Red Mist, Chapter 13
Updated: Apr 22
The drive from Stimson Park in Hacienda Heights to Argon’s safehouse—dubbed The Warehouse by Argon staffers—took less than a half hour. Located in Downey, California—a city whose claim to fame was producing the Seventies soft-rock band, The Carpenters—the old two-story building served as an ideal spot to conceal high-value informants because of its somewhat unique location: It sat behind an empty industrial park, only fifteen miles from Long Beach airport and twenty miles from LAX, making it ideal to sneak in or whisk away informants covertly.
For the duration of the trip, the three sat in silence, as the safehouse's manager Brian Panackia drove, with Max Koga sitting next to Abdul Hassan, who wore a blindfold and headphones to keep from discovering the location of The Warehouse.
After waving to an armed Argon guard at the front gate, Panackia parked the Nissan Ariya in front of a seemingly abandoned building, next to Koga’s Lexus RC F. He then lifted his solid two-hundred-thirty-pound body from the driver's seat and led his guests down a narrow stairwell to an orange metal door, where he placed his thumb on a round scanner on the wall, activating a state-of-the-art locking system. The door opened, and all three men stepped inside.
“Welcome to The Warehouse,” Panackia said. “It’s vacant right now, so you have the entire place to yourself.”
Koga removed the blindfold from Hassan. “Is there a quiet place where we can chat?” he asked.
“Right this way,” Panackia replied, walking through a hall lined with small office rooms. The first was a surveillance center, where a security officer spent his seven-hour shift monitoring live video feeds from cameras posted all over the neighborhood block. Next to the surveillance room was a small kitchen area, and next to that was another office with a large desk and computer. The last room was the interrogation room, which Panackia laughingly referred to as the Karaoke Box because guests were invited to “sing” there.
“Look up at that camera and let me know if you need anything. One of our staffers will come right away,” Panackia said before leaving the room.
The Karaoke Box was a square chamber that mimicked the interrogation rooms of federal detention facilities. Lit by overhead fluorescent lights, it consisted of a simple white table and a metal chair, both of which were bolted to the middle of a concrete floor. The walls were gray and blank, save for the one with a large two-way mirror that reflected the entire room. Video cameras occupied all four corners of the ceiling.
After offering Hassan one of the two chairs at the table, Koga grabbed the other seat and took out a notebook and voice recorder. “What was the Aqarib doing in Mexico where, as you know, seven of my agents were killed?”
Hassan closed his eyes and took a deep breath before answering. “It is very complicated, but the simple answer is that Al-Aqarib was running low on money, so Nasim decided to move in on the drug business in Sinaloa. He took over the Eldorado Cartel and started eliminating all the smaller gangs in the area. As a result, we reaped the financial rewards of the drug trade and set up a base within striking distance of his hated enemy, America.”
“How on earth did al-Ahmed manage to take over the Eldorado Cartel?” asked Koga. “The Mexican cartels don’t let outsiders come in and simply hand them the keys to the kingdom.”
“The Eldorado Cartel, as you know, was established after the demise of El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel. Nasim unified the smaller cartels in the state and brought stability to the region, taking in those who swore loyalty to him and eliminating those who opposed him. As a result, the reenergized Eldorado Cartel became the only gang in Sinaloa.”
“He couldn't have done this on his own, especially without the U.S. knowing about it. Did he have help from the inside?”asked Koga.
“I do not know for sure, but Nasim does have a new benefactor, which he has kept very secret, even from me. Apparently, this new friend is very influential and has powerful friends in high places in Sinaloa. This mystery man also supplies our organization with weapons and money."
“And you have no idea who this benefactor is?”
Hassan nodded. “Only that he is an Asian man. Probably Chinese, but I can’t say for sure.”
“Asian? Is it the person in the photo that you gave me? The one with al-Ahmed inside the car?”
“I think so, but I cannot be sure.”
“Have you ever heard of Song Motors?” asked Koga.
Hassan shook his head.
“They’re the ones who made the car that your cousin was sitting in. Did your cousin ever mention anything about a car company?”
“No,” Hassan answered. “Not to me.”
“So how did your cousin get into Mexico in the first place? The bastard’s name and face are plastered on the wall of every airport in the world. And that face isn’t one you can easily disguise.”
“His new benefactor provides him with access to a jet that transports him wherever he wants. He uses only private airfields, so there is no concern about immigration or customs.”
Koga leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath. If Hassan was telling the truth, the country’s national security was at grave risk: A Middle Eastern terror organization had set up shop within spitting distance of America, with money and weapons supplied by what was most likely a hostile Asian government. It was vital to get the information up the chain of command asap. But first he needed answers to a few perplexing questions.
“Why was I the only one spared in Mexico?” asked Koga.
“It was completely by accident. We had always planned on bringing one of you in alive to find out if the DEA had informants inside the Eldorado Cartel.”
“And how did you track me down in L.A. afterwards?”
“It was you. You told me in secret that you were based in the Los Angeles DEA office while you were drugged. I then requested Nasim to go to America to help organize our cell in Southern California. When he finally agreed, I waited near the DEA office everyday looking for your car, which you also described. I am glad that there are very few of those Mazda RX-7s on the road,” Hassan said.
A chill ran down Koga’s spine, for he had no recollection of the conversation. “What else did I say to you?”
“Nothing. Dr. Madani mentioned that he never saw anyone resist his truth serum like you. He was going to resort to physical torture, but your military came in before he had a chance to.”
It was clear that Hassan was under the impression that Koga was still with the DEA, which was just fine by him.
“I need to know where to find al-Ahmed now,” Max demanded.
“I will write down his exact coordinates and address, but I do expect to be paid in full when you capture him,” Hassan responded.
Koga took out a piece of paper and a felt-tipped marker from his carrier bag and placed them on the table. Hassan took the items and scribbled down longitude and latitude coordinates, along with a physical address, and then slid the paper to Koga.
After reading its contents, Koga looked up at Hassan. “You’re kidding, right?”
Hassan shook his head. “I am not. Nasim al-Ahmed is currently in San Diego, California.”