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Part I

Soy Cowboy
Chiang Mai, Thailand
0023 hours local

The bar district of downtown Chiang Mai is still running strong a few minutes past
midnight. The only illumination comes from the blinking lights and signs of the bars
lining the strip. Music carries into the street from the different bars and mixes into a
dull roar. The street is packed with parked cars and motorbikes on both sides. A few
cars move up and down the street along with the three wheeled Tuk Tuk taxis with
their bench seats behind the driver for their paying passengers. None of the cars seem
to follow any type of traffic rules. A dark car moves quietly up the street and stops
directly parallel to the Soy Cowboy. Only it’s running lights are on. The front
passenger door opens and an Asian man gets out. He wears a jacket and has long black hair pulled into a ponytail. He walks to the entrance to the Soy Cowboy. A man out front speaks to him in Thai, obviously trying to entice him inside to the entertainment of this bar. The man with the ponytail ignores him and instead moves to talk to another man leaning against the wall not far from the entrance. They talk for only a few seconds. The man with the ponytail nods and the man leaning against the wall departs quickly walking up the street. The man with the ponytail turns to the car and nods. Simultaneously, the two back doors open. Three Asian men get out. One, a
shorter stockier Thai with a flat top haircut, wears a long overcoat. The other two
both wear loose shirts not tucked in. One of these men is even wearing sunglasses at
night. The driver remains in the vehicle. The three men join the first and enter the
bar. The car they exited from drives up the street.

The Soy Cowboy is only about half full of paying customers. The bar girls sitting on
their stools, that don’t have a customer buying them drinks, immediately turn to the
incoming patrons. One girl grabs the arm of the Asian with the ponytail. He pulls his
arm away ignoring her. A second girl was about to grab the stocky Asian’s arm but
changes her mind after looking him in the face. The bar girls withdraw back to the
safety of their stools. One whispers to another and they both quickly go behind the
bar as these men scan the other patrons of the bar. They don’t see what they’re
looking for and head across the bar passing the Go Go girls who, dancing on their
small stages, don’t seem that interested in the music they’re trying to dance to in their
skimpy bikinis.

The four men cross the room, wending their way through the tables and chairs to an
open hallway on the other side. The hallway has four doors on the right side and two
on the left and makes a left turn at the far end. The man with the ponytail listens at
the first door. The other three men take up positions covering the hallway, their
hands going to unseen weapons under their clothes. The man with the ponytail listens
to the voices inside and shakes his head. All four move to the next door down, also
on the right. This door is a few inches open and the man with the ponytail opens it
slowly to reveal a darkened room. The next door, on the left, has no voices but a
light is on. The man with the ponytail opens it slowly to reveal a simple bed with an
older, slightly overweight Thai sleeping on it in his underwear. His snoring reveals
how drunk he must be. A bar girl, in her underwear, sits smoking a cigarette looking
through the man’s wallet. She looks up but the man with the ponytail is already
shutting the door. The four men move to the next door, which is back on the right.
As they reach it, a voice can be heard speaking in English, “No, no, 500 baht.” A
female voice argues back in Thai. The man with the ponytail nods to the other men
and pulls out, a Browning Hi Power pistol. The two men in the loose shirts also pull
semi-auto pistols and take up positions covering the hallway. The stocky man in the
overcoat pulls out an UZI submachine gun with a suppressor attached. The man with
the ponytail pushes the door open, the man with the UZI steps in and he follows.

The alley behind the Soy Cowboy is relatively quiet compared to the front street. The
same dark car is idling; it’s lights off. Even from outside can be heard three short
muffled bursts of full automatic gunfire. The driver switches on his running lights.
Four men come hurrying out the back door and quickly climb in the car. The car
drives away, only turning on its' headlights as it reaches the end of the alley, and turns
right onto the main street.

Silver Star Bar
Hermosa Beach
0840 hours

The Silver Star Bar is empty except for Matt Sheperd who is opening the door and
letting Margo Vincent in. She is dressed casually.

She looks questioningly at Matt.

“Wait ‘til everyone’s here.” He replies and starts closing the door.

“Wait up!” a voice with a New York accent cries.

Matt opens the door and Nick Delvecchio steps in wearing a very nice suit and tie.

Margo is definitely taken aback by his sharp appearance.

Nick notices and is immediately defensive. “What? Do I gotta’ booger hanging out of my nose?”

Margo covers her mouth to keep from laughing.

Nick looks to Matt for support.

“That would probably be less noticeable on you.” Matt says with a slight smile.

“Hey, cut me some slack, ok? I was at church.”

Margo immediately stops laughing. “Now I know you’re lying.”

“I’m not lying. I mean, I wasn’t at church, I was going to church.” He looks at Matt
and Margo for any kind of belief that might be registering on their faces. “It hasn’t
started yet.” He trails off. “9 o’clock, I think I’m gonna be late?” He looks at Matt
to confirm the question.

Matt is calculating what could possibly be influencing Nick to actually go to church.

“Who is she?” Margo asks with a smile.

Nick looks down at his feet. Margo has figured him out. “She’s a nice girl, ok?”

“Whatever you say Nick.” Margo smiles.

The door bursts open and in steps Benny Ray, breathing hard and dressed for running.
The sweat dripping down his face and soaking his shirt and running shorts emphasizes
the distance he has gone. Benny Ray doesn’t quite have his breath back from the
sprint he finished up with but he is obviously surprised by Nick’s appearance. Nick
knows what’s coming and steps into the offense.

“You okay Benny Ray?” asks Nick earnestly. “Trouble catching your breath?”

Benny Ray stands there with his hands on his hips and points at Nick but still can’t get
anything out and leans over and rests his hands on his knees.

Nick pats him on the back as if to help him breathe. “You know, if you’d run further
than the stop sign an back, you might build up some of that cardio-vascular endurance

Benny Ray smiles as he gets his breath back and straightens up. He pauses for a
minute with a knowing smile on his lips. “You clean up real nice Nick.” He says.
“I’d have never thought it.” He starts walking towards the stairs following Matt.
Benny Ray shakes his head as Margo and Nick fall in behind. “Not in a million years.”

“Philistines.” Nick mutters under his breath.

The four of them are walking down the stairs to the basement. Margo is saying:
“…you don’t even know how to spell ‘Philistine.’ ”

“I don’t need to know how,” says Nick, “I’ll just use your spellchecker.”

“You’re not allowed to touch my computer.” Margo retorts.

“Rico!” Benny Ray says in surprise. “The Major got you in on this thing?”

Rico Valesquez drops the magazine he was reading at the weapons cleaning table.
“He says I might prove useful.” He says with a smile as he takes Benny Ray’s hand.

“Rico.” Margo says with a pleasant smile.

“Margo.” He acknowledges.

“Margo,” interrupts Nick, “Deke is touching your computer.”

Margo looks over to see a tall lanky Deacon Reynolds leaning over a computer monitor and keyboard that is part of an extensive and expensive computer system with two other monitors, one smaller and one larger.

“He’s allowed to touch it.” Says Margo.

“That’s right Nick. I’ve got the magic touch.” Replies Deke, not looking up from the

“Hey, Deke, while you’re touching it, could you look up the spelling of ‘philistine,’
for me?”

Deke hits a button and the monitor blinks. It reads out ‘Secure Encryption INET
Link Active.’

“Are you set up?” Asks Matt.

“Almost.” Replies Deke. “I told him we were all here.”

“Have a seat people.” Matt orders.

The smaller computer monitor comes to life and it is a picture of Xavier Trout.

“Cool,” says Nick, “Can I get a screen saver of the boss too?”

“Maybe later, Nick,” says Trout from a speaker on the computer.

“Oops.” Says Nick, obviously embarrassed. He gets up from where he was sitting
and moves to the back row behind Deke and sits down.

“We’re all here sir.” Says Matt

“Are you getting this?” Asks Trout. A still picture of a white male in his mid thirties
appears on the large monitor. He has brown hair and a goatee.

“Yes, sir.” Says Benny Ray.

“This is Robert Worth, Special Agent, Drug Enforcement Administration.” Nick
leans out from behind Deke so he can see the picture. Trout continues: “He’s a deep
cover, very deep cover, agent assigned to infiltrate the Golden Triangle. Or he was.
He was killed 5 days ago in Chaing Mai, Northern Thailand. He was making contact
with the drug underworld there. He was killed by a four man hit team in a bar in
downtown Chaing Mai just past midnight. Very professional hit team. They also
killed the Thai woman he was with.” Nick stands up now, very interested.

“Who was the woman?” Matt asks.

Trout shrugs, “Bar girl.”

“What’s a bar girl?” asks Margo.

“A girl you buy drinks for in a bar. Increase liquor sales and such. Sometimes they’ll
do more for you.”

“Oh, a prostitute.” says Margo.

“Kind of.” Shrugs Matt. “Please continue sir.”

“In the past 3 years 4 DEA agents have been killed in the Southeast Asia area. Three
were undercover agents, the other worked out of the US Embassy in Bangkok. 11
informants for the DEA have also been killed.”

“Sounds like a major security leak.” Says Margo.

“Major?” mutters Nick, “Catastrophic is more like it.”

“You must have an idea of the leak sir,” responds Deke, “or you wouldn’t be talking
to us.”

“That’s correct.” answers Trout. Another still picture appears. This is an older man,
perhaps in his fifties or sixties. He has light brown slightly graying hair. He is
wearing sunglasses and a couple of day’s growth of beard. This picture is obviously a
surveillance photo taken with a telephoto lens. “This is Larry Emerson Reid. He’s an
expatriate American living in northern Thailand, sometimes Burma, and the Golden
Triangle. He’s a Vietnam vet who moved back to Southeast Asia in 1978 and has
been there ever since. It’s believed he has contacts all through Thailand, Burma,
Laos, and Kampuchea. It’s believed he supplies intelligence to the private armies that
protect the heroin produced in the Golden Triangle. It’s believed that he has gained
sources, multiple sources, that have allowed him to identify DEA assets and allowed
them to be targeted.

“Your mission is to terminate with extreme prejudice.”

Silver Star Bar
Hermosa Beach
1315 hours

The entire team is gathered around the weapons cleaning table. It is spread with
intelligence reports, dossiers, satellite imagery, maps, and aeronautical charts. It looks
like quite a shambles but it is actually organized and constructive. Matt, Benny Ray
and Rico are at one end talking together.

Benny Ray is pointing at a map and saying: “I don’t see how we can get through here
in civilian clothes with the gear we’ll need for the mission.”

“Yeah, clandestine looks like the only way.” Says Rico. “What about air-landing?”

Matt shakes his head. “This whole area, Northern Thailand, across the border is too
heavily controlled. The Opium Warlords here seriously monitor Thai military anti-
drug flights. We’re going to have to go in way high.”

“HALO?” asks Benny Ray.

Matt nods and points to a chart. “This is a commercial air route. We could exit here
and open at 3 grand.”

“Exit altitude?” asks Benny Ray.

“28 to 33 thousand.” Answers Matt.

Benny Ray whistles. Matt asks him: “How’s Nick's jumping been going?”

“Pretty good. He’s really starting to smooth out and relax.”

“Not up for Oxygen and Combat Equipment?”

“Just a little too hairy, sir. Though, if you’re looking to get rid of him, this could be
the ticket.”

Matt shakes his head and smiles. “No, I don’t want to scare him away.”

Deke is pouring over a larger scale aeronautical map of Northern Thailand. He holds
a cellphone to his ear. With his other hand he uses a compass to measure distances on
the map. He drops the compass and writes something on a note pad. Then he speaks
into the phone. “Hey, my man, how’re you doing?” He pauses. “Yes, I need you to
find out what type of commercial aviation, rotary-wing, assets are available in
Thailand.” He pauses again. “No, just northern Thailand area. I got some specific
cities for you. Phitsanulok, Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon. Nakhon Phanom.” He
pauses again. “No, man, nothing in Chiang Mai. Can’t trust that place. You know
the deal. Email me what you get. Thanks.”

Nick and Margo are working together. Nick is looking at the picture of a dossier. “I
knew this guy. We graduated the academy together.”

Margo is distracted, “You what?”

“We were in the DEA Academy together.”

“Who is he?”

“He was the agent killed working out of the Bangkok office last year.”

“Did you know him well?”

“Not real well. Haven’t seen him since.” Nick looks at Margo who has gone back to
looking at the dossier on Larry Reid, the target.”

“What’s up with you Margo?” He asks. “You keep looking at this guy's file. What,
are you hoping you get to pull the trigger on this loser?”

Margo shakes her head. “Something is just bugging me.”

“What? What’s bugging you? You’re usually all over this intel stuff. But you’re
stuck on this one piece of the puzzle.”

“This guy’s picture seems familiar to me. But his bio doesn’t.”

“Maybe he just looks like someone you knew.”

Matt appears at her side. “What’s bothering you Margo?”

“I don’t know that I trust this piece of intelligence.” She says as she drops the Reid
file on the table.

Everyone around the table is looking at her now. They’re all waiting expectantly for
her to explain her doubts.

“I think I know this man.” She says holding up a picture of their target.

“How do you know him?” Asks Rico.

She takes a deep breath. “Years ago, when I just arrived in Germany, I was assigned
to a temporary protection detail at a safehouse as a high level, deep cover asset was
debriefed. At least I assumed he was a company asset. I didn’t have the need to
know who or how important he was.”

“This was the guy?” Asks Benny Ray, pointing to the picture of Reid.

“I think this was him. Could be him.”

The team digests this unsettling information. Deke speaks first. “Can you find out for

Margo shakes her head. “I don’t have the access anymore.” She laughs. “Actually I
never had that kind of access. This was too high level. I just know he was debriefed
by the Deputy Director of Operations.”

Nick whistles.

“That’s a big deal.” Says Matt.

“So the question is,” ponders Benny Ray. “Is this guy a CIA asset or a legitimate

“He could actually be both.” Suggests Margo. “Deep cover agents have been known
to go native, or turn, or work both ends against the middle.”

“He could be neither.” Says Nick as everyone looks at him. “All this intelligence,”
holding up reports, “is from DEA sources. Nothing from CIA, DIA, or NSA.”

“You think it’s tainted Nick?” Asks Matt.

“I think it’s definitely one-sided. It may be legitimate intel. But it’s all one source.”

“Sir,” Interjects Benny Ray. “We gotta know. If I’m going to drop this guy, I gotta

Matt strokes his chin. “We’ve got our assignment. You want to question it now?”

“Sir, we’re operators. Not robots.”

Matt nods. “That’s the answer I wanted to hear. Keep working. I’ll talk with Trout.”

Silver Star Bar
Hermosa Beach
2348 hours

The team is gathered in the basement around the computer monitors. Only Deke is
missing. Trout’s image is on the monitor again and they’re in the middle of a
discussion. Matt is looking at his watch saying: “Deke should be boarding his flight
right about now. Nick and Margo’s leaves at 1035 tomorrow morning.”

“I’ve got a C-17 coming in to Edwards Air Force Base at 0700 for the rest of your
team.” Says Trout. “Be there with all your gear.”

“We’ll be waiting.” Says Matt.

“I’ve just one question.” Says Trout.

“Shoot, sir.” Says Benny Ray.

“Who’s going to be your commo section?”

“You, sir!” Says Matt.

“Now wait a minute. I’ve agreed to let Margo and Nick try to make contact with
Reid but I don’t think I should be monitoring a SatCom radio in Chiang Mai while
you three are running through the jungle.”

Matt shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve got no one else. I’ve run out of assets. And, you
could probably use the vacation.” Matt pauses. “And I need someone I can trust.
Benny Ray, Rico and I will have our butts hanging in the wind if we get compromised.
Cell phone coverage is practically non-existent where we’ll be. I need someone there
who can get Deke to us and extract us.”

Nick adds to the pressure: “Reaction time for these little private armies that guard the
heroin trade up there can be pretty quick. Especially in the area where these guys will
be operating. If they get caught, they’re gonna string ‘em up. I knew a guy once who
was operating in Burma and he got nabbed by these…”

Benny Ray interrupts Nick: “Thanks, amigo, that’s enough.”

Nick looks around. “Yeah, it was kinda gross anyway.”

Margo covers her eyes and shakes her head.

Benny Ray pats Nick on the back. “You’ve been more than helpful.”

Rico leans over and whispers to Margo: “You’re not going to last three days with
this character.” He smiles and nudges her in the ribs.

“Please, Rico, don’t interrupt me when I’m trying to pray.”

Rico laughs quietly. He puts his arm around her shoulders, leans in close and says
“…and please make the bad man go away.”

Matt addresses Trout. “What about our delay to confirm our target?”

Trout shakes his head. “Sorry, it was denied. The timetable still stands. If Nick and
Margo uncover anything, I have authority to rescind the order.”

Nick turns to Margo, looks her straight in the eye, and says, “But no pressure.”

U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Force Base
U-Tapao, Thailand
0810 hours

An air force gray C-17 Globemaster touches down at an airfield in southern Thailand.
It taxis off the runway and eventually parks on the apron as guided by a Thai Air Force airman using orange wands. The airman crosses the wands and the C-17 brakes to a full stop and it’s engines begin winding down. A black civilian Toyota pickup drives slowly to the rear of the plane. Two Thai men, one taller and handsome, both wearing civilian clothes, get out. Their bearing identifies them as military men and
they wear sunglasses against the bright morning sun. Behind them comes a white
Toyota van which parks directly behind the pickup. The two Thai men wait patiently.
The rear ramp of the C-17 begins to open. Inside the cavernous, almost empty hold
are 5 men. Two are US Air Force loadmasters in flight suits. One of which is manning the controls opening the ramp. The other waits until the ramp hits the ground and flips a smaller hinged ramp down to allow their passengers to walk off with ease. Their three passengers are all dressed in casual civilian gear. All three are in shorts, t-shirts and sandals as they try to defend themselves against the humid heat wave that attacked them as soon as the ramp began to open. Behind them in the empty plane is one pile of gear strapped down. The two Air Force loadmasters begin to unstrap the gear.

Matt walks down and with a smile, extends his hand to the handsome Thai waiting

“Major Tean. So good to see you again.”

“Matt,” says Tean, who’s English is not perfect. “It is good to see you again.”

They both break into broad smiles and Matt grabs the smaller Thai Officer and gives
him a bear hug lifting him off the ground. The Thai Officer busts up laughing.

“Let me introduce you to my friends.” Says Matt.

“This is Benny Ray Riddle.”

“How do you do sir?” Benny Ray shakes his hand.

“And this is Ricardo Valesquez.”

Rico puts the palms and fingers of his hands together as if praying and touches his nose in the traditional Thai ‘wai’ greeting and says: “Sawat de Kap.”

Tean responds likewise. He then says: “Let me introduce you, my Lieutenant Kajorn.”

Lieutenant Kajorn breaks into a big smile as Rico gives him the traditional Thai greeting.

“I can secure your equipment or transport it where you need.” Says Major Tean. “This van is to take you to your hotel.”

“Benny Ray, can you take care of the gear? I need to talk to Major Tean.” Asks Matt.

“No problem, sir.”

Tean almost interrupts: “Lieutenant Colonel!”

Matt looks at Tean in surprise. “Congratulations.” He shakes his hand again as they
walk further away for some privacy.

Benny Ray, Rico and Kajorn and the two loadmasters get the gear loaded into the
right vehicles.

As Matt and Tean walk back to the rest, the pilot of the C-17, wearing a nomex
flight suit and the silver oak leaves of a Lt. Colonel walks down the ramp to them. He
addresses Matt. “We’ve got rooms in the same hotel as you. It’s full of US military
personnel participating in the annual Balance Torch mission. We’ll fit right in. My
navigator and I will meet in your room this evening. He’ll have the latest weather
data. We can do final preparations then.”

“Sounds good. We’ll see you then.”

The pilot turns and walks back up the ramp.

Rico gets off the cell phone he was on. “Deke is in Nakhon Phanom. He’s making
final preparation. He should be operational by tomorrow morning. Trout is enroute
to Chiang Mai. Nothing from Nick and Margo. They should be in Chiang Rai already.”

“We should be able to make commo with them even in Chiang Rai.” Says a concerned Benny Ray. “The cell phone coverage should still be good.”

“We’ll keep trying.” Says Matt.

The three of them get in the white van and it follows the black Toyota pickup.

“How do you know that Thai Colonel?” Asks Rico as they head into town.

“From previous Balance Torch and Cobra Gold missions when I was with 1st Group.” Answers Matt.

“Royal Thai Army?” Asks Benny Ray leaning over his seat.

“Air Force, actually. He’s in charge of the Commandos that do counter-terrorist jobs
on all Thai airfields. They also do some of the protection details for the Royal family.”

“And, he just happened to be here waiting for us?” Benny Ray nods knowingly.

Matt turns and smiles from the front passenger seat, “Old friend. Just let him know
I’d be in town for a few days.”

“Roger that.”

Rico turns around and addresses Benny Ray. “You getting a little suspicious?” Rico

“Always, amigo, always.”

Tour Bus Station
Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand
1005 hours local

A modern, air-conditioned tour bus is loading passengers. Margo is standing nearby
wearing a comfortable cool skirt and a light blouse against the heat. She’s wearing
sunglasses, a wide brimmed sun hat and has a simple bag slung across her shoulders.
She’s surrounded by 5 bags of luggage. A Thai man starts to load her and Nick’s
bags into the cargo compartment on the bottom of the bus as Nick walks up to her.
He’s dressed in shorts and sandals and simple collared shirt that makes him look as if
he actually lives in Thailand.

“Couldn’t get rooms in the nice hotels. So I got some in a cheap dive. Did you make

Margo shakes her head. “Still can’t get through. I think my cell phone is working but
I can’t tell if the problem is at my end or the other. I left a message at Trout’s hotel.”
Nick nods.

Margo watches the European tourists as they board the bus. “I don’t believe this.
We’re going to the heart of the Golden Triangle and look at all the tourists.”

Nick shrugs. “The Thai military pushed all the warlords and opium mule trains out of
Thailand. Tourism replaced it in the local economy.” He grabs his carry on bag as
they walk to the bus. “These tourists are getting some imaginary thrill thinking they’re in the middle of the Golden Triangle as they stay in a nice 5 star hotel and get
hammered by the pool.”

“Why couldn’t you get us reservations in those nice 5 star hotels?”

“Sorry, not enough advance notice. Besides,” he looks her in the eye, “we’re getting
the real thrill.”

Nakhon Phanom Airport
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
1234 hours local

A white Huey UH-1H helicopter with red markings is flying back over the city,
towards the airport. Deke sits in the left hand seat. A Thai pilot wearing aviator
sunglasses sits in the right seat.

“OK, you can fly my chopper.” Says the Thai pilot. “But promise me you not show
off like you did back there!”

“Ah, you know you liked it, baby.” Deke flashes a smile at him.

The Thai tries to keep from laughing. “You not funny.”

“I’m very funny.” Deke disputes with a laugh.

The Thai pilot mutters to himself and shakes his head. “You not funny at all!” He
pauses and then says. “I need a drink.”

Deke laughs again. “Singha!”

The Thai pilot looks at him. “OK, Singha beer for you, Mekong whisky for me. You

“Deal!” Deke takes his right hand off the stick to shake his partner’s hand.

“Hey! You keep your hands on the stick!” The Thai slaps Deke’s hand away.

“Look no hands!” Deke is holding the stick between his knees.

“I told you! You not funny!”

31,000 feet Mean Sea Level
Golden Triangle
0020 hours local

A gray Air Force C-17 wings its way smoothly through the night sky. A quarter
moon reflects off of the meandering Mekong river over 5 miles down. A few lights
can be seen designating scattered villages and what little civilization there is in this part
of the world. The brightest lights are Sob Ruak, a Thai hamlet on a bend in the
Mekong river that marks the center of the Golden Triangle. Inside the cargo bay of
the C-17 are 7 men. It is lit by red lights. All the men are wearing helmets and oxygen
masks. All are wearing parachutes though the ones dressed in Air Force flight suits
wear smaller, emergency bailout chutes. Three of the men, wearing black jumpsuits, are sitting on the seats near the rear door on the left side of the aircraft. They are plugged into the oxygen consoles above their heads. All three have on larger parachute containers and have rucksacks sitting between their legs. One of the Air Force men, wearing the rank of Staff Sergeant, holds his fist out with thumb up, to the three sitting men. All three of the sitting men respond likewise. The standing man, a Staff Sergeant Physiological Technician, turns to an Air Force Major, dressed similarly to himself, and gives him a thumbs up. The Staff Sergeant writes something on a pad and shows it to the Major who nods in agreement. An Air Force loadmaster stands by the ramp controls. He grabs his oxygen mask as if listening. He then turns to the first sitting man and flashes all 10 fingers at him. The sitting man nods and then turns in his seat while his neighbor opens a flap on his reserve and main parachute containers and checks his rip cord pins. The man slaps him on the back meaning ‘OK,’ and the first man stands up leaving his rucksack next to his seat. He faces the other two sitting men and raises his right arm with a clenched fist at a right angle. He touches where his watch might be with the two fingers of his left hand and brings his left hand to a clenched fist at a right angle. He flashes 10 fingers meaning ‘10 minutes.’ The Air Force Loadmaster gives Matt a commo cord, which he plugs into his oxygen hose. Matt listens for a few seconds as the Pilot gives him last minute information. He looks at Benny Ray and Rico sitting there and bends over at the waist and makes as if he is blowing into his palm held flat in front of him. He raises both arms at right angles again and then makes an exaggerated shrug gesture meaning ‘Winds on the DZ-unknown.’ Rico gives an exaggerated two big thumbs up gesture. Benny Ray makes an exaggerated slap to the forehead and shakes his head. Rico leans his head back in a silent laugh.

Matt is wearing an LBV under his parachute harness. The magazine pouches are all
full. Grenades are taped in securely. A lowride tactical holster on his right side
carries a H&K Mk23 Mod 0 pistol. A M4A1 carbine with an M203 is strapped in on
his left side. The magazine is taped securely in. Matt makes a breaking signal with
both hands. All three of them begin breaking the chem lights taped behind their helmets and on their waist bands and switch on the internal red light on the altimeters on their left wrist and break the backup chem light attached to it. The back of all their heads glow green. Their waist straps glow red. Their altimeters glow red and green. Behind Matt, the ramp starts opening. Much colder air immediately assails them. At 31,000 feet it’s probably -40 Fahrenheit. When the ramp is fully locked down level, the loadmaster signals to Matt that he can go on the ramp. Matt reaches into his right side with his right hand and turns on his oxygen from his personal bottles. The Air Force PhysTech checks him and gives him a thumbs up. Matt removes the hose that supplied O2 from the aircraft. He then unplugs his intercom and walks to the back of the ramp. He drops to his hands and knees and looks out the left side of the aircraft, holding on to the hydraulic lifts of the ramp. 6 miles below he can see the glint of the moon on the Mekong River. Down below is the border of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. It is the Golden Triangle. Matt walks back to his rucksack and steps through the shoulder straps and grabs two straps with quick release snaps and hooks them into the large D-rings on the front of his parachute harness. His rucksack now hangs in front of his knees. He holds his two fists side by side in front of him and then pulls them apart. Benny Ray and Rico switch on their personal O2 bottles and unhook from the aircraft’s supply. The PhysTech helps them through this awkward part also. Matt walks back out on the ramp and checks outside again.The loadmaster signals Matt with two fingers. Matt turns back to his two men and brings his arm up to shoulder level, signaling ‘Two minutes’ and ‘Stand up.’ Rico and Benny Ray struggle to their feet. They also do a rip cord pin check on each other. Both of these men wear their rucksacks in back as opposed to Matt who is wearing his in front. Rico is also carrying a Mk 23 Mod 0 in a low ride holster. He is carrying a M4A1 Carbine also with a M203 grenade launcher. Benny Ray carries the most weapons. On his left is his M4A1. On his right thigh is a black Colt 1911A1. On his right side is his Remington 700 sniper rifle, barrel down, pointing slightly forward. The waist strap of his parachute is secured between the rifle and the scope mount. The barrel of the rifle is taped over. The bolt handle is missing, as it is secured elsewhere. Both men are also wearing LBVs under their parachute harness. Like Matt, the magazine pouches are full and the hand grenades are taped in securely. The loadmaster signals to Matt with one finger. Matt turns to his men and salutes them signaling ‘One minute,’ and ‘Move to the ramp.’ Rico and Benny Ray comply checking their straps and gear. Rico goes through the wave off and pull sequence. Benny Ray practices it also. Matt signals them a high thumbs up, meaning, ‘15 seconds,’ and they return it and all three move to the back of the ramp. Matt faces forward, his heels almost hanging off the back of the ramp. Rico, on Matt’s left, grabs onto his chest strap to steady him as Matt is watching the green light by the left door. Rico and Benny Ray are both watching the Major for his signal. The red light goes off and the green light comes on. Matt points, straight armed with two fingers out the open ramp. Rico lets go of Matt and watches as he poises off the ramp. Rico and Benny Ray immediately follow Matt in diving exits. The loadmaster watches for almost 30 seconds until he can no longer see their chem lights. He walks back and begins to close the ramp. The two Physiological Technicians, enlisted and officer, watch until the ramp is totally closed.

 Part II

120mph Freefall
The Golden Triangle
0033 hours local

Rico and Benny Ray focus entirely on the chem lights of the Major. In the darkness at 120 miles per hour, his body shape cannot be made out but his chem lights can be seen for a few hundred meters. Both men become unaware of each other as they simultaneously begin to track towards Matt. 31,000 feet below them is the curving Mekong River that bisects the center of the Golden Triangle. It is perceptibly getting closer as they free fall through the cold night sky. Matt is a big guy and falls faster than either Rico or Benny Ray. But he slows his decent by extending his arms and legs out more. Benny Ray gets close enough to the Major that he can now see his silhouette. He continues to move in even closer. Slowly they inch forward until they are just feet apart. Matt shakes his head and signals with a single digit. Benny Ray can’t guess why he’s been told to stop but then suddenly, there is Rico, right beside him. Both Rico and Benny Ray slip a few feet farther apart. Benny Ray checks his altimeter and thinks, ‘We’ve only fallen about 7,000 feet. That’s 30 seconds. We've still got two and a half minutes and my hands are freezing! I should have brought thicker gloves!’ Matt moves in smoothly and docks with Benny Ray, grabbing his wrists. Benny Ray gratefully curls his fingers into a fist, better protection against the cold. Rico now tries to move in and dock with Benny Ray and the Major. He moves in but he’s too high. He backs out again and gets a bit smaller to increase his fall rate. He reaches their level and moves in again slowly. ‘Relax.’ Rico says to himself. I’ve got three minutes of freefall to link up.’ He moves in slowly and grabs both Benny Ray’s and Matt’s arms. He immediately looses his grip on the Major because he had grabbed his altimeter and it was too big for a good grip. Hanging on with one hand, he is being pushed away into Benny Ray. ‘No good.’ He thinks and releases and spins further away as he fights to regain stability. Benny Ray looses sight of Rico entirely. He looks at the Major who sticks out a leg and spins them 90 clockwise. They’re now at 20,000 feet. Their altimeter dial has gone completely around once already. Still no Rico, Benny Ray worries. Rico, though an excellent jumper, is the least experienced of all of them. But if the Major isn’t worried why should he be? Matt is the most experienced of them all, and as Benny Ray thinks about it, he’s the best overall jumper he’s ever known. He could probably fly right back into the ramp of the aircraft if he wanted. Benny Ray laughs inside his oxygen mask. ‘Can you get an 02 hit at altitude?’ He wonders. Suddenly, there is Rico again, same level as them moving smoothly into a dock. He grabs their arms securely. Benny Ray and Matt release their grip on Rico’s side and now they are a three man star formation. They did it. A night link up with combat equipment and oxygen. This was the real deal. Something to brag about. Of course, it helps that they had 3 minutes of freefall to work the bugs out. Benny Ray can almost see Matt and Rico smiling under their oxygen masks.

All three of them can feel the sudden change in temperature as they pass through about 8,000 feet. It’s warm and it feels dang good. At 5,000 feet, Matt nods his head once, and they all let go. They all bounce around some as they regain their individual stability. Matt starts dropping faster than they do but he compensates and rises back to their level. At 4,500 feet they each do a 180 clockwise turn so they are facing out from each other. Simultaneously, they all go into a delta by putting their arms back out almost alongside their body and straightening their legs. They separate from each other quickly. This gives them airspace to safely open their canopies. After 5 seconds they stop and get stable again. At 4,000 they wave off, out of habit, to signal other jumpers that might be above them, that they are about to go into pull sequence. At 3,500 feet Benny Ray and Rico both pull and their mains begin to deploy, jerking their bodies upright and slowing them from 120mph vertical speed to about 22 mph horizontal. Matt pulls his main lower, at 3,000 feet. Both Benny Ray and Rico have good canopies but Rico is kicking his legs to help him get a few twists out of his risers. In a few seconds he has cleared it and has control of his brake toggles. Benny Ray looks around and sees Rico to his right. He looks below him and after about 10 seconds finds the Major’s green chem light. He follows him down. Rico must have more hanging weight because he is descending slightly faster than Benny Ray. No problem, as Rico slides into the stack they are building. They keep their O2 masks on because the pure oxygen gives them better night vision and it will protect their faces from any tree landings. ‘And trees are all I see down there.’ Thinks Benny Ray. ‘I hate tree landings.’

Mekong Hotel
Sob Ruak, Northern Thailand
0033 hours local

Margo is sitting at a table in the small, outside bar of the hotel she and Nick are
staying at. She has a drink in front of her but is staring up at the quarter moon. The
night is cool and she is dressed as if she’s going to a club or something. It’s a simple,
but nice, sleeveless blue dress that accentuates her slender body. She takes a sip from
her drink. Nick exits the hotel entrance and walks over to her table. He sits down
beside her.

“I think I know another place we can check out.” Nick says, “It’s down by the
river.” He follows her gaze up. Margo just nods at his comment. “There’s a plane up there.” He points to the blinking lights of a commercial aircraft 6 miles above them.

“Might be theirs.” Margo offers.

“Tonight’s the night.” He says.

She nods. “If they stuck to their schedule.”

Nick waits a moment, then says, “Let’s go.”

Margo gets up and follows him out to the street where Nick hails a passing Tuk Tuk and they climb in the back.

Nick speaks to the driver and the Tuk Tuk takes off down the street.

Northwest Laos
Golden Triangle
0040 hours local

In the sky, just above the outline of the jungle, is the silhouette of a man hanging under a large gray canopy. He is holding his brakes at shoulder level and making ‘S’ turns trying to bleed altitude. He’s only about 200 feet up. He puts both brake toggles in one hand and with his free hand, releases his rucksack, which drops on a tether and hangs about 10 feet below him. He is aiming for a small clearing in the jungle that is not even as big as a baseball diamond. As he comes over the trees at one end of it, he stops his turns and comes straight in. At about 15 feet up he goes to full brakes, his canopy starts to stall and he hits the ground, feet and knees together, and goes to his knees and then his hands. He quickly gets back to his feet and controls his canopy so it doesn’t collapse on top of him. As his canopy falls to the ground beside him and begins to deflate, he immediately starts unbuckling his leg straps and waist and chest strap. He grabs the M4A1 on his left side and unties the buttstock from the top of the shoulder straps of his parachute container. His weapon free and in his hands, he immediately dumps his container on the ground and goes to a knee. He takes the tape off the magazine and removes the protective barrel cap. With one hand he removes his helmet and drops it next to his parachute at the same time he scanning 360 around him. The red and green chem lights are still visible and will help the other members of his team judge the ground on this DZ. Matt looks up and sees a second silhouette coming in. This jumper has already lowered his ruck and it brushes the top of the tree branches as he comes across the far side of the DZ. He is at half brakes and goes to full brakes just as Matt did. He’s coming in faster anyway and hits the ground feet first and rolls hard completely over, his feet flying up in the air. Matt hears the thud and cringes. He leaves his gear and runs over to find Rico wincing and getting to his knees. Rico is already getting out of his harness and getting his weapon into operation. Matt pulls security as Rico gets free of his gear and gets his weapon into operation. Rico looks into the night sky. Benny Ray now appears over the trees at the edge of the DZ. His rucksack is already lowered. He comes in higher and is overshooting this small DZ. He starts stalling but is going into the trees on the other side. His chute hits the trees and begins to collapse. Branches and twigs are breaking as Benny Ray’s momentum carries him into the darkness of the jungle. Rico and Matt take off running through the underbrush towards him.

They find him, standing, just getting out of his harness. His parachute harness hangs about four feet off the ground. It’s obvious that Benny Ray actually had the best landing of all three of them.

“You lucky son of gun.” Whispers Rico.

“Not luck, skill, amigo.” Benny Ray’s teeth flash in the night.

Working quickly and silently, the three of them work to get their gear ready. Two provide security while the third de rigs his rucksack and gathers in his chute and
container and stuffs it into the parachute kit bags they brought just for this purpose.
Helmets, altimeters, and black jumpsuits go in the kit bags also. Under the jumpsuits,
all three of them are wearing a black, green and brown, tiger stripe uniform, reminiscent of the old style Vietnam era pattern. It is perfect for the area they will be operating in. All wear floppy jungle hats too, and quickly camo up with face paint. Their three parachute kit bags get hidden in a particularly thick part of the jungle about 200 meters from their DZ. Benny Ray records the position on a GPS receiver he has pulled out. Benny Ray’s Sniper rifle is now secured in a camo gun bag and strapped to the side of his ruck. Rico takes point. He is wearing a small harness under his hat that holds a small, monocular night vision scope above his right eye. He can pivot up and down when he needs it or not. He has mounted the quick detach suppressor to the barrel of his M4A1. He has removed the carrying handle and instead has a low profile ACOG reflex sight attached. In the chamber of his M203 is a 40mm shotgun round. This jungle is too thick right now to be throwing 40mm HEDP around. Benny Ray is the slack man. He also has removed the carrying handle of his M4A1and has the ACOG reflex sight mounted. Benny Ray has his compass buttoned on to the top of his BDU. From there he can make quick checks and keep Rico moving in the right direction. Matt, taking up the rear, has mounted the 4-power ACOG optical scope to his flattop M4A1. He also has a shotgun round up the spout of his M203. All three of them are wearing their team com links. Matt checks his map. Benny Ray points with a pen to the point the GPS has plotted.

“About 7 klicks north of our intended DZ.” Matt whispers.

Rico and Benny Ray nod. Not bad for 28 thousand feet of freefall and 35 hundred feet of canopy drift. Matt gives Benny Ray an azimuth. Benny Ray checks his compass. He points with all four fingers and Rico moves carefully and slowly out, his weapon at the low ready.

In about an hour of quietly moving through the jungle, they have gone a little over a kilometer from their DZ. Rico leads them up a hill until it crests and they can see an expanse of the night sky. He turns and looks at Matt questioningly who pulls out his compass and checks if he can see the sky in another direction. Matt nods. Rico lowers his rucksack and goes prone, taking security in the direction they were heading. Benny Ray moves back behind Matt and takes up security in the rear. Matt lowers his ruck and begins opening it. He pulls out a long narrow bag and from it he pulls out wire and aluminum structure. He unfolds it and it begins to look like an upside-down umbrella, without the cloth, sitting on a tripod. He sets it on the ground next to his compass. He hooks a cable from this SatCom antenna to the radio exposed in the top of his ruck. He hooks a handset to the radio. He turns it on and then switches it to the right frequency consulting a small pad from his pocket. He orients his antenna until it is pointing in the right direction as indicated by the compass on the ground underneath it. He changes its elevation angle as he speaks a single word into the handset.

“Bounce.” He whispers. “Bounce.” He keeps repeating this word as he slowly adjusts the antenna up and down. Finally after one of his ‘bounces,’ he is rewarded with an echo of ‘bounce’ in the handset. He has hit the satellite. It is the echo of his own voice bouncing off the satellite in geo-synchronous orbit.

“Bounce.” He whispers again.

“bounce.” The handset answers. Matt pulls a small green box from his ruck. It’s about 8 by 5 inches and has a small typewriter type keypad and a LED readout. He quickly begins typing in a message. In about two minutes he is done. He hits the encrypt button and his message is scrambled. He takes a second cable and hooks it up to this small green device. He picks up the handset again.

“Kilo lima niner, kilo lima niner. This is whiskey kilo five. Over.” Whispers Matt, annunciating slowly and clearly.

After only a few seconds comes back on the handset: “Whiskey kilo five, this is kilo lima niner. I read you five by five. Over.”

Matt smiles to himself. There’s nothing like making commo in the middle of nowhere.

“Kilo lima niner, I have traffic for you. Two zero sierra. Over”

“Roger” responds Trout’s voice, “two zero sierra. Over.”

Matt checks the sweep hand of his watch as he drops the handset. He unplugs the handset and plugs in the cable from the encryption device into the same socket. He watches his sweep hand, his thumb over the ‘send’ button on the device. When 20 seconds are over he hits the button. A high pitched, high speed beeping can be heard as his encrypted message is sent electronically in Morse code. It finishes in about 10 seconds and he unplugs the device and reinserts his handset.

“Kilo lima niner. This is whiskey kilo five. How copy? Over.”

“Whiskey kilo five, this is kilo lima niner. Good copy. Over.”

“Roger, good copy. This is whiskey kilo five. Out.”

“This is kilo lima niner. Out.”

Matt begins repacking his ruck. In four more minutes they are off and moving across the dark jungle hills.

Cobra Blood Club
Sob Ruak, Northern Thailand
0045 hours local

Nick and Margo are surveying a building that may or may not be the one they asked for. It has a sign but it’s written in Thai and neither of them can understand it. The Tuk Tuk driver has taken his 100 baht fare and has roared off. This one story wooden structure is built on the bank of the Mekong River. It stands on stilts though the ones at the front of the building have only about three feet exposed. A short gangplank or walkway leads to the front porch. Traditional Thai music can be heard playing inside. Or is that from another building next to it? A very ugly, mangy dog watches them from beside the walkway.

“Is this place even open?” Margo asks.

“Good question.” Nick answers. “Let’s find out.” Nick leads the way across the gangplank.

The mangy dog follows Margo, trying to get a sniff of her. Margo stops, points at the dog, and says to him, “Don’t even think about it!” The dog looks at her for a moment and Margo steps forward threateningly. The skinny mutt takes off running down the street. She turns and catches up with Nick who is at the front door.

Nick pushes on the door and steps inside. An older Thai man appears in the darkness of the anteroom. He gives them a glance but doesn’t obstruct their way. He goes into a corner of this small room and sits down on a mat that has a single candle burning next to it. He produces a small pipe and proceeds to stuff something in it and light it.
Nick turns to Margo and whispers to her, “Opium.”

The two of them, Nick leading the way, push aside a curtain in a doorway and step inside the club. They both stand there for a moment, surveying the room and its'

“I think you’re over dressed.” Says Nick. Margo nods. There is a bar on the left side of the room. On a shelf behind the bar, a boom box is playing the traditional music they heard outside. Two Thai men, dressed more traditional than western, work behind it. On the far side of the room can be seen the open porch that overlooks the river. The moon is reflected off the smooth waters. On the right side of the room are a number of small booths. Some are curtained shut. There are probably about 12 or 15 occupants that they can see. Some of them are bar girls but these are dressed simply too. There are small tables spread throughout the room. Most have some chairs around them. The club is not well lit, only by candles on the tables, subdued lights behind the bar and in some of the booths.

“Laotians.” Nick says, pointing with his eyes to three men, in native dress, sitting at a table near the back porch.

“How do you know?” Asks Margo.

“Their clothes.” Answers Nick.

Nick moves to the bar and engages one of the bartenders in a conversation.

Margo walks across the room and out to the back porch. As she walks out the
doorway she accidentally bumps into a Thai man, who is smoking a cigarette, as he
re-enters from the porch.

“Oh, sorry.” She says. “Sawat de ka.”

The man looks at her for a moment, surprised at seeing a western woman here.

“Sawat de kap.” He responds slowly.

“Do you speak English?” She asks.

The Thai man slowly shakes his head.

“Do you know someone who does?” She asks again.

He looks at her carefully and then turns to look in the bar. He sees someone sitting at a booth alone and points to him. Margo walks over to the man in the booth and sits across from. The sitting man is smoking a cigarette and nursing a beer. His right eye is discolored and his cheek and eyebrow are scarred. He obviously can see only out of his left eye. The man who pointed Margo in this direction sits down next to her on the bench. He speaks in Thai to One Eye.

In pretty good English One Eye says, “You want to speak English?”

“Yes I would, thank you.” Margo says. “You live around here.”

One Eye looks at the other man in surprise.

Nick finishes speaking with the bartender. He turns and finally sees Margo sitting in a booth with two Thai men. As he walks over to her, he sees the one eyed man get up and leave. The other Thai man gets up to let Margo out of the bench.

“Scared off your new beau?” Teases Nick. “He looked pretty promising.”

Margo shrugs. “What do you have?”

“I think the man I’m looking for is nearby. I’m gonna go check. You wanna come?”

“I think I’ll check this place out some more.”

Nick nods. “Watch your six. I won’t be long.” Nick heads out the front door.

Margo moves towards the bar and orders a drink from the bartender. She takes a drink from her Singha beer and makes an involuntary grimace as she swallows. The
Thai man next to her laughs.

“Great stuff!” She says. “Do you speak English?”

“Nit noy.” Says the smiling man. “Little.”

“Just the man I’m looking for.” Margo engages this man in conversation for about 10 minutes. She learns that he’s a fisherman on the river. Sometimes he brings ‘stuff ’ across the river for extra pay. It is always guarded by armed men. He’s also married and has two kids. After their conversation the smiling man leaves and heads home to see his wife. Margo is left alone again. She starts looking around to find another conversation to start. She sees a taller, stronger, Thai man start walking up to her. He must have just come into the club. He doesn’t look familiar. Margo stands up from her barstool. The man stops about two feet in front of her and looks her over carefully, up and down. Margo immediately is wary of this guy.

“Tourist.” The big Thai says.

Margo nods carefully.

The man reaches in with his right forefinger into the ‘V’ of her dress and pulls it towards him to reveal her nice blue bra. He inspects the contents.

“See anything you like?” Margo asks, and in the next instant she kicks him in the crotch. The big man looses his grip but manages to stay on his feet even though now his eyes are watering. All he can do is blink and gesture to her. Too late, Margo realizes what he is signaling as another man grabs her in a choke hold from behind. This man is strong and quick and Margo knows she only has a few seconds to act, only the man she kicked is coming back towards her. She is loosing consciousness.
Out of nowhere, Nick grabs a handful of the hair of the man choking Margo out. He yanks down hard and the man yells out. Nick chops the man’s exposed throat hard and the man drops to the floor before Margo does. He writhes on the floor coughing and gagging. The big man now comes at Nick who steps in front of Margo, who is struggling to get back up, and drops into a boxing crouch. The big Thai makes a swing, which Nick blocks. Nick immediately returns with a straight jab to the face, then another, and then a one-two combination. The big Thai drops sitting to the floor, his nose and lips bleeding.

“Nick!” Margo warns.

In a single move, Nick turns and deflects the blow to his head from a third man. Nick grabs this arm, pulls him into the bar, trips him and drops him face down on the floor twisting his arm straight up and behind him. Nick puts his left foot right on the man’s neck and locks the man’s straight arm against his thigh. The man on the floor is in obvious pain with his arm twisted straight behind him. Nick now has both hands free again and still holds this man pinned to the floor. Two other men move towards Nick and he quickly draws a .45 Glock Compact from under his shirt. The two remaining thugs loose their motivation and momentum as Nick draws down on them.

“You guys aren’t very nice.” He says coldly. He glances at Margo. “Are you alright, Miss?”

Margo nods affirmative. ‘Has Nick lost his accent?’ She wonders.

“You and you,” He says, pointing to the man sitting holding his bloody nose, and the other still coughing and struggling for breath on the other side of Margo, “owe this lady an apology!”

Nick points his gun at the sitting man. “Well!” He asks angrily. Nick has definitely lost his accent. He doesn’t seem like the same person.

The man sitting on the floor, holds his nose and says “Phom si jai dou kap!”quickly, though he slobbers some blood.

Nick turns to the bartender he talked with earlier. “What’s that mean?”

The bartender nods. “He very sorry.”

Nick nods and turns and points his gun at the man on his hands and knees still gasping. “Well?!”

No answer. This guy may be too busy trying to breathe to listen.

“Hey! I’m talking to you!”

Still no response. Nick fires and the floor next to the struggling man’s hand splinters and he jerks in surprise. The shot is loud and the whole room cringes. The empty brass casing jingles among the glasses and bottles behind the bar One of the two remaining thugs drops next to the man and speaks to him quickly in Thai. The struggling man gasps but can’t get the words out. The man kneeling next to him speaks quickly. “He very, very sorry too.”

“I should hope so!” Nick is calmer now but still is speaking without his usual New York accent. He turns his pistol to the last remaining standing thug. “Miss, could you check what he’s got hidden behind his back.” The man’s eyes bug out. He had been reaching behind his back when Nick was distracted. Nick wasn’t as distracted as he appeared to be.

Margo pulls a snub nosed blued steel revolver from behind the man’s back. She steps to where she can provide better cover.

“I’m very disappointed.” Nick says. He’s relaxed but he still controls the room. “Hey,” he points to the bartender, “translate if you need too.”

Now as Nick continues to talk, the bartender speaks in Thai. “This lady here, is a Journalist, come to write a story about your notorious ‘Golden Triangle.’ ”

Nick makes quotation marks with his fingers at those last two words. “Big woo.” He says, not impressed. “Now, she’s just here to talk. She’s not going to get anyone in trouble. She just wants to write an interesting story. I know, I know, I told her that there might be better stories to write. But this is what she wants. So, my job is to make her job safe.” Nick looks down at the man he still holds in an arm lock and whose neck he is still standing on. “And you guys are screwing with me!” He steps harder on the back of the man’s neck, pulling the man’s arm further back and the man yelps in pain. “Anyway, where was I?”

The bartender, who’s been translating all along, says: “Your job, make her job safe.”

“Yeah, thanks. Your job,” he says, pointing to the rest of the patrons, “is to talk to her. If you want to. You have your free agency. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Nick looks around the bar. “Any questions?” He pauses and then looks at the
bartender who shakes his head no. Nick steps off the man he was pinning and his arm flops to the floor. The man rolls onto his side and lays there cradling his arm. Nick walks to the big man still sitting with a bloody face. “You feeling alright?” Nick asks in a concerned tone.

The man warily nods his head. Nick kicks him so swiftly in the head the man rolls to
the floor, almost knocked unconscious.

“Wrong answer!” He says viciously. Nick squats down beside the stunned man so that only he can hear what he’s about to say. Quietly, slowly, coldly, with all seriousness, Nick whispers to him: “You touch her again. I will kill you.” Nick stands up. “Tell your friends.” He turns and walks to Margo and, taking her arm, escorts her out of the club.

As they walk down the gangplank to the street Nick says, “You alright, Margo?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks.” Margo answers surprised. His New York accent is suddenly back. Who is this guy?

“I’m sorry I took longer than I thought.” Nick puts his Glock away.

“It’s alright.” She says with a smile.

“Let’s go before those guys go get their big brothers to beat me up.” He takes her hand and they start running up the street.

Nick and Margo are riding in the back of a Tuk Tuk again. Nick is inspecting the snub-nosed revolver. Margo is saying: “But you totally lost your accent in there. You were like some hired gun.”

“That’s what I am. You’re the journalist and I’m the hired gun.”

Margo shakes her head in wonder. “You were pretty good in there, Nick. I think you had me going.”

“I just hope I had them going.”

“Don’t worry, you definitely had them all wrapped around your finger.” She pauses and thinks. “I guess all those years undercover has given you a few skills you can draw from.”

Nick nods his head soberly. “Matt would have had my butt if anything happened to you.” He flips open the cylinder of the revolver and inspects the bullets.

Margo’s eyes narrow. “Did he tell you to watch out for me?”

“Ah, no, nothing like that.” Nick refutes. “Just said, ‘If you don’t bring her back, don’t come back yourself.’ ” He clicks the cylinder shut.

Margo is almost offended. “Doesn’t he think I can take care of myself.”

“Well actually,” says Nick, “I think it means you’re more valuable than the rest of us guys. We all get the same orders concerning you when we’re partnered up with you in tight spots.”

Margo softens. “I guess I should be all outraged about such blatant male chauvinism,” she pauses, “but I’m actually flattered. I feel like a traitor to the feminist cause.”

“Just so’s you don’t go and kick me in the nuts.’ Nick smiles. Margo laughs back at him.

Melia Chaing Mai Hotel
Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand
0140 hours local

A phone rings in a darkened hotel room. A light switches on by the bed. Trout rolls out of bed to answer it. On the table behind him is a SatCom radio set. A cable leads from it, through the window to a satellite antenna on the roof. A hand set is attached and lies on the table. The radio is also connected via cable to an encryption device similar to the one Matt used except it is slightly bigger and has a paper printout capability. A set of small speakers is also hooked up to the radio. A low hum of static can be heard from them. Trout is monitoring this radio 24-7.

“Hello?” Says Trout, with no trace of sleep in his voice.

“Sir, it’s me.” Says Deke on the other end. “You left a message.”

“Go secure.” Trout asks.


Trout unplugs the phone handset from it’s cord and plugs in another, slightly bulkier handset. He flips a switch and a small green light comes on. He listens.

“Are you there, sir? Comes Deke’s voice, slightly distorted through the secure voice encryption device.

“Yes, I read you. Just thought you should know they inserted about an hour ago.”

“Are they in safe?”

“No injuries. They’re operational and moving out. Expect to be at the target within 3 to 4 days.”

“Good to hear. Did they land on the correct side of the Mekong?”

Trout chuckles. “Yes, they were about 7 klicks north of their primary DZ.”

“Good. Nick owes me 20 bucks. You got a lat. long. for me?”

“Prepare to copy?” Trout pulls a notepad from the night table drawer.


“99 degrees 12 minutes 15 seconds East, 20 degrees 42 minutes 30 seconds North.”

Deke repeats back the geographical coordinates.

“You got it. Where were you?” Asks Trout.

“Got a couple hours of NVG flying in.”

“Good idea. How was it?”

“Pretty good, except my damn helo is white. This baby glows in the dark.”

“At least you don’t look military.”

“Even when I was in the military, I didn’t look military.”

Trout laughs.

Deke continues. “Sir, just so you know, in case it gets ugly, I can get airborne in about 20 minutes. My ETA is about 2 hours to their primary DZ. Tomorrow or the next day, I think I’ll be able to redeploy much closer. Should give me 45, 50 minute flight time into the AO.”

“Keep me informed.”

“You got it. Anything else?”

“No, good-night.”

“Good night, sir.”

Five Sisters Hotel
Sob Ruak, Northern Thailand
0145 hours local

Nick and Margo walk in together into the nightclub of this very nice hotel. Western music is playing loudly. Most of the patrons are Asian but there are a few other Europeans or Westerners there. Nick recognizes one of the passenger’s from the bus.

“Hey, there’s that fat guy who was hittin’ on you on the bus.”

“Great!” Margo says in dread.

“Yeah, I been meanin’ to ask you. Do you wear some kind of cheese flavored perfume? Those French guys really liked you too. Maybe some of them are here too.” Nick looks around with his hands shielding an imaginary sun.”

“That reminds me,” says Margo, folding her arms and looking Nick in the eye.

“If you ever, give up your seat so some fat guy can hit on me again...” She pauses.
Nick is trying to keep a straight face.“I’m going to kick you in the nuts.”

Nick shudder’s involuntarily. He raises his hands in surrender. “OK, no problem.” He puts his hands in his pockets. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Nick and Margo start walking through the club, scanning the patrons.

“You gotta’ admit, it was pretty damn funny.”

Margo gives him a ‘not funny’ stare.

He shrugs. He looks at someone across the room. His eyes narrow. “Son of a B--.”

“Is your guy here?” Margo asks, looking around.

“Your guy is here.” Margo follows Nick’s gaze. Sitting in a booth, across the dance floor, is Larry Emerson Reid. Can it be this easy? Margo begins to walk in his direction. Nick follows. As she approaches the booth, they both realize that the two Asian men on either side of the booth are bodyguards. Margo pauses and then continues. One of the bodyguards moves to intercept her.

“Excuse me sir,” speaking around the bodyguard, “can I speak to you a moment.”

Reid looks up from the newspaper he is reading. He is dressed casually and comfortably.

“Are you Larry Emerson Reid?” She asks carefully.

“What can I do for you Miss?” Reid lowers the glasses on his nose so he is looking over them at her.

“My name is Margaret Liston.” Margo pauses. “I would love to ask you a few
questions.” She carefully adds: “I’m a journalist.”

Reid observers her carefully. He says a few words in Thai to the bodyguards. The one impeding Margo’s progress takes her small purse and opens it and rummages through it and hands it back. He turns her around in his hands, inspecting her dress visually, for concealed weapons. He touches her around the waist. He’s satisfied and lets her sit down across from Reid. Nick, who has been watching this, moves in to sit next to Margo but both bodyguards intercept him and block his progress.

“It’s alright, he’s with me.” Margo says hopefully.

Reid speaks a few words in Thai again.

One man steps back and the other starts frisking Nick professionally. He quickly finds the snub-nosed revolver in his pocket. Nick starts shaking his head. They haven’t found his Glock yet. He reaches down and lifts up his shirt with both hands revealing his pistol behind his belt buckle.

“Right here, knuckle head.”

“The guard watching immediately puts a hand on his own weapon under his shirt. The one frisking Nick immediately snatches Nick’s. The bodyguard puts the Glock in his pocket. He now frisks Nick even more thoroughly. Even grabbing Nick in the crotch.

Nick shows only slight surprise. “I’ll give you ten minutes to stop that.”

The bodyguard finishes and Nick is allowed to sit next to Margo.

Reid looks at Nick carefully and then back to Margo.

She acts nervous and embarrassed. “My editor hired him for me.” She explains, nodding towards Nick.

Nick, cocky as ever, again with no New York accent, reaches a hand across to Reid. “John,” he says, “John Smith.”

“Nice to meet you Mr. Smith.” Reid says with a trace of a smile.

“You’re an American?” Asks Margo.

Reid nods. “I guess I still am. Haven’t voted in a few decades.”

“You live in the Golden Triangle?”

“I do.”

“You served in the Vietnam War?”

“I served during the Vietnam War.” Reid is a little more wary now.

Margo’s nervousness seems to disappear. She gets very serious and looks Reid in the eye. “Mr. Reid, I’m going to ask you a very important question. It is unusual and
confusing but it is important that you answer truthfully. Extremely important. Lives
depend on it. You may not have a clue what I’m talking about or you may become
very suspicious of me. Please,” she reaches across the table and touches his hand,
“please trust me and be truthful.”

Reid takes his glasses off. “You’ve certainly got my attention.”

They are interrupted by a large entourage that has just arrived. A slightly overweight Asian man, with a pockmarked face, dressed very nicely and wearing some expensive jewelry, sits down next to Reid. He looks at the two strangers across from him. There are now about six bodyguards protecting this table. Another Asian man, a tall man, wearing a jacket, his long black hair pulled into a ponytail, stands next to the sitting Asian man. He stands there with his hands folded in front of him, staring alternately at Nick and Margo. Nick is looking at the man with the jewelry on his fingers and wrists. Nicks eyes widen slightly. His entire body tenses imperceptibly. He recognizes this man.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have much time.” Reid says to them.

“Just a few moment’s more.” Margo asks sincerely. She stops suddenly. Nick is squeezing her thigh hard under the table and he is not making a pass at her. At a glance she sees that Nick is acting totally disinterested. Margo looks at Reid, then the new Asian and back at Nick.

“Is there any possible way that we can meet sometime?” Margo pleads.

“I’m leaving in a few hours.” Reid shakes his head. “I’m just not going to have time.”

“Margo reaches out and touches his hand again. “Please Mr. Reid, I really need this story. I won’t get you into any trouble. I won’t write anything you don’t want me to.”

Reid is softening. “I might be able to send someone for you. Where are you staying?”

Like a flash Margo is reaching into her handbag. She produces a card. “This is me. We’re staying at the…,” she turns to Nick, “What’s our hotel?”

Nick is already pulling a second card from his shirt pocket. It’s from their hotel. “Her room number is on the back.” He says as he hands it to Reid. Nick turns to Margo and takes her hand. “Time to go. Getting crowded.” He stands up. Looks around the bodyguards and finds the one that has his pistols. He gestures toward this bodyguard. “Give it up, monkey breath.” The guard looks him in the eye and hands back his Glock and the small revolver. Nick secures them and they head out. As they get across the club, Margo stops him.

“I had him! He was going to talk to me!” She pleads. “Why did you stop me?”

“That new guy. The fat Burmese guy.” Nick is almost electric. He is scanning the crowd quickly and carefully all around them.

“What about him?” She asks.

“Khun Kai.”

“Khun Kai?” She repeats confused. The light begins to dawn. “The opium warlord?”

“Yeah.” Nick takes her arm and leads her out the front entrance. Out on the street he hails a Tuk Tuk.

“Nick, I think that was him and I think he was going to confirm it!”

“You blow his cover, in front of Khun Kai then he is a dead man. That guy is the meanest of all the warlords. He’s got the most money, the most hired guns, the biggest army, ships the most tar, and he’s killed the most people. He’s had people whacked for just making a bad first impression.” Their Tuk Tuk arrives and they climb in the back. Nick tells the driver the name of their hotel. Margo takes a deep breath as their taxi jerks and accelerates.

“We’re going to have to wait and hope he calls us.” Nick says, looking back at the disappearing hotel. “Meanwhile, we’ll see if we can’t get some type of transportation up to his place in the triangle.”

“We almost had it.” She says, disappointed.

Laotian Jungle
Northeast Laos
0920 hours local

A young Laotian man, dressed as a farmer, drives a water buffalo down a well-worn dirt path in the jungle. The jungle rises tall on both sides of the path but is not so tall to block out the blue sky above. The trail curves around to the left and man and beast disappear around the corner.A man in Tiger Stripe cammies, weapon at the low ready, rises silently from the edge of the jungle and crosses the path quickly and quietly and takes up a security position looking down to the left. Benny Ray suddenly rises from where he was on the edge of the jungle pulling security to the left, and crosses just as quietly. He takes up a security position opposite to Rico to the right. Matt silently rises from his security position in the jungle on the right and crosses in the same place. He walks backwards and brushes their trail with dead branch obscuring their boot prints in the dusty trail. As he enters the subdued darkness on the other side he goes to a knee. Rico takes up point, Benny Ray takes slack, and Matt takes rear and they disappear further into the jungle.

1010 hours local

Rico is leading them through the jungle. His weapon is at the low ready. He is scanning to his front left and right and also checking the ground to see where to step to avoid noisy branches and sticks. Rico periodically checks behind him to see his team and if they have any signals for him. Benny Ray is moving about 30 feet behind Rico. His weapon at the low ready, he scans to their left right, flanks his head constantly, swiveling back and forth. He takes a sip of water from a tube coming out of his ruck and secured to his rucksack shoulder strap. Matt is taking the rear, his weapon also at a low ready. He often pauses to look completely behind them and walks backwards a few steps. All three of them are well soaked with sweat. Seventy-pound rucksacks and the humidity of the jungle have taken their toll. The next time Rico takes a look back, Matt signals with his flat palm held up. Rico returns the signal and Benny Ray sees it and turns around also. They move together and go to a knee, back to back, pointing in three directions. Matt pulls a map, in a zip-lock bag, out from his vest. He consults it for a few seconds.

“About 900 meters on our same azimuth,” Matt whispers, “we should come to a stream. We’ll refill canteens there and find a spot to hole up for a couple of hours of shut-eye. Later this afternoon we’ll recon a spot to cross the Mekong. We’re only about a klick and a half away. How are you doing on water?”

Rico reports: “About 5 quarts.”

Benny Ray: “Just over 2 quarts.”

Matt tells them, “I’m on my last quart.” Rico pulls a 1-quart canteen from his LBV and gives it to the Major who exchanges it for one of his empty 1 quarts. Each of them is carrying two 2-quart collapsible canteens inside their rucks. Drinking tubes from each come out of the rucks and are clipped to their shoulder straps for easy access. The two 1 quarts on their LBVs are saved for last.

“How about cramps, heat injuries?” Rico whispers.

Benny Ray nods. “I’m starting to get them in my calves.”

“I’m getting some major ones in my quads.” Matt reports.

Rico pulls out another 1 quart from the back of his LBV. He opens it up. Rico is actually carrying four 1-quart canteens on his LBV pistol belt.

“You earned them sir.” Whispers Benny Ray. “You’ve got the heaviest ruck with all that commo gear.”

Rico hands the open canteen to Benny Ray. “Drink.” He commands.

Benny Ray takes a sip. His eyes widen. He takes some serious slugs from it. “Thanks, amigo.” He hands it to Matt. “PowerAde.”

Matt takes it and takes some hearty gulps. Some red juice trickles down his camouflaged face painted chin.

He stops and begins to screw the cap back on.

“Drink it all.” Rico whispers.

“I’m good.” Matt whispers back.

“Suck it all down, sir.” Rico commands.

Matt smiles to himself. As he drinks the rest of this wonderful liquid he is reminded why he wanted Rico on this trip. Rico takes his medical duties very seriously. He hands the empty canteen back to Rico who secures it back in his LBV. Matt helps him resnap his canteen cover. Benny Ray is checking the compass on his shirt. He points the direction for Rico. Rico stands up and moves out, weapon at the low ready. Benny Ray waits until he is about 30 feet away and gets up and follows. Matt does likewise. In about 2 minutes they have disappeared into the jungle

  Part I & II

 Part III

 Part IV

 Part V

 Part VI(a)

 Part VI(b)

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