By Richard F. Hill
Copyright 2016 Richard F. Hill
Private Detective McKenzie Ford loves the adventure of strange cases. Still dealing with the impact of a war long ago, his buddies, a group of former Special Forces soldiers, take on a cartel and kidnapping. Vengeance for an old friend is worth the price.
“The Old Farts in Miami” is the first in the series of novels which take our sometimes fearless group of old Vietnam Veterans into numerous interesting and odd mysteries. This first book is about a third the length of the others.
Other books in The Old Farts Series
The Old Farts In The Swamp
The Old Farts in The Keys
Other books by Richard F Hill
Iron Soldiers In Vietnam
Private Detective McKenzie Ford was once Captain McKenzie Ford who led a US Army Special Forces A-Team against elements of the 95th North Vietnamese Regiment.
This is the back story of The Old Farts that presents the time that defined their modern day aging lives and where they are today. Like most Vietnam combat veterans, they find it difficult to escape memories of that terrible time.
In 1961 the 5th Special Forces detachments were given the mission of training for a paramilitary force, which eventually came to be known collectively as the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program. The development of paramilitary forces among the minority groups became the primary role of Special Forces in Vietnam.
McKenzie Ford was a Captain in the US Army, a Ranger, and a member of the Green Berets or 5th Special Forces. He commanded an A-Team of 2 officers and 11 senior non-commissioned officers. Ford and his team had trained together at Fort Bragg, NC where they became a replacement team for A-262 which had been overrun and annihilated by the 95th North Vietnamese Regiment at Dong Son in Phu Yen province of South Vietnam. Team 262 moved on emergency orders to rebuild the local CIDG force in the area and take over intelligence gathering, even though it was politically obvious that the Saigon government was weak, disorganized and bound to fail.
This was one of the last such outposts still not transferred over to the Vietnamese Rangers. It was an important location from which to conduct intelligence gathering operations in an area totally under the control of the army of North Vietnam.
The war had become an American war, one that the US government was fighting on behalf of the South Vietnamese and yet was afraid to win, fearful of Chinese intervention. This placed an extraordinary burden on the men located at isolated camps in the middle of enemy territory.
Ford’s team was in Vietnam for 5 months mostly spent recruiting replacements and gathering intelligence about the enemy when they, too, underwent a savage attack by the same 95th NVA regiment. Five of the team were killed in action and virtually all the other received wounds of varying severity, some of which required emergency Medevac extraction. Ford had received two wounds, adding two Purple Hearts to his Silver Star for bravery and numerous other decorations and awards for service.
He, like all “snake eaters” in ‘Nam, was a paratrooper, most of whom were qualified as Senior or Master parachutists. And, like the others, they had all received the Vietnam Special Forces Parachute Wings, a cherished award that few outside Special Forces had been awarded. It was known, however, that four officers from some Engineer Construction Battalion had made three or four jumps at the Dong Ba Thin airborne center. That was where Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian airborne troops were trained. Few knew how those engineers even got in the center, much less made jumps and were later awarded the coveted wings by the Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) or Vietnamese Special Forces high command. But it did make a lot of other non-SF paratroopers both indignant and jealous. (The author is very proud of his set).
McKenzie had an extraordinary kinship with his team and had made sure that he kept in contact with all who survived, regardless of their next duty stations. Not too surprisingly, some of his men chose to leave the Army at the end of their enlistments. Others chose to continue their military careers until retirement at 20 years of service, which meant they would be returning to Vietnam for another year-long tour.
McKenzie went back to college for an advanced degree after retiring, but the isolation and age distance he felt between himself and his fellow students and professors soon ended his studies in failure. He just didn’t fit in. He moved all over the country for several years, seeking stability and acceptance. Finally, he decided to return to his roots in North Central Florida. His hometown of High Springs, however, felt strange to him largely due to the problems so many Vietnam Veterans were encountering at the time. He needed isolation, not condemnation.
While still in service, he had received a small inheritance from his father which he used to purchase stock in Apple Computer. That worked out well so he had the money to build a small stilt house on 10 acres of land by the Suwannee River in Gilchrist County. The stilts were needed since the Suwannee floods fairly frequently in the summer. McKenzie found it amusing that
As an aside, Stephen Foster, the famous author of the song “Old Folks At Home”, in which there is the line “…way down upon the Swanee River,” a river never seen by Mr. Foster. And he couldn’t spell either…
McKenzie and other residents of the area are surrounded by a profusion of undisturbed woods, natural springs, ponds, and rivers. It is a haven from the rush and bustle of city life, peaceful and tranquil, which was just what Ford needed. Old timers like to think of Gilchrist County as how Florida was “meant to be” before the tourism boom. The northern border of the county is defined by the Santa Fe River, a natural wonder which slips underground in a slow whirlpool in O’Leno State Park and reappears three miles away before merging with the Suwannee which then meanders gracefully, forging the county’s western border. These two rivers are punctuated by several world famous Florida springs, including Hart Springs with its long boardwalk down to the Suwannee, Ginnie Springs with its nine clear freshwater springs, and Blue Springs, with its deep, blue waters. A little bit of paradise, though it does draw a lot of tourists to the springs and rivers.
Once he decided where he wanted to settle, McKenzie began contacting those team members he could find. John Fairchild was the first since he lived in nearby Gainesville, home of the University of Florida and their famous Gator sports teams. John had been the A-Team’s Assistant Medical Specialist and a Staff Sergeant. He had been wounded twice and would have died the second time if not for McKenzie. He continues to have rather severe PTSD, mainly survivor guilt, wondering how and why he survived when so many of his friends and patients did not. He knows he is not responsible but, like so many others, carries the guilt anyway and for some reason that only his brain understands, he is often quite nervous. Once these two got back together again John became even more devoted to McKenzie.
It took about a year to locate the other men, though Mac knew Samson Jones had died in a terrible car wreck soon after he returned to the States. Some said it was suicide since he had hit an Interstate bridge abutment head-on at high speed. All too often, suicide was the end game for so many combat veterans. And Sandy Hampton, who had been the team Communications Specialist, had gone homeless, as did so many Vietnam Vets, and had completely disappeared. A background check showed minor criminal activities, but nothing serious. And then nothing.
Phil Bailey, who had been a Master Sergeant and the senior NCO on the team and had been a tremendous advisor to Ford. He had a second sense for danger that was extremely reliable. He served 2 tours with Mac, was wounded, divorced 3 times, and tends to see women through a dark lens. His sensing danger obviously didn’t apply to women. He had returned to his native New York City where he became an NYPD policeman and then a private investigator in the city.
Chuck Travis had been found out in the wilds of Colorado where he and his girlfriend had a small ranch. Chuck had been the Light Weapons leader, a Sergeant First Class, and the team sniper. That was a skill he enjoyed and maintained using his bolt action Barrett M99 .50 cal with a 29” fluted barrel and QDL suppressor – a sniper rifle. On his second tour he operated in the Phoenix Program of assassination of the Viet Cong infrastructure. He has frequently worked as a civilian contractor for Special Operations Group (SOG) of the CIA, spending a lot of time in Africa and the Middle East. He remained proud of his skills and kept them honed with regular target practice on tin cans and coyotes. He was seriously wounded once and still has problems with PTSD, having nightmares about his experiences.
Cliff Cassidy was the team demolitions expert and a Sergeant First Class, wounded three times. Ford located him in Norfolk, VA, where he was working on a building implosion, his current job. Cliff developed a serious drinking problem, which hardly went well given his vocation, but he usually managed to keep it under control when a job was coming up. Fortunately for the owner of his favorite hometown vodka store in Asheville, NC, his job was off and on since making tall buildings fall down was not a day-to-day occurrence. This allowed Cliff the time at home to continue his search for the perfect vodka. Or the closest one at hand. All of this was the cause of his long-term separation from his wife, something he regrets, but there is always the pursuit of his advanced spiritual education.
In checking on Cliff, McKenzie heard a rumor that he and the liquor store owner were partners in a bootleg liquor operation a few miles from Asheville. That made sense, given the long-term and well-deserved reputation for bootlegging in Western North Carolina. And in reality, there wasn’t much difference in good moonshine and vodka anyway, other than the law. The final product of a still could be more than 180 proof, or 90% grain alcohol, and vodka was mostly bottled at 80 proof or 40% alcohol. Adding 125 gallons of water to every 100 gallons of shine, well, that makes 80 proof shine (vodka). Just add bottles and labels and get paid in cash! Don’t tell the Feds, but the Sheriff knows and is a junior partner, of sorts, in the business, not an uncommon thing in the mountains of Western Carolina.
The most successful member of the team was Rob Andrew who had been the team’s Intelligence Sergeant He was also wounded twice and still carried shrapnel in his right hip. But that hadn’t stopped him from becoming a police officer and then a private investigator, a very wealthy snoop if you will. He’d made good use of his intelligence training and had carried it over into civilian life. His firm was responsible for several cases that paid well, very well. He is headquartered on Brickell Avenue in Miami, one of the poshest parts of that little burg. His client list was quite impressive. The firm is known as AIS or Andrews Investigative Services.
Becoming a P.I. seemed like a good way to earn a living, and so McKenzie took the necessary 40 hours training plus the training for a concealed carry permit and worked under an already Florida licensed investigator, Rob Andrews, to obtain a Class CC investigator’s license, as per the law. Of course, he did that work out of a small office near his home. After all, he certainly couldn’t afford to live in Miami. And there were too many people there already.
McKenzie soon set up shop as AIS Gilchrist and opened for business. He and Rob had agreed that a license fee of $100 plus the office rental fee per month would probably meet the legal needs of the state and Ford would put the rest of the proceeds into his own bank account as a sole proprietor. Rob’s firm had to pay the rent on the office to assure that it was, in fact, his branch office.
AIS had a nice ring to it, but it probably wasn’t a good thing to put in big letters on the back of a blue windbreaker. Somehow the state would probably think that might look like impersonating a law enforcement officer… Never.
It wasn’t long before John, too, completed the necessary training and got his CC license as well, and he, too, went to work as an intern for the main AIS, but in Gilchrist County and not Miami. Shows how confusing can these laws be, though they are written by legislative sharks for working sharks. But then, confusing laws allow entrepreneurs to flourish.
18 Years Ago
Rob Andrew’s jaw moved in the familiar mechanical motion as he chewed on the now flavorless piece of gum. He squinted against the sunlight shining through the windshield to the action unfolding ahead. Part of him wanted to be out there doing his part, but he’d promised to stay in the vehicle.
The analysts and agents of Rob’s private investigation firm, Andrews Investigative Services, had stumbled across one of hell of a situation involving a Cuban arms cartel while tracing 25 illegal AR-15’s that had turned up in a gun store. The store owner thought he was getting legal weaponry and was really pissed when he learned he’d been taken. Not wanting to get the ATF or FBI involved for personal reasons, he hired AIS to find the source of the guns. Rob agreed to do it, but insisted that the Miami Police Department be alerted when the time came.
It had taken nearly three months to backtrack all the serial numbers of the guns, through each sale and transfer. Rob’s people were unable to fully track all the numbers since US laws only required gun store sales to be registered. But finally there were a total of 12 weapons that had supposedly come from the same source, a dealer in South Miami. He’d gotten the guns in a straw sale from an outfit working out of a warehouse nearby. And he still had the address.
Rob’s operatives had covertly watched the warehouse for two weeks, during which time they filmed customers of all types going into the warehouse and coming out with rifles, or packages that could be pistols. Most of these were young punks, obviously gang members.
Now the time had come. Rob had handed over everything he had learned with the agreement that he could be on scene when MPD pounced. Thankfully, the head of this operation fell into the hands of his buddy, Sergeant James Marshall, who did what he could to pull some strings. Marshall insisted, however, that Rob observe the operation from the relative safety of an SUV.
Watching the olive drab figures of the SWAT team maneuvering around the warehouses, closing in on Marcello Mendez for his date with justice, Rob felt the relief of sitting back knowing that he’d only had to follow the bread crumbs and build the case. Some other poor schmuck would have the privilege of filling out ten reams of paper forms as things went through the system. They could keep that mess.
And yet his hand was on the door handle as he began to leave the safety of the SUV. His Glock 17 was in his hand as he pressed his back to the hot metal siding of the nearest building. Sweat was already beading on his brow, but the adrenaline rush and excitement of action was building up. He mentally begged Marshall’s forgiveness and began inching forward. Scanning the SWAT team’s size and position, Andrew shook his head. He didn’t think they had enough men.
Working in a triangular formation, they were reaching the warehouse where Mendez and his men should be. Andrew knew his information on the location was good, and he also knew this would probably be their last chance before the cartel slipped out of the U.S. jurisdiction and away from prosecution. Today was supposed to be a large cash shipment out of Miami before Mendez fled to Cuba and holed up in his multi-million dollar complex. Andrew’s case had been the result of Mendez and his crew’s use of the black market and straw buyers for weapons to bring in firepower to the Miami street gangs. It really hadn’t been too hard to track these guys down.
Four SWAT guys positioned outside the main double doors, two took up the single entry-exit, and the rest took cover in an arc around the front. Only three were sent around to the back. Andrew spit out the flavorless gob of gum and grabbed a fresh piece, shoving the wrapper in his pocket as the sweet flavor burst through his mouth. A lopsided grin slid on his face as he ducked around the buildings and headed to the rear of the warehouse. As he approached the right side, he saw one man stationing himself by another door as a second continued around back. More than likely the third was on the left, meaning only the one man was headed to the back.
Rob was glad he had the body armor that Marshall had insisted he wear. Though he was in his fifties, he could still keep up and his slim stature helped him fit in, but running was hard, as hard as the chunk of shrapnel in his right hip. As he turned the back corner, his concern about the police strength proved true. Marcello Mendez was surrounded by four men trying to quietly hustle him to a hole being cut in the back fence, and on into a white Suburban idling on the other side. The SWAT guy was three steps in front of Andrew and lifted his M-16 to sight in on Mendez. And then came the whole reason Andrew could never follow the rules of police work after his time in ‘Nam played out. He instantly thought, “Don’t say it! Just shoot the bastard! Shoot!”
“Freeze! Police! Put your hands up!”
And that was enough. The four men turned and loosed a fusillade of shots that hit the officer and he dropped to the ground, his rifle still in his hand. Even with his body armor, one of the rounds had hit him in the neck ripping through the cervical vertebrae, killing him in an instant.
Rob rolled back around the corner and carefully peered out as two of the men continued pushing Mendez forward. The other two continued shooting towards the downed officer and the corner Andrew had ducked behind. Gunshots were also coming from the warehouse.
Rob sighed, tightened his grip on the Glock and rounded the corner, popping both guys in the head before ducking down to grab the dead officer’s rifle. Sighting on Mendez’s head, Andrew pulled the trigger, ripping off a 6-round burst, hitting his target in the right jaw and ripping his face off as the second shot hit him in the right temple. Blood and gray brain matter splattered the man beside him, just before he, too, fell victim of a .223 hole in the forehead. As he stood, the other officers came running, trying to surround the Suburban. Someone fired out of the passenger window as SWAT began shooting at the tires and front seats of the vehicle. One of the bullets shattered the safety glass of the rear window, leaving a big enough gap for the face of a young boy to look out. His eyes were filled with terror and heartbreak as he stared at the gruesome form of the nearly headless Mendez.
“Papa!” The kid screamed as the driver hit the gas and sped away.
Two of the cops shot one last time at the back tires as the vehicle rounded a corner. The Suburban’s description was quickly called into the aviation unit, with a warning that a child was in the vehicle. Sighing, Rob looked at the carnage on the ground. Mendez was dead, as were several of his lieutenants. Part of him felt the satisfaction of his part in ending this cartel’s reign, but he knew something else. He was sure that he just killed Marcello Mendez right in front of his son’s eyes.
Rob nodded to the others as they began to process the scene and call in the forensic techs. He’d never hesitated in killing a man who was the enemy, or one who orchestrated the deaths of so many, but the involvement of innocence was always haunting. The case was closed, both his and the one the feds in Miami had separately been trying to build. It was a good day for the home team.
Rob shook his head as he turned the Glock and M-16 over to Sgt. Marshall, and then walked back to the SUV, thinking about why he just had to have another career and couldn’t retire quietly after the Army. Not to mention the hell his friend James Marshall would pay for Rob’s involvement in the take down. They both would spend far too much time being interviewed and testifying. The complications of fighting the bad guys in the civilian world after the things he had experienced across the pond always surprised him. And yet, he kept fighting, trying to do his part. Eventually, though, he’d soon be too damn old for this shit.
2314 hours: A loud boom echoed through the room as the ceiling of the bunker collapsed under the incoming mortar fire. Captain McKenzie Ford, C.O. of the Special Forces A-Team, was pinned under a beam from the fallen roof. Sergeant First Class Sandy Hampton helped him get free and they both scrambled out of the debris to find out what was happening. Hampton had grabbed one of the AN/PRC-25 radios as they tried to avoid the mortar rounds hitting around them. Another round hit a few meters away sending shrapnel into Hampton’s leg. McKenzie shook his head to clear the blast concussion and tried to focus on his duty. He needed to find out what was happening and get everyone that he could to safety.
Hampton wrapped up his leg using the bandage pack that every GI carried on his cargo harness, hoping that the wound wasn’t too severe. McKenzie moved on, as he continuously checked the status of the camp, coordinating the defense. Seeing his Operations Sergeant Phil Bailey, McKenzie grabbed him, yelling for a SITREP over the sounds of the battle, knowing Phil had been in contact with every intelligence source he could. Bailey told him the NVA would be hitting the camp hard that night, that this was no quick and dirty probe. McKenzie knew that with almost six hours of darkness remaining, they were in for real trouble. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese did not attack at this time of night unless they were very serious.
Staff Sergeant John Fairchild, the team medic, was kneeling beside one of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers who was writhing in pain from multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds to his chest and gut. John knew the guy would die, but he was giving it his best as he tried to stop the bleeding. So intent on his job, he didn’t see the Chinese potato masher grenade that came flying in from a North Vietnamese soldier who was about fifteen yards away.
McKenzie heard the arming click of the grenade as it left the hand of the NVA and saw it land beside John. Instantly he dove down and pitched the grenade away as he rolled onto John, flattening him with his body. The grenade exploded a few yards from the three men. Shrapnel tore into McKenzie’s flak jacket and nicked his butt and knee. John was unhurt.
The CIDG was dead and there was no reason for McKenzie and John to stay exposed. Both men grabbed their M-16s and ripped off a full 30-round magazine at the approaching NVA, inserting another magazine as they ran.
The M-60 machine guns emplaced at key positions around the camp were pounding the enemy, but they kept coming, some throwing their bodies on the barbed wire perimeter so their comrades could run over their backs. The indigenous Montagnard tribesmen who made up the CIDG were fighting hard, but were slowly giving ground as each fighting position was being destroyed.
Gathering up the men who could move, or be moved, McKenzie began ordering everyone to pull back to the center of the camp. Ammo was running low, and many had to depend on grenades to fend off the enemy onslaught. McKenzie had radioed the Air Force forward air controller for air force support as well as requesting Puff The Magic Dragon, the nickname for an AC-47 flare/gunship, as he watched the men around him scramble for safety, some not getting far before being taken down by gunfire, shrapnel, debris, and explosions.
The AC-47 arrived above the camp within a few minutes and dropped a two million candlepower flare to illuminate the battle and then began to fire the three 6-barreled 7.62 mm gatling guns mounted in the doorway and two windows of the left side. Sounding like a freight train, the aircraft rained death and destruction on the attacking troops firing 6,000 rounds per minute. Looking through a World War II gunsight in his left window, the pilot held the plane in a tight circle as he flew over the camp. But he could not fire on the enemy soldiers already inside the camp perimeter.
As more of his men died or fell wounded, more hellish AK-47 and heavy machine gun fire filled the air. The remainder fell back into the command bunker where a peg board was wired to twenty-five claymore mines precisely placed around the bunker. One of the mines was enough to take out half a dozen men, and as a last stand, this was pretty much guaranteed to take down anyone around the bunker. With the comfort that the dragonship would eventually convince the NVA to back off, McKenzie felt a bit of hope, especially if the fast movers got here soon with their 500 pound M-82 bombs.
Suddenly, there was a massive increase of AK-47 fire just outside of the bunker, and everyone inside knew it was just a matter of time until the enemy burst into the bunker. Time had run out. McKenzie flicked the switch.
The world shook with a tremendous roar, sand and dust filling the air as the 800 ball bearings in each claymore blasted out from detonation of the C-4 plastic explosive in which they were packed. The noise was horrific and left McKenzie nearly deaf.
The ringing in his ears hit an odd pitch, and McKenzie blinked hard trying to see through the sudden darkness that had enveloped him. A flashing red light caught his attention and he sighed, turning off the alarm clock. His body groaned in protest as he rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed. The echoes of war from long ago still filled his mind, as they often did, but the ravages of time were what slowed his body. Vietnam was a long time ago.
The hot water of his shower did little to ease the aches, and his breakfast consisted of a handful of colorful pills of varying sizes and shapes followed by two cups of black coffee. Knowing what his body needed, as well as his mind, he turned on the news and jumped on the treadmill, five-pound weights in each hand. He started to feel the tension of the flashback begin to leave his body with the adrenaline of the workout releasing the PTSD, for now at least.
His workout equipment was in the living room of his small Florida home in Gilchrist County on the beautiful Suwannee River. Built on stilts due to the annual floods, it had two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and the small living room. A porch overlooked the slow flowing river. More than enough for him, especially when the 18 foot Boston Whaler down at the dock was part of the package, and the 10 year old Ford 150 king cab pickup was an added benefit, and it got him to wherever he needed to go on land.
A warm shower cooled him down after his workout. He donned his current uniform, a pair of cargo shorts, white socks, a pair of Chaps deck shoes, and one of his custom embroidered polo shirts, reading McKenzie Ford above Investigator on the right breast.
An hour later, McKenzie walked into his P.I. office in a small building a few miles away. His dfirst client was already sitting in the waiting area, her pastel pants suit and tight smile almost made him laugh. Walking into the next room, he headed to the larger of the two desks.
“You’re lookin’ bright and shiny on top this lovely 57omethi’, Mister Sunshine,”
he remarked to the balding head bent over the other desk.
“Yeah, yeah, and soon I’ll get a stylish tattoo to remind everyone that hair should be covering it.” John Fairchild glanced up at McKenzie before returning to the papers in front of him. “Mrs. Johansen needs her dose of bad news so we can move along with our small list of bill payers.”
“What happened to bein’ a badass P.I.? Guns blazin’ in dark alleys, stealthy missions in mansions, and sexy women givin’ me that ‘come hither’ look over the rim of a dry martini?” McKenzie sighed as he slumped behind his desk, grabbing the file for Mrs. Johansen, or rather, the soon to be former Mrs. Johansen, according to the content of the photos.
“We’re too old for that stuff anyways.”
“I’ll be too old when I can’t get out of bed anymore, until then I’ll settle for bitchin’ about it and getting paid for the cheating spouses and fake injuries that seem to have become our specialty,” McKenzie retorted.
John shrugged as he stood and went to the door, calling in Mrs. Johansen. As she sat in the chair across from him, McKenzie couldn’t help but admire her beauty, as stuck up as she seemed to be. He figured it was probably why the old man was cheating. The prettier they are, the more likely that they’ll act like their body was a sacred ground you were more than lucky to ever be so honored to explore.
“So, we got the answers you were lookin’ for, ma’am. Your old man is definitely 57
omething’ the greener pastures.” As McKenzie
grabbed the stack of photos and dropped them in front of the woman,
her eyes widened to a comical level as the images of her husband
and a young woman were seared into her brain. A few of the pictures
gave proof of some more than interesting sexual positions. “Yep,
he’s cheatin’ on you, so go ahead and get that divorce you were
wantin’ and move on from this bastard.”
“I appreciate you completing the job and giving me the proof I’ll need for the divorce,” Her eyes shot up, locking onto his own making him arch his brow in surprise, “but I find your manner a bit crass and cruel. A little gentlemanly preparation before you show someone something so vulgar and heartbreaking would be nice. And you could dress a bit more professionally.”
“I apologize for my bedside manner and for displaying my manly legs, but my motto is not sugar coating the truth.” McKenzie pointed to the plaque that John had made for him as a passive aggressive joke one year. The roughly carved letters simply stated, “It’s bad, but now you know.”
“Uh, yes, I can see that. Well, uh, thank you, Mr. Ford, I guess.” Swallowing audibly, she placed a filled in check on the desk, grabbed the stack of photos and the accompanying report, and abruptly left the room.
As soon as the outer door shut, McKenzie barked in laughter. John shook his head, a smirk on his lips. After all these years, he had grown used to McKenzie’s obnoxious and bullheaded ways, but it never lessened his respect and honor for the man that had saved his life all those years ago.
“Am I really that much of an asshole, John?” McKenzie smiled as his friend and partner gave him a look, knowing he didn’t need to answer. “Yeah, well, I think I’m old enough to get away with it now. And you just remember, you’ll catch up to me some day.”
John chuckled as he thought of Mrs. Johansen’s comments and he thought of Mac’s ‘uniform,’ his own similar except he always wore khaki slacks instead of cargo shorts.
With a sigh, McKenzie slogged on through the day. Each client seemed to irritate him to one degree or another, barely relieving the aggravation when they handed him the checks for his “hard” work. Mike Valentine was faking his injuries, Donald something’s wife had taken out an exceptionally large life insurance policy on him, and Mrs. Farber was furious to learn that her ex-husband was a wonderful father to her children but she had nothing to support her claim of her husband’s drug use for testimony in court in the custody hearing. She didn’t pay, but she could keep the hundred bucks as long as she left the room quickly so John could disinfect the chair she sat in.
McKenzie was reading through the notes on another custody case when the phone rang. John answered it before putting the caller on hold, his face showing surprise as he pointed to the receiver on McKenzie’s desk.
“Who is it?”
“Well now, if it isn’t one of the ‘Old Farts,’ how ya doin’ Rob?”
McKenzie’s face faltered, worry creasing his brow as he listened. “Alright, yeah, we don’t have a lot goin’ on here. We can be there by this evenin’ if that’s good for you?”
McKenzie said his goodbyes and looked at John, his face unreadable. “As they say, be careful what you wish for and all that jazz, seems we have a real case.”
“Yep. Pack your bags, dear Watson, we’re goin’ on a trip!”
“Um, Mac,” John was alarmed at Rob Andrew, McKenzie’s and his mentor in the investigative world, needing their help. “What’s going on?”
“Sounds like Andrew’s boy is causin’ some headaches, and in the process, his two teenage children are missin’,” McKenzie grinned as he began gathering his keys, iPhone, his two Glocks plus a duffel bag he dragged out of the closet.
“And you’re grinning….”
“Yeah! Private Eyes, teamin’ up together, a case to solve!”
“Wow.” John shook his head. “I think you’re getting senile.”
“Nah, age is just a number, my good man!”
“Yeah, and yours is a big one.”
“Just because all us Old Farts are getting old, doesn’t mean we have to act like it. Grab your gear.”
John sighed, knowing it did no good to point out the weirdness of being excited about your buddy’s missing kids, or the futility in pointing out any occasion in which McKenzie was being inappropriate, which was often. He, too, pulled a duffel out of the closet.
“Let’s go to Miami!” McKenzie said, headed for the door with John following close behind, stopping only to lock up.
McKenzie drove the old truck out of Gilchrist County on CR 26 through Newberry and then headed down I-75. They had a five-hour trip ahead of them along the busy I-75 to the Florida Turnpike and then further south on I-95, ending in the cacophony of the bustling cultural hub of Miami.
McKenzie could tell John was getting anxious as they drove south. He had never met a man as devoted and loyal as John Fairchild, but the poor guy had the disposition of a mouse, a big change from his rough appearance as a damned good Green Beret medic. As frustrating as his nervous and timid demeanor could be, though, McKenzie couldn’t ask for a better right hand and he knew that his time as a medic had really burned through his mind. And, when he got mad, which was not often, he was as tough as anyone.
After spending two years with Rob Andrew in Miami, getting his Private Investigator license, McKenzie started his small practice in the rural and swampy regions of the Florida wilds. John had kept in touch with his buddy and never hesitated to become a part of the business. Mac had welcomed him as a partner, because, as much as McKenzie bitched about the clientele, he knew that he was getting older and slower and a slow paced business would last a lot longer than something as stressful as a big city firm. He’d leave that mayhem to Rob.
But here he was going back to Miami, the largest city in Florida and one of the busiest ports in the Southeast United States.
“Rob said his grandkids are missin’ and his son’s acting weird. His son’s ex-wife is the one that actually told him the kids were gone. Anyways, can you finagle that phone to get some info on his son, the ex and their kids?”
“Yeah, I was looking through their social media accounts.”
“You know, where you post pictures of yourself and tell people what you like and what you’re doing?”
“That sounds awful. Who the hell does that?”
“Um, well, everyone actually.”
“Yes, I have an account.” John gave McKenzie an impatient glare before McKenzie motioned for him to continue, shaking his head in bafflement.
“Anyways, apparently the ex posted something a few days ago saying she was fed up with Bobby, Rob’s son, and was aggravated that she hadn’t heard from her kids. The kids stopped posting about four or five days ago, which is extraordinarily rare for teens.”
“It’s how they socialize now. They constantly share news stories, pictures, jokes, funny memes and everything with their friends.”
“What is a meem?” McKenzie over enunciated the word, scowling as if the very pronouncement left a bad taste in his mouth.
“A picture of words and sometimes a funny background. How do you not know about this?”
“It sounds stupid.”
“Ok, well, anyways, it looks like the kids haven’t used the site for several days, which means they haven’t been able to use their phones. Bobby rarely uses his, so there’s nothing new on his page.”
“How does this help us?”
“Means that something is definitely going on. Kids live on these sites, constantly on there, so for them to stop at the same time means something had to have happened. Both of their phones died or were taken, or they have no internet access, like somewhere that the phones don’t pick up data or wifi.”
John blinked as he shook his head in astonishment. For someone so smart and clever, sometimes McKenzie could blow him away with how disconnected he was with other people. As much as McKenzie jokingly referred John as Watson, John could see the similarities to his friend and the prickly Sherlock. John was surprised that McKenzie managed to stay just on this side of the line of seriously pissing someone off.
As McKenzie continued their drive down south, John nodded off. McKenzie chuckled to himself. They were getting old, but he refused to slow down, not yet. He had seen too much, done too much, to let life decide when he needed to stop. Worry did niggle at his brain, though, concern for what was happening to Andrew. They had come a long way from the days in the A-Team, with McKenzie at the helm and each of the Old Farts still young and spry.
He always thought it was interesting that so many of the team survivors got into private detective work. Bailey was up in New York doing his P.I. thing even though he was in a wheelchair. John didn’t have a full Class C license, but he still worked cases with McKenzie. Four of the remaining six working as private dicks, and of the other two, one freelanced as a sniper, of all things, and the last was a contract demolitions expert for imploding buildings. They were all getting old, but still kicking ass in their own ways. And then there were the ones who didn’t make it out of the ‘Nam. They were just as close.
McKenzie pulled his thoughts out of the murky depths of the past, a place it often tried to wander off to, focusing on the traffic as he made his way down I-95 and through the hectic beachside cities into Miami.
John jerked awake as the McKenzie began the steady stop and go of city traffic. Realizing where they were, John turned on the GPS and guided McKenzie to Andrew’s condo.
Rob’s office was in a high rise building on the ritzy Brickell Avenue. His condo was also on Brickell. The high rent district, if there ever was one. Rob lived in the biggest condo McKenzie had ever seen, not that he frequented such places very much, but he usually pictured them as a small one bedroom and combined kitchen living area, like the ones that most of his clients closer to Gainesville lived in.
Rob was starting to show signs of aging. His face had deeper creases, his hair was almost completely gray, and he now sported a shiny black cane gripped in his left hand, the slight lean of a man with a troubled hip or knee. And one who had two Purple Hearts for multiple bullet holes and hunks of shrapnel, some of which was still in his right hip.
“You look old,” McKenzie grinned as he gave his old friend a bear hug.
“Yeah, well we don’t all spend our spare time relaxing on a river. Some of us work and get old like normal people.” Rob then turned to John, giving him a knowing grin as they, too, hugged.
“And look how good I look! Not a day over…”
“Is it seventy, Mac?” John piped in.
“Close enough.” McKenzie shrugged as they followed Rob into his living room.
McKenzie and John sat on the couch as Rob lowered himself into a dark brown recliner. McKenzie scanned the house and noticed the feminine touches. It had been years since he had seen his friend, and back then he was still in the aftermath of a nasty divorce. Looking around, McKenzie was sure that Rob had a new lady in his life. The thought had barely finished when a gorgeous brunette, slim with an olive complexion, walked in from the kitchen with a tray holding glasses of lemonade balanced on one hand. She smiled as she sat it down on the coffee table, kissed Rob on the cheek and waved to McKenzie and John before grabbing her purse and heading out the door.
“We scare off your company?” McKenzie arched a brow as he grabbed one of the glasses, condensation already beading the outside as the ice clinked around.
“That’s my girlfriend Diane, and she lives here, so behave yourself, Cap’n.” Rob leaned back, sighing in exhaustion.
McKenzie took a sip of the cool drink before nodding in acknowledgment. Rob looked worn, very worn, and McKenzie felt legitimate concern beginning to take over.
“What’s going on, Rob?” McKenzie tilted his head, trying to read the man’s face.
“Damned if I know, Mac. My son, Bobby is acting weird as hell. I really hate to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on something. His ex-wife Karen called me up telling me she hasn’t been able to get ahold of Bobby or the kids. Apparently, he had them for a few weeks this summer and a few days ago they just stopped responding to texts and messages. Caleb is 18 and Catelyn is 16, and they live on their phones, so the sudden inactivity has her worried. With Bobby not saying a damn thing, something is going on. I asked Karen not to call the cops and told her I’d see what I could find out and make sure everything’s okay. But, honestly, the police might be the answer.”
McKenzie glanced at John, who was jotting down everything in a notebook. He had a bad feeling about the whole situation, and once again the thought that he wanted more action was coming back to bite him in the ass.
“So what do you want me to do? Follow your boy? Talk to him? Check out his place?”
“Any and all of the above. I can’t do field work anymore, as you can see, and I would be a bit obvious if he caught me on his tail. He doesn’t remember you, and your lithe young figure is more apt to getting in places that need lookin’ at.”
“Alright. Sounds good. You got a good suggestion on a place for us to crash a few days?”
“Yes, my firm has a few rooms at the Coral Shell a few blocks down. I already called in a room with two singles, assuming you two still sleep separately, and you’re good to go. Anything you charge to the room outside of meals is on you, though.”
“Aw, Rob, you’re so accommodatin’. I really was hopin’ we could snag a king size for me and Watson here, snuggle down like in the trench days.” John put on a bored expression as Rob chuckled.
“I miss you sometimes, smartass.”
“Yeah, I miss you too, you old fart.” McKenzie stood and accepted the piece of paper Rob handed him.
“That’s my son’s full name, his ex-wife’s, and the kids, as well as contact phone numbers, addresses, email and descriptions. You need anything else, just let me know. And I know I don’t need to say it, but keep me in the loop, Cap’n. Please.”
“Wilco, Rob. Take care and we’ll get back to you soon.”
McKenzie and John left the condo and headed to the hotel. It was a four-story building painted in one of the horrid shades of orangey-pink familiar to the middle and lower end places on the coast. Grabbing the duffel bags they had packed before heading out, McKenzie went to the counter and got the room keys for room 302. Once they had the bags thrown on their selective beds, John set up the laptop on the small round table while McKenzie checked over his weaponry and gadgets. He knew he probably wouldn’t use any of it, but it felt good to do something with his hands while he thought about their newest case.
Feeling the fatigue of taking a long drive after a full day of work, and the subsequent meeting with Rob, they decided to get some sleep and begin then get to work in the morning. McKenzie knew his meds would benefit in helping him sleep, but the memory of the previous night’s flashbacks had him dreading being too deep to easily wake-up. Shrugging, he took half of his usual dose and climbed into the rock hard bed.
McKenzie woke feeling less than refreshed, but anxious to hit the pavement and get the case moving forward. John eyed him with concern, noting the dark circles, but said nothing as they went through their morning routines and prepared for the day ahead.
“So I guess the first stop is the son’s house, see if he’s there and what’s going on with him?” John spoke up as he examined the maps around Bobby’s house, zooming in on the small yard through the satellite images.
“Sounds about right. We’ll need to check if any of the kid’s belongings are lyin’ around, especially the mighty cell phones they seemed to have detached from.”
“Figured as much.”
McKenzie put his Glock G17 on his hip and strapped a smaller Glock G26 pistol against the base of his back. Both weapons were 9 mm and both had the famous “Safe Action” trigger system which permits a round to be safely carried in the chamber with the weapon instantly ready to fire without having to worry about using the slide or fumbling with a safety.
John put the laptop in its leather case and added the third gun, another G26, to the bag. McKenzie grabbed the small satchel and tossed in extra ammo, tape, rope, a lock pick kit, binoculars, and other random items he used to complete his “detective gear.”
Back in the truck, they headed to the low rent neighborhood of houses too close together, white paint flaking off the siding, overgrown grass, and cars that looked like they should be up on blocks rather than driving around.
“How did Rob’s kid end up a ‘bad side of the town’ guy?” McKenzie grimaced as he glanced around the rundown area, feeling alert and uncomfortable. A beat up pit bull sitting on the curb characterized the neighborhood. He looked like he’d just love for either man to get out of the truck while in his territory.
“I think it happened after his divorce. Looking through what Rob sent to us by email, she took all she could and left him high and dry. The kid had a bit of a drinking and gambling problem, and seemed to spiral downhill after that.”
“Damn, see, that’s why I don’t get married, they drive you right over the edge!”
“To be fair, I think you would be the one driving anyone over an edge and I’m pretty sure you have to have a woman in your life to marry one.” John smiled at McKenzie, “I mean for more than just one night.”
McKenzie laughed, shaking his head. John knew him too well, but he was the only one that did. McKenzie had a habit of not letting people get close, but everyone had their reasons and he had his. He just wasn’t sure what they were.
As McKenzie parked the truck on the side of the road, John glanced around nervously. McKenzie picked up on the feeling and agreed. He wondered if the truck would still be here when they came back out, or at least most of it. Part of him felt like an ass being so critical of people dealing with the lower end of life in a city. He was used to living off of a retirement check from the military and the low pay he made from the clients he got. But his client base was nothing above middle class, and he did well to have his little place out by the Suwannee River, even if it wasn’t fancy.
These guys, this neighborhood, gave off a feeling of danger. People walked around with gazes lowered, glancing at him from the sides of their eyes. Yelling could be heard from several houses, and police sirens seemed to be the neighborhood background music. McKenzie got out of the truck and stood surveying the immediate area as John nervously stood on the other side.
“Stay here at the truck, I’ll go knock on the door and see if our guy is home.” John nodded as McKenzie headed up the broken concrete sidewalk.
Taking a deep breath to cleanse away the distractions around him, McKenzie raised his fist and knocked on the wobbly frame of the screen door. Seeing the pictures of Bobby’s ex-wife and their kids, McKenzie found himself surprised that she would let then come here. Then again, maybe it was the kid’s idea, or perhaps court ordered, although the boy was old enough to not to have to follow custody rulings. Shrugging, McKenzie knocked again.
Finally, the door opened, and McKenzie was wondering if he had the wrong house.
“Is Bobby Andrew here?” Her eyes widened and the door was slammed in his face.
McKenzie stared at the door, dumbfounded before banging his fist on the frame.
“I’m trying to find out where his kids are and if you can’t help me I’m calling the cops! Right NOW!” McKenzie yelled over the pounding.
The door opened again, a crack, a dark brown eye staring at him.
“How do you know Bobby?” Her accent confirmed her Cuban background, her face pretty even with the look of confusion furrowing her brow.
“His ex-wife came to me, I’m a family friend. If I can’t get answers, she’s calling the police out here.”
“I don’t know where he is, he was yelling about everyone bothering him about the kids and he just slammed out the door and left.”
“Does he live here?” McKenzie tried to glance in the room behind her, but she kept the door open only wide enough to show half of her face.
“Sometimes. He doesn’t always come home. I can’t help you, cuz they’re not here.”
“Can me and my partner come inside and check around, so that we can tell Bobby’s ex not to send the cops here?” McKenzie watched her carefully as she glanced back before turning back to him.
“No, I don’t let people in if Bobby’s not here. I’m sorry.” She gave him a half-hearted smile and shut the door again.
McKenzie refrained from banging on the door again. Taking a deep breath, he headed back to the driver’s side of the truck. John watched him with raised eyebrows as he climbed back in the passenger seat.
“Now we move down the road a bit and wait,” McKenzie mumbled as he put the truck in gear and headed to a house several driveways down.
With the boarded over door, piles of garbage in the side and front yard, McKenzie was comfortable that homeowners wouldn’t be an issue, if anyone really owned this dump. Huffing in aggravation, he slid down in the seat, angling his head to see the driveway of Bobby’s house.
“You think she’s hiding something or just scared?” John glanced down the road behind them.
“Both, and I have a feelin’ she’s going to have company soon, or she’ll take off somewhere.” McKenzie sat back in the driver’s seat, a headache already building behind his brow.
John pulled an old paperback out and began to read, his eyes occasionally scanning the mirrors and streets around them. McKenzie settled on keeping the house in focus, the slightest movement being noted. When a dark sedan pulled up less than thirty minutes later, he was pleasantly surprised. He had expected it to take a bit longer, that she would need time to hide or clean whatever she didn’t want him to see.
No one got out of the car as the young woman left the house and went to the back door on the right side. She slipped into the vehicle and it pulled away. McKenzie waited another ten minutes before getting out of the truck. John sighed heavily, not needing to voice his concerns on them trying to break into a house, illegally, during the day, in a bad area. McKenzie could almost swear he could hear the words in John’s brain as though they were being spoken aloud.
Deciding on a brazen route, McKenzie walked along the cracked and broken sidewalk to the house and straight up the grease spotted drive. As he approached the front, he easily diverted to the side yard, stepping around a rusted out BBQ grill, an old bicycle, some faded blue plastic crates filled with empty beer bottles and continued around back. None of the windows seemed to be open, and the back door was locked.
Grinning at John, McKenzie pulled out the lock pick set and went to work on the door. John could feel his anxiety ratcheting up. Finally, after less than a minute, McKenzie stood and threw a cocky smile at John as he pushed the back door open.
“I’ll take the back end of the house; you start here in the kitchen. Look for anything that would belong to the teens and any proof or info that tells us anything about what could be going on.” McKenzie pointed around the kitchen before heading to the hall on the left.
John immediately went to work, checking drawers and cabinets in the kitchen as McKenzie headed down the short, dark path to three doors. The bathroom was behind one door, bedrooms behind the other two. The bathroom was a wreck, make-up and hair products covering the counter. The drawers contained more of the same. There was one toothbrush, and nothing looked like it specifically belonged to the teens. The toilet was gross and the tub hadn’t been cleaned in a year. McKenzie shook his head in disgust before heading into the spare room.
Trash bags and boxes contained miscellaneous clothing, shoes and other junk took up over half of the room. The closet was overflowing with more junk. The double bed was disheveled but held nothing obvious to McKenzie’s cause. Kneeling down on the floor, McKenzie winced out of a mixture of revulsion for the filth below him and the pain spiking in one of his knees. Putting both palms on the dirty carpet, he leaned down to look under the bed and was instantly rewarded.
A plastic card was just in reach for him to grab. Flipping it over, he saw a young girl’s face in an obvious professional school photograph, the name of the school on one side and “Catelyn Andrew Grade 11” at the bottom. McKenzie grabbed the bed to help pull himself up, brushing his knees and hands off. Pocketing the school ID, he went into the master bedroom.
Immediately it was clear that a man and a woman shared this room. If Bobby wasn’t here all the time, he at least kept a large majority of his belongings here. Clothing and shoes for both a woman and man were scattered everywhere. A framed photo of the Andrew’s kids sat on one nightstand next to a glass of cloudy water, a bottle of aspirin, and loose change. The other nightstand held a cheap romance novel, a tube of lipstick, and other clothing obviously belonging to the woman.
McKenzie began going through the dresser and nightstands, before repeating his kneeling to check under the bed. He was about to stand when he saw a crumbled piece of cellophane. Pulling it out, McKenzie noted the white powdery residue, and with a touch of his finger to the plastic and then his tongue, he realized Bobby had more problems than his dad realized.
Not much else was revealed in the back end of the house, so McKenzie headed towards the living room and kitchen with the hopes that John had found something more substantial. McKenzie had to restrain himself as he stepped out of the hall and saw John peeking out the window before shuffling back to a pile of mail on an end table. His friend’s nervous mannerisms were a cause of hilarity for McKenzie, despite his understanding of how someone that had been through what they had, back in the day, would get to a point of borderline paranoia.
“Find anything?” McKenzie smirked when John jumped before giving him a glare.
“I think the woman was Marissa Mendez. The mail is all for her or Robert Andrew, Jr. Mostly the usual junk mail, government welfare information and notices for Bobby, plus letters from Marissa’s family in Cuba. Most of those were just the typical and boring ‘How’s America’ and ‘We’ll miss you at the reunion’ sort of stuff. John dropped the envelope he had been holding back into the pile and pointed toward the kitchen as he walked forward, “But I did find the good stuff in there.”
McKenzie followed John and stopped at the small round kitchen table. Several cans and boxes were sitting there, opened. The cans had the tops cut off along the outer sides, so they could be put back on. The boxes had the flaps open with little to no tearing. John handed over one of the cans, watching McKenzie’s face as he saw the rolls of money shoved in them.
“Pretty clever. I think they used one of those TouCan battery powered electric can openers you see on television for the cans.” John observed.
“How do you know this stuff?”
“Figgers, but I won’t ask what you have it for. Probably for your not so medical marijuana.”
“Sure,” was all John said.
The boxes had less than half a bag of whatever was in them pulled out, revealing three small bags of what looked like cocaine. A box of cereal also contained a cheap Hi-Point 40SW-B, Semi-automatic .40 cal with a 4.5” barrel and 10-round magazine. McKenzie raised his brows as he glanced at John.
“I took pictures with my iPhone as I opened them and what was in each one. I made sure to take enough pictures to show what the package was as well as what as in each corresponding container. I just can’t figure out if we should put it all back or take it, or what.” John shook his head, his face somber at the discovery in his friend’s kid’s house.
“Nah, we can’t take it. That would probably lead to other angry people with guns and drugs getting’ involved. I know he was using, though, not just selling. Empty baggie under the bed. Damn it man.”
“Rob may have a hard time with this. I don’t know if we should tell him yet, though.”
“I agree. He could either scare off Bobby when he does come around or get the police involved and those kids disappear forever. Cuban tempers, cocaine, money, and guns are not a great mixture for a happy family reunion.” McKenzie sighed, his face grim.
“I know where it all came from. I’ll put it back if you want to go over the living room some more.”
McKenzie nodded and turned back to the front of the house as John began closing all the containers and putting them back in the cabinets. Most of the mail was as John had described, so McKenzie moved on to checking the odd drawers and cabinets around the room. He did find extra ammunition for the .40 cal, a few empty powdery bags, and some odd notes scratched on random receipt backs and scraps of paper. Each had initials and acronyms as well as numbers that McKenzie assumed were dates and times. Although Bobby tried to be clever about it, if you knew military time and date formats, it was pretty easy to figure out.
McKenzie took pictures of what he could with his phone, knowing John would figure out what to do with them later, and headed back in the kitchen as John closed the last cabinet.
“John, let’s get out of here before your anxiety explodes and makes an even bigger mess in this place.” John rolled his eyes as they left through the back door.
McKenzie made sure to lock the door behind them and they headed around the house. As they reached the front corner, John grabbed McKenzie’s arm and pointed at the familiar sedan turning onto the road. They backed up and headed across the overgrown yard to the rickety chain length fence separating the backyards of the houses. John climbed quickly and carefully, McKenzie taking a few seconds longer as his knee began to protest. He was afraid of the fence collapsing under his weight.
John quickly darted across the yard and to the next fence, McKenzie behind them. This one was in worse shape and as McKenzie threw his leg over the top and began to drop the six inches down, the fence jerked at an angle under collapse, throwing him on the ground with his leg being wrenched between the touching top and bottom of the chain fence lengths. Pulling his leg out, he grimaced as he heard the tear in his jeans and felt the burn of the metal scraping his skin. John pulled him up, and they went to the far side of the house before hurrying to the front and down the sidewalk to the driveway and McKenzie’s truck.
They didn’t look back until they were seated and locked in. The car was already backing out of the drive and heading away from them, the woman assumed to have gone inside. McKenzie let out a breath and bent down to look at his pants. The jagged tear was only three or four inches long. He pulled the sides of the tear to see the damage to his leg. The scratch was deep but less than two inches. He looked up and saw John’s concerned face watching him.
“Just a scratch and I’m lucky that’s all it was.”
“Well, now you can limp around like the old man you are. Should we stop for a cane?”
McKenzie shook his head as he pulled out of the abandoned residence and headed back to the hotel. John watched out the window as they passed Bobby’s house, and gasped slightly as he saw the woman standing at the screen door, watching them drive by. Her face was blank, and her arms hanging loosely by her sides. McKenzie had quickly shot his gaze in response to John and frowned as his focus went back to the road. John shivered a bad feeling as they finally drove out of sight from the house.
Back in their hotel, John got to work transferring copies of the photographs from both of their phones and put them on a thumb drive. Then he began compiling a list of the evidence found and what it could mean. The money in the cans had amounted to almost ten thousand dollars, the cocaine was about two kilos with a street value of over fifty grand. But the most telling evidence was found in Marissa’s correspondence with her family.
“Marissa has a brother named Lorenzo Mendez and there’s also the names of some of her aunts and cousins with the Cuban addresses. I got a hit on NCIC on Marcello Mendez using the credentials Rob got for us from his buddy in the Miami Police Department. Mendez was an arms dealer here in Miami that was killed in a stakeout and takedown about 15 years ago. Our good buddy, Rob Andrew, was the one that shot Mendez.” John sat back and looked to McKenzie for a reaction.
“Hmm, okay, well, that can mean that the son is on some sort of revenge scheme or that in some crazy coincidence, Rob’s boy got messed up with the same crime family that Rob shut down.”
“Hard to say, regardless, but Bobby is in some bad stuff if he’s got coke, guns, and money hidden away. Even if it was a revenge thing, Bobby met them halfway with crap like that.”
“Yeah, I think we need to put all the cards we have on the table for Rob. He knows any police activity with drug smugglers and gun runners is going to end in violence, but he may have more insight with his old case notes. At least I hope he does.”
McKenzie rubbed the short hairs on his head in a sign that John recognized as frustration. They knew it would be one thing if it was an all-out plot against Rob, but Bobby’s suspicious involvement complicated the whole situation. McKenzie shook his head as if to clear it before calling up Rob. John grabbed the thumb drive and his notes as McKenzie finished the call and the left to meet with Rob.
On the way to the condo, they stopped at a Walgreens and in about 15 minutes John had printed all the photographs.
“How’d you do that so fast, John?”
“The marvels of modern technology, kind Holmes, something called a photo printer. And here’s the bill for the pictures.”
Rob sat back in his chair as he flicked his finger across the screen, seeing the photographs John and McKenzie had taken. His face was drawn and forehead wrinkled in something between betrayal and sadness. He put the pictures in a stack on the coffee table and shook his head, his eyes scanning the papers and documents in front of him.
“That boy’s eyes always haunted me,” Rob mumbled as he sat back.
“Whose?” McKenzie watched him carefully, knowing that Rob rarely made a scene about anything.
“Lorenzo Mendez. I can finally put a name to the face that stared at me from the back of a white SUV. He watched me kill his dad, watched as we pinged bullets off the side of the vehicle trying to hit the tires. They drove away and got past the roadblocks and whatever chase vehicles were sent. Word was the child was Marcello’s son and he’d been sent back to Cuba.” Rob’s jaw worked up and down as he chewed his gum.
“How do you keep that crap from stickin’ to your dentures?” McKenzie narrowed his eyes at Rob.
“Easy, I still have real teeth. You may call us the old farts, but you are the oldest of all of us, Cap’n.” Rob gave him a halfhearted smile and salute as he sat up. “So Bobby’s got himself involved in a shit storm, and unknowingly, I am probably the reason for half the downpour. I knew he was into something, though, drugs or something. He looked like a disaster the last few times I saw him.”
“I assume you want to keep the police clear, still?” John turned to a clean sheet in his notebook.
“Of course. Bobby may still end up hurt or arrested by the time this is over, but I know how these guys work. They smell the boys in blue and my grandkids will be fed to sharks, and then I end up in jail for killing the bastards myself.”
“What about the ex?” McKenzie sighed.
“Yeah, she’s gonna be a problem, probably, though I don’t blame her. I’ll see what I can do, but short of lying to her and it being used against me later when everything does go to shit, I don’t know what I can really do but play stupid.”
“In the meantime, I guess John and I will go revisit Marissa and try to refrain from commenting on her impeccable housekeeping skills. Tilt our hand a little, see if she’ll talk. If not, then we get to go to stalker status while we see what the lil’ lady is up to. Especially after we have our sit down with her.”
John’s mouth twitched downward as he glanced at McKenzie’s leg. McKenzie ignored him and gathered up their papers. Rob shook his head as he kept chewing away at his gum, which was beginning to annoy McKenzie as it always had. John put everything in the laptop bag and stood, as McKenzie searched for something comforting to say to Rob.
“If we find your boy before you do, I’ll kick his ass for you so all you will have to do is the final whack of your cane to his head.” John closed his eyes and sighed, shaking his head at McKenzie as he turned to leave.
“Thanks, Cap’n, but I would rather the entire beating come from my cane. And if I don’t get my grandkids back soon, it’ll become evidence of my homicidal tendencies.” Rob’s voice was flat as he stared off, deep in thought.
McKenzie nodded and followed John out to their truck. John groaned as McKenzie headed back toward Bobby’s house.
“I swear if you get us killed, I will haunt you in the afterlife.”
“Well, missy there was obviously concerned enough to call someone with money as soon as I left last time. If she knows that we have more info, I doubt she’ll hesitate to at least feed us some bullshit to throw off the trail.”
“If her fancy friends don’t show up while we’re there. Or she decides to answer the door with her cereal box gun.”
“You know, when I was younger, cereal boxes had cheap, crap toys. Why couldn’t mine have had something that cool.”
“Because cereal companies aren’t evil and giving every child who eats a certain type of cereal the ability to kill one another was a bad idea. And your parents weren’t connected to a crazy cartel.”
“You really love to blow the steam out of all my happy thoughts, don’t you?”
“Only when they’re ridiculous.” John watched out the window as McKenzie glanced over at him, smirking at his cohort’s serious expression.
Once again the driveway was empty. McKenzie pulled all the way in and shut the truck off.
“I don’t know if it will be better for you to wait at the truck or go in with me. Two people would be more intimidating than one, but if trouble starts, it’d probably be better to have someone with the truck.”
“Well, since you’re carrying and I’m not ‘cuz I left my gun in my bag, I think I’ll stick with you,” as John glanced nervously at the house.
McKenzie nodded briefly before getting out of the truck and heading up to the door, John following behind him. Once again he stood on the stop, knocking on the wobbly screen door frame. He could hear footsteps going to the window, but she didn’t answer the door. McKenzie knocked again and then stepped back to look at the window. The curtain twitched and then the front door opened.
“What do you want, now?” She opened the door enough to poke her head out and seemed taken back with John’s presence.
“Marissa Mendez? I think we need to have a conversation about your boyfriend and his children, and their mother callin’ the police by tonight.”
McKenzie saw the hesitation on her face as her eyes twitched back and forth between the two of them. Two old white guys must not have registered much of a threat as she sighed and stepped back, opening the door and motioning them in.
John followed McKenzie inside. She let the screen door close, but left the front door open, which was preferable to McKenzie. He stood next to John as she walked past, glancing at him with narrowed eyes. Coming to the couch, she leaned back against it, crossing her arms.
“So start conversating.”
“That’s not a word…” John trailed off as he caught McKenzie’s shake of his head. Marissa glared at him as he lowered his head, feeling flustered.
“Marissa, we know who you are, we know Bobby lives here, we know the kids were here before they went missing, and we know either you or Bobby or both are mixed up with drugs. Bobby’s father is an investigator as well and is also on the case. Bobby’s ex is pretty pissed she can’t call her kids and that they are, in fact, missin’ in the legal way.”
Shrugging and rolling her eyes, she said nothing in response.
“You do realize this is the first house the cops will come to. With the evidence that has been found, they know the kids were here last and they will search the house and they will take you in for questioning. Do you understand that?” McKenzie squinted at the woman, waiting for a response.
“Honestly, I don’t really believe you, and even if you are telling the truth, I don’t know why I should be worried. There’s nothing in here for them to find.”
“No cocaine, guns, ammunition? No meet-up notes or proof you’re connected to a cartel?” McKenzie had begun to raise his voice, mostly surprised at how unfazed she seemed.
With those words, though, she became completely still, her eyes locking onto McKenzie’s.
“What do you mean? I’m not connected to any cartel and I don’t have no cocaine in this house.”
“Uh, yes you do, and it’s poorly hidden. As for the cartel, your brother and your father are well known names around the Narc units here.”
“My father’s dead.”
“Yes, I know, but your brother’s not and the word on the street is he’s tryin’ to follow daddy’s footsteps, although he’s seemed to have strayed into more of the punk-thug-drug thing.”
“You don’t speak about my family.” She stood, her hands fisted at her sides. “Get out of my house.”
“I’m tellin’ you, right now, Marissa, if you don’t help us, you will go to jail and the cops will be lookin’ at you and your brother a lot closer. Not to mention the fact of two grandkids of a prominent investigator are missin’ and you as one of the last people to see them. If you do not help, you will end up at Lowell Correctional Institution for women at Ocala. And that is not only the largest, but the absolute worst women’s joint in the country. Think about it.”
Her eyes flicked toward the kitchen and the toward the screen door, McKenzie couldn’t tell if she was planning an escape route or just finding her nerve.
“Tell us about the kids, when you saw them last, where they went, everything.” John spoke up, keeping his voice soft and friendly.
“How do I know you won’t let the cops arrest me anyways?”
“We can’t promise they won’t come here, but now you have time to clear out the boxes and cans in your kitchen and clean up the baggies around the house. They can’t arrest you without evidence.” McKenzie motioned toward the kitchen as he spoke, watching her eyes grow wide. “We’ve already checked the place out, we have pictures, and I’m a licensed private investigator.”
“You tricked me?”
“No, we warned you and we are tryin’ to help you so that we can do our job, which is to find the kids. I don’t care about, although I don’t respect, the drugs. I just want to find the kids.” McKenzie nodded as he spoke, trying to look at her with sympathy to get his point across. He worried about the time it was taking and whether or not she had made any phone calls before they came in.
“Okay, I got that. Then I have some house cleaning to do, so you need to go.”
“No, you see, I can do a citizen’s arrest and call the cops and have them look over your filthy home. Or you can tell me what I want to hear and then get your cleaning done before the ex calls them in.”
“That’s bullshit, loco.” She sighed, shaking her bent head as she leaned back against the couch. “The last time I saw them kids was with Bobby. He left with them and when he came back, they weren’t with him. I figured he got tired of them bitching and moaning about everything and took them home.”
“They weren’t struggling or anything when they left?” John questioned.
“No, he told them they were gonna go eat out at some place and so they went.”
“What about Bobby, was he acting strangely?” McKenzie was beginning to realize this could still lead to nothing.
“How stupid are you? I’m not the one who does the coke. He’s always acting strangely. Either he’s itching for a fix or he’s high.”
“So which was he doing that night?”
“Lately, he’s always high.”
McKenzie nodded, deciding he wouldn’t get much more from her.
“Alright, well, that’s enough for them to focus on Bobby, and maybe they’ll leave you alone.” McKenzie nodded and headed for the door.
Marissa stood up, unsure of what to do as they walked out. McKenzie reached for the door handle of the truck when he glanced up and saw her standing at the door watching them.
“Hey! I hope you find the kids. I don’t like people doing shit to kids, and even though they’re some privileged little fucks, they don’t deserve the bad shit that’s out there.”
“Thank you.” McKenzie nodded at her before ducking back into the truck, and to John’s relief, they drove off.
They couldn’t get ahold of Bobby. Rob had been trying as well. No one had seen or heard from him, and the picture was beginning to get bleak.
“Why would he take them somewhere? And where?” McKenzie felt a headache beginning to build behind his eyes.
“I don’t know. Obviously, the drugs are involved, but I don’t understand how his kids fit in unless he hid them for safekeeping. Maybe someone threatened to do something to them?” John was trying to be optimistic, McKenzie knew, but he also knew John was probably thinking the same dark thoughts that he was.
“What if he traded them for a debt or drugs or his own life?”
“That would be pretty terrible.” John’s face paled.
“So how do we find him?” McKenzie rubbed his head as he stared out the hotel window.
“We could call Bailey, see if he can get a BOLO on him?” John shrugged.
“He couldn’t request that from New York without having a reason for an out of state hunt.” McKenzie shook his head.
Phil Bailey was another one of the Old Farts, and the only one that had actually decided to go into retirement, another reason why he wouldn’t be able to help on an out of state case. Most of his connections were good from his NYPD days, but not for actively using police intel and funds for a case in Florida.
“We just have to tell Rob that we need to find Bobby and that Bobby was the last to see the kids.” McKenzie paused for a moment, and then suddenly turned to John, “What if she was lyin’?”
“It’s possible. I mean, she wanted us gone and time to ‘clean,’ so she could have said anything to get us to leave.”
“But she seemed sincere when we were leavin’ and she said she wanted us to find them.”
“Just because she said it, and she was pretty and staring at you, doesn’t mean she meant it.” John cocked his brow at McKenzie, knowing how pretty women tended to cloud his vision.
McKenzie frowned as he looked through the pictures and papers again, hoping to find something that would give him more direction. His frustration was growing and the limits he had in dealing with cases like this made him question his ability to actually solve the damn thing.
“Alright, I’ll call…” and before he could finish his phone rang.
“Rob? I was just about to call…yeah? Okay, we’re on our way. We’ve heard one story from his girlfriend and it doesn’t make him look too good, so I need a sit down with him. Yeah, I’ll tell you about it. Alright, see ya then.” McKenzie ended the call and looked up at John. “Rob caught Bobby tryin’ to break into his house. His son is a mess, apparently, and should be more than willin’ to talk. Maybe we can start makin’ some heads or tails of this mess.”
John nodded and they gathered up what they needed before going over to the condo. McKenzie felt the fury was starting to build. This asshole was involved in the disappearance of his own kids, one way or another. It wasn’t something McKenzie could make sense of. The Old Farts were like family to him, even more so at times like this, and he could never imagine doing something to put them in jeopardy unnecessarily. A man’s own children was a whole other category of sacred, and he couldn’t see how anyone would screw that up so bad.
Rob answered the door after McKenzie knocked and showed them in. Bobby was sitting in a chair, his face tear stained and red. McKenzie was glad to see some real emotion in the people involved in this mess, maybe it meant it was time for someone to start telling the truth.
“I’ll tell you and him what the girlfriend said after we hear his story. I don’t want that interferin’ or making him change what he has to say.” Rob nodded in agreement with McKenzie, and with John, they headed into the sitting area.
McKenzie and John took the couch as Rob lowered himself into his chair, setting his cane next to him. His mouth was already viciously destroying whatever sweetened rubber he had in there this time. McKenzie understood. Times like this made him a little more understanding as to why people smoked or did whatever habit to push through the stress. But he still couldn’t stand that gum.
“Bobby, I don’t know if you remember, but these are my old war buddies, McKenzie and John. They’ve been helping me try to find your kids, and they have discovered quite a bit. I need you to talk to them, and tell the truth, or I swear I’m gonna call the damn law on you, right after I beat the shit out of you.” McKenzie had never heard Rob losing his temper. The man was known for his level head and calm demeanor.
“I’ll tell you whatever I can, I mean it. And don’t call the law or they’ll kill them.” Bobby pleaded with his father before turning to McKenzie and John. “Where do you want me to start?”
“How about with where the kids went and how we can get them back? That’s what we’re concerned about.” McKenzie’s face was stony as he stared at the man in barely masked disgust.
“I think Lorenzo Mendez has them.”
“You think?” Rob shouted causing Bobby to flinch.
“I’m sure he does. I….I got involved in some things and with his sister, Marissa. Their family had switched from running guns to drugs, which is a lot safer, easier and much more profitable. We thought we could sort of take over the family business and all, so we did some things and Lorenzo found out somehow. He called me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t give him back what was his.”
“The money and the drugs?” McKenzie questioned.
“Yeah,” Bobby’s eyes flickered to his father, but the lack of response was enough to confirm that Rob knew about that already. “So, I told him I would but I needed some time. He said he would do that, but it wouldn’t be very long. Then my kids came to stay with me for a few days and Lorenzo showed up. He kept glancing at them and when he left, he told me that if I knew what was best for my kids, I would give him what he wanted. I went out the next day for some things and when I came back, Marissa was at the house by herself and said the kids had left. She thought they were tired of our trashy house with no internet and all that. I had a feeling that wasn’t the case.”
“So she knows what happened and where they are?” John spoke up.
“Probably, but I thought she loved me and everything, but now I don’t know. I don’t know what game she’s playing or what’s going on. I know my kids are gone, Lorenzo wants his money and everything, but where I kept it is empty, and my kids are gone, and no one’s saying shit.” Tears streamed down Bobby’s face, his whole body quivering.
“She said you left the house with them. You were takin’ them out to eat but never came home with them.” McKenzie kept his voice even, hoping to keep Bobby somewhat calm.
“That lying bitch! No, no, I never wanted them involved. I just wanted to see them for a bit, cause I knew if I couldn’t find out what happened to the stash, I was dead, and I’d never see them again.”
“It never occurred to you, that bringing your children into your home with the sister of a cartel leader and your drug problems wouldn’t endanger them?” Rob’s voice shook. “I can’t believe you’re my son. I can’t believe you are this stupid.”
Rob clambered to his feet, snatched up his cane and hurried out of the room. McKenzie lowered his head, his heart ached for his friend, but the adrenaline in him wanted to beat Bobby to a pulp.
“You are one dumb ass punk, you know that?” McKenzie stared at the man, watching him trying to shrink into himself. “You’re going to tell us where Lorenzo is, where your stash was, where everybody and everything is, and then you’re going to stay here and kiss your daddy’s ass for being a dumb S.O.B. until we find your kids and get the cops involved. Being ashamed isn’t enough, you should be damn sorry for yourself as well as your kids.”
It took almost an hour to get Bobby to give them all the names and locations of everything. McKenzie wasn’t convinced he was telling them all that he knew, but he had a lot more to go on by the time they left. Rob had returned to his chair, a sad and disappointed look haunting his eyes. John was nervous about leaving without having Bobby put in custody, but McKenzie knew even if Rob was old, he could take care of himself. Any respect that man had had for his son, was nearly gone, and he wouldn’t hesitate to do what he needed to in order to get his grandkids back safely.
McKenzie was still unsure of everyone’s motives. They didn’t know if Marissa and Lorenzo knew about Rob’s involvement in their father’s death, and his relation to Bobby. John had said the same when they got in the truck. If Bobby was as weak-willed as he seemed, it wouldn’t be much for Marissa to lure him into a trap so she and her brother could get some kind of retaliation on Rob. So far, no mention of Rob or the past had come up from anyone involved.
The first place they decided to look into was where Bobby had said he kept Lorenzo’s “stuff.” A cheap storage facility and the key Bobby gave them, led them to one of the smaller units. Once inside, it was obviously empty, with no sign of anything it had previously held. McKenzie looked around more while John headed to the storage facility office. Even though the sky was starting to darken, the small family run establishment was still open.
McKenzie came to the conclusion that there was nothing to find, and went to the office to see what John had discovered if anything. As he approached the door, John came out with a frown on his face and his iPhone held out.
“I videoed the security video they had. They don’t have a way to give me a copy otherwise. Bobby and his girlfriend were the ones that moved the piles of money and drugs out of that storage locker.” John handed over his phone and watched McKenzie’s face as he viewed the video.
“Goddammit, does anyone want to tell us the truth about anything?” McKenzie handed John his phone and shook his head as he went back to the truck. “Where to next?”
“We could scope out Lorenzo’s place, and as much as that terrifies me, it seems the next logical step. Bobby said he has a yacht he stays on at one of the marinas. There are several old warehouses in a fenced in area at the marina.”
McKenzie could see how hard it was for John to suggest such a move, and he patted his friend on the shoulder before setting off to the docks. He hoped that something, anything, would come to light there, and seriously was at risk of losing all restraint if it turned out to be another lie.
Finally, a truth had been found. There was no doubt that somebody or something was being kept at the warehouse at the marina. Several SUVs with tinted windows were parked at both the front and the back of the building on the left side. Five men did circuits around the blacktop area surrounding the warehouse. The men were armed, and some openly carrying high powered rifles. This was Florida and Miami after all.
John swallowed audibly as he and McKenzie stared at the setup. John knew McKenzie would want to get closer, and that alone was enough to put him near a panic attack. McKenzie’s eyes narrowed as he watched each man that came into view. John brought up the PowerLead FS608 digital camera binoculars that had been in McKenzie’s bag in case they got a chance to find out who these guys were. The clarity was amazing and he snapped half a dozen pictures.
As they watched from behind a chain linked fence, in a park across the two-lane road, a woman stepped out of one of the doors. McKenzie pulled out his usual binoculars and zoomed in, the safety lights giving him a nice view of Marissa Mendez’s face.
“And so we know the little lady is definitely playing both sides.” McKenzie snapped a few pictures and handed the binoculars to John, who confirmed the visual. “I think we’re done playing nice with her.”
McKenzie started the truck and made another trip to the empty house several doors down from Bobby’s. As they waited for Marissa to come home, McKenzie decided to make a phone call to a couple of Old Farts that he would need to pull off this mission.
The first call was to Chuck Travis, a skinny man with a keen eye and an amazing shot. As a professional sniper perfectly trained by the US Army, he would have no problem picking off the men around the edges so that they could get in. He was spending his days on a small ranch in Colorado with his girlfriend Shawna.
After leaving the Army, Chuck had worked periodically as a civilian contractor for various 3-letter government agencies, mostly in Africa and the Middle East. There always seemed to be a need for a great rifleman. But lately the contracts were not coming so frequently, so this opportunity sounded like fun. Chuck would need a night to convince Shawna not to come along, and then he would fly down tomorrow in his old Cessna 172. That was an easy way to transport his baby, a bolt action Barrett M99 .50 cal with a 29” fluted barrel and QDL suppressor – a sniper rifle. All legal in nearly every state, but carrying one on public transportation could be difficult. Even in the carrying case the TSA x-rays would cause a lot of questions he did not want to answer.
The second call was to Cliff Cassidy. McKenzie worried about bringing him in, as his days spent in the bottom of a bottle had not been kind. But when it came to making something go boom, whether it be a distraction or total take down operation, he would be their man. He only drank when he wasn’t working and Cliff sounded eager to do something, anything, to help and said he could be in the area by the next afternoon once he slept some of the booze off.
“You think it’s really necessary to bring them in?”
“Yes. I know I’m a badass, John, but I’m an old badass and it would help to have someone picking off any trouble heading our way and someone else to create a distraction when we need to get in or out.” John nodded but didn’t look convinced.
McKenzie thought about the plan as they continued waiting. Eventually, the sedan pulled in, Marissa got out and headed inside, and the car left. McKenzie gave it another fifteen minutes before starting the truck, keeping the lights off, and moving to her driveway. He shut off the truck, grabbed his Glock and headed to the door. John scrambled after him, his eyes wide and his whispered halts to McKenzie making no difference as the big man stalked up to the door.
Without knocking, he turned the handle, happy that his expectations were correct and she hadn’t bothered to lock it. Marissa was sitting on the couch, watching something on television. At the noise of the door flying open, she screamed and half fell, half jumped off the couch, scrambling backward before realizing her phone was still back where she had been sitting. McKenzie pulled out the gun and pointed it at her as John closed the door
“Stop screamin’ or I’ll make you stop.” McKenzie’s voice was deadpan, but his eyes were burning in anger. “What kind of idiots do you play us for? Huh? You’re gonna get two innocent kids killed, kids that have 57
omethi’ to do with whatever bullshit you and Bobby
have with your brother. What in the hell is wrong with you?”
McKenzie moved closer to Marissa, his gun steady in his hand. John leaned against the door, torn between calling Rob or calling the police, but he knew he had to get McKenzie under control first.
“Are the kids in that warehouse?”
“The one you just came from!”
“I don’t know!”
McKenzie stepped forward, putting the barrel of the gun against her forehead.
“Keep lyin’ to me, please. You have no idea what I have been through in my life, why I no longer give a shit, and just what I am willin’ to do to get those kids back.”
“Please, please, don’t do this.”
“Answer me!” McKenzie’s roared.
“Yes, yes, they’re there but not for long. He’s going to move them. The cops came here today, looking for them and they got my name. He can’t keep them here or there.”
“Why don’t you give him the drugs and money and then he’ll let the kids go!”
“I don’t know.”
McKenzie shoved the gun against her head harder, causing her to flinch, tears began to bead up in her eyes. “Tell me the truth, bitch.”
“I can’t do it! He’ll kill them as soon as he gets his stuff. If you don’t do something soon, he’s gonna kill one of them anyways. He can’t have them blabbing. Those kids are dead, no matter what, they’re dead.”
Marissa started sobbing. McKenzie backed up a step, letting her drop her head in her hands. McKenzie blinked hard before glancing at John, unsure of what they should do next. John shrugged.
“What are you getting out of all of this?”
“What?” She wiped her face as she looked up at him.
“You, what are you getting? Who are you actually helping? Your brother or Bobby or yourself?” McKenzie spoke softly, but something in his words worried John. The wrong answer could have this ending very badly.
“I don’t know anymore. At first, I just wanted the money and the lifestyle. But I wanted it on my own, no Lorenzo to rule over me. I thought Bobby could help make that happen. Lorenzo wanted something from him, he told me to get close and earn his trust. He said Bobby was the key to our father’s death.” Marissa shook her head, wiping her nose on a crumbled paper towel off of the floor. “I didn’t understand. My father was killed in a take-down of his gun runners. No one was responsible for his death but himself. Lorenzo said that wasn’t true.
“So I got close to Bobby. I liked him. He’s funny and he cares about me and he honestly wanted to help me do things on my own. I thought if I took the drugs and some of the money that we could go away after selling the drugs and get away from Lorenzo once and for all.
“Really, I wanted Bobby to run with me, to go somewhere and keep the money and have a nice life away from this. But he wanted to see his kids first. Lorenzo found out what was happening, how I don’t know. But he came here and took them and threatened me. If I did anything, he would kill them and Bobby and set me up to take the fall. So I did nothing. Bobby knew something had gone wrong and he thought I was in on it. I tried telling him that I wasn’t, that I was with him, I loved him. And now it’s all fucked up and…”
Marissa collapsed, sobbing miserably as McKenzie and John looked on.
“We know where Bobby is.” John’s gentle voice grabbed her attention. “We could take you to him, protect you and him, as long as we get your cooperation and help on rescuing the kids.”
“We don’t care about the mess you guys are in, but we’ll help you if it means you’ll really help us. I don’t want anything to happen to them, the kids. It doesn’t matter to me if you and Bobby ride off into the sunset or go to prison, but I won’t let you get killed if you help us.” McKenzie stared at her, waiting for a response. He was never good with the soft approach.
“If you take me to Bobby, if you don’t let Lorenzo get us, I’ll do whatever I can. I won’t risk my neck, though, I won’t go back to him as some sort of bait or trap or something.” She wiped her nose again, her makeup smeared comically down her face.
“Fair enough. We just need you to convince him, over the phone, that you know where Bobby or the stuff he’s lookin’ for, or 57omething’ like
that is. We need to buy time for our guys to get in there and get
the kids before Lorenzo loses patience and does 57
omething’ to them.” McKenzie nodded as he spoke,
continuing thinking through a possible plan.
“He’s going to move them soon, probably out on the yacht.” Marissa rose to her feet, refusing McKenzie’s outstretched hand.
“Where is it docked?”
“At the marina, on the other side of the warehouse. You can’t miss it. It’s a 107 foot Broward, I think, in Slip 102. Damn thing is s’posed to be worth about three million bucks. You wouldn’t think he’d even miss what we took.
“Okay, that’s good, but we’ll need to get all the information we can from you. Right now, we’ll take you to Bobby, at his dad’s condo, and get some things sorted out. He’ll probably be pissed at first, and that’s reasonable, but our priority is the kids.”
McKenzie went to the truck, Marissa following and John bring up the rear. The drive was uneventful as they headed back to Rob’s condo. John sat in the back of the king cab with Marissa to prevent any thoughts of exiting from the truck and then called ahead and gave Rob a rundown so he could prep Bobby. The last thing they needed was for Bobby and Marissa to attack each other at the door. Rob was relieved that things were moving forward, that they knew where the kids were, but like McKenzie and John, he was worried about the impending timeline.
“Did you tell him the Old Farts are havin’ a reunion tomorrow?” McKenzie quipped as he parked the truck in the building’s garage.
“No, I was going to leave that little nugget for you,” John smirked as they made their way up to Rob’s floor.
At the door, McKenzie knocked. Rob opened the door and let them in, his eyes watching Marissa, narrowed in suspicion.
“It’s okay. I held a gun to her head ’til she bawled and told me the truth. She’s good now as long as I don’t let her brother kill her.” McKenzie waved them off as he plopped on the couch.
Bobby stood in the hall, his face a mixture of confusion and fear as he locked eyes with Marissa.
“I want to save the kids, Bobby. I don’t care if you still love me or not, but he was going to kill them if I didn’t let him take them. I’m so sorry, Bobby, but he held a gun on them. He was going to kill all of you.” Marissa started bawling again and Bobby only hesitated a moment before racing over to embrace her.
McKenzie raised his eyebrows as he watched Rob chew on his gum furiously.
“So, we’re gonna have an Old Farts reunion tomorrow with Chuck and Cliff.” McKenzie tossed back at the old man as John sat on the other side of the couch.
“What they hell are they coming here for?” Rob’s cane tapped on the wooden floor as he came around and seemed to collapse into his chair.
“We’re going on a good ol’ snipe hunt and will need a big boom to turn some heads.” McKenzie shrugged.
“Dear God, McKenzie. I can’t keep the local blue or the Feds off of you if something like this goes south.” Rob rubbed his brow, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Well, I don’t intend to attract too much attention, at least not ’til I have the kids. Then I want lots of attention at that place. I want the boys in blue and the Feds crawlin’ all up their asses while we get your grandchildren safely out of there.”
Rob nodded thoughtfully, beginning to see the picture.
“And before they find out the bad way, you may need to tell the lovebirds about your involvement in old man Mendez’s death. Apparently, Lorenzo knows, but they weren’t told exactly how ‘Bobby’s family’ was involved.” McKenzie glanced back at the light coming from the spare room in the hall.
Rob nodded again.
“I think I need a drink.” He finally muttered.
“Make it two,” John spoke up.
McKenzie smiled and held up three fingers, making Rob smirk as he stood back up.
“I’ll get it, old man. Sit your crippled ass down. You need someone doin’ you a favor.” McKenzie chuckled as he walked to the kitchen.
John’s concern seemed to be heightened as they left Rob’s condo to head back to their hotel for the night. McKenzie knew they had a busy day ahead of planning how they were going to get in the warehouse, what to do if things went wrong, and what to do if the kids were put on the yacht and it left the country. Coordinating everything with Chuck and Cliff wouldn’t happen until the next night when they had both arrived and been completely filled in on the situation.
McKenzie was still focusing on everything that needed to be planned when he noticed John darting his gaze between the mirrors. He was used to John getting nervous, especially as the situation heated up, so he tried to ignore his friend’s PTSD-driven habits. Eventually, John turned to glance out the back window and then looked at McKenzie.
“We’re being followed,” John said simply as he sat back in his seat and watched the mirror on the passenger side.
“Are you sure?” McKenzie turned down a side street as he spoke, and the headlights followed. “Okay, maybe.”
“They started following us a few streets after we got on Biscayne Boulevard. They must have been waiting for us. They ran a red light and haven’t been back more than three car lengths at all times.”
“Shit.” McKenzie tried to think, but his lack of knowledge of the city was difficult to overcome.
“Honesty, go to the police department or the Fed building or something. We can tell them we are looking into a case and some guys are following us. Honesty can be the best policy sometimes.” John spoke with a matter of fact tone, causing greater annoyance for McKenzie.
McKenzie knew their choices were limited. He could take them to Rob’s condo or their hotel. If he went to a police station, they may keep going or wait up somewhere. The idea of spending a night in the truck when his sleep was already suffering did not appeal to McKenzie, but with a sigh of resignation, he headed to the police station on NW 2nd Avenue, following the directions of the GPS.
Pulling into the police lot on the north side of the building, McKenzie phoned Rob and told him the situation. As he figured, Rob did have a couple of friends in the department. McKenzie told him where they were parked and waited for someone to come out to the truck. Within ten minutes, a tall thin man in a grey suit with a bald head and sure step headed towards the truck. McKenzie rolled down the window as he approached.
“McKenzie Ford, I presume?” The officer kneeled down to look in the window, “I’m Detective Marshall. Rob Andrew called me and said you were having some issues with a tailgater?”
“Sort of. I’m a licensed P.I. doing some work for Mr. Andrew and tonight we had a vehicle follow us shortly after we left his residence. They’re parked around the corner. It’s the black Cadillac SUV between the blue GMC truck and the white Chevy Impala. They ran a red light and stayed a few car lengths back as we made various turns.” McKenzie spoke carefully, unsure of what he should and should not say.
“Rob said you boys are working on something that may have a bit of a reveal for me in a few days, something about the returning Mendez crew?”
“Something like that.”
“Tell you what. I have a suspicious vehicle report put out on them, see if we can’t hold them up. You guys might want to find somewhere else to park the truck or get a rental. These boys have their goons and they’ll track the truck down within a few hours.”
“I’ll see what I can do. And if you want to give me your direct line, I may need to make a phone call to you in a day or two, maybe get you a good promotional bust.”
The detective stared at McKenzie for a second before nodding. As he stood, he paused, turning back to the open window.
“You know what; I’ll trade vehicles with you. I know Rob and we go back a long ways, and I’ve heard quite a bit about you. You take my car for the night, but get it back, unscathed, by tomorrow. Here are the keys. It’s a dark blue Fusion right over there. My cell number is on the fob. And make sure you do call me, if you end up with anything. Rob kinda owes me something after a demotion he got me several years ago, and I could use a good hand back up the ladder even though things have worked out pretty well for me. I’ll take your truck to the inside lot.”
McKenzie nodded, feeling almost touched that his friend had that kind of weight that it could flow over to him, but was curious as to what had occurred that would simultaneously help and harm this man’s career. He knew he would be calling Detective Marshall, and the man would be getting get the bust of his lifetime.
McKenzie gave his own keys to the officer before shaking hands and driving out of the lot in the Fusion. A baseball cap from the seat was on his head and John had lain down in the back seat. The goons in the Cadillac saw one guy, different car, no problem.
Back at the hotel, John was jumpy as they entered their room. McKenzie felt the adrenaline building up inside, the same feeling that kept him on his toes so many years ago. He also knew he wasn’t going to sleep much that night and he sure wasn’t going to risk drugging himself to sleep with the possibility of Lorenzo’s men finding them. John kept checking out the window and then making sure the door was locked, to the point McKenzie had to bite his tongue to keep from yelling at him to sit his ass down. Eventually the day took its toll and McKenzie drifted into a fitful sleep.
The hotel complimentary breakfast was nearly a full buffet. A significant dip in the bacon, scrambled eggs and muffins was quickly done and gone. The coffee pot was down by four cups in short order.
After they returned the car to Detective Marshall, McKenzie and John headed to South Pointe Park by the ship canal to wait for the arrival of Chuck and Cliff. Rob was picking up Chuck at Opa-Locka Executive Airport where no one would be interested in the cargo of his old 1977 Cessna 172M. Cliff was already in town and heading their way, having driven in from his latest building implosion job in Fort Lauderdale.
John had the information they gathered earlier in a file. He had printed out a satellite image of the warehouse and blown up images of various areas around it. A photo of the yacht with the call signs for the boat, photos they got of the different men patrolling the area, photos of Lorenzo and of both kids, and other information was all prepared to fill everyone in. McKenzie wanted to get things going as soon as possible.
Marissa had called Lorenzo, with Rob’s supervision, and told him she had found Bobby and some of the money and was bringing both to him that night. Although Lorenzo was skeptical at first, Marissa was eventually able to convince him by confirming Bobby’s dad as their father’s killer and making it out to be a vengeance plot. McKenzie was hoping that with the plan in place, once they were able to get their guys and gear to the marina, the kids would still be there with Lorenzo. His only fear was not knowing what the inside of the warehouse looked like outside of Marissa’s vague descriptions.
McKenzie looked up as he saw the pudgy man with black shaggy hair bumbling toward them. He wasn’t fat, exactly, but McKenzie couldn’t help but feel bad at the toll a diet of booze and takeout food had done to his friend and demo engineer.
“Shut up, old man. At least I still have my sexy hair.” Cliff grinned as he plopped onto the bench across from McKenzie.
“I keep mine cut short just to give the ladies a chance without facing me in all my magnificent glory.” McKenzie shook his head. “How you been, Cassidy?”
“Eh, you know, same shit, different year. Still separated from the wife, still drinking too much, I’ old.”
McKenzie nodded. John smiled as he shook his head. It had been awhile since all the Old Farts were together. McKenzie had hoped he could try to get Bailey down there, but he wasn’t sure the man could do much. Last he heard, Phil Bailey was in a wheelchair and not holding up the best with old age. It made him sad, watching them all begin to bend and shrink under the weight of age. They had strength, integrity, and abilities, and now it was all they could do to still use what was left to still do things they could be proud of, things they believed in. McKenzie tried not to dwell on it, the whole sad fact of life.
Cliff had them holding their sides in laughter by the time Rob came up with Chuck. The loner sniper had hardly changed a bit. He was still thin as a pole, but his arms showed a muscle tone that even McKenzie was a bit jealous of. His small smile and nod to his buddies were all that they expected from the quiet man. Rob had to shuffle to sit at the table, leaning his cane against the side, as Chuck slid between him and Cliff. McKenzie waited while everyone went through their pleasantries and catching up on bullshit before calling attention to the matter at hand. He didn’t have to wait long.
“So what’s the SITREP, Cap’n?” Chuck picked up the satellite images.
“To the point, alright.” McKenzie filled them in on the case, everything he and John had been through and found out. It was odd, once again, to have all those eyes watching, listening, and beginning to formulate their parts of the plan.
“So how’s tonight gonna go?” Cliff glanced up at McKenzie from the pages and images in front of them.
“Well, we have Lorenzo believing that Marissa is coming out tonight with Bobby and some of the cash in tow. This means Lorenzo should be there, and hopefully, the kids will be too. Logically, in order to get the rest of whatever Bobby has, he will need to use the kids as leverage. So we need to find a way to get eyes in the warehouse, clear the guards walking around, get the kids out of there, and then I have someone I’ll call and the cavalry swoops in and does their end of the deal. I need a sniper to take out the guys with guns,” McKenzie looked to Chuck, “and possibly a nice boom for a distraction to get the kids out,” he pointed to Cliff, “the goal is the kids, safe and whole, out as soon as possible. The PD will deal with the cartel, so we don’t need to worry past getting the kids and ourselves out of there.”
As everyone nodded, the plan began to pull together. McKenzie hoped everything worked out. He saw the hope in Rob’s eyes, that his grandkids, and his son, would be safe. John was nervous but excited. Chuck was quiet, his mind speaking volumes through his eyes as he scanned the photographs and diagrams. Cliff made his jokes about blowing up the whole city just to be safe, but in the end, decided on the best places to set off distraction charges. McKenzie was pleased as they wrapped up their meeting and agreed to meet in the park near the marina before nightfall.
Sunset was at 8:26 pm and the four men were standing around the trunk of Cliff’s car. Cliff had two small packages, one that needed to be put in an abandoned building on the opposite side of the warehouse, and one on the stern of Lorenzo’s yacht.
Cliff nodded to the small packages. “I can be in and out fairly quick. I’ve already memorized the satellite images and walked around the marina to see where everything is.”
Rob said, “Cliff, what’s in the packages? And where’d ya get it”
“Second question first, Rob old buddy. Did you forget I work at dropping buildings to the ground? There’s always a bit of explosives left over, and, well you can figure it out. Now for the toys, the first is just a couple of sticks of dynamite for the building. I’ll put it in an open area inside. The building is empty and two stories high, so we’ll get mostly noise and smoke, without much damage. The second is just a quarter pound of Semtex, which is plastic and waterproof, so I’ll put that one on the stern yacht. It will make a lot of noise, scare the shit out of anyone on board, but I’ll put it where no one will get hurt and the boat shouldn’t sink – unless you’d like 57
omething’ else, Cap’n?”
“Naw, that sounds perfect,” said McKenzie.
“By the way, I am gonna detonate both toys using burner phones. It’s easy to do as long as you never use the phones prior to the bang. Don’t want anyone accidentally calling you back at the wrong time. The dynamite charge is straightforward. I call the number, the ringer wire is connected to a blasting cap inserted in the dynamite and Boom.”
“The Semtex is a bit more elaborate since I have to swim out to the yacht which is kinda hard on cell phones that have been opened up. So, the detonation will start under the dock where the phone will be, the blasting cap will set off a length of det cord to carry the initial explosion underwater to the Semtex. That part is all waterproof. The det cord will have a bouble knot at the end and the Semtex will be molded around it and attached to the boat by just mashing it into a hole or crevice. I can get that installed in just a few minutes in the water.”
Chuck had his sniper rifle set to go. His Barrett was a .50 cal and would not be a quiet shot, even with the suppressor.
Chuck said, “I’ll be on a this other warehouse roof about 500 yards away, far enough that locating the sound would be difficult and each bullet will arrive in advance of the sound. And, the suppressor will greatly reduce the muzzle flash from the bullet, which will be traveling at 2055 feet per second at 500 yards, and the speed of sound is 1100 fps, so the bullet will arrive in 0.73 seconds and the sound in 1.36 seconds. That’ll confuse them a lot. They won’t know where the rounds are coming from.”
“Hey, Rob,” said Chuck, “you did tell you buddies in blue that there was a very strong 57
several goons moving on from this world, didn’t you? I sure don’t
want them or the feebs coming after me.”
Rob assured everyone that Marshall and his Captain would cover their butts. Those .50 cal slugs will never be recovered by forensics and any cartel casualties will be due to blue bullets.
McKenzie wanted to protest, he never wanted his guys in harm’s way if he could help it, but he knew Rob was right. John would be helping McKenzie, hiding outside the rear door of the warehouse to help guide the kids. They all had their various weapons of choice as well as backup pieces. Mac nodded as Cliff grabbed the charges and put them in a duffel bag.
Chuck and Cliff both snapped a quick salute to McKenzie before dashing off into the dark.
Cliff moved off in the growing dark to a convenient ladder that led down to the water from a nearby dock. Soon he was swimming with his Semtex charge to the yacht. He was back in about 15 minutes and began moving to the abandoned warehouse adjacent to the one with the children in it. He was in and out of there in 2 minutes, moving to a safe area to start the show.
Everyone had put their earbuds in place and McKenzie tested the frequency. Each team member checked in clearly.
“Alright you Old Farts, this is it. John and I will get around to the door on the back end of the side opposite the water. John will duck down there as I come up to the side door. When I signal, Cliff will set off the charge inside the building on the far side. This is gonna have them grabbin’ guns. Lorenzo’s men will probably pull him to the back of the warehouse, presumably with the kids. The next charge will be at the yacht. At this point, they will probably try to evacuate Lorenzo toward the road, where there are already two SUVs waiting for whatever purpose. I will grab the kids and try to get them to John and out the back end of the place, towards Rob and the van he brought. As soon as the kids are clear, I make the call and the police and feds will swoop in and we need to be gone. Chuck will take what shots he needs to help keep the outside clear and to prevent me and John from being ambushed. Cliff, be ready to set off the each charge on my command. Let’s do this, guys.”
Nods and pats on the back all around as they headed to their respective points. John kept his hand on the butt of his gun, his eyes alert as he and McKenzie made it to the rear of the building. One guard was standing at the side they needed to get to, and in order to go around, they would risk being spotted by the vehicles parked on the side. McKenzie signaled John to hold up as he watched the man pacing, a lit cigarette dangling between two fingers, his other hand holding his iPhone. McKenzie stepped up behind the man, throwing his arm around the guy’s neck and pulling him back into a choke hold.
McKenzie breathed evenly as he waited for the man, almost as tall as him but not nearly as built, to stop struggling. After about 12 seconds, the man finally went limp. McKenzie kept the pressure on for another minute and then dropped the man to the ground. After he checked the carotid artery for the non-existent pulse, John hurried over to help drag the man to the pile of pallets against the warehouse. Once the guy was disposed of, McKenzie grabbed the handle and turned. It wasn’t locked, as Marissa promised. He eased opened the door and pointed to a spot inside and in front of more pallets, for John to duck down into. A small shed blocked the vehicles from their view, but also shielded them from the view of the men waiting.
Slipping inside, he saw that Marissa, although vague, had given an accurate layout of the warehouse. Rows of boat parts and junk on floor to ceiling shelves ran from the back wall to halfway up the building, each opening up to the empty second floor beyond, but kept in the dark when only the front lights were on. In the middle of the rows, on the back wall, was a small office. Marissa said it had an air conditioner and mini fridge and was the probable location of Lorenzo.
With thirty minutes remaining until the scheduled meeting between Marissa and Lorenzo. McKenzie slid along the back wall, ducking to climb through the large shelves on the bottom of each row, to get to the office. Windows surrounded the exterior of the tiny area, and the lights were off. McKenzie frowned as he looked down the row at the open area beyond. He saw three men standing around, but none of them looked like Lorenzo.
Staying in the shadows, McKenzie made his way up the row, ducking behind the random hull pieces and debris and freezing whenever the men angled even the slightest bit toward him. When he was close enough to look around, he put himself between two boxes on the bottom shelf of the row, still nearly three feet high, and looked around the warehouse. Lorenzo was not there. The men who were there were heavily armed. McKenzie sighed, and carefully made his way back to the rear door. As he climbed through the last bottom shelf, his back and knees already protesting at the crouching, he bumped a fiberglass panel. Grabbing it, he prevented the fall, but not the scraping that echoed through the room. Without a second thought, he scurried to the back door; exited and pushed it shut, realizing that he had made more racket as he left.
“Lorenzo and the kids aren’t in there, but the goons that are standing around know someone was,” McKenzie hurriedly whispered as he pulled John with him down behind the shed and then across back to where they had come in.
“What’s that mean, boss?” Cliff’s voice spoke in his earpiece.
“Means they’re in the vehicles or on the boat.”
John shook his head, staring at the ground. McKenzie could relate. This entire case had been an act of frustration, and McKenzie was losing his patience.
“So what you wanna do, Cap’n?” Chuck murmured, “there’s some movement at the front. And those two vehicles are pulling around there; looks like the guys are getting in.”
“Where are they headed?” McKenzie peeked around the corner, able to see the taillights near the front of the warehouse.
“Toward the pier.”
“Alright, the boat then.” McKenzie looked around and motioned John to follow as they made their way around the small buildings, boats, and vehicles in the dry yard and toward the pier with the yacht. “Cliff?”
“Get ready to set off the charge at the building, the distraction charge.”
John looked at McKenzie.
“That’s where we’re headed!”
McKenzie shook his head and motioned John forward.
“On my mark, Cliff.”
McKenzie sped up to nearly a run, John on his heels as they passed the little shed and headed toward a shack nearest to the pier.
The explosion sounded behind them, making McKenzie’s ears ring as he and John stumbled forward.
“Chuck, take out the tires on both SUVs.”
McKenzie got the acknowledgement followed by the double reports from the Barrett.
“Men exiting the vehicle, no signs of the suspect or the kids.”
McKenzie growled in frustration as he and John continued to make their way to the pier. As they approached the small building, the shadows of several men could already be seen coming out of the yacht. Two were running towards McKenzie and John, another was on guard at the yacht. On the yacht, a figure in a white suit pointed in several directions while yelling instructions to the men clambering about the upper deck.
“Lorenzo’s on the yacht. Kids probably are too.”
“Give me two minutes, I’ll reposition,” Chuck replied.
McKenzie and John ducked to the backside of the shed as the two men ran passed. They hugged the shadows, staying away from the cones of light given off by the overhead lamps.
“Cliff, what is the location and destruction level of the charge on the yacht?”
“Port side, aft quarter panel, three inches above the water line. Its in auxiliary bilge pump thru-hull fitting.” Chuck responded, slightly out of breath.
“Hull damage will be minor with some water take on, not enough to kill anyone outside of a two-foot radius of the charge. You did say toys with noise and skip the destruction.”
“I did. Blow it.”
McKenzie and John stood crouched as the Semtex blew, shoving the yacht against the pier and causing a fair amount of smoke. None of the bad guys seemed to have any clue what was going on.
“John, I’m going to get the kids down here, wait here and pull them out of the light and path, get them to the water over there, or even in one of the older looking boats.”
“In position.” Chuck’s words brought relief to McKenzie.
“Keep my way clear; take out Lorenzo if you have to. Try shooting arms and legs; keep the death count low if possible. John, call Detective Marshall, tell him Operation Wilhemina is a go NOW!” As he said it, the thought ran through his mind that cop ops were named almost, but not quite as ridiculous as military ops.
McKenzie forced himself not to flinch or duck as the loud shots echoed behind him, and in front, which helped confuse the hell out of the men on the pier. The men coming at him were collapsing, knees or thighs being blown out by the heavy bullets. A splashed accompanied their cries of agony as several lost their balance and fell off the dock. McKenzie was smiling, and he knew it was insane, but he couldn’t help but think how awesome it all was.
He slowed as he neared the end of the dock. The next two shots took out a guy next to Lorenzo and the man just past the Yacht. McKenzie slowed as his chest and legs were screaming in pain. His breath was labored and it was all royally pissing him off. He refused to be too old for this shit.
“Who da fuck are you?” The heavily accented voice broke through the cacophony.
“I’m a Vietnam Veteran and I’m taking you down, asshole.”
“What?” Lorenzo pointed a gun at McKenzie, his face screwed up in a mixture of confusion and concern. “What the hell is your problem, old man?”
“My sniper will kill you whether you kill me or not. My other guy has your yacht rigged to blow if you get more than three feet from the end of the dock, and I’m here to pick up the kids because their visitation time has come to a close and their mom kinda wants to know where the hell they are.”
“So I kill you, your man kills me, and my man kills the kids.” Lorenzo shrugged, keeping the gun trained on McKenzie.
“So you and I are dead, no matter what? I kinda like it. I mean, I don’t know you so I don’t give a shit what happens to you. And really, I hate to admit this, but I am getting old and…”
Lorenzo began to pull the trigger but before he could fire, his left thigh was ripped apart and he crashed to the deck.
McKenzie looked around and slowly walked up to the yacht. He still felt out of breath, and his legs were slightly jelly-like, but he couldn’t help but laugh as he stepped on the boarding steps. Nice little tub.
“Your guys a piss shot.” Lorenzo held up the gun, pointing it at McKenzie, the pain and blood loss already making him shaky.
“Not really,” McKenzie said as another shot hit the gun in Lorenzo’s hand, knocking it out as he quickly clutched his now three and a half fingered hand.
McKenzie stepped over him. “Move again and he has the go ahead for your head.”
As McKenzie’s eyes adjusted to the dim lighting as he followed the steps down below decks, he saw the roped and gagged figures of Catelyn and Caleb Andrews on the floor at the foot of the bed. Water trickled from the far corner as a result of the Semtex.
“I’m McKenzie, a friend of your grandpa’s. You’re safe now.”
They watched him wearily as he moved forward and pulled out the gags before using his pocket knife to cut through the ropes.
“Grandpa told us about you.” The girl spoke softly, her voice ravaged from crying or thirst or both, “I didn’t know you were real.”
McKenzie had the boy undone first so he could help with his sister as McKenzie stepped up a few stairs to see Lorenzo still lying on the deck, bleeding and screaming in Spanish.
“Well, I am, and we have to go.” McKenzie turned to look at them, ragged and dirty, their eyes filled with hope, “Get above deck, run down the dock, and behind the shack at the end. My buddy, John is waiting and will take you to your grandpa. Two more guys are watching from above, one is a sniper. They will keep you covered. Got it?”
“A sniper? Holy shit!” Caleb’s grin faded when his sister elbowed him in the stomach.
“Okay then, go, and do not stop!”
The teens hurried up the companionway, hesitating when they saw Lorenzo laying there on deck. In the distance, sirens began to pierce the night. McKenzie stepped over Lorenzo and away from the bloodied hand trying to claw his pants leg. The kids were half way down the dock when McKenzie realized he was hearing gunfire, a lot of it. At the end of the pier, John rushed out, firing at someone in the distance before McKenzie heard the crack of Chuck’s rifle. John lowered his gun and grabbed the kids, rushing them toward the outer edge of the marina to the rendezvous point with Rob.
McKenzie began to pick up pace as he heard water sloshing under the pier, men fighting the pain and trying to get out. A shot ripped through the board behind him as he went into a full run, his body protesting. As he neared the end, one of the men that hadn’t been shot yet, raced towards him, gun raised and pointed at McKenzie. The loud noise of the rifle followed the shot through the side of his neck. The man almost hit himself in the face with his own gun as he reached up to grab the wound. McKenzie shoved him out of the way as he ran.
“Fall back to Rob.”
“Copy that, boys in blue are on the ground.”
McKenzie nodded with relief as he slowed again, making his way through the shadows. Within moments, Chuck was beside him, his rifle over his shoulder. Cliff had waited for them just past the fence and walked with them to the van.
Rob turned to look at them, John narrowing his eyes when McKenzie sat clutching his chest.
“McKenzie, guys, I can never thank you or repay you and the team for this.” Rob’s voice nearly cracking.
“No problem, old man, family and blood and friends and stuff,” McKenzie muttered, scowling at the pain radiating through him.
“You’re not having a heart attack, are you?” said Catelyn as she watched him from the other side of her brother.
McKenzie gave her a droll look before Rob snickered and put the van in gear.
“Well, damn, guys, I hope it doesn’t take another battle plan to see everyone again.” McKenzie laughed as he looked around the table.
Rob had taken them all out to one of his favorite steakhouses. The kids were there with their mother, McKenzie, John, Chuck, and Cliff rounded out the table. Bobby and Marissa had already taken off in the middle of the night. Rob had told McKenzie that Karen was filing charges against Bobby, and he didn’t blame her. McKenzie didn’t either. In fact, he had offered his skills to hunt the asshole down for her, if she wanted. As thankful as she was, she declined.
McKenzie was pretty sure that dumbass Bobby would either kill himself with dope, or really step on the wrong toes at some point soon. Tough shit.
“You guys ever wonder why we’re still doing stuff like this. I mean, with PTSD and the craziness of the war, and if you’re anything like me, you sure as hell don’t sleep real well.” Cliff stared at his empty plate, the dregs of potatoes and sauces from the steak all that remained from his meal.
“All the time,” John spoke up. “I think we’re getting too damn old for our own good, really.”
“No, the hell we’re not.” McKenzie grinned, “At least I’m not, not yet.”
John smirked, but the look didn’t reach his eyes.
“For me, I can’t stop.” Chuck sipped his ice water before scanning their faces. “I love Shawna, and she makes me happy, hell of a lot more than wives one and two did. I love my ranch and the peace out there. But I need to shoot, I need the adrenaline, and a .50 cal to the head of a coyote isn’t as fun as it sounds. I need it to mean something.” The guys nodded, thoughts somber as they reflected over their own needs.
“I understand that. I feel like if I do stop, I’ll die. If my brain and body can’t be a machine for fightin’, for doing 57omething’, then it’ll shut
down.” McKenzie glanced at the others. “You can’t be trained, war
hardened, and scared shitless and then put back in the real world
to sit on your ass and collect a government check. It’s not
Cliff, in his usual way, cracked a joke to break up the seriousness of the conversation, to everyone’s relief. It bothered McKenzie to think about his age and how much time he had left to do things like this. What if he had a heart attack that night? His back and legs still ached as if they were black and blue. How much more did he really think he could get away with doing before he would have to hire some young guy to do the leg work, the fun work?
McKenzie and John were sad to say goodbye to everyone, time always seemed to stretch forever and so many changes happened, each time they all saw each other again. But the idea of taking meds and collapsing in his bed for a week was something he couldn’t pass up.
Rob refused to allow McKenzie to leave unless he took a check with two extra zeros on it. McKenzie was aggravated until Rob told him it was what his firm would charge for a case like this. That helped ease the guilt, but it still felt wrong. John suggested they use it to buy better gear or spruce up the office. Shrugging, McKenzie passed it off to John. And then Rob handed over several soup cans, suggesting the guys might want to split the contents. Seems one of his operatives had relieved Marissa of the money.
The ride home seemed to take twice as long. It was great to get back to his little house on the Suwannee.
The pills didn’t have time to kick in and dull the pain before the world dropped away. McKenzie’s night was dreamless, his brain too exhausted to even try to cause him problems. He woke refreshed for the first time in a long time, and prepared to see what he was given next, and bracing for the day he wouldn’t be able to do it, the day he couldn’t take a case. Pushing that thought away, he got up to begin his morning routine before another day at the office with John. “Bring on the lost pets and cheating spouses,” McKenzie whispered to himself as he stretched his aching legs.
If you liked this introductory book, your review at your favorite eBook store would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your support.
About The Author
After a career in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Hill fell in love with computers and spent most of his life in the software business, even when he was sailing the Caribbean. Why not? But now he is supposedly retired, but that can boring at times, so he is writing novels. Again, why not? He lives with his lovely wife, Heidi, in beautiful Alachua, Florida. Why not?
Titles By Richard F Hill
The Old Farts In Miami
The Old Farts In The Swamp
The Old Farts In The Keys
Iron Soldiers In Vietnam
Contact Richard F Hill
Leaning over the top wooden rail of the sun-bleached boardwalk, Travis Mills double checked his first head count of the alligators below. The water was only a few feet at its deepest, and most of the gators were already bathing in the morning sun on the sandy shore. Their eyes blinked slowly as a few made lazy strides around the others. Yellow teeth poked out of their broad flat snouts, a constant reminder of the danger they were.
His numbers matched up, as he nodded and made the notation. Scanning the large enclosure once more, he continued around the walkway that overlooked half of the exhibit. Currently, they had 52 gators in the large habitat, and all were accounted for and looked healthy. With the park opening in an hour, Travis walked at a brisk pace towards the ramp leading down the sidewalks that wound throughout the entire facility.
His brown eyes flickered over the dark water and around the bottom of the wall below the boardwalk. He carried a long pole with a claw at one end and the trigger at the other to grab the random trash that made its way into the exhibits. Although some chores did necessitate entering the dangerous enclosure. Travis had no problem doing that. Walk arounds usually meant he could work alone and he didn’t have to keep on his toes while glancing over his shoulder at the large eyes watching him.
Putting the clipboard under the arm holding the pole, Travis brushed his shaggy, blonde hair out of his face. His hand froze at the back of his head as his eyes locked onto an odd object bobbing in the water below. Setting the clipboard down, Travis guided the pole through his left hand as his right hand stayed poised on the trigger. As soon as the light colored object was between the three grasping claws, Travis pulled the trigger mechanism and the claws shut, holding the item firmly as he drew back the pole. His eyes widened in horror as he realized it was a human hand and part of an arm. In his shock, Travis let go of the trigger, causing the hand to splash back into the water below, and a few of the gators to turn and start making their way towards the disturbance in the water.
Travis pulled the portable two-way radio off of his belt and keyed up the office.
“Dee? Is Mr. or Mrs. Patrick in yet?” His voice shook as he watched the gators slide around in the water a few feet from the disembodied hand.
“Not yet. Why?”
“Call the cops. There’s something in the main gator pen.”
“Like what?” Dee’s irritated voice crackled through.
“Just call the damn cops! Tell ‘em there’s a human hand and arm in the gator pen.”
“The cops, Dee.”
Travis keyed off and put the radio back on his hip, his eyes unable to leave the faint silhouette of the hand in the water below. Worried the gators would eat the evidence, and wondering if that’s what happened to the rest of the body, Travis used the pole to push them away from the hand when they swam close. The air was already becoming stifling as the sun rose higher. The humidity joined with his nervous sweat, soaking his clothes through. He radioed the office again and warned Dee to keep the park closed until the police gave the go ahead. Baffled, Travis sat down, his legs dangling over the edge as he wondered if there were more pieces of the body in the dark depths below.
With a snort of laughter, McKenzie took several more photographs of his client’s client. Doug Johnson was a fresh-out-of-college claims lawyer, and his first real client had a very lucrative claim.
Cable Noles was supposedly injured when something fell on him at a major store chain. He suffered debilitating pain to his head, neck, and back and was no longer able to function in a productive fashion. The tragic incident put him in a wheelchair, a neck brace, and prevented him from ever being able to work again. The accident also set him up for a nice fat paycheck from the major corporation, if his lawyer took the case to court.
As the man exited his car, he put on a neck brace before pulling a wheelchair from the trunk and plopping himself into it. He then realized he had to stand back up to shut the trunk. As he jumped back out of the chair McKenzie shook his head, snapping photographs. The man wasn’t even trying. Doug Johnson was afraid his client was lying, and didn’t want to risk his fresh career on the word of a man who was probably out for a nice successful scam payout.
The dark haired, chubby fellow grasped the tires of the wheelchair and pushed as he proceeded back around to the front of the building. McKenzie touched the forwarding icon on his iPhone to send the pictures to the lawyer moments before the man would wheel himself into the office. A response chirped back from the phone, a yellow angry face and a promise that the check was in the mail. Shrugging, McKenzie headed back to his old Ford F-150 he had parked on the side of the road.
Satisfied that the work day was done, McKenzie headed back to his house on the Suwannee River. The cloudless sky hinted at the possibility of taking his Boston Whaler out on the water for the weekend. The way he saw it, he refused to retire at his old age, but he had no problem occasionally pretending he was. A few days to cut loose, ignore the phones and clients and pretend to be a relaxed old man rather than a private investigator pushing his own limits out of pure stubbornness.
As he pulled into his driveway, his phone chirped another text message alert. Groaning, McKenzie glanced down at the display as he shut off the ignition. The text notification disappeared and was replaced with a cartoon magnifying glass over the name “Watson” that flashed on the screen as the call came through. John “Watson” Fairchild usually only followed his text messages with a call immediately if they had a good case lined up. Sighing as he stared past the stilts that kept his home out of flood waters to the gorgeous boat sparkling by the lone dock.
“Next weekend,” McKenzie muttered to himself as he answered the call. “Please tell me I either get to pretend to be the fiancé of a beautiful, buxom woman to impress her family or, better yet, a secret uncle died and is leavin’ me his millions.”
“You’re too old for a mysterious dying uncle and you’re a P.I., not a spy.” John sounded exhausted, and after spending the day answering the ridiculous calls that rolled through their office, McKenzie wasn’t surprised. “More like alligators, a few random body parts, and a rich couple trying to toss off a liability issue.”
“You suck the fun out of everything and you shouldn’t talk about an interestin’ case as if your damn cat just died. Gators and body parts sound fun.”
“I don’t have a cat.”
“So, you want to take a trip down to play with giant reptiles? The job pays pretty well. The clients want to dump the accidental death charge on their alligator farm or park or whatever it is and try to pawn it off as a drunken man or some kind of thrill seeker death. They’re willing to pay nicely to keep the insurance premiums down.”
“Sounds like I get to go to the Swamp.”
“The farm isn’t at the University of Florida stadium.”
“Close enough and I still get to enjoy some of my weekend.”
“So when do you want to head out?”
McKenzie glanced at the boat once more before shaking his head and heading into the house.
“Come on over and we’ll take a drive.”
McKenzie ended the call and headed for the shower. At least it wasn’t another angry divorcee, a paranoid and overprotective spouse, or kids wanting help finding a lost bike or dog. McKenzie let his head sag under the hot spray as it washed away the sweat from the day, knowing he would be drenched and possibly crawling through an alligator pen before the night was through.
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Private Detective McKenzie Ford loves the adventure of strange cases. Still dealing with the impact of a war long ago, his buddies, a group of former Special Forces soldiers, take on a cartel and kidnapping. Vengeance for an old friend is worth the price. The Old Farts in Miami" is the first in the series of novels which take our sometimes fearless group of old Vietnam Veterans into numerous interesting and odd mysteries.