By Alycia Taylor
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
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I’d been in a lot of life-threatening situations in my life. This was to be expected working as a detective in the narcotics division. However, nothing could quite prepare me for what I was about to experience. I’d been involved in a drug ring for almost a year. I’d started off at the very bottom and worked my way up to become a member, one that everyone trusted. It hadn’t been easy, and I’d seen and heard some things that I would never forget, but it was the only way for me to pull off what I hoped would be one of the biggest busts in my career. If everything went according to plan, which I hoped it would, I would be forever known as the guy who pulled this off. I’d love to say that after a year of dealing with these guys that I felt comfortable around them, but I’d be lying. In fact, it was safe to say that I felt just as nervous as I did when I had first joined them a year before. Knowing what they were capable of only made it worse, and the thought of getting caught was a constant worry for me. They were smart guys—cunning—and I had to constantly make sure that I was two steps ahead of the game.
I was in ‘the den’ now, the name for the hideout in which the members of the drug ring met. I hated that place and couldn’t wait to get out. But, as usual, I had to maintain my composure. There was an art to working undercover. It was all about acting confident, without being cocky, and keeping a low profile without sliding too far into the shadows. You wanted to make sure that they trusted you, and you wanted them to think that you were scared of and impressed by them. I had watched countless videos and interviews with tons of people before attempting it myself. I needed to know, before going in, what I could expect and what the correct protocol was. All the training that I had done beforehand had helped, but I’d only really figured out what to do once joining up. No matter what happened, the lessons I had learned throughout the year were invaluable to myself and my team.
I caught eyes with Shell and he called me over. Shell, named due to his ‘hard outer shell’ and the fact that he’d already survived more bullets than seemed possible for any man still walking, was one of the top guys in the drug ring. After some digging around, we’d discovered that his real name was Norman Frank Pitcher, a very normal name for a very abnormal man. It gave me immense pleasure to think of this name whenever I felt even slightly intimidated by him. It reminded me that he was just a normal guy at the end of the day. Shell was exactly what you’d expect someone at the top of a drug ring to look like. He was tall, muscular, and heavy-set, with deadpan eyes. He was more tattoo than skin and wore mostly tank tops to show this off. He was, without a doubt, the most menacing man I had ever met. It wasn’t just in the way he looked, but in the way he presented himself to rest of the world. He seemed to have no fear and by his presence alone, he commanded that everyone be frightened of him. I liked to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but around him, I felt helpless and small. I’d cowered around him in the first few months, but I’d slowly figured him out, and I had finally gained respect from him. He now called on me often and seemed to like to deal with me rather than some of the other guys that had been in the business a lot longer.
“Max! Are you ready for Friday?” he had a gruff voice that made it seem like he had been smoking cigarettes his whole life. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true.
It had taken a lot of deliberation with my team as to whether I should go in with a nickname or not. In the end, it was decided that I’d stick to my real name, mostly because there would be less of a chance of me messing up this way. We’d once had a case where one of our team members had forgotten his ‘new’ name and completely given himself away. It was too important and too unsafe for me to even consider screwing up. We decided on a fake surname, but so far, nobody had even asked me for it.
“I’m ready. It’s going to go by without a hitch. I know it. The guys have been prepped, and I think we can trust these guys.” I wanted him to think that I was constantly on his side.
He smiled, although it looked more like a snarl on his face. “I think so too. It’s going to be a big one. If I’m not mistaken, the biggest one you’ve dealt with yet.”
It was true. Since joining the crew, I’d been involved with a lot of drug hauls, but on a much smaller scale. And for the most part, it was just me on my own, or with another member of the group. They’d used me in a few instances so that I could prove to them that I was not going to turn on them. It hadn’t been easy for me. My job was not usually to aid and abet a drug exchange but to bust and stop them. But I had to play along until I was sure they felt safe with me. I had been waiting to get involved with a big drug haul so that we could get all the big guys away in jail. Finally, the time had come.
I grinned. “You’re right; it’s my biggest one yet. I’m happy to be working with you on this one.”
“You know, Max, I’m very impressed with how far you’ve come since you first started. I’m always wary of newcomers. I wasn’t sure about you. I think I almost fired you on that first day, to be honest. But I was wrong about you. You’ve earned your respect. I like how you handle things. You’ve got a toughness about you that many of the guys here don’t have. And, let’s be honest, it’s something that they’ll never have. It’s not something that you get with experience; you either have it, or you don’t. You’ve got it.”
Considering I wasn’t really part of his team, his words were more of an insult to me than anything else. But I hoped the toughness he was talking about was an indication of how good I was at my job. I smiled and thanked him, longing for the conversation to be over so that I could walk out.
“Oh, and the boss will be at the trade-off on Friday, so you’ll finally get the chance to meet him. He’s only here for the big ones.”
I felt relief wash over me at those words. In the entire year that I had worked with Shell, I had never even once laid eyes on the boss. I didn’t even know his name, because ‘the boss’ was the only way people referred to him as. I assumed he was scarier looking than Shell, and although I wasn’t all that keen on rubbing shoulders with him, I was glad that he would be there. We needed as many of the top guys as possible to be involved on Friday so that we could bust them all at the same time. This was the first time that I was getting confirmation that the boss would be there, and I couldn’t wait to tell the rest of my team. I thanked Shell and made my way out.
I got into my car and drove up the road and around the corner where Madison was waiting for me in the van. We parked the van in a different spot each time I went to the den, just in case someone was on our trail. The last thing we needed was for someone to force their way inside and find Madison sitting with a bunch of surveillance equipment. I grinned when I saw her. I used to battle with the idea of Madison listening in on everything I was saying, and I used to hate how pathetic I was sure I seemed to her. I had to keep reminding her that in order to do my job, I couldn’t sound like the person I really was. She loved teasing me about it. But the more respected I became in the drug circle, the better I was sure I was coming across. I climbed in and closed the door.
“The boss is coming on Friday! This is finally happening, Madi. I’m finally going to be through with this.”
She laughed. “You’re going to miss it, aren’t you?”
“Miss it? Miss hanging around with a bunch of scary-ass drug dealers? I don’t think so.”
“From the sounds of things, that Shell guy really likes you now. ‘You know, Max, I’m impressed with how far you’ve come. You’ve got a toughness about you that many of the guys here don’t have,’” she teased as she imitated Shell’s voice.
“Please. You just won’t admit how impressive I am. You know Shell isn’t what you’d call a people person.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m never going to admit that you’re impressive. But I am glad that you’re finally going to be through with all of this. I never thought this would all be so difficult. Remember how excited we were when we first started this thing? Now I cannot wait to be done with it. This has been the longest year of my life. I swear I’ve aged like ten years in the past few months.”
Madison had by no means aged ten years. She might have been my work colleague and friend, but it was impossible to ignore how beautiful she was. Her sandy-colored hair fell in rivulets around her back, although she almost always kept it tied back. Her dark green eyes were kind but mischievous, and I was certain that under her boyish clothes lay a body that many would be envious of. I spent a lot of time with her, and she was very much just one of the guys. Although, every now and again I couldn’t help but wonder if there could’ve been something between us. We’d had a moment at the very beginning, but it had been so fleeting that I sometimes wondered if it had even happened. It had only been a look, a feeling, but it had felt more real than anything else I’d ever felt before. Maybe in another lifetime, we could’ve been together.
I looked her up and down, and then leaned over to examine her head.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Checking for gray hairs.”
“You haven’t aged ten years,” I said.
“Oh, thank goodness.”
“More like eleven,” I said, and she whacked me on the arm.