Matters of the Heart: Book 1, Chapter 8

Part I, Chapter 8: Heartfelt Decisions
by Elizabeth Johnston

“She’s okay,” Marty added right away, knowing that would be Crockett’s first question.

“What the hell are you saying Marty?” Crockett couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “Who would want to kill Jessica? Why? What happened?”

Castillo explained that Gina stopped by the hospital to check on Jess after she dropped the Street Car off. When Gina went into the room, she saw a man injecting something into the IV line. He was obviously surprised by her presence. Castillo guessed the man wasn’t expecting anyone show up at 4 in the morning. The intruder dropped the syringe, pushed Gina down and took off running. Gina called for help and ran out the door after him, but he had too much of a head start and she wanted to get back to the unit to make sure Jessica was okay. By the time she got back a medical team was there and everything back under control.

“She’s fine now Sonny, but I won’t lie to you. It was close.” He took a drink of the coffee, and then continued. “The syringe was filled with morphine. If Gina hadn’t shown up when she did, it would have been all over before anyone knew what had happened.”

“But how did the bastard get in? Didn’t anyone stop him.” Sonny was having a hard time believing this could really happen.

“It was the scheduled housekeeping time for the unit, and he was dressed like cleaning staff .” Marty looked down at his fingers fidgeting with the handle of the cup. “They found the regular janitor in the basement with his neck broken.”

Castillo got up and went to the counter to get himself another cup of coffee. “It was well-planned, Sonny – professional. Whoever did this knew the timetable and exactly what to do. He would have had enough time to get out of there before anyone would have noticed if Gina hadn’t shown up when she did.”

Sonny grabbed his jacket and called out in an irate voice as he headed to the door. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me right away Marty? I’m going there now.”

“No!” Castillo’s voice did not have to loud to be forceful. Crockett turned around, a questioning look on his face, demanding to know why not.

“I want you stay away from the hospital Crockett. Driscoll and Cortillas are stationed outside Jess’s room. She’s safe for now.” Castillo continued to talk over Crockett’s protestations. “We don’t know what this is about yet Sonny, but I have a feeling it could have something to do with Sanchez. Until we know more, I don’t want you anywhere near Jessica or the hospital.”

Rico had been standing by the counter taking everything in and trying to put two and two together. “Wasn’t it Jessica who told us that Esteban was Sanchez?” Rico’s words captured Sonny’s and Marty’s attention.

“This guy is playing the part of a wealthy businessman who gives big bucks to the Colombian government’s anti-drug campaign. It wouldn’t look too good if she could finger him for a big-time drug dealer and it came out that his anti-drug money was coming from cocaine. How’d Jessica know he’s a drug dealer anyway?”

“It’s worse than that Rico,” Sonny told them. He came back into the kitchen, threw down his jacket, grabbed another cup of coffee, sat down and briefed them on what Jessica had told him on the Mountain Mist after the reception.

“You may have something there Rico,” Sonny surmised at the end. “If she recognized him, then it’s a pretty good bet he recognized her too, and he sure won’t want her telling anyone about it. He knows if the cops find out about his little sideline, it would put a mega-crimp on his chances of setting up shop here.”

Castillo continued the speculation. He guessed that the Colombian government might be willing to overlook Esteban’s involvement with the drug trade so long as he continued to donate big sums into its coffers. After all the drug war was more to please the U.S. so the government could continue to get financial assistance from its big brother to the north. But he doubted that they knew that Esteban was really Julio Sanchez, and had been, or maybe still was, a guerilla leader. That was a different story. He figured that the Colombians might not be so forgiving on that score.

“If it was Sanchez’s men who went after Jessica at the marina yesterday and at the hospital this morning,” reasoned Rico, “ then he must think that she hasn’t told anyone about him yet.”

Sonny looked in Castillo’s direction. “Marty, he’s gonna keep trying ‘til he gets her.” There was worry in his voice and a look of fear in his eyes.

“Or until he thinks he has,” Rico added. “If Sanchez thinks she’s no longer a threat, then maybe he’ll call off his goons.”

Castillo and Crockett knew where he was going. Sonny didn’t like it, but it seemed to be the best way to keep Jess safe right now. Faking fatality wasn’t a new idea to Crockett and Tubbs. They had used a similar ploy once before when a hit man was after Sonny. It had worked that time, and there was no reason to suspect that it wouldn’t work this time with tight planning and security, and keeping the truth on a need to know basis only.

Castillo sat down at the table again. Working together, they came up with a simple scheme. Executing it would be the easy part – it was maintaining the secrecy that would be difficult. As soon as she could be moved, Castillo would arrange to have Jessica transported to another hospital and admitted under an alias. At the same time, he would issue a press release stating that an innocent bystander who had been shot accidentally in what was assumed to be a crime-related hit at the Dade Marina had died without regaining consciousness.

“I want Sanchez, Marty.” Sonny stated in no uncertain terms.

“It’s too late Crockett,” said Castillo sitting back in his chair. “You’re off the case. You heard Costas.”

Rico knew Sonny well enough to know that his old partner was not about to accept that statement at face value and he fully expected a rebuttal. He decided the best thing for him to do was to stay out of this debate and let the other two have at it. One was as stubborn as the other – it was anyone’s guess who would win out. But whatever way it ended, he knew one thing for sure – Sonny would not give up on going after Sanchez, whether he went after him officially or unofficially. And he reckoned that Marty knew it too.

He was right about the rebuttal.

“Like hell I am! There’s no way I’ll sit on the beach for this one. I’m a licensed investigator in the State of Florida and I’m gonna investigate. You can’t stop me.” Sonny was determined.

“I can when it’s an open case,” Marty came back. “You’re too close to this Crockett. Stay out of it.”

Crockett was not about to give up. “You can’t do this Marty. Sanchez won’t make the deal without me.”

“Tubbs can take the lead and I can get someone else to do the transportation.”

“Come off it Marty.” Crockett was still determined and the look on his face clearly showed it. “Sanchez agreed to make the deal with Burnett. If I’m not there, you know as well as I do that he’ll smell something and back out. You know it won’t work without Burnett.”

Marty knew that he was right, but he didn’t want to commit to anything, not just yet at least. “I don’t have a choice Sonny. You’re a civilian – my hands are tied.”

“Hell Marty. You’ve used civilians before, and I’m not exactly fresh out of high school.” He was pleading now. “I can do this. I have to do it. You know as well as I do that it won’t work with anyone else.”

He stood up and walked around to where the lieutenant was sitting and looked him in the eyes.

“I’ll untie your hands for you it that’s what you want. Give me my badge back.”

It was a tempting offer, but one that Martin couldn’t accept under these circumstances. “You know I want you back Sonny, but not for the wrong reasons. I don’t run a vigilante group. You can have your badge back, but only if there’s a longer commitment to go along with it.”

Crockett respected Castillo too much to make a promise that he didn’t know he could keep. “I won’t lie to you Marty. I can’t give you that promise – not now anyway.”

The room went silent as they looked at each other, each respecting the other, knowing they were at an impasse, but knowing at the same time that it was all part of the deep regard they held for each other.

Castillo finally broke the silence. “There is another option to take Sanchez out of commission,” Castillo offered, but the tone of his voice implied it might not be his option of choice. “We could tell the Colombians about Esteban and let them take care of it.”

Sonny didn’t like the sounds of this and either did Rico. It would be far too risky for Jessica. Esteban obviously had friends in the government, and there was no guarantee they would believe the accusation or do anything about it. Even if they did, there was no way to be sure he wouldn’t get away. It would be easy for him to figure out that the information had to have come from her, and there was no telling what he might do.

No, the only way to be sure that Sanchez could be taken out of circulation was to catch him red-handed dealing drugs in the U.S., and then even his friends in the Colombian government wouldn’t be able to protect him.

Sonny stared pleadingly into Castillo’s dark brown eyes. “You’ve got to let me in on this Marty. There’s gotta be a way. If you don’t find it, then I’ll take him down myself. I promise you, Sanchez is not gonna come out smelling sweet, even if I have to dump the garbage on him myself.”

Marty took his cup to the sink, rinsed it and started towards the door. Before he got there, he turned around to face Crockett. “I’ll see what I can do Sonny. Give me a few hours.” Then he continued to the door and opened it. He turned around once again, and just before leaving he said in a more encouraging tone. “Come and see me after you’re done with Costas and we’ll talk about it.”

The rain and wind had stopped by now, and the clouds had left a blue sky behind. With the sunshine came heat and humidity. It would be a muggy day when the still air absorbed the moisture left over from the late summer storm. Sonny and Rico went out onto the rooftop deck. Crockett ambled over to the edge, and resting his arms on the top of the railing, he stared out at the magnificent ocean view.

“I’m scared Rico. I’m scared of Burnett. I want Sanchez just like I wanted Hackman. I’m scared that Burnett could take over again. Maybe I should step away from this like Marty said.”

Rico could only imagine what was going through Sonny’s mind. His words brought back those terrible few months when his friend and partner had become his alter-ego, Burnett. It was not too long after Caitie had died, his first time playing the part of Burnett after returning to work. In his undercover role, Sonny had set two drug lords at each other, both of them vying to take over the Florida market. But the plan had worked too well and too fast, and he ended up being trapped in an explosion aimed at blowing up Manolo, one of the players, and the leading members of his entourage. The bomb had been set by his rival, Guitierez, aboard his boat, where Sonny had arranged a meet between the two leaders. But Manolo had been wary and skipped the meeting. And Guitierez had made his escape just before the bomb went off.

It had been a difficult time for everyone. As far as Rico and his OCB colleagues knew at the time, Crockett had been killed in the blast. He remembered packing up Sonny’s recent cases for Homicide to use in their investigation, and Gina plaintively calling his name as he walked out of the unit, unable to bear the thought that Sonny was gone. But they were all wrong.

Rico had insisted on finding out what happened to his friend – no trace of him or his body had been found after the boat had been blown up. He kept digging until he discovered that Sonny had survived the explosion, pulled out of the water by Guitierez who wanted Sonny to work for him against Manolo. But Sonny had suffered a serious brain trauma in the explosion that caused him to lose all memory of who and what he was. And when the doctor at the private clinic where Guitierez had taken him told him he was Sonny Burnett, a drug dealer, he believed it. Burnett, freed from Crockett’s control, took over and played the role perfectly.

For a few months, Sonny had become Burnett, first a ruthless assassin in the Manolo organization who killed in cold blood, even trying to kill him, Rico, his best friend and partner. One of Burnett’s first hits had been Guitierez himself. After his relationship with Manolo fell apart, he joined the rival Carrera family, starting out as the head of security, and then slyly scheming his way up through the organization to become the shrewd, predatory leader of the biggest illegal drug empire in southern Florida.

Before Sonny had taken over the organization, Rico had gone in undercover as Cooper to make a buy from the Carreras. God! He could still see in his mind that cold, smug glare in Sonny’s eyes that showed no sign of recognition the first time he saw him – Sonny, standing rigid in that perfectly tailored, three-piece, silk business suit over a starched, sparkling white dress shirt, his long blonde hair tied back into a tight pony tail. He was so unlike the Sonny he knew that he had a hard time believing it was really the man he had partnered with for four years. But at least he had confirmed that there was something wrong with Sonny – that Crockett hadn’t just gone over to the other side.

In their few meets, Rico had fed him some hints about his real life and was sure he saw some faint recollection starting to coming back. He realized later that there must have been. Otherwise Sonny would have killed him the second time he took a shot at him. At the time, Rico thought he had been lucky to escape, but he realized afterwards that Crockett must have surfaced just long enough to force Burnett to miss. It had to be something like that – there was no way Sonny would have missed him otherwise – he was too good a shot.

Eventually Sonny’s memory started to return, and a near miss in a second explosion arranged by a ruthless, underhanded rival named Cliff King, sped the process of returning his mind to Crockett’s control. As Crockett again, he returned to the OCB offices, but was left at first with no memories of what had gone on while he was Burnett. When he was told about the things he had done, it had torn him apart.

Even after he got himself back together, the incident had left him unsure of himself. It didn’t matter that the doctors had said the brain trauma he had suffered in the boat explosion had caused the amnesia and personality change – Sonny doubted himself, and for a while, so did his friends, even Rico. But it didn’t take long for Rico to get over his uncertainties and regain full confidence in his partner, and he didn’t doubt him now. He only wished he had never doubted him back them.

Rico was staring out at the view himself, standing beside this man whom he was closer to than any one else before or since, save perhaps for his brother Raphael.

“We all have our Burnetts Sonny. As long as you’re scared, it’s not a problem. It’s when you’re not scared anymore that it’s time to worry.” And then he followed up with something that stunned his partner. “But sometimes I think that there’re times when maybe the Burnett inside of us should take over.”

Sonny looked at his friend, conviction in his eyes and his words. “Not for me Rico – never again. I can’t let that ever happen again.”

“Don’t worry partner. It won’t. I know it won’t.”

Sonny was struck by Rico’s confidence in him. He stood there for a while longer looking out into the distance, wondering how Rico could be so sure, when he himself wasn’t.

“Come on Rico,” he said turning around. “Let’s blow this pop stand.”

He offered to drop Rico at the OCB on his way to settle up with Costas and the DEA. After that he would head over to the OCB himself and finish convincing Marty to let him in on the Sanchez operation. But before he left, he called the hospital, just to be sure that Jessica was doing okay – she was still in ICU and her condition still critical but improving. He was aching to see her, but he knew Marty was right about staying away for now.

 


 

After he left the apartment safe house, Lieutenant Castillo decided to drive to the hospital to see Jessica and set their plan for protecting her into motion. On the way there he was thinking about what Crockett had said. He knew that Sonny was right – Burnett was the key to Sanchez. And he knew it would be hardly more than a rubber stamp to get the go-ahead to bring him on board. But there were some things he needed to settle in his own mind before he went to the commissioner to get the necessary paperwork signed.

Castillo was thinking about the same thing Sonny and Rico had been – those terrible few months following Caitlin’s murder when Crockett had become Burnett. There had a been a lot of self-blame that went around at the time, not the least of it Marty’s. He blamed himself for letting Sonny go back undercover so soon even though he suspected that he had not fully recovered from the grief of his wife’s murder. He had felt at the time that the grief had gone deeper than Crockett let on. But dammit! Sonny never wanted anyone to see him vulnerable and he had kept it well-hidden, and so Castillo had let it ride, thinking that maybe work would help take his mind off his sorrow. It was only later that he realized he had probably made the wrong decision – that he should have made Sonny clear his head before letting him go undercover again.

All through his career with vice Crockett had faced one disappointment after another, innocents destroyed, criminals beating the system and friends killed. Marty could see that the frustrations and disappointments were taking its toll Crockett by that time, turning him into a cynical, disillusioned shadow of himself. When Caitlin came into his life, the happiness he found with her seemed to pull him out of the doldrums and regenerate his spirit.

It was only a short few months afterwards that this woman, whom he loved so deeply, was killed by a devil Crockett himself had set free …. Hackman. And to make it even more tragic, the autopsy after her death had revealed that she had been seven weeks pregnant at the time. Sonny had lost both his wife and unborn child to the bullet fired from that madman’s rifle. He was distraught after Caitlin’s death and rejected everyone’s, even Rico’s, attempts to reach out to him in his sorrow.

For the three weeks Sonny was on bereavement leave, the unit had tracked Hackman, but they always seemed to be one step behind him. He even taunted them, using Crockett’s name to register on a cruise ship after he made good his escape from Miami. Hackman was the devil incarnate as far as Marty, or for that matter, everyone in the unit was concerned. After Sonny came back to work, they finally tracked him to Caicos Island. It was a great place for a villain to retire with his stolen money – no extradition treaty with the U.S. and a judicial system ready and willing to do be bought.

A short while after that, Hackman turned up dead in the garden of his villa on the island – one shot straight into the heart at close range. The authorities already had their payoffs and didn’t want any complications, so no one bothered to investigate. It was only later, after Crockett had become Burnett, that Castillo began to suspect that it may have been Sonny who had squeezed that trigger. He knew in his heart that Crockett could never kill an unarmed person in cold blood like that, even one as evil as Hackman, but Burnett could. And thinking about it afterwards, he wasn’t all that certain that he wouldn’t have done the same thing himself if it had been him who had lived through what Hackman had done. Sometimes he wished he had been the one to take Hackman out and saved Sonny the anguish he had to deal with later.

He didn’t want anything like that to happen to his friend again.

This time the devil came in the shape of Julio Sanchez, a.k.a. Jorge Esteban. It was one thing when they thought of Sanchez as a Colombian drug lord trying to break into the Miami market. But it had gone beyond that. Sanchez had horribly abused the woman Sonny loved, and now he was trying to kill her. Marty had seen and felt the determination in Crockett’s eyes when he declared his intention to get Sanchez. Would the hate bring Burnett to the surface again? And even if it didn’t, was Crockett was too personally involved to include him in the play to take Sanchez down?

Marty wanted him on the case – Sonny was a good friend and probably the most dedicated cop he had ever worked with. But dare he put him into the danger zone again? The last thing he wanted to do was to put him into a situation where he could go over the edge. He didn’t think it would – Sonny had really pulled his life back together in the past while, but just to be sure, he wanted to talk it over with Rico first. His ex-partner probably knew Sonny better than anyone. Maybe he could provide the assurance he needed.

As he kept driving to the hospital, Lieutenant Castillo didn’t want to think about how tired he was. He had been up since Gina had called early that morning. He had already put in a full week at work and had been looking forward to taking Saturday off. But he had learned a long time ago on this job that weekends were a rare luxury. Time off came when the action took a break, not when the calendar dictated it.

When he arrived, he headed straight to see the Chief of the Emergency Room. Dr. Jeff Michaels was an old friend. Marty preferred to meet with him under happier circumstance and often did, but too many times it was in situations like this.

Michaels kept a close watch on what happened in his department. As Chief of ER, weekends off were a rare thing for him as well. When he was informed about what had happened overnight, he came in early on his day off to find out first-hand what had transpired. From the story he was told, he fully expected a visit from his old friend Lieutenant Castillo, and he was not disappointed. He had already gone over the woman’s charts himself, and knew her condition, but he was anxious to find out from the police what exactly this was all about. And he was expecting an angry call from the Director any time now, Saturday or not – murders and attempted murders did nothing good for the hospital’s public relations.

Michaels’ assistant led Castillo straight into the ER Chief’s office. They nodded hello to each other, exchanged greetings and got right to the point. Neither of them was a man who wasted words. Castillo told him only as much as he figured he needed to know about the situation to get his support for the plan they had hatched.

Micahels wasn’t too thrilled at having police officers stationed inside his ICU, and was even less pleased that a patient had nearly been killed in his unit and a staff member had been murdered in the attempt. And he was concerned that the threat of further violence and disruption was a very real possibility. But he was more concerned for the health and well-being of the patients under his care, and he wouldn’t approve any course of action, no matter how good it might be for the hospital’s reputation, that would put a patient’s life at risk.

“I can’t allow it Marty. I’ve checked out her situation. She’s still critical, and if we try to move her now, you probably won’t have to worry about this Sanchez fellow getting to her. A move at this time would take care of Sanchez’ worries just fine all on it’s own. And besides, I don’t think you’d find an ambulance service that would touch this with a ten-foot pole.”

Castillo was a pragmatic man, but he was disappointed in the response. He wanted to argue with Michaels but decided there was no point to it. He knew the man well enough to know that he wouldn’t change his mind.

“When can we move her then?” he asked.

“When she’s off the respirator and we’re sure there is no risk of infection or other complications,” he replied. I’ve got a good friend at Carson Memorial Hospital whom I can contact. It’s a private hospital and one of the best, but they don’t have the facilities to deal with her condition as it is. It might mean waiting a day or two longer, but it would mean dealing with someone I know and would trust implicitly with a situation like this.”

Marty reluctantly agreed to wait, but asked for some concessions. He wanted to keep two officers inside the ICU and another one undercover in the unit at all times. He wanted them to be informed of any staff changes or strangers in the area, and he wanted no one who wasn’t critical to the plan to know the real story. Secrecy was the key to making this work. He had no idea how big Sanchez’ operation was and who was working for him. It was crucial for everyone to think that she did not regain consciousness, and when the time came to secrete her away, to think that she had died and was no longer a threat to Sanchez.

Michaels agreed to Marty’s requests and promised to clear things with the hospital’s Director, telling the man as little of the plan as he could get away with. He would work something out and keep the lieutenant informed, but he wanted some concessions himself. The undercover cops had to work the same shifts as his people, know hospital procedure and be believable, and the other two officers had to stay outside the unit unless needed inside and were not to disrupt routine in any way. There were other patients with family and friends here too, everyone of them requiring care and compassion themselves. He didn’t want any of them to be upset or disturbed in any way. And there was one other thing he wanted, as Chief of the ER, he insisted that proper legal documents be in place in order to protect himself and the hospital from lawsuits.

It was less than Castillo was hoping for, but more than he expected. He wished they could make things happen sooner, but he was satisfied with the arrangements. They shook hands on the deal before Marty went to visit Jessica and check in with Driscoll and Cortillas. Then he headed back to the office. He wanted to talk with Rico first before making the decision on what to do about Crockett.

Rico was going over the Fuente and Sanchez files when the lieutenant arrived. It being a weekend, the unit was working with skeleton staff, and the room had an eerie empty feeling. When he saw Castillo, he put down the files and followed the lieutenant into his office. He closed the door and spoke his mind, not even waiting for Marty to sit down. “You know this won’t work without Crockett.”

“I know Tubbs. What I’m worried about is whether he can handle it. I made a mistake letting him work so soon after Caitlin died. I guess I just need to be sure he’ll be okay this time.”

Rico was caught off-guard by Castillo’s response – this wasn’t the reply he was expecting from his former boss. Marty had never expressed any doubts about decisions he had made before. He always appeared to be cold as steel, and those few words revealed a depth of feeling that Rico had never been privy to before.

“He’s solid Marty. More solid than he ever was before, because this time he knows the dangers.”

“How sure are you?”

“My heart tells me he is, and I’m the one betting my life on it.”

That was all Marty needed to know. Rico confirmed what he felt in his heart himself, but he just wanted some extra assurance. “Okay. I’ll set things up and after Crockett gets here we can talk about where we go from here.”

He was right about bringing Crockett on board – it didn’t take much to get the go ahead. It was not a topic he hadn’t discussed with Commissioner Tyler before. The man was very familiar with Crockett’s career, and as far as he was concerned, Crockett could have his badge back for as long as he wanted it, but did say he would prefer if it was longer rather than shorter.

It wasn’t long after that before Crockett walked through the glass doors of the unit. His stop at the DEA had been as brief as he could make it. He had stayed only long enough to sign all the papers he had to and hand the keys to the Ferrari back to Phil Costas.

“Good luck Sonny,” Phil said offering his hand. “Maybe we can do some business again sometime.” Sonny didn’t know if he really wanted to or not, but he wasn’t about to tell Costas that.

In fact, Crockett didn’t really know how he felt or what he wanted to say. Phil had proved his friendship, but made it clear that his job came first. Their relationship would never be really close, but at least he felt it was more truthful and that was better than it had been before.

“Bye Phil,” he said, taking the man’s hand. “See ya ‘round,” he continued and then headed towards the office door. But before he left, he felt he owed Phil a few more words. “Thanks for the honesty, Phil.”

He went down the elevators and out the revolving doors of the federal building, feeling empty in a way, but not knowing exactly why. Maybe, he thought, it was because he really didn’t think he’d be doing any more work for the DEA.

He hailed a cab to take him to the Gold Coast Building where the OCB was located. As he neared the building, he felt the heaviness in his heart lifting. Whatever way it worked out with Marty, he knew that the decision would be made for the right reasons and not for politics, and it would take into consideration the years of friendship and loyalty they had shared together.

Marty waved him into his office when he arrived, and offered him the chair opposite his desk. For the second time since Sonny had returned to Miami, Castillo opened the drawer of his desk and pulled out the leather ID wallet. This time he handed them to Crockett.

“For however long you want it for Sonny,” was all he said.

Sonny took the wallet, opened it and stared at the shiny gold-coloured shield. He found himself fighting hard to hold back the tears that were building in the corners of his eyes. Was he really ready for this, he found himself thinking. Yes, he was. His heart told him it was the right thing to do.

“Thanks Marty, I wont’ let you down. That’s a promise.”

End – Part 1