Barry's heart pounded furiously, and he raised his hands high. The cacophony of shouting was deafening, and he'd never had so many guns pointed at him, since... ever. Not even the DEA and the ATF and the FBI and the Sheriff combined had had this many damn guns trained on him!
Through the din, he could catch some of the words the men were shouting. His mind translated the louder words that he could understand - "Down! Down!! Knees!" He sank slowly to his knees, practically feeling the terror of his friend radiating toward him. Holy fuckin' shit, he thought. Maybe Pete was right. Maybe they are gonna feed us to the pigs.
Barry tried to force a smile. He called out, trying to sound friendly, but talk loud enough to be heard over all the violent shouting. "Fellas? Amigos! Ochoa?"
It didn't work. The soldiers continued to shout and scream, and Barry could hear his partner starting to panic even more - his quick breathing coming right to Barry's ear, despite the din.
The soldiers finally did quiet down, when a tall, suited man walked up. Barry remembered him from the meeting several weeks ago (right before he'd found out exactly how stupid his stupid ass brother-in-law really was). The sight of the new man - the Minister of the Interior - wasn't exactly encouraging. Barry remembered Carlos and Jorge having the hell of a time convincing the man to work with them. Seeing this guy without Jorge around made Barry nervous, but he tried to make the best of it.
"Hey. Senior? Um..." The man brushed past them, without calling off the guns, and asked what was in the plane. "Regalos!" Barry said, trying to sound cheerful. "For Escobar and Ochoa."
There was no answer from the government man, and Barry felt more than edgy with the guy behind him - silent, walking around inspecting everything with that disdainful attitude that seemed to be a basic part of the guy's nature. He was also afraid the guy would find the cameras - there would be hell to pay then. He forced himself not to look at Pete. He knew his friend would be terrified as it was, and he didn't want any chance of someone thinking they actually had something to hide.
Finally, Barry saw another car come up - a black Mercedes, gleaming in the hot sun like a chariot from heaven itself. And when Jorge stepped out of the car, Barry felt like he actually was a messenger of God. He spared a quick, relieved glance at his friend, who still looked like not a damn thing had changed with the new arrival.
"Jorge!" Barry called, smiling. "Hey, Jorge. Little help here, amigo." He laughed nervously, waiting for his friend to tell the soldiers to lower their guns.
Jorge stood beside the gunman nearest Barry and glared down at him. Jorge pointed at Barry, and In a deliberate, angry voice, he said, "What the FUCK took you so long?"
"I told you we had stuff to move! Now the Minister thinks I should get rid of you."
"Aw, fuck," Pete hissed.
"C'mon, man, you... you ain't serious. I'm... I'm here, I'm-"
"Yes, yes you're here! With a big army plane after you say put on the brakes! Maybe we can't trust you anymore. Maybe we already replaced you with somebody more dependable!"
Barry felt light headed. Blood seemed to rush to his head and then drain completely away again. "L-look, nothin‘... nothin' has changed, Jorge," he said. "You can trust me. You can trust me. The people I was workin' with before pulled out, but I got new people, and I'm... we're good."
Jorge stood with his arms folded, glaring darkly. He shook his head, and the gunman beside him raised his weapon. Barry jerked to the side, crouching in terror beneath shaking arms. He heard a sharp command from the government man behind him. He wasn't familiar with the words, but a moment later, the soldier cocked his rifle, and a few of the other men raised and cocked their weapons as well. The meaning of the government man's words became perfectly clear. Barry's body jolted with a shock of fear, but Jorge seemed just as shocked. "No!! No no no, es mi amigo! Es mi amigo!"
There was more angry shouting in Spanish between Jorge and the government man, followed by a stern reproach from Jorge to the soldiers. Then suddenly Barry's hand was grasped firmly. He jumped, but allowed Jorge to pull him to his feet. "Wha-"
"Lo siento, lo siento!! So sorry, Barry, este-" and there was a stream of insults at the unfortunate soldier. Jorge patted his arms firmly and apologized again. He looked at Pete, who was still on the ground. "Come, my friend, it's ok!" he said.
"C'mon, Pete," Barry said, his voice hoarse. He took his friend by the shoulder and helped him up. "Just..." Pete looked at him, and Barry narrowed his eyes slightly.
"I saved your life, Barry!" Ochoa said, his voice loud and boisterous. "You remember that, yeah?"
"Yeah." Barry grinned at the man, then looked at Pete again. He couldn't dare shake his head or make any sign. "You okay?" Pete nodded, but his face was ghostly pale. "Sit in the cockpit and wait for me, okay?"
His eyes widened. "In the cockpit?"
"Yeah. Have a drink. You need one after that shit."
Pete looked around at the armed men and nodded. "Whatever you say, boss."
"Okay. It's gonna be okay now."
Pete nodded again and turned away, stepping gingerly past the government man and away into the cockpit. Barry walked after Jorge, who was still talking excitedly. "Come, come! Pablo wants to see you!"
"Oh! Pablo's here?"
"Oh si si, he's paranoid. On edge! He thinks everybody's out to get him. C'mon!"
Jorge led him to a darkened warehouse entrance. Barry saw Pablo and greeted him warmly. He was about to reach for a handshake, but there was something different in Pablo's demeanor. He didn't even crack the barest smile - not even that little grin that Barry usually felt meant, "Oh here's our ridiculous little pet pilot, here to make me laugh again." He was completely serious, and Barry stood back, waiting. Obviously, Pablo's exiled status had changed him. He'd never been as bubbly as Jorge, but even that hint of friendliness - that little touch of humor - seemed to be completely gone.
He spoke to Barry, but Barry didn't understand the words. "Que?"
"Todo bien?" he said again. All good?
Barry felt that icy terror starting to grip him again. Christ, but he wanted to confess. He wasn't at all confident that any pictures would really be kept top secret. Even if the DEA wanted to keep them secret, there was a bigger plan in motion, and Barry had already seen he was just a tiny piece of it. A piece that the government didn't really mind tossing into prison if it suited them. But if he said no right here and now, he had no doubt he'd be shot instantly. "Si. Si," he said. "Estoy aqui. I'm here. And I brought your Harleys!"
There was a moment of tense silence that seemed to last for ages. Barry kept the mild smile on his face, but his heart pounded. Then Pablo smiled and Jorge began to laugh. The workers brought bikes in, and there was lots of laughing and garbled talk, while the three men greeted each other properly.
While the noise of the bikes rolling by was still loud in the dark hall warehouse, and after his friends had relaxed a little, Barry put a hand on Jorge's shoulder, and caught Pablo's eye - not really daring to touch the other man without a plain invitation. "Listen, um... can we talk somewhere? Puedo hablar, um... alone? Solo."
Pablo frowned immediately, and Barry's gut clenched, but he kept the smile on his face. "Porque?" Pablo asked. "Que es la problema?"
He took a step toward Barry, and Jorge put a hand on his shoulder. "No, no hay problemas, right Barry?"
Barry smiled. "Por favor, alone, yeah? Okay?" He looked at Jorge. "Can you help me, just-"
"Sure, sure, come on, let's talk." He spoke to Pablo in Spanish. Pablo blustered, but Jorge calmed him down, and the three men walked away, flanked by two armed men, and with three more walking ahead of them. They stepped into a conference room at one end of the warehouse and Jorge motioned for Barry to sit down at a long table. Jorge and Pablo sat across from him, and two guards positioned themselves behind them. Another positioned himself behind Barry, and Barry glanced nervously at the man's rifle, before turning back and smiling hesitantly at the two drug lords.
"What's wrong, my friend?" Jorge asked.
Barry clasped his hands in front of him and lowered his head for a moment. He took a deep breath and looked up into the two concerned faces. "I, uh... everything... everything is... not good." Pablo and Jorge both frowned. "Now... I'm... I'm sticking my neck way out here, telling you this, but..." His hands tightened to fists. The faces of his wife and his kids flashed through his mind - what would happen to them if this didn't work? What would happen if he backed out now, and pictures of these men, from this trip, got back to them? "Fuck!"
"You're making me a little nervous, Barry," Jorge said.
"There's cameras on that plane," he blurted out.
"What?" Jorge said, shocked.
"Cameras," he said, looking up again. "They want me to take pictures of you and your government friend."
"Que, que, como que dice?" Pablo asked worriedly. Jorge explained hastily, and Pablo shouted and sprang to his feet. He glared, red-faced, at Barry and let off a stream of words, only half of which Barry understood, and none of which sounded good. Suddenly, Pablo sprang for Barry and grabbed him by the collar, jerking him roughly to his feet. "I should kill you!" he shouted, in English.
"No, no Pablo, wait-"
"Mother FUCKER!" The guards were at attention now, and a couple of them pointed their guns at Barry. Pablo tossed him to the floor, and the guns got closer. "Mátalo!"
Barry's blood froze as every single gun trained on him and safeties clicked off. "Wait, wait, espera!" Barry cried, hands shaking. He looked to Jorge for help, but the other man looked uncertain. "I'm trying to help you, dammit, don't let him fucking kill me, Jorge! I didn't have to tell you the truth, I coulda took those fuckin' pictures and went straight home, now help me out!"
Jorge nodded, and reached for Pablo. The other man, still furious, waved his hand away. "Pablo, escuchame, escuchame, es la verdad." There were more words, including "tranquilo" and "confianza", which Barry had at some point learned meant "trust".
Finally, after what felt like a full lifetime, Pablo said a word that Barry couldn't hear over the sound of his own heart beating. There were more clicks from the guns, and Barry flinched, but there was no resultant gunfire. The guns withdrew, and Barry heaved a deep sigh of relief. "Jesus," he whispered.
He pushed himself up off the floor, and a second later, Jorge was by him, helping him back toward his chair. He gave an order to one of the guards, and Barry caught the word for "drink". He brushed Barry's shirt off, and Barry nodded. "Thank you." He clasped Jorge's hand and looked him in the eye. "Thank you."
"Si, si. That's what friends are for, right? Is that what the Americans say?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that's right," he said. He sat down again, and looked across at Pablo. The man seemed calmer, but still pretty pissed.
"What do you plan to do?" Jorge asked.
Barry took a breath. "Well, I haven't... really thought too far past right now. But I know if I go back with nothin', they're gonna throw me in prison for thirty years. I sure as hell don't want that, and that wouldn't look too good for you with your government man either."
"No, we can't waste this shipment," Jorge said. Pablo motioned for a translation, and Jorge obliged him.
Pablo launched into another angry stream of words, and Jorge had to calm him down again. "Now just... just hear me out for a minute," Barry said. A plan had started forming the moment he'd made the decision to confess, but it had been difficult to concentrate with guns trained on his face. "Look, now... if... if the interior minister out there hears about this, I'm a dead man. But him, you and Pablo gotta stay the hell away from that plane. We can load up, take these fuckin' pictures of your low-level guys and there's nothin' they can do. They can't arrest some regular guys like that, it wouldn't hurt you at all, so there's no point. Now, me 'n Pete take the powder, drop it like we planned, and I go back to them and tell 'em none of the big guys would come near the plane."
Jorge nodded. He translated the plan so far to Pablo, giving Barry a few moments to think. "What happens after?" Jorge asked. "We just leave you there, hope you don't get pressure to talk?"
Barry shook his head. "No, now ol' Ronnie's real set on this. Them boys're gonna have to send me out again, they won't have no choice. When I come back out..." Barry paused and pursed his lips nervously. He was about to tell two ruthless drug lords that he would no longer be useful to them. Lord help me.. "When I come back, I ain't gonna be able to go back in the air again." Jorge frowned and Barry held out a hand. "It won't work a second time, you know that. They'll throw me in prison if I come back with nothin' again. My wife and kids'll be on the streets, I..." He shook his head. "You gotta... find me another job, anything, I'll do whatever you need."
"We need a pilot, Barry," Jorge snapped.
"Que dice?" Pablo asked. Jorge explained, and Pablo seemed okay at first, then he frowned and shook his head, pounding the table again. There were heated words, and finally Jorge turned back to Barry.
"He wants to know why we shouldn't kill you now, if you will no longer be of any use to us?"
Barry sighed, anger starting to boil up in him, almost drowning out the fear. "Listen to me, Jorge. Pablo. I just saved your life. You know what'll happen if your face, or the government man's face gets into their hands? They'll have the United States Army down here! They'll use everything they've got to come down here and get you, and destroy everything you've built. And that's if you live long enough for them to do it! If that government man had seen his own face on the news? What do you think he woulda done to you? I saved your lives, and your family’s lives and your whole god damn organization!" he said, raising his voice, but trying to keep from outright shouting. "I... I fucking betrayed my president - same as betraying the country back home. I committed fucking treason telling you this shit, because I value our friendship more! Y'hear that, I risked my life to warn you, because we're friends! Amigos! We trust each other. Now, I think that kinda fuckin' loyalty is worth somethin', don't you?" He pointed at a space somewhere between the two men (closer to Jorge than Pablo). "You gotta help get me and my family outta this!"
Jorge sat back in his seat, a thoughtful look on his face. Finally, he turned to Pablo and beckoned. "Puedo hablar contigo?"
Pablo nodded, and the two men left the room, followed by their personal guards, but leaving Barry's guard still standing behind him. When they were gone, Barry let out a deep sigh and lowered his head to the table. How the fuck had things got so screwed up? Shit had really started to go down after the DEA got smart and got those tiny planes.
An image of a large golden cross flashed through his mind, and he sat up suddenly. His cross! Jorge's gift was still on that abandoned plane! Barry felt ridiculous. It was all superstition anyway. He didn't need a good luck charm for God to look out for him. But he couldn't help feeling like things had gone straight down the toilet fast after that. He looked behind him at the guard. The young man had a serious face, and watched Barry with suspicion.
Barry smiled. "Hola, amigo." He looked even more grim, if that was possible. "Pardon, tiene, um..." His hands moved as he searched for a word. "Cross." He drew one in the air, and mimicked pulling a chain over his neck. "No se la..."
"Un crucifijo?" the man asked, pulling out a brown beaded necklace with the cross on the end.
"Yes, si, si, puedo... borrow, um..." He beckoned, willing the soldier to understand him.
"Ohhh." The man looked down at his necklace for a moment. Then, somewhat reluctantly, he pulled it off his neck and offered it to Barry.
"Thank you, gracias. Muchas muchas gracias," he said, grasping the necklace. The man smiled at him, and Barry turned back and clutched the cross. He squeezed his eyes shut and said a quick prayer - more of a feeling of desperation than any words he could have remembered - then slipped the beaded chain over his head and tucked it under his shirt.
A long time later, Barry heard footsteps outside the door. He braced himself, pressing his hands against the edge of the table, ready to make a break for it if things didn't seem right. Jorge stepped in, a huge grin on his face. A good sign? Then Pablo walked in, followed by the tall government man. Barry jumped to his feet, but Jorge held out a hand. "Tranquilo, tranquilo, Barry! The senior, he loves the plane!"
The minister of the interior managed to look slightly less pissed than normal, and Barry wondered if this was really what "love" looked like on this guy's face. Pablo called out to someone outside the room, and a moment later, a young man came in carrying a tray with tumblers and a bottle of golden tequila.
In a few moments, four deep tumblers were poured out, and each man had one. "Salud!" Pablo said, smiling brightly. Barry smiled, trying to make it seem confident instead of confused and mildly terrified. They clinked glasses, and Barry took a huge swig with the others. There was a cheer, and then laughter (from Pablo and Jorge at least). They sat around the table, and Barry worked on his drink while the other men talked in Spanish.
When Barry was about done, Jorge waved at him, and he stood up. "Go ahead, Barry, you finish outside."
"Just go and..."
"Si, si, just like we talked about! Finish, we're going to stay in the air conditioning, eh?" They all laughed, and Barry laughed with them.
"Yes, sir," Barry said, with a good natured grin. "Adios."
"Adios, my friend, I'll call you when we're ready again."
Barry turned and looked at the guard behind him. He reached for the crucifix, but the man shook his head. "Para ti."
Barry made his way out of the office and with a wave to his friends, he shut the door and trotted back to the plane. The workers were already loading packs of powder into the now-emptied plane.
Pete peered around the door of the cockpit. "Yeah, boss?"
"It's, uh... It's a go."
"Yeah, um... they're... they're gonna let us handle this, and..." He looked around, and when one of the workers went back out of earshot, he said softly, "I'll explain later."
Pete frowned, but he came back out and manned the cameras while Barry helped load the goods. After a couple of hours of work, the while 1500 kilos, plus an extra 300 were loaded up. Barry left Pete in the cockpit again and went to say goodbye.
"Estas listo?" Jorge asked, when the guards called him out of the office.
"Si, all ready."
Vaughn, the government man, came out next. There was some fast discussion, and what looked like an attempt to interest him in the booze again, but the man insisted.
"He wants to see the product loaded."
"Sure! Yeah, come on, I'll show you." Pablo and Jorge looked uncertain, but Barry shook his head. "It's okay, the ramp is still open, it's no big deal." He tapped Jorge's arm and beckoned for them to follow.
When he got to the plane he called up to Pete. "Hey! They want a look at how we packed everything up here."
"You want me to come down?"
"Naw, why don't you get them preflight checks started."
Barry turned and smiled at the other men. "Come on up."
The government man inspected the cargo, and Jorge and Pablo made approving sounds and did a real fine job of NOT looking around for cameras and wires.
Finally, Vaughan was satisfied and they said their goodbyes. The moment the cargo bay door shut completely, Barry sagged against the bulkhead and heaved a sigh.
"You alright, boss?" Barry squeezed his eyes shut. "Barry?"
"Yeah. Yeah I'm alright." He walked quickly to the front of the plane and jumped into his seat. "C'mon. Let's get the fuck outta here."
They got through takeoff, and they got well out of sight of the landing strip, before Pete finally asked the question. "What the fuck happened?"
Barry sighed and pressed his hands to his eyes, trying to figure out what to say. "Fuck, man."
"They had you in there for ages! What's up, boss? Why didn't we get pictures of the guys?"
"Fucking Pablo, is..." Barry shook his head, trying to decide what to tell Pete, and how. "He's fucked in the head, man. He almost killed me! He guessed about the goddam camera."
"What?? Holy fuck!"
"Yeah." He shook his head. "He almost blew my fuckin' brains out, man. I... I had to confess. I told him it was true, there were cameras and we're supposed to take pictures of him and the government man."
"Shit!! How the fuck are you even alive? Holy shit!"
Barry shook his head. "Man, I don't fucking know. I made some fucking shit up, I just said what the fuck I had to say to save our asses. I told them to stay in the damn office and we'll just go back with the pictures we got."
"But fuck, Barry! I mean, I'm glad you did it, whatever it was. But what the fuck are you gonna tell the DEA when we come back with pictures of a bunch of peons?"
"Ain't got that far yet, Pete," Barry said, shaking his head. "I'll find some way to talk my sorry ass out of trouble. But... they're gonna have to send me back, and then..." He looked at his friend, holding his gaze for a moment before turning his eyes back to his controls. "Then I'm gonna give you some of them suitcases, and you gotta get out of here, Pete. You can't come back with me."
Pete was silent for a moment, then he blew out a heavy breath. "Jesus, Barry," he said quietly.
"Yeah. I ain't gonna be able to fly for 'em no more..."
"And you can't do what the DEA wants or they'll chop you up for sure." Barry shut his eyes for a second. "Jesus," Pete said again.
Barry shook himself. "I gotta think. I gotta figure somethin' out."
"I'll take over the bird." Barry nodded, and switched control to Pete. Pete squeezed his shoulder. "Look, boss. Don't count me out yet. If you figure you need my help, I'll do it. You just tell me what I gotta do."
Barry looked at the other man and nodded. "'Preciate that, man."
Barry shut his eyes, took a deep breath and tried to come up with a plan.