Authors: Eric Meyer
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #War, #Men's Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller, #War & Military
Nolan had been thinking of nothing else. "You know Jacks, he'll get the cavalry moving, and I'd guess he'll have someone here inside of twenty-four hours. Of course, if the Colombians get here first…"
Rose nodded. "Yeah, they take us back."
"They take us back. It's a race. For now, we need to get some rest. We've been pretty busy since we hit Benitez. Who knows what we’ll have to face next.”
“A firing squad?” Brad suggested. He was serious.
Nolan grinned. “We’re not done for yet. We'll take it in shifts. Will, you and Brad get some shuteye; we'll do one hour and turnabout. That okay?"
They nodded. Will and Brad leaned back against the wall and tried to doze. He could hardly imagine what was in their thoughts and nightmares, assuming they did manage to sleep. Colombia was a whole heap nearer than and the US of A, and they'd want them back. They could only wait and hope.
It was late afternoon before they heard the rattle of the key in the lock and the door creak as it swung open.
"The Norte Americanos, come!"
They looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. This was it, the moment of truth. Who would be waiting for them, a Colombian or an American? Two armed guards led the way, and they followed, with two more soldiers bringing up the rear. They were shown into a room that was almost as squalid and filthy as the cell they'd just left. Except instead of it being filled with prisoners, there was a rough wooden table and a long bench either side. What was more important was who sat behind the table. The first man was a major, wearing the uniform of the Panamanian military. The second man wore civilian clothes, of American cut. He jumped to his feet like an eager puppy and held out his hand.
"Danny Evers, at your service. Pleased to meet you guys."
He gave them a broad smile, and his handshake was firm. Nolan was skeptical. Everything about him, especially the smile, looked fake. The preppy clothes and Ivy League haircut screamed CIA deskman. A bureaucrat.
"We're pleased you came, Evers. I'm Nolan. These men are Bryce, Rose, and Ryder. What's the deal?"
"We've managed to reach an agreement with the Panamanian government. You won't be extradited to Colombia. Instead, we're taking you into custody."
"Custody! But we're serving…"
Evers interrupted, and the ersatz smile faded. "Forget it, bud." His voice had become harsh after the cheery greeting, his manner had iced over.
I was right he first time. A bureaucrat, and that means he sees us as a nuisance, keeping him from drinks around the pool after a couple of hours at his desk.
"Effective immediate, you're discharged from the US Navy. You'll serve out the sentence of the Colombian court in a military prison because of your previous good service, but it'll be in the US. I know our prisons are bad, but I gather the jails in Colombia are a lot worse. Think yourselves lucky. The execution order has been waived."
Nolan looked at him for a few moments, hating him. Hating his fresh-faced, 'gee shucks' smile, his fussy, preppy mannerisms, his clean clothes while they were still dressed in prison rags. He was slim and short, like a long distance runner. Good looking, stylish haircut, and a neat mustache, probably to make himself look older, maybe more authoritative. He had a kind of naive enthusiasm, as if he'd decided to make the world a better place. They say you shouldn't shoot the messenger. He was sorely tempted with the shiny spook.
"Think yourselves lucky," he said again.
"The fuck you say," Brad snapped, "If that's what you call lucky, I'd hate to think what bad luck would look like."
Evers fixed him with a hard stare. "I told you; it's the best deal we could get, and the way things are right now with our War on Drugs, it could have been worse. As for the alternative, it would have been a Colombian prison. And a firing squad." He picked up his papers and gathered them in a neat stack, "I have to leave now and make arrangements for your transfer to US custody. There's a ship moving through the canal right now, headed for San Diego. They'll take you back."
Nolan stared at him. He'd been in plenty of situations that were bad, but this one was different. His own people were about to imprison them, for what? Obeying orders, that was all, and to satisfy the delicate political situation between the US and Colombia.
"So that's it? We're being thrown to the dogs?"
Evers met his gaze. "I'm sorry, I really am. There's nothing more I can do. I'm just the messenger boy."
John-Wesley stared at him, and Nolan smiled inwardly. Evers was another man who should be careful he never came within a hundred miles of the Texan killer.
The CIA man looked at them all and smiled. "I guess that's it then. Good luck, guys." He looked at the Panamanian officer. "Major?"
The officer knocked on the door, and it opened. They left the room, the door clanged shut, and for several minutes they stared at each other. Finally, Will spoke.
"So we're fucked. Well and truly reamed by our own people."
His voice was bitter and angry. Maybe he was another man the spook would do well to avoid.
"Not quite." They looked at Nolan, "We haven't heard from Admiral Jacks. He won't take this lying down, not in a million years. Let's wait and see before we throw in the towel."
Brad looked dubious. "I dunno, Chief. Jacks carries a lot of clout, but I don't think..."
"I didn't mean he'd just try and talk to them. He'll do more, much more. Blackmail, calling in favors, and when that fails, he's liable to get a squad together and come and get us out himself. Don't underestimate Jacks."
"But if he can't do anything," Bryce pressed him, "If he comes up against a brick wall?"
This time, it was Ryder who answered, "In that case, there's gonna be some killing. They ain't gonna hold us. Not if they want to live."
Nolan stared at the sallow Texan.
He means it, no question. If Jacks doesn't come across, God help the people who did this to us.
The air in the Situation Room was so thick with tension it was a struggle to breathe. Four-star General Benjamin Walker had taken over the meeting when the President had to leave. As he walked out the door, Walker thought back to the conversation with President Anderson.
"The intel we got from that prisoner Daoud Khan, you're certain it's accurate?"
"As sure as we can be, yes, Sir."
"So we could be facing another 9/11. Or worse."
"It's possible, yes."
"It's incredible, a total fuck up. I don't care what it takes. If you have to declare war on Cuba, I want those prisoners back in custody. At all costs, is that clear, General?"
"Yes, Mr. President. Crystal clear."
"Good. See to it."
The order had been clear, but the rest of it was anything but. The jurisdiction was hopelessly tangled. With different countries involved, it would take an army of diplomats and lawyers to unravel everything.
He stared at the screens arrayed in front of him on the wall. He was in the middle of a crisis conference call, with video links from Guantanamo and the US Embassies in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico.
They were the countries to which the escapees may head, countries where it was easy to land a boat, which they'd have to use to get off the island of Cuba. Countries from where it would be a simple overland journey to reach the US and then disappear. To re-emerge at their target, wherever that was. All they had was New York City, but where? As well as the Embassy links, there was a screen connected to the Delta Force command at Fort Bragg, and another to the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, home of a major command of Navy Seals; also the home of Seal Team Bravo and their commander, Rear Admiral Drew Jacks.
They were talking quietly among themselves, and he called for quiet.
"First order of business, does anyone have any idea where these characters are right now?"
Shaftoe scowled. The Commandant of Gitmo was incandescent with rage after the escape, which would undoubtedly cost him his career.
"They're on Cuba, no question. We've looked at the satellite overheads, IR pictures taken on a pass shortly after they left. The bastards landed at a quiet beach a few miles north of here on the Cuban mainland. They used some kind of semi-submersible craft, very hard to detect, but when they came ashore, they showed a heat signature."
"Who helped them?" General Walker interrupted, "What are we up against here?"
"We're still looking into that," Shaftoe replied. He sounded demoralized, and rightly so. It was a catastrophe for his command.
"I have an idea, General," the man from Panama responded. The nameplate in front of him read, 'Danny Evers, CIA, Panama'.
"Go ahead, Mr. Evers."
"The only people around here who have that capability are the Colombian drug barons. They're known to use semi-submersibles for putting their product ashore. The craft are ideal for short-range clandestine insertions, and we know they can carry a limited number of people. They hang onto the side of the hull, with most of their bodies underwater, and they're almost invisible to radar."
Walker looked skeptical. "The Colombians? It doesn't make sense. Why would they help Al Qaeda operatives get out of Guantanamo just to make an attack on the United States?"
"They could be working together," Evers replied, "We've hit them pretty hard lately, both the drug trade and Al Qaeda. If they want to hit us back, it makes perfect sense for them to form an alliance. The cartels have the money and the resources, and Al Qaeda has the men to carry out suicide attacks."
"Jesus." Walker sighed, "If what you say is true, we're in the shit. Deep shit. In which case, the question is how do we deal with it? How do we hunt these people down and kill them?" No one offered an answer, "It looks to me as if we need to send in a Special Forces team." He glanced at Jacks' screen, "I guess that's your department, Admiral."
Jacks nodded. "That's what they pay us for."
The Admiral was unusually terse. General Walker knew of the situation with his Seal Team and was sympathetic. But he also knew the pressure they were under from the Colombian government. They wanted blood, in return for the men who were killed. They'd threatened to call off all efforts to stop Colombian drug shipments to the US, which would have meant a torrent of cocaine going into the States, almost enough to cripple the country. The Seals had been thrown to the dogs; there was no question. But what else could they have done? He nodded to Jacks.
"What are our options? I assume we have to send a Special Forces unit into Cuba to track them, maybe more than one?"
Brooks smiled, but his eyes were cold. "Cuba, General? Assuming they're still there and haven't reached the mainland, it would take a lot of time to fix it all up. We'd need the cooperation of the Cubans to send in US military personnel, and that isn't going to happen overnight."
Walker nodded. Normally, there'd be no question of asking the Cuban government; they'd just go in. But he couldn't blame Jacks for playing cagey, not after the Colombian business. He looked at the screen for Delta Force.
"Colonel Moore, I want you to put a unit of Deltas to readiness. They'll be..." He stopped, as he saw Moore shaking his head. "What is it?"
"Two things, General." Moore stared back at him, his face hard and weathered. He looked like he'd been hewn from solid oak, and his skull was almost bald, with a buzz cut that would have looked short on a marine. "First, as Admiral Jacks said, we'd need to get the okay from the Cubans. Second, this is an amphibious operation, which makes it a Seal mission. It's not what we train for."
So that's the way it’s going to be. Jacks forewarned them.
He managed a tight smile. "I guess if I contacted MARSOC, or the FMF, they'd say the same."
The US Marine Corps Special Operations Command, MARSOC, and the Fleet Marine Force, existed to carry out clandestine missions. Usually.
Colonel Moore shrugged. "You'd have to ask them, General. But it wouldn't surprise me."
Another voice intruded, "General Walker."
He looked at Danny Evers, the CIA man from Panama.
"You have something to contribute, son?"
"Not exactly, no. It's just that the kind of operation you're suggesting is a political minefield. CIA has been working to get on good relations with these countries for years. You can't just send in Special Forces to trample across their borders. It could create an international incident and set us back a decade. Apart from other considerations, we'd break enough laws to tie up the international courts for years. We have to wait until they cross into our territory, General. When they get here, we have more than enough resources to locate them once they're on US soil."
He scowled at the spook. "You trained as a lawyer, son? Before you joined CIA?"
Evers looked surprised. "Yes, as a matter of fact I did, Sir. How did you know?"
"I guessed." He paused and glanced around the room, and at the screens. "The President's order is simple. These men are to be located and stopped at all costs, up to and including all-out war. Do I make myself clear?" Heads nodded, "Good. I need suggestions. How can we do this? I'd prefer it didn't result in war with our neighbors, so let's look at what's on offer before we consider parking our tanks on Castro's front lawn."
The man sitting opposite him coughed to get his attention, the senior Air Force liaison. "Sir, we could put up every surveillance aircraft and UAV we have in the area."
"Any guarantees, Colonel?"
"No, Sir, but it has a good chance of..."
The CIA Chief of Station, Mexico, spoke, "We need to get these countries to cooperate. With their help, we can..."
"Can you guarantee we can do that before these people reach US soil?"
"No, of course not. These things take time, General."
"Which is one commodity we don't have. It has to be now. Right now. We need someone to go in, find them, and eliminate them. Anyone suggest a unit we can send after these bastards, before they hit us with another 9/11?"
There was a silence. Finally, he sighed, and nodded at Jacks.
I'd hate to play poker with the Admiral.
"Okay, Drew, what do you suggest?
Jacks waited, and the seconds ticked by as the pressure built. His eyes were unblinking, his expression neutral, his emotions carefully hidden.
"We have a Seal fireteam almost on site, a team that is one of the most experienced in the world; men who will stop at nothing to carry out their mission, no matter what. The toughest most feared killers in our arsenal. All you need is to say the word."
Evers face almost glowed red. "You're not talking about those Seal prisoners! Admiral, they were convicted of murdering a number of Colombian soldiers. You can't just..."
"Convicted by whom, Mr. Evers?" Jacks' voice was icy, "There never was any hearing, no trial that I heard of. Do you know different?"
"Well, no, but the sentence still stands. The repercussions would be terrible if the Colombians got wind of what you're suggesting. Besides, we've been over that. We can't send in US military forces to cross a number of borders and invade sovereign territories, not without huge repercussions. It would be outrageous," the CIA man spluttered, "We made an agreement with the Colombians."
"To throw our men to the dogs."
"Not exactly," Evers responded lamely, "They did carry out due process."
"Due process? Without a trial?"
Wisely, Evers kept quiet.
"There's your offer, General," Jacks said, "A Special Forces unit ready to go. Provided we can agree the conditions under which they go in, of course."
Here we go.
"What do you want, Admiral?"
"The immediate release of my men from custody, and the dropping of all charges, for starters.
Walker couldn't help it. He smiled. "Go on."
"And their reinstatement to the Navy Seals. Also effective immediately."
Evers leaned forward. "General, you cannot do that. The Colombians will go ape!"
Walker nodded. "Thanks for telling me what I can and can't do, Mr. Evers." He turned back to Jacks. "If I agree, can your Seals pursue these terrorists, locate and kill them before they can carry out their intended attack?"
Jacks shook his head. "No, Sir. What I can offer is the best option you have, short of declaring all-out war on several nations. I take it we don't want another Vietnam."
Walker briefly closed his eyes. "We do not."
"Short of parking a Carrier Battle Group off the Cuban coastline, prior to an invasion, I'd say those four men are the best possible option of finding these men. They're the best I have, and I can tell you all my people are exceptional. If it can be done, they'll pull it off. But..." He held up a hand as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs went to interrupt, "There're no guarantees. It'll mean a lengthy manhunt, inside the territory of at least one hostile nation, and maybe more."
Evers was still trying to protest, but Walker nodded to a technician, who muted the sound from his screen. He looked at Jacks.
"Admiral, I sympathize with the predicament your men are in, but there's not a thing I can do to help them. Not personally. However, there is one man who can. The President of the United States, and he's authorized me to take any measures I suggest may be necessary to recapture the detainees. Here's what I'll recommend. Your men will be released from custody, and they'll be assigned to this operation. However, to satisfy the political niceties, they cannot be reinstated until the mission is ended."
"Reinstatement no matter which way it turns out," Jacks snapped.
"Agreed. Mr. Evers, do you understand what I'm saying? Nod your head if you do. There's a problem with your audio."
Evers nodded. Reluctantly.
He nodded to the technician. "You can turn his audio back on." He looked at Evers.
"I want you to make sure you find someone local to go with them, a Cuban national would be ideal, someone who knows the area well." He thought for a moment and smiled, "Mr Evers, I want you to go along. You can act as liaison."
His face showed shock. Walker looked at Jacks as he spoke again.
"There's just one problem, General."
"What kind of a problem, Drew?"
Jacks indicated it was between the two of them, and they pressed switches to exclude the others from the discussion.
"I asked what kind of a problem."
"The men, Bravo. You haven't asked them."
Walker's eyebrows raised in astonishment. "You mean they could refuse? And spend a lifetime in the stockade?"
Jacks smiled. "You don't understand, General. These men are unique. There's not a stockade in the world could hold them. They'd get out eventually, and they'd go to ground, just disappear. It's what we trained them to do, after all. But they're also patriots. They wouldn't have joined if they didn't hold their country dear. Let's hope they're not too pissed about the way their country has treated them. I guess we'll soon know."