Revolution

***Previously published as HOMELAND***

With the escape of the captured Shepherd, Special Agent Jack Randall of the FBI finds himself and his case back to square one. Called back to DC to face the music, he instead chooses to visit Florida and the scene of the latest Shepherd’s target. Getting there was easy, but getting out is something totally different.

When desperate people fleeing the path of a major hurricane chose to do so through the tiny border town of Homeland, Florida, it brings trouble the town is not prepared for.

Jack, and his partner Sydney Lewis, only want to get home to DC and pursue their case against the vigilante group known as The Twelve Shepherds. The shortcut looked like a good idea.

A few cars ahead of them are four men who have the same thought, but with very different goals. Armed to the teeth and carrying 50 keys of cocaine destined for the east coast, the four men find themselves caught between the FBI and a pair of small town deputies.

Cut off from the outside world by the storm and a washed-out bridge, Jack must team up with the young policemen to save the town from the four violent killers.

One of which is someone he did not expect.

Revolution is the eighth novel in the bestselling Jack Randall series of thrillers.

 

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The first two chapters of Revolution: 

“No one can prevent hurricanes, but prosperous communities are much better able to withstand them than poor ones.”

—Robert Zubrin

—One—

 

Squirrel gazed into the building through the broken storefront window. This one had become that way courtesy of a metal sign that had been flung across the street by the wind. The sign now lay inside, covered in a layer of broken glass and rain water. Department 229, Used Furniture it read in bold red letters. Links of chain trailed across the floor after it. As he stepped inside, the odd shapes of couches and chairs and stacked mattresses broke up his view of the interior. His feet crunched on the broken glass, and he scraped the tiny fragments off the bottom of his Jordans before walking on the concrete floor. An old mirror caught his reflection, and he flinched before realizing what it was.

He reflexively looked behind him for witnesses. It was how he got his name. Not that he liked it, but he had to admit he had earned it. He was always on edge, indecisive, flinching at the slightest threat. Never sitting still, always in motion. Like a squirrel.

As soon as the storm had passed, he had fled the house. His mother had wanted him to check on the neighbors, but he had other ideas. When the power had gone out he’d started planning. But he was limited by geography. That and income. He didn’t have a car, so he was forced to confine his looting to the area he lived in. He’d quickly ruled out houses—in this neighborhood that meant getting shot. He had started with the few remaining businesses on this block. So far, he’d not come up with much. A few dollars from a desk in the back of the laundromat, and a handful of jewelry at the consignment shop. The liquor store was already being emptied, and when he arrived the owners had just shown up with shotguns. The others had fled and he had as well, moving on to easier prey.

There had to be an office or something in this place; he just had to find it. Creeping farther into the back, he left behind the faint light coming in through the broken window. He ran into a table and it screeched as he moved it across the floor. He knocked over a chair and lamp, and he stopped to rub his shin where they had connected.

The wind howled through the broken glass, and a painting fell from the wall with a crash behind him. He cried out and leaped away, dragging his plastic shopping bag of loot behind him and toppling more clutter.

Catching his breath from the scare, he sat down on an overstuffed couch. He should have brought his friend Coby with him. Coby was fat and dumb, but he wasn’t afraid of everything. Together, they had powered their way through similar situations before. But Coby’s mother wouldn’t let him out, so Squirrel was on his own. He planted his hands to push himself up, and was almost on his feet when the couch next to him flew apart with a geyser of stuffing.

The blast of the shotgun overpowered the raging wind for only a second, but it was all Squirrel needed to hear. He found himself face down on the cold tile but scrambled to his feet and was running. Any thoughts of looting were driven from his mind.

He rounded a chair just as it too burst apart.

“Run, motherfucker!” A yell went out behind him, followed by another blast.

Squirrel forgot about the crooked path through the furniture and ran over the tops of them as fast as his twelve-year-old legs could push him. Gasping for breath and with ringing ears, he sought only to escape.

The shotgun roared again, and he dove for the floor between two couches, only to be coated with stuffing and bits of cheap leather.

“Run, little boy. Run!”

Squirrel ran, faster now toward the front, desperate to escape the laughing man behind him. He flung himself through the broken window just as the one next to it exploded outward. He landed on the sidewalk. Shards rained down, cutting his face and back. Several pieces were shoved into his hands as he pushed himself up and off the wet concrete to run down the road. The glass in the soles of his Jordans slipped on the wet concrete, and he slid headfirst into the puddled street. He ignored it and jumped up again, rounding the corner with tears in his eyes and fear pounding in his heart. Behind him, he heard the man roaring with laughter.

In front of the furniture store stood Sanford Brown. The smoking shotgun was clamped in his fist as he doubled over with laughter at the sight of the fleeing boy. The laughter was maniacal and showed no sign of stopping. Eventually the wind brought some rain, and the laughter died to a chuckle. He looked across the street to find his boss standing in the doorway with a large handgun in his fist.

He did not look happy.

“What?” Sanford spread his arms, proclaiming innocence.

“You gonna bring every cop in town!”

Sanford gestured around with the shotgun.

“Ain’t none of them gonna call nobody! I was just having some fun!”

“Well, have your fun over here and do it quiet!” The man turned and went back inside.

 

 

Samuel Jackson stormed back into the building and waved the gun at his second-in-command.

“Dumbass is out there shooting at kids!”

“Kids?”

“Some kid poking through the warehouse across the street. As if I don’t have enough problems! We got power yet? What the hell is taking so long?”

Samuel Jackson was not a tall man, built more like a fireplug. Short and wide and low to the ground. A heavy frame wrapped in heavy muscle. His large bald head and thick neck helped to solidify the description. A product of the streets, he had been labeled with many nicknames based on his appearance while coming up, but none of them were lobbed in his direction anymore. Not since he had become the head of drug operations in Miami. Anyone who did so quickly found themselves breathing in ocean water. His scarred hand now used the .357 as a pointer, and despite its large frame it looked tiny in the man’s grasp.

“I want some more people here, too. You get ahold of anybody?”

“Power’s out and so are the cell towers. Sat phone’s working. The second generator don’t want to start for some reason. I got the first wired to the lights and the refrigerator. That’s about all it’ll handle. If the second one decides to start, I’ll hook up the air.”

“Mother—” Jackson stopped himself. He’d been trying hard not to use the word since the actor he shared a name with had gotten so famous for it. Wasn’t his fault, he was older; his momma had named him that first.

Jackson stopped and wiped the sweat off his head for the hundredth time since he’d woken up that morning in a pool of it. The air conditioning had been off since early the previous day, and the combination of the wind, rain, heat, and humidity had made sleep next to impossible. On top of that, his place was damaged. Not his beachside mansion—that was flooded beyond all hope—but his strip club, where he spent his time and did business. He wanted to send someone to find another generator, but he had nobody to send. His crew was now made up of three people, with another one hopefully on the way. When, he didn’t know, since the conversation had been cut off by the cell phone service dying. The whole damn town was coming apart.

A damn hurricane. Not his first one—he’d survived Andrew when he was a kid and a couple smaller ones since, but he wasn’t supplying drugs for half the east coast back then. Things were different now: he had a business to run.

“Who we got?”

“Still just you and me. Sanford and the kid out front. If Dom makes it here, that’s five.”

Jackson nodded at his second. He had always been his second. Wallace was his name, and he had never acquired another. A detail man. They had been together since high school. At first running pot and working the playgrounds and football games. Then branching out into the neighborhoods. Jackson was wise enough to see that territory was money and he spent his profits on muscle and hardware until he owned half the town. A major war with his rival the year before had given him a majority stake. With that over, he’d worked at branching out, becoming a major supplier for the east coast traffickers. He now ran an empire—one with cops, judges, politicians, and Coast Guard officers on the payroll. All managed from his bar in lower Miami. The same bar he now stood sweating in, while outside Nature showed her strength. For once in many years, he was powerless, both literally and figuratively.

He paced the room twice before walking to the door again. Here the breeze offered some relief from the heat. Sanford and a young kid named Kobe sat outside on bar stools they had pulled from inside, standing guard under the tattered awning to keep out of the rain. Sanford cradled the shotgun in his arm and was busy wiping it down, while the kid had a pistol tucked under one leg to keep it both out of sight and dry.

“They come back?”

Sanford snorted. “Hell no. They workin’ the street a couple blocks down, headin’ south.”

Looters. Dumb ones. They had worked their way down the street, breaking into the surrounding businesses before being driven away by a blast from Sanford’s shotgun early that morning. Evidently, it had been enough for them to remember who owned the bar, and they were now giving it a wide berth. Except for the kid Sanford had just scared off, they had not returned.

Jackson eyeballed the two. The man with the shotgun was his best muscle. A big man who enjoyed getting bigger. He now sported a tank top two sizes too small, soaked in sweat and rain, and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. Like Jackson, he was a product of the streets and had been in his employment off and on between prison stays for many years. What skin wasn’t covered in tattoos was covered in scars. Usually the sight of him alone was enough to extract the desired result. Nevertheless, Jackson had learned to use Sanford very selectively, as the man’s temperament was one of thinly controlled anger. That, and he had a taste for young flesh, something Jackson frowned upon, but was willing to overlook to get the results he needed. So far Sanford had proven to be very reliable in that regard.

The other man was little more than a kid. Kobe something. Jackson didn’t know his last name and didn’t really care to. A street kid and self-imposed orphan, he had somehow worked his way into Jackson’s organization simply by showing up every day. Odd jobs became regular ones until he was not so much an accepted member, but more like a familiar piece of furniture. He did as he was told and never spoke unless addressed. Otherwise he faded into the background until needed. Where he lived and what he did were not in Jackson’s memory, but he had been checked out by Sanford and deemed useful. What he lacked in intelligence he made up for in work ethic. Even today, with the hurricane not even fully gone, he had simply appeared out of the damage and looting and reported for work. Jackson had nodded approval before sending him outside with Sanford to counter the looters.

Jackson scanned the streets. The storm had done some serious damage. Power lines were down and crisscrossing the streets. Windows were broken. The higher ones by the storm, the lower ones by the looters, but it was hard to tell the difference. A sign for a pawn shop three blocks away was now resting on a car parked across the street. The three palm trees in sight were stripped of their fronds. The rain still fell, occasionally pushed horizontally by the gusting wind. It would take weeks to clean up, and since their neighborhood was not rich and white, they wouldn’t start here for some time. Jackson estimated he’d be without air conditioning for at least a month. Sirens sounded in the distance, and he automatically turned his head in their direction, but all he saw was a fat woman with a shopping cart crossing the street a block away. The cart was full of liquor bottles lifted from a nearby store.

“Nothing else to do,” Jackson mumbled before looking beyond her. There was nobody else in sight.

“Any sign of Dom?”

“Nope. No cell service back up yet, either. He said he’s coming in,” Sanford replied with a shrug. Dom would show up when he showed up it said.

Jackson cursed and pitched his cigarette into the street before turning and stalking back inside. He stopped to eyeball Sanford and pointed to the shotgun.

“Keep that thing quiet.”

“You got it, boss.”

Sanford watched his boss spin around to the sound of the satellite phone ringing. He watched him go before turning his gaze to Kobe. The boy was silent as usual, but his eyes were watching the end of the shotgun as it tracked back and forth across his chest with every stroke of the oil rag.

“Thing only works by making noise,” Sanford told him before smiling that evil grin of his. Kobe put on his best tough-guy face and nodded in agreement before turning his gaze back to the street.

Like the men he now worked for, Kobe was a product of the streets. Born to a crackhead mother who turned tricks out of their small apartment, he had no idea who his father was. In and out of his grandmother’s care most of his younger life, and back and forth to his mother’s during brief periods of her being clean, he’d learned early on to fend for himself. After failing the eighth grade twice, he’d given up on school all together. Despite the years of education, Kobe could barely read and write. When a signature was called for, he managed two capital letters followed by an illegible scribble. He’d been arrested three times in his short life, for petty theft and burglary. Claiming hunger as his motive, he’d been let off easy all three times. He’d received probation and appointments with the social services office, which he always managed to forget.

Two of his friends had died from drugs. One from an overdose right in front of him, and the other shot through the head when he had tried to rob a fifteen-year-old dealer. Kobe had learned to stay away and, other than the occasional beer to fit in with the older kids, had, against all odds, stayed clean.

He divided his time between his mother’s apartment, the nearby “jungles” where the homeless resided, and abandoned buildings when the weather was bad. He showered at the mission or the nearby “Sally,” Salvation Army, when he needed it, and sat through droning sermons at the nearby church if breakfast was included. When the traffic at his mother’s place got too high, he would find cars to steal and live out of. Temporary housing, as he liked to call it.

When burglary of houses and businesses had proven to be too dangerous he’d turned to cars. There, he had found his niche. First using them for housing before taking their stereos and GPS units, and then learning to hot-wire the older models and taking the whole car. He sold the stereos to fences and the cars to chop shops, and the income was enough to keep him off the streets. One of the chop shops had hired him on occasion to deliver a car they had “remodeled,” and Kobe had found himself working for Samuel Jackson’s outfit. Once there, he had hung around until they gave him a job.

Now here he was, sitting outside a strip club in the middle of a hurricane, watching a madman clean his shotgun.

 

 

Jackson stormed inside to find the phone ringing. Wallace answered it and then held it out for him.

“Bennie in New York,” he whispered as Jackson took it.

“Yeah?”

“Where’s my stuff?”

“Been a little busy here.”

“With what?”

“Turn on the TV, man. It was a hurricane! What you want from me? I don’t control the damn weather!”

“I want product. You said you could deliver, so deliver.”

“I have product. There’s just nothin’ moving. Airport’s shut down. I got no boats. Cops got the highways all closed. If it wasn’t for this fancy-ass phone I wouldn’t even be talkin’ to yo fat ass!”

“I don’t give a shit about your storm. If you want your money, get me my product by Friday, or I’ll go somewhere else.”

Jackson opened his mouth to protest but the phone was already emitting the warble of a severed satellite connection. He fought the urge to throw it across the room, but reined himself in. It was his only connection to the world right now. He needed it. Without a word, he turned and stomped across the room, tossing the phone to his second-in-command as he did so.

“The man ain’t happy,” Wallace observed.

“Asshole don’t even watch TV long enough to know there’s a damn storm outside!”

He paced the floor and frowned at the sound of the wind. It was a symbiotic relationship he had with the east coast mobsters. He was taking in about a million a week profit, four million a month, all in cash that had to be laundered. Big stacks of money that had to be turned into legitimate income that he could then invest or hide offshore. It was a problem that most would love to have, but still a problem.

With his Columbian connections importing him raw product directly he gained an edge. The Mexican gangs took a cut for their services, and by not going through them he had used that advantage and become not just the major supplier here in Miami, but the source of product for several outfits on the upper east coast. The discount he got from the Columbians helped offset what he charged on the other. In return for product at a cheaper price, the outfits gave him access to their money laundering operations. Something Jackson seemed to be in ever greater need of. He needed to keep the supply going or his customers would simply take their needs elsewhere. It was simple business, something that Jackson understood very well.

Drugs. It was a business like no other, and few understood it as well as he did. Through a combination of common sense, a superior IQ, and an ability to turn any situation to his advantage, Jackson had risen to the top. Adaptability. It was what had gotten him here more than anything. Today presented a unique problem, but it was far from being his first.

Most of his problems were caused by the people who worked for him. Some took a liking to the product they dealt with. Some got too greedy or liked to show off their wealth to the wrong people. Some talked themselves into thinking they were more important than they were. These people became dangerous to Jackson’s business. When someone fell into this category, the answer was swift and decisive. They simply disappeared.

His other problems were mostly about territory. He had fought those wars coming up, and the threat of a rival operation was no longer at the top of the list. Now his territory battles were of the internal nature. Dealer A wanting more territory and was willing to battle with Dealer B to get it. Like a father with squabbling children, Jackson handed down discipline harshly, and his dealers soon learned to stay in bounds.

But since the drug business was cash only, he also had to be ever watchful for cheaters and thieves. Despite his ruthless reputation, every few months one would try—the last one’s burned and mutilated body had been found on the corner where he had worked. The coroner had said whoever had done it had used a welding torch and started at the man’s feet. The lesson had not gone unnoticed. Most on the streets and in the force had shrugged it off. It had just been Samuel Jackson taking care of business, something they had come to expect. But then some on the force had known it was coming before it happened.

Jackson understood that the cheaters, the thieves, the internal issues, and even the mobsters he dealt with, were all less of a threat compared to the police. From the locals and all the way up to the DEA and FBI they were his number one problem. To counter that threat, Jackson had invested heavily in bribes. He found cops and agents and politicians that he could buy, and he gladly spent the cash. He now had people at every level, from the locals here in south Miami to the offices in Washington DC. He often knew of any operations against him before they even got started. He had people everywhere.

Yet, here he was today. With a flooded beachside home. A bar with no power. A crew he could count on one hand, and nothing to reach the outside world with but a damn satellite phone.

“Whatcha wanna do, J?” Wallace asked.

Jackson pulled out his pack of cigarettes and mentally counted its contents. He may have to ration what he had left, but not right now. He lit up another and took a strong drag before answering.

“How much we got in the crib?”

“Fifty.”

“Fifty? You’re sure?”

“Fifty,” Wallace repeated.

“We got to get it north, something better than this morning’s idea.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, mutha! But if we don’t, those assholes will go west coast on us and we’ll have to go to war again to get back on top. So how about you think of something?”

“Okay, okay. Boats are all out?”

“Every one of ’em. Even if they weren’t, ain’t nobody going out in that storm. Suicide. And I’m sure as hell not risking fifty keys on a boat right now. What’s it doing, anyway?”

“Weather chick says it’s gonna cross the state and either head north into Alabama or Mississippi from there, or it could stall out in the Gulf before it turns around and heads north-east again.”

“Damn. We gotta hurry.”

“What you thinking?”

Jackson wiped the sweat from his bald head again and walked behind the bar. He poured a shot of whisky, neat, as if he had a choice, while he gave it some thought.

Downstairs in the back of the walk-in cooler were fifty kilos of uncut cocaine earmarked for his contacts up north. DC. Baltimore. Newark. New York. He had to get them there—and soon. But there were no planes flying. No boats leaving. And this damn storm, which was supposed to have tracked well south of them, was now turning around to screw them a second time. He had to get the fifty kilos north, now. A simple A to B problem.

“I see only one option.”

 

 

In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm, caused $7 billion in damages and killed 50 people.

—Two—

 

Tyler Turner examined the damage outside his house through the cracked window in the front door. At first glance the car looked okay. The one palm tree in the yard had been stripped bare during the night, and then laid flat on the ground next to the Chevy, missing it by inches. Taking in the view of the surrounding homes, he saw enough space to drive through the yard to his neighbor’s driveway to reach the street.

“What you waiting for?” he asked himself before pulling his hoodie up over his head and venturing out.

He pulled some stray fronds from the hood of the car and a plastic bag from where it had become snagged on the wiper blade. Releasing the bag to the wind, he watched as it was rapidly carried aloft and sucked away to the west. The winds were still strong, mostly steady now, but still gusting enough to bend the trees. Debris made its way down the street, mostly trash from the nearby yards, as that was the kind of neighborhood he lived in. He eyeballed the ditch in front of his house. Full of brown water with ripples on the surface. It would take weeks to drain. The mosquitos would be fierce for days.

Putting it all aside, he pulled the rear door open and threw his bag in. The wind tried to slam his hand inside, but he stopped it by planting his body in front of it. Pulling a cell phone from his coat, he shoved that inside as well before letting the door slam and opening the driver’s door. The seat was wet on the passenger side, but he ignored it. The quality of the window seal was the last thing on his mind this morning.

He inserted the key and held his breath before turning it. The motor ground and made an effort before stalling. He stopped. Was it going to start? Everything was wet. The battery. The wires. Everything. The hurricane had made sure of it. But he didn’t have a backup. So he tried again, this time letting it go for a few rounds. The engine caught and he carefully fed it gas to keep it going. After a minute, he let up and the car settled into a smooth idle. He adjusted the seat and turned on the wipers.

The view out the front windshield was of the tiny row house he had occupied for the past eleven months. A Florida home they called it. Probably built sometime in the early ’70s. A concrete block structure with a stucco exterior. A semi-flat roof sheathed in metal. Ancient crank-out windows, which had been broken and replaced many times, sat behind metal bars that had been added when the neighborhood started to decline. A one-car carport had been added to one side and now held all manner of used appliances and car parts and other trash. It seemed to be a requirement on this street, and he was amazed it was all still there. Other than adding a new deadbolt and some hidden cameras, he had done nothing in the way of repairs or improvements since landing there. Still, the little house had survived the latest hurricane. Just one of many in its past, so he had to give it some respect for that. Battered and broken, it still stood. It was a survivor, like him.

Dropping the car in gear, he turned away. He might not see the house again, but if he did, he might have to put some time into fixing a few things. Not sure why—he didn’t even own it—but he felt he owed it somehow. He took some small amount of comfort knowing that if he did come back, the little house would be waiting for him.

He idled the car through the tall grass, out his neighbor’s driveway and into the street without getting stuck in the flooded yard. Forced to weave around fallen trees, downed wires, and rolling trashcans he eventually made it to a major road.

Cars were on the streets, but not many. Some people out and about looking at the damage. A few were wearing orange vests and hardhats. They were gazing up at the power lines and speaking into radios. He steered away from them. Progress was slow due to the debris everywhere. All the stoplights were out, and he was forced to wait for hesitant drivers moving across intersections. The freeway was closed, blocked off by heavy barrels and a cop with a radio, so he was forced to the secondary roads. He glanced at the dash clock and cursed. He was going to be late. But then the person he was meeting was also driving through this mess as well. They would both just get there when they got there.

Luckily, the GPS still worked and he used it to find his way north as best he could. The city looked eerie in the strange light, the concrete holding a green tint like the sky possessed right now. Some of the buildings seemed to glow in the stabs of sunlight that would briefly break through the marching cloud cover. Their surfaces had been power washed by the storm and were now free of their dirty coats of dust. It distracted him enough that he almost missed the building he was traveling to.

The strip mall parking lot was empty, but he wasn’t surprised. It was made up of the usual collection of tax offices, Chinese take-out, beauty parlors and laundromats, but there was nothing here anyone needed today, that was for sure. Not to mention the early hour. He circled the building once and then parked facing the street. He was alone. Getting out, he stretched and yawned. The storm had robbed him of both sleep and coffee. Scanning the area and seeing no activity, he walked to the tax office and let himself in. He tested the lights and was surprised to find that the place had power.

“Should have spent the night here,” he mumbled before turning the light off and making his way to the back room by the light of the window. He went past two empty offices and a storage room, before finding the back door inside a small conference room. He unlocked it and then took a piece of sheet magnet covered in blue tape off the door. Opening it just wide enough to see out the back, he slapped the magnet on the door and closed it. Finding a chair, he pulled the .45 from his belt and set it on the table before leaning back to wait.

He’d almost dozed off when he heard a car outside. The wind almost hid the sound of the person’s arrival. The footsteps were also muted, but not the knock. Twice. And twice again.

“Come on in,” he yelled as he set the gun down.

The white man was tall and thin. Dressed in a pair of jeans, T-shirt, and a windbreaker. A pair of hunting boots were on his feet and they were wet, the same as his salt-and-pepper hair, which was plastered on his head. Evidently, it was raining much harder in the direction he had come from. The clothes were rumpled and he needed a shave. In his left hand, he held two paper bags sporting grease stains. In the other, he held a cardboard carrier with two steaming cups in it. He set them down without any greeting. They were long past that.

His name was Special Agent Lyle Smith and he was with the Drug Enforcement Agency. They had known each other for over a year, ever since Smith had recruited him from his department back in Michigan. It was not the first time they’d had a meeting in this office, but it had been two weeks since the last one.

“Please tell me that’s fresh coffee.”

“The diner next to the station is still up and running. They’ve been keeping us supplied all night. You hungry?”

“Starving. I lost power soon as it hit. Nothing in the house but a cold can of soup and some melting frozen food.”

“What kind of soup?”

“Tomato.”

“Sounds tasty.”

Smith tossed him a bag, and they both ate in silence for a few minutes.

“You look tired,” Smith remarked.

“So do you,” Tyler answered before stuffing another breakfast sandwich in his mouth.

Smith smiled at the blunt answer. It was just like the man.

Deputy Tyler Turner of Detroit sat in the office chair dressed in street clothes: faded jeans, a T-shirt with Jay Z on the front and a black do-rag. The earring and gold chains were new, as were his posture and his walk. A man of Dominican descent, he was a third-generation cop on loan to the DEA from the Detroit gang unit and had been working undercover for Smith for the last eleven months. “A little undercover work that would be great for his future career,” they’d told him. It was a half-lie that they both knew, but never acknowledged out loud. Smith almost regretted it, but it was too late now to do anything. The man was in too deep.

“How’s it looking?”

Turner chewed and swallowed. “Good. I’m next to the man himself. Jackson’s making money like he’s printing it. I did the drops the other night and—”

Smith cut him off. “Hold on.” He reached in his jacket and pulled out the recorder. Uncoiling the charger, he plugged it in the usual outlet and hit the record button. Turner sipped his coffee. Smith dictated his name and the date and who he was meeting with into the machine before playing it back to be sure it was working. He set it on the table between them, next to Turner’s gun, and motioned for him to continue. Unknown to Smith, Turner’s recorder was already running in his pocket.

“What’s so damn important it couldn’t wait?”

“Got a call this morning, right before I called you and then the cell service went out. Jackson is hurtin’ for people. His crew is scattered, or out of contact because of the storm. He was behind on deliveries before the storm hit. He’s gotta be desperate to move some product now. Wallace told me to come in as soon as possible and to pack a bag.”

“So, that just might mean you’re gonna be staying there for a while.”

“I’m not so sure. I think I might be taking a trip.”

“You think he’s going to drive the stuff up?”

“What other options are there? Airports are closed. Coast Guard has the ports all locked down. Only an idiot would take a boat out in that weather. I wouldn’t get on one now even if they weren’t. Besides, he’d never risk the product like that.”

“I don’t know,” Lyle stalled.

“This is too good! If I can get in that car I can connect Jackson with everyone he’s dealing with. DC for sure. But I counted fifty kilos in the cooler last Tuesday and nothin’ has gone out, man. Nothin’! DC won’t get all that. Fifty is too much, even for them. I bet it goes to at least two other outfits, maybe even three or four. This is our chance to bust the whole chain.”

“You’d be on your own. No backup or way to track you. I don’t like it.”

“We’ll never get another chance like this!”

Lyle eyeballed the man in front of him. The new tattoo on his arm was a reminder. Tyler had gotten it to cover up a Marine Corps tattoo from years ago just so he could do undercover work. The man’s devotion to the job was without question, but it was his aggressiveness that worried Lyle. Of all the undercover operators he had worked with, Tyler was the hardest to deal with. Always wanting more. Attack. It was drilled into him by the Corps, and as his handler Lyle constantly worried about him overreaching. One slipup and Tyler would simply disappear. Tossed off the back of one of the three boats Jackson used, never to be seen again.

But he had to admit, Tyler was smart. Tough and bold, as well. He was also a natural actor. All of these traits had served to get him close to Samuel Jackson in a matter of only ten months.

“If he tells me to do it and I don’t,” Tyler said, “we’re done.”

“We can go to the grand jury with what we have already,” Smith stalled again.

“We could have done that a month ago, and that still only gets us Jackson. If I go on this delivery, we get the whole network.”

Smith racked his brain for options, but couldn’t find any. He desperately wanted to run this by his boss, but there was no time. And there was nobody else to consult with. They were the only two men who knew who Tyler Turner even was and what he was doing.

“Lemme think for a minute. First tell me about your time.” He waved to the recorder.

Turner covered the last two weeks of his job from memory. Smith took notes as fast as Turner talked. Names, addresses, quantities of drugs delivered, descriptions, estimated amounts of cash. The money involved was big. Turner was estimating an average of 80k in cash from thirteen different drop-off points. Daily. And that was just the trade here in Miami. Jackson was also supplying the entire upper east coast. What Turner was learning was some of the best intelligence Smith had ever gathered. On top of this, the man knew what it took to build a case and was careful to separate what he knew to be fact from his own opinions. He spoke for twenty minutes without stopping, and Lyle didn’t interrupt. He then went over everything twice, asking a number of questions. After an hour, the lights flickered, reminding them.

“I need to go, man. Jackson’s waiting. What’s it gonna be?”

“I don’t like it,” he said.

Turner had been waiting for that. He had planned his argument on the way over, and he now played it.

“Think about it. Jackson’s supplying the east coast right now. That means the New York, Boston and Jersey outfits are probably washing his money for him. If I go on this trip I can connect Jackson to all of them. But that’s not even the best part.”

Smith knew he was being baited, but he took it anyway.

“And what’s that?”

“We make all the connections, but we sit on them. We don’t move on the east coast until we’re ready.”

“Why would we do that?”

“’Cause as soon as Jackson goes down, they’ll need another source of product. Most likely it’ll come from the west coast…” He let the statement trail off on purpose.

Smith refused to go there. Turner just gave him his poker face before pushing it.

“You just gonna sit there and tell me you don’t have another nigga-on-a-string out west just like me? C’mon, man!”

Smith ignored the barb and sipped his coffee. It had gone cold so he pushed it aside.

“I don’t. But I’m sure somebody does.”

“Well, all right then.”

“No. There’s no ‘all right then.’ You and I are too low to make that decision.” Smith pointed at his charge and scolded him, “Don’t go off thinking like a cowboy on this. Not how it works. You know how long cowboys last: eight seconds.”

“Look. I’m tight with the man and getting tighter, but I’m not involved in anything around the long-range deliveries. I’m not in the inner circle. Jackson keeps that all compartmented. I never see the stuff come in and I never see it go out. I’m just in the local stuff. Sure, I hear talk about the boats and the cars and even a train once, but nothing else. This is our chance to pull the whole thing down, including the cops and politicians on the take. Then, when the east coast outfits switch to the west coast, you’ve got even more. Opportunity is knocking.”

Smith toyed with the recorder. Turner stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth and chewed hard, watching the man think.

“All right, go. But keep your phone on you!”

“I’ll call when I can, dad.” He was already up and moving toward the door. Lyle groaned and watched him go. But not before issuing a final word.

“Damn it, Tyler. You get dead and I swear I’ll piss on your grave.”

The man cackled. “I got this, man. Gimme seven more days and we’re done. We’ll get a beer and see a Pistons game.” The man walked away before Lyle could reply.

Lyle had opened his mouth to call him back, but clamped it shut instead. Tyler was right; they’d never get another chance like this. He still had a bad feeling as he watched him feel his way down the dark hallway to the front door. He waited until the door slammed shut behind him before getting up and unplugging the charger. He wound it around his fingers as he walked to the front of the office. He was just in time to see Tyler’s car leave the lot. If Tyler kept his cell phone on him, one that had been modified to maintain GPS location without showing it on the screen, he could still find him.

But that meant little if the man was dead when Smith did.

 

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