I start my day with a cup of medium sized iced hazelnut latte with an extra shot of that sticky syrup from the Dunkin' Donuts down the street from my apartment building. I could support the local, organic coffee shop across the street, but I rather consume high amounts of sugar for less money. Organic or from a drug farm, three ninety-nine or six fifty; it all ends up tasting the same once you mix two ounces of espresso with fourteen ounces of milk and sugar.
The girl who takes my order still can't get my name right. I know that her name is Jessica and that she's been working at this Dunkin Donuts for three years. I also know that her boyfriend is a college dropout that peddles weed near NYU, ironically the same university he had dropped out from.
But the cup has Frank scribbled across the side in a handwriting that's hard to read, making Frank look more like “BnmF”. She makes the drink -- two shots of espresso over ice. Four pumps of hazelnut flavored sugar. Milk three thirds the way. A couple of shakes.
“ Here ya go, Frank.”
I know more about her than her own mother and yet she can't even get my name right. I put a dollar in the tip jar next to the register and walk with the drink in hand, other in my pocket.
I always have this itching urge to ask her why -- why does she think I'm ‘Frank’. Sometimes I'll look into the mirror, at my own reflection, and take in my features. Is it the eyes? My nose? Lips? What is so ‘Frankish’ about my appearance that an underpaid barista can't remember my actual name?
She smiles as I leave with my cheap caffeinated liquid sugar in a plastic cup.
Maybe that's why I don't bother correcting her. The woman means no harm and she's genuinely kind, rain or shine. Morning rush or no rush.
The ritual ends at 99 Tenth Street in a recently renovated warehouse that looks like a startup company’s wet dream. With my coffee and messenger bag, I look like any of those hip programmers and content editors that weave around midtown on overpriced road bikes, but on the contrary I am a federal agent and this building I'm entering is 600,000 square feet of headquarters for the DEA New York Division.
That's how I know about Jessica and her deadbeat boyfriend. He's in the system along with the hundreds of other offenders that push drugs on the streets of New York City. I've seen him. I've spoken to him. He's one of my informants. The fact his girlfriend works at my local donut shop is just an unfortunate coincidence. Sometimes I wonder what would be her reaction to me the day I ever arrest her boyfriend; would she then remember my name?
It's hard to forget the name of a person that crossed you.
At a normal office building, you can escape the noise pollution of the outside world. Crossing from the streets of New York into the offices of the DEA has the opposite effect. Phones ringing, televisions broadcasting cable news, and conversations held at desks and cubicles competing with all the loudness seem as if I'm stepping deeper into a lion's den. There is no escape from the streets when I cross through those doors -- I am becoming apart of it -- and when I scan my identification badge and cross through the metal detector, the transformation is complete.
Every morning, Monday through Friday. Where I become Frank, the Task Force Agent for the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
I finish my drink as I walk to elevators on the first floor of the agency. I still feel sluggish; the iced latte still taking its time to stimulate my system with sugars and caffeine. I punch the up button with my thumb, sucking up the water flavored remains of my drink through the orange straw, as a move the ice around in an attempt to suck up the hazelnut syrup.
The elevator makes it announcement with a ding and the doors swing open. I step inside and immediately press the ‘CLOSE DOOR’ button. As the double doors slide shut, a hand juts between them and they're forced open with a loud bang. I watch as the owner of the hand is revealed to be Jon Walker. He jumps in, and the doors close as he stands next to me with his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“ Good Morning, Frank.” He greets me with a smirk. I respond with the loud sound of a straw sucking up air and liquid. “ I know you saw me but I'll let you slide.”
“ I honestly didn't see you.” I reply, though, I did see him running towards me as the doors slid closed. It's nothing personal; I hate being in small places with other people. Call it claustrophobia, if you want.
“ My name isn't Frank.”
I throw it in despite the fact that I know that he's just screwing around. Jon chuckles as if he found it amusing that I couldn't take a joke. I got the joke, I am just tired of hearing it every morning.
He reaches over and presses the button for the third floor.
“ Every morning I see you with that cup that says Frank. Makes me doubt that your name is George Ryan Ross the Fourth.”
“ The thi--.”
“ Third.” He finishes. I look at him from the corner of my eye. He's grinning and I can't help but to shed away my indifference and smile back.
“ You're such an insufferable asshole.”
“ It takes one to know one.”
I've known Jon since I was transferred here five years ago from the Las Vegas office. He was a great help in getting me adjusted to the hustle of the New York division office. I remember the stories he told me of situations that made the adjustment difficult after his transfer from Chicago. Coming from Chitown, you would have thought he'd seen it all, but the concrete jungle that is New York is unforgiving. I'm glad for his help, I don't think I would have survived the transfer for more than a few months.
We aren't partners but he's the closest I got to one in my division. I trust him with my life.
Dressed in jeans and a loose fitting t-shirt, Jon looks like a sports bar patron watching the game as he scratches his beard covered chin with his left hand, the right stuffed in the pocket of his jeans as he's standing in front of the television propped up on the wall in our division’s section on the third floor. It's set to one of the twenty four hour cable news channels; split screens of talking heads screaming at each other while tickers of information fly across the screen in a perfect display of information overload.
Jon pokes my shoulder and nods over at the TV, “ Can you believe this? Are they honestly debating about defunding after school programs?”
I nod as I watch the television but I'm not as invested into the topic of discussion at hand.
“ That's what happens when people vote for their own interests.” I say, knowing exactly that's something Jon would like to hear. He nods in agreement.
“ Exactly!” He stresses. “ Representation for everyone .”
Jon is too invested in things like this: politics, the economy, etc. He is generally a laid back guy, sometimes coming into work with flip flops instead of the closed toe shoes mandated by the dress code. He always sporting a beard, one that was now peppered with grey, whenever he could that made him look years older than his thirty one. At first glance you would expect him at a coffee shop with an acoustic guitar in hand singing about suns and moons, not a field agent of the DEA focused on illegal prescription drugs sales.
But, unlike me, he's married with a toddler. I guess when you have other people in your life that depend on you for their livelihoods, the crumbling state of the nation would be a pressing priority. Luckily, my only concerns in life are taxes and death.
The two things we humans are guaranteed the moment we take our first wailing breath.
The debate ends and the anchor seamlessly transitions into the next segment for the hour block; entertainment news. The mood of the broadcast changes almost instantaneously, the serious face of a male journalist now replaced with the bubbly smile of a younger woman in her early twenties holding an iPad in one hand, standing in front of a big screen TV, as she rambles animatedly over the top ten hottest entertainment buzz from over the weekend.
Marriages and divorces. Affairs and days out with the kids. It's all mind numbingly invasive and I feel like a voyeur as I watch. Jon seems to have also lost interest, now engaged in a texting conversation with his wife. For all I know it's about their kid and daycare.
Suddenly, his phone is ringing and he answers it immediately. The conversation is about daycare.
I was right.
Jon walks away, wanting his privacy, and I respect it with a nod as my focus is on the garbage being fed through the digital airwaves that obviously didn't care for the privacy of the rich and famous. Somewhere between the fourth and third topic on the hot buzz list, is a side piece about a gala that had happened over the weekend for a prominent real estate tycoon in New York City. The woman is practically gushing as he describes what had happened and who was there that weekend, interceded with shots of guests on the red carpet posing for the media and their cameras.
“ New York’s finest was in attendance for the annual Rickenbalm Foundation Gala, in support of the music and arts in the City’s public schools. For the last fifteen years, this gala brings in New York’s finest and this year was as amazing as last years.”
Celebrities smiled into the cameras as the B-Roll footage zoomed at all sorts of wild angles.
“ The event was hosted by charismatic billionaire, Brendon Urie,”
Suddenly there's a shot of the young gentleman in a tailored white suit standing on the red carpet, his arm around the waist of a petite woman in a flowing black dress that I can only assume is his wife judging by the gold band around his left ring finger and the modest rock resting on her own. The shot is less than five seconds, not even giving us viewers a chance to absorb the moment before we’re given a taste of this charismatic billionaire’s hosting skills.
There's no mistake to the description by the reporter. There's a swagger to his on stage appearance that plays into the cliche of a rich millennial with more money to spend than what he could possibly imagine to do with. He makes an off collar joke that has the crowd in the video laughing before the reporter continues her play by play of the event.
“ I'm amazed he's still in the public eye.”
Jon’s passive voice pulls me from the news and back to reality. I look at him and raise an eyebrow.
“ What do you mean?”
I guess he's talking about that Urie fellow.
“ You haven't heard?” Jon is looking at me as if I've been living under a rock the last few years.
“ No, not really.” I run a hand down my navy tie, smoothing it against my body. Rumors get people in trouble on this job.
“ He's about to be under investigation.”
As if on cue, Urie is laughing on the screen at an interviewer. The timing is impeccable.
“ Really, Jon?” I stick my hands into the pockets of my black slacks and rock on the balls of my feet. A lot of things are commonly known around the office, such as informants and drug rings, but there are certain cases that are on a need to know to avoid compromising and investigation. The finding out that this guy was a target by the DEA didn't seem as surprising as it was odd. Young philanthropist doesn't necessarily meet the description of potential drug lord.
The entertainment news segment is over and the stoic face of the male journalist is back on screen, introducing the next pressings topic that Americans should care about.
“I got called in for a meeting with the captain yesterday evening. Apparently this going to be a thing.” Jon trails off and walks over to his desk. I follow after him, abandoning the television for this conversation. He sits down at his desk and crosses his arms over his chest. “ What do you know about him?”
I run a hand through my hair and shrug, “ Nothing.”
“ Positive?” He cocks an eyebrow and I frown slightly.
“ I'm telling the truth. I've never heard of him.”
I'm not the type to focus on celebrity news. I could care less about galas and parties. I barely even watch the one TV in my own apartment. I waste my time reading books and writing in notebooks like every other avocado toast eating, Brooklyn living thirty year old millennial. I'm just missing the mountain man beard and love vegan burgers.
Working a job with such a strong sensory overload, I need to be able to tune myself out the moment I get home.
“ Him and his wife are always gracing Page Six.” Jon explains. He reaches for an old copy of the New York Post in one of the drawers of his desk and slams it on the desk with much dramatic flair. He quickly opens up to the infamous Page Six magazine, pulls it out and opens to a page and in all of their privileged glory, are pictures of Uries on a yacht somewhere in the Hamptons giving million dollar smiles and drinking fancy champagne.
In large heading, ‘POWER COUPLE HOST THIS SEASON’S HOTTEST PARTY IN THE HAMPTONS’, covers a portion of the page followed by an article going into eyewitness account of a party on a boat that the youngest and powerful of New York in attendance. Musicians, actors, models, real estate moguls -- a six figure circlejerk. I sigh, feeling a headache coming on.
“ They're known for these wild parties.” Jon remarks. “ Every month they hold them with various themes like the white party or the roaring twenties. It feels like a piece taken straight from the Great Gatsby except you need to actually have more than a million dollars to attend. There's also their annual Halloween party that everyone tries to attend.”
He pulls out another Page Six magazine, flipping it open to a double page spread full of pictures from their Halloween party and a half page article gushing in detail about what had happened. In a large photo, predominantly in the center left of the page is a picture of the couple dressed as Sid and Nancy. I wonder if they're aware of the story of the infamous couple. Then again, I read the caption underneath the photo: Zombie Sid and Nancy. There's nothing undead about the way that they look. I guess the editor wanted to save their dignity.
I slowly push the magazine towards Jon with an exasperated sigh. At least it wasn't ‘Random Punk Rocker Couple’.
“ Every young rich kid goes crazy on the weekends.” I sum up.
“ He was unknown until five years ago. Suddenly this random nobody shows up in New York City buying up property, befriending city politicians, and amassing a fortune so large with a basic college education?” Jon throws his hands up. “ The shit makes absolutely no sense.”
“ So the top assumes that because he isn't from a rich family the only way he could become rich is through pushing drugs?”
Jon takes the newspaper and magazines and folds it closed. He shoves it back in his desk.
“ It's not that simple and you know that, Ross.” Jon says with a huff. “ I'm being assigned the case but I told them I want someone else on it. I put your name out and they're considering it.”
I blink, “ Wait, why me?”
I just handle street paddlers and prescription frauds. This type of stuff is way above my pay grade. The look Jon gives me says everything I need to know: I have no say and the decision has already been made.
I always was a fan of the smell of coffee. I would spend most of my college days cooped up in the corners of cafes with a pen and a notebook spilling my thoughts onto lined paper as the aroma stimulated my senses. There was something about coffee houses and it adding to the image of a fledgling writer trying to become a future Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This kid is going to be something one day. The next New York Times bestseller. That's what they're all thinking and I oblige them with talks about the novel I am currently writing and hope to publish once I graduate between sips of overpriced coffee in paper cups. They hang onto every word so they can brag to their friends when that book drops, hoping their names will be in the dedication.
Then reality rears its ugly head and the student abandons notebooks and pens for guns and drugs. That novel is never released and the student store all his notebooks in boxes kept underneath his bed.
I never got tired of the smell of a coffee shop and it's a place I still enjoy hiding away in, even if I spend most of my time asleep on large couches with untouched coffees sitting on tables next to me.
“ You look better than ever.” Spencer Smith greets me sarcastically from behind the counter. I rub my chin, the stubble rough against my fingertips, and shrug. He only smiles at me, that perfect bright smile that reaches his sky blue eyes and manages to melt away headaches (and hearts).
“ Things have been pretty quiet these past few weeks.” I say. I'm not lying; with the current political shift, activity had been stalling in the boroughs and across the river. Which is a good thing, always a good thing.
Spencer nods, busying his hands with rearranging the packages of biscouttis next to the cash register.
“ That's good.” Spencer looks at me. “ So what do you want?”
“ A small black.”
I've known Spencer since he was five and I was six. We met during a community crime watch event held by one of the elders in the neighborhood. All I can remember was the trays of powdered donuts and chocolate milk that we stuffed our faces with as the adults talked about something that wasn't interesting as to us in comparison to Burger King releasing tapes of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon with the kids meals.
We grew up together under the hot Vegas sun. We blew up lawn mowers, played video games, talked about first kisses and congratulated lost virginities -- hell, we had even started a band together. It didn't go anywhere, even though we spent most of our junior and senior years dreaming of being on MTV and drowning in pussy thinking we were on the road to success after we managed to play one successful live to a crowd of fifty kids.
Those songs we wrote are now collecting dust in a shoebox underneath my bed.
We both went to the University of Nevada on scholarships. I was the creative one, pursuing a useless degree for the sake of chasing literary infamy while Spencer was the practical one: business management. Eventually we parted ways; he went off to NYU to get his masters and I, well, I became a starving artist at the age of twenty two.
Now he's the owner of a chain of coffee shops that cater to New York’s intellectual youth and shameful Wall Street, uniting two mortal enemies under the pretense of coffee and scones.
And me? Interrogating junkies for their connects once I quickly learned that the starving artist lifestyle wasn't going to work out.
Spencer places my cup of coffee down on the counter and slides it towards me. I take it into my hand and lift it in an act of gratitude. He gives me a deadpan stare but I only take a sip without breaking eye contact.
“ You can afford to lose a cup.” I say with a lopsided smirk. Spencer only rolls his eyes at me. He knows it's true. He's rolling in millions, I'm sure of it. He had to be if his name is on five different locations in trendy neighborhoods in this God forsaken city.
“ It'd still be nice to pay up once and awhile, Ryan.”
“ My company and friendship is worth more than this cup.” I say smoothly above the plastic rim of the lid. I take another sip and Spencer grins, writing off the cup in the inventory on the tablet next to the register. I lift the cup in salute before retreating to my usual, quiet corner of his shop.
I come here after work to grab a coffee and let my mind wander. Sometimes Spencer’s here at this location and we’ll catch up on lost time, other times he's handling the other locations and I'm stuck with the police discounted coffee because the barista ‘doesn't know me like that’ and there's ‘nothing from the boss that says I get drinks for free’. But I have a feeling Spencer has specifically told his staff not to give me anything for free.
I let the large, old couch consume my thin frame and sink into the cushions. There's no coffee shop music playing in the background, instead there's a television broadcasting a local channel. Spencer was always about that -- supporting local business, supporting the community.
I hear about the Rickenbalm Gala again and I look up at the television. The report is more in detail, interviewing many of the high profile guests that were in attendance on their reasons of going. Spencer is at my side, hands tucked into the front pocket of his apron. He shakes his head and chuckles.
“ Its amusing watching these guys talk about how much they care for the arts when we all know it's just one, huge tax write off.” Spencer says. I look up at him from the seat.
“ Funny coming from someone like you.” I quip. Spencer looks down at me and raises an eyebrow.
“ I actually don't go to fancy galas to flaunt that I care for stuff that in reality I couldn't give two shits about.” He slaps the back of my head for emphasis and I can only wince and rub where he had assaulted. “ Idiot.”
“ Of course, Spence. How could I ever forget.” We chuckle because that's what friends do. Mock each other, slap each other back into place and then laugh about it.
We turn our attention back to the television and that guy Jon was talking about earlier in the day is being interviewed. It looks like it took place during the gala, people are running about behind him as he rambles animatedly about how important keeping music in the schools is for the kids. I look at Spencer, expecting him to throw an insult in his direction, but instead I see him nodding in agreement. I blink and look back at the television.
“ If I didn't have music in the public schools when I was a kid, I probably wouldn't have learned how to transfer my crazy energy into my enterprises.” I hear Urie say with a perfect smile, flawless skin, and slicked back hair with faded sides that accentuated his facial features, balancing them out. It was a common hair cut for us young men on the cusps of our thirties, even Spencer was sporting one of his own. I had tried my own attempt at it before abandoning it for longer, messier locks I hide underneath fedoras when I'm too lazy to bother myself with styling.
One of my friends had dubbed it the fuckboy look. Considering my sex life as of recent, rocking a hairstyle like that spoke farther from the truth. A change was definitely needed. I still don't know why Spencer bothers with maintaining that cut, especially being engaged to a Manhattan socialite by the name of Linda, but I guess I take things too literally.
It looks better on him than me anyway.
“ I admire that guy,” I hear Spencer say with an air of admiration to his voice. I hum in response, nothing more nothing less. He continues, “ He's come by the shop a few times. Real nice guy. Tips nice, too.”
“ You friends with him or something?” Not that it matters but it's always good to know how the web weaves itself. More habits from my job that bleed into my personal life.
“ We’re more acquaintances than anything. He comes by, we talk, he leaves. I'll get an invitation to those parties but, as you know, I've sworn off that lifestyle.”
Yeah, I know. I also remember how hard you had fallen back when we were in school. It was one of the major reasons why I ended up becoming a DEA agent. I like to keep that moment in our lives in the past. It's easier to stay fucked up than sober. I guess that's why Spencer is focused on his coffee business; it keeps him distracted from temptation in the form of orange bottles sealed with child lock caps.
“ You've been to one?”
“ Once. Just the one time. It was a Halloween party two years ago at their Florida residence.” Spencer scratches his chin. “ Crazy night. “
I can feel his eyes on me and I shrug. I can only assume why, “ I see no evil, speak no evil, or hear no evil.”
Besides that's not how I work. Leave that snooping to New York’s finest.
I stand up, finish my coffee, and hand Spencer the empty cup. He takes it without forgetting to chastise me for my ungrateful attitude towards his gratuity and I merely wave him away like an annoying fly. As I make my way to leave the shop, my attention doesn't leave the television. On the bottom of the screen, a title card flashes with BRENDON URIE and PHILANTHROPIST underneath his name. He's rambling about how nervous he was to be hosting such a large event but I can't help but let my mind wander to the other details I've heard about him today.
Secret underground kingpin. Host of wild parties filled with drugs and alcohol. A black tie and white suit wearing philanthropist for the arts.
I bid my childhood friend one more goodbye before I leave and head home.
I flick open the lid of my zippo lighter, thumb the igniter, and light the joint I had just rolled. I take a few quick puffs to insure the weed is burning and toss the lighter somewhere on my desk. It's something ironic that I indulge in this illegal habit considering my actual job and how many people I've arrested for dealing in it but everyone has their vices.
Mine just happens to be of the green kind. At least I can pride myself I'm not a stumbling alcoholic. A hypocrite, yes.
I take another hit from the joint and let it rest on the ashtray sitting next to my laptop. I exhale the smoke, letting my body relax. I flex my fingers and type into the address bar Urie’s name. Results pop up instantly on the Google search page, coupled with an image of his smiling face and some stats with a link to his Wikipedia page.
I click on the link for his Wikipedia page and immediately take note of his age. He's only a year younger than me…. actually ten months younger. He hailed from St. George, Utah, but judging by the way he looks I doubt he's Mormon like the rest of the people from that community.
“ Brendon Boyd Urie is an American real estate investor and philanthropist.” I read aloud. I look over the overview on his life and click on the Early Life segment of his article.
But it's nothing more than a short paragraph. He's from St. George, he went to Brigham Young University, and apparently, despite my earlier assumption, was Mormon. Though, it looks like he left the church after graduating college. The section ends and immediately jumps to a detailed section on his business career.
He got married to a woman named Sarah whose father was the CEO of a investment company and through that marriage seemed to mark the beginning of a successful career in real estate investment. A few well known gentrification projects are tied to him as well as an extensive list of all his philanthropy.
The article paints him like a bright and young talent ready to become the next new and bright talent in the world of trading and investing. There are no scandals and no mention of his party lifestyle that seems to always be printed in Page Six. The Brendon Urie presented on Wikipedia is definitely not the Brendon Urie explained to me by my friends.
I take another drag and click the back button. News and gossip sites populate most of the results. I click on them but it's just mindless drivel about the perfect power couple gracing the unworthy of their presence.
Why am I even bothering myself with this nonsense?
It’s just rich kid who married lucky.
I take another drag, the effects of the high taking its goddamn time, and I let the joint rest from my lips as I type another query into the search results. This time: BRENDON URIE DRUGS.
Nothing comes up that incriminates the guy. In fact, a bunch of news articles from last year feature a story in which he attended at an anti-drug event at some school uptown as a headlining speaker. No classic stories of rehab or caught outside Manhattan's finest clubs an absolute stumbling trainwreck. There’s not even a mention of the parties that grace Page Six in all its pretentious glory.
I lean back in my chair, take a long drag from the joint before stubbing it out in the ashtray.
“ Tell me more about that Urie guy.”
Jon gives me a look like I had just admitted to the fact that purchase weed from my informant. Which is true but it's not something I would admit to him . We may be acquaintances but I'm sure he'd arrest me at a moment's notice. He's the kind of guy, the one that crooked cops hate and D.A.s on a political climb love.
Besides a happy informant means I get exactly what I want when I want it. I'm willing to get my hands a little dirty if that means I can keep myself sane another day.
I'm pretty sure every agent in this division has a dirty secret that could cost them their jobs. Even Mister Jonathan Walker, the perfect family man, probably has a secret he would rather keep from the others.
He sits up in his chair and crosses his arms, “ Good Morning to you too, Frank.” I ignore the obvious joke at my morning ritual, “ Why? You didn't seem interested yesterday and you're definitely not into gossip so…”
I shrug. Honestly, I am not the type and he is right, but I rather not stumble into the trap he's obviously setting up so he can have more laughter at the expense of my misfortune of being mistaken for Frank every morning by an underpaid barista (who’s boyfriend happens to be my informant and dealer).
“I'll take the job if I learn more about the case.” I lean against his desk.
He's grinning at this point. I don't understand what's so amusing. I adjust the cuffs of my white dress shirt and smooth my black tie.
“ I googled him last night. He's too clean.” I scratch my chin. “ It makes no sense. How can someone like him manage to be so clean and yet … have a reputation as the one that has the parties with the blow and strippers?”
“ Blow and strippers? Wow, what an imagination you have there, Mister Ross. What year is it? 1978?”
I give him one of those looks that would come straight from an 80s sitcom when someone would make a lame joke. It would make sense for me to follow up with a sarcastic quip so that the studio audience can laugh and laugh, but instead, “ Anyway. You told me he had a basic college education but his Wikipedia article says he graduated from some university in Utah with a degree in business management.”
“ Anyone can edit a Wikipedia page.” Jon concludes with little flair and no bite, as if it was common knowledge that Wikipedia is the most unreliable source of information on the internet.
I tell him to move over and reach for his computer. Firing up Google, I type in Urie’s name and find his biography that's up on his company website, UO Investment Company LLC. On the minimalist white page is a picture of himself in a standard grey business suit with a navy blue tie, smiling into the camera -- the cliche business executive look that could be found hanging on the wall of any board room in New York City. He looks different in the photo compared to what I had seen yesterday. He looks younger, bright eyed, with a generic haircut that screamed , “ Look my parents paid my way into Harvard and everyone tells me I'm great!”.
I scroll down the page and immediately point out to Jon the Education part of the bland biography. Jon looks at the page then at me before leaning back in his chair.
“ Interesting.” Is all he says, then, “So you want to be on the case?.”
“ I didn't… say that I want to be.”
Jon stands up and stretches, arms wide up above his head.
“I can't tell you classified information unless you agree to me assigning you to this case.”
I look at him and frown. “ Fine.”
“ I'll notify the team you're coming on board.”
“ Wait. So that's it? You're not, like, going to tell me anything else?”
Jon’s arms fall to his sides and he gives me a look. I know that look.
“ You'll be briefed shortly.”
He got me cornered and playing right into his hands again.
The thing about Jon isn't that he's a laid back officer of the law that doesn't like following the dress code because he pushes more paper than being on the field. The thing about him is that he's always planning something without someone suspecting what it is. He's good at putting up an image of someone who's lazy, who doesn't care about their job or the responsibilities of it. It's probably the reason why he's always attached to investigations that involve long and tedious surveillances.
It's hard for me to always figure out what he's thinking. Most of my assignments have came directly from him, though, all of them involved petty drug crimes. I have no idea why he insisted I be attached to this investigation, considering my past history and experience, but he must know something about me that I don't know. Given the glint in his eye and his smirk, perhaps he knows more than he has let on about me.
My heart beat jumps at the thought of him finding out my little drug habit. I'm not a dirty cop but, damnit, if they knew I was dangling jail time over a punk kid for weed….
“ Did you hear what I just said?” Jon asks me, taking me out of my thoughts.
“ Yeah, yeah.. I heard everything.”
Soon after agreeing to Jon’s favor, demand, whatever it was, we ended up in one of the empty briefing rooms. Jon had brought with him a sizeable folder filled with details related to the investigation. He had called for the two other agents assigned to this case to join us. I never met them, only heard their names in conversation once and awhile, but they were veterans here and apparently the commanding unit on this particular one case.
They were out of the building but would be coming in a few minutes. That was nearly thirty minutes ago. Jon decided to use the time to explain the case to me. Drug trafficking seemed to be the biggest part of the investigation, but money laundering played a part as well.
“ Any questions?”
As he asks me the question, the door opens up and two older men step into the room. Both were dressed like typical field agents; dress shirts, ties, and dark colored slacks. Their federal badges were clipped to their belts. They looked somewhat intimidating despite the less than average height; the tallest of the two looked liked he barely scratched five foot six on a good day. The shorter one looked like he belonged to the IT department, holding a laptop under his arm.
“ Ah, Agent Wentz and Agent Stump, thanks for finally making it.” Jon greeted as the blonde closed the door behind him. They all exchanged handshakes. “ This is Agent Ross, the one I was telling you about.”
They look at me as if they finally realized I was in the room. Quickly they extend their hands out to me and I shake them as we greet each other.
“ Jon really vouched for you, Agent Ross.” Wentz said as sat down on one of the table tops in the room. “ I like using first names. I'm Pete, my partner is Patrick,” the blonde agent in the thick rimmed glasses waves at me and I nod in acknowledgment, “ And you must be Ryan.”
“ So, you might be wondering why we're doing this briefing in such an informal matter and that's a legitimate concern. But we needed to do it this way to protect the integrity of this case. As Jon may have already told you, the person of interest is a highly regarded businessman in this city with a lot of political influence. The fact that he's under investigation must not be compromised under any circumstance.”
“ The only people that know about this investigation is the chief of this entire headquarters and us in this room.” Patrick adds, with a soft voice that matches his even softer, if not geekier appearance. Apparently they were field commanders. I'm still trying to come to terms with it.
“ We wanted Jon to initially go in on the field with the investigation but after careful consideration of the actual case, he suggested that we use an alternative approach.”
“ And that would include me … how?”
The two agents look at each other, silently communicating with themselves, as if I just overstepped myself with the question. It's not like I am trying to be a hard ass but I don't really understand the need for the top secret handling of investigating a rich guy. We have so many open investigations on rich powerful men on the floor right now that I don't understand what makes this one any different. Even with what Jon and the two have already told me.
“ Jon told us you have a background in writing.” Pete began after finishing his weird silent conversation. “ A degree in journalism, right?”
“ Creative writing.” I correct. Pete hums but continues nevertheless.
“ One of your friends is Spencer Smith, correct?” I nod. “ We know that he is also acquaintances with the target. That helps us tremendously. We need you to go undercover as a journalist wanting to write a book, or whatever, on the target. Once you're in, we need you to try and get inside his innermost circle and gather as much intel as you can on the guy.
I look at Jon. It's the first thing I do. I look at him like he holds the answers to everything. Life, the universe, everything. But he just stands there, next to that plain white podium, with an air of indifference. He knew all along that this was going to happen, he just needed to plant the bait to hook me in.
“ If you don't agree to this, we will all consider this a wash and walk away. But I would advise that you not speak about any of this to anyone else.” Patrick says. “ But if you do agree, we'll tell you everything you need to know.”
“ So you want me because of some six degrees of Kevin Bacon bullshit?”
Patrick smiles and I slightly recoil, “ Yes, that would make things easier for us.”
Pete taps Patrick on the shoulder and motions for the laptop. Patrick hands him the laptop without a word and he walks over to one of the many white long tables that lined the briefing room in rows of two. He puts the laptop down on the table top, opens it up, and clicks through a few screens.
“ We know about your, uh, arrangement, Agent Ross.” Pete says as he loads up a surveillance photo on the laptop. My eyebrows furrow as he steps aside, revealing the photo at full screen to be me and that NYU informant. It’s a damning image. One that could get me fired.
I look at Jon and he shrugs. “ You knew?” I ask him.
“ We all have our vices.” He replies matter-of-fact. I frown. This is blackmail.
“ If you choose not to do it, we’ll just give you a written warning. Not to damaging, but, would probably reduce you to desk work somewhere else, granted if you piss clean in a drug test. Which… I honestly doubt you would pass clean if we gave it to you now.”
“ We need to catch him and you’re the only guy we got that has the best chances of getting in.” Patrick crosses his arms. “ Please try and understand.”
“ You’re an awfully soft spoken guy for someone that just threatened to blackmail me.”
“ This doesn’t need to be difficult, Agent Ross.”
Way to sidestep the topic, asshole. I sigh, “ How long.”
“ Six months.” Pete says as he leans against the table. He crosses his arms as he gets comfortable. Too comfortable in my opinion. They must get off on pulling strings like this. “ Maybe longer.”
“ What will happen.”
“ You’ll be wiped from the system. A private citizen. Which means that if you engage in any illegal activities, you will be arrested and charged.”
“ And you guys would just let me hang out there to dry?”
“ If it required protecting the integrity of the investigation, then, yes we would. But I honestly doubt that a fine officer like yourself would get caught up in anything of the sort.”
It's an obvious sarcastic quip at my arrangement with my informant. The irony doesn't go over my head; I've threatened the guy with the same likened terms. I know what he does. I could have him arrested and charged with so many offenses, he would wish he could have stayed back at home in some corn field in Ohio. Do as I say, give me what I want, and he'll be okay to live his life as he pleases.
Now I'm caught and stuck with an ultimatum. It fucking sucks.
Pete lays out more of the terms. My entire history will be rewritten. Drivers license, social security, the last fifteen years of past addresses changed and altered…. Not a single trace of DEA Agent George Ryan Ross III of the New York Division will exist upon accepting the assignment. I will be Ryan Ross, a struggling up and coming writer. I will need to move to new residence and assume this new life just so I can investigate this guy without exposing my true identity.
Except, there's that one problem.
“ Spencer knows I'm a law enforcement officer.”
“ Tell him it was a lie.”
Wow. That easy?
“ Are you kidding me? He's been to my place. He's seen my badge. My gun. He knows he's the reason why I became an agent… How do I just lie to him about all of this and use him to get to this guy?” I run my fingers through my hair with a sigh. “ Don't you guys have a better idea?”
“ How close is he to Urie?” Jon asks me. I scoff, throwing my hands out in front of me. I have no fucking idea.
“ He told me he went to a party once, two years ago, and that was enough to scare him away. They're not friends, if that's what you guys are thinking.”
“ But they know each other?”
“ I guess. They're both young and have money. It's not like we hang out and talk about our social lives all the damn time.” I say tersely.
I’m annoyed, if it isn’t already clearly written all over my face. It seems I’m the only one upset in this room. Everyone else is calm, collected, and probably getting a kick out of seeing some low ranked agent squirm.
“ We are afraid that he'll comprise you.” Patrick says and Pete nods in agreement like some parent agreeing with some reason why the kid can’t hang out with Jake, the teen with the ‘problems’. I don’t know how these two operate but the condescending attitude is gnawing at me.
“ Then I'll tell him not to talk about my job. Problem solved.”
The two have another one of their silent conversations. It's getting on my nerves now. At this point it's not like I can say no and walk back to my desk and resume my job. No, that shit isn't happening now. If I do that I'm going to be fucked over with possession charges. If I say yes, my life as I know it will be over. Molded and rearranged by these two ‘telepathic’ douchebags and the guy I thought I could trust my life with.
“ Fine. We’ll pull you out if compromised.”
Okay, Agent Blonde.
“ No guarantees on the return to normal life. Are you going to do it?”
Fuck you, Agent Slickback.
The two agents grin, obviously pleased with my answer. Pete pushes himself off the table and closes the laptop. Patrick walks over to him and he hands it back to Patrick, who holds it under his arm.
“ You won’t be paid your normal salary,” Pete begins, playing with the end of his black tie. “ But you’ll be compensated with an amount that is reasonable for a freelance journalist. Your living expenses at both places will be covered by us under the guise as some rich uncle. You know, to play up the whole ‘I’m a millennial in NYC following my dream but I’m still a leech off of my mommy and daddy’ look. It might not sound nice but it is a pretty decent compensation for what we’re asking. You’ll also get a completion bonus.”
“ Any questions?” Patrick asks with that eerily sweet smile. Of course I have questions. I just signed my life away to the US Government and I still have no idea what the fuck for.
“ You just forced me to sign on to an investigation as an undercover agent and I have not a goddamn idea what the investigation is.”
“ Jon will fill you in on the details since you won’t be reporting to us, you’ll be reporting to him.” Patrick and Pete begin to walk out the room. “ You begin your assignment in two days. Good luck.”
They leave me with my ‘friend’, obviously pleased with themselves leaving such a great first impression. I hear Jon shuffle behind me at the podium. I turn around and open my mouth but words fail to escape. He sold me to the dogs. I thought he had my back; he would be someone I could trust. He did this to me.
How can I forgive that?
“ I know what you're thinking. Don't take it personally.” He tells me with his arms resting atop the podium. He leans backwards a bit, stretching his back. “ But there's a reason why I wanted you and no one else. I've worked with Pete and Patrick before back when I was based in Chicago. They're good guys. Experienced. They know their stuff and when they approached me with this case I knew that I needed to find them someone good.”
“ And that person is me?”
“ Well, yeah.” He chuckles, shifting his weight between either leg. “ But you're also a guy caught in your ways and we needed a push. Please don't get upset with me, but all of this was to protect you. If you think we're blackmailing you, it would be worth knowing that there's been suspicion about your arrangement with your informant for months, Ryan.”
My mouth goes dry. Shit. Are you serious?
Jon continues, as if he knew what I was thinking, “ Getting you off that case and getting you transferred to Pete was the best thing I could do to make sure you wouldn't get into deep shit.”
I run a hand through my hair, “ What the fuck, Jon….”
He stands up and walks over to me. I look at him warily but he steps closer into my space and puts his hand on my shoulder.
“ Ryan, this is big. You wanted to help make a change, right? That's why you became an agent, right? Well this is your chance to cut the head off the snake.”
I shrug his hand off, “ I asked for details. I don't… want to hear you guys try and butter me up, okay?”
He looks at me and sighs.
“ Fine.” He steps away and walks over to the whiteboard at the front of the briefing room. He grabs a black dry eraser pen and writes the name MONA LISA in large letters. “ Welcome to Operation Mona Lisa.”