Stolen Birthright

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Chapter 58: Infiltration

Two days later and I had changed the humid, swampy forests of Virginia for the humid, tropical jungle of Mexico. We had flown in to the Minatitlan airport, on the Carribean side just north of the Yucatan. From there, we were whisked from the hanger into a Range Rover, the three of us hidden in the back behind the dark windows. Our driver couldn’t see us due to the bulletproof glass divider between his seat and ours, and we didn’t pass through customs or any security. Al had arranged it so we could come and go without being seen by anyone. The cartels lived on human intelligence, and three Americans arriving this way would be noticed if we weren’t careful.

It took almost a day to drive to the safe house we were using as mission headquarters. Our driver parked, then got out and went to another vehicle and drove away. “We’ll call him if we need him again,” Al said. “Come on.”

The small, three bedroom house was by itself at the end of a dirt road that wound back through the valley. I had slept as much as I could during the drive, as most of my activity for this operation would be at night. Food had been prepared and left on the table for us, but no one else was around. The pantry had been freshly stocked. “So I leave after sunset?” I looked around at the place, it had no communications, no electricity, it was truly remote and rustic. A fireplace in the corner provided a place to cook, and a stack of firewood by it the heat against the cool night.

“Yes,” Al replied as he set his bag by the door to a bedroom. “Let’s eat then we’ll go over the plan one more time.” I left my backpack and rifle by the door and walked over to the table, where a tantalizing spread of authentic food was under wraps. I scooped a few enchiladas, some rice and a side of roast chicken onto my plate and dug in. It was going to be my only good meal for I didn’t know how long, so I was going to gorge myself on it.

Gorging is a real challenge for a werecat, I had found out. Our stomachs are designed to hold a huge amount of meat then slowly digest it, so we only have to kill a large animal once a week or so. Ker looked like she had already eaten a deer, her pregnancy belly was rather large now and she had to be careful as she sat down. She was one of those athletic women who didn’t gain weight all over, it just looked like she had swallowed a basketball. At this point in her pregnancy, she was getting tired and shifting was more of a challenge, so she had stopped doing it two weeks ago.

We washed the food down with the jug of tea, and after the plates were clear we got down to business. The map was spread out and it showed the path I was to take, twenty-five miles of jungle to reach the hideout of one Jose Hernandez. I had studied the maps and the aerial images on the flight and the drive, so I was as familiar as I could be with them. I had a small GPS navigator in my pack that was programmed with that target, and the coordinates for this house plus fifty other potential return points. If I couldn’t make it back to the safe house, I was to head for one of three designated points and call for pickup.

If I didn’t make it back in ten days, they would assume I was dead.

Al had several cases of portable electronics he would use to monitor Cartel communications and a satellite phone if he needed to talk to Foggy Bottom. He and Ker would alternate shifts, but it was clear to me there would be no Calvary coming to save me if things went bad. I was the ultimate in expendable, the very definition of plausible deniability.

When the sun slipped down below the horizon, I got dressed. I was using generic jungle camouflage, with moisture-wicking undershirt and underwear. It was heavy enough to protect against bugs and branches, but light enough to be comfortable in this climate. My backpack contained food, two canteens of water and a filtering survival straw, ready to eat foods and mosquito netting. There would be no fires, no cooking, as that could attract attention. My trusty rifle was slung over my shoulder, the armored scope protected, and a Glock 23 with two extra magazines was in a holster on my hip. A machete hung from my other hip, both for making way through the jungle and for silent kills if needed. I put on the floppy jungle hat, it had mosquito netting hanging down to protect my face and neck, then said my goodbyes.

“Good luck,” said Al, bringing me in for a hug. Ker couldn’t say anything, we just hugged and I put my hands on her belly before I turned away and walked out the door. I walked around the house and entered the forest, heading towards the gap between the two hills as I headed to my first waypoint.

I performed a partial shift as soon as I entered the jungle, causing my ears to lengthen and my eyes to change. The panther was a master at night hunting, and the cat eyes were very sensitive to the low levels of light. I couldn’t see much in the way of colors, but I could see my way just fine. No human would be able to function on a night like this without a flashlight or night vision goggles.

I went a few miles away from the house, then found a place to bury my getaway pouch. If the house was blown, the money, clothes and identification in this pack could keep me alive. No one would know about it but me.

The equipment was heavy, but it was only intended for the trip in. The trip back would be much more difficult, and for that I’d probably be in panther form. We didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for a shot, so the pack contained enough for a week in the jungle.

I made it eleven miles the first night, not bad considering the nature of the jungle. I was loving the endurance and flexibility my cat nature gave me; as a wolf I was able to stalk, but wolves were Pack hunters. My cat was better at stalking and ambushing. As the first light of the morning started, I looked for a place to hide for the day.

The human side would look at ground level, but this was dangerous and buggy. Instead, I removed a canteen and some food from the pack and stripped, placing the clothes in and zipping it up. I found a thicket where I could hide the gear and bury it in leaves and brush so it wouldn’t be seen. I shifted into my panther, shaking out my fur and sniffing around for danger. Satisfied, I grabbed the food and water in my mouth and padded over to a large tree. With a leap from the base, my claws dug into the bark and I climbed up into the canopy until I found a sturdy branch surrounded by greenery that would hide me from those on the ground.

I shifted back and balanced on the branch. I drank the water and ate the food, leaving them hanging over a forked branch nearby, then shifted back to panther form. Lying down, a front and a back leg on each side of the wide branch, I settled into a sleep. My cat side stayed alert to noises and smells, keeping me safe as I rested.

I climbed down as the sun set, and ate more food and drank the other canteen before gearing up and heading back out. I was making good time, by the time I stopped I was only three miles from my objective. I decided to hide and make my move to the target area after my sleep.

When the evening came, I was extra careful not to make any noise as patrols were possible. My goal was to make it to within shooting range of the villa and construct a hide that could keep me hidden for days, if needed. There was no rush as I picked my way through the jungle; every sense was focused on detecting patrols. I filled my canteens when I came across a spring, and drank my fill. Even at night, I lost a lot of water to the jungle climate.

I smelled the humans before I could hear them. I tilted my head back, my cat sorting through the many smells as I picked out each of their scents; there were three of them, at a campfire, and they were cooking beans. I gave them a wide berth, staying well out of sight as I got past them. They were a patrol, but as I expected they bedded down for the night.

It was just after midnight when I crested the final hill and had a view of the villa on the adjacent hilltop. I removed the binocular/rangefinder combination from its case on my belt as I knelt by a tree; from here, it was over twelve hundred yards. That was farther than I was comfortable, I had to get closer. I moved to the east, staying just below the ridgeline so I wouldn’t be silhouetted by the rising moon.

I spent several hours scouting and rejecting hide locations before I found one I was satisfied with. Two trees had fallen down the hill in an X pattern, creating an area below that was surrounded by branches and leaves. The front had enough cover to hide me, but not so much it would affect my shooting. I dug a spot for my backpack, covering it with leaves, then went to work on a hide for my human form in prone position. I carefully and silently cut away the protruding branches and roots and removed loose rocks until I had a spot cleared to lie down in. I spent time in front, laying additional vegetation into place until only a small opening was left for me to see and shoot through. Finally, I made sure my hide was invisible from the sides or behind. I couldn’t chance a patrol seeing me.

I went to the bathroom behind some other trees, then crawled into my hide and pulled out my binocular/rangefinder. My hide was about twenty degrees off the back of the villa, where the pool and outdoor kitchen were located. The chairs around the pool were at 640 yards, the driveway on the other side just over seven hundred. I was shooting slightly downhill, so I entered all that information into my ballistic computer and made the adjustments to my scope.

Shooting accurately at long range is difficult in part because of all the variables. My rifle had an ultimate accuracy of about half a minute of angle; that meant that even with a machine rest to take the human element out, it could be as much as three inches off in either direction at best. The bullets it fired were hand selected for consistency in weight and shape, and the cartridges hand loaded to an exact amount of powder. The bullets were seated at the depth that my rifle preferred; it had taken a week to find the right combination of variables to get the best performance.

Having a good rangefinder helped, as did a high-quality scope with repeatable settings. My rifle, which had been worked over by the Marine Corps’ finest armorers, was worth three thousand on its own. The Schmidt and Bender scope on top of it was worth another five. As the Gunny used to say, “Only accurate rifles are fun.”

The computer was set to match the exact bullet characteristics and exit velocity from my rifle, and then adjusted based on air temperature, humidity and wind estimates. The Marines had given me everything I needed to make this shot, the rest would be up to me.

I spent the first day observing and writing; the Marines taught never to just rush in and start shooting. I saw how many guards there were, what their patterns were and the times they turned over to their reliefs. I watched the people come and go, and the movement in the rooms. It didn’t take long to identify my target, now I needed to learn his patterns. Only then would I choose the shot that would not just take out my objective, but assure me of the best chance to escape.

Jose’ Hernandez was clearly a brutal man and leader, with a big appetite for food and sex. I watched the women enter his room, emerging hours later crying and bruised. They were the lucky ones. His son, Juan, was a real sadist. He liked to tie women to a frame by the pool, whipping them until they could barely stand, before he threw them over a chair and plowed them into unconsciousness. I didn’t feel anything for these men, I knew I could take them out. The human race would be better off without Jose.

On day three, I made my choice. Every night, just before midnight, after kicking his whores out of his bed, Jose would sit on a chair outside his room and smoke a cigar. The guard shifted at 0200, so half would be asleep and the others would have been on duty for four hours and would be tired.

I decided I would only keep my pistol and GPS with me when I ran for safety, so I removed my belt and looped it so it was over one shoulder, the pistol hanging under my other shoulder. I ate as much food and drank as much water as I could take, since I wasn’t bringing it out. I reached into the side pocket and removed the two grenades, one was standard and the other white phosphorus, a metal that burned at high temperature and extremely brightly. I removed the rest of my clothing and gear and placed them in my backpack, then set it back in the depression with one of the grenades under it. Removing the pin, I made sure whoever picked it up had a very bad day. Tacked to a nearby tree, I placed Black Ker’s calling card, a tarot card. The card of Death.

I used the white phosphorus grenade to booby trap my hide. Tying it to the side of one trunk, I used a fishing line attached to the pull pin and tied it to a branch on the other side. If you crawled like I did, you’d be fine but if your butt was up, you were going to get lit up like a Christmas tree. I was hoping the combination would help cover up anything that could lead back to me or the CIA.

Finally, naked and tired, I crawled in and settled behind my rifle. I remained absolutely still, ignoring the bugs and my own hunger, pissing in place so there was no motion to be seen. I watched through the scope as Jose sated his passion on a blonde and a brunette. He kicked them out and went to his desk, fetching a cigar out of the humidor and cutting the tip off. Grabbing a lighter and a glass of single malt, he opened the sliding door and sat in the chair before lighting up.

I used my breathing exercise to calm myself, my cat helping to keep things calm. She loved the feel of the hunt, even with a gun. I settled into the shooting position that had become habit, taking one last deep breath and letting it out halfway. I had the crosshairs centered on his chest, there was not a breath of wind, it was perfect shooting conditions.

I watched the pattern as the aim point bounced with my heartbeat. Waiting for the lull in between, my finger pulled back a fraction of an inch and the rifle fired. I watched as the round traveled to its target; it smashed through the glass as he was lifting it to his mouth and hit him six inches below his chin. I saw the blood spatter against the wall behind him as he slumped down, then quickly scooted backwards out of my hide and shifted into my panther form.

Alarms were sounding, searchlights turned on and all hell was breaking loose.

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