the group in a shady corner of the parking lot and folds his arms.
He is lost in the morning's argument with Nancy. It plays like a
B movie; Nancy throwing a dishtowel in the sink, Kathleen, their
three year old, crawling under the kitchen table, Ryan in his high
chair squirming out of the harness, the anniversary card with its
elaborate purple watercolor flowers and promise for dinner at Commanders
Palace already mixed in with the newspaper's sections. "You like
that job more than your own family," said Nancy.
trousers are pulled high. His golf shirt emphasizes his bulky, hard
muscles earned in the local gym he haunts when the rest of the office
sleeps. "Everyone knows the drill," he says. "Follow Briggs until
he sets down. If we see an exchange, we hit him." Jake eyes Pitman's
hairline, dotted with flesh colored X's. A failed hair transplant.
Staring at the upper quadrant of Pitman's forehead, Jake hears Nancy's
voice as he connects the X's. "There's the Ursa Major. See the Big
Dipper forms the tail and part of the back." Nancy had pointed out
this pattern in a breathless sexy whisper at the office holiday
The group glances toward Salazar, the
backup supervisor. Last month his Philippine wife left him and returned
to Manila. He rubs his hand over his tan shaved head. "Let's not
forget it's the weekend," he says.
"So, it's the weekend," says Pitman, "let's
get this one under our belts." He smiles flashing slightly buckteeth.
Nancy calls him 'the old rabbit.' Pitman searches their faces.
Salazar shrugs. They all know it is useless.
On his desk Pitman keeps a book titled "The One Minute Manager."
Whenever Jake tried to explain his ideas about making big cases,
tracking the sources of supply back to Mexico or South America,
Pitman would tap his fingers and shift in his swivel chair.
Mullet kicks at the gravel with scuffed
cowboy boots. "Lemme ask you a hypothetical." He spits chew tobacco
juice into a Mountain Dew bottle. "What if he doesn't move today,
what if Briggs stays put? We gonna do this tomorrow?"
"He won't," says Pitman.
Mullet spits and mumbles.
"What was that?" Pitman narrows his eyes.
"Cha-ching, cha-ching," says Mullet with
a smirk, "overtime." Everyone laughs. Agents don't get overtime.
Pitman opens the door of his Crown Vic.
"Let's do it," he says.
At the corner of Galvez and Alvar under
a patch of shade cast from a smoke stack rising from a refinery
plant near the Industrial Canal, Jake fits his Thunderbird into
a spot. He has the eyeball. It is his job to watch Briggs' red Mustang
parked a quarter-mile up the street. Under an expansive blue sky,
single story row houses with low-pitched green and red-shingled
roofs line the street. Banana trees poke above fences and alleyways.
A small red import passes. An arm flicks out the window. Newspapers
"thwack" on the stoops and walks.
Jake is unfamiliar with the area. He has
worked only one investigation in New Orleans East; the group busted
a small neighborhood crack ring that sold to the area's residents
and college students tripping over from L.S.U. He unfolds a map
and traces the routes in and out of the neighborhood.
Across the street, women in starched maid's
uniforms gather at a bus stop. They smile and greet one another
until one rubs her white nurse's shoe against the back of her bare
calf and nods at his car. They stare in his direction. The bus pulls
up. They watch his car even as they take their seats.
Jake tries not to think about the hours
ahead. The surveillance is sure to be an all day affair. "Did you
know the fifth year gift is supposed to be something made out of
wood," Nancy remarked this morning, feeding Ryan his baby food.
"That's the way I feel, like wood."
"If it goes down early," he said, "I'll
be home early."
"Early. Define early." They met at Boston
College in Astronomy 101 where he was fulfilling his science requirement
for his major in criminology. She majored in meteorology with a
minor in space science. She liked things exact. On the campus' closed
circuit network she had been the weather girl. Eating his dinner
in the college cafeteria, he watched her predict cold fronts on
a primitive board with frowning clouds and a smiling sun. "This
is out of my control," he yelled. "You know that. We go over this
every damn day."
"You'd think after the incident you would
have at least been transferred to a new assignment," she said.
"You're not making this easy," he said.
"Oh, just go." She spooned the last bit
of pureed carrots out of the jar and flicked it at Jake. The glob
splattered on the floor. The baby chortled. Then, Nancy laughed.
It was contagious.
She always calls the shooting the "incident."
After the shooting Jake told her everything. They hugged and he
broke down. Later, that evening, he rolled up his shirtsleeves and
wrote, Incident, at the top of a lined yellow pad. "God,"
he groaned tapping the pencil on the pad. "I've got to figure out
my story." She asked him what he knew about the guy. He told her
Lucas' record showed he was a bar brawler, a hold-up man, a petty
coke dealer. "Pitman said if I didn't shoot him, someone else would
have," he added.
He listed the reasons why he had to shoot:
self-defense, immediate threat, armed felon. He told Nancy that
Lucas' gun hadn't been loaded. "And, I'll tell you something, something
that can never be repeated." His eyes were clear and focused. "Not
to anyone, not even Pitman or the prosecutors." She wiped her forehead
and kept her hand at her mouth. "He never pointed the gun at me."
"What do you mean?"
"Lucas," he said. "He never pointed his
gun at me. I just shot him."
Her mouth dropped open. "I didn't even
know I shot him until I heard the blast from my gun," he said. "It
was like I was someone else, fucking someone I never knew."
"But, that doesn't mean you weren't right?"
she asked. "He did have a gun."
"I just need to believe it," he said.
"We both need to believe it," she said.
A red dump truck back fires. Startled,
Jake bangs his knee on the steering wheel. He lets out a breath.
Nancy wanted him to retire on a stress related retirement. "Seventy-five
percent tax-free," she said. "You probably gross less now." The
guys said he was crazy for not trying. "Where would that leave me?"
he asked Nancy. "Heading back to Boston without a job?" Would he
try to start over as a rookie cop walking a beat? He couldn't imagine
not carrying a gun, not having his credential and badge in his left
front pants pocket.
After they graduated from college, Nancy
and he screened the federal agencies. "Get in at the foundation
of a federal agency and there will be room to climb," she had said.
Her father had been an FBI agent, so she knew a little about the
pension plans and job security. Nancy and Jake reviewed the benefit's
package, the retirements. On every point a federal job was a better
deal than working on the Boston Police. Jake signed the Fed's mobility
agreement. Both of them knew he could be assigned to any city in
the United States. After Jake graduated from the academy, they toasted
the transfer to New Orleans, a romantic southern city, at their
favorite Italian restaurant.
Sometimes at night when the house was
quiet and the children were in bed, Nancy would pour a glass of
wine and open him a beer. She wanted to go back to Boston and start
over. "The job is too dangerous," she'd say. "You've got a family."
She argued that the stress was making him snap at the kids. "You
take our heads off over every little thing." He tried to explain
that his job was more than a job, it was a career. "What about my
career," she'd argue. "My career is stuck in a black hole." She
had auditioned at all the local television and radio stations. She
settled for a part time job on a short wave radio station that regulated
intercostal ship traffic. After a few weeks, she quit. Childcare
costs about equaled her salary. "How the hell did we get transferred
to New Orleans?" she'd ask waving her wine glass. "Do they fire
away at a giant dart board?"
Jake turns on the radio. Callers yak about
local politics. Should New Orleans legalize gambling? Or, should
they raise property taxes to improve the schools? He finds a sappy
Elton John song.
"Any movement?" squawks Pitman through
the police radio.
He rubs his eyes. Waves of heat rise off
Brigg's car. Morning has already slipped into afternoon. August
in New Orleans is a steam bath. Rain pounds every afternoon. During
storms, Nancy stands under the overhang on the rear porch. In the
yard, wind socks fill and swirl and the rain gauge overflows. At
the peak of the garage a 3-cup anemometer spins next to a wind vane.
She shows the children wind rustling in the trees. Puffing up her
cheeks Kathleen blows gustily.
Everyone, the guys he works with, Nancy,
his employee assistance psychiatrist, says the incident wasn't his
fault. They all tried to convince him there was no other choice.
Represented by an attorney, Jake told the homicide detectives that
Lucas had been raising his gun. "Exactly how?" asked one of the
detectives. In the small room Jake reenacted Lucas' hand coming
up with the gun. The information the New Orleans P.D. released to
the media focused on Lucas, not the shooting. The press never found
out the "minor particulars" as Nancy called them. Lucas' gun wasn't
loaded. He wasn't selling any drugs. The deal was a set-up for a
rip-off. A petty crime.
The DA for Orleans Parish didn't bring
the case before a Grand Jury. Only Jake, his psychiatrist, and Nancy
know exactly what happened. In the course of investigating the shooting,
small pieces were omitted. If it were a scenic puzzle bits of sky
and trees would be missing. No one mentioned that Jake hadn't followed
the operational plan.
For months afterwards, if a cop or agent
was present, Jake couldn't spend any money in a restaurant or bar.
"He's the one who shot the scumbag," they'd say patting his back.
He checks his watch. Two o'clock. He bites
his lower lip. He is doing exactly what his psychiatrist told him
not to do. Obsessing. But once he starts thinking about Lucas, there
are no doors or windows. I didn't have to shoot Lucas, he thinks.
It always comes down to that. Jake gnaws on a fingernail. Why doesn't
the goddamn Mustang move? It's been five hours. He opens the door
and stretches his legs.
The cocaine purchase was considered routine.
Jake had made at least thirty just like it. His cover story was
the "out-of towner," who didn't like hanging around. There had been
an operational plan and a pre-buy meeting on the West Bank. Five
surveillance agents and Pitman set up in the vicinity. Jake parked
in front of a four-story building nicknamed the "24-7 Apartments"
because of its non-stop drug market.
It was clear day, a bit cool but sunny.
The block was deserted. At the curb a microwave rested on a sagging
velour couch. Clothes spilled from a maple dresser missing its top
drawer. Jake stepped over a monitor still attached to a computer.
A transmitter the size of a pack of cigarettes was taped to the
small of his back. When he took a step, he felt the microphone wire
tugging around his waist. Jake pictured Pitman in the Crown Vic
listening intently to every breath, every footfall. He paused squared
his shoulders and said, "Boss, if you hear me, beep your horn."
Jake heard an answering toot from around
He crossed the street under a dozen pairs
of shoes hanging from the electrical wires and started up the walk.
He turned his Red Sox cap backward and strode up the cement stoop.
In his pocket he had fifteen hundred in small bills always
small bills - only a narc would come with big bills.
In the white tiled lobby, the windows
were open, but the air was heavy and silent. A woman with rows of
pink curlers in her hair came down the iron stairs. "They sold out,"
she said, passing him and continued down the steps.
Jake heard heavy footsteps on the stairs.
Carmouch, the target of the buy-bust, clomped into the lobby in
unlaced Timberlines. "What did that bitch say?" he asked tugging
pants low on his hips. Four inches of his plaid boxer shorts showed.
"She said they sold out?"
Carmouch laughed. "She's nothing but a
crazy bitch." They slid their palms across each other's. Carmouch's
was damp with sweat. "That's all my shit out on the curb." He looked
toward the street.
"I got people waiting for me," said Jake.
"It's up in my apartment, number 3R."
Carmouch raised his eyebrows as if to say it wasn't his fault and
jammed his hands into his droopy pants. "Lois, my girl, she's up
there holding it." Carmouch walked out to the stoop. "I got to watch
my stuff. I don't need it getting legs."
Pitman's words passed through Jake's mind
like a familiar song. "Don't leave the lobby," he had said. "No
one can cover you if you trip up to an apartment." Jake weighed
the risk. With Carmouch moving, would there be another opportunity?
"Her name is Lois?" asked Jake.
"Right," said Carmouch not turning around.
Jake bounded up the stairs and was winded
at the third floor. He thought about Pitman listening to his footfalls.
Pitman's face growing red. The door to 3R was open. He knocked anyway.
When someone with a deep voice said to come in, Jake should have
known the deal was fucked. But, he had his gun and it would be over
in two minutes and he'd be heading down the stairs with the package.
He stepped in. Lucas, a big goon in a "Harley" t-shirt, strode toward
"What took you so long?" asked Lucas.
"It's boiling in here." His black hair stuck to his forehead. His
t-shirt had moons of sweat under the arms. Jake took in the stained
wall-to-wall carpet, the marred walls. The apartment was empty.
No furniture, no drapes, no blinds. Nothing but cable lines dangling
from the walls.
"Where's Lois?" he asked.
"I'm Lois," he sneered and wiped his forehead.
Jake took a step back toward the door.
"I'm just fucking with you," said Lucas.
"It's all set. Just give me the money and I'll be right back."
"Look," Jake held up his hands, "I don't
know you, and you don't know me. I'll talk to Carmouch. Then I'll
come back." He backed toward the door.
"Yankee boy." Lucas pulled a gun from
the back of his waist. He held it with the barrel pointed at the
floor. God, he hoped Pitman heard Carmouch say the apartment number.
Why the fuck did he come up those stairs? He stared at the snub
nose revolver. "We're gonna do this my way," said Lucas.
The radio squawks, "Any movement?" Jake
is jolted back to the hot afternoon on the East Bank.
"Negative," he replies.
"I'll take a drive-by," says an agent.
Jake returns to his fingernails, finds
a piece of skin and rips it away with his teeth. He curses. He rummages
for a tissue in the glove compartment and wraps it around his finger.
Blood seeps through.
"Jake, take yourself a break," says Salazar
over the radio. "I'll take the eyeball."
After Salazar moves his car into position,
Jake drives to a McDonalds. He buys a few burgers and a drink. Standing
next to his car in the parking lot, he listens for the radio and
"Hey," he says.
"What's taking so long?"
"We're watching the guy's car. We don't
even know if he's home."
"Maybe the guy is dead," she says lightly.
"I hope he is dead," says Jake. "Then
we'd end this fucking surveillance."
"The old rabbit, he'll just find another
one for you guys."
"How are the kids?"
"Good," her voice brightens. "One is being
Michael Angelo and the other is eating the crayons." She laughs.
Pitman's voice crackles over the radio.
"Jake, find Bloom Street and cover the exit to Hammond."
Jake leans into the car and grabs the
"The rabbit?" asks Nancy.
"He's got me off the eyeball, at least."
"Love you," she says. "Hurry home."
"I will," he says.
Using his map, Jake locates Bloom and
Hammond. He parks under an old cement-colored hackberry. A mocking
bird on the overhead telephone wire makes a loud protest. Jake shifts
the seat back trying to get comfortable. His 9-millimeter presses
into his flesh. He is hot and his ass feels like a swamp. At least
he is rid of the eyeball. A bus pulls up and women in white uniforms
exit. They give his car a quick glance and hurry down the shady
sidewalk. He opens the bag of food and pulls out a foil wrapped
After the shooting everyone reminded him
that it would have taken a second for Lucas to raise the gun and
fire. "Jake, get it into your head," said Pitman. "In less than
a second he could have blown you away." But, Jake reasoned Lucas
wouldn't have raised his gun, because it wasn't loaded. Even when
Lucas said, "Don't make me take that fucking money from you," the
gun had been hanging from his hand.
Jake reached to the small of his back,
lifted his shirt and pulled out his Sig Sauer, 9 millimeter. Lucas
froze, as if he was acknowledging that it was Jake's move. Jake
pointed his gun and pulled the trigger. Had he feared for his life?
Had he considered his own mortality at all?
Lucas took the bullet like someone catching
a medicine ball. His revolver landed softly on the carpet. He fell
to a sitting position. Jake heard the agents pounding up the stairs,
running through the apartment hallways, searching for him. Pitman
didn't get the number, he realized. He removed his shirt and pressed
on Lucas' chest. Under the balled shirt, he felt a hole in the man's
chest. Lucas trembled like he had been out in a soaking rain. Jake
could smell his blood, taste it. There was nothing to prop up Lucas'
"You didn't have to shoot me." Lucas started
Over the roofs he watches the sun drop.
The low clouds have turned a muddy orange. He knows he acted without
premeditation. He considers himself a good person; a father, a husband.
But, he could have yelled, "Drop the gun." He lifts the mike-head
to his lips to ask Pitman how goddamned long they are going to give
it, but knows Pitman is practical and pigheaded. If they have waited
this long, why leave now, Pitman would reason. Jake once picked
Pitman up at his house. The neighborhood was lush with magnolias,
gardens, and oaks. Pitman's lawn was stark. High maintenance property
was impractical for someone in the management track. Why put money
into a house when the agency was going to pack you off to another
assignment every few years? Why get emotionally attached to anything?
"Is there any movement?" asks Pitman through
"Negative," responds Salazar.
"How long are we going to give it?"
"He's bound to move," answers Pitman.
Jake hangs the mike over the gearshift.
A mutt slides up to his car. It stands stiff like a fawn. Jake watches
it for a while then opens his door. The dog steps back, his backside
shaking. He'd like to pet it, calm it, do something some good. He
sticks out his hand, palm up. The dog runs off with its tail between
its legs and almost gets hit by the Mustang. Briggs is behind the
Jake grabs the mike and puts it out on
the radio, "Briggs is on the move, city bound." He pulls into the
"It's our Mustang?" yells Pitman over
"It's our car," says Salazar. "I was blocked
by a fucking bus."
The agents expect Briggs is going to meet
a customer. They fall into position behind the Mustang. Jake is
sure no one, except Pitman is happy. They have waited for nine hours.
It's already past dinnertime. Twilight is surrendering to night.
Jake can hear Pitman saying, "You want banker's hours. Be a banker."
Briggs reaches the city, and heads lake
bound on Canal Street. The government cars jockey in and out of
position, taking turns on the radio so Briggs doesn't catch the
tail. Finally, Briggs passes the expected meeting place and accelerates
onto the I-10 heading back East. A heat run, thinks Jake.
He rotates from the first car in the surveillance
to the last car, almost out of the "car to car" radio range. He
swerves the car at eighty. His cell phone rings and he manages to
see the subscriber ID. Nancy. Her tired eyes and sulking lips seem
to flash across his windshield. He would like to go home, shower
and slip onto the couch next to her, share their anniversary. Someday,
he will make this up to her. He surges past traffic, but is still
at the tail end of the government cars. The phone stops ringing.
Just off the service road, Jake follows
the cars into the parking lot of the Howard Johnson's. He spots
the Mustang winding past the peaked lobby and small fenced pool
nestled between the buildings. The sky above the bright parking
lot is the color of dull steel, the stars hidden by artificial light.
"He's parking near the back fence," reports Salazar over the radio.
Jake swings his car around and positions it so that he can see down
the line of parked cars. He shuts off his lights. Briggs is a short
man with wide shoulders and a large torso. He appears dwarfish in
his skullcap and baggy sweat suit. He walks slowly to a white BMW.
Jake catches a glimpse of Salazar slipping
his car into a parking spot. Jake is only about fifteen parking
spots from the BMW. He slides low in his bucket seat and discovers
he has a good eyeball. He switches the radio off car to car to call
base operations. "Romeo, Papa, Lima 6-2-9 Nancy," he says into the
mike calling out the Beamer's license plate.
A moment later the operator comes back
with the bio on the tag. "Myles Maxwell," he says, "72 Charters
Street." Jake recognizes the name as one from the crew that deals
from the Fisher Housing Projects. Jake sees Briggs slap five, swap
a few words with a thin man in light color slacks and a black button
down shirt. It's got to be Maxwell.
Something is going to go down. With Maxwell
on the set, Pitman is probably ready to pounce. Jake picks up the
radio but decides to call Pitman on his cell phone so that they
have some privacy.
"We just made a connection," Jake says.
"That's Maxwell from the projects. Briggs has got to be his source."
"Then watch for the package," says Pitman.
"What's the sense of hitting this tonight?"
Jake asks. "Why don't we let this one go? I'll look at the phones;
figure out where Briggs is getting it."
"If we see something we take it," answers
Pitman. "That's the way I do business."
"Boss let me take this one long term."
Jake knows he is pushing it. "I'll do the work up on it."
"If you see something, we take it." The
phone goes dead.
Jake watches Briggs and Maxwell. Briggs
is doing most of the talking. Jake sees the message light on the
phone blinking. Fuck it, he thinks. He dials his number.
Nancy answers. "I called before," she
"I was driving."
"The kids are in bed and I'm set up,"
"I told you."
He remembers the asteroid. She wanted
to record it for the kids. "Right," he says.
"What's going on?" she asks.
"We've got the two players meeting," he
says. "It should be going down soon."
"Tell the rabbit your wife is horny,"
Maxwell is listening to Briggs, nodding
his head. "I've got to go," says Jake.
"Does Pittman know it's our anniversary?"
It wouldn't have made any difference,
he thinks. "It's going down right now," he says.
"I'll wait up." She hangs up.
He wishes the night would end. He watches
for a package, an exchange. Briggs gestures with his finger pointed.
They talk for a half hour. It is now seven thirty. Over twelve hours
since he left the house. Pitman doesn't realize that Briggs and
Maxwell may never touch the dope. Perhaps they're too high in the
organization. Without an undercover into them, or listening to their
phones, surveillance will never pay off. Briggs reaches into his
pocket. Jake blinks his eyes staring, waiting for the exchange.
He watches their hands under the stark lights. Rubs his eyes
just saw it," he blurts into the mike. "I just saw a package."
"Move in, now," says Pitman.
Agents burst out of their cars and race
toward Briggs and Maxwell. "Freeze. Federal Agents!" Jake lags behind
with his gun stuck in his waist.
Salazar swings the short barrel of a submachine
gun from Briggs' head to Maxwell's head. He orders them to their
knees, then stomachs. Briggs' arms are tugged behind his back. One
wrist is cuffed, then the other. Maxwell complies and is cuffed.
The agents hold them by their upper arms
and elbows and pull them to their feet. Both are patted down, their
pockets pulled inside out, and their pant legs lifted. Nothing.
The agents look toward Pitman.
Pitman goes to Jake's side. "Where's it
at?" he asks. Jake feels his heart pounding. "What'd you see?"
"Something, they exchanged something."
He is sure of it. He must have seen something. "Hand to hand, from
Maxwell to Briggs."
"You mean from Briggs to Maxwell?" Pittman's
Jake winces, "Yes," he says. "That's what
I meant." There is no going back. The night is off in a new direction.
The agents in the group glance at him. Everyone is waiting. Jake
scans the parking lot, the lines of parked cars. He realizes if
they come up empty, Pitman and the others will think he is losing
his grip. "I fucking saw something," he says.
Pitman approaches Maxwell. Pebbles and
grit from the asphalt parking lot stick to Maxwell's cheek and forehead.
His eyes are wide.
Pitman motions for Jake and leads Maxwell
away from Briggs. Above, moths flutter at the lights. Bats dart
in and out of the insects picking them off one by one.
"Look," says Pitman in a tone that is
supposed to let Maxwell know that he can be trusted. "We saw what
went down. You want to make this easy or are you going to piss me
off and make us tear apart that nice car of yours?"
Under his taut skin, Maxwell's jaw muscles
mash. "Man, nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, just went down."
Two agents begin searching Maxwell's BMW.
Another pops open the trunk. Jake folds his arms. If they come up
empty, there is no reasonable explanation. Pitman knows Jake wanted
the case to go long term, develop into a complex conspiracy. Jake
curses his own impatience. Maybe it was just a hand gesture. In
his head he hears Nancy say, "Figure out your side and stick to
"This is what I call po-lice harassment,"
begins Briggs. "Nobody even read me my goddamn rights or told me
what the fuck crime I allegedly committed."
Pitman smiles at Jake, then Briggs. "It's
like a slow moving train," says Pitman, "Just a matter of time."
"You see that rip in my pants?" The material
over his knee is torn. "Somebody's going to pay for this."
The agents step out of the BMW. Their
faces are puzzled. Their hands are empty. "Search the Mustang,"
says Pitman. He sets his jaw and crosses to Jake. "Go over it with
me," he says.
"I don't know," says Jake. "Maybe I didn't
"You must have fucking saw something,"
The agents open the Mustang's trunk and
doors. They crawl inside the car as if it leads to a hidden passage.
The back seat is pried up and pushed out the door.
"Watch the leather," says Briggs loudly.
Pitman stands shoulder to shoulder with
Jake. "Tell me how it went down," he says. His breath is stale;
his forehead dotted with perspiration.
"I don't know, it was fast," says Jake.
They will have to cut Briggs and Maxwell loose. Could he say that
Briggs had thrown it as the agents were moving in?
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do,"
says Pitman. "If we don't find the shit, I'll get the K-9 unit out
here." He smiles at his own determination. "How big was the package?"
"I don't know." Jake doesn't want to make
up a story.
"I got something," yelps an agent. "It
was under the dash." The agent holds up a package about the size
of a miniature-toy football. It is wrapped in silver duct-tape.
The agent lays the package on the hood of the Mustang. Pitman removes
a knife from his key chain and cuts into the tape. The heroin is
not one solid piece, but is in at least a dozen molds shaped like
lipstick tubes. It has been down a human mule's throat and out his
Pitman reads Briggs and Maxwell their
rights and ends with "That make you feel better?"
"I didn't even know that shit was in
his car," says Maxwell.
Briggs and Maxwell are loaded and strapped
into the back seat of the vehicles. The agents slam the doors. Before
they convoy to the office, they huddle in the parking lot. Pitman
pats Jake on the back. "Nice work."
"Good eyes," says one of the agents. "I
was right there and I didn't see a damn thing."
"Jake was wearing his X-ray glasses,"
someone says and they all laugh.
"How the hell did it get up under the
dash so fast?" adds another agent wearing a smirk. There is a brief
moment when all eyes are on Jake.
"Don't even go there," says Mullet, "he
saved the night."
Jake winds up with Briggs in his back
seat. Transporting prisoners alone is against regulations, but it
is late and no one wants to leave cars behind. As it is, Briggs
and Maxwell's cars have to be driven in for seizure. Briggs has
the acrid odor of sweat and fear. Jake, still perspiring, puts the
AC on high.
Pitman raps his knuckle on Jake's window.
"You're processing tonight," he says. "You and Mullet."
Jake had forgotten that it is his turn
to process prisoners, but doesn't protest. It is useless. After
finger prints, photos and personal histories, Jake and Mullet will
drop off the prisoners as "one-night stands" at the County jail.
If he's lucky it will be sixteen hour day. The prisoners will have
to be picked up on Monday morning for their initial appearances
in federal court. Tomorrow is Sunday. Nancy insists on morning mass.
He will be up all night, then have to be out with the kids fussing.
Frustration tightens his shoulders and neck.
"Could you put a smoke in my lips?" asks
Briggs. "Pack's in my pocket." Jake ignores him. The other cars
are pulling out. He leaves the parking lot. The Howard Johnson sign
blazes blue and orange.
"You Feds think you got privilege," says
Briggs. "All I asked for was a goddamn smoke." Jake pulls off the
road, following the other cars. He glances in the rear view mirror
at Briggs, then at the dashboard.
"A smoke," says Briggs. "Treat me like
a man and give me a smoke."
Jake pulls to the shoulder of the road.
He bends around in the seat and takes the pack of cigarettes from
Mullet taps on Jake's window, then opens
the door. "What's the hold up?"
"Nothing," says Jake. He puts a smoke
in Briggs' lips.
Mullet peers into the backseat of the
car. "He better not be giving you any shit," says Mullet waving
his fist toward Briggs' chin.
"He's not," says Jake.
When Jake enters the house, dawn already
blooms through the lace curtains. The County Jail had been full
and the Men's Detention Center took its sweet time accepting the
prisoners. Jake waited at the rear of the jail's sally port for
two hours just to sign Briggs and Maxwell over for the night. He
removes the clip from his gun, then unchambers the round in the
barrel. He places the gun on top of the refrigerator. Tomorrow he
has to go to court and swear out the complaint, swear he saw an
He opens a bottle of beer hoping it will
help him sleep then pokes around the refrigerator. In his stomach
distrust turns like a propeller. Can his observation ever be reduced
to a number of sentences in his surveillance report? After all,
what did he see? He knows his uncertainty will eventually get heavier
and heavier. In the office the guys joke about lying on the stand.
They call it "test-a-lying," instead of "testifying." At least,
Jake tells himself, with Lucas it was different. Lucas died. What
difference did it make that Jake claimed the man was raising his
gun? It kept the case from the Grand Jury. Jake's lawyer claimed
a New Orleans' jury wouldn't have convicted him, but why risk it?
Knowing there was no exchange, Briggs and Maxwell will go to trial.
Jake will be expected to testify under oath that he saw the exchange.
There won't be any plea agreement.
If he told Pitman about his supposed "observation,"
Pitman would just shrug and say, "I didn't hear that." Over a beer
some months later Pitman might try to explain that in the big scheme
of things, the night added up to just another two arrests and a
half kilo of heroin seizure stats for his quarterly report.
He would use his own particular way of looking at the world and
say something like, "Jake, the end don't always necessarily have
to justify the means." He would say the dealers will be replaced
tomorrow with more dealers and the drug mules will continue across
the boarders with their stomachs bulging with tied-off condoms.
"Don't you get it," he'd argue. "Those two shitbirds didn't' matter."
Jake takes a swallow of beer.
Jake returns to Lucas' unloaded gun. Would
Lucas have shot him if his gun had been loaded? Did Lucas know it
was unloaded? Did he kill Lucas for no reason? Pitman called it
a drug war, but it wasn't really a war. A war has an end.
The clock in the dining room ticks. Leaving
the beer sweating on the table, he shuffles into the bedroom. His
legs ache from the night. The bed has not been slept in. The day
pillows are stacked against the backboard.
In her room, Kathleen sleeps on her stomach
without blankets. Her black hair shines on the white pillow. He
checks baby's room. Ryan lies with a pacifier hooked on his small
Jake finds Nancy on the porch, asleep
on the wicker love seat. Her chin rests on her chest and her calves
are over the arm. Her stockinged feet stick into the air. An afghan
has fallen to the floor. Next to the porch rail a video camera on
a tripod is pointed at the northern sky. The red recording dot blinks.
He looks through the lens.
He touches her shoulder. "Honey?"
She wakes with a jolt. "I must have dozed
off." The humidity has curled her hair.
In the front room she puts the tape in
the VCR. He settles on the couch. She fast-forwards a bit. "It was
spectacular," she says with her eyes still tired from the night.
Across the gray television screen streaks of light appear. "You
see that?" she says with her finger tracing the images. "Those are
shooting stars, meteor showers from the constellation Perseus."
He feels it first in his throat, then
in his eyes.
"What?" she asks.
His face crumbles. "I can't trust myself."
"Of course you can," she says.
"I can't." He exhales. "I practically
lied to the group."
She comes closer. He tells her about the
day, about his observation. "I wanted it so bad. First I
rationalized some crap about making more complex cases. I must have
been thinking about getting home, our anniversary."
She places her hands on his cheeks and
looks into his eyes. "What did you see?"
"I don't know."
"But, you were right, weren't you?" Her
face is still young; her dark hair wild with curls.
"But what does that make me?"
"You must have known in your gut," she
Nancy brings in a tray of buttered raisin
bread toast and bitter coffee with chicory. They have developed
a taste for this New Orleans brew. Through the wide picture window
he has a view of the neighbor's pale gray house, half hidden behind
a sprawling magnolia tree. The fat Sunday Times Picayune is on the
walk. The sun beats on the asphalt road. In the distance rain clouds
are moving in from the Gulf. He pictures the baby stirring. Soon
Kathleen will come pattering in. Nancy pulls the drapes shut.
"Maybe this is just another sign," says
Nancy. "Maybe you weren't made to be a drug agent. It's such a dirty
business." She sits next to him and tucks her feet under her. "Maybe
you don't have the temperament."
"What the fuck kind of a thing is that
to say to me?" Anger tightens his face and neck.
"The truth," she says. "I know you. I
live here, with you, remember?" She re-starts the tape, and tosses
the control on the coffee table. Black hours of the night fly by
on fast-forward until shooting stars become visible. He feels as
if he is living two lives: one in soft light, and the other in shadows
and darkness. He has killed a man that didn't necessarily have to
die and, now, must testify to something that never happened. He
would like to bury the indefinite part of him, place it in a box
and bury it in the ground.
Nancy touches his shoulder. He gets up
and goes out the front door. The block is quiet. The banana trees
drip with dew. The wet St. Augustine grass sparkles. At the end
of the driveway, his government issue Thunderbird rests. Panic rises
from his center, as strong as a wave of nausea. She is right. All
of them, Pitman, and the other agents, must have realized this about
Nancy joins him and places her arms around
his waist. "It's alright," she whispers. "Come in the house."
A shadow races across the street and over
his small landing. Soon it will rain. He doesn't know how he can go back
tomorrow. Already, he feels as if he is seeing it all from a distance
- as if the office, his home, even this neighborhood are nothing
more than faded snap shots of a time and place, a period that has
already lost its luster and burned out.