Seconds that seemed like hours ticked by in the minds of those waiting for the confirmation phrase that would send the collection of police officers into Mary Carstairs’ house. Some of the men fidgeted; others shrugged their shoulders repeatedly; still others intentionally controlled the in/out of their breathing. Whatever the method of choice, the objective was the same for all: relax enough to have a next level of the adrenaline rush when the bust began.
The sour feeling in the pit of Mulligan’s stomach intensified with each passing minute. He stifled a belch and fumbled through his jacket pockets for the package of chewable antacid tablets he always carried. Now I remember why I avoided narcotics and vice. How do these narcotics guys keep any of their intestines intact?
Locating the elusive pack of chalk-flavored antacid tablets, he unwrapped two, popped them in his mouth, and chewed. He reached toward his inside coat pocket to return the unused portion to its accustomed spot. The tablets fell to the grass beneath his feet when he stopped all movement as Flatly exclaimed, “Good stuff.”
“Stallings,” he hissed.
Stallings, who’d moved into his current position with Mulligan after inspecting each of his charges, turned halfway around. The Lieutenant held up his hand in a gesture that stifled any response. Mulligan’s eyes were unfocused as he concentrated on the conversation in his headset.
Stallings felt his anger spike. What’s wrong with you, Lieutenant? Haven’t you ever been on a raid before? He inhaled a deep breath and exhaled, hoping to slow his accelerated heart rate.
“Can I test it?” Martinez asked through Mulligan’s headset. The next words he heard could open the floodgates of activity.
Silence answered Martinez’s question. The knot in Mulligan’s stomach tightened. Did they suspect something?
Stalling’s face mirrored the questions he had in his mind. Mulligan had called his name indicating that something was happening inside the house. But now all the communication he was receiving from the Lieutenant was the visual of an open palm, a furrowed brow, and rivulets of sweat. Talk already! I’m not a mind reader!
After what seemed half of eternity, Mulligan heard Martinez’s signal, “The color is good.”
“It’s a go!”
Stallings spun away from Mulligan. He raised the two-way radio he held in his hand and announced, “We’re going in!”
The collective tension of a dozen men spiked at those words. Weapons were triple and quadruple checked. Breathing, previously halted by unconscious nervous action, resumed with muted whoosh sounds. One more word . . .
Stallings pointed the radio at a burly officer. A grim smile turned the corners of the patrolman’s mouth. After a quick adjustment of his grip on the handle, he hefted an eight-pound sledgehammer. He moved with surprising speed from his position behind a shrub to the left of the porch and climbed the two steps up in stealthy silence. After taking careful aim, oversized arms swung the hammer in a mighty arc toward the doorknob.
With a metallic smack, the hammer made contact. The doorknob shot through the entryway and ricocheted off one of the crown of spindles on the half wall inside the house. A second swing between the deadbolts splintered the doorjamb. It had been a mistake on the dealers’ part to replace only the door with steel.
“Now!” was Stallings single spoken syllable. The bust was underway.
Stallings, Mulligan, and two uniformed officers exploded through the shattered doorway. Shouts of identification by the entering policemen and curses by the home’s occupants filled the rooms of the small house.
Simultaneous with the doorknob bashing, Mamba broke the bathroom window with a nightstick, cleared the glass shards from the edges of the frame with the same instrument, and stepped aside. A uniformed officer removed the bowling ball from the bag he carried. Leaning through the window, he dropped the ball into the porcelain bowl of the toilet. No drugs would be flushed away from searching officers this night. His first objective met, the officer sprinted to the back door.
At the sound of the sledgehammer crashing into the door, Martinez grabbed his partner and threw him to the ground. Without explanation, as the second sledgehammer strike echoed, he pulled Flatly’s shirt from inside his waistband. Then, in a deft maneuver, he jerked the microphone from the boxer’s body and stuffed it under a sofa pillow. The duo was still on the floor when the police arrived in the living room.
Mamba was the last to enter the back door of the house. Even without Mulligan’s directive, he would have allowed the guys who got paid for this kind of risk-taking to lead the assault. By the time he walked into the living room, all the action was over. Four men had offered little resistance when confronted with the drawn service weapons of the police.
After frisking, Martinez and Flatly were handcuffed and rousted until they were facing the wall to the left of the door. Martinez’s gun and folding knife were confiscated. They did not find the power supply for Flatly’s wire. Weston and the man called Billy were also cuffed and standing back to back in the middle of the room.
A uniformed officer dragged a snarling Mary into the room. In dramatic contrast to her male associates, she was anything but compliant.
“She was trying to flush this,” the officer held up a plastic bag filled with smaller bags of white powder. “She’s had her rights.”
And, I know my part. Mary decided to assume the role of crazed drug chick. I might end up playing something else as the night wears on. I’ll take my cues from the boys in blue.
“What’s a matter?” Stallings asked her. “Plumbing problems?”
“Shut up, pig!” Mary spat her answer at the Sergeant. She knew this wasn’t going to end well for any of those in the house. Her first thought was that her best bet was to play the frightened victim. But, she’d concluded, when she saw the bowling ball in her toilet, to assume the role of a Sybil-like character. So she’d shown the police another persona as she’d made her grand entrance.
The over-the-top change from screaming crazy woman to sobbing victim I’ll present in tonight’s performance should keep you a bit worried and confused. While you’re all in a tither, I’ll have time to plan my next move.
“Cuff her and get her out of here,” Stallings ordered. “Weston and his friend can go with her. And get the two scumbags by the door out of my sight, too!”
First cue! Mary’s demeanor changed dramatically as the handcuffs closed around her wrists. Tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook with nearly soundless sobs as she was turned and escorted toward the door.
Weston and Billy were grabbed by officers and roughly shoved toward the same exit.
Mary’s legs collapsed and she sank to the floor. I need their focus on only me right now!
The phone rang.
Mamba was closest to the phone and not involved in the arrests. The phone rang a second time. He looked at Mulligan. Mulligan looked at Stallings. The third ring brought a nod from the Sergeant. Mamba picked up the receiver.
“I need Mary,” the masculine voice stated without emotion.
“Hold on,” Mamba stalled while he tried to formulate an excuse. Go with your hunch. “Billy says she’s out shopping for some more beer.”
“What’s Billy doing there?” the voice demanded.
“Right now he’s waiting for a beer,” Mamba answered.
The voice laughed. Mamba relaxed. He’d played the sarcasm card out of habit. Let’s see whom I’m talking to.
“Could you send over a couple of bricks of Acapulco Gold?” The PI finished his play.
“You gotta work through Mary,” the voice responded.
“I’ll do that,” Mamba promised. “You want to leave a message?”
“Tell Mary to call Sid as soon as she gets home. She’s got the number.”
“Tell Mary to call Sid,” Mamba reiterated. “Sure thing.” He hung up the phone.
Another cue! Mary feigned an attempt to speak.
Mulligan had watched from the kneeling position he’d taken beside Mary after her collapse. He remained beside her as his friend worked the phone routine. The name “Sid” sparked his prisoner’s interest. She started to call out, but Mulligan’s hand was too quick.
Perfect timing, Sid! was Mary’s pleased thought as Mulligan’s open hand slapped across her lips. And thank you. I’ve for sure got their full attention now! Just keep working the con. If I do this right, I can hang Sid out to dry. And maybe even skate!
“Quiet!” Mulligan directed the woman before asking Mamba, “What’d you get?”
“My guess is that was her supplier.”
Time to give an overt, suspicious, non-verbal reaction.
Mulligan felt Mary’s shoulder stiffen beneath his hand. Mamba was right on track. With a barely perceptible movement of his head, Mike nodded confirmation to the private investigator. He knew that there were few better than Dancer Mamba at pulling information from a suspect, so he let his friend continue.
Mary’s mind was racing. I hope that reaction to Sid’s role was on target. The guy at the phone acts like a cop, but he looks more like a civilian. Interesting.
“Too bad we don’t have more information on this Sid,” the cop/civilian began. “Leashing the top dog in this kennel, well, that’d get attention all the way up to the chief.”
“Yeah,” Mulligan picked up the cue after only the briefest pause. “We could sure use the help of an informant to nail this guy.” He stood and helped Mary to her feet. “Come on, uh, Mary, isn’t it?”
The woman nodded. Time to take this act to Broadway.
“I don’t like taking a woman downtown,” Mulligan mused.
“Hey, you’ve got to bust the ones you catch, Lieutenant,” Stallings forced his way into the conversation. He’d followed the repartee. It was clear that Mamba and Mulligan had worked together before. He’d been content, up until now, to let them do their thing. Now, he wanted them both to remember who was top dog in the police kennel on this bust.
“I know, Sergeant,” Mulligan conceded with feigned reluctance. “But, it still bothers me.”
“Wait a minute,” Mamba snapped his fingers. Please! His eyes called to Stallings in a quick glance.
I’ll see if you’ve got a trump card, gumshoe. Stallings returned the smallest of nods. Mamba asked Mary a question.
“Do you know how to get a hold of this Sid?”
Cue number next! I think a second non-verbal reaction is in this script. Interpret this, Lieutenant restraining me. Mary performed a brief contraction of the muscles in her upper torso.
Mulligan felt her stiffen again. He’d wondered if sobs had been an act. But he had no time to worry about that. What might come if she agreed to help them was the prize.
“What are you doing?” Mulligan asked Mamba with what he hoped was just the right edge to his voice to keep the play going.
Bingo! was Mary’s mental cry of success. I’m in with the faux-fuzz on the phone.
“Sorry, Lieutenant. I just thought that if she knew something and was willing to talk . . .” He left the thought dangling as a hint.
“You’ve got no right offering a deal.”
“I said I was sorry,” Mamba spat back.
“How much is Sid worth to you?” Mary’s voice interrupted the argument. You’re straying from my goal. You need to refocus. On me!
“Depends what kind of information we get.” Stallings commandeered the conversation. It was time for Narcotics Division to do what it did.
“If the Sergeant here says its okay, the right kind of information could help reduce charges for the source of that information,” was Mulligan’s concession to his prisoner.
“What’s with this? You just said no deal to me,” Mamba complained.
“I said you couldn’t offer a deal,” Mulligan corrected.
“And you can?” Mary asked the Lieutenant.
Mulligan gestured to Stallings.
“Like I said, if we get the right kind of information,” the Sergeant reaffirmed.
“What type of information?” Mary asked. I know what you want. And, I’m willing to give something. What’s your opening offer, Sergeant?
“What Sid deals and where he’s at!” Stallings snapped.
Mary’s brow furrowed in concentration. She appeared to be considering her options. Make it look like I’m not sure of which way my decision is going.
“Two small pieces of information that could be the difference between a long stay or a very short stay in jail,” Stallings prodded.
Time to pad the part of frightened victim.
“I’m scared,” Mary whispered.
“No doubt,” Mulligan said. “I, uh, we can promise you protection, if we nail this guy.”
Stage direction: Lead Actress pauses a beat before she delivers her line. Mary hesitated, and then responded.
“Sid deals in anything I want. But, I only know a phone number. I don’t know where he is.” The words spilled out in a torrent of syllables. Mary’s breathing was rapid and shallow as she finished.
“No games,” Stallings warned.
“No games. I’m too scared to lie,” she lied.
“Shut up, chica,” Snake hissed from the wall. Gutsy move. Maybe there is something decent inside her. “They will kill you sure now.”
“Mamba! Jenkins!” Mulligan called to the PI and the officer who’d delivered Mary. Pointing to Mulligan and Flatly he directed, “Get those two out of here!”
“Yes, sir,” Jenkins replied. He grabbed Martinez by the arm.
Mamba did the same to Flatly and stifled a laugh. It was obvious the uniform hustling Martinez to the car did not know that he was manhandling an undercover agent.
Mamba slowed his steps. She needed space to talk with Flatly in private.
The Latino and his escort continued toward the black and white, the pace as fast as the officer could push his belligerent, oversized charge.
In conspiratorial tones, Mamba asked the boxer, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, man,” was the reply. Mamba had to hand signal him to lower his volume. “But what you doin’ hustlin’ me off to the slammer, Dancer? I’m one of the good guys!”
“You’ve got to stay under cover until we get you back to the jail. You don’t want certain people to know your part in this. Do you?”
“I dig, man.”
“You did great.” After a closer look at his CI, he asked, “What happened to your clothes?”
“Cue Ball pulled the Fargo,” was Flatly’s emotionless response. But, he added with a catch in his voice, “I think he ripped a button off.”
“I’ll have my wife fix that,” Mamba promised. In spite of all that had gone down, the boxer’s main concern was that his new shirt had been damaged.
“Maybe we’re even now?” Flatly’s question brought Mamba back to the moment.
“More than even.”
“Who’s the lady?”
“The lady with AIDS, Man.”
“First thing in the morning,” Mamba promised as he put that conversation on hold. How bad is that? I forgot how I hooked him into this.
“I’ll load this one first,” Mamba said as he walked to the passenger’s side of the black and white.
Mamba opened the back door, placed his hand on Flatly’s head and eased the ex-boxer into the back seat. Finished, he winked at his charge. As he walked back around the police car, he snuck a wink at Martinez as well. While Flatly had smiled in return, Martinez sign of recognition of the gesture was much less courteous.
Mamba smiled a knowing smile and returned to the house. When he arrived at the living room, he found Mary on the phone. Mulligan was sitting beside her, his head as close to the telephone receiver as Mary’s. Stallings was nowhere to be seen.
“Two bricks of Acapulco Gold,” Mary was speaking. “Can I pick them up tonight?”
“Why?” Sid wanted to know. “I always come through.”
“I know,” she replied. “But my buyer’s got an extra bill for both of us if I can deliver tonight.”
“I have a two hundred dollar minimum on rush orders,” Sid fabricated the amount. He’d learned that he could milk extra cash from anyone in a real hurry.
“Hold on. I’ll check with my buyer.” She put her hand over the mouthpiece.
“He wants two hundred dollars for himself,” she told them.
“I heard. Agree to whatever you have to. We want that address,” Mulligan answered.
She nodded. “He says one C-note and a single Grant is his limit,” she told her supplier.
Mulligan grimaced. What’s she doing?
“Okay,” Sid acquiesced. “But tell him the next time it’s two hundred flat, on top of the price of the product.”
“Where can I get the merchandise?”
“10123 Lexington. Just north of Main.”
“I’ll be there in . . .” Mary looked at Mulligan. He held up ten fingers and flashed them three times. “It’ll take me thirty minutes.”
“Don’t be late.” Sid hung up.
Mary stood holding the phone. Stallings returned to the room.
“I got it all on the bedroom extension,” the Sergeant announced. “You call it in from here. I’ll pick up the warrant and meet you there. And, thanks for the half hour.”
“Don’t mention it. We’ll be right behind you,” Mulligan called after him. He knew it would do no good to arrive before the warrant. He hoped thirty minutes was enough time for Stallings to find a sympathetic judge.
“I can’t believe I crossed him,” Mary mumbled in disbelief as she mentally rehearsed her award speech: And now for best actress in a supporting role. “Why did I do it?”
“Maybe you’re a better person than you think,” Mulligan offered.
“What about my deal?” She asked her question with just a hint of an edge to her voice. It was time to cut to the chase.
“Tomorrow. After we’ve booked you and we know what we got from your assistance.”
Big finish now, Mary. Sell it!
Mary’s eyes narrowed and daggers shot towards Mulligan as she was hustled away by another of the officers present. She’d expected some dodge by the police; she’d been through this before in another city. She hoped her expression had been suitably menacing.
Mamba punched in a number on the phone. As soon as he heard it ringing, he tapped Mulligan on the shoulder and handed him receiver as he turned.
“Division Office. Edwards,” came through the earpiece.
“Eddie?” Mulligan asked. “What’re you doing at the front desk?”
“Copier’s down and Smitty’s gone home sick. Something wrong?”
“No, I just didn’t expect you, that’s all. We’re setting up a bust for 10123 Lexington. Just north of Main,” Mulligan told the Sergeant. “Send three cars. But tell ’em to sit tight. Stallings is on his way with a warrant. I’ll be there, too. Shouldn’t take us more than half an hour to get set.”
“10123 Lexington. Just north of Main. Thirty minutes. Check!” Edwards repeated. “Good luck!”
“Thanks.” Mulligan placed the receiver back into its cradle. He turned to Mamba, “You still with me?”
“All the way, partner. All the way!”
* * *
Sidney “Sid” Brewster’s house was alive with activity. A shipment of marijuana had arrived earlier in the day. A select group of his employees was engaged in weighing and packaging the product. For his part, Brewster was finishing his personalized packaging of Mary’s Acapulco Gold order.
Back in MPD’s Northeastern Division’s station, Eddie Edwards dialed a familiar number.
The telephone rang. This annoyed Brewster. But, then, almost everything annoyed Sidney Brewster. However, it was unusual for the telephone to be an annoyance. He did nearly all his business over the phone lines.
By the sixth ring, Brewster knew that whoever it was wasn’t hanging up until he answered. He put down the handful of high-grade marijuana he was stuffing into a plastic bag. With a profane ejaculation, he reached for the receiver.
“10123 Lexington,” was all Edwards said when the phone was answered.
“Where’d you get that address?” Brewster recognized Edwards’ voice.
“I didn’t get it. But, you’re lucky I’m here tonight. A lieutenant just called in a request for backup at that address. Since he used the term bust in his demand, and I know he’s currently at another bust, I assumed it had to do with merchandise you specialize in. So, I called. Without me, you’d be a sitting duck right now.” Edwards’ tone was best described as condescending.
Sidney Brewster seethed. Nobody talked to him like that.
“Make it quick,” he snapped. “I’m busy!”
“You’ll have lots of time if you don’t clear out,” Edwards advised. “Narcs are on the way. And they’re pulling a warrant.”
“How long before they get to that address?” Brewster’s mind raced. He began a mental list of what he could take and what would have to be left behind and cursed into the phone.
“Since they didn’t have the warrant in hand when Lieutenant Mulligan called me, my guess is no less than 30 minutes. They’ve got to find a judge.”
“Spare me the explanation,” was the curt rejoinder. “I’ll get to work clearing this place. You. I expect you to do everything in your power to slow that search warrant.”
“I’m not a miracle worker.”
“That’s not what you imply more often than not. Just do what I’m paying you for.”
There was a click. The line went dead. Brewster continued to hold the phone in his hand, mesmerized by the information he’d received. Another click followed by a high-pitched whine from the receiver in his hand yanked him back to the reality of his present situation.
He slammed the receiver down with a violent explosion of profanity. He figured he’d have to lie low for the next several days. He turned away from the phone and shouted instructions to his minions. They began first to stack and then to load merchandise into boxes or bags.
Brewster collected money and small packets of drugs he could quickly and easily convert to cash as needed. He glanced at his watch and stopped collecting and packing.
“Get everything in boxes out of here! Use whatever transportation you can find. We’ll meet in the parking lot of the Roadhouse, the one south of town on 101. If you’re driving, talk to the other drivers. I want time and space between cars as they leave this street, and make sure you don’t all exit onto King Road. I want at least half of you to use Los Ojos Road. Understood?”
Everyone within earshot acknowledged the directive and began lifting, pushing, or pulling boxes and bags out of the house. Once outside, the containers were stuffed into trunks and back seats of sedans and coupes parked along the lengthy driveway.
When the bustle slowed, Brewster surveyed the room a final time and cursed. This is unacceptable. I am paying far too much for information like I just received not to have adequate warning of such disruptions.
He turned on his heel and headed towards the front of the house. He pulled up short at the door. More profanity did nothing to change the facts, although it did placate him somewhat. In his haste, he’d forgotten that Mary was on her way over. With a shrug, he continued through the portal.
If Mary is here when the police arrive, she’ll have to take whatever comes her way. It is, he thought with a lecherous grin, a pity for such a fox to go to prison.
As he closed the door, he stopped short for a third time. Still another flow of profanity escaped his lips. He’d forgotten about the shipment coming in later that night. He hurried back inside the house.
He stopped in the common bathroom and snapped on the light over the sink. That was the sign to his supplier that something was amiss and the delivery should be aborted. I wonder if the courier is up to speed on that protocol. He replaced the thought almost immediately with a more appropriate follow-up thought. Not my problem!
After he pulled the front door closed for the second time, he patted his jacket pocket. At least he’d put only sixty percent down on the current shipment. Even if the delivery boys got busted, he wouldn’t have suffered a total loss.
Back at the station, Edwards sat for several seconds after ending the call. Brewster thinks he owns me. He doesn’t realize how easy it will be for me to flip on him when it’s time.
He picked up the phone from the base unit. He wasn’t thinking about revenge. He was thinking about what he might be able to do to slow down Stallings procurement of the necessary search warrant.
He had a call to make to a fellow officer.