Copyright © 2006 by Rich Mussler. Not to be reproduced without permission.
“Are you crazy, Jeanie?”
“I never meant to, Fritz. Y’all know me.”
I did. She was a street junkie who sold anything she could, toasters, cameras, her own body, to feed her habit. I’ve seen her high on everything from paint thinner to heroin.
“You saw that big stash and wad of cash and simply could not pass it up. That it?” I shook my head, disappointed.
Jeanie Franklin was an El Paso junkie, a full time forty dollar hooker and a part time drug dealer. Military personnel were her principal clientele in both lines of work. She was what they call an anytime date. Except for the fact that most of her teeth had been kicked or punched from her mouth she was really quite pretty.
I’d interrogated her at least a dozen times over the last six months. We’d pumped her for information about what went on inside the military base. She never gave us much but once told me her father had been a preacher. I imagine that she’d broken every commandment in the book except murder – up till now. Tonight she’d crossed even that line. She’d killed her boyfriend for money and dope and used his own gun to do it.
She’d have gotten away with it, too, had she not taken time to shoot up. That’s the heroin – it makes you stupid. El Paso police responded to the disturbance and found Jeannie all loopy sitting next to the body of the man she’d just murdered.
She was still loopy but the presence of the police sobered her considerable.
“Can’t I work no deal?”
I shrugged. “Not my department, Jeannie. I’m DEA, not homicide. But if you know where he got his dope I’ll try to help.”
She considered it briefly. “They’d snuff me if I told you,” she said, and shook her head. Cheap hoop earrings jangled.
“This is Texas, Jeannie. You’re snuffed anyway.”
I was feeling a little tired and I suppose I wasn’t all that sympathetic. I’ve been a DEA agent now some twenty-five years and have heard it all before – like a phonograph record with a scratch that skips to the same bit of music over and over. Even worse the youngest members of my team have no idea what a phonograph is, so I can’t use that metaphor anymore.
In addition to the heroin there were three partial kilos of cocaine – street value maybe two grand – in the dead man’s backpack. I’d gotten a courtesy call from the local cops because we’ve been working El Paso out of their city offices. My team of Dallas-based federal agents had taken up temporary residence in the border town six months earlier, before summer. Our assignment was to be a thorn in the side of the illegal drug industry, but we were more like a sliver in the thumb. It’s a losing game fighting drugs.
But I’m used to losing games.
We were conducting several investigations simultaneously.
First, there’s a military base in the area, Fort Bliss. We knew that someone was smuggling heroin from eastern manufacturers through there somehow. Second, the nation of Mexico had recently stepped up to become the number one supplier of methamphetamine to the US. That crystalline concoction comes over directly with the flow of illegal aliens, so we work with the border patrol to stem the flow. (It’s a bit like plugging holes in a sieve.) Third, there’s the ever popular cocaine business arriving daily, principally from Colombia. Coke is smuggled in by air at night to hidden landing fields or by ship and rail in broad daylight, concealed with legally imported goods. Once in awhile, with the help of the US Coast Guard, we bust a yacht full of the stuff along the gulf coast, but that’s a chore. It’s tough to monitor the miles and miles of shoreline from Brownsville to Key West.
In the scheme of things Jeanie Franklin was small potatoes. The dead man getting his picture snapped just then by a crime scene photographer wasn’t much more. He was Jeanie’s boyfriend and pimp and the source of her drugs, and she’d killed him. Once again I was struck by the violence associated with this business.
But I didn’t feel sorry for him. He looked stupid lying naked in a pool of his own blood.
The homicide detective working the case saw me staring at him. “Recognize him, Fritz?”
I shook my head. “Should I?”
“Benjamin Walker. Been on TV. He’s done a few ads. Local stuff.”
I looked at him again but didn’t recognize him. “He’d make a great TV ad now, as is. A public service announcement: Just say no to drugs.”
The homicide cop snickered at that.
“Anything else in the backpack?”
“You bet,” the detective said. “He had a lot of cash in there.”
“Well, there was the usual roll of small bills. But he also had fifteen grand in hundred dollar bills, neatly banded.”
“Fifteen grand? What’d he do, rob a bank?”
The homicide cop shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
Jeanie Franklin had killed her boyfriend after first making love to him. She’d grabbed his gun and tried to rip him off while sitting on top of him. With that much cash at stake, no wonder he fought back. When they struggled the weapon discharged.
Fact of the matter is I felt sorrier for Jeanie than him. Her next “anytime date” is in Huntsville with an executioner.
They stood her to her feet. She was unsteady. Her hands were cuffed. There was panic in her eyes. “Fritz, listen…”
But they hauled her away.
I checked my watch. It was two a.m. Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.
Count your blessings.