Diaz had thought the flight attendant was a little too flirty with him on the plane into Buenos Aires.
He was wearing a crisp, dark suit but did not look wealthy, and even he knew he wasn’t good looking enough to warrant that kind of attention from a beautiful stranger. The final confirmation flashed across the lens of his networked eyeglasses that she was a known associate of Las Buscas. It seemed like the plan was working so far.
He accepted the gin and tonic in a plastic cup from her with a smile, and noticed that she lingered a little too long putting down the napkin on his tray.
As she moved down the aisle, he lifted the drink long enough for the lens built into the temple of his glasses to send out a flash, process the visual information and confirm that the drink was (probably) not drugged.
A few sips wouldn’t kill him with another hour left in the flight.
Lifting the napkin he saw a thick, blank business card with a handwritten phone number on it, signed “Celia” with a heart dotting the i. Holding it up close to his face, a message flashed across his eyeglass screen that there was a transponder embedded in the card.
After taking four similar - but ultimately fruitless - flights between Buenos Aires and Houston in the last month, this time it was on.
He mouthed silently, “Moving to second mark,” and his glasses translated his lip movements into text in the operations room a few thousand miles away.
Diaz was part of an ABCD operator team with The Corporate, usually called Alphabet Teams.
Every team included four members, each designated with a call sign starting with A - B - C - D in order of their seniority and skill sets. Diaz was low man on the totem pole in this rotation, and that’s why he was bait. The running joke about D operators for the past 40 years was that they should be issued Star Trek red shirts, but the joke never became funny until someone moved up the ranks.
As Diaz exited the plane, Celia gave him a final smile and taking his arm briefly whispered, “Call me.”
She was laying it on too thick, but she was probably hired for her access as a flight attendant and that smile, not her subtlety.
Playing the role of an upper middle-management tech exec traveling to Buenos Aires for an important demo to a potential partner was not such a bad assignment. Even three perks were better than none: business class seats, early boarding, driver to pick him up from the airport. Diaz had been in worse situations by far, and making it onto an Alphabet detail at all was a step in the right career direction.
He didn’t need to walk far past the gates before he was greeted by perk number 3 holding a printed sign with his name on it. And he knew he was the intended “Sr. Diaz” when his glasses blinked a message that the driver was carrying a tracker paired to Celia’s card in his pocket. They really didn’t want to lose him.
So far, so good.
The driver smiled broadly - Las Buscas must have a hell of a dental plan - and offered to take Diaz’ overnight bag and laptop carrier for him. Diaz insisted on keeping the laptop bag with him in the back seat, and the driver hopped in after slamming shut the trunk of the town car.
They signaled and pulled out into the lane of traffic snaking past Arrivals moving toward the airport exit.
Diaz noticed the slow-moving van chugging along in front of them as soon as they merged onto the highway. Another car slipped alongside them to prevent Smiley from switching lanes to pass. A third vehicle pulled up behind them on cue.
A Mexican roadblock… and in Argentina, no less.
Slowly, smoothly, all four vehicles braked to a stop. Diaz - playing his part - began to panic and sputter half questions in Spanish and English to the driver who maintained his silent forward stare. Both rear doors of the town car opened simultaneously and two burly men in dark work jackets sat in the back seat with Diaz, pinning him in the middle. A third man removed Diaz’ carry-on from the trunk and was handed his laptop bag before getting into the trailing vehicle and driving away.
The caravan turned back onto the highway, each vehicle peeling off to get lost in the evening traffic.
One of the burly twins was missing two front teeth but spoke pretty good English. Diaz thought of him as Gordo 1 and his partner as Gordo 2. #1 explained that he would not be harmed as long as he cooperated, and that Diaz’ company has insurance to pay for kidnappings like this. The boredom in his voice made it clear this was not his first rodeo.
They roughed Diaz up enough to show him they were in control while patting him down. His glasses fell to the floor of the back seat and they relieved him of his wallet, passport, phone and pen. They divided the cash in his wallet - US cash - three ways, with Smiley the driver getting the least since he had to keep his eyes on the road.
Duct tape bound Diaz’ wrists together behind his back and a thick black canvas bag was tightened around his head making it impossible to see and hard to breathe. They pushed his head down so not even his silhouette would be visible through the tinted windows of the town car.
To anyone else, this would seem like a textbook kidnapping. But Diaz knew they were after something else entirely.
After driving around for about an hour - getting off the highway and back on, speeding across town and looping back - they had run their surveillance detection routes and were convinced that Diaz would have no way to tell where he was, and that no one was following them.
Gordo 2 placed a quick call of just one word, “Esquina” - corner.
Less than a minute later the town car turned a final time up a ramp, with the sound of a heavy warehouse door rolling down to close quickly behind it.
The passenger doors opened as the car screeched to a stop, and Diaz was pulled and pushed out of the car and to his feet by the Gordos. He was half carried into a side room or office of some kind. It was damp and smelled like gasoline and wet animals.
They dropped him on the floor, and into the responsibility of someone new. New Guy whispered with the Gordos for a minute, and Diaz was able to make out enough of the conversation: he wanted to know how long he had to play babysitter.
Diaz wriggled toward the wall until he could feel it against his shoulder blades. Cinderblock. Huddled into the fetal position with his hands taped behind his back and hood over his head, he looked pathetic and utterly helpless, and that was the idea.
The New Guy closed and locked the metal door to the room, its base scraping against the uneven cement floor. It had a deadbolt and some sort of latch bolt.
Diaz heard a metal-legged chair being dragged from one corner of the room to the middle, and a creak as his watcher flopped down into it. He heard the click of a manual safety on a pistol, and the sound of it being slid into a leather holster and adjusted. Probably a 1911 in a shoulder holster. Old school, but it could still put 7 or 8 holes nearly a half inch in diameter through him.
The man quickly settled into a routine. Every so often a page would turn. A large page, like a magazine and not a book. Diaz focused on maintaining a calm and steady breath rate and heartbeat. His rhythm made it easy to hear the ragged breaths of the man charged with watching him. He was fidgety, and each creak and shuffle of paper gave Diaz a clearer image of where the babysitter was, the objects around him and his physical size.
Part of his training was how to use echolocation - listening for the reflection and absorption of sounds by different types of objects to create a mental image of your surroundings. The bag over his head did him no favors, but he was able to tell enough. Now he just needed to await the directive to move to his third mark.
Several hours passed.
Diaz stopped thinking of the New Guy as the New Guy, and nicknamed him the Babysitter instead. It was a useful trick to keep everyone straight when it came time to create an after action report.
Diaz had not moved much in that time other than to orient his body so the Babysitter couldn’t see his hands, and so he would have some mechanical advantage if he had to get up and move quickly.
He felt what he was waiting for.
Tsst Tsst Tsst Tsst Tsst
Five pulses buzzed behind his ear at the spot where his eyeglasses would have made contact with his skin if they weren’t lost somewhere in the back seat of his captors’ car. The pulses were an intense and clear tingle, electric and vibratory. Strong enough to wake an operator from a deep sleep or to be felt in the thick of a firefight. The subdermal implant would pair with his glasses to authenticate him as the user, and was a silent messaging device on its own.
The five pulses were his cue that the move to mark three was imminent, and there was no time to waste.
The Babysitter’s breathing was deep, punctuated by the rumble of snores. Genuinely asleep.
Diaz curled his legs behind himself to put his shoes within reach of his bound hands. A quick pull on one shoelace freed the B.A.T. Coin he had laced tight against the tongue of his shoe, invisible. Palming the B.A.T. he paused, balancing his need for stealth with his need to move quickly.
The breathing in the room remained unchanged, so Diaz continued. One hole, two holes, three holes…. Diaz pierced a line of perforations in the three layers of duct tape binding his wrists. He didn’t need a clean cut, just a weak point.
Tsst Tsst Tsst Tsst
Slowly Diaz turned on his hip to sit up straight, his back pressed against the damp cinderblock wall behind him. Using his fingertips he moved his body away from the wall and worked his way up to standing without his clothing scratching against the rough surface.
Tsst Tsst Tsst
He pressed the bones of his wrists together for leverage to slowly, carefully begin to split the tape along the line of perforations made with his B.A.T. Coin.
Diaz felt the tension in the air change. It wasn’t just because of the pulses, or that he was standing now for the first time in hours, or that his hands were mostly free behind him. This was something he felt more viscerally.
He consciously changed his breathing pattern. A deep belly breath held for two seconds then exhaled to empty and held for two seconds. Over and over.
Diaz placed the flat of his foot against the wall behind him, elbows tight against his sides, hands barely bound behind him, braced into a leverage position ready to attack.
The short burst countdown pulses began. 8 7 6 5 4 - he moved, springing forward toward where he knew the Babysitter was sitting.
Hood still covering his face, Diaz slammed his tape-bound hands against the backs of his hips, tearing through the tape with one motion and continuing his forward momentum. His hooded head made contact with the guard’s face, knocking him backwards off the chair and onto the floor. Kneeling on top of him to keep the guard from drawing his pistol, Diaz palmed the man’s face to index his target and shot out a curled hand to strike the man in the throat.
The sounds of their colliding bodies and the clattering chair were drowned out by the commotion happening outside of the room. Pausing over the incapacitated guard, Diaz ripped the hood off his head and saw the room of his captivity for the first time. Pretty much how he pictured it. A little dirtier, perhaps.
The Babysitter’s gun became Diaz’ gun, and he checked the magazine and press-checked the slide to make sure there was a round in the chamber. 8 rounds. He may still need to fight his way out. Safety off.
Diaz touched the implant behind his ear and tapped a short code to signal all clear in his location. He retrieved his B.A.T. from the floor and laced it back into his shoe.
His team was busy on the other side of the door and in two other locations near the city. The nano-trackers on his laptop and carry-on bag had confirmed suspicions and led the team not just to Las Buscas, but their real target: the one who hired Las Buscas.
This wasn’t a kidnapping. This wasn’t a rescue.
The Corporate - Diaz’ employer - was hired to take down a business espionage ring that had been making Buenos Aires a bad place to conduct good business for innovative tech companies with IP secrets to protect. His laptop was the main target, and the secrets on it. Well, the secrets that were assumed to be on it.
But the Corporate wasn’t there to put the corporate espionage ring out of business.
They were there to take it over....
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