Capturing El Sueño and extracting him to a safe-house wouldn’t be an easy task. Not only was he surrounded by some of the most bloodthirsty and cruel cartel lieutenants in South America, each with a personal body-count in the dozens if not more, he was also an imposing figure in his own right: over six feet tall and three hundred pounds of raw muscle. Supposedly having grown up in the mean streets of Juarez, Mexico, he was no stranger to violence and self-preservation.

Though Gaz and I have our preferred tools of the trade, such as her over-sized sniper rifle and my room-clearing shotgun, we rely on the right tool for the right job. Sometimes stealth is in order, sometimes not. Aerial assault, explosive sabotage, long-distance takedowns, and infiltration work are all in our wheelhouse. For collect-and-capture missions we preferred to come loaded with powerful tranquilizer rounds. Not nearly as instant or silent as in the movies, they nevertheless do a great job at making sure a target can be transported quietly, without fuss. Sadly our Bolivian handlers were fresh out of narco darts, and so our plan became as basic as they come: storm the meeting, kill Sueño’s guards, avoid accidentally shooting the rebel leaders, and kidnap the big galoot by force. Potentially effective, but neither tactically-sound nor with minimal risk.

Complicating matters were the rebels themselves; it didn’t take a detective to see they had their own plans for the meeting, plans they didn’t want us in on. Shaking my head, far from the first time this trip, I was forced to accept that the mission was the mission and that “adaptability” came with the job description. Quietly I cautioned Gaz to keep an eye on our “friends” during the meet; after their previous exploits I wouldn’t put it past them to try and deliver El Sueño to our superiors by themselves, reporting two Americans tragically KIA in the crossfire.

With the sun dipping below the western mountains, the familiar evening chill came quickly to the jungle floor. We hoped our extended Bolivian trip would soon be over. Double-checking our supplies and contingencies – what little we could devise against unknown opposition and few to no external resources – Gaz and I took a rugged, off-road jeep into the darkness. While both of us were more comfortable in the air, getting a better perspective on our surroundings, we couldn’t afford triggering any of the local surface-to-air missile silos; even the alert that unknown craft were in the air could be enough to tip off El Sueño’s crew. Over rough and rugged roads we drove, sitting in silence.

The moments before a mission were usually the quietest – with minds bent to a single purpose, there was little desire or need to chit-chat as miles of unpaved trail passed beneath our tires. We were working on the final stage of an already too-long deployment and both of us just wanted the job to be done. Whatever our professional demeanors, privately we were both looking forward to Bolivia fading beyond the horizon, its problems and political conflicts similarly disappearing from our lives as we looked toward the next mission.

Though the jeep wasn’t a large vehicle, so long as we were able to bind El Sueño it would be suitable, if only barely. The equipment provided by the rebels was rarely in well-working order, and our jeep struggled to climb several of the brush-covered hills en route to our staging area. If push came to shove one one of us would stay behind while the other delivered the cartel leader to our betters, returning when and if convenient. Neither of us wanted to die, least of all alone in a hostile jungle, but we knew the risks when we signed up, and the priority had to be the mission.

Hiding our escape plan as best we could behind the lush foliage, Gaz and I began our overland trek to the fancy estate where rebel leadership and El Sueño were meeting under the guise of establishing a truce.

It was time to crash a party.