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Chapter 57: Set...

Gunny’s POV

Our helicopter took off from its landing spot near the Gila Pack clinic, every seat full and the floor covered with gear. Lars and I were seated by the windows facing the front with Craig in between us; lets just say the seats weren’t built for three big dudes like us, so we had to turn our shoulders so we could all fit. Facing us, we had Robert, on his sides were Betas Daniel and Alex. We had brought our weapons with us, selecting the ones most useful for this work. Lars and I each had three; our normal sniper weapons, a M40 in .308 for me, a .338 Lapua Magnum for Lars. We both brought our ‘stealth’ guns, which were Sig Sauer AR-15’s chambered for .300 Whisper with suppressors. The combination of the big bullet, subsonic velocity and the silencer turned the bang into a cough, and they were accurate to 200 yards. The last was a pair of M&P 9mm pistols with suppressors, good for in close work. They were louder than Hollywood made them out to be, but not near as loud as a normal pistol. We both had powerful digital cameras, connected to burner cellphones for transmitting images, and a pack we could hold in our teeth or around our neck.

The others had brought weapons of their own; they were more focused on intelligence and communications. A secure satellite phone and a laptop able to interpret the scrambled messages sent by Josh were their focus. We weren’t going to attack until the rest of the group arrived by land. Robert looked over at me as we started to descend towards a Pack House. “You guys just stand there and try not to look threatening, let Craig and I do the talking,” he said.

Fine by me, I hated Pack politics. What we were doing was not normal, it could be seen as an act of war for two Alphas and their warriors to appear on another Pack’s land without permission. As the helicopter circled looking for a good landing spot, people were pouring out of the house, some with weapons. “Why no wolves,” Lars asked.

“They don’t know who is in the helicopter yet,” Robert said. “If they knew we were wolves, they would be in wolf form right now.” As soon as we touched down, they surrounded us. “Stay here until we motion for you,” he said as the engines wound down. They opened the door facing where the Alpha was standing with his Betas, and Robert walked out followed by Craig. “Alpha Delgado, our apologies for arriving without notice,” Robert said as he approached. “This is Alpha Craig Anderson of the Belden Pack. Alpha Craig, Alpha Carlos Delgado of the Tucson pack.”

“And on the helicopter?”

“Our Betas.” He sent for us to come out, leaving our gear behind. We did so, lining up behind him for introductions.

“I take it this isn’t a social call.”

“No, it’s quite serious. May we speak in private?”

I could see the men tensing up, their weapons being raised as our scents reached them. Big cats and wolves normally didn’t get along, and it wasn’t until I was recognized that things settled. “That’s Gunny Rodriguez, the panther from the task force?”

“Yes sir,” I said. “My fellow Marine sniper and werecat, Lars Thorssen. He was the one who shot the hand and foot off the Scrabble Killer.”

There were smiles all around. “Cat or not, your reputation precedes you and you are welcome on my lands,” Carlos said. “Now come on, we need to talk.” Robert told his pilots to take a break but keep one person with the helicopter at all times; they were also going to make a call to get aviation fuel for the return trip.

The six of us walked through the cactus garden and past the pool area to the house. It was built in the southwest style, thick adobe walls and softened corners, white in color. The floors were mainly tile, with woven rugs providing softer places. “You have a beautiful home,” Craig said.

“Thank you. Esmerelda, bring refreshments to the conference room.” The older woman scrambled away to the kitchen as we entered a large conference room. We sat by rank, the host Alpha at the head of the table, his Betas filling the table down his right. Alpha Robert sat to his left, followed by Alpha Craig, Robert’s Betas and us. Carlos leaned forward and looked at us. “We are not sworn allies, Robert, why would you risk war arriving this way?”

“I had no choice, Carlos. The threat to our species is far greater than we suspected. The Scrabble Killer, Agent Luis, both were pawns in a much bigger game. They were being used to drive a wedge between us and the humans, to push us to retaliate so the Were War would start again,” he said.

“Who? Who wishes such madness?” His Pack had suffered greatly, only a fifth had survived the war.

“Yesterday a man came to us, a mountain lion shifter. He had been employed by the Socorro cartel for years before we took them out. The Zetas found out about him, about his skill and resourcefulness in establishing smuggling routes and gaining protection for them. They kidnapped his mother and sister to force him to work for them instead.”

Carlos paled. “Those men are animals, they are dangerous!”

“And they are planning to come here. They intend to take over the former Socorro territory, but we border Packs have a deal in place with the Gulf and Pacific cartels to stay out of our land. The Zetas want us out of the way, and they plan to use the US Government to get rid of us. They will push us until we lash out, then their agents in the government will use that to justify the end of the treaty. Of course, this time they know who and where we are, it will be a much quicker fight.”

There was anger in the room, not at us, but at the idea of another war. “This man, what is his name?”

“Charlie Stillwater.”

“I know him,” one of Carlos’ Betas said. “He has politicians, law enforcement, everyone in his pocket,” he said. “What did he want from you?”

“Help breaking out his family,” Craig said. “We traced them to a home in the mountains outside Patagonia. We need your permission to bring in people to rescue them and anyone else being held at this safe house.”

Carlos rubbed his temples. “These people are on their way?” Craig nodded. “And this is a Zeta safe house, on MY territory.” He nodded again. “This is not good. I don’t want retaliation against my people, the last thing I need is to get on the Zetas shit list.”

“We don’t need you to participate, Carlos. Stay out, maintain your deniability,” Robert said. “We just need to cross your territory, we’ll be out as soon as we can.”

“Yes, and you’ll leave a pile of crap behind for me.” We discussed the options for a while, but every one resulted in him being stuck with the blame.

The blame. “Boss, I have an idea,” I said. Five minutes later, it was set. I passed a burner phone down the table after recording the number. “Be ready nearby, and when I text you I’m ready, come on up,” I said. This was going to be fun.

The helicopter took off as soon as we removed our equipment, heading for a nearby airport where it could refuel. Carlos’ men drove up in three vehicles, the Alphas in one, we were in the trail car with two of his Betas. An hour later, we were at the trailhead parking lot, grouped around a picnic table where we studied the maps. “You guys ready,” Craig asked as we stripped down.

“Hoo-rah,” I said before I shifted into my panther. Lars shifted right after me, our cats greeted each other before we moved off to gear up. Our rifles had been broken down and wrapped in our Ghillie suits. The bags also contained a pad and pens, canteens of water, and our backup pistols with belt and holster. Craig looped the strap over our neck so the bags hung in front of our chests. “We’ll report every twenty minutes or so by link,” I sent to Craig. “Let us know when the guys arrive.”

“We won’t attack until after dark unless we have to,” Craig said. “We’ll stage just below the ridge on this side of the mountain, that way we are five minutes away at a hard run.”

“Let’s get scouting,” Lars said as he bumped me with his shoulder. “And don’t bang up my rifle.”

We set out through the trees and brush, our senses checking for humans. There wasn’t much activity in the heat of the day, and we stayed clear of the houses that were set far apart in the wooded hillsides. I was surprised at how much nicer it was up here than the valley floor, a good twenty degrees cooler, but still over ninety. I led the way, Lars followed about thirty yards behind, and in an hour of careful movement we had reached the last hill before the target. Moving until we weren’t backlit by the sky, we parted the brush and looked down at it.

It was a large home, three vehicles were outside, but no one was visible. The blinds were all down, and no activity could be seen inside. There was a large building on the other side of the driveway, no windows, just a large sliding door in the front. It wasn’t your typical pole barn I expected from the photos; it looked like solid concrete walls, and the door itself was on heavy-duty rollers and was at least four inches thick. Whatever was inside, they wanted it protected. I took some photos as I relayed the information back to base, they could make notes on the satellite photos. “What do you think?”

“See that ridge over there?” He pointed to a rise just a hundred yards or so on the back side of the house. “I’m going to find a hide position there and set up. This area is a good place to hide our help when they arrive, you set up here and between us we’ve got everything covered.”

I watched as he moved back down the hill with his gear. When he was out of sight, I shifted and pulled on my Ghillie suit. I broke off vegetation from the area, poking it through the burlap strands that broke up my form. When I was satisfied, I assembled my rifle, put the camera around my neck, and moved into the position I had spotted. It was a tangle of dead limbs and scrub brush just below the ridge line. I took an hour to move into place, timing things with the winds, before I was satisfied with my hide. I had a good field of fire, range was 150 yards, and still no visible sign of people. I could smell scents when the wind was right, at least a dozen, some were terrified.

We watched as the sun started to fall towards the mountains, casting long shadows over the land. “Gunny, Lars, we’re all here,” Craig sent. “We’re waiting for sundown then we’ll follow your trail to you.”

“Start now,” I sent back. “Two men just came out of the house, they are carrying food and water. Heading for the shed.”

“Be there in ten,” he said.

I watched as the men moved towards the shed. One guy was big and muscled, the other was a shorter man with a scar on his face. I was following them with my rifle when the bigger man suddenly stopped and started sniffing the air.

Shit. The wind had moved and was blowing my scent his way, and he must be Were.

He looked in my direction and started to reach for his pistol, but he wasn’t quick enough to avoid the 30-caliber subsonic round that splattered his head. His confused partner’s head splatted the driveway a second later. “GO GO GO,” I yelled over the bond, “They made me.”

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