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Snake In The Grass -Thomas Calabrese

By   /  September 17, 2023  /  9 Comments


Strike Fast, Strike Hard

Thomas Calabrese – Dave Malone was born in Quantico, Virginia while his father Marine Corps officer Captain James Malone was attending the Expeditionary Warfare School, a 41-week resident school that provides career-level, professional military education and training to company grade Marine officers and selected officers from other services and countries. Dave had two older brothers, Steve was five years-old and Bob was three years-old at the time of his birth. His father was a Naval Academy graduate and a three year starting quarterback for the Midshipmen and a second team All-American during his senior year. His mother, Katie was a competitive diver at the University of Florida.

Steve and Frank were lucky enough to inherit their parents’ athletic genes and quickly showed a natural aptitude for physical activities. They were coordinated and adventurous children who loved to run, jump and do gymnastics. Dave on the other hand was a clumsy child with below average intelligence and almost no physical abilities. He consistently struggled to keep up with his older brothers and often tripped over his own feet. His parents were so concerned so they took him to the family physician to see if there was something physically or mentally wrong with their son.

 Doctor Joceyln Aplin read the results, “Everything is completely normal. I think you might have to accept the fact that Dave doesn’t have the same athletic abilities as his brothers. He may be a late bloomer, you can never tell about things like this. The main thing is that he is healthy.”

James said, “Thank you, Doctor. I guess we’re a little inexperienced dealing with this.”

            “Dave was much slower to walk and talk than his brothers,” Katie said.

            “The only explanation that I can give you is that everybody is different.” Doctor Aplin reminded the concerned parents.

James and Katie discussed their youngest son and James said, “Since he doesn’t have the same abilities as his brothers, we should push him harder.”

            “Does our son seem happy to you?” Katie asked.

            “Yeah, why do you ask?” James said.

            “Remember the saying; if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” Katie said, “David isn’t broken.”

James pondered his wife’s statement for a moment and came to see her point, “Yeah, you’re right and I’m wrong. We’ll love, support and encourage and hope for the best. If I forget, you’ll be sure to remind me…right?”

            “Absolutely, I’ll be watching you like a surveillance drone.” Katie smiled.

Dave tried out for his freshman football team when he got into El Camino High School. He was so inept that Coach Ray Lockhart’s first comment was after seeing Dave run the 40 yard dash and stumble through several utility drills was, “Are you sure that you are the brother of Steve and Frank Malone?”

Dave smiled, “I get that a lot.”

While both his brothers were starters on the team, Dave only made third string because the team needed bodies to be on the practice squad and was basically a tackling dummy for the starters. The only times Dave ever got into a game was when his team was so far ahead or so far behind that it didn’t matter how he performed on the field…which was usually very poorly.

Win or lose, Dave was the same likeable guy with the easy-going demeanor. In academics he struggled to maintain a C average, but working harder than everybody else to achieve less results was all that Dave Malone ever knew. He never felt like a victim or entitled to something he didn’t earned. Dave embraced the good things in his life and dealt with adversity with a resilience that made his parents proud.

By the time Dave was a junior at El Camino High School, his brother Steve was in the Navy Seals and Frank was playing basketball at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. His father was retired and currently working for Poseidon International, a venture capital firm comprised of former Naval Academy graduates that provided funds to start-ups, early-stage and emerging companies that have been deemed to have high growth potential. Their primary focus was on veteran owned businesses and ones that were pro-American.

Ernest T. Cooley was a herpetologist (A herpetologist is someone who specializes in the study of reptiles and amphibians). He also was educated in the fields of microbiology and immunology and was currently employed by Nielsen Pharmaceuticals to help develop a potent snake antivenom that would be universal against a variety of poisonous serpents. It was a one year contract and the time had almost expired so Doctor Sean Hopkins told Ernest Cooley, “We won’t be renewing your contract.”

            “But I’m getting close…another couple months and I’ll have it.” Ernest protested

            “I wish I could, I really do. Corporate is being audited and we’ve been ordered to cease all non-essential projects until it is completed. If you were in the middle of your contract, we could continue, but it is bad timing that it expiring right now,” Doctor Hopkins said, “I’m really sorry, but it’s out of my hands.”

            “So there’s a chance you’ll be calling me back?” Ernest asked.

            “I hope to, I’ve been reviewing your work and it looks very promising. I can pay you through the end of the month.”

            “I have a small laboratory and maybe I’ll have the answer by the time you call me back, Ernest said.”

            “Consider this, the company gets all your work up to the end of your contract. If you develop an antivenom on your own, it could be very profitable for you,” Doctor Hopkins, “Just make sure you us give first option.”

            “You’ve always treated me fair, I’ll do the same,” Ernest promised.

Ernest T. Cooley lived in the Rancho Del Oro area of Oceanside near Palisades Park and continued to work diligently from his house. Three weeks went by and after one long night of experiments Ernest fell asleep in the midst of a complicated calculation. The genetically altered snake was under temporary anesthesia that was lying on the examining table awakened and slithered off the table and through the open backdoor. When he awakened, Ernest realized he had been asleep for three hours. Ernest frantically searched for the snake…to no avail.

Two days later, Dave was riding his bike to his friend Dennis Woppler’s house and decided to take a shortcut through Palisades Park by taking the dirt trail behind the apartment complex to the opening in the fence. Upon entering the park, Dave noticed a lady pushing a baby carriage and holding the lease in her right hand. As he rode toward her, he noticed something moving in the grass next to the sidewalk. The lady was talking on her cellphone and wasn’t paying attention.

When Dave got close enough, he could tell that it was a rattlesnake! It was coiled and ready to strike. There was no time to warn the woman so Dave speeded up and dived off his bike just as the snake was ready to strike. He was bitten several times and the powerful venom entered Dave’s bloodstream. The snake slithered off and went under the fence and into the thick undergrowth that surrounded the park. Two minutes later, it died.

Dave tried to stand up, but passed out instead.

Luckily, Dave had his parents’ phone numbers were in his cellphone contacts and they were notified. They rushed to Tri City Hospital where Doctor Dennis North explained the severity of the situation, “Your son is in critical condition. I don’t know what kind of snake bit him, but it has a devastating effect on his system. We are pumping him with antivenom, but it has no effect. The police and game warden are searching for the snake. If they can find it, it would give us a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”

Right about that time, a coyote found the dead snake in the undergrowth and dragged it off to its lair for a source of food. For three days, Dave remained in a coma as the venom altered his physiological and neurological systems. On the fourth day, he heard voices and saw his parents in the hallway speaking to a medical professional. They were over 25 feet away and there is no way, Dave should heard them talking about him. He looked over his right and saw the small print on the chart hanging on the wall. His IV’s were connected to a five foot metal pole on wheels so Dave got out of bed and walked over to where his parents were standing. He noticed that his legs felt really light, almost as if he was walking on air. Dave said, “What’s going on?”

When his mother saw him, she burst into tears and embraced him. His father sighed in relief, “You sure gave us a scare.”

Doctor North asked, “How are you feeling?”

            “Very good, sir.” Dave responded.

            “You are one very luck young man,” Doctor North smiled.

After being released from the hospital and returning home, Dave started noticing drastic changes in his physical capabilities. While standing in front of five foot high chest of drawers, Dave jumped straight up and landed on top of it. He set an open magazine on the other side of the room and walked away but could still read it. His bedroom was on the second floor so he opened the window and removed the screen and jumped 15 feet to the backyard and landed as softly as a cat on cotton. Dave entered through the sliding door and surprised his mother, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

            “You feeling alright?” Katie asked.

            “Great, I’ll be ready to go back to school tomorrow.”

Katie hugged her son, “I love you.”

            “I’m going to take a walk and get some fresh air,” Dave said.

Once he was out of sight of his house, Dave started running in a full sprint, jumping over parked cars along the way. When he got to Martin Luther King Middle School, he went on the playground and did 50 pull-ups without struggling then swung to the top and did ten handstand push-ups before doing a forward flip to the ground. Two young children were watching in amazement and all Dave could do was shrug as he passed them.

While in school the next day, Dave was completely aware of everything going on around him and grasped everything the teacher was saying. In Algebra, the formulas were as easy as kindergarten math.

Sonny Denison was the star quarterback of the team. He was a natural athlete who was the current state champion in the 100 and 200 yard dash. He was a starting pitcher on the baseball team and was the shooting forward on the basketball team. It was common knowledge that anything Sonny did, he did it better than everybody else. Unlike Dave’s brothers who were also excellent athletes, Sonny was arrogant, entitled and a bully. He had an entourage that followed him around like sheep and when he was on the practice field, there was an unspoken hierarchy. The stars hung out together and the second and third stringers were at their beckon call.

Dave was setting up the tackling dummies when Sonny Denison called out, “Hey Malone, bring me a Gatorade!”

Dave went over to the cooler and pulled out a drink and walked over to Sonny who commented to his group, “You are looking at one of the worst players in the history of El Camino School. He’s so slow that they time him in the forty with a calendar and not a stopwatch.”

Everybody laughed.

            “Do you think that you can beat me in a race?” Dave asked.

Sonny was speechless for a moment then snarled, “Are you crazy. I’ve seen you run, you’re slower than frozen syrup.”

            “I’ll tell you what…if you can beat me, I’ll give you my cellphone and a hundred dollar,” Dave offered.

            “What am I supposed to put up?” Sonny asked.

            “Nothing of material value. You apologize to the team for being a loudmouth bully,” Dave said.

Sonny clenched his jaws and his eyes were windows to the rage inside him, “Pick a distance, 40, 100, 200, If you’re lucky I might not kick your butt when this over!”

            “Don’t make promises that you can’t keep,” Dave retorted.

The team lined up on both sides of the field to watch the race and get a good laugh in the process. The assistant coaches were also amused by it. Head Coach Carl Rigbee walked out of the locker room and called one of the players over and asked what was going on. The player responded, “Malone challenged Sonny to a race!”

Coach Rigbee shook his head and tried to comprehend what was the point. It didn’t make sense to him and he never thought that Malone was that stupid. The two players lined up and Sonny growled, “Goal line to goal line. Can you make it that far?”

            “I got it,” Dave replied.

One of the players called out, “Ready…Set…Go.”

Sonny burst into a quick lead because Dave gave him a little headstart, but by the time they reached the fifty yard line, they were running side by side. Twenty yards from the finish line, Dave shifted into a higher gear and beat Sonny by five yards. The entire practice field immediately went silent after witnessing what they thought was impossible. Sonny was so angry and out of control at losing that he threw a punch at Dave who caught his fist and bent is arm to bring Sonny to his knees.

Coach Rigbee called Dave over and demanded, “Where did you learn to run like that?”

            “I’ve been practicing on my own,” Dave responded.

Coach Higbee put Dave through a series of skills then decided to make him the kick-off returner and punt returner for Friday night game. Since Dave hardly ever got into a game, his parents rarely attended the gridiron contest because Dave didn’t want them too.

During the game against one of the best teams in the league, Dave scored seven touchdowns and had 411 yards of total offense, shattering a number of long standing records. He never mentioned what happened at the game to his parents and only when a reporter came to the house to interview Dave, did they find out.

Dave responded with his usual humbleness, “It’s no big deal, I just got lucky.”

Edward Rindell owned a successful manufacturing company in Minnesota which made towels, sheets and linen products. He was an Air Force veteran with strong conservative values and was a big supporter of the military and law enforcement. The radical political environment in his state had become increasingly hostile toward him so he decided to move to a more business friendly state sop he contacted Poseidon International

James Malone and his team put Ed in touch with Robert Martinez, a Navy veteran who held dual citizenship in the United States and Mexico. He had a much smaller manufacturing facility outside El Paso, Texas and owned some property in Mexico. After several meetings, Rindell and Martinez came to the conclusion that it would be mutually beneficial if they became partners. Rindell would move his manufacturing plant from Minnesota to Texas and the two veterans would expand the current facility in El Paso. They would also build another plant in Mexico with venture capital from Poseidon. This plan would provide great tax advantages and room for expansion without political persecution.

The bureaucrats in Minnesota were angry and vindictive when they found out about Rindell’s plan to relocate. They did everything to prevent the loss of the desperately tax revenue including  filing several injunctions and frivolous lawsuits  The city was already operating in a deficit due to their gross incompetence and corruption and could ill afford to lose another company to Texas, Nevada or Florida. They needed to find a way to stop or at least delay the move so the local politicians made a call to some federal bureaucrats in Washington D.C. who had more connections and even less morals than them.

While in Mexico, James Malone, Ed Rindell and Robert Martinez were looking at a large parcel of land as a possible location for the new manufacturing plant. The three veterans agreed that it was the place for them. While driving back to their hotel, they were ambushed and taken hostage.

A week went by and none of the three men were heard from. Eventually a news story broke about three American businessmen being kidnapped in Mexico. The State Department released a statement that they were currently working with Mexican authorities to find Americans. Something did not seem right about the situation, like the fact that the Malone family never heard directly from the State Department. If it had been for the news report, they would have been kept in the dark. When Katie Malone made numerous calls to various government agencies, none were able to give her any information.

Frank was called back from Grand Canyon University and Steve took emergency leave from the Navy Seals to be with his family. Dave finally told his family what he thought might have caused the dramatic change in his abilities.

Frank quipped, “You know what they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

            “That is a subject for another day, right now we need to focus on your father right now.”

Dave responded, “Whatever we need to do that’s what we’ll do.”

            “Get your passports and pack some clothes, we’re going to Mexico.”

After arriving in Mexico, the Malone family met with Robert Martinez’s wife, Maria who told them, “There is no way the Cartels did the kidnappings. Robert met with leader and told them about his plans to bring employment to the area. They were in favor of it, why would they sabotage it.” In fact I’ve heard from people in the cartels that they are not involved.”

            “They have no reason to lie…they have so much power that they don’t have to,” Maria said, “Robert told me that the United States government has been doing everything it could to destroy the deal.”

Katie turned to her son, Steve and asked, “You have a better perspective on this than the rest of us. What is your opinion?”

            “I can’t say with certainty that our government is involved, but what I do know is that there are definitely people in the Deep State that are capable of doing this. I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Two men were watching the Martinez house from inside their car. One of them made a call, “We’ve got a problem, the Malone family is in Mexico asking questions.”

The voice on the other end said, “Deal with it.”

As he walked out of the house, Dave noticed the car parked down the street with the two men in it. While his mother drove, Dave looked behind him and saw the car following from a distance and commented, “We’re being followed.”

            “Are you sure?” Frank asked

            “Pretty sure,” Dave answered.

Steve suggested, “Mom, pull over, I’ll drive.”

After switching drivers, Steve drove to a parking lot and pulled in between two cars. The car that following them was a few minutes behind and lost sight of the Malones. The driver pulled into the parking lot and after a few minutes saw the car they were looking for. They parked, pulled out their weapons and cautiously walked up behind the Malone car.

One of the men said, “Let’s get this over with.”

            “Roger that,” The second man responded.

What they got close enough, they noticed nobody was in it.”

            “Where the hell did they go?” The first man grumbled.

            “Right behind you,” Steve said and kicked the man in the back of leg and grabbed the weapon when he fell to his knees. Dave did a leg sweep of the other man and took his gun while he was in still in the air.  Katie walked over and asked, “Do you know where my husband is?”

Neither man spoke up so Steve slapped the first man across the head with the weapon, “That’s one way to use it, want to see another.”

            “They’ll kill us if we tell you,” The Second Man said.

Katie responded, “We won’t tell if you don’t.”

Steve and Dave got in the car with the two men and Katie and Frank followed them to a street lined with warehouses.

The First Man pointed, “Third one on the left.”

Steve asked, “Any guards?”

            “Two, your father is on the third floor.” The second man volunteered

Dave suggested to his brother, “You better let me handle this, you’re still in the military, you’ll get in some very serious trouble if they catch you.”

The Malones had a family meeting and it was reluctantly agreed that Dave should do the insertion while Steve covered him. Katie hugged her youngest son, “Be careful.”

Steve asked his youngest brother, “You might have to kill someone, are you up to it?”

            “I’d better be.” Dave smiled

Dave took a lug wrench and a one of the guns and walked down the street and climbed up the drainpipe to the roof with catlike agility.

Bob was amazed, “Where did he learn to do that?”

Once he got to the roof, Dave pried open the door and quietly walked down the stairs.

Back at the car, Steve warned the two men, “If something goes wrong, I’ll kill you.”

            “And if he doesn’t, I will,” Katie added.

Inside the warehouse, Dave saw his father and the other two men locked in a cage and two guards sitting nearby at a table. He leaped from the rafters and landed on the table, scaring the hell out the two guards. By the time, they realized what was happening and reached for their weapons, Dave shot them and took the keys and unlocked the cage.

James Malone was dumfounded and speechless. Dave smiled, “It’s hard for me too. I’ll explain it to you later, but right now we should get moving.”

Robert Martinez and Ed Rindell grabbed the guards’ weapons and they made a quick retreat. As they exited the building, a car with several men drove up. Dave, Steve Robert and Ed opened fire and the car crashed into a pole and exploded.

The two men who led the Malones to the warehouse feared the worst. One of them said, “You going to kill us now?”

Steve pulled out his cellphone and took their photos and sent them to a fellow Seal, “I’ll find out who you are and keep that for my records. If something happens to my family, I’ll come after you and if you kill me, someone else will so I’d advise you to forget us. Steve fired two shots near the feet of the two men and they ran off.

While in the car, James turned to his youngest son with mock anger, “Does anybody want to tell me why my youngest son who is still in high school and has no formal training is doing special operations?…don’t everyone speak at once.”

Dave quipped, “Well dad, it all started with a snake on a trail who gave me the gift of strike fast and strike hard.”  

The End


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  1. Clyde says:

    I really like the main character in this story. a great and humble hero.

  2. John michels says:

    Tom add another story to your top tier

  3. Tom says:

    Good Sunday Morning ,Tom! I bet you had fun dreaming this up and writing it! I sure had fun reading it and thinking back to the novel by Philip Wylie: “The Gladiator”. Lots of similarities.

  4. Skip says:

    You’re a master storyteller. Thanks for bringing another adventure “home”. Semper Fidelis!

  5. Mona says:

    Very entertaining story!

  6. wolf says:

    peter parker gets bit by a spider and gets super powers

    Dave gets bit by a rattle snake.
    and becomes athletic freak of nature.

    Sign me up I am ready to be bitten.

  7. Jon Gregory Nielsen says:

    Thanks for a terrific read. I was right in there with you, from the beginning to your ending.

  8. Pat says:

    Another good story Tom. Different and good

  9. Debbie says:

    Great story! So many twists and turn to this tale

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