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Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:
CONTRAILS (Contrails Saga: Book 1)
by Robert Anderson, Steve Clark
Sam Claymore works for Civil Airlines, sleepwalking through the highs and lows, the ups and downs of being a pilot. He survives working alongside a wacky cast of captains, turbulence scares, even being estranged from his father. Nothing fazes him until one day he is unexpectedly furloughed. What Sam will do becomes the new route he must navigate.
Enter Nate McFadden, a childhood friend living in Miami. Nate contacts Sam at the right time, a time when his moral compass may be susceptible to manipulation. Nate moves Sam in, getting him a job where being furloughed is the least of his worries. Follow Sam as he descends deeper into a world he could’ve never imagined. CONTRAILS is a story of real people faced with extreme decisions, the consequences of which could mean their lives.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
We woke up late, lingering in the warmth of blankets, savoring each other’s presence. The sun shone through the blinds, filling the room with ripe light. It was nice waking up next to her, feeling her soft skin. She lay on her side, back facing me. I draped my arm over her stomach, pulling her close, fitting into the groove of her body. I pushed her hair up, started kissing her neck, running my hand down her smooth thigh. She awakened, arching her back, accepting my advance. I worked my way up slowly, heightening the suspense, gently sucking on an ear lobe. Both arms wrapped around her now. I thrust against her from behind, no longer disguising my intent, seeking one final gesture of approval.
“Well good morning to you, too.”
“Care to make it a great morning?”
“You wish,” she said, rolling over, thwarting my advance. “Time for a run.”
“You mean you didn’t get a good enough workout last night?”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” She batted her eyes. “I run every morning.”
“God, you look good with red hair. What a great change.”
“Nice try. Think you can keep up?”
“Can’t you make an exception? It’s Saturday. I’m here. You’re here. We’re in this comfy bed. Let me take advantage of you some more.”
“Nope. Time to get up. You don’t get a body like this staying in bed.”
She found her pink underwear buried in the sheets and slid them on beneath the blanket. She stood up, covering both breasts with one arm as she searched for a shirt in her overnight bag. I watched her walk to the bathroom, grateful for the view.
“Ready?” She stepped out a few minutes later in a white tank top, red booty shorts, running shoes. Her shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
“All I got are Jordans.”
“Basketball shoes will work.”
“How far we gotta run?”
“Five miles. Try and keep up.”
We ran through downtown Charlotte. Victoria’s apartment was near the hotel so she knew all the jogging routes. It was tough keeping up at first, trailing by a few strides. Can’t say I minded. I thought it was going to be an easy pace, a light run considering the distance and caliber of partying last night. But Victoria ran hard and fast, expanding her lead, not bothering to look behind as if she were running alone. I had to run hard to catch her, my heart pounding from the pace. I prayed it wouldn’t explode. Once I pulled even, she seemed to take it as a challenge, a dare to see who could outlast who. It became a race. We changed leads a dozen times, each person upping the tempo after being passed. There was a fierce competitor inside of her, a talented athlete who wasn’t used to being rivaled. Victoria cranked up the pace to an all-out sprint. We rounded the final turn, hotel bobbing in the distance. I matched her stride-for-stride, pulling away just as we reached the parking deck.
“No way, no way,” she exclaimed, genuinely upset. “No one keeps up with me.”
“It’s those long legs. I have to take two steps for every one of yours.”
“Helps being tall.”
“You’ve obviously had time to stay in pretty good shape down there.”
We stretched outside before going back to my room. Victoria showered first. Once I had finished mine, stepping out of the bathroom sopping wet in nothing but a towel, she was standing by the nightstand, severe look on her face.
“What’s this?” she asked, holding my jeans in one hand and a knot of hundreds in the other. My money clip must’ve fallen out of my pocket when I took my pants off. Fuck.
“I hate plastic. Identity theft is rampant nowadays.”
“Is that how much there is?”
“What were you planning on doing here?”
I stood there in my towel, flexing, dripping on the carpet.
“Nothing crazy. Javier owed me money for some work he never paid me for.”
“Must’ve been a lot of work.”
“He brought it to the airport. I didn’t expect he’d give it to me then. I didn’t even want it then. But he said he wanted me to have it for the trip. I had told him about a girl I like in Charlotte and he told me to do something nice for her.”
She gave me a circumspect look, unsure what to believe. She eyed the cash suspiciously, wary of its origin.
“That’s the most money I’ve ever seen.” She placed it down on the nightstand. I gave her a cocky look. “Whatever,” she said. “I have to go. I’ve got some errands to run.”
“Haven’t you done enough running?” I joked, trying to lighten the air.
“Where are you taking me tonight?”
“Got it all planned. Meet me here at five?”
“Can I put my clothes on now?”
“I prefer this look on you.”
I stopped by Nate’s room after walking her out. The door opened before I got to it. Two model-quality women came out, hiding their faces, wearing last night’s club outfits. I laughed, catching the door before it closed, startling one of them. “It’s cool,” I said, pushing my way through. Nate was standing on the balcony, smoking a cigarette.
“What a night,” I said, opening the sliding glass door. He stood shirtless in a pair of sagged basketball shorts.
“I don’t even know what happened,” he said, exhaling a rope of smoke. He was squinting, his voice hoarse. “All I remember is waking up next to two passed-out chicks. No idea how I got there. Wonder how I pulled that.”
“You laced up the whole club last night, son. They never saw you coming.”
“I do remember that. When’d you bounce?”
“After one. Victoria wanted to leave so I took her back to the hotel.”
“She tell you her secret?”
“Every last detail.”
“She’s fine, man. Didn’t know you had it like that.”
“Should’ve seen her ten minutes ago. She found my money clip.”
“No way,” Nate said, suddenly showing interest in the conversation. “What’d you tell her?”
“Javy never paid me for some work I did and brought it with him on the flight.”
“She buy that?”
“I don’t think she bought it yet. She’s gonna rent it first.”
“That’s wild. You don’t want to mess that up.”
“No kidding. You ever hear from Javy?”
“Naw, man,” Nate said, extinguishing his cigarette on the ledge. “I don’t know what he’s up to.”
Victoria texted later that day saying how much she looked forward to seeing me tonight and that she had “great news.” Wonder what it could be. In getting ready, I abandoned my usual casual attire for something with style, class. I had finally picked up some new threads before the Charlotte trip. Nate sarcastically congratulated me. “Only took you six months.” I wore a black button-down collared shirt (top three undone), gray jacket, gray slacks, black shoes, hair gelled into a subtle wave. Nate offered to let me borrow his gold chain, but I declined.
5:00 PM. It was fall but felt like summer. I donned my Aviators, standing outside to wait for her. She walked up wearing a white blazer with black vertical stripes, black shirt underneath, blue skirt, blue heels. Quite a sight to go with her brown skin, red hair. Nothing went together, each item counteracting the next. Yet, on her, clashing created the opposite effect. The less her clothes matched, the more they meshed.
“Wow. You clash really well.”
“Thanks. I like clashing, if you haven’t noticed,” she said, dangling a lock of hair.
“Well it all blends perfectly.”
“I’ve never seen you in a sport coat before. You look like either a pimp or a drug dealer. Possibly both.”
“This is how people dress in Miami.”
She removed the Aviators from my face, folded them up, and placed them in my shirt pocket.
“Don’t take fashion advice from your new friends,” she said, patting me on the chest.
We strolled around the city. Talking, browsing, window-shopping. The sun was still strong, temperature still pleasant. I had made reservations at an upscale steakhouse for dinner. After passing it on our walk, we decided to go in. We were early, but the maître d’ obliged, seating us right away. Priciest cabernet on the list, most expensive filet mignon on the menu, richest piece of cheesecake on the dessert cart. She took a sip of wine—eyes glazed, belly full. She dabbed at her mouth with a cloth napkin, wiping the purple residue from her lips.
“So are we becoming the pilot-dates-flight-attendant cliché?” she asked.
“You mean no handsome, smooth-talking captain has tried sweeping you off your feet yet?”
“Ugh, too many to count,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“No one’s succeeded?”
“I’m into FOs.” Her hot gaze burned my eyes, a look of straight fire.
“You gonna show me your place tonight?”
“Yeah right. That’s okay. I’m a flight attendant. I make next to nothing. You, on the other hand, seem to be doing rather well judging by this restaurant and the suite we stayed in last night.”
“I do okay.”
“Says the man carrying four grand.” I cracked a playful yet uncomfortable smile. “So who are these two guys you came here with?”
“Nate’s the crazy one. He’s the manager of the storage facility I work at. We go way back. Long-time friend. He’s the one who got me the job and a place to live. Javier’s the scary one. He owns the storage facility.”
“That tattoo, my god,” she said, shivering.
“He looks rough but he’s a nice guy.”
“So they’re guys you work with.”
“What kind of work is it again?”
“Nate and I run one of Javier’s storage facilities. He owns two, plus some other stuff. A dry-cleaning business, a pool hall. He does very well.”
“Nate said you two were in sales last night.”
“Another of Javier’s enterprises is an upstart pharmaceutical sales company. Sometimes he has us travel the region, delivering goods.”
“He pays you for that too?”
“Yes. He took an interest in me once he found out I was a pilot. That’s how I’ve kept up on my flying. I even started teaching Nate.”
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “that reminds me. Remember when I told you earlier today that I had great news? Well, after I left your hotel, I went back to my apartment to check my schedule and guess what—” I stared blankly at her. “There was an email from Civil Air saying they’re calling back all furloughs.”
“Holy shit. Are you serious?”
“Yep. Even found out they’ve already called back some of the pilots.”
“You just got your career back,” she said, lifting her wine glass to cheers. “Isn’t that great?” We clinked glasses and I downed what was left of mine before filling up again. Victoria beamed, taking immense satisfaction in bringing me good news. I held the bottle over her glass, lightly shaking what was left. “Please,” she said. I poured the rest, filling it halfway. “So when are you going to tell them you’re quitting?”
I set the empty bottle on the edge of the table, signaling for another.
“You are going to quit though, right?”
“Yeah, well, I mean, probably. Maybe.”
“Maybe? I don’t understand.”
“It would take a lot to just up and quit.”
“Why? This is your career, Sam. You’re only working at a storage facility because of the furloughs.”
“Well, I live in Miami now for one.”
“So. You can commute.”
“But I’m really good at what I do. They kind of need me right now.”
“Umm, hello? We used to work together. I know you’re really good at what you do.”
“I’m making really good money right now, Victoria.”
“Obviously. You carry around a wallet stuffed with hundreds.” I grimaced at the comment. “Something doesn’t add up. I don’t see how you can be making that much working at a storage facility.”
“That’s because there’s a lot more to it than that.”
“Javy pays me really well flying these pharms around.”
“Pharmaceuticals? Really?” She leaned back in her seat. “I don’t think you’re being truthful with me.”
“I am, Victoria. I totally, totally am. It’s just hard to explain.”
“The truth is never hard to explain.”
The words dropped from her mouth like a bomb. I said nothing. Anything more would’ve dug my hole deeper. She wanted to hear me say I’m going back to Civil. She wanted to hear me say I’m done with Miami. But how could I say that when I was just given fifty grand up front and was owed another fifty grand when I returned for one trip to Charlotte and back? I sipped my wine.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t expect this. I thought that when I told you Civil was hiring everybody back you’d jump through the roof. I thought I was bringing you the best news imaginable but it feels to me like you don’t even want to hear it.”
She sipped her water, loudly chewing on an ice chip. A ring of condensation dampened the tablecloth where her glass had been.
“Can I get you two another cab?” the waitress asked.
“No, thank you,” Victoria answered. “Just the check.”
We waited in silence, Victoria refusing to make eye contact.
“Thanks for stopping by.”
I reached in my pocket, keeping my money clip low beneath the table. My head was down, but I felt her hot gaze again, scalding me. This was a different kind of heat from the one before. I took three hundreds out, laid them on the bill, quickly sliding it to the edge of the table.
“You don’t need her to change that?”
“Nope. Let’s go.”
Victoria didn’t stay with me that night. I invited her up, but she respectfully declined. I watched her walk back to her apartment. I wanted to go after her, I did. But things were too unsettled with me, and I didn’t want to drag her into something she might regret. I needed time to figure out my next move. Civil Air, DEA, or drug trafficking? Victoria, Cliff, or Nate?
I stopped by Nate’s room hoping he’d be there, hoping we’d go out, to forget the scenarios cluttering my mind. I knocked on his door. No one there. I called his cell. No answer. Probably for the better.
6:30 AM. Javy and I checked out, waiting for Nate downstairs in the lobby. He had texted us both Saturday night saying he wanted to leave first thing Sunday. Nate finally came down, dragging his bag across the floor by the shoulder strap. He was still wearing his club clothes. Shirt ripped, shades drawn. It appeared he had just gotten back.
It was a quiet ride to the airport. Javy in front, eyes closed. Nate sprawled out in back, sleeping. I prepped the plane for takeoff once we arrived, checking my cell before getting in. There was one text.
Three weeks passed after the Charlotte run without a word from Javy or Nate. I didn’t contact them either. I needed a break, to disconnect, maybe even call it quits. I thought about going back to Civil, about telling Victoria that I wanted to be with her, about living a normal life again. If I got out now, what would I tell Javy? What would I tell Nate? What would they say? Could I just up and leave? What were the repercussions? Were there repercussions? These questions consumed me ever since watching Victoria walk away, back to her lonely apartment.
It was a Sunday night when Javy called, asking to meet him at his pool hall. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was a 30-minute drive, the seedy part of town. Smoky bar, billiards, e-gambling. A group was shooting pool. Drinking, talking, enjoying life. I became rabidly jealous. That used to be me. It was hard pulling myself away from their playful carelessness.
A Mexican woman behind the bar wearing a black tank top, black shorts, and fishnet stockings told me Javy was in his office. I nodded, not wanting to be there. He was sitting behind a desk in a leather executive chair.
“Have a seat, Sam.” I sat down across from him. “The reason I haven’t been in touch is because I’ve been very busy working on the details of our next run.” He looked up from his paper. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t really know how to say this.”
“This wasn’t what I wanted in coming down here. It’s been great while it lasted, don’t get me wrong. It’s been great working for you, Javy. But I just feel like my time has run out.” He nodded his head gravely, understanding the courage of my admission. “I guess what I would like to know is if I wanted out, would I have to look over my shoulder?”
“I’ll be honest,” he started, dropping his pen on the desk, “if you walk out right now and I never see you again, it will anger me. But I am not the type of person who would go after you. You’ve done a great job. The door for you is open.” He motioned toward it. “You are free to leave whenever you wish.”
“But before you go, I would like to make you an offer.”
“I appreciate it, Javy, but I have enough. Another fifty or hundred grand would be great, but for me it’s no longer worth it. I’m not sure if anything would be worth it.”
“I will pay you one million dollars for one flight. Half up front.”
I took a deep breath, sucking in a chest full of air. I looked up at the ceiling, telling myself to leave, to go right now, drive back to Detroit, Buffalo, Charlotte. Anywhere but here. But then again, I had to think about it, process it. One million for one run. I had to hear him out.
“Where to? How much weight?”
“Colombia to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Colombia? You want me to go to Colombia?”
“Everything has been arranged.”
“What kind of plane? Obviously not a 182.”
“Cessna Grand Caravan. Amphibian.”
“Amphibian? I’ve never flown one of those.”
“You said you flew cargo in a Cessna Grand Caravan on the side while flight instructing.”
He pulled out a piece of paper listing everything I had flown. This is why he’d asked me during the Charlotte trip.
“Yeah, I mean, I have flown one, but it wasn’t an amphib.”
“Ten hours in a PA-12 Super Cruiser floatplane,” he read from his list.
“Exactly. Floatplane. It’s a toy compared to a Caravan on floats. They’re totally different. A Caravan’s prop is driven by a turbine engine, not pistons. There’s a huge power difference. It lands on water and land, hence the name, amphibian.”
“I know what amphibian means.”
“I’m not the right man for this job.”
“You’re the perfect man for this job. You’re the only man for this job. Now don’t bullshit me, Sam. I’ve seen you fly. If I put a gun to your head and made you do it, I know you could. Did you hear me when I said, one million dollars?”
“Okay, fine. Let’s say I do it. What’s the flight plan? Maximum range on those things is under a thousand miles. Even less with floats. And you said we’re flying to the Gulf? What does that even mean?”
“We have external tanks for extra range. The Gulf means the Gulf of Mexico. You’ve heard of it?” Javier grinned, enamored with his joke.
“You want to take off from Colombia and land in the Gulf of Mexico?”
“Which is why we got an amphibian.”
“Do you know how rough the ocean is? Landing a plane I haven’t flown before is challenging enough. But you want me to land in the middle of an ocean with swells that toss around freighters? That’s kamikaze, a suicide mission.”
“Don’t pilots know how to check the weather? We will stay in Colombia until a perfectly calm day. There is no deadline. We can stay there long as it takes.”
I closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose.
“Say I land it. Then what? Hope the current takes us to shore?”
“Do you know what ‘go fast’ boats are?”
“Cigar boats? Cigarette boats?”
“Two of them will meet us at exact GPS coordinates one hundred miles off shore. They’ll pick up the shipment and race it back to three properties I own on the shoreline of Naples. Each home is in the name of someone I trust. Real people live in them. They have normal everyday jobs but also receive large payments for shipments that come through their properties—my properties. All they do is look the other way. This is how they smuggled it in the 70s and 80s. Cocaine came into Miami directly from Colombia, carried by cigarette boats, planes, freighters, all kinds of methods. But the route got overused. The American government caught on to their methods. Now, sixty-five percent of all cocaine comes through the US/Mexico border. That’s where the primary focus is. That’s why we’re switching it up and going right through the front door, as you once told me.”
“What about AWACS?”
“Airborne Warning and Control System. They patrol the skies from above. They can easily spot an airplane flying in from Colombia.”
“There are many airplanes, boats, and other water vessels around to distract them. Whatever looks most suspicious is what they will pursue. Even if they do spot us and decide to follow, they won’t send the Navy right away. At most, they will tell the nearest Coast Guard ship or helicopter to check it out.”
“And that wouldn’t be a problem because?”
“That’s a question for someone you’re going to meet tomorrow, if you decide to go through with this.”
“Or,” a great notion suddenly came to me, “we get a decoy plane to fly in tight formation with us.”
“Their radar is really no different than any other. Sure, it’s more sensitive, but still susceptible to error. That’s why we have another plane fly in tight formation with us, wingtip-to-wingtip. Top Gun style.”
“Top Gun style?”
“You know, Maverick, Goose?” Blank stare. “Iceman?” Still nothing. “Forget it. My point is that if we fly close enough, we’ll appear only as one blip on their radar. When we land in the water, the decoy plane continues on to the coast. That’s the one they’ll track. Then we unload the Caravan into the cigs and they blaze back to your properties doing Mach-three. That’s how the fuck you do it.”
I leaned back in my chair, waiting for his reply.
“I like the way you think, Sam. That’s why you’re the perfect man for the job.” I was still leaning back, contemplating the offer, when I realized just how valuable I was to this operation. “One million dollars. What is there to think about?”
“Make it one-point-five.”
I met Javier the next day at the other storage facility. He had me park next to one of the larger units, waving me inside. After he pulled the door shut, I followed him through a trapdoor beneath a strip of broken concrete. A staircase of thirteen steps led us six feet underground. After ducking through a narrow passageway, it opened to a small dungeonesque room. Inside were racks of semi-automatic pistols, automatic assault rifles, shotguns, light machineguns, RPGs, homemade explosives. Another Mexican was down there, sorting the weaponry.
“Sam, this your defensive coordinator, Francisco Cordoba.” He looked up from the assault rifle he was tinkering with, giving me a slight nod. Black shirt, black pants, tattoos for sleeves. “He’s the one that got you the automatic M-16.”
“How you like it?” Francisco asked.
“I like it. Thanks.”
“You’ll love this then. I call it the Fly Swatter.” He pulled the cover off a .50-caliber machinegun. I’d never seen one in person, only on TV, mounted on military choppers and the tops of bulletproof Humvees. “You know what a fifty-caliber is?”
“Yeah, a big ass round.”
“Ever seen one in action?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“One round would sever limbs. Imagine five hundred a minute. It’ll saw down a skyscraper. One quick burst at the tail rotor of a Coast Guard helicopter and it’s a mayday call. But we don’t want a mayday call. So I spray front-to-back, painting the inside red.”
A disturbing thought, answering my question about Coast Guard intercepting us.
“Looks heavy. What do you mount it on?”
“A 46-foot Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Twin 1350-horsepower motors that can reach speeds in the water over 130. I mount the Fly Swatter on the back.”
“Is there a worry we’ll have to use it?”
“Only for them.”
“You’re our offense, Sam,” Javy stated. “As long as you stay on the field, our defense doesn’t have to play.”
He made another football analogy, trying to ease my concern.
“What other defensive plays do we have, Francisco?”
“They won’t be needed, but a couple of RPGs and each guy will have an assault rifle. One boat is armed to the teeth, the other carries the shipment. If the Navy wants to come out and play, we can play.”
His enthusiasm was frightening. The firepower he was bringing on board rivaled a military squad, more than enough to swat some poor Coast Guard chopper from the sky. Then cue the “go fast” boats, vanishing at 130 mph to the coast of Florida. From a hundred miles out, they’d be unloading at Javier’s docks in less than an hour. Backup would be too late. It became painfully apparent what I had gotten myself into.
We hung around a little longer, hashing out some final details. The plan was to fly to Colombia that Thursday. Javier asked me to give him a ride back to his place in Miami. Francisco hung back, preparing for World War III.
“So what do you think of Francisco?”
“I think he’s fucked in the head.”
Javier chuckled at my bluntness.
“It’s like befriending the school bully. You hope you won’t need him, but just in case.”
After dropping Javy off, I drove straight to Nate’s.
“Peep this crazy shit,” I said, slamming the door behind me.
“What’s that?” Nate asked, slouched on the couch, watching TV.
“Six hundred keys. Colombia to here. One flight. One-point-five mill.”
“Javy’s offer to me. I accepted.”
“Yep. Unbelievable, bro. This is it. My last run. One more for me and I am out. Going back to Civil Air with my retirement prepaid.”
“Are you fucking kidding?” Nate stood up. The remote control crashed to the floor. “When do you leave?”
“Thursday. Went over the whole plan yesterday. I just met his boy, Francisco Cordoba.”
“I know, right. Ese loco.”
“You don’t understand, man. This guy is bad news. Major trouble. He’s a killer, murderer, rapist. All of it. He’s a sick dude, the one they call to eliminate problems. As in people.”
“I’m glad he’s on my team then.”
Nate looked down at the floor, shaking his head. I came to his place looking for reassurance, to celebrate the magnitude of Javy’s offer. But the concern in Nate’s voice was a tone I didn’t recognize. He looked like a person I hadn’t seen before.
“Look, man. Don’t go to Colombia. Don’t do it. Straight up.”
“Fuck you, bro. You’re just jealous I’m getting one-point-five for one run. That’s more than you’ve made in your best year.”
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, Sam.”
“You’re just mad cuz Javy didn’t ask you. You’re pissed that I used my skills to work my way up fast and you never got this far.”
“There’s a reason he didn’t ask me. There’s a reason I never got this deep. I like selling gram-bags in clubs. I like making deliveries around Florida in my Malibu. That’s all I need. I do great on that alone. I don’t fuck with these people. I stay in the shallow end. You’re talking about walking the floor of the deepest ocean.”
“Look, I’ll give you two-fifty if it makes you happy. That’ll be your cut for introducing me to the game.”
“Will you shut the fuck up about money. I don’t give a shit if you gave me all of it. This isn’t about money or me being left off the job. This is about you not coming back. You’re my best friend, my brother, the only family I got. You think Javy is my friend? You think he’s yours? He’d sell us both out in a second. That’s the thing about this biz, Sam. It’s cutthroat. You gotta know when to cash out. You’re about to sit at a table you have no business playing at. Neither do I and I got in this game as a teenager. You’ve been in it six fucking months.”
Nate paced around the living room the same way I had the first time I learned we’d flown cocaine.
“It’s funny,” I said, trying to change the subject, “when I went up to visit Cliff in Buffalo last month, he told me some wild DEA stories I never thought I’d hear. He told me how he went to Colombia to help hunt down Pablo Escobar in the 90s. And now here I am, about to go to Colombia myself, but under completely different circumstances. Crazy.”
“Fuck, Sam. This is a bad idea. You gotta get off this job right away.”
“Calm down, man. What’s your problem now?” I was annoyed, unaccustomed to him being the worried one.
“You’re about to be introduced to the modern day Pablo Escobar,” he gravely said.
“Bullshit. Nobody has that kind of power anymore.”
“Maybe not, but if this guy has a fraction of the money and power Pablo had, that’s plenty reason not to get involved. You’re talking about going to Colombia, Sam. Do you realize the ramifications of that?”
“How do you know all this?”
“I know where Javy gets his coke. It comes from Colombia, from a guy named Pedro Estancía. They call him El Dragόn. He is drug lord of drug lords. Ask Cliff. I guarantee he’s heard of Pedro Estancía.”
“Look, I appreciate you being concerned for me. I do. But you weren’t in the meeting at Javy’s office. He and I have a fail-safe plan once again. He loves the ideas I came up with and I love his. We both came to bat for this one, a true collaboration. And to top it all off, he’s giving me one-point-five million. Did you hear that? Do you know how much money that is? Anyone would do anything for that kind of payday. I can retire and fly FO perfectly content, set up for life.”
“They’re going to extensively research your background, Sam. They’re going to find out everything they can about you. Where you were born, where you were raised, where you went to school, who your family is, where your family lives, what they do. You think they’re just going to hand you six hundred keys because you’ve done a few runs?” A vein popped out of Nate’s temple as he spoke.
“They can’t access that shit. Colombians can’t get information like that on US citizens.”
“This guy’s cocaine business probably makes a billion dollars a year. Do you know what kind of power that is? What kind of people he has on his payroll? You don’t think he has a guy on the inside that he compensates very well to get details like that? I’m worried because you don’t fully grasp what you’re about to do. If Javy asked me to be on this job, I would’ve told him no. Straight up. That’s the level you’re at. And I’m the one who got you into this. Going to Colombia, handling this kind of weight was never my intention for either one of us. Especially you.”
“Look, even if they could find out everything about me and my family, they can’t access information on Cliff being a DEA agent. That shit is classified for those very reasons. I know that for a fact.” I’m pretty sure it was a fact.
“I hope you’re right, because if anyone down there finds out your dad was DEA, it’d be like Hitler finding out your dad was a Jew. You will learn firsthand what it’s like to be skinned alive head-to-toe, soaked in gasoline, and lit on fire. My advice for you is to be truthful about every fucking thing except the three letters D, E, and A, or they’ll add the T and H.”
Nate stormed into the kitchen, opened the fridge, took one peek before slamming it shut. I stayed at the table, watching the TV, listening to the quiet sound of cheering fans. I didn’t expect this from him. Cliff and Victoria telling me to quit was one thing. They thought I was an assistant manager at a storage facility. Of course they would want me to quit that for a meaningful career. But this was Nate, the guy who got me into this. He had been doing it much longer, knew way more about Javy’s operation and if he was this freaked out, that wasn’t good. I stood up and walked toward the door.
“I’m sorry for getting you into this,” he said, stopping me. “This isn’t the life for you. You’re better than this. You worked hard and made something of yourself. You have tons of options if you left now and never came back. Me? This is all I know. This is all I have. My options are getting caught and spending life in prison, my heart stopping in some nightclub, or getting hacked up by people like Francisco. It’s too late for me. At this pace, I won’t see 35. And that’s fine. That’s how it is. The cocaine numbs it for me. The money, the cars, the women, the nightlife. That’s what I’m in it for. I sure as shit ain’t in it to meet people like Francisco and Pedro and to go to places like Colombia.”
“Nate, you’re my brother. I don’t blame you for anything. I came down here with a grand and now have the chance to leave with one and a half million. My decision is final.”
I held my hand up, awaiting his grasp. He grabbed it, pulling my shoulder into his, tapping me on the back three times with a closed fist.
“I’ll handle my shit. Don’t worry.”
As I walked down the hall, after hearing the door close, it occurred to me that I had never told Nate “don’t worry” before, a command he had given me countless times.