It flapped around in circles at first, looking disoriented, but then it hooked south on the side of the building and flew directly across Mission Valley and the Interstate 8. The thirty-fifth pigeon was carrying a tiny GPS with enough battery power to send its location to cell towers around the globe for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Cliff had to travel west to Morena Boulevard to cross the freeway and immediately was twenty minutes behind the bird. The chopper, on the other hand, followed a half mile behind with perfect accuracy.
“Cliff, you better get to 5 South,” Brent said on the radio.
“Copy that,” Cliff replied.
The team followed the blue dot. Brent kept calling ahead, anticipating the next location. He radioed National City and spoke to its police department, only to cancel any aid as the bird flew right over National City and into Chula Vista. Brent called Chula Vista, again to no avail. His last call was to San Ysidro, bordering Tijuana, and now the bird was in Mexico, as expected. All this in a ten- to fifteen-minute time span! Cliff was a good thirty minutes behind.
“Cliff, just keep going south,” Brent said. “I will alert the police at the crossing. You will be escorted by a local police vehicle from that point on.”
“OK. I will make contact at the border crossing,” Cliff said.
The chopper was trailing the bird by only a few minutes. If the bird stopped, they would be in the immediate vicinity of the thief’s lair, and the last thing Brent wanted was to alert him to the police presence. On top of that, the air traffic controller of the Tijuana International Airport was staying in contact with them to ensure that they did not conflict with any flight plan.
“Captain?” The chopper pilot spoke on the radio.
“Yes?” Brent asked.
“It’s the airport tower. We are being told to stay put or detour around the area from here to the coast at three thousand feet. We cannot keep moving in a straight line.”
Brent felt the nauseating halting motion of the helicopter, which felt like an amusement park ride. Dick looked white as a sheet and ready to vomit.
“Do as you are told; go around the airspace; we still can see the dot moving south,” Brent ordered as he looked at the iPad and then clumsily grabbed it to get a closer look. Not being too savvy with technology, his mere touch sent the iPad to a different window and the dot was lost. Dick took the device back and immediately restored its function.
“Try not to touch the screen; hold it like this.” Dick showed Brent.
The helicopter flew toward the sea and around the airport runway corridors. The Mexican police were aware of the presence of the helicopter and condoned the operation, but the team was expected to respect the integrity and safety of the airspace.
Then it happened.