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©02 The Media Desk
OK. I can say that I come by my open dislike of organized crime honestly. My dad's years as a city cop, my own experience early in my working life as a member of a union that had more than casual ties with the Mafia, and now, in my 'second' career my own experiences dealing with them and how they do things.
My current assignment began as another surveillance of yet another branch of the organized crime network that had its feelers in every large city in the eastern half of the country. I was our supervisor for the electronics end of the surveillance. Several other agents, including a 'rookie' named FireStorm were scattered throughout several blocks of the city, watching various aspects of the criminal organization.
But then I noticed that the incoming data didn't make a lot of sense.
My opposite number in the FBI Organized Crime Unit had mentioned a couple of times that he wasn't altogether sure we had just one outfit here. And now I was sure of it.
"We got two separate bunches here. Maybe three." I said in a late night briefing.
"No, no, we've been trailing them for months. They're two arms of the same outfit. One ringmaster pulling the strings."
I followed what the city detective said in spite of his butchered metaphors.
The FBI Special Agent in Charge sided with me. "That's not what the tapes are showing."
"I know my gangsters. They're all the same team, just different numbers."
I continued reviewing what we had learned from the direct surveillance.
It hadn't been easy.
One outfit, which was mainly from Miami, seemed to know they were being watched. They used random public phones, they never faxed anything, if they used email or cellular phones it was for short cryptic messages that meant nothing to us. Their conversations were in bad Spanish and Pidgin English that came across all but the best and closest microphones as nonsense. But even from that, and the sheer blanket of coverage we had thrown over them, we had gleaned some good information.
The other outfit was straight up traditional mainstream Mafia with heavy influence from some old-line Italian families from New York and Philadelphia. We had enough on them to make at least two gangster movies.
A third, rather minor player, was a local gang that had been working for the old timers and was being wooed away by the newcomers. But the leaders thought there was enough pizza on the table for all of them.
Although the detective never admitted it, we had two gangs, one city, and evidence of a major gang war brewing as the mob staked out its territory against the new kids in town, the cartel.
Over the weekend information came up that both sides were digging in and arming in three different neighborhoods. The citizens in the areas knew something was up, but I honestly believed they had no idea how bad it was.
For every carload of gang soldiers, with weaponry ranging from revolvers to heavy automatic Chinese machine guns and explosives, pulled over for search and seizure and arrest, three more got away.
We sat nervous as the two sides armed and eyed each other. They did not want war, there was no profit in it, but then again, they also didn't want to share the lucrative city with the other side.
One of our contacts got wind of a powwow to take place at a warehouse at the docks. Information from the surveillance confirmed it. We decided we had to move.
Both sides, now meaningful armies would occupy half the waterfront. The generals would come in from opposite sides, to meet in a large clear area under the cover of their own troops.
We put out a call for every law enforcement officer from miles around. So we could surround the area and pick up as many of them as we could.
The night before the meet, I detected something different in some of the communications we intercepted.
The docks were a ruse, the meeting was going to be elsewhere.
"Are you dead sure?" The FBI man asked me.
"No." I read his face, "We have to move on the docks anyway. But I bet you money we come up empty."
He nodded. "Agreed, stay on it here. I'll get out there. If you get the slightest whisper of the actual location, call me." He patted the phone on his belt.
They rolled out.
Two hours later, I was trying to call him.
But got no answer.
I got on the radio and tried to get through, but they were busy.
It had been a setup. Yeah, there were a bunch of gangsters at the docks, but they were mostly the locals. The real troops were at the rail yard.
I picked up what backup I could and drove out there as fast as possible in a deputy sheriff's car.
We couldn't get close in the squad car without alerting the bad guys, so I parked in a closed liquor store and we considered our options. The only thing I could think of was to take my phone and walk in. And find out what was going on where and hope they could round up enough backup before it was too late to bust them.
Alone. Yes. Alone, I walked into the train yard along a slimy creek with naught but the .454, dad's .38 as backup, a pair of binoculars, and the phone.
The only landmark I had was the water tower behind me to the right. I wandered between train cars and stacks of ties and rails toward what I hoped was the area where the meeting would be taking place.
As I neared the last line of tracks, I saw guys standing watch. But from the way they were acting, I was behind one side's lines. I moved down the tracks, between cars, ducking under cover and playing hide and go seek with sentries.
Finally I saw several cars in a half circle. They were waiting for the other side. I got into a decent position under a bulk carrier car and adjusted my binoculars.
The opposing soldiery was already arrayed. Several cars were rolling slowly across the rough ground. The Mafioso was waiting in his car, several junior level guys were standing around, some with hardware drawn as the others came their way.
Neither side trusted the other.
I was impressed with this major piece of the brain trust of the East Coast Mob, both brands of it. The traditional 'family' man and his aids were sharply dressed in tailored suits. The up and comers were dressed in designer style suits, but still in very good, and very expensive, taste. They met between the arrayed cars and greeted each other professionally.
Then they began discussing business.
I would have loved to have been a little bug crawling around there listening, I tried to lip read through the glasses, but no go.
Backing out carefully I dialed the phone and asked my colleagues to get themselves here in a hurry.
As I was describing where the bad guys were and how many of them to expect, and what kind of firepower they were toting, that all became irrelevant.
Somehow, for some reason, shooting started.
Drawing the big gun I carefully crawled back under a boxcar and peered out.
It looked like Russia in 1944.
Both sides were trying to exit stage right, but they were trying to extract themselves while inflicting as many casualties on the other side as possible.
I smelled fuel.
The idea occurred to me instantly.
Looking around I saw something. The next rail car in line was leaking from some stray bullets.
I searched around quickly and found an old piece of cardboard.
Sticking the cardboard in the grease around the car's bearings I fished for Conga's lighter.
Then I ran like a track star.
The tank car didn't blow immediately.
But when it did. The gang war was called on account of the very fires of hell. The car erupted in a veritable torrent of flaming methanol. It sprayed everything for a hundred yards around with ruin. Another rail car exploded. I felt the heat on my back from a couple hundred yards and several tracks over.
Some of the gang leaders that hadn't been shot at the beginning of the war died in the explosion. Others, wounded, angry and confused, began shooting at random at anything that looked like it needed shot at.
In just a couple of minutes, police and agents were swarming in. As well as fire fighting equipment. The scene got uglier as injured gangsters shot at fire fighters to only be gunned down like rabid dogs by any of a number of law enforcement types. I stood on the viaduct fascinated by the devastation before me.
Then overcome by the fumes from the burning rubble, I walked back to the borrowed squad car gagging.
The official review concluded that my decision to ignite the leaking tanker was extreme. But it worked. The threat of the open warfare spreading into the surrounding businesses and residential areas was at least of as much concern as the explosion and fire. But as no good guys were seriously injured, they considered it to be a unique and effective way to settle things.
The Bishop withheld any statement on the matter for the time being.
At home Conga wondered why I had told anybody I had set the fuel on fire.
"Because I did. I didn't expect it to blow away half the place, I just wanted to distract them for a minute and give our guys time to get there."
Centre chuckled. He reminisced about an assignment he was on where he decided it was better to drop two sticks of dynamite through a skylight than to watch his partner, who's cover was about to be blown, get nailed.
"But I let them blame it on a guy the pimps had been having trouble with. I didn't own up to it for years."
Even Allied Forces got a laugh out of that.
That night, Keia told me she was pregnant.
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