Time and time again we had been assured that, while the Bolivian military didn’t particularly mind the cartel being in charge, they weren’t strictly on the same payroll. I assumed it was a case of them not caring who paid their (bribe-inflated) salaries, so long as the money kept flowing. Unfortunately it seemed that our handlers didn’t quite have the full picture before sending us out into the field.
We had captured Bolivia’s hottest DJ, who made his living spinning pro-cartel news stories and songs, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey in the back seat of another rebel-supplied chopper. There was a cartel bird behind us, carefully staying out of Gaz’s line of fire. Have you ever seen what a .50 rifle can do to a lightly-armoured rotorcraft? Apparently that pilot had and he knew to stay well out of direct sight. I knew they had guns equipped, but apparently the DJ was important enough to not just shoot us out of the sky. Either that or they were waiting for authorization, and I didn’t want to give them time to hear back from their bosses.
Flipping through radio channels until I could get a clear and secure line to my highers-up, ignoring Gaz’s constant string of profanity as our tail managed to stay out of her sight, I verified that there was a no-fly zone up ahead that fully belonged to the military – I was assured the cartel hadn’t gotten their fingers into that particular airspace. Nose down, rotors to full, I sped over the rolling hills directly toward an airstrip I knew would be protected by SAM installations. I hoped the cartel pilot wasn’t stupid enough to follow me into restricted airspace; I was paid to risk death, I was hoping they weren’t.
Wouldn’t you just know it, those military missile sites worked just like they were designed – they fired at whatever they were aimed at. Unfortunately for us, our friendly neighborhood military only shot at us, leaving the cartel untouched. I would have been livid if I could spare the attention; everything I had was dedicated to avoiding the shrapnel exploding around us and not shaking Gaz or our hostage out the open chopper doors.
Once the military set their sights on us, it became open season for the cartel to light us up with their mounted guns as well. Apparently if the military was putting the DJ’s life at risk they figured he was forfeit. Have you ever seen what an M134 mounted gun does to a third-hand rebel-supplied helo that’s actively dodging surface to air missiles fired by an angry and oppressive military?
The DJ didn’t survive the crash, but both Gaz and I managed to crawl out under our own power. I had some very pointed words for our intel guys when we finally made it back to a working radio. If the cartel and military were becoming best buddies, we had a whole new leg of control to try and take out.
And of course I got an earful about losing the DJ and blowing up a rebel chopper. I swear, government types are all the same.