Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 17 and 18

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

South, To Argentina

After making their way from Serenity to Buenos Aires in the G150, they checked into a hotel on outskirts of the city.  Marc placed a call to the contact number he was given.  A meeting was set for the early morning at the team’s location.  The next morning, Ashton and Arnesto, the co-pilot, after saying goodbye, departed for Jorge Newberry International Airport to catch their commercial flight back to Madrid.  All the others began to assemble in Marc and Dara’s room just before 6:00 for the briefing.   Before long, there was a knock at the door.  Marc looked through the observation portal.  He saw one man standing outside, glancing side to side, as he waited for the door to be answered.  Marc opened the door and greeted the man.

The man said his name was Jon Meeks.  By his appearance and his mannerisms, Marc guessed he was most likely a CIA operative.  His business card read: Jon Meeks, Senior Vice President, R.A.L. Imports.  He was carrying a rather large aluminum briefcase.  After quick introduction to the group, he placed the briefcase on a table and opened it up.  Inside the lid of the case was a large 10.1-series Samsung tablet.  The bottom of the case contained a digitally encrypted Sat phone along with several other accessories, including a full dossier on the targeted subjects.  Jon began his briefing by saying, “We have intercepted and tracked several encrypted electronic messages between a location in extreme southern Santa Cruz Province of Argentina and a small village in Northern Pakistan,” as he pointed out the region on a map displayed on the tablet.  “The coded message is a derivative of an ancient Arabic dialect mixed with what can best be described, we think, as a Pakistani dialect only spoken by a small religious cult in the area around where the messages originated.  As to our efforts to break it, let’s just say, it’s our best guess.  We have been able to decipher enough to disclose that a shipment was on route via the Panama Canal on a Dutch freighter.  Long story short, with the help of some locals, we were able to inspect the cargo shipment up close and personal.  What we found, quite honestly, has us scratching our head.  The shipment was one hundred, small five-pound filled propane canisters and 40 new Russian made sniper rifles.  But the real kicker is, the shipment also contained ten thousand rounds of special infrared tracer, armor-piercing ammunition.  It’s specially made as to not emit visible light.  It was developed for use with night vision infrared goggles.  Outside of this information, we don’t have a clue what their up to.  The only real break we have is we know where the training is being carried out and that’s where Serenity comes into play.  We need hard information on what they’re planning and, yes, I know what the next question is.  The ‘Company,’ as an organization, simply cannot be involved, especially if this recon mission were to get dirty.  That’s it, in a nutshell.  The first payment has been made to your offshore account; the final payment’s due at the end of the road.  We will be here to give strictly rear-echelon support: transport, equipment and information.  Are there any other questions?”  Akil spoke up saying, “Has the shipment of supplies to the compound arrived or is it still in transit?” Meeks’ reply was, “It’s in transport, due to arrive day after tomorrow at Puerto Santa León, late afternoon.  There is a small airport just outside the town; our man will meet you all there just before sunset this evening.  When we leave the hotel, we’ll go straight to a staging location near the airport and pick up any equipment you might need.  Will Miss Petersen be going south with the team?”  Dara looked over at Marc, then back to Meeks, and said, “Yes.  Miss Peterson will be going south!”

The aircraft touched down just after four that afternoon in the province of Santa Cruz, eleven hundred miles to the south of Buenos Aires.  The airfield consisted of three small buildings and a fuel truck with a tattered wind sock attached to its antenna.  The field agent was waiting on the tarmac as the aircraft powered down.  A deuce-and-a-half, a military-style truck, moved across the runway toward the aircraft, then spun around and backed up to the plane’s cargo hatch.  Two of what appeared to be locals, began to transfer the equipment to the truck.

The team now consisting of Marc, Eyan, Akil and Dara, along with the field agent, piled into the covered bed of the vehicle.  It moved off to the north, leaving the airfield behind, as the agent introduced himself as “James Smith” to the team.  It was all the team could do not to laugh, knowing full well it wasn’t his name; such was the nature of the business at hand.  John said, “Y’all may as well make yourselves comfortable.  It’s a four-hour ride to the base camp.”  The ride was reasonably smooth for the first hour.  After that, no one was snoozing.  The road had degraded and had begun to resemble the Baja 500 off-road race by the time they had reached the camp.  Everyone was more than ready for a rest, as the truck came to a halt in the midst of the tents of the encampment.  Everyone dismounted the vehicle and found the nearest available tent and cot.

The next morning, Mr. Smith began his briefing by saying, “There is a mountain to east, about three-and-a-half clicks.  On the other side is a small stream.  Just beyond it is the training facility we’ve been observing.  I’ll take you to the top of the mountain, and then I’m out of here. The trail is beginning to show from our prior movement back and forth.  So, I suggest you start using other paths, or you’re liable to have some unwanted guests coming in here.  Once you get there and start up from the stream, start looking for sentinels; they move their position, sometimes twice a week.  Their last movement was three days ago, so be warned.”  James Smith sounded and looked like a southern hick, but he was far from it, as the team was slowly beginning to realize.  Later, as they approached the top of the hill above the river, Smith turned and said, “I suggest you go into recon mode here.  They may be anywhere once you top the hill.”  He then said his goodbyes and vanished back down the hill.

The team split into two two-person operational squads and began to filter through the thick underbrush toward the crest of the hill.  As usual, they were all using personal com units for communications.  The equipment the Company had supplied was of the top echelon available.  The com units consisted of a throat band pick-up mic, and ear piece that was wirelessly connect to a small module on their belts that encrypted or deciphered the transmission depending on the need.  Anyone not using the module with current settings would only hear static on the frequency.  Once they crested the hill and did not observe any activity, they proceeded on down toward the stream at the base of the hill.  They could now hear filtered sporadic gun fire, some distance away, coming from up ahead.  Ten meters past the stream, Eyan, on point, signaled all to drop as he detected movement just ahead.  He motioned everyone to drop back and to the left, regrouping behind a rather large fallen tree.  He briefed the others on what he had seen up ahead and set out once again as the point at a right angle to the emplacement.

About forty meters on, they encountered a very large clearing.  Staying within the thicketed edge, they could see twenty or so men milling about.  The clearing appeared to be an abandoned farm.  The land had been cleared of trees for crops but was now fallow.  It now had knee-high brush in clumps returning to its natural environment.  Dara tapped Marc on the shoulder, pointing to an area to their far left. Looking in that direction, he now realized that about half of the men were working feverishly, removing brush creating a clearing.  The team moved to a position with a better vantage.  Then, Akil asked, “Would anyone want to bet that you couldn’t land a plane in this opening?”  Marc replied, “Yep, that would be my best bet.”  The gunfire that they had heard had ceased before they reached the clearing.  But now, nothing that was currently happening seemed to indicate what the shooting was all about.

Eyan and Akil split off from Marc and Dara and moved around the perimeter of the clearing, to the right.  Dara took sentry duty while Marc began a section-by-section visual account of the encampment.  The other team moved slowly, noting all of the sentry positions they encountered.  At the appointed time, the two teams met up back on the leeward side of the hill above the stream.  They briefly compared the maps that each had drawn of the camps perimeter and placements, then started back toward base camp.  An hour later they were just a few meters short of the camp when Dara, in the lead, turned facing the others and raised her hand index finger extended vertically up in front of her lips.  The others instantly stopped and remained quiet.  She then pointed toward the sky.  At first the others didn’t hear it, but then the low-pitched [drone] became louder, and then changed pitch.  Akil said, “Well I think we called it, that’s a plane throttling down on approach, if I’m not mistaken.”  Marc went on to say, “Two bits says it’s loaded with propane, ammo and rifles.”  Eyan, with a thoughtful expression upon his face said, “Rifles, bullets, fine, but what’s the propane for?” Do ya think they’re going to use it to burn off more of the clearing at their camp?”  Marc answered, “I haven’t a clue, but it’s as good a guess as any at this point.”

Later, after everyone had consumed their MRE’s, they began to discuss the events of the day.  Dara said that Mr. Smith, she thought, had not been very forthcoming about the previous surveillance of the camp. He also never said a word about how many perps or what had gone on before they arrived.  She said, “Am I the only one that thinks that this is all a bit strange?”

They heard the plane take off and then return and land once more before dark.  Now that they had a basic understanding of the terrain and emplacements, it should be much easier to get on station earlier in the day.  They devised a plan which would allow them to view the open runway from the top of hill overlooking the stream.  One person would man this position.  The other three would take up positions around the perimeter and observe.

Before calling it a night, Marc called Jon Meeks on the Sat phone and reported the findings of the day.  While talking to him, he asked how long the surveillance had been in place prior to the team’s arrival.  Meeks said that he would have to talk to Mr. Smith and get back to Marc about it.  After considering the conversation with Meeks, Marc decided that the team would not move out at first light, as discussed earlier.  He was hoping that the ones running the show would come clean and tell him, what was really going on. He just had an uneasy feeling that the people they were watching knew they were being watched.  Had something happened that caused the Company to pull back?  Was the Company fearful of collateral damage and had the Serenity group been call in to take the inevitable bullet?  But the most irritating thing was that he hated to be lied to.  Some of the old familiar feelings were beginning to surface from the day he and Eyan were part of the bureaucracy and nobody told anyone anything.

As the tent began to illuminate from the morning sun, Marc rolled over and stroked Dara’s arm, waking her gently.  As she opened her eyes, Marc said, “Good morning.” He subtly smiled and said, “How do you manage to hike five miles through the bush with full gear, sleep in the same clothing, and yet wakeup looking beautiful?”  Dara was a bit surprised as Marc did not, as a habit, display his inner emotions especially while working a contract.  She answered him saying, “Well, maybe it’s because I know I’m the only woman around within fifty miles.”  He reached over and kissed her, then said, “I wish we were someplace else – anywhere but here,” as the smile slowly left his face.  Within the hour, they were on the trail returning to the subject’s encampment.  About half way to the camp they heard the aircraft takeoff once more, this time flying straight over head.  Akil was the only one to actually see it as it passed over due to the overhead tree canopy.  It was an older DC-3 twin engine, a real workhorse in this part of the world, even today.

As they approached the crest of the hill overlooking the stream, Akil was delegated to stay at this vantage point.  They revisited the maps they had drawn up yesterday to reacquaint themselves with the various imbedded lookout positions and then pressed on with Dara taking the point.  It took them twenty minutes to filter in around the end of the clearing.  Marc then carried out a com check with all locations.

When the sun was straight overhead, Dara once again could hear the aircraft returning.  She alerted all the others using her com.  There were stacks of several large crates at the far end of the cleared landing strip along with eight smaller cases that sat at this end of the runway.  The aircraft circled the clearing and then lined up coming straight in toward their position.  Upon touch down, the craft bounced twice and then rolled out to the very end of the runway, near the team’s position, and then turned about and shut down the engines.  Several men scurried out to the aircraft and stood waiting for the side cargo doors to be opened.  When the doors were eventually spread wide, the men began to unload two cases each of what appeared to be the ammunition from the aircraft.  The smaller wood cases that had sat at this end of the runway were moved to an area near the edge of the thicket, where tables had been set up.  They then split open the smaller wooden cases, exposing metal ammunition canisters. The men unloading the aircraft also brought the larger wooden boxes over and uncrated rifles still wrapped in Cosmoline gauze.

 Northern Mexico / Puerto, Peñasco Sonora, Mexico

Carlos Duarte and his cousin Rafael Arturo were driving north out of Puerto Peñasco, the small sleepy Mexican port, which the Norte Americanos referred to as Rocky Point.  Rocky Point sits about sixty-five miles to the south of U.S border crossing at Lukeville, Arizona.  The area has little to offer with the exception of scorpions, snakes and Saguaro cactus. The only truly redeeming factor was the Sea of Cortes.  Carlos is a wealthy man by the standards of most other people that lived in the small community.  He owns several parcels of land, two of which have houses upon them.  There are rumors that he is in some way connected to the drug cartels that are prevalent throughout Mexico and especially in the U.S. border region.  But, of course, no one would speak out of such allegations to the local Policia, nor did the Policia want to hear of such allegations.

They were now on their way to Carlos’s Rancho Del Sol, a hacienda thirty kilometers outside of town.  This was where he conducted the majority of his business.  He had constructed an airstrip suitable for small aircraft behind the main house. When they arrived, there was a small Cessna 182 Skylane four-seater powered down, with two men still inside.  The airstrip ran right up to the rear patio of the hacienda next to a large car port.  Two of Carlos’s men were standing at the rear entrance to the patio pool area, one was smoking a cigar but both were holding automatic rifles.  Carlos pulled the Jeep Rubicon in under the car port, and then motioned the men to approach the Cessna as he got out and followed.  The doors of the Cessna opened and the two men of Middle Eastern descent stepped from the craft.  His cousin, Rafael remained in the Jeep, holding an AK-47 just out of sight, in case something unscripted availed itself.   Carlos was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat that cast a shadow upon his face in the noon day sun.  Both of the new arrivals were wearing traditional head garb of the Taliban tribal factions of Afghanistan, but otherwise dressed in Western clothing.  After a short meet and greet, they moved across the pool patio to the air-conditioned hacienda followed by Rafael, sans the AK-47.

Carlos introduced his cousin Rafael to his new-found business partners saying, “Rafael, this is Mulla Jamil and Abdul Rashid; they will be our guests for a while.  Will you make sure that they have whatever they require?  And have some of the men open up the bunk house, there will be others joining us soon.”  Rafael was devoted to Carlos and always obeyed his requests to the letter.  Carlos was not someone to be toyed with, even if he was your cousin.

 Southern Argentina / Santa Cruz, Province

As the afternoon wore on, Marc could see increased activity at the far end of the runway.  They were constructing dirt mounds several feet high with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows.  One of the tasks that had been set for the day’s surveillance was to get an approximate count of the men at the encampment. Marc’s best guess, considering the area was so spread out and the groups of men were intermingling, was twenty or twenty-five.  Dara and Eyan were also faced with this nebulas task.  As the sun began its dive into the west, Marc keyed his com and said, “Let’s move out, regroup at Akil’s position.” Twenty minutes later, Eyan the last one to make it back to the position, arrived.  They departed for the compound arriving as the sun’s last rays were still touching the tree tops.  This far south, when night falls, the temperature also falls.  Using field fuel canisters that produced heat, but not smoke, they fixed a large hot pot of coffee.  They sat there drinking their coffee discussing the day’s events, going over the tally of souls each had counted.  They all agreed the best guess was twenty-five, knowing they couldn’t be positive of the total.  At slightly over six-to-one odds, the only advantage to the team was, most likely, that none of the trainees were jungle-trained if a fire fight broke out.

The next morning, returning to the airstrip clearing, they noted several changes to the lookout positions.  After noting the changes, they proceeded together, to a vantage spot that was now useable due to the change of those positions.  Within the hour, ten of the subjects were assembled around the tables at the close end of the airstrip.  Two other men approached, one following the other, both were wearing military jungle fatigues.  There were no patches or writing on the uniforms, but both wore berets and side arms.  Each of the ten men was given a special rifle, devoid of Cosmoline, taken from the wooden cases around the tables.  Over the next two hours the men disassembled, cleaned and then re-assembled their assigned firearm, while under the close scrutiny of the two military-types.  Once this was completed, they loaded the rifles and stood in a line across the end of the runway closest to them.  The team had failed to notice that at the far end of the runway on each mound of dirt a white canister of propane gas had been placed, one for each man in the line.  At the command of the first instructor, they all fired at their respective canister.  To no one’s surprise, not one round found its mark.  They repeated the process until their magazines were empty. Still, not a single canister was breached.  The fact they were using the special barium salts tracer ammunition that could not be seen without special goggles, seemed even stranger.  They reloaded, taking several ammo canisters along with them, moved half way down the runway toward the targets, and lined up once more.  This time when they fired, two of the canisters exploded in a large orange ball of flame.  The echo of the explosion resounded back down the runway.

Over the next couple of days this training continued all day long, slowly moving the men farther from their targets as they improved.  That evening back at the compound as the four team members were discussing the events of the last few days, Marc said, “OK, we know they’re training these guys to be marksman or maybe eventually snipers, but for what?  And why use LP gas canisters as targets? Does anyone have a clue?  Hell, at this point, I’ll welcome a guess.”  As he looked around at the team, there were no answers.

The next morning, they took up their observation position at the airfield, but something was strange. There were only six or eight men milling around and none were doing the things the team had observed in the past.  Eyan started to say something, just as a shot was fired.  The round hit the tree not two inches from Eyan’s head, splintering wood fragments over the entire left side of his face and eye. His instincts to run were overpowered by his training.  He dropped closer to the ground seeking cover from the hailstorm he knew was about to ensue.  He was not alone; each of the others had followed suit dropping and forming a circular pattern facing outward assuming that they were surrounded.  Just ten meters to the south of their location, was a ravine that ran down to the stream at the bottom of the hill behind them; the one that they commonly approached from.  Marc keyed his com and said, “The ravine to the south.” He needn’t say more, they all began arm crawling, using the brush available to cover their retreat.  Dara caught a glimpse of the side of Eyan’s face as they began to move out.  She reached out and grabbed his arm, motioning him to move ahead of her behind Marc in second position.  The brush was visually thick, which helped somewhat, however, it also moved as they traversed through it, drawing sporadic gun fire.  They reached the ravine at the bottom of the slope; it was really nothing more than a narrow, five feet wide by three feet deep, gully increasing slightly as it dropped to the stream below.  Marc took up position guarding the upper direction of the ravine as the others moved into it then started down toward the stream.  Eyan’s face had started to swell from the trauma that had been inflected.  His left eye was now totally swollen shut.  Once more the fact that Eyan was ambidextrous was invaluable.  He preferred to fire his weapon from the left but was nearly as capable at his right. Marc was in motion, swinging around to follow the others down to the stream, as two men appeared from out of the brush to his right.  He flipped the sear switch up to full auto on his AR 15-M4 and expended half his magazine in four seconds.  The two men, now lifeless, both rolled into the trench ahead of him.  The others looked back hearing the shots; Marc waved them on as he stepped over the bodies to follow.  Several days earlier, Akil had been the one to stay back on the hill as back up observation.  He had taken advantage of the time and scouted to the north and south of the position.  He now remembered a similar ravine to the south once again leading down from the larger hill beyond the stream.  When they had reached the stream, he recounted the information to the others then saying, “It’ll give us some cover going up the hill.”  Akil asked Eyan if he wanted him to attend his wounds.  Eyan declined reaching down and splashing his face with water from the stream.  The stream at this location was ten to twelve feet wide and a couple feet deep, with very little current.

As they started downstream, the water around them erupted in white foam with a hail of bullets.  They were coming from up above on the hill; they were now cut off from their compound to the east.  The bank of the stream afforded more protection than the ravine had but the lower ground is rarely strategic in a firefight.

Back when they had selected their firearms on the truck leaving the airport in Puerto Santa León, Akil had selected an M16A2 with a forty mm M203 grenade launcher slung on it. The armament was affectionately referred to as “Thumper” by many of the troops that had used it.  The name was attributed to the sound it emitted when it was fired.  Akil snapped the receiver open on the launcher and loaded a smoke round.  He then took up the rear position of the group and keyed his com and said, “I’m going to lay down some smoke up the hill.  When you hear the third round impact, make for the ravine.  It’s about ten meters downstream.”  Marc understood what Akil had in mind and moved to lead position at the ready.  Akil stripped off his ruck sack and retrieved one more smoke round and three High Explosive rounds from it.  He then laid them on the bank right in front of his position for quick access.  Thumper only accommodated one round at a time.  He turned and made eye contact the others then reached up quickly and fired up the hill.  He reloaded as quickly as possible and directed the next round to the right of the first.  Then reloaded with a High Explosive round and fired in between the two smoke rounds.  When the HE round exploded the sound of the shrapnel ripping through the forest leaves and trees was a sound very different from the smoke rounds.  Even a combat novice can discern the difference and would be seeking cover.  Akil, then as quickly as possible, reloaded Thumper and fired two more of the HE rounds before grabbing his ruck and heading downstream following after the others.

When he reached the ravine, he started up the hill.  Then he heard a commotion, water splashing close behind him.  He released the ruck sack, rolled over bringing his weapon around as he did so, but it was too late.  Three of the terrorists were standing in the stream directly below him, weapons drawn. At first all three were sporting shit-eating grins, but their expressions turned to one of curiosity as they realized he was of Arabic descent.  Just as quickly as the expressions on their faces had changed, Dara, concealed in the underbrush just above Akil, wasted no time dispatching the three.  They collapsed into the water that was now turning blood red.  Akil rolled over, looking back up the hill.  He saw Dara’s hand outstretched, saying, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”  The smoke from the grenades was beginning to clear as they approached the top of the hill.  Dara, now in the lead, could see several more figures moving through the lifting smoke, just ahead.  She keyed her com and said quietly, “We’ve got more bogies, up to the right, ten meters out.”  They all got down and found firing positions.  Akil had stopped and was now watching their back door down the ravine.  He grabbed two of the Buckshot rounds for Thumper from his ruck and loaded one, then pushed the other into a loop on his vest, and then flipped the sear switch to auto on his rifle. He had no sooner completed this task, when he saw movement down the hill.  He opened his com and said, “The back door’s open.”  Eyan, now resembling a one-eyed jack, joined Akil.  Three or more figures were filtering up through the thick underbrush to each side of the ravine, about thirty meters away.  Not knowing if they were coming into contact from two, or perhaps four, sides made it difficult for all of them to find real cover.

Akil fired a short burst from his rifle; this brought return fire from down below.  He could now plainly see that there were now many others filtering up the hill.  The Buckshot round in Thumper was created for just this scenario – 20 high velocity, 24 grain, metal pellets per round.  He rose up and fired the first round toward the largest concentration of return fire, then dropped down as fast as possible.  The buckshot seemed like an invisible force field as it passed through the underbrush, shredding vines and leaves as it searched for its prey.  Then the two began to lay down rifle fire as the remaining men retreated down the hill.  Eyan remained at the back door as Akil quickly reloaded Thumper with the second Buckshot round from his vest as he moved up the hill, dropping in between Dara and Marc.  Then, they repeated the sequences – first searching for the return fire – then letting Thumper do its work.  The hill was now being vacated by the opposing force.  Akil had two more H.E. Rounds remaining.  He loaded one and raised the muzzle up to approximately 45 degrees and fired sending the shell skyward.  He knew sporadic shells landing around them would further spook them.  Most people try to find a hole to crawl in under those circumstances.  He loaded the last round, but decided to hold on to it for the trip back to camp.

They regrouped and gathered their equipment and then moved off cautiously in the direction of their base camp.  Akil was now on point; they had traveled about a one-hundred meters and were now back on level ground.  He rounded a bend on the trail and saw a man moving toward him quickly, about fifteen meters away. He raised his rifle to fire, but quickly realized his magazine was depleted.  He fired the Thumper instead, and then hit the ground for protection from the shrapnel.  To his amazement there was no explosion.  He reached into his ruck, extracting a fresh magazine of ammo, then exchanging it as quickly as possible, snapping the action bolt closed, readying the weapon.  He was even more amazed that he had made such a rookie mistake, not reloading his weapon!  Then he snapped back to reality to deal with the intruder.  He raised his rifle and fired a few rounds over his cover, and then did a head bob to see what there was to see.  Marc walked up behind Akil and kicked his boot lightly saying, “He’s done for.  Get up.  We gotta move,” as he stifled a laugh.  Akil, looking at Marc, seemed a bit confused as he struggled to his feet to follow.  Down the trail, his confusion was curtailed when he approached the man’s body seeing a beer can-sized hole in his chest. “You do know that these 40 mm rounds require about thirty feet or so before they throw out the arming pin,” Marc said, with a large smile.  Akil’s retort was, “Well, big hole – small hole – same result, right?” as he made his way on past Marc, assuming the point.

Later, back at the encampment, Marc contacted John Meeks via the Sat phone and filled him in on what had happened.  Meeks’ instructions were to sit back and that he would get back to him as soon as possible.  While this conversation was in progress, Akil was busy removing wood splinters from the left side of Eyan’s face.  This was shortly after Dara had administered several micro-injections of anesthetics.  Once the drug had taken full effect, Akil was able to lift Eyan’s eyelid to determine the damage.  After close inspection it appeared that nothing had penetrated his eye.  However, one of the fragments that he had removed from his eyelid had perforated it, scratching the eye itself.  Akil finished up the triage by irrigating the entire side of his face with an antibiotic and then placing an eye patch over his eye.  Everyone in the group had various nicks, scratches and cuts from the encounter.

Just as the last bit of daylight was fading, they all heard the aircraft take to the air once more.  Later, after things settled down and they had eaten, the Sat phone started to buzz.  Marc answered; it was Meeks once again.  He said, “What we needed to know is still relevant.  Do you have any ideas what they were trying to accomplish?”  Marc’s answer was, “They’re training them to shoot – my guess is some person – but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be at long distance, maybe at least a five hundred meters.  The one thing that makes absolutely no sense is why so many of them for what would typically be a one-man job?” Meeks then said, “Marc, I need you to go back in there and take one last stab at this.  If nothing is gained at that point, I’ll mark your contract fulfilled and you and your team go home, fair enough?”  Marc pondered the question for a brief instant, and then said, “Agreed.  But I want a full medical team available in Puerto Santa León; this could get bloody.  When they’re in place with a chopper, contact me.  In the meantime, we’ll find another route into the encampment.”  “Agreed,” Meeks said.  “I’ll call as soon as the med team’s in place, and Marc?  Thanks!”  Then he disconnected the call.  Marc was more than a bit surprised, Meeks actually sounded sincere, as if he meant it.

The next morning, after reconnecting with Meeks and asking for current satellite images of the area, they were gathered around Marc as he searched for an alternate route back to the encampment, using the images downloaded to the tablet via the Sat phone.  It had been quiet all morning; the aircraft had not returned as yet.  They were all taking the down time in stride.  Eyan had caught a few extra hours of sleep and was now asking Akil to check out his wounds and possibly change the bandage.  Once the eye patch was removed, it was a relief to see that most of the swelling had gone down and the damage was much less than they had expected.  For good measure, Akil swabbed the area with antibiotics once more, but Eyan chose not to wear the eye patch saying, “it’s more trouble than it’s worth and I would rather just deal with the irritation instead.”  By early afternoon, his eye was at half-mast, already beginning to re-open.

It was now four in the afternoon.  The Sat phone began to buzz.  Marc answered it and heard Mr. Smith’s voice.  Marc listened for a brief moment then the call was terminated.  He turned to the others, and said, “The med team is in position with a chopper at Puerto Santa León airport.  Smith said that it was a twenty-five-minute flight, one way, if we needed help.  The connection is the second flash button on the Sat phone for medical assistance, should any of us need it.”  As the evening progressed, they decided on a return approach to the airfield encampment.

The next morning, they left base camp using the same trail but ten minutes out, they veered to the east and followed a ridgeline which circled around and brought them back toward the newly constructed airfield from the west.  As they slowly moved to the edge of the clearing, they all began to realize that things were different.  The first giveaway was the silence, then, as they achieved visual ability, it was clear that the facility had been abandoned.  After slowly moving around the perimeter of the field and being fully convinced it had truly been vacated, they separated and commenced a full-scale search for anything that could either tell them where they had gone, or help make it clear what their purpose was.  After several hours of searching, the only thing they knew for sure was that all of the equipment rifles, ammo and even fuel canisters, were of Russian origin.  And there were twelve graves near where the tables sat at the end of the field.

Marc got back on the Sat phone and called Meeks and filled him in on what they had discovered.  Meeks was a bit surprised and Marc could hear him talking to someone else in the background.  When he came back on line, he said that he would schedule the chopper at Puerto Santa León to pick them up about two that afternoon at their current location.  He also said that he would direct Smith to send the truck to the base camp and break it down.  He then added that he would try to get satellite tracking information on the aircraft as to when it departed the training location.

By the time the team arrived back at the airfield in town via the chopper, a military transport was on the tarmac, engines running; waiting to transport them back to Buenos Aires.

CHAPTER EIGHTTEEN

Calling In A Favor

Upon arrival back in Buenos Aires, Jon Meeks headed up the debriefing.  As of yet, nothing had been rendered from the forensic inspection of the training site nor from reviewing the satellite information available.  But information such as this typically flowed up the chain, not down to the minions.  Meeks signed off on the contractual agreement formally releasing The Serenity Group.  The team checked into a Hilton property in the heart of the city, near the water.  At this point, they felt they all could use a little rest.  However, Akil could not put the events of the last few days behind him.  He was in his room lying on the bed, starring at the ceiling.  He could not erase the vision in his mind – that of the look upon the faces of the three men that had caught up with him at the stream, and then perished trying to comprehend why he had been their adversary.  He picked up the phone and called his Uncle Ricardo.  After the usual greeting and asking of his mother, he launched into a description of the situation that the team had gone through over the last several days. He asked Ricardo if any of his contacts may have knowledge of the Afghani sect, or even more so, knew perhaps where they may have relocated to when leaving Argentina.  Ricardo, being a major player in the global arms market, was very well-connected.  He could sense Akil’s frustration in the matter and said that he would ask around about the current happenings, with discretion.

Ricardo had been Akil’s mentor from the time his father had died years ago at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.  This had pushed him firmly toward a liberal Arabic lifestyle.  When he became an adult, his temperament would aid him in forging a business arrangement with Ricardo – one that had become very profitable.  Akil was now a bit tentative on speaking to the others of what he was planning to do if the right information became available.  He was intensely proud of his heritage and had hoped as a child to see his culture moderate and become part of a global union.  His birth father was Arabic and his mother was a full-blooded Spaniard.  It had been problematic for him in his younger years.  When it came to religion, he walked the fence.  The Koran and Bible often fit side-by-side seamlessly, and yet, butted heads on many basic ideas.  Akil had decided long ago to simply take the path of least negativity and live by what was left.  This is why he thought he had been pulled towards both Marc and Eyan.  Neither man seemed to claim religion; however, they always seemed to side silently with Akil’s vision of how things should be.

The next morning at breakfast, Akil decided to speak out about calling Ricardo.  To his surprise none of the others had any objections towards completing the contract, if the information was available.  Marc said, “You know, we’ve been paid in full for this outing as it stands now.  But if these guys ended up taking out somebody I know, or liked, well, it would really piss me off.”  Eyan, his eye now fully open, raised his glass of orange juice and said, “I’ll drink to that.” Dara clicked her glass with Eyan, saying, “I’m in.”  Akil just smiled.

It was approaching twelve noon, when Akil’s cell phone rang.  It was Ricardo calling back.  The information that he had collected was sketchy.  According to Ricardo’s resources, the second stage of the planned incursion was to be launched from northern Mexico.  There was a small town on the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortes called Puerto Peñasco.  The contact there was Carlos Duarte – his nickname was ‘El Jefe’ (The Boss).  No other information was available.  He also said that he would continue to search; although he had called in some heavy IOU’s and said he would be surprised if any more information surfaced.  Akil thanked him profusely and disconnected the call.

Akil said that he had called earlier and had the Gulfstream fueled and brought out onto the tarmac, knowing they were leaving one way or the other.  After lunch, they all sat down and began to hash out the potentials of the remaining mission.  Akil compiled a list of arms and supplies they might need as Marc surveyed the area of northern Mexico using Google Earth on the tablet he had retained from the Argentine mission.  To Marc’s surprise, Puerto Peñasco had an international airport; however, it looked almost as rudimentary as the one in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina.

As he was finishing up, Akil said that Ricardo had made arrangements for the arms and supplies to come from a contact in Mexicali.  It was about 140 miles to the northwest of Puerto Peñasco and would require perhaps a few hours of stopover.  Later, on the way to the airport, Akil was back on the phone.  This time, conveying the list of items needed to the arms contact and arranging for the truck to be at Aeropuerto de International Mexicali when they arrived.  Marc turned to Akil saying, “I’m not sure how much credit I have left with Ricardo on the Serenity account.”  Akil answered saying, “Didn’t Ricardo tell you, or maybe I should have — the Serenity Group is now a carte blanche member of Ruiz International.” Marc laughed out loud, remarking, “Now that’s a bit scary.”

With a stopover at Bogota’s El Dorado Aeropuerto for fuel, they were now touching down at Mexicali’s International Airport.  As they taxied in toward the terminal, they were given alternate directions and diverted directly to a private hanger at the far eastern edge of the terminal complex.   A golf cart with two red flags streaming from it was waiting just off the taxiway as they approached.  It pulled out in front of the aircraft, the driver waving his hand to follow.  The doors began to open on the second hanger from the end.  The doors had a large painted sign that read “PXICO AIR FREIGHT”.  The cart pulled just inside the hanger and stopped.  The driver jumped out and waved them up to the entrance, then signaled them to cut the engines.  After shutting down the aircraft and going over the checklist, as they were deplaning, two rather husky, moderately dressed, men approached.  Three other men were standing inside the hanger, heavily armed.  The lead man stepped up and extended his hand as a greeting, then said, “Welcome to Mexicali.  I am Miguel Tellez.  I spoke to Akil Bishara on the phone and this is my associate, Victor Ramirez.”  The three of them were now shocked to have suddenly realized that none of them had known Akil’s surname.

Miguel continued on saying, “Please be at ease, the three men behind me are members of my security; I’m sure you understand.  Meanwhile, as your craft is being refueled, let us inspect the items that you requested.”  He directed them into the hanger and on through to an office in the back room.  There, neatly placed on a pallet, were several open boxes containing every last item of Akil’s request.  Every item was spotless, fully-cleaned, and all identification removed.  After a quick inspection, Miguel produced a billing statement and said, “If everything is in order, all I require is a signature.”  Akil stepped up and took the pen from Miguel’s hand saying, “My uncle, Ricardo, will hear of this and add 20% to the billing for the personal service.  Miguel, with a surprised look upon his face, now understanding the relationship said, “If you require further assistance, just call.  I can deliver anywhere in Baja, California in ten to twelve hours, no extra charge,” he added.

Mid-afternoon, they were airborne once again and on track to land in Puerto Peñasco in thirty minutes.  The sun was dropping in the western sky as the G150 winged toward the tip of the Sea of Cortez.

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Laura Brooks

Published author of four books. See more about me on Amazon's Author Central.

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