CHAPTER 18—TRUE CONFESSIONS
It was early Thursday morning, three days since the raid at Pirates’ Cove. All the cars, trucks, and boats involved in the smuggling had been seized. Many people had been arrested, including Sid Fykes. Unfortunately, they hadn’t yet caught the Nolans, Willie, or the security guy from the mansion gate. Otto was still missing. The smugglers faced prosecution and prison time, perhaps even life in prison, for smuggling on the high seas. The cocaine that didn’t burn was confiscated for case evidence and ultimate destruction – all three tons of it.
Mai and I were in the car with Angie. She was driving us to City by the Sea to see Lindsay. We were driving on a flat and narrow causeway that spans a laguna. Ahead of us rose the arch of the Harbor Bridge that crossed the bay into the city. The bridge was over two hundred feet above the sparkling water.
I was sitting up front and Mai was in back.
“Angie, it was really nice of you to drive us here today,” said Mai.
“Well, I had to come over on Coastie business anyway so I figured we’d just kill two birds with one stone,” replied Angie. “The timing was perfect, what with Lindsay moving from ICU to a private hospital room and now able to accept visitors.”
Since we’d left the island, we’d been talking about Operation Gulfway Express, a law enforcement effort that had been launched last spring. It was formed because the Pelican Island Police force had noticed that the island had lately been flooded with drugs and drug-related crime. So they’d contacted the FBI, DEA, and the Coast Guard who suspected that the Mexican Novia cartel had set up an operation along the Gulf coast. Their intelligence identified some local drug dealers such as Willie Plogger, the person Mai and I called the Grill Guy.
As one of the many operatives in the field, Angie worked as an undercover agent for the Coast Guard, posing as a Port Royale security guard. Her assignment was to shadow Willie Plogger so he would lead her to his bosses in the drug ring.
We began our steep ascent of the bridge. As we climbed, the car bumped and lurched every time we drove over one of the metal expansion rods on the road. It was unsettling. I glanced over the railing to the bay below. We were suspended high in the air above the deep water. A Russian freighter was passing below the bridge. I felt a little sick to my stomach from the tremendous height of the bridge. So for the rest of the trip up and over the bridge, I averted my eyes from the view and fixated on the floorboard of the car.
“Jacey and Mai,” said Angie, with both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, “the FBI will be awarding you both special commendations for the tips you’ve provided us. We couldn’t have cracked the case without you. Jacey, your spotting of the Santa Muerte patch on Drago’s vest helped us connect him to the Novias. We were then able to tie him to the Nolans, the drug lords, because Mai spied him in the tower window of their mansion.”
“Cool. So Drago’s involved in this?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she replied. “And, if we needed further evidence of it, the Nolan mansion is full of his unique cigarette butts.”
I thought for a minute. “That makes sense. If Drago was connected to the Novias, then he knew Willie Plogger, the Grill Guy at Port Royale. Remember the night the biker – Drago – tampered with my brakes? It must have been Willie Plogger, being an employee at Port Royale, who got Drago security clearance to get into the parking garage unobserved.”
“Exactly,” said Angie. “So, as I was saying, once we knew Drago was connected to the Nolans and that they were the drug kingpins, we were on a roll – but we still couldn’t arrest anybody. We needed evidence. We had to catch them in the act of smuggling the drugs. So Friday afternoon, we tapped the Nolans’ phones. Then we waited. Finally Sunday we overheard a conversation that told us the shipment was coming that night at midnight. Then, well, you know the rest.”
Meanwhile, we began our steep descent from the bridge and into downtown. I began to breathe a little easier once we were down on the ground. We drove through four stoplights, reached the bayfront, and took a right on Shoreline Drive. The sidewalk atop the seawall on our left was full of bikers, skaters, people pedaling surreys, and walkers. A snow cone stand with a red-and-white striped awning stood at the entrance to one of the T-heads. That’s where the sailboats docked. Steps below the seawall led to a small and sandy beach.
Angie’s phone rang. “This is Angie…Okay…Yes, I see….Thanks for the call….” Then, one handed, she folded up her phone and stuck it back in the side pocket of her purse.
She kept her eyes on the road. “That was the FBI. The news is grim. Let me get us safely to the hospital first before I fill you in.”
A few minutes later, Angie made a right turn and drove up a hill. At the top of the bluff on the left sat a large, modern, multi-storied hospital. Angie pulled into the parking lot, drove up to the covered entrance, and parked at the curb. She turned to face us.
“The FBI has positively identified Drago as a Mexican assassin who carries out hits for the Novia cartel. Drago’s left a string of murders in his path, on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. So far he has eluded capture. The FBI has launched a massive international manhunt for him. And here’s the part that’s even more chilling: He’s only seventeen-years-old.”
“Seventeen?” I said. “That gives me goosebumps.”
“It gets worse. Drago has posted a video on YouTube showing him executing Otto in that secret room in the Nolan’s round tower. Otto was murdered because he knew of the smuggling operation and was ready to go to the police. The FBI has recoverered Otto’s journal from the grandfather clock – just where you said it would be, Jacey. Good work. In it, Otto made records of unusual activities on the water and in the lighthouse when Fykes was on night duty. Pretty damning evidence. It’s what Fykes sought to suppress and what Otto was killed for.”
I sucked in my breath. Otto was not just missing. He was dead.
“But I do have some good news,” she continued. “It wasn’t Lieutenant Johnson who leaked the fact that you’d spotted Drago on the FBI Most Wanted list at the station. It was a police receptionist named Carlotta Martinez. We did a phone dump on all calls placed to and from the Nolan house phone and her cell number came up. She was arrested this morning.”
“So the spy was that rude receptionist doing her nails at her desk in the lobby?” I asked.
“She must have been the smugglers’ eyes and ears in the police department,” added Mai.
“Yeah, just like Fykes was the Novias’ mole in the Coast Guard,” I said. “Oh, yeah, Angie, tell us what happened with Fykes. I know that he was arrested for signaling the shrimpers that the coast was clear to land the drugs.”
“Yes, and, along with Drago and the others, he’s implicated in Otto’s murder. Once we run the canine unit through his Cherokee,” she replied, “I know we’ll find traces of Otto’s DNA. We know that Otto was abducted from his bedroom by probably Drago and Fykes. He was probably then transferred to the Nolan mansion in Fykes’ Cherokee, with Drago following on his motorcycle, and transported to the Nolan mansion where he was imprisoned, for a time, in the round tower. It’s not evidence that will hold up in court, though, because a clever lawyer will point out that Otto and Fykes shared the same Coast Guard vehicles so it would be normal to find Otto’s DNA in the Cherokee Fykes drove.”
I clenched my jaw. “I hope they find evidence that will hang Sid Fykes. He’s probably the one who got Manny Nolan to hire Drago to silence Otto. I bet the Novias paid Fykes a lot of money to be their signaler. Fykes was afraid Otto was going to blow the whistle on his role in the smuggling and turn off the money flow.”
“Oh, and get this,” continued Angie. “Remember those bales of marijuana you and Cody found on the beach? And all the police energy that went into trying to find the smugglers and their boat? That was a hoax! The marijuana was a decoy the Novias tossed overboard to throw us off the scent of the real big shipment that was coming. There was no wrecked boat to discover, no smugglers waiting on the beach awaiting a shipment of marijuana. The whole thing was meant to tie up all the law enforcement officials along the coast so that they were too busy to watch out for the real thing – the cocaine shipment!”
Mai spoke next. “Wow! That cocaine must have been worth a fortune on the black market for the cartel to throw away marijuana.”
“How’s a hundred million dollars sound? But that’s only the street value of the three tons of cocaine that were recovered,” said Angie. “So the whole shipment was probably worth twice that.” She glanced down at her watch. “Oops! I better get going if I’m going to get there on time!” Mai and I grabbed our gifts for Lindsay and got out of the car. Angie promised to return in an hour and left for her appointment.
As we walked toward the hospital entrance, I said, “Mai, now that Otto’s not coming back, I guess that makes Emma your dog.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m really happy about it but feel guilty at the same time. I just hate for my happiness to have come at such a high price.”
“Don’t feel bad. Feel good. Look at it this way: you’re doing it for Otto. You’re giving his little Emma a good home,” I said, putting my arm around her.
“I guess you’re right. But if I’m doing something so good, why do I feel so bad inside?”
I choked back a tear. “I miss Otto, too,” I said. We began to sob and held each other a moment.
The hospital receptionist at the first floor desk directed us to the restroom where we washed our faces and powdered our noses. We weren’t going to do Lindsay any good if we appeared all weepy eyed.
We took the elevator to the sixth floor, pushed through the double doors, and found room 625. I took a deep breath. I didn’t really know what I was going to say once I saw Lindsay. I looked at Mai. She was thinking exactly the same thing I was.
Mai held up her head and knocked. Mrs. Richards opened the door. “Girls, how nice of you to come,” she said, leading us inside. A TV hung from the ceiling of the dark room. A crime show was on the screen but the sound was muted.
I looked over at Lindsay sleeping in the bed. She had tubes running out of her arm and nose. One leg was in a cast. She was hooked up to a machine with flashing lights that beeped. From a metal pole hung a bag that dripped clear liquid into a hose that drained into her arm. A bandage was wrapped around her head like a turban. Her face was pale and clean, but I could still see flecks of blue and pink glitter from the peacock make-up she wore on her eyes the night of the rave.
“She’s going to make it. She still needs a few more operations, though.” Mrs. Richards looked as if she hadn’t slept in weeks. “And after that there’ll be months of weekly physical therapy.”
There was a leather recliner in the corner with a pillow and crumpled blanket in it. It would probably be Mrs. Richards’ bed for many days. I wondered if Mr. Richards had been to visit yet. Their divorce had been hard on Lindsay. Her parents were barely on speaking terms. This had to be a hard time for all of them.
“Here,” said Mai, keeping her voice low and handing our gifts to Mrs. Richards. “These are for Lindsay.”
“Oh, girls, you shouldn’t have,” she said, parting the curtains to place them on a shelf inside the bumped-out windowsill. “Won’t you sit down?” she asked, indicating her chair. “I can get another chair from down the hall.”
“Oh, no, thanks, we won’t be staying that long,” I said in little more than a whisper. “We just wanted to be sure Lindsay knew we were thinking about her.”
“Jacey? Mai?” said Lindsay, suddenly opening her eyes at the sound of my voice. She looked around the room. “How long have you been here?”
Mrs. Richards bent down and picked up her purse. “I think I’ll go downstairs and grab a cup of coffee. Will you girls please excuse me? That’ll give you some time to chat.”
We nodded and smiled. She gave us a weak smile then slipped out silently.
Lindsay looked downcast. “Mom’s a little upset with me,” she explained.
Who wasn’t? I wanted to add. If she and Valerie hadn’t been buying cocaine regularly from the Novias, none of this would have happened. The Novias would have closed up shop and moved to another town further up the Texas Gulf Coast if Lindsay, Valerie, and the rest of its Pelican Island customers hadn’t given them such regular business. Yeah, I was mad at her, too. If not for her selfishness, Otto might still be alive today and that other driver down the hall wouldn’t be in a coma.
The silence felt heavy. Mai changed the subject. “Lindsay, look what we have for you.” She placed our gift sacks on the bed.
“Oh!” said Lindsay, smiling like she used to. She opened my gift first. I had given her a blue-and-white paisley throw with gold scalloped edges. I unfolded it and spread it over her legs. She giggled when she peeked into Mai’s gift sack and saw the movie magazines and chocolates.
Then she began to cry. “I don’t deserve any of this, you know – these gifts and your visit. I’ve been a rat. I’m so sorry. I wanted to tell you both before, that time I called you in the night, Jacey, but I was so ashamed and afraid that I lost my courage.”
“Tell us what?” asked Mai, drawing closer with a box of Kleenex.
“That I’m sick. That I’m addicted to drugs. That I have been for a long time. And that I also have a drinking problem. Mom says I have to go away if I want to get well.”
“Where?” asked Mai.
“To rehab somewhere – for a month.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
I sat down beside her, too, and took her hand. “Lindsay, do you want to quit?”
“I’d have to be crazy if I didn’t, wouldn’t I? Look how bad my life is right now. And yet it’s going to be so hard that I’m scared to even try. You see, I get really sick when I don’t have any. That’s why I haven’t stopped using before.”
“You can do it, Lindsay,” said Mai, her voice trembling. “I just know you can.”
Just then Mrs. Richards came back. I was glad for the interruption. I jumped up and glanced at my watch. “Oh, Mai, look how late it is. I know Lindsay’s getting tired and Angie’s probably waiting for us downstairs already.” Then I bent over Lindsay and whispered, “I’m here for you. If you ever need to talk, just call. But you’ve got to do this thing – if not for yourself, then at least for your mother….” I wanted to add “for Otto,” but I bit my tongue.
Mai and I hurried out of that gray room with its smell of medicine and death. We took the elevator down to the ground level and practically bolted out the hospital’s front automatic doors. Once I was outside and could feel the warm sunshine on my skin and could drink in the fresh sea air blowing off the Gulf, I spread out my arms and twirled in a circle just like I was a little kid again. Mai laughed and copied me. We twirled and twirled until we almost fell down from dizziness. It felt great to be seventeen, healthy, and free.
Read final chapter, Chapter 19: Movin’ On.