A number of street-level dealers had been disappearing in Miami over the last year or so. Miami Dade cops weren’t particularly concerned about fewer dealers on the street. Still, missing dealers were reported across Broward County as well. Fort Lauderdale police had asked the FBI to determine if it was an unusually tidy turf war or something else, like a vigilante. And that’s how I, Travis Tredman, your friendly neighborhood FBI Special Agent, ended up waist-deep in the Everglades looking for anything remotely resembling a clue.
The latest disappearance was a charming gentleman named Ralph Carolli. Mr. Carolli was a notorious crime figure, at least according to Mr. Carolli. The truth was that Ralphie was a bottom-feeder, a street-level drug dealer, and about as subtle as a kick in the teeth. The Miami-Dade cops were well aware that Ralphie Carolli wasn’t using his van to deliver hot meals to orphanages. But, despite the fact he was dumber than a box of hammers, the cops couldn’t figure out who his supplier was. So he kept “slipping through their fingers.” Ralphie thought he was a criminal mastermind. Most of his associates considered it dumb luck, with the emphasis on dumb. In truth, Miami Dade PD kept him on the streets, hoping the idiot would lead them up the supply chain.
The question was further complicated when Ralphie disappeared. His van was found along the Tamiami Trail with a nail in a tire. Since this was inside Big Cypress National Preserve, it became a Federal issue. The FBI office in Naples technically had jurisdiction, but they were more than happy to dump the case on the Miami office. And like so many other viscous substances, swamp water flows downhill to the desk of the agent with the least seniority. And that would be me.
The Big Cypress park ranger that had found the van was standing watch on the edge of the road with a rifle in case of alligators. It was not giving me a particularly warm fuzzy feeling. I would note that Ranger Wilson was also a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, but I have found it a wise choice to avoid making observations that could be construed as sexist by heavily armed women.
I spotted something glinting in the sun. I slogged over and gingerly lifted a small plastic bag floating on the water. It was filled with white powder. I looked around. There was nothing else to be seen.
I climbed back onto dry land and fought my way out of my government-issued hip waders. Ranger Wilson put the rifle away and started the Jeep. I bagged the evidence, and we drove back to the ranger station on a dirt trail of dubious quality.
“So, Agent Tredman, what’s the next step?” She was driving at speeds I would not have been comfortable with, even if the road had been paved.
I struck a casual pose, hoping my internal organs didn’t shift around too much from the jarring they were enduring. “I’m not sure. Ralphie isn’t the first dealer who’s vanished. If we’re lucky, that bag was coke, but I’ll let the lab deal with that. Sometimes we can pinpoint the dealer by the composition. Maybe if we know who we’re looking for, some of the pieces will fall into place.”
She nodded. We pulled into the ranger station, and I transferred to my car and headed back to the FBI office in Miramar on real, paved roads.
Getting back to the office, I signed the bag over to the lab and went to see my boss, Special Agent-in-Charge Alberto Fernández Duhalde.
He seemed interested in the powder I sent to the lab. “Tredman, did you happen to examine the powder?”
I shook my head. “I really don’t have much field experience in drug interdiction.”
He stood up and headed out toward the lab. I shrugged and followed him.
“Dr. Daniels, may I take a quick look at that evidence Agent Tredman dropped off?”
Dr. Daniels looked mildly annoyed and unlocked the evidence cabinet. He handed the evidence bag to Duhalde. He pulled out the plastic bag and undid the twist tie. He carefully sniffed at the opening and smiled.
He held it toward me. “Tredman, what do you smell?”
I carefully sniffed. “Oranges?”
He nodded, sealed the bag, and handed it back to the scientist, and we headed back toward his office.
“Chief, what is that bag?” I was puzzled.
He didn’t break stride. “Oh, it’s definitely cocaine.”
I was no less puzzled. “Doesn’t coke usually smell like nail polish remover?”