Part I, Chapter 4: Back to Reality
by Elizabeth Johnston
Monday morning came early for Crockett, but as he waited for the taxi to take him to DEA headquarters, he noticed that the green Mustang was already gone from the parking lot.
He arrived at the building just as Costas was going in the door. “You’re here early Crockett,” the DEA agent said.
“Yeah, well I just couldn’t wait to see your smiling face again Phil.”
“You mean you just couldn’t wait to get your hands on the keys to that Barchetta again. The pencil necks wanted to put it into the disposal pile, but I convinced them to hold off for a bit. I kept it just for you Crockett.”
“You always were my hero Phil.” Sonny said as he opened the door.
They went inside and as they made their way to his office, Costas continued. “That’s very nice of you Crockett, but I expect something in return for all my troubles. Castillo’s unit has something going down with possibly tying Fuentes into a major drug smuggling operation. I want you to work with his people and keep us up to speed.”
He pulled a set of keys out his desk and handed it over. “We have enough evidence for the preliminary trial to keep Fuente’s assets on ice with what we already have, but I want to nail that bastard to the wall and shut the entire operation down for good. And if we can get something big on him, maybe he’ll turn over some of the top guns in Colombia – that’s what I’m really after.”
The look on Sonny’s face went stern and the timbre of voice hardened. He kept looking downward at the desk. “You thinking of letting him walk to get those names?”
“No way Crockett, not if it’s up to me. That man does time. I know what happened out there, and I won’t let him walk. And besides, the FBI plans to hit him hard on the kidnapping and extortion charges.”
He turned to face the man “That’s good Phil, ‘cause I might not want any piece of this if you were planning to let him off.”
“He’ll do hard time Crockett, if I have anything to do with it.”
“If Phil? I’ve heard that line from the feds before Phil. Excuse me if I don’t quite believe it any more.” He took a short pause and then continued. “So if you don’t plan to give him anything, why would he give up any names?”
“We don’t think he’ll wanna go down alone. We figure he’ll want to take some of his old friends with him just to make it a happy get together. And the harder we can hit him, the bigger the prize he might bring in.”
Crockett wasn’t too pleased by this turn in events. He wanted to believe Costas but he wasn’t too sure about this operation any more – past experience dies hard. Sonny had good reason not to trust the federal agencies, especially if there was any chance the CIA might decide to step in. In the past he had seen too many slimeballs like Fuente walk in exchange for providing the goods on bigger fish, only to see the them let off the hook for some bigger ‘national security’ reason. It was one of the reasons he had lost his faith in the system, and the final straw that made him throw down his badge 13 years earlier. He picked up the keys and headed out the door.
“See ya later Phil.” His voice wasn’t as friendly as when he had said hello, and was touched with undertones of sarcasm.
The ride to OCB in the sports car would have been a blast, but the conversation with Costas had left a bitter taste in his mouth. As he drove, he anticipated the reaction he would get from Castillo – it’s not your responsibility. He was ready to quit this whole operation right now, but he remembered the promise he had made to be true to himself. Pull it together Sonny, he counseled himself – don’t let it take you down again. Keep the faith man. Come hell or high water, Fuente will not walk. And that was another promise he made to himself.
When he arrived at OCB, he walked past the detectives’ desks and straight into Castillo’s office. He had decided on the drive over to put it directly on the line. “I want the truth right now Marty. Is there gonna be a deal with Fuente?”
Castillo, remained sitting at his desk and stared up at Crockett straight in the eyes as only he could, with a look as cold and true as hardened steel. “As far as I know, there’s no deal. I’ve already told the Commissioner that if Fuente is given a walk for any reason, I’ll walk too. He’s going down Sonny, one way or another. You have my word.”
Lieutenant Martin Castillo was the most honest and trustworthy person Crockett had ever known. If he gave his word, that was good enough for Sonny, but he still didn’t trust the feds, not even Costas.
The lieutenant stood up and walked around his desk to where Crockett was standing and shook his hand. “Good to see you Sonny. Glad to see that you’re as straightforward as always. I’d hate to think that you would try a subtle approach.”
“Ah you know me lieutenant. I’m about as subtle as a bull in a china shop.
‘Shall we start again,” Crcokett asked with a smile. He went outside and knocked on the door and then opened it. “Hi Marty,” he said poking his head inside. Castillo came over, smiled and put his hand on Sonny’s shoulder. They sauntered over to the strategy room together. Trudy and Stan were there along with a couple of young detectives he hadn’t met before and a few others he recognized from the safe house where he stayed with his family and Rico after Fuente had gone after his son.
Sonny could see that the two young officers were fresh and eager which, for some reason, made him feel a bit uneasy. They reminded him of Bobby Riley and Jake Esteban, two young recruits he was bringing along when he worked with OCB. Bobby and Jake had wanted to make names for themselves early in their careers, and they ended up doing it the hard way. Bobby was now on the honor list of police officers killed in the line of duty and Jake became the first paraplegic sergeant on the Metro-Dade police force. Sonny still felt in some way responsible for them walking into that shooting. They were under his guidance at the time. The fact that they had lied to him about the meeting didn’t take away the guilt he had felt at the time. They were young and irresponsible – too eager, a lot like himself when he first started. He should have known they would try something foolish. But one thing he had come to grips with in the past little while was that you couldn’t punish yourself for other people’s mistakes.
Castillo introduced the young detectives as Frank Driscoll and Roberto (Tito) Cortillas. He started the briefing by asking them about a meet they said they had set that would lead right into the high levels of the Fuente organization.
Frank and Tito were excited about their first big operation. They tripped over themselves in their eagerness telling how they had arranged a cocaine buy from a ‘major’ dealer in the Fuente organization for that afternoon. Sonny was standing at the back of the room, leaning against the wall. He walked closer to the table and looked at Castillo and then at the two men.
“Where?” Crockett asked in an emotionless voice. His poker face gave no clue as to what was going on in his mind.
Frank and Tito looked at him and then at each other. They were wondering who this guy was, and looked to the lieutenant for direction. He nodded to them indicating that they should answer the question.
“On the 1:00 o’clock tour boat out of Bayside Marketplace.”
“How much?” Sonny asked in the same tone.
“What’s the play?”
“We meet the dealer on the boat and exchange cases. It’s beautiful! He’s stuck on the boat for the rest of the trip. When we get back to the dock, we arrest him and take him back here for questioning and get the goods.”
There was an uneasy rustling of sound in the room from the more seasoned detectives. This was crazy, Crockett thought. He looked over at Castillo with a questioning look in his eyes, expecting him to say something, but Castillo remained silent. The lieutenant passed his files to Switek and signaled Sonny to meet him outside.
“Switek, take over,” he ordered as he left the room.
Leaving the room they could hear Stan’s voice in the background. “Alright ladies and germs, let’s get on with the show …..”
Castillo silently led them into his office and closed the door. As he walked over to his desk and sat down, Crockett blasted the man with what was on his mind. “What the hell’s going on Marty? You wanna throw away 25 G’s away on a sting. Or worse, let these two nurslings get themselves or some innocent bystanders killed. They’ll be lucky if the guy’s carrying a kee of sawdust, let alone nasal dust.” Castillo just looked at him and let him carry on.
Sonny paced the room. “A ‘major’ dealer in the Fuente organization?” he raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “Give me a break, lieutenant! Fantasyland is more like it.” He walked over to the desk and bent over it staring at Castillo. No ‘major’ dealer in the biggest operation on the East Coast is gonna sell one kee to anyone let alone a couple o’ weenies like that. This is such a classic set-up. You could video-tape it and use it in the how-not-to class at the academy.”
Castillo remained emotionless while he let Crockett have his say, and then responded in a calm voice. “And what do you think I should do about it Crockett?”
“I’m not the lieutenant here, Marty.” Sonny said continuing his pacing. He stopped and pointed at Castillo. “What are you gonna do about it?”
“I know there’s no tie in to Fuente with this, but because they brought him up, I can bring you in on it. I want you to mentor them.”
Castillo leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his lap. “A lot of recruits have passed through this unit since you worked here. I’ve lost four people working undercover drug operations. The rest only stayed a short while before transferring out. They couldn’t take the tension and lifestyle of living and working undercover. I think it’s because they didn’t have someone take them through it.”
Castillo sat up again, opened the top left drawer of his desk, pulled out a small leather ID wallet and laid it down gently on the desk top. Crockett walked over, picked it up, flipped it open and looked at it. Then he stared suspiciously at his former boss. It was his badge, the same one he had thrown down on the tarmac 13 years ago.
“What’s this?” Crockett asked in a perplexed voice, though he had a pretty good idea what it meant. He gently caressed the shiny metal on the newly polished badge with his fingers, closed the wallet and laid it gently back down on the desk.
“I don’t think so Marty.” The uncertainty had turned to conviction.
He leaned his hands on the desk and stared straight into Castillo’s face with piercing eyes. “If you think I would even consider coming back here to work undercover, think again. I did that for fifteen years which, as far as I can figure, that was about fourteen years too many.” He turned around to leave, but before he could get to the door, Castillo continued in a low but firm and coaxing voice.
“I don’t want you to work undercover. I need someone to lead these people, to teach them, mentor them …. someone they can trust.”
Sonny turned back around and, glaring into the eyes of his former boss, he spoke in a definitive tone. “Forget it Marty. I ain’t comin’ back!”
Castillo matched his glare. “Think about it.”
The ensuing silence was deafening. Only Sonny could match Martin’s stare. Only Martin could match Sonny’s. The silence was broken finally by Castillo’s quiet request once more for Crockett’s help. “But in the meantime I could use your help on this one. If not, I either call the meet off and lose these men’s confidence or let them go ahead and they could lose their morale or their lives when it goes bust.”
“I didn’t come here to pull two toddlers out of the play pool, Marty. I came here to drown Fuente. You’ve got other people who can baby-sit for you.”
Castillo just continued to stare. The silence was once again deafening as each determined to outlast the other. This time, Castillo won out.
“Okay, Marty, okay. Just this once. Maybe these guys can come up with something besides a hairball. But you owe me one.”
“Done,” he replied in his usual monotone. “Just to let you know, Rico’s coming in tonight with something real on the Fuente investigation. I want you in on it.”
“Yeah, Gina told me. What’s it about?”
“We’ll find out tomorrow morning,” was all Castillo said. He got up from the desk and left the room with Sonny following behind. They headed back to the strategy room where Switek was just wrapping up the morning briefing.
“Swi, Trudy, Driscoll, Cortillas.” Castillo said as the group got up to leave. The people he named stayed put while the others left.
When Castillo introduced Crockett to the new detectives, they looked at each other with stunned expressions. Sonny Crockett was a legend to every aspiring young vice detective.
“Crocketts’s working the Fuente case for DEA,” the lieutenant explained. They’ve asked him to work with us on anything we come up with. I want him to take the lead with you on this one. How do you feel about that?”
Their reaction was effervescent enthusiasm. Castillo sat back and observed as Crockett smoothly coached the rookies, instinctively guiding them to a strategy that, in the end they felt they had developed themselves and that left their egos intact as the main players in the operation.
As he watched, Castillo thought, as he had done many times in past 13 years, about this man whom he felt closer to than any other person in his life save for Mei Ying, his wife. Crockett was a natural leader, more in touch with the people around him than Castillo knew he ever had been or ever could be, a leader who would be followed unquestionably into the valley of death. To his friends or to anyone in need, he was a rock to cling to, a security blanket to provide comfort when needed or a punching bag to absorb the anger and the blows. He commanded undying loyalty from the people who were touched by him, and the uncanny thing was that he didn’t even know it.
Martin realized that the success of the unit in his early years with vice had been largely generated by Crockett whose dedication to the principles that bound him and unswerving loyalty never faltered until disaster after disaster finally dragged him down into the depths of hopelessness. Thirteen years later he had pulled himself out of that pit. Somehow, he had to convince him to come back to OCB. He wasn’t sure whether he’d be successful or not, but this ploy of having Crockett mentor the new recruits was a good start, an opportunity he just couldn’t let lie.