Monday, April 25, 2016


                                                         Chapter 11


            Juan Carlos Reynoso sat at a poker table in a dusty back room of the Chico Rico Grill in northern Tijuana and stared at the pair of threes as if they might somehow become Aces if he stared long enough.  The rest of his poker playing opponents were becoming impatient, but were too afraid to rush the mafia mogul.           The room was musty and subbed as a storeroom for the supplies, with cases of beer and boxes of taco shells piled in the corner.  Reynoso’s two large bodyguards were playing their own private game of gin on top of one of the stacked cases, never out of reach of their shotguns.

            “Jefe,” one of the players said, pointing at the cards in his hand.  “Por favor.”

            Reynoso looked at the large pot and grunted while slapping his cards face down and shoving then under the pile of chips in the center of the table.

            The door opened and Reynoso’s cousin stuck his head in.  “Jefe,” he said looking at Reynoso.  “That kid.  The one with the briefcase.”


            Reynoso’s cousin glanced around to be certain he didn’t say any more than he needed.  “He is here.”

            Reynoso squinted.  “What?”

            Reynoso’s cousin just nodded.

            “He can’t be,” Reynoso’s voice elevated.  “Our contact never received the package.”

            “Maybe he is here to return it?”  his cousin suggested.

            Reynoso slid his chair back and gestured to his two bodyguards.  That’s all it took.  They were already at the door, one of them holding it open, both of them with their shotguns.  They strode down the short corridor to the bar where the kid sat on a barstool sipping a glass of beer, his eyes darting everywhere.  The Chico Rico Grill was packed and the Mariachi band playing up against the wall in the back had five couples dancing in front of them.  The rest of the bar was filled with partiers around wooden tables with small unlit candles in the middle of them.

            As if the regulars knew to stay away, the kid was alone at the bar, five empty stools around him.  As soon as Reynoso showed up with the two shotgun-wielding bodyguards, a hush came over the crowd, while the band played on eerily.

            Reynoso dropped into the stool next to the kid and rested his arm on the bar.  “You came here to bring me back my briefcase, yes?”

            Reynoso was close enough to see the kid’s lips trembling.  He was clutching the glass of beer as if it might escape. 

            “I uh . . . not really,” the kid said, shooting glances at the dirty mirror behind the bar.

            Reynoso examined the mirror and found the reflection of two Americans staring directly at him.  Two men dressed in collared shirts hanging over their pressed blue jeans.  These were not usual customers.  Reynoso turned to face the table where they sat.

            “Quien es los gringos?” Reynoso asked the bartender.

            The old man behind the bar could sense the gravity of the question and didn’t want to have the wrong answer.  He simply said, “No se, Jefe.”

            Every Mexican in the city knew to obey Reynoso’s orders, so he never had to ask twice for anything.  On occasion, however, an unwitting American would cause him a temporary moment of disrespect.  Now one of the Americans leaned back in his chair and placed his feet on the table, as if in complete disregard for Reynoso’s authority.

            Reynoso simply flicked an index finger toward the men and his body guards began to move toward the table.  The second man at the table stood up.  He was tall and lean and was favoring his left leg, as if he was suffering from an ankle sprain. 

            The bodyguards stopped, one on each side of Reynoso taking a protective stance with their shotguns aimed at the tall American.  The band immediately stopped playing and in the silence there was shuffling of feet moving away from the confrontation, creating a open pathway between the two combatants.

            “Who are you?” Reynoso asked indignantly.

            Surprisingly, the guy sitting with his feet up spoke.  “I’m Nick Bracco, this here is my partner Matt McColm.”

            The kid’s words came out scratchy and insecure.  “I didn’t want to come, Jefe, but they forced me.”

            Reynoso looked at the kid, then the two men.  “Is that true?”


            Reynoso didn’t like the tone of the man’s voice.  There was a certain attitude that came with it.  As if he wasn’t sitting in the middle of Reynoso’s home bar and staring down the barrel of two shotguns.

            Reynoso got to his feet.  More shuffling.  More whispers.  “If you want to live another thirty seconds I suggest you take your feet off that table.”

            The man calling himself Nick slowly removed his feet from the table top and remained seated.  “Your problem,” he said, “is that you rely too much on fear and intimidation.  That’s what causes you to travel with such a small crew.  Two gunmen.  That’s not enough.”

            Reynoso shook his head in pity.  “You do not think I have men protecting this place?”

            The tall American frowned and said, “Not anymore.” 

            Reynoso was intrigued by this brash invasion.  He wanted to know more about these men.  He asked the obvious, “You have other men outside?”

            Nick shook his head.  “Nope.  Just us.”

            There was no conceivable reason why such an admission would be made.  Even if they were alone it made no sense to admit this. 

            Reynoso pointed to Nick.  “Keep your hands on the table where I can see them.”

            Nick leaned forward and placed his hands palm down on the table. 

            “Good,” Reynoso said.  “Now why don’t you tell me why you are here.”

            “We’re with the FBI,” Nick said.  “We came to ask about the package you sent with Dane.”

            Reynoso almost laughed.  “You want to know about its contents?”

            Nick nodded.

            “And why would I tell you this?”

            “Well, full disclosure, we already know it came from a Russian courier.  One of your men already admitted this to us outside.”

            Reynoso cursed under his breath, knowing it must’ve been his nephew Pedro.  The kid was always a weak link.  That was the danger in running a family business, you were always dealing with weak links that you couldn’t kill.

            “Is he alive?” Reynoso asked only mildly interested.

            “Yes,” Nick said.  “All three of them are alive.  Just tied up and gagged.”

            Reynoso kicked at the floor.  Dust particles drifted up and dissipated under the slow moving ceiling fans.  “That is enough insults.”  He lifted his hand and the two bodyguards brought their shotguns up and aimed them at the two men.  

            Nick held up a hand.  “Before you shoot us.  We’re curious about the briefcase you gave the kid.  This Russian.  Was that a onetime thing, or was it part of a series of deliveries?”

            Reynoso tapped one of his bodyguards on the arm to get him to stand down.  “You are quite inquisitive about this package.  I will tell you before we kill you.  The Russian who gave us the package is now dead himself.  He did not tell us all the details about the package until the delivery was already moving. He will not be using our services, or anyone’s services any longer.”

            Nick rose to his feet.  “Good,” he said.  “That’s really all we came for.”

            Reynoso placed his hand on his chest.  “Do you think you have jurisdiction in my country?”

            Nick slowly shook his head.  “No.  We’re here on our own.  Just a couple of American citizens having a beer.”

            “And do you think you can just leave now?”

            “I know we can.” 

            Reynoso like the man’s bravado, going down with dignity.  He searched the crowd and saw no one who could cause him trouble.  He owned the police department so a killing inside the Chico Rico Grill would never even raise a solitary question. 

            Reynoso turned toward the kid at the bar, who was shaking like a wet dog.  “You think you will survive this too?”

            The kid’s eyes widened. 

Monday, April 18, 2016


                                                                          Chapter 10


            Matt dropped to the floor of the tunnel and felt the ricochets of the bullets winging all around him.  There was a sharp pain in his calf where he knew he’d been hit.  He was inside the enclosure and if he tried to climb the ladder to escape he would be dead before he reached the second rung.  Hal was still shining the light down on him offering the shooter a nice target.

            “Shut the door!” Matt shouted, feeling the wound on his leg and grateful the bullet didn’t hit an artery.

            There was a hesitation, voices above him arguing over the request, but he could see Nick reach over and slam the door shut.  Immediately the tunnel became complete darkness.  There was no sunlight to slip through the cracks of the trap door.

            Matt scurried to the other side of the dirt floor and curled up, his heart pounding, his gun up and ready.  He tried to slow his breathing.  Adrenalin was his enemy.  He needed to be still and quiet.  There was movement from down the tunnel and he couldn’t tell whether the movement was going away from him or towards him. 

            There was nothing Nick or anyone could do for him now.  He was on an island by himself and he needed his wits and his training to escape.  As soon as that door opened above him he would become a PiƱata for target practice.  He was bleeding and needed medical attention, but he had more serious issues ahead of him.

            The tunnel became still.  Without light his hearing went into hyper drive.  His other senses trying to compensate for the loss of sight. 


            An agonizing long time went by.  Minutes.  Matt thought he could hear breathing.  One person?  Maybe two.  It was a small enclosure so it didn’t make sense there would be more than two shooters.  Matt decided to take off his belt and tie it around his leg to slow the bleeding.

            The shooters thought he was trapped.  The only way to save Matt was to come through the door above him and expose his position, so they had time on their side.  But Matt was a sniper in the Army.  Special Forces.  He knew things these drug smugglers didn’t know.

            There was one issue they were probably mulling over just now.  If they shot at Matt in complete darkness there would be a muzzle flash.  It would be a short flash, but in this environment Matt would see this and respond immediately.  If they were smart they would’ve kept firing while the door was open and he was exposed.  Now they were deciding how to proceed.  They were coping with the same sensory deprivation and relying on their hearing to make their decisions.  This was important. 

            Matt could find a pebble and toss it across the tunnel and hope for a response, but they might be ready for that.  He needed to give them a sense of urgency.  Something that would cause them to fire their weapons impulsively.  They would need to feel threatened.

            Matt slowly pulled down on the heel of his shoe, keeping his breathing low and slow.  He lifted the shoe with his right hand and trained the Glock on their position with his left hand.  He drew back the shoe, low to the ground and skipped it across the dirt floor directly toward his attackers. 

            Matt got the exact response he wanted.  Two bright muzzle flashes continued to fire at the ruse.  He made two quick shots, one for each gunman.  Years of training had him locked into the exact target.  From the angle of shot he could tell both shooters were right-handed.  This made it easy to connect the dots and make two direct shots in less than a second.

            Silence.  Moans.

            Matt rose to his feet, wincing from the bullet wound, then pulling off his other shoe with his free foot.  He tip-toed down the tunnel, then pulled out his flashlight to illuminate his shooters.  One was already dead.  Headshot.  The other was on his back moaning, clutching his shoulder and stretching toward his gun lying a few feet away.

            “Don’t,” Matt said.  “I don’t play games, I shoot to kill.”

            The guy ignored Matt’s warning and kept straining to get to the weapon, just inches away.  As his hand reached the butt of the pistol, Matt frowned then shot the guy through the temple.  The guy went limp. 

            Matt shined the light farther down the tunnel to be sure there was no one else with them.  There wasn’t.

            He bent over to pick up the two pistols and looking down at the guy he shot, he said, “I told you no.”  Then something dawned on him.  “I sure hope you understood English.”

            Matt limped down the corridor and managed to climb up the ladder using one leg and two strong arms.  He pounded on the door.

            The lid swung open quickly with Nick and Hal and Martinez all training their weapons on Matt.

            “You okay?” Nick asked.

            Matt held up his arm and grunted.  “I could use a lift.”

            Nick hauled up his partner, then examined Matt’s leg under Hal’s spotlight.

            Dane leaned over the wound and looked like his was going to be sick.  “Man, that’s real disgusting.”

            “You’ll need stitches,” Nick said.

            “Yeah,” Matt agreed, placing his arm around Nick’s shoulders and taking the pressure off his damaged leg. 

            “We can have the chopper swing back,” Hal said.  “He could be here in ten minutes.”

            Matt looked at the Border Patrol Agent.  “You have a laceration pack in the truck?”

            Hal glanced over at his SUV.  “Sure, we keep one in every vehicle.  You never know when you’ll be stuck miles from help.”

            “Does it have Lidocaine?  Syringes?  Some nylon suture?”

            Hal nodded.  “Yeah, well the Lidocaine might be expired, but it’s only there for extreme emergencies.  We’ve got plenty of time to get you to a hospital before that thing causes any issues.”

            “It’s already caused me issues,” Matt said.  “But I can sew up my leg better than most plastic surgeons.”

            Nick was already shuffling Matt toward the SUV.  “He’s not going to let this go,” Nick told Hal.  He glared over his shoulder at Dane who followed the group like a stray dog.  “Let him fix it, then we’ll take Mr. Uranium here and find Reynoso.”

            Hal shined the spotlight on the kid.  “You’ve been a real pain in the ass haven’t you?”

            From behind them Matt heard the kid squeak.  “Sorry.”


Sunday, April 10, 2016


                                                      Chapter 9


            The sun had already set when the helicopter hovered over the drop point in the desert next to a Border Patrol SUV.  As the chopper leveled out and dropped to the open patch of dirt, Nick pulled open the door and handed the pilot the three communication headsets.

            “Thanks, buddy,” Nick said to the pilot, then hopped onto the moist desert floor.  The rain had subsided, but the ground was still patched up with a few standing puddles.

            Matt and Dane followed Nick as he reached the two Border Patrol agents and held out his hand to a tall, lean agent with a thick curly mustache.

            “Long time, Hal,” Nick said to the smiling man.

            “Good to see you, Nick,” Hal Dixon said. 

            The helicopter’s rotors increased its velocity and the group turned their back to the chopper as it spit up pieces of the desert around them. 

            Once the chopper was airborne, Hal pointed to his partner and said, “Jessie Martinez.”

            They all introduced themselves and Hal said, “We can take you through a compromised section of the border, but once you’re inside Mexico, you’re on your own.”

            “That’s all we ask,” Nick said as nightfall closed in around them.

            Hal looked up to the sky as if waiting for another chopper.  “Where are the rest of you?”

            “It’s just us,” Nick said.

            Hal raised his eyebrows, then shrugged.  “All right then, let’s go.”

            They all got in the SUV, Hal driving and his partner in the driver’s seat.  Nick and Matt sandwiched Dane in the back seat.  Hal drove slowly through the desert avoiding cacti and sagebrush as they headed south.

            Hal looked at Nick through the rear view mirror.  “So you think you’ll get to Reynoso?”

            “That’s the plan,” Nick said.

            “You know he’s not easily found.”

            “It’s okay,” Nick said, looking at Dane.  “He’ll find us.”

            Hal nodded.  “I see.  You’re bringing bait.”

            Dane looked at everyone staring at him.  “What?  You told me that you were escorting me to that bar.  Right?”

            “We didn’t use the word escort,” Nick informed him.  “We said you would take us to the bar.  Once inside, you’ll be spotted and Reynoso will be notified.”

            “Then what?”

            “We’ll figure it out.”

            “Wait,” Dane said.  “You don’t have a plan?”

            “Oh, we have a plan.  We’re just going to discuss it with you.”

            “Why not?” Dane asked with an innocent tone.

            No one answered as the SUV meandered through the desert, the headlights knifing through the night in front of them.  A pair of yellow eyes glowed from behind a bush.

            “W-w-what’s that?” Dane asked.

            “Coyote,” Hal said.

            Dane swiveled his head to examine what else might be waiting for him out there.

            “Relax,” Hal said.  “If you’re going into Reynoso’s bar, coyotes are the least of your worries.”

            “Thanks,” Nick said sarcastically.  “He needed a pep talk.”

            The SUV rolled over one final lump of dirt, then came to a stop in the middle of the desert.

            Hal pointed out the front windshield.  “That’s our entry point.”

            Nick couldn’t see anything but desert landscape. 

            Hal pulled a large handheld spotlight from his console, then left the SUV running and got out of the car.  He walked into the path of his headlights and Nick and Matt jumped out to follow.  Martinez stayed with the vehicle.  As they walked along the packed earth, Nick looked over his shoulder and saw Dane lingering in the back seat.  He curled his finger for the kid to follow them.

            Dane stepped out of the SUV like a sheep in a den of wolves.  He took tepid steps toward the group.

            Hal aimed his spotlight at a metal plate that was painted tan to blend in with the desert floor.  He bent over and yanked up on a latch and the plate hinged up exposing a giant four foot wide opening.

            “A tunnel?” Nick asked.

            Hal pointed the spotlight down into the dark aperture.  “We just discovered it last week.”

            “Why not fill it in?” Dane asked as he approached the group.

            Nick and Matt stared at the kid who clearly knew very little about catching criminals.  There was so much more to gain from tagging a smuggler once he’s inside the country, than forcing him to find a new entrance.  Informants could be nurtured into offering much more than a single arrest.  Controlling the border was always big picture.   

            Hal shined the spotlight on the interior wall closest to them and exposed the top rung of a metal ladder leading into the tunnel. 

            Matt pulled his Glock from his holster and stepped toward the opening.  “Okay.  Let’s go.”  He crouched, then stepped down onto the metal railing, taking slow methodical steps down. 

            “You have a flashlight?” Hal asked.

            “Yes sir,” Matt said.

            Nick watched Matt reach the bottom of the steps under Hal’s spotlight.

            That’s when the first gunshot was fired.


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