- Published: 19 June 2017
- ISBN: 9780099594383
- Imprint: Arrow
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $19.99
(Michael Bennett 9). A crucial meeting. A global crisis. One New York cop.
There were snowdrifts at the curbs and snow-buried benches in the parks and snowcaps on the street signs and fire hydrants and on the newel posts for the subway entrances. There were four inches so far, and they were thinking maybe ten when all was said and done.
Four inches was laughable somewhere like Maine, but in Manhattan on a dark early November evening, it cancels plans and sends people indoors.
The two black-clad figures on the BMW R 1200 RT sport motorcycle that rolled slowly north up Amsterdam Avenue near 135th Street not only knew that; they had planned on it. They’d been waiting on the cold snowy conditions for the last month.
The Beemer’s engine thrummed steadily as the City College of New York campus appeared on their right. First the big, ugly, modern, box store–like classroom buildings. Then the older, original, Harry Potter–like Gothic ones.
The driver did controlled swerves from time to time, careful not to get a pile of road salt under the motorcycle’s studded snow tires. An experienced winter biker, he knew that even with the studs, salt was slicker than ice.
He and the rider behind him were dressed identically in the latest in cold weather riding gear. Gore-Tex Tourmaster electric jackets and riding pants over EDZ thermals, Windstopper gloves and neck warmers. Black glossy Scorpion snow helmets with the tinted no-fog visors firmly down.
Every ounce of gear was specific to the mission. They had even specifically selected the heavy BMW for its low center of gravity, which aided in stability and traction.
Then finally there it was, two blocks ahead.
The corner of West 141st Street.
The driver had been over what was going to happen next so many times that he could have drawn the scene west down 141st Street with his eyes closed. The old, once-stately five- and six-story prewar apartment houses on either side of the narrow, descending, one-way side street. The ancient shoe repair place on the left, the Caribbean hair salon on the right. Both business entrances sunk down a flight of steps below the sloping sidewalk, as on a lot of Hamilton Heights’ quirky up and down streets.
They’d played it through time and time again, until it was boring. Over and over, slowly. Listing everything that could possibly go wrong. Because it wasn’t just surprise. It was surprise plus doing. Doing lots and lots of stuff you’d already preplanned while the other guy sat there going “Wait, what is this?” for that split second you needed to get the hammer down on him.
Suddenly the rider said in their two-way Bluetooth helmet radio, “Hold up! The car isn’t there. Shit! There must be something wrong. Maybe we should abort.”
They’d planted a remote camera in a car across from the 141st Street target; the rider was monitoring it via smartphone.
“Calm down. It’s okay. They’re just late because of the snow,” the driver said as he drifted the bike over and stopped at the left-hand curb half a block from 141st’s corner. “We’re not aborting. We just have to wait a second. This is going to happen. Right now. I can feel it. Keep watching and tell me the second you see it.”
As he waited, the BMW’s driver closed his eyes and ran through the scenario yet again. Amsterdam was the highest point in the neighborhood, and the path down 141st to the target was like going down steps: the first long slope off Amsterdam to the flat of Hamilton, and then another down slope to the flat of Broadway. The target building was on the final down slope of 141st between Broadway and Riverside Drive, midblock south side, on the left.
The abandoned apartment building had two wings, with the entrance between them way back off the street, through a canyonlike corridor. That was why it was so formidable. The target could see anything and anyone coming well before the front door could be reached. Two police raids had been tried over the past two years, and the place was always clean by the time they got inside.
The softest point, they’d discovered from their extensive recon, was right around now, when one of the grandmas usually brought the crew home cooking. The three guys on lobby duty would come out and give abuela lots of showy love on the sidewalk in exchange for aluminum pans of stewed pork and eggplant, as the fourth guy hung back by the propped-open front door.
One thing the driver liked was that they were above the target. That they would swoop down on it. There was an instinctual power to being above that truly thrilled him. He also liked the surprisingly smooth, graceful sucker punch speed of the Beemer, throttle open downhill. They would be in theater right quick. Speed and surprise from above were two excellent angles of advantage.
They certainly needed every advantage they could get, since there were seven in the well-armed drug crew. They had two AK-47s in the cook apartment in case of emergency, and they all carried straight blowback Glock 18 machine pistols in 9mm caliber.
The damn Glock 18s bothered him. They were excellent for close combat. No bulky stocks or long barrels to bang against corners or stair banisters. And they were looking at the closest of combat in the crumbling prewar building’s coffin-wide hallways and slot-canyon-of-death stairwells.
Worse, the Glock 18s indicated tactical intelligence. And that kind of intelligence made him think that no matter how much they’d planned it, there might be something they’d missed.
But that was part of it, too. It was actually better to assume you missed something so as to keep your eyes open.
He glanced forward, up Amsterdam, at the snow drifting in the cones of the streetlights. Bits blowing this way and that, shifting and reshifting in the gusts.
No need for cocky in this line of work. You had to know that even great plans had a funky habit of changing on you.
“I see it! It’s there,” said the rider, suddenly pounding on the driver’s back. “The car—the Chevy. It’s pulling up out in front. Go! Go! Go!”
The spinning tires of the BMW threw up a fat rope of slush as the driver ripped back on the throttle. Then he let off on the brake, and they were hitting the corner and going straight down.
The cooking lab was in the east wing of the building, on the third floor. It was in a type of apartment known as a junior four, a one-bedroom with a formal dining room off the living room. The dining room was usually separated with French doors, but since the cooking lab was set up there, they’d taken off the doors and Sheetrocked the doorway.
In the lab, just to the right of the kitchen door, was a barrel of sodium hydroxide, a big white fifty-gallon industrial drum of the stuff, plastered with bloodred DANGER: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS diamonds. In front of the drums were two lab tables where two HCL generators were going full tilt.
The generators were chemistry industry standard, a bubbling, dripping, steaming mousetrap setup of hot plates and beakers and rubber tubing and inverted funnels. The HCL rig was for turning solids into liquids and liquids into evaporated gases that were separated and condensed back down into newer, much more lucrative solids.
Hustling busily between the barrel and the lab tables and the kitchen was a tall and wiry, handsome, black-haired Hispanic man. He was the drug crew’s head, Rafael Arruda. No dummy, Rafael, he wore a super-duty gray-hooded hazmat suit with full respirator, two pairs of sea-green rubber medical gloves over his hands, and plastic nurse booties over his vintage Nikes. All the seams taped nice and tight to avoid the highly caustic fumes and chemicals.
He was whipping up some MDMA, the main ingredient in the drug ecstasy. He’d already cultivated about three ounces of the drug’s blazingly white crystals in the plastic-lined collecting tin beside one of the generators. About thirty grand worth once it was cut and packed down into pills.
He’d shoot for a half pound tonight, before he pulled the plug around one or two and went home to his wife, Josefina, and his daughter, Abril, who had come home for the weekend from Georgetown, the school that he himself had attended, majoring in chemistry on some rich oil guy’s Inner City Golden Promise scholarship fund.
His promise in the field of chemistry had paid out all right. At least for him. When he wasn’t cooking drugs, he was a tenured professor and cohead of Columbia University’s under-grad chemistry department and lived in a four-million-dollar town house in Bronxville, beside white-bread bankers and plastic surgeons.
It was about seven thirty when he noticed the clogged dropping funnel in generator one. That happened from time to time with the new, iffy stuff he’d gotten from a chemical supply house in Canada. The stuff was cheaper, especially the hydro, but it was becoming more and more obvious that it was subpar with impurities, probably Chinese-made.
If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, Rafael thought as he immediately lowered the heat and replaced the inverted funnel with a fresh one. You had to pay attention.
As he arrived at the kitchen sink with the dirty funnel, Dvorák’s Symphony no. 9 in E Minor, known as the New World Symphony, began playing in his headphones. He loved this one, the slow oboes and clarinets and bassoons, sad and yet somehow strangely uplifting. Salsa was his favorite, but way back since high school, it was nothing but calming classical while he worked.
He was lifting the bottle brush from the depths of the original prewar porcelain kitchen sink when the bassoons cut out, replaced by an incoming text beep.
His family and guys knew never to bother him when he worked, so he immediately looked down at his phone on his belt.
He prided himself on his stoic calm, but he suddenly felt a chill as he read the three words down there on the screen.
BOSS COME QUICK!!!! it said.
Rafael pulled the plug on everything and tore off the hood and respirator and earbuds as he came out into the hall of the apartment and went into the count room next door. In it were two bullnecked towering Dominicans. One had a slicked ponytail and one was bald, with a thin beard, and both wore camo fatigue pants and black Under Armour under puffy silver North Face vests.
They were his crew captains, fraternal twin brothers, Emilio and Pete Lopez, with whom he had grown up. They stood staring dumbfounded at the laptop that monitored their closed-circuit security video downstairs.
“What the hell is going on?” Rafael said.
“We don’t know. Nate just radioed up from the lobby,” Emilio said, thumbing nervously at his beard. “A bike—a motorcycle or something—just wiped out into Louis on the sidewalk, and he said two dudes in helmets jumped off it and were fighting with Jaime and Jesus.”
“And now no one’s responding,” said Pete, shaking his head. “Nate won’t answer his radio or his phone.”
Nate again! Rafael thought. He was Josefina’s cousin and a pot-head total screwup, the weakest point in his armor by far. That’s it. He was going to fire him. Right after he personally kicked the living shit out of him.
“Where are they?” Rafael said, scanning the screen’s security grid. “Jaime and the rest of them. I don’t see them. They’re not in the street.”
“We don’t know,” said Pete.
“Did you scope out the front door?” Rafael said.
“Of course, bro. That’s just it. No one came in, or we would have seen them,” said Emilio.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“We know,” said Emilio, wide-eyed.
“Jackass—come in,” Rafael called down on the Motorola. “Nate, you there? Hey, jackass!”
He unkeyed the radio and listened. The rasp of static. No Nate. No nothing.
What the hell is this? he thought.
“What are you guys doing just standing there?” Rafael cried up at the towering Lopez brothers. “I sent you to that training course why? For exercise? Shit is going down now! Get out the vests and choppers now.”
“You think it’s the Romolos, maybe?” said Emilio. “Over that thing with that girl who got killed? Or is it the cops?”
That’s when it happened.
In a silent instant around them came darkness.
The lights, the monitor, all the juice—all of it was suddenly gone.
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AnnieLee had been standing on the side of the road for an hour, thumbing a ride, when the rain started falling in earnest.
CARTER VON OEHSON MIXED himself a tall gin and tonic from behind the polished mahogany bar of his father’s billiard room, topping it off with a squeeze of lime.
Matthew Butler cocked his head to one side, considering the big-boned blonde in front of him.
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A board a Night Stalkers Special Operations MH-60M Black Hawk helicopter code-named Spear One, Navy chief Nick Zeppos of SEAL Team Six checks his watch.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, action. This could mean everything to Latham. It could be his ticket out.