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Another Teaser!

January 11, 2017

It’s Money Side Up this time. This is the Carina Quintana Murder Mystery that preceded Havana Homicide, and while the prime locale is still South Florida and Carina is, as in HH, chief of the Fort Lauderdale PD, it’s a very different story–and the adversaries she faces are in a way even scarier (at least overtly)–than in HH. So when you finish Havana Homicide, here’s what to read next. Or feel free to read Money Side Up first. And while reading the series out of order works, if you insist on starting at the beginning, here’s the full list of Carina books:

Late Boomer

Roomer Has It

White Tie & Tales

Dead On a Rival

Loose Canon

All the Rage

Money Side Up

Havana Homicide

 

So, without further ado, here’s the opening of Money Side Up. Let’s hope it makes you want to devour the rest!

 

MONEY SIDE UP

by

David M Benson

Prologue

 

Fire and brimstone were the order of the day and it came in two forms. More prosaic and far less life-threatening were the powerful cracks of thunder and flashes of white-hot lightning that illuminated the pre-dawn gloom. Of more immediate concern were the blasts of heavy artillery and ugly rattle of automatic weapons fire and the accompanying blinding muzzle flashes. Carina had been through a few gunfights in her time but this was her first true firefight, and it seemed for all the world like a trip through hell.

She lay prone on her belly on the wet, sandy ground, isolated, in a small, oasis-like grove of gnarly trees and scrub grass, just yards from the beach. Firing her weapon would do little more than give away her position and so she remained powerless, as she had been since the ambush that had greeted their arrival at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. All she could do was watch as a line of nasty-looking, mostly bearded and mostly young men arrayed in a daisy chain that stretched from a powerboat a handful of yards from the shoreline to a dark blue van parked at the edge of the scrub, passed bricks of cocaine and boxes of prescription drugs from the boat into the back of the van. The altogether too effective hail of cover was being provided by the rest of their brethren, along with help from a couple of wiry-looking devils in the boat.

The few other gunfights Carina had endured had been a great deal more one-sided, in favor of the good guys, and had ended soon after the first few clips of bullets had been fired. This reign of mostly large caliber rounds had gone on at a more or less steady pace for ten minutes and showed no sign of abating. The din had been punctuated by a brief silence and then by the almost unbelievable landing of a half dozen mortar shells, one of which killed an FDLE sergeant who had used the lull to change positions, another slicing into the lone DEA agent who had accompanied them. The source appeared to be the drug delivery vessel, a sleek, fifty-odd-foot craft positioned in the shallows just off the beach. There was no reason to believe that additional mortar rounds were not coming.

Later, heads would surely roll at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state’s equivalent of the FBI, as well as at Lauderdale PD, but not until long after the fighting ended, the casualties were counted and the reasons for the intelligence failure analyzed. At the moment that reckoning seemed a very long way off and not especially relevant. The whole failed operation had been hastily organized and Carina had expressed her doubts about the quality of the planning, the implementation of which she was given very little control.  Her Criminal Investigation Division’s everyday responsibilities included homicide, special victims, violent crime, and crime scene investigation. Narcotics, on the other hand, came under the purview of the Special Investigation Division, their sister organization within Fort Lauderdale PD’s Investigative Bureau. And, of course, she had no say at all in FDLE matters. It had been the police chief, at the behest of the SID and with FDLE input, who had planned and organized this fiasco. Carina’s people were only along for the ride, against her wishes, on the police chief’s direct orders.

While the intense racket continued Carina wondered how many more lay dead or wounded in this very lopsided and decidedly analog battle. For despite the considerable expense that had been lavished on weaponry by their adversaries, it appeared that not a dollar of it had gone to anything high tech, which was not what the narcotics guys had expected. There were no drones mapping the area, let alone shooting, no laser-guided munitions, nothing remotely fancy. Carina had not even noticed any telltale red dots from laser-aimed firearms. It was old-school point-and-shoot that confronted them, but what their enemy was pointing and shooting far surpassed the power of anything deployed by the Florida cops, and there was clearly more of it, much more.

She had no clue where the boat had come from or who manned it, but the unsavory fellows on shore were members of a notorious motorcycle gang called the Devil Kings whose charters extended from South Carolina to Florida.  A tip had come in to Fort Lauderdale PD very late the previous night, Sunday, that the gang was planning to meet their regular drug supplier for a shipment that would be brought in by boat to this very spot on Fort Lauderdale beach just before dawn on Monday. Their normally level-headed chief had been under enormous pressure to stem the tide of drugs entering the city, which had reached levels not seen since the eighties. He had immediately called for all hands on deck from his detective squads, along with as many uniforms as they could get in touch with on such short notice so late on a Sunday night. But in Carina’s opinion at least, he had not pushed back hard enough for more information on the tipster, who had identified herself only as the old lady of one of the local club members. Instead, he had assumed that the woman was probably providing payback for some sort of recent abuse at the hands of her old man and perhaps other club members. That, in turn, led him to believe that the deal was, in fact, a regular drug shipment that involved only the Kings’ local charter. It was only at Carina’s insistence that he had summoned the FDLE and notified DEA, and then only after Carina had convinced him that such a move was likely to reflect favorably on him. Not only would it show that he was a team player, willing to share at least some of the limelight, but more importantly it would also improve their odds of there being any limelight to share.  Those agencies had not had the time, however, to further check out the tip and had instead relied on the chief’s view of it, which they felt was at least reasonable.

Carina had not agreed and had taken one more step, this one behind the chief’s back. She had called one of her contacts at the Coast Guard and alerted her as well, to the deal and to the possibility that more firepower might be needed. It was the Devil Kings, who would distribute the drugs in the Lauderdale area, that the Florida cops were primarily after, so once that bust was made, the Coast Guard was welcome to go after the delivery vessel, she told her contact, but she had insisted that they not to attempt an interdiction of that vessel until the drugs were off-loaded. If the Fort Lauderdale police department lost the bust because the Coast Guard got overanxious, Carina made it clear that it would be the last time she would alert them to a possible seizure.

“Feel free to surveil the area, record the thing, whatever, while the deal is going down,” Carina had said before ending the call, “but make sure the bad guys don’t see you. Once we make the bust on shore, the boat’s all yours, although don’t tell my boss I said so. Oh, and if things are really going south on the ground, forget everything I’ve said about hanging back.”

And things had gone south almost immediately and as soon as Carina realized what her group had actually walked into, she hastily texted a MAYDAY to her contact and pleaded for immediate help.

No worries about credit/blame—life or death now! she added to the message.

She was sure they already had choppers in the air and she had sent the message nearly five minutes ago.

“So where the fuck are they?” she said, biting her lip to the point of drawing blood as automatic weapons fire and the shriek of an incoming mortar shell filled the air.

The last of the drugs had been passed along the daisy chain and Carina expected the delivery vessel to head out to sea at full power any second. But when it did not, it struck her that the firepower emanating from the boat had very likely come from weapons that were meant to be part of the deal and were not merely the vessel’s own defenses. This was no ordinary drug deal and given the profits to be made on the kinds of arms the boat apparently carried, especially the mortars, she was sure that its commander wanted to make certain that the weapons portion of the deal was also completed, despite the unexpected presence of law enforcement. And perhaps, too, she thought, he had been unable to resist the opportunity of using his impressive arsenal to inflict additional casualties on those police.

Sure enough, the daisy chain began passing along wooden crates and there was another hail of mortar and heavy machine gun fire from the weapons that remained on the boat, at least for now. Seconds after the barrage began two more officers lay dead, and judging by the screams coming from around her, there were more wounded. And the blood dripping down her left cheek suggested that one of them was her, even though she could barely recall the high-pitched roar of the high-caliber bullet as it had whizzed past her head. The greater concern was the pain in her left shoulder, which seemed to grow as she thought about it. And her breathing began to feel labored.

“Shit!” she hissed. “Where the fuck’s the cavalry?”

As Carina peered over a small rise in the grassy sand, one of the gang members reached into a pocket of his dirty leather cut, removed a phone and answered a call. He said nothing but looked south and gazed up at the sky. Then he nodded his head, ended the call and made a rapid circular motion in the air with his hand.

As the last of the crates were loaded into the van, cigarettes were tossed away or stomped out with heavy boots and one by one the men moved to their bikes as the boat powered up and headed out to sea. As the bikers started their engines, most fired off what they must have thought were parting barrages from their AKs or Uzis in the general direction of the police.  With the added bellow of Harley engines coming to life and the boat engines accelerating, Carina had to close her eyes and concentrate to figure out whether what sounded like the ponderous slapping of helicopter blades against the dense, humid air was real or merely wishful thinking on her part. But as the searing pain in her cheek grew and the throb in her shoulder and the left side of her chest intensified, the blue van was suddenly and catastrophically ripped apart by what could only have been rocket powered grenades launched from the sky. Chunks of burning debris were hurled high into the air, along with body parts, some still clothed, others not. As scorched metal, severed limbs and other detritus rained down over the area, they were accompanied by a snowy backdrop of luminous white powder, cocaine that had not been incinerated by the blasts.

An eerie silence briefly enveloped the beach and Carina could hear the boat’s powerful engines go to full power. But seconds later, as its ferocious clatter began to recede, that sound, too, was replaced by the concussive roar of another series of explosions and two bright orange Coast Guard helicopters came into view above the canopy of palm trees. Another brief silence was quickly replaced by heavy machine gun fire. But this time the source was the airmen in the choppers and the targets were the men on Harleys or those rushing to them, not the cops.

When finally the only sound was the pounding rotor blades, Carina tried to stand. But she made it only to her knees. Still, she could finally act and aimed her pistol at the few remaining bikers as they attempted to flee the area. Several of her companions had also survived the onslaught and carefully came out of hiding, joining in with pistols or assault rifles. With the help of a few more blasts of machine gun fire from the Coast Guard choppers, within minutes the remaining bikers lay dead or wounded, or had surrendered.

“You all right, Quintana?” someone shouted, and through the haze Carina thought it might have been Manny Solano.

She smiled, but all she could do was mumble Thank you, Jesus, as she dropped to the ground.

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