The seats in the EA500 jet I chartered from a Mexico City Airport look like they were stolen from a school bus. The previous owner stripped the interior to make room for more drug cargo between South and North Americas. A local charter company bought the bird in a D.E.A. auction, redecorated and put it into passenger service. I made the best of it, kicked off my shoes and rolled up my jacket to use as a pillow.
Instead of flying commercial to Canada, I chartered a small jet from one of the airstrips outside of Mexico City; this was my first mistake. While we were flying over the Gulf of Mexico I fired up the Satellite phone and made a call to Jaxon; the second mistake. I thought phone restrictions were only for commercial flights. 30 seconds into the call one of the engines stopped and the cabin filled with smoke.
The plane was losing altitude, though I couldn’t see through the acrid smoke, I could tell because everything I owned slid forward. Pausing at the plane’s exit door, the pilot shouted “Suerte resistente Gringo”; tough luck white man, then jumped out, wearing the only parachute. I dashed to the cockpit and wrestled the controls trying to level off, but nothing responded. The plane was a lost cause, I had only seconds left to react.
With only about 100 feet of altitude left, I jumped from the aircraft, leaving my shoes, jacket, and briefcase behind; the third mistake. The H.A.L.O. training I received in Special Branch instantly came to mind. Legs straight, feet together; wishing I was wearing shoes. One hand protecting my face, the other arm holding the first close to my body. Big breath and … splashdown.
I resurface just in time to see the plane hit the water and cartwheel twice, with parts flying off from the airframe. What’s left of the EA500 slams into the starboard side of an Oil Supertanker and sinks immediately. The tanker, with its multihull steel construction withstood the onslaught with minimal damage. The crew apparently saw me bail out and dispatched a Zodiac RIB motorboat to rescue me.
Aboard the Rigid Inflatable Boat, I inquire about the pilot. “See for yourself” a crewman stated, pointing to the sky. About 200 feet in the air, lazily floating toward Cuba, is the pilot. His parachute opened fine, but managed to capture an untethered weather balloon in the parachute’s canopy. “We thought about shooting him down, but we don’t want any extra attention from the U.S. Coast Guard” Yuri explained.
Aboard the AbQaiq Supertanker I am nobody. My phones, passports, IDs, and credit cards were in the plane. Captain Dimitri presented a choice; disembark at their next port, Baniyas, Syria, or have the US Coast Guard pick me up. I chose the former. The wad of wet hundred dollar bills from my pants pocket secured a guest cabin aboard, assuring my comfort over the next two weeks it will take to cross the pond.
The food on the AbQaiq, while not exactly luxury liner quality, is quite good. The simple lunch is borscht and brown bread. Commercial ships often accommodate passengers, some looking for an “off the beaten path” adventure, others needing to keep a low profile. I fit into the latter group, as do fellow passengers Ferdinand and Lucretia. Lucretia is a former Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti employee.
She explains that she was never a field agent, rather worked in an office, filing reports. Ferdinand used to be a successful vintner, but is now on the lamb because of some tax evasion problems. I tell them I was on a mission with Special Branch in Mexico City, but I got burned, now I’m a man without a country. No point on being completely truthful. Carpus, our waiter brings us Afghan coffee as we chat about nothing.