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Is There Any Movement?

T. Glen Coughlin

Jake joins 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.

Pittman's 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 party.

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 the corner.

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. "You ready?"

"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 the door.

"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 calls Nancy.

"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 radio, "10-4."

"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 burger.

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' head.

"You didn't have to shoot me." Lucas started choking.

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 the radio.

"Negative," responds Salazar.

"How long are we going to give it?" asks Jake.

"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 wheel.

Jake grabs the mike and puts it out on the radio, "Briggs is on the move, city bound." He pulls into the road.

"It's our Mustang?" yells Pitman over the radio.

"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. His customer.

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 says.

"I was driving."

"The kids are in bed and I'm set up," she says.

"For what?"

"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," she laughs.

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…"I 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 brow creases.

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 it."

"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 see anything."

"You must have fucking saw something," says Pitman.

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 ass.

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 Briggs' pocket.

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 exchange.

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 fat fingers.

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 says.

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 him.

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.

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