Friends in Need
The worst part of any sting operation had to be sitting in the van listening to the wires. Marty Deeks still wasn’t sure how Bates managed to get a warrant based on what they had, but he also knew enough about Bates to know it would be legal. Unlike his old partner, Boyle, Bates could have been stamped from the LAPD manual. He wouldn’t send his guys out with a dodgy warrant.
At least it was night. Cool was a relative thing in Los Angeles, but without the sun beating down on the sheet metal and turning the rig into a toaster oven it wasn’t half bad. The smells were still there…sweat, stale coffee, unwashed socks…but they weren’t amplified by the heat.
“Bet you wish you were in there.”
“Not tonight, Frank. This one’s strictly a kissing cousin event.” Deeks smiled at the tech they’d sent to run the tape machines. “Not the kinda thing Max Gentry would attend. That and my overalls are at the cleaner’s. Got nothing to wear.” He didn’t see the need to let the man know just how important this meeting was… or how far he was from getting an invitation.
Watching the needles do their dance on the various meters on the tape decks, Deeks let his mind wander. Over the last four or five months, more guns had been showing up on the streets. That wasn’t unusual… summer usually saw a spike in turf wars. But what was unusual was the kind of guns. Berettas mostly… wiped clean of numbers and in outstanding working order: not the kind of thing commonly found on the L.A. illegal gun market. All indications were a new player was on the scene, and whoever it was LAPD needed to shut them down. Deeks got the call because he was used to working solo, and his main cover had been instrumental in taking down an extortion racket in Koreatown and another loansharking operation in Brentwood. Max Gentry was just the kind of guy who could insert himself in the middle of an arms deal without anyone batting an eye.
He’d gone over the angles with Bates, his unit commander. Finding a way in was key, especially given Max’s growing reputation in a certain segment of the L.A. underworld. The cover was just too damned valuable to burn on a single case. But it had been tough so far. The inner circle was careful and insulated. He’d need to work through at least two layers before getting to the men he was listening to now.
The greeting dance done, the men in the room got down to business. Deeks listened to them talking pistols, the occasional shotgun, and then a voice from the past stabbed right through his ear and into his brain. “The pistols are clean. Bet my reputation on it.”
“You’re getting all this on tape, right? Clear as if we’re at the table with them?”
“Because, Frankie goes to Hollywood, I just found our way in.”
Bates looked up from the report, his eyes without expression. “And you know this guy how?”
“We grew up together, Bates. I’ve known him since I was ten. Been a few years since we talked, but I know this isn’t his scene. Not really. I can turn him. I know it.”
“So you think you can just drop in on this Roy guy…”
“Ray, Bates. His name’s Ray Martindale. His father was…”
“The top black market gunsmith in Reseda. I know the name, Deeks. Looks like the son’s following in his footsteps.”
“I know what it might look like, but that’s not what it is.” Deeks shifted in the chair, fighting the urge to stand and pound the desk with a clenched fist. That kind of thing got you nowhere fast with Bates. “Look… I’ve known Ray since we were kids. We went surfing together, played in the same high school band, hated our fathers together. I don’t know why he’s mixed up in what he’s in now, but I know it’s not really him. And I know I can turn him.”
“It’s a hell of a risk, Deeks.” Bates leaned back in his chair. “He could agree, then give you up as a cop.”
“And then he’d go down on state and federal charges. And go down for a long time.” Deeks leaned forward, his hands clenched in his lap. “We’re getting nowhere with these guys. Even with the Gentry cover it’ll take months to get inside. If I turn Ray, it cuts the months down to weeks. Maybe even days.”
“And that’s a lot of lives saved.” Bates was quiet for a time. “OK, do it. What’s your plan? We just bring him in?”
“Not with regular uniforms. Too many leaks. But I need to talk to him alone. Let him know the score.” And keep a few things private that need to stay that way.
“Tell you what, Deeks. I’ll see if SIS can throw a net around him for a few days. See where he goes. Then they’ll back off and you can arrange to ‘accidentally’ run into him. Guy like that’s gotta have a favorite bar, burger joint. Something.” He leaned forward. “But you get me a plan. Then we’ll roll with it.”
Deeks closed the folder with a sigh. He had to give it to the guys in SIS. They did good work. Ray’s entire life for the past five days was in that folder. Calls he made. Places he ate. Even what he watched on TV.
“Seriously, man?” he muttered, opening the folder again. “The Bachelor? We gotta talk.”
Ray conducted his legitimate business out of a pawnshop in Encino, but Deeks didn’t even consider approaching him there. He ruled out the apartment in Glendale for the same reason. He forced himself to flip back through the report, seeing his friend’s life broken down into short paragraphs and some pretty good photography. There’s gotta be something. There’s just… hang on… what’s that? He flipped back through the loose pages, paused, then went forward again.
The bar. It’s the same damned bar. Every night after work for at least two or three hours and then he goes to Glendale. Smiling, he closed the folder and switched off the desk lap. Maybe now he could fill in the blank and Bates would sign off on the plan.
. . .
Scooter’s wasn’t a biker bar, but it tried hard to pretend it was. Standing back in the shadows thrown by the entryway of a neighboring building, Deeks rolled his shoulders. Settling the leather jacket and the Max Gentry attitude into place. He’d worked Scooter’s a time or two as Max on a prior case, and wondered just how close he’d come to bumping into Ray without even knowing it. Typical L.A., he thought, feeling the Beretta in the small of his back. He’d thought about going in as Artie, or even himself, but he knew Max would buy him space and time from the rest of the bar, and that was what he needed.
The bouncer started to flex, then shrank back when he caught sight of the tousled hair and leather jacket. “Evening, Max.”
“Mr. Gentry, Jocko. How many times I gotta tell you that?” He twitched his hand, and the bigger man winced.
“Sorry. Yeah, Mr. Gentry. Been a minute since you been by.”
“Business, Jocko. Just hope you’re never my business.” Deeks flashed him a narrow grin, remembering the first time the big bully had tried to body-block him coming in. Two quick blows and the man was on the ground pissing himself and whining. It might not have helped his cause that Jocko reminded Deeks of at least two meatheads on the football team in high school who’d liked to mess with him.
Inside it was all dark wood and gold lights, tinted green where they glowed over the three pool tables in the middle of the main room. The SIS report said Ray favored back tables, so Deeks ignored the bar after making his habitual sweep and headed for the shadows in the back of the place. Judging from the smell, that was also where the kitchen hid its secrets. At least he knew the restrooms were on the other side of the building.
A warning shake of the head to the bartender guaranteed he’d be left undisturbed with Ray. And even before he could make out his face, Deeks knew it was Ray sitting at the table. The tousled hair. The way he held his head. Classic Ray. He was so intent on a nearby pool game he didn’t notice Deeks moving through the gloom, and almost jumped when he slid into one of the empty chairs. “Shit! Who the hell…”
“That any way to say hi to an old friend?”
Ray squinted, leaned forward a hair, and then grinned. “Marty! I’ll be damned… How long’s it been?”
“Too long.” He paused. “And maybe not long enough.”
“Why don’t I like the sound of that?”
“Ray…” He paused, the words sticking somewhere in his chest. He could see it all again playing behind his eyes… the shouting… that shotgun… how heavy the pistol was in his hands. “You know what I do now, right?”
“Naw, man. It’s been like years since we talked. Heard someone say you were a lawyer, but I wasn’t gonna believe ol’ Party Marty…” His eyes went wide. “So it’s true?”
“Was true, Ray. I was a public defender for a couple of years.” He sighed, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table. “I didn’t figure you’d follow in your old man’s footsteps career-wise.”
“Neither did I, man. But what the hell else was I gonna do? You got the brains, I got the looks.”
“Yeah, you sure did.” Deeks chuckled in spite of himself. “Still, Ray, making a few sawed-off shotguns in the back of Rudy’s Pawn is one thing. Getting in the middle of an arms ring is another.”
“How did you…?”
“That’s the bad news. I’m a cop now.”
Ray stared at him for what felt like a year. Then he buried his head in his hands. “I’m so screwed, aren’t I?”
“If I was any other cop, yeah. But I’m not any other cop. And I didn’t exactly come in here in my Joe Friday suit asking you for the facts.”
“Yeah… and that’s one mean look you got. Must have a rep behind it, too. I’ve never seen the bartender leave someone alone this long before.”
“Yeah… Max has a rep.”
Ray’s eyes went wide. “Wait. Max Gentry? Hell, I’ve heard of him. You’re Max?”
“In the flesh. They got me working this arms thing, but it’s a bad match. Max is mostly strong-arm stuff and some loan sharking. Not the games these boys play.”
Ray shook his head. “No, but I don’t think you know how big Max’s name is on the streets. These guys are gonna need protection. Give it another few weeks…”
“That’s the thing, Ray. Time is the one thing I don’t have. Maybe if it wasn’t an election year, but since it is I got the brass breathing down my boss’s neck, so he’s all over mine.” Deeks leaned forward again, dropping his voice. “I need a way in, and right now that’s looking like you. But I can keep your name out of it. Make sure you’re not there when the bust goes down, but with a good enough reason no one thinks twice about you not being there. A hundred bucks a week tax-free, and I’d be watching your back.”
“You want me to be a rat.”
“No. I want you to do the smart thing. These guys, the guns they’re selling are starting to kill kids. Some hotshot ADA would look at you and think ‘accessory’ in a heartbeat. I don’t want to see that happen to you, Ray.”
He paused for a moment, his eyes losing focus as he thought back to other bars, other times best forgotten but always there. “I know how we grew up. Those ADAs will claim you had a choice. That you chose to make money on the bodies of dead kids. I know that’s not true. I know how some of those choices are made for you. I just got lucky is all.”
“Come on, Marty. We both know that’s not true. You had the smarts, man! The brains to get those chances. Me? I’m good with my hands. I know guns inside and out. There wasn’t much choice when it came to what I was gonna do.”
“You got a choice now, Ray. I’m giving you one. All you need to do is get me in the room with them. An introduction. I can take it from there. And I’ll make sure you’re clear when the bust goes down. Like I said.”
Ray shrugged, and Deeks could almost see the trap closing on his friend. He didn’t look up. “Hell of a thing, ain’t it, Marty? Years go by we don’t see each other, and it has to be this way.”
“Didn’t have to be. Just turned out this way.” Deeks leaned across the table. “Tried calling you a couple of times when I was finishing law school. Number was disconnected, man. I get it… I wasn’t the greatest friend in the world. But disconnected…”
“Forgot to pay the damned bill, and then didn’t notice for like four months.” Ray looked up, a quick grin forming on his face. “You know how it is, man.”
“Yeah… I do know how it is.”
“You were making it, Marty! Getting out of Reseda. Maybe not the way we’d talked about… but you were out.”
“Well… that band wasn’t gonna get us very far. Chuck was too stoned most of the time to carry any kind of beat on the drums… when he wasn’t pawning them to buy more weed.”
“I know… I know… and we didn’t know anyone else with a full drum kit. I get that, Marty. But that was the dream, right? Not the real. You were makin’ it, and I didn’t want to drag you back into it all.”
Deeks leaned back. “And look at me now. I came back all on my own. Guess I wasn’t as bright as everyone thought.” He looked down at his fingers, checking each speck of dirt under his nails. Playing for time.
Ray drummed his fingers on the table, and Deeks knew his knee was bouncing like a metronome on crack. Finally he let out a long sigh. “You know I can’t take the Deeks Wall of Silence. Never could. What did you say about keeping me out of the bust? I’m gonna trust you on that, Marty. Just like you trusted me to get that .38 back when we were kids.”
Deeks nodded. That night still came back to visit him. Old Gordon drunk as hell, like he often was, with that shotgun in his hands all ready to go. The shouted threats. His mother hiding somewhere behind him. And then the world seen only through the rear sight of an old, untraceable Smith & Wesson. “Yeah. Those were the days, right?”
“Just another Tuesday night in Reseda.” Ray grinned that old, familiar grin. Half crazy, half sad. Over the years Deeks thought he’d lost the crazy part of his own version, then he remembered Max Gentry and knew he was lying to himself. He’d only pushed the crazy deep down.
“But just wait ‘till Friday,” he said, finishing their own little catch phrase. How they’d explained their lives to kids from better places without exposing any of the hurt.
“Yeah. Just wait.” Ray let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “Tell me what I gotta do.”
“Just get Max into the inner circle. Not the small fry around the edges or jokers like Hitchens or Franco. Make an introduction. I’ll get clear of you after that, and make sure you’re covered when we take them down.” Deeks looked his old friend in the eyes. “I gotta be straight with you, Ray. There’s Feds starting to get interested in this case, too. You know what they’d call you? Collateral damage. This way I can keep you safe.”
“Just an intro? That’s all?”
“Maybe some information now and then once it’s done. Something that’ll let me keep you on the books and paying you. Not even your deals. Say you pick up some gossip about the Southland Kings, you can toss it my way and it goes to your good.”
Ray smiled. “Can’t say I’d mind putting some hurt on the Kings.”
“Yeah, I know.” Deeks looked around, letting his shoulders slip back into Max Gentry mode.
“I know how it works, Marty. And I know you’re doing me a hell of a favor. We’ll get through it.”
“Yeah.” Catching movement in the corner of his eye, Deeks changed the tone of his voice. “You know I don’t like guys sneaking up on me, Jake. What the hell do you want?”
The bartender’s voice shook like an aspen in an earthquake. “Nothin… Max. Just wanted to see if you two were thirsty.”
“Bring my friend a beer. Make mine scotch. And don’t try to sneak up on me again, Jake.”
“Man… they aren’t kidding about Max Gentry. That is one scary dude.”
“It’s an act.” Deeks smiled, a thin thing that didn’t touch his eyes.
“Whatever you say, Max. Whatever you say.”
. . .
Bates looked up from the report. “So you managed to turn Martindale?”
“Yeah. Turns out he likes fresh air more than he does being loyal to his clients.” Deeks gave one of his easy grins, but kept any expression out of his eyes. You always had to be careful with Bates…
“You think he’ll give you an introduction?”
“I do. I told him we’d be sure to pick him up before any major bust so he’s got plausible deniability. A guy like that could be useful for years on the street.”
“You don’t have to sell me, Deeks. And I think I can sell the brass.” He gave the report one last glance. “And you say he recognized your cover?”
“Yep. Seems old Max is getting a bit of a reputation.”
Bates nodded. “I think the real question is can you run your old friend as an informant?”
Deeks paused, then let Bates see something in his eyes. “Yeah, I do. I owe him, Bates. Ray’s not a bad guy. A small timer who’s in over his head, maybe, but he’s no Carlos or some big international arms dealer. He’s a guy working in a back room in Encino.”
“Oh, he’s a bit more than that. Don’t let him fool you, Deeks. You play it your way, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on it. Slip up and I’ll send someone else in to run him. Clear?”
“Loud and clear, boss.”
Back in the hall, Deeks let out a long sigh and closed his eyes. Ray…what the hell did you get yourself into? And what did I just get you into? It sucks, but it’s the only way I know to keep you from going down. I just wish it didn’t make me feel so damned dirty. Then he shook his head and opened his eyes. There wasn’t much time and he had work to do.
By RobbieC – Guest Contributor