The San Andrés Tango

Leo and Patricia sat at a table in the open air bar of the San Andrés Yacht Club, on San Andrés Island, Colombia. The Island was closer to Nicaragua and Panama than Colombia, on the Caribbean side. The island was destination party central for Colombians. A little slice of paradise for the affluent and the backpack bum and slum crowd alike.

Patricia sipped delicately from a large, icy glass holding a frozen concoction and festooned with umbrellas and little plastic swords spearing a variety of tropical fruits. Leo just drank a Club Colombia beer, though the edge of his glass was rimed with salt and there was a chunk of lemon in his beer. They languished like leisurely vacationers, watching the boats come in and out of the yacht club. The scenery was absolutely stunning. No green water off the beach; the water was a pure brilliant blue.

Patricia was watching a large luxury yacht/sportsman’s boat approach the yacht club slips. “Do you think that is him?” she asked.

Leo squinted into the sun behind his shades. “Welp, it surely does look like a 52-foot Silverton, white and aquamarine, and that thrumming I can feel in my chest from here surely does sound like a trio of MTU 8000 engines, frustrated at being throttled down, so yeah, I think it’s him.”

The Silverton hit the no wake zone and throttled way down. The boat gracefully did a J-turn and began to back into its assigned slip that the harbor master had given the pilot (channel 18 for the San Andrés Yacht Club). Two rather fulsome, bikini-clad ladies came up from below decks. I heard a man’s voice sound off with “Uno! Dos! Tres!” Both the bikini girls threw bumpers over the port side of the boat. Then they cheered and clapped for themselves like they had just solved for cold fusion. The 1-2-3 count went off again and bumpers went off the starboard side. After a final countdown, bumpers went off the stern, just as the boat reached the terminal end of the slip and, bumper protected, gently kissed the jetty at slip’s end.

The pilot, a wildman named Coker, jumped down from the cockpit and helped the ladies tie off the lines around the slip’s cleats, securing the vessel to the slip. Coker jumped up on the jetty, and with a theatrical wheeling of arms, that left both fingers pointing at the main clubhouse, hollered, “All right, ladies, grab your bags and get your booties off my boat!”

The girls sped below decks and reappeared a couple seconds later, toting one bag each. The honey blonde wearing the black bikini carried a backpack. The dark, short haired brunette in the white bikini with a full sleeve of ink on her left arm and a lot of tats on her right leg carried a sports duffle. They both leapt up on the jetty and, well, sorta smothered Coker. Jeez, thought Leo, Coker sandwich. That cat’s going to be insufferable.

Patricia said to Leo, “Our brave francotirador must have had a nice voyage traveling with such beautiful ladies.”

“Yeah,” said Leo, “I’m sure he had a grand time. Still, he wants to equal the fun we have, he’d need three, maybe four more chicas.

Patricia laid her hand on Leo’s gnarled forearm. “You are ver’ kind, mi amour.”

Then she looked at him archly over her glass. “And ver’ correct.”

As the ladies left, Leo and Patricia watched them go. No reason to rush the boat and let the bikini babes get a look at them. After a decent interval, they stood, Leo threw enough pesos down to cover the tab, and walked down the jetty to the boat. Leo couldn’t help but lamp every boat on each side as they strolled, looking for anything out of place or of concern. As they clambered off the jetty and onto the stern, Leo crouched and thumped the deck. Three times, fast and hard. Pause. One more thump. When they approached the door leading below decks, he issued the same series of knocks.

Coker met them coming down the stairs. Bro hug for Leo. Big (but not overenthusiastic, Coker had seen Leo flip the homicidal switch too many times) “you my sister” hug for Patricia, with her kissing each of his cheeks multiple times. They all sat in the great room; Coker provided beverages.

Patricia said,”Coker, I have never seen you with a beard. It looks ver’ nice on you.”

Coker grinned, and said, “Yeah, well, I was only back from The Box for two days before I got tasked to support this mission, so I figured I’d just trim the beard up a little instead of just shaving it all off.”

Patricia punched Leo in the arm. “He was only home two days!? How can you do this to him? How can you not take care of our brave francotirador?”

Leo deadpanned it. “Yeah, you’re right. If only someone had given him three weeks in Miami to get the boat reconfigured and refitted. If only someone had given him explicit guidance to spend enough time lounging in sun to even out his tan, so that he didn’t look like a farmer or a soldier. If only someone had had the first leg of his cruise be to Santa Marta to shake down the boat, and then a week to repair any damages. If only someone had arranged for a coupla hotties to make the transit with him. If only…”

Leo and Coker both leaned forward and clinked beer bottles.

Patricia snuggled into Leo, “See, I tol’ you. You do love him!”

Leo and Coker both squirmed.

“Yeah, maybe a little bit–“

“In a, you know, brother–“

“Brother-in-arms kind of way.”

“Totally not gay though,” they said in unison, and then clinked beer bottles again.

Patricia furrowed her brow, “But Coker, I am thinking, in this moment, that it was very unsafe for you to go from Miami to Santa Marta to here. Especially with those beautiful chicas on board. Who was there to cover you? To stand watch when you were sleeping…or otherwise engaged?”

Coker inclined the top of his beer bottle toward Leo. “This one’s yours, boss.”

Leo grunted and said, “Mi corazon, both of those young bikini beauties were Master Mariners. What? You think I’d leave a boat this expensive in this idiot’s hands?”

Coker laughed, “Yeah, I’m feeling the love now.”

Patricia snuggled up even harder to Leo.

“And, now that I think about it,” said Leo, “If you knocked either one of those ladies up, I gotta do a whole lot of paperwork.”

Leo grinned. “C’mon, boss. I’m a pro.”

“Uh-huh.”

A horn that sounded like a freighter’s went off, so close that the whole boat seemed to vibrate.

“What. The. Heck. Was. That?” asked Coker.

Leo shrugged. “They got a horn attached to a chain at the club. Every evening, right at sundown, they pick a tourist to sound the horn. It’s an attraction, or something.”

“Cool,” said Coker.

Coker gave them a tour of the boat. He pointed out the upgraded comms and anti-intrusion systems, the hidden holding compartments and all the upgrades the boat had undergone. Finally, he showed them the smaller, port-side stateroom that had been re-worked to unobtrusively be a full up Faraday cage stateroom; bottom line, no EMS signals were going in or getting out.

After the tour, the three repaired to the great room.

“Okay, boss. The boat is ship-shape. Heh. Now what’n heck are we doing?”

Leo reached down to his modest backpack, and pulled out a stack of folders. “Awright, hermano. I’m sure you know that the Administration has declared the IRGC a terrorist organization.” The Iranian Republican Guards Corps ran a not-so-subtle shadow government within Iran. Not only were they a big piece of keeping the Supreme Leader and his religious regime in place, they were the primary enabler for exporting Iranian terrorist activities worldwide.

“What you might not have heard, is that with the defection of IRGC General Ali Nasiri, we’ve had some targeting possibilities open up. You probably got some of the benefits of this intel in Syria, but the documents he defected with are definitely paying off in this region of the world. With the IRGC now a terrorist organization, our authorities to act against them have greatly expanded.

“In Venezuela, the Iranians are desperate to help Maduro hold on. Other than civil unrest, no effort to dislodge Maduro has caught any type of traction. The Iranians are desperate to help Maduro hang on. He’s one of the few world leaders that will overtly flaunt US sanctions against Iran, as they are subject to the same sanctions. So, we have intel provided by Nasiri, that we’ve been able to corroborate, that the Quds Force is sending over a heavy hitter to help the locals plan a way to support Maduro staying in power.

“Bottom line, we think the Quds Force are sending this cat, ” Leo flipped open one of the folders and pointed to a surveillance picture, “Pezhman Piranshahri, a full-up Colonel in the Quds Force, to lead a planning effort here in Colombia, off-site from Venezuela, to coordinate operations and activities that’ll help Maduro stay in power.”

Coker began quickly flipping through the files. “Holy Schmoley, we got a full up meeting of the axis of evil, showing up here.”

“Yeah,” said Leo. “But what they don’t know, is with the designation of IRGC as a terrorist entity, if they make any plans to conduct any actions that might come close to possibly looking something like a terrorist act, they are complicit, and suffer the same designation. They all become legitimate targets.”

“We hittin’ ’em, boss?”

Leo smiled, “We’re putting some teeth back into the Monroe Doctrine.”

Coker whistled. “I’m so in. What are my priorities of work?”

“Spend some time with the target packets. Get to know all these knuckleheads. We’re pretty sure the top Hezbollah clan on the island–and large in Venezuela–the Habkouk clan, is going to host the meet. We’re trying to refine when and where. Pay special attention to the Cuban and the Russian. They’re both bad news on steroids. I’ll have some second story work for you to do tomorrow night to help us refine the target.”

Leo handed over a cell phone. “Take this. It’s local and it won’t raise any eyebrows. Keep your cell on the boat. I’ll hand over a mission phone to you at the hotel tonight.” Leo handed over a little cardboard folder with a key in it. “Meet us in our suite in three hours. We’re at the Playa Bonita. Knock first. It’d be a shame if Patricia shot you coming through the door.”

Patricia pouted, “I would be ver’ sad if I shot you, Coker.”

“Got it. Don’t come through the door like Kramer. What’re you guys doing?”

“To make your life easier, I gotta go out and be a jerkface.”

Patricia cupped Leo’s face in her hands, “Mi amour, you are a very cute jerkface.”

*

Eli Faiyad sat behind the counter at Caballeros Grande Electronics. The young 24-year old was miserable. He had come from Lebanon, up the pipeline: Brazil-to-Ecuador-to-Colombia. The Habkouk clan had placed him in San Andrés, and he’d known he’d have to work for a couple years doing vanilla stuff and staying under the radar. Still, he hadn’t known that preparing to serve the Party Of God would be so…mercantile. He was made for better things. He could do more for the Party, and for Jihad, than he was doing now. Still, San Andrés was not so bad. And the Habkouks were not so bad. He knew if he worked hard, stayed pious and honest and kept his nose clean, he would rise up through the ranks. He also knew that as the Habkouks gained confidence in him, he would be able to do more and more work on the illicit side of the Habkouk businesses. Then, he knew, he’d be well remunerated for his efforts.

The bells over the door rang, and the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen flowed into the store. Sure, she was a whore, as all non-Muslim Colombian women were, but she was graceful and smiling and Eli wanted to move mountains for her, despite the whore that she was. She wore an open-shoulder sundress, and her smile was brilliant and bright and made Eli want to see that smile turned on him.

Before the door could fully close, it crashed open and the bells jangled angrily. A brute stalked in behind the beauty.

The brute said in English, “You happy now? Can you get what you want, here?”

She cast her eyes down, “Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Ima look around. Hurry up. We got stuff to do.”

Her smile seemed fragile and long-suffering. “Of course.”

She turned to Eli and said, “We will have some people over to the apartment we rented to entertain. I am thinking, in this moment, we need a better sound system, and a way to run streaming and CD music, can you help me?”

Of course. Eli about threw his back out rushing out from behind the counter to help her find what she wanted. He walked her up the aisle, pointing out the pros and cons of each different system available. He carefully tried to nudge her to get the DJ master mix system, the most expensive option. She seemed game.

Halfway through his pitch on the DJ master mix, the brute barreled around the corner, hollering “Are we done, yet? We been here maybe fifteen minutes already. Let’s go!”

“Almost done.”

She bent over to look at a boom box on the bottom shelf. Eli was captivated by her butt. She turned to look up at him, and Eli had a straight shot look down the front of her sundress. It about took his breath away. “Is this one any good?” she asked, batting her eyes. “Yes, very good.”

The beauty cast her eyes in the general direction of the brute. “Can I come back and pick up my items later? He is very impatient. I do not want to cause a scene.” Eli said, “Of course.”

“May I have the number here, so that I can call before I come to pick up?”

Eli jumped at the opportunity to give her his own personal cell number. “And could I get an email from you? I made need to get a written quote so that he doesn’t throw a fit or accuse me of wasting money.” Eli quickly provided his personal email.

“This email is your own, yes?” At Eli’s nod, she continued, “when we get back to the apartment I will send you an email requesting a quote.” She put her hand on his arm, “And you have been so nice, maybe there will be a special gift just for you attached to it.”

Leo and Patricia left the store, Leo with tight, rigid posture, storm clouds brewing on his brow, and his fists very nearly clinched. Leo held that affect for a couple of blocks, then sighed and let the tension evaporate.

“I hate having to perform in jerkface mode.”

“I know, mi amour. But it made me sympathetic, a little, to that clerk. He was very forthcoming.”

*

Patricia had just finished emailing the clerk when she heard, at the door, three hard, rapid knocks, a pause and a final knock. She checked her smartphone and punched up the view to the pin camera in the hall, confirming the knocker was Coker. She heard the key card hit the lock.

Coker was impressed with the setup for mission control. Because Patricia was a foreign national, there was no way The Powers That Be were going to let her be in even close proximity to their usual comms and tech. Leo had compensated by getting some of the best commercial equipment available.

Leo said, “This job, we’re going with minimum personnel and maximum tech. I got two guys in another suite down the hall. One’s a comms guy, the other’s a network guy. If any of this stuff goes down while Patricia is pulling Mission Control, they’ll be available to get her spun back up. They’re both used to handling crypto, so they’ve also got M4s and multiple cameras through the hotel and this hallway. If anything or anyone threatens Mission Control, they’ll handle it.”

“Okay, what about Mission Support?” asked Coker.

“Mission Support is back stateside. They’re fully connected to our comms suite here.” Leo dug two smartphones from a gear bag. “These are our mission phones. I’ve got them loaded up for everything I think we’ll need, but I want your review and input before we go final.”

Coker fired up the smartphone, and used the PIN that Leo gave him. He opened his DayTradR app, selected Nuveau Tekk to buy stock from, and entered a trade for $57.43. On that a whole new interface opened up. Coker began to flip through his options. Imagery for possible targets came up. Commercial imagery for the whole island opened up. Full frontal photographs of the personnel that might be targets (the app would apply facial recognition software to anyone whose face came up in the phone’s camera app; helped with positive identification (PID)). There were live feeds from numerous spycams that Leo had already emplaced on roofs, in alleys, and on streets that had a view of possible target sites. The mission phone looked good to go.

“Outstanding” said Coker. “Only thing I would add is a topographic map of the island. If I got to dive out the back of a warehouse, I want to know whether the drop will be three feet or thirty meters.” Leo nodded and made a note.

Coker looked at some of the unfilled options on the phone. “Why you got the empty expansion slots in here, boss?”

“We can’t go hot until we’ve got confirmation that the meeting participants are overtly planning terrorist actions or activities. We need ears in, so that Mission Support can confirm that they’ve crossed the line. Also, mission support will provide real-time translation on this line, so that whatever language they’re making their plans in, we’ll know.”

Coker nodded.

“Also, you’re installing the on-site ears in all the possible meet locations. You can knock that out tomorrow night, while we monitor Jaafir and Hasim Habkouk’s computers and phones to try to drill down on where the meet will be. Best as Mission Support can determine, the Habkouks have three warehouses on the island. We assess the meets will take place in one of those.”

Just then Patricia, who had been on her laptop the entire time Leo and Coker were huddling up, broke in, “Leo, the clerk has opened my email requesting a quote and downloaded the attachments. The IP address shows that he was using the store computer, not a personal.” The two attachments were photos of Patricia in her bikini, that Leo had taken the day before.

“Okay. Now we own Cabellero Grande’s computer, and the clerk’s phone, and it’s all also slaved to Mission Support. So tomorrow night, while you are playing ninja, we’ll be ransacking everything they’ve got in their boxes and refining possible target sets.”

Coker sat back, “Okay, sounds like everything is good to go. Let’s talk about actions after the tripwire’s crossed. Let’s talk about the assault.”

“Yeah.” Leo scrubbed his face–a stress reaction Coker had never seen Leo display.

“You know how I said we were going light on personnel, heavy on tech?”

Coker nodded.

“Me ‘n you are the ground assault force. That’s it.”

Coker sat back, closed his eyes, and thought about it. Then he leaned forward and placed his hand on the folders that had all the possible targets in them. He said, “we got at least three Habkouks we think will be at the meet, the IRGC turd Piranshahri, the Russian Borodin and the Cuban Abrantes–both of whom, if I remember correctly, you described as ‘bad news on steroids,’ have I got that right?”

“Yup.”

“We got no one outside, no QRF, no cordon, no sniper providing eyes on target, no air. Have I got that right?”

“Yup.”

Coker sat back again, closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose–a stress reaction that he was pretty sure Leo had never seen out of him.

“I’m in, on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m first through the door.”

“You got it.”

*

Coker was in the rafters of the third and final warehouse that he had to prong. First, he’d gone into the back of Caballeros Grande and hooked them up with sound, as well as bugging their landlines. While the clerk had been fixated on Patricia and her…assets, Leo had installed two pin cameras, which had given him two different angles on the security system’s control panel, enabling them to get the on/off code for the alarms. Coker had recovered the cameras, installed a more robust, better hidden observation suite, then checked the tech with Patricia to make sure they were good to go.

Coker hooked his legs over the rafter and hung upside down. He carefully pulled out small piece of rectangular black plastic and removed a piece of plastic over the adhesive strip on one side. He then affixed the strip to the small water pipe that ran down to the fire sprinkler. Removing the plastic not only activated the listening device in the rectangle, it also started the chemical reaction that would power the device for about 72 hours. When the power ran out, the same chemical reaction would quickly reduce the device to a small dollop of black, tarry sludge. At/about another 18 hours after that, the device would be almost indistinguishable from a stripe of black mold. It would take a forensic specialist with a mass spectrometer to determine that it had ever been anything else.

Coker’s mission phone was in a clear acetate gauntlet strapped to his forearm. He tapped a one-word message that would go to mission control and mission support–Patricia in the hotel suite and the brainiacs back stateside–“check.”

He then reached up to the rafter he was hanging upside down on and softly wrapped on the metal three times fast, pause, then one more wrap.

MC: Bueno.

MS: 5×5.

He was done. That was the final installment. He pulled himself upright on the rafter and began his slow, steady exfil from the warehouse.

*

Coker returned to the boat, showered and put on some comfortable clothes, and walked to the Hotel Playa Bonita in the soft pre-dawn light. The Army called it Begin Morning Nautical Twilight–BMNT. Coker thought that the Army just couldn’t leave well enough alone. At the door to Leo and Patricia’s suite, he knocked; standard three fast, pause, one more knock. He thought about mooning the pin camera that he knew Leo would’ve put in the hall. Then he thought better of it. If one of Leo’s “guys” down the hall were a female, he could get a sexual harassment complaint. Heck, thought Coker, the way things are now, it could be two dudes and I’d still get a sexual harassment complaint. The door opened just in the amount of time Coker figured it would take to check the pin cam and pull the door stop out (Coker knew that if Leo were in a hotel room, you could guaran-damn-tee that the door would be blocked by a little rubber wedge) and Coker smiled at Patricia, “Good morning, Beautiful.”

Patricia smiled back and said, “Good morning.” Coker looked at her and made a note to himself to demand Leo count his blessings.

Coker found Leo seated at the monitor station. He had a chat session going with the brainiacs. “All right, here’s the deal. Right now mission support assesses–and I concur–that the meet will be tomorrow night, we think about 2200 hours, and we think at warehouse two. We’ve confirmed that Piranshahri flew into Panama City last night. We lost track of him after that, but he’s either headed this way or already here. More than likely, he’ll eschew hotels and stay with a Habkouk family or at one of their safe houses.”

Coker looked at Leo. “Eschew?”

“Eschew.”

“Okay. Let’s say we get the time or the location or both wrong and we hit a dry hole? Do we go into manhunting mode?”

“Negative, for two reasons. First, we are only authorized to hit all the other targets if they’re with Piranshahri and planning or doing nefarious stuff. Second, we can’t control or isolate the area if we manage to track him down and then we go dynamic. Piranshahri is a badass and he’ll fight. Too much potential for collateral damage, too much of a chance we’ll get compromised. Last thing we need to do is blow rapport with the Colombians, especially if we have to work together on overt stuff in Venezuela.”

“So if we’re wrong, we’re done.”

“If we’re wrong we’re done.”

Coker said, “Alright. Let’s put our loose course of action on warehouse two and tighten it up. Then let’s look at warehouses one and three and make some notes on how we have to adapt the plan if we’re wrong but figure out it’s one of them on time. Then let’s do a talk-through rehearsal back on two.”

“Let’s do it.”

“Patricia, my darling and the love of Leo’s life, could you please pull up all the photos I took when I was inside warehouse two?”

“Of course, my brave francotirador.”

“All right, this is what I’m thinking…”

*

Coker sat at a little cafe across the street and a little way down the road from Grande Caballero Electronics. He sipped an espresso and toggled through the comms they’d intercepted from the store, both telephonic and computer. He had carried both his mission phone and his local, Leo-supplied burner. This was Colombia; carrying two phones would raise no eyebrows. He was beginning to agree with the assessment of warehouse two. There were a lot of vague references, and a lot of idiom that were locally inspired, Arabic/Spanish hybrid words and phrases. But yeah, it looked like warehouse two was the meet site. Coker wasn’t pulling surveillance per se, but he’d wanted to digest all the Habkouk intell and figured there was no place better to do it than when being able to put eyes on Grande Caballero Electronics.

*

Vasily Borodin moved easily through the street, heading toward Grande Caballero Electronics. He had been noncommittal toward attending the meeting. The Hez were notoriously bad with their operational security. They thought they were smart and thorough, but in reality they were just too small to come under scrutiny. If IRGC was showing up, though, he didn’t trust the Hez in being able to obscure themselves or their physical, communications, or digital footprints. However, Vasily had been given the address and phone numbers of the Grande Caballero Electronics as a place he could make contact and obtain the location and date time group of the meet. Attending the meet wasn’t imperative to his country’s objectives. They were confident that the forces they had on the ground in Venezuela now with an advise and assist portfolio in counterinsurgency, population control, propaganda–basically Tyrant Power Retention 101 would suffice. But, Borodin also knew it would be a good idea to to have a sense of what the Hez and Iran would be doing. They didn’t need to collaborate so much as coordinate, to prevent redundancy and duplication of effort. Borodin also knew the Cuban, Teniente Colonel Carlos Abrantes, would be there. The Russians coordinated closely with Cuba, but Borodin didn’t trust Abrantes at all. That guy was clinically insane, and would pass on only that information that forward his personal agenda or maybe, maybe that of Cuba. There were pros and cons to attending this meet.

Borodin saw a guy sitting at a cafe, bearded with sunglasses on, idly sipping coffee and noodling on his smartphone. He immediately turned into the surf shop that was right there. He breathed a couple times, then looked out the window of the store, between the Huk fishing shirts hanging in the window. Da. He didn’t need the photo to confirm his worst suspicions but pulled up his enhanced camera app on his mission phone anyway.

He knew that guy. That guy was a veritable angel of death. Borodin had never gotten a name, a hint, or a clue as to the bearded man’s true identity during his entire time in Syria. His file just labeled him The Killer. The man was responsible for dozens of direct kills on Russian troops, advisors and Spetznaz. That was direct killing. No telling how many air strikes and mechanical ambushes this man was responsible for. The Russians had been fond of IEDs, EFPs, and VIEDs. They had trained up the loyalist Syrian forces on improving their production and employment of those devices. The Killer had shown up and employed the same explosive devices on the Russians, to devastating effect. He always hit the Russians in the places they felt the most secure in that God forsaken, war torn country. Borodin had dedicated a considerable percentage of his assets and capabilities to finding, fixing and finishing that son of a bitch, with no joy. Borodin caught a decent profile pic of the killer. The beard and shades would skew the facial recognition software, but even the best of the haphazard pics they had gleaned of The Killer had him wearing a beard and sunglasses. Many times, they only suspected it was him; times when he was wearing a kaffiyah or shemagh wrapped around his lower face.

Borodin uploaded and sent out his clandestine pic, then pulled up another app on his mission phone and set it to vacuum up every cell phone number within 100 metres of his current position, and pushed it to his mission support, with instructions to track every one of them. Vasily Borodin walked back out of the shop and walked away from the electronics shop and The Killer. He’d miss the meet, but he’d bag The Killer.

*

Coker, Leo and Patricia had had a long and tortured discussion. When they hit warehouse two, there would only be the two operators. They needed carbines. But, carbines would make getting in and out more difficult. They were going to have a hard time making an innocuous approach to the target building as it was. 2200 hours was about the time that night life in San Andrés was just getting kick-started. The island had no real concept of zoning, so there would be clubs and restaurants and bars and fast food joints and food carts all over every approach route. Leo and Coker couldn’t go in fully kitted up. Sure, they were both experienced in fighting wearing civilian gear. Still, less than optimal. Trying to stay low profile and carry rifles in would be difficult.

But, the only reason to employ a pistol in a gunfight was to gain time and space to get to a long gun. To abjure the use of rifles in an upcoming fight was antithetical to both of them.

Coker leaned back and said, “You know, this would be a whole lot easier if you weren’t built like the troll that lives under the bridge.”

“So says Mr. Spindly. What’re you coming in at after slacking off these last four weeks? 230?”

“We need smaller guys for this. Where’s Little Wilbur? We could send him up through the sewers and have him preposition our gack just inside the door.”

“He’s doing a thing over in PACOM.”

“Dang. Look, mission support should be able to tell us how many targets are actually in the building before the hit. Our camera situation, while not great, should be able to tell us how much physical security is outside the warehouse. It’s doable, it’s just if anything goes wrong, we’re bathing in weak sauce.”

“I know.”

Patricia cleared her throat, “If only you had a vehicle parked in the street next to the street near the back alley. And if only it had those M4s that you use, with extra magazines, hidden in the spare tire wheel well.”

“Yeah,” said Leo. “But parking is going to be a pain, and we got three hours til hit time. We were both scrambling all afternoon on intel and nailing down the target.”

“Yes, mi amour, you were. And what was I doing?”

“Uh, you said you were shopping…?”

“Yes, I went shopping. First, I shopped for a rental car.” She held up a set of keys, dangled them for a second, and threw them to Leo. “Then, I shopped on that magnificent boat of yours, where the brave francotirador showed us all those lovely hiding places with guns hidden in them. Then I put the guns in a duffle, put the duffle in the car, then I went shopping for a parking space on the street near the back alley.” She shot a brilliant grin at them.

“That’s it,” said Coker. “If you don’t marry her, I will.”

Patricia looked at Leo. “I remember in Machu Picchu, you had the extra car stashed away, and we escaped. I thought that was ver’ smart. I like smart. I thought an extra vehicle stashed near the alley, with guns, would be smart.”

Leo asked, “but what if the target wasn’t warehouse two?”

Patricia shrugged. “So? It costs us nothing to place the car there. If it was a different target, you could have this discussion again. The guns in the car wouldn’t be missed. Coker has enough guns hidden on the boat to…to…”

“To take over Nicaragua,” said Coker.

“Yes!”

Leo looked at Patricia and said, “Could you please pull up the imagery and cameras on warehouse two? And mark where the car is at?” Patricia nodded and moved to the monitors.

Leo looked at Coker. “Let’s get to it.”

*

Leo and Coker stood on the street corner weaving slightly. Each had a bottle of beer in one hand and a bottle of aguardiente in the other. They drank alternately from each hand, and weaved and smoked cigarettes. Two overgrown gringos, overwhelmed by the pleasures of San Andrés.

Each heard, in the blue tooth device plugged in their ears, mission support state: Targets present. Targets identified by voiceprint: Pezhman Piranshahri, Jaafir Habkouk, Hasim Habkouk, Hussein Habkouk, Carlos Abrantes.

Leo staggered and sat heavily on the brick sill of the store they were in front of. He put his head down, and mopped his brow, still weaving as he sat, looking to the casual observer like he was about to puke. He whispered “any sign of the Russian?”

“Negative.”

“All right. Doesn’t matter. Give us a go when they hit tripwire.”

Leo staggered back to his feet and swayed into Coker, both bro-hugging each other and breaking into raucous song. Then they quieted a little bit and both lit up smokes. Passers-by avoided them since they were obviously blotto. Leo began lecturing Coker on some sort of sports inanity, along the lines of “the Patriots will keep winning because they have a bench. You can have great coaching, great talent, great strategy, but if you don’t have a bench it doesn’t mean squat. Not goin’ win.”

A couple minutes into his lecture on the virtue of benches, mission support chimed in, “targets have effectively begun discussing a kill chain, and the order of assassinations most beneficial to the Venezuelan regime. Tripwire triggered. I say again, tripwire triggered.”

Leo and Coker both knew that a simple “go” would be sufficient, but every mission support comm was being recorded, and the geeks back in CONUS were stating the obvious for posterity. Coker bent over and started laughing, hands on his knees, and whispered, “Status of physical security?”

Patricia’s voice came over, “Lo mismo. Two personnel.”

Coker turned and staggered away, heading for the ally which was the approach to warehouse two’s back door. Leo seemed to sober up a little bit and walked over to a small Toyota SUV parked close to where they’d been, to all eyes that cared to watch, getting their drunk on. Leo lifted the tailgate door, upended the cover of the spare tire well, and lifted out a large gym bag. He closed the tailgate and turned to follow Coker, going slow.

Coker turned into the alley and began singing and slurring Cancion del Mariachi at the top of his lungs. He lurched down the ally, bumping, falling and leaning against the far wall of the ally from the warehouse. Two thugs were in the ally already, centered on the warehouse’s rear door. They both looked at Coker with disgust. Coker noted that they were both looking at him. The far side guy should have been looking down the other side of the ally, but no. Good. Poorly trained. The near side guy approached Coker and put his hand up, Yelling at Coker to stop and turn around and go away. Coker drew the suppressed High Standard .22 and drilled the guard twice in the chest and once in the face. The guy was dead but didn’t know that meant he should fall down. Coker pushed through him and hit the far side guy the same way. That guy knew how to die proper, and immediately sagged to the street. Immediately Leo came around the corner bearing a sports duffle on one shoulder. He stopped, opened the bag, and extracted two suppressed M4 carbines. Both pulled night vision monoculars from the bag and strapped them on. Coker pulled up his mission phone in the same gauntlet before and sent “1.” It would take two to four minutes to shut down the lights; Coker and Leo spent the time grabbing and stowing magazines for their carbines. They were already wearing their pistols under their lightweight jackets. Both had their Glock 21s with the suppressors already screwed on, so they were wearing them in shoulder holsters. Neither operators were fans of shoulder holsters, but with the cans on, what’re you going to do?

The power went off in a two block radius. Leo pulled up the sleeve of his jacket, exposing a plastic, mission-phone holding gauntlet like unto Coker’s, and sent “2.” One minute to firecrackers. Meanwhile, Coker had slapped a thin sheet of explosive over the door knob of the warehouse’s back door. They both stepped to either side of the door.

Leo pulled two flash-bangs out, one in each hand. He held out his hands and Coker adroitly pulled the pins out of each grenade. The one minute clock set by Leo’s text ran out, and in two places nearby, fire crackers started crackin’ off. Not unusual in party-central. As soon as the firecrackers started firing off, Coker blew the door. Leo stepped forward and threw the flash-bangs and rotated back away from the door. Because of the size of the warehouse, they knew the flash-bangs wouldn’t have their usual devastating effect. The sound and concussion might–might–not incapacitate every one in the place, but the blinding flash should give them the moment’s edge they need.

As soon as the flash-bangs detonated, Coker went in. Carbine up, IR light on, night vision tracking his IR laser pointing a straight line from the barrel to whatever target he came across. Leo followed immediately behind Coker. Coker broke left, Leo broke right. There was a cheap card table in the center of the warehouse, with pallets crowding all the walls. The individuals around the table were in definite disarray. Two had pulled pistols. One of the pistoleers was firing wildly toward the door. The Cuban guessed Leo. Leo put a controlled pair into the Cuban’s chest, traversed up and put one in his head. Cuban down. The other that was up with a pistol was probably the Iranian. Leo tracked over to him, but saw him go down under Coker’s fire. The rest were a mess, discombobulated and lost. Coker and Leo ended them.

Coker provided overwatch while Leo photographed each corpse. There were a couple laptops and a tablet on the table. There were three cell phones on the table; two of the corpses had their cells on them. Leo scooped them all into a canvas bag he’d had tucked into his belt. They exited, and stuffed their carbines into the gym duffle that they’d left outside by the door. Total time of engagement: 37 seconds. Total time inside the warehouse: 3 minutes, 52 seconds. The firecrackers were just tapering off as they threw the bag into Patricia’s rental vehicle. As they drove off, the lights in the neighborhood began flickering and turning back on.

*

Back at the hotel, Leo and Coker each cracked a bottle of water and guzzletld. Patricia had a look of profound relief on her face. Mission support, monitoring comms on the island, had not discerned any alerts or BOLOs. So far so good.

“If we scarper tonight,” said Leo, “it’ll be too big a signature. I’ve already pushed the pics of the targets to mission support. So tomorrow we’ll have a leisurely brunch, then I’ll go out and ditch our local phones. Coker, you start cracking the tech we picked up on the objective. We’ll pull out in the boat just after sunset. Good?”

“Good,” said Coker. “See you at brunch.” He hesitated and said, “So, are those Master Mariners still on the island?”

“They are.”

“You got their contact information?”

“I do.”

“Flip it to my local phone?”

“Done and done.”

Coker got up, fist bumped Leo, hugged Patricia, and left.

“He will be okay?” asked Patricia.

“Sure. He just needs some happy-to-be-alive sex right now, is all. This went off way better than it should have.”

Patricia moved up to Leo, “And what about you?”

Leo considered, “Well, I’m pretty happy to be alive, too.”

Patricia straddled him and kissed him gently on the forehead, then the lips. “I am thinking, in this moment, you need some happy-to-be-alive sex, too.”

Leo theatrically considered it, and said, “Yeah, baby. Yeah, I do believe I do.”

*

Borodin had his mission support screen all the phone numbers he’d sucked up the day before. He had tried calling his Habkouk clan contacts, but they were frantic and unintelligible. Borodin did the math.

Mission support had three tracks of interest. He immediately knew which one was key. He pulled up his map app and found a route to the San Andrés Yacht Club. That is where The Killer would be.

*

Leo was off cleaning all the support personnel that had no idea why they were on San Andrés island, but were on call should he have needed them. His “comms guys” down the hall from his suite were to break down the whole communications package, pack it up and ship it out. Then they were to change hotels–in order to “reduce signature”–and hang out for three days. Leo figured that life would suck enough for these kids on down the road. Hey, they were military and the military prided itself on the suck factor. So, he moved their hotel, gave them three days off, and then promised doom and the Four Horsemen upon them if they screwed up. They’d be a’ight.

Patricia walked the bag of tech from the targets down to Coker. Coker and Leo wanted to exploit as much as they could in the Faraday state room. She got to the boat, and knocked out the three-pause-four beat that she had realized was an informal near recognition signal between Leo and Coker. Coker took the bag and put it in the Faraday room, then they chatted for a little while. Patricia understood immediately that Coker was stringing her along, and acting like a shallow, self-absorbed person. This disturbed her, a little, because Coker was anything but shallow. She found him, though, impenetrable, and so after some chitchat left to go do some shopping while Coker tried to prong the tech in the Faraday stateroom.

Patricia walked up the jetty, toward the club house. As she did, she passed a man that gave her pause. Patricia had been in the game more than a while, so it didn’t literally give her pause. But as she strolled by him, her mind raced and she realized that he was the Russian that was a no-show at the meet. He had to be heading to Coker’s boat. Patricia couldn’t break stride, couldn’t show that anything was amiss. She kept up her stroll. Coker was in the Faraday room, she couldn’t call him on her cell. There were no cables running into the Faraday room; calling the boat on the harbor master’s radio was useless. Patricia thought about pulling her pistol out of her purse and shooting the Russian in the back, but that course of action had no good outcomes. Then, an idea bloomed in her mind. She increased her pace and stride a little without appearing to speed up; that would give the game away.

When Patricia got to the bar, she arrowed straight to the chain to the freighter horn that they blew every night. She dropped her purse on a nearby table, grabbed the chain, and blew three short blasts out the horn, paused, then pulled the chain for a slightly longer blast. Then she did it again. And then again. One of the waiters rushed up to get her off the chain; that was only for sundown. That was okay, after three reps, Coker either got the message or he didn’t. Patricia let go the chain and gave a brilliant smile to the exacerbated waiter. “That was so fun!” she cried. She started walking back toward the jetty and the boat. She pulled her small pistol from her voluminous purse and used the purse to cover the fact that she had a gun in her hand. Coker either got the message or he didn’t. Either way, the Russian was dead.

Coker sat in the Faraday room working on cracking the tech they’d gleaned from the objective. Any intelligence they pulled could be actionable in the near term. He was absorbed in the task, trying to ensure he used the right tool to get a righteous crack on the IT devices that he had. He noted in the background that the bar freighter horn was sounding off. Jeez, that thing was loud. The horn went off again, and alarms went off in Coker’s head. That was the three-beat-one rhythm that he and Leo used, like, all the time. Naw. The horn went off a third time and Coker moved fast. That’s not a coincidence. He exploded out of the Faraday room and swiped his Glock of the table in the great room. As he did, he saw the door begin to open and a silenced pistol emerge, pointing into the room.

Coker hit the below decks door with his shoulder, pinning the silenced weapon and the forearm behind it in the door. He pinioned the arm inside the door as hard as he could, put the suppressed muzzle of his pistol at waist height a couple inches from the door and drilled three shots into the door. The bullets hitting the door made a weirdly subdued “thunk” sound, and Coker didn’t notice any reduction in piss and vigor from the cat on the other side. Oh, yeah, I bulletproofed this door. How did I not know that? What a dumbass.

Coker dropped his pistol and grabbed the wrist attached to the gun that was trying to put rounds into him. He applied pressure and stripped the pistol out the guy’s hand. Then he pulled the wrist, let go his pressure on the door, and threw the guy into the boat’s great room. The guy immediately bounced up and came at Coker. For a few frantic seconds, the two exchanged egregious blows with knees and elbows and open palm strikes. Coker landed a vertical elbow on the crown of the guys head and dropped him. The guy immediately, from the ground, grabbed Cokers ankle and sucked it into his armpit while he tried to writhe his legs up Coker’s. Heel hook, Sambo, this guy must be the Russian, thought Coker as he dropped his knee into the guy’s face, and then stood and knee dropped again. The Russian let up, and Coker next dropped his knee into the Russian’s stomach. The Russian’s upper body spasmed up, and Coker grabbed the Rooskie’s inside arm and levered him over to his stomach. Then he sank his choke. Then he held his choke. Then the Russian died.

Coker sighed, and rolled over–to see Patricia pointing a gun in his face. “Uh, bad guy dead. Good guy won. Put the gun away?” She lowered the gun.

*

As the boat pulled out of San Andrés, Leo, Patricia, and Coker were all in the cockpit.

Coker said, “We can do a burial at sea in about 40 minutes. Do either of you want to say any words over him before we sink ‘im?”

Patricia shook her head, and Leo said, “No. I start talking about this guy, it’ll get really profane really quick.”

Coker nodded. “So, we work our way up to Miami, then what’s next boss?”

Leo said, “You go back to your unit, I take some time off. Patricia has never been anywhere in the US but Miami, so Ima give her a tour of the real US, with her looking at it from the back of my Harley.”

“Girl, you ain’t seen nothin’ but the 305? You definitely need to spread your wings.”

“Yes,” said Patricia, “I think that would be a good idea.”

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9 thoughts on “The San Andrés Tango”

  1. First, cross-post.

    Second, sorry it’s so long.  I can only kinda/sorta point the story in a general direction, then it takes off on it’s own.

    Third, I know I used amor and amour interchangeably.  Guess I got some Napoleonic War stuff going on in my head.

    Finally, the first time Leo, Coker and Patricia worked together at the link.

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  2. On designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization

    The problems our sanctions are causing Iran

    On IRGC defector, General Ali Nasiri

    IRGC and Hezbollah’s enabling of Iranian terrorism

    The Dubai Job. A great exposition of the collision of old school tradecraft and modern technology. Spooks should spend a semester studying this op.

    On how much Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah want to keep Venezuela their sphere (i.e., keep Maduro in power)

    Coker’s song: Cancion del Mariachi

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  3. keep it up Boss. What is your intention for these pieces? A novel? A screenplay? Or just getting stuff in your head on electronic equivalent of paper?

    I like the characters, an observation is you are using a third person narrative but telling it from a mostly first person viewpoint. It works in the short form very well, and you did show the Borodin viewpoint.

    If you go to long form of pasting these pieces together, I would think about adding some more scenes of the opposition planning their side, and revealing their characters, hopes and flaws.

    Damn good to see you here at the ‘Burger.

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  4. TKC Thanks and:  The pieces aren’t necessarily meant to be stitched together, but…someone pretty savvy told me to write short stories about characters I envision using in long form fiction, both to get to know them and to figure how to best portray their perspective.  That way, as the theory goes, when I sit down to write them into a long form effort, they’ll come across as more authentic.

    Truth be told, Patricia was going to be a one-and-done in the Machu Picchu Boogie; she was just to move the plot along.  ‘Bout half way through, I liked her so much that there was no way that sister wasn’t coming back.

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  5. TKC:  If you go to long form of pasting these pieces together, I would think about adding some more scenes of the opposition planning their side, and revealing their characters, hopes and flaws.

    Copy all TKC.  I’m in the “baby steps” stage.

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  6. BossMongo:
    ‘Bout half way through, I liked her so much that there was no way that sister wasn’t coming back.

    Maybe you should hide this from your marvelous bride….

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  7. Phil:

    Nah.  The Lovely And Talented Mrs. Mongo knows exactly who she’s married to.  And, too, she knows that I know that she is a registered expert with a scalpel.

    That knowledge helps me regulate and moderate.

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