Stephen thought carefully about the last conversation he had with Mark. He was a detective and should know how to identify the ‘underlying issue’ but when Mark told him that the situation was under control he believed him.
Leading a double life as an undercover cop had always been risky but when Mark called off the search for justice it confirmed his birth into the criminal underworld. Staring off in narcotics as routine light cover Mark quickly became embroiled in the deception and lies that stood between him and his profession. When Jake was born Stephen hoped that he would reconcile with his old life and withdraw from the operation but five years and a crack habit later all lines had been crossed and there was no turning back.
Stephen turned up at Mark’s home weeks before their disappearance. Jake was playing with his toys on the floor whilst his wife Tina stood over the stove, stirring a pot and sipping red wine. Mark, although thin and gaunt seemed like his old self and Tina and Jake adored him. The only difference now was that his leading role was no longer a devoted husband and father.
“I’m worried Mark. Even your CI is showing concern.”
“You dumb shit you’ve spoken to my CI?” Stephen hushed him, they were standing outside in the garden and although the neighbours were away, he didn’t want to risk their conversation being heard. Mark looked around and lowered his voice but not his intensity
“For gods sakes you realise what you could have done?”
“You need help Mark. The streets talk and there are some pretty strong rumours going around that you are funding your habit by distributing police information. This is serious, you have gone too far.”
“And where did you hear that from? Some junkie, some lying parasite junkie?” Mark was twitching, moving back and forth on his heels. Stephen felt in his pocket and passed him the crack tightly wrapped in plastic. Mark delicately unravelled the bundle in seconds and rubbed the powder into his gums. Sinking back into his chair he lit a cigarette and slowly blew the smoke into the cool night air.
“The DEA and FBI have been prying into my internal affairs. I am pretty sure they are about to figure out what is going on and in all honesty I don’t think I can keep this up for much longer.”
“Oh so that’s the reason for your visit. Top detective Stephen Vega could lose his shield. “
Stephen took a deep breath and sat down in the chair next Mark, remembering not to get angry. It was true that his neck was on the line but his brother may be facing the rest of his life in jail and eternally be linked to the most prolific drug trafficker LA had ever known. Something had to be done, even if it risked Stephen going down with him.
“Steve, I am so close to getting the indictment” Mark looked into Stephen’s eyes and gently gripped his kneecap with his hand.
“I am not going to let seven years of my life and an addiction all be for nothing. I promise it will be over soon. Just a few more days”
Stephen prayed that Mark had taken the wrong path for the right reasons but deep down he knew the disappearance was the beginning of an untold story and the hope that his brother, Tina and Jake were still alive was fading.
He walked outside to the garden where they had talked weeks before and heard a small vibrating noise. Switching on his torch he looked around and walked over to the plant pot where a light was blinking beneath the soil. It was Mark’s cell phone, he picked it up watched ‘withheld’ flash across the screen. Pressing the green button Stephen put the phone to his ear and listened as the small shallow breathing.
“Hello?” It was a child’s voice “Uncle Steve?”