.............Director William Friedkin
The DEA agent said, "So there I was in this motel in Haiti, a girl who was not my wife in the shower, suffering from the hangover from hell, when some son of a bitch starts hammering on the God damned door."
Chris said, "But you were armed, right? Even though the local cops were dirty, they let you keep your piece, yeah?"
The DEA agent nodded. He said, "I took it with me to answer door. First I peeked through the curtains. I figured it was probably the Perp I was after and a couple of his Cracker thugs come to say good morning."
I said, "Like maybe you'd blown your cover at the disco the night before? Even though you'd taken a whore home with you."
The DEA agent sighed. "Yeah, even after doing that." He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. He said, "Some guys, when you're hunting them, get prickles up the back of their neck, even if they don't know for a fact that you're there."
Chris said, "In Snake Eater's School they taught us that the first rule of the ambush is to never stare at the enemy. Just quick looks until you are ready to shoot." He shrugged. "Critters - even human-type critters - can sense when you are looking at them with ill intent on your mind."
"Yeah, like that," the DEA agent said.
"So was it the bad guys?" I asked.
The DEA agent snorted. "Depends on your definition of bad. The guy at the door was the Port Au Prince police chief who'd given me the brush off before. Him, and a couple of Haitian plainclothes cops. Mirrored sun glasses. Mean looks. Like the Tonton Macoute from the days of Baby Doc Duvailer. Probably the same guys who tailed me when I was shadowing the Perp to his villa."
"Shit," Chris said.
"I was thinking the same thing," the DEA agent said.
"What did you do?" I asked.
"First, I put the gun away," the DEA agent said. "Then I opened the door."
FREEZE ACTION FOR BACKSTORY:
The DEA man was an undercover agent, so must remain nameless. I can tell you that he was the cop most responsible for busting the biggest drug smuggler and mad dog killer of his day - one, Carlos Lehder. Along with Lehder, he put away a whole gang of American bad boys, led by a Florida Cracker with a pilot's license and a small fleet of planes. The two men had met in a Federal prison a few years before, and between them had pioneered the modern zillion dollar a minute drug smuggling/ narco-terrorist business.
Chris and I had been hired by none other than William Friedkin, the famed director, to write TARGET: CARLOS for a Showtime movie. We were in Jacksonville, Florida interviewing the DEA agent not long after a series of Federal Court trials that delivered guilty verdicts all around and prison sentences that knocked on the Dismal Door Of Forever Plus A Day.
In a nutshell, that's the story so far. For the exciting details, check out the two previous MisAdventures: (1) Bunch & Cole Meet Bill Friedkin And The DEA. (2) Dancing With A Naked Lady While Watched By Guys With Guns.
Mind you, a few devotees of these MisAdventures - possibly like yourself, Gentle Reader - have been (ahem) annoyed that in the telling of this tale I left them with not just one, but two cliff hangers in a row. But, I fear not everyone in these modern times is as gifted with long attention spans like yourself, my wise friend. So, by necessity, I must deliver these essays in short bites - like MacDonald's offers finger food-thingies for multi-tasking commuters and the small inhabitants of Soccer Mom Vans.
...The DEA agent said, "First I put the gun away. Then I opened the door. The police chief acted real friendly. Charming smile. Easy manner. I asked him to come in. He did, but to my relief he told the Tonton types to wait outside.
"I gave him the only chair and sat on the bed. We could hear the shower running and then it cut off. He gave me this man-to-man... you-sly-dog-you... look. But he wasn't there to talk about the girl, and she was savvy enough to stay in the bathroom.
"Then, out of the blue, he tells me that it had come to his attention that a certain fugitive from American justice was in their country and he had been told to kick the guy out of Haiti. It was like we had never talked before."
"Was he offering to help you arrest him?" I asked.
The DEA agent shook his head. "He wasn't going that far. But he was alerting me to the fact that the guy I had been sent here to find - along with his buddies - had been declared persona non grata in Haiti and once they cleared Haitian air space, they were all mine."
"Yeah, but the Cracker could easily hire a plane and take off for anywhere in the world," I pointed out. "Head for Columbia and the protection of Carlos Lehder."
"He certainly could," the DEA agent said. "And probably would any minute now, because the next thing the police chief told me was that he'd just come from the Perp's house and had told him the jig was up and he had to leave the country."
"In other words," Chris said, "he was giving the Son Of A Bitch a head start."
"Exactly," the DEA agent said. "I learned later that my bosses had pulled some strings and gotten State to warn the Haitians that certain aid they were expecting might be delayed if they didn't do something about my boy.
"On the other hand, my Perp had paid out plenty for protection, so the Chief probably felt he had some obligation, no matter how slight. And so he gave him a head start."
"You must have really busted ass to get to the airport on time," I said.
"And then, some," he said. "Got the chief out of there, gave the girl a nice tip - she knew something was up and that I wasn't an ordinary John and was terrified. I called the embassy and got them to hustle a plane big enough to carry all my prisoners."
Chris said, "Just you? You were going to confront all those guys by yourself? Shit, you didn't have enough cuffs, much less enough rounds in your piece."
"I was winging it," the DEA agent said. "Figured I'd get there then punt. But when I got to the airport - damn if it didn't look like I was too late. I saw the Perp and six or seven of his guys - and a couple of women - walking across the tarmac to this little passenger jet. Boy, was I out of time."
"What the fuck did you do?" Chris asked.
"First thought that came into my head was the tower," the DEA agent said. "I raced to the Control Tower, grabbed the guys there, showed them my badge and my gun and said to stop that plane or the whole fucking U.S. government was going to fall on their heads.
"For some reason, my bluff worked. When the Perp's pilot radioed for permission to take off, they stalled him. But, they also got on the phone to talk to their own bosses. So, I pushed somebody aside, grabbed his phone, called the embassy again, and said they'd better have a plane for me right this fucking minute or we were screwed.
"I figured the police chief would be on his way to stop me any second, so I rushed out onto the tarmac, ran up to the Perp's plane and hammered on the side until the door came open. Some stew was looking out at me, blinking and scared. I showed her my badge and my gun and said everybody on the plane was under arrest."
"Fuck me," Chris said.
"It sort of worked, because the Perp came out to argue with me, followed by his guys. For some reason, nobody was showing guns but me so they must have thought I had the whole U.S. Army backing my act.
"Then, while they're yelling at me, and I'm yelling back, up rolls a bus from the embassy. Door comes open and the guy behind the wheel... a uniformed embassy security man... shouts for everybody to get on board, the plane was waiting."
Chris and I were staring at the DEA agent in absolute awe.
"And they did?" I asked.
"Well, the Perp hesitated at first," the DEA agent said. "But then we both saw - way across the field - a whole line of big black cars coming our way. All with their light bars flashing. Well, I know it just has to be the police chief coming to stop me, but the Perp didn't know that.
"He looked at me, a little scared, and asked what was happening. I said, 'If you don't want to get thrown into a Haitian prison for the rest of your fucking life you'd better come with me.'
"And, damn, if he didn't. He practically ran to the bus, his people behind him, and they all piled inside. I came after them, then it was a race in the bus to where the embassy had the plane. All the cop cars coming behind us. They were faster, of course, but we had a lead.
"A lead that was almost gone when we got to the plane. It had a U.S. flag on the side and when the Perp saw it he said, 'It's American, thank God!'"
"Son of a bitch fooled himself," Chris said.
The DEA agent nodded. "Didn't take any effort for me to get them all off the bus and into the plane. Some more embassy security guys were there and they took over the business of disarming and taking people into custody."
"What about the police chief?" I asked. "What happened with him?"
The DEA agent gave one of his rare laughs. He said, "The Haitian cops pulled up beside the plane and the Chief got out. At first he looked furious. I thought he might order everybody to start shooting. But, then he calmed down. He got on the radio for instructions, while I stood there at the open door wondering what was going to happen next. Would they arrest me? Block the plane from leaving and free the fugitives?
"Instead, he hands the mike back to the driver, turns to me and gives me a little, half-assed salute, then climbs into the car and leads the cop convoy off the runway."
"Friedkin's gonna love this shit," Chris said, scribbling notes like crazy.
The DEA agent said, "But that's not the really weird part."
"It got weirder, still?" I said. I was already dumbfounded.
"Oh, boy, did it," the DEA agent said. "Okay, so we're all on the plane and the Perp and his friends are congratulating themselves for their narrow escape. It took everything I had not to laugh in their faces. Then everybody gets something to eat... talking like crazy... it's gets late, but they are too excited to sleep.. and I'm wondering when they are going to figure out what happened and try to stage a rebellion.
"Then all of a sudden the pilot announced that we had just crossed into U.S. airspace and the Perp and all his friends cheered and applauded like crazy.
"Then, out of the blue, the Perp starts singing, 'God Bless America,' and everybody joins in. Singing, with tears running down their faces - so happy to be back in The Land Of The Free."
"And then you threw their asses in jail for the rest of their fucking lives," Chris said.
The DEA agent grimaced. "Almost felt sorry for them." He raised a finger. "But, only almost."
"And they also gave you Carlos," I said.
The DEA agent grinned. "They couldn't fink fast enough," he said.
DISSOLVE TO: A BASEMENT AT THE JACKSONVILLE FEDERAL COURTHOUSE
The DEA agent showed us around a big basement under the Jacksonville Federal Building, stuffed with evidence used in the trial of Carlos Lehder And Associates. Agents in shirts and ties and wearing shoulder holsters were moving through the evidence, cataloguing it for shipment to wherever it is they keep evidence against the Forever Damned.
Two walls were covered with pictures of beached speedboats, stacks of seized automatic weapons and pistols with silencers, Caribbean island villas, a variety of airplanes, including one seaplane, and mound after mound of cocaine in clear, football-sized plastic bags.
Chris eyed one of the cocaine photos and said, "Did you know that one of the Popes always kept a flask of wine laced with cocaine on his belt? The Pope was Louis Some-Roman-Numeral-Or-Other and the company that made the wine called it Vin Mariani. His Holiness got it free for advertisement purposes."
The DEA agent gave Chris a dirty look.
I said, "He can't help it. He just knows shit like that.
The DEA agent said, "Yeah, but he doesn't have to tell me."
I said, "He can't help that either. Show him an authority figure and he'll give the guy a Wedgie."
Figuring he'd gone far enough, Chris pointed at a picture of an AK-47 that literally glowed.
He said, "I know that's an AK, but what the hell did they do to it?"
The DEA agent snorted. "Had it God damned gold plated is what they did," he said. "That's how much money Carlos was wallowing in. Got his entire gun collection gold plated. Gave out gold-plated guns to his boys as a reward for good work."
I indicated a picture of the man I now knew to be Carlos Lehder. He was posing in a black SS-type uniform, with what looked like an old German Lugar holstered at his belt. Similarly dressed and booted men flanked him. On the wall behind them was a huge red Swastika.
"What the hell is that all about?" I asked.
The DEA agent said, "Maybe it was his daddy's fault. Lehder's old man was a German engineer, who escaped to Columbia after the war. Married a Columbian school teacher.
"Carlos admired the hell out of Hitler. Thought the Fourth Reich would be along any day now, and that his drug money would help arm a whole legion of Nazi soldiers. After that, it got kookier.
I raised an eyebrow. What could be kookier?
The DEA agent caught my look and said, "Carlos liked little boys - the younger the better. He'd play Nazi dress up when he was with them. Put them in little SS uniforms he had his tailor make up. On the other hand, he professed to hate homosexuals, and would torture and kill any of his men he thought might be Trolo limp-wrists."
"That fuck head is one seriously disturbed dude," Chris said.
Then I spotted another strange thing. Some of the evidence included expensive furniture and goods seized from Carlos's island hideout in the Caribbean. Laid against the concrete block wall of the cellar was a big slab of wood. It looked like a piece of a ripped out wall, pocked with suspicious-looking holes.
"Are those bullet holes?" I asked.
"Yeah, that was from the big shootout when we raided the Cay where Carlos was holed up," the DEA agent said. "I told Billy (Friedkin) all about it."
"Mind telling us, too?" I asked. I mean, shit, we were writing this thing, not Billy. "First off, which Cay are we talking about? I mean, was it one of the cays off Antigua, or Trinidad, or something?'
The DEA agent shook his head. "I can't say," he told me. "All I can tell you is that it was a little Cay off a Caribbean island-nation that can't be named. We had to get permission from the Prime Minister to stage the raid."
He looked disgusted. "The asshole and his entire cabinet and police force are being paid off by the drug cartels. We had to do some serious arm-twisting to get permission for the raid. Part of the deal was that the details, including the location, had to remain secret."
The DEA agent paused, thinking it through. He looked at the other agents moving through the cellar, clearly trying to Big Ear our conversation. Finally, he said, "Why don't we adjourn for lunch? I'll fill you in over a few beers."
We were on the second beer when he said, "Okay, here's what happened. The Americans we busted had clued us in on Carlos's favorite midway station. It was that little nameless Cay I mentioned. Dope would come in from Columbia, mainly by plane, but also by boat, and it would be held there until my American Perp and his guys flew in to do their thing. Sacks of cash for sacks of dope, and so on.
"There were over a dozen villas on the Cay, some small businesses, shops, a nightclub, that sort of thing. But Carlos drove all the other residents out. Scared shit out of them, then bought their places for ten cents on the dollar. So, he basically had the whole Cay for himself and his crew - along with their girlfriends and people to wait on them and do the scut work.
"As far as the merchants and the nightclub people were concerned, their ship had come in with Carlos at the wheel. Money flowed from him like water and they were wallowing in the stuff.
"Eventually, me and my partner made two trips to that Cay. He grinned at the memory, saying, "It was real Navy SEAL shit. Dark of night. Rowing in from something the Navy, or the Coasties had dug up for us just offshore. Blackened faces... stealthy weapons... the whole enchilada.
"We cased the island, spotted the planes, landing areas and the villas Carlos and his boys were using. The other places were all boarded up and empty. At night, it was one scary-looking island.
"Then comes the big night for the big raid. Word was that Carlos Lehder, himself, was in residence. We had to get further permission from the Prime Minister for the raid, which bothered the hell out of us, but what could we do? The Brass said we had to, so we had to.
"So, there were like twelve of us. I take one group... my partner the other. We close in on the main villa.. the one we were pretty sure Carlos was at. And damn, the whole place was lit up as if there was some kind of big party. But there was no music... just guys shouting orders and revving engines.
"Then all of a sudden vehicles bust out of the villa and are heading away. And people start shooting. I don't know how it started - I just know it wasn't us shooting first. Then everything goes crazy. Shouting and shooting and vehicles crashing across the dunes.
"Me and my guys got to the main house. We were taking fire like crazy. Then all of a sudden the shooting inside the villa stopped and a couple of Latinos were shouting in Spanish that they were surrendering.
"Well, we go in fast. Secure the prisoners. Give the house a fast search, but no Carlos. And I am really pissed, but I'm hoping like hell that my partner and his team managed to bag him. They'd gone charging over the dunes after the vehicles, which were heading for the landing field.
"He told me later there was an exchange of gunfire at the field, but the firefight was pretty short. Everybody was too busy trying to scramble on planes. The seaplane tried to take off, but they stopped it. But, son of a bitch, if a couple of the other planes didn't manage to get away."
"So, Carlos was gone," I said.
The DEA agent sighed. "Carlos was gone," he confirmed. "Obviously, somebody in the government had tipped him off about the raid."
Chris called for another round and we all lit up fresh smokes. In the silence, my partner and I scribbled more notes.
Finally, I asked, "What then?"
"What else?" the DEA agent said. "I followed him to Medellin."
We were agog. Chris said, "By yourself?"
"Yeah, by myself," the DEA agent said. "My bosses didn't want any of us to go. The way they saw it, we were hitting on all eight cylinders. We had arrested all those American smugglers. Sure, Carlos escaped in the raid, but we'd done him serious harm. Nobody on our side was hurt. But several of his people were dead or wounded.
"Plus, we seized a huge haul of cocaine. And money... shit there was so much money. Stacks, and stacks of bills - all big bills. Filled up a whole damned room. We even seized two money machines they used to count it. High speed machines - the kind the major banks use."
I said, "I saw them in the basement. Man, to think you've got so much money that you need not one, but two special high speed machines to count it."
Chris said, "The Brass wanted to declare victory."
"Exactly," the DEA agent said. "But I'd already spent six damned years on the case. And I was all fired up and there was no way I was going to stop."
"So, your bosses relented?" I asked.
The DEA agent snorted. "Not on your life. But I had vacation time coming, so I took it. Then I bought myself a round trip ticket to Columbia, packed a bag and headed for Medellin on my own dime."
He told us that he made like an ordinary tourist, staying at a mid-priced hotel. He couldn't bring his gun without alerting the authorities - guys he had reason not to trust - so the week he spent there was a very nervous week.
"I had a contact," he said. "A guy we sort of trusted, who provided us with information now and again."
"Sort of trusted?" Chris said.
The DEA agent shrugged. "He was a paid informant," he said.
I said, "My dad always said that you could never trust a spy who did it solely for money. The best information came from patriots who were pissed off at the way their country was being run."
"That's right, your dad was Agency," the DEA agent said. He thought a second, then added, "Your dad was right. At first the guy came on like my best friend. He was taking me here and there, showing me the places where the Cartel did their business, or had their pleasure.
"He even drove me out into the country, where Carlos kept house. I dressed like a local and the two of us wandered around the little town there. He showed me the police station, which was pretty fancy for such an unimportant place.
"But he said Carlos built it for the cops. And that he used to come by regularly, like once a month, or more. And the local people would line up outside the station and be escorted in, one-by-one, to meet El Patron. Carlos would personally settle arguments, and pass out gifts of money and so forth, acting like one of those kings in the Days Of Old."
"Then the contact found out your were there on your own?" I guessed.
The DEA agent said, "Something like that. The main thing he realized was that I didn't have any money for him. He was working gratis. And this was a guy who made his living playing both sides.
"Then, one night, he set up a meet at a bar, but when I got there he didn't show. "Instead, I saw some nasty-looking guys there who were acting way too curious about me. So, I got the hell out. Next day, I took a plane home."
"So, the trip was a waste of time," I said.
"Not really," the DEA agent said. "Word got out that I had been in Medellin. Well, not me, exactly. But somebody from the DEA. And it shook up the Cartel bosses that we had no fear about sending people right into Carlos's front yard.
"Also, the raid on the Cay cost Carlos big. All that dope, all that money, all those guns, all those planes and boats - gone! And before that, we had cut off one of his main conduits to the States. The American Cracker and his gang. That made Carlos look weak to the bosses. And there were already some younger guys wanting to take his place."
He shrugged, then said, "Next time we asked, the government suddenly agreed that Carlos Lehder was one bad son of a bitch. And that he had not only broken a lot of Columbian laws, but he'd done even worse things to their buddies, the good old USA.
"Then they arrested him. Put him in chains. Ordered his ass extradited. So, we stuffed him in a plane and flew him to Tampa for processing, then Jacksonville to face trial."
"And that was the end of Carlos Lehder," Chris said.
The DEA agent leaned back in his chair, a wide smile on his face. "Yeah, he was done."
Chris and I finished scrawling notes, then I asked, "Now, that it's all over... I mean, you spent years on this case... and suddenly it's over. Doesn't that make you feel weird? You have to admit that Carlos Lehder and the others became an obsession. So, how do you motivate yourself out of bed these days?"
The DEA agent looked weary. He said, "To my surprise, it bothered me a lot for a time," he said. "But I have a new wife, and she keeps me settled down."
Then he brightened. He said, "Besides, I've got myself a new goal. A new target."
"Anything you can tell us about?" I asked.
"Only this," he said. "When I'm done here I'm flying to Aspen."
Chris said, "Those poor fuckers in Aspen."
DISSOLVE TO: MY HOME AND OUR OFFICE IN VENICE BEACH.
Chris and I wrote up a thirty-page outline of Target: Carlos. Friedkin liked it, but had a few suggested changes to make, then put us into script.
One of the changes he wanted involved telephones. He said he hated scenes where characters exchanged information on the phone. He preferred to see them on camera - face-to-face. We had a few scenes like that - after all, Crime is mainly planned and carried out by phone. In those days, real life bad guys always kept bags of coins at hand to use in a nice safe, unbugable pay phone. Anyway, if Billy didn't want phones, we'd take out the phones. No problem. And I sort of got his point.
I wonder, however, if I asked him about it now what he'd say. With everyone carrying at least one cell phone it would look unnatural if nobody used them. These days, one of the things a writer has to figure out is how to set up the plot so that the Good Guy can't get to their cell phone when the shit hits the fan. He mislays it. Or, remarks that the battery is getting weak and either he's misplaced the car charger, or there is no car. If not, the audience wonders, why don't they just use their cell? Call 911? Turn out the cavalry?
Then came the day when we finished the first draft. Gave it a fast polish and messengered the script over to Friedkin's office.
A little over a week passed. The phone rang. Chris grabbed, heard the secretary say Mr. Friedkin was on the line, and punched the speaker button so we could both listen and talk.
Billy came on. "Boys," he said. "I'm back to where we started. I got some good news and some bad news."
Chris and I looked at each other. Oh, maaannn!!!
Chris said, "Last time we asked for the bad news first. How about this time, the good news?"
Friedkin said, "The good news is that I read Target: Carlos and loved it. One of the best first drafts I've ever read."
We breathed a sigh of relief.
"That's high praise coming from you, Billy," I said. "Thanks."
But now we knew the other shoe just had to fucking drop.
"What's the bad news?" I asked.
Billy sighed. "The bad news," he said, "is that the deal with Showtime is kaput. No movie."
"What the fuck?" Chris said. "We thought you had a deal already in place."
"I did," Billy said. "But you know, that deal always galled me. I thought they made me give up too much. So I had my agent to renegotiate the terms. They eventually agreed to give me the full control I wanted. But not the money. My agent played real hardball with them. Really pushed."
"And they didn't blink," I said, feeling the floor fall away.
"No, I guess they didn't," Friedkin said. "But don't worry, boys. You'll still get the rest of the money. The full boat."
"That's good," Chris said. But his heart wasn't in it. Writers aren't in the game for the money. All we want is enough to live on - and write.
We exchanged a few more comments, mostly bullshit. Great working with you, blah, blah. We'll do it again, and so on and so fucking forth.
We hung up.
I put my head on the desk and said, "Shit, shit, shit."
"And fall back in it," Chris said.
NEXT: THE REAL STARS OF HOLLYWOOD