Panalachi, Chihuahua, Mexico.
“Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5. NATO also has its own. A messy job? Well that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.”
“It was day before yesterday, around noon,” the American C.I.A. agent was explaining the situation.
“Yes, well, I understand all that but just what does any of this have to do with me?” Drake asked as he positioned his hat, trying to keep the sun out of his eyes as the two men walked along the beach.
“We want you to find it.”
“You lose an unmanned drone in the Mexican desert, unseen, you hope, by the Mexican authorities, and because of Ortega’s relationship with Castro you can’t just ask for it back. So you need to go in and bring it out unseen, is that right?”
“Yes, Mr. Drake, I’d say that’s a fair assessment of the situation.”
“Well,” Drake puffed at his cigarette, ” you certainly don’t ask for much, do you? Why me? You’ve got agents in Mexico.”
“Yes, but we can’t afford to move them, it might call attention to them and we wouldn’t want that. Besides,” the man looked at Drake with a smile, “Nigel said you could pull off anything.”
“Good old Nigel. Always ready to lend a hand when its mine,” he tossed the cigarette butt, “I’ll need some equipment. This is what I’ll need …”
“Yes, good old Nigel. I suppose I could be flattered that he has so much confidence in my ability. I wonder what it would be like to just once be not quite so flattered? It was an easy enough job to get into Mexico unseen. Getting out unseen with a small aircraft was something else all together. I was five miles from the village of Panalachi. The Jeep was laden with camping gear suitable for a tourist with a small trailer behind. On the trailer was a dune buggy. In this instance also known as convenient bait.”
“Say, amigo, where can I get some gas, petrol, for my Jeep?” Drake was attracting a lot of attention. It wasn’t everyday that an American tourist came into town. Several children had gathered to see the Jeep and the dune buggy.
“Senior, there is only one place,” the boy looked to be about twelve, “Padre Tom has petrol for the mission’s car. They bring it in big cans once a month.” The boy held his hands wide apart, demonstrating the size of the cans.
“Can you take me to him? You can ride with me in my Jeep.”
“Oh, si, senior!” And the boy scrambled into the passenger’s side while the other children looked on, wide-eyed.
“Padre Tom was a both a priest and a medical missionary from Detroit. And in much need of cash. He was most willing to sell me gas. The trick now was to have the dune buggy stolen and bypass Panalachi on my return trip.”
Drake threw a tarp over the dune buggy. “And can you tell me where I can spend the night in a good bed, amigo?” The boy smiled at the question.
“Si, si, senior! Mama Rosalinda has a guest’s room and makes a very good meal. I will show you!” And the boy jumped back into the Jeep. As it turned out Mama Rosalinda’s small casa was only about three hundred feet from where they had been standing but the boy did get to ride in the Jeep one more time.
“I could only hope that the rumors about the desperadoes in this area were true. The dune buggy needed to be stolen as soon as possible. I would need the trailer to transport the drone.”
The next morning, after breakfast, Drake walked out into an empty street. The honest townsfolk of Panalachi had made certain that they were all safe at home where they wouldn’t see anything. The gringo seemed a good man but the dune buggy wasn’t worth their lives and the banditos in the area weren’t known for being gentle. The trailer was empty, with obvious tracks leading off to the east.
“Mr. Drake, I apologize.” It was Padre Tom. “The people here are hard-working and honest, but the gangs in the hills are … ”
“No need to worry, Father, the buggy was insured for more than it was worth, and I’d been warned about the gangs around here. Lucky I thought to chain the wheels on the Jeep to the wheels on the trailer or they’d have had it all. To bad I didn’t chain the buggy.”
“I think their horses couldn’t have drug all of it,” the priest smiled. “Government officials come this way every few weeks. I can report it … ”
“Father, I’ll be done with my vacation by then and back home. There really isn’t anything anyone can do. I have no choice but to let it go. Lets not worry too much about it. I tell you what. You just pray my vacation goes according to plan from here on out.”
“I knew I was getting close to where the drone had gone down. I’d parked the Jeep in a low place behind a hill and was searching the countryside with binoculars when I saw the dust cloud. It looked to be about three miles to the north-west and was headed across what would be my path if I didn’t make my find here. It was then that I saw the glint of metal about a mile from my vantage point. If I took the Jeep who ever else was out here would see my dust trail and might come to investigate. I didn’t want to run into the new owners of the dune buggy here, under these circumstances. Neither did I want the drone spotted by anyone else. There was nothing for it but to strike out on foot.”
Drake was on his stomach, in a small indentation in the ground, watching the dust cloud. It had changed direction and was headed straight for the plane. He could see it clearly now. It was small, almost toy-like. Eight feet long with a ten foot wingspan, wings that were made to fold so that it could fall through a bomb bay door before unfolding again automatically. No wonder the Americans were so hot to get it back.
The cloud was close enough now to see the vehicle. A covered truck, looking like World War Two surplus, with two men inside and another riding on the hood with binoculars, pointing towards what was still a glint of metal for them. Drake had to make it to the drone first and fast.
“I crawled part of the way, running when I hit the low spots. I could hear the truck now. The Americans wouldn’t like this but it was better than the alternative.”
With literally only seconds to spare Drake ducked behind a bluff and toggled the switch. The explosion, being as close to it as he was, was deafening. Dirt and sand flew, nearly covering him with debris. After a minute or two his hearing, returning to normal after the blast, caught the sound of voices. He recognized the Eastern Europe dialect immediately. Happily there were no ladies present.
“With nothing to hide, no freight to transport back in secrecy, I decided to make my way back to the coast the same way I’d come. Another night at Mama Rosalinda’s, with breakfast, sounded good.”
“Mr. Drake, we’re happy to see you again!” It was Padre Tom. “I thought you were taking another route on your return trip?”
“Padre, I thought a night in a peaceful place like Panalachi would be a good way to end what’s been a very interesting vacation.” Drake smiled as he lit a cigarette.
“So, your vacation wasn’t spoiled by the loss of your dune buggy?”
“Oh, no. Actually, I’d say my vacation has been a blast, a real blast.”
“I explained to a rather disappointed but understanding C.I.A. operative what had happened. He agreed that it was better to have destroyed the drone rather than let it fall into enemy hands. There had really been no other choice. I also explained that the U.S. government owed the mission at Panalachi reimbursement for the help that had been given a luckless tourist who’d had his dune buggy stolen. My C.I.A. contact agreed to get the $1,000 dollars I suggested to the man in charge there in the village, Padre Tom, via a donation by way of a third-party. I thought that should cover the cost of the new well the good Padre had mentioned to me that the people needed so much.”