Fluff and Fight
Thomas Calabrese– First Sergeant Blake Logan had been in the Marine Corps for 18 years and during that time he had six combat deployments. One of his assignments when he was stateside was as a senior instructor in the Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) combat system that combined existing and new hand-to-hand combat techniques. Part of his assignment was to train Marines of the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and the Raider Regiment.
His uncle, Glenn Hubbard was a retired Marine Corps Colonel and fighter pilot. He was a widower and currently lived alone in Vista, California. When the opportunity came up for Blake to transfer to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion on Camp Pendleton, he called his uncle to discuss the matter, “There’s three duty assignments I can put in for, first one is Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, Florida, Eighth and I in Washington DC or Recon at Pendleton.”
Glenn suggested, “Make out a list of the pro and cons of each duty station When you get to Pendleton, add these two on the pro side; you’ve haven’t been stationed on the West Coast for almost ten years and I’ve got a big house that you’re welcome to live in. Give me a second I want to look up something,” and went on his computer, “The current Basic Allowance for off base housing in this area is over $4,000 dollars a month for an E-8. If you invested that money over the next three years, that would be a significant addition to your retirement pension. One more thing, I have a great investment guy to help you.”
“Even if I got Pendleton, I couldn’t take advantage of your generosity like that,” Blake protested.
Glenn made some important points, “You’re my closest relative, I don’t have any children and I definitely don’t need the money. Being family is a lot more than just sharing ancestral blood, it’s also about respect, honor, duty, core values and being there for each other. Permission to ask you a question?”
“Permission granted,” Blake said.
“If our positions were reversed and you were retired and I was still on active duty. What would you want me to say if you made the same offer?”
Blake hesitated for a second and said, “I’d want you to say, I’ll see you in California!”
As luck would have it, Blake received the assignment to Camp Pendleton like he hoped. He called his uncle to give him the news, “I got it! I have some leave on the books so I’d figure I’ll take my time getting there.”
“Keep me posted…and drive safe,” Glenn said, “I’ll look forward to seeing you.”
Blake had a few nagging injuries that he accumulated over the years in the Corps so he reserved a three day stay at the Tucson Canyon Ranch Spa. His plans were to get three different types of massages; ayurvedic, Thai and deep tissue. He also wanted to some acupuncture treatments and an ultrasound test to determine blood flow and bone density. Blake had been taking herbs since he was stationed in Okinawa and wanted to discuss with a qualified Chinese herbalist if he should make any adjustments.
Alexis was forty-one years old woman. She was attractive, independent, successful and strong of mind and spirit. That was a combination that could be very intimidating to some men. She sometimes wondered if she would ever find a man that she actually respected and admired enough to spend any significant time with. When she noticed Blake, he immediately caught her eye. He was clean cut, athletic-looking, self-assured without being conceited or pretentious. Alexis liked to think she was a good judge of character and she had a certain criteria for making evaluations about people. Whenever possible Alexis liked to observe how a person treated the hired help. She remembered what her father said when she was a child ‘To quote, Muhammed Ali, I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position.’ She observed how this man neatly stacked his plates and carefully placed his silverware on top of them when he finished his meal. It might not have meant much to someone else, but it told her a lot. When the server dropped a fork and it bounced under the table, the man got down on his hands and knees in front of everyone to retrieve it for her. This was definitely someone that she wanted to meet.
At the next meal, Alexis walked over to Blake’s table and said, “If I’m being forward or invading your privacy, please tell me, but would you like some company?”
Blake stood up and replied with an inviting smile, “It would be my pleasure.”
Blake and Alexis had a cordial conversation, the main topic being the resort and their meals. They were especially cautious about revealing too much information about themselves. Finally, Alexis inquired, “Are you currently involved in a relationship?”
“I am not… what about you?”
“No, my initial assessment is that you are in the military.”
Blake smiled, “You would be correct in your assessment.”
“Two for two,” Blake smiled. “It’s my turn, let me guess what you do?”
Alexis commented, “You would really impress me if you could do that.”
“You are an attorney,” Blake said.
“Right, how did you know?” Alexis was totally surprised
Blake said, “Dura lex, sed lex. The law is hard, but it is the law.”
“You know some Latin, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
Blake pointed to Alexis’ left wrist, “The inscription on your bracelet.”
“Very observant,” Alexis said.
“Comes with my job,” Blake replied.
Blake extended his stay from three days to five and Alexis cancelled her return flight to San Diego so they could spend more time together. At the end of that time, they drove back to Southern California. When they reached Alexis’ house on Moonlight Lane in Encinitas, Blake stopped the car, opened the trunk and carried her luggage to the front door.
Alexis asked, “Thank you very much, would you care to come in for a while?”
“Mind if take a raincheck?” Blake said.
“What happens if I’m not giving out one?”
Blake smiled, “That’s a chance I’ll have to take. Here’s my plan, I’m going to drive to my uncle’s place in Vista, get situated and spend some time with him. Afterward I’ll go over to Pendleton and tell my new unit that I’m in the area. I still have 10 days left of leave and I’d like to see you again.”
“Are you sure?” Alexis asked.
Blake explained, “I don’t have a problem earning your trust and if I fail to meet your expectations then kick me to curb. I would expect no less from a woman like you. It’s not my style to tell you something that I don’t mean or beg for your company. I prefer to walk beside you, but I know from experience that there will be times when I’ll need to be in front or stay behind and hopefully I’ll know when those times are. If this was a brief encounter and you want to leave it at that, I’ll respect your decision. We had a good time and I’m not complaining. How about this; it’s Wednesday, I’ll call on Friday at 1000 hours and that will give you time to think about this. No pressure and no expectations.”
“There’s fair enough,” Alexis said.
Blake walked away, got in his car and drove off.
Alexis suddenly realized that she didn’t give Blake her number, “Aw hell.”
Her phone rang and she answered it, “Hello.”
“Don’t worry, I have your phone number,” Blake said and hung up.
Alexis really liked this man…a lot.
Blake called his Uncle Glenn while he was driving, “I’m in Encinitas, I should be there in about a half hour.”
Early the next morning, Blake drove to Camp Pendleton and met with the Commanding Officer of 1st Recon Battalion.
Colonel Robert Wolfe said, “Welcome First Sergeant. It’s good to have you.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s good to be here.”
Colonel Wolfe asked, “Are you ready to get to work?”
“I still have about eight days of leave left, but I can come back early if you need me?”
“Not necessary, we’ll see you when we see you.” Colonel Wolfe smiled.
At 0958 hours, the alarm on Blake’s phone went off and he scrolled to Alexis’s number and at precisely at 1000 hours he called her.
Alexis picked up on the first ring and said. “When you say 1000 hours, you mean it.”
“I could be a few seconds off, but close enough,” Blake said.
“Did you get everything taken care of?” Alexis asked.
“I did,” Blake answered.
There was a long period of silence and Alexis finally said, “Are you still there?”
Alexis asked, “Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?”
“I would like that very much,” Blake said.
Blake responded, “I trust your culinary judgment.”
“I’ll text you the place and time.”
“I’ll be there,” Blake said.
Blake met Alexis at the Eagle’s Nest Organic Café on Highway 101 at 7PM. They enjoyed their dinner and when the bill came, Alexis waited to see if Blake would reach for it, but he did not. He sensed what Alexis was thinking and explained, “You invited me and it would be rude and condescending if I picked up the check. Tell me if I’m wrong.”
“You are not,” Alexis smiled.
As they casually walked down the sidewalk, Alexis was confused so she asked, “I’m not used to dealing with a man like you. Got any tips on what you like and don’t like?”
“Be yourself and keep things simple, if you invite me, you’ll pay and if I invite you then I pay. If we mutually agree on something, we can either share the costs or flip for it. If there’s something that I do that bothers you then don’t hesitate to tell me because I have more than my shares of flaws and idiosyncrasies I’m not easily offended and if I agree, I’ll willingly accept your constructive criticism. If I can’t or won’t, then I’ll tell you. I won’t pretend to be something that I’m not and I give you my word that I’ll never ask you to do anything that you’re uncomfortable doing. The rest we can figure out as we go along….is that alright?”
Alexis smiled affectionately, “I can live with that.”
As they continued on their way, Blake noticed a young deputy in a confrontation with a group of intoxicated and aggressive men. He was outnumbered and cornered and the situation quickly escalated when one of the men pulled out a knife and threatened the law enforcement officer. The Deputy was obviously hesitant about using deadly force, but wasn’t experienced enough to defuse the situation. Blake turned to Alexis and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Fearing for his safety, Alexis suggested, “Shouldn’t you let the police handle this?”
Blake responded calmly, “All it takes for evil to prevail is for men to do nothing.” He walked calmly into the midst of the fray and asked “Anybody got a problem?”
One man took a swing at Blake who blocked it, then punched the attacker in the solar plexus and he fell to his knees gasping for air. Two other men charged at Blake and he kicked one in the right knee and performed a textbook hip throw on the other. Three other men were quickly dispatched with various hand to hand maneuvers.
The man with the knife made a foolish error and attacked. Blake quickly grabbed the man’s wrist and bent his arm back until the knife fell to the ground. Blake slapped his hands over the man’s ears and he screamed out in anguish. Blake picked up the knife and handed it to the Deputy and said, “Thank you for your service,” and walked back to where Alexis was standing with her eyes wide open in a mixture of admiration and amazement. “That looked just like a scene out of a John Wick movie.”
Blake put his arm around Alexis’ shoulder and said, “A man who is ready for a fight is more dangerous than a man who goes looking for one. Since I’m a Marine, I’m always ready for a fight.”
Alexis burst out in laughter, “Remember the song by Dionne Warwick with the lyrics, What do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble. That’s what you get for all your trouble?”
“I’ve been known to carry knives, guns, explosives and handheld missiles, but pins have never been part of my preferred arsenal.” Blake joked.
Alexis was a high priced attorney used to dealing with multi-millionaires and billionaires and all types of men, but she knew she was in unchartered territory with this larger-than-life Marine. However this turned out, she was enjoying every moment of this ride, that’s for sure.
On one occasion, there was an activity for his unit on Camp Pendleton and Alexis came as Blake’s guest. He parachuted with a group of Recon Marines off the coast of Del Mar Beach on base and perfectly hit the landing zone. There was a barbecue and some other activities and at sunset, Alexis expressed her gratitude, “Thanks for inviting me. I’m having a great time.”
“I’m glad, that was my intent,” Blake said.
On another occasion, Blake accompanied Alexis to a charity fundraiser at the palatial Rancho Santa Fe mansion of billionaire media mogul, Greg Garchar. When asked by some of the men what his business was, Blake commented, “Defense industry.” As the evening went on, he conversed intelligently on a wide range of issues with the other guests.
One woman was obviously impressed and commented to Alexis, “You husband is a very handsome and intelligent man.” Alexis did not bother to tell the woman that they were not married, but responded proudly, “Just two of his many qualities.”
One of the events of the evening was a charity poker game and the buy-in was $25,000 dollars. It was common practice for the players to donate their winnings to a charity of their choice. Alexis asked, “How are you at poker?”
“Not bad,” Blake responded.
Alexis suggested, “I usually play at these events, but why don’t you take my place this year.”
“If you want me to,” Blake said.
Alexis bought 50,000 dollars in chips and Blake sat down at the table. Two hours later, the Marine had $800,000 in chips in front of him. Greg Garchar was also doing very well and had 750,000 in front of him. He looked at his cards and smiled, “All in,” and shoved his chips into the pot. The curious onlookers talked among themselves, eager for the handsome man to make his decision. Blake didn’t even bother to look at his cards. The two men made eye contact for several seconds and then Blake pushed all his chips in and said, “Call.”
Garchar laid down his cards face up, “Full house, kings over tens.”
“Straight flush, eight high.” Blake set his winning hand on the table.
“I thought I had you,” Garchar smiled and extended his hand in gracious defeat.
“I was lucky,” Blake shrugged.
“It was more than that…you’re a very good player,” Garchar said.
A woman came by and said, “Your winnings were one million six hundred thousand, what is your preferred charity?”
“Split it between Warrior Dog Foundation and Tunnel 2 Towers,” Blake said, “Thank you.”
As Blake and Alexis were walking to their car, Garchar ran out of his mansion to say farewell, “I’m glad I caught you before you left. I hope to see you again.”
“Never can tell, thank you for your hospitality,” Blake said.
While driving home, Alexis said, “I’ve been coming to these fundraisers for five years and I’ve never seen Greg Garchar lose in poker or chase after somebody to say goodbye. You made a hell of an impression on him.”
“Thanks for inviting me. I enjoyed myself and the money can do some good. It’s was a win win situation.”
“A lot my business comes from personal referrals, you just made me a few millions dollars by being my escort,” Alexis said, “I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me anything. If it helps you then it’s good for me too,” Blake said.
Alexis was choked up with emotion and asked, “You weren’t even phased with the situation, were you?”
“Why would I be? I’m trained to adapt and overcome, besides I’m more impressed by character and common decency than I am by wealth and glitzy possessions. If that wasn’t enough, I had you by my side so I was holding the high ground and had a clear field of fire.”
There was one evening when Alexis was having dinner with Blake and his uncle at the house in Vista. Glenn served the food, “This is my special recipe for chile rellenos. I hope you like it.”
“This is great!” Alexis responded after she took a taste.
Glenn said, “I was in in Loreto, Mexico fishing for marlin and dorado and I got to know this Mexican lady and she gave me this recipe.”
While walking past the laundry room to the bathroom, Alexis detected a faint scent of natural gas, “Anybody smell gas?”
“Don’t ask me, my sense of smell is not very good,” Glenn said, “Let me see if you’re right,” and reached into a drawer and pulled out a handheld gas detector. He walked over to the dryer and held the device behind the appliance. It registered a leak. “You were right.”
“How do you want to do this?” Blake asked.
“If I call San Diego Gas and Electric, they’re going turn everything off and lock the meter. I’d rather shut it off myself and call my friend who’s a plumber. I just put in some wet towels and sheets and I don’t want to let them sit around wet for a few hours.”
Blake suggested, “I’ve got an idea, why don’t I bag the wet stuff and take them to the laundromat. While I’m doing that, you shut the meter off and call your friend.”
Glenn teased, “What a plan! That was truly a remarkable example of spontaneous problem solving. ”
“I must have learned that from you,” Blake turned to Alexis, “Do you want to come with me or wait here?”
“Who can turn down an excursion to the laundromat…surely not me,” Alexis smiled.
When they arrived at the laundromat, Alexis started to cough and Blake said, “Are you alright?”
“I’ve got a tickle in my throat.”
Blake offered, “I noticed a food mart at the gas station, why don’t you put the clothes in the dryer and I’ll get you a bottle of water.”
“Thanks,” Alexis said.
While walking to the other end of the strip mall, Blake noticed two vehicles in the parking lot with men sitting in them. The next thing that caught his eye and aroused his suspicion was the broken surveillance camera. Something wasn’t right so Blake turned around and went back to the laundromat.
Alexis opened a large dryer and saw a laundry bag inside it and pulled it out. She looked inside and saw that it was loaded with small plastic bags of pills. Just about that time, Blake walked in and Alexis, commented, “Look what I found inside one of the dryers.”
Blake looked at the pills and determined, “Fentanyl,” then saw another laundry bag inside another dryer and pulled it out. This one had bundles of twenty and fifty dollar bills.
“What’s going on?” Alexis inquired.
Blake noticed six men getting out of the cars in the parking lot and walking in their direction, “I believed that we may have just walked into the middle of a drug deal.”
“Doesn’t anybody have any respect for the sanctity of clean clothes anymore?” Alexis said, “Where’s our plan?”
“We could hope that they say its only drugs and money so don’t worry about it, but I wouldn’t count on it.” Blake kicked open the storage closet and pulled Alexis in and shut it behind them.
The men entered the laundromat with their guns drawn as Blake peered through the slightly opened door to see what was going on. The man in charge demanded, “Where are the two people who just came in here? Find them!”
Alexis should have been a lot more scared than she was, but when she saw the intensity in Blake’s eyes and felt the energy of his intense focus, adrenalin surged through every fiber of her being.
When one of men got close to the storage closet and prepared to open it, Blake kicked it open with such force that the man fell backward on the floor. Blake smashed him in the head with a mop handle and took his weapon. He engaged the other men in a firefight and his accuracy was deadly. Blake emptied one weapon, grabbed another and continued firing until his adversaries were lying motionless on the floor.
Alexis peered out and saw the carnage and asked, “Is it safe to come out?”
“Don’t slip on the blood,” Blake cautioned, “It’s time for a strategic retreat. Grab the laundry, I’ll get everything else.” He took all the weapons, the bag of money and put them in the trunk of the car.
As they were driving away, several Sheriff Department vehicles began arriving at the strip mall. Instead of being nervous or confused, Blake remained calm and under control. To him, this was just another day of dispatching bad guys.
When they returned to the house, Glenn asked, “Any problems?”
“The first laundromat had some minor machine issues so we had to go somewhere else,” Blake answered.
“The plumber will be here in the morning,” Glenn said.
Alexis set the bags on the couch, “The towels and sheets are dried and folded. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a laundromat.” and winked at Blake, “that I didn’t even know that they now have cycles on the machines called spin and die and fluff and fight.”
“Huh?” Glenn said.
“Inside joke,” Blake walked over and gave Alexis a kiss.
You did a good story as usual.
My favorite combination: USMC, lovely lady and dirty, rotten crooks. I would have made them eat the fentanyl pills first. My next visit to the laundromat I’ll check all the machines first!
I found the story very interesting. The main character was definitely a well qualified Marine….and so much more.
Colonel Wolfe? Really? Guess we know the same guy 🙂
Blake and Alexis are a good match for each other.
I like Tony’s. recommendation to eat the fentanyl pills.
Another option, crush a few pills and mix with the money and poison a cartel.
Very creative….I enjoyed it.
Thank you for another excellent story
You hit the nail on the head! I enjoyed the read!
Thanks for yet another of your enjoyable, uplifting weekend stories.
Greg Garchar was a nice addition.
I loved the story Tom! it kept me intrigued and wanting to know what was gonna happen next and that’s exciting to the reader. It also shows how much of a great writer you are. Can’t wait for the next one.
Good story Tom. I lose in card games like my cousin Greg. Hope you re doing well.
I was delayed in reading Mr. Thomas’s Sunday story in the Vista Press and I am very glad I was able to catch up and read it.
Mr. Calabrese does not disappoint when it comes to writing a short story and using locations in our local area in addition to providing other locations of interest. Sunday’s story is another gripping story of the good people winning over the bad. I certainly enjoy the way Mr. Calabrese is able to fit a great story such as this and condense it into a short story. I felt this was just the beginning out a great story and there is more to come. Thank you for the entertaining story.
I absolutely loved this story. One problem though! It wasn’t long enough!