Read Ties That Bind Online

Authors: Phillip Margolin

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective

Ties That Bind

Ties That

For Helen and Norman Stamm, great in-laws, thanks for raising such an excellent daughter.
December 1970
Pedro Aragon lay naked . . .

Part One
The Flash
The Present

United States Senator Chester Whipple . . .

Amanda Jaffe stroked hard and felt her . . .

The caterers were packing up . . .

Tim Kerrigan groped for his coffee . . .

“Can you take a look at something for me?”

A little after three on Thursday afternoon . . .

Harvey Grant, the presiding judge . . .

Two years ago, Amanda had represented . . .

Part Two
Tim Kerrigan had just finished another . . .

Dunthorpe was an exclusive residential . . .

Jon Dupre’s starkly modern house . . .

Once a month, Tim, Cindy, and Megan . . .

The Justice Center was a sixteen-story . . .

Court adjourned early, so Amanda . . .

Part Three
Shortly before quitting time, Jack Stamm . . .

Nightmares wrecked Amanda’s sleep . . .

Oscar Baron’s office was . . .

Tim Kerrigan heard shoes tapping . . .

As soon as Amanda returned . . .

Jon Dupre had been confined . . .

Amanda’s hands were clammy . . .

The offices of Oregon Forensic . . .

Oscar Baron was ready to pack it in . . .

Jon Dupre had called Ally Bennett . . .

Jon Dupre was still in manacles . . .

When the Multnomah County . . .

The reporters were waiting . . .

Part Four
Joyce Hamada wasn’t hard to spot . . .

Tim parked in the motel lot.

Billie Brewster waved to Kate Ross . . .

Tim Kerrigan needed help . . .

Amanda went to bed early . . .

Tim Kerrigan and Maria Lopez . . .

Ben Dodson was in a good mood . . .

The weekend had been hell for Tim . . .

The state medical examiner’s office . . .

Tim Kerrigan parked in Harvey Grant’s . . .

Amanda worked until seven-fifteen . . .

Part Five
Amanda dragged herself . . .

Amanda shut the door to her father’s . . .

Frank insisted that Amanda move in . . .

It took a moment or so for the flashing . . .

Amanda hadn’t had much of an appetite . . .

Kate waited until the sun went down . . .

On the evening of February 17, 1972 . . .

At five in the morning Stan Gregaros . . .

Manuel Castillo wished . . .

Mike Greene’s car skidded to a stop . . .

Part Six
Harvey Grant was taking off his robe . . .


Harvey Grant had met Maria Lopez . . .

An armed police officer manned a desk . . .

Harvey Grant was in his chambers . . .

J. D. Hunter knew that Harvey Grant . . .

Tim Kerrigan waited as J. D. Hunter rang . . .

Kate Ross found Amanda Jaffe idly . . .

Part Seven
Tim Kerrigan slipped his arm around . . .

For two weeks, starting the night after . . .

Pedro Aragon was sunning himself . . .


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December 1970
Pedro Aragon lay naked on a white sand beach in the arms of a lithe, brown-skinned woman who smelled of hibiscus. The fronds of a sheltering palm swayed to and fro above the lovers. Waves beat wildly against the shore. The moment would have been perfect had it not been for the fly buzzing in Pedro’s ear.
Pedro tried to ignore the insect, but the incessant hum would not stop. He flicked a hand at it. The buzzing grew louder. Pedro opened his eyes, and the sun-kissed beach morphed into a narrow bed covered by soiled sheets. The sound of waves was replaced by the rat-a-tat-tat of rain beating on the grime-streaked windowpanes in Pedro’s low-rent apartment. Gone, too, was the sweet scent of hibiscus. In its place was the musty smell of sweat, stale beer, and half-eaten pizza.

Pedro rolled on his side and stared at his droning alarm clock. For a moment, he regretted setting it. The dream had been so good. Then he remembered what might happen this evening, and he struggled out of bed. Pedro had seen too many lazy men miss their chances, and he was not going to let his slip away.

Pedro Aragon had left the slums of Mexico City for the gold-paved streets of America when he was fourteen. He was a slender boy with pearl-white teeth, dancing eyes, and a well-groomed mustache that covered lips prone to smile. It was hard to picture him hurting, let alone killing, anyone. But Pedro’s easygoing mood could change without warning, bringing on brief moments of insane violence. It was this lack of predictability that made him so dangerous and caused even hard men to hesitate before challenging him.
Jesus Delgado, Portland point man for a Mexican cartel, was quick to recognize the young man’s talents. Under his guidance, Pedro had become an effective member of Delgado’s narcotics operation. Two months ago, Jesus had instructed his protégé to use a chainsaw to downsize a crew chief who was skimming profits. His reward was the deceased’s job. Normally Pedro sold street amounts of heroin to burnouts, but tonight three college punks were looking to move some weight, and he could smell the money.

Pedro’s current place of business was an abandoned house in a rundown neighborhood where people knew better than to complain to the cops—assuming that they’d talk to the cops at all. The lawn of the dilapidated house was out of control, dull gray paint was peeling from every exterior wall, and the overhang on the porch threatened to collapse. Pedro dashed through the rain and rapped on the front door. It opened instantly.

“Que pasa?”
Pedro asked the armed guard.

“Business is slow.”

“It’ll pick up when the sun goes down.”

Clyde Hopkins, a muscular cowboy with ties to Las Vegas gangsters, greeted Pedro then followed him down the hall. When they entered a small room at the back of the house, a slender man with glasses was swapping a stoned Janis Joplin wannabe a bindle of white powder for a fistful of crumpled currency. The woman rushed out without even a glance at Pedro. He knew that the entrance of the Devil himself wouldn’t distract a junkie from her fix.

“Hey, Benny,” Pedro said to the slender man, who was sitting behind a rickety bridge table on which lay baggies filled with product. Behind the table stood an armed and grim-looking bodybuilder.

“Business is slow tonight,” Benny answered, pointing to a stack of bedraggled bills bound with a rubber band. Pedro counted the day’s take. It was low, but he wasn’t worried. The college boys would come at ten-thirty and make everything right.

The preppies appeared right on time. Pedro watched them through the front window and laughed out loud as they got out of their wine-red Jaguar.
“Do you believe this?” he asked Clyde, who was watching over Pedro’s shoulder.

“How have these boys stayed alive?” Clyde answered with a shake of his head. Driving a fancy car into this neighborhood was tantamount to carrying a sign that read please rob me.

Pedro judged the boys to be about his age—eighteen—but where the streets had made Pedro into a man, these three looked . . . juvenile. Yeah, soft, childlike, their well-fed faces still marred by acne; fear and want absent from their eyes. He remembered the way they had acted the night before at The Penthouse, Jesus Delgado’s upscale strip club, all peace signs and “groovy,” larding their conversation with high-school Spanish to show that they were “cool”—calling Pedro “amigo” and “bro.”

The preppies were wearing a uniform as distinctive as gang colors: school blazers, chinos, Oxford blue button-down shirts, and crew-neck sweaters. The first boy was football-player big, but flabby and soft, with a mop of unruly blond hair. Still carrying his baby fat, Pedro thought. The next one through the door was Pedro’s height—five ten—and skinny, with black horn-rimmed glasses and limp black hair that hung to his shoulders. He looked young, like a kid. Most people would figure him for junior high way before they thought college. The last preppie was a light heavyweight, rangy and strong-looking, with a crewcut. If any of them were dangerous, it would be number three. But Pedro did not expect danger; he expected cash, or “mucho dinero,” as the boys had put it when they explained their proposition, which involved moving dope on their college campus. Pedro had listened politely, knowing he couldn’t lose. He’d rip them off if their deal didn’t feel right, or he’d start a pipeline into a seller’s market where the consumers could pay top dollar.

“Pedro, my man!” Baby Fat said.

Pedro responded, initiating an elaborate handshake that he made up as he went along.
“Mi casa es su casa.”

“Right on!” Baby Fat answered enthusiastically. He beamed while the other two looked around nervously, taking in the AK-47 that rested on a table near a sagging couch, and the three hard cases who watched them from various parts of the room.

“So, we do business, no?” Pedro asked, putting on a heavy accent he’d mostly lost after four years in the States.

si, amigo.
Lots of business.”

“So, what you got for me?” Pedro asked.

“Hey, hey, that depends on what you got for us,” Baby Fat answered cagily as the heads of the other two continued to swivel from one of Pedro’s men to the other.

Pedro grinned. “For you I got the best shit ever. Come, I show you.”

He started to turn but stopped, as the front-door guard stumbled into the room. Blood was running down the front of the guard’s tie-dyed T-shirt. Someone had slit his throat. The guard collapsed on the floor. Behind him stood a muscular black man sporting a wild Afro and holding a very large gun. The preppies’ eyes went wide, and Clyde dove for the AK.

“Nah, I don’t think so,” the black man said, squeezing off two rounds. By the time Clyde’s dead body hit the floor, the room was filled with armed and dangerous-looking men. The man who’d murdered Clyde lowered his weapon. Two of his associates moved cautiously down the hall toward the back room.

“You must be Pedro,” he said calmly. Pedro did not answer. “Soon you’re gonna be ex-Pedro.” He chuckled. As Pedro’s brain raced, trying to figure out a way to stay alive, he heard several shots and a scream from the direction of the back room. The leader grinned.

“I think my boys found your stash,” he told Pedro. Then he looked at the white boys, paying attention to them for the first time. They looked terrified. Their hands were stretched high above their heads as if this were a western and the stagecoach robbers had just told them to grab some sky.

“What have we got here?” He looked over his shoulder at a man with an eye-catching scar that traced a ragged path from cheek to jaw. “Abdul, what you call those nice young boys who sing all pretty at the high school?”

“Glee club.”

“Yeah, glee club.” He turned back to the boys. “You all in a glee club?”

He shifted his attention back to Pedro. “Did I fuck up, Pedro? Word I had was that you’re selling dope where you ain’t supposed to, stealin’ my customers, but I apologize if I messed up here. Was you all getting ready to sing ‘Old Black Joe’?”

Pedro didn’t answer.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You motherfuckers ain’t a glee club.” He pointed his gun at Pedro. “I think you’re a dope dealer who’s dealin’ dope in my territory.” He shifted the gun muzzle so it pointed at the college boys. “And you’re customers giving this spic motherfucker my money. Which means, you all got to die.”

“Please, sir,” the kid with the horn-rimmed glasses stuttered. “Can’t you let us go? We won’t tell anyone. I swear.”

The leader looked as if he was considering the proposal.

“You swear, huh?’

“Yes, sir. We didn’t know this was your territory. We can buy our dope from you. We have plenty of money.”

The black man grinned and nodded. “That sounds reasonable.” He turned his head. “That sound reasonable to you, Abdul?”

“They do look like upstanding white boys,” Abdul answered.

“You are upstanding, ain’t you?” the leader asked.

“Yes, sir,” said the kid with the glasses, nodding his head vigorously. “We all have very good grades.”

“That right? Well then, Abdul, I think we can take their word that they won’t tell the police that we blew away a house full of people and stole their money, don’t you?”

“Definitely,” Abdul said, flashing an evil smile at the boys.

“You will promise, won’t you? Scout’s honor?”

His light tone disappeared as he slowly raised the muzzle of his gun so it was pointing at the gold emblem that was sown on the blazer directly over the quaking boy’s heart.

“I have money,” the kid pleaded. “Lots of money.”

As he reached behind him toward his wallet pocket, a wet stain spread across the front of the kid’s chinos and a yellow puddle formed on the floor at his feet. The gang leader stared, then started to laugh. The eyes of the black invaders focused on the skinny kid’s pee-stained crotch.

“You see that? He pissed himself.”

They were all laughing when the kid whipped out the pistol concealed beneath his blazer and started blasting. The gangsters froze, then tried to react as the Light Heavy and Baby Fat pumped shots into them. Glass shattered, and chunks of the wall flew in all directions. Pedro dove for the AK-47. A shot blew out plaster where he’d been standing. He grabbed the gun, rolled behind a couch, and came up shooting as two men rushed out of the back room. The automatic sprayed shots across their chests, and they crumpled to the floor.

“Stop,” the Light Heavy shouted, pressing the hot muzzle of his gun against Pedro’s temple. “Put it down, Pedro. Be cool. I just want to be sure I don’t get shot in the confusion.”

Pedro weighed his chances. The gun screwed tighter into his skull, twisting the skin. He dropped his weapon.

“Okay,” the Light Heavy said as he stepped back. Pedro looked around. Everyone was dead except him, the three schoolboys, and the leader of the black gang, who was gut-shot and rolling back and forth on the floor.

“Man, that was something,” the kid with the horn-rimmed glasses said in an awed whisper.

“That was fucking-A great,” Baby Fat agreed, “especially when you peed yourself.”

“Hey, it got their attention, didn’t it?” the kid asked with a grin.

Baby Fat sniffed as he waved a hand in front of his nose. “It’s getting mine now.”

“Screw you,” the kid laughed, and he and Baby Fat traded high fives while Pedro stared in amazement. Then the kid walked over to the wounded black man, who was moaning in pain. The preppie grinned.

“Golly, I bet that hurts.”

“Fuck you,” the wounded man managed.

“Frankly, sir, I don’t think you could get it up in your condition.”

Baby Fat laughed.

“Finish him,” the Light Heavy said, his voice tight. “We gotta get out of here.”

“Be cool,” the kid said as he circled his prey, pointing his gun at various parts of the man’s anatomy while chanting, “Eeny meeny miny mo.”

“Stop being a jerk,” the Light Heavy told him.

“Gosh, you’re no fun,” the kid answered as he blew out the wounded man’s kneecap, eliciting a hideous scream.

The kid laughed. “You can really hit those high notes.” Then the smile left his lips and he looked the screaming man in the eyes. “Were you in your high school glee club, asshole?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” the Light Heavy said, emptying two shots into the screaming man’s head. “Now cut the shit and let’s move.”

Pedro tried to contain his fear. If he was going to die, he wanted to die like a man.

The Light Heavy turned to him. “Grab your dope.”

Pedro wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

“We gotta go. The cops will be here any minute.”

They weren’t going to kill him! Pedro’s legs suddenly worked. He ran to the back room. Benny lay sprawled on the floor, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. His bodyguard lay crumpled in a corner. Pedro tore his eyes away and stuffed his stash into a suitcase, then headed back to the front room.

“The goodies!” Baby Fat shouted.

“We got your money,” the kid told Pedro. “We can still do this.”

Pedro hesitated, confused.

“You owe us, amigo,” Baby Fat told him. “You’d be dead if we weren’t so fucking lethal.”

Pedro stared at the Jaguar outside. “I don’t know, man. You’re gonna be hot. The cops will trace your car.”

The preppies looked at each other and broke out laughing.

“Not to worry, bro,” the kid assured him. “It’s stolen.”

Pedro thought he was beyond surprise, but these guys were from outer space. Then Baby Fat wrapped an arm around Pedro’s shoulders. One look at his face told Pedro that everything that had happened here and at The Penthouse had been an act. He was suddenly more frightened than he’d been when he was facing certain death.

“We could kill you and steal your drugs,” the fat boy told him in a quiet and confident tone, “but that would be short-sighted. What we want is a mutually beneficial partnership that will make us all a lot of money.”

The kid shrugged. “If you’re not interested, take off and Godspeed.”

“What do you say, Pedro?” the Light Heavy asked. “Do you want to make some money?”

Pedro thought about the woman in his dream and the clean white beach.

“Let’s go someplace and talk,” he said.

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