We arrived at the house and immediately I noticed the increased security presence and all the official looking cars. As we entered the house, Rick, Shane and Greg met us at the door and gave Carl a big hug. I noticed a couple of state patrol officers and Agent Payne standing around the living room. I walked up to agent Payne.
"Matt, what do we know."
"Hello, Dale. We don't have much to go on yet but as best we can figure, this is what happened - somehow the Cartel managed to wiretap Greg's cell."
I looked at Greg; his eyes were all puffy and red. "Greg, don't you dare blame yourself - there is no way you could have known."
He just nodded and Matt continued. "Greg called Nick and asked him to join them at your place tonight to shoot some pool. The Cartel guys set up an ambush. From the tracks on the roadside, it appears they feigned a flat tire or car trouble and got Nick to stop for them. From there, they forced him into their vehicle and headed straight to an airfield where their plane was waiting for them. We are pretty sure they had this planned for some time and where just waiting for the right opportunity."
"So where are they taking him?"
"We aren't sure. The plane dropped off radar contact a few minutes ago; just off the coast of Mexico." He had a map laid out and pointed to a spot in the Gulf of Mexico. "This is there last known position. We do know that the Larcanzo family owns a large estate here just outside the town of Padilla on the shore of Presa Vicente Gurrero and another smaller one here near San Fernando and another here near Aldama. In addition, they own a warehouse and docks here along the mouth of Rio Carrizal. There is a lot of space in between those points that they control. Basically, we are looking for a needle in a haystack."
"So how do we find where they are holding Nick?"
"We wait. We have two guys on the inside and we were able to get them a message. As soon as they know something, they will let us know."
"Okay, so if we find him, then what."
"We tell the Mexican Federal Police, the Federales, where he is and ask them to go get him."
"Why can't our guys go get him? I don't know that I trust the Mexicans."
Matt nodded. "I don't trust them either, but we have to follow protocol."
I turned and walked away, towards my office. I turned around. "You have to follow protocol Agent Payne, I don't. Travis, gather the gang, conference room in one minute!"
I went into my office and sat there with my head in my hands. This craziness had to stop.
Travis walked into the office and came to my side and I just melted in his arms. I couldn't hold it in anymore and just started crying. Travis just held me silently. After a minute, I pulled myself together and wiped my eyes. "Everyone ready for me?"
"Take your time Babe, whenever you're ready." We moved to the command center. It was getting kind of full here. "Cal and John are both there; Ellis and Clara are in the kitchen with Rick making coffee and snacks for everyone. I put the FBI and state police guys in the conference room. Clara is basically taking over for Carl, first time I have ever seen him so shaken up he can't work."
I nodded. "Not a luxury afforded to me. But, Carl deserves to focus on Nick. Let's go find him, Babe."
As we passed the conference room, I stopped in and approached Agent Payne. "Matt, I am sorry I was so short earlier, you didn't deserve that. This is all very stressful. I am just overwhelmed."
Matt put his hand out and shook mine. "It comes with the job, Dale. No hard feelings. As soon as we have any info, we will let you know. I am expecting the cartel to reach out to you soon. Make sure your people are monitoring your calls."
"Thanks, Matt, I will be back soon."
We headed to the command center. When I stepped in, I paused for a minute. The place was buzzing with activity. It appeared, Cal and John had brought some operators from the main command center. Karen spotted me first and waved me over.
"Good news Dale, Cal made some calls and got someone from the NRO, National Reconnaissance Office, to give us some satellite time. The satellite will be in position in a few minutes."
I walked over to Cal. "Cal, anything I decide to do here can't be done officially by INS."
Cal laughed. "Actually, according to international law, any company may take whatever actions are necessary to retrieve an abducted employee, provided the employee is not being held by a legitimate government official, office or enforcement agency."
"But Nick is not an employee."
"Actually he is; we put Nick on the payroll last month as a consultant."
"When the hell did this happen."
He chuckled. "About ten minutes ago."
One of the operators shouted out. "Okay, sat image is coming in now. We are starting our search along a straight line from where the plane was last seen to where it was due to land; then we will widen out in circular patterns. If we find the plane, we are a hell of a lot closer."
Agent Payne stepped into the room. "Focus on these coordinates. That's where they are taking him." He looked right at me. "Our deep ops guys gave us the info - and you didn't get it from me." He turned and left.
The operator keyed in the info and the picture went out of focus, then refocused on a warehouse near a dock. As we watched the grainy black, white and green image, four SUVs pulled into the warehouse and stopped. We could see a number of figures arrayed around the building, and twelve got out of the SUV's and two figures dragged a third out of one of the SUV's and threw him to the ground.
Karen pointed. "That's got to be Nick."
A solitary figure separated from the group and appeared to take out a cell phone.
My phone rang; I looked at it and everyone else. "This is Dale Ryan."
"Mr. Ryan, this is Mario Sanchez calling. I am sure you know why I am calling."
"Mr. Sanchez, first if Nick comes out of this with even a bruise on him, I will personally hunt you and every member of your GANG down and rip your balls off, do you understand."
"Mr. Ryan, I understand you're upset, and rightfully so. However, threats are not going to resolve this situation. I have been authorized to negotiate with you."
"I do not have access to Scott fucking Fernandez. I don't know where he is or even how to find him."
"I am sure you have friends in the FBI that can help you with that. You are a powerful man. Mr. Ryan, make something happen."
The whole time I was watching him on the screen. "Okay, you win Mr. Sanchez, but before I sell my soul to the devil I need to know Nick is okay. Can I speak to him; are your with him?"
"Yes, Mr. Ryan, I am with him. But, don't get to excited; your FBI friends attempting to track this call will tell you it's originating from the State of Georgia - a place I have never been. I will give you ten seconds to speak to your associate. Here he is."
"Nick, are you okay?"
"Dale, oh my fucking god, Dale, what's going on?"
"Nick, try to stay calm, I am going to do whatever it takes to get you out of there. I promise."
"Dale, is Carl okay?"
"Yes, freaked out but he is right here with me. You just hang in there bud, and we will be drinking wine by the pool in no time."
"I am really freaked out here, man."
"I know, Nick, and I am very sorry. This doesn't even involve you. I am so sorry."
"As you can hear, Mr. Ryan, your man is unharmed."
"For Christ's Sake man, he's just a friend. He has nothing to do with any of this. He owns a fucking pizza parlor. Let him go and I will surrender myself to you."
Travis started to rise; I waved him down.
"That's very noble of you, Mr. Ryan, but then I would have no one to work on finding Mr. Fernandez. I will contact you in exactly two weeks to tell you where we will make the exchange. Good day, Mr. Ryan." The line went dead.
We all just stood there for a second until Agent Payne stepped in. "Not sure how they did it but we traced the call to Georgia. It's no help to us."
I looked at him. "Thank you Agent Payne, I think at this point, to protect your career, you should probably take your associates and go back to your office. We know how to contact each other if needed."
"I understand, Dale. Good luck everyone."
I stood and looked at everyone in the room for a minute. They were all watching me, waiting to see what I would do next. "Alright everyone. I want a preliminary plan to go and bring him back in one hour. Cal, any chance we could get satellite coverage for the Op?"
"Doubtful. I am really pushing the limits with this tonight."
Travis looked up. "What about the Brits. I have heard their satellite recon capabilities are awesome. Dale, you could call Lord Winthrope and ask?"
I nodded. "It's worth a try. In the meantime, everyone get started on the plan."
I stepped out and went to look for Clara. She was in the kitchen with Rick, Greg and Ellis. As I walked in, Rick handed me a latte - and hugged me.
"Thanks Rick. Clara, can you get me in touch with Lord Winthope? I believe he is at the British Embassy in DC."
"I will do it from your office. As soon as I have him on the line, I will get you. In the meantime, eat one of the sandwiches. Rick and Ellis are bringing them back to the Command Center and I am sure there will be none left."
I didn't much feel like eating but would rather that than argue with Clara. I grabbed a sandwich and took a bite. It was delicious! I realized I was starving and grabbed another as Ellis started walking back with the tray. She just chuckled. I hung out with Rick and Greg for a few minutes and told them everything that was going on. They both were terrified for Nick, but Rick kept asking me how I was holding up. He was the only person other than Travis that was worried about how this was affecting me personally. After a few minutes, Clara came and got me. I got on the phone with The First Sea Lord and told him everything that was going on. I asked him about the satellite coverage, he told me to give him 30 minutes, and he would call me back. I just sat there in my office staring at the dark sky through the window. I knew what I had to do and I knew people were going to get hurt, my people and the cartel's people. I realized all these military officers have dealt with this on a day-to-day basis. It terrified me, but I took solace in that fact. I would never be one to order a mission like this callously. The phone ringing disrupted my introspection.
"Dale Ryan." I answered.
"Dale, its Mel." Apparently, the British First Sea Lord and I were on a first name basis.
"Mel, sorry to have involved you in all this."
"Nonsense, chap. I owe you this. So, Her Majesty's Ambassador to the U.S. has to make an emergency visit to Mexico to meet with Her Majesty's Ambassador to Mexico - something about issues with the North American Trade Alliance or something. He is leaving Monday morning and will be in country for at least two to three weeks. During the visit, the Government Communications Headquarters will have near constant satellite coverage of that area of Mexico. If our friends at the INS wanted us to share that coverage with them so they could conduct a training scenario, we would be most willing to assist."
"Mel, you're amazing! I owe you now."
"Fiddlesticks, it's the least I can do. I am emailing you the name of the Captain in GCHQ that you should contact. He will get your operators connected in."
"Mel, when this is all over, bring your wife down to Norfolk for an evening here at the house."
"Sounds splendid, Dale. Best of luck to you. Bring your man home safe."
I stepped out of my office and Max was waiting by the door. "They're ready for you, boss. Senior personnel are in the conference room."
I stepped across the hall and entered the conference room. It was packed. A giant print out from the satellite image was rolled out onto the conference room table. "Okay everyone, we will have satellite coverage from the UK's GCHQ starting Monday morning. We will have 'near' constant coverage."
Colonel Time, the marine commander had somehow arrived without me noticing and was standing there. "That's perfect, Admiral. So, here's the basic idea. From watching the satellite footage, we have a really good idea of where the sentries are around the building and their basic patrol paths. If we have enough choppers in theater. I would like to drop three platoons in a few hours before go time; they can move by foot and set up a wide perimeter with their left flank near this beach here. And their right flank here by this cliff." He indicated a point on the map. "Each platoon will have sniper support. At go time. the snipers, using silenced rifles, will take out this outer ring of sentries. At the same moment, four amphibious assault teams with take the docks here. The fourth marine platoon with come in through them, and assault the rear of the warehouse and secure Nick. As soon as the assault begins, the outer perimeter will assault the front of the warehouse. When that begins, the support ships will immediately move at full speed to the docks to retrieve all personnel and hightail it out of there to rendezvous at Norfolk."
I stood up and paced backed and forth for a second. "Is this our only option?"
Cal looked up at me. "Dale, we have discussed every possibility. The Department of Justice will not surrender Scott no matter who asks them. If we don't give them Scott, and we don't do the attack, they will kill Nick. Of that, much we are certain. "
"Okay. Which support ships are we using?"
John stood for this part. "We have Cyclone fully outfitted and ready to go as well as my flag ship, Blizzard; we also have Tornado ready to roll - that's two heavy cruisers with two choppers each and a heavy support destroyer with four choppers. Plus, the fast patrol boats, Hailstorm and Squall, are just finishing a standard security patrol of some offshore oil rigs in the gulf. Hailstorm has one bird on deck and Squall is too small for any. Hailstorm and Squall can both dock here for the extraction. We can also launch the zodiacs from both. Cyclone, Blizzard and Tornado are too big to get in close and assist; however, Tornado does have 3 105mm main guns that could reach, should the marines need artillery support. How many zodiacs will you need, Colonel?"
"The four amphibious teams need their own zodiacs and the Marine platoon can squeeze into four more zodiacs, making a total of eight."
I stood again. "Make it nine, one for my team." Everyone except Travis, Cal and Max started to protest, and tried to talk me out of it all at once. I just stood there for a second. "Enough! All of this is happening because of me." I could see everyone was about to deny that too. "No! Hear me out. I didn't ask for this to happen and God knows I tried to think of a million ways to prevent it. Since I came here, the people closest to me are in constant danger. Rick got abducted by Scott while trying to cook a fucking pork loin, where was I? Out shopping with Travis. Nick got taken by a bloody Mexican drug cartel while I was dancing and drinking at some fancy party. I ordered Marines to assault a pirate ship while I stood in an air-conditioned flag bridge. Not this time! I will not allow this mission to happen if I am going to be out to sea watching it on a satellite. I am going in with the Marines. Now, the one consolation I will make is: I will have a security team with me." I turned and looked at Max. "It will be comprised of volunteers from the security office. No one is to be ordered to do this."
Max just nodded once and I knew he would be by my side.
Travis stood up. I was nervous; I didn't know how he was going to react. "Dale, I think you have the right to make this demand. No commanding officer should order his troops into battle and not being willing to pick up a rifle himself." he turned to Max. "Take care of him for me, you hear."
Again, Max stoically nodded but with a slight smirk. "Absolutely, Sir."
Cal cleared his throat. "Okay, so Dale will follow the fourth marine platoon from the water. Any other objections to that, keep them to yourself. Let's not forget that while we consider him family, Dale is still our boss - end of discussion."
John stood again. "If we shove off by Monday morning we could be in place Wednesday afternoon. Let's set this Op for a go time of 01:30 hours on Thursday. The marine platoons going in by helicopter will begin deployment at midnight. Colonel, does that give them enough time to get into position?"
"Should be however, it would be tight. Can we adjust the assault time to 02:00? I would rather have a little more wiggle room."
"Absolutely, here is the chain of command: Dale is mission commander until he leaves Cyclone. I will assume over all command of the mission at that time. Captain King will have command of naval forces. Captain Warren will command air, and Colonel Time will command the Marines. Any questions, so far?"
Karen stood. "We need a little deception here in Norfolk. Late Sunday night Hailstorm is going to report a security issue at one of the oilrigs and request assistance. That will be our cover for deploying Monday morning. I know you folks here are not going to like this, but no one outside of this room will be told what the real mission is until Wednesday morning."
John stopped her."Karen, we have to brief our people."
"John, I understand but I seriously think we have a security leak at INS."
I stared at her. "I think we all deserve an explanation."
"They know too much. How did they get access to Greg's cell? And, how did they know what route Nick would be taking? For that matter, how did they know Nick was this important? And, the biggest question is how did this Mr. Sanchez get your cell number? That's the most secure INS cell we have ever programmed Dale, and nobody has access to the number unless they work for INS. I don't know for certain, but I do know we need to take a deep look into INS and until then, we have to play operational security like we have a leak."
Cal put his hand on Karen's shoulder. "I have known Karen for a very long time and if she is concerned, so am I."
John nodded. "I concur! Once we leave this room, we have no plan as of right now. That's the statement to everyone outside this room and that means everyone - wives, significant others, mistresses or anyone else."
Karen looked at me. "Next, Agent Payne has made arrangements for you to meet with the U.S. Attorney General Monday morning at 8 am. Go through the motions of trying to trade Scott for Nick. You will fly to DC Sunday night. After the meeting Monday, you will fly here. The plane will pull into the hanger here and you and your security team will stay on the plane. Now this is the tricky part. We have to assume they are watching you. We will have Rob from security act as a body double from there on. He is the right build, age and kind of resembles you. We will get his hair cut just like you and he will take your place here. He will go into the office every morning and go through the day just as you would; only he won't take appointments. He will start his day earlier than normal so most people won't see him and he will have a full contingent of bodyguards surrounding him at all times. You and your security will dress like aircraft mechanics, leave the hanger, and head for the ops building. We will get you on Cyclone after that. Stay in your room until you are well out to sea."
I stood up. "Karen, I feel we might be going a little overboard but I trust your judgment on this. Is that everything?" No one spoke up. "Everyone, go home get some rest and at 16:00 hours tomorrow, Sunday, we will meet again and review the finer details. Let Operation Pizza Boy begin."