Tampa, Florida, 2008
Eric's throat was extremely dry. That was the first thought that came to him, that he desperately wanted something to drink. He then noticed that he couldn't see anything, and thought for a moment that he'd gone blind. He forced his brain to calm down and attempt to open his eyes.
The first thing he saw was a bright blur. He blinked a couple of times, and the blur sharpened up a bit -- a wall. A corner. Someone sitting in a chair.
"Hello?" Eric croaked. He sounded 90 years old.
"Your driver's license is expired," the person in the chair answered. "By about four years."
"OK. . ." Eric said, blinking a few more times as if that would clear the confusion.
The blinking did help clear his vision, though. The man sitting in the chair stood up -- Eric could see he was a shorter main, Asian, wearing a black suit, white shirt, and awful tie. He was young, though, and clean-shaven.
"I would ask how you're feeling, but generally I'd imagine waking up from three days in a coma after losing 40 percent of your blood doesn't feel too great," the Asian man told him, standing over Eric's hospital bed. Eric then realized that he was, in fact, in a hospital.
"Where am I?" Eric asked.
"U.S. Air Force Hospital, MacDill Air Force base," the Asian said. "You washed up on a military beach."
"And who are you?"
"Agent Enano, FBI. I'm here because you washed up on Federal property. Well, that, and because someone obviously tried to bleed you to death, which is sort of a crime. So, why not make my job easy and tell me who tried to kill you so I can just go arrest them and go home, already."
"No one --"
"Right. No one did this to you. You were just, what, chopping some onions and the knife got away from you, so you decided to stop the bleeding by throwing yourself into the bay?"
"Slow down, Chief. I was about to ask if anyone knows I'm here," Eric coughed. Nothing came up, not even saliva. "Can I get a glass of water or something?"
"Oh. Uh, yeah. Sure."
Enano called for the nurse, who was a young man with a buzzcut and pale green scrubs. After a short, hushed conversation with Enano, the nurse brought Eric a bottle of water, then vanished out into the hall without saying a word. He closed the door behind him, and Eric was suddenly struck by just how quiet it was in the hospital -- not like any other hospital he'd ever been to.
"So, tell me your story, Eric Austen, DOB 4/11/75," Enano said, reading from Eric's license.
"You said you're FBI, right? You guys deal with organized crime, don't you?"
"Not so much anymore. Now we're tasked with a lot of counter-terrorism stuff, like questioning suspicious people who trespass on government property, then go comatose and bleed all over Uncle Sam's sand," Enano winked. "Yes, we handle organized crime. Why? Jimmy The Nose do this to you?"
"So you're telling me that there is no organized crime anymore?"
"Not as much, no."
"What about the Triads?"
"You're saying they're who cut you up? Death of 100 cuts? And then you floated all the way up here from Miami?"
"No, I didn't come from Miami."
"There are no Triad cells in Tampa."
"You're right there. Ever ask yourself why that is? It's not like this town is any less juicy for business than Miami."
"Tampa doesn't have an organized crime problem, kiddo."
Eric took a long drink from his bottle of water.
"First off, I'm older than you, so I don't think 'kiddo' is really the term you're looking for. And you didn't answer my question, Agent Enano. Why aren't the Triads in Tampa?"
"Because of the Russians."
"You're a bit out of date, there. Russians got moved out of Tampa altogether in 2004."
"That's the question, isn't it? Who's powerful enough to move out the Russians and keep the Triads from moving in?"
Enano looked uncomfortable, and when he didn't reply for a full minute, Eric felt a grin creeping up the corners of his mouth.
"You really have no clue, do you? He's been operating for fifteen years in this city, and you don't even know he exists."
"You're just making shit up now."
"What reason do I have to lie?"
"What reason do you have to tell the truth?"
"Ah, touche. That, I think, is going to require a few things -- a lawyer, first. Someone to take a deposition. And, not to say anything against you, but a lot more Federal cops than just one guy."
Enano pulled a chair up next to Eric's hospital bed.
"So let me get this straight. You're telling me that there's a criminal organization out there that we no absolutely nothing about? Controlling, what, 20 percent of the crime in Tampa?"
"Try 90. There aren't many pies this guy doesn't have a finger in."
"And you know this how? Because you crossed them?"
"Because I was one of them."
Enano leaned back in his chair, shaking his head.
"I need you to tell me everything."
"And I need the stuff I mentioned before. And a cigarette."
* * *
Two hours later, the room was filled with smoke. Eric had just polished off his 16th cigarette -- I really need to quit, he realized. The lawyer from the Department of Justice, a tall, thin man with large plastic glasses, kept waving his hands in the air around him as if flies were attacking him. Eric knew the attorney was trying to hint that Eric should stop smoking, which only made him want to smoke more.
Enano had been hanging on every word since Eric started talking. When Eric finished with the broad strokes of the organization, he stood and opened a window. The attorney shot him a look of gratitude.
"Two problems that I can see, Eric. One -- why'd they try to kill you? You didn't mention that part of the story," Enano said.
"I'll tell you soon enough."
"Fine. Two -- there's not a shred of evidence to back any of this up. You realize that?"
"When do the doctors think I'll be able to walk around again?"
"Couple of days."
"Then, sir, in a couple of days. . . you'll have more fucking evidence than you can handle."
* * *
"Are the leg shackles really necessary?" Eric bitched from the back of the Crown Victoria.
"Your wrists are still way too wrecked for handcuffs. And you did kind of admit to being, you know, a criminal. I have to keep you restrained -- it's my job," Enano shrugged from the front seat. Another agent, this one older and with a grey buzzcut, sat in the passenger seat. They'd been in the car for 45 minutes, and the older agent hadn't said a word.
"You'll want to take a left up here," Eric sighed, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. The sun was just going down as the silver Crown Vic turned onto Highway 60, headed from downtown Tampa towards Brandon.
"Two miles up on your right. The place is called Jorgensen's Heavy Equipment Sales. You don't want to get too close -- 'sides, you'll be able to see it from quite a distance."
"We have done stuff like this before," Enano told him.
"Yeah. Not with these guys. You know why you never found out about them before? Because that's how they wanted it. They know how to keep things subtle. The only reason you're going to see anything tonight is because I'm going to tell you exactly where to look, and because they can't exactly hide this cargo too well."
"About that -- you still haven't mentioned what this cargo is."
"I like to see the look on your face when you realize all sorts of nasty shit has been going on right under your agency's nose for years. Like the one in the hospital."
Enano frowned, and Eric smirked.
"Not that look. Close, though."
Jorgensen's Heavy Equipment Sales, a low prefab-metal building, was just coming up on their right.
"Go past it and park in the next lot over. Then we kill all the lights and wait a couple of hours."
Enano obviously didn't like Eric or the way he was acting, but he did as he was told. They sat in the car for two and a half hours -- Enano asking some more specific questions about Julian, the older agent still saying nothing. Then, at just after 9:00, an unmarked box truck pulled up in Jorgensen's dirt lot. It was white and unmarked, just like any general contractor might drive. The guy who got out of the driver's seat even looked like he could be a general contractor -- young, grey T-shirt, workboots, tattoos. A few more general-contractor looking guys came out of the building, followed by a young black guy driving a forklift.
"Oooh. So they're dropping off heavy equipment after hours. By all means, let's go arrest them. They're evil," Enano said flatly.
The truck's driver opened the back of the panel truck, and the forklift driver piloted the skids inside, hooking onto a pallet. It was then that Enano noticed that the two other guys -- the ones who didn't seem to be doing anything -- had drawn handguns and were looking around. They were standing guard.
The forklift backed away from the panel truck, bringing with it a pallet stacked high with long, narrow wooden crates.
"What are those?" Enano asked no one in particular, bringing a pair of binoculars up to his eyes.
The older agent, though, didn't seem to need binoculars.
"Surface-to-air missiles," the older agent said. It was the only thing Eric heard him say before or since.
"Please tell me they aren't planning on using those things on American soil," Enano said. His face had gone somewhat pale.
"See? There's the look I was after. And no, truth be told, guy probably isn't planning on using them at all. He'll sell them on, probably to some jackasses in some shitty South American hellhole."
"How does he get a hold of something like that?"
"Probably from Belarus or the Ukraine. He has contacts out that way."
"But. . . why?"
"Think about this -- the Jackson Height Posse or the Pompano Boys buy their weapons somewhere, right? So he has to supply for them, among other various outfits and street gangs. Then good old Vassily the Ukrainian mentions he's got a bunch of spare missles he needs to get rid of. He's already smuggling in a bunch of AK's. Might as well fill up the shipping container and hold onto the missiles until he can hook them up with someone in, say, Columbia, who will pay triple what Julian paid to get them."
"We should go down there and arrest them right now," Enano said, already reaching for the Crown Vic's door handle.
"I wouldn't. You'll get four guys on some smuggling charges, and that's it. You won't find anything around there to tie it to Julian or anyone other than those four guys, and it'll be tough to make even that stick. I just showed you this to give you a taste."
"A taste? You mean there's more?" Enano looked uncomfortable again.
"Oh, Enano," Eric grinned. "Cheer up. It's so much worse than you think."
* * *
It was a different agent with Enano in the front seat this time, but much the same situation. Eric was still leg-cuffed to the bar in the backseat, and the other agent still wasn't talking. This one was a bit younger than the previous one, maybe 45, but he had the same short hair and serious expression.
The silver Crown Victoria was parked under the shadow of I-275 on Hanna Avenue, about a block down from Nebraska Avenue. Enano was pale again, and Eric was fighting off a smile. The two agents had just witnessed a massive shipment of heroin being dropped off at a shitty house near the intersection. In the past three days, Eric had shown Enano brothels, gun running, drug trafficking, chop shops, and six or seven meth labs.
The kicker, though, was tying it all in to Julian. Eric knew that the paper trail wouldn't do it -- Julian had none. The only way Eric was going to be able to bring down the whole organization was to testify, and he knew it. He just needed to convince Enano that Julian's operation was big enough to make it worth his while.
If tonight's display didn't work, Eric reasoned, he'd take Enano to one of the body-dump sites Russel had used, a condemned house not far from where they were currently sitting. Assuming they hadn't closed up that particular shop, Eric knew there would probably be four or five bodies dissolving in polystyrene containers full of acid in the house's basement.
"You're saying one guy controls all of this?" Enano shook his head slowly.
"This, and more. Seen enough yet? Ready to talk about a deal for me?"
Part of Eric was hoping Enano would say no, just so he could see the expression on the young agent's face when he saw the dump site, smelled those poor souls slowly melting away in hydrophoric acid.
"Yeah. I'm ready. Tell me what you need," Enano nodded, starting up the Crown Vic and heading for the Interstate.