After being folded into the back seat of a black and white, Mary Carstairs mentally recapped her performance. She reminded herself of her ultimate goal. She was prepared to perform whatever additional emotional drama was required to ensure her immediate safety and move her closer to that goal.
That was way too close. I don’t want to even think about what might have happened if I hadn’t been able to set up Sid. Now, it’s time to move into the position of favorite for that Academy Award I’ve dreamed about since high school. And, of course, take over Sid’s spot in the food chain.
Mary sniffled in the back seat of the police car. After each sniffle, she noted the reaction of the uniformed officer who was driving the car. His shoulders tensed with each one. Much like Martinez had at first, the officer looked at Mary and saw what she’d crafted and heard only what she wanted him to hear.
“Are you going to be all right?” the policeman called back to her.
Finally! I was about out of snot. “I, I don’t know.” She snuffled loudly. “I-I’m so s-s-scared.”
“No need to be scared,” the officer assured her. “We’ll protect you. Sergeant Stallings said to give you special treatment because of your help setting up your supplier.”
She smiled to herself. This act may be worthy of international acclaim. But, I need to turn up the emotional thermostat. An enormous sigh preceded her next statement. “I h-hope I did the right thing.”
“Hang in there. You’ve helped set up a really bad apple. Don’t worry. We’ll catch the guy you identified.”
Another smile flickered at the corners of her lips. For several weeks, she’d hoped the cops would nail Sid Brewster. His organizational chart was simple: The more money an individual in any given position made, the fewer of those individuals there were in the chart. She was well aware that the only way to move up a notch in the organization was to replace someone above you.
She’d found that supplier, her current status, was much more lucrative than dealer, her entry job. And the supplier’s supplier was better yet. There was only one supplier’s supplier—Sid Brewster. So, Brewster was her current target.
At the station, the officer pulled up as close as he could to what was euphemistically known as the delivery entrance. It was the door through which prisoners were escorted into central booking. After he helped Mary from the back seat of the black and white, he led her around the corner of the building and into the front door to the station.
“Hey, Morgan,” the Desk Sergeant called to Mary’s escort. “That one of the ones from the bust?”
“Yeah, Eddie,” Morgan responded. “Didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
“Tell me about it. I’m covering while a new baby enters the world.”
“Ahh. I’d forgotten how close Smitty’s wife was to delivering. Anyway, this is the house’s owner. Stallings said to take good care of her, though. She fingered the next man up the ladder.”
“Woo-eee,” Sergeant Edwards whistled. “Pretty dangerous. You must be a brave lady.”
Mary diverted her eyes from Edwards, wishing Morgan would hurry and book her. She turned her body away, thinking the fewer people that know about my collusion with the police, the better. At least this audience is only cops. She could assume that no one with untoward street connections had heard of her betrayal. She knew how fortunate she was. She’d managed to stall until her confederates and the two buyers were arrested and in transit before she’d flipped on Brewster.
Morgan processed Mary personally. After fingerprints, pictures, and her obligatory phone call, he delivered her to a matron who supervised her change into the drab gray wardrobe worn by all prisoners.
Twenty-four hours later, Mary Carstairs had her bail posted. She’d seen no one she recognized and had talked only to the guards—and then, only when asked a question. She walked from the division’s holding cell with no intention of returning.
* * *
The fifteen-inch portable color television sat atop the dresser in the bedroom of Sid Brewster’s temporary residence. The picture was small and grainy. The sound was tinny. Sid was unhappy about all that, and more. So dour was his mood that even long-time associates were steering clear of the man.
The Five O’Clock News crackled into view on the TV monitor. Brewster paid close attention to the show’s intro. He was interested in only one story. It was described in the third teaser the team of anchors gave. He lay back on the mattress and stuffed three pillows under his shoulders and head. He had a bit of a wait.
Finally, coming out of the first commercial, the female anchor, a lean blonde with big hair, even when compared to other currently popular styles, introduced his target story.
“This morning, news of a major drug bust was released by the Manzanita Police Department. Our cameras were at the press conference.”
The screen changed from a view of the TV studio set to a lectern before a powder blue curtain. A police officer, sporting a perfectly coiffed hair-do and a dress uniform bedecked with medals entered through a slit in the curtain. After adjusting the microphone, the officer flashed a dazzling smile at the camera. The camera’s position minimized the effects of the five pounds the Chief had added to his waistline in his time in Manzanita. It was easy for any viewer to understand why this man was a media darling.
His expression morphed into an appropriate level of concern, and he began his statement. Although he had a copy on the lectern, he delivered the entire speech from memory.
“Fellow citizens of Manzanita, I am Police Chief Dwight Rogers. I am pleased to announce to you that through exceptional efforts by the officers of your police department, several of the more notorious drug dealers that have infected our fine city were apprehended last night. Coordinated efforts between officers from our narcotics unit, our traffic unit, and our SWAT unit resulted in successful completion of two raids.”
He paused and refocused his gaze on the camera before continuing.
“In addition, although not currently in custody, another key figure, the supplier of the degrading substances to those dealers, has been identified and forced from his place of business. You may rest assured that continued efforts by your police will result in more arrests and a decrease in the number of those corrupt individuals currently active in the poisoning of our populace. Thank you.”
“That was Police Chief Dwight Rogers with his statement to the press earlier today. We’ll have more details of this situation, and highlights of the Chief’s question-and-answer period that followed this announcement, later in this broadcast. In other news—”
Brewster reached over and snapped off the set. He grimaced. That was a bit more than he’d hoped he would hear. He shrugged his shoulders. Could have been worse. He might have mentioned me. I’ll have to thank my departmental snitch for his skills. And, I need to remind all the cops on my payroll what happens if they violate the terms of my blackmail. Naw, blackmail sounds so criminal. How ’bout: violate the terms of my advantage in our unwritten agreements.
Without warning, a projectile launched itself onto Brewster’s chest. He fought, unsuccessfully, to remove it. In spite of his best efforts, the missile continued to reverse itself and relaunch at him. Each new attack originated at a closer distance.
Satisfied with his victory, the black and tan dachshund placed one forepaw on each of his master’s collarbones and licked his face. Brewster scratched the ears and massaged the shoulders of the canine. Satisfied that the attack had been successful, and content with the attention to her ears and shoulders, the dog jumped down off the bed, turned around twice, and plopped down on the bedside throw rug.
“Good girl, Heidi,” Brewster praised the dog as he slid off the bed. One final head scratch as he passed by was rewarded with three quick tail wags. He smiled as he opened the closet door. It was time to dress for dinner.
* * *
Chief Rogers clicked off the TV set in his living room. As in his office, the décor had been selected to emphasize his taste. The woods were dark, the fabrics muted. The occasional pops of color supplied by pillows, paintings, and pieces of 3D art were subtle, yet effective in their portrayal of what he saw as his multidimensional persona.
While pleased with the coverage of his statement and the later footage of his Q/A session, he wished he’d been a bit more animated. At times, he feared he looked almost robotic in his gestures. I need to practice in front of the mirror.
The ringing of his phone, customized to mimic a bald eagle’s hunting call, caused him to turn and look at the device. Whatever smile had been residual there vanished.
“This is Rogers.”
“I’m sure you know who this is. Now that we’ve got the unnecessary introductions out of the way, I must say that you came across as a concerned public servant whose sole desire is to protect and serve today in your press conference,” William Anderson praised the partner he’d purchased.
“I made a statement outlining the progress of an important investigation and answered a few questions afterward. It was not a press conference.”
“Tomato, tow-mah-toe. Since you brought up the subject, I was hoping, actually expecting, more progress in this important investigation. While I’m certain you’ve not forgotten our agreement, I find that details of such agreements are often best repeated. Shall I?”
“I can’t help it if the big fish sometimes outswim the fishermen,” Rogers said.
“Quaint analogy. Allow me to continue it. I want that fish netted. Sooner rather than later.” Anderson admonished.
“Information in that arena appears to be leaking to Garmel’s people.”
“Plug that leak.”
“I’m working on that. But I must use discretion. Surely you understand the need for neither of us to become the focus of any event at this time.”
Anderson puffed out a breath through his lips before answering.
“Your eloquence is admirable. However, you are working for me, and I’m running short on patience. I don’t want to hear excuses for sloppy housekeeping on your part. Accelerate the timeline.”
“Or what?” Anderson snorted as he cut off a laugh. “I’d hoped that my subtle reminder of our agreement would prove enough to avoid any messiness like this. But, since it was not, let me make this very clear,” Anderson said in a tone that changed from congenial to threatening in less than two sentences. “You have taken considerable amounts of my money to do things for me—things far outside the job description of Chief of Police.”
“All I meant—” Rogers tried to get a verbal thumb in the hole in this dike but failed when Anderson cut him off.
“Shut up, Rogers! What I was saying, before being rudely interrupted means this: You will do WHAT I say WHEN I say to do it.” The words penetrated Roger’s psyche like an arrow penetrates a target of straw.
“Of course, we all must operate within limitations outside of our control,” Anderson added in a milder tone.
“Right!” Rogers jumped on the qualifier. “I’m doing all I can.”
“I tire of this rhetoric. I do not think you are doing all of anything except milking me for more cash.” The steel was back in the voice. “Move this along faster, or I will expose you.”
The hum of a disconnected phone line made it clear that Anderson had ended the conversation.
Rogers stood with the phone hand. He said aloud, “Unless I figure a way to expose you first. If you think they’ll take your word over that of the Chief of Police, well, William Anderson, you’ve got another think coming!”
* * *
It didn’t take long for Sid Brewster’s mood to sour following his dinner. Considering his situation, the ebb and flow of emotions made sense on many levels. First, he’d barely escaped from his very well known supply house. Second, he’d had to leave far too much product in that house. Third, the place he currently occupied was, in his view, a dump. The third issue was easily illustrated. He had only a portable television in his bedroom.
In reality, the house was a small, detached single-family home. While it lacked the stereotypical white picket fence, it had an anonymous look to it from the outside. That was valuable. However, the inside appeared to have been furnished by the set designer for a late 1950s sitcom. And not touched since then.
The most unfortunate aspect was the location itself. Anonymity came at a price. This house was on the south edge of town, less than two blocks off Highway 101. He’d been forced to rent a hotel room in town for his cash business.
He despised commuting.
The evening of Mary’s release, the phone rang. Rick Elkhart, Brewster’s second in command, answered.
“Brewster. Now!” was the abrupt demand.
“You want to talk?” Elkhart asked Brewster while he held his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece.
“Who is it?”
“He didn’t say, sir.”
“Tell Brewster to get his fat behind to the phone.”
“He won’t say,” was the reworded response to Brewster.
With a curse, Brewster picked up a phone extension from the table beside him. “Brewster here. This better be good!”
“Mary tipped the cops.”
Brewster inhaled sharply. He recognized the voice of Eddie Edwards, his police contact. He shook his head. It was a shame. You just couldn’t trust anyone any longer. And, she’d held such promise.
“She’s out on bail,” the voice continued after a brief pause. “My guess is that she’s laying low, waiting for this to blow over. I don’t know if she knows you haven’t been arrested. Either way, that doesn’t matter. You need to find her and shut her up.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
The line clicked dead. A torrent of profanity flowed into the unheeding phone receiver. Brewster hated being treated that way, but the price you paid for information often included less than desirable sources. He knew what had to be done. He took a deep breath and with utmost composure, Brewster instructed Elkhart to contract for a specific service from Oscar Briggs. He provided his associate with the number by memory.
Then, since he was in an evil mood anyway, he began preparation for the commute to his hotel room in town.
* * *
Petula Jacobs sat at her desk in Chief Rogers’ reception area. Although unaware of her boss’s dressing down by William Anderson, she knew something was bothering the man. He’d come in late and hadn’t left the inner office. After months of carefully orchestrated moments of intimacy with the man, she read his moods as easily as she read the morning paper. Buck Rogers was ticked off.
She was skimming the memos and action reports that the Chief had received in the morning interdepartmental mail. Most of it was routine, but the reports on the outcomes of two drug raids the night before caught her eye.
The phone rang.
“Chief Rogers’ office.”
“You can tell your boss that I’m pleased with the way things started last night,” Guillermo Arcenas said. “But, also let him know that I expect closure. Brewster’s escape is, shall we say, unsettling.”
“I’m not sure Rogers knew anything about those two events. I found out about them after the fact,” Petula replied.
“That seems odd, don’t you agree?”
The Chief’s rarely in the pipeline for details of covert operations before they happen. “Sometimes, even the players aren’t sure of what’s going down until the last minute,” was Petula’s cleverly phrased response.
“I suppose that might be true.”
Might be true? Petula shook her head. You really are a pompous son of—
“I can assure you that it is,” she said before she allowed herself to lose control of her emotions. “I’ll let the Chief know.”
“As you are paid to do,” was Arcenas’ closing statement as he hung up. If Anderson’s call to Rogers didn’t do the trick, that should. She seems highly motivated.
Pay? More like chump change. I need to start working on something I can leverage was Petula’s conclusion.
* * *
Oscar “Big 0” Briggs was an entrepreneur, although he had no idea of the meaning of the word. Born into a lower-middle-class family, he grew up in and around tough neighborhoods. As a result, “you get what you work for or what you take” became his unspoken motto.
In school, he learned that the what you take part of his motto was the most efficient method of completing homework assignments. Although not a large person, he was intimidating in his mannerisms and had no trouble extorting schoolwork from his peers. As a result of his educational methodology, when he graduated from high school, he was a fourth grader in reading skill and could almost work an algebra problem—given enough time and the proper incentive.
Soon after graduation, he was arrested and convicted of armed robbery of a convenience store. Prison hardened him in two ways: his body and his outlook. Physically, he lifted weights five times a week. His muscles were sights to behold. In terms of his outlook, he left prison with only one goal: making himself happy. Whatever it took.
Briggs’ earliest idea of happiness almost always included women or drugs. The accumulation of money to disperse through those channels had been his primary focus. But, with limited academic skills and even less desire to work set hours every day, he soon shifted to a life of a free-lance enforcer.
He rarely turned down a job that involved physical damage and pain for his target. The nickname Big 0 came from the preferred service he provided, a hitman. The O was the numeral zero. It referred to the number of victims that survived his lethal attacks.
“Hello,” Briggs said as he answered his phone.
“Is this Big O?” Rick Elkhart asked.
“Yeah. Whatcha want?”
“You know Sidney Brewster?”
“I heard of him.”
“And he has heard of you. Mr. Brewster would like to contract your services.”
“I believe you are known for your ability to eliminate people who are causing problems for Mr. Brewster.”
“If you wants a hit, I gets paid half up front.”
“That is an acceptable condition. Do you have a pencil and paper?”
“Somewheres. Let me look.” Briggs left the phone and rummaged through his limited cabinetry. After several minutes, he returned to the phone.
“Okay. What’s the job?”
“It’s actually two jobs. Will that be a problem?”
“Nope. I likes what I do. Brewster can get the high-grade horse, right?”
“That can be arranged. Why?”
“I wants my first payment in heroin. Not some low-quality stuff that’s been cut so much it don’t do nothin’ when you hit with it. I want the good stuff.”
“Understood. What is your normal fee?”
Briggs thought hard. I usually gets about $300-400 for a job. Brewster’s a big player, he can pay more.
“How you know this be a normal job?” he asked.
“Well, uh, I guess I just assumed that.” Elkhart had not expected such response from the hitman.
“Here’s what I wants. Six hundred dollars of horse—that’s what you pays for it not what you sells it for. I gets that before I does a thing. And six hundred dollars in cash, tens, twenties, and fifties, after they both be dead.”
Twelve hundred dollars for the elimination of two problem people. I’d say, Mr. Briggs, that you’re thinking is way too small.
“Done. Write down the names. We only have one address, so you’ll have to find Mary on your own.”
“One’s a woman. I likes that.”
Elkhart’s blood froze at the coldness of Brigg’s tone. He shivered but dredged up the courage to continue.
“Mr. Brewster’s only request is that the woman know who’s behind the hit.” He stopped and listened while Brewster yelled something at him. “Mr. Brewster also requires that Mary suffers before you kill her.”
“I can do dat. Say da names and da address real slow so’s I can write ’em down.”
* * *
It was mid-morning of the second day after the raid on Brewster’s house. William Anderson sat alone in his private office. He had so many irons in the fire that he’d lost track of what his wife knew and did not know about his business dealings. I’ve got to get the story straight in my mind before I screw up and tell someone something they shouldn’t hear.
A buzz indicated his personal assistant needed to speak with him. He punched his intercom button.
“The secretary of the private detective you hired has called three times, sir.”
“What did you tell her?” Here’s where I start building my alibis.
“First time, that was three days ago, I told her you were out of town.”
“Was I?” He flipped through his desk calendar. One. Two. Ah, three!
“Well, yes, sir. At least technically. You were having a lunch meeting with a client at the lodge up in Ski Slope. That was eleven a.m. through one-thirty p.m.”
“Fine.” Anderson made a note of the time on that calendar page. “And the others?”
“Two days ago, you were in a meeting.”
“And what time was that?”
“One-fifteen to two-forty-five p.m.”
“Okay.” He made another note on his calendar before he asked, “With whom was I meeting?”
“No one, sir.”
“I understand. Perhaps a better question would have been, ‘With whom might I have been meeting?’”
“Well, I’d suggest calling the HVAC company. They might have been meeting with you about upgrading our dehumidifiers.”
“That’s right. I remember now.” He added a name to his second notation. “And the third call?”
“Just a few minutes ago, I had to tell her you were on a conference call. A long distance conference call. I’m sorry, sir, but she’s very persistent.”
“No worries. I’ll talk to some of our suppliers in the Midwest. I’m sure they’ll verify that call if need be.”
“Is everything acceptable now, sir?”
“Oh, yes. By the way, I’m working on something related to this case. So, when Mr. Mamba’s secretary calls again, send it through, even if I am unavailable, technically.”
“Yes, sir,” Eileen said through a smile.