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by Robert L. Hecker
Description: Recruited by the DEA, Brent Thomas goes undercover to investigate an ex-army buddy. Pat Frankie, who runs a boxing gym but who the DEA suspects is a drug dealer. Brent becomes an instructor In Frankie's gym. Frankie thinks he has the making of a champion and arranges fights for him. Brent, to everyone's surprise, wins the fights, eventually having a shot at the championship. Unfortunately, he also falls in love with Maria, Frankie's daughter. Then, entering the dangerous world of drug dealers. Brent must fight with his gun and his wits as well as his fists. An action-packed conclusion forces Brent into a traumatic choice: either a lie that will bring him Maria's love and a shot at the boxing title, or the truth that will cost him everything. [Cover art Dirk A. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2003
eBookwise Release Date: September 2003
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [405 KB]
Reading time: 265-371 min.
"In the world of drug sellers and those who seek to enforce the laws against their activity, the DEA stands at the top of the list. Their agents put their lives on the line every time they face a drug seller or a zonked out junkie. Step into the pages of this book and share their danger. Recommended for any reader who likes tales with suspense and action. Written by a talented author, Robert L. Hecker, with a lifelike cast of characters you will enjoy meeting. Enjoy."--Anne K. Edwards, Reviewer, eBook Reviews Weekly
It was nearing one o'clock in the morning. DEA Assistant Supervisor Jim Hendrix of Group 4, Los Angeles District Office, stood on the sidewalk two blocks from the hamburger stand at Beverly and Rampart trying to put aside the thought he might not live to see the sun come up.
Beside him, his partner, Agent Marc Duval, leaned cross-legged against the front fender of Frankie Rodriquez's Cadillac Brougham cleaning his nails with a small pen knife. Hendrix was probably the only one in the group who knew Duval's nonchalance was an act. He was just as antsy as any of them; it was just that experience had taught him to hide it better.
Jim Hendrix looked at the other three agents standing close by. "Frankie says this dude is mean, so watch yourself."
He turned to Frankie sitting behind the wheel of his Caddy. They were using Frankie's car because his three hundred-plus pounds didn't fit well in the type of unmarked cars the DEA generally used.
"That right, Frankie?"
Fat Frankie bent his thick neck into what passed for a nod. "Yeah. Muy macho."
Frankie had changed a lot in the five years since his army hitch with Hendrix and Duval. For one thing, he'd picked up more than 100 pounds and the nickname of 'Fat' Frankie. His thick hair was just as black, but his close-cropped beard and mustache, designed to concealed heavy jowls, was shot with gray. He wore an expensive Italian suit tailored to conceal at least part of his bulk.
The collar of his silk shirt was open, both because he could not get a necktie comfortably around his neck and because it allowed a gold cross and a heavy gold medallion to be seen. He touched the cross with stubby fingers festooned with a wide variety of rings, all flashing precious stones.
"Yeah," he repeated. "He's one bad hombre. You guys watch yourself."
"You guys got all your gear for a change?" Hendrix asked. "Including your cuffs?" Agents were forever going out on a bust, and after it was all over and the defendants were in custody, they found that nobody had brought handcuffs. It was embarrassing to take a prisoner to county jail with his hands secured by shoelaces.
The agents nodded.
"Okay. Everybody got vests on?" Hendrix was referring to the lightweight body armor, sometimes erroneously referred to as bulletproof vests, that most agents had issued to them.
Some agents preferred raid jackets that had body armor sewn inside the fabric of the dark blue, nylon windbreaker itself. These jackets had a gold cloth 'DEA' badge on the front left panel. Across the back in large gold letters was the word 'POLICE' with 'US AGENT', also in gold, beneath it. Some agents wore jackets which were identical, but didn't have armor sewn inside. Generally, the first two or three agents to go through a door on a raid wore the armor. Tonight, there'd be no doors. They'd be in the open so everybody was supposed to wear his armor except Hendrix who would be making contact with the suspect.
"Sandy," Hendrix said. "You got the portable?"
Sandy Tate held up the small PT-200 radio. "Sure. Got it."
Sandy Tate matched Hendrix's six-foot height, but where Hendrix was a German police dog, Tate was a Doberman. He looked fast and was -- both physically and in his life style. He was relaxed, but reliable. He had a way of strolling into the office at ten or eleven in the morning that caused the blood pressure of their supervisor, John Hodges, to skyrocket.
But the way Sandy looked at it, their hours were flexible. Management said nine o'clock was the start of the work day. They forgot, however, to pin down a quitting time. Everybody liked Sandy; he came through when it counted.
The other agents were Arturo 'Arty' Hernandez and Bob Dansen. They could not have been more different. Arty was five-foot nine with a medium build. He spoke fluent Spanish which made him particularly valuable as an undercover agent in LA. Basically, Arty was a quiet man who went about his job with a cool precision.
Bob Dansen was also quiet, but there the resemblance ended. Dansen was six-two and weighed twice what Arty did. He'd been with the DEA for ten years. Dansen never, never did any undercover work. He claimed that the undercover role was unnecessary, but most members of the group sensed the truth: Dansen was scared shitless of working undercover. On top of that, he was lazy, doing exactly what he was told and no more. Nobody thought they could trust Dansen if the going got rough. Hendrix generally assigned him to a surveillance team, which was just fine with Dansen.
"What about the shotgun?" Duval asked Hendrix.
"Arty," Duval said, "you take it. We'd better not have it in Frankie's car."
Taking a shotgun on a bust had to be authorized by the supervisor. It was the most powerful weapon an agent carried. Hearing the sound of a shotgun shell being jacked into a chamber had kept more than one crook from going for his gun.
"Okay," Arty said. "But I hope to hell we don't need it."
You don't hope any more than I do, Hendrix thought. Maybe he was getting too old for these busts. They was always hard on the nerves. You had no way of knowing what the asshole you were trying to bust would do. He might be high himself. And, nowadays, just about all dealers carried guns and were willing to use them. At the same time, more and more rules were being laid on the agents, making it increasingly difficult to get the job done without getting your ass in a sling. Hell, these days it might be the agent who ended up in court while the trafficker was living it up and laughing his head off.
Hendrix sighed and looked at his watch. "Okay. The guy's supposed to show in forty-five minutes. We'll try to make the bust in the burger stand parking lot. If I've got to go with the guy someplace, Marc'll let you know. Don't forget your radio codes. Watch for my signals.
"You know the deal. When I see the dope, I'll go around to the back of Frankie's car and open the trunk. If I take out the money in the brown paper bag--" He picked up the bag. " -- this bag, it's just a flash and not a bust. You got that?"
"Good. If I take the scales out of the trunk, that's the bust signal and you make your move. Okay?"
Duval didn't look up from digging at his nails. "What if it's a rip?"
"If it's a rip, you'll probably hear guns and cussing and screaming. That'll be me."
Everyone laughed nervously. As usual, the agents were on edge before a bust. Hendrix might have been joking, but what he said about a rip was true. The only indication the surveillance team would have that something had gone wrong was either the sound of shots or some other ominous noise. Anything other than the expected was never good.
Marc Duval leaned down to look inside Frankie's Caddy. "When it goes down, Frankie, get the fuck out of the way."
Frankie looked offended. "What'd you want me to do? Run?"
The idea of Fat Frankie running broke them up, nerves or not, even though there was a good chance that if Carlos Garcia, the guy they planned to bust, was suspicious, Frankie might be the first person shot. Garcia would know instantly it was Frankie who'd set him up. But Frankie knew the risks. It wasn't the first time he'd helped out the DEA.
Frankie wasn't a snitch. A snitch would never be allowed to hang around the office. He was an informant. There was a big difference. An informant helped because he wanted to. A snitch only helped to save his own hide. Either cooperate or else. And if the snitch did cooperate, everybody figured he was a son-of-a-bitch who'd rather sell out a buddy than take his medicine. You could never trust a snitch. If they turned on their friends, they sure-as-shit wouldn't have any compunctions about turning on their enemies.
Frankie wasn't like that. He'd even go along on a bust, like tonight, to help set up the deal. This guy, Garcia, knew Frankie and trusted him. So far Garcia had bought it. So far.
"Okay, guys," Hendrix said. "Let's get this show on the road. And keep your ears on."
The other agents returned to their cars and Hendrix put the bag in the Caddy's open trunk. He slammed the truck lid, making Frankie flinch, then climbed into the passenger seat.
"You don't have to slam it," Frankie said. "It closes itself."
"Yeah. Just like my fifty-year old Chevy."
Frankie snorted. "You got the extra key?"
Hendrix felt in his pocket. "Yeah."
Frankie reaching for the Caddy's ignition key and Hendrix said, "Wait a minute. Don't go in yet. Let this guy get there first."
Frankie frowned. "You want me to drive around? This mother eats gas like a damn buzzard."
"You can afford it, Frankie. Christ, if I had your money I'd be on a beach in Acapulco or someplace."
"Too dull. What's more exciting than this?"
"You've got a point," Hendrix admitted. "Just park across the street from the hamburger stand where we can see."
Frankie started the car and drove the two blocks to the hamburger stand. He had to go around the block before he could find a parking space across from the hamburger stand. From their location, they had a good view of the parking area and they settled down to wait. It shouldn't be long. Dope dealers were usually on time. If they were smart they arrived early, like the DEA agents, watching the movement of cars and people for a while before they made their move.
Hendrix twisted around so he could keep an eye behind them through the back window.
"Want a drink?" Frankie asked after a minute.
"Nah," Hendrix answered. "Maybe after the deal." He made it a point not to drink on duty, unless, of course, he was undercover at a bar. Then you almost had to drink something. But generally he stayed away from booze. He didn't want his reactions slowed by alcohol if something happened.
"Then get me a glass of tequila, will you, amigo? "
Hendrix leaned back over the seat to open the car's built-in bar. He selected a bottle of Jose Cuervo Premium Gold Special from the well-stocked cabinet and a large shot glass. Settling back in his seat, he opened the bottle and poured the glass three-quarters full. He handed the glass to Frankie and the big man swallowed half its contents in one quick gulp. He grimaced and said, "Man, that's good. You sure you don't want a hit?"
Hendrix was back looking out the windows. "Nah. That shit rots your insides."
"Not if you eat Mexican chili. Your stomach is immune."
"Yeah. It probably thinks tequila is medicine."
"You got that right." Fat Frankie took another swallow. "You know, you cops miss out on a lot of fun. There's nothing like a good woman, good tequila and good musica."
"Oh, it isn't all bad. We do all right with the women. And speaking of women, if Carmen catches you with a broad, you'll wish you'd stayed with the booze and musica."
Frankie laughed. " Tiene razon. You got that right. And don't forget Maria. She's still trying to get me in church. Shit. I couldn't even get through the door."
In more ways than one, Hendrix thought. He knew that Frankie was no saint. When their army unit had been stationed in the Middle East, Frankie'd had his share of women even though he was married.
But he probably wasn't lying about Maria. He'd always talked more about his daughter than his wife, Carmen. When he had new pictures to show around, they were always of Maria; never of Carmen. Through the pictures, Hendrix had watched Frankie's daughter grow from a chubby teenager into a beautiful woman of twenty-two. The latest pictures were easy to take. Maria had developed into a remarkably beautiful woman considering she was Frankie's daughter. Of course, Carmen had the looks to be a movie star. Frankie must have looked muy quapo when he was young.
Hendrix shook his head and concentrated on watching the hamburger stand and the street. Frankie'd said that Garcia drove a flashy Pontiac Firebird with a giant Mexican eagle painted on the hood. If Garcia wasn't stupid, he'd cruise past a couple of times to look the situation over before he pulled into the lot.
Sure enough, five minutes before he was due, Garcia's car appeared. He drove by the stand slowly, taking a good long look at the hamburger stand. He didn't think to look in their direction across the street.
Hendrix shook his head. How could a guy in one of the world's most dangerous professions be so careless? Maybe it was that lack of gray matter that got him in the profession in the first place.
On Garcia's second pass, he pulled into the hamburger stand's parking area and parked near the back of the lot where there was the least light.
Hendrix picked up his radio and clicked on the microphone. "Fourteen-oh-one to surveillance units," he said. "He's here."
"Ten-four," each of the two units responded.
"We're moving in. Follow us, but not too close."
Hendrix clicked off the radio and told Frankie, "Let's go."
Frankie started the car and made a U-turn, wheeling into the hamburger stand's parking lot. Hendrix checked the.38 Colt automatic he had strapped to his right ankle. He wasn't wearing his belt gun in case Garcia asked him to pull up his jacket for a look.
"Pull up on his left side so I'm next to him," Hendrix said. "Not too close. I want to get the door all the way open."
"You think I'm going to the other side, you're fuckin' crazy," Frankie said.
Hendrix's was a little surprised to discover his heart was pounding hard. He might be able to fool his head into thinking that this was going to be an easy bust, but his heart didn't believe it. Maybe that was good. It would put more adrenaline in his blood.
Frankie slowly pulled in next to Garcia's Firebird and stopped. Hendrix didn't move. Both he and Garcia had their windows down, and Hendrix gave the dealer plenty of time to look them over.
Across the street, Sandy Tate eased his car to a stop. He and Marc Duval took their revolvers from belt holsters and checked to make sure they were loaded. Then Duval retrieved a pair of handcuffs from a briefcase at his feet, the shiny metal gleaming in the dim light. He secured the cuffs in his belt opposite his gun, one cuff down inside his jeans and the other hanging outside where he could reach it easily. He took a brown leather pouch from the briefcase and placed it in the pocket of his jacket. It contained six rounds of extra ammunition in a speed loader.
Sandy gave the speed loader a nervous look. "You think we'll need that?"
"I'd rather not need it and have it than need it and not have it."
Actually, Duval hoped he wouldn't have to use any of the rounds in his gun. Since Jim Hendrix had talked him into joining up with the DEA five years ago, he'd been on scores of busts and they always played hell with his nerves. Unlike regular cops or even FBI agents, every time they made a bust, DEA agents almost always faced a guy with a gun. That was one thing Hendrix had failed to tell him during his recruitment pitch. Fortunately, he hadn't been forced to kill anyone -- yet. He hoped this wasn't going to be the night.
He didn't like having passing traffic between him and Hendrix so he said, "Pull into the lot. Get up close to the stand like we're buying hamburgers."
Sandy expertly swung the car into a position where they could get out fast. Duval slumped down in the seat so he could observe without being obvious. He wondered where Arty and Dansen were. Thank God, Arty was driving. He would get in a good position to move in.
The thought took him back to a time right after he'd become an agent. One day, his senior partner at that time had taken him on a tour of the DEA parking facility with no explanation except "there's something I want to show you."
He'd made Marc look inside every DEA car parked in the garage. When they had finished, he asked Marc what he'd noticed in the cars. Marc couldn't really think of anything and said so. His partner told him to go back and count the cars with a book or newspaper in the front seat. Marc did so, counting seven cars with either item.
"What does that tell you?" his partner asked.
Marc didn't know.
The man stared at him, then said slowly, "That tells you those are guys you don't want covering your ass on a deal. When something happens and you need help, they won't see it. They'll be reading a book or working a fucking crossword puzzle."
The subject was never mentioned again, but Duval never forgot. He made sure that on surveillance he was always alert. When things happened, they happened fast.
He saw movement at Frankie's Cadillac and nudged Sandy. "He's getting out."
They watched as Hendrix leaned down to talk to Garcia. Then he walked around to the passenger side of the Firebird and got in.
Marc didn't like that. "What's he doing? We can't see him."
"I hope the shit he knows what he's doing," Sandy muttered.
"He knows," Duval answered. But he still didn't like it. What the hell was Hendrix thinking? He was supposed to stay in sight.
On the other hand, if Garcia insisted on driving to his pad to make the deal, Hendrix would have to go in with him. Then he'd really be out of sight. And behind a locked door. They had damn well better make the bust here.
They waited, eyes glued to the Firebird, breathing shallow.
"Damn," Sandy Tate muttered. "They gonna talk all night?"
The intense staring was hard on the eyes. Afraid to look away even for a second, even afraid to blink, caused their eyes to burn with fatigue.
The doors of the Firebird opened.
"He's coming out," Sandy's voice came out on a breath of relief.
"I see him."
"Good. They're both getting out."
Garcia and Hendrix walked around to the back of Frankie's Cadillac and Hendrix fished a key out of his pocket.
"Be ready," Duval cautioned, knowing his words were unnecessary. Every agent would be clinching his toes.
Hendrix motioned to Garcia to stand where he could watch him.
"That's right," Marc muttered. "Don't let the bastard get behind you."
Hendrix unlocked the trunk and raised the lid. He stepped back and motioned Garcia over with his left hand. Garcia walked to the trunk and bent over, Hendrix at his side. Duval knew Hendrix was showing him the money. But he wouldn't give it to Garcia. Getting the money and the dope in the same car at this stage was not a hell of a good idea. But both men knew that.
There was a ritual to dope dealing with a stranger that was as precise as a ballet. Professionals knew the procedure and respected it. So Garcia didn't object when Hendrix left the money in the trunk of Frankie's car and took out a pair of balance beam scales before he closed the trunk.
Sandy reached for the ignition key. "That's it. It's a bust."
"Wait'll Garcia gets back in the car so he can't see us," Duval cautioned. He hoped to hell that Arty and Dansen didn't jump the gun.
They watched Garcia and Hendrix get in the Firebird and close the doors. Duval opened his car door. "Wait'll I'm almost there, then block him off." As Duval got out of the car, he added, "Watch out for Frankie. He might bail."
"Gottcha," Sandy said. He started the car and put it in reverse, his foot holding down the brake.
Duval closed the door softly and began walking what seemed like a mile toward the Firebird, his hands empty. He kept slightly to the side so Garcia couldn't see him in his rear view mirror. From the corner of his eye he saw Arty begin walking toward the Firebird from the other side of the lot, the shotgun held unobtrusively down by his side.
When he was ten feet from the Firebird, the engine of the Cadillac suddenly sprang to life and the big car squealed backward to fast it almost hit Duval. He leaped aside as Fat Frankie, shifting gears like a stunt man, burned rubber hauling ass out of the lot.
"Christ," Duval snarled. He sprinted the last few feet to the Firebird, yanking his gun from his belt, coming up on the driver's side. Through the open car window he saw Hendrix trying to claw his gun from his ankle holster. Garcia, stupidly, carried his gun in his belt on the right side and he was trying to reach it with his left hand while he tried to turn the ignition key with his right.
"Freeze!" Duval's gun plowed a furrow under Garcia's ear. At the same time, Hendrix gave up trying to get his gun. Instead, he yanked Garcia's right hand away from the car's ignition so he couldn't start the car.
Garcia made a scream like a cornered mountain lion and slammed open the car door so fast Duval was knocked to the ground. He managed to hang onto his gun and when Garcia scrambled out of the Firebird, he had a clear shot at his back. He didn't fire. Visions of endless investigations and reams of bad publicity made him hold his fire. Better to let the small time dealer get away than suffer the consequences of shooting him in the back. An instant later, he knew he'd made a bad mistake.
Arty had come up on the other side of the Firebird. He was followed at a safe distance by Bob Dansen who didn't even have his gun out. As Garcia sprinted around the back of his car, Arty brought the shotgun up. But he couldn't fire. Too many hamburger customers in the line of fire.
Duval was on his feet and he took off after Garcia who was running hard with his head turned toward the shotgun, his eyes wide with fear. Garcia did not see Dansen and he smashed into the lumbering agent.
Dansen grunted as though he'd been hit by a demolition ball and both men fell in a tangle of arms and legs. Except that one of the arms was Garcia's and now his hand gripped a gun.
Reacting with the speed of terror, Garcia put his gun to Dansen's temple and screamed at the agents closing in on him. "Back off! I'll kill 'im! Back off!"
The agents stopped. Garcia was on the edge of losing it. Except for a fine sense of self-preservation, he would probably already have taken out Dansen and started pumping shots at all of them. The agents stood staring at Garcia and Dansen, their guns at their sides, afraid to move.
Garcia dragged Dansen to his feet and moved behind him. He looped his left arm around Dansen's neck while he pressed his gun against the agent's right temple. Dansen's eyes were popping, and his mouth opened and closed like a fish sucking air.
Hendrix, his gun in his hand, walked slowly toward the group, saying, "Easy guys. Easy."
Hendrix continued walking and Garcia pushed his gun so hard against Dansen's head that Hendrix was afraid he would accidentally pull the trigger.
"Back off!" Garcia screamed. "Back off!"
Hendrix stopped. "We can't do that, man. You know the rules."
"I'll kill'im! I'll kill'im!" The brief standoff had given Garcia the seconds he needed to get his cool back and his voice had lost some of its terror. But, in a way, his hate-filled snarl was even more menacing, and Dansen's eyes rolled so far back in his head Hendrix thought he was going to faint.
Hendrix said, "Look, Garcia. You're doing it all wrong. This isn't going to get you a damn thing."
"Fuck you, man," Garcia rasped. "You guys back off or I off 'im."
Hendrix shook his head. "Now that would really be stupid. You see all these guns. Arty's even got a shotgun. Show him, Arty."
Arty jacked another shell into the chamber, ejecting the unfired round onto the ground. The sound gave Hendrix a chill and the shotgun wasn't even pointed at him.
Garcia licked his lips. His eyes locked on the round hole in the barrel of the shotgun that was pointed at his head. "Fuck you, man," he repeated, but a lot of the machismo had gone out of his voice.
"Look at it this way," Hendrix said. "If you shoot him, then we'll all have to shoot you."
Garcia's eyes swiveled back to look at Hendrix, and Hendrix grinned.
"Now, what I'm going to do is walk over there and you're going to give me your gun, and we all go home happy. Except you, of course. You go to jail. But shit, you'll be out in a couple of months. That's better'n being dead. Verdad? "
Hendrix again started walking toward the two men and Garcia dragged Dansen back a couple of feet. "Hold it, damn it!" he gritted. "I walk or I kill 'im."
Hendrix, still smiling, continued walking, his eyes locked on Garcia's. "Ah, come on, man." His voice was slow, soothing. He held his gun at his side. He hoped Dansen wouldn't screw things up by fainting. "I just want to talk. You can keep your gun on him."
Now he was next to Garcia, and he lifted his gun and placed the muzzle under Garcia's chin. "Bingo," he said.
Garcia's chin came up and he glared down his nose at Hendrix. "What the fuck?" he rasped. "What the fuck?"
"It's like this," Hendrix said. He brought his mouth close to Garcia's ear. "I'm going to count to three, then I'm going to blow your fucking head off. One!"
"I'll kill 'im." Fear had returned to Garcia's voice. "You kill me, my finger's gonna go."
"Maybe not. My shot's gonna splatter your brain. You might not be able to pull the trigger. Two!"
"Yes, it will!" Garcia's voice had climbed to a scream.
"You might be right. But you'll never know, will you? Th--"
Garcia yanked his gun away from Dansen's head. "No! No! All right!"
Hendrix reached across with his left hand and took Garcia's gun. Garcia released his grip from around Dansen's neck and the other agents leap forward. Duval yanked his cuffs from his belt, twisted Garcia's arms behind his back and clamped on the steel.
Hendrix lowered his gun and slipped it back in his ankle holster. "You okay?" he said to Dansen.
Dansen couldn't talk. He nodded. Sweat dripped off his chin and his lips quivered.
"Good," Hendrix said. "Arty, take Bob to his house."
"You mean to the station," Arty said.
"No. Take him home. I think he needs a change of underwear."
Nobody laughed. Each one wondered how he'd have reacted if a guy who might be high on dope and was certainly crazy with fear held a gun at his head. They might need a change of underwear, too.
Hendrix turned to face people who had gathered. "All right," he said. "It's all over. Get back to your burgers."
Marc Duval walked beside Hendrix while Sandy hustled Garcia toward their car, reciting his Miranda rights as he walked.
"That fuckin' Frankie," Duval said. "He damn near got somebody killed."
"Aw, you can't blame Frankie. He did his part. It was a good bust. That's another one we owe him."
"I hope we don't owe him any more like this."
Hendrix chuckled. "Me, too. You'd better bring in the Firebird. I'll see you back at the station."
"Okay." Duval started to turn away, then hesitated. "Hey, would you have shot the guy?"
Hendrix thought a second. "I don't know. You've got to put it in context. Now, I could say no way. But then...I was pretty high. As they say, you hadda be there."
"Don't shit me. I'm not internal affairs. Would you have shot him?"
"Naah. I just wanted Dansen to shit his pants."
Copyright © 2003 by Robert L. Hecker