The Quality of the Informant
by Gerald Petievich
Paulie "the Printer" LaMonica once cut off a finger to get out of a bind. Now he's got Agent Carr of the Secret Service on his tail, chasing him to and Ensenada, Mexico. Carr and Kelly lost Paulie once-and it cost the life of one of their best informants. Now Paulie is setting up a $50,000 bogus travelers' check scheme that's sure to end in blood. Carr and Kelly are closing in-but Paulie is always one step ahead.
"Gerald Petievich returns with another wild, well-written, speed of light escapade featuring Charles Carr, the epitome of a brash U.S. agent." - St. Louis Post Dispatch
Though it was early in the day the Castaways Lounge had plenty of customers, mostly men. The walls of the dimly lit bar were decorated with crude glow-in-the-dark paintings of nude women with heavy breasts and luminous pink nipples. There were lots of whispered conversations about money, calls made from the pay phone next to the rest room, sudden departures and returns. There were many bars like it in Hollywood.
Paul LaMonica sat at a cocktail table with Teddy Mora, a gaunt man with an oatmeal complexion. The meeting had been Mora's idea. He said he had a proposition.
"I've just lined up the best coke connection on the West Coast," Mora said. "They call him the Barber. He's a hair stylist who makes house calls to the movie stars; I mean the big movie stars. He told me they don't even haggle price. They like cocaine and they don't give a shit what it costs."
"So?" LaMonica said. He sipped a Bloody Mary.
"So, his supplier got himself killed on a rip-off day before yesterday," Mora said. "The Barber wants me to take over. The man needs dope for the movie stars. This is the chance of a lifetime."
"Where do I fit in?" LaMonica asked.
"I need front money for the first load of snow," Mora said. "I'm offering you the chance to go in with me. We'd be partners. The way I have it figured, we can triple our investment with every load."
LaMonica lit a cigarette. "Dope is not my thing," he said. "I don't even know enough about it to talk price. Besides, every deal has a thousand middlemen involved, and from what I've seen through the years, one of 'em is usually a snitch." He frowned. "And I don't like snitches."
"I'm not asking you to get involved in any of the negotiations, " Teddy Mora reached across the table and patted the other man on the arm in a brotherly fashion. "All I'm asking you to do is to come in as a partner, make an investment. You'll come straight in from the top end of the thing. I'll handle all the details. There is virtually no risk whatsoever. I guarantee that."
A ginger-haired cocktail waitress came to the table. Her nametag read "Linda" and she wore a low-cut top and a short skirt. "Another round?" she said.
LaMonica nodded. As she emptied the ashtray her leg rubbed against his arm. She smiled at him and walked away. He guessed her age as close to forty, a few years younger than his.
"How much are we talking about?" LaMonica asked. He rubbed his hands together.
"We need a total of a hundred," Mora said. "My fifty grand is in the bank right now."
"How do I know that?" La Monica had a wry smile.
Teddy Mora reached into his back pocket, pulled out a bankbook, and handed it to LaMonica. LaMonica opened the book. There were a dozen or so stamped entries to talking about fifty thousand dollars. He handed the book back.
"Okay," La Monica said. "I come up with fifty...then what?" He took a drag from the cigarette and picked a piece of tobacco off the end of his tongue.
"Then we deposit the money into a bank account in Ensenada," Mora said. "An hour later we get a telephone call. The load will be stashed in a car in the tourists' parking lot on the U.S. side of the border. We pick up the load and head for L.A., where the Barber is waiting. He pays us up front and we tell him where to find the package. We triple our hundred grand in one day. On our end, it's just you and me. You don't have to meet anyone. There is no way for anything to go wrong. On the Mexican side, the deal is insured by my contacts in Mexico City. When I say 'contacts', I'm talking about people at the highest level. I'm talking about the politicos. It's taken me three years of living in Mexico to set this thing up."
LaMonica raised his eyebrows in an expression of disbelief. "Why don't you just parlay two deals for fifty each? Why do you need me?"
"Good question," Mora said. "The answer is that I've been talking a big game to the Barber, but now that the connection has finally come together, I'm short of cash. I've got a lot of money tied up in my bar in Ensenada, and I just bought a head shop down the street from here by Grauman's Chinese. I'm short of bucks.
It's that simple. I'm giving you a shot at the deal because I trust you; we walked the yard together. If you'll come in with me I won't have to worry about talking this thing up to investors and taking the chance of meeting a fed or an informer. But I hope you're realistic enough to see that there are plenty of people who would literally jump on this thing."
Mora picked up his drink and took sips, then set the glass down. His hands grasped the edge of the table. He leaned forward and said, "What I'm telling you is that you can fuck around for the rest of your life with funny money and phony checks and you will never be able to score anywhere near what you could with just one solid coke deal. I don't have to sit here and remind you that bogus bills have to be passed one at a time, or at best, dealt off in thousand-dollar packages to a parade of sniffling, backstabbing hypes, one out of two of which is a rat. Even checks...top limit can't be more than a few grand and you have to stand there in the bank with your face hanging out in order to cash it." Mora pulled his chair closer to the table. "Coke is the answer. There are guys who have made enough to walk away from everything for once and for all. And I'm not talking about heavies. I'm talking about twenty-one-year-old red-assed punks sailing around on their yachts in Marina del Rey right this very minute. They had the guts to get in their car and make one round-trip from here to Tijuana and back. L.A. is full of people like that. And what the hell did they have to lose? Minimum, straight probation for the first offense. Or maximum, a year in a federal camp with tennis courts. Was it worth it? You're goddamn fucking right it was. Why? Because there's a market for the shit! The movie stars, TV people, doctors, and dentists...they pack their noses every night. They get off on it! And, old buddy, most important of all, they are willing to pay out their asses for it." Having spit out the last sentence, Teddy Mora sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest.
LaMonica smiled. "I guess after all these years I can trust you not to try to scam me," he said.
Linda the waitress leaned back against her bar station and gazed in his direction. She popped an olive into her mouth and made a funny face. LaMonica smiled.
"I've always made it a point not to cross Paulie LaMonica," Mora said. "It's because I know you too well. Friend or not, you'd kill me and sit down and eat a sandwich afterward." Mora laughed nervously.
The waitress approached them, and they stopped talking. As she arranged drinks on the table she made a point of giving LaMonica an extra peek down the front of her low-cut costume.
LaMonica paid her. "Keep the change."
"Thank you, Silver Fox," she said with a smile.
As she walked away he noticed that her legs were smooth, no varicose veins. All in all, a reasonably attractive woman.
Mora's leering eyes followed the waitress back to the bar.