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«Syndication Rites», Warren Murphy и др.

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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.

"Out."

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.


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