NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
By NT Franklin
The drug deal complete, Robert drove off. Still high, he never saw the girl walking along the side of the dark deserted road. That is, until he sent her airborne a good fifty feet. He slammed on the brakes, nearly causing his dealer’s car behind him to rear end his fancy truck. Robert exited his truck and went running back to look for the person he struck. He found the mangled body of a young girl impaled on a short tree branch. She probably never felt the tree, but will never feel anything again.
The driver and one passenger of the vehicle trailing him appeared as soon as Robert looked up from the dead girl. They recorded the scene on video with their smartphones. The third occupant of the vehicle recorded the truck’s front, targeting the push bars on the passenger side of his truck, the VIN number and Maine license plate. The push bars maybe looked a little off kilter, but other than that, there was nothing on his truck to show he was in an accident.
“She’s dead, man. You killed her, man,” said Mario.
“I never saw her. She came out of nowhere. I didn’t mean to hit her. It was an accident. You saw it.”
“Gross. She’s dead,” said Ayden, now joining the others at the body.
Lorenzo conducted the drug transaction; Mario and Ayden were muscle. Members of the Red Side Guerilla Brims New Haven street gang, they were up and comers. The gang activities included drug trafficking and racketeering. Lorenzo had shown keen insight in new markets and was rapidly moving up the ranks. His childhood buddies, Mario and Ayden, were happy Lorenzo was the boss.
“Ditch the coke, we have to call the cops,” said Mario.
“Robert, I’ll take your brick and we’ll get out of here,” said Ayden.
“No. Robert, you keep your brick. The girl’s dead. Nothing is going to change that. It looks like your flash truck is fine–get in it and drive your rich-boy ass back to Yale. We have lots of video of the scene. I’ll call and tell you what you are going to do for me,” said Lorenzo.
“Crap, Lorenzo, are you sure?” Asked Ayden.
“Everyone get back in your ride and go home. Now!” Lorenzo ordered.
Back in the car, Lorenzo asked, “Ayden, did you get him confessing about how it was an accident and he didn’t mean to hit her?”
“You bet, Boss.”
“Phones.” Lorenzo said, holding his hand out.
“Aw come on, Lo,” said Mario, keeping his eyes on the road.
Both Mario and Ayden passed Lorenzo their phones.
“You’ll have these back by lunch tomorrow. I’ll keep track of all the copies of the video from tonight. That way you two won’t get into trouble or do something stupid.”
Robert Austin Kane III was a rich kid. Robert Austin Kane II was a successful artist in Clam Harbor, Maine and owned Reed Gallery, the most prominent gallery in the area. Clam Harbor, while sleepy, was a rapidly growing artist community. A successful gallery kept cash rolling in. Lots of cash. Granddaddy Robert Austin Kane was a blue-collar worker and helped build many of the stately buildings in Clam Harbor, buying and selling area buildings at the right time. He didn’t understand the artist scene and thought Robert II was not tough enough on his philandering grandson.
In his junior year at Yale, Robert was majoring in finance, at least this semester. More like a minor because his major was partying. This was his second year of doing coke. He started supplying his roommates and one or two others, but that was it. Kane did not need the money from distributing; he wanted the company getting high. He met up with Lorenzo at the student union, or more precisely, he was targeted by Lorenzo who passed himself off a well-to-do local kid attending Yale. Robert was now a regular customer.
Robert made it back to his apartment.
“Did you get the stuff?” One of his roommates asked.
Robert dropped the bundle on the table and walked to his room.
“What happened? You got the stuff, but you’re drenched in sweat and shaking.”
No answer. Robert kept his eyes down and headed to his room.
“Look–he’s already into it. That’s why he’s so pale,” another roommate said.
Robert shut the door to his room. He lay in bed shaking and whimpering. Not sure whether to fear the police or Lorenzo more, he decided it didn’t make any difference.
The hit-and-run fatality off the Derby Avenue was big news. The daughter of the chair of the Board of Alders was a member of the National Honor Society and well liked. The newspaper account had the fifteen-year-old girl walking home from a gathering, leaving as soon as she realized it was an underage drinking party.
A reward for information was offered. Nothing came of it. The reward was increased, but still nothing ever came from it. The girl’s parents appeared on Channel 3 and pleaded for community help in identifying the driver. A powerful plea, but no new information surfaced. A small white cross at the place of the hit-and-run accident was the only visible reminder of her death.
Finals were over and Robert managed to pass all his classes this time. Daddy would not have to make another donation to keep him at Yale. “Wow, something to be proud of,” he thought. He had reduced his drug use and stopped supplying, so he gave the remainder of the brick from the accident night to his roommates. Not having heard from Lorenzo, Robert thought he was in the clear, or at least in as good a position as could be.
Robert packed up his belongings from the apartment into his truck and headed north to Maine. Maybe I won’t go back to Yale and Lorenzo will not be able to find me. Humming with the radio, the five-hour ride seemed less than two hours. “Blowing off the summer pretending to work dusting pieces in the gallery, there would be lots of time for swimming at Berry Park,” thought Robert.
The tourist season had started in Clam Harbor and the roads were filled with cars with out-of-state plates. Robert eased into the Reed Gallery lot and parked in one of the “reserved for owner” slots. Dad will be glad to see me.
As Robert walked into the gallery, that thought, and all thoughts, vaporized when he saw his father discussing a piece of art with Lorenzo.
“Robert, come meet Lorenzo. He is a buyer from Connecticut and has traveled specifically to expand his collection of mixed-media decoupages. In fact, why don’t we all go into my office.”
“I’d like that, Mr. Kane,” said Lorenzo. Robert looked like he was going to be sick.
As they sat down, Lorenzo pulled out his phone, punched a few buttons and handed to Mr. Kane. “Please watch this video; it is part of my collection.”
Doing as asked, Mr. Kane became whiter and whiter until he matched Robert’s pallor.
“Robert, you killed that girl. What did your lawyer say?”
“Dad, I didn’t need a lawyer. No one knows about it. It is an unsolved cold case.”
“Well, you need one now.”
“Now hold on. Do you really want your boy to go to prison?” Lorenzo asked.
“I have the only copies of the video from the accident. I don’t want to see your boy go to prison.”
“Dad, he’s a drug dealer, don’t listen to him.”
“Is that true?”
“True, Mr. Kane, but I’m your son’s drug dealer. And I have evidence of him, high on drugs, confessing to vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of the accident. That makes me more than a drug dealer, don’t you think.”
“I don’t know what you want.”
“I want to buy art. That’s why I’m here.”
“I doubt that,” said Mr. Kane.
“Oh, I do, but not just any art,” said Lorenzo.
“Sign says you ship anywhere, is that true?”
“You are going to start shipping art I buy. I like the mixed-media decoupages. In particular, I like that they are big and look like a shadow box in reverse covered with a gooped-up canvas. The one I was looking at should have no problem fitting a two-by-twenty-by-twenty-inch brick of cocaine behind the brown paper covering the back.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can. Robert here is going to start making the canvases or whatever you call them. Make them the size we were looking at and put a price of $3000 on them. No one will pay that price for them. List them online and put them in the gallery. Sell them if you can. I will buy at least a decoupage a month.”
“Dad, I can do them. They look like a seventh-grade art project.”
“Well, Lorenzo, it looks like you are going to be buying some art after all,” said Mr. Kane. Robert was surprised at the quick reversal by his father; too calm in his decision.
“That’s not all,” said Lorenzo
“I knew there would be more,” said Mr. Kane.
“You have a nice gallery here.”
“You can’t have the gallery, I’ve built this from nothing!”
“I don’t want the gallery, I want you to keep running the gallery like you always have. I like the fact that it backs up to the harbor. I will have deliveries made here by boat. The deliveries will be put into the decoupages. The first delivery will be in thirteen days. High tide is at 12 AM so it should be low enough to get a boat under the footbridge across the bay by 3 AM but not so low as to restrict access. My associates will meet the boat and hand deliver six items to young Robert here. He will have the decoupages ready to accept them. Do you see any problem with that, Mr. Kane?”
“It’s all settled then. Robert, I suggest you get started on your career as a decoupage artist,” said Lorenzo.
Lorenzo opened the passenger door and slid onto the seat. “How’d it go, Boss?” Ayden asked from the driver’s seat.
“Perfect. You boys will be making some trips up here. Make a reservation for next weekend at the hotel we passed, I think it was called Brown’s Seaside. Drive up Friday, walk around, shop and go to dinner. Bring your ladies, but stay out of trouble. Figure out how to blend in, be a tourist.”
“Rebekya will love it,” said Ayden.
“Rose, too,” said Mario.
“Dad, they’ve stolen my life.”
“Yes they have. What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You better figure something out soon or you might as well join their gang.”
The next day, Robert went to task making mixed-media decoupages. He had finished two pieces that day and four more in the next two days, so his six were completed. They look like crap, but so do the others. Maybe this won’t be all that bad.
Ayden and Mario arrived at Clam Harbor the next Friday.
“Oh look at that sign, it’s First Friday Art Walk. That’ll be fun Mario. Let’s do it,” said Rose. Mario wasn’t sure.
The foursome checked into Brown’s Seaside and Rose, Mario’s girlfriend, asked about the Art Walk. Brochure in hand, she led the party on the rounds of the galleries.
Even stoic Ayden had to admit the paintings were nice. Well, at least some of them. Mario liked the munchies and wine at every stop. He started to loosen up with a comfortable buzz and actually enjoyed the paintings of the coastal scenes. The ladies were thrilled with all the culture surrounding the art. They did not have to work to blend in with the tourists, but Ayden, and especially Mario, needed improvement; with a couple glasses of wine at each gallery, Mario was past a comfortable buzz. As his inhibitions lessened, he became louder and his comments less than polite.
The Bay Gallery of Modern Art was a stretch for Rose and Rebekya, and way too much for Mario and Ayden. Mario started to make a rude comment and Rose turned and herded them all out of the gallery.
The final stop on Rose’s list was the Reed Gallery. Mario and Ayden knew of the arrangement with the gallery, but not the details. “Rose, get a load of this crap for three thousand dollars. What is it, papier-mâché, window screen, and blobs of paint?” Mario blurted.
“Mario, for the last time, keep your voice down. That’s a mixed-media decoupage. The screen are lobster traps on the boat and there a multiple layers of paint and sealer to hold everything together,” said Rose.
“Dude, let’s bounce,” said Mario to no one in particular.
Other patrons smiled. One who did not smile was Detective Jed Calhoun. He usually wandered into the galleries on Friday Art Walk. Not because the galleries needed police protection, but because it was Friday, he was off duty, and he grew up with some of the artists. Besides, he liked paintings that looked like paintings.
Okay, Jed smiled at the comment, but only a little. He figured he was not ‘evolved’ enough to get some of the paintings that didn’t look like paintings. But he knew better than to blurt out what Mario did. And ‘Dude, let’s bounce,’ perked his ears up.
Word in the law enforcement circles was the New Haven street gang, the Red Side Guerilla Brims, were looking to expand operations into Maine. The cities of Lewiston/Auburn and Bangor were the targets, but the drugs needed to enter Maine somewhere. The Maine coast was as logical place as anywhere.
Detective Calhoun had been briefed by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency about the impending threat. These two couples may not look like gang bangers, but they had a Connecticut twang to their voice and the men, in particular, stuck out. Jed made a mental note of the couples as not fitting in.
At the end of the next week, the first shipment was motored in at 3 AM under the cover of darkness. The engine was so quiet the group didn’t hear the boat until it was almost to the retaining wall at the back of the Reed gallery property. Unloaded in less than one minute, the boat was back on its way out of the bay.
“Okay, Robert, let’s see the paintings,” said Mario.
“Mixed-media decoupages,” said Robert, correcting Mario.
Robert finished securing the brick inside the frame and glued the backing paper onto the frame, successfully hiding the brick. He flipped frame over all to see.
“I’m paying three grand for this?” It looks like crap,” said Lorenzo.
“That’s what I told you, Boss,” said Ayden.
Three days later, there was an online sale of one of Robert’s decoupages with a PO Box delivery address in Lewiston. Understandably, Robert was not super excited about his first art sale.
In each of the next four weeks, there was an online sale of one of Robert’s art pieces. Only one piece was left from the first shipment. “The drugs were moving a lot faster than Lorenzo had indicated, but he’s a criminal,” thought Robert. And so am I.
The following Wednesday afternoon was a slow day and Beth, a local painter, was running the gallery alone when an online sale of Robert’s work came through to a buyer in Bangor.
“Robert, you sold one of your mixed-media decoupages online to a Bangor buyer. Isn’t that exciting?” Beth asked as she telephoned him with the news.
“Sure,” replied Robert. Not the response Beth expected on a three thousand dollar art sale, especially from someone that had just started producing art. She had been painting for years and would have been over the moon with a three thousand dollar sale. That bothered her. As it was a slow afternoon, she looked into the gallery sales.
“Oh, my,” Beth said. That was the sixth sale–all online–of Robert’s decoupages in a little over than one month. What a start for an artist’s first month.
When Mr. Kane stopped in hour later, Beth said “Robert is having phenomenal success his first month as an artist.”
“Sure,” was his indifferent reply.
Again, not the response Beth expected from a proud Papa with a son following Dad’s footsteps.
“Beth, please don’t look into my son’s sales again. It is a family matter.”
She thought he would be proud of any art sales by his son. Curious.
More shipments came by boat and sales continued. Robert was not happy, but what was he supposed to do? His decoupages kept selling and being shipped.
Beth arrived a bit early for her noon shift the next Wednesday; she stopped to peruse the outgoing shipments of art. There is another shipment to Bangor of a decoupage-sized box. It’s to the same PO box as the first one I saw! Beth knew better than to mention it to Mr. Kane.
Jed attended a daylong meeting put on by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in response to the increasing cocaine use in the larger inland towns. Two overdose deaths had occurred in the past week alone and still, there was no public information on the source and distribution of the coke.
When Jed returned to the office from the meeting, the Chief asked “Jed, anything new on the cocaine invasion?”
“Not really. Still no clue about the distribution network. The MDEA boys think there are new players in the game.”
“How is it getting into Maine–Interstate 95?”
“Chief, they don’t think so. They’ve been tracking tolls and there is no correlation on license plates and new flushes of coke on the street.”
“How about multiple vehicles?”
“Some UMaine math prof did some sort of analysis and says no. They are convinced that it is not coming over the roads.
“Did you ask them about water access–we have lots.”
“I did, and they said they would get back to me. I don’t think they thought of it. I’ll let you know if they contact me. I gave them my card.”
“Jed, get a jump on it. Start asking around the docks about suspicious behavior, different boats, you know the drill.”
“Got it, Chief.”
The inquiries around the docks proved to be a dead end. Summer was winding down, so Jed didn’t mind lingering over his coffee at the Java Cup; by now, there were no lines of tourists trying to get into the poplar café. Intently reading the second section of the weekly Register, he didn’t see Beth come in before she sat down at his table.
“Morning, Ms. Dobson.”
“Morning, Detective Calhoun. And it’s Beth. I need to talk with you about something going on.”
Jed nodded silently. He interviewed her in a previous case and knew given a brief pause, she would talk and talk.
“Detective, something is wrong at the gallery. Robert is selling decoupage pieces and neither he nor his father seemed pleased about it. I was so happy with the first pieces I sold through the gallery I cried. Mr. Kane even wrote a lovely note to me on my sale. It meant a lot to me. I have only sold one painting since that time.”
“Isn’t the gallery supposed to sell pieces?” ask Jed, redirecting the conversation.
“Yes. But Robert has only started producing art this summer and has sold many pieces. And they are all are online sales where they haven’t been inspected close up. I think the pieces lack artistic depth but they are selling. I am wondering if I should start making decoupages, too. They are still selling even this time of year. Two sold last week and they were the only sales we had. Robert’s father told me not to look into his son’s sales. He wasn’t proud of him.”
“Take a breath, Beth. So what’s wrong, he’s selling things or his father isn’t proud of him?”
“Detective, they are all online sales and the go to the same PO Box in Bangor or the same PO Box in Lewiston.”
Now, she had Jed’s full attention.
“Tonight is the last Friday Art Walk of the season. If I stop in, can you point out Robert’s work to me?”
“Of course, Detective. You’re welcome in the gallery anytime.”
The crowd was sparse and the cheese platter was small, but still, it was a decent crowd for the final Art Walk of the season. Beth showed Jed her paintings, some photography, and finally some mixed-media decoupages.
“These have been very popular this summer. Can I interest you in one Detective? It is a good chance to get some pieces of an up-and-coming artist before his prices go up,” said Beth.
“He sold another one today to the same Bangor PO Box. There is a courier pick up scheduled at 10 am tomorrow. Does that help?” Beth said under her breath.
“I’m not in the market for mixed-media decoupages right now, Beth. But thanks for the insight.”
Jed signed out the unmarked car Saturday morning and parked on the street with a clear view of the Reed Gallery. At 10 AM sharp, a Chevy with Connecticut plates pulled up in front the gallery and the driver went in. Minutes later, he exited with a package under his arm and drove off.
Jed hit the blue lights once the vehicle had left Main Street. Driver’s side brake light was out, so it was just another traffic stop.
“Driver’s license and registration, please.”
“Officer, what was I doing wrong?” asked the driver as he shifted in his seat.
“Driver’s license and registration, please.”
“This your car, Roberto Gonzalez?” asked Jed holding his license.
“No, it belongs to my friend, Mario Gutierrez.”
Jed ran the Connecticut driver’s license and an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court popped up. A wry smile crossed Jed’s face. He called for backup.
“Out of the car please,” Jed ordered.
The driver did as ordered, including putting his hands on the hood of the car. The driver was frisked and then handcuffed.
“You have an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court in Connecticut. You’re going to Connecticut.”
Backup arrived and stayed with the Chevy until a tow truck arrived. The Chevy was towed to an impound lot where Jed was waiting. He took the package out of the vehicle and back to the station. MDEA officers were already there with video equipment rolling. Carefully, they unwrapped the package and unsealed the Kraft-paper backing on the art piece. A brick of cocaine was securely attached to the frame.
“Was the Judge unhappy you interrupted his golf game to get the warrant?” asked Jed.
“Naw, I think his fifth stroke on the 9th hole was more aggravating,” a MDEA officer replied. The lead Drug Enforcement officer put a small GPS tracker between the canvas and the frame from the back. The entire package was resealed and returned to the towed car.
The trap was set.
Jed didn’t pick Robert up, but rather went for a walk in Berry Park, where Robert spent Saturday afternoons.
“Detective,” acknowledged Robert.
“MDEA and I opened up one your art pieces this morning. You’re in world of hurt. You have a couple of choices; only one of them is a smart move. I need to know how you are getting the coke and who the big supplier is. For that, there will be generous consideration in sentencing.”
Robert took on a green tinge and nearly threw up.
“MDEA is at the station now. They will be right here in 10 minutes if you and I aren’t at the station before that. What’s your decision?”
“What kind of consideration?”
“Robert, I can’t say, it’s not up to me. I will speak to the DA on your behalf. How much consideration depends on how much help you are. Clock is ticking.”
“Okay,” said a defeated Robert.
“Drive to the station and park in the public lot across the street. I will follow behind far enough that it doesn’t look like you are being taken in. Can you do that?”
MDEA officers were waiting the hallway. Robert shuffled through the opened door to an interrogation room. Jed joined them after a couple of minutes.
Robert spilled all he knew about the drug shipments. The MDEA officers knew they hit the mother lode. With the next shipment due to arrive Wednesday in the predawn hours, the drug ring would be paralyzed within a week.
Monday morning, Mario Gutierrez, registered owner of the towed Chevy came to the police station and Jed escorted him to his towed car.
“Sorry about the trouble, but you should be careful who you let use your car. Here is a repair order for the driver’s side brake light, that’s why the car was stopped. You have 30 days to submit proof of repair.” Jed used his best, ah shucks, small-town cop voice and hoped it worked. Mario gave a quick glance to the package in the passenger seat and drove off.
“Lorenzo, ‘Barney Fife’ gave me a ticket for a brake light and said sorry. What a chump. The fools left the package alone. All’s good,” said Mario into the phone.
“Good job, Mario. I’ll be up Wednesday. This is the biggest shipment yet. It is all set for 2 AM. Don’t be late,” said Lorenzo confidently.
The gallery was closed on Mondays and Robert laid low. He spent Tuesday making mixed-media decoupages. The officers told him to go through his regular routine so as not to draw suspicion. Besides, Robert knew it would help pass the time.
By 12 AM, MDEA SWAT teams were set up in Clam Harbor and Lewiston. Robert showed up at the Reed Gallery water access at 1:45 AM. Lorenzo and three others were waiting for him.
“Yo, college boy, you look nervous,” said Lorenzo.
“No, just tired. Worked all day making decoupages.”
“Here comes the boat,” whispered Lorenzo.
Fifteen bricks were unloaded and five remained in the boat when the lights came on. Light came from everywhere.
“You …” Lorenzo was stopped in midsentence.
“Police. Lower you weapon or it will be taken as a threat.” A dozen men dressed in SWAT combat gear brings even the nastiest mid-level drug dealer to his knees.
Lorenzo, Mario, Ayden, and three others were apprehended.
The coordinated bust in Lewiston netted five others and a huge stash of drugs, guns, and cash. The drug ring was smashed. The alert action of Detective Jed Calhoun was noted with a well-deserved commendation. With the scale of the bust and the number of arrests involved, the DA was considering recommending a five-year probation sentence for Robert on the drug charges. While most agreed, something bothered Jed.
“Chief, I’d like to look at the phones captured in the bust.”
“Jed, the MDEA boys have been through them and pulled numbers and text messages off. They’ve done all that. Why do you want them?”
“Chief, I’ve got this feeling. We know the what, but I don’t think we know why. Can you arrange to have the phones delivered here?”
“I can. But don’t embarrass me, Jed.”
A week later, the phones from the Lewiston and Clam Harbor bust arrived. Nothing to note on the phones from the Lewiston bust. Jed saw enough drunken selfies to last a lifetime. The phones from the Clam Harbor bust were equally as riveting. But one phone had two videos saved in an unusual directory. Jed tapped the file and the video started to play. He had to look away at the first playing of the video. After watching both videos several times, Jed went online. It wasn’t hard to find accounts of hit-and-run fatality in Connecticut around the date stamp of the video file.
“Chief, you need to see these videos.” He tapped the first file, handed the phone over, and watched the Chief lose some color. Same reaction with the second video file. Jed handed him printouts of the hit-and-run fatality just outside of New Haven, where Robert Austin Kane III went to school.
“Whose phone is this?”
“Tag says it belongs to Lorenzo Garcia. He was the brains behind the operation here,” said Jed.
“Now you know the why–blackmail. Bring young Robert in. I’ll have the DA here.” Jed called Robert and asked him to come to the station, as the DA was ready to discuss his sentence.
Robert, his father, and his lawyer sat at the table.
“By the looks on their faces, they have no idea what is coming,” Jed said to the Chief as they watched through the one-way glass.
Robert looked relieved and a little smug when the DA told him they didn’t expect to charge him with drug trafficking at this time.
The smugness lessened when the DA said we have something else.
The smugness disappeared when the DA played the video of aftermath of his hit-and-run accident that killed a young girl.
“My life is stolen,” murmured Robert.
Robert Austin Kane II put his hand on his lawyer’s arm, and only said “No.” He was looking into his son’s soulless eyes when he said “No. Your stole that young girl’s life. You must atone. My lawyer and I are leaving. Make the best deal you can. Goodbye, son.”