Authors: Leonard B Scott
Leonard B. Scott
Not a breath of wind gave respite to the blistering heat. In the weeds alongside the dry, dusty peanut field, grasshoppers buzzed, disturbed by the grunts of a man bending over a dead monster. Sweat trickled down Virgil Washington's ebony face, and his arm and neck muscles bulged and veins stood out like blue cords as he strained to loosen the old tractor's rusted lug nut; the nut wouldn't budge. Virgil kicked the tractor's flat tire and threw down his wrench.
Backing up from the forty-year-old John Deere relic, he glanced at the scorching midday sun. You ain't beat me yet, ya bastard, he said to himself. Taking in several deep breaths for strength, he was about to pick up the wrench and try again when footsteps sounded on the hard-packed clay road behind him. He turned. A big-muscled white guy was walking toward him, wearing tan shorts and a tight, dark blue T-shirt. Now what we got here? Virgil wondered as he faced the stranger he judged to be in his forties, a little over six feet, and probably at least 210. By the bulging muscles, crew cut, square face, and don't give me no shit look, the dude could have been one of those new breed of cops who pumped weights and ate bran flakes, but the faded khaki shorts and big diver's watch told Virgil something else. He had seen shorts like those before, when he'd conducted joint training in Panama with the Navy SEALs. You couldn't buy those kind of shorts at Wal-Mart or Sears; they were issued by Uncle Sam to a select few. The man was in the machine, or had been.
Ted Faircloud halted a few feet from the stocky black man. Yeah, I like him already, Ted thought. Losers couldn't keep eye contact. The candidate hadn't even blinked; his gaze was steady, measuring him. He had the look. He hadn't allowed himself to be broken. Yeah, Virgil Washington still had his pride. "Hiya," Ted said, raising his hand.
"Ya lost?" Virgil spoke evenly.
Ted Faircloud kept his eyes on the prospect. "No, Sergeant Washington, I've been looking for you. I guess your time in the pen didn't hurt ya."
"It hurt me aw'right," Virgil said, thinking maybe he was wrong, Mr. Muscles might be a cop after all; he knew too much about him. "Leavenworth's not a 'pen' anymore; it's a maximum-security disciplinary barracks . . . heavy emphasis on the disciplinary part. What ya want?"
Ted's lips slowly crawled into a smile. "I'm what ya might call a recruiter. I want you, just like those recruiting posters where Uncle Sam is standing there pointing his finger. Today that's me, Uncle Sam, and I'm pointing at you."
Virgil relaxed a little because the smile on Mr. Muscles took some hardness off him. "You're wastin' your time,"
Virgil said. "I'm not interested in joinin' any militia or reserve outfit."
Ted Faircloud kept his smile. "You've got a felony conviction for attempted murder of that lieutenant at Fort Bragg. You couldn't join a reserve unit if you wanted."
Virgil now knew for sure the man was no cop. It was the way Muscles spoke his first sentence, like it was cool to be pinched for trying to do in an officer. Virgil shrugged. "It was a misunderstanding is all."
Ted nodded as if agreeing. "Yeah, and what about the guy you killed in Leavenworth; was that a misunderstanding, too?"
"Naw, that was different," Virgil said, wrinkling his brow.
"That redneck says to me he didn't want a buck nigger workin' in the leather shop with him. I like leather; it smells good. I didn't want to do woodworkin' cause the damn wood dust makes me itch. And in automotive you're always greasy, so I told that redneck he'd have to deal with it because I wanted to learn to make belts and shit. He fucked up and made a move on me. I made a better one. The judge musta liked leather, too, 'cause he decided I was defending myself from bodily harm."
Ted motioned to the rusted tractor. "Maybe you would have learned somethin' in automotive?"
Virgil nodded as he glances at the relic. "Yeah, but I got me some cool belts up at the house." He looked back at Ted.
"I'll ask again. What do ya want?"
"I want you in my unit, Sergeant. I need experience, and you've got what I'm looking for: former Green Beret team sergeant, commo, demo, and weapons expert. Did a couple of tours down south, saw action in Grenada, Panama, and did your time in the desert. Yeah, you've got the experience I'm looking for. I've got an op going down in a couple weeks and need you in."
"What kind of operation are we talkin' about?"
Ted looked into Virgil's eyes. "The kind you were trained to do. . . . 'Course, it could get you dead, but it's also the kind that can make you a new start. We're goin' to score off a big drug player. We're goin' to hit 'em when they move a load of cash that's goin' to be laundered. It'll be away from civilians, and there ain't gonna be no law types comin' after us--these guys can't report the loss. You'll get twenty percent of the take ... and the take is three million bucks.
Before you answer, I gotta tell ya this ain't gonna be no cakewalk. It could get messy."
"You're shittin' me, right?"
"Nope, that's the deal, Sergeant. You'll be joining me and two others like yourself who have military experience.
Think of it as a special detachment without the gung-ho bullshit. We're all vets and we have the best equipment and weapons money can buy. Yes, you'll do some training to get back up to speed, but no spit-shinin' boots or paintin' rocks.
I call the shots, I do the plannin', and I say when it's over and you can go home. You screw with me, you're history.
You do your duty, in a couple of weeks you'll have a good-sized, tax-free stake in a safe-deposit box to jump-start a new life. That's the deal. You have a minute to decide."
Virgil looked over the man's shoulder at the distant rundown rented frame house that was in desperate need of a new roof and major repairs. His sixty-six-year-old mother sat rocking on the porch as her six grandchildren, all under twelve, played with broken toys in the dirt yard. One of his divorced sisters lived in the house, and the other had left her two kids and run off to Mobile. Six children and three adults living in a four-room house rented from a white farmer who charged them half their combined welfare checks--and Big Muscles was asking him if he wanted in?
Virgil straightened his back and shifted his gaze to Muscles. "I'm in, but I need an advance. I need to take care of my mother and family before I go."
Ted took a wad of bills wrapped in a rubber band from his pocket and tossed it to Virgil. "Ya got eight grand there and two cards. The first card is from the Dodge dealership in Valdosta. Go pick yourself out a good, used pickup under ten grand. Give 'em that card and they'll fill out the paperwork and it's yours. The second card has an address and directions and a company name where you can say you'll be workin' as a construction foreman. Be at that address in three days at 1000 hours.
"Be smart with that money. Don't flash it or lay down any big down payments on whatever you're goin' to do for your family. People may get suspicious and start askin' questions.
You'll get another five grand when you arrive, and ten more after your refresher training. If somebody calls to check your employment, you'll be covered. And Sergeant Washington, show up on time and don't tell anyone about this. . . .
There's no need in telling you what happens if you try and get slick on me."
Virgil looked into the big man's eyes. "I'll be there--but tell me something. Who are you?"
"Ted. That's all you need to know for now. See ya in three days." Turning, Ted walked back toward the house, where his rental car was parked.
Virgil took a deep breath and looked across the peanut fields he'd worked for the past year. Exhaling slowly, he smiled; he wouldn't be eating dust anymore. In a few minutes he'd walk up to his mother and make her proud of her son again. He would give her what she hadn't had in over thirty years. Virgil Washington was going to give his mother and her grandchildren hope for the future.
One day later, Miami Ted Faircloud was dressed in tan slacks and a Hawaiian shirt as he drove out of the Miami airport's National rental car parking lot. Fifteen minutes later he pulled to the curb of a run-down motel in Little Havana. He walked into a dimly lit office that stank of cigarette smoke and disinfectant. A woman in her fifties displaying a lot of cleavage sat on a stool behind the counter, reading a Spanish Cosmo. She looked up from the magazine and gave Ted the once-over before saying, "No rooms."
Ted casually leaned on the counter. "Senora, please tell Ramon I wish to speak to him."
The woman leaned over within two inches of his face and spoke, gushing her cigarette-laden breath on him. "You police, no?"
"No, I'm a businessman."
"D. O. H.?"
"No, not Department of Health, and I don't want a date, either. I only want to speak to Ramon."
Pressing a button under the counter, the woman slid off her stool and backed up, busying herself with looking through another Spanish magazine. A long moment later the door opened behind her. A youngish, short, suave, dark-haired pimp with a ponytail stepped into the small office. He was wearing pointy shoes, a shiny sharkskin suit, and a collarless shirt. Ted knew the duded-up Cuban was twenty-nine years old and had been a former Army Ranger and member of Delta Force. What he had not been prepared for was that the former Ranger could have doubled for Antonio Banderas. Man, the guy is something in the pretty face department. Too short, though. Probably messed up his chances of doing movies or posing in his underwear for magazines.
Moving his left hand closer to his sharkskin jacket, Ramon Lopez looked the big man over. "Who are you, man?" he asked.
Still leaning on the counter, Ted looked into the short man's suspicious brown face. "I'm your salvation, Ramon.
I'm here to offer you a job that will pay good money and get you out of this dump."
Ramon's left hand disappeared inside his jacket. "Who are you? I don't ask again."
"What, you goin' to pop me here, Ramon?" Ted asked with a smile. "I thought Delta guys were smart. You know you can't do me here. What you got there, a Glock? Man, that thing would make a big mess. All I want to do is talk to you. You listen, and if you don't like the deal, I'm gone. It's a simple thing, Ramon."
Ramon stood in silence, staring as if measuring Ted for a casket, before stepping closer and lifting the hinged countertop. He patted Ted down and said, "This better be good. You got ten minutes. Don't bore me."
Ted followed the small Cuban into the next room, where five washed-out working girls sat on two couches watching a Spanish game show on a small battered TV. Two weren't bad, Ted thought, but the others were past middle age, and all had their hair dyed in different shades of blond. No way I'd pay for some of that. He followed the Cuban into a spotless kitchen where an old woman was wiping off a table.
Ramon patted the woman's shoulder. "Dos cervezas, por favor. " He motioned Ted to a chair. "Sit. You have nine minutes thirty seconds."
"I can't talk with her here," Ted said.
Ramon made a shooing motion to the woman and faced the big man. "Talk."
As soon as the old lady disappeared, Ted pulled up a chair and sat. "Ramon, I need your experience. I have a unit made up of two other men and me. I need one more man to bring me to full strength to pull off a score I've been workin' on for over six months. . . ."
He repeated what he'd told Virgil the day before and made the same offer of money. Finished, he looked into the Cuban's eyes and waited.
Ramon's fingers drummed the tabletop for a moment before he canted his head slightly. "How you find me, man?"
"I have friends who follow the action here in Miami, Ramon. I know you're into a player for ten G's and you can't even pay the vig. You can't hire out your normal services because they have you marked. That makes you a dead man in a week unless you get dumb and try and pull a one-man job, which means you're dead anyway. You're in a fix, Ramon, a kind of catch-22 where you end up dead no matter what you do. I'm offering an out. I'll pay off the debt you owe, but then you're mine. Don't give me that look. It won't be so bad. With your cut of the take you can pay off the debt to me and still pocket a bundle. Believe me, you're goin' to like workin' for me. I treat my people with respect.
You're good at what you do, Ramon. I know, I checked you out. You're going to be a star in my outfit, a big-time star."
"You say you been working on the plan for six months, man. Why you need me now?" Ramon kept his eyes level with Ted's.
"I lost two of my detachment members last week. They had a car accident coming back from a recon. Funny how shit happens. They both were good and made no mistakes while workin' for me, but then Joe Bob, the driver, goes to sleep at the wheel, and wham, it's all she wrote. Swerved over into the oncoming lane and got it from a semi loaded with frozen chickens from Arkansas. Ramon, think about it.
What's your future hold? I'll tell ya, you're goin' to be whacked, stuffed in a trunk, and dumped in the 'glades. I'd hate that . . . not a way to go out for a Delta guy. 'Course, goin' out with frozen chickens isn't any way to go, either, but at least they didn't know what hit 'em. What ya goin' to leave behind if you don't take my offer? That fake. gold Rolex and your piece? Your mama might get what, two hundred for a Glock?"
Ramon studied the stranger's face for a moment. "You pay off my debt?"