At 3 a.m., the three Lincoln Town Cars pulled quietly up to the gate at 17 Winged Foot Way in Water Mill and came to a halt, one behind the other. The men inside, entirely in black, checked the weapons in their shoulder holsters.
“Charcoal on” the leader in the first car whispered into his headset. The four men in his car applied the charcoal to their faces. In the two cars behind, the remaining eight men did the same.
The white wooden gate was locked, but it didn’t stop them. From the front car, a man with cutters hopped out and snipped the code-box wires. Returning, the lead car pushed gently on into the gate until it popped forward. The caravan went through, then immediately pulled over under a copper beech tree to park side by side. They were in a place not visible from the house.
Everyone knew exactly what to do. The four men in the last car pushed the gate closed and set up positions among the plants and landscaping, crouched down, guns drawn. The other eight climbed out of the two front cars and silently tiptoed through the grass, around a tennis court and finally to the front door of the house, where they stopped under the high, columned portico that sheltered the front door.
The lead man drew his gun and knocked on the door. He waited and knocked again. Stirring was heard inside, and then a young man, full of sleep and wearing pajamas, opened the door a crack to see who was there. And all eight men ran in. Mattresses with people sleeping on them were everywhere.
“Despertar a todos!” the man shouted.
“I said wake up. Everybody. Right now. Immigration Customs Enforcement.”
The leader turned to one of the others as the young man ran off. “He speaks English,” he said knowingly. Then to the fleeing young man, “Alinear a todos!”
Within 10 minutes, a total of 32 men and women in their 20s and 30s were standing terrified in three rows before the men in black. All were in nightgowns or pajamas.
The leader looked them over. “Dende estan los bebes?” he shouted. Nobody replied.
“We don’t understand,” one of the young men said. “Please speak English.”
“You will speak when I tell you to,” the leader said. “Where are the babies?”
“There are no babies,” the young man said.
“There have to be babies. Oscar. Billy. Search the house.”
Oscar and Billy holstered their weapons and ran off.
“They must have been tipped off we were coming,” the leader said to one of the others. “Somebody must have made off with the babies ahead of time.”
In the back, a young man threw an arm over the shoulder of the young woman standing next to him in a pink nightgown.
“Here’s my baby,” the young man said.
“Is this some kind of joke?” the leader shouted. “I want everybody’s ID. All of you. You have three minutes.”
Three minutes later, the leader was holding 32 wallets. “Gracias,” he said.
“What is going on?” the young man in the front row asked.
“You are all being deported,” the leader said. “Back to where you came from. That’s what we do. ICE. ICE.” He turned around so the crowd could see the white letters ICE on the back of his black shirt. Then he took out a pad.
“Okay,” he said, “One at a time, shout out where you came from.”
The young people responded. New Rochelle. Greenpoint. Cobble Hill. Carnegie. Great Neck. Larchmont.
“You’re making this all up,” the leader shouted. “I’m just writing Mexico. You’re all from Mexico.”
A young woman spoke up. “Is there some kind of fine we have to pay?” she asked.
“Pesos won’t do it,” the leader said. “Nor will Ecuadorian escudos. Everybody, get your things.”
“We’re not illegals,” one of the young men said. “This is a share house. This is our weekend.”
“A likely story.”
“Really. That’s the truth.”
“Okay, who’s the ringleader.”
“I want you to wake up this ‘Charlie Campbell,’ or whatever it is that Pedro calls himself.”
“He’s not here. He never comes here. He just set up the share house from Manhattan, on the website.”
“Then where is he?”
“I think Bimini.”
“We each paid him $350 to be here this weekend,” another young man said.
“Could we just call our parents?” a girl in the second row asked.
“We’re looking for a particular individual, a drug dealer named Mariano. Bring him to me, from wherever he is hiding.”
“He’s not here.”
“Right. Okay, who has the drugs? Raise your hands.”
Everybody’s hands went up.
“We want the heroin,” said the leader.
“There’s no heroin. But we have marijuana,” one of the young men said. “That’s it. Do you want some Jack Daniel’s? A margarita?”
At that moment, a young man and woman in wet bathing suits came in through a side door from the hot tub on the porch. They walked around the pool table, holding hands.
“Get your ID,” the leader shouted at them, waving his pistol. “Now.”
They scurried off. Meanwhile, the leader listened to his earpiece.
“Alright, everybody, get all your things and come back here. You have 15 minutes. Chop-chop. The bus just arrived and is out front. It will be taking you to Gabreski Airport in Westhampton for the trip home. I will hang on to all your wallets and fake IDs. You won’t be needing them once we find out your real names.”
“We are going to Manhattan by chopper?” one of the young men asked.
“You’ll be going to the new Mexican processing center in Acapulco by chartered jet. You’ll be there by noon.”
“Hey,” the young man in the front row said. “It doesn’t sound half bad. Acapulco!”
The leader looked at his watch. “You now have 12 minutes,” he said. “Get moving.”
All 32 of them ran off. At which point the leader’s earpiece buzzed. He took the call and listened carefully.
Then he turned to the others. He spoke through gritted teeth.
“We’re at the wrong house,” he said.