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©02 The Media Desk
It was two days later when I got another package from the courier. Ten one hundred dollar bills and a childish sticker with a smile that said 'Well Done!'. There was nothing else in the envelope.
I called the courier office to inquire where the packages came from, there was no return address or account number on any of the envelopes. The manager said it was part of a pre-arranged pickup from the central post office to their private mailboxes. Each one had a pre-paid coupon on it for delivery. Other than that, he had no answers.
After a week or so I began to think it was behind me. Some projects at work came up and consumed time, the memories faded. The adventures from this distance might have been a bad dream.
All that vanished one Monday morning when the courier arrived with another package.
The contents of this one were a little mysterious. A three by five card with a series of numbers printed on it. A single padlock key with no markings or ring. And another disc.
The disc was packed with information. A huge file had been zipped and crammed onto the disc, right up to its rated capacity. It took a long time by computer standards for the workstation to get the data ready for use. While it did, I looked at the card with the numbers. They did not appear to be something like phone numbers or a lock combination, but they did seem familiar. Finally, the computer beeped. Now, I might find out more.
The first message was simply a greeting from Bishop42. Then things got more interesting.
The numbers were explained. Airstrips in Mexico and further south. The key was to a padlock on a shed on a ranch in west Texas where I would find some things that might be of use. There were maps and directions to print out. But it was the rather lengthy text article with some photos that really caught my attention.
The problem this time was drug smugglers.
Which was the least of the problems.
The smugglers were bringing in a very rare and exotic designer drug that was too complicated and expensive to produce inside the country. However, in certain South American countries they could, and did, produce it with impunity and at relatively low cost. Then they brought it into the US in a new and deviously clever way, smuggling an inert variation of the drug in the bloodstream of conscripted innocent people. And this was where I came in.
I had a week to get ready for this one. I looked over maps and read everything I could about the area and what the file said was going on.
One evening in the game I got a page from Bishop42 to come into chat.
Bishop42: So you are ready to undertake your mission to that new sector?
theHunter: yeah, i did some long distance recon on the area
Bishop42: You may find aid with some of the allied forces in the region. It would be best if you brought back a colonist and some of the wares of the new planet.
I had to think about what that might mean and how to reply. I was as good at talking around a subject as anybody, and on line you had to because there was no way to be sure who might be listening. Suddenly a message appeared just before I reached for the keyboard to answer.
Bishop42: However you decide to proceed, I wish your endeavor well. Then he was gone and I was alone. With a lot to think about I went back into the game and cruised around chasing aliens and making the occasional trading run.
Friday, noon, I was on another airplane, this time heading toward Texas. My schedule after Lubbock looked like I would hit every three-horse town in the state. But, eventually, I would end up in a rental four-wheel drive going someplace called Presidio in the Big Bend area of Texas.
Once again, I really didn't have a plan. What these bad guys were doing was almost unbelievable. I intended on checking out the ranch, then going on into Mexico to see what the most northern of the indicated airstrips was about. Unless they were making a run then and there, it was likely all I'd find in the hills across the border around Manuel Benavides was a dirt strip and an outhouse.
My rental was the largest vehicle I have ever driven. The man in the ramshackle rental agency in Alpine had one of the best poker faces in the Lone Star State, but his eyes were smirking nonetheless. I got a slightly better map in town and laid in some supplies. Which included a fresh box of rounds for my .38. Something told me that the dot on the map in Mexico might be a little bare of the essentials.
It was pushing midnight when I rolled into the indicated farm. I felt very strange driving through the rusty pipe gate and up the dirt lane. I saw no lights, no house, not even a substantial barn. The place seemed to be deserted. My directions said the shed I was after was beyond the cattle gate I was bumping across. In a few minutes, I stopped outside what had to be the right building. It seemed to be at least a hundred years newer than anything else on the ranch. I was out of the truck and turning the key when I heard a voice behind me.
I dove behind the shed door and pointed dad's gun at the source of the voice.
"Don't shoot!" The voice said from behind my truck. "Are you Hunter?"
I felt a thrill up my back. I hoped I would finally get to meet Bishop42. "Yes."
"I'm Allied Forces." The voice answered. "Bishop42 said you'd be running late."
"Bishop42." I sighed and stepped from behind the door
"Isn't she a piece of work?"
"She? You've met her?" I asked barely able to make out his features in the reflection of the headlights. He seemed a little young for this outing.
"No. But I've always gotten the impression she was a woman from her conversation." Allied Forces said.
We continued talking about our strange mutual friend and other things as we looked through the contents of the shed. We both skirted anything to do with past adventures the whole time. Also, we did not exchange real names by some unwritten rule.
Later, I sacked out in the truck. It was going to be a short night. Allied Forces had a small tent pitched behind the trees nearby.
The morning rose quick and hot. I was stirred out of a sound sleep by Allied Forces' tapping on the window.
"Coffee?" He asked. I nodded without trying to speak through the scum on my teeth. He handed in a foam cup of seriously bitter liquid. I winced and braved a second sip.
Inside an envelope in the shed we found two IDs and some documents saying 'Joe Wise and Bud McCrone' had an antelope hunting date on a ranch I couldn't pronounce in a town I had never heard of across the border, and a big handful of Pesos. There was nothing else there. We packed almost everything in the shed in my truck and headed for Mexico.
"Well, we know how we'll get in, Joe." Allied Forces said counting Pesos.
"And I guess that raft has something to do with how we'll get out."
"So what's your plan in between?"
"Bishop42 said you were a top operator and I was here to help you. I figured you had some sort of a plan." He looked at me with a strange expression on his face.
I didn't want to give him the wrong impression. "I usually just take a look around and see what angle presents itself to complete the mission. Plans can get in the way as easy as not."
He nodded thoughtfully and handed me a stack of the money. "We got over fifty thousand of these each, how much is that in Dollars?"
I shrugged, "Let's hope it's enough. Bud." We were at the border.
Getting out of the US was harder than getting into Mexico. Finally the guards wished us good luck on our hunt and let us go.
The airstrip was far off anything like a beaten track. But the two-rut road up off what passed for the main road seemed to be used fairly often. In fact, once we were a quarter of a mile away from the road it became nearly passable. I was relieved we were not stirring up a lot of dust on the rocky trail.
Finally, we got close enough to the airstrip we could hoof it the rest of the way. I drove up into a dry wash and hid the truck in and under what used to be brush.
We went back and covered our tracks with more brush and rubble. One of the advantages of the lousy road was that you really couldn't tell we had been through there.
We got our gear out of the truck. Allied Forces had a powerful rifle with one of the largest scopes I had ever seen. He loaded three clips for it. In a black case in the shed I had found a beautiful revolver with a small scope, chambered for the awesome .454 round. I had never fired anything so huge in my life, but the muzzle ports gave me some confidence that if it came to it, it wouldn't break my wrist. I checked dad's gun and stuck it in my belt holster, then I loaded the new weapon and dry sighted on a rock. It tucked neatly into the side pocket of the field pack I had picked up in Texas.
"Are we going to need all this hardware?" Allied Forces asked me.
"I hope not." I looped a huge pair of binoculars around my neck.
The rest of the stuff we left in the truck and walked around the hill to come at the strip from the north.
From a ridge just across a small valley, we could see signs of life around the strip.
A small camp was set up, with two or three guys milling around. I didn't see any cars or trucks anywhere.
"Well?" Allied forces asked me peering through his scope at the camp.
"I want a closer look. Cover me from over there." I said pointing to a clump of ragged bushes.
The next two hours were the most intense of my life. I still don't know exactly everything that happened before we got away from the strip.
Somehow though, the guys in the camp found out I was snooping around one of the low buildings dug into the side of the hill and a short but violent firefight erupted.
Allied Forces was as good as his name with the rifle, while dad's old .38 gave an excellent account of itself. I felt no remorse as the man dropped with my second shot in his chest as he was trying to bring his own gun to bear on me. In a few minutes, we had concealed the bodies and made the camp look lived in while we discussed what was next.
As we were still talking about it, a plane circled once. Allied Forces, in one of the men's ugly old sombreros, waved at the plane. It landed in another few minutes.
"These people are liable to be upset with us for our handiwork." I said.
"Not a problem." He said and slipped out the back of the low building. I stayed in the shade of the doorway and tried not to look at the plane. Dad's gun in my hand, the massive backup pistol stuffed inside my belt.
The pilot got out of the plane and opened the side door. Several people got out, obviously dazed and sluggish. Another man got out of the plane and started shouting in Spanish. They were both armed but their weapons were at ease. I hesitated only a minute.
I drew a careful bead on the pilot. "Take the guy in the blue shirt." I said a little loudly.
In seconds they were both sprawled on the ground.
I ran out toward the plane. The people were evidently convinced they were dying as well. Allied Forces was speaking in broken Spanish to them. Then there was more shouting. A severely beaten up truck of an unknown species bounced across the strip and two more guys got out firing almost at random with a pistol and some sort of rifle.
I drew the .454 and aimed in the general direction of the closest guy, trying to get a sight picture in the scope. Two massive explosions shook my arm for hours afterwards. When I went to pull the trigger the third time, I had a brief glimpse of the man's head in the eyepiece. His head exploded with the last round. Allied Forces had emptied his clip into the other man.
We caught our breath for a second and looked through the plane. Inside we found some medical equipment for dealing with blood, boxes of money, documents in Spanish and English. The people from the plane seemed to realize we were good guys.
"Now what?" We asked each other.
A girl that looked to be about fifteen spoke English. "We must have a doctor. Or what they put in us will kill us." She said carefully.
"We'll get you to a doctor." I said.
"Where?" The girl asked.
"Texas." Allied Forces grinned.
We took them down the hill and out. Allied Forces drove the old truck, I followed in the four wheel drive. We left the strip as it was. Several dead guys and all the signs of this last trip being interrupted by the authorities. The only other thing I did was to put several rounds from the .454 into the engine of the airplane.
Close to the border, we gave the people most of the Pesos and the evidence. We told the girl to follow us across the bridge, then they were to pass us and go first to the American side. They seemed to understand. She got in and drove the old truck like an old hand.
The Mexican guards didn't even have us slow down. We pulled over on the bridge like we were taking pictures. The old truck rumbled by. When they got to the US Customs gate all hell broke loose. A bullhorn ordered us to proceed to the American side immediately.
We weren't in trouble, but they were closing this crossing for the time being.
"No, we didn't even see anything worth taking. Spent the day target shooting." I told the officer.
They waved us through after just a routine check over.
With the hair standing up on the back of my neck I drove back to the ranch and unpacked. I kept the big revolver. I shook hands with Allied Forces and left. But I felt like I was being watched all the way back to the airport, then home.
Two days later I got another package. $5,000 cash, a 'GREAT JOB' sticker and the paperwork to the .454.
Allied Forces' words came back to me, "I guess you really are theHunter."
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