Matters of the Heart: Book 1, Chapter 7

Part I, Chapter 7: The Candlestick Maker
by Elizabeth Johnston

The phone was ringing in suite 560 of the Bayview Shores, but Rico didn’t hear it above the sound of the hot water beating down from the showerhead. He finished his shower, got dressed and headed down to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. He didn’t notice the flashing light on the phone indicating someone had called until he returned to his room to call a cab to take him to the OCB headquarters.

Rico picked up the receiver, dialed the communication center and found two messages waiting for him. The first one was from Izzy – he had something for him and Crockett on the Fuente situation but had been unable to reach Sonny that morning. He left a number where Rico could reach him. The second one was from Sonny – he was calling from the payphone at the marina. His cell phone was on the fritz for some reason and Rico wouldn’t be able to get hold of him, but he’d be coming to the OCB later that morning. Something had come up overnight that he had to look after. Rico smiled. He recalled the look in Sonny’s eyes when he spotted Jessica at the party and figured he had a pretty good idea what may have come up. But he had figured wrong.

Rico dialed the number Izzy had left and got an answering machine. Phone tag was such a frustrating game. He left a message for the snitch to call him on his cell, called for a cab and headed out the door. This cab business was getting him down – in New York it was a way of life, but in Miami, you needed your own wheels. And now that he was going be working with Sonny undercover again, he was going to have to look the part. Big time drug buyers from Fun City didn’t take taxis – he’d have to talk to Castillo and see if he could dig up something suitable.

When Rico arrived at the OCB, Izzy was just heading in through the main doors of the building. He waited for the detective in the entranceway.

“What ya got on Fuente, Moreno?” Rico asked.

“Say where’s Crockay? It’s no safe for him to be out and about mang.”

“What are you talking about mouthpiece?” Rico demanded.

“Hey, I’m only delivering the een–for-may-shun mang. Fuente has two big ones out on Crockett’s head, payable to anyone who erases his entire memory and vocal chords before the predestinary trial begins. And I got some other notational intelligencia – another million to the person who takes out some kid in New York name of Ricardo Calderone.”

Rico paled – Ricardo Calderone was his son. He grabbed Izzy’s arm and traipsed him up to the squad room and into Castillo’s office. He listened while Izzy repeated his story to the lieutenant, but it still didn’t make sense. What good would taking out Sonny and Ricardo do? There was a whole hockey sock of evidence against the Fuente.

Izzy didn’t know the whole story about the hits, but his ‘friend of a friend’ had told him it had something to do with not being able to prove that Fuente was behind making the tapes.

Castillo had it figured though. The whole case against Fuente stemmed from the kidnapping and extortion charges. The tapes were proof that Crockett had been kidnapped and that extortion had been demanded, but there was nothing on the tapes that could prove that Fuente had actually been behind making them. A good lawyer would argue that anyone in his organization could have made the tapes and used his name without his knowledge.

Only Crockett and Ricardo had been there and could testify that Fuente was actually behind the scheme. Fuente’s lawyer could probably get the tapes thrown out of court if Sonny and Ricardo weren’t able to testify that Fuente made them. The rest of the charges followed through from what had been on those tapes. If the tapes were disallowed, then his lawyer could argue, and perhaps succeed in convincing the right judge, that all the rest of the evidence should be thrown out as well because it had been obtained illegally. With no evidence, they’d have to let Fuente go. It all seemed so simple so long as Sonny and Ricardo were taken care of. Fuente might be in jail, but he had plenty of contacts on the outside to carry out his plan.

Castillo’s reaction to the news was immediate. “Don’t worry Rico – Ricardo’ll be looked after. I’ll call New York to get him into protective custody right away. You call Crockett and get him here now. I want him in safe keeping.”

“His cell phone’s not working lieutenant,” Rico told him. “I’m gonna have to go over to the marina, but I don’t have wheels.”

“Take my car,” said Castillo pitching him the keys and dialing New York at the same time. “It’s out back.”

Rico tore out of the building in a whirlwind, leaving Izzy wondering what had happened.

 


 

Sonny had stayed up with Jess until she finally dropped off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, and then caught a little shut-eye himself on the couch in the Mountain Mist. When he woke up in the morning, he decided to hang around the marina for a while – he didn’t want to leave Jessica alone until he was sure she was going to be okay. He tried calling Rico to tell him that he’d be in later, but his cell wasn’t working, so he went to the marina’s office and used the payphone. When he got back to the Mountain Mist, Jessica was still sleeping peacefully. He let her sleep. After last night, he figured she needed the rest.

“Come on Jack,” Crockett called quietly to the big friendly dog. “Let’s you and I go for a walk.”

Jessica finally opened her eyes while Sonny and Black Jack were gone. Feeling much better for the rest, she got up and put on a pot of coffee. Then she threw on some old,comfortable clothes, grabbed a cup of the fresh brew and headed topside to enjoy the morning sunshine. She saw Sonny and Jack coming back from their stroll, put down her coffee and walked down the dock to meet them. A speedboat was trolling slowly past, but she paid no attention to it. This was a marina – there were always boats about. As she neared Sonny and Jack, the timbre of the boat’s engine changed as the gear slipped into neutral. Jessica’s head turned subconsciously in that direction.

She was startled by what she saw, but not so much that she couldn’t react. There were two men in the boat. One was standing with a rifle pointed their way. Instinctively, she screamed at Sonny to get down and ran at him pushing him to the ground as two rifle shots echoed through the quiet morning air before the engine revved up and boat sped off into the vast expanse of the waterway.

The first bullet hit her in the shoulder spinning her slightly. The second one caught her in the chest, the force of the blast hurling her backwards into the water. Everything happened so fast – she didn’t even realize what was going on until she hit the water. And then suddenly, it was hard to breathe. She tried to move her arms to keep her head above water, but the pain was too intense and, for some reason, she couldn’t find the strength. And then it became impossible to breathe and the terror gave way to the darkness that began to cloud her thoughts.

In a flash, Jack jumped into the water, his natural rescue instincts taking over. The dog grabbed Jessica’s arm gently in his soft mouth, keeping her afloat with her head above the water while steadily pulling her back to the dock. Sonny hopped to his feet and ran over to where the dog was bringing her alongside. The feeling in his chest was unbearable. This couldn’t be happening again. He couldn’t lose another person he loved to a madman’s bullet. Who could have done this? – and why?

Rico had pulled into the parking lot and was just was heading down the wharf to the Vitus II when he heard the shots ring out and saw Jessica flung into the water. He called 911 for a medevac and the police as he raced to the scene. By the time he got there, Jack had swum Jessica back to the dock and Sonny was reaching down to pull her out of the water. When Sonny realized that Rico was there, he jumped into the water and lifted her motionless body up to his partner’s outstretched arms.

Rico gently and carefully laid her down on the dock. Jessica was still breathing, but it was laboured and the foamy blood oozing from the chest wound was a bad sign. It could only mean that at least one of the bullets had penetrated a lung. Rico reached into his memory to recall the first-aid for a sucking chest wound, something every cop had to know but never wanted to have to use. He knew he had to do something fast to help her breathe, but moving her the wrong way could aggravate any other injuries she might have.

“Think Rico! Think fast!” he told himself.

Sonny clambered up onto the dock and over to where Rico was kneeling beside Jessica. Hearing her desperate gasps for air, he reached down to pick her up in his arms.

“Wait Sonny!” called out Rico. He knew he had to take charge – Sonny wasn’t thinking straight right now. “Don’t move her like that man,” he said in a calm but firm voice.

“Rico.” Sonny could feel the panic rising and fought hard to keep it in check. “She can’t breathe. We have to do something.”

Sonny could feel darkness closing in. The whole nightmare that he had pushed far away into the deep recesses of his mind came flooding back – holding Caitlin, rocking her in his arms after Hackman shot her in the back. Other faces flashed through his head like neon lights on the Vegas strip – Evan his partner from years ago, Sam his buddy in Viet Nam. They had all died as he held them in his arms.

“Oh please Jessica, DON’T die on me. I need you!”

And with the pictures came a cacophony of noise filling his mind, one sound leading into another – the crack of the rifle fire echoing out above the roar of applause at Caitlin’s last concert just before she fell into his arms, the throbbing hum of the choppers skimming over the trees in a desperate attempt to rescue what was left of his unit from that jungle hellhole, his voice hopelessly crying out Evan’s name in the night, knowing it was too late to save his friend from the bullet that had his name on it.

And when he thought he could take it no longer he felt, more than heard, a soft, sweet voice above the din, calmly and gently soothing his fears away. “I’m here with you Sonny.” It was Caitlin’s voice. “Listen to Rico Sonny.”

“Oh Caitie. Where are you darlin? Help me.”

“I’m here Sonny. I love you darling, and you know I always will, but I can’t be with you. Jessica is with you now. She loves you – like I do. Don’t be afraid of that love. You need her, Sonny, but right now she needs your help. It’s time to go back, Sonny. You’ve got to listen to Rico.”

He felt the darkness lifting.

“Sonny, stay with me man.” It was Rico. “We have to put her on her side. You remember how?”

“You can remember. I’ll help you Sonny,” Caitlin’s voice coaxed him on.

“Yeah Rico. I’ll hold her steady. You get her ready to turn.” He was gaining control again.

Rico gently moved her left arm, the one on the injured side so it was resting straight above her head. Then he guided their actions as they carefully rolled her body into the standard first-aid position.

“Stay with her Sonny,” Rico dictated. “I gotta get some things.”

Rico left Sonny sitting beside Jessica and ran to the Vitus II to get what was needed. Her breathing was a bit better but not much. Sonny wanted so much just to pick her up and hold her, but he knew he couldn’t. He had no idea how much damage had been done and moving her any more could make things a whole lot worse. He was still scared, but at least he was thinking straight again.

“You’re gonna be okay now Sonny. It’s time for me to go, but remember, I’ll always be here for you when you need me. I love you Sonny Crockett.”

“I love you too darlin’.”

Rico returned in seconds with some blankets, a first aid kit and some plastic wrap. With Sonny holding her body steady, Rico tore open her shirt, placed the plastic over the bullet hole in her chest and taped it down leaving a corner open to act as flap to let air out but none in. Then he pulled some sterile pads out of the first aid kit and applied them to the front and back shoulder wounds where the second bullet went in and out.

Without moving her, Sonny pressed against the bandages to stem the bleeding from the shoulder wounds, his knee applying pressure to the one on her back, his hand to the other one.

“I got it Rico,” he said his voice steady now that he was doing something to help.

Rico gently placed a blanket over Jessica, and laid the other one around Sonny’s shoulders. There was a cool morning breeze off the water and Sonny was soaking wet wet from diving into the water. Rico knew the tension could give way to aftershock now that there was nothing to do but wait, and he could see Sonny’s hands were already shaking.

He sat down beside his friend to wait. This hardly seemed fair he was thinking. Sonny had just been through a horrible ordeal at Fuente’s hands and had fought hard to rebound from it and all the other baggage that had accumulated over the multitude of years he had spent working with scum like him. And he had once before had to suffer through the pain of losing someone he loved to that scum – it just wouldn’t be right if he had to go through that all over again.

Rico could see that his friend was shaken, and knew that similar thoughts must be going through his head. He decided that this was not the time to tell Sonny about Fuente’s plan to get himself off the hook. There would be time for that later when Jessica was taken care of.

He looked to the sky hoping to see or hear something, anything…… Where was that chopper?

“They’ll be here soon Sonny. She’s gonna be okay man,” Rico said trying to ease the fears he knew Sonny was feeling as well as his own. But he really didn’t know whether to believe the words or not. He had seen too many bullet wounds before, and this didn’t look good. Jessica’s pulse was weak and thready, but she was still breathing on her own, even if it was very laboured, and that, at least, was a good sign.

It was only a few minutes more before the medevac helicopter arrived, but it seemed like forever. Rico and Sonny backed away to let the paramedic team do their job. The medics took one look at the situation and knew there was no time to waste. Quickly and efficiently they strapped her onto a backboard to stabilize her limp body, inserted a breathing tube and loaded her onto a stretcher. The bandaging would do for now – Rico’s handiwork had saved them time. As they wheeled the gurney to the helicopter, Sonny and Rico following close behind, one of the medics spoke over a radio to the trauma center. His words were minimal and to the point.

“Two bullet wounds – one an open pneumothorax. Patient is stabilized and intubated. It’s a load and go. We’ll do the rest and update on the way. ETA 10 minutes.”

They were in the helicopter before he finished the call. Throwing off the blanket Rico had placed over him, Sonny climbed in with them. They agreed that it a good idea to have someone she knew accompany them. But even had the paramedics not wanted him along, he would not have left Jessica alone.

As they rode to the hospital, he felt helpless. All he could do was sit and watch the paramedics go about their business, the steady whirring of the rotor blades and roar of the helicopter’s turbine drowning out the sounds of their voices as they talked to each other and the emergency physician at the trauma center. When they arrived at the hospital, the trauma team was waiting to whisk her away. It all seemed so normal, so efficient, so fast – so unreal.

A nurse came over to talk to him and escort him to the trauma unit’s waiting area. On the way she asked him questions about what happened and somehow he answered. The voice was his, but it seemed to come from someone else in another dimension.

She had had a lot of experience in situations like this. Handled correctly, she knew that talking with him would help two people. Any information he could provide about what had happened would help the team treating the patient, and the conversation would keep him distracted. She realized that this man needed attention too – he was on the verge of slipping into shock himself as the adrenaline rush of living through the incident started wearing off and the full reality of the situation set in. The wet clothes only made the situation worse. It wasn’t cold, but she could see that he was shivering.

The route to the emergency trauma center seemed endless, but the nurse’s voice was comforting and reassuring. When they arrived, she left him in the waiting area and disappeared behind a set of swinging doors. His thoughts flashed back to a time long ago – waiting in this same hospital, in this same room, for news about Caitlin. All he could hear in his mind was that awful sound, the sound of the flat-line on the monitor coming from that area when someone had opened those same doors – the sound that had said Caitlin was gone and was never coming back.

The nurse showed up again a short while later. “She’s holding her own,” the woman told him. “The doctors are looking after Jessica, and right now, you need to look after yourself. First thing you need is some dry clothes.” She handed him a set of hospital scrubs. “Here’s something you can put on for now.”

She could see that he was reluctant to leave for even a few moments, so she switched to her best matronly voice. “You don’t want someone having to come out here and look after you too do you? You go ahead and get changed.” Her tone was firm, but gentle, motherly in a way. “I’ll stay here ‘til you get back and then I’ll get you something nice and warm to drink.”

He didn’t want to leave, but he knew she was right.

 


 

As soon as he got the call, Castillo arranged for a squad car to drive him to the marina. Damn! He was thinking on the way. Why couldn’t he have done something to prevent this? Why couldn’t Sonny’s phone have been working? Why didn’t Izzy contact them sooner? Why didn’t he realize right at the start that killing Crockett was Fuente’s only way out? He knew it was no use second guessing things – goodness knows he had given that advice to others too many times to count. But being on the other side of the advice line, he found it hard to keep those thoughts from his head and accept that there really was nothing he could have done.

While he was waiting for Castillo, Rico had picked up some dry clothes for Sonny from the Vitus II and arranged for Will to look after Black Jack for a while. Rico had found Jack lying on the dock beside the Mountain Mist. In all the rush and confusion, the dog who had saved Jessica’s life had been forgotten. When the people took over, he had taken up this station where he could keep an eye on both his mistress and their home. The despondent look in his golden eyes said he knew that something was terribly wrong, and he was determined to wait here until she returned. Will told Rico not to worry – he would keep an eye on the dog.

By the time the lieutenant arrive at the marina, Rico was waiting for him in the parking lot. As Castillo stepped out of the car he was thinking that at least he had one bit of good news he could pass on. He could tell Rico that his son was safe. The New York police had picked him up and were arranging for a safe house where he would be looked after until it was time for him to come to Miami.

They took Marty’s car to the hospital. On the way, Rico filled the lieutenant in on what had happened, and told him that he didn’t get a chance to tell Sonny about Fuente. Caught in horrendous mid-morning traffic, made worse by construction tying up the roadways, the ride seemed endless. Even with the help of the portable, flashing emergency lights on the dash, it took quite a while to get there. By the time they arrived, Jessica had already been rushed into surgery, and Gina and Trudy were sitting in the operating room waiting area with Sonny.

Marty, inconspicuously and expertly surveyed the situation before entering the waiting room. It wasn’t a very large room, and was entered through a wide doorway from the hallway that led to the elevators and stairway to the main part of the hospital. On the other side of the room was the doorway into the operating theaters. He knew that area was connected to other parts of the hospital allowing for speedy and unobtrusive access to any services that might be needed. Gina and Trudy were sitting and talking quietly to one another on the far side of the room. Sonny was sitting by himself a short distance away.

Castillo did a quick assessment and figured that Crockett would be safe from Fuente’s hit men here, what with Rico, Gina, Trudy and himself present. But he called in for some uniformed officers just in case to keep watch at the waiting room entrance and the other exits from the operating area.

Rico went over and sat beside Crockett, avoiding looking past his partner’s eyes into his soul. He didn’t want to see the pain he knew was there. Sonny was sitting quietly in the hospital greens, staring blankly into space. His face was ashen and emotionless, hiding the turmoil that lay beneath the surface. Rico placed his hand on Sonny’s arm in support.

“We got here as fast as we could, man. I brought you some dry clothes, ” he said handing them over to his friend. “Thought you might need them.”

Sonny took the bag. “Yeah, thanks Rico. I guess these ones aren’t quite my style,” he said, trying to find something to smile about and take his mind off the waiting if only for a few minutes.

Despite the artificial smile, Rico knew he was hurting inside. He sighed a deep breath before asking how Jessica was doing.

Sonny turned his head away and said nothing at first. Rico had seen this before in his friend – Sonny didn’t talk much when he was really upset. After a few minutes, he turned around. “I dunno Rico.” He set his elbow on the arm of the chair and rested his head on his hand. “They took her to the operating room a while ago. We’re just waiting.” And then he took the clothes and went to get changed.

When he got back, Marty came over and laid his hand on Sonny’s shoulder to let him know he was there for him. The lieutenant had debated with himself whether to tell Sonny now about Fuente’s plan or wait until they knew more about what was happening with Jessica. Sonny was pretty shaken up already, and Castillo was concerned about how Crockett would take it when he found out that he was the intended target. He had an idea that the news wouldn’t be easy for Sonny to hear, but at some point he’d have to know. Castillo knew what he himself would want – he would want to know everything up front.

“Sonny,” Castillo started softly, after seating himself in the chair beside Crockett, “Izzy came by this morning.” Sonny turned his head to hear what Marty had to say. In a steady quiet voice, the lieutenant told him about the contract Fuente had taken out on him and Ricardo.

Sonny’s disbelief quickly turned to anger. He stared icily into Marty’s eyes, hoping he was wrong, but knowing he wasn’t. “Are you trying to tell me that those bullets were meant for me?”

He sounded surprised but he wasn’t really. Marty had only confirmed what he had thought all along. After all, who could have wanted to kill Jessica. The only real surprise was who the ordered the hit. Sonny stood up, crossed the room and pounded his fist into the wall before storming off down the hallway. Rico followed him out of the building, Castillo, Gina and Trudy close behind. He found his friend outside leaning against the wall of the hospital.

“Why Rico? Why do I have to hurt everyone who gets close to me?.” Sonny closed his eyes and breathed deeply trying to regain his composure. “I told you Rico, we should never have gotten involved again. I knew something bad would happen.”

“It’s not your fault Sonny. You couldn’t have done anything about it.

Sonny tried to work it out in his head. Maybe Rico and everyone else thought it wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t see it that way. It was never supposed to be his fault – but things always seemed to happen to the people he loved. Caroline and Billy were nearly killed when Calderone’s hit man came after him. Caitlin was killed by the man he had been fooled into saving from a well-deserved execution. And now Jessica was fighting for her life because Fuente wanted him dead. He may not have pulled the trigger, but none of them would have been targets if he hadn’t been around. “Who’s fault is it then Rico? Tell me,” he demanded.

“No one’s Sonny. It’s just the way it is.” Sonny knew in his head that Rico was right, but it didn’t make it any easier to live with. Rico put his arm around his friend’s shoulder and they walked inside together.

The time seemed to drag on endlessly. It seemed like ages before the doctor returned, but when he finally did, the news was good. Jessica had come through the operation and was in recovery. They had removed the bullet that had lodged in her lung and patched up the wounds, but the internal damage would take time to heal. As always with these types of injuries, there was a risk of infection, but that was being treated aggressively with antibiotics. As soon as they were sure that she was recovered well enough from the operation, they would be moving her to the intensive care unit.

Her condition was still considered critical and she wasn’t completely out of the woods yet, but things had gone extremely well and the doctor was cautiously optimistic that she would recover fully. All things considered, he figured she had been pretty lucky. And it certainly had helped that Sonny and Rico had done the right things before the paramedics arrived on the scene.

A sense of release filled the room.

“Can I see her” Crockett asked, the relief in his voice clearly evident.

“After we move her to the ICU.” the doctor agreed. He even thought it might be a good idea. Many times patients were very much aware of a person’s presence even when they were in deep sleep, and having someone there they cared for often helped speed the recovery process.

“Why don’t you check back in a couple of hours. But I want you to be aware that it won’t be a pleasant sight,” he continued. “Seeing someone in ICU after what she’s been through can be pretty intimidating when you’re not used to it.”

Maybe so, thought Crockett, but it wouldn’t be nearly so intimidating as seeing her dead.

Castillo didn’t think this was such a bad idea either. It would give him time to contact the FBI and DEA and set up a safe house for Crockett until the trial was over. Chances are that no one would try anything here in the hospital, but he would leave two uniforms here for safe measure and would come back himself to pick Sonny up later.

Gina told Sonny she would drop by the marina and pick up Jack. Her kids would love having him around for a few days. And she would also take the Street Car out tonight. She knew it would make Jess feel better when she woke up if she knew someone was manning it tonight.

Rico decided to stay with his partner for a while. Mainly he wanted to be there for his friend in case Sonny needed someone to talk to. But he also wanted be there in case one of Fuente’s henchmen decided to take another crack at him.

“Say Crockett, how about we get a bite to eat, man. It’s no use hanging around here, and I’m starved. We can check back later.”

“You don’t need to stay Rico,” Sonny offered. “Castillo left his babysitters here.”

“Yeah, I do, man. I can’t do anything about lookin’ after Ricardo in New York. I might go crazy thinking about it if I don’t keep myself busy. Besides, you’d do the same for me.”

Yeah he would, thought Sonny. Being there for you when you need them – that’s what friends were for. He put his arm on Rico’s shoulder and they headed off together to the cafeteria, the uniforms following close behind.

It was much later that evening when Marty returned to the hospital. Rico was sitting with the two police officers keeping watch outside the entrance to the intensive care unit where they could keep watch on anyone entering the unit. Castillo nodded to Rico and the two of them went inside.

The surgical ICU was intimidating. The nursing station contained a mass of monitors, a set for each of the patients on the unit, and faced a row of individual glass-fronted rooms. In front of each window was a computer station with a desk and chair where medical staff could observe and report on the patient within. The monitors cast a ghostly glow, made all the more eerie by their deafening silence. The charge nurse looked up as Castillo and Tubbs approached the station. They showed her their badges and asked for Jessica’s room.

The room was even more intimidating. Numbers and patterns displayed on a set of monitors that were hung on the back wall so they could be viewed by an observer outside the glass window. The lighting was dim and the sounds hushed – the quiet hiss of the ventilator, the steady, muted beeps of the monitors. Jessica was hooked to a mass of tubes and IV lines. They had both been in ICU before and knew what they all were for – a ventilator to help with breathing, a nasal gastric tube to drain fluids from the stomach and air from the gut, a chest tube to drain blood and fluids from the thorax and help re-inflate the damaged lung, IV lines to deliver therapeutic fluids, blood and antibiotics, a catheter to drain urine. The last time they had gone through this together was when Sonny had been shot in the chest by Angel Montepena. It had been uncomfortable then and it wasn’t any more comfortable this time.

Sonny had fallen asleep in a chair beside Jessica’s bed. In the comfort of the dimmed lights and with the muted, steady sounds of the equipment and monitors playing an eerie lullaby, his body had finally given in to the exhaustion brought on the previous night’s revelations and the days events. The book he had been reading lay open on his lap. He had found it in the hospital’s library, a modern classic and one of Jessica’s favourites, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. He remembered reading it himself a long time ago and could imagine why she liked it so much. It seemed appropriate to read it here. Jessica, he figured, was like a mockingbird, doing no harm to anyone, just filling the world with the beauty of her song. Like Atticus in the book said – it was wrong to kill a mockingbird.

Castillo gently woke Sonny from his sleep, and together he and Rico convinced him it was time to leave. Jess was in good hands and sleeping peacefully. There was nothing more to do at the hospital tonight, and being there, Crockett was out in the open and a visible target.

Castillo drove Crockett and Tubbs to the safe house – a penthouse apartment in South Beach, accessible only by a private elevator and a 20-story set of stairs, both of which were monitored by closed circuit TV. An assassin would have a hard time getting to Crockett unnoticed. But just to be sure, Rico stayed in the apartment with Sonny that night. And Castillo wasn’t taking any chances either. There was an officer stationed outside the door, two more plain-clothes detectives in the lobby and topping it all off, an FBI surveillance unit across the street. Brett McClary, the FBI agent in charge of the case, wasn’t about to let anything happen to his star witness before the trial began.

 


 

Both Sonny and Rico slept fitfully that night, each with his own worries. The overnight thunderstorm had only made it harder to sleep and the rain was still coming down, driven by a blustery wind. All in all, it was a dreary morning as they sat chatting over a cup of coffee, trying to figure out some way to beat Fuente at his game. Unless they did, Crockett would have to stay under wraps until after the trial and there would be no way they could set up a meet with Sanchez.

They were still discussing plans when Castillo showed up with Phil Costas and Brett McClary. The look on all their faces was somber.

“What’s up?” asked Crockett, wondering what Costas and McClary were doing here.

Costas got right to the point. “Fuente is dead,” he said in an even tone, the expression on his face not flickering.

Sonny and Rico were stupefied. “What?” they both asked in unison.

“They found him dead in his cell this morning, about an hour ago,” responded McClary. “We don’t know how yet. We’ll know more later, but as far as we’re concerned, the Fuente case is closed.”

“It’s over Crockett,” added Costas. “Fuente’s candle has gone out. No Fuente – no investigation – no trial. We’ve released the story, so any wannabe hit man knows it’s not worth his while taking you out. You’re free to go,” he continued.

The enormity of what McClary and Costas had just said floored Crockett. That was it? It was over – just like that? He looked over at Costas and found himself asking the next question without thinking. “But what about Sanchez?”

“Sanchez is not your problem, Crockett,” said Costas. “Our deal was for Fuente. With him out of the picture, it’s game over. So, when you get yourself together, come down to the office and we’ll settle up.”

Before he left, he added one last item. “And don’t forget to bring the car back. My tail is sunk if I don’t get it back to property. See ya later, Sonny.”

“Yeah, see ya later, Phil,” said Crockett absentmindedly, still trying to recover from the sudden change in events. It was hard to believe. It was all over, just like that?

McClary and Costas shook Castillo’s hand and left. Castillo closed the door behind them and walked over to the dining area, poured himself a coffee and sat down with Sonny and Rico. Gripping the cup with both hands, he looked straight ahead and passed on another piece of news that he knew would rock Sonny even further, something he hadn’t wanted to the feds to hear.

“I don’t think the hit was on you yesterday Crockett. I think they may have been after Jessica . Someone tried to kill her last night after we left the hospital.”