The officer who’d unceremoniously escorted him from Mary’s house made certain that the tattooed, bandana-capped Latino knew who was leading whom. By the time the pair reached the driveway, Martinez was close to the limit of his patience.
Martinez’s handler followed the same physical actions that Mamba had with his prisoner. However, the term eased could not be applied to a single aspect of the loading of prisoner number two into the patrol car.
After a delay while the officer called in on the car’s radio, he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the vehicle. As they pulled away from the curb, Martinez called out to the driver.
“Pull over after the next cross street.”
“I want you to pull over after the next cross street so we can get these cuffs off.”
“I told you to shut your mouth!”
“If you want to keep this cushy patrol car assignment, you will pull over and uncuff us both,” the Snake hissed.
“Just who do you think you are, anyway,” the uniformed officer shot back.
“Undercover Narcotics Detective Enciso Martinez, Officer,” was the stone cold reply. He paused a beat to let the driver process what he’d just heard. “Check it out with Stallings.”
“You’re a detective.” Sarcasm oozed from each syllable of the officer’s statement. He wasn’t about to call in about some addict’s claim.
“Just shut up, Punk!”
“Call Dispatch then. Ask Nina about the Snake.”
The patrol car slowed. The driver reconsidered. Nina was the name of the dispatcher on night duty. It was possible that someone not on the force might have gotten to see Nina’s name on a duty roster or something. The giant in the back seat had pronounced the name, Nine-uh, the dispatcher’s preference.
The car pulled to curb. The officer made the call to Nina.
Less than two minutes later, Martinez and Flatly were rubbing their wrists with unshackled hands while they listened to apologies from their driver.
“No worries, amigo,” the Detective said. “You did what you should have until we checked out.”
The officer offered a weak smile of thanks. “Let me buy you coffee?”
“Another time.” A beefy hand reached past the steering wheel and grabbed the patrol car’s radio. “This is Martinez. Patch me through to Stallings.”
“Sorry,” the female voice was apologetic. “He’s after a warrant. I assume my glowing praise of your ability a moment ago was sufficient.”
“I said, I suppose—”
“Not that. What did you say about Sergeant Stallings?”
“He’s got another bust set up. He’s getting the warrant for a search.”
“That’s odd. Where’s the bust?”
“I just sent two squads over to Lexington as back-up.”
“Who asked for it?”
“I guess Lieutenant Mulligan did,” Nina offered as her best explanation. “The Desk Sergeant called it over to me. The Lieutenant must have phoned in the request. He’s with the Sergeant tonight. Right?”
“Yeah.” Martinez imagination was running full speed. He ran through a dozen scenarios in seconds. The last one struck a chord. “They must have scored off that phone call Mary got.”
“Repeat that, will you Detective?”
“It’s not important. Get me Mulligan, por favor.”
“And thanks for getting me out of the bracelets.”
“Anytime, Ssssnake. Well, maybe not any time.”
“Reducir la velocidad, chica. Slow down, girl. I’m blushing.” I gotta spend more time as Enciso, not Cue Ball. Too many ladies have the wrong ideas about me.
“Yeah, right. And, I’m so naïve I believe everything I’m told. The Lieutenant’s on the line.”
After a brief exchange between the Martinez and Mulligan, the patrol car with Martinez and Flatly retraced its tracks back to Mary’s house. Martinez directed the officer to take the CI back to the station, have someone remove and catalog the power supply for his wire, and see that he got home.
“I pulled the transmitter off my partner before they stormed the palace,” Martinez said. “It’s under one of the sofa cushions. Take it back, too. There’s no way I’m having the cost of that deducted from my next paycheck.”
“On it.” The officer, now willing to do just about anything to gain Martinez’s good graces, jogged into the house.
With all known loose ends tied off, Martinez climbed aboard his motorcycle and raced toward Lexington. The house number wasn’t important. Lexington was a street whose primary purpose was to connect King Road and Los Ojos Road. It also provided access and egress to the three cul-de-sacs attached to it. There was only one cross street. In total, it was less than five blocks long.
* * *
Nights on Lexington Street reminded passers-by of a film noir painting. It was apparent that homeowners in the upscale community preferred stars to streetlights when they looked out their oversized picture windows.
Twenty-eight minutes from the time they left Mary’s house, Mulligan and Mamba arrived at the Lexington address Mary provided. Mamba gave a low whistle. Whoever Sid was, he lived in style. This was one of the most prestigious houses in an emerging neighborhood.
Twin brick columns flanked the entrance to the long driveway. An ornate light fixture topped each. The numbers “1-0-1-2-3” were backlighted in recessed cases on both columns. The driveway ended in a large circle around a massive fountain. The visual effect was stunning.
Two black and white police cars maneuvered until they sat sentinel-like, one close to each column. They were far enough back that there was no chance of being seen from the house. Each faced the other with a clear view of the driveway’s entrance. No car coming down the driveway could exit without being intercepted.
“I don’t see Stallings,” Mulligan observed. I don’t like that.
“He did have to get the warrant.”
“I know. But that should have been a piece of cake. The judge already knew about the wire and the buy-bust.” Mulligan rubbed his stomach in an unconscious attempt to quell his nervous acid reflux.
“Come on, Mike,” Mamba said as he looked at his watch. “It’s just now been thirty minutes.”
“From when we left,” was Mulligan’s impatient rejoinder. “Stallings must have been almost five minutes ahead of us.”
“Take it easy. Any number of things could have caused the delay.” This isn’t like Mike. The Lieutenant’s face was a pasty hue that could have been the poor street lighting.
“I know,” Mulligan admitted sullenly. “I guess I’m just tired.”
“Yeah,” the Lieutenant snorted a small laugh. “And anxious.” He winced and reached for his roll of antacid tablets. After patting down every pocket, he sighed. He’d lost another partial roll.
The minutes crawled past. Mulligan’s stomach discomfort progressed from an ache to a stabbing pain.
Martinez and a uniformed officer approached Mulligan and Mamba. Martinez had parked his motorcycle at the Los Ojos Road corner and walked in, only to be intercepted by the uniform. After confirming his identity—again—he climbed into the back seat of Mulligan’s car. None of the three initiated a conversation.
Tension wrapped itself around each man and sucked out even the memory of calm confidence. Mamba’s leg began to twitch. Martinez cracked each of his knuckles in turn. Mulligan groaned periodically and pushed in on his ulcer.
Finally, forty-five minutes after leaving Mary’s house, Stallings arrived. A second car followed the black-and-white he rode in. Nine officers and Mamba hastily assembled just off the driveway.
Stallings exited his car, displayed the warrant he’d obtained, waved them all to follow, and started up the driveway in a ragged V formation.
“What kept you?” Mulligan demanded as he caught up to the Sergeant.
“Later. After we’re through here.”
Mamba, although having no intention of becoming part of the operation once it moved inside the house, tagged close behind Mulligan. Something happened or Stallings knows something he doesn’t want to share, rolled around the PI’s mind. That thought added another of his imaginary steel balls to the clown puzzle.
Mulligan, although surprised and irritated by Stallings’ tone of voice, could not argue with his decision to wait before explaining. There was plenty to do now.
While it had taken longer than it might have for Stallings to arrive, once on the scene he deployed the available men quickly and efficiently. Only a scowl and some muttered profanity hinted at the irritation he felt at the small number of officers he’d been assigned.
No one answered the front door in response to Stallings’ announcement of the presence of the police. Every officer on the scene felt himself wind a little tighter.
Mamba decided to reprise his role at Mary’s if necessary, so he tagged behind a small cadre of officers who were headed to the back of the house. The cadre leader motioned for his followers to spread out. A series of gestures indicated he expected them to do a thorough visual reconnaissance.
“This door’s open,” Mamba called softly when he arrived at the sliding back door. Two officers materialized at his side. One officer verified Mamba’s report. The other stage-whispered the news into his radio. The tension ratcheted up a notch.
Based on what Mamba heard of the conversation between the officers at his location and either Mulligan or Stallings—he couldn’t hear that voice—initial ingress to the house would be through the sliding glass door by the swimming pool, his location. Mamba smiled as he imagined the displeasure of the officer responsible for the deployment of the sledgehammer.
“I’m going in,” Martinez announced. He’d hustled around to the backyard as soon as he’d heard of the open door. He tapped Mamba on the shoulder. “Can I use your weapon, amigo? For some reason, I don’t seem to have mine this evening.”
“Sure thing.” Mamba handed his Colt .38 Special to the detective. The more he worked with Martinez, the more he admired him. The big man was a professional. He was also one heck of an undercover operative.
“Gracias,” was the distracted response as he accepted the gun without taking his eyes off the patio door. Then, in what had become instinctive behavior, he snuck a glance at the snubbed barrel of the gun he carried. Mamba’s got to get himself a bigger gun. He gave his head a quick shake and pointed first left, then right, as he said, “One of you go straight in, the other to the right. I’m going three steps left, and then I’m on the floor. I’ll cover the hallway.”
Grunts from the two officers confirmed he’d been understood. He took a deep breath, slid the glass door aside, and stepped through.
The second officer followed on his heels and peeled off to the left. The last man slipped inside and spun to his right. The two officers cleared the kitchen and dining room while Martinez provided cover against approach from the bedroom area from his prone position.
“Clear the living room and let the Sergeant in,” Martinez directed, nodding toward the front door as he stood to his feet.
The front door opened. Stallings entered with his phalanx of policemen.
“The bedrooms need to be cleared,” the officer who’d opened the door reported to the Sergeant.
With a gesture, Stallings dispatched all three of the new entries down the hallway.
Moments later “Clear!” echoed through the hallway.
“This guy, uh . . .” Martinez began when he and Stallings entered the kitchen.
“Sid,” Stallings filled in the name.
“Thanks. Anyway, Sid was either into leftovers or something illegal.”
“How so?” Stallings asked coming closer.
“Sink’s full of these.” To illustrate, Martinez used a table fork to hold aloft a small plastic bag with a pressure-sealing top. He dropped the bag back in the sink and waved his hand in the direction of an open cupboard door. A uniformed officer pointed inside as he knelt there. Several boxes of the storage bags were in plain sight.
Stallings squatted down and surveyed the interior of the cabinet.
Mamba waited by the patio door. He’d gloved up and was examining the door’s hardware. He was inspecting the latch when a hand on his shoulder startled him.
“Sorry,” Mulligan apologized. “I left two uniforms to hold the fort in front. I didn’t mean to surprise you. Whatta ya got?”
“Take a look at this door.”
“Hmmm,” was the extent of Mulligan’s response as he studied the door.
“This latch is impossible to lock,” Mamba pointed to an empty slot in the mechanism. “There’s no hook to catch on the door frame.”
“I don’t think the latch is broken. I’d say it was disassembled on purpose. Looks to me like this doorway has a lot of heavy traffic.” Mamba motioned to the floor. “Look at the wear pattern.”
Mulligan studied the high-end vinyl flooring. An obvious path had been worn from the doorway through the open end of the kitchen to the hallway that led to the bedrooms.
“My guess is that this is the delivery door for the drugs,” Stallings offered as he arrived at the doorway.
“That’s a distinct possibility.” Mulligan unbent his lanky frame and turned to survey the moonlit yard. “I wonder where that pathway leads beyond the pool?”
“I’ll bet it goes right down the slope to whatever street is parallel to Lexington. They could unload there and haul the product up here without suspicion,” Mamba said.
“The whole house is clear,” an officer who had entered with Martinez reported. “In fact, it’s squeaky clean, even the garage.”
“And there’s nobody in the bedroom area,” another uniformed officer, reported. “But there is about fifty pounds of this.” He held up a brick-shaped wad of dried plant material.
Martinez took the brick and sniffed. “Good quality.”
Stallings’ face contorted in a fierce frown. He brought his fist down with a resounding smash on the kitchen counter, and a burst of expletives filled the room.
“We should have had this Sid guy dead to rights!”
Silence was the response from all police personnel.
With an obvious effort, Stallings managed to compose himself before he asked, “Did you find anything else?”
“Just a couple of nickel bags.”
“Sergeant!” One of the officers still outside in back interrupted the flood of foul language.
“What,” Stallings said at low volume as he turned.
“Looks like someone’s coming up the slope behind the pool.” All eyes turned to the backyard. Flashlight beams were visible as they swung back and forth, then up and down.
“Kill the lights!” Stallings snarled.
He’s back to his old self. With that thought, Mamba ducked below the kitchen counter.
“The bathroom light was on when we arrived,” an officer informed the Sergeant.
“That could be the signal to kill the deal,” Martinez offered his opinion as he slid the back door shut. It seemed most reasonable to him that closed would be the door’s default position.
“We’d better leave some light on,” Stallings mused.
“How about a bedroom light?” The suggestion was offered by a nervous voice.
“No!” Stallings’ mind raced. “Living room light only. Mulligan, you take Mamba and one uniform. Wait on the far side of the swimming pool in case whoever’s approaching bolts. Martinez, grab another uniform and stay in here with me. Everybody find a place and hide!”
“I gave my weapon to Martinez,” Mamba said.
“Then get your butt out the front! Martinez, you’re with Mulligan!”
Seconds later, quiet reigned. Whoever was climbing up the back slope couldn’t have known what awaited them.
Three figures appeared between the oleander bushes beyond the pool. Each carried an armload of something. Panting breath patterns implied that the loads were heavy or the slope steeper than it looked.
“Where’s Brewster?” One of the figures grunted.
“He never meets us outside,” answered a second figure.
“He never meets us outside when we have anything that weighs anything,” corrected the third.
“Hmph,” was the response from the first figure.
“Let me up front,” demanded the second. “I can get the door open.”
“Be my guest,” the third exhorted. The first figure made no comment but stopped and stepped to one side so the second could pass him.
Figure number two used one index finger to slide the door open. He entered the house. Numbers one and three followed behind him. Mulligan and Martinez filled the doorway as soon as the third deliveryman cleared it. Each had weapon in hand.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” Stallings greeted the trio as he switched on the kitchen light. Three surprised heads swung back and forth from one police officer to another. “I think you’re surrounded.”
“Set the packages on the table, kneel, and place both hands on your heads,” Mulligan instructed from the doorway. To Stallings he added, “We’ll cover these guys. You search and cuff ’em.”
All three deliverymen were handcuffed in less than a minute.
“They must have a truck down the slope,” Mamba offered as he reentered the kitchen from the living room.
“I’ll bet someone’s in that truck waiting for these three.” Martinez rubbed his chin as he spoke. “It’d sure be nice to wrap this thing up in a neat package.”
“What’re you driving at, Martinez?” Stallings asked.
“If we could get a couple of us back down the slope in place of these flunkies, we might pick us up another partner.”
“It’s plenty dark enough,” an officer added. “If we wore the jackets these guys are wearing and went back down, there’s a pretty good chance of making it to their vehicle before the driver realizes we’re not who they’re expecting.”
“Not so fast. The driver could be armed. And, Martinez is bigger than any two of these dirtbags together. He’ll never squeeze into one of those jackets.”
“I’ve got my vest on,” the uniform said.
“So do I,” a second uniform chimed in. “And Richter outside has hers, too.”
“OK,” Stallings agreed. “Mulligan and Martinez get a car down there as cover. Block the truck’s exit if possible, but only if you can do that without being seen.”
“No problem,” Mulligan said. “You and Mamba get to babysit, huh, Sergeant?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what it is,” Stallings admitted. Turning to the three uniformed officers now donning the deliverymen’s jackets, he said, “If it looks like it’s falling apart, you bail!”
“Right away, Sergeant,” one uniform conceded. “I’ve got no desire to die tonight.”
“Not even funny. Mulligan, you go first. I want that car in position to stop any vehicle from leaving this scene.”
“On our way,” Martinez called as the two men headed to the front of the house where Mulligan’s car was parked.
* * *
Martinez and Mulligan peered through the darkness at the base of the slope below the swimming pool of the Lexington house. They’d managed to find a spot from which they could see the suspected delivery truck while being visible from the truck only if it moved. It was too dark to see anything clearly, but three figures could be made out struggling down the slope.
A silence that grabbed you from behind and squeezed your chest until you felt you were suffocating imposed itself on the scene. Martinez rolled his massive shoulders in an attempt to shake the sensation. Mulligan rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand for the same reason.
A high-pitched snarl that ended in a yowl and a yelp announced the end of an encounter between two members of the local feline population. Both men jumped at the unexpected racket. The tension broke when each caught the quick glance of the other trying to see if his partner had noticed his reaction. They managed to exchange sheepish grins before Martinez leaned forward and pointed beyond the windshield.
The three minimally disguised police officers trudged down the narrow path that cut a steep diagonal down the hillside. In spite of an excessive amount of slipping and sliding, all three managed to arrive at the end of the path without falling.
The sound of a truck engine roaring to life and the light from two headlights brought Martinez and Mulligan full alert. The Lieutenant reached for his car’s radio microphone.
“You got something?”
“Looks that way. Keep this channel open.”
The jacket-wearing police officers arrived at the headlights. The sound of the engine ended. The interior light of the truck cab went on as the passenger’s side door opened. Mulligan saw a figure climb out of the truck with its hands in the air.
“Looks contained from this end,” Mulligan reported. “The driver’s out of the truck and in custody.”
“Good!” Stallings sounded pleased. “Bring ’em in. And check the truck.”
“Already on it.”
Fifteen minutes later, four suspects were on their way downtown. All four had refused to answer any questions about their presence or activity. The delivery truck was under police guard until it could be towed back to the station as evidence.
Stallings, Mulligan, Martinez, and Mamba stood on the porch of the Lexington house. Tight smiles on the faces of the men were more eloquent than words. The operation netted three drug dealers whose names were on the list Reed gave Mamba.
In spite of the evening’s successes, the mood of the quartet was subdued. The tip off of Sidney Brewster foiled what should have been a significant arrest.
“I think we’re getting close. Real close,” Stallings mused.
Three heads nodded in agreement.