The B Team



All characters that appear in this chapter of The B Team are my own. This story is a continuation of the original four part "B-Team."
A shout out full of appreciation to Tigermark, who has been tirelessly reviewing and editing my feeble attempts at writing for more years than either of us would probably care to admit to. I'd rather have him for a friend than a thousand devoted readers. Thanks T!

Aero-Union and Evergreen Air did exist in real life, and may yet still. And while their alleged participation in the alleged CIA operations described herein are fictitious, the tale related in this chapter is loosely based on real events. The timeframe of incidents referred to in this chapter has been warped to fit the timeline of this story, but otherwise would ring true in the ears of the guys who actually did this kind of stuff.

If they did ...


You might wish to see the following articles on line:
Only The Godfather
Gary R. Eitel vs. Roy D. Reagan
Details of Covert CIA Airlines, described by head of the airline
Shadow Government Unmasked
Cocaine Airways
Air Cocaine


The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003 - 2017


9 January 2017

Dark Secrets

 

It had started off as a pleasant day ...

He had finally been alone with his thoughts. “The Kids,” as he was beginning to think of his crew mates, had wandered off to some other destination, the better to proceed in whatever direction they were going to go in without him. In their absence his mind had immediately shifted to thoughts of his lovely fox back home in Colorado.

For a while.

Earlier, Joe Latrans had smiled at The Kids as he had sipped his beer, gazing over the top of his mug at his fellow pilot and his loadmaster. The day had been good for team-building, or so it seemed. Slam and Lola had been together all day, and the lack of work had contributed greatly to the relationships they all seemed to be building with each other. They appeared much more relaxed and at ease around each other, Joe thought.

They had slept in late after last night's arrival during a snow shower at Dulles. The TSA had tried to outdo their performance at Tinker Air Force Base. The crew was kept on the tarmac at the airport of the nation's capitol for over two hours after their arrival before the TSA allowed them to unload. It was well past midnight before their secure cargo had departed the Bitch's hold and the crew could stand down . They had left their not-quite-trusty steed at the Air Freight Ramp just north of the FAA's Airports District Office. Matt had left instructions for them to notify some outfit called Signature Flight Support to recover and ready their ship for the next series of missions, a task completed by Slam before they headed into the terminal building at the Air Freight complex. Those missions, Joe now reflected, were scheduled to start before sunrise tomorrow.

Matt had taken care of his crew as well. There was a roomy Crown Victoria sedan waiting for them at the Enterprise desk in the Air Freight complex, and a short drive down the Dulles Access Road eastbound had brought them to their overnight destination – the Crown Plaza Hotel. Joe and Slam had shared a room, Lola had one to herself. To be sure they were on the lower end of the hotels price range, but even so it was a plush and well-deserved break from the roaring Allisons and the various places the crew had been finding to sleep the past couple of days, including the cold deck of the Bitch's cargo hold.

So they had turned in, all tuckered out, not too long before sunrise, and had gathered again in the lobby much later that morning, at the decadent hour of 1100. A late breakfast and they were back in the Crown Victoria headed into the heart of Washington DC. Their destination? Well, where else would an aircrew go on their day off in the nations capitol? They paid a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, of course.

By the time it was approaching the dinner hour they all had sore feet, and their heads were crammed full of history. “I still think the original Wright Flyer was the most impressive,” Lola argued good-naturedly. “Can you you imagine? Laying face down on the wing, the wind in your fur, that tiny motor … and bicycle chains!” Lola giggled. “Those guys … they were aviators!”

“I still think the technology that we saw, that went into the Apollo program, was the most impressive,” Slam countered earnestly. “Seeing the Apollo 11 command module and the LM-2 …” the huge fur smiled a bit self-consciously. “Well, it's a long way from the rez, I'll tell you that much. I never saw anything like that when I was a kit. Until today our C-130 was the most technologically advanced aircraft I'd ever touched.”

Lola stared intently at the coyote-mountain lion hybrid, her ears attentive. “The rez?”

Slam Whiteline's eyes flicked momentarily towards Joe before returning to meet the co-pilot's curious and expectant expression. “He didn't tell you?”

Lola smiled, shaking her head in the negative, and Slam turned his head towards their chief pilot.

“That's your story to tell, Slam,” Joe said casually.

Joe knew very little about Slam's history before the Marine Corps. He had spent some time filling Lola in on a few things about Slam, things that were pertinent to the workings of Intermountain Charter and the aircraft they flew together. He had given her a brief rundown of Slam's history insofar as it helped her understand his skills and abilities in the performance of their work, and had briefly described his military career for the same reasons. Joe respected and cared for those he worked with, so he spoke very little of the personal lives of his co-workers amongst them.

And somehow Slam understood that, based on Joe's easy reply and facial expression. Lola had no idea where he was from, or anything about him, other than that he was a good loadmaster on a C-130 flying for a regional air-cargo operation, and that he was recently of the United States Marine Corps. She had no idea what “rez” even referred to, let alone what it implied about their loadmaster.

Slam leaned back in his chair and made himself comfortable. “Spent any time in Arizona? Other than our delivery in Mesa, I mean?”

“I flew into Luke a couple of times, and delivered a C-130B to Davis-Monathan once,” Lola replied, shifting herself in the booth they all sat in so as to more directly face the loadmaster. “Other than that, I've only seen it from above.”

“Ever fly over the Four Corners region?”

Another shake of her head in the negative. Even so, Lola's smile broadened slightly as she watched Slam's eyes.

“My name is Teddy Whiteline, Lola. I am of the Kinyaa'áanii, the Towering House People of the Navajo Nation. I was born near the small village of Chilchinbito, near Black Mesa in northeastern Arizona, in the spring of 1983.”

Lola's eyes widened just a bit. He was younger than she had thought he was. His size and demeanor had disguised his age a bit, to her distraction. She picked up her beer mug to buy some time to allow her surprise to pass. “You're an original,” Lola replied after taking a sip.

“Beg pardon?”

“Your people, they were here long before any of our ancestors showed up, right?” She gestured briefly with a paw towards their skipper.

A distant look came to the loadmaster's face. “The Diné, my ancestors, were living in what is now the Four Corners region three hundred years before the first Europeans arrived around 1600, if that's what you mean.”

“That's awesome! I never would have guessed that about you. So the 'rez' you refer to is the Navajo Reservation?”

“We tend to refer to it as the Navajo Nation, yes. It comprises much of northeastern Arizona and strips of Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado as well.”

“That's a lot of territory,” Lola mused. “There must be a lot of you.”

“About three hundred thousand, all told,” Slam said as he reached for his beer. “Many of the people live in towns and villages, but many more live in remote areas. We're quite self-sufficient.” Slam grinned as he sipped his beer.

Lola glanced briefly at Joe, as if to ask him something, but then turned back to Slam.

“How did you make the trip from there to the Marines, and then wind up flying with these guys?”

And here Joe Latrans was careful to not lean forward with an expectant look on his face, because he had never asked that question. Sure, he knew about Teddy's – Slam's – military career. He had been given a brief bio of that when Slam had started being assigned to his aircraft with secure military cargoes, just like the bios he had seen on half a dozen other military furs – mostly Marines – that had been aboard his aircraft on similar missions. That was where he had learned of Slam's ethnicity, as well as his place and date of birth. But he had never heard Slam talk about his youth, his childhood. All he really knew about that was that he had lied about his age to join the Corps, had been in basic training just after his 17th birthday. Slam had never discussed his childhood, no one had ever asked him about it.

Until now.

 

# # #

 

Janie Riggins heard the front door to Intermountain's office open and close. She glanced up expecting to see her best friend and her sister, but was surprised to see instead an older fur approaching her desk.

“Good afternoon!” she said cheerfully. “Welcome to Intermountain Charter. How may I help you?”

He was a feline of some sort, an older one, but big. Like a mountain lion or a wildcat of some sort. His suit did little to disguise the fact that he was well muscled, neither did it hide the fact that he had a bit of the middle-age bulge at his waistline. The fur on his head was cut high and tight, military style, and his jaw line was solid and slightly protruding. She expected his voice to be deep and gravelly based on his appearance alone, and was not disappointed when he spoke.

“Good afternoon, ma'am," he growled pleasantly. "Jerry Kitt tells me that you're looking for a wrench turner to keep your aircraft flying.” He smiled slightly. “I'm your fur.”

Janie was confused. She recognized the name of the company's master mechanic in Ohio, but had no idea what this fur was talking about. And while she was pondering this, her telephone rang, interrupting her train of thought. “Excuse me,” she said as she reached for it.

The big fur, in fact a wildcat from the northern plains, stood ramrod straight with that slight smile on his muzzle as the cougar behind the desk answered her telephone. His smile broadened slightly as, a few moments later, he heard her exclaim “He's here in my office right now!” After that, the cougar spoke very little until she acknowledged what she had been told and slowly hung up her pawset.

“My name is Janice Riggins,” she said hesitantly as she stood, holding a paw out to him. “Welcome to Intermountain Charter,” she repeated.

“Jack Micklin,” the big cat said, shaking her paw gently with a massive one of his own. “Recently of the United States Marine Corps. It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am." Jack dropped his paw to his side. "I fix airplanes, and my friend Jerry says you all badly need some help out here in Colorado.”

“We do,” Janie replied, gesturing to a chair facing her desk. “Please Jack, have a seat.”

“Thank you, ma'am.”

Janie took her own chair as she continued. “That was our boss, Matt Barstock, on the phone. He told me to expect you.” She grinned briefly. “Sometimes Matt's information arrives here a bit behind schedule.”

Jack chuckled. “Jerry said that Matt runs a tight ship, but occasionally makes assumptions about information management.”

Janie giggled. “Matt says you're hired.”

“Yes ma'am.”

“And that all the paperwork about that will be emailed to me tomorrow. So all I have to do is show you around.”

“Show me where to set up my shop ma'am, and I'll get your airframes and service facilities squared away before you can say Semper Fi.”

Janie was taking a liking to the big fur. She genuinely smiled at him for the first time. “Jack, you don't have to address me as ma'am. Please call me Janie. Everyone here does.

“Alright Janie," Jack said, relaxing ever-so-slightly. "I can do that.”

Janie rummaged in her center desk drawer briefly before producing a couple of keys. Handing them to the big feline she said “The smaller key is to the front door ...” she nodded indicating the door Jack had entered through earlier, “... and the bigger one is for the door to the shop area in the hangar.”

“Thank you.”

“Come on,” Janie gestured across the office area towards the doorway opening onto the hangar itself. “I'll give you the nickel tour and show you where to set up shop.”

 

# # #

 

The Pratt PT-6A whined loudly as the Cessna Caravan navigated between the rows of hangars at the east end of Centennial field, the sound reverberating off the metal walled canyon. As he approached the far east end of taxiway C, Randy Clarkson looked a little to his left to about his eleven o'clock position. Beyond the rows of smaller hangars for general aviation aircraft, Intermountain's hangar stood out above the rest, it's open hangar door facing west to reveal a cavernous interior illuminated by the late afternoon sunlight. Reaching the end of Taxiway C the skunk could see that the hangar was about three-quarters empty. He could see the Latrans' Beechcraft Duke occupying a corner of it.

Randy brought his Caravan slowly to a spot about twenty feet directly in front of that big opening, applied some right rudder and toe brake with a little power, and swung the large single-engine aircraft around to directly face the opening. Neutralizing his rudder input, he began the short shutdown sequence for the turbine engine in front of him. Within a minute the propeller windmilled to a stop, and the ramp grew silent.

The skunk removed the headphones from his head and placed them over the control yoke in front of him. He exhaled slowly, a smile creasing his muzzle as he ran a paw through his hair and over his head, massaging between his ears briefly. It had been a busy couple of days. Three flights to Belakai Mesa: one from Centennial, one from Salt Lake, and one from Las Vegas, had padded the rapidly building hours in his log book nicely. And now, a day and a half after leaving Centennial, he was finally home.

A few minutes later Randy had their new powered tug connected to the nosewheel of the Caravan and was slowly walking the big single into the hangar. He had briefly discussed the need for this little electric tug with the office manager, who immediately nodded, saying “Spec me one that will work with the Caravan and the King Air both.” No concern about price, she only needed something that could work with most of their airframes and needed to know where to get it. Randy was only too happy to do the research on it, and had a model and vendor lined up by the end of that day. Two days later FedEx had dropped the little tug at their door, and managing the aircraft in the hangar became much easier. It even worked with Joe's Duke.

The sun was behind the mountains to the west now, it would be dark by the time he had the Caravan secured in the hangar for the night. As he was beginning to wish the hangar's interior lights were on so he could see better, they came on seemingly of their own accord. Randy continued to walk backwards, slowly drawing the Caravan nose-first into the hangar. He'd thank Janice for the lights when he finished.

A few minutes later, as he was placing the chocks around the nosewheel of his mount, he heard the door to the office open. Rising and turning, he was expecting to see Janice approaching. And he did … in the company of a big fur he had never seen before, yet whom he immediately recognized. As soon as his eyes locked with those of the unknown fur Randy's tail stiffened and he dropped into a half crouch, paws balled in fists, and shouted "Whoo-Aah!"

Jack Micklin stopped, lightly touching Janie on the arm to stop her as well. The big cat stared evenly at the suddenly motionless skunk and took two steps forward from where Janie stood. Thrusting out his already protruding jaw even more, he bellowed "Who the fuck are you yelling at, Marine?"

"You, Gunny!"

"Semper Fidelis, Marine! As you were!"

And the two stepped towards each other quickly to clasp paws and forearms warmly, surreptitiously trying to break each others grip while acknowledging to each other that their world had just improved noticeably.

 

# # #

 

Alone, Joe had been reflecting on things his wife had shared with him, and on how those things, those memories of hers, had triggered all sorts of unrest and turmoil in her seemingly tranquil life. And that, of course, drove the pilot to consider some memories of his own, and how those memories might affect his relationship with his beautiful wife. She had no idea of his past ...

 

# # #

 

He had begun drinking whiskey almost as soon as he began flying, which is to say that he was a confirmed consumer thereof well before he could buy it for himself legally. Like many young males of that time, he was first goaded into consuming some very inexpensive whiskey by some not-quite-well-meaning “friends,” guys he had hung out with in high school. He quickly discovered two things about whiskey, both of which much later in life proved to be incorrect. The years and pain it cost him to achieve this wisdom were a major factor in the mental construct of the coyote-shepherd hybrid called José Ortiz Latrans … Joe to almost everyone who knew him.

His initial impression had been that whiskey made the night more fun, and whiskey helped moderate pain … physical or mental.

Joe had been in a lot of pain back then. To be sure he was a healthy young fur of 21 years physically, but he had been battling with his folks for control of his ambitions, his life, for almost seven years ... a third of his life. It had left him hurt, confused, bitter, scarred, and ultimately an orphan, for all practical intents and purposes. His mother had disowned him on his eighteenth birthday when he received his CFI rating and went to work as a flight instructor at a small FBO on El Monte Airport. His father had eventually stopped having anything to do with him by the time he was 20, all because he wouldn't accept an appointment to the USAF Academy in Colorado. Joe hadn't wanted to serve, he had wanted to fly. And he had been doing a lot of that.

By 1981 Joe had been flying air cargo in a variety of small twin-engined aircraft for going on a couple of years. It had become his custom to end the day with a few whiskies when the flying was done. If he happened to be in the company of an acquaintance he would typically share a bottle with that fur. More often than not this accomplice to consumption was female, and more often than not whatever relationship that might develop between them over those drinks would not last more than 24 hours at most. This typically bothered neither of the participants.

Being somewhat short on conscience and ethics in those battle-scarred days, José Latrans also rapidly discovered a lucrative market for pilots. He was building multi-engine time hauling cargo for Calwestern when, one evening in a border bar near El Paso International Airport, he was approached by a Mexican national. This fur, a Chamuco from San Buenaventura in Coahuila State, bought Joe a bottle of the finest Patron tequila and proceeded to tell Joe a story while the coyote hybrid consumed it.

Long story short, within a month Joe was making fabulous money flying all kinds of aircraft out of Mexico or Central America, most of them stolen (and he readily suspected as much), all of them crammed full of marijuana, cocaine, or other questionable and highly illegal substances. On rare occasion he was asked to fly important looking furs from place to place in some truly opulent business jets, and he was very well compensated for this as well. And because he was paid in gold as often as not, and because all the pilots who worked for the Chamuco were literally surrounded by some of the finest females northern Mexico had to offer, and because he was well-fed and well-whiskied when he wasn't flying, Joe loved it. He flew almost every day, sometimes for upwards of eight hours or more. He flew from nondescript dirt roads in the middle of nowhere to other nondescript dirt roads on the other side of a fence in the middle of somefur else's nowhere. He flew everything from small, single-engined Cessna 210s to old piston-powered regional airliners like the Convair 440, all of them full of contraband, and nobody asked to see a license, type rating, or manifest. And as long as he delivered he was a hero. He was daring enough and intelligent enough to steer clear of the DEA, Customs, and Border Patrol furs and make every one of those deliveries ... for almost two full years. In that time Joe earned himself over one and a half million dollars, which he was smart enough to accept in the form of gold and silver, which he kept in safe deposit boxes in various banks scattered around the southwestern USA.

While Joe was engaged in this line of work he spent a lot of time drinking to try and put the pain of his problems with his parents behind him. Because he drank with the best of them, and because he spoke the regio's version of the Spanish language well, he became well known and liked by the drug lords and fellow runners, partying with them, covering for them, and carrying the highest completed delivery ratios in the "fleet." He never missed a single delivery, never lost a cargo, and he was hunted by some of the best aerial assets the DEA and Border Patrol had to offer. As such he saw a lot of the drug operation and got to know Mexican and Central American airspace very well. So when the DEA finally caught up with him and threw him in jail, he didn't stay there long. While cooling his heels in a Tucson prison Joe was approached by a pleasant looking, older ferret in a gray suit, and his future changed.

This fur worked for some company called Aero-Union. He asked if Joe would be interested in flying for them. Well Hell, any flying is better than sitting in a jail cell, so Joe immediately said “yes.” Joe was released three days later and last saw the ferret when that fur handed him a slip of paper with an address in Yuba City, California written on it … a bar.

So it happened that a well-put-together young shepherd found a slightly buzzed Joe Latrans sitting in that bar 36 hours later on a hot, sultry summer night in 1983. Her name was Patricia, but she went either by “Trish” or “Foxhound,” the second moniker being a tactical call known to only a very few furs.

She was dressed to kill with three inch heels, hip-hugger bell-bottom dungarees, and a tight-fitting halter top. Long brown hair in gentle curls fell almost to her slim, bare waist. She had approached the small table Joe had been sitting at with a smile and an inquisitive expression that worked perfectly … without her even having to speak Joe offered to buy her a drink. Indicating the bottle already present with a nod she had smiled and said “I'll have whatever you're having.” When she smiled her teeth were blazingly white, and when she laughed it was throaty and seductive. She spoke with a drawl that Joe immediately found pleasing and attractive without having any idea that it identified her as a resident of Virginia.

Langley, to be precise. Patricia worked for the CIA, but very few furs knew that.

She was a recruiter, and Joe was her target.

It was to be one of the longest relationships that Joe would have with a female until the day he met Annie Winning at Flo's on Jeffco all those years later.

Trish worked at Aero-Union out of Chico, California – a known CIA contractor. Even the furs she worked for at A-U didn't know who she really worked for, any more than they knew what the true destinations and missions would be for the service weary C-130s they were supposed to be moving from military inventory to private or government ownership. But Trish did. And she knew those C-130s needed crews … crews who were young, adventurous, and unattached … with little or no family connections, no furs at home who would wonder where they were or what they were doing. She needed furs who would follow the money and the adventure and the lust to any destination they were assigned, and do it willingly.

“You're a pilot?” she had cooed innocently, big brown eyes staring into his blue ones while a claw traced a pattern absently along his forearm. “I work for a company that is looking for good pilots ...”

Before the year was out Joe Latrans had found himself training in the command seats of some Viet Nam era C-130 transports. He spent days disemboweling them with the Airframe & Powerplant guys at Beale Air Force Base where Aero-Union leased facilities, learning systems and quantities and limits until he could recite them by heart and fix them in the dark. Then, in the spring, he'd deadheaded down to Davis-Monathan Air Force Base near Tucson to be trained for command of the type by a bunch of different furs who all wore OD flight suits with absolutely no insignia, badges of rank, or even name tags. And all of those guys talked, acted, and flew like they had been born in the Lockheed plant in Georgia where they built the C-130s, like they had all been building command time when they were still wet behind the ears.

Joe and Trish lasted almost a year and a half. That was the time it took her to take a cocky, round-heeled air freight dog who had been flying contraband across the Americas in some truly ancient airframes, and turn him into a squared away skipper of the already legendary turbine-powered, four-engined load-lifter that was the mule of the United States military services. The life of Joe Latrans became forever entwined with the career of the Lockheed C-130, it would grow to become his best, oldest, and most trustworthy friend. During that formative time he and Trish shared an apartment in Yuba City near Beale, and Joe began to think he was starting to learn about love.

All that ground to a halt one morning in the early spring of '85 when Joe was approached by another fur, a puma of some sort dressed in a dark suit and sunglasses. This fur introduced himself by reciting a bit of Joe's family history, replete with lurid details about how his mom had torn the hell out of his dad all those years ago, over Joe's desire to fly. To say that got Joe's attention would be an understatement of considerable proportion.

The puma, who never identified himself, proceeded to explain to Joe how much it had cost the United States taxpayers to train him in all ways wise and wonderful about the Lockheed C-130 military transport, and was Joe prepared to pay his country back by coming to work for Aero-Union? Of course, by virtue of who A-U held contracts with, there would be no official record of Joe's employment. In fact, Joe would be paid at the end of each mission, handsomely, in cash. The puma quoted figures that grabbed Joe's attention even more than this stranger's knowledge of his personal family history, in such a way that put a smile on the coyote hybrid's muzzle. The puma saw this for what it was, a young fur with an adventurous heart and a brand new way to explore his world.

“Ever been to Central America?”

Joe had shaken his head in the negative.

“I hear the femmes there are … amazing.”

Three hours later Joe had returned to his apartment to find Trish gone. “My work here is done.” the note said. He never saw her again. Two days after that Joe flew his first command mission, departing Beale at 2200 hours in an high-time C-130E, non-stop to La Aurora, the international airport and military airfield in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Within a month he was flying as a civilian contractor for "Air America," the denied and disavowed covert air wing of the Central Intelligence Agency. Whereas he had been flying drugs northbound for the Chamuco, Joe now found himself flying weapons and warriors southbound, everything from regular Army troops equipped for battle to various odd looking weapon systems which he was ordered to not see. He had become part of America's "War On Drugs." After he'd been flying with AA for a few months he was "promoted" to “C-Ops,” covert operations. From the small fleet of C-130s that AA had borrowed, misappropriated, or outright stolen from various private contractors and the United States Forest Service, Joe and his peers dropped supplies, chemical weapons, defoliant, and other unknown things from the dark night skies over Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, and southern Mexico. Foreign national paratroopers bailed out of his ships; howitzers, jeeps, APCs, and other faceless boxed hardware followed those furs down into the jungles. C-Ops became Joe's lifeblood, and again he was handsomely paid. More gold went into the safe deposit boxes, and Joe became a moderately wealthy young fur.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of furs died, and thousands of acres of land were made uninhabitable as a direct result of the actions of Joe, his peers, and their passengers. And this information became known by all that were involved in the process. There was no way to hide it ...

Joe's consumption of whiskey increased as this new knowledge brought a new level of pain to his erstwhile pleasant if vacuous life.

The other side of the C-Ops lifestyle was even worse. One morning Joe was asked to take a mission stateside, a “milk run” for parts from General Servando Canales, a commercial airfield in the northern Mexico city of Matamoros in Nuevo Leon. A relatively new C-130H in Aero-Union livery waited for him on the ramp there as he stepped down from the commercial connecting flight that finished his trip from Guatemala City. His crew was already waiting for him. There was northbound cargo consisting of a single twenty foot seagoing container … weight 35,000 pounds. There was no manifest.

At random intervals for the next six months Joe repeated these milk runs, sometimes as often as twice a week. Always one seagoing container going north, another coming south. Both weighed anywhere from twenty to forty thousand pounds. Never once was there a manifest, never once was he told what the containers contained, never once did he ask. And neither did anyone at his destinations in the United States … sometimes military facilities. From the Los Angeles basin to the hill country of western Arkansas, no one said a thing ...

Until the night he got drunk with his loadmaster in a dangerous-looking bar on the south side of Ciudad Juarez, near the airport that bore Benito's name. Each had a femme on his lap, each a bottle of whiskey in front of him, and Zeke had a powerful urge to talk.

“Duh y'know,” the golden retriever slurred while the Sonoran coyote on his lap nibbled playfully at one of his ears, “... stop 'at.” He swatted her rump playfully. “Joe, duh y'know whas in doez containerz? Do ya?”

The coyote hybrid, somewhat preoccupied by a carbon copy of the retriever's companionship, muttered “nah” into the ruff of fur at that coyote's neck.

Zeke suddenly leaned forward and, pushing his coyote companion aside, leaned in close to his aircraft commander …

“Cocaine ...” he whispered, suddenly stone cold sober. “Pure, uncut, cocaine.”

Joe cocked an eye at his loadmaster while still nuzzling at the base of his femme's throat. “So?”

“Fifteen tons, boss!”

Joe's blank look was unreadable.

“That,” pronounced Zeke in his hoarse whisper, “is enough to keep the entire Los Angeles basin high for three days straight, that's so what!”

Whereupon Zeke half turned, grabbed his coyote by the arm, whirled her around to straddle his thighs facing him, and planted his nose deep in her well exposed cleavage.

Joe pulled back from his companion and stared into her eyes for long moments. Shrugging slightly as he shook his head, he whispered to her “Lo siento, preciosa, tengo que ir a trabajar ahora.”

Later, much later, sipping some of his personal stock of Patron while alone in a secure room outside of town, Joe considered the implications of that short conversation. The CIA was moving illegal drugs across the border into the United States. Joe knew nothing of the high-level shenanigans that would later come to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair, all he knew was that cocaine was going onto the streets of America, and America's government was helping it happen. This tore at the fabric of Joe's mind. He couldn't believe it, yet he had to. He was part of the process. Sitting there, he ground the numbers in his suddenly clear mind. And he was horrified to find that he personally had transported enough cocaine in the past six months to keep approximately ten million furs high for at least two weeks straight. Fifteen days. 360 hours high for each and every one of those millions.

He wondered how many of them had died as a direct result of that high. He wondered how many more of them had damaged themselves irreparably. He wondered how many innocents had been murdered, raped, robbed, or assaulted by one or some of those higher-than-shit furs.

And for the first time in his life, José Ortiz Latrans began to wonder just what the fuck he was doing out here … the former drug-runner extraordinaire now flying with the covert ops blood of dozens, perhaps hundreds on his paws … a God damned mass murderer.

Alcohol had squelched his concerns about the furs and equipment and chemicals he had air-dropped into the jungles and forests in the middle of the night. He had heard about the massacres, heard about hundreds … thousands … dying at the paws of other furs or from the strange chemicals falling out of the sky. He had ignored the news reports, ignored the frightened looks he got from kids in the streets, ignored the way most average furs in his theater of operation shied away from our outright ran away from him and his peers. Whiskey had made that tolerable.

But the knowledge that he might have the suffering and death of potentially tens of thousands of furs, Americans, friends, kits and pups, families … the blood of legions on his paws … it was more than he could bear, and it made his blood boil.

He angrily confronted his leadership about it, and Aero-Union responded through Air America by taking him off the C-130s and putting him on much older, less reliable airframes. He got the shit drug-running details to fly in them.

And so it was that just a couple of weeks after this rude awakening Joe rode an ailing, old C-119 down into the Sonora desert late one summer night in 1986. The DEA didn't get him. The Border Patrol didn't get him. Poor maintenance on round engines got him. And as he went down he figured his game was over. His race was run. Yet somehow he managed to dead stick the ancient freighter to a reasonably acceptable crash landing in a dry wash in the dark of night. The impact killed his co-pilot, the only other fur on board, and destroyed the aircraft. But God wanted Joe alive, for he was staggering away with a couple of broken ribs when the wreckage of the freighter (and it's cargo of cocaine) exploded in a ball of fire, fueled by all the high-octane aviation gasoline leaking from it's wings.

Like a campesino Joe hiked for two nights across the desert, hiding beneath any cover that would keep him shaded and protected from view during the day. During those two nights he did some real soul searching, and as he approached the border with his native country he had a short but sincere conversation with someone he'd never spoken to before.

God.

Towards dawn of the third day he made it across the border into Arizona, and into the tiny community of Sasabe. There he found a doctor who wrapped him tightly such that his ribs might begin to knit and heal, and paid him handsomely in cash to avoid any questions or paperwork. Within three weeks José Latrans was home in southern California.

He was nothing short of amazed that he wasn't being hunted by the CIA. But that august organization was having it's own problems ...

After he recovered his health, some of the gold in Joe's various safe deposit boxes paid for official American type ratings in various airframes including the DC-8, the 707-620, and the C-130, and also added the Air Transport Pilot certificate to Joe's collection. While paying in cash, he signed his real name and his folks address to all these documents. For some odd reason the CIA never came looking for Joe, and he worked hard at keeping a low profile. The CIA, in typical fashion, disavowed any knowledge of the ancient cargo plane that had gone down in northern Mexico, or it's crew.

Joe didn't know that the operations he had been involved with, and the CIA that had been running those operations, had come under Federal scrutiny. The fact of the matter was that the CIA was trying to perform some damage control of it's own to maintain the secrecy and deniability of those operations. They would eventually fail, but at the time it was enough of a distraction that Joe Latrans sort of fell through the cracks. He was a silent MIA, and there were more than a few very noisy former AA and A-U “employees” who were singing like opera stars to the FBI, the DEA, and the Department of the Interior. The house of cards was beginning to fall, and almost everyone sort of forgot about the coyote hybrid former drug runner.

 

# # #

 

The Kids were gone, off on some adventure. So be it. They didn't need to be part of this. This unwelcome interruption, coming hard upon recollections of all the stuff he had tried for so long to keep buried, was just a little too creepy ...

 

# # #

 

Almost everyone had forgotten about him. The DEA had come calling. Quietly. Late one afternoon back in those post-covert ops days, while Joe was securing from some training time on a 707 simulator at a facility on Long Beach Airport, a young fur had approached him and addressed him by name. He was a tall, thin lynx who appeared to be approximately the same age as Joe, and he introduced himself as George Crawley.

Over the course of several months something akin to a professional relationship developed between Joe and George. George wanted information that would expose the corruption within the CIA, especially insofar as their operations with Evergreen Air, Aero-Union, and other sub-contractors was concerned. Specifically, he wanted information on aircraft being used to bring large quantities of drugs into the United States under the authority of the CIA and / or it's sub-contractors. In exchange for information Joe could provide about aircraft he had used in those operations, the DEA would offer him immunity from prosecution, and would allow him to keep his ill-gotten proceeds … namely the gold and silver in those safe deposit boxes. The DEA wasn't particularly interested in the names of furs, they wanted to know about airframes. The DEA was pissed about something the CIA had done to them, and was out for blood.

Facing the alternative … a trip back to prison for several decades, possibly the rest of his life, Joe was quite agreeable. A tenuous relationship developed between George and Joe. Not friends, not co-workers, but each knew that the other needed him, and each cooperated with that other. And it worked. Joe seemed to fade from the sight and memory of the CIA, and many of those likely to remember him were shortly dead or imprisoned. George and his connections helped Joe modify his recorded history slightly, planting records here and there to show that Joe had been flying aircraft, including C-130s, for the United States Forest Service on various missions related to aerial forest-fire fighting. He also helped Joe square away his records with the FAA, so that the licenses and type ratings would stand up to any scrutiny. Joe exited 1986 a bona fide Air Transport Pilot with a pocket full of type ratings and a reasonably marketable resumé.

In exchange for this Joe gave George his logbooks from those days, starting with the drug-running and ending with the crash in the desert. Joe's logbooks included descriptions of the aircraft he had flown, descriptions that proved invaluable in tracing “lost” or stolen aircraft directly to the CIA's Aero-Union and Air America operations in Mexico and Central America. The DEA compiled this information and supplied it to various other government agencies who had a vested interest in deflating or defeating the CIA. And the war was on between the beltway three-letter agencies, and Joe's participation and assistance was no longer required.

So by the time he pulled up stakes in California at the tender age of 26, Joe had several log books full of stick time (except those documenting his hours as a smuggler or covert ops pilot), no family to speak of, a history he wouldn't admit to, and a sincere longing to start his life over. His last act in California was to buy himself a brand new Beechcraft Duke. Ten hours after the cash moved from his account to that of the FBO, Joe touched down at Jefferson County Airport just west of Denver, Colorado.

There, a short time later, he met the fabulous fox who had changed his entire world. There, twenty seven years off schedule, the real Joe Latrans came into being. There he married that beautiful fox, who taught him about love and tenderness and peace, and who blessed him with two beautiful pups.

George would contact Joe several times between 1986 and 1991, in a manner not unlike a parole officer contacting an ex-con (which is perhaps a fairly accurate description of their relationship at that point). But as Joe gradually moved from job to job, always improving his status, George tended to call less and less often. When Joe married Annie Winning, George stopped pestering him, preferring instead to monitor Joe's activities through other, less obvious channels.

And up until tonight, Joe had not seen or heard from George in his son's lifetime.

But now here he was, George By-God Crawley, looking down at him as he sat alone at a table in a lounge near the Smithsonian Museum in the Nation's capitol. And as it happened, Joe was sipping whiskey. He had been thinking about all of these things, and what his angel fox had shared with him about her past, and how things blow up in the middle of a very sweet life when you hold things close to the vest, harbor dark secrets. And now it looked like something was about to blow up in his face.

“Old times ...” George said by way of greeting.

He had aged noticeably, but not enough that Joe didn't immediately recognize him.

“Yeah,” Joe grunted, and regarded his acquaintance for several seconds before replying somewhat gruffly. “This is not a coincidence, not a random chance meeting, is it?”

“Mind if I sit?”

“Help yourself,” Joe said, indicating an opposite end of the semi-circular booth he sat at the center of. “Can I get you a drink?”

“Jack?” the lynx asked.

Joe nodded.

“Some things never change, do they?” George smiled.

“First whiskey I've had in quite some time, actually.”

A young feline waitress approached as George slid into the booth. “May I get you a drink, sir?”

Before the lynx could reply Joe commanded “Please bring him a shot glass, and bring me the bottle you have been serving me from. We'll take care of ourselves, thanks.”

“Right away, sir,” she said to him, staring at him for a second before scurrying off to get the requested items.

They traded mild pleasantries with each other through the first shot, each commenting on how the other had aged and brief run-downs of family. And then it grew awkwardly quiet between them. After the second shot Joe repeated himself. “So this isn't a chance meeting, right? What's up, why are you here? Why'd you track me down?”

George put his empty shot glass down slowly, a tired expression on his face. He drew a breath and studied the coyote-shepherd hybrid seated to his right. As far as he knew Joe had been living by the letter of the law as it had been spelled out to him all those years ago. He'd kept his nose clean, been very “findable,” got himself a series of respectable jobs. He'd also married quite well and become a family fur. And in exchange for those things he had been spared the CIA's plan for his disposition: life in prison, where he almost certainly would have been murdered by one of their operatives before he could get angry enough to start talking about his past employment.

The DEA had learned a lot from Joe Latrans that had allowed those government agencies to carry forth a case in the courts regarding the loss of various airframes they had owned or been leasing back then, airframes that cost them good money that had somehow wound up on CIA missions all over the world … especially that part of the world that was used as a conduit for the North American drug trade. That case had eventually been one of several cases that had exposed much of the corruption within that corner of the CIA at that time.

Joe had held up his end of the stick, George was certain. So he really didn't want to tell Joe what he was about to tell him, because he already knew what Joe's reaction would be.

“Matt has accepted some contracts with the CIA on behalf of Intermountain Charter, Joe.”

The coyote's eyes went wide, hoping this was a joke, but he could see in the lynx's eyes that it wasn't. He therefore said exactly what George had expected him to say …

“Holy fuck.”

“I'm guessing this is news to you?”

Joe nodded wordlessly as he poured himself another shot. He offered to pour his companion one as well, and the lynx nodded slowly.

“What's the game?” the coyote asked.

“An honest coincidence, actually,” George replied. “We did a good job of removing any trace of you from the CIA's databases. The only reason this popped up on the radar is that there are still some older furs like us working over there at Langley who were around back then, and one of them got a whiff of this deal with Matt, and pressed the panic button.”

“Nobody from those days is left,” Joe replied. “They're all either in prison or dead.”

“Not all. There are a couple of spooks who were way down on the food chain back then who are still around. And this one has pressed the panic button about you. I assured her that you weren't a problem, that you wouldn't get involved with anything they had going that required you to fly south of the border, for any reason.”

Joe shrugged and drank his shot. George watched him do so, watched his eyes for long moments, and then drank his own shot as well.

“What does that mean?” the lynx asked, setting his glass on the table. Joe refilled it, and his own, before he growled a question of his own.

“What does what mean?”

“That shrug. Don't tell me you'd consider getting involved in anything the Company brings your way, that would be ...”

“I won't leave Matt holding a bag of shit,” Joe interrupted gruffly. “If he's on the hook with them for something, and he needs my help, he'll have it.”

The lynx lowered his voice. “That's a very dangerous stance to take, Joe. You could endanger a lot of people, not the least of which is that femme who has made your life so wonderful.”

“You guys just can't wait to cut to the chase with that shit, can you?” Joe growled for real this time.

“What shit?”

“Threatening my family.”

The lynx puffed up a bit and his voice growled with anger. “I'm not threatening anybody Joe, certainly not your family. We don't do that shit. But they do. They have before and they will again. But it may not be a threat this time, they may just deal the cards and be done with you. I've kept them off your back all these years because you've avoided … at all costs … having anything to do with them or their business.” Here George took a deep breath and visibly willed himself to settle down. “Joe," he continued in an almost normal tone of voice, "I'm here mostly as a friend. Yes, the CIA contacted me. Yes, they're scared. But they are willing, at least for now, to let me deal with you and this situation. Let me help you while I can.”

“Matt is family, George. Maybe you can't understand that, and you don't have to. What you do need to understand is that I owe Matt a lot … Hell, pretty much everything. I was going nowhere professionally until he hired me. He put me in his top-of-the-line equipment practically on the first day, paid me accordingly, and never asked any questions.” Joe picked up his shot glass and studied it briefly. “I'll say it again, if Matt needs me to fly for those bastards, I will.”

George picked up his shot glass and tossed off his whiskey quickly. In a manner similar to his counterpart, he studied his empty shot glass while Joe proceeded to empty his own glass, and for long seconds afterwards. The coyote hybrid stared at him impassively.

After taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, George stared into Joe's eyes. “Did you ever think,” he said slowly and carefully, “just for a moment, that Matt knew everything he needed to know about you, and possibly much more than he needed to know, before he hired you? And did you ever wonder how he might have come by all of that intelligence?”

The eyes of Joe Latrans grew wide with these questions, and a hundred of his own cascaded in his mind.

It was at this precise moment that Lola Baker appeared. She and Slam had been prowling the area, and apparently Slam was still on the hunt, for she was alone. But now Lola was here, standing before the two of them, and she took one look at the expression on Joe's face and one look at the fur sitting with him, and went on the offensive.

“Commander,” she greeted him coolly. “Are you alright? Can I do anything for you or ...” she paused to turn her head slowly to look the lynx in the eyes, “... your friend here?”

Joe looked up into the blazing green eyes of his second in command. He'd seen that look before, and knew what it meant. And just at this moment he was grateful for her company .

 

# # #

 

"You're certain of this?" the voice, normally a paced, practiced baritone, almost squeaked.

"Oh yes. I got it straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. It took me completely by surprise, but she confirmed it for me."

Squeaky's voice was breathless with excitement. "The CIA?"

"Yes."

"Oh my God, this is a game-changer." Squeaky paused to catch his breath and regain his demeanor. "How exactly did you come by this information?"

"I am personally acquainted with the agent in question. She ... likes to have a drink now and then, and ... well, let's just say she likes to work off some steam after she's gotten herself good and charged up."

"With you."

"Correct." The informant may have chuckled or purred, it was hard for Squeaky to tell which. "And while she's ... busy working the alcohol out of her system she ... likes to talk about things."

"She trusts you to keep these things in your confidence ... to yourself?"

"She does."

Here squeaky barked in laughter. "Poor misguided girl ..."

"I trust you to not reveal your sources ... or their sources," the informant said, suddenly serious. "You have no idea what kind of iceberg this is the barest tip of. I'm only telling you about the part of it you're interested in. This goes deep ... very deep." The voice lowered to a whisper, which was easily amplified and clarified by the electronics recording and monitoring the telephone call. "Oval Office deep." The informant's voice regained it's normal timbre and volume. "You be very careful what you do with this information, who you share it with. These furs will come after your ass if they get wind of what you think you know."

Of course, the covert surveillance electronics assured that those furs already knew ...

"I will be discreet, my friend. There will be a bonus in this for you, a handsome bonus. Thank you very much."

"You just be careful with the paw grenade I just handed you. If they get wind of this, I won't have time to retaliate against your for your lack of discretion. You and I both will disappear. Do I make myself clear, boss?" The circuit broke, and there was dialtone in squeaky's ear.

In his home in the heights of Altadena, Harrison Clement the Third hung up his telephone's pawset slowly and carefully, his paw shaking ever so slightly. The CIA, he mused. Maria's son led a much more interesting life than I had thought. And I'm going to be rich ...



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