[*The Art of Deception *]
David Addo’s first novel, The Age of Mind Control, is now available.
Donovan Merlyn is about to complete the most dangerous task yet given to him by the police captain: objective—find drug lord Julio Ecozar.
Donovan Merlyn paused at the front door, about to reach for the knob. He knew he should be in school right now. Yet on this, his first day of high school, he found himself sluggish, hesitant to leave home. He would not be missing anything if he skipped school this day. No tests or assignments would be given out. Besides, Don was smart enough to catch up to his peers no matter how much work he missed. It wasn’t the fact that he would learn nothing on his first day or even week of school. If not for the important task he had been commissioned by his father, Don wouldn’t be leaving home on this scorching Thursday morning.
This task could be dangerous, perhaps even life-threatening, and it most definitely had nothing to do with attending classes. Don’s Dad was captain of Derrydown’s police force and had wanted to see if his son could learn more about a mid-tier drug dealer, who lured children far younger than him to take drugs. Nobody knew about this, of course, besides himself and his own dad. Robert Merlyn simply wanted to know where this dealer’s base was; he assured his son that this would be all he was being asked to do; the Chief had promised to take care of everything else. The dealer, Juan Ecozar, was currently using a black sedan for this business, driving by schools and luring kids over to him so that he could sell his drugs.
It wasn’t entirely a fool’s errand. Since the age of eight, Robert had been teaching his son how to de-escalate a situation or confrontation with a criminal. Going to self-defense and going to physical fitness centers had been how Donovan had spent most of his childhood with his dad. Who knew all of that would lead up to this?
Don waited by the front door, fully dressed. He tapped his foot impatiently on the wooden floor. His sister Liz, who was still in Elementary school had stubbornly insisted that Don walk her to Cherrydown Elementary[. _]Liz was 7, she was old enough. Why couldn’t she walk by herself?[ _]Don simply suspected that it was because every time they were about to pass by ‘Jill’s Convenience’, she would beg him to buy her candy and oftentimes he would feel obliged.
At last Liz hurried over, towing her school bag behind her.
“Okay, let’s go now.”
The walk to Cherrydown Elementary only took fifteen minutes, but the choking heat made the walk feel at least an hour long. Don spotted a couple of his buddies and watched them turn onto their street, just a few feet behind him.
“Hey, perfect timing,” Don noted turning around to greet Nestor and Robin.
Both heads rose in his direction to meet his gaze and smiles broke out.
“Walk with us,” Nestor suggested.
Don’s friends seemed to not notice the heat. Toting ice cream cones in their hands they were walking at a very leisurely pace. Don slowed his gait to match theirs, Liz prodded him forward with a forced smile in the boys’ direction.
“We’re late enough as it is.”
Robin looked puzzled. “You’re Liz right? Don’s kid sister?”
Liz nodded impatiently, “Introductions can wait until next time, and we’ve got to get going now.” She gave Don a look which said if he didn’t continue walking with her, “Mom and Dad would hear all about it.”
Don gave Nestor and Robin a resigned look. “Later guys.”
Just barely, Don could hear Robin mutter under his breath sounding miffed. “That little girl doesn’t make much friends, does she?”
The school loomed in front of the pair. It was more modern and larger than any other school in the neighborhood. It had at least four stories, a swimming pool and an arena. The grades went from kindergarten to grade 8. The duo stopped under the shade of a large maple tree that generously blocked out the sun overhead.
The area around them was busy with students piling out of vehicles in the packed parking lots, and an unending stream of cars continued to the drop-off zone. Seated on benches on the school grounds and on the school’s steps, middle-schoolers gestured freely eyes alight and completely involved in lively discussions. A couple of eighth graders came by, fiercely arguing about the latest gossip going around and catching up on everything they had missed over the summer break. A tall round, broad-shouldered man, Cherrydown’s principal patrolled the school’s entrance, cheerfully greeting anyone who would walk by. The man’s positive energy radiated all around him.
“Well, here you are,” Don said.
Amid all the traffic, down the street a car caught Don’s eyes. The same black sedan that his dad had warned him about was separated from everyone else, except for a few kids who were standing around the vehicle in conversation with a person sitting next to the driver. A girl stretched her hand through the rolled down window, reaching for something.
“I’m waiting for you,” Liz hadn’t moved at all.
“Oh. . .to do what?”
“To say goodbye,”
Don turned his face away from his sister to fulfill the overwhelming urge to roll his eyes without annoying his sister. “Goodbye.”
Liz [_still _] didn’t move, instead she turned around to observe the variety of cliques. The geeks were playing “dungeons and dragons”. The wannabe glee club was standing in choir formation-at least thirty kids- holding music sheets in their hands as they sung, conducted by a seventh grader. The most popular girls mostly from the older grades were from Cherrydown’s cheerleading team. They walked around caking makeup to their faces and making fun of any boys they passed by who were not jocks. And the jocks (Don’s type of clique) were a little more athletic-looking than everyone else. They were standing spread out in pairs, tossing footballs back and forth.
“There,” Don pointed at the clump of girls who were now huddled in a circle. Sadly, they looked like the best option for his little sister.
“Make some new friends.”
“Uh nah, they look like losers. Maybe those kids,” Liz pointed at the geeks and skipped off in that direction before Don could say anything else.
Don stared at her for a second, then shrugged his shoulders. He turned his attention back to the black sedan again. The kids who had been once surrounding it had now all disappeared. The school bell rang. Teachers began arranging the mobs of students into lines to enter the school in an orderly fashion. Ecozar had no more reason to be lingering around here for now. Don had a feeling he would likely return at lunch break. But Don couldn’t allow Ecozar to get away.
He scanned the area, searching for anything that he could use to keep up with a car. Nothing. The car’s engine roared to life. An adult and his son were riding their bikes up the sidewalk across the street. The dad looked up in alarm at the receding line of children entering the building. Hurriedly checking the street, he signaled for his son to join him as they crossed over. Don approached them with a friendly smile. The little boy who couldn’t have been more than four, looked up and returned the grin. The boy’s father got off his bike, impatiently waiting for his distracted son, he followed the young boy’s gaze.
“Can you please watch our bikes for a sec? I’ve just got to get Jeremy here to his class and get him settled in there.”
As soon as the man grabbed his son’s hand and turned around, Don was already on his bike. He moved out onto the street and could see the back of the sedan turning onto Cadsbury Avenue.
Pedaling furiously, Don was grateful for the steep downhill grade, giving him an extra boost of speed and he turned on Cadsbury Avenue. Don could now see that the car which could now be sighted with three cars behind it was separating them, and Don was going towards downtown. Don switched gears when the car picked up speed, turning onto a street lined with cafés. He was fine with heading into downtown; it would really be to his advantage. With traffic clogging the streets, he could more easily pass through the spaces between the cars.
A couple more turns later and the transition into downtown became all the more evident. High-rise buildings came into view, tour buses, streetcars and every street seemed to have a shopping mall, plaza and a series of restaurants on it. The sidewalks were filled with people going about their lives in a rushed manner. Business people rushed to their companies and storekeepers to their shops.
The driver took a left turn down the street and Derrydown Lake was now to their left. The lake glistened, reflecting the sun. Seagulls spiraled overhead, watching the city’s tourists enjoy the view of the beautiful clear lake. But Don barely had any time to examine his surroundings, he wanted to see exactly where Ecozar was heading. The traffic increased, allowing him to weave between cars until only one van was what separated him from the sedan. The driver adjusted the side mirror reflecting a face so hideous that it could’ve been disfigured. The man saw Don and sneered, his cover had just been blown.
The light turned green and the black sedan sped on ahead, getting in front of everyone else. At the next stop, Don could see construction signs warning that any vehicle going straight would need to find a detour. Pylons lined the beginning of the next street. What Don found odd, was the fact that he didn’t see any signs of construction taking place, and there were [_three _]police officers, not just one or two directing the traffic. Their cruiser was on the right lane of the street. Only two lanes were available each for turning into the opposite intersections, leaving the middle one entirely open.
The three police officers stood to the side of the street eyeing the approaching vehicle as though it wouldn’t stop. The black sedan kept right on going, plowing over the orange pylons. Don stubbornly attempted to follow the same path. The three officers—two men and a woman who had made no move to call after or stop the runaway car—suddenly jumped into his path.
Don was pedaling at the same pace, so close to the officers now that he could make out their faces. The last possible second, he veered to the sidewalk, eluding the so called “officers.” The black sedan was far ahead already, but Don could still see it in the far distance. Ignoring the shouts for him to stop Don pedaled furiously, he enjoyed the wind blowing on his face not allowing his sweat to remain on his skin for long. The peaceful thought came to an abrupt end when the sound of a gunshot rung through Don’s ears.
The bike spiraled, tossing him to the rough pavement and scraping his knee. Blood oozed freely from his knee and it pained him to even stand up. Don rolled up his pant leg and taking a sock from his left foot, he used it for a makeshift bandage on his knee. Don glanced behind him at the officer who’d just shot out his back tire. He narrowed his eyes it took an exceptional shot to hit a tire on a moving bicycle from behind. She was in her mid-twenties, with a slim, fit figure. She could’ve looked like a model with all the makeup caked onto her face. And in her hand was the gun Don wasn’t scared with her aim he would’ve been dead already had she wanted that to happen.
There was no doubt in Don’s mind that these people were working for Ecozar’s organization.
Out of the three individuals, Don guessed that the woman was in charge, because she was the first to speak. “Why are you chasing Ecozar?” She demanded. “You’re just a child. You can’t be smart enough to know about his plan!”
Her partners meandered over, blocking Don’s way on both sides. The two men were identical twins, standing just a couple inches taller than Don. Their hair was short and close-cropped, sticking to their round faces which were contrasted by sharp blue eyes.
“Why don’t I question him, Sin?” The twin who had just spoken, came closer to Don until he was practically leering into his face.
Sin looked around the street which was mostly empty except for a few pedestrians gathering in a crowd watching them. “Not here, Bernard.”
Bernard nodded. Don reached forward and slapped Bernard’s shoulder. Bernard snorted and in response, reared his fist and connected with the side of Don’s jaw.
When Don opened his eyes, the first thing he felt was an aching throb right where he’d been hit. He was strapped to a wooden chair, in a small, dingy room. The room was completely bare, except for a single dimly lit bulb in the middle of the ceiling and a small cot in the far corner. Don tested his restraints, pulling forward, but the rope held firmly against his chest. A horrible idea entered Don’s mind, one that would have any of his captors nearby running to his room.
He stood up as well as he could with the chair attached to his behind then he ran toward the wall. Just before he reached the wall, he swung his chair into the wall and the chair leg splintered. After five more tries, he was free. Now out of his bonds, he got a full view of his room, the walls were metal and out of the corner of his eye, he saw a window. Sadly, he was situated three stories high and the window was far too small for him to fit through anyway. When he opened it and peered out, he saw skyscrapers so high they seemed to touch the clouds confirming that he was definitely still in downtown. Craning his neck, he could see a street sign pointing perpendicular to the building from the last intersection, so Don was forced to squint to make out what it said. It read, “Juniper Ave.”
Don was quite familiar with this area, he’d been up and down this street countless times. The space museum opposite to him was across from the abandoned opera hall, where Don was being held. This meant that on the other side of the building was the ocean.
“There’s no guarantee you’ll get out of here alive, so make yourself useful by answering my questions.” At the door stood none other than Pablo Ecozar himself.
Don hadn’t heard the door open. Ecozar strode in dressed in a black suit and tie. Ronald and Bernard fell in line behind him, as if they had earlier rehearsed their encounter.
The bald man’s gaze fell across the room, amusement flickering on his face upon seeing the broken bits of the chair.
“I see you’ve made yourself comfortable.”
Don’s mind drifted back to their location. If the harbor was to the back of the building, the shipments of drugs probably came from the ferry.
“Why are you here? Are you just an overly curious kid or someone with alternate intentions?” Ecozar spoke with a French drawl.
Don didn’t answer the questions, but fired back with his own. “Does it give you satisfaction to ruin the lives of children as young as eight years old? When a kid sees his peer do something, he feels pressured to fit in.” Don pointed a finger. “You, Ecozar have been preying on naive children as a petty means to make money. Still, I don’t think we’ve got the whole picture too, this must just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Ecozar chuckled. “I pray that you didn’t come all the way here simply to tell me off, otherwise . . . I’d say you really don’t value your life. My organization coerces young kids into taking chiebol, a drug that is not only dangerously addictive but it is also mind-altering. It changes the user’s way of perceiving the world around him, giving him illusions and causing him to hallucinate.”
Ecozar’s eyes lit up from getting so worked up, he licked
his lips. “Parents’ hearts will break every time, seeing their kid going“- He made the cuckoo sign.
“And that’s when my workers contact the parent, explaining the drug and the guardian has no choice but to trust the person with experience in helping kids that suffer from my rarely known and new drug, chiebol. And of course parents and guardians will pay any sum of money to solve their kid’s problems.” Ecozar took out a cigarette pack from his back pocket and removed a cigarette.
He held out his cigarette to Bernard to light up, after taking a long draw he blew a smoke ring before continuing.
“But what do you care, Donovan Merlyn, you going to use this information to report me to the police? And seeing as your dad is a cop, I guess he’ll believe you a lot more easily.”
Don took a step back, stunned. How did this man know all that?
As if in answer to Don’s mental question, he said, “a facial scanner does its job well, though I’m not so sure about you. Using your phone to attempt to record our encounter,” Ecozar clucked his tongue as if he were really disappointed. “Very tacky.”
Ronald held out Don’s phone while he grinned smugly for making himself useful to his boss.
Ecozar wasn’t done yet, “I don’t know if your father couldn’t be bothered to train you well, or if you are just an ignorant fool.” The man placed his hand over a bulge in his dress shirt pocket—which Don hadn’t paid much attention to—and he took out a gun. He leveled the barrel straight at Don’s head.
Don smiled, it was his turn to smile smugly now.
Ecozar frowned and paused. “Why are you smiling?”
“Because you’re wrong. I placed a tracker on your man, right before I [_let _]him knock me out. You may recall that slap on the shoulder, eh Bernard?”
Bernard paled, catching on quickly, his eyes scanned where Don had hit him, yet he saw nothing there.
“The tracker I placed on Ronald doubled as a bug too, camouflaging with anything it touches. You think you’ve got admirable tech with the facial scanner? Well I just used military tech on you.”
Ecozar’s jaw hung limply open.
“Oh and the recording phone was a ruse. I knew it would boost your pride and trick you into thinking I was outdone. You fell for it, and let your ego do the rest, revealing the way your organization works. You fell for my ruse, because you wanted to believe that a kid only fifteen years old, would never be clever enough to dupe a well-established drug lord.”
Sirens blared, the noises increasing in volume as they neared.
Ecozar rushed to the window. From where Don was standing he saw what Ecozar saw, at least five DDPD police cars with flashing siren lights and possibly more coming speeding towards the building.
“NO! It can’t be,” he wailed.
Not for the first time today, Ecozar’s eyes turned murderous. He unpocketed his gun and pointed it at Donovan. “You’ll be my hostage, little rat.” Ecozar took a threatening step in his direction. “I always win in everything—”
Several gunshots shattered the window and hit Ecozar in his right arm and leg. He crumpled to the floor bleeding deeply, and the gun harmlessly clattered out of his hand.
Don ran to the window and squinted. He saw his dad perched on the building across the street putting away his own gun. It was nice to know the person who’d gotten you into this mess, also had your back. Don gave a nod of thanks and turned away.
“That’s my cue, gents, I’ll let the men in blue rid this city of your corrupt influences.” As Don shouldered by the twins, he snatched his phone out of Ronald’s fingers. A loud “boom” came from downstairs and multiple footsteps pounded in different direction trying to locate the exact room.
Don allowed the corners of his mouths to turn upwards, when he heard Ecozar being reduced to maniacal screams.