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As Leo laid out his tentative scheme of maneuver, Eli had to touch the map they were using a couple times, just to remind himself that he was looking at a two-dimensional graphic, not a terrain model. The holomap Coker had procured based on the grid coordinates Leo pushed him was amazing. The map looked like a 3-D hologram, but everything that gave the map its realism was packed into the material of which the map was made.
Eli squatted to get an edge level view of the table on which the map had been unfurled. Nope. Nothing but a piece of thick paper on a table. As he straightened up, the terrain grew up out of the desk with every centimeter that his eyes gained in altitude. This is the coolest thing ever.
“Alright,” said Leo. “That’s the generic plan, what do you guys think?”
“I think you’re clinically insane,” replied Eli instantly. “Look at everything you’re going to have to do, as a singleton, to bait the trap and get to where we can support you. I know we’re supposed to “assume success” whenever we’re planning, but I think that’s a bridge too far in this plan.”
Leo nodded thoughtfully. “You’re right, up to a point. But look at it this way, if I don’t do everything right, then you’ve had a couple good weeks shooting, a short week camping, and then a milair flight home. Good time on Uncle Sam’s dime. Coker, do you share our young gunner’s opinion?”
Coker spit into an empty Gatorade bottle and screwed the top back on. Both Leo and Coker and loaded up on snuff when the planning started; Eli didn’t partake. Dipping etiquette demanded that one always expectorate into a receptical with a securable top. Whether one dipped or not, everyone agreed that there was nothing quite so gross as a spittoon spill.
Around copious Cope, Coker said, “I endorse the theory that you’re clinically insane, 100%.” Coker’s eyes shifted to Eli, “But that’s not really related to whether he can pull this off. I’ve seen him pull off crazier stunts.” Coker returned his attention to Leo, “When you die, can I have your bike?”
“Sure, but not this one, it’s burnt. Grab the one in storage back in North Carolina. Eli, getting to the objective area is my responsibility. For now, assume I get there and Coker doesn’t get the chance to joyride on my Hawg.” Leo tapped the map on the objective. “You guys take it up from my arrival.”
For four straight hours, they ran through the concept, turning it into a plan. The base plan was short and simple. Most of the time was spent talking through “if, then” scenarios for when—not if—the plan went awry, trying to imagine each possible screw up, from possible/probable to wazoo.
As the planning wound down, Leo stated, “I’m about to put a cork in the day and call it. So far, any questions, comments, issues, complaints?”
“Yeah,” said Eli. “We’re not bringing enough gun to the fight. Always bring lots of gun to the fight. I don’t get it. No air support? I’m a current and qualified JTAC, if that helps.”
After the start of the war in Afghanistan, the Air Force felt like its ground guys weren’t getting in enough on the action. They made a requirement that only personnel qualified as Joint Tactical Air Controllers could call for planned Close Air Support, with the exception of emergency CAS. After air-to-ground fratricide spiked, Army Special Forces managed to pry school slots from the Air Force to get select personnel JTAC qualified.
“No air support, we’d lose deniability,” said Leo flatly.
“Okay, maybe no standard air support,” argued Eli. “What about if we just packed an SUV full of explosives, and dropped it on their heads? Massive disruption to their element, plenty of casualties and no forensics to say it wasn’t another cartel.”
“Not possible,” said Coker. “But I like where your head is at.”
“Right. And we can’t use a MOPMS and I can’t have a 203.”
The Modular Pack Mine System was a 165-pound “suitcase” that, on command, threw out 21 mines, mixed anti-tank and anti-personnel in a semi-circular, 35 meter deep minefield. It would truly ruin an adversary’s day. The only thing that made it legal was that between three hours and twelve minutes and four hours after deployment, the mines would automatically self destruct. The self destruct time could be extended remotely numerous times, but the minefield would inevitably clean itself up.
The M203 grenade launcher was single shot weapon usually underslung on the barrel of a carbine. It blooped out a variety of 40mm grenades. At the ranges they were looking at from Eli’s position from the objective, they’d be at the extreme maximum effective range of the weapon at 400 meters, but Eli was confident he could bloop out rounds on target.
“Eli, I know it’s frustrating. But we have to leave the U.S. government a fig leaf to make the case that this violence was inflicted on Sinaloa by another cartel. All the weapons we’ll be using are American military standard, but they are all weapons that have been documented to be in use by militaries down south, and assessed as being in the hands of the cartels, as well.”
“Cartels ain’t got no 203s?”
“They do, indeed. But we couldn’t get any rounds from down south, so if we leave even a single expended husk behind, it can be traced back to the USG.
“Now, let’s get some chow.”
The trio repaired to Mable’s cafe. Coker and Leo talked details about the operation, while also trading scathing insults that could only be borne by people with a long history and implicit trust. Eli was reserved, quietly thinking how to bring more gun to the fight.
Leo and Coker were debating niggling issues about how to flesh out the plan. Miz Mable backed out of the door, big tray with their meals in hand. As she approached the table, Eli coughed quietly to get their attention so they could shut the heck up while their meals were being delivered. They didn’t catch the hint, so Eli coughed a little harder and a little louder.
Coker and Leo looked at him, and then, simultaneously, realization dawned. And they both burst out laughing.
“Little brother,” said Coker, “Our beloved Miz Mable has the same clearance you do. She ain’t no OPSEC risk.”
Mable threw her megawatt smile Eli’s way. “Eli, honey, twenty five years ago I’d’ve rocked your socks off and at the end of the night you’d’ve told me everything you knew about the cargo of tech you were sending to North Korea. For me the job was fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Then there was an event, and I decided to get out and do what I truly love and cook. So I opened my own place—”
“Mable’s Cafe?” asked Eli.
“That’s right. And when I’m called away, for jobs like this, my daughters are more than able to run the business. So I work for Leo’s company, and run my own diner back home.”
“Leo’s company?” asked Eli, intrigued.
“Yeah,” rumbled Leo. “Practical Petunias LLC. Hey, Miz Mable, can you remember Petunias’ mission statement?”
“Sure, Leo. ‘Practical Petunias provides bespoke solutions to companies looking to maximize their human capital and synergize the talents of their individuals to create a more coherent team and a viable operating paradigm for the new century.’”
“What does that mean?” asked Eli.
“Hell if I know,” said Leo, “I just pulled a buncha buzzwords off of company sites on the ’net.”
Eli’s mind snapped back to something Miz Mable had just said. “Ma’am, if it’s okay, what’s the ‘event’ that made you decide to get out?”
Mable’s habitual smile faded. She took a breath and said,” I was responsible for a string of safehouses in Nigeria, amongst other things. I got a call one night from one of my safe site keepers. Some guy had just run a buzz saw through Boko Haram up in the northeast of the country. He messed them up, but he’d got himself gut-shot in the process.
“Hard to imagine, but coordination and deconfliction hadn’t happened, so we were caught flatfooted. All of Lagos was lighting up, because of what happened up north. I have no idea how, but somehow this gut-shot kid managed to evade all the way down to Lagos, and fall into one of my safehouses.
“Ordinarily, I’d have any number of docs that I could call on to show up, no questions asked. But this kid was radioactive, and I couldn’t trust anybody. So I called my maritime asset, arranged a pick up, and notified a nearby US Navy ship with a level one trauma treatment capability that they’d have visitors soon.
“I put an IV into the kid, and then shoved a tampon into his gut wound. I wrangled him into the back of my SUV, and headed out for my rendezvous with my boat guy. I set up the lights that were the far recognition signal, and got the call that my boat guy was five minutes out.
“We were on the jetty and a technical pulled up. There were local security and what was undoubtedly Boko Haram on board. Seven guys piled out the vehicle, and I knew right there I was going to die hard. Boko Haram hard. I was going to be raped until I was almost dead, then vivisectioned alive, then beheaded. I’m pretty good. I’m pretty tough. But looking at those guys piling out of their vehicle, I knew what was going to happen, and I was stone terrified.”
Eli was mentally berating himself for asking the question. My God, what has this lady been through?
Coker had stopped his world class sprinter inhalation of food. He was leaning hard forward. It was obvious, whatever his relationship with Miz Mable, he’d never heard this story before.
“Then,” said Miz Mable, “as I’m contemplating the horrible death that is right there, right in front of me, this overgrown, musclebound, gut-shot kid with an IV bag taped to his neck and a tampon shoved in his gut stumbles out of the backseat and kills all seven with a pistol in about half a second.”
Mable’s cheeks were bright with running tears. Leo’s eyes were brimming, though not spilling. Eli had considered him a “maybe/mostly/probably” sociopath. That assessment was immediately blown out.
“I knew right then that I was going to live. Despite everything, I was going to live.”
Eli nodded. He knew that feeling.
“I also knew that I needed to find a new line of work.”
Mable laid her palm against Leo’s cheek, in what may well have been the tenderest gesture Eli had ever seen. Leo covered her hand with his.
“And I knew that I would owe and love that big, dumb kid for the rest of my life.” Miz Mable broke into heavy, soul deep sobs, and Leo wrapped his arms around her and held her. After a moment, Miz Mable snapped a napkin off of the table, dabbed her eyes, and said, “Don’t let your food get cold. I’ve got dark coffee and apple scrapple a la mode for desert.” Then she walked back into the kitchen.
Eli took a moment to regain his own composure after the emotions that had just been fire hosed out. He looked at Leo and said, “So, Practical Petunias LLC. What’s up with that? Why not something cool, like Wolfheart LLC? Or Dragonclaw LLC?”
“Because cool names, like say, Stone Warhammer LLC, catch the eyes of auditors, IGs, and Congressional staffers. Practical Petunias is anodyne and harmless. Everything I do is legit. My own internal legal review is rigorous—and that’s on top of the lawyers of whatever government agency is going to hire me. But I don’t need anyone deciding to get in my knickers.
“Now, Eli, how do we bring more gun to the fight?”
“I want a 60mm mortar,” said Eli without hesitation. “We initiate with that. Six rounds, direct lay, trigger fired.”
“What rounds do you want?” asked Coker.
“First HE quick, then willie pete, then HE proximity fused. Rinse and repeat. I’ll lay it up and down their formation. Then I’ll move to the 240 and start putting down scunion.”
High explosive, quick fuse was basically point detonated on impact. Willie pete was the colloquial term for white phosphorus, an evil brew. When exposed to air, white phosphorus burned, and didn’t stop burning until the phosphorus had burned itself away, even if submerged in water. A proximity fuse would set the round off as it reached proximity to the ground, basically an airburst.
“That’ll definitely generate an effect,” nodded Leo.
“I’m still worried, though. As much fire as I think I’m going to need to put out, I’ll have to swap out barrels multiple times, which means a cessation of fires. I can swap a barrel pretty darn quick, but you’ll still be out there hangin’ until I can get back behind the gun.”
Leo glowered at Coker. “You ain’t shown him yet?”
Coker evinced a self-satisfied smirk. “Nope. Was waiting until I heard those exact words. That way I know that Eli will truly appreciate my efforts and mad logistic skills.”
Eli felt like sometimes he just wanted to punch Coker in his smug face. Of course, then Coker would punch back, and that’d pose a problem.
Coker said, “let’s enjoy our apple scrapple and a nice cuppa joe, then we’ll take a walk.”
Eli sat idly on the stool in front of his workbench, waiting for Coker per his instruction. Coker kicked open the door and sauntered in carrying a heavy duty Pelican case. He threw the case up on the workbench, and opened the clasps with a flourish. He swung open the case, and pulled out an M240 machine gun unlike any Eli had ever seen. When the weapon was parkerized, instead of the standard Army black, the weapon had been turned a tawny bronze. Coker handed the weapon to Eli.
The standard M240G machine gun that Eli, Tiny, Bobby and Odell had ever worked with weighed in at just over 25 and a half pounds. This weapon felt lighter. Much lighter. Eli guessed the gun probably came in around 18 pounds. Eli looked at Coker quizzically.
Coker pulled the Pelican case off of the workbench, placed it on the floor, and said, “Go ahead, strip it down.”
Eli took the gun, placed it on the workbench and disassembled it in short order. Coker reached around Eli, picked up the barrel, and said, “You were worried about a lull in fire while you swapped out barrels. The question is moot. This barrel is made from a titanium alloy. It’ll not burn out, droop, or melt off its rifling.” Coker set the barrel down and gestured at the other components of the gun. “No one ever worries about the guts of the gun, because the limiting factor is the barrel. With this gun, though, that’s not an issue, so all the guts are titanium as well. Bottom line, Eli, is you can fire this weapon full cyclic for hours and you won’t have a heat issue, a malfunction, or a feed jam. There ain’t going to be no lull in fires, little brother.”
Eli figured he might be in love. “I thought one of the limfacs was not using a weapon system that the cartels didn’t have. How, if it gets ditched, does this bad boy get explained?”
Coker grinned. “This is where you go even further down the rabbit hole, brother. You ever read about General Patton, before WWII, using his own family money to gin up tank prototypes?”
“Sure,” said Eli.
“Okay, so there’s this Chilean naval officer, part of the Equipo de Intervention Rapida, kind of a cross between our SEALs and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. He had this model made, at great expense. If, for whatever reason, this gun is left on the field, he’ll testify that it went missing about six months ago.”
“No way,” breathed Eli.
“Way. And if you do a little digging, you’ll find that an investor in the development of this prototype was an LLC with a name that’s florally themed.”
“Something that sounds like peony or petunia?”
“Exactly. Leave the gun here, there’s something else I want to show you.”
Eli exited the building with Coker and they walked over to the quonset hut that was used for ammo storage. Coker kicked the door open and flicked on the lights. He walked to the back corner, where there were a couple of pallets with a rubber tarp thrown over them. Eli had never really noticed it, because he and the others always pulled and loaded up ammo from the front, working their way toward the rear. Coker ripped off the tarp, and with a maniacal grin said “Check it out.”
There were stacks of 200-round 7.62mm ammo cans. Eli squatted and looked at the nomenclature stenciled on to the cans, which was M948. Eli thought for a second and then, “Holy—Coker, these are SLAP rounds!”
“A-yup. Figured, since your main task is to knock out the vehicles and cork up the canyon, you might find these helpful.”
SLAP was the acronym for Saboted, Light Armored Piercing. Sabot, French for shoe, was a polymer covering over a tungsten penetrator. With some caveats and codicils, “light armored” meant pretty much “anything that’s not a main battle tank.”
“So,”said Coker, “go to the range tomorrow and dope out the gun and get comfortable with the SLAP rounds.”
“Roger that. What’re you doing tomorrow?”
“I gotta go out and get a 60mm mortar for a certain gunner who wants to rain fire and steel on a bunch of bad guys.”Published in