Sent to Southern Arizona to investigate rumors of chupacabra running rampant, SEAL Team 666 becomes embroiled in Mexican cartel politics, the loss of one of their own, and the machinations of an American patriot group who wants to lock down the border at any cost.
This novelette was acquired for Tor.com by St. Martin's Press editor Brendan Deneen.
Mexican Border. Near Naco, Arizona. Past Midnight.
Pablo and Rebecca Cruz had lived in Ciudad, Chihuahua, their entire lives. But after twelve years of marriage, they wanted to have a child. They wanted to pull themselves out of the abject living they’d endured, where even getting enough food to eat was a challenge. Pablo had finally earned his electrician’s rating and Rebecca was certified in nails and hair. They had jobs lined up in Phoenix with a friend of a cousin. Everything was set for a new life. All they had to do was get across the border.
And they would have made it, too; the US Border Patrol was busy that evening, interdicting a suspected drug transport in Coronado Canyon. Everything should have been in place for a successful crossing and meet up with los coyotes at the Walmart in Sierra Vista.
But instead, they were running for their lives, a dozen wounds in their legs, breathing ragged, terrified screams bursting from raw throats. Pablo had lost one of his boots and his foot was terribly lacerated, but he didn’t dare slow down. A beast was following them, playing with them. It could have killed them already. It could have done it in seconds. But it had been a long while since the beast had been allowed to hunt free. Too much time in a cage. Too much time with a human master. Now it was time to play.
Finally the woman fell, tripping over a mesquite root on the edge of a natural clearing.
The man could have kept running, but he stopped and placed himself between her and their pursuer.
Now was the moment.
The beast entered the clearing.
When they saw it in full form, they screamed.
The beast howled, then charged, then fed.
Pablo and Rebecca Cruz never had a chance.
Douglas, Arizona. Mexican-American Border Town. Morning.
Laws sat at the long bar just off the lobby of the Gadsden Hotel. He kept his head down as he sipped his añejo tequila. His eyes occasionally drifted to the old school Budweiser and Negra Modelo signs, or the ancient bartender with the gold-rimmed teeth, but it wasn’t his sight he was using. He was listening, just like he’d been listening for five days now.
A couple who’d crossed the border from Agua Prieta was arguing about money, the man content to drink what they’d saved instead of shopping in distant Tucson as planned.
Another man complained about the ten years of drought to anyone who came along, but Laws had heard the tale enough to know that the man hadn’t farmed in twenty-five years.
A forty-something woman squatted near the jukebox, trying desperately to make rent, usually giving charity sex to some forlorn spirit just so she’d have a night’s sleep in a hotel bed.
Hundreds had passed through the bar in the last five days, but other than the American Patriot vigilante on the first day, not a single one interested him. Still, he waited and listened, sitting in a backwater bar, in a forgotten hotel, on the edge of a Mexican-American town that Oscar Wilde and Pancho Villa had once called home.
The American Patriots had been extremely active in the southeastern corner of Cochise County. Not only had they placed static checkpoints along the border to interdict immigrants, but they were also promoting several members in local elections. While many saw them in operation, read newspaper reports, or saw them in brief television news clips and believed them to be patriots, Laws had seen enough classified briefings detailing their many foreign holdings and illegal activities to know that their real love was for money—any country’s money—and in this area, money came from smuggling.
“Another?” mumbled the bartender.
Senior Chief Tim Laws nodded and slid his empty shot glass to be refilled. He had enough tequila flowing through his veins that they could be set on fire. He knew that when this was all over, he’d have to run to hell and back to get it out of his system. Lieutenant Commander Holmes would make sure of that. When the bartender refilled his drink, Laws asked for an order of Lorenzo Beans. He had to repeat it three times, intentionally mangling his Spanish to pull off his lost-gringo routine. Consisting of sliced jalapeños, refried beans, and lard, the food kept his blood pumping and the alcohol flowing through his system. The old Mexican cure for a hangover worked better than twenty-first-century medicine.
A Chinese couple paused at the entrance to the bar. They leaned in, taking in the sights and smells of something authentically desperate. The man said the place looked right out of a movie. The woman said that she didn’t like those sorts of movies and urged him to take her to the stairs where Pancho Villa once rode his horse so they could get a picture by the stuffed mountain lion. He assented nobly and they moved on.
Laws surmised that a bar like this was a little too authentic for tourists keen on experiencing the Wild West. Tombstone, which was a mere thirty miles distant, with its reenactors, was more their style. They’d find it eventually, if they hadn’t already.
Laws once again tuned his ears to Spanish, glad for the linguistic break. Last time he’d heard Chinese in any place other than a restaurant was back on mission with Team 1. Back before he’d joined DEVGRU and ultimately Triple Six, he’d found himself steeped in Southwest Asian missions. From counterdrug partnerships with the Thais, to taking down al-Qaida wannabes on Mindanao, they’d kept him busy. Of course, he didn’t know what busy was until he joined Triple Six. Since then, he’d been to every continent and seen more crazy shit than any platoon of men would experience in their entire lives. Like now. Here he was sitting in a piss-stinking border bar, attempting to arrange an accidental meeting with a nice group of Americans who had gotten their hands on something they weren’t supposed to.
His cell buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out slowly, aware that other eyes were upon him. He read the warning message from the Team 666 leader telling him his targets were on their way. He read it once more, then shoved it violently back into his pocket.
“Damn wife wants me to come home,” he said in English. “Can you believe that?” he asked, switching to Spanish. “Woman should know to keep to her business of making babies and cleaning house.”
The bartender snorted.
The prostitute by the jukebox rolled her eyes.
Laws laughed drunkenly, his attention now on the door, waiting for his targets to finally arrive. They were right down the street, according to the message, and were due any second. When the steaming mass of beans arrived, he dove into them. He needed to sober up if he was going to get into some action. He was on his last bite when the door to the outside opened and three gringos wearing dark green American Patriot paramilitary uniforms and red, white, and blue cowboy hats strode in, like lawmen from the Old West.
They plunked down at the bar next to him and ordered Budweisers with Jack Daniel’s chasers. When their drinks arrived, they tilted their cowboy hats, downed the shots, and drank back half their beers. They ordered another round before turning their attention on him.
“What the hell you eating, boy?”
“Lorenzo Beans,” Laws mumbled, his mouth a raging maelstrom of fire from the jalapeños.
“You American, boy?” one of them asked.
Laws nodded, giving them the fish-eyed look he hoped would make him seem drunk. He chuckled, realizing that he didn’t necessarily need to pretend.
“Then why the hell you eating and drinking this wetback shit?”
Laws shrugged like an idiot. “Got no McDonald’s in this town, else I’d get a Happy Meal,” he slurred.
The Patriot stared at him a moment, then broke in to raucous laughter. His friends joined him.
After a few more shots, they asked Laws where he was from. He gave them his rehearsed story about a harried husband recently separated from the military and in need of a job. He opined about how all the good jobs, all the jobs he was qualified for, were held by immigrants. An hour later, after he’d switched to Coors, they offered him a ride back to their place, where they were going to have a “Great American Barbeque.”
He accepted and as he left the bar and climbed into their king cab pickup truck, he saw the unmanned aerial vehicle circling high, like it was a real bird and not an RQ-11 Raven, monitored by the rest of SEAL Team 666, who’d been sitting on their hands and waiting for him to infiltrate the American Patriot compound for the past week.
Border Patrol Substation. Douglas. Noon.
The pictures weren’t pretty. Holmes had seen the human form destroyed in every fashion and there was no way worse than being eaten alive . . . which must have been what had happened to these seven men and one woman. He flipped through the photos once more, keying on the eight-by-ten high-resolution glossy of the woman. The autopsy said she was between twenty-five and forty, but that was indiscernible to him. Some pieces of skull were left. Muscle was attached to her spine in places. Her entire face, including the bone structure, had been removed by impossibly strong jaws. Her ribs were gone, as were her legs below her knees. Flesh still clung to her pelvis, but in ragged chunks. But he was looking at none of this as he pulled over the magnifier.
“See this?” he said to Ruiz, who was standing next to him. “What kind of animal tracks do those look like to you?”
“I’d say they’re panther tracks, only we don’t have panthers this far north.” Ruiz’s deep West Virginian drawl was juxtaposed with his Mexican ancestry to the point that when he spoke, some people thought he was messing with them. “Could be a black cougar. We have them in Kentucky and West Virginia, but I never seen them this far south.”
A Border Patrol agent shook his head. “Look at the pads. These are five-toe pads. A panther, cougar, and mountain lion have four-toe pads. This isn’t them.”
“You know what this is, right?” Fratolilio, Fratty to his friends, stepped between Ruiz and Holmes. He snatched a picture, glanced at it, then quickly put it down. “Nasty.” He shuddered as he put a few feet of distance between himself and the pictures. “I mean, come on, boss, aren’t you going to tell them?”
“Tell us what?” A senior Border Patrol agent had come into the room in time to ask.
Besides the SEALs Holmes, Ruiz, and Fratty, three Border Patrol agents waited in the Border Patrol substation in Douglas. The agents were eager to sit, while the SEALs kept on their feet. Holmes didn’t begrudge them a bit of rest. They’d just come from humping ground surveillance radar near the border, called in because each one had found a mutilated body. But when the senior agent strolled into the room, the dynamics instantly changed and the other three leaped to their feet, tucking brown shirts into brown pants. Holmes smiled, knowing that he and the other SEALs would have done the same had a senior officer strolled in when they were soaking up ass time.
“Tell us what? That we got some fucking monster eating illegals on the border?” the senior agent asked, his Spanish accent heaviest when he said an ing word.
Holmes let the pictures slide to the table and eyed the other agents. He shared a frown with Fratty for putting him on the spot. Not that he wasn’t allowed to release the information, he just wanted to do it on his own terms.
“Bet you see some strange shit in the desert, Agent Garza.” Holmes edged his butt onto the desk and put his hands in his lap, opening his face and widening his eyes.
Garza grinned, knowing what was being done, but couldn’t help himself. He found the edge of another desk and perched his own prodigious butt on it. He wiped his forehead, then wiped the sweat onto his pants, leaving a long dark streak. Cold air ticking from a window air conditioner broke the silence.
“With you and your agents out here at night, there’s no telling the sort of things you’ve run in to.” Holmes watched as Ruiz and Fratty leaned against a wall.
“It’s true. We see plenty of strange things in this desert. We see illegal aliens in places they shouldn’t be. We see strange lights in the sky that the government promises aren’t there. And we see big blond assholes filled with so much bullshit it comes out of their ears.” Garza had been grinning the entire time, but let it slip as he finished; the result was a hard stare at Holmes.
Holmes recognized something in the senior agent he’d seen in every navy master chief. There was only so much wool one could pull over their eyes. There were only so many lies they’d take before their bullshit meter hit full. He allowed himself a chuckle.
“You’re right, Garza. You got a fucking monster eating illegals. We can handle it. You’ve just got to make sure you keep these agents under wraps. It’s one thing that a few of Homeland Security’s best know about these things, but if the locals were to find out, all hell would break loose.”
Garza waved a hand. “Don’t worry about my agents. They do what they’re told. If not, they find themselves pulling border duty in Alaska.” He turned to the agents. “Know what’s in Alaska?”
“Polar bears,” one said.
“Igloos,” another said.
“Sarah Palin,” said the last one.
Garza clapped his hands. “Exactly, and I don’t know which one scares me the most.” He turned to Holmes. “My men are okay. So, please, what do you have?”
Holmes gestured for Garza and the others to come to the desk and look at the pictures. Ruiz held back, studying a map on the wall. Fratty made a phone call. “I know what you have by the damage done to the face. Nothing short of a wolverine or a bear could exert enough force to crush a face like this. The former is too small and there isn’t one of the latter large enough to do it unless we go to Alaska. Yeah, we know what it is. My concern is, why is it here?”
“And what is it?”
The agents gave the SEAL an incredulous look.
“Fratty, show them what we’re up against,” Holmes said, stepping back.
Fratty took his place. He presented an iPad and pressed a button. A picture of a creature the size of a large dog appeared on the screen. It had massive front shoulders sloping back to rear legs. Dewclaws the size of dinner knives jutted from the back of its front legs. Its snout was shorter than a dog’s, more like a baboon’s, with more razor teeth than seemed possible. Its eyes were overly large, like a marsupial’s. Its ears shot straight to a point. A mound of fur encircled its neck. Its skin was loose, like a shar-pei’s. Holmes knew from seeing a pack of feral pit bulls attack a ’cabra that whatever supernatural evolutionary quirk had caused the animals to be created had provided the elastic skin as a defense mechanism.
Fratty slid the next picture into place and it showed the same beast on its side, two SEALs in ballistic masks kneeling before it. The beast’s length was the height of a man. Seeing this, Garza let out a whistle. “Maybe Alaska isn’t so bad after all.”
Lone Pine Trailer Park. Naco, Arizona. Dusk.
Rosa hated the desert. Her husband had brought her out here from New Jersey thirty-four years ago. The first ten years, he’d promised her they’d return once he got his financial feet back on the ground. When he’d died of a heart attack eating pancakes at the local Denny’s, it had been the death of that dream. With no insurance and no savings, she was still paying for the doctor’s and cemetery’s bills. If it wasn’t for her cats, she would have gone insane. In fact, it was her cats that gave her reason to go on living . . . all fifty-two of them.
She’d never planned on having fifty-two cats. She’d started with two. But the thing about the desert is that the wind blew the most unexpected things into her life. First there were the cats, then for fifteen years a revolving door of handymen, who she often let stay until she became tired of them. Now, at seventy-three, she had little need for the men to stay over. In fact, other than an occasional repair of her swamp cooler or roof tiles, she hardly saw men at all, if you discounted the television.
She pulled herself out of her overstuffed chair and snapped off the TV. The end of the day’s lineup of soaps meant it was time to feed her cats. It took almost an hour and was her only exercise. When a nice young woman from the Baptist church had come around to bring some food and commented that there were “too many felines,” Rosa had pointed out that it was these same felines who were probably keeping her alive. After all, her satellite dish was the center of her universe and she’d gladly while away the whole day in her chair, if it wasn’t for the fact she had other lives to consider.
Outside, the heat hit her like a slap to the face. She glanced at the ugly border wall across the street and not forty feet from her front door, then turned toward the shed where she kept the cat food. She looked at the faded blue-and-white siding on her trailer and once again realized it was a race to see who died first. She desperately hoped the home would outlive her, because if it was the other way around, she didn’t know where she’d go.
Rosa unlocked the shed, poured food in more than a dozen metal bowls, then stood back as the cats ran from all directions and attacked their meal. She leaned against the side of the shed, shaded by the overhang of the roof. As she watched and counted her cats, she lit a joint. She smoked it luxuriously, the one vice she still kept even after all these years.
As she counted, she noticed a few cats were missing. She gave the border wall a cold stare, then began to trudge around the outside of her trailer. She didn’t bother trying to call to them. They were cats. Calling them was an exercise in futility. She ignored as best she could the trash that had blown against the back side of her home, noting that her neighbor was creating quite the prodigious stack of empty beer boxes.
But she saw no evidence of the cats.
Rounding the back of her trailer, she once again returned to her brood. They were finished eating and were now sauntering away to their own personal spots. She’d see each of them later, when they came back around to nuzzle her. She looked forward to it. Like the kids she never had, they’d come to her and thank her in their own way for being their mom.
She took a drag on her joint and scowled once more at the wall. She hated the damn thing. Where once she’d had commanding views of San Pedro Mountain, now it was like looking at the ass end of a billboard espousing the idiocy of a government who believed plywood and Chinese-imported nails could counter a desperate need to feed one’s family.
A small shape caught her eye—something near the base of the wall she was sure hadn’t been there the previous evening. She licked her fingers, snuffed out the joint, and slid it into her brassiere as she crossed the yard, then the most southern street in Arizona: Western International Road. By the calico color of the fur, she knew what it was immediately. She hurried over and dropped to her knees in front of the corpse of one of her cats. She’d named it Funny Bones, because of its slow, awkward gait, the result of being hit by a car long ago.
What she saw made her fall back on her rump. The only thing left of the cat was its head, caught on a nail as it had been pulled through a hole at the base of the fence. She noticed then the claw marks on the ground and the bites that had been taken out of the bottom of the fence. Bending closer, she stared through the hole into Mexico and saw a trail of blood and fur that most likely accounted for the other missing cats.
She stood and stalked back to her house. She wasn’t sure what it was. A Mexican gray wolf. A javalina. A fucking pterodactyl. It didn’t matter. She searched through her closet and pulled out an M16 and two magazines of ammunition. They’d been left by one of her man friends who’d never found the time to come back and get them.
Just as well.
Now she finally had a reason to use the gun.
She sat in her chair, rocking furiously and waiting for night to fall, when she’d go out and turn the tables on whatever was hunting her cats.
American Patriot Compound. West of Douglas. Night.
Laws found himself on a remote ranch about fifteen miles west of Douglas. After they’d left the hotel, they’d taken his cell phone and put it in a kill bag, so he couldn’t be traced by his phone. They’d also blindfolded him, for what good it did. Laws was certain he’d be able to place himself on a map—if he had one—given the chance. When they’d pulled into the ranch, he’d heard several men laughing, a horse nervously pawing at the ground somewhere inside an enclosed space, several ATVs gunning on the horizon, and the klacking of an old windmill. They took him into a hacienda and removed his blindfold.
“Welcome to our home” came a voice from the raised dining room.
“Uh, thanks.” Laws took in the seven men arrayed around the large room, each carrying M1911s in shoulder holsters. They were all white, big shouldered, and blond. They could have been an Aryan-nation football team, had they not been wearing tactical fatigues. He turned to the man who’d spoken to him, a big man sitting at the end of a dining table. He had a cigarette in his left hand and a bottle of Gatorade in the right.
“Got any beer?” Laws asked.
“Do you really want beer?”
Laws grinned amicably. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“One time or another, sure. But that’s not why you’re here.”
Laws gave his best aw-shucks impression. “I swear, I don’t know what—”
The man raised his hand and shook his head, stopping Laws in midsentence.
“Don’t insult me,” he said, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. “You don’t know us. We’re not like anything you’ve ever seen before. I suspect you probably expected me to be smoking a cigar and drinking some whiskey, like I was some fucking Boss Hogg.”
Laws grinned sheepishly this time and shrugged. “Really, I don’t know what this is about. I was promised a barbeque.”
“Spare it. We checked your phone. It has military-grade encryption and we did a name trace on you and it came up empty.”
Laws had two choices. To keep playing along, or to drop the charade. His Hollywood roots demanded he keep up the charade. He decided to wait a moment and see how much the old man knew.
“I see. You think you can still fool me. I get it. Stupid, but I get it.”
Laws had a feeling he knew the man. Suddenly he saw it. The man looked suspiciously like Wilford Brimley. In fact, Laws was feeling the need to go out and buy some oatmeal.
“Do you know the history of Gatorade?” the man said. “It’s not your everyday fruit punch. It was made by a bunch of science types who needed a way to help the University of Florida football team. It was Americans who came together to create an American solution for an American problem for some American boys.” He took a long slug. “Love this stuff.”
“Just like you guys are,” Laws said. “Americans here to help other Americans be American.”
“Just like us. Exactly. I guess you’re not as stupid as I thought you were. My name is Jefferson Grant. To whom am I really speaking?”
Laws ignored the question. “And you smoke cigarettes because they’re made in America, too, right?”
Grant grinned and nodded.
“Of course, I won’t point out that it was the Native Americans who first harvested tobacco, so really you can thank the Injun for your cigarette. Ain’t that right, Lone Ranger?”
Grant smiled wider. “So what are you? FBI? CIA? JSOC?”
“Something like that.”
“No, really. I want to know who I’m going to kill. It wouldn’t be fun if I didn’t know.”
“God forbid I don’t make your life fun. Let me ask you a question.”
“How’d you get them?”
“The chupacabra! I find it kind of strange that an American Patriot could get his hands on a storybook Mexican creature like that without a whole bunch of trouble.”
“Wasn’t no trouble. I just had to pay a shitload for them.” He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. “Those brown people would kill their own mothers if you have enough money.”
“How much does one go for nowadays? I figure the cartel soaked you pretty good.”
“Cartel. So you really know about these beasts.”
“I’ve seen my share. Killed a few, too. What concerns me is that a patriotic American like yourself is dabbling in something he’s not going to be able to control.”
Grant stood and snapped his fingers at one of the men. The guy left, but returned after only a minute, leading an immense animal with muscular front legs and the face of a baboon . . . if a baboon had shark teeth, and a whip tail. A custom-made muzzle akin to a catcher’s mask hugged its face. The ’cabra walked slowly, as if it had been drugged.
“I think I’m in pretty good control, sir. Once again, I’ll ask. Who are you?”
Laws thought about telling the man exactly who he was, but the idea of a SEAL team established specifically to protect America from supernatural threats would seem farfetched, especially when that threat was generated by a white supremacy group whose entire existence was wrapped around the idea of protecting America from the threat of outsiders. Laws couldn’t help but smile at the irony. He decided to tell the American Patriot leader exactly who he’d always wanted to be.
“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Grant’s eyes narrowed. He sucked hard on his cigarette.
Not a Princess Bride fan, Laws noted.
It was then that Grant said something nasty and his men descended. Laws gave better than he got, breaking a knee, dislocating an elbow, and shattering a set of front teeth. He managed to block several blows, but was eventually brought down. He soon found a darkness where Don Quixote rode a chupacabra, tilting desperately at the Washington Monument while smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.
Mobile Surveillance Van. Highway 92. Evening.
Navy Lieutenant Elliot Chong landed the AeroVironment AQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle on the road behind the van. Chong retrieved it, and set about launching another. His modified version had about 120 minutes on station and he wanted to keep surveillance on the compound as long as Laws was somewhere within it. After launching the second UAV, he turned flight operations over to the pair of US Army UAV instructors out of nearby Fort Huachuca, with an order to inform him if there was any movement.
He keyed his mic. “Ghost One, this is Ghost Four, over.”
“Ghost Four, this is One. Go.”
“Moving position and preparing to put eyes on.”
“What is the status of Ghost Two?”
“Inside compound, but NFI,” he said, meaning no further information. Although the first UAV had tracked Laws to the compound, and the second one was on station providing surveillance, it was important to have an actual person on hand. Their reaction time and ability to support Laws was based solely on their physical proximity.
“Roger Four. Proceed and be careful.”
Chong pulled the Kawasaki 650 from where it was affixed to the side of van, checked the fuel level, then started it. He went to the back of the van and grabbed a hard plastic gator case, which he strapped to his back. He pulled night-vision goggles over his head and his vision spun into myriad shades of green. Soon he was moving down Highway 92 with his headlights off, like a shot in the dark. Fifteen minutes later, he turned off the highway onto a dirt road, his path illuminated only by starlight and the technology of night vision.
Naco Substation. Night.
Two DEA agents entered the room. Both were young and Hispanic. Both were fit. If they hadn’t been wearing their ballistic jackets with the big letters D-E-A plastered across the back, they could have been convincing drug dealers, or pimps, or that subclass of young men who spent their lives on the fringes of such things. Basically they were perfect for their jobs.
They were also smart, which was something Holmes appreciated. Not all federal employees were created equally and he’d seen his share of open-mouthed air breathers.
Their names were Garcia and Rota. After introductions, they got down to business. Besides Holmes, Ruiz, and Fratty, the senior Border Patrol agent, Garza, was still in the room, as was a young female agent who’d yet to be introduced.
“We think the entry point is here,” Ruiz said, pointing at a map of southern Arizona. “About three miles south of an abandoned strip mine is a ranch owned by the All American Corporation, which is in turn owned by Jefferson Grant. They’ve had questionable funding practices.”
Rota nodded. “We have a file on them a foot thick. For an all-American group of white guys, they do a lot of business with inner-city African-American drug gangs, Mexican cartels, and Southeast Asian drug runners.”
“I guess their idea of all American stops at the dollar,” Fratty said.
Rota moved forward to the map and put a finger on the ranch. “If we move due south and create a ten-mile radius, we might be able to discern where the entrance is.”
Fratty’s eyes narrowed. “Entrance? What do you mean?”
“Whatever they are moving isn’t coming across the border,” Garcia said. “Customs and Border Patrol has it locked up. The only reason people get through is CBP just don’t have enough agents to cover the physical area. They still see them with either ground surveillance radar or the heliostat over at Huachuca. No, there’s been no evidence of cross-border operations in this vicinity. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t go under the border.”
“A tunnel,” Laws murmured.
“The border is rife with them.”
They all stared at the map with increased interest, but it did little to tell them where an entrance might be. The terrain south of the border was a no man’s land of jagged foothills. To find the entrance, they’d actually have to go there. Ruiz said as much.
“We’re looking for what?” Holmes mused. “Heat signatures? Movement?”
“That about covers it.” Fratty glanced at his boss. “What are you thinking? An overhead?”
Holmes nodded. “I can probably arrange it. But there’s one more thing to worry about.” He placed a finger on the ranch. “We have someone on the inside.”
“What’s his status?” Rota asked.
“Gone silent.” Holmes stared at the map as if he could pierce it with his eyes and see his man.
Garza snapped his fingers. “They’re using the ’cabras, aren’t they?”
Ruiz glanced at Holmes before he said, “It’s been long established that the Zetas have been breeding them. They’ve been known to sell them for fighting or for carrying. ’Cabras are real smart. Easy to train if you have the knack for it.”
Garcia and Rota were updated on the unexplained deaths and the belief that it had been a ’cabra. They were reluctant to buy it at first, but soon came around when Fratty showed pictures and Holmes explained their portion of the mission.
“Our charter doesn’t carry over to the governance of criminal activity,” he said. “The fact that drugs are being transported across the border isn’t our concern. But the fact that they may be using ’cabras makes it suddenly our business.”
Rota had been studying the map. He shook his head. “The killings are within five miles of one another, but there’s no pattern.”
“There is one pattern.” Ruiz pointed. “The killings were all south and east of the Patriot compound. My guess is one of the ’cabras got away; otherwise, we never would have even known they were being used.”
“Which is why your other man infiltrated the compound,” Garza said.
“It only made sense to check them out,” Holmes said. “The American Patriots are a known quantity. Whoever’s south of the border is currently outside our jurisdiction and outside our ability to surveil.”
“How do we know it’s not just some random chupacabra harassing illegals?” Garcia asked.
Fratty gave a wry smile. “Because there’s no such thing as a random chupacabra.”
American Patriot Compound. West of Douglas. Night.
Fuckers had beaten him like a dog. The only saving grace was that they hadn’t kicked him. He could deal with a bruised face and kidneys, but broken ribs had a special sort of pain, the kind that made one not want to breathe.
Laws found himself in a cage inside a metal-roofed and -walled barn. A bay mare fidgeted nervously in its own cage next to his. On the other side of the horse stood a workbench with tools and what looked to be hypodermic rifle rounds lined up and filled with a purple fluid. On the other side of the barn was one long cage. Barbed wire and electrical wire ran around and through the bars, creating a metal thicket not even a human hand could penetrate. It didn’t take an MIT student to figure out that this was meant for the chupacabras.
Laws spied a bucket of water on his hay-covered cell floor. He pulled himself over and cupped water first into his mouth, then over his face. He reveled in the cool feel of the liquid for a few moments before he found the strength to get to his feet. It took some time, but he managed to finally stand, even if he was a little wobbly.
He pulled himself to the cage door and probed the lock. He wasn’t going to get out that way. He surveyed what he could see of the room and grinned when he saw several red, blinking lights. They had surveillance on him, but the cameras were off the shelf—the dead giveaways were the lights identifying the locations of each and every one. It wasn’t very sophisticated, but then neither were the American Patriots, he realized.
He was starting to feel good about himself when he spied something big and dark and awful on the other end of the chupacabra cage. It was a hole in the earth, a gaping maw of monstrous potential, from which the chupacabra would surely come.
The only question was when.
Lone Pine Trailer Park. Naco, Arizona. Midnight.
Rosa fingered the trigger of the M16 as she hid in the shadow of her shed. She’d never been outside at this time of night, instead of being protected by the thin metal walls of her trailer. Now she jumped and jerked at every noise: owls, coyotes, snakes, cars, Border Patrol, and the occasional drunken shout coming from one of the neighboring homes. For a while, a neighbor had blared Mexican rap at top decibel, until a cop had pulled in and ordered him to turn it down. She almost wished for the rap to return. Anything was better than the anticipation of the sound of whatever had eaten her children.
Still, despite the fear and tension, she wasn’t used to late nights. She fell asleep, leaning against the shed.
She woke as she began to fall. She tried to catch herself, but didn’t have the dexterity. Instead, she hit the ground hard, her teeth clacking, the air leaving her chest and the rifle bouncing out of her hands. She lay there trying to gather her breath, letting the stars flare behind her eyes and dissipate until the darkness of night had returned.
She found herself facing that horrid wall. Her eyes went to the hole and she saw that it was now filled with the head of an impossible creature, with the face of a gorilla and large, luminescent eyes. She searched for the M16 and saw it a good five feet away from her. She tried to leap to her feet and dive for it, but her muscles had long ago given up on leaping. Instead, she managed only to crawl savagely, gouging her elbows in the hard desert scrabble.
Her head and neck were tingling with the creature’s gaze. She wanted to know where it was, but if she turned to look, she’d lose precious time. So, moving as fast as she could, she grasped the rifle and brought it around. She was ready to scream and open fire as the beast descended on her, but when she looked back, it was gone.
Rosa got to a sitting position and swung her weapon around, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Yet as she sat in the sudden silence of the night, she heard the sound of the beast breathing somewhere nearby. It was still out there, circling, waiting for her to make a mistake. She glanced toward the door to her house. It might as well be a mile away.
West of American Patriot Compound. Sniper Hide. Midnight.
Lieutenant Chong adjusted the sights on the Stoner 25 sniper rifle. The Leupold Mark 44.5–14×50scope pulled in light and his pixilated vision crystallized on the front gate of the compound. At 1900 meters, it wasn’t an impossible shot, but he’d make it if he had to. Beside him rested an iPad dialed into the Raven’s output, showing a black-and-white Starlight image of the compound from four hundred feet.
There was no sign of Laws or the chupacabra. If he was to believe reports from the DEA, he might never see the creatures. It seemed as if they were coming and going via a tunnel beneath the border with one entrance in one of the buildings below.
He remembered a field trip he’d once conducted with a few Republic of Korea rangers. Heading toward the DMZ, they’d suddenly turned into a copse of trees that dead-ended in a turn around. They’d been drinking soju like it was water and were more than a little buzzed. The ROK rangers had gestured for him to follow and soon they’d entered a cave and were descending by way of stairs that appeared to have been carved into the earth. They seemed to travel down for a long while, then were suddenly brought up short.
An ROK ranger pulled duty on a fifty caliber machine gun on a tripod at the bottom. The barrel was pointing down a long, dark tunnel. The ranger wore night-vision goggles, which were offered to Chong. He took them and peered through the now green-shrouded dark. Far at the edge of the optic’s distance, he saw movement. After a moment, he saw that the movement wasn’t coming any closer. He said as much to his guides. They nodded happily. “They do same same,” they said, meaning the North Koreans at the other end of the tunnel. Then the ROKs introduced Chong to a canary in a cage, hanging from the ceiling behind the ranger. He didn’t need any translation for the presence of the bird. He’d heard enough stories from Ruiz, whose family lived and breathed the West Virginia mines, to know the bird was an early warning system. With tiny lungs and an even smaller heart, it would perish from a suspect gas far sooner than any man could ever detect it.
Tonight, Chong stared out across the desert, wondering how long the tunnel was and what really was on the other side.
South of the Border. O’Dark Thirty.
Holmes, Ruiz, and Fratty wore their Triple Six gear: Rhodesian vests filled with ammo and arcane supplies that might be necessary, Pro-Tech helmets fitted with MBITR commo systems, black camouflage fatigues, and Hi-Tec boots. They each had NVGs ready to use. While Ruiz and Fratty held Super 90 tactical shotguns, Holmes carried an MP5 with silencer. They waited for their liaison in the back of a Ford Explorer with blacked-out windows. They were due to hook up with a GAFE squad—Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales— Mexico’s special forces soldiers. They’d already pre-coordinated the mission and were on hold until the GAFE were present.
National Reconnaissance Office had coordinated a satellite pass which revealed a location that matched their parameters. Further investigation showed it was an abandoned silver mine, thought to have been flooded. In fact, reports as recent as October of the previous year from the office of the Mexican Ministry of National Mine Reserves indicated the entrance had collapsed and was impassable. But operators at Cyber Command told a different story. Working in concert with NSA, they were able to do short work of the information, linking the regional Minister of Mines and Minerals to a Cayman Islands account in a bank favored by Los Zetas. Following that rabbit hole, they discovered additional connections to several American banks, a restaurant chain, and a warehouse in Phoenix.
A flurry of phone calls and computer contact later, GAFE had conducted their own UAV reconnaissance, showing a working road that led directly into the mine. After an hour of surveillance, they saw several men leave the mine in a Mercedes. Facial images were passed on and Homeland Security’s facial image recognition system identified one of the men as Allejandro de Jesus, a Los Zetas commander last thought to have been killed when he parted ways with the Gulf Cartel.
Holmes had to assume the mine was filled with enough bad guys that they’d have their hands full.
Holmes checked with Chong and received his report that nothing was happening. Holmes ordered the sniper to be ready to move in if necessary. Lack of contact from Laws was a little disconcerting, but Holmes knew better than to worry. If there’s one thing he understood, it was that the deputy commander of SEAL Team 666 could take care of himself.
At a little after one in the morning, three helicopters with sniper pods on each skid flared in front of them and landed. Holmes couldn’t place the make. They had Mexican military markings, but he didn’t recognize the lines.
“Sikorsky X2, boss,” Fratty said. “Fastest helicopter on the planet. Problem is that it only seats two.”
“Where are we going to ride?” Ruiz asked.
“Probably in those.” Holmes indicated with his chin toward the oblong plexiglass containers affixed to the helicopters’ skids.
“I don’t think so.” Fratty turned to Holmes. “Boss, we really have to get in there?”
“Shut it until we know what’s going on. Out of the vehicle.”
As soon as they were outside and to the left of the Explorer, the driver took off, heading back toward the border.
A lone man in brown camies came running. Holmes recognized him. Carlos Navarre—a major in GAFE. They’d met in Brussels at a conference and had spent the evening in a seven-hundred-year-old basement bar getting sloshed on Trappist beer. He knew Carlos to be a dreamer who believed that the cartels would eventually lose their grips on the soul of his country. Holmes remembered admiring the man for this. He also remembered being sad about the hopelessness of it.
“Holmes, I knew it was you,” Navarre said breathlessly in barely accented Spanish as he slid to a stop in front of them. His hair was cut high and tight. He had grown a Fu Manchu beneath his Castilian nose. “Your men ready?”
“We are,” Holmes said. “Where are we going to ride, my friend?”
“In the sniper pods.”
“Is that what you call them?” Fratty looked dubiously over Navarre’s shoulder.
“The plexiglass is bulletproof, if that makes a difference.” Navarre gestured for them to follow. “Come on. We’ve got to move. Our advantage is surprise. As of now, no one in my military has had a chance to warn them, but given more time, who knows.”
The three SEALs from Triple Six ran beside Navarre. He gave them their operation frequencies, which the SEALs keyed into their AN/PRC-148 MBITR communication systems, as each was locked into his own pod. One SEAL per helicopter. The other pods were filled with GAFE snipers, which meant the total force was six GAFE and three SEALs. Use of such advanced helicopters seemed like overkill; then again, if the mission was about speed, there was no substitute.
The plan was to attack the Los Zetas compound from three directions. Although they’d only found one entrance, experience had taught them that a cornered rat would find plenty of ways to retreat.
The ride was far from comfortable. Holmes was able to lie with his hands beside him while traveling head first at more than two hundred miles an hour. It was easy to forget he was attached to the skids of a helicopter and believe he was ballistically rocketing through space, a SEAL missile of mass destruction.
They got warnings at five minutes, three minutes, one minute, and then a countdown to landing. They came in just above cactus level and landed roughly. Holmes opened and rolled free of his pod, coming to a crouch. The other two SEALs did the same. Navarre and two GAFE soldiers quickly joined them. Within seconds, the helicopters took off again, rose to five hundred meters, and hovered on station. GAFE snipers had remained in the other pods and were now prepared to give those on the ground covering fire.
Their inelegant plan was for a frontal assault by the remaining six personnel: the three SEALs, Navarre, Gomez, and Decena. Navarre and Gomez carried MP5s identical to Holmes’s. Decena carried an M249 light machine gun, or squad automatic weapon (SAW), as it used to be known. They all wore NVGs, which they put into place. Each SEAL paired with a GAFE as they moved quickly to the entrance. A windowless aluminum door covered the ten-foot-wide opening. They didn’t bother knocking. Ruiz laced a rope of salted Semtex in the center of the door and everyone stood aside as he blew their entrance wide open.
Smoke grenades were followed by fragmentation grenades. After detonation, the SEALs and GAFEs poured through the entrance into a broad open area. In the center of the room lay four dead men, each bleeding from grenade shrapnel, pieces of them gone forever. Half a dozen cars and trucks were parked inside off to the right, windshields blown, tires shredded. Offices had been built down a left-hand passage with plywood and two-by-fours. Directly in front of them was a large, well-lit tunnel.
Instead of separating, they moved as one toward the offices. Decena opened up with his SAW, punching rounds through the thin walls. He ran through a complete belt before Ruiz, Fratty, and Gomez cleared what remained of the rooms. Holmes and Navarre remained outside as rear guard. Fifty seconds later, the others returned. Fifteen Zetas dead.
Next, they moved across the hall to the right, searching for rooms and personnel beyond the vehicles. They discovered a single room constructed with plywood walls, but it was empty.
All that was left was the central tunnel. How far down they had to go, they had no idea. They stacked three to a wall and edged inside. Their night-vision goggles picked up nothing but the green of the floor, ceiling, and walls as they began traveling down at a slight grade.
They’d moved twenty meters before they saw the tunnel turn ninety degrees right. They crept to the turn and were able to see men waiting behind metal barriers a moment before the Zetas opened fire.
Everyone except Decena flattened against the right-hand wall. Decena moved to the center of the tunnel, just out of the Zeta’s line of fire, opened the tripod on his SAW, got into a prone position, and waited.
Navarre called for the Zetas to surrender. After a lesson in Mexican curse words and things that shouldn’t be done to someone’s mother, Navarre took three grenades, pulled their pins, and tossed them around the corner.
The explosions in the tunnel were deafening.
They let the echoes fade before Navarre called out once more.
It took a moment, but an answer came, low and in pain.
Navarre demanded that the man come out. A moment later, a Zeta with a mangled arm and blood dripping from his left side stumbled into view. Seeing Decena, he shouted back down the hall to someone out of view. Decena opened fire, mowing the man down with a hundred rounds in less than ten seconds.
Holmes commanded Fratty and Gomez to check the corner.
“Clear,” Fratty said over his MBITR. “But I can hear something. Men, I think. Maybe the ’cabras.”
“Move forward,” Holmes ordered. He posted Ruiz on their rear and commanded Decena to stay. If they had to retreat for some reason, he’d need Decena’s SAW to kill whomever or whatever was on their tail.
After letting Fratty and Gomez get some distance, Holmes and Navarre followed after them. They passed a hastily constructed barrier that had been made with a car door and several metal tables. Behind these lay six bodies, each in different stages of pulverization. One wore a Mexican military uniform, while several others wore police uniforms. That Los Zetas had members from the judiciary was no secret. Their hands were everywhere, either filled with money or holding a weapon.
Moving down the tunnel, he smelled them before he heard them. Chupacabras had an earthy, wild animal musk that was unmistakable.
He snapped into a crouch. “Chupacabra!”
The others reacted as well, eyes everywhere, searching for the source of the funk.
“Fratty, you smell it?” Holmes could see Fratty about twenty yards down the hall. He and Gomez had paused as they peered around a corner.
“Smell it? I see it. There’s a room full of cages. I count ten of them. Two are empty. There’s also a bucket loader, some sort of old drilling equipment, and—whoa!”
“What is it?”
“These are the biggest ’cabra I’ve ever seen! Freaking size of Great Danes.”
“Are they secure?” Holmes had been moving the entire time and was almost to where Fratty stood. When he heard no answer, he asked again. “Are they secure?”
“For the moment . . . except . . .”
Everything shook as a horrendous clang rang through the mine.
“Fuck,” Fratty said.
Holmes arrived in time to see the doors to the cages fall to the floor, released remotely by an unseen hand. Immense, hungry ’cabras stepped forth, heads low, sniffing the air, drool-laced teeth visible as lips pulled back into parodies of monstrous smiles. They wore harnesses on their backs, probably where Los Zetas would affix the drugs for transport. Holmes searched for a barricade or some high ground, but other than the bucket loader and the cages, there was nothing else in the room. It looked like they were going to have to stand their ground here.
Holmes, Gomez, Navarre, and Fratty stood side by side and waited for the ’cabras.
They didn’t have to wait long.
Lone Pine Trailer Park. Naco, Arizona. Past Midnight.
It had been stalking her for what seemed like hours. A creature from her nightmares, it moved slowly as it hunted her. Once it almost had her, but a passing car blaring music had startled it. Any other time, she would have shaken her fist at the car, but now she loved that the awful music rent the night.
She’d managed to climb onto the bench inside her shed. She didn’t have the dexterity to go any higher and even if she did, she doubted the shelves could hold her weight. She’d realized some time ago that this was it. This was her last chance. Part of her wanted to cry. Another part, once alien, but becoming friendlier to her, wanted her to shoot the damned thing. This new feeling was at war with an irrational desire to close her eyes and pretend that nothing was out there and that she’d be all right.
One of her cats ran into the shed, probably thinking it was feeding time. Wasn’t it always? The cat was gray with black stripes. She’d named her Shazam. Shazam looked at her human as if trying to figure out what she was doing. Unable to fathom an answer, she jumped up beside her, then scrambled to a shelf at eye level. She meowed. Rosa reached out with an unsteady hand and gave her a quick pet behind her head.
How much of her life had she spent living other people’s lives? She’d always reveled in the ups and downs of her soap stars. They’d given her a reason to get up in the morning. They’d made her feel like part of their family. She’d even stopped having men over. Not that she was too old, and not that she didn’t have those feelings every now and again, it was just that real life seemed so . . . real and involved. What had she done the last thirty years except feel sorry for herself? That she’d so gladly embraced a life of self-pitying idiocy at once stunned her and pissed her off.
Shazam’s hair suddenly stood on end. She arched her back, cocked her head, and hissed.
The beast growled from somewhere down below.
The cat leaped off the shelf, landed sure-footed on the ground, and took off toward the house.
The beast gave chase away from the shed, but suddenly pulled up. It raised its snout into the air and sniffed loudly. Then it inexorably turned back toward Rosa. When its baleful gaze found her, it pinned her with its eyes. Then it snarled as it stood in the yard, moonlight striking its back, the sound of hell come to earth.
She aimed the rifle with shaking hands, remembering Adam and how he’d taught her to hold it. His arms had been around hers and he’d kissed her neck as he’d instructed her how to pull the trigger without jerking the barrel. She promised herself then that if she made it out of this alive, she’d find a way to live again. She’d go somewhere, she’d meet someone, if only to experience what was real once more.
The creature’s baboon face twisted, showing her a mouthful of impossible teeth. It plodded toward her, then broke into a run.
She opened fire. The gun was set to three round bursts, and she fired three, then another three, then another three. All in all, she fired ten times, sending thirty rounds into the face and chest of the beast. It still came, tumbling into the shed, shaking the small building to its foundation. Cans and bottles fell from shelves. She struggled for balance and fumbled in her dress pocket for a fresh magazine. She dropped the other as she’d been taught, then tried to shove the new one into the base of the M16.
Just then, the creature’s legs spasmed. A dewclaw caught on the leg of the shelf and jerked it.
She lost her grip on the magazine and watched it fall, bouncing off the beast’s side and onto the floor.
She stood, unable to breathe, staring at the creature below her.
One by one, her cats appeared. From under the house, from inside the house, from around the side they came, one by one, in pairs, in triplets. Shazam was the first. She pawed at the beast and hissed, digging her front claw into a leg. The beast didn’t move. Shazam meowed and the others came. Soon, Rosa couldn’t even see the beast underneath the moving mass of her cats.
She let the rifle sag in her arms and began to cry. Her shoulders convulsed with sobs.
Inside Los Zetas Mine. Early Morning.
The chupacabras didn’t come straight at the men. Instead, the eight ’cabra scattered in all directions, as if they knew the danger the weapons posed. The four men opened fire. As the MP5s sang in raspy falsettos through their silencers, the Super 90 boomed a tremendous bass.
One ’cabra caught a 12-gauge round in the face. Obliterated, it still attacked, but Holmes’s MP5 ventilated its side.
A pair of chupacabra leaped in the air. Navarre managed to rake them with a burst from his own weapon before both he and Gomez went down beneath the weight of the beasts.
Holmes and Fratty continued firing into the room, catching the fleeing ’cabras with round after round, until those remaining tumbled and died.
Beside them, Navarre fought his monster. His weapon had run out of ammo so he’d jammed it down the beast’s throat, using his other hand to hold the neck at a stiff-armed distance.
Gomez lay dead beside him, his cheeks clawed clean from his face. His neck was ripped free, now a chunk of red, glistening cartilage like the end of a snapped tree limb.
Holmes drew a knife and slammed it into the top of the head of the ’cabra fighting Navarre. The beast collapsed on the GAFE, who roughly pushed it off. He glanced at Gomez and cursed, then took off toward where the other ’cabra had run. But he pulled up short as the sound of the M249 rumbled in the distance. A voice crackled over the commo gear, telling him the fleeing ’cabra was dead.
“I only count five,” Fratty said.
“Six with the one Decena shot,” Carlos said.
“I counted that one. We’re missing three.”
“Then where’d they go?” Holmes ran into the room. When he got even with the bucket loader, he spied a hole in the wall that they couldn’t have seen from their previous vantage. There’d been a gate blocking a broad dark avenue that could only be the main tunnel to America, but that gate now hung open.
He began calling out to Chong over the coms to warn him, but he came under fire. He fell and rolled, grunting as bullets hit him in the back and the chest.
Where were the shots coming from?
American Patriot Compound. Early Morning.
Chong got the call and ran from his hiding place in the rocks above the compound just as a large man exited the building with a chupacabra on a leash. Its mouth was strapped with what looked like a catcher’s mask, but otherwise it appeared docile. Four other men in cowboy hats followed. They all disappeared through a door into what Chong had come to think of as the barn.
He leaped across rocks and over dead cactus, and slid down gravel in an effort to reach the compound. They’d posted no guards outside, which meant they had some sort of electronic monitoring. He didn’t care. His only choice was to bull through and get into the barn as soon as possible. He had a sneaking suspicion that was where Laws was and he couldn’t leave the SEAL to his own fate. It was six against one, if you counted the chupacabra. Even for a SEAL, those were tough odds.
He hit the gate at a run, using his momentum to propel himself up and over. He landed on the other side, careful not to ruin the trueness of his rifle.
He sprinted to the door of the barn they’d gone into and put his ear to it. He heard muffled voices, several raised in anger. He laid his rifle on the ground beside the door, then drew his Sig Sauer pistol and his knife. He counted to three and opened the door.
Past a workbench on his left, a horse pawed frantically at the ground and rolled its eyes. On his right was a huge enclosed cage ending in a tunnel. Beside the horse was another cage that currently held Laws—and the chupacabra, which had been released from its restraints. Four men in red, white, and blue cowboy hats and a fat man stood by the open cage door laughing uproariously at what was about to transpire. They were loud enough that they didn’t even hear Chong come inside.
He ran to the closest two men. He stabbed one through the back of the neck and placed a bullet through the back of the other’s head. They dropped like dead meat.
The others whirled. Chong kicked one in the nuts, but watched with sickening anticipation as the fourth man brought an elbow viciously down on Chong’s leg just above his knee. He brought his leg back in, but felt it collapse beneath him. He yanked his pistol up, but had it snapped out of his hand. He stabbed the fallen man in the neck, then brought his knife around. But his opponent was too quick and leaped out of the way.
“Leave him be. Come on!” shouted the fat man. He’d opened the door to the large cage and had run inside. The fourth man stared into the cage for a moment, then reluctantly followed. “We’ll come out the other side,” the fat man cried.
Together, both men ran into the tunnel.
Chong pulled himself to his feet. The feeling in his leg was beginning to return, but it was pretty painful to move. Still, the damage wasn’t permanent. “Laws, you okay?”
“What fucking took you so long?” Laws asked through swollen lips. His face had been busted open in several places.
“What about the ’cabra?” Chong said, eyeing the beast.
“Theyhad it doped up. It can’t even think.” Laws peeled himself from the cage floor and moved around the beast. It followed his progress on stiff, unsteady legs, but made no move toward him. Laws made it to the door, opened it, and staggered out, then closed it behind him. Once the door was secured, he turned toward Chong and grinned. “Hey, I found the ’cabra.”
Chong smiled. “We know. What are you going to do with it?”
“Makes a nice pet.”
Chong nodded, but doubted Holmes would allow them to keep it. Then a thought struck him. He handed his knife and pistol to Laws, then limped back to the door. He reached outside and grabbed his rifle. Inside, he set up in a sitting position, with one leg beneath him and the other out in front of him. He stared through the Leupold scope and watched the receding figures . . . except they were no longer receding, but running back toward him. Panicked screams from both men echoed through the tunnel. He heard Laws come up behind him and check the chamber of the nine millimeter pistol.
As he stared at one, two, three, four, and five shapes hurtle toward him down the tunnel, Chong remembered that lone Korean sitting at the end of the tunnel under the DMZ. For one brief moment, he and the Korean were one and the same, separated only by time and space.
An agonizing scream was followed by another. Five shapes in his scope became four, then three. The remaining shapes picked up speed.
He fired once and watched a shape tumble.
He fired again and watched another shape go down.
The last shape came into view, its gaping maw chomping as it propelled itself toward him. He fired and caught it through the head. It tumbled, somersaulting out of the tunnel, knocking him and Laws down, then taking them with it as it crashed into the far end of the cage.
Laws was the first to find his feet. When he got up, he kicked the creature, but it made no move.
Chong managed to get up next. He scrambled toward his rifle. He wasn’t sure if he’d killed the other ones. They might just be wounded. But his scope had been knocked free. He’d rather not make the shot without it. Instead, he hefted the weapon in one hand and the scope in the other and entered the tunnel. He sighted down the scope and saw one still moving.
“Where’re you going?” Laws asked
“Making sure we got them all.”
“Don’t you think they’re dead?”
“I have to make sure.”
“Okay, then,” Laws said, picking up the pistol from where it had fallen. “Hold on, I’m coming with you.”
Inside Los Zetas Mine. Early Morning.
Three men fired from the raised bucket of the bucket loader. Fratty and Navarre responded with a withering covering fire, which allowed Holmes to scramble back to the entrance. His back and chest screamed with pain, but his body armor had taken most of the kinetic energy. Still, he’d have ugly yellow bruises for a week. When he made it back to the others, they stopped firing.
Navarre called to those in the bucket. He had one last grenade in his hand and he told them so. They went back and forth for several moments, then the men tossed their weapons aside. One by one, they climbed down the arm of the bucket, until they were kneeling in the middle of the room with their hands on the backs of their heads. Navarre searched them. Once they were clear, he turned to the SEALs.
“We let these go.”
“What?” Fratty sputtered.
“I must not have heard you right,” Holmes said, moving toward the GAFE.
A saddened look crept into Navarre’s face. “It is the way. These must go.”
“The hell you say,” Fratty said, bringing his shotgun to his shoulder and cocking a new shell into the chamber.
Navarre shrugged apologetically. “You don’t understand. No matter. You have no jurisdiction here.” He looked around. “Your mission is done.”
“There were only eight, not ten. What about the other two?” Holmes asked, tight-lipped.
“They gave one to the American, Grant. The other went missing. They have no idea where it is.”
“And you believe them?”
Another apologetic shrug. “I do.”
Holmes looked at the three prisoners with distaste. They all wore Mexican police uniforms. “Now what?”
“Now we get you back to America.”
“I meant about these Zetas. They need to be interrogated. We need to find out where they got the ’cabras and see if there are any others. Are you going to do all this?”
“Not so much, Holmes. As far as these pendejos are concerned, they can go.” Navarre spoke to them, and they stood and scrambled past the SEALs back down the tunnel. “If I need them,” Navarre continued, “I can arrange to speak with them later.”
Fratty let them pass, but it was a close thing. His finger moved back and forth along the trigger. It would only take a second. When they were past, he let the weapon drop. “This is fucked up.”
“Yes,” Navarre said, moving toward his fallen soldier. “But it is how we do things. I am very sorry, my friends.” He hefted Gomez’s body over his shoulder. “Now if you are ready, let’s go.”
Holmes shook his head. “I don’t think so, Navarre. We’ll walk it. Ruiz, to me.” He waited for the third member of the team to catch up from where he’d been waiting. When they were all together, they entered the other tunnel at a jog. Somewhere at the end of the tunnel was America. He could hardly wait to get there.
Los Angeles Airport. Three Weeks Later.
Rosa stood in line at the gate, waiting for her departure. The last time she’d traveled on an airplane, Cubans had been hijacking them and you could still smoke. A lot of things had changed since then, including pat downs and full body scans.
She wore a new sundress. Her hair and nails were done. The ladies in the salon had told her that Hawaii was the place to go. A place to discover yourself, they’d said. The nice men from the tabloid had paid her a hundred thousand dollars for the monster’s body, which had only been slightly ruined by the meal her cats had made. She’d seen the article in the tabloid the following week and had read it like it was someone else’s adventure. Terror on the Border. Monsters from Mexico. Night Monsters. It was all great fun to read about it. Even more fun was the knowledge that no one would ever believe it. After all, who believed anything the tabloids had to say?
They called for first class to board and she shuffled into line.
The only thing she’d miss about Arizona was her cats. Luckily, she’d found a rescue in Bisbee willing to take them in. She’d kept Shazam, though, who now rested in a carrier she held in her left hand.
Rosa boarded and a smartly dressed stewardess asked her what she wanted to drink. She decided she wanted to try a mimosa. She’d seen them drink it on her soaps, so it had to be good. Within moments, she was seated in a plush first class seat and sipping from a tall glass.
It was the best thing she had ever tasted. In fact, it was so good, she asked for another.
“Border Dogs: A SEAL Team 666 Adventure” copyright © 2012 St. Martin's Press
Art copyright © 2012 Goñi Montes