In partnership with Epic Magazine.
This is the second installment of a three-part story. In part one, a bankrupt music promoter and his detoxing son attempt to stage a Nas concert in Angola — and become trapped when the show implodes. In part three, their situation only gets bleaker — until a relapse and a sudden death set the stage for an unlikely breakthrough. Skip to: Part 1 | Part 3
It’s not easy making a run for it with rolling suitcases. It was the morning of New Year’s Eve 2011, and Patrick Allocco Jr. and his father, Patrick Sr., had been abandoned by their taxi driver on the street in Luanda, Angola. Earlier, they’d found themselves in jeopardy after a Nas concert they’d been planning had gone bust, costing a man known as Riquinho—a promoter with a menacing reputation and loyal organization to match—several hundred thousand dollars. The Alloccos had no passports and Patrick Jr. was in the grip of heroin withdrawal. So they fled for the embassy. Or so they thought: Suddenly, their driver stopped the car, got out, and walked away. Patrick Jr. realized that they had been deposited in Riquinho’s neighborhood. “This is his turf,” he said to his father. “We gotta run for it.”
Standing there with their luggage, the Alloccos had a split second to figure out which way to go. They had no idea where the embassy was or how they’d get there. But it didn’t matter: A dozen men appeared, AK-47s raised. Some wore police uniforms. Others were Riquinho’s men.
“What should we do?” Patrick Jr. said, his hands in the air.
“Don’t do anything,” his father replied.
Patrick Sr. remembered that he had the cell number of David Josar, a State Department official in the city, and dialed. “We were intercepted en route to the embassy,” he said, “and now we are surrounded by men with guns.”
Riquinho’s black Lincoln Navigator screeched onto the scene, and he emerged from the back seat. Patrick Sr. lowered the phone but kept Josar on the line, hoping he could hear what was happening. Riquinho walked up and snatched it. By now it was clear there would be no concert, and someone, Riquinho said, owed him $400,000. Patrick Sr. thought: Fair point, but that someone is Nas. After all, he was the one not in Angola. But it wasn’t the time for particulars. Riquinho threw them against the car and demanded the money. “You try to run! You want to escape our justice!” Riquinho said. “Big problems for you.”
The Alloccos were forced inside the SUV at gunpoint. Riquinho took the wheel. His bodyguard sat beside them. Riding shotgun was a man in a police uniform, training his gun in their direction. The SUV careered through Luanda, swerving into oncoming traffic as Riquinho yelled: “You think you can fuck me? Now I fuck you!”
Patrick Jr. is not an excitable sort, but now he felt true fear. He told his father he was prepared to fight. Speaking in a whisper, Patrick Sr. advised calm. “Keep a level head,” he said, “and we’ll be okay.” If anything, he added, smile and laugh like nothing’s wrong. Don’t show that you’re afraid. Patrick Jr. was stunned at his father’s sangfroid. In truth, Patrick Sr. was also terrified, but he felt an instinct to remain composed in order to reassure his son. And, of course, himself.
The Alloccos were brought to one police station and then another. In between, they sat handcuffed as the cops tore through the city, sirens and lights at full tilt, playing high-speed chicken with civilian cars. The men kept their guns trained on them as they flew into traffic circles, hitting the parking brake, Tokyo Drift style, smoking tires and all. They were moved again, this time somewhere outside the city. No more skyscrapers. Just stray dogs and egg sellers. Bouncing down a dirt road, they saw their destination: a concrete bunker wreathed with razor wire. For years, Patrick Sr. had sometimes worried his son was headed for prison, but he never thought they’d wind up in one together.
Inside the bunker, the police seemed more official. They wore black tactical vests that said DNIC. The Alloccos didn’t know it yet, but they were in the headquarters of the National Police, the Angolan equivalent of the FBI. The officers played good cop, bad cop; the translator was nice, the officers yelled; they repeated their questions, trying to poke holes in their story and determine if the Alloccos were running some kind of scam. At one point, officers searched their bags but found only a few days’ worth of underwear and a dozen beef-teriyaki MREs.
Riquinho was there, and at one point he presented a pile of newspapers to the police, showing them the full-size advertisements he’d placed for the concert. There was Nas, across a two-page spread, promised to all the city for that evening. For a moment, Patrick Sr. felt bad for Riquinho. He was a fellow promoter who just wanted to put on a show. Tickets had been sold. People were looking forward to being entertained. Patrick Sr. had been in the same position: On the brink of a failed concert. Riquinho has a legitimate grievance, Patrick Sr. told the detectives, but it isn’t our fault.
The DNIC officers separated the Alloccos, and Patrick Jr. had a curiously intimate conversation with his interrogator. The detective requested a detailed family history, and Patrick Jr. told him about his drug history, his mother, his arrests. Two DUIs, two counts of resisting arrest, a drug charge, disorderly conduct. He explained that he’d spent his entire adult life on probation; that only a week earlier he had been homeless; that he’d been estranged from his father and was in Angola because he was trying to put his life back together. The detective was by turns considerate, astonished, and annoyed. “Then what are you doing here?” he said. “And why have you helped your father commit fraud?”
Patrick Jr. was reunited with his father, who was speaking with another DNIC detective. “We just want to settle this for everyone,” he said and gave Patrick Sr. back his phone. “Show us the money.” For the next few minutes, everyone huddled around Patrick Sr.’s phone, looking at his banking apps, following the trail of payments, demonstrating that Riquinho’s money was not in his hands.
“You see!” Patrick Sr. said, pointing to the deposit from Riquinho and the transfer to Nas. “Money in, money out.”
The detective seemed convinced but still demanded that a concert take place soon. “We want Nas to come,” he said. “You must contact him.”
Patrick Sr. tried again to reach Nas’s manager, to no avail. He also used his phone to send a surreptitious SOS to the embassy. The scene was interrupted when an officer arrived to escalate the interrogation. “Now you must speak with the comandante,” he said.
The comandante’s office was air-conditioned, which was a relief. He seemed dressed for a military parade: a chest full of medals, impressive shoulder stripes, cocked beret. “It is not that often that I have Americans in my office,” he said. Out the window, Patrick Jr. could see military vehicles lined up in the courtyard. “I wish you could see Angola in a different light, because this is a great country,” the comandante continued. Patrick Sr. tried to agree, saying how he too had looked forward to seeing the people of Angola come together for the concert — but the comandante interrupted. “These are serious allegations. We will get justice,” he said. They faced ten years in Angolan prison, he added. “And we do not extradite to the United States.”
Another hour went by. Outside it was getting dark. They’d been in custody, or interrogation, for eight hours. They had no idea where this was going. There were still no specific charges. They assumed they’d be soon put in a cell somewhere in this compound.
Then there was a knock at the door. In walked David Josar and a security detail. Patrick Jr., who was often at odds with the cops back home, had never been so happy to see men in uniform. Josar had received Patrick Sr.’s distress text and figured out where they were being held.
“Are these men currently being charged?” Josar asked. “If not, they are coming with me.” After some back and forth, the officers relented. They didn’t look happy about it, but the police returned the Alloccos’ bags and escorted them outside, where Josar put them into an armored SUV, drove them to the embassy, and issued them new passports.
The next flight to New York wasn’t until the following day. Until then, they were put up in an apartment with high walls, a hidden entrance, and more guards, making it feel like a safe house, which Patrick Jr. thought was kinda neat. The security detail called the location “Eagles Nest” and gave them walkie-talkies, which was also kinda neat. The Alloccos were still rattled but felt reassured. Patrick Sr. realized it was still New Year’s Eve. The day had felt like the longest of their lives.
He called Abby: “Happy New Year’s!” Funny thing happened … His wife was not amused. “You’re going to get out of this business,” she told him.
Before going to sleep, Patrick Jr. could feel the gathering clouds of withdrawal and considered holding off on his last dose of Suboxone, but instead he put the orange tab under his tongue. After all, they were going home.
The next day, Josar and the embassy staff brought the Alloccos to the airport and gave them one-way tickets to Dubai, paid for with a loan from the U.S. government. They cleared security, but at the immigration window, the desk officer scanned their new passports at length and ordered them to take a seat. It didn’t take long for them to realize something was wrong. The plane was boarding, but the immigration officials were on the phone with someone. Last call came. “There’s a problem,” the immigration officer said. “You can’t leave the country.” They’d been put on a no-fly list. Their passports were confiscated for a second time. Out the window, Patrick Jr. saw their flight pulling away from the gate.
The Alloccos showed up at the embassy again. This time Josar was less sanguine. “We’ve reached an impasse,” he said. Riquinho, they learned, had lodged a complaint about the business dispute, and he had enough influence in the government to have them held in the country until it was settled.
“A business dispute!” Patrick Sr. said. “Back home, a business dispute doesn’t mean you get kidnapped by armed men!”
Josar noted that they were not at home. “Unfortunately,” he said, “this is now a local police matter.”
The embassy deposited the Alloccos at a new hotel called the Skyna. Patrick Sr. was full of questions: How does this get resolved? How long will it take? What happens until then? But Josar had no immediate answers. He was a junior consular officer, and this was way above his pay grade. “We will do everything we can,” he said. “But the embassy has limited options.” Leaving them in the lobby, Josar gave them his card and a list of Angolan attorneys. “You’re going to need a lawyer,” he said. Bewildered, the Alloccos watched Josar and the embassy detail drive off into the dusk.
Patrick Sr. spread out everything he had on the hotel-room bed, taking stock of their things as if on a lifeboat. He had a few pouches and MREs left; after that, they’d have to buy supplies and meals, which he knew were outrageously expensive. He looked out the window. The Skyna was nice, in the way that any mid-size business hotel in any city might be. They were on the 15th floor. The twilight view stretched out to the bay. It was 7 p.m. on New Year’s Day.
The air conditioner could not be adjusted, and the room was freezing. Both of the Alloccos were shivering, but for different reasons: Patrick Jr.’s last Suboxone dose was wearing off. Patrick Sr. looked over and saw his son clutching himself in a chair. He was at the precipice of deep withdrawal. When the first waves of the full-body assault began, Patrick Jr. got in bed, knowing there was nothing to do but wait, sweat, shake, and feel his bones rattle. He also knew the darkest hour was yet to come. But by then he’d have no sense of time.
Patrick Sr. called the front desk and got a list of pharmacies, but heroin isn’t a common drug in Angola and neither is the treatment. All the pharmacists politely turned him away. The only thing Patrick Sr. could do was hole himself up in the bathroom so his son could try to sleep. There, in his mad instinct for crisis management, Patrick Sr. started working the phones. He called Nas’s manager and lawyer and various intermediaries again, demanding the return of the fee. Patrick Sr. did some quick calculating. Of the $400,000 he’d received from Riquinho, he’d sent $300,000 to Nas and $15,000 to an opening act, leaving around $85,000.
The problem was that Patrick Sr. had already spent $20,000 of that remainder on expenses. Then there was the ongoing cost of the hotel. Every day in Angola would make it harder for him to pay back Riquinho and therefore harder to leave. How would he make up that difference? Patrick Sr. was already bankrupt. To get home, he needed money he didn’t have.
He started with the main sum: Nas’s fee. The manager responded sparsely, which worried Patrick Sr. He didn’t feel like he had much leverage. For two days, he sat on the can in his bathroom office, calling anyone he could think of: political contacts from his campaign days; a Navy veteran turned trainer he met during his brush with Michael Jackson; his local congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen. Patrick Sr. also became his own press agent, pitching his story to local news and other outlets. He knew there was a good headline in something like “Father, Son Detained Abroad.” He reached out to TMZ, thinking the celebrity angle was catchy, and it was the kind of press that could expedite the return of the funds sent to Nas.
Meanwhile, Patrick Jr.’s condition worsened. He was now competing with his father for the bathroom, because they’d quickly run out of Mayday water and started drinking bottled, which must have been refilled with tap, because they both got sick. When Patrick Jr. wasn’t on the toilet, he was under the covers, his fever colliding with withdrawal symptoms; he convulsed, he moaned, he made promises to the gods and asked to make it stop. There were hours that disappeared into delirium and slow, clear agonizing minutes. Patrick Jr. tried to focus on something other than the pain — his girlfriend, Rachel; his dog, Nevada; traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, anything familiar. It was barely possible. When he opened his eyes, he could see planes taking off out the window and wondered how they’d ever get home.
Back in New Jersey, Abby sat in her kitchen making checklists. From the moment she got the news from Patrick Sr. in Angola, she had snapped into action, staying in constant contact and helping gather support from friends and acquaintances. The kitchen became her “war room”; on the wall was a chalkboard full of names and numbers. “I may not be in for a few days,” she told her boss. She talked to State Department figures in different offices. At one point, she was advised that if her husband and stepson wound up in prison, she’d probably need to make arrangements to get them food and water for the duration of their sentence.
From the hotel bathroom, Patrick Sr. kept at the media blitz, which got real traction when TMZ covered the story. “An American concert promoter claims he and his son were abducted at gunpoint,” the item began. A bit dramatic, but Patrick Sr. needed people to pay attention. Which they did. It was picked up quickly by other news outlets, showing up in hometown papers like the Asbury Park Press and on cable news. The story went national, then international. Patrick Sr. turned on the TV, and there they were. In and out of consciousness, Patrick Jr. watched his face appear on the BBC and Al Jazeera. “We’re famous!” his father joked.
Eventually, Patrick Jr.’s withdrawal subsided. He could think again in pieces. And there was his father, tending to him. Between all the calls, he changed his son’s clothes, found potable water, got ahold of some Cipro for their bacterial ailment. Patrick Sr. had recently taken a stern approach with his son, but this was different, more tender. “You gotta eat,” he said, trying to give Patrick Jr. rehydrated meatloaf from an MRE. Finally, some spaghetti from the hotel buffet mostly stayed down. Patrick Jr. thanked his father for nursing him to health. Then he added: “Now how are we going to get out of here?”
The Hart Senate Building in Washington, D.C., was empty. It was still the holiday break, but Danny O’Brien had gone in for a few hours to catch up on things, and he was leaving his office when he got a surprising call. Music promoters? Stuck where? O’Brien was the chief of staff to Robert Menendez, the junior senator from New Jersey, the home state of Patrick Allocco Sr., whose SOS calls had bounced around Washington for several days and wound up in O’Brien’s office.
The chain of communication had begun with a plea from Patrick Sr. to Scott Reed, a political consultant he’d known since 1985, when they were both involved in a gubernatorial campaign. Reed put in a call to Senator John McCain’s office, who referred them to O’Brien. It was the right place: Menendez was a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee and known for taking on constituent causes.
O’Brien made it a priority. He called the Angola desk officer himself and laid out the Allocco case. “We’d like your help,” O’Brien said. The response was cordial but bureaucratic. “We’ll look into it,” the official said. O’Brien knew he’d have to “heighten visibility” for the Alloccos at the State Department and get up the chain as far as possible, past the regional desk, past the under secretary, to a political office at least. Over one of his regular breakfasts with Senator Menendez, O’Brien filled him in on the case. “Good,” Menendez said. “Stick with it.”
Menendez liked his staff to be aggressive, which was always helpful with State. A few days went by. No response. O’Brien kept at it, eventually reaching a deputy assistant secretary. “Senator Menendez is very interested in the outcome,” O’Brien said, which in bureaucraticspeak is the equivalent of making an offer one can’t refuse. “And we look forward to hearing more from you soon.” He knew that without well-placed pressure, the Alloccos’ case would get nowhere.
Patrick Sr. and Abby knew the feeling. Every day, one of them was on the phone with the U.S. Embassy in Luanda or the State Department offices in Washington to press their case, and the responses were not reassuring. Abby reached an official who dealt with African affairs, a security expert who specialized in hostage situations, but he pointed out this wasn’t a classic hostage situation. The Alloccos weren’t being detained, exactly; they just weren’t allowed to leave. It was a “complicated scenario,” the official said. Both Abby and Patrick Sr. couldn’t understand why the government wouldn’t intervene. What was so complicated?
Unfortunately, the State Department officials explained, that was beyond their power. American Citizen Services — official assistance for travelers — is in fact quite limited. Americans like to think their government can wave a wand to supersede local sovereignty, but that’s not how it works. Run afoul of the local authorities, and you have to deal with them. And the authorities in Angola were especially difficult to deal with.
No one knew this better than Christopher McMullen, the U.S. ambassador to Angola. He had been out of the country over New Year’s, and upon his return was met at the airport by his deputy chief of mission, who briefed him on the Alloccos. McMullen had heard Riquinho’s name before; people on his staff knew that he was a rainmaker for President dos Santos, raising money for his ruling party with these concerts. He was one of the empresários de confiança — “trustworthy businessmen” — who were politically connected. He had a lot of pull with dos Santos. Whereas the U.S. Embassy did not.
This was partly because the United States had spent years backing the losing side in Angola’s excruciating civil war. And the victors had not forgotten. Angola’s chief economic partners and allies were now China and Russia. The previous year, McMullen himself had run into trouble getting credentialed to enter the country and take his post. And the embassy had just faced an international crisis when the Angolan government detained a U.S.-flagged ship, which took weeks to get released.
There were plenty of similar stories of businesspeople in various countries low on the Corruption Perceptions Index who were suddenly detained at the airport, shaken down for bribes, and stuck in-country for months, or longer, as their employers fell into protracted negotiations with local authorities. Those cases tended to be executives at large companies with legal departments and resources behind them. But the Alloccos were on their own.
To deal with the case, McMullen convened a working group that included the deputy chief of mission, the head of the political-economics section, the regional security officer, and the consular chief. Focusing this kind of attention on a Citizen Services case was rare. But this is a tough one, the ambassador thought. “If you threw a dart at a map,” he later said, “it couldn’t land on a much worse place for civilian travelers to tangle with the local government than Angola.”
Riquinho walked into the Hotel Skyna on January 6, looking for Patrick Sr. It was 10 a.m., the time they’d agreed to meet, and Patrick Sr. was watching from the second-floor balcony, standing in the shadows, exercising a near-comical cloak-and-dagger precaution to observe whether Riquinho had brought any henchmen. He was alone, so Patrick Sr. took a deep breath, straightened himself out, and walked down to meet him.
They sat down in the hotel bar. It was the first time he’d seen Riquinho since he and his son were surrounded on the street. But maybe we can work something out, Patrick Sr. thought, ever optimistic. They were there to make a deal, right? Patrick Sr. had reviewed the list of lawyers the embassy gave him but had yet to reach anyone, so he would be negotiating on his own. It didn’t go well.
“You tried to steal my money!” Riquinho said.
With a clerk from the front desk translating, Patrick Sr. tried to explain everything again. It was just a snafu, he said, and suggested they figure out another date for the Nas concert or put on a whole new show. Maybe, he thought, this thing can be saved.
“Come on,” Patrick Sr. said, “we’re both businessmen here.”
Riquinho was not interested. He was missing $400,000, and there would have to be refunds for the thousands of people who had planned to see Nas at the Estádio da Cidadela on New Year’s Eve. This would have been a moment to shine for Riquinho as the country’s premier music promoter. In a sense, he and Patrick Sr. were in a similar boat: This was meant to be a crowning event for both of them. “And now you have embarrassed me,” Riquinho said.
Riquinho did not like being embarrassed. For decades, he’d cultivated an image as Luanda’s nightlife impresario. After studying in Cuba and a stint as a merchant mariner, he opened a disco in 1986, hosting themed parties and promoting beauty pageants, fashion shows, and sports tournaments, all under the banner of Casa Blanca Entertainment.
He also got into construction, mobile phones, food services, private security, and other businesses. He owned a weekly newspaper. But what Riquinho liked most was being a party mogul. He’d put on more than a thousand events. His first New Year’s Eve party was in 1990. Three thousand people came. The Nas show would have been 30,000. “This has damaged my reputation!” he said.
Patrick Sr. knew the feeling; he’d felt the gut punch of seeing a grand extravaganza fail, and he’d been stood up by an artist before too. Still, he wondered what Riquinho imagined his reputation to be. What about the times that DMX, Fat Joe, and Ja Rule say you kidnapped them? he thought. (In fact, Fat Joe had seen the news about the Alloccos on TMZ and somehow reached Patrick Sr. on his cell phone to offer sympathy. “Stand strong, brother,” he told Patrick Sr. “Riquinho still owes me money. Tell him to pay up!”)
At the bar, Riquinho made it clear that he did not appreciate Patrick’s press efforts. “You attacked me in TMZ?” he thundered. “Why did you do that?”
“I didn’t attack you. I had to get your money back from Nas,” Patrick Sr. said. “And by the way, it worked!”
He explained he’d just gotten word that Nas’s manager had agreed to send back the money. The manager cited the holidays for the delay, and he and Patrick Sr. had already drawn up and signed paperwork.
Riquinho listened, arms folded. Patrick Sr. knew there was still the problem of the money he’d spent on organizing expenses and now the past week stuck in Angola. Even with the performance fees returned, he was short $30,000. Another promoter would be able to cover that and take it as a loss, but Patrick Sr. had been counting on this show to pull him out of debt.
“I’ll have most of the money soon,” Patrick Sr. said.
“Não há acordo,” Riquinho replied. Patrick waited for the translation. “There’s no deal.”
Riquinho’s voice grew louder. “You’ll have all of it back,” Riquinho said. “Or you’re never going to leave Angola.” He stood up and walked away.
Patrick Sr. was at a loss. Every step seemed to take them backward. Even if he had every dime of Riquinho’s money in hand, it was unclear how this would get resolved. The embassy kept saying that the dispute was supposed to be decided in a local court, but no one had explained how that would work. Or when. The Angolan foreign ministry was claiming that in addition to the civil dispute with Riquinho, the Alloccos’ visas were fake, which was why their passports were confiscated by immigration officials upon entry. This subjected them to potential criminal charges. And yet they had not been charged. Instead, they were in a kind of legal limbo.
“Lay low,” the consular chief told Patrick Sr. “We’re working on it.” At one point, the embassy suggested it might be cheaper to find an apartment.
Patrick Sr. wondered about more drastic measures. From the hotel room, he could look out at the bay and see the container ships putting in to port. Couldn’t be more than, what, a hundred yards to one of those vessels? He and Patrick Jr. could probably swim that. He had a contact at Maersk; maybe something could be arranged? At one point, he let slip thoughts like these to the embassy, whose officials said: “Whatever you do, don’t do that.”
But Patrick Jr. started fixating on escape. Maybe they could rent a boat and head into international waters. Or they could drive to Kinshasa. Or somehow find a small airplane and fly to Namibia. Patrick Sr. looked at aviation maps, figuring he could fly low along the coast.
Then another idea came his way. Among the people Patrick Sr. had been in touch with back in the States was a Navy veteran he’d met when he signed up for an exercise program from a company called NavySeals.com. (This was not the website of the actual Navy SEALs.) The Navy vet, whose name was Rob, introduced Patrick Sr. to an ex-SEAL, also named Rob, and the Robs had become confidants to the Alloccos during their plight. SEAL Rob knew Africa, had worked with other private security operatives there, and had contacted some people who could “exercise a more muscular solution.” He told Patrick Sr. he’d come up with a plan to “get them out clean.” Patrick Sr. decided that this was a great idea.
The Alloccos walked out of the hotel around noon. It was a rare overcast day. Patrick Jr. still felt rough, but his father had pulled him out of the room for this excursion. They both needed to be there, he said. They walked around the block, making a small circuit. Earlier, Patrick Jr. had asked what was going on, and his father had explained about Rob the Navy SEAL and how he’d contracted a “specialist” in South Africa, who was referred to only as “the Colonel,” to arrange a clandestine military extraction — a “classic snatch-and-grab,” as Rob had called it.
Patrick Jr. told his father this was “fucking crazy.” But there they were, following Rob’s instructions, making themselves visible to be reconnoitered on the streets of Luanda by unknown “ground assets.” Hours later, Rob called Patrick Jr. from his house in Virginia Beach. The Colonel’s team had received pictures of them outside their hotel. “Proof of life” had been verified, Rob said. The mission would proceed.
The Colonel had met Rob during maritime interdiction training in Cape Town, and since then they regularly ran private security operations together. The Colonel knew Angola well and had contacts inside local military intelligence. He’d spent years in the field as a covert handler, and a basic principle of information gathering is that every story has multiple stories. You will never get the whole truth, but you want to get as close as possible. The Colonel’s agents were able to confirm the basics of the Alloccos’ situation. “It was reliable,” he told Rob. Then he assessed the capabilities of Riquinho, the police, and other authorities to “calculate the operational risk.”
Then the Colonel provided two options: operations by air and by ground. The airborne mission entailed engaging an untraceable chartered plane, hiring ex-military pilots to fly over 1,300 miles from Lanseria airport in South Africa, partly through cleared Namibian airspace, to Lobito airport, south of Luanda, and calling a Mayday for an emergency landing. From there, the team would mount a “six-man release operation” into the city to extract the Alloccos from the hotel and get back to the plane. The Colonel estimated the chance of success at 80 percent. Rob told Patrick Sr. it was the better option.
“And what’s the chance of success for the ground operation?” Patrick Sr. said.
“Not as good,” Rob said.
“Sounds like it’s the first option,” Patrick Sr. said.
Patrick Sr. figured he would pay for the extradition with what was left of his margin and square up with Riquinho when he got home. As the mission took shape, Patrick Sr. received updates from Rob, which he breathlessly related to his son, who was less sanguine. Post-withdrawal, he was now lucid and had lots of questions. What if the police chase us? Or we get caught at the airport?
“These aren’t a bunch of yahoos,” Patrick Sr. said. This was an experienced team of “extraction specialists,” he said, getting a bit carried away with all of Rob’s tactical talk. They had contingency plans in place for “scenarios of modified risk.” “We are dealing with highly sophisticated warriors,” Patrick Sr. told his son.
The first step, Rob told them, was to “make everything seem unchanged” while the details were arranged. So Patrick Sr. went about his usual business. He maintained his outreach campaign in the States and gave more interviews to American press, including various hip-hop magazines.
Rob instructed the Alloccos to leave the hotel for daily walks along the same route. Patrick Jr. was still skeptical but went along to humor his father. They’d leave the hotel every few hours, carrying a small bag, not conspicuous but large enough to carry essentials when the zero hour arrived. “On one of those outings,” Rob said, “you will be greeted by men in fatigues.”
On January 9, everything was in place. “Today is the day,” Rob told the Alloccos. The Colonel had the plane on the apron. Rob told the Alloccos to have breakfast on the patio, as always. Take the usual phone calls. Take the “light gear” on a walk every two hours. “We will be on a communications blackout,” he said, “in case your electronics are being monitored.”
Outside the hotel, Patrick Jr. carried his backpack: just some clothes and his iPod. He thought his father looked a little ridiculous carrying only a briefcase that was clearly stuffed to the brim, like a haphazard spy. Down to that morning, Patrick Jr. still thought this was a dumb idea. But now he wondered: Maybe they really are coming to get us?
Patrick Sr. was full of adrenaline, trying to stay calm. One outing and nothing happened. They didn’t know when exactly the rendezvous would take place. Then another outing, uneventful. A third. Now that Patrick Jr.’s hopes were raised, he was getting worried: “Dad, where are they?”
At Lanseria airport in South Africa, the Colonel was ready to go with two double agents on the ground, gathering final intelligence updates on airspace and other conditions. This was when the problem arose.
At the last minute, the operatives discovered the Alloccos’ improper immigration paperwork — the same problem the embassy had identified. This meant that to spirit them out of the country might technically be human trafficking. They also learned that the government was paying close attention to this case and that kind of exposure posed a risk in Angola. These were big surprises for a covert mission on the verge of wheels up. The entire risk assessment, as the Colonel put it, was different. “The chance of mission success has changed,” the Colonel told Rob. “How should we proceed?”
Unaware of the glitch, the Alloccos kept at their strolling routine every two hours. Eventually, it got dark. And then it got late. Patrick Jr. said he was going to bed. “We’re never getting out of here,” he mumbled from under the covers. Patrick Sr. looked crestfallen. He lay down but couldn’t sleep. Maybe they should do their rounds again, he thought. At one point, they thought they heard a helicopter, on which they fixed a false hope, but the sound disappeared. At 4 a.m., Rob called. “I’ve got bad news,” he said. “The operation has been called off.”
He explained what the Colonel had learned. “The whole thing is too hot,” he said. Patrick Sr. asked if they could still pull it off. “Your case has risen high in the Angolan government,” he said. “I thought we could get you out, but it looks like you really are going to have to resolve things with Riquinho.” Patrick Sr. felt his morale collapse. If a bunch of Navy SEALs and international operatives can’t rescue us, he thought, we really are stuck.
Rob ended the call with a word of advice: “You should change hotels.” The Colonel’s intel confirmed that Riquinho had spies. “You’re too exposed where you are,” Rob warned. “And this may take a while.”