Breakfield & Burkey
Born in the late 1970s, piloting a plane was all I ever wanted. I attended my last year of preparatoria outside of Mexico City. In exchange for part-time work I received flying lessons. As a licensed pilot, I worked for a small shipping company doing short cargo flights. Earning a position with Mexicana Airlines was my goal. Without significant connections, becoming a commercial pilot could take a long time. It might take more patience than I had.
My older brother, Carlos, completed his education, and then joined the army. Carlos wanted to lead men to victory while he trained as an expert in communications. He would still be there, but his temper ended up shortening his military career. We were our only family, except for an uncle who would always be the consummate black sheep. We had a solid trust in each other but the uncle not so much.
During one monthly dinner, Carlos suggested we work together, as long as I would pilot the plane. Not commercial flying but paying work he’d pointed out. I was in! Our maiden flight to El Salvador was uneventful. The landing was flawless even with the light distortion from the heatwaves on the runway. An uneasiness prickled at the back of my neck while I taxied toward the Quonset hut at the edge of the runway. As I deboarded the plane, the glint of the sun off the barrels of the soldiers’ AK-47s captured my attention. That anxiousness accelerated into a formidable pucker factor inside my abdominal area.
I shot a concerned look at Carlos. He focused on the ragtag group of armed men, then whispered, “Let me do the talking, bro. Keep a wary eye. We have a deal. Still, that doesn’t mean they’ll keep it.”
I muttered, “I guess now is one hell of time to question running guns to these insurgents. Glad you recommended I strap on a pistole and look tough.”
Our weapons at ready, we proceeded side by side toward the five-armed, uniformed men. We halted a few meters from them. The lead man, who only had a side arm, asked, “You! Carlos and Juan?”
Carlos, maintaining his stony expression, watched them for several minutes. Carlos urged, “Have your men sling their guns. We brought your army’s purchased weapons in good faith. Still, your greeting seems hostile! Do we have a problem?”
I was inching my hand towards my 9mm side arm, when the lead man barked, “Sling ‘em, soldiers.”
Grinning with confidence, the bearded man with a hat in the back moved forward and stuck out a palm-up hand. “Same old Carlos! Adversarial, confident, and a man to count on. Thanks for bringing the needed arms. Any trouble securing them?”
Maintaining his business-like persona, Carlos stated, “No, Rafael. The arms were right where you indicated. The Mexican army hadn’t considered anyone breaching their not-so-secure perimeter.”
Rafael grinned. “Mind me asking, where’d you get the C-130? I once rode in one. I liked it. You made an impressive landing on this short makeshift runway.”
Pleased at the compliment of my expertise, I replied, “I do try to land to avoid needing firetrucks. The extra landing finesse was because of the explosives and ammunition on board. Almost no one wants to attend a poor landing, only to have their eyebrows blown off.”
Carlos smirked and added, “As for the C-130 Hercules…let’s say someone owed me a favor.”
Rafael hollered, “Get the trucks, gentlemen. Carlos and Juan transferred these weapons from Mexican sources, who may not be far behind. Let’s load up and…”
Carlos interjected, “Before we move anything, I need to see our contracted price. I won’t permit you to unload anything until we’re paid.”
Rafael and Carlos stared at one another like granite statues. Rafael’s four armed men looked confused and growing agitated.
Rafael blinked first. “I don’t have it. But I have to have those weapons to continue the fight here in El Salvador. I wasn’t sure you could deliver them. I figured if you made it, then we could use them to collect your fees with a few bank withdrawals.”
“And if I refuse? Rafael, I can sell this cargo for some great coin in Nicaragua.”
Rafael shifted. “I can’t help but notice you’re outnumbered. And these men don’t count the ones at the tree line who have you scoped.”
Carlos extracted a small electronic device from his pocket. It was pulsing alternating green and red lights. “Rafael, I thought you might pull something stupid.
“Juan and I wired the cargo hold to blow up with all your weapons and the plane if I don’t disarm it in…” Carlos checked his watch. “8 minutes.
“Now, to prove a point, I’m gonna shoot you with my Colt 45 before anyone can kill me. Juan will pick off your guys here. Then no one will know how to save the cargo before it creates a sizeable hole in your makeshift runway. Now, what’s it gonna be?”
Rafael clucked his tongue, paling in the afternoon sun. “I don’t know why the Mexican army shoved you out, but, damn, they made a big mistake. And your brother should be a commercial pilot as smooth as he flies.
“Go disarm the plane. I’ll bring your money.”
“Carlos,” I reminded, “We don’t have much time left! Let me pull the detonators while Mister Rafael gets our funds.”
Carlos and I were not ones to back down from trouble. We’d fought in the streets before trying the straight and narrow. One never forgets how to survive.
Rafael flinched. “I don’t have that much money, but I do have a heavy load of cocaine that will exceed the price. It’s 40 kilos all bagged and ready for brokering. I’d planned to trade for the needed weapons but go ahead take it all. Sell it yourselves, make the profit. Plus, you’ve got a plane now.”
Carlos assessed Rafael. “Juan, go pull the detonators. Stay there and wait for my signal. Do like we discussed, if you don’t like what you see.”
I seethed as I threatened, “I’ll kill them all if anything happens to you, bro. There won’t be anything left after I open up with that Gatling gun.”
Studying his watch, Carlos grinned as Rafael scrambled to recover the narcotics for the trade. I ran as fast as possible, to reach and disarm the detonators in time.
By radio, I conveyed, “Carlos, we’re good! I’m standing by. Everything is ready to load.”
From my vantage point, I saw Rafael return in an open Humvee followed by a couple of large trucks. I was too far away to hear them, but I saw him reveal his undercovers cargo to Carlos. Carlos got into the vehicle that lumbered toward the C-130. I moved the two-wheeler to the edge and lowered the ramp.
Carlos insisted, “We load first and arm these bricks like we did the weapons, then you can load up the trucks. If you have a thought about screwing us, you can count on losing more than your eyebrows!”
I moved the 40 kilos into position close to the cockpit wall, past the weapons, while Carlos guarded. I notified Carlos on the two-way radio we were good, and he allowed Rafael to proceed.
The team of eager revolutionaries swarmed the cargo hold. In minutes they loaded the weapons into the waiting trucks.
Rafael turned and asked, “Where’s the Gatling gun? I want that too!”
After a quick glance toward Carlos, I responded, “It’s a drop-down wing mount unit. Without the right tools to remove it, we would risk damaging the structural integrity of the wing. It stays. That’s final!”
Defeated, Rafael motioned for the transport to move out as the cargo bay door rose to its locked position. We looked at each other and grinned. Nothing better than a brother.
Carlos admitted, “Quick thinking, you saying we had a Gatling gun to soften up the area. Even a nicer touch claiming it was wing mounted. You know he’ll kick himself when he figures out, we were lying about where a gun like that gets mounted.”
I chuckled a little bit. “Me? What about the clear pager gag gift you held up to Rafael, claiming it was the detonator for the charges? Har! Har!”
“Let’s get wheels up and out of here before he changes his mind.”
Checking the restraints on the packages, Carlos looked at me like he ate a rotten jalapeno pepper. “Let’s see if Uncle Jesus can help us broker this cache to get our money. Didn’t I tell you this would be easy?”
I sighed. “Yes, bro. A walk in the park. You always say, make the most of the opportunities you’re presented. As long as I’m the pilot, I’m in.”
“And, I got your back! Let’s go flyboy.”
Writers’ workshop and writing group