Mamba’s recent work on the Anderson Pharmaceuticals robbery, the lists of drug dealers, and the MPD leak had things hopping in the office of Mamba Investigations. Flatly Broke’s hospitalization the day before added another layer of complexity to the scenario. Hope Mamba was thrilled. She loved being busy.
Yet this morning was dragging. And, when Hope wasn’t busy, boredom settled in. The past weeks had stimulated her enthusiasm for the hunt. Unfortunately, at the moment, all Phil’s hunts were in holding patterns, and she wasn’t busy. So, she was bored.
She’d checked voice messages that had accumulated since she’d left the day before. Two messages were from solicitors. The third was from their insurance agent. None had any bearing on the one paying case her husband was working on, or anything that might generate positive cash flow.
She didn’t mind that most of her husband’s sleuthing was part of the pro bono work he was doing for the MPD. Greasing those wheels had paid off several times. Besides, he’s done pro bono for regular people, too. That’s one reason I love him so much.
She was currently filing some documents that mysteriously appeared on her desk. Thanks, Phil. At least this gives me something to fill time.
At the sound of the front door opening, she turned from the filing cabinet. A man dressed in a seedy sports jacket entered.
“Is this Mamba the one they call the Dancer?”
Hope Mamba hesitated. The question was not surprising. Besides, she’d learned to go with the flow when it came to her husband’s nickname. But, something about this visitor set off alarms in her head. She stared at him with what she hoped was an expressionless countenance. I do not want this man around.
Some of the people that came in wanting to contract Phil’s services were far from the type of folks she would invite even to just drive through their neighborhood. This man was one of those. I smell the sleaze oozing from his pores.
“My name is Lester,” the man continued even though Hope had yet to respond to his question. “Lawrence J. Lester. I have some important information for,” he checked a folded paper he carried with him. “Philip Richmond Mamba. Assuming he is the Dancer.”
“You have the right detective agency,” Hope acknowledged after another period of silence. “I’ll get Mr. Mamba for you.”
She went to the door of Phil’s office, not wanting to announce Lester’s arrival through the intercom. With a not so gentle knock, she pushed the door open, stepped inside, and pulled the door closed.
“Phil, there’s someone here to see you. He says it’s important.”
“What’s his name?” Mamba asked as he looked up from the papers that cluttered his desk. That was some knock. I wonder who’s out there? He was used to having characters drop by. He was not used to a reaction like this from Hope.
“He says he’s Lawrence J. Lester.”
“No.” Hope gave him a quizzical look. “I’m sure that’s what he said.”
“It’s not the name I was questioning. I thought that Larry Lester was in prison.”
“This one looks like he could—” Hope stopped and corrected her observation, “like he should be incarcerated.”
“That’s Larry Lester all right. You might as well send him in. He’s the persistent type and won’t leave until I’ve seen him.” I can’t see how anything good can come from meeting with Lester, but the last thing Hope needs is to deal with him alone.
“I’ll send him in immediately if it means he will leave sooner.” She winked and went back to her desk, leaving Phil’s office door open.
“Mr. Mamba will see you now.”
“Thank you, Missy.” He winked. “Maybe we could do lunch?”
Oh, my heavens. He winked at me! Now I feel slimy for winking at Phil!
“I don’t think Detective Mamba would like that.”
“He doesn’t have to know, does he?” This woman is enticing. I’d not consider her hot. I’ll have to go with desirable.
“I usually tell my husband about my luncheon engagements,” Hope deadpanned.
“It’s your loss, sweetheart.” Lester shrugged. You’ve just jilted the man of your dreams. He went into the detective’s office.
Hope rolled her eyes and headed to the restroom. That was just sooo wrong on sooo many levels. He thinks he’s God’s gift. She felt the need to wash her hands.
“Dancer, it’s good to see you,” Lester greeted the detective as he entered the office. He extended his hand.
“No comment,” Mamba replied without standing. He kept his hands on his desktop. Lester was the type to be leery of at all times. Because he’d overheard the exchange between this man and his wife, his mood had progressed from dislike to disgust.
“Mind if I sit down?” Be that way, Dancer. I’ve got something you want. Let’s see how quickly you change your attitude.
Mamba shrugged and motioned toward a chair next to his desk. The visitor paraded over and took a seat.
“Mind if I smoke?” he asked.
“Yes. I do.”
Disregarding the response, Lester removed a cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lit up. He inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling.
Mamba waited until Lester’s eyes were focused on the smoke. Then he stood, reached across the desk, yanked the cigarette from Lester’s fingers, and rubbed it into shreds of tobacco and paper between his finger and thumb.
“I’ll bill you for the cleanup.”
“Hey, Dancer. Back off a little! Cut an old buddy some slack.”
“You reached the end of your slack the last time I saw you, Lester. And, you are anything but a buddy of mine.” Mamba bit the end off each word. “Why are you here?”
“Actually, I’m here because I was worried about you.” Lester pushed up from his seat. “I thought you might want to know that certain people are out to get you. But, if you’re not interested.”
“Sit down!” Mamba snapped. While Lester repositioned himself in the chair, the PI closed the door to his office. He returned to his desk and asked, “What do you think you have that I want?”
“With that attitude, maybe nothing!”
“I want to know what you’ve got. What brought you here?” The detective spoke through clenched jaws. “I want it now or you’ll leave here with a fat lip.”
“Now, now, Dancer,” Lester cajoled. “Aren’t we testy today.”
Fed up with foreplay, Mamba flipped over the egg timer he kept on his desk to limit the length of consultations. Larry Lester was as aggravating as ever. Still, Mamba decided to let him run free for a controlled period of time. Sooner or later he always got to the point. Lester’s information had been high quality on occasion. This time, he wanted quality and speed of delivery.
“You see this?” Mamba asked as he pointed at the egg timer.
“When the sand’s all gone, so are you. Start talking.”
“I hope I can finish in that arbitrary time limitation.”
“Just get on with it. You had three minutes. I always start the egg timer when I ask a potential client what they want. The potential client has three minutes to convince me to take the case. Right now, you’ve got maybe two and a half minutes left to do that.”
The ex-con reached into his pocket and removed some folded sheets of paper. “I am holding copies of several pages of incriminating names, addresses, and the like. Rumor has it that they originated here, in this office.”
“Let me take a look at those,” Mamba said with feigned indifference. If this is what I think it is, the department’s leak is more like a tributary.
With a smile, Lester handed the papers over to the detective. Mamba unfolded the stack and glanced at the top page. The glance was enough.
“Where did you get these?” His voice was low and hard.
“One of my employers provided me with those lists. I am to warn any of my acquaintances whose names appear in the queue. The intent of the warning is to provide them with adequate time to formulate an escape from town and avoid prosecution.”
“Does this employer have a name?”
“Not important.” Lester knew that by contacting Mamba it was only a matter of time until the police traced him to his employer. For now, it was enough to use one hand to grease the other. If Dancer pay’s for information while Brewster’s still paying me to warn the troops, I’ll be able to quickly and surreptitiously skip town if it all goes south.
“Well.” Mamba inhaled and exhaled slowly. “I know people who would beg to differ with you on the importance of the name of your employer.”
“I’m not snitching.”
“What makes you think the lists came from here?” Mamba recognized a change in his visitor’s demeanor with his last comment. So he changed his approach. “Who started your rumor?”
“Perhaps I was inaccurate in my choice of words,” Lester coughed discreetly. “Rumor was a bit weak. There is a fifth page to these lists.”
“What fifth page? There were only four pages of names.” Mamba paused as he realized he’d confirmed Lester’s statement on the site of origin of the list. He berated himself mentally before opting to direct the burden of proof back to Lester.
“There is no way on God’s green earth to tie me to the lists by using the lists.”
“True enough,” Lester conceded. “There is not a clue to the origin of the lists on the lists I have presented to you. The fifth page, however, is a different story.”
Mamba didn’t move a muscle. Lester shrugged.
“The fifth page is a copy of the Department of Motor Vehicles records of yourself and a gentleman named Michael Mulligan.”
“Not a rumor, I’m afraid. I have seen the fifth page.”
“Why come and warn me?” Mamba leaned back in his chair in contrived nonchalance.
“To be truthful, I am torn between conflicting loyalties. My employer can be very persuasive.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“You were always square with me. You kept some of your less scrupulous associates from roughing me up when I was arrested, even though there would have been no witnesses.”
“Everybody’s entitled to a fair shake.”
“Even you, Dancer. Even you.”
“Thanks. Can I keep these copies of the lists?”
“Sure, although without them I won’t get paid.”
“I’ll give you ten dollars a page,” Mamba offered.
Lester wrinkled his brow. He slowly shook his head from side to side.
“Plus a ten dollar bonus for the information about the supposed fifth page.” Mamba reached for his wallet.
“I’ll need twenty for that information.”
Mamba swallowed his rejection. While he did not like this man, he realized that Lester was sticking his neck out a long way for him. I know I’m being leveraged, but this may be worth way more than twenty dollars. After a deep inhalation and exhalation, he said, “Okay.”
“Deal and done,” Lester declared as he extended his hand to the detective.
“Thank you, Lester.” He ignored Lester’s hand a second time and handed him three twenties he’d extracted from his wallet.
“Forget I came here, all right?”
“I’m off then. Enjoyed our visit.” The informant opened and closed the door more quickly than Mamba would have thought possible.
Lester paused at Hope’s desk. “Last chance, honey.”
“Not last? No chance at all,” she said without looking up.
“You’ll never know what you’re missing.” Lawrence J. Lester shrugged and was gone.
Hope finally looked up when she’d heard the door close. “And I could care less about that,” she threw after him, sotto voce.
* * *
After airing out his office after Larry Lester’s visit, Mamba had done some hard thinking.
Having the lists out on the street is bad. Having my personal information on the streets is worse. Having Mulligan’s information on the streets is a disaster. I have to do what it takes to prevent more attacks on people involved in this case on my side. He punched the intercom button on his phone.
“Get me Reed.”
I recognize that tone, Hope thought. He’s scared. She opted to give her husband time before she asked him fill her in on what was bothering him.
“And buy a bus ticket to Sacramento for Mr. Logan ASAP.”
“Right away.” I’m not even going to ask.
When the phone rang a minute later, Mamba snapped it off the base.
“Reed?” Mamba asked.
“Yeah. Who’s dis?”
“Dancer. Just listen.”
“I’m listenin’.” Reed’s tone indicated uncommon concentration.
Do I sound that stressed? I got Reed’s complete attention immediately.
“Go to the bus depot. Ask the man at the ticket counter for the ticket reserved for Mr. Logan.”
“There is no Logan. I don’t want anyone to know you took the bus. You’ll use the name Logan when you pick up the ticket.”
“Where’m I going?”
“Sacramento. Someone will page Mr. Logan at the bus depot there. Answer the page and do exactly what the man tells you. You should be safe then.”
“All the way that far north? Safe from what? And, how they know I’m this Logan guy? What’s going down, Dancer?”
“The list is on the street. I have a copy.”
Reed inhaled one quick breath.
“They know where it came from,” Mamba added what he considered a conclusion based on circumstantial evidence, but he needed Reed’s obedience.
“They’ve fingered me?” Reed’s voice was edged with panic.
“No!” Mamba shot back. I can’t let him panic or this will end badly for more than Reed. “All they know is that Lieutenant Mulligan got a tip. If you stick around, they might figure out it was you. I want you out of the way for awhile.”
“You bought the ticket already?”
“I’m on my way to the bus soon as I hang up!”
“Good. It’ll be there. And, Reed.”
“Stay off the booze.”
“I’ll try. I promise.”
“Stay off! It could mean your life.”
“Maybe it already has,” Reed mumbled as he hung up.
Mamba hung up his phone with a sigh. He had done all he could for Reed. The rest was up to his informant.
“That ticket for Mr. Logan at the bus depot. It’s at will call, right Hope?” he called out to his wife.
“As of about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Good. That’s good. Why don’t you go ahead and leave now,” he said as he passed her on his way out of the office.
“Where are you headed?”
“Do I want to know why?”
“We’ll talk tonight.”
He was out of the office before she could respond.
* * *
The restaurant was at least two stars below Sid Brewster’s norm. He’d learned that meetings like the one he was engaged in were ill-suited for rooms with tables displaying crystal goblets and silver flatware.
This meeting was an uncommon face-to-face with one of those whom Sidney Brewster referred to as the necessary evils he employed. He was dining with one of his hired assassins. He never used the term hitman. That reeked of underworld collusion and brutality. Of course, Brewster’s necessary evils did involve both collusion and brutality. But his term was less offensive to his psyche.
“Tell me, Mr. Briggs,” Brewster spoke from behind a stuffed porkchop, the closest he could order to the Cornish game hen he preferred. He sat in an oversized rear booth of the country-themed restaurant. Surrounding tables were vacant, their vacancy ensured by monetary considerations to the owner. “Tell me how it went with our last transaction.”
“Just fine, Mr. Brewster,” Oscar Briggs replied. He was seated across the table on the far side of the booth from Brewster. His position was so far from Brewster that an observer might conclude that Briggs’ presence was unnecessary in the scene. “Fact is, parts was most enjoyable.”
“Glad to hear that.” Brewster took a drink of his wine and winced. Next time I’ll have Elkhart bring my own vintage to places like this. “Could you use some more work?”
“Always can use your kind of work, Mr. Brewster.”
“So, you need me again?”
“Yes, Mr. Briggs, I do. In fact, I have two more assignments for you.”
“Shouldn’t be no problem.”
“Good.” Brewster nodded to an associate who’d been standing as silent sentinel during the meal. The man picked up an envelope from the table beside his employer. He walked along the front of the table and handed it to Briggs.
Big 0 ripped open the envelope. Inside was a tri-folded photocopied page. Briggs pulled the page out. Five uncirculated thousand-dollar bills and a dime bag of heroin slid out one end of the improvised wrapper.
It was all Briggs could do to keep from dropping the envelope. This was an unheard of amount of money for two eliminations. He was hooked.
“The names on the copy of DMV pages you’re holding are the two men I want eliminated.” Brewster relished the power he wielded over brutes like Briggs. The man had nearly soiled himself over a trifling amount of money and an even smaller amount of his drug of choice.
“Mamba and Mulligan,” Briggs read aloud. “Sounds like a couple of uncool dudes.” He stopped. A warning bell sounded in the hitman’s brain. “Hey, this ain’t Dancer Mamba is it?”
“I’m not sure. I suppose there’s a possibility he uses that nickname on occasion.”
“Then I, well, I don’t know about this, Mr. Brewster. I mean he used to be a cop. He could be some trouble. I ain’t never killed a cop before.”
“I know that this Mamba is not a policeman, although he might have been. He’s a private detective,” Brewster explained. “But, Mulligan is a policeman.”
This be too deep for me. I ain’t getting’ mixed up with no hit on a cop and a rent-a-cop.
Briggs began re-wrapping the money and smack with the photocopy.
“Before you turn me down,” Brewster placed his fork on his plate and waited until he looked Briggs in the eyes before he continued. “Allow me to finish my proposition.” Brewster’s tone of voice left no room for misunderstanding of his desire.
Briggs stopped in mid-fold. He concentrated on keeping his eyes aligned with those of his benefactor.
“I am prepared to offer you quite an enticement.”
“What you mean?” Briggs asked. He had the vaguest idea of what enticement meant, but Brewster made it sound important.
“If you eliminate my problems, should you be arrested, I guarantee you the use of my legal team. And, if convicted of either killing, I can guarantee you easy time.” Brewster spoke casually. “Of course, the money you’re holding, and that bag of heroin plus two more bags whenever you want them, are yours to keep.”
Briggs had listened with little interest through the talk of lawyers and serving time. Promises like that could always be broken. The lure of the money and smack in his hand, plus more smack. That was another thing.
“Five bags total,” he decided. “By tomorrow, or I don’t do nuthin’.”
“Mr. Briggs, you are in no position to negotiate anything. It appears you’ve already done nuthin’ on one of your assignments for me.”
“What you talkin’ ’bout? I offed the woman and the boxer, just like you said to.”
“Not quite accurate.”
“Eloquent. It seems, Mr. Briggs, that the boxer is still alive.”
Brigg’s mind raced, although the speed at which the race was conducted was slowed by his addiction. I climbed up his fire escape. I muscled his window open. I waited on his fire escape. He opened the door. I shot him in the heart. I watched him fall. I climbed down his fire escape.
“That can’t be! I shot him point blank and skipped down a fire escape.”
“I’m not arguing whether you shot the man. I’m saying that you did not kill the man. He’s in the hospital right now.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brewster. This ain’t never happened before. Lemme fix it!”
“Right now I’m more concerned with Misters Mamba and Mulligan. You finish those, or you’ll never even think about working again. For anyone.”
“Why you sayin’ that?”
“Because, Mr. Briggs you will be dead!”
Brewster means dat. Maybe if I works for less pay dis time.
“How ’bout I get only three bags.”
“As you wish,” Brewster agreed. He was even more pleased with the bargain. He had been prepared to go two or three times what the hitman had asked for. “Two additional bags will be delivered to your place tomorrow by noon. When can I expect completion of these two contracts?”
“It’s hard to tell, these guys bein’ cops and all,” Briggs mused. “Prob’ly take two, three weeks.”
“No more than two weeks, Mr. Briggs.” Brewster’s voice hardened. “Longer than that smells like a stall to me. And I will let you guess how I feel about people who make me wait.”
“Two weeks den.” Briggs agreed. He knew when it was time to fold and walk away.
“An excellent attitude, Mr. Briggs. And remember your priorities are the cop and the PI, not the boxer.” Brewster turned back to his porkchop. “You may go.”
* * *
The window in Petula Jacobs’ bedroom was open. A cool night breeze wafted through the portal. Two figures lay on the queen-sized bed that paralleled the wall with the window.
“You’re unusually quiet this evening,” she said to her companion. “A penny for your thoughts.”
“You might not need that much,” Chief Rogers replied. “Most of my thoughts recently have been either malformed, misinterpreted, or manipulated.”
Hmm. That’s an interesting trio of complaints.
“I’m happy to provide a listening ear.”
“I appreciate the offer. But, I don’t think my administrative assistant needs to get dragged down by some of the stuff I’m dealing with.” He rolled toward her, reached out, and pulled her close. “I know my mistress doesn’t!”
She falsified a giggle. Sooner or later you’ll slip up, Buck Rogers. And, then the balance of power shifts to me!
He pulled her closer.
She did not resist, but she did make a decision. If this relationship doesn’t move in the direction I want it to, and soon, this could be the last time I play this game with you.