McLeary paced beside the open window drapes in the tenth-floor hotel suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from Collins Avenue north of Miami Beach. He knew the room well, an FBI safe house on permanent retainer by Uncle Sam for witness protection transfers. “I want my sons to stay in protective custody,” he told Burns who kept her back to him with her cell phone against her ear. “I want them locked in here with an officer at the door and another at the nearest exit. No rookies. I want agents with time on the job.”
Burns nodded as she listened to the caller speak. She reached for a pen from the breakfast bar. She scribbled the caller’s message on her notepad and hung up. “Miami PD hauled your boat this morning. They matched a thumb print to Fayez Sayeed.”
McLeary stepped away from the window and glanced at his sons milling about in the second room. “They find a body to go with it?”
“Not yet. You think Abdullah sent him to finish what they started at Muheen’s apartment building?”
McLeary flipped his phone open. “I’ll have two agents here in half an hour. As soon as Seth and Brian are secure, you and I are going for a ride.”
* * *
McLeary sliced his way through traffic as he drove toward the heart of Miami’s speedboat district on Ocean Drive. Oblivious to the cars around him or the excessive speed at which he traveled, he kept his thoughts to himself, compartmentalizing his guilt about Agent Bryant’s death to explore more important matters. With Seth and Brian secure, he found his last obstacle in the seat beside him. Too many aspects of his own investigation had gone astray. Regardless of Burns and her predilection for the FBI Section Chief above her, he felt a tenuous trust start to form between himself and his unofficial partner. Her swagger, her toughness under pressure, and her devotion to the job had chipped away his initial perception of the female agent who’d been shadowing him. And yet despite her redeeming qualities, she lacked direction and initiative outside Kriegel’s immediate chain of command.
“You wanna tell me where we’re going?” Burns shouted above the wind noise from the open sunroof.
“To see a friend.”
“Kriegel’s expecting us—”
“Fuck Kriegel. This case is personal now.”
McLeary braked hard behind a delivery truck stopped at the intersection up ahead. He frowned at Burns. “You got a problem with me, then spit it out.”
“Look, I’m sorry about your wife and what happened, but it doesn’t change our situation. I need to know your head’s on straight.”
McLeary gunned the engine when the light turned green, screeching the rear tires to slingshot the Hemi Charger around the delivery truck.
Burns noted the cast of unsavory characters mulling outside the high-and-dry boat storage beside a warehouse along the river. “I gather Kriegel doesn’t know we’re here?”
McLeary parked by a forty-six foot Formula with triple outboards hanging from the transom sitting on a six-wheel trailer. He got out with Burns and approached a welder with rock star hair, a nose ring, and both arms sleeved out with tattoos.
The welder put his torch down and flipped his visor open. He whistled to a colleague who emerged from the warehouse with a submachine gun not quite concealed inside his denim jacket, the words “Death Before Dishonor” tattooed on his neck.
“You lost?” the man in the denim jacket asked, keeping both hands on his hips to accentuate his aggressive posture.
McLeary watched the welder disappear inside the building. “Hilario Gonsalez. I need to speak to him.”
“You got a name?”
“McLeary. He knows who I am.”
The gunman glared at Burns, scanning her from head to toe. McLeary sensed the man knew her from somewhere. “Wait here.”
A sliding metal door opened along the side of the warehouse beyond a dumpster and a stack of wooden pallets. “It’s all right,” Hilario Gonsalez offered, gesturing to his bodyguard. “I know this man.” Born from Columbian descent, thirty-three year old Hilario approached his former adversary in a silk suit and alligator skin loafers. He acknowledged Burns first, engaging her in a long, hard stare. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
Burns responded by flashing her badge in his face. “FBI.”
“You are indeed.” He turned to McLeary. “I thought you retired?”
“I need a favor.”
Hilario walked away, waving his hand over his shoulder. “I’m all out of favors.”
“Just hear me out.”
McLeary followed him. “What if I can help your father?”
Hilario turned about-face and walked back. Wrinkles carved in the sun-dried skin across his forehead added years to his age. “What do you know about my father?”
“I know he’s facing the rest of his life someplace he’d rather not. I can’t take him out of prison, but I could make his time go easier.”
“And why should I trust you?”
“Because I’m the only friend your father has.”
“My father has many friends.”
“None with a badge and a gun who he can trust.”
“You sent my father to prison.”
“Your father sent himself to prison the day he followed his own path and got caught. I tried to help him. He wouldn’t listen.”
“My father built boats. What his buyers did with them was none of his concern. He came to this country with nothing and carved a good life for myself. My mother. My sister. He did what he had to do to survive.” Hilario shook a cigarette from a crumpled pack and propped it between his lips. He lit up and blew smoke through his nose and mouth. “You’ve got cohunes, McLeary. Coming here like this. My father put his trust in you and you betrayed him.”
“Your father betrayed himself.”
Hilario stepped inside McLeary’s personal space, an aggressive gesture prompting Burns to draw her weapon. “My father is twice the man you’ll ever be.”
“It’s cool,” McLeary said to Burns. He kept her in his peripheral vision along with the armed body guard who maintained a tactical position. “I respect your father for who he is, not for what he’s done. Don’t dishonor him by making the same mistakes he made. I’m giving you the chance to do something right.”
“By helping you?”
“By helping him.”
Hilario locked eyes with McLeary. “I run a legitimate business here. These boats you see… I build these for your government now.”
McLeary reached inside his blazer pocket. “It’s just a photo,” he told the body guard, retrieving a picture of Fayez Sayeed. “Have you seen this man before?”
Hilario blew smoke through his nose. He squinted at the picture. “Never.”
“He tried to kill us,” said Burns.
McLeary could tell her patience was waning on his fishing expedition.
Hilario inhaled a long drag. “We all have enemies.” Sweat trickled on his brow. He paused until a black Hummer passed the boat yard and turned the corner. Then he motioned for McLeary and Burns to follow him inside. “I’m not sure I can be of any help to you.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
“And what exactly is it you want from me?”
McLeary pulled Hilario aside and strolled out of earshot from Burns. “I need information off the street.” He showed a photo array of Ahmed Abdullah, Ali Muheen, and Fayez Sayeed. “Anything you can dig up on these men.”
“Why me? You’ve got the badge and the gun.”
“And you have the eyes and ears in places a badge can’t reach. I’m also running out of time.”
Hilario thought about McLeary’s request. He thought about his memory of the FBI agent who kept his father in protective custody during a long trial process wrought with death threats and a failed assassination attempt. “If I help you, what assurance do I have about my father?”
McLeary put his hand out. “You have my word.”