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FROM THE BELLY OF THE DRAGONA NOVEL
By Mark Mynheir
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Mark Mynheir
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMELBOURNE, FLORIDA
I hope this knucklehead doesn't get himself killed before we move in." Agent Robbie Sanchez focused on the driver of a blue pickup with her binoculars.
The man had just pulled into the parking lot of the Royal Palms apartment complex, one of the most dangerous places to be in central Florida after dark. Even though it was two in the morning, the driver's pasty skin shimmered with beads of sweat, and he scratched his face without ceasing, as if scraping some unseen insects from his gaunt, unshaven cheeks. Definitely an addict.
A yellow hue blanketed the parking lot from the corner lamppost, which was the only light on the block that hadn't been shot out. Bullet holes pitted the two-story complex, and most of the apartment windows were cracked or smashed in some fashion. Empty beer bottles and cans littered the parking lot.
A young black man wearing a white T-shirt and low-rider blue jeans eased out from the shadows of the building. He turned toward two black men on the open second-floor walkway.
One man's black leather jacket was stretched to its limits from a series of prison workouts, and an Uzi dangled carelessly from underneath his jacket. The other man was a bit smaller, wearing abasketball jersey, number 32. He sucked on a lollipop as both leaned on the metal railing, a perfect view for their operation.
The big man nodded to Droopy-Drawers below, who then approached the blue pickup. The driver slipped a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill out the window into Droopy's hand. Droopy checked right and then left. He handed a white pebble-looking object to the driver, who had the truck in gear and sped out of the parking lot before Droopy could back away. The truck rumbled down the road, vanishing into the balmy night.
The two lieutenants kept watch over their turf as the young upstart moved back into his position in the shadows.
Parked two blocks away, Robbie slipped her binoculars underneath the seat and tightened her ponytail, checking her look once more in the mirror. A gaudy amount of makeup to be sure. Porter was gonna pay for this-big-time.
She glanced at her watch; it was go time.
Her heart raced as she drove the red Toyota Celica around the corner. The beater car chugged and sputtered down the street toward the "hole," as it was known around town.
As Robbie approached the complex, she reached under the dash, flipped the switch that killed the engine, and coasted into the parking lot, clunking to a stop.
Everyone was watching. Perfect.
The headlights brightened then dimmed, and the engine howled but refused to start again. She slammed her hands and then her head on the steering wheel. Kicking the door open with her stiletto heel, Robbie stepped out onto the street and adjusted her taut black leather skirt. Her fire-red halter top adhered to her athletic figure like an extra layer of skin.
Enjoy the show, fellas, while you still can. It's about to get real ugly.
With a tug on her skirt and a wiggle, Robbie sashayed to the front of her car, lifted the hood, and leaned inside. She tucked her crucifix back inside her shirt and laid a small cylinder on top of the engine, then pulled the pin.
A loud "pop" followed by a column of smoke chased her back on her heels. She fanned her face and coughed. The two lieutenants roared at the spectacle, the big man slapping the railing.
Droopy-Drawers slithered from the shadows and stalked toward her, fiddling with a toothpick in his mouth with one hand while constantly pulling up his pants from halfway down his hips with the other. He glanced back at his bosses and chuckled as he approached.
"Hey, baby," he said, working his best cool walk. "Looks like you need some help."
"Yeah," she choked out, catching her breath. "This thing's dead." The smoke billowed from her car, creeping through the parking lot like a nefarious fog.
The young man shuffled uncomfortably close to her. "What's such a fine J.Lo-lookin' mama like you doin' out here?" His hand massaged her hip, as if inspecting a prize ham at the deli.
"Trying to find some action." She grinned at the little pig. Cochino. Robbie hated the constant J.Lo comparisons from every punk she dealt with. Couldn't they at least be a little more original?
"Oh, I got plenty of action."
Searching over his shoulder and past the parking lot, she watched a man move from the rear of the complex into the front parking lot to gawk at her smoldering car-the sign she was waiting for.
A dozen men emerged from the shadows of the wood line and skulked toward the unprotected stairs on the east side of the building, automatic weapons at the ready. Six of the men crept up the steps to the second-floor walkway; the others hid in the shadows underneath the stairs, covering the front parking lot.
If this was going to work, she needed to move now.
"You look like a man with a lot of action." Robbie draped her left hand around the back of his neck and turned him toward her, keeping his back to the building. Her free hand eased down and unsnapped the mini-Glock 9mm from the holster strapped to her inner thigh. When the barrel rested underneath Droopy's chin, his eyes widened as he pulled against her firm grip in a vain attempt to step back.
Squeezing his neck hard enough to raise him to his tiptoes, she drew him even closer and whispered in his ear, "I'm a police officer. If you move or scream, you will not live to see tomorrow. Comprende?"
"That's not fair. Lady cops ain't supposed to be so hot."
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agents Tim Porter and John Russell snuck up the stairs as the haze from the smoke grenade Robbie had placed under the hood now loomed over the whole complex, providing the cover and distraction they needed.
Tim led the line of agents single file toward their goal, his MP5 submachine gun secured with a three-point sling wrapped over his shoulder and under his armpit, keeping his weapon tight at the ready for a quick target acquisition if need be. He stepped with care, not wanting to stumble or make any sounds to give away their position. Surprise was crucial.
As they reached the top of the stairs, Tim's pulse throbbed in his ears with the frantic cadence of a war drum. They'd hidden in the woods just after nightfall and waited to execute their plan. This spot was pivotal. If they were seen too quickly, the likelihood of a firefight was good. Tim peeked into the walkway -both thugs still enjoyed the show below.
John had his back, and Alan Cohen followed close behind with the other agents-all wearing Kevlar helmets and black raid vests bulging with stun grenades and extra ammo.
Tim curled around the corner, training his sights on his target -the big man. With two soft steps, he touched the barrel against the man's neck while John wrapped his hand around the other's mouth, snatching him backward.
"Police," Tim whispered. "You move, you die."
Big-Man groaned as his hands went skyward. Grabbing a handful of jacket, Tim forced him to the ground. Russell dragged Big-Man's buddy back to the rest of the agents, who cuffed him and passed both suspects down the stairwell to more officers waiting below.
Now to the guest of honor-Rico Harden. The agents amassed at the side of Rico's heavily fortified door. Tim wiggled the doorknob. No luck. That would have made things a lot easier. Now to plan B.
Tim extracted a long ropelike piece of det-cord from his minibackpack. John took position on one side, Tim the other, and they wedged the sticky pyrotechnic cord into the crack between the thick metal door and the frame. Seven seconds-just as they'd practiced.
Tim stuck the probes in and reeled the line out as the team backed down the hall, as far from the door as possible. When the judge had given permission to use an explosive entry, Tim felt downright giddy. I love my job.
He pressed the detonator button. A brilliant flash and deafening explosion rocked the beleaguered building, and the door disappeared into Rico's apartment. A plume of smoke and debris spewed forth like a volcano.
Tim and John ran shoulder to shoulder toward the gaping hole. John lobbed a stun grenade into the apartment, and they both stepped back against the wall. Another blast assaulted the night air.
Raising his subgun to the ready, Tim barreled through the haze into the apartment with the other agents in tow. A lone black male sat on the couch next to the wall, his dreadlocks blown back with pieces of drywall stuck in his hair. He spasmodically clutched the video game remote still in his hands, tremors racking his body.
"Police! Search warrant! Get on the ground now!" Tim sprinted toward Rico, who stared blankly at a television that had been destroyed by the door blown on top of it.
A trail of agents passed Tim and scattered toward the back bedrooms. "Police! Everyone on the ground!"
"I said get down!" Tim snatched Rico by the scruff of his neck. Adrenaline pumped as he launched Rico off the couch, through the air, and flat on his face on the floor. Kneeling on Rico's back, Tim brushed the subgun to his side, grabbed both of Rico's hands, and cuffed the stymied felon.
Multiple stun grenades exploded on the first floor as the second team hit the apartments where Rico kept his stash of drugs and money.
"All clear." John Russell's tall, sinewy frame cut through the blast-induced cloud, and he joined Tim in the living room. Russell holstered his pistol, unsnapped his helmet, raking his hand through his thick black hair, and sighed. "The rooms are all clear. Rico's the only one here."
"Wha ... what's happening?" Rico's eyes glazed over in the stupefied manner Tim often referred to as post-pyrotechnic stress disorder, a rare condition marked by being a felon in the same room when det-cord and stun grenades explode.
"Rico Harden, it gives me enormous pleasure to place you under arrest for conspiracy to traffic in cocaine, the importation of cocaine, aggravated assault ... and the murder of Jamal Collins." Tim rolled Rico to a sitting position, and he hung his head between his legs.
"Your days of mayhem on these streets are over." Tim's stomach churned at the sight of Rico. A young black man tormenting and terrorizing his own people-Tim's people? Made him sick. What might have happened in this lawless young man's life if he'd had direction, some positive influence?
When Tim was young, thugs and gangsters didn't control the streets. They had to answer to Tim's father. Having marched with Dr. King and fought for civil rights long before it was popular, Pastor Porter had been respected and revered in the Parramore district of Orlando. He kept a tight rein on the young men in the neighborhood, often patrolling on Sunday mornings to see who might be skipping Sunday school. No foolin' around on Pastor Porter's watch.
Tim couldn't get away with anything either. If he got the least bit rambunctious, word would always get back to his father. The man had spies everywhere. Then it was off to a "session" with Pop, which usually meant a belt, a hug, and a Bible verse. Tim could still painfully recount Scriptures on self-control and the fear of the Lord.
His pop's faith never wavered, not that Tim could see anyway. But as much as he loved his dad, it had been the things of God that had caused their rift.
"You got a stiff neck, Timmy," he used to say during one of their spirited debates. "That just means God's gonna have to give you whiplash to get your attention."
But after a stint in the marines, over twenty years of law enforcement, and watching his father, who served God faithfully, wither away in an excruciating death, Tim was convinced that God was quite distant from the affairs of men, maybe even cold and indifferent to the suffering of all people.
Even though he didn't share his father's faith, at times like this he appreciated the man's love and discipline, even if it could be ... uncomfortable to say the least. That patient, consistent devotion was what separated Tim from Rico Harden.
Special Agent in Charge Alan Cohen walked from a back bedroom, working a rubber glove onto his hand, preparing to search the apartment.
"I told you, Alan." Tim pointed to the huge metal door, now embedded in the fifty-two-inch television. "There is no problem in law enforcement that can't be solved through the proper use of pyrotechnics."
"I guess not." Alan scratched his gray-black beard and removed his black skullcap, revealing a head mostly devoid of hair. He was a good boss, giving his agents a lot of leeway. He trusted them, until they messed up, of course. Then Alan could be an ogre.
Nine people in custody, Rico's entire organization, and not one shot had been fired. Six months of chasing down leads, wiretaps, garbage searches, and wheeling and dealing with witnesses and suspects had played out better than Tim could have asked for.
The "hole" had been the largest crack cocaine distribution center on the Space Coast. Rico had built a criminal empire on the blood and bodies of his rivals. He thought himself untouchable-until now. Sitting on the dirty floor with his head between his legs, Rico Harden was defeated. Tim did love his job.
John slipped on a pair of rubber gloves, and he and his team prepared to have Rico transported to jail while they searched his apartment. Tim waved some of the smoke away from his face; the acidic stench of the det-cord hung heavy in the room.
Robbie appeared in the doorway and slapped her hands on her hips. "Sure, gentlemen, get all the glory, why don't you. While I gotta be out there dressed like this." She passed her hand over her skimpy outfit. "It's demeaning. I have a doctorate in psychology. I've had my work published and peer-reviewed, and I'm out here dressed like a hooker. This is not what I had in mind when I got into law enforcement."
Tim and John snickered, trying their best not to burst out. Alan acted like he was looking at the case file, a broad grin creasing his beard.
"I'm serious, Alan. This is the last time I play bait while you guys get the fun stuff. It was all I could do not to break that filthy little punk's hand. Next time I want on the entry team, and we'll put Porter in the dress."
Tim's smile evaporated.
"That is a hideous thought," John said. "We'll all need therapy after that."
Rico glanced up, checking out Robbie.
"Don't get any ideas, Romeo." Robbie pointed at Rico, who bowed his head. "You've got a date with death row."
Excerpted from FROM THE BELLY OF THE DRAGON by Mark Mynheir Copyright © 2006 by Mark Mynheir. Excerpted by permission.
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