New neighbors; you just never know what you're going to get!
I didn't know my neighbors to the west very well. The husband was a consultant of some sort in the Cayman Islands. He and his wife spent most the year there, only coming "home" for holidays. I never learned what happened to them, but in March, a For Sale sign went up and the house sold in about two months. The housing market here in Beaumont, Texas is pretty lively. The next thing I knew, there was a moving van in the street and stuff was being carried in. Time to be polite. I went looking for my new neighbors.
I helped Art and his wife Radka get their stuff unloaded and arranged. When we were finished, Art ordered a large pizza and we ate on the screened patio, looking out over the lake and sipping beers. We were all pretty sweaty and tired and the cold beer was just what we needed. Art and I got to know each other as Radka wandered around the shoreline.
"Great view here," Art said appreciatively. "And there's plenty of privacy. The last place I owned, I had people practically living in my back pockets. How far is it to the other side?"
"It's 450 yards," I told him. "Unless they have a telescope, you can wander around out here naked and no one will know. The belt of trees on that side is about 70 yards wide, so there's no one over there to bother you. Colleen and I won't care how you dress." I sipped my beer. "Or don't dress, as the case may be."
Art took another slug of beer. "Real nice view."
"Yeah," I mumbled. Radka was standing with the reflection of the sun off the lake behind her, shining through her top and outlining her boobs. "Real nice view!"
Art laughed. "I see where you're looking." He tipped his beer bottle at me. "Look all you want. Face it, that's why I brought her back to the States with me."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I met her when I was in Romania doing advance work at a new hospital in Bucharest. My company has the contract for monitoring and imaging equipment in the cardiac surgery suits. She was working for a real asshole who had the catering contract. I didn't find out until later, but he made all the women who worked for him sleep with him. Good paying jobs are tough to find over there and they all had to go along or quit. I noticed Radka right away. She speaks real good English and I asked her out, just hoping for some nookie. I didn't get any that first time, but we really clicked and I dated her three-four times a week for the month I was there." He smiled. "I took her to good restaurants and bought her some jewelry. By the second week, we were in bed. What a woman! She's had to screw a lot of guys to stay employed and keep a roof over her head. That's just part of the deal over there. Fortunately, she loves sex, so she was able to afford a decent apartment and get a fairly good education. She wasn't a professional hooker, but I know she got paid for sex sometimes."
This was much more than I needed to know and, I was sure, more than Radka wanted me to know. Funny; what you think you know is often wrong.
Art grinned. "Don't worry; Radka isn't ashamed of her past. She's a realist. Fucking for cash was part of life for her. When we made the deal for me to marry her and bring her here, it was just the next step." Art waved toward his wife. "We're not in love or anything. We're friends. We get along real well. She's a terrific cook and she keeps my bed warm. In exchange, I support her and give her a generous allowance. She has it good here. She signed a pre-nup, so she'll have to find somebody better or at least richer than me if she wants a divorce, 'cause she won't get shit from me. It's all totally straightforward."
Radka stepped through the screen door. "Beer is cold?"
Art dug one out of the cooler, opened it and handed it to her. "I've been telling Brian about us, about our agreement."
Radka's face lit in a sunny smile. "Yes, good agreement. I give Art sex and he take care of me." She sat in Art's lap and kissed him. "Art is good man. He want lots of sex and I like that!"
I sipped my beer and watched the two make out. Despite being a retired Army combat soldier, I've always led a quiet life. When Radka started rubbing Art's crotch, I cleared my throat. "Well, it looks like it's time for me to get going."
"Okay, man, thanks for your help. See you later."
I like to eat breakfast in my wide rear porch when the weather allows. I usually get up about 7AM and take it slow for the first couple of hours. Art, it turned out, left for work at 7:15 and Radka began dropping by. She'd bring a cup of coffee and we'd talk. Radka used the time to practice her English and this quickly became our normal routine.
Colleen extended her stay in Minnesota for a week and then for another week. That was, by far, the longest she'd hung around the 'ol homestead and it got me wondering. Our phones had GPS tracking apps and I checked her travel history for the last few weeks. Hummmm. It seemed that she was spending quite a lot of time at one address that I didn't recognize. I did a reverse lookup and found that the address was a house. I didn't recognize the owner's name, but his Facebook page told me he was a high school classmate of Colleen's. A half hour later, I had a contract with a Minnesota P.I. to check out the situation.
Two days later, I got an email from the P.I. Colleen was having sex with an old flame. The P.I. had snuck up on the guy's house and snapped some very explicit photos, which he attached to the email. Now that was interesting! I'm pretty open-minded. Colleen and I both had fairly active sex lives with multiple partners before we married and I could understand her wanting a little "strange" every now and then. I didn't consider her little fling threatening, but it would be nice to have a bit of leverage on her.
I was trimming the hedge between my front yard and Art's late one Saturday morning when a blue Chevy pulled up in front of Art's house. Two rather large men got out and marched to his door. One of them banged on the door until Art opened it. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I could tell it wasn't friendly. I pulled out my phone and took a few pictures. As I was snapping the last pic, one of the men noticed me. He poked his partner and pointed in my direction. They started toward me, reaching under their jackets as they did so. I'm no fool. I ran around the side of my house and in the back door, into the kitchen. In the short hall between the kitchen and the dining room, there's an ordinary looking wooden panel. I pushed on one side, the magnetic catch released and the panel popped open, revealing my "downstairs" home defense weapon, a 12 gauge Winchester M1897 shotgun. The reason I'd chosen this particular gun was the way it could be fired. Unlike most pump-action shotguns, if you held the trigger back and pumped, it would fire every time the action closed; this allowed for very fast shooting. I owned a 14 acre parcel at the end of a dead-end road outside of town and could practice there without disturbing anyone.
I turned in time to see the first guy come through the back door with a pistol in his hand. I fanned three loads of #2 buckshot into his chest in about one second and the impact propelled him out the door and onto my porch. Another pistol appeared below a face in the doorway and the face vanished in a burst of crimson.
As I scrambled into the living room, I stuffed four shells into the shotgun's magazine from the "sidesaddle" ammo holder strapped to the buttstock. In the front room, I was exposed to fire from the front door and window and from a side window. Were there only two men? I hadn't checked the car they came in. Stupid, stupid! Was I losing my edge?
The top of a head moved slowly across the bottom of the side window. It was Art, holding an enormous, nickel-plated revolver. When I tapped on the window, he jumped a foot in the air. I pointed to the front of the house and we met on my front steps.
"What the fuck, Art? Who were those assholes?"
"Romanian muscle", he said weakly. "You killed them?"
"Oh, yeah. What were they after?"
"Radka. Here boss was pissed when she left with me. He wants her back."
"Okay. You go home. Ditch that cannon and wait for the cops. When they get here tell them what you told me, as long as it's true. Don't lie. Neighbors will have seen us talking and seen that we're both armed. Don't lie. This is Texas. Everybody has guns, so that's not gonna be a problem. I'll handle the shooting over here." I slapped him on the shoulder. "Get going."
I unloaded my shotgun and left it on the coffee table with the action open and pretty soon, I had lots of company. When the first patrol car arrived, I was standing on the front walk with my hands up. My driver's license and retired military ID were in my shirt pocket.
Two cops climbed out of their car and approached me cautiously, hands on their guns. One of them was wearing sergeant's stripes. "We got a call about shots fired, sir, what's going on?"
"Two men accosted my neighbor and came after me when they saw me taking pictures with my phone. They were armed." Another car pulled up and two more cops got out. "When they tried to enter my home, I shot them. They're in the back."
Without taking his eyes off me, the sergeant said, "Peters, go check it out. You two go with him." He was looking hard at me now. "You got some ID?"
I pulled out my IDs and handed them over. He took them in his left hand and stepped away, holding them so he could examine them without losing sight of me. I heard retching from the back yard.
"Army, huh? Sergeant Major. Not bad." He handed the IDs to me. "Okay, you can relax, Sergeant Major. You seem pretty calm, anyway. I guess you've seen some action?"
"Yeah. Three tours in the sandbox. Eleven Bravo. Not my first gunfight, Sarge."
"Yeah, I'll bet."
Officer Peters walked unsteadily around the corner. He looked a little green.
"Two dead guys, Sergeant. One guy's got no face and the other ….."
"Okay, Peters, call it in. We're going to need crime scene and gold badges." He turned back to me. "You said those men were bothering your neighbor? Which one?"
I pointed at Art's house. "That's their car parked in front." There was plenty more to say, but I kept my mouth shut. I'd just have to tell it to detectives later, anyway.
Interrogation by Detective Roland went better than I'd hoped. At least he didn't start by reading me my rights.
I went through the story in detail. I knew there was no chance of being charged with anything. Texas law is clear on self-defense shootings in the course of a forcible felony, especially when the good guy is on his own property and the bad guys are armed.
Roland wanted to know how well I knew my neighbors and I told him an edited version of the truth. Yes, I knew Radka was from Romania. Yes, I knew Art had met her there and married her. No, I didn't know her former employer was upset about her leaving. No, I wasn't expecting trouble that day. Yes, I always kept a loaded shotgun handy. Why? Because life is unpredictable, that's why. We were sitting in an interrogation room because life is unpredictable. We didn't expect be sitting here talking about this when we woke up this morning, did we?
Roland left the room a few times, undoubtedly checking on the story Art and Radka were telling. Our stories must have matched up, because he didn't try to catch me in any contradictions.
Eventually, we got down to what was going to happen next. "As I understand it," I said, "those goons were here to force Radka to go back to Romania. There's no way to tell whether the guy who sent them is going to let this go. Maybe he will, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. Does he have the resources to keep sending people into a foreign country? That's not cheap. How bad does he want Radka back? Sometime soon, I think we might get a visit from more bad guys. What can you offer as far as protection?"
Roland shook his head. "Not much. You're right about them coming from Romania. Their passports were in the car. Why they thought they could just grab that woman and hustle her onto a plane, I can't understand." He drummed his fingers on the table. "We can park a car outside for a couple of nights, but that's about it. No funding for something like this. We don't have evidence of an imminent threat, although I think you're probably right to feel threatened."
I nodded. "That's what I expected. New hitters aren't going to go in the front anyway. They'll come from the back." I paused, thinking. "See what you think about this: Park a car out front, but just put a couple of dummies dressed like cops in it. I've got some friends I can call on to stake out the back. The bad guys will come at night and we know how to operate at night. We're at home in the dark. If no one comes, we'll lose some sleep, but that's no big deal. If they do come, we'll do our thing and you can come in after we're through and tell the press anything you like. We don't want any press. How's that sound?"
Roland gave me a lopsided grin. "I like it. You'll have more freedom that we would and you're sure as hell more motivated." His grin faded. "Just be damn sure there's no civilian bodies to explain when you're through." He rapped his knuckles on the table top. "I don't want us sitting here again with you in cuffs, charged with a bunch of felonies." He sat back. "I checked out your military record. I'm prior service, too. Navy. I didn't get any combat time, but I've talked with enough Marines and SEALs to know I need to stay out of your way. You're gonna do what you're gonna do, no matter what I say, so I'm gonna let you handle it. I'm trusting you to do it right. Are we clear on that?"
I stuck out my hand. "Clear, Detective. I'll call when it's over." Roland shook my hand and I walked out.
An hour later, Art, Radka and I were sitting in Art's living room. Crime scene techs were still working on my taped-off property.
"Radka," I said, "tell us about this asshole in Bucharest. Is he small time, big time, well connected, rich or what? What's his name, anyhow?"
"Vasile," she said in a husky voice. She was scared. "He rich for Romania, not rich for here. Acts like tough guy, but has others do his violence." Radka hesitated, thinking. "At heart, he is coward. If he believes he's in serious danger, he will be afraid." She held Art's hand. "Art said you killed those fools and it didn't bother you. You killed before?"
"Yeah. I saw a lot of combat in Iraq. Killing guys who were trying to kill me got to be routine. It gets to some guys more than others and it didn't get to me much at all. Don't know why. If they were dead and I was alive, well, that's the way I wanted it. Not like I could just walk away, after all. My buddies depended on me. Couldn't let them down. You learn to deal with it in your own way and I had an easier time than most, I guess."
Radka smiled. "Now for big question. You have friends you can use to threaten Vasile? Make him afraid?"
I considered that. Maybe that could work. "That's a good idea, Radka. I have a few old friends stationed in Germany who would enjoy driving to Bucharest and bouncing Vasile up and down if they knew what he tried to do here." I rubbed both hands over my face and sighed. "It's almost 10PM in Bucharest, right? Does Vasile speak English? Do you have his phone number?"
Radka nodded happily. "Yes he speak English." She scribbled a number on a pad and slid it across to me. "Dial 011, then 40, then this."
I handed her my phone. "You make the call. Get Vasile on the line and I'll take it from there." She started to dial and I stopped her. "Hang on. Maybe there's another way." I took the phone from her and scrolled through my contacts. "Here we go." I selected a number and hit the button. The phone clicked and buzzed for a few seconds and then rang. I put the phone on "speaker". A familiar voice answered.
"Hey, Brian! What's goin' on, man? Been a while!"
"Hi, Tank! Heard you finally made E9! Crangrats!"
"Yeah, motherfuckers on the promotion board must have lost their minds, but I ain't arguing. I'll have 30 years in service a year from next March and then I'll retire on three-quarters pay. Move my family someplace warm and chill out. What's happening there?"
"Glad you asked. Got a little situation here." I went through the day's events and what led up to the shooting. "So, I was kinda wondering if you had any contacts in Bucharest. We'd rather throw a scare into this Vasile asshole than have to deal with more of his minions coming around with guns."
Tank laughed. "Man, you must have done something good in a previous life! Can't imagine what that might have been, but I'm sitting here with Alan Watts, remember him? And a guy you don't know named Andrei Koroveshi. I've had you on speaker. Right now, Andrei has the biggest grin you've ever seen."
A voice I didn't recognize came on. "Hey, Brian, I've heard these dickheads talking about you. I think we'd get along just fine. Look, my parents are from Bucharest. I was born there. Got my US citizenship by joining the fuckin' Army, ya' know? But here's the good news; I have a bunch of relatives in Bucharest and the family business is police. Give me Vasile's full name." Radka spoke to him in rapid-fire Romanian, giving him the info. "Okay, got it. The cops have their own way of dealing with the bad guys over there and believe me, it ain't the same as in the States. Stay on the line. I'll get my cousin Nicolae on the phone. This ought to be fun! Hang on."
I heard some mumbling and then a string of, I assume, Romanian. The conversation went back and forth for a while, with a lot of friendly shouting and laughter. When the call ended, Andrei came back on.
"Okay, Brian, Nicolae knows the fucker. He's a mid-level earner for the mob; nobody special. Nick is going to have a sit-down with Constantine Lungu, Vasile's boss. He won't be too happy that Vasile got two of his guys killed in Texas over a piece of tail. No offense, Radka. Vasile will probably get a good ass-kicking out of this." He laughed. "Man, you made my day! Shit, you made my month! Nick loves it, too. This gives him leverage over some serious bad guys and this kind of information is worth money. It's a win-win!"
Tank, Alan, Andrei and I shot the shit while Art and Radka talked in the kitchen. After I hung up, they came back.
So," I said with a smile, "you heard what they said. It looks like Vasile won't be causing any more trouble around here. Still, I'd be on alert if I were you. I guarantee I'll be damn careful for a while." I waved my finger in a circle. "If you want some help tightening your security, no problem. Lots of simple ways to safe this place."
"Yeah, that sounds good," said Art, nodding. "You know a hell of a lot more about this shit than I do, so we'll take whatever advice you can give us. Will you have time tomorrow?"
"Sure. Vasile is going to be too busy dealing with his boss to get anything organized, assuming he decides to push it. Stop by in the morning and we'll see what we can do."
I woke up early the next day and cleaned up the mess in my kitchen and on the porch. I was sanding the wood filler I'd used to patch the three shotgun pellet holes in the doorframe when Art showed up. He had circles under his eyes and didn't look any too perky.
I stood up and clapped my sanding blocks together. "Didn't get much sleep?"
He grinned sheepishly. "Not much. I know people think I'm some kind of tough guy, but I haven't been in a fight since high school. When I heard the gunshots yesterday, it really shook me up. I'm trying not to show it in front of Radka, but I keep flashing back to that boom-boom-boom, boom from your house. I thought they'd killed you and were about to come for us. Scared the shit out of me. I mean, I crapped in my pants."
I put my hand on his arm. "Maybe so, but you got a gun and came here to help. That shows a kind of courage you don't come across every day. Being that scared and still taking action, that takes big balls. Don't feel bad about being scared. I was scared, too. Difference is, I'm used to being scared. I've learned to deal with it. You're the kind of guy I want on my team in a firefight. Scared, but ready to fight."
"Well, thanks for saying that. Do you really think we won't have more trouble? "
"I'm not sure, but Tank should call later today and give us a sitrep. In the meantime, let me slap some paint on this and we'll do some shopping."
At the office supply store, we bought a half dozen waterproof, battery-powered wireless motion detectors, the kind store keepers use to alert them when someone comes in or wanders into an area that's not open to the public. Back at Art's house, I showed him that the recesses in his door frames weren't cut deeply enough to permit the deadbolts to extend fully. We drilled and chiseled them out to the right depth and replaced the cheap, short screws holding the striker plates with 3" stainless screws. We also altered his sliding glass doors to prevent anyone from prying them out of the tracks. In a couple of hours, Art was equipped to know when someone was approaching his place and his doors were far more kick-proof and pry-proof.
We were relaxing on Art's patio after lunch with a couple of beers when my cell phone buzzed. It was Tank and he didn't waste any time.
"Bad news. Brian. Turns out the guy whose face you blew off was Constantine Lungu's son. He was grooming the kid to take over and had assigned him to work with Vasile to learn the business from the ground up. He's pissed at Vasile, but he's really pissed at you. Word is, he wants you, Radka and her husband dead. The really bad news is, he has a nephew in a local biker gang, right there in Beaumont. Nicolae says Lungu made a deal with them to take you out. It's not a big gang, but they're into meth and heroin distribution. Bad guys, for sure."
"Well, isn't that just fucking lovely. Okay, thanks for the sitrep. I'll get hold of some of my VFW buddies and work up a plan. You get any more details, let me know ASAP."
I hung up. Art and Radka were looking at me with eyes as big as dinner plates. "We probably don't have a lot of prep time," I said. "Odds are, they'll hit tonight or tomorrow night. You two get out of town. Drive north and find a cheap motel in Arkansas. Pay cash. Sit tight. I'll get right on this."
I made some calls and met my guys at the Waffle House. We took a table in the back of the room and ordered coffee. I had Jeff, Mike, Hank, Lamar and Phil, all standup guys with good amounts of combat time.
I spread a map of my neighborhood on the table and ran through a quick briefing. "So," I concluded, "that's the deal. I'm on a cul-de-sac, with a lake behind the house. Art's next door to the west. There's two areas of 'green space' east and west of us." I pointed out the green splotches on the map. "The trees run behind the houses on my street and stretch from the main cross street to the lake. Not much traffic on that road, so that's the best place leave their transportation and move to where they can get behind our houses. I doubt they're stupid enough to try hitting us from the street. Only one way in and out if you're driving or riding a bike. They'll probably come through the trees and we can channel them to one or two kill boxes. What do you think? Will they send one team or two? Hit both houses at the same time?"
We discussed it for a while and concluded that they'd probably send two teams. If there was only one, we'd be ready for that, too.
"Communication is going to be a problem," Jeff said. "We'll be separated. The two guys watching where the bad guys are likely to park won't be able to warn us, unless we use our cells. I'd rather not do that. Too easy for the cops to get a record of the calls, if we become suspects."
Lamar snorted. "Not a problem at all. I sorta 'liberated' a dozen encrypted headset radios when I left my last duty station." He shrugged at our laughter. "Hey, all I did was secure unsecured material! Not my fault if bonehead Special Forces pukes don't guard their equipment."
Phil chuckled. "Good, that takes care of that little issue." He turned to me. "Now, how do you want to set this up? They'll want to be as quiet as possible, so they'll probably use knives or clubs or suppressed handguns. Where do we hit 'em,? And what do we do with 'em after it's done?"
Mike piped up. "You know, I'm running my dad's construction company. Brian, we've been talking about 'dozing out a better shooting range on that piece of scrub you own. I've got an mongo-size excavator sitting on a lowboy flatbed in the yard at work. I can drive that out to your place when we're through here, dig a nice big trench and we can dump everything in there. I'll tow a trailer with a Bobcat behind the lowboy. After I've got the trench dug, I'll leave the 'cat there and use it to backfill the trench, clear some shooting lanes and throw up a berm to use as a bullet stop. I'll just tow the 'cat and trailer out behind my pickup." He paused, looking pleased with himself. "The excavator's going to a job site in Oklahoma tomorrow, so it'll be gone with any evidence it might pick up. And I'll park one of our oversized Transit vans in your garage. We can load all the bodies in that, and bikes if they're riding."
"Brilliant!" We did a quick fist-bump. "That's perfect."
An hour later, we had our plans made. Two men would watch from the trees on either side and be ready to take out any sentries the bad guys left. Two of us would watch each house and hit the hitters when they tried to get in. We split up to prepare for the night.
At 2:45AM, I was in full camouflage, concealed in a clump of crotons in line with the steps up to my back porch. There was a rail around the porch, so getting to my back door required going up the steps. Phil was in the bushes to my left. Mike's voice whispered in my headset. "Four bikes approaching. Two men per bike."
Lamar: "Okay, four tangos per side." A few moments later: "They left one guy to watch each pair of bikes." Short pause: "Six targets moving through the trees; three each side. No long guns visible."
Mike: "Roger, no long guns. Tangos out of sight. Moving on the sentry.'
After an unreasonable amount of time, a man crept out of the trees across the yard near the lake. Two men trailed after him. They cautiously slid up to the steps and one man moved silently up to the door.
Lamar's voice in my ear: "West sentry down."
Mike: "East sentry down."
The man at my door seemed to be trying to pick the lock. Good luck with that; I'd chosen my locks carefully. The second man crouched on the middle step while the third man faced the lake, keeping watch.
I'm a hunter. I hunt deer every year with rifle and bow and always harvest a deer with each. I was armed with my bow; an arrow nocked and ready. The men near my door were lined up nicely. I pulled the string to full draw, silhouetted the aiming pin on the bow against the soft glow in the sky from downtown Beaumont, swung it over to step-man's back and released. The three-blade broadhead struck and penetrated his right kidney and his liver. It continued on a rising trajectory, hitting the lock-picker in the right side, slicing through his diaphragm, descending aorta and the lower lobe of his left lung, stopping just under the skin on his left side. Both wounds caused massive, catastrophic blood loss. The lookout turned at the agonized sounds coming from his mates and Phil sprang on him, driving his knife through the man's throat from one side to the other. As he eased the man down, step-man and lock-picker slumped, their blood pressure having gone to near zero in seconds. There were sounds of a brief scuffle from next door.
"East tangos down," I whispered. Hank's voice answered: "West tangos down."
By dawn, all our work was done. There was no trace of any violence and no way to find any without ground-penetrating radar and a top-notch forensic crew.
Two days after our little nighttime adventure, I got a call from Tank. Seems that Constantine got himself killed in a raid to shut down a human trafficking ring and the bounty on our heads died with him. Vasile just sorta disappeared. So sad.
Through Detective Roland, I learned that a certain motorcycle club lost eight of its members. They went for a ride one night and never came back. Their bikes were never recovered. So sad.
And my life went back to normal. Other than a panicked call from Colleen when one of her friends called to tell her I'd made the news for shooting two armed foreign nationals, nothing disturbed my peaceful existence. Good guys shooting bad guys in Texas is relatively unremarkable. I got some high-fives at the VFW and that's about it.
Colleen will be home tomorrow and there's going to be an interesting discussion about her sexual activities in Minnesota. We're planning a driving trip through Europe this August and I'm sure we'll have things ironed out by then. All in all, I love my retirement.