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The Informant

The Informant

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The Informant

429 pages
6 hours
Jul 17, 2012


Facing a long jail sentence, a woman takes a dangerous job for the New York Police Department

Lydia Constanza is not cut out for prison. Since she came to the United States from Cuba, she’s twice been convicted as an accomplice to a violent crime, and done two short stints in jail. The second time, her nerves went, and she vowed never to return. Back on the outside and living in New York with a five-year-old daughter, Lydia and her boyfriend hold up a check-cashing place, tripping the silent alarm and landing, once again, in handcuffs. To stay near her child, this three-time loser offers up the only thing she has left: information.

Harlem has become a dangerous place to wear a badge. Two cops have just been killed at a traffic stop, and Walter F. X. Forster is not going to lose any more men. Informants like Lydia are the lieutenant’s last chance to stop the bleeding. It’s the bad guys’ turn to die—if his snitches stay alive long enough to tell the cops who to kill.

Jul 17, 2012

Despre autor

Marc Olden (1933–2003) was the author of forty mystery and suspense novels. Born in Baltimore, he began writing while working in New York as a Broadway publicist. His first book, Angela Davis (1973), was a nonfiction study of the controversial Black Panther. In 1973 he also published Narc, under the name Robert Hawke, beginning a hard-boiled nine-book series about a federal narcotics agent. A year later, Black Samurai introduced Robert Sand, a martial arts expert who becomes the first non-Japanese student of a samurai master. Based on Olden’s own interest in martial arts, which led him to the advanced ranks of karate and aikido, the novel spawned a successful eight-book series. Olden continued writing for the next three decades, often drawing on his fascination with Japanese culture and history. 

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The Informant - Marc Olden







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The Informant

Marc Olden

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Open Road Integrated Media




Part 1















Part 2


























"SUBJECT IS CUBAN, FEMALE, name Lydia Constanza, age twenty-eight, born Miami, Florida, United States citizen, unmarried with one child, daughter five. Father unknown to us. No record of marriage. Miss Constanza and daughter, currently residing here in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. No known source of income. With the large Cuban population in Washington Heights, it’s possible subject is correct about her narcotics connections.

"Her priors go back to age nineteen, when she and a boyfriend, one Hugo Gutierrez, then age twenty, used a straight razor on a Newark club owner, one Manny Boorstein, who they claimed owed them three days’ pay for a singing act the Cubans had at the time. Boorstein was carved pretty good, still carries the scars. Miss Constanza went down for that one. Did two years and her yellow sheet says it wasn’t her last time inside.

"At twenty-three, she took her second fall, her and a Cuban crazy named Francisco Barker, then aged thirty-two. Miss Constanza was hustling for a Murphy game Francisco was running here in Manhattan; she lured the johns to a quiet place, where Francisco took them off with a switchblade. One night, something goes wrong and a john fights back and Francisco slices him up and the john loses one eye, plus a lot of blood. Lydia does another deuce, this one upstate, and according to her sheet, she was hospitalized in there three times for emotional disorders. Seems she can’t take being in prison.

"Francisco Barker gets five to ten in Attica but he don’t ever come out. Gets himself stabbed to death in there over some homosexual argument about a pretty blond boy.

Rest of Lydia’s jacket says fifteen busts, no further convictions, but the bust which counts is the one last week, and with her record, this makes her a certain three-time loser, which ought to be worth a dime minimum for sure.

Walter F. X. Forster, a beefy police lieutenant with two and a half years until retirement, had been listening with his eyes closed as Fred Praether read from Lydia Constanza’s folder, but now he rubbed the heels of both hands deep in his tired bloodshot eyes and opened them wide as though he’d just sat down naked on broken glass.

Forster’s tired voice was barely a whisper. Steamroller flattens grass. That’s a sure thing. Nothing else is, not with the courts we got today, my friend. The record says she does a dime, ten years. I say don’t bet your pension on it. Okay, she’s got her tit caught in the wringer, she’s got to work it off. She’s talking big about who she knows, about what she can deliver. She wants to inform, which is the good news. The bad news is that the New York Police Department hasn’t got the men and money to work anybody in narcotics these days. So we can let her go down on this one, we can let her take the weight, or we do ourselves some good and pass her on.

At forty-six, Walter F. X. Forster’s hair was an all-white crew cut and his red face had lines so deep they appeared to have been put there with an ax. Eighteen years on the force had made him survival-conscious, particularly when it came to the dangers facing his career from within the department itself. That’s why he was interested in Lydia Constanza, a petty criminal arrested last week and now anxious to turn informant to keep herself out of jail.

Forster said, Let’s hear it again, about her sinful ways. Last week’s collar.

Detective Sergeant Fred Praether, thirty-five, a wide, muscular man of medium height and long jaw, cleared his throat and resumed clenching Lydia Constanza’s folder as though expecting it to be snatched from his grip any second. He read in the soft monotone used by people uncomfortable with long speeches.

"Shortly before noon last Wednesday, subject, along with Joe Caracas, a Cuban male, age twenty-six, attempted an armed robbery of a check-cashing establishment on Broadway and Sixty-fourth, unaware the place was wired for silent alarm. When the perpetrators emerged with almost three thousand dollars, they were met by two squad cars. I was in one of the cars. Caracas attempted to escape, firing at police officers, who returned his fire, wounding him three times. According to statements taken from employees and customers inside, Caracas, who happens to be an illegal alien, pistol-whipped the manager when he didn’t move fast enough. The manager, Ernest Goldfarb, required hospitalization.

Both perpetrators face armed-robbery charges, plus felonious-assault and weapons charges. Even though Miss Constanza didn’t fire at police officers, she was armed, and if the D.A. decides to hang attempted cop killing on Caracas, she’s got to take the weight on that one, too. No question we’ve got her wrapped tight.

Walter F. X. Forster rubbed his unshaven jaw with a thick hand that was knobby with broken knuckles and large, pale green veins. He’d gone twenty-one hours without sleep because two of his men had been killed by a Harlem drug dealer who had panicked when the cops stopped his car because of a broken taillight. According to informants, the dealer, who’d gotten away, had freaked out because he had two kilos of white heroin under the front seat, enough to get him life imprisonment if the dope was discovered in his possession. The dealer’s paranoia, typical in the dope world, had cost the lives of two cops belonging to Walter F. X. Forster. This was something Forster would not stand for.

Lydia Constanza had nothing to do with the cop killings, but she was part of Walter F. X. Forster’s plan to do something about the epidemic of dope now flooding New York City while helping himself at the same time. She was willing to roll over, to flip, to work, to inform, and to betray in order to stay out of jail and not be separated from her five-year-old daughter.

Forster lit his eighth cigarette of the morning. Okay, we’ve got her. Question is, what the hell do we really have? She says she knows people in dope and she’ll give ’em up, which we hear from everybody we pop. She also says she saw the big man right here in Fun City, the champion bail jumper himself, Mr. Kelly Lorenzo. Now, ask yourself: you’re Kelly Lorenzo, biggest dope dealer in Harlem, doing maybe one hundred million dollars in business a year and you’ve just jumped four hundred thousand dollars’ bail. So why hang around New York City, where every cop and fed is looking to look good by grabbing your black ass? Why?

Fred Praether said nothing; he wasn’t supposed to. Walter F. X. Forster was thinking out loud.

"You wouldn’t hang around New York, unless, unless you had a reason, a good reason. Miss Constanza claims to have seen this most-wanted fugitive in narcotics right here in our little town, and she’s either lying or she’s righteous. If she’s righteous, then we’ve got something, we have got ourselves a goodie. Now, for the bad news, which is that we ain’t got the money or the manpower to work her. The price of heroin in New York is as high as giraffe pussy, and business has never been better. Dealers are getting rich, junkies are getting well, and I lose two men."

Forster looked down at his desk, his bloodshot eyes not blinking, not moving. He wanted revenge, pure and simple. Justice belonged to a glorious-sounding, forgotten theory. Pale blue smoke floated gently from his cigarette past his red, lined face toward the peeling, cracked ceiling of his office.

I feel it, feel it. The governor yells, the mayor yells, the politicians, the public, they all yell, and by the time it comes down to me and you, the pressure’s hard enough to bust our skulls and send blood flowing out of our ears. Little more than two to go and I don’t want to go out with the ghosts of dead cops coming at me in the night, asking me why I didn’t give them the only justice they can understand, which is more blood. I don’t want to be a statistic in a cutback or layoff just because the mayor’s running for reelection two years ahead of time and he’s got to impress voters. The department ain’t got no narco no more. Men, money, it’s all long gone. Narcotics ain’t bleeding, it ain’t even hurting, it’s just lying cold with a tag around its toe. We got no money, no personnel, so narco’s dead. But we still got to produce, right?

Fred Praether nodded, wondering if a man wasn’t better off staying on the street and away from desk jobs, where you had to play politics to make your twenty. Forster looked older than water sitting there. He looked wrecked.

Praether, who talked and thought slowly, was still shrewd enough to understand that whatever Forster planned to do with Lydia Constanza had a lot to do with self-preservation. Anybody could get laid off these days. Too young, too old, or too in-between. It was crunch time in Fun City, and survival was on your mind every morning you opened your eyes. Forster was known in the department as one of the very best survivors around.

Forster said, Miss Constanza tells us she knows some Cuban and black dealers.

Praether nodded.

Forster said, According to her, they’re planning something real big together. First time they’ve ever teamed up on that large a scale, she says. Cubans and blacks together. Ain’t that something? As if we ain’t got enough to worry about.

Another nod from Praether.

Forster said, Miss Constanza claims to have seen Kelly Lorenzo in a Manhattan after-hours club we’re not even sure exists.


Forster said, "That all adds up to a lot, even if we heard it from ten people, let alone a lady with a yellow sheet as long as your arm. Thing is, right or wrong, we can’t do zilch with it. We’ve got the shorts in narco. Men, money, we got nada. Nothing. But it doesn’t seem right or even smart to ignore the lady, to pretend we heard nothing, does it? No, it don’t. Now, who do we know that’s got everything? The feds, that’s who. We are going to give Miss Constanza to our federal friends."

Forster smiled, a shark who had just outmaneuvered a few other creatures who were equally as dangerous.

Praether frowned, unable to think as fast as Forster but somehow certain that the department was giving away too much too soon if it gave up an informant with Lydia Constanza’s potential without even attempting to roll her over.

Forster spoke as though reading Praether’s mind. We tie a rope to her, and we just let the rope out, is all. The beefy, red-faced man with short white hair leaned forward, squinting with concentration, sure of himself now, because the gut feeling growing deep down inside told him that he was doing the right thing. For the department, for himself.

If the feds take her, they got to take one of our men.

Praether understood, and let a smile make its way across his wide mouth. I see, sir. That’s why you’ve got Sergeant Kates waiting outside.

Forster sipped cold coffee, nodding. That is exactly why. You helped make the collar, but Kates has the narcotics experience. He’s one of the few whites who knows anything about black traffickers. Fact is, he worked with the federal task force that busted Kelly Lorenzo. It’s gonna be Kates’s job to stay close to Lydia, and if she turns up anything, well, that’s how we’re gonna get ours. Kates. He’ll be reporting directly to me. I’ve gotten permission from upstairs, and the paperwork’s being processed right now. If it goes like I think it ought to go, Kates will be in the middle of everything. What the feds know, we’ll know. They make a case with Miss Constanza, we share the credit. If she ain’t righteous, if it’s all jive, then who’ll be wasting their time? Not us. Won’t be our time, our money, not even our manpower. We don’t get no black marks. But if she’s good, we do get to share in the gold star. You know and I know that if somebody don’t come up with some results when it comes to dope, heads are gonna be rollin’, which I don’t wanna even think about.

Praether closed Lydia Constanza’s folder. Jesus, he was glad he wasn’t Kates, glad he wasn’t Forster. And Lydia Constanza? Forget about her. She was in the middle, getting it from all sides. She was a hockey puck, getting batted from one end to the other, and if she got burned, tough. Nobody would cry about that, because she wasn’t worth crying over.

Lydia Constanza was a perpetrator, and that made her nothing as far as the department was concerned. The rule was: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. So Lydia had to pay, and if she got wasted, used, killed, whatever, it didn’t matter. She owed, and she had to pay. The only question was when and how.

Sir? began Praether in his soft monotone. The brass, do they really think this thing can work?

Forster blew smoke at the intercom on his messy desk. What do we have to lose?

Both men understood that all they had to lose was Lydia Constanza, and without saying so, both men knew that that was no loss at all. She owed, and she had to pay. If things went right, Forster would be that much more secure in his chair, that much closer to making his twenty without making waves. Praether didn’t object to it; that’s how the game was played, and when time came for him to play it, he’d do the same.

Forster dropped an unfinished cigarette into his cold coffee, listening to its brief, soft hiss. He wanted to sleep, to lie down for a long time and remember nothing, be bothered by nobody, but he also wanted to survive in the police department, so he forced himself to stay awake. There was always somebody waiting to take your place, but if you were awake, they couldn’t do it that easily.

Get Kates. You sit in on this. He might want to ask you questions about Constanza. Forster rubbed his burning, aching eyes with the fingers of his right hand. Sleep. Right now, he’d kill for it.

Praether nodded, stood up, and began his slow walk across the worn gray carpet. In front of him on the wall to his left was a cellophane-covered map of the five boroughs, the map dotted with green and red thumbtacks indicating some kind of official statistics; and in Praether’s slow mind, he saw Lydia Constanza, Kates and himself as just more thumbtacks being used to create a pattern that someone else wanted to see completed. But he didn’t think that way for very long, because he had never trained himself to, never allowed himself to.

He’d always done what the movers and shakers had wanted done, and today and tomorrow and the next day would be no exception. Today, people would die who had never died before, die in all sorts of ways, but Fred Praether wouldn’t be one of them, because he was a man who always did what he was told to do.

The way Detective Sergeant Edward Merle Kates would.

The way Lydia Constanza would. None of them—Lydia, Kates, Praether—had any choice, but Praether never thought about that, and if he had, he wouldn’t consider it such a bad thing at all.

He opened the door and let his thin mouth widen briefly, because that’s what he believed a smile was. Kates? Praether. Lieutenant will see you now.

Part One



Nothing in the world like it.

Neil Shire loved it.

Just an ounce of white, he thought. One ounce of white heroin. A piece. That’s all I want to score. But this sucker sitting across from me is jerking me around, upping the price from what we’d agreed on last night. Last night he wanted a thousand dollars. Tonight he wants fifteen hundred.

Can’t have that now, can we? No, we can’t.

Time to take care of business.

Neil Shire stood up slowly, stepping out of the booth, making sure he looked like a man with somewhere else to go.

The Cuban, whose smile contained all the gums he owned, stopped smiling.

Hey, brother, hey, where you going’?

Away from you, dude. You’re stroking me, and I don’t like it. Last night’s money ain’t good enough for you. So it looks like you and I won’t be doing a deal, looks like.

Hey, hey, take it easy. Fifteen is cool for what I got. Good powder. I guarantee you it’s nothin’ but good powder. You like it I can get you more.

You can get me nothing, friend. Neil looked down at the Cuban. Small dude pulling a small hustle. The Cuban was a tiny little man, thin, pale, a piece of chalk in a dark blue pea coat. And Neil Shire, who had money to spend, was a lot tougher.

Neil leaned over until he was almost nose-to-nose with the little Cuban.

Friend, I wish you well. Get rich, but get rich off somebody else. With me, a deal’s a deal, a price is a price. You told Lydia a thousand and that’s why I’m here. Now, if you can’t be righteous with me, that’s just fine. I’ll live. And you go connect with some other turkey. Me, I’m waiting for Lydia to come out of the john, then we quit this set.

Sure of himself, Neil turned his back on the tiny Cuban and took two steps toward the Mets-Pirates game on a color Zenith high in a corner behind the bar. No sound on the television. But a small radio on a shelf of liquor bottles crackled with a loud Spanish-language version of the ball game.

Rosario’s bar. Not much, and all Cuban, smelling of stale beer and cheap overcooked meat. Located in an all-Cuban neighborhood in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, and no place for an outsider to enter without first being asked. Rosario’s bar. Small, with an all-Spanish jukebox, a drinking bar parallel to six red leather booths, and in the back two small johns behind blue wooden doors. To the left of the johns, a bearded cook made a lot of noise in a tiny kitchen. Except for Neil Shire, a federal narcotics agent, everyone in the bar was Cuban.

Behind Neil, the tiny Cuban, who called himself Zarzuela, said, Hey, man, hey, come on, sit down.

Neil, an expert at going for anybody’s jugular, heard the whine in Zarzuela’s voice and knew he had the little pusher. Fish is chewing on the hook, now let’s reel him in and hang his miniature ass over the fireplace.

I’m sitting, said Neil.

Zarzuela said, I got to get by, you know? Got to make a living.

Neil, palms down on the black formica tabletop, looked at the backs of his hands and said nothing.

Zarzuela said, You known Lydia long?

I’m interested in dope, said Neil. I’m being watched, too. Covering your ass, aren’t you, Mr. Z.? Three men: a fat one in a pink shirt and gold cross, sitting at the bar digging wax out of his ears. And in the front booth, two more, one of them drooling over a hooker in a green jumpsuit and yellow platforms.

That’s how Cubans did dope. Always where they felt safe. Always, always in a bar or restaurant that was totally Cuban, in a Cuban neighborhood, so that strangers stood out immediately. Blacks, Italians, and everybody else did dope anywhere, your place or theirs, in a park or in a church, but not Cubans. If you bought or sold dope to Cubans, the deal always went down in a Cuban neighborhood, in a Cuban bar or restaurant. Cubans were smart, tough, careful, and dealing more dope in New York than blacks and Italians put together.

Neil Shire was in Rosario’s by invitation. Like most agents or cops undercover, he carried no gun. A stranger with a gun meant cop, and Neil was a stranger until he’d made enough buys to be accepted. Only then could he carry a gun around dope dealers without arousing suspicion.

Tonight’s buy had been set up by Lydia Constanza, an informant Neil was working for the first time. Tonight was Lydia’s first test, and if she passed it, if Neil copped good dope from Zarzuela, then Lydia would be used for more buys, and, more important to Lydia, she’d be able to keep out of jail. Like all informants, she’d flipped because she had to, because she’d committed a crime. In order to stay out of prison, she was betraying friends and associates.

Lydia says you buy for people on the island. Zarzuela couldn’t stop smiling. All teeth, gums, tonsils, and moist brown eyes pleading to be liked, to be agreed with.

Lydia says what I tell her to say, thought Neil. He said to Zarzuela, Let’s skip all the social shit, okay? Why am I sitting here? You tell me.

Zarzuela coughed, sniffed, wiped his nose on his pea-coat sleeve. Pusher-addict, thought Neil. Half of his supply goes into his arm, the other half gets hit with milk sugar, baking soda, or powdered laxative, and he deals it for money for some more to put in his arm. He’ll try to waltz me around so he can look good in front of his three friends. But in the end, he’ll take the thousand and make the sign of the cross, because he knows for sure he can wake up tomorrow and get well.

Don’t blame the September chill for your sniffles, Chico. Blame your nasty little habit and that needle. Once you slip it in, it never comes out.

Lydia. Neil had signaled her to go to the john and stay there while the buy went down. If she didn’t see the deal, she wouldn’t have to testify. Being a snitch was a high-risk business.

You had to protect your informants, because without them, you had no case. They introduced you to people, got you inside, vouched for you, tipped you in advance, tipped you after the fact, helped you to make arrests, and by doing so, made your career. Neil was in Rosario’s because Lydia Constanza had said she could set him up with Cubans dealing heroin and cocaine.

She’d said more, something that had made Neil Shire, an ambitious man, tremble with excitement and think that Lydia Constanza just might be his ticket to ride.

Lydia claimed to have seen Kelly Lorenzo in a Manhattan after-hours club. Kelly was the most-wanted federal fugitive in dope, a twenty-nine-year-old black who’d been dealing one hundred million dollars’ worth of narcotics yearly before he’d jumped four hundred thousand dollars’ bail six months ago. Good-looking Kelly, who’d killed at least a hundred people. Smart, ruthless Kelly, who was probably still dealing dope from wherever he was hiding.

Lydia said she saw him in the Palace, a legendary after-hours club operated by top pimps, a joint no law enforcement had ever set foot in, and a place most cops felt didn’t exist. People throughout America, in Europe and in the Caribbean claimed to have seen Kelly Lorenzo, who had a thirty-thousand-dollar reward on his head.

Was he in Manhattan? In narcotics, anything was possible.

And Lydia Constanza, facing jail for armed robbery as well as prostitution and mugging charges, offered Neil Shire something else to keep herself out of the joint. Cubans and blacks, she said, were teaming to bring in the largest amount of white heroin New York City had ever seen. The deal was so big that both groups, who had never worked together on this large a scale before, were investing millions of dollars up front.

The deal was so big that it would take at least a year to plan and execute. At least one year.

Ambitious Neil Shire trembled with excitement at the thought of it. If Lydia Constanza was telling the truth about Kelly Lorenzo and the Cuban-black super white-heroin deal, then Neil Shire had nothing but green lights in front of him from now on.

If Lydia was talking good noise and Neil could stay on top of this case without having it yanked from under him, then there were promotions in his future, commendations, that desk job he and his wife both wanted for him, one of the few things the two of them agreed on. If Lydia was right, if, then Neil had the case of his life.

If she was wrong, then she was heading to the joint and Neil was on his way to oblivion. But think positive. Think that Lydia was righteous. Think about making this case, then getting promoted to group supervisor with men working under him. Think about becoming assistant regional director with a corner office and windows. Think about making this case and getting transferred to Washington.

To hell with having his picture taken with the head of the department, with the heavies down at Justice, with the attorney-general, with the president of the United States. Just give Neil a desk job, a higher civil-service grade, and the money that came with all of that, and he’d be singing in the rain louder than Gene Kelly.

It all depended on Lydia. Work her right, test her, stroke her, watch her. Turn her over and get her to introduce him to people. Turn them over, and keep moving up, keep moving up. The name of the game. That’s what tonight was all about. A test for Lydia, with Neil’s reputation and career riding on that test, because he’d had too much trouble lately. Too much.

He’d made mistakes and been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and besides all that, he was going nowhere, no goddamn where at all, making no cases, impressing nobody. He needed help.

And a friend on the cops had handed him Lydia because New York City narcotics was too broke to pay informants and too short of manpower to spare the time to work them properly. Neil’s chance was now, now, and he was going to work Lydia Constanza for all she was worth. It was her or Neil, and it damn sure wasn’t going to be Neil.

First time out, and she’d given him Zarzuela, and Zarzu had dope. Or was it all a hustle to buy Lydia time to think of some other way to stay out of the slam? Ripoff? Zarzu and Lydia teaming to sell Neil milk sugar? Christ, no. Don’t even think that. That was last year. Old trouble. Christ, don’t even think that.

But you had to think betrayal when you were working a snitch. A snitch would betray anybody to stay out of jail. Give a snitch a better offer, and he’d betray a cop, an agent, his gray-haired mother. It had happened before. Christ, don’t even think that.

A lot to worry about these days. In law enforcement, you moved up or you were moved out. Times were hard, money was tight, and cutbacks had put cops and agents on unemployment insurance and back to mowing grass full time. Neil Shire, thirty-two, going nowhere, anxious for that desk job, had to move up soon.

The street was exciting, and buying dope was some kind of thrill, but you couldn’t be out there when you were fifty-five—that is, if you lasted that long. If you didn’t get blown away by a fucked-up dealer, if you didn’t get killed by department efficiency reports, if you didn’t get screwed by dumb partners, if you didn’t get pushed into working on a shit case by an ambitious supervisor hot to look good at your expense. No siree, friends, Neil Shire didn’t want to be on the street that long.

But to get off the street in a hurry, he needed a dynamite case.

Enter Lydia.

At the bar, the ball-game watchers cheered, shouted, clapped, whistled. Sounds like a fiesta, thought Neil. Who the hell would have thought I’d need an interpreter to watch a baseball game? You’ve got more Cubans in Manhattan than you got holes in Swiss cheese.

He watched the fat man in the pink shirt and tiny gold cross slide his thick ass and thighs off a barstool, eyes still on the game. When fatty walked past Neil’s booth, he had a folded newspaper under one large arm.

Yes or no, said Neil. My ass is getting numb sitting here.

Zarzuela sighed, shrugged. You got it. A thousand.

No shit, Dick Tracy, thought Neil. But he was excited. Man, you always got turned on when the buy went down and you had lied so beautifully. He said, Tell me again how good it is.

White. Fifty percent. Stepped on just once.

You sure about that?

Talking straight, man. Dynamite package, nothin’ but dynamite.

Neil knew better. Street pushers were the end of the line in dope, creeps selling leftovers, buying last and getting dope that had been hit so many times it was usually one percent heroin and ninety-nine percent baking soda, lactose, dextrose, procaine, quinine, mannite. Street pushers sold the weakest dope and were the most dangerous people to deal with.

That was one of the strange things about dope. Buy a lot, buy kilos, and you dealt with people you could almost always trust. Big guys kept their word, stayed away from violence most of the time, and were dependable, cool, together.

But God help your ass when you bought small. These were the people quick to use a gun, to rip you off, to play games. The small guys, the ones selling ounces, eighths, quarters, nickel and dime bags. They were the ones you had to watch out for, the ones who would blow you away in a second.

Fifty percent pure. Sure, Zarzu. And the bear has signed a paper never to shit in the woods anymore.

Neil Shire passed him the envelope. Ten one-hundred-dollar bills, and that had also been a problem today, one of several. Upstairs had been unable to give Neil smaller bills, and he’d bitched, but the broad with a face as long as a broom handle had said it wasn’t her fault, take it or leave it.

So he took it, filling out the forms, hating having to carry around hundreds. But it had shortened his paperwork, since he had to list only ten serial numbers. The bills weren’t marked; listing the serial numbers was enough. Just keep an eye peeled for those numbers, and check out anybody who shows up with one. Chances are, whoever showed up with one of the bills was associated with Zarzuela, which Neil knew was a phony name.

Nobody in dope ever used a righteous name. Nobody. Nicknames, aliases. That’s all you ever got, and law enforcement went crazy wading through ten or more names to get their hands on one man. Cubans tended to use the names of hometowns and provinces back in Cuba. Zarzuela was the name of a popular fish stew.

Zarzuela looked up from counting the money, smiling as though a coat hanger was stuck in his mouth sideways. All C’s. Nothing but hundreds. Goddamn, my man. All C’s. He was impressed. Mr. C Man. That’s you. Mr. C Man.

A name is born, thought Neil. Why not? He said, I’m waiting.

The fat man in the pink shirt walked by the booth again, eyes on the ball game and no folded newspaper under his arm this time.

Zarzuela stood up, pocketing the envelope, a satisfied man. Men’s room. Trashcan. Side facing you as you come in. Anytime you need another package, Mr. C, I’m ready.

Let’s see what the

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