow connected?”
“In a way,” Tamara said, “The US Marshal’s Service uses this place for witness protection. Many of the residents here have been relocated for their own safety after testifying against very powerful and dangerous people.”
Steve surmised, “Very vengeful, too.”
“The highly secretive database with their new identities and locations was compromised,” Tamara said.
“Why don’t they just move them?” Steve asked.
Tamara answered, “That would be the logical thing to do, but the Admiral isn’t sure if it was an internal breech. In that case, moving them somewhere might not do any good because that relocation info might be impossible to keep secret. At least this way we can keep them in one place.”
Greg interjected, “So we maintain surveillance and see what happens?”
“Six other teams have been detached to various locations around the country,” Tamara said.
“What’s our cover?” Steve inquired.
Tamara replied, “We’re social media entrepreneurs…that will explain why we’re around so much. If anybody asks; we do most of our work on the Internet, so we don’t have any set hours.” She hands dossiers to Greg and Steve, “There are photos attached to the history of each protected witness. We’ll get to know each one and hopefully become their friends; it will easier to watch them this way. We’ll use the third bedroom as our command center. Any questions?”
“Not from me,” Greg answered.
“I’ll get back to you after I review the Intel,” Steve said.
While Steve and Greg scouted the area, Tamara hacked into the apartment security system. Over the next few days, she inconspicuously placed dozens of small surveillance cameras inside and outside of the buildings. Five monitors were placed in the third bedroom of their apartment to view activities and various movements.
Steve took on the role of the ‘social butterfly’, best described as a gregarious individual who never met a person he could not start up a conversation with. Drawing upon his extensive reservoir of trivia and practical knowledge, Steve could pretend to be reasonably interested in everything from Mahjong, a tile-based game developed in China to UFC fighting, as well as various medical procedures with emphasis on back surgery, gourmet cooking and just about anything else a person wanted to discuss. Steve was a willing listener, trusted confidant and compassionate advisor.
His persona was a combination of Ward Cleaver, Doctor Phil and James Bond. You would think that it would be impossible for one man to be understanding, empathetic, daring and exciting, all at the same time, but Steve was pulling it off.
Greg played the more reserve one, using his keen powers of observation to mentally document everyone’s routine and mannerisms. All the while they were at South Shore, the two operatives continued to watch for the implementation of the virus that they sold to the Russians.
You’re really getting into this new lifestyle,” Greg teased.
“Deep down, I guess I’m just a friendly guy,” Steve shrugged modestly.
Greg commented, “This is one strange bunch of people, that’s for sure.”
Steve and Greg walked into the command center where photos of the residents were posted on the wall, with their nicknames and their jobs and activities listed beneath. There was Tess LaMonica, who worked at the fitness center, she always wore make-up on and didn’t look like she had ever broken a sweat in her life. She was called Glamor Girl. Ten Cup could always be found at the clubhouse drinking coffee and was on a permanent caffeine high. Rockin’ Rochelle, wore headphones and moved to her own beat. Deputy Dawg had two dogs, Scotty and Teddy, and they each wore similar plaid vests during their morning and evening walks down Shoreline Drive. Kid Broccoli had an organic garden on his balcony. Gutter Ball was employed at Mel’s Bowl. Etiquette Eddie often socialized with Smoking Eduardo. Other nicknames given to witnesses were: Wallace the Canine, Wopple the Bear, Little Chuckie, Dollar Billie Biscuits, Marked Growth, To and From, Eighteen Wheeler, B.A. Tuttle, Two Meal Bill, Ichabod Interphase and Captain Crunch, not to mention Sherwood Speedo, an extremely eccentric individual whose outfit of the day was a fishnet t-shirt, wooden sole shoes and a powder blue speedo.
Tamara scrolled down the names and commented, “Yours sense of humors were in overdrive when you re-named our targets.”
“The rule about nicknames is, if they don’t fit the person, they are not funny, they’re just stupid,” Greg explained his theory,
Tamara thought for a minute, “I wonder what two you call me when I’m not around?”
Steve commented, “Tantalizing and terrific Tamara.”
“Talented and tireless Tamara,” Greg added.
Tamara smiled, “As long it is not tawdry and toxic Tamara.”
Steve soon became known as the ‘Duke of South Shore’. He organized a softball team, bowling league, weekly barbecues and potlucks, ping pong and eight-ball tournaments. He did anything to make himself a part of every witnesses’ life at the apartment complex. Steve, Greg and Tamara rotated three-hours shifts at the monitors and did roving patrols of the complex throughout the day and night.
It was 3 o’clock in the morning, Greg was positioned at the monitors when he observed two black SUV’s with darkly tinted windows enter the complex grounds. The Special Operative had a list of all of the residents’ vehicles and these were not on it. He awakened Steve and Tamara, who immediately got their pistols with the noise suppressors. They slipped on their bullet resistant vests and left the apartment. They had rehearsed what they would do in case of this scenario.
Greg reminded his comrades, “I’ve got buildings A through C. You guys got the rest. We’ll meet at the main swimming pool in 15 mikes.” (minutes)
“Roger that,” Tamara said.
Steve smiled, “Watch your ‘six’, (backside) we’re bowling tonight against Jim’s Coffee Shop.”
A few minutes later, Greg was walking down the hallway in ‘A’ building, when he saw four men approaching. When they made eye contact, the four assassins reached for their weapons, but were a little too slow. Greg shot the four men and they went down in rapid succession. He pulled the dead bodies into the stairwell, then ran to back-up Steve and Tamara.
When Greg arrived outside ‘F’ building, Steve and Tamara were already engaged in a gun battle. Greg came up behind two men and shot them, the other three made a run for it, but Tamara took out two of them and Steve got the last one. By this time, everyone had been awakened by the gunfire. They came out on their balconies to see what was happening.
Steve reassured them, “No problem, I’ve got everything under control…go back to sleep.”
Tamara teased, “When the Duke speaks, everybody listens.”
The people behind the security breech were eventually apprehended, but just to be safe, the US Marshal’s Service relocated participants of the witness protection program residing at South Shore Tennis Club to the Brengle Terrace Garden Apartments in Vista, California.
In a related development, the recall of California Governor Garvin Newland had enough signatures to go forward. A statewide vote was scheduled for September 14th to determine if he should be removed from office. It was no coincidence the spread of the virus and the upcoming recall vote were happening at the same time.
A spokesperson for the Newland Administration made this public announcement, “In the interest of safety, the recall election has been postponed indefinitely until every Californian can exercise their constitutional right to cast their vote without fear of infection.”
Steve commented, “At least we know where the virus ended up.”
Steve and Greg leased a crop dusting plane in Santa Clarita, California and Gordon Carrigan met them at the private landing field. They filled the exterior tanks with a special liquid. Carrigan smiled, “This is my airborne vaccine. Once it dissipates into the atmosphere, the virus will cease to exist.
Without the pandemic to use as an excuse, Governor Newland had no other choice but to let the election proceed as scheduled. He was recalled and his dubious political career came to an abrupt end.
The mission was not yet accomplished. Steve and Greg traveled to Kiev, the capital and most populous city in the Ukraine. It was located in the north-central area of the country along the Dnieper River. When they arrived at the fortified compound, Greg said to the guard, “Tell your boss, it’s the Americans who sold him the virus.”
After being searched for weapons, several guards led Steve and Greg to a large and ornately decorated room on the ground floor of the mansion. The Russian oligarch who bought the virus was sitting behind a massive oak desk. Six of his bodyguards were standing nearby.
The Russian smiled, “You are the last two men that I expected to see. How did you find me?”
“You warned us not to betray you,” Steve said, “We thought we would save you the trouble of finding us.”
The Russian was confused, “Are you saying that you deceived me?”
Greg answered, “That’s exactly what we’re saying.”
In less than two seconds, Steve and Greg disarmed the guards and shot them. The last thought that went through the Russian oligarch’s mind was that the two men standing before him were much more than just research scientists. The two American operatives fought their way out of the compound and disappeared. Now…the mission was finally over.
Later, Steve, Tamara and Greg were living in a home that bordered the Aviara Golf Course in Carlsbad, California. Thanks to the Marshal’s service, which was recently confiscated following arrests in a recent securities fraud case by the Marshal’s Service
Their new assignment was on Camp Pendleton. It seemed that a rogue government agency was testing the short and long term effects of radio frequency waves on unsuspecting military families on base. The trio’s job was to find out who was responsible and stop the experiment.
Steve was sitting on the patio of their residence, deep in thought, when Tamara walked up, “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Join me,” Steve offered.
Tamara sat down and they watched a foursome of golfers play through as Greg exited the house and stood next to them.
Steve commented, “This might sound strange, but I’ve been thinking about Alameda.”
Greg understood where his partner was coming from, “They were a weird bunch, but I miss South Shore Tennis Club, too.”
– 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.