Where the Drinks Are Cold
Notes: The boat Sonny owns is a Hylas 44.
Setting: This story takes place in 1994, that is four years after the end of the series.
Summary:It's been four years since Rico left Miami and last saw Sonny. He's gone back to the NYPD and is working with a new partner when his boss sends them to track down a missing NYPD detective, who headed south for unknown reasons. Their search leads them to old friends in Miami, and ultimately from the Keys, where Rico finally has a chance to meet Sonny again, to the Bahamas, where especially Sonny and Rico's skills in working undercover are required.
"Open up! NYPD!"
Rico pounded his fist against the door. No one answered.
"Come on, Alvarez!" Simon called.
Rico waved him back, lifted his foot and, with a strong kick, broke the door open. With their guns drawn, they searched the small apartment.
"Clear!" Simon called from the bedroom.
"Clear!" Rico affirmed for the living room.
He moved on into the kitchen and stopped.
"Aw, man! Got something!" He shouted to Simon.
Philip Alvarez was tied to a kitchen chair, his head hanging down limply onto his chest. He was covered with bruises as if he had been beaten and the back of his head showed the exit wound of a bullet.
"Why does everyone we get to wind up dead?" Simon demanded angrily.
"What are you asking me for?" Rico returned calmly.
"I'm taking you off the case."
"What?" Simon demanded, completely taken by surprise. "Why?"
"It has nothing to do with your work," Lieutenant Morgan emphasized. "I simply need you more on something else."
"You know Detective Tom Barnes of the VICE department?"
Rico shrugged. "A bit. We pass each other in the office."
"He took a couple weeks of vacation and hasn't come back. He hasn't shown up, we can't contact him, and he hasn't been in his apartment. From what we've been able to piece together, he flew to Miami and then rented a car to drive to the Florida Keys to follow the main suspect of his case. With no backup and no jurisdiction. Tubbs here knows the area and he's worked VICE before; besides, I'm sure he can empathize with Barnes." He visibly held back any other comments on Tubbs' experience. "I want you down there."
Rico only nodded. "What's the case and what's Barnes' connection?"
Morgan threw a thick file onto the table. "That's all we have."
"Wow," Simon exclaimed, eyes wide. Rico agreed and opened it to read.
"Just wait until you get to the end of it. Then you'll realize that 99% of this is circumstantial. Slippery as a fish, that bastard! Looks likes Barnes lost his patience. What exactly it was that triggered him, I have no idea. But before something happens, we want to send someone down there and you're it."
"So what am I doing while Rico has fun with some beach girls?"
"You're going, too, of course. Make sure Rico doesn't fly off the handle." Giving them both warning looks, he said, "You do this by the book, you hear me?"
"Sure," Rico replied. It didn't look like Morgan was reassured. Or that he gave a damn.
Rico carefully took the photograph from the wall. It showed him and Sonny on the boat, back in the early days, when Zito was still alive. They both looked carefree, caught by the snapshot as they were laughing; Trudy had probably taken it. Sonny was sitting in a fold-up chair with a beer dangling from his fingers and his head was turned upwards and back to where Rico was standing behind him, close enough to touch his back. Rico was smiling.
For a moment, Rico considered taking it with him. He had already packed a bag; their plane was leaving in two hours. He could take the photograph. He didn't.
They were flying to Miami and would then rent a car to drive south just like Barnes. The case was a complex one. Lance Cloud was their suspect, the head of a drug trafficking ring reaching from Florida all the way to New York City. But as the Lieutenant had said, all of the evidence was circumstantial. Tom Barnes had been on the case for five years; Rico knew how frustrating that could be. Still, five years alone was in his opinion not quite enough to make a man risk his career. Barnes' actions reeked of personal revenge. He of all people should know that smell.
At the airport, Simon was late. He arrived about five minutes before boarding, stumbling over apologies. His wife Maria had made him late with her unending questions of "Do you have…?" and "Have you packed…?" Rico knew Maria well enough to know it was true. She was prone to worrying and she was always stressed.
Simon Caine was nine years younger than Rico, and Rico felt each of those years. Simon could be hot-headed, and that said something because in Miami one would have said that Rico was the more impulsive one. But he and Sonny had balanced each other out; if one lost his cool, the other maintained a clear head. With Simon, it was not quite like that. While Sonny and Rico had generally become pissed about the same things, Simon could fume about stuff Rico wasn't even touched by. While Rico was still alone and lonelier than he'd ever been in Miami, Simon had been married for eight years now. They had married young and Simon couldn't imagine life without his Maria. They were trying to have their first baby, too. Leaving New York was probably not Simon's most favorite option.
"What's the file say?" Simon asked once they were seated on the plane and about to take off.
"Lance Cloud, 47 years old, born in New Jersey. Suspected of controlling the majority of New York's drug dealing activity, trafficking, and because it goes so well with his job, he also has a hand in arms smuggling, prostitution and a couple of murders for a change."
"Prime VICE material. Should get your blood pumping right up," Simon remarked.
Rico smirked. "Sure sounds like it. But surveillance hasn't got the PD anywhere, and we don't have anything else either. They suspect that he's not working on his own but rather for someone."
"But no evidence."
The other man nodded. "No evidence worth taking to court. What I still don't see is Cloud's connection to Barnes. Clearly we're missing something."
Simon shrugged. "He's been on the case for a while now."
"True, but still…" He shook his head. "Not enough reason for something this drastic. There has to be something else. Something we don't know."
"Well," Simon leant back into his seat. "Hopefully we'll find out soon."
Four years was a long time. Rico had taken the flight from New York City to Miami several times but he hadn't thought he'd take it again any time soon. He could have, of course. He could have visited Trudy, Gina and Castillo at least. But being in Miami without Sonny was like limping around with one leg. You could do it, but it wasn't comfortable. When they had said their goodbyes, Sonny had said that he'd go south. And Rico didn't expect him to have gone back on that plan. Too much had happened in Miami to keep his partner there. They had kept in touch for a while. Sonny would call every now and then or send a postcard. But after a couple of years, that had died down and today, Rico didn't know where Sonny was.
By the time they touched down in Miami, Rico and Simon had a plan. The best way to find Barnes was to find Cloud. And while the Keys were definitely not Miami, Rico was sure that either his own or Lieutenant Castillo's contacts could reach that far.
Unfortunately, Ricardo Cooper's contacts had practically expired and resurrecting an undercover identity was never the best idea so he and Simon went to Castillo first. The OCB was still in the same building as last time and Rico even recognized the guard: Steven O'Connor.
"Rico? Ricardo Tubbs?" O'Connor jumped out of his seat.
Rico laughed. "Yeah, man, it's really me."
"I don't believe it." They shook hands warmly. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm on business. NYPD."
O'Conner whistled through his teeth. "Wow, didn't think you'd go back to law enforcement."
"Yeah, me neither."
For a long time, Rico had thought he couldn't go back. That he'd be blacklisted in the whole country, or that the Feds on Baker's side would pay him a visit. For months after leaving Miami he had been looking over his shoulder and at the very least he had expected his pay-check not to arrive. Perhaps Castillo's contacts had saved him, perhaps it was something else.
"I'm here to see Lt. Castillo," Rico explained.
O'Connor smiled. "Sure. He's still in the same office as last time."
Simon followed Rico, taking in his surroundings but not commenting on it yet. He'd be all the more vocal later. They pushed through the double doors into the bullpen. Rico's eyes immediately went to what had once been Sonny's desk. Of course it wasn't his anymore. A Hispanic-looking man in his thirties was sitting there instead, fiddling with a pencil as he spoke to someone on the phone.
"Rico!" An overjoyed voice made him turn his head to the rest of the room. Gina, smiling widely, rushed to him and threw her arms around him.
He laughed. "Hey, Gina. So good to see you!"
It really was. He breathed in the sweet smell of her perfume and gave her a good squeeze. When they pulled apart, he realized that she hadn't changed much. Perhaps the lines on her face were deeper, but if they were, her make-up concealed it well.
"Ricardo Tubbs! Welcome back to Miami!"
Trudy. She looked better than Rico remembered. He gave her a hug as well. Her hair was noticeably shorter than it used to be. And when he took a closer look, he saw a ring on her finger that he didn't recognize.
"You're engaged?" He asked.
She smiled widely in confirmation. That accounted for the content air he had noticed.
"The wedding is in four months. We were just about to send invitations. You're invited, too, of course."
"That's great! What's his name?"
"Jeremy Deeks. And don't you dare do a background check on him! He's a good man."
"And I've already done it," Gina mock-whispered to him.
He grinned. "Good to hear." He settled onto the edge of an unoccupied desk.
Only now did he take the time to have another look around the bullpen. It was busy, nearly overwhelmingly so and Rico was reminded of the first time he had entered the OCB. Simon shifted behind him, his patience clearly at an end.
"You going to introduce me to the ladies?" He asked.
The other man complied. "Simon, these are Gina Calabrese and Trudy Joplin. Gina, Trudy, this is my partner, Simon Caine."
Everyone exchanged a 'Nice to meet you' and a handshake. In the meantime, some of the other workers at the OCB who had known Rico came over to say hello. When everyone was done, Rico glanced towards the Lieutenant's office. Castillo was standing in front of the window to the bullpen, his hands hidden in the pockets of his pants and watching them through the blinds. He looked unchanged.
"Come on, Simon, time to say hello to my former boss," he said and got off the desk.
Up close, Rico did notice some changes: Castillo's hair was beginning to turn silver at his temples, but it would probably garner him even more female attention instead of less. He was smiling in his typically reserved manner, but definitely happy to see Rico.
"Welcome home, Tubbs," he said as they shook hands.
A bittersweet pang hit Rico. It was true, in a way; Miami had been his home for a long time and while he had resisted the temptation of visiting – what would be the point? Nothing was anymore the way it had been – he had missed the South, even the heat he had complained about on many occasions.
"Thank you, it's good to be back." He repeated the introductions to Simon.
Castillo gave Simon a close once-over which, as Rico could see, made his new partner slightly uncomfortable. It reminded him of all the other times he had seen people cave in front of the Lieutenant.
"I assume this is not only a courtesy visit," Castillo remarked as he went back to his clean-licked desk.
Rico shook his head. "Unfortunately not. We're tracking a detective from New York by the name of Tom Barnes."
Castillo raised an eyebrow at him.
"I know, I know, sounds just like my story, doesn't it?" Rico leant against the wall as he had done so often during briefings in Castillo's office. "But I'm not so sure. We don't know yet what happened, all we know is that apparently our NYPD detective Barnes has a bone to pick with a Lance Cloud. And we, that is the NYPD, suspect that Cloud is somewhere on the Keys."
The Lieutenant's expression remained still.
"Do you have anything on Cloud? Usually his business is up in New York, but who knows…"
"I'll look into it. How much time do you have here in Miami?"
"Not much, really. I wanted to check in here, see whether anyone knew anything. I thought I'd check Izzy next; perhaps try some other contacts…"
"That's not a good idea," Castillo disagreed. "Izzy still keeps his ear to the ground, but don't try the contacts you had as Cooper. It's too dangerous. I'll have something for you tonight. Why don't we all meet for dinner and I'll let you know."
Rico was surprised; dinners with the boss had been rare even when he was still part of the team, but then again, this was a special occasion. He accepted the page of a notebook Castillo gave him, the name and address of a restaurant scribbled on it. It sounded Asian, which was fine with him. He trusted the Lieutenant to have good taste in Asian food.
"Let Trudy and Gina know," the older man instructed.
Rico nodded. "Will do." At the door, he turned back:
"What about Switek? Is he still around?"
The question had been on his mind ever since he had seen Switek's desk, now occupied by a female detective, his name plate nowhere to be seen.
"He transferred to the unit at MIA."
"The airport? Well, that's different."
Castillo didn't comment.
"These people drive worse than in New York," Simon cried out angrily when another driver cut him off.
"Should have let me drive," Rico replied with a smirk. He didn't see what the problem was. He hadn't felt this relaxed in a long time.
"Right. Now I know why you drive like a maniac. Because you learned how to do it in a city full of maniacs!" When his partner didn't add anything else, he continued, "So, that was your team back there?"
"Not all of them," Rico said, feeling nostalgic. "Sonny wasn't there. Zito was killed a few years back, his partner, Switek, transferred, as you heard. That back there was far from the full team. It was very different when I came down here."
"You know, you used to talk about Sonny all the time. What happened that made you quit?"
"We both quit. We didn't like the way it was going. We were being used by the feds and we wouldn't stand for it. Sonny was burned out. It wasn't a decision we thought about a lot. But as much as it hurt, it was the right one."
"So where's your old partner now?"
"No idea. Last I heard from him was when he sent me a postcard from the Keys. He wrote that he was moving on. I haven't heard from him since."
"The Keys, eh? Perhaps we'll see him then. The Keys aren't that large."
Rico shot him an amused look. Simon had never left the north-east of the States, so even if the Keys really weren't that large, Simon wasn't the right person to ask.
The story Simon got was the short version. The longer version was that when Sonny had called during the first six months or so, he'd sounded only slightly less weary than he had been by the end of their careers as Miami VICE detectives. At times, they'd talked for an hour at least, while at others, there hadn't been much time for more than five minutes. Three months after arriving back in New York City, Rico had returned to the NYPD, this time to the homicide division. He hadn't wanted to return to Armed Robbery, where he had worked before going to Miami, or step into his brother's footsteps and work VICE. It had been different in Miami: the Miami VICE division had been his. But in New York, he would always associate it with his brother Rafael.
So, three months after leaving Miami, Rico had been back in business with the police. And Sonny had still been looking for a place to rest. He hadn't taken the Testarossa. He may have called it "his stolen car", but in fact, Sonny didn't steal things for himself. Unlike what almost everyone expected on meeting him, he did things, as he had said when they'd first met, "by the book". Rico didn't even know what car Sonny had driven down to the Keys. But once there, one of the last things he had heard from his partner was that he was planning to buy a boat. A St. Vitus Dance II. He had promised to tell him his new address, once he had one. He'd received another couple of postcards since then, but no address. And the postcards had been from the Keys, the Bahamas and even Cuba.
He had worried of course. Wondered whether Sonny was okay. Why he didn't call. But his own life in New York had continued. They had murders to solve, killers to catch. Women to woo. And he thought that Sonny would laugh at him if he showed up unannounced because he'd been worried. So he hadn't done anything.
But now he could use the opportunity which presented itself so readily. He wouldn't leave the Keys if Sonny was on them before seeing his former partner. And he knew just the place to start.
Once they were back at the hotel, Rico picked up the phone and dialed the directory assistance. He asked for a Caroline Ballard living in Atlanta.
Rico had met Caroline only a handful of times, her and Sonny's relationship having been bad even before Rico had come to Miami. But she sounded just like he remembered her, soft, almost hesitant.
"Caroline? This is Ricardo Tubbs."
He could hear her catching her breath. "Rico? Is- is everything okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, everything's okay, don't worry. I was calling because I wondered whether you knew where Sonny is these days? Has he called you or contacted you in any way?"
"He calls Billy regularly, or sends postcards."
He chuckled. It seemed that he was getting the same treatment as his partner's son.
"We don't speak often, usually I'm not home when he calls. But wait, let me get Billy, he might know."
"Okay, that's great. Thanks!"
He could hear her shouting Billy's name in the background. A short while later, a young male voice said:
For a moment, Rico was taken aback. He only remembered Billy as a boy, reaching perhaps as far as his waist. But he abruptly remembered that Billy wasn't a child anymore but a teenager – sixteen years old.
"Hey Billy. How are you doing?"
Tubbs smiled a bit. A typical teenager's answer – short and unenthusiastic.
"Listen, your mum told me that Sonny calls you every once in a while. Do you know where he is these days?"
"He sails mostly," Billy said, slightly more informative now.
"So he bought a new boat?"
"Yeah, long time ago now. He sails her all over, mostly around the Keys."
"Perfect! Do you know which island of the Keys?"
"Key West. At least that's where his postcards usually come from. And he definitely mentioned it, too."
"Do you know what he called his boat?"
"Same as before: St. Vitus Dance."
"Thanks, Billy. That was a great help!"
"Are you going to visit him?"
"Definitely, as soon as I can swing by."
"Are you on a case?" He sounded eager, as if hungry for gory details. Rico, of course, wasn't going to give them to the kid.
"Yeah, and that's all I'm saying. Thanks again for your help!"
Switek joined them for dinner and he looked relaxed. Tubbs was glad because he'd known about Stan's gambling problem but hadn't said anything. Crockett had known, too, and Rico had trusted his partner to help Stan better than he; it hadn't worked out the way they'd hoped. He had wondered for a long time how he could have avoided Switek turning to gambling and betting. In some ways, he understood it: Zito's death had been Stan's trigger. Rico didn't want to know what would have happened had Sonny died instead of Zito. The explosion that had turned Crockett into Burnett, and left Rico and the others believing Sonny dead, had been bad enough.
"So, are you married, too, or are you still playing the old bachelor?"
Switek laughed. "Not quite the old Stan, ditched a few bad habits. I haven't married, no, but I'm going steady. You?"
Rico shrugged. "Same old, same old. No wife, but a new partner."
"I hope Sonny got a good settlement from you." He grinned.
Tubbs only rolled his eyes and turned to the Lieutenant. "What's good to eat here?"
"I've already ordered for us," Castillo replied.
Rico could see that Simon was surprised. So was he, but probably for a different reason: not because of the fact that the Lieutenant hadn't asked them beforehand, but that he hadn't seen or heard Castillo actually interact with the staff.
"Have you found anything on Lance Cloud?" Simon asked eagerly.
"Oh no!" Gina interrupted. "No business during dinner! Talk it out afterwards, boys!"
Simon ducked his head. "Sorry, ladies."
The evening was nice. Rico had missed his friends in Miami, but he simply wasn't the type to fly down and visit. Moreover, he missed his partner. Simon was a good guy, no doubt about it, but he missed Sonny's southern drawl, his keen mind, the times they'd drunk beer until deep in the night. In a way, Sonny had been his best friend and brother all rolled in one. And he was missing at this table, just like Zito was in a much more permanent way. Still, everyone had a good time and while Simon would probably never understand what they had gone through together, he did seem to like everyone, each in their own way.
They finished dinner with a few drinks on stuffed stomachs. Finally, Castillo pushed a file across the table.
"Lance Cloud," he said. "I assume you know the basics so I focused on his activities in Florida. He made his first major appearance in New York when he was 32 years old; two years later he moved to Orlando for a couple of months before going back north," Castillo continued. "Apparently, he was sent down here by someone. The Orlando PD suspected Cloud of working for David Hill. Today, Hill usually spends his days on the Bahamas, but he's still very much in business."
That wasn't much more than they already knew from the NYPD.
"Was there any mention of the Keys?"
Castillo shook his head. "Not explicitly. Likely his trade route."
"Sounds like all we've got are a couple of names," Rico mused.
"We still have to check out the Keys first. If we can't find anything there, the Bahamas may be worth a closer look," Simon suggested. "And we still don't know what made Barnes up and leave."
"Are you certain Barnes is after that Cloud?" Gina threw in. "I mean, what if your detective is actually looking for Hill and thinks that Cloud might lead him there?"
"Good point." Rico gave her a nod. "We'll need everything we can get on Hill then."
Without comment, Castillo laid down another file onto the table. Rico grinned. How he had missed Castillo's insight in the cases his teams were working on. He hadn't met any other supervisor quite like him who knew each case of his subordinates as if they were his own. Almost certainly something Castillo had learned during his time with the DEA.
Simon had already pulled the file to himself and opened it. Copies of surveillance photos lay on top, showing a man who, according to the file, was fifty years old. His short hair had already turned completely gray and a beard covered his chin. In the pictures he always wore dark, pinstriped suits and orange-tinted sunglasses; one photo showed him smoking a cigar. The most recent pictures were five years old.
"Is there nothing more recent?" Simon asked.
"No," the Lieutenant replied. "He supplies the entire US east coast and parts of Canada with drugs from South America, splitting off some to sell for transport to Europe. He's also involved in trafficking arms and people, again mainly to the US. Currently he keeps a residence on Andros." After a pause, added: "This is all I can give you for now. If you need anything else later, give me a call."
"Yeah!" Trudy agreed. "Don't forget that while we're not exactly next door, we're a whole lot closer than the NYPD."
Tubbs gave them a grateful look. Knowing he had friends helping him if he needed them made him feel much more at ease. It wasn't that he didn't have friends at the NYPD; he even had some friends left from the beginning of his career in New York. But this team in Miami would always be special for him.
Their dinner party broke up a couple of hours later when all other diners were already gone. Outside, Gina pulled Rico aside.
"If you see Sonny, would you tell him to give us a call up here?" She asked. "Or send a postcard? We're worried."
"Billy said he was somewhere on Key West. I'll try and find him but I can't promise you."
She smiled sadly. "Come on, Rico. Simon is nice and all, but he's not Sonny."
"He's my partner."
Gina sighed. "Just… if you do see him, give him that message, okay?"
"Sure, Gina. If I see him, I'll tell him to give you a call."
"Thanks! That's all I'm asking."
That night, Rico didn't sleep well. The food – as good as it had been – was heavy in his stomach and he was tossing and turning. When he finally did fall asleep, he dreamt of explosions, fast car rides and shootouts with Uzis. At the end, Lou Rodriguez shook Castillo's hand for a job well done; then, Sonny Burnett, Sonny Crockett, Ricardo Cooper and Rico Tubbs got on a plane together to Laos, from where they'd be taking the St. Vitus back to Florida. It made absolutely no sense.