That’s Good Enough
Thomas Calabrese – Charles Crane served twelve years in the Army, the last six were with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment’s Delta Unit, a.k.a. Delta Force. On 26 October 2019, his team was accompanied by members of the 75th Ranger Regiment on a covert raid on the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. During an intense firefight, Bagdadi’s perimeter guards were killed and the team moved into the building and killed several more of the enemy before moving up to the second floor. Charlie routinely put his life on the line and had more than his share of close calls so maybe it was fate and or just simple math, but his luck was about to run out. Today would be that fateful day. A booby trap was remotely activated as soon as Charlie’s boot touched the second floor and the force of the blast lifted him off his feet and launched him down the flight of stairs. Sergeant First Class Charles Crane was knocked unconscious and sustained a dozen shrapnel wounds from the blast.
When told that his military career was over, Charlie accepted the bad news with the same strength and fortitude that he always exhibited in the performance of his duties. He wasn’t looking for sympathy or condolences, just the cold hard facts and that is exactly what Doctor Herbert Baker gave him, “You sustained a serious Traumatic Brain Surgery. Sergeant Crane, you’re done.”
Charlie asked, “What can I expect as I go forward?”
“A headache that could get progressively worse or go away. Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination. Repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, shaking or twitching. Your behavior may change dramatically with periods of increased confusion, restlessness, agitation and anti-social behavior.”
“Is that a confirmed diagnosis or just an educated guess?” Charlie asked.
“I gave you the worst case scenario, feel free to prove me wrong by not having any of the problems previously mentioned,” Doctor Baker smiled, “Good luck Sergeant, thank you for your service.”
“It was my honor and pleasure, sir,” Charlie required.
Several months passed and Charlie considered himself fortunate that he only experienced a couple of the symptoms that Doctor Baker warned him about. The biggest change in his behavior was his overwhelming desire for solitude. He was never was much of a socializer anyway, but now he actually looked for situations to isolate himself. Charlie visited his family in Turlock, California, but did not elaborate on his injuries, he saw no reason to burden them with information that they could not do anything about. His brothers Zack and Jeff were partners in a small construction company and were doing residential remodeling in the area.
Zack made an enticing offer to his younger brother, “We’ve got a lot work coming up and we can use you.”
“We just picked up a big job from Nielsen Properties. They purchased an 84 unit apartment complex and they want us to renovate it,” Jeff said, “It’s a two year project.”
“We’ll be working side by side…just like old times,” Zack said.
As much as he loved his brothers, Charlie knew that this wasn’t the right fit for him so he made up an excuse that he hoped would work, “Thanks for the offer, but I still have a few things to take care of with the military. You know how it is with things in the government… they don’t always work on time.”
After a farewell dinner with the family, Charlie got on the road and headed south with no particular destination in mind and in no hurry to get there. Every so often when he got to a particular secluded area, Charlie would pull over and savor the moment. It is strange how life works out, Charlie Crane had always been a man with laser focus and a clear mission, but now his thoughts were all over the place. One of the many lessons that he learned as a Special Operator is that survival often comes down to two things; adapting to the situation and being able to develop a new strategy.
Charlie drove several hundred miles before stopping to refuel on Mission Avenue in Oceanside. While at the gas station, he looked across the street and saw a sign outside the Veterans Center. It read; Veterans Outreach and Job Fair. He decided to check it out.
While walking through the rows of booths offering various services to veterans, Charlie heard a voice call out, “Charlie Crane!”
When he turned around, he immediately recognized the man. It was Gary Assalli, a former Ranger from the 75th Regiment. Gary walked over and his big smile illuminated the room, “What the hell are you doing in Oceanside?”
“Just passing through, saw the sign and I thought I’d check it out,” Charlie responded.
Gary inquired, “So what you are doing now?’
“At the moment, not much. What about you?”
“I’m working for a large transportation company,” Gary replied, “and we’re getting bigger all the time.
“I’m happy for you,” Charlie said.
“The pay is top tier and I’ve got excellent benefits. I’m here looking for highly motivated and reliable veterans. You fit that description,” Gary said.
“I’m not the operator that I used to be and you would be getting damaged goods if you hired me,” Charlie responded truthfully.
Gary smiled, “Let me be the judge of that. I’ll be here until 1800 hours. Let’s have dinner and I’ll tell you what I have. It just might be something you’re interested in, never can tell…and if it isn’t then you got a good meal out of it.”
“When you put it that way,” Charlie said.
Gary suggested, “Meet me at 333 Pacific. It’s a restaurant in the Club Wyndham Pier Resort. It is right across from the Oceanside Pier so it’s easy to find. I’ll book reservations for 1900 hours.”
“I’ll be there,” Charlie promised.
During dinner, Gary explained, “The CEO of my company is a former Navy Captain with a lot of contacts in the government. We get preferential treatment as long as we maintain a certain number of military veteran employees. So you see, it is kind of a win win situation. We do a lot of transporting for the military to bases in California, Nevada and Arizona. You’ve got a top secret clearance which means more money for you.”
“I don’t know,” Charlie replied, “I wasn’t really looking for a job.”
“I know better than to push you, but sometimes good things happen when you least expect them. I’ll tell you what…stick around a couple days and I’ll show you the facility and introduce you to the boss. At least that way you can make an informed decision. I’ve got a nice guest room so it won’t cost you anything to stay. My wife is a great cook who is a hardcore patriot who loves warriors. If I tell her that I’m bringing a Special Operator home, she’ll be walking on sunshine,” Gary encouraged.
Gary introduced Charlie to John Gregory, the CEO of Higbee & Kelly Freightliners and the former Special Operator was visibly impressed by the organization and commented, “You have a nice place, sir.”
“Call me John. I can use a warrior like you.”
Charlie responded, “You don’t even know me.”
John responded, “Gary served with you and his recommendation is good enough for me,” and walked over to the large window, “Take a look.”
Charlie walked over and looked out over a well-manicured lawn with 15 small buildings on it. “What’s this?”
John explained, “Those are tiny homes. It is a joint venture between the Mighty Oaks Foundation and our company. The state and federal government gave us a grant and tax incentives to build them. Each home is 500 square feet, fully furnished and self-sufficient. There is one waiting for you…all you have to do is accept the job offer.”
Charlie stared at the tiny homes and Gary nudged him, “C’mon buddy, take it.”
It took Charlie three weeks of training before he got his Class A truck-driving license, authorizing him to drive any combination of vehicles with a gross weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. His schedule began slowly with deliveries to Marine Corps installations in Twnentynine Palms and Barstow and eventually expanded to include Nellis Air Force Base, Fort Irwin Army Training Center and Naval Air Facility, El Centro.
It turned out to be a better situation than Charlie expected. He was only on the road 24 hours a week and the solitude of being on the road fit in with his mindset. The living situation was pretty good too, the tiny house was just enough space for Charlie’s minimalist lifestyle. There was a community area with a grill, fire pit and several tables and the drivers that were living at the facility would sometimes get together for a barbecue or to pass the time.
On one clear and warm evening, Charlie looked out the window and saw several veterans. He was in a rare semi-sociable mood and decided to join them.
One of the other drivers who lived in one of the homes was former Marine, Guy Wicker. He had a small dog with him and suggested, “You should get yourself one of these,” and hugged his canine companion.
“When I’m on the road, who’s going to watch him?” Charlie said.
Guy replied, “I talked to the boss and he said I could bring him with me on my deliveries. The Veterans Administration also said because of my PTSD, I can get him registered as a therapy dog. That means I don’t have to leave him in the truck when I go inside a restaurant or a store. Isn’t that right, Watson?”
“You named him, Watson?” Charlie inquired.
Guy smiled, “It’s elementary, my dear Holmes.”
Several days later, Charlie and Guy took a ride to the Camp Pendleton Animal Shelter in the 25 Area of the base. While being shown around by Elaine, one of the volunteers, Charlie noticed a black dog sitting on a table and looking out over the sprawling hills of the base while the other dogs played around him. He asked, “What’s with that dog?”
Elaine explained, “That’s Eli, he marches to his own drum. One day he’ll be socializing with all the other dogs and the next day he’ll be off by himself doing his own thing.”
Charlie called out, “Hey Eli!”
The dog turned around and ran to Charlie. When they made eye contact, the decision was made. Guy commented, “I believe you found your dog.”
Charlie and Eli immediately bonded because they instinctively knew when to give each other space and sensed each other’s moods and acted appropriately. Charlie wasn’t looking for a lap dog who was submissive and docile and Eli did not need a sensitive owner who was in constant search of affection and attention. Charlie would leave the door on his tiny house slightly open so Eli could come and go as he pleased. On one particular night, Charlie awakened and noticed that Eli was gone. He got up, walked outside and sensed something above him and saw Eli sitting on the roof of the tiny house. They made eye contact and Charlie went back inside without saying a word.
When Charlie was traveling, Eli would be sitting in the passenger seat and intently looking out the window, curious about the surroundings. Every couple hours Charlie would find an isolated place to pull over and do some exercises and play ball with Eli. Having time to contemplate plenty of things while driving for hours, Charlie came to the conclusion that dogs possess the best characteristics of being a Special Operator. Eli was loyal, faithful and willing to sacrifice his life without hesitation if the situation called for it. Charlie could only hope to be the kind of man that his dog thought he was. It was a goal worth striving for, even though it might be beyond his capabilities.
Charlie had just made a delivery to Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas and was on his way back to Oceanside, He looked at his wristwatch and saw it was 0900 hours so he asked Eli, “How about some breakfast?”
His faithful companion barked his approval.
The duo stopped at Dana’s Diner located 40 miles up the road. Charlie liked the food and service and made it a point to stop there whenever he was in the area. He put Eli’s therapy vest on so there would not be any issue with him being inside an eating establishment.
Rachel was in her late twenties and had served Charlie before. She was always congenial and welcoming, but when she came over to the booth on this morning she was cool and aloof, “What can I get you?”
Charlie immediately noticed the bruising under her right eye and on the black and blue handprint her left arm. He responded, “Good morning.”
What are you going to have?” Rachel repeated impatiently.
“I’ll have the vegetarian omelet and a blueberry smoothie, my companion will have three hamburger patties, no bread.”
“Thank you,” Rachel walked off.
Eli stared at the waitress and Charlie commented, “A lot of negative energy…huh?”
While eating their breakfast, five boisterous men came in, sat down at two booths. One of men yelled, “Hey Rachel, c’mon over here!”
When the waitress walked over, the man grabbed her by the arm and she yelped in pain. He pulled her down on his lap and began kissing her. The man boasted to his friends, “Here’s my baby…she’s all mine so don’t be getting any ideas.”
Rachel pleaded, “C’mon Lonnie, I’m working, you’ll get me fired.”
“Nobody is going to fire you…if they know what’s good for them.” Lonnie laughed.
Charlie did not want to get involved, but the situation touched a raw nerve so he got up from his seat and told Eli, “I’ll be right back.” He walked to where Rachel was sitting with the men and said, “I apologize for the interruption, but I wondering if I could get a glass of orange juice.”
Lonnie snarled, “Can’t you see that she’s busy!”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Charlie saw the terror in Rachel’s eyes as she nervously responded, “I’ll be right there.”
“Go back to your table before you get hurt,” Lonnie threatened.
“Maybe you’re as deaf as you are stupid, but like I said before I’m not talking to you” Charlie said.
The place went deathly silent and Lonnie responded, “Are you insulting me?”
Before the situation could escalate, Rachel got up and intervened, “Easy…we don’t want this to get out of hand.” She slowly pushed Charlie back toward his booth, “I’ll be right there,” then turned to Lonnie, “I’ll make it up to you, don’t do anything to him.”
“You’re damn right you will,” Lonnie snarled.
Charlie walked to his booth, sat down and told Eli, “Our waitress has got some problems.”
Rachel walked over with a glass of orange juice and angrily scolded Charlie, “Are you crazy or just suicidal. Lonnie will kill you without giving it a second thought.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?” Rachel said.
Charlie asked, “Will he kill you without a second thought?”
“I can handle it. It’s my choice and my problem…stay out of it!”
“I wish I could, but whenever I see a woman being abused, it offends me,” Charlie said.
Rachel put her hand on Eli’s head and said, “You better talk some sense into your master.”
Rachel walked into the kitchen and Lonnie and his cohorts walked over to where Charlie and Eli was sitting, “Now that Rachel isn’t here to protect you, maybe we can finish our conversation.” Lonnie pulled out a pistol and put it to Charlie’s head. Eli bared his teeth and growled menacingly. Lonnie said, “I’ll kill your dog if he comes at me.”
Charlie told Eli, “Easy boy, now is not the time.”
Lonnie said, “I think you got off too easy,’ and picked up the glass with the blueberry smoothie and poured it over Charlie’s head then slapped him across the head with the barrel of his weapon. Charlie immediately flashed back to being in combat, got up from the booth and dropped two twenty dollars on the table. Charlie and Eli left the diner under a barrage of insults.
When he got to his truck, Charlie took a gallon of water and dumped it over his head and wiped his face with a towel then looked back at the building and saw Rachel was standing at the front window. She mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” A moment later, Lonnie walked into view and slapped Rachel so hard that she fell to the floor. He grabbed a ketchup bottle off a table and walked outside. When Charlie drove by Lonnie called out, “You all come back soon,” and threw the bottle. It shattered when it hit the side of the truck.
When Charlie got back to the terminal in Oceanside, his first stop was to see John Gregory, “I need a few days off to take care of some personal business. I would have given you more notice, except it is a situation that came up at the last moment and couldn’t foresee.”
“Anything I can do to help out?” John said.
“No, but I appreciate the offer. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
When he got to his tiny home, Charlie made a phone call, “I need an order to go, I’ll pick it up this evening.”
“It will be waiting,” responded the voice on the other end.
Paul Dimitrov was an international arms dealer who lived in Imperial Beach and worked regularly with Special Operators. He greeted Charlie at a warehouse on Boston Street and looked down at Eli, “I see you got a new partner…looks up to the task.”
“I’ve had some good teammates and Eli ranked at the top my list.”
They walked across the warehouse and Paul moved a pallet with a forklift to expose a trap door. He opened it and turned on the light. Charlie and Eli followed Paul down the stairs to a massive room filled with all types of weapons and ammunition. “Help yourself.”
“I don’t need much,” Charlie said as he took two Glock 22 full-size pistol chambered for a .40 caliber round and two noise suppressors. He then took a dozen magazines each holding ten rounds and a double shoulder holster from a table.” I’ll need a vest for me and my partner and a tracking device.”
The next morning, Charlie and Eli arrived at Dana’s Diner. They waited for eleven hours before t Lonnie and his cohorts arrived. When they went inside, Charlie placed a homing beacon under their Cadillac Escalade rear fender.
Later that night Lonnie and his men were sitting outside their house in a rural area drinking beer and doing drugs and discussing their next crime caper. From out of the darkness, Charlie appeared, slightly illuminated by the flickering firelight and commented, “You told to me to come back. Is this too soon?”
Lonnie was startled and stammered, “How did you find us?”
“I followed the stench,” Charlie said, “I was working the last time we met, but I’m on my own time now, thought I might like to finish what you started by at the diner.”
The five men were not prepared for a gunfight so Charlie gave them a chance, “Where’s your guns?”
Lonnie responded, “In the house.”
“Let’s take a walk.”
When they got near the house, Charlie told the men to lie face down in the dirt and asked, “Where in the house?”
One of the men answered, “In the kitchen.”
Charlie turned to Eli, “You know what to do if they move,” and emptied one magazine next to their heads to show them he was deadly serious.
Charlie went inside and Lonnie made a move, Eli launched himself and clamped down on the man’s backside. Lonnie screamed out in pain as Charlie exited the house and called out, “Let him go.”
Eli disengaged and ran back to Charlie’s side who then told the men, “You can stand up now,” and tossed them their weapons.
Lonnie asked, “How do we know if they are loaded?”
Charlie suggested, “Check ‘em if you want.”
Each man looked at his pistol as Charlie back away a few steps, “Make your play.”
The five men were hesitant to make their move until Charlie warned them of the alternative, “This is the best deal you’re going to get. I came here to kill you and it’s up to you how you die, fighting or like the cowards that you are.”
Lonnie raised his weapon to fire and the other men instinctively did the same. They were no match for the skills of this Special Operator. Charlie emptied both magazines into them then reloaded and fired a dozen more rounds as a coup de grace.
When he searched the house, he found a cache of weapons, five thousand dollars in cash and two young women locked in a back room. He put the guns and money in his vehicle then called 911 from one of the dead men’s phone, “We need help at this location…five miles from Dana’s Diner off Interstate 52, you can track this phone,” and set it down.
Before leaving, Charlie pulled a bandana up to hide his face and assured the fearful girls, “The police are on the way,” He slipped another phone under the door and told the girls. “If they aren’t here in ten minutes, call again.” Charlie drove to a secluded area and waited with Eli until he saw flashing red lights coming up the road. He rested his hand on Eli’s back and said, “We can go now.”
On the way back to Oceanside, Charlie stopped in Imperial Beach to give Paul Dimitrov the weapons, “Thanks for the loan.”
“How did it go?” Paul asked, “Get everything taken care of?”
“I’m not hard to find if you ever need me,” Paul said.
“Right back at you,” Charlie added, “Sine Pari” ( Sini Pari is the motto of Delta Force which means without equal)
Two weeks later, Charlie was making another delivery to Nellis Air Force Base and stopped off at Dana’s Diner. Rachel cheerfully greeted him, “It’s good to see you, I was wondering when you would be back again. Those men who gave you trouble the last time you were here were killed in a gunfight.”
Charlie showed no emotion, “And you are telling me this because?”
“Just in case you didn’t know,” Rachel said.
“I’ll file that information away under useless trivia.”
“One more thing,” Rachel smiled mischievously, “Lonnie had a dog bite on the back of his leg,” and petted Eli.
“Interesting” Charlie said, “You’re not upset that I didn’t send flowers?”
Rachel knew in her heart that this quiet stranger with the black dog was responsible for saving her from a lot more pain and suffering and quite possibly prevented her death at the hands of a vicious predator. She was choked up with emotion and barely got these words out, “Is there anything special I can get you?”
Charlie smiled “Just the usual will be fine.”
Rachel walked off and Charlie called to her, “Just in case you wanted to know, as long as my dog likes me, that’s good enough.”
Eli barked his approval.
When Rachel got off work, she found an envelope under the windshield wiper of her car. It contained five thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills!