"To Protect And Save With Valiance, Vigilance, and VALOR"© By Katherine Bryan March 2012
As two o’clock in the morning approached, night settled in under a round, buxom moon. Former Navy SEAL Commander Dillon Caldwell wouldn’t have picked a night this bright on a bet, but since Sanchez was moving the money tomorrow he didn’t have much choice.
Lucky for him, slipping in and out of shadows was easy. However, slipping unnoticed into a Mexican drug lord’s villa might prove to be a little tricky.
While negotiating past guards, dogs, and high-tech security might be dicey, one thing in Dillon’s favor was the long-ass tunnel sweetly positioned smack in the middle of two hundred acres on Raphael Sanchez’s property, which sprawled just outside the teeming city of Tijuana. Dillon had intel on the place, and he’d bet a month’s salary that the tunnel, because it was so far out, wouldn’t be given more than minimal thought. It was the one weak link in Sanchez’s otherwise stellar security.
The fact that Sanchez ran a shorter crew after midnight helped. A little. He hoped.
Crouched in darkness, just outside a small, private hangar, Dillon released a ready breath as two uniformed security guards, chatting in Spanish, climbed into a golf cart and set off down a dirt airstrip. “Show time. We’ve got one hour before those overpaid goons swing back our way. Thirty minutes to the outer perimeter, thirty minutes back.” He set the timer on his watch. “Let’s get inside.”
“Tell me again why we’re doing this?” Lieutenant Jake Kincaid, Dillon’s second-in-command, plugged some kind of electronic gizmo into the office door’s keypad. Once the device found the correct numeric sequence, the digital display beeped and Jake opened the door.
Both men hitched up their packs, entered the building, and switched on flashlights.
“So you can impress me with all your super-secret spy stuff.” Dillon moved quietly through the office and into the main hangar. The beam of his flashlight cut across a Cessna four-seater prop hunkered down at the far end.
“I’m pretty sure I had to save up a lot of box-tops to get you in here with said super-secret spy stuff.” Jake moved ahead and to the left. “Storage room and tunnel are over here.”
Jake was an MIT refugee who should have been in prison for hacking, but he’d lucked out and gotten a life sentence in the U.S. Navy instead. Thanks to his CIA father, Jake had also been given the added benefit of working with Dillon at EDGE. Something Dillon absolutely never took for granted.
Jake was the light to Dillon’s dark. Both were California natives, but Jake had the All-American surfer dude theme working—sun-streaked hair, cheek stubble, constantly stoked, cool above all, he was boglius, boss, and totally chill. Except when he wasn’t. When he wasn’t, Jake was scary as hell, even to Dillon.
Genius hacker, SEAL, and beach bum. Dillon liked to think Jake had multiple personality disorder. Maybe some sort of ADD mixed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and a whole lot of Rainman savant. Not that he had any kind of real mental disorder, probably, but it was sure easier to compartmentalize a guy whose IQ made Steven Hawking look like a halfwit.
Jake picked the lock on the storage room door and both men entered. Metal shelves lined one wall. Oil. Rags. Tools. Typical mechanic’s stuff. Cleaning supplies huddled in a corner. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the large circle of gray covering the floor in the far side of the small room.
Dillon lifted off the lightweight polymer cover, set it aside, and frowned at the narrow opening. “Please tell me this thing opens up and that I’m not going to have to crawl half a mile to the villa.” Not that he minded crawling, but he was in a bit of a time crunch here.
Jake’s expression stayed neutral. “If you crawl real fast, you won’t even notice the distance. I brought you kneepads.”
“Kneepad this.” Dillon made a crude gesture. “I’ve got,” he glanced at his watch, “exactly fifty-three minutes to get there, get in, get back, and get us out of here.”
Jake set his pack down and started sorting gear. He handed Dillon night-vision goggles, a throat mike and an earbud. “And here I thought you’d have had the tunnel all scoped out.”
Dillon gave him a look. “That would be your job. Mine, you may remember, is trying not to get killed.”
Jake grunted, pulled out a laptop and started tapping keys. “You sure you don’t want me to come with?”
“Just stay put and run the remotes.”
Jake shrugged. “Okie dokes. Once you’re down the ladder, the tunnel opens up to be seven-by-four. Lights run along the east wall. An air filtration system keeps fresh air circulating. At fifty-foot intervals you’ll see a water drainage system. Don’t want any ground water mucking up Sanchez’s Gucci loafers.”
“Good to know.” Dillon geared up. Stuck the earbud into his left ear.
“So. Once you’re in the villa, what exactly are you looking for?”
"Uh huh. What kind of leverage?” Jake shot him a suspicious look, probably wondering if he should stage a prudent retreat.
Dillon kept his answer simple and honest. “No idea.”
Jake nodded, drumming fingers against leg. “You don’t know.” No shock. No fear. Just calm acceptance. “Okay. Well. That’s always fun.”
“I figure I’ll know it when I see it.” He pulled a beanie down over his ears, snapped on a pair of black Nitrile gloves.
“As long as said leverage doesn’t get you dead.”
“As long as you do your job, this should be a piece of cake.”
“Words to live by.” Jake nodded, then stopped abruptly. “Wait a minute. What about the money? I’d say stealing the money would be excellent leverage.”
“Won’t be here. Too risky. You know, wife and kid around, kidnapping, ransom, murder, all that.” He squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I need to spark a little fear. Maybe grab something a little more personal.”
“So lop off his wedding ring. And, you know, the finger he’s wearing it on. That’s personal.”
“And oh so clandestine, too, you deranged psycho.” Dillon sidled toward the entrance. “I’ve studied the blueprints of the house. Give me eyes and ears and I’ll handle the rest.”
Jake passed over a tranq gun for the dogs and a tactical snake camera, the last of the gear Dillon needed. “All set. State-of-the-art and all in matching black. Coordinates nicely with the cat burglar theme you’ve got going.”
Dillon checked his Glock, stuck his flashlight in a side pocket of his cargo pants and climbed down the ladder into blackness. He flipped the NVG’s down over his eyes. After taking a precious few seconds to get oriented, he started off at a brisk clip. All he saw was cement, cement, and more cement. Four walls of nothing but cement for half a freakin’ mile. The sheer arrogance of it appalled and amazed him.
As his boots thudded against the concrete he wondered just how safe this tunnel, surely not built to code, was. “How often they do maintenance down here?”
“Once a week. Tuesdays. It’s now Wednesday, so we’re good. Fifty minutes left.”
“Instead of a panic room, Sanchez has a getaway tunnel. How sensible of him.” He’d secured himself into not just an armed compound, but a DoD’s wet dream. Or nightmare. Depending.
A perturbing thought occurred to Dillon. “I don’t have to scale walls I hope. You absolutely did not mention walls.” Dillon had been scrutinizing the Sanchez Brothers Cartel for almost a year now and two days ago he’d gotten the go-ahead to try to get inside. He’d pulled Jake in for this little recon excursion, but neither one of them had been able to get as many details on the Sanchez estate as Dillon would have liked. At least not yet. If tomorrow was successful, Dillon would get all the intel he could handle. Enough, he hoped, to gain Sanchez’s trusty inner circle. In the meantime, he had zero climbing gear with him other than a nylon rope.
“No walls. Forty-six minutes.”
“Maybe I should exercise my constitutional right to bear arms while I’m here. And Sanchez’s inhuman right to see how much C-4 it would take to level this joint. Imagine the smug satisfaction I’d get.” And someday, he thought, I’ll dance on that soulless bastard’s grave.
Dillon saw a ladder up ahead and slowed to a walk. “Okay, I’m at the drain cover in the courtyard.” If the info he had was accurate, and he was oh-so-screwed if it wasn’t, he should now be standing dead center of the estate.
“Forty-two minutes,” Jake said, then asked, “Eyes on?”
“Give me a sec,” Dillon said, and finessed the camera up through a hole in the metal grate. “Okay, go.”
Dillon felt the tip of the camera rotate as Jake controlled it remotely from his end. “Well, let’s see,” Jake said in his best realtor’s voice, “What we have here is a luxurious oasis with a drug baron fountain-and-flowers motif offering a spectacular resort-style setting perfect for entertaining corrupt politicos and the like. Exceptional features include infrared solutions, black mirror technology, a digital CCTV, and a little pan-tilt-zoom action. Cameras mounted at strategic intervals overlook an expansive lanai, a spacious covered patio and Palapa cabana, as well as a heated pool. Columned archways appear to lead to some kind of garden area and waterfall thing. No guards in sight. Casa Sanchez is very thorough. I wonder if he has a sub-zero fridge.”
Dillon rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to look. Loop on main?”
“Affirmative. One minute loop set.”
“Okay, I’m going in.”
“Uh, hold up. Very Big Dog approaching your six.”
A deep rumbling growl came from above and behind Dillon. He pulled the tranquilizer gun and thought, well hell. Problem one; if he lifted the grate to shoot, the dog would actually see him and guard dogs generally liked to bark. A lot. Problem two; big dog meant big teeth, and Dillon wasn’t sure how fast the tranquilizer would take effect. He wasn’t in any hurry to take a mangled hand home to Sara. Problem three; if he didn’t time this just right, one loud bark and all the guards in the area would be right on top of him.
Dillon wiggled the snake cam. A black, bulky shape appeared, then two front paws and a nose. Before the dog got a really good whiff of strange-person-who-should-not-be-here and started woofing it up, Dillon pressed the barrel of the gun to an opening in the grate and fired one dart. The dog yelped. A few seconds passed and the dog started to sway where he stood. “No, no,” Dillon said. “No, no, no. Off the grate. Go on, scoot. You’re supposed to pass out on the patio or the lawn or the … oh hell. Dog’s gone Goldilocks on the friggin’ grate.”
Dillon heard Jake snort and frowned. “I don’t have time for this. Damn it.” Dillon climbed the ladder, set his jaw, bent over and using his shoulder as leverage, hefted not only a snoozing Doberman but a heavy as shit metal grate.
Once he wrangled himself out of the tunnel, he replaced the grate, settled the dog under a nearby tree, then removed the tranq dart, capped it and stuck it in his side pocket. “Time hack?”
“Thirty-eight minutes. Gonna be close.”
Dillon crossed the lawn, the terrace, and edged along the shadows toward the sliding glass patio door. He gave the door a passing glance. Definitely wired and too time consuming to bother with. He kept moving. Skulking along both sides of the house, he checked the windows. None were open, all were wired. He made his way back to the dining room windows, eyeballed the second story, and wondered just how in the hell he was going to get in without waking everyone within a five mile radius. “Jake, you see anything I don’t?”
“Move the camera up over the roof.”
“Judging by the blueprints, the bedrooms should be off to the right. The balcony just above me looks like it leads into an office or library. Maybe a media room.” He moved the camera left. “Second story doesn’t extend over the kitchen.”
“Hold it. There’s a small brick chimney, left of that there’s a long bubble thing which is probably a--”
“Skylight over the kitchen. Bingo.”
“Looks like you’re gonna have to scale a wall after all.”
“Hold that thought.” Moving fast, Dillon grabbed a bar stool from the cabana and positioned it under the southernmost eave. In one easy move, he went from the ground to the stool, pushed off from there, and grabbing the edge of the roof with both hands, hauled himself up and over.
The roof above this part of the house was nearly flat, covered with clay barrel roof tiles, and had a four-by-four-foot skylight set into the ceiling. Stepping carefully, he transferred his weight from foot to foot as he cautiously made his way to the tinted plastic dome. Kneeling, he took a closer look. The skylight wasn’t meant to move, so there was no need for it to be wired. Damn lucky break, all things considered. He unhooked his Ka-Bar from his belt, and in one continuous motion, cut the seal around base of the skylight. After lifting it aside he unhooked the rope. He really needed to hurry. “Jake, time hack.”
The theme song from Mission Impossible, whistled pitch perfect, came over Dillon’s headset. “Ha, ha. If you’re comparing me to Ethan Hunt, fine. Great, in fact. But if you have Tom Cruise in mind, I’m going to have to kill you.” With a quick loop and a knot, Dillon fastened the rope around the base of the chimney.
“Well, you are all in black. Minus the ever present, very chill, always explosive sunglasses, of course.”
“Don’t forget the oh-so-realistic flying motorcycles.”
“Good point. Much cooler.”
Crouching, Dillon peered down into the darkened kitchen. A center island squatted in the middle, about ten feet below him. With a deep breath, he shimmied down the rope, caromed off the kitchen island, dropped the last couple of feet, and landed on soft soles. His heart beat a little faster.
“This would be a really bad time for someone to decide they’re hungry,” Jake said.
“Ya think?” Dillon whispered as he crept quietly up a side staircase and into a hall.
And what a nice upstairs it was. Airy and spacious, with sculptural art and custom furniture. Plants in every corner. Flowers on every surface. Pictures in pewter frames sat on marble-top antiques. Old world charm, tropical sprawl and modern luxury.
Crime did indeed pay, Dillon thought, at least for those ruthless enough to kill their way to the top.
Four doors faced into the hall. Two open, two closed. Dillon veered to the closest open door and went in. Judging by the large onyx desk, black leather chair, computer set up and books lining one wall, this was obviously somebody’s office. Masculine in appearance, so it was probably Sanchez’s. Dillon thumbed through a stack of papers, saw nothing but bills and ordinary household paperwork. This room was a waste of precious time. No way would Sanchez leave anything incriminating in his home office.
“Thirty minutes, boss.”
“I hear ya.”
Dillon crossed the hall to the other open doorway and peered in. The entire room looked like Cinderella’s castle. Muraled walls, canopy bed, dolls, books, ornate white furniture with girly knick-knacks and pretty jewelry. And there, sleeping just a few feet away was a small girl, snuggled cozily under a princess comforter.
Dillon stepped further into the room and said, “Bingo. I just found my leverage.”