Zev was perched on a boulder on the east face of the Monte Bello Ridge warming himself in the early morning sun. He had a phone call to make.
Consulting the list of contacts his former handler had loaded into his files, Zev selected Aaron Ducat as the best place to inject the information he had.
Zev was about to share information he had collected on a boozy night spent with other titans of industry when a theater group from the Russian Far East had toured the Bay Area. Zev had not attempted to match the Russians drink-for-drink. His peers were not as wise.
Zev had found himself babysitting one of his competitors in the pharmaceutical sector. Zev was disgusted. His competitor was a sloppy drunk with a weak stomach. He also turned into a motor-mouth.
Zev had always been curious about how his competitor had been able to stay in business. His products were commodities with no pricing power, his factories were over-staffed and his equipment and processes were total crap.
The sloppy drunk cried a river of tears of how much money he had to pay to bribe product from the Mexican border into Cali and thence into the continental US. From the sound of it, he was bribing almost half of the Cali government. His competitor’s real business was the import of undocumented pharmaceuticals, the commodity drugs were just a front.
He also lamented the rising cost of doing business. The product was packed inside of truck tires south of the border and then driven northward. This method had always resulted in the tires overheating and the tires shucking the tread. The problem was that the Sedelia/Cali night of fire had destroyed millions of tires he was no longer able to replace them. The drug running trucks were running almost all bald tires.
That resulted in additional costs as cops along the highways had to be bribed to turn a blind-eye to the bald tires.
The drunk told Zev other useful things about the smuggling business, things that Zev filed into his memory.
Aaron Ducat was the Sedelia attorney tasked by the tiny Sedelia government with cauterizing the flow of money and assets that was flowing from Sedelia and enriching Cali.
“Mr Ducat?” Zev asked when the other party picked up.
“Yes, how may I help you?” Ducat was polite but distant. His number was unpublished but he still got random calls. Nevertheless, he had learned that being polite increased the chances of more dollar bills falling into his pocket.
“Mr. Ducat, I have a favor to ask you as one civil servant to another.” Zev said.
“I am sorry.” Ducat said. “I did not catch your name.”
“You wouldn’t recognize it if I told you, even though I am a highly placed official in Cali.” Zev allowed a bit of pomposity to creep into his voice as he surveyed the panorama from his lofty perch.
“A civil servant in Cali! Now you really do have my attention!” It was almost possible to see the twinkle in Ducat’s eyes as he responded.
“Good. I am glad we can work together.” Zev said. “The Cartel has become quite niggardly in their payments and I have expenses. I want you to pop one of the trucks they use to smuggle drugs just to let them know it is not healthy to ignore me when I tell them I need more money.”
Aaron pushed some buttons, attempting to get a trace on the call and to run voice recognition. It hardly seemed possible that somebody could be so delusional but stranger things had happened.
“Do you have some way of identifying this truck?” Ducat asked.
“Well, yes. Of course. I have the plate numbers." Zev dissembled. "Damn! They were right here a second ago. I can't find them right now but I can tell you what to look for if you promise to only stop one truck.” Zev said. He was enjoying the game.
The trace came back as coming from somewhere in San Mateo county, deep within the heart of Cali. The voice recognition came up empty.
"I promise we will stop one truck.” Aaron said.
“Very well. I want it done soon. Those baboons need to be taught to respect their betters.” Zev said.
“I assume you have those video cameras that can see heat. What are they called?” Zev said.
“I believe they are called infrared cameras.” Aaron supplied, helpfully.
“Yeah. That is what they are.” Zev said.
“They carry the drugs in the tires. It makes the tires hot.” Zev said.
“Tires always get hot. The pavement is hot. I don’t see how we will be able to find them with IR cameras.” Aaron said, letting a little bit of doubt and boredom creep into his voice.
“The sidewalls get hot on regular trucks. The tires that are carrying drugs have the treads get much hotter than the sidewalls.” Zev informed him, as if Aaron were a simpleton.
“Hmmm!” Aaron said, as if unconvinced.
“Can you give me anything else in case we can’t find them with IR cameras?” Aaron asked, fishing for just a little bit more.
The notes in the file that Zev’s handler had given him characterized Aaron Ducat as a tireless researcher who always asked the next obvious question. Zev had been counting on that.
“Well, I suppose you could look for north-bound reefer trucks.” Zev said.
“We have all kinds of refrigerated trucks coming north from Mexico.” Aaron said.
“Well, duh!” Zev said, twisting the inflection to make it an insult. “But they are carrying food. The refrigeration units are running. The trucks carrying drugs don’t run the reefer. Even if you don’t have an IR camera to see if the unit is running you can tell if condensate is dripping out or not.”
Aaron made a quick note. The chances of a legitimate reefer truck coming out of Mexico deadhead, that is, without food in it, was approximately zero.
"So how is it that you know the plate numbers of these trucks? Just curious, one civil servant to another." Aaron asked.
"How else would be able to tell the Sedelia police to not stop them?" Zev asked. "Heck, we must be shipping drugs on one truck out of every twenty. Can't let 'the man' stop one by accident."
“I would like to make sure the appropriate party gets credit for this information.” Aaron said. “What did you say your name was?”
Zev smiled. “Let’s just say I am a very highly placed source in the Cali government. And make sure you only impound one truck, otherwise all hell will break loose. Until next time Mr Ducat.” And then Zev broke the connection.