The airport at Rocky Point was truly marginal for the G150 and there was no tower control. Akil did a low fly over, dropping the gear, formally announcing the arrival before starting his approach. Akil was now proving to be as gifted a pilot, as he was a tactician. The wheels touched down a mere 50 feet past the end markers of the runway and then rolled out and stopped 150 feet short of end of the strip. Marc found this to be a bit disconcerting in a three and a half million-dollar aircraft.
The small terminal was in the process of shuttering its doors as they arrived. The one and only worker spoke enough English for them to converse. Marc asked if any taxis were available. The man said the one driver had gone home for dinner, before going to work his evening shift at the Strand. It was an area along the beach where most of the tourist hotels were located. Then, seeing only an older VW bus parked out front, he asked the man if he would take them all to a hotel for twenty dollars, cash. The man smiled and said, “Yes, but he could drive faster for twenty-five dollars.” Marc, smiling, replied, “Sí, Señor, twenty-five is fair, but there is no need to drive fast.” On the way, Marc asked him if he thought they may have trouble finding a room.” The man said, “No, Señor. The hotels, they are mostly empty. We have many problems, Señor. The drug cartels, most of the Americano’s, they stay away. I will take you to the finest hotel in all of Puerto Peñasco, the famous Las Polomas. My cousin, Jose, is the night manager; he will take care of all your needs, Señor.”
When they arrived at the hotel, everyone was pleasantly surprised it was as nice as any hotel they had utilized, even in Buenos Aires. The man said that he would summon Jose and return shortly. They had just finished unloading their baggage when the man and his taller, well-dressed cousin, appeared at the entrance to the lobby. As they walked toward the vehicle, the cousin handed the man some paper currency. He quickly stuffed it into his pocket saying, “Gracias.”
The taller, better-dressed man took the lead as they approached the van. His hand was extended as he walked up, welcoming all to his place of business. He said his name was Jose Garcia and that he was the Assistant Manager of the hotel. As he directed them toward the entry, two bellmen came scurrying out to pick up their baggage. Akil quickly grabbed the two bags, containing the arms and equipment, allowing the men to retrieve the rest. At check in, Marc asked for three adjoining rooms with an ocean view, feeling confident that they would be available. Jose said, looking down at the register said, “Mr. Bracken, if you would prefer, I have the Presidential Suite with four bedrooms available at a reduced cost, if you so desire.” Marc glanced at everyone and then said, “That would be fine; we’ll take it.”
Later that evening, after they’d settled in and had dinner, a discussion arose on how to go about finding Carlos “El Jefe” Duarte. They were going to need to trust someone, but whom? None of them had any connections in the area. Then Eyan made a “command decision,” he picked up the room phone and dialed room service. When they answered, he ordered two bottles of the finest single-malt Scotch and tub of ice, stuffed with Coronas and a bowl of sliced limes on the side. He said, “Who knows? It might lubricate our creative senses,” he said, with a large smile on his face. No one argued the point. By midnight, the only thing left was a few ice cubes and a bowl of water. Eyan was right about one thing – during the evening, he had jotted down a fleeting thought about the conundrum they faced.
The next morning, not so early, one-by-one, they emerged from their various bedrooms. Marc and Dara were the first to see the light of day, and then Akil ambled out. The three were sitting out on the balcony, soaking up some vitamin D, when Eyan emerged from the patio doors franticly looking for something. They all watched in amusement, and then Marc asked, “What’ n hell are you looking for?” Eyan still, somewhat distracted, turned and bent over looking under a table covered with the remnants of the night before, and he saw what he was searching for. It was a small note pad from next to the phone; the type that is common in all hotels. He reached down, picking it up from under the table. He stood there, scratching his forehead, trying to decipher his nearly illegible handwriting, and said, “Got it!” Now everyone was really confused, until Eyan said, “Miguel – Miguel Tellez. Two bits says he would know someone in Rocky Point we could trust.”
Akil, taking the lead, called Miguel Tellez right after lunch, using the direct contact cell phone number Miguel had written on the back of his business card. When Miguel answered, Akil said, “Miguel, this is Akil Bishara. I have found myself in need of help and I am hoping that you may be of service.” Miguel answered saying, “It is my pleasure, Señor Bishara, and how may I help you?” Akil extended the short story of why they were in Rocky Point, along with the problem the team faced with locating Carlos in such a small town that had large ears and many whispers. Miguel’s answer was a surprise – even to Akil. He said, “You do not need to worry, Señor Bishara. I know of Carlos. I have sold him many weapons over the years and I have been to his Rancho on more than one occasion but I am willing to tell you all that I know that may be of assistance.” Akil, somewhat surprised by the information but at the same time thinking that this may have been a major mistake said, “Miguel, I fear I have unknowingly created a major problem for you and for your business. I would not have chosen to ask this favor, had I known.” Miguel said, “Señor, business decisions arise daily and you must react wisely. Even though I have done business with Carlos many times in the past, you must realize that I have a warehouse filled with many weapons. Most of those weapons, Señor, are courtesy of your uncle, Ricardo. Ruiz International has always been fair and honest in our dealings. So, you see, it is truly only a business decision I make here.” After Miguel imparted the information about Carlos to Akil, the call terminated. Akil, in turn, recounted it to the others as they began to plan their assault on “El Jefe.”
After dinner, Marc contacted Jose, the Assistant Manager, and asked of a car rental agency. There were several to choose from, but Marc was looking for a full-sized Yukon /SUV. He wanted something large enough to transport all four of them, plus the needed equipment. Jose directed him to a Mexican-owned agency that had just such vehicles with tinted windows and other security options that were welcome. These vehicles were reserved for VIP guests (Cartel-types) or the very rich “Norte Americanos,” as he put it.
By eight the next morning, the front desk rang the suite’s extension, announcing that the rental vehicle had been delivered and the keys were at the front desk. By ten they were on the road north-bound, toward both the airport and Carlos’ Ranchero Del Sol. At the airport, they made arrangements to have the Gulfstream refueled and also transferred more essential equipment from the aircraft to the truck, then resumed their trek. When they passed the kilometer 31 marker, the next road to the west was the private entrance to the property. There was a large horseshoe-shaped sign above the entrance stating the obvious – “Welcome to Rancho Del Sol.” On one side of the sign, nailed to the upright support timber, was a smaller sign saying in Spanish. “PROPIEDAD PRIVADA SIN ENTRADA” (translated “private property, no entrance”). At least “El Jefe” had a sense of humor, Marc thought, as he drove past the entry, continuing on the highway.
While planning the excursion, Marc had scoured the Internet searching for anything that might assist them in their task. He was able to find what appeared to be old mining roads filtering throughout the foothills just behind, and to the north, of Ranchero Del Sol. They proceeded on about two miles, when Eyan spotted the turnoff to the west toward the foothills. They turned on to the dusty dirt road and traveled only a few hundred yards before encountering a “Y” in the road. They veered to the left and continued on. They were now entering some foothills and the road was beginning to resemble a roller coaster ride. As they approached the top of a ridge, another road turned off. It ran upward along the ridge, disappearing over a rise. Marc turned the Yukon up the ridge, hoping to find a vantage point to observe the Rancho on the flats that lay below. After topping the ridge that they were traversing, they pulled onto a level area between an outcropping of volcanic stone and the upper ridge. They parked the vehicle. Marc pulled out a pair of Nikon 16×50 Action EX series binoculars from their case. He mounted them on a large doubled-braced tripod for stability. Binoculars of this optical quality, when hand-held for almost any period of time can become cumbersome and difficult to hold steady. The runway at the Rancho was fully visible with the naked eye, as was Ranchero Del Sol, at the far end of it. Eyan, using a military-type range finder, said the structures were 1,840 meters (1.14 miles) approximately. Marc could clearly see several men moving about the facility. They had been observing the grounds for only twenty minutes, when they heard a small aircraft droning overhead. The craft circled to the west, then dropped down and aligned itself with the runway. After landing, two people exited the craft; it then spun around and accelerated down the strip, lifting off and flying out of sight to the west.
One of the first orders of business was to camouflage the Yukon; it was white with dark tinted windows. Akil and Marc started collecting brush piling it all around and atop the vehicle. The truck was most visible from the air, so changing its apparent shape also aided the disguise as much as covering it up. Most likely it would not be noticed, there were many vehicles utilizing the area during the daylight hours. But they decided not to push the envelope appearing in the same place several days in a row.
A bit later, as the sun began to move on to the west, the aircraft returned and deposited two more men. Ten minutes after the aircraft had departed, they saw six men with rifles, plus two other men dressed in military fatigues, move out onto the runway next to the main house. They began firing rifles at small white targets that had been placed on the opposing end of the runway. It was very reminiscent of the prior Argentine surveillance. As evening approached they uncovered the vehicle, broke down the equipment they had been using and stowed it in the truck, then drove back to the hotel.
After dinner they once again began to discuss the plan of attack, now understanding the logistics of the situation. They would repeat the surveillance one more day, and then make their move to curtail this threat. They planned to arrive on station before sunrise and drop Akil and Dara near the end of the runway. They would each make their way up the landing strip on opposite sides to a suitable vantage point. Both would attempt to get a head count and scout out security positions around the Rancho. Time permitting each would assess the terrain for positions of emplacement. These would become invaluable during the assault or perhaps a strategic retreat, if necessary; everyone would be able to communicate easily using the personal com units. The dry, flat desert area below the observation hill offered no obstructions, this would aid in the operational function of the units.
They had arrived at the drop-off position shortly before 5:00 a.m. The lights around the property had either been on all night or there was already early morning movement around the compound. Marc flipped the switch controlling the interior dome lighting in the vehicle to null just before Dara and Akil exited. Marc had removed all the lighting fuses including brake lights and then had donned night vision equipment to drive after departing the main highway. The sky was just beginning to show a glimmer of color on the eastern horizon as they continued on to the location that had been used the day before. After arriving at that location, they set up the equipment necessary for the day’s observation.
Akil was the first of the two in position; he was able to use a dry sandy wash that ran perpendicular along the runway and was on the far side of the runway from the main house. Dara was still in transit when Marc keyed his com unit for a communication check. Akil reported that he was in position and was concealed from both ground and air. Marc then said; “Buddy Two, are you tucked away?” Buddy Two was Dara’s call sign. There was a pause, and then Dara slightly out of breath said, “I need about five, get back to you then.” Marc said, “Just checking the com.” For a millisecond, Marc realized it was reassuring hearing her voice. He was now realizing that this had grown into much more than infatuation. The sun was about to rise as Dara found her niche, tucked back under a pile of mesquite, about fifty meters from the parking area at the back entrance to the main house. She keyed her com unit and said, “OK. I’m settled in. If you can see the fuel tank next to the runway, I’m near it, so don’t get trigger happy, por favor,” expressing her rudimentary Spanish. Marc keyed his com twice in reply. For the next few hours, both Dara and Akil continued to enhance their natural cover, moving small branches and un-rooting surrounding brush. They also exchanged their exact positions seeking to avoid cross-fire if a firefight were to erupt.
Eyan, up on the hill, broke out the M-107 -.50 caliber (LRSR) – long-range sniper rifle – and loaded several clips with M1022 ball ammo / matched standard sniper issue. He also loaded one clip with the MK211 armor-piercing incendiary type ammunition and marked it with a piece of black electrical tape. Then he placed the rifle on a broad-surfaced rock, overlooking the Rancho. Marc had been busy trying to count heads as a backup using the hi-powered binoculars.
Shortly before 9:00 a.m., the small aircraft was once again overhead on approach. But this time after landing, it taxied over close to Dara’s position next to the re-fueling tank and shut down the engines. The pilot, the sole occupant, tied off the wings to some embedded metal rings on the ground and then, after refueling the aircraft, walked off toward the main house. Marc was thinking that they may have finished ferrying everyone into the Rancho location, based on this observation. Dara’s location was less than twenty meters from the aircraft. But she was extremely well-camouflaged utilizing the natural brush and cacti. Thirty minutes later, several men emerged from the bunkhouse with rifles and equipment making their way out onto the dirt landing strip. For the next two hours, the eleven men took turns firing at the white targets alongside the far end of the runway. As usual, two of the men wore military-style fatigues and were obviously instructing the others. As Dara observed them, she felt something on the back of her right calf. She turned her head slowly back, looking over her right shoulder from the prone position she had taken. She had to fight her first reaction to flee as she saw a four-foot long Diamondback rattlesnake. It was slowly slithering over and up between her legs, and then stopping with it head resting in the nape of her left knee. About this time, the men had stopped firing and were busy picking up their brass from the expended rounds, removing it from the runway. They all began to move back toward the Rancho. Dara was now beginning to perspire profusely. She could feel the snake moving between her legs, expanding as it coiled up to strike. Her mind was racing, but she had no answers. There was simply no way she could avoid what, at this point, was the inevitable. She remained perfectly still, but her muscles were tense, now beginning to quiver. The snake remained totally quiet, and then she felt it raise its head off the back of her knee. She felt a jerking motion on both legs. The brush on her left rustled; then she heard twigs snap as the snake struck! Knowing she couldn’t use a firearm, she instinctively reached for her vest knife to fend off another attack, just as she realized she hadn’t been struck or she didn’t feel it? She turned her head this time back to the left, catching a glimpse of the outstretched rattler. The perspiration now in her eyes was affecting her vision; she blinked twice – then three times – before she could see clearly an image. The snake’s mouth was wide open and had ceased pumping all of its venom into a rather plump kangaroo rat indigenous to the area. Realizing that the snake was temporarily defenseless with its mouth full, Dara retrieved her vest knife and then, with one swift motion, severed the snake’s head. The snake’s body began to twist violently, a normal neuro-reflex, like a chicken reacting to a similar fate. The sound emitted in this instance was that of the snake’s tail rattle. She grabbed for it, securing it, only after several attempts to cut it off. The sound had attracted the attention of several of the trainees. As they turned and walked in her direction, one of El Jefa’s Mexican guards cautioned them not to, calling them back. All she could do was remain still and take a deep breath.
Unlike Argentina’s summer time, this was the northern hemisphere and it was mid-February – winter at this latitude. The evening came early. By 5:30 p.m., the team was meeting up in darkness on the road just off the end of the runway by a few hundred meters. They returned to the hotel and conferred on the events of the day. Dara was more than a bit reluctant to relate her experience of the day and the snake. After a few drinks and some prodding, she tossed the rattle on the table, saying, “He was a little more intimate than I cared for,” explaining her experience in detail to the others. They were all ribbing her, but each and every one of them knew it could have been a fatal event under these circumstances. That night after retiring, Marc and Dara renewed their affection several times before drifting off to a very restful sleep.
Early the next morning, they all opted for room service – breakfast in the suite. One of the first things Marc said was, “If we hit the Rancho during daylight hours, most likely it wouldn’t draw much attention” – considering what they had observed over the past several days. Akil said, “As remote as the Rancho is, my vote would be for a night assault; it wouldn’t be out of the question at all.” Akil was an excellent tactician. After a protracted discussion, the team decided a night assault would offer the best chances for success. Dara was fully on board, knowing that the snakes were less active in the cool of the nighttime air.
Take Your Best Shot
They reassessed their equipment for the assault. Akil immediately called Miguel Tellez in Mexicali and set up a delivery of the needed items such as additional night vision equipment. The most important items were the full-assault body armor. The supplies were to arrive at the airport around 5:00 that afternoon; they could swing by and pick them up on the way to the Rancho.
That afternoon, they collected all their items at the hotel. If all went as planned, they would not be returning. Marc paid the hotel bill and made arrangements for the rental vehicle to be picked up at the airport after they had departed.
When they reached the airport, Victor Ramirez, Miguel’s associate and corporate pilot, was waiting, as the team pulled up next to the Piper Navajo Twin. Akil stepped out and greeted Victor with a handshake, as Victor’s associate, Felix, began unloading the equipment from the craft. Victor said, “Miguel instructed me to add an item to the delivery at no charge, Señor. It is a toy, perhaps one you may find very handy – that is, if one should wander into harm’s way.” Victor was sporting a large smile as he turned and said, “Felix, would you hand me Señor Bishara’s gift?” Felix quickly retrieved an odd-shaped, white-woven sack, and then handed it to Victor. He opened it, reached in, and pulled out a rotary-fed, 20-round, 12 ga. shotgun. To Victor’s surprise, Akil said, “A Striker 12. I didn’t think that Pxico would have these on the shelf. What ammo is available?” Victor replied saying, “Of course, we have high-base shells, but we also carry Terminator X, slug /pellet. I brought ten boxes of each – they’re in the blue-and-green striped case we just unloaded. Akil once again shook Victor’s hand and thanked him, saying, “Please be sure to convey my gratitude to Miguel and tell him I only hope to have the chance to return the gesture someday.”
After transferring the last of the items, they moved the Yukon over next to the G150 and dropped off their personal items. They were running ahead of schedule, so Akil doubled-checked that the fuel tanks had been topped off. Akil and Marc together did a full ground check on the aircraft knowing that they may need to make a speedy departure. It appeared a bit dusty but none the worse for wear. The weather was calm, a light breeze off the Gulf – around five mph with scattered cumulus. There were no signs of rain, either visually, or looking at the aircraft’s radar.
They pulled out from the airport and turned north toward the Rancho. Akil was busy stuffing the five-drum Striker magazines with different ammunition. The Striker 12 was formidable close-range weapon. One pull of the trigger, if held, could dispense 20 rounds of lethal ammunition. The Terminator X was like a 40-caliber slug headed up with buckshot. When it hits something malleable, it flattens out to approximately two inches in diameter. This causes an entry wound the size of a grapefruit, with the kinetic energy of a small canon ball.
Fifteen minutes later, Marc turned off the blacktop highway, onto the dirt road and traveled 100 meters, then stopped the vehicle. Everyone stepped out and put on their tactical gear and then checked out their NVG’s – night vision goggles – and inserted the magazines in the respective weapons and chambering a round. Marc popped open the hood of the Tahoe and removed the vehicle’s lighting fuses once more. The sun had disappeared into the west and the sky was cloudless. The stars were bright enough to cast shadows. Marc was now wishing it was overcast. The night vision equipment was so efficient that, even with full adjustment, the contrast was a bit overwhelming under these conditions.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the predetermined location. It was a sandy wash intersecting the road, about 200 meters from the end of the runway. Marc backed the truck up the wash just far enough as to not be seen from the dirt road. He popped the hood once more, replacing the single fuse to the headlights. He wanted the ability to use them if he needed to.
The primary objective was to try and take captive one or both of the military types that had been training the others. But based upon the previous encounter, they all knew this would be a fifty-fifty chance at best. As they waited in the vehicle, they mentally walked through their plan. Akil and Dara were discussing their movements and paths of the day before, trying to determine which offered the best concealment for the evening’s assault. Several hours had passed, when Eyan exited the vehicle, walked up upon the ridge next to the wash, and began observing the Rancho using binoculars. When he returned, he said, “There’s little or no movement at all down there and only a couple lights are on.” Marc replied, “OK, this is as good a time as any; let’s move out.”
It was a few minutes after midnight when they donned their weapons then moved out in tactical formation, using 5-meter spacing. Marc was on point, then Akil and Dara, with Eyan watching the back door. They chose to move up the side that Dara had taken the day before. It offered the most protective cover as they approached the bunkhouse. As they moved next to the elevated fuel tank next to the aircraft, Akil checked the plane out, making sure that no one was in it. He also made a mental note that the ignition key had been left in the aircraft. Not many people would steal an airplane from a known drug cartel.
They were now at the edge of the clearing. Thirty meters of open ground lie between them and the closest cover – the carport. One by one they crossed the exposed area without detection. After regrouping between the vehicles, Marc signaled everyone to switch over to their Glocks, with sound suppressors; he was hoping to retain the element of surprise as long as possible.
As Eyan had said earlier, there were very few lights on around the Rancho. Marc wasn’t sure if this was a blessing or a curse, until the power was cut. Even with limited lighting, it would be too much light for the night vision equipment to be at its optimum.
It was time to move. Marc was stepping out from behind Carlos’s Jeep moving toward the bunkhouse, when Akil reached up grabbing a strap of his tactical vest, pulling him back into the shadows. One of Carlos’s henchman guards was rounding the outside wall of the pool patio.
Akil, as the second tactical position, saw the man first. It was his responsibility to cover for the person ahead while advancing. Akil raised his Glock and fired, but his first attempt at a head shot was a millimeter high, parting the man’s scalp and shredding his baseball cap. At 20-plus meters, wearing NVGs, a silenced Glock is not your optimum weapon of choice. With his ego slightly bruised, his second round found its mark, sounding a bit like a hammer striking a coconut. Marc had turned to Akil, nodding his head in appreciation, as he retreated back to the vehicles and crouched down between them with the others. They were all reacting to the first contact – a sudden increase in heart rate due to the influx of adrenalin. They were primed and ready, but there was no response. No lights had switched on, nor were any doors apparently opened.
After a brief period of time, Marc said, “One down and, if our count is right, fourteen remain around the compound. We think the two men we’re looking for are bedding down in the main house. Akil and I will work it; you two set up and cover the doors to the bunkhouse. First order of business is to shut off the main power breaker at the service entrance. Once we put this place into darkness, we gain the advantage.” The electric wires to the main house were overhead, and dropped from a power pole on the south side of the building, the direction from which the dead guard had appeared from. Eyan looked at Dara and said, “I’ll get the main breaker; you watch the bunkhouse until I return.” Dara, nodding her head in agreement, turned toward the building, just as Marc and Akil set out across courtyard between the carport and the patio pool entrance. Once they had entered the gated pool area, Eyan began his trek to the far side, toward the service entrance. Dara moved around to the back of the parked Jeep and positioned herself. From this location, she had an excellent vantage point of both the Bunkhouse and the patio exit gate from the pool.
As Eyan passed by the guard that Akil had shot, he started to reach down to check for vitals, but changed his mind when he saw a massive head wound. He continued on around the exterior of the house to his assigned task. Marc and Akil had moved around the edge of the pool into the shadow of the patio fence at the back of the house. They were now waiting for the lights to go out. The only light around the patio was from the pool light. A moment later, the light blinked and then went out. Marc and Akil had taken up positions adjacent to each other at the back entrance of the house. They both pulled down their night vision goggles and prepared for the impending flurry. The first thing they noticed was someone cursing loudly in Spanish, as the French door clicked, and then swung wide open. Carlos’s cousin, Rafael, wearing only men’s boxers, and holding a nine-millimeter pistol in his left hand, stepped from the doorway. He was oblivious to both Marc and Akil as he reached out, seeking his way in the darkness around the pool. Akil slipped up behind him silently, reached around with his right hand grasping his chin firmly and bracing his left arm across his back and then, with a swift, fluid motion, pulling his head to the right, snapping his neck. The move was silent, but as deadly as a Guillotine. His gun made the only sound, as it dropped into the pool and sank to the bottom.
From Dara’s position, the tiny incandescent light bulb mounted next to the doorway of the bunkhouse also blinked out. She was now sharing her observations between that doorway and the corner of patio fence to her right, which should be Eyan’s egress from taking down the power supply. The NVGs were much more effective sans the artificial light. Eyan approached the corner with caution. After looking to see if his actions had primed the hornet’s nest, he moved on toward Dara’s position, 20 meters ahead. As he approached the far end of the carport, several shots rang out. Eyan was hit and was spun around as he rolled into the cover of the vehicles under the structure. One of the disadvantages of NVGs, as opposed to normal vision, was that, depending upon the setting, the field of view could be restrictive. Dara had not seen the man on the roof of the bunkhouse because of this. The flash from the muzzle drew her attention. The shooter on the roof was fully exposed; standing on the edge of the parapet as she returned fire, switching from the 9-mil to the automatic rifle. There were now three accounted for, as the rooftop shooter fell to the ground.
Eyan began searching his leg for the injury, but to no avail. He then realized that although he had felt the impact, he had not felt the sting. This is usually a sign of a traumatic wound. He bent his right leg up as he sat and began to inspect his lower foot. What he found was a boot without a heel, prompting a vast sigh of relief.
Marc and Akil were now in the main house. The first room they entered was large, even by the standards of a living room. They moved across the room and turned right down a hallway. The events to come were somewhat easy to read. The two knew that some, or all of the people, had heard the gunshots from the courtyard and were either gearing up to respond, or fumbling around in the dark, trying to take stock of the situation. The stairs to the second level were on the right side of the hallway. Marc started up them slowly and as quietly as possible. At mid-point of the stairway, Marc’s head was even with the floor of the second level. He paused, looking over the stair banister at Akil, who was now moving onward up the ground level hallway. As he returned his attention to the stairway, he detected movement on the landing just ahead of him. He raised his Glock to fire, and then saw a woman holding a glass, wearing nothing but panties, descend the blacken stairway. She appeared to be clueless about the events in motion. Now – shattering the silence – came several shots from below. The woman froze where she stood on the staircase just above him. Marc, still able to see up the lower hallway as he bent over, could see Akil still advancing. He turned his attention back toward the woman only to see a burst of automatic gunfire from behind her light up the entire staircase. In an instant, multiple bullets hit Marc’s Kevlar vest after passing through the girl. The kinetic energy of the bullets propelled her body down the stairs colliding with Marc’s. The impact pushed Marc backwards to the bottom of the stairs, dislodging his NVGs, and thrusting him into total darkness. Now he was at a severe disadvantage. The goggles had intensified the flash from the automatic weapons fire. He was now flat out on his back lying on the floor gasping for air. The girl’s body was on top of him, and his natural night vision was nil, due to the flash from the weapon. The assailant now possessed the high ground and the advantage of knowing the floor plan of the structure. He also had displayed no compunction about using his weapon in total darkness.
Marc’s first inclination was to push the woman’s body away and get to his feet. At this instant, he was still struggling to get a deep breath. He had taken both secondhand bullets to the chest. Several more shots were fired up the hallway toward Akil’s position. The muzzle flash from the hallway was just enough that Marc could see the man slowly coming down the stairs. His attention seemed garnered by the gunfire in the lower hallway. It was clear the man realized he shot the girl, but hadn’t seen Marc standing behind and below her. Marc’s Glock was ripped from his hand as he tried to resist going down the stairs. He was now searching for his backup Glock G26 sub-compact strapped to his right leg, without jostling the woman’s body, and drawing attention to the movement.
Akil was now fully engaged up the hall. He had come upon two men occupying a front bedroom. He was trying to take down the second of the two, but was having difficulty with limited cover, as he returned fire in the confines of the hall. Marc keyed his com and said, “Akil! Watch your six; I’m not sure I can cover it.” Marc was still struggling to find his backup piece as the man was approaching the bottom of the stairs. Marc could hear him in the darkness. The man was stripping a depleted magazine from his weapon and replacing it. Just then, Marc’s index finger made contact with the holster snap of the G26. He reached slightly farther and released the pinch-strap buckle; knowing this method would be nearly silent. Akil was now about to finding himself in a crossfire situation with no escape route. Marc freed his pistol and waited for the next shots up the hallway hoping for a silhouetted target. As Marc raised the G26, steadying himself, a blast from Akil’s Striker 12 hit the man, now standing at the bottom of the stairs above Marc. The man’s torso was propelled over the top of Marc and the lifeless body of the girl, now beside him. Before he realized what was happening, three other blasts rang out illuminating the hallway like a strobe light, then dead silence. Marc’s com unit clicked then came to life. He heard Akil saying, “Well, are you going to lay there and take a nap, or give me a hand?” Akil, still having the use of his NVG’s, retrieved Marc’s equipment on the floor then handed them to him. Once Marc had reclaimed his composure and put on his NVG’s he turned toward Akil to see him adjusting the sling strap on the Striker 12. Akil said, looking at Marc, “I was so busy with those two in the front bedroom; I forgot I had this slung over my back. They didn’t give me a choice, but I think they were the two we wanted to take alive.” They then resumed clearing the main house room by room.
Eyan and Dara had their hands full outside at the bunkhouse. Dara was scanning the roofline of the building as Eyan found a position of cover, bringing his attentions into focus. Several of the men had exited the bunkhouse taking up covered positions, while Dara was preoccupied with the man firing from the roof at Eyan. Two of the men that had exited the bunkhouse had moved behind it and were now trying to flank the carport position using a ravine to the left. The carport’s side was edged with an adobe wall three-feet high and one and a half wide. Both Eyan and Dara were now huddled behind it returning fire. Eyan using his com said, “Marc, are you two still in the house?” Marc answered, “Affirmative.” Eyan said, “Stay there!” He rolled over and around with his back against the adobe wall, his legs sprawled out. Then he opened a tactical belt pack and extracted two high explosive fragmentation grenades. He put one in each hand placing his index and second finger over the spoons then turned to Dara, as he held out the grenades, she pulled the pins. Eyan rolled to his left away from Dara, but still behind the wall, toward the front of the carport. He looked back, nodding his head to her. Dara raised her assault rifle just above the wall, pointed it in the direction of the current resistance then pulled the trigger. He released the grenade spoons then counted to five. The thirty-round clip in Dara’s weapon was near exhaustion as he rolled to his knees and discarded both grenades using a sidearm motion, once again displaying the advantages of being ambidextrous. He dropped down quickly, utilizing the protection of the adobe wall. Dara was busy exchanging magazines in her rifle as the grenades exploded. A flurry of gunfire erupted to the left and behind their position. Eyan was covered from the fire by the vehicles, as he saw Dara’s body tense up, then go limp, as she was hit several times. Eyan did a bob, up and down, looking over the wall. It looked clear, toward the bunkhouse. He moved around the front of the pickup truck, in between it and the Jeep, about midway between the two vehicles. He rose up slowly. There were two men moving toward him and Dara, talking in Pakistani. It was the same open area used earlier by them in their approach. Eyan now glanced back, looking toward the bunkhouse. One man was now emerging from the doorway looking dazed and confused. Eyan stood up, stepped forward and turned back toward the two approaching from the ravine and opened fire, taking both down in the midst of their conversation. He spun around as a second man was emerging from the structure, and he repeated his prior performance with the two now before him. He sprinted out from between the vehicles and moved to Dara’s side. He reached down placing his hand on her neck searching for a sign of life. She was not responsive to his touch at all. There was blood on both her right hip and thigh and all around her neck and right temple area. Eyan turned her around propping her up against the adobe wall, elevating her head slightly. He then set out toward the bunkhouse.
Marc and Akil had cleared the second level of the main house and were now back downstairs going through the finite nooks and crannies. Eyan’s voice broke the virtual silence over their com unit saying, “Marc! Dara’s down, she’s not responsive, but she has a pulse. She’s been hit at least twice, maybe more, I can’t tell. She under cover but I’ve got to move on to the bunkhouse.”
This was something that Marc had thought about when running scenarios. He knew this was a real possibility for any of them, but had pushed it to the back of the line, choosing to deal with it if it presented itself. Now it was here, in his face, chewing on his psyche like an indelible force. He also knew that the only way to handle the situation was to move forward and take care of the business at hand, only then could he help her. The kitchen was now the only area left to clear as he and Akil entered from opposite doorways finding an empty room. They started to move out toward the rear of the house when they both heard a muffled droning sound, like someone talking in the next room. They began moving around the room symmetrically until they realized the voice was coming from within the kitchen island. Marc began to search for a catch or perhaps a disguised handle on the cabinetry of the island. Akil, moving around it, noticed a pattern of worn Saltillo tiles on one edge of the free standing island. He snapped his finger twice drawing Marc’s attention, and then pointed down at the tail-tale marks upon the floor. Marc, laying his weapon on the island cabinet, started to push first one way then the other, as it began to give way. It was surprisingly silent as it began to slowly slide to the side, exposing a stairway down to a basement level.
As Eyan approached the door to the bunkhouse another man was attempting to exit the doorway. Eyan raised the modified Browing12-gauge to chest height and pulled the trigger several times. The man was propelled back into the building as abruptly as he had appeared. Eyan, reaching the doorway, retrieved a grenade from his bag of tricks and now was standing with his back to the adobe structure. He pulled the pin and back-handed it through the entrance. Because he was still using the NVG’s, he closed his eyes, avoiding the extreme flash of the ordinance. As soon as the concussion of the explosion had ceased, he entered the doorway and searched for any and all movement, but saw none. He paused for a short while, being vigilant, then retreated to Dara’s position. As he knelt down by her side, she reacted to his presence, flailing both hands in a defensive reaction, only stopping when she heard his voice saying, “Dara, its Eyan!” Her vision was severely hampered due to the blood from the head wound.
Akil had won the coin toss as to which one would descend the staircase first. The Striker he was carrying was the real vote getter. The NVG’s were once again proving to be invaluable. From down below, a voice rang out boldly in Spanish, the English translation was, “Are you crazy in the head? Do you know who I am?” Carlos’s voice then reverted to a more normal tone as he ended the phone call he had been on. Akil, now almost to the bottom of the staircase, looked to the right across the pitch black room. At first he saw nothing but an instant later he heard shuffling steps on the concrete floor. Shifting his head in a different direction, an image appeared from behind a large water heater. The man was leveling an Uzi strapped to his shoulder. Akil, deciding not to wait for an invitation, began pulling the trigger of the Striker. The echo within the confines of the basement was deafening as both weapons engaged one another. Seconds later, the gas water heater exploded in a bellow of blue flame. The concussive force was more than strong enough to eliminate the threat that Carlos posed. Akil, also reeling from the blast, turned and retreated up the stairs bracing his body with his arms as he did so. Marc reached down to assist him as he emerged from the pit. The kitchen was near the front entrance of the house. Akil had lost his NVG’s in the scramble; Marc was now his guide as they made their way to, then out, the front door. Smoke was now beginning to escape from the house as they made their way around the side toward the bunkhouse. As they cleared the side of the building, Marc could see Eyan kneeling down at Dara’s side. He switched his com on and said, “Eyan, how bad is it?” as they pushed on to their position. Eyan, looking up, said to Marc, “She’s took one just above her hip, and another grazed her right temple. I’ve stopped the bleeding at her hip – it’s a muscle hit – but the head’s not so easy.” As he tore open a pack containing a syringe of anesthetic, and used it around the hip wound.
Akil broke off from Marc as they moved past the bunkhouse. Using a flashlight, as he entered the structure he quickly scanned the room for any movement. He saw none. As he moved across the room he spotted a map on the wall with several marked locations. He ripped it down and rolled it up as he continued searching. He had just turned to leave when he saw a laptop computer upon an unmade bed. He retrieved the computer as he made his way out and back to the others. Dara was unable to walk. Marc decided they would take turns carrying her. Eyan helped her to her feet, and then Marc took her over his shoulder and started toward the truck. After crossing the opening to the edge of the runway, Akil remembered the aircraft and the keys were in the ignition. He stopped and said, “I don’t think Carlos will have much need of this plane–what say, we use it?” The house was now starting to emit flames along with the smoke as they loaded Dara into the craft as Akil disconnected the tie downs. Once they were all aboard, Marc, handing his NVG’s, to Akil, said, “You have much more current flight experience; I’ll leave this one to you.” Akil had a slight smile upon his face as he reached out and began flipping switches and adjusted the carb setting as he started the aircraft’s engine.
Several minutes later, they were airborne circling around back toward the main airport and the G150. The Rancho was now fully engulfed in flames as Marc looked down upon it. Ten minutes later, they were rolling to a stop at the airport. They had done all the preflight checks earlier in the day on the G150 so they rapidly moved Dara to the Gulfstream and made her as comfortable as possible. As soon as Marc felt the rotation of the aircraft skyward, he called Jose, the night manager at the hotel, and told him to add $500 to the bill if he would take care of the truck they had left in the desert. Jose was more than happy to help. Akil meanwhile was busy clearing channels for their flight into Scottsdale, Arizona’s municipal airport. It was five minutes away from the Mayo Clinic of the Southwest, and less than an hour flight time, from their current location. As the sun was starting to glimmer in the eastern sky, the G150 was on final approach in Scottsdale. An ambulance had been called and was waiting in the early morning light.
It was almost lunch time when the doctor approached the three of them with information as to Dara’s condition. When he asked who the family member was, all three spoke up at the same time. With some reluctance he said, “The wound to her side was superficial, muscular only, no organs or arteries involved.” He went on to say, “Now, the injury to the head – we need to give it a little more time. She’s had what amounts to a severe concussion and between the two wounds the blood loss was significant. Her brain is displaying some swelling but she’s in excellent physical condition. This should help, but the brain doesn’t take lightly to being pushed around. The next 24 to 36 hours will most likely tell us the answer.”
They checked into a resort near the hospital. In Scottsdale, no one knows how to spell “hotel.” Everything is either a Spa or a Resort. The hospital had agreed to call if she regained consciousness, or if other events arose. They all had something to eat and then tried to crash for a while before regrouping at 10:00 p.m. for some dinner. Marc was having a hard time going to sleep; he was finding it extremely difficult to free his mind from Dara’s current endangerment. He had set the alarm on his phone; it was now 9:00 p.m. and it was vibrating on the nightstand. He reached over, grasping it, and then silenced it. As he sat up on the edge of the bed, he was truly wondering if he had slept at all. His body was screaming at him in no uncertain terms. Everything from his head to his toes was pleading for more rest.
At dinner, Eyan’s first question was to ask if Marc had heard from the hospital. Marc, looking at him with a frown, shook his head saying, “Nothing.” Eyan answered saying, “Well, I’ve spent some time on the computer that Akil requisitioned from the bunkhouse. It just doesn’t make sense, there’s got to be more to the story than I’m seeing.” Both Marc and Akil’s attention was piqued, but neither had revisited the event since getting aboard the G150. Marc, asked Eyan, “What the hell were they up too?” Eyan’s reply was, “As far as I can tell they originally planned a synchronized attack, using their rifles to explode propane canisters at twenty or more locations. All this was to happen in metro areas of large cities around the southwest. But, did they really think this would create havoc?” After a moment Marc said, “I’ve seen these propane exchange centers. They’re at almost every home center or hardware, and some grocery stores have them sitting at their front door. How large of an explosion would ten or fifteen, 20-pound tanks going off at once, cause?” When they began doing the math, the blasé attitude Eyan had displayed faded. 200 to 300 pounds of propane, when ignited, could easily take down the entire frontal structure of a large building. The fragmentation of the compressed steel tanks would send metal shards hurtling throughout the parking area. It would be similar to a bucket full of grenades, but with much larger fragments and a fireball fifty to seventy yards wide, taking out whatever fire prevention measure that was incorporated within the structure.
There was a moment of silence Marc said, “We need to get this information to Jon Meeks. He held up his part of the contract, so let’s give him a heads-up.” After returning to Marc’s room, he dug out the Sat phone he had retained from the mission and retrieved Jon’s contact information, then pushed the send button. The call was answered; however, it was not Jon Meeks. The man answering said, “This is a restricted number, and your equipment is no longer authorized to access it, I must ask you to disconnect and do not utilize this number in the future.” Before the connection was disconnected, Marc said, “Jon Meeks, please.” There was an extended pause; the man responded, “Do you have a response ID code number or not, sir?” Marc’s answer was, “I have information that may affect national security. This information is for Jon Meeks only. Now, you can get him on the line, or suffer consequences that you really don’t want nor need. Am I making myself clear?” Once again, the line fell silent; the man was obviously consulting a superior. When he came back on the line he said, “Mr. Meeks is not locally available to take this call but a message will be conveyed. Can you be reached at this number?” Marc said, “Yes, 24/7. Just tell him two words – first, ‘Serenity,’ – then, ‘Carlos.’” Then, he disconnected the call. Marc knew they had the phone number. The Sat unit he was using had to be specially coded to access the number he had called. No more than ten minutes had passed when the phone began to emit a buzzing sound, indicating an incoming call. Marc answered saying, “Bracken speaking.” Jon Meeks replied, “Jesus, Marc! That was quite a mess you left in Mexico. There was nothing left but a pile of charcoal and bodies everywhere. When we landed the chopper, we had less than five minutes on the ground before then we saw the Federales coming up the road and had to vacate. I’m not even going to ask how you beat us there but, more importantly, where are you and did you find out what the hell this is all about?” Marc filled him in on their current location and also said that Dara had taken a couple rounds. Then they agreed to meet up at the hotel in four hours so that Meeks could debrief the team. He also asked Jon to get the locals off their back concerning Dara’s gunshot wounds; given there was a city policeman sitting at her door, waiting for her to regain consciousness. The others had given their statements after landing.
Within the hour, the team returned to the hospital. The information was not good. The neurosurgeon overseeing Dara said that he had induced a coma when she began showing signs of consciousness. This was necessary because her brain swelling had not subsided. The tranquility of the coma was the preferred form of treatment and the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours would be a crucial time. He did say that it was good that she was showing signs of naturally regaining consciousness. After being reassured that the hospital would contact them if her status changed, they returned to the hotel to meet with Meeks.
They all were now about 180˚ out of sleep cycle, including Meeks, playing catch-up behind them. The sun was beginning to illuminate the eastern sky as Jon arrived at Marc’s suite at the hotel. As they began to discuss the turn of events since leaving Southern Argentina, Jon was more than a bit interested in the efficiency of Serenity’s ability to track the Pakistanis to Mexico. When asked, Marc said, “Is that as important as the outcome, or do you want to know why and what for?” At that point, Eyan produced the computer that had been liberated from the Rancho and set it up. After reviewing some of the information that they had rendered, Jon was nearly as perplexed as Eyan had been earlier that evening. Then Jon, as if a magic light switch had been thrown, keyed in on the true potential and devastation of the plan. Marc could see Jon’s mind start rolling out scenarios, as he fumbled for his encrypted Sat phone within his coat pocket. He switched it on and hit a single button autodial. When connected, he said, “My authentication code is Alpha, X-ray, 3660. I am requesting a condition yellow alert. Secondary I.D. code to follow,” He began punching in a sequence of numbers and letters, and then ended the call. He stood up, turning to Marc saying, “Thanks,” as Eyan disconnected the computer and handed to him. Before going out the door, he stopped, turned and said, “I wish Dara the best of luck, and we’ll pick up the tab. I’ll make sure of that. Oh – and one more thing – even if no one else will say it. Thanks for caring about what these assholes were up to and doing what was right.” Before he departed he wrote a contact number on the back of a piece of paper then handed it to Marc, closing the door behind him. Marc and Eyan, once being in the stream of the inner intelligence circle, felt the implications of Jon’s sentiment. Akil, could only sense their appreciation. Eyan and Akil headed back to their rooms, Marc returned to the hospital.
Over the next 24 hours, Marc sat at Dara’s side, sometimes holding her hand and other times just sitting and talking to her as if they were normally conversing. As the sun was setting on the second day, the doctor came into the room and said, “The swelling has subsided enough where we’re going to wake her up and see what happens.” This was evoking both hope and trepidation within Marc. He had made a silent pledge with himself to take care of her, regardless of the outcome of the event.
Several hours later, Dara began to exhibit signs of consciousness. She first moved her leg, catching his attention. Then twenty minutes later, she rolled her head from one side of the pillow to the other. As the daylight was filling the room from an unshaded window, Dara’s eyes began to open, at first almost imperceptibly; she then blinked and began to try to focus. Marc reached out and picked up a call button attached to the side of her bed and pressed it so hard it ceased to return to its natural state. At first a nurse responded, followed by a doctor on floor duty. Marc stood back as the room came alive with activity. As Dara began to be aware of her surroundings, she became more agitated and started to once more show signs of panic as she had when reacting to Eyan in Mexico. Marc, seeing this reaction, moved into sight, edging others aside until he was directly in her vision and placing both his hands on the sides of her face said, “Dara – it’s OK – it’s me. It’s over.” The look upon her face slowly faded from intense fear, to confusion, then to recognition, as he gently kissed her forehead.
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