AVIA II - BULLETS AND BETRAYAL
CHAPTER 1--AVIA AND BENTON
In the other room, she could hear her cell phone screaming, alerting her to the fact that she needed to shower, dress and get the hell out of the door so that she could fly to Texas. She groaned. The noise did nothing for her heroin and alcohol-induced headache.
Avia crawled out of the bathroom and grabbed her cell phone off the bedside table before pressing every button to get it to shut up. She then yanked open the bedside drawer and fumbled for her pack of cigarettes.
After pulling one out, she checked the end. Avia barely remembered turning half of them into coco puffs before shooting-up and drinking far too much whiskey. She fumbled the lighter, nearly dropping it before she finally lit the damned thing and inhaled deeply.
Her lethargy and mental fogginess dissipated immediately, having been replaced with the chemical alertness offered by cocaine.
Avia picked herself up off the floor and looked around the hotel room. She was alone. For half a second, Avia couldn't remember why. Then, she remembered the argument. Benton had stormed off to get a separate room under the guise of sleeping.
“Fuck my life,” she muttered before turning and exiting the bedroom for the bathroom.
She needed to shower, dress, pack and get to the airport. She doubted Benton would show. Knowing him, he'd book a commercial flight and arrive in Texas hours after her just to avoid traveling with her.
As she stepped into the shower, Avia decided it was fine. She'd fly by herself. It'd make things easier since she wouldn't have to explain the condition of the Seneca or why it wasn't fixed.
Going down to Texas meant dealing with L, and Avia was not in the mood. Being ordered to travel down there today put her in even less of a good mood. There was a vacation in her immediate future, and she was tempted to take it by herself.
Avia finished showering. She wrapped a towel around her hair and one around her body before walking into the bedroom. Her suitcases were on the floor. She lifted the largest one onto the bed and opened it. Jeans. T-shirts. Socks. Underwear. Avia opted for a light summer dress and sandals. She tied her hair back in a sloppy ponytail and called it good enough. She wasn’t going to a party. She was flying a beater Seneca for 13 hours.
After dressing, she packed her clothes and took one last look around the room for anything she had forgotten. Her black zippered case was inside the bedside table drawer next to the hotel-issued Bible. Forgetting it was not an option.
She reached for it. Avia was 90 percent certain Benton would take a commercial flight. However, the 10 percent chance that Benton would join her stopped her from opening it. Instead, she slid the black zippered case into her bag. If he didn't show, she'd shoot-up in the air after setting the autopilot.
Avia grabbed her bag and walked out of the hotel room. There was no line at the front desk. Avia slid her card. Normally, Benton would have paid, but Avia didn't see him in the lobby and when the elevator doors opened, two elderly couples exited, embroiled in a debate over the best pain relieving muscle cream.
“The gentleman in the room with you?” the desk clerk asked.
“He rented a different room last night,” Avia said as she signed the credit card slip with the name that appeared on the card – Tasha Quade.
She crumpled and trashed the receipt on her way out the lobby doors. The weather looked good. It was still slightly chilly but nothing intolerable. By the time she arrived in Texas, it’d be 80 degrees.
Standing under the carport, Avia scanned the lot for the car before it occurred to her that she'd arrived with Benton. The car in the lot was Benton's, and if she stole his $80,000 Corvette, he’d kill her the next time he saw her.
Avia rolled her eyes. It occurred to her to call a cab to drive to the Dodge Stratus she'd left on the side of the highway, but that was weeks ago. If no one had bothered to steal it, it was impounded somewhere, which was fine with Avia. If it was impounded, no one would find it for years, and it was guaranteed the tow yard would eventually auction it to recoup their storage fees.
Avia walked out of view of the hotel cameras. Most of the cars in the lot were new, which meant automatic, preinstalled, car alarms. None of those would help her this morning.
She started to set her bag on the ground when a 1991 Chevy caught her attention. It was located at the back of the lot but closer to the street than she would have liked. At least, it was dark.
Avia stepped off the curb and walked across the lot, paying attention to any footfalls that might be behind her and sounds of the lobby doors opening. She didn’t hear anything as she approached the car.
She tested the door handle, betting the car was so old the door locks no longer worked. Avia grinned when it opened and tossed her bag into the passenger's seat.
Now, she needed a screwdriver. There was one in her airplane, but it didn't help her here. Avia opened the glove box. Car registration. Pen. Miscellaneous paperwork and a metal nail file. The file would work in a pinch, but she preferred to have the durability of a screwdriver, especially if she had to crack open the underside of the steering column. The nail file was more likely to break in the ignition than start the car.
Avia slid the switch on the dash for the trunk and heard it pop open. She stepped out of the car and walked around to the back. Opening the trunk farther, she noticed it contained a set of jumper cables, an emergency flashlight that plugged into the cigarette lighter, oil, antifreeze, windshield washer fluid and no immediate sign of a toolbox or a screwdriver.
In a car this old, there had to be a screwdriver. Even a rusty one would work. Avia dug a little deeper in the trunk and found a small box. When she reached to grab it, her hand was immediately assaulted by grease, spider webs and God knew what else. Avia gagged as she moved the box to the front of the trunk. She flipped the lid and immediately found the screwdriver she desired.
Avia closed the trunk and walked back to the driver's side of the car. She slid in and closed the door. She had two choices. She could jam the screwdriver into the ignition or break apart the underside of the console. She decided jamming the flathead into the ignition was the better option. Avia turned the screwdriver and listened. The car cranked once. Twice. Three times before the engine roared to life.
Someone was going to miss this later today. She wiped her nasty hand on the passenger’s seat, put the car in gear and backed out of the parking space.
The airport was a 30-minute drive, and soon she was walking around her Seneca with a flashlight, performing a needless preflight. These checks and tests were designed to ensure the plane was safe to fly. Avia already knew it wasn't. They were going to crash in the middle of a tumbleweed and cactus field. There would be an FAA investigation to determine the causes of the bullet holes and other suspicious damage. Technically, Avia needed a ferry permit for this mess, but she didn't want to deal with the paperwork or the fucking A&P who would sign off on it.
Avia walked back to the car. She pulled out a roll of duct tape out of her bag and started retaping the holes in the sheet metal. They didn't call it 500 mile an hour tape for nothing. When she was finished, she checked her watch. It was 4:30AM with no sign of Benton.
She pulled out her pack of Pall Malls and lit one, taking a deep drag. When she felt the rush of cocaine, she dropped the cigarette onto the tarmac and crushed it. She wanted to calm down not amp up. Avia made sure the second one was plain before lighting it and inhaling deeply.
She still needed to fill the hydraulic lines with a bottle of water. She had a second bottle for the landing. While gravity was great for getting the main gear down, it almost never locked the nose wheel into place, and Avia wasn't in the mood to wait for new propellers when she spun hers into the ground.
Avia crushed the half-smoked cigarette under her sandal and picked her bag up off the tarmac. She threw it in the aft cargo hold and put the bottles of water on the front seat. She was ready to climb in when she saw headlights coming towards her from across the tarmac. Avia hoped to hell it wasn't a cop or airport security. Though, she was confident she could talk her way out of both situations by showing her pilot's license or offering a blow job. She didn't care which. Whatever got them off her back and onto someone else's.
As the car approached, Avia realized it wasn't a cop. It looked like Benton’s new Corvette, but under the haze of the airport lighting, she wasn’t certain. Avia stepped down off the wing and walked around to meet the individual in the car. She was alone out here. There was no way they were here for anyone else.
When the man stepped from the car, she realized it was Benton. He hadn't opted for a commercial flight after all. Avia couldn't decide if she was happy or angry.
“Where'd you get that?” Benton asked as he stepped out of the car and motioned towards the 1991 Caprice.
“I wasn’t going to walk here,” Avia said. “And since you decided to leave last night, I didn’t expect you to be here.”
Benton sensed a continuation of last night’s argument and decided to avoid it. If she pushed the point, they could stand here and argue, but arriving in Texas at midnight was not preferable. “Is the plane ready?”
“Yeah,” she said. “If we want to land in Texas at some point today, we need to take off now.”
Benton nodded and walked around to the copilot's side door, which was misleading. It was the only door that led directly into the cabin. “Up and in, Captain.”
Avia stepped onto the wing with a butt-boost from Benton. She slid into the pilot's seat and started her preflight checks as Benton made himself comfortable.
Once the door was closed, Avia started the engines and taxied towards the runway. Since it was an uncontrolled runway, all she needed to do was make sure no one was landing behind her or at the other end of the runway. She also needed to stay below 1,500 feet, or she'd have to talk to ATC at the controlled airport.
Avia saw nothing ahead of her or behind her in the night sky or on the runway, so she pushed both throttles forward along with the propellers and stood on the breaks until the engines reached full speed.
She released the brakes. They were in the air and climbing 20 seconds later. Avia set the autopilot and leaned back in the seat. “Get comfortable. It's a long flight.”
“Shorter than a commercial flight,” Benton said.
“Just because there are no layovers,” Avia said. “The flight time is longer.”
Flying was notoriously boring at night. There was nothing to look at but lights. Small lights in straight lines and predictable curves indicated highways. Large batches of lights were towns and cities, and over the years, they had simply grown larger. Avia remembered when
Indianapolis and Plainfield were two different sets of lights. Now, they were continuous, and the map indicated it.
Like most pilots, Avia found flying to be a serious exercise in not falling asleep interjected with moments of mortal terror, and given the status of her plane, she expected terror at some point along this flight. She hoped it wasn't until they crossed into Texas.
As they traversed across the early morning night sky, she could see Benton glancing at her periodically, but he wasn't saying anything. Avia didn't want to talk. What she wanted to do was keep an eye on the gauges, listen to the engine and pump crap through her veins until she passed out, but Benton's presence made the latter impossible.
To her surprise, the Seneca flew well enough. It wasn't perfect, but the autopilot seemed to be able to compensate for the increased drag and other factors that kept their airspeed low and the engines revved high, but Avia couldn't complain. They weren't crashing, and they were almost to L's ranch.
Landing at L’s didn't fill Avia with exuberance either, but staying in the air was not a possibility. They had flown the entire flight without refueling, and the extended tanks were almost empty. She'd get one, maybe two attempts to land before the engines shuddered and choked from lack of fuel.
Avia lined up her black and maroon Seneca for the straight approach into L’s private runway – airspeed 70 knots, flaps 10 degrees, gear down.
Forty-five seconds until touchdown.
She flipped the landing light switch. It flickered. Something was sizzling in the dash. Under ordinary circumstances, she would have turned off the lights, but L’s runway contained zero runway lights, and after a 13-hour flight, the sun was setting.
“The minute this plane lands, L is dead,” Avia said.
“You can’t kill him,” Benton said.
“There’s a 45 under your seat,” Avia said. One headshot was all it would take.
“No,” Benton said.
“Then you kill him,” Avia said as she compensated for the crosswind and added a second notch of flaps while checking the hydraulics’ gauge. Zero pressure. She had the water bottles, but it was too late to fill the reservoir.
“We’re not talking about this right now,” Benton said as he watched her. She was staring at one of the gauges. He couldn’t determine which from his angle.
“We are,” Avia said.
“Land the damned plane,” Benton said as he looked out the windscreen. The runway was approaching too fast and too crooked for his liking.
“It's a crosswind,” Avia said. “Be glad it isn't covered in tumbleweeds.”
She trimmed the plane for 60 knots, pulled the throttle back and watched as the airspeed decreased to 55kts. She pushed the throttle forward. Pulled it back. Fucking wind. Fucking short runway. Ground effect was not her friend this evening, and Avia watched as half the runway disappeared behind them.
Finally, the left wheel touched down followed by the right. Avia pulled the throttle all the way back and pulled the yoke to her chest in an effort to keep the nose wheel off the ground for as long as possible. She suspected it was down but had no way to determine if it was locked.
The short runway had her slamming on the brakes much sooner than she would have liked. The nose of the plane dropped. Avia cringed, waiting for the nose down angle and grinding and shuddering that indicated her propellers were being destroyed by asphalt.
When it didn't happen, she breathed a sigh of relief. Avia kicked the right rudder peddle and revved the engines, spinning the plane around and back-taxiing to the hangar. She turned the engines off for the last 10 feet.
They rolled to a silent stop in front of the closed hangar doors. The mechanics had long since gone to their cabins for the night. Avia was tempted to take a Jeep out to see if any of them were still awake. It wasn't that late – not yet.
Avia turned her head when she heard the door open. Benton was getting out. Avia was tempted to grab the 45 under the seat but knew Benton would confiscate it.
She moved over to the copilot's seat and waited for Benton to get off the wing-step. Avia was halfway out of the plane when she felt his hands around her waist, lowering her onto the dull-gray asphalt tarmac.
“They need to repave this,” Avia said.
Benton slid an arm around her petite waist as they walked toward the Jeep. “Money he doesn't want to spend.” He cast his gaze to the Jeep near the hangar. No driver. That was typical. The keys were under the floor mat. He’d drive.
Avia glanced at the hangar. “I need to talk to the mechanics.”
“Yes. Tonight,” Avia said. “It needs parts. They have to order them.”
“We need to talk to L and get settled. Do it tomorrow morning.” Benton tightened the arm around her waist and guided her towards the waiting Jeep.
Avia broke away from Benton’s grip. “It'll take days to get the damned parts if they don't order them tonight.”
“And just how are they going to do that?” Benton asked. “It's almost 8:30PM. None of our suppliers are open.”
“They can order them online, and the supplier will see the order in the morning,” Avia said.
“There's no online order form. They have to call. The guys have to pull the parts, and we have to pick them up,” Benton said. “There's no UPS in our line of business.”
“That is bullshit.” Avia opened her own door and stepped into the Jeep, making herself as comfortable as possible on the barely padded seat.
Both doors slammed in unison. “Then, what are we doing here?”
“Probably that damned run L keeps talking about,” Benton said. “But seriously, whatever the fuck he wants.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Avia said.
“Not kidding. The sooner we get this shit done, the faster we can leave.”
Avia grumbled and leaned back in the seat. “Fine.”
Benton resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It was a damned argument every time they came down here. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Let's just get to the damned house,” Avia said.
Benton watched her cross her arms and shook his head. She was mad because he didn't want to fuck, left and got his own room.
“Sometimes, people need to sleep. Your overactive sex drive can wait.”
“Then, we can wait the entirety of this trip,” Avia said. “I'm sure that would make L happy.”
“You're impossible.” Benton downshifted and turned the Jeep off the dirt road. If they were going to have this discussion, they were doing outside the view of the cameras and any patrols.
“What are you doing?” Avia asked.
Benton gave no answer as he parked the Jeep behind a line of trees. He grabbed the emergency brake and yanked. This was far enough from the mansion to avoid the cameras. It was outside of the patrol areas, and L seldom ventured out back.
Benton slid his seat back with one hand and unfastened his pants with the other. “Come here.” He grabbed her waist and spun her into his lap. His level of frustration was enough to give him a raging erection.
“Benton!” Her right leg slid between the door and the seat. The other settled somewhere near the emergency brake.
Benton silenced her protest with a deep kiss as he dropped his seat back. He clenched her hips and thrust. He expected a tight, angry membrane that would leave his cock sore for days. Instead, she was damp and yielding. “Ride it, and calm down.”
Avia shifted her hips. The feel of cold steel was not comfortable. “Buckle.”
Benton pulled it out of the way.
He lifted and lowered, sliding her along the length of his erection. They needed to remain somewhat controlled. The summer-ready Jeep offered no cover or sound protection.
Avia panted. He needed to thrust harder. “Benton.”
“No screaming.” His words were a whisper.
Her hands clenched his shoulders, mirroring the tension between her legs. Avia moaned, pressed down and undulated her hips until she could feel the head of his cock deep inside her.
Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. A tingling sensation spread through her body moments before every pleasurable nerve simultaneously fired. Avia screamed.
Benton cringed, grabbed the back of her head and pressed her mouth against his shirt. He should have known better. She always screamed.
Benton tensed and grunted as he came.
After a moment of recovery, Benton kissed her. He slid his hands along her sides. She was content now, and he wrapped his arms around her body. It was a quiet moment, a rare moment in their line of work.
“You are horrible,” Avia said.
Benton felt a mock slap and laughed.
“I am a product of my environment.” He kissed her again even as his eyes scanned the surrounding area. He didn’t see any guards – yet. “Are you ready?”
“No, I’m not ready to deal with L’s stupidity. We just walked away from a murder trial.”
“I know,” Benton said. “We’ll just have to deal with it as best we can and leave as soon as we can.” He had a feeling they had bigger problems than L. They’d left Michigan sooner than he would have liked. He had wanted to make sure they had tied up all their loose ends, and he was certain they hadn’t. He just needed to remember what they were so he could make the appropriate phone calls to have it handled in his absence, which meant paying for it.
Benton looked around. Still no guards, but they needed to get moving. “Come on.” He patted the side of her bare thigh. “The asshole is expecting us.”
Avia slipped out of his lap and straightened her dress.
Benton reached into his bag and pulled out a hand towel. “Here.”
Avia laughed and deslimed herself as Benton started the engine and backed them onto the path that would lead them to the two-story house.
CHAPTER 2--THE SANCHEZ
The house itself was built in the late 1800’s. John had purchased it and the surrounding 100 acres for next to nothing in 2001. The main house had a light pink stucco exterior and consisted of a single floor that included; four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a library and two offices. The guest suite was occupied by his maid and butler who had been married for 15 years. The rest of the maid staff was temporary and only frequented the house once a month to help with the heavy cleaning. In fact, they were due to shampoo the carpets next week.
The sound of automatic rifles shattered his thoughts and redirected them towards his backyard. Ten potential soldiers were testing their skills against metal targets. They were all well-known Sanchez contacts, and John trusted them all. However, he needed the best. Now was not the time for lazy or unmotivated soldiers.
John gritted his teeth as another round of gunfire shattered the silence. The gunfire, by itself, didn’t bother him, but the intermittent clanging grated on his nerves.
John had 10,000 men at his disposal throughout Mexico and was reminded every time he calculated the payroll. Just two years ago, he was the most wanted man in South America. The special task forces assigned to stop his shipments had tripled. It was part of the reason John had increased his manpower. More drugs meant more money. It also meant more cops, more government agents and more bribes.
John knew he was poised near the top of the ladder. What he hadn’t counted on was his US. Rival pressing his influences south of the border. They had an unspoken understanding. L could have the United States if he stayed out of Central America. John preferred to deal south of the border and overseas. The real money was in the Middle East. Wealthy princes with a healthy appetite for cocaine. It rivaled the Hollywood crowd of the 1970s, and it had the potential to make him very rich.
Grumbling to himself, he put a cigarette in his mouth. He had a lighter somewhere.
The hunt was brief and soon he was holding a small silver lighter inscribed with the initials J.S. It was a gift from his father, the former President of the Sanchez, and one of the few mementos John had left. His father was gunned down in 1999 by police during a US inspired crackdown. Fucking war on drugs. The profits were higher, but the cost of business and the body-counts were also higher. John has long lost count of the number of men he’d lost during police raids, gang-on-gang violence and ludicrously long prison sentences.
Many of his rivals had gotten out of the drug trade and into human trafficking. It was more profitable than drugs as a whole, and the risk of losing men was astonishingly low. You got paid whether you made it to your destination or not, and if you were caught, everyone was sent back, but John didn’t have the stomach for it. Transporting desperate peasants across the border was one thing, but he found it often delved into the under-aged sex trade, and John refused to be a part of it unless he had no other choice.
It was getting to the point where he had no other choice. For twenty years John had tracked L Bays’ movements – from Florida to Michigan and back down. Texas was the turning point. He could almost piss on L’s property.
John lit his cigarette and inhaled the calming fumes. This was not the time to think about these things. This was the time to plot against the Company. L was a pain in his pocketbook.
“Twenty goddamned years,” John said as he heard the screen door open.
“What’s the problem now?” Jamie asked as she stepped onto the covered porch.
“Same shit. Different day,” John said.
“We just have to deal with it and limit their advancement,” Jamie said. Stopping them would have been preferable, but she held little hope for that solution.
“I agree, which is why we have men testing in the backyard,” John said.
“How does that help?” Jamie asked.
“We need more men. More smart men,” John said. “Right now, it’s just you and me. The rest are just armed sheep.”
Jamie couldn’t disagree. John called the shots. Jamie flew shit and offered ideas. “All right. So, you’re giving me more men. What am I supposed to do with them?”
“I’m not sure yet, but you need a team, and we need more options,” John said.
“What kind of options?” Jamie asked.
“The kind of options that force the Company out of business or out of the area,” John said.
“How is this any different than it has been for the last 10 years?” Jamie asked.
“I have information that leads me to believe he is courting our suppliers, and he’s willing to buy more and pay more. It’s cutting into availability. The suppliers can’t stock us both,” John said.
“But they will eventually?” Jamie asked.
“At higher prices,” John said. “I just tried to restock us with 1,000 kilos. It would normally run about $2,000 a kilo. They wanted $4,000 a kilo.”
“Jesus. That’s a two million dollar increase,” Jamie said.
“We’d still make $10 million selling it to large dealers, but after purchasing, transport and our own costs, our profit would be reduced from seven to five million. That doesn’t pay the bills.”
“What did you tell them?” Jamie asked.
“Get back to me when you have a decent fucking price,” John said. “I’m looking for other suppliers. Waiting on bids from Columbia and Venezuela, but it’s more difficult ordering from those two countries.”
“Well, I have some good news,” Jamie said.
“What’s that?” John asked.
“His bitch pilot was doing runs last week,” Jamie said.
“How do you know that?” John questioned. He hadn’t heard anything about L’s pilot flying anywhere. “I thought she was in the middle of a murder trial.”
“Because they raided L’s warehouse, and it was empty except for some horses and hay,” Jamie said. “She got sent to help clean up the mess.”
“How do you know it was empty?” He furrowed a brow. “And why would they send her?”
“You know she’s the only pilot he trusts…” Jamie shrugged a second later. “I have my ways.”
“Just… don’t tell me.” John didn’t want to know how she acquired her information. “So was she or was she not on trial for murder?”
“She was. L had her fly to Texas during the last weekend.” She chuckled. “I heard they barely made it back in time.”
“You’re kidding. How the hell did they get out of the state? Weren’t they under watch? Who the hell did they bribe?”
“I have no idea. I just know they did it,” Jamie said.
“Unfucking believable.” John took another drag from his cigarette. “So tell me about this stable and ranch?”
“It’s right in the middle of a horse ranch and breeding farm,” Jamie said. “It’s a good cover all in all. Except, they keep getting raided.”
“I see,” John said. He was positive Jamie had her hand in that pot, and for that, John was thankful. They just needed to take this to the next level. “What else?”
“Our men failed to take her down over the weekend.” Obliterating Jamie’s goal. She had wanted to knock Avia’s plane out of the sky right in the middle of the damned trial. It would have brought all sorts of bad publicity towards the Company and L. “It would have been perfect, especially if Benton and Avia had survived.” The legal consequences would have put them all in prison for life.
“I heard. You know she flies a Seneca. The second engine is for shit,” John said.
“If it were a factory Seneca. She’s had a new set of engines installed and long range tanks. Something my Seneca doesn’t have.” She glanced at John. “She’s faster, and she goes farther. And she has fucking wing guns in her engines.”
“Don’t look at me like I have money to turn your Seneca into a military jet,” John said. “I don’t.” He took another drag from his cigarette.
“What makes you think we had her?”
Jamie placed her hands on the railing and squeezed. “Both engines were smoking.”
“Almost does not fucking count,” John said. “Smoking is not on fire, but if you want her engines and long-range tanks, you better get her plane.” He paused. “Or her. I’d prefer both.”
Jamie cocked a brow at him. “And just how do you propose we do that?”
“It can’t be that hard. The Florida police almost did it once,” John said.
“You said almost doesn’t count,” Jamie said. “Taking a plane from a pilot is akin to trying to remove funds from a banker.”
John laughed at the imagery. “I’m sure you can think of something.”
“Thinking is not my job,” Jamie said. “I fly shit from point A to point B.”
“And if you want to continue to fly shit from point A to point B, you will figure it out.”
Jamie looked at him.
“Just do it,” John said as he heard more gunshots from the backyard and something that sounded like shattering glass. He rolled his eyes.
“She makes frequent runs. I am sure you could locate one of her flight plans.”
“If she files flight plans. I know I don’t.”
John looked at Jamie. “Stop being an idiot. All you have to do is find out where she’s taking her next delivery… And remember, we managed to get one of our men into their hangar. They hired him two weeks ago.”
“That’s going to take time,” Jamie said. “I’m sure they watch them for months even if they clear the background checks. We do.”
“It doesn’t matter,” John said. “We are losing money.” He had men to pay. He had Jamie to pay. He didn’t need a revolt due to finances. The number one reason people died in this line of work was money.
“So, how did you manage the mechanic? I know L does extensive background checks,” Jamie said.
“Yes, well, I’m sure the FBI would be proud. I bribed a Brazilian college professor of A&P. So, when L pulled the background, he received all legitimate information. I also paid him in advance in cash.”
“What’s his name?” Jamie asked.
“Alejo Madina Valdez. He can be reached via his cell phone.” John pulled his cell off his hip and began paging through the long list of names.
Once he found Alejo’s number, he recited it to Jamie. “His first task was to retrieve all of the Company informants and fax the list to me.”
Jamie tapped the number into her own phone before placing it back into her holster. “And how is he going to accomplish that task?”
“I don’t care how he accomplishes it. Just that he has the information to me in the next 48 hours.”
“You gave him a time limit?” she asked.
“Two weeks. If he fails, he will be pulled from the mansion and reprimanded.” John glanced at the open front door and finished his cigarette.
“I have a few items to look over.”
“I’ll find you in a minute.” Jamie watched John head into the house. He was tall, tanned, well toned, and hers, but not right now. Right now, they had business.
CHAPTER 3--DETECTIVE LOCKE
Detective Greg Locke grumbled as he drove down the highway, glancing along the side of the road in search of the abandoned vehicle. This was well below his pay grade, but Chief Breck tapped him to do it because all the new recruits were in a sensitivity meeting. Locke forgot the actual title of the meeting, but he had labeled it, A Kinder Gentler Arrest, in his calendar. God forbid they put a bruise on the damned criminals.
He was now two miles from the non-towered airport. The car was supposed to be located along this stretch of highway. Locke expected flat or missing tires and no license plates. Of course, there was the possibility of it being ‘hot’. He could hope.
Locke passed the airport without spotting the car. He glanced in his rearview mirror. Was it on the other side? It had to be because he was now headed into the spaghetti mess of ramps connecting Paul B to Broadmore and the back way into Gerald Ford. Locke exited the fairway and reentered traveling the opposite direction. Where was that damned car? With numerous reports, he had expected it to take him about 35 seconds to find it, but here he was backtracking and looking again.
“Oh fuck my life,” Locke uttered as he finally spotted the vehicle and simultaneously realized why they had so many reports on this particular car. It was 50 to 100 feet from the exit in a highly trafficked area. Locke was surprised no one had side-swiped it yet.
Detective Locke slowed his unmarked cruiser and parked as close to the guardrail as physically possible before checking the traffic behind him. He carefully opened his door and stepped out. After slamming the door shut, he hurried to the front of his car for some semblance of safety from the onslaught of the morning rush hour.
As he viewed the Dodge, he was surprised to find all four tires inflated and the license plate still attached to its bracket. Locke was two steps from the Dodge’s trunk when he realized he left the bright orange abandoned stickers sitting in his passenger seat. He turned around and walked back.
Once he retrieved the stickers, Locke retraced his steps to the Dodge. It looked new aside from road grime. He stepped up to the driver’s
window and dated a sticker. That’s when he glanced into the car and shook his head. There were a few empty fast food bags and paper coffee cups. He spotted a couple empty packs of Marlboro lights and a set of MapQuest directions. Nothing unusual. He had no reason to open the door. All he had to do was place the sticker on the window.
Still, he found himself searching the floorboards. A bullet. That was unusual. Condom wrapper. Interesting, but not illegal. Plastic baggy. Someone’s used lunch. No. Detective Locke paused. That was no one’s lunch. Talc? He doubted it.
After placing the sticker on the window, Detective Locke walked around to the passenger’s side and opened the door. The scent reminded him of a rental car and hamburgers. He expected to find a yellow copy of the rental agreement inside the glove box. At that point, he would contact Enterprise or Hertz or whoever and ask for the identity of the renter.
However, upon opening the glove box, Locke didn’t find a rental agreement. He found two unholstered pistols. Frowning, he started to grab one before realizing he needed gloves and evidence bags. Spoiling the gun with his own fingerprints would have been rookie. That was another trip to the cruiser.
Locke ran back to his car and slid into the driver’s seat. He barely got the driver’s side door closed before a fast-moving line of traffic threatened to rip it off. Becoming a road pancake was not on his to-do list today.
“Jesus this job,” he muttered to himself as he started to reach onto the passenger’s floor for an evidence kit.
Just as his fingers touched the bag, Locke decided there was no point. The Dodge had drugs and guns in it at a minimum, and the side of the road was no place to start a vehicle investigation. He could examine the car at the impound yard. It wasn’t as if the tow truck driver was going to tamper with the inside.
Locke radioed for a tow truck.
While he waited, Locke pulled a small notebook from the glove-box and flipped to the first clean page. He scrawled a few notes then glanced upwards.
Where was that tow truck?
Not here, he answered himself and scrawled a few more notes: pistols, baggie, check trunk, remove seats...
He glanced upwards again. Locke thought he heard the rattling of chains that indicated a tow truck, but when he looked up, there was no tow truck.
This car needed to be off the side of the road and imprisoned in the impound yard, or as Detective Locke often referred to it - The Chop.
Locke had been privileged to watch the destruction of more than one lavish drug smuggling vehicle. His favorite was a 1999 Metro that had been reduced to scrap metal. Various illegal narcotics had been stashed in each and every crevice.
By the time they had finished, they had taken possession of almost 50 pounds of marijuana and 25 pounds of cocaine. It had also given them excellent insight as to how and where runners stashed their payloads.
In direct opposition, two rookies had taken possession of a 2001 Toyota 4Runner after finding weapons on the two male passengers. They spent days digging through the car and called for the dogs three times. Still, they couldn’t find anything. After a cursory look, Officer Locke agreed with their opinion. He figured after 80 hours of inspection, the car was clean. They could still issue a weapons charge.
However, Locke had changed his mind at the last minute and requested the car lifted one more time. That’s when he took a large magnifying glass and a rag with concentrated degreaser to the underside. There was one place they had failed to check; the weld seams. It was a long shot, but Locke was willing to take ten minutes to look.
The weld seams were flawless, except for one two-inch patch. It was easily overlooked, and Locke mentally kicked himself. He had semi-caught the imperfection during his first pass, but the area was covered with dirt and road grime.
On a hunch, he asked for a metal saw. After cutting open the potential compartment, they found almost 35 pounds of cocaine. It was enough to earn Locke a promotion to detective and a significant pay increase.
The loud rumble of a diesel engine and rattling chains pulled Detective Locke from his thoughts.
After a brief conversation with the tow truck driver through the window of his car, Locke watched as the Stratus was lifted onto the flatbed. Then, he remembered he needed to run the plate. He scanned the back of the car and typed the number into his dashboard computer. The car was registered to Tasha Quade. The name sounded familiar, but nothing specific came to mind.
Looking up from his computer, he watched the tow truck pull out into traffic. It was time to go.
It was fifteen miles to the impound yard, and Locke parked his cruiser just outside the first set of bay doors. He picked up his cell from the passenger’s seat and called Chief Breck. “I picked up that Stratus outside the airport.”
“Did you run the plate?” Chief Breck asked.
“It’s owned by a Tasha Quade.”
“Nope,” Locke said.
“Plates expired?” Breck asked.
“Nope. Everything looked good,” Locke said.
“Did you find a phone number for the owner?” Chief Breck asked.
“No, but I found two pistols in the glove compartment.”
“Interesting,” Breck said. “Concealed weapons inside a car. Any drugs sitting in the front seat?”
Locke chuckled. “Under the seat.”
“Search it yet?” Breck asked.
“Not yet, did you want me to write up a search warrant?” Locke asked.
“Nah, just give me the owners name. Let’s see if there are any warrants.”
“Tasha Quade,” Detective Locke said then spelled the last name.
Chief Breck typed the name into the criminal database and waited. “Nothing here,” he said after about three minutes. Breck scrolled down the tiny file. Tasha Quade. He remembered the name. Texas. Ten or 15 years ago. He’d been a beat cop then.
“What about a permit?” Locke asked.
“Didn’t pull that up either,” Breck said.
Locke hmmed. “Well, shit. Does she have any type of record?”
“Not that I see.” He closed the file. “Take pictures while you search it.”
“Will do,” Locke said and closed his phone.
Turning, he ordered the Stratus into the third bay. The third bay was where they did all their heavy work. Bays one and two were for cruiser repairs and the fourth and fifth were seldom used.
He pulled the Polaroid out of his cruiser and checked the film. It was full. Locke hadn’t taken any pictures in weeks. Damned trial.
Once the car was secure, Detective Locke began inspecting the orange stickers. He hadn’t noticed the others as they had been applied to the windshield instead of the driver’s side window. The first was dated March 8. The second was dated for the 15th. They continued every couple weeks until April 13th. The last sticker was his and dated for the 14th. The trial for Stephanie Hook’s murder ended two days ago. Was it a coincidence? He had to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Locke wanted to link this car to the murder and the trial. The news coverage had infuriated him, and there were still newspapers printing after-trial articles. The outcome had been printed on the front pages of every newspaper from Michigan to Florida.
Detective Locke was disgusted by the outcome and the headlines. Chief Breck had seemed indifferent, and the rest of the staff laughed as if that were the only possible outcome. Glossed over in every article was the fact that Detectives Shaughnessy and Trace were convicted of being accomplices and sentenced to parole. They were also on trial for bribery starting next month.
In Locke’s opinion, it was all a setup. If the judge and jury had really believed the detectives were accomplices, they would have received jail time, not parole.
“There has to be a connection,” Locke muttered to himself as he brushed his thumb over the edge of an orange sticker.
“Connection to what?” one of the mechanics asked as he opened the driver’s door with a latex-gloved hand. “And do you have the search warrant?”
“This car and the murder of Stephanie Hook. We don’t need a search warrant. There’s a baggie under the driver’s seat,” he said. “It was viewable from the outside of the car.”
“Why do you think that?” Mark asked.
“The dates on the stickers,” Locke answered.
“I’m sure it’s just coincidence,” Mark said. “That car could have been there for much longer. You know it takes weeks to sticker a car.”
“In some cases. I mean, if the car were in an out of the way place, but this car was 50 feet from the damned exit. Everyone and their second-cousin saw this thing,” Locke said as he raised the camera and snapped a close-up of the stickers.
“The initial communication was that you had found weapons in this car?” Bob asked.
“I did,” Detective Locke said. “Check the glove box. But wait, I need to get some pictures.”
“Owner?” Bob asked while he waited.
“Tasha Quade,” he said as he photographed the car from multiple angles. “Open the doors and step back.”
“Was that the lady that was on trial last week?” Mark asked.
“No, that was Avia Conn. Pilot for the Company,” Locke said.
“Too bad. “Was there a permit for these guns?” Mark asked as he opened the other three doors.
“Not that we can find,” Detective Locke said as he took several pictures of the interior. “Okay. I’m done.” He set the camera down on a nearby table and slid on a pair of latex gloves. He watched as Bob sat down in the passenger’s seat and opened the glove box.
Bob pulled out the first gun and examined it. “No serial numbers.”
“What about the other one?” Locke asked as he grabbed the camera and took several pictures of the gun then the other one as Bob held them. Locke put the camera down and grabbed two evidence bags.
“Same,” he said as he slid the pistols into the brown paper bags Locke held. “These could be illegal.” It went without saying that they were illegal without the serial numbers, but the mechanic also assumed they were stolen.
“Do you know of any legal handguns with the serial numbers filed off?” Mark asked.
“Military, and we can’t rule that out,” Locke said. “We can have the lab guys attempt to reconstruct the numbers. Then, we’ll call the FBI. Find out who purchased them.”
“So now we’re searching the interior?”
“Yes,” Detective Locke said as he reached in front of the mechanic and searched the glove box for the registration. Upon finding it, he glanced over it. “Well, the plates and registration are all good.” He noticed Mark was already opening the trunk. “Found anything?”
“Not yet,” Mark said as he removed the full-sized spare tire. “It looks pretty clean on the surface.”
“They always look clean on the surface. The 4Runner was unbelievable,” Locke said.
Mark chuckled. “That was a challenge. I don’t think this one is going to be as hard.” He stood up and turned around to face the inside of the car. “Seats are coming out.”
“Do what you need to do,” Locke said. He grabbed the camera and took pictures of everything they removed.
Mark tossed the tire onto the concrete floor and began pulling the carpet out. “I’d be surprised if anything was back here.”
“Why?” Locke asked.
“Because we find stuff in the trunk of every car. You’d think they’d know by now.”
“You’re giving them too much credit,” Locke said as he watched the mechanics remove everything from the inside of car along with the baggie, which was soon sealed inside an evidence bag.
“I think we have something here,” Mark said as he ran his fingers across a seam. “Let’s jack it up. I want to see the underside.”
Bob walked around the vehicle positioning the jack plates. One he was certain each one was in the right position, he walked over to the lift controls and pressed the UP button. Both Detective Locke and Mark stepped backward.
Once the car was lifted off the ground, Mark began inspecting the underside. “Yep. Just as I thought. They lowered it about four inches. We might have some gun runners in the works.”
Office Locke walked underneath with a raised eyebrow. “Looks about right to me.”
“Because they’ve lowered the muffler, raised the suspension and lowered the back fender.” He said as he pointed out the intricate detail work. “Someone spent a lot of time modifying this car.” Mark walked out from under the car and looked at Bob. “Lower it. We need to pry open the floor of the trunk.”
Locke watched the car sink to the ground. It was always an up, down, up, down, cycle for the first 45 minutes. It reminded him of that strange little cartoon with Plucky Duck- ellelator go up, ellelator go down… “Clever,” he said as he stepped to the trunk and peered inside.
Mark glanced at the bottom panel. “They did an amazing job. However, there has to be a button or trigger somewhere,” he said as he felt around the inside of the trunk. He was beginning to lose hope until his fingers ran across a small bump next to the trunk latch. “Here we go.” He pressed it forcefully and frowned. Nothing happened. It wouldn’t slide. Not up or down. It wouldn’t slide to the right. Finally, he managed to slide it to the left. “Stiff fucker.”
The sound of decompressing air signaled the release, and Mark grinned when the panel began to rise. It ascended one inch. Mark slipped his fingers on either side of the platform and pulled. “Well, holy shit.” He grinned with an accomplished chuckle.
“Payload,” Locke said as he looked down into the trunk.
“Assault rifles?” Bob questioned.
“Bricks of white powder,” Detective Locke said as he mentally counted ten bricks wrapped in multiple layers of plastic and tape. He grabbed the camera to take a few pictures.
“Heroin or Cocaine?” Bob asked.
“Could be either. Could be meth. Could be a lot of things. We’ll have to send it to the lab for an analysis.” Locke glanced in the direction of his police cruiser. “Let me know if you find anything else.”
“Will do,” Bob and Mark said in unison.
Detective Locke walked out of the garage. He was satisfied so far. Now, all they needed to do was find Tasha. Starting his police cruiser, he pulled out of the impound lot and turned in the direction of the police station.
Read More from Stacey Carroll
AVIA ii: Bullets and Betrayal Kindle Edition
Greg Locke is the detective who thinks he can put away both Avia and Benton in the next book in the series Avia II Bullets and Betrayal. These two are very close to going to jail or going on vacation to Hawaii when their heist goes bad. They are stuck in a life of crime, and they cannot seem to get out. Thriller author Stacey Carroll tugs you through all the twists and turns of these two and their lives while showing you that crime can pay in the worst ways.