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Coker and Eli sat by the fire and shifted the conversation to future ops. They’d been over the plan and over the priorities of work, right up to the time when there was nothing to do but hunker down and wait for Leo to show up.
“You really think he’s going to make it out?” asked Eli.
“If I was a bettin’ man,” said Coker, “I’d put every dime I had on it.”
“Uh-huh. Still sounds more than a little insane, to me.”
Coker poked meditatively at the fire. “Thing about Leo that’s easy to forget, on account of his size and physical presence, is that however big he is physically, he’s even bigger mentally. That cat has a fifty pound brain, for sure. Then add into the mix that he’s emotionally rock solid. I’ve never seen him get flustered, or lose his composure. Ever. And he’s no egomaniac, if he didn’t think he could pull it off, he’d have never written it into the plan. He’d never let enthusiasm get the better of him, because…”
“You never mistake enthusiasm for capability.”
Eli considered Coker to be physically imposing, too. And the guy was sharp, no doubt about it. “Okay. I understand. What do you think the odds of these cartel guys actually swarming on Leo?”
“Pretty high. It’s a common reaction from them when they feel threatened. If they don’t, we’ll figure out another way to get them to react the way we want them to. Still, after all the heists Leo has pulled, and with what he has planned for whoever shows to roll him up, responding big will be a requirement, a matter of honor. The machismo is strong in these cats.”
Eli said, “So assuming Leo shows up–” Coker shot him a look, Eli revised his statement, “–confidently assuming Leo shows up, and the cartel sends in the troops, Leo gets the ball rolling.”
“Yep. We’re not doing the traditional “initiate with your most casualty producing weapon” because we want these guys totally focused Leo. Then I make the call and you…”
“Drop the mortars on their heads to shake them up, get them off their plan, and attrit their numbers. Once I’ve pushed six rounds out, I transition to the M240.”
“And your targeting priorities once you get on the gun are?”
“Mobility kills on the vehicles first, then any part of the cartel horde that has their act together and begins maneuvering on Leo’s shack. Meanwhile, you’ll be sniping anyone who looks like a leader, formal or informal.”
“And our immediate priority shift for targets is?”
“If anyone displays an RPG or other like device that could overcome Leo’s protection, especially with explosive overpressure.”
“You’re trackin’, young warrior.”
“If I’m so young, how old are you? Doesn’t look like you’re going to be joining AARP any time soon.”
By silent, unspoken agreement, their discussion moved away from the upcoming mission. Their conversation became almost a game, with Eli digging for details on Coker’s past–particularly anything that he could glean lessons learned from, while Coker danced around the particulars of missions past, but still trying to impart some knowledge to the younger man. After a couple hours of talking, they banked the fire and headed into the tent for some rack.
Up in the hills, about 250 meters away, Amos Morrisson watched the campsite. Them two down there ain’t real desert rats, thought Morrisson, they’s just some yay-hoos out to do some camping and four-wheeling. Probably drunker’n skunks by now. He’d had eyes on their campsite all afternoon, hungrily trying to figure out what their cargo was. They sure had a lot. Morrisson had definitely identified the fuel cans present in the trailers. He had made no move to get down there and check out their campsite during the day; he’d no idea when they’d come tearing back in on those sweet little four wheelers, and the chances were too great that they would come whipping back in before he could get away and out of their line of sight. He’d give ’em a couple hours to get settled and sleeping, then slip on down there and filch what he could.
Shoot, he didn’t have to carry whatever he stole very far. He just had to carry the stuff far enough away to hide it, and not leave any sign for them to follow. Amos snorted. As if there was any chance of them yay-hoos being able to track. Amos leaned back against a rock and snugged his parka a little tighter. He’d catch a nap before he snuck down there. Easy pickin’s.
Leo, up in the rafters, heard a vehicle approaching. He glanced down at the two bound police officers in the corner. They were still. He heard three car doors slam, and multiple sets of footsteps walking through the gravel parking lot to the store. He knew whomever was approaching would see two Pima Lamona county patrol cars out front, and that should put them at ease. Leo looped his left, off arm around the support strut of the rafter he was sitting on, then transferred the Glock 22 in his right hand to his left, then blew softly on his right hand, to dry any moisture on his hands. Then he put the pistol back in his right hand, and oriented it generally at the door.
The door opened, and the obvious leader of the crew strode in. He was in a cream colored suit, light peach colored shirt, no tie. Leo got it. In a perceived secure situation, the leader had to go in first, to demonstrate his mastery of the environment. Two obvious, though well dressed, gun thugs followed him in, one breaking to his left and one to the right. They pulled up short when there was no reception committee, trying to figure out what was going on. That was all the time Leo needed.
He shot each of the bodyguards three times. One round into the jugular notch, that little horseshoe that centers the clavicles. One just above the heart, one just below the navel, hopefully to smash into the pelvis and start all kinds of internal mischief. He fired up the left bodyguard, then the right, pushing out a new round as soon as the trigger’s sear reset. The downward angle of the rounds had, Leo knew, a devastating effect. Gun thugs out of the fight, Leo put a round through the left foot of the leader guy, then he hipped himself off of the rafter. He landed relatively lightly on the ground.
The leader guy’s face was just starting to register shock and pain. Leo dropped a vertical elbow that shattered the leader’s collar bone, rendering that arm useless, then Leo pushed him down and away. He pushed his pistol forward and stepped through the threshold of the door. The cartel driver was just exiting a Cadillac Escalade SUV in a panic, a pistol in his right hand, the left side of his body just clearing the door. Leo gave him two in the chest and one the head on a press-press-pause-press tempo. The driver went down. Leo visually cleared the SUV, looked right and then left, kicked the door of the SUV closed, then walked around the driver’s corpse, grabbed him by the collar, and then dragged him into the store.
Watching the feed from the Predator UAV, Gabriela said, “Oh, my God. He did it.”
“Yep,” said Dan Harper. “Apparently he did.”
The leader was still writhing in pain on the ground. Leo dropped the driver’s remains, dragged the leader guy by the collar over to his gray metal chair, lifted him up, and plunked him down on it. He walked around the chair, grabbed the man’s arms and pulled them behind him. Manipulating the arm with the broken collar bone elicited a hiss of pain. Leo grasped the first silver button on his chaps on the left side and pulled. The third button also came off of his chaps; about twenty inches of kevlar string connected the two buttons. Leo quickly bound the man’s arms behind the chair. Next, Leo pulled free the top button on his right leg. Same thing, two buttons, one length of kevlar string. He bound the man’s legs to the chair. Leo was in no ways in danger of having his chaps out there flapping. His chaps’ fastening straps were actually held secure by plastic quick clips under the leather. The buttons were purely decorative.
Leo walked back outside to the SUV. When he’d done his visual clear of the vehicle, he’d seen something of note. He opened the rear, driver’s side door, reached into the vehicle, and pulled out a soccer ball. He slammed the door closed and walked back into the building, bouncing the ball every couple of steps.
The leader sat bound to the chair, seething. “Do you know who I am?”
“Well,” said Leo, “asides from being Ovido Cintron Padillo, chief bottle washer for Ismail Salazar Guzman, Sinaloa cartel, you’re the guy who’s tied to a chair.” Leo bounced the ball off of Cintron’s head and caught it. “You’re the guy who has been running drugs into my country,”–bounce–“making money out of it,”–bounce–“and killing whoever gets in your way. Have I got it about right?”
“Let me go right now and you live,” Cintron stated flatly. “Anything else will result in you dying, any family you have dying, any close friends you have dying. Those are you’re only two options.”
Leo bounced the ball off of Cintron’s head again. “I love it when the guy least able to carry out threats starts making them.” Leo bounced the ball off Cintron’s head one last time, and didn’t bother to catch it, instead letting it fall and roll away. “I am going to do you one favor, though. Something you wouldn’t do for me.” Cintron cocked his head to the side, listening. “I’m not going to make you live through what I’m going to do to you.” Press, press, pause press.
Leo pulled the second button on his chaps, freeing almost two feet of piano wire. Leo sighed. This was going to suck, but he needed Cintron in pieces to generate the necessary response from the cartel.
Amos slipped down the hill from which he had kept eyes on the camp. He light-footed over to the yay-hoo camp, barely able to contain his glee at the riches he was sure to find. First up, he was going to grab a couple of fuel jerry cans, then he’d, oh so quietly, begin to rummage through the cargo in the. trailers, determining what he’d steal and what he’d leave. He felt alive and empowered. He was the desert rat king of the night.
Coker and Eli both came awake immediately at the soft bumping of their mission phones. When they had bedded down, they discovered that they had both developed a similar sleep technique when they were on mission. Bedroll laid out, fully clothed to include boots (made for stinky socks ‘n feet, but better than flailing around in the dark looking for footwear. Also better than trying to tie laces while rounds impacted all around), sleeping bag open and pulled over the top, basically upside down from conventional use.
Eli pulled up his phone while still under his sleeping bag, affectionately known, in the vernacular, as a fart sack. Staying under the sack kept any errant light from slipping out. Seismic sensors showed something inbound to their campsite location. The triangulation of all the different sensors displayed location and vector, and that the incoming object was, with 93% confidence, human. Eli tucked his phone into his shirt pocket and silently folded his fart sack back. His movement was in synch with Coker’s. The two men looked at each other, and Coker pointed at the rear of the tent, made a vertical slicing motion with a blade hand, and then indicated a looping direction of movement. Eli nodded. He picked up the Mossberg 500 that was alongside his bedroll, ignoring his AR pistol. Eli pulled his knife and made a silent, deft vertical cut in the nylon of the rear of the tent. Coker slipped out. Eli followed close on his heels, making sure the Mossberg didn’t catch on the tent as he exited.
Amos chortled silently as he lifted two jerry cans out of the back of one of the trailers. Whether they contained gasoline or diesel was of no never mind to him. Either was useful. His plan was to build a pile of goods first, then spend time caching his swag in different locations far enough from campsite that few, if any, items that he purloined could be recovered by the men in the campsite. He also saw the edges of the trailers were lined, along with more jerry cans, tough plastic Pelican cases and Contico boxes. Amos noted in the moonlight that the size of the cases ran from barely bigger than a breadbox to large enough to require a two-man lift. In Amos’ experience, Pelican boxes usually held contents far more valuable than other sundries of similar size and weight. Usually tech stuff, which was always easy to pawn. Amos figured he’d get two more cans of fuel from the other truck’s trailer, and garner a looksee at what he might be able to harvest there. Amos walked softly toward the front of the truck of the trailer he was currently plucking, thus keeping as far from the camping tent as possible. As he drew even with the rear driver’s side door of the truck, he felt like he was hit by a brick wall.
Amos found himself crushed up against the side of the cab. An arm like an iron bar was placed against the back of his neck, grinding the side of his face into the dirty window of the cab. The dirt on the window felt like sandpaper being ground into his face. Amos was pinned. He tried to wriggle and thrash in hopes that he could break the grips that held him, to no avail.
A voice, soft and cold and as full of malevolence as anything Amos had ever heard, whispered in his ear. “Well, now, desert boy, looks like you’re trying to steal my stuff.” Amos felt a hand run his belt and belt line. He felt his belt knife plucked from its sheath, and heard its soft plop as it hit the hardpan beneath his feet. He felt his front pockets patted and then his groin was given an undignified squeeze. Next, he was relieved of his key ring, which held three keys: the key to his trailer home, to his 30-year old Chevy pick up, and his P.O. Box.
Amos heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being racked. Another voice, this one pure country, hostile, but not as sac shrinking as the first said, “C’mon now, Uncle Horace, all three of us know this bird was trying to steal our stuff. I cain’t hardly feature going out on the ATVs and enjoying mah vacation with this criminal skulking around our camp. Let’s just drag him off, kill ‘im, and leave him for the buzzards and coyote. Betchyu after two days, there won’t be nuthin’ left but bones.”
“Now, Junior. How often have I told you, we can’t just murder everyone who gives offense.”
“That ain’t jes’ givin’ offense, that’s stealing. Leaving this bird out here to steal our stuff ain’t smart, that just sounds fictitious.”
“What do you think, desert boy? Is leaving you alive a bad decision?”
Amos felt himself jerked away from the truck cab he’d been smashed up against. He breathed deep, finally relieved of the crushing pressure on his chest and abdomen. He began regaining his composure. He was going to get out of this. He began plotting how to get away from these crazies when he felt a hard steel bar up against his throat. Well, thought Amos, at least it isn’t a knife. Then the bar flipped and Amos could feel a razor sharp blade up against his throat. Oh.
Coker flipped the blade, bringing the edge of the knife on the thief’s throat. The knife, an Ares model from Spartan Blades, was razor sharp. Coker’s philosophy was if you care enough to stab someone, stab him with the very best. Keeping his chest as a block on the thief’s back, Coker guided the man away from the trailer and used the guy’s aversion to the sharp steel at his throat to put him on his toes.
Coker’s free hand went to the guy’s rear pocket. He freed the wallet there, then tossed it to Eli. Eli leaned the shotgun up against the trailer, turned on his phone’s flashlight and gave the wallet a quick search. He pulled a driver’s license out and proclaimed, “This here odd bird is Mr. Amos Morrisson, of plot 22, Rattlesnake Road.” Next there was a flash as Eli’s phone took a picture of the license.
“Now, Mr. Morrisson, if you should return intent on thievery, we will catch you, and I will let young Junior here determine your fate. If by some miraculous improbability we don’t catch you, we will go to your trailer and burn it down, with everything you own. Probably with you in it, if Junior hasn’t already gotten sporty with his shotgun. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?”
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir I am.”
“Good. Junior, hand him back his wallet, then cover down on him with ol’ Mr. Mossberg while he picks up the rest of his stuff. Amos, ol’ pal, I highly recommend that when you pick up that belt knife of yours, you move real, real slow, re-sheathing it. Young Junior is already in high dudgeon, and would love the chance to fill you with buckshot. Understand?
“Yes, sir. Yes sir I do.”
Eli handed Amos back his wallet, recovered his shot gun, and held it at the low ready. When he was set, Coker took the knife from Morrisson’s throat and stepped back and to the side in case Eli did, in fact, have to do any shooting. As Amos’ last item, his key ring, went into his pocket, Coker said, “Junior, Mr. Morrisson has replaced all his possessions upon his person. Count to twenty. When you get there, if you can still see him, shoot him. If you can still hear him, shoot at him. Mr. Morrisson, I highly encourage you to take advantage of the time you have, which starts now.”
“One, one-thousand!” immediately erupted from Eli. Morrisson turned to flee, and promptly tripped over his own feet. He shrieked and jumped up on “Two, one-thousand!” He started a shambling run, his arms flailing. Still, Coker assessed that he had built up a pretty good speed pretty quickly. By the time Eli completed the count, they could neither see nor hear Morrisson.
The two men took a moment listening, then Coker turned to Eli.
“Heard that from a country boy one time. Always wanted to use it that way. How do you figure our boy Amos lives in a trailer?” asked Eli.
“Because his license said ‘plot.’ The only time this state DMV or post office use plot is when there is a nonpermanent dwelling there. Ergo, trailer.”
“Got it,” said Eli. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll track Mr. Morrisson a ways. I doubt he’s in any frame of mind to be worried about his back trail. If I find anything that looks like a regular route, I’ll seed that with those CS pellets we’ve got. Then cover an arc to see if there are any other paths he might use, and CS those, too.”
CS gas was the Army’s powerful tear gas, usually employed as a riot control agent. The gas could be procured in pellet form and spread, as Eli intended, where a threat may pass. The pellets crumbled and aerosolized if they were disturbed by someone walking or driving by. If not disturbed by a pedestrian, the pellets would decompose after a couple of days, leaving no long-term danger to an innocent that passed by.
“While you do that, I’ll put out some of the other booby traps around the camp.”
Eli nodded. They had discussed contingencies if someone came upon their campsite, especially when they left to prep the objective area. During the discussions, Eli had liked Coker’s phrasing of a concept. He knew the concept, but had never heard it expressed so succinctly, “In this age of technical wonders, hiding location, disposition, and composition is extremely difficult if not impossible. What you can do, though, is obscure capability and intent.” Eli had filed that away for future use. So, with the requirement to individually prep their pieces of the objective, and to do so with the timeliness that everything would be ready whenever Leo showed up, the two operators had provisioned themselves with plenty of boobytraps. Anyone trying to get into their camp would trigger devices that caused mostly harassment and maybe nonserious injuries. Closer to the objective, their devices would have a very sharp increase in lethality.
“Let’s bag,” said Coker, “Sun’ll be up soon.”
Leo finished his gruesome task, stood straight up, and stretched his back. Because Cintron had been dead when Leo started disassembling him, he was not as coated in blood and gore as he might have been. Still, nasty.
Leo collected the key fob for the SUV, and all the firearms and cell phones in the building. He walked outside, and threw them in the passenger side of the Escalade. Then he re-entered the empty store front and squatted down by the cuff conjoined law officers on the floor. “As promised,” he said, “here’s the key.” He placed the key into Sheriff Pinkett’s hand, although he left the two men blindfolded. “Try not to go all Brokeback Mountain getting yourselves uncuffed.”
Leo left the building and fired up the Escalade, heading out. He figured that the two deputies that had been sent out to isolate the road during the meet would be at the terminal ends of the road, miles apart.
Leo waylaid Deputy Tipton by the simple expedient of slowing the Caddie down, and then suddenly swerving and putting the SUV’s brush guards into the rear bumper of Tipton’s patrol vehicle. Tipton, leaning on the hood of his vehicle while he fiddled with his phone, was sent flying. Leo had Tipton trussed up and his vehicle disabled in short order. Leo jumped back in the Escalade, and moved out smartly for the far end of the road. The guy on that end would be Rivera. He ensured that he had his breathing under control, and steeled his resolve to treat Rivera as professionally as possible.
Leo found Deputy Rivera cruising near the far side terminus of the empty store front’s road. Leo slowed the Escalade, exactly as any citizen probably would upon on finding a law enforcement vehicle right in front of him. Rivera was driving slowly, no more than 30 miles per hour, well below the posted 45 speed limit. Leo signaled a pass with his blinker. As the front passenger quarter panel and bumper to the fore of Leo’s front axle drew even to the driver’s side quarter panel and bumper behind Rivera’s rear axle, Leo executed a modified precision immobilization technique (PIT) that put Rivera’s patrol car in the ditch alongside the road. Leo considered the PIT one of the most awesome tools in the toolbox.
Leo slammed the SUV into park and was instantly out the door and on the ground, moving to the police vehicle with a purloined Glock locked onto Rivera. Leo encouraged Rivera to exit the vehicle with his hands visible. Rivera complied; Leo figured he took the admonishment that his other choice was to “get shot in the face” to heart. Leo cuffed the officer, then, using a roll of duct tape he’d found in the cargo compartment of the Caddie, he wrapped the whole roll around Rivera, securing his arms just below his shoulders all the way down to his legs just above the ankles. Then he tossed Rivera into the rear of his own patrol car and ripped the head off the radio mic in the front. There were plenty of techniques for defeating the duct tape–even with handcuffs on–but Leo doubted that Rivera was trained up. Leo took a brief moment to pat himself on the back for not tuning up Rivera after the beating Rivera had administered when Leo was hanging from the rafter. Leo was pretty sure that ten or even five years ago he’d have exacted vengeance on Rivera. Aww, thought Leo as he sat the Escalade and chucked it into drive, Look at you, all grown up.