DEA Director Frank Grimes POV
Task Force HQ, Orlando Federal Building
“Sir, you need to see this,” Detective Jackson said as he poked his head into my temporary office.
“What’s going on, Marcus,” I said as I got up and walked towards the door. The Orlando and Winter Park detectives were a big part of the Task Force, along with all the DEA, FBI and Homeland Security people.
I walked out to where Detective Rosenberg was bringing up the text message he had received from a Harlee County Sheriff. “Just a second, sir, and I’ll have it up on the monitor.” A few seconds later, the first picture went up on the big screen.
“Shit!” That was the consensus. We got a warrant for the arrest of Manilo Correria, a Sons of Tezcatlipoca President, an hour ago. I tossed it into the trash. “Where was he found?”
“Orange grove outside of Bowling Green, southeast of here a few hours. They’re holding the scene for us; after the APB went out, they realized what they had. He had no identification, and was shot once in the throat from behind, then once in the forehead. Large caliber handgun, car tracks in the area, they don’t have anything else.”
“FBI guys, get your crime scene teams out there and see what you can find,” I ordered. “The rest of you, conference room.” They walked into the room, where we sat around the table, looking depressed. “With Manilo’s demise, what else do we have?”
“Not much,” Detective Rosenberg said. “All of the Sons that we had identified as being in Florida are now dead or presumed dead, Jose still being missing up in that lake.” We were still dragging the lake, but by now the gators had probably dismembered and eaten his body, just like the bad guys hoped. “Manilo came in late, and now he’s gone.”
“We don’t know who killed Manilo, or who else was in that surveillance tape. They didn’t look like bikers,” FBI Agent Needles said.
“We’re no farther on Harleigh Ryder’s abduction from the hospital, the surveillance didn’t show anything,” Detective Jackson said.
“We do this the hard way, then. Work backward from the dead Sons to see who they were working with. I want to know who those people were with Manilo at Mongo’s house. Pull every string on the phone records, fingerprints, anything we can find. There is someone else involved in this mess, and I want to know who it is.”
“We are pretty sure they are trafficking drugs from the western states inland,” Senior Agent Donovan said. “I’ll get my team looking into that. If we can clamp down on their business, it will make them sloppy. If we bust them with drugs, all the better.”
“My forensic accountants are already crawling over the club banking records and financials,” the IRS representative said. “Just like Al Capone, if we can’t make anything stick, we’ll go after them for tax evasion.”
“I’ll see what I can come up with if you give me phone numbers or account numbers that are involved with the Club,” our CIA representative, Al Perkins, said.
“We can’t use intelligence resources for domestic prosecutions,” I said. “We brought you here because the Sons are international, and the FBI doesn’t operate overseas.”
“I am fully aware of the restrictions placed on domestic CIA activities, Mr. Director. All I am asking is that you pass the numbers along to me and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Fair enough. What else do we have?”
“I’ll work through Justice and the prisons, see if we can get anyone in jail to flip on the Club,” Ramon Martin, the Assistant US Attorney from Florida said.
“We’ve never been able to get a Son to testify; they’d rather die than flip,” Donovan said. “It’s always been that way, right boss?”
“Yes. Even when we had Jesus and his men, they all refused deals. Wouldn’t even consider them,” I said.
“We have significant flexibility given the visibility of this case. I’ll talk to the US Attorneys in the affected states; if we can put cop-killers away, I’ll let a gang banger or drug dealer out.” I just nodded; it couldn’t hurt.
“One last announcement. The Attorney General and the Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency have determined this Task Force is no longer a DEA responsibility. Senior Agent-in-Charge Donovan will remain here in Florida as the DEA Task Force senior representative. I will be returning to Los Angeles to resume my duties.” There were groans and protests from around the room, I just held up my hand. “The FBI is taking over the leadership of the task force; I expect FBI Commander Irene Lindstrom to arrive shortly. Please give her your full cooperation.” With that, I ended the meeting and walked back to my office.
Frank Donovan was first to come in, closing the door behind him. “What the fuck, Frank, why are they taking you out?”
“Politics and reality. The reality is that the only DEA link is that Sean used to be an agent and that started it all. Now we’ve got three dead and one injured cop, bodies stacking up like cordwood, plus a budding gang war. The Attorney General is putting the FBI in front because it fits their mission more than ours.” I sat down and gestured for him to take a seat. “I didn’t fight it.”
“Why not, sir?”
“Because my interest is in the drug pipeline and the leak in our witness protection program that allowed Sean’s identity to be compromised. Neither has answers in Florida. I’ll leave you here to keep the pressure up, but I’m heading back to Los Angeles, which is Jesus’ territory. I’m going to personally arrest that sonofabitch if he so much as tosses a gum wrapper on the ground.”
“So you’re not giving up.” He smiled a little. “At least you get to sleep in your own bed.”
“There’s that too. Keep these guys moving; I’ll be talking to you several times a day.” I got a call from Reception; the Commander was here. “Get out of here; I need to turn over everything and catch a flight.”
“Where are we,” I asked as he shook me to wake me up.
“Lunchtime, we’re near Wadena. I saw a sign for Pizza Ranch; they have a buffet so we can be in and out.”
I looked at him and laughed. “I’ve seen you eat, Greg, there’s no quick ‘in-and-out’ for you, is there?” He grinned and looked back at the road, taking a drink of his bottled water. “Although a quick in-and-out can be fun sometimes.”
My timing and delivery were perfect, and water sprayed the dash while he tried to breathe. “Jeez, Heather,” he complained.
“What? I was talking about fast food. It’s not MY fault you have a dirty mind.” I looked out at the trees and fields as we got closer to town on Highway 10, a four-lane road in northwest Minnesota. “Do you know what Wadena is famous for?”
“Not a clue.”
“They were hit something like ten years ago with an EF-4 tornado that went through town. Nobody died but dozens were injured. The TV series Stormchasers featured the super-outbreak and the aftermath. One-third of the homes in the town were damaged or destroyed; it was a quarter-mile wide when it tore through.”
“Damn, that’s one huge tornado.”
“They got lucky. It started as a multiple-vortex tornado, then formed into a wedge with 170 mile-an-hour winds. At one point the path was a mile wide. It was a monster storm, and that day was the biggest tornado outbreak in Minnesota history.”
“How do you know so much? Didn’t you live in Florida?”
“I’m kind of a weather geek. I had a crush on Reed Timmer from Stormchasers, and it led me to watch a lot on television and Youtube about them. I thought about being a meteorologist, but I’m afraid I’d be branded a ‘blonde weather babe.’ I want to be taken seriously.”
“That’s kind of out of the question now, you can’t attend a school, and you sure can’t get a job on television,” he said.
“Oh, you don’t think I’m good looking enough to be on television?”
He turned and stared me down. “If you were on the news, I’d watch every damn night.” My insides flipped from his look. He slowed as we entered the town, and we soon had parked on a side road. “It doesn’t look packed, but keep your hair under a cap in there and try to avoid looking at people. I don’t want you recognized.” He came around and helped me out; my wounds were sore, but getting better.
“Got it.” He went in and paid for us while I used the restroom, then we took a table in a quiet section. “What can I do while we’re running like this,” I asked over a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
“It’s limited. I’d want you to be in the hotel room as much as possible. All it takes is one person to recognize you, and you’re in danger.”
“I’m going to go stir crazy. You were going to teach me self-defense, right?”
“I will,” he said before inhaling half a slice of pizza.
“How? In the hotel room?”
“Maybe. I’ll figure something out, but only after you are healed enough to work out again.”
I frowned. “I can’t watch television for a month straight. I’m used to being active; I played softball, judo four times a week, plus I was a full-time student. What about my education?”
He shook his head no. “Your old self is dead, along with your college. The identity we gave you might allow you to be accepted, but there is no way you can go to class.”
“Can’t I do online classes?”
“It creates a vulnerability.” I looked at him quizzically. “Let’s say we set up something under your new name, enrolled you in a college with online classes. We might be moving every week or two, right?” I nodded. “Having an account that you log in can be traced if they learn who you are. It’s too much of a risk.”
“I want a computer, though. At least I could watch stuff or play games.”
He sat back. “Everything you do leaves a trail, even if it is just the computer you use. I’m sorry, Heather. When I headed out on this detail with you, I left my electronics behind.”
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “I don’t even get the thousand dollars.”
“My Mom was concerned I spent too much time on my phone and computer when I was a junior in high school. She offered me a thousand dollars if I would give both of them up for a month. I thought it would be easy money.”
He started laughing. “How long did you last?”
“Thirty-seven hours.” He laughed even harder. “It’s not funny.”
“It is,” he said. “You’ll be like your parents, forced to talk to people and play board games for fun.” I rolled my eyes at him. “Want more?”
“Another Mountain Dew and some pepperoni and sausage pizza,” I said. He set his plate aside and came back with more. “I’m going to be so bored it won’t even be funny.”
“I will do what I can to make your stay with me more fun, Mrs. Barks.”
“And after the three minutes of fun is over, then what?”
“Cute.” I finished my second plate, then asked him to help me to the bathroom. As I was coming back out to the table, I saw a couple sitting in the other room, and I caught her staring at me.
“We have to go,” I said quietly.
“I’m going up for another plate,” he said. “Don’t you want dessert?”
“Now, Greg.” He looked at me and I stared him down, flicking my eyes towards the couple. She was getting out her phone. “My coat.”
He must have figured it out, so he helped me put it on before putting on his jacket and walking me out. I pulled my hat down over my ears and brought a hand up as we walked out, ruining the shot as the woman tried to get my photo. “She made me,” I said as we got out the door.
“We go now,” he said. I could never get used to the stupid cold temperatures up in this area. I’d been in Florida for five years, Virginia before that, and ice belonged only in a drink. He led me around the corner to the parking space and set me in the passenger seat. He got in and took off, moving away from Highway 10 for a few blocks before cutting over. “Did she get your photograph?”
“I don’t know. Not a good one.”
“Shit.” We pulled onto the highway and headed west.