“No,” John Brannigan said. “Not only no, but hell no.”
“John,” Hector Chavez started to remonstrate with him, “we’re not talking about some half-assed Pemex contract, here.”
The two men were facing each other across a table in the Rocking K, the best—and essentially only—diner in tiny Junction City. It wasn’t the sort of place most people would immediately think of when it came to planning covert operations, but it was the closest meeting place to Brannigan’s mountain hideaway, and so Chavez had pegged it as their contact spot, more often than not.
John Brannigan was a towering, six-foot-four former Marine Colonel, his hair gone shaggy and gray on his head and his face. He shaved his cheeks and his chin, but his handlebar mustache was bushier than ever. He might have had a few more crow’s feet around his gray eyes, especially after his recent turn to mercenary commander. Activities like a hair-raising mission on the island of Khadarkh in the Persian Gulf, followed by a jump into northern Burma to take down a North Korean liaison operation in the Golden Triangle, were not calculated to keep a man young.
Brannigan was dressed in his usual flannel shirt and jeans, his “going to town” clothes. Chavez had dressed down since his first visit; he was wearing a leather jacket and jeans. The third man at the table, however, stood out a bit more.
Mark Van Zandt, his hair still cut in a close military regulation cut, clean shaven and straight-backed, was dressed in his usual khakis and a polo shirt, and leaning back in his chair, wisely keeping out of the conversation.
Van Zandt had been one of Brannigan’s last commanding officers. He’d also been the one to bear the news that Brannigan would be forced to retire from the Marine Corps. There was little love lost between the two of them, even though they had entered each other’s orbits once again when Van Zandt had been looking for a deniable team to send in on the Burma operation.
“You want me to take my boys into Mexico,” Brannigan said, leaning back in his chair and folding his brawny arms across his chest. “Mexico defines ‘non-permissive environment.’ Gringos are not welcome, particularly gringo contractors. I’ve done my homework, Hector. If you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to go into that killing field unarmed, relying on Mexicans of dubious loyalty for protection, you’ve got another think coming.”
“This isn’t that kind of contract, John,” Van Zandt snorted. “Which should be abundantly obvious, since we’re coming to you. The guys who blew up Khadarkh and jumped into northern Burma aren’t exactly the go-to for a petroleum security operation, now are they?” Acid sarcasm dripped from his voice. Brannigan turned his glare on the retired general.
“Not the point,” Brannigan retorted. “We get spotted down there, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
“Which is different from your last two jobs how?” Van Zandt pointed out. “Come on, John, now you’re just being difficult.”
“Why us?” Brannigan asked, after taking a deep breath. He really didn’t want to go into Mexico. He knew too much about the horror-show that was the Mexican narco-war. Khadarkh had been a simple in-and-out, on a tiny island, no less. Burma had been different, but for all the atrocities happening in Burma—some of which his crew of mercenaries, the self-styled “Brannigan’s Blackhearts,” had witnessed first-hand—Mexico was an entirely different scale. It had beaten out the Syrian Civil War for body count.
“The same reason I came to you for the Burma job,” Van Zandt said coolly. “You’re deniable. Which, I might add, is a huge selling point for Contralmirante Huerta right now, as well.”
“Who’s Huerta?” Brannigan asked.
“He’s the commander of the Mexican Marines who tried to retake the oil platform where our mysterious terrorists took their hostages,” Chavez said. “He lost most of a company in a few minutes, has been getting stonewalled by Mexico City, and wants payback.”
“So he’ll cover for us?”
“He’s assured me that he will,” Van Zandt said. “He’s under strict orders that no US military forces, including DEVGRU or Delta—who are about the only ones who could handle this otherwise; we don’t exactly have a MEU in the vicinity—are to be called upon. The platform is technically in Mexican waters, and therefore it is a Mexican affair. They don’t want help. Well, the PRI doesn’t want help. Huerta does.”
“And if he sells us down the river as soon as the job’s done?” Brannigan asked quietly.
Van Zandt shook his head. “It’s a possibility, but I’ve talked to the man. I think he’s on the level. And I made it clear that if anything goes wrong that he might have prevented, recordings of all our conversations would somehow reach the President.”
Brannigan nodded. “I expect that’s a pretty good deterrent, all things considered.”
“It should be,” Chavez said. “The PRI’s so damned corrupt, they might not even bother to put him on trial. At least not before they’ve disappeared his entire family.”
Brannigan looked down at the table, frowning. It was true enough that he’d already started feeling the itch for another mission, another fight. And his Blackhearts were the kind of mercenaries who went into impossible situations and managed to kill their way out. They’d done it twice already, and Van Zandt wouldn’t even have considered them for the job if it had been anything else.
But he couldn’t shake the bad feeling that Mexico gave him. He’d been there, many years before, before the narco wars really kicked off and the corpses started piling up. He’d liked the country then. But he’d watched as the violence, corruption, and increasingly brutal and sadistic killing had spread even to the tourist safe havens of the country. Going into Mexico struck him as the equivalent to marching into a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
“With the level of sophistication and preparation the opposition has shown,” Van Zandt said quietly, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you could well be those people’s only hope of getting out alive. Especially with the Mexicans refusing official help.”
Brannigan blew out a sigh. “What do we know about the opposition?” he asked. The decision was made. He’d go. He knew his men would go, too, at least the original team.
Damn, I still haven’t recruited a new medic. He’d avoided it after Doc Villareal had gone down in Burma. Losing Doc already hurt bad enough, in addition to the guilt he felt for having taken the man back into combat, which had been his own personal hell ever since Zarghun.
“Next to nothing,” Van Zandt replied. “In the first half hour or so, several of the attacks were claimed, piecemeal, by various jihadist splinter groups, but we’re pretty sure now that none of them were in on it. It was too coordinated, and none of them had the foresight to wait until the dust settled and claim responsibility for the whole shooting match. Whoever’s behind it still hasn’t uttered a word.
“The guys you’re after are the only lead we’ve got, and they left no witnesses at the golf course,” he continued. “Their faces were covered, and they wore gloves, so we don’t even know what color they are. They are packing some serious hardware, though; bullpup rifles and SAMs at the least.”
“Insert?” Brannigan asked. He was already going over the logistics of the mission in his head. It was his great skill and something of his curse; as soon as he knew he was doing something, he started planning it.
“Don’t know yet,” Van Zandt replied. “Air appears to be out of the question; the Mexicans lost four Hips trying to take the platform back. A surface approach at night might be possible, but if they’ve got night vision and thermals—and I suspect that they do—then that could be suicide, as well. We’ll have to figure that out. Preferably without bringing the Navy into it.” He grimaced.
“The good news,” Hector Chavez put in, “is that Matamoros and the platform are both close enough to the border that you shouldn’t have to stage inside Mexico itself. You should be able to stay in Texas until it’s time to go.”
“Small favors, I suppose,” Brannigan said absently. His mind was working a mile a minute. Then his eyes sharpened, focusing in on Van Zandt. “Unless you’ve got any more intel for me, I need to get moving. If you’re right, time is pressing.”
“Unfortunately,” Van Zandt said, “that’s it. That’s part of the problem.”
“Fine,” Brannigan said, standing up. “I’ll let you know if we find any intel on the platform.” Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 2″