Matters of the Heart: Book 1, Chapter 5

Part I, Chapter 5: Truths
by Elizabeth Johnston

Crockett arrived early at the OCB the next morning just as Rico was getting out of a cab in front of the building. The casual onlooker walking past would hardly guess that they knew each other. Sonny’s tan-coloured casual pants topped with a subtley patterned three-button T-shirt under a loose-fitting forrest green microfibre wind jacket contrasted sharply with Rico’s fashionably-cut three-piece grey silk suit. They had always dressed differently, each according to his persona. The difference in their choice of clothes belied the deep friendship they held for each other.

Sonny waited until Tubbs paid the driver and then walked over to him, his face beaming at seeing his old friend again “Good timin’ partner,” he said as he patted him warmly on the back. It would be excellent partnering with Rico again.

Rico dropped his briefcase and grabbed Sonny’s shoulders with both hands. “Its’ great to see ya man. You’re looking good Sonny, ” he said with a smile. “But what happened to your forehead?” he continued as he dropped his arms and bent down to pick up his bag.

“Ah, it’s just a scratch,” Sonny replied. “You’re looking not so bad yourself, partner. How’s Ricardo doing?”

“A bit overwhelmed by New York, I think. But he’s getting used to it.”

They went inside and continued chatting until they reached the glass doors leading into the unit. As they walked into the room, the night shift was just starting to trickle out – they were all new faces to Crockett and Tubbs. All except for one, that is. Lieutenant Castillo was at the coffee machine, pouring himself a cup of the dark brown liquid. As usual, he had arrived long before he expected any of the members of his team to show up. Well, it seemed as though some things at least were still the same as when they had worked here before. Sensing their presence, the lieutenant looked up, smiled at the two men and nodded hello.

“Coffee?” he asked holding up the pot. They sauntered over, exchanged greetings and fixed themselves some of the freshly-made brew.

“Ahh! Just what the doctor ordered.” Sonny proclaimed with a sigh as he took his first sip. “I kinda slept in this mornin’ and didn’t get a chance to have my caffeine fix before I left.”

“Anybody I know?” Rico said with a sly grin.

“No,” Sonny replied. “But, if you’re really nice to me Rico, maybe you will,” he continued with a wink. It wasn’t the answer Rico had been expecting, but then, Sonny always seemed to have a way with the ladies, or maybe his old partner was just stringing him a line.

After they finished fixing the coffees Castillo ushered them into his office where they settled themselves around his desk. Strangely, but naturally somehow, Crockett felt like it was the start of just another day of work at the OCB, as if the years in between had never existed. And true to form, Castillo wasted no time or words asking Tubbs what he had brought with him on the Fuente operation.

Rico opened his briefcase, pulled out some papers and told them what he had learned in New York and why he had come to Miami early, before the pre-trail briefing scheduled for next week.

“We got a tip that a player by the name of Sanchez is moving in to take over the Fuente organization. We don’t know who he is or what he looks like, only that he’s been a rising star in the production end of things in Colombia, and now he wants to move from wholesale to retail,” he told them.

“Our informant says that this Sanchez is in Miami to put things in motion,” he continued. “The kicker is that he’s supposed to have some very strong ties with the Colombian government – that he plays the respected businessman under a different name and that the authorities don’t know about his other little enterprise, or that maybe, they just choose to look the other way.”

“Sanchez,” Sonny put in, crossing his arms and raising his left hand to grab his chin. He lowered his hand and leaned back in the chair. “That’s the second time that name’s come up in two days. Izzy gave us the same name yesterday.” He leaned forward again. “I’d say that puts him deep in the pocket with no way out.”

“Crockett,” Castillo said looking at he sandy-haired man, “we need to know what the DEA has on Sanchez. You ever run into him or his organization when you were working for them?”

“Funny you should ask.” Sonny started.

He went on to tell them about an undercover assignment he had been working for the DEA as Burnett about a year before. Burnett was the go-between for a Colombian supplier named Julio Sanchez and a Florida buyer named Miguel Dominguez. He picked up the cash from Dominguez in the Bahamas and delivered it to Sanchez’ people in Cartagena exchanging it for a load of party favours to be delivered to Dominguez in Lauderdale. As insurance on the return trip, Dominguez had sent one of his goons along for the ride.

On the way back, the DEA had staged a ‘pirate’ raid and made off with the shipment. During the staged raid, the ‘pirates’ dropped it that they had been tipped off by someone in the Sanchez organization about the shipment. The idea, Costas had told him, was to make Dominguez mistrust Sanchez and maybe put a crimp on the Colombian’s operation for a while.

“I’d say that Sonny Burnett might be expected to be pretty upset over losing his commission and expense money, and that he might have a very good reason for wanting to meet with this Mr. Sanchez. Shouldn’t be too hard to set up a little rendezvous once we know what he looks like and how to contact him. All we need is a face and a location.” Crockett concluded. “I’ll run his name past Costas and see what else the DEA might have on this guy.”

“But you’ve never seen him?” Castillo asked.

“He didn’t get to the top of the dung heap by getting himself down and dirty. His hands might be in the cesspool, but his face is nowhere but in the sunshine.”

“I think I might have the place if you can get the face.” Rico suggested.

“You’re still a poet Rico,” said Sonny pretending to be surprised.

“And my mother still knows it,” laughed Tubbs. “Our source said that Sanchez, in his guise as a respected well-to-do businessman, is going to be at some big do being put on by the Colombian Consulate here in Miami.”

“It’s Thursday night,” Castillo intoned.

He explained that the Colombian Consulate was holding a reception as a show of solidarity and cooperation in the war against illegal drugs between the two governments. A number of Colombian government officials and some wealthy Colombian businessmen sympathetic to the cause would be there. The invited businessmen had all supposedly provided substantial financial support to the government’s fight against the drug trade.

“Well isn’t that the perfect laundry cycle for our friend Sanchez. He throw’s a little bleach at the government and his money and his reputation come out lily white. Wouldn’t be surprised if, at the same time, he gets a heads up on the latest detergents and maybe flings a bit of dirt at his competitors.” Crockett said sarcastically.

“There’ll also be some selected representatives from various local groups,” Castillo continued. “Police officers, public servants, government officials and some private citizens who have been active in fighting drug scene here. The chief asked me to put in an appearance.”

Castillo told Crockett and Tubbs that he would wrangle invites for them as American businessmen who who do business with Colombia. In the meantime he suggested that Crockett check out the DEA files and find out what Izzy had come up with. He himself would check with his contacts in the Company to see what he could dig up. If the government was involved in this, he was pretty sure the CIA would have a file on Sanchez.

“You really think those bimbos will give you anything?” After some of the stunts the Company pulled on OCB when Sonny worked there, he didn’t have too much confidence in the their spirit of cooperation. More likely they would do what they could to thwart things.

“Officially – no. But maybe I can get something off the record,” Castillo replied. “We’ll meet back here this afternoon.” He closed the file on his desk, indicating the meeting was over, but before they left, he asked Sonny to stay behind for a moment. After Rico left he spoke to Crockett.

“I understand you know Jessica Taylor.” It was a statement, not a question.

“And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

“She’ll be at the reception on Thursday because of her involvement with the Street Care project,” Castillo replied. “For her safety and to protect your cover, make sure she’s aware of the situation and that she doesn’t know you at the party,” he continued. “She’s a smart lady – she’ll understand.” As he rose from his chair he added, “Oh, and by the way, Gina told me what happened Friday night. Thanks for helping out.”

“That reminds me, Marty,” Sonny interjected. “When this whole thing’s over, I want a word with you about that Street Car thing. That has got …”

“Later Crockett,” Castillo interrupted as he made his way towards the door. “We both have things to do.”

 


 

Tubbs decided to tag along with Crockett for the day. The first place they headed off to was DEA headquarters to pay a visit to Phil Costas. Costas was in his office going over a case file when they walked in.

“Crockett, Tubbs, good to see ya. What have you got for me today Sonny my man?” he said in a friendly tone.

“The question is, what have you got for me Phil?” Crockett’s tone wasn’t quite as friendly. He let Rico fill the DEA agent in on the information he brought with him from New York, and then he stared at Costas with steely eyes that said he wouldn’t take anything but the truth.

“When I heard Rico’s story this morning it made me think about that little job I did for you and your band of pirates last year. So, how about it Phil. Who is this Sanchez and what do you have on him? And who is Dominguez, and how does this all fit in with our friend Fuente and his organization?”

“I don’t know the whole story Crockett, but I’ll tell you what I know,” he replied sounding almost apologetic. His response surprised Crockett. He had expected more of a fight before getting the information.

“I don’t know who Sanchez is or what he looks like. All I know is that the records on Sanchez and the job last year are sealed. Don’t ask me why – I’m just a small cog on a big wheel. So if I tell you anything, it’s gotta be between you and me and the four walls. Have we got a deal?”.

“Tubbs is my partner on this and I may have to tell Marty, but other than that, you can consider it our little secret.”

“I don’t trust very many people Crockett, but your word is solid with me. As for Tubbs and Castillo, if you say they can be trusted, I’ll take your word for that too.”

“You’ve got it,” Sonny assured him.

“Just remember, Crockett, it’s my career we’re talking about here. I intend to go into my retirement in one piece and with a full pension. If any of this gets out to the wrong people, I’ll protect myself any way I can.”

“Fair enough.”

Costas closed the door to his office, checking first to make sure no one was within hearing distance and then he told them what he knew. On the job Crockett had done for DEA the previous year he had orders from the top to let Sanchez obtain the money without any interference – no reasons given. As for Dominguez, he was one of Fuente’s chief lieutenants. In recent years, Fuente rarely got involved in any dealings unless they were very big. His lieutenants looked after all the arrangements and transactions, and kept him informed. Costas reckoned that Fuente probably knew little or nothing about the Sanchez deal or Burnett’s part in it until after it blew up.

“So if you knew Fuente was behind the deal why didn’t you tell me?” Sonny asked feeling the anger slowly building.

“Need to know Crockett – you know the rules.” Costas shrugged his shoulders. “As far as I knew at the time, it was no difference to you that Dominguez worked for Fuente or that Sanchez would keep the money. You were hired to set up the deal and let us grab the snow – nothing more. I didn’t know about what had happened between you and Fuente in the past. I only found out about that when I signed up for the task force to get you out of his little game. That’s when I started putting a few things together.”

“Like what?” Sonny could feel the anger rising even more, but now it wasn’t necessarily aimed at Costas.

Costas said he had been told to make sure Crockett used his Burnett cover for the job. When he found out that Fuente knew about Crockett and Burnett and that Fuente figured Crockett to be a dirty cop who had stolen 3 million dollars from him, Costas started thinking that maybe there had been some kind of set-up. The people upstairs knew Dominguez would go back to Fuente with the details, that Fuente would find out it was Burnett driving the boat. He couldn’t say for certain, but he suspected that maybe they wanted Fuente to think that it was Crockett who had really taken the load and not Sanchez. Maybe they even fed him the idea somehow . It sure seemed like somebody was protecting the Colombian. And if they were, then he figured that the feed to Dominguez that Sanchez was behind the raid was just to throw Costas and his team off – make them think that they were doing something to hurt Sanchez when in fact, the idea that Sanchez had something to do with the raid was covered off by implicating Crockett as the culprit behind the stolen drugs. It was all guesswork on Phil’s part, but he suspected that he wasn’t far off the mark.

The one thing he did know was that Fuente was not a very forgiving man. If he thought Crockett had taken the load instead of Sanchez, maybe that was the reason why, after so many years, he had grabbed Crockett a few months back and used him to so sadistically in his little scheme to get the police to lay off on his drug shipments into the US.

Crockett’s head was reeling. Had he really been set up by these bastards? Nothing surprised him anymore when it came to the feds, but if he was set up, who did the setting-up. He could feel his blood pressure rising, but he let Costas continue.

“As for Sanchez, all I can tell you is that he’s smart and he’s ruthless.” Costas continued. “I’ve been getting the same info about him wanting to break into direct sales here and to take over the Fuente organization, but I’ve been told to keep quiet about it and send everything I get upstairs. I don’t like it, but it goes with the territory. This is a federal agency, and the big boys call the shots. Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die.”

“Yeah, yeah I know.’ Crockett didn’t sound too impressed “Into the valley of death and all that. I read poetry in school too, Phil, but helping out sleazeballs like Sanchez is not what I think Tennyson had in mind when he wrote it.”

“No, it was about following stupid orders. There’s something here bigger than you and me and keeping Florida drug-free. I figured out a long time ago that either you accept the bullshit politics and go on, or drop out. Personally I think I can do more good staying than leaving, so I do what I’m told when I’m told to do it, and do a good job the rest of the time. And I’m warning you now. Anything you give me on Sanchez or Fuente’s organization is going upstairs. So if there’s anything you don’t want the big boys to know, don’t tell me about it.”

Crockett had kept a poker face throughout the whole story, and his look still betrayed no hint of the turmoil that was raging inside of him. “Why are you telling me this now Phil?” Crockett asked.

“Because I know what Fuente did to you and I feel partly responsible for it, even though I didn’t know anything about it at the time,” he replied. “I figure the least I owe you is the truth.”

Crockett and Tubbs rose to leave, and Crockett reached out and gave Costas a firm handshake. “Thanks Phil’” was all he said.

Rico and Sonny turned to leave, but before they went out the door, Costas had one more truth to tell. “Watch your back Crockett. If they were willing to throw you to the dogs, someone upstairs just might be gunning for you.”

They walked in silence back to the Barchetta. Sonny was not only steaming mad, he was profoundly disheartened. He had hoped that things would be different after all his years away, but unfortunately he had been right – nothing had changed. He was angry at a lot of things, but he wasn’t so angry at Costas anymore.

Rico was angry too – angry at a system that let covert politricks overshadow what was morally right and wrong, angry that his best friend had been used shamelessly and allowed to go through hell to cover for a banana republic slimeball. He opened the door of the car, got in and sat down on the seat. As he slammed the door with a bang, he uttered one word. “Bastards!”

Crockett started the engine. Staring straight ahead, he put the car in gear and sped out of the lot squealing the tires of the flashy red sports car. Once out on the street, he spoke to Tubbs for the first time since they had left Phil’s office. His voice was low, even, determined and surprisingly calm, hiding the emotion behind the words. “Don’t worry Rico. We’ll get ‘em. I don’t care how it goes down, but this I guarantee – Sanchez can do whatever he wants in Colombia, but if it’s the last thing I do in this city, he won’t be setting up shop in Miami.”

He guided the car towards Highway 41, a road heading into the endlessness of the everglades. He figured that the adrenaline rush from pushing the car to its limits was a better way to blow off the steam than drowning his sorrows in a bottle. When they finally left the congestion of the city behind, Rico looked over and laughed. “Go for it man!” And he did.

 


 

After the speed did it’s job and relieved the tension, they returned at a more leisurely pace. It was time to check on what Izzy had found out. It wasn’t much. He didn’t have anything new on Sanchez other than what Tubbs had brought from New York.

“Keep diggin’ Izzy. If you don’t give me a hundred bucks’s worth, I might just decide to see that you get some first class accommodation at the state’s expense.”

“Don’t worry mang, I’ll work the tapevine. The information is as good as in the yellow pages of my computational center. Trust me Crockay. You know I never let you go away naked in the end.”

“And what about the Fuente organization? What’s happenin’ there?”

“Major trouble percolating there Sonny. A big man in Fuente’s business enterprise, Miguel Dominguez, is running things for now. A friend of friend of mine has a friend who works for a delivery service that sometimes ….”

“I don’t need the unabbreviated history of information gathering on the streets of Miami.” Crockett interrupted impatiently. “Just tell me what you got Izzy.”

“My friend’s friend says that Fuente’s legal assistance is going to get all the charges dropped.”

Sonny grabbed him by the shirt and pulled the man’s face to his. “I don’t need yesterday’s news. How is what I wanna know?” He let go of the wiry little man’s purple polyester shirt.

“Hey mang, it takes time you know. A little this, a little tha.”

Crockett took Izzy’s wallet out of his jacket pocket opened it and took out the hundred dollar bill he had given him yesterday. “Tell you what Izzy, my little Cuban friend.” He waved the bill in front of the man’s face. “How about you get a little this, when I get a little tha. Comprendé amigo?”

“Si Crockay, si. Hey, I didn’t need tha today anyway. I was gonna buy some food wi tha, but I can buy it whenever. Why I need to today eat anyway? – I’m on a dietitian.” He was still prattling nonsense as Tubbs and Crockett went out the door chuckling.

At the afternoon meet with Castillo, they told him about the chat they had had with Costas. Castillo was angry, but he wasn’t all that surprised – he had suspected something was going on behind the scenes when he hadn’t been able to get a thing from any of his local contacts, and now that he knew more of what was going on, he was certain the company was involved. The unit had been burned before by Company politics. He had lost Crockett and Tubbs thirteen years before because of it. The Company had its own agenda. It wouldn’t be out of character for them to protect someone who supported a US friendly leader in the third world. Where the money came from was of no concern to them so long as it supported the right party.

Castillo understood the politics, but it didn’t make him like it any better. And he sensed there was something more to this Sanchez thing than just protecting a rising drug lord who gave money to the right wing Colombian government. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he sensed there was something else they were trying to hide.

The one thing that did surprise Castillo was Costas’ warning that someone up high might be gunning for Crockett. He would give Crockett the option to drop out of this now, but whatever his answer, Castillo vowed to himself that this was something he would find out more about. If someone in the Company was after Crockett, he would have Castillo to deal with too, and Marty wouldn’t be pulling any punches this time. He wasn’t about to let Crockett take another fall or worse. This time he would go right to the top to find out what was going on – he still had his contacts in Washington.

He looked at Crockett. “You’ve got good reason to bow out of this now. If you do there’s no questions asked and no hard feelings.”

“No way,” Crockett asserted. “Sanchez is a dirty ace and I’m not outta this until the whole hand’s played.”

The answer was no less than the lieutenant had expected.

“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll do what I can to find out what’s behind this. If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I’m prepared to call off the Sanchez investigation, including Thursday night.” Before they left, Castillo had a few other requests.

“Crockett, I want you to lay low until I find out what’s going on. I’ll call you when I get something.”

“Tubbs, I may have to go out of town tomorrow. If you’re available, I could use your help with a couple of my detectives.”

“Sure,” Tubbs replied as he and Crockett headed out the door.

Walking down the hall, Sonny looked at his partner and grinned. “I sure hope your babysitting certificate’s up to date Rico.”

 


 

Neither Crockett nor Tubbs felt like celebrating their renewed partnership that evening. The days events had left a sour taste in both their mouths.

“Rico, my man, I think we need to take the night off. How would like to meet the reason I didn’t have time for coffee this morning?” Sonny asked opening the door of the Ferrari.

“Does that mean I’ve been good to you partner?”

“I guess so.”

“Don’t you think you might want ask the lady first. She might have other plans.”

“Riiight.” Sonny sounded a bit chagrined as he took out his cell phone and dialed Jessica’s number.

Rico couldn’t help but notice the look of ease and delight that settled over his friend as he dialed the number. It reminded him of how Sonny used to look when he talked to Caitie, of how he himself used to feel with Valerie when things had been good between them.

He wandered off, far enough away to allow for a private call, Valerie on his mind, wondering how she was doing. By the time Rico had quit Metro-Dade and returned to the Bronx in ‘89, Valerie had left New York, burned out after years on the force there. He had tried to find her, but to no avail. She had wanted to disappear and she did. Like Sonny used to say – he always figured that she was the one who got away. Despite everything that happened, he still missed her.

“Okay partner, it’s all set. Let’s go,” Sonny called out as he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the Ferrari’s engine purring.

The three of them spent the evening, talking and laughing together, exchanging old stories and new ones – just what Sonny and Rico needed to drive away the disappointments of the day. But eventually came the time for Rico to head back to his hotel, and Rico made his good-byes to Jessica before heading off with Sonny to the Barchetta. Something told him that he’d be seeing more of this lady.

“I like her Sonny. She looks good on you,” Rico affirmed as his partner sidled the sleek Italian sports car out of the parking lot. “Not that what I think would make much difference I don’t think. You two seem pretty tight.”

Sonny welcomed the opening into a deeper conversation with his friend. Too many things had been going on recently and he needed to share his feelings and uneasiness with a friend he cared for and trusted.

“I like her too Rico. I like her a lot. I haven’t let myself feel this way about anyone since Caitie, and it scares the hell outta me.” Sonny eased the car to a stop at a red light. “The head and the heart man. My head keeps telling me I don’t need this – she doesn’t need it. What if something bad happens. But the heart ….. it has a mind of its own.”

When the light turned green, he slammed the shifter the into gear and zipped past the slower traffic in the right hand lane before letting the needle on the speedometer drift back down closer to the posted limit.

“You can’t live with your head in the past Sonny, or worrying about what might happen in the future. Sometimes you just have to listen to your heart.”

“Yeah, I guess if I listened to my head I’d be sipping margaritas at Molly’s back on Salt Cay right now instead of messing with women, drug dons and feds in Miami. I must be nuts coming back here.”

“And if you’d didn’t come back here to put Fuente away for good, you’d be running around like Hank Weldon, out where the buses don’t run, looking for him behind every palm tree.”

They drove on for a while, easing in and out of the nighttime traffic until Sonny opened the conversation again. “Did I tell you Castillo asked me to come back to work for him in vice? He must be crazier than me.” Crockett shook his head, trying to sort the thoughts running through it.

Rico’s reaction was not what Sonny expected. “Maybe that’s not such a bad idea partner. You know, if had you really wanted out of this lifestyle, you wouldn’t keep doing jobs for the DEA.”

Sonny was so surprised by his friend’s reply that he missed the next signal change and ran right through the red light. “If I had any ideas of doing that, today put a lid on it for good. It’s time to listen to the head Rico – sipping margaritas at Molly’s and deep sea fishin’ when this is all over is sounding pretty good to me.”

Rico laughed. “Sure Crockett, whatever you say. I got a C-note that says you wouldn’t last 6 months before you’d be into somethin’ again. You’re hooked on the action Sonny, just like me. It’s one of the truths of our lives man.”

With those words, Sonny pulled into the entranceway of the hotel. Rico was still shaking his head and laughing when he got out of the car and waved good-bye. Rico’s words were still in Crockett’s mind as he headed back to the marina, no more certain of things than when he had left, but feeling a little less uncomfortable with the doubts. When he got back to the Vitus II Jessica was sitting out on deck enjoying the sultry night air waiting for him to return, a Jack Daniels on ice poured and ready.

“Darlin’, you must have been reading my mind.” He sat down beside her, feeling comfortable and relaxed, until he remembered what Castillo had asked him to talk to her about.

He had decided earlier to try to convince her not to go to the reception at all, but he had figured that talking her out of it would be like squeezing water from a stone. And he was right – Jessica’s reaction didn’t surprise him. She had no intentions of not going, she told him. It was for the good of the project. It would bring publicity and recognition which could lead to more funding and volunteers. But knowing that Sonny and Rico would be there working undercover trying to ferret out a Colombian drug kingpin made her angry – how could the Colombian government not know who the players were?

She agreed to play stranger, but made no promises to keep her eyes from roaming in his general direction. And as for her thoughts about tonight, she had something to say about that too.

“Well if I’ve got to pretend I don’t know you on Thursday night, how about we make up for it beforehand,” she said, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him close.

“Sounds like a plan to me Sunshine,” he replied, pulling her even closer, his lips moving to meet hers.