At 52 years old Hernandez Holanda could be considered a veteran.

In fact the current life expectancy for his colleagues was a little under two years. Hernandez, or Paco as he was generally known, had been working for the cartel since retiring from the Mexican air force at the age of 35. Paco was a survivor and fully intended to live long enough to see out his retirement. The current vibrations in the converted Cessna Titan gave him some cause for concern though.

He had been flying the ex-corporate jet for ten years and the vibrations had started a week, or two flights, ago. He made a mental note to have the plane fully serviced after he returned, he would ask the mechanic to focus on the right side engine where he thought the vibrations were coming from. Normally this would be the point where he would engage the basic autopilot and try to figure it out himself but with only 2,000 feet between the plane and the desert floor Paco was staying exactly where he was, sat behind the worn controls of the old workhorse of a plane.


Behind him his passenger sat looking out of the only available window, she swayed from side to side with the airplane but didn’t try to stand up or move around the empty space. On a normal flight the stripped fuselage would be filled with cargo, jam packed right up to the cockpit. Today it was empty except for the 10 year old girl strapped into the only seat which was roughly welded to the steel bulkhead. A four point harness pressed into her skinny body and she twisted her head to look out of the small dirty window. Paco didn’t question the job or ask why, he never did. He just did as he was told and was happy that this was a daytime job. Most of his flights were conducted under the cover of darkness but tonight he would be home for dinner. This pleased Paco immensely.

Ahead the desert stretched as far as he could see, a bland and basic world of sand and scrub. He skimmed this lifeless world with the airspeed indicator sitting at 150mph. The turboprop noise, the vibrations and a heavy smell of aviation fuel filled his senses as his hands gently caressed the plastic controls with knowledge. This was Paco’s world. He checked for the third time since taking off that the transponder was definitely off and then relaxed letting his mind wander ahead.

Pretty soon he would need to be more alert. Air traffic control at Santa Teresa might pick him up. He felt confident the altitude was enough to bypass their interest however he knew his nervousness was the main reason for his longevity. He always checked everything, double and triple checked and never ever ignored the feelings. His landing spot was five miles north of Highway 9 which meant he had to cross the highway and at such low altitude this could present him with another problem. He could climb to cross the highway but dismissed the thought immediately. It’s a little used highway so the chances of being seen were very low and even then being spotted didn’t necessarily constitute an emergency for him.

He was sweating even with the side window open and wearing nothing except for blue overalls and his boots. He removed his plastic sunglasses, pulled a sleeve down and dabbed the sweat from his face. He could smell oil and grease from the fabric. El Paso and Las Cruces were an hour away so he just sat there watching the barren landscape fly past, sweating. His mind was clear and relaxed for the time being.

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