Five years earlier, the high school guidance counselor sat
Barney Hall down and said, "Barney, you're bright enough, but you're not college
material. Not yet." He was looking over Hall's standard test scores and other
accumulated records from thirteen years in the Lower Cape May Regional School
District. "You're not mature for your age. If you hadn't been sent to detention
once a week, you wouldn't have done any studying at all."
Hall was a cheerful, good-looking, middle-sized guy with broad shoulders
and bright white teeth, who must have said a hundred times in his life, "Watch
this and hey, hold my beer, willya?"
He had a girlfriend named Sue, who he'd known since fourth grade, who was
happy to hold his beer, most of the time, and then apply the bandages
afterwards. Hall worked after school and all summers as a mechanic in his dad's
yacht salvage yard, or junkyard, depending on who was doing the talking.
"I'm trying to do better, sir," he told the counselor.
"Don't bullshit me, son. Would I be correct in believing that you were
drinking beer at Toby Jones' wedding last weekend and got drunk and fell off the
dock and damn near drowned?"
"I'm a good swimmer, sir. There was no danger."
"That's not the point, Barney. Anyway, if you want to do anything in life,
you need to get serious, and right quick. Knowing you, looking at these records,
I'm thinking your best course would be the military. The military would give you
responsibility from day one. If you don't come through, they'll slap your ass in
the brig. You need that discipline. Mind, I'm not saying the Marine Corps.
You're way too smart for that."
"I wasn't thinking college, not right away," Hall said. "I've been talking
with Sue, and... how about the Coast Guard, sir? There're some Coasties that
hang out at my dad's place and I like listening to them talk. I've been on the
water and working on boats all my life."
The counselor poked a finger at him: "That's the smartest thing I ever
heard you say, Barney. You do a few years in the Coast Guard, get yourself some
rank and responsibility and they'll even send you to college when you're ready.
God help me, you could wind up an officer."
"Whoa. That'd be awesome, sir."
"And do me a favor, son. Get rid of that tee shirt." The tee shirt featured
a basketball-sized, full-color image of a bantam rooster, with the legend,
"Everything's bigger in Texas."
Hall looked down at the tee-shirt. "It's just a chicken, sir."
"It's a cock," the counselor said. "You know it and I know it. I don't want
to see it in this school again."
Hall married Sue in the June after high school graduation,
joined the Coast Guard at the end of a glorious summer, and after boot camp and
advanced training, was stationed in Fort Lauderdale.
Sue Hall went to Broward College and became a registered nurse and started
working on a bachelor's degree in nursing. Hall found the boatyards of Marina
Mile to be the most amazing places he'd ever been. When Sue got pregnant with
their first one, he got off-duty work rebuilding diesel engines in one of the
Marina Mile engine shops. The extra work would get them child-care money so Sue
could finish her BS degree.
At night, they'd drink PBR under palm trees in their trailer park, until
Sue got pregnant, when they switched to ginger ale, and she'd say, "Barnes,
we're gonna do good in life. I can feel it coming on."
The owner of the engine shop had fifteen or twenty old boats out back,
which he couldn't sell, and Hall kept looking at a 1999 Boston Whaler Outrage
260 which had been stripped of the twin outboards and had a hole in the hull,
and now sat derelict atop a tandem trailer with two flat tires on each side,
overgrown with weeds. After some talk, the owner agreed to give Hall the boat
along with two badly abused, but salvageable, Merc 225s and the trailer
all Hall had to do was work five additional unpaid hours a week, in the evenings
and on weekends, on top of his regular weekend shift, for two years, and the
boat was his.
Plus, he could use the shop and its tools to rehab the trailer and the
Mercs and do whatever Fiberglas work the boat needed. The boat was solid, except
for the hole, which could be fixed.
That's the whole back story as to why Hall, Sue and their first
boy, Lance, almost a one-year-old, were trolling down the debris line on the
outer reef south of Pompano Beach, Florida, looking for dorado mahi-mahi
when Hall spotted something unusual happening with a snazzy-looking Mako
center-console a half-mile ahead of them. He said, "Sue, hand me the
The Mako had two white outboards hanging off the back, which Hall
recognized as big 350s, giving the boat seven hundred horses with which to get
across the ocean.
"What's out there, Barnes?" Sue asked. She was a rangy young woman, would
have been a cowgirl in Texas, sunburnt, fighter-pilot blue eyes, her rose-blonde
hair frizzy from saltwater.
"Something strange going on, babe. I've been watching him, 'cause that's a
sharp boat. All of a sudden it slowed down and stopped and it looks like it
picked up a diver in the middle of the ocean. I mean, who was already in the
middle of the ocean before they got there. Went right to him."
"You don't see that every day," Sue said.
Hall was still on the glasses. "He's, uh, looks like they've got some lift
bags coming over the side... in the middle of the ocean."
"Maybe picking up some bugs?" She was referring to spiny lobsters.
"From a guy they left in the middle of the ocean?"
Sue said, with a sudden urgency, "Barnes, I've got a bad feeling about
this. Let's turn around. Bring the boat back north."
"Yeah." That seemed like a good idea.
Hall turned the boat in a wide fisherman's semi-circle and headed back
north, but kept watching the Mako through the glasses. He was careful to be
standing behind the center console when he used the binoculars, because he'd
learned early on in his Coast Guard training that if you saw somebody whose
arms, head and chest formed an equal-lateral triangle, they were looking at you
through binoculars and every few minutes, one of the men on the Mako
would check them out with binoculars.
Twenty minutes after it stopped, the sleek-looking craft lurched forward
and headed south. Hall got his cell phone, called into the watch officer at the
Coast Guard station at Fort Lauderdale.
"Sir, this is Barney Hall. I'm south of Pompano Beach in my own boat, but I
saw something strange out here. There's a black-and white Mako 284 heading
toward Port Everglades. We saw him picking up something from the middle of the
ocean. He was running fast, then stopped, and there was a diver waiting for him
right there in the water. There were no other boats around, no dive flag. They
were using lift bags..."
"Can you stay with him, Hall?"
"No sir, not entirely, he's running fast. I can keep him in sight until he
makes the turn. I'll be a mile back of him by then."
"He looked suspicious?"
"Yes, he did, sir. If I was on duty, I'd stop him, for sure."
"We'll do that, then. We'll have somebody waiting for him
Hall told Sue to put on her life jacket and bring in the
fishing lines; the baby was already wrapped in a fat orange PFD. He turned the
boat and they tracked the Mako until it made the turn into the Port Everglades
cut. Hall got back on his phone and called the watch officer and said, "It's
Hall, sir, he's making the turn."
"We're on it, Hall. Good job."
The Mako was ambushed by a Coast Guard RIB rigid
inflatable boat which had orange inflatable tubes wrapped around a
hard-shell hull. The Petty Officer Second Class who was running the boat got on
Channel 16 and called, "Mako 284 Chevere this is the United States
Coast Guard coming up behind to make a courtesy inspection. Cut your speed to
five knots and hold your course. We'll board you from the starboard side."
Coast Guard inspection boats were usually larger RIBs with pilot houses;
the boat that had been scrambled to intercept the Mako was smaller, three men
aboard, no pilot house. The Coast Guard boat pulled up behind the Mako and the
Petty Officer in the bow saw two men waiting in the stern bulky guys,
dressed like sport fishermen, bright-colored shirts and shorts, sunglasses and
Then, as they were a few feet off, ready to board, one of the men on the
stern of the Mako lifted up a long-nosed black rifle with a red-dot sight. With
a motion that was practiced and almost graceful, he shot the two Coast Guardsmen
in the bow, and then twice shot the PO2 who was running the boat. The four shots
together took no more than two seconds. The gun barked, rather than banged, a
flat noise because of the suppressor on the barrel; the gun was loud, but not
especially audible over the sound of the boat engines.
The PO2 had killed the boat's speed for the boarding and when he saw the
rifle come up he reached forward to hit the accelerator, but a bullet took him
in the throat and then another in the chest, and the slugs turned him away and
he fell into the bottom of the boat, dying, blood spreading around him on the
wet floor, a purple flood. The Coast Guard boat turned into a slow circle across
the wide port and the Mako accelerated away.
As the Mako left, Hall, Sue and the baby nosed through the cut
in their rehabbed Whaler and saw the Coast Guard boat turning away from
Hall watched for a moment, then said, "There's something wrong, Sue."
"Get over there," Sue said. "That Mako's running like a thief in the night.
I'll get the gun." They kept a .38 Special in a waterproof can down an equipment
Hall pushed the boat as hard as he could, but they were a full minute away
from the Coast Guard RIB. He couldn't see anybody aboard as he approached. He
slipped his cell phone out of his pocket, but when he got alongside, he saw the
three bodies in the bottom of the boat and he dropped the cell phone and grabbed
the VHF and screamed, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Port Everglades, three Coast
Guards shot in boat chasing black and white Mako..."
The Coast Guard came back instantly: "Mayday caller identify
"This is Coast Guard Petty Officer Two Barney Hall we have three men shot
inside the Port Everglades entrance. They look bad, man, they look really
Then the watch officer: "Hall, can you help them? We're on the way, but you
gotta do what you can..."
"My wife's a nurse, I'm putting her on board, sir. Should I go with her or
go after the Mako?"
There was a moment of radio silence Sue had handed him the .38, and
was already clambering into the Coast Guard boat with the baby and their First
Aid kit and then the officer came back: "Your call, Hall. Chopper's
coming, but it'll be a few minutes."
Hall looked down at his wife who had checked one man quickly and then moved
to the bow. She'd done two years in emergency rooms and she knew what she was
seeing; and she looked back at him and shook her head and Hall shouted into the
radio, "I'm going after the sonsofbitches, sir."
He dropped the hammer on the Whaler. The Mako was most of a
half-mile ahead of him, moving fast down the Intracoastal Waterway, and there
was no way Hall would have caught the other boat if the Mako hadn't swerved to a
pier, where two men jumped off and began unloading what looked like black
buckets and running them to a waiting SUV that was backed up to the pier. A
third man had been waiting by the SUV and he joined the others running the
buckets to the truck. They were in a frantic hurry: they'd undoubtedly caught
Hall's Mayday call because everybody monitored Channel 16.
A fourth man hoisted a five-gallon gas can out of a hatch on the Mako's
stern and began spraying the boat with gasoline and then, as Hall roared toward
them, stepped off the boat, lit what looked like a piece of newspaper and threw
it toward the Mako. The boat exploded in flame.
The three men who'd been loading the black buckets into the SUV jumped into
the car and the fourth man ran up to the back door and yanked it open. Hall had
the .38 in his hand he was close enough to feel the heat from the flames
and fired three wild shots at the car, no hope of hitting anything
because the careening Whaler was hammering the deck against his feet, making any
kind of an accurate shot almost impossible.
And impossibly, one of his shots hit the fourth man in the head.
The man dropped flat on the concrete pier, stone-cold dead. The driver of
the car jumped out, grabbed the man by his shirt, looked at him, dropped him,
looked for a moment at Hall, his face unreadable behind dark glasses, then
leaped back into the car and spun it out of sight.
The Mako was burning like a torch.
The watch officer was shouting, "Hall, Hall where are you?"
"Look for the fire, sir; I'm south of the cut where the fire's
For his actions, Hall was given the Coast Guard Medal. Other
than the man killed by Hall, none of the men on the Mako or in the car were
caught or even identified. The dead man was a minor hoodlum from Miami Beach,
who the feds called a "known associate," though he appeared to be an associate
of every piece of scum on the beach, which was a lot of scum.
The Mako's Florida registration was real enough; the owner wasn't. The
fire, which sank the boat, wiped out fingerprints and DNA. The SUV was never
identified or found; the men apparently had taken the black rifle with them,
because no gun was found on the sunken boat or the area around it.
Hall was presented the medal by the rear admiral who commanded the Coast
Guard's District Seven. When the admiral asked him his plans, Hall said, "My
hitch is almost up, sir. I'm going to college at FIU. If I go fulltime, I'll be
out in three years. Then I might be back, if I can get into OCS. I really like
what we do."
The admiral patted him on the shoulder with some affection. "You'll get in.
With your history, I can guarantee it. Get a degree in something useful.
Something involving computers. Or propulsion systems."
"That's what I'm thinking," Hall said. "Sir, if you don't mind. I do have a
"Nobody's been caught for killing our guys," Hall said. "Where's the
"I asked that exact same question, a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't as
polite as you are," the admiral said. "I asked, 'Where the fuck is the
FBI?' The answer was, 'Nowhere,' and you can quote me on that."
Virgil Flowers left the courtroom and caught an elevator going
down. He turned as the doors began to close and a dark-haired hatchet-faced
woman in an old blue floral dress, carrying an antique white woven handbag,
standing outside in the hallway, looked straight into his eyes and held them.
She was only a foot or two from the elevator doors, but made no effort to step
When the elevator doors closed, a woman next to Virgil said, "Well, that
was weird. I thought she was going to shoot you."
"Couldn't get a gun in the courthouse," Virgil said. A couple of people
behind him laughed, more nervously than heartily.
Virgil worked his way down to the Hennepin Government Center's basement
cafeteria, where he spotted Lucas Davenport sitting at a table to one side, legs
crossed, reading a free newspaper. Davenport saw him at the same time and waved.
He'd walked to the courthouse from the federal building.
Virgil went over and shook hands and asked, "You eat?"
"Not yet. I wasn't sure when you'd get out." Davenport was a tall man, but
thin, weathered, athletic, dark hair shot with gray, crystalline blue eyes; he
was fifty-two, and looked his age. He was wearing a blue woolen suit jacket, a
white dress shirt, black woolen slacks and cap-toed dress shoes; a light
cashmere coat was draped over the back of his chair. He might have been a
prosperous attorney, but he wasn't.
"What's that?" Virgil asked, nodding at a two-inch thick brown file
envelope sitting by Davenport's right hand.
"Maybe a case," Lucas said. "I'm thinking about it." He stuck a hand in a
jacket pocket, pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to Virgil. "Get me
cheeseburger, fries and a Diet Coke."
"What, I'm a waitress now?"
"I'm saving the table," Lucas said. "Or would you rather eat standing
Virgil came back a few minutes later with a tray, scraped out a
chair, put the food down, and said in a quiet voice, "There's a woman sitting
behind me... don't look right away, be casual about it. She's wearing an old
blue dress with flowers and has a white handbag sitting on the table."
He sat down and Lucas looked casually past his shoulder and checked the
woman. He turned back to Virgil and picked up his cheeseburger and asked, "Who
"She's either the wife or the girlfriend of a guy I just testified against.
He's going to prison for ten years or so."
"What'd he do?"
"Robbed credit unions. One every three or four months, down in southern
Minnesota and northern Iowa. I caught him a couple of months ago, in Blue Earth.
He was the family's sole support."
"She does look sort of hard-bitten," Lucas said. "I'd be worried, if I were
you... did you get mustard?"
"Only ketchup. I don't think she's armed, but..." Virgil picked up a piece
of silverware and waggled it at Lucas. "... I'd rather not have a fork stuck in
"Not to worry. If she rushes you, I'll put three Hydra-Shoks in her
"Thank you, I'd appreciate it," Virgil said. Davenport got up, went to the
cafeteria line, and came back with three packages of mustard. Through a spoonful
of hot macaroni and cheese, Virgil said, "Frankie says hello."
"How are the twins?"
"Loud. Very loud. Relentless," Virgil said. The twins, one of each, were
two months old. "Frankie would need about six tits to keep them happy
don't ever tell her I said that. My mother's down there with them. I get two
hours of sleep a night."
"I thought you keeping your mother away?"
"That would be like keeping gravity away," Virgil said. "Not gonna happen.
She still staring at me?"
"Still staring," Lucas said, watching Virgil's stalker from the corner of
"I can feel her eyes burning a hole in the back of my neck," Virgil
Lucas asked, "What happened with your novel?
Virgil had been writing wildlife magazine articles for years, but since the
previous winter had been working on a thriller novel. Lucas was one of the few
people who knew about it. Virgil said, "Didn't fly. Not good enough."
"You gonna give up?"
"No. I've got this agent in New York. She told me that I could make a
living at it, but I didn't know what I was doing yet. And she told me some other
things, and I'm starting over."
"Good. I think you can do it," Lucas said.
Virgil looked at the brown file envelope next to Lucas' hand.
"What's the case?"
"You know what a federal law enforcement officer's main priority is?"
"Not pissing off anyone with more clout?" Virgil was as tall as Lucas, but
with blond hair worn too long for an agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal
Apprehension. He was wearing his court clothes, a gray suit, white shirt and
blue necktie, an ensemble unsettled by his cowboy boots, though the snakeskin
Lucas nodded. "Exactly. You're seeing it everywhere now. People afraid to
move. People so afraid of fuckin up that they don't do anything. Three Coast
Guardsmen got shot to death a few months ago, down in Fort Lauderdale. Broad
daylight. Nothing's happened on that. Nothing."
"I remember reading about the shootings..."
"The FBI has been investigating, but haven't been getting anywhere," Lucas
said. "The thought was floated by a U.S. Senator from Florida that maybe the
Marshals Service could take a look."
"Was the senator one of your political backers?"
"No, but people talk," Lucas said. "He called me directly."
"So when he suggested the Marshals Service, he meant you. Personally,"
"Yes. That did not go over real well it implied that the FBI wasn't
getting anywhere," Lucas said.
"Which they weren't."
"True, but the implication was resented. The FBI has a lot more clout in
the Justice Department than the Marshals Service and they've been peeing on our
shoes," Lucas said. "The longer the case stretches out, with no progress, the
more pressure... Uh, the woman with the handbag got up, she's..." Virgil pulled
his head down. "... Going to the cafeteria line."
"Check what she orders. I've seen a woman get burned bad by a slice of hot
pizza. Red hot, stuck to her face, couldn't get it off ," Virgil said, resisting
the urge to look at the woman. "Anyway, you're tangled up in a bureaucratic
feud. What are you going to do?"
"I've been reading the files," Lucas said. "They keep coming, but they
never have much in them. Lots of paperwork. The feeling is, we're dealing with
drug smugglers and the drug is most likely heroin, and it may be coming in from
Colombia, but nobody knows for sure. You ever read about the Cocaine
"Sure, down in Miami. They've been over with for thirty or forty
"The FBI thinks somebody, some group, is getting organized the same way,
and the same area. South Florida, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach,"
Lucas said. "Some group, probably American, maybe with East Coast organized
crime ties. The Coast Guard says that a freighter probably dumped a bunch of
heroin in water-tight containers on a reef off Lauderdale. It was being
recovered by a diver off a local fishing boat, and when the Coast Guard tried to
stop the boat, three Coast Guardsmen got shot and killed, the boat was burned. A
Coast Guardsman killed one of the smugglers, but the rest got away. The Coast
Guard has been watching the general area of the dump, but they haven't seen any
more recovery efforts. Maybe it's all gone. Then again, the Broward County
sheriff has picked up rumors that there's a hundred million in heroin still
sitting out there."
"Has anybody been looking for the stuff? Navy divers?" Virgil asked.
"Yeah, that's mentioned in the files, but the search area is large, the
water is really deep for divers and the visibility isn't all that good," Lucas
said. "They had one of those remote-control submarines looking for a while, but
didn't find anything."
"Then how are the bad guys finding it?"
"They've probably got precise GPS coordinates that'll put them right on top
of the containers," Lucas said. The Coast Guard thinks the containers may have
some kind of proximity device push a button on a transceiver and it sends
out a locator beep. That's what they tell me, anyway."
"Huh. What do you think you could do? You're not a diver, you don't know
shit about submarines or GPS. If the feds..."
Lucas said, "Your friend bought two slices of pizza."
Virgil: "When I went by there, the pizza was so hot the cheese was
bubbling... What's she doing now?"
"Staring at you. Carrying the pizza to her table... Okay, she's sitting
down. She's eating the pizza. Still staring."
"It's creeping me out," Virgil said.
"It's creeping me out, and I'm not even you," Lucas said.
Virgil wrenched the conversation back to the heroin dump. "What do you
think you could do down in Lauderdale? Other than get out Minnesota in
"What could I do? That's what I've been thinking about," Lucas said. "The
FBI doesn't do confrontation. I believe we need some confrontations to shake
things up. Push some people around. Deal some get-out-of-jail cards in return
for information. Street-cop stuff. Find out who gets upset."
"So you're gonna do it?"
"I dunno. Those meatheads at the FBI..." Lucas stroked his chin with a
thumb and forefinger, staring past Virgil, not at the woman, but at the blank
wall to one side. Virgil let him stare, uninterrupted. Then, abruptly, Lucas
looked back at Virgil and said, "Yeah. I'm gonna do it."
"Good. Nice to see an older guy have a hobby... What's she doing
"Finishing the pizza," Lucas said. "She's still staring, though. She looks
really tense. She's fumbling in her purse..." Lucas backed his chair up a few
inches, so he could clear his gun if need be. "She's got a..."
"Yeah, you know, for chapped lips," Lucas said.
Virgil leaned back in his chair. "Wait: I gotta change my underwear for a
Lucas' wife Weather had taken their two children-at-home to the
Mall of America for some light shopping at Nordstroms. When they got home,
carrying shopping bags and wearing pleased looks, Lucas had spread the FBI files
around the den and was looking at U.S. Senator Parker Colles of Florida on his
iMac screen, a televised Zoom call.
"My daughter's husband is a commander in the Coast Guard and these boys
were like family to them," Colles said. "Elmer and Porter say you're my best
shot." Elmer was Elmer Henderson, Porter was Porter Smalls, both U.S. Senators
"I've looked at the files, and I'm interested, Senator," Lucas said. "Would
you know the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida?"
"Sure do, she's one of my crew. Anna Rubio. Can she help you out?"
"When I go in on something like this, maybe with a couple other marshals,
we don't have the investigative abilities of the FBI... the research abilities,
the surveillance teams, the personnel. What we do is we go in and kick things
over, make some offers that some bad people can't refuse. The FBI doesn't really
do that. We won't do anything illegal, you understand, but I might need backup
from the U.S. Attorney. Or, an assistant U.S. Attorney, who carries the water
for the boss."
"Give me an example of what you're talking about."
"Maybe a get-out-of-jail card for a relative," Lucas said. "Not for murder,
but for like a mid-level drug deal. Maybe somebody's got two more years to serve
on a ten year sentence, they get an early parole. Maybe we catch somebody with
an ounce of cocaine and instead of waving him off, we talk to him about serious
about prison time, and the U.S. Attorney talks tough to him and his
"Sounds fine to me," Colles said. "I'll call up Anna and tell her you'll be
in touch. Give me a call every once in a while and tell me how you're
"I will do that," Lucas said.
When he got off the call, he saw Weather standing in the
doorway with crossed arms. "So you're going."
"Looks like it. Are you going to give me a hard time?"
"No. It's what you do, but you've got to be here for Thanksgiving," she
said. "Letty's coming and there'll be some parties that weekend. You should plan
to be back that whole Thanksgiving week." Letty was their adult adoptive
daughter, who was working for an oil company in Oklahoma City.
"I can do that," Lucas said. Thanksgiving was almost a month away. "By then
I should have a handle on the situation."
"Don't forget Christmas. And New Year's. There's a lot of stuff coming
"But it feels so good when I've got permission to go," Lucas said.
"I could use a lot of sex between now and then."
"I think we could arrange that," Lucas said. "I'll have a word with the
A half hour later, he was on the phone with Bob Matees, a
marshal with the service's Special Operations Group.
"Taken you a while to get back," Bob said. "We sent that stuff to you a
month ago. More than a month."
"There were some complications in Washington. Homeland Security and the
Justice Department have been arm-wrestling over jurisdiction and decided to
split the difference," Lucas said. "I'm allowed to monitor and assist the
investigation, but the FBI keeps the lead."
Bob said, "I don't know what that means."
"It means we're in, if we want to be. We might have to go to some meetings,
but basically, we'll be on our own."
"You and me?"
"Well, and Rae."
"Rae's out for the time being," Bob said. "Her mom was diagnosed with
breast cancer last week and Rae's taken leave and gone home. She'll be there
until the docs figure out a treatment program."
"Her mom gonna die?" Lucas asked.
"That's not what the docs are saying, but it's serious. The treatment is
gonna be tough. She's at M.D. Anderson in Houston, so that's good."
"All right. Let's stay in touch with her," Lucas said. "I'm thinking we get
down to Fort Lauderdale in the next few days... the task force is working out of
a hotel off I-95."
"How many guys?" Bob asked.
"A half dozen FBI agents, representatives from the Miami-Dade cops, Broward
sheriff's department, Fort Lauderdale cops, and Homeland Security
Homeland Security is the Coast Guard. We'll be the last guys through the
"Ah, man." Bob was pre-discouraged.
"It is what it is. You want in?" Lucas asked.
"Of course. I'm already packing my Jockey shorts."
"Girlfriend's okay with it?"
"I told her it might be happening," Bob said. "She worries, but she knows
"I've got to do some more diplomacy here, but Weather's on-board. I'll talk
to Russell and get your airline tickets going."
"See you in Lauderdale, man."
The next morning, a woman named Elsie M. Sweat called from
Miami and introduced herself as an assistant U.S. Attorney. "I've been briefed
by Anna and Senator Colles' assistant. We won't do anything... ethically...
challenging, but we can help you in your discussions with possible
"That sounds fine," Lucas said.
"When do you expect to start?" she asked.
"Monday. I'm not sure we'll need your help, but it's a possibility. I
wanted to have it lined up in advance."
"We're here, this Coast Guard thing has been a constant irritant, and the
FBI doesn't seem to be making a lot of progress," Sweat said. "We'd love to get
rid of the whole problem so good luck, and keep your asses down."
"We'll do that."
Keep your asses down.
Lucas had been told that by other cops, and had even used the phrase
himself a few times, but had never been told that by a prosecutor. Maybe there
was something about the culture of South Florida that would make the reminder
"I guess we'll find out," he said aloud, in the dark.
Weather was nearly asleep: "What?"
Lucas walked out of the Fort Lauderdale airport's Terminal
Three into a sweaty night that smelled of ocean, even though the airport was a
couple of miles from salt water. He got lost trying to find a shuttle bus ride
to Terminal One, where the car rental services were located. He finally walked
there, dragging his roller bag, rented a Nissan Pathfinder, drove a couple of
miles north and checked into the TRYP Hotel, where his room had excellent views
of the State Road 84 and the I-95 on-ramps. Bob was already at the hotel and
when Lucas called his room, Bob said, "I've spotted what looks like a decent
seafood restaurant we can walk to. From the satellite view, looks like they'll
have a nice view of a marina."
"Give me a half hour. I want to wash the airplane off and knock on the task
force leader's door and day hello..."
Lucas spent five minutes in the shower, pulled on jeans and a tee-shirt,
then went up a floor and knocked on Dale Weaver's door. They'd talked on the
phone, and Weaver seemed like a congenial guy, for an FBI supervisory agent,
anyway, and Lucas had told him that he'd stop up when he got to the hotel.
Weaver came to the door, a stocky man with a square face, lined by years
and maybe tobacco, balding, showing white in what was left of his originally
reddish hair. He was wearing a tee-shirt and gray sweatpants. The run-up to
Monday Night Football was playing on a TV behind him. He smiled and said,
"Davenport you look just like your picture on the Internet."
"Well, shit. I thought I looked like George Clooney in real life."
"He could be a distant relative," Weaver agreed, as they shook hands. "Very
distant. C'mon in."
Weaver sat on his bed and Lucas took the desk chair and they spent twenty
minutes getting acquainted,, talking about the task force and the problems it
faced. Weaver didn't try to disguise the fact that they hadn't accomplished
much. "We didn't have a place to start. We know where the boat was kept, which
was on the New River, next to a house. You get closer to the coast, it's like
Venice, the New River and all these canals running up through the neighborhoods.
The space was rented from an absentee home owner based on an advertisement he'd
put up on the net and he'd never actually met the boat owner."
"Pretty convenient for the boat owner, given what they were doing with the
boat," Lucas said.
"Good piece of research by the assholes, is what I think," Weaver said.
"The home owner, the guy with rights to the dock space, is one of those
super-rich guys. He has about six houses, up in Manhattan and the Hamptons and a
ranch in Wyoming and another place down in the Islands. He says he's here about
three or four weeks a year, he has a management service to take care of cleaning
and maintenance, and it was actually the service that put up notice for the dock
space rental. Those people didn't see the boat owner, either. They said the
whole deal was handled by mail, they got a money order to pay six month's rent,
and one day the boat was parked there. They do the house twice a week, and they
only saw the boat twice, so it probably wasn't parked there for more than a
month and a half. The last time they saw it was a week before it burned and
"And the home owner looks straight?"
"We now know what color of shorts he prefers. I mean, however much junk got
dumped in the ocean, he could buy all of it, and a hundred times more with the
money he earned last year. I got the feeling he's a crook, but not as dope
crook, a financial services crook."
"All right. Well, my partner and I, I think you've heard from him..."
"We've read all your research paper and we'll be reading it again, and then
we'll go kick over some garbage cans. You've been around for a while, what do
you think about that whole idea?"
Weaver shrugged: "Nothing else has worked. Might as well try some marshal
shit. I know about your record, so... glad to have you."
Bob was waiting in the lobby. "Good talk?"
"Yeh, we'll get along. Weaver will take anyone who could help. Any scrap he
They left the hotel and walked down a narrow dark street to a place called
the Rendezvous, got a table outside overlooking a marina filled with
half-million dollar boats those were the small ones ordered sea
bass for Bob and chicken tenders for Lucas.
Bob was a large man, with a square face, small battered-looking ears, short
hair and an easy smile. He was neither fat nor tall. He'd killed a cannibal
earlier that year, more by accident than by intention, but nobody grieved for
the dead man. Bob had finished third in the NCAA's heavyweight wrestling
division in his senior year at Oklahoma and could do a hundred good pushups in
two minutes with his girlfriend, who weighed a hundred and thirty pounds,
sitting on his shoulders. He was wearing a double extra-large golf shirt, khaki
shorts and cross-trainers. He could have sold billboard space on his back.
He said to Lucas, over margaritas, "I've seen a couple of FBI spooks. I
went up the elevator with two of them. They had those plastic cards around their
necks, you know the kind? It's not like they're hiding. I said hello and one of
them was tempted to nod at me, but he didn't."
"Sounds about right," Lucas said. A good-looking waitress came over and to
make sure the food and drinks were okay, complimented Bob on his shoulders, and
said she'd be back to check on them. When she left, Lucas looked back to Bob and
asked, "How's Rae doing?"
"She was in town yesterday to get more clothes. Her mom's starting chemo
right away. Gonna lose her hair. Rae's talking about getting her to shave her
head before it starts coming out."
"Ah, boy... Is Rae still pissed at me?" Lucas had shot to death a man on a
case the three had worked together.
"She was never pissed. She just would have given that guy a chance," Bob
said. "She thinks you went there intending to kill him and that's what you did.
Her brain doesn't work like that. Neither does mine, come to think of it."
"Even though you saw the dead kid in the school yard?"
"Even though. I'm a lawman," Bob said. "You want justice. Those are two
different things. We know that, me'n Rae, and we're willing to live with
"I'll still kiss you on the lips if you want," Bob said.
"I can do without that."
They spent the meal talking about this and that, a one-man-band
in the corner playing old standard soft-rock over the conversation, the rumble
from I-95 providing the thumping bass notes. When they were lazily ambling back
to the hotel through the dark, Lucas said, "This is Boat Show week. It's over by
the ocean. We need to run over there tomorrow morning."
"The Coast Guardsman who killed that dope runner. He's out of the Coast
Guard now. He's going to college down here, but he's working the boat show for
extra cash. We need to talk to him. Before that, there's an eight o'clock status
meeting with the task force in one of the hotel meeting rooms. That should be
done by nine o'clock or so."
"I'm looking forward to it," Bob said, and he yawned.
"Maybe you should bring your gear bag with you. Leave it partly unzipped
with the M4 on top."
Bob brightened. "That wouldn't have occurred to me, but I can already see
it in my mind's eye."
The hotel had a breakfast spread in the morning, twelve
dollars. Bob ate some of everything in sight, Lucas focused on pancakes, with a
bottle of Diet Coke from the gift shop. Four men who looked like FBI agents were
there, clustered in a quiet group bent over their food, all in suits but none
wearing neckties; there must have been a special tropical dispensation, Lucas
They glanced at Bob and Lucas from time to time, but made no move to talk
to them. The daytime temps were supposed to reach 84 and Lucas and Bob were
going to a boat show, so they were wearing guayabera shirts loose over their
guns, khaki cargo shorts and athletic shoes. Bob added a blue baseball cap that
said "Nimbus" on front.
"What's a Nimbus?" Lucas had asked.
"A rain cloud. Or, could be a halo, but in this case, I think a rain cloud,
since we're gonna rain on the FBI's parade."
"Thank you. I got it for free from some guy who had a box full of them in
the lobby," Bob said. "I think it's the name of a boat he's trying to sell. Guy
looked like a country singer, but I can't remember which one."
One the way to the elevators, Lucas, trailing Bob, realized that their
shirts and shoes almost matched, and their shorts did match. In the elevator, he
asked, "The way we're dressed... you think we look like aging gay guys?"
"I'm not aging," Bob said.
The meeting room was a long rectangle meant to look like a
corporate board room, pale plastic wall coverings and a table that resembled
wood. Weaver was hovering over a stack of files and computer printouts on the
boardroom table when Lucas and Bob arrived, five minutes early, and he nodded at
Six other men and one woman were chatting or finding chairs, opening
laptops. They were all in their twenties or thirties, dressed in either suits or
sport coats with coordinated slacks. Some wore ties knotted at the throat,
others had slung their ties over their shoulders, like ribbons, to be tied when
they went public. They stopped chatting to check out the guayabera shirts and
shorts on the marshals.
One of the agents looked at Bob's knees, and then Lucas', and said, "You're
Bob said, cheerfully, "Yup," and pulled out a chair, sat down. He didn't
have his gear bag, but he winced and said, "Ouch, goddamnit." He reached under
his shirt, pulled out his .40-caliber Glock and dropped it on the table with a
clunk. "Hate it when it pokes me in the gut, know what I mean?"
Lucas bit his lip and sat down himself, turned toward Weaver and said,
"We're heading to the boat show right after the briefing. We thought shorts
would be the way to go."
"What's over there?" one of the agents asked.
"Boats," Bob said. "And the Coast Guard guy who shot the smuggler. We
wanted to start at the beginning."
Weaver nodded and said, "If you want, go ahead. If you read our interviews
"We both have," Lucas said. "Good interviews. I want to hear him
Weaver finished with the stack of papers he'd been sorting, and said,
"Let's everybody sit down." When everybody was seated, Weaver poked a pencil at
Lucas and said, "The dark-haired gentleman is Lucas Davenport, the bruiser over
here is Bob Matees. I have bios for both of them, if anyone is interested. Don't
let the stupid shirts and shorts fool you: Davenport closed out eighty murders
over twenty-five years with the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota
Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Marshals Service. In September, he
killed the 1919 sniper. Matees is assigned to the Service's SOG, and he's the
guy who took down out the New Orleans cannibal in that fire-fight in Nevada last
summer. Davenport was there for that one, too."
"Shooters," one of the men said, with a skeptical tone.
Lucas looked at him and nodded. "Somebody's got to do the heavy
"Okaaaay..." Weaver said. To Lucas and Bob: "You weren't here Saturday for
our end-of-week round-up session, but if you've read our latest info packets,
you're up to date, because last week and the week before that, we got jack shit.
The Miami-Dade cops and Lauderdale cops have mostly pulled out of the task
force, we've got one guy from the Broward sheriff's department who for some
reason is still with us, although he seems to be running late today, and over
here..." He pointed his pencil at the woman. "... We have July Taylor, a warrant
officer from the Coast Guard's Cape May facility. She's a Coast Guard
His pencil did a 180-degree sweep of the remainder of the table: "The rest
are FBI. You'll learn their names quickly enough. Now: Let's figure out what
we're all doing."
The answer to that question, Lucas thought, a half-hour into
the meeting, was, not much. The task force seemed to be operating on
hope, looking for a break from increasingly unlikely sources.
"Our problem," Weaver explained to Lucas and Bob, "Is that the group doing
the drug import is small and tight, and may not have lit up any law enforcement
screens before now."
"I read that the guy who was killed was some minor Miami hoodlum," Lucas
"Yeah, he was. He worked for anyone who wanted some rough work done, he
wasn't part of any specific organization. His main qualification is that he
liked boats. In fact, he usually worked the boat show you're going to, and the
Miami Boat show, which is in a couple of months. We think he was hired to run
the boat. Like the diver, we think he had that one special ability, but nothing
to do with the purchase and resale of the heroin. If it is heroin we're talking
"And the diver..."
"We thought that would be a weak point. If this gang is doing what we think
they're doing, they need professional divers to work with them. Or, they need
well-trained divers, anyway. Guys who can go deep with multiple tanks," Weaver
said. "We worked that hard for the first month after the shootings and came up
dry. We think it's possible that the divers involved were brought in from the
outside for this one specific job and kept their heads down while they were
here. No hanging out at diver bars. Now they may have gone back to wherever they
"How do you know that they're not done with this?" Lucas asked. "The dope
guys. That they might not have walked away from it?"
Weaver pointed his pencil at one of the suits, who said, "We've talked to
half the goons in South Florida, in jail and out, and there's a persistent rumor
that most of the product is still out there. Millions of dollars worth. Tens of
millions. The word is, the importers only made a couple of recovery runs before
they were rousted by the Coast Guard."
Bob: "And nobody can find where the dope was dumped?"
Weaver's pencil went to the Coast Guard. Taylor said, "Our enlisted man,
the one who spotted the activity..."
Bob: "The one we're going to talk to.."
"Yes. He was in his own boat, a private boat, south of Pompano Beach... if
you know where that is..."
"I looked at it on a map, so I have an idea," Lucas said. "Up north of
here, not too far."
"Yes. His fish-finding gear has GPS but was an old unit and didn't have the
ability to record his track. We would kill for that. He believes, but he's not
sure, that the other boat was southeast of him, but he'd not positive of that,
because the coast line isn't exactly north and south. The other boat could have
been dead south. He's also unsure of the distance between them, because it was
always changing. Less than a mile, but at least a quarter mile. With two moving
boats on the water without landmarks, it's sometimes hard to tell. Altogether,
we think the diver was somewhere in an arc a half-mile wide, but as much as two
or even three miles north to south, covering a series of reefs off the coast,
from fairly shallow and easily dived, to depths that would be at the extreme
limit of what a Scuba diver might want to do."
"Doesn't sound like that huge an area," Bob ventured.
"There're almost forty-two million square feet in one and a half square
miles mile," the woman said. "From Petty Office Barney Hall's description, the
men were loading dark-colored, gray or black, bucket-sized containers off their
boat before it burned. We suspect that they may have been twelve-inch or
fourteen-inch PVC pipes sealed at the ends, each probably eighteen inches long.
We have seen those kind of containers before. Lying on their sides, each pipe
would show an area of about one-and-a-half square feet. Trying to find a dark
object that small in an area of forty-two million square feet is... difficult,
to say the least. We'd have to be very lucky to find one."
"Are you still trying?" Lucas asked.
She shook her head. "No. We had a submersible looking for two months and
never found a single pipe. If they're even down there. There are strong
currents, there's rough terrain, and the bottom gets churned up and visibility
can be down to almost nothing. The pipes may very well be covered with sediment,
so we could roll right over one and never see it."
"All of which is somewhat beside the point," Weaver said. "We know that
something may be down there, or maybe there isn't, but we're interested in the
men who did the shooting, not so much the dope itself. We'll take the dope if we
can get it, but what we really want are the killers."
Lucas: "If we can find somebody who knows how to get to the dope, we'll
have somebody who can take us to the killers."
Weaver said, "Yes. Of course. The Coast Guard is doing surveillance of the
area. We have cameras mounted in beach-side condos that scan the area for
suspicious activity boats that may be putting down divers in the target
"Are there legitimate divers going out there?" Lucas asked.
Taylor said, "We contacted all the local dive boats and told the owners
that anyone diving out there is going to get inspected right down to the screws
in the hull. They'll stay away."
Another agent Lucas could see his plastic name card and it said,
"Bruce, David C." said, "Unless we want them out there. The
Yet another agent said, "Do we have to talk about that again?"
Weaver pointed his pencil at Bruce and said, "The marshals haven't heard
this yet so talk."
Bruce, a thin, boyish man with careful brown hair and narrow-rimmed,
rectangular glasses, cleared his throat and said, "I suggested that we sponsor a
kind of... Easter-egg hunt. That instead of forbidding the dive boats from going
there, we offer a substantial reward for one of the pipes. A lot of divers like
the idea of treasure hunts. If we offered say, a fifty thousand dollar reward
for one of those pipes, and outlined the area that we thought they might be
in... I bet we'd have a dozen boats out there every day, with expert divers. At
no cost to us."
"Plus a few amateurs who'd probably die," somebody else said.
Bruce shrugged. "It may be distasteful to some, but... not our problem. We
could have the Coast Guard check each boat and make sure everybody was properly
certified. I don't think deaths would actually be likely."
He looked directly at Lucas: "The other benefit, of course, is that it
might stir up talk between the killers and we might hear about it."
Weaver jumped in, speaking to Lucas and Bob: "It's in the paper you read,
but we believe each... dope container, each can... probably carries a location
beeper of some kind. You dive down close with your own sonar unit, put out a
specific low-power code, maybe a complicated code because it'd be all
mechanical, so why not? Then, when the capsule's unit picks up the code, it
beeps back. You use your sonar unit to track right into the capsule. All we need
is one of those things and we'll have the code and then we could find the
Bob asked, "What's wrong with that idea, the Easter egg hunt? That's the
best thing I've heard so far... not counting the dead amateur diver
"It's a weird way to operate," the objecting agent said. "We'd have to run
it through Washington, the whole fifty-grand thing..."
Bruce, annoyed, cut him off and said to Weaver, "Dale, we're supporting
seven people here in hotel rooms. We're probably spending fifteen thousand
dollars a week getting, as you said, jack shit. Ask Washington for the
"It'd be a waste of time," said the agent who hadn't wanted to talk about
After a little more snarling and chipping, Weaver sighed and said, "I
already asked for the money. I could hear back today."
There were a couple of groans and Bruce leaned back in his chair, looking
pleased. "Good move," he said.
The meeting went on for the full hour, the agents assigned to
contact various underworld characters working between the Keys and Palm Beach,
but from the desultory response, Lucas didn't expect much to come from it. To
Lucas, Weaver looked like a man in the twilight of his career, assigned to run
the task force because he had the experience to do it, but without great
expectations from anyone higher-up.
The case was most likely to be resolved by accident, Lucas thought a
cop somewhere arrests a guy who really needs to walk away, and who has a piece
of information, and who voluntarily rolls on the killers. Or, he thought, it'd
be solved by him and Bob.
When the meeting broke up, Weaver said, "Is there anything I can do for you
"We like to talk to a few of the local narcs, here and down in Miami, if
that can be fixed," Lucas said. "Guys who could put us onto some of the
"Sure. How about this afternoon? Three o'clock?"
"The best place would be at the Miami-Dade North police station," Weaver
said. "They've got a bunch of conference rooms down there. I'm sure we could get
one. We could pull in people from both Miami-Dade and Broward. And city of Miami
"That'd be great," Lucas said. "Sure you can fix it?"
"Pretty sure. They've all been cooperative. I mean, they get federal
"Want some DEA agents?"
Lucas and Bob took the elevator down to the ground floor with
Taylor, the Coast Guard cop, who asked, "Did you get anything out of
Lucas said, "There were a few things." He had some sympathy for Weaver,
running the task force to nowhere; he'd been on a few of those.
"They've given up," Taylor said. "A couple of more weeks and Dale will
write a report suggesting that we continue to monitor the possible dive site and
arrests of drug-related persons, but that the task force be closed down."
"Is that what you think should be done?" Bob asked.
"I think we should try David Bruce's idea of the reward. If nobody finds a
dope can, we're no worse off than we are now. At least we've got an iron in the
fire." Then she shrugged: "Right now, we have nothing. Unless you two are law
enforcement geniuses, that won't improve. I'm ready to go home."
Bob smiled at her: "But we are law enforcement geniuses. At least
I am. Lucas is more like my assistant, he carries my gun and so on, does my PR.
We'll break it in a week or two."
"I'm holding my breath," she said. "Waiting to see you two at work. I know
Dale is impressed, and I mean, I could learn so much."
Lucas said to Bob, "A cynic. She doesn't entirely believe you."
Bob shook his head. "It's sad to think about."
"I have to confess," Taylor said to Bob, reaching out to touch his arm. "I
loved that part where you dropped your Glock on the conference table. That was
the most exciting thing that happened in that room in two months. Well, aside
from your shorts."