Authors: Ross Sidor
“You forget your
place, Captain. I understand you must be very emotional at the moment, but if
you do not let this topic rest, I will need to inform the Sec-”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Andrés. In fact, it
would be best for both of us if you didn’t repeat a word of this conversation
to anyone. How do you think the Secretariat would react to learning that you
and Emilio Reyes skimmed from FARC’s cocaine revenue and sold drugs to the
Mexicans for your personal profit? I imagine they’d execute you.”
Flores blinked, understanding where this conversation
was headed and at once regretting his decision to not have his personal
bodyguards standing outside of his hut for the duration of his meeting with
Moreno, a precaution he normally took. As valuable as she was, the Viper wasn’t
easily controlled, and Flores never fully felt at ease alone with her.
He didn’t deny
her statement or defend himself. There was no point. It wouldn’t change
anything now and would only make him appear even weaker in the Viper’s eyes. Besides,
what she said was true, and he knew she wouldn’t have made the threat without
evidence. It stood to reason that she’d collected her own intelligence over the
years, to use as security, because she’d never fully trusted her political
With the peace
talks underway in Havana, and government forces decimating FARC, Flores had
decided it was prudent to look into securing his own future. He had over two
million dollars that he’d accumulated over the past couple years held in numbered
Cayman Island bank accounts and he’d privately negotiated with the Cubans for
future asylum in Havana.
going to allow Arianna Moreno to interfere with that future. He felt no
animosity toward her. He reserved his anger for himself, for recognizing the
Viper as a liability years ago and never dealing with it.
“Now that it’s clear where we stand,” Flores said,
“what do you want from me?”
“You will do two things for me. You will give me Carnivore.
I do not care what you have to do or how much it costs you, but this man is
mine to do with as I please. Is that clear?”
Already a plan began to formulate in Flores’s mind,
his thoughts shifting back to the problem of the spy who had betrayed Emilio
Reyes in Venezuela. Flores thought that perhaps he could remove two birds with
the same stone.
“I think you know. You will give me the weapons.”
“These aren’t some M16s or RPGs. Each unit will be
inventoried, accounted for, and tracked.”
“Then it’s a good that you are now well motivated to
help me,” the Viper replied.
“If you use those weapons, you will destroy the peace
“You’re only encouraging me, Andrés. The so-called
peace talks are a complete farce. The old men on the Secretariat are selling us
all out. You know it, too. Why else would you need to sell drugs and negotiate
with the Cubans?”
“I can have you killed, you know.”
“You have no one better than me to do the job, and
there will be nowhere you can hide after they fail. Stop wasting time. If you
cross me, I promise I will slice your throat. Do what I ask, and you will never
see me again and you can start thinking about buying real estate in Havana.”
Flores weighed his options. There wasn’t much to
consider, really. He envisioned a hacienda in Cuba, overlooking the beaches along
Nipe Bay, a young wife, a new name, and a modest fortune. If he wanted that
future to become a reality, then he had no choice. And what did it matter to
him? He had no stake in the peace talks. Either way, he had too much blood on
his hands for the Colombian government to ever grant him amnesty. He’d either
spend his life in a prison, where FARC’s right wing enemies could reach him, or
he’d have to spend the rest of his life hiding in the jungle. And Arianna was
right. Flores didn’t trust the Secretariat not to turn him over to the federal government
as a concession in order to save themselves.
“I will arrange contact for you with the arms supplier
and the transfer of funds, and then you will be on your own, and you will make
no further demands of me. The Central High Command and the Secretariat will
disavow you, you know. There will be no protection for you.”
“Do you think I care?”
“You will become the most hunted person on the
planet. Wherever you go, the Americans and their proxies will pursue you until
you are dead. Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, even they will not harbor you. Maybe
North Korea will take you in, but I do not believe you’d like it there very
The Viper was accustomed to operating alone. She’d
never had use for anyone in her life other than her brother. They’d always been
so much more than siblings. Aarón had been the first and remained the only man
she’d ever given herself to. He was the only human being in this world to ever
love her. They’d shared, since her birth, when Aarón was five, a deep spiritual
connection, unbroken even now, that she believed she would never possibly know
again. Without that, she saw little meaning in life.
Arianna Moreno had nothing but her anger and hatred now.
She felt it radiate within her, simmering, fueling her. The overpowering,
primal desire to unleash her fury on the world gave her purpose.
Six days later, Pablo Muňoz shoved
a wad of cash into the driver’s hand without counting it. Then he climbed out
of the taxi with his suitcase. He shut the door, turned, and was nearly struck
by a speeding motorcycle. He heard the crack of the four cylinder engine and
saw the flash of movement as the bike whipped past him, less than three feet
For a split
second he’d thought that this was it, the moment he’d been expecting every day
for the past decade, but then he realized the Central High Command would not
execute him on a public street in a foreign country. Drivers, motorcyclists
especially, on Panama City’s notoriously gridlocked streets were simply
reckless and aggressive.
It didn’t much
Death no longer
held any fear for him. Death would come as a release from the perpetual cycles
of mental anguish and inner torment. Although raised Catholic, Pablo had never
been a believer until, in a desperate time, with nothing else, he’d turned to
his Savior for guidance and comfort. He’d done terrible, deplorable things.
He’d become a traitor and a terrorist because someone convinced him that was
how he could best serve his country. Innocent people were dead because of him.
He knew that
Hell waited to receive him.
had never been an introspective thinker, a trait that made him a desirable
candidate for Deep Sting, but ten years living a double life of secrets and
treachery was enough to take its toll on any man, and Pablo had gradually deteriorated
into a neurotic mess. He felt his physical and mental wellness decline by the week.
There was no longer a single person he trusted, not even himself. There was
nowhere he felt safe, neither from FARC nor his masters in the intelligence
service. Even his own wife, the woman who gave birth to his children, a
committed Marxist and FARC loyalist, would gladly put a bullet in his head if
she knew what he really was.
When he truly
felt trapped and without hope for the future, he considered putting a bullet
through his own head, not only as a means of escape, but maybe as a path to
redemption, too, for the things he’d done. He’d held the gun to the side of his
head with his finger over the trigger; so simple and easy, but somehow the
mental blocks were still in place and wouldn’t allow his finger to comply with
his desire to pull the trigger.
lost thirty pounds. His once toned, fit military physique and endurance
withered away, and he looked much older than his thirty-five years. Most
nights, he could barely sleep, and when sleep did finally come, he re-lived,
with vivid and painful clarity, the execution of the army captain. He drank
constantly to keep his nerves settled, less he become overwhelmed and struggle
with placing the gun in his mouth again. He even indulged in cocaine in the
times when his survival was dependent on a sharp, focused mind.
first approached him for Deep Sting, Pablo had no idea that it could possibly go
on this long. He’d anticipated spending a year or two undercover, and then collecting
the money Daniel promised. But every year, when he was ready to come out, they
pressed him and pushed him to stay on. After four years, when he thought he
could take no more, and the stress and burden became too much, the black
American from the DEA promised him American citizenship and a brand new life.
All he had to do was continue a little while longer.
Last time Pablo
saw Daniel in person, four months ago, the ANIC case officer called him a
national hero, but the days were long past when Daniel could simply talk him
up, boost his spirits and keep his mind centered, remind him that he was simply
a soldier on a mission. Pablo didn’t feel anything like a hero or a soldier,
and he no longer believed a word of Daniel’s bullshit. He cared less and less
about the mission. He’d considered so many times cutting off all contact and
ties with Daniel, to make his role of deserter turned FARC officer a reality in
the interests of ensuring his personal survival.
Pablo checked in
at the front desk at the Trump Ocean Club, where he always stayed when he was
in Panama. Key card in hand, he carried his own luggage and proceeded directly
to his room on the thirty-fourth floor. It was a luxury suite, with full
amenities. The Secretariat could afford it. FARC was one of the world’s richest
terrorist groups in the world, earning its income, $500 million annually, from
the drug trade, kidnappings and ransom, mercenary work for groups in
neighboring countries, and enforcing taxes on the drug cartels and mining and
Pablo powered up
his laptop and connected to the Internet.
anyone, even Emilio Reyes, Pablo had acquired the passwords from Reyes’
personal files to the assorted shared e-mail accounts used by senior members of
the Secretariat and the Central High Command to communicate amongst themselves
and with third parties. A shared e-mail account served as a virtual dead drop,
where multiple parties knew the password and left messages saved in the draft
folders. Nothing was transmitted, so the messages were completely secure from
commanders were hidden in the jungle and often relayed messages by human
courier or spoke via satellite phone, but Pablo knew that Andrés Flores often
used the virtual dead drop to communicate with Durante, his contact in
Venezuela’s intelligence agency.
Even in the
remotest stretches of the jungle, far from civilization and cities, it was
still possible to connect to the Internet. The easiest way is to tether a
Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to a laptop. This method, however, wasn’t secure
and had led the army to more than one terrorist camp. It was best to make the
connection near villages and hamlets where Internet and cell phone traffic,
though sporadic, wasn’t inherently suspicious. Many villages even had wireless
broadband base stations, capable of powering multiple devices and becoming
Internet hubs for roaming FARC commanders, and the Venezuelans had recently
supplied FARC with the equipment to establish encrypted connections.
There were several
new messages saved in the drafts folder, dated after the Colombian raid in
Venezuela. Reading the first message from Andrés Flores, Pablo’s mind became
focused. This looked like it could be significant, something that Daniel needed
to know about right away. Pablo thought it could even be his ticket out of here
to US citizenship, $100,000, and a new identity.
reading, clicking onto the response from the Venezuelan, and then the final
message from Flores, confirming and finalizing the proposal.
It made little
sense to Pablo. He thought there was no way the Central High Command or the
Secretariat would authorize this, but here it was right in front of his eyes.
It had to be some kind of rogue or independent operation, he thought.
Pablo read the
other messages and logged out of the account. He laid his suitcase on the bed,
opened it, and produced a cell phone from a hidden compartment. It was an
encrypted phone provided to him by Daniel. No one in FARC knew he had it. He
began to compose a new text message. In his eagerness, his thumb slipped a few
times, entering the wrong character, and he’d backspace and correct it.
on the door, and Pablo gave a startled jumped.
He knew it
wasn’t hotel staff. He’d left the “do not disturb” card in its slot on the
exterior door handle. Only two others knew to find him here, and he knew that
Daniel never sent anyone unannounced.
The hairs on the
back of his neck stood up. His sixth sense screamed at him that there was
something wrong, but he was trapped. There was no way out of here, except
through the sliding glass doors, onto the balcony, and thirty-four floors down.
someone manually working the lock on the door from outside, and quickly
composed the text, franticly now, without stopping to correct typos. He heard
the door open with a thud when it struck the interior wall. He dropped the
phone and snatched the Beretta from his suitcase with a trembling hand. He got
onto his feet and stepped out of the bedroom into the living room space and
There were three
of them coming through the door. Two men armed with pistols. A woman came in
behind them, and kicked the door shut.
They shouted at
Pablo, commanded him to drop his gun. He hesitated for a second, looked once more
at the guns in their hands, and then set the Beretta down on the nearby table
and raised his hands in the air.
converged on him. One of the men landed an uppercut into his solar plexus,
knocking the air out of him and bending him forward, opening him up for a punch
to the face.
struggle. The fight had long since ebbed from him.
From the tattoos
on one man’s neck, Pablo recognized them as Los Perros, Panamanian gangbangers.
didn’t recognize the woman offhand, her reputation proceeded her and, from the
messages he’d just read between Andrés Flores, he easily surmised that she was
the one they called the Viper.
The men hit
Pablo more and pushed him down into one of the armchairs. The woman walked past
him, her eyes covering every inch of the room, and she stepped into the
bedroom. She came out ten seconds later, holding the cell phone, with Pablo’s
message still composed on the screen. She smiled with satisfaction, as if this
was confirmation she sought and her job suddenly became easier.
understand why they would send her here.
As far as he
knew, the Viper wasn’t used to ferret out
—and why use Los Perros
as muscle—but he knew that the past ten years had somehow just caught up with
him, and it was finally over. For that, despite the pain he knew he was now set
to endure, he was grateful.
vibrating chirp alerted Daniel to the incoming message from Canastilla. He knew
it was the message he’d been waiting for all week. No one else would contact him
at this hour, unless it was an emergency, in which case they would have called.
His hand snapped out, nearly knocking over the third-f bottle of
Colombian liquor derived from sugarcane, and snapped up the phone from the
desktop, where it sat near a sticky shot glass and the file folder containing
Pablo Muňoz’s dossier.
After Operation Phoenix, Daniel decided to stay on at
Palanquero until the business with Canastilla was resolved, rather than shuttle
back and forth between here and his home in Chia, a suburb of Bogotá. He stayed
in one of the base’s spare civilian apartment units with sparse amenities and just
a week’s worth of clothing. He hadn’t turned on the TV or radio once during his
two weeks here. He passed the rare downtime, which he sought to avoid at all
costs, thinking and drinking.
At least he’d held himself back tonight. It wasn’t
uncommon for him to drink himself into a stupor, and then revisit the faces of
the dead, those he’d failed, a dozen men and women like Pablo Muňoz,
compromised and tortured by FARC or the cartels, or even his own son, another
victim of Daniel’s work. The demons were always close, but at least tonight he
had managed to keep them from coming too near to the surface.
As his thumb worked the touch screen on the phone, he noted
the time. He thought, without animosity or resentment, that his wife was
presently fucking one of her colleagues from the National University of
Colombia, where she taught biology. Once, coming home early from a trip to
Ecuador, he’d walked in on them in his bed. He hadn’t been angry or even
surprised, just disappointed, and embarrassed for himself, but he understood
and came to terms with it. Now, he didn’t mind what she did as long as he
didn’t have to see or hear about it. Nothing had been the same between them
since the day, three years ago, when their son, Julian, aged twenty,
asphyxiated himself. His son suffered severe depression, enduring a
self-imposed hell, and Daniel had never known that anything was wrong. Daniel
had been in Washington when he heard the news, and since then he’d taken every
opportunity to distance himself from home, but he understood his wife’s needs
for love, affection, and physical contact.
Daniel took a few seconds to focus his eyes. His
vision was still blurry from the alcohol intake, and he already felt a headache
and dried, strained eyes from the dehydration, but once he read the message,
his mind became suddenly sober. A tight knot wrenched his gut.
1:07AM, the atmosphere in the conference room was grim, and the fluorescent
lighting excessively bright. Avery, who was awakened and summoned just twenty
minutes earlier by an unapologetic Culler, wore sweat pants, a tank top, and a
pair of loose, untied Timberlands, apparently the only one to have not bothered
putting half an effort into getting dressed. Coarse black stubble shadowed his
“Attempts to contact Canastilla have so far been unsuccessful,”
Daniel said, concluding the briefing. “However, tracking software indicates
that his ANIC-supplied cell phone is turned on and remains stationary within
the vicinity of the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City. It hasn’t moved in over
six hours, and not since he sent his last message.”