(c) Barry Bridges
My Dearest Liz:
Happy Thanksgiving from Camp Gargoyle (don’t ask – I’ll explain later).
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and being stuck here makes me miss you and the girls more than I could’ve thought possible. Give Emily and Erin a big kiss from Daddy. Tell them we’ll all be back together in Killeen as soon as Daddy and his friends take care of this business on the border. Tell them Daddy is helping keep our country safe from bad people. But please don’t tell them what I’m about to tell you, which is that bad people aren’t the half of it.
It’s been only a couple of weeks since our new president sent us down here after Borbon’s assassination and the collapse of the Parliament, but I’ve learned a lot in that short time. It started out just like the training exercises back at Hood. Then on the third day, we got called in for air support after two platoons cornered a group of Zetas at a private airfield west of Nuevo Laredo. Los Zetas is the nickname for the former soldiers who joined the cartels, the closest thing the drug lords have to professionals. The closest thing we had to a real enemy, at least back then.
As soon as we spotted one of the Zetas on the roof of the outbuilding unpacking an RPG, it got very real very fast. Between my bird and the other three Apaches, we must’ve put thirty thousand rounds into that shed. The commander on the ground, some hotshot major from Fort Benning, radioed for us to cease-fire and his men started moving in slowly. He said they were going to search the bodies for intel – like we’re up against an actual army instead of well-armed street thugs.
As we were getting back into formation over the airfield, the gunner in one of the other Apaches started hooting and babbling. I saw the same thing he was seeing, but couldn’t manage to make a sound.
One of the Zetas had bolted from the back of the outbuilding dragging a shot-up leg behind him. He was a hundred yards from the treeline when the first one sprang from behind a clump of bushes and hit him high in the chest. Two more appeared and launched themselves at him, one going after the injured leg. He tried clubbing at them with his rifle, but at such close quarters it was useless.
Before long, the Zeta fell to the ground and disappeared under a swarm of gray hides, gray pelts, I’m not sure what to call them. The smell of the blood must have carried to the woods, because pretty soon they were pouring out of the trees. The sounds of the screams carried, too. As the ground units circled with their M-16s raised, I found my voice and radioed the major.
I can’t accurately describe what happened over the next few minutes. I can tell you there was more shooting, more screaming and more blood. When the survivors on the ground ran out of ammo and started hauling ass for their Bradleys, it was our turn again. That little two-acre clearing had turned into a slaughterhouse. All that was left, all we could do, was set everything still alive on fire.
Back at camp, everybody got debriefed by another guy from Benning. He had a colonel’s insignia, but no nametag. I was the last one into the tent, it was late and I was tired and wrung out. So was he, judging by his eyes and the bottle on the desk with about three drops left in it.
Halfway through my report, something made him drop the pretense. He smoothed back his widow’s peak and cut me off in mid-sentence. “I may not be military, but I’m looking at worse than a court-martial. To hell with it anyway.”
Here’s the outline of what he told me, even the parts I still can’t quite believe.
It began in Colombia with the herbicides that the government used to destroy the coca fields. The poison they sprayed worked too well. It also destroyed a very specific natural habitat. That triggered some kind of evolution jump-start, and the wave started moving north through populated areas. They stopped hunting exclusively at night. They stopped limiting themselves to pets and livestock.
By now you’ve probably figured out why the term “cartel machete squad” has been all over the news the past couple of years. The drug operation made for an easy villain and an even easier cover story. The mystery colonel said the world would believe that people were massacring each other for money and power sooner than they’d believe in what he called, “mass cross-species predation.”
But the wave kept moving north until it got uncomfortably close to our backyard. That’s how Borbon really bought it. Not gunned down at his vacation villa, but torn to shreds at his vacation villa, along with his wife and children. By then, though, everybody was too invested in the cartel story to turn back. And by everybody, I mean politicians, diplomats, government scientists and the companies that make attack helicopters like mine.
The exit strategy, if you can call it that, involves us holding them off down here until the Corps of Engineers seals off the border. As in sealed off permanently, with 20-foot concrete walls and gun towers covering every square inch from Arizona to Texas. It’ll be called the next step in the War on Drugs and, of course, immigration reform.
Naturally, everybody’s been ordered to sign confidentiality statements. The CO’s call them “Leavenworth contracts” to drive the point home. But my friend, “the colonel,” hooked me up with some encryption software that will get this e-mail past the censors. He says people need to know. He says he chose me because the main character in his favorite book was also named Holden, whatever that means. I think that if he wasn’t crazy when this started, then coming down here finished the job.
In the meantime, the missions continue. If we run into any more Zetas, it won’t matter that we now know they’re really running for their lives. The civilians are safe as long as they don’t venture too close to the containment zone. Safe from us, at least.
At the end of the day, I’ll return here to Camp Gargoyle. That’s the nickname some of the guys have started using, in honor of our actual targets. But there’s a radar officer named Ramirez who calls it Camp Goat Sucker. Google the Spanish translation and you’ll understand.
As for the information in this message, do what you want with it. I’ll love you anyway. Right now I’m very tired and very eager to get back home. The major from the airfield run says the surviving members of his unit are cooking up a special Thanksgiving feast.
With all my love,
Timothy R. Holden, 1st Lt.
A Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment