I’m not sure if it’s the lurching back-and-forth swerving of the vehicle, the screeching of the tires, or the throbbing in my head (really gonna have to hunt down the salesman who sold me on the whole “drink all you want” line when I bought these toxin binders) that wakes me up. The slurred “oh, god, I think I’m gonna puke” from my right sounds vaguely like Maggie “Painless” Eaglebear… why the hell are we in the back seat of an SUV doing a vehicular duck-and-weave through traffic in the middle of the night?!? Oh, and who the hell is the schmuck doing the “driving”??
“Where are we?” Holy shit, was that MY voice??
“Erik…?” Maggie’s starting to sound more like herself… sort of.
“Oh, hey, hi…” That’s the “driver”, looking over his shoulder in between trying to bounce the SUV off every vehicle in sight. “Hey, listen, I’m sorry to involve you guys in this…” Oooohh, this doesn’t sound like it’s gonna be good… “I got a call from John, Mags, and he said he was in the middle of something big, needed some help, and maybe a doctor, so I thought of you, and when I found you guys, well, your friend here,” why’s he looking at my hands? “Well, you guys seemed to obviously know how to handle yourselves, sooooo, well, I brought him along… sorry.”
Now I’m looking at my hands… and Maggie’s… Since MY face doesn’t hurt, and hers doesn’t have any bruises on it, I can’t help but wonder who’s face DOES have the bruises…
“Where the hell are we going?”
“To the docks, the warehouse district.” Can’t help but give Mags that sidelong ‘you gotta be fucking kidding me’ kinda look.
Ten minutes later we slide around the corner of a warehouse and stop nose-to-nose with a beatup pickup truck sitting outside a roll-up warehouse door… lights are on, doors are open, engine’s running… the standard entryway door is wide open, and it’s dark inside. Before I can get my seatbelt undone, Erik’s out of the SUV, camera in-hand, and charging in through the open door. Sliding from the vehicle, I haul the chrome-plated Malorian out of the shoulder rig and feel my adrenaline spike just a hair as the livewires snake out of my wrist and plug themselves into the hand-cannon. I slip easily and naturally into a tactical combat breaching stance and glance over my shoulder to see Maggie doing the same.
We melt into the shadows of the darkened hallways, following sounds of a scuffle, and come upon a trio of raggedy Cent-Am biker vets failing miserably in their attempt to put a beatdown on a lone “victim” who’s apparently half zipped in a duffle bag on the floor. Even mostly wrapped up, this guy’s obviously got the upper hand… these three idiots are SO outta their league, and they have absolutely no clue just HOW far. We take up a quiet stance still in the dark of the hallway, ‘cause at this point, I’m content to wait and watch these three morons get the whoopin’ they apparently deserve. But, when one of them pulls a weapon and is about to go after his bound and prostrate would-be victim, well, that I can’t allow. Three on one is bad enough, but when you STILL have to play dirty to win, and are lookin to actually kill the guy because he’s too tough for you to beat three-on-one, well…
“Stand down, troop, or I put two in your back!” I give it my best DI voice as I step from the shadows. Gets everybody’s attention, just like it should… good to know I haven’t lost my touch. Just about the same time, from the hallway at the other side of the room, another big silhouette appears holding a sidearm, also drawing down on the vets.
“That’ll be enough’a that, mate,” he says, the English accent impossible to miss. “Snap, you ok in there?”
“Just fine, thanks,” comes a voice from the floor as the man in the bag casually extricates himself and stands up.
“And where are the girls?” English asks. Girls?
“What girls?!?” asks one of the scumbags.
“The ones we heard screaming, those girls.”
“Screaming girls??” I ask. "Screaming girls… maybe I SHOULD just put a couple rounds in you and call it a day.
“H-hey, look, guys, we don’t know nothin about no girls! We don’t want no trouble, we was just gonna teach HIM a lesson,” one of the scumbags says, pointing at the rasta-lookin dude from the bag.
“So, what, it takes three of you jagoffs to teach one guy a lesson? And you have to tie him up first to do it?? Yeah, the combat vets I know don’t roll that way.”
“He was givin us a bunch’a shit last night, man, we just wanted to get some back, that’s all!”
“Well, it looks like you were gettin more than you gave, dumbass… you had enough, or you want some more? That is,” I pause to look at the man from the bag, “if this gentleman here wants more’a you?” I watch the guy step from the bag and drop into a relaxed fighting stance with an amused smirk on his face.
“Ready when you are, gentlemen.”
Just about then, there’s a gunshot and definite female screams from further into the warehouse, at which point the three scumbags bolt for direction of the beatup truck, and the rest of us, myself, Maggie, English, rasta-dude, and Erik all head off in the direction of the new hubbub.
We round the corner into the main loading bay of the warehouse where there’s a near antique panel van parked inside the roll-up, five or six Asian teenage girls in club-party getups, a young edgerunner-type, and a hispanic guy in a fedora carrying a walking stick… oh, and a dead guy with an extra hole in his face.
“Two? Cowboy? You good?” English asks.
“Ask quick-draw, over there,” the edgerunner says with a twitchy wave towards the guy in the fedora. English glances at fedora and then at the body on the floor.
“Esteban?” he asks.
“Yeah…” says fedora with a sigh.
“And the girls?” Fedora’s face turns hard.
“It seems that Esteban… scratch that… Pacheco was involved in human trafficking.” Oooohh, no… tell me he didn’t really just say that name…
“Erik,” Maggie says, glancing from the crowd to our “driver”… “what’s going on??”
“Paladin… sorry, John,” Erik says, indicating English, “called me and said something big was going down and that he, or somebody, might need a doctor, so I thought of you. He said he and TwoSnakes (edgerunner guy) were meeting Cowboy (fedora) and needed me to be here… so, here we are.”
“Ok, just to clarify,” I interjected, turning to Cowboy and easing my sidearm into its holster as Paladin and Maggie did the same, “you DID say ‘Esteban Pacheco’, right? Did I hear that right?”
“Yeah…” Cowboy nodded, still staring at the body.
“We need to go,” I said flatly to Maggie. “Right now,” directed more at Erik than anyone else.
“Well, you’re going to have to walk out of here,” Erik said, almost tauntingly as he dangled his keys in front of us, " ‘cause it’s my SUV, and I’m not leaving." The urge to clock him was nearly overwhelming.
“Erik, what were you thinking??” Maggie asked, apparently trying desperately to figure out why her boyfriend had just assumed it was ok to bring her and her employer’s security specialist to a warehouse and involve them in something like this.
“What was I thinking??” He said in exasperation. “I was thinking about how I’ve covered this kind of horrific shit for years, never able to do anything about it… well, now, I can do something about it… so, I’m doing something.”
“And so, you brought us here,” I said, seething, “your own girlfriend, and involved her not only in disrupting the business of the Tijuana cartel, but the death of one of their lieutenants??”
“I made a choice,” he said, with just a tad too much defiance. I almost couldn’t believe my ears, and just shook my head before turning my gaze to Maggie.
“I’m gonna shoot him and drop him in the bay. This idiot’s gonna get us killed.”
“How long you figure before Edgardo knows?” Paladin asks Cowboy.
“You mean if he doesn’t know already? About two minutes or so… I gotta make a call.” And Cowboy leaves the room. Paladin turns his gaze on the panel van and a look crosses his face like he’s suddenly remembering something.
Strolling quickly across the loading bay to the rear of the van, Paladin throws the doors open and hauls a huge duffle from inside and drops it on the floor. Unzipping the duffle, he starts pulling weapons and ammo from the bag and lays it out in the back of the van… heavy assault rifles, smgs, ammo clips, and 40mm grenades for an underbarrel launcher… oh, and a set of metal-gear. This… does not bode well.
“Kit up,” he says, and begins snapping on the metal gear. My brain starts humming.
I call up a city map on my TSM and begin checking the locations of my bolt-holes in relation to where we are… and my luck is uncharacteristically good. One of my storage lockers is less than three blocks away. Less than ten minutes and I’m back at the warehouse and snapping on my own set of metal gear.
In the interim, Cowboy has apparently moved the Asian girls into another room and Erik has taken up a position suitable for filming the coming action, leaving the rest of us to load up and assume defensive positions throughout the warehouse.
Well, to keep a fast series of events from becoming a long, drawn-out story, lots of violent ick ensued. Edgardo, Esteban’s boss, and a bunch of goons were perforated and turned into goo, while a few others were caught and arrested by NCPD. Most of us were “debriefed” and released, but TwoSnakes managed to disappear into the night.
In the hours that followed (keep in mind, this all began around 2am on New Year’s Day), Cowboy was able to visit a series of banks where he apparently set up money-laundering accounts for the cartel, emptied said accounts, and even collected the 2million Euro bounty on Edgardo’s head. Money was had by all. I have a feeling (a very strong feeling) that this little skirmish is about to turn into a full-blown war with a Mexican cartel… oh, joy, rapture… I need to make some calls. Session 1