Deckard woke up underwater.
Bubbles escaped around the SCUBA regulator clenched in his mouth as he checked the glowing hands on his wrist watch. Time can cease to exist while submerged. Maintaining neutral buoyancy, he floated, his wet suit insulating him against the cold that threatened to creep in regardless of the warm water .
Pulling the rubber sleeve of the wetsuit back over his watch, he breathed evenly, if a little too fast, recognizing the first signs of pre-combat jitters. He was burning through oxygen faster than normal.
In the darkness, the mercenary could feel, rather than see, the presence of his team. They floated alongside him in silence, waiting.
Samantha Diaz struggled against the handcuffs, rubbing her wrists raw.
“How about we play a little game.”
Jose Ortega stood in front of her, his arms folded across his chest. The ratty black mustache on his upper lip wiggled as he suppressed a laugh.
“Yeah, let’s turn off the lights and play a game of whose in my mouth?”
Ortega’s crew broke out laughing, anticipation in their eyes. They lounged around the master bedroom, wearing flamboyantly bright t-shirts with stenciled designs from designer labels. Their hair was all identically slicked back with the same product, jeans with the same prefabricated tears and wear marks that came pre-worn from the store.
“Try not to cry like a little bitch,” the cartel leader demanded. “We already suffered enough of that from your father.”
Samantha lunged, the handcuffs digging deeper into her wrists.
Ortega bent down and grabbed her by the hair.
“You were stupid to come back,” he said with rotten breath. “Now you pay the price.”
Reaching into his pocket, he flicked open a switchblade. Running the blade under the inside of her shirt, he began slicing through the fabric to the cheers of his lieutenants.
“Everyone will know that the Diaz family produces nothing but whores.”
Several of Ortega’s men got to their feet, their hands moving towards pants zippers.
The explosion was deafening.
Two walls immediately collapsed followed by smoke and what sounded like thunder strikes that were sent skipping through the bedroom.
Gunfire erupted from the multiple breach points created through the cinder block walls, screams cut off by short controlled bursts of gunfire. New voices filled the room, speaking some strange language that Samantha was unfamiliar with.
When the smoke began to clear, she saw Ortega laying on his back with splotches of crimson staining his over-priced shirt. Attempting to speak, a strained gurgling sound was the best the cartel don could manage.
The heel of a combat boot came down on his throat.
Grinding his boot into Ortega’s neck, a man snarled, his lips curled back, bearing teeth like fangs.
“Get security up,” the man ordered in English. “Nikita, get those bolt cutters over here.”
A brown skinned man with Asian eyes moved forward, slinging his rifle over one shoulder, gripping the cutters in his hands. As he maneuvered the chain links of her handcuffs between the shears, she noticed that he was wearing a wetsuit, dripping wet despite the fact that they were nowhere near the ocean.
Grunting as he closed the bolt cutters the commando severed the links with a loud snap, freeing her from the bed post she was chained to.
Muffled shouts sounded from outside. One of the soldiers cracked open the bedroom door, peering outside before pulling the pin from a fragmentation grenade. Rolling it outside, the grenade exploded, the voices suddenly going silent. Taking another glance outside, the grenadier turned to the large gringo with his foot still on Ortega’s throat and said something in what sounded like Russian.
Looking up from Ortega’s lifeless eyes, he replied in a similar rapid fire manner in the same language.
The man who had cut her free dropped the bolt cutters and took a knee next to one of the gaping holes created by the breaching charges, his rifle at the ready, waiting for targets to present themselves.
The gringo undid a waterproof bag that had been riding over his shoulder, producing a stack of papers before moving towards her.
“Ms. Diaz, I need you to-”
“Need me to what?” she asked pressing a .357 Magnum Colt Python revolver into Deckard’s cheek.
“Uh,” the mercenary paused. “Where did you get that?”
“Ortega kept it in his waistband under his shirt.”
“I didn’t see you reaching for it.”
“You should be more careful, puta.”
“Ma’am, I just need you to sign the-”
“Don’t tell me what to do jackass. I-”
Her words were interrupted by Nikita cutting loose with a staccato burst of gunfire, the wall he was taking cover behind was chipping away under enemy return fire.
“I don’t think we have time for this.”
The ground shook as an explosion rattled somewhere in the drug lord’s compound.
“What the hell was that?”
“My boys blowing the front gate,” Deckard informed her.
“You know, my mercenaries. Your father contracted us but with him being killed seventeen hours ago, I’m afraid we are now here illegally, which is why I need, I would like, for you to sign the-”
“The contract, extending its duration until we can finish the job we were originally hired for.”
Nikita lobbed a grenade through the breach and resumed firing.
“What job?” she yelled over the noise.
“To take care of your drug cartel problem.”
Outside it sounded like the fourth of July back stateside where she had attended university in Texas.
“What the fuck is going on out there?”
“My platoons just drove their assault trucks into the compound. They are in the process of mopping up the rest of Ortega’s men.”
“I can’t sign a contract with mercenaries, I’m a deputized police chief, not the provincial governor.”
“Actually, he was killed twelve hours ago.”
“The provincial judge?”
“He was with the governor,” Deckard said looking out of the corner of his eye towards the door, with the massive revolver still stuck in his face. “The chief prosecutor too.”
“Yeah, so if you could just sign here,” he said handing her a ball point pen.
“And you work for me?”
“That’s the idea.”
“And we clean these motherfuckers out?”
“Precisely what I had in mind.”
Samantha snatched the pen out of Deckard’s hand and signed on the dotted line.
Another explosion sounded.
“Okay,” Deckard said flipping through the stack of papers. “Initial here.”
Samantha grimaced, sketching her name all over the papers.
“Right, and one more time right here.”
“That should do it,” Deckard said sliding the papers back into his bag. “But do you mind getting the cannon out of my face?”
Samantha looked at him long and hard before lowering her newly acquired pistol.
The mercenary posted next to the door leaned out, sending a barrage of gunfire down the hall.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Deckard said, taking her by the hand and helping the woman to her feet. “We’ve got work to do.”
Outside, a dozen assault trucks were arrayed around the compound. The vehicles looked like porcupines with machines guns pointing outwards in every direction.
A final rattle of gunfire sounded, ending the fire fight and leaving the survivors in a sudden, awkward silence.
The compound itself was situated on top of a narrow plateau, built up by Ortega to act as the fortress from which he ran his cartel. Inside the stone walls were his personal villa, a barracks, a cafeteria, garages, and even an Olympic-sized swimming pool. With the kind of money the drug lord had, virtually no expense was spared. This was reflected by gaudy statues of horses and scantily clad women in the courtyard.
Nerves still frayed, Samantha stared wide eyed at the bodies of the drug lord’s minions littered around the plaza.
“How did you get in here in the first place?” she asked Deckard as they walked down the steps from the villa. The compound had been heavily fortified with machine gun nests, guards on the high walls, and heavy gates at the entrance.
“They let us through the front gate,” he answered flatly, nodding towards the tanker truck parked on the far side of the compound.
“Once I found out that Ortega still had contractors digging a well, we knew he had to be getting weekly water shipments given the amount of people he housed here.”
“We rode inside the water tank itself,” he said kicking at some bushes alongside the villa.
Bending down he picked up several sets of oxygen tanks normally used for recreational SCUBA diving.
“We borrowed these from a dive shop down on the coast. The driver never even knew that we were inside the water tank that he was transporting.”
“I hope that isn’t a complaint,” Deckard said with a with a smirk.
“Not at all,” she said forming fists with her hands, trying to control the shakes.
“As you can imagine, we didn’t have a lot of time. We weren’t scheduled to hit this place for a couple more weeks, after we had gathered more intel and did some mission planning.”
“You came for me? Why?”
“Give me a minute and then we’ll head down to the police station.”
Deckard walked between mercenaries scurrying across the compound in desert fatigues as they carried out their assigned tasks. He searched the back of several of the assault vehicles before finding what he was looking for and dragged out a green duffel bag.
Samantha turned around, unsure exactly why, as the American began to strip out of his wetsuit. While he dressed, a black Mercedes with tinted windows pulled into the court yard.
“Hey, Deck!” someone yelled from the car window.
“We found Ortega’s vehicle. It’s got level seven armor, in case you want to go outside the wire with a little less visibility.”
“Sounds good,” she heard him say. “Prep two of the trucks to run a few minutes behind us in case anything happens. They can circle in a lager route just outside the city.”
“You got it.”
When she turned around, the commando had exchanged his wetsuit for a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. Sitting on the tailgate of the truck, he pulled on a dry pair of boots before shrugging into body armor adorned with various pouches for ammunition and grenades. Throwing the duffel bag back on the truck, he slung his Kalashnikov rifle over one shoulder.
Ortega’s armored luxury vehicle purred as the driver sat on the hood, checking the load in his pistol before sliding it back into its holster.
“How far out are the logistics vehicles?” Deckard asked.
“Any minute now,” the driver said.
“Take the wheel, let’s get out of here.”
The driver motioned for her to follow. Samantha slid into the backseat next to him as the driver snapped on his safety belt. Slamming the doors shut, the car weaved through the wreckage of what was left of the fortress’ heavy metal gate. Accelerating down the dirt road on a decline, she could see a pair of headlights trailing them in the distance.
“I suppose you want some kind of explanation,” the American said breaking the silence.
“That would be nice.”
“With the situation here in Oaxaca deteriorating, your father reached out to us. He hired us to come in and conduct an area assessment, figure out the topography of the local cartels, collect intelligence, with the possibility of going overt. As you know, he didn’t have much faith in your government when it came to cleaning up the mess down here. I came in with an advance party of five men and we worked out of a safe house in town-”
“What was he paying you with?”
“Unreported confiscations of drug money.”
“The confiscations that got him killed.”
“It was Ortega’s money so it makes sense.”
“So what happened after he was killed?”
“To tell you the truth we were preparing to withdrawal. Our arrangement with your father wasn’t all that legal to begin with. Then you came onto the scene.”
Samantha stared out of the window. A couple ancient deuce and a half cargo trucks came up the hill, forcing the driver to scoot over the edge of the road.
“Those are our supply trucks, we brought everything with us.”
“With you from where?”
“That isn’t important right now. Once we decided to come after you, I had my two platoons fly in. The logistics vehicles left the airport staggered back from the assault element by about thirty minutes. The flight was logged as commercial air traffic. Once they got on the ground the police and airport officials were bribed or coerced, or both.”
“So now I have a question for you, why did you come back to Mexico?”
Samantha resumed staring out at the passing hills.
“When I found out that my father was killed I came to take up his post as police chief. I knew no one else would take the job. He was the third chief to be kidnapped and killed in as many years.”
“But not enough apparently.”
The woman clenched her teeth.
“Just a few hours after I was deputized, Ortega’s crew picked me up, grabbed me right off the street.”
“It’s in the past. With Ortega out of the way, we can go after the big dogs.”
Approaching the city, they drove under an overpass. A decapitated corpse had been strung up and hung off the side of the bridge. The message, scrawled in blood, was written on the sign nailed into the body’s abdomen. This is what happens to police, dog fuckers.
“How far out are we Pat?”
“Ten minutes from the city.”
“Where can we take you that you will be safe.”
“Nowhere is safe.”
Turning, Deckard looked into large brown eyes. He had seen that look enough times to be scared of it. Ortega’s .357 was stuffed down the front of her pants.
She was out for blood.
Deckard threw the door open as Pat brought the car to a halt outside the Oaxaca police station. Holding his Kalashnikov at the ready, he proceeded up the steps, striding over a body riddled with bullets as Samantha followed close behind.
A second corpse lay in the entrance, graciously holding the door ajar for them to pass through.
“Better call and cancel that guy’s dinner plans.”
The female police chief snorted.
Behind them, the engine squealed as Pat peeled off to position himself behind the building, just in case everything went sideways on them.
“Alto!” someone shouted at them from down the hall.
Samantha spoke in rapid fire Spanish that was too fast for Deckard to follow.
Stepping from behind an over turned desk, with a snub nosed .38 revolver in one hand, a portly man in a police uniform crossed himself. Obviously, he hadn’t expected to see his new boss again, not unless she was hanging under an overpass somewhere.
In the corner, a muted television showed a broadcast of a masked man brandishing a machete from behind a podium as he gave his speech. Deckard did not need to hear the audio to know the revolutionary was fixing to lop some federale’s head off. Over the last few months Mexico had begun its final decent towards chaos, the federal government not controlling anything outside of Mexico City. Everyone with a gun was moving to fill the vacuum and the disarmed civilian population was forced to resort to the machete, the traditional weapon of peasant uprisings in the Latin world.
Continuing their conversation in their native language, the two police officers led Deckard into the offices. Peering into one of the adjacent jail cells, Deckard spotted the bales of narco-dollars wrapped in cellophane, safely locked behind bars.
“They didn’t come for the money,” he said curiously, referring to the cartels who would want their money back.
“No, senior, the police officer on duty said. Just a few opportunist thinking they might find some easy money. Word must have leaked out on the streets.”
“They had me,” Samantha said. “They thought the money would be theirs to reclaim whenever it suited them.”
“How many police officers do you have on call?”
Samantha looked at her subordinate, who in turned shrugged his shoulders.
“One, including me. The others left, ran away. They will be swallowed up by the Jimenez cartel,” Samantha said referencing the largest and most powerful drug cartel in southern Mexico. “That or they will go to work with them.”
“Along with whatever is left of Ortega’s organization,” Deckard added.
“We have to move on them fast.”
“I agree, but first we need to move the money to our new headquarters. We can keep you safe there as well, along with-” Deckard looked at the sole beat cop in Oaxaca city.
“Officer Lopez,” the policemen responded with a half assed salute.
“Right, let’s get moving.”
Lopez switched back to Spanish, asking his police chief something. Deckard only caught on to one word, intelligentsia.
“I’m not CIA.”
“That’s right, your some kind of gun for hire, huh? Then what do we call you mystery man?” Samantha asked.
“Black will do for now.”
“Well, Mr. Black, I don’t know-” her words were cut short as an old rotary phone sitting on one of the desks began to ring.
“Como?” Lopez said, holding the phone to his ear.
“Si,” he paused before cupping his hand over receiver. “It’s for the gringo.”
“I guess that must be me,” Deckard said taking the phone. “Yeah?”
Heavy breathing sounded over the phone before someone spoke, “We want the money.”
“Who is this?”
“A friend of Mr. Jimenez.”
“You want the money? Come get it.”
“Leave this place now. You don’t belong here.”
“We’ll see who’s standing when the smoke clears.”
“Take a walk and don’t come back. That is the deal.”
“Make your play.”
“I already have.”
The police station was suddenly plunged into darkness as someone cut off the electricity.
Deckard pulled Lopez out from behind the desk as a barrage of auto fire chopped through the thin Formica board. Tucking the stock of his Kalashnikov into his shoulder he punched the first cartel gunmen through the door with a double tap. The second shooter got off a burst with a MAC-10 submachine gun that exploded the television screen behind him before Deckard gunned him down.
“We need to extract!” he shouted into his radio as more sicarios pushed their way into the police station.
Samantha’s .357 nearly took the head clean off the shoulders of one of the shooters. The gunfire was deafening indoors.
Pat’s transmission came through garbled and unreadable.
Moving into rooms adjacent to the hallway, the gunmen took cover as the two police officers offered suppressive fire. One of the sicarios lobbed a fragmentation grenade down the hall, a gift from post-Cold War stockpiles left over from one of Central America’s dirty little guerrilla conflicts that had been delivered to the cartels.
Deckard didn’t hesitate. Reaching down, he palmed the grenade and overhanded it back down the hall before turning and driving both officers to the ground under his weight. Overpressure washed over them, filling the dark narrow confines of the police station with smoke.
Taking a knee, Deckard indexed one of the remaining shooters, his silhouette visible through the haze. Squeezing the trigger, the assassin spun around under the force of the 7.62 rounds that knocked him to the ground.
“Get the money,” Deckard said taking charge. With an unknown number of gunmen attempting to make entry, he knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves in place for long.
Lopez was turning the key and opening the jail cell when more shooters exploded through the rear entrance, somehow getting passed Pat. Deckard didn’t know how and didn’t care to dwell on what that meant for his friend.
Throwing himself back down to the dirty linoleum floor, the AK-103 chattered off another burst, striking one of the black-clad gunmen in the chest and knocking him backwards into his companion behind him. Deckard noted the black combat fatigues and paramilitary gear. Only the best for Jimenez’s men.
His follow up shot drilled the remaining gunmen, sending him stumbling back out the rear door in a splash on crimson.
More gunfire raced up the hallway towards him, sending splinters flying in all directions. Deckard rolled to his side the enemy fire traced passed him and into the gunmen’s comrades at the other end of the hall who committed the fatal and costly mistake of attempting to catch him in an envelope.
Getting to his feet, he keyed up his radio once more, speaking a single phrase into the headset he wore.
Lopez looked up at him over the giant bale of cash on his hands.
“We’re trapped,” he said choking on his own words, sweat running down his face.
Pushing the police officer aside, Deckard snatched up one of the office chairs and flung it through a window. It smashed through the glass and landed outside in the alley.
“Go,” Deckard said, letting his rifle hang on its sling.
Samantha threw her bale of money through the broken window before grabbing Lopez’ bale and hurling it out after the first wad of cash.
Deckard reached for the pouches on his combat rig and grabbed two of his own grenades. Carefully pulling the pin out of each while keeping the spoons held in place was tricky. Outside the offices, he could hear the enemy regrouping, someone shouting orders.
As the two police officers cleared the broken window sill, Deckard leaned out of the doorway. Tossing the grenades to either side, he ignored the panicked screams of the cartel assassins as he double backed towards the window. Running, he hurtled up and out, brushing against the jagged glass that jutted out of the sides of the frame.
Coming down on the hard concrete, he almost stuck the landing before slipping on a piece of trash and landing on his backside. Inside the building, twin blasts shattered most of the remaining windows, the walls nearly buckling under the pressure of the explosives.
“Dios mio,” Lopez said helping him to his feet.
Flicking his wrists, Deckard shook the grenade pins from his fingers.
“Let’s get out of here before they figure out what happened.”
Letting the officers reclaim the bales of greenbacks, Deckard took the lead, stalking down the alley towards the back of the police headquarters.
“Prairie Fire, this is Sierra Six,” he said into his radio.
“Go ahead Six.”
“How far out are you?”
“Two minutes,” the Russian accented voice sounded above the static.
He knew they needed to keep moving.
The Quick Reaction Force was not going to make it in time.
The alleyway wound by a rusting car hulk that was propped up on cinder blocks before terminating back out on the street. Glancing around the corner, Deckard saw two blacked out SUV’s with all doors thrown open. Four cartel hit men were maintaining rear security with German made Heckler and Koch sub-machine guns pointed absently into the night sky.
“Jose!” one yelled as a bloodied figure came stumbling out of the rear exit of the police station. Streams of blood flowed from punctured ear drums. Blinded by the blast, he tripped and fell in a heap in front of the parked trucks.
Deckard sighted in, lining the red dot of his rifle’s reflex sight on one of the cartel men as he bent over to pick up his comrade. Maybe sensing his impending doom, the gunmen looked up, spotting Deckard in the shadows just as he stroked the trigger. The Kalashnikov bucked into his shoulder, the Mexican assassin catching a face full of lead.
The three remaining members of the cartel hit squad spun towards him, weapons ready. Their firefight was interrupted, hi-beams flashing across the SUVs and temporarily whiting out their vision as their eyes struggled to readjust.
The black Mercedes slammed into the SUV that the gunmen had foolishly clustered themselves around. Weighing in at over two tons, the car broadsided the truck, crushing two gunmen as metal mixed with flesh. Both vehicles were nearly lifted off the ground by the force of the impact before gravity slapped them back down to the pavement.
The last gunmen had avoided the wreck by mere inches. Now he leveled his MP5 at the driver’s side window. Holding the trigger down, 9mm parabellum rounds spider webbed the multi-layer laminated glass. As per industry standards, the bullet proof window maintained its integrity until Deckard stepped from the alleyway and expended the rest of his magazine into their antagonist.
The driver’s side door on the Mercedes was flung open in a plume of smoke, Pat coughing as he emerged from the cloud.
“Nice shot,” he said through teary eyes.
“What the fuck was that Pat?”
“Now how the hell are we supposed to clear out of here?” Deckard asked, pointing with his muzzle toward the smoking wreck that up until a few moments ago had been their ride home.
“The suspension on it was fucked anyway,” Pat shrugged. “Ortega should have had it switched out months ago with an armor package on it that is this heavy. Inconsiderate bastard.”
Two more SUV’s were now racing towards them from down the street. Samantha and Lopez were caught in the open as they jogged over to Deckard and Pat, taking cover behind the car wreck. Deckard dropped his empty magazine, exchanging it for another full thirty rounds. The fumes of leaking gasoline were now overtaking the stench of garbage that permeated throughout much of the city.
Machine gun fire rattled out in several long bursts from behind them. Throwing himself to the ground, Deckard saw two Samruk assault trucks approaching from the opposite end of the street. Gunners went cyclic, cutting a stream of fire that crisscrossed over the enemy SUVs. The Quick Reaction Force had arrived on target and not a moment too soon.
With the windshield caved in by twin streams of 7.62 PKM rounds, one the SUVs swerved sideways, tires bursting as it skidded over the curb and slammed into an empty mechanics shop. Fixating on their second target, the machine gunners riding in the turret of each truck drilled the driver before walking their tracer fire down into the engine block.
The black SUV decelerated abruptly, slowing to just a few miles per hour. The windows were shattered, the bodies inside torn open when the truck played bumper cars with what was left of the Mercedes and finally came to a halt.
“Exfil. Now,” Deckard ordered.
Lopez rose on shaky feet, the veteran cop and de facto combat soldier of the streets of Mexico, was still in disbelief after their several near misses. Samantha spurned him on with a few curt words, dumping the money bales onto one of the assault trucks.
“Sorry about that, Deck,” Pat apologized. “It got to hot out here when the cartel showed up. I had to circle around the block and try again.”
“Everything turned out okay, so we’re both off the hook this time.”
Pat grunted as he climbed on the back of one of the Iveco assault trucks, his ribs still bruised from the beating he had taken several months ago, including a shot gun blast to the chest, barely stopped by the body armor he had been wearing.
Deckard still sported some bruising of his own where his nose had been broken during that engagement.
Compulsively checking to make sure a round was seated in the chamber of his Kalashnikov, he found himself a seat and the trucks peeled out, headed back for the dead drug lord’s compound. Scanning the streets as they flashed by, he knew the night wasn’t over yet.
“Over here,” Manuel whispered to his comrades. “This is the place.”
The police officers had received a frantic phone call from Ignacio, one of Jimenez’ lieutenants. The assault on the police station had failed, something that had never happened to the sicarios before. Crazy stories had the lieutenant spooked, something about some gringo running around with enough guns to even have the heavily armed cartel nervous. Manuel didn’t believe the rumor and didn’t care. Jimenez wanted the money, and Manuel hadn’t seen a paycheck in months.
“We set the ambush here,” he said to the rogue police officers. “They should be heading down this road in a few moments.”
The terrain consisted of rolling hills and light vegetation. Not much cover to speak of, but with the terrain advantage of the high ground and the concealment of night, they would have little difficulty in raining lead down on the two vehicle convoy that they had been told was approaching.
After receiving the initial phone call, Manuel had to act fast, assembling the ten police officers and arriving to interdict the convoy with minutes to spare.
The Mexican cops got down in the prone position with American made rifles and Russian manufactured light machine guns, eyeballing the road in wait.
That was when the first shot sounded.
Manuel turned, the gunfire coming not from their front but from behind. The gunman next to him suddenly lay still, slumped over his machine gun.
The ambush line panicked. Some fired down onto the kill zone, pointlessly expending ammunition on the barren road. Two others realized the shot had come from their rear, firing equally useless bursts into the night at a target they couldn’t see. The two slightly smarter gunmen who had at least identified the cardinal direction from which the attack had come from where the next two to be killed, taken down by high caliber rifle rounds spaced just a second apart.
Confused, and fearing some kind of double cross, one of the police officers jumped to his feet. He fired his M16 on fully automatic, slaughtering the nearest policemen before he could even figure out what was happening. Flicking his selector switch to semi, Manuel fired a quick series of shots into the idiot’s chest, who fell to the ground in a cloud of dust.
Another corrupt cop lay sprawled on the ground, the sniper’s bullet smashing his skull, leaving the gunman unrecognizable.
Manuel saw the muzzle flash in the distance. The enemy sniper had positioned himself to the rear of the ambush line, cleverly concealing himself in the saddle between two hills.
The remaining police officers might not have seen their salaries in months, but they knew when they had seen enough. Dropping their weapons, they ran down the opposite side of the hill, headed for the road. Manuel screamed down at them, cursing their cowardice, just as a .300 Winchester Magnum bullet slapped him between his shoulder blades.
Deckard looked on, confused as the assault trucks raced down the road. A small handful of uniformed Mexican police officers ran across the road and disappeared into the night. They had seen the muzzle flashes as they neared the compound and were prepared for an ambush. Apparently, they had thought better of it.
Reaching over, he grabbed Pat by the shirt sleeve.
“What the hell was that about?”
Five minutes later, the Samruk International mercenaries guarding the gate moved aside, letting the two Iveco assault vehicles into the compound. The soldiers of fortune were hard at work unloading equipment, building defensive positions on the roof tops, pulling rotations on guard duty, and other preparations for their latest campaign.
Deckard jumped off the back of his truck and frowned, seeing a figure approaching from Ortega’s villa on crutches, limping his way towards him.
“I thought I told you to stay in Astana, Frank.”
“I know, but I stowed away on one of the supply trucks anyway. I’ll be damned if I was going to spend another day locked up in that damned hangar.”
After a labyrinthine journey from their previous mission in the Pacific Ocean back to their headquarters in the capital of Kazakhstan, the wounded Samruk International members had been evacuated to the hospital. The few who were still able to walk were immediately paid and put on indefinite leave. Frank was discharged from the hospital a week later, having been treated for several gunshot wounds. Others, like Charles Rochenoire were still laid up, recovering from more serious injuries.
He and Deckard had spent the next month recovering from their injuries in a hangar at the Astana airport where all of the PMC’s equipment was being stored. Deckard had often half joked that considering the nature of their previous mission, he expected a JDAM to land in his lap at any day now. Amazingly, that day had not come.
Mostly they had sat around drinking beer and playing spades.
“I had a feeling you might say that.”
“Playing solitaire in a empty hanger just isn’t my thing.”
“You should have seen what happened on the way here. The most half assed ambush I’ve ever seen. They fired before we were anywhere near the kill zone, then dropped their weapons and ran as we finally rolled up to them.”
“Chicken shit motherfuckers,” Frank laughed. “Hey, what’s that?”
Deckard followed his gaze over to Samantha hefting a oversized bale of money out of the truck.
“What? Samantha or the money?”
“Both.” But Deckard could almost see the dollar signs forming in his eyes.
Walking towards her, Frank whipped out his folding knife, ready to cut through the layers of cellophane wrapped around the stacks of greenbacks. Deckard caught his wrist, stopping the blade a few inches from the plastic wrapping.
“What’s the idea, dude? We just want our pay day, you know, on account of how hard you got us working.”
“Bullshit,” Deckard grunted. “The cartels put ammonia and bleach between the layers of wrapping so that when dumb asses like you try to cut through them, the two chemicals mix and create chlorine gas. Sends a message to any of their couriers who decided to skim a little off the top, same goes for enemies who might manage to acquire some cartel cash.”
“Where are our protective masks?”
“I think they’re still on the back of the deuce and half,” Frank said referring to the two and half ton cargo trucks that he had arrived with.
Deckard had ordered literally tons of gear, a battalion’s worth. Now that battalion had been decimated down to a little over two platoons and they were left with a surplus of gas masks among other military items.
“Get a couple guys to put those masks on and open these bales up on the roof. Since you are so enthusiastic, and crippled, you just became the unit treasurer and pay agent. Tomorrow, you can have the boys line up and collect their paycheck.”
Frank looked hurt, but for once held back his unsolicited commentary.
Slipping out of his plate carrier, Deckard set the body armor down in the corner of Ortega’s living room next to his AK-103 which was left propped up against the wall. He kept his pistol belt in place, knowing it was important to keep some critical items on his person at all times. The belt held his Kimber 1911 pistol and holster, as well as several grenades, escape and evasion gear, and a few other bare necessities.
The living room was in the process of being converted into Samruk’s Operations Center or OPCEN. Hard cases had been flung open, wires tangled across the carpet, computers were already plugged in and humming quietly.
A young man moved across the room, fumbling with the computer equipment in short, jerking motions. Starting up a electronic projector, he connected it to one of the laptop computers, displaying a large image of their operational area against the wall.
“Hey, who are you again?” Deckard asked.
“MY NAME IS CODY,” the kid responded in loud stunted words.
“Damn, try using your indoor voice, okay Cody?”
“IT’S NOT MY FAULT. I HAVE ASPERGERS.”
“We have hamburgers here? I’m hungry enough as-”
“NOT HAMBURGERS, ASBERGERS.”
“What the hell are those?”
“I’M NOT STUPID YOU DICKHEAD.”
“Where the fuck did you come from-”
“Holy shit, Deck,” Frank said, crutching his way into the chaos of the Operations Center. “I haven’t had the chance to introduce you to Cody. He’s the guy I was telling you about. Remember, the hacker I worked with in the past? He helped us with that job in China.”
“Okay, got it,” Deckard said turning towards him. “But what the hell is wrong with him? Did he get into Ortega’s stash or something?”
“Hey, hold on, Cody,” Frank said holding a hand in the air. “You can just go back to doing what you were doing. Don’t worry about it.”
Turning abruptly, the hacker went right back to work with his electronics as if nothing had happened.
“Cody’s got Asperger syndrome,” Frank explained.
“It’s like a low grade form of autism. He’s socially awkward like you wouldn’t believe but he knows this computer shit. He’s a genius when it comes to math, code, programming, stuff like that. We communicated by e-mail in the past when he would do freelance jobs for me so I never really noticed it before.”
“Are you sure this is right?” Deckard asked. “Or legal?”
“Since when has that ever gotten in your way? He’s fine, just a little strange. I promise you, this guy will pay big dividends in the future.”
“I got this Cody, chill out!”
“Does he have tourettes as well?”
“Hey,” Pat said leaning through the doorway and poking his head into the operations center. “Nikita just came strutting back into the compound.”
“What do you mean, back in?” Deckard snapped.
Nikita stood in the courtyard with his SIG Blaser sniper rifle slung diagonally across his back. He held a Mexican police officer prisoner, the captive’s hands secured behind his back with plastic flex cuffs.
“What the fuck is he doing freelancing like this?” Deckard demanded. “Someone go get the Sergeant Major. What is this guy doing, trying to win the Tom Berenger award or something?”
Nikita shrugged his shoulders in response. His English was about as bad as Deckard’s Russian.
Apparently the sniper had sneaked out of the compound after Deckard’s departure, running his own solo operation. Now he knew what the gunfire on the ridge had been about on their way in. Nikita had triggered the ambush before they drove into the kill zone. It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful. The sniper had great initiative, if poor judgment.
Just then, Sergeant Major Korgan arrived, looking for Deckard. He must have already been told the news.
“Security is up,” the Sergeant Major reported. “We’ve got the perimeter secured and will rotate the guards in accordance with our op-tempo.”
One platoon would provide security and other base operations while the second platoon conducted combat operations.
“Take control of this prisoner,” Deckard said. “Get him searched and secured then prepare him for interrogation.”
Korgan nodded, taking the police officer by the collar, relieving Nikita of his prisoner.
“We’ll deal with Wyatt Earp later,” he said referring to his renegade sniper. “We’ve got work to do.”