Darkness First


3:15 A.M., Wednesday, January 7, 2009
The Bay of Fundy

The volume of water flowing into and out of the Bay of Fundy on every tide is more than double the combined flow of all the rivers emptying into all the oceans of the world. However, the man standing in the stern of the old fishing boat, peering out through night-vision binoculars, gave no thought to Fundy’s legendary tides or, for that matter, any other natural phenomena. He was intent on finding the boys.

For the fourth time in thirty minutes, he raised the glasses to his eyes and scanned the dark expanse of water for any sign of the inflatable kayak. He saw nothing. Just a low blackness broken only by the reflected twinkle of lights from the city of Saint John to his right and from the more scattered buildings beyond the beach at Sandy Cove, a mile and a half dead ahead.

Not one to give up easily, the man divided the sea before him into quadrants and looked with painstaking thoroughness once again. Quadrant by quadrant. Inch by inch. Still he saw nothing. There was no sign of them.

It was already 3:15 on a freezing cold January morning. The two should have been back an hour earlier. The operation had been rehearsed and their instructions were clear.

If anything went wrong, anything at all, they were to call. He’d given them disposable cell phones, one each, for just that purpose. Cell reception had been checked and found acceptable. Still he hadn’t heard from them. Maybe that’s what you got for working with idiots.

Perhaps the kayak had capsized on the way back, dumping the boys, their cell phones and their precious cargo into the icy waters of the bay. If that was the case, the game was over and he might as well crank up the engine and head back to Eastport. Still, it seemed unlikely. Back in the beginning, before he had trained them, it might have happened that way. But both were now experienced paddlers and the sea tonight was a flat calm. No way should they have capsized in seas like this.

Another twenty minutes passed before he felt a vibration in his pocket.


‘You’re late,’ he said.

‘Yeah. Sorry about that, Conor,’ said Rory, at twenty the older of the brothers.


‘No. No problems. Getting to the beach without being seen just took longer than we thought.’ The kid spoke in a breathless whisper. ‘But we’ve got the shit and we’re heading back.’

‘I’ll be waiting.’

‘I’ll tell you, man, everything went smooth as . . .’

‘Not now.’ He cut off the eager voice on the other end. ‘Tell me when you get here. Then we can celebrate.’

He broke the connection without waiting for an answer, stuffed the phone back in his pocket.

It took the boys twenty-two minutes to paddle the mile and a half to the boat. He watched them pull alongside. Rory in the stern. His younger brother Scott, who was eighteen, up front. Both looked as excited as little kids on Christmas morning.

The man extended a boat hook and Rory slipped the strap of a waterproof bag on to the end. The man hauled it in. Lighter than he expected. Amazing, he thought, how little five million dollars could weigh. Rory and Scott clambered up the boat ladder and over the gunwale. He told them to haul the kayak on board.

While they worked at that, the man unzipped the bag and checked the contents. It looked to be all there. What he’d been working on for months. Forty white plastic bottles, each labeled with Barham Pharmaceutical’s big red B logo. Each with 1,000 80 mg tablets inside. Forty thousand tabs in all. He did the math for the hundredth time. Not because he was uncertain of the answer but simply because he enjoyed thinking about it.

Street value in Maine for Oxycontin was currently 120 bucks per 80 mg time-release tablet. Times 40,000 it came to exactly 4.8 million dollars. At least it did as long as he stayed disciplined, stuck to plan and didn’t push too many tablets on to the market too fast. Like anything else, street price was a matter of supply and demand. Maine and Washington County in particular had one hell of a demand. And now, with American pharmaceutical companies changing their manufacturing process to make it more difficult for addicts to crush or melt the tablets for an instant hit, he was in charge of the biggest and best supply.

He opened a bottle, picked out a tablet and examined the small greenish disk. The number ’80’ was stamped on one side, the abbreviation ‘CDN’ for Canadian stamped on the other. He dropped the tab back in, screwed on the lid and returned the bottle to the bag. He stowed it in a small cubby in the wheelhouse.

When the kayak was safely on board, the man popped the tops off two bottles of Bud, handed one each to Rory and Scott and told them to go down to the cabin, change out of their wetsuits and warm up. Then they could tell him all about their triumph.


Dressed in jeans and heavy woolen jackets, the two boys sat side by side on the lone bunk and sucked at the beer. ‘Nothing to it,’ Rory said, grinning like this was the biggest day of his short, meaningless life. ‘Security was pathetic, just like you said. Just one old fat guy. He starts asking Scott some questions, I come up behind, stick the gun in his neck and tell him not to be a hero. He wasn’t about to be. Practically pissing his pants. Took us right to the stuff. Right where you said it would be. Scott loaded the bag. We moved fast. In, out and gone in less than three minutes. Two blocks away before we heard the first sirens.’

‘Where’s the security guy now?’

Rory didn’t answer immediately.

‘Where’s the security guy now?’

‘Dead. I shot him. Twice.’


‘Yeah. I wasn’t sure he was dead the first time. So I shot him again.’

‘No question the second time?’

‘No. Half his head was gone.’

The man nodded. ‘Good.’

He hadn’t been sure Rory could handle killing the guard. Maybe the kid was tougher than he thought.

‘I don’t know why we had to kill him,’ said Scott. ‘He wasn’t causing any problems.’

‘Because, my friend, he was the only one who could link any of us to any of this. He saw your faces. You’ve both got records. It had to be done.’

‘Yeah. Maybe. I guess. Still, it didn’t feel right.’

‘Cheer up. You did what you had to do,’ he said. ‘You did good.’

Both smiled at that. Praise from the master.

‘You didn’t wear your wetsuits inside the building, did you?’

‘No. We left them in the kayak like you said. Wore what we’re wearing now. But it wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody saw us except the guard,’ said Scott.

‘And he’s not gonna be talking any time soon,’ Rory added with an imbecilic grin.

The man smiled back. No point ruining their moment of triumph by letting them know the guard wasn’t the only one who’d seen them. That the pharmaceutical distribution facility they’d just broken into was under constant video surveillance. Or that, by now, the entire Saint John police force was checking their faces against a computerized database of drug offenders. Probably every cop in the province of New Brunswick had printouts of their images taped to their dashboards. No. There was no point telling the boys any of that. It would just upset them and make finishing the job that much harder.

‘Where’s the gun?’ he asked Rory.

‘The gun?’

‘Yes, the gun. You know, the one you shot the guard with.’

‘It’s in there,’ said Rory, gesturing at the kayak. ‘In my bag.’

‘Still loaded?’

‘Yeah. Minus two.’

‘Did you wipe your fingerprints off?’

‘Not yet. You want me to do that now?’

‘No hurry. Finish your beer first. Anybody see you on the way back to the beach?’

‘Nope. Nobody. A few cars passed, including one cop car tear-assing to the building. Staying out of sight is why it took longer than we thought getting back.’

‘Nobody saw you at the beach?’

‘No. Nobody. It was late. It’s January. The place was empty.’

‘Okay. Good.’ Everything was going according to plan. Time to tie up the last of the loose ends. The man didn’t like loose ends.

He went up to the wheelhouse and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Then he removed a Heckler & Koch 9 mm USP compact tactical pistol from his sea-bag and screwed on an 8 inch suppressor he’d crafted for the purpose. He didn’t plan on shooting anyone tonight, didn’t want the boys’ blood on the boat, but he was a careful man, and if it turned out he had to, well, sound carried too far at sea to risk anyone hearing the unmuffled crack of a shot. He slid a fifteen-round magazine into the gun and chambered a round.

He went back to the cabin and pointed the gun at them.

Both boys stopped sucking their beers. They stared at him wide-eyed.

‘The fuck you doin’?’ asked Rory.

‘Oh this?’ the man said in a casual voice indicating the gun he was holding. ‘Don’t worry about this. I’m not going to shoot you. Not if you do exactly what I tell you. Now put your beers down, stand up, put your hands behind your heads and go on deck.’

Neither of them moved. Just kept looking at him like a pair of deer in the headlights.

‘C’mon, now,’ the man said, his tone harsher, more threatening. ‘Up and out. Or I will shoot you, and I really don’t want your blood all over my nice clean boat.’

The boys looked at each other and clambered up the three steps to the deck.

‘Good. Now move to the stern, turn around and face the water.’

‘Hey, man, c’mon,’ said Scott, his voice quavery, uncertain. ‘What are you doing this for?’

‘I said turn around.’

They did as they were told. ‘What is this?’ asked Rory. ‘Give me your wallets.’

‘The fuck you want our wallets for?’

‘Just drop them on the deck.’

Both boys reached into their pockets and extracted small leather wallets and let them fall. They were already shivering with cold. Or perhaps it was fear.

The man checked each wallet to make sure photo IDs were still inside.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘now I’m going to count to three and you’re going to jump in the water. Otherwise, I’m going to blow your brains out and throw you in.’

‘What? Are you crazy? That water’s fucking freezing.’

‘Yes it is, Rory. And you’ll both probably drown. Or maybe die of hypothermia. But who knows? You’re both young and strong and good swimmers. And look at the lights over there.’ He pointed at Saint John. ‘It’s not so far. Maybe you’ll make it. And if you do, yes, I’ll have the drugs, but you’ll have your lives.’

‘We’ll tell the cops who you are,’ said Scott, ‘what you done.’

‘Unfortunately for you, Scott, you don’t know who I am. Conor Riordan doesn’t exist. I’m just a guy with no name and a boat. Now jump, or I’ll shoot. And trust me, I’m a crack shot.’

‘You fucker . . .’

‘It’s your choice. Jump, swim hard and maybe make it to shore. Stay here on board and die for sure. Now, I’m going to start counting.’

Rory jumped first. Scott didn’t follow until he heard the man start to say three.

The man looked down and smiled as Rory and Scott started swimming toward the lights. He knew there was no way in hell either of them was going to make it. Not that far. Not without wetsuits. Not in forty-degree water. And especially not in the Bay of Fundy with the tide on its way out.

He watched through the binoculars until he couldn’t see them thrashing around any more. Emptied the beer bottles and carefully wiped off their fingerprints. Washed and dried them to remove any trace of DNA and tossed them into his recycling bin. Next he pulled out the small bag they’d stowed in the kayak. He checked the Glock 17 Rory had used to kill the guard. Confirmed two rounds had been fired, put it back in the bag, fingerprints intact. Then he put their wallets with their New Brunswick drivers’ licenses in the bag as well. If the bodies weren’t found or if eventually they washed up bloated or half-eaten, a ballistics check, the surveillance video, the prints on the gun and the IDs in the wallets would all tie them to the theft and the killing of the guard. There was nothing at all that would tie them to him.

He zipped the bag and put it back in the front of the inflatable. That done, he pushed the kayak over the side and threw the paddles in after it. He didn’t know if the cops’d find the bodies or the capsized kayak first. Didn’t much matter. Either way, they’d never find the tablets. Sunk, they’d assume, to the bottom of the sea. Where the fishes, no doubt, would be enjoying one hell of a high.

Finally the man removed the latex gloves, started the ancient diesel engine, shifted into gear and headed down the coast. He took a cold bottle of Stoli and a plastic glass from the cooler. Poured himself three ounces over ice and raised a silent toast to the memory of his two young helpers and to the very first day of the rest of his life.


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