Return Was Questionable
There are hundreds of American patriots with a variety of specialized skills that our country still needs, just not on a consistent basis. The major problem is that many of these highly trained operatives have families or at the very least still need to support themselves when they aren’t on an assignment. Rather than have these men and women sitting around doing nothing, the Central Intelligence Agency came up with an innovative plan. They began buying hotels, resorts, casinos as well as trucking, retail and manufacturing companies then placed these operatives in jobs specifically suited to their skills and preferences. This would allow them to have a steady income while maintaining their covers as middle class workers. If the companies failed to show a profit, they were supplemented by an influx of capital from the CIA’s nefarious enterprises that included weapons sales and narcotics trafficking. The Central Intelligence Agency is extremely proficient at portraying themselves as a law abiding ‘by the book’ agency, but in reality they do not hesitate to cross any line to accomplish their primary mission. It takes a special breed of men and women to work under these conditions. This is the story of a few of those people.
Dave’s father, Clark McLane was a Standard Oil employee and the family lived in Manhattan Beach until he was five years old. His father got restless with the routine of refinery operations so when he got the opportunity to become a surveyor in the civil construction business, he took it. During his career Clark helped to build highways and infrastructure around the state of California. Dave and his mother traveled from town to town and stayed until the job was completed, which could be anywhere from a couple months to over a year. The young McLane attended a dozen different schools by the time he was sixteen years of age and developed a sense of wanderlust One of his father’s jobs took him to the small town of Independence on the eastern side of the Sierras where Clark began construction on a country administration building.
Dave told his parents, “I love this place; someday I’m going to come back here and settle down.” By the time he turned 18 years of age, Dave had become an expert skier, often skiing as much as 50 miles a day while working on the junior ski patrol. His father was a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific as a Navy Corpsman and survived the landing at Iwo Jima. Dave was brought up in a home of patriotism and love of country so it was no surprise that he decided to join the military and follow in his father’s footsteps. He became a Navy Seal and served 3 tours in Vietnam while being assigned to Air America.
Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline established in 1946 and covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1950 to 1976. It supplied and supported covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Air America flew civilians, diplomats, spies, refugees, commandos, sabotage teams, doctors, war casualties, drug enforcement officers, and even visiting VIPs like Richard Nixon all over Southeast Asia. Its non-human passengers were even more bizarre on occasion. Part of the CIA’s support operations in Laos, for instance, involved logistical support for local tribes fighting the North Vietnamese forces and the Pathet Lao, their local opponents. Air America also flew opium from mountain villages north and east of the Plain of Jars to Gen Vang Pao’s headquarters at Long Tieng and profited from their drug transportation business.
Dave McLane provided security during the fall of Saigon and when the Vietnam War was over, he returned to California with the hope of settling down in the Sierras. He was too valuable an asset to the CIA to let him return to civilian life so leadership at Langley Virginia offered him a deal, one that was too good to pass up. Through one of their many shell corporations called Colossus Properties, they purchased the Mammoth Mountain ski resort and made Dave the general manager. Over the next 30 years, Dave participated in numerous covert missions while providing a safe haven and employment for other operatives affiliated with the CIA and its supporting agencies. Some of the men and women also worked with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, measuring snow in the winter so they could predict how much water would be available in the spring and summer. Sometimes, Dave would go out with the younger personnel on these extended treks and they would ski for hours along the pristine slopes. Since the CIA did not have stockholders or anyone to answer to, they could do as they wished with any of the profits. Dave bought another gondola and expanded the number of ski runs as well as purchasing property in the town of Mammoth Lakes. He was involved in the expansion of the regional hospital and construction of a new fire station and a junior college. Dave loved running the business, but he also was not averse to using his connections to circumvent ridiculous regulations, red tape or undue pressure from California state officials.
On one particular occasion, an inspector from Sacramento came to Mammoth Mountain to evaluate safety protocols. The political appointee commented, “Everything looks good, but I’ll need to do a secondary inspection just to be sure that nothing was overlooked.”
“Sure, we’ve nothing to hide,” Dave replied.
“Well, it’s not that simple,” The Inspector said.
“I’ve got a very busy schedule and I won’t be able to get back to you for at least two months.”
“You’ll have to shut down until I return,” The Inspector’s smugness was nauseating.
Dave had a feeling where this was headed, but he played along “Is there any way I can convince you to expedite that second inspection.”
“There are few options available.”
Dave opened his desk drawer and pulled out ten thousand dollars in one hundred dollar bills and set the stack on the edge of the desk. I need to speak to one of my ski patrol personnel. I’ll be back in 5 minutes to discuss those options.” then left his office, walked out the backdoor, sat down on the bench that overlooked the valley for exactly five minutes. When he returned to his office, the ten thousand dollars was no longer setting on the desk.
“I think we can bypass the second series of inspections for the time being,” The Inspector said, “You can continue business as usual, but I’ll be back in two months and I’m sure we can work things out again.”
Two weeks later, the inspector returned to Mammoth Mountain looking disheveled, nervous and a lot less arrogant than he did during his first visit to Dave McCall. He was apologetic and submissive. “I am so sorry Mr. McCall, I completely overstepped my boundaries and I hope that you can forgive me. As a token of my good intentions, I would like to return the ten thousand dollars that I mistakenly took during my last visit, but also add another ten thousand for any inconvenience that I might have caused you.” The state inspector set two stacks of money on the desk.
His attitude adjustment could be directly attributed to a visit he received from four masked men who entered his home the night before. They pulled him out of bed and tied and gagged him. The intruders brought the quivering bureaucrat to a hundred foot cliff and dangled him over the edge. “It would be a wise decision if you re-considered your position concerning Mammoth Mountain. We like skiing there and don’t want any problems. You should do everything in your power to help keep it operational. Your life depends on it.”
The Inspector was terrified and nodded in agreement. He was pulled back to safety and placed in the trunk of the car and brought back to his home and carried inside. One of the men untied him and pulled the duct tape off his mouth and gave one last ominous warning, “You should return the money.”
Another man added, “Double it.”
The Inspector cried the rest of the night and in the morning opened his floor safe and took out the required amount of money.
Dave responded to the inspector’s apology, “Absolutely…don’t give it a second thought.”
From that day forward, the inspector became a dedicated advocate for Mammoth Mountain. Throughout the coming years, men and women would come to work on the mountain; some would stay for a few weeks, a few months or even a couple of years and then they would disappear, never to be seen again. Then there would be some absences where an employee would leave and return, sometimes with a tropical tan. The individual never mentioned where they had been and everybody knew better than to ask. It was business as usual until another person disappeared.
Mark Kona was Dave’s right hand man and a former Delta Force operative. He entered Dave’s office, “We’ve got a new employee.”
“Name?” Dave asked
“Cooper Rawlings, former Marine, EOD (Emergency Ordnance Disposal)
“Put him on avalanche control.”
“Roger that,” Mark said.
There were no missions for the next three months so everybody proceeded with their normal job duties. The mountain received three feet of snow in a fast moving storm and Cooper was getting ready for his usual patrol. “Mind if I come along?” Dave asked.
“Not at all,” Cooper responded.
The two men loaded TNT explosive charges with timer detonators in their packs and took the gondola to the top of the highest run, Hangman’s Hollow. Dave and Cooper’s assignment was to eliminate the risk of avalanches on the expert runs which included; Climax, Dropout Chutes, West Bowl, Paranoid Flats and Avalanche Chutes. Members of the ski patrol would handle the immediate and beginner’s slopes.
The bomb is about the size of a soup can. It is bright orange and stuffed with two pounds of Pentolite, a chalky mixture of TNT and an even more powerful explosive compound known as PETN. When the two expert skiers reached one particularly dangerous area, Dave pointed to the slope, “Let’s get that.”
Cooper pulled a drone out of the pack and tied one end of a 50 foot rope to it. Dave used the controls to elevate the drone ten feet into the air and let it hover above them. Cooper secured the explosive charge to the other end of the rope and set the timer for 90 seconds. Dave maneuvered the drone over the unstable slope so that the explosive charge was five feet above the snow, giving the shock waves more room to do their work. Both men crouched down amid the swirling snow, “Five, four, three,” Dave counted, “Fire in the hole!” When the charge went off, tons of snow tumbled down the slope. They repeated the process six more times before heading back to the lodge.
“Good job out there today,” Dave said as he sipped from a large mug of hot chocolate.
“I know explosives, but I’ve still got a lot to learn about snow and these mountains,” Cooper responded.
“I’ve been up here in the Sierras a lot longer than you and the day that you stop learning something new is probably the day that your arrogance or complacency gets you killed,” Dave advised.
“I’ll remember that.”
Two days later, Cooper Rawlings received his orders and was gone. When he didn’t return for two months, Dave got curious which was totally out of context for him. He knew how the system worked and basically on a need to know basis, he didn’t need to know. He called in a few favors and got the answer that he wanted. Cooper was sent to Mexico to help take down the Sinaloa Cartel. There must have been a leak somewhere because the team of special operatives was ambushed and all were killed except for Cooper. He escaped and was now hiding somewhere south of the border. There were numerous safe houses throughout Mexico, but if Cooper thought the mission had been compromised, he would hesitate to use any of them. That was the premise that Dave was operating on. Dave told Mark as he was leaving Mammoth, “I don’t know when I’ll be back and if I don’t make it, you never saw me leave.”
“Confirmed,” Mark said.
“You’re in charge.”
“Be careful, you might be a little out of practice on this,”
“Then I’d better get up to speed quickly,” Dave was out the door before he finished speaking.
He met with Enrique Koba in Tijuana, “One of your men is missing?”
“I’m off the books on this. The Agency doesn’t know I’m down here,” David said.
“He must be important for you to take the risk.”
“Don’t ask me why.”
“I got the photo you sent me and put it out to my people,” Enrique said, “You know the Cartel is looking for him as well?”
“Then we better find him first,” Dave warned, “Or I’ll be taking him home in pieces.”
Cooper had been moving from one cheap motel to another in the Rosarita Beach area and maintaining as low a profile as he could while trying to come up with a plan to get back across the border. He was becoming desperate and knew he didn’t have much time when he saw a group of cartel soldiers going from one motel room to another looking for him. Cooper escaped out the window a minute before they kicked in the door to his room. He was going to have to trust someone if he was going to survive so he made his way to a local store and bought himself a pre-paid cell phone. Cooper walked down an alley, took a deep breath and made a call.
“Yeah,” Dave said when he answered his cellphone.
“It’s me,” Cooper said.
“You in trouble?” Dave asked.
“Tell me what you need?” Dave said.
There was a long hesitation until Dave eventually said, “You’re not sure if you can trust me…I get it. I’d feel the same way.”
“We were set up.” Cooper said.
“I know,” Dave answered, “Give me an area where you are and you can watch me come in alone. If it doesn’t seem right then take me out or make it on your own.”
“You’re hours away,” Cooper said.
“Actually I’m in Mexico as we speak.”
“Do you know where the old Fox Baja movie studios are?”
Dave looked over at Enrique who nodded and whispered, “We’re twenty minutes out.”
“I’ll see you in two zero mikes.”
As they approached the area, Enrique made a phone call to his men to scout the perimeter. Several minutes later, he got a call from one of them, “Cartel is in the area.”
Dave got on his phone, “The Cartel is closing in, hold your position.”
“Roger that,” Cooper said as he looked down from the rooftop and saw armed men walking about.
Enrique pulled over to the side of the road and popped open the trunk. Both men quickly exited the vehicle, took out assault rifles with mounted scopes and long magazines. When a car came racing at them with guns blazing, Dave and Enrique got in defensive positions, took aim, riddled the vehicle with bullets and killed the occupants.
Enrique’s other men neutralized a dozen more Cartel soldiers. When Cooper heard the gunfire he made his way down the stairwell and shot two men that he encountered on the street then walked up the street to Dave and Enrique’s position. “Thanks for coming to get me.”
“Don’t take it personally, I just wanted to see if I still had my skills,” Dave smiled.
Cooper looked around at the human carnage, “I’d say that you do.”
Enrique suggested, “You need to get to higher altitudes, I can handle it from here.”
The two former veterans and current CIA operatives went back to Mammoth Mountain. It took them a couple of months to identify the leak and permanently neutralize it. Dave and Cooper never ceased to appreciate the majestic beauty of their surroundings because at any given time, they could be gone by dawn and their return was questionable.