Authors: Dennis Chalker
“Call me Ishmael.”
The long nose of the H-295 Super Courier aircraft stuckâ¦
“We've got a signal!” the pilot of the Super Courierâ¦
In the tandem rider position, strapped to Santiago, Falcon sweptâ¦
Across the street, Santiago and Pena witnessed Falcon's final secondsâ¦
Lieutenant Commander Foxbury on board the Coast Guard Island-class patrolâ¦
The sun shone down from the clear blue of theâ¦
Within twenty minutes, the area was cleaned up and twoâ¦
When Hausmann opened his eyes the next morning, the firstâ¦
As far as the world was concerned, Placido Pena diedâ¦
As the two men headed out to the parking area,â¦
The finger slowly slipped through the white stones piled insideâ¦
No matter how beat up the men were, there wereâ¦
Early that evening Reaper was sitting at the table inâ¦
As Reaper froze in position, the noise of the rattlesnakeâ¦
The Cristal Hacienda had once been a shining example ofâ¦
Once back at the ranch house, Reaper, Manors, and Hausmannâ¦
The rock walls of the mine tunnel closed in onâ¦
While Hausmann dug out his spotting scope to set itâ¦
Though SEALs are trained to be able to go longâ¦
With Hausmann maintaining a communications watch on the phone andâ¦
With his SureFire light in the SpecOps light sheath, Reaperâ¦
The morning after Humzan's crossing, Daumudi got up, washed, didâ¦
It was late in the afternoon when Reaper finally pulledâ¦
The next morning was an organized blur of activity forâ¦
Both trucks left the Dogbone Ranch and headed south together.
There was a dirt road running between the hacienda andâ¦
As Reaper and Hausmann headed to the entrance to theâ¦
Several days after their sudden return from Mexico, Hausmann was
“Call me Ishmael.”
“Ishmael? Who the hell is Ishmael? Have you gone dingy from the cold or something?”
“Didn't read the book assignments back in high school did you?” Ted Reaper said. “That's the opening line in
“Who the hell cares about a book about a great white whale?” Mark Jenkins said.
“Well,” Reaper said, “it feels cold enough that icebergs and a couple of whales could float by and it wouldn't surprise me at all. Besides,
is a really big book.”
“So?” Jenkins said.
“It would burn for a long time,” Reaper said, as he hunched down.
Shivering with the cold, the two SEALs sat with their Teammates in a pair of open Boston Whalers far out of sight of land. The boats were part of the Special
Operations Command's preparations for Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama. The SEALs were set to practice a takedown of a simulated Panamanian ship. Intelligence had stated that such a ship might be used to move valuables or personnel secretly from Panama prior to the invasion. It was going to be the mission of the SEALs from Lima Platoon of SEAL Team Four to quietly take control of such a ship.
The SEALs were waiting offshore of the Florida panhandle, near Eglin Air Force Base, for their target ship to approach. Following the rule of “train as you fightâfight as you train,” the SEALs were equipped to take down a ship in tropical waters. The only problem was, their present situation was far from tropical in terms of weather.
A cold front had moved down from the north and the offshore temperature on the water had dropped, dangerously so for the SEALs. They were all wearing the same uniforms, and carrying the same weapons and equipment, that they would be using on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama. The cold weather was knifing through the men, and each of them had suffered the cold before.
“S-s-s-son-of-a-b-b-bitch,” Mike Nelson stuttered from his position crouching at the bottom of the boat, “just where in the hell is that target? I haven't been this cold since BUD/S.”
Each of the men in the two boats had suffered through what was considered the hardest course of training in the U.S. militaryâBUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. Passing the course was
the only way to get into the Teams. And gutting out the cold was one part of the training that caused a lot of the students to quit the course and return to the regular Navy.
“Shit,” Jenkins said, “I wasn't this cold during BUD/S, and I was in a winter class!”
“Come on,” Reaper said with a strained smile, “you think the steel pier wasn't colder than this?”
One of the trials of Hell Week, an unbelievable period of maximum output and suffering during the first phase of BUD/S training, had been known to generations of trainees as the steel pier. In the dark of the night, students were ordered to strip down and get into the water. Once they were good and soaked, they had to lie down on a pier that was made up of pierced steel planks. Not only would the cold metal just suck the body heat right out of a student, the instructors would spray the class with cold water from hoses and lawn sprinklers.
A lot of men quit training, dropped out of BUD/S, because of the ordeal of the steel pier. The students who got through it, and completed even harder evolutions later on, knew they could endure cold conditions, painful, gut-rippingly cold conditions. But during training, experienced SEAL instructors were constantly watching the students, keeping a tally of their time in the cold and just what the temperature was. Those instructors made sure that none of the students actually suffered from hypothermia, a cold condition that was life threatening. But there were no instructors floating miles out to sea in the open Boston
Whalers with the SEALs from Lima Platoon.
The SEALs didn't have instructors watching out for them, but they did have decades of SEAL experience watching them in the form of Chief Cousins, the platoon chief, in Boat One. In Boat Two with Reaper and his Teammates, was the platoon's leading petty officer, Intelligence specialist first class Garcia Santiago. The platoon's two officers had been intentionally left off the boats for the night's operation. They would be acting the part of observers on board the target ship, if it ever arrived.
Worried about his Teammate, Reaper moved over to where Santiago sat at the rear of the boat.
“Santiago,” Reaper said, “I think Nelson's in trouble. The cold's getting to him bad.”
“We're all cold here, Reaper,” Santiago said. “But we have orders to hold our position until the target ship shows up.”
“Yeah, I know,” Reaper said, “but Nelson's stuttering his words pretty bad. That's not something he does.”
“Nelson!” Santiago snapped. “Say bell, boat, and oar.”
“W-w-what,” Nelson said, startled at the odd order.
“You heard me,” Santiago said, “say bell, boat, and oar.”
“B-b-b-bell, b-b-b-book, a-a-and, andâ¦” Nelson's voice faded in his confusion.
“Jenkins, Reaper,” Santiago said, “tear up those pads in the bow of the boat. Get Nelson under them now, and you two crawl in with him.”
“Chief,” Santiago called out to the other boat, “we've got a man going into hypothermia here!”
“That's it,” Chief Cousins growled. “Get him warmed up any way you can. I'm calling for a medevac and we're calling off this damned goat-fuck.”
While Chief Cousins had his radio operator call back to command to get emergency transport out to their location, the coxswains of both boats were firing up the engines. Hypothermia was a very serious condition. The fact that Nelson hadn't been able to repeat the words Santiago told him to, and confused the ones that he did say, pointed out that the man was in real danger.
“The nearest medevac bird is twenty minutes away,” Chief Cousins called over to Santiago.
“That's too long,” Santiago said, “Nelson's in a bad way.”
In spite of the emergency effort to warm the man, Nelson's shivering hadn't subsided. But the shakes were getting weaker and he was responding hardly at all to Santiago shouting at him.
“I'm heading in to shore,” Santiago said. “The medevac can meet us partway if they get out here.”
“Go,” Chief Cousins said. “Don't talk, just go. We'll follow.”
It was a close race to get back to shore and a warming shelter before Nelson went into shock. As it was, the man was suffering badly from hypothermia when the Boston Whaler grounded its bow on the beach. Santiago had used his squad's radio to call in rescue units and an ambulance was waiting for them when they arrived. Nelson was going to be all right and the
rest of the platoon would recover quickly.
The target ship had never shown up. Back at Special Operations Command, Lima Platoon's mission had been changedâbut none of the Army commanders had thought to tell the Navy element that the training operation had been scrubbed. The two SEAL officers from Lima Platoon hadn't known that their men had been waiting out on the water, poorly equipped to deal with the cold. It had been the Chief and the leading petty officer of the platoon, Cousins and Santiago, who had kept the training op from costing the first casualties of the invasion of Panamaâwell before it even began.
“Good call out there, Reaper,” Santiago said the next day when the platoon was in their assigned quarters at Eglin. “If you hadn't noticed Nelson slipping, things could have been a lot worse for him.”
“It was just the right thing to do,” Reaper said. “Now that we know he's going to be okay, what's the mission for the platoon?”
“Don't worry,” Santiago said, “we've still got a hot operation to go on. Just not one where we'll be sitting out in an open boat freezing our asses off. And you'll be partnered up with me. I need a good man I can depend on to keep his head on straight. Sometimes, we can only depend on each other.”
The long nose of the H-295 Super Courier aircraft stuck out into the night, the propeller a spinning blur as it cut through the darkness. Dressed in gray tactical Nomex flight suits with black balaclavas worn underneath their Pro-Tec helmets, the heavily laden grimfaced men sitting inside the plane were still. Only the pilot at the controls was moving as he shifted his arms and head while flying the aircraft.
There was no talking among them, no joking or conversation. Voices would have been immediately blotted out by the roar of the engine coming in through the open side of the plane, the right side where the door was missing. The cold night air washed in through the opening as the plane continued on its flight.
Late December is not the time of year that San Diego has the great weather that it's well known for. At five o'clock on that Thursday morning, the sun wasn't due up for another couple of hours. The overcast
clouds blocked the moon and the stars, further darkening an already black night.
A shrill whistle blast sounded out through the corridor, echoing off the hard walls as the lights along the ceiling came on. The area was silent after the blast of sound. Rows of individual six-by-nine-foot cells lined one wall. The facing wall was nothing more than a row of sealed windows, each one covered with heavy bars. It was the maximum-security segregation area of the Federal Building in downtown San Diego.
The silence was explained by the almost total lack of activity on the floor. In all of the cells, there was only one prisoner. As the head of one of the largest drug cartels in Mexico, Placido Pena was considered a very important prisoner, as well as a high-security risk. He was kept isolated from the rest of the inmates held in the building while they underwent trial in the federal courts across the street. Pena was exercised and fed only in segregated circumstances, especially now that his trial was drawing to an end.
“Do you have to blow that damned whistle every morning?” Officer Mitch Stevens said in the security control room just outside the isolation area.
Sergeant Keith Munson looked up at his shift partner.
“Look,” Munson said, “if that damned drug lord wasn't on this floor, we wouldn't have to be here the day after Christmas and we could be having a nice long weekend just like everyone else. They even let his jury
go home for the holidays and kept him locked up here in isolation.”
“Everyone in the building knows what you think of this guy,” Stevens said. “It's not like you keep your opinion a great big secret.”
“Never forget that six brother officers were shot taking this guy,” Munson said. “Both a DEA agent and a Highway Patrol officer were killed. He's facing multiple counts of drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder charges. If he hadn't been suckered across the border to help his brother, we never would have gotten him. It's not like the Mexican government ever would have moved against him. He has everyone across the border either in his pocket or so afraid of him they don't dare move.
“If I'm not going to be happy about being here, he sure as hell isn't going to be either. That sonofabitch has more money than God and thinks he can buy his way out of here with fast-talking lawyers. Well, he's going to learn that money won't buy him a damned thing here. He's supposed to get a minimum of two ninety-minute exercise periods a week. And he's to be kept segregated from the rest of the population. So I guess we'll just have to put him out early today.”
Leaning forward at the desk where he sat, Munson keyed the microphone hanging on its long boom.
“Okay, Pena, rise and shine. You've got fifteen minutes before your exercise period. I suggest you dress warm, it's a bit chilly outside.”
Placido Pena's name meant “tranquil,” which was anything but his nature. He and his brother had risen to the top of a fiercely competitive business, drug trafficking across the border from Mexico. They had reached the pinnacle of their professional lives by being more ruthless than anyone else in their business, a field not known for its gentle work ethics. Even the vicious Colombian cartels had learned to respect the Pena family of northern Mexicoâthose who failed to learn that lesson died.
Dark, cold eyes gleamed out from a square faceâeyes that had seen streams of blood flowing in the streets at their owner's order. That face had witnessed a lot of violence in Pena's thirty-seven years of life. Thick coal-black hair and a full beard surrounded a calm face that could show intelligence, charm, and evil.
In his orange prisoner's clothing, Pena stood facing his cell door as Munson walked up. Back in the control room, Stevens watched through the heavy Lexan window as Munson approached the cell. Neither officer was armed, they only had the can of pepper spray and radio on their belts, but they needed little more. There was no place for a prisoner to try to escape to on the floor. The Federal Building was twelve stories tall and they were on the ninth floor. Below them were secured floors that were normally filled with officers and other federal law-enforcement bureaucrats. Above them were the general prisoner-holding floors and the exercise yard on the top of the building.
Escape from the exercise yard wasn't considered a
major problem, the long drop to the ground prevented that. Fencing and guard stations surrounding the exercise yard prevented suicides from climbing up and jumping. And the rooftop enclosure was too tight a spot for a helicopter to land. That area was where the two officers were going to escort their prisoner for his ninety minutes of exercise and fresh air before breakfast. By the time his exercise period was over, the few other prisoners in the building would have finished eating and have been returned to their cells for the rest of their early morning routine.
“Okay, Pena,” Munson said, “time to go walkies.”
Standing at the open door, Pena said, “I will not be spoken to like a dog.”
“You'll be spoken to in any way I feel like,” Munson said with heat in his voice. “You may have been something on the outside, but you're just another inmate in here to me.
“Oh yeah, you used to have quite a life. Fast cars, faster women, parachuting, scuba diving, horse racing, smuggling drugs, killing cops, I've read quite a bit about you.”
“I'm surprised you read at all,” Pena said as he gazed at Munson. His dark brown eyes steadily looked at the man. The look resembled that of a cobra sizing up its next meal. It was the guard who first broke eye contact.
It wasn't quite anger that Munson felt at Pena's insult. It would have been hard for him to put a name on exactly what his feelings were just then. They weren't quite fear, but, for a moment, he definitely felt out of
his depth with the man he was facing, in spite of the bars between them. He shook off the feeling and fell back into the morning's routine.
“Open Cell Six,” Munson called out loudly. He knew that Stevens could hear him clearly over the PA system that covered the area.
Back in the control room, Stevens pressed the button that electronically opened the door Pena was standing behind.
“I've read enough,” Munson said, “to know that you won't be doing much of anything for a while, other than rotting your life out behind bars. But that life might not be all that long. If the Feds don't give you the death penalty for that DEA agent you killed, you're still not off the hook. They're going to turn you over to California as soon as they finish with you next month. Then the state of California will have its shot at you for killing that officer during your capture. And California has the death penalty, too. Somewhere down the line, they're going to stick a needle in your arm. And the only way you can get out of it is to be as dead as your brother.”
“Then I suppose I'll have to leave your gracious hospitality before that happens,” Pena said coldly. “And my brother was killed because of a traitor we both believed was a friend. That is the person who will be punished for his crimes, not me.”
“Move out for exercise, inmate,” Munson said roughly, and he stepped back so that Pena could go down the hall ahead of him.
As they stepped up to the control room, both Munson and Pena stopped in front of the locked door lead
ing to the elevator. Stevens pressed the button that unlocked the cell-side door. There was only room for a few people at a time to fit inside the cage into which the cell-side door opened. Only when the inside door was closed and secured could the outside door be opened. That kept any chance of a group of prisoners rushing the door pretty much at zero.
As Stevens unlocked the outside door, he stood up and left the control room.
“You going with us?” Munson asked.
“I want a smoke,” Stevens said. “Besides, there's no one else even on the floor. There's nothing for me to watch besides a bunch of empty cells.”
“It's colder than hell out there,” Munson said. “You sure you need a cigarette that bad? You should stay in here in case something comes up.”
“Just what could come up this early in the morning the day after Christmas?” Stevens said. “None of the other prisoners are going anywhere today, the courts aren't open, and they're not on our floor anyway. Besides, with the observation cameras being out of order in the exercise yard, we should be following the two-man rule.”
Munson looked as if he was going to argue further about Stevens coming along for Pena's exercise period. Then he shut his mouth and appeared to think better of it.
“Suit yourself,” Munson said finally. “You're probably right anyway.”
The elevator that the three men rode up to the roof was very limited in its travel. Besides the roof exercise area, the elevator could stop at all of the prisoner-holding floors, the mess hall floor, and the processing area down near the first floor of the building. The stairwells were all secured at each floor and were well covered with security cameras. Munson and Stevens knew they were under the watchful eyes of their fellow officers down in the main control area. At least they were being watched until they got to the roof area.
“It's a bitch that the cameras are still out,” Stevens said as the men rode the elevator.
“Well, it's not like the Feds or the city would spring for someone to come out over Christmas to fix them,” Munson said. “This is the first dry day we've had in a while. Probably just some rain got into one of the junction boxes is all. It's happened before. The rooftop system is shit and no one is going to shell out any money to upgrade it.”
“Not when they have guys like us to go stand out in the cold,” Stevens said.
“Hey,” Munson said, “you can always just stay inside where it's warm.”
“What, and miss your sparkling company?”
Munson didn't bother answering Stevens's comment as the elevator stopped at the top of the building. The elevator doors opened and Stevens and Pena stepped out into the holding pen leading to the exercise yard. The small building that housed the elevator machinery and guard shack was on the west side of the enclosure. When the elevator doors closed, Munson
used a key from his belt ring to turn a switch on the elevator control panel. That switch opened the doors on the back side of the elevator, doors that opened onto a small guard room.
The guard room had a heavy Lexan window looking out onto the exercise yard. Below the window was a desk with a small control panel on it as well as a telephone and microphone setup. Through the window, a guard could watch the yard and be able to call for help or lock down the area without leaving his seat. At the back of the guard room was a set of stairs leading up to the top of the small structure. Those were the stairs Munson used to climb up to the open guard position on the roof of the structure.
Pena and Stevens stepped out into what they called the cattle chute. The area was a short corridor of steel fencing that controlled the prisoner's access to the elevator door. An electronically locked gate at the far end of the chute opened out into the exercise area proper. Punching a code into the numerical pad next to the gate, Stevens unlocked it.
“Go on out and get some fresh air,” Stevens said. “It may be your last chance until Monday.”
Pena walked out into the exercise yard. The area was well lit from the floodlights pointing down into it from around the raised wall. A line of eight-foot-high fencing surrounded the entire roof. Inside the outer fence line was a walkway the guards could use to patrol all around the exercise yard. Bordering the inside of the walkway was another eight-foot-high row of chain-link fencing completely surrounding the exercise yard.
The ten-foot-high walls around the exercise yard kept any of the prisoners from being able to look down into the area surrounding the buildingânot that there would have been much for Pena to see at that time of year. At nearly 5:30 in the morning, the streets of downtown San Diego were completely deserted. Even the street people who normally camped around outside had moved indoors to seek shelter from the cold. For most of the rest of the country, the local fifty-four-degree weather would have been a balmy heat wave for late December. For the people who lived in Southern California, it was downright cold.
As he walked out into the exercise yard, Pena turned and started trotting. There was a small running track that led around the basketball courts that took up the center of the area. At the north end of the machinery structure was the air-conditioning housing. Up against the wall, right in front of the air conditioner, was a workout area for the prisoners, complete with weights and benches. To the south of the structure, on the outside of the holding pen leading to the elevator, were several tables and chairs, all of them secured to the roof of the building.
For Pena, his normal exercise routine would consist of a half hour of jogging followed by a forty-five-minute workout on the exercise machinery. In the world of the jail and prisons, being fit and hard kept you from becoming a target to the rest of the predators. Pena wasn't worried about becoming a victim of jail-house life. He never intended to join the regular prison population. He kept in shape for his own reasons. Be
sides, in his orange prisoner's jumpsuit, keeping moving was the only way he could keep warm in this weather.