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 its 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 dont 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
Asians 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 dont
see what theyre
looking for and head across the bar passing the Go Go girls who,
dancing on their
small stages, dont seem that interested in the music theyre
trying to dance to in their
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 mans 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; its 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
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 everyones 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 youre
Im not lying. I mean, I wasnt 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 hasnt
started yet. He trails off. 9 oclock, I think
Im 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. Shes
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
the distance he has gone. Benny Ray doesnt quite have his
breath back from the
sprint he finished up with but he is obviously surprised by Nicks
knows whats 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 cant 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 youd run further
than the stop sign an back, you might build up some of that cardio-vascular
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.
Id 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 dont even know how to spell Philistine.
I dont need to know how, says Nick, Ill
just use your spellchecker.
Youre not allowed to touch my computer. Margo
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
He says I might prove useful. He says with a smile
as he takes Benny Rays hand.
Rico. Margo says with a pleasant smile.
Margo. He acknowledges.
Margo, interrupts Nick, Deke is touching your
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.
Hes allowed to touch it. Says Margo.
Thats right Nick. Ive got the magic touch.
Replies Deke, not looking up from the
Hey, Deke, while youre touching it, could you look
up the spelling of philistine,
Deke hits a button and the monitor blinks. It reads out Secure
Are you set up? Asks Matt.
Almost. Replies Deke. I told him we were all
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
Oops. Says Nick, obviously embarrassed. He gets up
from where he was sitting
and moves to the back row behind Deke and sits down.
Were 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.
leans out from behind Deke so he can see the picture. Trout continues:
Hes 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,
Who was the woman? Matt asks.
Trout shrugs, Bar girl.
Whats a bar girl? asks Margo.
A girl you buy drinks for in a bar. Increase liquor sales
and such. Sometimes theyll
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
You must have an idea of the leak sir, responds Deke,
or you wouldnt be talking
Thats 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 days growth of beard.
This picture is obviously a
surveillance photo taken with a telephoto lens. This is
Larry Emerson Reid. Hes an
expatriate American living in northern Thailand, sometimes Burma,
and the Golden
Triangle. Hes a Vietnam vet who moved back to Southeast
Asia in 1978 and has
been there ever since. Its believed he has contacts all
through Thailand, Burma,
Laos, and Kampuchea. Its believed he supplies intelligence
to the private armies that
protect the heroin produced in the Golden Triangle. Its
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
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 dont
see how we can get through here
in civilian clothes with the gear well 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. Were 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: Hows Nick's jumping
Pretty good. Hes really starting to smooth out and
Not up for Oxygen and Combat Equipment?
Just a little too hairy, sir. Though, if youre looking
to get rid of him, this could be
Matt shakes his head and smiles. No, I dont 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, howre 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
pauses again. No, man, nothing in Chiang Mai. Cant
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
Did you know him well?
Not real well. Havent seen him since. Nick
looks at Margo who has gone back to
looking at the dossier on Larry Reid, the target.
Whats 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? Whats bugging you? Youre usually all
over this intel stuff. But youre
stuck on this one piece of the puzzle.
This guys picture seems familiar to me. But his bio
Maybe he just looks like someone you knew.
Matt appears at her side. Whats bothering you Margo?
I dont 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. Theyre
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 didnt
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 dont 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.
Thats 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 its tainted Nick? Asks Matt.
I think its definitely one-sided. It may be legitimate
intel. But its all one source.
Sir, Interjects Benny Ray. We gotta know. If
Im going to drop this guy, I gotta
Matt strokes his chin. Weve got our assignment. You
want to question it now?
Sir, were operators. Not robots.
Matt nods. Thats the answer I wanted to hear. Keep
working. Ill talk with Trout.
Silver Star Bar
The team is gathered in the basement
around the computer monitors. Only Deke is
missing. Trouts image is on the monitor again and theyre
in the middle of a
discussion. Matt is looking at his watch saying: Deke should
be boarding his flight
right about now. Nick and Margos leaves at 1035 tomorrow
Ive 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.
Well be waiting. Says Matt.
Ive just one question. Says Trout.
Shoot, sir. Says Benny Ray.
Whos going to be your commo section?
You, sir! Says Matt.
Now wait a minute. Ive agreed to let Margo and Nick
try to make contact with
Reid but I dont think I should be monitoring a SatCom radio
in Chiang Mai while
you three are running through the jungle.
Matt shrugs his shoulders. Ive got no one else. Ive
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 well
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, theyre 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, thats 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. Youve been more
Rico leans over and whispers to Margo: Youre not
going to last three days with
this character. He smiles and nudges her in the ribs.
Please, Rico, dont interrupt me when Im trying
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
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
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 its
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
Major Tean. So good to see you again.
Matt, says Tean, whos 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
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
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. Weve got rooms in the same hotel
as you. Its full of US military
personnel participating in the annual Balance Torch mission.
Well fit right in. My
navigator and I will meet in your room this evening. Hell
have the latest weather
data. We can do final preparations then.
Sounds good. Well 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. Hes 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.
Well keep trying. Says Matt.
The three of them get in the white van and it follows the black
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
Air Force, actually. Hes 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
Id be in town for a few days.
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. Shes wearing
sunglasses, a wide brimmed sun hat and has a simple bag slung
across her shoulders.
Shes surrounded by 5 bags of luggage. A Thai man starts
to load her and Nicks
bags into the cargo compartment on the bottom of the bus as Nick
walks up to her.
Hes dressed in shorts and sandals and simple collared shirt
that makes him look as if
he actually lives in Thailand.
Couldnt get rooms in the nice hotels. So I got some
in a cheap dive. Did you make
Margo shakes her head. Still cant get through. I
think my cell phone is working but
I cant tell if the problem is at my end or the other. I
left a message at Trouts hotel.
Margo watches the European tourists as they board the bus. I
dont believe this.
Were 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 theyre in the middle of the Golden Triangle
as they stay in a nice 5 star hotel and get
hammered by the pool.
Why couldnt you get us reservations in those nice
5 star hotels?
Sorry, not enough advance notice. Besides, he looks
her in the eye, were 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
The Thai tries to keep from laughing. You not funny.
Im 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 partners hand.
Hey! You keep your hands on the stick! The Thai slaps
Dekes hand away.
Look no hands! Deke is holding the stick between
I told you! You not funny!
31,000 feet Mean Sea Level
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 its
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 aircrafts 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 Matts 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.
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 cant guess
why hes 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, Weve
only fallen about 7,000 feet. Thats 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 hes 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. Ive got three minutes of freefall to link
up. He moves in slowly and grabs both Benny Rays
and Matts 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. Theyre 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 isnt
worried why should he be? Matt is the most experienced of them
all, and as Benny Ray thinks about it, hes the best overall
jumper hes 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 Ricos 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. Its 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 Majors 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.
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 shes going to a
club or something. Its 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
I think I know another place we can check out. Nick
says, Its down by the
river. He follows her gaze up. Margo just nods at his comment.
Theres a plane up there. He points to the blinking
lights of a commercial aircraft 6 miles above them.
Might be theirs. Margo offers.
Tonights the night. He says.
She nods. If they stuck to their schedule.
Nick waits a moment, then says, Lets 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
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. Hes 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 doesnt
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.
Hes 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 Rays 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. Its
obvious that Benny Ray actually had the best landing of all three
You lucky son of gun. Whispers Rico.
Not luck, skill, amigo. Benny Rays 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
Rays 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. Its 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
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.
Matt smiles to himself. Theres nothing like making commo
in the middle of nowhere.
Kilo lima niner, I have traffic for you. Two zero sierra.
Roger responds Trouts voice, two zero
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.
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 its 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
Is this place even open? Margo asks.
Good question. Nick answers. Lets 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, Dont 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 doesnt
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 youre 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
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
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
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
Scared off your new beau? Teases Nick. He looked
Margo shrugs. What do you have?
I think the man Im looking for is nearby. Im
gonna go check. You wanna come?
I think Ill check this place out some more.
Nick nods. Watch your six. I wont 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 Im looking for. Margo engages
this man in conversation for about 10 minutes. She learns that
hes a fisherman on the river. Sometimes he brings stuff
across the river for extra pay. It is always guarded by
armed men. Hes 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 doesnt 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 mans 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 mans neck and locks the mans 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 arent very nice. He says coldly. He
glances at Margo. Are you alright, Miss?
Margo nods affirmative. Has Nick lost his accent?
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
Nick points his gun at the sitting man.
Well! He asks angrily. Nick has definitely lost his
accent. He doesnt 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. Whats 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! Im talking to you!
Still no response. Nick fires and the
floor next to the struggling mans 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 cant 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 hes got hidden behind his back.
The mans eyes bug out. He had been reaching behind his
back when Nick was distracted. Nick wasnt as distracted
as he appeared to be.
Margo pulls a snub nosed blued steel
revolver from behind the mans back. She steps to where
she can provide better cover.
Im very disappointed. Nick says. Hes
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, shes just here to talk. Shes
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 mans neck, pulling the mans arm
further back and the man yelps in pain. Anyway, where was
The bartender, whos 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 dont have to if you dont
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 hes
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, Im fine. Thanks. Margo answers surprised.
His New York accent is suddenly back. Who is this guy?
Im sorry I took longer than I thought. Nick
puts his Glock away.
Its alright. She says with a smile.
Lets 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.
Thats what I am. Youre the journalist and Im
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.
Dont 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.
Margos eyes narrow. Did he tell you to watch out
Ah, no, nothing like that. Nick refutes. Just
said, If you dont bring her back, dont come
back yourself. He clicks the cylinder shut.
Margo is almost offended. Doesnt he think I can take
care of myself.
Well actually, says Nick, I think it means
youre more valuable than the rest of us guys. We all get
the same orders concerning you when were partnered up with
you in tight spots.
Margo softens. I guess I should be all outraged about such
blatant male chauvinism, she pauses, but Im
actually flattered. I feel like a traitor to the feminist cause.
Just sos you dont 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
Sir, its me. Says Deke on the other end. You
left a message.
Go secure. Trout asks.
Trout unplugs the phone handset from its 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 Dekes 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. Theyre 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
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
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 dont look military.
Even when I was in the military, I didnt look military.
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
Ill 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?
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 passengers
from the bus.
Hey, theres 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.Im going to
kick you in the nuts.
Nick shudders 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 Nicks 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: Im a journalist.
Reid observers her carefully. He says a few words in Thai to
the bodyguards. The one impeding Margos 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.
Hes 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.
Its alright, hes with me. Margo says
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 havent 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 Nicks.
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. Ill 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.
Youre an American? Asks Margo.
Reid nods. I guess I still am. Havent voted in a
You live in the Golden Triangle?
You served in the Vietnam War?
I served during the Vietnam War. Reid is a little
more wary now.
Margos nervousness seems to disappear. She gets very serious
and looks Reid in the eye. Mr. Reid, Im going to
ask you a very important question. It is unusual and
confusing but it is important that you answer truthfully. Extremely
depend on it. You may not have a clue what Im 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. Youve certainly got my
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.
Im sorry, I dont have much time. Reid
says to them.
Just a few moments 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?
Im leaving in a few hours. Reid shakes his
head. Im just not going to have time.
Margo reaches out and touches his hand again. Please
Mr. Reid, I really need this story. I wont get you into
any trouble. I wont write anything you dont want
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. Were staying at the
she turns to Nick, Whats our hotel?
Nick is already pulling a second card from his shirt pocket.
Its 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
What about him? She asks.
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
You blow his cover, in front of Khun Kai then he is a dead
man. That guy is the meanest of all the warlords. Hes got
the most money, the most hired guns, the biggest army, ships
the most tar, and hes killed the most people. Hes
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.
Were going to have to wait and hope he calls us.
Nick says, looking back at the disappearing hotel. Meanwhile,
well see if we cant get some type of transportation
up to his place in the triangle.
We almost had it. She says, disappointed.
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. Well refill canteens
there and find a spot to hole up for a couple of hours of shut-eye.
Later this afternoon well recon a spot to cross the Mekong.
Were only about a klick and a half away. How are you doing
Rico reports: About 5 quarts.
Benny Ray: Just over 2 quarts.
Matt tells them, Im 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. Im starting to get them in my calves.
Im getting some major ones in my quads. Matt
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. Youve
got the heaviest ruck with all that commo gear.
Rico hands the open canteen to Benny Ray. Drink.
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
He stops and begins to screw the cap back on.
Drink it all. Rico whispers.
Im 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.
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