Mamba’s mind raced much faster than the speed of his car. He’d been driving for almost half an hour. “Driving” was a euphemism since he was stuck in serious stop-and-go traffic. The trip from his home to the Northeastern station was a fifteen-minute commute. Except for days and times like today.
Maybe my luck’s changing, he thought as he pulled into the Northeastern station’s visitors lot and found a spot without having to make a complete pass through the normally packed facility. On second thought, I’ll withhold judgment on that until after I hear Mike and Martinez’s show and tell presentation.
He signed for his visitor’s pass, walked straight to his destination, and knocked on Mulligan’s office door.
“Glad you could come down so quickly,” was the Lieutenant’s sarcastic greeting when he opened the door of his office.
“Detective.” Mamba ignored his friend and nodded his greeting to the giant sitting in an office chair.
Martinez nodded back. He was in no mood for extraneous conversation. The longer he avoided meeting with Stallings, the worse it could go for both of them.
Mamba took note of the Latino’s mood. He decided to try diffusing any inconvenience his tardy arrival had caused.
“Horrific traffic,” he said as took his place in the only vacant chair. There was no response to his excuse.
Mulligan seated himself behind his desk. He motioned to Martinez who gave a Cliff Notes version of Briggs’ arrest and the evidence bag he’d delivered to the lab. At the conclusion of the recitation, he picked up an evidence bag and handed it to Mamba.
“As you can see, Phil, that bag contains the partial remains of a DMV report. The bottom of the page has been burned away completely, but the top half is still pretty much intact. Take a look at the name.”
“I don’t have to. I know who it is. That’s the reason for the shooting at my house and why my wife is no longer in Manzanita.”
Martinez leaned forward at that news.
“I didn’t know she’d left town.”
“You weren’t supposed to. Now only three people connected with the case know.” Both Martinez and Mulligan caught the innuendo in Mamba’s statement. Both chose to let it pass.
“You think the shooter is Briggs?” Mamba asked, changing the subject as he handed the evidence bag back to Mulligan.
“Most likely. I heard you ordered the senior officer who answered the call on the shooting at your place to get the slug to the lab as fast as possible last night.” Mulligan punched the intercom on his phone.
“Get me ballistics,” he directed. While he waited, he told the others, “Might as well put a little pressure on the lab boys from my end, too. Especially now that Martinez has something down there.”
Mamba and Martinez sat in self-imposed silence until Mulligan hung up the phone.
“That took longer than I thought it would. What’d you find out?” Martinez asked.
“It appears that you have apprehended the person who killed Mary Carstairs, shot Flatly Broke, and fired shots at Hope Mamba. Ballistics on the gun found in Briggs’ apartment match bullets found at all those crime scenes. His prints are all over the gun. He looks good for all three shootings.”
“That’s some good news,” Martinez said. “But we still have our leak to plug.”
“We do indeed, among other things,” Mulligan shoved his chair back and stood up. “Let’s apply some pressure. We’ll work together and see what we squeeze out of the Sergeant. Follow my lead first. After the conversation gets rolling, go with what you think is best.”
“I’m for that,” Martinez said. “I think he might have set me up, too.”
“I know it looks bad for Stallings, but let’s not convict anyone yet,” Mamba cautioned. I can’t let this turn into a witch hunt.
Martinez grunted a profanity.
“We will follow procedures,” Mulligan said. He waited.
Mamba nodded his assent. Mike and I are on the same page. Martinez also nodded, but with much less conviction. Two men moved towards the office door.
“We will follow procedures,” Mulligan repeated with emphasis. He hadn’t moved. “No information leak is going to get off on a technicality on my watch. I want a verbal response of agreement.”
“Understood,” Mamba said.
“I will follow procedures,” Martinez said without turning from the door.
I suspect that’s the best I’m gonna get, Mulligan mused. He grabbed the evidence bag off his desk and led the others out of his office.
* * *
Sid Brewster was in another bad mood. He was still living in the far less than appropriate or even adequate house he’d move into following the raid on his real place. And, now, he’d just been told that the muscle-headed Briggs had screwed up again.
He’d not received that information from one of his employees. No. The shady information broker that stood before him would sell his mother for the right price. He was the one who’d delivered the news.
“Briggs did what?” Brewster screamed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brewster,” Larry Lester apologized. For what, he wasn’t sure. But, he’d learned that apologizing at the wrong time was much less an issue than failing to apologize when he’d been expected to. So he’d apologized for what Briggs had done. “I heard it from a lady that lives in the same building.”
“That stupid Briggs killed Hal and got himself arrested?”
“The woman said that there was a dead body taken from the building and that Briggs was handcuffed when the police led him out.” Lester knew he was walking a tightrope by feeding information to both Mamba and Brewster. But, his mantra was “strike while the iron is hot,” so he continued working both sides. Money was money.
A string of obscenities was Brewster’s response. Hal was an addict, so it was possible that he’d just died of an overdose celebrating his payment. Promise or no promise, Briggs is at the end of his leash.
“Did Briggs tell them anything?” he asked when he regained enough composure to articulate his thoughts.
“I don’t know,” Lester answered. “I would hope a man of Briggs’ reputation would maintain a sensible silence on sensitive subjects.”
“That was a rhetorical question,” Brewster muttered. “But, Briggs better keep a cork in it. Thanks for the information.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Brewster.” When there was no immediate response by the drug trafficker, Lester coughed discreetly.
“You got a cold?”
“No, sir. I was just wondering about . . .” He let the sentence hang. I don’t need Brewster down on me for pushing for payment. I already pushed my luck by selling Mamba the list I got from him.
“You were wondering if your information was worth anything. Right?”
“Well, yes, actually. And, I’d like to slip my information source a token as well.”
“Here’s fifty for you and ten for your girlfriend,” Brewster pulled two bills from his wallet. He pulled a third bill out and held it beneath Lester’s nose. “And here’s another U.S. Grant, if you can find out how much Briggs told the cops.”
He placed the second fifty-dollar bill on an ornately carved oriental table. It was one of the few items Briggs felt gave the place from which he temporarily did his business a modicum of decorum. “President Grant will occupy that table top until this time tomorrow.”
“I’ll do my best, Mr. Brewster.”
“Yeah, right. I expect nothing less,” Brewster said before dismissing Lester with an offhand wave.
* * *
Stallings smiled a crooked smile as he walked down the hallway. His thoughts were on several devious methods of torture that could be applied to the inventor of the coffee/broth dispenser in the break room. He was holding a cup in one hand and fanning his mouth with the other when he saw the three men waiting outside his door. He slowed his pace.
“You gentlemen waiting for me?” he asked as he pulled his keys from his pocket.
“No one else,” Martinez answered for the group. Mulligan shot him a look. Mamba realized he’d underestimated the tension. He hadn’t thought that possible. Until now.
“Come on in.” The apprehensive Stallings stood to one side while the three men entered his office in silence.
Mulligan chose the only chair that lacked some form of paper seat cover. Martinez opted to stand. Mamba decided to shadow the Latino and provide what buffer he could.
Stallings closed the door behind him, placed the cup of broth on the only uncovered space on his desk, sat down, and faced the tribunal.
“We found this,” Mulligan produced evidence bag with the partially burned DMV report inside and tossed it toward Stallings. “It was in the apartment of the suspect now in custody for the murder of Mary Carstairs, the wounding of Flatly Broke, and the attempt on Mamba and his family.”
“I’ve got a uniform at the hospital for Mamba’s CI. It’s my understanding that you’ve accepted a security unit as well, Lieutenant,” Stallings said without a glance at the evidence bag.
“I have. And I appreciate that, Sergeant. Although, my security detail only covers my house.”
“You sure that’s a smart move?” Mamba asked. It was the first he’d heard that his suggestions had been acted on. He was grateful for Stallings’ quick action but uncomfortable at Mulligan’s trivialization of the danger to his person.
“I’m a cop,” Mulligan said.
Bullets don’t play favorites flashed through Mamba’s mind before Stallings spoke.
“This is a DMV report on Mamba,” he said as he pointed to the evidence bag.
“Correct,” Mulligan again turned his attention to the focus of the meeting. “The burned portion of the page was information on me.”
“Where’d you say this came from?” Stallings asked.
“No games, Stallings,” Martinez snapped.
Mamba placed his hand on the arm of the big man. He kept it there until he felt the muscles relax a miniscule amount. This arm feels like a tree branch. I hope he never takes a swing at me.
“This is a copy of an official government document,” Mulligan reminded the Sergeant as he tried to minimize Martinez’s remark. “Outside the DMV, only departmental employees have access to this information. We think the leak’s still leaking.”
“So?” Stallings shot the word in the direction of Mulligan. The vultures have selected their next carcass.
“So, if you add all the leaks together, Sargento. If you follow the trail, it leads aquí a esta oficina—here to this office!” Mamba felt Martinez’s arm muscles tighten once again as he presented his unauthorized conclusion several decibels above conversational level.
The PI pressed his arm hard against the Latino hoping the pressure would defuse the man’s anger.
“That’s a lie!” Stallings shot from his chair. “You’re on a witch hunt, and I’m the closest thing you’ve got to a patsy. There’s no way I’m leaking anything to anybody! Not before, not now, not ever!” His thoughts roiled. I’ve had it! It’s time to fight fire with fire. His decision made, he fired his last bullet. “I will not be convicted by innuendo.”
Mamba’s ears perked up. First was Stallings’ use of witch hunt, which he found coincidental. But, it was the “not before, not now” part of the denial of when he had not leaked information that had made the biggest impression. Who thought you did something like what’s going on here before? Before what? Before this accusation or before you got here?
“Settle down, Sergeant,” Mulligan said, working hard to keep the volume of his voice low. He turned in his chair and spoke to Martinez while directing his words to Stallings. Even then, he continued at sotto voce volume. “Sergeant, the accusation just made was one man’s opinion. If that man speaks out of turn again, there will be repercussions.”
The giant opened his mouth but snapped it shut without speaking, jaw muscles contracting and relaxing with arrhythmic imprecision.
“There’s no witch hunt,” Mulligan assured Stallings. “We’re just trying to determine what direction to take to plug our leak.”
“Bull!” Stallings spat. “Get out of my office! Now!”
“Sergeant!” Mulligan snapped back. Even his best efforts to control his tone were now insufficient. What’s with you? Can’t you see I’m trying to help you?
“I’ve got work to do, Lieutenant,” was Stalling’s icy end to the conversation. “You’re welcome back on official department business, or to apologize, or to instruct me to contact my union rep. Otherwise—” He pointed toward the door.
Mamba was the first to move. He tapped Martinez on the shoulder. The big man gave his massive frame a shake. Mulligan caught their movement out of the corner of his eye. He stood and removed the evidence bag from Stallings’ desk. The three men left before the room froze completely solid.
Once in the hallway, they dispersed without further conversation. Mamba headed to the parking lot. Martinez, still visibly angry, stormed off to the paperwork he’d promised Collins he’d complete. Mulligan ended up back in his office.
A uniformed police officer followed Mamba home that afternoon. A squad car sat outside Mulligan’s house. Those protective details would continue until the departmental leak was plugged.
* * *
Hope and Jimmy were in Florida. The family home was still cordoned off with crime scene tape after the attack on Hope. Mamba tried to avoid his motel room, where he felt sequestered, as much as possible. The beige rectangle was nothing more than a grim reminder of possible consequences of his chosen profession.
So, although it was after 6 p.m., he was seated at Hope’s desk in the reception area of the office of Mamba Investigations. He assumed there was a black and white squad car across the street in front of his building. While he was ostensibly trying to catch up on paperwork, he’d gotten only as far as opening the mail before he found he couldn’t concentrate.
The sound of his office door opening interrupted his reading of the Manzanita Sentinel, the local newspaper.
“Dancer, we meet again,” Larry Lester’s sleazy voice announced.
“Hello, Lester.” Mamba decided to be as civil as he could manage. He was too tired for anything else. “How can I help you?”
“Interesting that you should use that phraseology. It happens that this time you can help me.”
“What do you mean?” Mamba’s radar snapped on. Lester admitting he needed help was a time to exercise extreme caution.
“I have been asked for certain information by my current employer. It is my opinion that you may be my best option for successful attainment of that piece of intelligence.”
Mamba sat in silence with his thoughts roiling. The more convoluted Lester’s speech becomes the more nervous he is. Just sit and listen and see how much he’s willing to give.
When Mamba didn’t respond, Lester massaged his neck with the fingers of one hand, cleared his throat, and swallowed hard before he continued.
“Anyway, I am here to ask you about a man named Briggs.”
“Who?” This is an interesting twist, even for Lester.
“Oscar Briggs,” Lester expanded. “He’s also under contract with my employer. At least he was until he was arrested.”
“Arrested for what? And why would I care?”
“You don’t know him?”
Mamba stared, stone-faced.
Lester was crestfallen. This interview was not going as he’d planned.
“He did make an aborted attempt upon the life of one of your family members, so I thought—”
The rambling ceased. Oh, no! Lester realized he’d said too much.
“Go on, Larry,” Mamba’s tone left no room for doubt that Lester would continue his narration. “And I expect the absolute truth!”
“I-I can’t,” Lester stammered. “I’ve already told far more than I should have.
“Why are you here?” Mamba moved behind the snitch, blocking his exit.
Lester’s shoulders slumped.
“I want you to help me get out of a big jam, Dancer.”
“How can I do that?” Mamba’s curiosity piqued. Lester’s voice and demeanor implied that he was speaking the truth. And truth rarely passed the lips of Larry Lester.
“I need you to give me some information on Briggs.”
“You already asked for that. To be honest, that sounds like a pretty lame deal. You get the information you need, but nothing’s in it for me.”
“Well,” Lester took a deep breath. The next words spilled out like the numbered cubes in a Yahtzee™ game, “In return for your information, I will work, um, undercover, for you, in my employer’s organization.”
The offer stunned the PI. Whoever the employer was would not let such a transgression pass without severe, and conceivably fatal, consequences. Mamba could think of only one thing to ask.
“Believe it or not, Dancer, I am frightened.” Lester paused, appeared to consider something, and then continued. “Actually, I’m scared to death. These people are playing with stakes far too high for my liking. They treat human life like it’s something to crumple up and toss in the trash. I don’t want to end up in a dumpster somewhere.”
“I believe you’re scared. But, why come to me? The police will listen to you.” Mamba went back to the chair behind the desk.
“It was hard enough to decide to cross these people. It’s too big a risk to go to work for the cops. I remember what the screws are like in Quentin.”
Be sure your sins will find you out.
“We might be able to deal,” Mamba mused while he ran various scenarios through his brain. “What information do you want?”
“What did Briggs tell the cops?”
“That’s simple enough.”
Lester perked up at the word simple. It was a change in demeanor that Mamba did not fail to notice. Good. Now that I’ve got your attention . . . “But, if you want to work for me, you start now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want your employer’s name.”
“Brewster, Sidney Brewster.” The name flew from Lester’s lips. Then there was a slight pause. He coughed discretely and rephrased his question, “Now what did Briggs say?”
“Nothing. Briggs said absolutely nothing. I got the impression he would die at least twice before he’d talk to a cop.”
“Are you sure?” Lester demanded.
“Is Sidney Brewster your employer?” Mamba countered matching the tone of his accuser.
“Did Brewster supply Briggs with heroin?”
“If Briggs had smack, Brewster probably supplied it. He’s one of the major suppliers in the city.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“I’ve only been to a hotel suite. I don’t know if he lives there or if it’s just a front.”
“Write it down,” Mamba slid paper and pencil across the desk.
Lester complied. He put down the pencil and stood up.
“I’ve got to go. Fifty dollars is waiting for me for the information on Briggs.”
“You’d better not be working both ends against the middle.”
“No way I’d do that to you. In fact, I hope you collar Brewster.” He brushed the front of his slacks with both hands. “But fifty bucks is fifty bucks. The way I figure, it’s severance pay.”
“Good luck,” Mamba said but added to himself, you’re gonna need all the luck you can get.
“Can’t have too much of that,” Lester replied as he exited through Mamba’s office door.
The PI watched the man as he passed the large front window of his office suite. Lester, who would sell his grandmother’s last bite of food if the price was right, was concerned because the people he was dealing with thought too little of human life. That was a surprise.
He shoved the paper with the address into his pocket and locked the door to the office. He would phone Mulligan with Brewster’s address first thing in the morning. He wanted a chance to swing by and get the lay of the land before he gave up his intel.
He began composing his rationalization for delaying going to the police. It’s not that I don’t trust Lester, it’s just that I need to be sure. Who’m I trying to kid? I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him.
He looked both ways before crossing over Pierpoint Avenue to the cop in the black and white.
“Don’t report the guy that just left.”
“I’ll need a reason.”
“I understand. He’s a former client that’s back in town.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Mamba. But, I have to log him as in and out.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way. Just wanted to save you some time. Paperwork’s a killer, isn’t it?”
“You have no idea,” the cop said.
Oh, but I do! Mamba recollected as he crossed back to his office side of Pierpoint.
* * *
As the sun began its trek across the sky above Manzanita, not even the hint of a cloud obstructed its path. Although the morning was lovely, it was too early for Michael Mulligan’s taste.
But work had to be done.
He stacked the paper he was studying on a pile at the extreme left edge of his desk’s surface. Three homicide investigations were currently in progress. Only Mary Carstairs’ seemed to be headed toward closure.
Eddie Edwards opened the door to Mulligan’s office.
“Hey, Lieutenant. You’re at it early this morning.”
“No rest for the weary,” Mulligan commented dryly. “What brings you here?”
“Just a couple of evidence lists,” Edwards told him. “The copies were done, and I thought you might like to see ’em before the rest of the troops came in.”
“Thanks, Eddie.” I think. “It’s people like you that keep the rest of us going in spite of ourselves.”
“I knew you’d appreciate my humble efforts.” The Sergeant grinned. He handed several pages to the Lieutenant.
“Bye, Eddie.” The Lieutenant’s tone of voice implied dismissal.
Mulligan sighed and began to sift through the papers Edwards had delivered. They were lists of evidence obtained from the scenes of Mary Carstairs’ murder, Flatly Broke’s wounding, the attempt on Hope Mamba’s life, and the apartment where Hal Armstrong’s body was found and Oscar Briggs was apprehended.
“More paper.” Mulligan tossed the pages on the top of the already substantial pile of papers that filled his inbox.
His phone rang.
“Mike, it’s Phil. Got a minute?”
“For you, more than a minute. Phil, this paperwork’s going to bury me.”
“I got a tip on Brewster’s address,” Mamba answered.
“What kind of tip?”
“How about the address.”
“Hold on! Let me get a pencil.” He rummaged around until he found a pen and said, “Shoot.”
“Regency Park Hotel, 54th Street. Probably suite 730.”
“Wait a minute,” Mulligan’s voice sounded perplexed. “I just saw that hotel name and street address.” He grabbed the pages just delivered by Edwards. On the list from Briggs’ apartment was an envelope with the same address.
“I’ve got the same address from Briggs’ place, but the name is Sam Brenner. Where’d you get your information?”
“Brenner must be an alias.” Mamba ignored the question. “I drove by early this morning. The place is nice, but there’s just some vibe that feels wrong. But now, since the same address comes from two sources, it might be enough for a warrant.”
“I’ll push it,” Mulligan promised. “Thanks. Even if you are holding out on me.”
* * *
The Regency Park Hotel was an aging beauty. In its heyday, the 1940s and ’50s, it had been one of the two premier hotels in Manzanita. Now, at over forty years of age, time had taken its toll, particularly in the lobby. Wallpaper, once vibrant in color and texture, appeared to have been sprayed with diluted bleach, so faded was the wall covering. The furniture was too heavy and too dark. The single saving feature was the marble floor, which still polished up nicely.
A nervous Larry Lester punched 730 into the house phone in the lobby. He was uncomfortable in this environment. Besides, the lobby was crowded for 9 a.m. The phone rang several times before the summons was answered.
“Is Mr. Brewster there?” Lester asked.
“Who is this?”
“Larry Lester. I have information.”
“Shut up! Get your sorry butt up here!”
Something sounded wrong. While Brewster’s associates had never treated him with anything approaching respect, they had, at least, been civil in the past. He rode the elevator up to the seventh floor, his trepidation rising with each increasing number in display panel that tracked the elevator’s ascent.
One of Brewster’s army of associates materialized when the elevator door opened. With sullen efficiency, he frisked Lester who stood unmoved and unmoving. This was SOP.
“Stay with me,” was the curt command. The associate escorted Lester down the corridor toward Brewster’s suite.
The corridor was as busy as the lobby had been. Lester was forced to move to one side of the hallway or the other three times in the short distance from the elevator to the door of the suite as men carrying bags and boxes hurried past.
Entering the bedroom/office of the suite, the informant was almost flattened again by a man hefting an oversize box.
“What’s going on?” Lester asked his escort.
“Mr. Brewster will tell you what you need to know,” the escort replied. “He’s in the bedroom.”
Lester entered the suite where Sidney Brewster was packing a leather attaché case that lay open on the bed. He stood for several seconds waiting for Brewster to acknowledge his presence.
“What information do you have?” Brewster asked without looking up. He continued to place papers and plastic bags into the attaché case.
“I know that Briggs didn’t tell the police anything.”
“You are positive of this?”
“Yes, sir.” Lester had yet to see Brewster’s face. It was unsettling.
“That’s good to hear,” Brewster muttered as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I would have expected as much.” He finally turned toward the informant and asked, “What did I promise you for the information?”
“Half a C-note,” Lester answered instinctively. There was no temptation to lie. Working for Mamba against this man was the absolute limit of his courage.
“Rick,” Brewster called to the man who had escorted Lester.
“Find Mr. Lester a fifty.”
“All we’ve got left are hundreds, Mr. Brewster.”
“Give him one,” Brewster directed after the slightest pause. He turned to Lester. “You owe me one piece of information,” he said. His tone left no doubt of his expectation of compliance or of his ability to extract the overage if compliance was deemed inadequate.
“I’ll have to call you when I get settled in my new place. The cops have this address.”
Lester’s heart plummeted. Dancer must have called his police buddies. He started toward the door of the bedroom.
“That’s one question I have for Mr. Briggs,” Brewster asked to no one in particular. “I don’t know how this suite number got into his apartment.”
“You can contact me at my regular number,” Lester managed when he could breathe again after realizing that the address comment wasn’t directed at him.
“Mr. Brewster, we’d better be leaving,” Rick said. “It’s been over an hour since we were notified that they were getting a warrant.”
Profanity was Brewster’s response. Larry Lester made a silent, unobtrusive exit through the hotel lobby.
* * *
Franklin Stallings fumed the entire drive home after the meeting with Mulligan, Martinez, and Mamba. He began fuming at the accusations from Mulligan and Martinez. Then the target of his fuming switched to his lack of appreciation of that private detective’s involvement in the case. The summation of all his fuming was a determination not to return to the division for several days. He knew that if he let the anger have its way, he’d be looking for a new job.
He was glad he’d managed to pull himself together enough to hide most of his angst from Lizbeth. The last thing she needed was more stress.
This morning, he’d gone in early. When he saw the report on the unsuccessful raid on Sidney Brewster’s hotel suite, he knew what was coming his way. He locked his office and told the Desk Sergeant he was going home sick on his way out.
As soon as he arrived back home, he called in and officially requested a week of sick leave. It didn’t take much acting to pull off the charade—he was sick of the entire situation.
“Honey, are you okay?” Lizbeth Stallings asked when she entered the kitchen and found her husband sitting at the kitchen table. The Yellow Pages were open in front of him. The phone, cord fully extended, sat beside it. I thought I felt well enough to try to eat some breakfast. Not now.
“Yeah. No! No, I am not okay.” No more lying to Lizbeth about, well, about a lot of things.
Lizbeth waited. She knew her husband. She knew when he had something to say he would say it. Until then, she’d let him process his thoughts. She sat down across from him.
“They think I’m the information leak in the department.”
“Oh! That can’t be true!”
“It’s true all right. Whoever’s pushing me from the top has manipulated circumstances so well that sometimes I find myself wondering if the leak is me.” I still don’t know where my copies of the lists are.
She reached across the table and placed her hand on top of his. A sudden wave of nausea triggered a reflexive jerk of her hand back to cover her mouth. She shot to her feet.
“Oh, Lizzy, I’m so sorry,” he said as he stood. He started around the table intent on comforting his wife.
“No. I’m fine,” she announced. “It’s just a false alarm, thank God!”
She reached out and slid the phonebook around so she could read the print. “Tell me why you have the Yellow Pages open to Truck Rentals.” She sat back down and offered a crooked grin as she added, “And, don’t call me Lizzy.”
Franklin smiled a genuine smile at that comment. You amaze me, he thought. He made a decision to share his feelings for her.
“You know I love you.”
“Yesss.” Wow! That was very much appreciated but completely unexpected.
“I watch what you go through every other week. I’m just heartbroken each time. When I think of what I’m going through, there’s no comparison to what you are handling with such courage and grace.”
Tears filled Lizbeth’s eyes. She struggled to keep the tears from escaping down her cheeks.
“I think what you’re going through is much harder than what I’m going through,” she said. “I know exactly what the problem is and what to blame for every lost hair, every backache from vomiting, every other symptom of my cancer, and every bit of discomfort of my treatment.”
“I can’t argue with that reasoning. I’d give a month’s pay to know who the leak is and why I’m being manipulated by a superior,” Stallings admitted.
“Tell me more about the manipulation. I don’t think you’ve talked to me about that more than five minutes since you first said something.”
“You must be feeling better.”
“What? Why do you say that?”
“If you want to listen to your paranoid husband rant about his suspicions, you have to feel, if not good, at least better. I know that I do all I can to not think about this situation when I don’t feel a hundred percent.”
“If I bolt from the room, only I’ll know if it’s the chemo or your story.”
“And, you’ll never tell.”
“Like the Sphinx.” She pushed the tips of her thumb and index finger together and pulled them across her mouth as though she was closing a zipper.
“You’ll need coffee.” He went to the cupboard and pulled two cups from their designated spots. Then he went to the coffeemaker and filled each. After he’d placed the cups on the table, he collected a spoon, cream, and sugar and added them to the place setting.
“Now, at least, you’ll have coffee to toss if you start throwing up,” he said as he sat down, poured cream in his coffee cup and stirred it.
She grimaced. He winked and began his narrative.
“It’s been a few months now. I get a phone call. The voice is electronically altered, but I know I’ve heard it before. It gives me an 800 phone number to call and a time limit in which to make the call from a payphone. That’s very explicit.”
“Have you tried tracing the calls?” She asked as she stirred both cream and sugar into her coffee.
“I ran a hypothetical scenario by our tech people. They say they can’t trace a specific number from the 800 service.”
Lizbeth took a sip of her coffee. This is scary clandestine.
“What does the caller want?”
“Depends. Most of it has to do with stalling some part of an investigation.”
Lizbeth snorted a short laugh. This time he grimaced.
“Don’t do that Lizzy. I hate it when the voice uses that play on words. And he does it every time he calls.”
“Sorry. But, it is humorous.” She thought for a moment. “Tell you what: no more snorts from me, and no more Lizzy from you.”
“Deal.” I feel better, but there’s still more she needs to hear from me.
“Please continue,” Lizbeth said as though she’d read his mind.
“I’m supposed to slow the investigation of a list of names this PI named Mamba collected from one of his informants. There are dozens of names of drug dealers, suppliers. Some names may be involved in even worse. The voice doesn’t want us to get far into the investigation of the names. Every time a raid is compromised, it slows the investigation and stalls our progress. I think he’s the one leaking information I’m blamed for leaking.”
He shot her a look at the play on their surname. She smiled innocently and repeated the zipper pantomime. He smiled back before taking a huge breath and letting it out.
He took another swig of coffee. When he continued, his words came so quickly that they merged into one long sentence.
“I found a truck and rented it. I’m going to take the car and sell it and then walk to the rental place. I’ll be back we’ll load as much as we can today and tonight. I want to be gone before daylight tomorrow.”
“You can’t mean we’re leaving Manzanita?” was Lizbeth’s shocked response.
“We have to. I’m sure they’ll be suspending me soon. Or arresting me as the leak. Once that happens, even when, or more likely if, I’m cleared, my law enforcement career is over. We’ll make a run for it. I’ve done some preliminary looking at Canada.”
“Why rent a truck? You can’t really mean we’re taking everything in this house,” she said. “Loading a moving van is something that we can’t hide.”
“I know. We’ll have to leave a lot of the big furniture pieces. But, if we take the bed frame apart and—”
“You’re serious about this.”
“Never more so.”
“What about my chemo?”
“We’ll be stopping back home in Ohio. We’ll find a doctor there. If we do end up in Canada, well, they have excellent health care.”
“I get the idea. It’s obvious that you’ve been planning this for some time.”
“More thinking than planning. But, you’ve been so ill, I, I just couldn’t bring myself to add to your situation.”
“You did ask.”
“What if I hadn’t asked?”
“You’d have awakened tomorrow morning in the back of a rental truck on your way out of town.”
“If— No. Since we’re doing this, we’re doing it together. Pick up some storage boxes when you get the truck. I’ll start sorting stuff in the kitchen.”
“I love you,” he said. He kissed her and headed off.
“I know. I love you, too,” she whispered. But, sometimes I wonder why—in both directions!
She almost made it to the bathroom before nausea overtook her. She hugged the toilet for twenty minutes.
As a result of her queasiness, she had organized the contents of just a few drawers when her husband returned with a smallish moving truck. He said nothing about her lack of follow-through, for which she was grateful. They set about packing and loading the truck.
It took less time to load their things than he had anticipated. By the time they finished, the house devoid of all personal items. Only furniture pieces too awkward or heavy for the both of them to manipulate graced their home’s interior.
* * *
“I don’t understand, Lieutenant. We hit that address less than two hours after you called for the warrant,” Martinez complained. “But when we got there, the place was empty.”
“The leak’s not through yet,” Mulligan’s voice and body sagged. “I don’t see how this can keep happening.”
“Where’s Stallings?” the Latino demanded.
“He couldn’t have done it,” Mulligan sighed. “I called it in before seven-thirty this morning. I doubt if he was in the station at that time.”
“I’d still feel better if we checked him out.”
“I suppose it can’t hurt.” Mulligan picked up the phone.
“The front desk says that Stallings came in around seven this morning,” Mulligan reported. “He left for home about seven fifteen. Said he was sick. The Desk Sergeant says he looked like paste.”
Martinez uttered an expletive in his native tongue. He spun and punched the doorjamb of Mulligan’s office. The huge fist of the narcotics officer smashed into the wood of the door casing just above and behind the head of a petite female officer. Startled by the sound, she sent the stack of folders she carried flying in several directions.
“Lo siento mucho. I’m sorry,” Martinez apologized, embarrassed by his childish display of anger. I gotta work on thinking more before acting. He leaned down and began to pick up papers and manila folders that littered the floor both inside and outside the doorway.
“Were you headed to my office with these?” Mulligan asked the young woman.
“Yes, sir,” she replied. “I have, um, I had your copies of the morning’s property reports. Sergeant Edwards sent me.”
“Are all these mine?” Mulligan asked as he stared at what appeared to be a ream of paper spread over the floor.
“Oh, no, sir,” was the hurried reply. “Only one copy of each one is for you. I have ten other deliveries to make.”
“Señor Martinez,” the Lieutenant emphasized the Spanish titular term. “It appears as though the next event on your schedule will be that of assisting Officer, uh,” he looked to the young woman for help.
“Cowan. Janet Cowan.”
“Thank you. Detective Martinez, you’ll be assisting Officer Cowan in re-sorting and delivering the property reports.”
“Yes, sir,” was Snake’s contrite rejoinder. He scooped up an armful of reports and followed Cowan out of the office. As soon as he’d cleared the doorway, he turned back to Mulligan. Although his arms occupied, he managed to use both hands to make a gesture universally recognized by the male fraternity indicating an appreciation of a female figure. Maybe a short fuse isn’t so bad after all.
Mulligan had to agree that the tight-fitting, dark blue uniform skirt was ideally suited for the officer’s derriere. He shook his head. Martinez was always good for something unexpected.
He tried to resume his paperwork where he’d left off when he’d received the report of the unsuccessful raid on Brewster’s suite. He cursed the inventor of the copy machine as his gaze ran over the mountains of paper that covered his desk.
Twenty seconds later, he slammed his fist down in a combination of frustration and anger.
“Get me Edwards in Records,” he barked into the phone. He drummed his fingers on the desktop as he waited for the Sergeant to answer.
“Records and Copies.”
“This is Edwards.”
“Good to hear. I’m not used to the new title for your job. This is Mulligan. Who else did you give copies of those evidence reports to this morning?”
“Geeze, Lieutenant,” Edwards stalled as he thought for a moment. “I’ll have to check my delivery list to be sure.”
“Do that, Eddie. But, do you know off hand if Sergeant Stallings got a copy?”
“If he had any reason to get a copy of the evidence lists, then he got them before you this morning. His office is always first on the delivery list. Not that I play favorites. His office is the closest to the copy room.”
“Thanks,” Mulligan mumbled. He’d hoped that Stallings hadn’t received copies of the list. But, he knew he had to check and see if Edwards was mistaken about the delivery schedule.
He walked to Stallings’ office. He knocked. There was no answer. He used his master key and entered.
The lists were clearly visible atop a stack of copies near the center of Stallings’ cluttered desk.
A dejected Mike Mulligan returned to his own office. He was glad that Stallings was ill. At least that postponed the confrontation for a day.
* * *
Stallings knew that the department would trace the rental truck. To delay that eventuality, he drove to the first city north of Manzanita. There, they rented a private storage space in Lizbeth’s maiden name and unloaded what they’d just loaded. By then, both the Stallings were exhausted. Even so, he drove another hundred miles before turning the truck in.
The night in a Motel 6 stretched into mid-morning due to their mental and physical fatigue. After a fast-food meal, the couple purchased a very, very used car for cash. This time, they used Lizbeth’s mother’s maiden name as that of the new owners. The salesman asked few questions. They offered no information.
By early evening, they were on I-80 and headed to Nevada. Reno was the target for their next night’s lodging.
* * *
“I’m not sure if you’re here or not,” Petula Jacobs said to Chief Rogers who reclined on several pillows beside her in her bed.
“Got a lot on my mind.”
“Don’t we all?”
“Never mind. I was thinking about taking a shower.” Her companion didn’t move. She continued, “In the rain shower.” The rain shower had more than enough room for two people. Suggesting its use was ordinarily all it took to entice the Chief.
“I’ll wait ’til morning.” Rogers rolled onto his side facing away from her. Although I’m not sure how many more mornings you’ll have me in this position.
He ignored my invitation for a communal shower! A bad feeling about where the relationship was heading showed itself. It wasn’t where she wanted it to go . . . yet.
She used the rain shower anyway.