FDLE agent Bill Tasker is still smarting from a run-in with the FBI that almost got him killed when he reluctantly teams up with them again on a case involving a stolen Stinger missile. The op goes smoothly enough (though the feds take all the credit; what else is new?), but something about the whole set-up just doesn’t feel right to him.
He pokes around a bit and stirs up more trouble than a nest of rattlesnakes: with his boss, with the FBI, with the ATF, and worst of all, with a certain gentleman who loves to see things blow up…bigger and bigger things, as it turns out.
He hasn’t killed anybody yet, but if this FDLE agent keeps interfering – well, there’s always a first time, isn’t there?
He took a deep breath, not only to calm down, but in response to the Latina in a red bikini crossing Ocean Avenue. Her abdominals formed an olive colored sign pointing to her pierced navel. She held that South Beach–distant attitude on her precise Cuban features as her long, jet-black hair fanned out behind her. She was one of many, but he definitely noticed her.
Looking down at the gym bag, he felt for the SIG-Sauer P-230 pistol he had tucked in between the seats in case of emergency. Really, it was in case of disaster. In an emergency, the six other cops watching him would swoop in and rescue him. If that failed, he might need the little .380 with its eight shots. The last thing he wanted today was a disaster. His first undercover gig since his last disaster. Even though that one had had nothing to do with undercover, or even a fuck-up on his part. He patted the gym bag to reassure himself. It was small scale as far as undercover deals went: five pounds of pot for some supposedly untraceable handguns. But there would be a good payoff. Many times, guns like these were used in homicides. Once they had the firing marks and ballistics, he figured they’d be able to connect one of them to something good. If not, they had a creep willing to trade guns for dope off the street.
Bill Tasker scanned the street in front of the Clevelander Hotel to make sure all his covering surveillance was in place. Working with his own guys from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made him feel a lot more comfortable. God knows he didn’t want to deal with the Bureau right now. He’d seen firsthand how they could lose targets on surveillance. The FDLE
agents had two Miami Beach cops with them, but it was for courtesy as much as to be able to call in every cop in the city if there was a problem. Everyone had been briefed and knew what to expect. He wasn’t too worried.
He caught the last possible glimpse of the girl in the bikini as she headed down the slightly elevated dune toward the water. At this part of the beach it was a fifty-fifty chance she’d go topless, maybe even nude. Tasker didn’t have to check to see if the other FDLE agents saw her, they didn’t miss much. She wasn’t even his type. He went for the natural-girl-next-door, not
the if-you-don’t-have-a-Porsche-I-won’t-talk-to-you type. But he couldn’t deny her obvious attributes, real or store-bought.
Tasker snapped up his head as he caught sight of the Ford F-150 coming down the street.
He tracked the truck with his eyes and grabbed his cell phone. He never used a radio on an undercover, just in case he forgot and left it on or the bad guy found it. Whatever could go wrong during an undercover did go wrong.
“You guys see him?” he asked over his Nextel.
“No problem, Billy. We’re set,” a voice answered. Then, “He’s not alone. Be ready.”
Tasker tensed. Could be a rip-off. The team had discussed this but everyone figured no one would rip a lousy five pounds of pot. The big deal here was the fact that the guy wanted to pay with guns. Tasker watched as an older white Ford truck crept toward him. That was one of the reasons he’d chosen South Beach as a meeting site: over here, a pickup stuck out like a porn star in Utah.
Tasker pressed the button on his Nextel. “It’s cool. I’ll see what they have to say. Tell everyone to stay back.”
“Ten-four,” the voice said.
The truck was now half a block in front of him. The bearded driver recognized Tasker sitting in the driver’s seat of the rented Suburban. FDLE liked using big rental cars so they had room to put in a camera, and if the car got trashed during an arrest or shot up somehow, all they had to do was turn it back in. They were down to one of the last rental companies in Dade County.
The pickup made a quick turn across the oncoming traffic, pulled down the side street and parked in the space for people checking into the hotel. The big bearded guy named “Bud” stepped out of the driver’s side and gave the area a good look. A smaller guy, about thirty, dressed sharper in slick pants and a silk shirt, spent a few seconds checking his look in the truck’s side mirror.
Tasker could see right off that this was the man with the guns. The redneck he’d dealt with the last time was just a middleman. That was always what happened. You meet someone, identify him and then have to arrest someone else. In this case, Tasker had had an analyst do a workup on Lloyd “Bud” Wilson, a landscaper from south Dade, and now he saw that Bud wasn’t any smarter than he’d seemed when they met last time. He just knew someone with guns.
Tasker made a quick safety check of the Suburban. He glanced up at the passenger-side visor, just able to see the tiny microphone for the transmitter. If it worked, the surveillance agents would hear what was going on. His Nextel was on private and the gun was still hidden in the seats.
The big redneck, Bud, waved as the pair approached the truck. Tasker rolled down the passenger window so they could talk to him without walking into the street.
Tasker leaned over and said, “Hey, Bud, who’s your friend?”
Bud ran his thick fingers over his sunburned face, “Well, Willie, this here is the fella that can put his hands on the guns.”
“Thought you were bringing them today.”
“We brung a sample.”
The smaller man held up a small satchel.
“Sorry, Bud, we had a deal. Don’t have time to waste on a guy that dicks me around.” Tasker started to roll up the window.
The smaller guy stepped in front of Bud. “Willie, I thought we could talk.”
Tasker ignored him. Bud had obviously told him Tasker’s undercover name and didn’t seem to mind having this slick little bastard cut in.
Tasker paused and looked at Bud. “I don’t hear anyone talkin’, Bud, ’cause you’re the only one I know. Now, I came in good faith and expected at least six handguns. I don’t see them, so I’m leaving.” He put the big Suburban in gear, but gave the two crooks a second to convince him to stay.
Bud put his hand on the half-closed window and said, “Now, hold on there, Willie. Gene here is gonna get the rest from the truck.” Without waiting for Tasker to reply, the short guy, Gene, grabbed the keys from Bud and scurried back to the truck, cutting across the open courtyard of the Clevelander. Bud leaned into the window. “I’m sorry about this, Willie.”
“Who is that guy?”
“Gene—he’s a mover and shaker down in Homestead. I had a little trouble coming up with the cash for the guns, so he’s fronting them. He’s just watching his investment.”
The idea that anyone in the rural community of Homestead would be considered a mover and shaker made Tasker smile. He kept his eyes on the short man as he headed back with a heavy backpack he held across his shoulder. Bud opened the rear door and slid in before Tasker could say anything. Gene jumped up front with the bag. Tasker hoped that move wouldn’t prompt the surveillance guys to come in. No one liked a bad guy behind the undercover agent.
Gene said, “Sorry, Willie, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t a cop.”
Tasker finally acknowledged him. “What made you decide I wasn’t?”
“You were ready to drive off. Just a businessman.” He had a harsh, Brooklyn accent. His hair was combed back, but it was a cheap cut. His watch looked like a Cartier but had an odd band. “Besides,” Gene added, “if you’re a cop and I ask you, you’re required by law to admit it.”
Tasker stared at him, then at Bud, trying to decide if one or both of them might be mentally challenged.
Gene asked, “Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“No, I am not now and have never been a cop. How’s that?”
“That’s good. Now, what’ve you got?”
Tasker kept a close eye on Bud, then said to Gene. “What have you got?”
Gene started to say, “We can play games all—” when Tasker just reached over and grabbed the backpack off his shoulder.
Gene cleared his throat and said, “Or you could take a quick peek.” As Tasker rummaged through the bag, Gene continued. “I brought a good assortment. Three Tec-9s, two Taurus nine-mills and a couple of Smith .38s.”
Tasker nodded, still looking in the bag. “Not bad. Where’d you get ’em?”
“That’s on a need-to-know basis.”
“Can I sell ’em or will they be hot?”
Gene smiled. “I wouldn’t sell them to a gun shop or nothin’. Now, what do you got?”
Tasker set down the pack and leaned down to retrieve his gym bag. He slid the brick of pot he’d checked out of evidence for this reverse sting and held it in his lap. “Five pounds of Colombian gold. Fresh and wrapped tight from the field.” He held up the brick so Bud in the backseat could see it. As he did he noticed the backside of the brick for the first time. On the inside of the wrapper, where he hadn’t felt it, was an evidence tag that read in bold letters: fdle evidence miami office #1043.
Tasker thought, Holy shit, how did I miss that? He held the brick firmly with the back to him. Gene tried to take it, but Tasker wouldn’t budge. A thin film of sweat formed over his forehead.
“Let go. Let me take a look,” said Gene, tugging on the pot.Tasker said in a louder voice, “Looks like we’re good to go.” That was the verbal signal over the transmitter for the arrest team to move in. He kept his hand on the pot.
“Willie, what gives?” asked Bud from the backseat.
Tasker looked up and didn’t see anyone moving toward him. He knew that time seemed to stand still whenever an undercover agent gave the arrest signal, but this was ridiculous. Maybe they hadn’t heard him. He needed to give the visual sign, too. All he had to do was flash the lights, but
the only way to manage that was to let go of the pot.
Gene finally pulled the pot brick loose, freeing Tasker to flash the lights.
“What are you doing?” asked Gene.
Tasker saw a blocking car coming from the south and then a couple of the agents sitting around the hotel bar and pool ease toward them. Then everything happened at once.
Gene flipped over the pot, Bud saw the activity outside the Suburban and pulled a Taurus nine-millimeter and Tasker knew he had to bail to stay out of the line of fire. He reached for the door handle.
Gene realized what the sticker was, and said, “He’s a fucking cop,” as he swung the brick hard into Tasker’s face, slamming his head against the window.
Bud panicked and slid to the rear driver’s-side door, away from the approaching agents and, without looking, kicked open the door and jumped out.
That was a mistake. A kid impressing a model in his dad’s Jaguar XJ-8 was taking advantage of a break in traffic and caught the slow-witted Bud clean at about forty miles an hour. The door to the Suburban and Bud seemed to mix into a crumpled mix of man and metal.
Tasker, coming out of his daze, saw Bud’s blood-streaked face, an eye already out of the socket smeared across his side window. The body, stuck on the grill of the Jag, slid past the end of the Suburban’s hood, then onto the pavement, until poor Bud slipped under the blue Jag’s wheels just as the kid brought it to a stop. Even Gene and the arrest team were momentarily stunned by the sight.
Then Gene made a ballsy move. He jumped into the backseat and out the missing door. He sprinted like a scared deer, his short legs pumping in fast motion. He shot past the stopped arrest team car and headed south down Ocean. Easily the fastest guy Tasker had ever seen in person.
Tasker got out, hearing another agent asking if he was okay. It still sounded like he was in an echo chamber. He nodded, waving the agent off to go chase Gene. Three other FDLE agents with their badges on chains around their necks and their heavy ballistic vests showing from under large untucked shirts gave chase to Gene, the would-be gun dealer.
Someone handed Tasker a handheld radio so he could hear the gasped description of where the chase was headed. Two agents were trying to free Bud’s lifeless corpse while the others fanned out to see if they could help corral Gene.
Tasker monitored the radio as he retrieved his gun from the battered Suburban and started walking west on a side street, still listening as the arrest team would lose, then find Gene. He pictured the foot chase and started to see a pattern. Gene wasn’t the dumb-ass he seemed. He had led the arrest team away from the hotel and now seemed to be heading back. Back to the truck, for which he still had the keys.
Tasker waited, and then, as the chase came back his way, ducked into the covered entrance for some construction going on a block west of the old run-down Clevelander. He quickly looked around and picked up a piece of scrap three-quarter-inch plywood about the size of his leg. He heard someone call out that Gene had turned down the street and Tasker caught a glimpse as he approached. He owed this mope a swat in the face, so without any warning he calmly stepped to the edge of the temporary construction wall and swung just as Gene appeared.
The old plywood split easily across Gene’s face, but the effect was spectacular. The short man flew back off his feet and landed with a splat on the cracked sidewalk.
Tasker leaned over the gasping, bleeding man and said, “You’re under arrest.”
The man scanned the clearing in both directions for a good two minutes. As quiet as he expected it on a Thursday afternoon. He’d used this open lime pit west of Krome Avenue once before, but the amateur shooters on the weekends made him nervous. He didn’t want someone he knew to wander by and recognize him. Even though people in the area mostly minded their
own business, he liked to keep a very low profile. Except where women were concerned. That was definitely a weakness.
He stepped back from his experiment. The thick metal cap had just fit into his oversized step van with his business sign faded to almost nothing on the side. Although it had been fairly easy to drag out of the van, loading it at the scrap yard had been very difficult. The heat didn’t make it any easier. The tropical humidity and brutal sun sapped most of the energy out of
him. Still, he did what he had to do.
Stepping back, he made sure the metal sheet was braced against a small tree. He had used only about a quarter of the explosives he had had for over two years. He had about ten ounces left and he had calculated that to be plenty for his plan. He realized that the four ounces in the suitcase had been too much and he’d obviously set the timer improperly. He’d been rash, only
doing the one test out west of Hollywood. Now there were houses all around and he’d had to move down here. He still had the crease on his Corolla where the rebar had blown straight in the air and hit the car. It was his badge of honor.
He took no chances this time. He’d moved his van two hundred yards away. He had a transmitter that would allow him to detonate the homemade explosive remotely from at least that far.
As he trotted back to the cover of the van, he let his eyes roam just in case he’d missed someone or something that could be a problem later. He wanted to hurry so he could be back for the kids when they got home from school. His wife was notably unreliable about being home in the afternoon.
Crouching next to the van, he looked at the transmitter in his hand. His blood rushed as he thought about the imminent explosion. He had just calmed down from watching the spectacular Miami riots and knew he needed another dose of destruction. The devastation he created himself was always better than watching the work of others. Sometimes he’d help others by making something or giving advice on where to plant a bomb, but he liked his own projects more. Helping others was better than nothing. Whether it was Arabs, the Puerto Rican guy or some of the local Nazis, he loved to see confusion and know that he had something to do with it. It had started small when he was a kid. A smoke bomb in the cafeteria made everyone run around like a cat with its tail on fire. The emotional jolt he’d felt had lasted for weeks. The only problem was that he needed a bigger stunt every time to feel the same charge.
He squeezed the transmitter’s small trigger. Instantly the pack of explosive detonated in a sharp crack and a near-blinding flash. He could see the five-foot metal pan fly into the air and crash back onto the hard lime ground.
He drove the van back to the experiment. He planned to clear the area in case anyone had heard the explosion. Stopping twenty feet away, he approached it slowly. There in the center of the metal sheet was a six-inch hole. Perfect. That would do the trick nicely. He gazed at the scorched metal and wondered if this was how Oppenheimer had felt.
Traffic had been rerouted, and Miami Beach patrol cars with their lights flashing were at each corner and along the road. This was a lot of excitement for a Thursday afternoon on South Beach.
Tasker sat, holding an ice pack to his head where Gene had whacked him with the brick of pot. He watched the paramedics load what was left of Bud Wilson into the ambulance and then looked over to Gene sitting in the backseat of one of the FDLE Crown Vics.
“You okay?” asked his supervisor, sitting his squat frame on the step next to him.
“Hey, shit happens. You can’t keep a guy from jumping into traffic. This is a good arrest.” He slapped Tasker on the shoulder, jarring his already aching head. “Good to have you back,” the older man said, standing up to start pulling order from the chaos around them.
Tasker said, “Thanks, boss. Guess I better have Gene booked.”
He padded over to the car holding the surviving prisoner, each step pounding in his head, and opened the door.
Gene’s face had a good-sized red splotch where Tasker had hit him with the plywood. “Where are we going?” asked Gene.
Tasker said, “You’re headed to TGK.” The main holding facility in Miami– Dade County was the Turner Guilford Knight Center. No one seemed to know who Turner Guilford Knight was.
Tasker’s supervisor came up next to him. “Make sure you throw in a felony murder charge for his friend gettin’ squished.”
After what Tasker had seen, the phrase turned his stomach.
Gene started talking fast, “I’ll cooperate, I’ll talk, just give me a break.”
Tasker said calmly, “Gene, there’s nothing to cooperate on. You’re arrested and Bud is dead.” His supervisor came over to the car to hear what was going on.
“I can give you someone else.”
“I’m very satisfied with you. Now, I got a headache, Gene. Can you shut up?”
“Please, I’m tellin’ you, I got something for you guys.”
“There’s nothing you could say that would make me want to listen to you right now, Gene.”
“I know a guy who’s looking to sell a Stinger missile.”
Tasker and his supervisor froze and looked at Gene. Tasker said, “Okay, we’ll listen.”