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Invasion

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h1<{color:#000;}. Invasion

Book 1: Mighty Men Trilogy

David Bergsland

Published by Radiqx Press: Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2017 David Bergsland

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales or events is entirely coincidental, or used in a purely fictitious way.

This has been coming for a long time…

It pretty much started in New Mexico in the early 1960s. In northern New Mexico, a group called Alianza Federal de Mercedes led by Reies Lopez Tijerina began advocating the retaking of the Southwest. In June of 1967, he led an assault on the courthouse of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico fighting for land rights. They shot the jailer Eugolio Salazar in the face, pistol-whipped Undersheriff Dan Rivera, and killed Deputy Sheriff Nicainor Saizan in the process. They took twenty citizens hostage in the courthouse while they made their revolutionary statements to the press—then they fled town.

Reies’ position was that southwestern United States was stolen from Mexico. The basis of his fight was that the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (signed at the conclusion of the Mexican-American war in the mid-1800s) stated that the United States was to continue to honor the old land grants issued by Spain during the time of the Conquistadors, and later by the Republic of Mexico.

In their view, the Nation of Aztlan, which is comprised of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, California, the southern part of Colorado, plus Chihuahua and the rest of the northern Mexican states is destined to be liberated. By the early 1990s there were several large organized groups supporting this radical agenda throughout the United States especially in the southwest.

LULAC, League of United Latin American Citizens, was the most visible with 700 chapters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Later they led the fight against the Minutemen in Texas who were patrolling the border to help the INS in 2005. MeChA [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan] was a very large, well organized student movement. MeChA groups were organized on 90% of the public high school, college, and university campuses of the Southwest. In 2001, their official policy was ratified which stated among many other radical positions that, “we vow to work for the liberation of Aztlan”. They were the group California’s Lieutenant Governor Bustamante worked for while in college.

By 2017, the map at Aztlan.net included much more territory. It went up into the southwestern corner of Wyoming, the southern and western sides of Colorado, the southwest corner of Kansas, all of Utah, all of Nevada, and the panhandle of Oklahoma.

A definition of Aztlán

The MeChA chapter of the University of Colorado offers the following meaning of the word Aztlán:

[_“There is a place that the Spirit of Truth has prepared so that it shall be from there from which will be born the Liberation of the Indigenous Peoples. It is called AZTLAN, which means Paradise; it is where the Spirit of Truth lives.” _]

Yaqui Elder Rafael Guerrero, Coronel, Division del Norte de Pancho Villa

[_ “Aztlán is the mythical place of origin of the Aztec peoples. In their language (Nahuatl), the roots of Aztlán are the two words: aztatl and -tlan(tli) meaning “heron” and “place of,” respectively. ‘Tlantli’ proper means tooth, and as a characteristic of a good tooth is that it is firmly rooted in place, and does not move, the prefix of this word is commonly used in Nahuatl to denote settlements, or place names, e.g. Mazatlan (place of deer), Papalotlan (place of butterflies) or Tepoztlan (place of metal)… _]

[_ “You would replace -tlan with -tecatl to identify a resident or person from the given place. So, for the examples above, we have that people from Mazatlan would be Mazatecatl, someone from Tepoztlan a Tepoztecatl, and someone from Aztlán an Aztecatl. _]

“In the origin myths of the Aztecs, they emerged originally from the bowels of the earth through seven caves (Chicomostoc) and settled in Aztlán, from which they subsequently undertook a migration southward in search of a sign that would indicate that they should settle once more. This myth roughly coincides with the known history of the Aztecs as a barbarous horde that migrated from present-day northwestern Mexico into the central plateau sometime toward the end of the first millennium AD, when high civilizations of great antiquity were already well established in the region…

“In Chicana/o folklore, Aztlán is often appropriated as the name for that portion of Mexico that was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846, on the belief that this greater area represents the point of parting of the Aztec migrations. In broad interpretation, there is some truth to this in the sense that all of the groups that would subsequently become the various Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico passed through this region in a prehistoric epoch, as attested by the existence of linguistically related groups of people distributed throughout the U.S. Pacific Intermountain region, the U.S. southwest and northern Mexico, known as the Uto-Aztecan-Tanoan group, and including such peoples as the Paiute, Shoshoni, Hopi, Pima, Yaqui, Tepehuan, Rara’muri (Tarahumara), Kiowas and Mayos.

What you need to know is these associations were largely emotional. They were religiously taught to the illegal immigrants, especially. The pressure was building and looking for place or method of release.

The trip to Europe 2015

Wednesday: June 24, 1:30 PM, In front of the Louvre, Paris

Deborah Stoner was having a surprisingly wonderful time. She was still amazed that her stepfather had paid for the trip. After that knock-down-drag-out fight she had with her parents last Fall, she was surprised he still spoke with her. But the parents she lived with were remarkable.

She was almost reaching overload status. After the museums in London, even the Rembrandt Museum didn’t add much. She loved his etchings. But that had nothing to do with her excitement today. Now she was in Paris, and Edmund had promised to meet her at the Louvre. And — what could she say about Edmund?

Edmund Martindale: What a surprise he had been. She’d given up on boys.

The toads down at Los Lunas High only had one thing on their mind. She couldn’t help she’d been born “good-looking”—whatever that meant. She hated it! As soon as anyone started mentioning her appearance, her body, her eyes, her legs, or whatever body part they were intrigued with, she shut them off. She was sick to death of that garbage. It was all a waste of time.

She’d been looking at Samuel Palmer’s etching “The Rising Moon” at the British Museum. It was a strange drawing. The little undersize shepherd boy seemed lost under the strangely heavy, almost wooden, grained sky. She was having a hard time understanding why old Samuel was so popular. Then she heard a quiet voice next to her.

“They seem to have over-inflated those sheep.”

After a couple of completely ineffective snorts, Debby broke into laughter. The shushing and tsking only made it worse. She looked at the source of the comment, and she quickly got herself under control.

“Do you think they’ll float away?” He said.

“Maybe they will take the rest of this weird drawing away with them.” She felt like she had known him forever.

“We should be so lucky. Want to get a cup of coffee?” The skinny, denimed young man showed a slight smile.

“Coffee? Where do they have coffee over here?” He actually knew—and it wasn’t a Starbucks. Her art history class summer study was transformed. They jabbered about drawings and paintings and techniques for hours. But the best thing about him (for her) was his voracious curiosity. His eyes saw everything. He was constantly showing her things she’d never noticed. She visited the little lichen worlds on the bark of trees. She watched threads of contrails stitch clouds together. She saw bees’ butts completely covered with rich pollen.

Conversations with Edmund were like eating a meal. They were satisfying, filling, and expanded her vision of the world. She hadn’t realized how much it mattered until she visited the Rembrandt Museum without him. It was like life itself was gone.

But she would see him in an hour. She’d been waiting two days. She was wandering around the Plaza by the pyramids, not wanting to get in line and miss him. She was a little surprised that security was not more obvious after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But her mind was clearly elsewhere.

She was so focused on looking for Edmund that she didn’t even notice the large, dark, curly headed man following her at a slight distance. He gradually closed the distance, watching carefully to see that she was alone.

Suddenly he was next to her, sliding his left arm around her waist, pulling her close while sliding his hand up under her jacket. Then Deborah heard Edmund shout, “What are you doing! Get your hands off her!” Stones felt the man’s arm as it was jerked off her waist. His hand grabbed her shoulder hard as he pivoted around the front of her. She saw a flash of metal as Edmund’s shouting turned to gurgles.

She just reacted. She later remembered ducking away from the hand, but little else. The next thing she remembered was sitting on the ground cradling Edmund’s head in her arms while the rest of the blood in his body gushed out onto her lap from his throat.

Witnesses told the police that she had stepped back, pivoted on her heel, and caught the attacker’s throat with the pointed toe of her boot just above the Adam’s apple. The boot continued up between his ears. Even if she hadn’t broken his neck, the larynx was caved in and closed to any air passage. Deborah had no idea about any of that. Her eyes were completely focused on Edmund’s face. She just sat there tears streaming down her face as the wonder and joy were flushed from her mind by hatred and revenge.

Later she would be overcome with frustration that she had killed the creep without even being conscious of the event. She was no longer the same person. Beauty meant little to her any more. All she could see was viciousness and violence everywhere she looked. She developed a compulsive need to do something about it.

Once she arrived back home in New Mexico, her mother and her husband were at their wits’ end. They counseled and talked, but Deborah was no longer the happy child. She had closed off almost entirely. Rage consumed her. Eventually, it was decided that Ralph would get her trained, to give her something to do so she could eventually work at the problem when she was ready.

Special operations clicked with her immediately. This was something she could do that mattered. It turned out she was exceptionally gifted. Physically she was very fast, extremely athletic, and an intuitive, ruthless street fighter. Weapons took a bit of effort, but she became a crack shot—though she didn’t have the temperament to be a sniper.

Knife throwing also escaped her. She was far too impulsive. But the rest of her martial art skills were honed to a level of deadliness not often seen. Her reaction times often seemed to anticipate any assault. In fact, the teams had a real rough time keeping her reined in. She was feared.

Ralph gave Rachael and Jakob an edited version of her activities. They knew she had a real gift. They knew which operations she was part of because they were the source of many of the ops. But Ralph put her into one of his special teams for difficult work. He knew he could rely on her and the more she worked the better she liked it.

Stones knew nothing of her parents involvement, other than the fact that Ralph and Lisa were very good friends. She talked to them back home using FaceTime when she got a quiet moment before a computer. But life for her was work, training, more training, and more work. To say it was enjoyable would be stretching it, but she found it very satisfying. The basic rage was unabated though. She given up worrying about it. But her mother watched carefully.

First blood

Tuesday evening, the fifth of March: 6:49 pm in the Walmart parking lot, Belen, New Mexico

Stones was having murderous thoughts. She scared the heck out of the scattered customers who remained of the hoard getting home from work in Albuquerque, 30 miles north. The look she gave the gangbanger asking if she wanted a piece of him was enough to make the entire small group of Spanish gangsters back off as she stormed out the door of the store. Foul mood doesn’t begin to describe the underlying burning rage that was rearing its ugly head again. It radiated out of her like heat from forge.

She was still very frustrated by her forced vacation. That Pakistani bullet had really messed up her gut. The peritonitis was only a dim memory along with that horrible excuse for a hospital in Jalalabad. She had much better memories of the incredibly good and compassionate care she received in Germany for four months as they repaired the damage in her lower abdomen. It was good to be home with her Mom and Dad, but she was ready to spit at poor Dr. Benjamin at the Veterans hospital in Albuquerque. She was so sick of sitting around.

But she had been dealing with that. She still wasn’t sure when or if she wanted to go back to work, but that was a decision for a future day. The basic problem was that she was back in Belen again. She just knew too much about what went on in this sleepy-looking Spanish railroad town. Having graduated from high school nearly fifteen years ago in Los Lunas several miles north up the Rio Grande, she knew many people in this town. Her stepfather, Jake, often ranted on about all the witchcraft in the town. But Stones knew little of that first hand. There were just a lot of nasty people. The place set her on edge.

She was so focused on containing herself that she barely noticed that it was much darker than it had been—back in the corner of the parking lot where she had been forced to park her old PT Cruiser. “Those clerks in Wally World ought to be fired,” she muttered as her long legs slammed the nailed heels of her hiking boots against the asphalt, “there’s no excuse for that arrogance. I can’t help it that I’m Anglo.” The anti-Anglo prejudice of Valencia County was getting a little hard to take. Every time she came back down here it was worse.

She’d come down to meet one of her best friends in college, Maria Alvarez. It had sounded like a good thing to see Mary again. It seemed like another life, ten long years ago and far away. Maria has been along on that trip to Europe nearly a decade ago. In many ways Maria had never recovered.

Stones hadn’t thought about that day for a least a year. She was always surprised by how much the memories still hurt after all these years. She kept it tucked into a special corner of her mind where the hurt was contained and manageable. But it reared its head this afternoon.

Of course Maria’s macho brother had not helped. It was obvious that he had been beating his sister and probably abusing her little girls.

The last straw was when he pawed Stone’s breast as she walked by him on the recliner. He hadn’t even bother to say hello. It wasn’t until Stones grabbed his grasping hand and squeezed until he doubled up in the chair that he backed off. Maria was so beat down that it really torqued her knot of rage. There were old bruises around her neck that were almost faded, but Stones knew where they were from.

Today had been rough. She had forgotten how bad it was. Her pity party was in full swing as she picked her way through the trash, beer cans, used rubbers, and broken glass coating this side of the lot like demented confetti after a nasty party.

She snapped back into the present as she heard little cries of pain and grunting. She became aware that all the lights in this corner of the lot were out. She noticed that they’d been shot out again. She was on full alert now.

She saw the back end of her car just beyond a large black Ram Truck pickup about twenty feet ahead. Even in the gloom the little sticker with the pyramid in the back window was obvious. Brief wonder flashed through her mind about the source of these new trucks. She’d seen five of them this afternoon—all had Mexican plates from Chihuahua.

She rounded the back of the truck, heading for her car on the other side of an old, beat-up van. As she passed the truck she glanced to her right and saw three small dark men beating a young Anglo. He was curled in a fetal position on the ground trying to save himself from the blows of a baseball bat, a chain, and heavy boots.

Her introspective anger exploded into action. She took three quick steps, dropping the sack of groceries and her purse, and launched herself feet first onto the back of the slightly larger man swinging the bat. She felt both of her heels sink deep into his upper back as he was knocked on his face and she fell on top of him. Glancing left she heard the man with the chain shout. She saw him start swinging the chain around his head. She quickly rolled right. Pushing up with her right hand, she found it wrapped around the handle of the bat that had been knocked out of the big man’s hands as he hit the ground face first.

Planting her left foot, she reached out with her left hand and grabbed the chain as it flew toward her. The searing pain of the chain as it slid through her unprotected hand really jacked up the adrenalin. Her hand locked on the chain and she twisted violently—pulling the chain while planting the end of the bat on the asphalt. This gave her enough leverage to kick the third man behind her in the throat with the side of her boot.

The unexpected jerk on the chain yanked the second man into a surprised stagger toward her. Debbie leaped toward the chain swinger with the bat cocked over her shoulder. The man she had first jumped tried to grab her other arm, but merely succeeded in ripping the sleeve of her blazer. Shrugging out of the remnants of her sleeve, she slapped chain man on the side of his head with the bat. He went down like a slab of beef.

Whirling on the ball of her other foot, she almost avoided the man with the sleeve. But he knocked her down with a glancing punch to the side of her face that propelled her—sliding on her knee—toward the back of the truck. She leveraged herself up with the bat. The third man was clutching his throat, gasping for air. She knocked him to the ground with a full swing of the bat to his stomach. Solidly swinging the bat, she hit the first thug in the back of the head—before he could cause her any more trouble.

With the three of them on the ground, two of them writhing in pain and the third totally unconscious, she shouted at the Anglo. “Get up! Get out of here!”

The man staggered to his feet, ran over to his van, and slammed the side door—leaving the spilled bags of groceries on the pavement. He ran around the van, jumped in, started the engine with a roar and took off.

Debbie grabbed her purse and bag and ran to her car, unlocking it with the fob. She jumped into the PT Cruiser, flicked the switch, and mashed the accelerator to the floor. The immense torque of the electric motors almost surprised the computer into smoking its tires most of the way to the exit of the parking lot.

Broadsliding west from the lot onto the access road, she raced for I-25 at well over a hundred miles per hour. With her heart pounding from the adrenalin and exertion, she glanced in her rearview mirror as she continued to accelerate through the ramp heading north to Los Lunas.

She hit the freeway at nearly 140 miles per hour. There were no lights on the dark road in back of her, so she let herself think a little. She lifted the accelerator, letting the motors absorb some energy and put it back into the capacitors to recharge the batteries. Within a half mile she was back down to the legal limit.

She tried to calm herself down—but on the ten-minute drive north to the Los Lunas exit, she began shaking so bad that she almost had to stop the car. [_Damn! Dr. Ben was right—I am still too weak to go back to work. _]She focused on her breathing, driving, and compelled her body to slow down. It was not easy.

[_What was that about? _]She thought. The adrenalin was now subsiding a little, but she was still in flight mode. She was still surprised at the results of her social corrections even after all these years of fighting evil. All she wanted to do was drive up to the foothills to see her parents. She needed to clear her head and think. Her relative weakness and the surprise of her lack of awareness had shocked her. She needed her parents.

About forty minutes later, she was sitting in her father’s office in her parents’ rambling hacienda at the foot of the Manzano Mountains—fifteen miles east of Los Lunas and the cottonwood bosque of the Rio Grande Valley. Actually she was trying to sit, but the remains of the adrenalin was making that difficult. Between that and the surprise of her reactions or lack of them, she was a bit jumpy.

“I think I may have killed at least one of them. What the hell were those three macho thugs doing? It didn’t look like a robbery—just causin’ pain for sport!” Deborah Stoner tried to slump back in the comfortable, old leather club chair in her dad’s office. Normally, she could come here and relax—but that was more difficult tonight.

Even Hulda, her mother’s Basset, could not cheer her up tonight. She had followed Deborah into the office and put her front paws into Deb’s lap with deep caring interest. But after a couple of ritual ear scratches, she had been gently pushed back to the floor and was now just lying next to the chair with an eye of concern on the other daughter of the house. She deeply loved Deb, and had been a large factor in her general healing, emotionally.

Deb was a mess—though still stunningly beautiful with only the remnants of her normal immaculate grooming. She was a tall, lean woman with a narrow-waisted figure that had been a magnet to men and boys ever since she turned twelve.

Her wavy, auburn hair, which had become long again during her long recovery, was not artfully draped over her shoulders in loose curls. It was a straggly mess.

Her jewelry was very understated—with a simple strand of handmade silver beads around her neck and round turquoise buttons in her ears. Amazingly, they were still in place. Normally, her eyes shone emerald green. Tonight, those gorgeous eyes were glazed over from the physical stress and her makeup was blotchy with dark streaks coming from the corners of her eyes.

The top two buttons on her cream-colored, silk blouse were ripped off leaving her uncharacteristically immodest. The left arm was ripped off her navy blazer, and her bloody left knee was showing through the rips in her khaki slacks. It was so out of character.

It was obvious that she had just grabbed her hair, twisted, and clamped it off with the silver barrette she carried in her purse. An impressive shiner was developing around her left eye. Her boots were scuffed and oily from the scum on the parking lot. Her left arm was lying on the arm of the chair, with her hand hanging in the air clenching and unclenching as she repeatedly rubbed her thumb across the inside of her fingers.

She was visibly upset. Her knee was throbbing and her hip hurt (probably from hitting the ground as she rolled off the back of the first goon). Her hand was bloody from the chain sliding through before she grabbed on.

She had quickly driven the dozen miles across Los Lunas on Main Street and up Meadowlake Road to her parents’ home at the base of the Manzano mountains. Ever since her mother, Rachael Stoner, had married Jakob Jackson when Deborah was a little girl, the Jackson home had been a haven of peace for her. Not that there hadn’t been some wars growing up within these walls. Her temper was at least as bad as Jakob’s, and that made for some fiery verbal brawls. But that was mostly just normal teenage behavior in the early part of the twenty-first century.

It was only after the shooting in Afghanistan that the Jackson hacienda had become her place of work. After the killings in Paris, a great deal of prayer (following a strong offer from Ralph back East) Jakob and Rachael had brought her into the family business—though they never told Deborah they headed it up. She thought it all came from Ralph. After her recent injuries, she had been thinking about getting out of the business. Now that seemed much less likely. She didn’t seem to be able to escape her work.

Jakob’s office was more like a study/den—lined with hand-built pine bookcases that were stuffed to overflowing with not only her dad’s technical reference books but with hundreds of books of political fiction, non-fiction, and Biblical reference works. The room was painted a deep blue-violet with stained pine molding that tied in the bookcases and desks with a contrasting burnt sienna glow.

Only the outside wall was free from books and it was mostly glass. The windows were covered with two-inch pine blinds that, as usual, were pulled to the top to expose the view. All available wall space was covered with framed antique maps lit by the track lighting that ringed the ceiling with at least a dozen small spots. Jakob had built the room in the middle of the north wall of their rambling adobe hacienda between the family room that faced west over the valley and the master bedroom facing north and east along the Manzanos.

The view from the office was stupendous. The Manzano Mountains framed the view on the east side—the whole way north to the Sandia Crest, overlooking Albuquerque only 25 miles north. But, during the day you could see over Sandia Lab and Kirtland Air Force Base all the way to the Jemez Mountains east of Cuba, New Mexico nearly a hundred miles to the north on the far side of the bustling city. Tonight, the city lights spread almost forty miles north and west across the Rio Grande up through Rio Rancho and the huge Intel plant up there. It was hard to believe how much it had grown.

However, she sat facing away from that view toward a huge pine desk that jutted out from the side of Jakob’s drafting table on the south side of the room. The table and desk were actually built out as extensions of the bookcase on the west side of the room. They reached out to form a cozy working space with everything in easy reach. The desk was filled, as usual, with the clutter of a very active mind that was constantly in motion—always working on something new.

Jacob swung around in his large executive leather chair from the little bar and snack area built into the bottom of the bookcase covering the south wall floor to ceiling except for the gap around the door. He was a very large man but certainly not fat. He was a large-boned Norwegian nearly two meters tall.

His short silver hair glowed in the lamp light, delightfully tussled from his tendency to run his hand through it when he was thinking—which was all the time. Laugh lines creased a strong, confident face. The brilliant blue eyes always held a touch of mirth—though he tended toward a cynicism he had to work to control.

Tonight, however, he was dealing with that old rage that had been so much of a problem throughout his life. After the idealism taught in high schools in the 1950s, the real world machinations and power plays coupled with the outright evil of many organizations had infuriated him. Now he largely had it under control, but it was still the driving force of his life.

Things had become much more simple for him when he had realized over thirty years ago that he had a real enemy who hated him and his family. That evil was present in strength in Belen. A lot of it was political, but there was a lot of spiritual evil there also.

Seeing his daughter injured after a battle with elements of that evil was still hard to look at—even after all these years of covert warfare—even though she was now a warrior in that fight.

[Get yourself under control! _]Jakob prayed silently. _Lord, please give me the grace to calm down and be a help to my daughter. You love her more than I do. I need your wisdom, Lord. Thanks I can trust you for that…

You could see the concern for his daughter in the slightly furrowed brow and studious alertness. He had noticed the thumb rubbing and recognized it for what it was—the sure indicator that his daughter was extremely angry. But that type of alertness was not uncommon in this man.

What was uncommon was the slight squinting of the eyes and the rigid set of the jaw. In recent years, Jakob had learned a great deal about controlling his thoughts and relaxing in trust. But it was a struggle again this evening. There was a reason why he had formed the company for his wife—to keep her out of the violence. Though that had worked to a certain extent, he was dealing with that again tonight.

Deb had seen his brown Stetson on the peg near the front door when she came In. So she headed straight for his office. As she walked in the door, he had been attacking the complex problems of a design for which Sandia Lab had sought him. He was dressed in his usual comfortable “home” clothes—wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off plus well-worn blue jeans.

The desk lamps glinted off the large red coral needlepoint bracelet on his right wrist and the silver cross with five matched natural red coral stones on a thick silver anchor chain around his neck. The only gold he ever wore was in the simple gold band on his left hand.

The only slightly jarring element to his attire in New Mexico was the pair of well-worn hiking boots that he always wore. Cowboy boots were too much of an affectation for him—he was into comfort, design, and workmanship. In his hands he held two hand-thrown, cobalt blue, stoneware goblets with manzanita stems. They were from the set of twelve that he had picked up for Rachael in the Napa valley while on one of his many trips for Black Sail.

He held one out to Deborah with a little smile, “Here, Stones, have some sherry—then start from the beginning. Are you sure the lights were shot out?” Stones was Deborah’s favorite nickname. Jake had called her that since his little tomboy entered ninth grade. All her closest friends called her that now. It started as a simple contraction of her last name but in reality, it described her ferocious personality when aroused. There was no evidence of her normally calm, self-controlled exterior now. He was trying to calm her down by reminding her who she was. It wasn’t working well.

Deb took the goblet and a large swallow of the cream sherry and forced herself back in to the chair. The warmth sliding down her throat felt familiar and normal. She was still getting herself under control. What is wrong? She thought, Get a grip! There was a little flicker of a smile at that reminder of one of her mother’s favorite phrases. She was always telling one of her sheep to get a grip. The wine, the chair, and her dad’s presence were helping. After a few long seconds, she looked at her beloved stepfather and started to explain her day.

“I was coming back from a visit to Maria Alvarez on the south side of Belen. She was there when Edmund was killed—remember? We got talking and it got pretty bad.” As soon as she spoke the memories flooded back. “It had been a horrible visit. She is still a non-functional emotional mess. Her brother is even worse, if possible. It was stupid of me to go, I guess. But she’s an old friend and we’ve been through a lot together.”

“Her damn brother even tried pawing me…” She smiled at Jakob to cover her anger, plus she didn’t want him to think it was a big deal, “I took care of it, but it just added to the day.”

Jakob gave a little grin, imagining how she took care of it and motioned her to continue.

“I left there really upset with that old rage burning in my gut. It’s been a while. I’m not really sure why I was so upset. It must have been around seven o’clock ’cause it was completely dark. I came up through town and stopped at the Wal-Mart to get some paper towels, some veggies, and a salad. I should never stop there. You know what it’s like. I should have just come up to the Wally World up here in Los Lunas. But I was tired—just wanted to get home as quick as possible and take a shower.”

Jakob nodded in agreement—smiled to encourage her.

“An Anglo is simply not welcome in that store any more. It’s gotten much worse than it was the last time I was there. Needless to say, I got in and out as fast as possible—even more irritated by the little nasties that are part of the prejudice down there. The cashier just jabbered in Spanish to the cashier in back of me like I wasn’t even there—just assuming the dumb Anglo chick couldn’t understand them with all the nasty looks because an Anglo would dare contaminate their world. I even heard a woman ask her friend, ‘What is she doing here?’”

The further she got into the story the faster Deborah was talking. She was perched on the edge of her seat again and there was a glint in her eye that was not pretty as the words flowed out of her mouth. A steely calm was descending on her features.

“As I walked to my car (which was out near the highway because of all the shoppers stopping on their way home from the city) I was just lost in thought. In hindsight, I’m amazed at how little I was aware of my surroundings. I kinda snapped to the present when I heard little cries and some scuffling. That’s when I noticed that several of the parking lot lights in my area were out. They had obviously been shot out again. The gangstas seem to think that’s great fun.

“As I got near my car, I rounded one of those huge macho pickup trucks with a tall shell on the back. I found myself behind three thugs and a body. They had a nicely dressed young Anglo man on the ground and were brutally beating him. By the time I got there, he was curled on the ground in a fetal position as they all worked at kicking, whipping, and beating him. The cries were his whimpers as he was hit.

“I had noticed the plates from Chihuahua, Mexico. It was one of those fancy trucks with Chihuahuan plates, roll bars, aggressive off-road tires with 19” black-spoked rims—we’ve talked about’em. They’re certainly not the usual vehicles coming up from Juarez crossing through El Paso. Those three thugs were not the old migrant workers either—these trucks are fancy. I’ve even seen a couple Hummers. These new trucks are all completely black and in really good condition. The men were dressed up, neat & tidy, not your normal Belen slime.”

Jake smiled again in acknowledgment of the truth of what she had said so far and cranked his hand in a tight circle to urge her on.

“Between the Mexican truck and my Cruiser was an old Dodge Caravan. There was an empty parking slot between the van and the truck. The van had a terrified, slim young Anglo woman in the front seat and I saw at least one young girl sitting in the far back seat. The door was open and second seat was filled with bags of groceries and stuff. A couple of the bags had fallen on the ground and a jar of salsa (I think) had broken. I just glanced over there.

“On the ground, closer to the truck than the van, these three well-dressed, bearded Mexicans were beating a poor man to death. One had a bat—another was using a chain. After the afternoon I had and the experience in Wally World, I just lost it. One too many macho bullies, I guess.” She tossed a quick vague smile at her dad.

Jake returned the smile with a warm grin of his own.

She resumed without a break, “I launched myself feet first onto the back of the nearest thug dropping my purse and the bag. I’m still trying to reconstruct what happened. I was just reacting. I must have simply gone berserk. I thought I had grown past that, but I was absolutely sick of inadequate men proving their manhood. They were simply beating a defenseless man to death. I must have grabbed the bat when it bounced out of the hand of the first man I jumped. He slammed into the pavement face first with my heels in his back and me on top of him.

“The first man reached up and grabbed at my arm. As I jerked forward with the bat, my sleeve ripped off. Leaving the sleeve, I grabbed the chain as the second man swung it at my head. I was able to use that as leverage along with the bat to kick the third one in the throat. Somewhere during all this I ended up sliding across the pavement on my knee but I was able to pry myself up with the bat. I turned around swinging and started whaling on the other two until they were on the ground and not moving. They got in a few punches, but I couldn’t even feel them. I just wanted to kill all three of them.

“The first guy I jumped was unconscious on the ground in a pool of blood. I hollered at the Anglo to get out of there and grabbed up my purse and bag before the spreading blood messed it up. He got up, slammed the side door of his van, ran around and took off as fast as he could. I kept the bat (worried about fingerprints, I guess) and ran over to my car. Denzell told me the Cruiser could not spin its tires, but they were sure chirping as I flew out of the lot.”

Jakob interrupted, “What happened to your eye?”

Stones thought a moment. “I have no idea. It’s pretty much a blur. Anyway, when I got back in Los Lunas, I couldn’t stand the idea of going to my place—being alone didn’t seem to be an option. And I’m obviously in no shape to be seen in public, so I came here. I needed to talk with someone sane. I thought I was done with this crap!” With that and a little grin, it was like all the air escaped her lungs and she crumpled back into the soft leather of the chair—all energy gone. The calm face that had momentarily reasserted itself was gone. Her hand was trembling to the point where she could hardly hold the goblet.

Jakob got out of his chair, came around the desk, gently took the wine out of her hand, and set it on the old pine apothecary chest used as an end table between the two chairs. Then he got on his knees in front of his daughter. “Come here, babe. You’re still not completely healed. The adrenalin must have been quite a jolt to the system. This will pass.” With a big smile, he opened his arms.

Deborah leaned forward and threw her arms around her father’s neck. As she buried her face next to his neck, she felt the soft flannel of his shirt. Smelling his familiar scent of aftershave with the overtones of oil, steel shavings, and his shop, the tears stated flowing. Within seconds she was sobbing as Jakob just held her tight, patting her back.

“There, there,” he said, “we’ll figure it out. All things work to the good…”

Deb quietly finished the phrase along with him, “…for those who love the Lord.” She was pretty sure she didn’t believe that—or even know what it really meant. However, it sounded good now in this place of peace and she needed that. “I love you, dad…” she murmured. After a couple of minutes, she gathered herself together and gently pushed herself out of his arms back into her chair. Jakob stiffly climbed to his feet and sat in the other chair. The old joints were certainly not as limber as they used to be. He swung the arm of the old strap iron adjustable floor lamp next to his chair out of the way so he could see his daughter’s face.

“Well, let’s start with first things first,” he said, always the pragmatist. “Did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so,” she thought out loud. “At least four or five lights were out in that corner of the lot. I shouldn’t even have parked there, but I was in a hurry to get home. Like I said, normally I wouldn’t even stop in Belen. But I was tired, in a hurry, and just wanted to get home to shower and clean up. Maria’s keeping house as filthy as usual—dirty diapers, just plain dirt, old moldy dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, trash all over… I could see missing cabinet doors in the kitchen with one of them just hanging at an angle from the top hinge. Maria has never recovered from the killings. Somehow she just doesn’t care anymore—about anything. Some cat was using the space under an old ratty end table as a litter box. The place reeked. I hated to even sit down. I had to brush off the chair before I sat in it.”

Coming back to the present and thinking for a few seconds, she looked over at her dad and said, “No, I didn’t see anyone else. Even so, that town is secretive. No one would tell anything to the cops unless they were caught in the act. You remember when Michael was beat unconscious by those four gangbangers a couple years back? He was stupid enough to flip them the bird when they cut him off on I-25. He still has no sense of smell and all they can tell him is that it is brain damage of some kind.

“There’s a lot of bad stuff going on down there. It gives me the creeps—and I don’t creep easily.”

Jakob smiled (mostly to himself). “That town has been a center for curandera or so-called ‘white’ healing witches for centuries.” He saw her quick grimace of irritation. He knew Deb didn’t believe any of this stuff, but a little reminder wouldn’t hurt. “The spiritual garbage of that place should give you the creeps. If it didn’t, I’d be concerned. What about the men though? Why do you think they were from Old Mexico? We’d wondered about that when we talked about them a couple weeks ago.”

Stones thought a second. “The Chihuahua plates mostly—but they certainly looked the part of rich tourists. Their accent was different. It didn’t sound like the local Spanglish. I could understand them fine, but they were not local. I’m sure they were not normal illegals either. These men were strong, healthy, and trained… It was a tough fight.

“One had on snakeskin boots that must have cost him a thousand dollars. The one with the bat had on a huge silver concho belt with a matching bolo tie. These men were not poor. The beating was really methodical. It was almost like they were doing it for exercise or practice.”

“I imagine you rocked’em a little—this gorgeous babe whalin’ on’em.” Jake grinned at his daughter. “I’ve never seen you in action, but I know your mother taught you well. I was against it when she started training you the summer you were six, but she insisted. The wisdom of her training has become obvious. Shucks, I could see the wisdom when you left that quarterback unconscious in his Corvette back in high school. Remember him?”

Deb laughed in memory. “I think my feet still hurt from that walk home. Those gorgeous four-inch spikes were killers. I’ve never seen such a look of surprise as he slipped into sleep. I think he thought he was going to have his way with me—dope that he was. I always understood the need for the sleeper holds with all those creeps who were after me in high school.”

Her eyes clouded over and became dark in thought. You could see things click into place behind those eyes. “All that hard work kept me alive tonight. But I’m really in bad shape. I guess I thought that I wouldn’t need that stuff any more. I was huffin’ and puffin’ after the fight. I’d better get back in shape. I hope that man and his family are all right. That was an old van and the spilled groceries must have cost him over fifty dollars and he sure didn’t look like they could afford a loss like that. There was nothing else to do though. We had to get out of there. It’s just not safe for Anglos after dark any more—anywhere in Valencia county. But Belén and south to Bernardo are the worst.”

Steering her back on track, Jakob asked, “So you think it was racial?”

“’Fraid so, dad. That is the main thing holding the Valencia County gangs together. The anger directed at me was astounding. As I was peeling out of the lot onto the freeway feeder I remembered that little Aztlan sticker I’ve been telling you about. They had one in the back window. It wasn’t conspicuous, but all those Chihuahua trucks have them. Did you find anything out about it?” She and her parents had been curious about those stickers a couple weeks earlier when they were talking over dinner. As usual, they’d had a long talk—that time speculating about what that sticker meant.

Jake brow furrowed as he raised his left eyebrow like he always did when deep in thought, “Not really—the best I have found seems to show it is tied in with those Mexican secessionists like the National Council of La Raza and several other newer groups. The Reconquistas have been ranting and raving since the 1980s or even earlier.

“You remember that fight up in Tierra Amarilla over the Old Spanish land grants back in the sixties? Many of the Mexican immigrants seem to believe that the Southwest should really be a new nation called Aztlan. It looks like they are getting serious. Suddenly, they seem to have a lot of money and their rhetoric has taken a practical turn. They could be a genuine problem. I couldn’t really find anything though. I don’t read Spanish well enough. I talked to Ralph about it and he has someone looking into it. He’ll get back to us when he finds out anything meaningful.

“As you know, I’ve been worried about them ever since I read up on Bustamante’s background when he ran against Schwarzenegger in 2002. Hispanics are the largest minority in the country now. From Texas through Southern California, they are the majority though most can’t vote yet.”

Abruptly, he focused on the present and looked Stones in the eye. “That’s enough for tonight. You’re really in no shape to drive. Why don’t you stay over? Tomorrow night, Senator Aragón and Nancy are coming to dinner. If anyone knows anything, Dannie will. You better join us. You should clean up those scrapes. No need for an infection.”

Stones nodded in agreement. She was ready to crash at this point, and the peace of her father’s home was very appealing. She got up, gave her dad a hug and a quiet thanks, and walked back to her room.

She still kept clothes in the old antique dresser Rachael had found for her when she was in high school. Her mom and dad had decorated the whole house with old beat-up pieces of furniture they had lovingly redone. Her room was in the middle of the outer eastern wall of the Jackson hacienda facing the steep upward slope of the Manzano Mountains. It wasn’t overly large, but it was as comfortable as a flannel nightgown on a cold winter morning.

As she flipped the switch at the door, the old hand-painted glass lamp on the night stand next to her bed lit the room with a warm glow starting soft and growing to light the way those old curly tubes did. The walls were a creamy yellow. The carpet was a light blue-gray. The bed was an old four-poster of dark mahogany made up with a soft comforter covered in pale yellow cabbage roses. There was a pile of beautiful pillows at the head of the bed with a needlepointed version of Hulda’s mother stuffed and seated on the top pillow. Her mother had given her that silly-looking stuffed dog for her sixteenth birthday several years before Hulda was born. Now it made her smile.

The walls were filled with photos from her childhood, mementos of concerts, dances, and trips, and a large picture of Miss Piggy launching out in to the room on the back of a Harley. Around the top of the walls, her mother had stenciled a complex pattern of grapes, leaves, and vine. The window overlooking the back yard was framed with ecru lace curtains tied back to reveal the view. The room was protected from the sun by ecru mini-blinds. Debbie walked over to the window and raised the blinds as well as the window. A gentle, almost cold, breeze entered the room with the smell of the hyacinths outside. The sleeping would be good tonight.

She was too tired to even shower. She had her own bathroom and went in there to clean up her wounds. There was no way she was going to get blood on her mother’s sheets. When she had cleaned up and wiped off the dirt and blood, she bandaged the spots still oozing. Then she just dropped her clothes on the soft berber carpet and slipped between the sheets. She’d pick up in the morning. The air-dried sheets that were a hallmark of her mother’s living style smelled so good that she just deeply inhaled the aroma. It was good to be home. With a long sigh, she slipped off into deep, restful sleep in moments.

Cutoff Point #5

Tuesday evening, the fifth of March: Earlier, after sunset at the top of Hawk Watch Trail above Carnuel in Tijeras Canyon East of Albuquerque.

Mannie’s heart was still pumping fast. Part of it was simply pride that he, Manuel Cisneros, should be trusted with such an important job. It was good to be doing something that meant something. He hadn’t been trusted by anyone since he was drummed out of the Navy for killing those kids who got in the way on that job in Iran in the early 1990s. He really hadn’t had any choice, had he? It felt good to have real work to do again.

But, most of it was the climb. He looked out to the West across the Rio Grande valley towards Grants, New Mexico at the foot of Mount Taylor. The sacred mountain was silhouetted in black by the deep indigo sky seventy miles away. I-40 climbing Nine-Mile Hill, in the near foreground, was a river of red taillights exiting town for the new western developments and dinner at this time of the evening. The sun had been spectacular as it sunk behind Mount Taylor. The clouds were now glowing red around the edges as the last of the sun’s light disappeared. High overhead were three slashes of brilliant red—contrails left by some jets heading for the Left Coast.

Mannie’s short muscular body had recovered and it was time to get to work. His curly black locks were still wet, but the slight breeze just used that fact to cool his head. The old green fishing hat he used to protect his skull from the glare of the sun had cooled nicely through evaporation. But his five o’clock shadow was more like a short beard that was itching with the drying sweat. His high-topped black military boots were still damp, but his feet were fine.

Lupe had been right, no one used the trails on Tuesdays. What he hadn’t told Mannie was that it would take three horrendous climbs to get all the materials to the top. It was only two miles to the top of Hawk Watch trail from the parking lot in Carnuel. But that was just the start.

He’d started early this morning. The load in the first large black nylon backpack was the drill, bits, extensions, detonators, and about half the explosives. That was only sixty-five pounds and it had been fairly easy. He had found a stash hole under the south side of a pile of huge boulders south of the trail just above the last switchback about two hundred feet below Hawk’s Lookout at the top of the trail. It hadn’t been too bad until the sun rose over the ridge. He had been in the shade most of the way, and sixty degrees is quite cool at 8000 feet.

He’d left his flannel shirt with the first pack as he headed back down for the second load. He had to keep the T-shirt on to protect from burning in the searing glare of the sun at 8000 feet. The second pack was a little larger and quite a bit heavier because of the water frozen in plastic bottles. The temperature was only in the 70s. By the time he carried up the third pack, which was thankfully a little lighter, the temperature had reached the mid-80s and the glaring sun made the rocks too hot to touch comfortably.

He had wished he could have brought his roommate, Duane Tabot, with him to help. Duane was strong and a bit dumb. But Lupe didn’t trust him—probably with good reason. After he had all three packs up to the top he found out the real difficulty with this climb. The carry up the trail was nothing compared to lugging those packs across the large boulders out to the overlooking slope. He’d worked his way down the rough, steep slope for over a mile, climbing down nearly a thousand feet in the process—twice so far.

“Oh well, the hard work is over now,” Mannie shrugged his shoulders, cracked his neck, and used his bulging shoulder muscle to wipe the cold sweat off his neck and chin with his Black Sabbath T-shirt. It was time to put the flannel shirt back on. In March, it still got cold up here near the top of the South Crest of the Sandia Mountains. The temp had dropped twenty degrees already and it was less than a half hour after the sun had set.

Lupe had told Mannie in no uncertain terms that no one was to know about this. He understood that. Obviously, something big was in the works. Unless he completely misunderstood what he was doing, a lot of people were going to be seriously inconvenienced, at the very least. With good timing, a lot of people would die. That brought a smile to his mouth, but he wouldn’t see the explosions—that was more than a little irritating.

Mannie cleaned his hands on his jeans, re-tightened the laces on his right boot, ran his hands through his hair, and stood up. He grabbed the green plaid flannel shirt, put it on, and buttoned it. Then he unbuckled his belt, unzipped the jeans, and got his T-shirt and the flannel tucked in carefully. Man’s gotta have pride, he thought as he checked his pockets and got everything squared away. He pulled out his thin pigskin climbing gloves, which were still damp enough to be supple but cold on his hands and tucked them in his armpit.

He pulled the .38 Special from the leather holster on his hip and the silencer from his pack. He’d probably have to kill a few more snakes tonight and a gunshot would surely be heard in Carnuel three hundred feet below. The snakes were the worst part of this job. He hated snakes (truth be told they filled him with irrational terror, but he didn’t admit that to anyone). He pulled a comb from his back pocket and ran it through his curls, and then flattened them with the hat. Ready to face the world, (though they certainly couldn’t see him) he put his gloves back on.

Then he grabbed the last pack with his jacket, gloves, ammunition, food, and the last of those damned batteries. They had been the problem. They were nearly three pounds each and he would be going through at least two dozen batteries before tomorrow morning.

The third dozen batteries were probably overkill, but he wanted to be sure he got this done tonight. Thankfully, the cell phone detonator ran off that new solar charger. He didn’t want to even think about how many batteries he would have had to haul for it.

He had thought that second, ninety-pound, pack was going to kill him. After the climb of 3500 feet to the stash, the straps of the backpack felt like they were going to cut his arms off at the shoulders. He would have used his own pack with the hip support but he hadn’t wanted to risk losing it. The new Chinese drill was amazing, but those Lithium batteries had been killers. He was proud of his strength, but he was glad this was the last one. The summer heat would make it nearly impossible to make the climb at all.

As he picked his way through the piled boulders toward his final camp, Mannie noticed that he was staggering a bit. He was sore and he better be careful. All he needed to do now was fall between a couple of rocks. They’d never find his body. He grinned. The girls at the Sidewinder in Andelito would never forgive him—though the beers sounded better than the women.

Tomorrow night, he promised himself. In many ways, Manual still had the urges of a hormone-driven teenager. He didn’t know where Lupe found his women, but they were incredible. He imagined that Maria, Lupe’s woman, put a spell on the girls and/or drugged them up. Whatever it she did, it worked—Rosita was incredible.

He hurried as much as he could—clambering over the thirty-ton rocks like a dark brown goat. He was anxious to complete his work. He’d spent the last two weeks setting up charges. It was obvious that the plan was to cut off access from the East. Easterners had no idea how easy that was. Roads through these rugged mountains were few and far between. In between the roads, it would be difficult to even hike through.

Tijeras Canyon was one of the most difficult to block. The cliff looming over the road coming through Cimarron Cañon East of Eagle’s Nest had been the easiest. But that road from I-25 east of the mountains cutting through to Taos and Red River in northern New Mexico wasn’t too important. There weren’t that many who were going to be able to come through Taos anyway. The roads were too narrow and twisty.

Apache Cañon, east of Santa Fe and west of Glorieta, where I-25 swung around the southern end of the mountains had been much more difficult—mainly because of all the traffic. That was going to be something when the freeway was cut off.

The narrow cut just out of Angostura up near the top of the Sangre De Cristos should cut off access from Las Vegas and Mora through to the back road to Taos. The charges at Abo Pass at the tail end of the Manzanos between Mountainair and Belén would cut off not only Highway 60 but also the railroad. He had gotten the railroad at Glorieta also.

At the southern end of the state, Lupe had someone else from Juarez getting Highway 380 through the Valley of Fires west of Carrizozo plus Apache Summit on the Mescalero Reservation. Mannie’s best guess was there were cutoffs set up on 380 near Capitan and on that steep winding stretch uphill from Nogal toward Ruidoso. Blocking Highway 82 up by Cloudcroft should cut off the rest of the access points through the Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico. Lupe had assured him that El Patron had West Texas and I-10 ready to go. Lupe had shown Mannie the map.

The light was almost gone. At least, he had finally figured out a fairly easy path. It would have been easier to come straight down from the South Crest Trail. But, there were too many people using that trail and it would have been three seven-mile carries on that trail, plus the three miles down to his temporary camp on the edge of the pile overlooking the bulging slope above the bridge where I-40 went over Route 66. The raptors were mostly gone back North, so Hawk Watch was empty. He hadn’t seen a soul all day. The three SUVs in the lot must have brought people up for long hikes headed North.

Only another quarter mile and I can rest for a while. Even his thoughts sounded tired and breathy to his mind, I need a nap.

He glanced to the West and saw all of southeast Albuquerque, Kirtland AFB with Sandia Lab, and the airport spread out in glittering lights. He saw two of those irritating Apache helicopters heading south on their nightly practice run to Alamogordo. They always passed about a half of a mile in front of Lupe’s compound at the base of the Manzanos just north of the Kennedy campground. They made him jumpy when they flew by so close. He knew what they could do.

Looking southwest he could barely see Tomé hill about twenty-five miles away in the evening shadows. Thirty miles beyond that, past the lights of Belén, he could see the craggy peak of Ladrón halfway to Socorro sixty-five miles south—black against the deep blue at the far southern end of the sunset.

It looked like a battered version of Mt. Fuji sticking up on the high plains west of the Rio Grande. Ladrón meant thug or bandit and traditionally was remembered as a hideout for bandits who raided the Spanish caravans headed north along the Camino Real from Mexico to Santa Fe. The logo and namesake of their bike shop, Ladron Bikes, was also their hideout.

He longed to get back there—ripping over the trails behind the mountain. That’s the only time when he really felt alive lately. He really missed the action, the speed, the smell of hot machinery, the adrenalin… he couldn’t go there. There was work to do.

By the time he reached his final little camp, on a flat rock surrounded by five twenty-foot high boulders out of view from the town or the freeway, he could barely see. He’d rest for a while, until the moon came up.

Thankfully it was full moon tomorrow, so he’d be able to see well tonight to do his work. He took out his jacket for a pillow, leaned back against a south-facing rock that slanted back nicely. The rock was still warm on his back, his eyes closed—and he was gone almost instantly.

Mannie woke with a start. The moon was glaring in his eyes. It was so bright he could see the colors in his shirt. He was now cold. It was certainly below forty degrees. It felt below freezing. He tried to sit up to put on his jacket, but he had “set up like concrete” as Duane’s dad was fond of saying. It took a few seconds of fairly serious pain to get moving again.

He reached for the pack with the food. He popped four ibuprofen, pulled out a cold breakfast burrito with chorizo, egg, and a sharp Mexican cheese. As he chewed and swallowed, he found a bottle of water that had not fully melted yet. The ice cold water was amazingly delicious. Dinner gone, he forced himself to his feet, opened the other two packs, and started unpacking.

He was headed for a huge rock that was precariously perched on the top of a huge pile of boulders at the top of the steep, bulging slope leading down to the bridge where old Route 66 crossed under I-40 heading down the canyon. Tijeras Canyon was the most difficult to block. Simply filling the freeway with rock wouldn’t do it. There would still be easy passage under the freeway on old Route 66. He had spent two very tense nights under that bridge setting charges to take it down on top of 66. The traffic on old 66 was still almost constant and he spent most of his time ducking headlights.

It all depended on the charges he was setting tonight. He not only had to make sure these rocks rolled down the hill. He also had to creep out in the open—in clear view of the houses below—and set charges to make sure enough of the slope would slide down under the rocks to plug the canyon. It was going to be more than a little tense.

He got the drill, six battery packs, the coring bit and extensions, and enough charges to fill the first six holes in the rocks. He would get the cores in the slope after the moon moved further west. He had set up the solar chargers for the cell phones before he went back for the last loads from the trailhead. He was glad he had done it that way. It would be difficult to do now—in the dark and cold.

Climbing to the north side of the huge boulder, Mannie found a natural cup on the side of one of the rocks where he could sit and work unseen. He carefully pulled the drill out of its case. He admired it again glistening in the brilliant moonlight.

This wasn’t that Chinese crap found at Wal-Mart. The machining was perfect. It was beautifully balanced. He hadn’t been able to work with tools this good since he’d been forced out of the Seals.

Lupe assumed the Chinese had originally stolen the plans for the prototype from &NASA& or Los Alamos. They had developed a drill something like this to mine asteroids. Supposedly, it worked by using the same kind of ultrasonic waves his mother, Isabella, used to clean her diamonds. That cleaner couldn’t do this though.

He snapped in the battery pack and clipped on the coring bit. He turned on the drill and put his palm on the bit to make sure it tickled. His hand jumped. It was a strong tickle tonight. He still didn’t understand how it didn’t cut through his hand, but Lupe said that it only worked with hard brittle materials like rock. It sure did not cut his skin.

He checked the angle, and touched the drill to the rock. Dust immediately started filling the hollow drill point. It only took about five minutes to go the first eighteen inches. He pulled the bit out, shook out the core, and added another eighteen-inch extension. It only took a half an hour to go the required ten feet. The only sound was a little vibration as the bit bored down through the rock. There were little puffs of dust, but nothing that was really visible from any distance. You couldn’t even hear it ten yards away

Then he dropped the first charge down the hole. He took the rock hammer and quietly busted up the cores he had removed with the drill. He slid the pebbles and dust into the hole and lowered the second charge. When the wire holding the charge came to within six inches of the second charge, he slid a little more rubble down There were five charges in all and thankfully there were no hitches tonight.

He smiled to himself. Damn, I’m good! he thought. The first charges up at Cimarron had been a real bitch. He kept packing it too tight and the charges would stick. It took him three nights to get that one done. But he had learned what it should feel like now.

By 2:00 pm he had five boulders drilled and packed. It was completely quiet up here. The loudest noise was from the traffic on the freeway. He heard a dog roaming through the rocks several hundred yards to the west, back toward the trailhead. He tensed, hoping that the dog was not following his scent. He listened intently, pulling out the .38. But then he heard it baying as it chased a rabbit around and down the hill. He relaxed and got back to work.

The holes on the slope were trickier. He had to core through a short pipe down to the rock, and then core the rock. Thankfully the dirt slope covering the rock was a thin covering and was packed hard enough to core. If he had been forced to dig, he would have never made it before dawn—plus the moved dirt would have been visible from the homes below.

Once he finished, he quickly ran all the wires to two points where he attached two parallel cell phone operated detonators powered off solar chargers. Before he hooked up the detonators, he checked to make sure he was getting a good signal to the cell phones. No problem. The tower on the far side of the canyon that covered Carnuel was in direct line of sight.

He triple-checked all the connections. All four of the detonators would probably work. But he was taking no chances. Lupe had a bit of a temper problem. Manuel would die for Lupe, but he certainly did not want to die at Lupe’s hand.

Mannie carefully moved back down the slope covering the wires and any trace of his presence. Then he crawled back up to his little camp and took another nap until the sun woke him. He packed the drill, bits and hammer along with the jacket and shirt in one pack.

He unzipped the other two packs so they laid flat and used them to cover the detonators—after he installed and mounted the antennas so they would be sure to receive the message when the time came. After carefully covering the nylon of the packs with rocks and gravel to hold them in place in case it got windy, he shrugged his pack on his back.

It took him twenty minutes to get back up to Hawk Watch Trail. After carefully checking it out, he clambered back onto the trail and headed down to the black Durango Lupe had given him to use for this project. It was a nice truck. He drove down through Tijeras Canyon, then Albuquerque, turned south at the Big-I, and headed south on I-25. When he got back to Tomé, he parked the Durango in back of the shop’s garage. It was a large two-story metal building. He jogged up the metal stairs on the outside of the building, and opened the metal door to a long hallway. Thankfully, it was empty.

Covered with cheap industrial carpet of a dirt-colored brown, there was a dark trail coming down the center of the hall from the head of the interior staircase at the other end. There were lighter trails into each of the five doors evenly spaced on both sides of the hallway. It was lit by a line of single fluorescent lights that stretched the length of the hallway. His room was in the first door on the right. He pulled his key out and quickly and quietly opened the door. The room was spotless. The center of the east wall had a large picture window with casement windows at each end which opened with a little metal crank handle at the bottom.

There was a double bed against the north wall that was so tightly made you could flip a quarter on the thin corded maroon bedspread. On the south wall was a cheap dresser from an unpainted furniture store. On top of that was a large &LED& set that was connected to the dish on the roof. The shop paid for satellite TV as one of the benefits of being trusted enough to have a room upstairs. Next to the hallway on the north wall was a door to the bathroom he shared with Emilio next door. He took off his clothes and dropped them into the hamper he kept next to the hallway door. Walking naked into the bathroom, he locked Emilio’s door.

After a long, hot shower, he laid down to get some rest. For laughs, he turned it to the Playboy channel. “Rosita better be ready tonight,” he thought sleepily. “It’s time to party!” After a good job well done, he was tired. It was a good tired—satisfying. He dropped off to sleep almost instantly.

The Senator’s Wisdom

Wednesday Morning, the sixth of March: Deborah’s room of the Jackson Hacienda

Deb woke up in her old room. She had asked her father the night before to let her sleep ’til she woke up. She opened her eyes completely refreshed with the smooth old cotton sheets caressing her body. When she moved there were a few reminding aches, but she felt wonderful.

I hate adrenalin, she thought. She had been so wired the night before while talking to her dad she could hardly remember what she said. All she could remember off the top of her head was the image of two dark, short men lying in pools of blood on the pavement next to their truck with the third writhing on the ground near the rear tire.

“Let’s not go there,” she said to the Western meadowlark singing his heart out on the top rail of the fence on the far side of the narrow lawn and garden outside her open window. As she raised herself on her elbow to look out, she saw that the Austrian Copper rose was almost aflame with those brilliant red-orange single flowers blending to the brilliant yellow centers.

In front of the rose bush, she saw a deep row of dozens of different daffodils. She remembered planting the rose with her mother the first summer after they finished the house. It was now six feet tall, ten feet wide, and absolutely gorgeous glowing in the morning sun. It was always the first rose of spring to bloom. She glanced at the retro chrome alarm clock on the old oak washstand next to her bed. It was almost nine thirty—time to get up.

She looked around her room. This was still her favorite place on Earth. Here she was loved and cared for. Her best memories were from when she lived in this house—they sustained her in the field. Her experiences in the world were not good—but harsh, evil, ugly, and dangerous. Here she found peace. The room breathed comfort: the warm tones, the rich wooden furniture, especially the tall four-poster mahogany bed she was sleeping in. Her eyes followed the twists of the posts up to the white gauze canopy above her. In all her years of looking, she had never really understood how someone could deal with the complexity of the carving. It was wonderful.

She flipped the sheets off, noticing the soft daffodil yellow color under the warm paisley comforter. The morning air was pleasantly cool on her body. The scabs and bandages on her knee reminded her of the previous night’s events. But she’d think about that later. She walked across the room, slipping off what she had been too tired to remove before she fell in bed. She removed the gauze bandage from her knee and stepped into the Italian-tiled shower in the three-quarter bath off her bedroom. She stood under the shower for almost a half hour, letting the heat massage the stiffness out of her shoulders, back and thighs. The water made her knee hurt a bit as it ran down her leg. But she wondered what it was about hot water that felt so good on your body. Again she was thankful for that instant water heater Jakob had installed in her bathroom. She could shower until the water ran out or the power was interrupted.

She was comforted, as always, by the beauty, calm, and order of her parents’ home. Her father’s engineering inventiveness coupled with her mother’s design and color sense had made a beautiful sanctuary from the cares of the world. As she dried off, she looked at herself in the mirror to assess the damage. She saw that she was developing quite a set of bruises on her legs and she had an ugly collection of scabs on her knee. The left knee was really sore. It felt like she had slightly strained her left shoulder swinging the bat. The major problem was the black eye. Full painted face today, she thought as she rummaged in the drawer for some opaque concealer to begin the eye repair. She giggled, maybe I better ask Dad for a trowel. But, all in all, she felt exceptionally satisfied. It never made her feel bad when she could actually do something about the shenanigans of toads.

Thankfully, she always kept some comfortable clothes in the old, hand-carved, butternut dresser next to the window. It was already getting warm, but she shrugged into a flannel shirt of her dad’s. Her mother had cut the sleeves off for her when she was a senior in high school. She was into comfort this morning. Comfort clothes were required on a day like this. But it went beyond the feelings of soft fabric and easy fit. What happened last night was still strangely upsetting. She wondered why it seems so important.

These clothes were a comfort in that they reminded her of how safe she was in this place and the source of her safety. Her parents were a strong safe place in a storm.

They would be a real comfort as she dealt with what she had done last night. Fool that she was, she’d thought that part of her life was over. She pulled on her favorite jeans and kicked on some deck shoes she loved to wear on the cool brick floors of the house. They were a mess outside, but really comfortable in the house.

With a definite bounce in her step, she stepped out into the garden and headed for the kitchen to see what she could find for breakfast. As she opened the door from the atrium and rounded the refrigerator, she was surprised to see her mother working on the rich red Italian-tiled island next to the little black prep sink.

The morning sun bathed the center of the kitchen through the skylights with glorious light that was still golden. The copper pots hanging over the center island gleamed in the sun next to the huge copper hood over the large six-burner stove. The pansies outside the window over the sink basked in the remains of the morning sunlight as it climbed out of view over the house.

“Hi, Mom! What are you doing home?” She was puzzled for a moment. “It’s not Friday… oh yeah, the senator.” She bounced over and gave her mother a big hug.

Rachael Jackson was even prettier than her daughter—and that was saying something. She looked quite a bit like Liz Taylor had looked in her forties. Jakob said she was stacked like a brick…Rachael always cut him off at that point.

This morning she was wearing a brilliant yellow cotton housedress with purple iris growing from the hemline. It had a relatively low, scooped neckline that showed a little cleavage yet remained modest. Her loosely curled, thick auburn hair was brushed out and her makeup was impeccable. She was ready for her husband to come home. He was up at the Lab this morning but coming home early today for their guests.

“Your Dad told me what happened to you last night. I see your legs are a mess and it looks like you had to trowel on the makeup—but you seem to have survived.” She gave her daughter a broad smile.

“Yup. I think I’ll live.” Deb was literally bouncing on her toes as she headed for the pantry.

Deb’s mother was modest, as well she should be. After all she was Senior Pastor of a small non-denominational church in Peralta on Highway 47 on the way into Albuquerque. She’d found people to cover for her tonight at the Wednesday evening service. The meeting at the house was more important.

“Whatcha cookin’?” Deb asked while rummaging through the shelves and cupboards. She found a box of Grape Nuts, pulled an iridescent black raku bowl from Japan out of the cupboard, and set them on the counter next to the fridge.

Grabbing a gallon of milk from the fridge, she filled the bowl with cereal and poured the ice-cold milk on them. Then she removed some thawed strawberries from the fridge to spread on the top. Hooking a spoon from the drawer, she went over and dropped into the breakfast nook across from the island toward the center of the house, and started to eat.

The breakfast nook had south-facing windows with a large overhanging tiled awning to protect from the summer sun. It was still a little cool now, but the heat happened for the majority of the year. The nook was fit into the wall next to the large pantry lined with shelves that Jakob had beside the laundry room off the southeast corner of the kitchen. The room was painted a rich hunter green that set off the rich glow of the handmade oak cabinets.

On the east side over the stainless steel sink with a built-in drainboard was a large window facing the rocky face of the mountains. In it was a long flower box that drained into the sink. It was still filled with pansies for spring. They wouldn’t last long as summer approached, though the swamp cooler helped keep them going inside much longer than the ones planted outside.

On the north wall was a long counter covered with the Italian tile ending at a large side-by-side refrigerator. On the far side of the refrigerator was a door facing north connecting the end of the covered atrium on the east side of the center courtyard heading north in front of the guest bedroom, past Debbie’s bedroom, up to the door of the master suite. The west wall of the kitchen had a baking area with a marble counter. On the left side of the counter was a door that went into a small entry room that opened to the outside door on the left or the dining room on the right. It was a large, functional, beautiful place to prepare meals and eat.

“There’s fresh coffee in the pot. You want a cup?” Rachael asked. At her daughter’s nod, she pulled a cobalt blue, hand-thrown stoneware mug from the cabinet over the coffee pot and poured her daughter a hot, steaming mug full. She poured her old coffee from a matching mug into the sink and got a fresh cup for herself. Then she came around and sat down across the table from Deborah.

“Your legs look pretty beat up and that eye looks sore. Your father told me you were playing Wonder Woman last night. How are you feeling?” She said, smiling at her only daughter. She carefully kept her concerns hidden.

“I don’t know, Mom. I was really upset last night, but I think it was just the adrenalin. I’m feeling great this morning. I let the rage come back and just snapped last Night. That concerns me. I thought I had better control than that now. Thank God that man and his wife are OK. I sure hope I didn’t kill any of those thugs. I don’t need that kind of trouble.” She looked up at her mother. “What was I supposed to do, Mom?”

Rachael smiled gently. “I don’t know, Deborah Anne. There’s a limit to will power when dealing with things like the rage you carry.” She always used Stones’ full name to indicate she was being serious (or angry). “I wasn’t there. But, I trust your judgment. As for control, we often do not know what is coming up, so all we can do is react. As for your future, the Lord knows the plans he has for you. I don’t really have any idea.

“Your father told me what you told him. After he left for work this morning, I listened to the Belén radio station for the morning news, but they didn’t mention anything. There wasn’t even a report of a beating—but then there are so many anymore that no one pays much attention. I finally had to turn it off though. It’s gotten so there is little that’s interesting unless you are part of one of Belen’s extended families. They should call it the Baca—Tabot—Aragón—Chavez—Romero—Jaramillo news hour. It’s become an audio gossip rag. It does help keep me up with the new Spanish slang though.” She shook her head in disgust.

Deb was surprised, nearly shocked. “There was nothing about those three thugs?”

“Nope.”

“I wonder what happened,” Deb was genuinely puzzled. She had been sure she had really hurt at least two of them or killed them.

Rachael had obviously thought that through. “I think they were illegals. Some friends found them and got them out of there before the Border Patrol was called in. That’s theory number one, anyway.”

“You may be right. But if so, they are rich illegals.” Deb shook her head tossing her wavy auburn hair over her right shoulder with the same motion used by her mother. “Now I am really curious about those new, expensive trucks we’ve been seeing. The three toads had one of them.”

“Me, too,” her mother replied. “They seem to be all over down here in Valencia County. I rarely see them up in Albuquerque, but then I don’t often hangout in the Spanish strongholds of the South Valley either. I saw at least six yesterday just going across the river to the Wal-Mart and then back to go down to the church. You’re right. They are a new phenomenon around here. Ten years ago you rarely saw Chihuahua plates. When you did they were on some old beater truck full of produce or one of those Juarez specials that looked like they were held together with baling wire. There must be forty or fifty of this new breed.” She looked thoughtful, for a second. “Maybe there are a lot more—it would be hard to tell. They are all identical except for the Hummers, and the way the windows are tinted you have no idea who’s inside.”

“I agree. The black Ram Trucks, at least, are identical. But I’ve only seen two Hummers—a yellow one and a black one. They all have that little Aztlan sticker and identical rims. Just the tires and nineteen-inch rims must have cost several thousand bucks, and these aren’t cheap trucks to start with. We’re talking real money. Dad said last night we should ask Senator Dannie tonight.” She glanced over at the kitchen island. “I assume that’s why you’re so busy cooking.”

Rachael nodded. “I better go back to work.”

Deborah slid out as her mother did. She went and put her bowl and spoon into the dishwasher. After putting the cereal away, she came up behind her mother who was back at the island. She put her arms around her and hugged hard. She leaned her cheek against her mother’s delicately scented hair. “Thanks, Mom. What can I do to help?”

“Well, both Dannie and Nancy are always complaining about the lack of good green chilé. As you know, Nancy basically does not cook, and their chef in &DC& is French. They’ve been asking me to teach their cook, but the time has never been right.

Plus, all anyone has anymore (even around here in many cases) are those darned jalapeños. In &DC&, to get frozen, roasted chilés could cost $30 a pound. So, we’re having burritos. I’ve got chicken in one crockpot and a roast in the other. There’s three quarts of roasted green chilé thawing in the sink. If you would peel them, you could make the green sauce. I’ll work on the red.”

Deb reached under the island and grabbed the large stainless colander and a medium-sized stainless bowl. She went over put a freezer bag next to a colander in the sink. She turned on a little water and started peeling the roasted skins into the colander. “Boy, these were roasted well. The skins are just slidin’ off.”

She tore off the stem ends and split open the peppers to remove the seeds and veins. Then she tossed the peeled and gutted chilés into the bowl.

“That’s why we still go to the farm stand in Los Lunas. They’ll give you a good roast, if you ask. Plus, they have that really good chilé, with lots of flavor—but it’s not so horribly hot. Make sure you get all the seeds and veins, though. The Aragón’s tongues are not so tough any more. They’ve been in &DC& too long. Plus, it is getting to the end of year and chilés always get hotter in the freezer.”

“Isn’t that the truth? I’ve been careful. I don’t like year-end chilé nearly as well as the fresh stuff.” Deb replied. “I can hardly wait for August.” She took a deep breath. Nothing in the world smelled better than green chilé—either when it was being roasted in the fall or when it was being peeled. “Sometimes I think I can smell the roasting chilé even now. Do you want all these in the green sauce?”

“No, only about a third of them. Only your father and Dannie like the green. The rest of us will be having the red—unless your tastes have changed. I just want to be sure we have enough for the Secret Service.”

“The Secret Service…?” Deb exclaimed, turning to her mother.

“Yes, ever since he announced he was running for president and won in New Hampshire, he’s been protected. Nancy was saying that he is getting death threats almost daily. They’ll be coming over the back road from the base the way your dad does. So, there will only be two agents tonight—as far as I know. However, I’m sure there will be more prowling the hills. Nancy said they were coming alone and unannounced—but the Service takes its role seriously.

“The detail will probably enjoy the New Mexican cooking. If they don’t like it I have some cold cuts for sandwiches and some potato salad. There’ll be a lot of iced tea and some pop—whatever they’d like.

“The rest of the chilé is for the guacamole and green chilé dip. You’ll find three large bags of blue corn chips in the pantry. We’ll let Jakob make the dips. Just put the rest of the chilé in the fridge.”

Jacob got home around one o’clock and pitched in to help with the cooking and setting the table. His guacamole was delicious and the green chilé dip was legendary —one part green chilé and to one part sour cream (plus only the Lord knew what spices he used, but coriander and fennel had been seen). His guacamole was almost as good with a few green chilés, finely diced red onion, and very little tomato plus more secret spices.

The old pine table he had built was in the dining room. It was spacious for five. He had built it to seat eight comfortably. After placing the golden yellow placemats with the hand-painted blue flax flower border, he set the table with hand-thrown cobalt blue stoneware, the sterling flatware, and blue Mexican glass.

Rachael made a beautiful pair of daffodil & tulip bouquets set into a matched pair of tin-lined copper vases from Turkey for the opposite ends of the old English sideboard. A low cut-glass vase filled with short-cut red tulips was in the center of the table with four single sterling candlesticks stationed evenly on both sides of the flowers. They were slim and tall enough to keep the flames out of your eyes when trying to hold a conversation and the tulips were low enough to see over comfortably.

The family enjoyed each other the rest of the day—working together and talking like the old friends they were. Now that Stones had matured, her friendship with her parents had really blossomed during her recovery. Hulda was beside herself—having the whole pack home once again was wonderful for that old hound. Her tail did not stop wagging, as it always did when she was happy. In fact, you could keep track of her mood by the speed and beat of her tail. She kept watching the floor for nibbles, but she had found nothing so far. Hope springs eternal though.

By six o’clock, they were sitting in the family room on the northwest corner of the house. This room was large with fifteen-inch pine-log vigas stretched across the ceiling from the east wall to the outside wall on the west side. The beams held up a rough-cut pine board ceiling. Jakob had discovered that it was difficult getting the logs for those traditional ceiling beams found in adobe homes. He had gotten his through his hacker, Bebe, from the Navajo lumbering operation in northeastern Arizona. Beams large enough to support a roof were now rare. It was so bad that the glitterati of Santa Fe were having them shipped in from outside the country. Most of the modern adobes had to put up with laminated beams (or God forbid, polyurethane foam covering steel).

The walls were plastered, over the sheetrock, and antiqued to a wonderful warm Tuscan look. The brick floor was mostly covered with a large deep red Persian rug. Next to the windows were several large pillows covered with old Turkish kilim fragments in patterns of deep reds and blues. The walls were covered with paintings, etchings, and watercolors—nothing famous, but nice stuff. They were all art showing landscapes, flowers, or buildings, either realistic or impressionistic.

At the south end of the room there was a large flat screen TV with two leather recliners and a couch covered in rich tapestry and throw pillows. The couch and the recliners were separated at both ends by a pair of old Stickley-style end tables of dark oak with that wonderful patina of well-loved furniture. On the tables were two matching stained glass lamps. They were new reproductions but very elegant with their Art Nouveau styling and the warm tones of the glass. The Jacksons were seated at the other end of the room facing the window walls that faced north and west.

Outside the windows the vigas extended nearly four feet. They were covered with closely spaced latillas. Latillas are pine poles about three inches in diameter that are debarked and roughly shaved into consistency with a drawknife. They were a traditional Spanish method of producing shade around the old haciendas in the valley. They kept the family room in shade until the sun was down to fifteen degrees above the horizon. In the winter, they were removed and stored in the garage to allow for solar heating. Jakob had just put them back up the previous weekend.

Deb was lounging in her mother’s chaise. She had changed to an ecru linen peasant blouse with short blousy sleeves and ruffles at the neck and sleeves plus a purple velvet broomstick skirt with those carefully bound pleats. She kept the deck shoes though. She was wearing a gorgeous silver concho belt that her parents had given her for college graduation. The conchos were hand stamped and covered with exquisitely detailed silverwork. There were so many of them that you could hardly see the hand-cut leather belt holding them all in position around her slim waist. There were a smaller set of matching conchos on posts on her ears and she had a double-strand treasure necklace around her neck with turquoise nuggets, real non-dyed red coral, and a couple dozen well-carved tiny animals called fetishes. Her jewelry was the envy of all her friends. There were real advantages in having a mother who had been collecting Indian jewelry since the early 1980s.

Jakob and Rachael were cuddled up in the red and tan tapestry love seat. Rachael had on one of her long dresses covered with huge cabbage roses. She was wearing her large blue topaz earrings this evening on simple French wires. Her fingers were covered with silver and topaz including one rock that was nearly twenty carats of cushion-cut gem on the third finger of her right hand. Around her neck she wore a simple, old pawn, four-inch turquoise cross hanging on a necklace of hand-stamped silver beads that they had picked up for a song in Gallup when they had first arrived in New Mexico. Jakob was wearing one of L.L. Bean’s Madras shirts in purple plaid and his jeans. The coral in his silver cross was glowing at his neck. They all had glasses of iced tea on the end tables next to them. The house smelled deliciously of New Mexican cooking. Home is good.

This close to the mountains, they were far above the Rio Grande valley. Out of the west windows, they were high enough to see over the six to twelve foot adobe wall that ringed the Jackson hacienda. Across the gravel road that ran outside the wall the Piñon, juniper, and cedar forest was still fairly thick. The tops of the fifteen feet tall trees were scattered every thirty to a hundred feet or so over the quickly leveling slope as the mountains transitioned to the high plains south of Albuquerque.

The sun was getting low over Mount Taylor, 70 miles west, this time of year silhouetting a low bank of clouds with glowing white edges below the rich blue sky.

Looking north back along the mountains, you could see the gate at the northern edge of the Jackson property. North of that a faint set of truck tracks could be seen winding through the trees. There was a shelf of rock all along the western edge of the Manzanos. It made the tire tracks almost invisible from the air. Jakob had enough connections to use this unmarked, little-known back road to drive into Sandia Lab when he was working there.

While they sipped their tea in contentment, they discussed the general state of affairs: political, economic, and military. They were pretty sure they had all the solutions to the world’s problems figured out. They were really enjoying each other’s company.

Deborah’s presence had been rare recently. She’d been keeping herself busy up in town and around the state as she recovered.

Jakob saw their guests first—as usual. “There’s the trucks,” he said, getting up and offering his hand to Rachael. “I’ll go stir the chilé pots and pour some iced tea for our guests. Dan might want a margarita—ask him for me.”

Both women could see two black Escalades coming slowly south along the mountains. The lead car stopped near the gate and two suits got out. One carried a very serious looking combat assault rifle. Both were alert and scanning the area continuously. The apparently unarmed agent went forward to open the gate.

Rachael got up and checked herself in the large mirror with a worn gilt, baroque frame next to the glass door opening onto the covered walkway leading across the west edge of the interior courtyard toward the dining room on the south side of the house.

Her lips were moving in prayer as she adjusted clothes and touched up her hair before heading for the front door. Deb stayed in the chaise enjoying the moment. The Jacksons and Aragóns were old friends and she wanted to give them a moment of peace before the bustle of the meal and the more serious questions.

After a few minutes of warm greetings, Rachael led them back to the family room with Hulda following, fanning the air with her tail. The detail had stayed outside.

Hulda just stood in the doorway carefully watching the five of them to make sure nothing was wrong—a large goofy grin on her face. Satisfied, she went and jumped on the loveseat now vacated by those two who thought they actually owned the house. Jakob headed toward the back of the house to get them some tea.

The Aragóns were tickled to see Deborah, exclaimed over her beauty, hugs and kisses, and asking about her recovery. Stones was a little surprised they knew so much about it. It was probable that they both noticed the black eye, but the makeup was well done and they were very polite.

Nancy Aragón was looking extremely well put together, as usual. She had on a dark green suit, simple modern gold jewelry, and shiny matching green three-inch heels with gold trim. The green and gold set off her delicate features and green eyes framed with that famous mane of right red hair.

The senator sniffed the air and proclaimed, “It smells wonderful in here. I must be home. We never smell this inside the Beltway.”

“It’s just normal New Mexican cooking, nothing special,” Rachael said with a large smile.

“You’re too humble, Rachael. Remember, I’ve eaten your cooking before. Where’d the old coot go?”

“He’s in the kitchen getting you some iced tea—sit down.” She said, motioning them toward the comfortable leather recliners. They just looked like club chairs, and they were amazingly comfortable especially when reclined.

“Nope, I’d fall asleep in something that comfortable,” the senator said heading for the couch.

The TV was showing Watters ranting about something while Dennis Miller smirked, off to the right of the screen. Deb sat down on the couch next to the senator as Jakob came into the room carrying two glasses of iced tea with a slice of lemon perched on the rim for his friends.

Rachael touched her friend’s shoulder, “Nancy, why don’t you come and talk while I sauté the meat for the burritos? We can catch up. I want to hear how the campaign is going and what’s going on with President Worley.”

Nancy went out through the courtyard with Rachael. Jakob took her seat on the recliner facing Senator Aragón on the far end of the couch. “Deb, can you get my drink off the table by the loveseat?” He smiled at her and started talking to his long-time friend. “So, Dannie, what’s going on? How’s the campaign?”

The senator was a tall, distinguished man with carefully styled silver hair, a craggy face with a ready smile, and strong grey eyes. He had taken the coat of his dark navy blue suit off and hung it on one of the short row of carved pegs next to the door of the family room. He loosened his deep maroon and blue striped tie, but that wasn’t enough. After an irritated grimace, he took it off with a sigh of relief. Next he took off the gold presidential cuff links that “The Donald” had given him several years back and dropped them into his shirt pocket.

Rolling up his sleeves he exclaimed. “The main thing is that I have to wear this straight jacket all the time! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to voluntarily putting my neck in a noose every day. I just do what my people tell me to do. The election committee has me booked solid until the election. All I want to know is when Nancy and I have a little time to relax—like tonight with you.” He flashed a big smile, lighting up his face.

“We’ve really been looking forward to this. There’s no way I am going to fill my mind trying to remember the schedule they have me on. I just came from Hyatt downtown. We’re actually free until tomorrow afternoon. I told my people last month that we wanted a quiet evening with some old friends. I refused the dinner at the Hyatt—knowing I’d get better food out here with you.

“Great people, though! All anyone wanted to talk about is the renewed flood of Mexicans across the border. Now that all four of the southwestern states have given them legal work papers for a simple request, we’re talking about a mass migration again.

“Trump had shut most of it down, but Worley has the floodgates open again. It’s happening so fast that figures are hard to come by. But best estimate I’ve seen is over 20,000,000 people into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California alone in the past three years. We have no idea how many of these have ulterior motives or evil plans.

“It seems hard to believe that Governor Richardson called the border a state of emergency only two decades ago. We were afraid the liberals would simply open the borders. But now, entire extended families are coming. At least we seem to be blocking some of the terrorists now that the legal entries have to produce good photo ID.

“From what I could tell, the problem is still growing. The state welfare systems are being completely overrun. Worse yet, my people are telling me that there is some evidence that a sizable group is getting false citizenship papers. Even if I can get elected and get some of the laws changed, we are facing somewhere around five million new citizens with seemingly legal papers.”

“Other than the mess with the radically new culture, what’s the problem with that?” Deb asked as she returned from the north end of the room and handed the iced tea to her father. Looking at the senator she asked, “Sure you wouldn’t like anything stiffer?”

“No, thank you. I had two margaritas at the hotel. It’s more relaxing just coming out to a normal home.”

Debbie sat back down on the end of the couch next to her dad, kicking off her shoes and tucking her feet next to her bottom.

He resumed, “Actually, what we think is happening could be a real problem. We’re keeping it all hush-hush until we know what is happening, but these are not simply fake papers.” He looked at Jakob a moment, receiving a brisk nod of the head. Then he looked directly at Deborah, “This is supposed to be need-to-know. I’m including you so we can talk freely here tonight. But this is serious stuff—no leaks.”

At her nod of agreement to cover her slight concern about what he knew about her, he continued, “Someone is hacking into the Immigration and Naturalization Service database and planting genuine records of citizenship. A man was caught in LA last week with no apparent history in the United States at all, yet he had a Social Security card and a New Mexico driver’s license. The cards were new but the records checked out. INS records showed that he had been a citizen since 2003 and that he had received his Social Security number in the early 1990s. There were records of speeding violations in New Mexico in the mid 1990s. INS is convinced that something screwy is going on, but they can’t find any proof. Whoever is doing this is slick. They’re producing fully documented fake citizens.”

Deborah, moving the conversation on a little tangent, told him a little about the black trucks they had been seeing, and asked him if he knew anything. She didn’t mention anything about the events of the previous night yet. He didn’t need to know about that.

“Actually I do. I’ve seen a unsubstantiated report suggesting that Juan Dominguez from Chihuahua, the capital city of the state of Chihuahua, might be sending soldiers up into New Mexico in those trucks. He was the leader of a large drug cartel until he got involved in Chihuahuan politics. At one time he was listed with the fifty richest people in the world.

“Recently he has completely changed focus. He has become the de facto ruler of Northern Mexico appointing the officials & controlling the elections. Most of the political leadership of the Chihuahuan state are loyal to him. He’s had his devious little fingers in many pies recently. It’s almost impossible to keep up with his actions and connections. The Chinese have invested an unbelievable amount of money in the state of Chihuahua, building several very large manufacturing plants to finish off Chinese products for final import into the United States.”

“Have you been able to examine the drivers of these trucks as they cross the border?” Jakob asked.

“They are very careful. They appear to be normal law-abiding citizens. The few times they have been stopped, all their papers were in order. Some have green cards and jobs. Many are supposedly New Mexican citizens. We know something is going on, but we are not sure what. It’s been very frustrating.”

Deb thought for a minute, wondering what she should share. She looked at her dad, and he gave her a slight nod. So she said, “I think I got in a tangle with three of them last night. I mentioned to Dad that they seemed unusual. Their Spanish was different—not really an accent, but unusual phraseology. They pronounced several words differently. Plus, I noticed that their looks were… maybe carefully crafted is the best word. I’m pretty sure they weren’t what they appeared to be.”

The senator’s eyebrows rose, “What do you mean carefully crafted?” She had his attention now.

Deb continued. “I can’t really say. They didn’t look like the normal hard-working poor immigrants we get working construction around here. Their truck had to cost them sixty grand or maybe much more. My guess is the fancy Ram Truck they were driving has a souped-up hemi to turn those fancy black-spoked rims.

“There wasn’t an ounce of fat on any of them. Under the work clothes was solid muscle. One of them had a large gold chain around his neck, as I recall. Another had a lot of silver. But I was a little busy.” She gave a little embarrassed chortle and a shy smile.

Jakob jumped in, “Stones was playing superhero, rescuing some Anglo who was getting beat up last night. She took on three of them and left them on the ground in the parking lot of the Wally World in Belén.”

“You’re kidding! I was wondering what happened to your eye.” Daniel was clearly surprised. He knew something of Deborah’s recent work for Ralph, but not much and nothing specific. He had assumed that the injuries in Pakistan had laid her low. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Rachael had jumped into a fight. But then he had known her when she still worked black ops for the CIA. He’d known Rachael longer than he’d known Jakob and that was over thirty years. Then he smiled. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?” He winked at Deborah. They all laughed.

Deb was blushing a little, “I think that the shock of being jumped by a woman helped. I didn’t give them any time to think about it. It happened really fast.”

“It always does,” the senator looked at her closely and asked. “Are you all right?”

“Just a few bruises…” she smiled, pulling her skirt to her left knee far enough to reveal the scabs and show the bottom of one of the bruises. “…nothing serious. I was afraid I had killed at least one of them, but there was nothing on the news.”

“No, I imagine not. If they belonged to El Patron, they would be too ashamed to be seen or ever admit they’d been bested by a female. I’ll bet even their buddies don’t know the sex of their attacker.” The senator laughed. “The embarrassment of being beat by a woman would be hard to take.” Then the smile cut off, replaced by a look of dead seriousness. “If you killed one of them, you’ve made some bad enemies. I imagine some of their cohorts came by and helped them home.”

“That’s what Mom said.”

“Your mother is a wise woman. We sure miss her around Washington.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Jakob broke in with a chuckle. “You jackals got enough of her hide back in the 70s and 80s. Besides, her sheep keep her busy. I know that she’s got no interest in wetwork any more. The killing didn’t bother her too much. It was her job and she was good at it. She was able to eliminate some real bad guys and save many American lives as well as natives in other countries.

“What finally got to her was the lies and deception of Washington politics. It was at that point I was able to convince her to hang it up and get out. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing her, but we didn’t mention that until years later.

“You’re not getting her back.”

“Come on now, I wasn’t talking about that,” Daniel protested, holding up both hands. “I just wish we could get her mind working to help us again.”

Now Deb relaxed a little. It was clear that he knew nothing of Black Sail, so her cover was still secure.

Jakob continued, “That’s why she quit—remember? It wasn’t the killing, the danger, or even the incredible bureaucracy that ran her out. The problem was the lies. She was never comfortable with the lying. After she met the Lord…”

Daniel stopped his friend with the two raised hands raised higher in surrender and a smile. “I give up. If I get elected, though, I am going to push her to head up the CIA.”

“You can’t do that. Not only would she probably turn you down, but I can’t imagine the uproar over appointing a female pastor to run the CIA.”

The three of them burst into laughter as Nancy came in from the kitchen announcing that dinner was served. When Deb told her what they were laughing about, the four of them went into the dining room chuckling. Hulda looked up from the loveseat, but decided there was no advantage to movement. Table scraps had never been allowed. So, she dropped her head down to go back to sleep.

But then she heard an unusual noise from the kitchen as Rachael brought the last of dinner in from there. There were strange voices at the back of the house. Hulda bolted from the chair and scooted through the dining room and through the mud room into the kitchen.

As she rounded the corner she saw two large men seated at the breakfast nook. She decided that barking was not in order though. They had food. She put on her goofy smile and sashayed over to the table. One of the men looked down at her. “Well, who are you?” He asked with a large smile. Hulda knew she had a live one and dropped her butt on the floor—her tail sweeping back and forth. She gave a gentle “rouf.”

The man smiled at her, “I’ll bet you want a little piece of tortilla” as he tore off a piece.

Back in the dining room the table was gorgeous, as usual. The rich wood glowed under the candlelight, as did the tulips. Rachael’s fancy silverware sparkled. There were cream-colored linen napkins that had been carefully folded by Deborah to stand in the middle of the plates. The flowers on either side of the antique sideboard bracketed stoneware bowls of chilé sauce, sautéed chicken, shredded beef, and shredded cheese. Scattered around the table were smaller cobalt blue ceramic bowls of chopped onion, sour cream with chopped cilantro, black olives, Jakob’s guacamole and dip, tostadas, and a large covered tortilla warmer.

Senator Aragón just stood in the door taking it all in. “What a spread! You people are wonderful. This is just what we needed. Where do you want me to sit?”

Jacob motioned to the chair on his right.

“Please, sit down.” Rachael took the seat at the end toward the kitchen. Jake took the head of the table. Daniel sat to the right of Jakob with Nancy next to Rachael.

Deborah got the other side to herself. Her job was passing the bowls. Silence descended after Jakob blessed the food and conversation. The food was too good to let words get in the way—not to mention the crudity of trying to talk with a full mouth of burrito. The wine was a nice, fruity Riesling from Ponderosa, New Mexico—up in the Jemez Mountains.

Nancy smiled at Rachael. “That was nice to feed the men. They’re usually ignored.”

Rachael chuckled. “A hungry agent is an unhappy agent. I didn’t want them thinking about their stomachs instead of their jobs.”

There was a general chuckle around the table that emerged between bites.

After twenty minutes, Daniel leaned back in his chair took a swallow of wine and exclaimed, “Thank God! That was wonderful.”

Rachael protested, “It’s just normal stuff.”

“Well it’s not normal within the Beltway.” Nancy said. “I haven’t had anything this good since we were here last time—and that was back before the holidays.”

“It was really good, Mom. That chicken is marvelous.”

Rachael looked down the table at Daniel and asked, “Well, how’s the campaign going?”

“I’m getting really tired.” The senator said. “The fun is out of it with President Worley slinging mud like he’s building with adobe. That man can lie smoother than Slick Willie or Obama.

“Plus, all the rumors you’ve heard about the media are true. They are really a pain. We spend a ridiculous amount of time answering silly questions and attacks that are basically harassment. Now that the nomination seems to be in hand, I’ve been taking it easy and trying to rest for the big push at the convention in Hartford. I’m not looking forward to a convention in Worley’s backyard.”

“Please keep praying for him.” Nancy interjected. “He’s been getting almost daily threats on his life. I don’t think we have nearly enough Secret Service protection, BUT we have to take what we’re given…” The edge of panic in her voice was new—though she had always been a worrier.

Daniel cut her off with a touch on her arm and a smile. “They know all this, honey. I suspect their prayers are part of what has gotten us this far with no actual attacks.”

Turning toward Rachael, he continued, “Although ramping them up a bit wouldn’t hurt over the next few days. After three speeches and meetings in Santa Fe tomorrow, I’m leaving there for Phoenix then California starting in Santa Monica mid-morning on Saturday. La Raza has become the major spokes group for the Hispanic community and they are up at arms about my border stance. The rest of the country loves it, but now that Anglos are a minority in the whole belt from Texas through California I have a lot of resistance down here. They like my Hispanic name, but my politics seem to make me a traitor to most of them. There will probably be trouble outside all the meetings here in the Southwest. Thankfully, I won’t be back down here for a couple of months if plans stay the same.”

Deborah jumped in, “Mentioning La Raza brings up a question I’ve wanted to ask ever since you arrived. Is there any tie between La Raza and those soldiers we were talking about?”

“Yes and no, but I think there is. Actually, La Raza is the nice polite public PAC that everyone hears about. They have worked hard making a conscious effort to develop and maintain a good public image.

“For example, they fund and operate a string of excellent day care centers. Because they have a lot of financial support they are able to charge a lot less per week for excellent day care for the new immigrants and the rest of the Spanish community.

“However, the source of much of their funding is not clear. No one at this point has really spent much time or effort to find out. What we do know is that much of the leadership is involved with much more sinister groups. One of the worst is right here in Valencia County—Lupe Llano.”

Deb was puzzled, “Should I be familiar with him?”

“Not really,” the senator replied. “He has really kept a low profile so far.

“But we know he was trained by (or trained) El Patron’s special forces in Chínipas down in the Sierra Madre mountains in the southwestern corner of the state of Chihuahua. As far as we can tell he was down there from 1999 until 2012, at least. There is some indication that he was even in Osama’s camps in the early 1990s and quite possibly with Hamas for several years. We know he was a foreman of the work crews in the arms deals with China. They’re trying to convince us that the deals are strictly for commerce, but the man we had embedded inside was sending out some scary reports before we lost contact.

“Our man worked under the man in charge, Colonel Pablo Santiana. Col. Santiana is Dominguez’ main muscle in Chihuahua. He heads up the Jaguars de Aztlan. This is El Patron’s Delta Force. But it’s vicious and totally amoral.

“Actually, his force is far too large to be anything like our Special Forces. We think he might have as many 75,000 troops. And, they are well trained. We never see more than a couple thousand at a time, but occasionally the sightings are too far apart to allow for troop movements. We think they are just carefully orchestrated. They do move around like special forces though.

“Like I said, we lost track of Lupe around 2012, but recently he has been sighted in Andelito, south of Tomé. We’re pretty sure he has bought that old ranch up in the foothills south of here at the end of those old developer roads east of Las Maravillas.”

Jakob interjected, “You know, that could be where we see those lights occasionally, south of here. I just always thought it was some old hippie who never grew up doin’ his [_back to the earth _]routine.”

“Yeh, I imagine that’s him. He tries to keep a really low profile, but we are keeping track of him. The nightly helicopters going back and forth to Alamogordo used to be mere training missions. But for about a year, they have been a covert surveillance op. The reports I’ve seen show that the ranch has developed quite a bit over the past decade.

“The actual ownership is real murky—unbelievably complex. It’s as bad as some of those old Spanish land grants up north. They think there may be as many as a hundred people living up there. There’s not much traffic on the roads, but a lot of it is trucks and vans that could hold a dozen or more people. We know Lupe lives there with Maria, who has an amazing reputation. How many more are there is anyone’s guess.”

Rachael asked, “What’s he doing here?”

“At present, all of his energy seems to be in a large motorcycle shop just south of Tomé hill. They call it Ladron Bikes, or Ciclos de Ladrón. They build racing bikes for the pro motocross circuit plus normal custom Harleys. It’s a very busy place. The garage is much larger than it needs to be, but no one has been able to get inside. From the air, it looks to be over thirty thousand square feet, plus it is tall enough to be two complete stories.

“It’s actually busy 24 hours a day—though I suspect that’s cover for the troops that Lupe probably has there. Several of those trucks are usually there. My friends in the FBI are trying to get an undercover agent in there, but I haven’t heard anything concrete yet.”

Rachael leaned over to her friend and touched Nancy’s arm. Speaking quietly in her ear she said, “Not to change the subject, but remember when you told me to remind you?”

Nancy turned and smiled, “Yes, I told you to remind me if I got too hoighty-toighty in DC,” talking full voice to get her husband’s ear.

“Well, I don’t think that’s a problem. But the social life and style of dressing are much more formal on the east coast—especially in &DC&. I’d suggest you tone it down a bit for tomorrow. You’re dressed far too formal for New Mexico. You risk insulting the good people of Santa Fe. Remember, formality is an insult out here.”

Daniel chuckled, “How easily we forget. We’ll check each other over carefully tomorrow morning before we allow ourselves to be seen in public. Thanks for the warning. Well, I hate to say it but we better gather our escorts and head back down the mountain. It’s only going to get busier, I’m afraid. After the convention…”

Nancy nodded in agreement, “Yes, I sure hate to leave your peaceful and lovely home. When I’m here I can always leave the stress and pressures behind. I wish we could stay longer, but that’s not possible.”

“I certainly agree with that,” Daniel added, “but it’s been a long day. Thanks for the friendship and the wonderful food.”

“We’re glad you could join us. Can we pray with you before you go?” Rachael asked.

“Certainly!” Both of the Aragóns spoke in unison.

Jakob prayed.

Shopping at the Y

Tuesday afternoon, the Ninth of April: Parking lot of a grocery store in Los Lunas, NM

Stones was moving fast. It was a great day. Dr. Ben had given her a clean bill of health. Her training was going well and her strength was almost back. She was really realizing how far she had slipped now that her situational awareness was coming back. For a long time, she had just moved in a fog.

She’d been spending a lot of time up at her folks house lately. For the first time, she was really helping with the day to day operation of Black Sail West.

Up ’til now, her entire focus had been on her work with Ralph at headquarters back in the Tidewater on the Maryland side south of DC. She had known her parents were involved, but their deep involvement with Black Sail was a real revelation to her. At first, she felt betrayed, but she could see why they had needed to do what they did.

Now, she had become excited over the far-ranging effects of the private black operation. The scope of operations was immense. She was learning how seriously Ralph and her parents took their often seemingly illegal operations. It was a genuine surprise to find out that her mother considered this ministry to be as important as her church.

As Stones worked out and got back into harness she became aware of her surroundings again—though the paranoid edge was not back. She didn’t know if that would come until she was on an op. But it didn’t matter, she felt like herself again.

She was at the Y, the shopping center on the east side of the Rio Grande where Highway 47 forked off heading south to the bedroom communities across the river from Belén. She was picking up some jicama, avocados, and tortillas on her way up to the hacienda for supper with her parents.

Maybe I should just move up there…

As she had pulled into the lot after driving down 47 from Albuquerque, she had noticed three of the Chihuahuan trucks parked at the back of the lot next to Main Street. The grocery store had been packed. Part of her speed was caused by the need to work off the frustration of being forced to wait in line because of the cashier shortage. Most of it was simply that she felt good again for the first time after over a year of recovery. It had been a very difficult year for her.

As her long legs ate up the pavement on the way to her radicalized Cruiser, she was scanning everyone in the area. On this side of the river, most of the commuting Anglos were not so visible.

The majority of the people she saw were the working poor getting back home after their six am start up in town. It was strange to her that these very poor people didn’t seem to understand how much cheaper Wally World was—up on top of the hill on the other side of the river.

Up north at the far end of the row, she saw a biker gesturing at a group hanging around the Mexican trucks. He was obviously very angry. He backhanded one of the men on the ear knocking him against the side of the middle truck.

The rest of the men scattered, jumping quickly back into their trucks.

The biker vaulted onto his bike and dropped the clutch. The back end slid around in a small cloud of dust and tire smoke as he headed down the row toward her. The man was small but his shoulders were huge—carrying massive sharply defined muscles that were rigid with anger. The leather band around his forehead was unadorned. The jeans and brown cowboy boots were well worn. He was wearing a black muscle shirt that showed off his arms and she read Ciclos de Ladrón emblazoned in white as he flashed past her at more than thirty miles per hour with the exhaust noise almost hurting hers ears.

The three trucks had scattered. One was already pulling out headed north past the Taco Bell. The other was cutting east past the bank and out onto 47. The third followed the bike down the row toward Stones. As it came near she heard, “It’s that bitch!”

She didn’t even have time to duck back as an arm holding a tire bat flashed out of the passenger window of the truck swinging at her head. She grabbed the wrist with both hands and pushed up with all her might. As the truck slid by with all four wheels locked up, she held on to the wrist feeling a sharp crack as the upper arm broke against the back of the window opening.

There was a scream of pain from the cab. The back of the truck opened and two men jumped out. One had a short length of heavy chain grasped in his right hand. The other carried another of those short truncheons that looked like the bats carried by truckers—supposedly for checking the tires. He wasn’t checking tires.

Stones whirled on her left foot with her right connecting solidly with the hand wielding the chain—which went flying. She vaguely heard a crash as it smashed the window of the Accord next to her. But there was no time for that. She felt two strong arms wrap around her from the back imprisoning her arms.

She was held well enough for her to pick up both boots and smash the face of the second man with the bat. She brought her feet back down with as much force as she could muster into the shins of the one holding her. As he grunted in pain, she whipped her head back as she drove her elbow into her captor’s gut. The head butting gambit failed entirely. The man was too short. But the elbow gained her enough room to throw back the left elbow much lower just above the man’s hip. There was a satisfying grunt, but the arms just tightened around her chest.

She flung her feet back out twisting her hips until she could firmly plant her boots against the side of the truck. She pushed out as hard as she could. The two of them staggered back over the hood of the Accord. The sharp nose of the car jabbed into the side of the captor’s left knee, and it crumpled throwing both of them onto the hood. She threw her legs up and over the thug feeling her shoulders smash his head into the sheet metal. The side of his head was bashed by the hard pile of chain. With a sharp grunt of pain the arms lost their grip.

She was free—but off balance as she twisted and fell off the hood on the driver’s side after sliding across the car. As she fell between the Honda and the old Taurus next to it, the passenger window exploded from the round fired by the man with the broken arm inside the cab.

Like a cat, she landed with her legs beneath her, pushing out into a sprint for the back of the car. She dashed back between an old Ford pickup and a full-size Chevy van and cut south back toward the grocery store. There were screams as she burst through a pack of high school kids and cut left between the cars to the next row.

As she arrived there, she heard the doors of the truck slam shut, a roar of a large bore V8 and squealing tires as the truck took off down the row in the parking lot.

She cut back north. Then as the truck slid broadside and roared down the row after her again, she cut east through the two rows of cars and headed south toward the store again bursting through the small flock of kids who were just regrouping like a small flock of birds scattered by the first passage.

Cutting east past a construction truck and crossing two driving lanes until she was in front of the Staple’s, she hunkered down between a Firebird on the left and a minivan on the right. She couldn’t see the truck, but she could hear it as it slid around a corner and headed back south down the original row where all the trouble started.

The window in the Firebird was open and she heard a soft, but strong— “Hey, lady! Need a ride?”

She glanced to her left. The Firebird driver was looking at her—clean cut, muscular forearms, shaved head with a short-sleeved, blue plaid dress shirt.

He flashed a broad grin, “I’m not hitting on ya—I saw what you did to those Mexicans.” The smile vanished. “I thought it might help to getcha out of here for a few minutes. I’m ready to go if you are. I moved the front seat way back, you should have room on the floor with your head on the seat.”

She looked at him carefully. She wasn’t big on trusting strangers. She’d always had to take care of herself. But she was in a little over her head at this point. She wasn’t in as good a shape as she wished. She was actually panting again.

He helped the decision. He leaned to the right and quietly popped the door open a crack. He spoke lowly and carefully. “I’ll start moving out and you duck in.” He faced forward again and the large V8 fired into a low throaty rumble. He gently blipped the engine revs a hair.

The sounds were reassuring. There was no feeling at all that this was a enemy or that it was just bluster. He knows what he’s doing. “I’m ready,” she said.

The black car started to ease forward. As the edge of the door slid by slowly, she pulled it open and slid herself into the footwell, solidly shutting the door after herself, and sliding low and ready to react as necessary. The car turned right and smoothly accelerated, up towards the Taco Bell exit.

She felt the car stop at the exit onto Main Street and cut across the street. Then swinging south into the parking lot in front of Walgreen’s, the young man moved smoothly through the lot and headed out west on Main toward the other side of town. The old Firebird accelerated very hard and the Y was quickly left behind.

He looked down at Deb and gave her a little twisted smile. “You can climb up now. My name’s Gerry.”

She twisted around into the seat, fastened the seatbelt and smiled at him, “I’m Deb. Thanks.”

“Not a problem.”

“Been readin’ too many comic books, or just bored?”

“Naw, I like Mitch Rabb a little better, and I really enjoyed Baldacci’s Oliver Stone.”

“Yup, Flynn’ was good for a fluffy read. Kyle’s good, but he simply doesn’t know what Flynn knew. I agree about Baldacci. However, most people have enough sense to avoid acting on those impulses after reading a novel.” Debbie looked Gerry over a little closer. There was a definite military flair to the hair and build—he didn’t miss a thing of his surroundings. “SEAL?”

“Gawd, no! Just a Marine on leave. I saw a damsel in distress, and thought I’d lend a hand if you’d let me.”

“OK, I’ll let it go,” she grinned, “but don’t you believe I believe that line o’bull.”

“I’ve been around a bit. Why you messin’ with Lupe’s boys?”

“Lupe?”

“The dude on the bike. Bad news. He owns a bike shop just south of Tomé hill. I imagine he was ready to mess up some of those boys. I’ve never seen them hangin’ in a group before. I suspect that’s a big no-no. He certainly looked less than pleased.”

Now he had her attention. [_I better be careful. _]“I’ve seen those trucks around. Who are they?”

“Men you want to avoid. Although I noticed you didn’t seek them out. Somehow you evidently hurt their feelings real bad.” There was no smile now. “Why were they after you?”

“I ran into them a couple of months ago in Belén.”

That got his attention. With a lot more respect in his voice he continued, “I’d heard rumors about a woman taking on three of them in the Walmart parking lot, but I certainly never expected anyone as gorgeous as yourself. I figured that anyone who could beat the crap out of three Mexican soldiers must be some huge bull dyke or somethin’.”

Stones looked him straight in the eye. “Let’s not go there,” she said flatly. “You better take me back to my car.”

“At your service, m’lady. My guess is that the boys are long gone—though I’ll bet they’re reluctant to head back to Lupe’s place.”

Gerry looked around and there was no one in the area as he crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande. He whipped the wheel, gunned the engine, slid the back end around in a cloud of smoke, and headed back to the parking lots at the Y. “Thanks for the entertainment,” as he chuckled.

“Glad I could help,” she said with a large smile. It was good to be back with an operator. She felt the familiar edge of alertness settling around her like a glove. It didn’t feel bad.

“Do they know your car?” He was more than a little concerned about that. “I don’t want them waiting for you.”

“No, I’m pretty sure they don’t. The three in Belén weren’t looking around when I left. And I was nowhere near the car when they went by me just now. Plus it doesn’t look very threatening.”

“Whatcha got?”

“Just a little PT Cruiser.”

He laughed out loud, “You’re kidding! These things are a piece of junk. How do expect anyone to take you seriously?”

“I’m not worried about that, big boy. Besides, I’m not sure you could keep up with me on the road anyway.”

“OK, I’ll mind my own business—but I’ve never certainly heard of a Cruiser that could keep up to a Caravan let alone a real car.”

“This one’s got a drivetrain that’s far stronger than a Tesla to help things out a bit.”

“I wish I could see that.”

“We better not. Thanks for ID on Lupe. I’ve been warned about him.”

That surprised him a little. She was obviously in the loop—but he had no idea which one. No need to know, though. “I’m glad I could clear things up a little. Lupe’s a bad actor. I think he’s runnin’ the black trucks, but that’s just a guess. You know anything?”

“Nothing more than you,” she grinned. “The pressure seems to be building though.”

That peaked his interest. “Anything coming you know about?”

“Nope!”

She was on the edge of uncomfortable now. She may have made a mistake opening up that way she had.

Gerry saw the tension mask slip over her face. “Hey, no worries. I know we’re all guessing so far.” He gave her a big smile. As he crawled in from of the grocery store, he saw a PT Cruiser. “That yours? Nice paint.”

“I tried to keep it quiet, but my builder had other ideas. He told me it was supposed to be a chick car. That pissed me off a bit. But I suspect it’s a good idea.”

“If it helps, I never would’ve guessed.”

“Good.” She gave him a terse smile, all business. “Thanks for the lift.”

“You’re welcome.”

As she dropped into her car, she could hear the Firebird rumbling as he drove out of the lot. “That helped,” she murmured to herself. She smoothly headed out the other way and up to her parents’ home. The news would be added to their research and analysis.

Family conference

Thursday Morning, the Second of May: 9:00 am, Courtyard Garden, Jackson Hacienda, Meadowlake

It was getting hot already. The sun was streaming into the courtyard like a laser assault on the building. Stones came in from the front door and quickly cut across the garden around the center fountain to intercept her father under the atrium in front of her bedroom as he was headed toward the kitchen.

He looked over at her, snapping out of his deep focus on whatever he was thinking about, “Hi, Stones, you’re looking gorgeous as usual.”

“Hush, you ol’ reprobate! What’s the deal? Mom made this sound important. I guess it must be. You’re not at work.”

“You’ll find out in a minute. Come with me.” Jakob turned to his daughter with a big smile and gave her a hug. They headed to the kitchen with his arm around her waist, propelling her up to his speed—and with the length of his legs, that was considerable.

When they entered the kitchen, Rachael handed them each a basket filled with goodies. She gave a huge smile to her favorite daughter, “Hi hon, you’re just in time.” With that she grabbed two insulated jugs and led them out the door of the kitchen.

The three of them headed toward the garage their feet crunching in the gravel. Several of Denzell Lee’s toys were parked next to the mountain, including his favorite—the old beat up, undercover, Nissan Frontier he called the Wreck.

“I see Denzell’s here.” Stones commented. “I wonder what he’s working on now?”

“You’ll see in a bit,” said her dad.

Now she was really curious. It had been a strange time after the little fight in Belen last winter. Following the attack at the Y and Gerry’s little rescue, Black Sail West had ramped up a little. But recently her parents had seemed really distracted. She really needed to ask them what was going on. Maybe she’d find out today.

The Jackson spread was a good size by most standards—completely walled with what seemed to be the typical adobe walls of the Southwest. There was no indication that the walls were heavily reinforced concrete under the soft molded edges of the adobe look. Denzell had been showing Stones the defensive measures once they heard more about Lupe and the Mexican soldiers.

The five towers at the corners and front plus the gate on the west side looked quaint, but they were strategically placed for defense and heavily armored. She had helped him install the radically upgraded .50 calibre M2s on their custom, hydraulic mounts that could be computer-controlled from back in the garage if necessary. Most impressive was the belt feed from down in the tower that gave the massive machine guns the ability to fire several thousand rounds without reloading—but Denzell had warned her about melting the barrel if you weren’t careful. The sound/flash suppressors made them run a little hot.

She knew they were serious when she discovered that the larger front tower held four of the M2s with two facing the mountain slopes behind the complex to stop attacks from that direction.

The folding deck on top of the house had amazed her when she saw it not only covered the top of the house, but also made an excellent landing pad for helicopters. The hacienda was a serious fortress—though she had been completely unaware of that fact until she was let in on things in March.

They had their own generator run on propane, but it was rarely used even though Jakob had buried a 12,000-gallon tank in the back yard. He hadn’t had to fill that for over five years now and it was still at 80%. All the flat roofs were covered with solar cells that were coupled with the windmills. The landing pad covered the solar panels on the hacienda roof and cut power a little. But those three wind towers spaced along the southern wall inside of the compound were megawatt units that covered most of their needs.

The entire hacienda was completely off the grid, with all power stored in a state-of-the-art solid state, solid-glass electrolyte, battery storage facility built into the back of the first floor of his workshop—plus a secondary storage of lead-acid batteries were kept continuously trickle-charged under that.

Actually, workshop was a euphemism for a complete metal fabrication and vehicle construction facility covering five thousand square feet of ground built into the rock of the mountain at the southeast corner of the compound next to the mountain.

The adobe walls ran up to nearly twenty feet tall as they blended into the second floor of the shop. The first floor was cut back into the bedrock of the mountainside. No one except Jacob, Rachael, and Denzell knew about the basement, tunnel storage areas, and bunker. The solid state cells didn’t need the warmer temperatures of the old lithium-ion cells. But they still worked better if they were kept cool.

He was testing the technology for the lab and it worked well. Denzell was also working with a new source built on the Organic Radical Batteries (ORB) which NEC began developing in the middle of the first decade of the millennium. They provided the power on Deb’s Cruiser.

The entire second floor was a full machine shop with computerized mills, lathes, and boring machines. They could build virtually anything made of metal—and often did. Their primary skill was gunsmithing. The front third of the first floor was a large garage where he kept his mobile toys. Even Stones had never seen the hidden doors in the rock walls at the back of the garage that led deep into the mountain.

Jakob was really deep into thought this morning. The call from Ralph had shook him a little. He had thought it was merely prudence that had made him build a disguised fortress up here on the mountainside. Rachael always teased him about his sense of warrior service to his King. It had been fun, but now he was glad. He’d even set up the walls for easy razor-wire deployment—never thought he’d have to use it though. He wondered what the next few weeks would bring.

Speaking of fun toys, he could see one of his favorites parked next to the Wreck. Denzell had done a marvelous job with that competition yellow Dodge Power Wagon ambulance from WWII. “It looks like Denzell got my message and got my truck back in one piece. I hope Bebe’ll made it.”

“What message is that, Dad?” Debbie perked up a little. She enjoyed Denzell and really liked Bebe. Denzell was unique to this area—a little older than Deb at 33, but looking much younger. He had really blossomed under Jakob’s mentorship. The old hard, cold anger from the racial bigotry suffered while growing up plus the intenseness of his competitive nature had been effectively channeled to constructive purposes.

His appearance helped—as he certainly appeared innocuous. His baby face was a chocolate black and now had a constant smile or grin. Only his fastidious appearance made it easy to believe the degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. Blacks are rare in New Mexico. New Mexico is proud of its multi-cultural atmosphere—but those cultures were strictly limited to Anglo, Spanish, and Native American plus a few Vietnamese and Japanese. The Spanish truly dominated—especially since becoming the majority in three decades ago. Few saw how rare blacks were.

At 6’3” and 205 pounds Denzell was a carefully crafted, unimpressive man. His boyish face, minimal Afro, and relaxed posture made him look like a teacher or something. It just went to prove that looks can be deceiving though. He had cultivated the look of a disarming businessman to survive. But, he had a mind like a steel trap, a work ethic that was simply amazing, and an accent that sounded vaguely European with a vocabulary to match the educated bloods of the Continent.

By looking at him you’d never guess that he raced cars—or at least he had before he met Jakob. He’d gotten several good rides and sponsors in his decade and a half of driving. He’d made it through the Craftsman Truck series and the Nationwide series. He did well enough to get three starts in a Grand National car back before it became the Sprint Cup. But fun was crushed out first when Earnhardt was killed and then later when two of his close friends lost their lives in ARCA and Outlaw races. He started evaluating priorities and discovered that he didn’t really have a life outside racing.

About the same time, he had met Jakob. Jakob regularly visited the teams scouting mechanical talent for the CIA. Plus, Jakob was a real fan. He started talking to Denzell primarily because he wondered about a black driver in &NASCAR&. Denzell had learned to deal with the nigger taunts, and his genuinely warm and serving personality had smoothed out a lot of bumps. However, Denzell had also just decided that he liked wrenching better than driving. As an engineer he discovered that he liked building machines and repairing them more than he did driving them, but he also knew there must be something better to do with his life.

The two men had really hit it off. Originally, Jakob had hired Denzell to build him the Power wagon. But really, he brought him out to New Mexico to apprentice him and to keep him busy while his background check was completed. After the background check, Jakob let Denzell know what he really did as an armorer and engineer. Denz was sent the Farm for training. But those mind games were too much for him and he dropped out. It wasn’t that he couldn’t play them—he couldn’t stand the lying and manipulation required.

He talked to Jake before he quit the CIA training, and the large Norwegian easily agreed that he was better off out in New Mexico. Jakob really needed the help and Denzell quickly became an adopted son to him. His mother had raised him in the Holiness movement. He didn’t practice his faith much, but he was well trained. Under Jakob’s mentorship his quiet knowledge of the Lord was slowly flowering and his faith was starting to grow.

He was surprised to discover that he needed a personal, verbal knowledge of the Lord. One evening at Rachael’s church he had humbled himself and let the Holy Spirit in. He was still quiet about it, but his intensity increased as he learned how much help was now available from the Spirit.

When the rest of his background check proved clear and Jakob saw his academic record at Michigan, he offered Denzell permanent employment. Everyone thought that Denzell was merely Jakob’s mechanic—and in truth he had kicked Jakob’s Ram, Rachael’s Hummer, and Debbie’s Cruiser up a few notches. He had also built Jakob the ambulance. His personal ride looked like a reasonably stock Nissan Frontier extended cab pickup truck with expensive tires—but it certainly was not stock. The 600 horsepower hemi crammed into the front was the least of it. All it would take was a racing engine and legal bodywork to enable him to run in the Truck Series.

He just played with the family cars when he was bored, and that was not often. Mainly he was Jakob’s mechanic, tool and die maker, and production machinist. He’d become quite a gunsmith. He actually produced most of the esoteric hand-built weapons Jakob still produced for operatives at Langley. His wrenching was limited to several custom vehicles put together for various clients of Jakob—and the family rigs, of course.

Denzell was really nice and Debbie liked him. She had just learned about the weapons work, but now she knew where her favorite pistol came from. She had even gotten the chance to thank Denzell for the customized Browning BDM 9mm that fit her hand like an extension of her arm. She’d never seen a gun as good as hers. She’d had a blast since March upgrading her weaponry.

But Denzell wasn’t fun like Bebe. Belindo “Bebe” Begay was a party animal. No drugs or alcohol any more, but he loved having fun with his friends. He was an Navajo trickster with many pranks that were often actually funny. He was a bit older than Deb and had taken on the role of older brother and protector.

He was full-blooded Navajo Apache and looked like it—a true throwback to the earlier warrior clans. He’d missed the rampant diabetes that had attacked most of the Navajo. He was 5’11” with 185 pounds of solid muscle on his wiry frame. His long black hair was normally in a tight smooth braid down his back.

You had to be careful when it was loose, wild and tamed only by a leather band with silverwork tied around his temples. At thirty-six years old, his years of hunting, fishing, and tracking had made him into a modern variation on the old theme of Native American warrior.

He always had a wide smile of perfect white teeth with a ready laugh. He listened better than he talked. But, when he talked you listened because he didn’t waste much time with idle chatter. Strangely, he had meet Denzell at Michigan before he was graduated with his doctorate in computer science. He had been assigned to mentor Denzell as an incoming freshman and they had become fast friends.

Bebe was a hacker by trade and a silversmith by hobby and vocation. The hacking paid the bills and satisfied much of his warrior mentality. Working on silver, turquoise, and red coral relaxed him with the beauty of natural items taken from the earth. Part of a black team for the CIA, he had specialized in hacking into the computers of other hackers and stealing their little coded nasties—often before they were released.

That is where Jakob had met him, at Langley. Bebe was really feeling hemmed in by the Beltway and the politics of the CIA. He wanted to get back to New Mexico and Jakob had promised to help. Needless to say, Denzell liked that idea a lot also.

At present, Bebe was a freelance Specialist. Jakob regularly brought him in to solve coding problems on his projects for Black Sail. His clearance was as high as it gets—maybe even higher than Jakob’s and that was saying a lot.

Mainly, he lived in his rambling adobe compound south of Window Rock, Arizona—in a beautiful red rock canyon with excellent hunting, a year-round stream, his wife, Chinipa, and their four active, brilliant, and amazing children ranging from three to fifteen. They were twenty-first century children in all ways except they avoided the depression and cynicism of normal American youth because their life had no violence, drugs, or politics.

Denzell came walking out of the garage to meet them and Jakob strode over with his hand out to pull his friend into their normal hug of greeting. “Hi Denz, seen Bebe yet?”

“Hi Jake. Nope, not yet. You’ve got to give the man a little time to get off the reservation.” They laughed.

“Hi, Stones.”

“Hi Denz, been a while. Workin’ on any new rides?”

“Nope. Your Dad has kept me too busy with all his projects for the base. I rarely get out of the shop any more.”

“That’s too bad. I was hoping you had gotten close to finishing my little off-road bug.”

“Matter of fact, that could be done in a week or so. I’ did have time to tweak the power package you have in your Cruiser a bit. I think you’ll enjoy it—not any faster, but a bit quicker—same power but a bit more torque and better range. It depends on what Jake has for us today.” He looked back at his boss. “That was a scary email, boss.”

“I was just trying to get your attention with the letter.”

“You’ve got my attention.”

“Let’s go inside and get lunch while waiting for Bebe.”

Suddenly they heard the roar of a tightly wound motorcycle engine coming up from the south. They all turned toward the arroyo, but it was too late to see anything but the cloud of dust hanging over the road. Around the corner of the wall on a tight two-wheel slide through the open gate came a crazy Apache on a completely restored 1967 Triumph Tiger Daytona—500cc, twin-carbs, very fast, and a deep blue-black.

The chrome shone through the dust and gravel as he slid to a perfect stop and parked next to the ambulance—gravel flying through the air and tinkling to the ground as the deafening quiet of the suddenly dead engine stunned the parking area.

“Kowabunga, dudes!” Bebe shouted with a huge grin as he bounded off his bike to grab Stones in a huge bear hug, pick her up, and swing her around in the air, “How’s my little sister?”

“Deaf, you big dumb injun. You trying to kill me?”

“Naw! Just having a little fun. Can’t we have a little fun?” He flashed his smile at both his friends.

“Denz, Jake, what’s up?” He shouted.

“Just going’ in to get somethin’ to eat.” Jake replied with a broad grin. “We still have burritos left. I think they’ll do.”

“You better believe it.” Bebe exclaimed. “That’s why I may have seemed to be in a little hurry. I didn’t want to miss lunch.” He threw his arms around Jake and Denzell’s shoulders and tried dragging them towards the garage. Of course, they just stood tall and let him swing on by between them. With his usual style and grace, he landed four foot ahead of them with a strut. He led the four of them to the garage. He held open the door with a slight bow and a flourish of his hand for Stones. She giggled and pranced in through the door after her father and Denzell. Bebe brought up the rear after grabbing the two jugs from Rachael and giving her a kiss on the cheek.

They all climbed the broad staircase to the conference room on the second floor. Rachael had all of them well trained. They worked together on getting lunch ready—even cleaning up after themselves. After a delicious lunch of leftovers, the five of them sat down at the large table with their glasses of iced tea.

Their talk turned serious and Denzell and Bebe were a little surprised that Stones was included. Jakob looked at them both and said, “My daughter’s grown up. Her mother and I have been talking with her a lot recently. I think that it’s time she was let in on the family business.”

Debbie was a little surprised. She thought she knew about her dad’s work. She had been surprised at her parents’ relationship with Ralph at Black Sail East, but the daily nuts and bolts of the operation had been kept from her up ’til now, “Wha’d’ya mean, Dad?”

“Well, Stones,” he paused briefly. “Denzell, Bebe, your mother, and I work in a very compartmented world. You have always known that your mother and I used to work for the CIA and I imagine you’ve been a little puzzled by our relationship with Ralph.”

Debbie nodded.

“Your mother has pulled out of field operations almost completely. But, she’s the source of our planning and much wise counsel. I’m certain you’ve wondered why I have such a complete machine shop over the garage. It’s obviously much more than is needed for our little custom car hobby.

“You know that I no longer work for Langley full time, and you know that Sandia only supplies a little contract work. However, you now know that Denzell and I still do a lot of weapons modification and design for the field agents. As you have discovered recently, we are actually a small gunsmithing operation and armory. Needless to say we keep it real quiet.”

He had Debbie’s attention. She wasn’t sure what was coming, but it would probably be interesting.

Jakob continued, “Bebe is far more than an old family friend. I’m not sure you know much about Bebe’s computer skills, but he supports himself, his hunting, and his family with hacking and tracking work for me. He used to work for the Company, but he works for me now. I called them in today to make plans…” He had all of their attention now. Denzell and Bebe obviously did not know how far he was going to go or how much he was going to reveal.

“However, it goes much further than that. What no one knows, except for the four of us in this room (and now you), plus less than a half dozen other people around the world, is that we were in on the start of a work with old friends of your mother and me, Ralph Conratty and his wife, Lisa. You need to be very careful, even Senator Aragón and Nancy do not know—though he probably suspects part of it. We know that Nancy and Lisa are close friends, but as far as I know Lisa has not even told Nancy.”

“That explains a lot!” Stones exclaimed, “Working with him through Black Sail, I had no idea. I always liked him, and I was sad when he went to Homeland Security—head of Internal Security there, right?”

“That’s his public title—mentioned that this morning.”

“Public title—so your relationship is black?”

He looked at his wife and smiled, “I told you she’d catch on quick, hon.” Looking back at his daughter, “You got it—blacker than most. Most of the people at Black Sail East only know what you knew when you were working for Ralph and assume we are a government agency. But, we are completely black. Completely off the books. In fact, we are not supported by the government. I got you into Black Sail to protect you when that hit in Barcelona went south three years ago. I was afraid your cover had been blown. I’m glad to say that was being a bit over-cautious, but I was much happier when I had some say over your career.”

Stones’ eyes opened a bit wider. She’d wondered where the invite to Black Sail had come from—seemingly out of the blue.

“Technically, I guess you’d have to say we’re mercenaries. Your mother and I head up Black Sail. I know you were surprised to learn that Ralph and Lisa work with us. Unlike you were led to believe, this is headquarters. The East Coast operation is part of our cover. We used to do a lot for the Trump administration, but Worley doesn’t think ops like ours are appropriate.”

Denzell rolled his eyes.

Bebe gave a short bark of a laugh, “He’s the inappropriate…”

Jakob cut him off and looked at him sternly, “He’s the President. We are to pray for him. I thought we’d just be lying low for four or eight years. We’ve been doing a little work for the Brits, a bit of anti-terrorism training, and some corporate work around the world, but it’s been real quiet recently.

“However, I got a call from Ralph about six this morning. He’s come across &HUMINT& that leads him to believe that Juan Dominguez, “El Patron”, is going to make a major move soon.

“My immediate concern is for Senator Aragón and Nancy. They’re going to Phoenix Saturday. There’s not much we can do for him, but pray. But we need to do that, at least. We better start ramping up a little. I think we’re going to get real busy shortly.”

The five of them grew real quiet. After a long, silent minute or two, Jakob began the important work of covering everything in prayer. They’d need His help with the planning. This was work which couldn’t be “figured out”.

A little confrontation

Saturday Evening, the Fourth of May: 8:30 pm Desert Willow Hotel, Phoenix

Henry Davis was pacing the lobby of the Desert Willow, a huge new resort on the northwest edge of Phoenix. He was a small bulging man with a completely bald shiny head and bushy eyebrows. His face was covered with laugh lines and he always looked happy. If his legs were a little shorter, he would have looked an awful lot like Humpty Dumpty. Jovial—professionally jovial—would be the best description of his personality. As Senator Aragón’s front man in Arizona, his personality was a strong asset. In addition, he had impressive motivational skills and an ability to organize people that is rarely found.

He had been walking the marble floors for so long now that the carpet felt good under his thin-soled shoes. The brightly colored rug he was walking on was thick, soft, and strongly reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earlier Prairie style—as was the entire complex. Henry chuckled as he thought Frank would laugh out loud at the idea of a five-story lobby at this level of pretentiousness pretending to be in Prairie-style.

The furniture was almost as uncomfortable as it looked—stark, geometric, dark leather with tall vertical backs to the chairs and long horizontal grid work patterns for the couches. It was luxurious in appearance though it looked a little strange at the lobby level of this huge, ground to roof atrium of balconies, fountains, and chattering people. Over the rail, the atrium dropped down another twenty-five feet with curving marble staircases passing down around the towering waterfall that fell in multitudinous cascades from the fifth floor balcony. At the bottom was a softly lit, upscale restaurant.

The rectangular mahogany columns shooting to the ceiling were spectacular. The whole place was designed to impress, though Henry didn’t see or feel any comfort here. In fact, he was worried. His head was even shinier than usual with beads of sweat running down and lodging in his large bushy eyebrows. His blue pinstriped summer wool suit was dark with sweat at the armpits. The red bowtie was bouncing over his Adam’s apple as he kept clearing his throat and swallowing. But the 109° temperature outside was not the problem. The air conditioning had that down to an almost tolerable 80 degrees or so.

As a fund raiser, the night was going great. Henry had spent the past four months getting everything set up for this night. It had been a fight the entire time. The city had required massive private security (paid for—in advance—by the Arizona Republican Party) before it would issue a meeting permit. For a while, he hadn’t even thought they would get a permit—like you really need a permit to have a private meeting in a rented private hall.

But then, the whole atmosphere in Arizona had been changing radically ever since the early 1990s. Actually, Henry had studied this situation in detail as he watched his state being taken over. The attitude of the Mexican government was expressed clearly in an official study done by the Mexican Government’s National Council of Population in the early couple of years of the new millennium. Their study concerned the huge numbers of people crossing the border, illegally and legally, into the United States. According to that study, by the end of Vincente Fox’s six-year term in 2006, Mexicans would be entering the US at a third of a million per year. It was actually quite a conservative assessment.

The policy embraced by this study was called “demographic warfare” which is the reconquering of Southwestern United States through unchecked illegal immigration and by exporting its “surplus poverty” to regain control of that area. Mexican columnist Carlos Loret de Mola in the newspaper, Excelsior, had explained Mexico’s future demographic warfare strategy in the mid-1980s.

He wrote an article called “The Great Invasion; Mexico Recovers on Its Own” which stated among other things, “A peaceful mass of people… carries out slowly and patiently an unstoppable invasion…” He goes on to describe a migrant invasion that will return the southwestern United States to the control of its native peoples “…without firing a single shot, nor requiring the least diplomatic action, by means of a steady, spontaneous, and uninterrupted occupation.”1 He saw that happening even then in Los Angeles of the 1980s, which he called “the second largest Mexican city in the world.”

1By Linda Bentley—Sonoran News—April 3, 2003

Trump had radically slowed things down. But, Pence hadn’t been strong enough to defeat Worley. His globalist administration had allowed nearly a million a year through the southern border alone, plus illegals were again flooding in.

By 2017, The Sonoran News was writing:

“We cram them into America in three short decades—so fast that they cannot and will not assimilate. They form tribal enclaves like Minneapolis, Minnesota where 120,000 Somali immigrants created “Somaliland” where Americans avoid visiting. Additionally, Dearbornistan, Michigan with 350,000 Middle Eastern immigrants where Arabic dominates and schools teach out of the Quran and do not subscribe to anything American. They practice honor killings, female genital mutilation, women as property, four wives, arranged marriages, and killing of gay people. Additionally, the majority live on welfare.”2

2http://sonorannews.com/new/2017/01/26/perfect-storm-descending-upon-america-sociological-impact/

The problem was that this slow invasion (though it was succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams) was not moving fast enough for many Aztecatl radicals. Groups like The Brown Berets of Aztlan, OLA (Organization for the Liberation of Aztlan), La Raza Unida Party, The Nation of Aztlan, The National Council of La Raza, and more were growing like rank weeds. They all call their people La Raza, which means the race but refers to all whose ancestry is indigenous to Aztlan. The Raza manifesto, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, was focused on the “proud heritage” of our people and also commented on “the brutal gringo invasion of our territories”. The Brown Berets of Phoenix were especially violent and were among the most aggressive of these radicals. They had become a major force in southern Arizona.

Henry Davis received several anonymous threats about tonight’s speech by Senator Aragón. That was normal in the new Southwest. He wasn’t aware of the radical Aztecatl underground.

He did know that Anglos were barely tolerated around here any more. There were so many immigrants that Phoenix was basically a Mexican town now. The snowbirds were severely outnumbered. Plus, if you didn’t speak Spanish you were a foreigner. He had assumed that La Raza (whatever that meant) was merely flexing its muscle a little. The threat tonight had been on a whole different level though. He was regretting his ignorance.

He had been in his room at the hotel making final preparations. He was talking to the hotel manager on the phone while waiting for Danny and Nancy to arrive from the airport. He had heard a slight scratching sound at the door and looked over just in time to see a piece of paper coming to rest after being slid under the door.

The conversation finished and he hung up the phone. He then ambled over to the door and picked up the paper. He read it and dropped it as if it had stung him. It went flying through the air and his mind reeled in shock. The message was fierce.

DON’T THINK YOU CAN ESCAPE! The Aztecatl know your plans and we will stop you. The borders will be open. Aztlan will be free! You are no longer in charge, Señor Davis—we are!

He had leapt for the door and yanked it open. But even though the hallway was over a hundred yards long, it was empty. Somehow he knew this threat was different. What it meant he wasn’t sure, but he didn’t like it at all—not at all.

When the group arrived from the airport, he had taken the senator aside and mentioned it to him. Danny had poopahed it as just another threat. However, just in case, he had called over Gerry Turback, head of his Secret Service detail and showed her the note. She took it much more seriously, but knew of no group called the Aztecatl. Gerry promised Henry that they would make sure the meeting was safe, but now that it was underway he was still very uneasy.

The final introductions and preliminary balderdash were almost complete. Senator Aragón would be taking the podium any time now. They had rented both ballrooms and taken out the dividing wall. The rooms were still jammed. It looked like nearly two thousand people at $1,000 a plate. The whole hotel was alive with excitement.

Henry had about done himself in—running back and forth making sure things were running according to plan. The seating of the guests had gone smoothly—as had the serving of dinner. It might have been an isolated Anglo enclave in the midst of a large Spanish desert, but at least Danny would know that there were people in Phoenix who loved him. Henry heard a roar of applause from down the stairs at the end of the long hall. He turned to walk down the hall and join in the excitement.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash of breaking glass from the lobby entrance in back of him! Henry whipped around and saw the glass wall to the left of the revolving doors crumble as it was smashed open and people began pouring though the gap.

At the head of the mob, jumping over the window jam first, was a man who would have made Henry laugh under better circumstances. He looked like a dark, bandito version of a dwarf cross between Gene Shallit and Ronald McDonald. His large black mustache draped down almost to his shirt. He had deeply pockmarked skin from losing the battle with zits. His hair was flying in long, dirty, black flames on either side of a deep red-brown path of bald skin running over the top of his head. He wore a dirty, blousy, long-sleeved, dirty white shirt tucked into worn out blue jeans with black snakeskin boots. Tucked into his belt on his left side was a naked machete—the sharp edge on its rusted steel caught the light. In his left hand, he carried a huge Colt .45 revolver.

His teeth were dirty and some were broken. Henry was certain that his breath would stink if he could smell it. The man headed straight for him and jerked to a stop a couple feet in front of him. He was right—the breath could kill a horse.

“Did you get my little note?” The black eyes narrowed slightly. This man was seriously angry.

This was no joke.

Henry tried to defuse a bad situation. “Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. But I didn’t know who to respond to. You forgot to sign it. But now that you’re here, how can I help you?”

“I am Señor Pancho Gerulé, head of the Brown Berets de Aztlan—La Aztecatl de Sonora.” There was no smile. The man didn’t even pretend to care.

He turned to the crowd who stood silently watching the confrontation. “¡Attención, amigos!” With that, he reached across his chest, whipped out the machete with his right hand, and slashed with blazing speed. Henry’s world spun crazily as his head flew across the lobby trailing a spray of blood. Not many realize that a person’s head remains alive for up to thirty seconds after it is severed. That was the horror of the guillotine—knowing your head was lying on the floor and your body was still up in the guillotine. He heard the angry roar of the mob. He heard Pancho roar, “¡Vayamos!” to get his men moving. But, that disappeared with everything else as his now lifeless skull crashed into a large earthenware pot holding a tall palm tree, smashing it into large pieces which let the palm fall over the rail down into the restaurant below.

Some of the men slipped in the pool of blood spreading from the stump of his neck, but it didn’t slow the rush of the mob at all as they roared in anticipation running down the hallway toward the fundraising dinner and Senator Aragón’s audience of the faithful.

The trouble was beginning.

It begins

Sunday Morning, 3 am, the fifth of May: on I-40 East passing through Albuquerque

John Duncan stretched in the leather seat of his Lexus SUV Hybrid. He looked over his shoulder at his daughter and son sleeping in the back seats. He reached over and stroked the leg of his lovely wife, Julia.

Her eyes opened and she smiled at him, “Hi, hon, how are you doing? Do I need to drive?” She took his hand and gently raised it to her lips and kissed it.

He stretched and smiled at her. “No, we need to be back in Kentucky tonight, babe. I have to work tomorrow. It’s worth it though.”

“I agree. I’ll never forget the Grand Canyon. Dylan has talked of nothing but the meteor crater since we left and Jamie is still looking for Indians. I love that turquoise bracelet with all the silver work you got me in Gallup. For only having a week off, it was wonderful.”

“Did you have any idea that Albuquerque was this big?” John asked. He was looking at the hotels and shopping centers spread out south of the Louisiana exit. “The interchange where I-25 crossed over I-40 was huge. I sure don’t remember that from the last time I was here. I have always loved the way the lights spread out across the Rio Grand Valley. I couldn’t see an end either North or South.”

“You should’ve woken me up.”

“You’ll need your sleep getting us through Oklahoma City. Besides you looked too pretty and peaceful to disturb.”

“I love you, honey.”

“I love you, babe.”

Ten minutes later, the car dropped a gear as it climbed up through Tijeras canyon. “Look! That’s old Route 66 going under the freeway. What the…” The sky above them to the left turned orange and red with flames arcing across it. “Hold on!” John shouted as he floored It. The huge car/truck lurched forward. Through the glow of the flames, John could see huge boulders bouncing down the slope toward the highway. Worse yet, it looked as if the entire mountainside was moving. Julia screamed as the huge SUV struggled to get out of the way of the rocks, speeding over the bridge on top of Route 66.

Then that bridge erupted into fragments from the explosions beneath them as thousands of tons of rock crashed down on top of them. Both highways were sealed off and would be for weeks.

In the air

Sunday Morning, 4 am Local time, the fifth of May: on a chartered jet over Needles, California

Senator Daniel Aragón was tired, but he could not sleep. He was counting on the crowds to get him pumped up tomorrow. So far, the crowds had been amazing. But there was fear there also. The senator was not a man to be frightened. But something bad was going on. Things had gotten ugly yesterday every time he mentioned that he opposed La Raza and their numerous offshoots. He understood that in Tucson, but it had been far worse in Phoenix. He had never expected an organized assault.

He had heard from the Secret Service as he and Nancy were hustled on the plane this morning that over twenty people were dead in the riot that ensued outside the ballroom during his final speech last night in Phoenix. The Secret Service had quickly sealed off the ballroom and held off the charging mob with machine guns. No one inside the sound-proofed doors knew what was happening.

After an extremely tense standoff, the mob had left, but they left many bodies behind—all of the workers who had been outside the ballroom. The scary part to him was that no one had been arrested. It wasn’t even in the news, as far as he could tell. Reports were that Henry Davis, head of his campaign in Arizona, had been killed. Worse yet, it looked like all of those dead were workers for his campaign. It almost smelled like some kind of hit. At this point he didn’t have any answers.

Suddenly, the plane banked hard to the right. Daniel jolted upright in his seat. He saw Gerry coming out of the pilot’s cabin walking fast. She was looking hard at the Senator.

Adrenalin spiked in Daniel’s body, “What’s going on?”

Gerry was trained to show no emotion but Danny could see she was pale under her makeup. She spoke as she handed him a secure fax, “We just received this from Bill Colbein at the CIA. We’re headed for Denver, then on to Washington.”

The senator started reading.

FROM THE OFFICE OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, WASHINGTON
0540 EST: Reports we are receiving suggest that the United States may be under attack. At 0500 EST large explosions were heard throughout the mountains of New Mexico, Western Texas, and in Northern California. Early reports show that all passes through the Mountains in New Mexico have been closed with what appear to be large rockslides. We will not know for sure until the sun rises and a satellite passes over. This will occur at 0615-0619 local time. I-5 in California has been closed just south of the Oregon border. Satellite transit of Northern California is from 0712–0716 local time.
At the same time, there are indications of large troop movements throughout New Mexico and West Texas. Before the reports ceased, there was a report that thousands of black trucks were crossing the border through Cuidad Juarez. They were moving fast with no hindrance at the border.
We have lost contact with Fort Bliss in El Paso, Holloman AFB and Kirtland AFB in New Mexico.
We have lost contact with CINCPAC and CNRSW in San Diego.
We have lost contact with all bases in the San Francisco Bay area.
At this time, we have not received a response from any of our military bases throughout the southwestern United States. We are assuming that we are under attack. You should divert immediately to Denver and return to Washington.

Liberation begins

Sunday Morning, 5 am Local time, the fifth of May: In Ciclos de Ladrón south of Tomé hill across the river and north from Belén, New Mexico

It was chaos in the bike shop. Manny didn’t know whether to be angry or delighted. Colonel Pablo Santiana had showed up at 2:00 am with 25 more of those incredible black trucks, plus his command Hummer. Manny had known something was up, but now that the men had put on their uniforms it was clear. Outside, over 300 trucks had arrived in the past hour and they were still streaming in. The newly arrived trucks had the Aztlan SEAL on the door. He just didn’t know what his position was in all this.

“Manuel!”

Manny looked up at the sound of his name. Lupe was standing on the little balcony in front of his offices on the second floor of the workshop. He always reminded Manuel of those chain-sawed Smokey Bear sculptures carved out of Ponderosa pine logs. They were the most common souvenirs down in the Texan boutiques of Ruidoso, New Mexico in the Sacramento Mountains east of Alamogordo and Holloman AFB. Lupe looked like what Manny imagined Geronimo would look carved like that—short but bulky, ropey muscles, black hair in a long, thick braid, with a leather strap around his head above his ears, and able to move like a puma—but much more deadly.

Today he was wearing his usual jeans and brown cowboy boots with a Cyclos de Ladrón T-shirt. The presence of his black leather hunting vest showed there was serious trouble brewing this morning. Lupe was motioning him to come up.

What is happening? He thought as he jogged over to the steps and took them two at a time. “Yea, Lupe. Whatcha want?”

There was a little smile on his leader’s face, but none in his black eyes. “Come inside with me, my brother. We have work to do.”

That particular, wonderful jolt of adrenalin hadn’t been felt since before he was drummed out of the Seals for killing those brats in Iran back in ’92. Those little raghead spawn hadn’t deserved to live anyway. All we needed was starving kids, growing up to blow themselves up for a promised hope of heaven. Maybe I was a little aggressive. But there was no cause to toss me out! He’d been trying to rein it in. Gettin’ drummed out had almost killed him. Part of the core of his being had missed the action. Maybe he’d get to kill again. That forbidden thought burst through and his whole body felt like he was lifted on wings of strength. He was ready!

Manny walked through the door with Lupe Llano’s hand at his back. In Lupe’s huge office stood Col. Santiana with at least a couple dozen troops. All of the soldiers were sharp, dressed in black, with guns and knives on their hips. All that was needed were the tactical vests and armament of choice to rock and roll.

Lupe swung around to Manny’s side and introduced him. “Colonel, this is the man I told you about. Manuel Cisneros set most of the charges in New Mexico. He knows this state like the palm of his hand and anything you need to know about the area, he knows. Plus, he’s a SEAL.”

Colonel Santiana stepped forward with his hand out. He had a huge grin on his face, displaying his white teeth that were perfect except for the two square blocks of gold where his top front teeth used to be, “Senor Cisneros, congratulations! All of your charges worked exactly as planned. The canyons are closed. This is a proud moment and I need a man of your talents. Are you ready to help me?” Manny grabbed his hand hard, prepared for the pain that arrived as expected in the crushing grip.

“Yes, sir!”

“Come back here with us then.” The Colonel turned and led Lupe, Manny, and three of the Jaguar Captains back to the large table on the east side of the room.

It was made from two–4×8 sheets of one-inch plywood on a strong 2×4 frame. It was held up by 6×6s in the corners and middle. It was edged with whitewood 1×6s neatly mitered at the corners. On the wall was a large window that was showing the sun rising over the Manzano Mountains 15 miles east.

The table itself had a large 3D relief map of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, West Texas, and Northern Chihuahua in the middle. The mountains stood about two inches high. The rest of the table was scattered with maps, stats, and diagrams.

Manny saw that the Colonel was a serious piece of work. He’d obviously been through a lot and represented the best of professional warrior leadership. You could see it in the way he stood—confidently but ready to respond to whatever happened. There was a gleam in his eye like Manny had seen one time when he was hunting in the mountains and had come upon a puma ready to leap on the back of an unsuspecting deer. It was so good to be under a professional again.

Lupe was good, but he was no warrior. Lupe was more of a street brawler—very deadly, street wise, but totally unconcerned about military appearances, weak on tactics, and planning.

Colonel Santiana was a traditional warrior. His black uniform was starched and creased. The gold buttons gleamed. The Epaulets shone. The medals were missing this morning, and Manuel imagined that the epaulets and buttons would go also as they got to work. But, he was sure that his black shirt under his TAC vest would be starched and pressed.

The black knee-high boots reflected his surroundings. The black hair was cropped tight with that typical Chihuahuan officer affectation of the carefully trimmed mustache and goatee. No extravagances here other than the slightly waxed curl to the black ends of his mustache. His eyes were as black as his uniform.

The Glocks in the black holsters on each hip were a dull black, well used, with what looked like hand-fitted manzanita handles. The purple of the manzanita wood glowed in the morning sun as the Colonel strode to the back of the table and faced them silhouetted in the sun.

“Men, it’s started.” Pablo’s voice was gravelly with emotion. “As you know, El Patron and I have been planning for this day for many years. We finally arranged for the help we needed. Señor Dominguez tells me that it is up to us. If we can take and hold central New Mexico by noon today, his people in California and Texas will move on our behalf.

“As you can see, the passes are closed. Thanks to our warrior friend here,” and he gathered Manuel into their plans with a sweep of his arm, “the mountain barrier between East and West has been sealed. Cimmaron, Apache Cañon, Tijeras, Abo, Carrizozo, Cloudcroft, and Guadalupe passes are cut off. I have men in those locations finishing the work. I think you all knew about these plans. What you didn’t know is that I-5 has been similarly sealed off at the Oregon border and Triad troops from Chinatown in San Francisco have blockaded the coast highway north of Eureka. These Chinese troops have also blockaded all the roads coming down through California from Oregon.

“We have promises that there will be no response from the United States Army, Navy, or Air Force until at least noon. If we can secure Kirtland in Albuquerque and Holloman in Alamogordo by then, El Patron assures me that this non-response will become permanent.”

Lupe and the captains shouted and pumped their fists in the air. “Viva, El Patron!” “Viva, Aztlan!” Manny was a little confused, but he liked the energy of the room.

Pablo Santiana noticed Manny’s confusion and motioned the rest to silence. “Manuel, the day has come! If we do our part, Aztlan will be a nation on the world stage by tonight. Governor Chavez of New Mexico has accepted the offer of the presidency. He only awaits the go-ahead from Chihuahua. Our day is here!”

Pablo’s teeth sparkled even in the shadow of his silhouette. The two gold teeth shone in the wide, perfect grin. “Señor Cisneros, I need you to tell me something.”

“Whatever you need, sir.”

“We are having a little fight of it in Albuquerque. I need a way to get onto the base from the back. We’ve taken the front gates and destroyed the command center. We have a Chinese jammer that has cut off all of their communication, as far as we know. But we have a problem. Come here.”

As Manny came over to the table, around back next to the Colonel, he saw a map of southeast Albuquerque and the base. The Colonel continued, “ We have taken all the gates on Gibson, plus the Wyoming and Eubank gates. We’re fighting hard for the South Gate in Tijeras Arroyo. Their forces are sealed inside. But they are fighting hard, even though there are not many left. If we could come from back here, we could run up the runway, capture the control tower, and eliminate the resistance.”

“No problem, sir. See this road here?” Manuel pointed to a straight dirt road angling directly southwest from the base up to the edge of the Manzanos where it stopped just short of the northern Isleta Reservation boundary. “Do you have a map of Valencia County and the reservation?”

Pablo motioned to Lupe who slid that map over to the two men by the window. “Look here, sir. On the northeast corner of the eastern Meadowlake extension is a gate—right here.” Manny pointed. “It’s not on the map, but I have been up there many times—scouting the terrain for Lupe, making sure there are no threats to his ranch. One couple owns this whole corner of the development. He works for Sandia Lab and I have seen him go through the gate in the morning. It looks like he has permission to use a seldom-used fire trail that winds at the base of the mountains the entire way across the eastern edge of the reservation to go to work. He drives a big blue Ram Truck truck—same size as yours. So, I’m sure the road goes the whole way through up to the base.”

“Wonderful!”

“There are several fences to break through, but they shouldn’t slow us much. In fact, we’ll need to be fast. There are machine gun and missile emplacements back there on the base protecting the old nuclear storage in the foothills. The nukes are supposedly gone, but the defenses remain.”

“That’s not a problem, Manuelito. I know about them. One of my men in base security got me one of the old construction maps from the 1950s, plus a current map. My trucks will take them out before they’re a problem.”

Manny swelled with pride. “Manuelito!” He hadn’t been called that since his tough old Marine grandfather had died ten years ago. He always associated that name with his course of life as a man—living to please his grandfather. He was a tough ol’ buzzard and Manny wanted to make him proud—too bad he couldn’t see him now.

“Have any of my men showed you inside those trucks?”

“No sir.”

“You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’m pleased my men were so careful. But when you get to look at them carefully you’ll see they are armored personnel carriers. We have worked to camouflage them, and it appears that we have done our job. They may not have tracks, but the tires are tough, off-road, run-flat monsters. These are our tanks. They all have two Chinese 9 mm machine guns mounted over the front wheels exiting through the headlight openings. The lights fold in and down, out of the way to fire. About half of the bed covers blow off with explosive bolts to reveal two standard configurations: dual 25 mm machine guns plus three anti-aircraft missiles or an anti-tank missile battery that can fire up to eight missiles at a time. Each of the missile batteries has six reloads or forty-eight missiles. The rest carry four men and a half a ton of armament each. There are now over five thousand of them throughout the state. Three thousand crossed through Juarez this morning and they will be reinforced by nearly ten thousand more headed up from Chihuahua that left at dark last night to avoid the satellites.”

“I’m impressed, sir.”

“You’ve not seen anything yet. The Americans think that those factories built by the Chinese in our state are to build appliances and tools for Wal-Mart. Half of those factories are underground. We have some nice new toys. Wait ’til you get to use them—right, men?” There were enthusiastic murmurs of agreement from the rest of the troops in the office. “We’ve been training on them for a couple years now. Lupe taught us much at the beginning of the millennium, and we’ve been adding skill upon skill since then.

“We’ve been itching for this battle for a long time. Right, men?” He flashed a grim smile and the men cheered in agreement with enthusiasm.

As it quieted back down, Santiana looked around the office with sudden curiosity. “Where’s Hermano?”

Lupe answered, “He’s up at the ranch. He, Raul, and José were blind-sided by what seems to have been some sort of wild woman in Belén a couple months ago. She cut him pretty bad. We had the wound cleaned and stitched up, but it has developed into a raging infection that we have not been able to contain. We may lose him.”

The colonel’s eyes narrowed. “A woman!? What the hell were you guys doing?”

José stepped forward from the back of the room. “We were just playing with a gringo and his wife. This woman came around the back of the truck, flying through the air, feet first. Hermano went down and never got back up. I tried to grab her so Raul could get her with his chain, but she grabbed the chain, almost crushed my throat with her other foot…” He stopped abruptly as Santiana pinned him with a stare.

“Enough! I never thought any of my men could be pussy-whipped.” The Colonel raised his eyes in confusion.

The rest of the men burst in to raucous laughter.

Confusion gone, he snapped, “Let’s mount up. Get your gear.”

Glancing at the former &SEAL&, “Suit up, Manuelito. We leave in fifteen minutes. We’ve got work to do.

The Surprise of war

Sunday Morning, the fifth of May: 6:30 am Local time, In the Jackson kitchen

Jacob was taking the first sip of his first cup of coffee in his Sunday morning ritual when he heard the roar of large-bore V8s thundering past his house. “Good grief! The windows are rattling. What the heck is going on?” Jakob was accustomed to a macho truck or two heading up the road to see if they could go north along the mountains, but they always slowed when they saw the gate and the threats posted on it by Isleta Pueblo always made them turn around. This was far more than he had ever heard before. He ducked down to look south out the window in the kitchen nook and saw a stream of those black trucks diving down through the arroyo south of the house and racing past the house for the gate to the base. He watched for a second as they drove by at nearly fifty miles per hour—there were literally hundreds of those trucks.

Then he snatched up the phone and dialed his office. It was busy. He dialed Base Security—busy. He dialed every number on base he could think of before it became obvious that something was wrong. He grabbed the cell phone off its charger. He speed-dialed Security on the cell. After it searched for a signal for over thirty seconds, he decided there was a really serious problem.

He hurried out the north door of the kitchen into the atrium rushing for his office. As he headed turned the corner in front of his bedroom door, he called to his wife, “Rachael, it looks like what we feared has occurred. El Patron seems to have invaded us. Pray! I’m going to contact Ralph and see if he’s heard anything. I wonder how they got this far? What looks like an invasion force is heading up the back road to the base and all the phones are down or tied up on the base. It’s those trucks we’ve been wondering about. Turn on the news.”

Jacob went into his office and fired up his computer. He launched his satellite connection. Thankfully the old Iridium network was still up. He rarely used these satellites anymore—but few knew they were still active. Part of their preparation the past two days was to get this up and checked out again. They’d gotten lazy and a little sloppy. But the satellites were still working and more importantly were very secure and largely unused any more.

Lately much of his focus had been on the design of new weapons at the Lab. He was developing tiny electromagnetic (EM) grenade-sized 44 mm and 25 mm hand bombs that would take out the electronics for square yards or a few acres. He was concerned that something like that had hit the base. But the EM grenades were not ready for prime time yet. There were only a few test samples floating around.

All he could think of was to call Ralph at Black Sail East. He’d see what Ralph had to say. Ralph would have his ear to the ground. He’d spent the past week getting his network ready.

Jakob clicked on Ralph’s secure link. It was Sunday, but when excrement hit the fan, Ralph would be at work. He watched as the whirs, clicks, and random imagery of the digital security handshake began.

As soon as the connection was complete, the room was filled with the familiar verbal assault of rough staccato that was the voice of his friend. He could tell by slightly shrill edge that problems were worse than he thought. “Jake, what’s going on out there? I’m glad we got these old satellite links set up again. I would have let you know two hours ago but I’ve been dealing with the data stream.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered. I just got up. I’m calling you, remember? I have no idea what is going on out here. I assume that this is what we’ve been preparing for. The phones are all out. I’m watching at least 200 black trucks in a speeding line that crashed through the gate at the back of my property headed up the back road to the base through my back yard. What do you know?”

“Boy, that possibility slipped by me! Whoever we’re dealing with is sharp. But, there’s nothing we can do about it. We sent several planes over Albuquerque to check things out, but they were all shot down if they were flying under 20,000 feet. Now that the sun is up the high altitude shots and satellites show lines of vehicles moving throughout the state. Most of the base is covered with smoke, so we’re not sure what is happening there. We should have some infrared satellite shots in an hour or so. Basically, we know very little other than it is obvious that a major battle is taking place. There were a few calls saying Kirtland was under attack—but they were cut off. All cell phones in the entire metropolitan area are down. The landlines are all down.

“All we know for sure is that there have been many explosions in all of the passes through the mountains in New Mexico—Cimarron, Coyote Creek, Tres Ritos, Apache Canyon west of Glorieta, Carnuel, Hondo, Cloudcroft. Some are so remote we don’t have reliable intel yet. They missed very few and we have to assume that the rest are set to blow whenever needed or at least before we can mount a serious offensive. Guadalupe Pass just south of the New Mexico/Texas border and I-10 just west of Van Horn, Texas have been cut off also.

“Before the phones went down, there was a report of thousands of those friggin’ black trucks passing through Juarez into El Paso. We cannot contact Fort Bliss. Out West, San Diego and everything in that area are unavailable. Cell phones are generally unavailable throughout the Southwest—California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. What can you tell me?”

“Well, not much really. They appear to be the trucks we have been talking about. They’re beefed up new Ram Truck 4×4s that have nineteen-inch wheels with tough flat black spoked rims, hemis, and plenty of ground clearance. Judging from the sound as they go by the house, the engines are far from stock.

“Wait, let me move to my window! I’m watching them head up through the reservation and several of them are blowing the camper shells off. Good grief, you won’t believe this, but under the tops are machine guns and missiles. The machine guns are swivel-mounted, double-barreled monsters, maybe 25mm. The missile launchers seem to come in two flavors: anti-aircraft mounts and infantry anti-tank mounts. I don’t recognize the weapons—though they look new.”

“I knew it! We assumed something like that. I’m guessing new Chinese weaponry. I’ll let the White House know.”

Jacob laughed, “The White House?”

“They don’t like it much, but I know more than anyone they have at this point. Like I said, I’m hooked up through Homeland Security. I’ll call back later and fill you in. Maybe we’ll have something to do in the near future.”

“Call as soon as you can. I’ll check the computer regularly. Let me get the rest of the team up here. Talk to you in a bit.”

“You bet—so long, Jake.”

Jacob clicked off, a grim look on his face, and sat in thought for a couple of long minutes watching the trucks that were still racing by the hacienda. He turned back to computer. While he was waiting, he swung back to the window and took some sips of his hot coffee from his stainless Starbucks mug.

His mind was racing like it hadn’t for several years. Things had ramped up a little since Thursday, but this was a whole new, higher level of thought.

He noticed the brain activity with a smile, “I’ve missed this. The work on the base is satisfying, but this feels better. It’s nice to be off the theoretical for a while.” He swung back to the computer and opened Mail. “OK…” he sighed. “At least the commercial satellites are still up and running.” He saw emails from several of his friends and acquaintances back East downloading. Murmuring to himself, he quickly composed three letters and sent them off.

Then he grabbed his mug and went in to talk to Rachael. In the large master suite in the northeast corner of the hacienda, Jacob sat down in the leather club chair in the corner.

Rachael came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her chest, drying her hair. The vigorous scalp massage loosened the towel that gradually dropped to the floor.

As always, Jacob was stirred by his wife. This was no anorexic cadaver model, but a fully curvaceous redheaded woman from the mold of Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Jane Mansfield. “Woman, you are gorgeous!”

Rachael giggled and blushed a little. She was very modest, but she knew what she had was all Jacob’s. “Come over here, big boy.”

Jacob stood up, walked over, and wrapped his wife in his long arms. The smoothness of her back was intoxicating as his hands swept down in past her waist and out over the graceful curves. The kiss was long and deep. Finally Rachael gently pushed him away. “Enough… I’ve got to go to work.” She turned on her full, dazzling smile letting her beloved husband know how much she loved him. What a man… girl, God has truly blessed you.

Jacob relaxed his arms, leaned back forward, and gently finished the kiss. Heading to his chair, “Heard anythin’on TV?”

“Fox seems to be in full battle mode. I haven’t heard so many talking heads since we were driving to Baghdad going after Saddam. But there are no reporters from out here. Everything west of the Rockies seems to be down. The gist seems to be that they don’t know much, but it’s bad. The worst, as far as they are concerned, is that all the major stations throughout the West seem to be cut off. So far, they have really heard nothing. The local stations here that are still on the air have news departments playing canned reruns of shows from the past weeks. FoxNews is talking about explosions throughout New Mexico, Texas, and California.”

“No wonder Ralph sounded so chipper. The battle for Kirtland would be enough to get him going—the rest of this makes it truly sound like war. I sent emails to Denzell, Stones, and Bebe. They should be here after church. We need to pray about what to do.”

Rachael turned around, “So pray, already…”

He did—as always asking for wisdom and guidance. When he had thoroughly covered the topic, he looked back at his wife and her amen. “Chorizo in your burrito?”

“Think I’d rather have ham, hon.”

“It’ll be ready when you are. I’ll be in the kitchen.” Jake left his wife to her prayers and preparation for the anointing needed for useful preaching. His conversation with the Lord continued also. Church would be interesting this morning, at the very least.

On the base

Sunday Morning the fifth of May: 10:30 am Local time, On Kirtland AFB in Southeast Albuquerque

Here I am killing again. He’d thought that was all in the past. Major Warren Jenson felt the pad of the stock of the H&K MP5F pound his shoulder as he dropped another invader. He saw another cell tower crumble to the ground. Off to his left, the east end of one of the old barracks disappeared in a cloud of flame and debris. The entire area was clouded with the smoke of battle. The smell of cordite burnt his nose. The noise was painful in its intensity.

He’d taken the machine gun from another soldier that he’d shot a while back. This was his weapon of choice—the best submachine gun in the world. He was glad to have found it after his antique Colt 45 had done its worst. It was tucked in his belt on his back. Even though it was empty he couldn’t stand to part with it.

Major Jenson was an impressive man to men and a delightful fox to most women. If he’d been standing, he would have been a lithe, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed warrior in civvies. He stood almost exactly two meters tall, a hair under 6’ 6”, with a tussled flattop of naturally white-blonde hair. His hands were long, big, and strong with carefully trimmed nails and a few scars. He kept his body prepared. There were more scars showing on his tanned and well muscled arms under the short sleeves of his purple Vikings T-shirt. He looked Aryan, but he was Scandinavian—a strong flashback to his true Viking roots.

When the explosions had snapped him awake in the early dark in the Bachelor Officer Quarters, he had been momentarily stunned—which had been a wake-up call in itself. He was living in BOQ because it was cheap, available, and comfortable to a military man. There wasn’t much sense in getting anything better in town until he figured out what he was doing now that he was out of the military. Since he became a civilian, he’d gotten slack. He had to move off base soon. After he left active duty, he had been coming to grips with the simple fact that he was tired of the killings and the pain. Weapons had become merely tools of his trade that he taught the rough and ready, more enthusiastic youth. Of course, his trainees would be shocked to hear him admit this.

What no one on base knew was that he was the tactical consultant for the seven different 7-man [’scuse me, -person] Covert Anti-Terrorism Hit Squads that were usually called CATHS #1–7. CATHS was black because its tactics would not sit well with the ACLU or other appeasers. No one knew about the squads except his boss, the Homeland Security director, and the President. (Come to think about it, he wasn’t sure the President knew.)

As a civilian working at Kirtland for Homeland Security, his job was to train police, and especially SWAT teams, to react instantly to terrorist threats within the United States. For CATHS he had become a desk jockey. He kept in shape and kept up his skills, but he wasn’t constantly ready to respond any more. He’d found that out this morning. He was now a planner. When a terrorist within the United States was located or identified, he was supposed to develop the plan to eliminate him, her, or them. However, that only worked if he had a clue about what was really going on. He was working on that, but had no real knowledge yet.

CATHS made SWAT and HRT look like boy scouts. They were nearly the equal of Delta or SEAL squads. Warren’s skills, courage, and experience were sufficient to have earned him the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, barely less than the Congressional Medal of Honor. Only the fact that most of his work was covert had kept him from the eye of Congress and the Medal of Honor (he’d been told).

Nothing remained of that life, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, except his nickname, Major. However, he was a tactician without equal. The only reason he had left the Army (over strong protests) was the offer from Homeland Security. Duty kept him in service to his country—that wasn’t likely to change.

From the position of his aged thirty-three years, the adrenalin had gotten old. After fifteen years the edge was gone. He was tired of the fight and the constant pain of the necessary training. The medals were not enough motivation to put up with the grief of constant readiness and dead friends. It used to be the fact that he knew he worked for the “good guys”. But that distinction was becoming so blurred that he wasn’t sure he understood good anymore.

He was happy that his skills could still be used to serve the country he loved. But something was missing. Physically, there was no doubt he could still hold his own and he rarely had a student he couldn’t whip easily. But he was ready to settle down. Now all he had to do was find someone with whom it was worth settling down.

Because he was no longer on call, he’d left all his weaponry back at ATTRA where it was supposed to be. He didn’t normally carry or use weapons outside of teaching and training any more.

The Anti-Terrorism Threat Reduction Agency had been assembled to deal with threats. But no one had expected an invasion like this. What was the danger in Albuquerque—other than the Chicano gangs of the South Valley and the War Zone of drug dealers and gangs living just north of the base? Even those areas were getting cleaned up rapidly with all of the influx of building and construction coming out of Santa Fe now that Governor Chavez was openly structuring the power toward the Hispanic community.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center downtown had become the center of massive urban revival. The gangs had been largely converted to neighborhood work crews and political muscle. The entire area south of downtown was being rebuilt with million dollar haciendas and twenty-story office towers.

Those gangbangers that had survived to old age were now married with kids, and the new prosperity had converted their gang ties to community pride. The public persona of the gangs was now community-minded. Once the pain was lessened, the need for drugs had lessened as well.

Those left were mere punks, shunned by the new community. The new Hispanic community now saw them as minor thugs with few brains, using drugs to replace both courage and training.

At least that was the official story. How could he have let himself be lulled into complacency? He’d assumed his father’s old Colt would be enough for emergencies in the new order of things. The sheer size and noise were enough to send any punk running. And he’d only seen the punks—he’d missed the larger picture.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! I should have known better. The bad guys had not disappeared. They had merely changed like a chameleon and disappeared by avoiding the public eye.

No one had expected an invasion. The build up in Chihuahua had been suspicious and troublesome. The reports had indicated much more military power than was necessary to manage a prosperous Mexican state. However, American military might simply dismissed Mexican military power as insignificant. Evidently, though, Dominguez had built a force to be reckoned with. An operation of this magnitude was hard to hide—but they had done it.

Most people didn’t realize that American invincibility was a former glory. Complacency was king, as America believed the foolishness spewed out by the tube. Now that ISIS was under control and the Peacekeepers controlled most of the Middle East, urgency was gone. Everyone was tired of war and the constant watchfulness.

The good guys had become few and far between. War was too messy and simply provided a fertile field for the appeasers who were more interested in legalizing their perversions than in pursuing right and truth.

We should have known when we barely had the fortitude to finish the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan. The surge against ISIS was more like a spasm. After all, any fool knows that all you have to do is talk to these poor misguided barbarians and they’ll lay down their weapons in their eagerness to join the obvious good of the new world civilization of free democracies.

Bah!

The result of that attitude was in front of him now. Clearly, these men were serious. This was not the random rage of the punks. If the thousands of soldiers he’d seen today all had the MP5s (and he was pretty sure they did), this was an army to be reckoned with. The sheer amount of capital investment was immense, but it was the quality of weapon and the level of training it indicated that were the real problem. These were not ignorant barbarians.

They were tightly disciplined, sharply commanded, and following a well-developed plan. And, there were a lot of them. In addition to the weaponry, the trucks used to carry the men and weapons were amazing. Those darn black trucks had machine guns shooting through the headlight openings. They were obviously heavily armored. They’d certainly be no match for tanks or Strykers. But who knew, maybe they had true armored vehicles for other areas of the conflict. They weren’t needed here.

Many of the trucks had serious machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles or what looked like brand-new Chinese HP-9 laser-guided, fire and forget, anti-tank missiles mounted in the pickup beds. He’d never seen the eight-up configuration before, but that is surely what they were. I never thought I’d see Chinese missiles on black Ram Trucks with Mexican soldiers in Albuquerque. He became lost in thought for a moment. He needed to report in.

He’d watched the anti-tank missiles take out three cell towers, dozens of Hummers, and even the old Bradleys. Base defense here was Air Force. The ground forces were very limited. American soldiers were lying dead all over the place. Most of them had been caught by surprise (like him) and were in jeans and T-shirts.

There were very few dead men in black. The little submachine gun he’d grabbed (from the corpse produced with his old 45) was well used, but in perfect repair. The action was smooth and tight. The bullets were the hot French variety, neatly packed into the five 30-shot 9 mm magazines he’d picked up. This would keep him alive for a while until he could get a plan together. He was a little rusty, but the processes were speeding up. He stretched his neck and hands instructing them to relax.

Suddenly, on the wall his left shoulder was leaning against as he surveyed the area, the stucco just above his head exploded in a painful spray of dust and sand. His reactions were still good as his body picked itself up a couple of inches and launched three feet to the wall on his right side. Major snapped back into focus, slightly dazed. Obviously this hide in the little gap between the old Atomic Museum and admin building had been discovered.

He was not used to spontaneous battle any more. All the work he had done for the past decade was highly structured, carefully planned, and meticulously executed. This reactive survival game with no intel, communications, or support was not fun. It was like being blind. Right now, the plan was simply to get back to the ATTRA training area on the east edge of the base just northeast of Tech area II. To do that, he would need to survive long enough to arrive.

Come on, stupid, think! He berated himself while his brain whirled through possible plans and scenarios. [_You need to disappear. _]He not only had to find some weaponry and his TAC suit, but a satellite link. He needed to get a report back to CATHS, stat.

He peeked out in the direction of the shot. There were two men in black headed toward him, trying to carefully keep under cover. One darted toward a rock while he was watching and Major drilled his head and neck with a triple tap of the sub gun. He’d found out earlier that the body armor was too good for a reliable kill to the body. The other was hiding behind that cottonwood in the front yard. He kept a watchful eye and sure enough, the soldier finally leaned out to get a shot. Just the head, but it was enough. Major’s shots dropped him instantly. With the immediate threat taken care of, he checked his cell for the umpteenth time. No signal. Obviously, the whole system had been taken out as part of the attack. His only hope was getting away from all the fighting to the west around headquarters and the airfield.

He remembered some good cover on south side of Sandia Lab. Most of the base was old military, baby-poo beige with no landscaping. But here around the museum and the Lab, the sensibilities of the scientists and politicians had been catered to a little. The resulting rocks and bushes gave him a little respite. He scooted back, gathered himself into a low crouch, turned around and trotted east to the other end of the three-foot gap between the buildings.

When he got there, he could see Hardin Boulevard, off to his right, headed east. It turned north just before the headquarters of ATTRA and it would be his quickest access to what he needed if the Mexicans were gone. He only had a few blocks to go. Thankfully, it looked like the shots exchanged had not aroused attention. The back of his neck felt raw and he had a heck of a headache but his only injuries seemed to be surface scratches. It was quiet on the eastern side of the museum, but he could see smoke northeast, up by the Eubank Gate.

He carefully edged out until he reached the cover of two long pyracantha hedges. They made good cover, and he began his careful dart and reconnoiter journey toward his office. He made it to behind to the end of another pyracantha hedge opposite the corner of 14th and Hardin where there was a grouping of several large juniper bushes. They might stink like cat pee, but at least they wouldn’t rip him up like the pyracantha. He slipped under the junipers.

Carefully edging his head out, he looked East and West on Hardin making sure no one was following. Nothing there. He could see north on 14th past the East side of the Lab and it was clear there also. Carefully, he edged out on the sidewalk and began an alert jog east toward ATTRA training headquarters. As far as he could tell, all of the action was back near the Carlisle gate and the control tower next to the runways. This part of the base was empty on Sunday mornings anyway and he suspected that the few who had been around early this morning were now dead. He didn’t see any bodies, but there was no movement either. Empty. He must have killed the last two on this part of the base.

Arriving at headquarters, he was a little irritated that he was panting a bit. It was completely quiet around headquarters and he was able to slip into his office undetected. It was nothing fancy—pale green walls from that old 1960s assurance that the color would calm the occupants (ignoring the more normal response of vague nausea).

He had an old gray steel desk with two gray metal chairs of similar vintage with thick gray vinyl seat padding. The chairs were lined against the wall in front of the desk just inside the door separated from each other by a low blonde end table from the era. Back in the corner was a gray steel six-drawer file cabinet. On the walls were the required pictures of former commanders-in-chief up through Dubya -skip- Trump.

Warren had somehow lost the pictures of some of the more recent presidents. He didn’t intend on honoring the current toad unless forced into it. Presidents Bush and Trump at least had some backbone and honor. The current office holder had neither—missing common sense also. He was worse than Obama—and that was saying a lot.

He sat at his desk and tried the phone. It was dead. Next he booted up his computer. It refused to go online. He wasn’t surprised. It seemed obvious that the invaders had clear instructions to eliminate all communications and break the WAN or Wide Area network which provided the internal computer linkage of the base and the online hookup.

He checked the radio they used to communicate around the training area. It was overwhelmed with white noise—jammed for sure. That was a surprise, like the HP-9s. The Mexicans had gotten a lot of help from someone. These were not unfinanced nor poorly trained rabble.

Major Jenson needed to call the boss, even though his report would not be worth much. He unlocked the file cabinet and pulled the satellite phone out of the drawer second from the bottom. The jamming didn’t work on this phone—as he expected.

Hitting one to speed dial, he waited through the clicks and whirs. As soon as the phone was answered, he didn’t bother with the pleasantries. They knew who was calling by the ID. “Sir, we have a situation here. The base is overrun by Mexican troops. They are driving heavily modified, well-armored, black Dodge trucks. The trucks and soldiers are all carrying the new Aztlan SEAL you sent us last fall. The trucks have Chinese weaponry mounted in the back. Many of them seem to have some new 8-up HP-9 tactical missile launcher. It’s deadly accurate. I’ve seen them take out cell tower transmitters without dropping the tower.

“The way they handle themselves I’m almost certain they are Santiana’s shock troops, Jaguars de Aztlan. My guess is five thousand Mexican troops or more—all Jaguars from what I’ve seen—well trained and disciplined. I had no idea they had this many troops of this caliber.

There was heavy fighting at all the gates—rather there was a lot of gunfire and explosions at the gates. They caught us by surprise—I never heard a whole lot of resistance. There are fires all over Southeast Albuquerque—probably the cell towers and switching stations. They’ve eliminated all local communication.

“Our troops were trying to hold a line where I live in the center of the base south of the Gibson gate. I think the major breakthrough came from the west at the Carlisle and Truman gates. There was heavy fighting over there on the other side of Veteran’s Hospital. We were nearly holding our own, but a long line of those trucks came racing up the runways from the Manzanos. A hundred or so came up by the Atomic Museum and eliminated the Gibson resistance. There are only small pockets of fighting now. As I mentioned, they have taken out all the cells and telephone switching stations, plus they’re jamming all the radios. I was little surprised that this phone got though. Right now the only heavy battle is around the control tower and the west end of the base. The east side is deserted. Everyone here has moved on or died.”

“Thank God you’re alive, Major!” Ralph growled. “Yours is the first report I have received from the base. I knew about the trucks. They came up the back way in the foothills. Do you have any transportation?”

“I’ll find something.”

“Good, here’s what I want you to do and where I want you to go…”

The beginnings of a plan

Sunday Morning, the fifth of May: 11:15 am Local time, On Meadowlake Road heading east out of Los Lunas nearing the foothills of the Manzano Mountains

Jakob looked over at his daughter. She was doing well as he had expected. It had been a different story at The Living Way fellowship this morning. Rachael had been at her best—encouraging, comforting, and strengthening her sheep. Attendance had been huge. All anyone wanted to talk about is the black trucks and the Mexican soldiers. Then of course, there was the cell phone problem. You would have thought some of them had lost a child. Mary Beth had been nearly out of her mind with worry—because she couldn’t get in touch with her daughter in Santa Fe.

Judging by the conversations, all phones were out from Highway 60 at Bernardo and I-25 south of Belén to north of Bernalillo—the entire metropolitan area of Albuquerque. No one lived farther away than that. The Romero’s kid, Carmine, lived in northern Bernalillo and had come down on the freeway to check on his parents when the phones weren’t working. He had said the freeways were clear, though there wasn’t much traffic. All the TV appeared to be local, unless you had a dish.

Rachael had gotten them calmed down without too much effort. The morning worship service had begun right after the normal Sunday school classes started. People simply left the classes to go to the sanctuary and pray.

Rachael had gotten Martha to the piano to play worship songs quietly in the background. Before too long people began singing softly while they tried to put their trust in the One who is able. Gradually that seemed more and more possible.

By the time the normal ten o’clock service started the songs, praise, and worship had slid into communal prayer. A hush developed over the congregation that had been too precious to break. The Lord spoke through Rachael into that hush of expectation.:

“Do not be troubled. I have told you beforehand that you will have troubles. This is part of your training and discipline. Be not afraid, I have overcome.”

Under the anointing, this developed into a marvelous exposition by the pastor of the power available to believers in the midst of trial. She was still there, serving her sheep, comforting her flock. She’d probably be there until late this afternoon.

It had been Rachael’s idea for Jakob to get Deborah out of there and take her back home. They had left Deb’s Cruiser at church for Rachael to drive home when she was done. She’d obviously be there quite a while. They were riding in Rach’s purple Hummer with the dark red crosses on the doors and hood. It had not seemed wise to drive Jakob’s deep blue, Ram Truck pickup this morning after what they had seen headed for the base.

They hadn’t seen even one of the black trucks in the valley this morning. As Jakob turned left off Meadowlake Road onto Foothill Drive up next to the Manzanos he looked northwest toward the base twenty miles north. They had ascended until they were on a high shoulder of the out slope at the base of the Manzanos.

He could see entire airport, the runways, the whole base, and much of the secret tech area development of the eastern parts of the base where he worked. There were a few areas still smoking, but they were obviously not the vigorous growing towers of black smoke that had been visible on their way to church three hours ago. It was hard to tell exactly where the fires were—it was just too far away.

It always seemed like you could see forever from up here. You could clearly see distant mountains in three directions on the far side of the cottonwood forest or bosque running along the Rio Grande in the near foreground (only fifteen miles away). It wasn’t just the distant peaks either. You could see a lot of the ground, too. However, by this time of the day the heat waves rising from the ground destroyed any hope of clear vision even over the short twenty miles to the base and airport.

Jakob spoke to his daughter. She had been very quiet ever since they had left the valley. The normal chatter did not seem appropriate this morning. “Well, Stones, looks like the questions about the trucks are answered.”

“Yea, no wonder those guys I jumped seemed to be in pretty good shape. Like one of the secret service suggested, they must have been soldiers biding their time—taking out their frustrations on the local Anglos. I was just thinking how lucky I am to be alive. I was really in bad shape.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it, babe.” Jakob smiled over and got a little grin in return. “I’ve been assuming that you are staying with us until this is over or at least calms down.”

“I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, but you’re right. I need to move back. I’ve been working at the house so much lately that I keep enough clothes to keep me going for a few days, but maybe Denzell could come with me to pick up a few things.”

Suddenly, Jakob saw a brilliant red-orange flash on the base. Within a second a mushroom cloud of black smoke started rising from the center of the base. “Hey, Stones, look! On the base, it looks like someone got the propane storage by the motor pool.” Debbie peered around the front of her dad. By the time she saw what he was talking about, the cloud from the explosion had risen a couple hundred feet. At its base were flames large enough to be seen up at the base of the mountains, where they were driving, nearly twenty-five miles away. “Wow, that’s quite an explosion. I wonder what happened? All the rest of the smoke is almost gone.”

“I imagine it was an accident during cleanup. My guess is that the base is under Mexican control by now. They probably were eliminating some final resistance and didn’t know about the propane tanks in that metal building in the motor pool yard. It’s the only fresh…”

[*{color:#000;}BOOM! *]The sound of the explosion reached them almost two minutes later. It was strong enough to rattle the Hummer a little. Both of them jumped at the sound, but quickly realized it was from the base.

“That was a big one.” Debbie commented. From their house they had regularly heard booms coming from the base for years. Normally, they were from experiments run by the Lab. Jakob himself had been responsible for some of those explosions. But the noise was much louder this time. It must have been an immense explosion. They hadn’t even been able to hear the fighting this morning on the way to church.

Jakob swung right through a shallow cut in the rocky gravel that made up the shoulder of the mountain. It was obvious that a lot of traffic had been through here recently. Normally the road looked almost completely untraveled. The gravel was heavy enough to cover the Jackson tracks.

But the Mexican trucks had left a clear trail—both wide and deep. The sun was flashing off the mica and quartz veins that laced the rocks up by their home. As they swung left, on the other side of the little cut, they could see the hacienda spread out on the shoulder of the far side of the arroyo about a quarter of a mile north.

Jakob saw his ambulance parked out front of the house before they dove down the gravel slope to cross the arroyo. Denzell had borrowed it overnight to test out his new transmission. “It looks like Denzell got my message and got my truck back in one piece. I hope Bebe made it.”

He hopped out of the car and walked over to Denzell pulling him into their normal hug, “Hi Denz, seen Bebe yet?”

“Hi Jake. Nope, not yet. At least he wasn’t on the reservation this time. I got an email saying that he was up in the Jemez Mountains camping with his family. They were hopin’ for a little family time before it all broke loose. We should have known—Cinco de Mayo. I’m expecting him about now, in fact.” He looked back at his boss. “That was a scary email, boss. What about that explosion?”

“I was just trying to get your attention with the letter. That explosion is just a small part of it as far as I can tell. My guess is the propane storage at the motor pool.”

“Good guess, I’ll bet. You got my attention.”

“Let’s go inside and get some lunch while we wait for Bebe.”

Just then the Apache’s bike came sliding around through the gate to a perfect stop next to the purple Hummer.

“Hi Bebe! We’re just going’ in to get somethin’ to eat.” Jake replied with a broad grin. “You just made it.”

“Just luck, huh?” Bebe exclaimed. He led the four of them to the house. They attacked the refrigerator, piling meat, cheese, rolls, salsa, and whatever they could find on large platters they took into the living room.

They ate a delicious lunch of leftovers gathered in front of the plasma screen at the end of the room. Jacob turned on FoxNews, but all he saw were talking heads. There were no live reports. Nothing seemed to have changed. The talk turned serious.

Suddenly, Jacob’s eyes were caught by a news flash announcement on the screen. He picked up the remote and raised the sound.

The announcement

Sunday, the fifth of May: Noon Mountain Daylight time, On all the networks and news channels across the United States

A special News Flash animation for Fox News was sliding around the screen in a frenzy of flying graphic bits designed to grab your eyeballs. Shepherd Smith was doing the voiceover.

“We break into our discussion of today’s events to bring you the following announcement which we received minutes ago. This is a recorded message from the Governor of New Mexico, Emilio Baca de Chavez”

The graphic left the screen to reveal Governor Chavez standing behind a Mexican hand-carved wooden podium. The governor was a small man standing on a hidden platform built in to the podium to make him appear more impressive. Of course, that was a state joke. Everyone knew the little man wore lifts to gain any height possible.

The gov’ner was always grandstanding. As usual, his black hair was combed over the four-inch wide bald valley running from his forehead to the back of his head. It didn’t work very well and the brown skin looked like a dirt road disappearing into sparse winter brush. The fat inflating his smooth, round face almost cut off his eyes that were sunk into the fat like twin belly buttons. His bushy black eyebrows, moustache, and goatee were impeccably groomed—lending the only dignity available to his persona. But they had a slight hint of Groucho.

He was clothed in a white linen shirt with ruffles covering his chest. Around his neck, a black leather bolo tie held together with an inlaid Aztlan pyramid embedded in turquoise set in gold was almost buried in the pile of ruffles. The shirt was covered with a white on white brocade cape studded with gems. Hollywood would not dare do something so stereotypical. All he needed to look like an oily Liberace was a candlestick and a piano, if you could ignore the facial hair, comb-over, and darker skin.

The podium was another matter. To say it was impressive would be an understatement. The entire setting was carefully crafted to project power. Centered in the top half of the front of the five foot tall podium was a beautifully carved rendering of the Aztlan logo. It was an Aztec pyramid made of three horizontal bars of the Mexican colors using red jasper for the bottom layer, white quartz for the middle, and green malachite for the flattened top. It was capped with an exquisitely faceted quartz crystal square that flashed in the lights.

The governor was speaking from the round two-story hall in New Mexico’s capital building, known as the Roundhouse. The pillars surrounding the room lent a dignity to the presentation and the echoes from the large space did not hurt. There were no visual distractions. There was only one small black bud of a microphone on a slender six-inch black stem. The lighting was impeccable. This was obviously a well staged event.

The Governor began to speak. He was working to keep his voice low and dignified. Those who lived in New Mexico and had followed Baca de Chavez’ career knew it was a bit of a stretch. “I am certain that you are all aware of some of the events that have taken place this morning. They’ve been the opening actions in an operation that has been carefully planned for many years. As you know, I have been tireless in my work of championing the cause of my people. With the help of outstanding groups like La Raza and many others, we have begun the complete liberation of the oppressed bronze nation.”

So far, he was pulling it off. The Spanish accent was obvious, but he was making a real effort to enunciate. He was speaking carefully, but not slowly—obviously reading from an artfully crafted speech that was hidden from the cameras. A more distant camera was careful to keep the view higher than his knees. From that view, he even looked presidential. Even in the closeups there was not hint of nervousness and fear. He appeared to be a man in charge.

He continued. “For hundreds of years, the Mexican and Hispanic peoples of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico have been suppressed and humbled under the control of the Anglos. Washington and the rest of the Anglo establishment on the East Coast of the United States have dictated our lives. That is no longer true. As of today, on the historic anniversary of our people’s independence when we destroyed Napoleon’s army in Mexico, I am announcing the legitimate formation of Aztlan, a country for our people, governed by our own people. Cinco de Mayo is now truly Aztecatl Independence Day.

“In our history, Aztlan is the place of origin of the Aztec peoples. For many years, Aztlan has been used as a rallying cry naming those portions of Mexico that were taken over by the United States in 1846 plus Northern Mexico and Baja California. Historically, the Aztecatl (or people of Aztlan) are the various Nahuatl-speaking peoples formerly from central Mexico distributed throughout the US southwest and northern Mexico. They are also known as the Uto-Aztecan-Tanoan group, and include such peoples as the Paiute, Shoshoni, Hopi, Pima, Yaqui, Tepehuan, Rarámuri (Tarahumara), Kiowas and Mayas.

“We welcome all the oppressed peoples of this area to our new country. From the Pueblos and Apaches of New Mexico to the Asians and Native Americans of California, you are encouraged to join our cause. We have broken the yoke of the Europeans. Our people have regained our former strength. We will protect you, if you join us today. If you chose to remain on your reservations we will respect the borders of your nations. Our only demand is for you to leave the roads open that pass through your lands. We ask you to join us as we build a nation of our proud heritage.”

The eyes of the Governor swept the rotunda—the camera switched to the more impressive side profile which included hints of the columns and marble of the state house. He reached inside the podium and picked up a Mexican glass with a blue rim and took a drink of water. A large gold cuff link with a large diamond flashed in the lights. His oiled black hair gleamed. His perfect white teeth gleamed in the camera lights.

Three of the fingers on his right hand, holding the glass, had large gold rings with Aztec designs and large emeralds. The largest, by far, was on his ring finger. It was another Aztecatl pyramid with the same gemstone arrangement as the podium—except the rock on top was a huge emerald sparkling in the spotlights.

He continued smoothly, with a hint of oiliness, “This morning we closed the passes to the East throughout Northern Mexico, New Mexico, Colorado, and Northern California. I have been in close contact with Governor Estavez of Arizona, Governor Guttierrez of California, and Governor Sandoval of Colorado. Governor Cohen of Nevada has chosen to resign and will be replaced by his Lieutenant Governor, Raul Fernandez. Governor Harmon Young of Utah has not made a decision yet. We are talking with and inviting into our union, the states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

“I have been chosen El Presidente de Aztlan—temporarily until we can have elections. I will rule with the help of my fellow governors until the elections and the ratification of our constitution. This is scheduled for the first Sunday on September.

“The soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the United States located within Aztlan’s borders have joined our cause or surrendered. Nearly seventy percent of the men and women stationed in the southwest are Hispanic. They have joined our cause almost unanimously. All American military personnel under our control have been given the choice of joining us or of being deported to the United States. Until such time, they are being detained in groups of a hundred to a thousand in various locations on their bases. All of the bases in Aztlan are under our control. There has been some loss of life—but it has been minimal. We are an honorable people and have no desire for bloodshed among our fellow citizens and friends. Our army, navy, and air force presently numbers over 450,000 men and women. Our numbers are growing by the hour. Thousands of men are volunteering to help us and we expect many more today.

“We have all the weapons we need…”

At this point, Emilio’s dark eyes became hard, focused straight at the camera. They glittered in the lights deep within the pockets of fat. His right fist was raised and then gently pounded the upper corner of podium with a soft thud. His authority was obvious. “…including nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. All of the anti-aircraft weapons and artillery of Fort Bliss are at our disposal. Three of the carrier groups out of San Diego have joined our cause. Do not be deceived! Much of the military might of the United States is manufactured within the borders of Aztlan. We have control of all the weapons in all the bases in Aztlan. We have no desire to war against the American people, but we will if we have to—and we will be victorious.

“The Aztecatl welcome everyone within our borders to become citizens of Aztlan. Everyone with valid papers is automatically a citizen—whether or not they were originally from within our borders. We hope you will choose to join us today. Those that do not will be given the opportunity to leave freely.” President Baca de Chavez took another sip of water and showed a slight smile as he placed the glass back under the podium. “If you do not wish to join us, you will leave and forfeit your land and property. It is your choice.

“As I said, this is not a lightly made move. We have been planning for years. We have chosen to enter the circle of nations. I am gratified to tell you that our new government has already been recognized by many nations around the world. Ambassadors will begin arriving tomorrow in Santa Fe.” He looked at his notes and read, “So far, Germany, France, Georgia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Indonesia have acknowledged our sovereignty and are picking ambassadors. We are in contact with many more nations who are promising to do the same in the near future. My hope is that the bloodshed is over and that we can peacefully build Aztlan.

“Viva, Aztlan!” The camera panned to a close tight focus on the Aztlan pyramid on the podium. The screen went dark with only an Aztlan logo gleaming in the center. It was almost a minute before Shep took his cue and began speaking again. He was clearly stunned.

Escaping out the back…

Sunday Noon Local time, the fifth of May: In the foothills of the Manzano Mountains southeast of Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Major was getting tired of this. This damn Mexican truck was a handful. After talking to his boss, it had been a bit of work to find any vehicle he could use. Most had been destroyed or disabled by the black trucks. The best he had found was an old, beat-up, four wheel drive Chevy pickup parked in back of &ATTRA& headquarters. The other vehicles in the lot were smoking wrecks, but the old truck was unscathed in the middle of the wreckage. He had supposed that it looked like a wreck even without any additional damage.

Regardless, it was so old that the ignition switch had been replaced with a push button for the starter and a toggle switch to turn the engine on and off. However, it had started easily. More than that it had run smoothly and quietly. The problem was the gas needle that was just above empty. He’d known from the start that he’d have to find something else to get where he was going.

Major had quickly loaded the bed with nylon bags holding all the ammo, smokers, flash-bangs, frags, and whatever else he could find. He then put on his black tactical outfit with the ceramic body armor. He loaded his vest with grenades. His dad’s old 45 had been replaced with his personal favorite: an H&K MK23 (though he had reloaded his dad’s pistol and packed it in one of the nylon bags). This was the SpecOps .45 ACP handgun with a polymer frame. He had four 7-shot magazines in pockets in his vest.

The passenger seat he filled with five more magazines for the MK23, his customized MP5, and a dozen mags for the subgun. He did not bother with communication equipment. None of it worked for now, anyway. He hadn’t found any food.

Once loaded, he had climbed in the cab and eased South through the base as quietly as he could. He turned off Hardin onto 14th south, around on P Avenue, and then south on 9th Street. It was deathly quiet down there around Tech Areas II and IV. He had been a little tense as he turned west on S Avenue, and south on Wyoming. His best guess had been that this was the way the trucks had come up on the base from the south.

As he arrived at Wyoming, he discovered one of the black trucks smacked into a power pole. The pole had cracked badly from the impact of the bumper and was lying across the top of the truck.

The missile launcher was smashed—probably beyond repair. The truck appeared to be abandoned. He had noticed a heavy rope in the pickup bed. He quickly pulled in front of the Dodge. He climbed out and carefully went back to the truck, his H&K ready. As he checked out the cab, he saw the driver slumped against the wheel with his head at a very strange angle. There was no one in the passenger side. The back of the truck was empty. The five missiles were of no use to him.

Major opened the door, and grabbed the dead driver by his collar, dragging him out on the ground. The truck had obviously been abandoned in a hurry, as the keys were still in the ignition. “Let’s see how my luck is running,” he had said to the truck. He climbed in and turned the key. To say the engine roared to life would have been a lie.

But after a little grinding, it did start. He saw the gas tank was nearly full. He tried putting it in gear, and everything seemed to work OK. But, the broken pole was wedged into the remains of the missile launcher. The truck could not move. The sand at the side of the road did not give enough traction and all four wheels just spun uselessly.

His luck had remained good, as there was no one around. All the fighting, fire, and noise were behind many buildings, at least a mile north. After shutting off the Dodge, he had climbed out and examined the pole placement on the roof. It had dented the roof and shattered the windshield. The main problem was that it was wedged in the bent metal of the launcher.

It looked like it might pull off if the top of the pole were dragged straight sideways toward the road. Again, the war gods had been good to him. The top of the pole was lined up with S Avenue so he had plenty of traction in that direction.

He then pulled the old Chevy over until it was pointed up S Avenue and carefully tied the rope to the top of the pole and the trailer hitch at the back of the Chevy. When he had shifted the truck into 4-wheel-low, it eased forward until the rope was taut. He wanted to be careful to avoid breaking the pole. As soon as the rope was taut, he floored that old Chevy.

The power was there, but it had looked like the Dodge was going to roll. The Chevy was straining. The Dodge rolled up on two wheels leaning nearly forty-five degrees. Major had heard the rope stretching and creaking under the load. In the rear view mirror he saw the pole bending, still wedged securely in the wreckage of the launcher.

Crack! The old truck suddenly shot forward. “Crap, the rope broke!” Jamming on the brakes, he slid the truck to a stop and jumped out of the cab. The groan had almost changed to a cheer as he looked and saw that the rope had not broken. The noise was caused by the pole remnant ripping off the top of the truck. He had pulled the pole end the entire way across the road. The cracked end was still attached—in the air. The result was even a halfway decent roadblock.

He reached in the bed of the Chevy and started grabbing the bags of weaponry. It took three trips to get it all tucked into the Dodge. He ripped off the black jacket from the dead driver to protect his hands and arms. Then he had pushed all the shattered glass out of the windshield and brushed it on the ground in front of the truck. He climbed in and restarted the big, black truck. After carefully easing it back, around a hundred eighty degrees, being certain to avoid knocking the new roadblock to the ground, he slammed it into gear and took off down Wyoming to the Pennsylvania Avenue extension to the southwest corner of the base.

So, now he had gas, but the Mexican truck was in bad shape. The battered Dodge drove like an old step van. The frame was bent. The front wheels were way out of alignment. He drove slowly to avoid too large a cloud of dust. Plus, the wind through the hole where the windshield used to be was pretty bad. His eyes teared up too bad to drive if he got over fifty miles an hour—not to mention the fact that the broken beast tended to wander around the road at that speed. The truck was comfortable at about twenty miles per hour. He turned on the radio, but the crash had broken that.

It was a ten-mile drive to the southeast corner of the base. About halfway there, he saw that one of the black trucks had been left behind to set up a roadblock. They were parked behind a huge rock, nearly forty foot tall, that had somehow fallen off the mountain and rolled out into the plain a long time ago. The hill on the east side of the road had worn to a smooth bulge, but it was a couple hundred feet tall. The west side of the rock hung over the edge of the drop into the upper reaches of Hell’s Gorge. It did make for an effective pinch point in the road.

He was stuck with what was. The wrecked truck may have been a beast to drive, but it was the tool he had to work with. The old Chevy would have been sputtering on fumes by now—if it had even made it this far. Major decided that there was no choice but to brazen it out. Maybe they wouldn’t notice glass or his clothing.

He quickly checked the H&K and laid a couple mags ready on the seat beside him. He made sure the MK23 was set for single-action, cocked and locked mode, with the safety on. He slipped it back into the well-worn shoulder holster. He piled everything else onto the floor in front of the passenger seat—arranging the bags so the magazines would not slide off on the floor if he had to make any sudden moves. As he approached the roadblock from behind, he saw four men. Two were sitting in the back of the truck manning the missile launcher that was pointing up the road headed off the base.

They’d have to pull forward to get any long shot, but their angle covered five hundred yards or so toward the reservation. Anything coming down the road would be blown to smithereens before they even saw the truck behind the rock.

The road was blocked with three to four foot boulders that had been dragged out to a slight overlap. Any vehicle, except a motorcycle, would have to jog hard to clear the rocks and proceed toward the base. The other two men were manning the jog in the road. They had a rope barrier crossing the gap. It was effectively set up. Not for the first time, Major gave a grudging nod to the skill of these Jaguars. What he had to do would not be easy.

He slowed down to stop. Just before stopping he wrenched the wheel to the right toward the other truck. Through the windshield he got clean three-tap hits on the two men in the back of the truck. He was being extra careful knowing only a hit in the head or neck would bring them down for sure. They were tricky shots but they were necessary. They went down and he grabbed the steering wheel, wrenching it left again while standing on the brakes. His truck slid to a stop parallel to the other truck facing the gap. He was able to hit the larger man standing in the gap with another three-tap group that hit his upper chest and face. The face shot knocked him over. The fourth man dove over the blocking boulders into hiding.

“Crap!” Major muttered as he climbed out of his truck and ran around the back and over to the other truck. One of the two men there was still alive, but a shot in his ear finished that. Now he had to deal with the fourth bad guy.

Tango 4 was firing, but he was evidently convinced that Major was hiding behind the wrecked truck. Major heard the bullets smacking into that beat up mess. He eased up between the huge rock and the truck. He saw the fourth man’s H&K sticking out around the boulder on the far side of the gap, shooting blindly. Major smiled. He had finally gotten an amateur.

He eased around the truck next to the rock. The kid’s shots had ceased for a moment. Major shot several times at the top of the rock behind which the Mexican was hiding. He would be too scared to have any idea where the shots were coming from. Major finally moved up to a place where he would be exposed if the soldier stood up, but there wasn’t much likelihood of that.

Suddenly, an arm poked an H&K over the boulder blindly firing at the wrecked truck. He was actually pretty lucky and you could hear the shots hitting the wrecked Dodge occasionally. Major pulled a flash-bang and smoker off the hooks on his vest. He threw the smoker first, followed by the flash-bang.

They both arced accurately into the cab of the wrecked Dodge. The smoker went off with a muffled “Whump!” This was quickly followed by a loud “Bang!” as the flash-bang went off in the cab. Major focused on the boulder.

Sure enough, a couple of seconds later, a head poked up to survey his supposed victory. As soon as it cleared the rock, the entire head disappeared in a meaty explosion. “Damn, I’m tired of the killing.” Major muttered. “Better him than me, I guess.” With a little grimace, he went to work.

First he went to the undamaged truck. The keys were not in the ignition, but he found them in the front pocket of one of the corpses in the back of the truck. He pocketed the keys and dragged both dead soldiers off into the sand. The truck started easily and he pulled it through the gap in the boulders. With a quick K turn, he faced the gap.

Then he climbed out and went back to check out the wrecked truck. Thankfully the banger had gone off in the passenger seat. Luckily, the small fire had not cooked off the ammo, but it had melted the nylon of the bags in several places. The bag holding his spare ammo was now a molded box of melted plastic that he didn’t dare open.

The interior was a sooty mess. Part of the steering wheel was melted off. Thankfully, the bag with his dad’s gun was OK. The passenger door was blown off. But, the slight breeze had cleared the smoke at least. He went back and pulled the vest and shirt off one of the corpses. He used the shirt to clean some of the soot off the remains of the seat and steering wheel.

When he turned the key, the engine protested loudly and slowly ground around—but it finally caught and he was able to pull it into the gap. He grabbed the undamaged bags of ammo and grenades out of the back. He went to his new plunder, loaded the bags into the passenger side, and started it up. Then he got out and climbed in the back of the truck.

He went forward to the controls for the missiles. They were all in Chinese but there were little Spanish notes all over the buttons and controls. He pushed the power button and was gratified to see everything light up. He spent several minutes familiarizing himself with the controls. Who knew if he was going to have to use them again soon. BE PREPARED!

After the self-taught coursework, he moved to a little platform with a control stick poking out from below the computer screen. Wiggling the control produced satisfying whines from the servos and he was quickly able to get a lock on the wreck. There were eight buttons under a note labeled FIRE in Spanish. Major pushed the left button. Fire erupted over his head as the missile shot forward. Instantly, the truck was enveloped in a cloud of fire and flame.

“That ought to slow them down,” he muttered to himself. He found some magazines of the good French ammo for his MP5 to replace those lost in the wreck and he vaulted out of the back of the truck, climbed in the cab, turned around, and headed south.

The stranger

The fifth of May: Sunday 1:35 pm Local time MDT, In the Jackson family room, Meadowlake, New Mexico

The three men and Stones were sitting around the plasma screen in the family room discussing what they had seen. They were resting after their lunch. No one seemed quite sure what to do next. Bebe spoke quietly, “They’ve obviously been planning this invasion for a while.”

“Yup, I’m impressed. This was certainly not a quick revolt of a few radicals.” Denzell turned to the other three. “Is Ralph giving us any indication about how much of this was suspected?”

“No, there was some speculation that something like this might happen in the future. But it was assumed that our military would quickly control the situation. I assume this is what Ralph was warning us about, but he didn’t know anything about what actually happened.” Jacob paused in thought. “They must have high-ranking help. Most of our response is automated. Someone had to execute stop orders at many of the bases.”

Bebe wasn’t so sure. “Actually, this would not be too hard to control. All phone lines, plus the entire cell grid, are down around here. I assume that is true throughout the area especially around all the bases in the Southwest. So, the only communication possible from the East Coast would be through the satellites. It would all be Eyes Only for base commanders and CNIC.”

Stones inserted, “I noticed that he barely mentioned the Air Force—maybe not at all. What he mentioned for sure was Fort Bliss and the carrier groups.”

Bebe agreed. “You’re right, Stones—but that’s enough. There are very few air bases west of New Mexico any more. Downsizing took care of most of them. Many of the ones that are there are under the thumb of &CNICSW& and the command structure at San Diego. Outside of that, only Luke in Phoenix and Nellis in Las Vegas have any real meaning.”

Jakob jumped in, “Ralph said that all the low flying recon planes were shot down this morning. My best guess is a coup at &CNICSW& headquarters and probably General Sanchez at Fort Bliss. He’s a known fighter for Hispanic rights in the Army. In fact, he was shunted to Bliss to get him out of the Pentagon’s hair—raised too much of a ruckus. Bliss has Patriot, Hawk, Avenger, and &THAAD& missile systems. Even though the Hawk is a Marine tool, almost all the testing is done out of Fort Bliss. My guess is that San Diego is running a large part of this operation and they have control of all the Hawk systems out there also.

“Most of the advanced anti-aircraft systems for all the services are stationed or tested out of Fort Bliss—hand-held or mounted. The best of the systems are used to protect the aircraft carriers and you heard El Presidente say they had three carrier groups under their control.

“But, that’s not the real problem. They have the weapons for sure. The real problem is the thousands of hostages. We can’t attack them without killing many American citizens. If they have any sense at all, they are using the hostages like the Middle East terrorists use women, children, and hospitals—as a defense shield.”

Jacob started to stand up. “I better check my email and see if Ralph has anything…”

As he turned to head for his office, he suddenly ducked a little to see well out of the windows to the North.

“Hey, guys, we got visitors.”

Bebe jumped up and moved to the window in time to see the top of a black truck headed south disappear behind the hacienda wall. He noted the slight trail of dust coming down from the downed gate to the reservation. Then they all heard the truck gear down to turn into the parking area.

Jacob quickly walked over to the built-in cabinet alongside the fireplace. Opening the door, he reached to the back of cabinet and slid it into the wall to the left revealing a rack of guns. Selecting a highly customized MP5 for himself, he quickly checked it over and slapped a clip in. Leaning it against the wall, he pulled out a small 9mm pistol he had made for Rachael and quickly ejected the magazine to check and see if it was fully loaded.

He motioned Bebe and Stones over to the rack and said quietly, “Take your pick.”

Bebe selected a short-barreled, custom-built, pump-action, 16-gauge shotgun. He grabbed a box of shells and quickly loaded the weapon. “Boss, I saw the truck pull in through the gate.”

Stones grabbed another MP5, quickly checking it out and grabbing a couple spare magazines.

The front doorbell rang. “Brrrriiiinnnnggggg!” It was one of those old mechanical bells that stuck through the door with a twist key outside. It was loud and long and everyone jumped. Jacob held his finger to his mouth to keep everyone quiet.

Jacob pulled Denzell over and talked quietly in his ear. Denz nodded. They all headed for the front door. Jacob stationed Debbie inside the door to the formal living room where she could see out the door when it opened. Jacob took the door to the family room and Bebe stood in back of the opening door.

At a nod from Jacob, Denzell calmly opened the door, “Can I help you?”

As the door opened, Deb saw a tall, blonde warrior filling the height of the doorway but not the width. He was standing unarmed with his empty hands held in front of him. There was dried blood on his hands and spattered all over the front of his worn and faded blue jeans. He was filthy with soot. His hair was cropped short in a loose flattop, glowing white in the sun. The purple of his T-shirt made the contrast of his hair even stronger. It was clear he was not armed.

He had a quizzical smile on his face as he saw Denzell—who looked small in front of this man. With a deep, quiet voice he said, “I was told I would find a Jacob Jackson here. I can see you’re not him.”

Denzell replied carefully, “What do you want with him?”

“We have a mutual friend, Assistant Secretary for Internal Defense Ralph Conratty. I’m Warren Jenson. Ralph told me I should come down here. I was up on the base this morning.”

Jacob spoke softly, “OK, guys, he’s all right,” and everyone relaxed, though none put down their weapon. Jacob walked to the door, holding his MP5 ready in his left hand. “I’m Jacob. What does Ralph want now?”

“I was told that you would know that answer. I know very little.”

“Well, come on in. We’ll have to see what Ralph expects us to do this time, and make some plans.”

“Sorry, sir, but shouldn’t I get my weapons and the truck? Have you got a place to hide it? It would be better if they think I got past here and down into the valley, if they’re looking.”

Denzell was on it. “Sure, let’s go. I’ll push Stones’ off-road chassis into the back of the garage. Pull the truck around the south side of the house and we’ll get it into the garage.”

Jacob ordered. “Bebe, clean up the tracks where he turned in coming from the north. We don’t want obviously new tracks into the hacienda from the reservation side. Denzell, when you get him parked have him show you what he knows about the truck. Then bring him up to the workshop. Bebe, can you help Denz make room? As soon as you can, send Warren in. I’ll stick his filthy carcass in a shower.”

“Sure, boss.” Bebe handed the shotgun to Jacob.

Jacob turned, “Stones, come with me. I imagine the Major is hungry. He obviously needs a shower. I’m going to get any messages and some clothes that might fit. Grab a loaf of your Mom’s bread, some lunchmeat, and cheese. Put everything in the conference room in the front of the shop and turn on the swamp cooler, please.”

When Major saw Debbie come out of the living room, he just stood still. He hadn’t seen a woman this attractive for a long time. Above her walking boots she was wearing nicely fitting jeans that were cinched around her beautifully slim waist with a gorgeous sand-cast, silver, ranger-style belt. She was wearing a soft, pale blue velvet blouse tucked unto the jeans that modestly revealed a very nice figure. Her long wavy auburn hair was gathered into a loose, low ponytail that was hanging over her shoulder framing her face. The face was wonderful, alive and alert, symmetrical with high cheekbones blending gently into full lips under a perfect nose. But it was her eyes that had stopped him. Deep, emerald green and full of life—he had never seen eyes like that.

Stones noticed the once-over. The eyes turned to a glare plus a flick of the H&K in her hand.

Jakob spoke, “Warren, that’s my daughter Deborah. But you better get a move on.”

Major snapped back and blushed. What is going on? He asked himself. I haven’t reacted like that since Annabel was killed.

That memory was just too painful and he forced himself to the present and what had to be done. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

“Get over it.” She snapped, disappearing through the door toward the back of the house.

Maintaining control…

Sunday, The fifth of May: 1:15 pm Local time In the new Jaguar command center, Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Colonel Santiana marched briskly into the office. His black uniform was still neat and tidy. His &TAC& vest was gone again. Manuel had been correct in thinking that the epaulets and buttons would go also as they got to work. But all Pablo had done is exchange his jacket for the vest. He had the jacket back on. The black long-sleeved shirt under the jacket was starched and pressed and still looked good. The gold buttons gleamed. The Epaulets shone. The black knee-high boots were a little dusty from the ride up to the base. Colonel Pablo Santiana looked like he was ready to inspect the troops—and he was. He was proud of his men. They had done what he had asked of them, and done it well.

José and the other Jaguar captains were standing in a tight row at parade rest in front of the western window facing south and overlooking the main East/West runway across the roofs of the old military beige-pink buildings of the base. There was no smoke visible out the windows on this, the southern edge of the western part of the base. The windows were the old style common in Albuquerque in the 1940s, eight foot wide with iron frames and a large picture window in the center flanked by vertical windows that cranked open on either side—single pane glass. There were two of these windows on the south wall of the large room, evenly spaced across the wall. The sun was high enough so its cooking heat would not compete with the air conditioning—which was good because the power was still off. The walls were painted that nauseating institutional green that always brought Manny vague memories of psychotic dominatrix nurses—the smell of alcohol and antiseptic. But all he smelled was the sweat of hard-working men recovering from intense battle. The captains’ shirts were all still wet.

Lupe and Manny were lounging comfortably in the maroon leather club chairs on the west wall.

Manny was really having a good time. He had blown away at least a dozen people this morning and the lingering adrenalin was just a pleasant, slightly jittery, memory. He felt alive again—like he had a purpose. He was eager to hear what the colonel had to say as he watched Pablo and his men.

He had been impressed with the Jaguar leadership. They were nothing like SEALs, of course. But, they were well trained, extremely disciplined, and very efficient. They controlled their troops like the battle-experienced leaders they were. The resistance on the base was no match for this Mexican force that had come ready to fight. Kirtland had more thinkers than fighters. That had certainly showed in the fighting this morning. There had been pockets of strong resistance, but the Jaguars were as ruthless as any of the Special Forces teams he had worked with. It was just a mission for them and they had completed it with a minimum of fuss.

The swooping run down the runway after crashing through the fence off Southgate Avenue and leaping the railroad spur had been a complete surprise. All the military focus of the base was geared toward defending the gates on the north and west sides of the base. They knew there really was no way through the mountains to the east. But, somehow, they had thought that the Isleta Reservation to the south with the deep and narrow Hells Gorge running from the Manzanos to the Rio Grande down by the pueblo was sufficient protection. That was certainly a foolish mistake.

The Colonel had used a powerful, exquisitely timed assault plan. First he sent a strong early foray of two hundred trucks and eight hundred men up the Tijeras Arroyo through the Hard Rock Pavilion interchange off south I-25 to draw some of the defenses down in that direction. Dozens of trucks scattered through the city to bring down all cell towers and telephone switching stations. The other five gates on the north side were hit simultaneously. Fifty trucks and two hundred men had run up I-25 through the Big-I and east on I-40 to attack the Eubank Gate on the Northeast corner of the base. They had dropped off a few trucks on Wyoming Avenue to harass that gate which was too narrow for a massive assault.

Another two hundred trucks with six hundred fifty men and over twenty missile launchers had quickly run up Gibson from I-25 and worked on the Carlisle and Truman gates. The Truman Gate was the easiest access. The west side of the gate was several acres of unfenced ball fields.

They had sent several dozen more trucks and several missile launchers up Gibson the rest of the way to work their way around in back of Vets Hospital and to keep the Gibson gate up by Louisiana Avenue occupied. It was too far in for a fast focused attack.

The US troops on Kirtland had responded the way they had practiced so many times. Of course, there was the little problem that no one ever got a plane or helicopter off the ground. It just happened too fast. Dozens of trucks ran straight through from the Truman gate to the runways and methodically shot down any plane or helicopter that moved. The planned defense was focused on the five city-street gates to the north side of the base with plenty of Apache and F-16 air support. Without that, there was little that could be done.

All of the actual buildings on the base are clustered in the four-mile-long area from Eubank Avenue west past the mile-grid avenues of Wyoming, Louisiana, and San Mateo to the main north-south runway just west of Carlisle Avenue. San Mateo just leads onto the Vets hospital Grounds. The Truman Gate a block west opens to a wide area of parade grounds and ball fields that was quickly filled with black trucks as they easily broke through and advanced on a broad front. As the attack continued hundreds more of the trucks flooded Albuquerque and the base. They came up I-25 and reinforced the effort wherever they were needed.

Eubank Avenue goes north and south from a major I-40 interchange to the largest shopping areas in southeastern Albuquerque. Heading south past the Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Home Depot, and Costco, Eubank continues just outside the east side of the base. The gate onto the base was a mile south of the northeast corner of the base or a little less than two miles south of the freeway on a wide six-lane city street that was completely empty this early Sunday morning. It was only a little over a mile from the Eubank Gate south through the various Tech Areas of the lab until they faded in to the wide high prairie sloping down from the Manzanos.

The huge east/west runways that ran from tops of the mesas just east of I-25 to the west blocked the south edge of everything between the north/south runway and Gibson until Kirtland Road—which aligned straight south of the Gibson Gate. North/south, the base was a little over a half of a mile wide between Gibson and the east/west runways at Carlisle Avenue that pinched down to a couple of blocks wide at the north/south section of Kirtland Road.

The commander’s office was on the fourth floor of a beige stucco box in that narrow area southwest of the hospital. Most of the wider area to the east was filled with the huge complex that was Sandia National Labs, its support facilities, and the old Atomic museum building. Almost all the troops on the base were in the military cluster between Vets hospital and the north-south runways.

Most of the mobile defense troops went down Kirtland Road and turned west along the southern edge of the runways to meet the attack that had come up through Tijeras Arroyo. They were trying to reinforce South Gate, which was strategically located on the north edge of the huge Tijeras arroyo on the southwestern corner of the base. There had been heavy fighting in that quadrant, but the base troops were simply not prepared for anti-tank missile launchers and mobile 25mm machine guns. They were eliminated to the last man in a half hour.

But in the major flaw of the defense strategy, they had ignored the unseen Sandia Lab testing facilities far to the east at over six thousand feet where the Manzanos tapered onto the ten-mile wide plain. Several roads dead-ended at the mountains. There were a few defense points, but they were now unmanned except for the soldiers assigned to keep the cameras running. There were no access roads coming up from the South because no one was allowed on Isleta reservation. It was classified as sacred land. This wide flatness gradually sloped down almost two thousand feet to the small fifty-foot-tall mesas and arroyos next to the Rio Grande at a little over four thousand feet.

The southern extension of Pennsylvania Avenue took off through the flats as Pennsylvania Road, which ran straight southeast over ten miles to the reservation border at the head of Hells Gorge on the reservation. The little National Forest Service fire trail that wound its way through the foothills south of the base, east of the reservation, was basically unknown. It was never used as far as they knew. Jacob’s access was black and carefully kept out of everyone’s view—especially the pueblo.

The open flats south of the base and Lab areas were all on the reservation and held by the pueblo as sacred land. The Jaguars had no politically correct compunctions about so-called sacred land. The Colonel’s men had been able to race at over sixty miles an hour the whole way from the gate in back of the Jackson hacienda—except for using the fire trail to thread through the head of Hell Canyon. Once past that canyon, a dozen trucks with tactical missiles had made short work of the basically unmanned defenses at the southeastern corner of the base. There were no reinforcements this Cinco De Mayo.

The remainder of the nearly six hundred trucks quickly spread out into a huge thirty-truck-wide formation—and it was a flat-out sprint to Pennsylvania Road and the straight shot into the unprotected belly of the base. The dust plume almost reached the tops of the mountains as it drifted east while the land heated in the morning sun.

At every gate, the machine guns on the lead trucks had simply mowed down the few troops on the base on a sleepy Sunday morning. Missiles took down all the remaining cell towers and radio antenna. Coming up from the southwest, about half of the six hundred trucks jumped onto the runways off Hardin Avenue a few blocks south and west of where Major ended up later in the day. The attacking force greatly outnumbered the armed defenders. Fighting was over quickly.

As soon as the shooting stopped, the Mexican troops started gathering every person who was still alive on the base to use as hostages for the protection of their emplacements. Several thousand were herded in a couple of the huge hangers next to the north side of the east/west runways. Dark blue Air Force school buses were gathered to take busloads of hostages to the various defense points.

In the base commander’s office, Santiana was all business. “Good work, men. Now we have to solidify our defenses. Jose, do you have the hostages rounded up?”

“Yes, sir. We were able to gather several thousand men, women and children. We have them in the hanger you designated.”

“Excellent! Have they given you much trouble?”

“Not too bad. The men are belligerent, but they seem to be biding their time so far.”

“We’ll fix that!” Santiana quickly barked out orders to his captains. Then he wheeled and motioned to Lupe and Mannie. “Come with me.” He looked over at Jose, “You, too, Jose. We need to get control now to avoid another fight later.” Outside, the four men climbed in the Colonel’s black Hummer that was gleaming in the sun. Mannie climbed in up front next to the driver.

José told the driver to take them to the hanger where they were temporarily keeping the hostages. When they arrived, a sergeant led them into the Hanger. They climbed onto a large platform three meters tall that was being used to give a dozen guards a view of the entire hanger. The hanger was large and completely empty of planes and equipment except for six of the black trucks that had been backed in before the doors had been closed. The 25mm machine gun in their beds were facing the hostages and manned by two Jaguars each.

About thirty-five hundred men, women, and children were herded into a loose circular group—guarded by nearly three hundred Jaguars dispersed around the hanger—many on four-meter-tall stands with smaller machine guns mounted on two corners that had been brought in on some of the trucks designed for this purpose.

Santiana motioned the men on the platform into attention in a line at the back. He strode to the front of the platform with José flanking him just in back of the low safety rail that surrounded it. Mannie and Lupe were standing at the left end of the line in back of him. Santiana began to speak, “Please, give me your attention.” His command voice was strong and instantly commanded attention. The hanger fell silent. “I am sorry we had to inconvenience you like this. We will make sure that you are well cared for until hostilities are over in Aztlan. If you have medical needs, let my men know and we will accommodate you as well as we can.

“I am sure that you realize by now that the liberation of Aztlan is well underway. I see that you were shown the broadcast from El Presidente Baca de Chavez.” He motioned to the large projection TV on a cherry picker platform to his right. “What he told the world is the truth. We are in control of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and most of Utah. If you do what you are told, we can probably release you some time next week. If you cause us trouble, you will not survive…”

At the back of the platform, Lupe nudged Mannie and motioned to a knot of about a dozen men in front of the platform to the left. Most of them were in uniform. “Look at the short one in the middle. He’s trouble,” he whispered.

Mannie looked over. Lupe was right, as usual. In the midst of the small group of obvious military men were two ruffians. At least they looked like mere ruffians. But, Manny could see that they were Special Forces. They had gathered the rest of the group.

The short man who worried Lupe was the obvious leader. He was about five foot six, heavily muscled, with an alertness that shone through his eyes, which were in constant motion. Right next to him was the muscle. Manny knew the type—completely driven by duty and patriotism, absolutely fearless, a seasoned fighter, six feet of hardened steel.

One of that group, a tall thin man in Air Force dress blues, shouted to Santiana, “By what authority do you attack the United States? You’re just a bunch of thugs!”

“We are the Jaguar de Aztlan, one of the arms of Aztlan’s military forces sent here to claim what is rightfully ours.” As the Colonel began, Mannie and Lupe vaulted off the platform as a single unit quietly heading in different directions. “The United States stole our land from us over a century Ago. We are taking it back.”

As the two men quietly circled around the crowd, they gradually penetrated the hostages. At this point, no one was paying them any attention. They were just two more enemy soldiers and the hostages were almost rigid with fear. Coming from the back of the little knot of troublemakers on opposite sides, Lupe headed for the short man of his concern and Manny headed for the tall man who had shouted.

As Lupe darted in front of the leader, Manny suddenly lunged for the speaker, whipping out his combat knife, and slitting the throat of the much taller warrior. Lupe stuck his knife with no warning into the leader’s chest. The red point stuck out his back after passing through his heart. Lupe used his knife to throw the dead body at the rest of the group, while Manny took care of the muscle distracted by Lupe. Then he made sure that no one else tried anything stupid. A couple of seconds and the resistance deflated.

Santiana continued as if nothing had happened. “It will take about a week to secure our defenses. As I said, we will treat you well and make sure your needs are met. You are prisoners of war and will be treated as such. Non-combatants will be released as soon as possible.”

With that, he wheeled and marched off the platform. Passing Manny and Lupe at the foot of the stairs, he said, “Excellent work, men,” and led them back out to his Hummer.

The first actions

Sunday, The fifth of May: 1:50 pm Local time, In the conference room above the garage, Jackson’s Hacienda

By the time Major was back from the garage, Jakob had found a small pile of clothes that should fit the larger yet thinner man. Showing him to the shower in the master bedroom, Jakob left to see if Ralph had sent any new messages. He had. Jakob printed enough copies for everyone. There was also a report from NSA on the troop movements.

He quickly went online and checked FoxNews and CNN. He went to the secure site of Black Sail to get the latest intel uploaded from Black Sail East. He was especially interested in the background on Warren Jenson.

Black Sail could use another tactician at this point. He could work with Rachael. Ralph said that Major Jenson was in line to be put in charge of CATHS soon. Ralph was also certain that Major could be trusted in Black Sail as long as he bought into the people involved. He headed back to the bedroom.

By the time he finished all of that, the tall Viking was cleaned up and dressed in an old flannel shirt with a pair of Jakob’s old jeans (the ones that still had the 32” waist). He rather overfilled the older man’s clothes. The jeans were especially tight in the upper thighs, but would do until they could find something better.

“Sorry, they’re the best I could find, Warren.” Jakob said as he swept into the guest room. “When my wife gets home, we’ll find you something that fits better. Let’s go over to the shop. Can you carry some of this junk?”

“Certainly sir—by the way, just call me Major. I hardly know how to respond to anything else these days. It’s been my nickname for over a decade now—from even before I earned the rank.”

“Ralph says you’re officially a civilian.”

“Yes, sir, that’s my cover. But I imagine Secretary Conratty also told you my real job.”

“That he did. Let’s go over and I’ll introduce you to the others. Then we can get busy.” He turned and Major followed him out the back door from the kitchen, over to the garage and up to the second floor. Stones and Denzell had gotten everything was ready.

As Major arrived in the room, he saw a large hand-crafted maple table that was nearly four foot wide and twelve foot long in the center of a large room that was at least four hundred square feet. On the long side was one long picture window, flanked on each end by double-hung, six-light wooden windows. There were wide-slat Venetian blinds for sun protection in the afternoon. Right now, the blinds were open. The walls were cream-colored with a simple six-inch crown molding of stained pine capping them. The floor was old wide-plank pine. Under the table was a thick, gorgeous Persian rug that went wall-to wall across the narrow dimension of the room and extended several feet from the table on either end.

At the south end of the room, next to another double-hung six-light window, was a small built-in snack area with a hotplate, small toaster/convection oven, coffee machine, refrigerator, and cutting board. He could smell the fresh coffee, and the cutting board had a plate with three large sandwiches plus another plate piled with cheese, summer sausage, and crackers and a third plate piled with sliced oranges and fresh strawberries.

Denzell and Stones were arranging the comfortable leather-covered executive swivel chairs around the table. Bebe was at the other end of the room, pulling his laptop out of a cabinet and grabbing maps that he thought they might need. As Stones saw her father enter the room, she said, “Hey, Dad, I brought some snacks. Send Mr. Jenson down to get his sandwiches. What do you want?”

“Just some coffee,” Jakob glanced over to the counter top, “and a bowl of sugar to dip some of those strawberries in.” He moved to the middle of the table opposite the windows and set down the papers and phone. He took the papers out of Major’s hand and turned him toward the sandwiches. “Go, get something to eat and grab a cup of coffee.”

The tall blond headed for the food, but again faltered as he watched Jakob’s daughter reach up to pull a jar of sugar out of the cupboard. This was surely the most beautiful woman he had ever met—well he hadn’t really met her yet. He grinned to himself, and grabbed his lunch. He sat down at the end of the table and watched Stones carry her father his coffee and strawberries.

Denzell pulled an old aluminum iMac out of the cupboard and placed it in front of Jakob from the other side of the table. He reached under the table and pulled out a drawer. In it was attached a power cord which he plugged into the back of the LCD hanging on its thin metal stand. He then pulled a two-button, scrolling mouse and keyboard, both wireless, out of the drawer. He slid the computer across the table in front of his boss, then walked around the table and sat down at the left hand of Jakob.

Jakob pressed his index finger in the print reader on the keyboard and booted it up. Stones sat down on his other side between her father and Bebe—who had set up a little office at the far end of the table around his laptop. Bebe was always the only one using a PC—but then his skills were in hacking and coding. Most viruses are written on PCs for PCs so it was a natural for him. However, he had one of the new MacBooks with a 64-bit 8-core Intel chip that was running the latest MacOS and Windows 10. He tended to work in Windows, but the Mac Unix-based OS was much more stable and a faster computer—plus the Retina display was pure eye candy.

“Thanks, Denz,” Jakob arraigned a few things on his LCD and got ready for business.

Jakob’s obvious authority impressed Major. The smoothness with which the other three worked was in obvious deference to his leadership. He wondered what his part would be in this.

Jakob took one of the printed emails and moved it in front himself. “As we get started here, I want to read this email. Before I do that, let me make introductions to our new friend.”

He smiled at Major.“Major, you’ve met my daughter. We call her Stones, probably for similar reasons as you are called Major. She has almost as much chutzpah as her mother (whom you’ll meet later). The wild injun at the end is Bebe. He’s the best hacker I’ve ever met, an incredible tracker and hunter, a wild man on that Triumph you saw at the front of the house, and one of my best friends.

“Though he’s sitting on my left, Denzell is my right hand. He’s an amazing wrench, a former NASCAR driver, a mechanical engineer, and the man who implements most of my ideas. He built that Power Wagon you saw out front. I’m an old friend of Ralph’s. We worked together for years on the Farm building arms for the Company’s agents.”

Major looked at the others, and smiled with a little nod of deference, “I’m pleased to meet all of you. What I’ve seen so far is impressive, I must admit.”

After the nods of acknowledgment all around, Jakob got to work. “This is from Ralph. He wanted us to know about the man he has sent to help.” He picked up the email and began to read to his team. “Warren Jenson is the tactician for my department. We are charged with the protection of the homeland—specifically charged with the covert elimination of identified terrorists on our soil. We are black—no one knows of us except the head of Homeland Security, the overall head of Intelligence, and a few trusted friends. I have seven teams and Major is responsible for the planning and deployment of the teams. He’s an amazing marksman, sniper rifle or not. He is superb at using available resources. I have absolute faith in his skill, judgment, and experience. Though he may not know this, I consider him second in command for my department. You can trust him with anything you know. His clearance is high enough to handle whatever he needs to know to help with your tactical planning.

“He was a Ranger, Delta Force, and with Hostage Rescue Team for fourteen years, eventually leading the HRT. He was awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross for work he did in the first Gulf War. Though he clearly deserved the Medal of Honor, the best we could do was the DSC due to the covert nature of his service (in other words, we couldn’t tell Congress). He’s the best tactician I have ever known. Use him hard and he will give you what you need.” Jakob put down the sheet of paper.

He looked down to the end of the table and smiled at Major, “Son, I don’t know what you’ve done or how you did it, but impressing Ralph is not easy. His word is good enough for me. Welcome!”

Major smiled at Jakob and nodded.

Actually, he looked a little embarrassed.

Jakob cleared his throat and looking back at the piles of paper, he continued, “There’s one last item before we get started, Major.”

Warren gave him his full attention—somehow this seemed like it might be interesting.

“Though no one outside this room other than my wife and Ralph’s wife knows this, our little operation here is somewhat like what you do for CATHS. However, we’re darker than black and private—to get us free from governmental oversight. In this operation, Ralph works for me. Do you have any problems with that?”

Major was a little shook by that, but showed nothing. His mind was racing. He knew about some of the special resources Ralph brought in from outside. He’d heard of Black Sail, but thought Ralph ran it. He said, “that depends. What do you call your operation?”

“We’re Black Sail.”

“Ralph doesn’t head that up?”

“He’s head of Black Sail East on the Potomac. They’re our main operations headquarters. The company is run from here by my wife, Rachael, and myself.”

“That explains a lot. My experience with Black Sail has been very good. Ralph is the best man I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with. Judging by his email to you, he seems to want me to hook up with your work here. What I’ve seen in the past hour has impressed me. I’m in.”

“Excellent! Let’s get to work.” Jakob checked through his papers. “Here’s what I have found out so far. All access from the East south of Pueblo, Colorado by road or rail has been cut. The reports all agree. At every pinch point leading from the Great Plains to New Mexico, West Texas, and southern Colorado the passes and canyons have been closed with large explosions that caused landslides, tunnel collapses, bridge eliminations, and so on. These pinch points are now heavily manned by Mexican troops. Defenses are being rapidly built. Estimates show it will take several weeks before US troops can punch through and there will be a lot of blood shed. They obviously intend to use the Rockies as their outer wall.

“Ralph tells me that they have received messages from Aztlan command out of San Diego warning that all the roads and rails through Colorado will suffer a similar fate, if necessary. The way the messages were worded it is clear that those charges are already set. However, that is not even necessary. We estimate that Aztlan command has several thousand of the latest Tomahawk cruise missiles ready to employ as needed.

“One of the groups mentioned by el Presidenté is certainly the John C. Stennis carrier group outside San Francisco Bay. There is no other reason for it to be where it is. From there the Stennis’ Tomahawks can easily reach Denver and the F-35 Lightnings can cover the entire Front Range. Obviously, they could take down the tunnels in Colorado at a moment’s notice—and there are not that many.

“The military situation out here is still largely unknown. Direct communication has been rare with any of the bases in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, or New Mexico so far. Those new Chinese jammers seem to be shutting down all the bases. We have to accept that they might have found a way to jam the satellites themselves. However, the commercial satellites are still open. I am surprised that more people have not figured that out. But then it’s only been a few hours. Responses in Texas and Oklahoma have been slow and confused. There seems to be a massive work slowdown—though there has been no outright rebellion on those bases.

“The civilian response has been minimal—to a surprising level. Most civilians do not seem to care. The East coast media is saying that this secession is not unexpected, that the Left Coast has been moving toward separatism for a long time. No one is saying it, but the attitude back East seems to be—good riddance. I figure they welcome the chance to dump California’s huge debt and Senator Aragón’s votes.”

Jakob stretched his arms and neck. Then he took a sip of his coffee. “Any questions so far?”

Major spoke up, “I’m curious about northern access to the region. What’s the word on Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming? Has anyone heard from the militia up there or their governments?”

Bebe answered, “I’ve been checking my sources. Their assessment is very similar to what Jakob just read.” He glanced at a page on his screen. “I’ve got a map here. Let me print it out.” He clicked a combination on his multi-button mouse. A laser printer at the end of the room fired up almost immediately.

Bebe continued, “There are no enemy troop movements in the states you just mentioned. However, there have been no ringing condemnations of the southwestern invasion by any of those state governments either. They have pointedly kept neutral. There is a lot of anti-Washington sentiment in those states. It is very quiet all through that region. A few of the militias seem willing to openly join the Aztlan cause. Their hatred for the Federales is so severe that this is seen as a real opportunity.

“Oregon is cut off from California near the sea. I-5 is cut for sure, as is 101 north of the Redwoods. The roads east of the Cascades and the Sierras are all blocked by troops that seem to be from the Triads in the Bay Area. What few reports we have received so far indicate that many are on fancy armored bikes. The rest seem to be in SUVs and pickup trucks. The satellites have seen many thousand of them streaming north and northeast in California. The guess is 25,000 to 35,000 troops. It’s impossible to tell how many are in the trucks and which trucks belong to the troops.”

Denzell got up and went to get the printed maps. He passed them around and sat back down.

Bebe resumed, as they looked at maps that showed known Mexican and Triad troop movements. “The main thing we are seeing is what Jake already mentioned. No one seems to care much. There has been very little blood shed. The civilian population has not been affected much other than the loss of phones and the national and international news. Basically, they have quarantined the military bases. But the shutdown of all the bases in the Bay area in the late 1990s means that all bases in California are south of Barstow and Vandenberg. There are no Army bases west of Fort Bliss any more. There are very few Air force Bases out West. Even Cannon AFB in eastern New Mexico is empty except for training sessions on an irregular basis. I had expected more out of Nellis in Nevada, but I imagine they are awaiting orders—hesitant to attack American targets without authorization. There has been nothing out of the White House so far.

“All the military on the Left Coast is concentrated around the far Northwest and the far Southwest. Everything else is in New Mexico or east of the Rockies. The Marines on the West Coast are all under the thumb of Navy Southwest in San Diego. The Navy is all in Puget Sound or San Diego.

“If they have three carrier groups out of San Diego, it would be hard to root them out. Even if the military in the West was prepared to go to war against an internal aggressor—they are not prepared to war against their own people. It’s basically up to the President and leadership from the White House. Throughout the West, there seems to be a wait and see attitude with a general feeling that this might be something good.”

“Something good?” Stones blurted, “How can the breakup of the United States be good! I know that we are aware that we live in a very different culture out here. I know the military is concentrated out East. But surely people are aware of how many of their resources are Western? Dad, isn’t there a really strong Chinese connection to Chihuahua these days?”

Warren spoke up from the south end of the table and answered her, “There certainly is.” He leaned forward on his chair. His voice was quiet and strong with clear authority. “We’ve been aware of a massive military buildup down in Chihuahua, capital of the state of Chihuahua, for several years. Much of delivery infrastructure has been funded by the Chinese in return for access to the drug money flowing like rivers through the entire region.

“I think we have to assume that there is a strong Chinese connection here. I suspect that Panama Canal might be plugged sooner or later, for example. The Chinese control the day-to-day operation of the Canal. They can shut off our quick access to the West Coast by sea very easily. Their companies are running the ports at both ends and, if necessary, all it would really take is a few missiles into the sides of the Gaillard Cut to shut things down for months or more.

“As you saw on the truck downstairs, many of the trucks are carrying Chinese HP-9 anti-armor missiles. They are in a new 8-up configuration we were not aware of. Everything I saw while fighting on the base this morning leads me to believe that most of the weaponry is Chinese, and of excellent quality.

“The Jaguars are very well armed and very well trained. They’ve been planning this for a long time. I’ve been very concerned at the lack of HUMINT down there. Our last agent disappeared several months ago.”

Jakob added, “That’s what Danny said last month.” At Major’s puzzled look, he added, “Senator Aragón was here for dinner and we were talking about the trucks and Stones’ fight with three men who seemed to be more than mere illegals. She had another run-in with them down at the Y. They may be well trained, but they seem a bit thuggish to me.”

“They are certainly absolutely ruthless.” Major’s confidence in this new crew jumped up another notch. Obviously, they are connected as well or better than I am on the base. Who would’ve thought?

Bebe jumped in, “I’ve been trying to get on base in San Diego. Most of the rest of the bases seem completely cut off—as I suspected. However, Fort Bliss and Navy Southwest (&CNRSW&) are very busy. All the official lines are down, but San Diego, at least, seems to have normal phone service.

“I checked out Pearl, and as I suspected, the friend I know over there tells me that Admiral Harold Cabot, &CNRSW&, is a bit of a lone wolf. In fact, she tells me that Cabot has not been to Pearl or the Pentagon for many months. It’s a bit of a scandal over there.

“Southwest Regional Command is now running entirely in Spanish. Admiral Cabot is still in clear command of the naval and marine bases in California and the naval air stations throughout the Southwest. Even the Web sites have switched to Spanish only.

“My best guess is that many of the sailors on the West Coast do not even have a very good idea what we are going through over here in the boonies. There seems to be no news coming out of New Mexico other than el Presidenté’s announcement. The major problem is that all non-supportive personnel have been rounded up.

“An old friend of mine, John Whitehorse, is a civilian who works on North Island. I was able to get through to him. He was home, off base, this morning and has no intention of going in. He tells me that all non-Hispanic personnel are locked down unless they are tied directly to the &COMNAVAIRPAC& or &CNRSW& offices. Any Anglos going in to work are immediately incarcerated. I have some partial lists of the facilities where hostages are being kept, and instructions to the messes about food supplies to the hostages.

“I asked him what his opinion was of this morning’s events. He is convinced that Admirals de Piña and Cabot are better than friends. He’s heard too many rumors from reliable sources to believe otherwise. He’s convinced that this new Admiral Gomez, in charge of the Aztlan Fleet, is actually Cabot. I checked back East, and Cabot’s mother is an Gomez—so my assumption is that John is correct. My sources back East told me that Cabot’s mother was heavily involved with Aztecatl foment in the ’80s.”

Jakob stepped back in, “That certainly makes sense to me. Only &CNICSW& would have the clout to claim three carrier groups. My guess is that Admiral Cabot has been carefully moving men around every since he was promoted to &CNICSW& four years ago. I hadn’t believed the rumor that he had turned down any further promotions to get him back to Washington—now I believe them.”

Major added, “We have noticed that Hispanic-Americans in the military have become dominant on all military bases west of the Mississippi. Virtually all of the Hispanic officers are now out here. The only place that is not true is Groom Lake, and its support bases like Nellis AFB. We were assuming it was just cultural affinity. I think we now have to assume that at least part of it is an organized plan.” He looked at Jakob directly, “What is our mission, sir?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas. I want to hear what the rest of you have, and then we’ll coordinate with Ralph. A lot depends on the President’s reaction to all of this…”

San Diego

Cinco de mayo: 2:54 pm Local Time, the office of Commander of Navy Southwest, Navy Broadway Complex, San Diego

Rear Admiral Harold Cabot chewed his Hoyo de Monterry Doble Corona cigar from Cuba as he relaxed and looked out over the bay. His office in the new Navy Southwest headquarters Building had a glorious view across the USS Midway and the bay to the Naval Air Station on North Island. Paulo was on North Island strategically situated as the Commander of the Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet &(COMNAVAIRPAC&). All his friends and his organization were here and the bureaucracy here was loyal to him alone.

He was excited. Finally, he could drop the pretense. It had been getting harder and harder to keep up appearances at Pearl and the Pentagon—now he didn’t have to do that. Harold looked north over the city and the bases under his command. His chest literally swelled with the pride he felt in his men and women. He supposed that it was mainly because of the sense of power it gave him, but the ocean view certainly didn’t hurt.

It had been a long hard haul ever since he had promised revenge for the murder of Raul. That had been over thirty years ago when he was still a JG fresh out of the academy. Raul had been an assistant cook on his ship and they had fallen hopelessly in love. Somehow a group of sailors had found out about their relationship and followed them to one of the hotels in Naples during shore leave. They had broken into their room and found them in bed.

The beatings were horrible. Harold had been in the hospital for three months in a coma from his fractured skull. He could still remember the screams as Raul had died of his beating while the rest held Harold and made him watch. It was considered fortunate that Harold had survived. Raul’s body had been found in a dirty alley. The story was that the sailors had rescued Harold from a mugging in that area of town. In those unenlightened times, it was better for Harold to just let the story slide. But he had never forgotten, forgiven, or gotten revenge. But then, things are certainly getting exciting, his satisfied smile didn’t show in his cold dark brown eyes.

If he only didn’t have to deal so much with Dominguez. El Patron indeed! He looked and acted more like one of the grotesque fighting cocks he was so proud of. As far as he was concerned, though, El Patron was not a fighting cock—just a normal nasty little man led by his genitalia and billions of dollars. Dominguez certainly had more than his entire budget here in San Diego.

Harold turned back to his desk. The intercom clicked and Sarafina, his office manager, said, “Chou Wei is on line four.”

“Did our Chinaman tell you what he wanted?”

“No, sir.” She replied, “as usual, I couldn’t understand him.”

“Thank you, dear. I’ll take care of it.” Cabot grimaced, stretched a little, and cracked his neck to relieve the tension. This was an important call (though he didn’t want even Sarafina to know how important). The Navy, in its wisdom, had taught him Chinese so many years ago. He had met Wei in the cleanup and realignment after the Vietnam War. For years he had simply considered him a Triad thug based out of Hong Kong. He certainly didn’t look like a thug any more, though. Wei was now a dapper little man who had become a genuine connoisseur of the finer and more delicate things of life. Beneath the cultured façade, Admiral Cabot knew him to be the most ruthless, cold-blooded killer he had ever met.

Strangely, they were friends, although neither trusted the other. They knew each other better than that. You can never trust anyone who is so focused on his own personal agenda. However, Cabot knew that he could trust Wei to have his own interests in primacy—and that those interests were political clout in the new world power that was China. He didn’t really know how close to that power center he was—but the casual mention of names and connections over the years of pleasant conversation had been impressive.

His actual plans had not begun until he had mentioned to Wei how angry he was over the way his people were treated in the military. Mr. Chou didn’t know he was angrier over the anti-gay discrimination than the anti-Latino variety. He knew that he would never have gotten to where he was without the Cabot name. His sainted mother, Josephina, was the person who taught him discretion. None but his friends knew how much he despised his groveling father and the Eastern powers-that-be. He was a Gomez and proud of it. The name change had been made and his Gomez lineage would bask in the glory that is Aztlan.

Less than a month after his little confession to Wei, his friend had come back with an audacious plan. The Far Eastern manipulations would remain hidden—entirely, if possible. But they were certainly rich. The capital investment had been entirely theirs—poured through Dominguez’ billions in an invisible stream. The Aztlan equipment would have been impossible without the oriental cash. But that had kept all the attention clear of his office—which was fine. He picked up the phone and started the necessary chit-chat.

As usual, it took several minutes to work through the formal greetings and social niceties. Finally, Wei got down to business. “Our friend in the Bay Area tells me that everything there worked flawlessly. San Francisco police may have noticed that there was a lot more muscle in the gangs of Chinatown, but our 25,000 shock troops, fully armed, well-trained, and at your service were completely unexpected.

“You did well for our men. The last of the motorcycles arrived last week. Your builder does impressive work. I’m sure you don’t mind that I shipped a couple to my closest friends.”

A surge of anger tightened Cabot’s body. He’d known this would happen, of course, but it still torqued him. The weapons control systems built into those bikes were far beyond current Chinese capabilities. They were built with the same technology used for the heads-up display in the abandoned Raptor development. If I didn’t need the help, I would kill that slimy yellow slug. Sandy told me we’ll have to deal with the Chinese, sooner rather than later, but the rise of Aztlan comes first.

He took a deep breath to calm himself and answered carefully, “It is good to be able to help such a friend as you. Juan Dominguez tells me that he is very pleased with your help. I assume you have everything in place there.”

“We are moving so much consumer product into central Mexico that our toys went completely unnoticed. We’ve built three factories in Juarez and in the city of Chihuahua. As far as anyone knows, they were built to help cover some of our contracts with Wal-Mart.

“The factory in Juarez is turning out custom-built Ram Truck trucks at the rate of fifty per week. The plant in Chihuahua is building over 150 trucks per week. We’ve produced over thirty thousand so far with the beefed up chassis plus armor with all fire controls for the new HP-9D missile launchers under the (what do you Americans call them?) camping roof. They all have 9 mm machine guns built-in over the front wheels under the front fenders in back of folding headlights. We have nine thousand more ready for conversion. Now that things are in the open we’ll be able to produce over four hundred trucks a week for Mr. Dominguez. The only problem we’ve had up ’til now is the need to move them into hiding at night to avoid the satellites. The entire state of Chihuahua simply didn’t have enough open warehouse space. But we found or built the room. It looks like everything is going smoothly?”

“Mr. Chou, that is not for you to know. But, it will be obvious. When I give the word, all I ask is for execution of your Panama plan. I’m sorry, friend, but I have to go. We’ll talk soon.”

“Panama was finalized last week. I only await your word.”

Admiral Cabot hung up and turned back to the view of the Bay. Everything was in motion. He loved it. Battle plans were his life. Now he finally got to execute one of them. And not just any one, but the biggest plan of his life. To think that they thought he had been shunted aside to become a desk jockey in charge of support functions. He’d show them what real command strength was.

Strike back

Sunday, The fifth of May: 4:13 pm Local time, 15,000 feet over Guadalupe Pass in West Texas

Major Donald “Hotshoe” Bledsoe was a little nervous—and that was a new experience to him. His life was currently defined by his expertise with the F-35 Lightning he sat in as leader of Crowdog flight. He was known for his icy calm and unflappable concentration on the mission. Everywhere he had been stationed, he had been and still was the best pilot. This run should be a piece of cake.

However, a couple of things were new. First, he risked killing American civilians, and that bothered him a lot. Second, he had to pass within a few miles of Fort Bliss. Normally that was a good thing. But his world had turned upside down this morning when Slider, his best friend among the pilots back at Kelly AFB in Oklahoma, had been sent leading a flight to check out what was happening in Albuquerque. No one had any idea that he would not be coming back. After all, they were the best pilots with the best planes in the world.

There was some kind of brouhaha in New Mexico this morning. No one quite knew what it was because all communication with the base had been cut off. So Slider and his flight had been tasked with a low level recon of Kirtland AFB. The final communication from the flight had been a shouted, “Incoming!…” before their radio chatter disappeared into static. No one ever came back.

The stark peaks of the Guadalupe range south of Carlsbad, on the Texas side of the border, slid by under his wing. “Hit the deck,” he said to his wing mates, and the four planes dove down to a couple hundred feet above the barren desert. Their goal was the bridges over the Rio Grande in El Paso. Nothing the Air Force had sent over so far had made it anywhere near to their target. That the brass were puzzled was clear. Now he was the guinea pig.

“Incoming! 10 o’clock, looks like twenty or thirty Stingers plus others!”

Hotshoe called, “Break! North! ECM!”

The four Lightnings split apart in four different directions away from I-10 and the missile batteries, their Electronic Counter Measures dumping chaff and sending false radar returns while they kept out of their afterburners to avoid the huge heat signatures.

Johnny Boy came in with, “Looks like Frank bought it. There’s another! Fast…eleven o’clock…”

Harold “Harebrain” Baldwin jumped in, “There’s another one at 9 o’clock! They got a lock on me. I think they’re Hawks!”

That freaked Hotshoe. Someone was using American weapons on American planes. The Marines had never used the Hawks in combat. But America’d sold them all over the world. By reputation, at least, they were real trouble. All the pilots believed that these American semi-passive missiles were unstoppable.

But their mission was to try. He really hit the deck this time, cutting back to the Southwest. The ground flew by silently as he flew Mach 1.5 toward eastern side of El Paso. They’ll certainly see me coming. He thought. “I’ll bet the rooster tail of dust is a thousand feet high.” He muttered to himself.”

He could hear Johnny Boy and Harebrain doing the best they could with the Hawks. But now at least four more had joined the hunt. As far as he was concerned, they were goners. He was the last chance. He had to let the plane fly itself this low. He refused to think about the ground. He banked sharply left, so he could come up the river from the southeast. He saw I-10 approaching.

Suddenly, it seemed as if all the warnings in the world let loose. He saw at least four missiles coming from each side. He kicked in the afterburner to try and squeeze through, but this was not the day for American victories. The flight of Stingers were going Mach 2.2 as four of them flew up his tail and exploded in the hot center of his plane.

Hotshoe’s world went black.

The team

Sunday, the fifth of May: 7:30 pm Local time, The Jackson hacienda kitchen

Rachael was concerned. She had never seen her husband so upset. Of course, one of her concerns was that he sometimes loved his country more than he loved the Lord. But what was going on with the tall blond boy? Well, I guess he’s a man—but who knows these days? I’ve met a lot of forty-year-old teenagers recently. Ralph and Jakob brought him into Black Sail. I don’t know how I feel about that. She moved rapidly around the kitchen. She’d gotten home around three and decided to focus on something beside human fears. Her sheep had been scared. She’d quickly talked to Jakob and met Major briefly, but they were hot into it and she was too far behind. She’d get a full briefing tonight from Jakob.

She’d mixed up five loaves of Swedish Rye that had risen quickly in the proofing box Jakob had built her so many years ago. They filled the kitchen with a wonderful smell as they finished baking in the wall oven. She’d quickly browned a couple of small roasts and stuck them in the stove oven along with a several dozen small Yukon Gold potatoes to bake. She had almond slivers browned in butter keeping warm. She pulled out the strainer full of snap peas pouring them into the steamer to heat up.

Sitting the peas on the counter next to the stove she pushed the intercom button and called over to the conference room. “That’s enough for a while. Dinner’s served. Come get it before I feed it to Hannah.”

“…be right over,” she heard from her husband.

A few minutes later a blonde head peered into the kitchen high up on the doorjamb.

“Can I help?” Major said with a large smile.

“Sure. Carry the salad out to the sideboard in the dining room. By then the roast will be ready. You want to carve?”

“Of course! Those are the first knives I learned to love.” Major grabbed the large stoneware salad bowl and carried it out.

While he was gone, Debbie came in. “Can you set the table?” Rachael asked. “Just use the cobalt stoneware again..”

“Got it, Mom.”

She had to turn sideways to avoid the Viking as he came back in from the dining room. “‘Scuse me,” she said with a quick blush as her breasts accidentally brushed Major’s arm while they squeezed past through the door on their way to get dinner ready.

Rachael noticed the quick flush to her daughter’s cheek. That’s interesting. I might have expected a little flare of anger but not self-consciousness.

Major came over to where she was standing in front of the stove. “Knives? Cutting board?”

She pointed to the drawer next to the fridge. “The knives are in the drawer. The cutting board is on top of the refrigerator. The roasts have been standing a half hour”

Major pulled down the cutting board. It was a work of art. It was cut out of maple, about two foot by three foot, laminated with end grain up and a deep groove cut around the outside edge to catch the juice. Major nodded with approval as he saw the built-in stainless steel pan to catch juices.

As he pulled open the knife drawer, he was even more pleased. Jakob was certainly a man of taste. The entire drawer was lined with slots to hold his collection of blades. He knew enough to know the stain on the blades of the carbon steel French knives was a sign of quality. They may stain, but the edge is amazing. For carving, Major liked the look of the slicer with kullens. From the front of the drawer, he pulled out a very old, 2-prong fork with a very nicely carved handle that had that beautiful old yellow-brown patina of ancient ivory.

“Do you think your husband would mind if I used this?” He held out the fork for inspection. “I’ll be careful, but this is the most gorgeous carving fork I have ever seen.”

“Yes, that was a real find. We were in an old barn filled with antiques, up a valley from the Mississippi just up river from Red Wing, Minnesota. Jakob just about squealed when he found this old crock of kitchen tools. I think Jake got the whole bunch plus the crock for fifty dollars or something ridiculous like that. My guess is the fork alone is worth a couple hundred.”

“You’ve got that right—maybe more like five hundred. I’ll need a trivet for the roasting pan.”

“Just use that old wrought iron one there next to the fridge. The hot pads are in the drawer next to the knives.”

Major grabbed a leather mitt that was large enough to fit his hand (surprisingly) and pulled the large stainless saucier out. “Whew, that’s hot. You have a handle guard?”

“In with the hot pads.” The kitchen was quiet for a couple seconds while both were busy with their tasks.

Then Rachael asked, “Where did you learn to cook?”

Major was concentrating on nice thin cross-grain slices off the end of the first roast, and it took a couple seconds to answer. “My mother taught me to bake. But it was my stepfather who taught how to use a carving knife.”

“Just like Stones then. I taught her how to cook, but Jakob taught her how to handle knives.”

“Where’s the name Stones come from?”

“My first husband was a Stoner. He was a handsome devil and Deborah got her looks from him. Thankfully she didn’t inherit his sneaky, conniving ways. As Debbie started growing up, and boys became a problem, she quickly learned how to deal with them—harshly if necessary. When she gets angry, her face gets hard as flint. Stones just sort of happened. As I recall Jakob started it as a joke.”

“I can surely see how boys would have been a problem,” Major murmured. “With looks like that, they must have been circling like a pack of wolves surrounding a beautiful young doe.”

“You’re not far wrong,” her mother replied. “But I taught her how to take care of herself.”

“What do you mean?”

“I basically taught her everything I learned at the Farm—both martial arts and street fighting. Jakob taught her how to carve meat. I taught her how to neutralize men. She’s actually very good. I hear you know Ralph. She’s been working for Ralph for a couple years now. In fact, it was a Black Sail mission that got her shot. It stood her in great stead with those thugs.”

“I heard passing mentions of some sort of attack. I hadn’t heard about the shooting. Did Deborah get hurt?”

“Oh. No! The shooting was nearly a year ago.” Rachael laughed. “No, by the time she was jumped she was almost recovered—just in bad shape. She gave better than she got. She jumped in to help some poor Anglo…”

“Mom, are you telling tales on me again?” Debbie came back into the kitchen, her tasks completed.

“No, not really. The Major here was just asking where you got the nickname Stones.”

“What stories did you tell?”

“There was no time…”

Rachael looked over, caught Major’s eye, and gave him an elaborate wink. “Maybe after dinner?”

“Mother!”

Rachael and Major dissolved into Mirth. Stones turned to march into the family room. Rachael called after her back, “Tell the others that dinner is ready. Major, help me carry these out?”

“With pleasure, Ma’am.” Major finished laying the beautifully carved meat decoratively on the large oval cobalt blue stoneware platter Rachael had lain on the island next to the cutting board. “What do you want to do with the au jus?”

“Hand it here, and I’ll make a little gravy. Pull two bowls out of that cupboard for the potatoes and peas.”

“I’ve got it.”

The White House Response

Monday, The sixth of May: 7:30 am Local time, Approaching the White House

Senator Aragón was in shock. It wasn’t the invasion on the West Coast. He had suspected something like that had been coming for a long time. He wasn’t even surprised at how quickly the Southwest had fallen. After President Milton Worley, former governor of New Hampshire, had gotten elected things had gone to “Hell in a handbasket”—as his mother used to say. Now the purpose of government seemed to be focused on not offending anyone. Worley had almost completed the European Unionizing of America.

Danny swung around and tossed his left leg onto the soft leather of his armored purple-black iridescent Escalante. Denzell Lee had worked with Jorge Maldonado, his driver and long-time friend, to build his Washington ride. No one knew the armament he carried other than Jakob’s team, Jorge, and the Secret service. The Secret Service was impressed. He hollered up at the front seat. “Do either of you know what this is all about?”

Jorge just shook his head. “No, boss, I have heard nothing. I’m as surprised as you are. You have not been very welcome in these parts recently, and I wouldn’t like it if you were.”

Gerry Turback’s voice floated back over the top of the seat. “I was talking to several of my colleagues in the White House while Jorge was driving me over to pick you up. They wouldn’t say much, of course. But I did find out that Gen. Champlain will be there this morning, along with the US Intelligence Chief, the heads of Homeland Security, CIA, and FBI, Secretary Burnstein, plus various military and intelligence types. My guess is that President Worley is making sure he is inclusive.” Gerry spat out inclusive like an epithet. “Sorry about that, sir. That was uncalled for.”

“No, Gerry, merely accurate. Milton has always been inclusive to a fault—and it is a major fault. But this is a new low. Don’t get me wrong; I am pleased as punch to be included. But to include your presidential opponent to a war room during an election is unheard of. I guess Bush set a precedent with Obama, but this pushes it to a level that is beyond acceptable.” He chuckled. “I’m glad to be the beneficiary of PC for a change. It’ll be interesting, I am sure.”

Jorge slowed next to the guardhouse outside the gate of the White House. He handed out the pass Gerry had given him. The impeccably uniformed black Marine bent over to look in the car. His eyes flashed warmth as he spotted Gerry in the passenger seat. “G’mornin’ Ms. Turback! We haven’t seen you around here.”

Gerry laughed. “No, Isaiah, I work for the enemy now.”

“He’s not my enemy, ma’am.” The soldier looked toward the back seat. “Welcome to the White House, Senator. I hope this becomes the norm rather than the exception, sir.”

Danny thought he saw the man blush at the lapse in protocol, so he put him at ease with a warm, “That is my hope also, soldier.”

The sergeant handed the pass back to Jorge, and motioned for the gate to be opened.

Gerry got them through security with a minimum of fuss. Soon the Senator was following her, while she talked with the two Secret Service agents detailed to lead them to the meeting.

Danny was still surprised a little when they were loaded on an elevator and taken down to the situation room. As he entered the room he noticed it felt slightly claustrophobic not because of its size or location, but because of the armor enclosing the room. The room was absolutely dead acoustically.

It was not a pleasant place to be—but maybe that was because he had invaded an enemy camp. People were talking in small groups around the room. Everyone was in uniform, suits or military, except for the Secretary of State. As usual, she was dressed in a tight-fitting knit dress—pink this time.

General Champlain, head of the Joint Chiefs, saw the Senator and his face lit up. It was the recognition of fellow soldiers in an enemy camp. He quickly stepped over and said quietly, “Daniel! How good to see you this morning, sir. This is pleasant surprise on a dark morning. Come over and meet some friends of mine.”

Daniel winced slightly at the crushing grip of this aggressive man. “It’s good to see you, too, Robert. It’s been a while.”

“I imagine you’ve been a little busy. I heard there was some trouble in Phoenix Saturday night.”

“That’s an understatement—especially with the Cinco De Mayo celebration that followed yesterday.”

General Champlain gave a small grimace of anger, “I wasn’t surprised about that, except for the involvement of our Navy,” and then placed his hand on Daniel’s back to guide him over to the friendly corner. It was a small group, but the senator was very pleased to see Ralph Conratty there along with General Polsy of the Air Force, Gordon Samuelson, head of Homeland Security, and Bill Colbein, head of the CIA. They were pointedly avoiding Myron Templeton, the new Director of National Intelligence.

Bill was not looking good. He’d done an excellent job of getting his portion of the intelligence community headed back toward human intelligence without the over-reliance upon electronic data gathering that had become such a problem in the later part of the twentieth century. He was one of the giants of the Company.

However, a couple months ago he had been operated on for cancer, Danny wasn’t sure where. He had lost at least sixty pounds. His clothes were just hanging on his short frame. That was surely a silver rug on his head to cover the effects of the chemo. But he had a smile on his face and his handshake was steady (if not too vigorous) as Danny went over to say hi and find out how he was. He greeted his old friends and they chatted about family and friends until they heard from the other end of the room.

“Everyone be seated please.” It was Sharon Harlstead, Worley’s chief of staff. Ah well, here we go, Danny was directed to his seat opposite Secretary of State Burnstein. She smiled broadly and gave him a little wink, wiggle and a toss of the more than ample chest.

Senator Aragón reacted with a quick flush of anger. What a slut! Even in a war room she can’t control it. This administration is like a cesspool. He had a brief struggle to keep it off his face.

He ignored the gesture and looked around the table. The chairs along the walls did not hold many underlings—about one man or woman for each principal. Ralph was the only one he recognized, on the wall.

To his left at the table was Bill Colbein, followed by the new head of the FBI, Samuel Smooter. Smooter was a career bureaucrat who moved to management before he really had any experience in the real world. Daniel knew for a fact that he had never even shot a gun other than to pass requirements—and that was a fight each time.

At the foot of the table was Gordon Samuelson, head of Homeland Security. That’s a strange place for him, Daniel thought, it’s like he’s distancing himself from Worley’s team. Even Smooter and Bill are down here at the far end of things.

Danny knew that things had gotten strained again in the intelligence community. Trump used generals, as much as possible, for everything he could. But businessmen and Senators had been put in place to streamline the system. After eight years, everything had gotten lean and trim.

However, Worley had changed things in a big way by placing Myron Templeton. One of Templeton’s major strengths for the job was his little blue book of dirt and a willingness to use it. In addition, he was Worley’s fair-haired boy and a poster child for the radical left.

He’d considered Obama to be too conservative. Appalled by Donald, he had taken the time to perfect his wonderful public image. That got him the job, but he didn’t seem to care what the intelligence was. He provided what his boss wanted to hear. Somehow he managed this without being seen as the wimpy brown nose he was. The intelligence community was left on their own. Templeton just seemed to invent the daily intelligence briefing—focused on his agenda and Worley’s needs.

To Senator Aragón’s right were General Harold Polsy, Air Force Chief; Admiral Charlie Shepherd, Navy Chief; and General Robert Champlain, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Across the table were Harlstead, Burnstein, Timothy Harallson, DNI Myron Templeton, and Terrance Holbein, Secretary of Defense.

Daniel found it interesting to find Holbein on the administration side of the table. He had heard there were real conflicts between the Joint Chiefs and Terry. That was really too bad. Daniel thought Terrance was an excellent Secretary of Defense. He had known Holbein for years—from the time he started working under Reagan’s National Security Advisor. All in all, there were a whole lot of chiefs and very few Indians. All eyes snapped to the door as they heard the Marine’s heels pop and announce, “The President of the United States.”

What a pompous ass!

Danny reigned himself in again—actually he was surprised not to hear Hail to the Chief. Whatever happened here this morning, he was in enemy territory and he better not forget it. At least the entourage was missing this morning.

“Good morning, people!” The convincing pump-up cry came from the consummate politician. At 6’4”, 67 years old, with a wavy grey mane, elegantly styled, President Milton Worley always looked thin, sleek, and fashionable. This morning, he was wearing a $5,000 hand-tailored navy-blue suit with barely visible pinstriping and a gorgeous red power tie with minuscule electric blue dots.

He walked around his side of the table, greeting and touching, as he made his way to his seat at the far end—smiles and small talk for everyone (but not Samuelson, Danny noticed).

You would have thought this was a campaign stop, but then everything was a campaign stop for him. As he turned and sat down he glanced at Daniel. He pumped a small nod of acknowledgment toward the senator and then started to speak. “I called you all here to discuss relationships with our new country to the southwest.”

That was more than Daniel could tolerate. The words just burst from his lips, “Isn’t that a little premature, Mr. President? Aren’t we really at war with rebels attacking our country?”

“No, Senator Aragón, we are not. They have done things right. This has all the imprint of a genuine grassroots movement from within the United States. Aztlan has already been recognized by most of our allies and most of the world. I will appoint an ambassador myself very soon.”

Danny almost jumped to his feet.

He felt Bill grab his elbow to hold him down.

He couldn’t shut his mouth though. “How can you possible believe that? A Mexican army has invaded us. They’ve killed many Americans taking Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque. They’ve gained control of Fort Bliss, the Ports of San Diego, and who knows what else throughout the invaded territory?”

“Enough!” Worley even looked a little angry now. “I’ve been talking to President Emilio Baca de Chavez. We finished an hour-long conversation just before I came down here. He has the plan and the backup to make this happen. I will not go down in history as a president who attacked his own people. Emilio has promised elections in the fall—before you and I have our vote. By November the people of Aztlan will have decided. Every state will get the right to choose their allegiance. This is a democracy—is it not?”

Looking carefully at each person around the long table he continued. “As far as the world is concerned this is a done deal. So far over sixty nations have recognized Aztlan, starting with France, Germany, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Portugal…”

General Champlain had enough by this point. “What the hell are you talking about, Mr. President?”

Bang! He slammed the slightly cupped palm of his hand on the table. It couldn’t reverberate in this dead room, but it got everyone’s attention.

“We have been invaded! We have a renegade Admiral holding all San Diego hostage. We have another renegade General in El Paso shooting down our planes as we go take a look to see what is happening. They shot down a flight of Lightnings late yesterday. They are using our own weapons against us. We have enemy soldiers holding one of our Air Force bases in the middle of Albuquerque. This is war!”

Sharon Harlstead, Worley’s chief of staff, jumped in, “You are wrong, General Champlain. President Baca De Chavez assured us there will be no further hostilities, as long as we allow free elections.”

Champlain continued, “Further hostilities are not the issue—it’s the present hostilities that have me upset. Are you really saying we need to leave them alone and congratulate them on their good work? My God, do you have a brain?” His voice dropped many decibels, and he muttered under his breath. “Sorry, ma’am, rhetorical question.”

Worley interrupted, “That’s enough, General! Of course we have to solve the hostage issues and open the borders. Emilio assures me that this will happen as soon as we recognize them.”

Bill Colbein asked, “So, what do we do about the traitorous Admiral and General—and all the traitors who aided and abetted them?”

Halstead replied, “You know the nature of the game we play, Bill. History is a series of coups, revolutions, attacks, wars, and so forth. Some are won and some are lost. They won this one. Most of our allies agree. Our only hope is the elections. President Worley has decided that he will not be responsible for attacking US troops and killing US citizens.”

Bill snapped back, “I thought you just told me that they were no longer US citizens. They are Aztlan citizens.”

Daniel stepped in, “How much are we allowed to participate in this free election?”

“We are not, there will be an international oversight team supervising the election.” Dianne Burnstein answered. “This will be a one question ballot. ‘Do you wish to legalize Aztlan and its temporary constitution?’”

This was an obvious surprise to the National Security Advisor. Harallson asked, “So, Baca de Chavez and his crew have free rein, but we are not allowed in?”

Halstead stepped back in. “The campaign will be waged on TV, radio, and newspapers. We will supply our side of the argument—Aztlan will present theirs. The equal time rules will apply.”

Worley finally spoke up. “We have had increasing problems with our friends on the West Coast. California’s economy is a major drag on the United States as a whole. There have been rumors of independence movements for decades. It used to be that the states on the coast, at least, were blue states and had some progressive leanings. But even those have basically disappeared in recent years throughout the West. They resent the East. We are considered plunderers of their resources. This is an opportunity for us. We can allow them to make their feelings known. The new government of California is very aggressive, largely Spanish, and looking to determine their own direction. I spoke at length to Julio Gutierrez, governor of California, last night. He enthusiastically supports Baca de Chavez. He sees this as a genuine grassroots movement of the people.”

By now Daniel had his head in his hands, facing down with the palms covering his face. My God, he intends to give away the West! He is so blinded by his world view that he is willing to let the United States break up. He sees this as a victory of diplomacy. I need to talk to Ralph. While he was ruminating, Worley dismissed them.

General Champlain tapped him on the shoulder, “Come on, Danny. It’s over. They’ve won this round.”

Senator Aragón was stunned by the apparent capitulation of the Joint Chiefs. But he showed nothing on his face, got to his feet, and followed the group out of the room, up the elevator, and out of the White House. As Jorge pulled up to pick him up, and Gerry got out with wary eyes scanning the area, his cell phone rang.

“Danny, we are not secure. Call me at my office as soon as you can.”

At the sound of Ralph’s rough bark, hope returned. Daniel squared himself in the seat and told Jorge to take him home. He called John Feldman, his campaign manager. “John, strategy meeting at my house—7:30 this evening. All plans are canceled until we have that meeting.”

The loyal opposition

Monday, the sixth of May: 1:30 pm Local time Just south of Welcome, Maryland, East of Blossom Point

Senator Aragón had left the Escalade at home. Jorge was driving another of Denzell’s creations. From the outside, it looked like an old maroon Dodge Grand Caravan from the beginning of the millennium.

The paint showed bad sun damage, the gel coat gone in large areas, with that ragged white haze surrounding the area of matte color beat in by the sun. The right front fender was caved in gently. There were long scratches along the left side. The bumper was hanging down on the right side, the end bent back where a tree tried to rip it off—but no salt damage. It was a common-looking van for New Mexico with Maryland plates on this afternoon to avoid suspicion. This trip was strictly off the records.

Inside—the van was almost as luxurious as his Escalade. But more importantly, this van had many more defensive weapons. It could strew anti-vehicle mines out the back. There was a .50 caliber machine gun and port through what used to be the back door. The back portion of the roof could be dumped to allow Sidewinders to take out plane or helicopter attacks. There was a man stationed behind the senator, where the third seat used to be, behind a soundproof wall. There were two light machine guns below the front headlights to lay down a hail of bullets in the direct path the van wanted to go.

To say the armor plating was good would be a massive understatement. There was active armor covering the passenger compartment, with best in armored glass and bullet absorbing ballistic nylon/carbon fiber plate around the rest of the vehicle. The air conditioning would stop any known poison gas or biological weapon. It had a custom tube steel frame with massive run flat tires driven by a custom-built six-speed manual transmission. It had a bored out hemi that delivered nearly 500 horsepower in an engine that was so unstressed that it was probably good for 100,000 miles. The engine was swapped every 30,000 or so to be sure. All in all it was a safe ride. Jakob took care of his friends.

Jorge loved driving this “old” van. It handled better than any car he had ever driven. Right now he was driving slowly through a dense forest near the southern tip of Maryland. He seemed to be picking his way slowly through the ruts. In reality, he was going slowly to give the security team adequate time to identify the vehicle. It was so out of character, it looked suspicious.

The road looked like two bumpy dirt ruts through the forest, but Jorge knew that the road was paved with reinforced concrete under the dirt and grass. The bumps had been added in the concrete to slow down the entering vehicles. He had been here many times before under better circumstances. They were headed for Black Sail Yard, Ralph’s retreat just East of Blossom Point off Windmill Point Road down by the Potomac River. It was early summer on the southern edge of Maryland, and it was a gorgeous day. It had rained yesterday evening, and everything had the fresh exuberance of spring fulfilled. Here in the dense forest surrounding Ralph’s retreat, the sun pierced the canopy of leaves only to help the flowers.

There had been quite a bit of activity after everyone scattered from the White House in seeming defeat. But Daniel knew nothing about that. He thought he was having a private discussion with Ralph about what to do about Worley’s capitulation.

After a slow half mile, the road gave way to a tree-lined, concrete-paved boulevard. Though the transition was gradual, Jorge knew that there were several choke points that could be shut off very quickly if the visitor proved to be unwelcome. He hadn’t seen anyone, but he knew they were spotted before they turned off the paved road just east of Welcome.

Ralph had bought this old boat builder’s property back in the 1960s when land was still cheap. The former owner had built racing sailboats for around-the-world races. All his boats carried black sails with a blue dolphin leaping out of a vivid red circle outline. All access to the property when purchased was from the Potomac through what appeared to be a narrow creek, thick swamp, and reverted forest. This back entry road had been added for escape more than anything. In fact, by moving out of the ruts to the north side of the road, it was smooth as glass and allowed for high-speed egress. It all looked naturally overgrown.

From the Potomac, the place was barely visible on the edge of the woods beyond the wide swamp. It still looked like several old very weathered buildings and docks. One of these buildings was very large. It was tall enough for 125-foot masts with three double door systems large enough to allow large ocean-going racing yachts easy access with masts installed. It was over three hundred feet wide on the waterfront, but invisible from satellite (unless, of course, you checked it out in infrared). The old man had been very secretive and a very successful boat builder. He regularly stunned the yachting world with his exquisite designs.

Once you arrived, the place certainly did not look abandoned. The lawns were mowed. The under side of the forest canopy was pruned, tended, and underbrush removed for a hundred yards around the buildings. But it did not look like an active port either. All visiting boats were pulled inside the old buildings to be hidden from unfriendly eyes. There was rarely much activity outside of the buildings. Most of that was hidden under the canopy of huge evergreens—red cedar, holly, and a large grove of very old white pine. The buildings were carefully tended to look old, and little used. There were walking trails, but the activity wasn’t visible from the bay or the sky.

The buildings were all weathered wood, board and batten cypress, near the shore and in the water. The only part really visible from the sky was the house, west of the boat slips by nearly two hundred yards. It was huge, three-storied, and covered with white narrow clapboards. It looked nothing like a southern plantation. It was too new, being built in the early 1950s after the boat builder retired from the navy (as an admiral if Daniel remembered right).

The Senator thought the old buildings by the water were basically abandoned though he knew Ralph had a fairly large operation going. He’d only been to the house, and they were always on a tight schedule. But, the security and protection of this home was massive. Ralph had been working covert ops for over three decades. Much of the planning happened here. Many of the operations around the D.C. area had been water-launched from this facility.

If Danny had been allowed to enter the boatyard under roof, he would have been astonished to see that only the east slip still went to the ceiling 150’ above. The other two slips were only thirty feet high, covered by seven floors of offices, workshops, and living quarters. In fact, another building had been constructed inside the old boatyard —for strength, insulation, protection, privacy, and infrared invisibility. The building normally housed twenty-five men and women—but it could hold up to four hundred if necessary.

As Jorge moved onto the concrete-paved boulevard, the van accelerated briskly. Now the road looked like the entrance to a French chateau, lined with high pruned trees that arched over the road and met above. As he pulled into the clearing surrounding the house, the impressive scale of the grounds was invisible.

In fact, the back of the house was not very impressive. The large roof steeply sloped way down in back to a mere ten feet above the ground. Only the first floor was exposed—tucked under a wide portico. There were three curiously low and wide dormers evenly spaced across the roof. They were filled with infrared cameras, motion sensors, night-vision cameras, and high definition video cameras plus remote controlled machine guns. RPGs and a missile battery were hidden on both sides of the house, in the two larger end dormers, each with 180° fields of fire that overlapped cross firing across the boulevard.

The road swung around in a wide circle and under the portico. There was a brief glimpse of the water on the far side of the house. Jorge pulled in front of the rear door and stopped with exquisite smoothness.

Before Jorge could get out of the car, a young man with spiked blond hair, a skin tight t-shirt, tight blue jeans cinched to his narrow waist with a silver ranger-style belt buckle, and well-worn hiking boots jumped out of the rear door of the house and opened the door. His tight, angled features and green eyes were lit up with a huge smile, “Senator! I’m glad to see you again. It has been too long. Welcome to Black Sail.”

“Indeed it has, Marty. Are you here full-time now?”

Martin Preboult was the son of Henry Preboult, who had been the most trusted warrior of the early 1970s black squads run under Ralph’s direction. Daniel had been very close to Henry. He had promised to watch over his son while his warrior friend laid dying in Walter Reed after a compromised mission to Iran in 1987. He didn’t see Marty as often as he liked, but he knew he had recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from the engineering programs at Michigan. Nancy kept in close touch with Henry’s wife, Marilyn, who had never remarried.

“I sure am! I’m helping with the engineering in the boathouse. Ralph has given me a great opportunity.”

The boathouse reference puzzled the Senator a little, but he covered it smoothly. “I tickled, to say the least. You deserve the trust. Now that you’re in the area, we need to get together.”

“I’d like that, sir.”

Danny stepped out of the van and walked into the house with Marty leading the way. The senator was still in his work clothes—well-tailored blue suit and red power tie diagonally striped with narrow rows of small purple dots. The only compromise was his insistence on comfortable shoes. He and the young man genuinely liked each other and had many things to talk about.

The rear entrance was merely a straight hall, for about forty-five feet into the center of the house. They walked side by side down the hall deep in conversation. Danny did not know that the walls, floor, and ceiling were heavily armored plus there were three armored doors that could drop down from the ceiling if the back door of the house was breached. Ralph didn’t mess around. This home was a fortress, under the genteel exterior.

At the end of the fortified hallway, Marty turned left and led Daniel across a wide well-lit foyer toward the double door opening into the expansive and elaborate library on the southeast corner of the home. As their heels clicked across elaborate parquet of the foyer, Daniel saw Lisa Conratty coming over from the kitchen on the southwestern side of the house to greet him.

Ralph’s wife of over thirty years was a solid woman with large bones. Ralph had met her at one of the formal dinners he was required to attend, shortly after his first wife was killed during a rare European vacation in the late 1960s. The East Germans after Ralph got his wife instead. So, Ralph was at the dinner alone.

A would-be politician who didn’t think she had enough helpful lineage or youth had divorced Lisa for a trophy tootsie he had met in the Hamptons. While the lack of blue blood was true, the fool had rejected one of the sharpest minds in Washington. Lisa had been working in the State Department at the time, writing position papers for Kissinger.

Seated next to each other, she and Ralph had gotten so deep into conversation that the dinner ended and most of the people left before they noticed. They had been married within the year and still spent much time in deep analytical conversation. Ralph relied on her insight and wisdom honed by her decades in Washington and world diplomacy. Truth was, she and Rachael were the brains of the Black Sail—though that was kept well hidden.

It was true that her face would never be called pretty because it was not even close to delicate. But, she was certainly attractive. Her features were perfectly symmetrical with good cheekbones, long lashes, and gorgeous, wide-open lavender eyes that did not ever miss a trick. All of this was under a beautiful mane of naturally blue-white hair that remained thick and curly, framing off her oval face, full lips, and solid chin. Her dimples had become permanent over the years, but they still added a warm friendly touch to her features. She had a curvaceous, womanly figure with a narrow waist and knew how to put herself together.

At state functions, she was an impressive presence and more than one foreign dignitary had come up to talk with her assuming that she had to be important. They had no idea how important she really was. Even Danny only knew portions of her activities.

Today she was wearing an elegantly embroidered denim dress with vertical gathers over her more than adequate figure. Her feet were pampered with comfortable brown leather flats. She had a cotton apron tied around her still slim waist that had “Grandmas rule!” printed on the top in strong script. She briskly crossed the floor to greet the husband of one of her best friends. She and Nancy Aragón had gotten very close during Danny’s tenure in the Senate. She had a large smile on her face, but the worry lines never disappeared completely any more.

“Danny,” she said with her arms open to invite a hug, “it’s good to see you again. Why didn’t you bring Nancy?”

“If I had known you would be here I would have done that. But this is a very brief visit, as far as I know. I’m a little surprised to see you out here, Lisa. I thought Ralph just wanted a private conversation.”

“No, it’s more than that. He told me you would be a little surprised. I am supposed to put you at ease and prepare you—so, RELAX! That’s an order!” The directive was given with a broad smile that lit up the foyer. “General Champlain got here over an hour ago. Four boatloads of men and women have arrived in the boathouse at various times starting about nine thirty this morning. Charlie Shepherd arrived in the second boat with his aide and several very serious officers carefully dressed in civvies. It’s really humorous watching lifers try to pretend to be civilians.

“I think you will do well to prepare yourself for what you hoped would happen in the White House this morning. Ralph is absolutely determined that Admiral Cabot and General Sanchez will not get away with this. I would be joining you in there, but Ralph is concerned that several of the Pentagon aides would be surprised or dismayed at my presence.” There was a wistful smile on her face.

She had the senator’s attention now. Something was going on that was beyond what he expected. Daniel knew that Ralph and Lisa had gone through marriage agony while Lisa came to grips with the fact that she had a serious competitor in Ralph’s work. Ralph’s work came before their relationship chronologically, and his sense of duty never allowed him time off. Because of the covert nature of his responsibilities, Lisa had been left on the outside for many years. Danny knew they had patched it up.

But he didn’t know that Ralph had eventually come to see that he would lose the love of his life if he didn’t bring Lisa into his world. He had argued with his bosses about the asset she was, gotten her all clearances needed, and now was able to share what he did. Her mind was a real asset to his planning. But, he was extremely careful that almost no one knew of her involvement or she would be in real danger. He certainly did not want to lose his second wife to his work.

However, being able to work as a couple was excellent cover. Lisa was a master of and a major force at the social comings and goings of Washington. As far as society knew, that was her only hat. Their home in Georgetown was an established part of the circuit of doings. She was still tightly involved with State and her many friends there. It was an honor to be invited to her affairs.

Ralph had been introduced to society as a consultant for the intelligence community. Few knew of his more direct connection to the CIA. Black Sail was almost completely under cover. It had become a retreat where he could actually invite just his friends and relax. It was a sign of his trust that the Aragóns were out here several times a year.

Lisa was still not entirely comfortable with the black ops aspect of Black Sail. She was originally a pacifist looking for diplomatic solutions. The warrior mentality was foreign to her. But she had come to understand the need for preemptive violence —now that Ralph could legally share most of what he did and include her in his private planning. Rachael had also been able to answer most of her questions to her satisfaction.

Those invited out to Black Sail were members of a very exclusive club. The problem, of course, was that it was difficult to entertain at a covert ops base that was always on a wartime footing—especially because even close friends like the Aragóns had to be kept in the dark. However, she was a gifted wife and the home now had warmth that it lacked when it was an exclusively male domain in the 1970s. Lisa would never be entirely comfortable around guns, missiles, and warriors. She had minimized their visibility, but their presence was always close at hand out here in the woods along the shore of the Potomac. Black Sail was now much more than a small black department of the CIA.

Now Daniel thought he understood why he was here today. Ralph had been very guarded but insistent that this meeting was necessary and had to be kept secret. Gerry had not understood, and he regretted the need to cut her out. Jorge had found it a little challenging to lose the tails she sent after them—but his unassuming chauffeur was good at his job. Evidently it was a work session.

A strange day was getting much stranger. He gave Lisa another quick hug while Marty stood off a little distance to give them some privacy. “Thanks for the warning, kid. I had no idea what I was getting into. Can you call Nancy and let her know that you have moved out here for a while? She’ll understand.”

“Oh, yes, you know she will.” Lisa gave him a broad smile, and gently pushed him toward Marty. “Duty calls.”

“Regularly and insistently of late—she seems to have a more shrill voice than I remembered.”

“This is a tough time, Daniel.” Lisa’s face grew very serious. “This is our second civil war—and so far it looks like we have lost.”

“That would surprise me a great deal. But then much has been surprising over the past few days. I better get to work.” He gave her a little wave and joined Marty as he turned and headed toward the library. He was not surprised when Marty opened the door for him but insisted that he enter first. This event had protocol.

The library was huge. It was two stories tall, with six of the large nine-light windows stacked in vertically separated pairs across the south side. The room was nearly two thousand square feet running over fifty feet along the front of the house. The second floor balconies were lined with books, floor to ceiling except for the south wall of windows.

All empty wall space was covered with Ralph’s collection of maritime oils and aircraft portraits. It had a balcony running around the east wall and continuing around the two interior walls. There were two doors on the north side of the ground floor and two more from the west into the balcony from the second floor. Two huge spiral staircases in red oak led down to the ground floor in the northwest and southeast corners of the room.

Ralph’s large oak desk was sitting diagonally in front of the northeast corner of the room surrounded by computers, printers, and faxes built into oak cabinets on the walls in back of the desk. In the center of the room was a large rectangular oaken three-pedestal table surrounded by at least twenty comfortable leather chairs with armrests. The sideboard on the wall next to the foyer under the balcony to the right of the doors was filled with coffee pots, mugs, and munchies. The first surprise was the noise.

People were standing around the room talking, much like they had in the Situation Room earlier that morning. However, there were many more of them. As Daniel entered, he was amazed that they all stopped and turned to face him.

There was a long pregnant pause that became a little uncomfortable. Daniel saw General Champlain, Admiral Shepherd, and several other men and women he knew from the Pentagon. He was stunned to see Jim Bjornquist and Leah Carmichael in the group by the head of the table. Jim was his best friend, and would be his chief of staff if he won the election. Leah was his major advisor on foreign policy. He had been sure that Jim was in Chicago organizing a rally scheduled there tomorrow. Leah had been in Boston at a conference when he had talked to her last night.

Ralph broke the sudden silence by hustling over to his old friend. “I see the surprise on your face, my friend. We had to keep this quiet. But I welcome you to the first meeting of your military advisors—though it will have to remain off the record. I would have had you announced, but I assumed you would not be pleased by that.” Daniel gave him a tight nod in agreement at that thought—this was very uncomfortable.

Ralph continued, “These people are all loyal friends of yours—though I know you have not met several of them. All are my friends or working companions. Let’s just call this Situation Room Black Sail. I’ll answer any questions later. There was no way you could call this meeting together, but it needed to be done. We need to work quickly and get you back to your plane before the media notices you are missing. Come with me.”

While Daniel took in the reality of what he was now involved with, Ralph led him to the oversized, executive chair at the head of the table. “Sit here, senator. I’ll be over here next to you controlling the equipment.” He pointed to a table toward the interior of the house between the head of the table and the desk at Daniel’s right side. It had what looked like a video production control center, but that was the least of it. All the security of the entire complex could be controlled from here. Ralph sat down in the chair in front of the monitor, facing Daniel.

Daniel took charge. It was clearly expected of him. “Gentlemen and ladies, please take your seats. We have work to do.”

The organization became clear to him as everyone sat down. The military was lined up in the same basic configuration as he had seen in the Situation Room down the table to his left. Jim and Leah were on his right hand, with Jim sitting next to him.

As Jim sat down, he spoke quietly to his friend. “Well, Danny, looks we get to serious work before we expected.”

“It certainly looks that way, Jim. How much do you know?” Daniel’s voice was equally quiet.

“Only that you are the leader these people are looking for. They need a guide toward sanity. Give it to them.”

Fear washed over Daniel Aragón. This is what he was seeking, what he felt called to do—but he certainly wasn’t ready—not at this time, well before the election. This felt a little like a coup attempt. But then, when would he ever be ready? He wished that Nancy were here so they could pray.

But that was the answer, for sure. If he were the leader they were looking for, prayer was what they needed. It was a risk, but a risk he had to take. He was not willing to go forward unless the Lord okayed the meeting.

He cleared his voice and spoke clearly to the entire room, “I’m not sure exactly what we are doing here this afternoon, but I know it is beyond our ability to know what is coming. We need to ask the One who knows for help. Let’s pray.”

Amazingly, the room was instantly and expectantly silent. He stepped out off the cliff into the thin air of faith, “Lord, I know you are here with us today. I know that government without your guidance is foolishness. So, I ask that you bless us all, who are here today, with the wisdom to make wise decisions that will help your purpose for our country. We need to know your plan for us, and our nation. I ask this, not out of arrogance, but out of a real need to know your plan. I am convinced that only your plan will be fair, kind, good, loving, and right. We have no right to expect an answer other than the relationship provided by your son. So, we ask for your help in His name.”

He was surprised to hear several vigorous amens from around the room. He opened his eyes that had closed automatically as he searched deep inside for that connection to the Lord that he relied upon throughout his days. It was like waking to a new time and place. He could sense the Lord’s presence and that deep sense of peace. [_Maybe this was the Lord, after all. _]He continued without pause, “All right, now that we are gathered, why are we here?”

General Champlain stepped up to the plate. “We are not entirely sure other than the obvious—Worley will let our country fall apart. We have to do something to hold the Union together.”

At the far end of the table sat a younger woman. She was very pretty—in a mannish way—with short, straight hair combed into a loose ducktail, and very delicate, regular features with high cheekbones. In the light from the windows, Danny could see the blue glow of her eyes from his end of the table. She appeared to be wearing a rather severe blue suit. There was a single strand of pearls around her neck. It was obvious that she had something to say, but was overcome by the rank and presence of the others.

Danny looked down at her and smiled. “Young lady, we have not had the pleasure of an introduction, but what do you know about this?”

You might have thought that she had been slapped, but she took it well, cleared her throat and replied resolutely, “President Aragón, my name is Stephanie Bloomgard. I know Lisa and I have been talking with her. I may be as surprised as you appear to be that I am here. Ralph called me this morning to ask if I could join this group.

“I work in the State Department on position papers. I don’t really know how to say this, but I have become concerned that Secretary Burnstein is somehow involved in the birth of this new state. I have no real proof. But in the past several weeks I have overheard several partial conversations and seen several papers that demonstrate a strong relationship with Juan Dominguez, the Patron of Chihuahua. I am certain that he is involved with the invasion of New Mexico—at the very least.”

Danny replied thoughtfully in gentle rebuke, “Stephanie, I am not the president—but thanks for the hope. I am more than surprised, I am very concerned about the legality of all this. But thank you for the information. I know about Dominguez, but I have no idea why Dianne would have any relationship with him. He has no official position. Basically, I was under the impression he is just a very rich and powerful drug runner.”

A small, stout, black man seated behind Leah Carmichael with a short perfected Afro and goatee jumped in, “Peter Dicksman, sir, CIA, Junior Analyst for Asian Affairs—we’re not sure what his position is any more. He has developed very strong political contacts. There have been many sub-rosa meetings over the past six months with minor dignitaries from Germany, France, Russia, and more. He has developed some very strong ties with China in recent years. We all know about the economic relationship, but there are also several high-level Chinese politicos who visit him regularly. I have become convinced that this is much more than an economic partnership.

“I have sent up analyses. But my superiors did not think there was any real threat, or at the least, there has been no action taken that I am aware of.

“However, I am still very concerned about El Patron’s relationship with one man, Chou Wei. Chou is high up in the Triads in Hong Kong. I am assuming that Dominguez knows only about the criminal connections. However, he is much more than that. He has a direct link to Beijing’s ruling council. We do not know whom he is tied to at the top of China’s government. But I am convinced that it is a very high connection.”

Jim Bjornquist spoke up now. “That is more than a little scary. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that this invasion has a strong Chinese component?”

A voice spoke up from behind Daniel to his right. Ralph was entering the fray. “I would like to add a couple men whom few of you know to this meeting. I think they can be of real service to us now. One of them is an old friend of the Senator. The other has now joined him in New Mexico. Would that be all right with you, sir?”

Daniel turned slightly, “Certainly, Ralph.”

Beyond the foot of the table was that sideboard with all the munchies. Over it was a very large painting of a sea battle between sailing ships. As Ralph touched a button, the painting came to glowing life and disappeared to reveal a 60” plasma screen in hi-def.

On the screen were the heads and shoulders of Jakob Jackson and Major Jenson, seated in the conference room over the garage. Ralph said simply, “Hello, Jakob. Daniel, the man seated to the right of Jakob is my second in command, Major Warren Jenson. Major Jenson was at Kirtland yesterday morning when the invaders attacked. I suggest we hear his report directly.”

“Sounds good to me.” Daniel said. “Go ahead, Major.”

“Good morning, Senator. As Assistant Secretary Conratty said, I was there at Kirtland AFB yesterday morning. I was awakened by dozens of loud explosions. I quickly dressed and went out to see if I could help. What I found was a very well orchestrated attack by well-trained troops. I am certain they are the Jaguars de Aztlan, shock troops of Juan Dominguez of Chihuahua. I estimate 10,000 men were in on the attack of Kirtland. They were driving new, highly modified Dodge trucks. When I left, under Ralph’s orders, I took one with me. After I made it here to Jakob’s hacienda, his man Denzell and I went over the truck thoroughly.

“First of all it is armed with a brand-new 8-up Chinese HP-9 laser-guided, fire and forget, anti-tank missile launcher. I didn’t even know they had an 8-up version. The headlights fold inward to allow 9mm machine guns to fire forward. I saw other trucks on the base that were set up with dual 25 mm machine guns in a turret in the truck bed. There were also many trucks set up as troop carriers. I saw at least six men bailing out of each of these trucks as they arrived. They also pulled supplies out of the trucks.

“Denzell and I are more worried about how the trucks were built. As we examined the truck with which I escaped, it quickly became obvious that these trucks are not hot rods cobbled together by backyard wrenches (to use Denzell’s phrase). These are manufactured trucks—well designed and well built. The engines are large hemis that are modified and very powerful. However, they are not overbuilt or stressed. They are clearly designed for endurance, according to Denzell. These are formidable weapons, sir.”

Jakob spoke up as Major finished, “Senator, this is a major operation. I saw nearly 500 trucks break down the gate at the back of my spread as they headed in to attack the base. We are very fortunate that Major was able to get out to bring a report and that truck. These people are seriously well equipped. Major told me that every warrior has H&Ks that are custom-fit to the man—with plenty of ammo. Major killed four at a roadblock on the southeast corner of the base during his escape. That’s where he got the truck he drove down to my place. He told us that they all have very good ceramic body armor.

“Bebe, my computer man, tells me that their radio jammers are extremely powerful. All communication is down from Belén to Santa Fe at least. The soldiers were all communicating with headsets built into their helmets. The only communication we have is through our secure satellite links. They have methodically dropped all the cell towers. All local TV and radio is now jammed. As far as we can tell, the local satellite uplinks for the stations and cable companies have been destroyed.

“However, they have not been able to stop the satellites. A majority of people in our area use small dishes. That national news is coming in clearly. But there is no local news. That’s about all we know, sir. Do you have any questions?”

“Let me ask, Jakob.” Looking at the people around the table, he saw no questions coming. Looking back up at the screen. “Stay with us, Jake. If you have anything to add, just speak up.”

From behind Daniel, Ralph added, “Our current estimates are that there are 14,000 of these trucks which have come up through Juarez and El Paso this morning. There were already over two hundred of them in Valencia County south of Albuquerque before the invasion began. On the West Coast, nearly 10,000 Triad thugs took down the bases in the San Francisco Bay. Communication to the East ceased at 3:45 am yesterday. All the passes in New Mexico are closed with large explosions and rockslides. Black trucks are clearly seen via satellite setting up defensive positions in those passes. They are very fast and have quickly spread out through the entire area El Presidente has claimed. Much of Southern Colorado is shut off. I-5 just south of the Oregon border is closed. And the Coast Highway is blocked north of Eureka. There would be major battles if we try to punch through. Many innocent Americans would be killed.

“So far, all of this has happened with virtually no bloodshed. The only real battle has been at Kirtland. The citizenry has largely been kept in the dark. In rural areas where they have satellites, the news has probably gotten through. However, there has been no citizen reaction that we know of. All in all, the conquered area is very quiet. We are not sure why.”

Peter spoke up again, “I am not surprised. The Aztlan movement has become quite visible in the past six months. They are getting a great deal of popular support. In states like New Mexico, where Hispanics are the clear majority, they have controlled the past two elections. In Arizona, they are very strong. They also control almost all the city and county governments south of Malibu and Barstow. They have controlled elections throughout southern and western Texas. As you know, California has become a Spanish state unofficially. The data I have seen suggests that they were behind the attack on your people in Phoenix Saturday evening, sir.”

“I’m sure they were, Peter.” Daniel took charge again. “I have noticed much more violence against my candidacy out West for the past several months. They have even had major demonstrations against me in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. I have been curious why there are no demonstrations against Worley.”

Jim answered that one. “Stephanie has given us a hint how that is working. I have thought for a while that the Worley campaign was very worried about the West Coast. Even with the large Spanish vote, he stands to lose every state from the Rockies westward except possibly Oregon or Washington. In fact, it is likely he will lose every state west of the Mississippi. I think it is quite possible that he sees this invasion as a chance to eliminate a large block of your electoral strength, Senator.”

“Surely, you are not suggesting that Worley thinks this invasion is a solution to his problems?” Admiral Shepherd snorted. “Of course, I was there this morning and I saw no concern about the loss of 25% of our land mass. In fact, I saw Milton, Burnstein, and Harlstead saying that this was a done deal.”

Champlain interrupted his naval compatriot angrily, “It is certainly not a done deal, Charlie. They got the jump on us, I’ll admit. But, this is only a temporary setback.”

“What do you intend to do about it, General?” Leah spoke up for the first time. “They have huge numbers of hostages they are using as protection. No one even wants to consider attacking fellow Americans. In order to get any troops in there to fight this invasion many innocent Americans would be killed. A lot of real estate would be devastated. Any large loss of life would be political suicide unless the President gave the orders.”

Jakob spoke from the screen, “I think major attacks would be very unwise. Anything like that pits Americans against Americans. I think we need to identify the bad guys and eliminate them.”

There was obvious strong agreement to that statement and the group murmured with assent. This is getting out of hand, thought Daniel. “All right, look up here.”

At his voice, it grew very silent. “We need to pray some more. I am not interested in being part of any coup! How many of you have any experience hearing the Lord?”

The silence deepened as the radical nature of what they were all thinking became clear to their conscious minds. Daniel continued, “Those of you who find this very strange, please be patient with me. As many of you know, I am a deeply committed Christian, and I do nothing without determining what the Lord Jesus feels about what I intend to do. So, this is what we are going to do. If any of what happens next offends you, keep it to yourself. I know either Ralph or Jakob can answer any of your questions. But this is very important. I must get back to Washington with both Jim and Leah very soon. So, if you have not seen anything like this before, please just watch and listen. All questions will be answered after I leave. Now, I need answers to my question. How many of you know the Lord and hear from Him regularly?”

If a pin had hit the carpet, everyone would have jumped at the noise. The quiet was tangible. Then Admiral Shepherd broke the silence. “I can’t say that I believe as deeply as you do, Senator, but it is clear that we need divine help. I will pray and listen.”

“Thank you, Admiral. Is there any one else?”

Stephanie Bloomgard spoke quietly, “I do, sir.”

Peter Dicksman added, “He’s the source of any wisdom I might have, Senator. I couldn’t do what I do without his guidance.”

The Admiral’s aide, five of the staffers, and Leah tentatively raised their hands. Jim spoke up clearly. “As you know, Senator, I’m barely a church goer, but I have seen the results of your prayers. My suggestion is that you turn the question around. How many of us are uncomfortable enough to want to step out side for a few moments?”

General Champlain settled the situation. “I am a life-long Baptist. All I can say is that I agree with Jim. I know the Lord lives and the Bible talks to us. I’m willing to join you in prayer.”

Daniel smiled, “Thank you, General. All right, there’s nothing to do but explain what we will be doing. I learned about this procedure from Jakob’s wife, Rachael, who is a pastor. We are going to simply open with prayer and be silent and listen. I ask that you say nothing unless you are certain it is the Lord speaking to you and that you are supposed to share what you hear with the rest of us. After we are done, I will ask Jakob and Leah to help us discern what we are told—if we are told anything.”

Jakob interrupted, “Senator, Rachael is here with me listening. As you know, her security clearance is higher than either mine or Ralph’s, so I would ask her to help with the discernment also, if that is acceptable to you.”

“It certainly is. This is new territory for me. I’ve never publicly asked the Lord to participate in a governmental meeting before. For those of you who are concerned about this, let me assure you that we are not expecting orders from on high. But we do expect the Lord will show us a way to do this legally. As a Christian, I believe that whether I like him or not, God put President Worley in office. I refuse to engineer a coup, and I will have nothing to do with illegal military action. We are hoping for encouragement to move forward or a deep sense that this is out of order. I will not proceed unless I am convinced that all of us are in agreement about what we should do. Presently, what seems to be suggested is outside the law. This is a serious time of decision. Do any of you want out now that you know how I lead?”

The silence had changed. Now there was an obvious knowledge of the seriousness of what they were thinking about. Daniel let the silence build until it was very uncomfortable. He did not want any moles or disruption if they were to proceed. He definitely would not continue unless the Lord gave His blessing. After nearly two excruciating minutes, the senator spoke, “ All right. I do not ask you to do anything you are not comfortable with. If anything happens which concerns you, please talk with Ralph, Jakob, or Rachael after I go.

“Join me in prayer please.”

With that Senator Daniel Aragón turned the meeting over to the Lord and His Holy Spirit. “Jesus, I am here with these people on a new venture. I never would have considered this type of meeting to be possible in the United States government today, but here we are. If you have called me to this position, I need your confirmation. If we are to work to thwart the invasion attempt, you give us wisdom to know what to do. We need Your wisdom and guidance. I give this time into Your hand and I ask that You speak to us in a way that is clear and undeniable. We await your voice.”

With that the silence deepened even more, and the real work of the morning began… After another three very long minutes, the silence was broken from the screen at the end of the room. Jakob spoke, “I thank you, Lord, that You are not a god of violence and chaos. You are a God of love and order. Is there a military solution?”

The silence now changed—subtly at first, but with a ever increasing sense of a powerful spiritual presence.

Ralph noticed that the door to the foyer silently opened to reveal his wife. In answer to the question on her face, he motioned her to come up and sit beside him.

Stephanie spoke next. “There are enemies trying to bring you down as a nation. I am in control, even if you do not see it. You do not know who those enemies are as yet, but I will bring them into the light. The time for military action will come, but not yet. Be patient and prepare for action. When time comes you will need to move swiftly.”

The silence grew again, but there was an eager sense of anticipation building in the entire group. Lisa looked at her husband and tapped his leg. She pointed to her mouth and shrugged the question. Ralph swallowed deeply and nodded. She began to speak, “My people, your nation has forgotten about Me. I, the Lord God, am willing and able to help, but you must ask. My child Daniel has asked and I will answer. This is not a time for you to act—answering violence with violence. There will come a day for you to strike the enemies of your nation. But, for now, you must seek me and pray. I will reveal my wisdom to those who seek for it. For now, I require you to acknowledge Me and my authority over the nations. This is my battle. I will hand you victory. But you will be surprised. My ways are much higher than you can imagine. Be patient!”

From in back of the General, a Colonel spoke next, “In that day, you will be a flaming sword in my hand. The army of God will move in power and smite the enemy. I will make you invincible in battle. Turn to me and I will give you my power to cleanse America of the swarm from the South.”

That broke the spell. The spiritual presence left abruptly and the room began buzzing with chatter. Most of the people had no idea what to say, but they had to say something.

The noise level grew.

Finally, Daniel called it to a halt. “Enough!” The silence was tense this time. “I believe we just heard from the Lord. We need to sort this out. I want Jakob’s wife, Rachael, to give us her discernment. Please, go ahead, Rach.”

On the screen Major stood up and helped Rachael be seated. She spoke out with authority. “Thank you, Senator. I realize that almost none of you have ever seen me before. If it helps, you should know that I was a covert op in the CIA, before that was a common practice. I left Washington because of the lies and manipulations. So, understand I do not have any tolerance of fools or falsehood.” There were a few chuckles.

“What I heard was this:

“The enemies who have attacked us are not known to us at present. Things are not as they seem. What that means on a practical level, I heard nothing to help here. What is clear is that military action will not help right now. We need to be patient. Daniel, I think you need to question the veracity of that last word. I couldn’t see who it was.”

The Senator looked over at the man and spoke with a gentle smile on his face, “I’m sorry, sir, but I do not know you. Who are you and are you sure what you said was from the Lord?”

The Colonel looked very embarrassed. “I’m Colonel Bairre McCoy. I’m on the General’s staff. In answer to your question, no I am not sure. In fact, I doubt it. I’ve never felt the presence of God like that before.” There were many murmurs of agreement to that statement. The colonel continued, “I just felt compelled to speak. After I said what I did, I was very embarrassed. I’m pretty sure I spoke out of my anger. I’m sorry, Senator.”

“Don’t be sorry, Colonel. I am not concerned. We are just looking for the truth here. Mistakes are allowed and God’s Grace is sufficient to protect us. Thank you for your honesty and humility—and for your willingness to help.”

He turned to the rest of the group. “I think I have heard enough to say that we need to go forward. No military action at this point, but you are to do what you can to prepare without going against your orders. I know that Ralph, Jakob, and Rachael have a long history in intelligence. Mr. Dicksman and Ms. Bloomgard will you please meet with them.”

As he turned to Ralph to get his OK, he saw Lisa. “OK!” He turned back and took on the voice of an emcee. “I see that during our prayer time, Ralph’s wife Lisa joined us. For those of you who don’t know her, let me just say this. Much of Kissinger’s best writing came from her fertile mind. She’s been working in and with the State Department for many years and I know of no sharper mind in Washington—unless we include the Lady pastor on the screen at the end of the room. I really must go. Jim, Leah, you’ll ride back with me.”

With that, he stood and made his way out of the room with his staff following. The room erupted in talk, discussion, and wonder.

Ralph stood up. “Can I have your attention? I suspect we all need to get back to our jobs to avoid suspicion. General, Admiral, will you join Lisa and me for moment as we leave?” He got two quick nods. “We are dismissed. I’ll be in touch.” The noise level and tempo accelerated as everyone stood to move out.

There were a few questions, of course.

Santa Fe

Monday, the sixth of May: 1:30 pm Local time The library of the New Mexican governor’s mansion

The governor’s mansion in Santa Fe was not very impressive. It had been restored in the early years of the millennium, but the structure simply was not very impressive to Eastern eyes—nor did it come up to Santa Fean standards. However, the library in the governor’s mansion was very comfortable—for the governor. It was not very large—only twelve by twenty-five feet. However, the aged vigas holding up the ceiling added a warm wood glow to the plastered walls. There were surprisingly few books in this so-called library. Only one wall was covered with impressive leather editions of law books. There was no evidence of books that had actually been read. But then few New Mexican governors ever had been known for their scholarship.

The new president of Aztlan was seated behind his large Spanish Colonial desk, relaxing in the large, soft, leather covered chair that loomed in back of the imposing desk. There were six hard, wooden, rigidly square, Spanish Colonial chairs arranged in a loose semicircle in front of the desk. It was an obvious stage for intimidation. Today, Emilio Baca de Chavez, was leaning back in the chair, smoking a Cuban cigar, and talking on the speakerphone.

“Si, Juan, the cigars came yesterday and they are wonderful. What I was wondering is the date of release for the hostages. Now that President Worley has capitulated, I want to move toward normalization as soon as possible.”

The suave, throaty Spanish spilled out of the speaker. “You’re a fool, Emilio. In fact, your ears are smelling so bad I can sense them from here. Pull your head out of your butt so we can talk. We must get some things made clear.”

Emilio jerked like he had been slapped. He’d settled into the El Presidente persona very quickly. He liked it. It felt good, and presidents were not treated like this. “What do you mean?” he retorted stiffly. “Secretary Burnstein tells me that there will be no resistance from Washington other than harshly worded statements.”

“Your ears smell because of where you’ve stuffed them in this attempt at ostrich policy. Look around and think, señor. General Champlain is not going to be happy. Bill Colbein is a jaguar—sneaky, smart, and very forceful. You better get your security in shape, El Presidente.” The title was twisted out with a sneer that hung obviously in the air of the library.

“They wouldn’t dare!” The fear in Baca de Chavez’ voice was transparent. “Their government would fall if they dared to attack Santa Fe. It would be like handing the presidency to Aragón.”

“Who said anything about attacking SANTA FE, you idiot? I said, you better get your security in shape.”

“Their policy is no assassinations. They would not dare to touch me!” The words were now shrill. “The world community would not allow it.”

“You’re a fool, El Presidente. I think you are beginning to believe your own lies.” The phone clicked off.

The plans become real

Monday, the sixth of May: 5:30 pm Local time The family room of the Jackson hacienda

The furniture of the family room had been rearranged for serious conversation around the TV screen at the south end of the room. Major had helped Stones, Denzell, and Bebe to pull the furniture into position. They had moved the couch over to the west side, with the two recliners on the other side of the loveseat they had set up for the leaders of this little group. The smell of simmering chilé beans was wafting into the room from the kitchen where Jakob and Rachael were getting things set up for a late dinner.

Truth was, no one was very hungry. Jakob and Rachael were simply using this excuse to quietly discuss their options in the light of the briefing Jakob had gotten from Ralph around 4:30 this afternoon. The choices were simple and obvious—but they were not clearly legal or moral.

Debbie ducked into the kitchen and was shooed out. However, she quickly rescued a pitcher of iced tea and a large, iridescent, hand-thrown stoneware jar that she and her mother had filled earlier in the day with freshly baked peanut butter cookies. She sent Denzell and Bebe into the dining room to pick up glasses for the tea.

As she arrived to the conversation area, Major reached for the jar with his strong left hand. His long slim fingers wrapped around the entire jar and held it easily with his fingers nearly touching her arm. Major’s hands were impeccable, nails neatly trimmed and cleaned, the skin soft and supple, calloused but taken care of. Debbie had always hated men who didn’t take care of themselves, especially those who walked around with dirty, broken nails and grungy knuckles (from dragging on the ground), she smiled.

Her eyes slid up his arm and their eyes met. Deborah was aware of a pleasant jolt of energy that she had never felt before. She flushed with quick anger and lowered her eyes—she certainly did not need that now. She knew that Major had seen the reaction. Just what she needed—another macho man hitting on her.

However, Warren was a gentleman though he was a warrior. He ignored the reaction and gently took the large jar from under her arm—being careful not to touch her and make things worse.

Somehow he sensed what Stones needed here, and it was space. “What do we have here?” He asked quietly.

“Mom and I did some baking this morning. Somehow, it seemed to bring some normality. It’s Dad’s recipe. He calls them peanut butter cookies, but they are closer to peanut butter flavored shortbread. I’d be careful, though. They are addictive.” Debbie carefully avoided looking at the man. She was at a loss and that was not a good thing—as far as she was concerned.

Major kept it light and chatty. “I don’t doubt that. I smelled them as I came back from my run this morning. I could even smell them as I got out of the shower next to the conference room.” Their little conversation abruptly ceased as Denzell and Bebe came back.

Bebe was carrying a walnut tray holding six glasses, a small pot filled with sugar, a little open-lidded box filled with the pink stuff, and a silver spoon. He placed the tray next to the jar of cookies on the coffee table that had been moved to the center of the new conversation area. This was a large round oak pedestal table that had been old and rickety before Jakob had cut it down to a strong usable coffee table.

Major had set the jar on the table after rescuing several of the cookies that he was contently munching as he sat on the couch next to the screen. Denzell quickly filled the six glasses with tea, emptying the pitcher.

“Better get more, Stones.” He smiled, like an older brother. Their relationship had grown tight over the six years he had worked for Jakob. He had noticed the tension between Stones and Major and was trying to calm the waters. They all had work to do.

“I don’t dare, Denz. Mom and Dad obviously do not want company right now. Grab a cookie and let’s sit down.”

Everyone found a seat. The loveseat opposite the screen was left for the Jacksons. Denzell took the recliner next to Stones on the left side of the grouping. He pushed it back with a contented sigh. Bebe and Major sat on the couch on the other side. Bebe was in a thoughtful mood. “What do you think is coming next, Major?”

Major brought himself into focus on something other than Deborah. It took a few seconds. He had not had that reaction to a woman for a long time. He thought for a moment. “I see five major problems: San Diego, Fort Bliss, Juan Dominguez in Chihuahua, China, and the new president. I’m certain that there is a solid connection to China that needs to be broken. I’m really curious to see what Jakob has for us. He was on the phone with Conratty for almost a half hour. My question is what resources do we have, Denzell?”

The black man replied with an apparent ease, “What do you need, man? We can make almost anything.”

“I doubt if we have the time. I was thinking of existing weaponry. We have one of their trucks, which will help. The Jaguars are heavily armed and armored. They are not easy kills. Then, of course, there are the hostages.” Major was mainly thinking out loud.

Denzell kept going, “We do have a few tricks up our sleeves. I’ve got a little truck I built a while ago. Like the black trucks, it has more than appears. One of the things you might like is a 25 mm semi-automatic cannon that spits out hyperbaric grenades—among other things. We have some small e-grenades in development that will take down electrical power for about a 200-yard radius. I think we have a dozen ready to be tested. The truck is immune.

“Among other things, we make and/or modify many of the weapons for the covert ops teams. We may have worked on equipment for your teams, judging by the level of contact you exhibit. In our armory we have modified RPGs, sniping rifles, machine guns, dozens of H&Ks of various vintages, and any type of grenade you can think of—plus several you may not have imagined. For communication, we have some comfortable leather helmets with armor, secure comm Links, and heads up displays with GPS data plus leads to plug into some radically modified H&Ks with heads up sight control. The helmet controls the laser sights on the H&Ks. The helmets are powered by a little computer pack mounted on the back of your neck. The entire fire-control system weighs less than fifteen pounds at this point. You can also hook up with modified XM-25 grenade launchers that can launch the E-grenades, air bursts, or normal high explosives.”

“I need to check out a lot of that stuff. I had not heard of the e-grenades for sure. Why have I never heard of this heads-up fire control? I’ve been asking for something like this for five or six years.”

“I imagine it’s your request that got it running then. Jakob got me started on the specs and design about five years ago. As usual, the design is his. I’m just a production engineer. We only got the first model working thirteen months ago—and it weighed over thirty pounds balanced over your shoulders. It’s still not ready for manufacture. Stones can take you up to the range to check it out.”

Debbie jumped slightly. Her mind had been wandering as she watched Major’s hands, arms, and mouth while he was talking. [_Focus, chicky! _]“What are you talking about, Denz—the shooting range up the hill? How can we do that without bringing down the entire Mexican army on us? Three of’em at a time were bad enough.”

“I’ve got some experimental silencers to keep the noise down. We’ll have to watch carefully, but it’s doable. It will be better if you go up before sunrise or after sunset. It’s designed to work best in the dark. Have you ever used those heated targets we have for night practice?” She shook her head in the negative. “I can get Major checked out on the system after dinner tonight. Maybe the three of us can go up tomorrow morning around four or so?”

“How will we see?”

“That’s right, you’ve never used the new helmets. Not to worry, I’ll get one of them for you. They’ve got wide-angle 5th-gen night vision. I’ll show you the range controls before I have to come down and go to work. I imagine Jakob will have a long list…”

“You’ve got that right, son. There is a very long list. We’ve got a lot to talk about.” Jakob and Rachael came out of the kitchen with their arms around each other’s waist. As they headed over to the loveseat to sit down, Debbie stood and grabbed the pitcher. “Let me get some more tea. Anyone need anything else?”

“I’m fine.” Major smiled, looking her in the eyes.

Everyone else agreed, and Stones left the room more than a little confused—irritated by the emotions rushing through her. Every one is talking war and she’s watching the hands and face of a man she barely knows—who she’s never even talked with for more than a sentence or two. By the time she returned, she had herself under tight control—focused on the invasion, wondering what her role would be in all of this.

Jakob was leaning forward toward the coffee table. The tray and mat for the pitcher had been moved over to the far side of the table. He had a laptop open in front of him and was grabbing control of the old plasma screen.

As his daughter arrived, he was all business. “Set down the pitcher, Stones. We’ve got a lot to cover. Rachael and I have been going over what Ralph told us. The session at Black Sail East gave us a good framework upon which we can build. The next few weeks are going to be busy ones.

“First of all, Worley has evidently capitulated. As far as they are concerned, Aztlan is a done deal. They are in the process of normalizing relations.”

That got their attention. Denz and Stones sat up in their recliners and both Major and Bebe sat erect and moved toward the left end of the couch to see the screen better.

Stones voiced it first, “You’ve got to kidding me, Dad. Who could think this is OK?” Her voice had a hard edge—she was angry.

“Calm down, kid. Things are under control, but you are going to have to think out of the box. I’m not going to insult any of you by asking for a statement of commitment, but this is going to be a rough ride. Everyone understand?” His dark eyes were serious and focused as they swept the room pinning down each face and receiving a quick nod. He was pleased to get the same response from his daughter. She was the only one new to the private industry end of this—but she was clearly ready to do what was necessary.

He gave her a quick smile and focused on Major. “Son, this is private enterprise, not a governmental operation. In fact, this is probably unpaid. Black Sail has a lot of working capital from old jobs, but this is beyond deniability. If we are wrong, this is traitorous. Are you sure you’re OK with that?”

Major was quiet for a couple dozen very long seconds. Then he looked first at Rachael and then Jakob in the eye, “Yes, ma’am & sir, no problem with that at all. I like what I see and I’ve been working with Ralph a long time. This seems reasonable to me—but I guess that shows how loopy I am, huh?” He flashed a brilliant smile.

That got a chuckle out of the group.

Jakob cut off his smile with a tight nod, “Before we get to work, let me give you a little current news from Washington. Ralph called a major meeting at Black Sail this afternoon. He says it surprised the heck out of Danny, but it was actually the first meeting of part of his new administration.

“Ralph has seen this coming for several weeks. He had been talking around the hill and in the Pentagon looking for friends. He found several he could rely on and gathered them surreptitiously this afternoon at Black Sail East.”

He looked over at Warren. “I assume you’ve been there before, Major.”

“I have lived there at times, sir, but I didn’t know about the western headquarters.”

“No one knows about that beyond this room and Ralph and Lisa. But I assumed you knew about Ralph’s operation. The main thing we need to remember is that this was not a legally constituted meeting. We could all be found guilty of treason for what we are planning next.

“Let’s just say the highest authorities outside of Worley’s cabinet are in on this. What we have is a five-pronged plan to discover the true enemy and deal with the Mexican invaders and their leadership. We have to cover two and probably three of the prongs…”

If you enjoyed the tale so far, it continues in book 2 of the series

EVULSION

Evulsion means to forcefully jerk out or extract. You’ll understand why I used the term as you read how this five-pronged attack affects our mighty men and women, as they work under the leading of the Lord to repell the invaders and deal with the traitors.

Things are not as they seem. Surprised?

Available now at all the normal online outlets. Enjoy the ride


Invasion

From New Mexico, the land of enchantment, and its history of mighty men comes a modern tale of conflict Deborah “Stones” Jackson at the ripe, old age of 31 had thought she was done with the covert life. The gut shot during the op in Eastern Afghanistan, compounded by the care of the Jalalabad hospital, had nearly killed her. Ralph, her boss at Black Sail in Maryland, had finally gotten her to Germany for emergency care. Then he sent her back to New Mexico to recover. She wasn’t sure she’d be going back. But a calling rarely lets up, and Stones was meant for combat. The new foe was devious, coming up from Chihuahua, with support in surprising places. She’d never been faced with traitorous Americans, amazing wealth, and the sheer nastiness of an oppressed people demanding freedom. Cut off from the East with no resources, Deborah discovers that God has a plan for her which she never could have dreamed—far beyond her wildest imaginations. She’d have to deal with her mother, who was a legendary assassin?! Deborah "Stones" Jackson cannot believe what has happened or what she will be required to do for her parents or her country. Somehow, assassin had not figured large in her plans. But she's been a black ops warrior for several years when the surprise of an unresisted invasion overruns her town, state, and region. Aztlan has been talked about by radical Mexican immigrants for years, but now it happens. You shouldn't be surprised.

  • ISBN: 9781370977284
  • Author: David Bergsland
  • Published: 2017-04-19 16:50:20
  • Words: 70506
Invasion Invasion