Avoid Large Gatherings
Thomas Calabrese — Steve Nielsen grew up in Alameda, California and joined the Marines after high school. He served six years in the Infantry and Recon Battalion before returning to civilian life. He enrolled at Laney Junior college and got a job as a forklift operator in a medical warehouse in San Leandro, California. It only took Steve less than a year to realize that this wasn’t the life for him. He was bored, restless and was only going through the motions.
With his previous military experience, he was a candidate for the Navy Seals. After finishing training, he was assigned to Seal Team 3 for the next eight years and participated in operations all over the globe. Steve applied for Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the U.S. Navy’s premier hostage rescue and counter-terrorism unit. They had virtually unlimited resources at their disposal.
The only place in the world where fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are cooperating is in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region, giving the extremists greater depth as they push into new areas, according to the commander of the U.S. military’s special operations forces in Africa.
Master Chief Nielsen was part of the U.S. force that conducted a dangerous hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October 2020, to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. The area where Phillip Kidman was being held was along the Niger and Nigeria border. More than three-fourths of Niger, which is north of Nigeria, is covered by the Sahara Desert. The other fourth is the Sahel, a region of dry grasslands and savannas that is just south of the desert. It has become a hotbed of Islamic militants and going into that region was going to be extremely dangerous.
Master Chief Nielsen briefed the team on their assignments and then added, “Good luck.”
Even though the force went in under the cover of darkness and made it to the heavily fortified compound without detection, once they engaged the extremists, the battle was hard fought and brutal. Four Green Berets and five Nigerians were killed and eight Nigerians and two U.S. Rangers and one Seal were wounded. Despite the losses, the force never wavered for a moment. The mission was completed and Kidman was rescued. The death toll for the extremists was 46.
Chief Petty Officer Dan Sherwood was the Seal that was wounded. While his injuries were not life threatening, they were serious enough to end his special operations career. He was also Steve Nielsen’s best friend. After recovering from his wounds, Dan Sherwood found employment in the civilian sector as an investigator for an international law firm and was currently living in Carlsbad, California.
After several more missions, Steve was transferred to Coronado and became an instructor and stayed there for the next two years. With his six years in the Marine Corps and eighteen years in the Navy Seals, Nielsen had 24 years of distinguished military service when he made the decision to retire.
The two former special operatives met for dinner at the Yard House in Carlsbad, “Any plans now that you’re out?” Dan asked.
“A few things are on my radar, nothing definite though. It’s been a while since I’ve had no place to be and nothing to do. I thought I would enjoy it while it lasted,” Steve replied, “Nothing is in my crosshairs and the horizon is clear and I like the view.”
“You take your time ole’ buddy, you deserve it. When the time comes and you start looking for work, you should seriously consider joining me. With your skills and my recommendation, my employer would hire you in a heartbeat. The pay and benefits are great,” Dan smiled.
“Exactly what do you do?”
Dan looked around to make sure that no one was listening, “I find information that other men can’t or won’t look for,” Dan partially explained
“You’ve always liked walking on the edge,” Steve smiled.
“Compared to you, I’m just a rocking chair warrior looking for a sitcom to watch.”
Steve asked, “So what are you working on now?”
“I’ve got a flight to Hong Kong tomorrow. I’m supposed to meet with a Chinese national. Supposedly he’s got Intel that CORVID-19 was brought to America on purpose. If he does have something, then it’s a real game-changer,” Dan answered.
“Depending on who’s involved, I’d say that’s an understatement,” Steve said.
“Why don’t you stay at my place while I’m gone?” Dan offered, “I think you’ll find the accommodations to your liking.”
Steve followed Dan to a street on a bluff that overlooked Carlsbad Beach. Every house on the street was worth millions. Steve got out of the car and looked at the house. “You’re not making this kind of money…not legally that is.”
“It belongs to the law firm,” Dan admitted.
The five thousand square foot palatial home had three suites, one master and two guest quarters. Dan showed Steve around and gave him the alarm code and the combination for the gun safe disguised as a piece of furniture. A limo arrived at 0700 hours the next morning to take Dan to the San Diego Airport.
“Make yourself at home, mi’ casa, su’ casa,” Dan said as he entered the vehicle, “I’ll give you a call once I know when I’ll be coming back.”
The house had a twenty-five yard length pool and later that day, Steve went for a swim. Being a Navy Seal, he was an excellent swimmer and had completed over one hundred laps when he stopped counting. Two hours after he started, he stepped out of the water and was lying on a chaise lounge when he heard the doorbell ring.
When he answered the door, a man was standing there. Steve noticed the large truck in the driveway with the name Pinnacle Nursery printed on it. The man introduced himself, “I’m John Mahan, is Dan home?”
“He’s out of town on business, Can you I help you?”
“I usually deliver flowers three times a year for his landscapers to plant,” John said.
“You know more about it than I do, do what you need to,” Steve said.
John waved to his two employees to begin unloading. Steve thought for a second then asked, “Mahan, I knew a Marine named Mahan, Major Bart Mahan…any relation?”
“Yeah, he’s my brother,” John replied.
“He was a hell of a Marine. What’s he’s doing now?”
“He’s working in Environmental Security on Camp Pendleton,” John answered.
“Next time you talk to him, tell him Steve Nielsen says hello.”
“Did you serve together?” John asked.
“Well, let’s just say that our paths crossed on several occasions,” Steve answered.
“I get it, you’re a Navy Seal. Dan told me the same thing,” John smiled.
“How long have you been working for this company?” Steve made an effort to change the subject.
“I own it. I usually don’t make deliveries, but Dan lets me keep a surfboard in the shed. I heard the waves were up. When he’s not busy, we go out together, if not I’ll catch a few sets myself.”
“I’ll be happy to join you,” Steve offered.
Steve and John got surfboards from the shed, walked down to the beach and paddled out. In between surfing, the two men made small talk. John explained that he met Dan through his brother and they developed a friendship. By the time they finished surfing and returned to the house, John’s employees were helping the landscapers plant the flowers along the driveway.
A car drove up and two Chinese men got out and walked over. Steve immediately knew that these men were more than they appeared to be. The first Chinese man asked stoically, “Are you Dan Sherwood?”
Steve answered, “He’s not here?”
“Who are you?” The Second Chinese man inquired.
“Who are you?” Steve repeated the question.
The two Chinese men looked at each other, didn’t say a word and got back in their car and drove off.
“What was that all about?” John asked.
“Not sure,” Steve responded.
“What’s your feelings about fish tacos?” John asked.
“I’ve got a friend who owns a restaurant, he makes the best fish tacos this side of Cabo San Lucas,” John grinned.
“If you don’t mind driving, I’ll tell the guys to take the truck back.”
“No problem,” Steve answered.
After eating a dozen fish tacos each at Tomas Tacos on South Santa Fe Road in Vista, John commented, “Nothing like surfing to work up an appetite.”
“You’re right, these are great tacos,” Steve said.
After dropping John off at his nursery on Stagecoach Road in Fallbrook, Steve called Dan on his cellphone, but it went straight to voicemail. After returning to Carlsbad, Steve caught a glimpse of the two Chinese men sitting in their car at the end of the street. He tried to call Dan again, but once again it went straight to voicemail. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to make the leap that Dan’s investigation into the CORVID-19 issue and the visit from the two men that Steve believed were members of the Chinese Communist Party were not related.
Steve had spent most of his military career in special ops and covert operations and learned very quickly to never take anything for granted. It was an important character trait to staying alive in a dangerous profession. It was 3AM and Steve was wide awake and fully dressed as he sat in the chair next to the bed. His right index finger was loosely curled around the trigger of a Sig Sauer P229 pistol equipped with a noise suppressor. It held a ten round magazine with another bullet in the chamber.
Nine armed men with masks over their faces disembarked a small boat and made their way up the beach to the stairs that led to the beachfront home. One of the men checked the sliding door and to his surprise, found that it was open. One by one they entered and pulled their high tech infra-red goggles over their eyes to see in the darkened structure. They moved quietly through the house. Room by room, they searched and found nothing. One man opened a closet and Steve put a bullet through his forehead and pulled him inside. Another intruder entered the kitchen and Steve stuck a large kitchen knife in his heart and quietly laid him down on the floor. One by one, Steve took out the intruders until there was only two left. When one of the Chinese operative caught a glimpse of Steve, he opened fire with his automatic weapon. The bullets shattered and punctured everything they came in contact with. The shooter searched for Steve and when he thought he found him, he fired a burst into a large wooden vanity. When the Chinese shooter opened the door, Steve wasn’t in there. He was hiding in the ceiling and fired three rounds into the Chinese man, then dropped down. There was only one man left. He came around the corner and kicked the gun out of Steve’s hand, then in the same movement, kicked Steve twice in the face.
The Chinese agent taunted Steve and encouraged him to step forward and engage in hand to hand combat. The former American operative spit out a mouthful of blood, nodded to accept the challenge. The Chinese operative was highly skilled in martial arts and he kicked Steve several times in the abdomen and thigh region in lightning quick fashion. On the last kick, Steve grabbed the Chinese agent’s leg and snapped it with a well-placed elbow strike above the knee. The intruder yelped in pain and limped backward. Steve stepped forward and punched his adversary three times in the face. He then grabbed the agent’s shirt, lifted him off the ground and slammed him through the glass top of the coffee table with such force that it shattered into a thousand pieces. Steve grabbed a six inch glass shard off the floor and rammed it through the Chinese agent’s throat severing both carotid arteries.
It was 8AM the next morning when John and his brother, former Marine Corps Officer Bart Mahan arrived at the Carlsbad home. John rang the doorbell and after two minutes Steve answered it. He was limping badly and his face was black, blue and badly swollen.
John didn’t know what to say, “I told my brother that you were here. He took the day off work to see you.”
“How have you been, Bart?” Steve said casually when he saw his former comrade.
“Good, how about you?” Bart replied.
“Not bad, c’mon in.”
John and Bart entered and immediately noticed the extensive amount of the damage in the house. They walked into the living room and stepped over the broken glass and dried blood and sat down.
“Can I get you anything?” Steve grimaced.
“We’re fine,” Bart replied, “John told me that you’re visiting Dan. How long do you plan on staying around?”
Steve thought for a second, “Looks like I might be staying a little longer than I expected. I’ll know more when Dan gets back.”
John looked out the glass door and saw a pile of dead bodies on the patio, then nudged Bart and gestured with a slight nod of his head. When Bart noticed what John was looking at he commented, “Anything I can do for you?”
“I’d like to borrow a refrigerated truck for a few days,” Steve said, “I’ve got something that’s going to start to smell pretty soon.”
“I’ve got a truck, I use it to ship flowers to Las Vegas. I can drop it off later today,” John offered.
“I’d appreciate that. I’ve got a few things to take care of. Why don’t we get together when Dan gets back, get some fish tacos and catch up.”
“Absolutely,” Bart promised.
After John and Bart left the house, John asked, “What do you think happened?”
Bart smiled, “Happened where, I didn’t see anything.”
John suddenly grasped the situation, “Oh yeah, I didn’t see nuthin’ either.”
Dan arrived back from Hong Kong three days later and saw the refrigerated truck in the driveway. Steve came outside to meet him, “We need to talk.”
The information that Dan brought back from the Far East was going to put a lot of people in prison and expose a global conspiracy. The Chinese government made a serious tactical error by coming after Steve because now it was a personal issue for him.
While sitting in the small Mexican restaurant in Vista and enjoying their fish tacos, Bart raised his bottle of Corona beer and proposed a toast, “To the dangerous guest.”
The four men clicked bottles and John quipped, “To Seal Team Hospitality…it can be deadly.”
Steve shrugged, “Governor Newsome said to avoid large gatherings. I didn’t figure the Chinese would leave if I asked, so I did my civic duty and killed them to prevent the spread of the virus.”