It Happened One Wedding Page 12

“I assume you’ve already ordered your monogrammed Ralph Lauren wetsuit?” Vaughn quipped.

“I checked. They don’t make one,” Huxley said.

“What’s scary, Hux, is that I have no clue if you’re being funny or dead serious.” They rounded the corner and stopped at the desk outside the SAC’s office.

“You can head on in. He’s expecting you,” said Nick’s assistant.

As Vaughn headed to the door with Huxley, he saw that their boss was worked up about something. Nick paced in front of Jack Pallas, one of the agents from the Violent Crimes squad.

“The whole thing is outrageous,” Nick was saying. “They corner you and suck you in with all their slick talk before draining every last penny out of you. I should haul every single one of them in here for price gouging and profiteering.”

“He and Jordan went stroller shopping this weekend,” Jack explained as Vaughn and Huxley walked in and sat down in front of Nick’s desk.

“These things cost more than my first car,” Nick said.

“Babies are not cheap.” Jack cocked his head. “And remind me—how many are you having?”

Valuing his job—and not being quite as good friends with Nick as Jack—Vaughn held back a grin and carefully kept his face expressionless. A few weeks ago, Nick and his wife had discovered that she was pregnant with twins. For a couple days afterward, the agents of the Chicago FBI had watched with no small amount of amusement as their fearless leader had walked around the office in a daze, murmuring “There are two,” to anyone who offered his or her congratulations.

Now fully recovered from the news, Nick chuckled at the joke. “Just the two. Assuming nobody hits us with any more surprises at the next ultrasound.” He moved around his desk and took a seat.

He rested his arms on the desk. “All right, let’s get down to business. As I mentioned earlier, I have a new investigation for you two. One that will involve some undercover work,” he told Vaughn and Huxley. “On Friday afternoon, Jack received a call from one of his confidential informants, who relayed some information that certainly merits our attention.” He turned to Jack. “Why don’t you bring them up to speed?”

“The CI’s name is Hector Batista,” Jack began. “He works in an auto body shop on the South Side. I met him several years ago, while working undercover in the Martino case. He was a lower-level smuggler back then, mostly stolen cigarettes and slot machines, but that career came to a halt after the U.S. Attorney shut down Martino’s organization. Batista still keeps an ear to the ground, and he’s given us solid information in the past.”

“He’s a paid informant?” Vaughn asked.

“Yes. But he also owes me a favor,” Jack said, indicating that he believed Batista was particularly trustworthy. “He called me on Friday morning and we met shortly after that. Batista started the conversation by telling me that he’d sought out a Chicago cop who supposedly could make traffic tickets disappear. The cop’s name is Craig Pritchett. I’ve already looked him up; he’s in the Fifteenth District. According to Batista, after they discussed the traffic tickets, Pritchett made a comment to the effect that he’d heard Batista was ‘connected.’ Batista sensed something was up, and encouraged the cop to keep talking. So he did.

“Pritchett told him about a smuggling business he has going with some other police officers,” Jack continued. “He said he’d heard that Batista might know of people who would be interested in that kind of thing. Pritchett bragged that because he and his buddies are all cops, they could transport anything into the city without getting busted. He mentioned cigarettes, stolen merchandise—and guns.”

Vaughn raised an eyebrow at this last part. Chicago had some of the strictest gun-control laws in the United States, and law enforcement was constantly trying to stem the flood of illegal firearms transported in from states with more lax gun laws. As police officers, Pritchett and his friends were supposed to be helping in the war on crime—not bringing in more guns that would go straight into the hands of criminals.

“Sounds like Pritchett’s smuggling ring needs to be put out of business,” Vaughn said.

“We’ll send Batista back to Pritchett, and he can tell the cop that he does know of someone who would be interested in his services.” Nick turned to Vaughn. “How do you feel about being a gun dealer for the next couple months?”

Vaughn felt pretty damn good about that, if it meant taking down a few corrupt police officers. “I’ll start working up a legend this afternoon,” he told Nick, referring to the various information details—ID, phone number, etc.—that would support his undercover identity.

Nick nodded. “Good. As a former police officer, I take allegations like this very seriously. Let’s show these ass**les what happens to dirty cops who smuggle guns into this city.”

Ready to rock and roll, Vaughn answered for both Huxley and himself.

“Got it covered, boss.”

 • • •

AFTER THE MEETING adjourned, Jack followed Huxley and Vaughn down to the seventh floor, where the white-collar crime squad was located, and gave them more detailed background information on Batista.

“I’ll set up a meet-and-greet between you and Batista for later this week,” Jack told Vaughn before leaving.

“Sounds good.” Settled in at his cubicle, Vaughn was about to begin working on his undercover legend when his cell phone rang. He checked and saw that it was Simon.

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