“Three fifty for a half ounce? That’s bullshit Johnny. Last week I paid a hundred for a quarter and that was in the heights man!”
Johnny sighed when he heard the statement. The two men sat in Romero’s Taqueria. It was at the corner of Central and South Coors Boulevard in Albuquerque. It sat in an old strip mall with a pawn shop to its left, and a cigarette store to the right. The bars on the windows of the complex told the story. The City called it a “revitalization area,” which translated into no realtor would go within a mile of the location, but the county and city still taxed the area as if it were the Hamptons. Most of the buildings were typical nineteen sixties construction laced with the occasional southwestern style adobe building that Albuquerque was known for. Romero’s had stood in the same strip mall for over twenty years. Sure, developers were trying to build new buildings in the area, but they couldn’t mask the urban deterioration that took years to fester. The lobby of the restaurant smelled of hot vegetable oil, corn tortillas, and cigarette smoke. The booths in the restaurant were as old as the building. They seemed to be held in place by the grime that covered the crevices in the floor no mop could penetrate. The walls reeked of time and weather.
“This ain’t Wal-Mart. Cops got the market locked, the shit ain’t moving. Go to the heights if you don’t believe me.” Johnny Romero looked at his potential buyer sitting across from him. “It’s the balloon fiesta; they’re hitting all the stash houses. I’m down to my last bit. I need at least three fifty for the half.” This kid had a lot of nerve, Johnny thought. He supposedly came from a wealthy family, but you could hardly with all the poor mouthing he was doing. The kid’s eyes were almost crimson, and he appeared as if he hadn’t slept in days. He looked maybe five foot five, a buck twenty tops. He had black hair with auburn highlights, about shoulder length. The kid was wearing skin tight jeans with a studded black belt. Johnny could have killed him, just as easy as look at him; he meant nothing to him. Jeremy was his name. Johnny thought back to the first time he met Jeremy, he came in the restaurant with Cherry, a prostitute that lived in the valley. He thought Cherry was Okay but Jeremy was a waste of skin? He didn’t know why he kept selling to Jeremy; he had plenty of other buyers.
“I just need a bump dude. I’m not trying to disrespect you,” Jeremy said, almost panting as he spoke.
“You sit here and bitch about the price? That is disrespect!” Tweekers, Johnny thought as he finished his stuffed sopapilla. It’s always something, they always have some reason to try and lowball the price, he thought. Johnny wiped his hands and mouth on his restaurant apron already stained from the day’s labor. He could tell that Jeremy was on the downslide and needed something bad. He was tempted to give it to him for free if he just shut up, but that wasn’t part of the game. The game was, he had the dope and he set the price; end of story. Junkies come and go, especially the meth monkeys. A lot of people made the switch from cocaine to meth because the price was lower and the high lasted longer. Coke maybe could give someone a one to two hour high, but meth could keep someone tweaking for half a day at least, and sometimes over a day.
“What if I could do something for you? You know like…”
“Joto! I should cut your balls off!” Johnny stood up and was ready for anything. He sighed and held himself back before he made a major mistake. Johnny could sense that Jeremy wanted to trade his services for the drugs, but that wasn’t Johnny’s thing. He had heard around that Jeremy turned tricks for drugs. The very notion of one being homosexual in the South Valley, Albuquerque was like placing a large target on your back.
“No, no Johnny, calm down, I meant for someone else, not you, I swear!”
Johnny saw how frightened Jeremy was. Any outsider could see the differences in the two men. Jeremy was almost petite, but Johnny was five eleven and at least two hundred and fifty pounds. His sleeveless arms revealed gang logo designs and scars from days gone by. The veins on his neck began to pulsate and accentuate the tattoos there. He carried a knife in his right pocket. He had been in a few rough situations, and he knew how to handle himself.
“You’re so dopefucked you don’t even realize what you’re saying. Be at the back door at five. The price is three bills and you better show!” Johnny hissed at the kid. Giving Jeremy a discount was the only way to shut him up, short of killing him, he thought. He stood up and wiped his hands with his apron one last time. He watched in disgust as Jeremy left the building. Johnny hated the restaurant, and every time he saw his mother and father slave away inside, he hated it even more. But this kid, Jeremy came from a rich family and had a ticket out of the drug life and a future. All the kid would have to do is give up the drugs, but he wouldn’t. Johnny didn’t have a ticket. There weren’t a lot of trust fund kids in the South Valley. His family had to take loans on their restaurant to pay for his legal fees, so Johnny wouldn’t even get the restaurant when they retired. Johnny watched Jeremy leave. That kid better show up at five with the money, Johnny thought.
Mack picked up his hand held Motorola radio, “Target’s back in the kitchen, Jo Jo you got eyes on the rear door.” Narcotics Detective David McMillan, or Mack as he was known in the department, had been working Romero for months. Romero’s name was dropped from a snitch on a simple buy/bust that went down in the North Valley. The thing about dealers is that the further they expand their business, the more likely law enforcement finds out their information, a simple business pitfall really. In this case, the kid told Mack he knew this bad ass ex con with connections to La Eme. That really sparked Mack’s attention, as well as the DEA. When Mack did the research, he found out the dealer was Johnny Romero, a former gang member from the South Valley from days gone by. Mack was able to secure a tracker for Romero’s car and wire warrant for the inside of the restaurant. Even though Johnny knew Mack from the past, Mack looked nothing like those days. He has long stringy hair, with a goatee that was so long, it could be braided. Unbeknownst to Romero, Mack was able to enter the restaurant and “bug” Romero’s favorite booth, the one which Romero dealt from. The judge signed the warrants for two weeks. It wasn’t a lot of time, but with luck, enough to prove up a good distribution case in Bernalillo County. “They agreed on three hundred, buyer’s supposed to be back by Five. Got a bit heated, our buyer’s a manwhore it sounds like, offered sexual favors for dope.”
“Rear door’s secure, Mack,” Johnson, or Jo Jo as he was known by replied over the air.
Mack liked his new partner, but he was still green when it came to narcotics. He had too much patrol left in him, and that just won’t do in dope cases. Jo Jo worked deep nights for fifteen years and had a good feel of the streets, now Mack had to mold him into a good Narc. “I got the buyer leaving out the front door, Hispanic, five five maybe, thin, lighter skin. I got eyes nearby?” Mack always knew where Jo Jo would be, but the Feds were a different story, nothing personal, just different methods.
“I got him, he’s eastbound Central on foot,” Special Agent Fleck was across the street from the strip mall in a U.S. Issued Dodge Stratus. Mack cringed every time he saw it. It just screamed law enforcement. Other than the vehicle, Fleck was a good Narc.
“Mack, should we get a uniform to ID the buyer?” Jo Jo inquired.
“Negative Jo Jo. Fleck, see if you can snap a shot of the buyer on digital,” Mack replied. He watched as Fleck positioned the near the buyer as he walked. “He’s supposed to be back at five. We may want to snag him coming from the buy.” Mack didn’t mean to be abrupt with his novice partner, but this wasn’t patrol. If the police were to stop the unknown Hispanic subject, he would get scared and the buy would never go down. Hence, there would be no case on Romero and three months of work would be lost. This way, he collects evidence on Romero and he can arrest the unknown junkie after the buy, pop him for possession, and try to flip him as well. That was the plan.
“I got the picture coming to you now Mack,” Fleck said.
“Ten four… I got it. Thanks Fleck.” Mack stared at his Blackberry phone containing the picture sent by Fleck, nothing glared out at him. He paused to think of his next move, “Alright everyone, listen up. Let’s be back by at least Four-thirty. We’ll decide then if we want to pop the buyer for possession.” As Mack put the Motorola down, his cell phone rang.
“Hey Babe,” Mack answered. He always answered with that line. It was a neutral phrase that could be used for all the girls he was seeing. His last divorce was particularly brutal. Mack’s job and accompanying lifestyle was always the culprit when it came to his relationship failures. Twenty seven years in law enforcement with eighteen years as a Narc equaled three marriages and three divorces. The subject was great entertainment at the station, where Mack caught all kinds of hell about his personal life. He normally gravitated toward strippers, or ‘dancers’ as they like to be called, even fender lizards, an even rarer breed of women who prefer cops to men of other professions. Recently, he had been living with a girl named Cindy. Although she was a bit erratic, she was better than his normal picks, but he didn’t consider her exclusive by any means. He talked as he drove out of the parking lot and went two driveways north of the target location. He stopped momentarily to allow Johnson to get into the passenger seat of the truck. His phone conversation continued.
“When are you coming home?” She sounded inquisitive.
“Then I’m going out,” her voice sounded a bit agitated. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“Okay,” Mack replied almost too casually. He ended the conversation and looked at Johnson. “Damn…What did I do?”
“You really gotta ask?” Johnson answered smiling at him, “Let’s go to Garduno’s for lunch.”
“Let’s hit Little Anita’s at Old Town,” Mack countered. There was a tacit agreement between the detectives to go to Old Town. Mack again brought up his relationship, “Explain to me what I did wrong to Cindy oh wise one.”
“Mack, you’re the best Narcotics Detective I’ve seen, but you suck with women. The state should ban you from marriage.”
“You know what? Screw you, what do you know…”
“I’ve been married only once, to the same woman. You may know dope, but I know relationships, and trust me when I say this, you and Cindy won’t work. I tell you this as your friend. Now I’m hungry, let’s go.”
“Okay, but after lunch, I’m turning queer,” Mack said. “Besides, being gay ain’t so bad once you get past the sex.” The two men laughed as they drove. The really important decision for most cops was what was for lunch. Not just for the food as stereotypes may suggest, but they could free themselves from some of the job stress and external pressures, if only for a few moments.
The two men sat down for lunch in Little Anita’s Restaurant. Like most cops, they opted for a corner booth with full view of the front, both for tactical reasons and so that they wouldn’t be bothered. Mack ordered the Carne Adovada, and Jo Jo played it safe with the enchiladas. The meal was hearty, but a little heavy. Little Anita’s was known for generous proportions.
“How much longer do we need to work Johnny Romero?” Jo Jo inquired.
“I would say we need at least two more buys to really make the case in Bernalillo County. If you don’t have at least five buys the D.A. will kick it down from distribution to possession. They only want slam dunks, God forbid they have to work to prove a case,” Mack replied. He took a sip of his iced tea, “I want La Eme.” The very words sent a dark hush over both men. Mack was all too familiar with La Eme, or Mexikanemi. The infamous prison gang formed in California, but its allies and influence have spread throughout the country, especially the Latino street gangs. “They’re using these Latino gangs and dealers to push their product. You know how?” Mack watched as Jo Jo shook his head negative. “The Latino gangs know that if they defy La Eme, then when they are sent to prison, they’re dead. Eme controls the inside.”
“And you’re sure Romero is hooked in with them?”
“Every snitch that has dealt with him swears by it.”
“Yeah but why would Romero give up La Eme? If he goes back to the joint, he’s gonna be thrown to them, you said it yourself?”
“La Eme is not the final target Jo Jo. La Eme moves the shit, but the Mexican Cartels make it.” Mack paused, “If we can hit the supply line, we can hurt him.”
“That’s a bit ambitious don’t you think?” Jo Jo was taken back by his partner’s delusions of grandeur. “What about Romero?”
“Romero? He’s a burnout. He’s in it for himself. He was big in the West Side Locos when he was a kid. When the Latin Kings moved in, they went to war with the Locos over the selling on the west side of the South Valley. Romero shot a king over at Tingley Beach; took a .357 and blew his head in half. I worked that scene with Keith Spearman. The idiot did it in front of about twenty Latin King hang-arounds. Every last one of them ID’d him in the photo lineups. We chased him from the South Valley to Santa Fe and back to Rio Rancho. We finally caught up to him, and the dumb son of a bitch still had the gun on him.” There was a brief chuckle as Mack recalled the incident. He got twenty, but he only did about ten in Santa Fe. He’s only been out a year. His Parole Officer is scared of him and wants him back inside.”
“That still doesn’t explain why Romero would give up La Eme,” Jo Jo said as he took a long drink of his iced tea and shoved his plate away from him.
“Everyone abandoned Johnny when he went to prison. The Locos are all but gone. He was just like every other gang banger that gets sent up, they got no friends. He doesn’t care about La Eme, or anyone right now. He’s not scared of any gang. But Johnny doesn’t want to go back to prison, that’s our hook. So, we use that to turn him,” Mack replied. He also stopped eating and sat back in his chair.
“Why don’t we just do a knock and talk and see if we can flip Romero right away. We got just as good a chance that way?” Jo Jo asked. Mack chuckled at the thought. Occasionally, Mack simply asked dealers about their business and they answered.
“Guys like Romero don’t flip on a knock and talk. You get them by the balls, he’ll flip.”
Jeremy walked to his normal corner at Central and Atrisco. He had to make another fifty dollars by five. Unfortunately, his occupational skills were limited. So he settled for his honey hole. The computer made things easier for him to advertise; rarely do prostitutes walk the streets without some form of computer promotion nowadays. He walked to a small cul de sac off of Atrisco, but visible from Central. He saw Angie there, no doubt trying to earn as well. He knew Angie, or Angela Sanchez.
“Hey Jeremy baby, I’m busted here today, you want something?” Angie said as she cupped her breasts with her hands.
“No but I could use fifty dollars,” Jeremy answered with a question. The weather was overcast and chilly, but still remained arid and dry; typical for a New Mexico Fall. She was wearing a tight, black long sleeve shirt that clung to her body and showed all of her curves. Her jeans were tight, with strategic rips to show just enough her mocha skin. The trick was to reveal just enough while dressing warm. The two sat perched on cinderblock walls of an old abandoned house, other casualties of urban flight. The city had slotted the area for demolition. A developer bought the land, but they weren’t able to start yet, so what remained was a stain on the landscape that was once a premier area of town.
“Times are tough, looks like you and me are on our knees.” Angela made a lewd gesture with her mouth. Jeremy chuckled when he saw it, but inside he was sickened. What a life. The walls of the house were riddled with graffiti on the exterior; the interior was a wasteland of bottles and hypodermic needles. The spot was advertised in Craigslist and other internet sites. Most of the time, Johns would drive to the entrance of the street and motion for the working girl, or guy, to approach them. They never drove into the cul de sac, because the quick escape was Central Avenue. The prostitute was forced to walk to them. Sometimes, the John’s would park further up the road and walk to the prostitutes, who then used the houses for tricks.
“Check out the Escalade, Jeremy.”
Jeremy and Angela watched closely as the vehicle parked about fifty feet west of their spot. They stood about twenty feet apart; that way, they could tell which one the John was eyeing. It was prostitute etiquette not to poach another whore’s John. The window of the late model, white Cadillac rolled down and a white man stared at Jeremy.
“I knew it was a white dude, those rims are stock,” Angela said. She suddenly looked disappointed, “He’s looking at you.”
Jeremy walked by Angela shaking his hips like a Diva. He winked as he passed her and blew her a kiss. It was a small victory in an awful situation.
“Bitch!” Angie hissed softly. She smiled as Jeremy made his walk of triumph to the Escalade.