The helicopter blew leaves and debris from the helipad while Nick, Matt and Dane ducked their heads and fought the airflow. They lunged into the back of the chopper single file. There were two sets of seats which faced each other. Nick and Matt took the seats directly behind the pilot and Dane took one of the seats across from them. The pilot handed Matt three pairs of headsets and Matt handed one to Nick and one to Dane.
Once their headsets were in place, Nick pushed a button on the side of Dane’s set and said, “Can you hear me okay?”
Dane could hear Nick through his headphones very well and he said, “Yes,” probably too loudly, compensating for the roar of the rotors.
The pilot twisted around in his seat and patted Matt on the shoulder, then pointed to Dane. “Strap him in.”
Matt leaned over and pulled the proper harness from behind Dane and secured him into his seat, giving a short tug on the end strap until he was satisfied.
Nick slammed the door shut, then gave the pilot a thumbs up.
The helicopter slowly lifted from the ground and immediately began wobbling back and forth.
“It’s going to be a bumpy ride,” the pilot said through the headset. “I can’t get over these clouds.”
Dane grabbed the bottom of his seat with a death grip and Nick held up his hand.
“Relax,” Nick said gesturing to the pilot. “Jason’s the best helicopter pilot in the Bureau.”
“There’s only two of us,” the pilot said and Dane watched Nick and Matt try to suppress a grin.
Dane’s stomach began to churn and the pilot raised the chopper high enough to turn it toward the ocean and step on the gas. And that was before Dane even began to think about where they were going.
“So,” Nick said, “let’s back up and start from the bar. You were having drinks with a friend and then what happened?”
The chopped bounced like a pickup truck on a dirt road. As the nose of the chopper headed south over the shoreline, rain pelted the windshield. Dane could see the road he was driving on when he began to flee the Border Patrol.
“What’s going to happen to my car?” Dane asked.
Nick looked disgusted. “Really?” he said. “That’s a concern? Your car?”
It forced Dane to think about where he was going and the plan they had devised to capture the Mexican in Tijuana. A plan that sounded very dangerous and even life threatening.
Dane shrugged. These guys always had a way to make you feel like your problems are so inconsequential to their overall agenda.
“So?” Nick asked. “The bar?”
The chopper seemed to bounce higher and once it was over the ocean, it turned left to go south. Dane found his hand clenching his midsection.
“Well,” Dane said, “I was having drinks with this guy.”
“Where was your friend? The guy you came with?”
“Oh, um, he left with a girl,” Dane said, avoiding the word prostitute at all costs.
Nick circled his index finger as if to say, “Go ahead.”
“Okay, so I was having shots of tequila with this guy.”
“Which guy? Reynoso?”
“No, it was a different guy. He was the one who asked if I wanted to make a quick ten thousand dollars.”
“What did you say to that?”
“I said I wasn’t about to have sex with a mule.” Dane cracked a smile.
Nick rolled his eyes and circled his finger again.
“Well,” Dane added, “that’s when I asked what I had to do.”
“He told me I just had to drive over the border with a package in the trunk of my car and they would pay me when I made it over.”
“So I asked what kind of a package and he told me I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. That was part of the deal.”
“But you knew it was something illegal, right?”
The helicopter jerked upward, then dropped down twenty feet like a giant hand was trying to push it into the sea. Dane’s throat tightened with anxiety.
“I don’t know what it was,” Dane said with as much innocence as he could muster.
“Of course not.” Nick deadpanned. “Go ahead.”
“So after a few more shots, the idea of a quick ten thousand dollars sounded appealing.”
“What did your friend say about that?”
Dane had forgotten about Jeff. Suddenly aware that he might be in trouble. “I didn’t tell him. He was going to spend the night.”
“Nice friend,” Matt chimed in.
“Well, I didn’t know,” Dane said, clasping his seat. “The bar is walking distance to the border. I figured he would call me in the morning.”
Nick and Matt both looked at him with sympathy in their eyes.
“Wait,” Dane said. “You don’t think he’s in danger, do you?”
With a somber expression, Nick said, “Only if he’s still alive.”