Authors: Eric Meyer
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #War, #Men's Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller, #War & Military
The Scott was off the Panamanian coast, rolling gently in a light swell. The crew of the Osprey was making final pre-flight checks before they boarded and took off. Their weapons were mainly Soviet era stuff, which Evers had mysteriously rounded up from a local CIA contact. The Cuban army used Soviet era equipment, and the island was flooded with it as a result.
Nolan and Bryce carried
PM-63 RAK 9mm
submachine guns; Polish made and popular with the Cuban militia. Brad and John-Wesley each had a Kalashnikov AKM, the updated version of the ubiquitous AK-47. They carried their ammunition in bandoliers looped over their shoulders, and each man had a Makarov 9mm in a canvas holster fastened to his belt.
There was no way anyone could mistake them for anything other than what they were. Trouble.
The only US military equipment was the parachute packs strapped to their bodies. No one had asked Evers to locate Soviet 'chutes. Risking your life to fight a known enemy is one thing. Risking your life with a Soviet parachute is something else. The Marine Corps had rustled up an MC-5 Free-Fall Ram Air Parachute for each of them, together with the necessary wrist mounted GPS devices. The plan was to hide them in a deep hole as soon as they landed.
The first problem came when Evers began to strap on the webbing.
"You're in a hurry?" John-Wesley asked him.
"In a hurry, I don't get it, what do you mean?"
"It's just that you have it back to front. The big pack, the main parachute, fits on your back. The small pack is the reserve. It'll save your life, but you'll go down fast and hit the ground hard." He shrugged, "It's your choice."
Without a word of thanks, the CIA man began to unbuckle straps.
"You've done this before?" Nolan asked him.
"Of course. I did the parachute course last year, and since then I've done three jumps, all free-fall."
"I meant a HALO jump, from a helo four miles up in the sky. Using your lines and GPS system to navigate to an LZ five miles away."
"Well, no, I haven't. But I'll be okay. It's just a parachute jump."
"You ever jumped from an Osprey?"
He shook his head.
"Okay, we'll need headsets so we can stay in touch. I'll help get you down. It won't be as easy as you think."
"No headsets," Evers shook his head, "We can't take the chance. The only communications we can take with us are civilian satphones. Nothing else, those are the rules."
"In that case, you'll die."
Evers stared at him for a few moments. Then he strode off, and a few minutes later returned with two headsets.
"We have to ditch these, bury them with the parachutes as soon as we land."
"I was considering selling them to a Cuban militiaman. Should raise a few bucks."
His head jerked up, and then he grimaced. "Yeah, real funny."
They looked up as the flight deck controller approached. "The crew is ready to go. You can board."
They looked at Nolan and he nodded. "Let's get this done."
* * *
The flight in the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey was long and noisy. They had to travel a distance of over a thousand klicks sitting in seats constructed of canvas riveted to aluminum frames. The enormous rotors tilted upward to enable the ungainly aircraft to take off vertically. Once in flight, the nacelles turned through ninety degrees, and the rotors became huge propellers. One thing the designers hadn't put too much effort into was noise suppression. The combination of engine noise, rotor noise, and slipstream as the craft flew through the night sky was a deafening cacophony.
"I always fancied a vacation in the Caribbean," Brad smiled. He had to shout to make himself heard over the noise, "Dusky girls, Margaritas on the beach, salsa music, sunshine, sand, and surfing."
"Ugly soldiers and militia with guns, poverty, squalor, and fear. That about sums up Cuba."
"They have girls as well," he objected.
"Yeah, and the girls have husbands, brothers, and fathers who serve in the militia. They have guns."
Brad pulled a face and gave up.
They'd left the deck of the USS Scott as the light was starting to fade. The journey took two and a half hours, flying at four hundred and fifty kilometers per hour, and they were mentally and physically numbed by the time the crew chief informed them they were five minutes from the drop point.
They put on masks and switched to their personal oxygen supply, as the Osprey had climbed steadily for the past half-hour, so it came as no surprise. Each man checked the gear of his neighbor. Nolan did a check with Evers, and they moved to the ramp at the rear. The motors whined as the ramp started to lower, and the jumpmaster clipped his harness to the fuselage and waited for the order from the cockpit. Then he turned to them and shouted, "One minute."
At the same time the red light went on. They moved nearer to the open ramp, hanging on to grab lines to prevent themselves being sucked up early by the colossal slipstream and turbulence.
Bryce went to the edge of the ramp. Evers was next, then Nolan; followed by Rose and Ryder. The jumpmaster knew there was no way they could hear him, and he used the fingers of both hands to countdown. Nolan watched, conscious that the CIA man was alternately trembling and rigid with tension. It was unsurprising, the noise, the claustrophobia of the darkened crew compartment lit only with a dim red light, and the knowledge they were close to an eight kilometer drop, was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.
He watched the fingers, three, two, and one.
"Green light, go!"
Will stepped out first, disappearing into the sky outside. Evers hesitated, but Nolan grabbed his arm and ran forward. He stopped when Evers grabbed a handhold and refused to budge.
"I'm sorry, Nolan, I can't do it. I really can't. Shit, listen to that!"
He didn't need to listen. The howling winds were like banshees, turbulent, threatening, the fierce winds, combined with the downwash of the Osprey's rotors, to create a maelstrom of violence that threatened to destroy anything foolish enough to become entangled in its grasp.
It was an illusion, of course. But if you hadn't been through it, it was daunting. The only way was to tough it out. And jump.
"Evers, come on, it's not so bad. Just do it. I'll be there, right alongside you. There's nothing to worry about."
The headshake was emphatic, and he knew there was no way the man was going to jump. He nodded and went forward to jump before it was too late.
"Just a minute," Evers shouted over the noise.
He handed Nolan a business card. "This is my card. I wrote the name and location of my contact on the back. You'd better have it."
Nolan stared at the man, seeing him struggling to contend with his fears. Despite his refusal to jump, he was still shaking violently, as if he'd been pulled from an icy sea. It was stupid, writing down the name of a contact. If anything happened, an accident, whatever, the enemy would find the card and go straight to them. But without Evers, he needed the name. He took the card.
"My number is on the front," Evers added, "You have the satphone. Call me if you need anything."
Nolan smiled. "Yeah, right. It's a bit late for that. So long, Evers."
He stepped off the ramp, and the swirling storm plucked him away from the aircraft.
He wasn't wearing normal warm clothing for the altitude, none of them were, and the cold when he left the Osprey was intense. He closed his mind to the icy temperature, knowing it would be brief. It was only as the coast of Cuba loomed large, bringing a warm air current that he started to thaw. A few minutes later, he was feet dry, gliding over land.
The rate of descent meant the ground would be coming up fast. He deployed the 'chute and as it slowed his fall, he noted the nearby town of Tortuguilla. There were no streetlights, but some of the buildings and bars were lit up, their neon signs throwing an eerie glow into the sky. He checked the GPS again and readied himself for the landing. When it came, it was still a shock, hitting a dark jungle clearing with no NV goggles. Only long years of experience and many similar jumps enabled him to stay on his feet. He immediately began to stow his parachute.
Bryce was already down, and then John-Wesley joined them.
Will looked around. "Where's Evers?"
"He wouldn't jump. Got the jitters and refused at the last moment."
"Yeah. What about Brad?" Nolan asked him.
He grinned. "You wouldn't believe it. The dumb fuck caught a crosswind at the last moment, and he landed next to a pigpen."
"A pigpen? So what's the problem?"
"This particular pigpen is inside the local militia compound, a couple of hundred meters away."
"Militia! They weren't supposed to be here."
"Maybe not, but they're there all right. I saw the place as I came down, and just before I landed I could see Brad heading straight for it."
Will grimaced. "Yeah, that sums up the way things have been sliding downhill, ever since Colombia. Evers refuses to jump. Brad lands in a militia compound. A total fuck up."
Nolan nodded. "That's true, so maybe it's time we turned things around. First, let's go get Brad."
Esperanza Flores couldn’t hold back the tears. She’d taken a stroll in Central Park to get away from the pressure of her studies, just for a few hours. But it didn’t help. She recalled the terse wording of the message from home.
‘It is with regret we have to inform you that Manuel and Isobel Flores were found dead, together with son Carlos. The police are investigating the possibility they were murdered. Please contact the Coroner's office to make arrangements for the burial.'
Dead! My entire family wiped out.
She knew who was responsible. It could only be one man, Ricardo Montez. His appetite for cruelty and murder was a legend. Given the least provocation, he'd kill anyone, strangers, business rivals, his employees, even his own family if he thought it necessary for the pursuit of his evil trade.
It was why she was here. She'd decided to take up a place in New York to get away from Colombia, from the stench of corruption and violence that tainted the entire country. When she graduated, she'd stay in the US, get a good job for a large company, Du Pont or 3M. They were always on the lookout for good chemists, and she knew they'd help her with the Green Card application.
She couldn't go back, not even for the funerals. After Montez killed them, she was sure to be the next target. In her mind she started to compose the reply to the message, and instruct the coroner to make arrangements for her.
She couldn't help it, couldn't stop sobbing. She found a bench to sit on while she wiped away the tears.
Why did they do it, why kill them?
"Señorita Flores, may I help you?"
She looked around, startled. And shuddered, recognizing the man, Carlos Hidalgo, Ricardo Montez's Segundo.
"What do you want?" she whispered.
He was all charm. "Want? To offer my condolences, of course, and those of Señor Montez. He is greatly distressed by the deaths of your family."
He was watching her carefully, his face set in an expression that was almost sneering. She lost it then.
"Was it you who pulled the trigger, Hidalgo? Montez wouldn't have the balls to do the dirty work, would he? That's why he pays you."
The sneer faded into a look of anger. "I would be careful about making those accusations, Señorita Flores, very careful. Señor Montez has a very long reach."
"So he'd kill me, too, would he? What did my father do, spill paint on his precious Persian rugs?"
"Keep your mouth shut, and nothing will happen to you. Otherwise..."
They stared at each other for a few moments. For a moment, Hidalgo considered finishing the feisty bitch right there, on the bench.
Could I get away with it in broad daylight, in the center of New York City?
"Is this man bothering you, Ma'am?"
She looked up. A cop was staring at them, unhappy with what he saw. The threatening body language and raised voices.
She looked at Hidalgo and held his gaze for a couple of seconds. Then she smiled at the cop. "This man was just leaving."
Carlos put on a face of puzzled innocence. "Of course." He climbed to his feet and grinned at Esperanza, "No doubt we will meet again soon, Señorita. Adios."
They watched him walk away. "You want to file a complaint?" the cop asked, "It's not too late for me to call him back and arrest him."
If you try it, your wife will soon be a widow.
"There's no problem, thank you for the offer," she smiled again.
He nodded and walked away, and a few seconds later she left in the opposite direction to Carlos Hidalgo. She resolved to keep a low profile. No strolls through the park on a sunny day, not on her own. Without doubt, he'd kill her if he decided it suited him, or even just for kicks.
Unless there's an alternative!
She was deep in thought as she threaded her way through the people crowding the sidewalks.
What if he was dead? How can I take revenge for what they did to my family? On Hidalgo, and perhaps even Montez, the man who would have given the order. I want to see them dead. How? First Carlos Hidalgo, how can I kill him?
* * *
The reached the perimeter wall of the militia compound. It was only a couple of meters high, and with no obvious signs of security surveillance systems or even barbed wire. There was a single building inside, almost certainly a farmhouse in pre-revolutionary days. It dominated the compound, and strains of salsa music emerged from inside.
There was a covered lean-to shelter at one side, under which two vehicles were parked. On the other side, a small low building, a pigpen. Right now, its only resident was Brad Rose. Bryce had slipped inside the gate to take a look, squinting through the dark, aided only by the light of the stars.
"Will," he murmured, "What do you see?"
"Two cops, they’re standing outside the house, talking to each other. I can hear music from inside, but I don't know how many of them are in there."
"Copy that. Anyone near the gate?"
"Negative. Just those two."
"Stay out of sight, we're coming in."
John-Wesley waited in the shadows just outside the gate while Nolan climbed the wall. He jumped down next to Bryce.
"I figure there's just one man inside. I think he's with a girl."
"How do you know?"
"I heard groaning and heavy breathing."
"Understood. How do you know he's not with a guy?"
"A Latino cop?" He raised his eyebrows.
Nolan grinned. "Point taken."
John-Wesley slipped through the gate, a shadow in the night. He crouched beside the wall a few meters away. Nolan caught his attention and used his hands to communicate. The sign language was unambiguous; two fingers, two men in the yard, a finger across the throat. Kill them. Simple.
Ryder waved an acknowledgment, ducked down, and disappeared into the dark. Nolan and Bryce crept forward; ready to open fire if anything went wrong.
John-Wesley was a ghost, flitting across the yard out of sight of the two Cuban cops, who were both absorbed in their conversation. The dulled blade of Ryder's combat knife struck first one man and then the other. They both went down, blood pouring from their wounds, and the knife stamped down repeatedly as Ryder finished the job. He slashed the two men to bloody ruin, like it was a ritual slaughter. Nolan was sickened by the mindless ferocity, but it served their purpose; the cops were out of the equation.
Should I admonish the man for relishing the brutal and mindless ferocity he uses to savage and destroy his victims? No. We're all guilty to some degree.
Whether or not they took pleasure in the tasks they were assigned was another matter. If there was anything to discuss, it wasn't up to him, a psychiatrist maybe. That was the Navy's business. But he'd have to watch him even more carefully. Ryder was a weapon, a vicious and cruel weapon. And weapons could be used two ways. Against friend or foe.
Will had already raced forward to the pigpen and told Brad it was clear to come out. They reached the gate, pausing only for a second to stare down at the gruesome sight of John-Wesley's butchered victims.
Brad came up to him. "Sorry about that, Boss, wind shear at the last moment. I didn't know about that militia compound."
"None of us knew. Maybe our intel people need to relook at their satellite overheads. Right now, we need to push on and meet up our contacts. Where's your 'chute?"
Rose flinched. "Shit, I left it inside that place. It's covered in pig shit."
"Go back and get it. We’ll cover you."
He pulled a face, then raced back inside and across to the pigpen. They covered him with their weapons, but the cop inside the main building was evidently enjoying himself so much he heard nothing. He had the right idea. The man was alive and spending time with a hot woman, not lying on the ground in the yard with his lifeblood draining into the dust. Brad returned after a couple of minutes carrying his 'chute.
"Is that everything?" Nolan asked him.
"Yeah, that's it."
* * *
He found a thick patch of jungle, and they hid the telltale parachutes before they entered the small harbor town of Tortuguilla. They strolled along the main street, feeling conspicuous with their weapons openly carried and the bandoliers of ammunition over their shoulders. A few people glanced at them, but none made any attempt to call the cops. This was Cuba; people didn't involve cops or militia.
"Do you know where we're going? We need to get off the street," Bryce murmured, as they rounded a corner. A hundred meters back they'd passed a cop who slouched against a parked vehicle, smoking. He took no notice.
"I know this place a bit."
Nolan stared at John-Wesley. "How come?"
He told them he'd passed through Tortuguilla before, when he came to Cuba for a reason he refused to expand on.
"It was personal thing, some business I had to attend to. I came here, spent a few days, and got out. It's a bit like the Old West; a lot of the folks around here make a living by staying under the government radar. Smuggling, people trafficking, murder for hire, people hiding out, on the lam."
"Is that why you came, someone close to you was killed?" Nolan asked, curious about Ryder's motives.
He shrugged. "That's right. They're no longer here. I put the bastards out of business."
So it was a revenge hit. Someone killed a member of his family. Interesting. Maybe they deserved it. Perhaps Ryder isn't all bad, not entirely.
"What about the cops?" Bryce asked him, "Didn't they intervene?"
Ryder chuckled. "The cops? They're up to their necks in the rackets. Most of them are paid peanuts, and yet they all seem to have expensive villas."
They relaxed. Corrupt cops could work well for them.
“Where do we go now?” Bryce asked.
He looked at the tiny business card. On one side the name, Danny Evers and a satphone number. Nothing else. On the other side, there was handwriting.
“A bar in the center of town. It’s called El Baul.”
“It means Treasure Chest,” Ryder, the Spanish speaker informed them.
A few hundred meters further down the street they took a left into a dark, narrow lane that was little wider than an alley. They saw a lighted neon sign hanging over a bar. The letters spelled, El Bau because the last letter, the 'l' was unlit. They went inside, and it became apparent the place was more than a regular bar. Women propped up the counter, eyeing the newcomers. Further inside, older men entertained teenage girls.
"Our contact's name is Rafael de la Vega. I guess I'll have to ask the barkeep."
Nolan went to the bar and a huge, grossly overweight man approached, his eyes wary. Armed men in his bar were no novelty, but they probably didn't help his blood pressure. He ordered beer and asked about Vega.
He pointed to a table inside the front window. The man sitting there looked to be about sixty years old, although they later found he was nearing his forty-second birthday. Nolan walked toward him and introduced himself. The man looked at him.
"I am Vega."
He nodded. "Pleased to meet you. Your friend over there, he doesn't look happy."
Nolan watched as a girl approached John-Wesley and touched his arm. Ryder's face was like stone, and his body language was a warning most men would have understood. She didn't get the message.
"Señor, you want a good time?"
His body went rigid, and he turned his head slowly to look at her. His voice was loud.
"Outside are the dogs and sorcerers, and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters."
Will led her away from him. "Ma'am, I'd give him a miss if I were you. You'll live a whole lot longer."
She nodded uncertainly. "Si, Señor. Sure."
Nolan went over and took his men to join the older man.
"Gentlemen, may I introduce Rafael de la Vega."
They shook hands. He gave Vega their names, and they each took a seat. The man opposite them was not an impressive figure. His face was lined and wrinkled, his nose threaded with fine veins, the sign of a heavy drinker, or worse. His eyes were bleary, red, and bloodshot. And his body was thin to the point of emaciation. The impression was of a crack addict or severe alcoholic.
"You're looking for the men who escaped from Gitmo, so I understand from Mr. Evers. You know they could be very hard to find."
His voice was slurred. He'd obviously drunk more than was good for him.
"Hard or expensive?" Nolan asked him.
He smiled. "We understand each other, Señor. Don't worry. The cost is unimportant. I will send my bill to CIA. And yes, it will be expensive. However, I can tell you the men you seek were taken across the island to Parque Gunanahacabibes, about eight hundred kilometers from here on the north-western tip of the island. I understand their plan is to make the crossing to Cancun in Mexico by boat."