Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Thomas Calabrese –The Granderson Family lived on Mayfield Lane in San Marcos. Jim Granderson retired from the Marine Corps after 27 years of distinguished service with the rank of Sergeant Major. He served in combat or in hostile environments all over the world for over half that time and had received the Silver Star twice, Bronze Star three times and was wounded five times as well as receiving a long list of commendations. He was highly skilled in hand to hand combat and various weapons. During one of his assignments at Camp Pendleton, Jim served as senior instructor for 1st Recon Battalion.
Maggie Granderson was an emergency room nurse at Palomar Medical Center. When her husband was on active duty, she worked three 12-hour shifts, but once he retired she cut back to two shifts per week. They had three children, Betsy, who followed in her mother’s footstep and was now working as a traveling nurse. She would accept a three month assignment somewhere in the country and then return home for a month before leaving again. Betsy was currently working at the Boca Raton Community Hospital and living in Parkland, Florida.
James ‘Spud’ Granderson Jr. was the middle child. He was a little reckless at times, but for the most part was a pretty good kid. He was a junior in high school and was unsure of what to do next in his life. He got the nickname ‘Spud’ when he was a young boy because of his love for potatoes. It didn’t matter if they were baked, mashed, French fries, hash browns, sweet potatoes or baked, James Jr. loved potatoes. Spud wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into the military or attend college or enroll in a trade school. The problem was that he didn’t have any specific goals in mind. His father offered encouragement and support without pushing the issue. “You’ve got time…some people find out early what they want to do with their lives…others need a little more time to figure it out”
Spud replied. “You went into the Marines when you were 17, did you know back then that you wanted to make a career out of it?”
“I didn’t even have a clue. I thought maybe I’d learn something that I could use. If that didn’t happen then at least I’d have some benefits when I got out. I met your mom when I was a Sergeant. She was studying to be a nurse at the time and being around her helped me to see things more clearly. I found focus, determination and my future was no longer a mystery shrouded inside an enigma …the rest is history,” Jim explained.
Spud asked. “So if I find the right woman, then I’ll know what to do?”
“I wish that things will fall into place for you and that you live happily ever after just like in the movies or the fairy tales. I really do, son. I’ve got to play it straight with you…it may be a person…or an incident…or it could be something that you can’t explain, but it will change things for you. I remember this bit of advice from my platoon sergeant when I was greener than the moss on the north side of the tree, sometimes you don’t know what you need to know until you know it.”
“I’ll have to think about that.”
Jim quipped, “One more thing, don’t try to find another woman like your mother, she’s one of a kind and I got her. Find your own angel.”
The youngest child was Katie. Her goal was to be a professional tennis player and was more than willing to put the time and effort into achieving that goal. Her coach and parents had to routinely remind her to not over practice. Jim had missed many of his daughter’s matches when he was in the Marines, so he did his best to attend as many he could now. Jim could have taken another full-time job because his unique set of skills were in great demand, but he enjoyed being home so much, he declined those offers. However, he did accept some part-time employment, one was as an instructor teaching self-defense techniques to personal bodyguards and chauffeurs. Occasionally he would do personal security for high profile personalities in the area. Whenever the mood struck him and schedules permitted, Jim would drive to Camp Pendleton to have lunch or work out with some of his old buddies who were still serving in the Corps. Those were friendships that were forged out of a mutual commitment to protecting this country and going into harm’s way, which meant that the camaraderie was unbreakable.
On the days that Maggie worked at the hospital, Jim would drive her to work and then pick her up at the end of her shift. He would prepare dinner on those days and it would be ready upon their return home. Since Maggie worked the day shift, 7AM to 7:30PM, Spud and Katie usually ate earlier.
Jim wondered where the time had gone, it had been three years since he left the Corps, but only seemed like a few weeks, but he was happy with this new chapter in his life. He never expected his children to have the same level of expertise in martial arts that he had, but it could be a very dangerous world at times and he wanted them to be able to protect themselves so Jim was very adamant that they learn the basic self-defense techniques as well as the principles of threat assessment. He wanted his daughters and son to be self-sufficient and to learn from the mistakes that come with growing up without making any serious ones that could harm them. Jim knew that this was no more than any responsible parent wanted for their children.
Spud’s friend, Jerry Lasker was a troublemaker and Jim didn’t know what his son saw in the troubled youth. They knew each other since grade school and Jerry had a long history of disciplinary problems that included fighting, truancy and drug use. He had been suspended several times and if his father wasn’t a lawyer, Jerry would probably in jail. Jim wanted to tell Spud not to see Jerry, but his son was almost 20 years of age and old enough to choose his own friends. Spud came home one afternoon filled with excitement. “Jerry asked me if I want to go Costa Rica next Tuesday.”
Maggie asked, “Just you two?”
“With his parents.” Spud answered, “Spring break at Mira Costa starts next week.”
Jim commented, “Kind of short notice, isn’t it?”
“The couple that they were going with Jerry’s parents caught COVID and they can’t travel. Jerry’s dad gave them half the cost of the trip then offered it to Jerry, who asked me.” It’s seven days at an all–inclusive resort,” Spud said.
Later that night in the privacy of their bedroom, Maggie researched the resort on her computer and read the following. “The Westin Reserva Conchal Golf Resort & Spa. It has 4.9 out 5 for a rating. The activities include, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing, ziplining and golf of course. It has nine restaurants on the property and a fully equipped fitness center.”
If Spud was going to Costa Rica with anybody other than Jerry Lasker, Jim would feel a lot better about it. He didn’t want to ruin the experience or dampen Spud’s excitement so he kept his feelings to himself and hoped for the best.
On the day of departure, Jim reminded his son. “You’re in a foreign country so be careful.”
Spud responded with a big smile. “It’s an all-inclusive resort, there’s enough to do there without going into town. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Two days into the vacation and after doing all the recreational activities, Jerry became bored and suggested. “Let’s go into town and see what’s going on. Everything here is PG, I need some real action to get my blood pumping.”
Spud was hesitant. “I’m having a good time here.”
“I bet that you told your dad that you wouldn’t go into town…didn’t you?”
Spud didn’t answer.
“I thought so…your old man isn’t here, he’ll never know,” Jerry encouraged.
“I don’t know.”
Jerry played the guilt card. “I would have never invited you to come if I knew you were going to be a downer.”
“Okay…just a little sightseeing and that’s it. Are you going to tell your parents?” Spud inquired.
“They don’t even know what we’re doing when we’re here,” Jerry said.
Spud and Jerry took a cab to Tamarindo, a popular beach destination on the Costa Rican Pacific Coast. It’s known for having great surf waves, a fantastic west-facing beach, and perhaps most of all – a vibrant nightlife. In fact, partying is what attracts loads of tourists to this lively town, because, when the night begins, Tamarindo really comes to life. From fancy cocktail bars to tropical beach hangouts to bustling nightclubs that go on all night, there are venues for everyone in Tamarindo.
As Jerry continued to drink, he became more obnoxious and confrontative with people in the bar. After making some inappropriate comments to several local women, he got into a fight with several men and Jerry was getting the worst of it. Spud jumped in and used the hand to hand combat skills that his father taught him.
One of the men realized that the tide had turned and pulled out a knife to stab Jerry. Spud intervened to protect his friend by kicking the knife from the man’s hand then flipping him over his back. It was very unfortunate that the knife had landed with the blade pointing upward and it punctured the man’s heart when he landed on it.
Right about that time, another man flanked by six others approached and saw the dead individual on the ground and commented. “Jose was my cousin…I think that you are in trouble plenty.” The man pulled out a 9mm pistol and pointed it at Spud and Jerry.
It was 2AM when there was a knock on the Granderson’s front door. It awakened Jim and Maggie. Jim took a pistol out of the gun safe and went downstairs to investigate. He saw a police cruiser parked out front, so he put his weapon under a couch cushion, opened the door and saw two deputies standing there. “Good morning officers.”
“Are you Jim Granderson?” The first deputy asked.
Maggie was watching from the top of the stairwell.
The second deputy explained. “We received a call from Edward Lasker. He said he didn’t have your cellphone number so he asked us to contact you and give you this message.” He handed a note to Jim, who read it. Maggie called out. “What does it say?”
“The boys have been kidnapped, contact me immediately. It has his phone number on it.” Jim answered.
The first deputy was genuinely concerned. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
“They are in Costa Rica…so it’s out of your jurisdiction, thanks anyway,” Jim said.
After the deputies left, Maggie rushed downstairs and slipped on the last step. Jim caught her before she hit the tile floor. Maggie was obviously distraught. “What are we going to do?”
Jim remained calm and focused. “First thing is call Edward Lasker and get more Intel.”
Edward Lasker answered the call on the first ring. “Jim Granderson?”
“Speaking, I’ve got you on speaker phone and my wife is listening.” Jim said.
Edward Lasker nervously began speaking, “The boys left the resort and went into town without my knowledge or permission. The guard at the front gate saw them leave about 10PM.”
“How do you know they were kidnapped?” Jim asked.
“A ransom note asking for one million dollars was delivered to the front desk.”
Maggie interjected. “Do you know who kidnapped them?”
“Not for sure, but the hotel manager seems to think it was a local gang,” Edward Lasker responded.
Maggie was irate and angry. “Why did you let them go into town!”
“Like I said, I didn’t know that they left!” Edward Lasker snapped back.
Jim interjected. “This is not the time for assigning blame, we need to focus on getting Spud and Jerry back. How did they want you to answer?”
“They sent a burner phone with the note, a number is taped to the back of it. I’ve been waiting to call until I talked to you.”
Jim explained. “That was a good idea. We need to buy some time, so listen carefully; call the number and tell them that you need proof of life, demand to speak to both boys and find out what they want…got it?”
“I got it.”
“Call me back when you get that,” Jim ordered and disconnected the call.
What people don’t realize is that there a secret organization of Special Operators, current and former. This esteemed brotherhood offers assistance to those who have risked and sacrificed so much in defense of freedom and liberty. Jim made another call and said, “62395 Delta, November, Sierra.”
A female voice inquired, “Password.”
There was a short delay before the voice responded. “Confirmed, how I can I help you, Sergeant Major Granderson?”
Jim responded. “Code 3 priority. Requesting a contact, Costa Rica.”
Ten minutes later, Edward Lasker called back and said, “They want one million dollars in tens and twenties.”
Jim asked, “Did they show you that they are still alive?”
“I talked to Jerry and Spud on the phone.”
“I’m on my way,” Jim said.
Jim tried to reassure his wife, “I wish I had more time to go over the details, but things like this are time sensitive and every minute counts. I need to get to Costa Rica and personally assess the situation. I don’t know the Costa Rica authorities and I don’t want to get our State Department involved. You trust my judgment…don’t you?”
“I always have in the past…I see no reason to change now,” Maggie hugged her husband.
Jim called Kevin Quintero, an internet billionaire living in Rancho Santa Fe. He was one of Jim’s regular clients and told him about the situation, then added, “I need to borrow your jet.”
Kevin Quintero responded. “I’ll make a call to the pilot and tell him to get it fueled and ready to go.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it.”
“Good luck, Jim,” Kevin said.
Jim left from Carlsbad’s Airport in a Gulfstream G650ER and while in flight for the 3400 miles journey, Jim received a call. The voice on the other end said one word. “Coffee.”
Jim answered, “Three sugars.”
This was the verification process. The man identified himself. “Colonel Rick Hudak, Delta Force.”
“Jim Granderson, Marine.”
Rick asked. “When are you arriving?”
“In the air right now, three hours to touch down.” Jim responded.
“I’ll be waiting.”
The jet landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport. Jim disembarked the aircraft and was met by four men. Colonel Hudak introduced himself and his three companions, Bruce Curry, Green Beret; Johnny Roffo, Navy Seal and J.T. Riley, Marine Recon.”
“Thanks for your help,” Jim said.
The men nodded in acknowledgement and Rick spoke as they walked to the vehicle. “I called my contacts after I received your request. Your son and the other boy got into a fight outside a bar in Tamarindo with some members of Los Moreco, a very powerful gang. The leader is Jose Efrain Lopez Rendoza. One gang member was killed in the altercation. Apparently, one of the boys has some skills, I’m guessing he’s yours. The man who was killed was a cousin of Rendoza…which means…”
Jim guessed. “Which means that even if they got the ransom, he’d probably kill the boys in revenge.”
“Not all bad news…they’re assuming that the boys are just regular tourists and men like us are not involved. The other good news is that I know where they are keeping them. They have a stronghold in La Fortuna, a former seven room hotel near Chato Volcano Crater Lake and the La Fortuna Waterfall.” Rick said
“I scouted the area,” J.T. commented, “I found a way to get in and out without too much trouble.”
When they got to the area in question, Rick pulled off the road into the rainforest. Curry looked at his watch, “We’ve got about 30 minutes of daylight left…let’s not waste it.”
Rick opened the back of the vehicle to expose a small arsenal of weapons that included four Heckler&Koch gas operated assault rifle chambered for the 5.56x45mm cartridge. There were also several Glock 19’s and Sig Sauer P226 pistols and a M24 Sniper Rifle, equipped with a Nikon Black x1000 scope. There were also two Tac-15 crossbows and various combat knives. The four men inserted their communication earpieces.
Jim commented. “I see that you came prepared.”
“Better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.” Rick replied from years of experience.
The four men geared up and headed toward their objective. Up ahead, there were two armed guards standing by the main gate. J.T. Riley dropped to one knee, took aim and fired twice in rapid succession. The distance was 300 yards, but to a skilled marksman, it was routine. The four men moved to the area and hid the bodies in the brush.
When they got closer to the building, Curry and Roffo used their crossbows to silently eliminate two more gang members who were patrolling out front. This allowed Jim and Rick Hudak to get closer. Riley, Roffo and Curry provided cover as Jim looked through the window of each room and eventually came to the one where Spud and Jerry were being held hostage. He gave a thumbs up that he found what he was looking for. There was only one guard inside and Rick watched him from the window while Jim slowly opened the door just enough to stick the barrel of his pistol in and take aim. The bullet hit the kidnapper in the back of the head and shut him off like a light switch. Jim stepped into the room and Spud’s eyes lit up. “Dad! How did you find us?”
Jim answered, “Time for explaining is later, time for leaving is now,” then looked over at Jerry. “You alright?”
“Much better now that you’re here, Mister Granderson.” Jerry sighed in relief.
Jim explained how the exit would happen. “Follow me and no talking …sounds travels.”
The trio stayed close to the building and faded into the shadow of the night. When three gang members stepped out of a room, Rick Hudak shot all three and pushed them back in and closed the door. Jim led the two boys to the end of the building where they would have to step into the open and bright moonlight before reaching the cover of the rainforest. Jim radioed to his team. “Making our move.” He turned to Jerry and pointed, “Run for that big tree.”
Jerry was too scared to move and stammered. “I can’t do it, they’ll shoot me.”
Jim slapped Jerry across the face and made this cold statement. “You have more to fear from me than from the kidnappers if you don’t do like I say.”
Jerry took off at a full sprint, Jim tapped Spud’s shoulder and he followed. Just as he was ready to make his move, Rendosa stepped out from a room, saw Spud and prepared to fire. Jim pulled out his knife and threw it. It went deep into Rendosa’s chest and the gang leader staggered forward and collapsed. He looked up and choked on these words. “If I knew it was going to end like this, I wouldn’t have kidnapped the boys.”
Jim walked over, put his boot on Rendosa’s chest and extracted the thick-bladed knife. He wiped the blood on Rendosa’s shirt. The Cartel leader slowly bled out from the open wound, but had enough strength to ask one final question, “Who are you?”
“A concerned parent.”
Jim returned Jerry to his parents at the Westin Resort. Instead of being relieved to see his son, Edward Lasker berated him. “You ruined our trip…I hope you’re satisfied!”
To avoid being the recipient of his father’s wrath, Jerry threw his friend under the bus. “It was Spud’s idea.”
Spud looked over at his father, “May I go home with you?”
“Absolutely.” Jim answered.
“Give me two minutes to pack.”
At the airport, Jim and Spud thanked the former special operators for their help. Rick said. “I’m extending a personal invitation to bring your family back for a real Costa Rica vacation as my personal guests.”
Jim smiled. “That’s an affirmative.”
“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it,” Rick joked.
“I never say anything I don’t mean and that is even truer when I’m speaking to a friend and a comrade. You’ll see me again…count on it.”
The two warriors exchanged a strong handshake to confirm their unbreakable bond.
Once they were airborne, Spud asked his father. “Are you disappointed in me?”
“No… if you learned something about your friend and yourself, then this may be the most important trip that you’ll ever take in your life,” Jim said.
“It may also be the most unforgettable. What I did learn was that decisions have consequences,” Spud then promised, “I owe you big time…just name what you want me to do and I’ll do it!”
Jim pondered the offer for a couple seconds then said. “Interesting, I can think of one thing.”
Spud eagerly responded. “Name it, I’m your Huckleberry!”
Jim tossed his phone to Spud and ordered. “Call your mother, she’s worried about you and want to hear your voice.”
Two things were indelibly etched into Spud’s memory by this trip; lesson learned the hard way are the ones best remembered, and two, his Marine Father Knows Best.
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
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