Monday, March 28, 2016


                                                          Chapter 8


          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.”

            “Uh huh.”

            “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.”




Monday, March 21, 2016


                                                        Chapter 7


            Nick and Matt huddled around Dane waiting for him to identify someone from their book of Border Patrol agents.  Nick sipped his cold coffee while Matt’s eyes drooped, fatigued from the early morning flight over from Arizona.

            “You didn’t get enough sleep last night?” Nick asked.

            Matt half-shrugged.

            “I presume it was a date?”

            “You should be a detective.”

            “I can’t afford it.”

            Matt kept his attention on Dane, who was shuffling through the picture book, like he was searching for a rare diamond.  Squinting at every other face.

            “I know it’s tough,” Nick said.  “Just pick out the ones that you’re sure of.”

            Dane stopped on one page and stared at an image with great intensity.  He moved his head to the side, then farther away from the book to get different perspectives.  Finally he pointed to a picture and said, “Yeah, that’s one of them.  He banged on the hood of my car and waved me through the opening in the fence.”

            Nick and Matt looked at each other with disgust on their faces. 

            Nick sighed, then stood up and ran a hand through his hair.

            Dane looked at Matt with a confused expression.  “What’s the matter?  I did what you wanted me to do.  Can’t I go now?  You can find this guy on your own.”

            Nick glanced at Matt and saw the revulsion running through his bloodstream.  Matt slammed the book shut so hard it startled Dane.  The kid jumped back in his seat, looking as innocent as possible.

            “So the problem is,” Matt said, tapping the closed binder.  “The guy you just indentified is FBI Agent Michael Ortiz.  He works out of our Minnesota branch.”

            Nick watched Dane’s shoulders slump with disappointment.  He looked like a kid caught stealing money from his dad’s wallet. 

            There was a prolonged silence while Dane seemed to come to terms with his situation.

            “See,” Matt said, “now we have to go straight back to the beginning with everything.  The trust.  The motive.  Your entire story is now up for interpretation.  I know you think you’re going to get over on us but we do this for a living.  We hear people lying to us every single day of our lives.  And you know how I can tell when you’re lying to us?’

            Dane meagerly attempted a shrug.

            “You open your mouth.”

            Dane’s expression told Nick he was looking for a way out of the door so he could run and hide and live another day. 

            “Look,” Nick said, taking over for Matt just to give the kid a different perspective.  “Those guys out front might’ve left our facility, but they’ll be waiting for you at your house.”

            Dane’s mouth opened.  “How would they know where I live?”

            “I told them.”

            Dane sat upright and looked at Matt.  “Can he do that?”

            “I don’t know,” Matt said.  “Let me look into it and get back to you.”

            Dan glanced at the security camera showing the empty street where the two supposed Mexicans had been waiting for him.  “If I show you where I crossed into the country, will you let me go?”

            “You’re much denser than I first suspected you were,” Matt said.

            Then a thought occurred to Nick.  He placed his hands on the table and leaned over Dane.  “You’re lying about the amount of money aren’t you?”

            “N-n-o,” Dane stuttered.  “I was supposed to get ten thousand dollars at the theatre.”

            “You said car wash.”

            “Yeah, that’s what I meant.  The car wash.”

            “Oh boy,” Matt said, shaking his head.  “We’re in a world of hurt partner.”

            Nick walked over to the door and shoved it so hard it bounced off the door stop and slammed back shut, then opened again.  He gestured toward the opening.  “Go!” he shouted.  “Get out.”

            Dane appeared dumbfounded.  Unsure of his newly acquired freedom.  Then he did the smartest thing he’d done all day.  He lowered his head and said, “I’ll tell you the truth.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016


                                                       Chapter 6


            Nick dropped a heavy binder onto the table and positioned it in front of Dane.  Matt was still next to the kid with his elbow on the table and hand holding up his chin.

            Dane looked confused as Nick opened the book to the first page and took a seat next to him, across from Matt.  The double team. 

            “What is this?” Dane asked looking at a couple of pages of faces in front of him.

            “Those are border patrol agents,” Nick explained.  “You told us the case was placed into the trunk of your car and then you crossed the border on a dirt road in the middle of the night.  Is that correct?”

            “Sure, yeah that’s how it happened.”

            “Good,” Nick said, easing the boy into the development.  “So as you drove onto this dirt road, there was a man, maybe several men who ushered you through the border.  They may have had rifles or machine guns draped across their shoulder.”

            A flicker of recognition ignited Dane’s face.  “Yeah, but there weren’t any border patrol guys around.”

            “They wouldn’t be wearing their uniforms for this particular event.”

            “You mean those guys weren’t Reynoso’s Men?”

            “Yes they were, but they were also border patrol agents.”  Nick pointed to the book of faces and said, “Just look at these and see if any of them are familiar.”

            Dane examined the first page of the photos with a blank stare.  “I don’t know, man.  This doesn’t seem right.  You’re telling me that Reynoso hires border patrol to smuggle things across the border?”

            Matt gently patted the kid on the side of the arm.  “You’re starting to get it, dude.”

            Dane frowned.  “Look, I made a mistake, okay?  I just don’t think I can do this.  Why me?  Can’t you keep me in prison until you catch them?”

            Matt’s expression changed to sympathetic.  “I’m curious, what did you think was going to happen once you drove your car into that car wash?”

            “Um,” Dane had a faraway look in his eyes.

            “Did you really think they were going to pay you ten thousand dollars and let you drive away?  After you could identify several of them?”

            Dane’s face fell as the realization struck him. 

            When Dane didn’t respond, Matt added, “With all due respect, buddy.  You’re best chance to survive is to help us track these guys down and put them away.  Do you understand?”

            Dane nodded vacantly.

            “Good,” Matt said, turning the page of the book and gesturing to the pictures.  “Now let’s focus our attention on these photos.”

            Dane looked down, then back at Nick and Matt.  “Are you going to do something about those guys waiting for me outside?”

            Matt smiled.  “I thought you’d never ask.”

            Nick got up from his chair and headed out the door.  Matt and Dane stared at the monitor and watched as a few seconds later they could see Nick outside the complex heading toward the sedan.

                                                      *                    *                       *

            Nick walked along the cement path in a slight drizzle, watching the driver in the sedan stare at him from behind dark sunglasses.  They weren’t going anywhere and their demeanor suggested they were ready for the confrontation.

            As he approached the sedan, he leaned into the driver’s window and said, “How’s college going Emelio?”

            “Good Agent Bracco.”

            “A nice break from Baltimore, eh?”

            “Sure is.”

            Nick dropped two hundred-dollar-bills into the kid’s lap.  “You did a good job.  Tell your mom I said hello.”

            “Yes sir.”

            “You can peel rubber as you head out,” Nick said.  “Make a good impression for me.”

            “Will do,” the driver said, then started the car and began fish-tailing the sedan down the street.

            Nick stood there with his arms folded and watched the car make a right turn at the light and burn rubber as it sped off into the distance.  He waited a good two minutes before he turned to go back inside.

            He’d just solidified his latest informant.  Now the real work was about to begin. 


Monday, March 7, 2016


                                                         Chapter 5


            “Juan Carlos Reynoso,” Matt said.

            Dane’s head hung low.  His eyes were glossy marbles of fear.

            “He is the top boss for the Mexican Mafia in Tijuana,” Matt continued.  “Every business in the city pays a monthly fee to Reynoso for protection.  A tax really.  To stay alive.”

            Dane didn’t raise his head but it was obvious he was hearing Matt’s description because his lips began to tremble.

            “And so we need you to bring us to him,” Matt said, “so we can find the source of the Uranium.”

            Dane was shaking his head without real conviction, a toddler trying to disagree with his parents and yet knowing he couldn’t win the argument.

            “Yes,” Matt said, bending low to judge Dane’s expression better, “this Uranium is extremely troublesome.  We don’t know if this is the first batch Reynoso has tried to smuggle into the border, or the tenth.  So it’s very important we stop it before it becomes a real threat to our nation.”

            Dane rubbed a hand over his face.  “Man, I just can’t do it.  Can’t you put me into like a witness protection deal?”

            “Sorry pal.  That’s only if you testify against someone and we don’t even have Reynoso in custody.”  Matt’s face brightened.  “Hey, but you can help us put him there.  And that’s one step closer to witness protection.”

            Dane didn’t appear convinced.  Matt could tell the kid wasn’t about to risk his life over a stupid decision that he regretted the moment he’d made it.

            Matt pointed to a remote control sitting on shelf just below a small TV hanging in the corner of the room.  Nick swiped the remote from the shelf and tossed it to Matt.

            “Would you like to watch a little TV?” Matt asked.

            Dane sat motionless, staring at the black screen.  “What?”

            “TV,” Matt said.  “We have security cameras around the perimeter of the facility and sometimes it’s interesting to see what’s going on outside.  Gives one a little perspective.”

            Matt held out his arm and pointed the remote at the TV.  A moment later the screen came to life.  Matt could tell by the confused look on Dane’s face, he wasn’t getting it just yet.

            The first camera image showed cars going up and down a busy two lane road.  A light sprinkle made the street glisten.  A few seconds later the screen flashed to a view of the parking lot.  There were twenty or thirty cars randomly parked across the stretch of asphalt according to the shift someone may have started and how busy it was at the time.

            Dane looked at Matt.  “Is there a reason we’re doing this?”

            Matt put a finger to his lips.  “Just watch.”

            The next image displayed an empty street along the side of the complex.  There was a deep expanse of woods on the far side of the street and nothing but the cyclone fence of the compound on the near side.  It was completely vacant but for one solitary vehicle sitting along the shoulder with the windows down.  There were two men inside the dark green sedan.  It was obvious these men were of Latin descent.  Two Hispanic men stared at the correctional facility.  The driver wore sunglasses even in the drizzle.  He wore the tediously wicked expression of an assassin who was bored with such an easy target.  

            “Wha . . . what . . . who are they?”

            Matt pushed a button, then placed the remote down on the table.  The screen remained focused on the sedan.  “I think you have an idea who they are,” Matt said quietly.

            Dane’s eyes widened as the realization hit him.  “They’re waiting for me?”

            Matt said nothing.

            Nick sipped his coffee and kept quiet.

            Matt watched the kid stare at his future assassins with a complete sense of his mortality sinking in.  Dane was plummeting to his death and Matt was right there to offer him a parachute. 

            “Now,” Matt said, clasping his hands together on the table like a friendly schoolteacher.  “Let’s talk about your future.”