Feeling restless and out of place, Doyle is surprised to find himself falling for his new neighbor, Nola Watkins, who's under pressure to sell her organic farm to a large and mysterious development company. He's more surprised to see high-powered drug dealers driving the small-town roads—dealers his bosses don't want to hear about.
But when the drug bust Doyle's been pushing for goes bad and the threats against Nola turn violent, Doyle begins to discover that what's growing in the farmland around Philadelphia is much deadlier than anything he could have imagined . . .
Quick, clever, and terrifying, Jon McGoran's Drift is a commercial thriller in the tradition of Nelson DeMille's Plum Island.
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By Jon McGoran
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Jon McGoran
All rights reserved.
The surveillance van smelled of old cheeseburgers, coffee, and me. Parked in front of a vacant storefront in North Philly, I was watching on a little screen as my partner, Danny Tennison, made a buy from a scumbag named Dwayne Rowan just around the corner.
We'd been trying to nab Rowan's supplier, see if we could swim upstream and get the next guy up the chain or the guy above him.
Rowan was almost out of stock, and Danny was trying to find out about the re-up. Rowan didn't have the faintest idea Danny was a cop, and he wasn't trying to be discreet, either. He was just a dumbass.
"So, you getting any more of this?" Danny asked him.
"Yeah, this stuff or something else."
"Same guy, or you got somebody new?"
"Nah, always the same guy."
"Oh yeah? When's that going to be?" Danny asked, keeping it casual.
That's when my phone rang. The whole thing was being recorded, but I still needed to be paying attention. No chance in hell a guy like Rowan was going to start trouble, but I was still Danny's backup.
The call was from Frank, my mom's husband. She was pretty sick by then, between the cancer and the chemo and the infections. I'd been trying to wrap up the case so I could visit her, but things were conspiring to keep me in Philly. Things like this asshole Rowan.
I'd only seen her twice since the diagnosis, but my guilt was tinged with annoyance at her and Frank for moving so far out in the sticks.
"Oh, you know, like, in a couple days," Rowan told Danny.
"So what, you mean like Tuesday?" Danny asked, without a trace of the exasperation I was feeling. "Or like Wednesday?"
"Yeah, that's it," Rowan replied.
"What is it, Frank?" I said, answering the phone in an exaggerated whisper so he'd know this was not a good time.
"Well, which is it?" Danny asked. "Tuesday or Wednesday?"
"Wait," Rowan said. "What day is it today?"
"Monday," Danny told him.
"Right ... so probably later, then."
"It's your mother," Frank said, his voice strained.
"You mean, like Wednesday or like Thursday?" Danny said, finally revealing a hint of aggravation.
"What about her, Frank?"
"It's another infection. A bad one. She's back in the hospital. ... I think this is it." His voice cracked, and I thought I heard him sob. He cleared his throat. "If you're going to come up, you need to come up now."
Rowan was babbling on in the background, sounding suddenly far away. "Could still be Tuesday, man. I forget. What night is the wrestling on?"
As the phone fell away from my face, I thought: My mom is going to die while this fuck-head tries to get his days straight. I don't remember thinking much after that. I got out of the van, a cardinal sin in the middle of surveillance, and I walked around the corner, straight up to where Danny and Rowan were standing.
Danny's eyes widened, then his face fell back into the same heavy-lidded suspicious gaze as Rowan's. We'd been working pretty hard the past few days, so I looked rough enough to pass for someone making a buy. As Rowan looked over at me, ready to take my order, Danny flashed me one last glare to remind me how much time and energy he'd invested in his cover.
The first thing I did when I came up to them, I planted a left in Danny's face. I didn't pull it, either — I popped him and dropped him. If I was going to pull something, it had to look real.
Rowan yelped like I'd stepped on his tail. He tugged a gun from the back of his pants, but he couldn't seem to get a grip on it, bobbling it like some half-assed juggler until I snatched it out of the air between his hands and pressed it against his temple.
"When's the re-up?" I asked quietly.
"Tuesday," he said with great certainty. "Um ... six o'clock."
I was about to ask him where when he said, "In the parking lot behind Charlie B's."
I figured, what the fuck: "Who's your supplier?"
He didn't even pause. "Marcus Draper."
First chance he got, Danny Tennison drilled a right to the side of my head that left my ears ringing. But he was okay after that. Danny was cool that way. He didn't always approve, but he understood.
I got a couple of uniforms to take Rowan in, then I got in my car and drove.
Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Lieutenant Suarez, screaming at me that I was on admin duty, pending an investigation. Normally, I would have screamed back, but I just said, "Whatever."
Ten minutes after that, I got another call from Frank. I could barely hear him, but it wasn't the phone breaking up, it was him.
"We lost her, Doyle," he said when he could speak. "Your mother's dead."CHAPTER 2
In the end, it hadn't worked out so bad, except for me. Danny got the bust, and it was a good one. Marcus Draper had gone down before, but not like this: money, drugs, guns, and lots of all three.
Dwayne Rowan filed suit, of course: mental anguish due to the excessive force of my implied threat to blow his brains out. No surprise there. He was pretty excited about a big pay-off until they told him the videotape of him giving up Marcus Draper would be the main attraction at the trial. Maybe they'd call Draper as a witness, just to make sure he saw it.
By the time I got back to Philly after my mom's funeral, Rowan had dropped his lawsuit and given his full cooperation in exchange for immunity, discretion, and the goodwill of the Philadelphia police department.
Three weeks later, I was sitting on a hard wooden bench outside a hearing room wearing my best suit and my threehour shoes, waiting to find out if I was still a cop.
I tried not to blame the shoes for the pain I was in; they were three-hour shoes, and for three hours they'd been fine. But I'd been out there waiting for five hours, and between the shoes and my athlete's foot, I was wondering if I'd ever walk again.
Danny Tennison was sitting next to me, looking like hell. For the past three weeks he'd been my drinking buddy and my babysitter. We'd been out the night before, but I suspected his rough appearance may have had more to do with the reception he got at home afterward than the booze and lack of sleep.
Danny testified before I did, and I knew he told it exactly how it happened. He'd slant it as hard as he could in my favor, but he wasn't going to change the facts.
Shifting uncomfortably, I wondered if the people considering my fate knew how my feet felt, and if that was part of my punishment. I was seriously considering taking off my shoes when my cell phone went off.
The caller ID said "St. Luke's," the hospital that had treated my mom. I figured it was probably about billing or something, but I answered it anyway. Not like I had anything else to do.
The voice on the phone was warm and soothing. "Hello, is this Doyle Carrick?"
"Yes, it is," I replied, thinking this was the nicest collection call I had ever received.
"I'm calling from St. Luke's Hospital in Dunston. I'm afraid I have some bad news."
"What is it?" I asked the nice lady on the phone.
"I'm afraid it's about your father."
My father had been dead for twenty-five years. "You mean Frank?" I said. "What is it?"
"He's had a massive heart attack. We did everything we could, but we couldn't save him."
"Frank Menlow?" In the fraction of a second before the news sank in, I almost laughed, because I totally didn't see that one coming. Before I could say, "There has to be a mistake," the voice on the phone continued.
"Yes. I'm afraid Mr. Menlow is dead."
Frank had called the night before, left a message wishing me luck, asked me to call back to go over a few things. We'd gone over a lot of things the past few weeks. I figured I'd call him back after the hearing, once I knew the result. Save myself a call.
Danny looked over at me and said, "What's that about?"
Danny rolled his eyes. "Again?"
I tried to explain but my throat seemed to have swollen shut. Before I could say anything, the door to the hearing room opened and Suarez walked out. "Twenty days, Carrick," he said, not even looking at me. "Suspended without pay, and a recommendation for anger management training, which I hope you will take seriously." He dropped a fat manila envelope onto my lap. "You got three weeks to get your shit together."CHAPTER 3
Twenty days was about what I'd expected, but the recommendation for anger management pissed me off. As with so many things, I tried not to think about it. It seemed to be a theme, and I tried not to think about that, either.
My mom's death hurt me deep, and I had tried to put it away for later. If time heals all wounds, I was more than willing to let time take care of this one. But without the job to distract me, it had been getting harder and harder to avoid thinking about it. With Frank dying, too, it was hopeless, like the box I was packing it away in wasn't big enough for all the stuff I wasn't ready to deal with.
Driving west on seventy-eight, I was so distracted, so deep in nonthought, I had to slam my brakes and swerve hard to avoid missing my exit. Even three years after my mom and Frank moved out to Dunston, exit thirty-five still caught me by surprise. I swallowed hard against a twinge of guilt that threatened to become a wave of emotion as I struggled to remember my way to a place I should have known by heart.
I took a moment to get my bearings, but ten minutes later, driving through cornfields patrolled by tractors and tomato fields swarming with migrant workers, the farmland that should have accompanied me the rest of the way there had been replaced by thick woods. I turned onto a street called Burberry Lane and by the time I realized it was not the road I was looking for, the trees were so tight on either side I didn't have enough room to turn around.
After another quarter mile, it started getting dark, but the sun wasn't setting; it was just disappearing behind a steep hill as I descended into a wooded valley. As I approached a deeply rutted driveway, I noticed a familiar smell, the acrid mixture of ammonia and acetone and burned house. Weathered strips of crime-scene tape hung from pine trees on either side of the driveway. Beyond them was a small clearing surrounded by blackened branches burnt back like they were recoiling from the scene. I recoiled a bit myself, goose bumps rising on my arms. I'd had a thing about fires, ever since I was a kid. But I had a thing about crime scenes, too, and as I drove up the driveway, I felt my pulse quicken the way it did almost every day on the job.
I slowed to a stop, looking for a house, but all that remained was a blackened rectangle of cinder blocks, maybe twenty feet by thirty, in the center of the clearing. The cinder blocks only came up about a foot and a half, and the charred rubble inside barely rose that high. A blackened toilet slouched in the corner, cracked in two, the exposed porcelain gleaming white against all that black. The remains of several cots sat in the opposite corner, the metal twisted and collapsed.
Nothing else was recognizable, except that smell, the classic bouquet of eau de meth fire. Looked like a bad one, too. The foundation was uninterrupted on three sides; there might have been windows, but there was only one door. Meth fires can start with a bang and spread fast and hot. The fumes don't help, either. I couldn't help picturing it, and I suppressed a shudder. Not a good way to go.
Above me, the sliver of sky visible through the dense trees was losing light for real now. It seemed very far away. Closing my window against the smell, I doubled back the way I'd come.
The scene left me feeling even more somber. But even as I was thinking that a few weeks away from the job might not be so bad, my hand had my phone out, calling Danny Tennison.
"Jesus, Doyle," he said. "You been gone one day. You miss me that much?"
"What are you doing?"
"What do you mean what am I doing?"
"I mean what are you doing? I'm stuck out here in America. Tell me what's happening in the big city."
He laughed. "You're pathetic."
"Come on, what are you doing? Tell me."
"I'm at Target, standing outside the dressing room while Laura is helping Julia and Becca try on back-to-school clothes. That make you feel any better?"
"Are you holding a handbag?"
"Two of them. One has pink ponies on it."
"Then, yes, I do feel better. Hey, you know anything about any meth activity out here?"
"Meth in rural America? Well, gee, I suppose it's possible."
"Fuck you, I'm serious. Just came across a burned-out meth lab. Wondering what's up with that."
"Well, a lot of it has to do with the disintegration of the American family, deteriorating moral standards, a lack of opportunity for young people."
"Sorry, Doyle, but what does it matter? You're on suspension, remember?"
"Danny. Don't fuck with me. You know anything about it or not?" I recognized a barn with a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, a white disk with red tulips and birds, and I made a left, back on track.
"Dude, you're suspended."
"Danny, I'm just curious, that's all. Like a tourist."
He sighed. "I don't know. Stan Bowers could probably tell you. He's working out near there now."
Stan Bowers was with DEA. We had worked with him on a few task-force cases. He was loud and obnoxious, but a good guy and a decent investigator.
"Stan's out here now?"
"Yeah, but Doyle, seriously, leave it alone. What are you, one day into your suspension?"
"Two, including yesterday."
"Yesterday doesn't count."
"I'm pretty sure it does."
He laughed. "You better figure that out. It'd be typical Doyle Carrick, come back on the wrong day because you lost count on day one."
I laughed, too. "Fuck you."
"All right, the girls are coming out. I gotta go. Are you cool?"
"Yeah, I'm cool."
"Just do good time, and it'll be over before you know it."
Just before the phone went dead, I heard him telling Becca how beautiful she looked. It was six o'clock in the evening. I called Stan Bowers.
He answered with a booming, "Hey, if it isn't Dirty Harry!"
"Heard about what happened." He started laughing. "Heard you sucker-punched Tennison just to make it look good." He laughed so hard he started coughing.
"Yes, it's hilarious."
"Smooth, Carrick," he said, "very smooth. Anyway, I heard you got twenty days. That sucks. The pricks."
"Oh, shit," he said, turning serious. "And your mom died, right? Or was it your dad?"
"My mom and my step-father. Few weeks apart."
"Damn, Doyle. Sorry to hear it."
"So what's going on?"
"Well, I'm staying in my folks' house in Dunston. My house now, I guess. I heard you were working out here. Figured I'd touch base."
"Right," he said. "What do you need?"
"No, nothing. But I heard there was some meth activity out here, figured I'd talk to the man, get the straight scoop."
"That's what you figured, huh? You're on suspension, right?"
"I'm a property owner, concerned about what's going on in my new community."
"Yeah, all right." He laughed. "We got two meth labs that went up. About a month apart."
"Was one of them on Burberry Lane?"
He sighed. "Yeah, one of them was. Why?"
"Nothing, just that I came across the remains of it, had meth lab written all over it."
"Yeah, not much doubt about that."
"Were they related?"
"Looks like. Some crazy-assed Mexican gangbangers out of L.A."
"That's what it looks like." He laughed. "Actually, one of the locals said it was the Russians — bimbo probably wouldn't know a Russian from a Mexican if he did a hat dance on her head. But we had four crispy critters in each. One of them had a bullet in the head, so they might not have been playing nice, or a gun could have discharged in the heat, who knows. Coroner says they were Mexican. He had to do a lot of work on them, too. Extra crispy, if you know what I mean. Still, he seemed pretty sure of it."
"And they were from L.A.? That's a long way from home."
"Looks like they were part of a gang called the Monarchs, old L.A. street gang. They found a piece of floorboard at one of the scenes, like the only thing left of the house. Had the word 'Monarchs' scratched into it. Some crazy asshole did it with his fingernails, like some fucked up initiation or something. The DNA from the board matched one of the crispies. It was the one with the bullet, so I guess he didn't do it right."
"There a lot of Mexican gang activity out here?"
He laughed. "If you mean landscapers, yeah. Otherwise I didn't think so, but there you go. Aren't you supposed to be on a vacation, anyway?"
Excerpted from Drift by Jon McGoran. Copyright © 2013 Jon McGoran. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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