Valley Center Kid
Thomas Calabrese – Mike Leandro was a Navy Seal and had been in Special Operations for over 16 years. He was hoping to make his full twenty, but his body wasn’t cooperating. He had been shot four times, stabbed twice, broke both legs and his left arm and had more sprains, concussions and pulled more muscles and tore more ligaments than he cared to count. Mike did not want to be on medication so he practiced self-hypnosis and went on an anti-inflammatory diet to deal with the chronic pain. He was currently assigned as an instructor in the Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals training course at Coronado, California.
The anti-establishment culture and some opportunist politicians had set their sights on the difficult training regimen of the Seals. One article in the paper had the headline; Seal Training Exposes a Culture of Brutality, Cheating and Drugs. This was one more attempt by anti-American activists to weaken the military.
A group of instructors were eating chow and commenting on the negative publicity. Chief Petty Officer Chris Pavers snarled, “Cheating and drugs…sounds more like Congress than BUDS.”
Rear Admiral Steven Nielsen, commanding officer for the 3,000-strong Navy SEALs called the instructors to a classroom for a briefing, “I’d like to tell you what I’m thinking, but I won’t do that. I’ve been ordered by the Secretary of Navy to meet with some elected representatives for a guided tour.”
A voice from the back of the room yelled out, “Elected representatives…I’d rather hear the words you’re surrounded by ISIS.”
Everyone burst into laughter.
“Just answer their questions politely and maybe they’ll go away and find something else to occupy their time,” Admiral Nielsen said.
Not one of the dozen elected politicians served a day in the military, but there was no shortage for suggestions and comments on how to improve training. Congressman Nancy Eichner questioned Mike Leandro, “Do you have a problem with a woman being in the Seals?’
“This is a male dominated organization….why is that?” Congresswoman Eichner inquired.
Mike answered simply, “Because there are men in it and most men are males.”
“I’ve looked at your record, Chief Petty Officer Leandro, you’re old school, aren’t you?”
Mike looked straight at the Congresswoman, “If you mean that I believe in tradition then I am very old school. For the record, I will gladly serve with a woman, an animal, vegetable or a mineral if they can do the job. As for the training being too difficult, we have this strange philosophy that it is better to fail in training than it is to die in combat. On the other hand, we could always notify our enemies that we’re lowering our standards to be politically correct and maybe they won’t fight so hard or kill so many of us, Ma’am.”
Congresswomen Eichner was offended by the bluntness of the American warrior, “I can see that talking to you is a waste of time.”
Later that day, an irritated Admiral Nielsen called Mike Leandro into his office, “I thought I told you to be polite and professional. What part of my orders didn’t you understand?”
Mike responded, “I understood clearly, sir. Congresswoman Eichner asked me a couple questions and I answered her to the best of my ability. I could have lied or refused to answer, I chose truth as my best option.”
“Maybe that’s what offended her…the truth…dismissed.” Admiral Nielsen said.
Mike Leandro was a hostage rescue specialist and with Seal Team 7 had completed missions all over the world. He was nicknamed the Sultan of Slamdino, a cross between the Great Bambino and the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth’s nicknames, for his uncanny ability to knock down doors either by physical force or explosives.
Since the politicians were on a fact finding tour and the government was paying for their food and lodging they spared no expense in mixing a small amount of business with a large portion of pleasure. Congresswoman Eichner had a suite at the Hotel Del Coronado and being an elected representative from California, her perspective and sense of entitlement was even more extreme than most of her peers. She behaved like her constituents worked for her not the other way around. She gave a press conference outside the hotel and pandered to her radical base, “The military refuses to change with the times because there are too many dinosaurs in positions of leadership. You have my word that once I get back to Washington, I’ll be working on legislation to correct this systemic failure.”
Power and greed can be addictive, no matter how much some people have, it is never enough. It also creates arrogance and stupidity in some of them. Many hardworking Americans could support a family of four for a year on the money that Congresswoman Eichner spent in a week. During the pandemic, she diverted 29 million dollars from the three plus trillion dollars COVID relief fund to a shell company that her equally corrupt political donors created. Another illegal money-making venture that the Congresswoman and her cronies were involved with was the smuggling and sale of the fentanyl drug that was brought to Mexico from China. They were distributing the deadly narcotic all over the country and the body count was adding up.
Paco Mayorkas, of the ruthless Baja Cartel was sitting in his palatial home outside Tijuana and watched Congresswoman Eichner’s press conference on his 72 inch big screen television. He recently found out from an informant that the American politician and her partners were now doing business with his rival, the Sinaloa Cartel. This was not a good thing for two reasons, Paco would lose millions in revenue, but most important of all, it would sent a bad message to his competitors that they could undercut his prices and take his customers without repercussions. The Sinaloa Cartel had been encroaching into his territory over the past few months and were getting bolder with each passing day. Paco wasn’t ready for a turf war just yet, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t send a message. “Mateo, come in here, I need you to do something.”
Fernando’s Cocina, located on Orange Avenue gave a 25 percent discount to the Navy Seals who patronized his establishment and it became one of their favorite hangouts. Mike was on his way to meet a few of his buddies and was running about 15 minutes early. He thought about going inside and sitting at the bar until he saw Congresswoman Eichner and her entourage sitting at two tables and shook his head in disappointment, “I guess I’m not eating here tonight.”
Mike found an inconspicuous place in front of Jerry’s Ice Cream Emporium to wait for his buddies when he saw three black Cadillac Escalades parked at strategic locations on the street. The windows were darkly tinted and it was impossible to see the occupants. A special operator like Mike Leandro doesn’t stay alive as long he has without developing some keen instincts and threat assessments skills. He didn’t have to wait long to confirm his suspicions, three men exited from each vehicles for a total of nine. The temperature in Coronado was almost eighty degrees so to see the men wearing jackets was also suspicious. If there was any doubts at all, it was quickly eliminated when the men pulled masks up over their faces. Several of the men looked at their cellphones while walking. They were headed to Fernando’s and Mike didn’t have time to dwell on his suspicions, he had to intercede immediately. He came up behind one man, punched him in the kidneys, snapped his neck and took his automatic weapon. Mike shot the two closest men to him then went after the others. When the other individuals heard the shots, they opened fire and bullets started flying. People on the street panicked and started screaming. Some ducked and ran off. Mike felt the intense burning in his left side and looked down and saw the blood on his shirt. He had been in enough combat to know that the key to survival was staying calm in the midst of the chaos. He slowed his breathing and took up a defensive position behind a wall and engaged the other six men with accurate shots that kept them pinned down. Mike saw the men moving toward Fernando’s and knew that he would have to come out into the open to intercept them. This would make him an easy target, but it was a risk he was willing to take in order to protect those inside the building. He stood up and called out, “Over here, knuckleheads!”
The six men opened fired and Mike dived through the front window of Fernando’s. The patrons thought he was one of the attackers and cowered under the tables. Fernando recognized Mike and reassured them, “Relax, he’s one of the good guys.”
Mike looked over at Congresswoman Eichner who was trembling and stated, “Now you know why we train so hard… it’s for time like this.”
Two men came through the door and Mike stood up and killed them, but was shot two more times.
“You’ve been shot!” Congresswoman Eichner screamed out when she saw the bloody shirt.
“Astute observation,” Mike retorted as he fell to his knees, “I’ll take that under advisement.”
The last four men wisely retreated to their vehicle and raced off. A few moments later, the other Navy Seals arrived. Mike grimaced as Mark Hayes bent down next to him to render emergency medical aid then ordered, “Get one of their cellphones and don’t tell anybody.” Mark searched through the pockets of one the dead attackers and took out his cellphone.
Mike was taken to Balboa Naval Hospital for emergency surgery. He was recovering in his room when Admiral Nielsen came in to see him, “How are you feeling, Slamdino?”
“Not bad, how about you?” Mike responded.
“Are you in any pain?”
Mike answered, “Pain is my reminder that I’m still alive.”
“Congressman Eichner wants to thank you personally,” Admiral Nielsen said.
Mike growled, “Sir, my stomach is too queasy to see a politician. If she really wants to thank me then she should erase me from her memory.”
Admiral Nielsen, “They don’t call you the Sultan of Slamdino for nothing. I know you’d rather bust down a door or dive through a window then accept any thanks, but can’t you make an exception in this case?”
Mike snickered, “C’mon Admiral, everybody knows your record when you were a doorkicker. You were my role model. We don’t do this job because we want to be acknowledged, we do it because it’s the right thing to do and somebody has to do it.”
“It’s not that simple,” Admiral Nielsen said.
“It is for me…of course I’m not an Admiral,” Mike said.
Admiral Nielsen sighed, “Things were a lot clearer in the good old days. I’ll take care of it.”
Later that day, Mark Hayes came to visit and asked, “What do you want me to do with the cellphone?”
“Did you look at it?”
“Yeah, wasn’t I supposed to? Mark asked.
Mike responded, “That’s fine…do you have it with you?”
Mark handed the phone to Mike who looked at it then commented. “Typical burner phone with 5 photos of Congressman Eichner on it and an assassination attempt. Add those two things up and what do you get?”
“Somebody with a lot of clout wanted to send a message,” Mark answered.
“Hold this phone until I get out of here and don’t tell anybody.”
“Tell anybody what about what phone?” Mark snickered, “I don’t know nothing.”
Mike surmised, “I saw some of the other shooters look at their phones before the attack…which means that these photos were on theirs as well. If they do an investigation and there’s no mention that the Congresswoman was the target then we’ll know it’s a cover-up.”
“I guess all we can do is wait and see,” Mark agreed.
Mike remained in the hospital for three more weeks before being released. Official sources immediately fabricated a scenario about a drug deal gone bad and released it to the media. It completely left out anything Congresswoman Eichner. In fact, it did not even she was in the area. Mike was surprised on how quickly the incident was swept under the rug. Even the media barely mentioned the incident after the few days except to say it was an ongoing investigation.
The bad news was that the injuries Mike suffered during the attack effectively ended his Special Operations career. His parents, two brothers and sister currently lived in Asheville, North Carolina and he prepared to join them. Mike liked California, but the high cost of living in the state was a major deterrent for a guy on a disability pension and no job prospects. He was surprised to hear from his Great Uncle Dan “Hack’ Hackett, on his mother’s side, “Hi Mike, this is Hack.”
Mike had not spoken to his Great Uncle in over five years, “Hey Hack, it’s been a while.”
“I’m not real good at staying in touch. When I found out you became a Navy Seal, I asked your mother to keep me posted on how your career was going. You’re a true patriot and I thank you for your service.”
Mike was suspicious, “You served longer than I did so I should be thanking you. Mom never told me, why would you ask her to do that?”
Hack responded, “I have my reasons, she told me that you’re being discharged. Is there any chance we can meet before you leave the state? I’ll explain everything to you?”
“Valley Center…I’ll text you the address.”
Two days later, Mike met his great uncle in a small café on Valley Center Road called Hack’s for a late breakfast. Hack suggested, “Everything is good, I can highly recommend the omelets.”
Mike looked at the menu, “I’ll have the vegetarian.”
The waitress walked over and Hack said, “Betty, we’ll have two vegetarian omelets,” then asked Mike, “What do you want to drink?”
Hack said, “Two veggie omelets, two apple juices…thanks Betty.”
“Sure thing, Hack,” Betty walked off.
Mike sat quietly until Hack began to speak, “I served 3 tours in Vietnam and 26 years total in the Marine Corps and retired in 1982. I got a call from my Uncle Jasper, a World War II Marine who came to this area when he got out bought some land and helped to develop the area. He offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse… with one very special condition. I’d like to make you the same offer.”
“Don’t you have two daughters?” Mike asked, “Where are they?”
“They are grown with their own families, one lives in Tennessee and the other is in Texas and they have no desire to come back. They respect my decisions because I raised them to be good people and respect their elders. This is between you and me.”
“Are you going to tell me what the offer and special condition are?” Mike asked.
“That when the time came I’d pass it on to another veteran in better shape than I received it,” Hack said, “I gave my word and I intend to keep it.”
After breakfast Hack drove through the Valley Center area and showed Mike a dozen large commercial buildings, three strip malls, several dozen houses and hundreds of acres of agricultural land.
“Interesting tour,” Mike responded, “Am I right to assume to that this is all yours?”
Hack responded with a wry smile, “And yours if you want it?”
“Your extreme generosity is duly noted. I’m a former Navy Seal, I’m used to fighting or working for everything I value. I’m not very good at accepting gifts…thanks anyway.”
“This is no gift, it is an opportunity that is offered to you because of your many years of dedicated service to our country. Let me give you another perspective. How many people do you think work for me?” Hack said
“Several hundred,” Mike answered.
At last count, 689 and that’s not counting the dozens of companies I do business with that make money off me to pay some of their employees. Hell, this isn’t about me, I’ve got enough money to retire anyplace I want; Singapore, Dubai, the French Rivera. I could live like a king in Chiang Mai with my old buddy Duke Whittington. I stay here because other people rely on me for their livelihood. I do what you’ve been doing for years…which is looking out for others. I’m getting tired and I need someone I can trust.” Hack said.
“I won’t make promises I can’t keep, but I’ll stick around a while until I know more.” Mike said.
Hack was subtle, but Mike got the point, “Being in Valley Center will allow you to stay un-noticed while pursuing other activities and maintaining certain valuable skills…if you know what I mean.”
Hack had a small ranch style home on a hill and situated around the main structure were four guest houses. Hack offered, “Pick any one that you like. I like to eat early, join me for dinner at the main house at 1700 hours.”
“Roger that,” Mike said.
At 1655 hours, Mike walked from the guest house to the main house, knocked on the door and Hack let him in. Mike noticed a teenage boy sitting on the couch with a mountain lion and a wolf next to him. If it had been anybody else but a Special Operator, they might have been shocked, but not Mike who casually commented, “Nice mountain lion and wolf.”
Hack introduced the boy, “Mike ‘Sultan of Slamdino’ Leandro, this is Billy Booth, the Valley Center Kid.” Billy nervously held out his hand and Mike shook it,
After dinner, Billy left with his animals and Mike commented, “Let me guess, you wanted me to see one of the people that you help out?”
Hack explained, “Billy is slightly autistic, but he has a special gift with animals. He was homeless when I found him begging for food. It’s not about me helping him, it’s about giving a good person a chance to be productive. Billy works and lives at the animal sanctuary and does the work of five men because he loves what he does. Let me show you something else.”
Hack walked over to a bookcase and slightly tilted one book and the bookcase rolled away. He put his hand against the pad and it scanned his fingerprints and opened the vault door. There was a large steel encased secret room filled with weapons and ammunition. “See anything you like?”
Mike picked up a Barrett .50 caliber, “A few things…I’m impressed. If I had an arsenal, it would look like this.”
“I’m a man who firmly believes in law and order, but when the people entrusted to do their duty fail, I am not averse to using my own methods.”
“You’re just full of surprises, Uncle Dan,” Mike said as he checked out some other weapons.
Later, Mike showed his uncle the cellphone with Congresswoman Eichner’s photos on it, “The last gunfight is usually the one that you remember most. Whatever this politician is involved in, it costs me my career.”
“Which means that you can’t let it go until you get some closure?” Hack said, “Stick around and I’ll help you get what you want.”
Mike responded, “Sounds good to me.”
Over the next few months, the Sultan of Slamdino and the Valley Center Kid developed a friendship. Despite some minor mental issues the ‘Kid’ was intensely loyal to Hack and extremely dedicated to his job as a caretaker for the animals. Billy liked to keep things simple and that was the way that Mike preferred it as well.
Mike and Billy were at the sanctuary when Hack walked up, “Hey Mike, I’d liked to talk with you in private for a minute.”
“Sure thing,” Mike replied.
“See you later, Kid,” Hack nodded toward the door.
“Roger that, Hack,” Billy smiled and left.
Mike commented, “I see that the ‘Kid’ has picked up some military terminology being around you.”
“A little…I’ve called my entire network of business associates, acquaintances and a few friends and made some subtle inquiries.” Hack said.
“You’re a former Marine…how subtle can you get?”
Hack laughed, “Point taken, I kept it simple; I told them to tell me anything about Congresswoman Eichner and I’d decide if it was important.”
“Find anything?” Mike asked.
Hack responded, “She’s as crooked a bucket of fish hooks, a dog’s hind leg, a barrel of snakes and some other quaint analogies. I’ve got to ask one thing…how far do you want to push this?”
Mike pondered the question for a moment then responded, “When I was in the Seals, we kept pushing until we either completed the mission or couldn’t push anymore.”
“That answered my question…let’s do this then.”
Congresswoman Eichner was visiting her boyfriend, movie producer Peter Grayson at his Brentwood estate. She left in her Mercedes and was driving down the street when a van cut her off. Two masked men jumped out with their guns visible. One of the men smashed the driver’s side window, opened the door and pulled Congressman Eichner out, put a pillow case over her head, zip tied her wrists and ankles and put her in the back of the van.
Several hours later, Congresswoman Eichner was tied to a chair in the middle of a room. Behind a one way mirror were the Sultan and Hack.
Mike explained, “We’ve got to make her give us something without giving the impression that we don’t know a hell of a lot.”
“And how do we do that?” Hack asked.
“Fear is a great motivator.”
A side door opened and the ‘Kid’s pet mountain lion and wolf walked over to where Congresswoman Eichner was sitting. Her eyes opened wide in terror and she screamed out, “What do you want from me! I’ll give you anything…please let me go!”
Using a microphone that disguised his voice, Mike said, “What are you involved in?”
At first, Congresswoman Eichner denied any wrongdoing, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mike replied, “It is a slow and painful death to be torn to pieces, but it’s up to you.”
Congressman Eichner knew she had no choice, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you whatever you want.”
The side door opened and the mountain lion and wolf left the room.
The Sultan of Slamdino complimented the ‘Kid’, “Good job.”
For the rest of the day, Mike and Hack recorded incriminating evidence occurring from coast to coast and especially in Sacramento. Finally Congresswoman Eichner sighed in exhaustion, “That’s everything…can I go now?”
Several hours later, the corrupt politician had a pillowcase over her head and was lying on the floor of the van. Mike stuck a burner phone into her coat pocket, “We’ll be in touch…if you think about double-crossing us, just remember that we have you on video. A lot of people will want you dead or in prison if that information ever becomes public. You continue to help us and we’ll keep your secret.”
The van slowly pulled to a stop and the sliding door opened. Mike helped Congresswoman Eichner out with this warning, “Count to 10 before pulling the pillowcase off…understood?”
“Understood.” Congresswoman Eichner stammered. When she took off her hood, she saw that she was right down the street from her house in Pacific Palisades.
The trio of Mike, Hack and the ‘Kid’ did not waste any time using the information that they got from the corrupt politician to begin taking down criminals, both in the political and civilian sectors. They intercepted several trucks filled with narcotics in the Southland and got into a firefight with some human traffickers in Borrego Springs. Mike trained Billy in basic military operations and marksmanship. Combine that with the ‘Kid’s’ uncanny abilities with animals and they became a formidable team. Their mission was simple; protect the defenseless and uphold American principles of good and decency.
Hack approached the two individuals at the animal sanctuary with some news, “I’m finally going to take a vacation because I have the utmost confidence that the Sultan of Slamdino and the Valley Center Kid can handle anything that comes up from here on. One more thing…”
“What’s that?” Mike asked.
When the law fails, the right men will make sure that justice prevails,” The Valley Center Kid answered for Hack. The roar of his mountain lion and the growl of his wolf was clear indication that they were in total agreement.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org