Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 2

El Paso, Texas

The black SUV kicked up dust as it slid to a stop next to the squat, stone and concrete building with a sign reading U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement. Taylor and Whitaker slid out of the vehicle almost simultaneously and were met by a small delegation of men coming out of the building. Except for two in the brown jackets and lighter brown pants of the Border Patrol, the rest were all dressed straight out of the federal agent handbook in suits and ties.

“You Taylor?” one of the Border Patrol guys asked, holding his hand above his eyes to block out the sun, which was on its way to setting, but still as bright and hot as could be.


“Good. I’m Captain Sullivan. These are agents Chavez, Rodriguez, and Reynolds. They called us from the airport and said you were coming, but I thought you’d be here sooner.”

“This place was hard to find,” Whitaker said. “It doesn’t show up on our GPS.”

“It wouldn’t. The road up here is private and unnamed for a reason. They shoved us out here so we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way and to try to keep us off the media’s radar.”

“I was wondering about that,” Whitaker said. “We’d heard there was a big media presence around the bombing.”

“There is, but they’re almost all either down by the bridge or camped out by headquarters. It’s why we didn’t want you guys to go directly to the site.”

“The sooner we can get all these preliminaries out of the way and get out to see the site in person, the better,” Taylor said. “Sitting around a conference table isn’t going to solve anything.”

“You always were impatient,” a voice from the back of the small group said.

A guy a little shorter than Taylor, with thick black stubble and about the same build, pushed his way through the suits to stand in front of Taylor and Whitaker. He was dressed in dusty blue jeans and a leather jacket, despite the temperature.

“How the hell are ya?” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Matthews?” Taylor said, shaking the offered hand almost subconsciously as he stared open-mouthed at the man. “What are you doing here? The last I heard you were still deployed?”

“Got out last year. They’re starting to wind things down over there and I’d had enough time on the government teat. Well, as their errand boy, at least. Set up Apex as soon as I got out along with some guys I met from one of the PMCs that fell apart last year.”

Joe had mentioned there was a consulting security company as part of the task force, and Taylor had seen the name Apex Security Solutions on the briefing docs they’d given him and Whitaker on their way out, but he had no idea that it was owned by Matthews. Taylor had been in the third and then the tenth Special Forces Group, and Matthews had been in the first, but during the height of the War on Terror, they’d rotated all of the groups through the sandbox, regardless of their areas of focus, and sometimes overlapped their deployments.

Taylor and Matthews had been assigned to the same group for special assignments a few times, so they’d worked together off and on. They weren’t exactly friends, but they’d been friendly, and Taylor had always found Matthews to be resourceful and clever; two good qualities he wanted in someone tasked with watching his back.

The statement about the PMC that folded last year, however, did worry Taylor.

“White Mountain?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry, I heard about the run-in you had with them, and the guys I picked up weren’t any part of that. White Mountain was a joke, but they’d recruited some decent guys just before they folded, who weren’t with them long enough to get tainted. I run a clean outfit.”

“Good,” Taylor said, still not completely sold, but at least mollified. “Okay, let’s get this dog and pony show on the road.”

They led Taylor and Whitaker into a conference room that was just as nondescript as the rest of the building. The air smelled of old coffee and dust, but otherwise, it was devoid of any personality.

Sullivan took a seat at the head of the table with everyone else grabbing whatever chair was closest to them at that moment. On the table itself was a large map of the border from Brownsville to Arizona. There were dozens of markings on it, most just off the line that indicated the border itself, on either side of it. Some of the symbols Taylor recognized for what they were, like the ones that clearly indicated explosions, while others weren’t clear what they were supposed to represent.

“I know they gave you a briefing before you came out, but I wanted to make sure we were all up to speed before you went off on your own. We’ve worked hard to put a lid on the drugs and violence coming across the border, and we want to keep it that way. I know I can speak for everyone here that the last thing we need is someone coming from Washington to tell us how to do our jobs.”

Taylor had been expecting this speech, a version of which he’d heard any time he’d been sent out to fix someone else’s mess. The one thing you can be sure of with almost every federal employee: they really hated having someone else piss in their pool.

“A lid on it? Really? So it was just a coincidence a bridge full of people blew up then? Good to know. I guess we’ll head back and report that you guys are doing a bang-up job.”

Several faces darkened, especially Sullivan’s, who looked like he was about to burst, which was fine by Taylor. He preferred to get all the posturing these guys liked to do out in the open so they could get past it and actually get to work. That didn’t usually work though, and he was waiting for Whitaker to jump in and tell them what “he really meant,” smoothing over the ruffled feathers.

It surprised him when Matthews jumped in instead.

“That’s Taylor for you. He’s never seen shit he hasn’t wanted to stir,” the contractor said with a laugh. “Sullivan, I get where you’re coming from. Usually, more chiefs just make everything harder, but you have to admit we need the help. Other than snatching up a few mules the cartel never cared about, we’ve made zero progress on this, so it’s not like there’s much for him to mess up when he goes tearing across the border. Our bosses all know how bad things are down here, so maybe instead of fighting this, we should lean into it. Besides, if this goes tits up, we can always blame it on Taylor.”

Sullivan didn’t look particularly placated, but he knew Matthews, and ultimately Taylor, were right. Things were bad and he was going to end up holding the bag when the higher-ups decided they needed a sacrificial lamb. Taylor watched as the Border Patrol captain went from furious to contemplative, probably wondering if that would work.

“To your original question, yes, we did receive a very short briefing,” Whitaker said, stepping in and trying to get things going back in the right direction. “Brief being the operative word. We were hoping to get a better sense of what you all have been facing down here. I understand there have been a few bombings, but the casualties were light until now, making this a major escalation.”

The captain gave one last look at Taylor before turning his attention to Whitaker.

“While the deaths have been light, I wouldn’t say the casualties have been. While the bombings have mostly been remote, the damage has not, and it hasn’t been limited to just bombings. Each attack has been mirrored on the other side of the border with murders and kidnappings, sometimes of locals or refugees trying to cross, and sometimes of local police or Policía Federal.”

As he spoke he pointed to areas of the map, where some of the symbols that Taylor now realized were kidnappings and murders, respectively, were placed.

“You’re assuming they’re connected, right?” Taylor asked.

“Of course,” Agent Chavez, the DEA liaison to the task force, said. “There has always been violence along that side of the border, and kidnappings and murders aren’t uncommon, but there is a pattern. It’s not that there are kidnappings and murders occurring on the Mexican side, it’s the scale of them. The same day as the bombing on our side, the opposite side sees double or even triple the violence they normally do.”

“To what purpose?” Taylor asked.

“Our best guess is that each time we were getting too close, they reacted, trying to push back our investigation,” Agent Rodriguez, a junior FBI agent assigned to the task force, said. “You can see here the points where our investigation has taken us, and how they correlate to the various episodes of violence. Once we plotted it out, it was pretty easy to see.”

“You think the bombings were to keep you away from something?” Taylor asked, sounding skeptical.

Rodriguez looked uncomfortably at the agents on either side of him, like he had been called on by the teacher and given the answer wrong.

“We think it’s possible,” Agent Chavez said.

“But every time there was a bombing or a murder, you put more resources there, right? Even if the cartels thought that could work, and I think that’s a very large ‘if’, they would realize it was backfiring after the first couple of attempts, wouldn’t they? With the people you brought to each of these, let’s call them attacks, did you find anything they might be trying to hide?”

“No, but we wouldn’t, would we? Not if they were destroying the evidence,” Agent Reynolds, the ATF member of the task force, said.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Taylor said. “If they’re trying to divert you, why make a big spectacle that is guaranteed to draw you in? If they’re trying to destroy evidence before you can see it, why are all the attacks before this last one in such remote areas, far away from everything? None of this tracks.”

“There is another possibility we’ve considered,” Sullivan said, scrubbing a hand over his beard. “The cartels may be using the bombings to cover increased smuggling activity, either tunnels or mules crossing at uncontrolled points along the border. They have a shipment coming in, they set off a bomb or something else to get us to look in another direction and bring the stuff over.”

Taylor looked back at the map. It certainly was more plausible than the other suggestions he’d heard.

Matthews, however, disagreed.

Scoffing, he said, “Tunnels and mules? Come on, Sullivan, that’s never added up and you know it. The amount of product moving across the border has exploded. That kind of volume would need shipping containers and eighteen-wheelers, and we’d have spotted those out in the desert by now.”

“It’s not terrorists,” Sullivan said.

Taylor assumed this argument had already happened before if Sullivan was already arguing against Matthews’s idea before he even said it out loud.

“Why not?” Matthews demanded.

“Because what are they trying to do? Except for this last explosion, we’ve already determined that they haven’t been mass casualty events. Can’t be a terrorist if you aren’t trying to cause terror, and an empty church on a Tuesday doesn’t seem particularly terrifying.”

“I don’t know, maybe they’re using it as a smokescreen for something else. I’m just saying bombings aren’t the cartel’s style, and like Taylor pointed out, all of this violence is going to make it harder, not easier, to get product in,” Matthews insisted. “Hell, can you even imagine what the final reaction to the bombing at the checkpoint is going to be? Say goodbye to running cargo trucks of shit into the country.”

“This is getting us nowhere,” Taylor said, interrupting their argument.

“You wanted to hear what we have, this is it,” Sullivan said.

“I wanted to hear what you have, not guesses,” Taylor said. “If we want to get in front of this, we can’t just sit around spinning theories. We need evidence or something that will point us in the right direction.”

“We’re working with what we have,” Sullivan said. “Other than a bunch of bomb fragments, we haven’t had a lot to go on.”

“What about the remnants from this latest bombing? It was a lot bigger than any of the ones you’ve had before, so there must be more to learn from it than from the past bombings.”

“We set up a warehouse and brought in our people to reassemble the device,” Agent Rodriguez said.

“Fine, we’ll go take a look at that and see what they have. Once we have some actual intel we can start making decisions,” Taylor said. “Have we heard anything from the Mexican government that might help us? Maybe something about the murders on their side or how they think the drugs are getting across?”

The source of this story is Finestories

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