Great Traveling Companion
Thomas Calabrese — Mason Sheridan met Katie Matheson when they were both cadets at the Naval Academy. It wasn’t as if they were romantically involved or even close friends, more like casual acquaintances. Mason was a linebacker on the Navy football team and Katie ran cross country. They would see each other in the fitness center or in class and exchange a ‘how you doing’ or just nod and smile. After graduation they went their separate ways and didn’t see one other for ten years until their paths crossed again at Bagram Air Base in Kabul Afghanistan. Mason was with Seal Team 4, a component of Naval Special Warfare Command and Katie was with Naval Intelligence. Mason and Katie worked together during the initial stages of an operation then communicated in real time during the mission and during the de-briefings. Mason deeply respected Katie’s expertise and knew that while his SEALs might be the point of the spear, Katie and her fellow Intel specialists were the handle.
On one particular mission in the Helmand Province, the Navy SEALs were engaged in a vicious firefight with the Taliban after capturing a HVT (high value target). Lt. Commander Sheridan was in command of the mission and turned to Chief Petty Officer Oland, “You take Alpha and Bravo team and get to the extraction point with the HVT. I’ll take Charlie and Delta and lead the Tangos (Taliban) away from you, then do a 180,” Lt Commander Sheridan looked at his watch, “1335 now, if we’re not there by 1400, then get out.”
“Roger that,” Chief Petty Officer Oland answered, “Alpha and Bravo with me.”
Lt. Commander Sheridan ran off and his Navy SEALs were right on his heels. About one click away (one thousand meters) he looked back and saw a large group of enemy combatants getting out of a dozen trucks and spreading out over the open terrain. The Taliban began moving in their direction and Sheridan determined that to get to the primary extraction point, the Navy Seals would have to run miles to the left or right to get around them. Sheridan saw ominous dark clouds coming in from the north and lightning flashing across the sky. He turned to Senior Chief Harmon, “We’re not going to make it back.”
“It looks that way,” Senior Chief Harmon agreed, “What’s our plan now?”
“Radio Alpha and Bravo and tell them that we are into escape and evade mode. We need to find a place to make a stand before moving to the secondary extraction point.”
While Lt. Commander Sheridan surveyed the terrain with his high powered binoculars, Senior Chief Harmon came back a minute later, “We’ve got no com.”
“Did you try the alternate frequencies?”
“Affirmative,” Senior Chief Harmon answered.
Back at Central Command, the support team was closely monitoring a fluid situation. One member called out, “We’re losing satellite surveillance, heavy cloud cover is moving in.”
Admiral Stiles ordered, “Let’s get a surveillance drone in the air.”
“Sir, the weather is getting worse. By the time we get a drone over the site, it would be dealing with gale force winds.” A technician reminded the high ranking naval officer.
A radio transmission came in from Chief Petty Officer Oland and it was garbled and barely audible “Moving toward extraction point with HVT.”
Lt. Matheson replied, “Confirmed.”
“We split with Mike Charlie (Mission Commander) and Alpha and Bravo teams. They led a large enemy force away from our position, haven’t been able to contact them.”
Admiral Stiles ordered, “Somebody get Sheridan on the horn!”
Communications Officer Commander Barton Leighton tried in vain to contact Lt. Commander Sheridan, “Can’t reach him, sir.”
“What the hell!” Admiral Stiles grumbled, “We’ve got all this high tech equipment and we can’t reach our men. Somebody please tell me how this can happen.”
“Copper, “Lt. Commander Matheson volunteered.
“Copper, what the hell does that have to do with it?”
Lt. Matheson used her laser pointer to highlight a mountain range. “This area has a high concentration of copper and copper blocks radio waves.” Sheridan and his men are in this area.”
“You seem very certain of that fact, Lt. Commander,” Admiral Stiles stated.
“Sheridan is a top tier operative and he knows that if he can’t get back to the primary extraction point or has enough time to make it to the secondary one, he’s going to head for high ground and hold it as long as he can.” Lt Commander Matheson stated matter of factly.
“Storm moving in quickly…window is closing, sir.” Naval Officer responded.
“I want two birds in the air, one to the primary extraction point and the other to the mountain range,” Admiral Stiles ordered. “Let’s hope that we make it in time. I hope you’re right about Sheridan’s location, Lt. Commander. We’ve only got one shot at this.”
“Yes sir,” Lt. Commander Matheson responded.
Two armed helicopters from Special Operations Aviation Command took off from their base and were quickly buffeted by high winds. The pilot said, “This weather is going to get a lot worse.”
Sheridan and his comrades made their way up the steep mountain trail with the Taliban fighters closing in quickly. “Spence! Eddie! Set up claymores then meet us on top.”
The two Navy SEALs stayed behind to place anti-personnel mines along the trail. Once the other SEALs reached the ridgeline, they found defensive positions and pointed their weapons down the mountain. Two miles away the first helicopter landed and Chief Petty Oland and his men boarded and were gone in an instant. The second chopper continued to the mountain range where the SEALs were involved in a firefight with the enemy. When the Taliban fighters reached the place in the trail where the mines were placed, one of the Navy SEALs detonated them and took out several fighters. Lt. Commander Sheridan knew that they couldn’t hold off the larger force indefinitely. Add to that the worsening weather, the lack of radio communications and the situation was dire and desperate and approaching hopeless at warp speed. The Taliban fighters started firing rocket propelled grenades and when the projectiles struck the boulders, rock fragments filled the air with piercing needles of stone.
Lt. Commander Sheridan cautioned his men, “Conserve your ammo. One shot, one kill!”
The SEALs were the ultimate professionals, but it didn’t hurt to remind them to keep their weapons on semi instead of fully automatic. The wind was howling through the canyons and it made it impossible for the Americans to hear the stealth helicopter. They saw it when it was only a hundred feet away from their position. Sheridan sighed in relief and fired a flare into the air to let the pilots know their exact position. A crewman lowered several ropes that dragged across the rocky terrain while the gunners on the chopper fired down at the enemy fighters to keep them pinned down. The pilots hovered just long enough for the Navy SEALs to attach their harnesses to the rope. Sheridan provided cover fire for his men then hooked up and was shot in the upper left thigh just as he was lifted off the ground. As the helicopter headed home, blood poured from his open wound. As soon as the aircraft touched down, medical personnel rushed to Lt. Commander Sheridan’s aid.
The Navy SEAL was lying in his hospital bed with his leg elevated when Kate Matheson appeared at the door, “Want some company?”
“Absolutely!” Sheridan replied.
“How’s the leg?”
“They’re going to medivac me back to the states for another surgery, but considering how things could have gone down, I got no complaints.”
“I wish you a full and speedy recovery,” Matheson said.
“They told me that you’re responsible for saving me and my men’s lives.”
“I made a suggestion, that’s all,” Matheson shrugged modestly, “The Admiral gave the order…thank him.”
“I already did and you know what he told me?”
“What?” Matheson asked.
“That there was no doubt in your mind that we were on that mountain,” Sheridan said, “Am I really that predictable?”
“I don’t know about your personal life, but professionally I can read you like an open book,” Matheson’s tone of voice had a trace of playfulness to it.
“Want to find out?”
“Find out what?” Matheson inquired.
“If I’m this predictable in my personal life,” Sheridan said coyly.
“You’re going back to the states and I still have two months left on my tour. How about a raincheck?”
“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it,” Sheridan said.
“Stay safe, Sheridan,” Matheson said as she turned to leave.
“You as well, Matheson.”
Lt. Commander Sheridan had a successful surgery on his injured leg at Walter Reed Military Hospital then was sent to Navy SEAL East Coast Headquarters in Little Creek, Virginia. He had almost fully recovered when he received orders for Coronado, California. Senior Chief Harmon had returned from his deployment and approached him in the messhall, “I heard you’re leaving for the West Coast.”
“Yeah,” Sheridan replied.
“I wanted to ask you a favor,” Senior Chief Harmon said.
“I got a great deal on a Jeep Grand Cherokee that only has about 30,000 miles. I bought it for seven thousand below blue book from some Corpsman who’s going through a divorce. I told my younger brother who’s a Marine at Camp Pendleton about it and we made arrangements through Navy Federal for him to buy it from me. I’ll pay you to drive it to California for me.”
“Why don’t you ship it by truck?” Sheridan asked
“I checked that already, it’s about 1500 dollars.” Senior Chief Sheridan answered, “I can give you 700 for gas and food.”
“Why don’t you have your brother take a cheap flight and drive it back himself.”
“That was the plan, he had his reservation booked and then his wife caught a virus. She’s in the base hospital and he doesn’t want to leave her. I’m heading overseas in a couple weeks and I don’t to leave the car parked here while I’m gone. My brother has this old car that keeps breaking down and this would be a really nice reliable vehicle for him and his family.” Senior Chief Harmon explained.
Sheridan sighed, “I’d really like to help you out, but I don’t even like driving short distances, let alone cross country by myself. Did you know that I’ve never owned a vehicle since I’ve been in the Navy? I usually get a short term lease and turn it back in when I deploy. A little tip, if you put down a decent down payment, the dealer will take it back if you show them your orders. ”
“How about if I can find you a traveling companion?” Senior Chief Harmon offered.
“That’s a hell of an incentive… like a stick in the eye. Two, three days in a car with somebody I don’t know and probably won’t like. I get enough close quarters when I’m on a mission with your guys,” Sheridan grumbled.
Two days later, Lt. Commander Sheridan was doing pull-ups in the outside exercise area when Senior Chief Harmon walked up behind him, “I found you a traveling companion.”
Sheridan continued doing pull-ups, “I told you I wasn’t interested.”
“What about my raincheck?”
Sheridan immediately recognized the voice and dropped down from the bar and spun around to see Lt. Commander Kate Matheson standing before him. “Anybody going to California?”
Senior Chief Harmon sensed the connection between the two Naval Officers and decided to make his exit, “I’ll let you two discuss the details,” and walked off.
“Life is as much about timing as anything else,” Matheson commented.
“Amen to that. I thought you wouldn’t be back until next month.” Sheridan said
“I had six weeks to go. Thanks for keeping track of my schedule, I thought that you might have forgotten me.”
“My dad’s a retired Marine living in Oceanside He’s always pushing the envelope and this time he pushed it a little too hard. He had a heart attack while surfing at Del Mar Beach on Camp Pendleton”
“Is he alright?” Sheridan asked.
“He’s recovery nicely, thanks for asking. I requested emergency leave and a humanitarian transfer. I’d like to be close by until he’s fully recovered. Admiral Stiles got me orders for North Island. When I saw the Senior Chief and asked him about you, he briefed me on what he was trying to do, so I volunteered. Here we are…the ball is in your court.”
“Yeah, here we are,” Sheridan smiled.
As an elite top tier operative, Lt. Commander Mason Sheridan was authorized by Department of Defense directives and federal law to keep his tactical equipment and weapons with him at all times. He had a special lockbox for his Sig Sauer P226R 9mm pistol and M4a1 45mm carbine that were meticulously adjusted to his personal preferences. It was no surprise that both Naval Officers got along well on the road trip. They had a lot in common, not the least being that they were both overachievers with a deep sense of patriotism who took their job seriously, but not themselves. They drove 877 miles on the first day before stopping at Jefferson City, Missouri for the night. Even though there was an obvious physical attraction between the two naval officers, neither one acted on their feelings beyond some playful flirtatious behavior. They shared a motel room with two double beds and watched television until they fell asleep before awakening at 0500 hours. They showered and got on the road with Matheson in the driver’s seat. Sheridan pulled out the map, “Albuquerque is 837 miles, we should be able to make that with no problem.”
“Roger that,” Matheson said, “Westward bound.”
When they reached the outskirts of Albuquerque, Sheridan commented, “Mission accomplished.”
“Let’s get something to eat,” Matheson suggested.
Sheridan was driving at the time and exited the Interstate. He drove parallel to the highway for a mile until he saw a place that looked interesting, “How about that place?”
“Looks good to me.” Matheson answered.
Sheridan pulled into the parking lot of the Route 66 Diner. They entered the retro eatery, found a corner booth, picked up the menus and examined their choices, “I’ll have the chicken salad sandwich, a slice of carrot cake and ice tea.”
“That’s not much to eat?” Matheson commented.
“I’d rather go to bed a little hungry than on a full stomach,” Sheridan said, “Would you be kind enough to order for me while I use the men’s room?”
“My pleasure,” Matheson smiled.
No sooner did Sheridan leave that the waitress walked over, “Are you ready to order?”
“Give me a few seconds,” Matheson answered and quickly scanned the meu, “I’ll have the Tuna Melt, carrot cake and iced tea. My companion will have the chicken salad sandwich, carrot cake and ice tea.”
Four hardcore criminal thugs from the Sisto crime family based out of Chicago had just finished making an exchange of two million dollars with the Sinaloa Cartel for a load of Fentanyl and feeling pretty good about themselves. They were driving from an isolated area ten miles down the highway on their way back to the ‘Windy City’ when one of them commented, “Let’s get something to eat.”
“I think that we should keep driving,” Second man disagreed.
“It’s almost 1400 miles back to Chicago. What do you want us to do, go hungry until we get home? If it makes you happy we can order it to go,” The man said.
They pulled into the parking lot of the roadside diner, “One of us should stay with the car,” A man suggested.
“Good idea, you stay since it was your idea. We’ll go in and order and I’ll call you and let you know what’s on the menu. Three men walked into the diner and took a menu off a table. They called the man in the car and gave him a brief summary of what was available. He told them what he wanted and they placed a large order. The waitress responded, “It will probably be about 15 or 20 minutes to get that ready.”
“Hurry the hell up!” One man growled and his comrade slapped him upside his head, “Never yell at the people preparing your food!” then walked over to the waitress and gave her a twenty dollar bill, “Excuse my friend, we’ve been on the road for a while and he doesn’t travel well. Please don’t spit in our food.”
“I would never do that,” The waitress promised.
Sheridan was about to leave the men’s room when an elderly gentleman stumbled in and almost fell flat on his face before Sheridan caught him and leaned him against the wall. “Are you alright?”
“I just got back from visiting my daughter in Tucson. I‘ve got a bad knee and when I sit for too long in the car, it has a tendency to give out on me,” The old man shook his leg and made sure that he could stand on it, “ I’m fine now, thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” Sheridan replied
Back at the table, Matheson was wondering what was taking Sheridan so long to return. The three men saw her, walked over and sat down. Matheson immediately noticed their forearms, all similarly tattooed and also surmised by the bulge under their jackets that they were armed. She asked “Are you lost?”
“We’re exactly where we want to be,” One man answered.
“Are you alone?” The second man asked.
“No,” Matheson asked.
“You look alone to me,” Third man smiled.
Sheridan walked up, “Sorry it took me so long. Who are these guys?”
Matheson made a slight movement with her right index finger and thumb to simulate a gun and Sheridan nodded in acknowledgement, “They didn’t introduce themselves.”
“Please leave us alone,” Sheridan stated in a calm voice, “I am emphasizing the word p.l.e.a.s.e.”
The three men looked at each other and one of them taunted, “We’re not ready to go just yet. Of course if you think that you’re man enough, you can make us leave.”
One of the men stroked Matheson hair and attempted to kiss her neck. She roughly pushed him away.
Sheridan commented, “There’s a movie called Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze. To paraphrase dialogue in that film, “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice. I’ve already asked you nicely to go away. I won’t be so nice next time.”
Just as the situation looked like it was ready to escalate into a physical confrontation, the waitress called out, “Your order is ready.”
One of the men turned to his angry comrade, “This is the not time for this.”
The man who tried to kiss Matheson was hesitant to let it go, his ego was bruised and he thought he had been disrespected and wanted revenge. When he stood up from the booth, he roughly bumped into Sheridan and stormed out of the diner, followed by his friends after they got their food.
“Thanks for coming to my defense,” Matheson said.
“I was honored to be of service, but I don’t perceive you as a woman who needs rescuing. You would have handled it.”
“No matter how good we are or think we are, it’s still nice to have back-up…right?” Matheson asked.
“Affirmative,” Sheridan smiled.
In the parking lot, the four men ate their food while keeping their eyes focused on the front of the diner. Their automatic pistols were setting next to them. One of the men commented as he chomped down on his cheeseburger “I still think that we should get the hell out of here.”
The man who felt disrespected lashed out, “Then start walking! Nobody talks to me that way and gets away with it, understand!”
The other man responded meekly, “Okay, we’ll kill them then we’ll go back to Chicago. I get it.”
The third man looked at his watch and then at the front entrance of the diner, “It sure is taking them a long time to finish eating.”
There was a loud noise as if something heavy hit the top of their car and startled the occupants. The four men instinctively jumped out of the car and saw a large ten pound rock setting on the vehicle’s roof.
One of the men looked around, “Where the hell did that come from?”
Sheridan and Matheson stepped into view from their concealed position behind a tractor trailer truck. “You weren’t waiting for us, were you?” Matheson said.
“It almost looks like an ambush, we don’t like ambushes. If you gentleman are willing to drop your weapons and sincerely apologize, we might let you drive off, “Sheridan offered.
“Yeah, I agree…we don’t like killing people on a full stomach,” Matheson teased.
The man who was angry before, was enraged now, “That’s never going to happen. I don’t apologize to nobody! Just who in the hell do you think you’re talking to?”
The four men felt even more emboldened when they didn’t see that the couple had any weapons. They were hired guns and had killed a lot of people in their nefarious careers so who was this couple that was standing up to them…were they crazy or just suicidal? When the first man started to raise his weapon, the other three followed his lead. Matheson had the Sig Sauer P226R pistol and Sheridan had the M4a1 carbine. They swung their weapons from behind their backs and the four men didn’t even get a shot off.
Matheson reached into the car and popped the trunk latch and saw the boxes of Fentanyl. Sheridan called 911, “There’s been a shooting in the parking of the Route 66 Diner. Four men are lying on the ground, looks like a drug deal gone bad,” and disconnected the call. They had no intention of waiting for the authorities. Sheridan and Matheson continued on their way to California. When they reached Oceanside, Lt Commander Matheson introduced Lt. Commander Sheridan to her father at the front door of the family home.
Retired Sergeant Major Ben Matheson inquired, “How was the trip?”
Lt Commander Sheridan responded without hesitation, “We made good time and I had a great traveling companion!”
Lt. Commander Matheson added with a sly grin, “We even got some Kicks on Route 66.”