Bartel waved his hand. “Don’t worry about them. You’ve been in here all night, and I know it’s been a little rough. Oh, I almost forgot.” He dug a small lighter out of his pocket, handed it to Conner.
Conner lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. Bartel was right. It was a long night. When he could not find a place to dump his ashes, Bartel pointed to a soda can near his phone. “It’s okay. Been there since yesterday.”
There was an official looking document in front of Bartel. He picked it up and looked through the pages. “Conner Tremont. Date of birth March 6, 1987, twenty-four years old. Two counts, delivery of a controlled substance, cocaine, to an undercover narcotics officer. Two counts, two felonies.” He put the pages down and folded his hands together on top of them, staring at Conner. “You’re pissed because you thought we were friends. I understand that. The fact remains that you broke the law, and I have a job to do. I hated busting you, honestly, because I like you. Yes, I’ll say it, as far as I’m concerned, we’re still friends.”
Conner stewed in silence for another five minutes. He looked up at Bartel, and for some reason, smiled. Bartel caught his grin and returned it. Both men began to laugh. When they finished, Conner wiped tears from the corners of his eyes.
“You really had no idea?” Bartel asked.
“You never had that feeling like, ‘damn...this guy is a cop’?”
“I never put it together.”
“Well, this is your first offense, so you’ll probably get probation.”
“Unfortunately. But, you can only blame yourself.”
Conner nodded. “How many years probation you think I’ll get?”
“Seven to ten, but you’ll serve three. You’re twenty eight now, so you’re done when you’re thirty one, big deal.”
“I’m twenty four.” It always ended in a four, his lucky number.
“Sorry. You know, there is another way.”
“Narc? No way.”
Bartel pulled a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. “Why not? Bust some guys, charges get dropped. Pretty damn simple, you ask me.”
Conner shook his head. “They’re going to know.”
“No, they won’t.”
Neither said a thing for a couple of minutes. Bartel pushed his cigarette butt into the can and smiled. “There is one other way.”
“Set me up with The Rooster.”
“Are you crazy?”
Bartel reclined in his chair. “I have it on good information that you’re tight with him.”
“This is good information, too. Guy told me you get all your coke from him.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“C’mon Conner...I already know the truth.”
Conner simmered a minute, letting it cook. “Okay,” he said, letting his breath out slow.
“There you go. Now that wasn’t so hard. Yep, the Rooster, Duane Hammond. He’s the man.”
“He’ll kill me. Hammond’s smart, man, and crazy as hell.”
“No, he won’t kill you. Conner, this is simple. The local news is holding out your name for a couple of days. No one knows you were arrested last night.”
“So, call The Rooster and tell him I want to buy some coke. Tonight. Easy as pie.”
“I don’t know if he has any coke.”
Bartel laughed. “Bullshit. Hammond has access to all the coke in the area. Do this one guy, and I’ll let you go”
Conner narrowed his eyes at Bartel. “Are you taping this?”
“I want proof you said I only have to narc out Hammond.”
Bartel stood up and walked over to Conner. “Listen to me. If I tell you that you’re going to walk, you’re going to walk. You won’t even have to see the judge. Get me Hammond, tonight, and you’re walking.” He held out his hand.
Conner looked at it for a few seconds, then finally grabbed his hand and shook it. “How much coke do you want to buy?”
“If he’s the man, then he can cut loose a kilo. That’ll work.”
Bartel let him get dressed in his office. He hated wearing the jail overalls and flat plastic sandals. Bartel was waiting outside with a zip-lock bag with his wallet and cell phone. “Can you call him right now?”
“What time is it,” Conner asked, turning on his cell phone.
“About 10:38 am.”
“Let me try after noon.”
“He’s definitely not a Rooster, is he?”
“Oh, he is. You’ll see.”
Conner hailed a cab once he was outside the Municipal Building. He told the cabbie to drive to Eleventh and Calder. He wanted to give Hammond a heads up, so he called him on his cell immediately.
They talked in code. “I have someone interested in your golf clubs.” Bartel took the bait.
“Taylor Made or Big Bertha?” He wants to buy some coke?
“Big Bertha, tonight.” It’s going down tonight. He wants to meet the Rooster.
“The whole set, or just the woods?” No shit?
“The whole set, but mainly the woods.” We turn him tonight.
“See you at ten.”
Conner hung up. They were at Eleventh and Calder. He could see his car in the parking lot. He was a little surprised because the county usually impounded all vehicles in drug busts. He paid the cabbie, walked across the street to his car, and headed home, taking side streets and staying away from the major roads until he was sure he no one followed him.
Vanessa was not pleased at all. “You know I’m going to worry about you.”
“Expected. Hey, after this we can take off for a few weeks. Maybe hit Hawaii, or go to Vegas.”
Conner thought about wearing the Kevlar vest then decided all the needed was his billfold. As soon as Bartel saw the D.E.A. badge things were going to go real smooth.
“How about we get you a desk job and make a baby or two,” Vanessa said.
“I like that idea.” He pulled her close and kissed her, nuzzled her neck and soaked in her scent. “I like that idea a lot.”
He kissed her again, this time longer. When he pulled away, he winked at her. “Don’t wait up for me,” he said, even though he knew she would.
Once he was on the road, he called Bartel’s cell. No answer. Damn, he spent four months working through the county, trying to get close, and now his best contact is going to duck him? He stopped at the Mall and hit the food court. As soon as he paid for his shrimp fried rice, his cell rang. It was Bartel. Conner told him the time, and Bartel told him to pick him up at the station at nine thirty.
Conner walked the Mall after eating. Going through Macy’s, he entered the children’s clothing area and walked through the aisles. He knew Vanessa hated what he did, but it paid the bills. They were so close, and Bartel was the way in. He was a good cop, just doing his job, and Conner didn’t have anything against a good cop. He wanted a stab at Bartel’s bad cop coworkers. If he could get Bartel working for him, he could sit back a bit and watch the sparks fly. Whoever was bringing coke into Jefferson County, it certainly wasn’t any of the natives. It was too clean and there was always a good supply. The whole thing reeked inside job.
When the Mall closed, he headed downtown to pick up Bartel. The undercover officer looked excited when he stepped out of the building, like he was going to Disney World. He was wearing faded jeans and an Affliction t-shirt, his long hair pulled in a frazzled ponytail. He looked nothing like a cop.
“So the Rooster’s in on this deal?” asked Bartel when he got in the car.
Conner drove away from the station, headed to the highway. “Yeah.”
“Did he sound nervous?”
“Naw. You’re buying him out and he’s thinking about the next run.”
“Well, that’s where I hope this leads to. I want his source.”
“You going to pick him up tonight?”
“No. We seeketh information, and we shall receive.”
Conner drove out of Beaumont into Sour Lake. The city lights dwindled behind them. Sour Lake was rural and redneck, and the locals didn’t pay much attention unless you were hunting on their property. As soon as Bartel finished the deal, the plan was to brace him then. That was the only way they could be sure he was legit.
Hammond’s beat up Ford Escort was in the driveway. He parked behind the Escort and looked at Bartel. “We’re here.”
“Let’s get this over with.”
Conner knocked and waited with Bartel on the porch. The light came on and Hammond was at the door, grinning. Conner had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Wearing Khaki shorts and a very loud flower print shirt, Hammond had his shaggy blonde hair poofed up all Rod Stewart. “Hey man,” he said, sending out a laid-back stoner vibe.
“Hey,” Conner said, stepping inside. Bartel followed him, checking everything out.
“C’mon in, c’mon in,” Hammond said, slapping his hands together. He walked over to Bartel and stuck out his hand. “Hey man, I’m Hammond.”
“Yep, that’s me. You, uh...want to check it out first?”
“No. I take it from Conner that it’s very choice.”
“Oh, it’s choice. Say, you ain’t a cop, huh?”
“Hell no. I own a mechanic shop.”
“No shit? Mechanic, huh? I used to be. Diesel, though they’re a bitch to work on sometimes.”
“Aren’t they all.”
“How much you got?”
“Damn. Well, you can almost get a k with that. Tell you what. I just let you buy the full k.”
“Be right back. Get your money ready.”
Hammond walked into the kitchen. Conner looked over at Bartel, who was now holding a thick envelope in his hands. “How much is that?” Conner asked.
“It’s right, don’t worry about it.”
Hammond returned with a brown plastic shopping bag. He set the bag on the coffee table and opened it. Inside was a clear plastic bag. Conner knew there was no cocaine in the baggy.
Bartel opened the envelope. Conner watched him raise the snub nose .38 and take aim at Hammond’s head. The gun fired just as Conner moved to take down Bartel. From the corner of his eye, he could see Hammond, falling down, slow motion, the bullet hole in his forehead spitting out blood, the back of his skull careening to the wall, red mist mixed with bone and brain, spackling the paneling.
Conner was about two feet away from Bartel when the gunman turned and shot him in the kneecap. He collapsed as his leg folded beneath him. He knew things were bad when tried to roll onto his back and couldn’t. His leg bent behind him. Pain set in slowly, then built so quickly Conner was sure he was going to pass out.
Bartel stood over him. “I guess I lied about walking,” he said.
Conner could only nod, his breath labored from the pain.
He frowned at Conner. “I thought we were friends. This is how you treat your friends, Agent Tremont? Huh?” He crouched down, placed the barrel of the gun next to Conner’s temple. The end was still hot. “I want your pretty little Vanessa to see what happens when you try to take down the Rooster.”