Sometimes a cop made the cover. But other times the cover just appeared out of the cop. Detective Martin Deeks didn’t remember when he’d heard that line, whether it had been in training or something a veteran had told him once he shifted over from uniform patrol. All he knew is he understood it now.
Looking in the mirror, he didn’t see himself. Not in the worn leather jacket over a gray zip-front hoodie, faded jeans, and the fixed, distant stare. Max Gentry looked back at him, and Marty could tell Max didn’t like what he saw. Max hated weakness. Softness. Anything that wasn’t brutal and direct.
He still wasn’t sure quite where the cover had come from. The assignment seemed simple enough. Get inside one of the protection rackets springing up on the edges of KoreaTown. It wasn’t Asian, just a bunch of wannabe thugs trying to get in on the action and failing badly. But they were piling up some bodies, and the brass wanted that stopped. At first he’d thought of playing the cool surfer dude, but two things stopped him. This wasn’t a narcotics case, and guys like this only respected bad asses. Max Gentry fit the bill.
Even the name had just come to him. Max, for a kid he’d known in fifth grade who was a bully, and Gentry because it appealed to the ironic side of him. Max was anything but gentry. That and he just liked how the name flowed off the tongue.
Looking in the mirror, he saw a change come over his face. No, mostly the eyes. They went from being open, what he called his public defender look, to something else. Cold. Hooded. Not focused on anything anyone close could see. And that’s when he felt Max settling in. Getting comfortable. He was ready.
They’d backstopped Max as best they could. A solid record for assault and weapons violations going back a few years, combined with short stretches in places most gangs wouldn’t be connected to and had no way to verify. Maybe they hadn’t put a ton of effort into it, but he understood that, too. He was the new guy. And the oddball. A lawyer, public defender no less, turned cop. He’d seen some of his fellow detectives in court back in those days, and it hadn’t always gone their way. In more ways than one he figured he’d be on his own the minute he stepped out the door. The cover had to be able to carry that load.
Fuck them. Max looked back at him from the dirty mirror. We got this. I got this. He gave the jacket one last tug, making sure it covered his Beretta, and headed out. It was time to go to work.
Marty figured there were two kinds of covers in the world of law enforcement: the ones with no presence, designed to slip in and out without being noticed; and the ones with presence, designed to make a damned big impression right out of the gate. Most of his covers had no presence, like Artie. Who noticed another homeless guy in Los Angeles? It was the perfect way to get a good look at something and disappear without a trace, and he’d perfected it in his short time with the unit…right down to the disgusting jacket he kept in a freezer so it didn’t lose its street smell. And his assortment of mostly nameless surfer dudes. Great guys with great hair intended to slip into dope parties without anyone even noticing he was there until the badges came out.
But that wasn’t Max Gentry. Max was presence personified. Attitude. The guy people cleared a path for in a bar. Establishing that would be a trick, but he knew those tricks from way back. Watching his dad and Ray’s dad doing their thing back in Reseda. And from some of his clients in the public defender’s office. The way they’d come in, pose, and try to bluff him into thinking they were a combination of Capone and Tony Montana. But Max couldn’t be just pose. Max had to be the real deal, or as close as he could get and still stay within the bounds of the badge. He’d learned those lines working with Boyle, except he’d never go as far over them as he did. If he wanted to get close to the protection people, he had to come on hard and strong. Max was the guy people were afraid of because he didn’t fear a damned thing on this planet. You saw it in his eyes when he looked right through you.
Gino’s was the kind of place that wasn’t listed in any “Top Ten Spots in LA” guidebook. Unless you were looking for a gun, a loan with interest that compounded daily, or some off the books betting action. Then Gino’s was easily in the top ten, and just the kind of place for Marty to start establishing Max as someone to be reckoned with. He parked the Mustang down the street and got out, hearing the light rain splatter on his leather jacket over the rush of traffic. Gino’s wasn’t on any main drag, which was how they liked it. He walked the half block back to the bar and pushed open the door.
The bar stretched the length of the room to his left, with the rest given over to pool tables and a cluster of round castoff cafe tables along the back wall. Marty paused just inside the door, then headed over like he owned the place. One guy, a big Hispanic dude with a scattering of gang tats who might have been the bouncer or just another neighborhood punk, stepped in his way. They locked eyes, Marty looking through him in full Max mode sensing his opportunity, and the bigger man started to shift.
Marty wasn’t fully aware he’d swung until his fist sank into the bigger man’s solar plexus with a dull thud. As soon as he doubled over, Marty swung again, dropping the guy like a bag of cement. Stepping over the groaning man he rested his left hand on the bar and turned slightly.
“The name’s Max Gentry. Anyone got a problem with what just happened? Good. I don’t care if you do.” He turned back to the bartender with a wicked smile. “Beer.”
He drank his beer at one of the back tables, the four dudes who’d been there clearing out with embarrassing haste as soon as he got within six feet. With each swallow he felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into the role. That was good as long as it didn’t go too far or stick too long. A skinny waitress with pinpoint pupils showed up with another beer seconds after he set his empty bottle down, and he tossed a ten her way without making eye contact.
“Keep it,” he said in a low voice.
“Thanks. But that guy you slugged? He’s got friends. They just came in.” She tucked the bill into her thin, loose bra and turned away from the table. “Thought you’d like to know.”
There were two of them, smaller versions of the big one but with stronger tats. He let his gaze slide over them, knowing this was it. Make or break for Max Gentry. If he made it, he’d be established here and could work Gentry as long as he needed. Break, and it was back to the drawing board. After he got out of the hospital. He watched as they huddled with the big man and felt a grin stretching on his face as they peeled off and headed his direction.
“Sorry, girls. The ladies’ room is on the other side of the bar.”
They stopped and stared, the smaller one shaking his head. “What did you say, puta?”
“I said the ladies’ room is over there. You girls look lost.”
Without realizing it he stood up and started toward the smaller one. “I’d hold your hand, but I don’t want to catch whatever skin condition you have.”
He could feel the anger building in his chest and just let it ride. He’d lost track of the number of times he’d heard about how Gordon John Brandel and Ray’s dad had done this in dive bars across Reseda. But their anger had been random, never calculated. Max Gentry was a man of calculation.
He saw the flash of the knife in the bright cones of light over the pool tables, the players falling over each other to get out of the way. Instead of backing up, he grinned. Didn’t expect that, did you? As he stepped past one of the newly vacated pool tables he picked up a ball.
“Lucky three. You ever wonder why people think numbers are lucky? I don’t think that, myself.” He kept closing, watching the flicking blade with one eye and the other man with the other. “Numbers? No. But this…”
He stepped inside the man’s knife, locking the arm as he pivoted. There was a crack and a short scream as something gave, and he heard the knife clatter to the floor just before he launched the pool ball at the other man’s head. It struck home with a heavy thud and the gangbanger hit the floor at the feet of his bigger friend. Turning the other punk’s arm loose, Marty let him fall to the floor clutching himself before he looked at the man he’d slugged earlier, his eyes hard and empty.
“No one messes with Max Gentry. You got that? No one. Now get your two girlfriends and get out of here. Move!” The last word was a barked shout, and then Marty turned back to the bar like nothing had happened. “I think I need another beer.”
He could still feel the anger as he sat at the back table. It hummed just beneath his skin, leaking out into his eyes from time to time before he got it back under control and pushed it deep again. He kept his eyes fixed on the bartender, watching the man’s hand shake as he brought the beer over.
“Nice place you got here. Except for the crowd.”
“Hell of a way to introduce yourself. I work here most nights and I ain’t seen you before.”
“So?” He let his eyes lose focus just enough to start the man’s hand jumping again.
“Nothin’, man. Nothin’. Just said I ain’t seen you in here before is all.” The bartender looked around, noticing the space people left around the table when they went back to their business. Even abandoning pool games. “You ain’t lookin’ for work, are you?”
“The pay. The kind of work.” He took a sip of beer, not really tasting it but just feeling the cool liquid slide over his tongue. “I’m a bit particular that way.”
He shifted in the chair, feeling the Beretta in the small of his back. “You’ll find that out when you ask around about me.”
“Only an asshole or an idiot doesn’t check out the guy he wants to hire. You don’t look like an asshole, but I ain’t sure about the other part yet.” Marty put on his narrow Max Gentry grin. “Or maybe it’s your boss who’ll be doing the asking.”
“Yeah. Harry Vascaro. There hasn’t been a Gino here since disco was king.” Marty took another sip of beer, letting himself taste it this time. “I do my homework, too, buddy.”
“I hear you broke some banger’s arm.”
Marty Deeks looked across the desk at Sergeant Bates. Just because the guy was running the investigation didn’t mean they liked each other. Marty wasn’t sure if anyone actually liked Bates…including Bates himself. But he was good at his job.
“Maybe. That or a dislocation. I didn’t ask for his insurance card.” He traced an invisible pattern on the desktop. “It’s part of the cover.”
“What? Random mayhem?”
“Something like that.” Marty could still feel traces of Max in his system, and he fought to keep them out of his voice. “If you want an in with these guys you need someone who can do that.”
He thought back to Brandel, or his hazy memories of the man. “It’s how you get noticed. And how you get room to operate.”
“Yeah. Just make sure you don’t open us up to something a defense attorney can use to get evidence excluded.”
“I think I can manage that. It used to be my job.”
“That’s right. It was, wasn’t it?” Bates smiled, reminding Marty of a coyote staring through a wire fence at a chicken. “So you really think it’s gonna…”
“I already got a job offer.”
“What!?” Bates almost came out of his chair.
Marty tried to hide his smile. “Max don’t seem so out there now, does he? Must have been my winning smile and rugged good looks, but the bartender asked if I was looking for work. I…I mean Max has a meeting with Harry Vascaro tomorrow night.”
“You’re kidding, right? We’ve been trying for six weeks to get an introduction to that guy. Some of the best guys in the unit, and we can’t get past the bartender. You walk in, pop out some punk’s arm, and you’re in? Just like that?”
Marty nodded, letting a bit of Max’s emptiness into his eyes. “Like I said, boss, you gotta know how these guys operate. What they respect.”
“Just keep it inside the lines, Deeks. That’s all I ask. You want a partner with this one?”
“No. No partner. Max is the kind of guy who runs alone.”
“You’ll need to be wired.” Bates raised his hand. “Hear me out. At least for the big stuff. We’ve got some good rigs now. Small enough to go in a button. We can’t risk you being blown.”
Later, back at his desk in the squad room, Marty Deeks shrugged off the leather jacket and zip-front hoodie and flopped into his chair. Two other detectives were still there, working on reports or thumbing through case files, but neither man did more than give him a brief nod when he came in.
“Guess that means we’re not going for ice cream,” he muttered as he hit the space bar on his keyboard, waking up the computer.
Reports were the lifeblood of the LAPD, and he started his on autopilot. The cool reception in the squad room was normal, but he didn’t like it. Some of the men couldn’t let go of the fact he’d been a public defender, others didn’t like his hair, and a handful didn’t like his honesty. Boyle, his first partner as a detective, was in the last group, and the most vocal. As he tapped the keys, filling in blanks on the computerized report form, Marty could feel the anger building again. But now he could dump it all into Max Gentry.
The anger had always been there, hidden behind shaggy hair, a quick grin, and a self-depreciating sense of humor. Growing up he’d worked it out in the usual ways. Surfing. Running around with Ray and a few other buddies. But never many. Marty had learned early on to keep most of himself hidden behind the hair and humor. Something else he could thank Brandel for. And, if he was honest with himself, his mother, too. She’d always had excuses for the man, and later for herself.
Adding a couple of short lines to document the follow-on meeting, Marty hit save and then submit. Max had passed his first field test with flying colors. But there was always tomorrow. Given the way Max had settled, Marty wasn’t worried about the crowd at Gino’s or anyplace else blowing the cover. No, he was more concerned Max might kill someone before the case was made. It was that kind of cover.
By Guest Contributor RobbieC