The Six Thousand Steps Man
Thomas Calabrese – Mike Reynolds was an enigma on many levels. He served in the Marine Corps for 22 years where orders and regulations were a big part of his life, but beneath the surface of rock hard muscle, steely eyed determination and rawhide toughness was an individual with a creative streak and a free spirit. He had eleven combat tours, but never embraced the terms, warfighter or patriot, Marine was good enough for him. He embraced accountability and responsibility and shunned acknowledgement and accolades. Mike didn’t believe that it was duty to die for his country and beliefs, but to make his enemy die for theirs. He never thought that being a combat Marine was a suicide mission, just one with inherent risks.
He loved his country with a deep passion, but had a suspicious nature when it came to the government, politicians and bureaucrats. Having seen hundreds, perhaps even thousands of incidents of fraud, waste and corruption, Mike wouldn’t trust some individuals to pick up trash, but our government elevated them to high positions of authority where millions of lives and billions of dollars were under their command. Like the Congressman who was worried about sending more troops to Guam and voiced his concerned with these epic words of stupidity; ‘My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.’
Mike always planned in advance, but was willing to alter his strategy and exhibit a great amount of flexibility whenever the situation changed. He could terminate the enemy with extreme prejudice or risk his life to save another with equal dexterity. Both were part of his job description and personal code. Mike liked to consider himself a realistic optimist who expected the best, but was prepared for the worst. Being hated by his enemies was a compliment and the less that people wanted to be around him, the more he liked it. As previously stated, Mike was an enigma and trying to figure him out was a daunting task that few chose to undertake.
Some people prefer to go through life believing that ignorance is bliss and knowing too much only complicated and confused them. Mike on the hand, believed that having more information simplified his thought process. His philosophy was that it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Before he started a conversation about a contentious subject, especially politics, his first question was, “Is this going to be a fact based discussion or one where you tell me how to feel about things? If it is about your feelings then I’m in total agreement that you have the right to feel or say anything you want and I also have the right not to agree or listen.”
The person would sometimes reply, “If it’s about facts then what?”
“Then it doesn’t matter what either one of us feel,” Mike said, “I tell you the truth and I don’t care if you’re offended or not. Those are my rules of my engagement so be damn careful which path you choose.”
During a routine scouting patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, Mike’s platoon was ambushed by Taliban fighters and he was wounded and captured by the enemy. He was held in deplorable and inhumane conditions for three months and tortured regularly. His captors made the mistake of underestimating his resolve and got careless. When Mike saw his opportunity, he killed three of his captors and made his escape.
Upon his return to Camp Pendleton, Mike was ordered to receive to counseling for his ordeal. He politely told the clinical psychologist, “I’m fine…I’m ready to return to full duty as soon as you release me.”
“You’ve been through a very traumatic experience and there is no need to rush.” Doctor John Osmond reminded him, “If there is anything you want to talk about, I’m right here.”
“I’m not rushing, I actually thought I was taking my time,” Mike responded.
Mike served ten more years in the Marine Corps and never mentioned his time in captivity again. Any bad memories were filed away and when they did surface, he dealt with them on his own. A mandatory vaccine mandate came down from Washington and Mike did his research and decided not to get it. He put in for religious exemption and he was called to Division Headquarters where Colonel Bernard Millson questioned, “Well First Sergeant, I read your request for an exemption. Care to explain?”
“I’ve taken a lot of vaccines in my career, but this is not a vaccine. It is a gene-base injection that forces healthy cells to produce a viral protein. If the Marine Corps wants to disapprove my request, that’s their decision. It’s been a good run and I’ve got enough time to retire. One thing is certain, I won’t be getting a shot, sir.”
Three weeks later, Mike received word that his religious exemption request was denied. He kept his word and retired. Looking back into his history, it is no surprise that Mike Reynolds grew up with a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. He grew up in the foster care system in San Diego and did not develop any close ties with the nine families entrusted with his care. When he was old enough, he joined the Marine Corps because it was the best option at the time. At any time growing up, he could have given up, waved the white flag or embraced victimization, but that wasn’t Mike’s style. When in doubt or when things looked their worse he put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. Mike came to realize that it’s a lot harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one.
After leaving the Corps, Mike decided to stay in the Oceanside area until he could figure out what to do next in his life. He bought a motorhome from an officer who received orders for Japan and moved it to the Del Mar Beach RV Campgrounds. With his retirement and savings, Mike had more than enough to live on. He always had an interest in numerology (the study of the meaning of numbers and their relevance to our lives) so with his additional free time, Mike read several books on the subject.
The numbers that kept coming up were 3, 0 and 7 or 307 in some form or another. The last three numbers of his social security number were 307 as was his license plate number. He was born on March 7th, enlisted in the Marine Corps on July 3rd and retired on March 7th. Some of his favorite movies were The Magnificent Seven, Seven Sinners, Seven Cities of Gold, Three Musketeers, Three Days of the Condor and Three Wishes.
It was six thousand steps or basically 2.5 miles from his campsite to the fitness center so Mike’s new routine was to awaken at 3:07AM and read for a couple hours before running over for his workout.
He began volunteering at the base animal shelter and when he saw two lab/ pit mix dogs in kennels 3 and 7, Mike knew it was his destiny to adopt them. He began playing poker online and became proficient at it in a short amount of time. After that Mike started entering local tournaments. With his knowledge of numbers, keen instincts, ability to read people and situational awareness, Mike quickly built a reputation as a formidable player and his income rose dramatically. He realized that he would have to leave the area to play in the big games so he contacted Robin Shepard at an animal sanctuary in Ramona and set up an appointment to meet with her.
Robin was in her mid-thirties and a skilled veterinarian. She had taken over the operation of the Ramona Wildlife Sanctuary after her father was killed in Mexico. Clint Shepard had gone south of the border to accept a donation of an ocelot, jaguar and jaguarondi from a drug cartel leader who was shutting down his private zoo. It was dangerous thing to do, but Clint loved animals too much to not go. It was extremely bad luck that the palatial estate in Loreto, Mexico was attacked by a rival cartel while Clint Shepard was onsite and he was killed in the gun battle.
Mike explained his offer, “I usually don’t like to travel, I did enough of that when I was in the service, but I might have to leave occasionally.”
“What were you in?” Robin asked.
“I’m retired from the Marines. I read a story about your sanctuary in the newspaper and it caught my interest. I currently live in a recreational vehicle and if you let me park it on the property, I’m willing to pay you and help out around the facility if you look out for my dogs while I’m away.”
Robin thought about the offer, “I don’t know.”
“I do a little poker playing and if Marty and Turlock are taken care of then I’ll be more focused. I’m also willing to give you a percentage of my winnings from the tournaments that I play in.”
Robin could definitely use the money and this man was a veteran and looked responsible, “How about if we try a two week trial period, but no promises. We should know by then if it’s a good fit.”
“Sounds good to me,” Mike said.
Mike parked his RV at a corner of the property and was ready to begin work before sunrise the next morning. Robin was surprised to see him standing next to the barn when she arrived, “You’re an early riser.”
“If the sun rises before me then I’ve overslept,” Mike pulled out ten one hundred dollar bills and handed them to Robin, “My space rent in advance…is this enough?”
“More than enough,” Robin answered.
With his dogs by his side, Mike worked for seven hours without a break cleaning cages and preparing food for the animals. “I need to run a few errands unless you need me to do something else?”
“No, that’s plenty for today. You’re a hard worker,” Robin said, “I hope the chores weren’t too menial for a man of your skills.”
“I enjoyed it every minute of it,” Mike said, “I like things simple whenever possible and nothing is more simple and basic than manual labor. I’ve got a few things to take care of, mind watching my dogs? I might be a little late, is that going to be a problem?”
“I go to bed early so don’t wake me up if it’s after 2200 hours,” Robin smiled.
Mike bent down and gave Marty and Turlock a big hug, “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”
Mike drove into town and joined Ramona Crossfit so that he would have a place to exercise when he was in the area. High stakes poker games usually started at 8PM at the Pala Casino so Mike decided to drive over there for a little action. He was a semi-regular and most people in the card room greeted him by name. Mike bought in with five thousand dollars and got into the zone. Four hours later, he was up $20,000 and decided to call it a night.
No matter what time he went to bed, Mike’s wristwatch alarm always went off at 307AM and 307PM. Those number helped keep him grounded. At 530AM, he was waiting by the barn when Robin walked up with his dogs. Marty and Turlock rushed to greet him, “You didn’t think that I forgot you, did you?”
Mike handed an envelope to Robin. When she looked inside she saw that it was filled with money, “What’s this for?”
“I told you that I’d give you a percentage of my winnings,” Mike said.
Robin commented, “You’re kind of free with your money aren’t you?”
“Money is a tool that allows me the flexibility to make my decisions out of choice rather than necessity and I like having choices,” Mike smiled, “There’s a lot of people and organizations that need it more than me.”
“On behalf of the animals, I extend my deepest gratitude,” Robin said.
Mike continued to live in his RV and work at the shelter and every so often he would give Robin a lot of cash for the privilege of doing so. While playing at Harrah’s Casino, a man handed Mike an envelope. It was a special invitation for a multi-million dollar game being held at the Melia Hotel in Chiang Mai. The buy in was five million, far beyond what Mike had in his possession and he wondered was why he given the invitation in the first place.
After the game concluded an elderly man approached Mike in the lobby of the casino, “My name is Kent Forney and I represent a consortium that would like to sponsor you at the International Poker Tournament in Thailand.”
“Why me?” Mike asked.
“We like your style of play,” Kent Forney replied.
“What is in it for you?” Mike inquired.
“We split any winnings 50 50, right down the middle,” Kent Forney explained.
Mike pondered the offer for a few seconds, “That’s a very generous offer for a small time gambler like myself. I’m sure you could get a person with more impressive credentials than myself.”
“Like I said, we like your style,” Kent Forney smiled.
Mike flew first class from San Diego to Thailand and was sitting in the rooftop restaurant of the Melia Hotel when he heard a voice that sounded more like a growl coming from behind him, “Mike the Marauder, the Misfit of the Marines!”
Without turning around, Mike replied, “Mark of Death, I’d know that soft soothing voice anywhere.”
Mark Giordano was a former Marine and Special Operator. He was skilled in all aspects of warfighting and was often called ‘an operational bulldozer’. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie, ‘Heartbreak Ridge’. He was an artillery barrage while Mike was a stealth missile, both were very deadly in their own way. The two men had served together on several occasions while on active duty and their friendship was forged in the heat of battle.
Mark sat down and extended his big hand and Mike did the same, “What a big surprise to see you here.”
“Really big surprise,” Mike said sarcastically, “I was born during the day, but not yesterday. When we served together and prepared for a mission, we prepared for every contingency. If it didn’t make sense, it generally wasn’t true. This invitation didn’t make sense until I figured out who might be behind it.”
Mark called to the waitress, “I’ll have my usual, then turned back to Mike, “You were saying.”
“I’m done talking, I’m just waiting for you to tell me why you chose this transparent subterfuge instead of just calling me,” Mike said.
Mark feigned innocence for a few seconds then admitted, “I thought it would be more fun this way.”
“You’re much better at a full frontal assault then a flanking maneuver,” Mike reminded his friend.
“So I’ve been told.”
“Give me the straight scoop…and don’t leave out anything.” Mike said.
“A lot of high rollers are coming in from all the world, some of them are involved in nefarious business dealings,” Mark said, “The organization that I work with is interested in Alejandro Rosales Castillo, a Venezuelan billionaire. He is a big time player in drug and human trafficking and arms dealing. He has a lot of powerful and influential people on his payroll and we want that list.”
“Who’s we?” Mike asked.
Mark was evasive, “We, they, us, them, any pronoun is acceptable.”
“How do I fit in with your plan?” Mike asked.
“Castillo has an ego bigger than his bankroll and doesn’t like to lose and I told my associates that you are the man to beat him.”
Mike asked, “If, and that’s a big if, that I do beat him, what’s the next part of the plan?”
“We’re hoping that his anger will give you the opening we need,” Mark said.
“Hey ole’ buddy, what part of straight scoop don’t you understand?” The irritation in Mike’s voice was evident.
“Sorry, we have an implant that we want to put in Castillo.”
Mike corrected his friend, “When you say we, you actually mean me…right?”
“Like I said, we don’t pay much attention to pronouns. The mission is the priority.”
Castillo was an excellent poker player and by the end of two days, there were only three players left, Mike, Castillo and Justin Jacobson, an internet billionaire. Mike folded, leaving Castillo and Jacobson to fight this hand out. After raising each other back and forth several times, Castillo said to Jacobson, “How much do you have in front of you?”
Jacobson looked at his chips and replied, “About five million.”
“Then that’s the bet,” Castillo said.
The players put their chips in the pot and Jacobson laid down his cards, “Three Jacks.”
Castillo laid down his cards, “Three Queens.”
Jacobson dejectedly got up from the table and walked away. Castillo looked at Mike with an evil glint in his eyes and offered, “Why don’t we take a couple hours break to get something to eat and come back fresh and ready for battle?”
“Alright with me,” Mike smiled.
Castillo boasted, “I’m gonna’ beat you within an inch of your life…bear in mind…I am not very good at judging distance.”
Mike made eye contact with his adversary, “Don’t worry…I am.”
Back in his hotel room, Mike and Mark were discussing the final showdown. “You think you can take him?”
“He’s very good,” Mike replied, “I’ll give it my best shot.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Mark snapped back.
“Get the hell outa’ here! Come back in an hour and a half. I’m going to take a nap,” Mike ordered.
The two players faced off against each other and Castillo won the first seven hands. Mike folded on three winning hands and Castillo continued to needle Mike a little more after each one, “I expected more of a battle out of you. You disappoint me.”
“It could be that you’re too good for me,” Mike said, “I’ll play a few hands more if you don’t mind. I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Slowly the tide began to turn as Mike expertly manipulated his opponent. With each losing hand, Castillo grew more frustrated and careless as he stumbled and bumbled his way out of his comfort zone. The fact that Mike remained calm and in control angered him even more than losing vast amounts of money. Finally Castillo got what he thought was the ultimate winning hand and said, “Hell with this, I’m all in!” and pushed all his chips in.
Mike hesitated and Castillo teased, “Scared?”
The former Marine didn’t say a word and pushed all his chips in. The pot had 18 million dollars in it!
Castillo laid down his cards and boasted confidently, “Four threes…read ‘em and weep.”
The entire crowd was in awe of the seemingly winning hand. Mike slowly laid down two sevens, hesitated, then set down two more, four sevens!
Castillo stared in disbelief and almost passed out from the shock. Mike smiled, “Your ego is bigger than your skills, I’d work on that. Maybe someday we can do this again after you learn how to play.”
The crowd laughed out loud and Castillo was embarrassed and humiliated. Mike walked off and met Mark along the way.
“Good job…he’s definitely coming after you,” Mark said.
“Isn’t that the point?” Mike joked, “I’m not worried, I’ve got you to protect me.”
Mike was in his hotel room when Castillo and four of his bodyguards came to the door. As soon as Mike opened it, the men pushed their way in. Mike joked, “If you’re looking for lessons then make an appointment.”
Castillo responded angrily, “You’re a funny guy. Nobody laughs at me, nobody! I don’t like to be embarrassed and now you’re going to pay with your life.”
“I hope that you’re better at killing than you are at poker,” Mike jested, “Otherwise I’ve got a long life ahead of me.”
“My men are going to kill you nice and slow and I’m going to sit here and enjoy every moment of it,” Castillo promised.
Mark stepped out from behind the curtain and shot the four bodyguards in less than a second. Mike walked over and punched Castillo in the face then injected a nanobot into Castillo’s left shoulder blade.
Castillo grimaced in pain, “What the hell was that?”
“My friend is going to tell you what you’re going to do if you want to stay alive.”
Mark explained, “Here your choices, work with us or we’ll send a signal that will put you into cardiac arrest. Try to remove the implant and it will explode. We want a list of all your associates.”
“You can take it from here,” Mike said and left the room.
Three weeks later, Mike and his dogs were visiting Mark at his 500 acre ranch north of Reno, Nevada. They had been doing a lot of shooting with a variety of weapons, mixing training with pleasure. It was mid-afternoon and they were sitting on the porch overlooking the picturesque meadow when Mike’s wristwatch alarm went off and he looked at it, “I’ll see you in a little while,” and ran off with his dogs.
Mark’s booming voice echoed though the vastness, “Three things you never want to do in life, never mistake knowledge for wisdom, never play leapfrog with a unicorn and most important of all, never interfere in the routine of Mister 307, the six thousand steps man!”
A very interesting story. Most enjoyable.
Mornin’ Tom! Another excellent tale of Marine Corps bravado against corrupt stupidity! I still get a chuckle over the Congressman’s comment about Guam tipping over! My favorite number is two…first and last beer! Cheers
Have a great day, Thanks for the story.
Another intriguing story by Mr. Thomas Calabrese in the Vista Sunday Press. He write with such fervor he make me feel part of the action taking place or at least on the scene. What a wonderful story story of good overcoming evil, the good guys defeating the bad guys.
I am happy Mr. Calabrese that did not elaborate on shady politicians which has a tendency to send me into a frenzy and a tirade of words.
We do have some good people in this world but do not hear or read enough about them or very seldom. Mr. Calabrese seems to find these good people and brings the to life in his Sunday Stories. Thank you for reminding us there are good people among us.
Happy Mother’s Day to all.
HMMM not really sure about this one
Give it a 3 out of 10.
I really enjoyed the story.
I liked the way you tied everything together while making an interesting story..good job.
Your Mike is an impressive character! Another great story! Keep up the great work!
I like the diversity of points made.