You Don’t Cross
Thomas Calabrese — A woman with her eight-year daughter has just exited the Dolce Cabana store at the Westfield Shopping Center, located at 4545 La Jolla Village Drive in San Diego, California with four bodyguards, two in front of them and two behind. The woman informed the chief bodyguard, “We’ll be going to the Gucci store next.”
“Yes ma’am,” The armed man responded.
As the group began walking toward their next destination, a dozen men dressed in construction clothing approached from the other direction. They were pushing four large metal containers that resembled small dumpsters or extra-large tool boxes. When they got close to the woman and child, six men shot the bodyguards with powerful Taser darts. When they went down, their wrists and ankles were duct-taped and a strip was placed over their mouths to silence them. They were lifted into the containers and the lids were closed. While this was happening, four other men subdued the woman and child and placed rags dipped with a powerful anesthesia over their mouths and noses. When they passed out they were placed in a different container. The entire attack and capture was meticulously planned and took less than two minutes to complete. The dumpsters were rolled to a loading dock on the east end of the shopping center. The one with the bodyguards was left at the shopping center while the other one with the woman and child in it was rolled on to a truck. Five men got in with it and the rest jumped down and entered two waiting black SUV’s.
President Ronald Stratton was standing under a tree on the grounds of the White House when the Director of National Intelligence Frank McDaniel approached, “You wanted to see me, sir.”
“I did, thanks for coming so quickly,” President Stratton looked around to make sure that no one was within hearing range. “Walk with me.”
“Yes sir,” Frank McDaniel noticed that President Stratton was visibly distraught, “Is something wrong?”
The two men strolled along the finely manicured White House grounds for several minutes before the President finally spoke, “My daughter-in-law and granddaughter were kidnapped while on vacation in San Diego.”
Frank McDaniel was astonished and stopped dead in tracks, “Have you notified the Secret Service and the FBI?”
President Stratton responded, “I can’t take the chance that it won’t be leaked back to the kidnappers.”
“So you think that it is politically motivated?” Frank said.
“You’re the intelligence expert, you tell me. Their ransom demand is that I release the Seventh Fleet movements in the South China Seas over an unsecured line to the Chinese,” President Stratton stated.
“Then they’ll intercept the call and charge you with treason,” Frank shook his head in disgust, “I was assigned to the Pentagon about ten years ago and I thought things were pretty bad back then, but compared to now that was Disneyland crossed with Shangri-La. In over thirty years in the military, I’ve served in some real hellholes, but it comes to moral depravity and ethical bankruptcy, Washington rates at the top of the list. You’ve got politicians in charge of billions of dollars that I wouldn’t trust to pick up dog droppings. Entrenched entitled bureaucrats live by the philosophy that anything they can steal was there in the first place. There should be a sign hanging over the entrance to Congress that reads, ‘Too ignorant to know, too arrogant to care.”
“Sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought?” President Stratton commented.
“Not by choice, sir, usually these thoughts appear in my nightmares,” Frank answered, “I don’t know what I can do for you, I’m part of this broken system and can’t even promise you that there aren’t leaks in my agency.”
“There is one distinct difference; you are an American warrior, a man who has always put the welfare of the country above your own. I don’t want to put you on the spot, Frank, but I need to go outside the system if I’m going to get my daughter-in-law and granddaughter back.”
“Without committing treason and losing your Presidency,” Frank reminded the Chief Executive.
“Despite what some people may think, my presidency doesn’t seem that important to me right now.”
“How did the kidnappers communicate with you?” Frank asked.
“They didn’t, they contacted my son and he contacted me. The kidnappers made it perfectly clear that they had people in the system and would know if I reported this. If I did, they vowed to kill them,” President Stratton sighed, “My son is very distraught, but he said to handle it in any way I thought best.
“How long did they give you?” Frank asked.
“They want it done by Friday.”
“Today’s Monday, which gives us only three full days, not much time to track them down and do a rescue” Frank pondered, “I need to be honest with you, it doesn’t look good.”
“There’s one thing that might help. Right after I was elected, I received a significant amount of threats. During one of our large family get-togethers in San Clemente, California, a friend and supporter, a tech guy from Silicon Valley came down with some other people.
I used the excuse of harvesting stem cells in case of future illnesses to imbed human microchips in everyone. (A microscopic RFID transponder integrated circuit device). At the time, I thought it was overkill, it might turn out to be my best decision as President.”
“So you’re saying you know where your daughter-in-law and granddaughter are being held?”
President Stratton nodded.
“I know some men who might be able to help us,” Frank commented.
“Are they in the government?” President Stratton asked.
“I need to ask you two questions; are they good and can they be trusted?” President Stratton inquired.
“They are the very best and men of their word. If they say they’ll do it, then nothing and I mean nothing will deter them from their mission. As for trust, if this was my family and not yours, these are the men that I would want.”
President Stratton choked back his emotions, wiped a tear from his eyes and handed a small envelope to Frank, “A thumb-drive with a password for the transponders.”
Frank McDaniel flew to San Diego that night on a commercial flight under an alias name instead of using a government jet. He didn’t want anyone to know he was going. then rented a car and drove to Fallbrook, California.
The 40 acre parcel was located just west of Interstate 15 with most of the property on a steep incline. There was a flat area of two acres on top with four metal buildings that were forty feet square and twenty feet high. Three motor homes were situated in a half circle and a large fenced area had three Belgian Malinois dogs in it. Large canvas awnings were strategically placed around the area to provide shade during the hottest part of the day or for protection from the rain. There were a hundred solar panels facing south and a dozen Lithium Ion batteries to store the energy. Three industrial size ‘off the grid’ generators, a large water tank and purification system were also on the property There was a large satellite dish with cables that ran into one of the buildings and sitting on a landing pad was a Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter.
Frank drove up the narrow road, passing several close circuit cameras along the way. The reinforced metal gate opened when he got close and he didn’t even have to slow down. He drove to the center of the compound, got out and looked around. Bart Collins, Jimmy Marengo and Docker Hancock approached from out of nowhere. Bart was a former Delta Force operative, Jimmy used to be Air Force Pararescue and Docker Hancock was a retired Navy Seal.
The men exchanged heartfelt greetings and Frank commented, “How’s living off the grid?”
Jimmy smiled, “It has its benefits.”
“We don’t get a lot of solicitors or junk mail,” Docker added.
“We’re having swordfish steaks for lunch, join us,” Bart offered, “Bad news goes down better with good food.”
“What makes you think that its bad news?” Frank asked.
“I can’t remember anybody coming to see us with good news,” Bart pondered.
“I can…never!” Jimmy quickly interjected.
“I’d feel sorry for you, but I know you wouldn’t have it any other way, “Frank said.
The four American warriors walked over to a large barbecue. Jimmy began grilling the fish while the other three men lounged in oversized patio furniture, drinking ice cold beer as the dogs milled about.
“Have you guys been keeping busy?” Frank inquired.
“Enough to pay the bills,” Docker replied.
Jimmy served up the swordfish to his comrades accompanied with rice and vegetables then handed a swordfish steak to each dog and sat down.
“You have a mission for us?” Jimmy asked.
“This is way off the books,” Frank replied.
“Our favorite kind,” Bart winked.
After eating , Frank sighed, “Great meal and as much as I’d like to sit here and do nothing except drink beer and enjoy the view, we’re on the clock gentlemen.”
“Roger that,” Docker nodded.
The four men walked into one of the metal buildings. There were three computer terminals with large screens, Docker sat down at one of them and held out his hand. Frank handed him the thumb-drive and he inserted it.
“Delta, Alpha, 635, Zulu, Tango,” Frank said.
Docker put in the password and the screen came alive and two red dots appeared. “Let me see if I can get this a little clearer. He tapped a few keys and a map of California appeared on the screen with the two dots.
Jimmy looked at the screen, “Big Bear.”
“That’s the President’s daughter in-law and granddaughter you’re looking at,” Frank said. There was no comment from the three men, “Don’t you want to know why I came to you?”
“Don’t need to, we see the news,” Bart replied.
“I could request satellite photos of that area, but other people would have to get involved. I can’t have that.”
“We’ll do our own surveillance,” Jimmy offered.
“I’ll get the camera ready,” Docker said.
A few minutes later, the four men boarded the helicopter and took off with Jimmy at the controls. The camera was mounted beneath it. When they reached Big Bear, Jimmy quickly circled the area to the avoid suspicion from those on the ground while Docker operated the camera from inside the cabin. It only took a few minutes and they were headed back to Fallbrook.
When they landed, Jimmy put the digital film in the computer and the terrain came into view. Big Bear Lake is located in the San Bernardino Mountains, a high and rugged mountain range in Southern California that tops out at 11,489 feet. The film footage showed a large cabin that was two miles from San Gorgonio Mountain, the tallest peak in all of Southern California. Jimmy magnified the image on the screen and it showed several armed guards patrolling the area.
“I’ve hiked that area…it’s very rough terrain. If we tried to take them out by coming overland, we would have to move so slow to avoid detection, it would take at least three days to reach the target,” Docker commented.
“We don’t have that kind of time,” Frank warned.
“Keep running the film,” Bart suggested and after ten seconds of looking at the footage, “That’s it, stop right there, now magnify it.”
The image on the screen showed a large flat rock at the edge of a steep cliff, “That’s about two hundred yards from the cabin. That’s our insertion point.”
Frank looks at the screen, “How are you going to get up to it?”
“You mean down to it,” Docker said, “We’ll parachute in.”
“They’ll see you,” Frank warned.
“Not if we do it at night,” Jimmy replied.
“We’ll do a HALO (high altitude low opening) jump and then make our way to the cabin,” Bart added.
Frank rubbed his chin, “Let me see if I got this right; you’re going to do a HALO jump in the middle of the night and hit a target that’s maybe ten yards square and if you miss it, you go over the edge of the cliff and die.”
“I couldn’t have put it better by myself,” Jimmy smiled.
“How much time do you need to plan this?” Frank asked.
Docker looked at his watch, “A couple hours will do; we have a friend who owns a skydiving company. I’ll call and tell him to be ready for takeoff at 2200 hours.”
The plane took off from the Perris Valley Airport with the special operatives and their dogs. The plane reached an altitude of 12,000 feet as it circled Big Bear Lake. Because of the smallness of the landing zone, the three men decided to stagger their jumps. They marked their target with an infra-red light that could only be seen by their special goggles. The three men were master parachutists and after cutting cards and winning with the Queen of Hearts, Jimmy chose to be the first out with his dog Gunner strapped to his chest. He fell to 2,000 feet before opening his black chute and drifted down to the target. The plane continued to circle overhead and when Jimmy radioed the aircraft, Docker went out with his dog Gauge and repeated the same jump maneuver; free-falling to 2,000 before opening chute. When Docker landed he sent a radio signal and Bart exited the aircraft with his canine Walter. Bart maneuvered toward the landing zone after opening his chute, but a slight gust of wind caught him at the last moment and pushed him further than he planned. Luckily, Jimmy and Docker were waiting at the edge of the cliff to grab him before he went over.
“That next step is a doozy,” Jimmy commented as he looked over the edge.
“Who says doozy anymore, “Docker commented.
The three operatives put on their night vision goggles and moved out into the dark wilderness with their dogs. After walking two hundred yards, they saw three armed guard standing together on a ridgeline and took them out with accurate headshots. The operatives crawled the last twenty five yards on their bellies to the south side of the cabin. Docker placed a thermal detection device against the wooden exterior wall and it indicated eleven images inside the structure, nine in one area and two in another. The operatives had worked together long enough to be able to give hand signals without going into wordy details on their plan of attack.
They split up and moved to three different sides of the cabin. When they were in position, Docker whispered into his radio, “On my count…one…two…three. They blew the doors open with blasts from their weapons and entered simultaneously. They caught the men inside by total surprise and the three dogs launched themselves through the air when two men tried to escape. After they were brought down, the three operatives called off their animal counterparts. “Heel!”
The nine men in the cabin were all former military and some had even served in Special Forces units. They were good, but none were at the level of Jimmy, Bart and Docker.
Docker recognized one of the men and shook his head in disgust, “Eddie, what the hell are you doing?”
Eddie responded simply, “Doing a job…just like you guys.”
“Nothing like us,” Jimmy lashed out.
“Times have changed, it’s not like it used to be when we were on the team together. It is all about money and power now. Why should I risk my neck while everybody else is getting rich?” I’m going to get my share and I don’t care who’s paying me,” Eddie confessed.
“You’ve fallen a long way since the last time I saw you,” Docker sighed.
“Can you give me a break for old times’ sake?” Eddie pleaded, “I’ll disappear and you’ll never see me again.”
“No can do,” Bart replied, “Some lines you just don’t cross and some debts are payable on demand.”
“When operatives like us have adversarial missions, there is always one thing that you can be sure of, even in this changing world,” Jimmy said.
“What’s that?” Eddie swallowed hard.
Docker’s tone of voice foreshadowed that a reckoning was eminent, “That men are going to die.”
Eddie saw the writing on the wall and decided to go down fighting, “What the hell!” Even though Docker, Jimmy and Bart were outnumbered nine to three, they were more than up to the task. As soon as Eddie reached for his weapon, the other men followed his cue and reached for theirs. The gunfight was over in less than three seconds and the kidnappers lied dead on the floor. Jimmy found the President’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter in a back room.
Frank McDaniel finished his appointment as Director of National Intelligence, bought himself a large motor home and drove across the country to Fallbrook, California to join up with the three operatives. It took them eighteen months to track down all the conspirators in the kidnapping. The last thought, or maybe it is more accurate to say regret, that went through the minds of these politically motivated criminals before they went down for their dirt nap was; There Are Some Lines You Don’t Cross.