Bradley Jones had sat through his first roll call as a sworn deputy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He was dark-haired and handsome, and seemed to be paying his usual half attention to things. He had turned twenty and a half years old the day before and was now eligible to work patrol. He was profoundly hungover from celebrating that milestone with his wife and some friends. This was his first shift working anywhere but the jail and he had an idea about how to make it special. Maybe even unforgettable. He stifled a yawn.
“Jones, you counting sheep?”
“We can send you back to the jail day shift if you can’t stay up this late.”
“I’m alert, sir.”
“Look the part. Okay, here’s tonight’s headline: ten-year-old boy kidnapped right out of his own living room in Cudahy this afternoon; shots fired but nobody hit. His name is Stevie Carrasco and here’s what he looks like.”
The sergeant tapped his keyboard and a picture of the boy appeared on the briefing room monitor.
“This mug is already downloaded to the data terminals in the cars, so use the MDT if you think you see him. The kidnapping might be a gang thing because said ten-year-old is son of an Eme gangster with ties to some Mex cartel. And you know, these fuckin’ cartel animals kidnap and murder each other’s wives and kids like it’s a sport. So . . .”
Bradley fixed the sergeant with a look of great interest, but he couldn’t keep his mind on the man’s words. He’d already gathered some of this story from one of his young deputy friends, Caroline Vega, who by luck happened to help take the kidnap report from Stevie’s hysterical sister, who had called nine-one-one. Bradley believed in luck and in Caroline.
He also knew Stevie’s father, Rocky. Rocky was a Florencia OG with Eme ties, a tattooed knot of a man with a reasonable outlook and a quick smile. He was also tied to the North Baja Cartel. Everyone knew that the North Baja Cartel was having a hard time maintaining supply lines in and around L.A. They were losing traction. Which led Bradley to wonder if MS-13
of the newly arrived Gulf Cartel had grabbed the kid to cripple a North Baja rival, bleed some cash out of him, and jack up the terror level so guys like Rocky might think twice about staying in L.A. Everybody wanted California real estate, thought Bradley. Especially the Mexican drug cartels. After all, it was the front door to the biggest drug market in the world.
In the motor yard they checked over the patrol unit, a late-model Crown Victoria Police Interceptor with almost two hundred thousand miles on it. Bradley, a motorhead, checked under the hood—fluids, belts, battery, radiator and brake lines—then used his own pressure gauge to check the tires. He washed the windshield twice, meticulously, nothing more annoying to him than poor view at night.
Jerry Clovis checked the MDT and radio, then leaned on another radio car and watched Jones do his work. Clovis was a thickly built middle-aged deputy, a family guy, easygoing and unambitious, the kind of man who made Bradley Jones want to take a long nap.
“Nope. One minute.”
Bradley tossed the squeegee back into the bucket, then walked down the row of black-and-whites until he was out of earshot. He called Rocky to see if he knew yet where Stevie was being held, and told Rocky it would behoove them all to find out fast. Then he called Theresa Brewer of FOX News and told her the ground rules again
Then he called Caroline to make sure she knew what to do and when. He walked back to the unit with a bounce in his step.
“Checking in with the wife?” asked Clovis as they boarded.
“Every chance I get.”
“What’s her name?”
“ ’Atta boy. Take it easy. Keep it clean. That’s been enough to get me through twenty-two years of this. Three more to go.”
“Easy and clean, that’s me.”
“I see you have an ankle gun.”
“It’s an eight-shot Smith AirLite. Charlie Hood turned me on to them.”
“Never had to draw my gun on duty. Not once.”
“They’ll kill that boy if they don’t get their ransom fast enough. They might kill him anyway.”
“Kill a kid over business,” said Clovis. “Pure animals. Nothing’s the same in this world anymore.”
“Everything’s the same as it always was.”
“Can’t say I really agree with that.”
“And that’s why I have two guns.”
“Coffee?” asked Clovis.
“Let’s just drive fast, make something happen, arrest somebody.”
“Oh, man, you’ve got a lot to learn. First patrol shift, right?”
Bradley nodded, smiling. “I’m kidding, Jerry. Coffee would be good.”
L.A. Sheriff’s Department
patrol area two includes the rough territory along the broken Los Angeles River, from Maywood down to Compton, which was where Bradley Jones and Jerry Clovis were now patrolling, fresh coffees in hand. These were no longer the days of Winchell’s coffee but of specialty double espressos and low-fat lattes, which Clovis and Bradley drank respectively.
Clovis drove. Bradley looked out the very clean windshield at the city of South Gate, unassuming and unbeautiful in the smog-muted autumn light. They cruised Tweedy out to South Gate Park, looped it once slowly with an eye for drug peddlers, but it was quiet and the cover of darkness was still more than an hour away.
“You ever do anything heroic?” asked Bradley.
“I actually delivered a baby once.”
“Fantastic. How did it go?”
“I didn’t do much, really. Put her in back with a blanket from the trunk, then drove under siren, lights on full. Then when the screams got too loud, I got worried so I pulled over and held on to the lady’s head while she screamed and pushed and thrashed around in the back. Then out it came. A girl. Bloody mess but she started bawling, too, and by the time we got to the hospital they were waiting for us and the mom was wrung out but smiling.”
“Now, that’s a good tale.”
“Not sure how heroic it really was.”
“You up for some heroics tonight?”
“Yeah, right, we’ll bust a nickel-bag crack dealer in Compton.”
“How about we rescue Stevie Carrasco?”
Clovis looked over at him. “Sure. Anytime.”
“I’m going to find out where he is.”
Clovis looked over at him again. “No, you aren’t.”
Bradley sighed. “Old men.”
“You’re joking again, right, Jones?”
“You in or out?”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
“Pretend we really are having it. Rescue Stevie Carrasco. Would you be in or out?”
Clovis said nothing for a long time. “Give me more details.”
“Happy to: Carlos Herredia’s North Baja Cartel has an old alliance with La Eme and Florencia Thirteen. A loose alliance. They’ve been here in L.A. awhile, low-profile, doing business, building market share. But the Gulf Cartel has moved in. Benjamin Armenta and his MS-13 gangstas mean business. They’ve taken out six Florence boys in four months but nobody has figured the
That’s because our brethren in law enforcement think the cartels are still safely confined south of the border. Well, guess what? Armenta and the Salvadorans have pretty much sewn up the east side and now they want South Central. Stevie’s dad is Rocky Carrasco, an Eme favorite. The Salvadorans grabbed his kid. Rocky’s already gotten a ransom demand for half a million in small dirty bills that smell like herb, crack, crank and Mexican brown H. With me?”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’m serious. What if you got a chance to do something good tonight? To use all your training, all your preparation, to do a good act. Delivering the baby? Absolutely fabulous, Jerry. But now you’ve got a chance to take it up a notch. Pull over, please.”
Clovis pulled the prowler to the curb of Firestone Boulevard. The Los Angeles River dribbled before them, a trickle in a concrete channel.
“Let me tell you what I see in you,” said Bradley. “I see a cautious man with the heart of a warrior. I see a man who knows right from wrong. I see a man who took an oath and meant it. Am I right?”
“Well, sure, okay.”
“Jerry, sometime tonight I’m going to find out where Stevie is. And when I do I’m not calling in SWAT or hostage negotiation or backup. I’m calling in
And that could mean you, too. I’m going to get that boy out alive. I’m going to make sure the world knows about it, too. Because I don’t work for free. Are you in or out?”
Bradley bored into Clovis’s eyes but liked what he saw. “I can leave you out. You can sit it out.”
“Sweet, Jerry. Good. Okay, let’s drive.”
Clovis had just pulled back into traffic when Bradley’s cell phone buzzed. Rocky told him no news yet, all his men were working it hard, they’d grabbed a Salvadoran who was bleeding a lot but talking not at all, and Rocky’s wife was out of her
with worry. Rocky said if they hurt Stevie, he’d kill every Salvadoran kid in L.A., every single last one of them.
“You be cool,” Bradley said. “You get that address for me.”
Rocky’s call came in
at nine thirty-eight P.M.
“The Salvadoran cracked when we started breaking off his teeth,” he said. “They got Stevie in Maywood.”
“How many of them?”
“Three Maras. Experienced guys.”
“Talk to me.”
“I’m on my way to drop the ransom at a church parking lot in Maywood. After they pick it up, the Salvadorans are gonna leave Stevie at Freeway Liquor in Bell Gardens.”
“They think you’re dumb enough to do that?”
“They have my solemn word I’m dumb enough. Bradley, man. You do this for me . . . You get Stevie outta there okay . . .”
“I’ll get him.”
“I can be there with some of my best friends. I’ve done this kinda shit before.”
“Stevie will end up dead and you’ll end up in prison again. I’m the one for this job. My partner and I. Now, is there a dog at that house?”
“I don’t know.”
“I need to know if there’s a dog. I need to know if it’s between other houses, or on a corner. Now, give me the address, man.”
When he’d gotten the street and house number, Bradley hung up.
Perfect good luck
, he thought: The Maras had Stevie in unincorporated territory patrolled by LASD—no jurisdictional problems. He asked Clovis to pull over so he could make some calls in private.
He stood in a 7-Eleven parking lot and told Deputy Caroline Vega where and when to meet; then he told Theresa Brewer that they would be there in ten minutes. He went into the store and got an enormous energy drink and a pack of chocolate chip cookies and drank and ate them while looking at the covers of the car magazines in the stand. Too many fuel-efficient dinks, in Bradley’s view, but the new M5 looked otherworldly. He thought of his mother, who had taught him to drive fast cars. He’d buy her that M5 if she were alive. Would have been thirty-five this year. He looked at his watch. According to plan, Rocky would call back in a minute or two, to confirm that his last call was of his own free will and not a setup.
The call came. No dog, corner house. Bradley popped the last cookie into his mouth and walked back to the prowler.
“We’ve got what we need,” he said.
Clovis popped his holster strap. “This is good. I’m glad we’re doing this.”
“From a twenty-year-old deputy on his first patrol.”
“I’m twenty and a half, Jerry.”
Clovis smiled and shook his head.
They met Theresa Brewer and a cameraman at a Shell station in Bell Gardens, around back near the restrooms and the air and water dispensers. She was a dimpled, green-eyed blonde and she greeted Bradley with a smile. She wore light slacks and a green blouse and a black leather jacket. Her face was made up.
Bradley told her again that she was not to begin taping until he had the boy safely out of the house. Then they could shoot away. After the boy was secure in the back of an LASD patrol car, the deputies would be available for brief comments. She smiled again and he felt the energy drink bumping up against his nerves.
“Follow me,” he said.
“I feel like my blood’s been replaced with adrenaline.”
“It’s quite a thing, isn’t it?”
“Good luck, Bradley.”
Caroline Vega and Don Klotz were waiting for them at the Downey Road railroad tracks, five blocks east and five blocks north of Stevie Carrasco and his three MS-13 kidnappers. Bradley had dealt with a Mara Salvatrucha heavy once before. The man had unnerved him—an Aztec warrior with jug ears and a hooked nose and a tattooed face who looked like he’d be happy with a beating heart in his hands.
Clovis pulled up behind the other cruiser and cut the engine. Bradley stepped out and watched the FOX News van park behind them. The night was damp now and the sky over Los Angeles glowed dully and the power lines sizzled overhead. To his right was the concrete riverbed, a tiny wobble of water in its channeled center.
Bradley bumped fists with Vega, then introduced the two deputies to the two newspeople.
“Stay in the van,” said Vega. “Don’t shoot until we come out of the house with the boy.”
“He’s told us five times,” said Brewer with a smile.
“At least five,” said Erik, the videographer.
Vega fixed Theresa Brewer with a look. The deputy was dark-haired and dark-eyed and there was a predatory beauty in her face. She and Bradley had graduated from the Sheriff’s Academy together, and she’d been on patrol six months now. “I hope it sunk in.”
Klotz hooked his thumbs into his Sam Browne and looked at Brewer but said nothing.
“They’re on our side, Caroline,” said Bradley.