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Authors: Jonathon King

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BOOK: Midnight Guardians
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It seemed obvious that the boy was turning in a box full of patient identifications and maybe order records to someone up the line in the scheme his sister had outlined. And I was here only to document for Billy so he could connect enough dots to get the feds to pay attention. Still, when Andrés hit his signal and made another left turn into a covey of low-built offices and warehouses, the traffic flow cut down considerably; I had to drop back to avoid being obvious.

I let the kid get a couple of blocks ahead. When he pulled up into a parking spot in front of one of the businesses, I did the same and watched from a distance. Andrés got out of his Toyota Corolla with the cardboard box under his arm and again, without a glance to either side, walked into the building through a double glass door. I did a quick surveillance with a small pair of binoculars. The signage on the doors read BIOMECHANICS INC., with no names, proprietorship, or hours of operation. I jotted down the spelling and the address to turn over to Billy.

The cars already parked in front of the place were a Mercedes SL with a Florida plate and a Cadillac Escalade bearing a plate holder from a Dade County dealership I recognized. Again I noted the numbers for Billy to track on the computer. Although some of the buildings in the block had garage-style doors for equipment loading, there was no such entrance for BioMechanics, and no trucks in the vicinity bearing their name or logo. If they were dealing with equipment, medical or otherwise, it wasn’t being handled on this side of the building.

Then I did a quick assessment. I was parked in front of a place called Baseball City, USA, a warehouse with a glass-fronted entrance that advertised hours and days for indoor hitting practice, pitching machines, and on-site coaching for all ages. While I sat there, three boys about twelve or thirteen came out wearing cleats and hats and balancing aluminum bats on their skinny shoulders. A parent unlocked the side doors of a family-style van and the boys scrambled in, laughing and probably trading jibes over which of them had been whacking the baseballs harder, and who’d been whiffing for the past hour. While I was smiling at the thought of my own boyhood trips to a batting cage in South Philadelphia, my eye caught a glimpse of shiny green metal, just for a second, passing between buildings another block away. The color was too distinctive to be coincidental—the drive-by Monte Carlo.

I began a reassessment of the street: narrow, flanked by buildings. There were only other parked cars to duck behind for cover if bullets started flying; could be innocent children in the line of fire. I was about to hit my ignition: Before I’d let a drive-by occur, I’d park in front of Andrés’s car, confront him inside the BioMechanics office, and blow my own surveillance. If the kid was indeed selling stolen patient info to some graft joint inside and my actions spoiled Billy’s case, so be it.

My fingers were on the key when the door that Andrés had walked through opened, and a man stepped out, took a few steps into the street, and flipped open a cell phone. My fingers loosened on the key while I studied him. There was something familiar about him, though not the clothes. This guy’s conservative slacks, open, white Oxford shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows and bright against his dark skin, added up to a black man’s Obama look. It was his carriage that betrayed him: He had that neighborhood slouch in his shoulders and hips, and that way of looking up and down the street without raising his head, not like he was looking for something expected, but for anything unexpected. All this gave me pause.

Back in the day when I was a Philadelphia beat cop, we used to fill out FI cards—field investigation notes on index cards—for anybody we considered suspect or worth keeping track of. We’d watch some guy hanging on a particular drug corner, or catch someone driving with their headlights off in a suspect area, and stop him, not for a violation, just a chat. We’d note his name, physical description, and take a Polaroid photo. “That’s it, sir. Have a good day and if you don’t belong here, don’t come back.” I’d had a whole box of FI cards, but I also had a good recollection for faces. It was old cop habit, one I couldn’t kick. As I watched the guy down the street talk into his cell phone, I went through the FI box of street attributes in my head.

I didn’t know this guy from Philly; it wasn’t that far back. He wasn’t a client of Billy’s, but someone peripheral to a case I worked for my lawyer friend and colleague. This was a man used to checking out the streets, who was comfortable with it—a man who guarded his work.

A dealer—yes, a drug dealer from northwest Fort Lauderdale, one who’d actually helped me track down an animalistic killer who was targeting elderly women. The face flooded out of the past, followed by the name: The Brown Man. But what the hell was the Brown Man doing dressed like a casual businessman, hanging out at the location of a possible Medicare fraud office?

From my left, a Honda Odyssey rolled up in front of Baseball City and started disgorging half a dozen little leaguers. I hit the key to my ignition and pulled out to put my truck between them and the Brown Man. As I searched every possible corner for a flash of green, I could feel all the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten with anxiety.

When I turned back to the Brown Man, I saw Andrés come out of the BioMechanics door, now empty-handed. The two men appeared to exchange a few words, and then split, Andrés into his car, the drug dealer into the office. When the white Corolla pulled out, I relaxed a bit and went back to surveillance mode. I gave Andrés a few hundred feet, and then eased my truck out to follow. We’d gone three blocks when the metallic green Monte Carlo yanked into view, the rumble of its engine guttural and ominous. When the car jumped in behind Andrés’s, I was thinking only one thing: pursuit.

It took the kid about thirty seconds to figure what was going on. Once the Corolla hit the turn onto State Road 7, it bolted south without the slightest hesitation at the stoplight. Oncoming traffic screeched to a halt as the Monte Carlo rumbled unimpeded through the intersection. Stupidly, I was too far back; by the time I got close to the turn, irate drivers were already starting to inch forward. I cut the corner through a gas station driveway at a speed that turned several heads and elicited a “fuck you” from a patron. The move put me back on tail of the Monte Carlo.

Andrés had now pulled a Jekyll and Hyde as a driver. As patient and unhurried as he’d been on the roadway to make his delivery, he was now a madman. I kept my eyes fastened on the chrome of the Monte Carlo. But ahead of him, I could see dozens of brake lights flashing, and the roofs of vehicles skewing off to the left and right. I didn’t bother to look at my own speedometer, but I knew from experience that in this kind of traffic and on this kind of road, our cars might have been hitting forty-five m.h. or fifty at certain stretches. But even those speeds were twice as fast as anyone else, and crazy enough to scare the shit out of everyone caught in the mix.

I worked my way up within a two-car length of the Monte Carlo’s bumper and rode it, following like it was a snowplow in bad weather, thus avoiding the swerving commuters and obstacles slewing in its wake. The Monte Carlo’s rear window was too tinted to see how many people were inside, or whether they had noticed me following. The only thing I could make out on the back window was a cartoon of a devilish-looking boy pissing on an oval Ford symbol. Somehow the insult seemed personal; I was starting to get angry.

We swerved through traffic. I knew these high-speed gigs didn’t last long, despite the ones you see on most dangerous police videos. It was going to end soon, and badly. Trying to anticipate, I took a chance, looking up ahead as we approached another traffic light. Andrés’s white Corolla jerked east, with the Monte Carlo following, cutting off a wall of vehicles and stomping out of the turn, smoke roiling out of its wheel wells as he punched it. I was caught in the cloud, unable to see a damn thing. As I waited for the inevitable jolt of some other blind driver hitting me, my stomach clenched. The scream of tire rubber and the blare of horns created a noise cloud of its own. All I could do was hold the line until we straightened out.

Now the kid was getting wild, searching like a trapped mouse for someway out: he’d start left, get cut off, and spin right. It wasn’t working. The Monte Carlo was on him. I was on it. And no doubt a dozen people behind us were calling 911—fine with me. I just hoped the kid was smart enough to keep moving. Once he stopped, that automatic rifle that had been trained on me and his sister was going to start blasting. And this time, I was sure it wouldn’t be firing into the trees.

My hope ended when the white Corolla pitched right, jumped a curb, and squealed into a neighborhood complex. We’d suddenly ducked out of traffic, but Andrés had isolated himself in a corridor of attached, two-story condos. There was one way in and one way out—no yards between the buildings. Zero lot lines. Zero choices. I saw him hit the cul-de-sac in front of the Monte Carlo and whip into a circle. It was a face off he could not win, so I punched it.

Two of the passengers in the Monte Carlo were halfway out of their car, rifles in hand, when my truck smashed into their trunk. Given that my bumper is set much higher, it buried into the green metal and sent the two men rolling into the street like tossed-away dolls. I’d long ago disabled my air bags, so I saw their weapons go clattering across the macadam. Still the jolt stunned me for a second, and the sight of the violent rear-ender must have done the same to Andrés. When I shook off the initial shockwave, I stared over the top of the Monte Carlo into Andrés’s eyes. He hesitated, looked at me, and then started cranking his steering wheel.

As the Corolla started past, I caught movement from the back passenger-side door of the Monte Carlo, and punched my accelerator again until the whole tangled mess of metal and rubber started scraping across the pavement. The Monte Carlo’s door stayed shut. I threw the truck into reverse and punched it again, cranking the wheel one way and then the other, trying to free the front end of my truck from the ass end of the Monte Carlo like some giant blue-black cat dragging a metallic green lizard from a neighborhood garden. Finally, bumpers tore loose and I was free.

But so were the inhabitants of the drive-by sedan—and they were armed. I kept the truck in reverse until I closed on the main road, and then U-turned it. I might have heard sirens in the distance, but I didn’t hear gunfire. I shut out the voice that said someone might be hurt, and pulled out into traffic. In the vernacular that would surely show up in the police report, I fled eastbound.

 

 

 

— 9 —

 

 

B
Y THE TIME I reached I-95, my heart had stopped thrumming and my fingers had finally come out of their vise grip on the steering wheel. In my head, I ran the list of charges that a responding officer would soon be tallying: leaving the scene of an accident with injuries; reckless endangerment, including multiple moving traffic violations. I knew most major intersections in South Florida had video cameras mounted above their traffic lights. We’d probably blown through three of them during the chase. They’d have all our tag numbers and descriptions and, soon after that, our DMV records. If the first responding officers arrived on the cul-de-sac scene before the Monte Carlo got away—if the damn car was even drivable—they might get lucky and bust the occupants in possession of deadly weapons, which would make it easier to explain my role. But it still wouldn’t be a free pass.

When the cops start pulling info from their computers, the first thing they’d get is my attorney’s address. Billy’s is the one I’d used on my Florida driver’s registration as my home. What the hell else was I supposed to use, the longitude and latitude of my shack on the river? They’d be knocking on Billy’s door within twenty-four hours.

I pulled over into the driveway of a gas station just before reaching the interstate entrance and watched an employee and two people pumping their own gas stare at the front of my truck as I parked. When the attendant sauntered over, I raised a palm to him to indicate I’d be with him in a minute; then I got on my cell. Billy’s a preemptive strike kind of guy. I would need him eventually. It would be better to get him into the loop early. He answered on the third ring.

In all his roles as lawyer, friend, and a hell of a smart human being, Billy listens. His end of the conversation was nonexistent until I finished giving all the details I could of the last few hours. In his silence, I could almost hear his analytical mind at work. There was a long pause before he spoke.

“Max, from your directions to the cul-de-sac, you were in county jurisdiction. Go straight to the sheriff’s office off Broward Boulevard and wait for me in the parking lot. We’ll go in together. You’ll turn yourself in.”

I took a few seconds to think of what he was asking, conjuring up the scene in my head, thinking about the ripples: I did not enjoy an endearing reputation with the sheriff’s office, having stuck my nose in some of their investigations in the past. And more than a few high-ranking officers knew of my relationship with Sherry. We’d long ago agreed not to blur the line between personal and professional agendas, but tongues wag in any organization. Then, of course, there was the possibility that I’d have to spend the night in jail. I’d hate like hell to have to do that again. But Billy was right. The alternative was to wait for them to come for me—that always turns out badly.

“OK, Billy,” I finally said. “But what about the kid—you know they’re going to track him down, too.”

“I’m going to call Luz Carmen right now. If she knows how to get in touch with her brother, maybe she can convince him to do the same thing we’re going to do,” Billy said.

Good luck with that, I thought. “An illegal immigrant tied to a federal Medicare scam who’s suddenly the target of a bunch of drive-by shooters isn’t going to turn himself in, Billy.”

“I said I’d ask her to try, Max. I’ll give him the same opportunity as we’re taking. He can come in with me.”

I almost told him not to hold his breath.

BOOK: Midnight Guardians
9.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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