Issue 41 Exigent Circumstances 2: The Drop Tom Marshall Join the Conversation This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 41 A RECOIL Short Story “The plan is sh*t, Joe. Plain and simple.” Mason clamped his cigar between his teeth and flipped through the pages and print photos laid out on the table between them. Joe Yates leaned forward in his chair, his own cigar perched between two fingers. “The fewer boots on the ground, the quieter we can keep this.” Mason rubbed his temples with his hands. Joe leaned forward in his chair and tapped one of the imagery photos on the table. “I’m a lot of things, Mason. But I’m not wrong.” Joe Yates was a lot of things. A veteran of Army Special Forces. Mason Becker’s personal mentor from the time Mason left the military for bigger paychecks and lower grooming standards at Hampton-Crane International Services. The Senior Vice President of Hampton-Crane’s Operational Contingency Program. Innocuously named, OCP was a small, closeted division of the company that handled clandestine jobs like counterintelligence, hostage rescue and extraordinary rendition. “Who’s going with me?” “Kennett.” “I thought Casey was on another job.” “He’s fresh off a Syria rotation, and he’s hell behind a long-gun.” “No argument there.” Joe continued: “I can put a UAV on station.” “Armed?” “On a U.S. border? Get real, Mason.” “What about a QRF?” “Ops Control will have a direct line to CBP.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.” Mason took another puff. Joe nodded. End of discussion. “Open the box,” Joe said. He used one foot to nudge the rifle case on the ground. Mason took a knee, popped the latches, and eased the lid open. With a low whistle, he picked the rifle up and began a cursory inspection. Joe explained: “The company is thinking of moving toward a standard-issue Contractor Service Rifle. This is the final prototype. Rosco Recce barrel, Geissele trigger, variable optic. It’ll take you from CQB to 500 meters, sub-MOA and suppressor ready right out of the case.” “It’s good kit, but the job is still a goat rope.” “Better pack your lasso then.” Seventy-two hours later, Mason Becker and Casey Kennett were lying in wait. After humping south across the border under cover of darkness, the pair made it to their designated rendezvous and set up a hasty overwatch position nearly six hours ahead of schedule. They were the last step of a contentious negotiation process for the return of a Hampton-Crane intelligence officer kidnapped by a small, regional cartel. Jen Weeks had been working in northern Mexico on a contract, providing intelligence support to the American counter-narcotics mission. Cartel leadership had finally agreed to drop their hostage at an abandoned warehouse on the border, where they would pick up payment in cash. Casey had stashed the money in a corner of the warehouse before they set their firing position. It was closer to the warehouse than they initially wanted. But it was a calculated risk between being far enough for proper stand-off, and close enough to reach Jen quickly. Scratching his cheek on the stock of his long-gun, Casey muttered: “If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been here.” “Is that all they’re paying you?” Mason asked with a smirk. Mason Becker and Casey Kennett had crisscrossed each other’s paths repeatedly throughout the Global War on Terror. First in Iraq. Young grunts too smart and too bored, they’d been plucked from their Reconnaissance Platoons to support some numbered Task Force running out of Abu Ghraib — before it got famous. Then Afghanistan, with no bearded cool guys to keep them entertained. Just eternal days laying in hides with binos, surrounded by hundreds of flint-eyed Taliban eking out survival in the caves and dirt hovels of eastern Kunar province. After the Army, both had bounced awkwardly around civilian life before going back overseas courtesy of Hampton-Crane Services. Equal parts Silicon Valley progressive and Wall Street ruthless, with heavy dashes of red meat and high explosive, Hampton-Crane represented the cutting edge of corporatized warfare. They heard the approach long before they saw it — the whining engine and crunch of rubber on gravel. Two vehicles, tinted windows and no license plates. The rear vehicle opened doors first — two men in street clothes, their heads and eyes in rapid motion. After a quick check of their perimeter, one man dug the duffel bag of cash out from under some debris and tossed it into the back of the truck while his partner slapped the trunk of their lead vehicle. The hatch popped open, and they hauled Jen out of the back. She was dirty and shaky on her feet — to be expected — but otherwise in good shape on first glance. Her hands were bound in front of her with duct tape, but her feet were free. One gunman took her by the arm and started walking her away from the vehicle. It was almost over when she attacked. Mason couldn’t see what she was holding, but whatever it was got jammed hard into the bad guy’s neck. She was at full sprint into the desert when he hit the ground. Casey, having already decided his target order, fired a single round through the driver’s window of the lead vehicle, killing the seated driver instantly. The man who’d been shivved was struggling to get to his feet. Casey sent another round from the 7.62mm, and he stopped struggling. Mason shifted his cross hairs to the third man, who was closing quickly on Jen. Mason fired twice, but had miscalculated the lead and both rounds went wide. Before Casey could line up on him, Mason was up and running. Casey followed suit, and the two took off. The gunman, desperate to save the deal before going back to the cartel empty-handed, was struggling to keep up. Casey stopped and raised his rifle for a snap-shot, but Jen slipped and hit the dirt — allowing the gunman to get too close for comfort. He was on top of Jen when she kicked his foot out, and the gunman went down on top of her. They rolled back and forth in the dirt as Casey and Mason closed in. Casey dropped to the prone, eye behind the scope before his elbows hit dirt. Mason angled wide around the tumbling pair, boxing them in and giving Casey a clean line of fire. The gunman got control and hauled the woman to her feet with one hand, drawing a pistol with the other. Mason skidded to a stop in front of them. Mason and the gunman were paces apart, both at a tense low ready. “If she dies, what happens to you?” Mason asked. “I’m dead either way, right?” he replied. “Then let her go and die quietly.” Before the gunman could say anything else, Jen elbowed her captor in the stomach and threw herself on the ground. He staggered back in shock, and Mason opened fire. Mason’s carbine still had brass in the air when the gunman dropped like a marionette with the strings cut. Mason took a quick check of his surroundings, before approaching to help Jen to her feet. “You good?” he asked her. She gave a quick nod. “I think so. You look like one of ours,” she said. “Mason Becker. I’m with OCP.” She smirked. “One of Joe’s boys.” “Yes ma’am.” “What took you so long?” Mason smiled and shook his head. 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