Warren Murphy: Syndication Rites

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CEMENT SHOES.COM Eager investors are buying up shares of an intrepid new company, which is cornering the market in international trade, financing and entertainment. Or to be specific: drugs, loan sharking and prostitution. The reinvented Mafia has incorporated, offering stock options, a Web Site and online trading. The future is here, and Remo hates it.  Mafia scum have burned down his house, Chiun isn't speaking to him and nobody is answering his ad for an assassin's apprentice.  As an ambitious Don keeps one eye on the Dow, the suffering Dr. Harold Smith lovingly fingers his cyanide pill while the retiring U.S. President, in a departing "salute," puts CURE in the hangman's noose.

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Destroyer 122: Syndication Rites

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

Drugs were Cal Dreeder's stock-in-trade. He had realized this sad truth in an alcohol-inspired epiphany just a few short days before his untimely death. That cold winter night the last of his dreary life-he mentioned his revelation to Randy Smeed.

"Stock-in-trade means you deal it, Cal," Smeed explained to the older man. He tried to force a bored tone, but there was a tightness to his voice.

The two men were crammed along with twelve others in the back of a windowless van. They jounced uncomfortably on their hard seats as the nondescript vehicle turned off the New Jersey turnpike. The road soon became rough.

"It's what you do business with," Cal said knowingly. "I looked it up. And without drugs, we're out of business." He sounded almost disappointed.

"We'd find something else to do," Randy insisted dryly.

"You, maybe. Not me. I've been in this business nearly thirty years. It'd be hard for me to find something else. At my age, it's hard to change."

"You're old enough. Why don't you put in for a desk job?"

Cal laughed. "That'd be even harder. No, my only hope is that the drugs hold out until I retire." A few hard faces glanced his way.

"Joking," Cal said, raising his hands defensively. "Jeez, you guys've gotta learn to lighten up."

One of the young men held Cal's gaze for a long time. He was still scowling when he finally turned away.

Cal shook his head. So serious.

The young men in the truck all wore matching windbreakers. The letters DEA were printed in block letters across the back. Cal wore one, as well.

He'd worn some form of official ID for most of his life. From his stint in the Navy, he'd gone straight to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Most of the men who surrounded him now were still watching Saturday-morning cartoons when Cal was going on his first hippie drug raids.

Thirty years of undercover, crappy pay and putting his life on the line on an almost daily basis. And the drug problem had only gotten worse.

These days, people would drink a gallon of cough syrup if they thought they could get a buzz off it. Cal had heard of kids sealing their nostrils shut while sniffing glue, housewives who had been hospitalized after guzzling rubbing alcohol and one case where a teenager had died after sucking on the nozzle of a can of spray paint.

Society was crumbling. Cal Dreeder was charged with the impossible job of holding it together. As a result, Cal had been depressed for more years than he cared to remember.

The young punks around him didn't get his bitter joke. It had been a stupid thought. Drugs weren't going anywhere. Not as long as there were people willing to pump the junk into their veins and snort it up their noses. Not as long as there were creeps eager to push it in schoolyards and playgrounds. And especially not as long as it was profitable for the bigwig scum-suckers abroad and at home who supplied it.

No, Cal Dreeder's job was secure. And on this mid-January night on a back road in Jersey, the cold stink of the factories in the distant frozen swamps curling on winter's wind into the van's fetid air, the thought that he would never be out of work filled Cal with an infinite sadness.

They drove for another half hour.

The road became almost impassable. The men who were sitting were practically thrown from their seats. Those standing banged their heads on the steel roof more than once.

"They could've picked a better location," one of the young men complained.

"Better for who?" another grunted.

Eventually, the van slowed to a stop. What little conversation that had been going on within the confines of the truck died along with the engine.

Guns were pulled out of holsters. Safeties were thumbed off. The men formed a silent sweating row as the side door of the van rolled open.


The voice of the DEA field agent in charge was a soft growl. The men dutifully piled from the van. Cal felt a small knot deep in the pit of his stomach when he saw the dull amber squares through the naked trees. The light shone through the windows, casting weird shadows around the nearby frozen woods.

On the surveillance photographs he'd seen, the building looked as if it had been an airport hangar at one time. If so, there was no sign of the airstrip it had served. It might have been used by a crop duster during some bygone age in the Garden State. Now, it was just another rotting hovel commandeered by society's dregs.

The rusting tin building had the benefit both of being in the middle of nowhere while remaining convenient to Jersey City, Newark and New York. The drugs that had found their way to America would be shipped from here.

At least that was the drug merchants' plan. But they were about to find out that the DEA had learned of their warehouse.

Cal gently fingered the trigger of his Colt as he fell in with the other, much younger agents.

The kids were nervous. Although he'd never admit it, Cal was, as well. He didn't feel the same depth of shivering apprehension as the rest, but it was there. His was the anxiousness of experience.

The men began to break away, circling through the woods in the prearranged deployment pattern. Cal pulled in a few deep, steadying breaths before pushing away from the side of the van. He hadn't taken a single step before a firm hand pressed against his shoulder.

It was his superior. He was younger than Cal by a good twenty-five years. His expression was grave. "Cal, you and Smeed are backup," Agent Wilkes said.

Cal Dreeder was stunned. "Excuse me?"

"Stay here," Wilkes insisted. The words came out in an angry hiss. His breath on this cold night was white.

Cal wanted to press the issue but knew he couldn't. The field agent in charge turned away, marching purposefully after his group of silent commandos.

There was no reason to ask why he was being left behind. He already knew the answer. He was old. Harry Wilkes had made it clear time and time again that this was a young man's game. He didn't want to entrust a rickety old fossil like Dreeder with his life.

Cal glanced at Randy Smeed. In the pale light cast from the drug warehouse windows, Cal saw an expression of anger mixed with confusion on the much younger man's face.

Smeed was his partner. Because of Cal, he was losing out, too.

This wasn't the first time Cal's age had been an issue. The doubts had been expressed for the past few years. Never like this, however. This was maddening, humiliating. Under the circumstances, even inappropriate.

Maybe the higher-ups were right. Maybe it was finally time for him to pack it in.

Right now, there was still work to be done. Cal holstered his gun.

"Inside," he ordered in a growling whisper.

Cal preceded his partner into the rear of the van. Two more men still sat in the back. They didn't even look up from their monitoring equipment as the pair of discarded agents climbed into the van's interior.

The other two men each wore a slender radio headset. They were monitoring the DEA agents who were even now making their way to the old tin hangar.

Cal slipped on a headset, as well.

All he heard at first was heavy breathing. The agents were maintaining silence as they approached the building.

"How many are in there?" Cal whispered.

A bowl-like unit that resembled a small satellite dish was secured to the roof of the van. Aimed at the hangar, it was used to amplify sound.

"Two," one of the men said, sounding annoyed that the question was even asked. He didn't look at Cal.

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