This was not a neighborhood of Colorado Springs that I would ordinarily have been comfortable walking through, alone, at night. Even strapped—there was no way any of us were going anywhere unarmed anymore, especially not after the attempts on our families recently—there was a significant threat to worry about, and that had nothing to do with our target.
After all, there had been an armed robbery right on the street only a few blocks away, only a few nights before.
It wasn’t so much that any operator who worked for Pallas Group Solutions had much to worry about from an armed robber—not that any such criminal encounter couldn’t go horribly wrong in seconds—but that it was probably going to result in that operator having to break off, reducing the number of guns we had on target.
If it didn’t canc the mission altogether.
I turned a corner and scanned the street ahead of me. On the surface, it looked like an ordinary residential street. There was nothing visible to point out the gang presence there. Even most of the yards were reasonably well kept up, though there were still a couple with more than one vehicle pulled up on the grass. Or rocks, in one case.
The target house was about two blocks down, though I couldn’t see it past the trees on the street. I shoved my hands deeper into my pockets—coincidentally keeping my cover shirt down over the holster, trauma kit, and multiple magazines on my belt as the evening breeze picked up—and kept walking, doing my best to look like just some Joe Schmoe out for a walk.
Half a dozen young men were gathered around a pair of cars in a driveway on the other side of the street, drinking and probably partaking in a few other substances. They were watching me keenly, while I hunched my shoulders a little and ignored them, at least by all appearances, watching them back through my peripheral vision.
It’s amazing, sometimes, just how much you can see when you let your eyes unfocus a little and let your peripherals open up.
One of them got off the tailgate of the pickup, setting his beer down, as I walked by, his eyes locked on me. I could feel his gaze more than I could see it, but I was already keyed up and ready to fight as it was. It probably took more effort to keep myself from turning and staring him down than it did to maintain my unhurried, unconcerned pace.
I heard one of them say something in Spanish, the tone mocking and challenging at the same time. I ignored it, prompting an equally mocking laugh, and what was unmistakably some version of, yeah, keep walking, punk.
Just so long as they settle for mockery and don’t actually try to come pick a fight. Because then I’m going to have to kill at least one of them, and my part in the night’s mission is over.
Just keep thinking about the mission.
I’d been on both sides of the gun against people like that for months, now. Gangsters, human traffickers, drug runners. Try as I might to keep my moral and emotional equilibrium, the hatred could only build, the more I saw of the heinous shit these people did.
Ducking beneath the overhanging limbs of a sycamore that grew over the sidewalk, I passed into the shadows. A slight tilt of my head to glance over my shoulder, and I saw that the kids on the truck and the car weren’t following. Raucous laughter echoed down the street.
Good. Laugh it up, fuckers. You might be singing a different tune tomorrow.
I neared the curve just ahead, walking casually toward the intersection with a walkway coming from the public park off to the north. Two more shadowy figures were walking down that cement path, spaced far enough apart to appear not to be associated with each other, though I recognized Jake and Brian by build and stride.
Slowing as I got closer, I looked toward the target house, now less than a hundred yards away. The sidewalk in front was still empty and still, and the lights were off, except for the single porch light. It looked entirely inoffensive, and any of the neighbors might have dismissed the place as belonging to a recluse. There was rarely any traffic in or out during daylight hours.
We knew better.
Jake and Brian slowed as they got closer to where I was now loitering in the shadows next to the nearest house’s plank privacy fence. There were hardly any streetlights in this neighborhood, which was playing to our advantage that night.
“Any movement?” Brian wasn’t whispering, but he wasn’t yelling, either. Which was a bit of a switch for “Scrappy.” He was good at his job, but he tended to be a little headstrong, to put it mildly.
“Nothing yet.” I didn’t want to draw attention by hitting my watch’s light, but I was pretty sure we were a few minutes early.
We’d debated just how to approach this. Colorado Springs was a lot more dangerous than the last time I’d been there, as the crime rate just kept going up, which actually provided us with some cover for action. When you’re waging a shadow war against people who used criminals and illegals as proxies, high-crime areas make for good camouflage. Your operations can just sort of disappear into the noise.
On the other hand, it can restrict some of your options. We’d considered doing the SWAT gambit, like we had in Georgia a while back. Roll up in a black up-armor, hit the house hard and fast, wearing no badges or identifiers but otherwise dressed and geared up just like the local cops. We wouldn’t technically be impersonating officers, but we’d be close enough for any bystanders to figure that was what we were.
However, the more we’d looked this neighborhood over, once we’d identified our targets, the more likely it seemed that anything resembling cops would trigger an all-out exodus, and the people we were after would be in the wind by the time we got to the house.
So, we were going to have to be a little more subtle, move a little more slowly.
I did have a radio on my belt as well as my pistol, magazines, and other useful kit. In the operating environment we’d worked in with PGS for months, phones were often the best form of comms, but on a live hit, with multiple elements of ones and twos closing in on the target on foot, there was nothing like a good, old fashioned radio. “This is Backwoods. In position with Scrappy and Chihuahua.”
There were dudes I would rather work with, but this entire night’s op was going to be pretty damned fluid.
“This is Kermit. At the back fence with Ziggy and Scooby.”
“This is Bone. Had to divert. Still a few blocks out.” That could be a problem. We didn’t want to make this hit without a certain critical mass. If Rob got held up too long, we might have to go without him.
It was late in the evening, and normal people should be heading for bed soon, but this entire op was hinging on people who weren’t normal.
And I didn’t mean us.
“This is Rip.” Ken had become my partner since Drew’s death in Mexico. His laid-back drawl was as even and unconcerned as any of us were trying to be that night. “I’m in position. Got eyes on Leprechaun and Hybrid. Waiting for the go.”
“Solid copy on all.” KG was our team leader, or coordinator, or manager, or something. Roles in PGS tended to be a little bit vague, defined by who had the information and the commander’s intent from Goblin first. For the A team, that was KG. So, he was team leader. “Still on follow. Our boy stopped for a snack, so he’s a little behind.”
KG was following Thomas Li, who was, at least on paper, an upstanding employee of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association of the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Thanks to intel we’d extracted from a rather reluctant PLA operative named Yan, we knew what he really was.
Not that the CSSA wasn’t already an organ of Chinese Communist political warfare, but Li was into something else. Which we intended to shut down that night.
I let out a faint sigh, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. Nothing ever goes according to plan on these things. Unfortunately, the longer we loitered, the more likely we were going to attract attention before things went loud.
Not that I was too worried about the Colorado Springs PD. They were overloaded, and this neighborhood was pretty damned low on their priority list as it was. Which was part of the whole reason we were there that night.
No, I was worried about the likes of that bunch I’d passed a few minutes before. When the law retreats, other forces fill the vacuum.
It wasn’t lost on me that such a thought applied to what we were doing.
Headlights appeared on the street, their glow preceding them as the car came around the bend in the road, washing across the houses and the slightly barren, threadbare lawns. I couldn’t be sure that it was our target, but I still eased back deeper into the shadows beneath the tree branches growing over the top of the fence behind me, Jake and Brian doing the same.
Sure enough, though, the car pulled up in front of the house we’d identified a few days before. It was Li.
The lights went out, then the dome light came on briefly. Even at that distance, in the dim yellow glow of the overhead lamp, I could make out Li’s features, as he got out, slammed the door, and headed up toward the house.
We let him get inside, staying in place, watching and listening. There was still the possibility that the Chinese illegals that Li was coordinating with had lookouts elsewhere in the neighborhood. The triads had a history of working with other gangs, at least in the US, and these bastards had already gotten into the country across the southern border, working with the cartels and an American human trafficking network to do it. I scanned the street, seeing only porch lights and dimly lit windows, mostly with the blinds drawn.
Nobody wanted to be too exposed to the street here.
“Go, go, go.” KG kept the command low and even, probably because there was nothing to be gained by yelling before a shot had been fired, and he didn’t want to attract attention.
Brian, Jake, and I were already moving, though we still maintained our façade of being strangers out for a casual evening stroll. That alone might have been somewhat suspicious around here, but so far, we hadn’t triggered any alerts.
I met Ken, Patrick, and Custus coming in, with KG not far behind them. I might have heard a faint rattle as Clint, Tom, and Phil went over the fence and into the back yard to cut off any squirters trying to escape.
The easiest entry was going to be the front door, which was why we didn’t want to use it. The attached garage was going to be a better approach, since they were probably going to be watching the front. So, while Ken, Patrick, and Custus moved to the corner, hopefully out of view of the front windows and the door, the rest of us—KG circled around on the other side of the street to join us—moved on the garage.
Brian had drawn the short straw. It was possible that we might have managed to clone a garage door opener, if we’d been able to identify the right vehicle and been right there when it opened the door. That was dicey, though, and we simply hadn’t managed to pull that off. Fortunately, there were simpler, lower-tech ways.
Brian had a length of coat hanger wire stuck in his belt, and as we surreptitiously drew our pistols and stayed as far into the shadows as we could get, he bent it, thrust it up through the slight gap between the top of the door and the doorframe. He fished around for a moment, then pulled.
I heard the snap as he caught the door release, freeing the armature from its rail. He let go and grabbed the bottom edge of the door, heaving it up overhead as Jake, KG, and I ducked underneath, leading with our Glocks, searching the corners of the garage as we straightened up and started to move toward the door leading into the house, muzzles tracking toward it while we moved.