I’ve never been accused of being an optimist. A cynic a few times, but like most I figure myself more of a realist. The world is as it is, not as we want it to be, and sometimes that’s a blast of cold water to the face. I wasn’t confident in our odds of making it out of the house alive, particularly with the number of cartel grunts scaling the perimeter and coming in through the front gates. Sharing a nod of resolve with Gaz, we turned our attention to the back door, lining up our sights.

As this should have been a snatch-and-grab mission, both of us were traveling light. Sidearms, a few extra magazines, a grenade or two, and a combat knife were all we had once the ammo in our primary weaponry ran out. Gaz favored a burst-fire rifle while I shouldered a heavier shotgun. She’d be able to take them out at range but if they made it more than a few feet in the door, it’d be mine turn to shine. Remember kids, always diversify your portfolio, especially when facing down South American drug cartels.

There’s no telling what El Seño told the troops to get them riled up enough to charge into a fortified position, but I sure know that Gaz’s rifle gave them pause, after she dropped three right in the doorway. Intimidation works both ways – anything we could do to remind individual attackers of their own specific mortality would help us. Having to crawl over their comrades didn’t slow them as much as we had hoped, but it surely slowed them long enough that we could be even more judicious in our ammo use. More bodies joined the pile. I tapped Gaz on the shoulder to signify that I would take another scouting look from the second floor, to make sure nobody was getting cute with alternate entrances. She kept her eyes glued to the back doorway, ready for the next wave of overeager soldiers.

The situation looked relatively quiet from the second floor. The floodlights illuminating the courtyard, which enabled our stealthy entrance in the first place, also blinded me to any movement from the jungle. Clever bastard. A pair of destitute-looking goons were poking around the front door, trying to see if they could move our impromptu barricade without us noticing. I was a lot quieter sliding open the upstairs window than they were in trying to move the blockage. Thinking tactically, I dropped the closer one, letting his partner see the grim reality of the conflict they were entering upon. He smartly took off running before his friend’s body finished sliding to the ground. With any luck he would spread some discord among the forces, lightening the load for us.

Seeing no other movement on the perimeter, I returned to my post near Gaz, giving her a brief nod that it was all clear on the western front – irony of the phrase notwithstanding. As much fun as it was sitting around like fish in a barrel, we knew at some point the cartel brass would stop sending in small groups and unleash the horde en masse. We couldn’t afford to keep waiting for them to make a move, before all avenues of escape were cut off.

We could have called in a request for support, but seeing as the higher-ups weren’t willing to even fly a drone overhead, I didn’t imagine we would be likely to get anything like a gunship or fireteam to back us up; honestly I didn’t even know if there were other operators in-country, let alone close enough to lend a hand. Ever diligent, Gaz tapped her radio and filled in our superiors on the fate of the rebel leaders and the swarm of gunmen approaching our position.

“Capturing El Seño is sole mission priority,” she relayed to me as they chattered in her ear. “ROE is now green.”

That was a phrase I hadn’t heard often – the Rules of Engagement are a set of dictates which limit hostile or aggressive actions, and while we may be given a (very) long leash as “deniable assets,” there were still actions Uncle Sam would not stomach, whether they attracted international press or not. Saying the rules were green meant that functionally everything was on the table, the only rule being that whatever we did would lead to the capture of the cartel leader himself. This wasn’t some kid yelling “no holds barred” as they play-act professional wrestling, without real understanding of what the phrase meant – our direct superiors, and likely theirs as well, were telling us that we were to do anything and everything necessary to get the job done, no matter the cost.

Not that the rules changing meant much for our predicament, cloistered behind tacky marble pillars in a too-fancy jungle estate, but if we were able to get out of that scrape, it meant the playing field would be very, very different.

Taking another quick inventory of our assets, Gaz and I worked to brainstorm a way out of the bulletstorm we faced.