Matters of the Heart: Book 1, Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Crockett’s Return
by Elizabeth Johnston

The Vitus II made its way carefully through Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway into Miami’s Dade Marina. As the boat neared dockside, Crockett threw out the fenders and gently eased the sailboat up to the temporary landing. Having lived on a sailboat for nearly 20 years, he had done this many times before, and it was second nature to him by now. But it had been a long time since he had docked at Miami.

He fastened the lines with a few quick flips around the cleats and headed up to the office to register and see if there was any space to moor his boat for a while. The facilities and building had been modernized since the last time he had tied up at the marina, but at least it was still here. He had noticed on his way in that many familiar landmarks along the waterway had disappeared as Miami continued to outgrow itself. A lot of things had changed, but Sonny beamed when he recognized the familiar and friendly face of the grizzled old man behind the counter.

“Will, you old seadog, are you still hanging around here?”

The man looked up. It took him a minute to identify the person standing before him, but when he did, he rushed around the counter to greet an old friend.

“Sonny Burnett?” He sounded incredulous. “I thought you’d disappeared off the face of the earth forever. By tunderin’ Jesus lad, where in tarnation did you come from?”

“The deep blue sea, Will, the deep blue sea. It’s good to se ya old timer.” He gave the old man hug. “Have you got any berths? I’m gonna be in Miami for a while and I need a place to tie up.”

“One left Sonny. Believe it or not, it’s yer old one, the one you had here before you left.” He shuffled back around to the other side of the counter, pulled out some papers and placed them on the countertop, and continued talking. “But there’s no room for a second if you still got that Scarab o’ yours. And they changed the rules after you left – no alligators.” He scrunched his face in a look of dismay. “Too many of the boat owners complained ’bout Elvis the last time you was here.”

Sonny laughed to himself. “No problem Will,” he replied. “It’s just me and the Vitus II this time. No speed boats and no alligators. I settled Elvis in good hands before I left last time but I heard he finally went to that great swamp in the sky. I guess he must have missed his doughnut crumbs and the rides in the Ferrari with the top down.”

“Sorry to hear that Sonny. I kinda liked that cranky old ‘gator, but you cain’t fool me none. I heard that malarkey a million times before. You know as well as me that that ‘gator never went for no rides in that fancy eye-tal-yan sports car o’ yours.”

He rested his arms on the counter and looked across at his old friend. “So, how long you planning on staying?” he asked.

“A few months or so I guess.”

“Well, I guess you’ll want full services then.” Will pushed the papers across the counter and handed Sonny a pen. “That’ll be one month in advance, and you gotta fill out all these here forms. Too much paperwork I say,” he muttered, “but the new owners, they’re into that sort of stuff. Waste o’ time I say – used to be when a handshake was all a person needed.” He shook his head sadly from side to side. “No trust these days Sonny – no trust.”

Sonny smiled, filled out the forms and handed over his credit card for payment. Will completed the paperwork and put a cardkey on the counter. “Here’s the thingamajig to turn on the services and to get you into the showers and recreation area – a lot more fancy than it was when you was here before.”

The old man leaned across the counter once again and whispered secretly and almost apologetically. “Look Sonny, the new owners, they don’t take too well to having the place shot up and having seedy characters around here. So would you do me a favour and make yer deals someplace else.”

Sonny smiled again – the last time he had been here it had been in the persona of Sonny Burnett, a drug dealer with a fast boat and a way of always getting into trouble. Burnett had been his OCB undercover role, a role that at times had followed him into the work he had done on a freelance basis for the DEA and other government agencies after he left the Miami police force. But he didn’t need that cover now.

“No deals this time Will, I promise. I’m outta that business. I’m just a regular guy now – strictly legit.” The usually gravelly voice softened slightly. “Changed my name too. It’s Crockett now.”

Will looked down at the papers and noticed the name was indeed James Sonny Crockett. “Well this I gotta see,” the old man said somewhat unbelievingly. He came around the counter and the two men shook hands. “Glad to here you’re outta that business Sonny – no good for ya I say, no good for ya.”

It was a strong handshake between two old friends. “Good to have ya back again Sonny, er… James.”

“It’s still Sonny, Will.” He gave the old man a warm smile. “And it’s good to be back.”

As Crockett was heading out the door, Will called out to him, “Hey Sonny, you got a good looker in the slip next door – no boyfriends neither.” He chuckled and spoke in a devilish tone, “just in case yer interested.”

Sonny smiled as he walked out the door and sauntered back to the wharf. He untied the Vitus II, hopped on board, and steered her expertly into the berth. After he secured her lines once again, he set up the services and prepared the boat for a stay in port. That done, he went below, showered and changed into some fresh, comfortable shorts and a T-shirt. Then he pulled out a beer, the last one he noticed, cracked it open and headed back out on deck. He found his favourite spot at the stern and sat down to relax in the warm rays of the late afternoon sun. He had always loved this view. Yeah, he thought, sipping on his beer, some things had changed, but for the most part it was the same one he remembered from so long ago. He had many memories of Miami, both good and bad, but somehow sitting here looking out over the water today, there were only good ones. He hadn’t expected it to feel so good to be back, but it was.

He remembered sitting here just like this in the ‘old days’. It started him thinking about his former OCB colleagues, his friends who were still here trying to make the world a better place. Life had continued to go on in the intervening years, but after years of lost contact, he was surprised to find that the bonds of friendship still held strong. When he was in dire straits at the hands of Mario Fuente, they were the ones who came to get him out. That friendship played a major part in helping him to face his past and pull things together again after the ordeal with Fuente.

He smiled as he pictured Lieutenant Castillo’s stern, imperturbable, unwavering face, a countenance that hid a depth of emotion and commitment that only few people ever knew lay within. Crockett considered himself very fortunate to be one of those few people.

And then there was Gina Calabrese, correction, Gina Robinson now. She and Sonny had shared a special relationship in those days. He had often regretted how he had taken advantage of that friendship without even realizing it. Gina had always been there for him to offer companionship and comfort when he needed it most. He needed and accepted all that she gave but only really understood later when he met Caitlin that he could never give back to her what she gave to him so freely. It made him feel good to know that she had found someone who could give her the love and support she deserved. She was still a detective with the force, but worked as a victims abuse councilor now with the Investigations Unit, specializing in rape and drug cases.

He smiled too as he thought about Trudy Joplin. Naïve and sincere, straightforward and tenacious, Trudy had matured a heck of a lot since she had first joined the unit. He remembered the desolation and guilt she felt when she killed a man for the first time and watching her learn about herself and what was most important to her. And now, here she was, solid as a rock, coaching new recruits through the trials he had watched her face and conquer.

And Stan Switek, always in the background – he had always felt that Stan’s abilities were more than he was ever given credit for, more than Stan himself accepted and recognized. That was probably because his forte lay in the behind the scenes work. He was heading up the surveillance group at OCB now. Castillo told him that Stan had been offered a post in the prestigious financial crimes unit, but turned it down. Maybe, Sonny pondered as he sat there, his decision to stay was at least in part due to Stan’s loyalty to Zito, his first and only partner at OCB. Larry Zito had been killed in the line of duty. Sonny remembered how devastated they had all been when Larry died, but Stan suffered the loss hardest of all. There was a special relationship between partners, in some ways stronger even than the relationship with family.

Yeah, he was looking forward to seeing them all again. But that would wait for a few days. This was Friday and he wasn’t scheduled to check in with Phil Costas at the DEA until on Monday. That’s when he would find out how the Fuente investigation had progressed over the past few weeks while he was away. Then he would pop over to the OCB to see his old colleagues again.

Thinking of Stan and Zito made him think about Ricardo Tubbs, his old partner from OCB days. Closer than friends, they shared a union that only people who had faced death together could understand. Sonny hadn’t spoken to Rico for years – it was one of those close relationships he had tried to bury. But when he had found out that Fuente had kidnapped Sonny and was holding him hostage in a nightmare he had somehow managed to live through, Rico had jumped on a plane to Miami to join the task force to get him out. It was Rico’s face that he saw first when a rescue team miraculously arrived to save him from Fuente’s hellhole. And afterwards, when Fuente kidnapped his son Billy to eke further revenge on Crockett and those who had helped him, Rico had risked his own son’s freedom to save Billy’s life – the son whom Rico thought had died 17 years before.

God how he missed that guy. He could admit that now – why had it taken so long for him to realize it? Rico lived in New York now, a First Class vice detective with the Bronx PD. Rico and his son, Ricardo, would be coming down the following week. That’s when the pre-trial briefing with the District Attorney was starting -– something Sonny was not really looking forward to. It would mean reliving the nightmare of Fuente’s island.

The Vitus II gently rocked as she always did when she was tied up in port. He had always found the gentle motion to be comforting. It reminded him of the times he had rocked his son to sleep when he was a baby. Billy was 23 now, just graduated from university. Sonny smiled and shook his head – God how time flies. He had been disappointed when Billy had told him he wouldn’t be making the trip from Salt Cay with him, but he’d be coming to Miami soon. He was looking forward to seeing his son again, but not to the reason why he was coming.

“That kid,” he thought.

No he wasn’t a kid anymore he had to keep telling himself. He was a young man in his own right with a will of his own, straightforward like his mother, but with a determination he had inherited from himself. That determination had saved Sonny’s and Rico’s lives and led to Fuente’s arrest. Billy would be here for the pre-trial briefing too. Maybe, he thought, they could share some happier times together while he was here.

He downed the beer and felt his eyes closing, so he lay back on the deck and let his mind float off into the world of daydreams. As his mind drifted off into the memories of a time past, he imagined he had just returned home from a day at OCB. He could hear Elvis waddling around on his favourite blanket, growling for his dinner. And he could hear someone skipping up the dock – was that Rico?

“Rico?” he murmured to himself, still half asleep. He struggled to open his eyes and tried to shake the cobwebs out of his head.

No, something in his mind told him. This couldn’t be Rico. Those were real footsteps coming down the boardwalk – stomping footsteps. The sound finally woke him from his daydreams. He turned his head slowly to look down the wharf, and spied a lovely looking lady heading his way. “Must be the ‘looker’ Will was talking about,” he thought to himself. He sat up to take a better look. Funny thing, the face seemed very familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. He lowered his sunglasses and took an even longer second look. His jaw dropped in astonishment as it came to him.