The Border Incident Mystery Novel
The Border Incident Mystery Novel setting. In a small cave in the mountains above the Peguis Canyon, Mexico, 40 miles to the west of Presidio, Texas, sat a bound and bloody Pablo Vargas. He had been in Presidio at the request of Fidel Cepeda, leader of the Sonora Drug Cartel for a meeting he was told was of the utmost importance.
As Vargas returned to consciousness he could see that dawn was breaking which meant that he had been there for almost a full day, or longer. He became aware that he was bound hand and foot and had no recollection of how he got into that situation. His head hurt and he began breathing heavily as he looked up to see a short but muscular man accompanied by two armed men approaching him.
The man in the middle said, “My name is Ramon Valdez, a very good friend of Señor Cepeda. He is sorry that he can’t be here right now, but he has sent me to take care of our business.”
Vargas’s frightened eyes scanned his surroundings. He recognized the name Ramon Valdez as the leader of the feared Los Peligrosos, the enforcement arm of the Sonora cartel. He realized he was in a rocky cave and from what he could see outside the entrance, in a mountainous area. He shuttered in the realization that he was in serious trouble. Then, with quickened breath, he asked, “I don’t understand Señor; I was to meet Señor Cepeda in Presidio. Why am I bound? What is it you want of me?”
Valdez glanced over at one of his companions and laughed. “Can you believe he does not know why he is here?” he rhetorically asked the very large man standing to his right.
The man shook his head but made no other reply.
Then returning his attention to Vargas, his mood now ominously somber, he said. “You must pay for what you have done, Pablo.”
A confused and horrified expression covered Vargas’s face as he said in a trembling voice, “I don’t understand; what did I do?”
Valdez shook his head slowly. “Pablo, Pablo; it’s too late for that. Now, as you may have already guessed, this is not going to end well for you, but it may at least be quick and painless if you are truthful in your answers, and so far you’re not doing very well with that. So, tell me what you have told the American Border Patrol Agent.”
They know. His face etched in desperation he embraced deceit as his only ally. “What border patrol agent, Señor? I do not know any agents of the border patrol.”
Valdez turned to his other companion and calmly said, “Did I not tell you he would deny everything?” Then he turned back and with nostrils flaring slapped Pablo hard against his cheek.
When Pablo recovered, Valdez with a cold voice said, “Pablo, the more you lie to me the worse it is going to be for you. Now, you were followed to the restaurant in Eagle Pass and you were seen having a lengthy conversation with Agent Eric Dobbins of the U.S. Border Patrol. You really do need to tell us what that was all about.”
Vargas dropped his head and momentarily closed his eyes. Then, looking up at his captor, his mind racing for an acceptable answer, a trembling Pablo Vargas replied, “I told him nothing, Señor. The man approached me and asked me to join him for a cup of coffee and said he had a very important matter to talk with me about. When we sat down, he asked if I would be willing to work with the Border Patrol as an informer. I told him that I know of no one who would be able to give me the kind of information they were seeking and that I would not know any other way to get it. That is all I said, Señor; I swear it on the graves of my ancestors.”
“How would it be, Pablo, if I cut your body in several places, tie you up spread-eagled in the desert and let the vultures take care of the rest of you?”
“No, Señor, please, I know nothing of what you speak.” Pablo was breathing so hard that he began to choke on his own tears.
Valdez turned to his men, and motioning toward the cave entrance, said, “Take him out, cut him up a little and tie him down with stakes.”
In a voice shrill with horror, Pablo replied. “No, Señor, please, no. What do you want to hear? I will tell you anything you want to hear.”
“I want to hear the truth, Pablo; that is what I want.”
Vargas slowly raised his eyes toward Valdez, and with a surrendered yet pleading expression, said, “I told them there would be a crossing of drugs on Friday night, and where it would be, that is all, Señor, I swear. I am very sorry; they told me they would hurt my family if I did not cooperate with them. They had me very frightened”
“But not like you are now, eh Pablo?”
Vargas said nothing; his quivering body answered.
“What else did you tell them about our operation?”
“Nothing, Señor, I swear to Our Lady.”
Valdez turned to one of his companions. “Oh, he swears to Our Lady. I guess that settles it,” he said sarcastically. Then, he put Pablo’s chin in his hand and raised the terrified man’s head, looking him in the eyes for a long moment.
“I swear it, Señor,” Vargas repeated. “That is all I told them. Please do not feed me to los buitres.”
Looking down at the kneeling Vargas and scratching his head, Valdez finally nodded.
“I told you the truth, Señor. You will let me live now?” Vargas said, mumbling his words.
Valdez smiled. “I believe you, Pablo, but I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that. And how much did you get paid?”
Pablo hesitated a moment, then looked up and said, “Five hundred American dollars.”
“You sold your life cheaply, Pablo.”
Then he motioned for the two men with him to remove Pablo as he had ordered.
“No, Señor,” Pablo begged. “You said that if I told you the truth you would not feed me to los buitres.”
“That was a one-time offer, Pablo,” Valdez said. Then, he turned and walked out of the cave.
Two days later, Pablo’s picked bones were discovered strewn about on the desert floor by a small group of Mexicans heading for the border. Those who found him walked by him and kept moving on. Knowing it was dangerous to get involved in matters that were not of their concern, they said nothing to anyone.
The night was dark; there was no moon, no artificial light, and no light emanating from any town close enough to aid night vision.
The three American Border Patrol Agents were silent, lost in their own images of how the night would play out. Only the lambent emanating from their headlights ushered the Land Rover down the narrow dirt road that led to the Rio Grande River, which separated the American-Mexican border in Southwest Texas.
A rattlesnake shown in the slim light and twisted into the rich blackness. A coyote’s broken call was answered by another. The trio of agents was heading for a point north of Eagle Pass, Texas, where Agent Eric Dobbins had been told there would be a crossing of a group of illegals moving a very substantial amount of cocaine into the United States.
Nearing the location, the American Agents, armed with M-4 automatic weapons, stopped their vehicle, donned their night-vision goggles, doused the lights on their four-wheel drive vehicle and walked the last quarter-mile through dense mesquite and shrubs to the point where their informant had told them there would be a crossing. That area of the river was lined on both sides of the Rio Grande with small trees, sand dunes, and light brush.
All three men knew well that at times agents are provided a false tip as a diversion so that an unmolested crossing might be made at another location a safe distance away. Dobbins trusted Pablo, however, and was certain the information was valid.
Gathered in a group, Agent Eric Dobbins addressed Agent Karl Jensen in a whisper. “Karl,” he said, pointing to his right, “you station yourself over there twenty paces and don’t fire unless you’re fired upon and satisfied there are no civilians with them and then not until they have crossed the border.”
Agent Jensen nodded, and keeping his eyes on the river, silently moved to the point indicated by Dobbins.
“And Neal,” Dobbins said to Agent Neal Broderick, “You go downstream twenty paces and find a good spot. When you find one quickly flash your light so we know where you are.”
“Right,” Broderick said.
A little more than an hour later Jensen and Broderick were beginning to believe that they had received false information.
“Are you sure this is the place Pablo told you about?” Jensen whispered into his hand-held radio.
“Let’s wait a little longer,” Agent Dobbins replied. “Vargas is reliable.”
“I still think we should have contacted DEA, or Customs, or somebody, anybody, about this,” Jensen said. “There’s just something about this that doesn’t feel right.” “Don’t worry about it Karl, the information we have is good,” Dobbins said. “Now, unless you have something that can’t wait, zip it.”
An hour later, an impatient and nervous Jensen again made contact. “How much longer are we going to wait?” he asked, wiping the line of sweat from his forehead. “They’re already more than two hours late. It’s starting to look like a set-up or false tip to me.”
“He’s right, Eric,” Broderick said. “And if this is a set-up it could get ugly.”
“We’ll wait a while longer,” Dobbins replied.
There was no reply.
After the passage of another hour, Jensen called again. “Something’s wrong, its three hours now. Let’s go, we’re wasting our time,” he said.
“Just a little while longer,” Dobbins insisted.
After another 15 minutes their patience was rewarded, or so they thought at the time. Roving flashlight beacons were seen in the distance across a shallow section of the Rio Grande. This is what they had been waiting for. All three border agents tensed up and with their weapons at the ready, waited for the crossing.
They were on the edge of an incident that would reverberate all the way to Washington D.C. and Mexico City, and bring international attention to the dangers that permeated the American and Mexican border towns.
They saw a group of seven crossing the river.
At three in the morning of that same night the three Border Patrol Agents sped into the parking lot of the police department office in Eagle Pass, Texas, a small town 20 miles south of the site of the incident they had just gone through. Agent Dobbins held his right arm as they hurried into the building.
Seeing that the three agents were disheveled and Dobbins’ shirtsleeve bloodied, Lieutenant Tom Garvey asked, “What the hell happened?”
“We were shot at from across the border,” Dobbins said. “We need to call our office.”
“Certainly,” Garvey said, pointing to the phone. “But what happened?”
Dobbins picked up the phone and made the call while Jensen replied, “We were sitting on the site an informant told us about and sure enough seven people came across the border. Five of them were carrying what appeared to be heavy loads. The other two were carrying rifles, one behind the five, and the other in the lead. All of a sudden, just as we were about to approach those who had crossed, we received fire from the other side of the border.”
“From whom?” Garvey asked.
“We’re not sure … well, we don’t know,” Jensen offered. “Eric was hit with the first volley.”
“Were you not wearing your night vision goggles?”
“We were, but they were too far away,” Jensen said.
Garvey could see that Dobbins’ arm wasn’t badly hit. Dobbins didn’t seem to be in much pain but when he had completed his call Garvey asked him if he needed medical treatment. Dobbins shook his head and said it was only a scratch and that a butterfly bandage would suffice.
“Was anyone else hit?” Garvey asked.
“Neither Neal nor I were hit,” Jensen said. “We never returned fire.”
“Why not?” asked Garvey.
“Because the first firing came from across the border,” Dobbins said in reference to the fact that Border Patrol Agents are under no circumstances permitted to fire across the border. If they are in danger of being overwhelmed they should retreat and fire only if being shot at from the American side.
“What about the two who came across with guns?”
“We couldn’t see them too well either,” Broderick said, “Two of them began firing but only briefly. It was only seconds later that we lost track of them. They all scrambled away and disappeared into the darkness,”
“How long did the fire continue?” Garvey asked.
“Not much more than a minute,” Dobbins said. “All the while there was shouting coming from the Mexican side, but we weren’t able to make out what was being said over the sound of the guns. They were speaking in Spanish, that’s all we could tell,” he said.
An hour and a half later, Captain Gary Chester of the border patrol arrived from his office in Fort Stockton. After explaining in greater detail the events of the evening to the captain, it was directed that all of the rifles and hand guns carried by the agents be turned over, the normal and required procedure after a shooting.
The agents’ weapons were secured and would be taken to the office in San Antonio for inspection.
By the time the agents completed their written reports dawn was breaking. It would be a bright and hot day. Two of the three agents were released with instructions to remain in their homes until after their weapons had been checked.
Agent Dobbins was instructed to remain until a crime scene unit could be deployed to the area. He would go with them and point out their positions and explain in detail exactly what happened.
Later that morning Captain Chester sent two Rangers out with Dobbins to the scene of the incident. They were given instructions to protect the area for the crime scene unit and not to touch or gather up any evidence.
An hour later one of the Rangers called the Ranger Station and said the body of a woman was found at the scene on the American side. It was a middle-aged woman and she took a gunshot wound to the head. A deputy coroner from Del Rio was summoned to the scene.
“I don’t think she was killed here,” the Ranger said.
The crime scene unit arrived in Presidio from San Antonio early that afternoon, and accompanied by Captain Chester, drove out to the location of the incident.
One of the two Rangers who had been guarding the scene said, “The dead woman is over there in the brush.” He pointed to the area where Dobbins said the intruders would have been after they crossed into Texas.
Chester told one of the Rangers to go to his vehicle and “make the call and ask if the coroner was on his way. Tell him we’re outdoors, it’s hot, and we need someone down here ASAP. And have someone cover the body.”
Then, pointing to spots in the area where the agents had been positioned the night before, the Rangers brought to the attention of the crime scene unit that there were spent shells lying around. Crime scene investigator, Dan Dipple, nodded and instructed the Ranger to step aside and let the unit do their work. His tone was less than cordial. The Ranger glanced over at Chester who smiled and motioned for him to move away from the area of their work.
“What kind of shells are they?” Chester asked.
“.223 shells, Captain.” They were the caliber of bullets used in the weapons carried by the Border Patrol Agents.
Chester looked over at Dobbins. “I thought you said you didn’t fire your weapons,” he said.
Seeing the gawk of disbelief in Dobbins’ eyes, Chester said, “You’d better not say anything more until you contact your representative and retain counsel.”
“Those aren’t ours, Captain,” Dobbins blurted. “This is a set-up; those aren’t our shells.”
“Just keep quiet. Your initial comment has been noted. Relax, they will be tested and chances are they were planted by the Mexicans after you left. If that’s the case, there will be no match and you’re good. Besides if they do match, I’m not the one you’ll have to convince.”
The crime scene unit photographed the various areas where the shells were found. They then gathered all of the spent cartridges, carefully photographing and documenting each one and packaging each in a separately marked plastic bag. Photos of the body were taken before the coroner arrived. The lead man in the CSU said, “She wasn’t killed here.”
Dobbins kept shouting denying comments to the crime scene investigators and to Chester until he was told to go to the SUV, stay off the radio, and wait.
Chester turned to the head crime scene investigator and asked, “Is there any evidence there might have been others besides our agents who were here recently?”
That’s hard to say,” Dipple replied. “The sand is loose and deep enough to make it difficult even to determine what might have made the indentations.”
“When you collected the brass did you mark in which area each was found?” Chester asked.
The CSI frowned at Chester and asked, “Whadda you think, Captain?”
Chester laughed and slapped Dipple on the shoulder. “Thanks,” he said.
A sample of the sand was taken from where the body was found.
When Capt. Chester returned to his SUV, Dobbins said, “Aren’t you going to have me show you what happened?”
“Not right now. Under the circumstances I believe it would be better if you talked to an attorney before saying anything else about this matter. You should tell Jensen and Broderick to do the same. We’ll contact the Mexican Border Patrol and ask them if they have any information about this incident.”