Phil Mamba was frustrated. His investigation into the thefts at Anderson Pharmaceuticals had stalled. The list of names he’d pulled from Reed had helped, at first. But with the lists out on the street, thanks to the departmental leak, most of the dealers and suppliers were either lying low or had skipped town until the heat cooled.
The PI’s frustration showed in several ways. He was cranky. Some said that was his nature, but frustration amplified the trait until even he was aware of it. He didn’t sleep well. He still dropped off like a light switch every night, but sleeping more than five or six hours total in any given night was not happening. He saw far more bad in things than good. He felt like every light at the end of a tunnel turned out to be a locomotive headed in his direction.
This morning, his first official order of business was to make contact with Franklin Stallings about what had happened during the last meeting he, Mulligan, and Martinez had with him. Another frustration was this was not the first attempt at such contact.
“Sergeant Stallings, please.”
“I’m sorry. He is still out sick. Could someone else in his department help you?”
“No. It can wait. I’ll try tomorrow.”
Mamba hung up the phone. Today marked the fifth time he’d called the division trying to talk to the Sergeant. It was also the fifth day Stallings had been out sick. He called Mulligan to see if he could get Stallings’ home number.
“Mike, this is Phil.”
“Oh, hello. What’s up?”
“I wonder if you could give me Frank Stallings’ home number?” Mamba asked with feigned innocence.
“You know that I can’t give out that information.” Geez, Phil. Just once, how about asking for something I can do that’s completely above board?
“Not even in light of the leak?”
“I told you before, I’m doing this investigation strictly by the book.”
“Well, then, can you give him a call at home for me? I’d like to talk to him. Away from the job.”
“I can do that,” Mulligan conceded. “If he wants to talk to you.” There was a calculated pause, How much should I tell you? He decided on a minimalist approach. “You know it doesn’t look good for him.”
“That’s what Martinez told me. He also mentioned something about evidence lists. I’d like to know more about that.”
“I’ll get back to you,” Mulligan promised.
Fifteen minutes later, he called Phil back.
“No answer at Stallings’ place.”
“Can you keep trying?”
“But, you don’t have the time, right?”
“I could go and see him,” Mamba offered. “If I had the address.”
“Come on, Phil. Give me break.”
“What if I guessed it?”
“Like twenty questions,” Mamba warmed to his own idea. “I could ask if he lives on a street with a plant name. All you have to say is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ That way you’d never tell me the name of the street. You’d be in the clear, departmentally.”
Mulligan couldn’t keep his thoughts contained any longer.
“Why do you do this to me?”
“Is it the name of a President?” Mamba asked, ignoring the question.
“Yes or no.”
“Oh, hold on,” was the exasperated response. Mulligan got up, rummaged around a bit, and pulled a folder from his lockable desk drawer. He removed one sheet and checked the part of the departmental list of names and addresses that contained surnames beginning with the letter S.
“No,” he answered.
“How about between A and D?”
“E and J?”
“Yes. You’re so lucky.”
“I like to consider it superior reasoning.” Phil’s voice sounded like the smile on his face. He consulted his city map. “Farnsworth Street?”
“Yeah. But I can’t believe your luck.”
Give me some credit. I picked an area of town with entry-level housing and many rentals. It’s a logical starting place.
“Now I’m going to try guessing the house number by blocks.”
“No! I shouldn’t have let you get the street name out of me.”
Without the usual courtesies, Mulligan ended the call. As he pushed back in his desk chair he muttered, “I hope you get in touch with him.”
Five minutes later, Mamba had put his office answering machine on auto-answer, locked his office door, and was in his car heading for Farnsworth Street. He wasn’t about to tell his friend that Farnsworth hadn’t been a blind guess.
He turned onto Farnsworth and parked close to the corner. He had no plan but figured that he’d use dynamic implementation of the idea he did have as it unfolded. Hope considered dynamic implementation to be nothing more than shooting from the hip. Others were taken in by the officious sound of the term. He knew that it meant making up the plan as he went along, something he’d never admit to Hope.
He stopped at seven houses before he found someone that knew which was the Stallings’ house. He returned to his car and pulled up to 3550. He stared at the neat, stucco with brick façade house for a long moment. It looked unoccupied. Still folded newspapers littered the driveway. No gap appeared in the drapes that covered the front windows. He walked up the flagstone path that split the overgrown grass lawn into two unequal portions.
On the porch, he stopped again. Lifting the top of the mailbox, he noted that envelopes and mailers almost filled it. He knocked on the door. The hollow rapping echoed inside the house.
He waited for a few moments and knocked again. And, again, no one answered the summons. He went around the side of the house. He peered in the only window that didn’t have drapery blocking the view.
He could only see a single room in its entirety—the kitchen. By craning his neck, he managed to see through a doorway into what might have been the dining room. What he saw was enough to confirm his suspicion. Save for a buffet along one wall, the dining room was empty. Stallings had bolted.
“Excuse me,” the PI called over the fence to a middle-aged woman removing dead blooms from her roses in the back yard of the house next-door. “Do you know if the Stallings are expected home soon?”
“I think not,” she called back. She closed her pruning shears and approached the fence. Lowering her voice, she spoke as though including him in a conspiracy.
“It’s very strange,” she stage-whispered. “They just up and left three days ago. No, it must be four days now. He came home with a truck. When I looked again, they were gone!”
“Did they say where they were going?”
“They most certainly did not!” the woman replied indignantly. “And I thought I was their friend. Why are you asking all these questions?”
Mamba didn’t want to say he was working with the police. This woman had to know that Stallings was a cop, and the police would be expected to know where their employees were.
“I’m with the Census Bureau,” he told her as he reached for his notebook.
“But it’s not the right year,” the woman protested.
“The Stallings moved in after the last census,” he reminded her as he opened the notebook. After feigning finding the page he was looking for, he added, “They have some information to update now that they live here.”
“Of course. That makes perfect sense,” she reasoned aloud. “Since the Stallings might not live here anymore, is there anything you want me to update?”
“No, ma’am. Your records are completely complete, thank you.”
The woman face radiated smugness.
“I do have one question that you might be able to help me with.” Mamba finished his mini-interview with the neighbor with a baited hook.
The smug look evolved into self-importance. “Anything I can do to help.”
“Could you tell if the truck was a rental?”
“I would think so,” she said. “He drove a compact car.”
“Oh, yes. I have that in my records. And you don’t remember any markings that were on the truck?”
“No,” she started, stopped, and added, “I’m not a busybody, you know.”
“Oh, I don’t think that. I was just asking because you’ve shown yourself to be an outstanding observer.” Mamba verbally choreographed his answer to allay any suspicions that might have been about to surface.
“I think there might have been yellow or orange paint,” the woman answered, beaming at being considered an outstanding observer.
“Well, thank you, Ma’am. Oh, may I have your name? I’d like to verify my source of information.”
The woman promptly and proudly spoke, and then spelled her name. Mamba dutifully made one dot in his notebook for each letter she provided as though he was checking the spelling he had. When she finished he snapped his notebook closed.
“Just what we have in our records. You’ve been a tremendous help.”
He glanced back as he headed for his car. The woman had already cornered her neighbor on the other side of her house. He wondered what tale she was spinning.
The drive to the division station was uneventful. Mamba spent most of the trip trying to place himself in Stallings’ shoes. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d run like that.
His steps were slow as he walked across the parking lot at the station. He had some bad news for Lieutenant Mulligan and was in no hurry to deliver it.
When he got to Mulligan’s office, he opened the door without knocking. As the Lieutenant gave him a “you’ve got a lot of nerve” stare, Mamba spilled his bucket of information.
“Stallings has flown the coop.”
“His house is empty. From what I could see there are just a couple of big furniture pieces inside. A neighbor saw them leave in a rental truck filled with their stuff. I’ve called the truck companies and found the one that I suspect Stallings used. It should be easy for the department to find out where that truck is now.”
“You think they’re still running?”
“Most likely.” He couldn’t believe that Stallings, whether he was the leak or not, was dumb enough to leave town in a rented truck and not expect to be found within a short period of time.
“I’ll put out an APB on the truck after I verify the rental,” Mulligan decided. His mind was racing. “And another on his car, too. And, Phil, it’s time to involve Internal Affairs in this mess.”
Mamba sat in silence as he watched and listened while Mulligan made a series of calls. At the end of the phone session, all state law enforcement agencies were aware of the BOLO on the rental truck and Stallings’ personal vehicle.
Mamba didn’t have to wonder why he didn’t feel relieved.
* * *
“It’s been a while,” Petula Jacobs said upon hearing the voice of her current caller. “I was afraid I’d done something to offend you.”
“That, Officer Jacobs, is something you have reason to fear,” was Guillermo Arcenas’s response. Do I now have your complete attention?
Playing hardball, are we? Well, I’ll take a swing at that pitch!
“What do you want?” she asked.
“That’s better. What is bothering your boss?”
“I don’t—” She cut herself off. After offering a mental profanity, she resumed her answer. “What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“You are quite good at that, you know.”
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” she lied. Stupid, Petula. Just stupid. Now he’s sure you know more than you’re saying.
“If you say so. Two items.”
“Should I be writing this down?”
“Don’t get too cheeky,” he warned. “Remember, you serve at my discretion.”
Jacobs sat in silence.
“Again, that’s better. First, tell Chief Rogers that I am pleased with his handling of Sergeant Stallings. It appears that he has removed himself from involvement in any cases. I was wondering if you know where he is.”
Whoa! I thought he was on sick leave. She straightened in her chair.
“Because I’m in a good mood, I’ll take your silence as a no. Second, tell Chief Rogers that I am not happy that Stallings has removed himself from the case he is supposed to be working to my advantage.”
“Those two contradict each other.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to resolve that issue before you report our conversation to your boss.”
* * *
The Internal Affairs Division, IAD, of the Manzanita Police Department was not much different from their counterpart in any police department anywhere. Some of the officers assigned to the division were seriously anal, compulsive rule-following social misfits that felt everyone was out to get them. Others were former, or current loose cannons relegated to the IAD to limit their contact with the public.
Regardless of the reason for their placement in IAD, once entrenched there, most officers morphed to fit the mold. Nearly all transformed into arrogant, disliked imposers of arbitrary rules and regulations. They were seen by most line officers as spawns of evil, or snitches. They were shunned by most outside their own.
At least that was the opinion of those under scrutiny by the division.
Senior IAD Officer Luke Hargrove glared at the rookie who had placed the Stallings case file on his desk. He did not need more work.
“That’ll be all!” Hargrove dismissed the delivery officer. He picked up the folder, held it aloft, and called to the plainclothes officer sitting across the room from him, “We’ve got another one.”
Officer April Desantos sighed. She walked over and took the Stallings folder from her superior.
“What do you want me to do with it?”
“Put it in the pending file cabinet,” Hargrove instructed. “We’ll get to it when we can.”
He shuffled through the uneven piles of paperwork that occupied strategically selected areas on the surface of his desktop. He’d been acting as IAD’s lead officer for four months. The Chief’s office informed him that a new Sergeant was pending appointment at that time. He wondered how long would be before the department got around to bringing the staff in Internal Affairs back up to full strength.
He forced a smile. He knew what pending meant. The pending file cabinet in this division was always overflowing. Stallings’ file would rest there until someone got around to investigating whatever the offense was. That could be a considerable length of time. With only himself, Freeman, and Desantos, the Internal Affairs Division hovered near half-staffing.
The current investigations they were involved in included two firefights, an alleged rape of a female suspect in a holding cell by her guard, and a charge of sexual harassment by one member of the department against another. Pending files were of similar diversity and significantly larger in number.
Whatever the new folder held, it would have to wait until the backlog was reduced. Unless, of course, they assign another officer to me, or if someone higher up wants this case expedited.
“Fat chance,” he muttered. Few officers looked upon duty with Internal Affairs as a plum assignment. Volunteers, both self-volunteers and those “volunteered” by their supervisors, staffed the Division. It took, he decided with pride tempered by reality, a special type of policeman to be a good IAD officer, or a royal screw-up.
* * *
In what some might consider cosmic karma, Phil Mamba arranged to bring Hope home the day after he’d learned of Stallings’ surreptitious exit from Manzanita. Their reunion at the airport had been minimal, thanks to the crowds and Jimmy’s loudly repeated declaration that he wanted to go home.
The ride home from LAX was long. They stopped at one of Jimmy’s favorite fast food places to placate the boy’s hunger. Another stop at the beach along Highway 1 allowed Jimmy to burn off the day’s worth of the two-year-old’s energy. By the time they got home, their son was asleep. Excitement, food, beach, and jet lag each contributed to his somnambulant state.
After putting Jimmy to bed, Hope showered. Phil showered after her, and the couple climbed into bed. They exchanged “I love you” multiple times in words and actions before falling asleep snuggled next to one another.