Fair warning, this post gets a little racy. PG-13 racy, but still, you should know.
Shadows and smoke. There are many men and women who fight to keep this nation safe outside the bright lights of declared combat zones.
Leo looked up at the undulating woman and thought Now I know the reason women get boob jobs, they want them to look like these. She was the total package. Voluptuous, sexy and sensuous. And smart. Super smart in a world where the not-smart-enough die off pretty fast. Leo, a confirmed bachelor, figured he might be falling for her. Too bad she’s an assassin.
The liaison hadn’t been planned. It was an unanticipated by-product of the job. Leo was charged to meet with the Peruvian “expediter” that had been involved in a couple of kidnappings of some American kids while they hiked the Machu Picchu trail. Carlos Garcia Menendez was not the actual kidnapper, though he was key and essential to enabling the kidnappers, not just with the abduction, but for providing sustainment and support to the kidnappers during the ransom negotiation process. American kids had suffered, Garcia needed to be…dissuaded.
Patricia Avilar Cortez was a known freelance killer of men. She had popped corrupt politicians, cartel minions, and (intelligence assessed, corrupt) security forces personnel in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, she used her pursuit of a Ph.D. in Anthropology and early Meso-American studies as a cover to travel the region; oft times the travel was truly for academic reasons, sometimes for more nefarious purposes. Intell reports assessed that Cortez’ raw beauty was one of her biggest assets in facilitating her operations, gaining her access to her targets; Leo believed it.
Although Cortez and Menendez had never met, she had used Menendez’ services to support some of her operations, and the two had a congenial professional relationship, even if it was just online and telephonically. She had been a logical asset for Leo to leverage to broker a meet with Menendez. She was being handsomely remunerated for her efforts. The US Government was paying her more to set up a meet than she would usually get for wet work. Not that she knew it was USG paying for her services. Theoretically.
Leo had made the hour flight from Lima to Cusco, then made the two-hour drive to Ollantaytambo, near the Sacred Valley. There, he linked up with Cortez (please, call me Patricia), where they had confirmed their plans and left the ville together, though in separate rental vehicles. Leo had spent some time selecting and setting up the cottage he would use to launch to the Menendez meet, which would take about an hour and a half of travel over rough terrain from the launch point. Menendez had a finca out in the boonies; A little getaway that was perfect for a long weekend—or for staging men, weapons, equipment and cash in support of his many and varied illicit activities.
The cottage Leo had selected was tucked into a gentle little draw that backed up to a steep ridgeline to the rear of the house, while the front had a long, slightly sloping meadow that ran down about 250 meters to the “main road” in front of the house. “Main road” was dirt, pitted and pocked by erosion and runnels. The gravel driveway that ran up to the house was in much better condition. The house was stone and heavy timber, with a front porch that looked out over the little valley and up into the jagged hills on the far side. Rustic but with natural gas and good plumbing. Leo had rented the place for a week on either side of the meet.
Leo and Patricia had arrived a little before noon the day before. The plan was to “remain overnight” (RON in military parlance) then move to the rendezvous and subsequently the meet late the next morning. Plenty of slack time built into the schedule to overcome contingencies and still get to Menendez on schedule. The beautiful view, the romantic cottage, the lack of cable or satellite television, and maybe just a little bit the bottle of vino tinto that Leo had had in his rental vehicle had led to the unanticipated congress with the sultry Patricia. Leo thought how his SITREP would read (“Uh, well, y’see, one thing led to another, and…”). Actually, even though higher knew he’d be working with Cortez, reporting this particular activity with a foreign national was required. He wouldn’t be sanctioned; the act itself only reinforced his cover. Leo needed to report just to ensure that he couldn’t be accused of divided loyalties or improprieties later. Leo just wasn’t a kiss and tell kind of guy. Dang, there’d be chick intel analysts reading his reports. It was worth it though, even if Patricia’s chosen profession contraindicated a post-coital nap.
Despite the elevation, the light of dawn warmed the cabin as the sun rose over the mountains. Patricia got up from their spoon session, naked, and raised the dawn-side front window and opened the shutters. She then moved to the low slung table, shook a cigarette loose from the pack of Marlboro reds there and lit up. Leo had brought the cigarettes; not a regular smoker, the reds just seemed to fit with the rustic setting. She tucked her legs under her, tilted her head up, and blew a soft plume toward the rafters. Leo stayed on the bed, basking in her beauty as much as the sunlight.
“That was a lovely evening,” she said. “In this moment, I am hoping that today goes as well as last night, eh, Leo?” She smiled at him brightly.
Leo tried not to clinch up, or drop his jaw, or just groan and bury his face in the pillow. Leo. That wasn’t his cover name. It wasn’t even close to his cover name. It was his real name. In an effectiveness review of the cover he was using for this op, even if the cover was penetrated, it was guaranteed not to reveal his true name, just another cover. And on. His current cover had five degrees of separation from his real name. Unbreakable to any adversary, they said. Technology couldn’t beat the layers of deception and authentication, they said. Leo gave up and groaned into his pillow. Patricia ground out her cigarette and walked over to the bed. She straddled his back and began kneading the now-balled up muscles of his neck and shoulders.
“I’m sorry, my love. I have upset you.”
“Nah. I guess. Never been busted before. Not like this. You mind telling me how you cracked it? I want to know who to choke to death whenever I get back.”
“Well,” she said, working on his overdeveloped trapezius muscles, “you are aware, are you not, that you look nothing like a consultant, yes? Even a clean coal energy consultant that spends time outside and at construction sites. I look at your muscles, and”—she ran a hand over the hard, shiny ridge of tissue on his right shoulder—“your scars, and consultant does not come to mind.”
“Okay. That’s verisimilitude. The verisimilitude was weak. Great. I learned all that stuff about clean coal power generation for nothing. Still doesn’t tell me how you got to Leo, though. Whoever that guy is.”
Her burst of musical laughter and the light, honeyed air that it blew over his back almost made up for his shredded pride and abject horror at having been sussed out. Almost.
“Verisimilitude. I like that word, Leo.” Though her English was perfect, her slight accent made it “ver’similitude.” Between that and the warmth of her butt on his, while she did some world-class massage work made Leo suspect their morning timeline might not have as much slack built into it as he’d intended.
“And I have a young friend at one of the universities I visit. He is a computer expert. Very good. Best data-miner I’ve ever met. He does much of the research for my work and on many of the people I…interact with. He discovered your identity for me. I am not sure how. But you should know, he said discovering who you really were was very, very difficult.”
“You think it was that difficult or was he just trying for a higher payoff?”
“Mmm. Since his only ‘price’ is dinner with me every month or so, I think he was being truthful.”
Leo rolled over and Patricia let him, still keeping her straddle. She arched her eyebrow at him but maintained her devilish grin.
“And what comes with the dinner, Reina de mi corazón?”
She laughed, and replied in a conspiratorial whisper, “Nothing. He is very, very gay.”
“So a gay guy busts one of the most airtight covers I’ve ever had, and all he wants is an occasional dinner? I’m guessing this guy wants to be you.”
“This statement may well be true.” Then she wiggled a little bit, and bent down and kissed him softly.
Later, Leo drifted off to the mental mantra “Do not fall asleep next to the assassin. Do not fall asleep next to the assassin…”
Leo woke to see Patricia staring at him, still smiling. Either this chick really digs me, or she deserves an Academy Award. Given her day job, it’s probably Oscar, not Leo. Leo reached out and gently moved a wayward length of India ink hair away from her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. Leo stared back. Then again, I am pretty darn diggable. He realized that he hadn’t woken from anything Patricia had done. Instead, he could hear, very faintly, a distant hum. Engines.
Patricia said, softly, “I am thinking, in this moment, that we will be having company.” Faintly ‘I am theenking, een thees moment.’ Leo had taken a hard fall over that verbal tic of hers. Her smile was gone, but he could see it peeking out from her eyes and her dimples, wondering if it were time to come out and play again.
“Nobody was supposed to meet us here. We were supposed to rendezvous with Menendez’ boys at an intersection about an hour north of here.”
“I know, my love.”
“And you don’t have any side plans for us to receive unexpected guests?”
“No, my love.”
“You keep calling me ‘my love,’ I might fall for you. Then you’d be stuck with me.”
“I know, my love.”
Leo sighed. Freaking hot Latina assassins. Be the death of him.
Leo started to dress. Cargo pants. Tactical-ish hiking shoes. Performance tee and then flannel shirt. Lightweight jacket with lots of handy pockets.
Patricia pulled on her thong, then, holding her jeans in one hand, she raised an eyebrow at him as if to say, “A little privacy, please?”
Leo snorted. “After the last day and a half, there’s no way I’m not watching those jeans go over that butt.” She shot him that devilish grin, and finished getting dressed. The jeans must’ve been part Lycra, to fit like that, and her donning them was every bit as enervating as he’d expected it would be. Watching the rest of her dressing was a delight, too.
Leo started to make a bawdy comment on how maybe they need to be getting undressed again when she stepped up, lightly placed her fingers on his chest, and imperiously pushed him away. “In this moment, you should be thinking about work.”
Leo grinned at her, and stepped out on the porch. She followed. Leo’s gaze took in their two rental 4×4’s, the meadow of the valley, and the peaks all around them. His ears took in the sound of what he took to be an approaching motorcade. Patricia’s gaze took in Leo, assessing.
“Okay. Menendez’ finca is that way,” he pointed down the road in the direction opposite the sounds of engines, “And when I reconned the route a couple days ago, there are lots of ambush points just between us and the rendezvous, let alone the finca.”
“We are in the mountains,” she said. “It is difficult to find a piece of road that is not a good ambush site.”
“A-yup. I don’t think a bunch of trucks that could drive to this location would just accidentally happen to drive by.”
“No.” Patricia seemed relaxed, and Leo couldn’t identify any stress indicators emanating from her voice, posture, or face. He also noticed that the “my loves” had gone adios. Good. Time for game face.
“Given that, they could be drovers, meant to herd us into pushing for the finca. Right into an ambush or blocking position. They could be innocent passers-by, but chances of that are slim to none, and Slim didn’t come to town. Now, we can scarper, which means we run right into whatever they have set up for us out there. We can move toward them and find out what they want on whatever ground we happen to meet at. Or we can stay here, and see what they want.”
“If what they want is no good, then we are stuck here. I have a weapon. You must have a weapon. Still, we are not in a position to win a fight, Leo.”
“We don’t fight. We run. There’s a trail out back leading up over that ridgeline at the back of the house. On the other side, I’ve got a vehicle stashed. Even if Menendez sent guys to cover the back trail on the other side of the mountain in case we run—which I doubt—we’ll still be able to get out. That’s a job for one, maybe two.”
She lamped her smile at him. “You have a plan.”
He grinned at her. “I got a plan. In case everything went south.” No point in telling her that there was also an extra vehicle stashed a terrain feature from the rendezvous point, too. Leo’s mama didn’t raise no fools. Except the one that trusted the goniffs that built his cover.
By way of explaining the contingency vehicle, he said, “Don’t trust Menendez.” She frowned at him. “I have never known the word of any smoking hot Colombian contract killer chick to be anything less than sterling. But I hadn’t met you yet.”
She smiled. “That is why you did not sleep, mi amor?”
“Uh, maybe. Partly.”
“Until this morning. You are very cute when you snore. ‘S a good snore. Very soft. Like your kisses.” 5000 lumen smile.
“Aaand I’m thinking it’s time to get ready to roll.” Leo went to his backpack and pulled out a canvas envelope. Unzipping it, he pulled the upper and lower receivers of an M4 SBR out, married them up, and pinned the little rifle together. Then he got it locked and loaded. Given that this was not (officially) combat and he was not (emphatically) to use a weapon except for in dire straits, the weapon was not festooned with all the doodads and extras he’d have on it were he in a combat zone. Then, his carbine would look like a rail gun out of an updated Buck Rogers film. Instead, he had only a simple red-dot Trijicon sight. The precision of the Trijicon went a long way toward compensating for the 12” barrel of his li’l carbine.
He looked over at Patricia, and saw that she had pulled a mini AK-47 from her bag, and rocked in a mag. She only had iron sights, but she definitely looked like she knew what she was about.
Leo affixed a holstered Glock to his belt and pulled his shirt and jacket over the top. He saw Patricia also putting on a sidearm.
“Is that a Makarov?” he asked.
“Cool. What are you looking at for ammo status?”
“I have a magazine in the pistol and the AK. I have three extra magazines for each.”
“Okay, I’ve got one in each, and four extra mags for each. None of our weapons have interchangeable ammo, so if you have to harvest, take the mags, too.”
“I will not have to harvest from you, mi amor.”
“Insha’Allah. The house is solid timber and masonry, so we’ve got pretty good cover if we need to fight. If they bring any heavy weapons, rounds could penetrate, so stay low.” He moved over to the window that Patricia had opened, pulled the shutters in and closed the window. A foot to the left of the window, Leo took out his folding knife and began working the plaster. In moments, he had a two-inch by eight-inch lozenge carved out that looked out into the meadow. He crossed to the window on the other side of the door, and bored out another lozenge. Loose plaster littered the floor.
“I cut out these firing ports earlier. Stay away from the windows and shoot through this. If it comes to shooting.”
“If it comes to shooting.”
Leo leaned his SBR against the wall and walked outside and sat on the porch, his feet just able to touch the ground beneath it. Patricia came out and sat next to him. Her feet couldn’t reach the ground, so she swung them playfully. Her hands went to her face, and she lit two of the Marlboro reds, passing one to Leo.
The engines were getting louder, but sound bounced around in the mountains so much, Leo couldn’t even guess at an ETA.
“I have worked with Menendez for years. It has been profitable for him. I do not know why he would do this.”
“No telling. It’s probably not even you. He’s probably not digging the big, ugly gringo that showed up on his turf to read him the riot act.”
She elbowed him lightly in ribs, then contentedly leaned on his shoulder while she drew on her cigarette. “You are not ugly, mi amor, you are rugged. But I am thinking, in this moment, that maybe a doctor should look at your nose sometime. It has been very abused.” She looked up at him and shot that killer grin (Leo thought this chick adds a whole new dimension to ‘killer grin’) “It might help with the snoring.
“Still, I do not understand this. If Menendez fears you, or suspects who your jefe is, why accept a meet at all? If he trusts me enough to set up the meet, why send men in early? This does not make sense.”
“I’m sure he has what he thinks are valid reasons. Is your relationship with him so profitable that he would not see losing you as a customer a simple overhead cost?”
“No. He makes good money from me, but he makes good money from many people. But he must know, if I survive, I will seek retribution. In this moment, he should not be thinking only of money.”
“Eh, maybe he just sent us escorts, to ensure our safety.”
“Then why not put that in the plan? And who would make us two more safe?”
Finally, some dust appeared on the approach road. Vehicles were close, and they were throwing a lot of dust into the thin mountain air.
Leo said, “They’ll be here soon. Why don’t you go inside and cover me? Be ready to shoot anyone that shoots at me? That’d be great.”
“Since I have worked with Menendez, should I not stay out here and talk to these men?”
“No. This is man work. Let me stay outside. It’s for the best. No toxic masculinity here.”
“Toxic? What? I do not understand this.”
“I know, baby. Why I love Latinas. Get on inside now.” Leo pulled out his electric ears from a coat pocket, and inserted them. With active noise enhancement and active noise defeat, he hoped they would help keep him from being one of those old guys with a huge ear-horn toothlessly gumming out “speak up, young feller” when he got old, if he had the chance to get old. Aw, shucks. He turned and stepped back into the doorway, digging around in another coat pocket; he always kept some extra foamies on him. He pulled out the little cardboard envelope and extended it toward Patricia, who was inspecting her firing port. “Hey, you might need these.”
She smiled at him and pulled her jet hair back from her ear. She already had e-ears in; Leo recognized that they were a newer gen than his. This lady…
“Thank you for thinking of me, Leo. You are ver’ kind.”
Leo stepped back outside.
A beat-up Land Rover with a cargo rack on the top crested the rise into the small valley. Behind that came a Toyota Hilux light diesel 4×4 pickup truck, then another, and another. One SUV and three pickups. All three Hilux’ had two in the front and at least three guys in the back. All the guys that Leo could see were carrying long guns. The vehicles had come in from right to left. The Land Rover stopped at the far-left edge of the little valley. The other vehicles spread out before cottage. Say, one vehicle every fifty meters. The drivers, shotgun riders, and truck bed personnel began to decamp.
Leo stood up on the porch, waved, and sounded off with a loud and thunderous “¡Hola!”
They started shooting at him.
Leo dove back inside and slammed and barred the door.
Patricia was already laying down fire. Leo grabbed his SBR and rolled over to his firing port. Looking out to assay the situation, he could see that the gun thugs were spreading out in a vague notion of a skirmish line and moving forward. They were trained, but not well trained. Leo could tell that they knew, sorta/kinda, that they should be bounding forward in teams, and that those not bounding should be providing suppressive fire on the cottage. But the bounds were kind of a hunched over trot. The malitos providing supporting fires were either standing or on a knee. Amateurs. Still, there were enough of them to push through and end him and Patricia, if they had the will. Patricia was reaping men with cool, well-placed headshots.
Leo looked over at her, “No more kills, just wounds.”
She looked at him and threw him an eyebrow.
“The kills are easy, they can just leave the bodies. The wounded will scream and cry and make all the shooters wonder what will happen if they get hit. The wounded will want to pull back, leave, get to a hospital or somewhere they can be treated.”
She just nodded at him and went back to shooting.
Leo threw some rounds into the Land Rover. That’d be where the bossman of this goat rope was, may as well make him sweat a little. He took out some knees and knocked some pelvises inside out (no gut shots; nobody deserved to get gut-shut, unless it was unavoidable), then looked over at Patricia. She was tightening up a little. She was doing the math and the numbers didn’t look good.
“Hey, chica. It’s going to be alright.”
The malitos had clued in that walking straight up (or even bent over at the waist a little bit) was not a good idea. Most of them had hit the dirt. Leo could hear crying and wailing from the wounded. Thing about just wounding them, they’d take it personal. Kill a bunch and you still had a reasonable expectation of a clean kill if you wound up on the short end. Wound a bunch, they were going to take some time putting you down. There was some commotion on the third truck in line.
Leo put out some dispersed fires to encourage everyone to keep their heads down, then oriented on the truck. Large steel plates were being hoisted above the bed. Meant, too, that the inside of the bed was armored and he couldn’t just shoot through. After a couple beats, he saw a large barrel emerge between the plates. Big barrel. Not good. Leo traversed his weapon over in the slot and started pinging the steel plates, the bed of the truck, and maybe the barrel. No reason the gunner should get into the scrum all calm and sedate. From what he could see, he figured the big gun for a Dishka (DShK 1938). Its 12.7 mm rounds were comparable to the US Ma Deuce .50 caliber. The heavy stone and timber construction components of the house would be about as much cover as tissue paper. No bueno. Despite the rounds he was pinging into the truck, he saw the barrel of the Dishka nod up and down. Like someone had just jacked the charging handle. Time to get low.
“Patricia—down now!” he yelled, getting prone on the floor as fast as he could. Without hesitation, Patricia followed suit. The tableau in front of them was not the type of stage on which she played for mortal stakes; she was more than willing to follow Leo’s lead. Her face was a little stressed, but for a non-gunslinger, Leo was proud of her. Well, as proud as one could be of a contract killer that saw the black widow spider as an operating template, not a bug to get squished. The fact that the Dishka was on a slightly lower elevation meant that going prone was a good bet; a proficient gunner could figure out the firing solution to get at people on the floor, but Leo doubted the guy behind the gun was that guy.
The Dishka opened up. Its rounds ripped through the walls and door for about a five-round burst. Leo was right, the rounds were high. After the five rounds, the gun fell silent. All the gun thugs had stopped shooting in order to watch the Dishka. As soon as the gun stopped, Leo sprang up and started putting rounds into gun thugs. Most were not looking at the cottage, but at the truck with the gun. Hey, My Friends, my eyes are up here. Patricia followed his lead. No more looking to wound; it was time to put steel on whatever meat target presented itself. A guy jumped into the back of the gun truck, and bent over like he was heaving something aside. Then he stood and repositioned himself so that he could settle in behind the gun—and fell over, hanging from the plates of the steel armor. Patricia looked over to Leo.
“You have us covered.”
“I do, indeed, Beautiful. Now, I recommend you empty that mag into the crowd, reload, and we’ll get out of Dodge.”
She nodded and went back to careful, aimed shots. Leo did the same. They clicked dry at about the same time and reloaded. Even as they simultaneously reloaded (Bad fire discipline, Leo noted), guys were getting dropped both in the field, and particularly around the gun truck. The shooter was using a suppressed weapon system and subsonic rounds, so while the gun thugs could generally guess at where the rounds might be coming from, they really had no idea how to pinpoint the shooter.
Leo threw his backpack on and looked at Patricia. “You ready?” She nodded. “Okay, stay behind me and step where I step. I left some surprises on the trail for anyone that either tries to sneak in the back door, or who tries to follow us. I’ll point out the hazards, but stay at my back and you’ll be fine.”
Leo went out the back and headed up the game trail that led from the back of the cottage up to the ridgeline, then back down the far side. Not too far away on the other side of the ridge of hills was the stashed vehicle. Leo led out. As they navigated the trail (and off the trail, when it came to the Leo-emplaced hazards) he pointed out where to walk, and why. Punji sticks, claymore, man-trap. Their movement was relatively quick, although the altitude and Leo’s mass made him feel like he was chasing individual oxygen molecules in order to get a breath. Patricia seemed to have no problems at all. Leo was willing to vouch for the fact that she was in shape.
As they neared the bottom of the far-side of the ridgeline, navigating carefully down a scree, they heard a crump on the other side. Leo looked at Patricia and shrugged. “Claymore.” They continued moving. They found Leo’s car, and moved out. They drove straight through Ollantaytambo, and stopped in Cusko. There, Patricia gave Leo a quick peck on the cheek, and took her leave, disappearing into the crowd of tourists, backpackers, and the vendors trying to make a buck off them.
Leo shook his head, put the vehicle in gear, and moved on.
——————–24 Hours Out From Egress———————
Leo, back in Lima, had some kind of madman pounding on his hotel room door. He pulled out his phone and called up the app that showed him what the pin camera he’d placed in the hall could see (those little eye-ports in hotel room doors are for suckers). He grinned, knowing the force of nature he was about to host and moved to the door. He pulled the rubber wedge door stop that he always put in his hotel doors, and swung the door open with an expansive “welcome to my palace” of his other hand. Dave Coker stormed in.
Tall, lean, and what the kids called “jacked,” Coker looked like the model that Hollywood CGI specialists used for werewolves. His shoulders were broad enough, and his waist narrow enough, and he was so light on his feet that he looked like his shoulders were upheld by cables, and his lower body just dangled beneath them. He had dark hair, a sharp chin, and eyes that, on reflection, made Leo think of werewolves.
“Dude! I gotta spend two days in a hide while you do the hibbity-jibbity with Pocahontas? That is so wrong, man. You so owe me.”
“You got some good shots, in, bro. We’re even. How often you been put in a hole, given weapons-free status as soon as big guns come out, and have a target rich environment serve itself up on a platter? Shee-oot. I’m thinking you owe me, brah.”
“That was a great shoot. After you and Pocahontas pulled out, it took them about two hours to police up their wounded and get out.”
“They head for the finca, or back down the road?”
“Toward the finca. They dropped a couple of guys to follow your backtrail. I’m thinking I heard your claymore clean them out?”
“That’s what I’m supposing. I heard it go off, but wasn’t going back to check on it. Speaking of which…”
Coker waved him off. “While you were doing briefings at the Embassy, I made arrangements. I got a team going in to recover all the vehicles, undo and repair as much damage to the cottage as they can, and dismantle and recover all your tricks and treats on the backside. Both of our weapon sets have been recovered, cleaned and put into storage for the next time some US bubbas need to do the Machu Picchu boogie. Still, brother, I was out there getting all kinds of ate up by bugs and snakes ‘n’ whatnot”—Leo rolled his eyes— “you need to make this right, man.”
“It’s not sniveling when it actually sucked.”
“Alright, when we get back to Miami, I’ll buy you dinner or something.”
“Or something? Dude, you owe me dinner and, like, 23 lap dances at the Pink Pony!”
“23? When was your last urinalysis? There’s no way—”
There was a quiet knock at the door. Coker looked at Leo with his eyebrows up and whispered, “we blown?”
Leo sighed. He had a feeling he knew who was knocking. “Probably.”
Coker stood and moved to the little kitchenette table of the suite and picked up one of the chairs by the leg. He stood off to the side of the door while, with his other hand he deployed his tactical folder (neither of them could carry firearms inside the capital city without special permissions, which they hadn’t sought on this op). Leo checked the pin camera via his phone, nodded to himself and said, “We’re blown, but it’s cool.”
He went to the door, pulled his wedge out, and opened it. Patricia stood there, smiling broadly. She was in a nice sundress, no hat, wearing flats. Leo assessed that her legs looked better in flats than the legs of most women wearing the highest of stiletto heels. He stood back from the door and made the same expansive hand gesture he’d made with Coker. “C’mon in. Mi casa es su casa. Apparently.” Patricia breezed into the suite.
She saw Coker standing there, chair in one hand, knife in the other, and walked right up to him. “You are the shooter that saved us. I know this. My brave francotirador. Thank you.” She reached up and softly pulled his face down to hers, and kissed him gently but lushly on each cheek. Leo grinned and had to stop his laugh; Coker, wildman, shooter, human Tasmanian devil, was blushing. Coker looked over at Leo and said, in the worst sotto voce ever, “Dude, two days in the hole was so worth it.”
Leo deadpanned, “So, you gonna put down the chair now?”
Coker looked as if surprised at the chair in his hand and placed it back at the table. The knife seemingly disappeared while he did that.
Patricia approached Leo and hugged him. Leo hugged back, genuinely, and shot daggers with his eyes at Coker, who was silently laughing and making hip gyrations behind the hug.
“Okay, let’s all sit down and”—more daggers at Coker— “relax.”
“I cannot, mi amor. I have many things to do. As I know you must, too. It is just, I am thinking, in this moment, you need to leave Peru tomorrow.”
“Well, baby doll,” piped up Coker, “we got lots of stuff we still need to do here in country.”
“Yes, I know.” Patricia took both his hands in hers. “I am thinking it is very, very necessary for you to leave Peru tomorrow.”
Leo looked over to Coker, who managed to combine wide-eyed wonderment with a nonchalant shrug. Coker said, “Ain’t nothing we need to do, can’t be done remotely, I suppose.” Leo nodded.
“Okay, Patricia. We’re gone tomorrow.”
“Thank you, mi amor.” She gave him a long, slow kiss and walked out.
Coker looked at Leo and said “Dude…”
——————-48 Hours Out After Egress———————————–
Leo and Coker flew out of Lima to Miami. From there, Coker headed back to Bragg, while Leo moved on to DC, where he wanted to have a very engaging and dynamic conversation with some people as to the terms “unbreakable,” “airtight,” and “backstopped” as they applied to cover.
———————72 Hours Out After Egress————————————-
Carlos Garcia Menendez was found dead, floating in the pool behind his mansion on his estate on the outskirts of Lima. There were no signs of foul play and local security forces deemed it death by heart attack.
———————-30 Days Out After Egress————————————-
Leo moved into the Sombras y Humo restaurant, in Bogota. The name was appropriate. Physically and metaphysically thought Leo. The restaurant was outdoors. Only the huge hearth and chimney were permanent, built of brick and mortar and containing the entire cooking capability of the restaurant. The rest of the place was outdoors, with nets strung above to keep random leaves, twigs, and branches from falling on the costumers.
Leo looked across the restaurant and saw her. She was sitting at a table with her back to one of the huge oak trees that formed the perimeter of the restaurant. He looked over the restaurant, and walked toward her. She was dressed el paisa, traditionally, with a white below-the-shoulders blouse, laced in the front with a drawstring that was getting a workout. From what he could see, it looked like she was wearing a peasant skirt. She had a big round wine glass in front of her, with a little dollop of vino tinto spooled at the bottom. There was a box of Marlboro Reds on the table. When Leo reached the table, she languidly extended her hand to him. He took it and kissed it three times gently; two on the back, the last he turned the hand over and kissed her palm. She smiled and maybe blushed a little bit, it was hard to tell in the subdued lighting of Sombras y Humo. Leo took the seat across from her.
With her killer grin—that seemed to have a little “I’ve got a secret” to it—she head chucked one of the waiters. Bemused, Leo watched her settle back, watching him. The waiter came over with a low-ball glass with a cube in it and some amber goodness and set it in front of Leo. Patricia looked like a kid on Christmas morning, waiting to tear into the presents with glee.
Leo shot her his best Bond eyebrow, and took a sip of the drink. Maker’s 46. His drink. He was again horrified, and maybe a little delighted. Not as delighted as Patricia, though. She looked like she might jump into a clapping spree. He smiled at her. “This is a very good drink.”
Her smile caught an edge of sly to it. “I thought you would like it.”
He held the crystal tumbler up and shot questions at her with his eyebrows. No more Bond-international-man-of-mystery arches. This was straight up “what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on?” browing.
Patricia delicately placed her fingertips on her formidable bosom, behind which, at some point, there had to be a heart. “I must confess,” she said, her smile tamping down a little bit, “I think maybe I have become a stalker. A little bit. Your background is costing me many dinners with my university frien’.
“Sorry about the dinners,” said Leo, “But this is a really good drink.” Her smile amped up and she wriggled in her seat, a little bit. Leo sighed. Freaking hot Latina assassins. Be the death of him.
She took a drag on her cigarette, and as she exhaled she lifted her chin. She looked down her nose at him, and her affect became severe. She does a really good severe, thought Leo.
“I am thinking, in this moment, that maybe you have not told me the truth, Leo.”
“Why, whatever do you mean, my love?”
“I am thinking that you wanted Menendez gone. I am thinking that you gave him intelligence that led him to believe I meant to harm him, and thus he sent the bad men. I am thinking you used me as a tool to eliminate someone you couldn’t get permission to eliminate yourself.”
“You got it. Absolutemente. You’re right.”
Patricia tapped the ash of her cigarette authoritatively, as if to say so there.
“But,” Leo grinned at her, “I am thinking, in this moment, that you used me ever bit as much as I used you. You aren’t the only one to know smart data miners, mi hermosa señorita. Since we left the cottage,” he reached out and took one of her hands in both of his, “and the cottage was great. One of the best days of my life, other than all the shooting.”
She beamed at him, “Yes, other than that.”
“Well, I aimed my data miners at you. Bigger than our initial look at you; a deep dive. Seems like best we can determine, your last couple contracts that were supported by Menendez didn’t go so well. The right equipment wasn’t at the cache. The bugout plan wasn’t supported. Security forces seemed to know what you were going to do before you did it. As near as we can tell, you barely made it out of Guayaquil, four months ago.”
She stubbed out her cigarette and brought her hand up to Leo’s two, that were holding her other. “Guayaquil was ver’ difficult. I do not like fights, Leo. I do what I do, but not fighting. You are a fighter. I know. That is not my…style.”
“I know. And you needed to confirm or deny whether Menendez was purposefully targeting you, for failure if not assassination. But you didn’t want to brace Menendez to find out without any backup. Then I show up, looking for someone to broker a meet. You did some checking, too well, I think, and figured I would make a great back up. At least, in all the research we did, seems like an overarching theme is that you don’t and haven’t killed anyone didn’t need killing. That’s a good thing. A man’s lover shouldn’t be a killer of the innocent.”
“Are we lovers, now, Leo?”
“For one great day. Not now. I don’t see how we go forward. I don’t see how we square our differences. I do what I do, you do what you do, and this one time our interests intersected. But in the future? Patricia, in the future what if they send me after you? I can’t do that.”
Patricia disentangled their hands, lit two smokes, and reached forward to place one on Leo’s lips. Again, the drawstring of her blouse defied the laws of physics by not bursting asunder. Again, Leo tried and failed not to stare. Again, he felt his IQ drop at least fifty points at the sight.
“Mi amor, I am thinking, in this moment, that the abduction of young Americans walking the Machu Picchu trail was not the only reason you targeted Menendez, and contrived to aim me at him.”
“No. Menendez was doing more and more work for Hezbollah. Hezbollah was conducting more operations, and supporting the operations of other…elements of that regime. If I were an Americano operator,” she reached up and gently brushed his face, “with a broken nose, I would be more worried about that than kidnapped children. Kidnapped children fall under the realm of the FBI, verdad?”
“Verdad, baby. Though we help out where we can.”
“Our ‘way forward’ is: I aid you with Hezbollah. I do not like those malitos. They are all pinche pendejos. They treat women like basura. I could help you…deal with these bad men.” Her eyes twinkled and her smile amped up. “I am thinking it would take much planning, much coordination. We would have to work together ver’ closely.”
Leo considered. “Yeah, we would. We have to do a lot of administrative stuff before acting. At least in Latin America.”
“Por supuesto. And, if the price you paid me to broker a meeting with Menendez is a hint at what you would pay me for an…elimination, then I think we could work very well together.” She stood and took Leo’s face in her hands. “Very well.”
“Sounds good. What now?”
“Now, I am thinking I have another glass of wine, and maybe you have another drink. Then we go to the Zona Rosa and dance and drink some more. Then we go back to your hotel.”
Leo gave a long-suffering sigh. “I suppose you know what hotel I’m staying at?”
Killer grin, “Of course, mi amor, you are at the Santa Fe. You have the clock tower suite.” She leaned toward him. AAGGH! Physics! “I know there is a hot tub that is directly under the stained-glass clock. It is lovely. We should try it.”
“Okay. You order the drinks, I’ll hit the bathroom. And we’ll follow your plan.”
The bathrooms were in a stone building off of one of the corners of the open-air restaurant. Leo walked to the building and stood at the corner watching Patricia. She had her cigarette in her hand, pointed vertically (in Bogota, it’s not just smoking, it’s art), and was taking a sip from her oversize wine glass.
Leo pulled a small earpiece from his pocket and screwed it into his ear.
As soon as he activated the earpiece, he heard Coker’s voice. “Sounds like we’re happy,” said Coker.
“We’re happy. She’s in. It’s all good.”
“Do you ever feel dirty, Leo, knowing you’re just a gigolo for your country?”
“Not at all.”
“Alright. I’m out. See you in Miami tomorrow.”
“Day after tomorrow, brother. See you in Miami day after tomorrow.”