Undercover, page 1
Table of Contents
Excerpt from Vengeance
About the Author
(The SSU Book 0.5 - A Prequel)
by Vanessa Kier
Undercover Copyright 2013 by Vanessa Kier
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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Nineteen-year-old Niko Andros stepped out of the state prison, startling as the gate closed with a loud clang. Spotting a black town car parked at the far end of the otherwise empty street, Niko started walking. Nerves cramped his guts, drowning the joy of being free for the first time in a year.
“You don’t have to do this,” his father had told him last week.
Niko had fought back the tears that threatened to unman him. He didn’t understand how Pop could not want vengeance for the drive-by shooting that had left him in a wheelchair. All Niko had dreamed of since that day six years ago had been taking on Mexican crime lord, Jaime Alvarez, and making him pay for ruining his father’s life. Hell, Alvarez had been harassing his family before Niko was born. A distant cousin of his mother’s, Alvarez had never forgiven her for joining forces with Niko’s father and uncle, both DEA agents. The resulting law enforcement raid against the Alvarez cartel holdings had resulted in the death of Alvarez’s older brother.
The crime lord had been out for revenge ever since.
Alvarez had sent men to rough up Niko’s father before, but the shooting had been an escalation in violence. The gang members responsible had eventually been arrested, but that hadn’t hurt Alvarez. For the next several years, the crime lord’s men had continued to carry out occasional attacks against Niko’s extended family. The unpredictability of the attacks only added to the strain on the family as it struggled to adapt to the aftermath of his father’s injury.
Alvarez even contacted Niko secretly, offering to stop the attacks if Niko joined the crime lord’s organization. Niko’s reply had been an emphatic “Hell, no.”
Despite Alvarez’s warning not to talk to his father about the job offer, Niko had told Pop everything. By that point, his father had returned to work for the DEA, although in a different job. He’d told Niko to be patient, that the DEA was working with local law enforcement to bring Alvarez down.
For a while the collaboration actually worked. The police rounded up most of the men and teenagers responsible for carrying out the various attacks against Niko’s family, resulting in a period of relative peace.
Then, during Niko’s junior year of high school, someone had planted explosives in his father’s car. A police dog detected the explosives before they detonated, but the incident had terrified Niko. In his mind, the DEA and the cops had failed to stop Alvarez. That left the job to Niko.
Deciding that the best way to take down the crime lord was from the other side of the law, Niko returned to his rebellious ways, channeling his anger into conflicts with the ineffective cops.
Of course, it didn’t take his father long to catch on. Or for Alvarez to make another job offer. After enduring a long lecture from his father, Niko had stated his intent to accept the crime lord’s offer and work to bring down Alvarez’s organization from within.
Yet even with the continued threats, Pop hadn’t wanted Niko to make such a sacrifice and they’d argued bitterly. When Pop finally accepted that Niko wouldn’t change his mind, he brought in another DEA agent, who agreed to monitor Niko as an unofficial confidential informant. But first the DEA would work to help Niko establish his reputation as a good kid gone bad. Niko promised to continue to reject Alvarez’s job offers until after he’d graduated from high school.
But Pop had never given up trying to change Niko’s mind. He’d even tried to talk Niko out of it during their conversation last week.
“Nikolos,” his father had said in his native Greek, “this is a very dangerous endeavor you are undertaking.”
Niko had stared blindly at a spot on the wall of the prison’s visitor’s room, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. He knew the risks and was terrified of what might happen to him. But he couldn’t turn away from his revenge.
“You think you understand a man like Alvarez,” his father had continued, “but you are still young. Those punk kids who carried out the attacks against me are babies compared to the ruthless men who work for Alvarez. As I have said before, some day Alvarez will make a mistake and the DEA will get him. Or some other law enforcement agency. It is not your responsibility to try and take Alvarez down from inside.”
Getting his emotions under control, Niko had finally looked back at his father. “I need to do this.” He smacked his own chest. “The need for vengeance burns inside me. I won’t be able to rest until Alvarez is punished.”
“You could join the Drug Enforcement Agency. Work through legal means.”
“Leaving Alvarez free to attack you again? What if he goes after Mamá next? Or Maria?” Niko shook his head. So far, Alvarez hadn’t done much to threaten his mother and had left his sister alone. But Niko understood that the crime lord had some long-term plan for revenge going on and didn’t want to risk anyone in his family.
“Niko, the DEA does have success. We—”
“No. It’s not good enough.” Joining the DEA like his father had once been his life’s goal. He’d looked forward to the day he could fight to make the world a safer place.
But with Alvarez unpunished for the shooting and the other attacks, Niko had lost faith in the DEA and other authorities to dish out the kind of punishment Alvarez deserved. Niko wanted Alvarez to suffer the way Niko and his family had suffered after his father was shot.
Since the shooting, Niko had devoured every piece of information he could find about Jaime Alvarez. When his mother refused to go into detail about her cousin many times removed, Niko had questioned his father’s father. Grandpop hated that his son had married a woman with distant family ties to such a criminal and had been more than willing to tell Niko what he knew about the DEA raid that had united his parents and killed Alvarez’s older brother.
The fact that he was a distant relation to such a cold-hearted bastard only made Niko more determined than ever to be the one to bring Alvarez to justice.
“I’ve heard you and Uncle Tasi fighting,” Niko had told his father. “I know he wants to go after Alvarez, but it would mean the end of his career. What do I have to risk?”
“Your entire life! Don’t you see? Taking you away from us is exactly the type of psychological game Alvarez loves. He knows how much it will hurt your mother and me to see you under his control.”
“But I won’t be. Not really. I’ll always be your son. And there is no way Alvarez will ever make me give up my thirst for vengeance.”
Even though Pop hadn’t wanted Niko putting himself in danger, he’d agreed to abide by Niko’s decision. Tears in his eyes, his father had bowed his head and given his blessing, saying a prayer for Niko’s soul.
As he walked toward the end of the street, Niko shoved his misgivings aside. He could do this. Yeah, he was scared. Just as scared as he’d bee
“We’ll make it seem as if, instead of deciding to work for Alvarez, you’ve decided to turn criminal on your own in order to become powerful enough to take him on,” the DEA agent had said. “As your reputation builds, we’ll frame you for murder. Get you sent to prison. We know Alvarez’s got contacts and can arrange for your early release. From everything we know about Alvarez, he’ll enjoy forcing you over to his side and then twisting you until you belong to him, body and soul.” The agent’s voice had rung with a fervor that made Niko realize that someone close to the man must have given in to the corruption of Alvarez’s power.
“When Alvarez does contact you again with another job offer, we want you to accept it grudgingly. He’ll be suspicious if Leander Andros’s son slips too easily into his hands.”
“So, I’ll be an undercover agent?”
“No. You’re too young and we don’t have the authorization to send an untried youth into such a vicious organization. You won’t even be an official confidential informant. I can’t guarantee that Alvarez doesn’t have contacts inside the DEA that would expose you. But I’ll keep in contact with you and I’ll use all the influence I have to keep you relatively safe inside prison. Once you’re with Alvarez, we’ll work out a way for you to send me information once or twice a year. I’ll share it with people I trust, then let you know what more we need to take Alvarez’s organization completely apart.
“As soon as you’re in a position of authority, you can let slip some information to allow us minor raids. But Niko, what we’re really asking is for you to turn yourself into a criminal. We need Alvarez to trust you. We’re talking years of working inside before you’ll be in a position to destroy him. Are you certain you can do this?”
Niko’s anger remained strong at the DEA for not putting Alvarez away before his father got shot, but Pop swore that the DEA agent who’d approached Niko was a good man. A friend as well as a colleague. A man who honored his word and could be trusted.
After the first three rejections, Alvarez had stopped offering jobs to Niko. Yet, true to the DEA agent’s prediction, Niko had received another offer last month. This time, he’d accepted.
Niko had to hand it to the bastard. Alvarez didn’t hide the fact that he believed he could turn Niko against his family. He wanted Niko’s parents to suffer the betrayal of their eldest son in return for their part in the death of his brother.
It was up to Niko to stay strong and do whatever necessary in order to turn the tables on Alvarez.
“What happens to me when we finally take Alvarez down?” Niko had asked the DEA agent.
“I’m not going to lie to you. You’ll have to serve time for crimes committed. But I promise we’ll arrange it so that no one knows you brought Alvarez down. That way you won’t become a target in prison.”
At the time, Niko had thought he could endure anything, so long as he was the one responsible for Alvarez’s arrest. After spending a year in prison, he knew that serving any more time would stretch his limits.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I have to win Alvarez’s trust first.
Realizing that his pace had slowed, Niko marched forward. The town car at the end of the block flashed its headlights and started toward him.
He swallowed nervously. Here we go.
Ten Months Later
The last thing Niko had expected when he accepted Alvarez’s job offer was to end up working the fields. He swiped the sweat off his forehead and pulled his hat lower down to keep the setting sun out of his eyes. After ten months of hard labor, Niko was in the best shape of his life. Since he’d played sports in high school, that was saying a lot.
Niko knew that Alvarez’s mother had been Peruvian and that the crime lord owned an elaborate fortress in the mountains of Peru. He hadn’t known that Alvarez ran a paramilitary training camp on one of his multi-crop plantations in the foothills of the Andes.
Digging a hole in the furrow in front of him, Niko waited for his partner, a man from the local village, to plant the tiny coca tree before he covered the roots with dirt. Alvarez believed that the best way to ensure loyalty among his guards was to start them on the plantation, working next to villagers who depended on the crop for their livelihood. To observe first hand how generous Alvarez was with his money at holiday and festival time.
Niko didn’t let that blind him. Every cent Alvarez spent was tainted with the blood of good men like his father. Not a day went by that Niko didn’t renew his vow of vengeance.
That vow kept him going through the grueling days. Every morning, in the pre-dawn dark, the two dozen trainees, young men ranging in age from sixteen to twenty, participated in military-style physical training, followed by working eight to ten hours in the fields. After the sun went down they had lessons in weapons use, military tactics, hand-to-hand combat and anything else they might need in order to join Alvarez’s elite unit of bodyguards.
Niko counted himself lucky. He’d been promoted, so he only worked in the fields three days a week. The other four days he spent at the airstrip, loading and unloading cargo in between lessons on how to maintain the fleet of planes and vehicles used to get people in and out of this remote location.
“Sir!” Niko straightened. What was the lieutenant doing in the field at this hour?
“El Jefe has arrived. He wants to see you. Come with me.”
Niko put down his hoe, feeling every eye on him as he followed. Great. Just what he needed. Another reason for the other trainees to hate him. They already picked on him because he was American and because someone had let slip that he was a distant relation to Alvarez. They resented him because in a physical fight he could best everyone but their trainers, and it wouldn’t be long before he could take those guys out, too.
If there was one thing he’d learned in jail, it was patience. And he’d always fought dirty.
Still, he’d tried to fight only during combat lessons. Hadn’t always worked, and a guy had to defend himself, but he went out of his way not to stir up trouble. He needed to excel and get promoted out of here. Otherwise he wasn’t going to make any progress toward his revenge.
A few of the villagers he’d made friends with muttered good luck in the local Indian dialect. The other trainees mostly stared at him with a mix of resentment and glee, depending on whether they thought he was going toward an undeserved reward or a deserved punishment.
When he reached the end of the row, Niko stopped to knock the dirt off his shoes and pants. Across the shaded lane a jeep waited. The lieutenant indicated that Niko should sit in back.
As soon as his butt hit the seat, the jeep took off. The road was mostly paved, with just a few places where the rain had washed the asphalt away. Without being too obvious, Niko took a long look at the valley, in case this was his last time in the fields. Even though the work was hard, the place had a wild beauty that appealed to Niko. Odd, but sometimes he felt more at home here, more in touch with the farming ancestors on both his Spanish-Mexican and Greek sides, than he ever had back in Pasadena.
It sure as hell beat being confined to a prison cell twenty-three hours out of every day.
It didn’t take long to reach the main hacienda where the overseer and the lieutenant had their offices. Niko stepped into the cool, tiled entryway and felt completely out of place in his sweat-stained cotton shirt and work pants. Remembering his manners, he removed his hat and followed the lieutenant toward the back.
Niko had never been inside this building before, and tried not to gawk at the heavy oil paintings of ancient Dons and Doñas gracing the walls or the various clay and wooden statues sitting in little alcoves spaced at random intervals along the hallway.
Niko had a feeling the paintings might be of some of his great-great ancestors on his mother’s side, but he didn’t dare linger to take a longer look. Of course, for all he knew, Alvarez had bought this place fully furnished
Realizing he was focusing on trivial matters in order to still the nerves churning his gut, Niko instead concentrated on making a mental blueprint of the building’s interior. He had to remember that his purpose here was to gather information to allow the authorities to take down Alvarez. Anything that might help an assault team navigate the premises would help.
The mental exercise calmed him, so that by the time the lieutenant stopped in front of a heavy wooden door carved with a variety of geometric shapes, Niko felt a little more of his confidence return. The lieutenant knocked, then after some signal Niko didn’t catch, opened the door.
“You will go in alone,” the lieutenant said.
Reminding himself that getting closer to Alvarez was why he’d agreed to this in the first place, Niko stepped into the room.
“Ah, Nikolos, finally we meet face-to-face.”
Niko had already become skilled at hiding his emotions, otherwise his shock over Alvarez’s appearance would have put him in a position of weakness. The crime lord looked like any other middle-aged businessman. His thick, black hair and mustache were neatly trimmed. Instead of the more elegant bones that his mother’s purely Spanish side had inherited, Alvarez’s face had a broader structure that indicated native blood. From the gossip among the villagers, Alvarez’s mother had come from a line of Peruvian royalty.
Niko couldn’t judge the man’s height accurately since he was sitting down. Underneath the sheen of a custom silk suit, his upper body appeared stocky but not fat.
The only sign that this man was one of the most ruthless criminals in the Americas was the coldness of his eyes. His lips offered Niko a welcoming smile, but his eyes seemed to strip him bare. A flare of anger and resentment answered that violating stare, but Niko tamped it down. He couldn’t afford to let Alvarez see any of his real feelings. Not yet.
He’d have to get a feel for what the man wanted from him. Was it blind subservience? Or did he want Niko to fight him so that Alvarez felt he’d earned Niko’s respect, or at least obedience?
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