Terry Moran made a career in law enforcement for 28 years before retiring from Federal service in 2008. Five years were spent working undercover narcotics which gives him a unique insight in some of the stories he builds his books around. He also worked various crimes like bank robberies, kidnappings and financial fraud. After retiring he works closely with people needing high level security clearances. Terry has been married to Margaret since 1981. They have three sons, Ryan, Mitchell and Taylor. Terry and Margaret make their home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jack Armstrong, an up and coming young businessman in Atlanta, has paid his dues at Marlowe Plumbing and Supply. He finally gets the well deserved promotion he has sought after years of fourteen hour days and thankless nights. A misdirected shipment of supplies reveals billions of dollars worth of cocaine which could devastate the company and Jack’s good name. Doing what he thinks is the right thing by contacting the FBI backfires and places him squarely in the crosshairs of the FBI Agent investigating and the mob who wants their cocaine returned. Jack races against the clock trying to evade the FBI and the mob all while trying to prove his innocence. Trekking through the southeast, he finds information which could implicate the FBI Agent chasing him and who may have more at stake than just apprehending Jack.
Jack Armstrong, an up and coming young businessman in Atlanta, has paid his dues at Marlowe Plumbing and Supply. He finally gets the well deserved promotion he has sought after years of fourteen hour days and thankless nights. A misdirected shipment of supplies reveals billions of dollars worth of cocaine which could devastate the company and Jack’s good name. Doing what he thinks is the right thing by contacting the FBI backfires and places him squarely in the crosshairs of the FBI Agent investigating and the mob who wants their cocaine returned. Jack races against the clock trying to evade the FBI and the mob all while trying to prove his innocence. Trekking through the southeast, he finds information which could implicate the FBI Agent chasing him and who may have more at stake than just apprehending Jack. Jack lands in Miami where he finds the information he needs to clear his name, but it may be too little and too late to save him from either side.
This book is dedicated to Sara Margaret who through years of multiple rejection slips never stopped believing and never accepted “give up” as an option.
Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Miami Files, Jack Armstrong, crime, FBI, detective, police, cop, drug, car chase, drugs
Thanks to Jack Arms, who through a conversation after church one Sunday, planted the seed for this story. Thanks to Wanda Kent for her editorial assistance.
Plant manager Jack Armstrong gets thrown in between the FBI investigating missing drugs and the Mob trying to find the drugs. Both the FBI and Mob believe Jack is responsible.
Under the cover of the South American darkness, an army of underpaid servants labored without rest, hour after grueling hour. Under the watchful eye of a sleazy overseer, workers loaded crate after crate onto cargo trucks bound for an airstrip twenty-five miles away, deep in a valley tucked neatly between two tropical mountains. Twenty to thirty pounds heavier than the normal cargo they carried, the crates were bound for Miami, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles and hundreds of cities in between.
Inside a windowless, dimly lit makeshift warehouse, a solitary ceiling fan stirred the thick sweltering air while higher paid laborers sweated as they unpacked hundreds of toilets from their original crates. Behind them came the highest paid workers, whose job was to remove the top from each commode tank and securely strap eight bricks of pure, uncut cocaine inside. Like the best assembly line in America, each laborer had their specific duties down to a science. The last group of workers completed the assignment by re-securing the tops, packaging the commodes inside the new crates, and loading them onto the trucks outside.
The highest paid employee in this phase of the operation was a big, greasy haired Columbian who sat back with his feet atop a desk in front of him, sucking on a fat cigar and talking on the phone. He spoke on the phone in Spanish with someone who was obviously higher in rank. It was really no different than anywhere else…the guy making the most money did the least work.
By five in the morning, dawn was just beginning to rise above the mountainous terrain. The trucks were loaded and ready for the hour long journey to the airstrip. As a bird flies, it was no more than ten miles. But with the heavy load and the winding mountain roads, the drivers were lucky if they made it in sixty minutes. Nervously passing several law enforcement officials on the way, they silently prayed whoever was responsible had paid the authorities whatever was required for safe passage. They had never been stopped before, and they would not be stopped this night. Whoever ran the empire was smart, efficient, and covered every base.
Upon arriving safely at the airstrip, another group of hired hands removed the crates from the trucks and reloaded them onto a fleet of sleek, shiny jets. Armed gunmen, some from the local law enforcement community, stood guard at strategic points around the airstrip.
An hour later every aircraft was filled to capacity. The trucks would be driven back to the windowless warehouse where they would sit idle for a few days until the process repeated itself.
The pilots fired the jet engines and one by one took off into the black, starry sky, disappearing behind the rolling, majestic mountain range, to points determined by men these laborers would never see.
~ 2 ~
Jack Armstrong arrived for work early on the crisper than normal September morning. Jack was an early riser. He always had been. From the time he held his first job as a bag boy at his hometown Big Star Food Mart, Jack was taught the importance of punctuality. He hated tardiness and he refused to tolerate it. It was unprofessional, and could mean the difference between making and losing a sale. As National Sales Director of Marlowe Plumbing Supply, Jack demanded his sales force throughout the entire country look professional, act intelligent and never be late. Any violation of his rules could result in immediate termination. He was a tough boss and he demanded respect. Many of his subordinates hated him for it, but he ran one of the premier sales forces in the nation and his work ethic was crucial in making Marlowe one of the top rated Fortune 500 companies in the country.
At just thirty-two years old, Jack held the most sought after job at Marlowe. The company had started in Atlanta in the garage of Samuel Marlowe in 1909. What began over a century ago as a catalogue order business for a small number of businesses in Atlanta, had mushroomed over the years into a nationwide conglomerate that supplied plumbing equipment to virtually every major contractor and do-it-yourself store in the country.
Jack started working at Marlowe when he was 16 years old. He did it the old-fashioned way by starting at the bottom. When he wasn’t doing manual labor on the warehouse floor he was cleaning toilets and mopping floors. Working his way up the proverbial ladder, Jack put himself through college and earned his business degree while toiling for Marlowe. The higher-ups were impressed by his loyalty and hard work, and rewarded him with a low-level sales position the very day he earned his degree. His area of responsibility covered Northern Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North and South Carolina and the Southern tip of Virginia. Jack’s athletic physique, quick wit and boyish charm helped him to become the leading salesman in his region four years straight, two of those earning him National Leader of the Year.
Two months into his fifth year as a salesman, his hard work paid off. Promoted to Regional Sales Director in Birmingham, Jack took over a fledgling region that consistently finished at or near the bottom in sales statistics every year since Marlowe went national. But Jack loved a challenge. Within three years of arriving in Birmingham, he was able to transform his shoddy group sales force into the most prolific in the nation.
The brass in Atlanta kept its eye on this young, dark-haired workhorse who seemed to have what they required for the move up to an executive position within the lofty confines of the Marlowe suites, high atop Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta. They carefully watched Jack’s progress and rewarded him handsomely with much heftier Christmas bonuses than received by his peers in other regions. The writing was on the wall. Jack saw it. His peers and associates saw it. Although national sales were at an all time high and profit margins were soaring, Marlowe brass was not happy with the current National Sales Director, Phillip Marcus.
Marcus was a decent salesman and he produced results, but rumors were rife that he no longer fit the mold. They wanted a younger fit, good-looking, double-breasted kind of executive. Three years after he became National Sales Director, he had padded 100 pounds to his 200 pound frame. It seemed the extra bucks generated by his higher salary had gone straight to his culinary budget. Coupled with the weight gain and rapidly receding hairline, Marcus no longer portrayed the top executive image Marlowe required, or so it was rumored by employees around the country.
Jack had never met Marcus. He had heard about him through others and admired his work ethic. When Jack heard rumors about Marcus’ ouster, he found it difficult to believe a reputable company like Marlowe would fire an officer simply because his looks were waning. Jack exercised daily and kept himself in excellent physical condition. His diet consisted mostly of raw vegetables and fruit. He rarely ate red meat. He did it for himself, his health, and his peace of mind… not to look attractive for the company. It seemed extremely unfair that Marcus would be dismissed based on his physique rather than be judged for his exceptional financial and business accomplishments.
Nevertheless, on Jack’s thirty-second birthday and after sixteen years with the company, he was offered, and he accepted the National Sales Director position. There were periods of guilt when he thought about Marcus and moving him out of his prestigious position. But the $250,000 annual salary, company car, larger than life expense account and other financial perks, were too good to refuse. All in all, it would have been a financial blunder, not to mention a career ender, to turn down the position.
As National Sales Director it wasn’t all diamonds and gold. Power lunches and golf rounds with big wig clients so often depicted in the movie business world, did not happen. Instead, there were plenty of high-level meetings with fancy hors d’oeuvres that Jack politely refused. But when he got right down to it, the work was just as hard, if not harder, than all the jobs he’d had with Marlowe since he was sixteen.
Part of Jack’s responsibility as National Sales Director was supervising the national warehouse in a suburb northwest of Atlanta. The warehouse was a holding area for every piece of plumbing equipment ordered from the different regions throughout the country. What Memphis was to FedEx, Atlanta was to Marlowe. A cursory inspection was required of all shipments into the warehouse to detect any flaws, cracks or other damage to packaging before final shipment was made to its regional destination.
Jack depended heavily on Jerry Randall, his Warehouse Line Supervisor, to conduct all necessary inspections. At fifty-seven, Jerry had logged forty-one years at the company. Like Jack, Jerry was loyal to the company that hired him while still in high school. Unlike Jack, without the college degree, Jerry was destined to be subjected to manual labor until he retired. Jerry rose through the ranks because of his loyalty, but those ranks started as a bathroom cleaner in the same exact warehouse to his current position he’d held for about ten years. He certainly did not have the Marlowe look to go any further. But Jerry never complained. He was happy to have the work in a country where layoffs were a pen stroke away.
Although from different sides of the track, Jack and Jerry soon forged a close working relationship. Jack would tease Jerry about his tall, bony frame and his gray goatee which did not match his red thinning hair. Jerry, in turn, affectionately referred to Jack as B, which stood for boss. Jerry considered Jack more like a son than he did a boss. He never once resented Jack for working his way up the ladder, and in fact, respected how well he had done, and how successful the region was under his helm. Jack trusted Jerry, and gave him the freedom to do his job, which Jerry appreciated. Jack was the first National Sales Director in years that did not look down on Jerry and his crews. Everyone knew Jack was in charge and that he was the boss, but they respected the way Jack ran things and his demand for perfection. They especially respected the way he never talked down to them, even if he was upset. Jack had a way to critique without criticizing. Laborers, who were twenty-five or thirty years older than him, did not mind busting their butts for him. Although not required to visit the warehouse in his lofty new position, Jack chose to do so every morning, not only to assure things were right, but to stay in touch with the people he believed to be the backbone of the company.
It was about 5:40 a.m. when Jack arrived at the warehouse to begin his daily routine of equipment checks and perusing inventory lists, before going downtown to his plush twenty-fifth floor office overlooking the bustling streets of Atlanta to scour the national sales reports. The autumn sun was deep red as it peeked over the thick stand of Georgia pines blanketing several miles of land surrounding the warehouse. The only avenue in or out from the warehouse was a three-mile gravel road leading from the main highway.
As Jack was just finishing up cross checking the inventory list against purchase orders for a shipment headed to the Midwest region in Omaha, Jerry marched into Jack’s gray, makeshift, bare cinder-block walled office. Jerry, usually a bit hyper from his fourth or fifth cup of coffee, wore a solemn look on his face. Jack glanced up briefly at Jerry’s rounder than normal eyes before returning to his inventory list lying on top of the scratched gray metal top desk.
“Be with ya in a minute, Jer.”
Jack, serious about detail, directed his eyes back to the list. The solid thud that cracked across his metal desk and echoed inside the empty office startled Jack. Suddenly, instead of checking and cross referencing the appropriate equipment headed to Omaha, Jack found himself staring nose down at a white brick shaped mass wrapped in cellophane and brown tape. He slowly peered up at Jerry. “What is it?”
Jerry snickered nervously. “It ain’t talcum powder.”
“Where’d it come from?”
Jerry motioned toward the warehouse with his head. “Some a’ the boys was loadin’ up a shipment a’ toilets to Seattle when one a’ the crates fell and busted open. The crapper fell out the bottom of the crate and broke up pretty good.” With his head, Jerry motioned toward the white brick lying on Jack’s desk. “That and seven others just like it were inside.”
Jack rose from his desk and picked the brick up.
“They was in a shipment a’ toilets from Juarez Fixtures in Columbia.”
Jack chuckled slightly. “Figures.”
“We been doin’ business with ‘em for years,” Jerry said matter-of-factly.
“How many?” Jack asked.
Jerry scratched his head. “I don’t know. Fifteen. Twenty. Maybe longer.”
Jack stared at the brick in his hand. “How many are there, Jerry?”
“Besides this one, seven more. But we didn’t check the rest of the toilets already on the trucks or those we ain’t loaded up yet.”
Jack paused and looked right into Jerry’s eyes. “How many of the toilets came from the Juarez company?”
“All of ‘em, B. Every last one of ‘em.”
“How many we talkin’ about, Jerry?”
“Fifteen-hundred, give or take.”
Jack fell back into his seat, closed his eyes and laid the brick on top of his inventory list. He rubbed his eyes, leaned back in the squeaky chair and slowly placed his intertwined fingers behind his head.
“Whataya’ want me to do, B?”
“I don’t know. I gotta have time to think. This kind of thing could ruin the company.”
“Whataya’ mean? Company ain’t done nuthin’ wrong. They didn’t know nuthin’ bout this.”
“You don’t understand, Jerry. If the press gets wind of this they’ll have a heyday. They’ll make it sound as if Marlowe is responsible. That would be disastrous for the company.” Jack covered his eyes with the palms of both hands somehow searching for an answer.
“You gotta tell somebody, B. You can’t just do nothin’.”
“I know, Jerry. I know!” Jack snapped back. “But we gotta do damage control first. Maybe the problem isn’t as bad as it looks.” Jack sprung quickly from his chair and marched out of his office with Jerry in pursuit. “Who all knows about this?”
Jerry tailed one step behind Jack. “Me and the guys that was doin’ the loadin’.”
“Who, Jerry? Who!”
“Well. There’s Zeeb, Potato, Ryree and Mo.”
“Naw. That’s it.”
“Where are they now?”
“Right up here. I told ‘em not to do anything ‘til I came back.”
Jack’s primary concern was the company. Protect the company at all costs. He knew that the least bit of negative publicity could set Marlowe back years. The media frenzy that would result in the defamation of the company’s one-hundred year reputation would take a lifetime to rebuild. First and foremost on Jack’s mind was how to remedy the situation without any more people knowing than already did, and to try and keep the company’s name out of it. Jack conjured in his mind the hit he would take if this incident was not handled properly, not only by the press, but by the Atlanta brass at headquarters. Jack had never used drugs nor ever been around them. He knew a couple of friends in college who had smoked a little weed, but he had tactfully disassociated himself from them. He wanted nothing to do with drugs and he publicly supported mandatory prison terms for users and dealers alike. Jack had worked his butt off for Marlowe for sixteen years. He wasn’t about to let this incident cause his, or the company’s name, get dragged through the mud.
All sorts of scenarios ran through Jack’s head as he approached the shattered toilet with its spilled white bricks scattered across the warehouse dock area. Jack imagined the stares he would get and the juicy stories bound to be created by people he knew and even those he never met. He envisioned sixteen years of hard work evaporating into nothing. Jack knelt over the seven solid white bricks strewn on the floor below him. Jerry and his crew of four towered over Jack, who seemed to be praying for an answer.
“You said there’re fifteen hundred toilets?” Jack’s voice quivered.
“Yep. Fifteen hundred,” Jerry answered, unphased.
“How many have you loaded on the trucks?” Jack inquired.
“I’d say about half,” Mo answered.
Jack picked up one of the seven bricks just in front of his squatted knees. He brought it to his face, looked at it hard, and turned it around to view all sides as if it would either change or go away. He tossed the brick aside and it came to rest on the dock floor straddling another one. Jack stood and rubbed his hands to remove the powdery residue used to disguise any odor.
“Jerry. You, Mo and Zeeb unload the toilets from the trucks. Unbox ‘em and check every last one.” Jack barked his orders, without taking his eyes off the seven bricks still on the floor. “Potato. You, me and Ryree’ll check the unloaded boxes,” he said, motioning to a sea of cardboard boxes lined up nine and ten deep stretching for several hundred feet on both sides of the warehouse floor.
“You realize how long that’s gonna take with just the six of us, B?” Jerry asked rhetorically.
“You got any better ideas?”
Jerry shook his head no.
“Can we at least get some more people to help us, boss?” Zeeb asked.
“No!” Jack snapped back. “The less people who know about it, the better off we are. I don’t care if this takes all night. We may or may not have a huge problem, and I gotta know the best way to handle it that’s in the best interest of the company.”
“Screw the company!” Potato blurted, almost laughing. “Let’s just call the cops.”