Authors: C.L. Swinney
Dix nodded and caught himself biting his nails, “I’d like to say they’re off the list, but something about Romero has me wondering. Did you notice how hard he was trying to get the confidential source file from Kovach? Almost like he was preoccupied and didn’t care about the case.”
Petersen was a skeptic at heart and had noticed Romero’s odd behavior, but he had originally passed it off as him living up to the federal agent stigmatism of being extremely dry. “Your hunches tend to be right, so I’ll follow your lead. Everyone’s a suspect until further notice.”
They spent several more hours eating Chinese take-out while examining the case files. They spent a lot of time reading Romero’s case notes from Pedro’s no-dope meets, money flashes, and controlled purchases. Many of the shorthand notes were missing information, correct times, or accurate details. They noticed the notes looked like chicken scratch and had no meaning. Dix chuckled because the notes pretty much summed up working narcotics- messy, dirty, and missing information.
After establishing a good foundation for the essence of the case, they turned their attention to the planning stages. They needed to figure out how to discreetly ferret out an educated, likely highly decorated agent working the wrong side of the law.
Petersen offered, “The guy we want has to be closely tied to Pedro. I think we could eliminate most of the people in these files because we both know only the CS handler knows, or should know, exactly where the CS lives, what his phone number is, where he hangs out, what he drives, and all the other details someone would need to find and kill him.”
Dix considered one person would or should know all of this for sure, agent Romero. He nodded, “We need to focus on the case from the point Pedro was stopped at the Tijuana border in the car loaded with cocaine. The cartel got to someone wearing a badge at that point, or maybe even before. The other thing we have to do is ensure Pedro is adequately protected at the hospital and that his whereabouts are closely guarded.” After finishing his statement, Dix started to wonder if the Sheriff’s Office was capable of putting an armed Deputy at Pedro’s location twenty-four hours a day. He estimated it may take two or more deputies to protect him and he was curious why HSI hadn’t assigned anyone to watch
“Ok, so let’s work a few more details out over a scotch,” Petersen said as he retrieved a bottle of Oban and poured two equally filled glasses, no ice.
They worked throughout the night. Out of the forty to fifty law enforcement candidates who may be involved with the case, they were able to narrow the list down to seven. The others weren’t off the hook and were still considered to be involved; however, they’d work back to them if needed. Right now they had to quietly figure out how to eliminate each name from the list and hope Pedro stayed alive long enough for them to do it.
Jose Calderon graduated college, spent two years in graduate school, and used substantial cash advances from the cartel to become a prominent business man in the Gas Lamp District of San Diego. His restaurant,
, was quite successful. It also served as a front for large scale narcotics trafficking. Once the narcotics were across the border, they were distributed to the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. He often hosted fundraisers at
for local foundations/organizations. His most frequent customers at the restaurant tended to be local law enforcement. On occasion he volunteered at the local soccer clubs where his nieces and nephews played. He hid his underworld dealings solidly behind the façade of being a supportive local business owner and dedicated family man. He smiled to himself as he reflected on how much he enjoyed operating right under their noses. He sipped tequila waiting for the contact to arrive.
The agent arrived shortly after 6 p.m. It was not uncommon for many different types of law enforcement officials to frequent
, so it appeared business as usual for Calderon and him to meet. However, while Calderon was calm, the agent knew treacherous times were ahead.
“I see you arrived in the Porsche we bought you, a little flashy for a HSI agent isn’t it?” Calderon asked the HSI agent.
“I’m single, and thanks to you I work continuous overtime. It’s flashy, but easily explained. Nonetheless, if you want me to get rid of it, just say the word.”
“No. Just remember who you work for. By the way, how are your parents doing in Michoacán?” Calderon chuckled subtly as he screwed with the agent.
The HSI agent made a decision years ago that he had regretted every moment of every day since. He received a set of photographs of his parents, brother, and two sisters being surveilled around the small town where they resided. Along with the photos were written notes of each person’s daily routine. The last photo, the most menacing, was taken inside his parent’s small house and showed two masked men pointing shotguns at his parents while they slept. He did not know how the cartel figured things out, but it did not matter. His family in Mexico was watched daily. He felt he had to participate in some manner or his family would be murdered. From that point on, he began providing intelligence to the cartel to keep his family alive. The cartel payoffs he received were sent home. It was the only way they survived. They were extremely poor and too ill to work.
“I know who I work for, at least for now. I’m working on getting the location of your snitch, but it isn’t easy.” He needed to be careful how he dealt with Calderon because everyone was on edge and the wrong statement could cost him his life.
Calderon enjoyed toying with him. His disdain for law enforcement drove him to torment the agent every chance he got. “I sincerely hope you have an answer in 12 hours. If not, my people will start by kidnapping, raping, and killing your two sisters. Their heads will be sent to your parents when my men are done.”
He shot a glance up at Calderon of desperation. Calderon spoke the truth when it came to killing.
“Okay, okay, I’m doing the best I can. I know he’s in a safe location getting medical treatment. There are only a few hospitals in the area capable of providing the treatment he needed after your men failed.”
Calderon sensed the subtle jab. He coolly replied, “You worry about what I tell you to worry about. The men who failed me are already dead. You’re next if you don’t tell me where he is, what room he’s in, and how many men are guarding him.”
“You can’t just storm the place. Your men won’t make it through the security as well as the gauntlet of agents and officers guarding him,” he replied excitedly.
“You’re absolutely right,” Calderon replied. He had a sheepish grin on his face and was staring at him. “That’s why you’re going to kill him for me.”
The agent’s phone rang. “Yeah, okay, you’re sure?” he looked over at Calderon anxiously, “all right, I’ve got it from here.” He had a smug look on his face that Calderon didn’t care for.
“Wipe that look off your face,” Calderon said to the agent.
“Relax, I know exactly where Pedro is, but you need to get people in there now before they move him again,” replied the agent. A subtle tinge of guilt followed, but he considered it was either Pedro or his family who would lose their lives-and he chose to save his family.
Pedro lay in constant pain in an uncomfortable bed at Scripps Hospital, room #301. Pain medications made some of the injuries he sustained tolerable, but persistent. He had no idea what his next move was and as he tried to sit up, he moaned and grimaced. His entire body hurt. Whatever he was going to do, he needed help, because it was clear he could not move without assistance.
He racked his brain in an effort to think of someone, anyone he could reach out to for help. Based on the events of the day prior, he had to assume his network of contacts was off limits and his family was dead. If he was going to extract revenge, he would have to cooperate completely with the police. The thought alone spiked his heart rate, which brought several nurses, doctors, and special agents to his room to check on him.
Medical staff began feverishly questioning him while they examined him with great concern.
“I’m okay, just had a bad dream.” The heart monitor and blood pressure gauge supported his claim as they indicated both were returning to normal. One by one, the medical staff cleared the room. Two special agents remained.
One agent informed the remaining nurse as she walked out of the room, “We’re going to need a little privacy as we question Mr.Munguia in an effort to better protect him.”
The nurse nodded and dutifully exited while saying, “No problem. Let us know if you need anything.”
The agent shut and discreetly locked the door. He glanced over to see his partner pull the drapes shut and advance toward Pedro’s bed. After manipulating the medical equipment to ensure no interruptions by medical staff, both agents positioned themselves on either side of Pedro’s bed.
Pedro was in and out of consciousnesses and hadn’t caught on to the odd behavior by the agents. He became aware there was a problem as one agent simultaneously covered his mouth and the other stuck his thumb into the recently repaired bullet wound in his arm and twisted.
Excruciating pain overwhelmed Pedro. He had no strength to resist and he tried to scream for help. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He felt himself slipping away as the nausea from the pain caused him to vomit on the perpetrator’s hand that was covering his mouth.
The bigger of the two impostors bent down and whispered in his ear, “Tell us where the money is and we will kill you quick. If not, this may take awhile.”
Again with the money
, thought Pedro. Even if he knew where it was he wouldn’t tell these bastards. It was the only thing keeping him alive… for the moment. However, the pain made him feel he may actually be better off dead.
Pedro shook his head over and over. They continued to torture him with reckless abandon by holding a pillow over his face and probing the wound in his arm. He felt himself slipping away.
Where the hell is the police,
Suddenly the large window of his room that faced the parking structure shattered as two 40 millimeter flash bang rounds flew through and bounced around the room like ping pong balls. The percussion and blinding light as they exploded knocked the suspects down. At the same time, the door was blown off its hinges by well placed shotgun rounds.
Sheriff’s Office SWAT deputies entered the room in unison as the perpetrators fumbled for their side arms and struggled to understand what just happened. The SWAT team leader and forward cover deputy took quick and accurate kill shots. Both suspects were immobilized immediately.
The room was systematically cleared for further threats. There was no time to celebrate as one of the deputies noticed Pedro was seizing and shaking uncontrollably. Bewildered medical staff filled the room and began trying to resuscitate him. The grim look on their faces suggested their efforts may not be enough. They continued to work on him and noticed the fresh blood coming from his arm wound. They worked on him until he became stable again. The charge nurse stated, “This guy’s got nine damn lives.”
From his secure and secluded location, Jose Calderon had watched the counter assault on room #301. He hoped if nothing else, Pedro would be dead before the SWAT team arrived. If he was not, he decided he would exhaust every resource he had to make sure Pedro would die. He saw a lot of commotion and noticed a group of cops exit the hospital, their faces showed pride and happiness.
, thought Calderon,
the bastard survived
A command post was set up in the hospital parking lot based on the seriousness of the attempt on Pedro’s life. As soon as the HSI Regional Agent in Charge (RAC) and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office Sheriff arrived on scene, they demanded an immediate debrief. All the agencies involved had plenty of questions and were obviously beside themselves. No one could understand how this happened.
A few minutes later the SUV driven by Kovach and carrying Dix, Petersen, and Romero pulled under the yellow caution tape and drove directly to the door leading to the briefing room within the command post. As the SUV came to a stop, Petersen jumped out eager to figure out what went down.
The situational debrief was scheduled to be given by HSI Special Agent Michelle Sullivan. She made the gruesome discovery in the stairwell of two dead agents, which lead to the rescue of Pedro for the second time.
Everyone in the room was talking as SA Sullivan cleared her throat in an effort to gain their attention. She was extremely nervous and found it difficult to be amidst so many high-ranking officials.
Don’t let them see you sweat
, she thought as her heart thumped in her chest.
SA Sullivan explained, “Gentlemen. This is what we know so far. I was assigned as secondary perimeter for Mr. Munguia. I received information from a second CS that a plot was set in motion to kill Mr. Munguia this morning. While I stepped into the stairwell to continue the call with my CS, I saw a small blood trail leading down to the second floor. I followed the trail and located Special Agents Burnett and Carlino. Both were obviously dead and it appeared their throats were sliced with piano or similar type wire.” With the grumbling in the room after the mention of the deaths of SA Burnett and SA Carlino, Sullivan seized the opportunity to sip some water and cure her dry mouth. She