Retreaters – Chapter One

CHAPTER 1

Juarez, Mexico (just South of Las Cruses, NM)

Friday, September 14,

General Yang arched his back as he straightened his arms over and behind his head, stretching, his fingers brushing the ceiling. The back seat of the truck was roomy but less than comfortable. It was a far cry from the comfort and luxury of his limousine, but it was necessary to maintain a low profile. It had taken them nearly two days to drive to the south side of Juarez in a convoy from Veracruz, a port on the Gulf of Mexico. Though there were more direct routes, Yang chose Veracruz as the port of entry due to its lack of immigration controls, customs, and security. In most southern Mexican ports, a small cargo ship from Panama carrying animal feed additives and supplements was not going to receive much scrutiny. But, in Veracruz, Yang could be sure there would be no scrutiny of this shipment at all. He had brought several shipments and individuals into Mexico through this port before and had found the price to bribe the port officials to be a bargain.

The journey of driving north along the eastern coast of Mexico, often on primitive roads, had become most unpleasant and tiresome for him. He resented having to personally oversee this operation, but there was no one else he trusted enough to do something this important. He certainly didn’t trust the Iranians. Yang felt uncomfortable and irritable, but struggled to gather his focus and serious composure. The sun had set long ago and the lights of the industrial park were visible ahead. He looked forward to flying back to Panama by charter jet early in the morning, and hopefully back to his seaside condo before daylight, so he could in sleep late, consistent with his vacation alibi.

The success of his life would be measured by the launch of this operation, one that would put American into temporary turmoil. Yang had been planning this for four years now, and he was feeling the culmination to the moment ahead. As they turned into the industrial park, Yang looked ahead to the fourth building on the left and smiled. They had made it without incident. He looked at the new and inexpensive watch on his right wrist and was pleased to see they were just an hour into the night shift, which was plenty of time to off-load and make personal contact with his man on the inside, the night shift supervisor.

General Yang’s vehicle, which had been in the lead for the last few miles, was the first to turn left into the parking lot of Ali BC, Limatada. The BC stood for biochemical and this plant had a sordid history of four owners and two bankruptcies in just fifteen years. Most recently, it had been acquired by a group of Arab investors who figured they could get US government contracts using their political connections and lobbying, while keeping their actual ownership highly private through layers of international front companies. To give Ali BC, Limatada a friendlier sounding name, the owners did business as (d/b/a) ABC Pharmaceutical. The chemical synthesizing and bottling equipment was the real value of the company, and what they wanted, especially after the 2009 flu season where suppliers had failed to meet US demands on time. Though the plant was certainly not as automated as most American pharmaceutical packaging plants, the filling and packaging lines were still in good condition. The 2008 price of four and a half million dollars was a bargain for property, plant, and equipment, even before the US dollar had started to lose value. It had cost the US joint venture far more to build the 45,000 square foot concrete and steel facility and to outfit it with so much stainless steel equipment and environmental control systems in 1994. The plant was built to meet the US FDA requirements at the time, with a Biohazard 3 rated lab. This greatly added to the expense, but opened the door to some very good international government contracts. Most plant improvements since construction were below this initial standard, but money for inspectors here and there to look the other way, or see and sign off on something that wasn’t actually there, was always cheaper than actually buying the better equipment. FDA standards only applied to the US contracts anyway. Exports of cheap international generic drugs, at the lowest price possible, was becoming good business in South America, especially if the drugs they bought were thought to be American. ABC Pharmaceutical had a long history of supplying pharmaceutical products to the USA, and that was the way to get new contracts elsewhere. Most recently, ABC Pharmaceutical had gotten a sizeable part of the current flu vaccine contract. The real money though, was packaging drugs for the Mexican drug lords and cartels. These were occasional runs, but highly profitable.

General Yang waited as one of his officers got out of the front passenger seat, and entered the building through the back shipping door. He came out and gave the positive hand sign and spoke into his collar. The driver turned around and signaled to the General the radio was working, he could hear it clearly. The officer then turned again to signal the box truck to back in to the loading dock. He then turned around to the General and said, “We are ready for you to go, area secure.”

The General brought a green and blue bandana up over his nose and put on a pair of sunglasses and Florida Marlins baseball cap. General Yang could not risk being photographed here by some security camera. With three armed officers, wearing holstered Glock 22s, and four more in the trucks with short barrel AK47s in radio contact, the General entered the plant through the shipping door. Waiting there in a line were three Arab men. They bowed slightly and the General, who returned the gestures with a lesser bow. The tallest of them at just over six feet, towered over the General. He approached the General and began to speak in English.

“May I call you Zhau, or would you prefer John, the name I believe you assumed for convenience during your American college days?” he asked with a slight smile, knowing the General had attended UCLA and then earned his Masters in Business Administration from Stanford. He also knew the General had been in Panama for over ten years now, overseeing the Chinese interests in the canal operation, and, more importantly, the very quiet Chinese acquisitions of Central and South American companies, land, natural resources, oil, raw materials, and food production. He was a quiet power player in the region, personally controlling tens of billions of American dollars of investments. It was rumored the General had at least passive influence over much more than that. Though he towered in height, the tall Arab man knew the General was the much larger man.

“You may call me Jose and we should speak further in private,” Yang said quietly, with a hint of impatience and anger.

The tall man motioned the other two with him around the pallet jack and out of the way from the loading dock door, where the dock plate was just coming down on the truck which had backed in to be unloaded. As two men started to unload the truck, Yang motioned for one guard to watch them. The tall Arab then motioned for Yang to go back into the empty back shipping office. The room was only about ten by ten feet, with windowed walls and a large metal desk in the center. Yang entered the room, with two guards, and the tall Arab, who sat down on the other side of the desk from Yang. Yang nodded to his officers and one of them spoke Chinese into what looked like a large button on the inside of his collar. The other officer took up station outside the door. The tall Arab man could hear another voice speaking from the earpiece of the officer who stayed in the room. The officer nodded twice to Yang.

Extending his right hand to the Arab, Yang said, “I prefer we use meaningless names, for each of us already knows with whom we are speaking, do we not, Ali?”

Ali smiled and shook the hand before him firmly. “OK, play it your way. I will be Ali. But these walls do not have ears, my friend. It is our plant, our building. Jose, you need not worry of this. The FDA inspector in this region even won a surprise vacation last week and he is three days into a ten-day trip to Cancun. No eyes or ears this week, my friend. The General Manager is the idiot son of one of the owners and he barely understands what we do here. I could bring in molasses and say it was antibiotics. He would have no idea.”

“Such ignorance can be useful. I, however, am not ignorant. Per agreement between our superiors, I have delivered enough viral media for you to contaminate 100,000 dosages. We agree in actual usage only about a third of those are likely to be used prior to the Americans discovering the problem, even if all are shipped within the three day time frame as we agreed. We have mixed a less virulent strain for this mission, resulting in variola minor symptoms, having less than one in a five thousand mortality rate. Also, the existing vaccines should be reasonably effective against it. The Americans have a good stockpile now, well over a hundred million doses. The mission is fear and turmoil to be caused, not mass death. I have been very plain with you and your superiors on this,” Yang said quietly as he looked directly into Ali’s eyes.

Yang snapped his fingers, and the guard closest to him handed him a CD. “Here is the disk with the shipping addresses for the next three days in chronological order. My people have postponed shipments to clinics and schools to minimize exposure to women and children, pregnant women in particular. It is the military, first responders, and health care workers we are targeting, as this will cause the most panic. Have you switched from clear bottles?”

“No, we could not get them in time. The discoloration issue is very minor and we have made a new color chart so the new color will appear normal. Employees here can’t even read English so no one will notice if this batch is slightly different from the previous ones. I have it set up so shifts won’t overlap. We package 35,000 to 75,000 doses a shift on the bottling line, depending on the set up and the run. I’m going to break the run into just two shifts, no overlap with the non-contaminated, so they will not notice.”

“This is your responsibility. The plans are not to be discovered at any cost. Do not error on shipping order either,” said Yang.

“Certainly General, or uh, Jose, we agree with all your analyses, in particular most clinics and hospitals do not independently test flu vaccine when it comes directly from approved manufacturers via FEDEX. This was your plan, don’t second-guess it. It is brilliant,” said Ali, smiling. “You were right, with all the pressure on medical expense cost cutting in the U.S. healthcare, they did take a low bid on the part of the flu vaccine, just as you anticipated. NAFTA made it easy for us. Americans were looking for a bargain. We will see your plan through.”

“Yes, well, one should not take too much comfort in unproven theory. The real world holds more surprises and complications than a lab or packaging line, just as no battle plan survives actual contact with the enemy.”

“You and your sayings. It is my responsibility and I will do it, I will do my part. We each have our own reasons, don’t we? Do they not say in your country, ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend?’ Trust me then as your friend,” Ali said with a smile.

Yang replied, “There is such a saying, but you expand on its teaching. What I do trust is you shall do as you desire to do.”

“You can trust me to get this into the feed tanks for the next shift, and thus we will start shipping tomorrow. We ship directly to hospitals and clinics all over the United States, per direct drop-ship contracts, but we’ll switch to the shipping order in your carefully calculated little disc there. I trust it is automatically compatible with FEDEX and all the ISO 9003 requirements.”

“We have taken all such requirements into consideration, yes,” said Yang. “I have done my part and now leave you to do yours. Also, if this building still stands on this coming Friday, we will take action, and hold you responsible.”

“Don’t worry, nothing will survive the fire, there will be no evidence. You will have your calamity in America before they stiff you guys for a trillion dollars and impose the tariffs,” replied Ali.

“Do not underestimate the anger there will eventually be in America over this. They have already changed the Middle East because of terrorism. This could cause them to do even more, if any link can be established beyond Al Qaeda.”

“So what if it angers the Americans, they deserve it for living in sin and in defiance to the teachings of Allah. Allah is great. America is not.”

“I leave now. Do your part. You and this building must be gone by Friday or we will do that for you, and then find you. Mission success is now in your hands, and your responsibility. Do not lose this disk.” Yang stood up, and walked to the office door as his officer spoke into his lapel again, and then opened the door. They walked over the guard who was watching the truck being unloaded. It was complete, and the back door of the truck was closed and locked. He nodded twice to the General. They all left the building, and all got back into the trucks. Closing the door, the officer in the passenger front seat in Yang’s truck turned to Yang and spoke in Chinese.

“My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Hah! Camel loving desert scum. They are nothing without their oil money,” said the officer.

“Yes, the old proverb is somewhat misquoted and misunderstood. My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend, but merely my ally of the moment and I should presume nothing more. Such allegiance before a common foe does not make him a friend I can trust. Adam Smith was right with his invisible hand. You can only expect people to act in their own self-interests, thus an ally is merely one of a parallel singular desire, and that desire may not be perfectly parallel. We work with them because we need someone the Americans can blame. They must not live to see Friday, and it must look like it was a drug cartel who did it.”

As the truck led the convoy out of the parking lot, the Guard in the front seat asked “Adam Smith?”. Yang continued, “ Yes, economics… I always liked economics. It is the only social science that can really be called a science, the only one you can reliably apply math to, for it is based upon the largest running constant in human psychological history, greed, and America is full of that. We will prevent their greed from harming our new empire.” Yang sat back and smiled, confident he had impressed his officers with his knowledge and intellect, and thus was pleased with himself.

Within 3 hours, Yang was at the General Roberto Fierro Villalobos International AirportAddress:‎ in Chihuahua. Most of the men in the convoy would be staying behind to take care of business at the plant by Thursday.

Back in the plant, Ali, whose real name was Mohammed, had watched the truck pull away from the dock from the small window in the loading bay door with distain. He smiled with a hint of evil as they left, then shut off the dock light and walked into the warehouse with the other two men.

“I want this blended with the Russian India 4.1 at once. The media combined with a little thinning should give us enough to spread over 400,000 vaccine doses as planned, but start with his strain on first, that ought to confuse the CDC and USAMRID.” He smiled again, knowing he was about to up the ante of what Yang envisioned then unleashing upon the Americans.

Mohammed’s plan and marching orders were not tactical. He wanted maximum terror and death in America. Ten million dollars from Al Qaeda operatives had bought them a weaponized and metastasized strain of variola major smallpox, far more deadly than the strain he had just received from Yang. Mortality rates would certainly be thirty percent at least, but worse, it would even more contagious than the strain the World Health Organization had declared eradicated nearly forty years ago. It was the perfect piggyback terrorist attack plan. If anything Mohammed was disappointed they had not been only been able to get even more of the Russian strain. The Russians used to make tons of it every year during the height of the Cold War, more than enough for every single American. Since there was little time now, and trying to make more was too difficult and dangerous, Mohammed decided the mixing and blending it with the Chinese engineered media would produce the maximum effect of terror and death. Some would respond to the vaccine but most would not, which would only bread more uncertainly, confusion, and terror. As for calculating the mixture ratios, Mohammed was not a biochemical engineer, chemist, or biologist. He was going upon the advice of the Russian scientists in Kazakhstan, many of whom were Muslims, who were sympathetic to the cause against America, but most of all were very glad to take the money.

As the men took the pallets of supplies back into the rear shop to open the special hidden compartments and stable environment chambers, Mohammed went into the shipping office alone. He accessed the digital video footage from the hidden camera on the computer, which had taped his meeting with Yang. “Bastard never revealed his face,” he murmured, disappointed.

Grabbing the CD out of the case and into his hand, he broke it into pieces, and brushed the pieces off the desk into the trash can with his hand. He smiled, put on his mask and gloves, and then joined the other men who were starting the mixture process, getting the tanks ready for the next production shift.