Another round of brain drippings…
Comments/recommendations appreciated as always.
Cronin and Menendez walked around the garden at the embassy slowly, enjoying the mild weather as Menendez mulled over the best way to handle the plan to destroy the three labs. He flicked ashes off his cigarette, looked up at the blue skies and colorful birds flying overhead and said, “I don’t have any extras to send down. You want to do this ASAP, right?”
“I’d like to do it in the next couple of days, preferably tomorrow night. It’s supposed to be minimal moonlight and possibly raining. That’s going to keep people in, and the less people that see us drive up the road, the better.”
“How are you going to make yourself less…recognizable? You do sort of standout.”
Cronin laughed. “Boonie hat down tight over the hair, camo on the face, and everybody in generic gray worker’s coveralls. Plus, it’s going to be dark.”
“Okay. You’ve got five. If I go, that makes six. Two per site, but none of the others have worked with me in the field. Do you trust me in the field, John?”
“You’re my boss. I have to trust you. I’ll take you with me, rather than pairing one of the others with you.”
“You still didn’t answer my question, John.”
Cronin shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen you operate.”
Menendez shook his head in exasperation. “You are one stubborn bastard, aren’t you?”
“What you see is what you get with me. Are you in or out?”
“Oh hell, I’m in. Where and what time are we leaving?”
“Twenty-one hundred from the warehouse. Shave and a haircut is the access knock in the alley.”
“I’ll be there. Consider this your approval for the op.”
A Marine lance corporal interrupted them, “Mr. Menendez, you have a secure call in Mr. Morgan’s office. He requested we find you immediately.”
“Thank you, Lance Corporal. We’re on our way. John, you might as well come with me.”
Cronin followed the two of them back into the embassy, and Menendez continued on up to Morgan’s office with him in tow. Walking in, Morgan indicated the phone. “You’re secure. It’s your boss. Press the handset button to talk.”
Menendez spoke for a couple of minutes, then listened as he wrote notes on a pad of paper next to the phone. He nodded a couple of times, then said, “Yes, sir,” a couple of times and hung up. He sighed and turned to Morgan. “Got any topo maps handy for Colombia?”
“What scale do you want,” Morgan asked as he opened the safe, “I have charts and maps, both.”
“I need one that’s got Boquerón and the surrounding area, like zero four seventeen forty-five north, seventy-four thirty-three forty-five west.”
Morgan sorted through various maps and charts, finally pulled one, and brought it over to the conference table. Menendez said, “John, your raid is off, you’ve got tasking, so you might as well look at this.”
Menendez took a compass and protractor from Morgan and made an X on the map at the latitude and longitude he’d read off. “They got a FLIR hit last night up here. Looked like the right size for a generator and maybe something else. Saw what were probably a couple of people based on the heat signatures. Based on the location, higher thinks it’s the major drug lab above Boquerón that we’ve been looking for. The raw coca pasta has been traced from Peru to that area, and it disappears. A week or so later, pure coke is showing up in Melgar or Tolemaida and getting loaded on airplanes for the States or Europe, so they are processing it somewhere in that area. If this is the big lab, higher wants us to get it under surveillance.”
Menendez held up a hand. “You’re here, and you have a team ready to hit a lab in the jungle. This is just a different part of the jungle down here.”
Cronin quickly took a pair of dividers and walked them down the side of the chart. “That’s damn near six hundred fifty miles from here. How are we supposed to get up there? Fly?”
Menendez and Morgan shared a look, and Morgan said, “The King Air is here.”
Menendez nodded. “John, how long would it take you to get your team to the airport?”
“I’d like to wait until after dark. Seeing us getting on a US airplane would…blow our covers.” He scratched his head and continued, “And what about equipment, food, comms?”
“Gimme a list of what you need for…three days.”
Just after midnight, the King Air took off from Quito, headed to Bogotá. A little before zero three hundred, they were bundled off the airplane and into a hangar on the military side of the Bogotá airport, where they were met by Darrell Mason. “Hey, John. Fancy meeting you here. I understand you need some gear?”
Cronin shook hands with him. “Yeah, we’ve got basic loadout, but we need food, water, and climbing ropes, and probably a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting. Oh yeah, and what about inserting us?”
Pointing to a pile of stuff in the hangar, he replied, “I’ve got everything I could get my hands on. The only rats I could get are MCIs, but I got two cases, so you have some choices. And I got enough canteens for everybody to carry two. The climbing ropes are new, but they’re only two hundred feet long, and I could only get a dozen carabiners. You good for weapons?”
“Yeah, we’re good on weapons and ammo. What about inserting us?”
“Policia Nacional Huey, flown by our guys at sunrise. Two others are also going to be up, one going to Boquerón, one to Melgar, delivering extra officers. Your bird will drop you in the next valley over from the location, so you’ll have a bit of a hike, and it’s also going to be a combat drop, so you’ll be jumping off as quickly as possible. I got you two Prick ninety radios, hard set to twenty-eight twenty-eight, we’ll have birds up, and they should be able to get two-way comms with you. Figure pickup…today is Tuesday, so pickup will be Thursday around fifteen hundred at the same location. That will give you about thirty-six hours to observe the location and collect intel.”
“Collect only? No action?”
Mason nodded. “Not unless things go bad and you get spotted. If that happens, you’re authorized to take it out if it is a drug lab, and if you can do so with minimal impact. They really want the Policia Nacional to make the takedown. They need some good publicity.”
“Shit. We gotta play politics again? What the hell?”
Mason shrugged. “Don’t ask me, John. I know the ambassador had another meeting with the president Friday, and apparently there is pressure being applied for the police to step up and start arresting some of these drug kingpins and enforcers. Hell, we can’t even go out without an escort vehicle anymore in Medellin or Cali, and Bogotá is getting damn near as bad. Ambassador has requested more DSS folks, and the Marines are running on combat alert most days.”
“That sucks.” He turned and raised his voice, “Muster over here, guys. You get your pick of the finest in military rations to carry for the next couple of days, and two canteens apiece. Two of you need to pick up ropes, and somebody needs to grab a radio. I’ll carry the other one. We go in about two hours.”
Felix headed for the MCIs first, and ripped the cases open, groaning, “Aw man, not this shit again. I ain’t eatin’ ham and motherfuckers or beef and rocks again, much less beans and baby dicks.” He kept digging and throwing the M-2 packets aside, and finally found some M-1 packets at the bottom of the case. “Ah, there you are.” He pulled out three of the packets and set them aside. “Three days’ worth, right?”
Cronin nodded and smiled. “I take it you don’t like the M-Two rats?”
Felix shook his head. “Not in the least, I was junior when I was in ‘Nam, so I got the leftovers, which was always that shit.”
Pasquale picked up an M-2 packet and asked curiously, “What is wrong with them?”
Felix started to answer, and Cronin held up a hand. “Padre, not everybody likes the ham and beans or the beef and potatoes.”
Pasquale picked up three of them and shrugged. “It is food. That is all a hungry person needs to know. I will gladly eat this, it is much better than nothing, or rats, if one is fast.” He glanced at Felix. “I’m sure you have never been truly hungry, my friend. If you had, you would never complain.”
“I…no, Padre, you’re right. I’ve never been truly that hungry. I…apologize.”
Pasquale laid a hand on Felix’s shoulder, “No hay problema.” He took three of the packets and loaded them in his pack as the rest picked through and picked out meals. Cronin waited until everyone else had finished and laughed. The only thing left were M-2 meals, Well, I guess everyone else listened to Felix. Now I’m stuck with them, but at least the desserts are good.
Two hours later, the Huey bounced on its skids and the crew chief was yelling, “Out, out! We gotta move!” The five of them had barely cleared the rotor arc when the Huey lifted off, buried the nose, and chased after the other two helos. Cronin sneezed, coughed, and finished wiping his eyes, then looked around.
The five of them were spread over about 20 yards, and he coughed one more time, then said, “Circle up.” When everyone was in a small circle and had taken a knee, he pointed to the chart and then the ridgeline to their north. “That’s what we have to cross. Supposedly the possible coke lab is on the other side, a couple of hundred yards northeast of where we are. But if we try that right now, we’ll be exposed to anyone that comes driving up the road.” He pointed to a copse of trees at the foot of the ridge. “Let’s get over there and bivouac for the day. I don’t know about y’all, but I could damn sure use a little sleep.”
He looked at them and saw a round of nods, then Pasquale got up. “I take point. This is my world.”
“Okay Padre, Patron you’re number two, I’m number three, Norte is number four, and Rojo is number five. Lead on Padre.” They scuttled across the road one at a time, then trailed loosely through the brush and scrub until they got to the tree line. Padre found a bit of a hollow in the center of the copse of trees, knelt and waited for the others to catch up.
Cronin looked around and nodded. “Good call, Padre. We’ll stay here until late afternoon. Two hour watches, same order.”
Hector asked, “No fire?” Which provoked a round of laughter from the others. He sighed and said, “No fire. I get it. I am tired. Padre wake me in two.” Everyone flopped down and got as comfortable as they could, using packs for pillows and stripping off their LBEs. Taking out his radio, Cronin looked at the time and saw he had ten minutes before he could turn it on and try a report. Padre dropped his pack and circled the bivouac as everyone else dropped off to sleep, constantly moving and keeping a watch toward the road.
At the top of the hour, he put the earpiece in and turned on the PRC-90. Holding it close to his mouth, he said, “High boy, high boy, team three, team three.”
He repeated the call three more times before a voice came back. “Team three, high boy. Go.”
“Team three is holding until this afternoon to climb hill. No cover. Will report in the morning, same time.”
“High boy copies team holding, no cover. Next report tomorrow same time.”
“Roger, High boy. Team three out.” He turned the radio off, took out the earpiece, and slipped it back in his pack, then lay down and went to sleep.
Fernando kicked Cronin’s foot, and when Cronin looked up at him said softly, “It’s time. The shadows are starting to cover the hill.”
“Gracias, everyone else up?”
“Si, Lobo.” Cronin groaned as he rolled over and pushed himself to his feet, then shouldered his pack. Looking around, he saw that everyone else was ready to move out, and he quickly took a piss against a tree, then motioned for Pasquale to lead out.
Pasquale took a route up the hill at an angle, staying to what little cover there was, and topped out a half hour later. He crawled over the crest, staying low and waited as everyone cleared the top of the ridge, and Fernando was facing back over the top of the ridge. A stray gust of wind had them wrinkling their noses, and Hector said, “Definitely cooking coke. That smell is pretty distinctive.”
Cronin nodded. “Came from east of us. Let’s move west and see if we can find a path or something that will get us down in the trees. I don’t want to come down right on top of them. Padre?”
“Si,” he pointed to the southwest. “It looks like there is a place down there that is less of a drop.” Less than an hour later, they were down in the tree line, and moving slowly back to the northeast, occasionally catching stronger and stronger whiffs of the acetone used in the manufacture of the cocaine. Pasquale held up a hand, and everyone dropped to a knee as Cronin eased forward. “Lobo, you hear that?”
Cronin shook his head. “No, what do you…” he got a whiff of diesel fumes, “Generator? I just smelled diesel.”
“Si, I hear a diesel running.”
Fernando crouched next to them. “Lobo, I will go. Padre has been on point the whole time. I will give him a break.”
Pasquale started to argue, then sat back on his haunches, “Gracias, Rojo. It is a bit nerve wracking. I will take your position.”
Cronin shrugged. “Go ahead. We will stay here.” He turned to Felix and Hector. “Break time. Rojo is going to see where they are. Patron, you have the watch.” Hector nodded, and Cronin found a convenient tree to lean back against after he took his pack off and took a drink from his canteen.
Just as darkness closed in, Fernando came back, kneeling next to Cronin as everyone crowded around. “Found it. It is maybe two hundred yards further up, and a little above us. Generator is running outside a cave, and a big fan too. It appears to be pushing air into the cave. I saw a trail running down the hill, but no vehicle track. I don’t know how they got the generator up here. It also looks like they have a couple of guards. I saw one at the cave entrance with a gun.”
“Good enough. We’ll stay here tonight. I don’t see any point in trying to watch them in the dark. Everybody rack out, same watchbill. We need to dig a slit trench back up under the overhang.”
He saw the others looking at each other, and Hector finally said, “We don’t have a shovel.”
“Well, shit. That was what I forgot.” He sighed. “I’ll go dig one with my knife. Padre, you have the watch.” Well, that was stupid. I should have thought of a damn e-tool, but we’ve been doing ops that didn’t require us staying out. I’m losing it. He got up and climbed up until he was under the overhang and between a couple of smaller trees, then started digging out blocks of topsoil. He finally got it deep enough to satisfy him, took a piss, and eased back down to where the others were. Pasquale came over and he said, “The big tree, straight up hill ten steps. Between two small trees.”
Pasquale nodded and he took off his LBE, lay down, and was asleep in minutes.
Cronin finished his chopped ham and eggs, burped, and took a drink from his canteen. I really wish we could have a fire. I really need a cup of coffee. He gnawed on the two chocolate disks, At least these have caffeine in them. Maybe that will wake my ass up. He got up and walked up to the slit trench, did his business, dumped some dirt on top of it, and came back to find Pasquale, Hector, and Felix waiting on him. Fernando was lying on the ground, sound asleep, and that made Cronin revise his plan a bit.
“Listen up. Norte, you’ve got back trail and camp watch until Rojo wakes up. Padre has the initial watch on the cave. Patron and I will check out the trail down the hill. Back here in two hours, and I’ll make the morning report, then we’ll trade out watch positions.”
He saw nods all around, and the three of them headed toward the cave. They found a good point to watch the cave from, and then he and Hector backtracked then down the hill to intercept the trail they could see that ran down hill through a ravine. “Shit, there is a vehicle track down there,” he said, pointing to a dirt track that climbed out of the valley.”
Hector pointed to the left. “There is a building down there too. Maybe a house, maybe a…warehouse?”
“Could be. Let’s go see what we’ve got.”
A few minutes later, Hector grabbed his arm and whispered urgently, “Detener. Oigo ladrar de perro.”
Cronin sank to his knees, then tested the wind. “Shit. I don’t want to get any closer if there is a dog down there.” He pulled binoculars out of his pack and scanned what he could see of the buildings. “Looks like an older place, with a newer out building. But I don’t see any fencing. I wonder?” He shook his head. “Not worth it. We might as well go back. Maybe we can get a better look at the cave from below.” Hector nodded, and they started back up the trail.
They were about thirty yards below the cave mouth when they saw a guard drag a female out of the cave, lean her up against the big fan, and proceed to fumble under her dress. Hector started to go past him, but Cronin pulled him back. “We’re here to observe. That’s not right but there isn’t a lot—”
Hector replied, “Tell that to Padre.”
Cronin jerked his gaze up to see Pasquale coming up behind the guard, knife in hand. “Gahdammit. Pasquale, you sumbitch, you’re going to get us in a world of shit.” Pasquale slit the guard’s throat, grabbed the female and started leading her away from the cave mouth. Just as he turned his back, another guard came out of the cave, saw his partner, and raised his rifle. Cronin slapped the De Lisle to his shoulder, got a sight picture, and smoothly pressed the trigger, hitting the guard in the temple. The guard dropped as Cronin charged up the hill, saying loudly to Hector, “Get everybody up and over here. We’ve got to take the cave now. Otherwise we’re dead.”
He took off his pack and ran toward the cave mouth as Hector cut toward where their camp was, as Cronin cussed under his breath about dyed in the wool Catholics. He ran across the front of the cave, seeing what looked like a piece of canvas hung in the opening and skidded to a stop by the generator, How the hell am I going to explain this? Got no damn choice. Got to figure out how to get…at least the guards out here. Cut the generator? Or will they come looking when their buddies don’t come back? Dammit…
He noted the dead guard’s pants were around his ankles and chuckled, Bet you didn’t expect that ending, did you? He sensed movement behind him and turned, rifle in hand. The others were there, and he asked, “Padre, did you find out how many guards?”
“Si, cinco. Twenty workers and one chemist.”
“Where is the female?”
“She is going to Nilo. She is from there. All of the workers were…forced to work, and…other things.”
“I really wish you hadn’t let her go. Now we’re—”
Hector raised the suppressed .22 and fired over Cronin’s shoulder, taking another guard between the eyes.
Pointing to the three bodies, he said, “Drag them out of the way. I’m going to kill the generator and see if that brings the other two out. Get to cover and make damn sure you’re not in a crossfire situation.” He opened the panel on the generator and flipped the master switch to off. As the generator died, he saw a pile of five gallon cans behind it, So they are hand carrying fuel up here. That’s got to suck.
He took up a position behind the generator, the De Lisle at his shoulder and waited. A minute or so later, they heard a voice calling out for Jose, probably one of the guards. When there wasn’t an answer, there was more back and forth behind the canvas, then another guard came out, pulling suspenders over his shoulders, his rifle between his knees. Cronin pressed the trigger and he dropped where he stood.
He leaned the De Lisle against the generator, drew his 1911, and headed for the entrance, knowing the next person would raise the alarm. As he reached the canvas, he came face to face with an older man in a white coat and thick glasses. He grabbed him by the lapel and swung him through the entrance, then continued into the cave, This is about dumber than dirt. I can’t see shit in here. Hopefully nobody else can either. And it’s probably not a good idea to fire a gun in here, unless I want to blow everything including myself up. He quickly holstered his pistol and took out the Bowie, then moved quietly toward the voice that seemed to be ordering people around. He dimly saw a wooden bunk in front of him and moved slowly around it. Smelling cigarette smoke on the man, he heard the clack of a rifle bolt going home. He reached out, grabbed the man by the shoulder, pulled him around and sank the Bowie into his pelvic area, ripped up, then pulled it out and cut across where he thought the neck was. The man collapsed just as Felix tore the canvas down, flooding the cave with light.
“No guns! Don’t shoot in here, it will blow us all to hell!”
Somebody turned a flashlight on and swept it over the interior as Cronin backed toward the entrance. “I’m going to start the generator. We need to see what’s what in here.” He glanced over to see Fernando with a knife at the throat of the guy he’d thrown out the entrance as he ran over to the generator. He got it started again, and heard the fan start back up, then walked over to Fernando. “Any good information, Rojo?”
“Enough. And he has it all written down in a green book inside.”
The others herded the remaining people out, and they sat on the ground as directed, while Fernando followed the chemist back to his area and picked up the notebook. Fernando came out with the book as he sheathed his knife. “This we need, him we do not.”
Felix came up. “All these folks are kidnapped workers from the towns and villages around here. There is a house down the hill that is where the drugs are stored, along with the chemicals and diesel. They make the workers carry the shit up and down by themselves. Those six were the enforcers. I’d say let them go home.”
“Will they talk?”
Felix shook his head. “No. They will disappear into the woodwork. They know if they talk they will die.”
Cronin looked at his watch and cussed, “Dammit, it’s not even eight yet. I don’t know if we can get an extract on this short a notice. Ah hell, rig the cave. Put it on a… two hour timer. That should give us time to get over the hill, and I don’t think any of these people can get to anyone that can respond in time.
Two hours later, the cave and part of the hill above it disappeared in a cloud of fire and dust as a Policia Nacional helicopter landed on the road on the other side of the ridge.
 Meals, Combat, Individual
 Diplomatic Security Service