James found himself sitting on a park bench, by himself, at seven in the morning. This was not a usual morning, by any stretch of the imagination. Roughly half an hour ago, after making a brief stop at the police station, James had brought detective Thompson to his home to demonstrate the predicament he had found himself in. Thompson was very kind and considerate, after the initial grilling in the station, and calmly proceeded to examine all the evidence. He checked the doors and windows for signs of forced entry, then looked over the duffel bag and its contents, before asking James more probing questions. He asked about possible enemies, strange acquaintances, shady offers, things of that nature. James, being an upstanding citizen, and somewhat lacking in a social life, just stood there slowly shaking his head during the questions.
Then something strange had happened.
“James,” detective Thompson had said, “I’m going to need you to meet up with this man that called you.”
“Excuse me?” James was dumbfounded. He could not possibly have meant that James was to meet a likely criminal.
“I know it’s a bit unorthodox, but I don’t really see any other option.” He was serious.
“You’ve got to be joking.” James was incredulous. “I’m not a cop. I can’t go out there and meet with some guy who probably has a gun, and will probably shoot me when he realizes I’m not the guy he thinks I am!”
He was on the verge of hyperventilation. Fear and panic began to creep their way up James spine, stretching from the tips of his toes to the very ends of the hair on his head.
“Now settle down, son.” Thompson remained cool in the wake of James’ meltdown. “Listen for a minute. Take a breath. Here, sit down before you pass out, you’re looking a little pale.” He motioned towards a chair as he finished his sentence.
They were standing in James’ living room. It was a typical bachelor pad, meaning that the decorations were sparse at best. Most of the furniture came directly from an IKEA showroom, except for the entertainment system which, of course, was the best that money could buy. James sat down on the edge of his white swedish couch and took a few deep breaths before looking back at the detective.
“There, you’re looking better already.” He flashed a quick smile. “I think I know the man who’s after you. We’ve run into him a few times before. His name is Ken Cross,” the detective paused, then almost as an afterthought added, “he runs the largest drug ring in the city.”
Whatever color that had been regained by sitting down had drained from James’ face at that piece of news. “Drug… ring?” He stammered the words out slowly.
“Yes, yes, drugs.” Thompson seemed dismissive of the point. He began to slowly pace about the room as he continued with his explanation. “Don’t worry about that. His operation is unique in that it has never been linked to a murder, so I really don’t think you have anything to be concerned about with this meeting. Even so, we don’t want drug dealers running around the city.”
James just sat silently and listened to Thompson. He was too stunned to say anything at the moment, though it was not out of the ordinary for him to be a bit removed from a given situation. He had always been somewhat introverted, which would explain his lack of social life. While his friends and officemates were out to see movies or drinking on Friday nights, he would quietly head home and spend the evenings reading or watching various television shows. While it was relaxing for him, at times he found that he could not remember what he had done the night before and his evenings began to run together.
Thompson just continued with his justifications. “Since he has the reputation of not killing people, I think it will be all right to send you out to meet him. We would be monitoring you of course, and would rush in if you need assistance.”
James nodded slowly, not fully aware of his actions. This whole situation was odd, and Thompson had yet to explain to him exactly why he had found himself on the radar of the most powerful drug mogul in town.
“We will need you to sign some forms before we can do this.” Thompson laid a few sheets of paper on the coffee table in front of James, along with a nondescript black pen. “These are all standard waivers and consent forms. I would allow you to have a lawyer look them over, but since we are short on time I will suggest that you read them over quickly and sign them. I know that this is a difficult decision, but think about all the good you can do by helping to bring this man in. You’re the best shot that we’ve had at him in months, and every day that he is out there on the street, more kids will die from their addictions. I’m not trying to coerce you James, we just don’t have a lot of time here.”
Thompson had used his name correctly for the first time since they had met, which threw him off guard for a moment. He stared at the papers blankly for a few more moments, and then signed them. He had never felt the level of bravery that he had in that moment, and he knew that he would have to muster even more in the next hour.
Thompson smiled as he snatched up the papers from the table. “Excellent. You are doing your city a great service.” He turned and headed towards the door. “Come on, let’s get you suited up.”
So, here he sat in the dull grey of the morning, dew still clinging to the grass. The park was quiet at this hour, the only sounds being that of passing vehicles on the nearby roads, ferrying their passengers on to work. Even the decorative fountain in the center of the park was silent, as it had been turned off for the winter. It was not quite so cold that he was uncomfortable, but he had made sure to wear a light jacket and skull cap. Detective Thompson sat in his unmarked police car, parked on the street to James’ left. He had assured James that there would be more units watching the exchange, but so far James had not noticed any. This did not mean that they were absent, as the detective had also mentioned that they were surveillance units and therefore were adept at remaining undetected.
Every few minutes a car would roll by on the street to James’ right. His heart would quicken for a few moments, before he realized that it was just another working stiff, off to his or her day job in the city. But one of the cars that drove by was different. It was a black SUV, with windows fully tinted so that nothing was visible within. This particular vehicle also drove past James, which he thought odd since it was the most likely of any to be the contact he was waiting for. After a few minutes, the same black SUV was back, driving the opposite direction now. He realized that it must have made a u-turn down the street and headed back to the park after making a quick sweep of the road and possibly some of the side streets. James was just wondering if the surveillance team had been spotted, and contemplating making a mad dash back to detective Thompson’s vehicle, when the SUV parked on the side of the road and a man stepped out of the driver’s side door.
He was tall, late twenties or perhaps early thirties, not much older than James, and caucasian. In fact, he could easily have been just another of the working-class citizens that he had been watching all morning. He thought that the man was dressed surprisingly well, for a drug dealer, but then he realized that he had never met a drug dealer so perhaps he was not the best judge of these things. The man’s hair was cut short, complementing his white button down shirt, charcoal blazer with matching slacks, and expensive looking shoes. James was beginning to feel a bit underdressed for the occasion, in his blue jeans, hooded sweatshirt and jacket.
Butterflies were beginning to flutter through James’ stomach as the man approached, unbuttoned his jacket, and sat on the bench next to him. Show time.
“Good morning James.” The man spoke in a calm, soothing tone. The words seemed to flow out of his mouth like silk. “I trust that everything was found to be in order.”
James almost imperceptibly rotated his body towards the man, aiming the microphone that was hidden beneath his sweatshirt at the man. He really had no idea if this would be of any help, but he found himself compelled to do so. He then realized that he had forgotten to make sure that the transmitter was on, so that Thompson would be able to listen in. That procedure would be too difficult to undertake without drawing unneeded attention to himself.
“Are you quite all right?” The man had turned to face James now. A hint of concern etched across his face. “You look… preoccupied. Is there a better time to do this?”
James had been so wrapped up in concern over the recording equipment that he failed to answer the man, and realized now that they had just been sitting there for several seconds, silently. He steeled himself against further distraction and put his mind to the task. Thompson would be able to handle the recording equipment later. James looked at the man directly in the eyes and replied, “yes, I’m fine.” He did not apologize, nor did he add an apologetic tone to his reply. This bit of acting surprised even himself.
“Good. I thought that perhaps you were having second thoughts.” The man turned back to look at the fountain in front of their bench before continuing. “I have information about your target.”