Red Mist, Chapter 20
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
One thousand kilograms of military-grade explosive, wrapped in a blue vinyl cover, delicately placed into the bed of a late-model Toyota Hilux pickup; it was enough to take out half a neighborhood block.
Nasim al-Ahmed and Ramin Madani watched the Aqarib's chief bomb maker, Ifran, install a cell phone-operated detonator to the metallic casing of the bomb.
“Although I don’t fully trust Mr. Qiu yet, his gifts have been quite generous,” al-Ahmed said.
The truck sat in the middle of Duarte’s three-car garage. Normally, it housed a couple of Porsche 911s and a Lexus LFA, but when the Aqarib leader said that he would be using the space to build and store weapons, the governor immediately instructed his servants to transport the cars to a nearby auto shop. With polished cement floors and pristine white walls, Duarte’s garage was larger and cleaner than many of the surrounding homes in the city. But the place disgusted al-Ahmed; it served as a constant reminder of why he hated politicians, especially those who used their power for personal gains. He made a vow to someday kill Duarte or, at the very least, destroy most of his personal possessions.
Al-Ahmed had asked his new benefactor, Xavier Qiu, for a nuclear weapon, but instead got the next-best thing: Heptanitrocubane, a chemical explosive that possessed approximately thirty times the power of HMX, an explosive used almost exclusively by the military. Compared to C-4 and Semtex, the longtime favorites of terrorists, HNC was much more powerful, and its expensive nature made it the current Bentley of explosives.
Ifran wiped his forehead with a towel and approached al-Ahmed. “It’s ready to go. The device can be detonated by calling the cell phone we attached to it or by flipping a switch on the dashboard.”
Al-Ahmed put his hands on the older man’s shoulder. “Very good, Ifran. I’m looking forward to seeing firsthand how glorious this gift from Mr. Qiu is.”
Ifran returned the comment with a troubled expression. “I must again caution that we don't know if it'll work. This is a highly complicated weapon, and unless it's synthesized just right...”
“That is why we're treating today’s mission as a trial run,” al-Ahmed explained.
“I still think we would have been better off with a contagion or something biological."
Al-Ahmed shook his head. “You remember the last viral pandemic, don’t you? Yes, it caused great harm to the enemy, but it nearly wiped us out as well. They are too unpredictable, my friend.”
Madani walked around the truck, inspecting the bomb from all angles. “Governor Duarte is not going to be pleased with our strike tonight."
Al-Ahmed smiled. “That doesn’t concern me in the slightest. Go and bring our martyr-to-be.”
Moments after leaving the room, Madani returned with Hector Espinoza.
“The time has come for you to go to Allah, and we on this earth shall glorify you until the end of days,” al-Ahmed said to the young man.
Hector bowed. “And you will take care of my family? My mother and my sisters?”
“Rest assured, brother. I give you my word that they will never go wanting. And you will be surrounded by beautiful virgins who will do whatever you desire.”
“Then I am ready. What do you want me to do?” he asked.
Al-Ahmed opened the driver-side door of the Toyota Hilux. “You will drive this vehicle to a toy manufacturing factory in Durango. We will follow you. Once you crash through the gates and enter the facility, flip this switch.”
The color flushed from Hector’s face. “I, I understand,” he stammered, looking at the faces of the strangers around him.
Madani and the translator climbed into the Toyota Hilux, sitting three-wide on the bench seat, with the translator squeezed in the middle. The garage door opened, revealing two Mitsubishi Monteros in the driveway. Al-Ahmed and Ifran walked briskly to one of the SUVs and jumped in. All three vehicles then drove off the property, their headlights shining the way forward.
Precisely three hours into their journey, the Hilux pulled over to the side of the road, where Madani and the translator stepped out of the truck and into one of the Monteros, leaving Hector alone in the Toyota.
“How is our friend?” al-Ahmed asked when Madani took the seat behind him.
“He is scared, but he will not fail us.”
The Hilux headed straight to a large factory on the outskirts of Jalisco, a historical city known as the birthplace of tequila. The toy store, which doubled as the Navarro Cartel’s drug processing facility, was bordered by a chain-link fence with several guards and dogs patrolling its perimeter.
About a quarter mile away, the two Mitsubishis parked atop a dirt hill that looked down upon the factory. Al-Ahmed, Madani and Ifran stepped out of the vehicles and walked to the edge of the hill, where they surveyed the factory grounds with binoculars.
“The Toyota should be arriving at the front gates in about three minutes,” Ifran noted, holding a cell phone with his thumb on the call button.
Two and a half minutes later, a lone truck barreled down the two-lane road that led to the front gates of the factory. Al-Ahmed watched in silence as the Hilux bust through the entrance, breaking the gate off at the hinges and dragging one of the metal doors under the front bumper. As a streak of orange sparks followed in its wake, two guards opened fire with their automatic rifles, but most of the bullets seemed to catch the grille with a few taking out the headlights. Several more guards came running out of the main building unleashing their rounds into the side of the Hilux. The bullets ripped through the side of the truck, blowing out its left rear tire, and forcing it into the wall of the factory building.
“Now,” said al-Ahmed.
Ifran pushed the call button on his cell phone.
A split second later, an orange ball engulfed the main warehouse. The bright flash of orange temporarily blinded al-Ahmed, who closed his eyes and turned his face away. The shock wave from the blast nearly knocked him over, while the deafening sound would cause his ears to ring well into the next day.
As a plume of white smoke rose into the black of the night, he whispered, “You’re next America. You are next.”