You’re Best to Yourself
Thomas Calabrese — Nick Lane’s greatest strength was also his greatest weakness. He was steadfast, loyal and even relentless when someone else was in trouble, but extremely uncomfortable with exposing any of his own vulnerabilities. As child, he always felt more at ease helping his friends than having them assist him. This wasn’t to say that he didn’t have needs, it was just in his nature to turn inward, regroup and come at his problems from a different perspective when things seemed hopeless or when he felt overwhelmed. His mother told him that he seldom cried as a baby and as a growing child he hesitated to say anything even when he was sick or hurt.
It was either biological, chemical or just the way he was wired because his older brother, Jim and younger sister, Elle were nothing like him. There were open about their needs and willingly accepted help whenever they needed it or it was offered. Nick was the ultimate low maintenance son allowing his parents to focus on Jim and Elle, knowing that he didn’t need as much of their parental guidance or supervision as his siblings.
Don’t be mistaken, Nick was not naïve or a fool and definitely was not an easy touch. If someone made an honest mistake, he wouldn’t hold it against them, but a deliberate betrayal would never be forgotten.
His grandfather, Ben must have seen something in his grandson that looked familiar or raised a red flag so he gave him some advice that would serve him well for the rest of his life, “Never let your compassion or your outrage get in the way of your common sense. You’re a likable guy, but I’ve got a feeling that you may be destined in this world to have a lot of acquaintances and very few close friends. There’s nothing wrong with that as long you know that is who you are and that is who they are.”
Nick wasn’t exactly sure what his grandfather meant at the time, but he would never forget the words. In high school, Nick was a sociable loner, good athlete and teammate, but he had no close friends. It was the same with dating. Nick enjoyed the company of the opposite sex, but it was very superficial and it was obvious that the girls wanted more than Nick was capable of giving.
After graduating Vista High School, Nick enlisted in the Marine Corps and his independence and self- sufficiency translated well to military life. He led by example and was always willing to help out his fellow Marines during training. While many of the young leathernecks enjoyed getting drunk and partying on liberty, Nick was content to catch a movie or take a walk or run along the beach.
Several years passed and Nick was meritoriously promoted to Sergeant while assigned to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Nick had a natural curiosity about life so when he was bombarded from every angle with new things while in the Marines, he studied and learned everything about them. When he started Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nick was an attentive student and set his goals on becoming a master parachutist and rigger. It was the same with martial arts where Nick trained regularly with several Marine Corps black belt instructors.
He routinely went to the range to practice his marksmanship with a variety of weapons and qualified as an expert in all of them.
Sergeant Nick Lane had three overseas deployments and was promoted to Staff Sergeant while serving in Afghanistan. Upon his return to Camp Pendleton, Nick developed an interest in nutrition and holistic health and began seeing Rory Stephens, a female homeopathic doctor who had an office in Carlsbad. She set up a series of tests to determine which vitamins and minerals that Nick was deficient in then prescribed a special diet and supplements to maximize his performance and overall health. In a matter of days, Nick began to experience a sense of wellness that he had never felt before. He exceeded his personal records in the three-mile run, one-mile swim, obstacle course and sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups. Nick was already a focused individual, but now he was laser sharp. He slept soundly and woke up feeling completely refreshed.
Nick was thinking about making the Marines a career and his current enlistment was due to expire in 73 days. Staff Sergeant Chris Hemley, the battalion career planner said, “Your re-enlistment bonus is $93,000 for 6 years and an assignment on Pendleton as an instructor. How does that sound?”
“Sounds good to me,” Nick replied happily.
Staff Sergeant Hemley added, “And a promotion to Gunnery Sergeant. All you have to do is get the vaccine.”
“I put in for an exemption based on my spiritual beliefs,” Nick said.
“All religious exemption are being denied,” Hemley said, “Except for those that are getting out.”
Nick surmised, “So it is either get the vaccine or don’t let the door hit me in the behind on the way out…I get it.”
This was the most serious dilemma and crisis of conscience that Nick had faced since he had been in the Corps. He didn’t always agree with orders that he had been given, but he followed them, but it was different in this case. There were conflicting opinions about the value of a vaccine for healthy individuals. He needed more information so he discussed it in details with Doctor Rory Stephens who said, “Why is it that some people are so badly affected by COVID when many are barely scratched by it? Age and other health conditions increase the risk of getting really sick, but a new study suggests that those who escape the worst symptoms might also have the right balance of a type of immune cells called macrophages. Older adults are at highest risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. More than 81% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65. The number of deaths among people over age 65 is 97 times higher than the number of deaths among people ages 18-29 years. People with pre-existing conditions and obesity are also at a greater risk.”
“What about me…any advice?” Nick asked.
Rory smiled, “I can’t tell you what to do, but I can run a battery of tests focused on your immune system so you can see where you are exactly.”
When the results came back, Rory told Nick, “You are in the top zero, zero, zero point one percent of the population when it comes to the strength of your immune system. You probably have a greater chance of being struck with lightning than getting sick from COVID-19.”
“That’s good news and bad news,” Nick replied.
Nick said, “If I was weaker then that I’d be might be more inclined to get the vaccine, but you’re just too good at your job, Doc.”
Over the next few weeks, Nick met with pilots and Navy Seals to discuss the vaccine and right about this time something very significant happened. The Supreme Court on Friday blocked a lower court order that prevented the Navy from restricting the deployment of Navy SEALs who refuse to get a COVID vaccination. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had urged the court to remedy what he called “an extraordinary and unprecedented intrusion into core military affairs” that had no precedent in American history. A federal judge in Texas ruled in early January that the Navy must allow members of the elite special operations community to opt out of the vaccination requirement if they had religious objections. But the judge’s order went further, forbidding commanders to make any changes to their military assignments based on a refusal to be vaccinated.
Staff Sergeant Nick Lane signed up to be part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government filed by Special Operators from all branches of the services. His commanders were placed under intense pressure by politicians in Washington and entrenched bureaucrats from the Pentagon to convince him into withdrawing his opposition. These were good Marines and they stood strong against the mounting intimidation. When Nick found out that much needed supplies to his unit were being held up because of him, he came to the conclusion that he was endangering the safety of his comrades. There was no other choice for a man like Nick, but to put in his papers and separate from military service.
At one time, Nick thought about getting into law enforcement after leaving the Marines, but the police were also at the mercy of bureaucrats and self-serving politicians. The last thing he wanted to do was leave one uncomfortable situation for another one. He decided to take some time off then look for small companies who were looking for help. He had no marketable skills that weren’t combat related. Eventually, Nick applied at the skydiving center at the Perris Valley Airport and was hired. The pay was adequate and it wasn’t like he had a lot expenses since he was living at home and the main benefit was that he got to jump for free.
After a high altitude, low opening jump with some other skilled parachutists, Nick was relaxing in the plane hangar and drinking a lemonade drink. A man in his mid-forties, salt and pepper hair, lean and athletic looking and wearing aviator style sunglasses approached, “Nick Lane?”
“If you’re looking to set up skydiving, see the office, I’m just an instructor.”
“My name is Nathan Thorne and I’m here to offer you a job.”
Nick asked, “What kind of job?”
“That’s what I’d like to discuss,” Nathan said.
Nick looked at his watch, “I’ve got one more group of skydivers to go up with. It’s 13:30 right now, I probably won’t be done until 15:30.”
“I’ll wait,” Nathan smiled.
Nick said, “I’ll meet you at the Bombshelter Restaurant.”
Nathan was sitting at table on the patio when Nick entered and sat down, “Have you eaten yet?”
“I’d figured I’d wait for you.”
A waitress walked over, “Hi Nick. What I can I get you?”
Nick smiled, “Hi Jenny, how’s your day going?”
“Good, thanks for asking.”
“It’s always a pleasure to see you, “Nick added, “Everything tastes better when you serve it. I’ll have the Chipolte Chicken Salad and a watermelon smoothie.”
“I’ll have the same,” Nathan said.
The two men sat quietly for a couple minutes and watched a group of skydivers slowly float to the ground. Nathan commented, “Nice place.”
“Good food, good people and good view.”
Nathan began, “I represent a group of individuals who are interested in retaining your services.”
“That doesn’t tell me much.” Nick said.
“We are a mission oriented enterprise without the bureaucracy.”
Nick sighed, “Civilian defense contractors?”
The food arrived and Nathan tasted his salad. “Very good…I’m not here to sell you a load of B.S. We’ve done an extensive background check on you and we believe that you would be a valuable asset to our organization. We specialize in extractions and other security related endeavors. We know what kind of man you are and we’ll never ask you to do anything that violates your code of honor. We need to trust you and you need to trust us…once that bond is broken, there’s no repairing it. We won’t break it and believe you won’t either. Are you still interested?”
Nick took a long swallow from his smoothie, “I am.”
Nathan Thorne represented 109 billionaires and multi-millionaires who were willing to put up a significant amount of their wealth into building an organization that combated evil and corruption on a global scale.
There was a three week indoctrination program that Nick had to complete before being placed on a one year probationary period where he trained with other former Special Operators. After that, he became a full-fledged member. There was too much of a commitment required by the men and women who belonged to the organization to merely called employees.
One of the perks of his job was free housing. A stone structure was built on a rocky hillside off Interstate 15 near Escondido. This specific location was chosen because it had a large hill behind it. A tunnel was built that led to an underground armory and secure communications. Special Operators of the organization were especially hated by some very powerful and influential individuals so security was a primary concern where nothing was taken for granted.
The procedures were simple, Nick would receive an encrypted text on his cellphone notifying him of an upcoming assignment. His next step was to enter the underground bunker and use his password to access the system. A telecommunication conduit with a fiber optic cable was encased in concrete and stretched three hundred yards to an antennae on top of the hill and disguised as a boulder. Nick would sit in a virtual reality pod and all pertinent information was sent to him.
There were 30 special operators from various military services working for the organization. Every six months they would meet at Arraial do Cabo, a coastal town in the state of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. One of the founders of the organization owned an estate and 5,000 acres ranch in the area. It was basically a trade show and a chance for these elite fighters to test out cutting edge armament and various equipment. It was also an opportunity for this elite group of warriors to exchange various Intel about missions and high value targets. It was a casual easy going environment where nobody had an ego. It was all about being qualified and prepared. It wasn’t unusual for the operators to go down to the shooting range, fire a dozen weapons and a few thousand rounds of ammunition then sit down for a barbecue.
On one particular sunny day, ten operators wearing state of the art wingsuits boarded a Cessna 182 and took off from the private airfield. At ten thousand feet, Nick was the first out the door and the other nine men were right behind him. He unzipped his arm wings and the other parachutists did the same. They got into formation behind Nick and glided along the coastline. In the distance was a large yacht. The flyers changed direction and when they got over the top of the 150 foot vessel, they deployed their chutes and floated down and landed on the helicopter pad. To anybody else, this might have been a major accomplishment, but to these individuals, it was just another day at the office. The Operators practiced some hand to hand combat techniques and did a simulated breach at the urban environment facility on the grounds. There was a buffet dinner in the banquet room and the next morning the Operators bid farewell to each other and returned to their homes to await their next assignments.
Aristeo Martinez had been an accountant with the Montoya Cartel for the last 9 years. He possessed a massive amount of information concerning criminal activities and illegal alliances between powerful Mexico and America citizens and corrupt politicians on both sides of the border. He routinely laundered tens of millions of dollars through businesses all over the world. Aristeo also knew bank account numbers in Switzerland and the Grand Cayman Islands and the locations where tons of drugs and hundreds of captives of human trafficking were kept. He had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and was only given six months to live. Aristeo was a widower and had two children, a daughter, Marina, who was 11-years-old and a son, David, who was 9-years- old. His greatest fear was that after he passed away, his children would be at the mercy of the Cartel. They would either end up working for them, being sold on the black market or executed for fear that they might say something.
The Martinez family lived in a palatial estate guarded by Cartel soldiers in the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range near the city of Loreto on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Aristeo and his children were always guarded when they left the ground so Aristeo created a ghost account and went on the dark web in search of someone who was willing to rescue his children in return for receiving the incriminating evidence. It took several months before he could make the right contact. He sent some minor information to verify his claims. After being vetted, the assignment filtered down to Nick.
The plan was to kidnap the children on their way to school. The organization would hold the children until Aristeo transferred the Intel. Afterward, the kids would be placed in a loving home and the family would receive a generous family stipend for caring for them.
It was the morning of July 24th and Nick and two of his comrades, Rigsby and Cho were waiting in a van down the street from the school where the Martinez children attended. Three vehicles approached. Rigsby was in the driver’s seat and he pulled out to block the. Cho emptied his ammo magazine into the first car and Nick did the same to the third. They opened the door to the second vehicle and grabbed the terror stricken children.
The driver begged for mercy, “Don’t kill me!”
Nick ordered, “Keep your head down.”
The children were placed in the van and didn’t calm down until Rigsby said, “Your father sent us.”
The children were taken to a deserted warehouse while the Special Operators waited for further instructions.
Marina asked. “Is my father going to meet us?”
No one answered and Marina guessed. “He’s not coming…is he?”
Ten minutes passed and David sobbed. “My father is very sick, he doesn’t want us to know, but we do.”
Marina begged Nick. “We need to be there for him.”
“We promised to keep you safe and we intend to keep our word,” Nick answered.
There was a delay in the extraction because the Cartel shut down the area. During this time Nick had a chance to observe the two children and imagined what they were going through. Their lives had suddenly and dramatically changed, they were leaving the only life they knew and would never going to see their father again. That was a lot to take for anyone and Nick felt their pain.
Next morning, the team got word on their extraction route and prepared to move out. Nick told Rigsby and Cho, “I’m going back for their father.”
Rigsby protested, “No way…that’s not part of the mission!”
“We got the packages, this is on me, not you,” Nick said.
Cho knew what motivated Nick to make this dangerous decision so he didn’t bother to argue, “We’ll wait to hear from you…if you’re still alive.”
“Give me as much of your ammo and explosives as you can spare.” Nick said.
Rigsby and Cho prepared to leave and Marina ran back to embrace Nick, “I know you don’t have to do this…my brother and I thank you with all our hearts.”
“Don’t thank me, what I’m going to do is probably going to get your father killed,” Nick grumbled and walked off.
Nick commandeered a vehicle and had the driver take him to within 500 yards of the compound. He gave the driver two hundred dollars and told him in Spanish, “You never saw me.”
The driver smiled and responded, “The last thing I would do is tell the Cartel that I helped you. I am not that loco.”
Many of the guards were called into town to search for the children so there was less protection than usual at the compound. Nick shot three guards in the courtyard then entered through the front door and two more men went down with headshots in the lower hallway. After checking several rooms, Nick finally found Aristeo Martinez and said, “If you want to see your daughter and son, come with me.”
While walking down the hallway, Nick pushed Aristeo out of the way and shot thee more men. When they got outside, the two men got into a vehicle and raced off. When they started receiving fire from another car coming toward them Nick shot back and hit the driver. The car crashed into a wall and exploded and Nick drove through the flames. As he exited the gate, he flipped out a smoke grenade that obscured their escape.
Aristeo was re-united with his children on the American side of the border. The organization made arrangements for him and his family to stay at a condominium in Oceanside. He received end of life medical care while giving up valuable Intel that the organization used to terminate high value targets and confiscate billions of dollars. Marina and David were with their father when he took his last breath.
Nick generously offered the recently orphaned children an option while pretending to be hard-hearted and intolerant, “I’ve got some extra space at my home, and you’re welcome to stay there until you find something better. If you cause me any trouble, I’ll throw you out without a second thought. If you remember that I’m not a nice guy and I don’t like kids…we’ll get along just fine.”
Marina held back her tears of gratitude and smiled, “I don’t how I could ever forget that, but you can keep reminding me if it makes you feel better.”
One of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quotes was; When you’re good to others, you’re best to yourself. That pretty much explains the unusual lifestyle of American patriot and humble warrior Nick Lane.