Scarcity

ScarcityPBcover350

Scarcity 

A teenage girl is kidnapped in Mexico City as a young boy in Afghanistan is wounded by artillery fire. A plane crashes in Florida while a man waits for a new heart in Maryland. A senator’s daughter survives a car accident while a captured drug runner makes a deal with the DEA.

Soon all of their fates converge into a twisted web of deceit driven by greed, desperation and hope. As Jack Randall of the FBI and his friend Lenny Hill of Interpol work to untangle the web, they soon discover that evil exist everywhere, and its deeds can be forced on anyone.

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 The first two chapters of Scarcity:

 

For More of Mexico’s Wealthy, Cost of Living Includes Guards

November 16, 2008 New York Times

 

 

ONE

 

          Anita! Breakfast!”

          “I’m coming Papa!”

          Anita ran the brush through her hair three more times before standing and examining her wardrobe selection again. She had changed four times, somewhat of an average for her, before deciding on the new jeans and loose shirt. It was a far less provocative choice compared to what she had worn to the nightclubs the previous night. The tight dress, high heels and make-up would not have met her father’s approval, and she had been forced to sneak out of the house to avoid him seeing her. While she loved him dearly, he was having a hard time letting his little girl grow up. Her teenage figure was growing in all the right places and she enjoyed the attention she attracted from the boys at the clubs, attention she knew her father would frown on. So she would dress down for him today as she was only going to the mall with her friends. She added some jewelry to her wrists and ears before grabbing her cell phone and running down the stairs.

          She bypassed her mother at the stove and rounded the table to reach her father. He lowered his newspaper for her kiss and his smile was genuine as she continued on to buss her mothers cheek while she scrambled eggs at the stove.

          “Good morning Papa.” She smiled her sweetest smile.

          Mr. Perez frowned slightly at that as he examined her cloths. She was obviously going somewhere this Saturday morning and that usually meant a request for money. But she was fifteen years old and still called him Papa. He knew he was being manipulated, but he also admitted that he let it happen.

          “The mall?” he asked.

          “Yes Papa, with Consuela and Maria. Just for fun.”

          “Should I call Juan to drive you?”

          “No Papa, Maria has a new car, she is driving us.”

          “Maria drives now?” he turned to his wife. “When did this happen?”

          “She’s sixteen now. Did you not notice?” his wife laughed as she set the eggs in front of him. He folded and tossed aside the newspaper before biting into them and burning his tongue. He examined his daughter while she ate some banana with her fingers and tapped the screen on her phone. The bracelets jingled with every bite.

          “I would prefer that you not wear so much jewelry, it attracts the wrong kind of attention. We talked about this, remember?”

          Anita rolled her eyes before smiling at him. “Papa, it’s the mall. They have security, and I won’t be alone, I’ll be with my friends.”

          Mr. Perez opened his mouth to say more, but a look from his wife cut him off and he added more eggs to it instead. His daughter’s teenage sense of invulnerability was well established. She felt that her father’s wealth would shield her from the dangers of the world as it always had. But her father knew better, that same wealth could make the world more dangerous. It was his fault really; maybe he had protected her too much. But like any parent, he hoped that such lessons could be avoided.

          A honk from outside caused her to flip the phone shut and stand. She shoved the last bite of banana in her mouth before starting for the front door. She made it around the corner before returning with a grin. Her father already had his wallet out and was extracting a credit card. She took it with the smile that he loved before planting a kiss on his cheek.

          “Good Bye, I love you!”

          Her mother sat down with her own eggs and poured herself some orange juice before smiling and shaking her head at her husband.

          “What?”

          “Pushover.”

          He pulled out the newspaper and hid his grin behind it.

 

 

          Anita’s friends had shown up only a half hour late, which was somewhat early for them. She piled into the convertible and they immediately become engrossed in a rehashing of the previous evening; what boys they had met, which ones they wished to meet again, before half-arguing over who had seen which one first. 

          None of the girls noticed the two men following in the new, somewhat ambiguous car. The two men were not alone, but part of a six-man team who constantly rotated their surveillance of the girls. They were experienced men. This was their trade and they were long past their first time. They switched every hour with the other two-man crews hovering around the outdoor mall at a five block radius, ready to move in when the first good opportunity presented itself.

 

 

          Three hours later Anita dropped her bags around her feet and collapsed into a chair at the malls outdoor café. Her feet were sore from the new heels she had bought and she set about changing back to her old ones after the waitress took her drink order. Her friends were also equally burdened by their morning of shopping. Now the café was growing crowded as shoppers looked for a place out of the sun and a cool drink.

          “Four pair of shoes Maria? Really?”

          “I couldn’t decide what color!”

          Anita sipped her drink as she took in all of their bags. Still tired from their night out, she was ready to leave right now, but she knew her friends weren’t close to being done. She was done spending money on herself. She would find something nice for her mother next. But she didn’t want to lug all her bags around for another few hours.

          “We should take these to the car.”

          “Yeah, but we’ll loose our table if we do.”

          “I have to pee.”

          Anita rolled her eyes before standing and shifting her foot in her shoe for a better fit. The new blister was rubbing, but not as bad as in the new shoes.

          “Give me the keys; I’ll take our stuff out.”

          “Then I will pee.” Maria smiled.

          “And I will sit here and do nothing.” Consuela smiled and stretched.

          Anita took the keys from her friend and stuck her tongue out at them before gathering up all of the bags. It was quite a load, but it proved to be more bulky than heavy when she started walking. She left for the car as Maria darted off to the bathroom. Neither of them noticed the man at the next table dialing his phone.

 

 

          “She’s leaving the other two and going to the car alone. Move in now.” The man spoke into his phone.

          “Okay.”

          The leader in the car immediately relayed the information to the others before sitting low in the seat just as Anita emerged from the mall. He watched her struggle under the bulk of the multiple bags as she approached, oblivious to her surroundings. The van pulled into the lot and slowly circled closer.

          “Wait till she’s done and on her way back in.” he ordered. He couldn’t have her locking herself in the car should she notice them in time. If they had to break into the car to get her it would slow things down, possibly enough to cause them to abort. The van pulled away and cruised through the lot as if in search of a better parking spot.

          He watched her fumble with the key fob and door before unceremoniously dumping the load of shopping bags in the back seat. She then stooped to check her makeup in the outside mirror, removing her sunglasses and squinting at her reflection in the bright afternoon sun.

          “Get ready, move in slow.”

          “We got her.”

          He had just given the order when he was startled by the passenger side door opening as the man who had been tailing the girls flopped onto the leather seat beside him.

          “This is a good time, no?”

          “Yes, Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me.”

          “Yeah… look, she’s moving.”

          They returned their gaze out the window to see Anita finish her primping and start walking back toward the mall, dismissing the van approaching from behind.

          “Look around.”

          “Looks clear on my side. Nobody looking our way.”

          The lead man grunted before speaking into the phone.

          “Take her.”

          There was no reply other than the immediate speeding up of the van. The side door slid back to reveal two men with face mask and gloves. The girl turned her head at the sound of the revving engine and caught sight of the approaching van.

          It was already too late to run.

          Frozen with terror and disbelief, Anita held agreeably still as the two men grabbed her with practiced moves by the arms and legs and had her on the floor of the moving van within seconds. Only then did the shock succumb to reflex. She managed one scream before the duct tape secured her mouth shut. Her kicking legs and flailing arms were soon defeated by even more tape accumulating, binding her body tighter and tighter until the movement to breathe was all she could voluntarily perform. Her face was kept toward the floor until a dark cloth covered her eyes and was secured around her head along with her long hair. Only then was she flipped over.

          A voice hissed in her ear. “Relax pretty, there’s nowhere to go now, and in case you haven’t figured it out yet; this is a kidnapping.”

          She whimpered and tears flowed under the scarf over her eyes and she barely noticed the straps being tightened around her body securing her to the hard board. The van took several turns and the men were forced to hold the board in place as they worked to prevent her from sliding around the metal floor.

          After what seemed like forever but was actually only a few minutes, the van turned down a narrow ally and came to a sudden stop. After the noise and violence of the last few minutes she found herself surrounded by silence as the men left the van as one. She struggled against the straps and tape but soon excepted defeat. An attempt to rub the cloth from her eyes also proved futile. She forced herself to calm down as she was dizzy from the lack of air and her rapidly beating heart. She listened intently for any sound of someone passing by. The distant sounds of traffic were all she could make out. She had no idea where she was or how long she had been gone. Did her friends even know what had happened? Were they calling her father? The police? Why was this happening to her?

          Her thoughts were interrupted by the rattling of a key in the lock of the driver’s side door. Anita yelled against the tape across her face and struggled in vain against the straps. The van rocked as a heavy man entered and sat behind the wheel in the still warm seat. Her hopes of rescue died a quick death when he spoke.

          “Sorry to disappoint little girl, but I’m just the chauffer.”

          The van was started and put in gear and Anita slide across the floor and impacted the side of the wheel well as it took the turn out of the ally. She heard the horns of rush hour traffic as the van weaved in and out, cresting hills and bouncing through potholes. The board absorbed most of the impacts with the walls of the van, but it did nothing to prevent the tape from tearing at her skin where it had been so quickly applied. Anita ground her teeth against the pain until the ride smoothed on what could only be a freeway. The relief was short-lived as the van pulled off after a few minutes and bounced down a poorly maintained road. The sounds of loud music could be heard along with equally loud voices. Eventually the van briefly stopped before pulling into a small garage. Only when the door was down did the engine shut off and the driver exit. Anita lay in silence once again for a moment until more voices preceded the opening of the back doors. Hands grabbed the board, and she was lifted out only to be carried inside and up some stairs and roughly deposited on the floor.

          “You two get out.”

          Anita felt their footsteps as they left only to then hear the voice again.

          “Listen closely. You’ve been kidnapped. You do as we say and follow the rules you’ll live to go home someday, if not, life will become very unpleasant for you. Do you understand?”

          She managed the slightest of nods.

          “My knife is sharp. Don’t move while I cut the tape. I’ll place a towel over your head. You’ll cover your face completely when we knock on the door and keep it covered until we leave. The radio stays on at all times, you will never touch it. We’re always watching. You understand?”

          Despite her fear, Anita managed another nod without crying. The knife made rapid work on the tape and she felt the pressure decrease as her body was freed. The towel came down on her head as promised and all light was blocked out. The straps were removed except for the ones holding her feet. She heard the heavy breath as the man got to his feet and walked to the door. A radio came on blaring loud music and startling her, yet the volume could not cover the creaking of the door as it opened and closed. The sounds of several locks being thrown quickly followed and only then did she dare attempt to move. Her shaking hands covered with tape managed to find the towel and pull it and the scarf from her eyes. She found herself in a small room with an equally small bed. One heavy door appeared where her ears had said it would be, another showed a small and filthy bathroom beyond it. A window covered in a tattered blanket let in just enough light around the edges and through the thin fabric that she could make out the grid-work shadow of metal bars. A tile floor long in need of cleaning matched the peeling paint on the walls. The sounds of a busy street could be heard three floors below. Her fingers and manicured nails found the tape on her mouth and she pulled it free only to let out a pent-up sob. She stifled it in fear it would anger her kidnappers. Undoing the leg strap, she rose on shaking legs and walked to the bed. Sitting down, Anita began crying softly and picking the tape free from her skin. Surely this wasn’t really happening to her. Any moment now her father or the police would come through the door and take her home.

          Wouldn’t they?

 

❉❉❉

       

          “Khalid, lets go!”

          Hanni gave Tariq a look that shut him up before turning to check on his friend Khalid. While only a few months younger than he was, his friend had trouble on the steep climbs, always falling behind as they neared the top. The other boys would laugh at him and his weakness, but such remarks drew the wrath of Hanni, and his size was enough to ensure his friend was left alone.

          “You okay?”

          Khalid nodded and caught his breath.

          “It’s your turn tonight?”

          “Yes.”

          “You want me to come with you?”

          “No.”

          Hanni grimaced at his friend’s sharp reply. He should not have asked and hurt his pride. He looked away and listened as Khalid caught his breath. It only took him a moment, as it usually did. He never got winded on the road, no matter how far they walked. Only on the climbs.

          “Ready?”

          Khalid nodded and set off after the other boys and the small group of goats they were after. Hanni followed his friend without a word, automatically adjusting his pace to match his.

          Khalid eyeballed the far ridge to the west as he and his friend fetched the goats down from the highland grazing site. Squinting against the setting sun, he could just make out the American firebase and its many satellites. Soon he would break away from the goat herd and his friend Hanni to sneak off to the hiding place of the AK-47 the village boys all shared. Tonight it was his turn to fire at the Americans. Something they were paid to do by the Taliban soldiers who occupied the valley. As far as he knew, none of his friends had ever hit any of the soldiers. But his family was poor and the Taliban commander had promised two dollars a day for any boy in the village who would do so. Khalid had actually come to like the Americans, as did his father. They had paved the road during the winter lull in the fighting, and now a truck traveled twice a week to the neighboring villages to make trade easier. The existence of the road also took the percentage of each trade out of the hands of the village elder, something he did not agree with. So while the elder may have wanted some Taliban influence to keep them in his position of power, the people themselves were leaning toward the Americans.

          As a result, Khalid’s short ration of ammo would not really come anywhere close to the fire base. The Taliban paid him to shoot, not to necessarily hit anything. It was merely to harass the Americans, to remind them that they were far from home and not wanted here, at least by some.

          It was dark enough now and the human eye had a difficult time adjusting between the still sun-lit sky and the dark ground, something he had learned at a young age. He waved to his friend and broke away through the cypress trees, his teenage legs adjusting to the rugged terrain with no thought. Moving from shadow to shadow he kept the trees between himself and the always watching eyes on the far ridge. Working down a small draw he reached up under the exposed roots of a tilted cypress and retrieved the rifle. An old can sat next to it and he pried the lid off to reveal twenty 7.62 rounds for the AK. Ten fewer than last week. Perhaps the Taliban were rationing for a big attack? Or maybe they were running out of money? Either way, it was not much of a concern to him. He’d been born in the Korengal valley, and he would most likely live there until he died. He had never known a time when his country wasn’t at war.

          He pulled the empty magazine from the rifle and slowly pressed the rounds in, one by one, with a calloused thumb. The magazine was old and the spring did not offer the resistance it should. The rifle would often jam when he fired it, but twenty rounds would only take a brief moment to discharge. He would fire at one of the outposts tonight before hunkering down behind some cover to wait out the return fire. Then a long nap before the evening chill would wake him. He would then make his way home, circling wide to enter his village from the opposite side. It would be a long night, but he had taken the money.

          Tonight he would use the wall. Sometime before he was born, the previous occupants of the village had a logging operation in the valley. It had long since been shut down, first by the Russians and then the Taliban. The small mill had been surrounded by a low wall to prevent erosion, and it had since fallen to rubble leaving only one long stretch still standing. Khalid left the draw on his belly and crawled his way through a spur before reaching trees he thought thick enough to hide him from the Americans. He knew they could somehow see in the dark and had been warned to keep something between himself and them at all times. Feeling safe now, he picked himself up, and holding the heavy rifle made his way up the ridgeline. 

 

                         

          Specialist David Zemmler had been in-country for eight months and had tracked over the same ground Khalid was now traveling more than once. It was ground he had become very familiar with. As a result, he knew just where to train the new LRAS night scope they had mounted yesterday morning.

          The new scope was a vast improvement over the old one. Despite the fact that it ate batteries at a rapid rate, the sensitivity and range were worth it. The first night they had used it they had almost called everyone out to stand to. Every night crawling animal that prowled the valley had glowed like a beacon making them think the Taliban were massing for a full assault. Fortunately cooler heads had prevailed. Now more used to the new scopes capabilities, Zemmler scanned the valley for people. The law in the valley was that anyone seen outside the village after dark was considered the enemy. He turned the scope to scan toward the sawmill again, but before he got to it he noticed a large heat source moving slowly up the ridge in its direction. Playing with the zoom, he focused in closer to see one man with the familiar walk of one toting a rifle. His arms moved as if connected, or holding something with both hands, and he did not reach out to the trees to help him up the steep slope.

          “Hey Johnson.”

          Johnson picked up his head from where it had been resting on his arms and rubbed the stubble on his head. Two of their platoon were assigned to each shift, but only one could use the scope at a time, so the other would usually bank up some sleep. Now his was being interrupted and he was annoyed.

          “What?”

          “Wake up the Sarge, I got a hadjji sneaking up the ridge toward the sawmill.”

          “Rifle or radio?” If the man was carrying either one, the rules said he was a fair target.

          “Rifle.”

          “Ok, I’m on it.”

          He rose from his spot behind the hesco and walked toward the main bunker. Less than half a minute had passed when Sgt. Daly was gazing through the scope. He watched silently for a few moments while Zemmler and Johnson waited.

          “I’d say he was heading for the sawmill too. Probably likes the cover of the wall. We took fire from there a couple weeks ago and the mortar crew has it pre-set in their computer now.”

          “Should we light him up?”

          Daley thought about it for a few before he replied.

          “Let’s wait till he gets there and then have the Charlie’s drop some HE on him. The Captain will want us to go up there and tear down that wall if the hajji’s use it for cover again. Be easier to just drop some rounds on it and save us the climb and a lot of work.”

          “Okay.”

          Zemmler exchanged a look with Johnson; no fun for them tonight, the mortar crew would get all the fireworks. But the Sarge was smart enough to get the job done and save them some work at the same time.

          “I’m going back to my rack; wake me up if you need anything.” He walked away scratching his ass through his boxers. Even at night it was hot here, they all wore as little as possible. He stopped before he had gone three steps and turned.

          “Hey Zemmler.”

          “Yeah Sarge?”

          “Don’t need to wait for him to shoot our way. Soon as he gets there, just drop it on him.”

          “Okay.”

 

 

          Khalid had gained the position he wanted and was surveying the wall from behind a tree before he moved out into the open. The corner was the best spot he decided; it would give him cover from two directions.

          Not wanting to crawl anymore, he sprinted across the open area and flopped down behind the wall. Fumbling with his clothes, he pulled up his sleeves and prepared to lay the rifle over the top of the wall.

          A strange whistling sound moved through the trees to his ears. The wind was blowing, but he had never heard it sound like that before.

 

 

          “He’s there, whenever you’re ready.”

          After waking up the mortar crew with the radio and telling them the target, the last few words were their sole contribution to the night’s activities. They watched for the flashing impact of the high explosive rounds already on their way to the sawmill.

          They didn’t have long to wait. The rounds crumped into the target with blinding flashes and heavy thumps that reached their ears only a few seconds later. They quickly had a group of armed men in boxer shorts, flip-flops, and chest armor gathered around them.

          “What we got?” One of them asked.

          “Hajji with a rifle at the sawmill. Sarge said to use the Charlie’s.” Johnson replied before speaking into the radio to the mortar crew.

          “Your range is good, spread it around some.”

          Some watched as the mortar rounds pounded the area around the sawmill for the next minute before Johnson spoke again and cut them off.

          “That ought to do it. Thanks guys.”

          Most of the men wandered back to their racks; nothing they hadn’t seen before. Zemmler was scanning through the scope. The others waited until he pulled his head back.

          “Couple of small fires, but no sign of him now.”

          “Probably in pieces, or halfway to Pakistan by now. Either way he’s done, score one for the Infidels.”

          The rest nodded agreement before disappearing behind the hesco’s in search of their bunks and more sleep.

          Another day in the valley.

 

 

          Khalid had never known such pain or terror. The explosions had come without warning and never seemed to stop. He had dropped the rifle and cowered behind the wall for an eternity, screaming as fast as he could suck in the air and force it back out. Until the sudden pain in his chest had come, it had burned into him like fire and his breath was gone. The explosions ceasing had not even registered in his mind as he rolled onto his back. The stars shining brightly down on him through the smoke were the last thing he remembered before the darkness descended. The fires burned around him for the rest of the night.

 

 

  Search Mounted for Boy Believed Kidnapped by Drug Gang

October 17, 2008 New York Times

 

 

—TWO

 

          Angel pulled his eyes from the captivating view of the setting sun and returned his gaze to the inside of the plane. A Cessna Citation II, it was small enough for him to touch both walls with his outstretched arms. While it was configured for air medical transport, there were no patients on board today, there was just himself, the two pilots, and the cargo.

          Today the cargo was not unusual. While the medical cot held everything required to sustain a patient for a long flight, this one also contained a few modifications. Under the cot and in the overhead areas were several hidden compartments used for smuggling cocaine. The heavy nylon equipment bags with their multiple zippers also held medical supplies if one did not dig too deeply. The bottoms of each were false and also packed with cocaine. While Angel couldn’t lay claim to the idea, it was one he had exploited for some time now. The medical flights occurred every day, and it was normal for them to go to small, rural airports, and as a result they raised little suspicion with the authorities or customs officials. They were even given a special designation prefix in their call sign. Any plane flying under “Lifeguard” status enjoyed priority takeoff and landing privileges as well as the briefest of customs inspections. After all, weren’t lives at stake?

          His eyes fell on the cooler strapped to the cot. It was something that had started to happen about a year ago and so far it had proven to be quite lucrative. Today the cooler was worth more than the entire amount of cocaine on board.

          He glanced out the window to see the lights of the west coast of Florida coming on in the darkness. He pulled the blanket around him tighter as the altitude chilled the interior to a temperature he was not accustomed to. His handheld GPS told him they had another forty minutes or so to go. That meant they would probably start a decent from their current altitude for the landing in Orlando in about ten minutes. He killed the cabin lights so they would not reflect off the cockpit windows before closing his eyes and settling in to wait. 

          He actually smelled it before the pilots and jerked his head up to sniff again. He looked toward the cockpit in time to see the warning lights and hear the alarm. The smoke coming from the air vents caused him to jump up only to be yanked back in place by the seatbelt. He quickly thumbed on the overhead lights and now saw the smoke entering the cabin. Releasing the belt, he slid down the bench seat and knelt in the cockpit door.

          “What the fuck is going on?”

          The pilot ignored him while he hit the firewall shut off valve and spoke to the co-pilot through his headset.

          “Venice or Punta Gorda?”

          “PGD has a longer runway!”

          The pilot flipped switches and turned dials on the GPS navigation system until he saw the graphic for Punta Gorda airport. He then turned to watch his co-pilot flipping switches, each one shutting off a different electrical component. Despite his efforts, the smoke continued.

          “It’s not working!”

          “It’s that damn engine! I told that bastard mechanic there was a vibration and the oil pressure was low, he told me they would get it next month at overhaul!”

          The co-pilot only ground his teeth and continued to flip the switches. The smoke just kept coming and Angel had covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve.  His eyes were also beginning to burn. The co-pilot stopped to don his oxygen mask before pulling out their book of checklists. Angel tried his question again a little louder.

          “What the hell is happening?”

          The pilot turned as if just noticing him.

          “There’s a fire in the number two engine. We can’t stop the smoke so we’re going to have to make an emergency landing!”

          “We can’t do that! Not with this cargo!”

          “We don’t have a choice you idiot! Now go strap in and pray that we all live!”

          Angel watched the pilot and gripped the cockpit door frame as the plane swung into a right turn. The pilot keyed the button on the yoke and tried to speak clearly into the microphone.

          “Miami center this is Lifeguard seven-two-eight-Charlie-David. Mayday-Mayday-Mayday. We are inbound PGD. Fire in engine two with heavy smoke in the cockpit. Three, repeat three, souls on board. Fuel state 4200 pounds. Requesting you roll trucks.”

          “Eight-Charlie-David,Miami center. Copy your Mayday. We are clearing traffic and contacting PGD. Repeat fuel state and souls on board.”

          “Miami, Eight-Charlie-David. Fuel is 4200 pounds and we have three souls on board.”

          The smoke became too much for Angel and he felt his way back to the bench seat. The oxygen masks had been removed to make way for more drugs. A great idea of his at the time, it may kill him now. Idiot. Through watering eyes he struggled with the seatbelt. Before he could fasten it he saw the oxygen port on the cot in front of him. He was an idiot; the answer to his problem was right in front of him! He quickly felt for the equipment bags and pulled an oxygen mask from one. Stabbing the tubing onto the Christmas-tree fitting he reached for the tank valve. Would the oxygen aid any explosion if they crashed? Didn’t really matter if he suffocated before they got there he quickly decided. He cranked the knob until the oxygen hissed into the mask. Slapping it on his head he pressed it tight against his face and took several deep breaths. Only then did he notice that his inner ear was telling him they were in a steep decent. He quickly found the bench seat and strapped himself into it, scooting to the limit of the seatbelt to be near the exit door when the time came.

          The lights below them were coming up quick, but the pilot forced himself to ignore them and concentrated instead on his instruments. The smoke was to the point where it was forcing them into an instruments-only landing. He used the rapidly vanishing view to verify what the GPS was telling him. He made a note of matching the large blue expanse of Charlotte Harbor on the display with the large black area a mile short of the runway. If it all went to hell he would try to put the plane in the water. It was theoretically a more survivable choice if the landing gear failed to come down. The area around them was too developed, and in the dark he couldn’t tell between what was a farmer’s cleared field, and what was heavily forested. Either way, it was going to be one hell of a landing. At least the runway was an old military training base from World War II. It should be plenty long for what the plane needed. Now if he could just see it through the damn smoke.

          “Check-list.” he prompted.

          The co-pilot responded with a series of items and they both worked to verify them in what little time they had left. When they got to the landing gear, they both held their breath until the three little green lights came on granting them a chance at the runway. The pilot allowed his muscles to relax a fraction before leaning forward to see out the cockpit window. They were passing over the harbor and he could see both the runway lights and those of the rescue vehicles speeding down the taxiways.

          “Gear down.”

          “Flaps extended.”

          The pilot made a few corrections, fighting the single operating engine with the rudder to keep the nose pointed where he wanted it to go. Unfortunately, the strong wind was also a problem as it often was at sunset near the water. He would have to set down the rear gear and then point the nose down the center line before allowing it to touch. Something hard enough to do in the dark, let alone with a cloud of smoke in the cockpit, his eyes were burning and watering heavily.

          “You’re off heading.” He heard his co-pilot prompt.

          “I can’t see.”

          The co-pilot reached over and wiped the man’s eyes with his tie.

          “Better.”

          He felt the burble of ground effect air as it rose off the warm ground and pulled the throttles back more as they crossed the end of the runway. But the smoke had robbed him of his vision and he misjudged the altitude to the point that the plane hit hard and bounced back into the air. He struggled to put it back down, but in his haste, the nose slewed left before hitting the concrete. Feeling the weight of the aircraft transfer from the wings to the landing gear, the pilot quickly engaged the thrust reversers and brakes while the co-pilot shut off the remaining engine and pulled the lever for the extinguishers. The thrust reverser engaged as it was designed to, but with only one engine dialing down the result was a further slew to the left. Before the pilot could correct, the gear on that side caught the edge, pulling the small plane off the runway and into the grass.

          Angel pushed against the ceiling of the plane and braced his feet on the medical cot as the plane slide sideways through the turf. The loud cursing from the cockpit only added to the terror of the impact he felt was surely coming.

          A loud crack and the tearing of metal announced the failure of the left gear. The wing on that side fell into the turf and caused the plane to spin as it continued its journey across the airport grounds. After another fifty meters it contacted a taxiway and the rest of the gear was torn away from the belly of the plane. A large crack in the cabin opened with an explosion of sound and Angel felt himself doused with hot hydraulic oil. Fortunately his thick flight suit protected him from the worst of it, and he yanked his hands away from the opening crack in time to keep them attached to his arms. The smoke quickly cleared as it was sucked out the new opening and Angel was treated to a violent tumbling view of the airport lights before the cabin finally spun to a stop.

          He opened his eyes to find himself lying on his back in what was left of the cabin. He soon heard loud diesel engines and voices shouting outside the plane. He moved to try to get up but was stopped by a sharp pain in his leg. Pulling the oxygen mask away and looking, he saw that the angle of his right foot was not as it should be. Amazingly, it didn’t really hurt that much. He gaped at it in wonder until a voice brought him out of his stupor.

          “Don’t move buddy, we’ll get you out in a minute!”

          Angel looked up to see two firemen gazing in through the crack in the side of the plane. He also saw white powder flowing from a crack in the overhead, it settled on his hair and coated his flightsuit.

          Twenty minutes later he sat on the gurney and watched as the firemen swarmed around what was left of the aircraft. The pilot and co-pilot were severely injured and had already been flown away by a helicopter.  He waited for the inevitable and it didn’t take long. Watching as the bags were taken from the plane, followed by the cooler, he barely noticed the needle as the medics started an IV and took his blood pressure. He held the oxygen mask over his face and watched as a state trooper arrived with what looked like a plain clothes detective. The state trooper approached the ambulance and without a word handcuffed Angel to the gurney. The detective produced a digital camera and took his picture before speaking to the paramedic.

          “We’ll be sending somebody in with you.”

          “Anything I need to know?” the medic asked.

          “Cocaine in the cabin with him. A lot.” The trooper replied. “We also have this cooler, its marked Human Organs. I doubt it’s for real, but will it hurt anything if we open it?”

          “I doubt it; just close it quick if it’s what it says it is. Want me to do it?”

          “Sure” The trooper was a bit squeamish about what might be inside.

          The medic reached down to his boot and produced a switchblade, something only people in his occupation were allowed to carry, and quickly sliced through the seal. He popped it open and looking inside saw two small plastic bags on ice, each holding some dark tissue. He held it open for the trooper and detective to see.

          “What are they?”

          “Kidneys.”

          “No shit?”

          They all looked at Angel, but he chose not to meet their gaze. He contemplated his deformed ankle instead and silently cursed his luck. The detective took a few shots of the coolers contents before moving away to have a short conversation with the trooper. Angel watched from his seat on the gurney and stewed. His mind was already looking for a way out of this jam, but the damn leg was limiting his options.

          “You can take him in now. We’ll be right behind you.”

 

 

          They called him The Major, despite the fact that he had long ago retired. But in Afghanistan everyone seemed to have a rank or title; and this was his. He now worked for one of the many sub-contractors that handled a number of jobs the military didn’t wish to. His years in the army had made him fluent in the local language and customs, so he had been hired and given the task of liaison between the Afghan soldiers and the Americans here at this remote base on the Pakistani border. He also looked after their wounded, and if necessary, their dead.

          The Major watched through the Plexiglas door window of the multi-bed ER. The building they were in was constructed from a large pre-fabricated kit. It had been flown out to this remote location in the Abbas Garr by a series of Chinook helicopters and erected in only one day. Its six-bed operating room was tending to only one patient at the moment; a teenage boy who had been brought into one of their remote outpost’s by his father and a village elder. On first exam the boy was dead, but a more thorough check by the medic in the field had revealed a faint pulse. A collapsed lung and a large amount of bleeding had him close to death before the sucking chest wound was corrected. His strong heart, conditioned by the daily climbs in the mountainous Afghan terrain, was the only thing that had kept him alive through the night. The x-ray on the wall showed some metal in his chest, right up against the aorta, and some extensive lung damage. His odds were not great, but the surgeon was skilled in chest trauma, it was sort of his area specialty.

          The metal was most likely American in origin. The report said the only action last night was some mortars being dropped on a suspected insurgent. The boy’s clothes reeked of carbon, telling them he had been either firing a rifle, or had been around something exploding. Maybe both. Either way, they had an opportunity to gain some favor with the villagers if they were able to save the boy. If not, they were required to dress and package him for a quick return to his village, where there would be a burial before sunset as their custom demanded.

          This custom was something the Major exploited every chance he got. What better way could one ask for to dispose of evidence? He fingered the boy’s blood test readout he had pulled from the chart. He would soon enter it into his computer and email it off. Within a few minutes he would get an answer, along with the planes availability. He turned to look through another Plexiglas window into the morgue to see his colleague waiting. They exchanged a silent look. They would know soon.

          Turning back, he saw the surgeon peeling his gloves and scrubs off and tossing them into a waiting hamper. The rest of the team were performing a count of all their instruments before two of them would close the boy’s chest. The surgeon pushed his way through the door, only to find the Major waiting.

          “How’s it look?”

          “Well, there was a lot of damage. I’m amazed he lasted the night up on that mountain. But the kid seems to have a strong heart. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was at least sixteen. We managed to sew everything up, and as long as the aorta holds I think he’ll make it. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

          “Okay, I’ll go talk to his father. What’s the kid’s name?”

          “Khalid.”

          The doctor turned to leave and the Major looked through the morgue window again to shake his head at his partner. The man silently picked up his blades and put them away. Perhaps tomorrow.

          Despite his disappointment, the Major forced a smile on his face before he went outside to talk to the boy’s father.

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