tagMind ControlRogue State Ch. 01

Rogue State Ch. 01


1. I Spy (Just Not Too Well)

"You work a gun, Rosales?" Spence whispered, his breath tickling my ear just as a drop of sweat slid past his words and dropped inside. For the first time since coming to southeast Asia, I was sweating from nerves, not the heat, thanks to the warlord's squad of gunmen talking low, gathered in the clearing where Spence's little helicopter sat. One of the soldiers had just touched the cowling and was nodding to another.

"Engine's still hot," Spence muttered. "They know we're close." He glanced at the thick Asian jungle that gave us cover, a little steam rising off the floor in the afternoon heat.

My heart had to be bruising my ribs at the rate it was bouncing against them. I'm a congressional aide, for crying out loud, not an Army ranger. How did I wind up on my belly on the jungle floor? It smelled rich, loamy, actually not all that unpleasant -- kind of like tricked-up tropical coffee. But I could hear tiny, crisp things crawling around in the mash looking for someone to bite.

Thank God for Spence. I glanced at him, more from the corner of my eyes than a turn of my head, and saw the lean, fit bush pilot running his thumb lightly across the edge of his upper teeth, his eyes darting around, looking to account for everything. Looking for an out. And then he slowly, silently pulled a pistol from a side holster, handing it to me.

It felt nice. I have fairly small hands, even for a girl, and prefer one of the carry Glocks, a compact 19 or 23, but right now anything that shot lead really really fast felt fine.

"Sig Sauer P228," I whispered. "A nine. I should be able to handle the kick."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking." He looked me, curious. "Were you in the military?"

I shook my head. "My papi was a cop."

Spence reached to his other side, lifting a sleek, compact machine pistol that looked like a chic little Mitteleuropa art deco version of an Uzi.

"A Skorpion," I said. "Czech, right? Rich man's MAC-10?" I flushed at the look at admiration Spence gave me, thinking about just how damned good looking he was (thinking that not for the first time).

"Where'd your daddy police, Rosales? Beirut?"

"Worse," I said. "South Central LA."

Spence grinned, the pilot's crows-feet at the corners of his eyes crinkling with a certain craggy appeal, then looked back at the squad. "Okay, here's the drill," he said. "You lay low, I'll lead them off. Somebody from base should check on us when we don't return. They'll come here in force and they'll come ready to clear the LZ. You stay out of the way until it's clear, then come out."

He started to get up, hesitated, his eyes scanning my face with a sort of one-last-time longing that confirmed what I'd suspected these three days of working with him.

He wanted me.

Under other circumstances, I'd have been thrilled. But we were laying on the moldering jungle floor of the Golden Triangle, that special little spot where the Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam borders wrap together. It's a warlord's paradise, guns, girls, gold and dope produced or traded with abandon, and my boss needed some film for a congressional hearing. It was his committee, his platform to rail against this evil, and I was here to get it for him. Have Spence (with all his shady connections) fly me over in his little chopper with the sky cam, get the film -- and get the hell out of the Triangle, which was a bit redundant. How do you get the hell out of Hell?

As for Spence, he was as much a creature of this area as the cobra he cooked and ate the first night back at the Thai Army forward base where we hooked up. He was in his forties, been here twenty years plus. This was his home, now. He was going nowhere. Whereas I was a little D.C. career gal. I was going places, certain places, and none had cobras. No way were we hooking up long term, and I just don't do casual. Not that I haven't been asked. Plenty.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think I'm stuck up, just realistic, when it comes to my looks. Men have catered to me, fawned over me since I was thirteen. I'm small but proportioned, nice breasts (not huge but think: "cheerleader," which I was, thank you very much), tight waist, and long toned burnished brown legs that in men's eyes seem to take up five feet of my five foot two inch height. I've got that Shakira / J-Lo boom-boom Latina ass that both los vatos and the brothers cross town both love, but it's toned and tight enough it has cross appeal for you dough boys, too. The requisite jet black chica hair, full and tangled down to my shoulders and a little below, a few strands over my eyes -- eyes with that subtle almond shape taken from my Aztec ancestors. And then there's those bee-stung lips of mine that seem to draw stares (almost) as much as my ass, especially from you white bread mayo gringos.

But again -- I'm not conceited and I've never used my looks to get ahead. Not much, anyway. Maybe here, maybe there. Maybe a little. But frankly, these days, it takes out-and-out sleeping with a guy to really get him on your side, and I don't do that. And if you don't, you're out of luck, because there's plenty of Hilton-brained skanks who will, just for a dinner, let alone a promotion. Hell, just for a drunken thrill. Paris is queen, and her fashion is the law. Whoredom, skankdom -- it's D.C., baby. New York. Probably Springtown, too.

Now, look: I had a couple-three boyfriends in college and grad school, and I'm not a prude. I gave them all the affection they could expect. My dear abuelita from Hermosilo would have been scandalized by the things we did, and by the protection I insisted on using. (Catholic, you see.)

But those were boyfriends, each of them sweet and funny and kind and loyal while we were together. I was single again, now, putting in eighteen-hour days for the Congressman. As a good Catholic girl, on a casual basis, I stick to flirting now and then if it helps. Otherwise, I'm all business.

Spence rubbed the top of his head, his sandy hair tight in a G.I. crewcut. Then he gave me a quick thumbs up and a rueful grin as he slipped into the tropical forest round us. I looked back at the little squad of men who had been waiting for us when we came back to the field from searching for the two associates of Spence's who lived there. Spence had found them out in the jungle. I hadn't seen them. He said they were dead and I took his word for it. We realized how lucky we had been when we got back and found the place occupied. They couldn't have missed us by five minutes, that's how quickly Spence found his buddies.

Now Spence was moving with expert silence. The crackling flames from the burning field's fuel tanks helped cover any sound he did make. We knew there was trouble when we saw those tanks burning on approach from the air, but we didn't have enough fuel to get back to base. We were "leap frogging" fuel stations to get into the heart of the Golden Triangle, where the Sap Ruak River gives birth to the Mekong.

When Spence started shooting, I almost jumped out of place. Almost. If I was at six o'clock, he had moved to the nine o-clock position of this rounded clearing. His shots took out three guys immediately, and the others took cover, blasting away until it struck them Spence wasn't firing back. And then, apparently, he had waited in place until they stopped shooting, just so they could hear -- and chase after -- him crashing through the jungle leaves.

Spence, I decided, had been very supportive indeed. A real feminist hero, advancing my career. Live or die, I'd mention him to the Congressman, maybe get him a citizen's medal, or at least -- definitely -- a plaque. In D.C., we are all about plaques.

Meanwhile, I needed to get the hell of this little Asian Dodge and I didn't want to wait for a phantom rescue mission. I knew there was a radio in the little shack at the edge of the clearing; Spence had spoken to his buddies by radio a half hour before we arrived. The soldiers had chased off after Spence leaving me a broad path to that radio and an early exit.

I was ruminating on how stupid this warlord's soldiers where when one of them proved me wrong. He did this by placing the cold steel point of his rifle against the back of my head before I'd even realized he was there. I bumped my head on the barrel and rolled over, crying out as he kicked my nine from my hand. I recognized him as the one who in the clearing had seemed to be giving orders.

He did not look like he'd just won the lotto. He looked like he had just lost three of his best friends, which was a real possibility. I lay there, my heart pounding, pretty sure that saying sorry just wouldn't cut it.

"Why you film my country?" he asked, pointing with his pouched lips at the helicopter with the camera slung beneath. "Who for you spy?"

"Tourist," I said. "I have a visa." I stated to reach for it, but he knocked my arms away with the butt of the rifle. Knocked 'em away hard, leaving 'em numb. I heard more soldiers rustle up behind him. He stepped back and they looked down at me, leered actually, while chatting among themselves in a couple of distinctly different dialects.

My captor, the officer, kept looking off in the direction that Spence had gone. Worried looks were all he sent that way, and I surmised they hadn't caught him.


I was hauled to my feet, my hands were bound behind me with plastic ties, then I was shoved through some thin dirt paths for roughly ten minutes to reach a flat dirt road. I was loaded into the back of a truck where several soldiers sat. They welcomed me aboard with leers while the officer made a call on a very thin, very now sort of mobile phone. He punched out and told me I was going to "command compound."

In the meantime, he assured me, they did not want me to dehydrate. He rummaged around in a tin box on the floor of the truck and came up with a steel flask that had Chinese writing on it. He insisted I drink, so I did. Tinny tasting water that made me a little dizzy, is what it was, but since he held a little pistol on my chest, I drank it all.

I sat back and closed my eyes, trying to go somewhere else -- anywhere else -- in my head. My little retreat into darkness made the helpless sensation of having my hands tied behind my back all the more acute. I'd had a boyfriend once, I'd let him tie me up a couple times while making love -- it was fun just because of how excited he got and the vigorous work out he gave me. A liquid swirl of heat came into my belly when he tied me up; I liked it more than I let on. Losing myself in that memory, I felt the swirl start up again, tickling my belly. I forced myself back to the unpleasant reality in which I sat now.

I was, I supposed, officially a hostage. While I knew Spence was just an independent contractor, everyone who had gotten me to the point of shaking his hand was either Consular Services or CIA. I was reasonably certain that if I could just last out the next few hours, I'd be going home. The Congressman had influence from D.C. to Pluto.

I would be all right.


That's what I kept telling myself.

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