Chapter 1: Pa Dugan
The tall man stood huddled over a flickering garbage can fire. He rubbed his hands and then wormed his way across the dank alley. The sun had just set behind the skyscrapers and the cold wind picked up dramatically, whirling papers and debris around his feet. He needed to see Pa, father figure to all the street urchins, junkies, and any other lost souls that needed a box to sleep in or a smoke to keep warm. Pa, an elderly and reformed drug dealer, was packing up after a day of selling measly toys, baubles, and pungent body oils on one of his busy street corners in the heart of Chinatown. The brisk January weather was bad for business, so he decided to turn in early. Pa turned around frightened when he felt a rough tap on his shoulder. He grabbed his metal cane and poised to strike.
The man tossed his hands up and gripped it tight. "Woah, Pa, easy there! I just need some info. I hear there's a new gang in town moving in on the trade. I want in. Whaddya got for me?"
Pa stepped closer under the street lamp and the man released his cane. He'd seen this one around asking questions before. He tried to be unassuming in his worn denims, plaids and hoodies, hiding his handsome baby blues behind horn-rimmed black glasses and his chiseled, perfect jaw under a gnarled, dirty-blonde beard. Pa couldn't quite make him. He smelled of undercover cops for miles, but this one was far different, more sophisticated–possibly a Fed.
"I don't do the trade no more, find yourself another rat."
"Come on Pa! I know you still keep all the tabs. Ya can't help yourself. I've seen them coming to ya as far as Jersey. They don't call you Saint for nuthin'." The man struck a match on his boot and lit up a cigarette. The slight cough as he inhaled told Pa he was just a casual smoker, mostly for show. These days in the eighties you couldn't escape the barrage of cigarette ads–Virginia Slims, Marlboro man, Newport–they all wanted to take your life slowly but surely, just as they took his wife's with lung cancer ten years earlier. Pa waved his hand as the smoke drifted in his face.
"Do you mind? That crap will kill you! Ask my wife. Oh wait, you can't, because those dirty little sticks murdered her!"
"Sorry, here, here…it's gone, man, gone." The man tilted his head jittery and shuffled his feet. Pa looked on smugly thinking that he surely knew all the moves of a junkie, even the desperate tone of voice.
"I just…just…needed a buzz of something." He stomped on the cigarette and pulled a crumpled paper with shaking hands from his pocket. "Alright, look, I hear they got a shipment at an old warehouse at Chelsea."
"They ain't got a shipment there anymore! It's been…" Pa slapped his forehead when the man smiled.
"So you do know! C'mon! I promise, I didn't hear it from you." The man pressed.
"Ya tricked me, you punk. I don't like being a dope."
"You're no dope, if you were, we wouldn't be talking. And you fell right into that one. Spill, Pa, I wanna get home to my woman."
"Then get outta here, go feed your hormones, it's a cold night."
The man grew impatient, but held his ground. "I wanna feed on more than that, where are they?"
Pa resigned himself. The man had to be in some kind of law enforcement. If this foolish guy got killed snooping around, that wasn't his business. He just passed along information to clean up the streets, but this time, even he was still in the dark.
"Nobody knows where they keep the stuff, but this shipment takes the booby prize."
"You think its Mafia? Russian mob?"
"I don't know. I saw some black dudes, Spanish guys, the leader was white, maybe Italian, can't really tell in the dark. It's like top-secret junk, alotta men with sharp suits and all that. Scary looking bastards, I'll tell ya that, the type that will kill their own grandmothers without flinching. Whatever it is they're packing in, it isn't your run of the mill crick and crack. Them crates were huge!"
Huge crates. The man dealt with that before, and last time it was a supercomputer capable of controlling the world.
"What do you thinks in 'em? Stolen electronics? Antiques?" The man watched Pa carefully. He was his last hope for a word on the street, any word, after exhausting all his options and growing physically exhausted. He spent half the week disguising himself as characters found everywhere from homeless shelters to sleazy Time Square hothouses. He worked OTB's and bars–where he actually enjoyed playing bartender, serving up little more than rum and cokes and screwdrivers. A few of the latter disguises he kept secret, knowing how irate certain females in his circle would get.
The old man wiped his thick brows and fidgeted, he was scared, not of being turned in by him, but of something overt and sinister. That same presence that kept him from engaging in more than vague chatter.
"Listen, I don't wanna be spreading rumors, but I heard it was something like weapons!"
"You mean guns, ammo? That sorta thing?"
"No, I mean weapons–like U.S. military stuff. I would know, my brother died in 'nam, used to tell me all about that in his letters."
"Sorry to hear that, that's deep man. What would they be doin' bringing weapons to the big apple?"
"You got me! Maybe it's just a pit-stop or something."
"Any idea what kind of stuff?"
What am I, Superman? I can't see through crates!"
"Chill out, Pa, I'm just nosing. Anything else you can tell me about these guys?"
Pa scratched his head, revealing a white shock of hair under a navy skullcap. "Uh, like I said, sharp suits…oh! Accents! They had thick accents ya know. The blacks might have been African, the Spanish guys; there was French, maybe a Russian. Definitely a Russian. I lived in the New York melting pot all my life, you learn to recognize them."
The answer seemed to please the young man and Pa saw a glimmer in his bright eyes.
"Wow, a regular international crew, it must be something real special for them. That's too bad, I was hoping it was something useful." He lied.
Pa's face contorted angrily. "What? Like nose-candy? When are you guys gonna learn that drugs suck! Why do you wanna be a slave to some pill or powder? Scuffing up your body with track marks? It's crazy crap."
"Then why'd you push it all those years?"
"Because I made tons of dough, had a family to support, ya know? I was a dope then, I admit it."
"You never took the stuff?"
"Once or twice, but it got me sick to death. I stopped selling years ago when my son died in my arms."
The younger man felt a twinge of remorse for him. "I'm sorry, Pa, ya don't have to bring it up. I'm tryin' to break the habit, 'just say no' and all that stuff."
"Well try harder! Even under that beard I can tell you're still young yet. My son must have been your age when he OD'd, the crazy, stupid kid."
The conversation grew tense and Pa's eyes watered. The last thing the young man needed was a shabby, grief-stricken old man blubbering on him, not that he didn't want to be supportive; he just had vital work to do. He patted his shoulder reassuringly and grinned.
"Hey Pa, c'mon, give me a smile, I wanna see what you had for dinner last week."
Pa frowned and waved his hand at him. "That's no way to treat your elders."
"It is when they don't know what a tooth brush is!" The man quipped. "I'm just razzing ya, but you might catch more flies with honey, if ya know what I mean. Your breath is kickin' harder than Bruce Lee."
"Oh, you're really asking for it now, kid!" Pa warned. He grasped the handle of his cart. "I said all I'm gonna say, so scat!"
"Thanks for the help, even if it is worthless to me. Night, Pa…by the way, man, what's your real name?"
"Why, so you can write up your police report?"
"Hey, I'm no fuzz."
"Report me to the F.B.I?"
"A Fed? You gotta be kidding. Report you for what? Getting your goods off the back of a truck? You and every other vendor around here do the same! One of these days they'll pass a law, then I won't be harassed into buying over-priced wallets and watches I don't need." The man grumbled.
"Keep dreaming! Chinatown is knock-off central." Pa eyed him suspiciously, but then shrugged. His life was about over anyway, maybe when he kicked the bucket the kid would remember to put it on his tombstone. "My name is Patrick Dugan. Mind telling me yours?"
The man already started walking away, muttering about being late, and he turned to him.
"My name is Jack…Jack Carter."
"Sure, sure. Get home safely, Jack. It's rough out here at night."
"You too, Pa. I can handle it."
"I bet you can." Pa noted, seeing the man discreetly run his hand over his jacket pocket. A lesser streetwise person would never guess that this guy was packing with a handgun under the jacket and possibly a blade in his boots–which were definitely military issue. The man was experienced at this covert work, but he also looked worn-out, and probably didn't know which role he was playing right now.
"I said scram ya jarhead! There are plenty of other places to get your nasty drugs, but no one is getting them from me anymore."
The young man obeyed and finally exited the alley, heaving deep breaths of fresh air. He slumped against the brick wall and drank a long swig of cool water from his flask. He desperately wanted a shower before he had to jump into his dress suit for the next assignment.