MONDAY, APRIL 28
“TEN DAYS PRIOR TO SPECIAL AGENT JAKE KRUSE’S MOST RECENT PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION”
The sounds of mariachi music blasting from the run-down bar just north of the Otay Mesa border crossing were met by the rumblings of the Cummins diesel engine. The two men in the cab of the 2009 International 9200i weren’t going to surprise anyone if stealth were important. Only the darkness provided a modicum of cover for the evening’s criminal endeavor. Pulling off the pockmarked blacktop road, the driver slowly made his way past a half-dozen trailers parked in the dirt lot.
“There it is,” said Jake Kruse with a late-night attitude as he pulled in front of the burnt-orange twenty-footer. The indefinable graffiti spray-painted on most of the side panels matched the description his border contact had provided. He threw the big rig in reverse and backed toward the trailer, stopping a few feet from the tongue hitch. Shutting down the engine, he and Tommy Hwan jumped out of the cab and headed to the back of the cargo container.
The two men had performed this ritual several times over the
past two months, but this was the first time they would dance in the dark. A reluctant trust had been built but cautious doubt lingered.
Jake pulled a mini SureFire from a side pocket of his worn khaki cargo pants. Illuminating the thin metal surety wires intertwined between the latches on the steel doors of the shipping box, he said, “It hasn’t been tampered with since it left China. You can check the serial number on the seal with what’s on the bill of lading, if you want.”
“I believe you. Let’s just get out of here. Too many wets hanging out across the street,” said Tommy, pointing to a half-dozen noisy men sharing beers in front of the bar.
“An Asian racist. I love it,” said Jake as he handed the flashlight to Tommy. “I can’t do this blindfolded, so light up the back as I hook up the trailer.”
Jake climbed back into the cab and began to slowly ease the tractor in reverse, seeking to couple the tractor and trailer. He’d been to the CDL short course and could do this in daylight, but darkness added a degree of difficulty the six-week commercial truck driver’s school failed to include in its curriculum. Apparently, the instructor for Trucking 101 didn’t anticipate his graduates engaging in nocturnal crimes. Jake took a couple of stabs at lining up the kingpin and the strike plate before he heard the distinctive sound of the lockjaws engaging.
He jumped down from the cab, worked some late-night magic, and within minutes completed the final hookup, attaching the service, supply, and electrical lines. “It looks good. I think we’re ready to get out of here.”
Tommy was only too happy to return to the security of the semi and get as far north of Mexico as he could. Not only Customs, but border bandits would love to seize a rig of counterfeit Rolex watches smuggled into the United States.
As Jake started to climb into the cab, two men, both “stupid brave” on oxy washed down with a six-pack of cerveza, jumped
out from behind one of the parked trailers. In the darkness it was impossible to identify the exact make and model of the semi-automatics they were carrying, but both men were waving their weapons like B-list actors in a cheap Hollywood movie.
“Manos arriba!” shouted one of the men as Jake and Tommy threw up their hands.
“Give me the keys, jefe,” said the taller of the two in slurred, heavily accented English. The attacker was only about five foot seven but the gun he was holding made him seem bigger and his Corona-induced courage made him a bit more unpredictable.
Jake was slow in responding to the command as he assessed the situation. The only exit was to his left, retreating to an open field, leaving Tommy to fend for himself. As with most confrontations, and Jake had been in his share, this was more than flight-or-fight. Two other variables entered the calculus: posturing and submission. Without their guns, Jake would have beaten both men like cheap piñatas, but it was one thing to be cocky and another to be sloppy.
“Don’t be stupid, weddo. Give me the keys!” screamed the leader.
“Give him the keys, Jake,” said Tommy, fear evaporating what little mettle remained.
Jake slowly reached into his pocket with his right hand, keeping his left hand high in the air. He held up the keys, jiggling them at about eye level.
“Toss ’em, jefe!”
Jake did as instructed, the border thug snatching the keys in midair.
“You guys had to wait until I got my hands dirty hooking up the trailer. At least let me grab a towel out of the cab to wipe off the grease,” said Jake with the bravado reserved for the truly brave or the really stupid.
“Quieto!” shouted the boss as he handed the keys to his partner.
The smaller of the two slipped his semi-auto in the front of
his pants and fumbled with the keys as he prepared to climb into the cab.
“No need for any violence. It’s just a tractor and a trailer. You can have it. You keep the truck and we keep our lives. Seems like a fair exchange,” said Jake.
The predator seemed pleased his prey wasn’t going to put up a fight.
“You guys are going to need a bill of lading in case you get stopped,” said Jake.
Tommy threw him a confused look.
“Huh?” asked the spokesman for the two-man Latino criminal conspiracy.
“I’m just going to reach in my back pocket and pull out the shipping paperwork. This way if you get stopped they’ll know what you’re carrying. It makes you look legit to the cops.”
Keeping his left hand high in the air Jake slowly reached toward his back pocket; no sudden moves, no quick jerks, just slipping his free hand behind him. He had a quiet confidence the late-night hijackers failed to grasp. . . . Control the adrenaline and manage the chaos.
In an instant everything changed!
With lightning speed and a practiced precision, Jake pulled a Glock 19 from the small of his back and fired two quick shots at the taller of the two, who dropped immediately; one round hit just below the right eye and the second through the throat. There was a slight gurgle and gasp but death was maximized; suffering minimal.
Jake pivoted as the smaller man, whose senses were dulled by alcohol and drugs, was reaching into his waistband for his weapon. The semi-auto never cleared the belt and Jake fired three times from only a few feet, all three center mass. The tight grouping of hollow-point rounds, expanding upon impact, ensured massive destruction of the internal organs. The thief was dead before his body folded to the dusty ground.
The two Mexican felons never had a chance; their criminal careers ended in a matter of seconds. It was quick, dirty, and ugly, but it was done.
“Are they dead?” asked a shaken Tommy.
Jake didn’t answer as he did a quick search of the smaller gangster, grabbing the keys to the rig, a worn leather wallet, and the weapon, which he stuffed in the front of his pants. “Might need a throw-down someday,” said Jake with a slight smile. From the other thief he took the wallet and semi-automatic.
Before jumping into the cab Jake kicked at both bloodied bodies, moving them from the path of the big rig.
The sideshow was complete.
With the music still blasting from the squalid tavern across the street, the five gunshots had failed to arouse the attention of those partying on the porch. Within seconds, Jake and Tommy were out of the lot and on the road, heading north toward Los Angeles.