Remember This Warning
Thomas Calabrese — Gaslighting: is the psychological manipulation of a person usually over a period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator. Gaslighting also can be a deliberate conspiracy whose purpose is to mislead and create lies that are part of a larger plan.
Staff Sergeant Jim Chaney served eleven years in the Marine Corps, the last six with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion on Camp Pendleton. His unit were sent to Lebanon to work with Israeli commandos in search and destroy operations against the organization Hezbollah. While on patrol, the Marines and Israelis came under heavy small arms fire from the terrorists. A rocket propelled grenade exploded near Staff Sergeant Chaney’s position and he suffered eight shrapnel wounds and a traumatic brain injury. Everything went silent and the world began spinning around him. Luckily, Jim regained his equilibrium, but the same could not be said for his hearing. He re-engaged in the firefight and when it was over and the enemy combatants had been defeated thanks to a pinpoint air strike, Sergeant Chaney struggled to his feet. Blood was coming out of his ears and nose and he lost consciousness and passed out.
When he awakened, Staff Sergeant Chaney was at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. His hearing had barely returned, but still couldn’t decipher what people were saying. It was like he was wearing poor quality headphones and could only make out one of every five words. He was given a large notepad and a felt tip pen to communicate. Every so often he became dizzy and broke out in a cold sweat until the nurse gave him a shot of anti-nausea medicine. During his stay in the hospital Jim occasionally lost consciousness and he had a persistent and throbbing headache. While he was no longer bleeding from his ears and nose, clear fluids were now draining from them. It was a difficult five weeks before Jim recovered enough to return to the United States.
Upon his arrival at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps began processing Staff Sergeant Chaney for discharge. Jim had no hard feelings, however it was just human nature that he would have some regrets on how his military career ended. It is an occupational risk that when you serve in combat that there is a distinct possibility that you might not survive and the odds are more than a billion to one than nothing will affect you. Sometimes it’s the invisible wounds that hurt the most. Jim rationalized the unfortunate turn of events by reminding himself that better men than him had given much more.
After leaving the Marine, Jim became dedicated to his recovery. He refused to accept the fact that he would have to stay medicated to be able to function. He went on a strict diet that was high in vegetables and low in carbohydrates. Jim started drinking lemon water with cayenne pepper to flush out unwanted toxic materials, stimulate his circulatory system and regulate his blood sugar. He was already proficient in martial arts, but started a rigorous training regimen to improve his skills and began meditating every morning and night.
With the help of the Wounded Warriors Foundation Jim was able to find a room to rent from a retired Marine and his wife who lived on Machado Street in South Oceanside. There were times when Jim couldn’t sleep so he would ride his bike down to the beach and listen to the waves coming ashore. It had a relaxing and therapeutic effect on him.
Jim did not even consider the fact that he would not get back to normal and he continued to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude. He felt that his mission to serve and protect was not over yet. An anonymous and very generous benefactor bought some gift cards and donated them to the Wounded Warrior Foundation. One of them was for the Water Grill, a seafood restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. Jill Christianson was a counselor at the foundation and offered a card to Jim, “Is this something you might be interested in? I’ve eaten there before, they have very good food.”
Jim hesitated, “I don’t know, wouldn’t it be better to give it to someone else?”
“I’ve already passed out most of the cards. When was the last time you were in San Diego?” Jill asked.
“It’s been a while.”
Jill suggested, “It could be good for you…see something different…eat something different. Do it for me and if you don’t like it, you won’t do it again.”
“That’s a good point,” Jim smiled. “Thank you for thinking about me. I guess I could find something that is within my diet guidelines.”
One of issues caused by his traumatic brain injury was hypervigilance so Jim went online to research everything about the eatery including photos of the interior and exterior and their menu. Jim decided what he was going to order before he boarded the Coaster at 1000 hours the next morning. It was a sunny day and his seat on the train offered a beautiful view of the coastline. Jim was enjoying the ride and he was glad that he decided to go. He arrived at the convention center train station and walked six minutes to the Gaslamp Quarter. Since this was new terrain to him, Jim remembered everything he saw and when he arrived at the Water Grill, he was one of the first people to be seated for lunch. Without hesitation, he informed the waitress, “Calamari appetizers, main course will be Mahi, Mahi with mashed potatoes, asparagus and raspberry ice tea. One more thing I have a gift card.”
The waitress looked at the card and commented, “No problem, will someone be joining you?”
“No ma’am, I will dining along.”
After leaving the Water Grill, Jim noticed three trucks parked along the side of the street. Large black screen were placed to prevent people from seeing what was going on behind them. Signs were placed tripods that read; Filming in Progress, No Trespassing. Jim overheard two pedestrians speaking.
Man commented, “They’re making a movie.”
“I wonder what it is,” the woman said and they walked on.
Jim had no reason to doubt their assessment of the situation until he heard two men speaking in military terms from behind the barrier. The ten foot high screens overlapped each other so Jim moved one of them to get a better view. What he saw did not look like a movie location, but rather the staging area of a small military operation with a dozen armed men standing around. A man approached Jim, assuming that he was part of the crew and said, “You better get ready, we’re moving in soon.”
“Roger that,” Jim replied without thinking.
Another man walked up and handed an AK-47 assault rifle to Jim and suggested, “Mask up.”
All the other men were wearing masks so Jim looked for something to cover his face. He found a rag in the back of a truck and tore it into a long strip and tied it around his face. Jim wondered if he was hallucinating because things seemed surreal. This was downtown San Diego and he felt like he was preparing for a combat mission. One of the men finally realized that Jim wasn’t part of the team and called to him, “Hey you!”
Jim pretended not to hear and kept walking away. The man pointed his rifle at Jim’s back and ordered, “Stay right where you are!”
Jim dived for cover as bullets hit all around him. He found a crate to hide behind and returned fire. Several men went down. A stun grenade landed near Jim and before he could react, it exploded, rattled him to the core and aggravated his pre-existing condition. Grabbing his head in excruciating pain, Jim ran through the barrier and stumbled down the street as blood gushed from his nose. Everything was spinning and then it went black. When Jim awakened, he was lying in an alley and moaning in pain. A lady heard his discomfort as she walked down the street and called 911, “There’s somebody in trouble, it is in the alley near 4th and Broadway,” then disconnected.
A group of men were monitoring police and fire calls and when they heard this transmission, one of them yelled out, “This might be our man.”
When the police arrived, Jim was incoherent and not making any sense as he tried to explain what happened. Two officers looked at him with quizzical looks upon their faces. A few seconds later, two men walked up and flashed their identification at local enforcement. One of the men said, “Homeland Security, we’ll take it from here.”
One of the police officers suggested, “He needs medical care.”
“I said we’ll take it from here, go give some parking tickets,” the man responded impatiently.
Jim was placed in the backseat of a car and taken to a warehouse near the Broadway Pier. He was locked in a room for five hours and while trying to sleep on the floor and ease the pain in his head the two men returned. One of the men helped Jim to a chair as the other man proceeded to read from a folder, “Former Marine Staff Sergeant James Chaney, wounded in action and medically discharged for traumatic brain injury.”
The other man added, “You had a hallucination, it’s not uncommon for someone in your condition to experience one. None of what you thought you saw actually happened.”
Jim thought it was a little strange that they were telling him that he didn’t see anything without asking what he saw. Another thing, how did they find out about his military history so quickly? They were ‘gaslighting him’, but why? Jim didn’t have a lot of options so he played along with their subterfuge and acted weak-minded and gullible. “You’re right, I can’t seem to recall what happened. I’d like to go home now and rest.”
The two men nodded to each other and the first one said, “We’ll give you a ride home.”
“Thanks anyway, I’ll take the Coaster,” Jim said.
The other man forcefully disagreed, “Its standard policy besides it’s a privilege to take care of our veterans.”
Jim’s hyper-vigilance had kicked in and his mind was racing with a variety of scenarios and none of them were good. The two men led him out of the room that was the office space of a warehouse. The three trucks that Jim saw earlier in the Gaslamp Quarter were now parked nearby. This reinforced his suspicions that these men were not to be trusted.
One of the men walked over to where the trucks were parked and conversed with several men for a couple minutes before returning to tell Jim, “Unexpectedly, something has come up so unfortunately we won’t be able to give you a ride. Some of our associates will take you.”
“No problem,” Jim said passively, “I’m flexible.”
A few seconds passed and three hard looking individuals walked up. They scowled at Jim, who quickly deducted that they were mercenaries, he had seen enough civilian contractors during his time in the Corps to recognize one.
“Do you mind if I use the men’s room before we leave?” Jim asked.
One of the men said, “Go ahead,” and pointed to the corner, “It’s over there.”
As he walked, Jim realized that he was in a fluid situation that was going from bad to worse. As soon as he entered the bathroom Jim frantically searched for anything that he could use as a weapon. Luckily, he found a piece of nylon rope that was two feet in length and an 8 inch screwdriver in a utility closet. He slipped the screwdriver up his shirt sleeve and put the rope down his pants.
While Jim was in the men’s room, one of the men turned to the others, “This might just work out for the best. With his mental issues, Staff Sergeant Chaney is a perfect fall guy. We’ll blame everything on him when this is over.”
There were three men in the sedan with Jim. Two were in the front seat and one was in back. No one spoke and Jim just assumed that since they were holding all the good cards in this game, why waste time with meaningless conversation. They didn’t even try to fabricate an excuse on why they were driving east instead of heading north to Oceanside. Their overconfidence irritated Jim.
There comes a time when a man realizes that he’s living on borrowed time. Jim was completely aware that his life could be measured in minutes and not years. He closed his eyes and listened to every sound as they drove, it helped him focus.
Finally, one of the men said, “Make a left at the next road. This is far enough.”
Jim felt the car slowing down and the man in the front seat said. “Wake him up!”
The individual in the backseat roughly jostled Jim who opened his eyes and looked around at the arid landscape and said, “Are we in Oceanside?”
The driver snickered, “This guy is one stupid idiot. Let’s get this over with. Remember to get some of his DNA, cut off a couple of his fingers should do.”
Using the pretense that he was going to comply without resistance, Jim waited until precisely the right moment to make his move. He reached deep into his soul where his most valued memories of being a Marine still lived. Jim had two things going for him; one was the art of the surprise and the second was his resolve to never give up without a fight. Jim stabbed the man sitting in the backseat through the heart with the screwdriver then pulled out the rope and looped it over the driver’s head and yanked with all his might to snap his neck. There was only one man left to deal with now. No time for planning, Jim instinctively grabbed the pistol from the man next to him, rolled out the door and laid flat on the ground. He knew that if he ran off the man would have a clear shot at him in this open terrain.
It seemed like a lot longer than a few seconds, but eventually the man stepped out of the vehicle with his weapon, his index finger caressing the trigger and scanned the area. Jim remained completely silent, not even breathing. He could only see the lower part of his adversary’s legs so he took aim and shot the man in the ankle. When he fell down, Jim shot him in the chest.
The man was fatally wounded and Jim walked around to the other side of the car, looked down and asked, “Who are you and what you doing”
The man whispered, “Black ops, they pay and I play.”
“I need to know if this is a battle that I want to fight,” Jim said, “At one time doing the right thing must have mattered to you. You got the chance to leave this world on a high note.”
The man was choking on his own blood so Jim bent down and lifted his head up so he could speak. The man said, “Thanks…there’s a news organization that’s been investigating and reporting about the 900 billion dollars that went missing during the pandemic. There are some very powerful people in the government who stole a lot of that money.
Our mission was to make sure that nothing led back to them and kill everyone involved. A simple search and destroy mission.”
“That’s harsh,” Jim commented, “What’s the name of the company?”
“The man mumbled, “Patriot American News,” then died.
Jim looked at the three dead men and came to the conclusion that this was definitely a cause worth fighting for. He took their weapons, phones and cash and drove back to San Diego. Along the way, Jim flashbacked to a movie from the 1970’s called, Three Days of The Condor. In that film, armed men killed six researchers because one of them had an unsubstantiated theory about a covert operation that came too close to the truth. That made them a liability. The similarity to this situation was that Patriot American News was a significant threat to those in power and needed to be eliminated.
As he was driving, Jim didn’t think it was a good strategic plan to go back to the warehouse where he had been held, but instead chose to go the location where he first saw the trucks. Once he arrived, Jim knew that it was no coincidence that the address of Patriots American News was nearby. The trucks weren’t there, which gave him a little time but Jim knew that they could be arriving at any time. He entered the building, checked the directory and took the elevator to the third floor. He told the receptionist, “I need to speak to the person in charge.”
The receptionist responded, “Mr. Hanson is in a meeting.”
“This is an emergency,” Jim said, “It can’t wait.”
A man in his mid-fifties walked into the lobby and introduced himself, “I’m Sean Victor Hanson, how can I help you?”
“You and your staff are in danger,” Jim said emphatically.
“How so?” Sean Hanson asked.
“You’ve been investigating the massive fraud concerning the COVID stimuli package. Some people don’t like it and they’re sending people to stop you permanently.”
“They would never go that far,” Sean Hanson said.
Jim looked out the window and saw the three trucks pulling up. He gestured to Sean to take a look at the street below, “See those trucks?”
Sean Hanson responded, “That’s the movie crew, they were here yesterday.”
“That’s not a movie crew, they are a hit squad and you’ve got about three minutes to get out of here. If you are going to investigate the criminal element in the government then you should remember that there is no line they won’t cross and that includes treason and murder.
Sean Hanson yelled out, “Everybody leave now! This is an emergency so leave by the back stairs. Now…move it.”
By the time the armed men made it to the third floor, the offices were empty. They searched the area and found nothing. While this was going on, Jim had already exited the building. He shot two men that were standing guard in front of the trucks. Jim dialed 911 and reported a terrorist attack at that location then sabotaged the trucks so that they would not run. By the time the hit team made it down to the street, dozens of police officers had the building surrounded. Since their transportation was disabled and their escape options were limited, there were only two options, surrender or fight. These men were highly skilled, well paid and had no desire to spend any time in a maximum security correctional facility so to a man they chose to fight.
If it wasn’t that Jim Chaney had a concealed position behind the assassination squad, the results would have been much different. When all the members of the hit team had been killed or seriously wounded, police and sheriff’s deputies moved in and took control of the situation. The two men that took Jim to the warehouse, inconspicuously made their escape during the fog of battle.
They made it to Seaport Village and were sitting on a bench in the Carousel District.
One man turned to the other and sighed in relief, “That was close.”
The other man said, “Too close, let’s get out of the country until things cool down.”
“I know somebody in the Sinaloa Cartel, I’ll call him. Cancun, here we come,” The first man smiled.
Jim walked up behind the men and shot each one in the back of the head then disappeared into the crowd. He took the coaster back to Oceanside and despite all the danger and how close he came to getting killed, Jim Chaney never felt better. Just remember this warning especially if you value your life, No Gaslighting in the Gaslamp Quarter, especially when dealing with combat tested Marines.
This is a 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.
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org
A great Southern California story!! That’s one tough Marine! Reminds me of the old Timex commercial: “Takes a Licking but keeps on ticking!” Aside from physical torture, the VC used gaslighting techniques to disorient our POWs…and we did the same during the Iraq War. Man’s Inhumanity to Man! At least no dog was harmed in this story!
I always like the way that Tom develops his stories He creates a character with flaws that overcomes obstacles to accomplish the right thing. A great combination of humanity and heroism.
You pretty much know. That Tom’s stories Aare going to be about a Military type of Hero that is Going. to kill a bunch of
What I like is the way he introduces new Scenarios. to keep your attention.
I just finished reading your story. Very clever. As always, you give my life a “big bump” just by reading your stories every Sunday.
Good Marine storyline. Enjoyed your Sunday morning story.
Great story Tom. And thanks very much for the actual definition of the word ‘Gaslighting’. To tell you the truth I had only fairly recently begun to hear that word used. The only thing(or word)similar to it was the movie title “Gaslight”. I had seen the movie with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman several times but until recently,had never heard the word gaslighting used. Keep up the good work.
Next time I’m in the Gaslamp Quarter, I’ll look up the Water Grill and remember that there is No Gaslighting in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Another good story from the Combat Vet series. What season and episode is this one.
Mr. Calabrese is a skilled writer and writes some not only interesting stories but informative if you read the story thoroughly.
Sunday’s story in the Vista Press grabbed my attention immediately.
No matter our age should try to be vigilant about our surroundings.
We may not be concern or drop our guard because we are not a threat to anyone but this not not mean we can not be a victim. The are precautions we take and certainly we should take note of our surroundings and attempt to avoid being a victim. Great story and certainly captured my attention reminding me to remain conscious of my surrounding. Stay safe everyone.
Great story Tom. Plenty of action.