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Outside the estancia, Manuel Ortega waited for his driver to open the door to the Rolls Royce. Although born and raised in Colombia, Ortega still found the heat and humidity oppressive. The cool, dry air from inside the car dried the sweat from his jowls as he eased his bulk onto the rear seat.
His driver quickly shut the door. The last man to offend the drug lord’s sensitivities found himself barefoot, slogging coca leaves in a vat of sulfuric acid–and he was lucky to be alive. The driver got into the car and checked to make certain that the thermostatically controlled air conditioning was set exactly at seventy degrees, right where Señor Ortega liked it.
The drive from Ortega’s estanza outside Cali to his offices in the city took approximately twenty minutes. Although none of his patrón’s bodyguards rode in the limousine, the eight men spread out in two cars were always nearby. One car led the way down the expansive drive toward the estanza’s main gate while the other took up position in the rear of the motorcade. The men chosen to guard Ortega had been hand‑picked from the sicarios, the paid assassins, he commanded. Each was armed with his sidearm of choice, usually a high capacity nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. In addition, two men in each car carried Uzi submachine guns while another cradled a sawed‑off twelve-gauge shotgun. On the rear seats of both vehicles, fragmentation grenades hung from metal clips. All told the firepower, which Ortega’s bodyguards could bring to bear against any aggressor, was staggering. Ortega paid his sicarios well. He was not going to have them bought out from under him by one of the rival gangs, or worse by the Norte Americanos. The longer Ortega lived, the more each man made.
The drug lord glanced around the Rolls Royce’s interior, marveling at the car’s beauty. Ortega breathed in the aroma of well‑oiled leather, and then ran his fingers over the polished mahogany panels. As they had with the rest of his personal vehicles, Rolls Royce had shipped the car directly from their factory in England to a company in Florida. The Miami firm had stripped away the interiors of each car, swaddling the vehicle in a cocoon of bulletproof Lexan and Kevlar panels. Bulletproof glass capable of stopping everything short of artillery round replaced each window, and the tires were all puncture‑proof. Ortega’s jefe of security had overseen the installation of an elaborate two‑way communications system for all three vehicles, with each voice‑scrambled transceiver tuned to a dedicated frequency.
Ortega banged on the glass partition. “What are we waiting for? Do you think I’ve got all day, fool?” Startled, the driver sounded the horn, signaling the lead car to move out.
Slowly, the entourage snaked its way onto the main road into Cali. Each day, they varied the time they left the estanza, as well as the route taken into the city. Ortega’s driver knew what had happened to ex‑President Somoza, whose bulletproof car had been hit by an antitank rocket that ripped off the car’s roof, leaving the occupants to the mercy of the hit squad. Those who had survived the initial onslaught perished when the assassins strafed the car. The chauffeur was highly motivated to make sure that didn’t happen to the patrón–or to him.
The driver pressed down harder on the accelerator, narrowing the gap between the Rolls and the lead car. He had been told numerous times that keeping close was very important, so that anyone trying to separate the Rolls from the other two cars would not be able to do so. He had no doubts that whatever evil befell Ortega would descend upon him and his family tenfold. Since he had assumed his role, there had been four attempts on Ortega’s life. None had been successful.
As they neared the city, the uniformed traffic police passed the motorcade through the busy intersections. Behind smoked glass, Ortega smiled as the officer raised his white-gloved hand in salute. The patrón was a man to be reckoned with, a man to be respected by all who came in contact with him, someone to be feared.
When the cars pulled up in front of the office building housing the far‑flung cocaine empire, Ortega’s bodyguards threw open their doors and began their routine check of the area. Armed with Uzis, they scanned the tops of the surrounding buildings and the windows overlooking the busy thoroughfare searching for snipers while Ortega remained safely in the limousine until his chief of security signaled the “all clear”. Only then would the drug lord exit the Rolls and walk, flanked by his security men, into the lobby of the building. Each man covered his assigned area ready to react to any threat aimed at Ortega.
In a hotel room, three stories up and across the Calle San Cristobal from where Ortega sat in air conditioned comfort, the Norte Americano also waited for the all clear signal. In his hand he held a small radio transmitter. Unlike the unit he had used earlier that morning, this masterpiece of electronic technology did not communicate with a sophisticated computer. It had one function, and one function alone: vermin extermination. A small yellow light on the control panel blinked on and off, signaling that Ortega was within range. From where the American sat, he had a clear view of the building across the street and its entrance. He was careful not to move the curtains that shielded him from Ortega’s bodyguards. If the sicarios spooked, he’d be back to square one.
Señor Ortega’s cocaine empire had finally garnered the full attention of the Committee. While the United States government spent billions to stanch the flow of the cartel’s cocaine, the Committee decided to take more drastic action. The American was the first, possibly not the last, but definitely the most crucial, step in putting Ortega out of business.
With the coast was clear, Ortega’s chief of security gestured to the driver, who hurried to open the rear door. Quickly he stepped aside, allowing his patrón to leave the vehicle. At the same time, two bodyguards rushed to open the twin glass doors leading into the lobby. Inside, on either side of the main entrance, Ortega had posted two men who provided for his security and complemented his personal detachment during the day. As it did every morning, the security ballet was going as planned.
Ortega had spent a million dollars on one of the most elaborate electronic security systems in the world. State-of-the-art sensors protected the building’s entire perimeter along with key areas such as Ortega’s office suite. Balanced magnetic switches secured each exterior door so that anyone opening any of these doors would immediately trigger the alarm. The system was so advanced that even sophisticated attempts at defeating it would alert the guards. Only the system computer could disarm zones in the building, and Ortega’s people were in total control of it. Ortega thought it somewhat ironic that the product of an American firm should protect the one man the United States government wanted to get its hands on so badly. Asi’ es la vida, such is life.
His path secure, Ortega entered the lobby, catching his receptionist’s broad smile. Like most of the people working for Ortega, the young woman held him in both awe and fear. The size of his empire, all constructed on a foundation of la merca–cocaine–staggered the imagination. She knew Ortega owned houses throughout Colombia and in other South American countries where he was safe from extradition. Private planes exclusively for his use waited at various airports, and a fleet of fancy foreign cars were at his beck and call. She had heard of wild all-night parties thrown on his hundred-and-fifty-foot oceangoing yacht. Orgies where beautiful women, caviar, the best champagne, and of course the ubiquitous white powder were served up to Ortega’s guests.
Across the street, the American finished counting and pressed the pushbutton. The remote transmitter sent a coded signal to the steel box hidden in the confines of the reception desk. The receiver’s microprocessor decoded the signal, matched it to the code stored in its memory, and released the solenoid. Once free, the spring‑loaded hammer detonated the primer of the twelve-gauge shotgun shell sending fifteen pieces of buckshot on their deadly journey.
The girl was about to wish the patrón a good morning when a deafening roar permeated the lobby. First she thought it was a bomb, but she felt no pain and neither smoke nor debris filled the room. Then she knew–it was a gunshot.
Ortega caught the deadly blast square in the chest. He staggered, clutching his paunch. Blood spurted from several holes, some low, others in his chest. His white dress shirt sprouted crimson flowers as blood seeped through the material.
As Ortega crumbled to the floor, his bodyguards, unsure of where the shot came from, split off, covering all directions. Those in the lobby pointed their weapons at the receptionist, as she sat in stunned silence. They were sure the shot came from behind the desk, yet the girl sat there apparently too shaken to move. Her hands were empty; the bodyguards held their fire.
Out on the street, Ortega’s guards searched the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. No one ran down the street, and there were no movements in any of the windows over the Calle San Cristobal. Inside his headquarters, a spreading pool of blood started underneath Ortega’s lifeless body and dribbled across the Italian marble floor.
The American released his finger from the transmitter, and snatched up his pouch. Quickly, he glanced around the room, making sure that he had not left any trace of his presence. Then he checked the hall. So far Ortega’s henchmen hadn’t put it together, but it wouldn’t be long before they did. He left the room and went down the back stairs, heading for the rear entrance. His phantomlike movements would draw no attention to his departure. He would be well on his way back to the States before a real search for Ortega’s executioner began.
Ortega had been a careful man. His only mistake had been the acquisition of his ultramodern Steiner Aeronautics security system–and the Committee controlled Steiner Aeronautics.
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