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Betrayal in Blue

By C. R. Downing All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Untitled chapter

Chapter 27

Phil Mamba chafed, not from any physical manifestation of itching or other skin problem. This chafing was all about waiting. He’d waited at Koufax Field for transport to the hospital. He’d waited in the ER to see a doctor. Now he was waiting to be released so he could find out what Mulligan’s condition was. He’d been zoning in and out as the doctor droned on. Wait! This sounds important. He decided he’d better zone back in.

“The wound is superficial,” the ER doctor told Mamba. “It’ll hurt for a few days and you’ll have a small scar but no permanent damage. Have your doctor take the stitches out in ten days.

“Thanks,” Mamba winced a little as he climbed down off the emergency room bed. Then, he asked at least the fifth medical professional since he’d been in ER the same question, “Do you know how Police Lieutenant Mulligan is doing?”

“I don’t even know if we’ve admitted any police officers,” the doctor confessed. “I’ve been working on several people besides you. There was a three-car pile-up on Highway 1.”

“Mike would be wherever you do your trauma surgery. Seriously bad trauma surgery.” Mamba’s response was barely audible. If he’d heard the doctor’s answer about Highway 1, he gave no evidence of it. “He was in bad shape.”

He’s not even listening to me, the doctor thought. I’ll make a note to check him again for shock.

“I’m sorry. Get back up on the bed, and stay here. I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Huh? Oh, thank you.”

The doctor made his exit behind the drape that surrounded Mamba’s bed. He returned quickly, too quickly it seemed to the PI.

“Lieutenant. Mulligan is still in surgery,” the doctor said.

“And? It sounds like you know more than that.”

“I’m afraid that the surgeons were not optimistic before they began.” And, if half of what I’ve heard is true, they’re undoubtedly less optimistic now.

“In all honesty, I wasn’t either. I held him in my—” Mamba’s voice broke. He swallowed hard and finished in a husky whisper, “I’m thankful that he made it as long as he did. Is Kate here?”

The doctor ignored his patient’s question and stepped to Mamba’s side. The doctor eased him back down on his bed. He needed the man to lie down until he’d cleared him of a diagnosis of shock.

“The police told me he was here!” Hope Mamba’s voice penetrated the thin curtain divider much like a thrown knife penetrates a piece of paper in its path. “I will search each of these beds one at a time if I have to! My husband was shot, and I am going to see him!”

I’m glad you’re not concerned or anything, Hope. Otherwise, you might be making really outrageous statements, flashed into Phil’s mind. In spite of the circumstances, he smiled at his wife’s tenacity.

The ER doctor moved to intervene. Mamba put his good hand on the surgeon’s arm and made a small halt sign with the other.

After a questioning look by the doctor, Mamba called out as he pulled back the drape surrounding his emergency room bed with his undamaged arm.

“In here, Hope.”

“Phil, are you all right? Oh, that was stupid. You’re not all right. You’ve been shot.”

She darted through the small gap in the privacy curtain Mamba had created. Before he could answer, she dropped her purse and a gym bag to the floor and enveloped him in her arms.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Except for bruising from being hugged so tight. Oh, and the bullet hole in my arm.”

“Don’t try to be funny!” She said as she took a step back from her husband.

“I don’t have to try to be funny. I just naturally am. Ow!” His attempt to dodge her slap at his good arm was unsuccessful. “Where’s Jimmy?”

“He’s with Franklin and Lizbeth. I can stay as long as I’m needed.”

“Good to hear. I’m glad you came.”

“Philip Richmond Mamba! I remember a time when I was in the hospital and you were like a human leech, you were there that often. How could you even think that I wouldn’t be here?” In spite of her resolve and bravado, Hope’s eyes misted over and tears leaked out.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything.” He reached out and took Hope’s hand. “I’m just trying to keep my mind off Mike Mulligan.”

“He’s in here, too? Oh please tell me he wasn’t shot.” She moved close to Phil. “He was shot, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah. It’s bad. They don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I didn’t know.” She draped her arms around his neck.

He hugged her in return and hoped she hadn’t noticed the wince.

“Where’s Kate? She must be here.” Hope asked as she pulled away, back in control of her emotions. “I can hug you all I want to later. Kate can’t hug anyone now unless I go to her.”

“I don’t know. I might have asked about Kate. All I’m sure of is that Mike’s still in surgery.”

“You can’t go to see Kate the way you’re, um, undressed,” she said as she backed away from him to get the full view of the hospital gown that almost covered him.

“I don’t know what they did with my clothes,” he explained. “They were covered with Mike’s blood. I took them off in the restroom over there.” He jerked his head to his left. Hope’s eyes followed the indicated pathway.

“It doesn’t matter where they are. When the hospital contacted me, they told me to bring you some loose fitting clothes.” She reached down, hefted the gym bag, and handed it to Phil.

“Excuse me,” the ER doctor interrupted.

Both Mambas turned in his direction.

“Don’t take this wrong, but we sorta need this space. You know, for bleeding, sick people. I was wondering if you might take this conversation over to the surgical waiting room where you’ll most likely find whomever Kate is if she’s waiting for someone in surgery.”

“You go and get dressed,” Hope directed. “And just how do we get to the surgical waiting room?” She demanded ignoring the doctor’s sarcasm.

Phil rolled his eyes. The physician used his hand to guide Hope’s elbow as he moved her to the hallway.

“Follow the green line.”

Hope took off without looking back. Phil gave the doctor a quick thank you wave and a “that’s just the way she is look.

The doctor pulled the curtain aside and signaled. As a nurse entered the enclosed area he said, “Please help Mr. Mamba get his clothes changed.”

“Yes, Doctor,” the nurse replied. “Is this your bag, Mr. Mamba?”

“It is.”

“Good. Follow me. I’ll wait outside the bathroom door. If you need help, let me know.”

As Phil passed the doctor, the physician smiled and flashed a thumb’s up. Phil nodded continued his trek to the bathroom.

Inside the bathroom, Phil unzipped the gym bag and removed sweatpants and Lakers t-shirt. He pulled on the sweats before he discarded his gown. His first effort at pulling the t-shirt over his head with his injured arm ended in a wave of pain. I’ll never get this on by myself. He opened the bathroom door with shirt in hand.

“Ahh, I think I know what you’re going to ask,” the nurse said. “Hand me the shirt, please.”

Mamba complied.

“Now give me your injured arm.”

Phil extended his left arm as directed. The nurse rolled up the t-shirt so the opening to the left sleeve was visible through the large opening at the bottom of the shirt. She manipulated the garment over his arm without the shirtsleeve touching his bandage.

“If I was a betting man, I’d bet you’ve done this before,” Mamba said once the shirt hung awkwardly from his left shoulder.

“You’d win,” the nurse said. “Now, bend you head forward and stick out your right arm—like you’re diving in a swimming pool.”

Mamba did his best high-diver imitation. It took only seconds for the nurse to pull the proper shirt openings over the proper appendages.

“Can you get your own shoes?” she asked.

“I think so. Thank you!”

“All part of the service,” she said. “If I heard right, you’ll want to follow the green line to the surgical waiting room when you’re all dressed.”

“Got it.”

“I can get you a bag if you want to take your dirty clothes home with you.”

“Not a snowball’s chance of that happening,” Mamba replied. “Can I just leave ’em in the bathroom?”

“I understand. On the floor will do.”

Minutes later, Phil Mamba, dressed in sweatpants, a t-shirt, and wingtip shoes followed the green line as directed. He found Hope standing outside the door.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I couldn’t go in there by myself.”

“We’ll do it together.”

Phil pulled the door open. Kate Mulligan sat alone in the room. She looked like she’d fought an entire army and lost. She barely stirred when Hope sat beside her.

“Kate, it’s Hope Mamba. I’m so sorry about Mike. Are you here alone?”

“I . . . Hope, you— Mike’s dying!” She choked out the words and began to sob huge, gut-wrenching sobs.

“We don’t know that,” Hope insisted as her eyes filled with tears. Stop! Don’t go all emotional on her. She placed one arm around Kate’s shoulder. Kate leaned against her, sobs continuing in number and strength. “The last I heard, the doctors were, uh, optimistic.”

Phil moved into Hope’s line of sight and shook his head. He shot a burst of thoughts her way.

Don’t make stuff up, Hope! If Mike doesn’t make it, you only made things worse.

Hope glared back and directed her thoughts in his direction.

This woman is dying of grief. I’ll do whatever it takes to help her cope.

“Why don’t you get us each a cup of coffee, Phil?” She said with a jerk of her head towards the door.”

“Yeah. Good idea,” he agreed and left the room. He knew the tone of voice. As he walked away, he knew that Hope had done what Kate needed without his help.

By the time he returned, Hope was holding a tear-soaked, sleeping Kate Mulligan in her arms. She only let go of her friend after Kate’s parents arrived and promised to call the Mambas as soon as they had definitive word on their son-in-law’s chances.

“My car’s at Koufax Park,” Phil said as they walked to the hospital parking lot.

“We can’t leave it there,” she said in a flat voice.

She’s running on fumes, Phil said to himself.

“I’ll have MPD pick me up tomorrow to get my car,” he said.

She nodded.

“And, why don’t you let me drive home?” he asked.

She thought about arguing. Fatigue won out. She handed him her keys.

The Mambas didn’t get to bed until 2:30 a.m. After sunup, Phil called the hospital and talked with Kate Mulligan’s father. When Jimmy stirred, he got his son up and dressed while Hope slept in. He didn’t wake Hope. He would tell her the gravity of Mike’s prognosis later.

* * *

The hotel room was small and made smaller by the bulk of Darrel “The Dispatcher” Evans. The man was nearly seven feet tall and weighed close to 300 pounds. He was one of the hitmen that Sidney Brewster opted not to use. He was also Woodrow “The Whack” Evans’ foster brother.

Woodrow and Darrel formed an unlikely pair and an even more unlikely set of brothers. Because they needed the money, the Evans, Darrel’s natural parents, took in the most derelict of foster kids. Most of them transferred out of their care soon after they transferred in. But, Darrel and Woodrow had developed a bond. Their opposing skin colors masked their kindred souls.

At this moment, his blue eyes stared at a slightly built man in front of him. The man, Billy Kennedy by name, wore oversized, unisex clothes. Until the raid on Mary Carstairs’ house, he’d been her second in command. He’d been arrested with her and released on bail with her. And, he, unlike Mary, said nothing to the police. But, guilt by association was guilt in his world.

He missed a court date while trying to avoid a fate like Mary’s. So, he was on the lam, not knowing if could trust anyone. He was also broke and reduced to the status of a delivery boy, a title he considered degrading in the extreme.

To earn money, he delivered information to those he thought might have an interest. He was working free-lance with people who were often sketchy even by his broad definition. Never guaranteed anything, he hoped to receive payment for the intelligence he provided.

This was a dumb idea. The man’s a hulking brute. I never should have told him about his brother’s death.

Evans’ right hand clenched and unclenched in a steady rhythm as he squeezed the large, spring-loaded hand grip strengthener it held. He stared into Billy’s eyes. Billy shuffled his feet as he imagined hitman’s eyes burning deep into his soul.

“I thought you’d wanna know about Woodrow’s death before it hit the papers.” The words spilled out of Billy’s mouth.

“You’re sure about this information?” Evans spat out each word in his response.

“Yeah, uh, I mean, yes, sir, Mr. Evans, sir. Mr. Brewster hired your brother, but the police killed him.” This mountain of muscle could crush me as easily as he can crush a beer can. Small droplets of fear-induced sweat formed on Billy’s forehead.

“You have no other reason for informing me of my brother’s death? Nothing like, let’s say payment?”

“Oh, no, sir.” Even though Billy gave a herculean effort to mask his feelings, his face fell. To try to cover what he knew was disappointment showing on his face, he added, “I know how you must feel.” Not the reaction I’d hoped for. You’ll pay for this, Brewster! I don’t know when or where, but forcing me into this barbarian’s lair out of fear of your reprisal will come back to haunt you!

“I don’t think so. I don’t see how you can know how I feel.”

“Oh, but I do.”

“Squeeze this,” was the command. Evans tossed Billy his hand grip strengthener. The tone of The Dispatcher’s voice did not leave refusal as an option.

Billy gave his best effort with his right hand. There was a minuscule, momentary bending of the chrome spring wire. It sprang back to its open position.

“I can’t do it.”

“I told you to squeeze it! Feel free to use both hands if necessary.”

Rivulets of perspiration flowed down Billy’s face as he strained. Using both hands, he managed to depress the spring about one-third of the distance between the wooden handles.

“Th-That’s the best I can do,” he panted, the fear-sweat now running down his face.

“Give it back to me.”

Billy extended his right hand with one handle of the grip strengthener grasped in trembling fingers. Evans’ hand engulfed Billy’s hand and the device. Once again, Evans clenched his fist. The wooden handles closed against each other. This time, bones cracked as the pressure from Evans’ grip intensified. The wooden handles closed. The information broker’s fingers were crushed between them.

Billy’s eyes filled with tears. Bullets of pain shot from his fingers and exploded in his brain. The now muted cracking sound continued from the cavernous darkness of Evans’ paw.

“See? That’s how you do it,” Evans gloated. He released his grip on the man’s hand. The device fell to the floor. Pain overwhelmed Billy’s senses. His tears escaped their ducts and trickled down his cheeks.

“If you can’t squeeze my gripper, how do you expect to know how I feel?”

The only response Billy could offer was a shivering shrug. He reprised his self-loathing for being dumb enough to think that he could gain some of Evans’ favor, and some cash, by bringing him the news of his brother’s death. He concluded that Darrel ’s nickname, The Dispatcher, was well deserved.

“I gotta go,” Billy mumbled through clenched teeth. He knew that the closest Urgent Care was the first place he would stop when he left. He estimated that he had at least three broken fingers.

“Thanks for the information, Billy, wasn’t it?” Evans broke into unrestrained, maniacal laughter as the delivery boy departed.

* * *

Sunday afternoon was hot and dry. Santa Ana conditions had returned after a brief respite. Temperatures soared into triple digits while the relative humidity fell to below fifteen percent. The water misters Phil had installed on their back patio for just such occasions were spritzing. Jimmy had just gone down, albeit reluctantly, for a much-needed nap. News from the hospital on Mike Mulligan was still grim.

Hope and Lizbeth sat on the patio drinking Arnold Palmers. Both liked the mixture of tea and lemonade and the patio was a relaxing location, particularly with the misters going. Today, the main reason they were where they were was the seclusion the patio offered.

“I can’t thank you enough for last night,” Hope said.

“It was the least we could do, considering,” Lizbeth answered.

They both sipped from their insulated mugs for at least a minute. It was Lizbeth who broke the silence.

“I’m worried, Hope.”

“I wouldn’t believe you if you said you weren’t.”

“I don’t think we’re thinking about the same thing.”

“Your, um—” Hope stopped, uncertain of her next words.

“My cancer. You can say the word.”

Hope blushed.

“But cancer’s not what I’m worried about.”

“What could be worse than that? In my book, cancer’s got to be as bad as it gets.”

“What if they find out you and Phil have been harboring fugitives?” Lizbeth answered ignoring the reference to her disease.

“They won’t,” Hope stated with feigned authority.

“But they might.” Before Hope could respond, Lizbeth hurried on. “I know the Department still has random security drive-bys of your house because of the shooting. They’ll probably increase since Lieutenant Mulligan’s been shot. Every time I go to the doctor or for a treatment or take a drive just to be out of the house, I expect to find someone waiting to arrest me when I leave or get back.”

The two women sat in silence for a long moment. Mugs of tea sat unsipped for the same length of time.

“Sometimes things happen that we don’t understand and can’t explain,” Hope said. “I prefer to consider what we are doing as two families supporting each during a difficult time.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Lizbeth said.

“You just did. Would you like a refill?”

* * *

In the aftermath of the drive-by shooting of the Mamba residence, the department ordered random sweeps of their neighborhood. The protocol implemented in the aftermath of Mulligan’s shooting increased the frequency of those sweeps. In addition, officers were required announce their presence and check that all was well. Phil hadn’t told Hope yet. He wanted to be the one who answered the door on this first day of the new protocol.

While their wives reposed on the patio, Franklin and Phil hunkered down in the den. This put Phil much closer to the front door than Hope.

The two men began their together time reviewing the case involving Sidney Brewster. The conversation was superficial. Both men knew that there would be a change in the focus of the discussion. Neither was sure he wanted to be the one to open what was still a fresh wound.

Time to acknowledge the elephant in this room. With that thought behind him, Mamba opened the door to the issue at hand.

“I tell you, Frank, it looked like an execution. I can’t believe that Mulligan’s our man. This shooting was for show. No more, no less. Somebody’s out to prove something or make a serious point that they’re not to be treated lightly.”

“So, you’re convinced Brewster’s behind all this?”

“Right now, I can’t see another viable suspect. All the other names from the lists appear to be role players. None of them have a big enough . . . Well, big enough anything to have boss written on them.”

“I can’t argue with that.”

“Not only that, we’re losing possible leaks left and right,” Mamba said.

“Yeah. If I’m not the leak, and Martinez isn’t the leak, and Mulligan’s not the leak, we’re back to square one, aren’t we?”

“It sure looks that way.”

“Maybe it’s time to set a trap to catch our rat,” Stallings mused. I have an idea that could blow up in all our faces. That’s better than no idea, which is where we are at this moment.

“What’ve you got in mind?”

“How about this?” Stallings leaned forward, his eyes on fire with anticipation. Mamba couldn’t remember a time he’d seen the man so excited. “What if we leak false information and see if it hits the street?”

“Go on.”

“We could plant a plan for a phony drug raid.”

“Yeah, and carry it out like the real thing to see if information is still leaking,” the PI interjected.

Stallings’ nods of approval verified the accuracy of his assumptions.

“If we limit the sources that know about this raid, we can limit our suspects if the information gets out,” the Sergeant said with a short fist pump.

“Good. Good. I like it,” Mamba muttered. Without explanation, he left the den. When he arrived at the sliding door to the patio, he opened it and spoke to his wife.

“Hope, where do you keep the backup Rolodex for my contacts?” Phil called.

“It’s behind the income tax folders in the file cabinet next to the stereo console in the den.” She didn’t even look in his direction.

“Thanks.” After returning to the den, he searched through his Rolodex for a phone number.

“Yes!” He yanked a card from the device and punched numbers into the moss green princess phone that Hope insisted on using as a décor accent in the den. Be home. Be home!

“Martinez?” He asked as soon as the phone picked up.

“Yeah. Who is this?” the sleepy voice demanded.

“Sorry to wake you. It’s Mamba. You must have been on a stakeout last night, right?”

“Yeah. Documenting some Mexican coyotes delivering illegals just south of town. What do you want, amigo?” It better be something big.

“I need you to come right over to my house. But park on the street behind us and sneak in through the patio. We’ve got a plan to catch the leak.”

“Stallings is the leak,” the Snake hissed. As the PI’s words sank into his still lethargic brain he added, “And who are we, Gumshoe?”

“We are Stallings and me. He’s not the leak, by the way.”

“What do you mean, he’s not the leak? The boys down in Internal Affairs seem pretty—” Mamba heard a sharp intake of breath before Martinez resumed the conversation. “Did you just say he’s with you? He’s like, AWOL and wanted, you remember that, right?”

“I can explain. Are you coming over or not?”

Martinez moved the phone from his ear and stared at it as if trying to see what was going on at Mamba’s home through the phone line.

“If you don’t want to come, I understand.”

“Say again.” He’d caught only the end of the statement.

“If you don’t come, I hope at least you won’t rat us out. At least not yet.”

“All right. All right. But, give me half an hour to wake up, clean up, fill up, and sneak into your house. Why do I feel like another stakeout is in my immediate future?” If whatever you and Stallings are up to isn’t kosher, I will rat you out!

“We’re feeling generous over here. Take forty minutes,” was Mamba’s final comment. He hung up the phone on the last syllable. He had no desire to hear Martinez reaction to his sarcasm.

* * *

Lester sat in his small, stuffy apartment. He’d locked every window. The door was deadbolted. He sat at the small table that multitasked as a dining table, card table, buffet table, and desk. He was staring at a paper sleeve from a travel agent. In it was an open-ended bus ticket.

I can’t stay here. I’m more a liability than an asset if more goes wrong in Brewster’s world. He dialed a now too familiar number. After the fourth ring, Hope Mamba’s voice delivered the answering machines greeting and instruction.

“Thank you for calling Mamba Investigations.” I hate answering machines. Lester zoned out, until . . .

“BEEP.”

“Dancer, this is Larry Lester. Word on the street is that Brewster’s not happy that the police were at the ballpark so soon after Evans shot Mulligan. So, I’m leaving town. If he starts to look, he’ll find me if I stay here. Don’t you try to find me, because I’m leaving town.”

* * *

“Excuse me, ladies,” Martinez said as he forced his way through the last of the hedges between the street where he’d parked his motorcycle and the back yard of the Mambas’ home. “I don’t usually use an entrance that’s almost covered with vegetation.”

Hope and Lizbeth both leaped to their feet at the sight of the giant, tattooed Latino. Hope dashed to the patio door.

“Phil! We’ve got a problem! Hurry!”

“Wait!” Martinez called. “I assume you are Hope Mamba, and you must be Sergeant Stallings’ wife. Am I right?”

“There are lots of ways to find out that kind of information, all of them questionable!” Lizbeth shot back at him. She held the heavy glass pitcher of Arnold Palmer solution menacingly in one hand.

At that instant, Mamba threw the sliding patio door open. He and Stallings stepped onto the patio, weapons in hand.

“Oh, geez Louise, Martinez. Can’t you ever do anything the simple way?” Mamba said in an exaggerated, exasperated tone.

“I warned you about him,” Stallings said loud enough for Martinez to hear.

“I know you both think that’s comedy, but do not quit your day jobs,” Martinez parried. “Ladies, I am Detective Enciso Martinez of the Manzanita Police Department.” He bowed.

Mamba made quick introductions.

“We could have used a heads-up, Mister Private Eye,” Hope said with more than a little attitude.

“Sorry. Time got away from us,” Phil apologized. “Come on in.”

Martinez smiled at the women and followed the men inside.

“That was surreal,” Lizbeth said as Martinez slid the door closed with a wink.

“I agre—” Hope cut herself off in mid-word. She swayed slightly and grabbed the back of the closest chair.

“Oh, Hope! Nausea again?” Lizbeth asked as she moved close to assist if necessary.

Hope nodded. She closed her eyes to keep stop the swirling view of the patio.

“Do you need help getting inside?”

“No, but I’ll take some more tea. I think this Santa Ana’s dehydrating me.”

Sooner or later, Mrs. Mamba, you’re going to have to admit that these symptoms are more than dehydration and questionable food choices. I thought that’s why I got you that early pregnancy test kit.

With that thought hanging, she filled Hope’s glass from the pitcher she’d brandished only moments before.

The three men regrouped in the den.

“I used up most of my good nature being polite to your wives out on the patio. I don’t have much left, so if I don’t hear some very convincing arguments why you, Mamba, think you, Stallings is not the leak, and why you’re stashing him at your house, I’m calling I.A.D.” Martinez leaned back after the speech he’d punctuated with a pointing index finger at each man in turn.

It took some time to push the Latino’s position on Stallings’ innocence from one of skepticism to being convinced he was not the leak. Mamba narrated a travelogue of his entire trip through the Midwest. He showed the big man the copies of all the documents he’d procured.

For his part, Stallings added color commentary from time to time. At the end of the presentation, Martinez admitted that it didn’t look like Sergeant Stallings had done anything wrong.

“I’ll give you this round, Gumshoe.”

“Good. There’s just one more thing.”

Martinez looked anything but excited by the announcement. He slumped back into the chair he occupied.

“With Mulligan in intensive care and Stallings still in temporary hiding at my home, you are the only police contact for this ex-officio committee.”

“As that sole contact, what almost legal activities am I expected to perform?”

“Detective, we want you to instigate a phony drug bust,” Stallings said. “The bust has to be set up by Narcotics, or, even if it is leaked, no one will buy it.”

“Hold on,” Martinez said.

Stallings looked at Mamba who shrugged. I can’t tell if he’s in or out, ran through the Mamba’s mind as Martinez pulled a small notebook from inside his boot. He thumbed through the pages until he found what he wanted.

“That I can do. What about this?” He showed his partners the address of a house.

“I know for a fact this place is empty. Some avant-garde photographer was using it as a place to shoot Nudes In Dangerous Places. At least I think that’s he called it. We thought there might be drugs involved, so my partner and I swung by. No drugs. We just rousted him.”

“With the nudes?” Stallings asked, his voice the sweetness of innocence.

Martinez’s head jerked in his boss’s direction. Stallings, having accomplished his sole intention with the reaction, shrugged.

“He was alone. We were . . . disappointed.” Nice play, Sergeant. I deserve that for being a hard case about you being the leak.

“Okay,” Mamba said. “Are we all even now for what was said on the patio?”

“It’s close,” Martinez said. He flashed his gigantic smile. “I’m saving just a bit for future situations.”

All three men smiled.

“Of course, the investigation of the photographer was before I went undercover, but I swing by on occasion. The house is empty. Trust me.”

“We’re good then. Right?” Stallings asked.

. I’ll set the raid.” Martinez paused, his brow furrowed. “But, there will never have been any drugs in the place. That’s what you want, right?”

“The more wrong the tip the better,” Stallings said.

“I’ve got to run this through the Captain,” Martinez said. “I can sell a new CI to the him. He’s heading Narcotics at the moment. That makes him the only officer of rank that can clear the personnel for a bust.”

“He’d know about all the compromised raids,” Mamba stated the obvious. “You think he might be the leak?”

“I suspected everyone at some point,” Martinez replied.

“Thanks a lot,” Mamba deadpanned.

“I meant except me. Raised eyebrows from Mamba elicited a smile and two more syllables. “And you.”

“Better. Why are you avoiding a direct answer my question?”

“I’m not avoiding anything,” Martinez said. “I know all the information from the station funnels through the Captain. I can’t believe you think that he has the time to sort through God knows how many reports hunting for things to leak to drug dealers. At least, I hope that’s the case.”

“I don’t think he has the time. I’ve never had the Captain on my leak list, But only partly for that reason. He’s homegrown talent. He was a Commander back in the days of that rank here. Before that, he moved up the ladder from a rookie on a beat. If he’s the leak, the department would have needed a plumber long before now.”

Es la verdad.”

“If we’re going to include the Captain, we might as well send one to the Chief’s office too,” Stallings suggested.

Heads nodded.

“And what about Dispatch? Almost every call goes through them,” Mamba asked.

“Not enough time. Dispatch is the last to know, besides the beat cops,” Stallings said.

“Okay. I count four suspects. The Captain, the Chief, Edwards, and Desk Sergeant Smith,” Martinez added one finger for each of his suggested recipients.

“Why Edwards?” Mamba asked. “I know why I think he’s a suspect, but what’s your angle?”

“He’s in charge of making copies.”

Mamba nodded. “But, he doesn’t always make them.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s unaware of what’s been copied.”

“Maybe. Sergeant Smith isn’t always the Desk Sergeant. You know that, right?”

“I’m viewing the Desk Sergeant position as suspect. If Smitty’s not there this morning, he might have left word to call him.” That rationale is lame Martinez thought as his voice trailed away.

“It’s up to you,” Stallings said, although he was certain the Desk Sergeant position was a dead end.

“Who else knows about all the compromised operations?” Mamba asked. He’d run through his memory bank of positions of rank that had access to that information and come up empty.

“I’m thinking,” Stallings said.

“What about the Deputy Chief?” Martinez asked. “I’ll bet he’s on everyone’s routing slip.”

“Yeah. Let’s add him. So, you’ll need to make six copies,” Mamba said.

“Why six?

“I think we need to leave the extra one with the copies for Edwards’ team to deliver.”

“I was going to hand-deliver them,” Martinez said. “To ensure they get where we want in a timely fashion.”

“Okay. Just leave the sixth copy in the copy room.” Blank looks from Stallings and Martinez convinced Mamba to add, “Make a quick stop in that little back room where only Edwards and his underlings go. Leave the sixth copy there. But don’t make it obvious. Fold it or something and put it where it looks almost normal.”

“How will we know if someone takes it?” Stallings asked.

“I don’t think the leak is dumb enough to take something that is in plain sight. But we can check the duty roster if the information gets leaked,” Mamba said.

“Hold on. I know that an Officer Janet, um, Cowan delivers copies for Edwards, at least sometimes,” Martinez offered. “That makes her a suspect, ?

“Hmmm,” Stallings mused. “Hadn’t considered the delivery people, but that’s a good lead. See if Cowan’s on duty. If she is, get the last copy to her.”

“Instead of leaving one in the copy room?”

“Yeah. No, wait! Edwards shouldn’t need a copy. Like you said, if it’s him, he’s getting copies to leak some other way. I’ve watched him run copies for Mulligan and me,” Mamba said. “I don’t see how he can sneak a copy out of that machine. If we don’t give him a copy, and all the others come away clean, that’s pretty damaging.”

“We want the news of the raid to get leaked. I say we stop the planning and implement the plan,” Stallings said.

“But not until martes, that’s Tuesday for you monolingual gringos. We want to be sure all the players are on the field.”

“Good point,” Stalling said. “The Captain often works Saturdays and takes the following Monday off.”

“I’ll give this my best sell,” Martinez promised.

“I never had a doubt about that.”

“I figure you’ll practice in front of your mirror all day tomorrow,” Mamba said.

“How’d you know?” Martinez faked his surprise at the insinuation and rose to leave. He offered a huge hand to Stallings. “I owe you an apology. I acted without all the facts. It was unprofessional. I’m sorry, Sergeant.”

“To be honest, I was mad at you,” Stallings said as he stood. “That’s not true. I was angry. Now, I can’t blame you. I was almost beginning to doubt myself.”

“After this is over and you come back to the division, anybody that doesn’t believe you’re clean has to answer to me.” He thumped his chest with a massive thumb. Flashing his dazzling white teeth a again he added, “I don’t think there’ll be any problemas.”

Although, he did not share his unbounded optimism, Stallings shook the big man’s hand.

“A little bad news,” Mamba said after Martinez had departed. “It doesn’t impact Martinez or his role in what we’ve got going.”

“I hope it’s not about me. I don’t need any bad news.”

“Get over yourself, Stallings. It’s not all about you,” Mamba said with as straight a face as he could maintain.

“Funny. You’re a funny man.”

“I’m here all week.”

“But, to quote a famous Latino, ‘don’t quit your day job.’ Now, just get on with it,” Stallings directed.

“If you insist.” Mamba adjusted his position and continued, “I just played back my answering machine. Larry Lester left a message that he was leaving town.”

“Why do you think that’s bad news? From what you’ve told me, it’s just as well that he’s not around anymore.”

“It’s not the fact that he left that’s the bad news. It’s why he left.”

“So, why did he leave?”

“He’s afraid Brewster will figure out who tipped the cops.”

“I thought Brewster was in jail.”

“Somehow his lawyers managed to get him out on bail. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t think you needed more bad news when I found out.”

“Next time, don’t spare my feelings.”

“Message received. Anyway, the Department has no idea where he is. Lester knew for sure that he’s the one who contracted the hit on Mulligan. Now I’ll have to have Hope and Jimmy leave town again. And, Lizbeth has to go with them.”

“We need to tell them now,” Stallings said.

“I was thinking more you have to tell them.”

“Together or alone it’s all the same to me. But we can’t send them far. Lizbeth’s got a treatment tomorrow.”

“How about Lompoc for a day or two?”

“I can tell them that. It’s better than Oceano,” Stallings said as he opened the door to the den.

Phil smiled at the reference to the small town whose only claim to fame was their Melodrama Theater. Having Stallings around the house made him feel a little better. But he still wanted his family out of danger not just protected from it.

“Lead the way, Sergeant.”

* * *

Larry Lester stood in a phone booth. Although he was almost 500 miles from Sidney Brewster, he was worried that the man would somehow find out what he was about to do. He stared at the handset for a long time until he’d worked up enough courage to dial.

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“I have a tip,” he said into the phone.

“Sir, this line is for emergencies only.”

“You tell Dancer Mamba that Sidney Brewster is at 1792 East 42nd Street. Room 1220. He will confirm that this as an emergency.”

“I need your name—”

The 911 operator stopped in mid-sentence. The line was dead. She shook her head but punched in the number of the Division Captain. She’d let him sort this one out.

* * *

Alone in his downtown office the day after they’d hatched the phony drug-raid plan, Mamba ran scenarios through his mind. While he had complete confidence in the plan that he, Stallings, and Martinez had set in motion, it was always best to prepare for glitches, especially with the way this case was going.

The phone rang. He picked up the receiver.

No answer. What the—

The phone rang again. Way to go, Captain Brain Dead. You’ve got to open the line like Hope does for you. The image of his wife swept into his thoughts. The phone rang again sweeping Hope’s face out of focus.

He punched the appropriate button on his phone and answered, “This is Phil Mamba.”

“Mr. Mamba, this is Captain Abbott.”

“Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”

“We got a 911 call for you from an anonymous source that says you can confirm the information. I need to know if it’s legit.”

“I’ll try. Do I need to come down there or can you play it for me over the phone?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” There was a click and a scratchy recorded message began.

“I have a tip.” That’s Lester’s voice.

“Sir, this line is for emergencies only.”

“You tell Dancer Mamba that Sidney Brewster is at 1792 East 42nd Street. Room 1220. He will confirm this is an emergency.”

“I’d get a team over to that address ASAP, Captain! The man’s one of my CI’s. He’s rarely wrong.”

“Appreciate your help.”

Although the line went dead, the PI’s mind remained alive with ideas.

They should nail Brewster for sure with that address. Once Brewster’s in custody, without bail since he’s already skipped once, Hope, Jimmy, and Lizbeth can come home! I wonder what this does to our scam drug raid?

Less than an hour later, bail-skipping, drug-dealing, killer-hiring Sidney Brewster was in police custody.

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