If you missed chapter one last week, you can read it now! The book was released as Daniel’s Mighty Men
Cutoff Point #5
Tuesday evening, the fifth of March: Earlier, near sunset at the top of Hawk Watch Trail above Carnuel in Tijeras Canyon East of Albuquerque.
Mannie’s heart was still pumping fast. Part of it was simply pride that he, Manuel Cisneros, should be trusted with such an important job. It was good to be doing something that meant something. He hadn’t been trusted by anyone since he was drummed out of the Navy for killing those kids who got in the way on that job in Iran in the early 1990s. It felt good to have real work to do again.
But, most of it was the climb. He looked out to the West across the Rio Grande valley towards Grants, New Mexico at the foot of Mount Taylor. The sacred mountain was silhouetted in black by the deep indigo sky seventy miles away. I-40 climbing Nine-Mile Hill, in the near foreground, was a river of red taillights exiting town for the new western developments and dinner at this time of the evening. The sun had been spectacular as it sunk behind Mount Taylor. The clouds were now glowing red around the edges as the last of the sun’s light disappeared. High overhead were three slashes of brilliant red—contrails left by some jets heading for the Left Coast.
Mannie’s short muscular body had recovered and it was time to get to work. His curly black locks were still wet, but the slight breeze just used that fact to cool his head. The old green fishing hat he used to protect his skull from the glare of the sun had cooled nicely through evaporation. But his five o’clock shadow was more like a short beard that was itching with the drying sweat. His high-topped black military boots were still damp, but his feet were fine.
Lupe had been right, no one used the trails on Tuesdays. What he hadn’t told Mannie was that it would take three horrendous climbs to get all the materials to the top. It was only two miles to the top of Hawk Watch trail from the parking lot in Carnuel. But that was just the start.
He’d started early this morning. The load in the first large black nylon backpack was the drill, bits, extensions, detonators, and about half the explosives. That was only sixty-five pounds and it had been fairly easy. He had found a stash hole under the south side of a pile of huge boulders south of the trail just above the last switchback about two hundred feet below Hawk’s Lookout at the top of the trail. It hadn’t been too bad until the sun rose over the ridge. He had been in the shade most of the way, and sixty degrees is quite cool at 8000 feet.
He’d left his flannel shirt with the first pack as he headed back down for the second load. He had to keep the T-shirt on to protect from burning in the searing glare of the sun at 8000 feet. The second pack was a little larger and quite a bit heavier because of the water frozen in plastic bottles. The temperature was only in the 70s. By the time he carried up the third pack, which was thankfully a little lighter, the temperature had reached the mid-80s and the glaring sun made the rocks too hot to touch comfortably.
He had wished he could have brought his roommate, Duane Tabot, with him to help. Duane was strong but dumb. But Lupe didn’t trust him—probably with good reason. After he had all three packs up to the top he found out the real difficulty with this climb. The carry up the trail was nothing compared to lugging those packs across the large boulders out to the overlooking slope. He’d worked his way down the rough, steep slope for over a mile, climbing down nearly a thousand feet in the process—twice so far.
“Oh well, the hard work is over now,” Mannie shrugged his shoulders, cracked his neck, and used his bulging shoulder muscle to wipe the cold sweat off his neck and chin with his Black Sabbath T-shirt. It was time to put the flannel shirt back on. In March, it still got cold up here near the top of the South Crest of the Sandia Mountains. The temp had dropped twenty degrees already and it was less than a half hour after the sun had set.
Lupe had told Mannie in no uncertain terms that no one was to know about this. He understood that. Obviously, something big was in the works. Unless he completely misunderstood what he was doing, a lot of people were going to be seriously inconvenienced, at the very least. With good timing, a lot of people would die. That brought a smile to his mouth, but he wouldn’t see the explosions—that was irritating.
Mannie cleaned his hands on his jeans, retightened the laces on his right boot, ran his hands through his hair, and stood up. He grabbed the green plaid flannel shirt, put it on, and buttoned it. Then he unbuckled his belt, unzipped the jeans, and got his T-shirt and the flannel tucked in carefully.
Man’s gotta have pride, he thought as he checked his pockets and got everything squared away. He pulled out his thin pigskin climbing gloves, which were still damp enough to be supple but cold on his hands and tucked them in his armpit.
He pulled the .38 Special from the leather holster on his hip and the silencer from his pack. He’d probably have to kill a few more snakes tonight and a gunshot would surely be heard in Carnuel three hundred feet below. The snakes were the worst part of this job. He hated snakes (truth be told they filled him with irrational terror, but he didn’t admit that to anyone). He pulled a comb from his back pocket and ran it through his curls, and then flattened them with the hat. Ready to face the world, though they certainly couldn’t see him, he put his gloves back on.
Then he grabbed the last pack with his jacket, gloves, ammunition, food, and the last of those damned batteries. They had been the problem. They were nearly three pounds each and he would be going through at least two dozen batteries before tomorrow morning. The third dozen batteries were probably overkill, but he wanted to be sure he got this done tonight. Thankfully, the cell phone detonator ran off that new solar charger. He didn’t want to even think about how many batteries he would have had to haul for it.
He had thought that second pack was going to kill him. It only weighed ninety pounds. But after the climb of 3500 feet to the stash, the straps of the backpack felt like they were going to cut his arms off at the shoulders. He would have used his own pack with the hip support but he hadn’t wanted to risk losing it. The new Chinese drill was amazing, but those Lithium batteries had been killers. He was proud of his strength, but he was glad this was the last one. The summer heat would make it nearly impossible to make the climb at all.
As he picked his way through the piled boulders toward his final camp overlooking the freeway, Mannie noticed that he was staggering a bit. He was sore and he better be careful. All he needed to do now was fall between a couple of rocks. They’d never find his body. He grinned. The girls at the Sidewinder in Andelito would never forgive him—although, at this point, the beers sounded better than the women.
Tomorrow night, he promised himself. In many ways, Manual still had the urges of a hormone-driven teenager. He didn’t know where Lupe found his women, but they were incredible. He imagined that Maria, Lupe’s woman, put a spell on the girls and/or drugged them up. Whatever it she did, it worked—Rosita was incredible.
He hurried as much as he could—clambering over the thirty-ton rocks like a dark brown goat. He was anxious to complete his work. He’d spent the last two weeks setting up charges. It was obvious that the plan was to cut off access from the East. Easterners had no idea how easy that was. Roads through these rugged mountains were few and far between. In between the roads, it would be difficult to even hike through.
Tijeras Canyon was one of the most difficult to block. The cliff looming over the road coming through Cimarron Cañon East of Eagle’s Nest had been the easiest. But that road from I-25 east of the mountains cutting through to Taos and Red River in northern New Mexico wasn’t too important. There weren’t that many who were going to be able to come through Taos anyway. The roads were too narrow and twisty.
Apache Cañon, east of Santa Fe and west of Glorieta, where I-25 swung around the southern end of the mountains had been much more difficult—mainly because of all the traffic. That was going to be something when the freeway was cut off. The narrow cut just out of Angostura up near the top of the Sangre De Cristos should cut off access from Las Vegas and Mora through to the back road to Taos. The charges at Abo Pass at the tail end of the Manzanos between Mountainair and Belen would cut off not only Highway 60 but also the railroad. He had gotten the railroad at Glorieta also.
At the southern end of the state, Lupe had someone else from Juarez getting Highway 380 through the Valley of Fires west of Carrizozo plus Apache Summit on the Mescalero Reservation. Mannie’s best guess was there were cutoffs set up on 380 near Capitan and on that steep winding stretch uphill from Nogal toward Ruidoso. Blocking Highway 82 up by Cloudcroft should cut off the rest of the access points through the Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico. Lupe had assured him that El Patron had West Texas and I-10 ready to go. Lupe had shown Mannie the map.
The light was almost gone. At least, he had finally figured out a fairly easy path. It would have been easier to come straight down from the South Crest Trail. But, there were too many people using that trail and it would have been three seven-mile carries on that trail, plus the three miles down to his temporary camp on the edge of the pile overlooking the bulging slope above the bridge where I-40 went over Route 66. The raptors were mostly gone back North, so Hawk Watch was empty. He hadn’t seen a soul all day. The three SUVs in the lot must have brought people up for long hikes headed North.
Only another quarter mile and I can rest for a while. Even his thoughts sounded tired and breathy to his mind, I need a nap.
He glanced to the West and saw all of southeast Albuquerque, Kirtland AFB with Sandia Lab, and the airport spread out in glittering lights. He saw two of those irritating Apache helicopters heading south on their nightly practice run to Alamogordo. They always passed about a half of a mile in front of Lupe’s compound at the base of the Manzanos just north of the Kennedy campground. They made him jumpy when they flew by so close. He knew what they could do.
Looking southwest he could barely see Tomé hill about twenty-five miles away in the evening shadows. Thirty miles beyond that, past the lights of Belen, he could see the craggy peak of Ladrón halfway to Socorro sixty-five miles south—black against the deep blue at the far southern end of the sunset. It looked like a battered version of Mt. Fuji sticking up on the high plains west of the Rio Grande. Ladrón meant thug or bandit and traditionally was remembered as a hideout for bandits who raided the Spanish caravans headed north along the Camino Real from Mexico to Santa Fe. The logo and namesake of their bike shop (Ciclos del Ladrón though the sign said Ladron Bikes) was also their hideout.
He longed to get back there—ripping over the trails behind the mountain. That’s the only time when he really felt alive lately. He really missed the action, the speed, the smell of hot machinery, the adrenalin… he couldn’t go there. There was work to do.
By the time he reached his final little camp, on a flat rock surrounded by five twenty-foot high boulders out of view from the town or the freeway, he could barely see. He’d rest for a while, until the moon came up. Thankfully it was full moon tomorrow, so he’d be able to see well tonight to do his work. He took out his jacket for a pillow, leaned back against a south-facing rock that slanted back nicely. The rock was still warm on his back, his eyes closed—and he was gone.
Mannie woke with a start. The moon was glaring in his eyes. It was so bright he could see the colors in his shirt. He was now cold. It was certainly below forty degrees. It felt below freezing. He tried to sit up to put on his jacket, but he had “set up like concrete” as Duane’s dad was fond of saying. It took a few seconds of fairly serious pain to get moving again.
He reached for the pack with the food. He popped four ibuprophen, pulled out a cold breakfast burrito with chorizo, egg, and a sharp Mexican cheese. As he chewed and swallowed, he found a bottle of water that had not fully melted yet. The ice cold water was amazingly delicious. Dinner gone, he forced himself to his feet, opened the other two packs, and started unpacking.
He was headed for a huge rock that was precariously perched on the top of a huge pile of boulders at the top of the steep, bulging slope leading down to the bridge where old Route 66 crossed under I-40 heading down the canyon. Tijeras Canyon was the most difficult to block. Simply filling the freeway with rock wouldn’t do it. There would still be easy passage under the freeway on old Route 66. He had spent two very tense nights under that bridge setting charges to take it down on top of 66. The traffic on old 66 was still almost constant and he spent most of his time ducking headlights.
It all depended on the charges he was setting tonight. He not only had to make sure these rocks rolled down the hill. He also had to creep out in the open—in clear view of the houses below—and set charges to make sure enough of the slope would slide down under the rocks to plug the cañon. It was going to be more than a little tense.
He got the drill, six battery packs, the coring bit and extensions, and enough charges to fill the first six holes in the rocks. He would get the cores in the slope after the moon moved further west. He had set up the solar chargers for the cell phones before he went back for the last loads from the trailhead. He was glad he had done it that way. It would be difficult to do now—in the dark and cold.
Climbing to the north side of the huge boulder, Mannie found a natural cup on the side of one of the rocks where he could sit and work unseen. He carefully pulled the drill out of its case. He admired it again glistening in the brilliant moonlight.
This wasn’t that Chinese crap you found at Wal-Mart. The machining was perfect. It was beautifully balanced. He hadn’t been able to work with tools this good since he’d been forced out of the Seals.
Lupe assumed the Chinese had originally stolen the plans for the prototype from NASA or Los Alamos. They had developed a drill something like this to mine asteroids. Supposedly, it worked by using the same kind of ultrasonic waves his mother, Isabella, used to clean her diamonds. That cleaner couldn’t do this though.
He snapped in the battery pack and clipped on the coring bit. He turned on the drill and put his palm on the bit to make sure it tickled. His hand jumped. It was a strong tickle tonight. He still didn’t understand how it didn’t cut through his hand, but Lupe said that it only worked with hard brittle materials like rock. It sure did not cut his skin.
He checked the angle, and touched the drill to the rock. Dust immediately started filling the hollow drill point. It only took about five minutes to go the first eighteen inches. He pulled the bit out, shook out the core, and added another eighteen-inch extension. It only took a half an hour to go the required ten feet. The only sound was a little vibration as the bit bored down through the rock. There were little puffs of dust, but nothing that was really visible from any distance. You couldn’t even hear it ten yards away
Then he dropped the first charge down the hole. He took the rock hammer and quietly busted up the cores he had removed with the drill. He slid the pebbles and dust into the hole and lowered the second charge. When the wire holding the charge came to within six inches of the second charge, he slid a little more rubble down There were five charges in all and thankfully there were no hitches tonight.
He smiled to himself. Damn, I’m good! he thought. The first charges up at Cimarron had been a real bitch. He kept packing it too tight and the charges would stick. It took him three nights to get that one done. But he had learned what it should feel like now.
By 2:00 pm he had five boulders drilled and packed. It was completely quiet up here. The loudest noise was from the traffic on the freeway. He heard a dog roaming through the rocks several hundred yards to the west, back toward the trailhead. He tensed, hoping that the dog was not following his scent. He listened intently, pulling out the .38. But then he heard it baying as it chased a rabbit around and down the hill. He relaxed and got back to work.
The holes on the slope were trickier. He had to core through a short pipe down to the rock, and then core the rock. Thankfully the dirt slope covering the rock was a thin covering and was packed hard enough to core. If he had been forced to dig, he would have never made it before dawn—plus the moved dirt would have been visible from the homes below.
Once he finished, he quickly ran all the wires to two points where he attached two parallel cell phone operated detonators powered off solar chargers. Before he hooked up the detonators, he checked to make sure he was getting a good signal to the cell phones. No problem. The tower on the far side of the canyon that covered Carnuel was in direct line of sight.
He triple-checked all the connections. All four of the detonators would probably work. But he was taking no chances. Lupe had a bit of a temper problem. Manuel would die for Lupe, but he certainly did not want to die at Lupe’s hand.
Mannie carefully moved back down the slope covering the wires and any trace of his presence. Then he crawled back up to his little camp and took another nap until the sun woke him. He packed the drill, bits and hammer along with the jacket and shirt in one pack. He unzipped the other two packs so they laid flat and used them to cover the detonators—after he installed and mounted the antennas so they would be sure to receive the message when the time came. After carefully covering the nylon of the packs with rocks and gravel to hold them in place in case it got windy, he shrugged his pack on his back.
It took him twenty minutes to get back up to Hawk Watch Trail. After carefully checking it out, he clambered back onto the trail and headed down to the black Durango Lupe had given him to use for this project. It was a nice truck. He drove down through Tijeras Canyon, then Albuquerque, turned south at the Big-I, and headed south on I-25. When he got back to Tomé, he parked the Durango in back of the shop’s garage. It was a large two-story metal building. He jogged up the metal stairs on the outside of the building, and opened the metal door to a long hallway. Thankfully, it was empty.
Covered with cheap industrial carpet of a dirt-colored brown, there was a dark trail coming down the center of the hall from the head of the interior staircase at the other end. There were lighter trails into each of the five doors evenly spaced on both sides of the hallway. It was lit by a line of single fluorescent lights that stretched the length of the hallway. His room was in the first door on the right. He pulled his key out and quickly and quietly opened the door. The room was spotless. The center of the east wall had a large picture window with casement windows at each end which opened with a little metal crank handle at the bottom.
There was a double bed against the north wall that was so tightly made you could flip a quarter on the thin corded maroon bedspread. On the south wall was a cheap dresser from an unpainted furniture store. On top of that was a large LED set that was connected to the dish on the roof. The shop paid for satellite TV as one of the benefits of being trusted enough to have a room upstairs. Next to the hallway on the north wall was a door to the bathroom he shared with Emilio next door. He took off his clothes and dropped them into the hamper he kept next to the hallway door. Walking naked into the bathroom, he locked Emilio’s door.
After a long, hot shower, he laid down to get some rest. For laughs, he turned it to the Playboy channel. “Rosita better be ready tonight,” he thought sleepily. “It’s time to party!” After a good job well done, he was tired. It was a good tired—satisfying. He dropped off to sleep almost instantly.