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Betrayal in Blue

By C. R. Downing All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Untitled chapter

Chapter 15

Phil Mamba’s personal office at Mamba Investigations was, he thought, an accurate reflection of both him and his professional ideals. The private detective’s old police badge and current license certificate hung to the right of the office door. A framed photo of Earth taken on one of the Apollo missions hung on the left side. It’s purpose, as Hope explained, was “to balance the display.”

On the credenza behind his desk was a display of tools of the greatest detective ever, at least in Phil’s eyes—Sherlock Holmes. The two major items in that collection were a well-worn deerstalker’s hat he’d found in a thrift store in Oregon and an oversized magnifying glass replete with tortoise shell handle. The magnifier was a gift from a grateful client.

He currently sat with both feet propped up on the felt pad that covered the top of his oak desk. As he sipped from a cup of fresh coffee, his mind wandered over various aspects of the partially successful buy-bust two nights earlier. But, when his thoughts turned to the mysterious tip-off that Sidney Brewster had received, that was enough to morph his positive feelings into full-blown concern.

He sighed and took another sip from his coffee cup. Shaking his head, he determined not to let the one negative part of the otherwise successful operation ruin his good mood.

“So there!” He said aloud.

“So what?” Hope’s voice interrupted his reverie. She stood in the office doorway. A puzzled expression graced her face.

“Huh?” Phil jerked at the sound of another voice. “Oh, hi, honey. Come on in.” He finished with a motion that invited her toward his knee.

“I was going to let you know that Hope was in the house,” she informed him as she sidled toward her husband. “But, I suppose she could stay away for a while longer.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Mamba warned her with a wiggle of his eyebrows. When time permitted, he enjoyed any sort of interplay with his wife. He moved his feet off the desktop, set his coffee on the desk, and reached for his wife’s hips.

For a brief instant, she resisted his gentle pull. He leaned forward and slid his hands into a more stable position. Again, he pulled her towards him.

This time, there was no resistance. She swiveled her body so she ended up seated on his lap. Their lips met, parted, then met again. And again.

Phil reached for the switch on his phone that turned off the ringer. Before he could complete the action, an incoming call subverted his intent.

Hope sat up and straightened her dress. She picked up the receiver. “Good morning, Philip Mamba Investigations.”

“Hey, uh, I want Dancer.” The drunken male voice mushed the words out.

“Hold a minute, please.” Extricating herself from Phil’s grasp, she stood and handed him the phone. “It’s for you.”

He grimaced and placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “Stick around?” he mouthed.

“Can’t,” she teased. “I have a job.”

“Fun-ny.” He vowed to get her back for that rejoinder, mostly because of its exceptional delivery.

She winked and skipped from the room.

“Mamba here.”

“Dancer, this is Reed. We gotta talk. Today!”

“What do you want?” Mamba asked as the hairs on the back of his neck stood upright.

“Can’t tell ya on the phone. We gotta meet. Today!”

“When and where?” Mamba asked determined to get Reed out of wherever he was before he changed his mind.

“I don’t know.”

“Okay. You listen,” Mamba said as his mind tried to sort out what Reed was up to. This is just great. We finally get a break in this case, and I’ll bet Reed’s so bombed he doesn’t even know where he is. Since he figured Reed was close to losing it, he offered one of two locations he figured Reed could find, even if he was in a coma. “How about Tug’s?”

“Tug’s.” Reed’s monotonic response provided no sign he’d understood.

“Tug’s Tavern,” Mamba expanded. “Down on Harbor Drive.”

“Is that close to The Jazz Machine?” Reed mumbled. “I’m at The Jazz Machine.”

“Stay where you are,” the PI ordered. The situation had just taken an upswing.

“Sure. Uh, OK.” The commanding tone Mamba had used had shaken some of the fog from the musician’s brain. “You comin’ down? We gotta meet. T’day!”

“I’m leaving now,” Mamba told him. He hung up the phone and headed out of his office.

“I’ll be at The Jazz Machine,” he told Hope as he pulled his coat from the hook beside the exit door.

“Problem?” she asked.

“Probably. At least it sounds like a problem. Whenever Reed calls me, it usually ends up a problem.”

“Be careful. You know how I feel about Mr. Reed.”

“Hey,” he turned toward her and forced a smile. “I’ve got to be careful. We’ve got some unfinished business.”

“Don’t be too late.”

“Early as I can,” he promised.

He closed the door with surprising gentleness. There was no reason to infect Hope with his concern.

* * *

In an earlier time, The Jazz Machine had been one of the premier jazz spots in all California. Many of the legends had played a set or two, or many more, in the original club. The ravages of time, and then a fire, forced the owners to walk away. The current iteration of the name was at least five magnitudes of brightness below even the memory of the original.

Once in a very long while, some current name in the jazz community would be announced as “playing this Friday night.” More often than not, Friday arrived, but without a headliner musician.

The current remodel of the club was into its second year. All that had been accomplished in the first year was the demolition of the stage by order of the Fire Marshall. What now passed as the stage was nothing more than unfinished pine and fir two by sixes as floor joists partially covered with sheets of exterior plywood. An occasional nail pounded through the plywood into one of the stringers below held the pseudo-stage in place.

Mismatched tables and chairs, a bar needing new stain and a topcoat of epoxy, and a surprisingly well-maintained piano completed the still life.

Reed sat at a corner table in the nearly deserted club. His head throbbed. Sweet Lou the bartender refused to grant him credit, so the results of what liquor he had managed to bum so far would have to tide him over until Dancer Mamba arrived.

As he tried to keep awake, his thoughts ran back in time.

I remember when I played two sets behind Alice Coltrane. She was kinda lost after John died, so she’d been travelin’ to all the old hangouts. I felt bad for her. But, that pain surely got into her playin’. I ain’t never heard nothin’ like that ever.

Without thinking, he moved his hands into position for holding his tenor sax. His fingers moved in well-practiced synchronization as the tunes of the past played with sweetness and finesse once again in his memory.

He burped. And, then, for the twenty-fifth time, he ran his tongue around the inside of the empty glass that sat before him. He hoped beyond hope that somehow he had missed a drop or two of the libation that had once filled the shot glass.

He ran his gaze around the room. The fact that no one had entered within the past hour did little to allay his fears. He knew that they were searching for him. It was only a matter of time before they found him. Fear tied his intestines into a tight knot. Only the sedative effect of the alcohol he had consumed allowed him to keep a loose rein on his rising panic. That effect was diminishing,

Where’s Dancer? Cycled through his mind as it had irregularly since he’d hung up the phone.

As if in answer to his unspoken plea, Mamba pushed open the door to the aging nightclub. Sweet Lou nodded his greeting. Two other patrons of the establishment afforded him unseeing eye contact. Only one person in the place expressed more than a passing interest in him.

Reed waved frantically. The PI returned a perfunctory wave and went to the table where Reed sat.

“What’s up?”

“Dancer. I’ve got, I mean, we’ve got trouble.”

Mamba was forced to focus his full attention on the man’s speech. He was so inebriated that most of the words came out more mush than meaning.

“What kind of trouble?”

“Bi-i-ig trouble,” Reed answered as he held his hands as far apart as he could. The effort caused him to wobble in his chair. He slapped both hands on the tabletop as he leaned forward to expand his explanation.

“I need some money.”

“No deal,” Mamba said and slid his chair back thinking this is a waste of time.

“I’ll tell you what it is for a drink.”

“You tell me what’s going on. After I hear what you’ve got to say, we’ll discuss payment.” Mamba slid his chair up to the table. The last thing Reed needed was another round.

“Please, Dancer. I’m scared, man!” The man leaned farther forward, sending alcohol fumes into the PI’s face with every breath. He grabbed Mamba by the shirtfront. “They know, man! They know!” He repeated the phrase with rising volume.

“Calm down!” Mamba barked with high intensity but low volume. He pried Reed’s fingers away from his shirt. He pushed the man’s hands back down to the tabletop. He leaned against his chairback and surveyed the interior of the club as unobtrusively as he could.

None of the other three people in the room appeared aware of their existence. Two were engrossed in their own conversation. The bartender kept time with “Night Train” as it played at moderate volume from the old-style jukebox against the wall opposite their table.

Mamba knew the music would cover whatever they discussed, so he asked point blank, “Who knows, and what do they know?”

“They’ve got the papers.”

“What papers?”

“The papers you wrote, man. They got the names.”

“That’s crazy talk, Reed. Nobody’s seen those lists but the police.”

“I’m tellin’ you they’re on the street,” Reed insisted. “I seen ’em.”

“Come with me.” Mamba grabbed Reed’s arm and stood. “We’re getting out of here.”

“What about my drink?” Reed moaned.

“Later,” Mamba promised, much, much later. “You were right. We do have to get out of here.”

“I know that. They goin’ to come here lookin’ for me.” Reed’s sudden flash of lucidity surprised the PI.

The two men left at the fastest pace Reed could handle.

The next morning, Reed awoke to find himself in a strange bed. That the bed was strange was not all that unusual. That the bed was clean was the fact that stood out in his slowly clearing thoughts. He sat upright with a start.

Startled was replaced by panic as he looked around the room. A suit of armor appeared to have been cut in half lengthwise and the front half mounted to the wall opposite the foot of his bed. Other decorative pieces that suggested life in medieval times lent an air of distorted reality to the scene.

“Dancer!” His cry of panic echoed through the motel room. Mamba awoke with a start. He’d spent the night in a chair next to Reed’s bed in the cheapest motel he knew about that wasn’t rented by the hour. He shook his head and gathered his thoughts.

“Dancer! Is this your place?” Reed screamed without looking in Mamba’s direction.

Mamba took a deep breath and asked, “How’re you feeling?”

“Dancer! Am I glad to see you!” His relief was clear as he spotted the private detective. “Where am I?”

“A Good Knight’s Sleep Motel.”

“Oh, Man, that’s good to hear. Some of these decorations are scary! I was afraid I was somewhere else.”

“Where?” Mamba asked as he sat on the foot of the bed. I’ll bet you’re thinking hell.

“Where they are,” Reed answered.

“Who’re you talking about?” The question was delivered with a frustrated edge. Mamba was stiff and tired. He wanted information, not more blubbering gibberish.

“The guys with the list,” Reed repeated his story of the previous night. “You got a drink?”

“No drinks. Who told you about this list?”

“Nobody told me. I seen the lists. They was made by one of those copy machine things.”

“You saw them? Where?”

“Hey, man,” Reed said as he literally rolled out of the bed. He used the bedspread to pull himself into a kneeling position. Pushing off the mattress, his body unfolded until he stood facing the private investigator. The man was clad only in his boxer shorts. The effects of a long life of dissipation were evident. “I seen them at a party I was at.”

He turned to the nightstand and picked up his pack of cigarettes. With shaking hands, he tried to light one. Mamba had seen enough drying out drunks to know when the DTs were coming. This shaking is more than a drunk who needs a drink. He’s terrified.

“What’s the matter?” Mamba demanded. “For real!”

“I’m scared, man,” Reed admitted. “They’re gonna get me.”

“Why would they be after you?”

“The list, man. They must know who gave you the list.”

“How could they know? I sure didn’t tell them.”

“Then how did they get the list?”

“That I don’t know,” Mamba was forced to admit. Reed’s got to be mistaken. No one but me, Mulligan, and Stallings ever got a copy. Martinez saw them, but he never had a copy.

“That’s why I’m scared, man,” Reed whispered, interrupting the detective’s reverie.

Mamba turned and looked at Reed.

“Get dressed we’ll go and get some breakfast.” He handed the frightened man his shirt and pants. “Hope washed these for you.”

“Thanks, man,” Reed said as he pushed the shirt up against his face. “It’s nice to smell clean.”

Mamba didn’t have the heart to tell the man that it wasn’t just his clothes that had been washed. He didn’t know if he’d ever forget the visual of the semi-conscious sax player swaying while he scrubbed the man’s body with a soapy washcloth. He shivered.

“It’s all good,” Mamba mumbled as he waved aside the thank you. “I’ll check out this list business. You just lay low for a while. But you’ve got to stay off the sauce.”

“I can’t do that,” Reed whined. “I need the booze.”

“When you’re drunk, you might say something bad,” Mamba explained, knowing full well that he might be talking to a brick wall. “Sober, you have a chance to keep away from whoever has the list.”

“I know. But it’s gonna be hard, man. I haven’t been sober for three days straight since ’81.”

“I know it’ll be hard. But you have to stay sober for the rest of the week if you want me to poke around for you.”

“Where will I stay, man? They know where I live.”

“I talked to a friend over at the Rochester Hotel. He’ll let you stay down in the basement if you stay sober and help out with the cleaning.”

“Thanks.” He paused. Then he croaked out, “I’ll try.”

“I know you will. Finish dressing and we’ll head to breakfast. Oh, and don’t smoke in this room!”

* * *

Three hours after breakfast with Reed, Mamba sat in his office. He’d lost count of the times he tried to dismiss the musician’s fears as the ramblings of a hallucinating drunk.

On the one hand, he had only Reed’s word that there was a copy of the list of names on the street, and Reed was hardly an unimpeachable source.

On the other hand, Reed seemed to be scared enough to consider staying sober for a week. That was a most convincing argument for the validity of his claim.

Mamba shook his head hoping to clear his thoughts. There must be something he could concentrate on to take his mind off the problem Reed brought up. He punched the intercom button on his phone.

“Yes, Phil.”

“Did you check with Anderson about any new drug thefts?”

“No,” Hope responded. “I’ve talked to the secretary over there three times with no return call. Frankly, although I can’t imagine why, I think they’re stalling.”

“What?” Mamba recoiled at the impact of the final word Hope had spoken. Somewhere in his subconscious, the word had triggered the memory of an incident that had taken place on the night of the bust. “What did you say?”

“I, uh. I think I said that I thought Anderson was stalling,” Hope stammered.

“That’s what I thought!” Mamba slammed his hand down on the desk. “Get me Mulligan!” Reed might be right!

* * *

Mary Carstairs’ mind wandered as she thumbed through the phone book. She was looking for a cheap hotel where she could lie low until Brewster was out of the picture for good. Because of her self-imposed isolation in the division’s holding cell, and her choice to spend thirty-six hours on the street after her release, she’d learned only that morning that her boss had been tipped and evaded arrest.

Even though Brewster dodged arrest, he still might be on the run. I think I’m in a pretty good position to take his place in Garmel’s pecking order when he stumbles. Maybe that’s if he stumbles. Thinking positively, I’ll be able to find my own source of marijuana. Oh, who knows what’s coming? Maybe I’ll even meet Garmel himself.

Because of her mental machinations, it took longer than she’d planned to mark several hotel ads with a pencil. Satisfied, she tore the marked page from the directory.

At the change booth in a video game and pinball arcade, she converted a five-dollar bill into quarters. She carried the handful of coins to the pair of pay phones just outside the arcade. Six calls later, she hung up the phone with a satisfied smile.

She started for her house to pick up an overnight bag. After walking about half a block, she stopped. If the cops weren’t there, someone whom she didn’t want to know of her whereabouts might be. She went back to the pay phone and called in a favor from an underling. The woman would drop off a travel bag of necessities and clothing at her ultimate destination, the Royal Guard Hotel. That would complete the cheap, safe fix of her current homeless condition.

Anyone could lose himself or herself for a time in a place like the Royal Guard. The man she’d talked to on the phone had guaranteed to be discreet. I’ve got to trust someone.

After paying a week’s rent in advance plus an extra twenty-five dollars to be forgotten, Mary retrieved the bag her underling had dropped off. She asked the front desk to hold an envelope for the woman who’d been instructed to return the next day for her compensation.

Carrying that bag, the sum total of her luggage, Mary climbed the stairs to room 214. She paused in the doorway and surveyed the interior of the room. The kitchen area was straight ahead. To the left was the bathroom, something she knew because of the odor of fermenting urine. The door hung askew allowed a view into a crusty sink and water-damaged vanity.

Four tarnished posts of a brass canopy bed poked their ugly heads over the top of a partial wall that defined the bedroom. On the near side of the wall, my living room, she decided, a dilapidated couch and chair faced an ancient television.

Once inside the dingy flat, Mary set about making herself as comfortable as possible. First, she flushed the toilet and then dumped some cologne in the bowl to mask remnants of the smell. She sniffed twice. Better, but I’ll need to pick up a Ti-D-Bol unit ASAP.

The dresser was stained and chipped. A phone book was jammed beneath one corner in place of a missing leg. She tried a drawer and gave a nod of appreciation to an unknown MyGyver for his ingenuity. The phone book fix leveled the piece enough for the drawers to slide in and out.

Removing the top left drawer, she dumped the roaches onto the floor. She methodically stamped the life out of each of the seven—or was it eight?—large, brown insects that scurried around her feet and kicked their bodies under the dresser. Most of the clothing in her bag went into what she’d decided was the clean drawer. The remaining items, two blouses, were placed on bent, rusting hangers that were the sole occupants of the dank-smelling closet.

It took only four steps to move from her bedroom into her kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door. While clean was a bit of a generous description, the interior was serviceable. The old-school freezer compartment inside the only door held a partially filled plastic ice cube tray. She flipped on one stove burner. It worked. That’s all I’ll need.

There was no telephone. She had to hunt for the on/off button on the television. Once she found it, she pushed it three times before abandoning her quest for power. No problem. I’ll catch up on my reading was her mental summary.

At the end of her housewarming, about ten minutes total, she stood with arms folded in the center of the room. She was pleased. Although it didn’t make sense, she felt safe here.

No one entering the room would believe that the casual-chic Mary Carstairs, formally of 3717 Henry Court, was living in such a dive. She was proud of the effect and knew she could tolerate the conditions for as long as it took the legal system to deal with Sidney Brewster.

Then, the memory of the report that Brewster evaded arrest in the raid she’d help facilitate surfaced.

That puts a target on my back. If I work my street contacts and supply the police with anonymous tips about Sid’s whereabouts, the permanent removal of my former employer might not take long at all.

* * *

Peacock Feathers restaurant was not one Phil Mamba frequented. It was at the high end of his price range and the far end from the distance he’d normally travel for a meal. He adjusted his tie. The action was not unusual. He almost always wore a tie.

As he waited for the snooty hostess to seat him, he smoothed the front of his sports coat and buttoned the single button, something he didn’t often do. He rarely wore a dress coat. After a longer wait than the size of the crowd dictated, part of the ambiance, he’d been seated, asked if anyone would be joining him, watered, and given a menu.

Now he sat in a dimly lit rear booth, with an eye out for the arrival of Mike Mulligan. He’d asked Mike to meet him for lunch after Hope’s remark about stalling his investigation had triggered a memory from the night of the bust.

What he had to say to his friend wasn’t pleasant. It was also not for just any ears. This restaurant had a clientele that would frown upon hearing that a conversation of any such topic had taken place within its richly appointed interior. He removed his second breadstick from the basket on the table and bit off the end.

A waiter materialized at his elbow.

“Are you ready to order, sir?”

“No. I’m waiting for a friend.”

“Very well, sir.” The waiter disappeared into the dim labyrinth of tables and chairs that surrounded the detective.

“Right over here, sir.” A female voice attracted Mamba’s attention.

A hostess in a short, form-fitting shirt dress was leading Mulligan toward the booth. Mamba smiled as he noticed the uncomfortable look on his friend’s face. Mike was doing his best to avoid looking at the strategically exposed anatomy of the scantily clad hostess. It was obvious that he was not succeeding.

“Remarkable scenery,” was Phil’s dry greeting. Mulligan’s face tinted red at the comment; the color change in his Irish complexion was obvious, even in the semi-darkness.

The hostess’s radar picked up on Mamba’s innuendo. She struck a pose and winked blatantly at the thoroughly embarrassed policeman. Unable to maintain a straight face, she dissolved into giggles as she sauntered away. Mamba watched her until she encountered another similarly dressed young woman. An animated description of the recent episode included embellishing her pose, much to the other girl’s delight.

“Thanks a lot.” The sound of Mulligan’s voice brought the PI’s mind back to business.

“Sorry, Mike. But, I just couldn’t resist.”

“I would have done the same thing to you, given the chance,” Mulligan admitted with a wry grin. “I can only hope I’m the one with the next opportunity.”

“Then I’ll be extra alert around you.”

An uncomfortable silence ensued before Mulligan asked, “What’s this all about?”

“Hope gave me an idea. That idea’s been bothering me.”

“Sounds serious.”

“More than serious. It could be catastrophic.”

“You’d better—”

“Are the gentlemen ready to order?” The waiter reappeared. This time, it was Mulligan’s turn to perform the startle reaction.

“Two of the club sandwiches,” Mamba answered as he handed both menus to the waiter. “I’ll have coffee. What about you, Mike?”

“Do you have buttermilk?” Mulligan made a face as he asked.

“I believe so, sir. But, I’ll have to check.”

“Buttermilk, if you have it. Otherwise, just water.” Mamba’s questioning look elicited a final phrase, “Doctor’s orders.”

“Very good.” Both men followed the waiter’s retreat with practiced eyes.

“Buttermilk? Really?” Mamba asked.

“Early signs of an ulcer.”

“Ah, the problem of antacid tablets in your pockets is solved.”

“Thanks, Sherlock. Buttermilk’s supposed to sooth the irritation.”

“It just tastes gross to me.”

“Tell me about it. I usually gargle with Pepsi after I drink it without food.” Mulligan reached for a breadstick and asked, “So why am I here?”

“I’m afraid that the Department might have a leak,” Mamba said,

Mulligan fumbled the breadstick as that comment struck home. Jeez Louise, Phil, couldn’t you wait until I’d eaten at least a lousy breadstick before dropping that bomb on me? His verbal response was more professional.

“That definitely qualifies as a catastrophe, if it’s true. What brings you to this accusation?”

“It’s not quite an accusation yet. My case is purely circumstantial.”

Mulligan swallowed his first bite of breadstick before he said, “Let’s hear it.” He placed the breadstick on his napkin before he took out a small, black notebook and began to write as his friend narrated. Mamba reviewed the night of the bust reminding his friend of the tip to Brewster. He was prepared to announce his belief in Reed’s story of the copies of the names on the street when the waiter returned.

“Two club sandwiches. One coffee and one buttermilk.” The waiter reiterated the order as he placed the food on their table. “Can I be of further service?”

“Not at the moment,” Mamba told him. “Thank you. It looks delicious.”

With a nod, the waiter moved on to his next table.

“Let’s eat,” Mamba suggested. “It does look good. I’ll fill you in on my suspicions during the second half of the sandwich.”

“You got a deal. I was hoping to enjoy at least part of our meeting.”

“I think I’m offended,” Mamba said.

“I would hope so.”

Both men smiled at their banter. They ate in relative silence for about ten minutes as each man organized his own thoughts. Both halves of both sandwiches were consumed before the conversation was re-established.

“More coffee, sir?” The waiter asked.

Mamba nodded. The waiter filled the mug before asking Mulligan, “Would you like another buttermilk?”

Mulligan waved off the offer. When the waiter was out of earshot, he returned to the reason for the lunch meeting.

“I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised by this, Phil.”

“I sort of figured that when you only dropped your breadstick when I first mentioned the leak.”

“You noticed. I’m flattered.”

“I don’t miss much, remember?”

Mulligan nodded and smiled.

“What’s the bee in your bonnet?” Mamba asked.

“You first. You were about to give me your reasons for suspecting a leak.”

“Fair enough.” The PI pushed the empty plate to the center of the table. He pulled his coffee cup toward him and ran his finger around the rim while he explained.

“The contact who gave me the list of names came to me yesterday. He says there’s a copy of that list out on the street.”

Mulligan raised his eyebrows. Wait. Just wait.

“He says he’s seen them. Actually, he said he saw copies.”

“And you believe him.” Mulligan’s response was a statement, not a question.

“Not at first. I figured demon rum had gotten the best of him again. But now . . .” he paused, pursed his lips, and then continued. “Well, now I think he might be right.”


“Fear. Mike, the man is scared. Really scared.”

“If he’s a typical CI, he could be afraid of any number of things, people, or situations. It could even be the boogeyman.”

“True. But, when you put what he told me together with the tip to Brewster, it starts to add up to more than the irrational fear of a drunk.”

“Let’s say you’re right,” Mulligan proposed. “Who is or where is the leak?”

“Not so fast.” Why are you trying to avoid giving me your opinion the idea of a departmental leak? “You said you were suspicious, too. Tit for tat. Spill.”

“Fair enough,” Mulligan mimicked Mamba’s early prefacing comment perfectly. Mamba reacted to the mimicry with a half-smile. Mulligan continued, “My suspicion is more feeling than fact. Just enough information seems to be getting out to sabotage one or two major operations a month. But there’s no pattern or apparent overarching motive. The lost operations don’t have any common thread we can find.”

“Mike, you know I’d be the last person to point a finger at a cop. And, even though I don’t want anybody to take a bum rap, I’ve got to say that Stallings looks good for this leak.”

“Stallings? Come on, Phil. Stallings is a real pro. He’s got commendations and recommendations up one arm and down the other. I’ve seen his file. What’s your reasoning?”

“Remember when the uniform mentioned that Stallings took longer than he needed to get the warrant because he had to take a phone call?” The PI leaned forward as he spoke.

Mulligan groaned. “That’s pretty weak.”

“Maybe. More to the point, who else, besides you, me, and Stallings, had access to the list?”

“If the list is out.” Mulligan’s tone of voice contradicted his words. He leaned back in the booth. Sorry, Phil. I’m having a hard time with the idea of Stallings leaking information from Department files. “I can’t do much with this.”

“Let’s ask him to see the list we gave him.”

“Why? On what pretense? That I’ve lost my copy and you won’t give me another one?”

“Don’t be facetious.”

“I’m serious,” Mulligan replied. “What do I tell the man? ‘Hey, Stallings, we think you’re leaking information to the street. Mind if we check you out?’”

“I know it’ll be tough. Come on, Mike, you know you have to do it.”

“You’re right.” Mulligan sighed. “I just don’t want to admit it.”

Quiet enveloped the friends as they searched their brains for options.

“Maybe Martinez will help us out. I don’t think Stallings is his favorite boss,” Mamba offered.

“Martinez is a good cop. Maybe—” Mulligan let the unfinished sentence hang. “I’ve got a thought. Pay the bill and let’s get out of here.” He slid out of the booth thinking so much for the soothing effects of buttermilk.

“Where you headed?” was all Mamba had time to call out before Mulligan was out of conversational voice range. He jumped up, frantically trying to attract their server’s attention and get the check as he hurried to catch his friend. That waiter was a leech before we ordered. Now that I need him, he’s vanished.

“Division HQ,” Mulligan said as Mamba closed the gap between them. The Lieutenant looked at his watch. He turned and said, “Minor change in plans. Leave here in half an hour. Meet me in Stallings’ office.”

Mamba nodded. He checked the time as he returned to the booth. The waiter was still nowhere to be seen. He motioned to a busboy for more coffee. He could kill thirty minutes here as well as anywhere. For the price he was paying for the meal, he might as well stay as long as possible. Besides, the coffee wasn’t half bad.

* * *

Twenty-five minutes after Mulligan left Peacock Feathers, Mamba was informed he had a phone call. In one succinct sentence, Mulligan told him that they’d have to wait at least five days before they could meet with Stallings. He’d been approved to take today and the next as personal days and three vacation days after that. Mulligan didn’t know the reason.

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