The military base, technically, didn’t exist. Located in northern Brazil, it looked like any other slightly shady airstrip in the middle of nowhere. A satellite shot of the place would read as a lumber distribution center, though no lumber ever went in or out. And the workers were a hell of a lot better armed than your usual lumberjack.
A beat-up Cessna 350 trundled its way down the small stretch of runway and a tall, powerfully-built black man stepped out, wearing jeans and a white shirt too clean and pressed for the environment...
“Commander McAllister!” a short, thin, grisled man of about sixty, dressed in much more well-used jeans and a t-shirt, met him with a sketchy salute. “I’m General Uston. Welcome to Camp Doom.”
Danny McAllister shook his head. “Not what I was expecting when I was told I’d be meeting with a local detachment,” he replied. The Army was whack. At least in the Navy, you had a boat under you to maintain some semblance of military correctness.
Uston looked down at himself and smirked. “The Brazilian government is all for US help in the war of drugs,” he explained. “But the Brazilian population isn’t much for US military installations popping up all over the rainforest.”
He led the way into the main warehouse, which had been converted to barracks and a number of communal areas. “I’ve spoken with your superiors, Commander,” General Uston told him as he led him toward a group of small rooms at the far end of the building. “I can imagine you’re anxious to get your soldier out of there, and we all agreed that this is the best way to do it.” Danny really wasn’t sure of that at all, but he didn’t have much choice. He had one officer whose cover might have been compromised, and another walking straight into the lion’s den, and because of God damned bureaucracy in the Navy, he was left with SpecOp as his only recourse.
Danny didn’t have a problem working with the other branches of the military. Usually. But Army special ops were… well, some of them should never have been allowed in the armed forces at all as far as he could tell.
“Colonel Clay and his men have been working in the area for fourteen months and they’ve had their eye on your target for a while. They know the players and they know the terrain.” He opened the door at the end of the hall and McAllister’s stomach dropped.
These were exactly the kind of men he was talking about.
By the head of the table sat a white man in clean khakis and a button-down shirt—obviously Colonel Clay. He was looking through a pile of papers with a black man wearing a sweaty tank top and faded fatigue pants who reminded Danny of his little brother—the one currently doing time for assault. Another black man sat back in a chair across the table, wearing a hawaiian shirt and reading what looked like a crime novel.
And then there was the other end of the table. A Mexican guy with hair so long that Danny’s hands itched to chop it off had his feet up on the table and a cowboy hat covering his face. His tank top and jeans had both seen better days, and maybe hadn’t been washed since them.
Next to him sat a white guy playing on his portable computer. He had glasses (of course—he was obviously a techie) and blond hair that spiked up all over the place. The obnoxious soul patch on his chin begged to be shaved and he looked like he should be bumming on a beach somewhere. His jeans were clean and relatively new, but the shirt he wore was one of those overly clever science shirts that said “I may be Ne Rd Y, but only periodically” and it was bright, neon pink.
We’re gonna die on this mission, he thought to himself sadly.
“Commander McAllister,” Uston said, announcing their presence and at least causing all the men in the room to straighten up and take notice. “I’d like you to meet Colonel Franklin Clay.”
The neat white guy rose, taller than he looked, and gave Danny a firm handshake. “Good to meet you, Commander,” he said. At least he seemed like a pretty no nonsense kind of guy. How the hell he’d been saddled with the team in this room, Danny didn’t know.
“Now,” Uston said, sitting at the head of the table and gesturing for Danny to take the empty chair next to the guy with the novel, “let’s get down to business, shall we?”
Federico Maltas was a ghost in northwest Venezeula, hiding his coca refineries and quietly removing anyone who dared come looking for him. Clay and his men had had him on their target list for a while now, and McAllister’s FUBARed undercover mission might just be their chance to shut him down, once and for all.
“According to NCIS,” McAllister continued after Uston gave his initial briefing. “Maltas has begun using US transport frigates to smuggle cocaine into the Gulf of Mexico, onto US-owned oil rigs, and from there to the mainland.”
“Well that’s ballsy,” Jensen quipped. Clay shot him a quelling look. No need to piss off the Navy before they even got started.
Not that the Navy didn’t already look pissed. McAllister was big, black, and bitchy, as Roque would say. He wasn’t quite Roque’s level of bitchy, but he had that look in his eyes. And Clay hadn’t missed the man’s reaction to his team, either. He wasn’t the first to underestimate them, and he wouldn’t be the last.
McAllister dropped a photo on the table. “This is Lieutenant Mike Weatherly,” he announced. Weatherly looked like your typical clean-cut American boy. And he was a boy—couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. “He infiltrated one of Maltas’ cells in Brazil about three months ago. Two weeks ago he got word out that there was movement coming.”
“What kind of movement?” Pooch asked, his voice tentative. They’d managed to chip out one of Maltas’ installations a hundred clicks north of here at about that time. Shit…
McAllister was grim. “He didn’t have time to elaborate. Just said another base had been hit and Maltas was starting to suspect a rat.” He looked Clay in the eyes, and Clay nodded his understanding. “He’s been radio silence ever since.”
Clay watched his boys absorb that. If their sortie against one of Maltas’ bases put that Navy boy in trouble…
“One of our embedded agents on the Naval frigate Barton Darrow was contacted this week,” McAllister went on, dropping another photo on the table. This one was a woman in her thirties, short brown hair and serious green eyes. “Hannah Reilly’s cover is a financially compromised second Lieu—prime target for Maltas. His man wants to meet in Venezuela to arrange delivery of a crate of contraband to one of the oil rigs off Galveston.”
“She, huh?” Jensen commented idly, looking at the picture. He wasn’t screwing with McAllister deliberately. That was just the way Jensen was.
“Look, is there a problem, soldier?” McAllister asked, his dander up.
Jensen did at least have the good grace to look chagrined. “No, man, I just mean—”
“Stow it, Captain,” Clay ordered. And because it was an order, Jensen did. “Please continue, Commander.”
McAllister shook his head. “These are my people, Colonel,” he grated. “If you and your men can’t take this seriously—”
“We take any missing American seriously, Commander,” Clay shot back sincerely. “Lay out what you need and we’ll help in any way we can.”
Unfortunately, McAllister seemed to feel that “any way we can” wouldn’t add up to much. The rest of the meeting went off without a hitch, but the Naval commander continued to give them all that look and say things like “if you can find the base,” and “assuming your men can infiltrate”... Clay knew he was going to have to sit his boys down and have a talk.
“Freaking Navy think they got the market on nailing drug traffickers?” Roque grumbled as he dropped into a chair in their communal living room. Pooch took a seat on the couch and watched Clay lean against the counter nearby, ready to dole out a Dad Talk as Roque continued griping. “The hell does he think we’ve been doing the last year? Sitting around with our thumbs up our asses?”
“Or up someone else’s ass,” Jensen offered mildly.
“You didn’t win any prizes yourself, Captain,” Clay cut in sharply, glaring at their tech. “I get it—the guy’s a jerk who doesn’t understand that we can do what we do, but proving him right isn’t going to help.”
“You really think we’ll prove him right?” J asked. “Because I think this is just our chance to finally get into Maltas’s system and kick his ass.”
“Yes, it is,” Clay replied. “But if this Navy yahoo thinks you’re some smart-mouthed fuck-up—”
“Then I’ll be proving him wrong, not right.”
Pooch shared a very small grin with Cougar as Clay pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath.
“Just behave yourselves, for Christ’s sake,” Clay growled. “We leave for Caracas at 0450 with McAllister in tow. We have a missing man, and pissing contests aren’t going to save him. Let’s just get in there, get this thing done, and go back to doing business our way, all right?”
“Yes, Dad,” Jensen replied, smiling big and completely blowing any chance he had of Clay actually believing him. It did lower the tension in the room, though, which was clearly J’s plan.
Clay looked over at Roque. “You can shoot him if you need to.” He lifted a finger. “But only if you need to.”
Roque shook his head in disappointment, though J was predictably unfazed. “You take all the fun out of things, Clay.”
Clay was pleasantly surprised to find that his men did manage to keep it all business. The Navy undercover agent, Lieutenant Reilly, met up with Maltas’s man in Maiquetía and the Losers and McAllister followed them back to a compound west of Carayaca. They had no idea where Weatherly was—Maltas had twenty camps scattered across two countries, after all—but they figured they could use Reilly’s meeting to surveill the regional base and tap into whatever digital web Maltas had. See if they could find Weatherly that way.
They dropped their transport a half mile out, and hiked in.
Clay and McAllister took up the rear, Cougar and Jensen leading the way and Roque and Pooch in the middle, hunting for anything that looked wrong.
“I know you’re worried for your people, Commander,” Clay said quietly as he let his eyes scan the surrounding area. “But this is my team. When we get there, I call the shots.”
“You’re welcome to it, Colonel,” McAllister replied, his worry and tension making him sound even more dismissive. “Honestly, looking at you, I don’t know how you got saddled with such a bunch of…”
“Losers?” Clay finished for him with a smile. He tried to keep his voice blithe and uninsulted. “They might surprise you.”
“I didn’t mean any offense, Colonel, but—”
“We’re here, boss,” Jensen murmured, the words carrying clearly and cutting off McAllister’s half-assed apology. “The beautiful Lieutenant Reilly and her contact are dead center of the camp. Fifteen armed goons around that I can see.”
“Channel 2, radio silence, boys,” Clay commanded. “Cougar, hit the trees. Keep Reilly in your sights and keep her safe.”
Cougar nodded and melted into the landscape.
“Pooch, check out their transportation. Disable what you can. Roque, you and the commander take up spots to the north and south. This goes bad, we need you two to provide crossfire.” He looked at Jensen, who was that calm centered he only got when they were in the thick of a mission. “Jensen, you’re going in and downloading any intel you can get. Watch your ass and get back here ASAP, you understand? If they don’t buy Reilly’s act, that’ll be our only hope of getting to Weatherly.”
“Be home by curfew, Dad, I promise.” Jensen was in the wind before Clay could call him on his attitude. As if he’d’ve bothered.
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Clay,” McAllister murmured as Roque snorted at Jensen’s parting shot and headed for his position. “If he gets caught, this whole operation is in the shitter.”
“My men, my call, Commander,” Clay reminded him. “Get to your position and wait for the signal.”
Cougar kept one eye on Reilly and her contact and one eye on the others as they got into position. Pooch snuck around the back of the large shed they were using as a garage and Cougar lost sight of him. Roque was well-hidden in the bushes to the north, McAllister behind the trees to the south, and Clay was holding down their exit route.
Cougar could only wait and watch, his radio silent at his throat, as Jensen slipped into a tent near where the Navy’s undercover officer was having a drink with the obvious leaders of the camp. Cougar couldn’t hear a word the drug dealers were saying, of course, but they looked chummy, and Reilly was playing her part to the hilt.
So it was a surprise when a gunshot rang out and Reilly’s contact fell to the ground with a shot to the head. Jensen darted out of a tent altogether different from the one he’d gone into. He wasn’t wearing his fatigues anymore, either. Just an ill-fitting pair of jeans and the bright orange “Legos are for sissies!” t-shirt he’d had on under his jacket.
“Okay you mother fuckers!” Jensen screamed. He grabbed Reilly around the neck and put a gun to her head. “I want my coke, and I want it now!”
“The fuck is your man doing, Clay!?” McAllister hissed over the radio.
Cougar would have liked to have known, too.
“Hold your fire,” Clay replied steadily, knowing, as Cougar did, that as crazy as Jensen was, he almost always had a reason for it.
Cougar tightened the sight on his scope and got a close up on Jensen’s face. He was playing high and crazy. And he was looking left.
“She told me there’d be coke, man, and I want to know where you’re hiding it!” Jensen was shouting—for the Losers’ benefit, Cougar was sure. “I want it or she dies! ”
Cougar inched his aim left slightly and saw what Jensen must have seen from that tent. One of the men smiled coldly and Cougar could read his lips as he snarled.
“She was going to die anyway,” the man said in Spanish.
Cougar took his shot, and another man, who’d been hiding in the shadows beside one of the tents and completely out of Jensen’s line of fire, was dead before he could take Reilly out.
Jensen shot the snarling man dead at the same time and pushed the naval officer away from him, drawing fire so she could get clear. Hell broke loose just the way it often did when the Losers were around.
“Cover them.” Clay was his usual clear, commanding self over the comms. A stranger would never think he was ready to kill Jensen with his bare hands, but Cougar knew him better. “Jackrabbit, fall back with the package. Now.”
“Working on i—” Cougar’s jaw tightened as he panned his gunsight over just in time to see Jensen take a round in the stomach and drop, curling around the injury. He was at least with it enough to crawl quickly behind a crate to the side, and Cougar cleared a path for Reilly, who had picked up a gun and was using it to cover Jensen.
“Pooch—” Clay cut himself off as a large covered truck barreled away from the garage area. Reilly shoved Jensen in the back and then jumped in with him and Cougar breathed a little easier to see two guns firing out at the drug dealers, who seemed to have multiplied when he wasn’t looking.
“Consolidate!” Clay called.
Roque came out firing and sprinted for the back of the truck, while McAllister slid into the passenger seat window in the cab. Cougar just dropped down onto the back as it passed him. He was across the roof and inside in seconds.
“Ow, Roque, come on! That hurts !”
Cougar slowed down his breakneck entrance at the sound of Jensen’s voice.
“Stop your whining, you sissy,” Roque growled.
“I’m not whining,” Jensen whined, looking up at Cougar with pain-filled but clear blue eyes. “That hurts .” He sighed mournfully, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling. “And she’s dead.”
Cougar looked at Reilly, who was very much alive, and returned a questioning gaze to their tech. “¿Quien?”
“Their laptop. She’s dead,” Jensen grumbled, showing Cougar his prize and looking disgustedly at the bullet hole that went right through the computer’s case. There was blood on the backside of it, but Cougar didn’t think the tech had noticed that yet. “Fuck, I hope I can resurrect her hard drive.”
“Move!” Clay yelled from somewhere outside. The weight of the truck shifted and Cougar could only hope Clay had jumped on the side as they drove. Pooch sped up, heading the hell out of the area.
“Cougar, will you come take a look at this?” Roque asked, clearly disgusted by Jensen’s squirming.
“Please,” Jensen sighed. “Before he kills me.” He looked down at himself as Cougar took over. “Oh man! MY SHIRT!”
“Fucking nuts,” Roque grumbled over the sound of the engine.
Yes, definitely, Cougar thought. But alive. And that was worth everything.
McAllister didn’t wait for Pooch to stop at their designated bolthole. He was past Clay and out the door and halfway around the back of the damn truck before Pooch even had it all the way into the beat up old garage.
“What the hell did you think you were doing, soldier?” he shouted.
“Damn it, McAllister—” Clay began. Pooch turned off the engine and jogged for the site of the soon-to-be massacre.
“No!” McAllister bellowed. “No, I deserve a god damned answer here, Clay!” He yanked Jensen out of the truck, only to be soundly stopped by Cougar, who shoved himself between the two men. Pooch and Roque flanked him automatically. “This fuck-up of yours could’ve gotten my agent killed.”
“He saved my life, Commander.”
Reilly slid down to the ground, completely unhurt. Pooch checked J over without moving and saw a hole in his t-shirt and a few smears of blood. Nothing serious, then, but J had that blank look in his eyes that said he wasn’t going to defend himself because there wasn’t any point in doing it.
“I don’t know how they knew, but they had me pegged for NCIS from the beginning,” Reilly continued. She hooked a thumb toward Jensen. “He took out Martinez before he could take me out.”
The wind came out of McAllister’s sails a little, but he was still pissed. “So what the hell was with the act?”
“Sniper,” Cougar put in, nodding to Jensen. “Out of his line of fire, but not mine.”
“Let’s all take a breath here,” Clay said as he stepped forward and gently pushed the Navy man back. He looked Jensen over himself and Pooch saw his shoulders relax a fraction. “If her cover was blown, then it’s a good bet your man Weatherly isn’t just having radio trouble.” He sighed. “We probably don’t have a lot of time.”
“The guy I killed in the communications tent didn’t get a chance to radio out,” J said quietly. “I figure we have at least a shot of finding Weatherly before the shit hits the fan.”
“And how the hell do you expect to do that?” McAllister growled.
Jensen smiled, hefting a shot-through laptop and wincing at its miniscule weight. He was hurting. “Just need a plug, a satellite, and some duct tape.”
McAllister paced and Clay let him. He’d kill Jensen himself later.
“He okay?” he murmured to Roque as Jensen did what he did best and followed the digital trail.
“Round went through the computer,” Roque replied just as quietly. “Hole’s small. Bruise from having the damn laptop down his pants is gonna hurt like a bitch.”
Clay smiled meanly, watching as Cougar kept an eye on Jensen. “He’ll pay for that.”
“Might be a while before he’s up for it,” Roque growled back, off-put as always by the weird relationship those two had.
"Why the hell did he have those pants, anyway?" Clay wanted to know.
The snort spoke volumes. "Said he couldn't fit two packages in his own jeans."
“God, just…” Jensen squirmed again and stood carefully, still typing with one hand, and stripped off the jeans he’d stolen from, presumably, the guy he’d killed in the radio shack. He was wearing his Green Lantern boxers and Clay didn’t need to know that.
“Much better,” Jensen sighed.
“I’ve got patrol,” Roque said disgustedly, stalking off into the surrounding wilderness.
Pooch walked up from the small cabin that was their temporary base. “Reilly and McAllister are debriefing in the—Damn, Jensen, really? In the middle of the jungle?”
Jensen looked down at himself and smiled. “Jealous?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Boy, I got me a girl, and I do not need little boy boxers to impress her,” Pooch replied.
Jensen went back to his hacking and Pooch found somewhere else to be. After another uneventful ten minutes, Clay wandered over to the cabin. Reilly and McAllister were just coming out, McAllister with a slightly chagrined look on his face.
“That was fast thinking on your man’s part,” he said, nodding to Clay. “Saved my agent’s life.”
“Seems like maybe they aren’t so much losers after all, huh?” Clay returned quietly.
Which was of course Cougar’s cue to come running up, his face serious and worried. “Problems, boss,” he explained without explaining. He led the way back to Jensen, who was cursing at the laptop before him.
“Fucking tracer, colonel,” Jensen told him. Cougar whistled sharply, and Clay kept listening, knowing that Roque and Pooch would be right along. “It’s a good bet they know where we are.”
“Shit,” McAllister growled. “Why didn’t you think to look—”
“Actually, I did look,” Jensen began heatedly. “Even I don’t have four separate trackers—”
“You said we had problems,” Clay broke in, looking hard at his tech. “Plural.”
“Weatherly’s not quite the choir boy we thought he was.”
“BOSS, WE HAVE INCOMING!”
Pooch’s yell was followed by guns and grenades and general mayhem for a good three hours before the dust cleared and McAllister and Reilly had to admit that five Losers against an army wasn’t crappy odds after all.
Though Reilly did note that Jensen went through the whole damn thing in his boxers.